In this chapter of The Sky Below, a baseball player copes with the loss of the Kielbasa Kid and kielbasa and we start to get a vision of what this new world will look like, besides showers coming out of the floor.
If you missed Chapters 1-3 you can download them and the latest chapters from this page. As always The Sky Below is available in a variety of eReader and tablet friendly formats. So if you don’t want to read a whole chapter on the computer (and who does really?) be sure to check these out. Maybe something to curl up with over the long cold weekend.
The world was fuzzy and out of focus; colors blended into each other like a watercolor painting. This trick of vision would have made sense to Eddie if he’d been crying or gotten a bit of sweat in his eye. The truth was he’d just been staring too long. His eyes were dry from the wind, and his face was cold. It was as if he wanted to burn an image into his brain, but his eyes couldn’t or didn’t want to focus, so his mind just took one blurry picture after another.
He wasn’t sure how long he’d been sitting there. It felt like days, though it was probably only a couple of hours since the sun was still up. Still, there was no way to be sure. If gravity couldn’t be counted on, maybe the sun couldn’t either.
Someone finally spoke, Eddie didn’t really hear who, but whoever it was had had their fill of sitting around moping and was trying to stir the others into some kind of action. None of them seemed to have the energy to object, but neither did they show any enthusiasm, choosing only to shuffle mechanically toward the far end of the dugout.
Eddie thought about ignoring the voice, continuing to sit there and stare until the sun went out or he lost his vision. Then there would be nothing to keep him from stepping over the edge, which seemed to be calling him with every passing second. That big open sky was getting inside him, goading him to permanent and maybe inevitable action. After all, how long did any of them really have?
It was Manny who finally broke him out of his stupor, tapping him on the upper arm. Eddie grunted, his muscles stiff from sitting on hard cement, and shuffled in the same direction as the rest of his teammates.
At the end of the dugout a door opened into a short corridor that led to a secondary locker room. The area mainly served the other events hosted on the field, though occasionally during long games the players would take advantage of the proximity to towel off or re-tape a foot. The locker room was small, maybe twenty feet by thirty feet at the most. Along the right wall were a line of open lockers and above them in the center of the room was a set of long wooden benches.
A rack of bats hung near the door, most of which had surprisingly not fallen to the floor. Some had flipped and were hanging by their grip, while others had slid straight down and become stuck. Eddie reached an arm up and pulled a metal bat down, flipping it over so he could hold the grip in his right hand.
Slowly he ran his hands over the black and blue paint. There were a couple of dents and a few chips he could feel with his palm, but the balance was still good. There was no space to swing in this small room, so all he could do was turn the bat over again and again in his hand. He remembered the feeling of electricity, the power when the ball made contact with your swing in just the right spot. You could feel everything the pitcher had put behind that ball, and how it was fighting against the muscles in your arms and shoulders. When that momentum was pushed forward it felt like a release, like something almost spiritual. After every swing like that, Eddie could feel the light tap of his bat on his left shoulder, a reminder that maybe it was time to start running.
He was never going to have that feeling again, or so he imagined. Though if he was being honest it had been a while since he’d felt it anyway.
Everyone was still silent, even the young man who’d been shouting at them to move, who Eddie now recognized as Stankowsky, a rising star who’d come up from the Clippers just last year. Stankowsky was pacing back and forth across the ceiling floor until he tripped on something. He swore as he turned around to see the shower head sticking out of the floor. Some of the other guys chuckled for a second before the room was quiet again.
Stankowsky just stood and stared at the shower head. At first Eddie thought the kid was angry, but after looking closer he could tell that Stankowsky was trying to work something out. His features were sunken in, and he shaved his head every couple of days. A thin growth of mustache hung above his upper lip, though it was usually hidden from view by Stan’s pursed lips. His neck looked like he’d swallowed a baseball and with the way the kid mouthed off sometimes during practice, Eddie had thought about taking a swing at that ball more than once.
“We’re gonna need water,” Stankowsky said finally.
No one had really been paying attention except Eddie, but Manny was the first to reply, “What’s that, Stan?”
“We need to raid every snack bar and vending machine in the stadium, all the way down to the upper decks,” Stankowsky replied, ignoring Eddie’s obvious scrutiny.
Manny raised an eyebrow and the rest of the team seemed to be largely ignoring the conversation. Franklin for his part seemed to be wondering how Stankowsky could be thinking of food at a time like this, which was understandable for a guy who’d spent the last half hour revisiting his lunch.
“All of you need to look around,” Stankowsky said, raising his voice slightly but remaining calm. “This stadium is upside down, probably the whole city, maybe even the whole damn world. Lake Erie is now a cloud of mist floating up into space until it freezes. Same goes for the Cuyahoga River and every fountain, well and puddle. The only water there’s going to be is what we’ve bottled.”
Franklin smirked, “Haven’t you always been a doomsday prepper, Stankowsky? Isn’t the first thing you guys do is horde a stash of water?”
Stankowsky shook his head. “It’s in my bunker out in Garfield Heights. Might as well be on the moon for all the good it’s going to do us here.”
“Well, I guess we’re really screwed then,” Franklin said dismissively.
“You guys don’t get it do you?” Stankowsky said, “Whether this thing lasts another hour, or another year or a whole century everything’s going to be different. The only way we’re going to survive is if we embrace the reality of our situation before anyone else does.”
“Aww, you’re full of crap, Stan,” Franklin scoffed.
Eddie wasn’t so sure. They’d survived the first wave of this thing basically on luck alone. But there was only so far luck was going to take them.
“You should listen to him,” Eddie said. “We’re probably not the only ones who survived. We were down 4-0 in the fourth inning. I’m betting people didn’t wait for the seventh inning stretch to go for another beer. There’s probably people right below us walking around trying to figure out what’s going on.”
“I guess our losing streak saved a few lives,” Manny observed.
“Yeah,” Franklin sneered, “If ‘ol Eddie here had been able to keep a count alive longer than three pitches, maybe Alfonso would still be with us too.”
“That’s not funny, Franklin,” Manny said.
“Just making an observation,” Franklin said, leaning back on his elbows.
Eddie wondered how many of the men standing in that room had made the same “observation”. Hell, he’d been thinking it too. If they’d had a choice between him and Alfonso, even Manny wouldn’t have picked Eddie.
“Why do you want to go down to the upper decks anyway, Stan?” Their second baseman, Conesta, asked. “We’ve got no idea how long those levels are going to stay structurally sound. We should get what we can from this deck and head up into the sewers.”
“Conesta’s got a point,” Manny observed, “We all saw what happened to the pavilion. It’s only a matter of time before the rest of this place peels away.”
Stankowsky shook his head again. “We’re going to need more than just water. We’re going to need a way to defend ourselves.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” Manny asked, his voice growing colder. “Defend ourselves from whom?”
“Everyone else,” Stankowsky replied flatly.
“What the hell is the matter with you?” Manny fumed. He looked to Eddie like he was about to leap forward and shake Stankowsky by the shoulders.
Stankowsky continued, ignoring the question and any imminent threat, “I’m just expecting people to be people, in all their flawed, crazed and animal ways.”
“You’re the animal, Stankowsky!” Manny said, “There are hundreds, maybe thousands of people out there who could be hurt and suffering.”
Eddie’s blood should have been boiling at the same temperature as Manny’s but somehow he was remaining calm. It was possible that he was just numb after what he’d seen, but he suspected it was something else.
“You’re right,” Stankowsky said, “And I feel for all of them, really I do. But is there going to be enough water for all of us?”
“Fuck you!” Manny cursed.
Stankowsky for his part remained stoic. “Fuck you too, if it’ll make you feel better. I’m just being realistic. We’re going to need to cooperate to survive, but not with everyone. Do you know what we are, Manny? Do any of you?”
He scanned around a room full of blank or angry stares.
“We’re a tribe, and a tribe looks out for their own. We don’t know who we’re going to meet out there, in the stadium or anywhere else we go. We don’t know what they’ll become. But we know each other.”
Eddie didn’t like the man saying those words, even if he knew they needed to be said. But that was the problem with hard truth. The people who came to the hard conclusions were hard people.
He put a hand on Manny’s shoulder, “Stan’s right, Manny.” Manny’s muscles loosened slightly, but his face still bore a dangerous expression. Manny hadn’t liked Stankowsky much when they’d been teammates, and he probably liked him less now that he was trying to be some kind of post-apocalyptic tribal chief.
Eddie turned to address the rest of the people in the room. “We are a team, even if there’s some of us we can’t stand. Now I want to try to help anyone we can, but part of being able to do that is being able to take care of ourselves.”
“Is this the part of the movie where we all put our hands in the center and shout ‘go tribe’ or something?” Franklin’s voice slithered out from where he was leaning against the lockers.
Eddie smiled, “You know what? You’re right, Franklin. This is some kinda movie. Probably one of those crappy horror flicks they used to show on Big Chuck and Lil John.”
“Yeah, like The Ground Above or Topsy-Turvy-Terra,” Conesta offered.
Manny chuckled, his face softening, “What does that make Franklin, the Kielbasa kid?”
“That’s good,” Eddie laughed. “And I’d always had Stankowsky pegged as a certain ethnic.”
The three men started laughing uncontrollably until Stankowsky cut them off. “What the hell are you guys talking about?”
“Oh, that’s right, you’re from down south,” Eddie put his arm around Stankowsky. “If YouTube somehow survived this catastrophe you should watch the certain ethnic lays carpet.”
“Or the certain ethnic movers,” Conesta added.
Manny laughed, “Oh, I’d forgotten about that one.”
“Anyway,” Eddie continued, “Stan’s right about one thing, there are supplies in this stadium we’re gonna regret losing to gravity if we sit around here all day.”
“Holy shit!” Conesta interrupted.
“What?” Eddie asked.
“All the cows and pigs, they’re probably floating in low earth orbit by now. No Kielbasa kid after all.”
“At least they’ll be well preserved,” Manny said, chuckling again.
Eddie grinned, “Probably, though I for one am grabbing a hot dog when we go downstairs.”
He grabbed a sports bag that had been crumpled in the corner and tossed it to Stankowsky. He tossed another at Franklin before handing a few more to Manny, Conesta and Belanchek, their pitcher.
“What if we run into trouble?” Conesta asked. “It’s a long way between here and the security office.”
Eddie looked down at the bat in his hand, then back up at the rack above him. He’d been in fights as a kid, but that was using your fists and feet, not a weapon. He’d seen the damage a gun could do, but that had felt cold, almost distant. Even as he contemplated their goal he found himself realizing he could fire a gun. That wasn’t personal. But beating someone with a bat, the electricity of impact of metal against bone … that was taking something he had loved since he was a kid and perverting it.
“We’ll use these,” he tossed his bat to Manny, then started taking them down for the rest of the players. It was funny; as he watched them toss the bats from one hand to the other, adjusting their gloves and trying out the grip, they almost looked like ballplayers again. His eyes turned to Belanchek, who was pocketing a couple of balls and tossing a couple more in his pack. Who needs a bullet when you have a 97 mile per hour fastball?
Maybe Stankowsky was wrong, maybe they wouldn’t need any of this. Maybe people would look in the face of this tragedy and decide to help each other out.
‘Yeah, when pigs fly,’ he thought, ‘though come to think of it, I guess they are.’
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Copyright © 2015 Ben Trube