(Editors note... The opinions expressed here are fictional. Any resemblance to future, former, current gritty, hustling OFers thoughts are purely coincidental.)
22 days. 528 Hours. 31,680 minutes. the count runs through my head like so many thoughts, but my thoughts wander into a stream of nothing. My fingers twist gracefully. No pain. No fear. Just the zone.
The dream is the same every night. The crack is loud like thunder. Fastball. I feel it instantly and I know, like an omen. The boy in the stands with the orange and green hat keeps taunting me. All my fears, compacted into one swing. Suddenly I look up. CRACK! The sound is familiar, but the pain... What pain! What pain? I move left. side step, side step, shuffle, angle in not out, in then back, as if my body knows where its going before my legs can catch up, but my legs they glide. I'm there before I know it but the sphere it hangs. Eternity. Routine. like I've been doing it my whole life. The ball falls into my glove, I reach for it. I try to throw, but I can't. My hand is mangled and before I can think to look up the lineman barrels into me.
Suddenly I am six years old. The bike lays over me, twisted. The chain caught around my ankle, dug in deep. Blood trickles. Burn. Half a mile from home, but I ride. I have no choice. It is dark, the clouds settle, and the wolves howl deep and low from the woods behind the track. They will eat me I am sure of this. So I ride. Through the pain. Fast. Burning. If I had a sling I'd stop and take them out one by one. But I ride. the wolves are silent. were they there? Does it matter? I reach for the water bottle, and I am a man. Racing down the Champs de elysee! One by one they pass. Stanton. Mayberry. Myers. Harper. Trout. Martinez? Are you fucking kidding me? The pedestrians in the crowd cheer. But the Bull just stares; Glaring, as the barbecue sauce drips from his disapproving chin, while Rose eats watermelon and smiles. I wonder who he bet on, Trout or Harper? I can only be certain it wasn't me. I want to scream but I just smile. And I ride. Like a natural. Effortless. there is no wind behind me because I am faster than the earth itself. My body knows what its doing before my legs can catch up and I glide. I catch them.
All of them.
Every damn one.
Out of sight out of mind, but never out of the race.
I turn and hear his voice.
"Did you know that like, the difference between a 500 ft home run and a routine flyball is measured in like, milliseconds and a point on the face of the bat that measures less than 1/116 millimeters?" He spits, then points to my mangled hand and gestures with his own. "quarter inch up, half a whisker in....Then EXPLODE!" Charlie says. The orb is the size of a soccerball, out of the pitchers hand. CRACK! The burn. I turn around and the cage is gone. The noise is deafening. 50,000 wolves fill the stadium. Fielder waggles. I dig my front foot. Ball one. I look up, "TIME!" And I know what is coming before it even happens. 2 outs. Down 2. Bases loaded. Game 7. I don't know where I am, but I know he's owned me the entire series. Like Johnson owned Knoblauch in 2001. Suddenly I realize I am 0-6, with three K's against him in the span of a week. The wolves howl a booing howl, so deep, so etherial, that I can't hear Charlies call. "Dom!" He gestures and slowly limp walks my way. Big Jim grabs a bat. Charlie looks at Ryan. Ryan looks at him. The wolves are so loud that my spine chills. There are thousands of them. Yellow eyes. Rabid Drool. I am sure they want to eat me.
The slap to my head burns. "Dom!" his eyes connect. "Milliseconds" he says. he stands there for what seems like an eternity. He looks down. Spits his seeds on my shoe. "Quarter inch up. Half a whisker." He winks, slaps my backside, and walks back to his spot on the steps. I turn. The hand is like a paw. Ryan stares into my eyes "Total Package. Remember?" The ace on the hill does not. Neither do the wolves in the stands. But I do. I smile. dig my front toe. Hands out. This time the ball is bigger than the earth itself. I grip the bat and my hand is strong. CRACK! It's March. 2010. Clearwater. The howls subside. Only cheers. deafening.
I wake the same every morning, in a sweat. the alarm is loud. but in a good way. 5:15. 3 miles. before the heat kicks in. 500 swings. before the blisters burst. 500 routes no ball, no bat, just side step, side step, shuffle, angle in not out, in then back. I smile. I twist my hand, stretch out my fingers. No pain. Not even the slightest pull or pressure.
21 days. 520 hours. 31,205 minutes thats all the time left to keep the wolves at bay.