The majority of the people I write about have normal lives, oblivious to the magical all around them, hidden in plain sight. Dave Evans is one of them. He is part of my small-town urban fantasy world.
I believe the urban fantasy story does not have to be rooted in the city. Urban fantasy can also roam into small towns, villages, and the countryside. There, the magic and weird stuff creep in at the edges of a world in which magic is not the norm but hidden in plain sight. Everything appears normal. The people who live there have normal lives, oblivious to the magic around them.
I know it’s a trope that has become cliché, but small-town urban fantasy is my favorite cliché and I do not plan to ever stop using it in my stories.
In this story, which is another draft of yesterday’s story, Dave’s last name is Conrad.
He is one of the first characters I created—I wrote many baseball stories about him before he had his first encounter with ghosts.
Bottom of the Seventh
Subtitled, “Keeping Love Alive”
Dave Conrad’s pleasant expression changed to one of wildness mixed with flight. The air in the dugout had become thin and dry, as though an unseen storm had sucked the oxygen from June’s cerulean sky over Ridgewood High School’s baseball field.
The six o’clock sun seemed to spark Holly Sorenson’s long, soft blonde hair. A halo of white surrounded her from the funeral dress she wore. But she was no angel. Anger and hatred burned in her eyes.
A chill entered Dave’s blue and white pinstriped uniform and gripped his back. Did anyone else see her? He quashed the idea of asking his teammates when she glared at him.
Coach Walker drew Dave’s attention when he cleared his throat and spat. The doorway at the far right end of the dugout framed his short and heavy body. “Pray we all make contact with our bats this inning and score some runs,” he said as he looked out at the visiting team on the ballfield. His Ridgewood Junior Varsity Fighting Eagles were undefeated this year. But tonight they were two runs behind the New Cambridge Yellow Jackets as the bottom of the seventh—the final inning of the final game of the season—awaited the Fighting Eagles.
He removed his Navy blue ball cap and bowed his baldhead.
The team was quiet at their seats on the long wooden bench inside the dugout until he said “amen” and took his spot along third base.
“We can hit this pitcher,” Miles Kibler said, three players down from Dave. “My fastball and curve are a lot better than his.”
“Yeah! We can hit this guy,” Jimmy Franklin, their catcher, said. He sat next to Miles and champed his bubblegum between sentences. “We’ve done it before. Come on.”
Assistant Coach Andrews stepped from the shadows at the dugout’s far end. “Stay focused,” he said. “This is your game. Never give up.”
He called out three names of the players scheduled to bat. Dave stood, responding to the third name called. The players clapped loud and in unison for a moment as their assistant coach loped to his spot along first base.
The cheering came to a slow end and Dave’s gaze wandered again through the wire mesh of a window behind him, to the fifth row bench behind home plate, and the girl sitting there.
He looked away when Holly glared again.
He had to focus on the game
“Stay in the zone,” he whispered.
A baseball cracked off a bat. The Ridgewood fans and players jumped to their feet and cheered as Jimmy Franklin’s base hit shot between the first and second basemen.
Dave put on his batter’s helmet and took his place inside the on-deck circle outside the dugout’s doorway.
Holly glowed with a heavenly whiteness … and chilled him from the hellish anger on her face.
She vanished from view when the fans in front of her jumped to their feet.
Tyler Jones had laced a hot bouncing double between left field and center field. The centerfielder caught up to the ball and threw it to his shortstop, keeping Jimmy from rounding third base and scoring.
The Yellow Jackets’ coach called for a pitcher change and Coach Walker lumbered over to Dave’s side.
“Keep the rally going,” he said, huddling close to Dave. “Get the ball into the outfield. We need you to score Jimmy from third.”
He slapped the top of Dave’s helmet before he returned to his coaching spot.
The new pitcher threw nothing but heat during his warmup pitches.
Dave’s attention waned. Where had Holly gone?
“Focus,” Dave told himself.
He had stayed away from her funeral and her gravesite. And now she had been here, giving him the stink eye. She hated him.
The home plate umpire bellowed “Batter up.”
Dave hurried into the batter’s box, dug his cleats into the dirt, and swung his bat menacingly at the pitcher.
The catcher taunted him with “No batter no batter no batter” and the pitcher nodded to his catcher.
Dave stumbled from the batter’s box, certain he had lost his mind.
The pitcher looked like Holly wearing a black and gold baseball uniform. She spat and glowered darkly at Dave from the pitcher’s mound.
“Batter up,” the umpire bellowed again.
Dave returned to the batter’s box and tried to stand tall on wobbly legs. “This isn’t real,” he whispered, then shot to the ground as a fastball raced at him and missed his head.
He glared back at Holly. “Are you trying to kill me?”
She vanished from the pitcher.
“You killed me,” she screamed in Dave’s head.
He grimaced from the blast of pain there.
He and Holly stood at the downtown playground and park where she had pitched the murderous baseball to him last month. It had been a gloating demonstration on his part of how far he could hit the ball. But the ball had gone straight off his bat instead of lifting and sailing over the trees by the banks of Myers Creek. The ball struck her sternum and stopped her heart. His foolish showboating killed the girl he loved.
He recalled calling 911 on his phone and weeping over Holly lying dead in the dirt.
“I prayed for you not to be dead. But it did no good.”
“You never came to my funeral,” Holly said. “You’ve never visited my grave. You do not love me.”
“I do. It’s just that I could not bear to see you dead. Please forgive me.”
“I cannot forgive a coward,” Holly said. Her declaration was as painful to his heart as the pain knifing through his head.
His heart stopped beating. He pushed the fear of death from his mind and tried hard to keep breathing.
“You were everything to me. That is why I fell apart when you died. I stopped going to school until my parents made me.”
Darkness swallowed him. He struggled to continue.
“I love you. Always will. I’d do anything to bring you back. Even trade places if it meant you could live again.”
“You would die for me?”
Sweet air filled his lungs. He drank it in and gasped from the sudden euphoria he felt.
A hand gripped his left arm and pulled him from the darkness.
“Are you okay?” Coach Walker asked as he brought Dave to his feet.
Dave’s vision cleared but a headache pounded. Something like fingers massaged the inside of his skull until the headache became a dull throb.
“I’m good.” He dusted dirt from his uniform and picked up his bat. Then he waited for his coach to settle in the coach’s box before he stepped to the plate.
“You can do this.” Holly said. Her voice was like a gentle breeze to his ears.
He grinned at the pitcher who no longer looked like Holly as he readied himself for the next pitch.
It came fast, but seemed to loom large and white.
He swung his bat and the Ridgewood dugout and bleachers erupted with cheers as the ball flew from his bat and headed into leftfield, lifting high until it passed over the fence.
“Run,” Holly said. Again, her voice was like a gentle breeze.
Dave dropped the bat and hurried around the bases, meeting his teammates at home plate where they mobbed him as soon as his feet touched home with the winning run.
As the sun slipped beneath the tree-lined slopes of Ridgewood Cemetery an hour later, he sat at Holly’s grave and talked to her—mortal to spirit. He promised to visit her every day. And she promised to be there for him … always.