The days grow
shorter. A few fans have begun to reappear. As the first icicles of light touch
the galvanized sky, each team takes turns manning a chuck wagon, which
dispenses coffee and flapjacks. When the players become recognizable, they
adjourn to the diamond and Klem can be heard hacking the phlegm from his
throat, then demanding, "Play ball!"
The gathering of
fans has become pyramidal. Fifty one day become 200 the next, 800 the next,
over 3,000 people the next. But there is something wrong with the fans; they
are silent, almost comatose. "Zombies," says Stan, staring at the
As the 21st day
begins, the crowd has swollen to what must be over 10,000 people; most wear
slickers and stand like fence posts in the driving rain. The only statistics
I've managed to keep are innings played. In 20 days they have played 1,273
innings, an average of 63.7 per day.
begins shortly after lunch. The sky becomes white on black, cloud over cloud,
as the first flashes of chain lightning saw across the sky. Then the dull
afternoon is lit by fork lightning—snakes' tongues, followed by the
reverberations of thunder. The lightning is close and lethal. We can hear the
crunch of it, the back-breaking snap of whatever it has struck, the cry of
earth or tree, animal-like shrieks, death cries like rusty nails being pulled
from a plank.
instrument!" a woman screams. "Lightning is God's instrument!"
intones the crowd.
The game goes on.
O'Reilly gives up a hit to Chance. Dual prongs of fork lightning send a puff of
smoke floating into the air near a giant tree by the river. The tree emits a
terrible splitting sound. The tree shrieks again, repelling the lightning, the
force of it, the essence of it, gathering like a molten metal sun in the upper
branches. Like Zeus pitching lightning bolts, the tree draws itself back and
fires the coiled lightning back at the sky.
Tinker hits a
single. Brown strikes out. The sky seems to accept the return of the lightning.
In the western sky, beyond the ballfield, beyond the hill coated with
spectators, the gray fog clouds begin to turn in a whirlpool gyration that
quickly develops to a boil. The sky hisses and bubbles like a caldron.
reprocessed lightning is pitched forth and, like a comet or a curve-ball,
hurtles toward the baseball field. The victim is Grady, the Confederacy
rightfielder, who has been alternating every nine innings with Stan. The
lightning explodes, like a light bulb disintegrating. The single flash is
blinding; dots dance before my eyes. Grady lies smoldering on the rightfield
instrument!" cries the woman.