Dr. Gregory Shafer
“A Simple Ball”
The average life of such a simple thing as a ball is perhaps not so average at all. Take for instance a baseball: a commonplace sphere of no particular importance. And yet it itself is crafted of the finest treated leather, lightly cream in color, shiny and spotless from the store shelf. Small stitches of red surround its surface in circular designs restraining the elastic-wrapped core within. While many of us take its mere existence for granted, a baseball would tell us about grand adventures, if it were only capable of such.
As the epicenter of America's favorite past-time, our proud friend stands tall, drinking in the attention of an entire nation. Brimming with pride and self-worth, the ball is batted and thrown about a grand stadium, bristling with enthralled spectators centered on its every move. When at length it is launched clear out of the park to nestle forcefully into a distant windshield, the ball itself is beaming with the adoration of the crowd.
But was it perhaps flung forcefully out of the park too soon? For the ball, when it had officially left the attention of the audience and local media, was transported away into a strange new place at the incessant pleading of an over-excited lad covered in mustard stains and a too-large cap. Proud and arrogant, the ball would realize that its misadventures had only begun.
Soon after, it was gripped in a small, sweaty palm and raked harshly with the stains of mud and earth, and then lobbed wildly across a home-grown sandlot. The lot was wedged tightly between a ramshackle wooden fence and an old, derelict building bearing a half-dozen shattered windows (all of which of mysterious origin). It was launched awkwardly from one grubby hand to the next with none of the skill or grace it carried during what was the peak of its life. Abused, mistreated, and under appreciated, the only attention the ball garnered now were dead houseflies and dried phloem stuck to its surface. Once out of the safety of the professional ballpark, the ball realized now that it was at the mercy of a cruel, remorseless world.
Over the excited shrieks of youngsters and the vicious but misdirected barking of neighborhood dogs, one of the larger kids managed a lucky swing. With a thunderous crack, the ball soared to impressive heights, grateful to leave behind a vicious world it had only just discovered. Over fence and field the ball flew, past decrepit housing, vine-choked brick walls, and vandalized billboards sailed the ball, completely at the mercy of fate.
At length, the baseball tumbled wildly toward the Earth, falling at reckless speed, completely out of control of its direction in life. It crashed into the reaching foliage of the untamed field beyond the rough baseball diamond. These lands were harsh and wild, unknown and undiscovered by the ball. They ran wild with enormous ferns and obscuring trees. They stretched out, slapping the ball roughly as it plummeted. It smashed abruptly into the dampened ground, crunching dry twigs and debris under its momentum. Its sudden arrival into this new world caused a great clamor, silencing the local beasts and stirring into flight a flock of large, black birds.
Here the ball was utterly alone and in despair. The baseball, once a proud, cherished icon of its sport and the focal point of the entire world, had been forsaken by its fans and lost to their eyes. It had so quickly been forgotten by the ones who were once its closest buddies. And now it sat, in solitude and desolation in an unknown and untamed jungle that was the overgrown suburban lot.
Daylight waned, and with it came the creatures of the night. Foul beasts they were, creatures that preyed on anything caught unaware, quick to take exploit any weakness. Alien sounds and strange calls filled the air. A cold wind blew through the world, shaking leaf and branch in its terrible grip. The ball could do naught but tremble, looking about this strange place it now found itself in, wondering what was to become of it. Fearful of the predators that loomed around every corner.
Tiny squeaks punctuated the night air; they were the cries of the less fortunate. One predator stalked the woods, closing in on its prey, and then leapt, over-powering the weaker opponent. The poor creature stood no chance against such might.
But during the commotion, the ball was knocked from its resting place. Dislodged from its bed of twigs and mud, it plodded downhill, gaining momentum as it bounced painfully against every tiny root and rock. Dislodged grasses, slick from the earlier showers, stuck to the ball as it plummeted, covering it like a shattered wardrobe of disgrace.
The baseball, fueled by gravity and covered in a haphazard raiment of grass and lichen, eventually found itself rolling onto a foreign surface. It was a wide sheet of unbroken black rock stretching into the distance in opposing directions. Thick trails of paint lined both sides of it. And here the ball came to a rest, dipping down into a water-logged gutter choked with all manner of discarded refuse, broken foliage, and the decomposing carcass of some luckless animal. Here, wading in this stew of waste and death, the ball was allowed a moment of peace. The comforting call of crickets filled the night air, singing their lament to the darkening twilight, as the dogs of the city howled from a great distance away.
After continuing its seemingly endless downward spiral in life, the ball at last was able to take some much-needed solace. It nestled here a while, believing the worst to be over, and it became lax, content to simply simmer with the garbage and rejections of society. It wanted no further part in the aims or ambitions of life or anything it had to offer, for what had life done for it so far? Stripped it of its comfort and security to throw it out with the trash.
But life, it seemed, was not content to leave the ball to its idle pondering, even in the midst of a trash-strewn gutter. Two blinding lights pierced the night, serving as a signal to the advance of demons. Great monstrosities tore through the night, ripping apart the air at impossible speeds, displacing typhoon-forced winds, and obliterating the tranquil songs of the wild with the harsh grinding of metal and the hellish growling of monstrous engines.
The ball was helplessly whipped about in a powerful draft, pulled into the center of the road to face the onslaught head on, whether it wanted to or not. The mechanical underbelly of one flew overhead and was gone in an instant; the air rushed in to fill where the beast had been a mere second prior, propelling the hapless ball further toward its fate.
More vehicles ripped past, quick as lightning and loud as the devil himself. Every one that passed had a different appearance but each and every single one all had the same goal: the absolute annihilation of anything smaller that was caught in their path. Each bore down on the ball with ever-growing demands and increasing threats of discontinued facilities or dislocation. Until at last, pushed inevitably into the path of one of these lumbering fiends, the ball was rent asunder between rubber and asphalt and spat into the air as if fired from an immense cannon. The ball shot violently through the air, its leather covering ripped open and its stitches decimated. The dilapidated ball, with shattered cloth flapping in its wake, smacked hard into another windshield of a passing vehicle. The ball bounced onward, misshapen and tormented, as the night air was broken by brakes squealing and metal grinding. Brake lights lit up the night as two cars slammed into each other and each came to a jarring halt with gravel flying.
The baseball itself, in the meanwhile, had landed in a blanket of freshly mowed grass, and was thinking the worst of itself, convinced that its life had ended for good and that death was the only appropriate out. It was then that a local dog, a large beast of a mutt, had happened by and took an interest in the wreckage of the ball. Its enormous snout sniffed and snorted, huffing blasts of putrid air at the disfigured ball. Stretching open a gaping maw filled with dripping incisors, the dog took up the remnants of its ball within its mouth. Hot, foul air blasted up from the inner workings of the hound, assailed the ball with ripe odors of dog food and rotting feces.
The behemoth mutt strolled in a lazy gait up the street, passing stretches of forlorn tires and piles of refuse, cast aside and forgotten by society. It passed buildings of ancient brick and flaking mortar, each sporting warped wooden doors and shattered windows.
The dog carried the ball for some while, supporting it on legs that it itself did not have. The mutt had pulled the ball up from the worst of what life had to offer, intent to return the ball to the dusty sandlot with its grubby kids.
With a loud grunt, the mutt laid its body down upon a patch of dirt, chewing idly on the old, broken ball in its mouth whilst watching the youngsters carry on with a new ball, shiny white with pride and arrogance, driven straight home from the local baseball stadium.