Sunday, March 23, 2014

The Key, Chapter 23

The Key
by Eloise Hawking

Chapter 23

     We popped out of my grandparent’s property line single file into the wide open parking lot of the park.  The park is seventy acres of township land that houses nine baseball and softball fields, a pond, and miles of hiking trails through the wooded area which makes up the majority of the park.  Our trio flipped our line from vertical to horizontal, and walked side by side in the direction of the woods.

     “I wonder if Thomas is playing,” said Jack, nodding in the direction of field 10 where boys his age usually played in fall ball. 

     “I dunno,” said Emily, “want to go and see?”

    “Nah, let’s just keep going.  I’m bored of baseball now anyway,” Jack stated.

     Jack was right.  Although all three of us loved the sport, we only loved it for so long.  Around here, softball and baseball seasons lasted forever.  Practices for little league began in April and we played regular season games through May and June.  All star teams played in July, and travel teams began in August and played through the beginning of October or until the weather turned too cold to play.  It gave kids a nice chance to play lots of games if they really loved the sport, but for the three of us, the never ending season was too much of a good thing.

      “There’s the press box for field 9,” I said.  “That is kind of red.”  I looked at the faded, chipped paint that was more of a brownish red from weathering.  “ It only has that opening so maybe that doesn’t count as a window and it has a door WAY, not really a door.  Could that be it?”

     “Where’s the chimney though?” pointed out Jack.  “And what was that other part your mom was saying about having a star inside?”

     I shrugged.  “Your guess is as good as mine.”

     “Let’s go up there and check it out.  No one’s playing on it today,” said Emily.

     Field 9 was next to the pond that was dug especially for the park years ago.  We went off of the path and took the shortcut around the water and stopped beneath the lone locust tree that stood on the edge of the pond.  Jack snapped off an immature branch. 

     “Here, we can use this if we run into the Big Bad Wolf,” said Jack, whipping the branch like a sword.  “This should do the trick.” We looked at the branch full of thorns. 

     “Ow!  That looks like it would hurt,” said Emily.

     “It would,” instructed Jack, “because the immature branches of the locust tree are full of thorns.  It is one of their natural defenses to let the branches grow to full maturity.  The thorns keep insects and birds away until the branch is good and strong and can support them and they can live in harmony.”

     Emily stared at Jack with a raised eyebrow.  “Thanks for the science lesson ON A SATURDAY!”  

     Emily seemed unimpressed.  I on the other hand was always impressed with the stuff Jack knew.  He was very smart.

     We then trekked through the muddy infield and walked up the rickety steps of splintering wood to the press box.  The steps were old and in need of repair, so I looked down, careful about the placement of my feet.  It was then that I noticed that I had my good school sneakers on. 

     “Uh, oh.  My mom is gonna kill me,” I announced looking down at the brown edges of my nice, white sneakers.

     Jack and Emily stopped and turned their attention toward me.  A kid knows to be careful with school shoes.  

    In sympathy, Jack said, “Just say that Sam filled your boots with water and they were too wet to wear.” 

   A good excuse I may need to use if I thought of nothing better by the time I got back. 

  Our press boxes were directly over top of the dug outs.  We walked into the press box area which smelled of plywood and old sticky Coca Cola that had long ago spilled on the floor.  

     “What’s this button for,” asked inquisitive Emily, giving it a push.   The press boxes were wired with PA systems and for big tournaments and stuff, kids’ names could be announced.  The power wasn’t on so nothing happened.

     “Good thing you aren’t the President of the United States,” I said giggling “and don’t ever go on a tour of the Oval Office.   I can see you now---“Hey what’s this button for---PUSH----then blammo---missiles are launched and you get us into World War III.”
     “Ellen, that is not true!” said Jack.  “There is no such button on the President’s desk!  They would not put something that important on top of a desk that is in the reach of everyone who goes in there.”

     “Maybe the President has a cover over it or something,” said Emily, who was unfazed by my teasing and Jack’s correction.

     “Let’s look around for clues while we’re up here,” I said.

     The three of us made a quick survey of the small area.  There really wasn’t too much to investigate, just some plywood bench seats and a ledge to put rosters and clipboards on.  There were a couple of gum wrappers in the corner.  

     Jack stood on top of the bench and ran his fingers along the top space where the roof met the walls to see if there were any clues hidden there.  Emily kneeled on the ledge and half hung her body out of the window to see if there was anything there.

     “Emily!  Don’t do that!  You’ll fall out!” admonished Jack.  

     Emily pretended not to hear him and kept at it. 

    “Don’t ask me to call an ambulance for you if you fall out of the window then.”

     Emily shot back a challenge.   “I thought you said that this wasn’t a window!” 

   “Hey,” I interjected to ward off a fight.  “I found some money!”  

    I found a quarter, a nickel, and three pennies underneath the seat.

    “Bills, or change?” asked Emily, who still had her head hanging out of the opening.

     “Coins,” I replied.

     “Oh, forget it then,” she said.

     Jack glanced over to see if there was any more lying around.  He then asked, “Were the pennies heads up or heads down?”

     “I don’t know, I didn’t look,” I replied.

     “You are probably going to have bad luck then,” Jack said with his voice lilting upward at the end of his sentence.

    Luck.  What was luck anyway?  My mom said there was no such thing as luck, but she never elaborates when I ask her what that means.  She says that I’ll figure it out on my own someday, and when I do, come and tell her.
     My Grandma on the other hand, thinks everything is based on luck.  We gamble in the morning before school, betting on dice to pass the time while waiting for the school bus.  My mother believes we are practicing my spelling words.  Grandma rolls the dice between her palms.  They make clacking sounds against the bands of her rings.
     “I betcha I can roll a three within two rolls,” Grandma will say.  She kisses the dice and then lets them go. Usually there is always a three in the first couple of tosses. 

     “See,” Grandma will say, “I’m the luckiest person alive!”

     “Why will Ellen have bad luck for finding change?” asked Emily, now sitting up, suddenly interested in the conversation.

     “Well,” said Jack, “they say when you pick up a penny, it should be heads up, if it’s not, all that day you’ll have bad luck.”

     “So what do you think they were, Ellen?  Heads up or tails up?” asked Emily.

     I shrugged and shook my head.  “Too late,” they are already in my pocket.

     “You should put them back in case any of them were tails,” said Jack.

     “I’ll take my chances,” I said.  “Come on, there’s nothing up here.  We better get going.”

     Jack and I retreated down the stairs.  Emily was still hanging out of the press box window asking us how far we thought it was to the ground.

     “Get down!” we yelled in tandem. 

     “You’re no fun,” Emily pouted.

     We continued on through the park in a northeasterly direction.  We found a boys’ game was underway on Field 12, near the edge of the woods.  We stopped and leaned on the fence bordering the outfield to see if anything exciting was going to happen.  All the boys had their backs to us, and really they all looked alike in their uniforms with their hats on and stuff. 

     “Do you recognize anybody?” Jack asked Emily and me.

    “That’s Nick out in left field,” I replied.  Even though Nick had his back to us, Emily and I knew who it was right away.  The elbow.
     “Oh yuck!  Is that the kid who picks his nose all the time?” asked a grossed out Jack.

     “Uh, huh,” said Emily, “and he’s goin’ at it right now.  Look!” Nick’s elbow was outstretched, perpendicular to his body.

     “He must be a righty,” laughed Jack.


     Just then someone actually hit one and the outfielders who had been in a stupor suddenly woke up, except for Nick that is.  He must really had gotten a hold of a deep one.
     “Nick!” we shouted to him, as the ball sailed over top of his head, bounced and rolled to the edge of the fence where we were standing.  

     He was still slightly dazed at the sudden wake up call, ended his excavation and turned and ran for the ball.  Nick looked up to see us standing along the fence, full well knowing we caught him red handed, well, red fingered rather, and his face was red to match. 

     None of us offered poor Nick any further words of encouragement, which we probably should have, but kids are like that.  If you don’t know exactly what to do, just stand there in awkward silence.  That is always a safe bet.

    “I’ve seen enough,” remarked Jack.  “Let’s get out of here.”

    “Amen to that, Choir Boy,” I said. 

     Jack was in his school’s boys’ choir where all the boys sang with high voices until their voices changed.  Jack’s hadn’t yet because he started school early and was actually a year younger than his peers.  At first it was a cool thing to be asked to be in the Boys’ Choir, but as time went on and he was the only boy in his class left, I don’t think he thought it was so cool anymore.

     “Shut up, Ellen,” said Jack.  I must have hit a nerve there.  “If Fangs finds us, I’m leaving you behind.”

     Fangs.  I forgot about him.  He’s known to roam the woods during the fall, following Farmer Richter’s tractor.  His orchards border the park property to the east.  Our property borders it to the west.  

     For a second I got that flutter of fear in my stomach, and had the urge to turn around at the mere thought of facing Fangs in the woods.  Then it occurred to me that maybe it was Fangs that Mother was referring to when she reminded me about The Big Bad Wolf. 

     No matter, because I could not show my fear.  I didn’t need my two besties calling me Chicken.  There was safety in numbers, right?  I’d be with my threesome.

     I sighed and moved forward despite my sense of foreboding.  With any luck we wouldn’t have a run in with Fangs and we’d find the solution to Mother’s puzzle.  I know my mother would disagree, so this probably wasn’t it, but a moment’s pondering led me to wonder if luck was the key to all things. 

     My thoughts were interrupted by another loud crack.  Someone had hit long one out to left field again and we could see Nick running after it. The pitcher must have been getting tired.  After all, it was the end of September.  Six months of playing baseball is too much for any kid.  This time, unbeknownst to me, the noise of the crowd response from the other team drowned out the sound of thunder from the west.  

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