I Failed As a Professional Baseball Player And Now Have To Fight Otherworldly Creatures With Nothing But a Baseball Bat
He squeezed her cold hand, trying to imbue even the slightest bit of warmth into the miniature fingers of the unconscious girl before him.
Bentley had always hated hospitals. There had rarely been a moment in his life where he wasn’t making regular visits to one. The nurses had always told him that eventually he would get used to them, though he now realized these were just the overly optimistic musings of people trying to comfort a boy with a dying mother.
The pale skin of the young girl on the bed beside him unearthed these long buried memories of his mother. A Spanish philosopher once said that, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” Bentley couldn’t help but give credit to the weight that statement held, as much as he wished it held none. He took out a worn brush from the pocket of his coat and began to carefully brush the long black hair of this Sleeping Beauty. He brushed and brushed until the hair looked more like a silk curtain hanging down from her head. Bentley realized that the perfect hair just made her look more doll-like and he wished he had stopped a few brushes earlier. What he wanted wasn’t some flawless porcelain figure, what he wanted was his little sister back.
A knock at the door let Bentley know that the nurses were coming in to run their daily tests.
“I think I’m going out, I’ll be back in a bit,” Bentley said to the nurse he was most familiar with, an older woman with gentle features and a name-tag reading ‘Nurse Hawthorne’.
“Of course, we’ll keep an eye on her,” she said with the warmth of an old friend despite not peeling her eyes from the bedside echocardiogram. Bentley nodded and stood up, his legs creaking like old floorboards after hours in the uncomfortable hospital chair. He moved some of the thin black hair from his sister’s face and gave her forehead a brief kiss.
“I’ll be right back May,” he whispered into his younger sister’s unflinching ear. He wasn’t sure whether she could hear it or not, but had been told by Nurse Hawthorne that in certain cases people in his sister’s condition were able to make out voices, despite being seemingly dead to the world around them. He hoped that was true, otherwise he would’ve read all of the books in the Magic Wizard series to her for nothing.
It was drizzling outside but Bentley didn’t particularly care. After all, the peaceful melody of the raindrops felt much better atop his head than the blinding hospital lights did. He made his way over to a covered bus stop across the street from the hospital and took a seat. This bus stop was a favorite workplace of Bentley’s. It was an incredibly run-down old thing. The bench was rusted beyond repair and looked like a tetanus patient’s worst nightmare. The otherwise perfectly paved city sidewalk tapered off into a cracked, weed-ridden mess in front of the bus stop before returning to pristine conditions as soon as it had passed. It looked as if the whole city had been built around it, leaving this hobbled bus stop as a reminder of a much less prosperous time.
"I wouldn’t be surprised if this ended up being a gateway to another world," Bentley thought, "albeit a much dirtier world". The plastic awning that shaded the bench was always plastered with printed ads, leaving not an inch of space on it to breathe, making it look more like an art student’s papier-mâché project than something built by the city. Many of the ads were typical, guitar lessons, language classes, flight school, the usual gamut. A large portion of them however were plain white pieces of paper with big block lettering reading:
THE END OF THE WORLD IS NIGH.
This notion, strangely enough, made Bentley feel even more comfortable sitting at that bus stop. He didn’t want the world to end, but at least then he wouldn’t have to sit around having his heart torn to shreds as his sister became less and less likely to wake up with each passing day, the delicate girl being tormented by the same exact disease that took his mother. Bentley immediately regretted the thought.
“How can I be feeling sorry for myself when my sister is up there fighting for her life,” he thought, glancing up at the window of her room. The light that looked so blinding while he was under it seemed rather faint to him from here.
Bentley pulled a pocketbook from the back of his jeans and began to plug away numbers. Somewhere deep down, Bentley knew that he was hopelessly swimming in debt, but like a proud king who refuses to acknowledge his own death until the guillotine falls, Bentley rejected any notion that his attempts at mathematical wizardry may be in vain. After an hour of hopelessly moving numbers around in an attempt to crack an unsolvable problem, Bentley felt his stomach begging to be filled. He shoved the pocketbook back into his jeans and began trudging on towards the warm neon glow of a local convenience store.
Bentley was greeted by the high-pitched screech of a shopkeeper’s bell when he pushed the door open and slid inside. The shopkeeper sat at the cash register glaring at Bentley. He felt as if the short man was boring holes into his chest with those beady dark eyes. Bentley shirked away from the shopkeeper's gaze and into an aisle. He grabbed everything lemon flavored that he saw as he walked down the aisles. Lemon Creme Sandwiches, Lemon Drops, Iced Lemon Cupcakes, they all were quickly gathered up into his waiting arms. He had never enjoyed the taste of real lemons but for whatever reason, artificial lemons were a completely different story. Nowadays, he had gotten to the point where his body would reject anything not lemon flavored, a punishment fit for a lifetime of picky eating. It was also a nightmare diet for an aspiring professional baseball player, however his high school coach had refused to argue with results and as the stats continued to pile up, he stopped questioning his strange dietary restrictions. Bentley had been told that professional baseball was a whole different world though and that he would have to change his diet once he made a team, but as he waited for a team to be willing to take a chance on someone without any collegiate experience, he decided he could gorge on this lemon-flavored buffet.
As he sauntered over to the frozen foods section, being careful not to drop any of his precious lemon snacks, he caught a glimpse of his reflection in one of the glass doors.
“That’s why the shopkeeper must’ve been scowling at me,” he decided. Bentley wore a plaid button-up that looked wrinkled beyond saving, a pair of light jeans covered in stains whose origins Bentley wouldn’t have been able to pinpoint with a gun to his head, and a weathered pair of sneakers that looked more like they belonged to a lifelong hiker than someone who spent the majority of their days outside of batting practice sitting in a hospital room. His medium-length black overcoat still looked fairly new and was the only nice piece of clothing that Bentley owned, but at this time of night it only served to make him look even more like a sketchy character. His hair was still sticking up in all the wrong places from the baseball helmet he had been wearing earlier that day and his sharp green eyes were sullied by the bags that underlined them and the amount they’d sunk into his face due to lack of sleep. Bentley also happened to have a relatively tall and slender build with reasonably muscular arms, perfect for baseball but also unfortunately, the exact build of someone a shopkeeper may expect to rob a convenience store. He licked his hand and did what he could with his hair but it was almost as hopeless as the accounting he had been doing moments earlier. He gave up with an exasperated sigh and grabbed both a pint of lemon ice cream and a jug of lemonade.
The old man behind the register continued to stare daggers as he scanned every piece of the lemon cornucopia that Bentley had assembled.
“You like lemons huh?” The old man had a gravelly voice that sounded as if it could cut someone in two.
“Only the artificial lemon flavoring, I actually don’t like real lemons,” Bentley replied.
“Strange,” the old man said.
“Yeah, I tried to kick the habit but I never could manage to,” Bentley said with a nervous laugh.
“Watch your habits for they become your character, watch your character for it becomes your destiny,” the old man said, unblinking.
“I’ve heard that quote,” Bentley chimed in, “although I hardly see how eating lemon flavored snacks could become my destiny.”
The old man seemed not to hear this, or at least he didn’t react if he did. He simply looked at a spot over Bentley’s head with the focus of a hunter taking aim.
“It’s starting,” the old man said, his voice devoid of anything resembling emotion.
Bentley was cut off by a flash of lightning outside. The entire building began to shake as a clap of thunder that sounded loud enough to tear a hole in the fabric of the universe rang out around them. The drizzling rainfall turned to a downpour and the pangs of raindrops sounded like gunfire on the roof of the convenience store. Bentley stood frozen in awe, wondering how the old man could have possibly known this was coming. The shopkeeper returned his gaze to Bentley.
“You should answer that,” he said.
Bentley realized that his phone was ringing and fumbled around in his pockets for a moment before finally pulling out the tiny square and flipping it open. He pressed answer despite the call being made by an unknown number and slowly raised the black device to his ear.
“Hey Bentley, this is Lee from high school, we were on the baseball team together,” the voice from the other end of the phone said.
“Hi Lee, how are you?” Bentley quickly racked his head to remember a Lee from high school but could recall no such name.
“I’m doing good man, but small talk aside, are you still looking for a tryout?”
“Like in baseball?”
“Obviously in baseball you big idiot,” Lee said, laughing as if it were the funniest joke he’d ever heard.
“Yeah, I’m looking for a tryout,” Bentley said, unsure as to how this man knew that he was searching for such a thing.
“Well, I’m the trainer for a minor league team near you,” he said, “they were lacking a real heavy hitter in their batting lineup and I couldn’t help but throw the name of my high school’s home run king into the mix.”
“Thanks so much Lee, that means a ton, what team are you the trainer for if you don’t mind me asking?”
“The Lemurs,” he said matter-of-factly.
Bentley could not recall ever hearing about a minor league team near him named the Lemurs, he then suddenly wondered how Lee knew what would even be considered near him.
“I’ve never heard of the Lemurs,” Bentley said.
“I kind of went out on a limb to suggest you to management,” Lee said, “I haven’t been here very long and don’t have much pull but I figured you’d be more excited.”
Bentley felt his face burn red and was immediately overcome with embarrassment. Here was a guy from high school that had gone out of his way to get him a chance and he was interrogating him.
“Who am I to be turning down tryout opportunities?”
“You are completely right, I’m really sorry for the rudeness, I’d love a tryout. I won’t let you down,” Bentley said.
“That’s great,” Lee said, his voice lighting back up, “I’ll text you the address tomorrow, get some rest tonight and come crush it!”
“Will do, thanks again Lee,” Bentley said with sincerity this time. He closed the phone and tucked it back into his pocket. Returning his attention to the world around him, Bentley realized that the old man was gone and that the rain had stopped.
“He must’ve ducked into some back room,” Bentley thought. He grabbed his armful of lemon snacks and left the convenience store. He stretched his back and took a deep breath of cold night air. It burnt his throat on the way down like a shot of whiskey. Bentley felt a surge of confidence course through his veins. All he had to do was ace the tryout and he’d have the salary of a professional baseball player to rely on. He’d be able to crush the suffocating medical bills as if they too were pitches straight down the middle. He might even be able to buy his sister a nice dress to wear out on the first night after she woke up.
“Things are changing May,” he thought, picturing his sister’s lively smile from long ago.
And changing they were.