by Jeremy Gold
First published in Volume 4 of Santa Barbara Literary Journal
I slapped the dust off my pants. Across the diamond on first, Wilcox clicked his heels together, freeing his cleats of damp infield. Henderson adjusted his cap on second. Third-base Coach Ryerson reminded me that the bases were loaded, it was the bottom of the ninth, and we were two runs down. I was running on anything.
Their catcher called time and jogged to the mound. While he and the pitcher talked about how to pitch Gonzalez, I thought about recent rumors that my head was on the chopping block.
There’d been talk of bringing up Rodriquez from Triple A for the final push. He played right field. I played right field. He had a canon of an arm. The tightness in my right shoulder had been giving me problems for months. I liked our chances of making the playoffs with our current roster. I liked playing in L.A.
The outfield moved in, cheating to left field. The catcher returned and squatted down behind home. The ump shouted, “Play ball.” The pitcher nodded. Gonzalez took strike one. The crowd groaned. I readjusted the Velcro on my gloves.
Gonzalez fouled off the next pitch behind first. Strike two. The crowd was on their feet, shouting and clapping their hands. I yelled to Hector that he could do this. He dug in his cleats and bent his knees.
Wilcox took a lead off first. Henderson went into a crouch, just off second. I leaned toward home. The pitcher stepped off the rubber, turned, and surveyed the infield. Then he returned to the mound. He wiped his brow with the back of his glove and resumed his stance. He nodded at the catcher and took two big breaths. He went into his windup. Ball two. Two and two.
Another ball made the count full. The crowd went crazy. Both teams were up and leaning over the railings of their dugouts. Coach Ryerson reminded me of the count and to run on anything. The catcher signaled his pitcher. Who shook his head twice before finally nodding and pulling his glove to his chest. He peeked at first. Then third. Then back to home. He went still. Took two more deep breaths and went into his windup.
Without warning a giant chasm split the field in two, stretching from center field to the backstop behind home plate. The umpire, the catcher, and Gonzalez toppled into the abyss. The upper deck of the stadium swayed back and forth before collapsing onto the lower levels. Plumes of dust shot skyward. People were screaming. The ground rumbled and the crevasse continued to widen. Blue smoke spiraled out from its depths. Henderson and the second baseman were swallowed by the ever-expanding crack in the earth. The stadium continued to implode.
Enormous, fifty-yard-long snakes began pouring out of the fissure. Hundreds of them. Thousands. Ravenous. As if they’d just awoken from decades of hibernation. Maybe they had. Huge, triangular heads swiveled from side to side, cold eyes searching for something to eat. Just before they struck, they opened their mouths wide, exposing glistening fangs the size of baseball bats.
I sprinted toward our dugout and the passage leading out of the ballpark. A snake struck Ryerson, tossed back its head, swallowing him whole. A section of upper deck crashed down on the dugout. I turned and looked for another way out. Snakes continued pouring out of the earth, striking at fleeing fans.
The Air Force arrived and fighter jets began to strafe the field. A giant, C1-4 swooped in and dropped its payload into the crack. Pieces of snake exploded all around me, cold blood and guts splattering my face and uniform.
I dove behind a row of seats that had tumbled onto the field just as one of the snakes struck at me. From above, a Marine slid down a rope dangling from a helicopter and jumped on its back. He yanked a K-bar from his belt and drove it into the top of the snake’s head. Once, twice, three times. The snake reared up, writhing and twisting in reptilian fury before falling to the ground. The Marine sheathed his knife and ran off to help a woman rolling toward third in a wheelchair.
I raced to the bullpen just off left field where a secondary tunnel led outside. A snake struck at me. I dove and rolled to the left. Then right, wincing at the pain in my shoulder. Suddenly, the snake’s head exploded by a strike from one of the fighter jets. I wiped the blood out of my eyes and leaped over its convulsing tail. Snakes, jagged rebar, and shrapnel threatened my every step.
I scooped up a girl wearing a sundress and blue Dodgers cap. She couldn’t have been more than four and weighed next to nothing. Blood trickled down one of her arms. Tears and dirt masked her cheeks.
We reached the tunnel and dashed inside. The girl started to cry. I told her everything would be alright. The power was out and the long underpass was dark, but I saw light at the other end of the tunnel. Halfway there, it began to collapse. Chunks of concrete and dust kicked at my heels.
We burst out of the passageway into bright sunlight. A dozen snakes had escaped into the parking lot. Formations of soldiers and a phalanx of green army tanks fired nonstop at the advancing reptiles. The air was sour with smoke from spent ordinance. I dashed toward a mass of flashing ambulances and handed off the girl to a waiting paramedic.
I passed a general talking into a phone. “We didn’t expect them for another eight or nine years. They say it’s something to do with global warming. No one expected them to show up here.”
Another paramedic handed me a bottle of water. I thanked her and chugged gratefully.
Jeremy has lived in the Santa Barbara area for many years. He loves writing, as well as biking and hiking with his wife, Calla. He has published one novel, Death at Carp High. His story, "Scales & Bases" was published in Volume 4 of the Santa Barbara Literary Journal, available in our bookstore.