Steve Carr, from Richmond, Virginia, has had over 540 short stories published internationally in print and online magazines, literary journals, reviews and anthologies since June, 2016. He has had seven collections of his short stories published. His paranormal/horror novel Redbird was released in November, 2019. He has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize twice. His Twitter is @carrsteven960. His website is https://www.stevecarr960.com/ He is on Facebook:https://www.facebook.com/steven.carr.35977
TWICE BAKED RANDALL
Driving home from a date late at night in a rainstorm, as the windshield wipers swished from side to side, unable to keep up with the torrential rain that cascaded down the windshield, Randall didn’t see the headlights of the truck that crossed the yellow line and veered into his lane until it was too late. It hit him head on.
He awoke to the sound of a steady, rhythmic beeping and the hushed and hurried sounds of the doctors and nurses who circled his bed taking turns examining his broken body, inserting needles into his skin, and running lines of tubing from his body to bags of plasma, blood and clear liquids that hung on stands alongside the bed. He had a hard time understanding what they were saying to one another, although he understood clearly the nurse standing near his head who kept repeating in his left ear, “hang in there.”
He wanted to tell her, to tell all of them, not to worry. He tried to say, “I’m back on the diamond,” but his mouth couldn’t form the words. He felt alternately euphoric and in intense pain. He couldn’t raise his head and his entire body felt weighed down.
“Okay, you’re going to go to sleep for a while. We’re going to take you into surgery and get you all patched up,” the nurse said into his ear. Then a chill that began in his right arm where a tube had been inserted coursed through his entire body. “
The game’s not over, he thought.
For six months afterward, Randall recovered from two broken legs, a broken pelvis, a fractured arm, six broken ribs, a crushed sternum and a fractured skill, first in the hospital, and then in rehab where he had to re-learn how to walk and speak. The only thing that wasn’t repaired during that time was his inability to adjust to returning back to the land of the living after dying during the crash. The paramedics at the crash scene reported that Randall had been dead for as long as five minutes before suddenly taking an inhalation of breath as his heartbeat returned – several minutes after they assumed Randall was a goner and had already pronounced him dead.
“How does anyone explain something like that?” Randall asked every doctor and nurse who cared for him during the months of recovery. “I’m certain I was dead. Is there a name for it?”
It was his psychoanalyst, Dr. Kirkland, who told him it’s called a life after death experience.
It was the bottom of the ninth inning and the East Jessup Hammers had two outs, a man on first base and one on third. Randall was certain he saw flames shooting out of Jerry Pfizer’s nostrils as the hulking ball player walked from the dugout to home plate and took his stance with his bat readied for the first pitch. Jerry was the most badass ball player in the entire East Jessup league, a star player, first baseman of The Rockets. The crack of the ball as it collided with Jerry’s bat sent off visible shock waves – at least visible to Randall. The liner hurled past the pitcher and past the second baseman of Randall’s team, the Starlings, and spun at rocket speed toward Randall in the center outfield as if drawn to his glove by a powerful magnet. The smacking of the ball against the leather of his glove knocked him back a few inches and stung like hell. He emitted an audible gasp and then opened his eyes to the cheers of the Starlings fans in the bleachers and whooping and hollering of his teammates. It meant the Starlings won the game, seven to six. Jerry Pfizer stomped off the field eyeing Randall with the same glaring malice a cat shows a rat as Randall raised his hand and gave Jerry the finger.
After the game, the Starlings met at Ziggy’s Bar and Grill. Jerry sat at the bar flanked on both sides by his closest friends who paid for the mugs of beer set before him one after another by Karl, the bartender.
“It’s great to have you back out there on the field you old son-of-a-gun,” Pete Newberry said as he punched Randall in the arm. “You sure showed that a-hole Jerry Pfizer what’s what.”
In a state of euphoria, assuming having once been dead had given him new powers on the ball field, Randall downed a mouthful of beer, swallowed it in one gulp, and then slammed his mug on the counter. “Another one barkeep,” he said to Karl who was busily filling other mugs. The entire Starlings team was as surprised as Randall that he had caught the ball and they had actually won the game. Before dying, Randall never caught a ball hit like that before, and they had never won a game before.
When the bar closed, Randall’s friends carried him to his car and laid him in the back seat where he spent the night sleeping it off.
Randall awoke to the sound of church bells. He sat up, momentarily confused, then quickly gathered that he was in the back seat of his car, and looked out the back window to see parishioners entering a church down the street. He hadn’t been inside a church since he was really young.
“I’m not a religious person and stopped believing in all that stuff a long time ago” he had told Dr. Kirkland. “Is that why I never saw God or any angels when I died?”
“You play baseball, and believe in it more religiously than anything else you talk about, but you didn’t see a ball field when you died either,” she replied.
“I think I was listening to a ball game when I had the crash.”
The psychoanalyst scribbled something in her notepad and then looked into Randall’s eyes. “That’s new. In the three months I’ve been seeing you, you never mentioned that before.”
It was the only memory he ever recalled of the crash during any of the sessions.
He opened the door, hung his head out, and puked on the curb. He wiped a stream of dribbled vomit from his chin and stepped over the pool of puke, noticing that he was still wearing his cleats although he was no longer in his uniform. He looked at his watch, saw that it was 11:15, and uttered “shit” under his breath.
Penned to the front door of his house was a note from Jerry Pfizer. “You’re dead meat,” it said. He took it down and stuffed it into his back pocket.
When he opened the door, Mickey was sitting at the door with his leash clenched in his teeth. His full name, Mickey Mantle, etched into the silver plate on his collar glinted in the morning sunlight. The Irish Setter’s head was bowed and its tail was curled between its back legs. A puddle of urine lay on the floor next to the entryway rug.
“I’m so sorry, boy,” Randall said as he rubbed Mickey’s head. “It’s not your fault.”
The dog’s ears perked up and its tail shot out and began to wag.
Randall attached the leash to the collar and led the dog from the house and across the street to the neighborhood park. Walking leisurely along the narrow paths, Randall stopped at intervals and stood patiently by while Mickey sniffed under the bushes and scratched in the dirt. When they reached the Little League ball field formed in the middle of an open field, Randall climbed up on the small set of bleachers built on the edge of the field and sat down with Mickey lying at his feet.
“This is where it all began for me, on a field just like that one,” he said aloud.
Carried by a hot breeze, an eddy of dirt blew across the field. Randall closed his eyes, tilted his head back, and let the sun cook his tanned cheeks.
You’re out, a voice screamed in his head.
His eyes flew open in time to see the headlights of the truck shining through the downpour.
Then he passed out.
Randall awoke sprawled out on the bench. Mickey was licking his face. He sat up and saw that three boys were on the ball field tossing baseballs to one another. He slowly climbed off of the bleachers and strolled across the middle of the field. “You boys want some pointers on playing baseball?”
The boys eyed him suspiciously.
“You play in the big leagues?” one of them said.
“Just an intramural team, The Starlings.”
“Aw, you ain’t anybody. My dad is first baseman on The Rockets and his team kicks your team’s ass all the time.”
“First baseman? What’s your last name?” Randall said.
Randall chuckled, turned, and slowly walked out of the park with Mickey at his heels. Inside his house he detached the leash from the dog’s collar and hung it up. He cleaned up the puddle of urine, fixed a sandwich, grabbed a beer from the refrigerator, and went into the living room. He sat on the sofa and turned the television onto a sports channel. The San Francisco Giants were playing the St. Louis Cardinals. It was a rerun of a game that had been played during the previous season. He then recalled it was the game that was playing when the truck slammed into his car.
As if a light had suddenly been turned on, he then remembered being dead; those moments between being pulled from the wreckage and awaking to see the paramedics kneeling beside him. He wondered for the thousandth time, why did I come back?
He picked up his cell phone and called the number of Dr. Kirkland. He had stopped the sessions with her the month before, declaring, “I no longer need analysis. I was given a second chance to live. I was reborn, rebaked like a cake requiring a second baking when I was in that accident. Nothing about that needs analysis.”
“This is Dr. Kirkland. I’ll be out of town until the end of the month. Please leave a message or contact Dr. Jersey if you need to schedule an appointment with him or call 9-1-1 if this is an emergency,” the voice recording on the phone said.
He threw his cellphone across the room knocking over his only baseball trophy, earned when he was in high school and named best liked player by his teammates. He turned off the television, rose from the sofa, picked up his keys, and left the house.
In the lot of Ziggy’s Bar and Grill, Randall sat in his car for several minutes listening to radio static before he got out. The gravel beneath his cleats crunched noisily as he walked to the door. It took his eyes a moment to adjust to the dim light inside the bar when he opened the door. He glanced up at the white light of early afternoon sunlight before going inside. The bar was mostly empty with only two booths occupied and a man he didn’t know sitting at the bar. He sat on a stool a few seats away from the stranger.
“Where’s the rest of the team?” Karl asked when he appeared at the other side of the bar.
“Where most guys who play baseball are on Sunday afternoons, either playing it somewhere or watching it on television,” Randall said. “Give me a draft, dark, and keep ‘em coming.”
“Right-o,” Karl said and then turned to the row of taps for the beers.
It was then that Jerry Pfizer roughly jabbed Randall in the back. “You get my note?” he said, gruffly.
Randall pivoted around on the stool. “I’ve already been dead meat,” he said. “What else you got?”
Jerry curled his fist and held it in front of Randall’s face. “I got this.”
Randall stretched out his arms and closed his eyes. “Go ahead. Do your worst. Let’s see how many innings I got in me.” A few moments later he opened his eyes as tears streamed down his face. Jerry had lowered his fist and was just staring at him, a look of concern on his face.
“Hey man, do you need to talk about it?” Jerry said.
In the moment of his death, as life left his body, leaving behind a shattered shell, Randall had one thought: it was the end of playing baseball or ever seeing it played again for the rest of eternity. The light he fought to return to from an unknowable darkness that was swallowing him was that of the lights that surrounded the ball fields during night games, the same lights that shone from stadiums, and from the glow of television sets while baseball games played. What brought him back wasn’t the hands of the paramedics, or just the will to live, it was the cheers and hollers of the crowds in the bleachers wherever baseball was played.