Posts Tagged ‘Baseball’

Part Eleven: What If?

July 23rd, 1991. Wisconsin

Robert Bloch’s high school class always had reunions at odd years. In fact, the thirty-ninth reunion of the class of 1934 was the very first one they ever had. Back then the Cold War was in full swing, so maybe they didn’t want to chance waiting til forty. This summer was their fifty-seventh reunion. Bloch wondered if there was a special name for such an odd number, like how fifty years is the golden anniversary and sixty five is the sapphire.

Driving through the plains of Wisconsin, he laughed to himself as he thought back to the reunion a few nights ago. One of his classmates, who really shouldn’t still be wearing those low cut blouses, leaned over her dinner plate while eying his watch and asked “What have you been doing since you got out of school?” He delighted her with an impromptu story that he ran a garbage truck company. As a matter of fact, he was the top garbage service in three counties. “Trash, manure, medical waste, we haul it all!” he said with a jovial wave of his fist. She wasn’t eyeing up that nice watch of his anymore.

Later at the bar one of his friends looked that old classmate over and said “I don’t know about you Bloch. If you played your cards right you could have had her in the shower tonight screaming bloody murder!”

“I don’t think my wife would approve!” Robert laughed.

“Who knows?” His mischievous friend said. “Maybe she would have watched!” Robert missed the humor of his classmates, but he also missed his wife. Elly wasn’t up for another trip to the great state of Wisconsin. It was probably for the best though. He learned that night one of his friends who couldn’t make the reunion was living in one of those little towns in the northern part of the state. He managed to get a hold of him, and via a rental car went out to see him for a few days.

Now that visit was finished and he was heading back south. Eventually he would turn east and fly back home via Milwaukee. Speeding down the highway he noticed the road sign, ninety miles to Plainfield. Something about that name sounded familiar, Plainfield, but he couldn’t remember. Not long after, he saw another sign, now sixty miles away. About a mile later he finally remembered, that big guy back at that horror convention, and his story about the psycho house. As he drove by the empty fields he tried to remember the details. 

Less than an hour later Plainfield was ahead of him, and on a whim he decided to get off the highway. Coming into the one horse town, he stopped in at a general store to get a drink. He couldn’t resist a peek at the magazine rack. Long gone were the magazines like Weird Tales and Amazing Stories that writers like himself and old HPL got their breaks in. At least they still had a few comic books. A young man next to him was thumbing through a magazine about professional wrestling. Robert never knew they even printed such things. He didn’t understand what the appeal was, grown men in tights pretending to fight each other. As he looked over the shoulder of the young man, he spied a report about a wrestling event from Japan. A color photograph portrayed a grappler wearing a mask of a deformed face while holding a chainsaw over his head. The caption read this was a new wrestler named Saw-Man. Saw-Man? he thought to himself. Wasn’t that a character from a horror movie?

Either way, Robert grabbed some stationary and a soda and got in line to check out. In front of him were a much older couple who placed a few items on the counter, but the clerk charged them nothing. He’d heard of a senior citizen discount but this was ridiculous! As Robert paid for his own items he watched the happy couple walk out of the store. Maybe they used to be the owners or something. As he looked at them, he thought to himself that he hoped he and Elly made it that long.

Robert then walked outside and looked down the street. There was a hotel nearby, he didn’t imagine many people staying here.

“Elly it’s me.” Robert said as the phone picked up.

“Hi honey, how was your visit?” He heard his wife’s sweet voice over the phone.

“It was great, really fun. Listen I decided to stay out here a few extra days.”

“Oh ok, where are you now?”

“I’m in a little town called Plainfield.”

“Plainfield, never heard of it. Who do you know there?”

“Actually no one,” Robert answered, “which is the reason I called. I need you to get something for me.”

“Ok.”

He hated the thought of subjecting her to this madness, but he had no other recourse. “In my desk,” he went on to explain, “I think in one of the right hand drawers there’s a stack of papers from that convention I went to last Halloween, see if you can grab it for me.”

“Sure.”

“There should be a folder with just a few papers in it.” He explained. “There’s stuff written down in there about Painfield.”

After a few minutes her voice came back on the line. “Ok I got it.”

“Great, there’s just a few papers in there, I want you to read whatever it says, and I’m going to copy it down.“

“Ok,” he could hear the papers rustling. He took a deep breath as he remembered what she was about to discover. “Plainfield Wisconsin, October 1957, Sally Kohler,” Robert wrote it all down. “Oh my god,” she exclaimed as she continued reading. “Is this true?” 

He almost regretted calling her now “Well I don’t know honey, I’m going to try to find out.” Then, feeling the need to soldier on, he said “Just keep reading it please.”

She finished the last remaining notes before adding, “Honey please be careful.”

“I will Eleanor, thank you. I’ll be home in a few days, love you”

It wasn’t that late in the day. Robert managed to find the library, and the old lady helped him find the microfiche of the local newspapers. Given the Plainfield Sun only came out once a week, it didn’t take long for Robert to scan through years worth of papers. Not much going on of course. There was the occasional hunting accident or hunter disappearing. News about Evelyn Hartley made its way all the way out here. He remembered that case, poor young girl; disappeared while babysitting. It was the biggest manhunt in state history and it didn’t turn up a thing.

Locally there was not much else of note. Looked like two times back in the 50’s there was a fire at the same property, an old farmhouse on the edge of town. Also in the early 50’s there was a woman who ran a bar not far from here that came up missing. Blood and a bullet cartridge were found in the bar. This seemed to be the most serious occurrence in this area he could find. After decades of scant local news whizzed by he started to feel stupid. What did he think he would find? There was no rash of local disappearances, not even a little nugget that could inspire a good yarn.

Soon nightfall came, and Robert didn’t have many options in terms of entertainment. He imagined he’d write a letter to his young fan tonight, or at least started a new piece of fiction, but there was nothing to write home about. Maybe he should have known better. Lacking in options, he found himself at a local tavern that evening. A few people eyeballed him as he came in. He thought to himself he might have been the first out of town person to come into this tavern since, maybe ever. Looking around at the mostly older crowd, he would have bet the same people had probably been coming here for years. 

On the TV screen the Brewers had an away game with the Kansas City Royals. He couldn’t remember the last time he even watched a ball game. Way back in his youth, what felt like a thousand years ago now, there was a special father’s and son’s day exhibition game. Robert couldn’t remember who it was against, but he remembered it was hot. As he put down a few dollars for his beer at the bar he remembered the then outrageous price of a dime for a ballpark soda. That day, during the seventh inning stretch, big league player Hack Wilson tossed an autographed ball directly at him. The ball flew perfectly through the air. He reached his hand up to grab it, looking for his first moment of athletic glory, and the ball slipped through his fingers. He watched the white sphere stitched in red fall deep down into the abyss below the open bleacher seats. He never knew if he had disapointed his father. He did just get his first pair of glasses, so at least he had that for an excuse. But what if? 

Sitting at the bar with his drink in his hand, he couldn’t help ask himself this question, a question probably faced by all in their twilight years. What if? What if, by chance he was able to catch that ball? What if he then leapt into the more extroverted world of sports, and what if he never dove into that most introverted world of books? What if he hit home runs or scored touchdowns instead of spinning strange yarns of the Elder Gods and dead Whitechapel murderers? It was too late for such questions now, Robert did not regret his path in life. He did what he loved, but as he saw his reflection in the mirror at the back of the bar, he mulled over how his work never hit the nerve of the American consciousness. While he certainly had a successful career as a novelist, and even wrote a handful of screenplays and television episodes, he never had that one piece of work that captured the public’s imagination the way Stephen King had, or the way his old friend and mentor H. P. Lovecraft had, or, as he watched the ball player on TV hit a homerun to a cheering crowd, the way athletes had. Too bad it was hit by Todd Benzinger of the Royals.

Long lost in thought, he didn’t even notice later when the game ended, a game he’d stopped watching so long ago. The tavern was now filled with the tune of the local news station, whose Breaking News logo emblazoned the screen. The news caster then appeared, he seemed more serious than usual, his voice in fact was almost shaking.

“Ladies and gentlemen, we come to you tonight with extremely disturbing news from right here in our area.” The Wisconsin anchorman said. “We warn you, the following segment may be too disturbing for some viewers. Milwaukee police have arrested thirty-one year old Jeffrey Dhamer, after finding an adult male fleeing Dhamrer’s apartment with one wrist handcuffed. Police arrested Dhamer in his home, after which they found a scene of pure terror.” After taking a visibly deep breath, the anchor man continued. “Police found seventy four polaroid photos of corpses at various stages of dismemberment, which were all taken in his home. Dhamer’s apartment was filled with actual human remains, including two entire human skeletons, seven human skulls, a pair of human hands, an entire human torso, two human hearts, and a bag of other human organs.”

As the report went on, and footage from the killer’s home was shown, Bloch looked around to see all eyes were on the screen. At this moment, nobody ordered, nobody drank, solids and stripes remained still on the pool table, the bar-keep even turned the jukebox off. Bloch couldn’t put his finger on it, but somehow he knew this horrific news hit the people of this tiny town with an extra sting.

Finally, an old man at the bar broke the silence. “Well you know who that sounded like….”