September 23, 2019 by The Citron Review
by Ronald Hartley
The boy was shirtless, slender and deeply tanned, with shoulder blades protruding from his upper back like budding wings. Native American burial grounds haunted the moment, sensitizing him to everything he could see, hear or feel.
Throughout the fields of tall ryegrass before him were large orb spider webs and hanging upside down in the center of each was the web’s monstrous orb weaver sporting an external skeleton of a black and yellow striped pattern, as if it was Halloween instead of July. Sixty meters downslope was the Sugar Bowl, a strip-mined crater filled with water from the flooded anthracite coal mines below. Swarms of tadpoles wriggled around in the greenish black, impervious to sulfur oxides in the water that would alter their lives into various stages of deformed frogness.
The boy had a two foot scrap of wood in his hand for batting stones. Hitting one as far as the Sugar Bowl would count as a home run, so he searched the ground for obsidian and flint, the kind of stones the Delaware used on the tips of their arrows hundreds of years before—stones infused with the spirit of flight. He found a flint stone about an inch in diameter. Armed with stick and stone pretending to be bat and ball he stepped into an imaginary batter’s box. He tossed the stone straight up about two feet but swung to late and missed as it fell to the ground.
“Strike,” a beetle called out while feeding on a milkweed leaf.
“Good cut, wayda swing,” squeaked a caterpillar crawling up the stem of spreading dogbane.
A dragonfly hovered nearby. According to Delaware lore dragonflies were the agents of change and self-realization. As with all the bugs in bugdum, their emanations were heard only by those who were mystical believers in the spiritual apprehension of truths, like nine year old boys.
“Wait for your pitch,” said the dragonfly.
The boy picked up the stone again, tossed it a little higher and watched it fall through the strike zone without swinging, so he could gauge what his timing should be.
“Wayda look,” hollered a grasshopper.
The boy picked up the stone once more, shook himself out a bit, scraped the dirt around with his sneakers and got into his major league batting stance.
“Easy boy, make contact, getta hit,” said the dragonfly as bugs from everywhere in the fields synchronized into a choral chant:
The boy’s body movement dialed down to slow motion as he straightened up and paused.
He looked back and forth from stone to fields.
He made a perfect toss and connected for a long drive. There was a distant gulp as the Sugar Bowl swallowed the stone and bushels of thrilled spittlebugs scurried around in clumps of pokeweed, causing the leaves to tremble and the stems to shake. The sun pounded the boy with heat but he kept hitting stones greater distances and his home run count climbed from ten to twenty to thirty and more. Fifty thousand bush crickets paid homage to the great slugger by rubbing their serrated wings together while holding them up as acoustical sails, creating a pulsating midday chirp.
“Time out,” the boy called and insect tone modulated to its default hum.
A sliver in the palm of his right hand was a distraction and his throat was so parched it got stuck everytime he tried to swallow. He had enough of batting stones for one day.
Dusk came and hidden ghosts of the Delaware began to peek around from behind the trunks of trees. It had been a good day in the fields: The tadpoles had grown a couple of millimeters each, with hints of legs beginning to sprout; the catch in the spider webs was abundant and included acorn weevils, springtail flies and emperor gum moths; but most notably, the boy had hit fifty home runs, just ten shy of the great Babe’s season record.
Among the many stones that had landed on the bottom of the Sugar Bowl was a bright colored phyllite, still visible in the dimming light. A sunfish swam by and did a double take, suspended there in all its fishness, looking down at the stone in all its stoneness. If only the boy had still been around, then maybe the fish could have talked to the stone and said something whimsical. But the boy was gone.
Ron currently divides his time between artwork, writing and offering carefully considered critiques on his wife’s magnificent quilts. His stories have been published by The Sky Island Journal, Literary Juice, After the Pause, Gravel Magazine and Mobius: The Journal for Social Change. In another life, Ron was a Clio winning art director at four New York advertising agencies where he brainstormed on everything from beer to panty liners. He lives in Brooklyn.