Recap #224: Graveyard School #18: The Dead Sox by Tom B. Stone
Title: Graveyard School #18 – The Dead Sox, a.k.a. “The Devil Went Down To Graveyard School”
Author: Tom B. Stone, a.k.a. Nola Thacker a.k.a. D.E. Athkins
Cover Artist: Mark Nagata
Summary: Three Strikes? You’re Dead!
Park Addams thinks it’s going to be a great summer. He’s just made the all-star team, and it seems like they can’t be beat – until they meet the Belville All-Stars. Shutout? Try wipeout! No-hitter? No one even sees the ball! How do they do it? The Grove Hill All-Stars are suddenly scared to death. Welcome to the field of screams.
Welcome to the last sports-related entry in the Graveyard School series, and just in the middle of baseball season. [Wing: Ugh, baseball season. That long stretch of time between the Stanley Cup finals (#weallbleedblue) and college football.]
Despite what the summary probably has you thinking and despite Algie Green’s role, this is not a direct sequel to “Scream, Team!” even though it features another evil sports team from Belville. No return appearances by Coach Sandman here, folks. This time we’re going less “Cackling scientist” and we’re looking at something a bit more… Faustian.
This book does present something of a continuity problem since it’s a summertime story, but overall its only real downside is the inclusion of Park’s older sister who is a complete bitch. [Wing: #misognyisforpussies] Thankfully she has no real role to play beyond a few insults so she doesn’t drag the story down too much.
“Wow,” said Parker Addams. “What a great way to die.”
And right off the… bat (snerk), Thacker starts strong.
Park Addams hopped over the picket fence that separated Graveyard School from Graveyard Hill and hurried to where Algernon “Algie” Green had fallen. He found Algie splayed in front of a moss-covered tombstone, his eyes wide open and a baseball in his outstretched hand. Alright, Algie caught the ball. In Park’s opinion, that was definitely THE way to die.
Oh don’t worry Algie’s not dead. Park screams in Algie’s face to get a reaction out of him to prove it. Coach Garcia hurried into the graveyard next to Park, with Jeep Holmes tagging along. Garcia asks if Algie’s okay when Jeep points out Algie’s glasses fell off. Park spies Algie’s lenses in a nearby puddle of muck, picking them up and wiping them off on his sweatpants for Algie to wear. [Wing: #friendshipgoals] Garcia continues to ask if Algie’s okay or if he might’ve broken anything. Algie seems fine, saying his landing was pretty soft. At that point Jaws “The Boy Who Could Eat Anything (Even Roadkill)” joined the party and couldn’t help but laugh at the imprint Algie left in the ground.
Or as Jaws described it, a “Body bag mark.”
Park could see the imprint above the grave was perfect in every detail, but couldn’t figure out how it happened. They were in the middle of a dry, hot summer, which meant the dirt should be as hard as cement. Tentatively Park kicked the ground near him to prove it was rock solid. But then he cautiously tapped the imprint with the toe of his sneaker. It was soft. Too soft. So soft his foot almost went into the ground, like it wanted to suck him under.
Park removed his foot and he could hear the distinct sound of a hungry, sucking noise. Marc Foster arrived too late to see the hungry Earth. In fact no one else besides Park had noticed. He asked if anyone saw something odd, to which Marc responded with his usual glowing enthusiasm they’re in a cemetery, PARK. It may be funny, but not in a “Ha ha” way. It’s funny in a “Imma get the fuck out of here” way.
That’s when everyone began to remember where they were, in the old abandoned graveyard behind Grove Hill School, and they began to depart. Park stuck around just long enough to try and make out the words on the mossy grave marker, but could only make out a handful. Fate, end, and eternal. Cautiously, Park touched the imprint one more time and almost immediately the ground tried to swallow his foot. Park fought to get his foot free, and once he did the ground snapped closed like a trap.
Or a pair of lips.
As Algie’s imprint began to dissolve and the ground swelled, Park vainly attempted to convince himself he was seeing things. He’d been out in the sun too long on a hot day. He wished his team was practicing in the city park and not at Graveyard School as he hurried to rejoin the others. Hurried to ignore the faint sound that could’ve been laughter coming down Graveyard Hill…
And this was the first chapter.
Anyway, this summer the Grove Hill All-Stars were practicing in the ball field behind Graveyard School instead of at City Park, where the fields were undergoing renovation. [Wing: Why in the world would they renovate the fields during the height of summer in the middle of the summer sportsball season? Ridiculous timing.] The ONLY reason Park would choose to spend his free time anywhere near Graveyard School and Graveyard Hill would be to play baseball. Well he’d also venture into the graveyard if it was the sake of a friend. [Wing: No, really, Park is often #friendshipgoals. He’s pretty great.]
Oh is Algie the best pitcher the All-Stars ever had? What an interesting bonus.
If it was for the sake of baseball Park was willing to ignore the strangeness that went on, in, and around Graveyard School. Was it because of the graveyard alone? He didn’t know. And he didn’t want to know. What with the disappearing students and exploding toilets and that one lunch lady who served you-know-what, it was healthier to practice willing denial if your life wasn’t at stake. And Park wanted to graduate Graveyard School alive.
But Park if it’s summer then you’ve already graduated from Graveyard School! You escaped! You and Algie and Stacey Carter and puke perfect Polly Hannah and all the other sixth graders! Why are you acting as though you’re going back once summer’s over???? [Wing: Oh no, don’t tell me they’ve fallen into the time warp of Sweet Valley Twins and the Baby-Sitters Club! Poor kids.]
Anyway, as practice resumed, Skip Wolfson commented it was pretty lucky Algie hadn’t been stabbed by the picket fence when he fell over. Park thought yeah, but still feeling as if something dangerous lurked nearby he immediately asked if Algie was okay. Algie nodded replying he’d caught the ball. So he’s focused. Good, that made Park feel better as Coach Garcia congratulated Algie’s marvelous catch.
Algie was riding a power high after that catch, because his pitching was unstoppable. Park began to feel sorry for Alex Lee, the team’s other pitcher, but Alex didn’t seem jealous or upset about Algie’s skills and congratulated him. Algie, for his part, seemed rather distant, but as he switched places with Alex he became focused enough to hit the ball into home run territory. That was enough to make Park forget all about the earlier graveyard weirdness.
What was a little weirdness for the sake of a great practice?
Park’s snapped out of his daydream of accepting the league championship trophy by Coach Garcia’s whistle signaling the end of practice. He’s joined by David Pike and Tyson Walker as they compliment Algie, with Tyson proposing Algie could make an excellent center forward come soccer season. Algie didn’t answer as he took off his cleats for his sneakers; Park had to get his attention and Algie reacted like he forgot who Park was for a moment. Park and the boys watch as Algie quickly departs, ignoring Park’s offer of walking home with him.
Jeep comments on Algie’s snub and Park’s confusion. Jason Dunnbar remembers Algie has a paper route so maybe that’s why he left so quickly, only Park mentions that Algie’s splitting with Stacey Carter so he has time for practice. Tyson applauds Algie’s willingness to lose money in favor of a sport.
So now we got the full All-Star line-up:
- Park Addams -First Baseman
- Algie Green – Pitcher
- Jeep Holmes – Second Baseman
- Jaws Bennett – Catcher
- Marc Foster – Center fielder
- David Pike – Left fielder
- Skip Wolfson – Shortstop
- Jason Dunnbar – Third baseman
- Alex Lee – Alternate pitcher
- Tyson Walker – Right fielder
Look Wing you got Jeep AND Skip together in the same book! [Wing: Yay! Though I’m disappointed at that all dude lineup.]
Park’s about to hop on his bicycle when he hears a strange sound, the faint, unmistakable sound of a baseball game being played. Yet as he looks around, the baseball diamond is empty, the rest of the team’s leaving, and Coach Garcia’s running laps. Park’s not sure if he really heard a game or if he was imagining things, but he hopped on his bike and didn’t look back.
As Satchel Paige once said:
“Don’t look back. Something may be gaining on you.”
The next day at the next practice, Algie outdid himself in terms of skill. And in smugness. Even though it was a practice game, Algie seemed determined to give someone a head injury with his pitching. Park had to throw himself on the ground to avoid the ball meeting his head. Jaws was knocked down as he caught the ball, and Coach Garcia advised Algie to remember they’re on the same team. At least Jason thought Park chickening out was funny.
Algie successfully psyched Park out, who had flinched and swung too late on what was clearly a patronizing pitch. Retreating to the bench, Park tried to seem cool but was livid. After all he’d done for Algie, Algie got Park psyched out on a throw that practically screamed “Even your grandma could hit this one, what’s YOUR excuse bitch?”
Jason continued to be a douche, clucking at Park for how Algie had fried him. Park inquires as to how it would’ve been smart to just let that first ball whack him in the head, Jason? Park’s bad mood gets the best of him as he calls out Jason for being a moron. David calls the two down from fighting, warning that Coach Garcia might give them a diagnosis of terminal bench-butt if they don’t simmer down.
As Algie strikes Skip out, Park muses on Algie’s lethal pitching. Alex thinks Algie only wanted to break Park’s nerve as Skip trudges back onto the bench, wondering who spit in Algie’s Big League Chew. Does Algie really not understand this is a PRACTICE game? Marc adds “A team plays on its practices,” but that does little to help. Alex admits even he’s worried about the way Algie’s acting, and fears Coach Garcia is gonna keep him on the bench all season with the way Algie’s pitching.
Now it’s Jason’s turn to be humiliated and he doesn’t disappoint. He strikes out once, then on the second pitch he swings so hard he twirls around and falls on his ass. Coach Garcia reminds him he only has to HIT the ball, not MURDER it. That pisses Jason off even further, but though he’s probably imagining the ball is Algie’s head he still strikes out a third time. Park is silently amazed at how Algie managed to strike out a power hitter like Jason, since he never showed such skill until today. He likens throwing a fast ball at a power hitter similar to throwing a lamb chop to a wolf. Only in this case, the wolf’s gonna starve. [Wing: That is such a weird metaphor, and yet I love it.]
Jeep wonders if Algie’s paper route is the source of Algie’s throwing skill, but then Alex hopes the coach won’t have all of them slinging papers to get better. Park’s at least considering such a thing if he had the time. But for now, all he wanted to do was focus on baseball. What else was new? [Wing: I had a paper route growing up, and it certainly improved my throwing skill. I’m not Algie, though.]
Park looks back on how awesome this summer was going to be. Not only was he lucky enough to make the Grove Hill All-Stars, but they were sponsored by Natural Nachos who were the best sponsor to have. And Coach Garcia was one of the best coaches around. They had cool uniforms and after every victory the team gets to stuff themselves at an all-you-can-eat nacho bar. [Wing: I KNEW IT! And I want that sponsor. Any nacho place want to sponsor Devil’s Elbow, you just let me know.]
Thinking about everything he has to be thankful for, Park asks why he’s stressing out. It’s not like he’s back in Graveyard School. Maybe he’s just nervous about playing in the league, thinking he might not be able to handle it. All Park has to do is shake it off and concentrate on being the player he was meant to be.
Algie turned down Park’s invite to come over to the Addams abode. You know, relax, hang out, spend some time with the Addams family. Park figured Algie was tired from his amazing practice, but Algie bluntly replied no and biked away. The condescending voice of Susie Addams, Park’s older sister, snapped Park out of his observing Algie pedaling down the street. Susie and their dad were currently in the middle trimming the front yard, Mr. Addams manning an old push mower while Susie used a hoe on the weeds. Park asks if Susie’s worm hunting for her dinner when Mr. Addams cheerfully tells Park to join them in the War on Weeds.
To which I must ask what kind of man makes his kid help with the yard work after said kid’s spent hours at baseball practice? [Wing: A normal parent? Work around the house still has to get done sometime.]
Nevertheless, Park went into the garage to choose a weapon from his dad’s collection of garden tools. Mr. Addams was into collecting old, classic tools instead of the noisy, polluting modern ones. For a moment Park waxes philosophical on the collection.
If you didn’t know they were just gardening tools, Park mused, you might mistake the whole arrangement for a display from some medieval torture chamber. If people came from another planet a hundred year from now and found these, he thought, that’s probably what they would think. They’d put these in a museum with labels like “Instrument believed to be used in beheadings” under the hoe.
[Wing: I love you, Park.]
Park grabs a claw-shaped weeding tool to vent some of his frustration and gets to work removing grass in his dad’s flower beds. He notes the irony of how hard his dad works to make the grass on the lawn grow, but will pitch a fit if any of it grew in the flower beds. How easily grass could become a weed under the right condition.
Mr. Addams inquires as to how Park’s practice went, so Park casually omits Algie’s weirdness and said it was great. The All-Stars are definitely more than he thought it would be. Susie smugly responds they’ll have to change their name to “All-Star Except One Team” since Park joined. Park claims Susie wouldn’t last five minutes in one of his baseball games, and Susie remarks he’d never survive in one of her soccer matches. Their dad tells the siblings to cool it, even though Park points out Susie started it. She remarks her “Lockerlicker” of a brother started it the day he was born.
The only reason Park didn’t take this further was because Susie would clearly outmatch him with that hoe.
Going back to weeding the flower bed, Park suddenly thought of the weeds growing on Graveyard Hill and the source of their nourishment buried deep underground. They thrived on a secret formula of dozens and dozens of dead bodies. Park tries not to think about the white roots tangled around white bones, reminding himself that school’s out for summer. He’s safe for that long…
Park did you flunk sixth grade or something? Is that what this is? Does Dr. Morthouse not believe in summer school so you have to repeat the last grade? No because if you had I doubt your parents would’ve let you join the All-Stars. Which is only counting if Morthouse didn’t try to murder you for failing. What is your DEAL?
Mr. Addams asks who the All-Stars will be playing against in their first game. Park replies their opponents are the Hanover Hammers sponsored by Hanover’s Hardware Store. The Hammers are supposedly a crappy team. Zoning out his dad’s “As long as everyone tries their hardest” crap, Park thinks on his own mantra. That is, any baseball game, no matter how bad the opponents are, is a game worth playing.
Hopefully it won’t be Park’s last.
Unfortunately, it seems like Park’s worst nightmare has come true. It’s game time, and the deafening cheers grew silent as the pitcher prepared to throw the ball. He seemed to know every sort of pitching technique out there, even some Park never saw before. Park did his best not to be scared even as he struck out twice. He barely saw the ball it went by so fast! Was there a smoking hole in his bat? Down to three balls and two strikes, the game was all on Park’s shoulders. The ball came towards him and Park swung with all his might. As the ball went soaring through the air, Park’s bat cracked in two and he ran! He’d knocked the cover right off the ball!
The crowd cheered!
And then they grew silent as they saw what was INSIDE the ball.
The crowd went wild.
Then a horrified hush fell as a shower of ghastly red gore exploded from the ball.
Park began to automatically run toward first, his arms over his head. The gore poured down over him like disgusting oil, like liquid toe jam. He gagged as he ran.
“I got it!” he heard the pitcher scream.
Park kept running.
The pitcher fired the ball toward the first baseman’s upraised glove. The ball trailed a tail of red slime like a comet.
Park dove for the bag.
The first baseman’s glove closed on the ball, and a stream of red glop shot out from the webbing.
The umpire leaned forward, and Park looked up. The first baseman grinned. Then his lips peeled back and then his nose and then all the flesh on his face, as if it was being eaten away.
The umpire threw up his arm. “Yoouuu’rrrrrrre DEAD!” he shouted, and Park began to scream.
And then he woke up.
Susie bluntly told Park to move it because it’s her turn to watch TV. Park realizes he somehow fell asleep watching a baseball game, something that’s NEVER happened before.
As a quick side note, here’s what’s happening on the TV:
“And he was safe! But what an effort by the pitcher! Talk about quick reflexes! This is only the third time in forty-two-point-three games in this stadium in the second week in the month of June since 1917 that a pitcher has had to make a play like that. The first time was…”
Susie’s rather nasty as she tells Park he was having a baseball nightmare and proposes he continue his nap in his crib. When Park asks if he said anything in his sleep, she replies he did and starts sucking her thumb making baby noises. Park warns her not to swallow that thumb as he leaves the room.
Park can’t believe he actually fell asleep watching a baseball game. And that nightmare has him wondering if maybe he’s coming down with something. He goes into the bathroom and inspects himself in the mirror. Nothing seems wrong with his reflection, so Park takes out a cup from the medicine cabinet to get a drink of water…
And then he notices something different about his reflection.
One of his teeth – no, several of his teeth were missing. Huge bloody gaps filled his mouth. A mustache of blood coated his upper lip.
He looked down. For one long, hideous moment he thought that blood had come spraying out of the mug. But it was just water.
[Wing: Okay, that is truly horrifying.]
Park looks back up again and his reflection’s normal. He inspects his mouth and finds no teeth are missing. Mrs. Addams heard his shouting and asks if he’s okay, to which Park responds he only dropped a cup. He hurries downstairs to join his family for dinner, thinking it’s safer to be in a group. But he can’t shake the awful feeling this is a prelude to something bad.
As he struggled to fall asleep that night, his final thoughts before succumbing to slumber were:
I hope they bury me with my uniform on.
While contemplating switching from a wooden bat to a metal one (the sound of the cracking bat in his dreams haunting him) Park saw that yes, the Hanover Hammers were NOT All-Star material. The Grove Hill All-Stars were so far ahead, Coach Garcia had called in all the first stringers to let the second-string players get a chance to shine. And Algie was bitching about it like you would not BELIEVE. Park, David, and Marc had to listen to Algie whine about Coach Garcia not letting him on the field to wipe out the Hammers and end the game fast.
Though the All-Stars were ahead 9-1, Park felt Algie was both right AND wrong. Yes the Hammers weren’t great, but the players on both teams deserved the right to a good, long game because it granted them experience they could use for future games. And despite how badly the Hammers were doing, it was clear they were enjoying themselves. Too bad Park was still tense from last night’s dream and had trouble sleeping for fear of a repeat performance. Algie’s horrible attitude wasn’t helping, no matter how many times Coach Garcia gently but firmly tried to can his prima donna behavior.
Algie continued to complain about how Coach Garcia was handling the remainder of the game, which ended in a respectable score of 9-6. Park listened to Algie bitch about his need to finish the game sooner, asking how they could consider this “Winning.” Looking at the Hammers, Park thought they seemed pretty happy “For losers” and immediately chastised himself for thinking that way. Sure he loved to win and hated to lose, but he tried his best to be a good sport. He wasn’t going to start thinking that way just because Algie was.
While switching his cleats for sneakers, Park could just barely make out what seemed to be Algie arguing with Coach Garcia. He couldn’t make out what the coach was saying, but Park definitely heard Algie shouting, he SHOUTED, at their coach before stomping away.
Park was shaken out of his shocked-induced stupor by the sound of his dad and Susie. Susie continued to be her charming self as she insulted and mocked Park for how much time he spent on the bench. He didn’t have the energy to explain why Coach Garcia had let the second-stringers play for most of the game, not within earshot of the Hammers and because Susan wouldn’t give a shit anyway. Mr. Addams praised Park on a good game and apologized for how Mrs. Addams needed to leave early for something work related. Susie makes another dig promising to tell their mom ALL about how Park sat on his ass before Mr. Addams cuts her off asking if Park’s going home with them. Park explains the team’s heading over to Natural Nachos for their victory buffet, but he’ll see them at dinner. Susie pathetically tries to get one last dig in, saying Park still has to set the table even if he makes a pig of himself on nachos.
Park praises his sister’s glowing ability to remember the truly important things in life.
For what it’s worth, I don’t mind seeing older sibling abuse like this when the main character doesn’t give a shit and let it affect them. But Susie definitely comes across like Thacker tried and failed to figure out how to get puke perfect Polly Hannah in this book.
Speaking of Thacker…
“Nacho, nacho man. I wanna be a Nacho man….” Jaws was singing to the tune of an old song called “Macho Man.” Chips were flying. The sound of serious soda sucking filled the air.
I swear she is like Alex Ross with the way she paints a scene. I guess you could say she’s… batting a thousand in this book. [Wing: NOPE.]
It was early in the day so the All-Stars had Natural Nachos to themselves. The team cheered for starting off the season with a win. They rocked the restaurant.
Well, most of them did. Algie sulked and didn’t even touch his house special. Park was the only one who noticed Algie’s glowering, and was the only one who heard Algie claim they played like losers. Even though they won, Algie feels no one who could call themselves “A real player” had anything to do with their victory, because real players are supposed to play to win ALL. THE. TIME.
Park insists he always plays to win, but Algie doesn’t believe him.
“Yeah, right. Easy to say when you’re a starter on a team with a bunch of wimps,” said Algie.
Park jumped up. He shoved his own plate aside. He put both hands on the table and stared down into Algie’s eyes. “Who’re you calling a wimp?”
Algie got up too. He kept his gaze locked on Park’s. He said, “You’re known by the company you keep.”
Rage got the best of Park, and he said if Algie felt he was too good to be on this team maybe he should join a different one. Algie clearly agrees with Park and leaves the restaurant, and now Park fears Algie really is gonna quit and it’ll be all his fault.
The next day the team had off from practice, and yet somehow Park found himself drawn back to Graveyard School. In the late afternoon sunlight, Park could see Coach Garcia doing laps around the parking lot while two figures discuss something on the baseball diamond. Park could just make out Algie’s form, but couldn’t recognize who he was talking to. Algie and the stranger turned to look at Park, and Park thought just because Algie’s being a douche doesn’t mean Park’s gotta be rude too and waved. The stranger waved back. Algie didn’t. But then Park’s anger subsided and was replaced by unease. Something was off about this picture, but he couldn’t tell what. Algie headed over to Park, and then Park made the mistake of looking back at Coach Garcia. When he turned around, the stranger was gone.
Park couldn’t figure out how Algie’s companion left so quickly. Almost… inhumanely quickly. Park felt a chill go down his spine as Algie got closer. He tries to talk to Algie, asking who he was talking to on the diamond. Algie’s evasive, saying he was talking with a baseball fan but doesn’t mention a name. Not that it’s any of Park’s business, you know. Algie gets on his bike and pedals away, leaving Park gripped with fear. That nagging feeling of whatever had made the scene so surreal. What was it?
It wasn’t until Park got home and saw Stacey Carter delivering newspapers on her bicycle that he realized what was wrong. As Stacey threw a paper to Park’s house, Park watched it sail in the late afternoon sun and paid attention to the shadow it cast.
Back on the baseball diamond where two people had been standing in the sunlight, only Algie had been casting a shadow. [Wing: This detail is GREAT, and so is how it takes Park a minute to realise what weird thing he’s noticed.]
Saturday arrived and the All-Stars would be playing against the Svengaard Lumber Timberwolves. [Wing: Please be werewolves, please be werewolves, please be werewolves. Also: does no one else have a restaurant sponsor so they get free food after?] Too bad Algie hasn’t shown up at the Graveyard School parking lot. The parents and kids were waiting to head to the ball field, but Algie was a no show. Alex’s mom fished out her cellular telephone (Because it was the 90s, you see!) so Coach Garcia could call the Greens. Algie’s mom says he got a ride to the game, but apparently he forgot to mention it to Park and the others.
Park later finds out WHY Algie left earlier than everyone else when they reach the Evergreen Community Center. He’s so horrified and unsure of what he’s seen, he grabs Jaws and drags him over to where a game’s currently in play. A game featuring none other than ALGIE on the pitcher’s mound!
Park and Jaws watched in disbelief as Algie’s team played against the Hanover Hammers. They weren’t sure what team the Hammers were up against, so Park caught the attention of one player who looked like an absolute mess. Covered in dirt and grass, this Hammer appears to be on the verge of crying as he explains they’re up against the Belville All-Stars. Park immediately asks if this team’s connected to Belville Academy, remembering the horrifying Belville Bears Algie, Tyson, and several others played against during soccer season. The Hammer player says no, the Belville All-Stars are sponsored by the Belville Bank. Although the bank president IS the granddaughter of the academy founder.
Jaws asks the kid what the score for the game is, and it’s NINETEEN TO TWO. The Hammers tried to invoke the mercy rule after the first inning, but the Belville All-Stars refused.
They don’t believe in mercy.
Jaws reached Coach Garcia before Park and told him the bad news. In fact, Jaws was so shaken by this turn of events that when he took out his pack of gum, he PUT IT BACK WITHOUT TAKING A PIECE OUT. Wing, this is serious. Coach Garcia sadly said they couldn’t do anything about Algie’s defection right now; all they can do is focus on their game against the Timberwolves. And even without Algie, they’ve got a good team. Nothing to worry about. If only Park and Jaws believed that.
The Timberwolves turned out to be a sturdier team than the Hammers, and the score was 4-2 in the All-Stars’ favor by the fourth inning. But that’s when the trouble began. Jason tripped while fielding an easy ball, but he claimed it was like the ground had reached up and grabbed his leg. Park quickly flashed back to when they found Algie in the graveyard, and when Jason fell a second time he expected to see an imprint in the ground. Now the score was 4-3.
Things got worse. Jaws lost a ball in the sun and didn’t see it coming until it hit his head. He was more worried about having swallowed his gum, not helped by Jeep mentioning it’ll probably swell up inside him and make his guts stick together. Coach Garcia tried to be optimistic, reasoning a couple of bad luck balls is no cause to get too upset. Of course he did joke Tyson’s more than welcome to score a few home runs in the meantime.
Unfortunately, Tyson stupidly made a swing on the first pitch! No one does that unless it was an easy ball, and this one certainly was NOT. Everyone watched in horror as Tyson hit the ball, but it sent the ball upward and hit him on top of the head, getting him an out. Back to the bench, Tyson’s asked what he was thinking as Tyson explains it felt like someone was pulling the bat out of his hands. The bat seemed to have a mind of its own.
The same thing happened to David and Jaws, but Jaws fought back against the haunted bat. He could say he went down struggling. The bad luck persisted; the All-Stars swung when they shouldn’t, they tripped, they collided, they lost easy balls. Even their helmets seemed to be against them. Despite their bad luck they managed to keep the Timberwolves from scoring even though they weren’t scoring any points as well.
Now it was down to two Timberwolves on first and second, with the batter planning a sacrifice fly to get the others to home. The All-Stars were ready with Alex at the pitch. Tyson ran and caught the ball in the right field and tossed to Jaws, who held it, held it, it was going to fall out of his glove…!
The umpire called out and everyone cheered Jaws before he threw the ball back to Alex. Alex then seemed to contemplate the ball for a moment, like he was confused or mesmerized before the umpire snapped him out of his trance. The next batter got a bunt and now there was a runner on third while the batter reached second. Alex didn’t react until after the steal was done and Park screamed at him to focus. With one out left, this was the play to decide the game. Park managed to catch the ball as it hopped and went over his head. He ran to first base.
The base moved.
And then it moved again.
Park jumped on the base to keep it in place, but it seemed to burn his grip. It was hot to the touch! But still Park had succeeded; the umpire called “Out” and the game was over with the All-Stars the victors. The umpire reminded Park he doesn’t have to protect the base anymore and Park feared there’d be a repeat of his dream. At this point Algie appeared, snidely congratulating Park’s “Pro” skills when a voice told Algie to be a good sport. Park didn’t recognize the voice, but he recognized the person speaking. It was the man Park had seen Algie conversing with at Graveyard School. Again, Park was unsure if this person had a shadow.
This person who Algie referred to as “Coach Geist.”
As Algie smugly told Park “Good game” and left with Coach Geist, Park said nothing. He was too busy watching the single, measly shadow behind them, but Park couldn’t determine who owned the shadow.
The All-Stars won the next couple of games, and then came the day they faced off against the Belville All-Stars. [Wing: Seriously, two All-Stars as teams is ridiculous.] As game day approached, the All-Stars were becoming increasingly clumsy. Their practices were a mess, but Park was the only one who noticed. As the caravan of cars belonging to the All-Stars’ parents traveled to Belville Academy, Park could hardly believe the unreality of the place. The grass was so green it seemed fake, an illusion. Tyson reminisced on when the Grove Hill Tigers traveled to the academy for that first soccer game against the Bears. That is, the first game when Algie was on the team.
That was the first time anyone had mentioned Algie in a while. No one wanted to believe he had defected to the Belville All-Stars because no one could figure out WHY. Park’s unease about Algie seemed on par with his unease entering the empty academy. It felt like a ghost town, and ghosts were the last thing Park needed on his mind.
The opposing All-Stars warmed up in silence, and it disturbed Park how he hadn’t heard a single bird anywhere around Belville Academy. Only a few of the Grove Hill fans arrived for the game, since it was early on a summer Saturday morning and Belville was an hour away. That was still more fans than the Belville team had; their side of the stands were pretty much empty.
Once the game began, the two All-Stars managed to keep each other from scoring and they remained tied at 0-0 for the first few innings. Park was pleased even if his team hadn’t scored, mentally daring Algie to suck on that spitball. He immediately wished he hadn’t when Algie turned in his direction, almost like he could hear Park’s thoughts. Algie’s eyes appeared truly menacing behind those sports glasses as he threw a screamer pitch towards home plate.
W-was that a trail of smoke?
Things went topsy-turvy for the Grove Hill All-Stars when Belville went to bat. Jaws caught the first pitch, but began shouting his pain. He pulled off his glove and his shouting turned to horrified screaming. A time-out was called as Jaws ran down the first base line, clutching his hand in a panicked frenzy. Park managed to stop Jaws and discovered Jaws’ hand had somehow become a shriveled, mummified husk! He leaped back in disgust as Jaws doubled over when Coach Garcia ran over and asked what was wrong. Jaws moaned about his hand, but somehow it looked normal and healthy. He stammered how his hand withered away, but Coach Garcia can’t see anything wrong and suggests Jaws take a break. Calming down, Jaws insisted he’d be okay, even though Jaws and Park both knew what happened was real. His hand looked as though something had sucked the life out of it.
During Jaws’ freak out, Park realized none of the Belville team had moved except for Algie. Park caught Algie giving him a smug grin as the light glinted off his glasses, and Park could practically hear the words “You’re next.” Despite how warm the day was, Park shivered.
Jaws flinched for the rest of the game whenever Alex pitched the ball, and Park couldn’t quell his nervousness. He kept moving on first base, thinking a moving target had an easier chance of survival than a sitting duck. Park was exhausted by the end of the inning, and while Coach Garcia applauded his energy he told Park to take it easy.
By the seventh inning the score remained 0-0, and that was something to be proud of. Yet the idea of having to play extra innings, and thus spend more time with the Belville All-Stars, made Park tense. As it turned out, his fears were for naught as Algie literally swaggered up to bat. Park knew from experience Algie was a strategy player, not a big hitter, but was acting like he planned to make a home run to the fences. And no matter how good Algie’s coach was or how much he practiced, there’s no way his batting could improve tha-
SWEET JESUS THE BALL WENT THROUGH PARK’S GLOVE!
HE CAN SEE THROUGH THE HOLE.
As Algie made the bases, Park stared in horror at the hole where his fingers had been and felt the ground coming to meet him. Jaws reached him first and made Park understand the hole was only in the GLOVE, not in his hand. Park desperately yanked the glove off to see there was no opening through his palm, that all his fingers were intact. The ball went through the webbing and left a scorched hole. The poor glove never stood a chance. Jaws is sympathetic, flexing his own hand and understanding exactly what happened.
And sadly, while Park and Jaws were preoccupied, Algie had won the game for the Belville All-Stars.
Some time later, Park was stomping through City Park regardless of whoever or whatever was in his way.
The grass was green. The sky was blue.
Park was red hot with anger.
Upon reaching the ballfields, Park stopped. He looked back on happier times, when City Park Ballfield was the baseball center of the universe. Back when life was simple. Now the park stood empty, practically soulless. Why did the city decide it needed to be renovated? The fields were fine the way they were. Park dropped his gear and yanked at the chain link fence, trying to get in, as he believed just one game within those fields could change everything for the better. Looking at the sign reading “Closed For Renovations,” Park gave the fence a swift kick regardless of how much it hurt.
Jaws appeared and tried to sooth Park’s anger, reminding him the fields will be open in time for the last game of the season. Park could hardly believe how contemplative Jaws appeared; he wasn’t even chewing gum. They were both here for the same reason, wishing and thinking if they’d been playing at City Park from the beginning things would be good. Maybe none of these awful things would’ve happened if they hadn’t practiced at Graveyard School.
Coach Garcia hadn’t been too worried about Park’s glove, figuring the webbing was already worn out. Poor Park didn’t have the heart to throw away his glove after everything it did for him, taking a page out of Skate McGraw’s book and burying it in a shoe box underneath his bed. It deserved a proper resting place, not the garbage.
Park realized this was Algie’s fault, and not just because he switched teams. Because why on Earth DID he switch? Algie used to hate teams like the Belville All-Stars, and he’d never been a dirt player before. Jaws feels these guys go beyond simple dirt.
“They’re not natural. It’s like Dr. Morthouse and Basement Bart got married and had a disgusting baseball team,” said Jaws.
…oh dear God the mental image alone. I can only see the two school figures surrounded by a bunch of bastardized hybrid clones, sporting silver fangs and army fatigues. [Wing: I have hearts and stars in my eyes.]
The thought manifested a variety of emotions in Park, agreeing the Belville Bastiches would make Herr Doktorr proud. Park lowered his voice on instinct, fearing the mention of the Graveyard School principal might summon her. But it’s summer, and they were safe.
PARK JESUS CHRIST DO I HAVE TO KEEP REMINDING YOU THAT YOU ARE DONE WITH ELEMENTARY SCHOOL? WAS THERE SOME MIDDLE SCHOOL ATTACHED TO THE BUILDING NO ONE BOTHERED TO MENTION UNTIL NOW? DID YOUR PARENTS FEEL YOU HAVEN’T LEARNED ENOUGH IN SIXTH GRADE AND ARE PUTTING YOU THROUGH A FUCKING REFRESHER COURSE?????
Jaws mentions their one relief is that, while they practice on Graveyard School, none of their official games are located near that dreaded abode of learning. He proclaims with surprising energy the Grove Hill All-Stars are better than Belville, they could beat them with broken bats and doctored balls. Park agrees with Jaws, except the Grove Hill kids lack some of the extra abilities of the Belville team. Like causing hallucinations and shriveling appendages.
It’s then Jaws returns to form and asks if Park wants to grab a bite to eat. Park says he wants to stay and think for a while. After Jaws leaves, Park returns his train of thought to Algie. Algie was the key to all of this. But then Park realized he wasn’t alone.
Suddenly a soft, smooth voice spoke up behind Park. “Tell me, what do you think of this field of… dreams?”
Park knew that voice, immediately turning around to find himself face-to-face with the Belville coach. Up close, the man appeared to be fairly average in his black baseball jacket, black cap, and dark glasses. Park had to fight himself not to look down to see if the coach had a shadow for fear of his safety. The coach formally introduces himself as Geist.
He says Algie’s mentioned Park as the player to watch on the Grove Hill All-Stars. Park’s surprised Algie said that, and feels creeped out because he knows Geist is measuring up Park even though his eyes are shielded by those dark glasses. Geist says he wanted to greet Park when he noticed him nearby, and before Park can get away Geist proclaims he has an offer Park probably shouldn’t refuse. If only he hadn’t made it sound like a threat.
Geist wants Park to join the Belville All-Stars, saying they need a good first-base player and Park deserves to be with the winners. Park’s stunned as Geist continues, promising the Belville All-Stars are sure to make it to the league playoffs. That’s only the beginning, and makes vague mention of certain benefits Park will receive. He tells Park to think of it as “A career move.”
Park immediately turns Geist down, and Geist immediately drops his fake affability as Park explains it’s not right. What Park doesn’t say is he definitely won’t be associated with a team as disgusting and weird as the Belville All-Stars, but Geist seems to read Park’s thoughts and warns him he’s making a BIG mistake. Park doesn’t agree with him as Geist inches closer, and Park can almost make out cold lights behind those black shades as Geist says it’ll be HIS funeral.
Park inches away from Geist, his back against the fence, as he can hear Geist’s soft laughter all around him. Running with his back turned, Park looks back just once to see Geist has completely vanished. But now Park knows what to do.
First, Park purchases a sketch pad and a dark blue wax stick from an art supply store. Then he heads to Graveyard Hill to search for the spot where Algie fell a lifetime ago. It was evening and the blood red sky was starting to turn violet, so Park had to hurry before he lost the light. Watching your back was useless at Graveyard School, but Park still made a sweep of the area to make sure there were no immediate threats. Tearing a page from the pad, Park headed over to the spot at the fence where Algie tripped. He located the moss-covered tombstone, and used the paper and wax stick to make a tracing of the words on the marker.
Although he couldn’t make out all the letters, Park got the gist of the epitaph and was not prepared for what it said.
I played. I lost. I met my end.
But let me be you and you be me,
Play as I play. See as I see.
Then one last season let me win
And my fate is yours – eternally.
RUN NOW, PARK!!!!
[Wing: That is quite a little poem spell, damn.]
The ground began to pull at Park’s feet like it did before. It seemed the entire graveyard had turned into a sea of muck that sought to swallow him whole. The tombstones bobbed like sinking ships as Park struggled to get his feet free. It was like wading through peanut butter. Hungry, malevolent peanut butter. He cried for help and thought of grabbing onto one of the grave markers until Park saw something white and skeletal sticking out of the mud. Park jerked back in the mire, using his hands to get his left leg free and losing a shoe in the process. His right knee started to sink as Park struggled to get the sketchpad out of his backpack. He heard the ground rumbling like a starving stomach anticipating lunch, and Park hoped if he went down he gave whatever this was indigestion.
Park threw the sketchpad near the fence and was able to put his free foot on top. The sketchpad floated like an impromptu surfboard and gave Park enough time to liberate his right foot and grab the fence. It took all his might but Park managed to hoist himself over the fence, but he had to move quickly as the ground rolled and heaved. Park made it to his bike as mud and dirt rained, narrowly avoiding a tidal wave as he made it over the hill and away from the school. He didn’t feel safe until he made it home.
Park arrived just as Algie was delivering the evening paper. He managed to get his former(?) friend to stick around saying Mr. Addams wants to pay Algie early. Inside, Park tells his dad Algie needs his money early, not stopping to explain why he’s covered in mud. Before giving Algie the money, Park brings up how amazing Algie’s been performing at the games. Algie laughs as Park says Algie’s WAY out of his league. He’s certainly not playing like himself.
Abruptly Park holds up his hand, demanding to know what Algie sees beyond those black sports glasses.
Who is Park really talking to?
“You’re not really Algie, are you?”
Algie snatches the money from Park and pedals away, stopping long enough to say he’s not the loser he used to be and he never will be again.
Now the day has finally come, the last game of the season. It’s the final showdown between Grove Hill and Belville. Park didn’t have the energy to acknowledge his sister’s feeble sarcasm as he was still mentally analyzing the epitaph. He broke it down sentence by sentence in his head as he joined the rest of the team at the newly reopened City Park Ballfields.
Looking back, Park couldn’t say he enjoyed the struggle to reach this moment. The Belville All-Stars had always been lurking in the background, systematically and soullessly wiping out the competition on their way to battle Grove Hill once more. Belville was favored to win.
The rest of the team didn’t seem thrilled either, but Coach Garcia didn’t notice. The Grove Hill All-Stars warmed up in silence until the umpire whistled the start of the game. Belville got to bat first, and Park had to wonder if the entire team was inhuman or if it was just Coach Geist and Algie. Even though Park was shaken, he caught the ball and tagged the base with an “Out” for the Belville batter.
Once again the teams held onto a 0-0 score through the first three innings. Park felt triumphant and uneasy at the same time, wondering how long his friends could keep Belville at bay and how long the game would last. The fourth inning is when the trouble started. Skip was making his way to second base when his helmet somehow twisted around his head and obscured his vision. He fought to correct this but the helmet was clamped down tight on Skip’s head.
That’s when the screams began.
While everyone else was chanting “RUN” Skip was struggling and shrieking to get his helmet off. The Belville shortstop tagged Skip, and as soon as he was out the helmet came off. The umpire asked what was wrong as Skip gestured to his ears, begging someone to tell him if they’re still attached to his head. Park understood what Skip meant but asked for more details. Skip explained it felt like his helmet came alive and was trying to rip his ears off. Jason makes a poor hearing joke and Park tells him to fuck off, not caring about the death glare he got in response. As he calmed down, Skip said it could’ve happened to anyone and Park agreed with him.
They both knew the other was lying.
By the fifth inning, Belville had three runs. Jaws watched in horror as Algie took practice pitches, telling Park the balls are literally SMOKING. Even Park had limits to what he could believe until he saw it for himself.
Algie wound up and threw. The ball hit the catcher’s glove. The catcher made a sound that was a cross between a grunt and a groan.
Park opened his eyes wide.
A puff of smoke came out of the catcher’s mitt.
With everything he’s witnessed, Park wanted to believe some things could stay in the realm of the impossible with the Belville Boogeymen. What he’d give for a fireproof bat right now. He wished Coach Geist wouldn’t smile at Algie like that.
It was then, watching Algie push his glasses into place, something clicked in Park’s head.
Play as I play. See as I see.
The glasses. Jaws thinks Park is proposing they steal Algie’s glasses, but doesn’t believe in cheating. That and Algie already has a spare copy he keeps on him for emergencies. Park doesn’t bother to explain as he flashes back to that first practice when Algie fell.
When they picked Algie’s glasses out of the puddle of muck near the grave.
When Park saw that white thing bobbing in the sea of muck the other day.
THOSE WEREN’T ALGIE’S GLASSES THEY FOUND.
Now Park understood how Geist had taken hold of Algie, but he failed to notice Geist was watching him.
It was the seventh inning and the score 2-0 in Belville’s favor. Algie went to bat, and Park knew he had only one chance to make this work. Aside from making sure Belville didn’t score and Grove Hill scored three points, Park had a job of his own to complete if they were going to win and, more importantly, save Algie from eternal damnation. The look Algie gave Park as he went to bat made Park recall seeing sharks with friendlier eyes. Yet, had something distracted Algie? Because on his first swing he got a strike, to no one’s greater surprise than Algie himself.
On the second swing, Algie struck the ball. Luckily for Park, the swing sent the ball slamming into the ground on the first base line. It rose over Park’s head as the Belville kid on first ran for second, but Park didn’t care about him. He caught the ball and made a tackle in Algie’s direction. Algie went down first, and with an extreme show of exaggerated clumsiness, Park pretended to lose his balance and toppled onto his former teammate. While flailing about, Park oh-so-discreetly made a grab for Algie’s glasses and yanked them off. Algie roared like a monster and tried to get Park off him, but Park wasn’t leaving until-oooooops.
What was the crunching noise?
The umpire tried to separate Algie and Park while Algie screamed for his glasses and Park made a production of looking around for them. Glasses, glasses, who’s got the glasses? Shoving Park aside, Algie moaned in despair at the wreckage before them. Park could hardly believe it. Why Algernon, did I do that?
The pair of the glasses that had been on Algie’s head were mutilated beyond repair. Split right down the middle with both lenses resembling shattered windshields. The umpire asked if Algie had another pair. Algie lividly shouted he needed THOSE glasses, so Park helpfully reminds Algie he should have a spare on him. Right Algie? The pair you always brought with you to practice in case of an emergency? The kind of thing only a really good, observant friend would notice?
That settled, the umpire told Algie to use his back-up glasses while Park offered his sincerest apologies. Algie tried to kill him. The umpire broke up the fight and Algie promised to make Park suffer while the umpire advised Park to take it easy the next time he tries to tag someone. While Park felt embarrassed by the way the umpire was treating him like a little kid, he was one step closer to saving Algie.
Well, even if Algie was wearing his spare glasses, he hadn’t changed back right away. He struck Jeep out three times, and each time he heard the word “Strike” Park fought back the urge to reveal what was really happening. If Algie won the game, he’d be dead and some douchebag would be living a life that didn’t belong to them.
Now it was Tyson’s turn, and after his first strike out Park began to lead a cheer. He can hit that ball! You can do it, Ty! This seemed to get through to not only Ty, but Algie, who stopped mid-windup to remove his glasses and shake his head like he was just waking up. Holy shit, is Algie off balance? This inspired Park.
“They’re just a bunch of Dead Sox!” Park shouted. “We can turn ’em into laundry.“
HA! I didn’t think Thacker would literally work the title into the book, and even Jason thinks that’s funny. Algie’s second pitch was a ball, to the shock of everyone. As Jason asked Park how “Laundry” is spelled, Algie’s next pitch was another ball. Tyson grinned, Algie’s jaw went slack, and Jason chanted.
“L-A-U-N-D-R-Y,” Jason shouted. “We’re gonna hang you out to dry. You’re laundry!”
[Wing: Okay, this actually made me laugh. Excellent work, Stone.]
Come ball three and Alex joined the chant with some of the other Grove Hill All-Stars. Park advised Tyson not to swing and just take the next ball to make it to first base.
“Laundry, laundry, laundry!” The Grove Hill All-Stars chanted.
Tyson went to first and Jason went to bat. Park told him to knock the socks off. Invigorated, Jason hit the ball to the fence, bringing Tyson home and making the score 2-1. Jaws hit a single and everyone cheered except the Belville All-Stars and Algie, who looked like a sleepwalker. Too bad Jaws got cocky and made an attempt for second, which brought out the real Algie and got Jaws out. They didn’t hold it against Jaws.
Things went from tense to apocalyptic as Park headed for bat. The game and Algie’s life were in his hands. The crowed roared, and then fell silent. It was his nightmare all over again. Each consecutive pitch from Algie was wobblier than the last, earning Park three balls.
And then Coach Geist asked if Park believed he could really win. He claims Park’s trick was a Bush-League move for a Bush-League player. Geist’s voice mesmerizes Park, but who should come to the rescue? Jason.
“Laundry!” he shouted from the third base. “Do the wash, Addams!”
The chant broke Geist’s hold and reaffirmed Park’s belief in himself. Too bad, because as Algie went to pitch he wasn’t looking at Park, he was looking directly at Coach Geist. Geist seemed to get a hold of Algie again, and Park got his first strike. Hearing that same laughter from the graveyard, Park attempted to block it out.
“Laundry, laundry, laundry,” he muttered to block it out.
Algie was momentarily distracted, but Park struck out again. Two strikes. One last chance.
The crowd cheered.
Now or never.
The pitch screamed toward him at a million miles per hour. It was going for his head, but he didn’t move.
At the last moment, the pitch broke.
The crack of the bat broke it in half.
The ball rose into the air – and Park froze.
Would it rain down blood? Was he going to die?
Red spots danced in front of his eyes. He blinked.
Park dimly heard Coach Garcia scream to run, and he did so, straight into his worst nightmare.
The red gore poured down over him just like in the dream – like disgusting oil, like liquid toe jam. He gagged as he ran.
Park kept running the bases under the storm of blood and gore. He watched as the third baseman’s fingers became skeletal, but Park avoided him by slamming his foot sideways on the base to keep moving. Coach Garcia yelled at Park to slide as Park saw the first baseman throw the bloody ball towards the catcher. The catcher’s glove exploded in a cascade of guts as Park slid across the plate, his face pressed to ground.
The crowd cheered and Park looked up to a gore free, monster free ballpark. Park heard a sizzling noise and turned to see Coach Geist’s outline shimmering in the sun.
Park told him to get a shadow.
Coach Geist vanished in a sizzling pop.
The Grove Hill All-Stars converged on Park, hoisting him in the air and cheering their victory.
“Laundry, laundry, laun-dree,” chanted Jason, and the rest of the team took up the cheer.
That’s when Park remembered Algie, who stood in the dugout shaking his head and rubbing his eyes. Park got down and walked over to his former teammate, who now sounded like his true self. Algie’s not sure what happened, explaining how it seemed like a good idea to join Belville but the rest, Algie doesn’t know. He’s also ashamed of his pitching. He knows he could’ve done better.
Park invites Algie to have nachos with the team, assuring him no one will have a problem with it. And hey, they have to get him signed up for next year. The All-Stars definitely have a spot with his name on it.
And Park swore they were going to practice anywhere besides Graveyard School.
“Sorry, Coach,” he said. He looked up the hill at the march of tombstones.
The coach said, “You win some, you lose some.”
“Yeah, but this one…,” the pitcher said.
“Don’t worry,” said the coach in his soft, soft voice. “Remember – it’s not over until the dead lady sings.”
Let’s applaud Thacker for destroying expectations on this book, via totally avoiding a rehash of the last sports book. In “Scream, Team” the conflict was about both teams and the influence of a totally human coach, while here it was one player against one player and the influence of a most INhuman coach. And you’ve gotta admit the laundry chants were catchy.
I also enjoyed how she established rules for Algie’s possession. Like, Geist couldn’t just take control of Algie simply because he landed on Geist’s grave. Geist needed something physical to establish a hold on Algie so he could influence him.
There was also a sly nod to “Scream, Team” through the shadow play. In “Scream, Team” Thacker included foreshadowing where Tyson notices the shadows cast by his family in the backyard could make for a pretty mean soccer team because they’re so lanky and inhuman. Here, the use of shadows is more directly tied into the plot when it’s used to demonstrate something’s draining the life out of Algie.
But now we’ll be heading into the final five “Graveyard School” books. It’s almost over you guys. [Wing: NO I’M NOT READY I LOVE THIS SERIES.]
Activities Section: A baseball word puzzle.
Polly Hannah’s Wardrobe:
- N/A. In fact, Polly won’t be returning for a while.
In fairness Wing I was never on any summer sports teams so I didn’t know this was a thing.
And now I’m kicking myself for not making this Simpsons reference: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XItRcMuraCI