The first story I wrote that featured Vree as the main character was a 1972 short called “Ghost Love.” It was based on an earlier story about two 12-year-olds named Haley and Owen. SPOILER ALERT: Owen died in the story and came back as a ghost.
Vree’s version became a little darker than the original. She replaced Haley and her boyfriend Tommy replaced Owen. I soon changed the story to feature my Dave Evans character (he was more popular with my followers). His version appeared years later titled “Bottom of the Seventh Inning” at my 1990s writing website.
The first title, “Ghost Love,” suggests a story about a ghost and love; the second, “Bottom of the Seventh Inning,” about a baseball game. Both are correct, but the first is closer to the story’s essence. More exact titles could be “A Haunting” or “Ghostly Revenge.” You’ll see what I mean when you read the story.
This is the first time Vree’s version has appeared in print. Of course, I’ve made a few minor changes to the original draft—mostly sentence structure and bringing it into the twenty-first century.
Vree Erickson’s pleasant expression changed to surprise, then to shock mixed with fright. The air in the dugout became thin and dry, as though an unseen storm had sucked the oxygen from September’s cerulean sky over Ridgewood High School’s softball field.
In the bleachers at the right of her dugout, the six o’clock sun sparked Tommy Sorenson’s dark-brown hair. A halo of white surrounded his upper torso from the funeral shirt he wore. But he was no angel come back from the dead.
A chill crept across Vree’s back. Her blue and white uniform shirt felt ice cold against her skin. She shivered. Did anyone else see Tommy’s ghost?
Coach Walker coughed and drew Vree’s attention away from the wire mesh. The doorway in the middle of the dugout framed her short, muscular body. “Pray we make contact with our bats this inning and score some runs,” she said.
Vree looked out at the visiting team in gold and black uniforms on the ball field. The New Cambridge Yellow Jackets were beating the undefeated Ridgewood Fighting Eagles. Down two runs in the bottom of the seventh, the Fighting Eagles needed a rally in this final inning.
Coach Walker removed her blue and white ball cap and bowed her head.
The team was quiet at their seats on the long wooden bench inside the dugout until she said “amen” and took her spot along third base in front of them.
“We can hit this pitcher,” Missy Kibler said, three players down from Vree. “My fastball and curve are a lot better than hers, so if you can hit off me in practice, then you can hit her.”
“Yeah! We can hit this rag arm,” Sally Franklin, their catcher, said. She sat next to Missy and champed her bubblegum between sentences. “We’re gonna win this. Come on.”
Assistant Coach Andrews stepped from the shadows at the dugout’s far end. “That’s the spirit, Stay focused. This is your game. Never give up.”
Cheers erupted from the players.
The lanky coach called out three names of the players scheduled to bat. Vree stood, responding to the third name called. The team clapped loud and in unison for a moment as their assistant coach loped to her spot along first base.
The cheering came to a slow end and Vree’s gaze wandered again through the wire mesh to the the boy standing in front of the bleachers.
She looked away when Tommy glared again.
She had to focus on the game. “Stay in the zone,” she whispered.
A softball cracked off a bat. The Ridgewood fans and players jumped to their feet and cheered as Sally Franklin’s base hit shot between the first and second basemen.
Vree put on her batter’s helmet and took her place inside the on-deck circle outside the dugout’s doorway. She snuck a peek at Tommy. He still glowed with a heavenly whiteness … and chilled her with the hellish anger on his face.
The fans cheered. Debbie Jones had laced a hot bouncing double between left field and center field. The centerfielder caught up to the ball and threw it to her shortstop, keeping Sally from rounding third base and scoring.
The Yellow Jackets’ coach called for a pitcher change and Coach Walker lumbered over to Vree’s side.
“Keep the rally going,” she said, huddling close to Vree. “Get the ball into the outfield. We need you to score Sally from third.”
She slapped the top of Vree’s helmet before she returned to her coaching spot.
The new pitcher threw nothing but heat during her warmup pitches.
Vree’s assurance of scoring Sally waned. “Focus,” she told herself, forcing her not to look at Tommy.
But why was his ghost here? And why did he look so angry?
“Because I failed him as a friend.”
She jumped when the home plate umpire bellowed “Batter up.”
She dragged her feet to the batter’s box, dug her rubber cleats into the dirt, and swung her bat with sweaty palms. She took in a deep breath to stop her arms from shaking. It didn’t work.
The catcher taunted her with “No batter no batter no batter” and the pitcher with Tommy’s face, scowled and nodded.
Vree stumbled from the batter’s box. Had she lost her mind?
The pitcher with Tommy’s face spat and glowered at her from the pitcher’s mound.
“Batter up,” the umpire bellowed again.
Vree stumbled back to the batter’s box and tried to stand tall on wobbly legs. “This isn’t real,” she whispered, then shot to the ground as a fastball raced at her and missed her head.
She glared back at Tommy’s face. “Are you trying to kill me?”
His face vanished from the pitcher’s. His voice filled Vree’s head. “Why not? You killed me.”
She grimaced from the blast of pain there. “I’m so sorry.”
The world around her went dark. A familiar vision grew and took away the darkness. She and Tommy stood at the downtown playground and park where he had pitched the murderous softball to her two months ago. She swung hard to see if she could hit it long and far. But the ball had gone straight off her bat instead of lifting and sailing over the trees by the banks of Myers Creek. The ball struck Tommy’s sternum and stopped his heart. Frozen with shock, she barely remembered calling 911 on her phone and weeping over Tommy lying dead in the dirt.
The scene vanished to darkness. Tommy’s ghostly face floated in front of her, lit by an unseen light. Anger burned red in his eyes that used to hold all the gentle colors of summer wheat.
“I prayed for you not to be dead,” she said. “But it did no good.”
“You never came to my funeral. You’ve never visited my grave.”
“I couldn’t bear to see you dead. Please forgive me.”
“I can’t. You’re not my friend anymore.”
His declaration was as painful to her heart as the pain knifing through her head again.
“No. Tommy, don’t say that. My world fell apart when you died. I stopped eating … stopped bathing … stopped answering my phone and going to school. I wanted to die so I could be with you again. I had to see doctors to stop blaming myself for your death.”
“You should blame yourself.” Tommy’s face vanished. Darkness swallowed her again. Her throat and chest hurt. She struggled to breathe.
She pushed the fear of death from her mind and tried hard to keep breathing.
“I’d do anything … to bring you back. Even trade places … if it meant you could live again.”
His voice came from the darkness, soft and tender. “You would die for me?”
“Why? Life is precious. I know that now that I’m dead. And so will you.”
The darkness vanished into nothingness. Tommy’s question followed her like a dying echo. An answer filled her mind: Because I love you, Tommy. I … always will love you … forever … whether dead or alive.
“No. I don’t deserve your love.”
Don’t you love me, Tommy? Can’t you love me as much as I love you?
His answer was immediate. It stirred the sounds of life around her, which filled her ears. Sweet air filled her lungs. She drank it in and gasped from the confusion she felt.
A hand gripped her left arm and pulled her from the nothingness.
“Are you okay?” Coach Walker asked as she brought Vree to her feet.
Vree’s vision cleared. She was still in the game, at home plate, still at bat.
“I’m good,” she said, beaming at her coach’s concerned face peering at her, inches away. “Just had the wind knocked out of me.” She dusted dirt from her uniform pants and picked up her bat. Then she waited for her coach to settle in the coach’s box before she stepped to the plate.
You can do this.
Tommy? You’re here?
Show me how far you can hit the ball. His voice was like a gentle breeze at her ears.
Euphoria filled her. She laughed, then grinned at the pitcher who no longer looked like Tommy.
The pitch came fast, then seemed to slow in front of her. The ball looked twice its normal size.
She swung her bat. There was an audible crack, though hitting the ball felt like hitting a marshmallow. It flew from her bat and headed into leftfield, lifting high until it passed over the orange plastic fence.
The Ridgewood dugout and bleachers erupted with cheers.
Run. Once more, Tommy’s voice was like a gentle breeze.
Vree dropped the bat and hurried around the bases, meeting her teammates at home plate where they mobbed her as soon as her feet touched home with the winning run.
An hour later, the sun slipped beneath the tree-lined slopes of Ridgewood Cemetery. Vree stood at Tommy’s grave and said a tearful goodbye to his ghost in front of her.
Did you mean everything you said? he asked.
“Yes. Always and forever,” she said, moments before Tommy vanished.
In the last moments of twilight, a breeze stirred through the trees of the cemetery and embraced Vree in warmth that would whisper Tommy’s love to her evermore.
* * *
This post “Beginnings, Chapter 4” copyright © 2022 Steven Leo Campbell at stevecampbellcreations.com – All rights reserved.