by Diana Corbitt
Table of Contents|
parts: 1, 2, 3
I slid down into the bubbling hot tub like a gator. The only parts above the waterline were my eyes and the top of my head. Finally, a moment to myself.
“Tyson!” The clubhouse manager’s words echoed in the all but empty locker room. “Everybody’s gone, and I’m heading out. Do you need anything ’fore I go?”
The only thing I wanted was a fifth of Jack Daniels, but Bubba didn’t stock hard liquor. I shouted back, “No thanks, man. I want to spend some time in the whirlpool. To relax, you know?”
“Okay, sure. Maybe that’s the best thing for you. I’ll let the security guard know you’re still in there. ‘Night, Ty.”
I held my breath and slid all the way under. What a day. I couldn’t have been more embarrassed if I’d stepped out onto the pitcher’s mound and pissed myself in front of fifty thousand people. And you know what? That was pretty much what I’d done.
The San Francisco Giants had traded me to Chicago in one of the biggest deals in major league history. I was supposed to be the next Face of the Cubs, their ace: strong, durable, and consistent. And that’s what I was, too; especially consistent. I, Tyson Manworthy, had consistently given up no less than six runs in each of my first four games.
My lungs ached. I needed to exhale. Is that how I really wanted to die, naked in a hot tub? I could imagine the news report. “Has-been pitcher found dead in Jacuzzi, details at eleven.” I pushed myself upwards, gasping for air. My God, Tyson, you can’t even do that right.
I climbed out of the tub. If you slip and hurt your back, you won’t have to pitch anymore, I told myself, only half-serious. I grabbed a towel and picked my way towards the locker room. No, not today, with the way my luck was going, I’d probably break my neck.
In front of each locker hung a freshly laundered, pinstriped jersey with the player’s name and number on its back. There hung mine: Manworthy, number seventeen. I rolled my eyes. Last season when I was with the Giants, their stores couldn’t keep enough Manworthy jerseys in stock. The Cubs didn’t have that problem.
After a quick towel-off, I slipped on some black boxer briefs and looked at myself in a nearby mirror. Sure, I wasn’t one of those big, corn-fed farm boys, but nobody cared if I was skinny when I was striking out a dozen players a game. Should I try to bulk up? Lose weight? Everybody told me something different.
I checked my watch. It was almost midnight, and I wasn’t even dressed yet. I should head home. What I really wanted was to hop a plane back home to California, maybe get a room in Santa Cruz and fall asleep listening to the waves. Hell, I wasn’t pitching tomorrow... thank God. I wondered how many others felt the same way, players as well as fans.
As I pulled on my jeans, I heard the door on the other side of the locker room groan shut.
“Bubba, did you forget something?”
Footsteps echoed against tile, then faded.
“Hey,” I called out. “Who’s in here?” My voice sounded smaller than I’d have liked in the huge underground hall, and I was glad Angel wasn’t around to hear. Angel was my best friend, my catcher, and my roommate when we were on the road, but if he’d heard the way those last words had squeaked out of me, the entire team would be rolling all over the dugout floor tomorrow morning.
I stood still and listened. All I heard was the drip, drip, drip of a leaky faucet.
Well, somebody came in here.
I padded barefoot around the section of lockers that blocked my view of the door. Nothing. Just Cubby blue walls and a bunch of framed baseball jerseys. Strange, how a place that’s usually so fun and full of energy can feel so creepy without people in it. I decided it was probably just the security guard and went back to my locker. I was wrong.
Somehow he’d gotten past me, this guy, down at the end of the locker room. I couldn’t see his face, just the brown ponytail dangling down the back of one of those tacky Hawaiian shirts the Cubs sold. I stared, fascinated, as the guy ran his fingers across the letters of Manny Valaraga’s jersey.
I took a fighting stance and interrupted his fun. “Hey, man. How’d you get in here?”
The guy squeaked and spun around, a faded-blue Cubs hat clutched to his chest. At no more than five feet, six inches tall in his Cubby blue flip-flops and matching socks, he seemed harmless enough, as well as a lousy dresser.
“Oh, maaah gosh,” he drawled. “Why you’re Tah-son Manworthy.” Teeth like corn niblets grinned out at me from beneath chubby round cheeks.
I couldn’t help but smile back. The guy was harmless, a lump. The only exercise this forty-something year old hick ever got was moving between the sofa and the fridge.
Couch potato or not, he had no business in our locker room. I narrowed my eyes and gave him a steely look: my pitching face. “Dude, I asked you a question. How’d you get past the security guard?”
“I’m sorry, Mistah Manworthy. I waited inside a storage closet until the guard left his desk. Please don’t call him. I’m not dangerous. Why... I’m your biggest fan.”
I never liked Southern drawls, and this guy was slower than a stutterer in a spelling bee, so I crossed my arms, hoping to come off tough. “That’s nice, man, but you can’t be in here.”
His brow crinkled. Was he really going to cry? Seriously?
“Oh, pa-leeez. I’ve come all the way from Georgia just to show you this.” A smug grin spread across the man’s cheeks as he drew the sleeve of his Hawaiian shirt up, exposing a doughy white bicep and the most amazing tattoo.
It was me. Dressed in Cubby pinstripes and poised in my signature windup, you could see every feature, down to the gap between my front teeth. I let go a soft whistle.
“Ain’t it fine?”
I didn’t know what to say. I mean, it was class work, but that didn’t give him the right to fondle people’s jerseys. And where was that stupid security guard, Smitty? He was supposed to prevent stuff like this.
“Ah love the Cubs, Mistah Manworthy. Y’all are my favorite team, and you are my favorite player.” The guy took a tentative step forward. “And don’t you worry about your pitching. I have a strong feeling that things are going to change for the better real soon.”
My scowl softened. Finally, somebody that appreciated my efforts.
“Please...” The little fellow offered me his Cubs hat. “I’d be honored if you would autograph this.”
Well, that was like the best thing to happen to me all day, so like an idiot, I took it.
“Sure,” I said, completely dropping my guard. Since I didn’t have a pen on me I said, “Why don’t you follow me back to my locker? I’ll autograph your lid, and we can get out of here.” It was a decision that would change my career, as well as my life.
“Oh, that would be great, thanks, Mister Manworthy.”
I grinned. “So, what’s your name, anyway?”
“Osmond Robbard Honeycutt the Third. But most folks call me Ozro.”
“Ozro... That’s different.” I turned and headed toward my locker. “Well, right this way, Oz...”
Before I could even get the guy’s name out, Ozro grabbed my wrists and pinned both my arms behind my back. With the other hand, he grabbed hold of my hair and yanked my head backwards, exposing my throat.
Naturally, I panicked. Yeah, I let loose a shriek louder than a ten-year old girl at a Justin Bieber concert. Anyone would have. The guy had me bent backward, in a “dip,” like we’d just danced the tango or something. And the weirdest part was... he was smiling. Not an evil smile; a friendly one. The way a guy looks at somebody he really admires.
“I was serious about being your biggest fan, Ty. You don’t mind if I call you that...Ty?”
My eyes must have been popping out of my head, because Ozro’s grip relaxed and he brushed a loose strand of hair from my eyes. “You need to calm down, kid. You could hurt yourself.”
With blood pooling in my head, my temples throbbed. “Let me go!” I shouted. “Smitty! Security!” Of course I tried to pull free, but it was like a gorilla holding a kitten. My legs were still free, though, and I kicked them out in every direction, but all I managed to do was knock over a couple of folding chairs.
Ozro glanced from side to side and shrugged. “Looks like Smitty’s not coming.”
Never one to give up, I filled my lungs and screamed with everything I had.
“Come on, Ty, quit it.”
But I wouldn’t quit it, at least not until Ozro cranked up the pressure. It felt like hot lead against my skin, and I switched from useless hollering to pleading for mercy.
Ozro loosened his grip, and as I sobbed my thanks, he petted me. “Come on, Ty. If you promise not to fight it anymore, I’ll let go of your hands. Would you like that?”
Cow-eyed, I nodded.
Ozro smiled, and teeth which moments ago were short and stubby, now stretched long and pointed.
Up until then my tears had been from the pain, but after seeing that rack, it was terror. I squashed my eyelids together, done with looking.
“Hey,” he joked, “there’s no crying in baseball.” I felt pudgy fingers wipe away my tears. All the while, my brain sparked and sputtered like cheap sparklers on the Fourth of July.
Ozro’s words tickled my left ear. “Tyson, for a long time I’ve had this gift that I’ve wanted to offer one of the players on your team. And, after watching you pitch tonight, I’ve decided that you need it more than anyone else.”
I was too freaked out to understand what he was talking about, so when I didn’t jump on his offer, he shook me. “Come on, now. What I’m offering is the solution to all of your pitching problems. Don’t you want that?”
My eyes were still shut, and I forced myself to open them. I don’t know what I expected to see. Madness? Evil? I saw none of that.
What could I say, No? I smiled weakly, perspiration beading on my face. “Okay... sure.”
Ozro grinned, as if relieved. “Okay then.”
A combination of searing white heat and ecstasy pierced my throat. Ozro pulled my head even further down, arching my back into a position I never would have thought possible. Within seconds, my vision left me, along with my hearing and all sense of pain. The throbbing pulse in my neck became my world, and I felt the blood leave me, draining away to a trickle. This was a gift? A metallic smell overwhelmed me, and I shuddered. It was the scent of my own death.
But instead of death, I tasted sweetness. Something more delicious than any food I had ever known dripped onto my tongue, and with every drop of the coppery liquid my strength and senses returned.
“Atta boy, drink. It’ll make you strong.”
My eyes blinked open to find Ozro smiling down on me as a gaping slash in his throat rained blood into my mouth. Sure, his breath smelled like moldy hotdogs, but I didn’t care. I drank.
* * *
With the front of my previously white t-shirt now soaked wine-red, I slumped into the folding chair in front of my locker, not sure of what I’d just experienced. Still dazed, I watched as Ozro pressed together the flaps of ragged flesh on his neck. With a few quick touches, the gash he’d torn open with his fingernail vanished before my eyes, leaving only bloody fingerprints, which he wiped away with my towel.
“Tyson, do you understand the gift I’ve given you?”
“I’m not sure.” I raised bloody hands to my face, half-disgusted, half-fascinated. “It feels dumb saying it out loud, but I think you turned me into a vampire.”
“Yup, that’s right. And as a vampire, you will never grow old and never lose your skills. In fact, they’ll be sharpened.”
“Sounds great, Ozro” — I cut my eyes at him — “but I wish you’d explained that before you sank your fangs into my neck.”
Ozro shuffled his feet. “You said you wanted it.”
He thinks I wanted this? My lips pressed into a white slash. “Yeah, well, I wasn’t exactly in any position to argue, Ozro. And what the hell happened to that stupid Southern accent? Was that all a put-on, too?”
Ozro smiled proudly. “Yeah, did you like it? Thought it would make me less threatening.”
I chuffed. “Oh, it was awesome, and yeah, you were completely non-threatening... up until you attacked me.”
“Well, there’s no going back, and although we have eternity to discuss this” — Ozro checked his watch — “right now we’re kind of in a hurry. Lots to do before the sun rises.”
The whole thing was crazy. Me, a vampire? “Will I have to sleep in a coffin?” I sprang from my chair, a blur. “Whoa! That was crazy fast!”
For the next couple of minutes, I zipped from one end of the locker room to the other, practicing my new skill. Ozro didn’t seem to mind, in fact, the look on his face reminded me of my dad right after he taught me how to ride a bike. “Hey, kid, you asked about the coffin.”
In a flash, I was in front of him. “Yeah, that’s right. What about it?”
Ozro waved the idea off. “No need for it. I mean some of the elder vampires use them, but it’s more like an old-school thing than a necessity. All you really need is a safe place to sleep during the day, someplace dark with nobody to bother you.”
“So, no coffins, no boxes...?”
“No, none of that stuff.”
“Well, that’s good. My apartment should be okay then, right?”
“Well, I haven’t checked it out yet, but I’m sure it’ll be fine.”
The implications flooded my mind, and once again, my eyes grew wide. “Holy crap, I have to drink people’s blood now, don’t I?”
Ozro gave my shoulder a reassuring pat. “Yeah, but I’ll coach you on everything. First, we need to clean up this mess, and you need to call your manager.”
I gazed around at the blood-spattered tile floor and the chairs and jerseys I’d knocked over with my thrashing. “I get the part about the mess, but if I call Blake Borcher at one o’clock in the morning to tell him I’m a vampire, he’ll just think I’m drunk.”
“Tell him you’re a vampire?” Ozro chuckled. “Oh, hell no, I just want you to tell him there’s been an emergency and that you aren’t coming in until late, say eight-thirty?”
Relieved, I pulled out my cell phone. Even without having to tell Borch the truth, the conversation would still be awkward. As I waited for Borch to pick up, I pointed towards a door on the opposite wall. “Go look in there. You should find everything we need to clean this mess inside that room.”
Ozro nodded, but made no move toward the storage closet.
After I hung up, I looked to Ozro. “Why didn’t you get the stuff?”
“There’s something else we need to take care of first.” He walked in the direction of the exit door. “Hungry?”
I grinned and slipped the phone back into my pocket. “Yeah, now that you mention it, I’m starved.”
“Great, let’s go find that security guard.”
* * *
Copyright © 2014 by Diana Corbitt