The bat cracked against a leather ball. Thousands cheer, thousands gasp. Standing up, tensed as the ball flies, flies, over heads and mitts to the edge of the diamond. It hits the ground to gasps. They cheer as the outfielder scoops it up, throws it to third. Third catches it, whoops and tension, slams his foot on the pad seconds before the runner dives on it. The crowd goes wild. The runner goes back to the benches. Carl stares, tuning out Jay’s long explanation about what just happened.
Jay had bought tickets for Carl, Susie, and himself. He had shoved shirts stamped with Yankees into their hands and tapped his foot while they changed. Drove them down five interstates, into a crowded parking lot, through the crowds and tang of gasoline, into a stadium bigger than old Jubilee high school.
Carl and Susie, sat on either side of Jay, nod along to every high speed explanation. Listen to him rattle on about the new hitter, that pitcher, this outfielder. They have top row seats, best seats in the house, Jay says. Carl’s been watching hot dogs pass along the lower rows, gut pinching, but the stairs had winded him the first time. Looking down made his head swim. Maybe a vendor would wander up here, lost, with a handful of greasy Baseball snacks.
The crowd is roaring into Carl’s ears, loud as a flood. Susie has been poking him and Jay in their backs, her tooth-jagged nail scratching through the shirts. The sun scorches Carl’s neck.
A pockmarked teen carrying carnival striped bags of popcorn is walking five sections left. Carl waves his arm, flails until popcorn guy notices him. The teen steps over sprawled legs, Carl watching, holding a twenty. The teen walks into the intersection. Jay talks about an Olson someone. Popcorn guy stops, dropping his tray, kernels spilling out. He shakes. He is yanked under the seats, head clanking on the floor, and disappears.
“Alright pitcher, really. Kinda new. We’ll see, you know? Could be better, soon.” Jay’s still on Olson, and Susie pokes Carl’s back. Popcorn guy doesn’t come back.
Excusing himself, Carl leaves the seat, hand on the railing. Popcorn crunches underfoot. A smear of red trails under the seats, into the darkness underneath. Others saw it, too, coming to the spot, looking, frowning. They theorize: he slipped, he fell. We should call for help. Teens, always tripping over their feet.
Something crunches below. Crunches, squelches. A waft of copper and sourness. They all go quiet.
Seven rows right, someone starts screaming. People are getting up, pushing, shoving to get away from the seats. A woman holds tight to the metal, sobbing into it. No one goes to pull her off. A stadium guard trots down the stairs to investigate. His foot is pulled out from under him and he falls down a flight. Lands, leg bent sideways, head spilling blood.
Jay’s next to Carl now, one hand in Susie’s hand, other taking Carl’s, heel jumping. “What the hell’s happening?”
The entrances are clogged with people. Screams drowned out by cheers and boos. People being sucked underneath. Wet crunches and nails on metal scratches echoing from the hollow space, the darkness. Gleaming quartz white eyes look up at Carl. Nails pierce his shin, running through, and he can’t scream before he is pulled by the thing below. Jay holds his hand tight, yelping, Susie coming too, they tumble down the gap, toy monkeys linking hands.
The fall explodes Carl’s kneecap. Susie grunts on impact, and a sharp crack from Jay’s shoulder. Warmth coats the floor, slick and thick, the burnt copper reek of lots of blood. Quartz eyes gather around them, steps splashing. Jaws click, claws scratch on the metal floor. Carl moves to stand, feels all the sharp puzzle pieces of his knee shift, stab into his leg, and falls on to Susie.
Susie fought the bullies, the Granders Gang, during Jubilee. Jumped them with her ragged nails and short hair, her teeth and quiet snarl. She was suspended, and the Granders left the three of them alone. Now she stands over Carl and Jay, fists bunched.
Carl hears the snap of bones. A pop as her chest caves. A soft wail, cut off by wet ripping. The eyes cluster around her, dipping in, teeth tearing, ripping. Susie is being devoured and Carl can’t see in the dark, can’t run. His insides are ice and his eyes are wide, trying to see, blind, aching with the effort of keeping the lids open.
Jay says, “Susie,” like he expects her to call back and the eyes fall on him too. Snap, crunch. Warm blood sprays across Carl’s stomach. More people are falling into the feeding ground, pulled down by the quartz eyed things. All around him people are being torn apart and eaten. Wet meat squelches in jaws.
Then the claws go through his stomach. Carl’s spine seizes and goes soft. Cold, long teeth press into his throat. Pull out his Adam’s apple.
And the crowd goes wild as the fourth inning ends.