3rd Base – Pandora
“Give me a break,” said Fred, as he turned towards his tormenter. “Why do you insist on causing me so much pain?”
“Because, faggot, you are a faggot!” sneered Cody James, the alpha male of Fred’s 8th grade class. “Now give it to me!” He rested the metal baseball bat up against the bench and slowly took off his well-worn batting gloves.
They were inside the piss-scented dugout of Kitsap Middle School’s disused lower baseball field. School was almost out for the summer. Due to budget cuts the field had been allowed to dry up, the once lush green outfield now filled with tall scraggly weeds. The paths between the bases had become dusty troughs sure to fill with muddy water whenever the rains started again. The reeking dugout was the perfect location for sneaking a smoke between classes or for illicit transactions: most often involving small amounts of weed or prescription drugs pilfered from an unsuspecting parent; occasionally it was where furtive blowjobs happened. It was where the Goths and the freaks mostly congregated, but today a chubby, pasty white kid with acne, and a golden-jock man-child were the only ones there.
Fred scanned the deserted area before reaching into his backpack stowed under the bench. He felt the cold metal handle, marveling at how it seemed to radiate its own coolness into his hand and up his arm. Despite the heat of the day, he felt the hairs on his arms stand up as his hand closed around the icy grip. His finger instinctively rested on the trigger. Fred hesitated with his hand still in the backpack. He turned to Cody searching his cold blue eyes for some sliver of humanity. A cold trickle of sweat began to run down Fred’s arm from his armpit.
“Jesus Christ! Give me the fucking test answers fuck-head or I swear to god I will whip your ass!” Cody was becoming more agitated and nervously glanced back towards the school as the after lunch period bell rang out. He sat down abruptly next to Fred on the bench knocking his gloves to the dugout’s cigarette butt and sunflower seed shell littered floor.
In an instant Fred realized that Cody was afraid. Not of Fred, or of what he held hidden in his bag, but of what might happen if he didn’t get the test answers he so desperately needed to pass his math final. For Cody this was the crossroads of his young life: whether he would escape the purgatory of middle school for the promise of high school. And that outcome depended solely on the answers that only Fred could provide him. This realization flooded over Fred causing him to loosen his grip. He took his clammy empty hand out of the backpack and placed it gently, tentatively on Cody’s muscular leg.
“Dude. I think I left the test answers in my locker.”
Cody stared incredulously at the doughy hand resting on his thigh.
“Ass-wipe!” Cody swatted Fred’s hand away and jabbed him hard in the bicep. He stood and moved away to the far side of the fenced in dugout looking out over the over grown baseball diamond.
Rubbing his sore arm Fred slowly bent down to scoop up the gloves quietly slipping them into his bag. Shouldering the weighted backpack he stood.
“I’ve got get to class. Maybe I can get you the answers after school.”
But both boys knew Fred was not going to help Cody. Not today, not ever. Cody returned and slumped on the bench as Fred made his way out of the dugout.
Stopping halfway across the field Fred knelt at third base to tie his shoe. Looking back he saw Cody still sitting on the bench, not paying attention to what Fred was doing. Slipping the backpack off his shoulder he carefully took the gun out. It’s dark metal gleamed in the sunlight. He delicately rubbed the grip and trigger with the bottom of his sweaty t-shirt erasing any fingerprints he could see reflecting in the light. With his back still to Cody in the dugout, he gently lowered the weapon onto the space where the plate used to rest. He slipped the still sweaty gloves in next to it. Grabbing some of the dried tall grasses Fred covered the gun and gloves, quickly standing up and resuming his saunter back towards school. He knew principal Skinner would believe him once they found the evidence. Cody wouldn’t be Fred’s problem any more.