“Center Field” | #EatADick

By Andersen Richards

May 13, 2016

Riots went on in Toronto for four days following what happened Mother’s Day.

When they ended yesterday the dead numbered at 49. The injured numbered at 987.

Keep in mind when you hear that stat on TV or online, this isn’t an earthquake. This isn’t 987 people with twisted ankles and broken arms. This is Ratfanger’s Syndrome.

Ratfanger’s is never pretty.

Monday morning, while riots were well underway, David and Laura called Sam. They wanted us to come over. “It’s a trap,” I said to her.

“Dick, your whole life is a trap.” It was nine thirty-seven in the morning. There’s a point you reach without sleep where you stop rounding up or down, where you feel every second pass and nine thirty-seven is exactly nine thirty-seven, no more and no less because you don’t know if you’ll make it to nine thirty-eight and every moment that has led to that has been so arduous you can still feel it. “I bet that comment didn’t make you feel any better.”

“No, that really sucked.” I pulled into a gas station, stopped by the pump.

“What are you doing?” she asked.

“I need gas.”

“You’re just sitting there.” Suddenly it was nine forty-three.

“I’m going to get gas,” I said, opening the door. The woman on the other side of the pump seemed to recognize me. A man pulling into the station tilted his head down beneath his rearview mirror to get a better look at me.

“You filled the tank already,” Sam said. “You said you wanted to fill it before the sun rose so people wouldn’t see you.”

“Why is everyone looking at me?” I asked, slowly bringing the door to a close.

“They’re not,” she said, unbuckling me. “Get in the back seat.” She grabbed me by the collar and pulled me to the side until my hands took over, and I pulled myself over the center console and into the back.

“David and Laura… they know what I look like,” I remember saying. “They’ve told everyone what I look like.”

“They didn’t tell anyone anything, Dick,” she said, turning the engine over. She opened the door so she could slam it shut again. “Just shut the fuck up and get some rest.”

I slept but it wasn’t restful. While she drove around the city, the video from the Dodger’s/Blue Jays game played in my head. The video that had looped repeatedly in the picture-in-a-picture. The video of how it all started.

It was a man standing in front of a vendor, the vendor is offering him snacks, he seems very confused by the man. The vendor has no idea what he’s looking at. But I knew. I knew because I had seen it. I knew because people have looked at me that way before.

The man started tearing open the bags of popcorn and chip, grabbing the soft drinks and throwing them into his own face, trying to consume everything he could. The vendor was trying to pull his tray away at first, then reached back behind his neck and released the leash that connected it to him. As soon as that tray fell, the man seemed to realize there was nothing between him and the vendor anymore. He grabbed a fistful of the vendor’s hair as the vendor turned to run, pulled him and bit into his neck.

The vendor screamed. The front rows looked back, the back rows just stared. The man ripped out the flesh and swallowed without chewing. And he thought about it for a second, waited. Waiting is impossible for people who are suffering from advanced Ratfanger’s.

The vendor screamed and clasped his neck.

The crowd didn’t intercede or call for help. They waited with him.

But nothing happened.

So the man took another bite of the vendor.

Then, like it was something simple, like it was something obvious, the way a man might turn his hat backwards when he sees it looks good on someone else, a woman three rows back turned to the man next to her and bit into him.

And it spread like a fashion craze.

Four other heads turned to the person next to them. Ten different people immediately shot up. Two began crawling over the backs of their seats.

As I lay there, I thought I could feel someone crawling out of their seat in the bleachers and into my backseat. It wasn’t something I had seen on TV, it was something I experienced. Even though there had been no audio, I could hear the announcer, the crisp snap the bat made, I could even feel the ball rise into the sky as the center-fielder tracked it only to see the fans tearing each other apart in the stands.

I haven’t seen the video, I don’t know how it spread so quickly to the other end of the stadium. But the center-fielder let the ball fall ten feet from him, turned and began running in the other direction. He’d started a few steps when he saw fans pouring into the field, like floodwaters breaching a levy. Most of them just washed through the players in an attempt to escape, not realizing what was in that direction.

But the hitter had been caught two thirds of the way to second base, and two people had torn into him. Others were grabbing players as they tried to escape.

The video was blurry, it was distant. If it was intentional, I don’t know why they filmed it at all.

In the dream, the one that came in an out like the tide, I was standing just behind the center-fielder. He watched that wave of fans break against his team. Some of them ravenous. Some of them excited to be so close to a celebrity. For them, there was excitement, joy, even gratitude on their faces, even as they beat and mutilated the team.

I could see what I’ve always known, it’s not their fault. Their brains are just firing in weird places. You can’t help what happens in your brain.

“Wake up,” Sam said, hitting the break to jolt me awake. I jolted, but the inertia rolled me from the seat and onto the ground. The after-school smell of cut grass, the summer-fair flashing lights of surrounding advertisements, the traffic jam sounds of people trying to escape one another… they all faded as the cold data from the last few days became sharp in my mind again.

49 dead. 987 injured.

When the news says injured, they mean people whose arms look like chewed apples, people with fewer fingers than toes. 987 are people who are now awaiting skin graft procedures, people who will never watch the skin slide off a drumstick without throwing up.

987 people like me.

I put a hand on the center console and pushed myself up, until I saw we were at the beach.

David and Laura standing in front of the Bronco. “We need to talk,” Sam said.

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