Chapter no 19 – HAVE A BALL‌


As CJ made his way down the slide, it didn’t take long for him to realize that something was wrong. What should’ve been a trail of smooth plastic underneath began to feel warm and wet. As the drop continued, hot lines of stinging pain periodically found CJ’s legs and backside.

“Ow!” he cried.

The pain only intensified when the slide’s trajectory morphed, curling his body down a steeper slope. The harsh cutting sensation stretching from his calves to his lower back grew deeper and deeper as the angle became more exaggerated.


The slide seemed endless. CJ couldn’t be certain that his brain was calculating the seconds correctly. There was a strong possibility the trauma had decelerated his capacity to perceive how time was passing.

Of equal concern was the mental mystery. He wasn’t sure of the origin of his pain. It wasn’t until he caught a hint of glimmering steel whizzing by that it became clear. The occasional twinkles of metal flying by coincided with the rhythm of his hurt because the slide had razor blades embedded in the plastic.

Just as he figured out the source of his anguish, he saw the horseshoe of barbwire. Draped across the top of the tube, the cruel, prickly curve drew closer. Fear meddled inside his torso as CJ calculated the best means of avoiding the fast-approaching horror.

The slide’s curve decreased in steepness as he drew closer to the barbwire and the light beyond it. CJ stiffened his body against the plastic

and dodged the barbs by mere inches as he made his way into the brightness.

When CJ spilled out onto the floor, he was serenaded with the familiar blend of screams from both his immediate family and the other children.

The landing was painful. Before CJ could even register his surroundings, he felt them.

The pain pushed through his skin and deep into his bones. It wasn’t so much the hardwood floor that hurt, as it was whatever it was covered with. He heard what sounded like countless balls rolling on the ground and turned to take in the sight.

The room looked about the size of a gymnasium. The countless aching points that crashed into his body upon landing became obvious.

The entire floor was covered with marbles.

Under a laxer set of circumstances, CJ might’ve considered the sight beautiful. There were more colors and sizes than he could count. As the scattering swirls of vibrance and variety rolled around on the floor, their beauty overloaded his optics.

The room had several stone pillars ahead and a sizable ball pit. A pink neon sign reading ‘EXIT’ hung at the other end of the space.

CJ looked left to right at his surroundings. A thick steel fencing contained them and ran all the way up to the roof. Behind it was weathered stone walls that looked similar to those comprising the exterior of The Borden Estate. The space was essentially an oblong cage confined to an even larger stone coffin.

Cries compelled CJ to focus. No one’s flesh had been spared on the ride down. Everyone’s clothing was sliced through and blood secreted from the lengthy lacerations carved beneath. The columns of unforgiving cuts varied in size and placement, but the violence was consistent across the board.

The children looked like a platoon of grizzled veterans fresh out of battle.

Bobby was probably in the worst shape. The flesh on his forearms had been carved up considerably. There were a few sheet-like flaps of skin that dangled from each of his mangled limbs.

Being that Bobby was the oldest and far larger than everyone else, he couldn’t dodge the barbwire cluster at the end of the tube. The other children were all compact enough to avoid the brunt of it.

Suddenly, CJ shifted his focus away from his big brother. The chorus of panic-stricken cries from the group was overwhelming him. Everyone was frightened, and even CJ had much anxiety of his own.

He’d volunteered himself to somehow lead the children through the horizon of hell, but now, such a task seemed impossible. That didn’t deter him from the duty, but his confidence secretly plummeted.

CJ forced his racing mind to slow. If he was going to be any help, he had to keep his shit together. But with everyone crying, it seemed like it would be a lot easier just to break down along with them.

Then, CJ noticed something that he hadn’t initially: not everyone was crying.

He didn’t even know Donnie’s name, but that didn’t stop him from being astonished. To see the child who appeared to be the youngest of them all, somehow strong enough to hold in his pain gave CJ hope.

If CJ had hope, then they all had hope.

Gotta get it together. Gotta get up, CJ thought. He groaned as he returned to his feet.

“Hey, you guys, stop screaming!” CJ yelled.

He tried to avoid the countless marbles. At the same time, he heard a cluster of loud, popping noises erupt from the opposite end of the room.

By the time CJ got his head around, he nearly got drilled. The white dot coming at him was a blur. It closed in, zooming right by his ear.

“Holy crap! Everybody, stay down!” he said.

CJ immediately ducked just fast enough to avoid the next pop that followed up behind the first.

The objects being launched crashed into the chain-link fencing behind them. The circular white balls dropped to the ground and rolled into various bunches of multicolored marbles.

“What—What is that?” Sadie asked.

CJ examined the projectiles. It was fairly obvious what they were. The objects were a big part of his life. The bone white cowhide held together by the red stitching was unmistakable.

“It’s a baseball,” CJ replied.

The balls kept shooting, flying overhead, it wasn’t just one at a time either. The onslaughts were coming five at a time in mini waves that covered the width of the room. Standing wouldn’t be a smart move if they planned on avoiding more agony or advancing forward.

CJ turned away from the barrage of balls and back to where they’d piled up. Even the chaos attempting to suffocate him became background fodder. Something else was clouding his mind. When CJ fixed his eyes on the heap, he didn’t just see a bunch of baseballs—he saw his life.

His life according to Greg, anyway.

It was a life that felt more alien to him with each day he awoke. A life that he was beginning to realize wasn’t really his at all. He knew his father was a die-hard competitor, but he wasn’t. To CJ, every moment of his existence was not some play school pissing contest.

Sure, he was good at baseball and harnessed raw talent, but playing didn’t make him feel fulfilled or excited in the same way it did for his father. There was still an empty void aching inside him for something he wanted. He might not have known what that passion was, but he certainly knew what it wasn’t.

Furthermore, CJ was okay with not knowing yet. But putting in the tedious work to accomplish someone else’s dream was running him ragged. His father’s vicarious living and voyeuristic tendencies had drained him. He was tired of being a project instead of just being a son.

This extraordinary turn of events fostered an undeniable evolution within CJ; baseball was dead. If he found a means to make it past the unknown trials that awaited him, CJ was going to live for himself. No more pressure, no more lies, no more judgment, no matter what the cost.

The game was over.

Playing out the liberating fantasy in his head helped CJ cope with the crude reality facing them. He snapped back into survival mode—thoughts were once again racing along a mile a minute.

Everyone else, save for Donnie, was sobbing hysterically and examining their injuries. The horror was deafening. The environment made it difficult for CJ to settle on an idea, but finally, something came to him.

CJ scanned the damaged group until he spotted Tanya. He quickly dragged himself over to his sister’s side.

“Tanya! Before we went down the slide, what did the sign say again?

Something about don’t stand too tall, wasn’t it?” CJ asked. “I’ve—I’ve got cuts all over,” she cried.

“I know, I know,” CJ said, cautiously sliding his arm around his sister. “Just turn a little bit, but stay low.”

CJ examined his sister’s legs and thighs. The cuts were nasty, but not life-threatening. It was as if the razors were implanted to do just enough to create panic.

He looked up from the slices at Tanya’s gawk of terror. CJ grabbed her gently by the shoulders and looked into her eyes. He hoped his cool and collected vibe might rub off.

“I know that you’re scared. I’m scared too. But I promise you the cuts aren’t that bad.”

“But—But there’s so much blood.”

“Yes, but that’s everyone’s blood, it’s not all yours. You’re gonna be okay. I’ve gotta try to get us out of here, but I can’t do it without you. I need you, Sis.”

Tanya let his words resonate inside. He always had a knack for making her feel better.

“You trust me, right?” CJ asked.

She nodded her head, wiping the tears out of her eyes.

“Good. I think that sign—those rules might’ve been some kind of hint.

It had to mean something.”

“I—I don’t remember them though,” she sniffled.

CJ could see his sister was still panicked. There was an uncommon frustration in her tone.

“Just try to relax. Now think for a second. Just try to picture the letters on the sign,” he whispered softly.

“I think I might remember the end.”

“That’s good! I knew you could do it!”

“To find and exit when you fall, just use your ears and have a ball.”

“Ears?” CJ paused for a moment. “I don’t hear anything over here, do you? Except for those baseball machines.”

Tanya looked around and listened. “Me either, but they’re pretty loud.

Maybe we’d hear something different down that way?”

CJ looked at the neon pink exit sign that glowed eerily in the direction his sister was pointing. He nodded his head and turned to the rest of the crying kids beside them.

“I guess there’s only one way to find out.”

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