Coming home from the game, Brian and Julie found a funhouse version of the life they had left behind
The left fielder sidled towards the third baseline, held his glove up, and made an easy catch. The game was over. The Volcanoes had swept the Emeralds and now look poised to make the playoffs again.
“Daddy, can we stay for the fireworks?” Julie asked.
“Of course! That’s half to reason we come to the games.”
Julie smiled up at her dad. She was wearing her gray Volcanoes hat with a red “V” on the front, launching a baseball from the caldera and a pink and white princess jacket. It had real leather sleeves and looked like a tiny letterman jacket.
Brian smiled back and watched the ground crew prepare the field and the players getting ready to leave. The Emeralds were already shaking the loss off, and a few players were horsing around near the dugout.
The Volcanoes players were busy throwing plush souvenir baseballs into the stands. A few clusters of fans headed for the exits. But, most people stayed in their seats, anticipating the fireworks.
“Ladies and Gentlemen in preparation for the firework extravaganza, the stadium lights will be shut off. Please remain in your seats for the duration of the show and only leave your seats once the lights have turned back on.” A voice said over the PA.
From their seats along the first baseline, Brian could smell the grass mixed with leftover beer and half-devoured hot dogs. Looking around the small stadium just off the freeway, he couldn’t help but smile. His dad had taken him to his first baseball game when he was Julie’s age.
This might not be the San Francisco Giants, but this farm team was as close as they were going to get for now. Julie was along the rail, trying to catch one of the souvenir balls. The clubhouse attendants dumped the ice from the coolers onto the grass near the first and third base coach’s boxes. Brian caught Julie’s eye and motioned for her to come back. The players were out of balls anyway.
“What’s with the frown? You can try for one next time.”
“When are we coming back?”
“How about next week, we can watch more fireworks.”
“Just you and me? Or are Mitch and Mommy coming too?”
“Mitch is only three, he’s too young. And Mommy only likes watching football. So, that means it’ll be just us.” Brain said.
“Yes!” She did a fist pump just like the one Teo Garcia made after each strikeout.
The stadium lights shut-off, and a medley of 60s music began as rockets shot out from behind the left-field fence.
The crowd oohed and aahed at all the right times. The skyward explosions were not synced to the music filling the stadium from the speakers. Like the team, the firework display was not pro-level.
A set of three fireworks exploded into a vibrant purple flower when the huge bright right field light flashed on, popped, and then flamed out, ruining everyone’s night vision and causing the crowd to grumble.
“This is the worst show I’ve ever seen. What’re they doing, trying to recreate The Natural?” complained a gruff fan behind them.
“What was that?” Julie asked, wide-eyed.
“I don’t know, sweetie. Just a malfunction, I guess. Somebody’s going to get fired. Those lights aren’t cheap.”
The fireworks and the music kept going for another five minutes. The left-field lights came back on in the middle of “Little Deuce Coupe,” and the crowd headed for the exit.
“Daddy, will you carry me?”
“Carry you? You’re a big girl. You can make it. Can’t you?”
“Please? My legs won’t make it.”
“Alright,” Brian said.
He scooped her up, and she put her head on his shoulder. Brian patted her head and adjusted her cap as they walked into the parking lot.
By the time they made it to the car and Brian got Julie buckled in, most of the vehicles were lined-up near the front entrance. Brian pulled towards the backside of the stadium and went out the little-used rear entrance.
“Huh, I wonder why all the stores are dark,” Brian asked the silent car.
“Must be related to the stadium lights.”
After a brief trip down the freeway, Brian turned onto his road, only to find his driveway filled with two unfamiliar cars.
Brain pulled up to the curb and stared at the cars.
“We home now?”
“Yes, let’s get you to bed,” Brian said.
“Whose cars?” Julie asked.
“I dunno, guess we’ll find out.”
Julie was rubbing her eyes.
“Carry me, please.”
Brian picked her and up and got her settled back in his shoulder as he walked up the driveway and then up the three stairs of the front porch. Brian rubbed his own eyes. In the light of the quarter moon and the yellow street lights, the house looked somehow browner than usual. He put his hand on the doorknob only to find it locked.
He fished his keys out, and after a few attempts stuck his key into the lock, but the key wouldn’t penetrate all the way into the lock, and it wouldn’t turn either.
Brian let out a low growl.
“I really am going to have to replace this thing again.”
“Why won’t it open?” Julie asked.
“It’s just stuck. I need to replace the lock, that’s all. I hope I don’t wake up your brother.”
Brain rang the doorbell. Several lights went on in the house, and Brian and Julie heard people moving around the house.
“Great, I woke everyone up. I’m going to catch it now.”
“Catch what?” Julie asked. Her eyes were still closed, and her head rested comfortably on her dad’s shoulder.
The door opened, and a thirteen-year-old boy was standing there, shaggy hair covering his eyes and barely off his shoulders.
“Who are you?” Brian asked.
“Who are you coming to our house in the middle of the night?” the boy said.
“Your house?” Brian barked.
He pushed past the boy and rushed into the house, stopping just inside. For a moment Brian thought he might be in the wrong house. Everything seemed off. Like a funhouse version of his home.
“Mitch, who is it?” a voice called from the back.
“Mary, it’s us. Who’s the kid?”
“Get out! I’m going to call the cops.” The boy said.
His voice cracked. The boy was trying to shove Brian back out the door.
The hall light came on, temporarily blinding Brian and Julie, and then there was a scream.
“What’s going on, what’s going on, oh my, what’s going on?” Mary was speaking somewhere between a scream and a cry.
“Mister, you had better get out of here. I don’t know what you and that little girl are doing, but — “
A man about Brian’s size, but a good ten years older came into the crowded hallway. He had broad shoulders and was charging towards Brian. Mary cut off the man as she jumped from the shadows.
“Sean, don’t, its Brian and Julie. Oh my God, it’s Brian and Julie.” Mary ran towards Brain, past Sean.
“What’s happening, Daddy?”
Julie squeezed her dad’s neck, and Brian put an arm around her to shield her. As Mary approached, he realized something about her wasn’t quite right either. She looked like she had lived an entire lifetime since he and Julie had left for the ballgame earlier that evening.
Mary stood in front of Brian, staring with her hand almost touching his face, but not quite making contact.
“Mary, what’s going on? Who are these people in our home?” Brian said.
“Where have you two been? How are you here? Oh my God, My sweet little Julie.” Mary caressed Julie’s face with the back of her hand.
“Daddy!” Julie was beginning to hyperventilate.
Sean slowly approached until he was at Mary’s side.
“They said you died. All of you. Vaporized,” Mary said.
“Is it them?” Sean asked.
“What the hell is going on?” Mitch demanded.
“Language, Mitch.” Mary said.
“Mitch?” Brian looked at the boy who had retreated to stand by the Mary and the man Mary had called Sean.
“Our Mitch? My Mitch?’ Brian looked at Mary.
She began to cry.
“I think we had better all sit down and catch up,” Sean said.
Brian noticed that as Sean spoke, his eyes moved between his and Julie’s face and a space behind Brian off to the left. Brian turned around and saw a small picture frame. Inside was a picture Mary had taken earlier that evening before he and Julie had gone to the game.
His head hurt, and he felt like he did the first time he took trigonometry. He knew there was an answer to the problem, but it was just out of his grasp.
The group headed to the couches into the living room.
“Mary, what’s going on? Who are these people? Where’s little Mitch. Who’s this kid and this man?”
Julie was clutching Brian’s arm and burying her face between his shoulder and the couch.
“These aren’t our couches? What — “
“Brian, when is it?” Sean asked.
“Who are you?” Brian said.
“Dad, should I call the cops?” Mitch asked, leaping to his feet.
“Sit down, Mitch. We need to talk this out.” Sean said.
“Mitch?” Brian asked. “Mary, where’s our Mitch?”
Mary was sobbing now.
“I’ll explain that, but first, what is the date?” Sean pressed.
“The 9th, I guess.” Brain said, pulling his phone out of his pocket, noticing the display was dead.
“The 9th of what, what’s the full date?” Sean asked.
“What is this? Who are you? Is this a game? It’s the 9th of July 2016. I’m going to call the cops if I don’t get some answers.”
Everyone gasped. Mitch and Sean and Mary all looked at each other in disbelief.
“Bri, it’s July 10th, 2026,” Mary said.
Brian began to stand.
“Where have you two been?” Mary asked. “How did you survive?”
“Survive what? We’ve been at a baseball game!”
“Brain,” Sean began. “The night of your baseball game, a terrorist let off a dirty bomb and killed everyone in the stadium; the entire shopping area was abandoned because of radiation. Everyone at the stadium was vaporized. All that was left was a giant crater.
Brain sat back down. Julie was crying. Brian pulled her close.
“We were just at a baseball game.” He said.
Sean continued. “Mary and Mitch were devastated, even though he was only three at the time. Mary and I met two years ago and got married six months ago.”
Brian shook his head, “I was at a baseball game. The Volcanoes won! There were fireworks, a weird thing with the stadium lights, and then we came home, or thought we were headed home.”
The conversation continued for several minutes. Mary held Julie, and Mitch hugged Brian. Mitch pulled away awkwardly. Julie quickly retreated to Brian, and Mitch moved to sit by Sean.
“Brian, I came here to Salem on a research project. I’m a physicist. But, Homeland Security would never let us get near the site. We all thought it was suspicious, but what can you do? It was a nuclear catastrophe. The entire area around the stadium was condemned and left vacant like some kind of creepy aboveground time capsule. I ended up teaching at the college. Then when I met Mary, I decided to stay permanently.” Sean said.
“What are you saying?” Brian asked, feeling again like the slow kid in a high school math that was beyond his abilities.
“I’m saying the government knew something about the site. They knew it wasn’t a dirty bomb. But, I bet they didn’t expect this.”
“Expect what? What is this? What happened to us?” Brian’s voice was getting louder.
“I don’t know until I see some data, but it seems like you traveled in time somehow. You and the entire stadium. It was a mere second for you, but ten years for the rest of us.” Sean said.
“What do we do?”
“Mary, Brian, and Julie need to get out of here.” He looked around. “We all need to get out of here.”
“Why? What’s going to happen?” Mary asked.
“Honey,” Brian flinched when Sean said this. “The government will want to talk to everyone at the stadium. Study them. They will want to pretend this never happened.”
Brian, Mitch, and Mary’s eyes flashed with understanding. Sean began giving everyone instructions. Mitch and Mary began furiously packing bags. Sean had Brian pull the van into the garage. He parked the truck right behind it. Sean went throughout the house, dousing everything with chemicals. He packed something into five boxes and placed one box in Brian’s van, and the rest throughout the house.
“It’s time to go, everyone,” Sean said.
Brian was still holding Julie. Everyone walked out the front door and got into the truck that Sean had pulled out next to the curb where the van had been. On her way out, Mary grabbed the picture of Julie and Brian off the wall.
“You’re scary good at this,” Brian said.
“I have a complicated background,” Sean said as he looked in the rearview mirror.
He pulled away from the curb and hit the garage door opener. As they drove down the street, they heard an explosion. Even after the house was out of sight, a pillar of fire could be seen behind them. Emergency vehicles raced past them as they made their way out of town.
Sean drove slightly above the posted speed limit as he headed towards the freeway. Another set of fire trucks and police cars streamed by. This time two unmarked black SUVs were in the middle of the pack.
As Sean turned out of the subdivision and onto the main road, he noticed one of the black SUVs leaving the caravan and heading towards the back of his truck at a high rate of speed.
“Hang-on,” Sean said.
He slammed his foot down on the accelerator and took off. The tires momentarily screamed and spun in place before the car launched out onto the main road. The black vehicle followed.
Julie was screaming, and Mary and Brian were doing their best to calm her down. Mary kept turning around, trying to offer comfort. Julie sat in the middle of the back seat and buried her had into her dad’s chest. Mitch sat on the other side of Julie with his head pressed against the windows looking at the car tailing them.
Sean spotted a second car up ahead. He turned down a side street and raced through the neighborhood, driving across a small park to get to another main road and onto the freeway.
After just a few minutes on the freeway, Sean turned off at a small town and began driving slower down small country roads. They heard the occasional helicopter and plane overhead but didn’t see any other cars. After what seemed like hours, they ended up at a tiny cabin near the river.
“This is a fishing cabin a buddy of mine owns. The feds won’t trace it to me for a while. It’s time for us to split up and disappear. You okay with the plan, Brian?” Sean asked.
“Yeah, I think so.” Brian sighed. “Sean? Thanks. You didn’t have to do this for us. Mary always did have good taste in men.”
Sean and Brian both chuckled. Everything was emptied out of the truck, and Brian, Mitch, and Sean pushed it into the river with the windows rolled down.
Over the next several days, black cars with the tinted windows began showing up at houses all over the area, and the “survivors” as they were called, began leaving for tests — the tests were for their health and the public good of course. None of the survivors ever returned.
Rumors spread that there had never been a terrorist attack at all, that the Universe had just simply popped a bubble and moved a stadium through time, something about a singularity. The local news reported that a large house fire had killed three adults and two children the night that the stadium had come back. It was thought somehow related to the return of the survivors.
Years later, during a severe drought, a truck that had once belonged to the owner of the house that had mysteriously blown up was found in the Willamette River. But no other sign of them was ever found by investigators.
Eventually, everyone moved on. The individual survivors were forgotten, even if the incredible story was not. The story of the vanishing and reappearing stadium turned into more of an urban myth than a memory. Big budget movies were made, books were written, conspiracy theories hatched, and everyone focused on the next big story.
About a month after the stadium incident, as it was called in the press, two families moved into a quiet ex-pat community in Costa Rica about a week apart. First, a couple with their teenage son moved into a small villa. Right next door, a single father and his young daughter moved into a three-room cottage. Both new families got along with everyone else in the tight-knit community. But, people couldn’t help noticing how strange the little girl was. She would go to pieces anytime anyone motioned anything about fireworks or baseball.