Jackson pulled up in his faded, black 2007 Toyota Camry into the park’s parking lot. The car’s faint amber headlights matched the hue of the streetlamps that lit the park’s pathways.
He slowly left the car with a sigh and started walking down their usual path.
He looked again at his latest iMessage:
Today 7:06 PM
Come to the park dude… I’m kinda freaking rn. I’ll explain when you get here.
The air was crisp; a cool, strong breeze whistled as it carried a few fallen leaves, breaking through the park’s solemn silence. The sun was on its way down.
He saw her in their usual spot – a patch of unkempt grass nestled between the two baseball diamonds’ high, rusted fences, with a few big rocks and decades old benches warped by the rain. To the west the sun was setting over a set of tennis courts with even higher, shinier, newly renovated steel fences. A blue, interwoven canvas almost completely blocked any lines of sight into the tennis courts.
Jackson and Margot greeted each other. Margot was looking down, tossing a tennis ball in one hand and holding a jet black aluminum baseball bat in the other.
Margot had her back turned to Jackson.
“I saw your text, broski.” Jackson said.
“Whatcha up to out here?”
“Batting practice,” Margot said.
“But you don’t even play baseball,” Jackson said.
The tennis ball went flying off of her bat into the dusk.
Jackson felt a troubling energy building within the space between them.
She carried on with her strange new hobby. Another tennis ball into the twilight abyss.
“Brought the pen?” Margot asked Jackson.
“Always?” Jackson was always stoned. He pulled out his dad’s old weed vape – a 5 inch long miniature replica of the Wizarding World’s Elder Wand.
They puff, puff, passed the vape back and forth for a few minutes. Jackson laid out like a starfish, staring straight up into the night. He enjoyed watching the clouds go by in the night sky, with another bright yellow tennis ball streaking upwards with each swing Margot took.
Jackson was doing his best to ‘hold space’ or whatever – a concept he tried to recall from his recent therapy sessions.
A few more minutes passed. They shared Jackson’s pen and carried on – Jackson laid in the grass, Margot kept hitting tennis balls wherever she felt like.
“It’s been an interesting day, I guess?” Jackson said, finding it oddly difficult to break the ice with his bestie.
“It was a good one,” another short reply.
“Impossible. It’s Monday, bro,” Jackson was like. “Mondays are wack, everyone knows that.”
“Any day can be a good day, jackass,” Margot was like.
Margot lobbed another ball a few feet upwards and sent it flying with an effortless swing.
“Nah. I mean, yeah any day can kinda be a good day, that’s what I’m saying, bro.” Jackson replied.
As he inhaled on his dad’s old weed pen he imagined a quick little story for each tennis ball that Margot hit into the brisk autumn sky.
This one is an escape pod to an exoplanet.
That one landed in a tree – the birds who live there are shocked. They’re treating it like humans treat UFOs. They sectioned it off from regular birds; they’re letting the Bird CIA deal with it.
“I feel like any day can be a good day but not every day is, though,” Jackson hypothesized.
“You can’t always be positive, or happy, or whatever.. so I feel like it depends,” He went on.
“I mean, yeah,” Margot conceded. “You’re still a jackass, though,”
“That’s fine,” Jackson mumbled indifferently as he released another plume of vapor into the air.
A smile crept up on Jackson’s face for the first time that night. Margot’s usual sass felt oddly reassuring.
“You’re chiefin,’ guy,” Margot said.
“OK Aaron Judge,” Jackson sat up and passed her the vape.
“Fuck that.” Margot was like in between tokes. “I’m a Mets fan.”
“Where’d you get all these tennis balls?” Jackson was like.
“I can fit into the hole in the fence behind the tennis courts,” Margot answered.
Margot kept turning away from Jackson. He still had barely seen her face. He did at one point, for a split second, and her eyes had a watery shine to them, as if she had either just finished crying or still was.
“What’s going on though? Like, you’re being kinda weird, even for you. No shade, but . . . “
A cold, windy silence filled the air around them.
Margot lobbed another tennis ball in the air.
Another ball, another swing. Another popup flew into the trees above a neighboring backyard.
“Wooooo! My aim has gotten SO much better!” she exclaimed, sounding more excited usual.
Margot had a wicked smile after her last moon shot. Her honey brown eyes brightly glistened under the old amber streetlights.
“You good?” Jackson asked.
“Very! I mean c’mon, did you see that last one?! I’m a fuckin’ beast!”
Margot’s voice broke a little with her last few words.
“You’re being like, really weird right now bro, I’m just kinda confused,” Jackson said.
“. . . and worried.”
“Ugh… bro are you even paying fucking attention!?” Margot snapped.
Jackson sighed. “Uh . . . yeah . . . I am,” Jackson rubbed the center of his forehead.
She threw up another tennis ball and swung at it with a passionate yell.
Another yellow orb torpedoed into one of the tallest trees in the park. A few leaves rained down from its highest branches.
“NICE!” Margot’s voice echoed as the ball stayed lodged in a huge tree in the distance.
Jackson sighed, sat up and kicked his voice up a notch “Who’s chiefin’ now, bro? Can you at least pass my vape back . . .and lemme know what the fuck’s going on?”
His brow furrowed as he took a better look at Margot – she was visibly shaking. She slowly turned toward Jackson. She finally stopped trying to hide her face.
She was smiling wide, began breathing heavily, and began wiping tears away from her sunken eyes. She had several small, fresh cuts – still bleeding – on the left side of her face and lower lip. She had bruises and abrasions on her neck. She rested the bat on her right shoulder, keeping a firm grip on the handle with both hands.
“Dude. . . what happened to you?” Jackson asked in a slower, softer tone.
Margot’s bright, hazel eyes looked more illuminated than Jackson had ever seen. Time seemed to slow down as their eyes met. The whistling winds and Margot’s deep breaths grew louder while all other noise became inaudible. Her pupils were much wider than usual.
“Yo…. let me take you home. You’re really starting to freak me out out out out out . . . ” Jackson heard an echo to his own voice. Wide eyed, even wider-pupiled Margot stared him down with a menacing grin. She started blinking unnaturally fast while maintaining eye contact with him.
He kept pleading with her to come with her, but he could barely hear his own voice.
Margot’s nearly blacked out pupils were fixated on Jackson, eyes fluttering. Jackson was now unable to speak. He started to lose his balance and began sweating profusely. His vision began fading until it was nearly pitch black.
“I think I’ll stay out here for a little while, bro. Join me.” Margot’s last words sounded like a raspy, unnatural growl.
Jackson went further into a vegetative state with each time that Margot blinked. She pointed the bat at him, Babe Ruth style, and he instantly dropped to his knees.
Jackson’s eyes were covered with a dark grey callouses. He couldn’t move. It was as if something was holding him in place.
Margot slowly trotted over to him. She had the aluminum bat resting on her right shoulder and the Elder Wand vape in her left. She took an incredibly long pull from the vape and let out a frothy vapor cloud from her mouth and nose while looking up at the full moon.
She lined up the sweet spot of the bat to Jackson’s left temple, just barely touching the side of his head.
Margot began to whisper a barely audible incantation; her lips and tongue moving feverishly. Her eyes turned entirely black while repeating a soft, but intense chant in an indecipherable language.
She gasped suddenly, slowly exhaled, and returned her gaze down to the end of the bat, still touching the side of Jackson’s head. She bent her knees and crouched slightly into a batter’s stance, with perfect form. She cocked back, stepped forward, and belted out her hardest swing of the night.
(to be continued . . .)