- Liedecker Institute #13 – January Heatwave Part 1
- Liedecker Institute #14 – January Heatwave Part 2
- Liedecker Institute #15 – January Heatwave Part 3
- Liedecker Institute #16 – January Heatwave Part 4
- Liedecker Institute #17 – January Heatwave Part 5
- Liedecker Institute #18 – Fun and Games Part 1
- Liedecker Institute #19 – Fun and Games Part 2
- Liedecker Institute #20 – Fun and Games Part 3
- Liedecker Institute #21 – Dryads Part 1
- Liedecker Institute #22 – Dryads Part 2
- Liedecker Institute #23 – Dryads Part 3
- Liedecker Institute #24: Dryads Part 4
- Liedecker Institute Annual #2
A bolt of purplish lightning leapt into the sky and struck the ball in flight. Smoldering and trailing a corkscrew of smoke, the ball veered in air, but kept on flying out to the stand of trees that marked the home run line.
“What the hell was that?!” Betty bellowed, her hair going white.
“I tried to shoot it down.” Tammy said petulantly. “It’s not my fault it didn’t work.”
“It’s a baseball, not a fighter jet!” Betty continued to rant, braids of her hair wriggling like irritated snakes. “It doesn’t explode when lightning strikes it!”
Tammy folded her arms and stuck up her nose. “If you knew that already, why did you say I could shoot one down when you picked me?”
“I was being sarcastic.”
“Not you weren’t. You were totally sure I could shoot a ball down.”
“That’s two more for our team!” Kura interrupted the argument with a gleeful shout as she welcomed Phineas and Hightower back from their trip around the bases.
It was the top of the ninth and those two scores put her team up, 15-14. The innings had been quick and brutal, almost every at-bat ended in at least a base run, or a quick out. There weren’t a lot of fundamentals present in powered baseball.
Betty yelled in wordless frustration before stomping back to second base. “Fine! Whatever. Let’s just get the furball out.”
“Furball? But we call you furball.” Tammy said.
“Not you call me hair…” Betty managed to catch herself, but that didn’t make her less angry at having her juvenile name calling turned back on her. “You know who I’m talking about: Cryptid.” She gestured wit her gloved hand at Joy, who had just taken her place at bat.
“Okay, but don’t expect me to shoot this one down.” Tammy rolled her eyes and grinned inwardly at how much she was flustering Betty.
“Just shut up.” Betty spat. She turned her attentions to Eddie on the pitcher’s mound. “If you want to keep hanging out with us, Vegas, you better strike her out.
Eddie was their third choice for pitcher. Arkose had proven herself to have the accuracy of a political pundit, and while Jacob was good, Kura’s warning about fliers quickly became prophesy. Jacob was better in the outfield, as their highest jumper.
That left Eddie, whose pitches were wild, never looked accurate, but rarely strayed out of the strike zone.
He tried his best to filter out Betty’s rants. Getting banished from her little group wouldn’t be so terrible for him. Jacob was blind to the social order and would hang out with him with or without Betty’s permission. Rita seemed to know how to walk the line, spending time with Betty-proclaimed outcasts like Steampunk and Joy with little comeuppance, because she did so when Betty was otherwise occupied.
But he wasn’t spiteful and he really just wanted to play, so he went ahead and pitched. In no time, he had two strikes on her and was feeling a bit bad about it.
Joy’s wings got in the way of her swing, slowing it down. She was well aware of it too, getting visibly perturbed at having been struck out every at-bat. The rest of his team knew it too and were taking her at-bats as impromptu rest periods.
So everyone was shocked when, on the third pitch, she bunted.
Even Eddie, standing right there, almost missed it purely because it was something that none of the others even tried. Both he and Rita, who was playing catcher, went for it, but neither was fast enough.
Though her physique was a liability at the plate, Joy was light, agile and built for speed. Dropping to all fours, she tore off to first base and rounded it before Rita could scoop up the ball and field it. With a few more long, gangly bounds, she landed on second base seconds before the throw was snared in Betty’s hair.
“Hi.” She said with a sweet wave to Betty. No matter how much scorn Betty heaped on her, Joy infuriated her by deflecting it by deliberately pretending not to notice. She smiled with her mouth closed, but that didn’t keep a fang from poking out.
Betty met her friendliness with a glare and threw the ball back to Eddie.
Jada and Sheila watched the exchange from where they sat on the ground behind home plate, their backs leaning against the bench.
“She’s kind of horrible.” Said Jada, fiddling with the cup of water in her hands.
“And yet, they seem to be a necessary part of the High School Ecosystem. You can’t have all spiders and all butterflies: you’ve got to keep a healthy mix of both.” Sheila had already drained her cup and was considering getting a refill from the fountain.
Jada chuckled. “So you think the others would breed out of control if she disappeared?”
“Stands to reason. Think about it: who makes sure someone like Rita learns never to date someone like, say, Phil. Her parents?”
“You think your typical mean girl exists to prevent half-popular/half-normal hybrids?” Jada took a sip of water to keep from snickering.
Sheila bumped her with her shoulder just as she did, causing water to splash on her nose. “Hey, I have to believe they serve some kind of purpose. The world is too mean if they’re just… like that for no reason.”
It was Annette’s turn up to bat. Strangely, she didn’t use her powers to bat, having a go at it the old fashioned way. Even more strangely, she wasn’t half bad, having hit two singles and a triple already, all without knowing the rules.
And she was enjoying it, by all accounts, even accepting Kura’s border-line obnoxious encouragement without a single string of French curses being hurled at the girl.
“I’d think the world was too mean if it made them a requirement.” said Jada, then a funny thought hit her. “So if Betty suddenly left, would someone else turn into the Evil Queen to keep the balance?”
Someone landed on the bench behind them, causing both to start.
“You know that’s my girlfriend you’re talking about, right?” Davian Hightower had an energy bar in one hand, and was flexing the other; it was getting stiff after so many shocks of the ball hitting his bat with his strength behind it.
Jada looked away, but Sheila refused to back down. “Yeah, I know. And she needs to learn to treat people better.”
Hightower crooked an eyebrow. “You think just because you’re a year older than us that you know better?”
“Seven year-olds know better. ‘Furball’, Really?”
“Hey. Akagi’s got names for everyone. She calls Rapunzel ‘hairball’ all the time, and she started all the crap about calling Ineffable ‘Tantrum’.” Hightower folded his arms, secure in the ironclad perfection of his argument.
“I’m pretty sure that started because Ms. Carroll called her Tantrum a few times when she cut loose with her powers.” Jada ventured, sipping on her water again.
“And besides,” Sheila said as Annette got a hit and sprinted for first, “Do you really want your girlfriend acting more like Kura?” The girl in question was jumping up and down, shouting instructions like ‘run faster’ and ‘step on the base’. Sheila studied her for a second; it was like watching chained lightning.
She smirked evilly up at Hightower. “Ever wonder what it’d be like to kiss Kura? I bet she’d bite you. Like, even if she liked you.”
“Probably especially if she liked you.” Jada laughed.
Hightower made a face. “That never even came within a mile of my mind until right now. Geez, I don’t want to even think about how she’d act if she were dating someone.”
Enjoying the chance to mess with his mind, Sheila prodded further. “Kiss might not be so bad. Her power includes changing tastes, so kissing her might be like… strawberries,”
“Lemon.” Jada added, sensing where her friend was going with this.
“Garlic and Onions.” Sheila said, causing Hightower to make an amusing face. “What? I like Italian. Besides, you’re the one that’s okay with your girl acting more like Kura.”
“God, it’s just name calling.” he rolled his eyes.
Sheila gave him a no nonsense look. “There’s no way you think how she treats people is ‘just name-calling’.”
Hightower made a rude noise. “Who cares? It’s high school; that’s how things are: you’re either on top, or you’re on the bottom. If it wasn’t us, it’d be someone else. Better to be the ones doing the pushing, know what I mean?”
Suddenly, it was like nothing he said mattered. Sheila shrugged and looked to Jada. “So he agrees with what you said: someone else would be the nasty kids everyone hates later in life if not for them. I’m going to go get more water, need a refill?”
Jada couldn’t help but glance at Hightower’s confounded expression and smile. Sheila was an activist for more than just descendants and her tactics were creative and probably scarring. Would it change how Hightower treated people? Probably not, but it did leave a burr there, something that might make taking part in Betty’s casual mockery just a bit uncomfortable and maybe that would accumulate.
Sadly, Jada felt that she was collateral damage in this case. She didn’t need to hear a full minute of talk about how Kura Akagi kissed. She was sure no one else wanted to hear about that either.
“No thanks, I’m up to bat.”
Sheila waved to her and jogged to the fountain while Jada went to bat. She wasn’t sure how she felt about her performance. Hitting the ball wasn’t too hard for her. All the same, she’d fouled out twice and got tagged every other time she went to bat. Everyone expected her at-bat to segue swiftly to the bottom of the ninth.
But like Joy, Jada surprised everyone, especially herself, by hitting a home run far into the woods beyond the play field.
Jacob didn’t complain that he was the one forced to go seek out the ball after Jada’s home-run. It reminded him of back home in Louisiana; spring and summer were full of baseball, just as surely as fall meant football for him.
He never got a chance to be on the high school team for either. The lines appeared on his skin shortly after a football game in eighth grade. He started eating constantly around that time, and as it turned out, all the binging was to fuel the development of his muscles, bones and nervous system until he looked like an applicant for Navy SEAL training at the age of thirteen.
And that was the end of any football or baseball that was competitive in any way. Parents had preemptively called the high school to make sure he wasn’t allowed on the JV teams because it ‘wasn’t fair’ to the other kids. No one seemed to care what was or wasn’t fair for him. They just seemed to think that the way he was born was enough.
But he wasn’t bitter. He understood and at his father’s insistence, he took that as a sign that he should study harder and improve his mind. It was hard, but like his father said, ‘nothing that’s worth it is ever easy’.
In the end, it would be worth it. He’d be perfect in body and mind and once he got into the real world, he’d have a firm hold on his destiny.
Until then, it was just nice to spend a Saturday playing baseball.
He found the ball lying in a cluster of beautiful, white flowers. The blooms were as wide as his hand, with red speckling on the slender, wavy petals. Their smell filled the air as he picked up the ball; a nice mix of his favorites, vanilla and ginger.
On a lark, he picked one and inhaled deeply. It reminded him of home, especially that past Christmas. Worth keeping. He tucked the stem into the button-hole of his shirt and started back to the others.
He got a dozen steps away when he had to come back; he’d forgotten the ball.
Finally, the young Mankind was gone, though its presence still lingered; trace pheromones pulled from the air and analyzed: stress-covered-by-comfort, longing-covered-by-contentment, and fresh excitement.
Nothing too strong, nothing too sharp. A demon wouldn’t take any interest there; emotion-eaters needed something stronger to sustain them.
But she was no demon, and she was sampling to make sure that her flower was working. She could sense it too. It didn’t need soil or water to live; not as long as she lived. It would serve its purpose. All that was required was time.
She surged her being up into the trunk of a tree; her presence filling its otherwise empty shell. Plants of the Blue World were so tame, so docile. It gave no resistance as she began to shape it to her needs.
Time was something she had an infinite supply of. For how long did an oak live, and how much longer still would its acorns? Months were nothing to her, not when there was an entire world for her to claim as her territory.
End Fun and Games
The Story Continues Next Month with ‘Dryads’ Part 1.