The first story I’ve written using one of my First Lines.
Our god is cruel and jealous, and we wish we had a better one.
Jason Jones was not a natural athlete. He barely scraped by, even on his high school baseball team. But he’d always dreamed of playing in the majors. And he had a good heart. That’s the most important thing, in this kind of story.
One fateful night, as Jason walked home from practice, rain began to pour. Thunder boomed. Lightning struck a nearby tree. (Well, the thunder came after the lightning, of course, but it’s more dramatic this way.)
The tree caught fire, but was soon extinguished by the rain. Jason knew fate when he saw it. He took a sturdy chunk of lumber from the lightning tree, then carved it into a bat — which he just called “the Lightning Bat”, because he wasn’t a natural nomenclaturist, either. He wasn’t a very thoughtful boy in general. But we did mention the good heart, right?
Anyway, thoughtful or no, Jason was a mean hand with a lathe, so the bat came out smooth and powerful. At his next high-school game, hit a ball so hard it almost disintegrated on its way over the outfield fence. A few spectators noticed a flash of light at the moment of contact, but they all figured it came from the camera held by a stranger in the stands.
The stranger turned out to be a major-league scout. After seeing that phenomenal home run, he bought young Jason a ticket for the next train to Cleveland. Soon, the boy was up to bat for the Indians, who occupied the cellar of the American League standings and were willing to try just about anyone.
(The employment contracts in those days were loose and flexible. Things are different now, for reasons that will soon become clear.)
# # # # #
Jason stared into the eyes of Tommy Castro, the ace of the Boston Red Sox. Confidence surged through his veins. He held the Lightning Bat over his shoulder, practically twitching with anticipation.
Castro wound up and fired. A fastball.
Jason still stood with the bat over his shoulder. He hadn’t moved an inch. He hadn’t even seen the pitch go by. Strike One.
Another fastball. Jason swung and missed by a mile. Strike Two.
(As it turns out, a major-league pitcher is much better at throwing than a mediocre high-school batter is at hitting, even if the latter wields a bat charged with the force of a thunderstorm.)
Another fastball. Low and outside — just a bit too far outside. Ball One.
Jason still couldn’t see the damn thing. He felt his dream draining away. But the bat sparked and buzzed in his hands, beckoning him to give it one more try. Power swelled up in the barrel. The sweet spot began to glow.
Another fastball. Last chance.
Jason swung the Lightning Bat harder than he ever had before. By some accident of timing, he connected, with a crack that deafened the crowd and a white-blue flash that struck them momentarily blind.
It was a line drive, practically sideways, foul from the moment of contact — and fast. So fast that the ball obliterated a section of the stands above the Cleveland dugout, leaving a forty-foot crater that crackled with electricity.
Thirty-eight people died, and Jason Jones went to prison for the rest of his life.
# # # # #
Eight years later, under new management, the Indians finally won a World Series. By that time, the scout who found Jason Jones was working as a forest ranger in Alaska, spending his nights alone with a bottle of whiskey and a radio tuned to anything but baseball.
But every storm cloud comes with a bright silver lining: Nowadays, high-school athletes around the country learn from their coaches in an annual, mandatory lecture (at least in public schools) not to mess around with elemental magic. That shit is dangerous.
This story is a revised version of a submission that reached the final round of cuts at Flash Fiction Online. Thanks to the editors for their helpful comments!
This is a work of fiction. All characters appearing in this work are fictitious. Any resemblance to persons living or dead is completely intentional. Except for Emma Watson, who seems like a perfectly nice woman. Inspired by One More Thing.
Daniel Radcliffe pressed “pause”, then “back”. He glared balefully at his iPod.
“No! That’s not right.”
He pressed “play”. The song began again:
“Now it’s time for our wrap-up. Let’s give it everything we’ve got!”
Daniel nodded in time with the beat. This time, he thought, I’ll get past “D”.
Adapted from something I wrote in Yale’s “Daily Themes” class. (Great class, by the way!)
Write twelve possible first lines to twelve different stories (fictional, non-fictional, or some combination of both). For a real challenge, let those lines start to feel like they hold together by juxtaposition. See the work of David Markson for a model.
These aren’t good sentences, but I wrote them hoping they could become first lines for first drafts of good stories.
I haven’t written those stories yet, but if you’d like me to write one, let me know and I will do that, just for you.*
*With the exception of #9, because the Amish deserve an entire novel. And #8, because it’s the friggin’ history of the world.
(To see all 60+ prompts from Daily Themes, click here.)
It’s a pretty strange post, but I think that the issues I raise around the utility monster problem are important. If you care more about a randomly selected human than a randomly selected chicken (and I think you should), you accept the existence of utility monsters — thinking beings which are worthy of greater moral consideration than other thinking beings.
Right now, humans are the world’s reigning utility monsters. That may not be true forever.
I think we are likely to eventually create machines which possess a kind of consciousness that is deeper and richer in certain ways than our own. Whatever metrics we can use to measure the “value” of a human life (and we all have them), we know of no reason that advanced computers will not eventually score higher on said metrics than we do, whether it’s in 50 years or 500.
And before we can make decisions about how to react to this situation — or whether we should work to prevent it in the first place — I think that we should do our best to understand what it might be like to be a superhuman utility monster. Empathy shouldn’t just extend to beings with lesser mental capabilities than our own.
Some outtakes from the most recent issue of The Yale Record.
Chaos: Can generate perfectly random numbers using only his mind. Never needs to flip a coin to make a decision.
Firebrand: Can light a match on the first try, every time. Currently battling Stage 2 lung cancer after a lifetime of looking really cool while smoking.
Puberty Boy: Able to increase his body mass by seventy percent in only three years.
“Two muffins are sitting in an oven…”
In the vein of The Aristocrats. This time, built around a joke that was popular with my fifth-grade classmates.
Warning: Contains profanity, and one instance of extreme pain.
If you know of any jokes you’d like to submit to this treatment, send them to aaron at gertler dot com. These are pretty good writing exercises!
I’m fond of thinking about stuff that must have happened, even if nobody ever saw it—probably for the same reasons as the good people of Cracked. Famous people and people in the past lived real human lives! They lived those lives for many years. And they all got their hair cut at some point, which is the inspiration for this short screenplay.
Here’s the story. I still need to work on my dialogue and character development before I make any short films, but for a conversation that happened in my head over the span of a single shower, it could be worse.
Partly inspired by B.J. Novak’s One More Thing, perhaps the best book of short stories ever written by a well-known television actor. Lots of celebrities in that book—though I guess B.J. knows them all personally.
I do not know Skrillex personally, but I’d love to meet him: He seems like a really nice guy.