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!