by Carl L. Biemiller,
edited by C. J. Carnahan and Eric Biemiller

lightning Copyright © 2005 by Eric C. Biemiller

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Chapter 21

And then there was the trouble with Tinker.

On the days of the twi-nights Tinker played American league baseball he brought his uniform to the hotel. After work he changed into it, ate five sandwiches so he would have enough strength to hit home runs, and then was picked up by a bus usually driven by Bewford Ballentine or anybody the league could get. The bus picked up a lot of kids who played twilight ball after a day’s work along the beach doing summer jobs. The bus then rattled across town to a main highway and headed north along it for about a mile to the county ballpark. The games were played there because the League didn’t have to pay any rent for the use of the park.

Woodie was watching Tinker dress for the game. The pool was deserted and Tinker was using some guest’s cabana. It was very quiet although they could hear Tinker’s father now and then as he went over the day’s business with the bartender and maybe had a glass of ginger ale.

“Why are you wearing swim trunks under your pants, Tink?” asked Woodie. “They’ll chafe you.”

“They’ll also keep me from getting a big fat strawberry burn when I slide. That team we handle tonight gets out early and puts broken bottles all around second base. You want to come out? There’s lots of room on the bus. Maybe we could come back here later. It’s movie night for the guests although don’t bother unless you like silent movies. I think my dad made a deal with some guy who found a stack in the attic of that old movie house they tore down. He fobs them off on the guests as art productions and historic masterpieces.

“No,” said Woodie.

He felt suddenly chilled and very weak as though all the joints in his body were dissolving. He could see Tinker. He could see through Tinker to no Tinker at all. And he could hear the bus approaching, although it was still far away, and the bus looked like half a bus, and the half of the bus was burning.

“Tink, if I asked you not to go to the game on that bus, would you find another way out there?” he asked.

“I’d think you were nuts and go anyhow,” said Tinker taking another bite of sandwich. “Why would you ask me a kookie thing like that anyhow?”

“Your father would run you out,” said Woodie. “He’s right in the lounge. Tell you what, I’ll go ask him.”

“Woodie, no. Just no. He doesn’t like Legion ball anyhow. He doesn’t even like the Legion. Somebody dropped a bagful of water on his head one time at an American Legion convention. From the tenth floor of a hotel I think. So just forget it, will you?”

Woodie could hear the bus. And Tinker was dressed, although he had his spikes under his arm and an old pair of sneaks on his feet.

“Tinker, he said. “You’re not getting on that bus.”

“Well, now, who’s going to stop me?”

Woodie remembered the time that he’d lashed out and hit Tinker. He remembered that Tinker had whaled the tar out of him too, and Tink was a lot bigger now, and tougher, and in good shape as always. On the other hand, he’d grown some too and felt fine. He was as tall as Tink too.

“I am,” he said.

Tinker did not anger easily. He was a most cool type, and when he did anger he was all ice and fire and havoc.

“Woodie, you are bonkers. Now get out of my way and forget this, if you still want to be buddies.”

The bus was turning the corner of the street and angling off into the driveway of the back entrance to the pool area. Whoever was driving beeped the horn twice. It wasn’t Bewford always leaned on the horn practically until the battery ran down.

Woodie cocked and hurled a fist in a round-house punch that caught Tinker right on the jaw. Either shock or astonishment or the fact that Tinker’s feet were careless knocked Tinker right on his back.

He did not stay there. And although Woodie stayed in close enough to survive and to mark Tinker’s face pretty good, Tinker was slowly, angrily and with fair precision turning Woodie into mincemeat when Tinker’s father arrived. He arrived in time to catch a wild punch in the eye thrown by his own son. It disturbed him. It also hurt.

Tinker would weigh 250 pounds some day. He was a bear cub approaching full growth. But Tinker’s father was no cub. He was all bear, poppa bear. He lifted Tinker right off his feet and almost out of his baseball uniform and threw him into the pool. He cuffed Woodie backhandedly so gently that Woodie was hurled ten feet into a nest of metal tables which clanged. Then he assembled the warriors, rammed them into two tin chairs which went with the tables and stood over them with his arms folded.

“Talk,” he said. “And I hope your split lips hurt.”

“Well, sir, it sounds silly,” said Tinker hesitantly.

“Everything does, but tell me anyhow.”

“Woodie didn’t want me to take the bus out to the game,” said Tinker.

“Apparently Woodie reasoned you out of taking it. The bus has gone.”

“Well, that’s all there is to it,” said Tinker. “He slugged me, and there we were.” “Woodie, why didn’t you want Tinker to take the bus to the game?”

“Mr. Tubbs, I didn’t think it was the thing for Tinker to do tonight. You would have given him a ride out, wouldn’t you?”

“You just didn’t think it was the thing for him to do, eh?”

“Yes, sir.”

There was misery in Woodie’s face and Tinker’s father saw it. Tinker’s father didn’t miss much of anything. There was also a hint of relief and satisfaction in Woodie’s face, only the merest of hints, but maybe the budding bruises were causing odd twinges of expression.

“Anyway you’re not going to tell me why you popped Tinker to keep him off the bus?”

“I thought it was the best way to do it,” said Woodie. “He gets pretty bullheaded, you know.”

“Certainly I know,” said Tinker’s father. “That’s why I generally give him a reason for things I want him to do. You didn’t give him any reason, did you?”

“No sir,” said Woodie.

“You going to give us both one now?”

“No, sir,” said Woodie.

“Well, whatever the reason I hope it was good enough to make up for your lumps. But Woodie, you did fine for a fella giving away about fifty pounds.

“Tinker,” he continued. “If you don’t care about playing in a wet suit, I’ll drive you out in about fifteen minutes and still get you there ahead of that bus. I’d suggest you consider a lot of peace out here. There are about fifty parents in this country who still think enough of their kids to bang their backsides when they need it …”

“My father’s one,” said Woodie.

“I’m the leader,” said Tinker’s father. It was quiet along the apron of the pool. Tinker wrung out portions of his uniform until he had puddles around his feet. Woodie stood up.

“Guess I’ll go home,” he said.

“I’d kind of like you to ride out to the field with us,” said Tinker.

“I don’t want to, but I will,” said Woodie. He didn’t ask Tinker why he wanted him to go. He knew a peace offer when he heard one.

“Call your folks and eat something here, or guzzle a sandwich in the car.

“Okay,” said Woodie.

They did not get out to the county ballpark ahead of the bus. The bus did not get there at all. They did not bother going on. There would be no game, and no American Legion baseball at all for the rest of the season.

They saw the snarl of traffic on the main highway. A waving State trooper signaled them to a halt. Ahead of them they saw a fire engine and two ambulances. A trailer truck in the passing lane had somehow jack-knifed and the rig had slashed across the highway like a ponderous knife. It had struck the bus and sliced the top of it like a soft-boiled egg and then hurled it across the shoulder of the road into a drainage ditch. They could see the bus burning. They could smell hot oil, and something else, and Tinker’s father retched. There was a plume of black smoke in the sky. It blotted the greens and pinks and violets of the twilight.

They drove back in silence. Tinker’s father dropped Woodie off in front of his house braking the car very gently to a halt. He was thoughtful.

“Woodie,” he asked. “Weren’t you with the Nation girl the other night when she called the cops? Just the two of you, as I recall from the newspaper.”

“Yes, sir,” said Woodie quietly.

“Good night, Woodie.”

“Good night, sir.”

“Buddies, Woodie?”

“Buddies, Tink.”

Woodie went up the walk and into his house.

“Tinker, when you were a little tad your mother and I used to tuck you in at night and listen to your prayers. Do you remember that?”

“Yes, sir I do.”

“Tinker, tonight your mother and I are going to tuck you in and listen to your prayers,” said his father.”

“I’d like that,” said Tinker simply. “And thanks for something else too.”

“What’s that?”

“Thanks for not telling me to keep my mouth shut about bus rides.”

Marterville mourned the young baseball players who died in the bus accident. Tinker went to the funeral of his teammates and the other local athletes. The Marterville Post Number 38 of the American Legion went to the cemetery. The Legion season was declared closed.

Dr. Bailiff decided that he would stick around town for a while.

“I have decided to stick around town for a while,” he said to Woodie as they sat in his laboratory office. “I have a lot of paper work to do. In fact, I have a paper to write. I shall call it ‘The Probability Factor As It Applies to Interaction Between Living and Non-Living Things And Its Relationship to Accepted Concepts of Energy, Matter and Time’. You think that ought to grab somebody?”

“Not me,” said Woodie.

“Let this grab you then, and I can’t say it often enough. Every time you use the power is like throwing a stone into a pool. There is a ripple effect. People notice ripples. Further, those with the power are sensitive to the use of power, and they often go looking for the users.

“Also, know this. It is possible to foretell events. But very, very seldom is it possible to alter those events. God knows his business although he uses recruits to get it done. It was not Tinker’s night to die in a bus. You were merely there to see that God’s work was done. If it had been Tinker’s night to die in a bus, you might have foreseen it, but you could not have altered it. You know what I’m saying, young Woodie?”

“Not exactly.”

“I’ll be plainer. Use the power with care. Never let its use confuse you into thinking that you can be God, play God, or have any right to imitate God.”

“That’s clear enough,” said Woodie.

“Well then, to more interesting things. What did your parents think of the new alterations to your face which have healed so nicely?”

“I told them I had a fight with Tinker, but I didn’t tell them what we were fighting about. And, you know something, they didn’t ask. Anyhow Dad said that if I were dumb enough to step outta my class, to use a roll of pennies in each fist, which he would gladly get me all wrapped from the bank. My mother said that she thought the green-yellow color on my cheekbone would be nice in a summer dress.”

“What did the little Nation girl think?”

Woodie grinned.

“She didn’t say, but she whanged Tinker in the shins with her hockey stick and he’s still limpin.”

“Hmmmm, a forthright girl,” said Dr. Bailiff. “The reason your parents didn’t ask what you and Tinker were scrapping about, young man, is that they knew. Mr. John Tubbs paid a quiet visit to your house and had a talk with them. He is a discerning man. He put two and two together with your recent business with Emily and Tinker’s bus and came up with the right speculations. He also wanted to say thanks without embarrassing you. You see what I mean about ripple effects, boy?”

“Might as well advertise,” said Woodie glumly.

“You did,” said Dr. Bailiff gently. “You also got licked.”

“It wasn’t a total loss.”

“I understand that Tinker did win a few welts as well.”

“I didn’t mean that,” said Woodie.

“I know what you meant.”

There was a moment of communion in Dr. Bailiff’s office, a shared affection.

“Would you like to try a little something?” asked Dr. Bailiff.

Woodie was silent. He knew the signs.

“In times past there was a process called pyromancy. It was very big with witches and warlocks and magicians, according to ancient writings. It was a simple process. Pyromancers gazed into flames and divined the future from the figures they saw in the burning. Of course, it was probably a form of self-hypnosis. And romantics, lovers and old men have been dreaming over log fires for centuries. Maybe it worked and maybe it didn’t, but it got me thinking about fire and the fascination of fires.

“I even got to thinking about salamanders, not the lizards or reptiles called salamanders which lived in flames, according to the myths. But people called salamanders that could live in fire and even start fires. Maybe the ancestors of those Hindu and Indonesian trance dancers who walk in hot coals.

“And that got me thinking about pyro-kinetics and fires of strange origins and mystery arson. I don’t mean spontaneous combustion and dust explosions or delayed chemical reactions in substances which generate heat.

“I was thinking about the psi power to create a psychic duplication of fire and transmit it with psi power to set something, anything at all, aflame.

“Would that be possible? Why not, I thought? Maybe it’s being done and we don’t know it. Now, Woodie, your power of psychokinesis, or the power to control objects with thoughts, has been demonstrated. Do you think you could think a thought projection of fire?”

“Real fire? Or a thought fire that seems real?” asked Woodie.

“Let me think a moment. That’s interesting. But there are two things. First, a fire that looks real and actually makes people feel heat and maybe psycho pain that only exists in their minds. Second, an honest fire that actually burns and consumes physical materials, even stuff that isn’t suppose to burn. Hmmmmnn.”

“A match would be easier,” said Woodie.

“Shut up, boy, I’m thinking. Let’s see. Things are what people think they are. Could a pyro-kinetic produce an illusion of a fire big enough to fool a whole fire department and have them pour water on a building that wasn’t burning?

“Woodie, I’m going to have to think some more before I formulate an experiment. My own power in this respect seems obscure. Would you mind checking in with me later?”

“Goodbye, sir,” said Woodie. He nodded, left and the door closed behind him.

Dr. Bailiff smelled smoke. He sniffed and moved his big black nose in a semi-circle of air samples. He looked around the walls and saw only walls hung with medical certificates and diplomas. The smoke smell was richer. He got up from his oversize model swivel chair and peered around the corner of his immense flight-deck desk. His big tin wastebasket was burning. Gouts of flame spilled from the top of it. The enamel was wrinkling and he could see charring papers. The metal reeked of heat and was scorching the floor.

Dr. Bailiff wiggled his huge body out of his laboratory smock coat, rolled it into a ball and stuffed it into the top of the wastebasket to smother the flames. He was careful. He did not want to touch hot metal.

As he did so, the smell of smoke vanished. There was no heat from the wastebasket. Its enamel was smooth and unwrinkled. There were no scorch marks on the floor. He touched the wastebasket with a cautious finger. It was cool. He pulled his rumpled smock coat from the top of the basket. Scraps and papers within it were just scraps of papers. There were no signs of fire.

“Woodie!” yelled Dr. Bailiff. “Woodie!” His voice boomed like a cannon firing down a tunnel.

He took two strides to a window and threw it open. Out on the campus, was Ballard Kynwood Junior. His slim body was moving in a floating lope that gobbled distance with each graceful stride over the green grass. He was laughing as he ran.

Chapter One Chapter Two Chapter Three Chapter Four Chapter Five
Chapter Six Chapter Seven Chapter Eight Chapter Nine Chapter Ten
Chapter Eleven Chapter Twelve Chapter Thirteen Chapter Fourteen Chapter Fifteen
Chapter Sixteen Chapter Seventeen Chapter Eighteen Chapter Nineteen Chapter Twenty
Chapter Twenty Two Chapter Twenty Three Chapter Twenty Four Chapter Twenty Five Chapter Twenty Six
Chapter Twenty Seven Chapter Twenty Eight Chapter Twenty Nine Chapter Thirty
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