XVIII. Spring Sports
Not much was said below the second floor of Ash House about the events of that March night. No one seemed to have gotten in trouble, although word was that Master Shag had unofficially but firmly grounded four of his residents just the way Ash had grounded all ten of hers. As for Jezebel Whately, there was zero news and zero rumor. The league, as it were, of wizards and sorcerers of North America was the opposite of the National Football League or the Major Leagues of baseball: the more powerful and important a wizard was, the less likely one was to know her name or which team she played for.
Fortunately for the Ash House denizens, there was plenty of real sports to talk about.
The Lyceum of the Lake Winds baseball team played a lot of ball from April Fool’s Day until early June: nine weekends, home and away, nine double headers on Saturday afternoon, nine more on Sunday, the two teams playing at one team’s home field, then all popping through the portal that night or the next morning to go play at the other team’s field. Often the field hockey team went with them, though they only played one game per weekend, between the two Saturday games. Daphne and Spiny were on both teams; Angelica was a backup on the field hockey team; Cloudius and Arnulf had similar positions on the baseball team, Cloud as the third string catcher and Arnulf as a utility infielder-outfielder.
“Hey, I’m flexible,” said Arnulf as they stood outside Ash House throwing the ball around.
“Hey, you’re third string,” said Daphne.
“At least I get to suit up. Right, Rats?”
“Aw, shut up, man,” said Rats, who at least got to go with the team in hopes of getting to suit up someday.
“Maybe you can come in at first base,” said Daphne, “that is, when I can’t play there because I’m pitching. You’re a lefty, right?”
“Yeah,” said Rats, “and I got a wicked knuckle ball too.”
“It’s so wicked,” said Arnulf, “it tries to kill Cloud every time you throw it.”
Ahir Shaheen came out and sat on the back step watching. Arnulf presently tossed a grounder at Rats and then turned and sauntered over to her.
“You are going to keep an eye on Hubble and Andrews,” she said.
“And don’t forget Lulu,” said Angelica in a low voice, coming over. “Our lovely third base person.”
“She’s good on the field,” said Daphne, coming over. “Not so good when she’s raiding Ash House.”
“The next time she raids Ash House,” said Ahir very quietly, “I will take her down.” She smiled a little up at Arnulf. “I really do not want to kill people, you know. It’s just that, you know, if someone dies, while they’re raiding Ash House, I promise I will not feel bad about it.”
The Zephyrs went down to Springfield IL to take on the Downstate Pterodactyls, whom they had demolished in football. In the field hockey game, at Springfield right after the first baseball game, Daphne and Spiny and several third year girls played like it was still football season and demolished the Pteros 11-3. Baseball went not so well.
Elizabeth McNing, that third year MacMorris disciple, tall and muscular with gleaming red hair, started the opener and promptly gave up three runs—a walk, a ground ball error and then a home run. Coach Whelp left her in, and she recovered enough to only give up one run in the second inning and one more in the third; meanwhile, the entire lineup got put out, mostly on routine grounders and popups. Daphne, batting sixth and playing first base, hit one back to the warning track—caught for the third out.
In the fourth inning, after the Zephs got their first hit (a single by Tee Doubletary), the Pterodactyls spread their wings. The lineup batted around and then some, scoring seven runs on five hits and four errors and stranding two. Mike Hester came on in relief and put out the last two batters, and held things down for a while. In the fifth, Daphne managed to get a nice single to right, but then the Pterodactyl pitcher struck out the side. She struck out the side again in the sixth, and then Mike, a hefty third year with one eyebrow, managed to get out of a two outs, bases loaded situation. The Zephs got nothing in the seventh, and then, having rested, the Pterodactyls scored four more. They coasted to a 17-0 shutout.
The second game was slightly better. Daphne struck out a lot of batters, so Whelp left her in till the seventh inning, despite giving up a plethora of walks and a grand slam. Tee managed to hit a solo homer, and the score at the end was only 9-2.
Back in the friendly confines, Willow Green took the mound and managed to keep the Pterodactyl scores down by the simple expedient of walking a lot of batters and then knuckle balling their successors at the plate into double plays. She hit two homers in her own defense, and Daphne got a home run and a triple, and the Zephs almost won: Downstate scored in the top of the ninth to make it 11-9, and then their reliever managed to put three mighty Zephyrs away with fast balls covered by illusion spells. Then, with second year Hopper Jackson pitching, the Zephs staged a total blowout, finding a way to produce a true offensive spectacle; sadly, this was in favor of Downstate, with the Pterodactyls outscoring the Zephyrs 22 to 5.
The only time the Zephyrs really did well was in the spell battle that erupted in the ninth inning. It was decided that the Pterodactyl first base girl had taunted Daphne and that excused the hold and possibly the use of sern to turn the girl’s sweat into booger; escalation excused everything else. Once the Downstate infield had been beaten by Daphne and Leonard Harris and Hopper Jackson, the coaches stepped in and separated the teams. Downstate made sure to wait till they were across the field to resume chanting “four and oh, four and oh.”
“Man, that sucked big time,” Leonard Harris said to Daphne and Spiny and Arnulf as they sat eating lunch in the cafeteria on Monday. “Except for the spell battle.”
“Good use of kno eur, Leonard,” said Arnulf.
“It’s a cheapy.” They sat eating french fries and sipping two percent milk. “So,” said Leonard, “I heard some people were looking for something they thought you had.”
“What now?” asked Arnulf. “Who and what?” asked Daphne.
“I don’t know a thing,” said Leonard. “I just heard you had some sort of thing and some folks tried to get it from you or something.” He waved a fry. “You know,” he said in a voice so low the molecules between them could hardly be bothered to transmit it. “Ash House folks.”
“We are Ash House folks,” said Arnulf.
“I know that,” said Leonard. “Other folks want to steal from—ahh, forget about it.”
“Listen,” said Daphne, giving Arnulf a look. “Anything you hear, we can use. We really appreciate the heads up.”
“So it’s not gonna be a problem? The school’s not gonna shut down or blow up?”
Arnulf and Daphne looked at each other. “No,” said Daphne, “we’re pretty sure that’s not gonna happen. Don’t you trust us?”
“More than anybody else, that’s for sure,” said Leonard.
The next Saturday, the ninth of April, the Zephs hosted the Marquette Dragons. The Marquette team dominated, and the player who dominated was a lanky fifteen-year-old girl named Mary Margaret Wertz. She played third base and her arms almost reached to second base; she never hit anything short of the warning track; and her obnoxious but baseball-aware chatter kept the rest of the team on the ball. The Dragons won the first game 17 to 11, and polished off the nightcap 19 to 2. In between, the Zephyrs let Marquette stay close in field hockey before pulling away in the last ten minutes to win ten to six.
“I think we could go undefeated,” said Keisha Case, backup first baseman and field hockey goalie, as they ate a late dinner in the caf.
“Yeah, and the baseball team’s got a perfect record too,” said Daphne.
“Easy for you to win,” said Arnulf. “Mary Margaret doesn’t play field hockey.”
“No,” said Angelica, coming over. “She’s a one sport athelete.”
“Pity if something happened to her,” said Arnulf.
“What were you thinking?” asked Daphne. “She’s also a third year. I know she knows the stone fig spell.”
“What’s a stone fig between friends,” said Arnulf. “Especially if one is a backup utility infield outfielder. Who can’t hit and can’t run fast.”
The next day the Zephs took the portal to Milwaukee, where Marquette managed to commandeer County Stadium. The Dragons wasted no time in jumping all over Daphne, in her rotation as starting pitcher. By the sixth inning, when Coach Whelp let her sit down in favor of the calm third year Sara Stills, they were down 13-4. Without Daphne in the lineup, the Zephs scored no more runs, and the Drags coasted to a 17-4 victory.
Elizabeth McNing was slotted to pitch the second game. She gave up a single, two walks and then a home run to Mary Margaret Wertz in the first inning. With no one out, the lanky Wertz was jogging the base paths, insulting each and every infielder she passed. Leonard Harris at second watched stonefaced as she muttered the n-word; Melissa Kleene, the shortstop, spat in her path, and Lulu Bates, at third, tried insulting her back.
Arnulf was standing near the third base coach, who was paying no attention. As Wertz turned for home, Arnulf said, not loud but not in any kind of whisper either, “Pfft yrk glg…”
Wertz looked up at him. She hit the brakes: perhaps she knew the spell and instinctively tried to avoid it. She would have been better off running on through. “Kno e—ewww!” she said.
“Need some air?” he said quietly. Then he repeated the spell, which he was in good practice on. Lulu smiled and backed off into left field, where Josh Hubble joined her to observe the result. Mary Margaret seemed to want to back up toward second.
“Hey Ump,” called the manager from the Marquette dugout, “what are you going to do about this?”
“Aww, it’s just a three worder,” said the third base umpire, who didn’t recognize the spell, and who, luckily for both him and Arnulf, had lost the power of smell in a spell battle long ago. Meanwhile, the audience, which happened to include a lot of Lake Winds supporters on the third base side of County Stadium, found the whole thing amusing as long as the wind continued to blow from the third base side.
“Pfft yrk glg,” said Arn again, as Wertz tried to find a way past him within the base paths. The stench was reaching saturation already. “Want one more? I’ll turn around,” he said, turning and bending over to aim at her. “Pfft—!”
“Trt si mng gfl!” she croaked out.
“Thanks,” said Arnulf, turning stiff as stone. In a moment he was grey granite.
Arn didn’t came awake in a dim place. He was wet. A dark face was before him. No, it was just Leonard; the place was the hall behind the dugout; Leonard had been pouring a potion over him.
“Destone potion,” said Arnulf. Leonard put his finger over his mouth.
There were voices from up the hall in the locker room. It was Lulu Bates and several other people. They were arguing in low voices.
“I’m telling you to cool it,” Lulu was saying. “Use your brain, Lizzie.”
“Shut up, Lulu,” Elizabeth McNing replied. “Or you’ll—!” Her whisper was too loud to be a whisper but still too low for a decent threat. Sound definitely carried back here.
“Cool it everybody,” Dave Andrews was saying. “Just tell us what you think you’re doing. Maybe we can actually not work at, you know, cross purposes for once.”
“Like we trust you even a little, Dave,” said Josh Hubble, pronouncing Dave like it was an insult.
“What. Are you. Looking for,” said Lulu.
“Nothing,” insisted McNing.
“Then why. Are you. In his locker. Confused?” McNing didn’t reply. “So what, you think they let him take things like whatever it is to away games?”
“He’s a frickin’ statue,” said McNing. “It’s our chance to just, you know, see.”
“You don’t even know what it is, do you?” Josh put in.
“So scared,” said Lulu. “Of all the, you know, secrets you Mac people know.”
“Shut up about Mac people,” said McNing. “If you could see straight you’d be a Mac person too.”
“Do I have to stand here and drip?” asked Arnulf in a low voice.
“Come on,” said Leonard, “back to the dugout.” He dragged Arnulf around a corner and he could see the daylight from the field. “They gonna find anything, pal?” Leonard asked.
“My dirty underwear and socks,” said Arnulf.
“You changed here??”
“No, it’s just a defense.”
“You thought someone would be rifling your locker? Man, you guys are devious.”
“Let’s just say that we’re all kinda used to it by now.” He wiped his face: the potion was a little greasy. “We win?”
“Yeah. Game’s been over for an hour. Everyone else is back at the Lyceum already: I came back with the destone potion from Coach. Good job there, by the way. Without Mary Mack or whatever, they couldn’t hit anything Willow threw at them. Yours truly got a triple and three singles. Dapher hit a homer in the fourth, yeah, Josh down there hit one in the eighth. Final score was like ten to five.”
“And you came back and they were—?”
“Ransacking your locker, yeah.”
“So, thanks, man,” said Arnulf. “Uh, this mean we’re on the same side?”
“With magic farts as your specialty, I don’t want to be on the other side,” said Leonard. He grinned. “And then there’s your girlfriend. I definitely don’t want to be on the wrong side of her. You ready to go back? Anything you need from your locker?”
“No,” said Arnulf, “though I’m gonna miss some of those socks, they’ve been with me for years.”
Arnulf Shmoke and Leonard Harris got back to the Lyceum and had a little talk with Coach Whelp. She was not pleased with Arnulf’s behavior, told Leonard he was a stand-up guy, and then sent them both back to their houses with grinning slaps on the shoulder. They were ushered out the back door of the office by the gym, and Leonard made Arnulf pause a moment outside. Arnulf didn’t know what was going on until Leonard chuckled and pulled him away.
“Let’s practice you up on some third base,” he said. “You might just be needing to sub for Lulu a little this next weekend at Ann Arbor.”
Indeed, Lulu Bates was in trouble, and so was Dave Andrews. Hubble and McNing managed to evade responsibility by turning state’s evidence or something, so Josh was still in the starting lineup at left field, but Arnulf found himself out there at third base, wearing his arm out winging the ball to Daphne without pulling her too far off the bag. He wasn’t a great ballplayer or a natural, but, at any rate, as Ahir would have agreed, he was pretty good in the clutch. He got on base twice in his four games, both times on walks. Andrews was replaced in center field by a Caribbean Amazon named Clothilde Chantal, who could hit, and also strike out, but who still got confused by deep fly balls.
The four game match-up against the Ann Arbor Lyceum’s Michiganders produced exactly one win for the baseball team, a 3-2 defensive struggle on Saturday in Chicago, in which Daphne was the winning pitcher and hit the three-run homer in the eighth inning that won it. Thus again the baseball team managed to get equally many wins as the field hockey team, which took its only game of the weekend, at Ann Arbor on Sunday, by a 12-1 score. The baseball team was now 2-10; the field hockeyers were 3-0.
“So we managed to score a whopping six runs all weekend,” said Daphne after the Sunday game, as she and Tom and Arnulf and Ahir and Leonard Harris walked downtown to find an ice cream place, and just take a look around the college town. “Field hockey got twice that.”
“And Ann Arbor is supposed to be the weak team,” said Tom Hexane, who had been getting some reps as a possible relief pitcher.
“They only outscored us ten to two today, in two games,” Arnulf pointed out. “And I didn’t make any errors at third base. Didn’t get any hits, of course.”
“No one expects you to, dear,” said Ahir. “You’re more of a fielder type.”
“You’re a safety, man,” said Leonard. “You can always clean their clock when they round third. Isn’t that what safeties do?”
“Speaking of safety,” said Arnulf.
They stopped. “Whut?” asked Leonard. Arn gave him a look. He whipped around, his “JS” wand out; next to him, Ahir had her black wand ready.
Sek ag min! came a chorus from behind them. Leonard made a noise like snerk and slumped against Tom, who let him settle gently to the sidewalk asleep. Still half crouched, Tom tossed a one-two-three magic strike at one of the wand-waving figures leaning out of a second floor window on the left. Tom and the window-hanger, a woman of young middle age, had a staticky standoff for a minute, and then as the woman started in on an actual spell to break the deadlock, with a bolt from the right she was practically blown back from the window.
Daphne was just overcoming a young man on the sidewalk with sek nyk min, the standard hold spell; his kno eur didn’t hold water. Arnulf was blasting away at what appeared to be a very angry black angora cat. Ahir turned on the cat and together she and Arn tossed enough magic damage to create a small explosion. The cat fled into an alley, leaving a small pall of smoke and the odor of burning cat hair. Arnulf and Ahir ran back up the street and crouched over a downed figure.
They stood up, looking at each other, then back toward the others. “Down,” hissed Daphne. The two crouched again.
“Sek nyk min,” she said over them, waving her rarely-used wand. “Sek ag,” said Tom, waving his wand.
Arnulf and Ahir turned: two more people went down in the doorway of an apartment on the right. Then they looked back. Daphne and Tom turned again.
“No more nonsense,” said a nondescript man in front of Tom Daphne. He stood with a woman of punky style and indeterminate age: they seemed to have appeared out of thin air. He twiddled his wand at Daphne. “Trt kar ho—!”
Daphne and Tom both flung all the force they had at him. He flew back out of his shoes, literally: he landed on his butt and in his stocking feet.
“You little,” said the woman. She reared back to deliver a crushing blow.
There was a crack from behind Tom and Daphne. The woman was taken by a bluish nimbus of magic combat from the loving couple behind them. Daphne and Tom joined in, as the woman struggled with them: she had a lot of power in her, but somehow she couldn’t shake the four kids together. What was that thing Arn and Ahir were doing? And was this punky girl really this strong?
And then with a snap, the nimbus broke. The woman was thrown back hard against a tree, and slumped in a very uncomfortable folded position. Her boots, empty and still standing where she had been, were smoking.
“Let’s forget the ice cream,” said Arnulf.
“Mmmman,” said Leonard, coming to, “I’m all over that.”
“You—didn’t—did you?” asked Tom. “Kill that woman? We didn’t?” asked Daphne.
“Not so loud,” said Arnulf. He looked back at the body on the ground behind them.
“I fear so,” said Ahir. “And we definitely did it to that poor chap. Very sorry. It was rude of us.”
Tom and Leonard exchanged looks and eye-rolls. Daphne looked from the dead punky girl to the dead guy and then to Ahir. “I’m okay with it myself,” said the Amazon. “Let’s get back to the Windy City, huh? Ice cream sodas at the place on Birch sound good.”
“They’re on Ahir,” said Arnulf. “Which means I’m buying.”