The Curveball

(Written for a fiction workshop. The prompt was “weird.”)

It was the kind of major-league baseball game fans hope to witness to tell their great-grandchildren about: bottom of the ninth, two outs, home team three runs down, bases loaded. The star player, Ferdinand Garcia, stepped up to home plate, knocked his bat against his cleats, and spat tobacco juice. Garcia pointed his bat at the cloudless sky over second base to signal a home-run. A grand-slam. The crowd cheered, but subdued itself to watch him put the bat over his shoulder and stare down the pitcher.

The pitcher held the ball behind his back. Fingers together? Fingers apart? Knuckleball? Grounder? He threw a fastball just outside the strike-zone, but Garcia swung and missed and earned a strike. Then the pitcher threw a screwball which caught Garcia off-guard, and Garcia barely blasted it with the end of his bat. The crowd held its breath, then released it. The hit was obviously foul. Strike two.

Curveball. At least a hundred miles an hour. Garcia swung before he even knew he swung and smacked the ball with his bat’s center. The ball flew over second base on track to leave the stadium. The crowd went wild, but Garcia just tossed his bat aside and walked casually towards first. He squinted at the ball as it reached the height of its arc.

It struck a bird.

And not just any bird. It looked like an emu.

The ball and bird fell into the outfield, where the center fielder caught the ball and chucked it home just before the bird crushed him. He won the game for the away team and survived with only minor injuries. The bird, as it turned out, was an ostrich, not an emu. They only found out from slow-motion footage of the incident because the bird exploded into a meaty, unidentifiable mass on impact with the center fielder.

Sports news stations were incensed. Where had the ostrich come from, and why and how was it flying above center field during a major-league baseball game? Local zoos were questioned and insisted that no, none of their ostriches were missing, and yes, they were sure, and no, ostriches could not fly, and yes, they were sure. The baseball community had not forgotten the ostrich before the next game, and warily watched between the floodlights for hovering flightless birds. Luckily no game since was interrupted by ostrich, and the game of baseball recuperated from the incident.

The ostriches, however, were still locked in debate.

On the ostriches’ space-station behind the moon, supreme leader Ostroso thumped her muscular leg against her judicial platform. (Gavels were useless to creatures with no hands.) “Order! Order! Bukawk!” The herd of ostriches before her quelled and turned their long necks to Ostroso. Her feminine coat of feathers was brown and fluffy. “Court is now in session. Bring the defendant to the stand.”

Two male ostrich guards marched a third ostrich to Ostroso’s leftwing side. “I didn’t do anything!” he said, “I didn’t even know the guy!”

“Moma Mamoa,” Ostroso squawked louder than he could speak. “You stand accused of ejecting the royal guard of the imperial granary into deep space. The royal guard of the imperial granary fell into Earth’s gravity-well and interrupted one of mankind’s premiere sporting events.” Supreme leader Ostroso craned her long, long neck over Moma Mamoa to look down her beak at him. “I remind you of the severity of the charge. If humans discover that they are not the earth’s dominant race, the superiority of the ostriches could be thrown into jeopardy.”

“And so I hope you nab whoever chucked the guy into space.” Moma Mamoa bent his neck and body in submission. “But it wasn’t me! Honest!”

“You have motive.” Ostroso bit a file folder and threw it open in front of her. “According to these receipts, you’ve gambled away your life’s earnings of grain on our space-station’s ostrich-racing circuit. Then, as soon as the royal guard of the imperial granary was discovered to be missing, you were back at the ostrich-tracks with a newfound supply of grain to splurge.”

“I admit it!” Moma Mamoa whacked his head against the iron wall. “I noticed the imperial granary was unguarded, so I helped myself to a wingful of seeds. But I didn’t kill the guy!”

“So you were near the area at the time of the crime?” Ostroso took note by dipping her beak in ink and scrawling in her files with her face. “What brought you there?”

“I dunno,” said Moma Mamoa. “Just wandering, I guess.”

The herd of ostriches murmured with distrust for the defendant. Then, from the back of the courtroom, the doors opened and female ostrich strutted in. The ostrich guards accompanied her to Ostroso’s platform. “Who are you? Why are you interrupting?” she asked. “Answer me! Bukawk!”

“I’m a lowly technician in your royal security force, ma’am,” she said, “and since the incident I’ve been combing security footage. In footage from the night of the supposed crime, the royal guard of the imperial granary is visible pressing a button which opens the vacuum-powered trash-disposal-hatch without a safety-cord. He was sucked into space on his own accord.”

“Oh.” Supreme leader Ostroso cocked her head almost a full 180 degrees. “Why?”

“I suspect he wanted to see what the button did. He always was a bit of a bird-brain.”

“Aren’t we all?” Ostroso thumped her muscular leg against her judicial platform. “Case dismissed! Case dismissed! Bukawk!”

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