A new and interesting assignment in this week’s Flash Fiction Challenge! The usual 1,000 words, any genre — but break it up into ten chapters. Ooooh, a challenge, sounds fun!
As always, comments and constructive criticisms are appreciated.
It had grown strong and straight on the northern slope of Burke Mountain since before the town in the valley below had been built. The arborist caressed the rough bark of the trunk, trying to touch the heart of the ancient sugar maple.
This was the one. It felt perfect. He marked the trunk with spray paint before turning to hike back down the mountain.
As the billets came out of the mill, all a uniform square cross section and length, they were inspected carefully by the foreman. He watched intently as they trundled past on the conveyor belt, examining the grain, searching for the perfectly cut piece from the center of the tree’s heart.
A dozen he pulled out for closer inspection. One at a time he tested their balance, the rough wood cool to the touch. While looking for knots or imperfections, one of the billets stung him with a sharp sliver into his palm. That was good. He liked the feisty ones. This one would do well.
The kiln operator had carefully stacked the prime billets on the drying racks, leaving just enough space between them to allow air to circulate. He ran his hands over them quickly to remove any sawdust or debris that might ignite.
When he was ready, he pulled open the kiln door. The air inside carried out the slightest scent of wood smoke. With help from two assistants, he rolled out the finished rack of dry billets from the previous firing. Once the kiln was empty, they wrestled the new rack of billets into place and securely dogged the door closed. A few keystrokes started the slow, computer controlled cycle of heating and drying.
The lathe operator used a laser jig to mark the precise center of the grain at each end of the billet before mounting it gently between the live center and the dead center. As she leaned in to double check the alignment, she could smell the so familiar, dry, wooden scent of the piece.
The flip of a switch spun the lathe up to speed. She picked up a one-inch gouge and slowly started to push it into the whirling wooden dervish. The room filled with a loud clatter of the rough edges being reduced to sawdust.
The master craftsman mounted the rough-cut wooden blank into his lathe, guided by the existing markings and holes in the still-square end pieces. After consulting a specification sheet for this order, he meticulously measured the rounded sections of the blank with a pair of calipers, making marks on the wood as needed.
When he started the piece to spinning, it was at a far higher speed than had been used in the rough shaping. The craftsman used a series of smaller and finer scaled chisels to take off the tiniest wisps of material, constantly checking the shape and size. At each step he took a moment while the blank had stopped in order to run his hands down the length, searching for imperfections his calipers might miss.
Finally he used sandpaper to smooth the wood to a perfect surface, before using a band saw to cut off the end blocks.
It was perfect.
The almost completed bat was brought into the finishing room along with dozens of others. The painter repeatedly dipped the fat end of the bat into a vat of dark stain, before letting it dry, sanding it down slightly, and repeating. Once that was done, she applied several layers of clear shellac in the same way, sealing the surface and leaving it shiny. Finally she used red hot branding iron tools to engrave the player’s name and the bat’s specifications onto the barrel.
Many hours before the game, the equipment manager got to work as the shipment of new bats arrived. He carried them into the locker room, placing them in each player’s locker. He double checked each, looking for any imperfections, verifying the dimensions and weights.
When Hamilton went up to the plate, the bat boy pulled one of the spare bats from the bat rack. Only after verifying that it was the correct bat did he take it out next to the on-deck circle and go to one knee, waiting. It was no time to mess up.
While he watched and waited, he absent-mindedly rolled the bat in his hands, the nerves getting to him just a bit. He needed to be invisible, not a part of this game itself, but a minor bit player hovering ever so close to it.
Hamilton was looking for the curve ball low and away. It was a surprise when he got the pitch up and in, just where he liked it. He flailed at it, off balance. He was lucky to get a piece of it, fouling the ball back up and over the backstop. But his bat cracked as he hit the ball off of his hands.
Hamilton took a couple of steps out of the batter’s box and took the replacement bat from the bat boy. He put a bit of pine tar on the handle, tested it, took a practice swing, and then stepped back into the box to face another pitch.
As the pitcher went into his windup, Hamilton took a calm breath and let his reflexes and decades of practice take over. Bottom of the ninth, game seven, a 3-2 count with two outs – it might as well had been set up that way by Hollywood.
The pitcher made a mistake and threw a sinker that didn’t sink. The 32-ounce bat was perfectly balanced and ideally fitted to his hands as he sent the ball over the fence and into history.
The Hall of Fame curator knew he was only supposed to handle the exhibit pieces with gloves on, but when a new piece such as this came in, he indulged himself, allowing one slow swipe down the length of the bat, letting the touch of history vibrate through his palm and fingers.