|by Brad Aiken
2003 natioanl short story contest
South Florida Chapter , Natioanl
Billy Dayton was always a little different than the rest of us.
As I watched him lying serenely in a field of white, I was drawn back into the memories of
It was 1962. President Kennedy was still alive, and America was Camelot. All of that was
about to change, of course, but none of us knew it then. Laurelwood was a sleepy little town,
the kind of place where everybody knew everybody elseâ€™s business -- a good thing
sometimes, not so good most of the time.
There were only a handful of boys our age in town. Most of our free time was spent looking
for trouble and trying not to get caught at it. We were just nine or ten years old at the time,
but we could all tell there was something different about Billy. Maybe it was because we
were nine or ten that we could tell; kids can be pretty tough on someone whoâ€™s different.
Only with Billy it wasnâ€™t like that, it was more like reverence. We didnâ€™t know why,
but we were all a little in awe of Billy. It wasnâ€™t just that occasional vacuous stare of his
that unnerved us; it was other things, too. Mainly, it was the complete absence of that little
streak of mischief that each of us had just about every time we got together. We werenâ
€™t bad kids, not at all, but boys will be boys.
At first we rode Billy kind of hard for not pulling the same stupid pranks that the rest of us
did. You know, things like inking the phones, throwing water balloons off the old Miller
Bridge, and just about anything we could think of to embarrass the girls in our class, at least
the ones we had crushes on. But soon we came to realize that Billy was happy enough to go
along with our pranks, he just didnâ€™t have any time to waste thinking them up. His mind
was occupied by more important things; we werenâ€™t quite sure just what, but we knew
they were important.
A lot of the grown-ups just thought Billy was slow, but me and the boys, we knew better.
After that picnic on the Fourth of July, I was sure a lot of other folks would start to
It was hot as blazes that day. My dad was manning the grill along with Rudy Marshall, and
the smoke was drifting out over the ball field... I can still smell those burgers cooking if I
close my eyes and take a deep whiff. It made it tough to concentrate on the game, but when
the whole town was watching, you found a way.
Jack Tasker, the gym teacher, was pitching for both sides. He tossed one in to the sixth
grade bully, Hank Remmick, who took a wicked swing. You could tell by the crack of the bat
that he had gotten a hold of one real good, and we all knew where he was aiming.
â€œBilly!â€� I yelled. â€œLook up! Itâ€™s cominâ€™ right at you. â€�
But it didnâ€™t do any good. He had gone into one of those stares of his, right smack in
the middle of the game. We had hidden Billy in right field -- he wasnâ€™t the best athlete in
town-- but I guess we hadnâ€™t hidden him well enough, and Hank Remmick had found him
with a monster fly ball. Hank was laughing as he rounded first, gleaming at the blank stare on
Billyâ€™s face as the ball headed his way.
I was embarrassed for Billy.
â€œLook up, Billy,â€� I yelled, but I knew it wasnâ€™t going to do any good. I saw that
look, too. Iâ€™d seen it dozens of times, enough to know that when Billy looked like that, he
was in another place, somewhere far, far away, and he wasnâ€™t coming back until he was
ready to come back. Usually, Billy didnâ€™t move a muscle when he went into a stare, but
this time something different happened. As I ran for the ball, knowing I could never get
there fast enough to catch it, but hoping to minimize the damage of Hankâ€™s hit, Billy
started to back away. At first, it was like he was moving in slow motion, but his steps
gradually quickened, and all of a sudden, he turned.
â€œRun!â€� he yelled at the top of his lungs.
I never saw Billy move so fast. It was such an absurd sight that I just stopped dead in my
tracks. The crowd had fallen silent, except for a few snickers, and I watched the ball float
slowly toward the ground, landing with a thud in the stillness of the thick July afternoon.
Even Hank had stopped running around the bases to watch the spectacle. It was surreal.
One of the most peaceful moments in the history of Laurelwood: the ball lying in solitude on
the freshly mowed grass, the smell of barbecue hanging in the air and the whole town looking
on in silence. No motion, no sound, except for Billy Dayton, the quietest boy in town, running
away from the ball and screaming like a Banshee.
And then it came.
At first, it was just a low rumble coming from the north. Everyone was so engrossed in the
bizarreness of the moment that they didnâ€™t notice it. By the time they actually saw the
plane plunging over the tree line, there was a thunderous roar. Everyone ran as fast as their
legs could carry them, and kept running until the blast of the crash rocked our peaceful little
town so hard that we could feel the ground shake wherever we stood.
And then we froze in our tracks. It seemed like we all turned at the same time. Every
person at that game, which was pretty much the entire population of Laurelwood, turned
toward the field in unison and saw the smoking wreck of a single engine Cessna lying in right
field. Where just a few moments ago there had been a lonely ball sitting in a peaceful field
of green on a still summer's day, there was now a crater, billowing black, sooty smoke up into
the air, overwhelming the smell of freshly grilled burgers with the stench of burnt oil and
Everyone had their eyes glued on right field at that very moment, and then, like in some
ethereal dream, all heads turned toward the right field fence that Billy had hurdled in his
seeming race from the embarrassment of a missed catch.