Throwing the game
It was Inter-House Sports Day. Not my favourite day of the year. Not by a longshot. Not by any shot at all. But there I was, in my sports kit, on my school’s playing field, in the batter’s box, a bat in my hands. It cannot be denied that I was playing this stupid game called ‘Rounders’.
And if you don’t know what Rounders is, don’t worry my friend. You are not missing out. Not at all. I would make some helpful baseball and cricket comparison if I knew how to. But suffice to say that in Rounders there are two teams. There are bats, and a ball, and a bowler. And there is an expectation that you do various combinations of catching, running, stumping and such. It is not fun. Not fun at all.
I was ‘playing’ because I was duty bound to represent my school house (I was in Cook). We were facing the sportiest of the team houses (Scott). All you really need to know about the houses, if facts be facts, is that all four houses were named after dead male explorers: Cook, Scott, Raleigh, and Ross. Probably one of them had a big ship, and one of them left his dog to die in the snow. Super inspiring, and perfectly chosen for a girls’ school. What can you do?
More important in this truth account was that I was facing the bowler from house Scott…Jamie Logan. Jamie and I had history. But the main fact at play, at that moment, was that Jamie had just bowled two no-balls in a row. And GO ME, without swinging or running I had just scored our house half a rounder. Sport huh?! I know! Thems the rules.
Our sports teacher, and referee, Miss Wildman, had literally just yelled ‘Second no-ball’. She would likely testify to this. But what came next for her would be a blur. For me it is as clear as clingfilm…
There was a whirring noise, like a bathroom extractor fan, but times a hundred. Enough to ruffle my ponytail. Then lights as bright as floodlights overhead. Squinting up, what I saw was a classic alien spaceship. It was a cliché of itself. A silvery, hovering disc.
I think I screamed upwards into the whirring…
“Aaaaaghhhh maaaa gaaaaaahhhd!”
I remember the weight of my feet, as if they’d been spiked to the earth. I could just about move my arms, neck and mouth… but that was all.
And it was more than just fear freezing me. Looking around, as if I were in slow motion, I saw fielder after fielder frozen in their sporty positions – leaning, reaching, crouching, you name it. And they seemed 100% frozen, no sounds, no waving, no looking up to a god for help. No movement at all.
Except for Jamie Logan. I caught her turning at the waist, towards the spaceship, as it landed behind her. Then she looked back over her shoulder, right at me, and yelled…
“Whaaaaat the fuuuck?”
The whirring cut out as she yelled this, and it came through nice and clear. She was thrashing her arms, as though fighting to get out of the batter’s box, her feet still glommed in place. My own body flinched, as though trying to match her. But then I stilled, rightly transfixed by the doors of the ship opening up and folding down.
Now that the ship had landed, and was perched amongst humans, I could see that it was about the width of a paddling pool. The being that came out of it was like an elongated newt, up on its back legs, tail dragging behind it, as it shuffled purposefully towards me and Jamie.
Jamie thrashed again, like a human drowning in their own escape attempt.
I felt weirdly calm, like I had somehow been preparing for this my whole life.
And then the newt-creature spoke, and I freaked the fuck out. I can’t actually tell you what it said, as my ears were full of my own pounding blood, and my own shouting.
“I doooon’t liiike thiiiiis. Let me out….Let me gooooo.”
At some point I stopped yelling and heard its little voice, as it positioned itself between Jamie and me. It was like some teeny, tiny, super weird referee. It stretched out its thin little arms, barricade style and said, “Excuse me ladies. This will only take a minute.”
Jamie and I locked eyes, then both looked down at… let’s call them Newton. (For the record, after Olivia Newton John. Not Isaac Scientist Man.) When we both looked back up, Jamie glared, like she was pushing a telepathic message at me. Run? Attack? I shook my head. Co-operation was our best and only route. I gestured around to our fellow students, still frozen in place, like a sporty forest. The two of us had been chosen to gesture and speak. I nodded, feeling the swell of being an ambassador.
“Ok, what do you want?” I offered creakily, turning back to Newton.
“Don’t bargain,” Jamie said. “Oi. Let us go you little creeper!”
“I just want to know what game you are playing?” Newton asked pleasantly. “We have been observing, from above.”
“Rounders,” I said, determined to ace this fact-finding mission and…move on with our lives. ALIVE!
“Yes. That is apparent.” Newton said, nodding their domed newty head.
“You want to know the rules? Oh, that’s easy. Jamie…!” I prompted. She for sure would know them better than me.
Jamie pulled a face of such blended confusion, disgust and frustration that it had to have hurt her face muscles.
“It’s like in a bank robbery,” I reassured her. “Give them what they want and go home safe.”
“We don’t want the rules, thank you,” Newton said, “We can Google that. Wikipedia is most helpful. No, we want to know what was going on with you two? And that no-ball?”
“Ohhhh?” Thinking and speaking were getting harder by the minute. My brain had been struck by all this, like a gong, and reality was shaking in place.
Newton turned around, towards Jamie, who reacted by struggling so hard her face now looked sunburned. “What’s it to you? Who are you? Why are you here? What have you done to us?” Jamie fired.
All perfectly valid questions, to be fair.
Newton’s answer was to spread their webby top fingers. Less than a second later I sensed more than saw a tiny black dart zipping my way. By the time I tried a matrix style bend backwards it was already stuck into my skin, through my aertex, under my armpit.
“Fuuuck? Should I pull it out? Should I pull it out?” I panicked.
Jamie was also swearing, the dart clenched between her fingers in her right hand, her bowler’s arm pulled back. Her reflexes seem to have been quick enough to pull it out and try to hurl it back at Newton before they…froze her some more. It was just her mouth moving now.
“Please be reassured, that this is just a truth serum, to speed up the process at hand. Think bears who get tranquilized when they have a bad tooth, that needs some attention. All we need is a quick assessment of what game you girls were really playing here. It is most confounding.”
“Are you impregnating us, you *******. Jamie reached a blistering level of cursing, her bowling arm still pulled back, like she was ready to punch.
“I am freezing your arm in place, for all our safety. But I want you to know that I am letting you keep the freedom of speech.” Newton said this, nodding, like they thought they were owed some Nobel Peace Prize. “As aforementioned, this questioning will be harmless, and will be brief.”
I pinched the dart between my thumb and forefinger, warily, like it was a wasp sting, and pulled, and then flung it, clearly off to one side. I wanted to keep my arm moving options. For fighting. Or for gesturing. Whatever was needed most.
What followed was two minutes that was worse than any wasp sting I have ever endured. Nothing but the truth flowed out of my mouth. And worse, Jamie was spewing too. We were two rivers of truth, with a nosy little creature conducting the interrogation.
Newton began by confirming our names. Me, Elise. Her, Jamie. They already knew this, little creeper, spying on us from above, like we were sport. Like we were their free Netflix.
Newton: Jamie. Why did you throw two no-balls? At this other girl. You seemed to be aiming for her heart. And her head. Which is not in the rules. Hence two no-balls. This cost you. What were you thinking? We would like to know.
Jamie: It was Elise. She was messing with my mind.
Newton: Elise, do you have the powers of mind control?
Elise (aka me): Did I throw her off her game? Maybe? Or maybe SHE THREW HERSELF. OFF HER OWN GAME. WITH HER OWN GUILT. DOES SHE HATE ME? ASK HER!
Yes, truth serum really gets you going. The truth wants to blast out volcano style, and I can report that very, very quickly our relationship, our history, lay in spiky fragments all over the grass.
The time when I got into the school musical, Oliver. How I didn’t see Jamie at break anymore. How I ignored her, even when she marched outside the rehearsal room with a sign saying ‘ANNIE, NOT OLIVER. WHAT ABOUT THE GIRLS? THIS IS A GIRLS’ SCHOOL.’ How even when it was over, I still hung out with Fagin and Bill Sykes, rather than her.
She wasn’t alone in her hurts. I flung out the time when I came to see Jamie play netball, and even though I froze my ass off for two hours, and bored myself numb, what did she do at the end? She went off to drink juice in the changing hut with her teammates and left me hanging there. Alone. Super great. Nice work.
The time when Jamie stole my hockey socks, so I’d get a demerit.
Elise (aka me): Admit it! It was you, Jamie! Admit it! (I was roaring, throat stripped raw by this point.)
Jamie: (sobbing) You made me audition for the Christmas play, even though you knew I sucked. They cast me as the moon. I had to wear a fucking silver leotard. You were all laughing at me.
Elise: You looked amazing
Jamie: You’re lying!
Newton: Ahem. Excuse me, ladies. She can’t lie. That isn’t possible for her right now.
Jamie and me both dropped our gaze down to look at Newton, shocked. Truth be told, we both seemed to have forgotten that Newton was there. We’d been whirling our dirty laundry around while some alien watched and took notes. From the look on their little face, they’d got more than they’d come for.
Elise (aka me, croaking) How long til it wears off? Can we go home? Please?
Newton: The truth serum…maybe 24 hours? The freezing agent will release once I am out of your atmosphere.
Jamie: Do you think you could depart now? Please?
Jamie and I both watched, sagging with our own kinds of exhaustion as Newton shuffled their way back to the ship, climbed the ramp, and whirred off into the heavens.
The moment of release, as they finally departed, was exhilarating. I ran and so did Jamie. Towards each other. We chest bumped and hooted and hollered. I think it was a survival thing. And then the reality of our teammates, back on the move and watching us, crept into my somewhat shook awareness.
“I said no ball! Again! That makes two,” a voice yelled. “Half a rounder to Cook.” That was Miss Wildman, back to life – sports teacher, and human referee.
Painfully, awkwardly, Jamie and I now had to drag ourselves through the remainder of the match, all the while trying to choke down gobbets of truth. And despite our best efforts, some still chunked out, and drew looks aplenty from our teammates.
“I actually think you’re pretty great.” (Me)
“You should come join the choir.” (Me)
“I wasn’t actually trying to hit you. You think I’d give up those points?” (Jamie)
Yes, it was hard. But we survived.
And that night Jamie called me, for the first time in over two years.
“I just want to check,” she said. “That really happened? Today?”
“For now,” I said.
I did get her permission to write this truth account. After all, I am a theatre kid, who’s going to believe me? And Jamie and I have agreed that she can deny it all. Deal. Fair play to one and all I say.
It’s true to say that I was not a sports success at my girls’ school.
But I actually did score a half-rounder one year, when the bowler threw two no- balls my way!
I also received an end of year report from my sports teacher (Miss Wildman) saying, ‘Danielle lacks the aggressive nature needed to be a good hockey player.’
If aliens HAD landed though, I might have handled myself ok?