Promenaders strolled down the sun-streaked boardwalk of Atlantic City, New Jersey; ladies twirled their parasols while gents tipped their straw hats and stroked their handlebar mustaches as they passed each other for it was Labor Day weekend, the unofficial end of summer, a perfect day with sunshine, blue skies and laughing children!
Margaret Wilson and her boy Sam came from Philadelphia for the fresh sea air, to gaze in awe at the hotels built like fairytale palaces along the seafront and to admire the piers dripping with neon lights, the most famous of which was the Steel Pier, known for its dance bands, water circus and other such attractions; in fact, it was revealed that the renowned composer John Philip Sousa and his band would be performing that very afternoon.
There were barkers selling salt water taffy and cotton candy, minstrel shows, fairgrounds and the famous Diving Horse, specially trained to charge up a 60 foot ramp to a platform atop the Steel Pier where a woman clad in a smattering of sequins leapt onto its back just before it plunged off the pier; horse and rider flew through the air, hitting the water to the applause of delighted throngs waiting below.
But one didn’t have to venture far from the boardwalk to sample less wholesome activities in venues like the Paradise Club where tourists could watch nearly naked women dance to jazz music and, if they wanted something not just risqué but illegal, they could visit the gambling dens and brothels catering to every taste; there was the criminal element, too, with occasional holdups and shoot-outs.
However today was a holiday and the children laughed gleefully as they rode the giant carousel on horses painted pink, yellow, white and green, even the smallest tyke straining to reach the brass ring while their parents strolled in their most fashionable clothes and made small talk; with the start of school the furthest thing from their minds, nothing could spoil a day like today.
Suddenly the cacophony of gun shots rang out and people screamed and scattered as gun-wielding robbers ran from a pawn shop, jumped into a waiting car and took off, bullets flying wildly; a momentary silence overtook the Boardwalk only to be shattered by a piercing wail that rose to the heavens and everyone turned to see Margaret Wilson cradling the body of little Sam, shot in the heart by a stray bullet (in his jacket pocket a folded essay, now stained with innocent blood, entitled “How I Spent My Summer Vacation”); the police arrived, removed mother and child and the band played on.
A little step back in time as I recount a true story of events experienced by me in the hospital after hip replacement surgery. The hallucinations were as real as my 2008 accident and I remember even the minutest of details. Originally published in 2021.
“Use the call button on the side panel of your bed if you need a nurse. My shift is almost over. Can I get you anything before I leave?”
It took me a few seconds to remember where I was as I stared at the friendly face of the nurse standing over me.
“Pain meds would be lovely” I answered, grimacing.
“You’re hooked up to a morphine drip; you should begin to feel much more comfortable very soon. Until then, try to get some rest” the nurse suggested.
I had been in an accident a day or two earlier, falling off a three-foot-high deck and landing on my left side with tremendous impact. As I lay stunned on the hard ground, my face resting on my outstretched left arm, I felt absolutely nothing. I thought I had survived the fall unscathed. Then I realized I could not move my feet or wiggle my toes. When the emergency medical teams arrived, they tried to gently and ever so slowly shift my body in order to slide a stretcher under me. That’s when it hit. Moving even a millimeter caused the most excruciating pain I had ever experienced in my life. It shot all the way down my motionless leg to my unmoving Apple Green painted toenails.
My hip was not broken; it was demolished.
I’m a firm believer that copious amounts of pain medication should be dispensed frequently to patients in need. I smiled wanly at the nurse and asked for my iPhone; while I waited for the morphine to take me to another dimension, I would lose myself in my playlist.
If you’re sick or injured, a hospital is the last place you want to be. Trying to rest is next to impossible. Patients pleading, buzzers buzzing, machines murmuring, carts careening, elevators elevating, doctors discussing, nurses needling. Even the mourning doves who kept watch on my windowsill were cooing ceaselessly.
I slipped in my earbuds and cued up The Beatles “Helter Skelter“. No matter how horrendous I may be feeling at any given moment, listening to that masterpiece makes life perfect for 4 minutes and 29 seconds.
Someone wheels in my dinner cart. Lifting the lid I see a salad, a medium-rare hamburger, a beverage and a pint of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream. Not feeling hungry just yet, I go through my collection of albums trying to decide which one to play. Ah, “Revolver”. You can never go wrong with that beauty. I close my eyes and revel in the brilliance of “Tomorrow Never Knows”.
I’m suddenly aware of a rush of air and find I am now outside floating uptown over the streets of Manhattan, my hospital gown flapping like laundry on a clothesline. I hear the old Klaxon car horn sound of “AHOOGA!” behind me and swivel round to see a flying ice cream truck being driven by none other than John Lennon. Somehow, as bizarre as it all is, it seems perfectly normal.
“You getting in? We don’t want to be late” John says.
“Late for what?” I ask.
“For whatever comes next” John replies with a grin and I slide onto the seat beside him. “It’s very rude to be late, isn’t it?” and we zoom off.
“What’s on your bucket list, me darlin’?” John asks me and I answer without hesitation “To go to Liverpool!”
“Ah, lovely Liverpool. I won’t be going back there again, I’m afraid. Next stop: The Dakota!” John calls out and we swoosh away.
“No, John. You mustn’t!” I beg him and I start to cry.
“Oh, but I must! Now dry those green eyes. It is my destiny and we can’t change that.“
He was silent for a moment, deep in thought, then he spoke very quietly to me:
“Nancy girl, listen to what I’m going to say. Aim for the stars. Love with your whole heart. Work hard. Be the best person you can be but never ever forget to have fun. Time is fleeting and tomorrow never knows so always eat dessert first. Got it?Good! Now, let’s be on our way.”
As I nod in agreement I can hear the faint words “Turn off your mind, relax and float downstream.”
And in a flash John and his flying ice cream truck are gone.
I open my eyes and gingerly prop myself up on my hospital bed pillow. Dinner is still there, right where I left it, and I find I’m suddenly starving. Ignoring everything else on my tray, I go directly to the Ben & Jerry’s, pop open the container of ice cream and dig in.
And in that moment I realize nothing in my life ever tasted so delicious.
Eugene was a wreck – disheveled clothes, bloodshot eyes, tired, hungry and freezing. He had been working in the lab nonstop throughout this sleety March night, frantically perfecting a classified formula. He still had 300 small black-capped vials to fill, wrap securely in packing materials and stash inside porcelain statues before he could neatly stack them in crates and deliver them to the transportation facility before dawn. A HIGHLY TOP SECRET ASSIGNMENT, he was told.
The harried chemist was momentarily startled by a swift scurrying motion across the room. A rat? “Keep going – no time to dilly dally” he muttered to himself, choosing to ignore the unwelcome intruder.
There it was again, that scampering scurrying movement. Eugene glanced in the general direction of the noise, then did a double take, squinting. He removed his thick glasses and rubbed his tired eyes. Putting his specs back on, he snuck another peek. On a shelf, partially hidden behind urns and sculptures, sat a leathery-skinned troll with enormous eyes and long, pointy ears.
“Great”, Eugene mumbled. “Now I’m hallucinating.”
“Real, am I. Working too hard, are you. Weebly will help”, whispered the troll in a raspy voice.
“What the…? This is insane!” Eugene rubbed his eyes again and took a swig of his now cold coffee, grimacing at it’s acrid taste.
“Finish, you won’t. My help, you need. Watch.” Raising one gnarled finger, Weebly pointed to the formula and magically poured it into the vial, sealed it, carefully wrapped and hid it inside a statuette and gently placed it in a box. Eugene was too stunned to move.
“Understand now, you do? Work together, we will. Four hands better.” Weebly cocked his head to one side, his long finger rubbing his chin.
Despite his incredulity, Eugene accepted the fact that this clever troll was his only answer if he hoped to finish the project in time or face the deadly wrath of the powerful men in charge. Working together, the duo swiftly got the job done. Eyeing the clock, Eugene saw he had ten minutes to carry the heavy crates to the terminal across the compound.
“Weebly’s help, you need. Too heavy, they are. Transport you, I will”, offered the sage intruder, but Eugene dismissed him. Straining, he placed the boxes on a hand truck and walked toward the stairs.
“Beware the stairs! Frozen, they are!”
Unwisely, Eugene ignored his helper’s warning. Struggling up the frozen stairs, his feet suddenly flew out from under him and he lost his grip on the hand truck. Eugene tumbled backwards, crashed into a shelf and knocked over a hefty basilisk statue which crushed his skull, killing him instantly. The hand truck slid down the stairs and landed with an incredible crash inside Eugene’s laboratory, scattering its shattered contents everywhere.
“Listened, you should have” clucked the wise old troll before scurrying away.
Chloe’s wedding was planned for the end of the month. As she was being fitted for her gown, she noticed how washed out she looked; the white crepe fabric and her dark brown hair against her pale skin made her look anemic. Chloe decided she would get some highlights in her hair and build up a tan before her big day and honeymoon in Barbados. This was going to be her one and only wedding and she wanted to look stunning.
Chloe heard about a new tanning salon called “Beyond the Pale” which had opened in town and she stopped by to check it out. When she arrived, she was surprised to see a high-tech device attached to the exterior wall; there were buttons, a speaker and a monitor which was flashing a neon red message:
“THIS PROPERTY IS PROTECTED BY AN ELECTRONIC SECURITY SYSTEM. TO SPEAK TO A RECEPTIONIST, PRESS THE BLACK BUTTON BELOW.”
Times have certainly changed!
Chloe pressed the black button and was surprised when the message on the screen disappeared and was replaced by the image of an attractive young woman. Her voice came through the speaker: “Welcome to Beyond the Pale. I’m Nicole. Please press and hold the green button while speaking. So, how can I help you?”
Chloe pressed the green button. “Yes, hi. I’m Chloe and I’d like to talk to someone about your tanning packages.”
“Sure! I’ll beep you in. You’ll hear a buzz and the door will slide open. Take the elevator to the 2nd floor.”
After the door slid open, Chloe entered the tiny hallway, jumping slightly when the door snapped shut behind her. She took the elevator to the 2nd floor and was greeted by the same woman she saw on the screen.
“Hi, Chloe. Sorry about all the security. It’s the way of the world these days. So, you want to hear about our tanning packages?”
The two women discussed the various packages available and Chloe told Nicole about her upcoming wedding. Chloe chose a package suitable for her and Nicole showed her around the salon. She was surprised to see she was the only customer there. Nicole explained that Mondays were always slow and Chloe had picked a good day to come by; she could have her choice of any of the tanning beds. Chloe looked forward to her first session and was excited to have a deep golden tan for her wedding.
Chloe chose the futuristic Masterson 360 tanning bed; she entered the room and the door closed behind her. She noticed the keypad on the wall was flashing a red “5”; Nicole told Chloe during their tour that meant she had five minutes to undress and apply lotion before getting into the bed. Nicole further explained that Chloe had to say “Start” when she was ready to begin tanning; the lights would turn on and the cover of the bed would automatically lower and lock in position for ten minutes. At the end of her session, the tanning lights would turn off and the cover would open by itself. If Chloe needed to end the session at any time, all she had to do was say “Stop”; the lights would turn off and the lid would disengage and open. Chloe loved the easy, hands-free system; it was unlike any tanning salon she’d been to before.
Meanwhile, back at the reception desk, Nicole answered another call from the front door. Checking the video monitor, she saw it was her boyfriend Dean. She beeped him in and pressed a different button which changed the message on the screen in case any customers showed up. The message read:
“NO ONE IS HERE RIGHT NOW. THE SALON WILL REOPEN IN 15 MINUTES. THANK YOU FOR YOUR PATIENCE.”
Dean sidled up to the front desk, smarmy as ever. Nicole couldn’t resist the slick and fawning type of guy.
“Hey, baby! You’re looking fine today. You gonna show me how happy you are to see me?” The words practically slithered out of Dean’s mouth.
“I sure am, babe! I’ve been fantasizing all morning about getting it on in the massage room. You ready?” Nicole replied.
Dean grabbed her hand and placed it firmly on his crotch.
“Do I feel ready, Nic?”
Nicole giggled as Dean followed her into the massage room, fondling her ass on the way. Nicole playfully pressed her finger against his lips saying “Ssh” as she listened for the sound of Chloe’s tanning bed starting up. Confident that Chloe would be occupied for at least 10 minutes, Nicole pressed a button on the wall keypad which electronically locked every door in the salon.
“There! Nobody can interrupt us. Now, show me what you got, baby!”
Dean and Nicole started going at it hot and heavy, the heated vibrating massage bed adding to their pleasure. They were really getting down to business when there was a sudden muffled “WOOSH” and the room went black.
“Whoa! What was that?” Dean whispered.
“Must have been a power failure. No worries, babe. It’s all high-tech stuff but I know how to override the system” Nicole answered. She tapped her iPhone flashlight app and padded over to the keyboard panel on the wall. She began pressing one button after the other but nothing happened. Nicole tried repeatedly to bypass the system with no luck.
“Shoot! It’s not responding. I’m gonna have to call for help; get dressed, Dean” Nicole commanded. To her dismay, she discovered she had no cell service. Getting dressed as quickly as she could in the darkened room, Nicole told Dean to try his phone. He also had no service. They soon learned the salon phones were not working either.
“Okay, no reason to panic. The salon is connected to a main security facility. I’m sure they’re getting our alert right this minute. We just need to sit tight and wait for them to reset the codes. This is a foolproof system. No worries.”
The duo sat on the massage bed waiting for the power to come back on. Nicole elbowed Dean saying “Listen! Do you hear that?”
“I don’t hear nothing” Dean brusquely replied, annoyed that their sexcapade had been cut short.
“Well, I do. It sounds like a tanning bed is running.”
“How can that be if everything’s shut down?” Dean asked.
“Well, it shouldn’t be. But listen. Can’t you hear it?”
“Yeah. I can hear it now.”
“Oh my God!” Nicole cried out. Her hands sprung to her ears trying to block out the sounds. “I can hear her!”
“Hear who, Nic? What are you talking about?”
“Chloe. Our new client. Dean, she must be stuck in the tanning bed. Oh, God. Why didn’t the bed turn off? We have to help her!”
Dean tried desperately to open the massage room door; it wouldn’t give. There wasn’t even a window in the room they could try to open or break. The air conditioning had shut down and they were both now dripping wet. Nicole was starting to become frantic.
That was nothing compared to how Chloe was feeling.
☀️ ☀️ ☀️ ☀️ ☀️
Fifteen minutes earlier Chloe was oiled up and ready for her first tanning session. She slid onto the bed, said “Start” and chuckled a little imagining herself on an episode of Star Trek. The lights turned on and the cover slowly came down and locked in place. As the warmth enveloped her, Chloe smiled thinking what a great decision she made coming to Beyond the Pale. She relaxed.
Chloe thought about getting a new hairstyle for her big day and how fabulous she’d look walking down the aisle. And, of course, her mind drifted to her honeymoon in Barbados. She was so content, so happy and certain nothing would get in the way of her perfect wedding day.
The temperature in the tanning bed started getting pretty hot; this was only Chloe’s first session and she didn’t want to get burned. She had lots of sessions to use to build up a nice deep tan. Remembering what Nicole told her about turning off the bed at any time, Chloe said “Stop”. The bed did not turn off. Chloe squinted and tried to locate the speaker system thinking perhaps there was a button she could press. The glaring lights were too much for her eyes; even wearing the eye protectors, Chloe couldn’t locate anything that felt like a speaker. Her vision was obscured and she became more agitated.
The tight quarters of the tanning bed left no room for her to move around but Chloe managed to bend her arms until her hands reached the cover above her. She pushed on the lid to open it but it wouldn’t budge. She tried again, more forcefully this time, but nothing happened; the lid was securely locked in place. “Okay, calm down” Chloe said to herself. “The session is probably almost over and the door will pop open any second now. You can do this; it’s just a little heat.”
Chloe started doing her deep breathing exercises, slowly counting off each breath as she went along. She began to relax and was even able to ignore the heat, but then she realized she had counted to 75 and the lights had not turned off. She was definitely in the tanning bed longer than the allotted time and it was getting dreadfully hot. She pushed against the lid once more; no luck.
She began pounding on the tanning bed, screaming for someone to let her out. She was acutely aware of her delicate skin beginning to burn. She was in pain now and could feel her skin sizzling like bacon in a microwave. She began hearing little crackling noises and her face was incredibly hot. Wriggling her arms up to her head, she recoiled in horror when she realized her hair was singed. Oh God! If she didn’t get out of there soon she’d burn up!
Chloe turned into a madwoman as the pain reached new levels; her skin began blistering and oozing. She could smell her body and hair beginning to burn. Her eyes throbbed and felt enormous in their sockets. Chloe screamed like a woman possessed and reached up to cover her face with her hands. Overcome with excruciating pain, Chloe passed out.
🔥 🔥 🔥 🔥 🔥
The emergency alert from Beyond the Pale reached the security facility almost 15 minutes earlier. When their attempts to get through to the salon failed, they called 911. The police and fire department arrived quickly but were faced with tremendous difficulty gaining access to the building. Since the salon was a free standing building with no other businesses nearby, there was no access other than through the salon itself. The door was made of industrial strength metal; the fire fighter’s axes didn’t even leave a dent and because it was a sliding door, there were no hinges to remove. There were only a few windows consisting of thick impact-resistant lucite cubes. The fire chief paced back and forth, trying to figure out how to get inside. As far as he could tell, the salon was in violation of many building safely codes; it was a horror show waiting to happen. In a last-ditch effort, the chief and a small crew climbed up to the roof and began carefully chipping away at the tiles. The last thing they needed was for the roof to cave in.
After what seemed an impossibly long time, a crack appeared in a section of the roof. Painstakingly making the opening larger, the team lowered a ladder into the opening and climbed down. Others followed and found themselves in the salon’s reception area; it was dark and hot and there was a low humming sound coming from one of the rooms down the hall. They also heard faint voices coming from the far back area of the salon.
Tubes of tanning lotion had burst in the heat, emitting a saccharine Tropical aroma, but there was no mistaking the smell coming from the tanning room; it was one first responders never forget – the stench of burning flesh.
One group of fire fighters followed the voices which led them to the massage room. They could barely make out the sounds inside and when they called out, no one responded. The door to the massage room was not a sliding door so the fire crew removed the hinges but it took an additional ten minutes to open the door wide enough for someone to squeeze through. Inside were Nicole and Dean; they were alive but overcome by the intense heat and suffering from dehydration. They were carried out by EMTs and transported to the hospital. A police car followed; once the patients were able to talk, questions needed answering.
Another team followed the smell to the Mastersun360 tanning room; the door was searing hot and a bright glow was visible from under the doorframe. A fire hose was snaked in through the hole in the roof and the tanning room door was sprayed with water in an attempt to cool it down. It sizzled and crackled like fajitas in a Mexican restaurant. It took a long time for the door to cool down but at last the fire fighters were able to remove the pins from the hinges and pry the door open. To their disbelief, the tanning bed was still running; clouds of smoke billowed and sparks danced across the room.
There was no discernable way to turn off the bed. A risky decision was made to cut the thick cables with a giant bolt cutter. Everyone took cover as the fire captain started attacking the cables. They spit and hissed, sparks arcing, but eventually he cut through and the tanning bed ground to a halt. Now that the room was quiet, the feeblest of murmurs could be heard coming from the bed. Grabbing a crowbar, the fire captain went to work on the latch which kept the lid locked in place. With a loud SNAP the latch detached. It took four people to lift the lid.
What they saw made even the most seasoned veterans among them cringe; a few became physically sick. Lying on the tanning bed was what remained of Chloe; her body was seared and oozing, taking on the heinous appearance of a massive slug. With excruciatingly slow movements, Chloe managed to tilt her head a fraction of an inch in the direction of the fire fighters, made a low gurgling noise and died.
A specialized detail was called in to remove Chloe’s molten body. The salon was cordoned off and an investigation would begin immediately.
Poor Chloe. All she wanted was a golden tan for her special day. She wanted to be a beautiful bride, something all women hoped for. Was that too much to ask? How could Chloe know her simple wish was unattainable, something beyond the pale?
“THIS PROPERTY IS PROTECTED BY AN ELECTRONIC SECURITY SYSTEM. TO SPEAK TO A RECEPTIONIST, PRESS THE BLACK BUTTON BELOW.”Times had certainly changed!
“NO ONE IS HERE RIGHT NOWTHE SALON WILL REOPEN IN 15 MINUTES. THANK YOU FOR YOUR PATIENCE.”Dean sidled up to the front desk, smarmy as ever. Nicole was always attracted to the slick and fawning type of guy.“Hey, babyoDean’s mouth.
It had been quite a long while since Rob and I had a chance to take a vacation, to escape the noise of the city to someplace remote and peaceful. Skiing sounded like a nice idea, a break after the uncomfortably hot summer. All we wanted was a little get-away to relax and unwind.
Our Google search brought us to a place called Marmot Basin located in Jasper, an alpine town in Canada’s Alberta province. The photos were breathtaking; the area was one of the most natural and unsoiled landscapes we’d ever seen. The site said Jasper was “an authentic mountain community that managed to retain a cozy, warm and ‘real’ atmosphere with a laid-back vibe”. It was also one of North America’s largest protected nature preserves. It would be great to get lost for a few days, forget about our hectic lives.
The flight to Jasper was interminable; eight hours with a connection in Denver. The time change did a number on us physically but our welcoming and romantic chateau more than made up for the tedious travel. It was rustic yet charming with beamed ceilings, comfy furniture and a huge fireplace. We spent our first night snuggled up in bed.
Right after breakfast the next morning we set out for a day of skiing. Hoping to find a secluded trail, we consulted one of the guides who gave us a couple of suggestions. We headed out, delighted to see a pristine layer of powdery snow. Looking around we realized we were the only people in the area and there was nothing in sight except evergreens on the hillside.
We started off slowly then gradually picked up speed; the conditions were perfect. About ten minutes into our run we came upon a split in the trail. Taking a break, Rob leaned against a tree and consulted a map, deciding which way we should go. Suddenly we felt movement beneath our feet and the ground gave way in what sounded like a whispering waterfall. In an instant we were tumbling down, enveloped by cascades of snow.
It seemed like an eternity before I came to a stop. I was unable to move but realized I was still clutching my pole. Somehow I managed to wrangle my arm free from under my body and began whacking the snow above me. I didn’t know if I was under three feet of snow or thirty; I had to try to free myself. Snow kept falling on me as I hacked away. Slowly my grave became brighter and I realized a sliver of sunlight was peeking through. I heaved myself into an upright position and broke through the snow.
It was a struggle but I managed to climb out and started yelling for Rob. All I heard was my echo; everything was deathly silent. I found my phone in the inside pocket of my ski suit and dialed Rob’s number hoping to hear his phone ring; I heard nothing. Checking my phone I noticed there was no cell service in the area; I couldn’t even call for help. Gingerly I walked around a bit, all too aware the ground could give way at any moment. My only hope was to try to find help.
I must have walked for miles; the sun had set and I found myself surrounded by trees. I had no idea where I was. Exhausted, I fell to my knees, sobbing. If Rob was still buried in the snow there was no chance of finding him alive.
Through my tears I thought I saw a glimmer of light. I squinted and could barely make out the shape of a cabin in the woods. Was it real or was I hallucinating? I had to keep moving or I would surely die during the frigid night. Slowly I got to my feet and walked toward the light, praying it was not an illusion. I was so very tired; maybe just a little rest before I continued.
Francesco Amato glanced down from his perch 60 stories above the streets of New York City. As he ate lunch, he talked casually to his friend, Giuseppe, who sat across from him about four feet away. Francesco lit a Camel cigarette, tossed the box of matches to Giuseppe and both men lounged on their beds of steel. Keeping his eyes open to maintain his balance on the 18 inch wide metal plank, Francesco took a long drag on his cigarette. Then the whistle blew; lunchtime was over.
Giuseppe pitched the matches back to Francesco. They rose to their feet, now old pros at this daily death-defying balancing act. Just then a gust of wind came out of nowhere, scooped up the wrappings from lunch and swirled them about before they slowly drifted out of sight. Both men held on to a nearby vertical beam until the wind stilled.
Looking below at the large wind flag, the men saw that it was still white .. safe conditions. Yellow meant proceed with caution while red indicated dangerous work environments. The crew worked throughout the year, but if a red flag was up, no one climbed the beams.
There were no harnesses to prevent a deadly fall, no safety nets should someone slip .. nothing to protect them, save them. All they had to help them scale the beams were ropes dangling from above, good balance and guts.
Calmness restored, the men strapped on their tool belts containing welder’s gloves, hammers and tongs. A rudimentary pulley system was used to hoist the beams and buckets filled with iron rivets in white hot coals. Using their tongs, the men removed rivets from the coals, inserted them into pre-drilled holes in the beams and hammered them into place. After every hole was filled, the men climbed up to the next level and repeated the process.
When the end-of-work whistle blew, Giuseppe stretched for the rope to begin the long, slow descent to solid ground. Suddenly he lost his footing and slid off the beam. Francesco yelled out in horror “No, Giuseppe, no!!” as he tried in vain to grab his friend’s arm. The crew watched in stunned disbelief as Giuseppe tumbled down, his screams echoing throughout the beams.
Francesco sat slumped over, unable to move, silently crying as a single mournful thought invaded his mind: he didn’t even know Giuseppe’s last name.
Ever since he was a small boy growing up in Fairfax, Missouri, Will Horton was obsessed with baseball. Every chance he had he’d play ball with his friends and when no one was around, he’d put on his mitt and spend hours bouncing a ball off the old shed behind the house.
In 5th grade Will was one of the starting pitchers for his Little League Team, the Badgers. They practiced three or four days a week after school and played a game every Saturday against the rival team, the Coyotes. By the time Will entered 7th grade, he qualified for the traveling team playing both home and away games.
Will lived on a dairy farm with his mother, June, and his dad, Tom. They tended cows, sheep and goats from dawn till dusk which was rough and demanding work. It was a hard life but the Horton’s were sturdy stock and enjoyed the farming life.
Most nights during baseball season Will and his dad would enjoy watching the local Major League baseball team, the Kansas City Royals. Will dreamed of one day playing with the Royals in Big K Stadium. He longed to go to a game but tickets weren’t cheap and Kansas City was 100+ miles from Fairfax. “Some day” Will would whisper to himself and fall asleep every night looking through his collection of baseball cards.
On his 13th birthday Tom totally blew Will away with two tickets to the Royals game that Sunday afternoon. Will was so happy, his whooping and hollering got all the cattle skittish. “Sunday is three whole days off! I don’t think I’m gonna sleep a wink till then!” Will said excitedly.
After what seemed like an eternity, Sunday morning dawned with clear blue skies and bright sunshine. After their morning chores were done, Tom and Will ate breakfast, then jumped in the truck for the drive to Kansas City. Will chatted all the way, going on and on quoting all the Royals stats. As they approached the city, they were in awe of its size. Driving into the Big K parking lot, Will swore it was the biggest building in all Missouri. Finding their way through the maze of gates and entrances, an attendant showed them to their seats.
Will was speechless. The smell of peanuts, hot dogs and beer filled the air and the crowd was anxious for the game to start. Finally the Royals ran onto the field to the roar of cheers. They played a great game and won with a staggering score of 12 to 2. All the way home Will and Tom talked about the game. That night at bedtime he promised himself again he would one day be starting pitcher for the Royals.
Time went on, Will graduated high school and was recruited by the University of Miami as pitcher for the Miami Hurricanes. After school he delivered pizza, saving what money he could. He was living the dream. One night that dream abruptly turned into a nightmare when Will’s delivery car was sideswiped by a truck and slammed hard into the side of a building. Will lost consciousness and woke up in the hospital .. his pitching arm amputated just above the elbow. He was vaguely aware of people in his room, hearing snippets of conversations – “Freak accident” .. “tried to save the arm” .. “tragic loss” .. “baseball career over.”
Will was devastated; his baseball days were over. He transferred to a college in Cincinnati, which was located across from the Cincinnati Reds ballpark. On game nights he’d go up to the school’s rooftop, wistfully watching the games. One dismal night Will pushed himself up and stood precariously on the ledge. A soft voice behind him said “You don’t really want to do that, do you?”
Turning his head slightly, Will saw a cute little brunette wearing a baseball cap. ‘What’s it to you? You don’t even know me.“
“That’s true” the girl replied “but if you jump who’s gonna go to tomorrow’s game with me?“
Will found himself smiling a little despite his depressed mood. This girl was cute and spunky. Offering her left hand, Will reached out and climbed off the ledge. “Hey, I’m Kate. Nice to meet you.”
Kate meant what she said and the next day they went to the game together. Entering the stadium, Will felt alive again as all the sights, sounds and smells filled his head. The roar of the crowd was exhilarating. He was home! Natural as can be, Kate tossed Will a mitt just in case a ball came flying right at them. She was a firecracker and he fell in love that day. They went to games in Cleveland and Pittsburgh and at their fifth game, Will proposed. Kate jumped into his lap, gave him a big kiss and said “YES .. under one condition, mister. We honeymoon in New York. I’ve always wanted to go to a Yankees game!”
Will couldn’t decide which event thrilled him the most: his wedding day or actually stepping into the immortal Yankee Stadium. The experience was more than he ever dreamed and the game was perfect from start to finish .. even though his beloved Royals lost to the ‘Bronx Bombers’. They bought Yankee caps and jerseys and on the way back to their hotel he excitedly said to Kate “Let’s make a new tradition .. to visit as many ballparks as we can in our lifetime.’ Kate nodded happily in agreement.
A couple of years later Will and Kate became the parents of twin boys. They loved playing ball in their backyard and Will even learned how to pitch lefty. They started playing Pee Wee Baseball and on their 4th birthday, Will made a big deal of presenting them with their gift. “This is a custom your mom and I started before you guys were even born. Now it’s time for you to join us in the ‘Horton Family Ballpark Adventure’!”
Will beamed with happiness as his kids excitedly tore into the gift box to find two Royals baseball caps, official mitts and four tickets to the next Royals game. Will gazed at his family and suddenly realized THIS was his destiny all along. Winking at Kate, they grabbed a baseball, bats and mitts as Will shouted “PLAY BALL!”