Today's Reading

"Jimmy, I can't pitch anymore, I haven't pitched since..." He couldn't even remember when. Probably since he wore the Moab Gnats jersey, which seemed like a lifetime ago. After high school he'd joined the army as a wide-eyed youth, was discharged, then volunteered again like many able-bodied men had when Pearl Harbor changed everything. "You don't even have a mask. That ball could hurt you. Remember, we're old men."

"Speak for yourself. I'm fifty-two, same as you. Besides, I don't need a mask because you couldn't hit the south side of a north-facing barn."

Before Winston knew it, Jimmy was behind home plate. Jimmy punched his mitt and grinned the same way he'd done when they were Gnats. Back when the biggest, baddest, most evil things in the world were the Saint Louis Cardinals and Bob Feller from Cleveland. Long before Hitler became a household name.

And for a moment Winston thought his old friend looked like a boy at the plate. For a moment Winston half felt like a boy himself.

"C'mon!" shouted Jimmy. "Let's show arthritis what for!" His voice sounded more childlike than usual. His face looked almost smooth at a distance. Jimmy's hair was no longer quite so gray. Baseball can make a man young.

Winston dropped his shoulder. He threw the ball a few times until he and Jimmy were laughing after every pitch. He couldn't remember having this much fun. Not in a long time. He pitched until his shoulder was aching and he began to cough. The coughing did not stop. He doubled over and hacked until he felt his vision dimming from the exertion.

Jimmy trotted to the mound. "You're a lot older and considerably more decrepit than I thought," said Jimmy, slapping Winston's back. "But hey, cheer up, at least I'm still better looking than you."

When the cough subsided, Winston looked at the large lamps suspended over Moab's field like objects from another realm. They were bright white. Floating in the darkness. The sky was no longer blue but black. And no artificial lights could ever change that.

Jimmy pointed to the sheriff's shirt. "Win, you're bleeding."

Just below Winston's armpit was a small pool of dark blood, growing like an ink blot. Winston laughed at it. Laughing was all he could do.

Because Sheriff Winston Browne was dying.

The Exile of Jessie

Jessie sat in the front seat, watching Pennsylvania go past her at forty-five miles per hour. There were big trees in the windows, blurry from highway speed. No homes, just trees and swelling green hills. Sister Johanna was driving, both hands on the wheel, a stern look on the old woman's face. Jessie's three temple brothers sat in the back seat. They were dweebs.

Jessie had no idea where Sister Johanna was taking her, but she didn't care. Sister Johanna and Jessie's friend Ada had been conspiring for weeks; Jessie knew this. Several times Jessie had found them talking in secret. Wherever they were taking her, at least she wasn't going to be attending the temple school anymore.

She had only ever been on a car ride twice before in her life. The truth was, riding in cars was pretty fun. You went fast; you saw new things. The only things better than car rides were sneaking a game of marbles, eating Mary Jane peanut-butter taffy candies, and climbing trees. But not necessarily in that order. She was good at all three.

Her brothers were sleeping on each other's shoulders, jaws open, drooling like animals. She didn't know these boys very well; they were older than her by a few years. And already working on temple farms instead of going to school. In fact, Johanna wasn't really her sister and these weren't actually her brothers. That's just what temple people called everyone, brothers and sisters. People in the temple called everyone by family titles because they were stupid.

The things Jessie saw through her window were wonderful. After several hours a sign read Welcome to Maryland. Not long after was a sign that said Welcome to Richmond. Wherever they were going, people certainly were welcoming. And it was now a long way away from Pennsylvania.

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