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When the Ball-Machine went Haywire

By Doc Sherwood

By Doc SherwoodPublished 3 months ago 6 min read
Top Story - December 2023
18

At lunchtime the day it happened, I was sitting sidelong on a bench with my feet up. Another boy and a girl came over so I scrambled up at once, then sat down again with a bump at the far end. I hoped the girl might look at me and say thanks for making room, but no such luck.

That might have been because she was deep in conversation. "So what did boys get at that time of year?" her companion asked.

"They were called stocking-fillers for boys too," she explained patiently.

"But that doesn't make sense," he protested, confused. "The database for Costume History says only girls wore them."

"I'd like to have tried," remarked the girl. She pointed her toes, and smoothed both hands experimentally up and down the sheer white of her leg.

I locked my own hands together in my lap and stared fixedly on them, starting to blush. The girl was pretty and small, with a round face and masses of golden hair which she was wearing without a single polymer band or pin. As for the boy, he was several grades above me, and I marked the differences in our uniforms enviously. He wasn't getting his underpants dusty by sitting where the soles of his feet had just been, like I was!

"You'd have had to put your hair up in those days," he reminded the girl.

Out of the corner of my eye I saw her push back her long locks from both sides of her round pink face. "It's much more convenient for a girl this way," she replied.

That made sense. An advanced grade like theirs probably had most of their classes in anti-gravity. The artificial environment would gather up all that tumbling gold and point it at the ceiling, nicely out of her way.

"Looks good too," the boy went on, with an eagerness probably best described as ahistorical. He began to shift nearer to her, and since I drew the line at sitting alongside such a couple while they pawed and wriggled, I jumped up quickly and hurried away. Hopefully they'd both have thought I'd just remembered somewhere I had to be!

It was just my luck later in gym to be partnered with Four-Eyes. She was nicknamed thus because on top of her large round long-lashed oculars she wore large round shining glass lenses, held in place by a thin metal frame. It was another archaic thing which had become an affectation of hers. I thought again about the stocking-fillers, and wondered whether girls had more of a taste for ancient history than we did.

That said, girls were always paired with boys for this exercise anyway, because it was to check how our extra-sensory perception was coming on.

"Hey, Three-Ears," I almost groaned to the girl, not liking this class at the best of times. She and I had to dress absolutely identically, because that was our grade, and Four-Eyes was already swishing her racquet as if she couldn't wait to get started. None of the above was making a bad subject any more endearing to me.

The dreaded ball-machine, facing me and Four-Eyes from the foot of the far wall, was coming online. Its operational lights glared like eyes themselves. Several hundred metrons above these, and somewhat to the left, a tiny glowing target had glimmered into being on the vast flat surface.

Four-Eyes trotted importantly forward. Long ago, girls had gone first out of obscure notions of courtesy. Today, at this task, it was so they could show us boys how it was done.

The ball-machine began - boom!

Breathlessly I tracked the ball as it hurtled at my partner.

Lining herself up, Four-Eyes swung a smooth hit and whacked the ball at a stretch of the far wall nowhere near the target.

Would she...?

Yes!

How did girls do it? I marvelled at her. Sure enough the target blinked out of existence the split-second Four-Eyes's racquet-strings connected, then reappeared right in the path of her ball. This bounced from the new light-circle's centre with a sound so satisfying it left me limp with longing to hear one of my own.

Awkwardly I scrambled to the space Four-Eyes had vacated for me, just as the ball-machine boomed again. Thwack! I hit its volley back hard, and the target duly disappeared. Unfortunately, the point to which it flicked was roughly a light-year from where I'd sent my ball.

I let out my breath, flustered less than a minute into the game.

Another week, another gym class, and from the looks of things I was still a prepubescent human getting by on just five senses!

By the time Four-Eyes notched up her tenth and final direct hit, I was more than hot and bothered. Fuming, I ran forward futilely to round off what looked like being a run as consistent as hers. Because it was no good. I didn't have extra-sensory perception yet. I could see where the target was but not where it was going to be, and it wasn't fun advertising to my gym class each week that I was a late developer.

Boom!

I hit my tenth ball straight at the target, out of pure spite, even though I knew it would only flit away maddeningly like the previous nine.

Once it had done so, I heaved a huge sigh. At least the cycle was over. At least I wouldn't have to do this again for another -

BOOM!

I glimpsed a gawping expression flash across Four-Eyes's pretty features, and then - whumph! Something that felt like a hurtling cannonball sank into the flesh of my bare inner thigh.

Probably any boy at first would have been more shocked than hurt. Shocked by the thought of how close it had come to being much worse.

Then, the hurt caught up. My numb left leg gave out beneath me and next second I was sitting flabbergasted on the floor, giving my already dusty underpants a fresh coating. The ball-machine's lights really did look like eyes now, and they were burning straight at me.

BOOM!

"Waah!"

I was about to throw my hands helplessly in front of my face, but before I could, two slim strong girl-legs were there instead. The ball was coming at me like a bullet, skimming the surface of the court, but Four-Eyes had already proved herself equal to the lowest of the low. She swung into it and smacked it back, her own white uniform whirling high.

Wow, mine may have been dusty but she sure kept hers clean.

Was that really the thing to be focusing on just now?

Four-Eyes hadn't needed her second-sight this time. She'd aimed for the ball-machine's off-button, and hit it. That demonic stare from across the room dimmed down and died, and with a last growling grumble the beast fell silent. The only noise was that of mine and Four-Eyes's breathing.

"It went for me," I said aloud, though my voice was frightened and thin. Most frightening of all however was that from the look on my partner's face, she'd noticed that too.

"It did go for you," Four-Eyes affirmed, her voice as scared as mine. "Somehow it sensed weakness."

Sci Fi
18

About the Creator

Doc Sherwood

Reader insights

Outstanding

Excellent work. Looking forward to reading more!

Top insights

  1. Compelling and original writing

    Creative use of language & vocab

  2. Easy to read and follow

    Well-structured & engaging content

  3. Excellent storytelling

    Original narrative & well developed characters

  1. Eye opening

    Niche topic & fresh perspectives

  2. On-point and relevant

    Writing reflected the title & theme

Add your insights

Comments (12)

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  • Kendall Defoe 3 months ago

    Okay, I want more...

  • Staringale3 months ago

    As soon as I began reading the clear and engaging narrative style and vivid description really pulled me in. The inbetween interactions is very well-crafted and your insight into the inner thoughts of the protagonist provides a new depth to the story. You brilliantly capture the feelings of envy and self-consciousness that many readers can relate to, making it a relatable and engaging read. As I read along the style changes again and it becomes captivating and thought provoking, your ability to bring the reader into the perspective of the protagonist is truly engaging. The use of humor and the protagonist's inner monologue add depth and personality to the narrative. It is truly an immersive piece of work that draws the readers into the scene and leave them wanting to know more about the protagonist's experiences. Really a Professional level work! By the way. Many Congrats for being selected as a 'Top Story!'.

  • Ouch, her statement at the end. Lol. This was such an awesome story! Congratulations on your Top Story!

  • Novel Allen3 months ago

    Evil machines can sense weakness? I better look out for the chocolate loving machines, they might sense my weakness for choco. Great story, I always wonder about those ball machines. Congrts.

  • Jay Kantor3 months ago

    Jp - Mazeltov — I’ve so missed your Special Wit & Charm — Jb

  • Naveed 3 months ago

    Terrific work! Keep it going—congratulations!

  • Celia in Underland3 months ago

    The humour in this is wonderful. The five senses reference made me laugh out loud -how rubbish are humans? And ball machines are kind of freaky. Congratulations on top story, a really enjoyable read 🤍

  • Cathy holmes3 months ago

    Great story, and that ending. Ouch. Congrats on the TS.

  • Judey Kalchik 3 months ago

    Excellent short story!

  • Babs Iverson3 months ago

    Captivating Sci fi tale!!! Loved it!!!💕❤️❤️

  • Dana Crandell3 months ago

    Oh, that response was cold. Well done, Doc!

  • Mother Combs3 months ago

    Another great story, Doc. Love how this played out.

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