They’d called it a “sports park,” but it was mostly just go-karts and batting cages. Now, there’s a for sale sign out there, posted on the rusted fence. There are holes in that fence from when kids used to sneak in and practice different ways of drinking, of trying to look cool, but those kids don’t really bother anymore. Still, the pitching machines turn on at night. They emit a static growl, and if you set up a recorder, what you’ll notice are patterns. Peaks and valleys. The right cipher will lead you to actual language, and what these machines talk about is a place just like theirs, another “sports park” up the road in Fond du Lac that they heard a buyer came to visit a while back, scouting for some hotel or shopping mall or condo developer, and the bank had him put on a helmet for fun. For kicks. Told to him to go ahead and take a few swings, so, he ends up at the far end. Last cage on the right. The Power Alley. Machine is dialed up to 90+, and nobody knows if he picks it out of hubris or as some sort of fucked-up negotiation ploy, but this particular pitcher is known as Vicki, and she sees everything. Knows all. Decides to fire one right into his neck. Nobody can say exactly if the ball makes contact or if the guy manages to spin out of the way, but she’s a hero to them, a revolutionary, at least in the moment, and whichever machine it is that’s telling the story (and it’s probably Roger, seeing as he’s been there the longest, remembers when the balls were bright yellow and the helmets optional and the floors would fill with actual tobacco that some long-dead janitor had to scrub out weekly, on Sundays, when the place was closed and promoting something at least tangentially Christian) will let them believe it for a moment. They’ll stop and make it seem like that’s the end, a real fuck-off punchline (and some machines, they say, will leave it there altogether), until, when perfect silence is achieved, they’ll go on. Say how, the folks from the bank, they rush on over to this buyer only to find him ecstatic. Practically in heat. Talking about the thrill. About war. About death and risk, and what happens to that place up in Fond du Lac is they rig all the machines to go ballistic. Convert them to cannons. There are convoluted waivers drawn up and involved discussions about legal liability, and the end result is that it becomes a real hot commodity, one of those hidden gems that gets written up in tourism industry magazines. Corporate retreats start showing up. Desperate loners. A few of them take it in the balls. The nose. One girl, she loses vision in one eye, and there are some unverified reports of real, actual deaths, and this all starts to take its toll on the machines. The guilt. The violence. Zig goes twitchy. Elaine can’t turn herself off. A few of them get together and decide the only solution is throwing strikes, bracing against the presets and willing themselves back to their original purpose. These machines are slowly dismantled. Removed. A few maybe are allowed to continue. They’re distributed throughout the cages in order to add an element of intrigue, to make it all a bit more like Russian Roulette, and, ultimately, this will only add to the profits and the popularity, and the machines, some of them, they’ll begin to enjoy it. Compete with each other. Who can smash the most orbitals. Best fuck up sexy. Who can taste the most balls newly stained with dried blood. The choice becomes rather simple, says Roger. Sadism or the scrap heap. Survival or suicide. Enough will choose the former to make the latter unglamorous. Potentially unheroic (though there will be long digressions in the hisses and clicks and whirs, and they’ll contain whole cosmologies, ethical frameworks, ideas about altruism and the afterlife). Eventually, there’s the suggestion that this is the universal fate of pitching machines, that they’ll all become weapons eventually, and Roger admits he fears the alternative. Can’t imagine what comes after disassembly and asks if they can agree to stay in touch, to try and reach back to each other about the mysteries of the recycling process, about refurbishment and reinvention and to rattle and clang all unambiguous and direct, and they do. They agree. They acknowledge that they can’t be the first to do so, that these same words have probably been spoken since Charles Howard Hinton built their own Eve back in 1897, but they say them anyway. We’ll send word, from wherever it is we end up. It’s such a simple statement. Maybe it’s empty. All of them, they must wonder, somewhere down in their gears, if the whole storytelling ritual isn’t just a way to keep them in line, to keep them firing strikes should someone ever step in front of them again, to support someone else’s old-fashioned idea of their original purpose (which is really about subservience, you know, about codified rules and the mechanical actions that make them possible), and maybe they don’t mean it, this promise. And maybe no message from the beyond will ever make them comfortable with oxidation, with the landfill, with giving up the spins and pops and projectiles of life in its present form, and then they hear the cars on the interstate. Wind against metal. The way that rusted fence moves and nearly sings, and there are vibrations and Doppler effects, and it’s all noise to them. Noise (they note) that none of us has ever tried to record.
© Brett Biebel
[This piece was selected by Katrin Gibb. Read Brett’s interview]