Nightmare of Hope

Three Cheers and a Tiger ~ Silver
Ted Doolittle

Mars the Mysterious (NASA, 1997)
Photo Credit: NASA

Brad Pendleton focused on the catcher’s fingers and nodded acceptance to the pitch choice. His arms lifted high above his head, pausing as he concentrated on the catcher’s mitt.

Lonnie Sanders, batting for the third time in the game, focused on the pitcher’s right hand, now hiding inside the hurler’s brick red glove.

Pendleton flung the ball, his arm stretching toward Sanders as he hurled the little white sphere. The ball suddenly dove in front of home plate, bounced in the dirt and was snagged by the catcher.

“Stee. Rike.” The umpire’s metallic call bleated over the stadium’s speakers.

Lonnie twisted his tall muscular body to glare at the misaligned machine. He smiled inwardly, imagining the heap of scrap metal his bat might enjoy creating.

“Get a grip Sanders,” the catcher said. “Umpires are never wrong.”

Lonnie glanced at the catcher then returned his gaze to the pitcher as another ball flew past him into the catcher’s mitt.

“Stee. Rike. Two,” the umpire said.

Lonnie didn’t pause to argue or glare as another pitch was racing toward him. He timed his swing perfectly and laced the ball in between the center and left fielders for a stand-up double.

“That’s his third double today,” the play-by-play announcer said to those listening or watching away from the ballpark.

“That’s right, Bob.” His partner’s encouraging voice reminded the listeners how the team failed to score runs earlier. “He doubled with two outs in the first and was left standing there when Sammy Grimes struck out. He doubled to lead off the fourth just before the rains deluged the field. The next three batters couldn’t get the ball out of the infield, leaving him on second when the inning ended.”

“You are so right, Hal,” Bob said.

Lonnie stood on second once more. Again with two outs. His heart pounded. Sweat streamed down his face and soaked through his uniform. He glanced at third base. He had to get there. Then home.

What if he didn’t?

Lonnie stared at the crowds that pressed in on him as the stadium spun in circles and closed in on him like a cage. The fans stretched oversized hands and shook their pointy index fingers as if mocking his inability to completely round the bases.

Please let me make it, he prayed to no god in particular.

“Sammy drives one deep to right field—”

Lonnie watched the ball sail high over his own head and soar toward the stands.

“—John Whitmore, the left fielder, is racing toward the fence—”

Would this be the time Lonnie finally advanced past second?

“—and he reaches up—”

Get over. Get over. Get over.

“—and makes the catch.”

Lonnie collapsed to the ground as the crowd released a collective groan. Suddenly remembering the left fielder, he scrambled back to second before the throw could double him off the base.

“Sammy hasn’t been on base all day.”

“That’s right, Bob and, uh-oh, here come the rains again.”

Water descended on the stadium in sheets, drenching the players and the fans. Lonnie closed his eyes and wished the deluge away. No luck.

“Those pesky storms hit almost every ten minutes,” Bob said.

“That’s right, Bob. But fortunately they never last more than a minute. By the way, Bob, did you know that sixty-two years ago they actually postponed games when it rained? They would play ‘make-up games’ on days no other game was scheduled or sometimes play two in the same day.”

“I didn’t know that, Hal.”

“They were called doubleheaders, Bob. We don’t have any doubleheaders today.”

The rain stopped as suddenly as it began and was followed by a sudden strong wind. Lonnie grabbed his hat and gripped second base with both hands.

Then Martino Oquendo struck out and the crowd groaned deeper. Baseballs flew from the stands, lofted like old-fashioned grenades, the fans angry that Lonnie Sanders was left on second—again.


Lonnie opened his eyes.


He didn’t like reality. However frustrating or painful his recurring nightmare, he much preferred that to reality.

He saw a handful of spindly creatures, each a different color, approaching his impenetrable plastiglass cage.

He counted seven, and the guide.

The tour guide spoke to the small crowd. “This specimen was discovered on Mars.”


She smiled at him. At least he imagined she smiled.

“He appears to be a younger male version of the humanoid species that originated on the planet Earth.”

“How do you know he’s male?” one of the smaller creatures asked. Some curious child always asked that question.

“Well,” the guide hesitated; “You can look at him—” She cleared her throat and looked toward one of the older creatures for help that wasn’t given. “—and see his genitalia.” She hurried her final words.

Lonnie wondered if she blushed. He hated that they took his clothes and put him on display for all the visitors to stare and comment and “see his genitalia.” He didn’t want to hear their questions or comments. He usually turned off the Universal Translator installed by his captors, but one of the cage cleaners must have flipped it back on while he slept.


He remembered Mars.


He remembered a very small cave, his mom cradling him in her arms as they slept. His dad near the cave’s opening to protect them, keeping their small fire glowing all night.

Their Personal Space Car sputtered on the way to Pluto—officially a planet once again—and they were forced into an emergency landing. Though previously settled by humans determined to leave earth behind, the limited water and unending red dust sent everyone back to Earth. So his family was alone.

They’d set out for Pluto after his one-year-old sister died.

“I told you we should have taken her to the MediCenter,” his mother had said.

“We couldn’t afford the MediCenter,” his father reminded her.

That was the end of their argument and seven days later they’d sold their house and were on their way to Pluto.

“They say there’s life on Pluto,” his mom told his dad.

“Who are ‘they’?” his father asked.


“What’s Earth?” another child asked the tour guide.

“Planet number three. We call it Tres, but they call it Earth. There is only a small portion on the caps that would be habitable by our species.”

“Is it the one right after Mars?”

“Yes, Kittle, that’s the planet. You’ve been studying your astronomy book haven’t you?”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“Good for you.”

Without warning an oversized bucket tipped above him and Lonnie cowered as the medicated water pounded him, allegedly keeping him clean and the visitors from picking up any of his diseases. Almost as soon as it started, it stopped and a giant fan blew Lonnie and the cage dry.

“So far he has survived one-and-a-half circulations in captivity, and has grown and still appears in excellent health. We hope to find a female of his species. We want them to reproduce while in captivity and possibly keep the baby for ourselves.”

As if they weren’t keeping me for themselves, he thought.


Lonnie awoke shivering that ill-fated morning on Mars. The fire had died out and he couldn’t find his father’s silhouette. He sat up, his thin body unable to fend off the cold Mars air.

He listened.

He heard wind howling outside the claustrophobic cave and sounds of some kind in the distance. Perhaps his father had heard the sounds as well and left to investigate.

Maybe, he thought. But there was something wrong.

He didn’t hear his mother breathing.

“Mom? Dad?” He spoke tentatively and nothing outside the cave could have heard him.

“Moooooooooom.” A little louder this time.

He crawled to the opening, palms sweating in spite of the cold, fighting back tears. In the distance he heard the sound of voices. Heated words of two men and a woman. And the small reverberation of a rocket waiting to take off. Not the family rocket—Maria they called her, after his favorite babysitter—he would have recognized the distinctive rattle of Maria’s engine. This was a different rocket.

Someone had come to rescue them.

The voices grew louder but he couldn’t distinguish any words and crawled onto the ledge just outside the cave. In the valley far below—at least a thirty-minute climb—he saw his mother and father, standing beside a small rocket, arms gesturing emphatically.

Lonnie’s mother glanced up and saw Lonnie in the cave opening. He smiled and waved. She didn’t return the greeting.

The stranger flung his arms in an I-give-up gesture and climbed into the rocket.

Lonnie’s father grabbed his mother who clearly screamed as he dragged her up the ladder. She pointed toward the cave but he pulled her into the rocket and slammed the hatch.

“Noooooo,” Lonnie shouted.

This new rocket slowly rose from the ground, the sun rising over the horizon behind it. Lonnie ran from the cave and fell, slid, and rolled down the hill toward the valley below. Bruised and bloody, he stood and ran, shouting and waving his arms as he raced toward the launch pad. He jumped in the air as though he could reach the rocket and pull it again to the earth. He jumped again and again, trying desperately to grab the disappearing machine.

“Moooooooom,” he shouted in silence.


A female of the species, Lonnie thought. Yeah, that would be nice—in a few years. He was only nine and couldn’t care less about girls right now. Except his mom. How about bringing me my mom?

“Have there ever been other humanoids to visit our planet?” one of the adults asked.

My parents? Lonnie wondered.

“Now and then,” the guide answered. “But they never stay. They find our climate too cold for them.”

“They haven’t learned how to live underground,” Kittle giggled.

“No, they haven’t,” the guide answered.

“What about the rocket that’s up there now?” another small one asked.

My parents?

“How did you know about that, Jimson?” asked the guide.

Jimson shrugged.

“It’s a stubborn couple,” the guide continued. “This is their third trip here and this time they’ve lasted an entire week.”

My parents!

“We’ll keep an eye on them and see what happens. They’re seeking something.”


The group asked a few more questions, which the guide patiently answered, then they moved to the next exhibit.

No. Don’t go. Ask more questions. Find the humanoids. Bring them here.

The sleeping gas filled his tiny chamber and he fought not to sleep this time. He had to see these humanoids. Please, he begged as his eyelids shut and he drifted again into the same frustrating dream.


“Yes, Bob, Lonnie Sanders is batting for the third time today.”

“Hal, he’s been stranded on second base after each of his first two doubles.”

“He certainly has but we can always hope.”

“We can.”

“And there’s a line drive into left field and he has another double to his credit.”

“Yes, Bob. In fact, Lonnie Sanders leads the league in doubles.”

Lonnie stood on second. He spent so much time there it became his home.

“Maybe the team won’t strand him this time, Bob.”

“Maybe they won’t.”

Lonnie stared at Sammy Grimes. Come on Sammy, he thought. You can do it.

“Sammy drives one deep to right field—”

Lonnie watched the ball sail high over his own head and soar toward the stands.

“—John Whitmore, the left fielder, is racing toward the fence—”

Would this be the time Lonnie finally advanced past second?

“—and he reaches up—”

Get over. Get over. Get over.

“—and it’s gone. A home run.”

Lonnie jogged slowly toward third. This had never happened before. The base kept pulling way from him, but with a determined stretch his right foot landed on the bag and he turned toward home.

Let me wake up now, he thought. This is all so new. I’m actually headed home.

Let me wake up now.


Ted Doolittle is a writer and actor in Houston, Texas. Email: tedwrites[at]

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