by Rob Butler
It was a perfect day for playing cricket and the batsman struck the ball with some force towards where Bert was fielding. Not much had come Bert’s way so far and he’d been enjoying the hot summer sunshine and the familiar surroundings of his beloved village cricket green.
For a fleeting moment he thought he might be able to dive on the ball and save himself a chase to the boundary. But no. He turned and pursued it, trying to urge his elderly legs to something approaching the speed he’d enjoyed when he first started playing cricket over forty years ago.
With some irritation he realised the ball was slowing up in the thicker grass down towards the bottom of the field where it was always damp. That meant he would have to keep running right to the rope, rather than easing off and letting it go for four runs. Lungs bursting and heart pumping he could hear the batsmen calling for a third run and could sense his team mates watching him. He knew what they’d be thinking.
“Pity that’s gone to Bert. They’ll probably run four even if he stops it.”
“Difficult to know where to put him in the field these days.”
A few feet from the rope he reached down and plucked up the ball. He then needed two or three paces more to come to a stop and turn, poised to throw the ball back to the wicket keeper.
He froze with his arm back at the point of throwing and then slowly let it fall to his side. The village green was empty. Not a soul to be seen.
Bert bent down, his hands on his knees. He shut his eyes and wheezed. He looked up again. Nobody.
After a few seconds he started walking slowly back up the slight slope towards the distant wicket. Where had everybody gone? Was this some elaborate joke they’d played on him? If so, he was far from amused. Perhaps this was their way of telling him he should call it a day?
Then he saw two figures appear on the far edge of the pitch. They were old men with walking sticks. One of them squinted into the low sun and pointed out across to where Bert was standing. The other nodded. They turned up their coat collars against the stiff breeze and walked slowly back the way they had come.
Bert couldn’t be sure at this distance but one of them had looked quite like Morgan, his team’s captain and the other like Baxter, who’d been bowling just now when Bert had been fielding.
Bert looked down at the scuffed ball still nestling in his hand and then back at the large red sun setting behind him.
An icy chill started seeping through his bones.
◊ ◊ ◊
Rob lives in Reading in the UK and his short fiction has appeared in a number of online publications such as Perihelion, Lakeside Circus and Daily Science Fiction. He writes occasional ghost stories and has always loved that strange English sport of cricket. So, here is a cricketing ghost story!