Holli was trying to concentrate on the livestream, but the sound of high-velocity thudding outside was driving her mad. She stormed out of the house, down the steps to the side yard and pointed a menacing finger toward the source of all her frustration...
“Connor!” she yelled. “What are you doing out here? There’s an asteroid or something and I can’t tell what because you’re making all this racket!”
Connor turned, meekly, with a not-so-innocent look on his face and said: “You heard that?”
“Everyone heard that!” she said. “People in Guatemala heard that! What is it?”
Connor stared at his feet, contrite. “Baseball.”
“Baseball? What baseball? I thought you lost your baseball in the river last week.”
“There was a strong wind,” he said, though nobody believed him.
“How are you playing baseball without a baseball?” she asked. “And where...”
And then she saw it: on the gazebo at the side of their property, tied to one of the posts, was a baseball mitt. In the days of social distancing, it was the closest you could get to a catcher. But it wasn’t the mitt that captured her attention so much as the massive pulpy pile of—
“Is that...persimmon?” she asked.
He took something from his pocket and yes indeed, there was a persimmon in his hand. He seemed incredibly embarrassed at being caught. “Yes,” he muttered.
“You’ve been throwing persimmon at the gazebo?” she asked, irritation growing.
“Yes,” he muttered.
“Is there a reason why?”
The floodgates opened as he stammered through a desperate response: “OK, so you know how, when I was at Costco and you said to buy a lot of cinnamon, like a lot of cinnamon, right? Except I couldn’t find any cinnamon, and when I asked for help they showed me these things, and I was like ‘OK, that should work’, so I bought, uh, a lot of them—”
“—except when I got to the parking lot I thought maybe I should try one, just to see how cinnamony they are—”
“—and it turns out that, yeah, they’re uh, not really cinnamony at all.”
Holli rubbed her eyes to fend off a headache.
“But you can’t return things right now, what with coronavirus and everything, so I had to bring them home, except I knew you’d get mad—”
“Yuh-huh!” Holli said.
“—so I’ve been trying to think of another way to use them. And then it hit me...”
“Oh, I’ll hit you alright.”
“...persimmons make great baseballs in a pinch!”
Holli gestured wildly to the pile of masticated mess at the base of the gazebo and yelled: “No they don’t! They make a mess, is what they make!”
She stormed past him, right up to the gazebo, because she thought she saw...aha! She ran her finger along a deep scratch along the edge of the post.
“You scratched it!” she said. “With your stupid persimmons!”
“What?” he gasped. “No way. Persimmons can’t scratch—”
“They can and they did,” she said, as he joined her, his mouth hanging open.
“Oh wow,” he said. “How is that even possible? They’re so soft, I didn’t—”
She smacked his forehead. “Stop throwing fruit,” she said. “If you damage my gazebo again, I’m going to have to kill you.”
“Yeah, OK,” he sighed, kicking at the pile. “They’re not very aerodynamic anyway. Couldn’t hit the target even once.”
“You never can,” she said.
“It’s windy out,” he muttered, and followed her back toward the house like a scolded child. She went inside, but he held back a little, feeling the last persimmon in his hand. He turned it over a few times, and then, before checking no one was watching, he wound back and threw—
—and the persimmon missed the mitt completely—
—but cut through the tree behind it—
—and exploded the one behind that—
—and the one behind that...
Somewhere in the distance, a car screeched to a stop.
Holli raced back outside, eyes wide with shock at the sight of her destroyed yard, and then smacked Connor in the back of the head and yelled: “What the hell did you do?”
Connor was icing his arm when the generals came in. There were three of them, and two older men in lab coats, each with a very unhappy look upon their faces. Holli positioned herself a bit further forward, expression stern and unrelenting.
“When can we go home?” she asked.
“We just need to—”
“You keep saying you just need to run one more test,” she said. “But you’re never done running tests. So how ‘bout this: we go home, and you call us when you figure out what it is that’s—”
“We know what it is,” said one of the scientists, a balding man named Dr Gregor. “We don’t know why, exactly, but—”
“It’s a weapon,” said one of the generals. “One of the most incredible weapons we’ve ever seen.”
“The projectiles can cut through any material, any thickness, like nothing,” said another general.
“Like they were butter,” said the third.
“Warm butter,” said the second.
“Melted butter,” said the third.
“OK, well, now I’m hungry,” said Holli. “So we’re going to go home and get something to eat, and you—”
“We cannot recreate them,” said Dr Gregor. “The dynamics at play. We cannot recreate them. We have tried, many times, with many pitchers, but even the best baseball players in the world cannot make the projectiles—”
“Persimmons,” said the first general.
“Costco persimmons,” said the second.
“FMD,” said the third. “Fruits of Mass Destruction.”
Dr Gregor set down his tablet and swiped through some screens, showing graphs and charts and simulations galore: “It seems that, for whatever reason, when thrown by you, Connor, the persimmons achieve a kind of atomic density that defies gravitational pull and creates a kind of antimatter slipstream that—”
“They break stuff,” said the first general. “And they do it well. So to your question, miss, the answer is no. No, you will not be going home any time soon. Your boyfriend here is an integral part of the defence of the nation.”
Holli sighed. “What defence? It’s not like we’re in a war or anything, right?”
The generals all got very silent and very awkward, avoiding eye contact with Holli.
“Wait, are we in a war?” she asked.
The second scientist cleared his throat. “Not in the way you mean,” he said. “Though we are in mortal danger.” He set down his tablet and turned it on.
“Is that...?” Holli gasped.
“Oh man...” whimpered Connor.
The scientist nodded. “An asteroid, roughly 27 kilometres in diameter, is on a collision course with Earth,” he said. “We have tried every tool humanity has to offer, but even our most powerful nuclear warheads don’t leave a scratch.”
“How long do we have?” asked Holli, holding Connor’s hand tight.
“Thirty-six hours,” said the general. “If you can’t stop it by then, all life on Earth will be wiped out forever.”
Connor frowned at the image—at the craggy, menacing rock cast in stark shadows and plumes of dust and debris—and nodded sternly.
“What do you need me to do?”
Connor felt like his bones were about to crack apart as the shuttle raced into the darkening sky. The engines’ roar was deafening at first, but then got fainter and fainter, until he realized he couldn’t hear it at all anymore...and also his arms and legs were floating in zero-gravity.
“Alright,” said Lt-Cmdr Bowles, pulling her controls down and flipping on the guidance system. “Intercept in five minutes.”
“Five minutes?” gasped Holli, strapped into the seat beside Connor and trying not to puke in her space suit. “That’s—”
“That’s what we’ve got,” said Bowles. “Now or never. Get into position.”
Connor had barely had time to get used to the idea of saving the world, let alone flying in a prototype spaceship to the upper atmosphere in order to throw a persimmon at a 27-kilometre hunk of rock...but in the moment, he was surprisingly calm.
He undid his harness, careful not to use his pitching hand—it was wrapped in a special lightweight fabric to allow maximum mobility...but, he’d been warned, the slightest tear in in that shielding would lead to a catastrophic air leak that would make his entire body implode the second he stepped into space. He had to be extra careful to not bump into anything.
Holli tapped the glass at the front of his helmet, like she was slapping his forehead, and smiled and said: “Don’t screw it up.”
He gave her a wink, and got into position.
His boots clicked into position, and a moment later, the platform he was standing on lifted up through a portal in the ceiling, and he found himself standing on the top of the spaceship, surrounded by the crippling enormity of space. He felt a momentary rush of dizziness and disorientation...but all that went away when he saw the truly massive asteroid filling up his entire field of view. It was even more terrifying in person...and it was coming up fast.
“Weapons hot!” called Bowles, and a metal cylinder extended from the ship. At the top of the cylinder was a persimmon, waiting for its moment of glory.
Connor picked it up, turned it around in his hand, getting a sense of the weight.
“Forty-five seconds,” said Bowles.
Connor squinted at the asteroid. At the very centre of it. The beating heart of humanity’s worst nightmare.
He wound back, and threw, and—
“Missed!” cursed Bowles. “You missed!”
“It’s windy!” Connor said.
“We’re in space, Connor!” said Holli. “There’s literally no wind!”
He grabbed another persimmon and threw it, and—
“Missed again!” said Bowles, more urgent now. “Ten seconds!”
He took the third persimmon, held it tight in his hand, and squinted at the asteroid until he swore it wasn’t an asteroid at all, but a giant gazebo in the dark night sky. And there, in the centre, tied to a post, was his baseball mitt. Waiting for a game of covid-19 catch.
He took a sharp breath, and without thinking of the hows or whys or whens of it all, he threw the persimmon straight at the mitt...
There was a blinding flash like staring directly at the sun after a lifetime in the shade. He wanted to look away, but his body wouldn’t let him miss this sight...the sight of an asteroid cracking in two right before his eyes.
“You did it!” cried Bowles. “It’s working! It’s—”
Just then, a spray of tiny rocks flew past, and everything went mad. Connor heard a shard bounce off his helmet, leaving a deep crack along the glass. But worse, a piece hit his pitching arm, slicing a hole in the fabric. He felt pressure there, like his body was compressing from the inside out.
“Argh! I’m hit!” he grunted.
“She’s dead!” said Holli, from inside. “Bowles is dead! A rock came straight in the windshield and—”
Suddenly, the radio filled with a blaring alarm. At first, Connor thought the ship had been hit someplace vital, but as he turned to survey the damage, he realized the true danger: half the asteroid was still heading straight for the Earth!
He tried to move to face it, but his boots were fastened to the ground!
“Holli!” he shouted. “Turn the ship around!”
“Do it! Quick!”
Despite all appearances, Holli was a natural pilot. After an initial jitter, the ship swung around in a graceful arc, racing back toward the Earth with the now-flaming asteroid chunk in its sights.
“Are you sure about this?” she called.
“Nope!” said Connor, and scooped up another persimmon—the very last one.
He saw his target. He knew what he had to do. He knew what would happen if he failed.
He turned the fruit around in his hand—the pressure was getting unbearable—and then wound back, and threw, and...
He saw the persimmon move as if in slow motion. It shot out in a perfect line, exploding little bits of debris as it came in contact with them, like rocky fireworks against the startling blue planet below.
Then it disappeared into the darkness of the asteroid, and for a second Connor thought they’d failed. He tried to catch his breath, but the hole in his suit was leaking so much oxygen, he couldn’t quite—
BOOM! The asteroid exploded into a thousand pieces, all at once! Each one of the chunks started to burn up in the atmosphere—brilliantly fiery, but harmless.
Connor cheered, and Holli did, too...until...
“Uh oh!” said Holli. “That’s not good.”
“What’s not good?” asked Connor, pushing the button to bring his platform back inside.
“It says a lot of words, but the ones I’m kinda focusing on right now are ‘crash’ and ‘landing’.”
Connor’s boots unlatched the second he was safely inside. He ran to the controls and saw that yes indeed, they were heading for a very big crash landing.
Holli grabbed his arm, nodded confidently. “Strap in,” she said. “This is gonna hurt.”
She didn’t pilot the ship so much as slalom through the atmosphere without exploding. The nose of the ship burned bright white from the friction, and the windshield cracked and splintered apart like mad, but somehow Holli kept the whole thing from ending in disaster.
There was a loud BOOM as they broke the sound barrier, and then the ship started to shudder from the forces being thrust at them from all sides. Holli gripped the controls tightly, trying to aim, but not quite—
“Look!” said Connor. “Isn’t that...?”
“On it,” said Holli, and turned the ship.
It was only a five-minute ride, but it felt like an eternity. The lights and screens all around them started to pop and crack and fall apart, and the whole back of the ship tore itself away, leaving them with a violent windstorm in the rear—but Holli never loosened her grip on the controls.
Then, finally they saw it...
“Hold on!” Holli shouted, and angled the ship for a crash-landing.
It hit the highway first, bouncing up and then slamming down, chewing through the concrete like it was made of melted butter. Then they skidded sideways, straight through the forest, cutting down trees like a persimmon in flight. And finally, after what felt like a thousand years of chaos, they came to a stop...
...right next to the gazebo.
They both exhaled, still in shock.
And then the ship’s wing fell off, and crushed the gazebo.
Holli smacked Connor’s head. “That’s your fault.”
Written for Connor (via Holli), who requested the topic: “persimmon scratching gazebo.”