panda_baseball_playerWhile hiking through wild forest in western China, a young explorer lost his footing and tumbled down a hill. Not seriously injured, he and struggled back to his feet and started dusting himself off, when, between two trees, he spied what looked like a panda holding a baseball.

I couldn’t have seen that right, he thought, and rubbed his eyes to be sure. But when the spots had cleared, sure enough, the panda still stood before him several yards away, and still held a baseball.

He might have stood gawking for several minutes except for what happened next. The Panda cocked its arm and pitched the baseball in the opposite direction. The ball zipped in a blurred beeline, and the distinct crack of wood on leather broke the silence.

Still unnoticed by the beast, the explorer headed into thicker brush and snuck in closer. What he saw astounded him.

Three round markers were placed in a clearing in a traditional baseball diamond shape, and, huddled together near home plate, three panda bears stood nearby. The “pitcher”, the panda the explorer had first seen, stood in the middle of the diamond, though the spot lacked a proper mound.  The pitcher waited, its paw once again palming the baseball, for one of the three panda to step up to home. It was at this point the explorer noticed the panda on first base.

He’d just wandered into a panda baseball game.

At this point, he removed his binoculars and focused on the proceedings, and as his magnified gaze panned across the field, he noticed something odd about the bases. Curious, he closed in on one.

It was a human skull.

Startled, the young explorer took a step back. His foot found a loose twig, and a loud “snap” echoed through the forest.

All furry black and white forms turned toward him, each with a look of fury that froze the young man’s blood.

The pitcher panda showed its white teeth, its lips pulled back in a sinister grin.

As the panda drew his paw back, the explorer turned to flee.

The world slipped away into sharp agony.


Cal-doo waited for the next batter to step up. Kra-li always managed to hit a double, but this time, he thought his fastball would get the better of her. As he prepared to throw, his foot pressed upon the new, round, pearly white pitcher’s mound, the one they’d added shortly after the human had stumbled onto their game. Perfect! After all these months, they’d completed their baseball field.

The above was written during a writing exercise (polished slightly for its public debut) given the following prompts / props: a baseball, a stuffed panda bear, and a human skull (rubber facsimile). This story was the result of that exercise, polished slightly for its public debut. Click here to read E. Chris Garrison’s story from the same prompts. Special thanks to Nicole Cushing for assembling the props and running the exercise.

Haunting Writing Exercise

Haunting Obsession Lo RezHere, re-posted for your consideration, is a writing exercise I composed this morning in one of my writer’s groups. A bit of metafiction whimsey and proof that while Haunting Obsession has been out for several months, Maxine isn’t done haunting me yet. (Yes, at the  mentioned moment, two men stood just outside our open conference room door and proceeded to have a conversation.)

I stared at the laptop screen; the blank white surface stared back, screaming intimidation.

I glanced at the clock, mulling over the exercise, thinking, Wow, Steve, that’s a bit of a tall order. An evocative scene, using all five senses, simple words, and you want us to read it at the end of the hour? Really?

582152_10151060950622591_1149631412_nBehind me, I felt her lean against my shoulders, her breathy whisper in my ear sending a responsive shiver down my spine. “So, what’cha doing R.J.?”

I turned and looked behind me. There was Maxine Marie, the glamorous Hollywood ghost, the late great shapely gorgeous blonde, grinning for me and only me.

Still, I didn’t appreciate the timing. “Maxine, what are you doing here…now?”

Her bottom lip protruded, and she looked down at her feet. “Oh, look at Mister Serious Author, turning all grumpy-puss. As if I have any control over when I enter your mind.”

Art by Nell Williams.
Art by Nell Williams.

She turned and sat on the table, seated on her shapely bottom between myself and the new woman. Her body phased right through the chair, as ghosts tend to do.

It was fine, I could still see through her to the end of the room. A hint of vanilla lavender perfume drifted toward me. (Vanilla lavender? Sure, why not.)

“So,” said Maxine into the air, her nails tap-tap-tapping a quick rhythm on the tabletop. “You’re supposed to write to the five senses. What can we write about?”

I glared down, her nails, still ticking out their rapid tempo, the rhythm rapidly ratcheting on my last nerve. “Would you stop doing that please?”

She looked down, flashed an abashed grin, and folded her hands in her lap. “Sorry.”

“It’s okay.”

2012, with RJ and "Maxine Marie" from Haunting Obsession.
2012, with RJ and “Maxine Marie” from Haunting Obsession.

“So how many have we covered?” she asked. I started looking over my draft. “Not sure. I wish those two guys out in the hallway would stop talking so we would concentrate on the assignment.”

Maxine nodded. “No kidding. Hey!” She offered a mischievous grin. “Want me to go out and scare them?”

I considered. I knew I should be filled with alarm, the very idea jolting my body so I could describe all sorts of abnormal sensations for this writing exercise, but my heart just wasn’t in it.

Truthfully, the thought of her walking through the wall, appearing between them while donning thick black glasses, hissing a librarian-like “shhhhh……” and then vanishing into thin air gave me the giggles.

Art by Bonnie Wasson.
Art by Bonnie Wasson.

But…I shook my head. “No, better not.”

“Oh, poo. You’re no fun.”

I reached for my blue travel coffee mug and took a sip, the tepid liquid, two hours past its prime, left a bitter aftertaste.

Maxine nodded. “Nicely done, sneaking in the sense of taste.”

I smiled at the compliment. “Thanks!”

I drummed my fingers lightly across the black keys in a repetitive motion, trying to think where else to take this scene.

“Hey, Mister,” she chastised. “Now who’s being annoying?”

I stopped. “Sorry.”

Maxine’s gaze lifted, settling on the clock, which showed quarter ’til.

Lily Monstermeat as Maxine Marie.
Lily Monstermeat as Maxine Marie.

“Think you have enough?”

“Sure. Thanks, Maxine.”

“Don’t mention it. Talk to you soon, RJ.” And she vanished.

Learn more about Maxine Marie and Haunting Obsession at this link.