Read The Cards of Unknown Players: Digital Science Fiction Short Story (Ctrl Alt Delight) Online
Authors: Vincent L. Scarsella
THE CARDS OF
Fiction Short Story
Of course, he did not find the slightest indication of Uqbar
- Jorge Luis Borges,
Tlon, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius
I dozed and dreamed again that
Timothy was playing baseball.
First, as a kid,
his present age, ten years old, the best kid on his team, a pitcher with a
fastball so mean, the other kids are scared to face him and always swing late. When
he isn’t pitching, Timothy plays short. An all-star, naturally. A .500 hitter. Runs
like the wind and is aggressive as hell. Reckless sometimes, too, a fierce
competitor who hates to lose.
Suddenly, he is
older, almost a man, the star of his high school team, recruited by Arizona
State and after four wild years helping them to four national championships, he
is the first round draft choice of the New York Yankees. As a rookie shortstop,
he hits .327 and is named Rookie of the Year. The next season, he is named to
the All-Star team and the Yankees win the World Series for the first time in
But I know I must
be dreaming. It is impossible for him to do any of this.
My son, Timothy,
cannot even walk.
I woke up and
looked across at him. In his wheelchair, his head was cocked in a funny,
unnatural angle. There was drool on his chin. His hands shook as he sifted
through a pile of baseball cards at the table where his wheelchair had been
“Dad?” he asked. His
voice, as always, was garbled, slow. “Who’s this?”
After a yawn, I
sat up and squinted at the card in his outstretched hand.
“Is it worth
I got up from the
sofa and took the card. It was a Topps, this year’s issue, depicting a
strapping kid with a confident grin by the name of Kevin Gleason. According to
the card, he pitched for the Yankees last year.
The Yankees. My
team. But I had never heard of him, odd since the card reported that the kid
had posted some pretty respectable numbers last year, going 11-3 with a 2.17
turned the card over a couple of times.
I mumbled to myself while Timothy stared up at me, waiting. “Gleason.”
But not a single
image of this rookie phenom came to mind, only the old, over-priced,
under-enthused, injury-prone wastes that had littered the mounds of Yankee
stadium last year, making for another dismal season. I couldn’t recall seeing
Gleason pitch even once, despite watching thirty or so Yankee games on TV last
summer. And he hadn’t pitched in a single game I had watched this year.
“Never heard of
him,” I said, scowling at the card.
Pointing to the
twenty or so other cards scattered before him on the floor, I asked Timothy where
they came from.
“The new card
shop in the mall,” he said. “Mom took me there this afternoon.”
I remembered that
Timmy had been off from the special school that day, teachers’ conference or
something. Beth had taken him shopping for an early birthday present.
down the Gleason card, I asked him to hand me up a couple of the other cards
scattered before him. Except for some rookie who had played for the Atlanta
Braves at the end of last year, I recognized each of them. Only Kevin Gleason’s
name didn’t ring a bell.
I retrieved the
sports section from today’s newspaper and spread it open to the baseball pages
on the table next to Tim. Gleason wasn’t listed in the boxscore of a game the
Yankees had lost to Cleveland last night. I had watched the end of that game on
TV and remembered, with a frustrated sigh, how they had blown a two-run lead in
the bottom of the ninth.
I put down the
paper and went out to the garage. From the pile of newspapers in the recycling
bin, I sifted through a week’s worth of sports sections. Gleason wasn’t listed
in a single game there either.
Back in the
living room, I retrieved the Gleason card from Timothy and stared at it for a
time. This kid, so cocky, and what numbers. Still, nothing registered.
mumbled to myself that it must be a counterfeit or something. A fake.
“What, Dad?” Timothy
“Nothing, Tim,” I
said. “I just never heard of this guy.”
“So its not worth
anything?” he mumbled. I patted him on the shoulder, and wiped away the spittle
from his chin, thinking how sad it was that the only thing kids worry about
these days is the value of their cards and not the simple pleasure of
collecting them. Or attaching them to the spokes of their bikes.
“I’m not sure,
Timmy,” I told him. “I’m just not sure.”
During my lunch hour
the next day, after gobbling down a sandwich at my desk, I rushed five blocks
to the county library, hoping to solve the mystery of the Kevin Gleason card.
I had taken it
with me to work and, that morning, showed it to one of the other associates in
my department, Chris Davis, a Cleveland Indians fan with a thorough knowledge
Scowling for a
time as he examined the card, Davis finally looked up at me. With a shrug and
sheepish grin, he said he didn’t have a clue. He had never heard of the Gleason
kid either. Then, he snapped his fingers and came up with the idea of checking
him out in the current edition of the annual baseball encyclopedia. He advised
that they should have one in reference stacks at the main branch of the county
library just a few blocks from the office.
matronly librarian led me to it, a thick, heavy tome, containing every
conceivable baseball statistic from the 1860s through last season. Most
importantly, anyone who had ever appeared in a major league game was listed
alphabetically in the player register of that fat book.
Pulling it from
the reference stacks, I lugged it to a reading table and quickly flipped it
open to the Gs. There were four Gleasons listed: Adam, Harry, Kid, and Paul,
but no Kevin. I read that Harry and Kid were brothers, and that Kid had managed
the infamous Chicago “Black” Sox team which had thrown the 1919 World Series. But
not Kevin Gleason. I straightened my back and let out a sigh, more befuddled
I checked the
last two editions of the encyclopedia with the same results. Nothing.
According to the
annual encyclopedia, at least, Kevin Gleason didn’t exist.
Back at the firm,
I found Chris in his office, daydreaming as usual.
“Nada,” I told
him. I held up the Gleason card. “He doesn’t exist. He wasn’t listed.”
“But his card was
in a pack of other Topps cards,” Chris mused, scowling at the card. After a
time, he looked up. “Of players who do exist. It’s even got a number – 313.”
I nodded and
mentioned that the encyclopedia did list the name of the other player from the
pack whose name I hadn’t recognized – that rookie kid who had played only a few
games for the Braves last September after the minor league call ups.
After a few
moments, Chris suddenly turned to me. I could check with Topps, he suggested. After
all, it was a Topps card. And it seemed so genuine, so real. At very least, a
clever forgery. If anyone could solve the mystery, they should.
He nodded to the
computer. They probably had a website.
We had online
access and though it was reserved for firm business, everyone made personal use
of it from time to time. As long as you didn’t go onto a porno site, or spend
an inordinate amount of time surfing the ’net on company time, nobody got into
with our internet browser, upon Chris’ suggestion, I typed in the obvious, “Topps.com,”
and a few moments later, the Topps Company Home Page came up. The page listed
twenty or so series of cards that had been printed last season. The banner ad
at the top of the page read: “STADIUM: Check out the NEW series.”
peering over my shoulder, I clicked on the “checklist sample” line for Topps
Series 1 and within a moment, a list of categories popped up on the screen. You
could search by number, alphabet, team, or category. I selected number and
scrolled down, but saw that it ended at Card #220.
“Go to Series 2,”
followed his suggestion and found that Card #313 was Carl Ford, not Kevin
“What the–” said
Chris from behind me.
I sat back,
thinking what to do next. How to find the goddamned card.
“It is a Topps,
right?” Chris examined at it again, seeing for himself that it was a Series 2
issue, Number 313. “Unlucky number,” he mumbled.
I shrugged and
blew out a breath.
“Yeah,” I said. “Now
“Call ’em,” suggested
Chris. “Call Topps directly. Ask if they can help you figure out what the hell
is going on. Who the hell Kevin Gleason is.”
That sounded like
the next best way to solve what was becoming an aggravating mystery.
With Chris still
at my side, I dialed the number listed in the Topps web site, and waded through
a voice tree until I was speaking with someone from consumer relations.
“What number is
he?” asked the kindly representative after my somewhat incoherent explanation
why I was calling, what the mystery was.
“The number of
the card,” he said. “The number.”
“Oh,” I said. “Three-thirteen.”
I heard him
tapping on a keyboard, checking his records, some computer database.
“Are you sure of
the number?” he asked. “I show Carl Ford as three thirteen.”
I picked up the
Gleason card just to make sure one more time. It was most definitely Number
313. He has me double-check the year, which was likewise confirmed.
With a sigh, he
said he’d do a name search.
“We don’t seem to
have issued a card for a player by that name,” he finally told me. Then, he
added: “Last year, or any other year.”
“Well, how can
that be?” I asked. “I’m holding it in my hand. Right here, Kevin, ‘J’ for
James, Gleason.” I flipped the card over and read the brief lines of
the Topps representative, thinking to himself, before adding, “it’s an
he repeated. “Card collectors have reported this phenomenon from time to time. A
rare occurrence, and, as far as I know, it’s never been explained. These cards,
they just pop up, cards of unknown players. Like that Gleason kid. The card
exists, looks real, appears to be entirely genuine, but the player it portrays
doesn’t exist. He never played – at least in this universe. He’s a phantom or a
ghost or something.”
The consumer rep
ridiculous, doesn’t it,” he said. “I know – but sounds like you’ve got one in
I looked at the
Gleason card and shivered momentarily. I hardly listened as the Topps rep
suggested that I should call Cooperstown. The National Baseball Hall of Fame. Their
archivist was fabulous. If he couldn’t find that Gleason kid, no one could.
But fabulous or
not, the Hall of Fame archivist couldn’t find Kevin Gleason in all his records
either. It was nearly five o’clock by the time I finished with him and gave up
on solving the Gleason riddle that day. Finally, with a yawn, I gathered my
briefcase, thanked Chris all his help, shuffled out of the office, and headed
I sat wearily at
the kitchen table for a time, staring at the Gleason card.
With a sigh, I
turned the card over and read the couple lines of scant biographical data:
Born: November 8, 1976 Asheville, New York
Ht: 6’ 2” Wgt: 195 Throws: Right Bats: Right
Finally, it hit
me, what to do. To find Kevin Gleason, all I had to do was call Asheville, New
York. Certainly, someone from his hometown must have heard of him. And his
family, his parents, might still be living there. He might still be living
If he existed,
With the card
firmly in hand, I retreated to my den and called directory assistance for
Asheville, New York. Moments later, an operator told me there was no listing
for Kevin Gleason in Asheville. I asked her how many Gleasons are there, and,
after a moment, she said, only one, James Gleason. Upon my request, she gave me
that number while I scribbled it down on the pad next to the telephone.
But before I had
a chance to call James Gleason, Beth called me to dinner. As we ate, Beth
suddenly looked up and asked what was wrong. I had been so quiet, so distant. I
had not even asked Timothy about his day at school, or delivered the
joke-of-the-day, which had become a funny ritual around the dinner table the
last couple years.