Talented eleven-year-old actor Brad Simpson has just wrapped up a movie with several famous actors, but he’s more than ready to settle down with a steady role on “The Pioneers”, an exciting new TV show. Despite his growing friendship with his young cast mates, Brad senses something seriously amiss on the set. He experiences terrifying visions and threatening ghosts. When an accident nearly costs the entire cast their lives, the director is forced to shut down filming while the kids recuperate.
It begins to look as if the show won’t make it to the screen…not unless Brad and his scared-but-determined co-stars team up to play a game of baseball against the Los Angeles Pioneers, a ghostly, doomed baseball team made up of failed actors from the late 19th century. Will Brad and his new friends solve the mystery of the ghostly field and successfully banish the spooks from the set to keep their show in production?
GENRE: Mid-grade Reader
The Audition; Brad Spots Something Weird
Brad glanced sideways at the other kids gathered for the audition. He smiled and chuckled to himself. They all looked so much like him–and like each other–blonde, blue-eyed, tall, slim, with white, blinding teeth! That was one of the bizarre things about being an actor–when you showed up to try out for different roles, you found yourself in a line-up with as many as a hundred kids who all fit the description of the part, often the same faces every time! Same height, same color eyes and hair, same earnest, 10 or 11-year-old faces–even though they ranged in actual age from seven to 15.
“Brad Simpson,” called Karen, the casting director. She was in her thirties, attractive, red-haired, with a sprinkling of freckles on her nose and cheeks. “Would you read again, please?”
Brad stepped forward confidently, faced Karen, held up his dog-eared copy of the script and put all his emotion into the role of Ben, the bright, good-natured third child of five of the fictional Grant family. He was really excited about being asked to read again; that meant they liked him. It would be great to win the role in this TV pilot and have a steady job. He’d done three movies in 18 months with very famous actors (all of whom put their pants on the same way as every other guy in the world, Brad learned) and wanted to just stick with one thing for a while. Phil, his agent, said this series, THE PIONEERS, set in the late 1800’s and featuring a loving family of motherless settlers in Nebraska, was a really good one, with long-range potential.
He fell easily into the role of Ben Grant. “Pa, the tornado’s coming!” Brad cried, putting as much fear into his voice as possible. He widened his eyes and made his lower lip tremble. After all these years, he knew how to play scared!
Karen fed him the next line. “Don’t worry, son, just get your sisters and meet us down in the cellar!”
“But, Pa,” Brad said, “I–I haven’t seen Helen or Donna since we got home from school! I don’t know where they are!”
“Just find ’em, son, find ’em! You know how scared Donna is of tornadoes! She’ll hide someplace dangerous and end up getting killed!”
Brad, putting bravery and fear into the words, gulped and said, “Yes, Pa, I’ll try my best.”
“OK!” Karen said. “Now–the window blows in as the tornado passes close by the house. Pa and Ben hit the floor to protect themselves. They’re cut up some, but that’s all–this is a family show and we have to be careful with violence content. Brad, you burst into the cellar and tell your pa that you couldn’t find your sisters. You’re crying, very upset, not only because you’re afraid of the storm, but furious with yourself for your failure to find your sisters. Ben’s a brave kid who prides himself on doing everything right, and he considers this a blemish on his character. Action!”
Brad took a deep breath and said, “Pa, Pa, I looked everywhere. I…I can’t find them! Another tornado is heading our way. I figured I’d better check and see if Helen and Donna made it here. Pa, I’ve looked everywhere–where do you think could they be?”
“Repeat the lines again!” Karen ordered. “Give it even more! You’re hysterical, Ben!”
Brad conjured up the memory of how he felt the day his parents told him his beloved dog, Taffy, would have to be put to sleep. Drawing from that sad recollection, he was able to squeeze out stinging tears. As the memory came closer to the surface, he grew genuinely upset. He repeated the lines, crying so hard, the words barely came out intelligibly.
Karen roared, “It’s all right son, don’t worry! I know how much you love your sisters and I’m sure you did your best. I’ll take Jeb and try to find them. You stay here with Moira!”
Brad sobbed, “But…Pa, no, you can’t! What if something happens to you? Another tornado’s coming…”
“Ben, we’ve gotten through locusts, snowstorms and the loss of your ma. We’re going to make our way through this like we have everything else. We’re the Grant family. Nothing’s beaten us yet and this ain’t going to, either.”
“I love you, Pa!” cried Brad. “You stay with the others; I’ll go back out! Right now! I’ll find them, I swear I will! I’m not afraid of that tornado! I’m not afraid of anything!”
“Beautiful!” Karen called. “Ben runs out of the cellar and, as the tornado bears down on them, finds his sisters and pulls them safely in!”
Brad was crying so fiercely, he couldn’t stop, even though the scene was over.
“Wow,” Karen said admiringly. She handed him a tissue and put an arm around his shoulders. “Excellent, Brad, really great. You’ll still have to read for the director, but he’s already sold on you after that trio of incredible movies you made. You’re really something–fantastic student, amazing baseball and basketball player, and you’ve had parts in movies with Costner, Eastwood, Streep, Pitt and my personal favorite, Tom Cruise! If you ask me, we’re lucky to get you. I’m surprised you aren’t sticking with the momentum of the movies, though. That’s what industry buzz said you’d do.”
“Thanks Karen,” said Brad, wiping leftover tears from his cheeks. “I guess I’m just ready to do something different. Traveling is fun, but I’d rather be close to home for a while, hang out with my parents more. Sometimes, I think I’d like to give it up altogether for a year or two, take a long break, but I can’t. My agent says we’d lose all my pre-teen youth if I did that. The money is great, of course, but that’s not the only reason I’m in it. I love acting. My parents saw that from my first role in my kindergarten play–I was the Easter bunny.”
“I bet you were the best Easter bunny ever,” Karen said.
Brad smiled. Sometimes, the way grown-ups “mushed” him–his made-up word for their always being nice and agreeing with everything he said–bugged him. It was like they were afraid of making him angry, fearful of saying the wrong thing. His parents even treated him that way, and a few times, recently, he’d found himself yelling, “You’re my parents–act like it!” The last time it happened, a few days ago, his father had slapped him across his butt and commanded, “That’s right, we’re your parents–talk to us with respect. And don’t give me mouth–I don’t care how much money you’re making or how famous you are outside this house. You’re still part of this family.”
This had shocked Brad–but pleased him, too, in a weird way. He didn’t feel perfect, especially since the signs of adolescence were starting to make their presence felt–pimples that required more makeup, bad moods, hair where none had existed before. Brad knew only too well the fate of some child actors, and he wanted to make sure he had a fallback skill in case he grew ugly with adulthood.
With Karen, though, although she sounded “mush-y”, he sensed sincerity. She treated him like her little–but mature–brother, and he liked her a lot. “Not really. I was supposed to give out jelly beans to the rest of the class, but I threw them at the kids instead. My teacher was pretty mad. Hey, what’s that?”
Brad had been looking into the distance over her shoulder, past the split rail fence surrounding the small wooden house that had been built for the series pilot. Something had snagged his attention.
What was going on? His heart throbbed unsteadily; his throat felt dry. Suddenly, an uneven hole appeared in the very center of his vision, its edges spreading outward until it appeared to be two feet in diameter. Something was coming into focus inside it, a wavering image slowly clearing. What was it? A baseball field. Not major league, but small, like a sandlot field in someone’s backyard. Not modern, old-fashioned. Brad tried to focus on it more clearly, but it suddenly blinked out as quickly as it had appeared. He shook his head and squinted, trying to make the image return, but it wouldn’t. What was that?
“Hey, Brad, you OK?” Karen asked, concerned.
“Yeah, fine,” Brad said, rubbing his eyes. “Did you see that…field, beyond the house? It looked like a baseball diamond. Are we going to be playing a baseball game on the show, 1890’s style?”
“Not that I know of,” Karen said, puzzled. “I did hear or read something…I can’t remember what or where. Where did you see a baseball field?”
He looked again; the image, obviously only his imagination working overtime, was completely gone.
“Nowhere,” he said. “I’m guess I’m just tired.”
“It’s no wonder,” Karen laughed, and added, “It’s been a long day for you. You’re only 11 years old, but I think people see you as a little adult. You sure have come a long, long way since tossing jellybeans at your classmates. You became Ben Grant in that scene. Fantastic! Come on, I want to introduce you and my other choices to Ken Thurmond, the director.”
Brad went through his emotionally-charged performance all over again for Thurmond. By the time he was through, he was sweating and exhausted. Acting was a lot of fun most of the time, but today, he felt drained. As he’d told Karen, once in a while, he wished he were just another kid doing ordinary kid things. Then he thought about his room back home and all that his acting career had gotten him–trips to Japan, Italy and England, a giant TV, his own state-of-the-art DVD player, great clothes, every video game system and cartridge he wanted. He knew everyone envied him what he had, but he was so busy most of the time, he didn’t get much of a chance to play with his electronic equipment or his friends. He especially missed hitting home runs over the fence behind the baseball field at his elementary school. According to his coach, he’d been a terrific pitcher and his batting average was .325. Coach was very disappointed when Brad couldn’t make more than a couple of games the last two seasons. Brad was, too. He really missed playing baseball. How long had it been since he’d brought home a most valuable player trophy from an All-Atars game?
He even missed going to school with a whole classroom of other kids. When he was on movie or TV locations away from Los Angeles, he had to have an on-set teacher, and unless there were other kids working on the show or movie with him, it was strictly one-on-one–and lonely. That also meant if he didn’t know an answer to a question, he couldn’t slink low in his seat and hope another student would come up with the response! He was it–the whole class! While he felt he was receiving an excellent education, he missed being with other kids in a school situation. On the set of THE PIONEERS, at least he wouldn’t be alone with the teacher.
Actually, Brad thought, happiness engulfing him, I wouldn’t give up what I have for anything. I’m working with an acting coach, getting better all the time. I love it! With this big cast, assuming I’ve really gotten the part, maybe I can talk the director into letting us put together a baseball team against the cast of another show.
Ken, a towering, brown-haired man with a smile that seemed to take up his entire tanned face, shook Brad’s hand. He mushed, too, but, like Karen, sounded as if he meant it. “I loved you in your last movie, Brad. You played that gangster’s kid with so much skill, it was scary! You made me feel terrified when you went crazy in that one scene, even though I knew it was only excellent acting. We’re really excited that you’re going to be joining us.”
“Then I’ve definitely got the part?” Brad asked. All right!
“Absolutely!” Ken said. “Are you kidding me? When I heard you were looking for TV work, I was thrilled! I figured you’d stick with making flicks for a while. Why don’t you come over and meet your fellow cast mates?”
“Sure,” Brad said. He moved down the line as introductions were made, quickly acknowledging each member of his new “family.”
“Candy and Susan Pendleton,” Ken said. “They’ll be playing your little sisters, Donna and Helen. Candy’s 12. Susan is 13. Brad Simpson, girls.”
They grinned at him, elbowed each other and giggled. “Sounds like they’ve already got crushes on you,” Ken whispered in his ear.
Brad was younger than both but playing their older brother. That wasn’t unusual. He’d seen youthful-looking 18-year-olds playing roles five or six years younger. The industry preferred to do that, because it meant they didn’t need on-set teachers–plus, older kids could work on-set longer. Candy and Susan looked younger than their real ages and he looked older than his. Age didn’t matter much in the acting business–as long as you fit the part.
To prove the point, 18-year-old Sarah Woolverton was portraying his 14-year-old sister, Moira, and 17-year-old David Ruscott would play 15-year-old Jeb Grant. They were both done with high school. Brad had worked once or twice with each in commercials, and they grinned familiarly at him.
“Lou Grainger will be playing Pa,” Ken said. “He’s finishing a movie and won’t join us until the end of the week. We’ll just work around his scenes for now.”
Brad shook hands with, and congratulated, his new cast mates. David, who looked like potential big brother material, slapped Brad’s hand enthusiastically. “Great to be working with you again, Brad-man,” he said. “Remember the toothpaste commercial?”
“Oh, yeah,” Brad said, making a face. “It cleaned your teeth OK, as long as you were able to stand the taste!”
“Yeah,” David chuckled. “It was so lumpy, I suggested they re-name it Grit Paste!”
They laughed together at the memory.
Sarah was poised and gorgeous; Brad already sensed that David was developing a major league crush on her. She smiled at Brad winningly, and he felt himself blush. Perhaps David wasn’t the only one of Sarah’s admirers! To cover his embarrassment, Brad turned to Ken and said, “I thought I saw…is there going to be a baseball field on the set?”
“Baseball field?” Ken repeated. “Ahhh, yes. Real funny, Brad–you must have heard about our ghostly baseball team. Every columnist is writing about it. I’m surprised all of you haven’t been asking me a million questions.”
“Ghostly baseball team? What are you taking about?” Brad asked. He’d been in
England until only a few days ago, finishing up a movie. Industry gossip had yet to catch up with him.
“All right, Brad,” Ken continued, “we’ll pretend you haven’t heard about this. If so, you’re the only one. Hollyweird rumor has it that our set is built on an old haunted baseball field. Some dreadful team that played here in the 1890’s and was never able to win even one game. It made them nasty. Supposedly, they’re doomed to keep on playing until they do–or they’ll never be able to have peace–and neither will the site of their endless defeats!
“Rumor says they don’t want us here because we’re interfering, and all kinds of bad things are going to happen to prevent us from making this series. Leave it to me to end up with a problem like this–unhappy ghosts! Actually, come to think of it, it makes a more interesting plot than a lot of other junk I’ve seen in my time. If the pilot doesn’t make it, we’ll go for a series call GHOST FIELD. Sounds pretty good, huh? Well, kids, it’s a wrap. Be here tomorrow at 6:00 AM–and memorize the first 20 pages of your dialogue!”
Karen stared at Brad. “Ken, you won’t believe this one! Earlier, Brad told me he saw…”
“I didn’t see anything,” Brad said quickly, shooting a warning glance at Karen. He didn’t want to sound like a flake. “I just heard the rumor from one of the stagehands and was kidding around, like Ken said, pretending I didn’t know.”
Karen stared at him oddly, but again, Brad gave her a silencing look.
As they filed out, Brad took one more look at the darkened set. He concentrated on the area where he’d seen the baseball field appear. He saw another rip appearing, similar to the one that had preceded his vision of the ball field. This time, though, he saw eight men’s faces. One by one, as though lit from above by ghostly blue light, they become visible, their facial features growing more defined. Brad saw and felt evil, ugliness, cruelty, and harmful intent. Their teeth were bared menacingly. As the image grew larger, revealing bodies dressed in white baseball uniforms with red pinstripes, Brad could see all the players were brandishing baseball bats in a threatening manner. In his head, Brad heard them speak, one man at a time: “Leave this place! All of you! We must finish what we started, and we can’t if you don’t leave! We’ll hurt you if we have to! Leave…leave…leave! We’re warning you! Heed us or you’ll regret it!”
Just as the image of the baseball field had slowly faded, so did the bodies and faces of the long-dead players. Before the last man was gone, Brad saw him raise his bat above his head and bring it down. He could hear the terrible whistling sound it made. “This will be one of you–or all of you, if necessary,” he heard the man whisper before disappearing into the closing rend.
His breath coming in uneven rasps, Brad squinted, trying to bring back the image, but all he could see was the split rail fence and the house that had been built for the show. His brain began to rationalize, draw away from the horrifying images he’d seen. A family of seven could never really fit into such a small home, he thought. The rooms in which they would act out the Grants’ life were in another location on the set altogether, and so much bigger. Everything’s so fake in this business. Except those threats, Brad reminded himself. This is one Hollyweird rumor that must be true! What am I going to do?
Sarah Woolverton tapped him on the shoulder. “Time to go home,” she said softly. “We’ll be hanging out here enough for the rest of the week. Come on, Brad.”
Her beautiful, sympathetic eyes were all that induced him to move. He had never been so scared, not even when a boat he and Eastwood had been riding in started to
fill with water and sink. Human beings came out to save them. He and Eastwood had to swim a long distance to shore together, and that was exciting.
That involved strictly living people; this didn’t.
Still staring over his shoulder, Brad walked out to the waiting black limousine. Being driven around in beautiful, fancy cars was another one of the perks that went with being a famous kid actor in Hollywood.
A terrified mind can make the indigestible digestible; Brad chewed over the two incidents most of the ride home. He resolved to forget the mirage of the baseball field. It sure was weird, though, the way the very air had seemed to rip open and give him a view of–what? A parallel universe?
What about Ken’s story? Coincidence. Maybe Brad had heard or read about the ghostly rumors since coming home, on the radio or TV or in the newspaper, and it was hanging out in the back of his head. He’d read a lot about the power of suggestion. That’s probably all it was. Still, those ghostly baseball players had seemed so real!
Only as real as your mind allows them to be, cautioned a voice in his head. You don’t want to lose this chance, Brad. You don’t want to have to keep going from audition to audition, starting over. You want to stay in one place for a while, right? Right!
He sat back against the luxurious gray leather upholstery and fell asleep, dreaming about playing in this TV show for the next 20 years, hitting a slew of home runs in baseball and all the money this series, if it passed the pilot stage, would add to his college fund. He was going to be a doctor, actor, lawyer, pro baseball player–but if he gave in to this weird phenomena, he might not be anything.
Best to keep quiet.
Baseball field? What baseball field? Enraged baseball team? Just a bad dream. If you ignore them, they won’t come. So Brad chose to take the coward’s way out and keep silent.