The boy was 8-years-old when he died. Decades later he came to play with us.
Almost every kid grows up playing with ghost runners, imaginary people who run the bases for you when you don't have enough kids to play. Twelve-year-old Chandler Dean is no exception, but nothing could surprise Chandler more than a real ghost joining the game.
Chandler must uncover the mystery of the ghost runner all the while dealing with middle school adolescence, including his best friend moving away and awkward interactions with a new crush. Chandler's search for answers uncovers both past and present tragedies. Is Chandler strong enough to endure why the ghost runner has come?
"Hey, Charlie," I yell to him, trying to get his attention.
He doesn't acknowledge me. He just continues to carry on his bizarre self-conversation. He's talking really animatedly, waving his hands in the air with a big grin on his face.
"Come on, Charlie. I'm hungry," Casey whines.
I drop Casey's hand and leave her by the road. I try calling Charlie's name again as I walk toward him, but he's still unresponsive. The imaginary conversation he's having must be way more exciting than lunch, because he doubles over with laughter.
As I walk up next to him, I grab his arm and give him a shake. "What the heck are you doing, Bud?"
"Talking to Nicholas," he replies matter-of-factly. It's hard to see his hazel-green eyes under his tattered Pirates baseball cap.
"Nicholas?" I raise a very skeptical eyebrow at him. "Who's Nicholas?"
"My friend," Charlie says without missing a beat.
"Okay... where is Nicholas?" I guess some people might think this behavior out of Charlie is strange. It doesn't bug me too much. Imaginary friends aren't too uncommon... although I would think Charlie to be a bit too old for this.
"He's standing on second base."
"Oh, I get it. You gave our ghost runner a name."
"No, I didn't," Charlie replies. His voice is so serious it startles me. "Nicholas told me his name."
I look at him carefully for a second, then scoff. "Whatever, Charlie. Come on, it's time for lunch." I grab his hand and pull him toward the road, but he resists.
"What about Nicholas?" he asks in a tone with great earnestness.
"I think Nicholas will be okay... he's imaginary," I reply with a laugh.
"No he's not, Chandler. He's not imaginary."
I stare at Charlie dumbfounded for a moment. He's adamant that this Nicholas character isn't pretend. I have no idea what to say to him. Why is he fighting this? "Well... okay Charlie. Let's go get lunch. I don't think we need to worry about Nicholas."
"You're right, Chandler," he replies with a smile. "Nicholas just told me he doesn't need to eat."
Because he's imaginary, I scoff to myself.
"Oh yeah, why'd Nicholas say that?" I ask.
"Because he's a ghost," Charlie replies with an easy shrug. "Ghosts don't eat."