With his clumpy red hair, face reminiscent of an aerial photo of a war zone (all pockmarks and no distinguishing features), galumphing gait, skunk-terrifying body odor, and birth name of Horatio Clutterbuck, Grumblebum’s dreams of becoming a major sports star were unlikely to ever reach fruition.
Ball sports were his imagined road to joining the gods on Mount Olympus, but each attempt to scale those dizzy heights became an absurd failure. Golf, tennis, football, basketball, baseball, hockey, and lacrosse all held destinies of disgrace.
Long and loud, he bewailed his fate to all who would listen, and the epithet of “Grumblebum” stuck very early in his life. Eventually, he concluded he’d never achieve fame and fortune in his chosen path to immortality. He retreated to the crumbling pile that was his ancestral home and sank into a deep depression.
He explored the deeper recesses of the cavern-like basement of the house built by his great-grandfather, Wilberforce Clutterbuck, the last of the true believers in alchemy. Piles of base metals that had failed to transform into gold littered the floor and shelves of bottles, all failed experiments in bestowing eternal life or providing the universal panacea for all ills, covered almost every wall.
Amongst this detritus, Grumblebum discovered a crystal glass, still with the remnants of a reddish liquid. Beside it lay a treatise in his great-grandfather’s immaculate cursive script describing how to draw down the Universal Spirit to achieve unlimited power. Grumblebum snorted and threw the glass, darkly, against the nearest wall.
The cavern plunged into darkness, and he heard the unmistakable sound of hissing snakes.
“I am Medusa,” said a voice as seductive as a siren’s call. “Since I’ve killed the lights, you won’t immediately turn into stone.”
Grumblebum stammered, “M-m-medusa?”
“Yes, the genuine mythical goddess article has graced you with her presence. Think Cher in her prime with snakes instead of hair. Your great-grandfather’s half-baked experiment trapped me for a hundred years and, out of gratitude, I am prepared to provide you with at least a modicum of what he sought. Name the object over which you desire complete and utter control for the remainder of your mortal life, and it shall be yours.”
After thinking long and hard for about thirty seconds, the word “balls” erupted from Grumblebum’s mouth.
“Death to the Unbeliever,” shouted Medusa.
“Wait, wait,” he said. “I didn’t mean that I don’t believe you. That’s what I want complete control over. Balls, all sorts of balls. I want total power over balls.”
Medusa groaned. “You have to be kidding me. The Universal Spirit gives me the power to grant you control over anything, and you bypass cancer, world peace, poverty, and environmental disaster in favor of balls. Why we bother with you mortal lot passeth all godly understanding but…balls it is.”
The lights flickered on, and Grumblebum found himself alone in the familiar dankness and half-light of the basement. He couldn’t help but question what had occurred. While he didn’t drink or take drugs, the mushrooms he’d consumed for dinner had tasted a bit odd. Perhaps he’d hallucinated.
He returned upstairs, slumped in his favorite armchair, and picked up a baseball from the side table. “Wherever I throw you, return to me,” he said. Laughing hysterically, he tossed the baseball directly at the large mirror that hung over the fireplace.
As the ball was about to strike the glass, it stopped midair and returned to his hand. No matter which ball he threw, it never struck anything and always returned.
For a long time, he considered the possibilities for breaking every record in every ball sport in the world and the riches that would follow. In the meantime, he amused himself with his new-found talent by interfering with sports on TV. Golfers having air shots, footballers missing shots from point blank range, tennis players botching simple drop shots, all provided him with endless amusement.
However, one night, as he watched the lottery draw, he leapt from his chair yelling, “Of course! Balls!” He could win the lottery anytime he liked and never have to worry about money again. All he had to do was create some fake identities, open a bank account in the Cayman Islands, and he was set for life without having to lift a finger.
Some months later, head shaved, beard grown, and surgery to his sweat glands complete, a man called William Thomas Fate (or WTF to his many new friends) emerged from his mansion and set out to search the world for a beautiful woman with writhing snake hair.