Short Story: Rules

The game was tag. Everyone scattered as it –currently one Jason Colls-- began the countdown from ten. He was supposed to be interjecting a four-syllable reading of “Mis-si-ssi-ppi” between each number, but everyone was lucky to get half that. As he reached zero, he began with a sprint towards Jack Torres — the Jack Torres with a gimpy leg. The lame are always the first to go.

“Tag, you’re it, Torres.” Jason was pleased with his victory.

A gunshot rang out, shaking the walls of the surrounding buildings, the leaves on the oak tree Sarah Greenson was standing behind, and the skull of Jack Torres. He fell in a heap at the feet of Jason Colls. The game stopped as a few of the boys moved Jack’s lifeless body out the way. Safety is everything.

The game resumed. Jason’s next target was Lizzy Anderson. She was one of the nicest girls he’d ever met when he thought about it, but he wasn’t thinking about it.

“You’re it, Lizzy!” Another gun shot. Her leg collapsed as she yelled from the impact. The gun rang out a third time. She now lay motionless.

“Time out!” Alex Gregory called from on top of a little hill that overlooked the park: “You can’t shoot someone twice on the same tag. It’s cheating. You can only shoot once.”

Jason knew that, but he tried to explain that they couldn’t just have people screaming in agony all over the place.

“Okay, okay. I’m sorry. One shot.”

Alex nodded and asked if everyone was ready to continue. “Time In!” was proclaimed from atop the little hill like Moses proclaiming the Ten Commandments. Again everyone scattered. It was the sound of the next gunshot that stopped them from running. It was Philip Andrews. One shot as promised.

Philip’s body was moved out of the playing field. Sarah Greenson had now climbed up the oak tree she had previously been standing behind, Stewart Riggs was crouched in a position that found him ready to dodge any approaching threat, and Alex was simply the fastest.

Jason went after Sarah first. Her only option of escape would have been to jump, which surely would have killed her. After struggling with sharp pieces of bark, a slip or two of his worn red sneakers, and a fear of heights, Jason got her. The gun fired in unison with the bell tower of the nearby church. It missed.

“Time out!” Jason yelled. “This isn’t fair. I tagged her!”

 “You know the rules, Jason;” Alex chimed in. “She gets ten seconds to run away.”

“That’s stupid.”

“You always think the rules are stupid. Why can’t you just play the game?” Alex said.

“No, I just don’t like following rules that don’t make any sense.”

“It’s just a game, Jason.” Alex prided himself on being the voice of reason when games were played, but his calm demeanor rarely served as anything but ammunition for the likes of Jason Colls:

“Just shut up, Alex! I’m so sick of your ‘everyone’s a winner’ attitude, or your ‘don’t take things so seriously’ bullshit. It’s a game! Somebody has to win! That’s why there are rules to begin with. If it didn’t matter who won, why would there be rules at all? So don’t tell me ‘it’s just a game!’”

“Can’t we just get back to playing already?!” Stewart said practicing his juking abilities. “I’m getting tired of everyone bitching about everything.”

“I’d really appreciate if everyone would watch their language a little bit better. It’s not really necessary;” Alex said.

Jason tried to punch Alex but was held back by Stewart. They managed to settle Jason down and prepared to continue playing. Like embers of a dying fire, Jason spat out one more lingering thought:

“This game has way too many rules.”

Alex and the others let the vastness of the air around them absorb, and eventually silence, the complaint and began running away as the countdown began again:

“Remember, we all get fifteen seconds to get back to where we were since it called timeout,” Alex said.

The countdown hit zero and Jason again began the hunt. It was almost dark and the distant church bell tower chimed eight times to announce the hour’s arrival. The gunner re-loaded his rifle with the extra bullets that sat beside him. He’d need them. The rules clearly stated that he got two shots per tag after dark.