Short Story: Rules

**originally published in the 2014-15 Eureka College student literary magazine; Impressions

The game was tag. Everyone scattered as it began the countdown — from ten, which was a little unfair for the heavier participants. Like a ticking time bomb Jason Colls began his countdown. 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, a mixture of adrenaline and fear spread among the others — some hiding behind conveniently placed trees, some behind corners of buildings, and others in the middle of the field hoping for a “I’m not going all the way out there right now” response from Jason. He began with a sprint towards Jack Torres — the Jack Torres with a gimpy leg. It wasn’t a fair fight, but the lame are always the first to go.

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

Bam! 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 temporarily stopped as a few of the boys moved Jack’s lifeless body out the way. It was dangerous to be running full speed and trip on someone or something that was in the field of play. Safety is everything.

The game resumed. Jason was off and running. Lizzy Anderson was the target. She was one of the nicest girls he’d ever met when he thought about it, but he wasn’t thinking about that today. If she was dumb enough to wear heels to a game of tag, she deserved to be it.

“You’re it, Lizzy!” The gun yelled again, followed shortly by Lizzy. Her leg collapsed as the bullet ambushed it from the right. The gun rang out a third time as if shouting back at Lizzy’s shrieks. 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 was the rule. But you couldn’t just have people screaming in agony all over the place. But he also knew he couldn’t get into an argument about it; he was hopelessly outnumbered:

“Okay, okay. I’m sorry. Only one shot.”

Alex accepted the apology and asked if everyone was ready to continue. When he got the thumbs up from about eighty percent of the participants, the “Time In!” exclamation was proclaimed from atop the little hill like Moses proclaiming the Ten Commandments. Everyone continued scattering. It was only the sound of the next gunshot that stopped them from running. It was Philip Andrews. One shot as promised. It wasn’t a clean shot, but one that did what it ultimately needed to like someone coming in late for work.

Jason admired his fully realized tagging abilities as Philip’s body was moved out of the playing field. With most of the weaker players now taken care of, the stronger ones remained. 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. Al Jenkins was simply the fastest; where Alex was the smartest.

Jason went after Sarah first. She was trapped in the tree after all. Her only option of escape would have been to jump, which surely would have killed her. After a long struggle with sharp pieces of bark, a slip or two of his worn sneakers, and a fear of heights, Jason got herThe gun fired in unison with the bell tower of the nearby church, only 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 ridiculous.”

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

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

“It’s just a game of tag, Jason. It’s really not that big of a deal.” Alex always prided himself on being the voice of reason when games were played. He tried keeping everyone’s competitive spirit at bay. The games were supposed to be fun. But his calm demeanor rarely served as anything but ammunition for the Jason Collss of the world:

“Just shut up, Alex! I’m so sick of your ‘everyone’s a winner’ attitude, or your ‘don’t take things so seriously’ bullshit. If 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 was impatiently 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 calmly said.

Jason tried to punch Alex for that remark but was held back by Stewart and Al. 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 remark 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 authoritatively.

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.