Earlier this year I wrote an article called “?Writing Fiction to Improve Your Non-Fiction Prose’ that appeared in the June 26, 2002, Volume 10 Issue 24 of The Voice. As a special Halloween inclusion into the paper, I would like to share with you the results of one of my own fiction writing efforts, a short story entitled “Tag”. I hope you all enjoy it!
“Tag! You’re it!” shrieked Nate, slapping Daniel on the back. Sliding to a stop in the slippery mud, he reversed his direction and tore off down the tree-lined trail.
“I’m right behind you!” called Daniel. “I won’t be it for long!”
Nate could hear the thump of his pursuer’s runners against the well-worn dirt path. He could feel Daniel closing in on him and he silently cursed his shorter legs. Fake right, leap left, and he found himself scrambling through the thickets of willow that grew along the riverbank. Branches broke and scraped at his bare arms and legs as he pushed his way wildly through the thickening undergrowth. Heart pounding and lungs burning, he risked a glance behind. No sign of Daniel.
Nate stopped and holding his breath, he tried to listen for an indication of his friend’s whereabouts over the pounding of his heart.
Peering through the thick bushes, he waited for the inevitable charge.
Ten seconds. Thirty seconds. One Minute.
A squirrel chattered its annoyance at the uninvited intruder within its territory. The river gurgled contentedly behind Nate and the hair rose on the back of his neck.
“You’re it,” he said quietly. “You’re still it Daniel!” he called out, his voice muffled by the dense forest.
A bird chirped somewhere overhead.
“Daniel? : Dan! : This isn’t funny any more”.
Crack! A large branch broke in the distance.
Nate began to move stealthily through the willows back the way that he had come, listening for noises over those of his own.
A call in the distance.
Nate stopped, held his breath and listened.
The squirrel chattered. The bird chirped.
He started to move again, feeling his way through the thick foliage. The willows began to thin and Nate found himself standing on the path. Looking down, he examined his own skid marks in the mud, imprinted there when he had veered off the trail to avoid Daniel’s long arms. Looking back the way they had come, he could see the prints of his friend’s runners overlaying his own, but beyond the point where Nate had left the footpath, Daniel’s tracks continued without pause, disappearing amongst the long shadows that fell from the trees.
Facing the direction that Daniel had seemingly gone, Nate cupped his hands over his mouth, took a deep breath and called “Daniel!”
Curving his hands into half circles behind his ears, he closed his eyes and strained to detect a sound from his friend.
A rustle through undergrowth. A bird singing. The river gurgling.
His ears began to ring and he dropped his hands to his sides. His body shuddered slightly although the summer afternoon was warm. Tightening his stomach muscles to force out the butterflies, he said “shit” and took a step along Daniel’s tracks in the dirt.
Two steps. Five steps. Ten.
The path curved gently toward the river. Running-shoe prints were clearly visible in the middle of the trail. Shadows grew deeper and the air grew dense as the willows closed in on the borders of the path.
Twenty steps. Thirty steps. Thirty-seven.
A white object was visible in the middle of the trail. Nate took a few more steps toward it, stopped, listened, a few more steps. It was a shoe. It was Daniel’s shoe resting upright as if he had stepped out of it in mid step. Nate crouched down and picked it up. He could feel his heartbeat within his skull. No tracks in the dirt beyond this spot. He stood up holding the footwear in both hands. He breathed in short, shallow gasps as he stared down into the orifice of the sneaker.
The willows exploded on his right as two arms were thrust toward him.
Nate screamed, eyes wide and body frozen in place. One of the hands grabbed the runner; the other shoved Nate, open palmed, in the sternum. Nate stumbled two steps back. A face appeared above his.
“TAG! YOU’RE IT!” exclaimed Daniel, pulling the runner free and vaulting himself into a comical gate. He lurched a few paces and then hopped on his left foot trying to stuff his muddy right sock back into the runner, lost his balance and staggered again.
A tear trickled from Nate’s right eye as his face became a scarlet mask of rage. “You bastard,” he said. “YOU BASTARD!” he screamed and broke into a frenzied run.
Daniel was laughing and had just managed to replace his shoe when he caught sight of Nate over his right shoulder. His eyes widened slightly and his face grew slack when he saw the look on Nate’s face. “Oh shit” he said and began sprinting with the seriousness of an Olympian.
Nate was gaining on his quarry. Daniel’s longer strides were no match for the fiery heat of Nate’s anger.
“It’s just a game! : I was only kidding,” Daniel sputtered between deep breaths.
“Son:of:a:bitch.” Nate pumped his arms high, his hands balled into fists.
The willows thinned and the trees flew by as they raced down the trail. Passed the spot where Nate had left the path, he was finally close enough. Nate reached out with his right hand and made a grab for the back of Daniel’s shirt. He brushed it but never caught hold. Daniel suddenly vaulted to the left and Nate ran passed him. Putting on the brakes, he skidded to a stop and whirled around. Daniel was on the other side of a cottonwood tree, hands against the trunk and head peering around its side.
“Get hold of yourself man”.
“You scared the hell out of me!”
“I’m sorry. I thought it was funny”.
“Well it wasn’t”.
They stood looking at each other for a few seconds.
“You were scared something happened to me,” Daniel said.
“Scared something was going to happen to me,” said Nate, looking away toward the river.
“You’d miss me if I was gone”.
“Not. : Well, maybe a little”. Nate looked back at Daniel. “Lets go home”.
Daniel came out from behind the tree and Nate fell in beside him on the trail. They walked in silence for a few minutes, enjoying the summer afternoon and listening to the river gurgling to their right.
“Really scared you eh?”
“Yup. You plan it or it just happen?”
“Got me good, I owe you one you know”.
Suddenly they were both jerked to a stop and spun around. A dirty man towered over them, his clothes tattered and his black hair unkempt and long. He had them each by a shoulder and as he stooped to look into their faces, his lips parted in a lopsided grin. Missing his front teeth and the others rotting, the stench hit their noses like a corporeal entity. Frozen by fear, the boys stood riveted in place and stared at the nightmare before them.
“Tag. Your it,” said the man. He released them, turned, and slowly sauntered back into the trees.
Nate was running for home, Daniel beside him and they were both too far away to hear the man’s chuckles echoing through the forest.
Wayne E. Benedict is a Locomotive Engineer at BC Rail and President of the Canadian Union of Transportation Employees Local 1. He is working toward his Bachelor of Administration in Industrial Relations and Human Resources at Athabasca University.