The A Game by Darcee Gundlock

Finalist in the short story category, Mensa Canada 2018 Literary Contest

“You gotta lotta potential, kid!” he muttered under his breath as he hauled himself up the steps onto the bus. There was no denying it. He was living his dream, yet homesick beyond words. Sinking into a seat, he pulled his cap down low and closed his eyes. As they departed with a lurch and a roar, he turned to the window lest someone would see the welling tears.

He missed them all, but Grandma B the most. Her kitchen, always toasty warm and filled with fresh cookies when he arrived. She had eagerly awaited the details of his adventures, as wide eyed with wonder as he had been as a child when she would read to him. She favored the wisdom of Dr. Seuss, holding him on her lap as she pointed out the words:

“Oh the places you’ll go! There is fun to be done! There are points to be scored. There are games to be won. And the magical things you can do …”

Right. Surely this life must be pure magic. An aging bus full of rambunctious and foul mouth friends, with its own peculiar odor of teen aged sweat, body spray and stale beer. No, magical it is not, nor the places they have gone. The points were hard fought and not every game was won. They lived exploring their boundaries, pushing the edge between performance and self destruction. Work hard, play hard. The rules were often blurred, the choices vague but easy, the repercussions immediate and harsh. It was growing up fast and hard, taking that one shot to prove your potential. Potentially recruited or potentially sent home.

His reverie was broken by flashing lights. He opened his eyes and saw the sky awash with red and white and blue, pulsing eerily in the fading dusk. Confused, he couldn’t figure out where all the lights were coming from. Turning his head, he felt his cap slide off, drawing the attention of a Constable to his left. A nauseous sea of arms and legs suddenly surrounded him, then peering faces asking noiseless questions. He watched their lips with fascination, as they moved with no sound. Some were yelling. Some were speaking into two way radios. Some were pursed together, tense and tight. He tried to move his own lips but there was no sound. It was surreal, as if he had turned the volume off on the whole scene that he was watching unfold around him.

The pain hit then. He felt a hand upon his leg and a bolt of lightning flew through his body. He twitched involuntarily as his muscles spasmed but was frozen in the spot. Wave after wave of pain began to roll through him. He wanted to scream aloud but no words came. He closed his eyes to ride the wave out and became aware of the frozen ground beneath him. Hard frozen ground. Where was he? Panic started to set in and he struggled to open his eyes again. Nothing happened. His body refused every attempt to move. His panic rose until he heard it. There, faintly in his ear, he heard her reading to him again:

“And when you’re alone there’s a very good chance
you’ll meet things that scare you right out of your pants
There are some, down the road between hither and yon,
that can scare you so much you won’t want to go on.”

His heartbeat slowed and his brain relaxed as he caught a whiff of ginger snaps, felt the warmth of her kitchen sweep over his body, as her voice crooned on:

Congratulations! Today is your day. You’re off to Great Places! You’re off and away!”

He sighed, slid into his favorite chair and grabbed a cookie off the closest baking sheet. Across the table, she stretched to pour milk into a glass in front of him. Easing into a chair, she picked up her mug of tea, leaned forward and whispered “Welcome Home.”