“Tag, you’re it!”
“Ow, my mother said no one’s supposed to touch me there!” April rubbed her chest, frowning at Ben.
“Big deal. It’s not like you have boobs or anything.”
Before she could tell him she did so have boobs, Ben ran off, calling her ‘flatso’. He disappeared behind the Mowry’s house.
Probably hiding in their shed, April thought.
“Come on April, you have to start looking for us,” her friend Melody shouted, zipping past her, going across the street into her own backyard.
She smiled, momentarily forgetting the throbbing pain behind her left nipple. “Okay, I’m gonna count to ten!”
Her mother bought her a training bra just last night, right after dinner. It was a special mommy-daughter shopping night at Kohls. They got frozen yogurt afterwards. April wondered if the flimsy thing would have cushioned the blow. It was in her drawer now, waiting for school on Monday.
By the time she reached ten, everyone was gone. She didn’t have to find all five of them. All it took was one. There was no way she was going to make Melody it. That left Ben, Seth and Sean.
Just thirty seconds ago, they were standing around, wondering what to do. All of their parents had taken their iPods and game systems away, forcing them outside. It was a hot September Saturday, still summer according to the calendar. But, the kids all knew summer was long gone. The morning the bell rang to start the new school year, summer had been obliterated, left to memories of sleeping in, swimming and staying up late, watching TV.
Seth was suggesting they get their bikes and head over to the field to see if the Mr. Softee truck was around when Ben hit her in the chest, igniting a game of tag.
April sniffed the air. It still smelled like summer.
She thought she saw Seth’s Converse underneath Mr. Coleman’s pickup. Sean was most likely hiding behind his above ground pool. Either that or his father’s pigeon coop. The little shack stunk to high heaven. No way was she going in there looking for him.
It had to be Ben. Her dad liked to say ‘Payback’s a bitch’ a lot, especially when he watched sports. Her older cousin Tony told her what it meant last summer – that and a whole lot of other dirty phrases, most of them describing when a man put his thing down there in a woman.
“Ready or not, here I come!” April shouted. She made a beeline for the Mowry house. Mr. and Mrs. Mowry were at work now, but they never minded the kids using their yard for games. Sometimes old people could be cool. Most times, not.
The white and green aluminum shed sat in a corner of the yard, underneath a skinny elm tree. The door was partway open.
“Got you,” she whispered.
It was hot in the shed. She’d been inside it plenty of times. If you hid in there, you had to keep the door open a crack to breathe. Otherwise, you’d choke on gas and oil fumes, boiling in the tight space.
April threw the door open and lunged.
Ben was sitting on a big bag of potting soil. He squinted against the harsh shaft of light. “No fair,” he protested.
April’s teeth sunk into the flesh of his soft, exposed throat. She worked at the chewy bits of tendon while blood sluiced down her throat, spattering the pretty pink top she’d gotten at Kohls last night.
Ben’s body went into spasms. He gurgled, his arms flapping at April’s sides. She pulled away, wiping her mouth with the back of her hand.
While Ben struggled for breath, April pulled up her shirt, revealing two tiny mounds, no bigger than the rounded tops of cupcakes. Her chest was smeared with blood.
“I told you I have boobs now,” she said, giggling.
He slipped off the bag of soil with a wet plop.
“Ben’s it now!” April yelled.
Melody, Sean and Seth bounded into the yard, lured by her call.
“Oh man,” Sean said, pulling up short. Seth bumped into him. “Watch where you’re walking!”
“You’re in my way!” Seth blurted.
“Will you two stop it,” Melody barked.
Sean spun around, slapping Seth hard. As his friend tottered, he closed the gap between them, clamping down on his cheek and tearing his head back, spitting a chunk of flesh on the grass.
Seth covered the wound with his hand.
He dove headfirst into Sean, knocking the wind from him. They landed on the ground, a tangle of flailing limbs. Flecks of blood splattered everywhere like a sprinkler as they clawed the flesh from one another’s bones.
“Dog pile!” April screamed. She and Melody joined the melee. They were a dervish of gnashing teeth and scratching nails. Bones broke. Arteries ruptured. Seth ate Melody’s lower lip. April and Melody tore Sean’s stomach open, heads diving into his bowels like two dogs at a dish of fresh Alpo.
They felt something smash into their backs.
April yelped as Ben pulled a fistful of hair from her head. Bloody skin clung to the ragged ends.
“You’re it again!” he gurgled.
The children laughed, trailing Seth’s intestines all around the yard, wrapping it around the trunk of a cherry tree. Seth let out a series of wet guffaws, jaws snapping at their heels as they danced around him.
The Mowry’s verdant lawn soaked up the crimson manna until the sounds of urgent adult voices cut the revelry, urging the children home.
They slunk out of the yard, gathering the bits of themselves that had been scattered about.
“After dinner, you wanna come over and see my training bra?” April asked Melody, her tongue poking out of a hole in her cheek.
“Yeah,” Melody said, holding her lips in her hands. “See you later!”
“I’m sorry,” Ben said. April could see his windpipe working. “I shouldn’t have hit you in the boob.”
April rolled her remaining eye. “Whatever.”
~ Hunter Shea
© Copyright 2015 Hunter Shea. All Rights Reserved.