Hello, Connector readers! I’ve got a new Writers’ Corner piece for you. This short story by Alexia Zarate is called “The Game”.
Please be advised that this story contains content that may be upsetting for some readers.
by Alexia Zarate
It was a late hour to start a game of tag. He came up to me when I was sitting there on the sidewalk, just drawing lines on the concrete with some chalk. My fingers were white and curled, palms sticky with sugar from lollipops and caramel squares. I looked at him for a long time. It was just common sense not to talk to strangers but this man, he looked so alone. His eyes were something redder and wetter than they should have been.
“Who’s going to be it first?” I asked.
The man’s skin stretched tautly when he smiled. His entire palette was off.
Nothing was the color it should have been but was instead just a shade in a different direction. His gums were too light, his teeth yellow like the juice of lemon pulp. It evoked in me a bitter feeling.
I grabbed the candy wrappers off the floor and put them in the pocket of my cotton cardigan. He loomed over me and just watched. Made shadows from my every inch.
“I’ll be it,” he said. “I’ll even give you a three second head start. The game is over if I don’t catch you by the time the sun goes down.”
My gaze ventured to the sky for just a moment. It would be dark soon — in ten minutes or so. That was enough for a quick game, for a small charity of sorts for this man. Besides, even in the dark the parking lot lights would quickly come on so people could see me from their tinted windows when they rode by. No danger, not really.
I pulled a little on my pony tail. “What happens if I lose?”
His voice was deep. Not unkind, but not completely sincere either. “I’ll drag you to my car and take you home to kill you,” he said. His laughter surrounded me, made me feel violated.
My hands came up and grabbed my elbows in a tender self hug. Yet, he’d given me no reason not to trust him. People joked like that all the time, said things like “I’ll kill you if you tell him,” or “I’ll jump over this table and choke you”. They even joked about killing themselves sometimes. People liked to laugh at those kinds of things. Diving off buildings. Drowning. Playing in the traffic heavy roads around the corner. This was just one of those moments.
I nodded and wiped my hands on my stockings. They were pink, a little ripped at the knees.
“Okay,” I told him. “You need to count.”
He took a few steps back. The shadows moved across him like sunlight shifting through a cornfield. “One,” he began.
My shoes made a sweet clicking noise on the gravel as I ran through the parking lot. I could hear him counting but he was quieter now. Orange leaves shredded underneath me, pebbles kicked and tossed like tin cans as I made my way past a few empty cars. It was only common sense that he would win. This man was larger than me, taller than bookshelves and floor lamps and maybe even taller than a school bus. With his head so high up towards the sky, maybe he even spoke to God every now and then.
A rusty silver car was shielding me from view when he started running in the direction I’d gone. His footsteps were heavy. They almost made the earth shake. My teeth tugged on my lip and I swallowed to keep from laughing. He was faster but I was smaller and more easily hidden from view.
The man’s head twisted. Stretched up from his neck. It was unnatural the way it craned while he searched for me among the vehicles.
“You’re not supposed to be hiding,” he said. I knew he was right.
A passing van’s lights illuminated his face for a moment and his hair was dark the way nothing should be dark. It was dark the way the inside of sewers are dark and throbbing.
It was safe there, tucked against the car, but the longer I stayed the more unfair it was to him.
My blonde head popped up near the windshield. His eyes caught mine and I took off running again. This time, he followed. He was so close he could’ve snatched me up if he just stretched out his hand. I wondered why he didn’t tag me. My breath was shallow, the hem of my dress floated against my thighs and I wondered why he didn’t tag me.
“Why don’t you—” I started to ask but that’s when he grabbed me and my face hit the cement. My tongue was just dust now. He had his fingers in my mouth so deep I thought he’d touch that tender coil in the back of my throat and make me throw up.
“Suck on them,” he said. My nose felt like it was hot and dirty with blood and this man was on top of me, his legs and arms heavier than anything I’d ever owned.
I tried to say something but my mouth was all bone and nails.
When he spoke again, his breath was by my ear. “Don’t you understand?” the man asked me.
Tears welled up like raindrops or gumdrops or dewdrops, I couldn’t think straight. This noise like a squeal came from my throat.
“You’ve lost.” He said it like it was just common sense.
The candy wrappers in my pockets made these small noises, crinkled and folded while the sticks of chalk were scraping around. I was kicking at him but he was so heavy and solid. It felt like a television screen had mounted my body.
His voice had me whimpering. It had me pulling my cheeks in and licking his fingers that were too big for my mouth. My lips became swollen and gleaming, puffed up so wide they ached.
It was then that it occurred to me that maybe he hadn’t been joking about dragging me to his car and taking me home to kill me. Any one of the old sedans parked around could be his. My saliva rolled down his knuckles and to his wrists. The blood from my nose had turned it pink and my face at that point was all just red and wet and flushed and scared. Part of me wanted to scream but I had a feeling he’d rip some piece of me out of my throat if I even tried. So for the longest time I sucked this man’s fingers, watching his face twist and his eyes roll up in the back of his head. It hurt when he pushed himself further in. Naturally, I gagged and coughed.
The coarseness of the ground had frayed my dress. It was all just thread waiting to come loose in the wash.
“I won’t take you home,” he told me. I felt an immediate relief following his words. “If you promise you’ll be here everyday to play.”
I nodded yes. Of course, I understood. My blonde hair was just strips of twine that looked like hair that looked like twine that had been all tangled up. I had to agree to get him to let go of me. That was just common sense.
He left me there, after my tongue was raw from sucking. All the candy wrappers had fallen out and onto my lap. I was sitting in the empty lot beside a truck, catching my breath, when a car passed by and the lights shone on me for just a moment. My pupils shrunk.
Everything was just a little off color. The ends of my hair stuck to my chin where the blood had dried. The chalk was powder spread out beneath my hips. I collected my things — the wrappers and my hair and my bits of white powder — as best as I could before getting up to go home. I’d get myself all washed up like I usually did. I’d comb my hair all neat and high, brush my teeth where I could still taste the man’s flesh he’d left behind.
And the next day I’d be back again. I’d be sitting on the sidewalk drawing lines with yellow chalk until he came to play. I’d have marshmallows in my hands and some of them would be melted on the road beside me. But I’d be there. My little figurine body would be shaking like stalks of sunflowers on a windy farm. But I’d be there.
It was just common sense.