The Game This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

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   I crouched there, reluctant to even exhale, suspicious of every tree branch or blade of grass that stirred in the breeze, likely to jump at the slightest sound. I surveyed my surroundings,Merdy Swamp to my left, with its musty smell, murky water, and lonesome cattails; the scattered oak trees straight ahead, their leafless boughs drooping; and to my right, a steep hill, spotted with patches of dirt among the dead grass. But I saw no one. I listened intently, in search of a faint voice or footstep, only to discover a silence that hung in the air like humidity on a muggy day. The absence of sound grew in volume, becoming a ringing in my ears, until I thought I had to scream to keep my sanity. But my good sense, practically smothered by an overactive imagination and quivering nerves, regained control long enough to keep me from making a sound. I took a deep, shaky breath and lowered my eyes to stare at the haphazard patterns of the moss that decorated the rock I hid behind.

I remained hunched behind the rock for five minutes, awaiting their arrival and trying to ignore the pain in my legs. My knees tightened and my ankles ached; gradually my patience waned. I knew that they would come soon, and wished they wouldn't, but a part of me wanted them to show up and get it over with. As I groaned softly and, glancing at my watch, wondered if I should give up, I heard the crackling of shoes on dead brush, slowly coming closer.

An inaudible whisper soon accompanied the nearing footsteps. I bowed my head so that my chin rested against my chest, and hoped that I wasn't visible from a vantage point at the edge of the forest, the source of the voices. To me, my normal breathing sounded like a thirsty dog panting. I held my breath. I knew they were armed and would shoot without a moment's hesitation.

Within seconds I could understand the whispered words. An impatient voice said, "Quiet down. A deaf guy could hear you a hundred miles away."

"I ain't any louder than you," the other one said, "and they'd more likely hear you blabbing."

"Oh yeah?"

"Shhhhh!" the second hissed. "I wanna get this done."

I figured that the duo stood about a hundred feet away. I remained perfectly still, my hands clenched so tight that my fingernails dug into my palms.

"Here," said the first, "take this and get to it."

"No way. Why should I? Don't go ordering me around."

"I can, 'cuz you ain't in charge."

"You ain't neither."

"Get to it, we don't got all day."

"Aw, c'mon."

"Just do it."

The ring of steel against rock shattered the silence of the swamp. I started at the noise, then quickly tensed, praying that they hadn't heard me.

"Careful!" one of them said.

I listened to the sound of dirt being thrown to the ground, the occasional ring when the shovel struck a stone, and my heart pounding. I wondered if they could hear it too.

Soon the shoveler began scooping up smaller piles of soil, flinging them into the air and letting the wind take it wherever it pleased. A handful of dirt flew over the rock and into my face, stinging my eyes and catching in my throat.

My throat tickled. I panicked. I tried to resist the urge to cough. I opted for suffocation over their finding me. But I couldn't stop it: one escaped. One, little cough. "What was that?"

"I don't know. It came from over there."

"Bet it's him."

I knew I was a goner.

"Behind the rock!"

Two sets of footsteps dashed toward the rock. "There he is!"

"I got 'im!"

A finger hooked the trigger and pulled. A blast of water squirted in my face.

"Ha, ha, Timmy. We found ya!" A squeaky voice giggled.

I lifted my soaking face to look into the big, brown eyes of Billy Jorgen. "You're Ait'," his companion, Johnny, said.

"All right," I said, "you got me." I stood up, relieving my aching legs. "I'm bored of this. Let's go play something else. Cowboys 'n' Indians? Anyway, what the heck were you doing with the shovel?"

"Digging for worms," Billy said. "We couldn't find ya so we decided to do that 'til you showed up. 'Course, Johnny scared away all the worms."

"Did not! "

We all laughed, then mounted our loyal white steeds, adjusted the hats on our heads, slid our revolvers out of their holsters and galloped off into the sunset, in pursuit of a tribe of hooting Indians. n




This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.






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