A Night of Manhunt

April 7, 2009
By , Plattsburgh, NY
The park is dark. The football stadium lights are off; the only illumination comes from fading reflections of passing cars' headlights. There are a multitude of us, all little lawbreakers, out beyond the city's curfew. It's past ten thirty, and our game is just about to begin.
"It's dark enough – let's pick the teams already. I'm getting cold."
Murmurs of assent echo back. We're invisible, or nearly in this setting. Skin tight clothing, all in shades of charcoal and black cover every player. No one has gone so far as to smear face paint over skin yet, but it's only a matter of time. Anything light may give us away.
"Split the Elsworths up," a voice to the right mutters. "Last time they were on the same team."
A chorus of "yeah, yeah," seconds the motion and the twin runners are separated.
"Hurry up. You, you and you – Brian's team. The rest of you, David's."
Chattering teeth reply to the divisions, and shadowy forms push apart into the two groups. It's nigh impossible to tell which team is which, and who is on either one. We stumble towards the unofficial team leaders, huddling as much for warmth as to keep our plans secret.
"Okay – first, who's here?"
We offer our identities.
"Damn…so David got the other cross-country runners." Well, if that's David, then this is Brian. One mystery solved. "All right, here's what we're gonna do – "
A light hand finds my arm, rests there. It's warm, hot enough so I can feel the heat radiate through the Danskin under-armor. I shift, moving closer to its owner. A chin rests on my head, tepid breath ruffling my hair.
Brian's still talking. We aren't listening.
My leg touches someone else's, contacting from ankle to hip. Summer heat passes between us. Feral excitement rushes through the rest of the group. David's group has vanished, gone into hiding. Soon the chase begins.
Brian counts, loud and clear. The numbers reverberate within the blackened playground. We mill around like wild dogs, waiting for the hunt. No one is cold now; we are soaring on the energy passed from one member of the pack to another. Tension runs high. Petty sniping passes back and forth between members, restless to run. Their legs shake as adrenaline floods their systems, waiting for constructive release.
"…thirty, thirty-one, thirty-two…"
Our pack leader's counting is beginning to speed up, straining like a dog in the traces, leaping after wild rabbits. Fifty seems so far away.
The hand on my arm hasn't left. It migrates to grasp my opposite shoulder, and the connecting arm rests along my shoulder blades, pulling me into someone's side. The excess of heat makes the night air seem much chillier.
"…forty-four! Forty-five! Forty-six!…"
The hand tugs on my shoulder, guiding me away from the dead jungle-gym, painted in black frost. I follow. The wolves of the pack are baying the last few numbers, their howling chorus chilling to the senses. Forty-nine! Fifty! echoes across the hunting grounds. Silent now, the pack charges off, splitting in accordance with their orders.
Except we two…remaining behind, drifting away. The one hand becomes two, and we slip into the shadows of the nightly hours. Our breathing is too shallow, too soft. Our eyes are dilated, trying to see beyond mere outlines. We take refuge among the weeping willows, blending with the branches, and our sides scrape along the rough bark.
Merge together, sharing breath. A feral, wild moment, and then it's gone.
Our group is calling us back, agitated shouting breaking the atmosphere. The game isn't over yet – but ours is, at least for now. Discontent ruffles through us, but we reemerge onto the field; it's almost bright compared to the shadows.
It's still only quarter of eleven. There's plenty of time for another round or six.
Everyone is back together again. "That one went too fast. Brian, we'll trade you Savannah for T.J. That should even it out a bit."
"We were only playing with four to begin with! Those two were off doing their own thing – "
"Something I didn't want to know…"
Nervous laughter peppers the air. A hand lingers on my arm. It's warm.

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