The Killer Summer
Kid’s games. Child’s play. Call them what you will. But that night?
That night turned anything but fun.
We were … fifteen, sixteen? Old enough to better, young enough to bounce back. We were sprawled out on the hammock in our big back yard, a rat’s nest of rope and cables strung between metal poles that jutted out of the ground at a 45 degree angle.
There were four of us: Myself, my sister Kat, and my two dear friends – Lance and Eddie – sharing grapes plucked from my mother’s garden. The season was summer, with endless twilights that stretched into forever, and the evening was cool enough that playing outside sounded like a better idea than biking to the arcade.
The game … was Killer.
Some of you were born before me, in a time when casual talk of murder between children wasn’t considered normal. Some of you were born after me, in a time when it was cause for school lockdowns. But we knew the game of old, and we played it to win.
We drew teams. Me and Eddie, against Kat and Lance.
We drew straws, and we lost. Eddie and I would become the hunted.
Scared? We weren’t scared. We knew the score and we laughed at the danger. They couldn’t outsmart us. We’d make it fifteen minutes, dead easy; and then it would be our turn to make a kill.
The killers walked into the house, to get a Coke and give us our head start. The discussion was brief, the answer was clear – the garden. It was late enough in the year that the cornstalks were high and the grapevines were full. That’d be the place to hide.
We had some time. Five minutes. We feinted into the darkness, toward the root cellar, laying a false trail; just in case. Lance was known to cheat, pulling aside the blinds to spy upon his victims. Then we crouched, and doubled back through the night; then lay down in the garden on our bellies, smelling the rich, black earth.
We watched the back door of the house carefully. No sign. Five minutes had passed.
They’d gone out the front door, then. A legal move. A few minutes passed before we caught sight of Kat, slinking along the wall of the house toward the root cellar.
Our feint had worked. We held our breath as she moved, as quiet as death itself, then threw open the cellar doors. We laughed quietly, behind our hands. No luck, Little Nikita, no luck.
And over our laughter, I heard the sound behind us.
I turned. Lance, hovering over us, less than a body’s length away. They’d split up, and he’d jogged around the block to come through a neighbor’s yard, had made his way into our hiding spot.
“MOVE!” I yelled, and scrambled to my feet. Eddie, taller and lankier, jerked himself upright and into the lead. We sprinted into the night as Lance swiped at me with one bare hand. No tag – no kill.
Eddie was in front of me. The night had grown darker. My heart was in my throat. I turned my head. Right behind me. Just out of reach. I turned back. No Eddie. He had dived to the right, somersaulting. Why?
The metal pole of our hammock support caught me right in my sternum.
I don’t remember falling. I don’t remember anything except being on my back, staring at the stars, trying to breathe. Lance told me later it was the worst thing he had ever heard – like a backward scream, air being sucked into my bruised lungs with a terrible, strangled cry.
We were no longer hunter and hunted. Three voices went up at once, calling for help. Calling for my parents.
I woke up in hospital. The heart is a muscle, and I’d managed to bruise three ventricles. The skin of my chest was smeared yellow and purple, the color of smashed grapes from my mothers’ garden. No running – not for days, maybe weeks. No physical exertion. Doctor’s orders. It was a month of lying still, reading comic books, eating ice cream.
But a killer summer.
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