After School Play

Bridget Frawley, Fantasy

The chiming bells echoed through the campus hallways like the grandness of cathedral chimes, bellowing throughout reflected rainbow light, painting historic architecture. A heavy fog rests over the school ground as children skip towards the bus. Immense pine trees encircle the cracked sidewalk, leaving heavy shadows across the road, contrasting the dewy radiance of the evening’s glow. Murmurs of laughter fill the bus driving out of the school gates, puffs of ashy smoke omitting into the surrounding air.

The bus traveled past the outskirts of the city, lights flickering as it approaches nightfall, the moon swallowing the heart of the bustling skyline. Vibrant lights engulf the concrete jungle. Long, desolate roads lay on the edge of the city, leading on for miles with little reminisce of human presence. Aged willow trees hang over the bus’ set path, forming a flora curtain, small fireflies flickering through its arms. That is practically all this plain little neighborhood had to offer- mature trees that people who had nothing better to do with their lives entranced over.  When the bus approaches The Willows, a small, quaint neighborhood residing just past the city’s borders, it comes to a stop. Fifth grade children pile out as the bus driver reaches for his flask and soon drives off into the thick, hovering fog. Six of the children make their way to a small, grassy field encompassed by white houses with manicured lawns and white picket fences. The children formed a circle on the grass, the blades poking at soft flesh. They sink into the field, sitting and linking hands. Scattered around are vibrant backpacks accompanied by tin lunch boxes adorned with eccentric designs and color waves.

“Does everyone remember the rules from last year?” Violet said.

Everyone nodded at the pale girl, her black hair whisping with the movement of the passing wind. Everyone nodded except for Auguste, a meak boy with auburn hair.

“I’m new this year. I have never played,” Auguste said.

“The rules are pretty simple,” Violet said. “We all run around the neighborhood, trying not to be tagged. If you get tagged, the person who tagged you is safe, but you are still in the game, which means you have to go tag someone. Once there are two people left, they are the Selections. I will explain the rest later.”

“Now that everyone understands, let’s start,” Gardenia said, propping herself in the grass, squirming in a pool of anticipation.

“Alright, alright! Everyone stand on the edge of the field and on my call, the game begins.”

The children walked towards the curb encircling the small field, each of the six children choosing a side with two per side. Auguste peered around at the rest of the group, his palms acting as pockets for sweat.

“3,2,1! The Selection has begun!” Violet shouted, igniting a stampede of close-toed shoes sprinting in opposite directions.

The red sunlight dipped beneath the trees, casting silhouettes throughout the quiet roads- quiet aside from the sprinting of the children, brushing past surrounding bushes. Auguste struggled to navigate the terrain of the new neighborhood, having just moved from the hearth of the city last month. His parents were unsettled by the busy flow of the city, causing them to move to the secluded community of The Willows. The other children were continuously making up new games, creating the daily routine of after school play. Auguste felt there was something peculiar about these games that other children play– simple childhood activities such as duck duck goose and freeze tag don’t seem to be an option for them. He usually stared from the rooftop of his house, gazing beneath pale moonlight as the others prance around in handmade masks like woodland animals scouring the forest floor. Back in the city apartment, the children were simple. He considered himself simple too. Hide and seek was always his favorite, the thrill of diving under bushes, barely escaping the sight of the seeker. Ever since they moved, he missed the soft humming of passing cars, the hustle and bustle of foot traffic trailing the sidewalks, the look of glee tourists felt when entering the beauty of the night life. He missed home. 

“Found you!” Sage yelped, racing towards Gardenia and clasping her small hand on her shoulder.

“Already? We just started!” Gardenia said, the reality of her defeat soaking in.

Auguste sprinted into a nearby yard, avoiding an encounter with the others, making a harrowing escape from losing the first game he has ever played with these kids. 

“Looks like I’m safe this year. Good luck Gardenia. Try finding that new kid; he can’t be that hard to tag,” Sage said, returning back to her starting point in the grass field.

Troubled by Sage’s words, Auguste made his way towards the nature trails, trying to avoid the sprinklers dousing the well manicured lawn. The nature trails traversed through a small wood alongside the neighborhood, all the trails leading to different entrances back into the community. Auguste assumed someone would be in the woods, the perfect spot to tag someone. He wanted to prove Sage wrong: instead of the one being tagged, he would be one to make the first move.

The moon hung in the vast sky, a chandelier for the ceiling of stars overhead. A forest is not the ideal place to be at this time of day, Auguste thought to himself as he attempted to avoid anything that would give away his cover. Suddenly, he heard a faint rustling in the distance and saw a shadowy figure racing deeper into the forest towards a peculiar source of light. Auguste gulped as he followed their path, making sure his movements were quick but stealthy. A glittering light emerged from an unknown source as he motioned after the figure. The shadow looked over its shoulder, hoping to ensure that no one was nearby. Auguste lurked beneath the cloak of the night, controlling his breathing so it wasn’t heard amongst the silence. 

“Salem, it’s me,” the figure said as it enters the mysterious glow. “It’s Violet.”

August peaked out from a tall pine tree, puzzled as to whom Violet is talking to. Shouldn’t she be trying to tag whoever this Salem character is? he thought.

“You are sure Auguste didn’t follow you, right?” Salem asked, her voice hushed. 

“Auguste wouldn’t dare enter the trails at night– he is always making up excuses when we ask if he wants to play at night. He never falls for it,” Violet said as she constantly scanned her surroundings.

“Fall for what?” Auguste murmured under his breath, stepping closer towards the light.

“Just checking. The portal is ready whenever the game is over,” Salem said. “Just make sure Auguste gets tagged.” Violet nodded and ran back towards one of the entrances of the trails, briskly returning to the neighborhood. Completely and utterly confused, Auguste stepped closer to where he assumes Salem is, making sure he was concealed by a nearby tree or bush. A blinding light struck his eyes as he stared at an immense, aged willow tree, its trunk extending towards the celestial skyline. Leaves hung down from the branches, forming a veil of green cascading down to the base of the tree. Then, he saw it. A glistening pool of encircling blues. Bubbles of sapphire gurgle within. A girl he recognizes from class and the field stares into the enchanting substance, dipping her finger into the ethereal concoction. She always sat in the corner of the classroom, her soft, flowing white hair reaching the apple juice stained classroom tile. Her eyes bulged out from her gaunt face, flecks of gold acting as glitter amongst the surrounding brown. She was always quiet and only spoke when called on. 

Snapping out of his bewildered state, Auguste realized this was his moment. If he tagged Salem, he would be safe from whatever trap he hasn’t yet fallen for. As Auguste extended his hand out towards Salem, she whipped around and struck her hand atop his. 

“Tagged you!” she said. Auguste looked behind the girl to find that the glow has dimmed and has taken the form of the solid black earth.

“Where did th-that thing go, with the glowing swirls?” Auguste wondered aloud, his eyes glazed in pure shock.

“What thing?” Salem responded. “Whatever, I tagged you which means I’m safe and you still have to find someone before the game is done. Then again, is the game really ever done, or is it only beginning?” 

Four figures emerged from behind them. Without the once-mystical light coming from the ground, it was difficult to make out their faces.

“Everyone was tagged except for Gardenia and Auguste,” a voice spoke amongst the desolate state of darkness.

“Looks like we have our two Selections,” Salem said, approaching the other children.

“Wait. What does that mean?” Auguste asked, shivers racing throughout his scrawny body.

“Well, once we have our two Selections, we hold a trial. Those who are safe will be the jury and will come to a verdict, deciding which of the two Selections will be deemed safe,” Violet said, stepping closer to Auguste.

“And what about the other one? The one who isn’t deemed safe?” August asked, the color draining from his rosy cheeks.

“We can worry about that later,” Violet said, turning towards Salem. With a snap of Salem’s fingers, the luminous pool reappeared by the base of the hanging willow, the pale cyan tones circling towards the depths below. While the others seem unphased by the sudden appearance of the substance, Auguste felt goosebumps prickle his flesh, his entire body shaking as if he was blanketed in an arctic tundra. Salem stepped into the base of the willow tree, bathing in the blue bubbles, her pale features becoming translucent like curtains rolling onto sandy shores.

“Where did that take her?” August said.

“To the courtroom,” Gardenia said. “That’s where the trial will be.”

Gardenia followed in the footsteps of Salem, her frame consumed by the pool, her skin melting like invisible ink dropped onto parchment. One after another, the children paraded into the glistening oasis, marching towards an unknown destination. Everyone except August vanished beneath the base of the willow tree. Auguste trembled as his body shook violently beneath the faint glow of moonlight. He looked back at the surrounding forest and the neighborhood lying past the wire fence, and turned back to the pool, his curiosity overwhelming him. He took a deep taste of the dry, crisp air, and jumped into the whirling vat of mysteries. Jumping into it, he felt his body float as if he was weightless, orbiting in a vast space. The journey into the depths of the portal seemed to go very fast though at the same time, Auguste felt as though the world faced an immense lull of time. The swirling blues transformed to chiseled statues, pearly white faces staring him down. All at once, melodious voices drifted out of the porcelain lips, the statues stirring sweet hums into the mystifying setting. Stately grandfather clocks chimed loudly in his ears, the ticking sound silencing the once harmonious echo. The portal ended with a hard thump, leaving Auguste on the frigid, marble floor, the others staring at him as if that was a usual occurrence for them.

“Alright, now that we are finally all here,” Violet said, grimacing towards Auguste, “we can commence the trial. Follow me.” They all walked behind Violet, past towering, marble pillars meeting the molded ceiling accented with gold. The gold accents flowed down the ceiling as if specks of sunlight arranged itself to become luxurious decor. A grand, cold room consumed the six children as they walked furtively towards an elevator situated at the opposite end of the room. Silence filled every corner of the room, the only sound coming from the delicate tapping of shoes on the tile. Everyone gathered into the elevator, gentle music chiming in the above speakers. It was crowded with all the children packed inside its compact walls. Scents of wealthy perfume misted out from the vents above. Violet pushed the button labeled 24, and Auguste felt his inside plunge down as they progressed upwards rapidly. The children stood silent. 

As the doors swiftly opened, everyone walked out in a staggered formation, progressing towards a tall, mahogany door directly ahead of the elevator. Auguste peered around as they approached the doorway, staring at the granite statues that were contrasted against the barren backdrop. The building was brightly lit, a grand chandelier hanging above, gold flakes falling from the candelabras casting iridescent shadows which painted to the hard flooring. Salem took the lead and placed her pale hand on the metal door knocker. She glanced at Violet who gave her a faint nod, and struck the oxidized metal against the door six times. Nothing happened until the door suddenly creaked open, unleashing distinct aromas of dusty parchment and fine wines. The interior of the small room was a rich, ruby red, velvet blanketing the walls. It was a courtroom with black wooden pews forming aisels. The judge’s bench was positioned in the back of the room, with a small candle providing a dim source of light. Directly next to it was the witness bench, followed by the jury box. Auguste felt his heartbeat quicken as if it was about to explode, fractals of cardinal plastering the already vibrant red walls. 

“Gardenia and Auguste, you two will be seated at the dock which is right behind the well,” Violet said. “Salem will be at the judge’s bench, the rest of us will be the jury.”

Following directions, the children swiftly made their way to their assigned seating, all still smiling contently, including Gardenia 

“Our two Selections this year are Gardenia Smelth and Auguste…I’m sorry, what is your last name?” Salem asked.

“Bl-Blanchwell, uh Auguste Blanchwell,” Auguste said, staring at his fidgeting feet.

“Now Auguste, this trial works differently than what you may be used to. No need to be nervous though, this is a yearly occurrence and we are all very accustomed to it. You’ll fit in just fine,” Salem said as she reached into an obsidian black drawer. Stepping down from the judge’s box, she made her way towards Auguste and Gardenia, brandishing a pair of silver scissors. She went to Gardenia first, snipping a strand of her chestnut hair. 

“What was that for?” Auguste said, his heart beating even faster now.

“It is just the procedure,” Salem said, now snipping Auguste’s flaming, scarlet hair before returning to the judge’s box. Scouring the drawer again, she returned to them with a pin like one found within the clutter of a sewer’s workshop. Salem made her way towards Gardenia and Auguste again, pricking Gardenia’s soft flesh as if it were a pin cushion. A drop of blood rested on the tip of the pin. Before Auguste could speak up, she did the same to his freckled arm. She placed the drops of blood and strands of hair in a small bowl at the top of the judge’s box. 

“Perfect,” she said, clasping her hands together and turning towards the jury. “Alright, jury, you may now begin discussing who you think should be safe, narrowing us down to only one Selection. You have five minutes to come to a unanimous decision.” 

Auguste looked down at his prodded flesh, questioning where he is and why this was even happening. 

“We are ready,” Violet spoke, standing and handing a beige envelope to Salem.

“Excellent! Gardenia Smelth, you are safe this year. You may proceed to the jury box,” Salem said as all the small heads turned towards Gardenia, bathing her in a gentle applause. 

“What about me?” Auguste said, his body drenched in a coat of sweat, beads streaming down his forehead.

“You are this year’s Selection, Auguste,” Salem said. “That really is an honorable title. You give your pure blood to those who need it most. Life truly is a game isn’t it? Don’t view this as a loss, view it with pride. People like yourself are the reason we can keep playing these games.”

Auguste stared at the others, dumbfounded and confused. In unison, the other children stood and walked towards him synchronized. 

“It was fun playing with you Auguste,” they all spoke as Salem pushed him, sending him falling into the once-black rows of seating, now a blur of auburn reds and blacks. Rapid swirls encased his body, then everything turned dark. 

The others walked towards another portal in a tight cleaning cupboard at the back of the courtroom, reappearing at the base of the willow tree. Salem poured the bowl containing Auguste’s blood and hair into the base of the tree, the portal glowing even brighter than it once was. Under the flickering light of celestial electricity, they looked at the willow bark, adorned with faces of small little boys and girls. A new face appeared in the wise wood, the face of Auguste Blanchwell.

 

I love reading and writing fantasy short stories! This was actually based around a dream I had one night and I woke up in the middle of the night and wrote it down on my phone notes so I would not forget!