Chapter no 17 – PLAYGROUND RULES


The children had been sitting in the metallic cell for some time. The air had grown stale, and the mounting tension was thick enough to cut with a knife. Tears, terror, and frenzy were the only company they had.

CJ found a way to push his fears aside and focus on Isaac’s wounds. He squatted down, arms wrapped around his shirtless torso, addressing him as gently as possible.

“I just need to take a look at it, dude. I know you don’t want me to, but we need to see how bad it is,” he explained.

Isaac sat slumped against the far wall of the cell. He was still in tears, trying to deal with the throbbing pain.

“I—I don’t wanna look,” Isaac cried.

“You don’t have to. It’s on the back of your arm anyhow, so you won’t even see it. I’ll be extra careful, okay?”


CJ lifted the back of Isaac’s tee shirt sleeve up and examined the damage.

There were several deep indentations from the canine teeth that left a sizable tear in Isaac’s skin. CJ was no doctor, but he figured having a look at it might give him an idea of how to best assist Isaac. As the blood continued to flow out of the rip, he knew he needed to find a way to stall it.

“Holy shit,” Bobby said.

“Is it bad?!” Isaac screeched.

CJ turned around, glaring at his older brother.

“No, it’s fine, Isaac. We just need to make some kind of bandage is all.” Rising up from the ground, CJ approached Bobby.

“I know what you’re trying to do,” CJ whispered. “What?” Bobby asked.

“Do you not get how serious this is? Just stop messing with him. We have other stuff to worry about.”

“Fuck him. I’m your brother, not that piece of shit.” CJ sighed. “Sometimes, I wish that wasn’t the case.” “Get bent.”

“Ahh, ugh! It hurts so bad!” Isaac cried.

Isaac continued to groan, holding his arm, and staring at his sisters. He could see their profound terror as they stood sobbing in each other’s arms on the other side of the cell.

CJ was done squabbling with his brother. He refocused and moved on to the more pressing issue. Getting through to Bobby was a lost cause; he’d known that much since the day he was born.

He turned to his youngest brother.

Kip stood by idly after watching Bobby and CJ bicker with each other.

He seemed on the fence over whom he should side with in the argument.

CJ examined Kip’s clothing and noticed the unbuttoned, casual collared shirt and particularly the white tee that was underneath.

“Kip, I need your undershirt,” CJ said. “What? Why?” Kip asked.

Bobby rolled his eyes and huffed.

“Isaac is still bleeding. We need to tie something around his wound.

Like they showed us in that first aid class. You remember?” “Can’t you just use his shirt?”

CJ took a step closer to him until their noses almost touched.

“Look, this is how it’s gonna go,” CJ said, “and this goes for both of you. From here on out, I’m calling the shots. If either of you got a problem with that, we can figure it out right now.”

Kip looked at Bobby, who would not hold his tongue. “I’m the oldest! I should get to make the decisions!” “Yeah!” Kip said.

“Yeah, tough shit, that’s two out of three!” Bobby yelled. “No, it’s not,” Tanya interjected.

She’d been following the conversation closely. Tanya wasn’t about to let her nerves control her. Like everyone else, she had no idea what was going on but understood a level-headed approach was critical.

While Tanya was young, she was still mature enough to realize that Bobby and Kip were clones of her father. Even if they weren’t the clones that her dad would’ve hoped for, their personalities had been set in stone.

They weren’t bad to the bone, but she’d seen all her old man’s worst traits in them at one time or another. Sure, her father had some nice specs within his pushy personality, but he was shackled to his own selfishness and operated in a narrow-minded fashion. She would not be comfortable with anyone but CJ leading them.

“I vote CJ. He’s the fairest,” Tanya said.

“He’s Dad’s little fucking pet,” Bobby snarled.

“Exactly, and that’s the tiebreaker. You know yourself that Dad would pick him for this, not you, and definitely not Kip.”

“We want CJ too,” Sadie announced, still holding her sister Sam in her trembling arms.

Donnie stood beside the girls but kept his silence. No one was certain if he even understood the conversation. His blankness was all-encompassing.

“I guess that settles that,” CJ said.

The red rose to the surface of Bobby’s entire face. “Like hell it does!” Bobby barked.

CJ stepped up as close to Bobby as he could get.

“I don’t think you get it. I’m not asking you. I was never asking you. I’m telling you. We can fight for it if we have to, but you know how that always ends. I’ll whip both your asses if I have to.”

CJ’s hand pressed against his knuckles and let out a sickening crack. He never bullied either of his brothers before, but they’d had their share of sibling rivalries. Their current situation called for the callous and uncomfortable measures braising in his brain.

CJ hated bullies.

He hated how Bobby acted and the pieces of his persona he saw rubbing off on Kip. It was like an infection of idiocy that was spreading out of control. But he didn’t have time to pull out the Crayola and explain to them why they were wrong. He knew asserting his physical dominance and threatening them into compliance would be the only timely method.

Neither Bobby nor Kip found the gall to challenge him.

“Okay,” CJ said, turning back to Kip. “We don’t have any more time to waste. So, you’re gonna either give me your fucking shirt right now,” CJ rammed his finger into his sternum, “or, I’m gonna take it.”

Bobby’s face was seething with anger, a mega-load he had no way of exorcising.

Kip obeyed. Peeling off his shirts, he handed his brother the white tee, then slipped the collared shirt back over his shoulders.

“Thank you,” CJ said.

He stretched the tee shirt, knelt beside Isaac, and reexamined the wound.

“This might just hurt for a second, but we’ve gotta cover up the wound, okay?”

“It already hurts,” Isaac said.

He cringed in pain but nodded, giving CJ the go-ahead.

CJ looped the white shirt around the gash and carefully increased the tension. Isaac emitted an exhale of agony as the knot CJ fashioned applied additional pressure.

“Almost there—”

“It’s gonna be okay, Isaac,” Sadie said.

Just as CJ finished tying off the wound, the metal box elevated. Uncomfortable cries and howls of terror erupted from the nervous children.

No one was itching to find out what came next.

Isaac’s chest thrashed with increasing intensity for each increment the steel cube climbed. He recalled that the big slide was all the way up in the trees, so it didn’t surprise him when the cell continued to ascend higher.

And higher. And higher.

When it finally screeched to a halt, the doors at the front of the box retracted, revealing a small lip before the tube slide began. The face of the slide and tube chute was constructed from ominous ebony plastic. The thick piping took a steep decline into the darkness that none of the sunlight outside was powerful enough to penetrate.

Isaac held his arm. The compression around the afflicted area felt comforting but panic still stirred inside him. All things considered, CJ had done a damn good job with the bandage. But fresh distress dawned in his mind. He remembered where the slide went.

The unnerving image of the enormous human hose dropping below the beach sand was strange enough to stick in his head.

“What the heck is this?” CJ asked.

He moved closer to the lone sign posted on the wall beside the entrance to the slide.

The heading read: PLAYGROUND RULES. “What do you think it means?” Sadie asked.

Tanya stepped up beside her brother and squinted at the font below the heading. She read the small paragraph aloud.

“After your ride don’t stand too tall, don’t look too hard, don’t look at all. If you want to move on after you fall, just use your ears and have a ball.”

The words made little sense to Tanya. “Any ideas?” CJ asked.

Tanya shook her head.

“It sounds like some kind of riddle,” she said.

When you fall… I don’t like the sound of that,” Isaac interjected. “I don’t know if anyone else saw, but this slide, it goes into the ground.”

Out of the blue, the wall behind them rumbled. The shrill hiss of steam released flooding the cell, making it much harder for the children to hear each other. The cold, metal wall crept forward, nudging them all toward the slide’s black hole.

Inch by inch their claustrophobia increased; time was running out. “Noooo!” Sam cried.

“What are we gonna do?!” Tanya screamed.

The room was changing rapidly; it was three-quarters of the size it had been when they entered it.

“I guess we have to go!” CJ replied.

He pointed at the unsettling hole ahead.

“But we—we don’t know what’s down there!” Kip cried.

“We know what’s up here though! We’re dead if we stay!” CJ said. “So, who’s first?!” Sam asked.

Warm tears trickled down her cheeks. “It doesn’t matter, we’ve all gotta go!”

The room was now reduced to half its initial size. “Go! Go! Go!” CJ yelled.

CJ ushered the kids into the slide.

As the first five pushed off into the unknown abyss, the same horrifying grimace found each of their faces. Sam was brave enough to go first, and

Sadie shadowed behind her. Tanya was the next to take the plunge, followed by Bobby and Kip.

CJ looked at Donnie. His emotionless face left everything to the imagination.

“C’mon, buddy! It’ll be alright!” he yelled, guiding him up to the slide.

After Donnie disappeared into the cylinder of darkness, Isaac forced his way to his feet and set himself up. He looked back toward CJ.

“Thanks for saving me from the dog!” he yelled. The sound of the steam was almost deafening.

“Don’t thank me yet! You can thank me if we get out of here!” CJ replied.

When we get out of here, you mean when—”

CJ pushed him forward. The wall had gotten a little closer than he was comfortable with. While he appreciated Isaac’s gesture of gratitude, it would have to wait.

With little breathing room remaining, CJ kicked his feet forward and slid away from the pursuing doom.

Or so he thought.

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