Tuesday, 8 December 2020

[Glory Brats 15] Tag, you're It!

 After bread and honey for breakfast, they were all shooed outside into the sunshine.

"Go and find the other children, they'll be about somewhere..."

They wandered around the settlement in a scattered group, headed up by Sparrow and Tekla, with Zed, Dee and Rat in the middle, and Bee trailing behind. She wished the others wouldn't go on so quickly, but didn't want to ask them to slow down.

A few adults glanced at them strangely as they picked their way in and out of the turf houses and wooden buildings, but after a while they became aware that they were being watched by other eyes. Every time Sparrow thought she'd caught them out, they ducked out of sight or ran behind another house. They could hear smothered laughter too, and whisperings just before they turned a corner.

Someone darted out from a doorway and pushed Sparrow, "Tag, you're It!" They yelled as they sped away. Sparrow took off after them, leaving the others behind, somewhat confused.

"It's a game..." Tekla explained. "You gots to not be caught by the other person who's It. An' if you DO get caught, then YOU become It.

"Become what?" Dee asked

"IT..." Tekla stressed in frustration.

They stood around waiting for a while, hearing cries and whoops of laughter coming from all around them. Then a boy barrelled around the corner, looking over his shoulder, and charged straight into Dee, knocking him down onto the muddy grass. 

"Sorry," The boy said, and held out a hand to help him up. He stared a little at Dee's paler than usual skin, hair and eyes. "You're them kids from the forest?"

Dee looked around at the others for encouragement and nodded.

The boy backed away a little. "My sister says there's bad things in the forest..."

"There is!" agreed Dee. "We were chased by a... a thing with snapping teeth and it growled at us, like this..." he demonstrated to the boy.

The boy looked impressed. "Weren't you scared?"

Just then, a pack of children came around the corner, calling for Eli. They stopped when they saw him talking.

"Eli - you coming back to play?" One of them called out.

"Yes, but listen - they fought off a monster in the forest!"

"It was a dog, actually..." said Sparrow, from behind the group of new kids. "And it was just protecting its puppies."

One of the older kids spoke up, "Those wild dogs can be really dangerous." 

"Yeah, an' if they bite you, you go MAD..."

Eli looked over at Dee. "Anyway, you comin' to play?"

"The It game! Can my friends come too?"

"Sure."

"How's Bee going to play?" Zed asked as everyone was running off.

"I don't want to play." Bee said quickly.

"It looks like fun though..."

"You go then, Smartboy. I don't mind. I think I'm too old for games."

Zed chased after the others, catching up to Rat who was trotting to keep up. Bee walked along the side of the house, following the sound of the voices. At first they were in front of her, then they were all around. And then Zed's voice appeared right at her ear.

"They know a game you can play!"

"I don't want..."

"Please, Bee? I want you to play."

Bee sighed. "Just because it's you, Smartboy." She allowed herself to be positioned by Zed. 

"You need to listen out for people calling 'Here I am' and then try to find them. They're not allowed to move. Oh, and you have to call out 'Tell me where you are' before they say 'Here I am.'"

"This is stupid..." Bee muttered to herself before saying in an only slightly louder voice, "Tell me where you are."

***

Sparrow stood on the edge of the crowd. She watched Bee walking forward and listening for the replies.  She felt a tap on her shoulder. It was Rosa.

"Come with me a moment. We need to talk."

Away from the others, Sparrow felt the tension in her body return. It had vanished while they were playing for a while, but now she felt like every part of her was on edge. She followed Rosa up the steps to the stone tower in the middle of the enclosure. Inside the wall it was like a tunnel - a small dark passageway built into the thickness of the wall. They went up a stone staircase, curving with the wall, and emerged into the inner section. This was a platform, spanning half the inside circle, like a wooden house built into the side of the stone wall. The other half was open to the sky. Looking over the side, Sparrow could see people on the ground far below.

"So this is Sparrow Jones..."

Sparrow looked up to see a tall, dark-skinned woman crossing the floor towards them. Rosa pushed her forward, and Sparrow took the hand that was held out to her and shook it awkwardly.

"I'm Grace Norden, and I'm in charge of this place. I'm the one who's responsible for your father being here."

"Where is he now?" Sparrow asked, feeling like no one was telling her what she wanted to know.

Grace looked over at Rosa and nodded. Then she waved Sparrow over to the side of the room where there was  a wood-burning stove and some seats. Rosa left them alone.

"Your father is doing some important work for us on the railway line between Exchange and Central. But he will be back here at some point. We can look after you and your little sister until he does. And your friends too."

"But why is he working for you? He's meant to be working on the new railway."

"That's really something he'll need to tell you himself. For now just know that he's doing good work. And when he comes back he'll be really proud of you for keeping your little sister safe, won't he?"

"I suppose so..."

"He will be. Now, can you find your way out by yourself? I have another meeting soon."

Sparrow nodded, eager to get back to the others and tell them the good news that they could all stay.


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