The cowboys had decimated the Indians. Their bodies lay against walls, on benches, by signs pointing left to the lion enclosure and right to the elephants.
It was the last hour of the school trip and after the penguin feeding and trip on the monorail, it was designated Free Time. So inevitably it had devolved into 9B hiding around corners and jumping out, air pistols cocked and bows drawn.
Through the luck of the allocation system the cowboys had ended up the stronger; Darren, the first captain, had watched in delight as almost every number he selected was a known advantage. Oliver, on the other hand, faced an increasingly doomed mission with every skinny sadsack who trudged towards him. The numbers system was agreed upon as neutral, so he would just have to work with what he had, but he was weary after just the first game as he struggled to encourage his troops to take up tactical positions and fire invisible bows through the enemy’s heart.
Of this unfortunate collection, Jonny was unusual. Yes, he was an undesirable teammate, but not because of the afflictions that ailed the others: streaming noses, asthma, a preference for reading over Wild West re-enactments. Jonny was unusual because he simply did what he wanted; and what he wanted was to follow people.
“Fuck’s sake Jonny,” cried Oliver. Jonny grinned from beneath his mad thatch of hair – he’d tailed Oliver for nearly ten minutes without him noticing, the last three of which he’d managed to spend within a few metres of his quarry. He was getting good at this. Invigorated by the lack of sanction for his outburst Oliver shoved Jonny out of the way, turned, and was promptly gunned down by a whooping Russell.
“That’s a machine gun you idiot. Cowboys don’t have machine guns, they have pistols.”
“Whatever, you’re still dead. Yee-haw!”
“You can’t shoot me with a machine gun, that doesn’t count.”
“As if! I got you Oliver, just face it. Face it.”
“Alright, alright – new game. NEW GAME!”
The new game ended in the same way as the others, with Oliver valiantly holding out against the encircling cowboys. No-one got Jonny this time, but he wasn’t really playing anyway.
Ms Harris, on her last day of teaching and after her last sound night’s sleep, called an end to things with the announcement that it was time to leave.
Can’t we see them feeding the lions?”
Aw go on miss, there’s loads of people watching, look!”
he sighed. Why had she agreed to do this on her own? “No Russell, the coach is leaving in five minutes. Now stand still while I count.”
By the third identical count her breaths had become shorter.
“Who’s missing? There’s only 28 of you here, who’s missing?”
“Oliver’s brain’s missing.”
No-one knew who was missing. Ms Harris rummaged in her bag for the register. They were going to be late for the coach at this rate, and Mr Baldock would have her in his office for another ‘little chat’ about timekeeping and class management.
“Here it is. Let’s see.”
She never read the register; the screams brought the class running in the direction of the lion enclosure. Bile rose in Ms Harris’s throat. She could no longer taste the homemade tomato and basil pasta she’d had for lunch as she ran, dazed and helpless, every repetition of his name more wild.
The school arranged for a counsellor to come in every week for the next six months.
The zookeeper no longer tried to impress women by telling them he fed the lions.
The Chester Chronicle had never seen sales like it.
Originally posted on The Pygmy Giant.