Thank you for dropping in to read this week's TUESDAY TALES
The prompt is 'Games'
“Com’on.” Brad led the group of fellow ten-year-olds across the park towards the trees. “It’ll be easy.”
He heard the muttering behind him and hefted his mini crossbow from one hand to the other. He patted the knotted tie that held his arrows against his back. Jeff was carrying a bag of apples, and Will and Harry had tagged along to watch.
“Hey!” Will called to his friend Logan, you coming to see Brad split an apple on top of Jeff’s head?” He’d never heard of William Tell but that didn’t matter.
“Don’t be daft, he can’t do that!” Logan loped across the grass to join the group and on spying another friend invited them along.
“Where we going?” Tyler, the tenth boy to join the group, demanded.
“Dun’ know.” Will admitted.
“There’s a clearing that’s big enough just along the path that leads to the tennis courts.” Brad called over his shoulder. “Not many people use it so we won’t be disturbed.”
Brad’s confidence plummeted with each addition to the small band of boys now crossing the park. Several adults, he noticed, were watching their progress towards the trees. Perhaps he shouldn’t have accepted Jeff’s challenge?
He looked across at his best buddy and noted the freckles standing out against the pallor of his skin. Was he regretting the challenge? And would he withdraw it? Anger joined his fear when he heard his silent prayers he wouldn’t have to follow through.
It all seemed such a lark last night when they’d been trolling the ‘net and come across the story of William Tell, who in an effort to avoid being imprisoned shot an apple off the top of his son’s head.
Now, as the group of boys increased, it turned into something more like a nightmare than a game.
From the corner of his eye Brad saw two men approaching. One was Jeff’s father. What was he doing here? Why wasn’t he watching the game on TV?
“Nah! My Dad won’t notice,” Jeff assured him last night when they plotted this. “He always stays in and watches the game, and my Mom goes round to Aunt Bella, so no one will see us.”
“What you doing, boys?” Jeff’s dad asked with an easy smile.
Hadn’t he noticed the crossbow, Brad wondered and shifted it closer to the ground, and cringed at the glee in Will’s response.
“We’re gonna’ watch Brad shoot an apple off Jeff’s head.” he shouted.
As one the group halted.
Brad wasn’t sure who the second adult was, but vaguely thought he might be the deputy sheriff he’d seen in school a few weeks ago after a spate of thefts.
Shifting his gaze from the deputy Brad stared at Jeff’s Dad and waited for his wrath to descend upon them. The man’s rueful grin disconcerted him.
“Well now,” he said, letting his glance encompass all the boys. “That’s a mighty fine idea, but perhaps we can offer a little help here.” With a gesture towards his companion, Jeff’s dad laid a hand on Brad’s shoulder.
“You heading for the knoll clearing?”
Bemused, Brad nodded.
“Let’s get going then.”
With Jeff’s dad in the lead and the deputy bringing up the rear, the boys trouped further into the trees until the clearing opened up in front of them.
“Let me look at your bow.” Jeff’s dad held out his hand took the weapon and inspected it thoroughly. “Your Dad is an excellent craftsman,” he said, after turning it over in his hand for a few moments. He leaned behind and pulled the arrows out of Brad’s makeshift quiver and accorded them the same meticulous attention before nodding.
Jeff blanched when his father instructed him to stand against a tree and dragged his feet as he crossed the clearing and leaned his back against it.
“Deputy, perhaps you’d be good enough to mark the tree just above my son’s head.”
They all watched the deputy remove his camping knife and cut a nick in the tree bark. “That do?”
“Good enough.” Jeff’s dad nodded, and ordered his son to join the group again. “Did you bring an apple?”
Dumbstruck, Brad grabbed the bag from Will and handed it over.
“As we don’t have any means of pinning the apple to the tree, we’ll have to draw a circle instead.”
It didn’t take long, and before Brad knew what Jeff’s dad intended, the man once more stood beside him.
“Now then, Brad. Do you see the mark I’ve made?” He waited for Brad’s acknowledgement . “Very well, we’ll do this properly, come over to the tree.”
His panic rising with every second, Brad found himself moving forward.
Jeff’s dad took his arm and walked beside him as together they paced out fifty yards. The distance seemed enormous to Brad and the lump in his throat threatened to choke him.
The boys no longer shuffled or whispered and it seemed even the birds and the trees were holding their breath.
“William Tell was a grown man, so I think we can make allowances for your age and size.” With a grin Jeff’s dad sought affirmation from the sheriff.
Why were the adults grinning? When he’d seen them coming, he’d expected them both to put a stop to their game, expected to be able to back out with dignity and now both men were going to force him to go through with something terrifying. The trembling started in his knees and spread to his hands within seconds. His chest tightened making it hard to breathe.
“Now then, young Bradley,” Jeff’s dad paced out twenty steps closer to the target and instructed Brad to stand on the cross he’d dug into the ground with the heel of his shoe. “Stand here, steady yourself and make sure your breathing is even and your hand is steady. Take all the time you like and then fire your arrow at the round mark I’ve made on the tree.”
The next five minutes passed in a blur, broken only by a volley of clapping. As if coming out of a dream he looked up, and round, at the shining, excited faces.
“Well done, lad.” The sheriff’s voice cut through his stupor. “That was a fine piece of shooting.”
Before he could bask in the praise, the man’s tone changed and encompassed all the children.
“Luckily for all of you, someone informed us they’d seen you in the park. What you proposed today was both stupid and dangerous. What if you’d missed, Brad? You could have killed young Jeff here.”
The nearer they’d come to the trees the more vivid such an outcome had become to Brad.
The lecture was issued in firm but understanding words and left each boy in no doubt of the seriousness of the occasion.
The boys that trouped out from the trees bore little resemblance to the ones that entered them. Each child now knew that some games could so easily end in tragedy, and heaved a sigh of relief that this time they’d been lucky.