My knees are bruised, my bare feet dirt crusted and heavy. Three out of the four escapees are tied up on my back deck, the fourth roaming around… somewhere. I won’t give up this easily.
“I will find you,” I say to myself. “You can run and you can hide, but I will find you.”
I check my watch. The hands tell me it’s 12:36. We put a one-hour time limit on the game. That means I have until 1:00 to find him; otherwise he wins. I can’t let that happen again.
“Where is he?” I snap, whipping my head towards the prisoners on my back deck. “Where?”
“I don’t know!” Mira snaps back at me, her jump rope handcuffs shaking with her fists. “You’ve asked us three times already. Why don’t you just go out and look for him?”
“Hm.” I survey my captives before looking out towards Dotty’s house. She lives behind me, and it was her idea to have us play Jailbreak in her yard as well as mine. That meant there were more places to hide for them, and more ground to cover for me. How sweet of her.
“I think I know where he is,” says Ezra. “He’s probably over at Dotty’s.”
“Yeah,” agree Dotty. “Go check there.”
I leap off my back deck, landing with a pang in my ankle. As I sprint towards the fence separating our yards, I see it: a blonde head and wide, black licorice eyes staring at me over a bush.
The voice belonging to the blonde head screams, “Jailbreak!” The head then becomes a full body as it tears across Dotty’s yard.
“Noooooo!” My exposed right foot hits a hard walnut, making me collapse on the ground in despair and defeat. Dotty, Mira, and Ezra throw off their jump-rope handcuffs and bolt in opposite directions. So much for only having to tag one more person in order to win the game.
I curl up on the ground, feeling sad and sorry for myself. I perk up when I hear the fence rattle. Dotty and I have taken nearly all the metal ties off of the fence that keep the bar and the actual chain-link fence together. As a result, there is no quiet way to jump the fence.
Instead of getting off the ground, I stay curled up, hoping that whoever jumped the fence is coming towards me. A shadow towers over me, blonde hair outlined from the sun. The shadow leans forward and says, “You gonna give up so easy? I thought you were better than that.”
Arm extended, I lurch upwards, ready to grab the first thing that my hand touches, but he dashes away from me before I can grab him. I shriek with frustration. My fueled anger gets me to pick myself up and continue.
For a while, I just stand in my backyard, waiting, watching, listening. I hear the shuck-shuck-shuck sound of flip-flops near me and see, in my peripheral vision, red hair. I whip around, catching Mira about to jump the fence. She stands like a deer in headlights, seeing me but not really being able to process the fact that I’m now heading towards her at top speed. By the time it registers in her brain to run away, I’ve already grabbed onto the sleeve of her sweater and yanked her down from the fence.
I stand above her, casting my victorious shadow over her.
“Wow, seriously?” Mira says with an attitude. “I just got this sweater!”
“Ugh.” I roll my eyes. “Just get on the deck, Mira.” I give her a hand up. Her eyes give me a death wish as she brushes off her floral patterned skirt. Mira flips her long hair over her shoulder before marching back to my deck.
I turn around. With my hands on my hips, I look into Dotty’s yard again. There are so many places for them to hide, and that’s just her backyard. She has a lot of plant life, which covers the back corners of her yard and stretch in front of the fence. There’s a narrow strip in front of the fence without plants, and a large circle of dead grass in the middle of her backyard.
Being as quiet as possible, I place my hands on top of the fence. I jump up, swinging my left leg over, and then my right. Landing expertly with no pain in my ankle, I’m already off to a good start.
The plants in the back right corner of Dotty’s yard rustle. Cautiously, so that I don’t step on the neighbor’s cat or whatever is hiding in the other plants, I make my way over to where I heard the rustling. Huddled against the fence, perfectly hidden in the greenery is Ezra.
He leaps up as if zapped by lightning. “Liz,” he says, hurriedly, “I know where he is. And if you let me go, I’ll tell you.”
“Why would I want to let you go?” I take a step toward him. “Maybe if you tell me where he is first, then I’ll let you go. But I want to know now, or else, you’re out.”
Ezra points behind him. “He’s on Gordon Road.”
I stare at Ezra for a few seconds, deciding whether or not he’s telling the truth. Just in case he isn’t, I slap him on the shoulder. “Whoops, you’re out. Bye, Ezra.” He groans, but heads for my back deck anyway.
Just in case he was telling the truth, I decide to check out Gordon Road just in case. Dotty lives on Stanley Street, and I live on Hemphill. Halfway through each of our streets is Gordon. It has no sidewalk, but no cars ever drive on it anyway.
I walk quickly through Dotty’s backyard until I’m in the middle of her street, where I can see Gordon. I’m hoping to catch a glimpse of him—Jason. And sure enough, on the corner of Stanley and Gordon sits the king of the game himself, on the curb with his phone out. I snort.
I’m sure he’ll be there all day, but still, I sprint back through Dotty’s yard and mine. I sprint to the first stop sign of my street, then turn left. There, I slow to a jog, trying to catch my breath. My feet slap the pavement, so I move onto the grass to avoid being heard. He must’ve heard something, because Jason’s head turns ever so slightly in my direction. My mind tells me to move, but my body tells me to freeze. Brawn over brains.
When he turns his head back, my muscles relax. I still have a chance.
I inch along the grass. I get close enough that I hear Jason chuckle at something on his phone.
“Jason!” I make a split second decision, diving into him, sending him face-first into the pavement, his phone flying from his hand and skittering across the street. I twist awkwardly as we fall, trying not to land on him or hurt my poor knees on the curb.
I end up laying face-up, my back on the street and my legs draped over the curb. As I swing my legs around and jump up, all I can think is—the phone.
Jason’s phone was the key to success.
We both lunge for it at the same time, him with the advantage of strength, me with the advantage of long limbs. Fortunately for me, I grab his phone before he does. The screen has a little scratch from when it went sailing over the pavement, but nothing too damaging.
Jason stands in front of me, red scratches on his cheeks. “Give me back my phone, Liz. You took it too far.”
“Me?” I say, upset. “I’m just playing the game the way we always did. But now, it’s unacceptable to tackle people?”
“Yes. You’re in eighth grade, act like it!” Jason makes a move to swipe his phone from my hands.
I jerk back just in time. “Dotty’s still out there somewhere. I’ll give you your phone back,” I say, as I hold it out ever so slightly for emphasis, “if you call Dotty and tell her to quit playing, so that I can win. I’ve already tagged Ezra and Mira out. Call her and tell her that the game is over, and that I won.”
“Huh?” His eyes narrow. “Are you trying to blackmail me?”
“I’m not blackmailing you. I’m telling you.”
Suddenly, Jason’s phone buzzes. I read a text on his screen:
Where’s Liz? I’ve been waiting for her in my front yard and I haven’t seen her.
The screen lights up again, but with a text from Ezra.
I said she went into your front yard but then she came back through your back yard in order to go to Gordon. I told her Jason was there.
“What?” I look at Jason. “Are you for real? Have you been doing this the whole game?”
“It’s a game of strategy, Liz…”
“Yeah, I know, but this is not strategy.”
“It’s the 21st century.”
I stare at him, mouth slightly open. He looks away from me and rubs the back of his neck.
Again, another text lights up the screen.
Jason, are you still on Gordon? Hopefully Liz has tagged you out already.
“This is not planning,” I say. I swipe to the right, enter in his passcode, and sure enough, there’s a group text going on. Mainly composed of Dotty and Jason himself, they devised a plan to make sure Mira and Ezra were easy tags, and Jason would be so “confident” that he wouldn’t get caught, so that I could “sneak up behind him,” and tag him out. It ended with Dotty being the last one in, but she wouldn’t call Jailbreak in order to get everyone back in the game; she would just let me tag her.
“Are you serious, Jason? It was even your idea to play…” Then it dawned on me. It was probably a part of their plan to suggest playing. The whole thing went perfectly, just as the four of them planned. “You know, if you were sick of this game, you could’ve just said so instead of trying to make sure that I won.”
“Lizzy—,” he begins.
“Let me finish,” I interrupt. “We used to play this all the time as kids, and it was your favorite game since you always won.” He tries once again to speak, but I keep talking. “But you three decide to plan a game while it’s happening via text in order to make it the lamest game of my life, just so that I can win?” I toss Jason his phone. “Play like that, if you want. I won’t.” I start walking back towards my house.
“Um, excuse me?” Jason’s sudden attitude change sends me whipping around. “You’re the one who was going to blackmail me so that you could win.” He rolls his eyes at his phone screen instead of at me.
“Those are two completely different things.”
Dotty comes running down the road, saying, “Jason! I got your text. How did Liz find out…?” She stops running and talking when she sees my scowling face. “Oh.”
“I found out by taking his phone.”
“Oh,” Dotty repeats. She swallows. In a weak attempt to make everything better, she says, “I’m sorry. But you were being a bit extreme. We decided to do that so that the game could end…”
I roll my eyes at her and snort.
Then Ezra and Mira come jogging around the corner, phones in hand, wearing apologies on their faces.
“Liz,” Mira says. “Why don’t we all just start the game over? No phones, no pre-planning or planned-winning. If we meet someone on the way from one hiding spot to the other, we’ll just plan it then. Like we used to.”
The four of them give me their sorriest faces. I sigh. “Yeah, sure, whatever.”
Jason puts a hand over his heart and another in the air. “And I swear that we didn’t plan not-planning this next game.”
We all head back to my house. Jason, Dotty, Ezra, and Mira all set their phones on my dining room table.
When we get back outside, I have a good feeling about this game.
I say, seriously, “One hour time limit. Last one in can call Jailbreak. Anywhere on the block between my house and Dotty’s. Got it?”
“Got it,” they grumble back.
“Ready? Set? Go!”
They have exactly thirty seconds to run and hide before I start going after them.
And I will win.