Tag. You’re It.
Wanna play a game? It’s tag! With a twist. A little twist.
This is a one-chapter short story. I have no idea where it begins. Or ends. So yeah. There’s that. I have four minutes before I need to wake Luca up.
* * *
I have one hour to live.
The note was written on the bottom of the check for the restaurant bill.
Walter read the note to himself and couldn’t figure out if it was some disturbed slogan from the restaurant, a ploy to get bigger tips, or, he swallowed hard, the truth.
He looked up from the bill to the waitress.
She had a tear in one eye.
She shook her head slightly. In this quick fashion in a way that she didn’t want to bring much attention to her. Of course, if she really didn’t want attention paid to her, she shouldn’t have written such an alarming statement on the bottom of the check for dinner.
Walter looked to his date. Then back to the waitress.
She did that head shake again. Somehow, he interpreted it to mean to not tell the dinner date. He swallowed again.
He had had a martini. Then a large glass of red wine. Could it have been that he was just a little off-kilter? Maybe he wasn’t reading right or thinking right or something just wasn’t right.
“Is this your writing?” he asked the waitress.
“Yes,” slipped out of her lips in a grave whisper. He knew, he didn’t know how he knew, that she was serious, that what she wrote was no joke.
“Why me?” he said to himself as he looked down at the paper with the words on it.
“Why me?” the waitress said again in her whispery voice.
He looked over to his date. Samantha. That was her name. He barely knew her. How could he explain this? What was going on?
There was a pen next to the bill. He took it. He wrote a question next to the death sentence of the waitress.
“Can I help?”
He turned the paper towards the waitress.
She read it, said nothing, but the slightest smile formed on her lips. The same tear, or maybe it was a new one, rolled down her cheek all the way down into the corner of her mouth.
“I think I have a problem with my card,” Walter started, turning his head to his date, who wasn’t sure what was taking so long with the bill paying but also didn’t seem too concerned about any of it. “Could I bring it up to your register so we could enter the numbers manually?”
“Yes,” the waitress said quickly and with a little more force than the slight whisper of her previous words. She turned and headed towards the counter of the restaurant.
“I’ll be right back,” he said to his date, and then, for reasons he couldn’t explain, but almost as if to remind himself that he knew her name and that it was important to say it, he said her name. “Samantha.”
“OK,” she paused for effect and lowered her head as if toying with him as if joining the game he actually wasn’t playing. “Walter.”
But Walter’s attention was now completely focused on the waitress who was now walking away from him. He turned and walked towards the bar.
The waitress walked straight past the bar where the cash register sat without missing a step. She kept going without turning around and headed straight through a door that lead to the back of the restaurant.
Walter wanted to stop and wonder but had no time. With as much authority as she had, he followed her.
He was gaining on her and saw her head into what looked like a bank vault. It was the freezer. She left the door ajar.
He didn’t look left and right, didn’t check or much care who was watching, but followed her in.
As he entered she was right there. Turned around. Facing him.
She looked right at him. He blinked.
She didn’t waste any time or any words.
“Do you trust me?” she asked.
Without the hesitation he thought he should have, he replied quickly and without a doubt, “Yes.”
She continued as if she had rehearsed it. Because she had, but only in her head. “I have one hour to live,” she started. “Unless … “ she trailed off.
She knew what to say she just didn’t want to say it.
“Unless someone saves me,” she whispered. There was clearly no reason to whisper as the freezer was well insulated from sound—and warmth.
“I’ll save you,” Walter said without thinking. “What do I need to do?”
“You already did it,” she said.
Walter looked confused.
“I don’t know how to explain it, but you already did it.”
“What did I do?”
“You surrendered yourself for me,” she said.
“I did what?”
“You put me over you,” she continued. “That’s all it takes.”
“It’s not that simple.”
Walter was again confused.
“Well, it is and it isn’t,” she sighed. “You already did it, that was the hard part. Well,” she paused. “One of the hard parts.” She looked at him to see if he understood. He clearly didn’t.
“You put someone else’s needs above those of your own,” she again looked to him. He said nothing. “That’s the hard part. You’d be surprised how many people wouldn’t do it.”
“How many people have you asked?”
“Seven,” she said without hesitation.
“I’m the eighth?”
His brain was full of questions, but he didn’t know where to start. He just blurted out what he couldn’t hold back.
“But who is behind this? Are they threatening you? Are they going to kill you or do you have some rare disease or, I’m sorry,” he dropped his head and tried to regain any composure he might have had left. He shivered from the cold of the freezer. “What’s going on?”
“I can’t tell you,” was all she said.
“Or you’ll have to kill me?” he said with a smile somehow digging up some humor in it all.
“Something like that,” she said. But she wasn’t smiling.
“It’s a game,” was the next thing she said. She took a deep breath. “But it’s not a fun one. I don’t know how or where or when it started, all I know is that I was chosen and you have saved me and I thank you.”
Her lips trembled and again a tear formed in her eye. It was cold in the freezer so that the droplet looked like a little ball of ice, but it might have just been the air.
“There’s one more thing,” she said and looked down at her feet.
“Yeah?” Walter was hesitant as this one more thing didn’t sound like a good thing.
“Did you ever play tag when you were a kid?”
“This game we’re playing has an element of tag in it.”
Without waiting for more questions from him she jumped right into it. “This game, sorry,” she let out a breath quickly as if she were nervous or trying to say something she didn’t want to say. “This not-fun-game that they call a game is like tag.”
“OK,” he said hesitantly.
“I was passed on the baton or tagged by the person who gave it to me. When I saved that person then I became the person who was it.”
If there was any warm blood in Walter’s face, it drained out and he went white.
“So, yeah, um.”
Walter lifted his hand up between them mostly because he couldn’t speak. He turned his finger towards himself and pointed directly at his heart.
“Yeah, uh,” she didn’t want to say the words, but she couldn’t not. “Walter, you’re it.”