Playtime

I’m sure I’m not the first one to make this observation, but doesn’t it just freak anyone else out how much trust we put in strangers on a day to day basis. Hell, even walking down the street, in a way you’re trusting everyone you pass to not just flip out and kill you. You’re trusting the people who serve you food not to poison it, the people driving on the road not to collide with you at 100 miles an hour. Crazy ain’t it? Enjoy

Playtime

By Ben Pienaar

 

When he started, the kids were colourful and interesting and funny; they made him see the world a different way. It was one of the reasons he decided to become a kindergarten teacher – that and it was easy, and he was good with kids. At first.

After two years he realised that all the kids were essentially the same. They weren’t individual and interesting – the kids in his second year were just like the kids in his first year: they said the same kinds of things, laughed at the same things, acted the same. The ones with dumbass or abusive parents beat up the others, or were teased by them – sometimes both, but even that stopped being interesting after a while.

As far as teaching went, there were only so many times that you could teach the alphabet and finger paint before you started to get bored. He wasn’t teaching them anyway – he was supervising them, end of story: making sure the parents didn’t have to deal for eight hours, and if something happened to them it wouldn’t be their fault, for once.

It was only a matter of time before he started conducting a few experiments. It began innocently enough: he’d leave the grounds for a while and watch from a distance, see what developed. The kind of things kids got up to when they thought no one was watching was incredible. He managed to avoid serious mishaps by turning up at the right time – although he only did that if it was a kid whose parents would actually care. If it was one of the others…

The Kindergarten was across the road from the primary school, on its own in a little park. There was a sandpit and miniature jungle gym surrounded by tall green bars, adjoining a large classroom full of art equipment and worksheets. He would sneak around into the surrounding park and watch them from behind a tree.

The longer he left them, the wilder they got; the more like animals. They’d exclude a few, and those few would gang up and fight the others, for land: the sandpit or jungle gym or the corner with the hopscotch. Everything escalated. One kicked sand in the other’s eyes; the other retaliated with a plastic spade. The first got his friends and threw sticks; the other got her friends and threw rocks.

The colours drained from them like a pencil sketch doused in water. They were not cute and innocent. Just black and white, mean spirited animals. Rats.

They were his rats, though, and they never disobeyed him. Everything he asked them to do was fun – like the time he brought in a batch of acid and gave them each a tab with their lunch. That was wild. He spent a couple months giving them a different drug every Monday. LSD, Marijuana, cocaine. He could have killed any one of them, and any cop with two brain cells would have seen who was to blame… but they were resilient little bastards.

That was back in his six or seventh year teaching. After that surge of creativity, he’d fallen into a black slump and hadn’t recovered. He started bringing a gun to school. None of the kids or parents ever saw it, of course, and it wasn’t loaded. He’d take it with him when he went out to the park and hide in the trees, pointing it at the kids and pulling the trigger. Hearing that frustrating, dry click.

It got more interesting when he put bullets in it and did the same thing, taking aim and seeing how far he dared to squeeze the trigger. That was a rush, that was almost real, and it kept him going a little while longer.

He had grown to hate them, in his long years. His view of them as bright, capricious children had changed to one of hateful malevolent rats, and his view of himself and his life had changed just as dramatically. The world had lost its colour and become bleak. He’d never got on with people, but now he despised them, and he despised himself too.

When it was time for arts and crafts he sat with the gun in his desk drawer, loaded with the safety off. He thought about how incredibly easy it would be to completely change the course of his own life and countless others. Hell, with a few swift movements and a keen eye he could change the history of the country. Make worldwide news, even. There’d be memorials and candlelit vigils, and why? All because one man moved his arm, stood up, and pulled a little lever a few times.

He’d seen them playing with guns, too. Not real ones, but sticks that looked like guns in their mind’s eye. They’d pull an imaginary trigger and scream Pow! At each other and the victims would dutifully fall down – or, more usually, they’d instigate an intense argument about who shot first and whether or not they should really die.

They didn’t have a clue. They should see real killing; real death and war. See what happened to their goddamned innocence then! See if they were so damned cute then! They should get a good shot of real life, about what the real world was like. God damn! now that would be teaching them. Keep a bullet for himself and who cared what happened afterwards?

Sometimes he opened his drawer and pulled out his gun and thought about it, hard. He was discreet, but a few times he thought he caught a couple of the boys looking at him when he did it, thinking something. Did they know what he was thinking?

‘Alright! Playtime!’ He shouted, because the sight of them scribbling mindlessly on messy scraps of paper was already too much to bear. He considered getting hold of some heroin for next week. The classroom erupted in noise and cheers and they abandoned papers and crayons in favour of flying projectiles and wild screaming.

He left them that way for a while and went out into the park, though for once he didn’t spy on them or conduct an experiment. Even that had lost its charm for him. He stood in bright sunlight, but his mind was overcast and stormy. He saw his life failing, spiralling down, becoming blacker and blacker.

He remembered himself as a rat – child, just like them, and realised they would all become him. He was them, and they were him, and just like that he decided suicide wasn’t enough. This despair was bigger than one person. This darkness was worldwide. He nodded and went inside.

The kids were all over the place, playing with their miniature stick/guns and falling down, not realising they were about to see just what real murder was like. At last he’d be able to show them that, teach them something for once. He sat down behind his desk and watched them jump and crawl and run and shout POW at each other. He smiled, imagining what would happen if he fired his gun at one of them and it just went POW. That would be funny.

One of them dove over a table and crawled around his desk, using it for cover. He was laughing hysterically and calling out taunts. ‘No fair, no fair!’ one of the others called out. ‘You can’t use the teacher’s desk!’

‘Yes I can!’ he yelled back. ‘I can use your desk, Mr. Gallby?’

‘Yes,’ he said, without looking down.

‘SEE?’

He pulled open his top desk drawer, his eye on little Mary, who was pulling another girl’s hair and giggling. She’d be the first to go. He reached into the drawer, felt only a few papers and pencils. Reached a bit deeper and felt the back. The gun was gone.

‘Hey mister Gillby, wanna play?’ The rat hiding beside his desk stuck his head around and looked at him. ‘I found your gun, but if you play I get to use it, okay?’

He stared at the boy, expressionless. He tried to think of the best response. Give it back! No, that would never work. Please let me use it? No. In fact, he didn’t know that there was anything he could to do –

‘Mr. Gilby’s playing now!’ the rat shouted, standing up and raising the gun. He turned to face Mr. Gilby, grinning mischievously, some cruel trick playing behind his eyes. He raised the gun.

‘Not quick enough, Mr. Gilby! I win!’

POW!

 

 

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2 comments
  1. Gero said:

    Hi Ben,
    Checked out Playtime, couple thoughts on it:
    I like this one altogether, the ending makes a good short story and you write it well. And the concept of this story is good as well, who (having seen depression/endless possibilities/and so much more out there) couldn’t relate to it? Big fan of the drug experiments by the way, nice touch ;-). Maybe add just a few lines about how they behaved under their influence?^^
    I would also recommend, to experiment a bit more yourself. Perspective is one option. Give us a real look into Gilbys mind, not just the voice of you narrating about him. Don’t have to develop an entire personality, just jump in an out of his brain. Describe what he sees and how he sees it, with the frustration/boredom and insanity numbing his mind. I’m a friend of erasing the line, which separates the character and the narrator. Especially in horror stories, creates an awesome atmosphere.
    This just as a suggestion, I’ll continue reading.
    Regards
    Gero

    • Ah thanks! yeah I was thinking about getting into his head but I wasn’t quite sure how to do it and in the end decided not to risk it and let the reader draw conclusions. You’re right though, I tend to err on the side of not developing characters enough rather than overdeveloping. I know exactly what you mean by erasing the line, that’s a thing I’ve been trying to work on lately. I don’t know if you read Joe Abercrombie but that guy pulls it off perfectly. Anyway, thanks, I’ll get back into it soon as I have time and see what I can change..
      – Ben

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