This story is written by Makena Metz. Makena writes plays and musicals in the styles of fantasy, sci-fi, or magical realism. She studied Playwriting & Theatre Directing at Columbia College Chicago (class of 17’) and am a proud member of DGA and ASCAP. This past year, she was chosen as an Alliance of Los Angeles Playwrights 2018 Diversity Fellow to have attended The Kennedy Center’s Playwriting Intensive for their annual workshop. This is “The Game”.
Every child in Eritz knew not to jump too high. Some of their parents had even gone so far as to tie them to Ballards: anchors made of bone and mud, attached to ropes that they wrapped around their bodies to weigh them to the ground. This was standard on this planet, named for that so sought after world of paradise from long ago. But on Eritz, there was only room for survival.
Jak and Cass were twins. Their brown hair and golden coloring weren’t uncommon for this world, but it was their unnerving green eyes that put the others on edge. A King and Queen, in respect, surveying their kingdom of scavengers, on the edge of the dump.
The dump was where the citizens had dumped things that no longer fit this world; computers and wires, guitars and lyres. Even a book or two sat weathering among the trash, pages yellowing and crumbling under the dusty, muddy sunlight. Jak and Cass surveyed their domain. There were the trio of golden haired siblings, each a few inches shorter than the other. They had gravity belts on- weights to make them heavier, less clunky than ballards. Their parents could afford the belts – bought with freshly minted coin and paid for in threats and bribes. Not every child had the luxury.
Anton, Lia, and Merik all poked metal sticks into the rubble, searching for something in the glinting debris that they could sell on the black market. Almost as old as Jak and Cass, one was destined to lead the pack eventually. Jak did not like that idea.
Born to parents who loved and discarded them for Swig – the drink of choice in this world, Jak and Cass were used to being by themselves. But their pack was their true home. Because twins were rare and sometimes thought of as ill luck, Jak and Cass knew that they couldn’t find sanctuary in the schools of the town, or with the children that run in the fields of newly planted grains, or even at the orphanage in the city.
Jak had heard that some twins ate their other in the womb – and he wondered sometimes why Cass hadn’t devoured him. He was just used to her, he mused. Even the way people called them, their names merging into one: JakandCass. Jak resented that.
The twins looked over the dump and the emerging scuffle in the dirt between two runts. Cass yawned. “I’m bored” she said, glancing over at him. Checking to make sure he was there, his green eyes fixed on the musty brown horizon. Jak stretched. “We could walk to the other side of the world.” Cass rolled her eyes. Jak was always saying impossible things. “How about we play a game instead?” she said.
One of the small runts in the trash below them looked up. “A game? Like what?” He was bone thin. Jak wondered what he was going to eat that night. He wondered if the boy would be desperate enough to eat him.
“Yes. A game!” Cass smiled. “A game of skill and daring.” A flash of teeth. “A bouncing game.” Silence fell over the group. Lia, twisting her golden hair said, “You can’t be serious.”
“And why not?” Cass said. “We never do anything fun.” Anton frowned.
“What’s the prize? You can’t have a game like that without a reward.” Cass bit her lip.
“How about… whoever bounces the highest… replaces me and Jak as leader.”
Jak stared at her, his eyes widening. “Cass wa–.” She stepped forward.
“Alright, everyone. Let’s play.”
Jak stared at his sister, uncomprehending. She just threw that prize out, threw out their position like it was nothing, like it meant nothing to her. Like he would just agree with her game because they were JakandCass and she knew, she knew that he wouldn’t say no.
Jak balled his hands into fists, stomach churning. So that’s how it was gonna be? Fine. Then Jak would play.
The group cleared a circle in the dump, dragging chunks of metal and clumps of wires out of the way. Once they had a big enough circle, Cass stepped forward. She spread her arms. “Okay so, what are the rules?”
Merik crossed his arms. “No bouncing out of the dump. I don’t want my parents to see.” Jak flashed hot for a moment. How nice, the luxury of having parents. “Fine,” Jak spit, “then no belts. Only ballards.” He smiled, satisfied. If there were no belts, the golden haired siblings couldn’t compete.
Cass jumped in “Whoever doesn’t have ballards can just… switch out belts with someone else.” Jak smirked. No one was gonna do that. They were more likely to come down from the jump to find their belts stolen.
One of the runts stepped forward. Jak didn’t even know where the kids mouth was – he was so dirty. The runt next to him had a black eye, so Jak knew who had won that fight. “H-how about a time limit? O-only three jumps.” Jak felt the growl deep within him. This kid was probably one of the orphans who had found their way into his group. Who let him get so dirty? And why, only today, was Jak noticing? Was it that Cass was undermining him? Or was it that for the first time… Jak was thinking as Jak. not JakandCass.
Jak smiled. “That’s a great idea” he said. “Three jumps oughta do it.” He turned to Cass, raising an eyebrow. She frowned. “Fine. Anything else?”
A small girl hugged her arms around herself. “No cheatin” she in a light voice. “And if somethin’ goes…wrong…we stop.”
Cass frowned, a vein twitching in her forehead. “Well yeah. We’re not gonna let someone float up forever.” Jak doubted that. Why didn’t she comfort the girl? Why didn’t he know her name? What was a girl who was barely standing without toppling over doing out here? And why was he never curious before?
For all intents and purposes, Jak felt like he had been blind. And now, he could suddenly see the gleam in his sisters eyes. His eyes. She didn’t care. She didn’t care about any of this. Or any one. She never had. It was all just fun and games to her.
Another game. This was just another game. Jak’s brows pinched together. Well the prize of leadership, of replacing them…maybe he could replace the them. Maybe this was his one shot.
Cass looked to the kids in the circle. “Who’s ready?!” She grinned. “I’ll go.” Jak said. Cass turned to him. “What?” He threw back an easy smile. “You never said I couldn’t compete for leadership.” She glared at him. “Get back in the circle.” She hissed. She thought they were a team. She was wrong.
Jak unrolled his ballard, ropes that were taught across his shoulders unraveling until the line was loose. Already he felt lighter, like a weight had lifted from his chest. He breathed in – and out. He bent his legs. The kids all stepped back, the trio of golden haired siblings glowering. “One…two…three!” They chanted. And Jak jumped.
He sprung up, up, up into the sky, spreading his arms, enjoying the hot wind on his skin. He could see over the town from up here, over the mountains, over to the ocean on the other side of the world through the shimmering, hot air. Then, down, down, down, as light as a feather. He slowly floated down, touching down without a sound.
A kid held up his ballard – “Here. You jumped to here.” He pointed to a spot on the rope. It was good, more than half the length of the rope, but not amazing. Jak smiled at Cass. “Don’t I
get two more?” “Fine. Do what you want.” She grunted. The little girl whispered, “No cheatin,” as she gripped the edge of her dress.
Jak jumped two more times, each higher than the next. The other kids grumbled that they could beat his height by their thinness – but he reminded himself that jumping high took muscle and strength as well as being light on your feet. Each kid jumped up, one by one, and floated down. But none of them hit the mark on their ballards. And each one re-wrapped them around them slowly, anchoring themselves to the world again.
After each one had gone and Anton, Lia, and Merik nodded their no’s, clutching their priceless gravity belts at their waists, Jak smiled. No one left to compete with. Well no one but –
Cass stepped forward. “Forget about me?” She winked at Jak. Only he noticed the hard set of her shoulders and stiff back. Shit. She was his exact height and build. Maybe twins are bad omens, Jak mused, for this was a bad omen indeed.
Cass unraveled her ballard, the clearing going silent. She jumped. She neared his mark. Jak swore. Anton smirked at him. Cass floated down. She jumped again. Fuck. She had matched his mark. One more, and the momentum would clear her. One more, and Jak would be at whim to his sister’s demands. But maybe he already was. Maybe it was already too late. She floated down.
The sound hit him as she pushed off for her final jump. Something like wind… but gusting. No not gusting…flapping. A shadow fell over the metal debris. The group looked up, pausing as one. Cass was almost at the apex of her jump, eyes closed, arms out for the world to see. For the world to grab.
Cass screamed as giant claws grabbed her arms. “Cass!” Anton yelled, running to her ballard in the dirt. He grabbed it, as the leathery beast started to fly her away. Cass sobbed in the sky, bones shrieking as she was pulled between the land and the sky. Blood ran down her arms. Droplets fell on the group; a bloody baptism.
Jak saw what he had to do, even as his stomach sank. “I’m sorry,” he thought to Cass. And he was. For his sister had taken care of him, helped him form this pack, this family. But she hadn’t taken care of anyone but him. Jak ran to Cass’s ballard, grabbing a piece of sharp metal that cut into his palm. Hissing, he ran to the middle of the line, and cut the rope. The rope snapped. And Cass’s tether to the world, the earth, to Jak frayed away.
The group watched the beast carry Cass up into the distant horizon. And then they couldn’t hear her at all. She had probably been boiled alive. Maybe that’s why the atmosphere had that layer of heat, maybe it was a way for the natives of this land to cook their food. Unfortunately for the people here now, they were the food.
Silently, the group turned to Jak. Blood dripped from his palm. He wiped his brow, smearing it across his forehead. Marking him. Remaking him. No longer JakandCass but just Jak. Just him.
Jak sauntered over to Cass’s shortened ballard, lying on the ground. “There are going to be some changes around here. And if you don’t listen to me… I’ll feed you to the beasts too.” He looked hard at the group, and Anton, Lia, and Merik bowed their heads. Jak’s gaze hardened at the little girl in rags, the bony boys, and the dirt covered kids in front of him. They looked at him opened mouthed. But that little girl smiled at him, as if she had known that he was the better half, that Jak without Cass could take care of them. And he promised himself he would.
Jak threw the ballard around himself, tying it to his other side. Two ballards, to bind him to this world. To remind himself of what he had given. To make sure he kept his promise.
And Jak sank.
Kat Evans has been an actor in Chicago since 2006. She has worked with :City Lit, Black Button Eyes, Promethean, Savoyaires, Hypocrites. Also voices a few podcasts: Our Fair City, Starlight Radio Dreams, Toxic Bag