Capture the Flag

#TeachersWrite Challenge 1- Consider your setting from someone else’s perspective + #SOL + #notsleeping = #LateNightFlashDraftforNovel

The Garden– To an outsider.  Jungle like. How can the tomatoes be this big in July? 

Though they wouldn’t be ripe for a few more weeks, the peaches smelled sweet as my face brushed past them. The leaves tickled, too. Softly I dropped down out of the fruit tree. I crouched at the base of the tree until I saw the backyard. Jake would call this recon. The shadows were long as the sun settled into the treetops. I’d have to be careful of an ambush.

To my left was the preschool yard. Emma would clear that one. My job was this jungle. I had to search through the fruit trees and the garden for their flag. I had to be fast.

I hunched and hurried to the cherry tree closer to the fence. My eyes scraped across the branches in the weakening light looking for the red of their flag. Cherries would be a good camouflage. But there were few cherries left and those were high in the upper branches where no one could reach. Well, Jake could have reached them, but I didn’t think anyone from this side could climb like him.

I retraced my steps to the peach tree and its companion. Again I scanned around the trunks and through the branches for any telltale flash of red. There was nothing. My heart beat faster in my chest. Seconds were ticking by. I forced myself to move further down the row. It was like searching across the summer from the June Cherries past the August peaches to the autumn apples. The infant fruits were small and still mostly green. Still no sign of their flag.

I had reached the far edge of Frank’s yard. This was the boundary of the game. If the flag wasn’t hidden in these trees, I’d have to venture further in.

The grass brushed the tops of my socks. The fresh cut smell wafted from Jake’s yard reminding me of our failed plan. But this grass was tall. Not quite tall enough to disguise me if I tried an army crawl. It would be faster and better to run across the small clearing to the garden fence.

I craned my neck to get a better view of where the gate was. It would make sense for the gate to be on the side facing the house. Whoever was growing this garden would want the easiest way in. But easy for the gardener just meant it would be harder for me. Instead of slipping up the outside edge, I’d need to cover open ground.

I listened. I didn’t hear anything in this yard. From two yards down, I could hear the bigger kids splashing in the pool. Their laughing rolled across the yards and tangled up in all the trees and plants around me. Just then I heard a squeal from beyond the path. It came from my yard. Or was it closer?! There was no more time to waste. They sent me because I’m fast. It was time to prove it.

Looking over my shoulder along the treeline, then glancing along the edges of the fence that I could see from here, no movement. It looked clear. I pumped my legs until I was racing across the grass. My arms pumped in time with my heart. Now I pulled up short at the fence, groping for a latch or a gate. My fingers gripped wire. I skimmed my fingers across the top until they reached a gap. Urgently, I felt with both hands for a way to open the gate. The latch slipped open in my hands and I slipped inside. I left the gate ajar so I could slip back out.

With an ever quickening beat in my ears I sidestepped through each row of the garden. Once I was between the tomato plants, I was hidden from view. How was it possible that these tomato plants were already up to my shoulders? It was barely July. Our own tomatoes in a pot o the deck were only up to my waist. I scanned each plant for signs of red. Tomatoes would make another good camouflage.

I’d been focused at eye level where many of the fruits were swelling. I almost missed the knot of red behind the lowest arms of one plant in the very center of the garden. It wasn’t tied like a flag or spread out like a bandana. The perfectly round clump resembled the fruits that harbored it.

Gently, very gently I reached down and removed their flag. I was careful not to damage the plant. These were somebody’s project. They must have started in the winter to have such big plants already. I didn’t want to be caught with their flag. But I really didn’t want to explain why I’d ruined someone’s sauce garden either.

I shoved the flag into my shorts pocket and poked my head above the tops of the leafy stalks. Was that a shadow moving near the far fence? I’d have to make a break for it. Once I left the garden gate, there’d be no time to look back. I’d race back past the fruit trees to where I’d found Frank’s gate. Then straight through and into Jake’s yard where I could declare victory.

I reached the edge of the garden row and angled toward the gate. Here I go!

I launched myself out of the gate and across the lawn. There it was again. Movement near the preschool yard. There was no way to know if it was Emma or Frank’s crew. I pumped harder. My hair ruffled against the lower branches of the orchard. The back gate was only steps away.

A shadow filled the opening of the gate.

I swerved to the right back toward the peaches. The figure at the fence pointed at me and yelled something.

With my pulse pounding in my ears I couldn’t hear what he said. I pulled myself up into the branches of the [maple] tree. If I could get high enough, I could jump over the fence and onto the bike path. From there I’d try to run toward’s Jake’s.

Leaves flapped in my face as I climbed. I squinted to keep any twigs from poking my eyes. I was moving too fast to be careful. My left arm stretched above me and gripped the smooth bark. I lifted my right foot and tried to hook it up onto the next branch. For a moment I hung there by my hands and feet. I opened my eyes wide and caught a glimpse of the nearly full moon through the leaves. I inched farther out on the branch until it started to sag. With a quick glance down over my shoulder, I unhooked my feet and dangled by my fingers. Then I dropped onto the pavement of the path.

I started to run toward Jake’s. But three steps in I saw the shadowy figure blocking my way. Just as Frank had stood in my path this morning. He came toward me.

I remembered my brother’s signature dodge from lacrosse and tried to imitate it. I took a stutter step to the left, then rolled away to the right. I rolled until I was facing  away from my pursuer. Then I opened up and ran like I was chasing down Dan with the ball. I streaked up the path toward my own yard.

With each step I pulled further ahead. By the time I pulled to a stop at my own gate the footsteps behind me were at least two bike lengths behind me. I’d opened this latch hundreds of times. It could be tricky, but I knew just the trick. Come on! There.

The latch popped open and the gate swung out to my left, nearly hitting the one chasing me. I leapt through the gate and yelled as loud as I could, “Olly olly oxen free! We have the flag!”

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