Storytime: Imagination.

November 21st, 2012

Recess came to Double River Elementary, and the bell rang ding-ding-ling-ding-dong. A signal for the first-grade class of Mr. Buckle to troop outdoors and enjoy the fresh mountain air and for Alan Sebastian Buckle himself to stand in the parking lot and set tobacco on fire in an unobtrusive corner while jamming it in his mouth, a curious habit that was becoming scarcer by the year.
The children began their recess playtime as they always did, in the same curious, well-behaved way that all the adults of Double River commented on so encouragingly. Two lines, just like the Old Milsop and the Young Milsop, just like the rivers (well, streams, really) that ran either side of main street, as formal as a marching band, each six-year-old looking another six-year-old straight in the eye. Glaring another six-year-old in the eye. Judging. Calculating. Strategizing.
It was all part of the game, you see. And it was always properly random, so it was all fair and nobody could complain except for the people who were paired off with Leslie Walnut and Gregory Macintyre, because you had to cut them a little slack after that sort of luck.
Silence reigned. Well, it reigned all day in the schoolyard anyways, but now, full of children, it reigned with a little more authority and gusto. A day-old newspaper displaying a lady with no shirt on blew its nervous way from one side of the playground to the other. Fingers twitched.
Claire Benedict, standing at the side of the line closest to the fence, cleared her throat and stared at the torso of Tim Maple opposite her. “I pretend,” she said, “that I’m a giant robot transformer.”
There was no noise, though it seemed there should’ve been – no whoosh, no foom, not even a good-old-fashioned zzzap! Steel shone and gravel flew as Claire sank into the playground up to her treads. She had to flail her enormous gun-arms a bit to stabilize herself, and knocked over the school flagpole like a toothpick.
Tim narrowed his eyes as a cannon that would’ve been oversized on a battleship pointed itself at him, and his six-year-old brain took the easiest way out. “Well I pretend that I’m a BIGGER giant robot transformer,” said Tim Maple.
The easiest way out was taken, and Tim stood over twice the height of Claire, towering over the schoolyard like a colossus. A colossus with even worse balance than she did, as a quick shot to the kneecap proved.
Tim fell over. Half the school went with him, including two kids that were a bit slow to duck and Mr. Alan Sebastian Buckle, who’d just wondered what the hell those noises were.
Everyone stared at Tim – or at least his left leg, which was most of what could be seen of him. Then Claire pulled back her cannon-arm and shot him in the head, removed most of it and filling the air with the smell of burning wires.
That was the signal for everyone to start all at once.

Charlie Norton swallowed excessively hard, looked at the expectant face of Gregory Macintyre, and decided to get it over with.
“I pretend that I’m –”
“Ipretendyoumeantheoppositeofeverythingyousay,” said Gregory with the poker face and deadly aim of a quick-draw master.
“-super strong,” finished Charlie. And fell over.

“I pretend,” said Emma Thompson, whose family had seen a movie or two over the past few evenings, “that I’m a vellossoripter.” She flexed her claws and pounced.
“I pretend,” said Toby Fenton, whose family had seen those same movie or two and had let him watch all the scary bits without skipping, ‘”that I’m a T-rex.”
There was a brief moment mid-leap where Emma attempted to complain of the unfairness of this and also dodge. She failed at both and forfeited everything north of her ankles, sending sickle-tipped toes spinning across the playground.

“I pretend that I’m Darth Vader,” declared Ethan Stewart, sticking to what he knew worked.
“Well I pretend that I’m Luke Skywalker,” argued Donna Timmons, who spotted the problem right away.
Both of them fired up lightsabers, ffweeooowr, Both of thew swung –zweeoooh, swish, swing, zap. Both of them cut off one another’s sword-hands. Ouch. Thud.
They stared at each other in mutual frustration.
Leslie Walnut cleared her throat, drawing their attention. “I pretend,” she said, with perfect inflection, “that I’m the Emperor.”

“I pretend that you died,” said Hanna Hamilton to Douglas Fur. Doug opened his mouth, took a deep breath, and was slightly too late.
Hanna grinned triumphantly and turned to her next opponent, Jennifer Finch. “You too,” she said.
Jennifer Finch hadn’t trained herself to be the first hand up when the teacher spoke for nothing. “Nuh-uh,” she shot back.
“Yuh-uh,” replied Hanna.
“Nope. I’m in an invincibubble. You can’t hurt me.”
Hanna glared at the soft velvety sphere that had formed around her opponent. Then she recalled the science class of that very morning, and grinned. “What can break an invincibubble?”
“Nothing,” said Jennifer, cautiously.
“So air can’t break it. You’re gonna run out of oxx-y-genn,” sing-sang Hanna triumphantly.
“Nu-uh!” blurted Jennifer as faint purpleness crept in around her gills. “Air can go through ‘cause it’s see-through.”
Hanna snarled. Which was a bad idea, because you can’t talk when you’re snarling, and it gave Jennifer the three seconds she needed for her second idea. “And,” she continued, “it’s super hard and tough. I pretend I bounce up and down on your head one hundred and eleventy times.”
Hanna wasn’t in a mood for math. Math had stolen the best half-hour of her morning. Given this, it was probably a good thing that she wasn’t able to count past ‘one’.

“I pretend,” said Zack Newton with the confidence of a man who’s got it all figured out, “that I can’t die.”
Gregory Macintyre considered him calmly. “I pretend you’re stuck a billion feet underground forever and ever.”

“I pretend I’m Batman, and I punch you” said Robert Cross.
“I pretend I’m Spider-Man, and I tie you up in webs” countered Frankie Edwards.
“Well I pretend I’m the Hulk and I smash you really hard!” replied Robert, struggling to get his mask out of his mouth and succeeding in cobwebbing his tongue.
“I pretend I’m Superman now and I punch you SUPER hard!”
The resulting shockwave destroyed what was left of the area around the school and sent the other combatants tumbling through the air, forced to pretend parachutes, wings, and anti-gravity jet packs or just fall like rocks, a choice that half of them took.

“I pretend that I’m the best at everything,” said Tammy Windhouse. And just like that, she heaved up Stewart Maclean and Susan Dean and tossed them into outer space. “See?” she said. Then she poked Jennifer Finch’s invincibbule with one finger and pop, it faded.
“I pretend that I’m the infinity best at everything!” yelled Jennifer. She tackled Tammy and sent her careening through the town, slamming into the Main Street bridge and straight to the bottom of the river.
“I, pretend” slurred Tammy through a mouthful of bruise as Jennifer lifted her up by her neck, “am the infinity best. Plus. One.” She caught Jennifer’s fist in her teeth, then bit it off into Jennifer’s face, which vanished along with most of the rest of her. Then she cackled.
It was the best cackle, of course. The best plus one.
The dust settled, and from its obscuring swathe came a lone, slightly short figure.
“I pretend I’m the infinity best plus two,” said Leslie Walnut.
Tammy glared at her. “Are not. No such thing.”
“Yu-uh. Two is better than one.”
Tammy opened her mouth to argue this, but Leslie Walnut was plus two faster than her. And suddenly plus two more alive.

Two lone figures alone in the parking lot of the mall. The cars have been pretended away. The shoppers are hiding inside, peering through windows.
Eyes narrow. Teeth clench. Fingers flex. And then a breath is taken, and then:
“I pretend I’m the prime minister,” said Hal Green, “and I tell the whole army to come and kill you.”
“I pretend I’m the president of the United States,” countered Leo Grouse, “and I tell MY whole army to come and kill YOU.”
There was a moment there, as the countless men surrounding them reloaded and the battalions of tanks that had flattened the mall in their approach revved their engines. A moment where their expensive suits ruffled softly in the breeze.
“My army’s better,” said Hal, sulkily.
“Are not,” said Leo. “Geography told me so.”
Standing directly in between the two opposing forces, neither of their opinions soon mattered to them, or to two-thirds of Double River in general.

And so finally there were only two. But a different two.
Leslie Walnut and Gregory Macintyre come sauntering down Main Street towards one another, north and south. Piles of demolished cars surround them; deceased pretend-ninjas and pretend-pirates, pretend-cyborgs, even a pretend-space-whale are scattered about like disused action figures.
“I pretend,” called down Leslie, “that I got a really big gun.” The biggest gun; a hand cannon that looked more like a hand howitzer.
“I pretend that I got a bigger gun,” said Gregory, cautiously. And it was, but only barely.
“I pretend that I got a laser plasma gun,” said Leslie. It was so full of glowing tubes that there was barely room for the barrel.
“I pretend that I got a rocket launcher,” said Gregory Macintyre. “And it launches actual rockets. Moon rockets.” His arm nearly broke. “And I pretend that I can pick it up ‘cause I’m super big and strong.”
Leslie’s brow creased as she looked up at the thousand-foot colossus, whose shoulder-mounted weaponry was about the same size as he was. “I pretend,” she said, “that I’m Godzilla’s mommy. So I’m ten times as big as he is, and I’ve got ten times as good breath. It’s like a super nukular laser times a hundred.”
Gregory glared up at the giant lizard now facing him thanks to the power of multiplication. “I pretend that I’m as strong as the whole planet all at once,” he said.
Leslie’s eyes watered as an abstract concept crossed them, then snapped back into a focus that would probably be impossible past puberty. “I pretend that I’m as strong as the whole world at once plus the sun and moon at once.”
“I pretend I’m stronger.”
“I pretend I’m stronger than that.”
“I pretend I’m the strongest.”
“I pretend I’m the strongest plus one!”
“I pretend I’m the strongest for infinity plus one!”
“I pretend I’m the strongest for infinity plus infinity plus the earth and the sun and the moon and all the stars at once.”
“Well I pretend I’m just as strong as that!”
Leslie considered this. “I pretend you can’t-“
“-pretend anymore,” said Leslie, in annoyance. “AND Ican’tbepretendedbyanyonebutme.”
They looked at each other. No last minute thoughts? One.
Three. And BAM.

When the dust settled, most of the universe wasn’t there anyore.
“I pretend that nobody was dead anymore.”
The tiny biomass of earth floated in an emptiness that didn’t even include space.
“Oops.” A moment’s careful thought was applied. “I pretend that everything was back to normal.”

And that was when the bell rang dong-ding-dang-dang-long, because recess was over and Mr. Buckle wanted them all back inside now that he’d had some nicotine in his veins again. The rest of the day would be nice and smooth and quiet, yes. He was relaxed, and not just from the smoke break – the kids were always so quiet after recess. Nice to see they were so well-behaved on their own.

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