Friday, October 12, 2012


The guards hated the game. It had seemed like a silly summer pastime the first time, but the purpose had shifted from lighthearted goofing to deliberate taunting, and it made the adults crazy.

“You climb down from those gates right now!” they would yell. The children would only clamber higher, arranging themselves like acrobats across the bars. The men worked in pairs, one to operate the gate, the other to check incoming vehicles. The mechanism man would shrug and hunker down in his chair, saved from confrontation by his role at the controls. The other fellow had to stand up, shifting his wide leather belt and its assorted tools as he stood, then march outside to try and catch the little monkeys as the scrambled out of reach.

The security firm sent a memo to the members of the community and the parents gave stern lectures to their children, but everyone knew it was pointless. The guards had no real authority over the people inside the walls – the badges were for the riff-raff outside. The children were privileged and knew their parents laughed off their hijinks. The only people who cared were the guards.

Some of the guards were fathers themselves, and they worried. The gates were fifteen feet high, with sharpened points at the top. They occasionally jerked or stalled when opening, and the kids would be tossed about, barely hanging on. A few got stuck and had their feet scraped rather badly, and others came close to having their hands crushed when the two gates came together. Of course the parents blamed the operators for not being more careful. It was a tough position to be in.

The guard shack was barely comfortable, but most of the guys would rather be inside nursing the coffee maker through another pot than outside in the weather. It was always a little too hot or a little too wet or a little too cold. Zeke was different. He took inspection shift without complaining, skipping the rounds of rock-paper-scissors that the other guards played to get out of duty. Between cars he'd lean against the shack in the shade, waiting and watching. He was particularly intent on the kids. Unlike the others he didn't yell or chase. He collected their names when they shouted at each other, and didn't seem bothered by their taunting. The kids elaborated on the game, developing complex rules about who was King of the Iron. Zeke sussed out the rules, and gradually took on the role of arbitrater when there was a dispute about who had earned the most points.

“You're gonna get hurt one of these days.” Zeke quietly warned the children one day. They'd been especially rambunctious that day, leaping from higher and higher positions on the railings. The previous day a boy had sprained his wrist jumping, and after the news spread there was another round of lectures by the parents. The kids didn't care. It was an easy way to defy the supposed authority of the HOA, their parents, and the hapless guards in the shack.

A week later a six year old was injured when the heavy gate struck her, then dragged her across the pavement until it reached the closed position. Her abrasions sent her to the hospital, and the parent network lit up with worry. Threats were made to take away privileges or to confine children to their quarters. It didn't work. As the pressure from the adults grew, the need to rebel rose, and the following day even more children were hanging and swinging on the gates. The guards shouted and yelled, but they couldn't reach the climbers. Reinforcements were called in. Without names the children couldn't be identified and they were far too fast to catch. Nothing could be done. Beneath the trees they laughed in triumph and planned an even larger rebellion for the next day.

The investigation took weeks and never did have a satisfactory answer as to what happened. An electrical short, possibly caused by the weight of more than thirty children hanging on the gates. It didn't matter. The children melted to the rails, twisting in agony, unable to scream. They shook as their flesh burned. They corpses hung from the bars like abstract art and when the coroners came – five in all – they were forced to use steel tools to scrape and pry the tiny bodies from the bars.

Inspired by Nightmare Fuel

No comments:

Post a Comment