The Hungry Games first appeared in the Spring 2016 issue of Stinkwaves Magazine.
The Hungry Games
By Shannon Hollinger
The experiment has gone horribly wrong. I was going for an exercise that would result in a Mother Teresa-like experience, but somehow ended up in the middle of Jurassic Park instead. Now I have a roomful of savage toddlers ready to tear me to pieces.
This semester I’m taking a social psychology class. I’ve just finished reading about dozens of studies that have proven the altruistic nature of chimps, the willingness of one to help another earn a treat even if it doesn’t result in a reward for themselves. This kindness can be seen across the animal kingdom. Was I really so misguided in thinking that a roomful of preschoolers would be capable of displaying the same behavior? Apparently, I was.
In my hand is a box of popsicles. There’s only enough for everyone if the double sticks inside each package are split and shared. The hand that holds the box trembles under the intense gaze of every pair of eyes in the room. There will be no sharing today, that much is clear. Let the hunger games begin.
Little Timmy Holbrook is closing in on my left. He’s the established biter of the group, our very own Hannibal Lecter. He’d gladly eat his Popsicle with some jelly beans and a bite of his auntie. There’s no reasoning with him. Timmy’s tiny baby teeth gnash together and I know it’s only a matter of seconds before I lose some skin. I toss a packet of popsicles in his direction and he grabs it out of the air with a chubby fist. Timmy retreats to a corner of the nursery, eagerly shredding the paper from his prize.
This causes the rest of them to begin closing in on me. I feel like I’ve fallen into the tiger pit at the zoo. Sally Morgan rushes to the front of the pride. She stares up at me with two huge, baby blue eyes. An evil smirk contorts her round face as her little fists ball up at her sides. Sally is a screamer. The kid has a set of lungs any opera prima donna would envy. Her lips part and I watch in horror as her lungs begin to fill. Sally is priming herself for the wail of the century. My free hand fumbles into the box of popsicles. Sally snatches the package in a flash, leaving a trail of red scratch marks across the back of my hand.
I glance around the room, desperately searching for a way out, but there is no escape from the nightmare I’ve created. The pack of wolves is advancing. Only one member is hanging back. This deviation in behavior draws my attention away from the closer threats at hand. I crane my head to see who the child is who seems to have lost interest in the popsicles, the kid with his back to me as he fiddles behind my desk. My jaw drops in dismay, a lump forms in my throat. It’s Billy Williams-the flusher.
Billy’s pointy ears add to the mischievous expression on his face as he rounds the corner of my desk, my keys dangling from his hand. He looks from me to the bathroom. I follow his eyes and know I’ll never make it in time. Billy’s body is angled, his left leg twitching as he assumes a sprinter’s starting pose. His head slowly swivels back to face me.
“Billy! I’ll trade you.”
For a moment, I think the desperation in my voice promises more enjoyment for him than the sugary snack melting in my hand. My heart races and I fear he’s going to go for the flush, anyway. Then he darts through the throng of his classmates and rips the proffered gift from my hand. The keys land between the scuffed toes of my Nikes.
I bend my knees, lowering myself close enough to reach them, careful to not take my eyes off the hair puller, the hitter, the liar and the curser. My finger loops through the key ring and I straighten just in time to see the toy thrower winding up. Patrick Doyle is standing next to the basket of playground toys, a dump truck raised behind his ear like a quarterback. The florescent lighting glints off the metal toy, the glare holding my attention like I’m hypnotized.
Priscilla, the potty-mouthed princess, seizes the opportunity the distraction has provided. Dashing forward, she filches a package of popsicles out of the box. Priscilla hisses a few foul words in my direction and then retreats with her stolen goods. There are only two Popsicle packets left, but four kids. It’s not too late for them to share.
“Patrick, would you split a popsicle with Blake?”
Patrick looks at Blake and sneers. Blake is a liar. His weapon will be of little use until the parents come to pick their children up at the end of the day. Patrick’s eyes flit between me, the other kids, and the basket of toys, as he realizes launching an attack from where he now stands would enable his classmates to get to the goods before he could reach them. Patrick grabs a front end loader from the basket as backup and stalks forward.
I hear the patter of petite footsteps and turn just in time to stop Tammy in her tracks. Her legs are bunched under her, one arm fully extended. The hair puller is ready to launch.
“Tammy, will you share with Melissa?”
Melissa shifts her focus from me to Tammy. She lifts her hand, stretches her fingers like she’s clawing the air, her digits settling into a fist. Melissa’s knuckles look sharp and dangerous. On my other side, Patrick has closed the distance and has his arm tensed to throw.
“I’ll give you each a popsicle and a dollar.”
Small heads cock to the side, regarding me with suspicious eyes.
Four little hands appear palm up before me. Sighing with relief, I divvy up the treats and give them their money. It’s a small price to pay for escaping unscathed.
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