In a school yard, a group of kids dressed in uniform were huddled together in a ring, looking over the shoulders of two boys in the centre. They were kneeling, staring at one another from opposite ends of a chalk circle drawn on the ground.
One of the boys – a ruddy bruised face and shiny black hair the colour of beetle skin – slid off his knees and got to his feet.
“How you wanna set them up?”
His opponent looked up from the little pouch in his hand. He had blond ashen hair and a pale face.
“Well,” he said in a softly spoken voice. “When I played Zeus we decided to put them in a cross shape.”
There was sudden laughter from some of the students standing behind the dark-haired boy. He turned and exchanged knowing looks with those nearest.
“Yeah, we figured you’d say that,” he said. “This is the final. Has to be random. Those are the rules.”
The dark-haired boy pulled out a velvet bag from his pocket and tipped it into the centre of the ring. Marbles rolled out and spread across the circle. The boy reached over and picked one up – a flame red one and rolled it between his palms.
The light-haired boy did likewise, careful not to scatter them too far before tucking the cream bag back in his pocket. He reached over and picked up a blue-green marble, a little smaller than the others. A few gasps from the group made him anxious that he’d already made a fatal mistake.
The crowd stepped forward to get a better look. Some seemed surprised at the number of marbles at stake. There were all shades of colours and sizes.
They did rock-paper-scissors to see who would go first. The dark-haired boy won. He was quick to get up, circling the marbles trying to spot an easy opener. Using his shooter, he crouched and flicked it at one of the biggest marbles – a milky grey one with a big red spot. Smack. His shooter knocked it straight out of the circle.
It would have travelled a lot further if a foot hadn’t trapped its course. One of the spectators bent down, picked it up and tossed it across to the dark-haired boy. The boy caught it easily and received a little round of applause from half of the group.
“Thanks Apollo,” he said, offering a smile of crooked teeth as he pocketed it and moved back to his starting position.
The other boy twitched nervously, assessing the situation. He picked up his blue-green shooter and leaned over to target a marble already near the edge. Tensed, and with breath held, he flicked it. It missed. His marble didn’t even connect. There was embarrassed laughter behind the dark-haired boy. A wasted opportunity. Someone tossed it back in his direction. The boy dropped it, drawing more snickers, before picking it up on the second attempt.
The dark-haired boy seemed to grow in confidence. On the next go, he broke a little cluster of three and sent them all flying off the circle. In response, the other boy who was growing paler with the loss of each marble began to shake nervously. The movements affected his aim.
Four brutal minutes later it was all over. The school bell rang, dispersing the group. The dark-haired boy had won new fans. Most of the group had sided with him at the end, coming over to offer congratulations and shake his hand.
A teacher approached just as he was scooping up his winning marbles and placing them inside the bag.
“Boys, what the…I hope you weren’t gambling?”
“No sir,” the victor said, quickly getting to his feet with the swollen bag. “No money. Just playing for marbles. Harmless fun. See?”
The teacher peeked inside the bag and then looked across at the other boy. In his hand was the flat cream pouch. “Doesn’t look like much fun if only one wins now does it?”
The dark-haired boy tried to hide the smile, looking down at the ground. The other boy was close to tears.
“Give him one.”
“You have plenty there. Give him one. It’s only fair.”
“Do you want detention?”
The boy shook his head and mumbled a curse. His eyes flashed with rage. He reached inside and pulled one out.
“Go on,” the teacher said watching him delay.
The dark-haired boy stepped across and handed the pale boy a marble. The boy took it and stared down at the marble. It was his shooter. The blue and green marble. The colours seemed to shimmer. Wisps of puffy white clouded the surface. It dazzled in his hand.
“One way or another I’m getting it back,” the boy said under his breath so that only his enemy could hear.
Their eyes met. An intense stare that neither was willing to break.
“Now Lucifer,” the teacher said, intervening and guiding both boys with a hand on their shoulder. “Isn’t it a lot better when we all get along?”