by Jeffrey Murrell


The ride was long under the truck's quaking tarp 
In the rattling cargo bed so dark. 

Though twelve others were riding along, 
They were all alone, lost in their thoughts. 

Nobody looked and nobody spoke; 
Nervous anticipation had choked 

Their voices silent during the broad trek, 
And nothing was known -- where would they be led? 

Dreaded by all, the truck wavered to a halt; 
The gate flew open and a name was called, 

Though the night was sultry, he seemed cold; 
His comfortable trance-like state had broke. 

His senses reluctantly awoke him 
To drag his body out the truck's back end 

Into the humid cricket-chirp-dotted night; 
Only four feet, the jump seemed to be flight. 

His leather boots recoiled the dense shock 
Of hitting the old road of dust and rocks.

The stars could be seen above the tall pines; 
Electric crystal specks pocking the sky. 

The truck abandoned him there on the road; 
He dashed into the trees as he'd been shown! 

And the first shots rang out to kill the calm; 
Had someone been brought down during their haul? 

He ran through the sticks, suffering sharp jabs 
In just a T-shirt and pair of pants; 

Armed with only bare hands and common sense, 
Even a rabbit had better defense! 

The shots had subsided -- breathless, he kneeled 
To collect his thoughts by an open field. 

Had the hunters lost track of all their prey? 
Cautiously, he started to make his way 

Across the field to reach the meek cover 
Of another tree line, yet to suffer 

Hours of running to an unknown target; 
More gunfire; again he darted 

Under the safety of the forest's cloak, 
In the direction of that distant goal 

Where the game's finish line offered sanction 
To those who survived the deadly session. 

He climbed a bank overlooking a road, 
Seeking a trace of the elusive foe. 

He detected no movement, nor any sound; 
He scurried over to the other bank's mound 

Across the road to the other tree line. 
But the trees were sparser -- he rushed to find 

Thicker cover up over the roadway. 
Frantic, he thought he had made a mistake! 

He heard a distant sound and saw headlights; 
They were approaching and he couldn't hide! 

He dove into a niche atop the bank, 
Froze, as if dead, before it was too late. 

He was deafened as he heard his heart pound 
And the vehicle's brakes as it slowed down. 

"Is he all right?" asked a voice as it stopped 
Other voices making unclear remarks, 

A soft light enveloped him from above. 
Then he heard foot steps, at first climbing up, 

Then pattering around him by his head; 
He stayed motionless, as if he were dead. 

Warm hands examined his legs and his back; 
No longer running, no more attacks. 

His arms unfolded, fell out limp and soft 
As they picked him up and carried him off. 

The trauma left him confused and tense; 
He fell into unconsciousness . . . . 

The next day, he was rested and fit 
To play more games in their absence of wit. 

Walking a gangway through the outstation 
Strictly policed by deprivation, 

He saw an acquaintance whom he did not trust 
Through a port door, leaning back in the sun. 

He approached and asked what he could expect; 
Was it a study or some kind of test? 

"You signed a contract -- they do as they please," 
This person explained, as if to tease. 

But other than that, he did not reply, 
He just motioned to go stand in a line 

At a side gate where a truck had been parked, 
Where men stood and prepared to embark, 

Was it the start of another day's game? 
Why were they trying to drive them insane? 

There stood a guard handing something out 
At the head of the line--what was it now? 

Perhaps ammunition, survival things? 
They were dispensing some bland-looking sweets!

It was a consolation of false regrets, 
As all the old contracts came to an end. 

He walked out the gate, free to go on his way, 
As a new group arrived to play the game.