Playground Games

I’m a big fan of Jiu Jitsu. One of the most important concepts you learn while practicing and getting better at the sport is how to stop, breathe, and quell any urge you might have to panic – even when things get hairy. One day I was sitting around overthinking things the way my brain usually does, and I realized that this concept has real-world, practical applications both off the mat as well as on.

So for funzies, I put a protagonist into such a situation to see how they would fare. A few hours later, it resulted in this little nugget of a story. Enjoy.

Stop. Breathe. Don’t panic.

“Stop. Breathe. Don’t panic,” she told herself, aloud this time, trying to make the words sink in. But staring at the seemingly endless throng of moaning, swaying bodies that she had to pass through was too much. She felt like some invisible force was sucking the air out of her lungs. Her brain was spinning, and her fingers and toes were tingling.

Stop. Breathe. Don’t panic.

They weren’t even her words. They were the words of someone she had hardly known. Someone who had coached her, someone who had told her that the key to success, even in the most stressful situations, is to take pause and make sure you’re thinking and acting with a clear mind. But back when things were normal, when life was cushy and safe, when success was virtually guaranteed for most people, she had thought such advice was cheesy as all hell and, for the most part, taken it for granted.

But when things stopped being normal, she began to have second thoughts.

After months of desperately fleeing from location to location, she eventually found an abandoned warehouse with a conveniently isolated second floor. But then one night some inconsiderate fucking corpse bumped the wrong vehicle. Apparently, the car alarm inside still had some fight in it, and was desperate to proudly scream this fact to the high heavens.

That car was parked right below her new bedroom window. The mob didn’t take long to swarm. And it didn’t take long for her rations to run out, either.

She was on her first day without food when the survivors across the street saw her and signaled her with a flashlight. She signaled them back the next morning with a piece of broken glass and some generously cooperative sunlight. Eventually, the message became clear: “red rover, red rover, send this girl right over”.

The problem, however, was that they were on the opposite side of a six-lane road broader than most highways. And there were a thousand hungry corpses between her and salvation.

Stop. Breathe. Don’t panic.

She took a short leap from her window ledge into the rotten stench of the dumpster garbage below. It was kind enough to soften her fall, but inconsiderately loud enough to ring the dinner bell for the surrounding horde.

They were waiting for her when she climbed out of the dumpster. The first couple of rows were harder to shove through, but once she broke free into the more sparsely populated crowd, they were much easier to avoid. Then, she began to run.

Her legs burned. Her arms pumped at a furious pace. The crowd finally became aware of her, and every one of them within a five block radius turned toward her in slow, perfect unison, like a carefully choreographed ballet.

Stop. Breathe. Don’t panic.

Her tongue felt like sandpaper rubbing against the back of her throat. Their rotten hands and deafening moans were starting to close in on her.

Stop. Breathe. Don’t panic.

One of them managed to reach out and rip a chunk of hair from her scalp, sending blood spilling down the back of her neck.

Stop. Breathe. Don’t panic.

And then, somehow, she was there.

She heard a loud noise from somewhere above – a signal – and the heavy EMERGENCY EXIT door she had been sprinting towards flew open. A kind yet alarmed looking Asian woman was beckoning her wildly. She was also saying something – screaming something – something she couldn’t hear. Her ears were ringing.

The woman pulled her inside and slammed the door. Thankfully, it was heavy enough to sever one of the monster’s arms and seal itself shut before the thing could slither its body inside.

The kind Asian woman with the laugh lines escorted her upstairs to meet the rest of the group. Once there, she saw that they had plenty of food and drinkable water. She felt so happy, she could cry.

“Welcome home, little lady,” one of the survivors greeted her. He had a jolly face and rosy cheeks. “We were afraid you might not make it for a second.”

“You mean…I’m safe?” she stammered, tears somehow welling in her parched eyes.

“You sure are, darlin’. What’s your name?” 

“Stop…breathe…don’t panic,” she mumbled incoherently before her exhaustion sent stars dancing across her vision and carried her in a heap to the floor.

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