One

Ignorant of the worlds on the other side of canvas flaps — of performing dogs slipping free from circuses themselves chasing the road end — was Brian Mudd of Crete, New Jersey.

At the end of the penultimate week of the school year, Brian's class split into teams to capture the flag of the other. He kept watch of his castle, in which Roger schemed to escape with Brian's flag.

"Brian, your jail is empty," said Roger. "And our jail is full. Argle bargle. Think about it."

"Hush, Young Roger," said Brian. "The need to think further today is not mine. My reflexes like a panther thwart your escape. I navigate the invisible forces in which you are helpless. Accept your disappointment. Surrender your infantile beliefs."

"Me infantile?" said Roger. "Brian, you're so young, it's only a fluke that you're even in our class."

"I speak not of calendar age, little boy," said Brian. "Think instead of the authentic measures of maturity. Like nutrition."

"Here we go," said Roger.

"Vitamins," said Brian. "Minerals. Food groups. Topics discussed among the worldly. Your defeat is nothing more than an inevitable stage in the Cycle of Life."

"Of course, we have to put up with you, Brian," said Roger. "You lower the grade scales of our class. We're all above average because of you."

"These playground shenanigans are no substitute," said Brian. "No substitute for establishing the proper nutritional base for a life of conquest. Take you for example. I've seen you eat. When was the last time you had a banana? They are high in potassium. Besides, you won't run. You never run. Not unless someone else from your team has been tagged out first. You hate to go to jail by yourself."

"—look," said Roger. "Check out the peg legged guy with the weird dog."

"Do you think you can trick me?" said Brian. "I have to be careful because, unlike lying for fun, using deception to win a game is not considered immoral. We instead call it bluffing."

"Brian, who else talks like you?" said Roger. "You talk like you'll grow up to read shampoo instructions for a living. You'll find a job where you can talk like this: 'After you lather the shampoo in your hair, rinse it out. Then lather and rinse it from your hair again.' You'll do this in the supermarkets where they sell the shampoo. They will pay you to go away."

"Some guy with a peg leg is watching our game," said Brian.

"Yes, Brian," said Roger. "That is what I've been trying to say."

"And he has a weird dog," said Brian.

"—while he's distracted," said someone at the border.

"I hope you like a crowd," said Roger, whom Brian then followed into the swarm of invading children. Brian closed their gap and Roger was within his reach. However, when Brian closed his hands, he held not his trophy, but a little dog, becrowned.