The kid who taught us the game called it ZAP. That was almost forty years ago, and since then, we’ve never met anyone who has heard of the game ZAP, but loyal to the boy who taught us the game, even we suspect he made up the name himself, that is what we call it. Other people call it flashlight tag.
The game, which we play up at camp – and we includes both children and adults – goes something like this. One person sits in a lawn chair in the middle of a dark clearing, holding a flashlight and slapping at mosquitoes. At periodic intervals, a shadowy figure will come running out of the woods and make a dash for the lawn chair. The holder of the flashlight shines the light on the person and yells, "ZAP on Shaggy Hair, I mean, With-a-Why, I mean jo(e), I mean Blonde Niece!" If the flashlight holder gets the right name, even if it's part of a long string of names, the person zapped slinks back into the shadows, defeated for the moment. Sooner or later, a whole herd of people will make a rush for the lawn chair, and one will collide with it without getting zapped. Then that person, often bruised and rubbing his shins, earns the privilege of being the flashlight holder.
The toughest part of the game, besides the hungry hordes of mosquitoes, usually involves finding a flashlight. Even when the whole extended family and assorted extras are up at camp, more than twenty of us in all, and some of us most certainly adults, it can be hard to procure a flashlight. No one ever remembers to bring a flashlight. Most of us do fine without flashlights, anyhow, letting our eyes adjust to the moonlight. You can't use a flashlight as you go into a tent because that will just guarantee that some mosquitoes will follow. Besides, when you've been camping in the same place your whole life, it is not that hard to find your way in the dark.
So for the game, one of the grandchildren in the family will go to beg a flashlight from the only person who ever can be relied on to bring one – my mother. She will give it out reluctantly, with her usual warnings about how the batteries need to last all summer and it needs to be returned to her immediately after the game. My mother was a child during the depression, and is always careful not to waste anything, and that includes flashlight batteries.
Years ago, my cousin and I came up with a brilliant plan to fool the person holding the flashlight. At the time, he was a boy about my size. I put on his sweatshirt, tucking my long hair into the hood, and he put on the red windbreaker I was wearing. Then he took the toddler I was carrying on my hip (Boy in Black, I think) and carried him as he ran. We had to move quickly because the toddler was not fooled in the slightest and began screaming when separated from his mother, but the move succeeded beautifully. The person holding the flashlight kept screaming, "ZAP on jo(e). I know it is jo(e)" as my cousin slid in and collided successfully with the lawn chair, dumping my toddler to the ground as he did so.
The Switching Clothes maneuver is now standard fare for games of ZAP. In fact, visitors to camp are sometimes startled when we invite them to play a game, and they see everyone going off into the bushes to remove clothing. It's the kind of thing that gives my family a strange reputation.
Paper bags were officially outlawed from the game of ZAP in 2004 after an unfortunate incident that began when Drama Niece, Urban Sophisticate, and Shaggy Hair decided that running with paper bags over their heads would best conceal their identity and crashed dramatically while making a dash at the lawn chair. When my brother, who was at the lawn chair, held the flashlight up to his daughter's face, all he could see was blood streaming down. It turns out that running in the dark with paper bags is not such a good idea. See, these are the things we learn from games like ZAP.
No one ever really wins the game, unless you count the privilege of being the holder of the flashlight. But after the game is over, we all return to the campfire to recount the highlights of the game – the strategies, the injuries, the near misses, the new hiding spots – and those who made it to the lawn chair without being zapped exercise their bragging rights.