“Are you sure it’s such a good idea?” my closest friend and ally, Clarice, hisses in my ear as we hide behind the hedge. Her voice comes out frightened and nervous, and once again I refrain from rolling my eyes. If she didn’t like battle, she never should have signed up for it. Yet, she told me that she didn’t want me to go alone. What a help she’s been. She’s almost made me get shot five thousand times- and she did kill off one of our allies- just because she’s clumsy.
I peer around the hedge, looking at the stocky two-dimensional figures that dot the horizon. They sprout up from the ground everywhere, twisting their spindly bodies towards the brazen sky, disappearing into the smoke. They should smell like the trees back home- but they don’t. They smell sticky and slimy- like a toad that has been dead for ages.
“Just stay low,” I reply, sitting back on my heels and glancing at her in the dim light. “Everything will be fine.”
I hear another shout, and then a scream as another person falls somewhere in the battle-field that I am fighting in. Shivers run up and down my spine at their blood-curdling screams- and I can only hope it’s another of the Red Army that has fallen- and not my side.
Clarice’s eyes widen and she reaches over to grab my hand, holding onto it tightly as I feel all of the blood leave them. “You’re not planning on leaving me, are you?”
“Relax,” I stand up and tap her gun with my own. “They gave them to us for a reason.”
“I know that,” she says, her voice small. “I’m just not used to shooting anybody…”
“Hey,” I shake my head, ready to get out of her sight. “Just… chill. Please. The Red Army asked for war because they want what we have. They can’t win,” I swallow hard. “They won’t. But you have to be willing to do whatever it takes to succeed.”
After she gives a half-hearted, stilted nod, I grin at her and slowly back away from the hedge, making my way to the nearest two-dimensional soma, and pressing myself against it- holding the gun to my chest. My heart is beating a thousand beats a second, the blood pounding in my ears. I hold my gun to my chest and take a deep breath.
I think of what I must do.
And then I do it.
One fire after another, I shoot down one man and then go onto the next- not forgetting that these men I knew used to be my friends, my family. Now they are only one thing. My enemy. And so when I shoot, I let my anger go out with it. No doubts. No hesitations. Just me, my enemy and death dancing in between the hedges and the barricades, floating on fog as thick as clouds.
It’s a wonder, but I manage to dive and move, resisting the lasers as they come my way. Each time I nearly die and yet survive, I thank my brothers who are probably back home sleeping for making me practice late into the night with their guy friends.
The strange smelling wind sifts through my ponytail, and as the last of the enemy in my line of vision goes down, I smell its strange stench. It’s icky- like sweat and the exhale of every fallen man. It floats listlessly by, and with it, I smell doom.
And yet, standing amidst a collection, the fog at my heels and the wind at my back, I see nothing. Nothing except for the traces of men fallen and gone. I hear nothing except for the foreign cries that my ears do not recognize- until I realize they are mine.
I am screaming.
Why am I screaming?
Why do I feel so dead, so fallen that I am screaming, while I am still standing as tall as the hedges around me?
And then I realize what my subconscious mind decided. I will not go to them and waste my breath. They will have to come to me.
And when they do, they are going to have to find me.
Not up. Never up.
My instructor’s words run through my head as I glance up at the lean plane figure that looms in the darkness towards my left. They said that if you went up, you could get hurt.
But this is war.
Gripping my gun in my teeth, I slowly shimmy my way up the figure, climbing up, stopping to take a breath, and then continuing up again.
Once I reach as far up as I think is necessary, I grip my gun in a trembling, cold, dank hand, and then let out another cry- hoping I sound like a desperate human being.
Apparently I do, for after a minute I hear the noisy blunderings of another Red Army Clique- the people that are impossible to defeat because they always fight together. There are three of them, all stocky men, and I roll my eyes when they come into the clearing.
They never look up.
That’s the funny thing about the Red Army; they never, ever think through the costs. If you want to win, you have to look everywhere. Even up.
Trying not to make a sound, I reach down into my belt and take out one of the chromatics that I had hidden inside. Wincing from the effort of holding on, I threw it- far, far away towards the other side of the Red Army.
Hopefully, they will start running towards it, leaving the mark on their backs vulnerable. I remember what my instructor told me, not too long ago. Hit the mark. That is their weakness. If I hit the mark- they are done for. And so that’s what I plan to do.
I cheer silently to myself when I see the Red Army Clique turn towards the impact of my chromatic’s landing. Their backs are vulnerable.
As they start heading towards the chromatic, I aim my gun and I shoot.
My blue laser slices through the foggy air like light, plunging its silvery body into the mark of the one of the Red Army. A squealing comes from them that doesn’t sound real at all, and then the one that I hit is fallen.
The big tall one stands up and tosses a look at his fallen comrade before turning to face me.
He’s seen me.
He lets out a hoot before lifting his gun to shoot at me. As a red laser shoots towards me faster than the speed of light, I barely have time to duck behind the body of the ligneous complex before it goes right past me, barely missing my own mark.
I shudder as I remember what my instructor told me.
I have a mark too. But mine isn’t red like theirs. It’s blue. Like the side that I am fighting for.
Taking a deep breath, I jump down the complex and land on the ground, my hand scraping against the rough covering. It should feel like the bark at home, on my own tree, but it doesn’t. It feels sharper. Like… even the trees are out to get me.
I merge into the fog and creep away, knowing that the two Red Armymen are close in pursuit. Shooting lasers behind me, lasers whizzing past my ears, my boots, my mark, I allow myself to believe that this really is the end.
Could it be that this time, the Red Army deserves to win?
No. I can’t let myself to think that way.
And so, with a shrug of my shoulders, I do the unthinkable. I turn around and face my pursuers head on.
What I do catches them by surprise.
They stumble, and I use their momentary hesitation to my advantage.
I shoot. I shoot, I dive, I shoot again. By the time I’m finished, both of them have fallen.
And I feel unstoppable.
Until it happens.
I hear her scream.
“Somebody help me!”
I’m finished resting and up on my feet as soon as Clarice shouts. And then I move, as fast as the wind and as deadly as the storm, until I see them. Five Red Armymen surrounding Clarice, smiling at her and aiming their guns to shoot.
I can only get out her name before it’s over.
She catches sight of me through the shoulders of the Red Army, and then she too is fallen. What happens barely registers in my mind before the Red Army turns around, and sees me, helpless. I could shoot them down, but maybe it’s not worth it. Maybe I should just surrender, and let them get rid of me peacefully.
Besides, I realize it now. I’m the only one left. The Red Army is going to win- and there’s nothing I can do about it.
Mouth dry, I drop my gun on the ground and lower myself to my knees. They surround me and point their guns at my mark. Shutting my eyes, I prepare for the impact. I prepare to become fallen. It’s only a matter of time before I do.
They all cock their guns in unison.
My breath catches.
An alarm blares.
I feel no impact. I feel nothing. And when my eyes open, I see him, extending his hand and helping me up.
Am I fallen? No. I don’t think so. Not yet.
The Red Army is heading away from me, and I realize that I am safe. I am the last man standing. The warrior, the servant. What a tiring job that is. They are all walking away, laughing and hooting, their voices loud and exuberant.
They’re probably going to celebrate with some greasy pizza and fizzy pop. They’ll laugh late into the night, celebrating their victory.
But hey, it’s only laser tag.
I might as well go and join them.