An hour ago, all Barrett Brendecowicz could think about was winning the Graveyard Battle.
Now, as he lay on the ground, taking shallow breaths to prevent the pain in his ribs from sending lightning bolts through his body, all he could think about was making it out alive.
Forty-five minutes ago, the First Annual Graveyard Battle was just a few minutes from starting, a full sponsorship to compete in paintball championships across the country was at stake, and Barrett wanted the prize more than anyone he knew.
Ghoulies, the largest outdoor Paintball Company in the country, was the sponsor, inspiring more than 75 three to five man (and woman) teams to sign up from all over the country, making this the largest last man (or team) standing paintball contest in US history.
Now, Barrett could see the bodies next to him begin to move. He knew it was impossible. He had checked their pulses moments ago only to be met with their stillness. He had heard the rustling of the leaves behind him as he hid amongst the dead, praying he would remain invisible to whatever it was that was claiming their lives.
Thirty minutes ago, the screams turned from those of frustrated players who had just been tagged by an elusive paintball, too terrified, blood-curdling screams of those who were staring death in the face. Men and women, regardless of team, dropped their paintball guns and began running in every direction, trying to make their way out through the maze of tombstones and quickly falling bodies.
Barrett had seen Mikel go down first. There was no one near him, yet he hit the ground with so much force that his head split right down the middle of his forehead. Blood spilled like a waterfall from the gaping hole in his skin.
Now, Mikel’s head looked almost normal. With the exception of the dried blood that cracked across his face like a system of dry riverbeds, you wouldn’t have known there was a wound there, to begin with. Mikel’s skin was quickly turning a sickly green color.
It seemed that all of the bodies surrounding him were turning the same green color, like something out of a horror movie. And they were moving. Barrett chanced a look at Mikel. With his eyes still closed in death, Mikel slowly tilted his head to the side, as if to crack a kink in his neck.
Twenty minutes ago, Barrett had watched Mikel die. His two other teammates, Bill and Ford, had fled the moment they saw blood sputter from Mikel’s head. They claimed they would come back with help, but seeing the carnage that was beginning to pile up around him, and Barret knew that was not likely. Still, he couldn’t bring himself to leave Mikel behind. He tried to heave Mikel onto his back and carry him out of the maze. He made it a few yards, but stumbled forward, losing his balance under the weight of Mikel’s much heavier body.
Now, he found himself suffocating under the weight of the bodies he had decided to hide beneath. Common sense told him he had better start making moves before he became a permanent fixture amongst the dead. He tugged at the strap that sat securely across his chest, pulling the Tippmann A5 to the front of his body for protection. He knew it wasn’t much, but something told him he would be okay if he could get out of the graveyard.
Ten minutes ago, as Barrett attempted to regain his strength to carry Mikel out of the maze, he was tackled heavily into the thick tree stump behind him. The impact was hard enough for him to hear his ribs crack. He let out all of the air in his lungs and slumped over, certain he was about to succumb to the same violence that had taken Mikel from him. It must have looked like death was going to take him as he could hear the footsteps of his unknown assailant rustle away.
Now, the leaves around him were beginning to rustle again. What did the Invisibles want with all of these people? He heard the footsteps retreat again and knew this would be his only opportunity. Without hesitation, Barrett pushed himself up through the pile of bodies, ignoring the explosion of pain in his ribs, and sprinted for the first turn of the maze. He could hear the crack of branches behind him and knew he was being pursued.
Five minutes ago, he heard the last player scream he would hear the rest of the day.
Now, he turned to point his gun at his hunter, not sure how much help the paintballs would be, but not willing to go down without a fight. He pulled the trigger. Bright orange paint splattered across an object, giving form to what was just an invisible body. In the split second glance, Barrett chanced at his attacker, and he could make out what appeared to be a human form that stood approximately seven or eight feet tall and was equipped with an extra set of arms and legs. It ran on the back four legs like a dog, the set of arms pumping as if it were running a 100m sprint.
The monster chasing him let out an inhuman scream. Barrett didn’t hesitate and pulled the trigger a second time. This time it hit the monster’s midsection, causing the stunned creature to jerk violently backward. Barrett took a hard right at the next turn and then another left, his photogenic memory making it easy for him to maneuver through the maze. He only had two more turns left. He heard the monster scream again, this time it was coming at him from the entrance of the maze.
He turned the final corner and could see the gates at the entrance of the maze. For good measure, he shot two paintballs in quick succession as he sprinted as hard as he could, willing the pain in his ribs to subside. The first paintball went straight through the gate down the left side of the hay bails. The second paintball hit something to his right. He willed himself to go faster as he shot every paintball in his pod at the figure on his right, forcing himself down the left side of the maze.
He dove across the gates, landing on the lush green grass just outside the graveyard, feeling an additional crunch in his abdomen as his ribs took another blow.
“And our winner is, Barrett Brendecowicz!” The announcer bellowed to a crowd of cheering fans.
Bill and Ford came rushing towards him.
“No way man! You did it!” They clapped their hands on his back as they pulled him to his feet. “Must have been killer in there, dude!”
“Why did you bail on us? Where is Mikel?” Was all Barrett could muster the energy to ask.
Bill and Ford looked at one another and then back to Barrett, confusion resting ignorantly across their faces.
Barrett winced as he prepared to stand but was met with no pain or resistance. His ribs had stopped hurting completely, and his memory was beginning to feel a little fuzzy.
“Mr. Bendecowicz, congratulations!” Ed Ghoulie, the founder of Ghoulies Paintball products, cooed. “Can I have a word?”
Barrett followed Mr. Ghoulie as the crowds began to disperse.
“Why is everyone leaving? There are people still trapped in the maze!” Barrett was begging Mr. Ghoulie for answers.
“No one else is in the maze, son. Barrett, me in the eyes.” Barrett made eye contact with Mr. Ghoulie. “No one else is in the maze. Say it.”
“No one else is in the maze,” Barrett repeated robotically.
“Good. Now, let’s talk about your competition tour!” Mr. Ghoulie put his arm around Barrett’s shoulder as they walked off towards the Ghoulie RV.
The Graveyard Battle sign, blowing violently again the wind, had finally conceded in the battle for its spot on the gate, revealing the original iron scrolls:
Graveyard of Lost Souls
Gates of Hell