Warzone Paintball Arena… that was the name of the place.
“The most realistic combat experience outside the Middle East!” the tagline in the advertisement read proudly. Kind of tasteless, I thought, but it sure as hell sounded like an interesting place to go for my best friend’s bachelor party.
Boy, was I ever right.
You see, I was the Best Man for my friend’s wedding, and as such it was my responsibility to plan the bachelor party. It turned out to be a pretty complicated task… not everyone drank, so a bar couldn’t be the main event. Not everyone was into strip clubs, so that was out too. Paintball, though… hell, nobody could complain about that, right?
I had a kickass event planned. We would start off at this great Chinese restaurant, head on over for as many rounds of paintball as we could take, and those of us who wanted to drink would head over to our favorite pub to cap off the night and nurse our wounds. The whole thing started off wonderfully, I had taken up a collection and gotten the cash to reserve a whole section of the restaurant and eat all the food we could stuff ourselves with. Once we were sure we couldn’t eat another bite we piled into a few cars and drove over to the paintball arena. I’m not sure whose idea the pot was, but somehow there was a joint being passed around the car. I don’t smoke often, but it was a celebration and so I took a few puffs for good measure. By the time we arrived I was pretty decently baked and ready to get shooting.
The paintball place was an indoor deal, and surprisingly large to boot. It looked like the arena had previously seen use as a warehouse or something similar. When we went to the ticket area, ready to pay for a few rounds, we were told that the arena had already been reserved for us for the whole evening. I hadn’t arranged for it, so I figured that one of the other guys had done it as a stealth gift or something. Whatever it was, I sure as hell wasn’t going to complain about free paintball.
We were ushered to the “armory” to gear up, and found that they weren’t kidding when they talked about realism. The vests were digitized camo that looked like they came straight out of a military base, and the paintball guns were near-perfect replicas of the M16 Assault Rifle. The husband-to-be, Josh, has always been something of a gun nut, so he was ecstatic about the whole thing. After gearing up, we passed into the arena.
It was certainly a sight to behold. The whole complex was set up like an old factory, with machinery everywhere, dim red lights, and all sorts of strategic points. Paintball heaven, and uber-realistic at that. There was a huge four-sided screen hanging from the ceiling, like in a basketball court, and once we were all inside it began a thirty-second countdown. We split into two teams – me, Josh, and two other friends, while the other four joined up and each team scrambled to a defensible position. A voice began to boom, counting down the seconds.
We reached a makeshift base, the space between two machines along the wall with a tarp stretched over it.
I lost sight of the other team. I would be listening for them, but the sound of the machines was covering- wait, the machines were running?
I was worried about the machines actually running, but they didn’t seem to pose any immediate hazard except making it impossible to hear movement.
One of the other guys – Mike was his name, thought he knew the general area the others were hiding in, so we split into two groups and moved to converge on them from both sides. I was with Josh, taking the left side. The others took the right. We approached slowly, and when we were about halfway to our destination we heard shouts down to our right. We couldn’t tell whether it was us or them that won, so we kept going as sneakily as we could. Evidently our sneaking wasn’t effective enough, because one of our opponents came rushing out at us, firing blindly. He missed both of us, and we took him down with ease. When we ducked into cover, however, we found that the other guy was already there. He tagged both of us and ran off.
But then, a moment after we got tagged, the floor panel swung out from beneath us and dropped us unceremoniously onto a concrete floor. My vision faded out…
…and faded back in, as far as I could tell only a few seconds later. I sat up, and looked over at Josh who was also coming to. A screen on the wall adjacent to us flickered on and said, in red, bloody letters, “Bonus Round!”
Our rifles hadn’t followed us down, but a compartment under the screen opened up to reveal two pistols. We each grabbed one and took stock of our surroundings.
The basement of the place seemed to be little more than a low-ceilinged concrete box, with the occasional support pillar sticking out of the ground. There was also a heavy fog down there, enough that we could barely see seven feet in front of ourselves. We began to move, staying quiet in case anyone else was down there. The place clearly wasn’t following safety regulations, but I was so into the game that I barely gave it a thought. I should have been more suspicious…
As we walked, somebody heavy black robes and a blank white mask appeared out of the fog. He was holding a combat knife. I had no idea who it was, but me and Josh both fired on instinct. It was a perfect shot, hit directly in the center of mass, but when I pulled the trigger I realized something was wrong.
The handguns barked as they sent the bullets into the doctor’s chest.
Bullets, not paintballs.
The robed figure dropped the knife and silently collapsed onto the ground, a pool of blood slowly spreading under him, into the concrete. Josh and I stood there, looking at each other, for I don’t know how long. What I do know is that eventually another man appeared, in the same costume, this time running at us with his dagger. Josh froze, but I knew the man meant to kill and I sent a panicked bullet into him as well. He also fell silently.
Five more of the masked attackers showed up, spaced out by a few minutes each, and we took each one out, both us and them silent, the only noise was the roar of our pistols. We heard some screams from elsewhere – it sounded like our friends hadn’t made it. Perhaps they didn’t get guns, perhaps they just froze with fear… I don’t know.
Finally, after we had been in the basement for at least an hour, another figure came running at us. By this point we had backed into a corner, and we both shot the instant we saw the figure, before we could recognize it as anything more than a shadow.
This one wasn’t silent though.
We saw Mike stumble out of the fog, shouting in pain and shock as he collapsed onto the ground before us. When the yelling stopped, the announcer’s voice called out.
“Congratulations! Thank you for choosing Warzone Paintball Arena, we hope to see you again soon!”
Once the message was finished, a panel in the wall slid out to reveal a well-lit staircase – a passageway out of the building.
We walked out.
We won the game.