Charlie Wilson could barely breathe. His heart was beating rapidly in his chest. A mixture of fear and anxiety had pierced its way into his mind.
The game was about to begin.
He stood in James Hall, a building once seen as the math hall at St. Jeremiah’s College. As the long hall stretched before him now, he saw only a battlefield. Charlie held his Nerf gun in his hand. It was the Nerf Stampede, an automatic weapon, modified to fire up to 120 rounds in a single minute. His pockets were bursting at the seams, filled with as much ammo as he could possibly store. His back pocket held a four-shooter—his backup weapon should anything go wrong.
Beside him stood eight other freshmen, most of whom he had never met before. The only thing that grouped these young men and women together was the title “Red Shirt”, the title bestowed upon all newcomers who enter the Skiffy Nerf Wars Club. Today, one of them would be different. One of them would drop their red shirt status before all others and become “The Guy”. Charlie desperately wanted to be The Guy, to prove he belonged with the upperclassmen who ran this league.
This shared determination was apparent on everyone’s face, most notably on Jordan Villa, Charlie’s best friend. The two had met during orientation and lived right across the hall from one another. As close as they were, there was no room for friendship on the Nerf Battlefield. Whether he liked or not, Charlie was on his own.
As Charlie’s nerves began to get the best of him, Mack-Attack, the Nerf Commander-at-Arms stood in front of them and screamed, “Allllllll riiiiiiiight! Listen up!” He waited until all eyes were on him. The room grew silent. Charlie could feel his heart pounding in his chest as he awaited Mack’s instructions.
“It’s time to play the game you’ve all been waiting for, ‘I Want to Be the Guy’. Here’s how it works: each of you will be on your own team. You can make alliances if you want, but there are no rules that require you to do so, let alone keep them.”
At this, Charlie turned to Jordan, who instinctively gave a nod. At least for now, Charlie had an ally he could trust. He only hoped it wouldn’t come down to the two of them. Mack-Attack continued: “There are going to be three upper classmen roaming the hallways. Each of them is going to have a quirk. I’m not going to tell you what that is; you have to figure it out on your own. If they touch you, you die. If you are shot, you die. The last man standing will be known as The Guy, and you will lose your status as a red shirt, joining the upper classmen who have come before you. The game will begin when everyone is in a starting position out of sight from the other competitors. Does everyone understand?”
Everyone stood silently, which Mack-Attack took as a resounding ‘yes’. “Well, then. Set-up time starts… now!”
The nine competitors raced to find the perfect starting position. The brave placed themselves on the first floor and prepared for battle. The cowardly ran to the third floor, hoping the height advantage would prolong their demise. Charlie didn’t know what he was, so he escaped into the unknown of the second floor.
What had appeared to him as a series of short hallways now seemed at once to be the second floor catacombs. While the terminology had been used before, but this time, it was real. In the distance, he heard what sounded like a “Game on!” call from underneath him, but he was too nervous to care. He moved slowly, his Stampede shaking in his hands. As he travelled through the catacombs, he heard nothing but the sound of his own feet. Eeriness pervaded the air.
Suddenly, Charlie heard the crack of a pencil snapping underneath one’s feet from behind him. He turned around and saw a dark hooded man with a trench coat and a hat with a piece of toilet paper tied around it. Charlie’s mind raced until he realized the truth: this trench coat wearing figure was really a mummy, and one touch from a mummy would ensure Charlie’s demise.
Fear overtook him, and Charlie unloaded an entire clip of ammo into the creature. Instead of dying, the creature merely got angry and moaned at the top of its lungs. Its slow saunter quickly became a full-blown sprint. Charlie stood frozen for half a second before yelling, “Shit!” and darting down the hallway.
As the mummy drew closer, Charlie realized he didn’t have much time. He needed to escape. Now. He turned the corner and saw a classroom. He grabbed the door and swung it open, hiding behind the frame. Charlie couldn’t breathe. He could barely see from behind the door as the mummy ran down the narrow hallway.
As the mummy reached the end, he realized the boy was no longer in sight. He turned and slowly sauntered his way back to the second floor catacombs. Charlie sighed in relief before closing the door once again.
Charlie assessed the situation. He had been dumb enough to unload an entire clip of ammo into a monster he had been told was invincible. ‘Stupid,’ Charlie thought. ‘At this rate, I’ll just be lucky to not be the first guy dead.’ As his confidence faded, Charlie wandered up to the third floor hallway.
Much to his surprise, he was greeted with the same eerie silence he had felt on the second floor. Anyone who had started here was either dead or had left already. Charlie decided to sweep the rest of the third floor to see if he could eliminate any stragglers, or at least swipe some bullets to replace those he had lost.
As he entered the third floor catacombs, he could sense something was wrong. The hallway had been entirely devoid of ammo, which meant something had cleaned it out. Unfortunately for Charlie, he had no idea what that could be.
Charlie turned the corner and was immediately greeted by an ax that hit the wall barely an inch away from his nose. He turned to see Mack-Attack, now wearing green goblin ears, carrying several more of these throwing axes. Charlie didn’t know how to defeat a goblin with throwing axes, and he didn’t have time to learn. He ran back into the long hallway and spotted the mummy, which had wandered its way upstairs. Now, Charlie had no choice. He had to defeat the goblin, and quickly.
There was no way to get to the stairs without eliminating the goblin. Charlie fired two shots into the beast, but they had no effect. He had to improvise. The goblins threw another axe. Charlie jumped and rolled to the left to avoid it. Another axe flung into the air, and he jumped out of the way once again. Time was running out. The goblin threw a third axe aimed directly for Charlie’s head. He dropped his gun, caught the axe by the handle, and threw it back at the goblin’s neck. The goblin staggered back and dropped to the floor. The creature was conquered.
Charlie motioned to grab the goblin’s hoard of ammo, but the mummy was fast approaching, so he decided against it. With a newfound sense of confidence, Charlie ran down the staircase and entered the first floor catacombs.
For the third time, Charlie was greeted with nothingness. His footsteps echoed through the hall. Instead of uneasiness, however, Charlie’s thoughts stayed on the job at hand: becoming The Guy.
He left the catacombs and found himself looking at the most deadly figure he’d faced yet. The man wore all black, and the hilt of his sword was clearly visible. The ninja’s eyes met Charlie’s for a brief moment, and Charlie could not help but be filled with fear. Sensing this, the ninja sprinted across the hallway.
Charlie realized the ninja was faster than he could ever hope to be; running wasn’t an option. The last two creatures had revealed his gun to be useless, so his Stampede couldn’t get him out of this mess. As the ninja edged closer, Charlie’s hands and legs shook uncontrollably. He had no way out. He wanted to run, to scream, but instead, he stood strong and raised his head up. If he was going to die, he was going to go out in style.
But then, something weird happened. The ninja came right to his face and stood there, eyeing Charlie down. Though Charlie was defenseless, the ninja refused to deal the finished blow. Charlie’s mind reeled as he tried to figure out what was saving him from what appeared to be inevitable death.
Suddenly, he remembered what he had been taught in history class; ninjas struck only when their enemy was not expecting them. As long as Charlie stayed strong and refused to turn his back to run, he could not be killed. Confidence renewed, Charlie maintained his stare until the ninja backed off. It ran back down the hallway and returned to its original spot. Having defeated the three upperclassmen, he now knew he could defeat all challenges laid before him. He was ready to rise to the third floor and sweep for enemies until only he remained.
Before he could turn around and prepare for battle, he felt a Nerf pellet hit him in the back. Charlie had been shot.
It was over. He had lost.
He turned around and saw Jordan’s Nightfinder. “Sorry, buddy. You were the last one left. But, hey, at least one of us gets to be The Guy, right?”
Charlie’s excitement deteriorated rapidly. Everything he had accomplished was for naught. He had gotten so far, but in the end, he was still just a red shirt.
Mack-Attack summoned the men and women of Nerf Wars to announce the winner. Jordan was presented with his official title as “The Guy”, to which everyone cheered. To everyone’s surprise, however, Mack-Attack continued:
“That’s not all. For the first time in Skiffy Nerf War history, a red shirt has defeated all three of the dreaded upperclassmen challenges. He escaped the Rage Mummy, killed the Axe-Throwing Goblin, and stood his ground against the Ninja. As such, I would like to name Charlie Wilson as ‘King of the Red Shirts!’”
The crowd cheered as Charlie joined his best friend in front of the group. Looking back on the night, he had proved to himself and those around him that he was most than just a fearful red shirt. He may have still been a red shirt, but now he was the king of the red shirts, and he wore his title with pride.