Art by Mackenzie Holman, 2021
Henry Jenkins stood in line, nerves shaking throughout his entire body. The next moments in his life were going to stick with him forever. He wouldn’t be able to turn back, to change his decisions and choices.
He had one chance to finish the mission.
One of Henry’s comrades, Liam, stood next to him. He seemed to be more prepared for the fight to come. “You ready?” he asked Henry as he smiled nervously.
Henry simply nodded in reply as he swallowed his doubts and worries. He knew that he was surrounded by friends. They’d been through so much together. Behind him was Eric and Alex. In front of him was Bruce and Torin. He felt comforted being in their presence, yet it didn’t calm the storm of anxiety brewing inside of him.
“Don’t worry, man,” Bruce said, “it’ll be fine.”
Easy for him to say. Bruce was a veteran. He’d been in fights like this before.
An older, taller man gestured for Henry’s group to move forward. He started to sweat as they were filed into a room with a large black screen that would display their mission briefing. They each grabbed their gear from different sides of the room: just a simple vest and a gun.
Then, the room darkened, and the screen turned on, voice exclaiming, “Welcome to The Laser Dome: Fun Laser Tag for the Whole Family!”
Henry shivered as the voice relayed their goal, “Fight through this fun and colorful arena as you try to shoot the other team’s flag while trying not to get tagged yourself!”
The screen played an animation of a boy getting shot by another player. His vest lit up and buzzed as he quickly tried to find a place to hide and recover. Henry could hardly look at such graphic visuals. Was this really the horror he would have to go through?
The voice continued, “Make sure to remember the essential rules: No running! No climbing! No food or drinks in the arena! No swearing or bad language! And, of course, have fun!”
Henry’s stomach began to feel queasy, but he had no time to abandon his friends. The screen turned off and the moderator, looking as bored as ever, reminded them one more time to follow the rules. Then he opened the door to the arena. Flashing lights blinded Henry’s face as he and his friends made their way to their base. They trekked through perilous terrain of plastic cutouts and dirty carpet. And what was it that those speakers were playing? No! It couldn’t be! Dubstep! Oh, of all things sacred and holy, why did it have to be dubstep?
Bruce crouched cautiously behind a cutout of a smiling robot, “Alright, here’s the plan: Alex and Torin, you take the left side. Henry, Liam: take the right. I’ll stay here with Eric and guard the base.”
“What about me?” a random guy asked from the back.
“Who are you? I didn’t invite you to my birthday party,” Bruce replied.
“I got stuck with your group. The other team was full.”
Bruce rolled his eyes, “Ok then. Random guy: you go through the center. Cause a distraction.”
“You guys take this really seriously,” random guy muttered.
A voice suddenly echoed throughout the arena, “Game starts in… Three! Two! One! Go!!!”
“For honor and bravery!” Bruce called.
“For honor and bravery!” they echoed, then scrambled to their posts.
Henry took off speed walking. The lights flashed and lasers danced to the pain-inflicting music as he and Liam made their way around the right side of the enemy base.
“Intruders!” an enemy yelled from his hiding spot behind a cutout of a hippo riding a rhino.
“Cover me!” Liam yelled as he rushed up the carpeted ramp.
“Whoa!” the moderator popped out from behind a plastic wall, “That’s the handicap ramp, you’ve got to go around that way to the stairs.”
“Oh ok…” Liam slumped his shoulders and walked around to the stairs. “Now… COVER ME!”
Liam rushed up the steps as Henry pulled the trigger over and over again in rapid fire. The enemy’s vest buzzed and flashed as Henry gave out a cry of celebration. Liam pushed past, rushing into the base. He aimed his gun at the light labeled “Shoot me!” and pulled the trigger.
“RED TEAM BASE IS UNDER ATTACK!” a robotic voice echoed throughout the arena.
“Dang it!” Liam cursed, “They have an alarm system. Reinforcements will be here soon.”
“You’ll never keep us down!” the enemy guard chuckled maliciously. “In the end, the red team will prevail over your futile methods! We are the way! We are the truth! We are the future!!!”
Henry shot him square in the chest.
“Dude! No fair!” the guard cried. “No puppy guarding!”
“We don’t conform to your rules of war,” Liam took position at the fake wooden balcony. “Keep him busy! I’ll keep watch for Alex and Torin!”
“Guys! Help!” the red guy yelled into the plastic maze. “These guys are puppy guarding!”
“Shut it, dog breath!” Henry prodded his gun at the enemy’s shoulder target, “or I blast you.”
“Hands off him!”
Henry and Liam turned around as three enemies dressed in red vests approached the base, guns drawn.
The enemy in the middle gestured towards them, “Hands in the air where we can see them!”
The dubstep music seemed to intensify as Henry and Liam obeyed the command. They looked at each other, knowing it was the end. At least they’d die for the cause.
“Check the guard,” the lead red guy ordered. “See if he’s injured!”
The two other soldiers grabbed their comrade and inspected him for wounds.
“Just a rash on his shoulder from the vest.”
“Darn, I knew we shouldn’t have ordered the polyester suits!”
“Wait what?” Henry asked. “You should’ve ordered them?”
“Oh yes…” the lead red guy sneered. “I am the owner of The Laser Dome: Fun Laser Tag for the Whole Family!”
Liam and Henry gasped in disbelief, “You cheater! You know all the secrets of this battlefield!”
“Of course,” the red leader laughed. “I designed it myself. Now give up before you are your partner here get blasted!”
Henry looked at Liam nervously. He hoped he had a plan.
Liam snorted, “We’ll never give in to you cheater cheater pumpkin eaters! We fight for honor and bravery!”
“Well then you’ll lose 50 points in the name of honor and bravery,” the red leader raised his blaster.
Henry closed his eyes, waiting for the buzzing to start. The world seemed to dissolve around him as he prepared for the inevitable laser to hit his chest. This was it. This is what it had all come down to: this moment of defeat. All of the training with Nerf guns, all the pizza parties, and all the action figure tactical plans had led to his death.
He heard the vibrations, and winced, expecting them to surround his upper body.
But it wasn’t coming from his vest; it was coming from the red leader’s vest.
“For honor and bravery!”
Eric, Bruce, Alex, and Torin rushed out from the surrounding plastic cutouts, expertly blasting each of the red team’s soldiers in the lights on the back of their vests.
“Get down!” Torin yelled. The whole blue team ducked as Torin pressed a button on his vest and all the red team’s vest began to vibrate and flash. Torin smiled, “Laser grenades. They work everytime!”
The red team’s leader growled in frustration, “Take cover! Blast these miscreants!”
Alex blocked the exit and began firing at anything red, scattering the enemy forces. Eric and Liam ducked behind the balcony, shooting through its small plastic slats and pinning the leader behind a cowboy cutout riding a plastic turtle.
“Who’s guarding the base?” Liam yelled over the laser fire and loud music.
“Random guy is! Thought it would keep him out of the way!” Bruce responded, then ducked behind a low wall. “Argh! They’re getting through!”
Torin had been hit square in the chest, and two of the red guys had made their way back through the plastic maze, and they were running!
“Quick, shoot the base again!” Bruce yelled at Henry. “It’s our only chance! If we can’t win by kills, we can still win by points!”
Henry nodded. He took a deep breath, and stood up from behind his cover, walking as fast as he could over to the target. He aimed his blaster, eyeing the target, imagining he was back at Bruce’s house with an Airsoft gun in his hands
But he felt himself topple over as his vest began to vibrate violently. He cried out in pain as he succumbed to the annoying sound. The red leader stood over him, laser gun raised and an evil sneer stretched across his acne covered face, “No one beats me at my own game!”
Just as the vibrating ended, he shot again and Henry bowled over in frustration.
“Who’s puppy guarding now?”
“No one is!”
Liam stepped up behind the red leader and fired his blaster.
“NOOO!” the red leader toppled to the ground, his vest illuminated in flashing lights.
“You’re all clear, soldier!” Liam had his blaster still aimed, anticipating the red leader’s next move.
Henry nodded in appreciation, jumped to his feet, and fired at the red base.
“BLUE TEAM WINS!”
The room’s lights flickered on and the music stopped.
Liam clapped Henry on the back, “You did it man! You did it!”
Torin and Bruce cheered. Eric and Alex threw their hands in the air, doing a quick victory dance. Henry did it. They’d won.
“I’ll get you next time!” the red leader yelled as he walked out the doors, practically dragged away by his teammates. “Next time you come to the The Laser Dome: Fun Laser Tag for the Whole Family, you’ll be sorry!”
Henry looked nervously at Bruce.
Bruce laughed, “Don’t worry, we’ll go to Laser Mania down the street. We won’t be seeing that cheating slime again.” He turned towards the rest of his comrades, “Good work, soldiers! Now, who wants some cake?”
The whole group cheered as they left the arena in excitement.
“Cake for everyone! Except for random guy!” Bruce called.
They all left that arena with a new sense of pride. They’d fought together, they’d won together, and they’d celebrate together.
They’d fought with honor and bravery.