This is a minor retooling of a story I first wrote for a creative writing class in school. At the time my friends and I would play free-for-all squirt gun battles (none of us had paintball guns yet) on the San Joaquin Delta College campus on the weekends (not a good idea in retrospect, the campus police tend to get pissed off if they catch you).

Andrew is my friend Andrew Martin, the best player in the group. Ian is a psycho version of what I wished I was with just a touch of Zonker Harris tossed in.
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House To House
by Richard R. Ward
(Draft #4.5.1 Minor corrections)
July 02, 2003.

One by one, the combatants gathered under the watchful eye of the noonday sun. In a matter of minutes the small band of would be warriors, dressed in faded blue jeans and out of date tee-shirts, stood talking and joking amongst themselves.

From behind a short brick wall a lone figure, clad in deep pocket khaki pants, black hightop basketball shoes, dull red knee and elbow pads, and an old rock concert tee-shirt, leapt straight into the heart of the group. Executing a perfect tuck and roll on the dull red brick of the courtyard he effortlessly came to his feet, facing the leader of the group.

"Blink and you die," he said, pointing his shiny brass paintball pistol between the eyes of the leader.

"Cute, Ian," said the leader, a note of sarcasm creeping into his voice. "Is everybody here? I'd like to get this started."

"Cap'n Andrew, Sir, surveillance indicates that all expected personell are present and accounted for, Sir. Surveillance also indicates the presence of unidentified personel, Sir," Ian said, standing in an exaggerated position of attention, his right hand held in a skewed salute.

"Thanks, Ian," Andrew said, giving his friend a look of humorous contempt. "Before we start, I'd like to introduce a new player to these games. Everyone, this is Peter, I found him in my Hungarian Lit. class. Peter, this is The Mob, a motley crew of the most vicious paintball slingers this side of the Andes."

"Hello," Peter said confidently.

"All right, you slobs, what game do you all want to play?" Andrew asked.

"Cap'n, Sir," Ian said. "How about a free-for-all?"

"Do you ever want to play anything else?" asked a slim, blue eyed blond, dressed in pink.

"Didi, there are few games that I enjoy more than a good free-for-all." Ian said suggestively, looking her straight in the eyes.

"You are crazy, Ian," Didi said, grinning.

"That's why you love me, isn't it?" Ian teased, kissing her on the tip of her nose.

"All right, you two," Andrew interrupted. "You can finish this on the field of combat.

"All in favor of free-for-all?" Andrew asked as almost all players raised their hands. "Right. Free-for-all it is.

"Now, for the sake of our new player, these are the House To House Free-For-All Rules; if you get shot, you die; if you get hit by a paint balloon, you die; if you fall from a second story railing, you die; if you set off the alarms, you die; If you run out of ammo, you are S.O.L; you may only use the weapons you start with; last one left alive wins. Any questions?" Andrew said.

"Shoot to kill," Peter said coldly. "I got you."

"Okay, 60 seconds until I blow the horn and the game begins. Scatter, people!" Andrew commanded as the assembled warriors disappeared into the myriad hallways that radiated from the courtyard.

Ian ran down a darkened hallway at a full sprint. He quickly found the dark brown double doors that would take him to the second floor. Bursting through the doors he vaulted up the stairs, taking them three at a time. He walked through the second floor doors and silently wound his way to one of his six favorite hiding places.

Ian knew that the other players would not see him. The others never beat him to the second floor. None of them ever moved as fast as he did. He was the best, and was very aware of that. Only once had he lost a free-for-all. That would not happen again.

Ian silently settled into his chosen hiding place and began the process of psyching himself for the game. He analyzed the battle strategies of his opponents. Andrew: good, almost as good as Ian. Fast, but not quite sneaky enough, too trusting. Mike: sneaky as a weasel in a chicken coop. Lousy shot. Sid was good with a gun, good at hiding as well. Ian knew that he would have to keep an eye on Sid. Didi was the best of the female players. Good with a gun, sneaky, fast, and as trustworthy as a few recent presidents. The rest were as threatening as children. Most were here just here for a little fun; and as cannon fodder. Then there was Peter. Ian knew nothing of Peter. This annoyed him. Not knowing the fighting habits of fellow players lowered his chances, brought them too close to even. Ian hated that.

As Ian assessed his battle plans, he automatically checked his arsenal. He had both of paintball guns, all six of his paint balloons, extra paintballs and, in case of impending defeat, his rubber hari-kari knife.

Bristling with anticipation he waited for the horn to sound. They would be watching. They loved to watch The Game. After all, They created it. The Game, like all things, served the Empire: it gave Them a way to control the slave population, to cull out the disruptive and non-productive slaves, a warning to the rest of the slaves, to entertain themselves and the slaves. To the winner was given breeding rights, to the losers, death.

After an almost infinitely long wait, the horn sounded a single deep note that echoed through the halls and reverberated through the walls and floors, reached deep into his body and shook his bones. The Game had begun. This was no practice game, fighting with stun guns and sleep grenades, this was it. The real thing; the day of reckoning.

Instantly Ian was on the move. He headed straight for the first kill, his dull gray Colt model 1911 45 caliber automatic pistol in hand. He knew right where Bill would be hiding; the same place he always was. Some things never changed, and Ian liked that. No one else seemed to notice that Bill always hid in the same place, but then again, no one else was as good at The Game as Ian. Ian liked that, too.

With cat-like grace he crept up to the thick wooden second floor railing. He peered over the edge of the railing and spotted his prey. Bill was hiding behind a three-foot high brick wall that shielded him on three sides. Bill was not shielded from above, and that was a mistake, a fatal mistake

Ian crept around the second floor on hands and knees, using the railing as a shield. Soon he was above poor Bill. Climbing up onto the railing he reached into his left leg pocket and pulled out one Standard Issue Fragmentation Grenade. Pulling the pin he silently counted to five and released the grenade. As the grenade fell he hopped off the railing and crouched on the floor.

As the deadly present exploded in the courtyard below, a single bullet ripped into the wooden railing just inches away from Ian's head. Instinctively he raised his gun and fired one shot, sending a lone bullet into the head of the young woman who had just tried to kill him. "Maybe next time, Karen," he said to the dead body.

He was soon running from cover to cover down the empty halls, searching for the next kill. He came across the bullet ridden corpse of Dave. He marked up one for Karen. She finally made a kill. It may have only been Fat Boy, but it was still a kill. The sudden thought of Bill winning breeding rights made him chuckle to himself as he continued his hunt.

Ian stopped in his tracks. He thought he heard an exchange of gunfire somewhere off to his left. He was not really sure; sound did not travel that well in these buildings. There was something about the way They designed the buildings that dampened sounds. Ian found that annoying.

A loud burst of gunfire cleaved the silence of the hallway asunder without warning. Ian was on the floor before he realized that he had jumped to the ground. He was sure that he heard two distinctly different guns in the hall off to his left.

Crawling on his belly he peered around the corner to see who in the world was dumb enough to get caught in an honest fire-fight. To his surprise and amusement he found his fools to be Andrew and Janet. They were both crouched behind thick wooden garbage cans, using them as shields. Ian was disgusted. Janet, the single worst player in The Game, had pinned Andrew, the second best player, behind a garbage can. In a fair fight, too! This had to come to an end.

Crawling silently into the hall, Ian positioned himself to get a clear shot at Janet. He did not really like the idea of shooting a girl in the back. It was not very much fun if you did not get a good look at their faces when they realized that they blew it.

"Janet!" Ian called out, gun at the ready.

Janet spun around like a ghost had goosed her in the ass. Surprised that Ian had gotten behind her she stared at him, dumbfounded, for maybe half a second. Half a second too long. Her head exploded in a wet blossom of death as Ian fired his trusty 45 Automatic.. Ian was sure that They would love that one.

"Shoot first, think later," Ian said to the dead girl. He jumped to his feet and ran back the way he had come, dodging Andrew's bullets. Damn it! He had to move quickly to get out of Andrew's sights.

He would have liked to get Andrew, too. But, he knew that in a fair fight Andrew would have an almost even chance of winning. That was a chance that Ian was not willing to take. Besides, it would be a lot more fun to catch Andrew later when he could set up a really good ambush. He imagined the look on Andrew's face when, once again, Ian would get the drop on him. Only this time it would be for good. Only sweet oblivion would be waiting for Andrew, not the inevitable hangover from the stun guns.

Deep in thought, he rounded the corner and came to an abrupt halt. He found himself standing face to face with the barrel of a freshly polished Taurus Casull 454 caliber revolver.

"Hello lover," said the slim blond woman holding the gun.

"Hello Didi," Ian said, his life passing before his eyes.

"Is that all I get `Hello, Didi', not even a `Hello Dear', or `I love you'? I ought to blow your nuts off," she teased, lowering the massive handgun.

"I'm sorry, honey," he said, kissing her lightly on the lips.

"Rouges' Alliance?" Didi offered.

"Agreed," he responded, his life slowly returning to him.

"How's the game going for you?" she asked.

"Pretty good," Ian said. "I just saved Andrew's bacon. Lord only knows how, but Janet pinned him behind a garbage can. So I shot her and split."

"You must be kidding? You left Andrew alive?" Didi asked, slightly shocked.

"Do you expect me to take on Andrew in a fair fight?"

"No, I don't," she said, chuckling "But I don't get it."

"Get what?" Ian asked.

"Janet couldn't hit an elephants' ass at six feet with a heat seeking missile, and the little bimbo pinned Andrew behind a garbage can."

"She was hiding behind one, too," he said, putting his arm around her shoulders.

"That little... Follow me," Didi said, running down the hall that Ian had just emerged from. "I've got an idea."

A few minutes later found them walking down a corridor near where he had left Andrew. Ian saw Andrew peering over the edge of the balcony to the first floor. Ian gave Didi a hand signal warning her of danger. He silently pointed to Andrew. Didi nodded curtly; she had seen him. Ian cocked his hand to the right and Didi backed away and silently darted down a corridor to Ian's right.

Just as Ian was about to draw a bead on Andrew, Andrew turned to survey the halls behind himself. Ian barley dropped behind one of the ever-present thick, wooden trash cans as Andrew fired at him. Ian heard the bullet slam into the wooden barrier between himself and Andrew. Ian quickly peered over the top of the trash can and fired at where Andrew had been. Another shot rang out and the can was struck with another bullet as he ducked back behind the can's protective bulk.

Chancing instant death, Ian quickly peeked from beside the can and saw where Andrew was hiding; behind another wooden trash can. He also saw Didi slowly stalking, unseen, behind Andrew. Ian raised up and fired twice and Andrew, pinning him behind the trash can and distracting him from the approach of Didi

Ian heard three sharp cracks as Andrew returned fire, followed by two deep, thunderous booms as Didi's gun spat hollow-point death into Andrew. Ian looked over the top of his cover and saw the headless body of Andrew laying at Didi's feet. She looked up at him with a knowing smile.

He arose with a casual grace as he smiled at Didi. With unhurried grace he brought his pistol up and fired a single shot into her heart, killing her as her eyes had just begun to widen in realization that she had been betrayed.

With a dull thud Didi joined Andrew on the floor. Ian smiled and congratulated himself on a truly good betrayal. He knew that They were getting a good laugh out of that one. Probably such a good laugh that They banged their heads together, however many of those They had.

A thorough and cautious search of the second floor revealed that it was as empty of the living as the Necropolis of the Elder Gods. He did not like the idea of going down to the first floor. That would mean going down the stairs. The stairs were the easiest place in the world to ambush someone, and he knew it well.

Without caution, Ian ran through the halls of the second floor towards the distant stairs that would, hopefully, take him unseen to the first floor. Finding the heavy wooden double doors, he slowly eased them open and was through them like a shot. As the doors shut, the metal latch drove home with a loud clack. Ian froze. Quietly he reached into his left leg pocket and retrieved one of his five remaining hand grenades. He pulled the pin, counted six and tossed the tiny explosive down to the first floor landing. His hands were over his ears before the explosion tried to rip his ears out of his skull.

His ears ringing, Ian proceeded down the smoke filled stairs, his dull gray 45 automatic held out as both his shield and lance. On the first floor landing he found no twisted corpses, no dead aliens, no nothing. Just the shattered remains of two wooden doors.

Gingerly he stepped over the splintered wood and went out into the hall in pursuit of more game. With the exception of Bill's mangled corpse, Ian's search of the courtyard proved futile. He began a cautious search of the halls and corridors that led from the courtyard. He soon discovered the reason that there was no one around to kill.

"I am impressed," he said looking on a scene of outright carnage. Four bullet riddled bodies lay strewn about a small widening of the hallway. He recognized the bodies of Sid, Mike, Angela, and Shelley. Which meant that Peter was still alive. Of all the things that Ian did not like, this he liked the least.

A sudden movement in the corner of his eye caught his attention. He spun and fired, jamming his gun on the second shot. He stared at his pistol for a second, stunned that such a trustworthy weapon would jam up when he needed it the most. He dropped the disabled gun to the ground and whipped out his secondary weapon, a Glock 9mm automatic pistol.

For the next twenty minutes Ian and Peter chased each other through the deserted hallways of the building. They exchanged fierce vollies of fire when they spotted each other before breaking away to try and flank each other. The hunt was more intense than any Ian could remember. He fearfully realized that he was dealing with an adversary almost as skilled as himself. This , he decided, he liked the very least of all!

Before he realized what was happening, Ian found himself almost out of ammunition. Attempting to reload his Glock he discovered that he had only one bullet left. His heart froze. He could feel both the game and his life slipping from his hands.

With sudden realization he understood what Peter had done to him. It dawned on him that in all the vollies he and Peter had tossed against each other, Peter had only returned one shot for each three of his own. Peter had tricked him into wasting all his ammunition, and using all of his grenades to kill poor innocent trash cans. Peter was a hell of a lot better than Ian had first thought, maybe even as good as Ian was. "Shit", he said under his breath.

Ian's eyes lit up as hope rushed through his soul. An idea so simple that he nearly shot himself for not thinking of it earlier, crossed through his desperate mind. He decided that if Peter was going to be a sneaky little worm he would be an even sneakier worm.

Ian ran back to the hall in which Sid and the other three dead bodies lay. Upon arrival he began to work fast. The rules forbade the use of another's gun, under pain of instant death, but the rules said nothing about the use of another's dead body. He went straight to the bloodied body of Mike, a player his own size, and moved the bullet-riddled body. With a little effort he was able to drag Mike's limp body down to a short side hall. Once there, Ian pulled off his knee and elbow pads. He then used his Bowie knife to cut several holes in the front of his shirt. He sliced open Mike's right forearm with the practiced skill of a skill. Ian forced the coagulated blood out of the dead mans' arm with his strong hands. Ian smeared the thickened blood in and around the holes in his shirt. He then got up and headed back to the other three dead bodies he had left behind.

He went over to the bloodstained spot on which Mike had lain and assumed a reasonable facsimile of the position its former occupant. All he had to do now be patient and wait. He hoped that Peter would be looking for what was hidden, not that which was disguised. He knew that this had to work. He had only one bullet left, only one chance. More than just his life depended on this. His honor, and the ultimate reward; They, Earth's alien overlords would grant him breeding rights with a female of his choosing. Hell, they might even be able to revive Didi. He'd shot her in the heart, not the brain.

Five minutes later his patience was rewarded. With gun drawn Peter came walking down the hall. Peter briefly counted the bodies on the floor and headed out the other way. As if physically struck Peter stopped and turned around. Ian's gun was already pointed straight between Peter's eyes by the time he had turned to face Ian.. Ian fired and the back of Peters' head exploded.

Ian continued to lie in the pool of Mike's blood until he realized that The Game was now over and that, once again, he had won. And winning, he had long ago decided, was what he liked the most.

He slowly rose to his feet and walked out into the sunny courtyard and to the horn that waited there for his signal of victory. On his way through the courtyard, he passed by the splayed body of Bill, his first kill of The Game. He looked upon the twisted organs and shattered bones with a sense of pride and satisfaction; pride in a job well done, satisfaction at being very good at killing people.

With an almost reverent touch he took the horn from its nest and raised it to his lips. With a long steady breath he sounded the deep single note of victory. The Game was now done.

"Hey guy, nice trick with the paint balloon," said Bill, stepping out from behind the barricade he had been patiently lying behind.

"Thanks, Bill. It was fun to kill you again," Ian said.

"You putz!" Didi screamed as she ran across the courtyard towards him. "How dare you turn on me like that!"

"You would have done the same to me," Ian said, taking the slim blond in his arms.

"I would not!" she countered.

"Oh, yes you would," Ian said as he brushed her hair out of her face.

"Yeah, you're right. Almost did, but you were quicker than I was," she said, kissing him gently on the lips.

"You didn't have to drag me. I would have gotten up and walked down the hall," Mike said, walking up to Ian.

"You were dead, dude," Ian replied, noticing, for the first time, a long thick scar that ran the length of Mike's forearm.