The Prize

 

   I was hyperventilating. I didn’t regret my choice, and it wasn’t like it was against my will. But actually being in the coliseum with the cheering crowds, the nerves had gripped me. I looked to the cage on my left, seeing that the person within had passed out. Suddenly, I sensed the atmosphere change and returned my focus to the gate in front of me. It was time.

   “Contestants, are you ready!” the announcer boomed. “You better be! Rip. Tear. Maim. Go!”

A wave of calm washed over me as the gates descended. I didn’t wait for it to completely open before I charged forward. I wasn’t the only one either – nearly every other conscious contestant did the same, and so did the undead. Anyone still in the cages would be cornered – my unconscious cage neighbour wouldn’t even know their fate. They were probably the lucky one.

   Across the coliseum was the exit. Back before the end of times, it would have been where the sports players would enter and leave the stadium. Now, it served as the next part of the contest. That was my target, as well as everyone else’s. However, I needed to be able to defend myself. In the middle of the stadium-come-coliseum, there were various crude blades, pipes, heavy tools, and a single gun. Everyone always went for the gun, but I wouldn’t.

   I arrived at the weapon pile, as did six others. Two were already fighting – and it would be a fight to the death. A third joined the fight as he tackled another. I ignored them and grabbed a blade, pulling it from the earth and continued my sprint. The fight would resolve itself, either by murder, or the undead descending upon them.

   A few zombies made it to me, but my blade made quick work of them – cutting through their rotten and grey flesh with ease. They were slow, clearly not the freshest. I spilt their blackened brains on the ground before continuing onwards.

   Through the exit, down a long dark tunnel, there were more tunnels – made of sheet iron and labelled one through three. I was sure each had their own flavour of surprise within, but they’d all lead the same way eventually. I chose tunnel three and raced ahead.

   I immediately realised what the trap of tunnel three was – pure darkness. Out of all the things that could have been in those tunnels, I got off easy. I’d heard stories of machine traps, spike pits, or even flooded rooms full of the undead. Darkness I could handle. Regardless, I made it out the other side and was faced with my next dilemma.

   It wasn’t a trial that had been planned for me to face, but it was one nonetheless. Laying on the ground, holding off two zombies by the throat, was another contestant. He was a huge man, muscles bulging. Despite his strength, it was slowly failing him. I considered walking on, leaving him to face his fate. It would give me time to get ahead, but … I couldn’t leave someone to die. I ran forward, sticking my blade through an undead skull. Blacked gore flew everywhere as I pulled out, the blade having a plunger effect. The man took his moment of reprieve to use his newly freed hand to retrieve the wrench by his side. Two rapid and heavy thuds with it caved the zombies face in. The man tipped the limp corpse to one side.

 

   There was a tense moment between us, both unsure of what the other would do. My mind worked fast. I didn’t want to fight him.

   “If we work together, we can split the prize at the end. Easier for us and we both win,” I explained, reaching out with my hand. He hesitated for just a moment before he took my hand. I smiled and pulled him up. He nodded his thanks and we continued on together, fighting our way to the end.

****

   We rounded the corner and I saw the flag. Elation spread through me and my body nearly gave out, but I knew I wasn’t there yet. I kept going and so did my companion. It didn’t matter that my heart was trying to punch its way through my chest, or that my legs felt like they were pumping acid with each frenzied step. I just couldn’t believe it!

   We made it across the threshold and a gate slammed behind us. An ear-shattering crash erupted. We both span round, ready to defend ourselves, but there wasn’t any need. The zombies that had been chasing us collided with the metal gate, bouncing off it while the zombies following further behind trampled any of their brethren that had fallen to the floor. The gate didn’t move – we were safe.

 

   We both strode across the room, placing our hands on the flag. A light came on from above and a man in a harlequin mask stepped out onto a caged balcony – relief flooded my chest.

   “Congratulations,” the masked individual boomed, bowing theatrically. “It is very rare that we get one winner, let alone two. Can I confirm that you’ll be splitting the prize? You both worked so hard to get here after all.”

   I stepped forward, grinning broadly with tears in my eyes. “We’re splitting the prize.”

   “I will need you both to confirm it before I let you through,” the man replied.

 

   Before I could turn to my companion, I heard a crack and my body went cold. I could feel fluid running down my neck as I fell to the floor and began convulsing.

   “Nah, just one winner,” I heard my companion say as he stepped forward, his wrench hanging loosely by his side as fresh blood ran off it. My vision began to pinhole as blood left the wound on the back of my head. The man above clapped as I tried to … tried to … tried …