…three o’clock…three o’clock…three o’clock
The shouting in my ears finally broke me out of my reverie. Just in time to see the enemy put me in his sights. My brain screamed for me to move, but it was too late. He pulled the trigger, and everything went dark. Fuck! I was dead. Again.
All the voices in my ear went apeshit at the same time, and for a moment, I couldn’t make anything out. I took in a breath and let it out slowly, trying to ease the tension in my shoulders and refocus as the respawn timer counted down. I called out Gandalf Strategy into my mic, and when the counter hit zero, I flew right back into the mayhem, ready to redeem myself for getting killed. “Don’t worry, fam…I got you!”
Once I got near the action, I jumped up on the ledge of a building and then onto an even higher ledge, trying to get as much height as I could muster. It was time to use my sniping skills. My teammates below were dug in in a defensive formation. Their right flank was protected, but the left was pretty open. With me positioned up high and covering the only obvious path through my team’s defenses, we were trying to turn what was supposed to be a weakness into a strength.
Moments after I got into position, I saw the enemy making their way to my team’s left flank. There were three of them, and they were moving slowly, trying to use as much cover as possible. “I got three fuckers picking their way on the left! I got them in my sights!” I zoomed in closer with my scope and took aim at the one that was at the back. He was a slow mover, and I hit my button just as he popped out from behind the wall. The bullet got him in the neck, and he flew backward as a good amount of points flashed on my screen.
“That’s right, bitch!” I yelled into my headphones. “You shall not pass!” The second person went down with another headshot two seconds later. I called out to my team, “I got the second one. Going for the trifecta.” I guided my scope toward the remaining target as my ears filled with my teammates’ voices urging me on. “Get him, Dee! You got this!” By then, the remaining opponent knew that he was trapped and was lying low.
I knew exactly where he was, and I knew exactly how to bait him out. I tapped a button, and a 15-second countdown flashed on my screen. As soon as it did, I took my shot, knowing it would miss by a few inches, and it did just that. My opponent knew it was now or never and bolted from his spot to get to better cover. That is what I was counting on. Using my power-up that allowed me to take two more shots without having to reload, I took them both, driving both bullets to his spine. Down he went as I got more points to my total for the kill.
A buzzer went off, and my screen grew dim before the endgame screen loaded in, displaying the results. Final Round Complete: The Mighty Spitballs Win!!! I jumped out of my chair to the cheers of my teammates piercing my ears, joining in with my own screams of ecstasy. “We did it! We fucking did it, guys! Wooo Hooo! We’re in the finals, baby! Let’s goooooo!”
We jumped up and down in a massive hug as the announcer made it official by declaring The Mighty Spitballs winners of the semi-final round in the National 5 vs. 5 Urban Warfare tournament. Our opponents across the gaming machines and massive monitors, The Deadly Death Heads, were pointing and blaming one another, their voices drowned out by the cheering and applause of the crowd. Making the finals guaranteed a minimum $100,000 prize, with a quarter-million if we actually won the whole enchilada. That was a lot of cheese for a team that came out of nowhere.
It was unheard of for a noob team to make it this far, yet here we were. Dwit and PhAded were brothers and the backbone of the team. They were the founding members, along with Minion. The team had played in a few Twitch tournaments online, but they were just local gigs. Darkpixi came in six months before me, and I was the last to join just two months ago.
Even though we were a complete team, we were just a gaming team. We didn’t become a professional team until Gerry came aboard soon after I joined. Gerry was our agent for gaming tournaments. He was brilliant at his job in a way I’d never seen before. He was good-looking and had a silver tongue that knew just what to say to get what he wanted from anyone. I don’t remember exactly how we met him, but the guy was a fucking genius.
Once Gerry came aboard, he really turned us around, and we became an actual professional team. He hustled and marketed and pleaded and even bragged just to get us in some low-level local tournaments, and we responded. We beat the crap out of those local teams and gained some recognition. Gerry turned those wins into more advertising, more hustling, and even bigger tournaments.
That’s when everything really clicked for us. We were truly becoming a force to reckon with when it came to E-sports. Once we started practicing and doing more tournaments, we started winning more and more. For me, it was like I could get into my partners’ heads and knew what was coming. Not like I could read their minds or anything, but I could just feel them. If someone was in danger, I could somehow tell, and I would run to them for backup. If one side of my team was doing well, I knew to cover another side. It was the ultimate in communication, as if we’d been playing as a team for years. Things were looking up for us.
We had two days before the finals, so we decided to go to one of the resort’s on-site bars and get shitfaced. I think we were already happy just to make it to the finals, and it did not matter anymore whether we won or not. Of course, we wanted to win the whole thing, but the team we were going up against were gaming gods. Team Pale Zombie was not only known nationwide, but internationally. They had won in both Europe and even in Asia.
We all decided to celebrate with steaks and wine, and to be honest, I was a little nervous about the wine because I’d never had any before. I never understood the point of drinking alcohol, so I avoided it. The steaks were delicious and very juicy, but the wine my friends chose didn’t really taste like anything to me. I thought it would have tasted like something…burny, but I might as well have been drinking water. For some lame reason, my brain got stuck on the wine, and I spaced out again.
When I passed by the entrance to the complex on the way back to my suite, I saw a bunch of leaflets set up for different tourist attractions in the area. The tournament was taking place in San Diego. It was my first time there, so I grabbed a bunch and went up to my suite to study them. I had a day to burn and nothing to do, so I figured I would take in some of the sights. I jumped on the bed and spread out the various tourist attractions.
I knew that San Diego was well known for its zoo, so I picked up that brochure first. Apparently, the zoo was separated into two different attractions, the actual zoo and the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. I checked the prices and found that they were expensive AF! If you wanted to visit both places, you would have to spend over $100 for an adult. Before this tournament, I would have never spent this much money just to go to the zoo, but I figured I could splurge for once.
When I opened the leaflet, the first thing I noticed were the huge cats looking straight at me. I didn’t know if it was a cheetah or a jaguar or what, but it looked like he was alive and staring at me. That’s when something really weird happened. My vision blurred, and I got this pounding feeling in my head, like somebody was stabbing me right in the brain. I rolled over on my back and closed my eyes with a groan, trying to get the pain to subside.
I felt a flash pierce through my eyelids, like someone was taking a picture of me, and I swooned from the pain. Then everything in my head slowly started turning green like there was a green light in front of me, just out of focus. I tried to slow my breathing and concentrate, and the green light slowly started taking shape. It split into two separate orbs, and when my mind sort of zoomed in, it turned into a pair of emerald cat-shaped eyes. I mentally tried to pull back, and I noticed those big green orbs staring at me belonged to a massive black panther.
Weirdly enough, I did not feel threatened by the panther. Instead, I felt a sense of calm and contentment. It felt like I was just hanging out with a friend, but the friend was this panther with the brightest green eyes I had ever seen. In this dream or vision or whatever the hell this was, the panther was face to face with me. Slowly, the pain started to subside as the cat leaned forward and placed his forehead on my chest, bumping me gently.
When the pain and the feeling of vertigo went away, I opened my eyes to darkness. What in the actual fuck? It happened again! That’s three times now. I rolled over and saw the clock by the bed read 10:38 PM. That meant that I was out of it for about three hours. I jumped out of the bed like it was on fire and ran to the bathroom sink. I turned both the hot and cold knobs on as far as they would go. I splashed water on my face repeatedly until I could barely breathe.
I finally turned off the water and reached for a towel to dry off. As I did, I looked at myself in the mirror, and for a split second, I didn’t even recognize who I was. “What the hell is going on here?” I said out loud to no one in particular. Was it just nervous energy leftover from the stress of the tournament? Was it jitters from making it to the finals? I had no clue, but I knew something was not right.
“Just what I fucking need right now. To be going mad right before the finals.”