"I hate these 3rd faction games," Stoney growled. "They could have at least told us what we're up against."

Morgan was silent; Stoney talked too much. Actually, that's why Morgan was with him tonight. He was using Stoney as bait, hoping some Pirates would give away their position by shooting the noob. He was carefully concealed in the underbrush, while Stoney was sloppily hidden, with half his body visible to the opposing team. All Morgan had to do was wait until the idiot drew attention to himself, and he would have a clear shot at several of them.

"Seriously," Stoney continued. "It's Pirates vs. Ninjas. Who could the 3rd faction be? Hobos?"

A pop sounded just as Stoney was hit in the shoulder.

Seven dead pirates later, Morgan and Stoney waited to be re-inserted with 7 very sullen Pirates. Stoney's "death" had cost the Pirates 7 players as Morgan sprung the trap he had patiently set.

"We don't actually know that there is a 3rd faction, just that there might be one," Morgan said. "If there was, I think we'd have heard about it by now. We've been playing for 2 days straight, and there's only the night game left. It's a little late for all that now."

After re-insertion, Morgan turned on his radio to contact his team, but there was nothing but static on his channel. "Red Leader this is Morgan, come in." Again, he heard nothing but static. He tried a couple more times.

"The radio must be messed up," he said, and headed toward base. "Stoney, try your radio."

Stoney tried to contact Red Leader with no luck. "It must be his radio."

"That's some general. He can't even keep communications open," Morgan growled. He hadn't been happy with this game at all.

When they reached the base, they were surprised to find it empty.

"Man, this is the last time I play scenario," Stoney said loudly. "I'm gonna go shoot some shit."

Morgan flinched at the noise and moved into the shadows, waiting for the inevitable splat of a noob kill. He was surprised when no paint flew, and Stoney grumbled his way off to the north.

He entered the base to inspect it more closely, hoping someone had accidentally left a clue for him to follow. The first thing he noticed was the base was sticky with dark paint. That was odd, because it was a no-gogs zone, so there couldn't have been a grenade involved. He risked a flashlight and saw that the "paint" was actually a goopy, dark mess.

"Catsup," he groaned. "That figures." Catsup always marked his kill with a big bottle of Catsup sprayed liberally around the area. He must have done an all-dead on the base. But if that was true, why hadn't any of the players on his team been in the dead box?

He decided to head north after Stoney and see what happened. This time he wouldn't let the moron know he was being shadowed. Hopefully, Stoney would get himself shot and Morgan could at least get a few Pirates. Maybe if he was lucky they'd let on about their plans.

He tried to call Red Leader again. Perhaps the problem with the radios had been that Red Leader was dead and on his way to the dead box. It was possible; Morgan and Stoney hadn't taken a direct route back to the base. No answer. He had to assume he was on his own for now.

As he moved north, he stopped near what was called the Ugly Bridge, not because it wasn't pretty but because whoever stepped out into the open to cross it tended to get "done ugly". He debated whether he should risk crossing it or move upstream and try to cross under the bridge in the dry creek bed. He'd done it before, but it meant at least 20 minutes of fighting brush and tree branches. It was already 8:30 and the bell for final fight was due at 10:00.

He decided to risk the passage, but just as he was about to step out of his hiding place, his eye caught movement across the creek. He froze, trusting to his skills in concealment to protect him from the unidentified player.

The new player's head turned sharply north-east, toward the speed-ball field as a player's voice drifted downwind. Morgan knew Stoney's voice well enough not to feel sorry for him as the player turned and moved toward the sound. He raised his gun and took careful aim, planning to snipe him and then head after Stoney again. He held his shot when he saw the extensive makeup the player had used to turn himself into a classic Romero type zombie, complete with neck wounds and shambling gait. The player let out a load groan, which was met with the groans of other similar players from other areas of the woods. None of them sounded particularly close, so Morgan wasn't worried so much as curious.

Here was the third faction. Apparently, it was Pirates vs. Ninjas vs. Zombies. He needed to see how other players tried to kill the zombies before shooting them, or he might just end up dead himself. There was usually some trick with the 3rd faction game - some gimmick to figure out or special paint or mission card.

As he topped the ridge overlooking the speedball field, a bizarre sight met Morgan's eyes. About 50 players milled about, groaning softly. They all seemed to be in various states of decomposition, and Morgan really wanted to meet the make-up artist for the game. The man did spectacular work. One guy even seemed to have a leg that was just bones with a bit of flesh hanging from the thigh.

What are they doing? He had no answer. It was too dark to recognize particular players, even with the full moon. He did notice a few pirate hats and a few ninja headbands among the zombie players, so Morgan assumed that to be shot by a zombie meant a player wasn't sent to the dead box. The speedball field must be the dead box – or undead box. But what did it mean to him? The only strategy he could think of was to hide and watch quietly until one of the zombies made a move. A zombie moved so that the moon fell full on his face, and Morgan recognized Stoney. He sported a fine arm wound. It had only been ten minutes since Morgan had last spoken with Stoney, so in that time he must have been shot, removed from the game, and given that make-up treatment. This was well thought out.

Another confusing aspect of this game was what was going on beyond the paintball field. He could vaguely make out figures wandering around past the fence, in territory that he knew was out of bounds. That area had just been cleared for a new speedball field, but it wasn't anywhere near completion. He had heard that human bones had been found there, causing delays in construction.

He watched for another 10 minutes, and was just about to give up and try to think of a better strategy when a player came running from the woods into the open speedball field. Finally there would be some action. He was looking behind himself as he ran and was unaware of the other players on the field. Another player – obviously a zombie – shuffled out after him. He was so absorbed in the man chasing him, the player failed to notice the full field of zombies slowly moving his direction.

Morgan chuckled to himself at the noob's mistake. The poor guy would feel really dumb in the morning. The player finally saw the zombies in front of him and feinted left to get away from them. There was a small hole in their ranks toward the woods, and he sprinted toward his escape. Morgan wondered why no one was shooting, and he decided that the zombies must have to barrel tag. That made sense, since it would simulate biting. He watched as one of the zombies intercepted the player before he could reach the exit, but was horrified to see the zombie bite the player firmly in the neck.

Morgan dropped to the ground, putting his hands over his ears to block the screams and the sounds of bones crunching. There was no getting around the truth. Those weren't zombie players; they were zombies. It took a few minutes to settle into his mind that he was hiding from zombies, but when he uncovered his ears he head load groaning and feeding sounds coming from the speedball field. Apparently, the caught player was food and not just another zombie convert.

Morgan's greatest strength as a player was his ability to think while fast while putting a plan into action. He hoped that ability would save his life now. He quickly assessed the situation. Getting to his car was out of the question; it was on the far side of the paintball field, with who knew how many zombies between him and freedom. The field was bordered on both sides by wilderness extending for miles in both directions, so he couldn't count on help in those directions. The infested area across from the speedball field was a non-negotiable boundary. That only left the northern direction, which had a state highway. From there it would be a ten mile hike to Mount Lebon, where there was an all-night gas station. If he could make it there, he could call for help. His cell didn't get service this far out, but the gas station would probably have a pay phone.

He had barely started walking when he heard moans near him. He knelt and concentrated on quieting his breathing. He focused on the sounds around him, and decided the noise was coming from the west. Morgan carefully made his way north, moving slowly despite the urge to run. He heard more shouts behind him - some unlucky snack, he guessed. The moans moved south, away from him. He took the opportunity to move faster.

He heard the final battle siren go off over the intercom and knew this was his chance. The zombies moved toward the sound, groaning. Morgan wondered if zombies feel anticipation. He moved toward the highway without interruption. It was a long hike to Mount Lebon, but he covered the ground quickly.

He wondered how to tell the people what was happening, because of course no one would believe him. He finally decided to tell the police. Hopefully they would at least check the scene.

Mount Lebon was the type of small Texas town that shuts down after about 8:00. It was a dry town, so there weren't even any bars open - at least not any legal ones. He trotted toward the police station, hoping he would find someone reasonably intelligent. As he turned the corner and came on the old police building, he felt an enormous relief.

He stepped inside to be greeted with an empty room. "Hello?" he asked. There was silence. There was one door behind a small counter. He hesitated, but the door was unlocked and ajar, so it couldn't be too bad to enter. If it was off-limits they would have locked it right? Morgan entered the hallway and saw two small jail cells. One was empty, but the other held a man cowering in a corner.

The jailbird looked up and jumped toward the wall, away from Morgan. "Are you ok?" Morgan asked.

"No man! They're everywhere. You gotta get me out of here. I know how to hotwire a car. I can get us away. Help me!"

"They're here already?" Morgan asked hoarsely. The zombies must have been on the move longer than he realized, probably since early in the night game. Since he'd been so busy hiding, he'd been lucky and avoided them.

He turned toward the door. "Don't leave me here!" the jailed man screamed. "I've got some money in the locker, I swear! I'll give it to you, just don't leave me."

Morgan turned back to see him gripping the bars, white-faced and terrified. "It's ok," he said. "I'm just going to find the keys. I'm sure they're in the front desk or somewhere around here."

As he turned toward the front room to search for the keys, he realized the man hadn't been just frightened of being left alone. He tried to move backwards, away from the Sherriff's ambulatory corpse, but the zombie caught him by the arm in a surprisingly strong grip. As teeth sank into his neck, Morgan's last thought was an irrational one. He just knew Stoney was going to laugh at him when he was sent to the final Dead Box.