It was a firing squad. A dozen members of the opposing team stood at the boundary line, holding all of the balls. There were several of us left, but this exchange would be painful. We lined up against the wall, as far as possible away from the coming projectiles, and keeping separated in order to reduce the odds of a stray ball finding a target.
"Three, two, one," Ryan counted down. He was a former football player, though he continued to be the stereotypical jock. I say former football player because he was kicked out for using steroids. This would also explain his size. He had rallied his team to control all of the dodge balls, then organized them to line up against my team.
"Now!" The command was given and a volley of dodge balls flew against us. I managed to dodge and chase down a ball that had been intended for me, and quickly found a retreating target to send to the sideline.
As I retrieved another spent ball, I surveyed the damage. There were only four of us left, and they were at least ten strong. Make that three of us, as one of my teammates made an errant throw and the ball was caught. Luckily that meant the boundary rules were still in place. Once we were down to two people, it was free reign.
This could get interesting.
I did not accept defeat, nor did I lay down the ball I was still holding. The opposing force had regrouped and were collecting balls to line up and finish us off. I held the ball, feigning attack again and again. I was slowly driven back to the wall as the enemy lined up. We were done for.
The countdown proceeded, and when they reached "one," I took off running parallel to the attacking line. A moving target would be harder to hit, so I sprinted towards the side wall of the gym as the balls struck the wall all around me.
Small problem, I was running out of space fast. I reached the wall, jumped, planted my right foot on the wall and kicked off to run in the opposite direction. I heard my fallen teammates cheer from the sideline and I was buoyed by the support.
"He's a frickin' jack rabbit!" Shawn yelled as he retreated from the onslaught. Shawn was, for all intents and purposes, Ryan's lackey. He followed the guy around everywhere, though he was clearly not an athlete. He was, in fact, rather a large guy. And he was slow. This made him an easy target.
I fetched a ball from the floor near me and launched it directly into Shawn's back, letting out a grunt as I heaved my full force into the attack. I put away a few more easy targets on the opposing force, before I heard Ms. Harper call out, "two left!"
Two of us, still five or six of them. Not good odds.
I immediately made use of the modified rule set and ran in a long arc behind enemy lines, carrying two balls. Target acquired. Ball launched. Confirmed hit. Dodge incoming attack. Target acquired. Ball launched. Miss. The cheering and taunting from the sideline had grown dim in my mind as I focused all of my attention on the task at hand.
By the time I had completed my attack run, I was the only one left, and I knew what I had to do. My next objective was to light up Ryan. Time to cut off the head of the snake. Still, five to one is no walk in the park. Another problem was that Ryan had ammunition, and was locked on. Luckily I had a ball as well.
He launched his, full force, directly at me. I was barely able to maneuver my own ball in the path of the incoming missile, and sent it bouncing towards the wall. He began to turn away to make space between us before a counter-attack, and I was suddenly very aware of someone with a ball behind me. I ducked the flanking attack and took a few strides towards Ryan before loosing my own attack, again grunting under the strain of a full power throw. The ball connected with his calf as he ran, and I wasted no time thinking of the minor victory before retrieving another ball to take out the next target.
Emily was one of the players on the opposing team. She had spent most of the game avoiding playing the game, but as I took out the remainder of her team, she picked up a ball.
This was it. One-on-one.
I was exhausted from running and throwing, and I was not about to be beaten by a girl (this was high school after all, and I was a little competitive). So, she proved to be my biggest challenge yet. My friends urged me on as I launched ball after ball, missing the mark each time. My nerves and an overwhelming fear of coming so far against such odds to be finished by her caused all of my throws to go wide. I threw my last ball and she deflected it away with her own ball.
I hurriedly scanned the floor around me for more ammunition, to no avail. I had no time to find another ball because hers was already in the air and moving towards me. I felt it hit my thigh and bounce back into the air.
Everything slowed in that moment. I heard nothing, saw nothing but the ball arcing back down to the ground. I would not let it end like this. I dove toward the ball, fully extended. My arms scooped underneath the falling object just before it impacted the ground, and I rotated my body to land on my side. I thrust the ball into the air, as a trophy, and yelled in triumph.
My friends gathered around to congratulate me and help me to my feet. I heard Shawn talking somewhere in the distance, "he's a frickin' jack rabbit, man." I could only assume that he was talking to Ryan.
Then we lined up to play again.
I may be the only one in that gym class to remember that day, and I am certainly the only one who felt like that particular game of dodge ball was absolutely legendary, but that is ok. I have a very fond memory of the day that I beat EVERYONE at dodgeball, nearly singlehandedly.