The man’s oldest son has turned twelve, and today is his birthday party. Their new house has more than one hundred acres of woods behind them. They have allowed him to invite a bunch of friends for a party, and Lauren has turned over the activities to the man while she handles food.
“Don’t worry,” he told her. “I know what boys want to do.”
All morning on this Saturday, he has filled probably two hundred water balloons. Using a backpack, he has hiked dozens of them out to different positions in the woods.
The boys are all gathered in the backyard now.
“What are we playing, Dad?” Grant asks.
“The game is called Hostage Rescue,” says the man. He holds one of Grant’s Beanie Babies from his younger years. “I am kidnapping this animal and holding him hostage. Scott Snell is my only team member. Each of you has a water pistol and six water balloons. I have a Super Soaker. Scott has a Super Soaker. And we each have twelve water balloons. If you get hit by water in your chest or back or head, you’re dead. If you get hit by water in your leg or arm, you lose the leg or arm.”
“So what are we supposed to do?” says Aidan from Grant’s football team.
“You have to find the hostage and bring him home. If you can find it without killing Scott and me, great. If you can’t, then you have to kill us to get to him and bring him home. Everyone got it?”
“Yeah!” they yell.
“Start your watches now. Scott and I get a five-minute head start.”
The man and Scott head off into the woods. The man brings him to one of his balloon-drop positions. He has placed it off trail and behind a log.
“Here’s the deal,” he says. “You have six balloons here. There’s, what, ten of them? You have a longer range gun than they have. So try to kill three or four of them but don’t get in danger of being killed. When they start to get close, run down the trail and take a left deeper into the woods where you see the second bag. That second bag has your next six.”
“Got it,” says Scott.
The man moves down the trail, turns where the bag is, moves through some brush in a small valley of land, climbs a low hill, and places the Beanie Baby behind a tree. Next to the tree, he has a bag with more than twenty water balloons and an extra squirt gun. Behind him is a ravine filled with swamp water that no one can pass through. There is only one trail in, and he has command of it.
“Time’s up! We’re coming!” he hears yelled from a quarter mile back at the house.
He waits quietly, hearing the mosquitoes buzzing, observing deer droppings around the tree, listening to birds call from the treetops. Soon he hears shouting.
“Aidan’s dead! Matt is hit!”
“Dude, you got my right leg! I have to hop now!”
“Look out, John! Argh! John lost his arms!”
“Where the heck is Scott?”
“He’s behind that log over there!”
“Dude, his gun shoots wicked far! We have these lame pistols!”
“We gotta get close. Sneak around the bushes and stay behind trees. Let’s surround him!”
The man laughs softly.
He hears rustling in bushes and trees, and then ahead of him, he sees Scott take up position near the trail where the bag is.
“Hey, only get one or two and then fall back to the hill,” calls the man.
Scott gives him a thumbs up.
Soon, the man sees Grant leading the way down the main trail. Scott chucks a water balloon. Grant ducks, but Tony gets smacked and is now dead.
“There he is! Get him, guys!”
Scott falls back to the man’s position. “Take that tree over on the left. Grab as many water balloons as you want from this bag. Wait till they’re mostly up the trail and then let them have it.”
“Got it,” says Scott.
The crowd of six remaining boys are all easy to see picking their way down the side trail toward them. When they are about twenty yards away, the man yells, “Now!”
He and Scott begin hurling water balloons. The balloons hit branches above the boys’ heads and begin to rain down on them.
“Grant is dead! Tyler is dead! Matt is dead! Mike is dead! Ryan is dead!” his dad calls.
“Dad! This isn’t fair!” Grant yells.
“You’re right!” says the man. “There’s ten of you and two of us.”
“We can’t even get close to you!”
“You gotta be smarter than us, man. This is war!”
Grant turns to the other guys. “I don’t care if I’m dead. We’re all getting him. Let’s go!”
Water balloons explode everywhere around the boys, and Scott and the man douse them with the Super Soakers. They ignore it and charge up the hill into the clearing where they open fire with their pistols and toss their water balloons. Everyone gets soaked, and Grant grabs the Beanie Baby.
“I got the hostage!” he yells.
“A twice-dead guy saves the hostage!” the man yells.
Soaked and smiling, they head back to the house for cake and ice cream.