Paradise on Paper is honored to have Ben Reinartz submit a guest post. Comments are welcome 🙂

The O Zone

He was tired; it felt like he had been running for hours. The pack he carried was cumbersome; its contents, vital. Winded, despite his near perfect conditioning, he dared not look back. The numbers chasing him could have grown for all he knew. He only focused on his destination. Fear gripped him, but made him more aware. Despite being a snowy, dark, winter night, he sensed all obstacles in front of him. He hurdled logs, ducked under branches that seemed to grab at him from the darkest depths. As he came to a clearing, he stopped to catch his breath. He set his pack on the ground, careful not to damage its contents. He panted heavily, tried to rest, and propped himself up against a tree.
He closed his eyes and remembered how different things had been just a few short months ago. He breathed in heavily, and released a long-drawn out sigh. With the short time he had, he had allowed himself to slip into memories. Memories of the brothers and sisters he had made, and the ones he had lost flooded his conscious.
“War is hell”, he thought. The faces of those he loved barged into his mind, especially those that he lost on his way.
As the sound of his assailants grew closer and closer, he forced the memories out of his mind, focusing on survival. After all, it was what he had done his whole life. He opened his eyes; the warm feeling of adrenaline rushing into his limbs was what allowed him to stand up. He quickly slung his pack over his left shoulder, then his right. He looked back to see the lights of his followers growing more abundant, and closer. Before thinking any more, he darted in the other direction.
As he was running, it seemed that the blizzard around him was picking up, making it much harder to dodge the branches and logs in his way. He continued to run, diving and rolling over logs and sidestepping trees that seemed to materialize right in front of him. He took his eyes off the area in front of him for just a second, to see how close his pursuers were, but that was a mistake. He turned his head in front, too late to see the branch. It felt as if his upper body had just ran into a brick wall. His lower body continued to move forward, and then up as the branch hit him square in the chest. As he fell, his head hit the ground first, hard.
He awoke to a bright light being shined in his face. Dazed and confused, he tried to stand, but found himself far to weak. The pain in his chest was throbbing, almost as if he had broken his sternum. He tried to breath, but every time he moved a muscle, he felt pain fill his chest cavity. He looked around to see that he was still in that damn forest. The light grew closer and he could make out a hooded figure behind it. It looked as if the hooded figure was wearing a coat as well.
“Finally got you. You were a slippery one weren’t you?” The man said in a deep, rather raspy voice. The man reached into his coat and pulled a pistol with the hand not carrying his flashlight. He pointed down.
The man lying on the ground closed his eyes, as if that would have any effect on the situation. Maybe he would see those he lost again, or maybe he would simple be cast into a more terrifying place than he could even imagine. Before he could think any more, the sound of a loud bang filled the forest.