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Freshers Fear: A Tale of Eight Board Games

Joe Student sat in the seminar room and cleared his throat. He'd felt a little worried on his way into campus this morning but Christ, the nerves were kicking in now. The lecturer at the front raised their hand to shush the room and Joe's feet tapped an unsteady, 'help-me-help-me-help-me' beat on the floor. As the crowd of students fell quiet, a commotion was just beginning to unravel behind Joe's head.

      “I'm the king of Tokyo!” The roar filled the room, but Joe fixed his eyes ahead. He'd seen the huge monkey and the lizard sat behind him playing a board game, but he felt it cruel to stare. He figured some Freshers take more time to settle in than others. The rest of the room turned to look. One student put her fingers to her lips and frowned, but King Kong and his mate were too deep into their heated argument to notice. Without warning, the lizard stood up and smashed the board over the monkey's head, who howled with hurt and confusion. Most of the surrounding students shrieked and began clambering over seats to flee the room, and Joe – leaving his bag of books – followed suit. He left the building and hurried to a quiet area with benches to catch his breath. As he sat there, a girl about fifty feet away started to walk slowly towards him, her head lolling down towards her chest. She stopped within a few inches away.

      “What do you study?” blurted out Joe in blind, awkward panic. She raised her head and met his eyes with her cold, dead ones. Her face was smeared with blood. A stunned silence hung in the air until it was broken by a door opening and slamming the wall on a nearby building.

      “Oh, God, I'm sorry! It was just an experiment! An experiment! They're coming for us! It's our last night on earth!” screamed a Biology student in white, blood-spattered scrubs as he ran out, his arms flailing. Joe dodged the zombified girl and bolted as more stumbling 'walkers' staggered out of the building in droves. He ran in the direction of the Students' Union pub. He could get safety and a pint there.

At the bar, Joe's biggest scare came when he heard the price of a Corona, but he needed it desperately. He sat in a corner booth with his bottle. What the hell was going on with his university?

      “'Ey. 'Ey, kid.” At the sound of a voice, Joe looked up and was surprised to see a 1950's mob gangster in a pinstripe suit staring back at him. The gangster flashed his gold teeth and said, “You're in my booth.”

Before Joe could react, a gunshot rang out and the gangster ducked. Another one had popped up behind the bar. His pinstripes were even bigger, and in his hand was a smoking gun made of orange foam.

      “You know the score, Jimmy! This is what happens in the cash n' guns business!” he shouted. Joe crawled under the table and shuffled to the door, wincing as more shots peppered the students' screams. He escaped and hid where any eighteen year old man should – in the toilets. He locked himself in a cubicle and fell back on to the seat as his legs wobbled beneath him.

      “You want this cologne, pretty boy?” The voice floated under the gap in Joe's stall. He let out a shriek – not his manliest sound ever, he had to admit – and unlocked the door. Outside his cubicle was a man in a cowboy hat, with greasy skin and the stubs of three gold teeth in his mouth. “It's all the rage with you... fressssherrss,” he said, with a lisp that whistled through his gums.

      “I'm – uh – ”

      “It's the finest smellin' thing you'll ever know,” he said, grinning and holding out a bottle of amber liquid. “You want to get them ladiesss, don't ya? Try this. It's Sssnake Oil it'll make you tell the tallest talesss!” Without warning, the cowboy seller pulled the lid off the bottle and threw it at Joe, until the putrid-smelling stuff was burning his eyes and the back of his throat. He coughed and staggered backwards, losing his balance and hitting the floor. With his heart pounding, he scrambled to his feet, sprinted out the door and through the Union. Almost immediately, he barged into a guy dressed entirely in black and hiding behind a stack of chairs.

      “You've ruined our cover!” the guy shouted, making rapid hand signals. “Resistance out! Resistance OUT!” Joe watched with surprise as about 20 more black-clad spies crawled out of hiding places and cupboards, like a particularly nasty case of woodworm.

      “Greetings, Joe!” Out of nowhere a huge, pixellated, mutant frog crashed into him. “Call me Boss Monster or else,” it said, before hopping off. Joe leapt up and carried on running until a flash of brilliant white light blinded him, his ears popping from the noise. Sparks danced around his head and wheels of spinning star bursts threatened to melt his skin off.

      “What?!” asked a lady in the corner as she shuffled some cards. “We're putting on a fireworks show!” A man next to her threw his cards down and fist-pumped the air.

      “HANABI!” he screamed, as a Catherine wheel whizzed dangerously close past Joe's face. He limped on, wincing at the pain but determined not to stop as the things around him drew ranks. He saw a room ahead of him that looked empty and deliciously quiet. It was the main Union bar, and he could see the glow of a blue light coming from inside it. He moved towards it, painfully aware that behind him, the monsters and the crazies were slowly getting closer and closer to him. He staggered into the nightclub and found the source of the blue light – huge sky-blue letters that lit up the wall.

      “Rules of Play,” he read aloud. “The home of tabletop gaming in Wales.” His eyes widened. “You mean – this is all just a game? A board game? Oh, thank God! I'm still confused, but at least I - ”

Joe's words were cut off as a man dressed in bulking leathers and furs ran into the club and brought his sword down on to Joe's head, promptly and neatly slicing him in two. The man let the sword drop to the stained floor with a clang and fell to his knees.

      WINTER'S COMING! he screamed, and collapsed, landing with his face in a small puddle of £3.29 cherry-flavoured Lambrini.

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