We'd arrived hours earlier with the others, in Fengtai, decked out in sparkling uniforms that would soon be devastated. I came with Ellen, and neither of us knew what to expect, or what we were in for. But we brought everything we thought we needed in the way of equipment: water, protection against the sun, enormous guns (here I am, of course, referring to my arms), and ammunition that we'd received upon enlisting. After reaching the point of embarkation, Ellen and I had met some of her friends, all of whom were also clad in shiny, spotless, soon-to-be-decimated uniforms. We greeted each other grimly, knowing but not knowing what lay in store for us, and took our places with the other grunts. Some had guns, some had other artillery equipment, and all had the most prominent weapon to be found in the battle: dirty bombs. Biological warfare. Agent Orange, and Agent Yellow (Ellen had this color, and wasn't happy about it; it was indeed an ugly powder), Agent Blue, Agent Purple, and Agent Red. It was going to be ugly.
All of us were herded into a large chute, where we waited anxiously to be released into the madness. Occasionally a general with a megaphone would scream commands at us, and we'd yell back in hysterical unison at him, weapons held high, guttural animal noises shrieking from our throats.
And then it was time to go.
But there were too many people. So instead of the wild scamper that I pictured (the image I had in my head was like when the Hunger Games begin, or when Black Friday starts at the Barnswallow in Milford) happening, we all sort of shuffled out of the chute and began the march. Sort of anticlimactic.
But only for a time...but only for a time! Once we'd marched for a kilometer of quiet vigilance, suddenly, shouts rose up, and an attack was underway! A toxic blue substance filled the air, filled my vision, filled my lungs! I yelled and looked this way and that. Where was Ellen? Where was the rest of our crew? Ellen had moved to the other side of the road, which was covered in blue and in the footprints of the damned. I grabbed her hand and we fled.
And went to the bathrooms for a quick toilet break. After a relaxing few moments, moments during which we did not fear for our lives, we re-emerged and realized our compatriots had left us behind, or that we'd left them behind. We'd become separated! Nearly hysterical, extremely concerned about their physical safety, Ellen and I took off, looking this way and that, running like Stephen Curry searching for his lost mouthpiece. Desperate. Frustrated. Worried. And - like Stephen Curry, by many a Cavalier - we now found ourselves being hounded...by many an enemy.
The enemy was faceless. All wearing the same garb, they'd come right up behind you and immerse you in powdery horror. And they'd shout some vile war slogan and disappear, leaving you stunned and gasping for breath. It took many rounds of these sneak batterings for either of us to pull ourselves together enough to organize a counterattack.
Which we finally did. After several more kilometers, many more assaults, and one straggler - Abby, one of Ellen's friends - who joined our ranks after somehow evading death on her own for several hours - we decided to fight back. For me, the turning point was when someone dropped a bag of poisonous powder the size of an old-man suitcase on the ground and ripped it open with a knife. The frenzied masses converged like animals on it, scooping it up and heaving it everywhere and inhaling it all. I decided, "Enough of this. It's time to take control." So I armed myself with several handfuls of purple toxin and struck back, flinging this way and that, bellowing like a violet, violent caveman. I think I even hit Ellen with some. It had to be done.
A grueling kilometer or so later, it was over. We reached a point of ceasefire, a point of truce. Covered in grit, unable to see straight, not sure if we'd ever be the same, the three of us wandered about in a daze, stunned by what we'd just been through. There were thousands all around in just the same state. No one knew what to do, or where to go, or how to cope.
How could we go back to real life after watching our fellow countrymen (well...Ellen's fellow countrymen...) get pulverized with contagion, after contributing to the madness, after inflicting the same fate upon each other as had been inflicted upon us? How could we hope to sleep at night? How could we look each other in the eye ever again?
The journey home was long, and haunting. We thought we were returning to normalcy, but the ghosts of those who killed and who we'd killed flickered in and out of our peripheral vision all the way back to Wangjing. People stared at us. We were still covered in bloodshed, in guilt, in shame. Men turned away from us with a shiver. Women drew their children closer in, or moved to the other side of the subway car. Teenagers gawked, and then secretly took pictures of us with their phones. Awful. Wild. Dangerous.
Life went on after The Color Run, and we strove after the lives we'd previously been accustomed to. But we couldn't quite shake it all off...