The air was cold. The wind, a warning. As we unloaded the bus nervous jawing could be heard among the new recruits. “We are so gonna die.” Veterans could only hide their agreement with a snark grin. “You’ll be fine, it’ll only hurt for a little bit.”
The soldiers unconsciously split into herds, discussing amongst themselves their past experiences or worries. Our troop leader, donned in a large gray hoodie, talks to the general, who is gathering our gear.
Guns, masks, and bullet holders are lined up against a stall. “E’ery one grab a gun, grab a helmet, and grab a holder.” A young child, no doubt the offspring of the general, hurries about getting the gear for our new recruits.
“Make sure the safety is on, right here! Make sure you keep your barrel plug on! And when you’re on the field, do NOT take off your mask!”
Introductions pass by quickly as nervous energy rises. Recruits want to take their first breaths of the battlefield, veterans want to sink into familiarity.
“Split yourself up into two teams! Here.” I am handed a pink ribbon. Guess I’m joining their team. “Here, let me help you with that,” he continues, reaching back for the ribbon. “I can do it myself,” I almost scoff, turning away and carefully looping the bright ribbon onto my left arm.
To my dismay our leader was on the blank side, as well as many of the rookies. Bins of bright orange bullets are dropped onto our table and everyone rushes to fit as many as they can into their bullet holders, tied around the waist, and into their guns.
Weapons loaded, masks on, we are led to our first battlefield by another general. “Your objective here is to take the flag, set in the middle here, and bring it to the base of the opposite team.” Everyone nods in agreement. “Blanks, you’ll stay here. Ribbons, take a walk.”
Self-designated captain of our small group of seven quickly knits together a loose plan. “You two take the right side, you two on the left, two of you stay here and guard the base, and I’ll charge for the flag.”
The whistle blows, and I dive for the nearest hay bale. Shots are fired, and I already feel glass-like shells of bullets spraying my neck. Hay flies everywhere, and I’m already breathing heavy.
Without firing a shot, I weave between hay bales, watching the enemy and my comrades alike. Once I looked up – our leader was facing away from me! I shoot once, twice, thrice, curse these horrible guns and their horrible aiming, then I hit him on the head. He spins around, trying to catch a glimpse of his attacker. I turn, concealing myself behind the hay again. He raises his gun and walks out.
Up ahead I can see a good friend of mine, someone who roughhouses with me but is actually soft as a puppy, charging two young rookies desperately hiding behind their hay base. He stands square, pointing his gun. Although I can’t see his mouth, I can imagine him yelling “surrender! Surrender!”
I look away and leap for the next bale of hay – and almost collide with person. I see a flash of pink and assume he’s a ribbon, but upon closer inspection I realized he was actually a blank. He raised his gun at me and I feel a flash of fear rise within, causing me to draw my own gun up. We stare each other down for a moment before simultaneously lowering our guns. “Shoot each other already!” The general’s voice comes at us from somewhere above. We don’t, and simply ignore each other for whatever reason.
Bodies of three, four pile along the edges of the field. Though before I know it, the match is over. “Yeah!” Captain shouts, “we kicked a**!”
I finally got shot in the second round while stalking behind large electrical wiring wheels. The bullet hit me directly on the inner side of my right knee, a sensitive spot for a person with knee problems like me. I raise my gun and breath deeply to ease the pain as I quickly limp out. Gotta watch your left side, I remind myself, watch your left side.
Somewhere in round three I got shot three times in a row. I had ducked, but was not close enough to the poorly constructed building to hide my body. I was hit on my left elbow first, followed by the left side of my chest, followed by my left hip.
The pain didn’t come until I walked out of the battlefield. Breathing shallow, I put my hands on my knees to wait the pain out. “Don’t worry,” our captain says, patting my back with paint-stained hands, “it’s ok.”
The worst battle by far was the last. Ammo had run low, and our three rookiest rookies had decided to flee. The teams were now six to five, with odds in neither of our favors.
Our shields were large, colourful, and dripping with paint. They were inflatable and grew out of the ground, rounded at the edges, making it poor cover.
At the whistle I ducked and weaved, rounded orange bullets whizzing around me at alarming speeds. There’s our leader again, in his conspicuous gray hoodie! I kneel down and take a dozen shots, all of which go in a comical arc around his body. These freaking guns, I swear.
Pink team won again. Celebratory shots were fired, leftover ammo used up, and tired and injured troops saunter out of the battlefield. They talk amongst themselves as if the war never happened. How can they?
On my thigh is a perfect imprint of the accursed paintball, a full moon of purple bruising growing thick around it.
This is the pain of paintball.