Bring the pain(t)

“If you haven’t hunted man, you haven’t hunted.”
— Jesse Ventura

I breathed in deeply, imagining I could catch the invigorating smell of napalm in the morning. All I got was dank musk of the forest floor, the scent of plastic and the stench of someone else’s sweat from the borrowed helmet. And besides, it was late afternoon. My very own sweat was running into my eyes while swatches of sunlight and shadow cut across my vision as I scanned slowly through the leaves and branches that masked my position. Moving only my head, the light glared off of the pits and scratches in my visor and made the shadows seem even deeper as my eyes probed, alert for any sign of danger or opportunity, for any movement of branch or leaf not consistent with the slight breeze tickling through the oppressive valley. I cradled the gun in my arms and flexed my firing hand to keep it from cramping. I knew someone was out there. Someone who wanted to hurt me.

“But not if I see you first,” I thought.

Earlier in the day I had set out on a recon mission, moving along the trail in unfamiliar territory as my footfalls competed with my heart beat to see which could pound louder in my ears. The trail was clear. The trail was easy. “The trail is death,” I thought to myself. “The trail is the way the fat, stupid animals go and the strong, clever animals wait out of sight beside it and take the easy pickings.”

Picking your way through the branches and brambles, with the cockleburs clotting on your clothing, is hard. Life is hard. Learn to move through the forest and you might live. It’s a game really, like a snipe hunt. Except it’s not snipe, it’s snipers, and they really are out there. Is that sweat trickling along my spine or is it the prickly sensation of an unseen gun barrel drawing down on my back?

The first time I was shot wasn’t so bad, really. Everything was fine until the moment of sudden impact. “What? Me? Now? So soon?” flashed across my mind, but there was no denying the thick, viscous liquid that came dripping down my visor. I had reached up with my hand, brought it away wet and slick, the goo the consistency of a bird dropping. And it was yellow. Dammit, it must have been Ben who got me, and I was dead — at least until that round of Paintball was finished, anyway. Then I could seek my revenge. That opportunity had come about an hour later when I had Ben pinned down behind a curved metal barrier. I was to his left at an extreme angle that barely allowed me to see him, but enough so I could pump round after round past the edge of the barricade, so close to him that a deep breath on his part would have ended it, yet he held his breath and his unlikely position, unable to return fire. I fired three more quick shots to keep him still and then rose slightly to move to my right to get a finishing angle. Then came the all too familiar whack on my skull as the ball exploded on my scalp, a jet of orange paint shooting through my hair, dispensed by a shooter from across the field. Another important lesson learned: use your head, or someone else will…for target practice!

The Orange Badge of Courage. The paintball struck just above the curve of the hairline.

This time, however, I can make no mistakes. I am the left flank of the line, the end. I am Joshua Chamberlain and the 20th Maine at Little Round Top. If I fall, if they get by me, the bad guys roll into our rear, capture the flag and it’s over. My eyes continue to scan the area in front of me. About 30 yards away is a wooden barricade, set between some trees, surrounded by brush. I have already swept it several times. This time a black paint hopper and barrel are sticking up above the edge of the barrier. That wasn’t there before! I bring up my gun, let out my breath slightly and wait. As the head inevitably comes up over the wall I pour about half a gallon of paint into the area; had I the time and the inclination I could have tattooed my initials into the wood. Instead I focus on keeping the unknown head down so he can’t get an aimed shot off at me. More paintballs are coming at me from my right now, but the angle isn’t good and the brush around me too thick to permit a serious threat. I fire some suppressing rounds in that general direction while keeping my eye on the original target, hoping he will take the opportunity to show himself. He does; I add another coat to the primer already laid down. I’m aware of activity to my right, but from my side of the lines, then some shooting moving away from me and then the cry — “The game is over!”

While things had heated up by me, Kevin had grabbed the flag and gone forward, sweeping up the right flank and planting it in the enemy base while my two shooters focused on me. One of these was the Mall Diva. A third sniper, Tiger Lilly, meanwhile, had been waiting on the edge of the action, also focusing on me. “Ooh, Dad, if you had only come forward three more feet I would have had you,” she said. “Yeah,” I thought to myself, “and if fish had feet they’d be mice.”

Maybe next time, kid.

17 thoughts on “Bring the pain(t)

  1. I was thrilled to have the opportunity to shoot you twice. That said, on neither occasion did I actually know that it was you until afterwards. There was movement amidst the brush and I had some paint that was getting heavy.

  2. I had reached up with my hand, brought it away wet and slick, the goo the consistency of a bird dropping.

    Just exactly how do you know the consistency of a bird dropping? Have you had that on your face before too?

    Seriously, nice piece of writing.

  3. >>I had reached up with my hand, brought it away wet and slick, the goo the consistency of a bird dropping…..I was dead.

    Next time you go out snipin’, perhaps you should institute a “Phoo Bird Rule”….drawn from the legend of the magical mystical mythical phoo bird of the deepest darkest ozarks. You know that you’ve just taken one in the noggin, but as long as you don’t wipe it off, you’re not dead!

    For those of the Scanderhooovian persuasion who have never ventured into the ozarks and encountered our beautiful Phoo, the legend is as follows….

    In the deepest darkest reaches of the ozarks where even the sun light has to be piped in, lives the Phoo Bird. Legend has it if the Phoo flies overhead and drops excrement upon your head, you will die instantly if you wipe it off. One fateful day, a fancy college boy from the University of Minnysoooooota came down in search of our beautiful Phoo. The Phoo happened to be aloft that day and by the slimmest of chances, deposited a well cured load of droppings on the young golden gopher’s head. In a show of pure contempt for the legend, he promptly wiped it off….and promptly keeled over dead. The moral of the story is, If the Phoo sh!ts, wear it.

  4. As I was reading this, I had visions of you sitting on a riverboat in Nam, ala Martin Sheen in Apocalypse Now. I did have a hard time picturing Ben in the psychotic Colonel Kurtz role though.

  5. I don’t strike you as psychotic? Looks like my work is cut out for me. I think I’ll start by taking that ol’ bumper sticker to heart, “What would Wellstone do?”

  6. I had fun! Though speedball was a little intense for me.

    Oh! One more thing-

    Curse you, Kevin Ecker!!!

  7. I could relay the legend of the Milermor bird, but then the Reverend Mother may feel compelled to smite me with the jawbone of whatever falls to hand.

    But as long as you insist on taking a couple of squealing girls on your advantures, you might as well throw a couple of Milermor birds in the kit bag. You’ll need them to drown out the ruckus.

  8. heheh, I don’t know, you both screamed and squealed when I shot you in the rear end Mall Diva! 🙂

    But yes, just so nobody doubts, the fact that Night Writers was able to hold my left flank was the only reason I was able to move forward and get the flag.

    Had he gone down I would have been way too vunerable to do anything except retreat to higher ground.

  9. You big mean meaniehead!!! I didn’t scream or squeal! But I might have swore under my breath or something…

  10. You just watch that smart mouth of yers missy! You’re turning into quite the incorrigible little one now aren’t you? First it’s hanging out in the back seat of a car with some guy, then it’s letting somebody you hardly know mix you sweet confections while your back is turned. On top of that you fly off the handle calling somebody a nasty name, and then proclaim to have said a few choice expletives that you didn’t care to share with those around you!

    psssssst…you can tell ME what you said…honest!…..I promise not to tell your dad 😉

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