Like a Blister in the Sun
It would be cool to say that I didn’t feel the next half dozen shots. It would also be neat if the next part of this story was about how I was buried with the weapons of my many vanquished enemies. Shit, I didn’t even get to hear the lamentations of their women. Instead, once I’d been hit once I kept getting shot since I’d done such a good job of imitating the rest of the Suicide Squad. “I’M OUT! STOP SHOOTING DAMMIT!” I repeatedly screamed in between sucking heaving breaths of hot, fetid air. My hands were still shaking, but I clicked my gun’s safety over and pulled on the barrel sock.
Sweat is a horrible thing really. In my mind the only thing worse than being all sweaty and horrible is when you ought to be sweaty and instead you’re not. It turned out that somehow adrenaline will lubricate you for a little while, and it helps if you go on ignoring all the signals your body is giving you (shaking hands for example) that maybe you should slow down, cowboy. As I stood on shaky legs, I put my arms up – the official paintball sign of, “Don’t shoot me you goons.” I would like to say that I have really heavy arms, but instead I write on the internet and nobody would believe that lie. But on that Saturday afternoon they felt like 50 pound dumb bells were attached to my wrists and the act of raising my hands winded me. Yet at the same time, putting my arms down is the paintball signal of, “Just kidding, fire away,” and I was sure a hell not doing that in my present company.
The branches that had moments before hid me from fire now turned on me in my stupor, and I stumbled towards the front line. Everything felt heavy, and seemed to drag me towards the ground. When sunbeams caressed me like an abusive lover I felt goosebumps on my skin. Still I trudged along. It couldn’t be that far back to the exit, to water and to camp I wagered. All I had to do was just keep walking.
20 yards or so from where I’d finally been hit, I leaned against a tree. Beyond it was a thin player with a blue band on his arm that matched his mask. He halfheartedly aimed his gun at me, and I waved him off. His head cocked to the side and he looked at me through clear lenses. “It was just you?” he asked incredulously.
“Yeah,” I replied, but found that I was too dizzy to enjoy the moment. “I’m going to sit down for a few, is that cool?”
“Oh, sure,” he said, and I stumbled away to a shaded area.
People will sometimes ask me, if they are going to play paintball what’s the first thing that they should buy. The sexy answer is always a paintball gun (or if you’d rather use the speedball name – a paintball marker). The good answer is actually to buy a mask. I tell them that the features of a really good gun are something you will only appreciate if you’ve been playing for a while. Besides if you’re just starting out I recommend rented guns because if they malfunction it’s not your problem, just take it back and get a fresh one.
A good paintball mask though changes how you play the game. First, masks are required to play anywhere you will ever go. Second, rented masks are equal parts shitty and gross. They’re gross because lots of people have mashed their sweaty, awful, and I assume, pig-like faces into them. They’re shitty because the lenses are usually so badly scratched that it is almost impossible to see, especially if you’re looking towards the sun.
What is also important, is how well the mask breathes. They all have holes built into them for airflow and depending on how they are designed they will limit how much air you can suck in at once. They will all do that, the trick is finding one that works for you.
Normally, my mask is great, but as I sat on the bank of a muddy green stream, I faced away from all the fire in the distance and lifted mine up. You are not supposed to do this, but I simply couldn’t breathe. Reaching into my pack, I discovered a half filled bottle that still had water in it. The sun had risen the temperature of the water to where a quality Darjeeling tea should be, but I greedily drank what was left anyway.
Trying my radio, the only answer I received was silence. I pushed myself up, and creaked and groaned like an old ship. My mask got pulled down a little to cover my eyes, and wandered down by the river bed to stay out of sight. Now, not to get an ambush, but just to not get hassled. It didn’t help that my arms felt so heavy.
As I crested a rise away from my stream, I discovered a firefight was happening in front of me, and it was every bit as great and terrible as the sounds had led me to believe. On one side, my red banded compatriots continued to fight the ferocious defense against Team Blue. From my vantage point it looked like they were standing their ground. They weren’t going to give another inch, but they weren’t really taking anything either.
On the the other side Blue was just as consistently ferocious as they had always been. Consistency and ferocity are the sorts of traits you look for in a nemesis, and the 2015 Blue Team was really doing their best to make that happen. It almost makes me feel bad I shot so many of them.
Unfortunately, between the two was the respawn flag, and it flew a blazing crimson banner. Of course, tagging up with said flag was an exercise in futility and suicide since on tagging up you’d get wasted like a sophomore year by the other side. Past that No Man’s Land I could see the exit some 50 yards distant.
The air between the 2 lines was thick with paintballs, and I did not, even with my hands in the air want to wander through that area since, like I previously noted, I would be setting myself up to get absolutely destroyed. Yet I desperately wanted to get off of that field. I needed to get gone, get my mask off and get some more water. Then, maybe, I could stop being a dead man walking.
So I forced my legs to move and ducked behind some bushes. I feverishly worked out that maybe, if I stayed down low and maybe I could just hide and maybe, if I do it right, I could get past the red line, and I would be safe. I would get back to my tent and my life preserving shade canopy that would hopefully, finally, offer protection from a sun so intent on causing my death. Also, way back at the camp was a gallon of Gatorade that wouldn’t extort me for $4 a pop. All of that sounded better than what I wanted to do at that point, which was collapse into a quivering heap. Of course, as I crouched there in that bush with the furious sounds of battle going on all around me, the odds of just tipping over and taking a hot nap were pretty good too.
I can almost hear you saying through the internet, “Why not just start shooting? Nobody knew you were out and you had wandered into a flanking situation.” Well, funny story for that- that would be cheating. In speedball the ref sees more or less everything. In woodsball and scenario it is far more of an honor system situation. The “honor” being that if you are out and don’t call yourself, the next time I (or anybody else in the Suicide Squad) shoots you we aren’t going to stop until you admit it. So, yeah, I’m going to play by the rules no matter what, because at the end of the day paintball is a sport.
Moral high-ground aside, I’d left any and all latent badassery crying under a tree a half mile back. I could barely walk let alone aim, shoot or be useful. Above all, at that point I just wanted out.
Slowly, if inexorably, I moved towards that No Man’s Land. When I got closer I realized that there was nowhere to go, and no cover between the two groups to speak of. I could hear Ghost’s voice in my head, “You know, somebody is just going to pass out and they’re going to find them days later.”
Then a crazy thought came into my head. The thought whispered before it screamed, “Fuck it. I just want to get out of here. I don’t want to play anymore. I just do not care anymore.” Worse, I could see the exit, and I could see the door and I willed myself to do it, and I encouraged myself to to try. So I took a breath, and I stood up, and I took a step out of the bushes and then another step, the whole time waiting, expecting for that painted hammer to drop. Then I took another step, and still that brightly colored rain did not fall. Instead the ref blew his air horn, and then another air horn and the fire from both Red and Blue stopped. I stood there dumbfounded in the middle of No Man’s Land with my hands up, as the Red Team player came out of cover, and the whole of Blue Team’s assault came out of theirs.
Then the ref, in the middle of the sudden calm said, “Cease fire. It’s time for lunch.” I don’t believe that anybody has been so happy to hear the word “Cease Fire,” uttered since the Somme.
So here’s a pro-tip if you’re going to do scenario play – bring a bunch of water. If you have a harness go ahead and add a camelback since that would be weight that you’ll be happy to have. On that hot September day the thermometer was pushing past 100 degrees while the trees added a spectacular level of humidity. On several occasions I had seen people being carried off the field because they were roasted by the sun.
Out on the road again, I began walking into the East, towards my camp. Pulling my mask off had helped, but now everything began to weigh me down as if gravity was slowly increasing with every step. My feet ached in my second hand combat boots, and some magnificent blisters were in the making. My harness dug into me, and it felt like my rifle sling was cutting me apart. But whenever I would shift anything it would tire me further.
What confuses me is that Decay of Nations is played in the middle of the summer. Previous years had the event in October and Decay of Nations 9 was held in September. In Southern California both of those months are hot, dry, and terrible. On the way back to camp people were lined along the sides of the road like routed soldiers. Many of them sat blank faced and staring. It was still early, and like me these people were exhausted. To the last they were dirty, worn, and huddled for shade. Nobody was laughing, and it was hard to even locate a smile as I marched on alone.
For me, that was when I realized that 40 minutes ago, during that transcendent firefight, was what I had hoped for coming here. But the truth of it was littered along the sides of the road or walking down along it. Now it didn’t matter what we had come for. I realized it was irrelevant if you were blue or red – the real battle was with the sun and we were all losing.
Finally, about halfway to our camp, I took a knee, and then went ahead and fell down the rest of the way. WIth shaking hands I called on my radio.
“Hey, Ghost, are you there?”
“Yeah, what’s up?”
“I need help.”