I awoke to a surprisingly loud full bend in my ears, during an ultra-depressing John Mayer solo. Angry, and still exhausted, I threw my headphones on the ground of the extensive chartered bus.
“Emo bullshit!” I yelled, clearing the crust from my eyes.
Boy was I beat; the last time I woke up at 4:45 in the morning was about four years ago for the SAT exam. Arms stretched in the air, I accidentally hit my buddy “Sas” over the head.
“What the… We there yet?” Sas asked in shock, drooling profusely.
“I sure hope so, my ass is completely asleep!” I replied.
Everyone called him “Sas,” which was short for “Sasquatch.” He got the name when we were working out at the college gym one day, last summer. In the locker room, Sas took off his shirt, exposing a large colony of hair patches covering his back.
“Holy shit Alex!” I yelled. “Did you spill Rogaine on your back or what?”
“Ha – Ha ya dumbass!” He replied.
“I didn’t know I was friends with fuckin’ Sasquatch!”
And so it began.
It turned out that we weren’t close at all. We still had an hour to go before we reached the military base in the woods; the middle of nowhere. I was a volunteer, and I dragged Sas with me. It’s not like we had much to do, both enrolled in a crappy community college. In some strange way, Sas and I were always adrenaline junkies; akin to the increased heartbeat, heightened senses, and flight-or-fight responses. It was an unmatched excitement.
“Rise and shine children!” A malnourished bald man yelled, rising from his seat, looking across the exhausted faces. “The name’s Ed, and I’ll be leading you boys to the fields. We’ll arrive in two hours, so here’s how it’s gonna work when we get there! Unload your shit and head to registration. Regroup at an empty table, fill out the forms, and pick up your gear and ammo, but be quick about it!”
“Is he serious with that tight ass camouflage uniform on?” I asked Sas, chuckling.
“Dude – I don’t think he’s playing.” Sas replied, attentive and nervous.
“Don’t worry about him; he’s like all of the veterans, cocky,” said a neighboring volunteer. “The name’s George, good to meet you two.”
George was a recent high school graduate who acted like a thirty year old. Amidst the stories of prom night and sex with his pre-med girlfriend, he taught us a thing or two about tactics and how to shoot.
“Yeah, I’ve volunteered once before, but I was discharged due to an injury; shot point blank in the left arm; was pretty nasty. Thing is, you have to hold the gun steady and keep your arms tight to your body. I don’t like to keep too much exposed, that’s how you get killed!”
It sounded like obvious advice, but just talking about the possibility of being shot, only made this journey more real. I grew nervous, yet my adrenal glands pulsated at the thought of trudging and battling in the dense woods. If I was beginning to get scared, I could only imagine what plagued Sas’ mind.
“Red and White squads, we ready to move out?” The sergeant asked.
“Sir, yes sir!” The group replied in unison.
“I asked you boys a question, we ready to move out?!”
“I can’t hear you!”
We marched into the forest, each lugging a ten pound camouflage uniform, a beat up semi-automatic rifle, and some ammunition. The tight white tape around my right arm was constricting but I would be damned to take it off and risk being shot by my own mates.
The light lessened, blocked by the dense trees. It created an eerie scene, moist from the fallen rain. The troops gathered in line, walking atop carton pathways and long steel platforms, avoiding the marsh. I wandered off to the side, neglecting the others. I looked towards the ground carefully, attempting to dodge the slippery tree roots and blankets of moist thick mud. Lost in the evasion of ground obstacles, I mistakenly stepped in a brown pit. My cheap construction boots slowly began to sink in the leaf filled mush that covered this terrain.
“Ah shit!” I yelled. “Let me cut in here bro,” I said to a fellow soldier, asking to get in place with the rest of the group.
Further along in our endless journey into the forest, the drill sergeant suddenly signaled for us to stop.
“Wait here and stay low.” He said, as he ran a few paces forward, squatting; surveying.
“Dude, what’s happening?” Sas asked me.
“Shhh, Sas.” I said with my pointer finger pressed against my lips. “You hear that?”
“This is it boys!” George said with a grin.
“Get ready!!” The sergeant screamed, running back to our location, struggling for balance. “They’re coming!”
Loud pops filled the air, as ammunition rounds crashed into the mud around us. I became frightened for what seemed like a second, soon overcome by a sadistic fascination for war. The soldier inside me screamed for release.
“Sas, go left, I’ll cover!” I commanded. ”George, stay with us!”
We sought cover among the vast array of trees in the area. They were thin and withered, but if you lined them up just right, you could form a slightly effective bunker.
“Call it out boys! Where? Where?” I yelled.
“I got two coming 11 o’clock! George, swing around my left, and get an angle on them!” Sas detailed, clearly feeding off of endorphins.
It was difficult to see the enemy, as they too, wore camouflage suits. The camo facemask that we were mandated to carry, began to fog, blinding me. I dropped to the floor in hopes of cleaning it.
“Sas, my mask is too foggy, I can’t see!” I yelled.
“Clean that shit and let’s move!” He replied. “George, one down!”
“Fucking mask!” I yelled, slamming the cheap gear into the mud.
“Cover me! I’m pushing up!” Sas commanded.
“No not yet, it’s not clean!” I yelled, struggling to clear the vapor and now, thick layer of mud.
“Readyyy?” Sas yelled, preparing his route.
“Noooo Sas, not yet!” I replied, with fear in my eyes and my hand signaling for him to stop.
“Noooow! Move Move Move!”
“Sas, Nooooo!” I yelled, as the whizzing rounds hit his chest, seemingly in slow-motion.
Sas dropped to the floor in pain, as George looked back from his tree stump, with shock on his face. I ran over to Sas and dragged him near me, evading numerous shots to the head.
“Man down!” George yelled, as his shock turned to anger. “Fuck this hiding!”
“George noooo!” I screamed, as he ran into the bushes yelling.
In a primitive and gladiator tone, his voice echoed as he yelled. “This is War! THIS IS PAINTBALL!”