Few things in life are more satisfying than shooting teenagers…watching them yelp in pain and fall down in a heap…defeating youthful energy with age and treachery.
Pow…pow…pow, pow, pow.
We had snuck around the side of a burned out truck. The enemy soldier was shooting at our men over on the right. He didn’t see us until it was too late.
Pow…pow…pow. The bullets flew like tracers. One hit him in the head…another hit him in the thigh. He squirmed around and threw up his hands.
Ah…another teenager down.
It was Edward’s birthday present…delayed for several months…a chance to wage a paintball battle with eight of his friends. The Paintball Company, about 30 minutes outside of Paris, required one adult with the group. We were drafted.
But once suited out and with a rifle in our hands, we felt a sense of strange calm. It was as if a part of our brain – rarely engaged – suddenly lit up. Of course, it had been there all along, an instinct for fighting; but how often do we get the chance to kill someone – even a mock killing in a mock battle? The human race would probably be better off if it could be surgically removed. But on Saturday, it came in handy.
The battle raged in an area called “Stalingrad” – full of bunkers, rusty trucks, foxholes, fences and sniper nests. One team of five attempted to kill the other team; it was very simple.
At first, we kept quiet, merely going along with the game. But gradually, we began to pull rank. Our side was making too many tactical errors, too many strategic plunders…taking too many casualties. We tried to impose order on our troops…
“You two…go over to that hill and cover our left flank,” we ordered. “You other two…stay here and shoot anything that moves.”
It was a basic battle order. But these were untrained teenaged recruits. One of them, for example, held back – hiding behind a upturned shipping pallet while the rest of us got pelted with ‘bullets.’
We’d have to impose some discipline or we were going to lose every fight, we realized. When it came time to reload, we hauled the kid out from behind the pallet and made an example of him. He was duly court-martialed and executed by firing squad. We would have imposed the old Roman tradition of “decimation,” shooting every 10th soldier. But we only have four of them; we’d have to keep it simple.
When we were all fully locked and loaded, the shooting started again. By this time our unit was performing better. The kids had gotten the hang of the weapons and were no longer afraid of the bullets. Most of them were covered in orange blotches and were now used to the sting of a hit. They were supposed to leave the field after they had been hit twice, but it looked like there were a lot more hits than dead teenagers; they must have been cheating, we concluded.
Our unit had taken the high ground – a good move tactically. We were dug in. We had learned that the best offense was a good defense – ‘stay down and shoot them whenever they come out,’ was our strategy.
It seemed like a good plan. But one member of our squad had to leave suddenly – his mother showed up and took him off to a family wedding. We saluted him as if he, too, had been sent to face a firing squad. Then, another private ran out of ammunition. Now, there were only three of us left…and the incoming was hot and heavy. Bullets splattered on the ramparts…nipped up bits of dirt around the parapets…and rained down on us. We didn’t know exactly how the other side was getting so much firepower…but we could scarcely get off a shot without three or four rifles answering us immediately.
“Hold your positions,” we yelled, “and watch out on the right…there’s an enemy trying to outflank you.”
The firing went on as we tried to sink lower into the mud. Though we thought we had a good position, the bullets kept coming in and getting closer. One hit us in the leg.
Just a flesh wound, we said to ourselves. Another grazed our shoulder.
‘Not even a scratch…’ we decided it didn’t even count.
Then, we noticed that the boy on our right was out of action. The two shooters on the opposite hill had gotten him. And what happened to the fellow who was protecting our right flank?
Damn. He was gone.
“Hey…you down on the right,” we called. No answer. We were the last man standing. Only, we weren’t standing at all. We were lying in the mud, with a wounded leg and a torn trouser. Bullets were flying all over. The enemy realized that there was only one person left ‘alive’ on the hill. They were closing in.
“Rendez vos arms!” said a voice from the other team…demanding a surrender.
“Don’t surrender,” said the boys who had been on our team but who were now “hors de combat.”
“Come and get me, &@$****,” we replied, with a Pattonesque air, determined to fight to the end.
At almost that very moment, we felt a sharp sting from the derriere. An enemy soldier was standing up, barely five yards behind us, and shooting us squarely in the backside.
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