“Aw, dude, can that thing kill someone?” my younger brother, James, said with bright eyes as I took the M-16 style paintball gun from the cashier.
“Most certainly,” I said with a grin. “Do you have your bullets all loaded up?”
James nodded, holding up his hopper full of black paintballs. I showed him my full hopper as well, and we joined the other members of our team. Since it was James’s birthday, many of his friends from school had come out for the party. We were on the blue team, and we were up against the red team.
“You’re scared, aren’t you?” I said with a chuckle as we walked toward the starting area.
James nodded, and even though I was unable to see his mouth because of the mask, I knew he was smiling. “It’s my first time and all, and all my friends are here,” he said as we continued to walk.
“Yeah, but I’m the only one that has this baby,” I said, holding up the machine gun I wielded. “Plus, check these bad boys out.”
I pulled out the paint grenade and the smoke grenade that I had kept secret.
“Whoa!” he said, holding open both arms.
“This might help keep the odds forever in our favor,” I said, laughing and pocketing the grenades again. “And buck up, little brother. If you’re scared of the pain, the armored chest protection in your shirt will make it pain-free.”
James nodded, and I could tell her nerves were evening out as we neared the starting spot. It was a cool day toward the end of autumn, and a good bit of dead leaves littered the ground. The trees were naked, and the subtle aroma of decay was in the air.
The paintball park we were in had multiple themed fields, and we passed through a war theme. For decoration and cover, tank replicas had been peppered into the area, and I fantasized about shooting a giant paintball shell from one of them and dousing the enemy team in globs of paint.
After passing the war-themed field, we arrived at the field we would use for playing. It was a wild west theme, and wooden stores were lined up in a ghost town. The staff member acting as the referee explained that the Red team would be the Sherriff’s, and our team would be the outlaws trying to steal a bag of gold from the bank’s vault.
The red team took up their positions and my team huddled together in the woods. As we waited for the referee to blow his whistle and start the match, we were all deep breaths. It was cold enough that we could see our breath streaming out the front of our face masks. Adrenaline coursed through my veins and I imagined how much more soldiers preparing for a real-life battle would experience in the moments before combat.
Blaring everyone to a tensed state of being, the referee’s whistled signaled the start of the match. Being the only adult on the team, I led the charge through the woods and toward the ghost town. The puff of paintball guns going off filled the air, as did the cries of my teammates and the enemy.
I funneled the team to cover behind a wooden cutout of a stagecoach. Slits had been cut into the cutout to allow shooting, and we used every opening to pelt the enemy strongholds. The red team had all gathered in the bank, the saloon to the right of the bank, and the brothel to the left of the bank. Everything that moved was fired upon, and before long the sides of the buildings were splashed in a variety of brown, yellow, and orange paint. I imagined our stagecoach looked the same.
As the moments slipped away, I realized we were trapped and had no way of reaching the bank if we stayed the current path. We were hitting nothing but walls, and the red team was doing the same. Eventually, we’d all run out of ammo. If that happened and we failed to secure the money, we lost.
“Guys, follow my lead,” I yelled, popping the top of the smoke grenade.
I chucked it in front of our stagecoach. After allowing ample time for diffusion, I ran out yelling and firing my gun. I barrel rolled behind one of the buildings and helped others get behind the cover as well.
“Oh, no!” James yelled when he made it to safety. “We lost Jimmy.”
“Forget Jimmy,” I bellowed, pulling out the paint grenade. “We need to end this!”
Popping the top on the frag grenade as well, I chucked it into the saloon. A few screams accompanied the ticking seconds. Before long five enemy team members sulked out of the saloon. Their legs were covered in red paint, and I chuckled.
“You have any more of those?” James said, firing off a few rounds at the brothel.
We shared a look, and I smirked.
“What’s the best way to enter into a dangerous situation?” I said, bracing my back against the wall for a moment before shooting off a couple of rounds. It was a mantra I had instilled in James to encourage him to be adventurous. The context as never as relevant as in that particular moment, and he recognized it as much as I did.
“Headfirst!” he said with a scream, running out from behind the cover and firing his gun.
Following suit, I ran behind James, and the remainder of the team followed me. We looped around to the side of the saloon. Members of the team were lost, but we took out a good bit of the enemy holed up in the brothel as well. We circled behind the bank and went in through the rear entrance of the brothel, clearing out the enemy before coming to the bank.
“This is it, little brother,” I said, pressing my back against the front of the building. I breathed deeply in the face of victory, adrenaline still shaking my hands and strengthening my muscles. “There can’t be more than five of them left in there.”
“Yeah, but it’s just you and me left on our team.”
I looked around and shrugged. “As it should be. Only the White brothers can make an impact in this world. It’s time we showed your classmates what you could do.”
My brother nodded, and we shared a look of understanding. The day had been about him, and it had been about fun, but he had learned a great deal about self-confidence as well. We took dueling deep breaths and steeled our nerves. With a yell we spun and hopped through the windows of the bank, both barrels firing unabashed as we headed for our prize.