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Stories Water War 5

By: Jared Grey

The following takes place between 11:45 AM and 12:00 PM on August 14, 2004

11:45 AM

"Dag, this thing is heavy!"

"Must be all those rocks I put in it, huh?"

The normally rough plastic surface of the molded handle on the Coleman cooler was now slick with sweat, making it nearly impossible to hold on to as Joe and I tried to manuever it and ourselves through a particularly dense patch of vines. I ducked out from under the last one, a woody rope about half the thickness of a weiner dog, and set my end of the cooler down while I wiped my hand on my shirt. Joe did the same, and then we each took a handle and started forward again. I twisted my head around and did a quick check to make sure we hadn't lost anybody. Everybody was carrying at least three guns apiece, in addition to their own, for caching, and all were acounted for, Nate just stepping out from the vine-strung patch of trees we called the badlands, carrying the other cooler with Mark's help. Wouldn't want anyone unfamiliar with the terrain getting lost back here, or stepping in the creek to our right.
Ahead the density of the woods decreased dramatically, opening up into clearing of sorts, the only trees being ten or so feet apart, scattered throughout the clearing. There were fallen branches lying on the ground, decomposing from the 8 months this area spent under a foot and a half of water. Now it was just covered in a coat of dry, though muddy looking leaves. The stream moved sluggishly on our right, and beyond it a steep hill covered in thinning undergrowth that led up to the highway. A barbed wire fence, obviously put in place to prevent motorists from decending into the woods crisscrossed the stream, the posts set into both banks wherever there was solid ground. "Welcome to my kingdom!" I announced with a hint of sarcasm as we entered the swamp. Joe and I walked over to the edge of the creek. "This was a great idea you had, Joe" I said, carrying the cooler over to the water's edge.

"Yeah" he said, "they'll never think to look for water UNDERWATER."

With a slight splash, we lowered the cooler into the water, its top a few inches below the surface, the twine we'd wrapped around it preventing it from spilling our supplies all over the stream system. Joe walked back to the main group, and I looked over the bank a while longer. While I didn't think the creek had enough current to move the cooler, I didn't want to have to go hunting downstream, wherever that was, looking for my dad's Coleman, and our refills. Satisfied that our supplies weren't going anywhere, I stepped around the weaponry cache laying on the ground, rejoined the group, and set my backpack on the ground. I unzipped it, rummaged through the contents, and came up with a Motorola in a plastic bag. Removing the bag, I thumbed it on, adjusted the band, and depressed the talk button.

"You guys ready?" I asked the walkie-talkie. All I got was the buzz of static. Craig's team either didn't have theirs on, or I was on the wrong band. I scanned the channels and tried again, picking up some background voices before repeating my question. This time however, I got an answer. "We will be in 15 minutes."

"Click."

I put the Motorola back in its bag, and resealed it, then settled it back in my backpack. The sight of Joe scratching the back of his neck reminded me of the bug repellant in my backpack, and after some rummaging among refill bottles, cash, and a spare towel I found it. I handed it to him, with instructions for the group to douse themselves. I followed the can with my eyes, mentally going over the group in my head.

Joe was a year younger than me and a head taller. He'd been with me for four of the five Wars, and was both my second in command and best friend. He'd come to this fight armed with twin XP310s that he'd somehow attached straps to, and had hung them over his back. He also had 2 backup MXD 2000s stuck in the pockets of his cargo pants. Nate, a highschool freshman, was standing by the edge of the woods that bordered the swamp, conversing with some of his friends. He'd been in the Wars from the very beginning, 5 years ago, but back then he fought against me. He'd brought his CPS 4100, but had it hanging over his back, using my Storm 2500 as his primary weapon. He was talking with Ann, a tall, rather animated girl who was three years my junior, and probably didn't want to be here. It'd taken a lot of persuading to get her to come. She carried my modded Storm 2100 bullpup, and when I saw the way she was holding it, by the very back of the thumbhole stock, nozzle down, I made a mental note to make sure to keep her out of the middle of just about any fight. Standing over by them was Mark, another freshman. He had shaggy hair, a big grin, and looked Indian. I didn't know. He was carrying one of my few consessions to heavy weaponry, my CPS 3200, which we had filled from coke bottles before leaving, beside his own CPS 4100. Cary was wandering aimlessly around the swamp, looking like she wanted to shoot something. She was Joe's younger sister and the youngest person on the team, not even out of junior high. She'd brought two guns with her, a denozzled MXD6000, and an oldschool XP, a 65 I thought, though I wasn't sure. It packed a heck of a kick though, and had quite a long range for a soaker that size.

When the bottle came back to me, I doped up on the stuff, spraying my neck, my arms, my shirt and cargo pants, and as much of my face and head as I could without getting any in my mouth. While I was spraying, I idly wondered how big a hole we'd just punched in the ozone layer.

I also idly hoped there wasn't an open flame within 50 yards.

When everyone had finished with the bugspray, I returned it to my backpack, shouldered the pack, and then set about checking my guns. I one-handed my Pirahna out of my backpack, then put it back the same way, then withdrew it again. I didn't want to get hung up pulling my gun out when the shooting started. I pumped it once to make sure it was still pressurized from filling and pumping earlier, then shot a brief beam into the swamp. The water almost rolled out of the nozzle it was so smooth. I repumped to restore the spent pressure, and looked down at the gun in my hands. Grey and bright pink. Well, they'd know I was coming. Returning it to my backpack, I reached down and pulled the MXD2000s from the leg pockets on my cargo pants. They didn't fit in all the way, and the handles stuck out, making the pockets ideal holsters. This time I'd remembered to wear a belt. The 2000s might be light pistols by soaker standards, they were heavy enough. And though I hated belts, I'd vowed never to wear the 2000s without one again. A belt is a small price to pay for not getting pantsed by your backup. I made sure the 2000s were pumped, then gave them each a little test shot. The range was at least as good as my Pirahna, if not better. I repumped them, then retured them to my pockets. Finally, I reached under the back of my shirt, and after a little fumbling, managed to remove the snap from my custom small-of-the-back holster. I pulled out my Queen Amidala holdout, which I'd made the holster to fit. Even though I'm embarassed mentioning The Queen in the same sentence as serious water warfare, the little gun was a marvel when it came to backup. A small, but still useful tank, a nice sized nozzle, and best of all, a handle mounted pump. It held the same spot in my armory that in a real armory is occupied by a holdout between .22Magnum and .380 caliber. Right in between "You brought THAT to a fight" and "Should I get behind somethin'?" Perfect for a last ditch backup. After some more fumbling, I returned it to the holster, and checked the knife in my pocket. A Spyderco Endura Lighweight. I had joked that I brought it along in case of drug-addled muggers. Despite the fact that we'd not seen another human being in these woods in the 8 years I lived by them, my parents hadn't let me enter them alone for the past 7, with the excuse that disreputables hung out back here. I knew some did, I'd found the beer bottles and campfires to prove it. I tested the serated blade with my finger, sharp as a razor. Not only was it my utility knife, but I figured it'd scare off any unlucky robber in the extremely unlikely case we stumbed onto one. I hoped.

The radio crackled to life, and I folded the knife up, stuck it in my pocket, and punched the receive button. "We're ready," my brother said over a bunch of background voices. "You?"

"As we'll ever be," I replied, "Are you ready to lose?"

He laughed. Not a mean laugh, he really thought it was funny. "Yeah right." Click.

I turned to Joe. "Like you said last year, like shaking hands with the headsman." I addressed the team. "Let's go."

"Why are you fighting if you know you're going to lose," Ann asked as we walked through the woods towards the trail that'd take us out of the swamp and into the main battleground. "I mean, you've lost four years out of five, right? Why bother?"

"We're fighting BECAUSE we've lost four years out of five," I said. "I guess its pride. I'm not gonna be beaten, especially when this is probably gonna be my last year. My losing streak stops here."

12:00 PM

Map


The following takes place between 12:07 PM and 12:16 PM on August 14, 2004

12:07 PM

I nudged a branch aside with my Pirahna and stopped, motioning for my team to do so as well. I heard the rustle again and looked around for it. The woods looked deserted, except for my teammates stopped at intervals down the half-formed path behind me. Ahead I could see blue sky breaking through a gap in the trees, and sunlight patches on the ground around us.

"We reached the clearing," I hissed to the people behind me, keeping my voice down in case that rustle was something bigger and more heavily armed than a squirrel. I hoped it wasn't. Barely 5 minutes out of camp, and I didn't want to see my worst fears about our lack of preparedness confirmed just yet.

We'd been heading east for the clearing since leaving the swamp. I knew my brother pretty well, and I was sure he'd send at least some of his troops through the clearing to come and try to ambush us. I reviewed the paths and trails we'd recently cut through the clearing in my head. Basically, it was a quarter mile by quarter mile dip in the land, walled in by forest, and filled with waist high grass and weeds and a few trees surrounded by huge mounds of sumac. Unless my brother was being even more careful than I usually gave him credit for, he'dve sent troops through the clearing by path we'd cut right smack down the middle. I ducked my head to wipe the sweat under my hairline against my sleeve, remembered I was wearing a sleeveless shirt, and ignored it, hoping it wouldn't drip into my eyes. The clearing and surrounding area acted like huge solar still, trapping heat and humidity in the indentation. Only a few degrees cooler than heck I figured.

The rustle sounded again, and I jammed the thumbhole stock of the Pirahna into between my shoulder and my collarbone, right elbow out, left hand stabilizing my aim, right behind the pump. I spun to my left, sighting down the ridge of the tank, my instincts conflicting as to whether I should hold my fire and not give away my position, hoping they wouldn't see me, or shoot first and hope I didn't attract too much attention if I was shooting at nothing. My train of thought and action took about a second and a half, about as long as it took Joe to follow my aim, Nate doing the same behind him. A few feet behind us, Ann, Mark, and Cary shifted into a similar stance, Cary covering the path behind us as rearguard.

I figured my brother had probably sent out some troops after us. I was pretty sure he'd be in the first wave, so I was facing at least an X. Beyond that I knew he had a 02 XL, a handful of 4100s, at least one 2100, and a 2000 that I knew about, so it'd most likely be some combination of those. The 2000 was the only one I didn't want to face. I'd been on the receiving end of the orange, 20x nozzle a couple of times, and it felt like getting hit with a baseball bat. I didn't think he'd send the 2000 out on the first attack, but getting in some big hits early on seemed like his style.

While I was still dwelling on the thought of facing the 2000, a branch about twenty feet above my head swayed violently, a furry brown squirrel shaking it with its passing, and I learned how to breathe again.

Then a hard, cold chunk of water materialized out of the foliage ahead of me, and slapped against my chest, right in the eyesocket of the skull on my t-shirt.
Precision shooting. Very funny, Craig.

I shifted a quick yard to my right, and snapped off three quick shots in a jagged line back towards the direction I thought the shot came from. On my periphery, Joe ducked and moved to his left, his dual 310 shotguns and my Pirahna covering the trail where it emerged into sunlight. I repumped, thankful again for the quick and quiet, if hot pink pump. The foliage hissed, and Joe ducked, taking a shot on the side of one of his 310s. I shook a V-hand towards the trail opening, motioning for the two behind me to come forward. Distantly I was aware of the three behind us doing the same, staying behind us at least four feet.

I counted a slow ten, then another, without hearing or seeing anyone. I crouched slightly, then quickly ran to the opening into the clearing, Joe and Nate following. Nothing. Waist high grass on either side of the path, didn't look like it'd been stepped in either. The most likely spot for our hidden attackers to have retreated to was a clump of sumac about 20 feet up the trail and around a slight bend. I edged over till I could see the side of the clump around the wall of grass.

Bingo. Looked like 3 different guys, if the varying colors of their tanks were any indication. I held a W-hand up to my eyes, pointed it at the team behind me, then down the trail to let them know I'd seen three. "Here's how it's gonna work" I said. "Joe, Mark, we're gonna hit 'em fast, and if they don't retreat, we will. We'll head back the way we came, go back through the swamps, then north, hopefully lose 'em in the woods. Nate, Cary, Ann, you guys get a head start, should be right behind you. If you don't see us for a while, head for the parking lot to the north. Its just up the trail, easy to find." I waited until they were moving off down the trail behind us, and tried to visualize the coming skirmish.

All my visualization got me were several differing variations on a common theme.

Getting myself soaked.

Oh well.

I slowed my breathing and tried not to think. It's nothing mystical or zen like, I just find I fight better, and don't get as emotional when I think less. Its like running. You don't actively think about putting each foot down, after a while you just do. I turned to my two companions. "Let's go."
We ran down the path as quietly as we could, and got within about eight feet when they saw us. It was my brother, and Sam, who was one of my friends, and a black kid I assumed my brother had invited from high school, cause I didn't know him.

I shot him first. Twice, high chest, then I moved as far to the right side of the narrow path as I could, and shot my brother once in the neck and once in the face before he got off a miss at me. He put his hand up to wipe his eyes, the pause in the fighting I'd intended by shooting him in the face. Sam got my left side and arm with a blast from his XL, and I ducked. Behind me, I heard the snap of a tight trigger, and two thick shotgun blasts of water hit Sam, one in the leg, the other in the stomach. I ducked and shot the unknown guy again, a snapshot that left a big dark patch on the side of his grey t-shirt, then I sprinted back down the path. Behind me I heard a yell and a splash, and I figured Mark had just unloaded a 20x shot from his 3200 into someone's upper body. Joe was right behind me, and nearly ran into me as we barrelled down the path back towards the swamp, Mark behind him, shooting wildly behind with the 4100 he had had strapped to his back, the 3200 rifle now taking it's place.

The forest was hot, and hammering down the trail didn't lend itself to cooling off. The trees and leaves pretty much passed in a blur, my focus instead on ducking the various branches and woody vines that hung down in my path. We nearly slipped making a hard left at the hastily constructed fence I'd built a few days ago to mark a wrong trail, and continued barrelling back towards the swamp we'd come from. The leaves above me hissed and water showered down on me, a missed shot from the guy leading the opposing team. I risked a quick glance back. My brother. Mark took what I guessed was an 8.5x shot to the back, and then we were in the thin woods surrounding the swamp to the north. We continued running forward, jumping over fallen trees, ducking branches, but my brother's team was a little more cautious. They still advanced, but stopped firing, and we gained a little distance on them. Finally we broke through the cover into the swamp, and they turned back altogether.

I think I heard Sam shout something over his shoulder about retreating to our fort every time the going got tough, but I'm not sure. They were pretty far away.
I looked up the north trail out of the swamp for the rest of my team, and found them about half way up, making for the parking lot I'd told them about. We jogged through the swamp and up the path and caught up with them just as they were coming out onto solid, paved ground.

"What happened to you guys?" Nate asked. "Ya look soaked."

I did a quick inventory of the shots I'd taken. One to the front of my shirt, and a big hit to my left side and arm. Not too bad. Joe was a little better, he'd only gotten hit on the shoulder. Mark looked pretty soggy though. The front of his t-shirt was more wet than dry, and I was guessing that since he was the rearguard on our flight to the swamp, he'd gotten shot in the back more than a few times.

"We are" Joe said, brief as usual.

"Let's get under cover." I motioned my team towards the gully-like depression in the ground just off the parking let.

The parking lot belongs to a hospital that was built on the edge of the woods about 2 years ago. They needed a drainage area to collect rain-water that ran off the parking lot, and I guess the city told them they couldn't funnel it all into the woods, because they went to the trouble of digging this huge, Olympic-swimming-pool sized hole right off the parking lot. From there, water is channelled through an underground sewer system to the gully-like trail we'd just climbed up. Apparently the city thinks its ok to drain into the woods only after routing it through a big tub.

I didn't care. The drainage depression was excellent cover. The only problem was I didn't think the hospital would want us using it for a base.

I discovered I didn't care about that either.

Once down in the basin, we motioned for us all to stay low, and then I handed Mark and Joe each a 20oz waterbottle from my backpack. I checked the Pirahna's water level. I'd fired about 10 snapshots, and the tank was down about a third, but the p/c was full. I waited until Joe had topped of his 310s, then took the bottle back, and upended the bottle into the Pirahna's tank.

"Just like loading a musket, huh?" Nate joked behind me. I'd loaned him The Patriot a few days before the fight, and he was incorporating elements from it into some of the stuff he did. He'd given Mark a recruiting speech about how Colonel Scott's militia needed him. Apparently I'd been promoted. Stopping to think about it, I had to admit, from a certain perspective, the 20oz bottle did act a little like a powderhorn.

I turned back to face him, grinning. "Yeah, kinda. Not quite as powerful though."

Cary spoke up from over by the rim of the basin, "What do we do now? Go after them?"

I pulled the map I'd made out of my pocket and unfolded it, then motioned my team in to take a look. "Joe, you're the historian here, got any old World War 2 battle tactics we can use?"

He took the map and I could almost hear the gears turning in his head. "Nothing historical comes to mind," he said, "but you said your brother's fort is south of Mainstreet, right? South off the trail?" When I nodded the affirmative, he continued. "Well, most of the Mainstreet stretch is a..." he gestured, looking for the words. "Hallway," he finally said.

"Botttleneck," I said.

"Ok, bottleneck. You can only come up through it one at a time, and there's very little cover." He fell silent for a moment. "I'm thinking we can use that to our advantage."

Nate took over. "If we split up the team, half of us can hold them down on Mainstreet, while the other half attack Sam's fort." He pointed to a dot at the top of the map.

"Ok, yeah, that works," I said. "Who wants to be on what team?"

Nate raised his hand. "I'll go to Mainstreet." Cary was the next to sign on.

"I want to attack," Joe said and grinned. "Not defend. Plus I want to get a look at this treehouse you said he built. See if its as good as you've been saying."

"It's better," I said. "Remember those tarps Sam was carrying?"

Mark shrugged. "I guess I'll go to Mainstreet too."

I half turned. "I guess you're with us," I told Ann. Then, addressing the group, "Everybody filled?" After a chorus of assents, I said, "Let's hit the road."

12:16 PM


The following takes place between 11:31 AM and 11:39 AM on August 14, 2004

11:31 AM

"This could get ugly," I told Joe as we walked into the park.  "This could get ugly on a scale like you have not yet SEEN ugly."  I was referring to the row of cars parked in the parking lot.  This was the first year that kids had actually driven to our fight.  First time for everything I guessed.  I didn't want to see teens mad this time around, not at this age.  I've seen too much of that.  Cost me two friends.

Interestingly enough, both of Sam's vehicles, a nearly decade old Cadillac and a van that was just as old, were not in the parking lot.  Weird.  I looked back down the road leading to the park, past my team walking behind me, across the intersection, and up at his driveway.  Neither vehicle was there either.  It struck me as just the kind of thing my brother's team would do, go and get snacks twenty minutes before the fight.

Even weirder:  Sam and my brother were walking out of the forest about a hundred yards ahead, out of the entrance trail we'd hacked.  So they weren't getting snacks.

"I've seen ugly," Joe said.  "I was there, both times."

"Yeah, I know."

Craig and Sam were about 75 feet, and both waved and gave us big, smug smiles and waves as they walked down the row of cars, stopping at a black Mustang.

As we turned on to the trail leading to our fort, I saw them unloading coolers and guns from the back.  Nothing new, but I'd figured they'd already done that.

What WERE they doing back there, I wondered.

"Well, I figure we've got one big advantage," I told my team, as Joe and I manuevered the cooler we were carrying through the entrance to the woods.  The trail we were on would connect directly to our territory, and it was a lot faster than going through the main battlefield.  "My brother's team REFUSES to come back by our fort."

"Why?" asked Ann.  "Where is this fort?"

"I don't want to tell you," I said, and tried to project a grin into my voice.  "You won't want to go there if I tell you."

"C'mon, where is it."

"The swamp.  They don't like it 'cause of the bugs."

Ann turned around.  "I'm leaving."

"No you're not.  I brought bug spray."  I motioned towards my backpack with my free hand.  "And I don't think the mosquitos will come out during the day anyway."

She rejoined the group.

A few minutes later and about a hundred yards further I heard the commotion of running over on my left, and glanced over my shoulder.  Joe blocked my view of whatever was coming through the woods towards us, but on my peripheral vision, I could see my team raising their guns.

"Hey!" I heard someone yell from the woods.  Sam.

He ducked under a branch and zigzagged out of the woods onto the trail ahead of us.  He was wearing camo and carrying tarps.  Not a good sign.  "You guys need some help carrying stuff?" he asked.  I think he was offering because last night I'd helped him carry about 20 gallons  water back to my brother's fort.

"Nah, we got it.  What's up with the tarps?"

"Just got some stuff out of one of Craig's friend's cars, and came to see if you guys needed any help.  It's for the treefort."

"I think one of those is my tarp," I said rather pointedly.

"Your mom said we could use it."  He looked at his watch.  "I've gotta go.  Have fun with that." He gestured towards the coolers, then ran back into the woods.

"That treehouse is going to be invincible," I told Joe.  "And notice how he didn't use his cars?  I know for a fact he had them this morning."

11:39 AM


The following takes place between 12:22 PM and 12:55 PM on August 14, 2004

12:22 PM

We crouched at the opening to the clearing where we'd gotten shot at last time, and I pointed to the map. "We're here, right at the end of E-Street. Joe, Ann, and I are going to go up The Un-named Trail and try and surprise them from below. Nate, Mark, Cary, make sure to use Springstreet and KT Lane." I traced my finger over the two intersecting loops. "They'll be able to see a long ways from the treefort, so these are your best bet if you want to get to Mainstreet unseen. Keep low. If anything happens, if you can't keep them back, get to this hill. We'll all hole up there in case of emergency."

Nate's team went first, ducking and running down E-Street till they found the paths I'd mentioned, over on their left, then they went out of view. I counted thirty, then we did the same as they had. Slightly before the trail they'd taken we turned right, onto The Un-named Trail. It didn't have any distinguishing characteristics, and I wasn't feeling very creative that day, so I'd based it's name on the title of a Metallica song I thought I remembered, The Un-named Feeling. Something like that.

We were out of their line of sight so we stopped hunching over. A couple of the rare trees in the clearing were over here and both of the dirt hills were covered in incredibly bushy sumac, so we didn't need to duck anymore. Once we passed the first dirt hill, a few feet to our right, I motioned for my two friends to duck and slow down. We entered a stand of sumac Craig and I had cut out, and took the trail to our left, leading to the second dirt hill. At the base I turned back. "We're gonna have to duck and be really quiet here. They can see onto the top of this hill from their fort, and we really don't want to give them time to prepare. Also, watch your step here. There are tons of holes."

I went up first. Not only were there holes, but the surface was uneven, and the dead grass that covered the hill wasn't condusive to keeping one's footing. At the top I crouched, then hazarded a look up, between the foiliage. At least two people up in the treehouse. Sam and John, Nate's brother.

That I could see. It was draped with tarps. One of them was mine.

I inched down the steep trail to my right, the one that led off the dirt hill, and crouched in path at the bottom. We were still under cover of sumac, but I didn't want to take any chances. I watched Ann, then Joe half-walk, half-slip down the steep incline, just like I had, then I slowly walked out of the sumac.

My luck held. No one spotted us until we gained the north-south trail that ran up to their fort. We crouched again, keeping out of their line of sight, and I checked my gun. Full pressure, a fifth to a quarter of the tank gone. I looked over at Joe. He had the same look on his face that he always did when he was gonna blast someone. Intense, but intensely contained excitement. Ann just looked bored. She wouldn't be for long I thought.

"Hey Joe, you think those shotguns will reach the treefort?" I asked quietly.

He didn't respond, but after a few second's consideration, slung them around his back, stuck both trigger fingers in his MXD's trigger guards and yanked them out. "These will."

I stood up, side stepped to my left, and ducked forward. The treefort was built into a tree that grew out of the back of a dirthill. Foliage draped across the trail leading up the front of the small hill, and I realized this was why they hadn't seen me, even now as I was standing on their doorstep. Behind me someone gave an appreciative whistle. Joe probably.

Then the world turned to rain.

"Hey! They're down there!" Sam bellowed from the bottom deck of the fort, and leaned out from behind a tarp with the XL, hosing down the entire area. John had already opened up with his 4100. While his fire wasn't too accurate, it scattered in the air and off the branches, dropping a heavy shower down on the base of the hill. I ran forward, taking quick snapshots up into their fort as I ran. I reached the bottom of the tree, and got into a blindspot. They couldn't shoot down on top of me while I was here. At the base of the hill Ann was shooting up at Sam, and trying to dodge the two beams of water coming down. I was glad I'd disabled the Storm 2100's check valve. Without the mod, the gun wouldn'tve had the power to reach that high. Farther back on the trail, off the hill, Joe was taking long range pistol shots that he made look effortless. I gauged the range at just outside forty feet. I pumped four quick strokes, then spun out from the blind spot and shot up, evaluated the target, then shot again. John ducked back behind the tarp, and concerted fire from Joe and Ann pushed Sam back too.

I heard someone talking loudly up above, and a series of beeps, then distant crashing to my left. 20 feet above us, Sam leaned out again from behind a tarp, XL in hand, and I brought the Pirahna up and shot him in the face. He pulled back in behind cover, and the crashing behind us got louder, interspersed with some shouting, typical water fight stuff, "where are they" "I don't see them." Reinforcements.

I stabbed my finger down the trail and shouted "GO! BACK TO THE HILL!" at my two team mates. We ran. Just in time to run into the reinforcements, headed by one of my brother's friends from basketball, a kid named Ryan. Tall, short hair, and a 2000 that he pointed straight at me. I thought "dang" and he shot me just as dual MXD bursts hit his face from behind me and the 2000 shot he'd intended for my chest flinched with him and hit my shoulder. I shot him in the stomach, and the guy behind him, Mike, Sam's brother, in the forehead as I backed up. "Run" I said, and me and my two friends ran the rest of the way back to the hill. The reinforcements followed behind us at a cautious pace, confident in their numbers. They could've drenched us in one attack, but they wanted to have a little fun with us first, back us into a corner. Good for us, bad for them. If they gave me time to prepare, I fully intended to make them regret it.

Badly.

I sent Ann up the slope to the top of the hill first, then Joe, then I followed. Climbing up was much harder than going down. Usually works that way. "We wait here," I said. "Nate may be coming back, and we don't know if they're coming around. Plus this place is gonna be easy to defend." We sat down on top of the hill, breathing hard. I looked over at my teammates. Joe wiped sweat and water from his face, gave me a manic grin, and pumped each MXD 2000. He slipped them back into the cargo pockets he'd pulled them from, then unslung his 310s. "Shotgun work now," he said.

Ann looked soaked, her t-shirt dark with water, water dripping off her ponytail. She pumped the 2100, then her eyes widened, she yelled "Behind you!" and shot down the trail we'd just come up. I spun on my heels, and instinctively took a snapshot as well. The guy with the 2000 was standing just inside the sumac cover. Neither of our shots hit him, but he took a step back. "He's just making sure we don't run," Joe said in a rather bored tone from behind us. "They're not going to attack yet. They're gonna wait till their whole team is back together, then come at us all at once." When I turned back he was reclining against the upper part of the hill, hands folded behind his head. I raised an eyebrow at him, and he gestured towards the sun. "Might as well dry off while I'm waiting."

I checked my water supply, and pumped. Only about a quarter to a third left in the tank, and a full pressure chamber. I'd be down to pistols soon. I was a little wetter than when we'd attacked too. The bush I'd ducked under when Sam opened up with the XL had deflected a lot of water, but they'd let a lot through as well. My shirt and cargo pants had definite water spots, but the t-shirt was drying out from the soaking I'd taken earlier.

I looked up into the sky. Blue, no clouds, sun beating down hard - hard enough that my world turned to white when I closed my eyes - and just a hint of a breeze that cooled my face and gently riffled the leaves surrounding the cleared top of the hill. Beautiful day. I grinned. Couldn't think of anything I'd rather be doing. Well, winning maybe. Or getting off this hill with Nate's team for backup.

After about 5 minutes, there was a rattling of plastic behind me, and turned to see Joe getting up and picking up his 310s. "They're coming." He tipped his head to one side like he was trying to remember something. "The Un-named Trail, probably." I tried to visualize what I was going to do. I'd wait for the first guy to come almost up to the hill, shoot him first, aiming for the face, then walk a burst of shots up the 2nd and third guys. I walked down to the base of the hill, where the trail we'd first used connected to the lowest part, then crouched down in the rather pathetic cover provided by the thin trees and sumac bushes. "Ann, you cover the steeper trail. Joe, cover me. Make sure they DO NOT gain the hill."

I could hear the rustling of the opposing team running up the trail to my right, and gave an amused grunt. How had Joe heard them that far off? Through the foliage ahead and to my right I could see people coming. I stood, assumed proper rifle-shooting stance, and held my fire as I'd just nearly shot Nate in the third eye as he came towards us at a dead run. "They're right behind us," he gasped. "RIGHT behind us." Nate, Cary, and Mark climbed up to the top of the hill, and sat down, breathing hard. "Alright," I said, "three people per trail. Concentrate your fire, push them back when they come." Already I could hear my brother's team barrelling down the trails on either side of the hill.

Mike, Sam's younger brother was the first to reach the main trail leading onto the hill, CPS 2100 in hand. He grinned when he saw half the team sitting on the ground, and then I walked five snapshots up his chest and into his face. He let loose a stream that splattered on the tree I was next too, and backpedaled out of my range, the black kid I'd shot earlier that day taking his place. We traded shots, me reluctant to use much of my tank on dueling. Behind me I heard spraying and shouting, and when I risked a glance to my left through the underbrush I saw my brother, John, Sam, and Ryan crammed onto the trail we'd used in our retreat. It seemed they were trying to gain the hill. I couldn't blame them, the trail up was small enough to focus all defensive fire directly on target. While I couldn't blame them, I couldn't let them up either. I looked over at Joe, crouched on the other side to the path I was defending, shotguns pointed at the black kid (I still didn't know his name) who had gotten behind some semblence of cover. "They need help on the other trail," I said, "I'll cover this one."

He nodded his assent, then leaned out from behind cover and took a quick shot at my target with each shotgun. Both hits connected, and the kid backed up even further. Joe ran up the hill, and I advanced, shooting quick bursts to back the kid up. Mark, who'd be defending against my brother's attack hung back a few feet behind me, covering my advance. I took about eight feet of trail, when I heard the distinctive snap of hard triggers and a rushing water noise, as well as some muffled sounds of tripping and shouting. I risked a glance backwards. Joe was standing at the top of the incline, blasting away with his 310s, intent on filling the trail-slash-shooting gallery with as much water as possible. He looked mad, and I was suddenly glad I wasn't the one trying to get past him.

A stream of water lanced past me from behind, another one hit me in the gut, and I turned my attention back to the problem at hand. Mike and the kid I didn't know had rejoined forces and were now shooting at me. I looked back to see where the extra shot had come from. Mark had take Joe's cover. I gave a grim smile to no one in particular. I had backup again. Time to get to work.

I stepped out from behind my meager cover, and shot both targets in the face, then stuttered a group of shots in their general direction. They backed up fast, and I shouted for Mark to cover me. We advanced out about ten feet, and he said "Left!" I wheeled and we both shot Sam coming around The Un-named Trail from where the other team had been trying to gain the hill. He was carrying his XL, and loosed a huge spray of water towards us even as he backed up. Mark and I seperated, him moving back, me moving forward, and we avoided the main body of the shot, though we both took slight side hits. I one-handed the nearly empty Pirahna into my backpack, stuck my fingers inside the trigger guards of my MXD 2000s, and flipped them out into my hands. Mark and I both took shots at Sam, who backed up even further, then I pointed one of my guns at Mike and shot him as well. Sam took a couple of hits from Mark's 4100, and took off back down the trail towards their tree fort. Mike and the kid I didn't know followed him at a distance, still trading shots with me and Mark.

I looked around. The trail out it seemed was clear. I looked back over my shoulder. The fighting around the side of the hill had wound down, both sides trading shots through the shrubbery. "C'mon," I shouted. "Let's get out of here!"

I ran point, my team behind me as we dashed down the southern end of The Un-named Trail, heading for E-Street, the trail that'd take us back to our base. We'd made it out onto E-Street, when I heard beeping and the squawk of someone talking on a Motorola, saying something that sounded like "on your left," and my brother burst out of the grass on the southern facing side of E-Street and snapped off a long shot that caught me in the forehead and then tracked over the rest of the group. I ducked, momentarily blinded by the water in my eyes, and turned to run back down the trail. From the amount of water that dripped of my face onto my t-shirt, I figured I'd just been hit with the X's biggest nozzle, 11.5. Before I could really get going, Sam and Ryan charged down the trail we'd just come. Cary shouted "to your right!" and took a shot at Sam with the denozzled 6000 she carried. We backed up slowly, trading shots. I was pretty much out, and didn't have time to refill from the bottles in my pack. We started running, and got back to the original point of ambush, where we'd been attacked for the first time that day, the entrance to the woods.

Apparently they remembered the bottleneck attack Nate had used successfully, because they didn't seem interested in attacking us on the only path leading into the woods. They just hung back and took random shots at us. I wasn't used to sprinting that hard for that long, and between gasps for breath, I managed to say "who's still got some water left?" Cary was half full on both guns, and Joe had about 2 shots left in both shotguns and both pistols. Everyone else was either out or running on fumes. We were pretty wet too, every member of my team having taken a couple solid hits. "Ok," I said when I'd gotten my breath back, "here's how it works. If we leave this area," here I gestured around at the entrance to the woods, "they'll be able to attack us easily. If we don't, they'll attack us eventually, and we still won't have any water. Anyone got any ideas?"

Nobody did.

"Well then, let's run again." I pointed down the trail back to the swamp and we took off.

Craig's team must have found another path, or just run straight through the shrubbery, because Craig and Sam intercepted us half-way there. First I knew of it was a crashing in brush to my left. I swung my pistols in that direction just as Sam came charging out of the woods bordering the trail, and emptied 3 half mist shots right into his center of mass. They'd been thinking strategically, because they started raking my group with fan blast shots, instead of going for single beams. Not very drenching, but 3 of the shots could conceivably soak someone. We scattered to the right, nearly on our home turf. Joe was ahead of me, and as I watched he turned and emptied both shotgun sprays right into my brother's face. He staggered and backed up, then twisted the end of his X and started shooting wildly with a beam nozzle. The rest of my team was in the swamp now, and Joe and I ran towards them. My brother's team turned back at the edge.

12:55 PM


The following takes place between 1:08 PM and 1:30 PM on August 14, 2004

1:08 PM

It was hot under these trees. I didn't know what it was about swamps, or even just this one in particular that made them hotter than the surrounding woods. Perhaps it was just the lack of breeze. I squeezed the Coke bottle, forcing even more water into the tank of my Pirahna. I was holding it vertical, nozzle on the ground, in order to fill the tank as full as possible. One squeeze too many, and water poured out the hole in the end of the tank. I tossed the half empty bottle back into the cooler - the same one I'd dropped into the stream earlier - and screwed the cap back onto the tank. No need to pump, I'd already pumped it, and was just replacing the p/cs worth of water I'd drained. Beside me, Mark also finished filling, and screwed the cap back on his tank. He still had the same grin he'd had earlier today. "That last fight was fun, huh?" he asked. "Oh yeah," I said, "tons."

I hefted the Pirahna, and checked the front of the gun. Apparently the swamp was wetter than I gave it credit for, the end of the pump and bottom of the nozzle selector were covered in mud the same consistancy as Jello. I wiped it off with my hand, and then wondered what to do with the mud now on my hand. Finally I wiped it on the skull on my t-shirt. The skull looked weathered to start with, and I couldn't see how a little more weathering would hurt.

Any dirt would probably get washed off within ten minutes anyway.

I looked at my watch. A little over twenty minutes to go. Not much we could do in that amount of time, but we could give it a shot. I looked over at the rest of my team, sorting through the gun cache we'd left on the ground. "Anybody got any ideas as to what to do next?" I asked.

"Let's go soak 'em!" Mark said with a laugh.

"Well, that's sort of a given."

"We've gone after them every time so far," Cary said, "why don't we let them come to us?"

"Like I said earlier this morning, they won't come back here," I told her. "They hate the swamp, which is why it makes such a great base."

Then an idea hit me with all the force of a point blank 20x shot, and I said "You're brilliant!" To the group: "Pick up the heaviest soakers you can, and let's get going, I'll explain on the way."

Joe got that intense look again, like he was gonna have the time of his life drenching someone, and picked up his contribution to the stockpile, a denozzled 4100. He tilted his head as if considering something, then unslung his 310 shotguns and handed them to his sister. Nate and Mark were already carrying heavy weaponry, a 4100 apiece and Mark had the 3200. Ann set the Storm 2100 down and picked up my SC600 from the stack. "Will this work?"

"It'll work great," I said, "Let's go."

We found the out of the swamp and started jogging. It was getting hotter by the minute, and the tunnel under the leaves was like an oven. "Ok, here's the plan," I told the group, when we got back to the entrance to the clearing. "We do exactly what Cary said." I nodded towards her. "We wait for them to come to us. Precisely what they did to us the first time."

"An ambush," Nate interjected. "Like the cotton-field scene in Patriot."

I laughed and continued, "We passed a little clearing farther back, to the...left." I faced the trail like I was exitting the clearing. "Yeah... left. We're gonna camp in the clearing, and farther back on the trail, then catch them in a crossfire when the come through here." I looked at my team. "Someone needs to run out, get their attention, and lead 'em back. Anybody want to?" An uncomfortable silence followed. "Ok, I will then."

"Nah, I'll go," Mark said.

"Don't do anything fancy," I told him. "Just get their attention and get back here as soon as possible." I checked my watch. "We've only got about fifteen minutes to go, anyway."

He ran off, and I motioned to my group to head back down the trail we'd just come up. When we came to the clearing to the left of the trail, I sent Joe and Cary down the trail farther, then I hid in the brush with Nate and Ann. "So, having fun yet?" I asked.

Nate said "Yeah," and Ann said "I don't like to get wet. Other than that...sure."

"Well, you're gonna get to pay 'em back real soon now," I responded. "They're never gonna expect having their own trick turned against them." I ran crouched out of cover, peered down the trail, and then ran back. "I woulda thought they'd have seen Mark by now."

Speak of the devil.

Less than sixty seconds later, I heard shouting down the trail. Keeping my gun low, so as to keep the bright colors out of sight, I jacked the pump once so I could feel the checkvalve shoot it back into the tank. I didn't want to be caught in my own ambush with anything less than a fully pumped gun. Mark came barrelling past us, Sam, John, Mike, and my brother, ten feet behind him. I stood up and, in a serious breach of everything I'd told my team about water-fighting, held down the trigger as my opponents ran past. John yelled "They're over here!" as me and my two friends systematically shot up the line one person at a time, and then started over. John and Mike retreated around a bend in the trail, shooting at us until they were out of range. I heard a shout from down the trail, Sam bellowing a sentence that began "You little..." and that he never finished, then a gushing noise, and he came running back completely drenched, and nearly colliding with my brother. Behind him, walking slowly up the trail and pumping methodically was Joe, a fierce look on his face. My brother took a shot at him that he sidestepped, and I shot Craig once in the face. He turned towards me, firing, and as I strafed forward and right, Joe closed to within 4 feet and emptied a huge blast from the denozzled 4100 he carried, soaking my brother's entire front. Sam blasted him with a dual Typhoon XL shot, half the shot missing him entirely and flying into the shrubbery. He'd apparently forgetten about Cary though, because she leveled both 310s at him from about 5 feet back and to his side, and let him have it with both barrels. He turned to shoot, and Joe shot him in the face with a half CPS chamber's worth of water. Peripherally I was aware of Nate and Ann trading shots with John and Mike, so I turned back to the entrance to the woods, and started shooting as fast as I could pull the trigger. I divided my fire between the two kids, shooting not to hit, but to deter, to keep them from joining Sam and my brother. Mark joined the fray, holding the 3200 in his left hand and the 4100 in his right, blasting indiscriminately, unleashing 10 and 20x shots at whatever moved. Like me, he didn't seem much interested in actually hitting his target, just hosing down the general area. Not that he didn't hit anything. Mike ran into one of his 20x shots, which left a dark blue stripe across the entire front of his otherwise light blue shirt.

Apparently Sam and my brother had also gotten the worst of the fight, because Craig shouted "Let's get outta here!" and he and Sam ran for the entrance of the woods, John and Mike on their heels. Joe followed them at a sprint, pumping his 4100 a few times between shots. From what I saw, he managed to hit John in the back at least once with about a quarter chamber's worth of water. He turned back at the boundary of the clearing, and walked back to us, grinning ear to ear. "Goin' a little postal on them?" I asked.

He shrugged. "Well, it works, so yeah."

I turned back to my team, my heart pounding, my face dripping from a shot I didn't remember taking. "We got 'em that time, and didn't get too soaked in the process. Good job guys!"

Cary spoke up. "What do we do now?"

"We don't have enough time for another skirmish, unfortunately. Which reminds me." I dropped my backpack on the ground, rummaged through it, and came out with the bagged Motorola. I pulled it out of the bag, twisted the volume knob till it came on, then spoke into it. "You guys know what time it is?'

"static"

I scanned the channels again, and found them on band 7. Once again I asked "Do you know what time it is?"

A voice that sounded like Sam's answered, "Yeah, we'll meet you there." "Click." Their team was notable for brevity it seemed.

I replaced the Motorola, shouldered the pack, and as I stood up, Ann asked "What time is it? Is the fight over?"

"Nope," I replied. "It's half-time!"

1:30 PM


The following takes place between 1:46 PM and 2:10 PM on August 14, 2004

1:46 PM

The yellow paint was ugly. The color was somewhere in between that sickly pastel yellow that little kids use to paint baby chickens on Easter eggs, and the color of urine. Bartell's old color scheme of white and green marble was much better. At least they hadn't changed the counter and ice cream bar. Yet. It was still the same white tile and formica, the majority of the bar being thick glass tile filled with orange neon lights. An awesome setup. I figured they'd have to get rid of that one of these days and replace it with something yellow.

I held the door for Joe and Ann as they came in, and the girl behind the counter smiled and waved at me as we walked into the store. I didn't know her. Everybody at Bartell's knows me though, through my dad, as the majority of the employees were at some point in their lives students of his. I waved back, and checked out the stack of newspapers laying on the hood of the ancient Chevy Suburban that was parked between the furthest right end of the counter and the ice-cream, soda, and pizza display cases.

I had no idea how they fit an ancient pickup truck into the store. It was taller than any of the entrances. One of life's little mysteries, I guessed. The paper held more news about the upcoming golf tournament in southern Wisconsin, and more bickering from the right and left presidential candidates. I was firmly convinced by the full color photo on the front that Kerry should be hosting a morning talk show. I dropped the paper back on the truck, noting that my hair was dripping water that left dark spots on the page. Ann and I were the driest of the group, so we were in charge of getting the food, and Joe had come in because apparently he didn't trust us not to goof up his soda order. "So," I asked, "what are you getting, again?"

"Everything," he said with a straight face, and walked up to the register.

I turned back to Ann, "C'mon, let's get the soda."

We walked over to the display case that held bottled soda, and I tried to recall what everyone had asked for. Joe, in addition to whatever it was he was ordering, wanted a Dew, so I got one out. Nate and I were the only ones to prefer root beer, so I pulled out two of those, the glass bottles clinking as they slid into the two vacated spots. "What did you want?" I asked Ann.

"Let's see..." She studied the rows of bottles, then reached in past me and yanked out a Coke. I tried to remember what Mark and Cary had wanted. Two Sprites I seemed to recall. I handed the Dew to Ann, then grabbed the two bottles. We walked back, set the assorted sodas on the counter, and I said "Just a minute" to the clerk.

We found the candy bar selection on one side of the bed of the pickup, above the back passenger tire. We'd all decided on Mounds Bars for snacks due to convience, since getting 6 different orders of food and drink could get kind of complicated. I brought those back and dropped them on the counter, and fished out the wad of bills from my pocket that I'd transfered from my backpack. It turned out to be a five and five ones, and the bill for the snacks was nine fifty, so I handed them all over. I got a strange look when I asked for the change in dimes.

Joe wandered over, soda in hand, as we were exitting with the bag of snacks, and we all walked back outside, and over to the round, red plastic slash wire mesh picnic table where the rest of my team sat. I set the drinks and candy bars out on the table, and handed everyone a dime back. Everyone had payed for at least part of the food, and everyone was getting some back.

Communism makes life a living hell wherever and whenever the people can be conned into practising it, but it doesn't just suck when your whole team helps pay for snacks, especially when not all can pay the same amount.

As everyone was unwrapping and unscrewing their food and drinks, I asked Joe again what he'd gotten. "Everything," was his reply. "What's everything?" I asked, a little puzzled. He held the paper cup up as though to look through. "Pepsi, Dew, root beer, water, lemonade, and..." he thought for a moment. I decided it wasn't a good thing to put more in your drink than you could remember. "Tea," he said finally. Cary looked over at me. "He always does that." "Where I can," Joe corrected. Mark and Nate both made faces. "Doesn't that taste like crap?!" Nate asked. "Not really," Joe responded. "And I find it contains more caffine than regular soda, which is good."

I sat down, twisted the cap off my root beer, and watched the tan vapor swirl around just inside the neck of the bottle. On second thought I ripped the label off. Tearing the label off is sort of my own tiny protest against drinking laws, since any unlabelled brown bottle is usually thought to contain alcohol. It's always struck me as patently stupid that once I turned eighteen I could vote downright criminals and mental midgets into office, take a driving test without the class, which would certify me to drive a two ton chunk of metal down any street at any speed I wished to drive it without any education, get married without my parent's permission, and buy high caliber longguns, but the people in the capital apparently thought that if I, as an eighteen or nineteen or twenty year old, were to buy a can of beer or a bottle of wine, human civilization would come to a grinding halt or explode or something.

Idiots.

I took a drink, then unwrapped my Mounds bar.

Bar. Bars. Whatever. What do you call a food that comes in two parts, but in one package?

I was about to ask where my brother's team was, since they were about twenty minutes late, but they came walking out of the field behind and to the right of the Bartell's parking lot, to my left. "Aw crap," I muttered under my breath. Mark said "What?" "They've got MORE people." I responded. There were at least three more people with my brother's team than we'd fought against. I asked Nate, who was sitting opposite me, "How many kids do you remember fighting against?"
He counted them off on the fingers of both hands. "Well, Craig obviously. Sam, Mike, my brother...that tall friend of Craig's, and that black kid. Why?" "Check your three o'clock" I said. He turned, and his eyes widened. "I DON'T remember seeing some of them."

Somewhere my brother's team had picked up three more kids. I recognized all of them. A big black kid named Phil that hung out at our house a lot; Sam's cousin, a tall blond sophmore named Sarah; and a short middle school friend of Mike's I remembered from last year's fight. I seemed to recall that he wanted everyone to call him Neo.

"Where do you suppose they were at?" I asked, and instantly cringed. My mom hates it when I use poor grammar.

"Well, I didn't see them anywhere," Mark said.

Nate paused for a moment. "The only place I think they could've been," he said slowly, "is Craig's other fort. They certainly didn't fight against us. Yet."

"Perhaps we should investigate this other fort," Joe interjected.

"No. Fighting by their fort is not something I want to do. Not only can they see us coming from, like, a hundred feet off, but you could injure your ankle in a heartbeat on that ground. Walking on that ground is like..." I searched for the words. "It's like somebody took an egg carton, tipped it upside down, and spread it over a couple hundred square feet. I have a hard enough time walking there, much less running and dodging."

"Not a problem. I've injured every other part of my body, except my ankles. They seem to be unusually strong." The look on his face gave no indication whether he was joking or not.

I saw Sam and Phil heading over towards our table, my brother, Mike, and Sarah turning into Bartell's. The rest of their group gathered at another table about 40-50 feet away from ours, across the main walkway leading into the store. Sam nodded and smiled as he got within a few feet of our table. "How's it goin'?

"Great," I said. "You look a little wetter than you did when the fight started."

He paused a moment before answering, probably thinking over the fact that what I'd said was the understatement of the century, considering he was drenched to the bone. "Well, uh...you guys fought pretty well there."

"You too," I said.

Phil stepped around Sam, fist extended, and I punched it. "What's up bro?"

"Not much. We were just commenting that we didn't see you during the fighting. Where were you?"

Nate stepped into the conversation. "Yeah, did Craig just invite you for snacks or something?"

"Nah, we been sittin' back in the tent, listening to music and eating pizza." He shuddered. "Too many bugs back there."

I grinned. Brilliant, Nate, milk 'em for info. "You gonna be fighting, or just hanging out?"

"Yeah I'll be fightin'! I wanna shoot somebody. Sounds like fun."

At this point my brother emerged from the building, each of his two companions carrying paper bags, and I said "Looks like your food's arrived."

Phil walked back to the other table with a "See ya later" thrown over his shoulder and Sam hung around a little longer. He said "I saw where you stashed your guns on the way up here. I left the 2000 with 'em. Have fun with that." Then he left too. Odd though, he headed across the parking lot. There was a shipping company across the street that led to the Bartell's drive-through, from my perspective, just straight ahead, behind Nate. They had a huge parking lot, and a big warehouse/garage on the otherside of their offices. It looked like that was where Sam was going.

He took a sip of his soda and snickered. "I want just one perfect gut shot. One square hit with it, that's all."

Sam and I bought a CPS 2000 mark 2 off ebay a few years ago. We both had some extra cash to burn that summer, and want to see at least once in our lives, a water gun so powerful that as rumor had it, it had been banned from further production. Through my mom's ebay acount we found one online, outbid a couple people for it, and got it for the relative steal of 80 bucks. It hadn't come with a strap, it was sunbleached nearly white on one side, and the pump had been in such crappy condition that after our first fight with it, I'd had to repair with a heavy bolt I'd nicked from my dad's workroom and about two ounces of JB-Weld. The gun worked fine despite all it had been through, and established tradition held that if we were on seperate teams for a fight, each person got it for half the fight.
"Well, you should like that," I told Joe. "You should be able to hit them from at least fifty feet off without them even knowing you're there." Another established tradition was that Joe, our team sniper got the gun the majority of the time. He wreaked absolute havoc with it.

I unfolded the slightly soggy map from my back pocket and laid it on the table. Everybody craned forward to look at it. "I think I've got a plan that will allow us to hit them hard and unexpectedly. Always a good thing." I traced the sketched-in blue line from the end of The Un-named Trail to the black marker dot of my brother's tree fort with my fingernail, and looked around to make sure no one from the other team was watching or listening. "They don't know about this trail. Joe," I nodded in his direction, "Can get right up behind their fort if he's careful, and snipe up into the treehouse with it."

Mark said, "What're we gonna be doing while he's sharpshooting? Sitting back in the swamp?"

"Attacking their fort from the front and holding back any reinforcements," I responded. "Basically catch them in a pincer movement. Joe sniping from behind, us attacking from the front."

"How come they don't know about the trail?" Joe asked.

I took a long drink of my root beer, and rolled the liquid around my mouth before swallowing. Stewarts doesn't beat Point, Sprecher's, or Dr. McGilicudy's by a long shot, but they make some of the best commonly available root beer around. Not like that A and W stuff, or even Mug. "Because it's not really a trail," I said. "It's more of a barely noticeable path, and I did my best not to attract much attention to it when cutting the trails back here. It's really thick, about three feet high in some spaces. Once you're out of the greenery, you emerge onto this old streambed. It's covered in dead wood and vines and stuff, nearly impassable, but it leads right up behind their fort." Behind Nate, I noticed Sam returning from the shipping company parking lot. Weird.

"Wonderful," Joe muttered, then turned to his sister. "You're coming along. I need someone to hold some more guns." To me: "What do you know about that treehouse? I couldn't get a good look, it was just about covered in tarps."

"Yeah," Ann interjected. "Is that fair? Can they do that?"

"Apparently," I said. "And yeah, I know the treehouse pretty well. I might as well've helped build it, I know it so well. Starting with the ladder, there are a few puny pieces of wood that they nailed into the tree going up a couple of feet. After that, going up to the platform itself there are sort of crossbeams that they nailed on each side of the fork in the tree. Those are quite sturdy, moreso than the lower rungs. The treehouse," I made quotes in the air with two fingers on each hand for treehouse, "is really just a bunch of glorified steps. There's a lower platform, then one about a foot above it on the left, and another abuout two feet above it on the right. Other than that it's just railings and wooden seats. No walls. You should be able to shoot right in."

"What about those walkie talkies?" Mark asked. "It's pretty obvious they've been using them for more than talking to us. Is that fair as well?"

"I think so. I'm not gonna raise any trouble over it, that's for sure. And hey, we've got one too."

Nate grinned. "You're gonna listen in, aren't you?"

I took another long drink of my root beer before responding. "Yup. Why shouldn't I?"

"What's this?" Joe traced a line on the map, leading out of the hills we'd fought on earlier. "What does it mean, 2000?"

"That's a little sniper spot I found," I said. "Completely unknown to the other team, it's got a perfect shot at anyone coming or going on E-Street."

"Ooookkkaaaayyy..." Apparently Joe was getting an idea. I could almost hear the gears turning in his head. "When I've finished hitting their treehouse from the back, I'll go there," he pointed at the "2000" on the map "try and lead them by me on the way back. I think they're probably going to be chasing you guys. I can get in some good hits from there, I think."

"I don't think you're gonna be able to get out, that's the problem," Nate said. "If they come around each side, on both The Un-named Trail AND E-Street, you're gonna be a sitting duck. Jared and I timed it, you need at least 5 seconds to get out of there, closer to ten. They'll see you and close in in no time."

"Just lead them past me. I'll take a few shots, and find you guys later."

2:10 PM


The following takes place between 2:33 PM and 2:58 PM on August 14, 2004

2:33 PM

For the third time that day, we stood at the entrance to the woods. It had gotten hotter out since our first fight. The mercury was predicted to hit seventy five, but I'd bet on it having gone past that mark. It felt like eighty five or ninety. Maybe it was just the clearing. I wiped the sweat from my hairline on my sleeve and remembered for the second time that day that I didn't have one. "Ok guys, half of us are going up The Un-named Trail, the other half are going up Prevea loop. Prevea and it's sidestreets are the key. Our job is to hold those two streets while Joe tears 'em up from behind. With those two open, we won't have any problem getting out. Prevea team is Ann, Nate, and Mark. The Un-named Trail team is me, Joe, and Cary. I'll meet you guys there."

We ran E-Street as a team, splitting off at The Un-named Trail trail. There wasn't much point in secrecy anymore, and I kinda doubted they were able to see us coming on this trail. Where the trail forked next to the two hills, I pointed Joe and Cary down the dead end towards the hidden path they'd use. "Good luck," I said. "You're the one's who are gonna need the luck," Joe responded, then they turned and ducked onto the overgrown path. I went left, climbed the hill we'd defended, and stopped briefly to peer cautiously over the foliage at the top, towards the treehouse. I didn't hear any shooting, shouting, or crashing noises, so I figured neither half-team had been seen yet. That was good. I half slid down the exit trail and ran in a crouch to the nexus of The Un-named Trail and Prevea. I saw people through the shrubbery, snugged my now-filled, pumped, and refilled Pirahna into my shoulder, steadied my aim, stepped smoothly around the corner, and nearly got shot multiple times by half the people on my team. "Why aren't you guys attacking yet?" I asked, more than a little relieved that hadn't been three members of Craig's team.

I was also more than a little relieved that they'd confirmed their target before opening fire.

"We thought we'd wait for you," Nate said.

"Ok, thanks. We need two people to hold this trail from right about here, and two to go attack the fort from the front, keep them occupied. Any volunteers?"

"I'll stay here," Ann said.

Nate said he would too, so after leaving instructions not to let anyone by, Mark and I cautiously edged down the trail to where Joe, Ann, and I had checked our weapons about an hour or two before. I rechecked mine, making sure it was pumped, and behind me, Mark did the same to his 4100. I turned back. "You're gonna need to actually get up on the ladder to hit them with that," I told him.

"Ok. I don't mind getting shot a little."

"Well then, let's go."

I sidestepped out from cover, keeping my gun low and out of sight as much as possible, quickly and quietly moved to the bush that draped over the trail, the one that prevented them from seeing me. I ducked under it, Mark following two steps behind, and started pulsing short shots off the enclosing tarps. I didn't expect to hit anyone, that was just my calling card. Somebody up there, it sounded like John, shouted "they're here again!" and then a 4100 poked out from behind a tarp. It was followed by the top of a head, John's, and I ducked into the blind spot I'd found earlier that day, leaned out of cover, and put a burst right in the 4100 user's third eye. Mark flattened himself against the tree next to me as a 23x blast rained down from above, followed almost comically by two 1x beams.
There were three people up there, and my brother's team couldn't spare harder hitting rifles. That meant it was someone a little more inexperienced at fighting.

Interesting.

"Where are they?!" Sam shouted from above, and Mark and I ducked out from cover long enough to send a volley of cover fire upwards, only Mark's 4x shot pegging Sam in the chest. "Where'd you go, Joe?" I muttered under my breath as we returned to cover and a bewildering assortment of 4100, pistol, and XL shots slammed the grassy hill in front of us. There was a female laugh from above and I guessed it was Sarah with the two pistols. That would make sense. Then she said "what are you shooting a-..."

This was preceded less than a second before by a loud gushing noise from the streambed behind the treehouse, and followed by an even louder splattering from the platform above us. The situation was getting better. They hadn't tarped off the back of the treehouse, and Joe had arrived.

"There's someone behind us! Down there!" Sam bellowed, and I heard the sound of someone racking the 2000's squeaky pump from the streambed behind us. "Where?" John shouted. I grinned and looked around the tree. Mark looked around the other side. I couldn't see anybody back there, but the squeaking noise continued. Then Joe emerged from a tangle of bushes to the left and strafed into the open. He paused long enough for snapshot, the thick stream lancing up into the tree and eliciting a splash and a grunt, and then he was gone again, and the squeaking resumed. The XL and 4100 blasted the bushes where he'd been hiding, and where I'd assumed he'd returned to hiding, but the loud pumping continued without pause.

This was getting funny.

"What do we do now?" Mark asked. He was laughing quietly. Apparently wasn't the only one who thought this was funny too.
"Attack," I said, and we stepped out into the open again. There was an angle between two of the hanging tarps, and I pointed it out to Mark, with instructions to hold his fire until I started shooting. There was another gushing noise from behind us, and this time a choked off half-curse from above. "Where the hell is he?" John shouted. Again the occupants of the treehouse raked the dried up creak with large caliber streams, and again they hit nothing I'd assumed, because the squeaking kept going. I laughed, checked myself, and noiselessly moved around to the side of the hill, taking long strides. Another angle. I waved to Mark, assumed proper rifle-shooting stance, jacked the pump a couple of times to make sure I was at full pressure, and pulled the trigger. I'd moved further down the hill, and I wasn't exactly using a high-powered gun, but my shot took Sam in the back, and he turned around just in time to avoid a shot to the face the diameter of a baseball, that had lanced up from below. As it was, it took him in the back of the head, and jerked him forward a step. The point of the XL in his hands drifted over me and I sidestepped as he shot out the same angle I was using to shoot in. He tracked and the force of the blast blew the bottom of the tarp out into empty space and spilled a sheet of water down the side of the tree. Then another shot linked the ground and the treehouse, and he turned back and started pouring water down behind the fort. Apparently he'd decided a 3-5x nozzle is small fry when dealing with a CPS 2000 and a nozzle that verged on 25-30x.
He forgot that Mark was there too, and 11x is way bigger than anything the Pirahna can kick out. In the few seconds Sam and I had been trading shots, Mark had quietly climbed up a few rungs on tree, and now he hosed down the entire fort and all it's occupants, then jumped back down, and got under cover. I covered the few feet to the top of the hill in three steps, and we ducked into the blindspot, as an 11x beam and a series of staggered pistol shots came down in front of us, and what looked like a veritable hurricane's worth of water flew down behind. Sam had switched from the relatively accurate power of the dual 11 1/2x beams to the area effect coverage of dual Typhoons.

All he got for his trouble were two empty CPS chambers and a hit to the face from a another hurricane's worth of water jetting up from the streambed.
Then, over the sounds of the fight raging around us - shooting and shouting and pumping - I heard another fight going on, about 30 feet away. While I didn't think Sam had risked using the Motorola under battlefield conditions, it seemed my brother had discovered what was going on and had come to his friends' rescue.

Crap.

"Get outta there, Joe!" I shouted. "We're under attack! We're leavin'!"

Joe emerged from a stand of tall grass about 30 feet back, put the 2000 to his shoulder, and pulsed an entire pressure chamber's worth of water up into the treehouse, each shot hitting a it's intended target, either Sam, John, or Sarah. Then he bolted to the right, following the streambed back to where he'd come in. He caught an 11x shot in the back, flinched, staggered forward a step, and kept running.

I turned back, reflexively checking the Pirahna's tank. More than enough.

I hoped.

Mark and I ran off the hill and down the trail, and apparently those we'd been attacking decided to ignore one of the most common rules of war. Never shoot a retreating enemy. We were out of range of the dual Typhoons, and Sam was probably pumping anyway, but those pistols had range, as did John's 4100. We both took a couple of glancing hits, and then we were in the middle of another war zone.

Nate and Ann were crouched on either side of Prevea, about 10 feet in front where it widened out into the Un-Named trail nexus, and split into 2 trails going around an island of greenery. My brother shouted "they've got reinforcem----!" and I cut off that sentence by shooting him in the face. He backed up, collided with Phil who leaned around him and shot Mark with a MXD 3000, wiped his face off, leveled his X at me, and shot me in the gut with the shower nozzle. The entire front of my shirt darkened as it soaked up the water, and I strafed over behind Nate's cover. I pulsed two more shots in the general direction of their team, and shouted to Ann and Mark, who were under cover across the trail, "retreat back to the hills!" Nate and I provided cover fire as they ran across Prevea, sprinted The Un-named Trail, and found the path leading up the hill. I retreated, shooting scattershots to make them back up, and Nate and I backed up slowly to the path leading up the hill. Motion caught my eye to my right, and I looked over to see Joe standing in the middle of the weeds and grass, looking around puzzled like he couldn't find the fight. Then he dropped into a shooters stance, and shot Jake in the side of the head as he ran towards me from behind. Jake was the black guy who'd had the distinctive honor of being the first person I'd shot that day. I shot him too, twice in the gut, once in the arm that held an old-school XP 105, and he turned around and ran back along the trail, towards my brother's slowly advancing forces. Joe sprinted through the grass on a diagonal east, to our left, back towards the other hill, and Nate and I got on top of the hill we'd previously defended that day, in record time.

We'd been on sitting on top of it, pumping furiously, for about 7 seconds when Joe came crashing towards us from the other trail. He waved, said "see ya round" and ducked under a low-hanging branch as he ran towards the sniper nest, a backpack I assumed he'd filled with water bottles bouncing on his back. Cary was a moment behind him, armed with his 310s, and she joined us on the hill.

"Was that fun or what!?" I said to no one in particular, glee evident in my voice, even to me.

Shooting people with high volumes of water does that to me. I get kind of excited.

"That was NOT fun." Ann said loudly, "I'm drenched!"

With the possible exceptions of the treehouse occupants, who'd been on the receiving end of Joe's sharpshooting abilities, it was possible Ann and Nate would the "wettest" award of the day.

Not that we had a "wettest" award, but if we did, they'd have won it. Both were dripping water, their clothes sticking to them.

"Well, this is a WATER fight," I reminded her, putting the emphasis on water. "When we get to the swamp, I've got a few towels in my backpack if anyone wants 'em." I thought a moment. "We should get going. Craig's team isn't gonna hang back forever. Nate, you lead the team through The Un-named Trail, back to the swamp. I'm gonna go around Prevea way and lure my brother past the sniper's nest. Otherwise Joe'll never get a shot at 'em if they follow us out The Un-named."
"Nah." He shook his head. "I'm soaked as it is. I'll lead 'em past Joe."

"Ok. Well, let's move out guys."

Nate walked past me, slipped and slid down the steeper trail, and then disappeared around a bend in the bushes. I pumped my Pirahna a few more times and then headed off the hill going the other way. My team followed, and as soon as we were off the slightly more treacherous terrain between the two hills, we started sprinting. We hit E-Street just as Nate came barrelling around Prevea Loop, several huge blasts of water slamming into the shrubbery as he turned the ninety degree corner. He ran flat out towards us, and we started sprinting for the entrance to the woods.

I glanced back over my shoulder. My brother was in the lead for his team, Neo, Phil, Sam, and Sarah behind him. I couldn't see Joe.

Then again, if I could, he wouldn't be doing his job very effectively.

We gained the cover of the "hallway" going into the woods, just as the back of my brother's line passed the spot where I guessed Joe was hidden. Right as they passed, he stood and took aim, the nozzle of the gun tracking Sarah. His first snapshot took her in the back of the head, the second hitting her between the shoulder blades. His third and fourth slammed Sam in the upper back and hit his side as he turned. He ducked down as they whirled, and even from this far away, I could hear the pumping noise. They had no idea where he was, of course, until he he stood a second time, and walked a heavy line of shots across Phil, Neo, and my brother that knocked them back a step. Sam yelled something incoherent, and barrelled into the shrubbery after him. Then Joe was gone, his movement through the grass and sumac untraceable except for the sound of Sam crashing around the eastern half of the clearing behind him. Then even that stopped, and he came walking out of the weeds about fifty feet down the trail. Their team turned back, and didn't follow us into the woods.

We sprinted down the trail, heading for the swamp, and there was Joe, wiping water from his face, the 2000 and backpack slung over one shoulder, standing in the small clearing where we'd duked it out with four of my brother's team before half time.

"Dang, that was fun!" He said as he flicked water off his hand. "I got my perfect gut shot!" He had a grin the size of a small tectonic faultline on his face, and his entire demeanor radiated extreme excitement.

"Well, let's head back to our base, and get reloaded," I told him, "You can tell us about it on the way."

2:58 PM


The following takes place between 3:03 PM and 3:12 PM on August 14, 2004

3:03 PM

"Uh, we've got a problem," Cary told me, looking up from the cooler where she was busy filling one of Joe's 310 shotguns from a Coke bottle.

"What's the problem?"

"We're out of water."

I thought: Big problem.  I said: "No, we can't be.  That cooler was full this morning."

"See for yourself," she said and stood up slinging the shotgun over her shoulder.  Apparently Joe had loaned them out semi-permenantly in favor of the 2000.

I bent down and looked into the cooler.  "Damn."  I grinned sheepishly, and Mark smirked at me.  The night before I'd filled as many 20oz bottles as would fit in the cooler, then filled it the rest of the space with more water, an efficent transport system, especially when bottles function as ammo magazines and cartridge boxes.  Now the cooler was down to less than an inch of water in the bottom, the surface barely visible under the mountain of empty clear plastic bottles.

I straightened up.  "We've got some hard choices," I announced.  "We can quit fighting..." At this remark, Ann raised her hand.  She was standing about 10 feet away, wringing out her hair and the edges of her clothing with a towel I'd loaned her.  Nate had just finished scrubbing the top of his head with another one of my towels, and his hair stood spikily on end.  He said, "No way."  Joe didn't seem too pleased about the idea either, because he swung the nozzle of the 2000 in my direction and sighted in on the center of my face.  "No."  I edged a  step to the right, and the nozzle followed me every inch of the way.  I swallowed loudly.

"Or," I finished, a little nervously, "We can dig out the loaded pistols in the other cooler, use up what we have in our guns right now, and then use those."

"Take on Craig's team with pistols?" Mark looked at me like I'd grown antlers.  "Are you nuts?"

"Some have thought so," I replied deadpan, then shrugged.  "Those are our only options."

Joe lowered the 2000, then slung it.  "What about that bin full of water by your brother's tent?  That guy," he snapped his fingers a few times and stared off into space for a moment.  "That guy, uh Sam, said we could have some if we wanted it."

Joe was right.  He usually was.  The night before, I'd helped Sam lug about four coolers full of water into the woods, under the cover of darkness, which we'd emptied into an unused garbage can.  He was supposed to be out getting some snacks, and had instead decided to start stocking the fort early.  He'd said we could take some any time we wanted, in exchange for my help.  Sam had repeated that earlier this morning, when both teams had met at the Deerstop to all shake hands and exchange pleasantries before we commenced shooting at each other.

"I don't think they're just going to let us waltz into their camp and start filling our guns at their private tank," I said.  "We'd get shot to pieces before we even knew we'd been spotted, and like I said earlier, I don't want to fight on that terrain."

"And like I said earlier, I don't think it'd be a problem, at least for me.  And what other choice do we have?  It's either quit, or go up against X's and XL's with Storm pistols.  Heck of a choice."

Joe was right, I thought ironically.  He usually was.

"Ok.  So we go after the water.  How do we get it without getting massacred?"

He picked up a stick of the ground, tested the end, kicked some debris on the ground aside, and drew a small circle in the nearly dry mud.  "This is the treehouse."  He drew a circle about a foot and a half below it.  "This is the tent.  Where the water is stored."  He slammed the point into the treehouse a couple of times.  "We've hit this, what, two times?  Three times?  We've never even gone south of the Deerstop."

I nodded.  I had a pretty good idea where he was going with this.

"Unless they're thinking real far ahead, which I doubt they are, they're gonna expect us to hit the treehouse again."

"Maybe," I conceded.

He walked three feet to his right, and drew another small circle.  "This is us.  They can see us coming, so..." He dragged the stick in a wide arc to the tent. "We go through the woods.  With luck, they'll all be by the treehouse, we'll take the water, and get out."

"You're forgetting something," I said.

He frowned.  "What?"

"Well, one, what happens if they aren't all at the treehouse?"

His frown increased in intensity, then turned neutral.  "We're in the woods, they won't know we're there unless we attack."

"And two, getting out onto E-Street alone takes around six minutes from here, only slightly less if we're moving at a dead run.  Do you have any idea how long it'll take us to get there moving through the woods?  At least half an hour!  And I don't even know these woods that good besides the trails here.  We could get lost and come out in the tennis courts back that way."  I gestured downstream.

He frowned at his makeshift map as if glaring at it could reduce the distance we'd have to travel.  Then Ann said "is someone coming?."

I nearly swore again, and shouldered my half full Pirahna, spinning to face the edge of the woods.  In one fluid movement, Joe was standing and sweeping the greenery with the 2000.  "No one there," he said.

"I hear it too," Mark said.  "Someone's talking."

They wouldn't be coming from the north, from the parkinglot, so I jogged through the swamp and scanned the path we'd taken in, when we'd first come.

Nobody.  Nate was fumbling with my backpack, back by the group, and my thoughts clicked like the cocked hammer on a rare CZ 1911 I'd handled once.  I covered the forty feet back in the space of about two breaths, and listened as the Motorola vindicated half of Joe's plan.

Sam speaking: "Where are you guys now?"

Craig speaking, voices in the background: "On the hills.  Next time they come through here, we'll be ready."

A voice I didn't reconize came on the line, then by elimination found it had to be either Neo's or Jake's: "I'm gonna eat the rest of you guys' pizza, you know that, right?"

Sam speaking, laughing: "You're gonna finish a pie and a half by yourself?"

Craig speaking: "John's gonna hurt you if you eat the rest of that.  He paid for most of it."

John speaking: "Don't touch the pizza, Neo."

I'd turned the Motorola to their channel while we'd filled, left it on in case something important was passing through the airwaves.  Very, very carefully, like I was handling triple-break mortar shells before the neighborhood fireworks show, I reached over and clicked it off, then dropped it in the pack.  I didn't have the send button depressed, but really didn't want the opposing team hearing the click of it deactivating and learning that we'd been listening.

"Ok, Joe, as much as I don't like the terrain and the setup, I guess we do it your way.  You're running the show though."

"It'll work."  He seemed confident of that.  Then again, he always seemed confident.

"Load up guys, and let's head out," I said.

Everybody picked up their guns, Nate and Ann hung the towels I'd given them over low hanging branches, and I had a sudden thought.  I went back to the backpack, rummaged around in it till I found what I was looking for, and came out with four things I was pretty sure would come in real useful, real soon.  Three of them went in my left pocket, the fourth went in my right, and on second thought, I pulled my dual MXD pistols out of my leg pockets, set them on cooler, and transferred the fourth item to my right leg pocket.  I didn't want to accidentally start on fire or anything.  The handle of the Endura was pretty rough on the sides.

3:12 PM


The following takes place between 11:00 AM and 11:31 PM on August 14, 2004

11:00 AM

The Hot Pocket pizza was living up to it's name. Definitely deserved the "hot" in it's title. I gulped air, and the fire in my mouth cooled down by a sixth of a degree. There was a creaking of plastic behind and to my right. I turned my head and said something unintelligible as Sam and Craig turned the corner out of the basement stairwell and walked towards the front door, their arms loaded with water guns of varying colors and sizes, more hanging off straps on their shoulders, pistols stuck in their pockets. My brother stopped and imitated my words with a long mumble and a look on his face that was supposedly a mockery of mine but looked more like a Cro-Magnon man.

Brothers.

I swallowed and tried again. "You guys look like you're preparing for war."

"And the fight this afternoon is just gonna be a picnic and a game of hopscotch?" Sam said with a grin.

They headed out the door and I gulped more air.

I heard some talking outside that didn't sound like either of them, and the door opened and Joe's mom stepped it, followed by Joe and Cary. "Hello, " she said, "is anyone home?"

I bolted the rest of the Hot Pocket and stood up as my mom came around the corner out of the den. "Hey there! We were wondering when you'd show up."
Joe and Cary edged around them as they stood in the doorway and talked about the weather and road conditions. They looked about the same as when I'd seen them last Halloween. Cary was a little taller, and Joe had gotten rid of his beard. I waved, and again said something unintelligible. Joe laughed. "What did you just say?"

I chewed furiously, swallowed, and said "Hey man, how's it goin'?"

"Well," Joe responded. "Yourself?"

"Great," I said. "Just a minute."

I ran into the bathroom down the hall, rinsed my mouth out, sent a quick prayer up to heaven that the tooth gods wouldn't smite me with decay, and came back out. "What have you been up to recently?" I asked.

"Trying to put a toothbrush into low earth orbit using leftover fireworks. Can't seem to get it to launch straight though. I think it's because I can't light all the fuses at once."

"That might be it," I said, and we exitted the house through the door to the garage.

"So where are we going?" Cary asked.

"Well, we've gotta go pick up three more team members. They live around the block."

When we got there, I rung Nate's bell, Joe and Cary hanging back a few feet. John answered the door, and I said "Is Nate there?"

Nate pushed around him and stepped out onto the porch, grinning ear to ear. "Hey. So this is the big day, huh?"

"Yeah, ready?"

Mark walked out and leaned against one of the white supporting column that held up the porch roof. "How's it going?"

"Great," I said. "This is Joe, and this is Cary. Joe, Cary, this is Mark."

They all nodded greetings at one another, and I was surprised Mark could even see them. He'd let his hair grow since I'd seen him last, and he had to tilt his head back to look out from under the black hair that hung down over his eyes. I said, "you guys ready to go?"

"We have been since last night." Nate stretched and yawned. "Mark came over and we watched The Patriot and hung out online and checked the guns till morning."

"Did you get any sleep at all last night?" I asked as we walked around his garage and into his backyard.

"Not a bit," Mark said and rubbed his eyes. "We each had six Dews though."

Behind me, Joe laughed. He was probably jealous.

Nate spun the lock on his shed, slammed the bolt back, walked in, and returned with a 4100 in hand, another slung over his shoulder, and two Storm 680s tucked in the leg pockets of his cargo pants. He re-locked the shed, stuck his head in the backdoor of his house and shouted "Dad, we're leaving!" and then we walked across the street to pick up yet another team member.

Ann answered the door and I said "Hi. Guess what day it is?" with a an affected brightness calculated to for optimum humor. She gave me an irritated look and asked Nate, who was standing on the porch next to me, "you're in on this too?" Nate was brimming over with excitement, and I was surprised he wasn't jumping up and down or running around or something. He said "Yup. We've been up since midnight getting ready."

It appeared she was slightly exasperated with him now.

"You coming?" I asked her.

"Do I have to?"

"You did promise to join us on this one, since you've missed the last two."

"Fine." She stretched the word out like she didn't want to be doing this.

I grinned. "It'll be fun, I promise. And we're going to Bartell's for half-time to load up on junkfood. C'mon."

She went back inside, conversed with someone for a moment, and then came back out. "You got a gun?" I asked.

"My dad threw them out three years ago 'cause they didn't work."

"I've got some you can pick from." I said. "Or he does," and I nodded toward Joe. He returned the nod.

I guess that served as a yes.

We walked down the hill, Nate and Mark and Ann talking among themselves, and Joe asked me how we were going to fight in the woods. It was a good question. There was an aborted attempt to have a woods fight the year before, due to heavy rains which produced huge clouds of mosquitos.

"Craig, Sam, and I hacked trails through it." I produced the map from my back pocket. "Everything in white is either weeds or sumac."

"Can you move through the weeds, or is it like last time?"

"Someone could probably get through it," I said.

His next question was "What are the weeds like?"

"Well, it's not not edible and it's not marijuanna. That's about all I know." He laughed at this. "Dang."

"Half of the stuff is grass, the other half is this green stuff, single stem, lots of leaves, grows straight up."

When we reached my house, Joe pulled the back hatch of his family's minivan open, yanked out a green canvas military duffel bag that looked like it'd been through tours of duty in both World Wars, Korea, and possibly The Balkans, and slammed the trunk back down. He set the bag down in the street, pulled the zippers apart and started laying out weaponry. I was surprised the duffel could hold that many guns. Out came a 4100, an XP310 which looked to have had its nozzle selector removed, two MXD 2000s, a Storm 1000, a Storm 750, an old orange XP, and an MXD 6000, the last two he handed to Cary. He ignored the Splashzooka and dime-store guns still in the bag, but fished around in the corners for something. He pulled out a square of white material that looked like it'd been cut from an XXXL tshirt, folded it into a strip, and tied it around his head Rambo style. He returned my quizzical look with a shrug. I said "you're gonna want to ditch the bandanna. It'll get knocked off your head and lost in a minute back in the woods." He shrugged again, tossed it back in the bag, and replaced it in the van.

We all filled our guns at the hose behind my house, laid them out on the driveway, and walked down to Sam's to see if we could help with anything.

"Sure thing," Sam said. "We're just about ready to haul most of our guns back to the woods, if you want to come along and help, there's room in the back of the van."

They'd removed one of the back rows of seats, the front row stacked high with multi-colored soakers, buckets, and backpacks, and we piled into the empty space behind the seats. Sam got in the front, my brother riding shotgun, and we rattled our way down to the farthest back parkinglot by the woods.
We helped them unload the van, and carry the stuff into the woods. There was a trail straight ahead from the parking lot and it's access road, that back to Bartell's, and Mainstreet hooked into it about a quarter or a third up it's length.

It was already getting hot in there. The mercury had to be past 75 already outside, I couldn't guess at the temperature inside the woods. Birds chirped and dove in and out of the grass, squirrels scampered up trunks as we passed, and wind riffled the leaves on the tops of the trees. A nice day for a fight.

Despite all the nice weather and smooth sailing so far, I was kind of nervous. I'd seen two promising fights go south real fast, two years in a row. There was a little squirming feeling in the back of my head that made me doubt this one would be any different. I pushed it even farther back in my mind.

Sam stopped the march at the Deerstop. "This is as far as you go right now."

"Ok." I set the gear down, and the rest of my team did likewise.

"You need any help carting your stuff back here," Craig asked.

"Nah, I think we can handle it." I looked back at my team. "Right?"

"Right," Mark said.

"Right," Nate said.

"Right," Cary said.

Joe just shrugged.

"I think we've got it." I told Sam and Craig.

"No problem," Sam said. They turned to go, and he turned back for a moment. "Remember, you can use that water you helped bring in last night, ok. It's back by the tent where we left it."

"Gotcha."

"We're gonna be back here for a while, do you need a ride back?"

I looked back at my team again. No one said anything, so I said "No, we'll walk back and then we'll haul our stuff in. Thanks for the offer."

I called "Sam!" as he walked away.

"Yeah?"

"Try and make sure this fight doesn't turn ugly, ok? And make sure Craig tries too?"

He gave me a thumbs up and walked down the path.

11:31 AM


The following takes place between 3:17 PM and 3:43 PM on August 14, 2004

3:17 PM

"I swear, I did NOT know these trails were here."

"Lucky for us, they are here," Joe told me.

Right off the the left side of E-Street, about 10 feet down from where it entered the woods, we'd found a natural trail. About twenty feet wide, it was a cathedral hall of rather stunted maple trees, with thick sumac on the clearing side, and thick green undergrowth on the forest side. I couldn't tell if the clearing was trying to overtake the woods, or the woods the clearing. The floor the trail was covered in thick yellowish grass, and I could tell not only from the direction we were walking, but from the gradual roughening of the terrain, that we were heading towards my brother's base. The ground became more and more uneven as we walked, a random, but increasingingly numerous series of small hills and potholes, only about 6 inches to a foot deep scattered all throughout the trail, making it difficult to keep one's balance unless one walked directly on the tops of the little hills.

A few minutes more of walking and the trail dead-ended in a clump of grass about 5 feet tall, and about 6 feet square. Through the stalks I could see the blue and grey fabric of the tent about 5 feet back from the grass. Joe took point, moving almost into the grass. He waited a moment, and slowly stood, then immediately ducked back down. We heard the crunch of footsteps, and a shadow moved across the grass in front of us. Apparently Neo was walking some kind of patrol around the tent. Joe motioned for me and Nate to come forward.

"As soon as he passes again, and moves around the front of the tent, we're going to strike."

Joe was semi-officially in command of this attack, the whole thing having been his idea. I didn't mind. I didn't like ordering my friends around all the time, it made me uncomfortable.

We waited for him to make another circuit of the tent, then at the first moment he had his back to us, Joe quietly moved forward through the grass, the nozzle of the 2000 tracking his shadow across the tent, Nate and I following. He'd turned around the left side, and was crossing in front of the tent when Joe swiftly and silently moved up behind him, and grabbed the tank of the old-school XP Triple Charge Neo held Uzi-style in front of him. Neo's reflexes were quite good for his age, without hesitation he spun to his left, bringing the gun up to shoot Joe in the chest.

He couldn't shoot of course, because in turning, he'd left the tank in Joe's right hand.

He wouldn't have wanted to even if he could've, because Joe's left hand held the 2000 rock steady an inch from his left eye.

"You're outgunned and outnumbered," Joe said flatly. "Relinquish your weapon."

Neo looked down at the now-empty Triple Charge like it had betrayed him and then handed it over to Joe, who passed it to me, along with the tank. "Do you have a walkie-talkie with you?" he said in the same unemotional voice.

Neo pulled a Motorola out of his pocket and handed that over as well. Joe clipped it to the edge of the rainflap, and then motioned him into the tent. "You can't do this," Neo said.

"It appears we already have."

From behind me: "All your supplies now belong to the Continental Army."

I turned and gave Nate a mock glare. "The Patriot stuff is getting kinda old."

He shrugged and grinned.

Joe motioned the rest of the gang out of the woods, and while he and Cary guarded the tent, myself, Nate, Mark, and Ann filled and overcharged our guns, then filled the coke bottles we'd brought along in backpacks. We had two bottles to go when the Motorola attached to the tent announced some very bad news.
A voice that sounded like my brother's said, "Neo, you there? We're coming back, it doesn't look like they're gonna show. John's team is still hanging out on E-Street, if Jared's team is around here, they'll have to go past him. Is he down by you?"

Two strides took me to the tent, and I pulled the Motorola from the rainflap. "Hey bro."

Silence, then coldly: "What are you doing on this line?" This was accompanied by the sound of creaking plastic and stomping feet.

"Hanging out with Neo. Eating pizza. Preparing a cold, wet welcome for you."

"You can't d-..." I hung up on him for a change.

"Let's go guys," I told the group, "they're gonna be here any minute."

"What about the cold wet welcome you promised Craig?" Joe asked.

"I just said that so he'd take his time coming in here, he knows this place sucks to attack as much as I do." I thought for a moment, and then pulled from my pockets the smoke bombs and matches I'd taken from my backpack earlier.

Joe's eyes lit up. "Are those what I think they are?"

"If you think they're smoke bombs, yes, they are what you think they are. You do the honors, pitch one far, two close."

I could see my brother's team about 150 feet away, coming out through the sumac bottleneck Nate had defended earlier. When they hit the edge of the field in front of the tent, spread out and stopped for a moment, obviously checking weapons and looking for my team.

Joe took the smoke bombs and matches from me, found a rough looking rock projecting from the rather lumpy terrain, and struck the match off it. He lit the smoke bomb, and tossed the cylinder end over end with effortless accuracy about seventy five feet away. He did the same with the other two, dropping them both at about fifty feet. The smoke wasn't impenetrable, more like a thick fog, and I could see the opposing team advancing through it, slowly, ready for a trap. They were about a hundred feet out, Sam in the lead, Phil to his left about ten feet, my brother behind them.

Nate, Ann, and Mark turned to head into the forest, back through the trail we'd taken to get here, and I said "Change of plans. We head left, on to Mainstreet. Cut through the brush." We ran left, through the grass heading for Mainstreet, and I realized Joe wasn't with us. I turned back, and Cary was right behind me, sans the 310s she'd been carrying. "Where's Joe?" I asked.

"He said he was going to stay, keep the other team occupied till we'd gotten out." Then she ran past me.

I ran crouched back through the brush till I could see Joe and the battlefield again. He knelt in the grass just ahead of the tent, aiming the 2000 downfield into the smoke, Cary's 310s slung over each shoulder. "C'mon!" I called. "Get moving!"

He tilted his head to the right, sighted down the handle and barrel of the gun, and the nozzle came up a fraction. "You get going," he said with his usual calm, "I'll meet up with you guys later." Then he pulled the trigger. A short burst of water lanced out, and just emerging from the smoke screen, Sam took it in the shoulder and twisted with the blast. Joe rose and ran, shooting, pumping, choosing a new target, shooting again. I got to my feet and headed to help him when Sam got within XL range and shot him, both Typhoon nozzles creating a momentary cloud of water. But Joe wasn't in front of him anymore. He'd slung the 2000 and now swung the 310s forward on their straps, spinning to Sam's left to avoid the deluge. He brought the 310s up and held them both at arms length as he ran between Sam and Phil and shot both of them in the side of the head in passing. My brother closed to fifteen feet and shot him with the X, an 11.5x blast striping across him, and Joe leveled both 310s, one above the other, and put two entire pressure chambers in Craig's torso. Then he disappeared into the smoke.

The whole attack had taken him less than fifteen seconds, and I figured he didn't need my help, so I ran to catch up with the rest of my team, as the three opposing team members scattered through the fog in an attempt to find him.

I caught up with them on Stumpy. They were hiding in a clump of sumac we'd cut through, on the curve farthest away from and out of sight of the tent. Mark nearly shot me with his now filled 3200 as I approached from the south. "Where's Joe?"

"He said he'll be meeting up with us later," I said. "We've got to get the water back to camp."

"I heard the walkie-talkie," Nate told me. "They're waiting for us along E-Street. Depending on how far in they are, even if we take the trail we used to get here, they'll still catch up with us. And we can't run too fast right now." He shrugged the backpack full of ammo around on his shoulders to emphasize the point.
"This could be a problem." I thought about it and couldn't figure any way out. "What do we know?" I asked my team.

Ann raised her hand. "They've got at least nine people. They've split into at least three groups, one of which is in our way, one is hunting us. Joe. Whoever. And we can't get back to our base."

I pulled the map out of my back pocket and tried coming up with a plan of attack. Nate moved to my side and I could tell he was trying to puzzle a game plan into existence as well. We had no way of knowing where John's division was, or where my brother was. We couldn't very well stay here and wait for them to find us though.

I folded the map up and put it away. "We can't stay here. They'll find us eventually, and this path will become a trap. Maybe we can break through John's line." I started walking north along the path, heading for Promontary Point, my team following behind.

I turned the corner, and something cold, wet, and hard pressed into my head behind my left ear. "Yoohoo... I'll make you famous."

Joe. The Young Guns series was for him what The Patriot was for Nate.

I turned. "How did you get here?"

He was standing in our line of march, having come out of the shrubbery to my left. He was soaked in a few spots, breathing hard like he'd just stopped running, and he had that manic look again, the one he always tried to control during fights. He put the gun back in his cargo pocket and wiped water off his face. "Dag that was fun!" His voice trailed off, then: "I led them away from you guys, but was stupid enough to run right into their E-Street line. Your brother's group joined up with them, and they're just waiting for us to waltz right into their trap. We have no choice but to go through them and they know it."

"So what do we do?" Mark asked.

"We could fight our way through, which would blow bigtime. Or we could try and go around them, the same way we got here."

"Or," I interjected, "we could distract them long enough to get them off the path." A plan formed in my head. "Joe, I want you to lead the team back through that natural trail we used earlier, the one we didn't know about, go back almost as far as E-Street and wait for the opposing team to leave."

"Why aren't you coming?" Nate asked me.

"Because I'm going to be chasing them all over the woods. I'll lead them away from the ambush point, and you guys can go right on through. Does anybody have a CPS 4100 without a nozzle?"

Ann had taken one from the cache, and I traded her my Pirahna.

"Thanks," I said. "You guys get going, it'll take some time to get there. Remember, wait for them to leave before going back to the base. Don't wait up for me, I'll lose them at the first chance and get back there ASAP. And STAY there! Don't come back for me."

They headed south, and I ran north, hit Promontary point, and took Mainstreet to the Deerstop without running into any opposition. I crouched down in the dead, flattened grass, and tried to make myself invisible to the treehouse as I crouch-walked to Prevea. I got behind some sumac, stood, and started jogging. I made it as far as my brother's original ambush point - the one he'd used in the very first skirmish - before I saw the opposing team. John, Ryan, Sam's brother Mike, my brother, and Phil, all deep in the woods down the trail. I couldn't just run up and start shooting, not in a bottleneck like that.

Time to get creative.

I tightened the strap on the 4100 so it wouldn't flap around much, then took two fast steps into the weeds across the trail. I was pretty sure I was in the treehouse's line of sight, so I crouched and ran as quick as possible into the woods. I wasn't following a path, so I had to squeeze myself between and under the skinny trees and branches. Once inside, it opened up a little. The edge of the woods was still filled with four foot high grass in addition to the trees, and I was able to move right up to their line without anyone noticing. I had a short-ranged gun, but I didn't want to get too close to their line because they'd either see me and shoot, or start shooting blindly into the woods in the case they couldn't see me.

Then again, I didn't stand much of a chance either way. That was why I was here. To present so vulnerable a target that they'd vacate the area to chase me. Sort of like taking on the 23rd infantry with a shotgun. Then I remembered the weight at the small of my back, the holdout that I'd carried so long today I'd forgotten about it. Okay, a shotgun and a Beretta .32 Tomcat. Still, no fun for me.

Well, why wait. Time to get the show on the road.

I backed further into the undergrowth, took careful aim at John's back, and quickly pulled the trigger, draining about a fourth of the pressure chamber, then brought the gun down below the level of the grass. The 4100 spat a cloud of water that slammed into John with a splatter. He whirled, and I thought for a moment they'd see me. I was about six feet away from them, probably less, and there were at least five people there. Then again, I was dressed in colors that more or less matched my surroundings, olive green and black, and I was crouched in four feet of grass.

"Who shot me?!" John exclaimed.

Like I was going to stand up and raise my hand. Yeah right John.

"What?" My brother's voice was loud, close by. I couldn't see him through the grass. Sounds of people talking low and moving around through the woods. I guessed the other three were spreading out in a rough half circle to my left, deeper into the woods. Not what I wanted.

"Somebody shot me in the back! See?"

"John, there's nobody there."

"What, bucketloads of water just appear out of thin air? You can see I got shot."

I stood up and the confusion and puzzlement on my brother's face as he realized he was wrong was nearly worth the two 11x beams that drilled me one second after I emptied another quarter of a p/c into his face.

I took off.

I stumbled, staggered, and did my best to half run through the tangle in front of me as I took of to my right - out of the woods. At least the growth at the edge of the trail to my left deflected most of the shots coming at me. Most of them lanced through the leaves either behind me or were too scattered to hit me with anything more than a handful of drops. I cleared the woods about the same time all five of them did, me standing in the grass wondering where the heck to go now, them shooting.

Cold hard hits to my left side and back, and I took off right. Straight through the sea of grass, aiming for the streambed Joe had done his sniping from. Apparently they'd learned their lesson about areas they hadn't scouted out yet, taught courtesy of Joe, the 2000, and a smoke cloud. They held back not knowing if I was leading them into an ambush, and I plowed straight through, aiming for another of the ubiquituous clumps of sumac. There were mounds and mounds of it ahead and left, forest behind the sumac ahead, and also on my right, that I'd just run out of. I went to ground in a clump of sumac that I though wasn't far from the second hill - the one we hadn't defended. If I was right, the streambed was behind me.

I sat in the middle of the clump, sticks and stalks and stems forming a woody cage around me. I faced the direction they'd come from if they found me, south. I pumped the 4100 and took stock of the hits I'd taken, and tried to slow my breathing down. I'd gotten hit at least a dozen times in the side and back, twice to my stomach or chest. Mostly grazes and small arms hits, but the two in front and a few others were bigger stuff, 10x and up. My t-shirt was pretty well soaked through.

I sat for a minute or two before I realized I had to get going. "Well, can't sit here all day." I said to no one in particular. Then I thought "who am I kidding?" Joe had probably gotten the team through the enemy line that was now hunting me, I couldn't go back that way, and if the opposing team got fed up with hunting me, they'd return to guarding the entrance to the woods and maybe catch up with my retreating team. Obviously I couldn't attack them head on. My original plan had been to divert their attention long enough to get Joe and co. through and then follow the streambed back to the Prevea parkinglot and head south from there back to the swamp. Had to distract their team even longer without being suicidal about it, figuratively of course. How to get their attention without actually engaging them in combat...

An idea popped into my head that was wonderous in both its stupidity, audacity, and without being self-contradicting, brilliance, and it was, by coincidence, just what I was looking for.

I slung the 4100 by my side, within easy reach, then stepped out of my floral hiding place, left, into the sea of grass. The opposing team was combing the grass and surrounding areas, looking for me, they hadn't gotten this deep into the field. "Hey guys, I'm over here!" I waved my hands like I was bringing in an F-18. "Over here!" From far away I heard something like "is he nuts?" and then the five opposing team members were charging towards me, again. I ran, again.
Straight north, and I hit a denser patch of woods behind the sumac. I pushed through it, ducking under and around whipping branches, and found myself in the proverbial sunlit glen. Green low growing ferns and thistles on the ground, sunlight lancing down through a break in the trees, and the streambed dead ahead. I leaped over a parallel stream that was still a little active, and took the dead one straight to the impass Joe had come up against earlier in the day. Well, it wasn't an impass exactly, you could pass through it if you didn't mind doing contortions, or were a little on the small side. I weaseled my way through the brush and deadwood jammed between two oak trees, and broke through the forest wall to my left. I was probably 25-30 feet off the northernmost branch of The Un-named Trail about where Joe had shot Jake as he'd come running after me.

This was the part of the plan where things got dicey. Craig's platoon or whatever those five called themselves would've lost me by now, and would be returning to guard the entrance to the woods. They wouldn't be catching up with my team as they retreated, they'd spent too much time chasing me.

Now though, I was in the same spot my team had been in. Five guys standing, again, between me and freedom.

Or home.

My base.

Whatever.

My plan had been to attack the treehouse with enough force and enthusiasm that Sam or whoever was up there would call in the cavalry, freeing the forest entrance, and I'd make a clean getaway while my brother's five were en route. That was the stupid and adacious part.

I hit the trail, and took it back to the nexus at a sprint, and suddenly realized, as I crouched down out of the treehouse's sight, there was a flaw the size of Bartell's Chevy Suburban in my plan.

My gun wouldn't reach the treehouse.

I was used to using nozzled guns, soakers that had some range on them. While a denozzled 4100 excelled at close quarters combat, especially in this kind of terrain, there was no way I could pull the same "stand in the blind spot and occasionally come out to shoot" trick that I'd used twice before. Out of frustration I punched the ground, and immediately regretted it. Ok, what to do now. I risked a glance over the slightly swaying weeds at the treehouse. I couldn't take them on with my backup, that didn't have enough range either. I could climb the ladder up and start spraying into the tarps, but that didn't seem like a good idea either. They'd know I was coming in a big hurry. Even though my primary objective was to get them to divert my brother's team away from my escape route, I still wanted to hit them hard. I suddenly realized that I might be able to jump up the ladder high enough that I could shoot in. Stupid, but it could work, especially if they didn't know I was coming. I glanced up again and gauged the ladder's height. Have to hit it at the first or second crossbeams, not one of the little footholds. Try to grab on to one of those, and I'd be in a world of hurt. Duck soup as my dad would say. The second viable rung was nine feet of ground, or thereabouts. I was about five eight, I could probably jump two feet, so that'd put at least the bottom two crossbeams within my reach.

I hoped.

"Ok, let's give it a shot," I said to myself, and sprinted for the hill at the base of the treehouse.

About half way up the hill, I realized there was the possibility that I could get seriously hurt here. If I either missed the tree itself or missed either of the two rungs I was aiming for, I'd fall about ten feet down the back of the hill, into my brother's pile of discarded treehouse lumber, or I'd slam into the tree itself and look danged dumb as I fell the same route and probably break some bones. However momentum was such that I couldn't slow down at this point without bringing about the exact same conclusion.

Step.

Step.

The words "Darwin Award" imprinted themselves in my head.

Jump.

I slammed into the tree, with enough force to nearly knock my breath out of me, and grabbed for the rung above my head. I hung there for a moment by my left hand, then managed to get my feet against one of the small wooden rungs that comprised the first five to six feet of the ladder. Above me, Sam pushed the tarp out and looked down. "Hi," I said. He waved, and pointed the XL down at me.

I was surprised I wasn't blown off the tree.

An entire hurricane's worth of water descended at high velocity over me. Fortunately, he couldn't point it straight down, and I wasn't completely doused. As it was, it soaked my t-shirt through and momentarily blinded me. That was ok. I didn't need to see very well for what I was going to do next. I dropped my right shoulder down and the strap of the 4100 slid off, falling towards the bottom of the hill about fifteen or so feet below. I caught the handle as it fell past my leg, and swung the gun above my head. Sarah pushed another tarp aside to take a shot at me with the dual MXD 2000s, and I held the trigger down and waved the blast over the entire inside of the treehouse. Sam had been drying off from the soaking we'd given him before half-time, and he got further soaked. I drenched Sarah too. They both sort of backed up, but there was no place to go up there, so I emptied the entire chamber on them. The 4100 ran out, and Sam started jacking the pump on the XL again, and it occurred to me that maybe this wasn't the best place to be. I was only a few feet off the top of the hill, so I let go with my left hand, and pushed off with my feet. I did a little turning jump in the air, and didn't realize there was a downside to my plan till that downside yanked my balance out from under me as soon as I hit the ground.

That would be the downside of the hill.

I landed off balance on the rather steep incline and half fell, half rolled down to level ground. I came to a stop on my side with my head in a bunch of weeds. Fun. Pistol shots and some staggered XL 5x beams rained around me, and I staggered to my feet and took off to my right, away from the treehouse, through the undergrowth. I heard the beep of the Motorola behind me as Sam called for reinforcements, something about me turning kamikaze, and I could've grinned. I just had to stay out of their way for a little while longer. There was another hill back here, further west on about the same latitude as the treehouse, that only I knew about. Perhaps I could wait them out there.

I dodged branches, jumped over declivities, and turned along the deer path I thought I remembered leading to the hill. I scrambled up to the top and crouched there. No sounds of pursuit, so far. At least, none I could hear over my own breathing and the thudding in my ears. I pumped the 4100, and tried to calm my breathing. My entire torso was sore from slamming into the tree and the very pronounced two by fours going up it, and I winced as I stood. Ow. I was pretty sure I was gonna regret this when I woke up the next day, and made a mental note to take a few Tylenol before bed tonight. I slung the strap for the 4100 over my shoulder and neck, and immediately regretted it. Crashing sounded in the brush to my left, the way I'd come. I yanked the pistol out from its homemade holster, and checked the tightness of the trigger. Fully pumped. This was probably going to be my best weapon. They weren't gonna get within the denozzled 4100's range, and that gun was nearly out anyway.

I had to move soon.

I ran straight ahead, through the brush and weeds and grass. A glance to my left showed my brother, Phil, Sarah, and John about thirty feet away. I still ran south, but angled east as well, hoping to hit Dead End Loop.

I hit it alright, the opposing team fifteen feet behind and shooting at my back. From the angle of the path, I figured I'd hit the outside edge, and I ran south back to the Deerstop, from there I took Prevea loop to where it connected with E-Street. I stopped there. I'd never gotten a good breathe back on the hill, and sprinting wasn't helping.

The four behind me stopped as the weed walls rose up on either side of the trail, and while trying to maintain their own meager cover provided by angles of the trail, tried to shoot into my meager cover. They were pretty successful, several shots connected, and what didn't splattered all over the trail anyway. I brought the pistol up from where I'd been holding it against my side, brought my hands together in the thumbs forward shooting grip, and returned fire.
Unless you've spent tons of time practicing, a pistol, even a soaker, isn't the most accurate weapon in the world. The only reason for my high percentage of hits against Sam back at the hill before halftime had been proximity - he'd been within six feet of my position. Now I was shooting at targets up to fifteen feet away, both them and me moving and trying to find cover. I figured that I'd gotten three good shots for one full load of pressure. I pressed my back into the weeds, pumped, and leaned out from my pitiful cover and fired one-handed, and evaluated my running ability. I was still sore from slamming into the tree, but I'd gotten a bit of my breath back. I turned and bolted down E-Street.

I heard the three behind me start running as well, but I'd gotten my second wind, and maintained a good lead. At the treeline, they slowed down a bit, and I heard a few beeps as someone activated their walkie talkie, but didn't catch what they said. Instead of taking the trail, I just angled through the scrubby trees straight towards base, ducking and dodging the branches that whipped in my direction. My pursuers were, I guessed, about seventy five to one hundred feet behind me now.

Much better. And I wasn't getting shot at, which was good.

I came out onto the trail south of the swamp, the one we'd hauled supplies up earlier that morning, and slowed my pace down to a jog. I didn't figure the opposing team for hitting the swamp, and on top of that, I didn't think I could run much farther. My lungs were on fire and my throat felt like a desert. I slowed again, down to a walk, as I neared our base, and every water gun in the place swung towards me. I raised my hands in the universal "don't shoot" sign and said "I'm back."
"What were you doing?" Nate asked. "You've been gone like...I don't know, a long time. Did you run into some heavy fighting back there? You look soaked."
"Oh yeah." I set the Queen down on one of the two coolers, leaned against a tree, and tried to catch my breath. "Ran into three of 'em back there. They wouldn't give up. They probably returned to base." I ran my eyes over the forest wall in the rotating Z pattern that I'd heard was the military practice when looking for snipers. Way back in the woods, I thought I saw some movement. Probably my pursuers taking the trail out to return to base.

I looked back at my friends when I noticed the rather uncomfortable silence. "What?"

"Just three of them?" Mark sounded quizzical.

"Yeah, why?"

"We were listening in on their communications again," Joe said. "From what it sounds like, they're all coming here. One last huge attack."

I straightened up and pushed off of the tree. "No way! They hate it back here." I unslung the 4100, walked over to the now partially restocked cooler, and began filling it. "Are you sure you heard right?"

"We're pretty sure."

"Great. Just great." I topped off the tank, spun the cap closed, and started pumping. "Are all the guns filled?"

"Just about," Cary said. "We couldn't take all of 'em to the tent, so we just filled those that we thought we'd need, and a few from the bottles we filled as well."

"That's good." I finished pumping, set the 41

0 aside, and started pouring water into the Queen. Probably wouldn't need a full load on the 4100 anyway. "So what's their ETA?"

"We intercepted the call about three minutes ago," Nate told me. "Figure they should get here within the next five."

3:43 PM


The following takes place between 3:44 PM and 3:52 PM on August 14th, 2004

3:44 PM

I looked around for good defensive positions. I knew they'd be coming from either straight ahead, or from the south, too much trouble to come from the north. There were a three big dead oaks in the middle of the wetlands area, surrounded by downed branches, and logs of varying thickness. As good cover as we'd find anywhere in the swamp.

Nate and Mark were already carrying weapons and supplies behind the cover supplied by the three trees. Apparently they'd had the same idea I did.

"Anybody got my Pirahna?" I asked. Ann handed it over, she was carrying it as backup for her SC 600, and I leaned the denozzled 4100 up against one of the trees. She and I lugged the cooler of pistols behind the make-shift cover, and then Joe took off at a sprint into the woods. "Hey," I called, "Where you goin'?" He held his arm out behind him with the index finger raised, the universal "one minute" sign, then disappeared further into the foliage. I walked a circuit of the swamp, holding my Pirahna loosely by my side. As I approached the southern trail, Joe came bounding out of the woods at a speed I could barely match and he looked like he could maintain easily. "They're coming," he said.

"From where?"

"I figure they'll cut right through the forest into the middle of the swamp. Funny thing though. They're not all there."

"What? I thought you said they were all coming for one last big fight."

"I thought so, but I just went to spy on them, and your brother, Mike, and Phil are missing in action."

I scratched my chin in puzzlement. "You don't suppose they're back at one of the forts, do you? Or coming in from north or south?"

He shrugged. "You got me."

"This keeps getting weirder and weirder."

We walked back to the middle, to the make-shift fortification behind the dead trees, and I'd just picked up the Queen from the top of a cooler when we heard running. I turned, stuck the Queen in my pocket, and brought the Pirahna up into shooting position. Beside me, Joe reached casually down, picked up the denozzled 4100, slung it, and then turned and sighted down the barrel of the 2000. Sam and Ryan were in the lead, about seventy five feet away, Sarah, Neo, Jake, and John behind them. "I'll take the two in front," Joe said, and squinted down length of the barrel. Ryan broke from the tree line first, about forty feet away, and Joe squeezed off a shot at him. He must've seen it coming though, because he strafed right, and Neo took the shot in the center of his torso. Joe jacked the pump twice, swivelled, and took dead on shots at an already soaked Sam and Sarah in quick succession as they ran left. The six members of the opposing team spread out along the edge of the swamp, Ryan, Neo, and Jake ranging from south to center, Sam, John, and Sarah from center to north, closing in. At a range of about thirty feet they stopped and all looked at Sam like "ok, what do we do now?" Sam held his XL up by the side of his head with one hand and waved at me.

"All this time, you didn't think we'd attack the swamp. Surprised now?"

"Incredibly," I said with a straight face. "Where's the rest of the gang?"

"They had some business to attend to. You should be happy about that, the teams are evenly matched now."

Cary walked up on Joe's left side, and leveled the MXD 6000 at Jake, the crook of her left arm stabilizing her aim.

"Or not," Sam said.

I glanced back at my team. Nate, Ann, and Mark all had guns trained on leftmost group, leaning out from the cover provided by the dead trees. I returned my attention to the situation before me, and saw Joe now had the muzzle of the 2000 trained on Ryan. Obviously uncomfortable with being that close to such a big nozzle, Ryan stepped left, the bright orange muzzle following him every step of the way. I had a pretty good idea what Joe was doing. Herd people together, get them to present a bigger target, and then maybe someone'd let them have it with a denozzled weapon.

"You got a move to make?" I asked Sam. "My arm's gettin' kinda tired holding this gun up all the time."

He smiled and canted his head slightly to one side. "As you wish." His XL came down, the pump slapping into his palm, the nozzles pointing momentarily at the ground. Beside me, Joe snapped his aim right, and shot Sam in the face, then whipped the 4100 up and hosed the entire group. Sam's head jerked back from the 20x shot, he rubbed furiously at his eyes, and Cary pulsed a series of shots up Ryan's chest. The noose tightened around the center of the swamp, and John and Sarah charged towards the barricade. I turned, tracked, and sent a shot splattering off each of them before Neo's Triple Charge darkened a small patch just below my shoulder and I turned back and shot him three times in the chest. I pumped furiously while running forward about ten feet, spun a hundred and eighty, and walked a line down Ryan's back. He turned, and a long distance burst from Ann's 600 slapped the side of his head. To the north, Nate, Mark, and Ann were dodging concerted fire from John and Sarah, shooting back accurately enough to make their attackers dodge, ducking out from behind cover to long enough to take some decent shots. Joe bolted south across my line of vision, Jake and Ryan chasing after him, Cary hot on their heels and blasting them with her 6000 and old-school XP. I decided Nate and company needed my help most, and ran towards them, pumping as I ran. I jumped a tangle of downed branches, stepped up on a log that looked like a fallen oak trunk, and strafed to my left, taking snapshots at John and Sarah as I passed. They turned to shot my, and concerted fire from Nate, Mark, and Ann struck them and divided their attention to the point where they didn't know who to shoot. I was pretty sure Sam had gotten the water out of his eyes by now, and I turned to look for him. He was fifteen feet away on my left, and as I spun to take aim, the point of his XL drifted over me and one of two 11.5x streams struck me full in the side. I ran forward a few feet and jumped to my right, off the log. I spun and crouched as I hit the ground and winced when I twisted. I'd hit that tree harder than I thought. I wasn't gonna go there though; I had to focus on the battle right then and there. I took two quick shots at the backs of John's and Sarah's heads, rose, and strafed left, towards them, stutter-shooting at Sam ten feet away on the other side of the log. He dodged most of the shots, but caught the 20x blast from the 3200 Mark had leveled at him square in the chest. Sarah and John scrambled over the log and I joined my friends behind the cover of the trees.

"Know where Joe and Cary are?" I asked, a little breathless.

Nate pointed. "Making complete fools out of Neo, Ryan, and that other guy. Look."

I looked.

About fifty feet to the south, Joe ran from his three pursuers, all of whom looked a bit more drenched than when I'd seen them last, about two minutes ago. As I watched, he stopped running, turned, and gut-shot Ryan as he closed to within fifteen feet. Ryan skidded to a stop and let loose a snapshot with his 2100. Joe leaned right, the stream of water hissed past his ear, and Cary stepped from behind a tree, 6000 in one hand, Joe's denozzled 4100 in the other, the sling wrapped around her upper arm and stabilizing her one handed grip. The 6000 clacked out a handful of shots at Ryan's back, and an almost flamethrower-like wave of water sprayed over Jake and Neo as they passed. Then Joe was off again, breaking right and shooting at the two who now started spraying his sister. Uncannily accurate as always, he slammed two short 2000 blast apiece into Jake's and Ryan's backs, then hit treeline and barrelled into the woods as all three opponents turned towards him.

I was thinking how comical it was to three people get their hats handed to them by one guy when an 8.5x bolt from John's 4100 passed within six inches of my face - close enough for the spray coming off it to gently mist my face - and interrupted my mid-battle musings. Ann was the first to turn and shoot, and she darkened a 1x line on his shirt from shoulder to hip with her 600. Nate dodged around one of the trees, bright orange tank of my Storm 2500 snugged into his shoulder, and worked the pistol grip pump as fast as he could, a series of short range 5x blasts splattering off the log his brother and Sarah were shooting from behind.

I took the other side of the tree, fired towards Sam, and was rewarded with a rather anemic beam that quickly dissapated into mist. I dropped the Pirahna as gently as I could into a tangle of wilted looking grass to my left, yanked the Queen from my pocket, flipped the MXD 2000 from my left cargo pocket to my palm with a flick of my wrist, and charged, pulling the triggers as fast as my index fingers could possibly twitch. I had to hand it to Sam. A guy pounding towards him, a pistol extended in each hand, both splattering water off his chest and shoulders, and he calmly raised the XL and shot me in the stomach with a combined 23x from both barrels. He held down the trigger too, and I stepped out of the stream diagonally, ahead and left, and as he swivelled to track me, Mark hit him square in the side of the head with the smallest stream nozzle on his 4100. Sam held down the trigger, but brought his pump hand up to his ear and shook his head a few times. I kept shooting as the dual 11.5x beams carved furrows in the soft dirt, then fizzled out altogether. Sam, still shaking his head, shouted "RETREAT!!! Head for the fall-back position!"

I don't think he'd have needed to repeat his order twice. John and Sarah were pinned down by concerted fire from Ann and Nate, and Joe had pretty thoroughly humiliated anyone opponent who fancied taking a shot at either him or his sister, the two of them working as a single team, drenching whoever crossed in front of their nozzles. My brother's team, wet, out of ammo, and looking a more than a little defeated pulled back to the treeline and started jogging up the path.
"Awesome!" I high-fived Nate and Mark. "We beat 'em!"

"Is the fight over?" Ann asked.

"I hope not," Joe said, walking towards us from the southern end of the swamp. He looked a little bedraggled and he'd gotten shot a few times, but then again, so did, and so had the rest of us. To me: "Have any idea where the 'fall-back position' is?"

"Ya got me. I figured it'd be the tent area, though I'm pretty sure they refer to that as 'Front Yard.'"

He mulled this over for a while. "Are we going to pursue?"

"Yeah, let's," Mark said.

Ann: "Let's get out of here. You guys beat them."

"You helped."

I walked over to the cooler that contained our extra pistols, flicked open my Spyderco, and slashed the twine that tied the lid on. I pulled the lid off, pushed some of the pistols inside around until I found the two I was looking for, and grabbed them out. My Storm 1200 in my left hand, Storm 800 in my right. I turned back to the group. "Let's load up, go find them, and take them on one last time. This'll be the last skirmish, I promise."

"Yes!" Nate was excited. I think he was enjoying this. When everybody looked at him a little strange, he shrugged. "We have 'em on the run. Why not press it a little?"

I retrieved my backpack and Pirahna while everybody was loading guns from the dwindling supply of water, and waited for my turn in line at the cooler. We WERE going to press it a little.

3:52 PM


The following takes place between 3:59 PM and 4:21 PM on August 14, 2004

3:59 PM

I was pretty sure they were gonna hear us coming. We were running at a sprint through the trail we'd found when were going to attack the tent and raid supplies, and we were closing in fast on their base. If they were on guard for an attack even a little, we'd meet some pretty big nozzles coming in, and a lot more behind them when reinforcements arrived.

We hit the clump of grass behind the tent, and instead of hiding and observing any guards, we just swept in, Joe in the lead, holding his CPS 2000 like an M-16, sweeping right, Cary covering him from two steps behind with the 310s. Mark and I took the left side of the tent, and nearly got shot by Joe as we turned to the front. I stuck my Storm 1200 under my right arm, made a V-hand at my eyes which I pointed at the tent door, then mimed a rifle, and exaggerated half loop in the air like I was unzipping the tent door. Mark understood, and move to the right side of the tent, I stayed on the left. I held up three fingers, folded them down one by one into a fist, then stooped and unzipped the door, fast. Mark swung around in front of the door and swept the interior of the tent with the nozzle of his 3200. No one. I knew nobody had exitted the tent because I would've heard them, and Nate and Ann would've shot them. There was nobody here. I ducked into the tent and looked around. The radio was off, and half a pizza sat in a box on the folding table. Both chairs were folded against one nylon wall. The Motorola we'd left at the tent was gone, as was any trace of water-fighting equipment. They'd been gone for a while I figured.

Cary looked into the tent. "Where is everybody?"

"That's the million dollar question. Got any lifelines we can use?"

I walked out of the tent and looked around. The treehouse, that was it. I walked left into the field of grass, and Nate followed. "What are you doing?"

"Checking to see if anybody's in the treehouse," I answered. There was a hill of sumac in the way - the same one that made up the bottleneck Nate had defended early in the game - but if I jumped , I could just make out the treehouse over the top of it. It looked deserted. I didn't know why. They could've been hiding behind tarps, but I didn't think so. Then it hit me. The tarps were still there, but the weapons and buckets of water hanging off the crossbeams and railings by their straps and handles were gone.

"Let's go!" I shouted, and took off for Mainstreet and the treehouse, my Pirahna banging against my back through the backpack.

We hit the treehouse area at a dead run, and combed through it quickly. Again, nobody. Joe even went down onto the streambed and hunted through the foliage and clumps of brush. He came back without anything to report either. "Where'd they go?" Mark asked me.

"To their 'fall-back position,'" Joe told him.

Nate: "Where do you think that is?"

I wracked my memory for any clues I could think of. Nothing. Neither my brother or Sam, the two bigshots on that team, had given any indication that they'd planned to have any more than two forts. Heck, I'd helped build or set up both bases. Sam... Something was niggling in the back of my brain, something not right. There was a connection there. "You got me..." My voice trailed off, and I got it. "The parking lot."

"Huh?" Ann said.

"The parking lot," I told Nate. "Remember during half-time when they all came out of the woods?"

"Yeah...." He said slowly.

"Remember when Sam told us about leaving the 2000 and then left?"

"Across the street!" Mark was excited, he'd gotten it as soon as I said 'parking lot.' He went behind the building across the street!"

"There's a garage slash warehouse slash parking lot back there," I said. "They're hiding back there. Probably have Sam's vehicles loaded up with bottles of water parked behind the offices. We walked right past 'em, they woulda been on our left as we went to Bartell's, and on our right as we walked back into the woods.
Ann: "No way. You think a business is just gonna let a bunch of kids have a water fight in their garage or parking lot?

"It's a Saturday. No cars, no customers, there weren't even cars for employees to be there. The place is empty."

"It's worth a shot," Nate told her.

We jogged Prevea and took Mainstreet back to the path we'd used earlier that day to help the opposing team haul supplies in. Left went back to the parking lot, right went to Bartell's. We went right.

Fifty feet up the trail, we jumped a small, sluggishly flowing stream, that went through a sewer system under the clearing, and wound up peetering out in the stream south of the swamp we used for a base. I never did understand why there was a sewer or drainage system under the clearing, but there was. Two huge manhole tubes, like sockets set into the earth, were evidence of that, one back beside the deerpath I'd used to escape after I took on the treehouse singlehandedly, and another was one or two dozen feet off the bottom of Mainstreet. There was also a couple hundred feet of small cement tubing channelling the water into the swamp if you followed the stream back far enough.

More jogging brought us to the clearing where we'd stashed our guns before half time. Formerly a hangout for those dang potsmokers my parents were afraid of, the clearing was full of firepits now being used as garbage dumps for whatever it was people took back here to dump. Bedsprings, shipping pallets, a paintball gun box, all soaking in about a foot of water from the last rain in the 3 foot deep holes that pockmarked the clearing. Past the clearing the forest thinned, lots of small scrubby trees under huge shady oaks, line of sight for a hundred feet at least.

We took a right in front of a downed tree that blocked the path, and a few minutes more brought us to the trail behind Bartell's. The trail opened up into a pretty big clearing, dominated by two things. One was a dead tree in the middle of the clearing, covered in the now rotting wood of an aborted, decades old treehouse. The other thing dominating the clearing was a huge, nearly vertical wall over dirt. Back when Bartell's was first constructed, they must've run out of places to put the dirt they'd bulldozed to construct it. I was pretty sure that was the origin of the huge dirt mounds back here. They ran west to east from behind the shipping company next door almost to the Prevea doctor's offices we'd named a few of our trails after. The hills also extended, in some places, north for almost sixty feet. Outside the shade of the forest, scrubby pines and wilty grass covered them, but back here it was just loose brown dirt. Steep enough that you had to take a running start to get up the grade, treacherous that you'd lose your footing a third of the time and have to start over, and high enough that you'd have a nearly perfect field of fire over the clearing in front of them, they were the perfect place for an ambush.

If you were at the top of the hills, this was a killzone.

My mind registered this about a quarter second before someone, or a handful of someones, opened fire on us from the top of the hill. I shouted "Take cover!" just as the beams started hissing through the air and splattering off us and the ground. I sprinted for the base of the hill, confident that nobody up there was going to venture out from cover long enough to point their gun nearly straight down over the edge. Nearly everybody else tried to get behind the tree, which, obviously, wasn't going to provide cover for five people. Joe, Cary, and Mark ran for the cover of the base of the hill, one or two dozen feet away from my position. I couldn't hear what they said, but after a hurried conference, they started crouch running east along the base of the hills. I lost sight of them in a stand of pine that bisected the hill range a hundred or so feet away. Some serious fire was coming down from above me, keeping us pinned at our various positions around the clearing. I pulled back each index finger to check the tightness of the triggers on the pistols I held, then backed up about fifteen feet and strafed left, alternating shots from my left and right hand guns. Somebody on top of the hills raised their head and started tracking my progress with a big-nozzled gun laying in the grass. Shooting prone, I thought. Good trick, stabilizes the aim. I aimed for the nozzle and unleashed probably a dozen stutter shots from each soaker before I ran out of pressure in the Storm 1200. I held it down by my side, ran for the base of the hills again, blasting away with the 800, and took a 5x or larger bolt in the center of mass just before I got in under his range. I leaned my back against the hill, stuck one gun under my arm, and pumped the other, then switched guns. In the clearing before me, Nate was strafing left and right shooting at the top of the hill with his 4100 and dodging return fire, and Ann was trying to arc the 1x stream of the SC 600 she was using up over the hill. The range was pathetic, even at an angle.

Above me there was a splash, a hiss, a few more splashes, a cut off "HEY!!!" and then the sound of running feet. Fire from above stopped. I backed up, keeping both guns trained on the ridge above me. Joe appeared at the top, and waved at us to come up like he was conducting traffic. Instantly I figured out what he'd done. Knowing there was going to be a minimum of shooters on the hill, he'd taken a small group around the edge of the ridge, snuck back through the hills, and chased the shooter/s off. I made a running scramble up the hill, and was followed a few moments later by Ann and Nate. John was running across the shipping company's parking lot, and rounded the corner of their main offices, out of our sight. "Nice going," I told Joe. "He had us pinned down for a while."

"I've been back here with you guys before, he said. "I knew that not only was this a likely spot for an ambush, but the approximate way of countering it."

"Cool. Well, let's go."

We jumped from hill to hill, working our way down to flat terrain, and jogged over to the building where we figured the opposing team had set up their redoubt. The building was a greyish brown brick, with darker grey brown trim, one story if you didn't count the two or three story garage that rose out of the ground on the other side of the offices. The whole complex was shaped like an "L" someone had rotated one hundred and eighty degrees. Across the parking lot, along the left side of the garage, right side if you were looking at it from the street, ran a chainlink fence. I was guessing whatever fortifications my brother had prepared were in the space between the chainlink fence and offices, with the garage doors at their backs. "I'll go first," Mark said, and we followed him at a distance until we were within a few feet of the corner of the building. Mark edged forward, and quickly peeked around the edge, into the corner of the "L." He pulled his head back. "Yeah, they're back there alright. Have fun trying to attack that." I traded places with him, and took my own quick look at the setup.

I was impressed.

Parking Lot Map


Sam's car was parked sideways across the mouth of the alley that led to the garage, his van parked perpendicular to it a dozen feet back. Sam lay on the roof of his van, sweeping left to right with the dual barrels of his XL. Several kids were behind the van, the rest either providing covering from between stacks of shipping pallets piled along the sides of the building and the chest high cement loading dock which was haphazardly piled with the ubiquituous pallets, or walking some kind of patrol between the van and the car. I pulled back before I was noticed, and let Joe take a look. He gave a low, appreciative whistle. "And I thought the hills were a great ambush spot. Check out how the ground slopes down to the doors down there, Sam's got a perfect vantage point from the top of the van."

"He's on top of his VAN?" Ann asked, incredulous.

We both nodded. "Quite a good lookout post," Joe said straight-faced.

"So what do you think of this?" I asked my team. "We go in and use the car for cover. Try and drive them back, then work our way over to those shipping flats, use those for cover, and catch 'em in a crossfire."

"Could work," Nate said. "They'll use the car for cover too though, which could present a problem. And Sam's got the drop on us from the van. We're gonna have to move fast."

"This'll be close quarters combat, of course we'll be moving fast," I told him. "And I think we probably have the edge in CQC with our denozzled guns, and some of the heavier stuff, like Mark's 3200."

Mark held the the rifle up like he was the Terminator and grinned, then his grin turned puzzled-looking. "What's 'CQC?'"

"Close Quarters Combat."

He smacked himself in head with his free hand. "Duh."

"Ann, you've got pistols and can shoot a really long time with that 600. Would you mind providing cover fire for us from behind the car." I added for her benefit, "You probably won't get as wet doing that as you would attack with us, though you can do that if you want."

"I can can cover you guys."

"Ok then. Shall we make a run for the car?"

We got down behind the driver's side doors and tires just as the shooting started. Sam really did have the drop on us. Crouched behind the car, he couldn't hit us directly, but we were catching some serious splash damage from his shooting at the car roof and the pavement in front of us. Streams of water flying over the trunk and hood from shooters along the sides of the alley, my brother and Sam shouting commands and directions from a few yards behind us,
I sensed, rather than saw, movement behind the car, and turned as I rose to fire over the trunk. Joe was already shooting, his purple and green Storm 1000 tracking Neo as he ran towards us. Neo got behind the back passenger tire, knelt and sprayed us under the car with his Triple Charge. Then Joe dropped down on our side of the car and shot Neo three times in the face. Neo got up and bolted for the cover provided by one of the stacks of shipping pallets and John's random spraying with a 4100, while the nozzle of the 1000 tracked him every step, loosing short sharp bolts of water into his back as fast as Joe could pull the trigger. To my right, up by the hood, Nate crouched and sprayed wildly at another of the stacks, trying to pin Jake behind it. Between him and me, Mark and Ann were trading shots over the hood with Ryan, Craig, and Phil. Water rained down on me from the roof of the car, and I stood just tall enough to take a few shots at Sam with my 800 and 1200. None of them connected, but I got him to back up as far as he could on the roof of his van to avoid the blasts.

"We're pinned back here," Cary called over to me, past Joe. The firing intensified and Joe moved as far left as he could with the trunk providing cover. "I'm gonna make a break," he said, "I'll take the left side of the alley. You guys take the right, ok?" Nate nodded from up by the hood. "Just say when."

"Ann, can you provide cover for us?" I asked.

"Sure."

"On the count of three then. Joe, you'll probably need this more than I will." I pulled my holdout pistol from my pocket and pitched it to him.

4:21 PM


The following takes place between 4:56 PM and 5:09 PM on August 14th, 2004

4:56

WHAM!!!
Somebody shoulder-checked me in the gut as they ran past and I went down like an elbowed soccer player in a Get Fuzzy comic. Ow.

"How many points are we ahead NOW?!!!" my brother crowed from between the two oaks that made up his endzone in my backyard. "Too many," I said wearily as Mark grabbed my hand and hauled me to my feet.

"Don't kill your brother!" my mom called from the deck. "No blood no foul!" Craig called back, and my mom and Joe's mom laughed.

I walked slowly to the deck just as Slash ripped into another incendiary solo in Paradise City. Joe grimaced and turned the volume knob so far to the left on the CD player that Slash became almost inaudible. "Save any of that root beer for me?" I asked Joe. "Yeah, there's some left," he said around a mouthful of brownie. Out in the backyard, Craig shook his fist at Joe and shouted "Don't make me come turn that up on my own!" Joe grunted and went back for anothe brownie as my brother came bounding up the three steps onto the deck and reached for the volume. I walked back to the picnic table and loaded a chip up with dip, ate it, then poured some Point into a styrofoam cup.

"Are they too far ahead?" Joe's mom asked me from a chair next to the railing.

"No," I said. "It's too violent."

She and my mom both laughed, then went back to whatever they were talking about, and shouting errupted on the other end of the backyard. Ann ran over the boundry line between the right side of my yard and my neighbor's, narrowly evading John, then stopped and pitched the football at my brother. "Touchdown!!!"
"Yeah, how far ahead are you now?" Mark shouted.

"Snack break!" my brother announced, and he, John, Sam, Mike, and Jake, their entire team, jogged to the deck.

"Your team's making a comeback," Craig told me, "You should think about going back out there."

"Not if I'm gonna get sucker punched when I'm on defense."

"Can't make any promises." He grinned and bit off a Honda sized chunk of brownie.

"You guys are getting your a...butts handed to you out there," Sam said. "Can't quit now."

Phil punched my shoulder. "Need an extra player?"

"I might not play again," Craig announced. "I might just sit and eat these all day. He gestured with his brownie in the direction of the moms sitting by the railing. "Who made these, they're excellent?"

"I did, and thank you," Joe's mom said.

"I think I'm just gonna take the rest home with me," Mark said and lifted the pan off the table.

Jake stepped in his way, and they all laughed. I went and sat down on the steps in front of the CD player. Sound waves from Live And Let Die slammed into the back of my head. I grinned and looked back at my friends laughing and joking around the picnic table. Despite the happiness, I felt kind of...sad. I couldn't help but think this would be the last time we'd do this. The teams were breaking up, the inevitable attrition of age, college, jobs, and distance wearing the groups down.
I'd be in college next year, and holding down a job. I kinda hoped so at any rate. John and Nate's parents had put their house up for sale earlier this summer and were expecting to move across town by winter. Sam intended to seek an ROTC scholarship to a college in Daytona Beach, Florida, where, he assured us, the parties were excellent, and we could fly down for spring break. Joe was moving even farther south in Wisconsin than his current two hour trip to pursue a music major next year.

We'd always had friends who hung around for a fight or two, and then moved on. Orlando, Kelly, Kevin, Lydia, Mutty, Mitchell, another girl named Ann... people came and unfortunately went. This time though, people weren't coming and going. They were just going. The teams weren't just splintering, coming back together, growing, evolving, they were ending. With all of the current team members gathered around the picnic table, eating and drinking less than twenty feet away, it seemed unreal that we'd never all be together like this again.

Unimaginable.

Just plain weird.

Well, it'd been a heck of a way to end the five year tradition of water wars. Go out it a blaze of glory and all that. It'd been a great way to end the teams.
It occurred to me that while I was sitting here with my morbid thoughts of splintering teams and things that weren't going to happen again, my friends were laughing and having a fun time. I got up, walked over to the table, drank the rest of my Point, and knocked the football out of the crook of my brother's arm. He grabbed for it, and I snatched it from the air. "Let's even those scores a little, huh?"

"When I'm done eating."

"So," I said, walking over to where some of the members of my former team were clustered together, talking. "What are teams?"

5:09 PM


The following takes place between 4:21 PM and 4:39 PM on August 14th, 2004

4:21 PM

Joe's hand shot out and snatched the pistol from the air. He checked to make sure it was pumped, then shoved it in his pocket and turned to his sister. "Cover me."

I tensed, and I could see everybody over by the hood readying to run too. Joe moved fast to his right, shooting continuously at the staggered stacks of pallets from behind which Neo and John, stutter-shooting with the 1000. Cary followed him, moving for one of the shorter stacks of pallets, conserving her fire. I strafed along Joe's path, guns pointed towards Sam, alternating snap shots from each pistol. He quit shooting, and rolled to his right, almost off the left side of his van, away from the shots. I wouldn't have thought my pistols would have that much effect, till I saw Ann shooting at him from behind the trunk. Across the alley, Nate and Mark had taken cover behind the front of the van and another stack of pallets, and had a bunch of kids caught in a crossfire. My brother, Phil, and Mike at least. Ryan came around the back of the van, and I tracked my fire across him, shooting for the face to back him up. He backed up, and I heard a crunch of wood to my right. Joe had stepped up on one of the shorter pallets. He climbed on to a taller one in front of him, perhaps five more stacks of that height in front of him, Neo and John shooting from the seven or so feet of space between the alcove and the loading dock. Joe twisted, shooting for Sam who had grabbed his XL and was easing himself off the passenger side of the van. Ryan rounded the back of the vehicle again, Joe pulled the holdout pistol I'd given him, and alternated his shooting at Sam with shooting at Ryan. Cary ran left in front of me, heading to help Nate and Mark.

I felt a hard stream of water impact my right arm and chest, and I backpedalled till I was back by the car. I set my Storms on the trunk, pulled out the Pirahna, and returned fire at John. My shots splattered all over the side of the side of the pallets, and he stayed behind cover, even as I strafed to my left and got him in my sights. I started shooting, and his return fire had slightly less range and was followed by a short spurt of mist. I was pretty sure he was running out of water. I shifted my focus to Neo, who seemed to have no shortage of water, as he opened fire on my general vicinity with abandon. I retreated to the front of the van, firing around the driver's side towards the two opponents behind cover.

Movement up and right caught my eye. Joe was running along the tops of the stacks of pallets, which wobbled underfoot. At the end though he didn't stop and shoot down, as I expected he would. He jumped. Landing on the shipping dock, he turned and started shooting, alternating snapshots from each pistol. John fired, a mostly mist shot, that Joe ducked, and shouted "I'm out!" Joe shifted his aim to Neo and blasted him with both barrels while John set his gun down, wandered over to the van, and leaned up against the back doors and watched.

I edged along the massive grill of the van, leaned out of cover, and took aim at the group Nate and company had in a crossfire. Mike was the first to take a 3x Pirahna shot to the third eye. I shifted aim and walked a line up my brother's shirt, finished with three shots to the face. I spun back behind the van, pumped furiously, then turned back to the fight. John was out of the fight, so that left Sam, Neo, my brother, Mike, Ryan, Phil, Jake, and Sarah, if I was counting right. As the thought crossed my mind, Sam's XL spat two huge clouds of water in my general vicinity, I turned back behind the corner of the van as the clouds splattered off the front panel in a tornado of water, and slammed into Neo as he came around from the other side. He was drenched. I brought the Pirahna up in rifle shooting stance and he said "Don't shoot! I'm out!" I pointed the soaker at his forehead. "Back around the van, by John. Now." He backed up, hands in the air. I wondered, briefly, where his gun was. I didn't put it past Joe to take the tank out again, or just take the gun.

I turned around the corner again and lit Sam up, a random, vaguely circular pattern of shots to the torso and face that backed him up. Shifting aim and keeping my eyes on where my front sight would be if I had one, I splattered a few snapshots off Ryan and Sarah who were hiding behind a stack of pallets.
In my mind, I mapped out the battlefield. The van was half a dozen or so feet from the edge of the loading dock, which was a car's width away from the chain link fence. This alley was blocked by wooden crates and pallets though, no escape through there. Stacks of pallets leaned against the fence, providing cover for the opposing team. The van was parked in by the Cadillac which was parked perpendicular across the loading area. Ryan and Sarah were behind the stack of pallets furthest back, Sam dodging in and out of their cover. Craig and Phil were hanging around the back of the van, probably behind the cover of the back doors, out of the north-to-south line of fire, and unable to be attacked from a left flanking position because of the proximity of the van to the fence. Jake and Mike were behind another, closer stack of pallets along the fence. Basically, we had the opposing team boxed in. They couldn't go backwards or left. Right was dangerous because of Joe, Cary, and potentially me. Forward they had Ann, Mark, Nate, and me again to deal with. I was pretty sure Craig knew all this too. What worried me was what he'd do about it. One or more heavy weapons users could conceivably turn the tables if they rushed us.

Through the van's windshield and out the back window I saw Joe creeping along the edge of the loading dock in a crouch, pistols low but ready. Around the back of the van I heard John shout for Craig, and Joe straightened, launching into motion. As he streaked further down the length of the dock, I swung out from the cover of the van's front panel and spread out some suppressing fire in the general direction of Sam, his cousin, and Ryan. Behind me Nate and Mark were mercilessly pounding Jake and Mike's position with shots from their 4100s, working in shifts so they didn't have to let up even when pumping. Ann was picking off random targets within her range, usually Craig and Sam when he stood in one place for more than a second.

My brother unleashed a long burst from his X at Joe, who stopped short, stutter-stepped, watched the beam of water splatter harmlessly off the metal garage door on his right, and took off again, blasting away at Ryan and Sarah's position with both pistols. From behind a stack of pallets, Cary provided cover fire at Sam and Phil, hammering them with succesive shots from a 310 shotgun. I realized I wasn't shooting, and stitched a line up my brother's back as he drew a bead on Joe. Sarah shrieked as Joe targeted her with both pistols, drenching whatever dry spots were left on her from when I had singlehandedly attacked the treehouse. She darted out of cover, heading for the right side of the loading dock, and got shot in the side of the head by Cary. Joe ducked behind a stack of pallets, remained behind them long enough to pump his pistols back up to power, and then leaned out to take a handful of shots at Ryan, the big Storm 1000 filling his hand like a Desert Eagle. I followed up my previous shots at my brother with a few more, and he turned his back on the two enemies who'd flanked his team from the north. Joining Ryan behind the pallet stack, he pumped, then, dodging and weaving, sprinted straight towards me and the rest of my team behind the car.
Front sight, shoot, front sight, shoot, front sight, shoot, I put three shots in his chest and face, then shifted a yard left. He fired at my previous position with the watering-can nozzle, tracked as I shot again, and momentarily blinded me with a wall of water that drenched my face and shirt. Behind me someone shouted "Duck!" There wasn't an Aflac insurance sales-animal in the vicinity, so I dropped to one knee on the pavement, brought my Pirahna up to firing position and blindly let loose three more shots towards where I thought Craig would be. Over the hood of the car I heard four medium length hisses, mist muzzle blast spraying over my head as Nate and Mark shot through the space I'd been, then the sound of pumping. I wiped my eyes with the back of my hand, and saw, blurrily, my brother pinned to the back of the van by Ann's persistant face-shooting with the SC 600. He wasn't getting his bearings with a constant in-the-face stream, and I shifted my attention left. I spun in a crouch to blast Mike and Jake, who discovered cover was great until someone flanked the open side, and they moved out onto the field, shooting streams that looked like they were running on fumes. My brother followed them into the middle of the fray, apparently having driven Ann back down behind the Cadillac with return fire.

Sam unleashed a hurricane of water with the XL at the small stack of boxes Joe was hiding behind, the cloud completely enveloping his cover and probably soaking him. Joe stood, looking angry, and returned fire with the 1000 while Sam pumped furiously. The 1000 finally gave out a weak trickle followed by mist, and Joe dropped it on the pallet in front of him. He vaulted over the edge of the dock, dropping into a crouch as two beams of water, one from Phil and one from Ryan, blew into the concrete wall behind him and over his head. He raised his hands, an obvious signal, and Cary tossed both 310s to him, which he caught by the blue under-barrel. He chucked them both into the air, catching them by the grips as they came down, swivelled, and fired a shot from each at Ryan. Ann, Mark, and Nate had tracked the fleeing Mike and Jake across the small battlefield and were now blasting the area indiscriminately, the streams that didn't hit Jake or Mike almost guaranteed to hit other opponents in the rather enclosed space. I straightened, shot Sam in the back of the head, and strafed over the other side of the stack of pallets Jake and Mike had been using for cover, keeping my Pirahna trained on the action at all time, pumping as fast and smooth as posible. Joe ran through the middle of the fight, arms and guns crossed in front of his chest, blasting Sam and my brother as he passed, then spun, extended both soakers out in front of him, and layed down cover fire as he took cover behind the grill of the van, where I had been a minute or so ago.

The guns were silent for a moment. Sam was standing back by the now-thoroughly-drenched Ryan, twisting the nozzles on the front of his XL. The closest stacks of pallets had been abandoned as cover, and Jake, Mike, my brother, and Phil were trying to figure out where to go that they wouldn't be in the crossfire from us and the well-entrenched Cary.

"You want to give up now, or do we fight till everybody's out of water?" I called to Craig. "Might I remind you that at least two people on your team are armed with pistols only?"

"Yeah, yeah, just give us a minute to talk it over." He turned to Sam, mumbled something, and then motioned Phil over.

"Might I also remind you that some has two guns on you RIGHT now?" Joe added.

Cary looked out from behind the stack of pallets, one of Joe's 2000s pointed around the edge, the orange nozzle looking like it was centered on Craig's forehead.

"So how are we doing for water?" I asked my team. Everybody had full pressure chambers, but little left in the tank. I retrieved my pistols from the car trunk, pumped them back up to pressure, and slung the Pirahna.

"They're gonna try something," Nate said. "Surrendering wouldn't take this long. At least it doesn't in the movies."

"Jake and Mike are nearly out," Mark told me. "Sam looks like he's down to one nozzle, probably his smallest, and Craig can't have much left either. Phil and that tall kid are both using pistols, they won't be a problem."

Ann: "Yeah, but that XL and X might. You're forgetting we're down nearly as much as they are."

I smirked. "You're really getting into this, aren't you?"

"I just don't want to get soaked again."

Across the car hood and pavement, Phil slowly edged around the back of the van, out of view, past Neo who I could see leaning against the back of the van. Sam and Craig kept talking, but they shifted subtly, bringing previously slung or shouldered soakers down to semi-ready status in the most inconspicuous way possible.

I ducked down behind the driver's window and leaned my back against the door. "Yeah, they're goin' for it. Phil's going right, coming along the driver's side of the van. My guess is Craig an Sam are rushing us. Don't about the other three." I twisted and peered through the two front windows of the Cadillac. Sam covertly glanced at the car, didn't see anyone watching, and accepted the offered 2100 from his brother Mike. "Ann, Mark, get back by the trunk, be ready to take on Phil. He shouldn't be a problem, he's got John's MXD 3000s." Mark and Ann traded spaces with Joe just as Sam, Ryan, and Craig started walked towards the front of the van.

I stood and the rest of my team stood with me. "Guess we finish this, huh?" I called across the slowly diminishing pavement between the teams.

"Prepare to run," Sam said in a voice that was a parody, intentional or not, of a tough-guy action hero.

I glanced over at Nate and raised an eyebrow. He shrugged. I guessed he was trying to think of what movie the voice came from.

"Afraid I'm going to have to disappoint you on that one, Sam."

"Fine by me," Craig said.

At ten feet they split, fast, Craig moving left into a stuttering storm of headshots from Nate. Sam went right, and I tracked him with my Storm 800, keeping the 1200 squarely on Ryan's torso as he swept low power pistol streams back and forth over the Cadillac. Water splattered off the back of his head, and he turned to shoot Cary who apparently had her brother's accuracy. He turned right, into an almost textbook double tap, and staggered right, rubbing his eyes. A thick stream swept across my stomach and I swung both my guns to add to the deluge Sam was already enduring. He stood stoicly in the middle of a 310 burst attack sweeping the 5x nozzle of his XL across the car and the people behind it with his left hand. The stream dropped, and he one-handed the 2100 up from his right side to point directly at my face. A cock of the head and a translucent beam flew past my head, the inside edge nicking my ear. I unloaded both loads of pressure at him, then dropped the pistols on the car hood and pulled out my nearly depleted Pirahna and shot Phil as he came around the driver's side of the van, under constant fire but slowing fire from Ann and Mark. The 5x beam from the 2100 arced across my lower face, contacted Joe's shoulder, and dropped splattering across the trunk of the car. Joe switched targets, pulsing a handful of brief shots at Phil who was already retreating around the side of the van.

A blast clipped my left side, and I twisted around and squeezed of a shot at Craig who'd just unloaded his pressure chamber in one huge Typhoon Blast at Nate and me. He clicked the trigger repeatedly, nothing coming out, and I shot him again, the stream making contact then fizzling out at the nozzle of my gun.

"I guess we finished the game," I said as the shooting stopped. "We're out, and even if we weren't you'd be at a serious disadvantage."

"Phil's still got pistols, as does Sarah," Sam interjected.

I shrugged and looked around at my team. "We could probably scare up enough water amongst us to keep going. But it's a pretty good bet who won, and who'd win in that case."

"Yeah, I guess you're right," Craig said. He looked a little stunned that we'd fought to a slightly uneven standstill. "Meet you back home, right?"

"Sounds like a deal."

I high-fived everybody on my team, including the returning Cary, who'd been shooting it out with Ryan even as she walked away from the loading dock. "Let's go gather up our stuff, then head back. My parents'll probably have food and drinks and stuff out on the deck." We turned back to the woods and crossed the parking lot, all of us dripping wet. Didn't seem to stop Nate from feeling jubulant though. He was practically bounding along, high-fiving Ann and Mark and slugging everybody in arms reach on the shoulder. Occasionally he gave out a war-whoop or two. I grinned.

I stopped at the edge of the woods as the rest of my team went on ahead. I turned back and watched the opposing team loaded guns into the van, and Sam slowly manuevered the Cadillac out of the alley. This had been fun. A lot of fun.

4:39 PM

Posted: 20050115