By: Jared Grey
The following takes place between 11:45 AM and 12:00 PM on August 14, 2004
“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.”
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.”
The following takes place between 12:07 PM and 12:16 PM on August 14, 2004
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.
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.”