“Keep your heads down lads” bellowed the rough looking Sergeant from the corner of the makeshift barn.
Beads of sweat dotted her forehead, ebbing downwards stinging at the corner of her eyes. Sarah wiped her sweated brow with the arm of her fatigues and felt the rapid beat of her heart pounding in her chest.
“Yes Sarge” she managed to shout as another volley of shots sailed overhead.
This is what she had worked for, the last few months spent preparing for. It didn’t help. She was out of her depth. Gripped by fear. She could almost taste it, rising like bile from the pit of her stomach. She crouched down, watching the rest of her small detachment slowly snake towards the door. Corporal Stevens, the oldest and by far the most dangerous of her team was frantically trying to loosen the last round in his rifle.
The only visible features on his heavily camouflaged face were his immaculate white teeth, a blazing moon of light against the dark coloured cam cream.
“Simon Cowell , eat your heart out” she whispered across the void.
Even here there were fleeting moments of humour, the tension seemed to heighten and twist every response. She watched as his hands, usually swift and sharply accurate struggled to undo the clip, his thick set fingers struggling to grip the magazine. Sarah could hear him swear under his breath as his breathing became more and more frantic. She quickly felt herself tensing. She knew the signs, she’d seen it before. The group of eighteen had started out full of bravado, eager to learn and desperate for action. Slowly, one by one they’d lost their edge, got caught in the mayhem, been hit and fallen to the side.
In the beginning Sarah had felt sure she would be one of the first to go out. She was shy and not used to the constant shouting, the barrage of abuse. She had managed to hold on longer than many of the others. Gaining strength and confidence she followed protocol religiously. Seeming to find some sort of inner strength, an ability she never knew existed and she felt more alive now than she’d ever done. Looking over at Stevens, Sarah knew he was loosing it. The signs were already there and she felt her panic rising,
“You ok” she mouthed across at him.
He raised his head quickly and she felt his steely gaze shoot back. That was all it took. All he needed to quickly regain his composure. He managed to change his clip as the door suddenly blew open and another volley of shots rang out. They both dropped to the floor, frantically rolling out of view and away from the doorway.
Sarah’s heart was racing, she wanted to be sick. Her mouth was parched and her tongue was heavy. She licked her lips trying to get a bit of moisture back into her mouth. She could hear voices outside, voices she didn’t recognise. She quickly eyeballed Stevens. Had he heard them too? She gripped her gun, the steel of the metal like ice against her clammy hands. She slowly rose to a crawl motioning Stevens to follow. He was usually the one doing the leading but he was now so far out of his comfort zone she was worried for her own safety let alone his. She could see the panic in his eyes, and sensed his mind racing as he quickly wayed up whether to follow her.
“Come on, we have to get out of here” she mouthed again; if their cover was blown it was all over.
He quickly nodded and scurried behind her as they made their way to the farthest corner of the building. Sarah frantically eyed the escape route. She checked for noises, steeling furtive glances out of the broken window. Her gun trained in front ready for action. There was no sign of anybody outside and she could just make out the shape of some large hedging 50 metres to the left. She turned to Stevens and knew he was struggling. Instinct put her hand to his shoulder then raised her eyes to the direction of the bushes. He instantly nodded and sensing what was coming next threw himself to the ground, crawled under the boarding and made his way out into the open.
They’d done it, they’d made it out. Sarah felt an overwhelming sense of pride and not even Stevens sobbing in the corner of the hall could take away her exhilaration.
“Congratulations Sarah” said her company commander as he handed her the shiny tin cup. His booming voice rang out around the room “For a girl you’re a bloody awesome paintballer”.
Although his tone was way too patronising Sarah didn’t care, watching her boyfriend still crying in the corner she couldn’t wait to rub his face in it. He said she’d be crap. Said she would hold him back while she looked for a broken nail or pulled her heel out of the mud. Yet in reality it was her that had got him through and she swore he was never going to forget it. She wouldn’t let him. In fact she was still thinking how he could pay her back, how far could she push it, as they walked to the car park. She spotted his Audi and silently raised her eyebrows. This was his baby, she knew he loved her but if it came down to her or the car going under a bus, she was a goner. Then suddenly he threw her the keys and as she climbed into the drivers’ seat she could already feel the balance of power shifting.