THIS IS WAR

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Reading Time: 4 minutes

By Adrian Morrow

Chris Drew has lost his balls. He’s only got a few seconds before the shooting starts and he’s rushing for cover. He’s running up the stairs when he slips, falls and drops his paintball gun. The chamber opens, spilling a hundred pink spheres. But there’s no time to lose, so he dives behind a wooden wall as bullets of paint explode all around him.

Abe Snobar stands three metres away, concealed behind a pillar. His gun at the ready, he picks a target before popping his head around the corner and blasting away at them. Otherwise, the firing line is quiet. The enemies’ volleys go unanswered. We can barely see them, hiding behind wooden obstacles 15 feet below. No one knows where to shoot.

I’ve been an RSU beat reporter for three months, but this is the first time I’ve been this close to the student executives.

Lying an arm’s length away from me, his empty gun at his side, Chris peers through a hole in the wall and admonishes the gun-shy men below.

“Come out where we can see you, pussies!”

Chris has done everything by the book. He’s spent three years diligently working his way up the ranks of RSU. He schmoozes with the nomenclatura of the Ontario Liberal party with the intention of getting himself a nomination when he’s done with campus politics. He’s a peacemaker, a man who gets along with both sides: he’s the young Liberal who backs RSU campaigns for proportional representation, the conservative dresser who works with the CFS, the financial manager who leads protests against tuition fees.

Abe, meanwhile, is a maverick. Since the charismatic former soldier joined the peacenik RSU executive last spring, he’s been shaking the place up. Last summer, he fired Rebecca Rose, a former RSU president-turned-patronage employee for swearing at him; in September, he tried to sever the union’s ties with the Canadian Federation of Students. He’s become a popular presence in student politics.

Both he and Drew have been tapped as future RSU presidents. And today they’ve come to test their mettle — not in a board meeting, not in a debate, not in an election. Instead, they’ve come to this wasteland on the edge of the city to blast each other with paint-filled bullets. Lit by a hazy half-light and coloured a pastel pink by the hundreds of paintballs, the gravel arena is housed in a former airplane hanger.

This place is called Area 51. The game is called attackers versus defenders. The defending team holds a balcony on the back of the room; the attackers start from the wall opposite. Their goal is to get up to the balcony and touch the back wall.

The referee assembles everyone in the room. Besides the warriors Abe and Chris, there are a few RSU hangers-on, their friends, myself, and a group of schoolkids on a P.D. day. The ref splits us into teams. I’m on the same side as Abe and Chris. We’ll be attacking.

Chris stands like a gunslinger, knees apart, holding his rifle at his side.

Abe, meanwhile, is strategizing: “We need 15 guys all firing at once while the rest move forward,” he tells the team.

We stand against the wall as the defenders take their positions across the room. When the ref signals, everyone dives for cover. A few people open fire.

Abe is among the first to advance. Strolling up to a wooden playhouse, he takes aim and fires through the window. His rounds crosses the house, goes out the other window and sails up towards the balcony, where the enemy are crouching behind a wall.

Chris is still crouching behind a metal oil drum while shots burst open on the gravel all around him. Like an oversized black-haired rodent, he slinks forward and darts behind a wall.

Abe is still moving forward, leading the way for his compadres to get close enough to see the whites of the enemies’ eyes. An enemy jumps up to fire, but Abe beats him to the punch. With two pops of his gun, he has the guy diving for cover.

I want to follow Abe and see the conclusion of what seems like a certain victory. But I don’t have his chutzpah. I’m slowly inching forward, when someone nudges me in the back.

“Move up,” Chris says, poking me again. I move around the corner and make a run to take cover behind the wooden house. Chris has been using me as a human shield and he follows in my slipstream to take cover behind a boulder.

I see Abe on the other side of the house, standing tall while his fellow fighters duck and cover. He lets off a stream of bullets that smash up the enemy lines. Standing like Rambo, anyone who dares come at him is send reeling back in defeat. He is single-handedly winning the war. Still crouching low and firing blindly at the balcony, I can’t say the same for myself.

Abe is gunning to take out another foe when he is hit. The hero is shot, he’s out of the game. That’s it. He leaves the arena, a single white mark in his hair his only war wound. We keep firing, and the enemy keep picking off our men, like pop cans on a fence. Striking back, we hit two of them. When it’s all over, I look around to survey the damage. Chris stands up from the rubble, covered in paint from head to toe. Two of the schoolkids emerge from the arena, the only other two survivors of the slaughter.

Abe stays for another round. Chris leaves to take a subway back to the school, where he falls asleep. Even warriors need their rest.

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