Katherine's head snapped back as they passed the sign.
“Wait, Jill. There's a sign ...”
“ I know, I saw it. I come up here every summer,” she said. Just then a sign marking the entrance to the field came into view.
She made a sudden swerve into the laneway beside the sign, barely slowing down. Katherine gritted her teeth. She was used to Jill's erratic driving, so she knew better than to say anything. That incident with the tanker had scared the crap out of her, but it was never a good idea to argue or yell at Jillian when she was driving. It only made her worse.
When Marcus reached the door, he stopped short. The boys all but piled up behind him, to avoid running into him.
“The guy who called said your party consisted of him and his three buddies. I assume you three are the buddies. Where's the caller?” He asked.
Luke, who seemed to be the oldest, and the leader of the group, stepped forward. “That would be Dan. We thought he would be here already. “
“Apparently not. We'll wait for him to get here, before we start. I don't want to go through the rules twice.”
“Dan already knows the rules. He's an experienced paintballer.” Jack piped up, anxious to get going.
“Regardless. It's my policy to go over the rules before every game. I don't care how many times a player has heard them before.” Marcus frowned, annoyed at the kid's impatience. It took a cool head out on the field, and this boy obviously didn't have one. The phone rang insistently until Marcus reached it.
Mr. Fox? This is Dan. I spoke to you earlier. I won't be able to make it after all. I'm sending up a paintballing friend instead. The boys are spoiled rich kids with the idea that everything is within their reach, including instant experience. They'll need to learn the very basics. Anyway, they know Nathan. He just left, so he should be there in a half hour or so.”
“Okay, I'll tell them,” then he hung up. He was a man of few words.
He turned toward the boys, who were huddling in front of the fireplace. He shook is head and sighed. There were paintball fields all over the place in Florida. He couldn't imagine why they came all the way up north to play. He usually had the field closed down by this time of year, but Jillian wanted to play a few games when her friend came to visit. He walked over to them, and leaned against the wall, his arms folded.
“That was Dan, he's not coming. He's sending some guy named Nathan, instead.”
“What? We don't want Nathan!” Jack yelled.
Ryan elbowed him in the ribs, and Luke scowled at him disapprovingly. Jack yelped and jumped away, holding his ribs.
Marcus stared at the three boys. Kids that nervous were more than likely up to something. He'd have to keep a sharp eye on them as he refereed. He had already decided to split the three boys up in two teams. The girls were experienced players, so they could mentor the boys as they played. Luke had his own gun, so at least he wasn't a newbie.
“Alright guys, while we wait for Nathan, I'll explain the equipment for you.”
Marcus went to the shelves and got what he needed for a demonstration.
“The gun here, is called a marker, and this thing is called a barrel plug. This one is rubber, and fits into the muzzle of the barrel. It works like a cork on a champagne bottle. It stops a paintball from being fired accidentally when the marker isn't actively in use.” He showed them how to use it.
“This is a hopper. It keeps the paintballs fed to the marker, like a magazine on a rifle.” He mounted a piece of equipment above the marker.
“This is a squeegee. It's used to scrape paint out of the inside of the barrel.” Marcus showed them the long plastic rod, with a rubber disk mounted by a hinge on the end of it. He demonstrated how to use it.
“ These masks are to be worn at all times whenever you're anywhere near the playing field.” He handed each boy a mask.
The two girls entered the shack, carrying their masks and markers. They joined Marcus, who had returned to the desk. A young man in his early twenties entered ten minutes after them. He carried a marker and mask in one hand, and three warm looking ski jackets under the other arm. He immediately went to the teens and handed them out. They took the jackets gratefully, and put them on immediately. That done, he led the others to the desk.
“Hi, I'm Nathan.” he introduced himself.
“Hello, glad you made it. This is Jillian and Katherine. You can sign in, and I'll take you out to the field and explain the rules, but first I'm going to team everyone up.” He handed Nathan the sign up sheet, and motioned for everyone to get closer.
“Katherine and Jack are on Nathan's team. Luke and Ryan are on Jillian's team.”
“I want to be on the same team with Luke and Ryan!” Jack said, with belligerence.
“That's not going to happen, kid. New players are always teamed with experience players Take it or leave it.” Marcus scowled.
He grabbed a mask to referee on the field, and headed out the door, as Jack lagged behind, grumbling miserably. When they got to the playing field, Marcus stopped at a marked area a fair distance off the field.
“This is the dead zone, or staging area. This is where you go when you're eliminated. Nobody shoots anywhere near here.”
Marcus explained the rules as he walked them around the field, pointing out all the boundaries. When that was done, he gathered everyone around him.
“Okay, I showed you where your bases are. The game starts when you're settled there. The objective is to run around the bunkers and barriers, trying to shoot your opponents with a paintball. If you get hit anywhere on your body or equipment, and the mark is bigger than a nickle, you're eliminated. You yell out that you've been hit, and carry your marker over your head to the dead zone. This is timed play, so you'll play for thirty minutes. The team with the most players still standing at my whistle, wins the game. Okay, everyone to your bases.”
The two teams took their places, and Marcus blew the whistle. Everyone ran around with great enthusiasm, shooting, and mostly missing each other. Surprisingly, It took a whole ten minutes before someone was hit. Not surprisingly, it was Jack.
When the game was over, only Nathan and Jillian were still standing. Everyone gathered at the dead zone to relax and talk about the game. Everyone except Jack. He was nowhere to be seen.
“Has anyone seen Jack?” They all shook their heads. Then Jillian noticed footprints in the snow, leading off into the woods. Marcus followed the tracks at a dead run.
Katherine's head snapped back as they passed the sign.