I didn’t have much chance to sleep with all the adrenaline bouncing through my veins. Dad would have been proud as it had been a long time since I was awake and dressed by 6:30 a.m. In the past, the only times I usually got up at this time was to go hunting or fishing.

Today, though, I would be hunting the most dangerous animal of all… man! Actually, men—and they would be armed as I would be with a pump-action paintball gun. Some would be looking down my gun muzzle waiting to eat paint, I promised myself, while waiting for Neil to show up. I had an edge most newcomers to the game didn’t. Not only had I hunted but I also grew up on Canadian Armed Forces bases. They were dead meat already. These were thoughts I used to psyche myself up. Boy was I wrong.

Paintball started out as an argument between two men on the topic of survival. Is survival a learned ability or an instinct that people possess? The argument led to the first paintball game played in 1981. It turned out to be a huge success. Those first players found the game to be challenging, exhilarating and fascinating. This hasn’t changed. People who have played once want to play again.

When The Nation walked into Tombstone, none of us knew what to expect. We were composed of Kevin Ducharme, a Cree/ Inuit and experienced paintball enthusiast from out of Kujjuuaq/ The Pas, Manitoba, Neil Diamond, famed coastal Cree combat photographer and rabble-rouser, Alex Roslin, veteran of Ukrainian youth boot camps, and of course myself, the over-adrenalized inlander Cree who was just itching to prove he was a “natural-born killer.”

Tombstone is an indoor paintball field with 25,000 square feet of playing surface. We’re talking 50-plus buildings, some with two stories, a 100-foot-long river complete with waterfalls, and a sand floor. The sand floor is great for those diving rolls you may need to survive. Tombstone is located in LaSalle and is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week for your killing pleasure.

The first thing that was done was to divide us into two teams of about 25 people in each. Neil and Alex got into an argument about whether our team face masks were fuchsia or red. The referee solved it by yelling, “All pinks to this side of the bridge and whites to the other.”

Like any group of friends heading into combat for the first time, the Nationites decided to stick together. We even had a plan. Kevin with his experience and Alex with his height would bring up the rear. Neil and myself would be the point men for our unit. We quickly learned that famous war-time saying was true…”A plan rarely survives contact with the enemy.” Alex’s and Kevin’s guns jammed up right at the beginning and Neil took a hit right on his shooting eye. I was on my own. Instead of doing the smart thing and evaluating the situation, I moved to the front lines. About five minutes later, I discovered stupidity and joined the dead.

I also discovered pain, having been shot on my unprotected hand. I wanted to even the score. It was payback time. I also started feeling a few things that were unexpected. I liked being in the thick of combat and I started to dehumanize the enemy. They were now “Whites.” No racial slurs here since off the killing field we were talking to each other about strategy and the game regardless of mask colour. But in the field they were definitely the enemy and the scum deserved to die. Unfortunately, that “white” scum was good and they were mopping the floor with us. Game 2 I died on the front lines after taking out at least two guys and getting nailed on the same hand. Game 3 I had the top of my head blown away. Cleaning the paint out of my hair was murder. I vowed revenge yet again. Alex learned great respect for the semi-automatic guns compared to our pumps. “I stepped around the corner and heard this burping sound. There was about four balls coming my way,” he said.

By the fourth game, I hooked up with Ken (who I thought of as “Sarge”). Sarge, like any war movie vet, was an old hand. He also had the highest survival rate of our whole team. Sarge taught me how to snipe and, best of all,how to run like a bat out of hell and not get hit. Though our team lost that round, Sarge and me survived the battle. I decided I liked surviving. It was a lot less pain and a bit of pride, I felt going into the dressing room.

The dressing room was where we all had a little R&R. Everybody discussed their kills and how they had been killed. Sarge confided to me that our team was low on experience and big on wimpiness. “You can’t just defend and expect to win,” he said. “You’ve got to attack.”

Sarge also gave us the best advice of all for the next game, which was appropriately called Terminator. Terminator is simple. Two coloured vests are placed on the bridge. If you make it through the firefight to one, you are invincible except to the other team’s Terminator. Sarge told us that while you can’t kill a Terminator you can shoot him. Everybody goes for head shots trying to blind his facemask. Sarge put about 150 shots into the Terminator before being taken out. I remember that feeling of fear as I saw Alex get it in the back of the neck and the ribs from the Terminator and his white vest coming my way. I huddled in the shadows waiting to open up my weapon and go out in a useless blaze of glory. Strangely, he passed by the door of the building I was hiding in. Hoped swelled up in my chest like an over-inflated tire waiting to explode. As he passed around the corner I snuck out, relief washing over me like a sudden summer storm. I was safe. I ran the other way and killed two of the white running dog lackeys following in his footsteps. Though I went on to die, our team won the day. It was announced to great cheering in the dressing room. Neil even survived to the end. We were learning.

But things were starting to get ugly. The next game, it wasn’t an automatic out when you were shot. You had to run back to a room and if your captain was alive and touched you, you were alive again. I gained a new nickname from one of my teammates… Kamikaze (translation is the “Breath of God”). We may have gotten beat again but the other team knew they had been in a firefight
from hell, by God!

There were more games but the last one was the craziest. No death until you ran out of ammunition and at halftime it was every man for himself. As this round got started, I looked at my teammates and was shocked. We were down to the dirty dozen. More than half of our people had disappeared. I looked over at the solid wall of white masks. I knew what Davy Crockett must have felt at the Alamo. We were obviously the few, the brave, the proud—and the very, very dead. A feeling comes over you at this time. You have nothing to lose. You are Charlie Sheen when he goes insane in the movie Platoon. Remember when he just heads off into the jungles shooting anything and everything.

I was doing just that and quite well until a sprint across open ground found me meeting a pylon. I didn’t notice until full contact. During all this, Neil got to experience the joys of combat photography. At first he was safe in his tower but towards the end he came down to get a few close-ups. Big mistake as he happened to step in between me and another combat-fatigued madman, who shot him twice in the hand, resulting in swelling the size of a golf ball (see photo). Yes, contrary what Neil says, I do insist that I wouldn’t shoot my own photographer. Alex went down in a blaze of glory as he emptied his gun into a horde of whites waiting for him as he emerged from our base with paint all over his face mask. When it was all over, there was only me and one other standing. We emptied our guns into each other and headed back to clean up. It was over after about four and a half hours of sheer insanity.

Paintball also turned out to be an intensive exercise session that left all of us sore the whole next day. We were having so much fun we didn’t even notice we were exercising. Since that day, we’ve all been really nice to each other so it must have worked out a lot of our aggressions. I would highly recommend trying out this game to Crees. Size doesn’t matter as some of the survivors were of the less-than-athletic calibre you would expect. We’re definitely going back soon. Give Tombstone a call at 514-595-1300 for the most fun you’ve ever had since your first goose!