Michael Gebhardt Before Summer Ends Green, bright and vivid, rushed through my vision.

Branches snapped and popped like firecrackers in a frying pan. A rapid, pattering sound like summer sleet rushed by, heard but unseen. Leaves and branches cracked, twirled, and fragmented to the mechanical whine echoing from across the woods. Ducking behind a tree, I pulled myself in tight, shriveling, wilting, all for the sake of avoiding the plastic payload. Light, feminine laughter echoed during the brief pauses in the withering, machine-made hail. My breathing was heavy from exertion and running through undergrowth. My legs ached, my vision was clouded by sweat, and the weight in my arms seemed all the heavier from my efforts. Yet, amongst all these things, one single trait belied my wearisome situation. A large, almost comical grin was etched quite firmly on my face as I sprang from cover and moved to a fallen log nearby, coated in lichen and moss in a mosaic of greens and aquas. Bracing against it, I turned and shouldered my own toy rifle and returned the favor. I watched the stream of plastic pieces pepper the ground and tear through the foliage, a golden blur disappearing in the distance the only sign that my aim had been well placed, if not true. I took off again, following the sound of her laughter bouncing playfully from tree to tree. I held my toy gun, braced like in the movies, my aim jumping left and right as my eyes played across the viridian environment before me. Movement caught my eye and a light pull of the trigger sent another short stream of plastic rounds through the green, merely startling a squirrel. The whine of a toy gun akin to mine sent me diving for cover as a wave of plastic passed overhead. Laughter rolled again as she once more disappeared into the woods, my smile

but you ll have to come and catch me! Another blur of gold sent my trigger finger mad. She shrugs. her laughter taunting my every attempt to find her. Her voice answered. the faint sound of electric motors is the only reminder of others tromping through the woods playing airsoft with us.all the stronger for it. I calmly plant a gentle kiss on her cheek and take her by the hand. and maybe I ll take it easy. I place the backpack aside and we sit together. changing the tempo of the battle. man-made projectiles filled the air. I simply smile and return the jab. hand her ammo and finish the conversation with. The game of cat and mouse rolled on. These aren t exactly my choice clothes for a date she began. taunting and teasing even as they admitted surrender. face to face. earning a giggle and a playful slap. Her dark hair had been bleached and pulled back. smooth and lyrical. leans in to kiss my cheek. She casually discards her empty toy gun and slyly tossed her head back. clear evidence of her efforts to evade my pursuit. load it. Further into the woods. admitting. I walk over and pick up her fallen toy. We re quite a pair after all. but I paused and tapped her shoulder. As we disappear back into the dense trees. nature presents its approval in the sigh of the wind and the cheerful gurgle of the creek. slyly adding. Wouldn t have it any other way. I point out teasingly. I smile and boast. finishing with a playful jab at my side. placing it in the backpack fastened to my shoulders along with my own. but only cause I used all my ammo. Come out. . presenting her stunning mahogany eyes as they looked up at me. until her toy gun blank fired on an empty magazine. She could no longer flee. our hands entwined. and laughter passed back and forth as heavily as the many shots rending the foliage. My roar quiets and my smile turns soft as I truly lay eyes on her for the first time since the skirmish started. her back to the water. We turn to make our way out. Nice try. Her camouflaged jacket and pants were covered in broken thorns and a thin layer of mud. But it s so much fun dinner after the battle? I draw my toy gun again. We scurried for cover or advanced with bravado to the rhythm of whirring electric motors. Told you I d win eventually. to finish what we started. and a plastic storm engulfed the space between us. legs dangling over the bank of the stream. You know we should probably get back to our teams before they find out we re fraternizing with the enemy. and comes away with her toy gun in her hand. her predatory senses utterly focused on slowing my progress towards her. replying They suit us just fine. You caught me. I would meet her. leading her back to the creek where our battle had ended. Motors whirred. I follow with a wink. Roaring with triumph I crash through the fallen logs and withering brush until I reach her position. She slipped through the woods as a shark in water. As she turns to ask what I wanted. but they certainly suit us well. I called out to the treeline ahead. The trickling of a creek informed my eager mind that my trap is set.

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