Storming the High Hill

Richard Bell

The loss of a man was the price they paid for their first sluggish attempt at taking the High Hill. The body lay on the grass nearby, while the five remaining men squatted in the shadow of a rugged stone wall. A dozen meters on the other side and the ground began to rise into the Hill’s craggy slope.

One of the five risked a glance over the rim, peering up at the six heads outlined against the sky behind the crest. A faint crack and whoosh sent a puff of dust from the cover next to his face. Bob Paisley swore and ducked back down.

‘I can’t believe we lost Geoff,’ said a stout bespectacled young man next to him, staring at the body.

Bob Paisley clapped him on the back, forcing a smile. ‘We’re only one down, Brian. We can still take the Hill. Frank?’

The man Frank shook his balding head. ‘It’d be bad enough if we were fighting on an equal plain. Never mind when the enemy has the advantage of higher ground.’

‘And cover,’ said Brian.

‘Alright,’ said Bob Paisley, ‘and cover. Don’t make it worse.’

Brian opened his mouth to argue, but Frank shook his head.

Somewhere skywards a bird-of-prey wailed, like the eagle that caws to a surrounded fort in a western, lamenting the poor souls below making a last stand. But its cry did nothing except add ugly highlights to the increasingly grim borders of their situation.

They each looked up, scowling. Frank raised his gun to blast it from the sky, but it was gone.

‘Right then. Anyone got any ideas?’ Bob Paisley was smiling, but it was more grimace than grin—Frank thought that if the lower half of Bob’s face had been covered, it would have looked as though he was crying without tears. Or screaming.

‘What kind of ideas?’ said Frank.

‘You know; a plan of action. Strategy, and all that. Brian?’

Brian shrugged his fat shoulders and looked away, fumbling with his gun.

‘Frank?’

‘It can’t be taken.’

‘Oh come on!’

‘Seriously. All the advantages are theirs.’ He jabbed a thumb in the direction of the High Hill. ‘I’m a realist, and I say there’s no way we can take it.’ And glancing at his watch, he added, ‘It’ll all be over soon, anyway.’

‘Is that the attitude of a Team Player, Frank? Think positive. Have the goal in mind, and just go for it.’

‘Poor Geoff saw the goal and went for it. Look what happened to him. I’m a realist. It can’t be done.’

Silence followed. The bird-of-prey could have cawed then, but it didn’t.

‘Realist?’ said Bob Paisley. ‘You’re a dick head is what you are…’

Frank looked quickly over his shoulder at Geoff, lying on the grass with hands tucked beneath his head, and then shot Bob a venomous look, hissing, ‘If you weren’t Supervisor, I’d—’

But Brian suddenly held up a finger, classroom-style. ‘Fatalist is the word you’re looking for, Bob.’ And then turning to Frank, he added, ‘Fatalist.’

‘Whatever,’ said Frank dismissively.

Bob rearranged his eye-goggles. ‘Yeah, whatever. Great. But we still need a way of taking the Hill. Didn’t anyone read The Art of War?’

Brian stopped messing with his gun. ‘That the book we were meant to look at?’

‘We were supposed to read it,’ Bob corrected him. ‘Through and through. Didn’t you?’

Brian shook his head.

‘Did you, Frank?’

Frank didn’t answer. He was looking over the wall at the Hill.

‘Well I read it,’ Bob went on, ‘and I’m sure it had something that’d help us now. If we could come up with some kind of, I don’t know, scissor movement, or maybe a distraction on one side, while our main strength hits the other.’

Frank laughed, turning back to the group.

Bob Paisley reddened. ‘What? Have you read it, eh?’

‘A bit,’ said Frank, ‘but not for work. I got it a while ago in hardback. We can only split our forces when we outnumber the enemy.’

Voices came at them from the hilltop.

‘Hurry up, bloody hell!’

Bob Paisley moved to the wall and held up a hand.

A few shots sputtered against the stone and he ducked, laughter spilling out on the hilltop.

Bob Paisley murmured beneath his breath and turned back to Frank. ‘So what, then? Any ideas?’

‘No. There’s nothing in there that can be applied to this. For starters, we’re only five men. The book refers to massive armies. Plus, we’re fighting to a schedule here. If we were to act under Sun Tzu’s advice, we probably wouldn’t attack at all.’ He checked his watch again. ‘And besides, it’s past lunch.’

Bob guffawed and looked around at the others, at the bored eyes framed within their plastic goggles. Plastic mesh masks covered their faces. Sweat dampened what hair they had. They were tired, and hungry.

It was bad enough having to spend every Monday to Friday cooped up with one another at the office. But Sunday as well? The fact that it was just a one off—staff days out were rare—made it no more bearable.

‘Alright then,’ Bob said at last, and his comrades livened up at the renewed energy in his voice.

They knew this was it. The final charge. All or nothing.

‘Come on then!’ they said.

‘Let’s do it!’

‘Then get lunch!’

‘And fuck Leisure Services!’

‘That’s the spirit, Brian,’ said Bob, despite having several friends in that department. Two of them were up there amongst the six, ready to gun him down should he and his boys from Planning and Building Control show themselves. ‘So what do you all say? One more attempt at the High Hill, and then… and then we can all have butties and go home. Agreed?’

They nodded, readying their guns and bracing themselves.

Bob shouted for them to charge. The five men leapt the stone wall and darted up the Hill. Instantly the place was alive with paintballs hissing through the air, whirring about them. Glossy coloured patches burst on the grass. The heads of the six from Leisure bobbed about on the crest, shouting to one another, sending exaggerated taunts and rainbow pellets against their colleagues from Planning.

Brian took a pellet in the groin. With a cry he lost his footing and rolled back down the slope.

Frank laughed madly and swore as he ran, ducking and weaving, zigzagging to avoid the shots from above. But his wild manoeuvring only drew their attention. Six black nozzles were trained on him. Six wet blooms exploded on his chest and arms.

The others swiftly followed, and soon Bob Paisley was storming the High Hill alone. Finally, in his desperation, he lay flat on the grassy incline, and when the six Leisure men rose from their defences to gain a better view, he screamed like a man refused permission to build a garage extension and loosed a full quarter of his magazine. The six became five, but those who were left standing aimed their guns.

And Planning was no more.

A short while later the two groups gathered in the car park. They stepped from their camouflaged coveralls—turning them inside out so as not to get paint on their shirts and ties—and handed them in along with the guns and face gear.

Afterwards they sat together in the café eating bacon butties and drinking cheap coffee, forgetting the battles fought that day and discussing instead the busy week to come.


About the Author

Richard Bell lives (for now) and writes in Cheshire, UK. His stories have appeared in a number of print and electronic venues. Visit him at his lonely windswept cave of a blog: richard-bell.blogspot.com.