There was a trash can in my friend's garage. It was full of toy guns. There was a ritual in which we would file into that garage and stand around that can and solemnly choose our weapons. If you were first to pick, the machine gun was the way to go. These were mostly rifles of some sort or other. Most of them were made of plastic, scaled down versions of the real thing. Some of the were defunct BB guns. Their springs and their workings had become less viable. The second most chosen toy gun from that barrel was a rifle with lever action that still functioned which provided a satisfying click when you pulled the trigger. The rest of the armory had, at one time, been more functional. Part of what had landed them in this communal can was their limitations.
None of that really mattered. Once we held those rifles up to our shoulders, they became machine guns. This ensured us of a kill. We did this by making a noise, way down deep in our throat. It was a phlegm-clearing sound that was stuttered in imitation of automatic firing. Run out of phlegm, run out of bullets. Not that this ever happened. No matter how long the firefight raged around us, we managed to keep shooting. Sometimes we paid lip service to the idea of running out of ammo, but as long as we could clear our throats, we could continue our assault.
Or defense. Sometimes we barricaded ourselves in and around my friend's backyard clubhouse. We fended off invisible enemies. Sometimes they were monsters. Sometimes they were Nazis. Sometimes the monsters were fifty feet tall. The Nazis were always pretty average size. This is how we stayed vigilant for those times when we split into factions and shot at each other. Selecting your cover became the key, since standing out in the open assured that you would be pumped full of phlegm-y lead. It wasn't very often that someone would simply fall down dead. Not without some discussion or debate. Once you had made your shot, you had to prepare your defense. Not from the barrage from the other army, but of your pretend marksmanship.
"I got you!"
"No you didn't."
"Yes I did!"
"How could you have gotten me when I'm behind this wall."
"I got you in the leg."
"No you didn't."
"I could see your whole leg sticking out."
And so it went, pushing a great big pause button on the battle, while our youthful Warren Commission set about proving or disproving the way we had or had not killed one another with pretend bullets. Sometimes when these debates turned into lengthy arguments, the rest of the group grew bored, and turned in their guns. Especially if their guns were not as cool or functional. If you wanted to keep the game/battle going, it was best for everyone to just fall down dead. And then you had to wait until the war was won. Or if boredom set in and you were willing to become a different soldier in some brand new incarnation. Miracles can happen.
I don't know how many times I died back in those days. I lost count early on. My personal body count, the bad guys I put away was ridiculous. My friends and neighbors. The same ones who were looking to blow me away. As many times as we all could. Until boredom set in.
Until dinner time.
But we always came back.
Turns out the only way to stay alive is not to play.