“They’re ready! They’re ready!” one of my cousins squealed, before diving behind our crudely built fort made out of plastic tubs, cardboard, bikes, buckets, and cricket stumps in the mouth of my Aunt’s garage. It was a small brick driveway, about five metres long, which depressed slightly from the road to the house. I was tucked away behind our protective wall built deep in the garage with five of my cousins, and the enemy fort was just outside, where my other seven cousins were. No-man’s land was in the middle. We fought over the megaphone. It was everyone’s favourite because it made us––particularly Jeremy and his inhuman noises––even more loud and annoying. But now our enemies were ready, and so were we.
“Ten! Nine! Eight!” Thomas yelled into the megaphone.
We took our positions. We readied our Nerf guns. The older boys had picked out the bigger ones, the ones that held fifteen to fifty foam bullets, with more bulging their pockets. I took one of the smaller ones that held eight, but I liked how powerful my small Nerf gun was. I had a pile of bullets beside me, with more in boxes and buckets. They’d all end up in the middle soon, and so would we, trying to scavenge as many as we could.
“Seven! Six! Five!”
My heart was racing in anticipation, and I grinned across at Sarah, a sly smile tugging at her mouth too. There’s nothing like the high stakes of a Nerf war. I poked my fingers through the flap we cut with a scissor blade and observed their fort, looking for eyes or heads or arms or legs in the cracks between the cardboard.
“Four! Three! Two!”
I snapped my head back and a momentary freak out consumed me, because oh please no I’m not ready I don’t want to be shot with those bullets from those boys they get so intense and they gang up on me and––
“One!” Thomas shrieked gleefully and the pop-pop-pop of our weapons began. Shouting and evil laughter and the sound of bullets-hitting-cardboard-and-plastic-tubs filled the air. Jeremy’s strange noises soared above them all when he noticed the megaphone was not in use. None of my shots had landed yet, as I decided to shoot through my hidey-hole with very limited scope.
Our bullet stash was quickly diminishing, so we sent Lily and Ella into no-man’s land to scavenge for more supplies. While we were focussed on them, Ben crept around the side of the house. He exploded through the back door, and we whipped around, wide-eyed. The other team was declared victorious in a matter of seconds. We quickly enforced a ban on that sneaky strategy for future games.
We left the driveway in its war-ravaged state and pattered inside to where the Aunts were enjoying their peace and quiet. They knew we were driven by our stomachs, so Aunty Sas quickly ushered us and our noise into a separate room where lunch was served, which was always cheerios, dinner rolls, and a debate over the best sauce. A card game or two would be pulled out afterwards when we became ‘too old’ for lunchtime movies, and this soon became our favourite pastime.
Since then, our Cousin’s Day activities have changed. The younger ones would complain bitterly to the rest of us about our newfound liking of card games, that it was boring and lame and not fun and we want to go outside and play Nerf and you’re all just lazy. They came around eventually, but now I somewhat regret we didn’t listen to them.
“It’s going to get harder and harder to catch up with all of the cousins, isn’t it?” I realised to Mum one day. Cousin’s Days started to fade away as we graduated high school, and we relied on their consistency to bring us all together. Because what if we change? What if we grow up, and grow apart? Now just Lily, Ella, and Joseph are left in high school, and the rest of us are at university, or with part- or full-time jobs. It’s so rare to get us all under the same roof now.
We had to start a new tradition.
We pulled up to the small, two-storey Esplanade house we booked for ten nights on our third annual trip to Woodgate Beach. It had a slight old-house smell and an impressive assortment of mismatched crockery, but it also came with a ping-pong table, air conditioning and a dishwasher, so all was good. There were nine of us, Matt and Katherine, Sam, Thomas, the twins Sarah and Tim, Em, Ollie, and myself.
Within the space of a few hours, we were unpacked. Our fridge was full of food, the fridge door itself housing only chocolate milk, and the tv console was hidden by the mountain of games we dumped on top of it. Someone had already switched the air conditioning on and straight down to 18 degrees with maximum force.
It started as a joke on our first Woodgate trip – Ollie and Tim’s room was referred to as The Ice Box since it was consistently 18 degrees in there. But on the second trip, and now this one, The Ice Box became communal, which some of us were not overly fond of. Matt and Katherine had packed their Oodies, knowing it would be that cold.
The next day, I was already in my swimmers and my beach bag packed. As I was applying sunscreen, Sarah, Tim, and Ollie took up residence on the leather couch. I lathered my face, arms, legs, and back (would later discover that I forgot my feet), and announced I was heading to the beach to swim and read, and, making sure Sarah, Tim, and Ollie weren’t looking, dialled the air-con right up to 23 degrees before I left.
I knew it would be back on 18 degrees by the time I returned. It was our own adult version of the Nerf wars; our blankets our fort, and our attack being to turn up the temperature to a more reasonable degree, or to covertly crack a window. And, more importantly, we still reconvened at lunchtime for cheerios, dinner rolls, and a debate over the best sauce.
So, in many ways, not much had changed at all.
Beth Falzon is a Professional Communications and Creative Writing student at QUT, and enjoys writing in the forms of fiction, fantasy, and memoir. She aspires to become an editor, and admires how language used in unique ways can profoundly impact readers. When Beth isn’t writing or doing university work, you can find her with her nose in a book, camping with family, or taking a long beach walk.