View Full Version : A Bad Wager (short; content warning)

April 14th, 2015, 02:03 PM
Sweat trickles down my face. My arms ache unbearably, my spine is about to liquefy and my feet are probably reduced to a bloody mass of blisters and sores by now. My mouth is dryer than a bucket of sand, and I can't even reach for my canteen.

"This was your fucking idea!" Katz snarls at Fender, both of them pacing just ahead of me.

"I didn't hear you trying to talk me out of it!" Fender snaps back.

"Just shut your fucking traps already and keep moving!" I bellow at them furiously. I'm not sure if it's our present situation or the fact that they can still spare enough energy to argue that angers me more.


Let's skip back a few days. We are all bravely serving our country in the boot camp, a service which traditionally involves lots of running, exercising, doing chores, and lots of angry sergeants shouting lots of colourful expletives at us. We have gotten lucky with our Sarge though - he's not like some other instructors out there, who have apparently been watching too many American war films. Sure, he can shout louder and express himself even more colourfully than a US Marine DI if he needs to, but Sarge rarely does that, mostly after somebody earns the honour by screwing up. In his regular instruction, there's none of that theatrical yelling and swearing with spittle flying into the recruit's face that the American instructors in film seem to favour, and which some of our own overenthusiastic staff seems to copy. Sarge simply tells what today's job is, shows us how to do it, and makes sure that we do it right without saying much, his louder and more expressive comments being reserved for slackers and fuck-ups.

People say that if the recruits like their drill instructor, then he's not doing his job right. I'm inclined to disagree. Sarge is in fact quite friendly with us lads while off-duty, but that doesn't mean he's not doing his job. When it comes to getting the job done, Sarge is an unforgiving taskmaster who cuts no slack to anybody until the task is complete, and complete properly.

For the time being, Sarge seems to be dedicated to whipping us into shape, so every day we do a 10-click cross-country run in full gear. We've been doing lesser distances since the beginning, gradually increasing them as our stamina grows, and by now I, who has always been a piss-poor runner, can comfortably do three clicks. Ten clicks, however, is still way too much for all of us - while we all do complete the course, if only because failing by leaving somebody behind would mean running the whole thing again, we are all also close to dying by the end, barely hauling our miserable asses.

This "running torture", as we have come to know it, has been a cause of growing resentment lately, to the point that we seriously consider confronting Sarge about it - he spends these runs driving a Humvee right behind us and shouting occasional humorous profanities of encouragement to keep the pace. Although Sarge has repeatedly insisted he as an instructor never commands us to do anything he couldn't do himself, he doesn't exactly look like a long-distance runner either. Sarge is short, stocky and, well... fat, sporting a prominent belly. He has a weightlifter's build, and I know for a fact that the big pot-belly of his only makes him look deceptively soft - we've seen Sarge fling a 50-kilo peat bag with one arm seemingly effortlessly. Overall, the first thing that comes to mind when you look at Sarge is a cartoon pig - big and jolly. In any case, he doesn't convey the impression of having much in the way of running skills.

"This is insufferable!" Fender grumbles as he sits on his bunk, trying to pop a nasty blister on his heel as we get ready for lights-out in the barracks after another torturous day of endless physical exercise, "That fat fuck probably can't run for shit himself!"

"Maybe he can't, but he's the sarge," Katz says resignedly while sticking band-aids on his feet, "Besides, what did you expect here anyway. Sarge isn't even the worst one out there by far."

Fender groans in pain as his blister finally pops with a sickly splat.

"Fuck this!" he exclaims, "Tomorrow when he assembles us for the torture again, I'm going to tell him everything I think about these bullshit runs! You guys with me?"

"Yeah, right," I say, "And he'll just call us good-for-nothing crybabies who should go back to sucking their momma's tit and tear us a new one with more exercise for mouthing off."

"What's the matter, Fascist?" Fender speaks, "You afraid? Last time I heard, Sarge was especially vocal at you, and you didn't like it much either, did you?"

Fender is right. I'm a poor runner, and hence Sarge often singles me out for verbal abuse, shouting about how even my grandmother could outpace me in her wheelchair. My grandmother, may she rest in peace, was never bound to a wheelchair, so it's not like I'm too enthusiastic about hearing Sarge's comments on that either, even though I know he means none of that personally.

"Fine, but don't say I didn't warn you against it," I relent.

"What about the rest of you, folks?" Fender turns to the rest of the squad, "You in?"

After receiving a series of nods and resigned grumbles, presumbaly indicating general agreement, Fender feels somewhat enthusiastic about the success of the planned mutiny. We go to sleep determined to confront Sarge about his running tortures in the morning.


Night watch in the barracks is a rather unthankful duty. You are the guy who gets the sadistic joy of sounding the wake-up call, profanities and the occasional boot being flung your direction - that's unless Sarge has decided it's time for a surprise night-time exercise and barges in our barracks bellowing "Platoon, arise!" like some crazed camo-clad necromancer invoking his undead minions to rise from their slumber. When that happens, the lot of do indeed look and act somewhat like zombies, moaning and cursing until Sarge works his arcane magic again, exclaiming the magic phrase "Look alive!" and enhancing the effect by reciting numerous enhancement spells that consist mostly of unprintable epithets.

Thankfully that doesn't happen tonight, and we awaken precisely at 0600 to the familiar honk of the handheld fog-horn, the scourge that the night watch has been given to torment our souls in the mornings with. I've noticed each platoon uses a different tool for wake-up calls in their barracks - some use a metal garbage can and a nightstick, others use a megaphone, and yet others make do with the nightwatchman's own unadulterated voice.

"Wakie-wakie!" the watchman bellows, blowing his fog-horn in the familiar rythmic jingle used by ice hockey fans, "Assembly outside in 10, full gear!"

"Fuck you..." I grumble, sitting up and starting to get dressed.

Before long, we stand outside, awaiting the Sarge.


Sarge's eyes widen in anger and disbelief when we begin to shower him with protests and complaints instead of turning and running on our daily 10-click run upon his command.

"This is unfair, sir! Yesterday two guys had to stay in the infirmary after these runs of yours, while you just do nothing but ride around in that Humvee and keep telling us what no-good lazy pieces of shit we are!" Katz protests.

"Yeah, I bet you couldn't even run those 10 clicks in full gear yourself, sarge!" Fender exclaims.

The expression of anger disappears from Sarge's face.

"Is that how you think it is?" he says calmly, almost smiling, "Alright, let's make a wager! Today, I will be running with you myself, carrying the same gear as you. If I can't complete the distance, I will not make you do these runs any more. But if I can, you will bring me back to the base in whatever manner I see fit, how about that?"

"Deal!" Fender exclaims before anyone else can express their consent. Not that we don't find such an agreement unsatisfactory. Still, I can't help but think there must be a catch, if Sarge has let us, his recruits, to talk him into it so easily.


Two hours later, Sarge finishes the distance half-a-click ahead of us, barely even having broken a sweat. For someone of his bulk, his endurance and also speed is simply amazing.

We, on the other hand, are panting and wheezing as usual, dragging our feet as we arrive at the finish line all dripping in sweat under the scorching summer sun - even though it's still morning, it gets hot quickly in this time of the year.

"You win, Sarge..." Fender acknowledges our defeat, dropping to the ground to rest, "What must we do now?"

"Well..." Sarge looks around for a moment, until his gaze fixes on a nearby barn and a sadistic grin creeps on his face, "Say, lads, I've always wanted to do some crowd-surfing..."


That we would have to carry Sarge back to the base somehow didn't exactly come unexpected, given the nature of our wager. That we would have to carry Sarge back home on top of a heavy barn door, holding it high above our heads while he stood on it, pretending to literally surf it over us was what we didn't expect. Sarge drove two ends of a rope between the door's planks to have something to hold onto, a sort of makeshift reins, and has since been enjoying his ride home for an hour or so now. A thunderstorm has since clouded the sky, and it's now raining cats and dogs, turning our usual route along a gravel road into a sea of mud to add more grief to our torturous journey.

"Ay-daa! Ay-daa!" Sarge bellows from above to spur us on, "Keep those asses moving! I don't want to get wetter than I already am!"

Our only little solace is the fact that the barn door gives us at least some protection from the downpour, our sadistic Sarge having to take the full brunt of it. Still, we don't really get to enjoy his minor discomfort - we are too busy trying to keep moving quickly and not slipping in the mud. We know without saying that if we dropped him, Sarge would make us do it all over again - a deal is a deal.

"This was your fucking idea!" I hear Katz berate Fender in front of me.

"I didn't hear you trying to talk me out of it!" he snaps back.

"Just shut your fucking traps and keep moving!" I shout at them, pondering whether the guys will arrange Fender a "pillow-party" back in the barracks tonight. A pillow cover pulled over his head, two lads holding him down to the bed by his blanket, and the rest giving him a good threshing with soap bars in socks would be barely adequate punishment for setting us up like today, I think at the moment.

But for now I must save thoughts of vengeance for later and concentrate my strength on getting back to the base. There's still five clicks to go.


Needless to say, after that day we never argued with Sarge again.

April 14th, 2015, 05:18 PM
I liked it. Thank God my basic wasn't like that or I'd be dead. I could barely walk my ruck marches, but running them? Eh, no, no, seriously no.

it was more of a telling story than a showing story, but I think it worked here. It's like one you'd tell a group of people around a fire, or friends for a good laugh.

So I liked the style and the way you described sarge. That was funny. So, you have some pretty good description here, nice wording, some of the sentences cut up the flow for me, but they all made sense and I couldn't find anything wrong with punctuation or grammar. Good job!

April 17th, 2015, 03:27 PM
The way you describe Sarge makes me almost want him as an uncle; someone I could learn a thing or two from, yet not constantly held under his authority. Of all the characters in the story, Sarge is the one I feel that I know best. Which is surprising to me because it's told entirely from outside perspectives. I hadn't seen this approach in a while and I appreciate the way you use it.

The only thing I noticed was a minor word omission; the "us" in the sentence, "When that happens, the lot of (us) do indeed look and act somewhat like zombies".

April 17th, 2015, 07:54 PM
I loved how the narrator recounts the experiences in basic. Those passages have an introspective feel I enjoyed. I agree about how this piece does more "telling" than "showing," but I think with some rewriting, it'll be exceptional. Nice work overall. :)

April 18th, 2015, 02:40 PM
I actually found your story more interesting than I initially thought I would. I thought your transition sentence, "Let's skip back a few days" a bit awkward and could use rewriting, possibly something along the lines of "Looking back a few days" and combining that with the next sentence; better yet "A few days previous..." to my ear. However, that's a minor issue, and - if you're like me - it takes you quite a few rewrites to culminate in something you're okay with, and those things get changed/fixed in the process. Nice job.