New Book Soon

My first fantasy adventure story is coming soon. I’m looking for pre-publication readers, also known as Advanced Review Copy readers, to give feedback. It’s my hope that each ARC reader will also post an honest review on Amazon when the book is published. If you’re interested, sign up at this link.

Gates of Fire and Ash – Blurb

Gates of Fire and Ash is an adventure story set in a world limited to medieval technology after an ice age destroyed modern civilization centuries ago.

Royar Abele escapes the brutality of his father and brothers at the age of twelve when his rare ability to communicate with dogs wins him a place in the Army’s elite hundteam school. Now, sixteen-year-old Royar and his trusted dog, Felmer, are ready for their new lives as scouts.

But, he never dreamed their first mission would determine the future of the country and its people. They and their teammates deal with vicious animals, treacherous humans and deadly weather, but worst of all they face the horror and death that is the Gates of Fire and Ash.

Will they succeed where so many others have failed?


Book Review: Dark Space Universe – The Enemy Within by Jasper T. Scott

“Perhaps Jasper’s greatest gift is his ability to yank readers out of their stream of thought by introducing a plot twist that leaves them flopping on the river bank …”

Jasper T. Scott is an accomplished science fiction author evidenced by the tens of thousands of books he has sold over the last few years. His stories include plenty of action and suspense, but they aren’t dominated by it. Philosophical and spiritual issues are neatly woven into his plots. He doesn’t preach to the reader—far from it. Instead, he creates situations that allow the reader to raise questions in his or her own mind.

I’ve always been impressed by his respect for science in his fiction. For example, in his most recent trilogy, Dark Space Universe, the shape and extent of the universe is a plot point that he develops based on current scientific theories, and in an interesting way.

Perhaps Jasper’s greatest gift is his ability to yank readers out of their stream of thought by introducing a plot twist that leaves them flopping on the river bank saying, “I didn’t see that coming.” Yet, the hints were always there. Chubby Checker has nothing on Scott.

Dark Space Universe – The Enemy Within, Book 2 in the series, is scheduled to be released on August 17, 2017. As a structural editor, I had the great pleasure of reading an early draft and will say this, “It’s a great book, six stars, at least, and maybe Scott’s best, yet.”

So, get caught up. Buy Dark Space Universe (Book 1) or read it for free with Kindle Unlimited here.

Dear Santa

xmas-tree    Dear Santa,

It was my sister’s fault. Well, she didn’t light the fire. I did that, but there’s no doubt she caused the damage, and she could have stopped it if she hadn’t been running so fast. She’s selfish like that.

The fire wasn’t that big. It charred the front leg of Mommy’s favorite chair. I sat in it, so I know it’s okay. It does smell odd. Mommy says a skunk peed on it. I didn’t see a skunk, so I think she was wrong. Nobody’s noticed the scorched leg on Daddy’s chair. It always smells funny according to Mommy.

This all started in Mrs. Gold’s third-grade class. She showed us how to make candles and told us to make one to celebrate the holidays. Bobbie Schultz said our teacher was Jewish and didn’t like Christmas. I don’t know why she doesn’t like Christmas. For that matter, I don’t know what Jewish is, but Bobbie is smart. He knows the time’s tables all the way to thirteen.

Most kids made candles that looked like Rudolph, Frosty, or an angel. Two kids made pitchforks. They called them mininoras, I think. Zachery made a Navytea scene. It had little farm animals in a circle around a butterfly larva. I asked Zachery if it was a Monarch. He said it was a Baby Jesus. I’d never heard of that kind of butterfly. They probably come from Utah like Zachery.

I think I upset Mrs. Gold. I didn’t mean to. Honest, I didn’t. I made a devil. Mommy wouldn’t let me be a devil for Halloween–I had to wear Sara’s old Princess Jasmine costume. My devil was really cool, Santa. It had goat legs, the body of a man and the head of a bull. The bull horns had wicks in them. It was all red like you are, but not so round. Daddy says it’s not nice to call people fat. I hope round is okay. Anyway, it was sooooo cool. It didn’t stand up very well, so I glued on Popsicle sticks–they looked like snow skis.

Mommy and Daddy went shopping after dinner last night and left Sara and me to protect the house. I put the last ornaments on the Christmas tree, which sat between Mommy and Daddy’s chairs in front of the fireplace. We don’t use the fireplace because it’s anyfishunt. But, we still have a log lighter. I know, because I saw Daddy point it at Mommy like a gun. He said, ‘I’m going to light your fire woman.’ I wonder if I was adopted, sometimes.

Mommy and Daddy would be home soon, and I wanted to surprise them with my devil. I stood on Mommy’s chair to put the devil on the mantle. It looked great next to Grandma’s antique quilt on the wall.

“Sara where is the log lighter?”

She continued texting and mumbled, “On the hearth by Dad’s chair.”

“Thank you,” I said, but she ignored me, like always.

I had to stand on the armrest to reach the devil horns. The first one lit easily. I stretched to reach the second horn. The wick had started to flicker when Sara screamed, “What are you doing?”

I yelped and lost my balance. My hand caught the devil’s skis, and we both fell into the Christmas tree which fell on Sara. She squealed and ran like the wind. I landed on my back and stood up. The devil ignited the tree skirt which exploded in flames that died down quickly after I threw Mommy’s poinsettia plant on it. The ceiling sprinklers helped, too.

I hope you take it easy on Sara. I know this horrible incident was her fault, but she tries hard to be good. Sometimes things just don’t work out for her.

By the way, I’d like a Lego Super Hero High School for Christmas.

Yours most sincerely truly,

Elsie Montgomery, age 7 and 3/4ths.

(c) 2016 David P. Cantrell

The Peanut Encounter #amwriting

Peanut.pngA peanut shaped planetoid came into focus on Sci-Tech Mason’s optic viewer. She compared the sensor information to her data cache and mentally engaged a comm-link, “LT, we’re there.”

“Thank you, Connie. I’ll join you soon.”

Lieutenant Jasper Gregson sat at a foldout desk in his quarter’s editing a message to his wife. He sat back and read it one more time.

It’s been six months since I took command of PC-109. I have to admit I was nervous as hell to have a command on my own, even a lowly Patrol Craft, but I’ve loved it. My crew’s great. We’ve arrested three smugglers and destroyed a pirate base without killing a soul.  I’m proud of them.

The crew is cross-trained, of course. Our long distance missions require it, but some perform better than others in their secondary roles. Ensign Connie Mason, my exec, could handle the boat by herself if she had to, but she couldn’t hit Phobos with an asteroid from a hundred yards. Don’t tell her I said it, though. Pilot-Navigator Trout is green, but he shows promise.

Gunnery Sergeant Emily Rutherford, could hit a watermelon at a hundred miles and make an AU drive purr with her smile, but she couldn’t pilot the boat through a hole the size of Sol.

Medic and comm-tech, Dave Klunker, is quite a character and good for morale. He’s a trusted medic and knows the comms, but he shines as a volunteer cook and makes a mean rodent chili. In a world of Nutripaks, he’s a godsend; however, don’t let him near the engines.

Chief Machinist Mate, Stephen Duggan, has been a great resource to me. I respect his experience and counsel. He can do it all to hear him talk, and he probably could if he didn’t scare the crew with his manner. Everything he says sounds like a snarl, but he’s a puppy in wolf’s clothing. And, get this he’s a confirmed vegan—no rodent chili for him. Oh, and he’s amazing with a rail cannons. All in all, I’ve got a tight-knit crew, ready to do their jobs.

I can’t say much about our mission because Mars Confederation is paranoid about security these days. I don’t expect it to be very exciting, though.  Hug the girls for me. I’ll see you soon.

Love, J.

Jasper sent the message and hoped it would clear MC security.


Jasper walked through the bulkhead door and said, “At ease.”

“Why do you always say at-ease when you enter the bridge LT?” Trout asked.

“Connie, is our PN as naive as his question?”

“I’m afraid so LT.” PN Rob Trout had been onboard only a month. He stared at Connie trying to figure out how he’d screwed up this time. “Trout, let me explain. If the LT joins us and doesn’t say at-ease, one of us better say captain on the bridge and come to attention.”

“But LT, you’re not a steel-neck,” Trout said.

“Your next CO might be, and it would reflect poorly on me if you’re a screw-up. What’s our status, Connie?”

“Active scans limited to five hundred miles, as ordered. The planetoid meets all expected criteria for 5152. No scan or communication signals have been detected. We’re a hundred miles away and snuggling an M-type asteroid ten times our mass.”

“Thank you, Connie. Turn off active scans but maintain passives.”

“Aye, sir.”

Jasper opened the boat-wide comm-link. “Klunker, Rutherford, and Chief Duggan link up and listen in.” Their acknowledgments flashed on his optic-viewer. “Mars Confederation believes that Earth Federation plans to establish a forward observation post in the Belt on planetoid 5152,  a.k.a. Peanut. If they do, it will breach the Luna Treaty. It’s our mission to observe and report to Ceres by point-to-point hyper-pulse if we encounter the EF.”

“LT, we’ve only got a hand-full of kinetic torpedoes and the quad-rail cannon. What do we do if EF shows up in force?” Trout asked.

Connie spoke first, “Change your underwear.”


Connie activated the general alarm and comm-linked Jasper.  “LT, it’s my best guess that a large ship is four to five hundred miles out, standby for gravimetric and optic analysis.”

Jasper had taken his command chair before Connie stopped talking. “Klunker standby for Connie’s data feed and triple check your target intersect. You may not have time to adjust the Ceres coordinates if things go sideways. And, include a no-reply-command. I don’t want EF to know we’re here.”

“Aye, aye sir.”


The gravimetric analysis proved Connie’s educated guess to be wrong.  A fleet of ships was a thousand miles out and closing fast. “Connie, can you identify the individual ships?”

“Not yet, LT. They’re moving too fast for my analyzer. Give me thirty minutes. They should slow enough by then, provided Peanut is their destination.”

“This isn’t a simple observation post,” Jasper said.

“The EF has never liked Mars and the Belt being independent,” Connie responded.

“True, but Earth’s bureaucrats had accepted it because it was cheaper than war. Something has changed,” Jasper said.


Connie fought to keep her voice professional. “LT, we’re facing a reinforced Fighter-Bomber Carrier group. Eight ships in all, the carrier, plus a light cruiser, four destroyers, and two supply ships.

“Emily, how many ships can you disable?”

“I’ve got six remote torpedoes. If I have time to position the torps accurately, I should be able to take out six,” Emily said.

“That’s too risky. Reserve one of them. Target the carrier with three, and create as much confusion as you can with the other two.”

Emily smiled and answered, “Give me some time to study the threat board and I’ll soon have them turning in circles looking for their butts.”

“Chief, how close to our asteroid can we be when we engage the AU drive?”

“By the book, LT?” Chief Duggan asked.

“Hell no, Chief! MC sent us on a suicide mission, but we aren’t going to die if I can help it.”

“Give me three miles and you can engage the AU, but we might miss Ceres.”

“We’ll worry about that later. Klunker, add the following to the hyper-pulse message: ‘Sit-Rep: Lt. Gregson: EF deployment is an attempt to blockade Ceres, Vesta, and Ganymede from reinforcing Mars. Mars is the primary target.’”

“Aye, LT. Will they believe you?”

“I hope so because Mars is about to be thumped hard.”

“The point-to-point is ready LT,” Klunker reported.

“Send it.” Jasper noticed Connie’s comm-link blinking again. “Go Connie.”

“LT, there’s a second fleet appearing on the scans.”

“Connie! That’s not funny.”

Connie laughed. It relaxed her and everyone else.

Jasper opened the boat comm-link. “Alright everybody, the ballet begins. Stay calm and follow the plan until it turns to crap, then do what you all do best, improvise.  Standby for H-hour minus 75, and on my mark engage the diversionary measures.” Jasper said.

“Aye, sir. H-hour, minus 75, acknowledged,” Emily said.

On his mark, two torpedoes, under nav-thrust control only, floated away from the boat at modest velocity. They were unlikely to be noticed by the EF. At least, that was the plan. Little by little, the torps would flank the left and right sides of the EF forces and reduce the range to their targets in the process.

Time crawled for the Jasper.

“Connie, update the EF position,” Jasper said twenty minutes later. He could look at his optic viewer but wanted to hear the information.

“Wait one…they’re 283.5 miles from our position. The flotilla is slowing more than expected, and the carrier should arrive at Peanut at H-hour plus 10. The lead destroyers are ahead by 15 minutes.”

“Emily, I need a new fire-solution.”

“Aye, LT…”


“Sorry LT. I have a new solution. I need to release the carrier torps 15 minutes early, and to increase the nav-thrust acceleration by 5%.”

“Won’t that put Peanut in the way?”

“Not if I switch to a conical launch pattern. Peanut will provide cover for a time and the torp attack angles will be difficult for their defenses.”

“Make it happen.”

“Aye, sir.” Emily released the attack torpedoes ten minutes later. They formed a cone as they neared their prey.


H-hour minus one minute, Connie called out. Trout stood by to engage his docking thrusters so that PC 109 could float away from its more massive neighbor. And Duggan took his battle station at the quad-cannon.

“On my mark,” Jasper said.

Emily exploded the left-flank torpedo with a shaped beam that sent a wall of debris from an iron rich asteroid toward a supply ship. As she hoped, it didn’t take defensive maneuvers. However it, and its sister ships slowed down. Her second shaped beam sent a small mountain toward the Cruiser on the right flank, again no defensive reaction because the explosion had been blocked from their sensors. So far so good, Jasper thought as he watched his monitor.

But it didn’t last. Twenty miles from Mr. Peanut, six EF MB-51 fighters launched and passed the planetoid at high speed, apparently on a recon mission. PC-109 was doomed if the MBs spotted them. “Emily, we’ve got bees looking for our pollen, can you initiate your attack on the carrier?”

“Not yet, LT. I need five minutes or their point defenses will block my attack.”

“Can you divert an attack torpedo to take out the bees?”

Emily studied the threat board. “No sir, but I could use our reserve torp.”

“Not yet,” Jasper said. He’d feared she’d say that. He meant the final torpedo to create a diversion so they could engage the AU drives before the carrier took them out. Timing would be tighter than a new cadet’s sphincter because the AU needed three minutes to power up.

“Emily, get ready to…wait-one. Go, Connie.”

“Four of the fighters have peeled off. It looks like they’re going to investigate Emily’s distractions. The remaining two are slowing and fanning out. They’re actively pinging and brighter than sparklers at a Mars Day party on our sensors. ”

“Do you see them Chief?”

“Aye, LT. They stand out like my wife’s nipples in a cold shower.”

“Focus Chief. Your job is to deflate those nipples before they can attack.”

Emily’s cone torpedoes were floating toward their launch points. Once ignited it would be a competition between her timing and the EF crew’s training. PC-109 cleared the three-mile point, and Jasper initiated the AU warmup.

“Trout, launch a camera drone programmed to observe Peanut for an hour and then return to Ceres.”

“Aye, sir. Drone is away.”

The ship shook as Duggan engaged an EF fighter. The attack run began when the AU started to warm up. Emily saw it and launched her final torpedo, but not at the fighters.

“Trout, get us out of here,” Jasper ordered.

“I’m not in position for Ceres.”

“I don’t care. Engage the AU as soon as possible.”

The final torpedo exploded. A brilliant sphere of red, green and violet formed as thousands of armor-piercing chunks flew from the torpedo and vaporized an ice asteroid that blinded the carrier’s sensors and took out one MB at the same time.

Chief Duggan watched the second fighter’s approach, anticipated where it would be, and fired a barrage of iridium alloy slugs. The fighter launched a missile an instant before it turned into a yellow ball of plasma. “Incoming,” he yelled. The AU engaged as he caught his breath only to lose it again under the AU’s acceleration.


“Where are we, Rob?” Jasper asked.

“Captain, you didn’t call me Trout.”

“No, I didn’t. You’re Rob on this boat from now on. You did well.”

“Thank you, sir. We’re equidistant between Mars and Ceres. What are your orders?”

“As much as I’d like to go home, Mars needs our help. Set a course for Port Phobos.”

(c) 2016 David P. Cantrell contributor and staff member of EWI

Basic’s Lessons of Life – Number 5

Airmail Envelope AddressedClaude’s Tool & Die was a busy shop and Paul Brown, the owner, kept a close eye on the workflow. He had just finished the crew’s daily work-in-progress and backlog update when Mary ran in from the office and handed him an envelope trimmed in red and blue dashes and labeled “Airmail.”

“It’s from Joe,” she said, giggling.

“Hurry, Boss. What does he say?” Big John bellowed.

Paul Brown stopped what he was doing and stared at John.

“Sorry, Boss.”

Paul struggled to keep a straight face. He wanted to know what Joe had to say too. He continued to open the fragile paper and then unfolded several pages, cleared his throat and began to read the letter.

“ ‘Dear Paul, I’m sorry I’ve been slow to write. Today is the first chance I’ve had to write a letter in the two weeks I’ve been in this hell-hole. It’s Sunday, and they let us have the afternoon for personal time. What a joke. I just spent two “personal” hours rubbing lacquerer off of brass buckles and putting a spit polish on my combat boots. Then I went to the mess hall.

‘Don’t get me wrong. I like eating, but chow was fried chicken—again. We’ve had fried chicken ten times; I counted. The cook does it well, but I’m getting tired of it.

‘Sgt. Tonga is my DI, and he said that each recruit would serve KP two or three times during basic. I’ve been on KP twice. Senior Drill Sergeant Cocker makes up the weekly duty roster and assigns people alphabetically. I guess he doesn’t know the alphabet very well. I’m not surprised. He’s a first class jerk.

‘I feel sorry for the cooks. There are only two of them, and they feed about 180 men three times a day. The cooks (and KPs) start their day at 4:30 am and quit at 10:00 pm. The rumor mill says additional cooks are coming. I don’t put much trust in the rumor mill; it also says that Jane Fonda will be on base for the 4th of July. After her Hanoi-Jane escapade, that seems unlikely.

‘Sgt. Tonga is a crazy Polynesian from Guam. Did you know Guam is a territory of the US? I didn’t. Anyway, he’s never satisfied and calls us all kinds of names. Dog-turd and rat-breath are two of his favorites, and the only ones I can share because Mary will see this letter. (Hi Mary) He’s sadistic and likes us to suffer. The only time I know what he’s thinking is when he smiles, which means something bad is about to happen to one of us or all of us—you never know which.

‘Last Thursday, Tonga blew up when a guy turned the wrong direction during drill. He stopped the platoon and called the guy to the front and made him do twenty pushups. Then he smiled and made the poor guy duck-walk behind the platoon the two blocks back to the barracks. The next day the poor soul could barely walk.—’ ”

“What’s duck-walking?” Mary asked.

Big John answered. “It’s walking while in a crouch. Your butt is as close to the ground as possible, and you have to waddle like a duck to take a step. It’s tough on your lower body. I can’t image doing two blocks.”

“Thanks, John,” Paul said, “But, I’m almost done with the letter. Please, everyone, don’t interrupt.

‘—As bad as Tonga is, Sgt. Hanner is worse. Saturday, he had the 3rd platoon duck-walking around their barracks over and over again. I felt real bad for those guys, but to be honest, I’m glad Hanner’s not my DI. Maybe Tonga’s not so bad after all.

‘God, I miss California. It’s always hot and humid here. I never know if I should dry-off before or after a shower. There isn’t any difference that I can see. I made a friend, JL, from Long Beach. He’s my age and he’s a good guy, but he’s not family. I’m so lonely. I miss you guys most of all. Say hi to everybody for me. Love Joe. P.S. I got a letter from Julie. She dumped me.’ “

Mary started crying at “God I miss California” and reached a full sob by the time “She dumped me” was read. Big John handed her the cleanest shop rag he could find, and she gladly used it to clear her sinuses and calm herself.

“Poor kid,” Mary said. “Julie must be a real cunt to dump him like that.”

The men were taken aback by Julie’s language, but they had to agree with her.

“He’s not the first man dumped after being drafted,” Paul said. “In World War II it was so common that the letters had a unique name. They were called “Dear John” letters.”

“Thank the Lord I never got one,” Big John said. “Then again I didn’t have a girlfriend to dump me when I got drafted in ’59. But, I’ve got a gal now, and I’m not gonna give her a chance to write me no Dear John letter, ’cause I ain’t never leaving her long enough for her to find another John.”

Everyone smiled at John’s declaration. It broke the tension and the crew instinctively knew it was time to put Joe out of mind and return to their lives. Even Mary regained her perkiness and resumed her duties.

Paul Brown carefully folded the letter and carried back to his desk where he reverently put it an employee file labeled Joe K Appleton and thought about when he’d learned the meaning of homesickness in 1943, just as Joe was learning it now. Paul looked at a painting of Diamond Head that hung across from his desk. It was his personal memorial to the friends he’d lost in the war and prayed that Joe wouldn’t join their number.

To be continued…

(c) 2016 David P. Cantrell a contributor and staff member of Edgewise Words Inn

Want more? You’ll find links to previous episodes at the following site, Basic’s Lessons of Life Series

Basic’s Lessons of Life – Number Four

latrineSweat seeped from every pore of Joe’s body. The sun hadn’t reached its zenith, yet the temperature was nearly ninety degrees. And, he had two more commodes to police.

It had taken two hours to please Tonga with their beds and footlockers. Tonga had picked random footlockers to inspect. Samsonite’s must have been perfect because Tonga appointed him platoon leader after looking at it and told him to move his gear to a two man billet across from his room.

Robert (Bubba) Roberson, from Alabama, stood proudly next to his footlocker. Tonga glanced under the lid and then picked up the locker and slammed it down so hard a hinge pin flew across the barracks and hit Samsonite’s pinky finger as he reached for his duffle bag. Samsonite emitted a Guinea pig squeal. The crime: socks should be folded, not rolled.

Policing the barracks came next. Policing meant something different in North Carolina than in California, or maybe it was the army, Joe wasn’t sure. But in his new world, police meant to clean or keep clean. Joe became the toilet policeman for the day.

Forty-odd men had paid homage to the six porcelain thrones since reveille some with less reverence than others. Joe scrubbed with a rust-stained bowl brush, a cellulose sponge, and copious amounts of cleanser. He finished the last commode, wiped his hands and stood to admire his work.

Tonga walked into the latrine, and Joe froze. The DI lifted each toilet seat, wiped its top and bottom with tissue and peered at the results. He wiped the underside of each porcelain rim and studied the tissue. Finally, he wiped the caulking around the base of each toilet. Joe stood by at attention waiting for the inevitable berating.

Tonga turned and looked at the name patch above Joe’s right pocket.

“Appleton!” he barked.

“Yes, Drill Sergeant.”

“Fine job, recruit.” Tonga left. Joe beamed. The last time he’d felt so pleased with himself was when his hand had laid on Julies’ thigh for the first time.


Over the course of the morning, Tonga explained that the platoon consisted of four squads and that the bunk assignment determined which squad they were in. He also selected a recruit from each squad to be its leader. Joe was in the first squad, and JL was the squad leader. Joe didn’t know it at the time, but his squad would become more important to him than Julie and his uncle, or even Paul Brown.

Lunch was fried chicken, mashed potatoes with white gravy and succotash. Joe didn’t much care for the lima beans in the succotash, but he loved the chicken. Served two thighs and two legs, he’d have asked for seconds if allowed. After lunch, Tonga instructed the newly appointed squad leaders to take their men to the assembly area next to the barracks and wait for him.

Tonga arrived a few minutes later and ordered the four squad leaders to form a line in front of him. He told JL, as the first squad leader, to extend his left arm to his side and hold it parallel to the ground. The second squad leader aligned his right shoulder to JL’s extended fingertips and raised his left arm. The third and fourth squad leaders followed suit. The remaining recruits lined up behind their squad leaders, each of them one arm length behind the one in front of them and one arm length to the left of the man on their right except for the first squad.

“Platoon. Attention. You’re now in formation. Remember how to do it. When I order Fall In or Form Up this is what I expect.” Tonga said. He surveyed the group carefully. “You, the third man in the third squad. What’s your name?”

“Dalton McMasters, Drill Sergeant,” he said in an Alabama drawl.

“You’re not my friend, maggot. I don’t care what your first name is. Do you hear me?”

“Yes, Drill Sergeant.”

“McMasters, don’t lock your knees. Stand straight, but keep your knees slightly loose.”

“Yes, Drill Sergeant.”

Tonga waited a moment before continuing. “Recruits have very small brains. If you lock your knees, the blood in your pea-brains becomes trapped in your ankles. Do you know what happens then?”

“No, Drill Sergeant,” chorused the platoon.

“You’ll faint faster than Fay Wray meeting King Kong for the first time.”

Several recruits laughed, including Joe. The laughter died quickly, but the damage was done, and everyone knew it. An evil smile formed on Tonga’s face.

“Some of you laughed at me, but not all of you. Therefore, I’ll be kind. Squad Leaders stay at attention. Everybody else, take two steps backward, drop and give me twenty pushups. Do it now!”

The men complied, but more than one mumbled, “Keep your mouth shut,” to someone that had laughed.

Tonga reassembled platoon and said, “This afternoon you’ll learn how little you know about marching called drill in the Army. Over the next several weeks you’ll learn to move as one, turn as one and halt as one.”

Tonga started with Mark Time, marching in place to Joe. He explained that every drill command contained two elements, the preparatory order, and an execution order. The preparatory order warned the recruits to listen up while the execution order told them what to do. The preparatory order took many forms the simplest ones merely identified the target for the execution order such as platoon or squad. Joe suspected Tonga was hard of hearing because he shouted every order.

“Platoon. Mark Time,” Tonga yelled. It took ten minutes to get everyone in step then he ordered, “Platoon. Halt.” And they did. Tonga looked pleased, but not for long. He never looked pleased for long.

Over the course of the afternoon, the platoon worked in squads and took turns learning various commands. A mistake by an individual resulted in a series of pushups performed by the entire squad. Usually, ten pushups satisfied Tonga’s sadistic needs, but now and then he demanded twenty.

The sun was well past noon, and the temperature had dropped to the mid-eighties.  The squads were practicing in-line marching, halting and executing an about-face when a thundershower blew through. Tonga must have expected it because he stood under the eaves of the barracks as the rain soaked the platoon. The shower ended minutes later, and the temperature quickly climbed back into the nineties. The drilling never stopped.

At 16:50 Tonga marched the platoon to the mess hall. He told them to hang-out in the assembly area after their dinner and that he’d join them there.


The guys milled around after their dinner of ham, mashed potatoes, and green beans, several men lit up cigarettes.

David Johnston and John Davidson from the third squad were called the New York brothers because of their accents and propensity to stick together, rubbed their cigarette butts into the ground. Bubba Roberson saw them.

“Y’all better pick them butts up, or Sarge’s gonna shit a brick. My Pa showed me how to field strip ‘em by pushing the cherry and the tobacco outta the paper and keeping the paper and filter in my pocket till I could throw ‘em away.” Roberson said in an Alabama drawl.

Johnston at 5’10” was nearly as tall as Roberson but outweighed him by at least fifty pounds. He got nose to nose with Roberson and said, “I couldn’t care less what your Pa showed you, hayseed. Stay out of my business.”

Roberson wasn’t intimidated by Johnston and clenched his fists in preparation for his next move. But his friend, McMasters, pulled him back from the brink when he said to the gathered crowd, “Some dogs gotta get castrated before they can learn a thing.”

Roberson stepped back and turned to his friend. “You’re right Donnie. Let’s see how this hunt ends.”

The deescalation disappointed a few observers, but not many, and soon everybody drifted back to their individual groups. The New York brothers received a wide berth.

Senior Drill Sergeant Cocker seemed to be in a hurry given his pace as he walked through the second platoon’s assembly area. He had almost cleared the area when he spun around like a fish caught on a hook. Cocker yelled, “Who left cigarette butts on my earth?”

Johnston and Davidson were the closest to the butts, but they didn’t speak up.  Joe looked at Samsonite, their supposed platoon leader. He was studying his boots. Joe realized things were going to get out of hand and said, “I did, Senior Drill Sergeant.”

“There are two butts here.”

“Yes, Senior Drill Sergeant.”

“Pick them up.”

“Yes, Senior Drill Sergeant.”

“Eat them. Then give me fifty.”

Joe gaped at the sergeant and considered refusing but thought better of it. “Yes, Senior Drill Sergeant.”

Joe made a big deal of chewing the butts but actually pushed the filters between his gums and cheeks. He dropped down and counted off each pushup.

Cocker watched Joe but kept glancing at his watch. When Joe grunted thirty-five, Cocker stopped him and said, “Get up maggot, you owe me fifteen more, but I can’t wait. You field-strip those butts next time. Do you hear me?”

“Yes, Senior Drill Sergeant.”

Cocker hurried away. When he was out of sight, Joe spit the filters into his hand. A crowd formed around him but stayed quiet. Finally, JL asked, “Why’d you do that? They weren’t your butts.”

“Because Cocker would have gone ballistic if nobody spoke up,” Joe said.

JL shook his head and started to say something but stopped. He smiled and said, “You’re one crazy white boy.”


Joe lay in bed after lights-out at 21:00 and thought of home. Home, where Julie’s selfless love glowed in his mind and Big John’s support and Paul Brown’s wise counsel gave him strength. He clung to those thoughts, but tears welled in his eyes. The world he’d known was gone, replaced by a crazy one filled with evil people. He’d learned the meaning of homesick.

To Be Continued…

(c) 2016 David P. Cantrell is a contributor and staff member of EWI.

Want more? You’ll find links to previous episodes at the following site, Basic’s Lessons of Life Series


Little Pink Ridinghood

Mal, the malamute dog, didn’t like the looks of the dirty old man. The ratty clothes and oily hair didn’t bother him much—many poor folks lived in the Ferny Forrest. The piercing yellow eyes were a different matter, they deserved his attention.

“Stop looking at that old man. He’s creepy and I don’t like him,” Mal said.

“You’re such a scaredy-cat Mal,” Amaranth giggled. “I have my protective amulet in my basket, so you’re not in danger.”

“I am not afraid of cats. I just respect their privacy.”

“And, their claws,” Amaranth said.

Mal chortled as only his kind can. “You know how your grandmother frets if you’re late. Let’s get going.”

They walked the road, more of a path actually. It meandered eastward through the forest. The trees became taller and the canopy thicker until they entered a shadowy world more akin to twilight than the late morning. They knew the road well, but still watched their step for the debris that rained from above. Not more than fifty feet from the fork that led to grandmother they came upon a fallen tree.

The trunk was, at least, five feet in diameter. No wagon would use the road until a team of foresters cleared it. Grandmother would be glad to hear of it because her forestry business depended on fallen trees. Sane people didn’t cut down trees in the Ferny Forest.

Mal reached the top of the trunk easily, but Amaranth had to climb using crinkles in the bark as finger and toe holds. She stood on the crest and felt like a giant looking down on a puny world. Mal stared at the darkness and growled.

A man’s silhouette stood before them, only his eyes clearly visible.

“My. What big yellow eyes you have.” Amaranth said.

“All the better to see you with, my sweet child,” said the stranger as he moved nearer. “I am Lou Pine a vagabond exploring our marvelous world. It is a pleasure to meet you.”

His gallant bow impressed her, but not Mal. He growled again and jumped onto the path. Amaranth quickly joined him.

“I too, am pleased sir. This is my good, but suspicious, friend Mal. I am Amaranth Pink. Tell me sir, from where do you hail?”

“Oh, from far and wide. I’m always looking for new and delicious experiences. Where are you two off to?”

“My grandmother’s house, it is but a short distance down the left fork in the road not far behind you. I’m sorry, but we must hurry along. I carry things of importance to her.”

With that said they parted. Not more than fifteen minutes later she arrived at grandmother’s house. Mal felt it safe to excuse himself and headed into the woods. Amaranth entered the house and found the strange man from the trail in the parlor.

“Sir, you surprise me. Why are you here and where is my grandmother?”

“Your grandmother offered refreshments and will return momentarily.”

Grandmother entered the room pushing a serving cart topped with a tray of sandwiches and a pitcher of apple cider. Seeing her granddaughter she stopped.

“I’m glad you’re here dear. This young man showed up unannounced and wouldn’t be put off. I felt I had to admit him. Did you bring my supplies?”

“I did grandmother, but please don’t run low of them again. It worries me.”

“I know dear and I’m sorry. It snuck up on me. All of a sudden I—”

“Silence! You blabbering fools,” bellowed Lou Pine.

Startled the females turned towards him. Through some strange metamorphosis, his shape changed from a handsome young man into a dirty old man and finally into a fearsome werewolf with long fangs and horrific claw-like fingers.

The rapidity of it all caught Amaranth off guard and she almost dropped her basket. She recovered quickly though and withdrew a large caliber amulet from it. The silver bullet entered three millimeters above but centered between Lou Pine’s bushy eyebrows. He instantly became a plasma that evaporated in an instant.

Amaranth put her large caliber amulet away and withdrew two boxes of Lone Ranger 45’s from her basket which she offered to her grandmother.

“Thank you, dear. Any news from the village?”

“Nothing much. Mal and I found a large downed tree, though. I bet your crew could get ten thousand board feet out of it, maybe more. I couldn’t see its length.”

“Wonderful. Where is it?”

“What’s my finder’s fee?” Amaranth asked.

Her grandmother smiled at her redheaded progeny dressed in a pretty pink cape. “Ten percent of net, twelve percent if the tree produces more than fifteen thousand board feet.”


By David P. Cantrell. This is a revision of a story posted on EWI in March 2015.


The Hideout

The Hideout by David P. Cantrell

A friend challenged me to write a short story (under 950 words) using one word from each column from this graphic. I chose hideous, princess and sword. My story follows.

Word Graphic

I love my hideout. I can spy on the kitchen and Gigi when she’s in her bedroom and my mom and dad’s bedroom too. But, I don’t spy on mom and dad’s bedroom anymore because it makes me feel bad, like when I threw a rock at a bird and hurt it.

Gigi’s different. She’s dad’s little princess and gets away with all kinds of stuff. I hate her—she’s hideous. I feel good when I spy on her.

I didn’t like our new house at first. It was old and creepy and none of my friends lived on the street. But, it’s not so bad now. I like Tommy and he’s just two doors down the block. I’m going to show him my hideout today after school and Little League practice.


“Bobby, get the door,” Gigi yelled.

“You get it. I’m upstairs,” I yelled back.

“My hair’s wet. Please get the door.”

I ran downstairs.

“You’re always wet. Wet hair, wet nails, I bet you’ve got wet pants too,” I said.

It was Tommy at the door. We ran to my upstairs room. I braced the door with my sword.

“What’s the stick for?” Tommy said.

“It’s my sword, Thunder Bolt. I’m using it to keep people out of my room by blocking the door. I learned how to do it watching TV.”

“Oh.” Tommy sat on my bed.

“I have a hideout that nobody in the whole world knows about. Do you promise not to tell if I show it to you?”

“I promise. Where is it?” Tommy said.

“In my closet.”

Tommy laughed and said, “Everybody hides in their closet. That’s silly.”

“Oh yeah. Just wait and see.”

I got my flashlight and took him to my closet. It was deeper than the one in my old house and had a regular door, not a sliding one. My good clothes hung from hangers on one side and my regular clothes were in a dresser on the other side. In the back were boxes with my little-kid toys inside. I moved the stuffed animal box and shined the light on the floor.

“See,” I said.

“I don’t see anything Bobby. You’re weird.”

“I am not. Look carefully.”

Tommy studied the floor in the corner and rubbed his hand on the floorboards.

“Why is there a cut across the boards?”

“Because there’s a secret door in the floor,” I said proudly.

“That’s so cool. Where does it go?”

“I’ll show you.”

I spit on the suction cup of my crossbow dart and pressed it to the floorboard and pulled enough to get my fingers under the edge. The hatch came out easily. The hole was big enough for an adult and easily accommodated Tommy and me. A big piece of plywood was nailed to first-floor ceiling joists just below the opening. We knelt on all fours then I shined the light around.

“Bobby you’ve got the best hideout ever.”

“Thanks, Tommy. It is real cool. Look, there are trails that go to different parts of the house.”

* * *

 Plywood paths followed electrical and plumbing conduits around the crawlspace that had been built during the addition of the second-floor decades earlier. None of that mattered to Tommy and Bobby—they were in heaven. They spent many afternoons hiding from pirates and evil witches in the hideout. Sometimes they spied on Gigi through a tiny hole and listened to her talk to her friends on Skype. They pretended they were FBI agents gathering evidence against terrorists. Once they giggled when they saw her kiss Jordon Bronson. She looked at the ceiling and scared them away.

The boys had great fun until the exterminator came. It was the last day of summer vacation. Bobby’s dad took a day off to deal with the problem that had bothered his wife and daughter for months—a critter in the attic was the presumption. Bobby and Tommy lay on their plywood perch over the kitchen and listened.

“My wife and daughter have heard creaking sounds and chirps in the ceiling. I heard it once and it didn’t sound like the settling noises that come with an old home. I want you to kill whatever is up there.”

“Sir, we are a humane service and do our best to relocate the offending creatures. But, if necessary, we’ll use lethal force,” the exterminator said.

Bobby and Tommy freaked. They scurried back to the hatch, but Tommy’s pant leg got caught on a nail head.

“Help me, Bobby. I don’t want to be relocated.”

Tommy wanted to help him get loose but couldn’t reach the snag. He had to make a decision: save Tommy or confess his spying. He decided to save his friend. He scrambled out of the hatch and ran downstairs to the kitchen.

He stopped at the doorway. His mom and dad were sitting with Gigi and Jordon at the kitchen table drinking coffee.

“Where’s the exterminator?” Bobby asked.

“Right here,” Jordon said and raised his hand.

Bobby gaped at the scene for a moment before he understood what had happened.

His dad said, “Son, it’s not nice to spy on people, particularly your family.”

“I’m sorry dad. I won’t do it again.”

Everyone laughed when they heard Tommy’s muffled promise: “Me too.”

Basic Lessons of Life – Number Three

The trashcan cymbals had rung at 5:00 am. All Joe could think about was Big John’s warning to stay off the DI’s radar. He was sure Tonga was going to ruin his life after the alarm clock fiasco.WWII Barracks

Sgt. Tonga, fully dressed in a starched uniform, stood by the latrine door and yelled, “Drain your lizards, shave your chins and get your asses dressed! Stow your gear in you duffels.” Then he climbed the stairs to share his greeting with the second floor, clanging his cymbals all the way to the refrain, “Get up. Get up.”

Joe wasn’t going to be the last guy dressed. He grabbed his shaving kit and ran to the latrine at the rear of the building.

The latrine’s overall dimensions were about fifteen feet deep by thirty feet wide. However, the second story stairwell and a mechanical room took up large chunks of the floor space. Access was through a three foot doorway that abutted the right-hand exterior wall. A large window divided the rear wall. Six antique sinks below six mottled mirrors plus a utility sink covered the right half of the real wall. A narrow room formed by the encroachment of the mechanical room on the left side of the building served as a communal shower with six showerheads for forty men.

Joe wanted to get his shave done, but his bladder vetoed the idea. To his left and opposite the sinks was a trough style urinal that could accommodate five men. Beyond the urinal were five stall-less commodes. Joe smiled at them and thought, private is a rank, not a right, in the Army.

Joe kept his eyes to himself but couldn’t help noticing that everyone’s urine was the color of over-ripe oranges and smelled worse. He promised himself to drink more fluids.

The latrine filled with guys as the upstairs recruits reacted to Sgt. Tonga’s drum beat. Lines formed behind the sinks while teeth were bushed and chins denuded. Joe had to wait for Samsonite at the sink, the guy took forever. He brushed every tooth like it was fine silver after which he shaved as if he was going to kiss the Queen of England’s butt. He lathered on shaving foam, made a stroke with his expensive Gillette Techmatic razor and then thoroughly rinsed the blade before the next stroke. Joe would have cut the little guy’s throat with the razor, but he feared making another blip on Tonga’s radar.

JL had landed upstairs when the sergeants divvied everybody up the night before. He saw Joe sitting on his duffle bag and did the same next to him.

“Hi Joe. How you doing?”

“I’m not sure. Tonga jumped down my throat. I’m worried he’s going to make my life miserable.”

“Better you than me, white boy.” JL slapped Joe on the back. “Besides, he might not be your permanent DI. They’re supposed to assign our platoons today.”

“From your mouth, to God’s ear. Tonga’s a madman.” Joe said.

Five minutes later, Tonga ordered everyone to exit the building through the two rear doors on the right side of the barracks. They lined up in four rows of ten on the dirt yard between their building and the next barracks.

Every barracks looked the same. They’d been built as temporary structures during World War II, however three decades later they were still in use. The old oil heaters had been replaced with natural gas but everything else had remained original. The wooden buildings had been designed for function and quick construction, not for beauty or safety. Lapped board siding formed an exterior over tarpapered plywood nailed to exposed two by four studs. Green asphalt tiles topped the shallow-sloped roofs. They were fire traps.

Tonga did his best to keep his forty men together as they trudged to the parade ground in front of their barracks. Three other buildings emptied at the same time and lined up near Joe’s group. One hundred and sixty men formed a rectangle that was sixteen wide by ten deep that stood quietly behind four rigid DIs.

Between the parade ground and the two buildings that made up the company headquarters a flagpole stood, surrounded by a circle of white stones. Four men exited the largest headquarters building and walked toward the flagpole. Joe recognized Senior Drill Sergeant Cocker and thought one of the men was an officer. The other two were enlisted men, one of which, a corporal, carried a bundle. Joe realized the bundle was an American flag when the corporal and the private with him unfolded it and hooked it to a halyard. The corporal manned the halyard but didn’t raise the flag.

At exactly 6:00 am a bugle played reveille over loudspeakers that could be heard all over Fort Bragg. The officer yelled, “Present arms.” And, immediately he saluted as did the DIs. The corporal slowly raised the flag and when his end wouldn’t touch the ground the private let go and saluted too.

One hundred and sixty scared young men raised their right hands and saluted their flag. A chilled ran down Joe’s spine. The energetic reveille tune continued for twenty seconds and ended just as the flag reached the pole’s brass finial. The officer yelled, “Order arms.”

All hands dropped to their sides in unison like a flock of birds changing direction and yet no one had explained the order. Joe didn’t consider himself spiritual, but he felt something happen that didn’t conform to his sense of logic.

Captain Halbeck introduced himself and welcomed the recruits to Company B, 8th Battalion of the 2nd Brigade. He said, “I leave you in the capable hands of Senior Drill Sergeant Cocker,” and then walked back to his office followed by the flag attendants. Joe saw him twice after that.

Cocker surveyed the crowd until the captain was out of earshot. “Today you’re maggots not worth the time it would take me to step on you and end your miserable lives. But, as much as I’d like to grind your fat-filled bodies into sausage, I can’t, ‘cause the Army needs your bodies to fertilize the rice paddies of Viet Nam. So, it’s my job to make you soldiers.”

The DIs moved out of view as Cocker droned on a bit longer before taking rollcall. If someone didn’t respond to their name quickly Cocker would scream and badger them. He reminded Joe of his uncle, a bully with a big ego. Finally he ordered, “Attention,” followed by, “About face.”

Most of the recruits turned around, but a few didn’t, which gave Cocker his chance. Joe had turned and couldn’t see what was happening, but he could hear it.

“Give me fifty,” Cocker bellowed.

“Yes Senior Drill Sergeant…ah…fifty what?” the kid said. His voice cracked at what.

“Pushups, you piece of dog turd.”

“Yes Senior Drill Sergeant.”

“Are you counting dog breath? I can’t hear you,” Cocker yelled.

Joe pictured his uncle’s gloating face as he listened. He had seen the four DIs move to the front of their respective barracks while Cocker’s drama played out and thought the platoon assignments must be next.

“Nineteen, twenty….twenty-one…uh twenty-two,” the kid said. His struggle was obvious as the time between numbers grew longer. Then he collapsed with “oomph.”

Joe noticed Bliss and Tonga glance at each other. Bliss shrugged. Tonga shook his head and spit as if to rid his mouth of a bad taste. At least, that’s what Joe thought.

“You’re weaker than my little sister and she’s disabled. Get in formation, dog crap. Sergeant Bliss, take over,” Cocker said.

Sergeant Bliss explained that each DI would take turns calling out names. The recruits were supposed to line up in the assembly area to the right of the barracks until the platoon assignments were done.

One after another, last names were called with no discernable logic. Joe heard Tonga call Washington and heard JL answer. Poor guy, Joe thought and trusted his three to one odds would hold up because there were about twenty guys left. Two rounds later, Tonga called Samson and beyond belief, Samsonite answered. Joe damn near choked holding back a laugh at the odd turn of events until Tonga called his name.

Joe joined the 2nd platoon’s assembly area with an incredible sense of disappointment. Once again, his desires had been ignored by the fates, or God, or whatever.

The recruits had learned enough to get into a rough four by ten formation. Most of them were sitting on their duffel bags looking away from the parade ground, but not JL, he was watching and waiting. When he saw Joe approach, he stood and gave him a smile that beamed from his dark skinned face and a thumbs-up gesture to reinforce his point—he was glad Joe was with him.

Joe’s eyes met JL’s and knew he hadn’t been let down after all. If he was going to face the unknown, he’d rather do it with JL and besides the California guys had to stick together.

Once the assignments were done, they were told to leave their duffels in the assembly area and were walked to breakfast. The mess hall was a single story building built in the forties like everything else. It could accommodate a hundred and seventy, but rarely had to.

A long line formed at the entrance. Men entered, took a divided tray, grabbed flatware and moved on. The tray was filled with scrambled eggs, fried potatoes and greasy bacon. At the end of the food line the men turned and could serve themselves coffee or a large glass of milk: white or chocolate. The coffee urn was gigantic in Joe’s mind, but the milk dispensers were more impressive. Joe took coffee and realized he hadn’t drunk milk of any kind since his parents had died—it was kid food.

He made his way to a seat and dug in, but he was nowhere near done when he was forced to give up his spot for another recruit. As they exited the mess hall, the flag-raising corporal told them to sit on their duffel bags by the barracks until their sergeants told them what to do.


After breakfast, Tonga assigned each man to a bunk and showed the group how to make a bed and organize their gear. He gave them a half hour to get ready for their first inspection.

Tonga had a private room at the front of the building. He stepped out of his quarters and into the aisle that divided the barracks in half. He stood perfectly straight with his hands behind his back. At five foot six he wasn’t tall, but his width and Polynesian build made him intimidating. The room quieted quickly.

Sgt. Tonga shouted, “Attention!”

The recruits had seen enough John Wayne movies to know that attention meant to standup straight and salute, so they did.

“Don’t you candy-assed excuses for soldiers dare salute me. I’m a non-commissioned officer. I don’t need your floppy hand gestures to make me important—I own your asses.” Tonga pointed to a group by the stairs. “Get your lazy butts upstairs and stand at attention at your foot lockers. That goes for this floor too, move!”

Joe scrambled to find his place at the foot of his bunk, as did everyone.

Tonga gave them their first standing order: keep you area squared away. He didn’t vocalize the order as much as demonstrate it. He overturned every bed on the floor except one. When he came to Samsonite’s bed he pulled a quarter from his pocket and flipped it into the air. It bounced off of the taut green blanket and landed heads up. He nodded to Samsonite.

“That’s how you make a bed. The rest of you better have yours looking like it when I get back.”

Samsonite’s chest puffed like a crowing rooster. Tonga moved on to terrorize the second floor and left nineteen sets of eyes focused on the little guy with criminal intent. As much as Joe had wanted to do him in at the sink not long before, he felt sorry for Samsonite now. The guy didn’t have a clue how damned he was.

Joe had learned another lesson. It was better to face the devil with a friend than by yourself.

To be continued…

© 2015 David P. Cantrell He is a contributing member of the EWI staff.

Links to prior episodes:

Basic Lessons of Life – Number One

Basic Lessons of Life – Number Two



Basic Lessons of Life – Number Two

The train of buses rolled through the main gate like young bulls in a squeeze-chute about to be de-horned and neutered. A wooden sign announced “Fort Bragg Home of the Airborne.” Smartly dressed soldiers manned the gate and watched the procession go by. Joe noticed one of them turn away and shake his head—a bad omen to Joe. Sweat dripped from his arm pits; it was 8:00 AM—another bad omen.

Fort Bragg sig

The eight busses pulled into a large parking lot. The drivers commenced a dance of sorts that ended with the busses perfectly aligned, eight abreast, in front of a large multi-floor brick building. A six foot border of neatly trimmed grass fronted the building to the left and right of the entrance. A 2’ by 10’ sign above the double doors identified it as “Reception Center – Fort Bragg.”

Joe laughed when a big black guy sitting next to him said, “Like we’d think it was Fort Knox’s reception center.”

“Hello, I’m Jefferson Lincoln Washington. Call me JL,” the black guy said.

“Hey man, I’m Joe Appleton. Nice to meet you. Where’re you from?” Joe asked

“Long Beach California. You heard of it?”

“Shit yeah man. I’m from Huntington Beach.”

“No shit? You play ball?”

“Football. Linebacker—Go Oilers.”

“Hot damn. I played tight-end for Long Beach Poly. I bet we busted heads once or twice.”

“Could be JL, but I thought you Jackrabbits always ran from trouble.”

“No way white boy. We just couldn’t hang on to your oily bodies so we had to run around your slippery dicks.”

Joe laughed. “Call me Joe.”

The budding friendship was nipped when the driver yelled, “Get out of my bus. I’ve got better things to do than watch your sorry asses sweat.”

Everyone milled around the front of the bus hanging on to their one piece of luggage like it was a lifesaver. Most guys carried gym bags or small carry-on bags, a few guys had grocery bags, but one guy carried a new Samsonite suitcase.

The guy wore polished dress shoes, black slacks and a white shirt and tie. A black and gray plaid sport coat hung over his shoulder as if he was Frank Sinatra. Joe nudged JL. “Pretty fancy dude. Huh.”

“My ten year old sister is bigger than that little bug. Hell, my six year old brother could blow him over. That boy ain’t never gonna make it. But, he’ll look good at the funeral. Maybe Sammy Davis Jr. will sing for him.”

“Are you laughing at me surfer boy?” Joe stopped laughing when he realized he was the target of the question. A tall, trim and very black man stood in front of the group. His Dudley Do-Right hat sat perfectly parallel to the ground above an impeccably pressed uniform. Everything in its place, even his perspiration stayed out of view.

“No sir.”

“What did you say? I’m not sure I heard you clearly.”

“I said, No sir. Sir,” Joe said louder.

“You just called me sir three times in less than one minute bird-brain. I work for a living. I’m not a sir. You and the rest of your flock can call me Drill Sergeant, Sergeant Davis or Sergeant, but you better not call me sir again.”

Joe fidgeted.

“Did you hear me bird-brain?”

“Yes s…ergeant Davis.”

Sergeant Davis organized the group into four rows of ten. It took longer than he liked apparently, because he screamed finally when he was satisfied with the formation. Forty tired young men stared at Sgt. Davis and awaited the unknown. His forehead wrinkled as he glanced at his watch. Joe assumed a decision had been made, “Everyone, turn to your right,” Sgt. Davis said.

Samsonite and two others turned left, but quickly corrected themselves. The sergeant shook his head and told them to stay together and follow him. They didn’t enter the Reception Center as they’d expected but instead walked a few blocks to a little clapboard white building with a red roof. A row of painted white rocks formed a curb in front of the building. Sgt. Davis lined up the formation, four abreast behind the curb and sent the first four guys into the building.

JL whispered, “What’s happening?” Joe cautiously pointed to a diminutive red blue and white barber pole hanging by the door. A few minutes later, the guys exited the shop shorn of their locks. Sgt. Davis pointed to a grassy area nearby and told them to relax, smoke if they wanted to and to be quiet. Joe waited in line.

“Oscar, looky what’s I got here—a blond beach boy,” the barber said and held Joe’s tresses up with both hands like a lions’ main.

“James. You may be today’s winner with that one,” Oscar said as he carved a deep furrow through JL’s afro. “But, if I straightened these curls the decision could be in doubt.”

Joe and JL grabbed their bags with one hand and rubbed their heads with the other as they left the shop. They sat on the lawn and sighed in unison. Joe held out a pack of Marlboros to JL, “Want a smoke?”

“Nah, I choke on them things something terrible,” JL said. “My aunt Sadie…she’s a nurse. Anyway, she told me that if I smoked, my pretty pink lungs would become as black as my big ass. I don’t know why, but the image of my lungs looking like my ass turned me off to those things forever.”

Joe took a deep draw and blew out circles within circles of blue-gray smoke and said, “Good, more for me. Hey, with your afro gone and my hair buzzed, we kind of look alike, well not twins, but more alike than before.”

When the last four shaved heads exited the barber shop, Sgt. Davis lined the four up in the roadway and yelled, “Get off of my grass you maggots and form up on me.” A chorus of moans rose from the flock as they stood and stretched. “Get your butts in line behind these guys or you’ll never see your loved ones again.”

No one doubted him.

The group headed toward the Reception center and walked right past it. Two blocks later, Sgt. Davis halted them before a windowless single story brick building. Joe guessed it was 40’ by 40’ and couldn’t figure out why an AT&T bell sign hung by the only entrance.

“Alright maggots, this is your one and only opportunity to call your family and let them know you haven’t died yet. Line up here.”

Joe waited in line behind JL and thought about who to call. His folks had died when he was fourteen. His uncle Robert, who’d raised him until he graduated high school, was serving six months for petty theft so he wasn’t a candidate and he wouldn’t give a shit anyway. His head said to call Julie, but his sense of self-preservation said let it go for now, so he planned to call Paul at Claude’s Tool & Die.

Paul Brown, Claude’s son and now the business’ owner, had been a big booster for the Oilers football team. For reasons Joe never knew, Paul had taken a liking to him and had offered him a part-time job during his sophomore year. It had changed Joe’s life in many ways, not least of which was his being able to buy food when Uncle Robert was strung-out or in jail.

The guys at the shop had become his family in a way. Paul taught him the importance of keeping your word and doing your best. Big John, the shop lead, forced him to accept responsibility for his fuck-ups. John once said, “If you screw up and hide it, the die you made could kill babies on an airplane. If you admitted your fuck-up, you’d save those babies.” Even at eighteen, Joe had known Big John was being dramatic, but the lesson stuck just the same.

He looked forward to talking to Paul, but by the time Joe got to a phone, the heat and humidity in the building was oppressive. He fed quarters into the phone. Mary, the receptionist, answered, “May I help you?”

“This is Joe. Please get Paul.”

“Oh. Hi sweetie. How are you?”

“Hot. Please get Paul.”

“Hey, Joe what’s up?”

‘Hi Paul, I’m safe. Say hi to the guys. I’m sorry but I’ve got to hang up.”

Joe staggered out of the phone barn and collapsed on the lawn. His Levi’s darkened with sweat and his eyes stinging from salt laden perspiration. He glanced at his watch; it was 11:15 AM.

The line to eat wrapped half way around the building. Joe hadn’t eaten since a bag of peanuts the night before. The mess hall looked like a school cafeteria with four food lines. Grab a tray, move down the line, take what you’re given, don’t talk, hurry, hurry. He consumed the food as fast as he could, but it wasn’t Army fast—perfectly good mash potatoes joined soggy lima beans in a trashcan on his way out.

Reception Center seemed like a misnomer to Joe when medics started poking and prodding after the paperwork was done. It wasn’t as bad as his physical in L.A. a few months before, but it wasn’t fun either. He stood in line to use the toilet. He stood in line to get boots. He stood in line to get pants and shirts and underwear. The heavy canvas duffle bag he’d been given early on filled with his civilian clothes and military gear as the day wore on and it became quite heavy.

Samsonite had a hell of a time. He couldn’t force his suitcase into the duffle bag so he had to carry both of them. An officer noticed him dragging the bag and read him the riot act for abusing government property. From then on everyone carried the bag over their shoulders.

The recruit assembly line moved in spurts. It would stop suddenly for no apparent reason and then everyone would be jogging to catch up to the guy in front of them. During one of the stops Joe watched Samsonite sneak out of line and shove his suitcase into a janitorial closet. Gutsy, Joe thought.

Joe finally exited the Reception Center and joined dozens of other recruits sitting in a field behind the building, waiting for the next unknown. Forty minutes later the building stopped producing recruits.

“On your feet,” yelled a drill sergeant that Joe hadn’t seen before. Four other drill sergeants stood next to him. “Quiet down. I’m Senior Drill Sergeant Cocker these are Sergeants Bliss, Hanner, Tonga and Edwards.” Each stepped forward as their name was called. “They will be your platoon sergeants. We don’t have time to get your platoons squared away ‘cause we got to feed you and march you to the Company barracks so’s you can get some rack time. Therefore, I want you all to line up in front of me.” He pointed to JL. “What’s your name?”

“Jefferson Lincoln Washington, sergeant.”

“That’s senior drill sergeant, Washington. Stand in front of me.”

“Yes senior drill sergeant.”

“All righty then, I want you ladies to form up on Washington.”

Joe had no idea what Cocker wanted, but he was afraid to do nothing so he stood behind JL. The other recruits followed suit and stood behind him. Within a minute, the line grew until it encroached on a busy road. Cocker’s face turned so red his freckles disappeared.

“Stop. What are you pissants doing? Form up damn you.” Cocker shook so badly that Joe though he’d collapse. Cocker forced himself to calm down and turned toward Sergeant Bliss and said, “Bliss, take over here. I’ll make sure the mess hall is ready.” He didn’t wait for a reply and walked away.

At 8:00 PM Joe lay in the bottom bunk of a bed manufactured before he’d been born, on a dilapidated mattress. He didn’t care. He was fed, showered and dead tired, yet he had trouble sleeping. His mid bounced around from his parents to Julie then to Uncle Robert and eventually settled on a conversation he’d had with Big John before he left L.A.

‘You’re a good kid. You’ll do okay in basic, but I’ll give this advice. Keep a low profile, don’t volunteer for anything and keep your eyes and ears open. Don’t get on a DI’s radar. If you do, he’ll ride you like a mustang until he breaks you. I’ve seen it happen and another….’ Fatigue took over.


Bang! Bang! Bang! The crushing sound of galvanized trashcan lids being used as cymbals shattered Joe’s dream about Julie’s thighs. Groggy and unaware of his surroundings he rolled onto his back and said to no one in particular, “What time is it?”

He opened his eyes and stared into the bloodshot whites of another human being whose nose hovered a fraction of an inch from his own.

“I ain’t no fucking alarm clock! Get up!” Sgt. Tonga screamed.

Joe’s heart stopped for an instant then he jumped out of bed. He’d been in the Army for less than twenty-four hours and had learned another lesson. He belonged to the Army and he’d better get used to it.

To be continued.


© 2015 David P. Cantrell He is a contributing member of the EWI staff.

Prior chapters:

Basic Lessons of Life – # 1