Training Camp

by Steve Donohue

The first piece of fiction written primarily for a Goon audience, Training Camp inspired the activities for Hell Night at Winter Camp XXI, becoming the first piece of fiction written by a Winter Camper to inspire an activity

Jim braced himself for the onslaught he knew was coming. He'd been here only a few days, but he already knew the routine. The instructor had, for some reason, singled him out as the squad leader and now he couldn't get anything right. If the others screwed up, he was responsible; if they did what he asked, he was responsible. If Jim had known what one was, he might have said he'd been caught in a Catch 22.

But of course Jim didn't know what one was; that was the reason he'd been selected as squad leader. The instructors had explained they needed a volunteer and they would be picking one who wasn't too bright. Some of the others had smirked at the idea of picking a volunteer, but Jim had missed the irony and sealed his fate. Still, it wasn't all bad. He usually got to do everything first and he got to order the rest of the class around, not that they listened to him very often.

"You maggots," began the instructor, "you call that an attack! My eighty-five year old grandmother could've done better than that. I can't believe you guys even showed up here, what is the matter with you?"

Jim had heard this a few times and he knew one thing; he hoped never to meet the instructor's grandmother. She sounded like she was a meaner than a rattler and twice as nasty. Of course, he wasn't sure about the other recruits but if he'd had a chance, he wouldn't have been there. He hadn't wanted to sign up but his eighteenth birthday had come and gone and there was really no choice. The instructor continued ranting and he took a moment to look at his three classmates.

Bob was probably the smartest of them, and he had a big mouth. He was always cracking wise and making fun of the other guys, especially Jim. He usually kept quiet when the instructors were around, content to fire the odd cheap shot at one of his classmates, but never at an instructor. The instructors seemed to like him.

Al was a friend of Bob's; they'd shown up to camp together. Al was strange; he had brought a lot of gear to camp, some of which he claimed to have invented himself. He kept to himself and hardly ever spoke. The third night, he'd gotten mad at Frank and had rigged up his bunk with something from the bag he always carried. When Frank lay down on the bunk, all the springs snapped and he fell to the floor.

Like Jim, Frank didn't seem to know anyone. He was big, real big, over 6'tall and probably about 250lbs. He seemed to be pretty strong, but it was hidden under a layer of fat. The instructors called him Private Turtle and now the rest of the class was calling him that too. Frank just took it in stride and never said a word. He seemed to spend most of his time listening and he rarely spoke.

"Did you hear me Private Daisy, or were you off in fantasy land somewhere?"

Jim suddenly realized the instructor was talking to him and he hadn't heard a word that was said. They'd stuck him with the nickname Daisy because of the way he zoned out sometimes. They said it seemed like he was in a daze.

Each of the recruits had a nickname and none of them was pleasant. They called him daisy and Frank turtle. Bob was known as Private Weasel after he'd managed to get out of some work by following the letter of the instructions rather than the intention. The instructor had not been pleased. They called Al Private Duck, since his assortment of contraptions all had the same jury-rigged, hand me the duct tape, look to them. Al seemed to take a curious pride in his nickname, something the rest of the recruits did not."I said, 'Drop and give me twenty'," the instructor repeated. As Jim dropped, he heard the instructor continue. "You are, without a doubt, the sorriest group I have ever had the misfortune to work with. You are a bunch of spineless jellyfish, idiots to the core; I just wish I could wash you out of this program and be done with you. Now get up and get outside".

"Did I say you could take your coats?" asked the instructor rhetorically.

Jim, Al and Bob obediently dropped their coats back on their bunks. Frank pulled his on as he headed out the door. The four of them formed a ragged line as the instructor came out and glared at them. Jim was scared. Frank had disobeyed a direct order and now the instructor looked angry, even more angry than normal.

"Private Turtle, what are you doing with that coat, did I say you could have a coat."

"Nope", came the reply.

"Then why do you have on a jacket. Do you think your smarter than me? Are you better than the rest of these recruits?"

"I'm wearing a jacket because it's cold out here and I don't want to wind up sick".

"A big lard ass like you isn't likely to get sick, why you have enough blubber for all of us. Now are you going to put that coat back, or are you in the mood for some serious discipline."

Frank looked the instructor right in the eye and smiled, just slightly. "Bring it on," he said, "because I'm through obeying your stupid orders".

Jim heard the sharp intake of air as he and his fellow recruits gasped as one. He wasn't sure what the instructor would do to them, but he was sure they were going to pay for Frank's outburst. He became worried when he noticed the instructor toying with the knife he carried on his belt.

To his relief, the instructor instead reached for his whistle and blew two loud shrill blasts. A moment later, two of the other instructors had joined them.

"Private Turtle here has decided that my orders are stupid and that he's not going to obey them anymore".

The two instructors looked a little surprised, but they moved closer to Frank.

"Take Turtle back up to our barracks", he instructed, "We're going to make an example out of him."

The two instructors grabbed Frank, one by each arm and began taking him up the hill to their barracks. Jim was worried, all three instructors seemed a little shocked and angry, and he wasn't sure what was going to become of Frank.

"Now then, do any of the rest of you maggots think my orders are stupid? We can handle two as easily as one...".

The instructors voice trailed off menacingly and he glared at each recruit in turn. None of them dared to move, not sure what would happen. Finally, Bob spoke up.

"No sir, we don't," he said, smiling.

"Good," the instructor said, "because I think we're going to be doing a little hiking this morning. Get moving the lot of you, it will keep you warm. We'll check on you later; just go once around the main road, and be back here by 10:30."

Jim began walking and he wondered what would become of Frank. These guys didn't play around, and he figured Frank would wind up locked up or something. That didn't seem fair; after all, it was cold out. He continued to move though, not wanting to join Frank in whatever Hell the instructors were putting him through. Just behind him, he could hear Al and Bob trying to keep up.

The next two days were more of the same, hand-to-hand combat, hiking, tactics, hiking, screaming, hiking, insults, hiking, and more hiking. The scariest part was Frank. They didn't see him again and the instructors never talked about him. Finally, when Weasel asked about him, the instructor said something like "we decided to make an example of him" and nothing more. Jim was very scared after that, finally realizing just how much power the instructors had over them.

On the morning of the third day following Frank's disappearance, the instructors came down earlier than usual to wake them up. The first instructor through the door let out a holler and Jim awoke to see him drenched in what he hoped was water. A quick glance told him that whatever had happened was Duck's handiwork; there were a number of levers and strings attached to the door and, eventually, to a bucket dangling from the ceiling. Duck began laughing uncontrollably, not even pausing when the instructor grabbed him by the neck and yanked him out of bed.

"Do you think this is funny Private Duck?" screamed the instructor, "because I don't. it's the sort of thing that puts me in the mood for a nice long walk, probably without a coat or shirt since mine's all wet".

"You were all wet before I started," said Duck, "I just made it more obvious."

"Are you mocking me," hollered the instructor rhetorically.

"You bet I am," said Duck. "I don't care what you do to me or what you did to Frank, it can't be any worse than the crappy food and the stupid hikes we're doing here all the time, not to mention having to listen to your stupid orders. Do your worst."

Two sharp blasts on the whistle brought down some extra instructors who whisked Duck back to their barracks. Bob was clearly upset, separated from his friend and bodyguard.

"What's going to happen to him," asked Bob.

"Why don't you try something stupid and find out," replied the instructor. "You just might like it Weasel."

"No sir," replied Bob, "it's just that he's my friend and we look out for each other."

"Not anymore he's not," observed the instructor. "At this point, the only friend you have left is Daisy over there, and I don't think that's going to last too much longer. You're both looking pretty frazzled. Why don't you go ahead and sleep in?"

Both of them quickly made their way to their bunks and settled in while the instructors headed up to their barracks to deal with Duck. There was a lot of yelling coming from the other building, but Jim couldn't quite tell what was being said. Once the last of the yelling was over, there was a loud bang, sort of like a gunshot, and then a brief silence. Jim sat bolt upright in bed, slamming his head against the top bunk. He looked over and saw Bob sitting on the edge of his bed. It looked like he was crying.

Jim decided not to get involved and lay back down. He could hear the quiet sounds of Bob sobbing in bed, but he didn't get up. He knew that if the instructors caught him out of bed, he'd be in trouble too. Besides, he didn't like Bob much, and being nice to him now would seem wrong. He finally rationalized his way into sleep, but it wasn't easy.

Jim had a restless night, and the nightmares kept coming. All of them ended exactly the same way. He screwed up somehow and then the instructors lined him up and shot him. Each time, he awoke with a start, just like he had when he heard the first shot. The fifth time he woke up he looked at the clock; it was 3:30 am. Bob was finally sleeping, but it didn't seem like he was doing too well either, he called out Duck's name and then he too awoke. Jim lay down quickly, not wanting Bob to know he'd been looking at him.

To his surprise, he heard Bob leave his bunk and quietly get dressed. He rolled over and looked with one eye. Bob tied his shoes and quietly left the building. Jim just lay there and never said a word. He figured Bob was making a run for it. If the instructors caught him, that would be the end of him. They had made it clear from the beginning that the training would last until they felt everyone was ready.

Jim wasn't surprised when he woke up alone the next morning. The instructor glared at him and said "Well, Private Daisy, you're the only one left. Your friend Weasel made a break for it last night, but we caught him. How do you feel about that?"

"Well, Instructor I'm..."

"Shut up Daisy, don't you know a rhetorical question when you hear it? Of course not, you're an idiot. Alright, put on your boots, you're going on a hike."

"All by myself? Isn't that dangerous?"

"Not as dangerous as asking me that question".

Jim thought for a second and then pulled on his boots and headed outside. The instructor was waiting for him. He pointed at the road and Jim obediently started walking. The instructor didn't even bother coming along with him, so he was left to his thoughts. He wasn't sure what was going to happen anymore. The other three were gone, he didn't know where, and he was stuck here until the instructors thought he was ready. He'd just have to keep listening and pray that it came soon.

The next several days blurred together. Every morning, one of the instructors came down and made him take a long hike by himself. They also made him do all the chores the group had shared before and even began giving him extra assignments. Jim took them all in stride, hoping that the torture would end soon, but the instructors showed no signs of relenting.

Four nights after Bob had disappeared, Jim was outside, policing the area around his cabin on his hands and knees. The instructors had insisted he do it that way after they found a cigar wrapper he'd missed. Jim hadn't had the courage to point out that the cigar wrappers belonged to the instructors, and he'd eaten the whole thing as ordered. As he shined his flashlight on the ground, he spotted a reflection. Thinking it was another cigar wrapper, he took a closer look and saw that it was actually a set of keys.

The keys belonged to one of the instructors and Jim paused for a few minutes, debating the best course of action. Finally, he decided it would be better to risk the instructor's ire by returning the keys now then to wait and have the instructor wake him up in the middle of the night. Deep down, he knew that neither decision was right and that no matter what he did, he'd be wrong.

Steeling his nerves, he began to slowly walk towards the instructors' quarters. He'd never been up there at night before and never without a direct order from an instructor. From inside the building, he could hear laughter and the sounds of a television. He was shocked by both, since the instructors had gone to great lengths to mock them over television. He decided he'd better peek inside before knocking on the door.

If the television was a surprise, what came next nearly gave him a heart attack. There, sitting in chairs and eating pizza were Frank, Al and Bob, and they were all wearing instructor uniforms. He couldn't believe his eyes! He had been sure all three were dead by now and then there they were eating pizza and watching television with the instructors. He turned to run away and bumped into one of the instructors.

"Just what are you doing here Private Daisy?" asked the instructor.

"Uhm, I found a set of keys and I wanted to return them."

"Why were you looking into our window?"

"I wasn't."

"Don't lie to me Daisy, I saw you doing it."

"Well, it's just that I didn't want to bother you, you know, in case you were busy."

"And did you learn anything Daisy?"

"No."

"That is your problem Daisy. I don't think you're ever going to get it. This program ends tomorrow, and I think we're just going to have to wash you out."

The instructor was yelling now, and several of the others came out to join him. Jim didn't understand what was going on and he became confused as all the instructors began yelling at him at once and he couldn't follow what they were saying.

"Shut up," he said quietly, so quietly that no one even took heed. He tried it again, a little louder this time, but still their yammering continued, and he was sick of it and he didn't understand why they were doing this and how come the others could break the rules and get pizza and he followed them all and now they were still yelling at him and they weren't stopping and he couldn't understand them.

"Shut up," he said for the third time, louder than the first two, "please, just shut up!" even louder as they continued their verbal assault.

"Did you say something Daisy?" asked one of the instructors.

Something inside him just snapped and for a moment, Jim lost control. He was tired of their jibes, tired of their ridiculous orders and their insane rules and traditions. He was as good as any of them, maybe better, and he was sick of it. Without warning, he lashed out at the instructor, connecting solidly with his jaw and leaving him sprawling on the ground.

"I said Shut Up!" he said, so loudly now that everyone could hear it. "Just shut up all of you; I'm sick of listening to your crap and following your stupid rules and just shut up!"

Jim turned slowly trying to watch everyone else, his face a contorted mask of rage. He had heard himself say it, but he knew it was a mistake and he especially knew that hitting the instructor was a mistake. He knew he was in for it, so what came next really surprised him.

"He tagged you pretty good, didn't he Dave?" said one of the instructors, helping the fallen instructor to his feet.

"Yeah John, I definitely owe him one," came the reply.

"Alright," said John, slapping Jim on the back enthusiastically, "come on in side for pop and pizza, Jim. I think we're going to make a Goon out of you after all."

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