The Recruit: A Jack Noble Short Story
The Recruit
    August, 1994: Parris Island,
South Carolina
    I hovered over the dirt
in a push-up position, my face inches from the ground. Parris Island in August
is a killer. Eight in the morning and it had to be over ninety degrees. Sweat
dripped off my face like a waterfall, turning dirt into mud. My lungs filled
with dust and grime every time I sucked wind through my mouth. My muscles
burned. Quivered. I thought about standing and squaring off with the scrawny
punk who’d spent the last eight weeks trying to break me. But that would result
in a nighttime visit from the rest of my platoon. And frankly, I’d grown tired
of those.
    Drill Instructor Sergeant
Kaszlaski wove a tapestry of obscenities from above me. “Maggot Noble, you
sonovabitch. Don’t you dare touch the friggin ground.” He kicked me in the
ribs. “This is why maggots like you don’t belong in my Marine Corps.”
    I said nothing. Held firm
and remained still.
    He placed his boot in the
middle of my back. I pictured him, one knee raised, leaning over, arm crossed
over his thigh. Some kind of victory pose. He leaned in, trying to use his
weight to force my stomach to the ground. The entire platoon shouted from the
human barrier they created, encircling me and the good Sergeant. Their shouts
of encouragement, or threats, kept me stiff and unbending. God forbid I touch
the ground. We’d all be in the shit if I did.
    “C’mon, Noble,” Riley
“Bear” Logan’s deep voice rumbled from behind me. Bear already had me on his
“hit to kill” list. If the platoon got in any more trouble on my account, he’d
be sure to visit me in the middle of the night. Given the choice of the platoon
or Bear visiting, I’d take the platoon. The guy was massive.
    The boot lifted. I
reacted by arching my back, loosening my core muscles.
    “What the hell was that,
shitbag.” Kaszlaski dropped to the ground. Stuck his face next to mine. “Did
you just lift up? Did I see you lift your back up?” Spittle sprayed across my
face and shaved head. His hot breath felt swampy against my sweat covered head.
“Holy shit, Noble. Do you know what this means?”
    The platoon let out a
collective groan. I didn’t need to look up to feel their eyes burning a hole in
my back. The entire group would pay for my perceived failure.
    “Damn you, maggot,”
Kaszlaski said. “Get the frig off the ground.”
    I didn’t move.
    Kaszlaski changed my mind
with a well-placed kick to the side of my head. My vision flashed as his dust
covered black combat boot landed next to my temple. I collapsed into a pile on
the ground. My sweat absorbed the dirt and I felt it form a cake-like coating
on my cheek and forehead. I questioned my decision to join the Marine Corps as
the side of my head thumped with pain. I could be in California right now,
preparing for my freshman season as quarterback at one of the top college
programs in the nation.
    “Get to the barracks,
recruits” Kaszlaski said. “We’ve got something special prepared for all of you
this afternoon.” He stood a few feet away from me.
    I had to get up before it
was just me and him out here. I tried to push my body up. Fell back on my face.
I rolled over, wiped my face with my sleeve and looked up at the cloudy sky.
Thunder rumbled in the distance. That, or the kick to my head was harder than I
    I blinked and saw Bear
standing over me. His large frame blocked the dull glow of the sun from behind
the clouds. “Whatever he makes us do, you’re getting triple from me.”
    I smiled.
    Bear didn’t. He spat on
the ground, turned and walked away.
    Kaszlaski stood over me.
“Get the frig up, maggot.”
    We stood in front of our
racks. Two straight lines of recruits, facing each other. All of us at
attention, arms behind our backs, dressed in our physical training uniforms. No
one said a word. I looked down the line opposite me. No one made eye contact.
    Kaszlaski and two other
drill instructors entered the

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