If you've been following this blog, you already know the story. If you've stumbled on it now, welcome. Here's the lowdown.
A few years back, I was commissioned to write a story for the 'We're Alive' podcast.
Long story short, it didn't pan out.
But I spent a very long time writing it for it to languish in my computer. I spent that time not only writing it for the 'We're Alive' folks, but mostly for my readers.
So what I've decided to do is publish my initial story here, via my blog, as a work of FAN FICTION, a completely unofficial piece about a character from the series. This is completely unofficial and unauthorized, but I think my work and time spent on this project deserve to see the light of day.
I would like to encourage everyone who might enjoy this fan fiction to check out the officials 'We're Alive' website HERE. It is a fantastic and well-developed world created by a group of professional writers and expert voice actors.
In the meantime, here's the completlely unofficial, unauthorized 'We're Alive' fan fiction, originally entitled (WORKING TITLE: BURT)
BOWIE V. IBARRA
From an idea from the creators of the
“WE’RE ALIVE” podcast
Copyright 2011 PRODUCERS OF “WE’RE ALIVE” PODCAST, BOWIE V. IBARRA
4. CHANNELING ANGER
The atmosphere was tense as Max carried the dying survivor into the post-apocalyptic refinery. It was one of Burt’s favorite moments. It was the first time the viewer is introduced to the ragtag team of survivors unifying against the motorized menace of The Humongous and his punk-style and leather-clad disciples. It’s also the first time the Feral Kid is seen, surprised at the audacity of Max pulling up to the makeshift stronghold.
As the survivors threatened Max with their crude but effective medieval weapons consisting of crossbows, knives, and traditional bows and arrows, a distant thumping sound emanated from the apartment above him.
Burt groaned. “Goddamn afternoon delight.” He grabbed the remote and turned up the volume.
The disabled mechanic dangled from his swing as Max’s dog attacked the cloth wrapped around what was left of his legs. The mechanic just watched the dog, helpless, but amused.
Burt always wondered how his legs had become disabled. Were his feet missing, perhaps? Or paralysis? It reminded him of guys he had seen at the VA who had their legs blown off by land mines. Landmines were dirty goddamn weapons.
Or maybe the guy was in a car accident. It could have been some sort of vehicular rumble for the ‘juice’. The same kind of ‘do or die’ battle royal that opened the movie. Thrown from the vehicle, the mechanic might have had his legs broken, then amputated.
Maybe he got ran over, making his legs lame?
Perhaps he had diabetes and they had to have his leg, or feet, amputated.
Burt lifted up his hand. He tried to hold it still, but he couldn’t. It shook, refusing to stay still. It had been that way for a while. Even more so when she left.
But he didn’t want to think of that right now.
I should really get something to eat, he thought to himself. But when another jungle beat of a headboard against a wall started its erratic song of lust, Burt just shook his head. His apartment complex was far from a retirement community. Most of the tenants were students from the college.
“Goddamn,” he muttered. “You’d think it was the end of the world or something,” he grumbled, considering the argument he had heard outside his door just minutes before.
Burt turned up the television ten more clicks, just ten clicks away from being on full blast. It wasn’t that he couldn’t appreciate a young college couple having a little fun with their bodies. He was just past all that now. High school then the Marines gave him his fill.
Burt jumped out of the bedroom window of Trina Michelle’s house at around 6am, just before the sun began to rise over his hometown of Culver City. Trina lived only two blocks from Burt’s house, and the late night rendezvous were commonplace since they started dating about three weeks before. Neither of them cared what people thought of them. People gossiped, of course. But no one ever said a harsh word in front of Burt. They knew better.
Trina and Burt were both loners. They both had friends, but their broken homes made them edgier than the regular kids. Angrier. Both of their fathers had walked out on their mothers. Both of them felt the loss in their hearts, and found solace in each other’s company.
Both mothers, however, had hit the bottle after their loss. That didn’t sit well with either of the children.
Burt was usually able to pull off the night visits because his mother, Marsha, would get so piss-drunk she’d pass out and wouldn’t get up until Burt had walked off to school.
Today was different when he climbed back in his bedroom window.
“Mom,” said Burt with surprise. His mother was sitting in the corner of his room. A bottle of L’Amour Whiskey sat precariously on the edge of the chair she sat on.
“Good morning, Burt,” she said, slurring her words.
“Mom,” groaned Burt. “What are you doing in my room?”
“It’s my room, son. I pay the bills here.. for the house, here. What are you doing?”
Burt didn’t want to fight with his mom. But how much she drank every night and how she sounded when she tried to talk drunk always upset him.
“C’mon, mom. Give me a break.”
“Give you a bray.. break? C’mon, son. How do you think I feel when find I out… find out… I find out that you’re not in your room? Huh?”
“Mom,” groaned Burt. “I gotta get ready for school.”
“Yeah. School. Your senior year in high school, and you can’t make any A’s. Why is that, Burt?”
“I make B’s and C’s.”
“Why not A’s?”
“I’ll why you…I’ll tell you why? Fights. You’ve been getting in fights and trouble, son. What happened to you?”
“You know what happened to me, mom,” said Burt, defiantly.
“Don’t blame this on your father.”
“I don’t blame it on dad. I blame your drinking on dad.”
“Goddammit, boy,” grunted Marsha. “You don’t need… you don’t need to understand… You don’t understand why.”
“Mom, please. The only thing I don’t understand is what you’re saying. Can we talk about this later.”
“We’ll talk… we’ll…”
Marsha burped. Then she cringed, burping again.
Marsha stumbled from her seat, grabbing the bottle of whiskey as she raced from Burt’s room.
“Oh, God,” grumbled Burt, following her. He knew where she was going.
Marsha almost fell headlong into the toilet itself when she barfed a stream of vomit into and around the toilet. Sympathetically, Burt held up her mother’s hair as she wretched into the toilet once, twice, three times, four.
By the seventh and eighth heave, there was nothing left to throw up. Dry heaves. Burt couldn’t believe how violent the heaves were.
Finally, she stopped. Burt pulled the towel from the rod on the bathroom wall and handed it to his mother. She wiped the thick line of saliva and bile from her chin. She then started to weep.
“I’m so sorry, son,” she whimpered, moving into his embrace. “I’m so sorry. I miss him. I miss him so much.”
“I do, too, mom.”
“I loved him. I love h.. him. He was my first love.”
Burt just sat quietly. The conversation was shifting in intensity. Though it made him uncomfortable, he couldn’t leave his mother like this.
“I gave him thing.. everything I could. I did, son. I’m so sorry.”
Burt tried to change the subject. “Look, mom. Let’s get you someplace close to the restroom where you can lie down for a little while. Get some rest.” He pulled the bottle of whiskey away from her. She gave little resistance.
“I’m so sorry, son. Burtie.”
“Stop it, mom. It’s alright.”
“I’m so sorry.”
Burt gently put his mother into a soft comfy chair in the living room, just a few steps away from the bathroom.
“My head hurts. The spin… the room is spinning.”
“That’s why you need to lay off the sauce for the rest of the day, mom. Just stop it.”
“Okay. Okay,” she groaned as if she was panting for breath.
“I need to go get ready, mom. You stay here and rest, okay?”
“Son,” she said, reaching out for his hand. “I love you.”
“I love you, too, mom.”
“We stay… we gotta stay… we gotta work together, okay.”
Burt was frustrated. He just wanted to run away from the conversation, make things change with the wave of a hand. But it wasn’t to be.
Marsha pulled her hand away, resting her head on the back of the chair.
Burt took a deep breath and pulled away, frustrated as all get out. He felt so ashamed when his mother got messed up on liquor.
Walking back into the bathroom, he flushed the toilet. The vomit swished and swirled before being swallowed by the drain. He pulled off a piece of toilet paper and wiped the rim clean with disgust. He threw the paper in the wastebasket before turning on the shower.
As he began to undress, he saw the bottle of whiskey on the counter by the sink. He wanted to throw the bottle against the wall, or pour it down the toilet.
Instead, he knew Trina liked to drink. He knew what he would do to keep it away from his mother. He would imbibe the libation with Trina later that night.
Or, even better, they could take some sips later at school. He could give it to her there so that way they wouldn’t have to get into Trina’s mom’s stash that night.
His dad drank.
His mom drank.
Now, Burt drank.
First thing was first, however. He had to clean up for school.
Burt walked to school and arrived around twenty minutes before class. He sat at a stone table near the flagpole where Trina would meet him.
While he waited, the smiles and laughter of the kids around him upset him more than they usually did. A side of him wished he had their lives. He knew most of them were happy, taken care of, and had fathers who were positive influences in their lives.
“Hey,” came a familiar voice. Burt turned to see Trina.
“Hey, kitten,” he said, reaching up to kiss her on the lips.
“Did I miss anything?”
“Not yet,” he said, pulling the bottle of whiskey.
“Oh, shit. Where’d you get that?”
“Had to confiscate it from my mom,” he chuckled. “Wanna sip?”
“Are the Pope’s balls worthless?” she chuckled. “Give it here.”
Burt handed her the bottle, and she discreetly turned away to take a swig straight from the bottle. She made a sweet sigh of relief as she passed it to Burt, who took a swig as well.
“That’s some good stuff,” said Burt.
“It’s shit,” said Trina. “But it will do.”
The two giggled when one of their friends showed up.
“Hey, you guys.”
“Jethro,” said Burt. “What’s up?”
“Nothin’. You guys?”
Trina looked devilishly at Burt. “Oh, just getting warmed up for class.”
“Cool. Did you guys finish reading ‘Cyrano’?”
“Actually, we did,” said Burt. “It took a while, but we read it.”
“What the hell is the ‘white panache’ at the end?” asked Jethro.
“Oh,” said Burt. “That’s the feather in his hat.”
“I thought it was, like, his pride,” said Trina.
“Well, it is. The feather is like a symbol of his pride,” said Burt.
“Oh, I get it,” said Jethro. “Actually, that makes sense.”
“You’re welcome,” said Burt with a smile.
Jethro chuckled. “Thanks, Burt. Hey, will I see you guys at lunch?”
“We’ll be there,” said Trina.
“Cool. I got to get ready for gym class. I’ll see you guys at lunch.”
The friends said their goodbyes and Jethro walked to the gym that was just across from where Burt and Trina were sitting. They started talking to each other again.
A little time had passed when Burt noticed a commotion out by the gym. He watched as Jethro ran out of the gym, but was quickly yanked back in by some jocks Burt couldn’t identify.
“What the hell?” said Burt, rising.
“What is it?” said Trina.
“I don’t know, but I’m going to go find out.”
Trina just shrugged. She didn’t respond like other girls. She knew what Burt was capable of. “Take care of business, Burt.”
Burt trotted to the gym to see what exactly was going down.
When he walked into the gym, he could see people walking into the boys’ dressing room. There were shouts and laughter. He couldn’t see Jethro.
Burt trotted to the boy’s dressing room.
When he arrived, he saw a group of people crowded around the bathroom. They were shouting, laughing. A crowd in a primitive frenzy.
Paper and books were scattered on the floor. Burt inspected the papers closer and could see they belonged to Jethro.
Burt shoved his way through the crowd of kids. When the kids saw who was shoving them aside, many of them got out of the way. Some even shouted his name. “It’s Burt!”
When Burt turned the corner, he saw all he needed to see. The first string quarterback and class president Chuck Wilson was shoving Jethro’s head in the toilet. He was flushing the toilet, giving Jethro a ‘swirlie’.
“Have a drink, you little nigger,” chuckled Chuck.
Burt grabbed Chuck by his letterman jacket and yanked him forcefully out of the stall, tossing him against the wall.
Chuck barely had a moment to regain his senses when Burt went on the attack. He kicked Chuck in the crotch before peppering his face with punches. Chuck shoved Burt away and into the waiting arms of Chuck’s friends, who grabbed Burt and started to strike at his body and face. Burt rocked one with a knockout punch to the mouth. As he was struck by two others, Burt shoved one away and kicked another in the pills.
Chuck took the opportunity to jump on Burt’s back, trying to choke him when Burt grabbed the football star by his jacket collar and tossed him to the ground.
Burt then picked up one of Jethro’s heavy English books off the floor. The same book that had a version of the subject of their previous discussion: Cyrano de Bergerac.
Burt smacked Chuck across the face with the book twice. The heavy bludgeon made the crowd groan in pain as it smacked the star quarterback across the face and head.
Before he could strike Chuck with a kick, one of Chuck’s football buddies tackled Burt, slamming him up against the wall. He dropped the book, but Burt kneed the guy in the crotch and punched him in the face.
But then, Chuck was smacked across the face with the same book he hit Chuck with. He was dazed, but conscious enough to dodge the next whack, which ended up hitting one of the other football jocks in the face. Burt used the missed shot to deliver one of his own, clocking the player in the nose.
Then, a whistle blew loudly, stopping the fight cold. Everyone knew who the whistle belonged to. Especially Chuck.
Chuck ran toward Coach Douglas, who stood at the mouth of the bathroom, clearing the space of all onlookers.
“He attacked us, coach,” said Chuck. “He was giving Jethro a swirlie and attacked us.”
“Bullshit, Coach,” said Burt. “I stopped Chuck from attacking Jethro.”
“Sir, Burt’s right,” said Jethro, still soaking wet and whimpering.
“Shut up, freshman,” said Coach Douglas. “Get out of here.”
Jethro looked with humiliated helplessness at Burt and raced out of the bathroom.
“You’re in deep trouble, Burt,” shouted the coach.
Burt just huffed in disbelief, shaking his head.
“No,” said Burt. “Chuck’s in deep trouble when this is all done,” said Burt.
“Why do you even come to school, Burt? You’re useless.”
“Don’t talk to me like that.”
Principal Baines’ anger grew as Burt defiantly flaunted his authority.
“You little bastard,” growled Baines. “You like fighting, don’t you? That’s it, isn’t it?”
“I hate fighting. But I hate bullies more,” Burt replied.
“Then why did you attack Chuck Wilson?”
“Because he was a bully, that’s why. Bullies deserve to get their asses kicked.”
He was telling the truth. The bitterness that started his morning turned into a sweet anger manifesting from the scars on his heart. He was too good to be a bully. Smart, too. But he could be a bully to the bullies.
Nothing mattered to him anymore anyway, at least when it came to policing the mean kids after school. He did have enough respect for his mother to continue making the grade. But getting in trouble was no way to do that as efficiently as he’d done it before.
“Chuck Wilson is an All-State athlete, and your senior class president.”
“He was also giving Jethro Washington swirlies in the gym,” replied Burt.
“Sometimes hazing occurs with freshman.”
“He was calling him a nigger, too. You going to stand for that?”
The comment cut Burt to the core. He growled, “I am not a liar, Baines.”
“This is the fifth time you’ve done this, Burt. I’ve given you detention, the paddle. Why won’t you behave?”
“Because I can’t stand someone who’s not behaving, and nobody, teachers, you, do anything about it.”
Baines’ pale white face was turning red. Veins in his head pulsed to the surface as if his head was about to burst.
“Chuck knows not to do that around me. I did the same thing to him at the dance when he made fun of Terry and told him he and his mom should go back to the Jap camp.”
“Enough,” said Baines, about to burst.
“And to Pedro when he asked him to make him a taco,” said Burt, defiantly. He was not going to shut up. He was going to make Baines know what was going on.
“I said enough,” shouted Baines, pounding his fist on his desk like a child throwing a tantrum.
Burt just smiled. He made sure the bad choices Baines made did not go unnoticed. The outburst was just what he wanted from the school principal. Over the summer, when he wasn’t chasing California girls, Burt enjoyed reading. In his reading, he remembered one quote that really stood out to him:
When a man angers you, he conquers you.
The quote punched Burt in the heart when he first read it. He knew it was true. For close to six years after the event at the rifle range, it was hard for Burt not to trance out with visions of hatred and anger. All of the visions were centered around punishing his father violently. Sometimes in the visions, he used weapons. Some were medieval or modern torture devices. Still others visions had him using his own bare hands. It was a sad mental state he was able to temper at the rifle range and at school with anyone who deserved his brand of righteous discipline.
Right now, Burt thought Baines deserved some of that, too. He couldn’t hit him with his fist like he wanted to. But he could beat him up verbally.
“You’re on a one way train to reform school, Burt Scott.”
“I’ll drop out or get drafted before I go there,” stated Burt calmly. He wanted to stoke the fire of Baines’ anger, warming his hands by it, as if standing over an October campfire. “Those so-called teachers are worse than you. I’ve heard the stories that go on there. I’m surprised you don’t work there yourself.”
Baines wanted to slap Burt. He could see himself striking the young man across the face, feel Burt’s flesh as his hand smacked against his face.
But he knew the right answer. The boy provided his solution. Baines was going to see if the boy was bluffing, because if he was, he would find great joy putting him in reform school.
“I think we’ve come to a crossroads here, Burt. You have two choices.” Baines knew Burt had three, but did not want to include dropping out as one of them. So he was just going to provide two alternatives. “You can go to the Daniel’s School for Boys. Or you can register for the…”
“I’ll register for the draft,” said Burt before Baines could finish. “Make sure I get selected, too. Can you do that?”
A large smile grew across Baines’ face, the likes of which the old scowling school administrator never shared with the world.
“I promise, Burt Scott. You will be selected.”
“And I want my diploma,” said Burt. “My grades are good. I want my diploma,” he said again for emphasis. “Deal?”
Baines groaned, taking a moment, but gave in. “Deal. I help you get drafted and you get your diploma.”
Burt rose from his seat. He offered his hand to Baines, who reluctantly took it. “It’s a deal now,” said Burt.
Burt saluted the principal with a “Thank you, sir.” He proceeded to walk out of the office.
Baines felt a massive burden was released from his shoulders. A sense of relief washed over him as he moved to the door to watch Burt walk away.
“God speed, Burt Scott,” whispered Baines.
Burt walked the abandoned hallways during first period. He walked to Ms. Johnson’s math class, where Trina was. He peekd through the window of the closed door, getting her attention. She smiled, asking permission to step outside. The teacher granted it, and Trina walked outside.
“So, everyone’s talking about how you whipped Chuck’s ass.”
“I do what I can,” said Burt.
“The jerk deserved it,” she said. “Jethro’s in class with his gym clothes. He had to change out of his regular clothes.”
“I got there too late.”
“Yeah. That’s what they said. But you took on his friends, too?”
“I do what I can,” he repeated.
“So, going to class?”
“No,” said Burt. “I’m out of here.”
Trina’s looked at Burt with surprise. “Drafted? Since when?”
“Baines tried to stick me in the Daniel’s school or draft me. So I chose drafting.”
Trina sighed. “Well, at least you get to get out of this dumb shit.”
“Exactly,” said Burt.
“Are we still going to hang out?” she asked, frowning.
“Hell yeah. I got nothing but time now.”
Trina smiled. “Great. Does your mom know?” she asked as Ms. Johnson came to the door and called for Trina to come in.
“I’m about to go tell her. Don’t get in trouble. We’ll talk later.”
“Okay,” she said, smiling. She reached up and gave him a peck on the lips. “Call me.”
Burt spent the afternoon at Weaver’s Icehouse playing pool before going home to tell his mom.
When he walked in the door, she was still in the chair he had left her in. But she looked a lot better. She was watching ‘I Love Lucy’.
“Burt, I am so sorry.”
“Stop it, mom. It’s done,” he said, leaning down for a hug. “How are you feeling?”
“Better. Fierce headache, and I haven’t eaten anything. But better.”
Burt went to the sink and drew his mother a cup of water. He walked back to the living room and handed it to her.
“Here, mom. Have something to drink.”
She groaned. “Well, I need something.”
She took a sip, wiping her lips of the excess water.
“Mom, I got something to tell you.”
“She’s pregnant, isn’t she?”
Burt chuckled. “No, mom. Listen. Trina’s not pregnant. This is the news.” He paused. “I’m getting drafted.”
Marsha’s eyes widened in horror. “What?”
“Baines is getting me drafted.”
“What the hell is all this about?” she shouted.
“Mom, listen. It’s a good thing. You were talking about how tough a time I was having in school.”
“Yeah, but I wanted you to improve in school. This is your senior year.”
“He’s going to give me my diploma. I’ll have graduated.”
“Are you kidding me?”
“No, mom. It’s the best move.”
“How did all this come about? It’s just happened so fast.”
“I got in trouble again at school.”
“No. It’s okay. I kicked the star quarterback’s ass for giving my friend a swirlie. But listen, it’s a good thing because Baines was going to put me at the Daniel’s school if he didn’t draft me.”
“Oh, good God,” moaned Marsha. “I see your point now.”
“Exactly,” said Burt. “And I think it will be good for me. Just go in for a few years, get out, make some money, I’ll be in good shape.”
“But Burt, they’re going to send you to Vietnam.”
“May… Maybe?” said Marsha, immediately becoming worried for her son. “Burtie, you’re my only son. I don’t want you going to some strange jungle and getting killed.”
“I’ll be fine, mom.”
“No,” said Marsha. “I’m not losing you, Burt. I need you.”
What Burt thought was going to be a good conversation was suddenly escalating.
“Mom, I’m going.”
“No. You’re not going.”
“I’m eighteen, mom. You can’t tell me what to do. It’s for the best.”
“You’re going to die, Burt. You’re not coming back to Culver City as a corpse, son. Have you seen all those boys who are dying?”
“Mom, I’m not going to die. I’ll just serve a couple of years, get out of this stupid town for a while, and come back. I promise.”
“No,” said his mother on the verge of tears. “No, you’re not leaving me.”
“I’m going, mom.”
“Mom, I thought you’d be proud. Your brothers were in the military.”
“I’m not allowing it.”
Burt was upset. “Mom. Goddammit, I’m going and that’s it. I can’t take school. I can’t take the idiots that go there. And I can’t take you getting drunk every night.”
“How dare you,” said Marsha. “I love you. I provide for you. I give you a roof over your head. And this is how you reward me?”
“Mom, I’m going to serve for our country.”
“Then go,” she shouted over the laugh track of the ‘I Love Lucy’ show. “Go to your damn war. Get yourself killed. See if I care. See if I care that you get blown up. See if I care that you kill yourself.”
“Then you’ll know how I feel watching you drink yourself to death every night,” he shouted back.
It was a verbal deathblow. Marsha slowly broke down and started crying, shouting, “Get out! Get out, now!”
Burt turned around and stormed out of the house, slamming the door behind him.
That night, Burt drank the night away with Trina, banging it out with her in her backyard before they both passed out on a blanket under the cool Culver City night.
Burt said his goodbye to Trina. She just shrugged, wishing him luck.
Burt didn’t go home again.
As promised, Baines made it happen. He talked to a recruiter that always visited the school and had him pull strings to get Burt drafted. Burt prepared at his Uncle Oscar’s house in Sacramento, where he went to live. Within the month, he was on a bus to Marine Boot Camp in San Diego.
Burt had a lot to think about on his trip to boot camp. Mostly, how he would deal with his superiors. He knew they were going to be harsh hard-asses and ball busters. They were going to set the bar very high. The stories his father and uncles told him prepared him for just that. They would test him. But in his youthful arrogance, he would test them, too.
Burt would regret that choice.
“You think you’re funny, Mr. Funnyman?” shouted the drill instructor, moving directly in Burt’s face.
Burt had not spent five minutes on the bus before a Marine drill instructor was already on his case.
“What did you say to me, you worthless maggot?”
“I said no,” shouted Burt.
The drill instructor was livid. “You think you’re going to walk in to be a part of my beloved corps and be stupid enough to disrespect me like that?”
This was very different, indeed. It was nothing like punking principal Baines, the other teachers, and the bullies back in school. No. This guy was the king of the jungle here, and Burt realized he made a mistake. There was no turning back now. He knew he was about to pay.
“No,” said Burt, realizing his mistake and knowing he was about to pay for it. He even subconsciously held up his hands, trying to wave off the rabid Devil Dog.
Just answer him, stupid, Burt thought to himself. “Sir, no, sir,” shouted Burt.
The drill instructor grabbed him by the wrist and dragged him back outside the bus. He tossed Burt to the ground.
“Twenty push-ups right now, you little sonovabitch,” yelled the DI. “Or are you too stupid to do that?”
“Sir, no, sir!” shouted the DI, squatting down above Burt as he started to pump out the pushups.
“Sir, no, sir!” shouted Burt back.
“Sir, no, sir!” shouted Burt back.
“You’re not counting, soldier,” shouted the DI right in Burt’s ears, turning up the pressure and trying to make the experience as unpleasant as possible. “How do I know you’re not trying to fuck me over in front of these other maggots, boy?”
“Six,” grunted Burt. “Seven.”
The other recruits on the bus looked out with a mix of fearful respect. It was a fight Burt picked. And it was a pissing match the DI was not going to lose.
“Bullshit, maggot. You’re fucking me, aren’t you?”
“Eight. Sir, no, sir,” grunted Burt.
“From the top, you little piece of shit. Right now!” shouted the DI. “Right now, or you can stay the hell off my bus. Right now! One!”
“Sir, yes, sir,” Burt quickly conceded. “One! Two! Three!”
The DI then turned to the frightened faces on the bus. He shouted, “If any of you dumb fucks have a problem with my authority like this cock-smoking sonovabitch, they you will eat my shit until you no longer have a problem with my authority or get the hell out of my beloved corps.”
Burt was popping out the pushups as the DI loomed over him again.
“When you don’t listen to me, maggot, you eat my shit and do PT. When you don’t listen to your commanding officer in battle, you eat shit and die. Do you understand me?”
“… sixteen. Sir, yes, sir,” replied Burt, running out of breath.
“I want ten more starting now. Go!”
“Sir, yes, sir,” said Burt. He was running out of strength. He was breaking. “One. Two…”
The anger in his heart was burning hot, and he poured its molten hate into the push-ups, powering ten out. Tears welled up in his bloodshot eyes. He placed the blame of this moment squarely on his father. The hate pulled him through, and he tried to keep it together. Though he listened to the stories his father and uncles told, he missed the true meaning of those stories. But he found the meaning in the DI’s words. War was serious business. The Marines were artisans of combat, sculptors of war. This was no game. People died if they played around.
Burt stood up, standing at attention. He prayed no tears would fall.
“Listen, maggot,” shouted the Drill Instructor. “I smell that fire in you to be a proud Marine, because most of these soft pussy recruits would have melted here. But you didn’t. You held it together. But you won’t get there being a dumb fuck. I will train you and find a place for you to excel. Or I will wipe my ass with your soul. The choice is yours. Do you understand?”
“Sir, yes, sir!” shouted Burt. He was now completely in check.
As he was commanded, he ran back to the bus. When he sat down, he wiped the tears away. The guy beside him saw him do it. But he did not say a word.
Burt learned a hard lesson about respect. It was something he had lost for most grown-ups since that day at the range. It was a lesson he knew he had to recall if he was going to survive boot camp.
“Are you stupid, Private Scott?”
“Sir, no, sir!”
The drill instructors challenged his mind, honing his concentration under pressure.
“Do you want to die in the field, Private Scott?”
“Sir, no, sir!”
The drill instructors challenged his heart in the pugil stick exercise.
“You better climb to the top of that goddamn wall, Private Scott. Or I swear to God I will stick my boot so far up your ass, I’ll have to open your mouth to shine them.”
The drill instructor challenged his body in the obstacle course.
For weeks, the DI’s tried to break him. A couple of times, they did. It hurt, but Burt understood it was necessary to get what he wanted. A means to an end.
Burt was familiar with the realities of war. But when it was illustrated to him in a slide show, it made him nauseous. He was the only one.
“You need to be ready for this in the field, Pvt. Scott. You will see this and you will be ready to save your Marine brother.”
As the instructor for the first-aid course continued scrolling through the slides, Burt pulled himself together.
“This is a soldier who lost his legs because of a landmine. You will see this in the field and you will be ready to assist the combat medic if needed.”
More missing limbs were displayed. Severed hands. Gouged bellies dripping blood and innards. Gangrenous legs.
There was a nobility to fighting in combat, jumping into the jaws of danger to play a game of death. The stories his uncles told him were not glamorized by any means. But perhaps the youthful naiveté of his childhood produced more of a John Wayne-style hero in his mind’s eye than the harsh truth of war. He was capable. But now he wasn’t sure he had the heart (or the stomach) for combat.
“Now everyone listen closely,” shouted the instructor. “We are going to provide the basics for first-aid in a combat situation. Pay close attention because this information will save the lives of your fellow Marines, and you.”
Burt could smell the sweet scent of gunpowder in the air as they marched for the first time to the rifle range. On the trail to the range was a yellow wooden sign with red letters. It read, “Every Marine is a rifleman.” It was a motto that made sense to Burt. The way his DI’s spoke of their rifle training with such reverence made them out to be some kind of religious fanatics. In a way, they were. Their idol was the rifle. Their temple was the shooting range.
Burt remembered how his uncles spoke of their skill with the rifle. They also held the same kind of fanaticsm for their M-1’s.
The first-aid training was making Burt reconsider his options. He was an amazing shot, he already knew that. Now, his instructors were about to know that. This was not the rifle range back in (his hometown of Culver City). And he was not carrying a .22 rifle. This was an M-1 Garand with .30-06 rounds. It was his first chance to fire the weapon since he lost his chance with his father years before. He was excited. Shooting the .22 was going to be different than firing the M-1, he thought.
In essence, it wasn’t.
He knew the M-1 was going to have a lot more kick to it, just like his father warned him. But it was something Burt would quickly get accustomed to. His first few shots went into the area near the black. But his adjustments quickly put the rest of his shots in the black.
And his father was right. There was a serious kick to the rifle.
“Those are great shots there, soldier,” said the rifle range instructor. “You’re going to make a great infantryman.”
Burt gulped. His reasonable fear was coming true. He just knew his skills would stand out. But he was no fool. This trip to the Marine Corps was meant to escape a bad situation back home. But the last thing he wanted was to die. Sure, the danger came with the job in the military. But being in infantry would put his life on the line every day. After seeing that first-aid presentation, that was something he did not want to do.
Now, there was only one way to assure he would not make it. There was one way he could make sure his instructors knew it was a bad idea to put him with the infantry.
Burt stared purposely missing his shots.
It was nearing the end of his basic training. It was no secret he was going to be stationed somewhere in Vietnam. He was anxious, but ready.
As the weeks passed him by, he couldn’t help but think about his mother. It wasn’t the best way to leave her side, and the fight was the last time he saw her. With so much time away from her, he really missed her.
It was time to make up. He took out a piece of a paper and a pencil and started writing.
It’s Burt. Your son. I hope you are doing well.
Mom, boot camp was really hard. But I think you’ll be proud to know I made it through. The drill sergeants really helped me find direction, more so than Baines and the rest of the staff there at school. I think this is the kind of discipline that will help me in the long run. I hope you will understand that I had to make this choice. It was for the best.
I’m one of the best shots in my company, but I’m not letting on that I am. I’ve been messing up my shots, you’ll be happy to hear. Maybe they’ll put me somewhere outside of the shit. I’m sure that will make you happy, huh? Me, too. I know I can do so much more than this, but I think it’s a good starting point for me. When I get out, I’ll have some good experience to get a good job, maybe help out with some of the bills at the house.
The drill instructors are great. They really push me to be the best. You’ll laugh, but when I first got here, I thought I could smart off to them like in my school days. Boy, did they make me feel like shit. I got in line pretty quickly after that. But I’m sure you knew that. I knew it would be coming, but boy did I not expect it to be that harsh. I got it together, though. I’m one of their favorites now. That’s a joke, I’m really not. But I’m dependable, and I do what is expected of me.
Has Trina come by to ask about me? I didn’t get her address and didn’t think I wanted to write her once I got over here. But I find myself thinking about her, too. No, mom, she’s not pregnant. But she was pretty cool to me when all the others around me were not cool. If you see her, tell her I said hi and that I’m thinking about her.
I want you to know also that I’m sorry for our fight. I have to admit I have missed you since I’ve been here. Not a day has passed without me thinking how I was wrong to be so mean to you. I wanted you to know that I’m sorry for what happened. I’m sorry for
fighting arguing with you. And I’m sorry for not talking to you for so
long. I love you, mom, and will always
love you. I know it was tough when dad
left, and I know you were dealing with things your way like I was dealing with
things my way. Don’t think I didn’t see
how you were providing all that you could for me even when we were both
I promise you, mom, I’m going to take care of myself over here. But I want you to promise me you’re going to start taking care of yourself, too. Please, take it easy on the drink, mom. It will kill you if you let it. I know, I don’t have much room to talk because I drink, too. But it hurt me so much to see what drinking all that whiskey did to you. I know it’s not easy to stop, but maybe start just cutting back on drinking. Don’t drink to the point that you get sick. Drink for some enjoyment or relief, but don’t abuse your body for it. If you do that, you really let dad win. Don’t let his memory kill what you have left of your life. I haven’t let it kill hope for me. But I need you around just like you need me. I can help you as I know you’ve helped me all your life. Please, start taking it easy on the drink, mom. For me.
I love you, mom. I’m sorry for hurting you. I can’t wait to hear from you soon. And more than that, I can’t wait to see you when they let me go back home.
I hope to hear from you soon, and I can’t wait to see you again.
Please write back.
Sincerely, your son,
Basic training was over. Graduation was quickly approaching. The recruits were about to get their assignments by the DI.
“Man, they’re going to put me in the shit,” grumbled one of the soldiers sitting near Burt.
“We’re all going in the shit, that’s for damn sure,” said another one.
“They’re going to put us where they need us,” said Burt. “Just say your prayers its not in the shit.”
“Yeah, right,” said another. “We’re all going in the shit.”
“Well, if that’s where you’re going, that’s where you’re going. Be a man about it.”
Burt put up a façade to his fellow soldiers. He didn’t want to go into the shit, either. He crossed his fingers.
The drill instructor gave assignments.
“Martinez. Riflemen. DiPasquale. Rifleman.”
Burt could see the fear grow in the eyes of the men as they got their assignments. They were right. They would all be put to the test in the jungles of Vietnam very soon.
But so would he.
“Scott. Artillery.” The DI fell silent for a beat, turning to Scott. “You would have made a fine infantryman, Scott. Enjoy your duty.”
Burt tried not to smile. The DI was right. But Burt was smarter than that.
“Lucky fucker,” said one of his fellows.
Two months had passed since he sent the letter to his mother. To his joy, a letter arrived at the barracks from Culver City. Burt was elated. He was looking forward to hear what his mother had to say to his letter.
But his joy slowly turned to suspicion as the return address was from his Uncle Oscar’s house.
Great, thought Burt, opening the letter. She must still be angry at me about the fight. Made Uncle Oscar write back to me.
Uncle Oscar was, indeed, the author of the letter. But the message was drastically and tragically different than he thought it would be.
It’s your uncle Oscar. I hate to the be the one to tell you this, but your mother has passed away. She died in a car accident last week.
We found your letter in the mailbox and thought we should write you.
I’m sorry to tell you this. Please contact me if you need anything.
The words stabbed Burt in the heart like a sword taken to the chest in a sword duel. It was the last thing he thought he would be reading about. And considering that his uncle found is address on the letter he sent still in her mailbox, it was clear she never had a chance to read his message to her.
He was too late.
Though Burt knew Uncle Oscar would help him get on his feet, his mom’s death meant he had no home. His only home was the one he was now living in: The USMC.It took him a moment to let it all settle in his mind. Once it had, Burt hung his head and wept.
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