Him in the Dust

by James Matthews

Chapter 1

Him in the Dust

Leaving Home

Flashback - 4 Months Earlier

"Sebastian, are you out of that bed yet? You have 30 minutes before your recruitment officer gets here!"

"Yes, I'm up," I growled, wandering into the kitchen, rubbing my eyes. "Is there any cereal left?"

"In the cupboard, where it normally is."

"I'll get that then, shall I?"

Mum ignored my hint and picked up her washing basket, giving me a scolded look as she left to take it upstairs. I am not a morning person, and she had to accept that!

I was being picked up for my mandatory medical check. Picked up in now, hmm, 27 minutes. I was not looking forward to it. Why? Well, I was about to do something that could either go really well or fail completely. You see, this all comes down to my secret I was talking about earlier. I have dull hearing in my left ear. This was due to a perforated eardrum I suffered when a firework went off course and exploded right next to me. It was ages ago now, when I was younger. Dad had organised a winter barbeque and fireworks night in the garden. My brother,of course home on leave, thought it would be funny to mess about with one of the rockets we'd set to light later. Long story short, it went bang inches from my body and blew out my hearing.

Having sight or hearing issues can lead to a failed medical and in turn a rejection from the army. My parents were so proud of me for finishing the Cadets, and my dad had such high expectations of me at this point. The thought of being a failure, a reject, a runt…or God forbid, less than my blue-eyed, perfect brother. No, I had to pass this medical by any means possible.

I finished my cereal and went back to my room to freshen up and get dressed.

"Mum, my Recruitment Officer is here, I'll see you later. Tell Dad I'm fine for curry later." I called up to her, now being downstairs putting my jacket on.

"Ok, love. Good luck, yeah?"

"Yeah thanks, see ya."

I walked outside and round to the passenger side of my RO's car and got in.

"Hi, Gary, how's it going?"

"Great, son. You ready?"

"Let's do this."

We drove through the morning traffic to a medical centre about 5 miles on the outskirts of town. I was getting nervous and was rubbing my clammy hands on my jeans.

"Once you get this done, we'll start your physical selection."

"Physical selection?"

"You'll breeze it, son. With your bulk and upper body strength which is clearly good, you'll do fine."

"But what is it?"

"What? You don't want the surprise?" he sniggered, looking at me grinning. "It's a bunch of tests. Sorts the men from the boys, but you're clearly in good shape; you'll be fine as I said. It's a bit of lifting, a bit of running and some stamina tests."

"Is that it?"

"Well, then we'll get you to use your brain, if you have one. I think you do. So after Physical, you'll do some mental tests. Then, lastly, we'll have you assigned to some team tasks with the other recruit hopefuls."

"You think I can do this?"

"Seb, I've seen your Cadet reports, You're a mean muscle machine and you understand tactical maneuvers, problem solving and your commanding officer has praised you a number of times for your various achievements."

"You're right, I'll do this, I'll breeze it," I said, more to myself as convincingly as I could muster.

"That's the spirit. So, anything I should know before the medical?"

"Know? Uh, no nothing, why do you ask?"

"Nervous there, aren't we? Relax, it'll be fine."

"I'm not nervous," I said, which was a blatant lie, of course.

Twenty minutes later, Gary pulled the car into a vacant space and I got out, thanking him. He would wait for me to get my papers and we would travel back to the recruitment centre to get enlisted for the next stage of joining - the physical selection!

I say that as if I am going to pass. I think I will. Or will I? Shit. Stay calm!

"Ok, Sebastian, could you cough, please?"

I did as the doctor asked, feeling his fingers travel over my testicles briefly.

"What are you checking for?" I asked, wondering why my balls were being twirled in his fingers. I mean, seriously, only I have access to my balls. Is nothing sacred?

"Lumps and bumps, Sebastian. But you'll be pleased to know you are fine. You know many boys your age can develop testicular cancer and that it can go undiagnosed because young lads are a little shy."

The doctor laughed, perhaps to lower the heat that was now in my upper body and face. I continued to lie on his diagnosing bed, now in my boxers as he started to attach wires to all manner of my body parts.

"What's this?"

"It's an electrocardiogram machine. It checks for heart defects and will let me know if your heart is working as it should. Which, Sebastian, I'm sure it will be."

"I think I remember this. I had one in the Cadets."

"Yes, I think you would have done. Now lie still and breathe normally." I lay there like a lab rat as paper began to spill from the machine,x with zig-zag lines all over it. It just went on and on!

"Ok, this looks fine."

"So I have a good heart?"

"I'm sure the girls will think so." I laughed dryly at his comment. "Ok, Sebastian, you can get dressed now. You have passed your physical with flying colours. If you head to the next room the nurse will conduct a hearing and sight test."

"Uh, okay. Thanks."

"Any questions for me?"

"No, I'm good; thanks," I replied, trying to hide my elevated pulse.

I went over to the chair and dressed myself, making sure I had enough concentration to put everything on the right way, such was my mind so much on this bloody hearing test,


"So if you can please read the first chart as far as you can, Sebastian," the young nurse requested. I was seated in a chair, covering one eye.

"Uh, A U Y X G L K I A E U N U G W Q I L...uh, I can't read the last line. I think it's an R, but yeah, I can't do that part."

"Okay, thank you, now the other eye."

"Okay, erm, A U Y X G L K I A E U N U G W Q I L R. Yeah, same. I'm sure it's an R but…"

"No problem," she cut in. "Now the other chart. Can you name the animals as they get smaller?"

"Sure, uh, bear, snake, crocodile, elephant, zebra, tiger, penguin, uh… dog… erm, no that's it. I can't make out the rest."

"Okay, thank you. Now if you stay where you are I'm going to place some earphones on you to test your hearing ability. You will hear some tonex tones at different frequencies. Here, take this pen. I want you to tap on the glass next to me when you hear a sound."

"Ok, no problem," I said.

Now, I'd done these before when I did my ear in. The secret was to watch the movements of the operator. I noticed that you can see the button being pressed, which is when the sound is produced.

"Okay, Sebastian, are you ready?"

"Yeah, go ahead," I replied.

I shifted around in my seat so I could see the nurse through the glass operating the small box in front of her. Making sure not to be too obvious, I sat as straight as I could while having her in my peripheral vision.

I was aiming to ace this.

Back in the waiting room, I sat nervously awaiting my fate. With all the tests now complete, I imagined the doctor and his nurse were preparing the report that would either be sending me into the army or sending me home for good. I sat there, foot tapping up a storm!

The doctor came out of his office about 10 minutes later and called me back into the exam room.

"Take a seat, Sebastian."

"I failed, didn't I?" I blurted as he put his glasses on and looked at his computer screen.

"Do you know how many boys pass through here and ask me that question? It seems no one at your age has the patience to wait."

"Sorry, I just assumed…."

"Sebastian, you passed, okay? You passed with some very good results. You are obviously very physically fit, you scored very well in that area. You have 20/20 vision and you passed your hearing test. I am therefore signing you off to your recruitment officer and you may now enter the army."

"Wow, erm, thanks! That's great news."

"Here, take this report and hand it to your RO," he said, handing me two sheets of paper from the printer.

"So what do I do now?" I asked, oblivious to the fact that he'd just told me what to do. I was spaced out that I'd done it: I'd passed.

"Go lad, you can go, with my full blessings and best of luck."

"Ok, wow, thanks erm, well, see you then, doctor."

"One hopes you do not, Sebastian, for the only time you would see me again is if there is a problem. Now, off with you, I have another lad like you wishing to be a hero."

I smiled and left the room with my report. I felt light and airy as I almost skipped out of the medical centre doors and back to Gary, sitting waiting in the car.

He looked up and opened his window. "Well, I think that smile says we need to get you enlisted then?"

"Gary, it's so cool!"

"C'mon, get in, let's get you back to the recruitment office."


So that was then and yeah, I cheated; that's my secret. But I don't feel too bad because I know I have a lot to offer. So, after passing all my physical and mental tests in the Selection Standards Assessment, I was put through 14 weeks of gruelling Basic Training, or as the officers like to call it, the Common Military Syllabus. I mean I trained hard in the Cadets, built up my fitness and muscle mass but never in my life had I worked so damn hard. But I made some good friends and most importantly made my father proud, and with a curry waiting, I joined him at the table with mum.

"Sorry I haven't been around much, Seb. I've been teaching kids up at Westbrook. But congratulations again on finishing basic. You went in a boy and came out a man, and I'm proud of you."

"Thanks, Dad, and thanks for the curry. It smells amazing."

"When is your passing out parade, Seb? Me and your dad can't wait to see you all smart and marching."

"December 3rd. I have to report to Pirbright the day before. Then I'm home for three days, then off to Catterick by train. Gary gave me my ticket. It's real now."

"We'll be there of course, and we'll bring Nanna. She was so proud of your brother when he did his parade. My God, how my two sons have grown up. Now I'm losing you, too."

"Oh Mum, you're not losing me. I'll be a few miles away, sure, but still be in the country."

"Do you know if you'll be home for Christmas?" Mum asked, a sadness in her tone.

"Not sure, I doubt it… and yeah I know, Mum, I've never missed Christmas. I know what you're going to say."

"Well, it's true"

"But I'll write, and I'll write to Nanna too. Besides, you got used to Robbie not being here."

Mum leaned back in her seat and sighed before turning to my dad. "Well, Ted, just you and Nanna to cook for this year?"

Dad didn't reply. He was always less emotional about such events. To him, doing my 28 weeks was more important than Christmas. He'd got both his son's in the army! Now, in his mind, I knew that getting me fully trained was the goal. After all, what was one missed Christmas, right?

He momentarily stopped eating and cleared his throat, not looking up.

"Did you choose infantry? You never said."

"Well, I was making up my mind and I didn't really decide myself until yesterday. It's been an intense few days. Still calming down. I think."

"I'm glad," he said, not looking up from his curry.

"Yeah, Dad. I met some really great guys in basic. They are all doing infantry and I was like, whoa, I'm not sure, cos I wanted to study veterinary science for the animals and one of the guys said it would be boring and I wouldn't be doing much so…"

"Well, he's right son." Dad cut me off abruptly. "You go and fight for your country like all your family did, no pussyfooting around with bloody animals. If Russia invades and you

haven't got a gun in your hand, what's the point?" Dad asked passionately.

I smiled. "Dad, if Russia invades, we're all doomed anyway."

"Over my dead body! What, with all their soviet-built rusting equipment? No son, you've joined the best army in the world; now go learn to fight with them."

"And what's Robbie doing in Germany exactly, apart from getting fat on German sausage?" I asked, a smirk on my face.

"Oh, Seb, everyone gets Germany eventually, it's part of the job," Mum piped up as I scraped the last of my curry onto my spoon. "And Robbie has done his tours in Iraq."

"Well, anyway, I was making the point that I have joined the list for infantry, so I hope you're both happy."

"Oh, don't bring me into this," Mum said with a smile. "I was just happy you came out of Basic Training with your head still on your shoulders. I'll be proud of whatever you do."

"Ignore your mother, Seb. Infantry is a fine and honorary role in the service. You'll be a close bunch and form good friendships. You'll make us proud, yes?"

I looked up at my expectant father wondering if he was proud of his son or whether I was another boast he would spill on his friends at the Conservative Club. He'd got his way, both his boys joining the military, just like he did, and his dad, and his dad. Sure I was pleased I passed my basic. Hell I was even mildly proud and surprised myself, but my dad? He was a mystery and army through and through. Was there room for love for his children? Or was it all the army?

December 3rd 2005 - Passing out.

So I passed out at Pirbright. Big military parade. Caught glimpses of my parents and Nanna in the crowds. Proud parents all smiling and full of amazement as us boys...men soldiers now, all marched in unison. Our weapons gleaming, our uniforms pressed to within an inch of their lives. The military band played, we marched, no expressions on our faces, eyes to the front, backs rigidly straight. All this work had built up to this day.

I didn't put a boot wrong and I think my dad actually smiled as he analyzed my march and inspected my discipline from a distance. Mum just looked amazed at seeing her boy in uniform, marching so proudly. Dad had to see me get this right. Not getting it right would bring shame on the family—but I got it right!

I got it fucking right! BOOM!

December 7th 2005 - Destination Catterick

Saying goodbye to my parents was easier than expected. Mum almost cried as she hugged me. Dad hated her crying and was more formal in his farewell. I got a well-gripped shake of my hand and a stern look as if to say, 'Dont fuck this up.' I wouldn't, of course, would I?

Mum and Dad left me at the station, my backpack and duffle bag by my feet, and I waved them goodbye. Mum blew a kiss as Dad drove them both away. He was so fucking hard sometimes. Perhaps he felt sadness and wanted to get away quickly to avoid embarrassment, but anyway! The car was gone now. Just me.

I'd never felt so alone!

My train pulled into the platform dead on time and I went aboard finding my reserved seat all paid for by the army. I was entitled to a free breakfast and lunch on this five-hour journey to Catterick. I sat deep in thoughts of what was to come until I heard the whistle outside meaning the train was ready to go.

The carriage was quiet with hardly any people on it. As we slowly started to move, an unsettling loneliness came over me which I quickly tried to shake off, forcing a smile as I caught the eye of one of the female attendants walking through the aisle. The train began to gain speed.

I dug through my rucksack and pulled out the book I'd been reading at home, trying to ignore the rumbling of my forever-hungry stomach. I found myself repeating lines in the book as my mind was distracted by racing thoughts. Twenty-eight weeks of training. At least I hoped there would be no more shouting, wet mud, hazing and vomiting.

"Can I take your breakfast order, sir," came the voice of a smart girl, ripping me from my imagination.

"Oh, great… erm, what have you got?"

Oh, I'm sorry. There's a menu in the seat pocket there. Shall I come back?"

"Do you do a full English?"

"Of course, sir; large or small?"

Was she for real?

I pulled the menu out from the chair, looking to see what the difference was. I was starving but the thought of black pudding made me feel queasy.

"Large please, but no black pudding,"

"Very good, sir, and to drink?"

"Orange juice is fine."

"Thank you. I'll be back with your order in around 20 minutes. Welcome aboard and enjoy your journey."

"Thanks," I replied, a natural smile coming to my face as the pretty girl walked away to deal with the next passenger.

There would be four stops on this rather boring and long journey. I could have flown but the army wouldn't cover that cost so mum and Dad suggested the train as their bank balance wouldn't be affected. That was okay, though. The train journey would give me plenty of time to think and even have a nap if I wanted.

I was jolted from my snooze as I felt the train start to brake. Opening my eyes I saw we were coming through the middle of a village, but I didn't have a clue which one or where we were. The gut busting breakfast had made me sluggish and so I closed my eyes again until the train came to a stop.

The doors at both ends of the carriage opened letting a stream of unseasonably ice cold November air rush through to greet me. "Jesus," I muttered, pulling my coat over me.

A few guys around my age got on and made their way to their seats, and I played a guessing game of whether any of them were in for the same fate I was. I had a silent bet that at least two of them were going to Catterick.

As the last of the people got on, including two smartly dressed ladies and four elderly men, the doors closed with a clank and the train started to move off again. It quickly warmed up as the heaters kicked into overdrive to compensate for the cold air that had been let in. I

crooked my head all around to see who else was on the carriage with me. My car had filled up quite considerably since I got on and my attention was drawn to the lad sitting opposite me who was…crying?

"Hey, pal," I whispered, leaning over across the gangway. "Are you ok?"

He looked at me, immediately wiping his eyes and face, sniffing. "Yeah, I'm fine, really."

His answer was of course not true; I could see his attempt to hold back more tears for my benefit i felt. He was a little guy, buzz-cut brown hair, sad looking brown eyes and a duffle bag held on his lap as if it contained bars of gold.

My personality and boredom got the better of me and I moved out of my seat and went and sat next to him, holding out my hand.

"My name's Seb, and you?"

He slowly took my hand, and looked at me as if I was slightly mad. "Luke."

"You, uh, you seem kinda upset, and, uh, we're on a long stretch now, so, uh, well, I know I'm a complete stranger, but if you wanna talk about it, I don't have anywhere to be."

"Where are you heading?" he asked, seeming to brighten up slightly.

"Catterick. I'm military. And you?"

"Are you going Infantry training?"

"Yeah, how did you know?"

"Cos I think we're going to the same place."

"You're army?"

"Yeah, passed out two weeks ago, you?"

"Wow, uh, a few days ago," I replied, glad there was someone in my headspace, thinking the same as me. "You're scared right?"

"Fuck yeah," Luke replied, much happier now

"Well, we can be scared together!"

Talk about this story on our forum

Authors deserve your feedback. It's the only payment they get. If you go to the top of the page you will find the author's name. Click that and you can email the author easily.* Please take a few moments, if you liked the story, to say so.

[For those who use webmail, or whose regular email client opens when they want to use webmail instead: Please right click the author's name. A menu will open in which you can copy the email address (it goes directly to your clipboard without having the courtesy of mentioning that to you) to paste into your webmail system (Hotmail, Gmail, Yahoo etc). Each browser is subtly different, each Webmail system is different, or we'd give fuller instructions here. We trust you to know how to use your own system. Note: If the email address pastes or arrives with %40 in the middle, replace that weird set of characters with an @ sign.]

* Some browsers may require a right click instead