Him in the Dust

by James Matthews

Chapter 2

28 weeks

December 19th, 2005

I'd got used to dorm life in basic , and there was more of it here. Sixteen guys in one dorm. Privacy? Not on your nelly. The strangest thing about it was I never quite got used to showering with other people when I was in basic . But here it was different. Friends were made fast. You needed them to survive, and I'd learned to let it all hang out while comradely chatter took place under the spray. Of course, I'd looked; you always do. I think I measured up okay in that department. I'd seen guys look at mine. Doing so was a man thing I'd come to accept. Yeah, we got dicks, and some were bigger than others.

Luke was not in my dorm, which was a shame as we'd struck up quite a friendship. In my dorm there were all sorts of personalities. Across the spectrum from born hell-raisers who were probably kicked out by their parents, to shy quiet guys. Of the 16, I was probably somewhere in the middle. I laughed at their jokes and joined in conversations where I thought I could add something.

Lights out was a relieving affair. That was your alone time to think. Some guys read books by the dim light of their smartphones. Some went to sleep straight away, and yeah, some quietly masturbated, thinking they were quiet enough not to be heard, but everyone awake heard and it was just accepted. Yeah, guys need to get off. It didn't freak me out.

I was surprised how easy it was to transition to being in my room alone at home to basically sharing my entire private life with 16 other people. Everyone knew when you shit, showered, ate, jerked off, called home, cried and laughed.

No one…at least in my dorm, ever made fun of their dorm mates. I felt supported, and I gave support. basic had taught us to look after and be there for your fellow soldiers.

"Hey, Seb, do you have any shampoo? Mine emptied out when I dropped it?" Jack was sitting on his bed in a towel when he asked. He slept next to me. Fortunately, he had no noticeable bad habits and did not emit any strange noises when asleep.

"Here," I replied, chucking him a bottle of Head and Shoulders from my small cupboard.

"Cheers, pal," he said cheerily. He got up and wandered off to the showers connected to our dorm. I lay back on my bed and pulled out my book.

Down time was each day at 5:30 pm. Each day we all learned a little more. I Got to know the people I lived with in our big box of beds. We were currently on weapons training. Drills were repeated each day. We started getting the hang of it after our beginning had been a complete mess. We also got to do a bit of first aid every few days which was a welcome relief from drilling outside in the freezing cold.

"What are you reading?" Tank asked, plonking himself on Jack's bed.

"Grand Horse Theft," I replied to Tank, who looked bemused. "I love them...you know, horses. Amazing what goes on in racing. It's pretty corrupt."

"You should have been alive a hundred years ago, you could have been a soldier and a horse rider."

"Yeah, that would have been the life! What are you up to?"

"Bored out of my skull. I tried to call home but there's no answer. Have you written yet?"

"Nah, I'm trying to set up an account with this stupid Vodafone thing. But the screen is so small I doubt emailing will be fun on itx. Plus it keeps dropping out."

"How about cards, then?" Tank asked, grinning.

"Ok, one game. I'm skint this month!"

"Who says you'll lose?"

"I say, Tank!"

Tank was a really nice guy. He was one of those people you would probably avoid in a dark alley, though. Six-feet-six, short brown hair, dark eyes. I suppose an analogy would be like the evil looking staff dogs which turn out to just want to lick you all over and be your friend. Tank was that Staffie! He was built like a brick shit house and could lift two men—one in each arm up in the air. It was his party trick! But he was a pussy cat and we all loved his personality.

December 27th, 2005

Christmas was a dull affair, but all the dorms got together and the officers put on a good show with what they had. We all wore decorative hats and ate well. Many called home with Christmas wishes. I'd been called like 30 times from mum Christmas day telling me each intricate detail about what was going on at home.

The ones with a strained relationship with their families, or those who didn't have anyone to call, we made an extra fuss over. Just in these last 10 days or so everyone has gotten really close and it had been nice. Being with these guys, being liked, and even loved by them was really comforting to me coming from such a home-life where love in the household was only running on two cylinders.

We'd all got a little gift from our comrades, mostly cheap joke underwear or chocolate. Just fun little things to open. Mail arrived late so everyone who got gifts from their parents only managed to open them today, which actually made Christmas feel longer.

God, I loved it here!

It was back to work today though with fitness training and more drills. In the new year we would be moving on to live-ammunition training which I was really looking forward to, along with the rest of the guys. This is what being in the Infantry was all about. The weapons!

January 7th , 2006

Freezing starts greeted us each day as most of the training was now outside. We'd received our much needed winter kit and our weapons. Live firing was intense and fun, with the guns easier to control than what I had been expecting. Fitness training was now off the scale as we were taught to run with our weapons and how not to kill ourselves or our comrades.

More first aid training. I was paired with Jack who found the whole thing hilarious as I simulated mouth to mouth resuscitation.

"I've never had a boy kiss me before," Jack said, between giggles.

"And I've never felt it appropriate to kiss one," I replied, smiling.

"So you saved me, I'm not dead."

"You don't look dead. Guess I did a good job."

"Jesus, at least it's warm in here. Dunno how much more of having numb fingers I can take out there."

"Yeah, it's brutal. I'm beat. 10 minutes to go and we're on down time. Want to go again?"

All the lads got back to the dorm and half threw themselves on their beds. What a day! I opted for a shower, taking back my shampoo from Jack who had now used half the bottle on his dark shaved back and sides after still not bothering to buy his own.

"Used enough?" I asked, as I took it from his cupboard ...again!

He gave me an innocent look. "Hey, you don't want to be breathing in my dandruff do you?"

"With the amount you used, I think you're immune for a month," I replied, stripping off and grabbing my towel. "Gonna hit the showers. Meet you in the mess?"

"Yeah man, see ya."

Mess was a noisy affair, but also a time to chat and have fun with the guys. It was also where I saw Luke, my friend from the train again. He gave me a nod as I walked into the large hall. I grabbed a tray and went over to see him. We walked through the serving line together and chatted.


"Yeah, but Jesus, I wish it was summer. I think this would all be a lot easier."

"Yeah, I don't doubt it. Sill settling in okay?"

"Yeah; my guys are cool. Got one who's a bit homesick but we're doing our best to distract him."

"Poor guy. I feel like that sometimes. But then before the thought lingers you're either asleep or on drill," I said, as my plate was filled with the various food items on today's menu. "You written home yet?"

"Emailed. My handwriting sucks!"

"My phone sucks! And the time it takes to walk to the internet room is the time I could be sleeping or showering."

"Hey, I hear there is a platoon activity day being organised," Luke mentioned as we both picked a desert.

"Yeah, next week; should be fun. I think there will be some teamwork activities with various dorms coming together, so we may see each other then?"

"Yeah man, that'll be cool. Anyway, I'm gonna go sit with my dorm. I'll catch you later."

"Sure thing, take it easy!"

"Haha, yeah right!"

We both exchanged a laugh and went to sit with our dorm buddies.

"Hey, Biden! Over here," Ben called. I went over and sat down opposite him.

"Hey, you good?"

"Look around you, Biden; what's missing?" Ben asked. Ben was a deep kinda guy. He liked to talk. He would have debates and always interjected something into people's conversations. A confident ginger headed guy, he was loud and forward. He was actually the person that I took the longest to get used to as I found him quite suffocating at times. If you needed to get anything done he would be quite happy to interrupt you and keep you there for ages while he spilled out whatever was on his mind. But again, he was likable, if not a little annoying.

"Ok, Ben, I've looked around. What's missing?"


"Black?" I repeated, confused.

"In the whole of this hall there is only one black guy. Leyton, over there."

"And your point?" I asked not really getting where he was going.

"Why don't enough black guys join the army. What're your thoughts?"

"Well, you also don't get a lot of ginger guys joining the army, do you?" He looked at me strangely. My answer was totally fucking up his head. I laughed. "Maybe that's a question to ask Leyton. I'm sure he's got some views."

"Yeah, I might do that; he'll know, won't he?"

"He might. Anyway, why are you so interested in the diversity of the mess hall?"

"Just wondered, that's all. Hey, did you hear about Blair sending more people to Afghanistan? It was on the news. Another 500 went yesterday. Things are heating up over there."

"No, I didn't, but it doesn't surprise me."

"You think we'll get chucked out there?"

"Well, I hope not. We've just learned how to fire our weapons. I'm sure you can relax, Ben, at least for a while."

"Yeah, Seb. Let's hope so."

We both continued to tuck into our food, forgetting about the loud raucous lads and the clattering of plates and cups.

February 10th, 2006

Today we learned about map reading. Yeah! It was as boring as it sounds, but essential, I understood. Without maps on the battlefield, you don't know where you are. Seems obvious, but I don't think I took it all in because I was so bored. Still, it was family day today and we all got let out to go see our parents.

I met Mum and Dad at the main gate . Mum pulled me into a hug and I even got a hug off my dad.

"Oh, Nanna! You came all this way to see me, too?"

"Oh yes, Sebastian…oh, don't you look the part in your uniform. Bless you son, how are they treating you?"

"Oh, Nanna, it's really good here, I've made lots of friends and learned so much. It's hard work, but I'm liking it."

"Good to see you, Seb," Dad said, looking up into my face.

"And you, Dad. How was the drive?"

"Long, but worth it. It's good to see you are looking well. No scuffs or scapes yet then? They obviously aren't workin g you hard enough."

"Oh, Ted, I'm glad they haven't hurt my beautiful boy with his cute face and pinky nose… oh, and you've had your blond locks cut short. Come here—I just want to smother you. What a handsome boy!"

"Mum, I've only been gone three months!"

"The house is so quiet without you. But listen, Robbie is due to come home for 2 weeks at the end of May. Do you think you could get some leave?"

"Helen, they can't just pick leave," Dad barked.

"Well, I just thought it would be wonderful if I could have both you boys at home just for a bit. I could cook you big meals and…."

"Mum, I'll see what the schedule is like, but no promises. So what shall we do? It's pretty cold. Did you want to go into the village?"

"I thought we'd go for lunch. Are you allowed off base?" Dad asked.

"Yeah, it should be fine. We have down time till tomorrow."

I went back to get a leave pass before jumping in the car with my parents. I chatted to Nanna about her knitting of all things as we headed along the winding country roads to the village.

I saw other people from my unit all over the place, wandering around in uniform with their parents. No one really took any notice, perhaps being used to service personnel coming and going. Dad found us a nice cafe and we went in. I ordered bacon, egg and chips, feeling the need to have something fatty and wholesome.

It was really nice to see the parents, hearing the sounds of my mum and dad gently bickering while Nanna and I spoke about her days during the war and she saying how lucky I was that we were in peacetime. She was right of course and it made me think of what I would actually be doing once I passed my specialist training.

"They may deploy you abroad," Dad said, probably hearing our conversation. "Blair and Bush want to get Afghanistan under control, and Iraq is still a mess."

"Oh, don't say that, Ted. I was worried enough when Robbie went. That was six months of nerve-wracking hell I went through."

"Biden'll be fine, as long as he obeys orders and listens to his CO. And anyway, someone has to sort out these countries. Everyone else seems to be doing nothing. Canada and Australia seem to send about 20 troops, and the EU, pah! It's always the same."

"Dad, I hate to be rude. But we did cause these issues. It's right that we try and put things right."

Dad waved his hand as if to tell me, 'what did I know?' But I knew enough history to know that almost every war we have experienced has been in some way connected to the British Empire's meddling in other countries' affairs.

We do the damage, and then have to try to put it right after. Seemed natural to me.

Lunch was really great and Nanna, Mum and I had chatted loads about what was happening back home. I'd heard about which roads the gas company was digging up and how Mrs Denby, next door,xshad lost her dog for a week. Dad told me about a couple of destroyers that had recently moored up in Portsmouth, probably for an upgrade and how military spending by the government was being increased. Dad wondered if we were getting ready for some kind of massive troop deployment. I wondered if he was trying to worry me or prepare me. But a couple of ships docking and a few extra quid being spent on defense didn't sound like a big war brewing, it just didn't. Either way, dad always seemed to know more than what was being told back at base.

Dad suggested we drive back to the base to say goodbye so he could start the drive back. Mum wanted to stay another hour or so, but knew better than to alter Dad's schedule. We all got back in the car and headed the few miles back to my base. Mum said there was a care package in the boot of the car which she would give me once we stopped. If it was like the one Robbie's one got each family day then it would contain chocolate, underwear and a dressing robe. One year he got some cheap cologne that was so bad his mates stole it in the dead of night and disposed of it.

I hoped I wouldn't get cologne!

"Well, this is it, my love! Time to say goodbye, but awwwww, it's been so nice seeing you, my handsome baby."

"Thanks, Mum."

"See you again soon, sweetheart," Nanna said. I bent down to get a kiss on the cheek from her before seeing Dad reach out his hand.

"Good luck, son. Remember to pay attention and do your best. A few months left and you'll be a fully trained fighter. I'm proud of you."

"Thanks, Dad. Well, you guys have a safe journey back, and I'll see about some leave for when Robbie is home."

"Yes, please do, Sebastian. I know he would love to see you."

"Yeah, we'll see. Okay then, bye guys."

I walked backwards waving to them as they all got back in the car, before I stopped and watched them drive away. That lonely feeling came over me again, but I quickly got myself together and walked back to hand in my leave pass.

Back in my dorm a lot of the guys were missing, probably out seeing their parents still. I imagined that they had fathers who were more interested in seeing THEM rather than seeing what they would become. It didn't bother me though, not too much, not really. Once you grow up in that environment, it's funny what you get used to. Besides, this was a rare moment to take in some quiet time and read. Or, did I want to go down to the mess and take advantage of not having to queue. Bah, decisions!

February 26th, 2006

The last few weeks were insanely physical. Fitness, drill, fitness, drill. My feet were all torn up and they were in boots I thought I'd broken in. All the boys were sleeping whenever they could, as was I. We'd lost a little bit of banter as tiredness took its toll. We'd also lost one of our guys due to a compulsory drugs test. Well, I say lost in the sense that we had the drugs test and then he did not return after it, so I can only make one assumption. No one talks about it.

It wasn't all bad, though. We did three nights off base which was nice. It was multi-dorm event up in Cumbria. We'd been abseiling, rock climbing and taught building temporary shelters in teams of five using only materials from a nearby forest. There were also competitive games such as long jump, football and boxing. It was also a chance to start mixing with people outside our own close-knit dorm group.. Night times were really amazing as we sang songs around a huge fire pit, ate great food which the chefs had prepared and cooked on location and all with sweeping mountains as a backdrop. Although, later, my bubble burst when I was told they were hills. But what the hell, it was a memorable three days with lots of banter, team exercises and bonding.

It really felt like we were starting to come together as a unit. Good friendships had been solidified and we were getting good at our trade. The weather over those three days had been crazily warm, and even in the evening you could sleep outside your bag and not be too bothered by the elements. I wondered if those three days were put in as a morale lifter after all the fitness and drill we'd been doing as back on base everyone did seem more chipper and smiles had returned to the boys' faces, including mine.

Tomorrow was a Monday and this Monday would bring new excitement. We would be finally doing something other than drilling and fitness. So, starting tomorrow, we would move on to bayonet fighting and long range firing. All the guys were pumped and there was a jovial atmosphere in the barracks as everyone was looking forward to getting away from drilling for a few weeks.

Tank showed up that Sunday night. "Hey, where've you been?" he asked as I sat down on my bed. "We were going to play cards."

"Well," I said, "I was at mess, and then I called home...Tank, it's Sunday; I always eat later on Sundays."

Tank sat down on Jack's bed. "Yeah. Anyway, game?"

"Are you kidding? You guys have taken £100 off me this month. I'm broke."

"Broke, get out of here. Anyway, no bother. So, who's the new guy?"

"New guy?"

"Yeah, turned up here a few hours ago… took Jeb's old bunk."

I looked across the dorm and saw someone lying on their side, asleep.

"Dunno, never met him. Was he in another dorm?"

"Meh, I dunno. He doesn't talk much. Even Ben can't get him to talk much... and Ben?"

"Yeah, Ben can talk to anyone I know. So, he got a name?"

"Spinner, apparently."


Tank shrugged. "Yeah, apparently."


"We need to stop using that word," Tank said, laughing.

"Okay, Well, Spinner can't be his real name, right?"

"You're asking me, a guy named Tank? What do you think?"

"Sure, sure," I said, looking over at…Spinner. So have we made him welcome?"

"Couple of the guys have been over and said hello… me included."

"And?" I asked, waiting for the punchline.

"And, well, uh. I mean, he's polite, and says hi back, but he's not up for chit chat if you know what I mean?"

"I'll go talk to him after I've showered. Must be hard, moving dorms. I'll let him know we're all cool in here."

Tank slapped his knees and got up. "Be my guest. You'll have got further than any of us if he says more than hello."

I gave Tank a false smile and grabbed my towel before getting undressed. As I did I looked over at the new lad who was still facing away from us, asleep. Or maybe not.


I heard the thunderous sound of Sgt Beckers voice ring though the dorm and legged it out of the showers, my hair still full of foam.

"By your beds, lads, c'mon, quickly does it!"

We all stood by our beds at attention, me with just a towel around my waist and my head slathered in shampoo gloop which was quickly running into my eyes. The sargent walked slowly through the dorm inspecting our beds and areas while Corporal Smith followed behind.

Beckers was a strict man, but reasonable, I'd found. He would carry this stick with him and tap things as if to mark them up or mark them down, you never knew.

"Biden! Looking all fresh, boy?"


"Wipe that gunk out of your eyes, lad."


He looked me up and down before continuing his walk. I took a quick peek behind me seeing Spinner was at the side of his bed. It was the first time I was seeing all of him. Beckers walked over to him and stopped.

"Settling in okay, Hans?"


"Any trouble in here?"


"Good lad."

I saw Beckers whisper something to Corporal Smith before they both walked through the middle aisle of our dorm heading for the door.

"STAND DOWN!" Beckers screamed before they both left. Everyone's shoulders dropped and we returned to whatever we were doing. For me, that meant heading back to the showers to rinse off.

In the showers I couldn't stop thinking about Spinner and why he was called Hans. What sort of name was that? Mind you, what sort of name was Spinner? Sure, some of the guys had nicknames given them for different reasons. Maybe I just needed to find out.

After a long rinse under the spray…more time spent thinking than rinsing...I waited until the shower cut off before walking over to the centre benches and grabbing my towel. I dried myself from top to bottom and wandered back out into the dorm.

Spinner was lying on one elbow reading a magazine when I went over to him and sat on Aldis's bed. God knows where he was!

"Hey," I said, perhaps a little too enthusiastically. The newcomer stopped reading and briefly looked up away from his mag.

"Hi," he said, a wry smile appearing on his face. "Uh, right now, just so you know, I'm getting a face full of your tackle."

"Huh? Oh shit, sorry," I said, pulling my towel down below my knees. "Shower, ya know ? "

"Yeah, figured" he replied, going back to his magazine. "You want something?" he asked, continuing to read.

"Uh, no. I just thought I would say hello as you're new here."

He looked up again. "New? No, I'm not new, just new to you."

"So you've been on base? I've never seen you."

"Does it matter?"

"Erm, no, of course not. Listen, shall I just fuck off?" I asked, grinning.

Spinner put down his magazine and held out his hand. "Lukas… or Spinner, whichever you prefer."

I took it and shook it. His grip was firm, but friendly.

"Good to meet you, Lukas Hans."

"You know my full name?" he asked, sounding surprised.

I gestured with my thumb back toward the exit door. "The sergeant. He addressed you as Hans."

"Oh, yeah, of course."


Spinner looked down at his bed briefly before looking back up at me." Yeah. Is it an issue?"

"What? No, why would it be?"

"Never mind." I paused a second, then asked, "So why did you transfer to us… I mean our dorm?"

"You ask a lot of questions."

"Yeah, sorry. Just being friendly, I guess. I'll go, leave you in peace."

I got up off Aldis's bed and started to walk back to mine.

"Wait!" Spinner called. I looked back. "You didn't tell me yours."

"My what?"

"Your name!"

"Oh, yeah…Seb, Seb Biden. Just that, no alias," I confirmed, giving him a smile. He smiled back and I walked away.

Seemed to be a nice enough guy.

It was getting late that Sunday evening and lights had gone out. Jack and I, being next to each other, were in light conversation talking about our lives since coming into the army. Kinda getting to know more about each other , I suppose you could say . He was into cars and hockey. I was into horses and football. The four topics gave us loads to talk about, but I could tell he was getting homesick by the excuses he found to go back to the topic of his girlfriend.

"I mean, I dunno if she'll even wait for me, Seb. And, I'm wondering if it's gonna work!"

"Did she know you were going into the army when you met?"

"Yeah, I was up front, and she said yeah, fine, I wanna be with you bla bla bla. I was like, yeah, but I wont see you for months and then I might only be back a few weeks and off somewhere again. She was like, yeah that's fine, I'll be here."

"Aaaand, somehow now you don't think she will?"

"Would you?"

"What, wait for you? Awww, Jack, what a sweet question. Of course I would!"

Jack grinned before flicking my forehead. "Asshole! Anyway, what about you? You never mention your girl."

"Because I don't have a girl," I replied.

"Maaaa waaaat! Good looking guy like you? Look at the guns on you. Why don't you have a chick?"

I thought about the question. "Erm, well, if I said to you I've never had the time, would that make sense? Cos, looking back, it's the truth. Plus, do I really want the hassle?"

"You've not had time? Hassle? What about the pink pussy?" asked Jack, holding a hand level with his stomach and gyrating his hips.

"Jack, please don't do that again! Anyway I… Well, kinda. I dunno, I don't think I have. I mean at 15 I was in the Cadets doing stuff. Then I came out at 18 straight into the army. So, yeah. I always think that I never had time. But until you asked I've never really thought about it."

"But you like girls, yeah? I mean if you don't I'm totally cool with it. I mean it's okay now, ain't it? You can be that way and still be a good soldier. And anyway, if you were and wanted to tell me, I would totally keep it to myself. My uncle is...well you know. And so I understand it completely. So…?"



"Stop talking. I like girls okay."

"Shit, yeah sorry. I just wanted you to know that if you didn't, it was ok. You just never talk about them that much."

"And you talk about them too much," I replied, smiling at him. He gave this stupid grin back before we both burst out laughing.

"Hey, you two, shut the fuck up, some of us are trying to sleep!" Tim Hunt hissed, three beds away. No one else seemed to care. Tim was always moody before sleep!

"So what's the team lineup for bayonet practice tomorrow?" Jack whispered.

"In fours, Tank said. Hang on, let me check the schedule. It arrived today, I haven't looked."

I reached under my bed and grabbed the training schedule for the next four weeks and opened it up , before turning on my phone torch, getting a little more light.

"I haven't looked either," Jack said, shifting positions in bed.

"So yeah, we're in fours," I said looking up and down to see what the teams were."

"Read it out."

"So, Team 1 is Ben Andrews, Simon Aldis, Dave Simmons and Tank. Then Team 2 is me, Greg Davis, Tim Hunt and… oh, you, Jack Green… That's cool then."

"Hey, I'm on your team? Wow!"

"Yeah calm down! Team 3 is Lukas Hans, Pete Donnel, Stephen Baker and James Stanley…"

"Lukas Hans? Is that the Spinner guy?" Jack whispered, trying not to be too loud.

"Yeah that's him. He's okay."

"What, you spoke to him? Tank said he was scarily quiet and didn't talk to anyone."

"He's just a bit shy. I dunno why he's here but it must be shit, coming into a new dorm and having to start all over again."

"Weird name, though."

"It's German… I mean he's German."


"Yeah, he told me, but I guessed anyway by the name. He seemed to get a bit agitated when I asked."

"Well past stuff and all that."

"Huh? You mean…Jack, that was like 60 odd years ago."

Jack sniggered. "Just kidding. Anyway, Team 4 then leaves Andy, Dan, Kelser and Max?"

"You could have just looked."

"Yeah, well, I'm feeling lazy. Anyway, my friend, sleep time."

"Yeah; you got it. See yous in the morn!"

"Night mate."

"Yeah, night Jack!

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