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A dramatization of one of my favorite stories from Plebe Summer
I recently started a writing course and the first assignment was to write a short narrative piece that follows a character arc. This was my piece, which is a memory of one of my favorite stories from Plebe Summer, the Naval Academy’s version of boot camp.
The heat in the hallway baked us long after the sun had set, and I had had about enough of the Naval Academy and Plebe Summer. It had only been three weeks since I had taken my oath, still wearing my ratty high school T-shirt. In those three weeks, I’d pushed myself harder than I thought I could. Though my arms, my legs, even my ass never stopped hurting, I pushed, buoyed by promises of honor, glory, and purpose. But today, all those thoughts didn’t mean much. I sat in the hallway with 63 new friends, and dreams of home, of keggers at the pool and bikini clad girls by the ocean filled my head. I was ready to quit. Just before I did, a cake rounded the corner, paraded by Ms. G. A platter of glorious chocolate frosting atop a yellow sheet cake, towering with blue and gold icing. The sweet smell of sugar singed my nose. That glorious cake pulled me from my dreams, and the 64 plates elicited 64 secret smiles.
The cake halted and she ceremoniously unsheathed her sword. We all stood rigid, scared of what might happen if we looked. I imagined her blade slicing my piece of ecstacy, but instead of cake, Mr. C’s voice pierced my dream.
“Hold on! What the? Miller here just said he’s almost made it, almost done being a plebe. Can you believe that?”
The detailers’ fury swept through the hall like a flamethrower. “What the fuck? Here we try to do something nice for you and you can’t help yourself. Do the rest of you think you’re almost done?”
Not a soul dared raise their hand, and even if they had I silently willed them to shut up. In my head I begged Mr. C to let this one go, please, just this once.
But he didn’t let this one go. He said that some pushups might teach us, that Miller had decided with his comment to give up his cake and that anyone who pushed less than Miller would give up theirs too. In unison we all hit the floor. We all pushed. I saw Miller to my left, moving fast. “Slow down asshole” I hissed at him. I leaned towards him and kicked my legs, connecting hard and praying no one saw. Others spit sweat at him, urging him to slip on the soaked floor. We couldn’t let him beat us, let him take that glorious cake from us. If he wanted to be a fool, that was on him. But he wasn’t going to take us down too.
Suddenly Mr. C was screaming at us to get up. He was right in front of me. His sunburnt veins burst from his temple as his voice assaulted the air, announcing that it was time for another uniform race. We had two minutes to get into Summer Blues. “And God help you if Miller beats you,” he said.
The verbal gunshot sounded, and we all ran. I searched out Miller’s roommates, offering silent encouragement for whatever they would do to him. Hide his socks, scuff his shoes, slam the door. It didn’t matter, just don’t let that jackass rob us of cake. We all rushed back into the hallway dripping with sweat and fear as we lined the wall. Miller stood next to me, and I knew I’d beaten him. Most of us had.
As I panted, Mr. C’s wicked eyes surprised me. He stared with a twisted smile. “Turner, looks like you beat Miller. Do you think you earned cake?”
I knew the answer they were looking for. ‘Ship, shipmate, self’ had been drilled into us every day these last three weeks. We worked as a team, fought as a team, and died as a team. I was no dummy. But I hadn’t asked this jackass to be on my team, this idiot who made dumb comments when I was already at my limit. I wanted so badly to say yes, but I only stared ahead, mute. There was no way to win.
“Looks like Turner doesn’t want to answer. Well I’ll answer for him.” Mr. C’s smile contorted even more. “You didn’t earn shit. You’ll never be done.” And just like that he had the cake in his hands, holding it out like a prized statue for us all to see before he punted it like a football. Chocolate morsels exploded into a brown mist down the hallway, and I felt my hopes go with it. I stared ahead, too numb to feel anything.
Alone in our room that night, I whispered to my roommate.
“Hey man, you awake?
I’ve been thinking about tonight. I was right next to Miller and I didn’t hear him say anything. How the hell did Mr. C hear it?”
“Fuck man. That’s the point. No one said anything. Miller was tonight’s fall. It could have been any of us” As I listened, I imagined Mr. C’s eyes scanning the hall for his next victim, and felt the shiver in my spine as he found me.