2.Fort Knight, Springfield, Oregon.
“Hey, wake-up,” Faith shook Judy’s shoulder as the bus pulled up just inside Fort Knight, “we’re here.”
Fort Knight was situated almost ten miles from the closest town which was Springfield, a place that hardly merited the name ‘town’. The Greyhound had deposited the recruits on Springfield’s main street; here they’d been collected by an army corporal who’d put them on a green painted school bus with about another twenty new recruits. As they‘d been the last ones to arrive, they were quickly herded aboard and driven out of town towards Fort Knight. It was pitch dark as they drove towards the camp, but even so, Faith managed to pick out some mountains in the distance and an awful lot of trees.
“But it’s the middle of the night!” Judy opened one bleary eye after the other and looked around.
“No it’s not,” Faith stood up and reached for her backpack, she glanced at the clock at the front of the bus, “its four in the morning.”
“Noooo!” Judy wailed as she closed her eyes and tried to go back to sleep, “This is a nightmare!”
“All the more reason to wake up,” this time Faith didn’t shake her new friend; she grabbed hold of Judy’s jacket and hauled her to her feet.
“Hey!” Judy cried as she found herself lifted off her feet for a second.
“Come-on Judy, lets move,” swinging her small backpack onto her back, Faith followed the other new recruits down the bus and out into the fresh mountain air.
Once off the bus, Faith found herself really waking up, the air was cool and so much fresher than LA’s smog laden atmosphere; she felt more awake than she had in a very long time. Although Faith liked to sleep, she’d found she didn’t need to do it a lot. As long as she got a chance for one long sleep a week she’d found that she only needed two or three hours a night and she’d be fresh as a daisy. At first she’d suspected that her ability to go without sleep was due to her having spent eight months of her life flat on her back in a coma. But as time had past and she didn’t feel the need to sleep any longer than she had been doing she started to think that maybe it was something else. Maybe, she told herself, she was just one of those people who just didn’t need to sleep much. Whatever the reason it looked like her ability to stay awake and alert for long periods was going to come in useful in her new career. Turning around Faith watched as Judy stumbled down the steps from the bus onto the road, she paused to look around like a little, lost, child; the expression on her face made Faith smile.
Unlike, Faith, Judy had brought an enormous suitcase, no doubt full of expensive clothes; for someone who’d basically run away from home she didn’t believe in travelling light. Judy’s luggage, along with everybody else’s was piled up next to the bus, even Faith’s pack, which hardly counted as luggage. An NCO yelled at them to get lined up, which they did after Faith had dragged Judy away from her suitcase and over to where the other recruits stood. As soon as everyone was in a rough line the first NCO stood to one side and gave the floor to a large, muscular white guy in a ‘Smokey Bear’ hat.
“I’m First Sergeant Ballard,” not only was he tall and muscular, he also had very short, blond hair and strikingly blue eyes; Faith immediately fell in lust with him, “I will be your Drill Instructor…” and as quickly fell out again as the words were spoken.
“Is he a park ranger or something?” Judy asked sleepily but loud enough for Ballard to hear.
“Who said that!?” it might have been a question but Ballard seemed to know exactly who’d said ‘that’. “You!” Ballard pointed a well scrubbed finger at Judy, “You do not speak when I’m talking, do you understand?”
“W-what?” Judy replied uncertainly.
“To show me you understand drop and give me twenty,” Ballard ordered.
“Twenty?” Judy looked from Ballard to Faith hoping for some sort of explanation.
Rolling her eyes, Faith wisely decided to say nothing and watch the trees that surrounded the camp as they slowly became visable in the early morning light. Very soon Judy found out what Ballard meant, getting down on her hands and knees she slowly started on her twenty push-ups. For just a moment, Faith regretted her choice of friend and seriously considered dumping the girl. After all they had little in common, Judy was a society girl, she’d been to convent school out east, Faith had been a stripper with no past. It also starting to look as if Judy was going to spend a lot of time doing push-ups for one reason or another and any trouble that missed Judy was bound to hit her.
But, there was something about the girl that Faith liked, plus it wasn’t her way to dump a friend or let them down. Signing a little, Faith decided to stick with Judy, unless she turned out to be one of those brats she’d seen on TV shows, perhaps the girl would shape up given time. By the time Judy had laboriously pushed out five push-ups, Ballard had grown bored and had started to get everyone organised alphabetically. As ‘B’ was quite a way away from ‘L’, Faith found herself temporarily separated from Judy.
The next thing on the list of exciting activities for their first day in the army was a hair cut. The guys all got their heads shaved while the girls had their hair trimmed down to about two inches. Faith didn’t think this was really fair, wasn’t everyone supposed to be treated equally? She was sure that’d been in one of the pamphlets which Sergeant Ross had given her. Whatever, it didn’t really bother Faith that much because she’d already had her hair cut short before leaving LA.
Instead of having her hair cut, Faith got to start on her documentation. The army seemed to want to know everything about her in triplicate and didn’t care how many trees died in the process. Staring at the pile of forms and the ballpoint pen lying next to them, Faith’s heart sank, how the hell was she going to fill in all these forms? Slowly, like a prisoner going to her execution, Faith pulled the first form towards her and looked at the first question, ‘name’ it said. Okay, that wasn’t too hard, she could answer that one.0=0=0=0
About an hour later Faith had finished filling in the last form, she seriously hoped that no one would ever actually read what she’d written because most of her personal details, had been made up on the spot because she simply didn’t know the truth. After form filling and shaking some feeling back into her hand, it was time for breakfast. The food was simple, but it was well prepared and there was plenty of it; Faith piled her plate high and went to sit by a window where she could take in her surrounding. She’d always done this, every time she’d moved somewhere new she liked to know what was going on around her just in case she ever had to leave in a hurry. Why she’d have to leave somewhere ‘in a hurry’, Faith had never been able to explain to herself, it just seemed like it was something she needed to do.
Fort Knight was made up of several rows of low wooden buildings, these, she was soon to discover, were the barrack huts for the recruits and instructors. There were a number of brick built blocks, like the one that housed the kitchens and dinning areas, which she later discovered also contained, admin offices, stores and class rooms. The huts and blocks were separated by roads and small strips of grass. Everything had the look of something held over from the Second World War and had an air of slight dilapidation that said the place was about to be closed down sometime soon.
The camp was surrounded by a tall chain-link fence with barbed wire on top. Outside the wire there were rank upon rank of tall, dark, brooding trees. Faith shivered as she watched the trees and let her eyes roam on up to the mountains in the distance. Having little to gauge distance against, Faith couldn’t guess how far away the mountains were, but she made a bet with herself that at some point during her stay she was going to find out whether she wanted to or not.
“Hi!” Judy sat down across the table from Faith, she looked at Faith’s breakfast in a mixture of disgust and horror, “You’re not going to eat all of that are you?”
Judy’s breakfast consisted of a couple of pieces of dry toast and an apple; ‘darn’, thought Faith, she hadn’t noticed the fruit.
“Yeah,” Faith paused in her attempt to hover up as much food as she could in the shortest time possible, “ya know when lunch time is?” Judy shook her head, “Neither do I,” Faith admitted, “but I’m guessing it’s gonna be a long, long time coming.”
“But the grease, Faith,” Judy pointed at Faith’s plate, “think what it’ll do to your complexion…”
“I don’t think that’s gonna be an issue for a while,” Faith pointed out as she wiped her plate clean with a piece of bread, and anyway she’d never had a zit in her entire life…even if that was only the few months she could actually remember.
“Well, I’ve always been taught to try to look my best,” Judy explained as she delicately bit into her toast, “although what they’ve done to my hair’s going to make that like totally impossible!”
Judy ran her fingers though her short hair, and just for a minute Faith felt sorry for the girl. It did look as if it had been cut by a drunken monkey with a pair of blunt scissors.
“Okay,” Faith shrugged, “have it your own way but don’t come crying to me if you’re hungry by midday.”
“And don’t you come crying to me when your skin breaks out,” Judy countered before looking pensively over to where breakfast was still being served, “You really think its going to be a long time ‘til lunchtime?”
“Hey look it’s only six-thirty,” Faith nodded at the clock on the wall, “what d’ya think?”
Sitting in indecision for a moment, Judy was just about to get up and get herself a larger breakfast when First Sergeant Ballard called for them to form up outside.0=0=0=0
As it turned out Faith was right, it was a long time until lunch time, but to Faith (who’d had a good breakfast) it just flew by. First they’d been issued with their uniforms and all their personal gear. It was then that Faith learnt the first in a long line of useful things about army life. In the army there were only two sizes; too big and too small and it was better to be issued things that were too big than too small. Judy of course had been disgusted that everyone expected her to wear so much green; she’d complained bitterly that it didn’t go with her eyes. Next they were issued their bedding; stiff cotton sheets and rough hairy blankets. Lastly, loaded down with uniforms and bedding, they were led to the wooden barrack hut that would be their home for the next ten weeks of their Basic Combat Training.
“Little boys to the left,” called First Sergeant Ballard as the recruits filled into the hut, “little girls to the right.”
The hut was divided into two large rooms, each capable of housing thirty or so recruits. As there were about twenty female recruits compared to the thirty male recruits the ‘little girls’ side of the barracks wasn’t so crowded. Between these two dormitory rooms was a ‘unisex’ washroom plus what looked like a couple of offices. The barrack room was supplied with metal framed beds and grey metal lockers along either wall, Faith decided that it could have been worse. As no one seemed to care where anyone bunked down, she headed for the far end of the room and got the last bed in the row. Judy staggered up behind her almost invisible behind her huge pile of bedding and equipment.
“Why’ve we come all the way down here?” Judy wanted to know, “We’re miles from the washrooms.”
“The way I see it,” Faith sat down on the springs of her bed for a moment, “down that end,” she pointed towards the washrooms, “ya gonna be woken up every time someone goes by to take a leak in the middle of the night, up here it might be further to walk but at least we’ll get some sleep.”
“My God,” Judy looked at Faith and then back towards the washroom, “I’d never have thought of that…you’re so clever Faith,” Judy sighed heavily, “and you were right about breakfast, I’m starving.”
“Sorry I can’t do anything about that,” Faith commiserated.
“I know,” Judy admitted, “but from now on I’m going to do exactly what you tell me to!”
“Ya gonna what?” Faith looked at Judy and shook her head.
“Well,” Judy got up off her bed and started to toss things into her locker, “you seem to know what to do Faith, but me…?” Judy shrugged, “Well, look, anything I can do to help and I mean ‘anything’ you just ask okay?”
“Yeah, sure,” Faith replied as she too started to put things in her locker; was Judy coming on to her?
That was fine by her, Judy was cute and Faith liked doing it with girls as well as boys. However Faith suspected there wasn’t going to be much time or energy left over from their training to find out what Judy really meant. Deciding to take her friend’s words at face value, Faith chose not to push the issue; perhaps Judy was just being friendly. Whatever Judy meant, Faith didn’t have time to think about it for long, after getting her gear roughly squared away into her locker she had to go and help collect everyone’s luggage and bring it back to the barrack room. Everyone was allowed to remove a few personal items before everything else was taken away again and put into storage.
Lunchtime came around just before Judy fainted from lack of food. They had an hour for lunch and then it was back to the barrack hut. During the afternoon a female sergeant, called Bell, gave them lessons on how to make a bed. Faith hadn’t even known the basics and didn’t know how the army expected her to make a bed; as it turned out she quickly got the hang of it. Next there was a locker layout to master, followed by how they were supposed to dress in their uniforms. Although Judy had promised to do whatever Faith told her, it didn’t stop her from making inappropriate comments. By the time the afternoon was over, Judy’s ability to do push-ups had improved dramatically.
Finally, before they were dismissed to go to dinner, they were lined up to meet their intake commander, Lieutenant Doreen Lewis; an Afro-American woman with coffee coloured skin, dark brown eyes and incredibly short hair. Walking up and down the lines of recruits as they stood at the foot of their beds, she inspected them closely but didn’t look too happy about what she saw. Then, for some reason, she stopped right in front of Faith, looking down at her, Lewis was several inches taller than Faith, the officer inspected her recruit closely.
“So, soldier,” Lewis looked deeply into Faith’s eyes from behind the dark glasses she wore, “what did you do before you joined the army?”
“I…” Faith gulped and hesitated for a moment before completing her answer, “…I was a dancer, ma’am.”
“A dancer?” Lewis frowned as she looked Faith up and down, after deciding that Faith hadn’t been a ballet dancer, she asked, “What sort of dancer?”
“In a club, ma’am,” Faith added slowly.
“In a club?” again Lewis frowned and glanced at Ballard before turning back to Faith, “What sort of…oh!”
“Yes ma’am,” Faith agreed when she saw Lewis had worked out for herself what sort of dancer Faith had been.
“Did…did,” Lewis swallowed hard as she got ready to ask another question, “did you do anything else at this ‘club’?”
“No ma’am!” Faith replied quickly, “Just dancing.”
“Good,” Lewis nodded, “glad to see you here…” Lewis looked at Faith’s name tag, “…Lehane, want to make something of yourself, huh?”
“Yes ma’am,” Faith decided it would be best to agree with the officer, it was also the truth.
“Good to know!” Lewis slapped Faith on the shoulder in a comradely way, “I can see with an attitude like that you’re going to go far in this woman’s army.”
“I am?” Faith asked quietly before adding , “Ma’am?”
“Yes,” Lt Lewis agreed with a curt nod, “and I’ll be here to help you on your way.”0=0=0=0
Darkness slowly fell as the recruits settled in for their first night in the army. Quietly they talked amongst themselves as they squared away their gear and got ready for an early night. As the recruits talked and wondered and questioned whether they’d done the right thing, something watched the camp from the darkness of the trees. Something very old and extremely hungry.0=0=0=0