Based on the prompt on Chuck Wendig’s Blog here.
Quick — trying to beat the deadline. This is an exercise in learning to write faster. Flash Fiction Challenges. You should try it, too.
The Comrade Within
I had left the life I knew.
The next day I would start basic training. I had traveled from Casper, Wyoming to Denver, so I had one more day before I became the government’s property – as one of my classmates had said to me at my farewell party the night before. He was furious with me for signing up. He was spit whiskey breath in my face and called me a government whore. I smoked my last joint and ignored him.
The people in charge of me and the other recruits marched us from the MEPS station. The hotel looked like something off the East Berlin strip. Functional. Not pleasing to the eye. This was not the Hotel Bristol. In fact, I couldn’t find its name any where. Outside there was a dimming red neon sign with just the word “HOTEL” in sans serif font. Its insides smelled like Lysol, old smoke and creeping mold.
The bed spread in my room, #523, was gold lamiae fleur de leis on an orange background and the carpet was roughed-up shag with its richness gone to sludge.
I threw my travel pack on the bed; it bounced back in rebellion. It didn’t want to go to South Carolina. It wanted to stay right here in Rocky Mountain High.
That was something I wouldn’t be doing any time soon.
The recruiter told us we could go tie one on, get laid, whatever we felt we needed and wouldn’t get for the next 9 weeks. But, we better be able to pass the piss and preggers text the next day. “No tattoos tonight either!” was the recruiters parting words.
I didn’t know what I was going to do. Sleep, perhaps. Something told me I wouldn’t get much sleep learning to become some military pawn. And I hadn’t slept in nearly a month. It hadn’t been a priority. Partying on the other hand, that was s different story. My partying had started a month ago. Communing with every human need, desire and urge had been my goal to the point that getting laid, getting drunk or stoned really wasn’t on my to-do list at that moment. Nothing. Nothing seemed more the desire at that point.
I sat down on the edge of the bed and poked a button on the tv. Judges and an angry white woman behind a sign that read plaintiff and a guy with bad hair stare back at me. I popped it back off. The white electric eye narrows and goes black.
The need for beer suddenly is upon me.
Down in the hotel bar, I see a huddle of some of the other recruits in a table in the corner. I sit at the bar and light up a smoke. The guy behind the bar looks like Vince Price’s cousin. He gives me my beer order, and looks at me just a moment too long. I turn to look at the guys at the corner table. They look like infants. I’m not a senior citizen, but I realize I’ve already lived longer on my own than any of those kids.
The cigarette pushes some of the ennui I had been feeling in my hotel room out of my head and onto the bar. I watch it scramble down the shellacked wooden surface and plop itself into the Rob Roy of an old man sitting there. His wrinkled faced doesn’t look like it could stand anymore discontent. I raise my beer bottle to him in sympathy, but I’m not feeling compassion. No, it’s better him than me. Maybe he’ll find his own drug. Maybe the maraschino cherry in his drink will take its stem and choke the ennui runaway.
“Can I bum a light from you?”
I turn to my opposite shoulder from Mr. Rob Roy and a kid from the corner table is standing next to me an unlit cigar in his hand.
“You even know how to smoke that?” the bartender says, tossing a pack of hotel bar room matches. The logo on the matches copies the neon sign above this hotel.
The dark-haired kid grunts and takes the matches and makes quick work of getting the cigar lit.
“Didn’t I see you talking to the recruiter?
I nod then sip my beer, keeping my eyes not at the cigar smoker, but ahead at the glasses that line the mirrored wall behind the bar. I can smell his smoke. I know the scent well, but ignore its implications.
“You could join us, ya know,” he says to my silence. “We’re all gonna need to get to know each other any how.”
“Maybe in a bit,” I say. I’m sure he knows I won’t. But, the glimmer of hope he seems to hold in his eyes is what he needs. He walks back to his table and the cigar smoke traces behind him, laughing at me.
I watch them through the mirror. They seem to know each other deeper than circumstance lumping them together. Nine weeks they will likely hate each other, I think. Better than hating themselves, I think.
Back in my room, I run the tub. My hair smells of smoke and beer. I immerse myself in the water and easily sink down. I can hear my heart beat underneath the small pool I’ve created for myself. It thumps and hums and questions me.
Do or Don’t what? My brain screams back. I am doing, the gray said to the red. I am doing all manner of things no one would have ever expected from me.
Outside the flashing lights of the ambulance licked the red neon sans-serif hotel sign. The bartender and cigar smoker stood with arms crossed watching the paramedics bring the gurney out. The bartender rubbed his left arm, which held a faded USMC tattoo under his crisp white shirt. The kid stubbed out his cigar on shoe and tried to think if he knew the woman’s name.