Craig limps back to the barracks - exhausted, far more so than at any other point in his life. The pain in his leg is bearable and, luckily, he has an entire weekend to recover from slipping off the climbing rope and bashing his thigh on landing, somehow still managing to conquer the obstacle afterwards.
He is wet, covered in mud and knackered, his clothes squelching out dirty water with every step.
Stripping off his wet fatigues at the door to his billet, he steps inside wearing just his boxers, a few sarcastic whistles from his bunk mates follow him as he pads his way to grab one of the towels, some spare clothes, his toiletries and then he makes a beeline for the showers.
Peeling off his water-sodden boxers in the changing cubicle, he sighs as he steps into the shower and hits the button to switch it on. He steps back avoiding the spray at first which never seems to be anything other than ice cold.
As the water heats up he steps into its embrace and lets the warm water wash away the energy-sapping fatigue that seems to have become his strongest memory of the week so far.
He had arrived on Sunday evening, the train pulling into the station at Lymphstone and it was like he had stepped off into a different world. Craig looked around in awe as he made his way into the base itself. The smallish station was buzzing with new arrivals, like himself; wide eyed innocents about to receive a shock to their systems as they aim to be selected to become part of the best trained amphibious infantry unit in the world. There were also the newly passed-out Royal Marine Commandos, all smiles that they had made it and earned the green beret but also giving the new arrivals compassionate looks as they remember their own first day.
The train station passed him in a whirl of noise and he couldn't grasp - for the moment - that he had finally begun the new chapter in his life.
Eventually he got to the training base and reported to the gate. After a few minutes of nervous waiting, he was waved through. An officer approached him and Craig dropped his gear and stood at attention. The man waved him to be "at ease".
"You're not quite there yet. What's your name?"
"Craig, Sir. Craig Wallace."
The officer held out his hand, Craig met it with his own shook it firmly.
"I'm Lieutenant Smith. So, you're one of the last to arrive I'm afraid, so bunks are all but gone. You won't have much of a choice."
He shrugged in reply as he picked up his bags. "As long as it's not a shit and pube covered floor, I'm happy."
The officer snorted a laugh. "If you want to be a marine you'll smile and say "thank you, sir" if they give something as good as a shit and pube covered floor."
Craig chuckled and couldn't help his reply. "Thank you, Sir."
Barely visible in the failing light, the lieutenant smiled and nodded, before indicating for Craig to walk ahead of him through the doorway to a long low, modern-looking building, Craig stepped through and left room for the officer to follow. The fluorescent lights flickered overhead and threw out a harsh, almost unforgiving, light. He looked around and noticed the corridor lined with doors.
"So," Lt. Smith began. "This is the training barracks block, all potential Royal Marines live here until the end of their ordeal," he paused and gave Craig a look that said the word choice was deliberate. "Each training block has a Commissioned Officer who is a fully fledged Royal Marine Commando, we are all experienced in the field, you won't find any "lions led by donkeys" here.
"I am the C.O. for your training unit. You can come to me with any problems that are outwith the scope of your direct superior or if you have a genuine grievance with your troop leader.
"Each training unit is led by an experienced Non Commissioned Officer. Usually a Corporal, sometimes a Sergeant. These guys know their stuff and are more than happy to share their expertise, if you are willing to take it on board. They are also there to ensure your safety, so any problems with bullying; which - despite news reports to the contrary - we do not tolerate as learning this job is hard enough without it.
"They are also there to make sure that you survive the training, so, if they recommend you be canned for your own sake, then I am afraid that you will be going home."
Craig took a moment to process it all and then nodded. "Understood, Sir."
They continued to walk slowly along the corridor as Craig looked around and took in everything he could register about his home for the next 32 weeks. He smiled to himself as a thrill ran through his body at the thought of the challenge to come, not noticing how he was being visually assessed by the lieutenent as he did so.
"There are a lot of Scots in the marines, they seem to breed 'em strong and determined up there so, I hope, you won't let your countrymen down by bringing down the average."
"No, Sir, I'm lookin' forward t' the challenge. I know it'll be tough, but I am focused and ready."
They stopped outside a door at the end of the corridor. "This is you, Potential Marine Wallace. The only bunk space left. There are one or two Scots in here so hopefully you'll all get along. You'll meet your Corporal in the morning so I'd suggest an early night."
Craig felt a shiver of nerves but straightened up and put his hand on the door handle then, turned back to the lieutenant for a moment. "Yes sir, thank you for the help. I won't let ye down."
He opened the door and stepped inside.
Lieutenant Smith waited a moment before turning away.
"... you'll do lad, you'll do jus' fine," he said to himself as he slipped back into his natural, Scottish accent.
The week that followed was a nightmare; up at the crack of dawn, they ran, they climbed, they ran again, they lifted and carried each other, they ran some more, they marched in formation, learned drills, ran again, drilled on the parade ground, learned how to salute.
The whole time their various levels of fitness were assessed, their determination to succeed was assessed, their willingness to follow orders was put to the test. A few dropped out and shipped out, luckily, no one in Craig's squad had failed, their Corporal - Brooksie - drove them hard, pushed them to their limits and beyond; none of his unit were found wanting for determination or fitness.
Slowly over the week they had earned his respect and they could see the pride in his eyes as Craig and his roommates came through the ordeal in a group, spurring one another on, cajolling, threatening and even laughing at each other as they took on each task.
Craig luxuriates in the warmth from the water as the memories of the week wash away. Scrubbing his face with his cloth, washing his body with his sponge and soap, working his shampoo into his hair then rinsing all of it off thoroughly.He steps out of the shower, hitting the button to shut off the spray. Standing in the cubicle he towels off and looks down at his body. The muscles, after a week of the toughest thing he has ever taken part in, are rock solid and more defined than they have been at any other point in his life. Always, he has taken care of his body but the past week of a properly balanced diet and hard training had shaved off any sign of his civilian life.
Got to admit, I look good, he chuckles to himself as he dresses, deciding to throw on a pair of tracksuit bottoms over his fresh, clean pair of boxers, finishing up with pulling on a plain khaki coloured t-shirt.
Stepping out the cubicle with his toiletries packed away in their little bag and his towel and disgarded boxers rolled up; he throws them in the laundry basket after making sure both have his name and service ID printed on the labels.
A yawn rips from him as he steps back into his billet room and the guys all look up, giving him a nod or a smile in greeting. He returns the gestures casually.
Reaching his bed he throws himself down with a sigh and considers getting up to go to the mess hall for some dinner.
"Hey guys, any of you wanna come to the mess?"
A chorus of groans and sighs and chuckles fills the room as he awaits an answer.
"You asking me on a date Craigy boy?" one shouts and another follows it with a wolf whistle, as the rest burst out laughing, Craig included.
"If ye can wait 'til I've had a shower then I'll go, ma stomach feels like ma throat's bin cut," Corporal Brooks answers as he walks in to check on them.
"Yep, no problem Corp."
"Ok lads, you all have the weekend, I'd suggest a little relaxation at the camp bar but keep your heads down and use the weekend to relax, I don't want to be hauling your arses out of the brig at dark o'clock 'cause believe me, I will make you pay," the Corporal gives them a humourless smile to underline his point.
"Does that mean if we behave you'll take it easy come Monday, Corporal?"
He turns to the source of the voice and raises an eyebrow. "What do you bitches think I've been doing this week? That was as easy as the PRMC gets."
They all groan and Brooksie chuckles lightly. He then turns to Craig.
"Twenty minutes ok wi' you?"
"Good, there's something I want to discuss with you," with that, he turns and marches off towards his own barracks and the showers within.
Watching the door slam shut behind the exiting NCO, Craig wonders what it could be.
It's still on his mind twenty minutes later as he makes his way outside and waits for the Corporal to appear.
Surely am not about to be given the boot, I've never fallen behind, I've helped the ones who have and still made it back to the front, so surely, he's not about to fail me, he wonders and worries as he waits.