DUFFEL BLOG PRESENTS: Jack London gives your weekend safety brief

The safety briefing was a repetition of the week before, save that the need for drink was becoming overpowering to the dozing gunnery sergeant. The snarling of his Marines was losing its efficacy. Besides, they were snarling all the time, and his benumbed and soon-to-be-retired senses no longer took note of changing pitch, the constant access to energy drinks and Cope, and the common desire for liberty. He jerked awake.

The she-staff sergeant was less than a yard from him. Almost automatically, he thrust a Rip-it energy drink full into her open and snarling mouth. She leapt backward, howling with excitement and hate, and dripping the liquid from her fangs, and while he took satisfaction in the thought of quenching the thirst of yet another dehydrated Marine, he watched her shaking her head and growling wrathfully at his by-the-numbers standards on liberty.

Before he dozed again, he tied a lit Marlboro cigarette to his right hand. His eyes were closed but a few minutes when the burn of the cigarette on his flesh awakened him. Every time he was thus awakened he drove back the pack of liberty-seeking Marines with flying admonishments about the dangers of unprotected sex and uncontrolled alcohol, and lit and tied a new cigarette on his hand. That worked well, but there came a time when he fastened the cigarette insecurely. As his eyes closed it fell away from his hand, and he fell asleep.

And then he awoke to find the howling fearsome. There was a great snarling and yelping but it was not what he thought it was. Instead it was the first sergeant and the sergeant major and the officer of the day. They were rushing him. They were all about him and upon him. The teeth of one had closed upon his arm. Another’s teeth had his ankle. Instinctively, he leapt up.

His face was blistering in the shame, his body was bloodied, and the heat of military discipline was becoming unbearable to his soul. These fierce wolves, wolves of a different kind, he could not drive back. On every side, wherever these wolves had driven him, a master sergeant, and then another master sergeant, and another, came and, with wild leap and snort, snarled to the gunnery sergeant that the noble conscience — the very fundamental values of the Marine Corps — had been unduly trod upon. By him! His safety briefing — useless — it had failed!

The gunnery sergeant stamped about. Two of his were AWOL, and two more in hospital, and he well knew that they had all served up tidily as an appetizer course for his removal for cause. His liberty briefing that had been given 72 hours before at that cursed formation — those ferals! — were also before the last liberty he would likely be allowed to participate in himself in the days to follow.

“You ain’t got me yet!” he cried, savagely shaking his knife-hands at the now-imaginary junior pack who once surrounded him, and now were dispersed to details and training and military exchanges; and at the sound of his voice the whole camp was agitated, and there was a general snarl, and the she-staff sergeant slid up near to him across the red-painted rocks and watched him with hungry aplomb.

It was her Marine Corps now, she understood, without hesitation, and she knew that she would be conducting the next safety briefing.