Gender Genre Competition
The Top Ten Stories
The twelve man Signals Section stood more or less in line on the dusty parade ground and watched a diminutive sergeant march up to one of their number.
‘Corporal Mitchell,’ he bellowed confidentially, ‘you are wanted by the Company Sergeant Major. One pace forward, left turn, to the orderly office quick march, eft ight, eft ight, eft!’
Wondering what he might have done to incur the wrath of the Almighty, Alfie obeyed the order to the letter. Entering the office, he stamped to a halt one pace before the desk and stood to attention, chest out, stomach in as far as he could manage, thumbs in line with the seams of his trousers, eyes firmly fixed on the wall over the CSM’s head.
Ivor Willis put down his pen and looked up at the tubby man. ‘Stand easy lad.’ he said mildly. While Alfie marginally relaxed, he went on, ‘I am told you have to be careful with what you eat, Corporal Mitchell. Would that be the truth of it now?’
‘Ooh yes, Sar Major,’ Alfie agreed, ‘with a stomach ulcer the size of a soup plate all I can manage is a soft boiled egg, a little mashed potato, maybe a few…’
Willis stroked his moustache. ‘And very sad for you it is,’ he interrupted. ‘Tell me now. When your stomach’s that upset, I suppose a wee dram will help deaden the pain?’
Alfie blanched, his left hand unconsciously kneading his aching stomach.
‘A-Alcohol, sergeant major?’ he stammered. ‘I can’t touch alcohol. It’d kill me on the spot.’
‘Now that’s very good to hear,’ Willis said unfeelingly while he lumbered to his feet. ‘It means that you are the man for me. Attention, about turn, to the sergeants’ mess, quick march, eft ight, eft ight, eft!’
Ten minutes later, Alfie stood behind the sergeant’s mess bar staring bemusedly at a multi coloured array of bottles and being told that the success or otherwise of the dance that night depended on him.
‘I’ve arranged for the band and transport for the nurses from the local military hospital,’ said Willis. ‘We’ve got plenty of nuts and crisps but it needs beefing up with a few plates of sandwiches. Send the orderly down to the market for three chickens and turn them into sandwiches.’
‘I can’t cook,’ said Alfie.
Willis sighed. ‘Then I’ll send someone over from the cookhouse.’
‘I don’t know one bottle of drink from another,’ said Alfie.
Willis patted Alfie’s shoulder. ‘Just give the ladies whatever they point at when they come in. After that, they won’t care what you pour down their pretty little throats and as long as we’ve a chance of getting our end away, neither will we. Right lad, you get the chickens. I’ll get the cook.’
After watching Willis snap his swagger stick under his arm and march steadily across the parade ground, Alfie turned to the orderly. ‘Send down to the market for three chickens.’
The orderly saluted, turned and snapped some incomprehensible instruction through an open window. A man detached himself from the small group against the wall and began strolling towards the barrack gate.
‘Make sure they’re fresh,’ shouted Alfie after the man.
The orderly looked slightly puzzled. ‘Of course fresh,’ he said soothingly. ‘How could they be otherwise?’
Alfie didn’t have much time to think about the ambiguity of the reply. On the assumption that the paler the colour the weaker the drink, he was rearranging the bottles of spirit when he heard an ominous clucking. Rushing to the door, he saw three dusty and very mean looking chickens, each looped by string to the bearer’s finger. His stomach beginning to churn he stammered, ‘But the buggers are alive!’
‘Ho yes sir,’ the bearer replied, neatly tying his end of the strings to the doorknob before making his escape. ‘Fresh bugger chickens.’
Alfie and the birds were staring malevolently at each other when a soldier marched through the opposite door of the mess and announced that he was Barton, sent over from the cookhouse to turn three chickens into sandwiches.
Hoping against hope, Alfie pointed to the birds and said as calmly as he could manage, ‘Ah Barton, your chickens have just arrived.’
Barton backed nervously away. ‘But the buggers are alive.’
‘I know the buggers are alive,’ Alfie snapped. ‘You’re a trained soldier ain’t you? Kill ‘em.’
Barton continued to back away. ‘I might be a trained soldier and all that, Corporal, but no one ever trained me to kill bloody chickens. I couldn’t do it.’
‘You couldn’t do it,’ Alfie echoed. Glancing at his watch, he bowed to the inevitable. ‘Listen Barton. If I see these birds off, will you turn them into sandwiches?’
Barton cast a covetous eye towards the bar. ‘Three dead chickens and a couple of bottles of beer, Corp, and I’m your man.’
‘Right,’ Alfie turned to the chickens. ‘Get fell in you lot. To the parade ground quick march, eft ight, eft ight, eft!’
The dance went remarkably well, though for Alfie it passed in a blur of drink laden breath, bright red faces and out thrust glasses. The band, most of whom were tipsy when they wandered in trailing their instruments, more or less kept time with the dancers’ stamping feet and whoops of delight. After he brought in the chicken sandwiches Barton annexed four more bottles of beer and sat beneath the band ogling the nurses’ twirling legs. A woman in an elaborate dance frock fell across the bar and asked Alfie if she knew him. Recognising her as one of the hospital’s ward sisters, Alfie resisted the temptation to say that her hypodermic syringe knew his backside a lot better than she knew his face. Instead, he watched her roll gently off the bar and into the sergeant major’s delighted arms. The evening ended with several pairs of passion killer knickers decorating the bandstand, a naked and very drunk sergeant parking his bottom on an active anthill, and the nurses singing bawdy songs while being driven back to the hospital.
When the mess was cleared, Alfie, Barton, and a delighted Willis sat behind the bar counting the takings. Slapping the two men on their backs, the Sergeant Major said it couldn’t have gone better, everyone had a great time, why don’t we all have a beer and don’t forget you’re both booked for the next dance.
‘Great,’ said Barton, ‘except I’d better take charge of Corporal Mitchell’s beer. I don’t think he drinks much.’
‘I don’t drink at all,’ an exhausted, pale faced Alfie mumbled as he pushed the bottle along the table. ‘It’s bad enough I had to endure the smell of it all night. Come on, Sar Major, sir. You can’t do this to me again. I’m a sick man.’
Willis put down his beer and rested a hand on Alfie’s plump shoulder. ‘You don’t know how well off you were, tucked away in here. Around half past four a dozen bandits cut their way through the perimeter fence and made for the weapons store. If it hadn’t been for the squaddy who fired back and chased them off, anything might have happened.’
Barton took a deep swig of beer and fanned his brow at the thought. ‘That bloke deserves a medal,’ he said. ‘Who was it?’
‘I don’t know who it was,’ said Willis. ‘I’m still trying to find out.’
‘It’s funny I didn’t see any of it,’ said Alfie. ‘That must be about the time I was chasing those mucking chickens all over the parade ground, trying to shoot them.’ He paused, his eyes widening. ‘Oh my God,’ he was saying while Willis and Barton looked at each other and then turned to look at him.
‘Are you saying it was you chasing those bandits off?’ asked the incredulous Willis.
Alfie closed his eyes, put a hand on his stomach, and said nothing.
‘Come on, Corp,’ Barton urged. ‘It had to be you. No one else would have been that blooming stupid.’
‘It could have been him,’ Willis said, gloomily opening another bottle. ‘I never did trust a teetotaller.’
Which was the moment Alfie chose to take the Sergeant Major’s drink out of his hand, swallow it in one noisy gulp, and faint dead away.