The Crucible Experiment: Chapter One, Part One

Here is the first part of the draft for the book I’m writing, “The Crucible Experiment.” I’ll start posting excerpts as I continue to write, and I would love to hear your thoughts. 

If you want to hear how it all happened Mr. Montgomery, I have to start at the beginning, a few days before The Crucible. It was Thursday night liberty; a cold front had just blown in— I remember because the air felt cold and wet and I’d forgotten my gloves. I had gone out with my roommate Mel and nearly all of our Virginia Military Academy class. When nineteen hundred hours came around, many of us ventured the mile walk east out the main VMA gate into the Triangle town square. We would make an odd sight walking in droves down the shoulder of a country road in uniform, but the Triangle locals passing by are used to seeing us.

We filed into the only bar hangout that existed in the square, The Foxhole, a dingy dive bar, its namesake playing on a military word no longer in use. I suppose if they wanted to stay current, it would be called ‘The Entrenchment’, or ‘The Defensive Position’.

VMA cadets filled the place with a few clusters of leathery Triangle locals in the wings. Mel had abandoned me to catch up with some guys when I overhead a couple of my classmates talking about my brother.  Actually they weren’t talking about him, so much as I heard his name in the conversation.  I heard something like,  ‘I’ve got a hundred bucks on Shaffer—,’ and then, “But Castillo can pull through, which means a bigger payout…” I knew what I heard. My brother would fight that night.  For money.

Edwin’s two years younger than me and has decided to follow in the family tradition of joining the military. It hasn’t been bad being at VMA together; I’ve done what I’ve always done which is take care of him. At VMA that means helping him stay off the radar. I normally stay out of the prohibited stuff the VMA delinquents get into, but I couldn’t this time. Edwin was involved.

Mel reappeared and grabbed my arm.

“I just heard Edwin is about to fight Schaffer.”

At first I told her I wouldn’t go. When she said that would be disloyal to my brother, I resented it, but conceded. I grabbed my cover off the bar, shoved my hands in my coat pockets and set out with her and a handful of other cadets to the spot.

Only the liquor store and the bar across the street had the lights on, barely illuminating the dark blue night.  The other random storefronts—dry cleaners and military second hand stores—were abandoned that time of night. We trickled out with a dozen other cadets in the dark toward the empty dirt lot at the dead end of the Triangle strip.

We approached the crowd of uniformed cadets, a cross section of cadet brigade except that Mel and I were the only females. I saw Edwin, standing in the center of opposite Shaffer. His uniform blouse lay balled up on the ground. My nurturing instincts kicked in. I squeeze through to pick it up the rumpled top. I felt sick and nervous all at once; Sick that my brother would get injured or worse, and nervous that the administration would find out what we were up to and shut down liberty.

Bills exchanged hands at the nexus of the crowd, mostly fives and tens. When the activity settled, we the crowd focused its attention on the fighters in the center and a third cadet administering the fight. We waited in anticipation.


Edwin exploded at Shaffer with a jab that met a forearm block.  He threw another jab with his left, then with his right and again until he switched and caught Shaffer square in the ear. Shaffer winced and steadied his arms in a tight defense. Edwin punched and jabbed at Shaffer’s forearms and elbows exhausting himself, not realizing that Schaffer would wait him out. Edwin’s fists sank below his chin for an instant when Shaffer struck, landing a blow that sent Edwin’s head reeling backwards.

The shouts and groans from the crowd drowned out the yelp that escaped my mouth. Then as if out of no where, Cadet Okun burst into the center of the ring.

“We’ve got to clear out, the administration is about to close the gate!”

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