Dob Tigretti was thrilled when he was accepted into the U.S. Special Forces. All his life he'd dreamed of being the first one off the helicopter, the last one staggering after the departing rescue boat. The hero. The one whose name got into the history books. Sure, there was a price: the price of failure. But Dob didn't know what failure meant until they took him in.
They told him that when the military needed a deniable mission, the Special Forces went. That these missions took priority over the lives of the soldiers. That if a solder were wounded, and unable to complete the mission, he would be left behind until the mission was finished, and only then, maybe, he would be evacuated.
Despite all the physical training, survival was a crapshoot. No skill could prevent one soldier rather than another from taking a sniper's bullet, or stepping on a land mine. They were valuable and expensive to acquire and train, but, like bomber jets, they were easily replaced.
In his second year of duty, Dob and his squad were flown from their base in Georgia to a mountainous country near to the Equator. Satellite surveillance had spotted a suspected chemical weapons facility located in a hidden valley. The squad was assigned to verify the intelligence and sabotage the plant.
At 2 a.m. on a cool winter evening the team was dropped from a silent plane onto a rural field 12 k. from the plant. They were to hike overland at night to sighting distance of the plant. Then they would rest during the day and observe its traffic and security systems. The following night they were to infiltrate the plant.
The team of eight men quickly buried their parachutes under some rocks. They walked noiselessly up a ridge then to the mountain top.
In the light from the half-moon they could see a village of perhaps 3,000 people in the hidden valley. But they had to cross two more ridges to reach the overlook.
As they descended from the third ridge Dob stumbled on the pebbly downslope. His heavy pack pitched him forward, and as he fell his right foot caught against a bush at an odd angle. He arose quickly, but the sharp pain was either a sprain or a small break. He swore.
He could wait to bandage it at the nearby hideout, he knew, but any running would be impossible. He hoped fervently that the mission would go according to plan, and no one would pursue them to the helicopter rendezvous the next night.
They holed up in a deserted shed well off the trail, and downwind. The day passed and the men slept, while two kept look-out and two watched the village and plant with binoculars.
At 1 a.m. the next morning, the men quietly descended and simultaneously circled the village and approached the plant from the back. They searched for the alarm system and disabled it. They climbed the wire fence and crossed the yard. Dob, because he was hurt, stayed outside as lookout.
By this time the moon had risen over the basin, and the clear air made it seem brighter than ever. The village slept, and everything around it was mountain, tree, rock, and darkness.
The men stayed in contact by walkie-talkie, whispering. Dob slowly walked around the plant. Although his foot throbbed and his ankle was twisting in compensation, he pushed on. On the far side he saw food and water bowls inside the fence. The men would have to be very quiet, and prepare to evacuate at a moment's notice.
The night air was silent.
The men were supposed to finish by 3:30. They had to be on the road by 4:00, so they would reach the other side of the first ridge by cock-crow at 5:30.
It was 3:15, then 3:30. Dob whispered into the walkie talkie, "Everything's ok out here, but be quiet." The team-leader responded, "Ten minutes 10-4."
Dob stood in the dark of the sentry box. He did not even hear the large dog that came up behind him. With a roar it grabbed his right calf, and bit hard!
Dob screamed. He tried to smother the sound, but in the night silence it seemed audible across the entire valley!
Following procedure, he drew his gun. He shot the dog, two shots. But even the silenced bullets seemed to echo for miles! Immediately he opened the walkie-talkie: "Comanche, do you read me? Do you read me? A dog bit me and it made some noise. We gotta abort."
The team leader responded immediately. Twenty seconds later the team poured out the front door, running for the hills. Dob stopped them. "Take my pack."
Dob hobbled after them. He remembered the route. If he had time, he could escape. But was anyone after them?
Soon he knew the answer. The village dogs were roused; the sounds and scents of the fleeing men excited them. They began barking, louder and louder.
One man, then another, emerged from the sleeping houses. Spying rapid shadows, they too began to yell!
The team was already disappearing around the side of the ridge, but Dob was far behind. He looked back, and saw a knot of men pursuing him. No point in shooting. He couldn't kill them all, and killing even one would bring instant retribution.
It was only a few minutes before Dob found himself blocked, front and back. He surrendered.
The men took him back to the village.
They put him in a back room, and tied his hands to the walls. Dob didn't understand their language, but he knew what they were asking. "Who are you? What are you doing here? How did you get here? Who helped you?" Their eyes were deeply suspicious. Anyone could tell he was North American or European. Someone reached inside his shirt and pulled out his tags. "Americani."
They talked a while longer, conferring. Dob resolved to say nothing. He couldn't pretend to be a tourist, or a trader, any of the fictions Americans might try in the daylight. There was no reason on earth for him to be where he was. It was only a matter of time before the interrogator arrived.
But Dob was wrong.
The people of this village belonged to a minority ethnicity. They didn't like or trust the national government. Whenever the soldiers came through, some of the villagers' goods and livestock disappeared with them. And if they reported they had captured an infiltrator, they might be blamed for not doing more. It was better to pretend they had seen and heard nothing.
In addition, the captured soldier could be very useful in their own liberation struggle. Holding a hostage would be an important propaganda coup. Most importantly, he could be used as a bargaining chip in exchange for their leaders who were in government jails.
So the men decided they would keep Dob's existence a secret outside the village except for trusted factional leaders in the capital. They would keep him in a room behind the café, where the men gathered to drink coffee, smoke and gossip. He would be guarded night and day.
When they brought him to the other building, gave him water, shackled him to the wall, and locked the door, Dob saw they were not going to kill him right away. He looked around. The hardened earth walls could be breached. His foot was the problem - six weeks at least. Even then, he didn't have a radio. If he could reach a city nearby - supposing he could disguise himself - he couldn't speak the language. The nearest embassy was hundreds of miles away, and local police would connect him with the raid on the factory. Escape was impossible. He was at their mercy
The village leader, a man named Abi, returned to his house nearby. His wife Mari, and daughter, Lea, demanded all the news. He explained that the men had captured an American and would be keeping him as a hostage in the village. It was to be a complete secret. After Abi took a nap, they could all go and see the prisoner.
By this time dawn was breaking and cock crows echoed through the village. Mari and Lea dressed and prepared breakfast. Lea carried hot coffee and bread and cheese for the prisoner. Visitors were rare, except merchants from the province, soldiers inspecting the chemical factory on the outskirts, and the truck drivers who carried its mysterious cargo in and out.
The prisoner was asleep when they arrived. Lea was very curious. He was medium height - tall to her - muscular and fit and obviously in the best of health. He didn't smile at them.
The word had spread in the village and people crowded through the door for a look at the prisoner. The village leaders explained that if the existence of the prisoner became known outside the village, his value as a hostage would disappear. Those who had no work, and the most curious, stayed and stared at the prisoner.
By mid-morning Dob realized that he would not be killed right away. But he did not know what to do. Should he be friendly and try to talk? Should he maintain a stony silence? He tried to keep his face as expressionless as possible, even when the women giggled and pointed at him.
Lea's garrulous friend Scia twitted her: she "looked deep into his eyes" (the words of a popular ballad). Lea's fiancé might be jealous. Lea looked witheringly at Scia. "The Americani has no hold over me. He is just a dirty prisoner. And I'll prove it to you."
But Lea was worried. In the village perceptions were as important as reality. Since as Abi's daughter she had to bring the prisoner his meals, she would be seeing him three times each day. There was considerable opportunity for gossip to develop.
Later in the afternoon the solution came to her. She would prove that she was in complete control of the prisoner. She would prove it by stuffing him at every meal until he couldn't eat any more. The other girls could help. And maybe he would get so fat he couldn't escape. A roly-poly man locked in the back room, completely at their mercy! Wallowing in his rolls of fat, unable to move. Lea giggled to herself. This prisoner was more fun than she'd expected.
Lea set the soldier's dinner before him. Enough for four people. He looked at her in surprise. The guards pointed to the food, then at him, and made eating motions.
What is this? thought Dob. Is this some kind of crazy game? First they capture me, then they give me enough food for two days.
He ate half of it, and sat back against the wall. The guards said something and waved at the food again. He shook his head no. Then Lea took the plate off the low table, and held it in front of him. She pointed at the food and made a motion of transferring it to his mouth. He shook his head again.
"Well," Lea said aloud, "So this is how you treat my cooking." She took a forkful of food and jammed it into his mouth.
Surprised, he spit it out. Lea slapped him hard in the cheek and put another forkful in his mouth. Dob looked at her in shock. Nobody did this kind of thing to him. He shook his head again. She raised her eyebrows and pushed the food into his mouth.
Maybe she just has no idea how much people eat, he thought. If I refuse it I insult her.
So Dob ate the entire meal. Slowly. He was stuffed. Then Lea uncovered a basket of fritters and donuts, and one by one, shoved them in the prisoner's mouth. More? He chewed mechanically. She rapped him under the chin. "Lift that head so I can see you smile," she said. But he didn't understand, so she slapped him again. Resentfully, he chewed and chewed until he had swallowed all 14.
He was breathing heavily and looked uncomfortable when he was finished. Good, she thought, he can sit there all night with his tight pants.
The stuffing of the prisoner continued the next day. The guards laughed whenever Lea slapped him. Dob's face grew red from his punishments, and stayed red. It was heavy work to stuff food for four into his shrunken belly.
When told of Lea's plan, her friends begged to participate. "You can feed him, but only between meals," Lea said. "As much and whatever you want."
The young women divided up the task. One would supply milk, another pastries, another sweets.
After two days Dob understood that he had to eat everything Lea brought him, or he would be disciplined. Lea was the daughter of the village leader, and clearly she got whatever she wanted. Disobedience might result in tighter shackles, or transfer to a jail less light and airy - and escapable - than his current cell. He wondered if she had thought of this feeding to torture herself. She was certainly attractive. But mean.
He finished the huge lunch and sat back, puffing. Mission accomplished, at least for the next five hours. He wasn't used to eating so much. Sure, he'd drunk a few pitchers and more, but a beer bloat felt different Carbos he could run off the next day. But the food here was oily. And all those desserts. The food was going to stick to his body. He hoped that this was only a temporary game, or he'd be out of shape real soon.
To Dob's surprise, less than an hour later the guards let in three young women. Two carried baskets and the third a gallon jug of milk. They put the pastries from the baskets on a plate, and offered him a glass of milk.
Oh damn, what was this? Was he now the Christmas goose of the village: everyone was going to stuff him? The young women smiled and pointed at the food.
Dob apparently took longer than they wished to eat the first pastry, because when he looked up the guard was standing over him. The guard pulled him up by his chain, and poked him hard in the belly. Then the guard hit him twice on the face. The guard turned to the young women and bowed slightly. One of them grabbed the prisoner's hair, and another slapped his and rear end. Then she took a handful of pastries from the plate and forced them into Dob's mouth.
He swallowed resentfully. And again. And again. The women fed him continuously until he had eaten everything. But he managed to swallow only half a gallon of milk before he lay back, panting. Giggling, one woman unbuttoned his pants and released his aching belly. Dob couldn't believe how good that felt.
They left him there for three hours.
Then Lea returned, with dinner for four.
Dob couldn't suppress a groan when he saw her. She walked over and stood next to him. In her hand was a long thin piece of rubber, like a strip of inner tube. It was obvious from her expression that she was not pleased at his response. She threaded the rubber strap slowly through her left hand, then wound it around her fingers. Then she took out the food and watched him.
Dob could swallow his meal only by eating very slowly. He felt like he was going to burst from the beginning. Physical fitness was more than jogging and swimming; to survive this feeding torture would require all his physical discipline. His body could handle the stress, he knew. But what was he going to look like when it was over? A beach ball?
Dob hated being fat. Fat was lazy and messy and inconvenient. He'd worked out since junior high school to stay in shape. Soldiers weren't fat, at least not after basic training. A lot of cops let themselves go, but they were wannabes. Special Forces were the real thing: lean, mean fighting machines. Now here he was, trapped, and blimping up by the minute
There was nothing he could do.
Leaving the events of tomorrow to tomorrow, Dob slept.
Ten weeks had gone by. The raid had been discovered, the villagers questioned. The government soldiers came and went. No one had seen or heard a thing. All was quiet in this backwater in this rural country.
Ten long weeks of boredom and immobility, chained in the back room of a remote village, forced to listen to the constant radio spilling unfamiliar music in the café in front. Spring was coming, and the green leaves of fruit trees filtered the strong mountain light from the east window.
Dob's foot had healed. He was surprised the men hadn't tortured him by missplinting it, since the village's young women were natural torturers. No other way to explain the pleasure they took in forcing him to do something against his will.
He figured his metabolism had taken a week to adjust to the almost-continuous eating. Afterwards, he had gained steadily. His belly mounded out in front of him through the camouflage shirt that once had been loose on him. Lea had brought an old, loose-hanging shirt that he was already filling out. He couldn't close his pants, and the guards who dressed him had ripped the thigh seams a few days. Definite love handles swelled over the top of his pants even when he stood and stretched. He felt like a prize hog.
From the first day, Lea had wound a thin but strong string around his waist to measure his change from lean, fit soldier to swollen fat boy. The first time, she had marked the size of his waist. Periodically, she would tie the string around his midsection - he no longer had a waist - at the original measurement, where it disappeared painfully under his plump flesh. Sometimes she forced him to wear it overnight, and even eat his breakfast - now increased to food for five - while tightly girdled
Those women had also made sure that his confinement was sexually frustrating. Country girls, but they were no shrinking virgins. Sometimes he overheard them conferring on new techniques to tempt and frustrate him.
Scia had a top of pink and gold brocade that hung loosely and was cropped at the waist. When she brought her afternoon snacks for him, she made sure the guards had tightened his chains so he couldn't even move his hands. She fed him herself, standing next to him so he was forced to look up her blouse at her full, unbrassiered breasts. Scia was plump, and the satiny roll underneath her breasts pushed forward into his face as he ate. The warm scent of her flesh was so inviting his body contracted in pain and frustration.
Because he was never left alone to relieve himself, he tried to avoid tormenting thoughts. But they continued to enter his head unbidden. One day Lea had come to find him, head back against the wall, and obviously erect. He heard a commanding voice interrogating him. He looked up to see Lea running the strap through her fingers. So sexual fantasy was off limits too? This chick was way too interested in control. But then he couldn't think any more because the guard came in and made him face the wall and spread his legs. Lea pulled down his skin-tight pants and applied the strap to his widened ass.
Ouch! He felt weak, helpless and angry. What right did she have to discipline him? Why were his private thoughts her business? Ouch! Now the strap played against his inner thighs. It tickled him, from knee upward almost to his crotch. Then another whack, right on the new fat, the softest part of his thigh. Then the other leg making welts on the inner thigh where it had started to rub together when he walked.
Lea was saying something he couldn't understand. She and two of the other women pushed him down on the floor, then began to pinch him hard all over. His small new double chin. Then his upper arms, and the flesh of his once prominent pectorals. Under his ribs a solid layer of flesh had formed on top of his perpetually engorged stomach, which swelled forward even on his back. One on each side, they pinched him from the nipple down to the firm love handles. Lea put her hand on the fullest part of his stomach, and rubbed circles around it until he felt it stretch forward. Then she pinched it all over, starting from the outside and working in toward his belly button. Then she pinched his double chin again, and made him sit up for his afternoon feeding.
Dob felt angry, but his resistance was wearing down. Any touch from these beautiful women was turning him on, no matter how much they despised him. His own helplessness to their charms made him angrier still. What he wanted most of all, even more than freedom, was to release himself on one of these cruel and beautiful women. He struggled futilely against his chains as they laughed at him.
It was after seven weeks of this treatment that, unknown to Dob, his existence was acknowledged to the outside world for the first time. Representatives of the ethnic faction in the capital had decided to use him as a pawn in negotiations with the government, which wanted to curry favor with the U.S. Those negotiations had eventually resulted in a deal. The villagers would deliver him to the faction's soldiers in a safe house in another city. Then, when the time was right, they would release him to the government.
One day Abi came into Dob's cell, followed by five older men. They spoke to the guards, who released Dob, placed handcuffs on him, and bound his legs so he could barely stagger. The guards pushed him into the back of a small truck, climbed in and locked the door. Then the truck took off along the poorly paved street.
Dob was glad to go, but afraid. He'd grown soft during his captivity and he wondered if he could actually escape. He probably couldn't run more than a quarter of a mile now without panting, carrying all that extra weight. And there was no way he could disguise himself as a woman now, only a pregnant one…
But his spirits were up. It was a relief to get away from his tormenters, with their kinky games and their arousing bodies. Maybe he could even lose some of his sloppy fat.
The truck turned and slowed, a gate closed, and the truck stopped. Someone opened the door of the truck. The guards got out and pulled Dob after them.
In the late afternoon twilight Dob saw four figures entering the courtyard. One greeted him in thickly accented English, "The American, eh? Welcome to our house."
Two other men held his handcuffed arms. "You will be staying with us for a while. Then we will return you to the Americans."
Dob was relieved for a moment of the constant anxiety of the village. Obviously he was some kind of hostage. But hostages were not always freed. And he was in no shape to run away.
The men said goodbye to the villagers, and then took Dob inside. The room was bigger and more comfortable, but there were chains attached to the structural wall. The men attached tight cuffs to both his ankles.
A tall, strongly built woman with dark hair entered the room. About 35, and hardened - by war? Not one to mess with. The leader said, "Maria will take care of you. We want to be sure you are happy when we deliver you to the Americans."
Before Dob could ask, the leader went on, "How long you will be here? Two months, perhaps three. Don't worry. Your stay will be pleasant. Maria is a very good cook. Abi told us you like to eat." He laughed for the first time and poked Dob hard in his bulging stomach. "Soldier, eh?"
A half hour later Maria brought several trays of food. The guards shared a tray, then she laid the rest on a low table in front of Dob. "This is all for you." Dob looked at her incredulously. He could not tell if she was amused or angry, "What, you don't like our food?" "No, no." "Then eat."
Dob ate what had once been a normal-size meal to him, then stopped. Maria looked at him, then at the guards, then at him again. She said, "All of it." He hesitated for a moment; she tapped his obstinately closed mouth. "Eat, fat boy." He shook his head. She said, "Do I have to explain?" She ran an ominously familiar strap through her strong left hand.
That was all Dob needed. His situation was hopeless. Until he was released he must submit to another cruel woman who would stuff his already bloated body without mercy. Disobedience would bring more discipline, more humiliation. Finally trained into submission, accepting his fate, he swallowed furiously.