SURVIVAL PART IAfter two weeks at U.S. Marine survival training came the POW phase designed specifically to make “prisoners” break.

A “guard” at the compound slapped me across the face. “You will break.”

“Not before your mother ends up in a whorehouse.”

That was the beginning. Constant “torture:” water boarding; mice in a cage over your head; strung up naked and beaten. . .

Some men broke, it was that realistic.

“We have ways of discovering your greatest fear and using it to release you from your mental prison,” an “enemy interrogator” promised.

Guards stripped me in the middle of the night and confined me inside a wooden crate so small that my body folded nearly double. I could only move my hands from the wrists down.

I felt ropes, or something like ropes, only ropes that moved, dropping onto my bare skin. A musky odor.

“Don’t even breathe hard,” a guard warned. “They are rattlesnakes.”

I felt scales contorting and releasing as the snake sought purchase on my bare skin. Maybe seven or eight snakes. Enough that the crate suddenly felt crowded. Big snakes, each two to three feet long. I knew they were not rattlesnakes—but still, I didn’t know.

I felt one making its way toward my head. My heart stopped beating. My throat constricted.

Other snakes slithered around my bare legs, raked against the wooden box with the sound of dead leaves blowing across a pile of cow bones.

I hated snakes!

One of them gliding thin and dark like a slice of the darkness itself appeared in my peripheral vision. Its beaded lidless eyes surveyed me from evil inches away. Its tongue slashed toward my eye.

I held my breath, steeled myself to its presence.

Either that or start screaming and let the “enemy” know he had won.

I waited.

The snake crawled across my hand. I grabbed it. Its body whipped about, lashing my face, twisting and thudding its loose end against the crate. I maneuvered its head toward my other hand. With that hand I grasped the reptile’s dry body just behind its head. I squeezed and felt bones breaking.

I squeezed the life out of the snake. Then I stuffed the long body through an air hole in the box and let it fall to the ground.

I killed two more snakes like that before the “guards” discovered what I was doing. They let me out quickly before I killed all their snakes.

“Your mother?” I asked. “She in that whorehouse yet?”

Charles W. Sasser is author of more than 60 books, both fiction and nonfiction. Some of his books on war, such as One Shot-One Kill, have been in constant print for over 20 years and are considered military classics.