He's survived the pre-inauguration trials. Managed to crawl into the cafeteria, elephant walk for three days, shoe shine and down a yardarm of slush. He's served seniors alcohol and fast food. Licked ice cream from the floor. It's almost over, almost done and he's survived so far.
There are six of them facing initiation. Standing blindfolded in their boxer shorts. They have no idea how many others can see them, are watching them, or what the evening will bring but they're excited, nervous and thanks to new legislation and the constant berating of the Vice Chancellor, they're expecting little more than a night in a coffin, a faux paddling or being forced to drink some disgusting unction. It's titillating. He can smell the sweet stench of acceptance.
"Pledges, this is the final task. Fail, and you're out. Succeed and you're in."
Seb recognises Jake's voice.
"On all fours!" Jake barks, and the pledges comply among the giggles and chides of an increasingly noisy crowd. There are women in the room, their shrill giggles joining in the throng. He feels hands upon his back and fingers along the waistband of his blue and white striped boxer shorts, then a foot upon his buttocks as he's pushed into the floor. It hurts but he still takes it on board as rough play 'almost done' he consoles himself. Face down in the dark his boxers are removed and his hands secured behind him with an electrical tie. He's still smiling, although a little embarrassed and pleased that he can't see his own nakedness. Then the sharp sting of something cold across his back. He scream, more out of surprise than pain but it does hurt.
"Shut the fuck up pledge!" He doesn't recognise this voice, and squirms as something is carved into his skin. The cut not too deep and the pain tolerable, he assumes it a badge of honour. A little like the movies he's seen where paratroopers receive their wings upon a bare chest - pin piercing their skin and 'marking' them as a brother in arms for ever. He winces but deals.
The room grows quiet and he can hear the boy next to him sniffing and clearing his throat, trying to mask tears. Then the slow hum of a chant. He can't tell what they're saying, it sounds like Greek or Latin and builds to a crescendo before he feels the hard slam of a baseball bat across his buttocks. It knocks the air from his lungs and a gag is placed across his mouth; tied too firmly at the back of his head. Something with a sphere wrapped within it, keeping his mouth agape and blocked. The beating continues. He can hear the sniffles and moans of the other boys being slowly drowned out by the increasing chanting of the rabble inflicting the wounds. Eventually, he feels the warm trickle of blood from the piercings on his upper back, the intrusion of something slim and prosthetic in his anus but being held firm to the floor by strong arms muffles his agonising protestations. Then the pain in his kidneys as he receives another last blow, makes him urinate involuntarily before he blacks out.
Corina's heard the usual pledging of new cheerleaders is a fabulous affair. Being woken early and taken to breakfast. Announcing the pledge and hugging her sorority sisters. She's ready, very ready. The preamble to her initiation, tame. Having to dress alike, paint toes and fingernails, be a slave for a day. All doable and whilst a little humiliating, she's in good company as other hopefuls comply with the wishes of their future sorority sisters. All a bit of a lark really and taken in good faith.
Then pledge day arrives. Oh, she's woken for breakfast alright. Four women, she can't see their faces as a rough fabric bag is pulled over her head and taped firmly around her neck. Gaffer tape is pulled across her mouth and her protestations ignored by the grappling hands who strip her naked. Her arms, torso and legs are bound so tight the pain shoots along her inside leg as she's transferred into a chair and hoisted down the stairs amid giggles that aren't her own. She's terrified but not alone.
Each bound student is positioned at the pool's edge. Each naked girl, indelibly marked on every blemish. Nipples circled with felt pen and comments on their size, appearance and firmness written in comic balloons on their skin. Something vibrating and uncomfortable between their legs, forced too hard. The violation makes each squirm and Corina, scream a silent scream. The perpetrator's zealotry hurting her vagina with painful thrusts of what feels like the end of a wooden spoon. Her sobs muted by the tape and the laughter and encouragement of existing sorority members.
The water's cold as she, chair and bindings are plunged into the swimming pool. She thinks it's a swimming pool. The smell of chlorine suffocating. She doesn't realise it's the shallow end and her head will clear the surface. Panic sets in as she flails and tries to release herself. She's never been comfortable in the water. She's a city girl and never learned to swim. The flood of water through her nostrils finding no escape through her bound mouth. Eyes wide and seeing nothing, lungs bursting and burning for lack of air. She's about to die, she knows it, until lugged out of the now turbulent wash and her hood removed in time for her to throw up on the pool pavers. Everyone's gone. She's left, hearing nothing bu fading giggles. Still bound and bleeding. Cold and wet, until found by the evening swim squad and loaded into an ambulance.
A bloated bureaucrat sits behind the mahogany desk on an equally bloated Chesterfield leather chair. Leaning back he wears his arrogance like an old shoe. Inside he's concerned. News of this could ruin his fundraising efforts. He listens to her complaint, her regalement of torture and humiliation as she slides a hospital bill across his desk.
"I was hospitalised for three days! Three days! Sexually assaulted and left for dead and you want me to forget about it?"
"This need go no further." He leans into her, "It could be worse Corina. If they found out you've come here or reported this to the police...it could be much worse."
The Vice Chancellor's office is not impressed by the treatment of the two freshmen but both houses are reputable. Their members, sons and daughters of influential families and philanthropic benefactors to the university.
"But sir..." Corina's cut off immediately
"I have made a formal note of your complaints and your medical bills will be covered by the University. However, I want to hear no more of this. I'll make an announcement reiterating that this behaviour is unacceptable but I'm sure you understand...."
Corina nods, "Yes. I understand. Absolutely." Oh she understands. She understands that one voice among many isn't going to change a thing. She understands that she's been part of a pledge gone wrong. She can feel the eyes burning into her and the messages warning her to keep quite are persistent and clear.
She makes a call.
Corina whispers through the library bookcase at her friend. "What happened?"
"I can't talk about it," she knows he's faced similar abuse. She saw him wince the day after as he sat next to her in the lecture theatre. She noticed the droplets of blood oozing through the back of his shirt.
"Meet me outside Theatre 2, tonight. 11pm..."
He nods at her proposal and puts his head back into his book.
Blanketed by clandestine darkness, Corina outlines her plan. "We have to be seen together, often and publicly, you OK with that." He is, his crush on Cindy waning as he gets to know Corina better.
"Well that's not gonna be hard!"
"I'm serious Seb, we can't be seen to be pushing the envelope on this one. We have to fit in, become popular. It'll take some schmoozing but we can do it. From now on, you and I are also tight. Really tight. We stick like glue. We lunch together, we holiday together...you're gonna take me home for Thanksgiving. Got it?"
Seb nods. The adrenalin coursing through his veins. Is he scared or pumped...either way he will comply.