Just because it's Halloween, y'all!
We were not having fun. Ten of us were outside in the teacher's parking lot, near a side door to the auditorium, waiting to be initiated into our high school's thespian troupe. I have always been involved in the arts: years of ballet, now quilts and dolls, but in high school, it was drama. I was invited to join the school's troupe in my junior year, along with nine other students. Our drama teacher/sponsor, Mrs. Simmons*, was a kind young woman with enough energy to direct dozens of rambunctious teenagers in the annual spring musical and still laugh when we cracked the same bad jokes, over and over, which was often.
The week leading up to the actual initiation had been kind of fun. Each day had a specific challenge; I only remember having to dress up as a character one day (they chose Maria from West Side Story for me). Mrs. Simmons and the kids who had been inducted in previous years kept it light, but there was an undercurrent of foreboding surrounding the ceremony itself, scheduled for Friday evening in the school auditorium, and about which we knew nothing. Every now and then one of them would imply that we should be very concerned.
We assembled at 6:00. It was October, and the days were getting shorter. It was cooling off as the sun began to go down. A light breeze rustled the leaves on the trees outside the lot. I hoped we wouldn't be outside long.
Six-thirty came and went and we were still outside. We had exhausted regular conversation -- Mrs. Chatman's shoes, the new principal's penchant for calling everyone "honeypot" or "doodlebug," whatever that was for lunch -- and unease was keeping us quiet. The street lights just outside the lot shone through the trees, illuminating some areas while leaving the dusk untouched in others. We milled about in a patch of light. Camilla produced a Hershey bar that we passed around. The mouthful of chocolate was delicious, but I was getting cold.
Finally, "What do you think we're going to have to do?" Alex asked.
Several kids shrugged. Evangeline offered, "Act?"
"Do you think they're going to do something to us?" The apprehension behind that question was one we all shared.
"No, Mrs. Simmons wouldn't let them do anything to us." Pause. "Would she?"
It was getting darker, and chillier. Seven o'clock. "What are they doing in there?" we all asked each other, as if continuing to ask would supply a rational answer, and not the (we hoped) far-fetched ones we had voiced earlier that involved paint, nasty things to eat, and general humiliation. The wind had picked up a bit and crispy brown leaves were rattling across the parking lot. I pulled my arms inside my jacket for warmth.
A little after 7, the door creaked opened and we all jumped, startled. Eliza, a girl who had been the lead in several shows, held the door ajar as she poked her head outside and gestured for us to come close. We huddled around her, hoping it was time to go inside and get this over with.
"Ok, look, I'm not supposed to tell y'all this. We're just trying to make sure everything is okay in there." She was talking fast and low and jerked her head toward the interior of the auditorium, which was dark. "The problem is that sometimes, things happen. They didn't think I should tell you, but I think y'all need to know." We passed worried glances at each other. What could be so bad?
"The year I was initiated, we were almost done, and then this girl, do y'all remember Jenny Findlay?" No one did. "Well, we were almost done, and then she just started screaming. I mean, screaming like someone was killing her. We couldn't get her to calm down and Mrs. Simmons had to call an ambulance. Jenny transferred to John Carroll because she just couldn't walk back into the building without panicking. It happened again last year. Did y'all know Connie Adams?" I did remember her. She had left abruptly last fall. She had had a beautiful voice. "Look, we're on the alert now, so we're hoping nothing happens. But if it does, you know the story now, so don't freak out. They'll call you in a few minutes. Good luck." She stepped back inside and closed the door.
It was dark next to the building. As a group, we ambled silently back toward the light. My stomach growled. There were no more candy bars. I shivered, cold and on edge. It wasn't bad enough that we were outside, in the dark, becoming jumpier the later it got, but now there was this new story. None of us wanted to believe it -- haunted school building? -- but Connie had left school. Doubt sidled up to unease.
"I think they're just trying to scare us," said Teenage Bravado. "Maybe her dad got a new job."
"Or maybe something's wrong in that auditorium. Have you ever been in here rehearsing late when there's hardly anyone else in the building? It's pretty creepy." Several voices agreed.
"Then how do we know nothing happened?"
Seven-thirty and the side door opened again. "You may come in, now!" a voice called. I couldn't tell who it was.
We were heading to the door when the screaming started. One long shriek, followed by shorter hysterical ones. Three initiates took off for the fence. Amy had started climbing before the sound faded. I backed away from the building. Should I run, too? Would it matter?
And then we heard the laughter coming from inside. This was thespian initiation, after all, and that had been quite a performance.
*All names have been changed.
Back on the yeah write grid, because the withdrawal symptoms were just too much!