Today’s story comes to us from guest author Embe Charpentier.
Last year, his first book, a paranormal horror novella called Beloved Dead, was published by Kellan. Eighteen of his short works were also published in 2015, in e-mags and print as diverse as LitroNY, Poydras Review, and Romance Flash.
Alpha Zeta Tau, AZT, the go-to house for getting ahead. Why send a soccer-playing, physics major named Hu’ng Nguyen, a letter of acceptance?
Welcome! You will be an asset to AZT.
Your contribution: one night of tutoring per week.
Initiation is September 21 at 7 p.m.. Dress casual. Bring a small personal item.
Don’t be late.
I snap on my watch. I tell my roommate, Xi Ping, that I’m headed out. I figure Ping and I were placed in the same room because some residential matchmaker figured two Asian guys would help each other. I don’t know any Chinese. He knows no Vietnamese. Ping barely understands the word “goodbye.”
He looks up from his calculus textbook. “You come back when?”
“Late tonight,” I tell him.
I walk across campus to AZT’s big white manse. A guy in a plaid shirt lounges in a hammock strung across the porch. A busty PiPhi sister sits on the porch rail. Hammock guy points at the door. “You’re Hung, right? Head on in!”
“He’s hung?” the girl laughs. “But he’s Japanese!”
I blow it off. Been there, done that, through high school in Arkansas and Oklahoma. In the foyer, a keg sits on a plastic table. Beer pong, the most idiotic game I’ve ever seen, has become a team sport. Guys aim girls from behind as the ladies spew ping pong balls from their mouths. A poorly-aimed ball ricochets off my chest. Two big dumbasses laugh. I ignore them. I’m first generation American, so I need a leg up only a frat’ll give me.
President Cliff Martinson calls the “meeting” to order with lame frat lore. The girls leave. Fat candles on the mantle are lit. Pledges assemble in a line. “Yo, take off your shirts,” Martinson says. “Then throw them in the pile.”
I toss my white button-down. Cliff turns around, then orders one of his minions, an African-American football type named Ricky, to write a number in Sharpie marker on our chests. “Wow, what a flat surface,” Ricky says as he draws the number two on me. Numbers aren’t issued in the order of the way we’re standing. One of the brothers collects our shirts and sets a box of camo t-shirts down.
Cliff still stands back toward us. “Brothers, dive in and find the shirt with your number.”
We all search together. We rip shirts out of each other’s hands. Only seven numbered shirts: 1, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8. Shit’s about to hit the fan
Cliff turns as the other guys throw their oversized shirts on. I stare at the floor. “So you’re it, Hu’ng!” Cliff hollers. He grins like a circus clown – wide lips, gritted grin, and bulging eyes. Coughing on the saccharine smell of vanilla candles, I stand straight, head up.
“We won’t let you go out there naked,” Cliff says. Suddenly, other members, who’ve watched in silence, start bitchin’. “Goin’ soft, Martinson!” a shaggy-haired guy named Steve yells.
Cliff throws me a t-shirt emblazoned with the Target logo, concentric red circles. As soon as the word “set-up” tumbles from my lips, the boys gag me, then truss me up like a pig. “The only Vietnamese no pot-belly pig,” one laughs.
Somebody carries me out the back door. Ricky orders the other seven pledges into the back of a Ford 250 crew cab. I’m not blindfolded like them. Cliff says sight’s my most important advantage right before they throw me into the back seat. Problem is, I can’t see anything but the door handle. Some dude named Lorenzo introduces himself as he sits beside me. Cliff and Ricky take their seats in the front. A sinuous guitar riff pierces the silence.
The End. Jim Morrison howls about death in Vietnam: the end of elaborate plans, desperation, travel to places unknown. As the cab drives past the Enid city limits, night’s chill penetrates my skin. The eerie Doors song replays its grim message. Cliff and Ricky yell the only lyrics they know, obscene words, the word “kill” six times. As they turn onto a bumpy road, unseen Lorenzo tells me a story.
“My grandpa, Lorenzo Senior, went to Vietnam to defend his country and support his family. Never came back,” Lorenzo says over the first few notes of the song. I feel him slip the watch off my wrist. “Let’s see how you make out.”
As the truck groans to a stop, I shake. They carry me out of the truck and set me down on a patch of tall grass. I see the trunks of pines, a rocky outcropping yards away but little else. Cliff herds the other pledges into a circle. Ricky orders them to keep the blindfolds on as he takes out his phone. “I’ll tell you when to look,” he says. Shit, a camera.
Cliff makes a point of propping the Daisy Bb rifles against a stump, within my field of vision. “The boys are goin’ to go huntin’. Road’s about two hundred fifty yards south. Yeah, you might get a few bruises. Just run your ass off south. Don’t look back. You wanna protect your eyes. Ten count as a fair head start. After tonight, your watch’ll remind you of first night with AZT. Hazing’s all in fun, right?” He pauses. “Pledges, take off your blindfolds.”
They mumble as they pick up their guns. A few hold their weapons up to check if the stock is straight. “They’re already loaded,” Ricky says.
Cliff clips my ties off and takes out my gag. I stumble to my feet as the countdown starts. I’m yards away when I hear “eight.”
At ten, only one set of feet runs toward me.
“Hu’ng look behind you!” one of the other pledges shouts.
The pledges have turned their guns on Cliff, Ricky, and Lorenzo, firing Bb’s at their feet. Cliff runs fastest toward the rocks. Ricky falls after a stunning shot in the ass.
Seven pledges laugh. I dissolve into a puddle straight outta My Lai.