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The small room was pitch black. The air hot and dusty. It was impossible to tell how long the 30 of us had been locked in there, but it felt like an eternity. The painful shrieks of an infant’s sobs — blaring on repeat from a boombox in the corner — wasn’t making time move any faster.
Every now and then the door would swing open and a brother would give us words of encouragement.
“This should be easy for you pussies. Y’all been in the closet your whole lives!”
Then he would grab a pledge by the collar, pull him out of the room, and slam the door shut.
The room full of pledges slowly, but surely, grew thinner. Finally, I was the only one remaining, which I decided was either a really good thing or a really bad one.
Then the door flew open one last time. It was my turn. I was pried from the room and a bag was thrown on my head. All I could see was the flicker of candles through the heavy burlap sack.
The brother placed his hands on my shoulders and pushed me through the fraternity house, jerking me left and right. Brothers whispered cryptic, Greek-sounding incantations in my ears as I passed by.
A few of the words sounded familiar.
Then the hands on my shoulders reeled back and shoved me forward. Before I fell on my face, another set of hands shoved me the other way. I was shoved back and forth down the corridor like a rag doll until I was stopped in a room. The bag was torn from my head and I found myself standing before the president, vice president, and ritual master, who sat at a table illuminated by candlelight. Our pledge master stood behind them with a massive, 5-foot paddle slung over his shoulder.
“Failed Abortion,” the president spoke up (that was my pledge name). “Why do you deserve to be a brother in this fraternity?”
Shit. I am not prepared to answer this. My mind raced, clambering for something to say. Then I remembered that I had stepped up to be a sober driver more than anyone else when my fellow pledges were “sick.” When I went to say this, however, all I could stammer out was, “B-because I pledge drive good?”
The president smacked his forehead. Our pledge master laughed.
“Buscemi,” the president said. “You have got to be one of the stupidest motherfuckers we’ve ever let through these doors.”
He paused for a moment, then dropped the hammer.
I stood in silence for a moment, completely stunned. My college dreams came crashing down around me. No. I was not about to go out like this. I did not spend five weeks as a bitch for nothing.
In a desperate and admittedly stupid attempt to prove myself one last time, I hit the deck and started doing push-ups.
“One sir two sir three sir four sir!”
Our pledge master laughed even harder.
“Get up you fucking retard,” the president said.
Someone came up behind me and pulled me to my feet, then threw another bag over my head. This time, they tied it. I was shoved through the fraternity house once more until I felt my back against a wall, my shoulders pressed between what I assumed to be the other blackballed pledges. I couldn’t see who it was, but the pledge next to me was crying softly.
This was really it. I got the boot. What are they gonna do to us now?
Then I heard my pledge master’s voice boom through the darkness.
“Gentlemen,” he said. “You put in some good work, but fraternity life isn’t for everyone. We only take the best of the best around here. And I’m sorry to say that none of you have what it takes. Who am I kidding? I’m not sorry.”
I heard a faint metallic click.
“Your journey ends here.”
Suddenly, there was a deafening bang and a flash of light. We all jumped. A hot, wet liquid splashed my face through the bag and something hit the ground with a heavy thud.
Oh God… they’re shooting us!
Someone screamed. I heard the kid next to me vomit in his bag. I took off in a blind sprint and smacked face-first into a wall.
I stood in front of thirty frightened pledges wearing bags on their heads. Well, they didn’t think they were pledges anymore. I looked at Tom, who was standing next to me with a straw hat on his head and a shotgun in his hands.
“Feels good to be on the other side of this, don’t it?” he whispered.
“I can’t believe it’s been a whole semester,” I replied.
Tom raised his voice and spoke to the pledges.
“Gentlemen, you put in some good work, but fraternity life isn’t for everyone. We only take the best of the best around here. And I’m sorry to say that none of you have what it takes. Who am I kidding? I’m not sorry.”
He cocked the shotgun and fired a blank in the air. The pledges jolted. I chucked a sack of potatoes at their feet, which hit the ground with a loud thud. At the same time, a handful of brothers ran down the line, spraying them with a bottle of warm water. Some screamed. Some threw up. I caught one just before he ran face-first into a wall.
Then I tore the bag off his head and turned him to face the other side of the room, where our president stood on a table holding a bottle of champagne.
“Congrats on making it five weeks, boys,” he said. “May we never fucking die!”
He popped the bottle and sprayed it on the flabbergasted pledges. Welcome to the Jungle cut in through the speakers..