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Authors: Brad Land

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BOOK: Goat
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Whew, he says, fanning himself. It’s fucking hot in here. You goat fuckers hot?

The other brother laughs. They are both sweating but they won’t turn on the air-conditioning. Instead they leave the windows down. One brother cranks the car and slides it into gear. We back out of the parking lot. The brother has one arm behind the passenger seat, looking backward. He pulls out in front of an approaching Jeep. Throws up his middle finger as he turns around.

Fuck off, he says.

Keep your heads down and bah, the other brother says. We put our heads between our legs and bah.

Louder, he says.

We bah louder. The air streams in from outside and it feels good against the back of my head. Through my crossed arms I catch Kevin’s eye. He is smiling. I turn back toward the floor.

Are you boys ready to fuck a goat? the brother that’s driving says. I’m glad I don’t ever have to do that again. It don’t feel good. But you better get ready ’cause right here in a minute that’s what you’re gonna be doing. Fuck fuck fucking a goat, he says, breaking into song. Laughing.

Bah, motherfuckers, the other one says. Pulls his knees up onto the seat and turns around, perches like a hawk, pushes his neck forward when he yells.

Bah bah bah, he says. We’re in the car for fifteen minutes and the whole time I am bahing and wondering if we are really going to have to fuck a goat.

   

GRAVEL CRUNCHES UNDER the tires and we stop.

The brothers roll up the windows and get out. One leans back in just as he is about to shut the door.

Don’t move, he says. Keep your heads down and stay bahing real loud. I wanna be able to hear you through the car. He slams the door. Even though it’s late afternoon it’s very hot. The sun shines through the windows and cooks the air inside. It hurts to breathe. We’re bunched together tightly. Legs and arms sweating against one another. Too afraid to look up. Under his breath I can hear the pledge from New York saying over and over that this is so fucked up and if one person touches him again he is going to kill them. I pray silently, furiously, that he will and that this will be over. The passenger side door opens and Kevin is yanked out. He whimpers and his foot brushes my knee. The door slams again and the model pledge and I are alone with the sweat and the thick air.

When the door opens again the air rushes in from outside. I feel a mouth press close to my ear.

What’s my name? someone says. I recognize the voice. It’s Chance. His breath in my ear.

Chance, I say. I don’t look up.

Don’t say my fucking name, he bawls. Then he’s gone. Another voice presses close to my ear.

His name is piece of shit fuckface, the new voice says. I try to place it but cannot. When he asks you better fucking say it. As quickly as he was gone Chance is back again.

What’s my fucking name? he says. I pause for a moment. Let out a long breath.

Piece of shit fuckface, I say. A closed fist lands on the back of my head and makes my ears ring. My head throbs with the heat and the fist. Three more times.

What’s my name?

Chance. Wrong. Closed fist.

What’s my name?

Mr. McInnis. Wrong. Closed fist.

What’s my name?

Mr. Piece of Shit Fuckface. Wrong. Closed fist.

Nothing works. I’m pulled from the car. I glance up quickly. There’s a cabin in front of me. Surrounded by thick woods and I don’t know where I am. Its gray cinder-block sides and black shingled roof gleam in the retreating light. Cars parked all around. Chance drags me by my arm and my feet scuff the ground. I look back down at the grass, the speckled dirt path that leads to the cabin. Chance shoulders me inside. It’s dark. I look around. The only light comes from one open door and two windows coated in a brown film. Groups of brothers stand against the cinder-block walls of the room. A small bar on the far wall. A stage at the front. The floor is wet and sticks to my shoes. Everywhere my pledge brothers are screaming like goats.

They are shoved against walls.

They are writhing on the ground.

Ben Moore grabs me. Throws me against the wall.

Fuck the wall, he says.

I fuck the wall.

Fuck the floor, he says.

I fuck the floor. I am passed to Patrick Wells and thrown against another wall. I throw my forearms in front of me and they split open on the rough cinder block. I have to fuck the wall again. Patrick is laughing. His hands on my waist. Shoves my hips into the wall again and again.

Come on, goat, he says, fuck that wall.

I am passed to the bar. A pledge on top. Fucking the bar. Dixon tells me to fuck my pledge brother. I climb up but another brother sees me. His coal-black hair wet around the edges from sweat. Thick curls stick to his forehead and he looks tired. He pulls me off and says to sit down, that he doesn’t want to see two pledges fucking. Dave Reed sitting with his head bowed. His shirt torn, one knee is busted open. A rose-colored bruise forming on his left shin.

   

THE PLEDGE CLASS sits on the edge of the three-foot-high stage at the front of the cabin, feet dangling over the edge. The room still vibrates from all the screaming and I can see the light growing fainter through the one open door. Dave Reed on my right and Will Fitch on my left. A brother shoves a bottle into my hand. The glass scalding hot because someone’s heated it up and I can barely keep my fingers wrapped around it. I clasp it lightly with my fingertips. A crowd of brothers is in front of us. I look for Brett standing among them but cannot find him. We play a game.

One brother asks a question and points to a pledge. The pledge answers and it is wrong. We drink the heated-up beer without stopping and it burns our throats. This is how it goes:

Question.

Answer.

Wrong.

Drink.

After the third beer I feel as if I am going to vomit. I look to my left. Dave Reed doubled over retching onto the floor. It splashes on a brother’s shoe.

Fuck me, the brother says. Looking down in bewilderment. He raises his foot from the ground. Gives Dave another beer. He begins to drink but pukes again. When a brother gives me another beer I raise it to my lips. I look for Brett again and see him standing at the back of the room ten feet away from the crowd. His arms crossed, he glares right at me. He doesn’t do anything. He just stares, his brown eyes hollow. But I want him to see that I am strong, that he did this once and now I am doing it. I tilt my head up to drink and let the beer stream down from my mouth onto my shirt because I know that I will puke if I take another sip. No one notices because my shirt is already soaked and everyone is yelling and puking. My head is spinning and when I look back toward Brett he is gone.

——

THE PLEDGE CLASS goes outside and the brothers pat us on the back. Patrick Wells tells me good job, I did good. Chance slaps my back with his meaty hands. My muscles have already begun to tighten. My left calf jerks in a fit, clenches itself, loosens when I reach down to grab it. Brothers are taking pledges back to campus. I’m looking for someone to ride with. I see Brett waiting beside his car, one leg crossed over the other. The insects have begun their late-afternoon whine and when he sees me walking toward him he opens his door and gets in, one arm hanging from the window, smoke from his cigarette curling over the car’s roof.

When I get into Brett’s car he tells me that what I just did is the worst part. He doesn’t look at me. They do it to weed out the weak ones, he says. We’re driving back and the outside air cools my face. The sun is dipping below the edge of Lake Hartwell, spilling shadows across the dam, and my brother is staring at something out in front of him.

7

THE RADIO STATION plays a country song. I switch it off, push the white sheets back and place my feet on the floor. The television is still on, spilling light through the room. A bald man wearing a gray suit is pointing at a map of the United States, following weather systems with an open hand. I rub my eyes, move my shoulder around to work out the stiffness. I raise one arm, touch the wound from where I hit the wall yesterday. It’s soft and gummy. Almost black. Same on the other forearm. Didn’t leave any blood on the sheets though. I cross my arms over my chest, shiver from the cold. The air-conditioning in the dorm rooms is always either too hot or too cold. My roommate sleeps in his raised loft and his clothes hang from the foot of his bed. I put on my flip-flops and open the door. Click the large bolt down quietly when I am in the hall so as not to wake my roommate. The shower room at the end of the hall. A large black trash can on both ends. Pizza boxes flat across each one’s top, trash collected in corners behind them. A single blue stripe painted in the center of each cream-colored wall. It stops when it meets a door and then starts again until it meets another. My towel is around my waist and it is six-fifteen and feels like the world will never wake up.

   

FOR THE FIRST week of pledge season the class must meet for breakfast every day at seven o’clock. This is to create unity. I have risen so early because I do not want to be late. Our pledge master says it’s imperative to be on time. It will be very bad if someone doesn’t show up at all. If one person messes up we all have to eat breakfast together for another week.

It is still dark outside. Fine mist falling in the early morning. I’m wearing a blue blazer, white shirt, a red striped tie because all the pledges have to wear a coat and tie to breakfast. The rain stands in beads on my coat. My shoes splash in water on the path to the cafeteria. I look at the watch my father gave me. The brown leather band worn, frayed around the face. I still have ten minutes and I miss my father and wish he were here to tell me everything is okay, but he isn’t, and even if he were here everything would still be fucked up.

   

I CLIMB THE white concrete stairs to Harcombe Dining Hall and move under the awning to escape the rain. The cafeteria isn’t even open yet. In front of me safety lamps light the courtyard and I look at the mist falling through the light and it feels like the saddest I have ever been.

I look around for someone. Something to stare at besides the dark and the rain. I crouch in a corner beside the cafeteria’s front double doors, cover my face with open palms and feel like I might cry. My arms hurt. I wrapped toilet paper around the cuts but you can’t see it because of my jacket. I look to my right, see a foot move forward, a leg stretch from the shadow. Will Fitch steps out of the dark like a ghost.

Pretty early, huh? he says, placing his hands in his pockets. He’s always shuffling through his pockets.

Yeah, I say. I am glad to see someone but I don’t want to talk. Will stands next to me rigidly, fumbles through his pockets, pushes his green tie up into the collar of his blue shirt and I slump against the outside of Harcombe, and it feels good to see Will, to know that someone else has to look at the dark and the rain. We don’t say anything else. We watch the rain fall and we wait for the lights in the cafeteria to come on and a door to open.

   

I GET THE pledge manual on a Tuesday. It’s called the
Bononia Docet.
It’s green with gold letters. Ben Moore tells me it’s my Bible. Throw the other one out, he says. This is the only one that matters.

I start looking it over in my room. There are all these passages underlined in pencil.

The first one I read is this list of different rules for making people feel comfortable during rush.

The fifth rule says this:

5. Keep in mind what you are selling. You are selling a group of friends who are not only diverse and varied in interest, but who share the same values.

A few pages later, the book talks about official things like colors, which are emerald green, white and scarlet red, and how it’s okay to call the Kappa Sigma Fraternity (its official name) Kappa Sig.

I read about how things like good taste and manners are very important. Then I read about the best ways to introduce people and how to shake hands.

After that, the book says this:

Hazing is fundamentally at odds with the ideals of Kappa Sigma. Hazing runs contrary to all our concepts of brotherhood development. Under the Rules of the Kappa Sigma Fraternity, every chapter prohibits hazing in all forms within its own chapter bylaws. Your Supreme Executive Committee has adopted the following definition of hazing:

Hazing is defined as any action taken or situation created, whether on or off Fraternity premises, by any Kappa Sigma chapter or by any Kappa Sigma member, to produce or result
in mental or physical discomfort, embarrassment, harassment, or ridicule. Such activities would include paddling or physical abuse in any form, creation of excessive fatigue, physical or psychological shocks, involuntary road trips or any other activities which may tend to expose initiates or pledges to physical danger, morally degrading or humiliating games and activities, any activities which would disrupt public order or tend to bring the Fraternity into disrepute in the local community, and any other activities which are not consistent with Kappa Sigma Fraternity law.

I close the book with the rules in my head and I can’t stop thinking about all of it. I have to slap myself hard before I can go to sleep.

——

WILL FITCH REACHES for the door to the Kappa Sigma hall like he’s entering a morgue. His hand trembles and he’s moving slow toward the handle. I stand behind him and glance from side to side. I am gun shy. Looking over my shoulder every second or two.

Just do it, I say. Just grab it and pull. I rattle change around in my pocket. He turns around. Looks at me like I don’t know what I’m talking about, and he’s right, I don’t. I’m as scared as he is. I know what’s on the other side.

It’s six o’clock on a Tuesday and hot even though the sun is fading, dipping behind the burnt oaks and the football stadium that stands behind Daniel Hall.

Dude, just open it, I say.

Man, he says, fucking hold on. His hands shaking. I’m trying to get straight.

All right, I say, all right. Take your time.

Will turns and pushes the silver bar with the butt of one shaking palm and the cool air from inside smacks our faces.

   

EACH WEEKNIGHT TWO pledges have to go to every brother’s room on the first, second and third floors, and ask if they need anything whatsoever. It’s called a hall check. Will and I are the first two pledges to go.

I’m surprised when we move through the double doors to find no one waiting for us. I expect to hear screams because two days ago we were standing here getting run through a gauntlet. Getting the shit kicked out of us. I look around, place one hand on the chipped black railing and look up to check the stairwell. Will is reaching for the second set of double doors that lead to the first floor.

What are you doing? he says.

I look back to him. Just checking, I say.

He shuffles his feet. See anyone? he says.

No, I say, it’s clear. I glance back up one more time. Will pushes the door open and when we step onto the first floor my feet make a scraping noise. I look down and see that I’ve left two footprints. The floors on the hall are coated with dirt. One bathroom stands at the end of each floor and is shared by eighteen people.

Will stares into the first door on our left. He turns back, gives me this look like he’s wondering what I’m doing standing back and letting him take the frontline. Somewhere a television blares but no one is home. The only other sound is from a stereo faintly playing a Bob Marley tune somewhere down the hall. Everyone leaves doors open on the hall because it’s supposed to make us feel welcome but Will and I know better. I look at my footprints again and now there are six and I feel like a coward for letting Will and his trembling hands take the first steps.

   

MY BROTHER’S ROOM is next. I don’t expect him to want anything but what do I know, my brother has been as much a mystery to me as anything else. Because I expected Brett to be my guide, to tell me what’s what, and even though he’s told me a few things, given me warnings, I feel like he’s left me alone. And I know he wants me to make a go by myself, but I also know he feels strange about it all, like this fraternity isn’t what he thought it was in the beginning, like he’s not who he used to be, like once he saw it happening to me it was all different.

Will stays behind me this time. Brett is sitting on a rust-colored couch. Feet propped on a chipped coffee table strewn with cigarettes and beer cans. He’s watching television.
Magnum, P.I.
I’m apprehensive even in my brother’s room. He sees us and sits up quickly.

Come in, he says. You okay?

Yeah, I say. Look down at the gray industrial carpet. I turn back up and Brett is studying my face. He always does this when he thinks I’m lying and I am lying now and he knows it. Will steps into the room. Brett doesn’t even look at him.

Do you need anything? Will says. We’re making the hall check. Brett is still staring at me. He knows I don’t like this. He knows it scares me. And I think he wants me to say it. To be honest. To say I’m scared. To say that it’s fucked up. Because part of him, I know, feels the same way.

He breaks his stare and turns to Will.

No. No. Nothing, he says. Slouches back into the couch. He changes the channel and we leave.

Outside Brett’s room there’s a bulletin board. A list for intramural soccer, a clipping about a chapter in Georgia doing something charitable. Near the bottom a picture cut from a magazine of a woman with a penis. It says 1-900-SHE-MALE. The breasts are large and she’s cupping one breast with one hand and squeezing the penis with the other. Someone has taken a photograph and cut out Dixon’s head and taped it over the she-man’s head. Dixon’s head is large and doesn’t fit the body. Above the doctored picture is a T-shirt. Pinned up with tacks, stretched out at the sleeves and neck. A dark brown patch covering the front and small red specks about the sleeves and collar. Someone has fastened a scrap of light green paper above the shirt and scribbled Dixon on it. I put my head around the corner of Brett’s door.

What’s the T-shirt? I say. Brett still on the couch.

Oh, he says, Dixon Lynch did that. Broke a cue over some kid’s head last night. That’s his T-shirt.

The kid’s?

No. Dixon’s.

Whose blood is it?

Both I think. Mostly the kid, though.

I leave Brett with his cigarettes and the television and look one more time at the bloodstained T-shirt and it reminds me of an ink blot test but I can’t make anything out of the stains and the flecks. It’s all just blood.

   

BEN MOORE WANTS an egg roll. I hate Ben Moore. He wants a pack of Marlboros and an egg roll. He’s just in the mood, he says, and it must be from China Garden because they have the best egg rolls. It doesn’t matter that the restaurant is five miles from campus. Chance wants his girlfriend’s car pitted because he says he’s about to get some. Pitting a car means driving it to a parking lot called the pit, a huge lot about a mile from campus. Parking is scarce on campus so most students have to park their cars in the pit. Will and I don’t have cars anywhere near our dorms (both are in the pit) so for us pitting a car means driving the brother’s car to the pit, parking and walking the mile back to our dorms. We take Chance’s car to get the cigarettes and the egg roll and I keep the receipts. If we didn’t have Chance’s car, we’d have to walk. We drive past the football stadium down the road that dips and curves to the pit. It’s eight o’clock, somewhat dark outside, still hot. I can feel the heat coming off the black tar as we walk the slope behind the stadium. I’m sweating and my shirt and hair are drenched. My glasses slide down the bridge of my nose. Will is worried that the egg roll will be cold, that we’ll have to go get another. I say I’ll stick the egg roll up Ben Moore’s fat ass before I’ll go get another but we both know I won’t do anything like that.

   

I OPEN BEN’S door sweating and the silver knob slips between my fingers. I wipe my hands on my shirt and try again. Grease has seeped through the egg roll’s white wrapping. Ben is still in his room. The television bounces off his glasses. I step inside and Will follows quietly behind. I give Ben the cigarettes and the egg roll. He thumps the Marlboros into an open palm, chokes the tobacco down close to the filter. He opens the pack and Dave and I stand motionless waiting for something to happen. Ben looks up. Cigarette dangling from his lips. Hands cupped. One thumb perched on a pink lighter.

What? he says. You can leave. He swats us away with one hand like we’re insects. I hear the egg roll fall with a thud into his metal wastebasket.

   

ON THE SECOND floor Will sweeps Patrick Wells’s room and I fold his newly washed clothes.

Get up there, goat, Patrick says, and I look up from the clothes and see Will standing on a chair beside the wardrobe. He puts his feet on Patrick’s shoulders, climbs up into the top five-by-three-foot compartment, and it takes a minute, Will’s legs out over the front, bent over with his chest almost touching his thighs, he has to twist himself to fit. When Will’s inside, his back touches the top, his head’s between his legs, he looks like a folded piece of paper. Patrick laughs because it is funny to see Will all mashed up seven feet from the floor. He looks around and tries to find something to make me do and when he can’t, he turns up to Will, says fuck it get down, goat, and see if anybody else needs you two fucks. Will throws his legs over the side of the compartment and puts his feet on my shoulders. He wobbles trying to squeeze himself out, twists until he can jump down. Patrick tells us to get the fuck out of his room because he has to study. No one else on the second floor needs anything and Will and I feel like we came out lucky.

   

ON THE THIRD floor we wash out seven plastic Miller Lite cups filled with tobacco spit in the bathroom sinks. There are three sinks. Will uses the sink on the far right and I use the middle one. The brother gives us Dawn to make the suds. The bathroom always reeks. The dark brown spit clumps in the sink, the water does not drain and the spit and tobacco all swirl around with hair. I gag from the smell. I leave the middle sink and move to the far left sink. Will says gross, that’s really gross, and I know I have to reach through the water and unclog the hair and the spit because someone will ream me if I don’t. I shove my hand into the water and feel for the drain, pull the hair out and run to the toilet to throw it in. I fling the blue door open, lean in and the hair splashes in the water. I turn around and see myself in the long mirror above the sinks. What are you doing? I ask myself. Shake my head back and forth. I stand crouched over with my hands on my knees and tell myself to breathe. Will has suds up to his elbows and he asks me what’s wrong. I just look at him. A brother comes in with four plates and some forks all dried with food. Tells us while we’re at it, why don’t we just go ahead and wash these too. He looks into the drained middle sink. There is still tobacco lining the edges.

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