“Tim! Let him go. You can’t do the Goats this year. It’s sick and pointless! Look at him, he’s scared out of his fucking mind!”
Note: All Characters Are 18+
I hadn’t even wanted to go on the Senior camping trip. It all seemed so fake. But after the guys on the basketball team begged me, and after my parents badgered me that it was ‘part of the experience’ I finally agreed. I felt like I would have been fine if we stopped the high-school bullshit and just lined up for a diploma, but nope. Senior overnight it was.
Before I went, my father rambled about his Senior camping trip, and he told me about something he had never shared before.
“Oh Jason, it’s awful! We were kids though, and we were just having fun, no one really got hurt. We’d stay up very late, and the football team would work in conjunction with the cheerleading squad and pick a boy and a girl from the tents. We’d take them out to this little island in the middle of the stream and lock them in this little shed. They were usually the shyer kids, and we wanted to help them along. The Goats.”
I glanced up at him. I mostly took after my mother, thank god. There was still hope that I wouldn’t suffer his shiny bald head that had started to thin at the ripe age of 23. I ran my fingers through my hair self-consciously while asking. “The Goats? You called these kids goats?”
He shrugged and laughed. He was trying not to laugh too hard, but failing. I loved my father, but I loved him a little less for how hard he laughed at those poor kids that he had locked up in that shed. The Goats.
I was starting to believe I would never be able to come out to him.
“Well, yeah. It was a tradition a long time before we came along. They probably put a stop to it a while ago, afraid of angry parents and whatnot. People need to stop being so darn concerned… We were just kids having fun.”
I almost believed that he was making it up. I had never heard about this apparent tradition before, and it just seemed too cruel. Maybe the tradition had been alive when my dad was a kid, but not now. The jocks at my school weren’t like jocks in a TV sitcom or coming-of-age drama. We weren’t a bunch of stupid cows who pushed freshmen into lockers or pantsed smart kids. No way any of my friends would do something as cruel and petty as lock two unpopular kids in a shed. Surely we had evolved.
At noon as the school buses dropped off three hundred and twenty squawking teenagers, the debauchery began. People had brought alcohol, weed, pills, and condoms, and they were determined to use as many of them as they could before the buses came back to pick us up at twelve the next day.
The chaperones were outnumbered, outgunned, and exhausted already. They ended up sitting all together at a picnic table on the game field as we spread out. The industrial-grade tents were stacked in a massive pile by the treeline, to be erected and filled by four people each when the sun went down. The field was long and narrow. As wide as a football field but stretching the length of eight or nine. It stretched from the dirt road and the industrial-grade tents at one end and the stream at the other, surrounded on all sides by pine trees.
I walked over to the tallest hill on the field and looked around. A few industrious seniors were in the process of setting up their four-man tents. People were shucking shirts and shorts to get down to bathing suits and flip flops. Some rushed for the stream to wet their feet (it only came up waist-high) and others started games of soccer, frisbee, 500, and one manic group of hipsters with hacky-sacks. Some had brought radios, and around each radio the games congregated.
The needs of three hundred and twenty teenagers and ten harried adults were met by a veritable mountain of coolers (filled with saran-wrapped sandwiches) and a line of six green port-a-potties.
I grinned. This wasn’t nearly as bad as I had thought. I stripped out of my t-shirt to feel the sun on my back. A girl walking by in tiny cutoff shorts and an orange bikini top did a double take and I grimaced inwardly. On the outside, I smiled and waved.
As the day went on, I got out of my cynical funk and started to just have fun. I played soccer with a group of guys from the basketball team for an hour or so. I had a dinner of two pre-wrapped roast beef sandwiches and a bottle of powerade. As the sun was hovering just above the treeline, I stripped into my swim trunks and kicked off my sneakers. I felt hot and sweaty and sticky, and there were a lot fewer people in the stream now that the chaperones were passing out dinner.
I wove my way around the maze of beach towels (some with half-naked sunbathers, some without) and stepped into a tiny sandy bank of the stream. When I glanced downstream, I was reminded of my father’s story. I couldn’t see a hut anywhere; maybe it had been taken down since my father’s ‘glory years’.
I waded into the stream. Our gym teacher, Mrs. Dresden waved at me. She was a chaperone and she stayed at the stream on the off chance that someone was stupid enough to try and drown in the shallow gentle current.
I was up to the deepest point in this section of the stream. My feet sank into soft cold muck and the weeds wound sinuously around my calves and knees. The water level came to about halfway between my navel and nipples. I dunked in the water, gasping at how good it felt.
I decided to go and set up my tent. I was tent-mates with two other guys from the basketball team and the quarterback of the football team. They would want to stay up all night, and if they did get tired, they would most likely be too drunk to fix up the tent. To my knowledge, Ben, Bjorn, and Tim had all brought booze.
I was watching the ground to avoid stepping on towels and girls when I ran headlong into Caleb Greene.
I was a lot bigger then him, and while I just stumbled a bit he fell down hard, right on top of a reclining girl in a purple bikini.
Caleb flushed bright red from the roots of his pale hair to the neckline of his baggy t-shirt. He struggled to get off, mumbling an apology and looking absolutely terrified as the girl woke up and started cussing at him.
I was astonished at her mouth. I couldn’t remember her name, but whenever she talked to me she always acted really sweet and shy. I guess I knew now that it was an act.
I grabbed his shoulder to help him up, and to her I said. “It was an accident, calm the fuck down!”
She saw me and flushed. “Sorry, Jason!” She said meekly as Caleb and I walked away, my hand still on his shoulder.
I released him. His skin was still flushed with embarrassment. “S-Sorry.” He whispered, playing with the hem of his shirt. He had oversized wire-rim glasses that were always falling down his thin nose. The shirt was long, almost to his knees, and he was wearing baggy cargo pants with the cuffs rolled up and sneakers with peeling soles. The left one was flapping, and the right one had duct tape looped around the tip of his shoe twice. He had worn that same pair of shoes for the last two years, even in winter when he had to tramp through several feet of snow. They hadn’t even been new when he got them.
“Hey, no problem, I wasn’t looking where I was going. Where have you been? I don’t think I’ve seen you all day.”
I think I went out of my way to try and be nice to Caleb. He had a couple of friends, mostly girls, but for the most part he was a very lonely kid. A lot of people made fun of him. Nothing really vicious, they weren’t hurting him or anything, but it was just a string of nasty things people kept saying to him. Cold shoulders, cruel snide comments, insinuating that he was queer, or that he wet the bed, or mean stuff about how poor he was. Other stuff like that. It made me uncomfortable. I never said anything, but I had never done anything to stop it, so I felt guilty.
I had maybe had six conversations with the guy. Each one had been me asking him questions like how his day went, or what he was up to. He would usually answer briefly and nervously. I always had this feeling like he thought I was trying to make fun of him, so he didn’t trust me.
He looked up at me and pushed his glasses up his nose. “Um… I’ve been reading in the woods.” He murmured.
I waited for more, but no more was coming. “What book?”
He reached into the pocket of his baggy cargo pants and pulled out a fat little novel to show me the title. “The Long Walk? Shit, I read that one! Could you imagine?”
He smiled a little, and it was really sweet. That was the only word I could think of. “Yeah, I’d probably be the first one out. Um…. You like to read, Jason?”
I shrugged. “A bit. Mostly Stephan King, and some stuff I had when I was younger. Y’know; The Edge Chronicles, Hunger Games, Bartimaeus trilogy, the Pendragon series. Kid stuff. Most of the time I see you, you’re reading something really smart, like the complete works of Shakespeare, or War and Peace, or stuff by Charles Dickens. I feel pretty stupid, I can’t read books unless they’ve been made pretty recently.”
He flushed deeper and shrugged, but he was relaxing a little. That was nice, the poor guy was always so tense. He deserved to relax on the Senior Camp day.
He was putting the book back in the pocket of his cargo pants when he asked, “Um… Do you want to go and… Ah… get some din–“
We had been walking across the grassy field, me barefoot and dripping, carrying my towel, shirt, and shoes in a bundle in my arms, him fully clothed with his hands stuffed deep into his pockets. Neither of us had been paying much attention, and all of my air came out in a near-silent WOOF as Timothy Jurgen, the star Quarterback tackled me while screaming maniacally at the top of his lungs.
We rolled and wrestled on the ground. Tim had been my friend since grade school. We didn’t hang around as much as we used to before he got a girlfriend, but we still hung out now and then. He had brought a big bag of weed that he was going to share later when it got dark.
When we got up, laughing, I looked over at Caleb and felt immediately guilty. He was a few feet away, biting his lip and edging away quietly. He looked so lonely. I forgot that Tim loved to bait Caleb.
“Hey, Caleb you don’t have to go. We can go over to the coolers and you can grab a sandwich. I already had a couple.” I wrested out of Tim’s grip and Tim laughed.
“It’ll be nice being able to eat a whole sandwich and not having to split it with a dozen sisters and the dogs!” Tim snorted.
I was shocked, really. Tim had said some pretty mean stuff to him in the past, but that was just way over the top. I pushed him roughly. “Hey, quit it man. That isn’t cool.” Tim was still laughing. I realized that he was already wasted.
When I turned around to try and talk to Caleb he was already walking away in a stiff fast stride, head down. He turned a little and I could see part of his face. It looked like he was really upset.
Tim laughed harder. “Man, you shoulda seen your face! Whats up with you today anyway? Hanging around the welfare-fag and letting him make googly-eyes at you?”
For a second, the rage built up inside of me and it was blind and searing. For a second I didn’t know if I was going to try and hurt him. But then the second passed and the blinding hatred just sort of smoldered out. I felt tired, and disgusted. What was wrong with him? What had Caleb ever done to him?
I had been having fun, but now I just felt like a bastard.
Tim was starting to look sorry. He was a slow bastard, but he could catch on eventually. “Hey man, I’m sorry. Its just that I’ve been out in the woods with Bjorn and Ben, and you know how much of an asshole I get when I’m drunk. We cool man?”
No. No we were not ‘cool’. But I was all for trying to smooth this down. Tim was going to college in St. Timothy’s next year, and I was going to Mankato. That was a good hundred and fifty miles between us. I only had to tolerate this juvenile bullshit for a few months at most.
“Yeah bro.” I answered tersely, looking to see if I could spot Caleb. He was sitting by himself at the treeline. Not reading, not relaxing, just sitting with his back turned. I had this awful sick feeling that Tim had made him cry. That was beyond low.
“Hey Jase, grab a couple of sandwiches and meet me by the stream. I brought some prime-o stuff and Bjorn brought a hookah. We’re gonna get as high as the fuckin moon!” After a moment’s thought, he added. “If you see Sigourney or Hazel, invite them. They’re cool, and they’re on the pill!”
He cackled and bounced off towards the stream. I glanced over at Caleb, and he turned his head quickly, as if he had been looking at me and I had caught him staring. I really wanted to go over, and try to apologize, but in the end I just chickened out and snuck four ham sandwiches from the cooler when the chaperone wasn’t looking.
I sent one more look his way, and this time I caught him staring at me. He ducked his head, but for that split second of eye contact, I felt my cock twitch.
I felt heat creeping into my own cheeks as I darted towards the stream. At this point, I didn’t care if all of my friends were assholes. Soon I would get to leave them, and right now I just wanted to get (in Tim’s words) high as the fucking moon.
I didn’t smoke cigarettes like a lot of my friends. I also didn’t smoke a lot of weed, only about five or six times. Hookah was the way to go. I had only gotten high off of a water pipe once before and the steam had been smooth going down and I had gotten an incredible high.
I hoped that the cannabis would put me in a friendlier mood.
I walked up the stream (easily darting out of Mrs. Dresden’s line of vision) and eventually, I got to the circle.
In the dying light, they looked like they were performing some arcane rite. Twelve guys (mostly from the football team, I only saw two guys that weren’t) and four girls circling a small hookah with one pipe. I could smell the ripe skunky pot-smell laced with some kind of flavored tobacco. Some of them had that stupid hit-between-the-eyes expression of the massively stoned, and others were still waiting for it to hit.
The circle was in the middle of the stream on this little grassy sandy sliver that couldn’t have been more then five yards wide and ten yards long. I put my shirt back on as I felt a humid breeze and I waded across. The water was so shallow here that I barely wet the bottoms of my swim trunks.
Mellow. I was thoroughly mellowed out, every muscle in my body felt as if it had been soaked in hot water and relaxed. I was aware of how angry I was at Tim, but it seemed distant.
One of the girls, Sigourney, caught my attention.
“Yeah, I’ve always wanted to do the Goat thing. My mom never shut up about it. My aunt was one of the Goats and that’s how she met my uncle, crazy, right?”
My dad was wrong, I guess the Goats was a tradition that was still firmly kept.
Hazel laughed long and loud. Through her giggles, she finally managed to say. “Who’re we gonna pick? Ooh! How about that Tameisha Bitch!”
Sigourney shook her head wisely. “Nah, Tameisha’s got a crazy boyfriend. He would kill whatever poor fuck we locked in with her. What about that fat chick, Bethany?”
Maybe it was because I was high, but the two of them were starting to look like harpies. All claws and beaks and scaly wings and high mocking laughter.
A third girl spoke up. The fourth was in the bushes with Bjorn somewhere. “We can’t do the Goats this year, remember? The chick last year got preggers, so now the chaperones guard the girl’s tents like fuckin’ hawks.”
Everyone was sad. So fucking depressed that we couldn’t find two sad unpopular kids and force them into a box together. I was starting to lose my mellow. The mellow feeling was already halfway to nowhere.
“Where is the hut, anyway?” I muttered. I was curious.
Bjorn came out of the bushes, buckling his belt with Samantha giggling and skipping behind him. “My brother graduated last year. It’s a quarter of a mile downstream. It’s this old concrete bunker, no one knows what it was for, but all of the windows are boarded up tight and the door is made of steel. I brought the fuckin’ padlock and we wont be able to use it.
Even through the weed. Even through the sublime mellowness, I was starting to get angry.
I didn’t want to stay anymore. Half of the guys were gone already, so I decided to go back and see if I couldn’t just lay low in the tent for a while. Maybe jerk off or something, then go to sleep.
I was cutting through the woods when I heard something crashing. I veered over that way, my mind foggy with weed and wondering if someone was hurt.
When I saw them, my mind just went blank with fury.
It was the six guys who had left the party. They were laughing and drunk, and between Tim and a linebacker named Perry, was Caleb. Barefoot and stumbling and looking absolutely terrified. He was just wearing his baggy shirt and some underwear, the hem fell to his knees like a dress. Each of them had one of his arms and they were half-lifting him.
I walked in and started calling Tim names. I was kind of woozy from the pot. I could hear my voice as if I was someone else. “Tim! You stupid motherfucker, what the fuck are you doing to him! Huh? You fucking motherfucker!”
They were laughing. They thought I was funny. Caleb called out my name in a scared voice. I swung at Tim, but he dodged easily. He was much better at keeping cool under the influence then I was. Two of his buddies, Vincent, and a balding guy the size of a mountain grabbed my arms to hold me still. I was stronger then Caleb, and I fought, but they tackled me and held me down.
Tim knelt down so he could look me in the eye. I saw Caleb, his scratched dirty feet dangling as Perry held him up in a bear hug. He looked so scared, and he was kicking Perry ineffectually with his muddy feet.
“Calm down Jason!” Tim bellowed. I shook my head to try and clear some of the fog out of it. He’s a Goat! They do this every year, it never hurt nobody!”
I could see Caleb’s pallid frightened face. He looked naked without his glasses. I remembered what the girl had said about the girl who had gotten pregnant. No one got hurt? Bullshit.
He just kept going.
“Besides, if anyone deserves to be the Goat, it’s this perv. Do you know what we found on him? He was all alone in his tent reading some book and he was using this as a bookmark.
Caleb started to struggle frantically. Perry slid his hand over Caleb’s mouth, muffling the panicked cries of “NO! No No No!!!!”
My eyes focused on the picture in front of my eyes. It was a color shot of me at a basketball game. I felt a weird doubling sensation, not deja vu, but a rapid shift in perspective. Vincent and the mountain-man loosened their grip on me and I took the picture. I had my legs in a stance, I was blocking a kid from Cedar Rapids. My face was dripping with sweat and my eyes were glaring and my mouth was a tight line of determination. My thick black hair was shorter then, and stuck up in sweaty spikes.
I looked up at Caleb, and he went limp in Perry’s arms, closing his eyes and turning his head away. I was shocked and high, I couldn’t think of anything to say as we started walking back to the smoker’s ring. I was just staring down at the picture of me and feeling strange and flushed and vulnerable.
Tim found out that there could be no female Goat. And he was pissed off.
Caleb had stopped struggling. He was like a small animal surrounded by predators; trembling, closing his eyes, not responding to anything.
My head was starting to clear from the weed. I wished fiercely that I had my senses. If I had been lucid, I could have run and gotten help.
I watched Samantha walk towards Perry. He had both of Caleb’s skinny wrists in his hands. Caleb was standing as far away from Perry as he could, his head down so his blonde hair covered his face.