Short story by Evan Almon

The Gauntlet

Evan Almon

We were assigned a uniform to be worn at all times which was of the cost that it wasn’t a loss if the clothes were to somehow end up completely destroyed.

The dress code entailed: a cheap polo shirt, wrangler jeans (no substitutes), and ranch work boots that had to be one size too small, all tied off with a branded leather belt.

I was the first to arrive in uniform at the back entrance of the frat house as directed for initiation night. From where I was standing, I could see the white polished pillars that were from a Doric design period of Greek architectural support- remarkably, this style was popularly used for Southern plantation palaces.

More of the pledges showed up, and I got to know them. They all seemed nice enough, but we all seemed to have the same ulterior motive: get into this frat, in order to have a fun time throughout our collegiate careers. We conversed for about another fifteen minutes, until it was seven P.M.

The back door suddenly swung open, and in the entranceway, stood three grinning goons garbed as if they had stepped right off their families’ yachts.

Welcome pledges. At this point, I would hope we weren’t stupid enough to pick the wrong people, but if you really want to be a part of the brotherhood- then organize yourself, in alphabetical order, and enter.

All three gestured through the doorway, and up the stairwell.

Something was extremely off about this. My feet ached from the boots and I had only been wearing them for an hour. It was fall in Texas, and still in the nineties at dinnertime.

I thought about what my girlfriend and friends had said to me, “If it doesn’t work out, then just bail.” But I couldn’t just bail, this was the only way I was going to help afford us all a good time. Or so I thought then. Now I realize how much I was still an immature high-schooler, longing for social acceptance. I already had great friends, and was lucky enough to somehow have an alluring, supportive, highly intelligent girlfriend, who didn’t care who I was, as long as I was always myself. She had even gotten accepted into a sorority, and decided against it, simply stating that it wasn’t her scene. Thing is, I wasn’t being myself, and I’m lucky everyone put up with me for it.

Of course, I got my lesson in the end…

As I entered, I was grabbed firmly by the shoulders, and directed to line up along the wall, at the base of the stairs. As more pledges entered, they were lined up one by one, going up the staircase, two steps at a time.

They screamed for silence from us, as they conducted their sick symphony of destruction. All the pledges looked up and down, to the left and right, to meet one another, with that same look of futility, signifying we were all not sure what was going to happen next. As we did so, the brotherhood commanded that we face front, and aim our eyes exclusively ahead at the horizon.

Welcome to the Gauntlet, you fucking pieces of shit!”

Staring straight ahead, the first sign of sweat beaded my brow, and I knew I had made a miserable mistake- with that realization I also surmised, that this was only day one…

Well, what the fuck are you waiting for dipshits—assume the wall-sit position, until you shit your pants, and your bowels burst.”

We did so. I was not in great shape, but some of the other pledges were in a worse predicament than I. People were struggling, legs shaking, knees knocking together. When the first of us collapsed, he was pulled up roughly, and as this was done, two frat bros yelled in his face, as loud as possible. It is hard to not just write that it looked like an ape displaying dominance, because it really was that cruelly carnal and poignantly primal. This beating of the chest, was certainly not the last, but it was a good first to remember, and for what its worth, my spine shivers still, when I think of this, in relation to the technological accomplishments that humans have surmounted in the past century.

They poured a pitcher of stale beer on the pledge’s head, and it waterfalled down through his hair, down his brow, and dripped like post-storm rain from gutters, onto his shoulders. So this was why we were told to purchase expendable uniforms.

Everything felt distorted and grotesque, as if seen through a fisheye lens. A fat, ugly kid opened the other door from the lounge area, into the stairwell, and I am not exaggerating, when I say he resembled a preppy Leatherface. He decided to walk up to my face, and I noticed his lower lip, puffed by a pouch of chewing tobacco. He was so close that I could smell his breath, and the sharp singe of wintergreen, mixed with the sour scent of spit.

He walked right up to me, and spat in my face, like a llama. He spat. I felt the viscous glop trail down my nose, the phlegm parts coursing slower than the spit.

I blinked once, contorted my face from shock, to a concentrated, consternated, and determined look of indifference. I bent my neck to the right, and lowered my nose to wipe it on my shoulder. He tousled my hair, and shoved my head to the left, jolting my neck.

What the actual fuck do you think you’re all doing?! All staring stupidly around, you wanna be cool?—This is it! Fuckin’ pussies! You all make me sick. Don’t they make you sick, Robby?

The brute six flights of steps up, that had just poured beer on the other pledge, laughed ferociously, “Yeah! So sick, they make me fucking pissed, they don’t feel as sick as I do…”

Jumping Jack time!” the repugnant Robby cheered, and jeered. Clapping like a cymbal monkey, and proceeding to pump his fist, he chanted, “Phi or die, phi or die!”

C’mon, you fucking retards, jump!” Added the fat one. “Thought you all got into this prestigious university- how can you not figure out some simple instructions? (He had a guttural drawl of a southern twang accent as he interrogated.) If you keep on failing to promptly meet our demands, it is going to be a looong eight weeks little bitches, a looong eight weeks.”

My neighbor had a serious case of cerebral palsy, and the r-word really ground my bones to powder… I looked at the backdoor—reprieve from these illiterate, ignorant, and disrespectful assholes. But I wasn’t one to quit, and I persisted, reminding myself that my parents had spent so much for me, to get all assigned articles of dress, and although none of the hefty fines were yet paid, the sums had already amounted to hundreds with work boots, fifteen shitty shirts, and five pairs of wranglers.

We all started jumping, flailing star-spread arms, fighting crippling cramps and biting breaths, and wishing for the end, at what we all knew was the beginning. That was when the plastic garbage bin fell, from above, and down the stairway.

If that ain’t a message from God descending from the heavens, than call me a fan of pussy poetry!” The fat fucker hallelujahed, grabbed the can by a handle, and hoisted it above the head of the pledge, four stairs up, two down from the previous victim, then told them to hold it above their head. That was when we all realized there was a dime-sized hole in the bottom, with more stale beer leaking out. He and his brothers chuckled, slapping their knees, and turning their heads, saying “ Oh, Peterson,” which I presumed was the fat jerk’s name.

Then it dawned on me that I was supposed to know each and every one of their names. I was to call them my friends. I thought of my friends from high school, and I had to fight back a choking sadness. I wanted to go home right then and there, but some strange determination kept pushing me on, something that, to this day, I can’t, and probably will never be able, to recall and understand why I wouldn’t stand up and leave.

As I jumped like jack over candlesticks, I thought about how dangerous it was, to have all this liquid, slicking up the concrete, iron-edged stairs. Then again, I don’t know if safety was of their utmost concerns or priorities. Even though it should have been, since they had just returned from being kicked off of campus as an organization, and having the house we were currently being tormented in returned to them, after a year and a semester-long revocation —low and behold: hazing.

I glanced up, and saw that the line of pledges had been instructed to start passing the can, and holding it above their heads, in order to lessen and build teamwork, through burden. The brotherhood bonding, made sense at the time, and now I think that they put on a façade of torturous endurance, for a “brotherly” bond. The only brother I knew of who treated his brother similarly to how we were being degraded, would now probably be Cain.

The can was only two people away, and I was thankful enough that water had drained, that I could probably lift it for long enough, despite my fatigue to pass it back up the line again.

When it was my turn to play (Fr)Atlas, I knew I couldn’t shrug. Yet for whatever reason, they had it out for me. The beer was stagnant, and cascaded down my face, forced me to close my eyes, flare my nostrils and breathe out through my mouth, while making my lips go *pfftto keep the bad bitter beer, from tainting taste buds.

Peterson could be seen through golden droplets, over my eyes. Up close and personal again, he started shrieking, “Kangawoo song, kangawoo song! Insisting that I recite the song from the Adam Sandler movie Big Daddy.

I hadn’t seen the movie in a long time, so I asked for the lyrics.

He knocked the trashcan from my hands, and it bounced off my head.

Now look what you did, you dumb cunt!” someone shouted.

How is this little bitch going to get us any pussy?” Peterson thundered, as he shook his fist at the sky, and grabbed the trashcan again, picking it up with two hands, and pouring the rest of the container onto the pledge next to me. “Since this fucking faggot can’t remember the lyrics to my favorite fucking shit, you better hope you can redeem all y’all…do you know the kangaroo song?” Peterson asked, as he poked and prodded him, tossing the empty can aside.

“I’m a singing kangaroo…” the boy started, stuttered, and stammered, panting.

“ I can’t hear you!”

“I’m a singing kangaroo

and I’m from far away

I like to

Hop hop hop all day

Would you like to come and play?

We’ll hop, hop, hop, hop,

What do you say?”


Cease movement, company, Halt!”

We did.

Someone slipped. Instead of being worried, the brothers rushed up to him with the trashcan, and told him to recommence. The person who slipped, had been given a particular hell, worse than any of us so far, and he refused. They all screamed in his face, and he thrust his neck back, stood proud, resolute, and turned to walk down the stairs. All the brothers started laughing, throwing whatever they could get their hands on at him, keys, and crushed empty beer cans.

I looked longingly to aspire to his actions, yet I persisted. I’ll never know why. I was filled with admiration and envy for this brave soul, but the brothers made it a point to belittle him and his cowardice, to such a degree that they somehow discouraged his bold behavior, and made it something to be embarrassed of.

Wow! Don’t let the door hit you in the vagina! The chauvinistic comrades cavorted, and cried together, unanimously, in such synchronicity, that it was perturbing.

The light from outside shone in, as he escaped, and the door slammed, with a hollow steel weight, and a locking latch clicked in place.

Luckily for all y’all, that little-fucking-bitchery earned you all a tad of respect, and a pass to level two. Now line up in a neat and orderly fashion, and prepare to ascend amongst our ranks—gentleman, welcome to the gauntlet.”

We had just been ordered to stand in a line, and put our arms on one another’s shoulders, to conjoin into a train that was chugging up the stairs, and through the top-floor door, into a hallway that was lined as deep as I could see down the hall.

“Prepare. This particular part, is impaled on a stake of pure pain. May my words transcend the barriers of empathic experience, and bring you sympathetically, to where I was, not so, that you may share my sufferings, but so that you may disapprove in disgust, learn from them, and for humanity’s sake, help do something about it, just by being aware.”

“Cover up!” A brother commanded, as he jimmy tapped a lagging pledge, from the end of the line that was breathing heavily, having trouble catching up. The pledge went down like a bird, hit by slingshot. Face first, grabbing his crotch, coughing, crying, and gagging. Several brothers roughed him up, with brusque kicks and forced him back up on his feet.

We all got the message, and took an arm from resting on a shoulder, and brought it to shield our special spots. Though this left our heads unprotected, and we were flicked with fingernails, right in the middle of the forehead, so we resolved to look down, but this didn’t stop the beatings. We had no defense for the beatings.

I had never even been in a fight before. Now, I was getting punched in the ribs, slapped on the stomach, and casually checked, back and forth, with deliberate drastic force, from wall-to-wall of menacing militant bros, searching for weak spots that couldn’t be guarded, when you were too busy protecting your face and precious parts.

Like holding your breath through a long mountain tunnel, I didn’t know if I was going to make it to another side. But we were ushered into one of the frat-bro’s dorm rooms, and pushed forcefully from behind, so that we fell on our knees, and were kicked in the back, then told to perform planks for as long as possible.

I was covered in the sticky stench of expired hops. It was hard to even open my eyes, since the dried beer had sapped up my skin. I hadn’t even noticed the noise of the TV, because I hadn’t noticed the TV, or that it was on in the first place.

I brought myself to my toes, lifted my butt up, and distributed the weight of my upper body stiffly, onto the bottom of my forearms, on the cold, hard, tile floor. I was already shaking from exhaustion, and was now regretting never being good at planks.

When I nodded my head upwards, I couldn’t quite make out what was on the screen, because they were now lightly kicking us in the ribs, which was excruciating, considering cramps, and the plank position. Adjusting my sight, I saw on screen, several obese, black women in some sort of perverse orgy.

Yeah, you sick fucks! Like that fat, black ass and pussy, don’t ya!” The bros shrieked, like chimpanzees from the tops of trees, when excited at something under the canopy on the jungle floor. There was an incessant onslaught of comments, like the preceding, pertaining to the present pornography, each as racist as the last, which really made me wonder why the one African-American pledge, wasn’t acknowledging any of this as impermissible.

I began to de-arch my back, and bring my butt down, when I was stomped on the ass and told to hold, “lift up little bitch, lift up.”

That’s when whatever was poured on us, began to burn. Beer just wasn’t enough; hard alcohol, and cups of amassed dip spit, were poured all over the planked pledges. I felt sick, and looked to my left, to see a pledge, puking in position all over his hands, folded, so that he could rest his forehead upon them. He convulsed violently, as they butt-stomped him as well, letting out an agonized wail, of dire determination. As he lifted his head back up, a strand of vomit stuck to his nose, and separated like a lava lamp.

I could perceive all this, almost in slow motion. Or at least, that’s how my memory, scarred and reluctant, remembers it, now that I force myself to write it all down, and get it all out.

We were all told to get up, and get out of the house, going through just one more series of beatings, on our way. We were told to go home, to shower and change, then rejoin at the house at nine-thirty. I had a big paper due the next day, and I was just relieved, to have made it through the evening. Unfortunately, the evening was far from over.

I went to my girlfriends’ place, since she lived much closer to campus. When I arrived there, she and her roommate, who was also one of my best friends, dropped their jaws, as I limped and winced through the door, hanging my head low, and not making eye contact.

“Oh my God, are you ok? What the hell did they do to you?”

It wasn’t hard to tell, that all sorts of shit had been thrown on us, but bruises were still surfacing, and they could only tell by my movements, that I had been slightly injured.

I immediately began to cry, and collapsed, to sit on the stairs, holding my face in my hands, and feeling the tears course through the lines of my cupped palms, supporting my face. I told them everything. They urged me to quit then and there, but I figured that this had been the worst of it—and hey, at least I had until tomorrow morning, to think about it. And that’s when my cell phone rang, and the caller ID said that it was a pledge brother.

“Hey man, where the fuck are you, we’re about to get a bunch of flak, because you’re so fucking late!”

“What’re you talking about, we don’t have to be there until tom… Oh. Shit.”

“Don’t sweat it dude, we all make mistakes, anyone could have thought that they meant tomorrow morning, rather than tonight, in thirty minutes.”

So I went back, because I’m not a quitter. They sent us on a scavenger hunt, that lasted all night and was physically impossible to compete. Two of the more impossible challenges were to drive to Austin, Texas from Dallas and back, before morning, and another task was to capture a live duck from Lake Dallas. All before six o’clock, the next morning.

We did the best we could, yet there we were, doing wall-sits the next morning, for not being able to rise above insurmountable obstacles. I was sleep deprived. I still had my paper due that night, and already, I knew that these were never people I could call brothers. These sadistic sickos just wanted to get away with a little bit of torture, and somehow, equate that endurance, as friendship.

They told us we had to clean their houses, after they all had parties the night before. I dissented, and went home without saying another word, as everyone pointed, chanted “pusssssssyyyyy” and threw whatever was closest. I walked past the house matron on the way out; clearly they were really good at their job as supervisor.

I went back to my girlfriend’s home, and immediately, passed out. Luckily, I didn’t have any class until night, and that was feasible time to crank out the paper, still.

I awoke a few hours later, in a bout of pain to go to the bathroom, and noticed instantly, that it was excruciating to lift myself from bed to walk. The pain emanated from the crotch region, and it felt as if boiling water had been taken right off the stove, and thrown, at my lower body.

I immediately removed my clothing, and was greeted with blotchy red burns, bloody raised bruises, and blisters, that spanned finger length in size, all running across my inner thighs, hips, and groin. But where I had it worst, was on my scrotum. The skins on both sides, was puss-raised, and popped easily, peeling right off, without pain. I was so sensitive, that walking was not an option. Of course, I had to eventually get to a car, to be taken to a hospital, one slow, careful step at a time.

I was diagnosed with second-degree chemical burns. It was likely due to an irritation, in having stayed in the clothes that were drenched, and that had absorbed so many foul, liquid substances. I later came to find, that alcohol wouldn’t cut it, that it had to be something more caustic, and the doctor suggested that I had had a lil’ bit-o’ drain-o poured on me.

Ironically, the teacher whose paper on human rights I had procrastinated to write for, was the leader of Amnesty International. I didn’t go into his class then, but when I showed up for class the next week, limping in awkwardly, with bandages, you could see, slithering up my legs, into my shorts, I received a glare from a member of the fraternity in the classroom.

The professor looked just like John Lennon- he even wore the same-shaped glasses, though his were tinted, even when indoors, to mask the scars from when he was maced in the face, at a Vietnam War protest rally.

He more than understood; in fact, he wanted the ball thrown in my court, and told me I should press charges. I just wanted to leave Texas, and return home to Colorado, and I didn’t want any complications to arise that would impede me from doing so. I told him that I felt there was no other social option at a school like this, and he told me that he wished that there were more students like me, and that we shouldn’t ever have to feel that way. He gave me reprieve on the paper, but he also told me that he was mandated to inform the Dean. I told him I just wanted to go home, and that I would not supply the school any further information, because I never wanted to set foot on this campus again, after this semester. He told me he respected my request, and that everything would be okay for me, eventually. I thanked him and left, to limp off campus, and thought about how to extricate myself from this nightmare in dastardly Dallas, and get back home, to dreamy Denver.