Hot off the fingertips (I just wrote this, one-drafting, yesterday afternoon), hereʼs the next installment for Mantorville. Enjoy?
— So what happened there in Snake Hollow?
He looked at me, solemn. But then he was always solemn, serious as a judge. A party. Kegger. Celebrating the victory. Frank had made that much clear already. Drinking. Lots of drinking in Quetzal County. As the kids liked to say, “What else is there to do?” But there was still too much, too often. And all the adults turned a blind eye. Like Frank said, theyʼd all done it when they were young. Tradition.
But these football bashes were worse. Frank had already let me know the thing that disturbed me: the adults were there, permitting, participating, guzzling it down with the kids.
Reliving their youth, I wondered.
Hell. No one ever seemed to move out of the county. This is the way it had always been. For the adults, grabbing onto their youth again. I guess. Or never letting go… I donʼt know. He grinned, sheepish, looking oddly youthful, like a boy himself. I never drank as a kid, not until it was legal. College. Not sure why not. Kids drank in my day, my schools, too, just not me. Not my group of friends. And everybody knew the athletes — football team, in particular — had big thirsts. I donʼt know why the Mantorville stuff bothered me so much. But it did. Even then, in the fall. Before I learned about… — other things…
He was doing it again. Drifting off. What did he learn later? Was he ever going to get to the point with me?
But what bothered Frank —me, too; me, too — was the other side of the party. Beyond the boozing. He told me that there were girls there, cheerleaders, predictably, and other girls. Even some eighth graders. Disadvantage of having the whole district in a single stinking building. All those middle school girls who blossomed early, you know, who, uh, got breasts, drew the attentions of the older guys every day. Anyway, the vasity cheerleaders, with Rogʼs help, and the Home Ec teacher, uh, heck, itʼs been so long… He was trying to remember her name. Itʼs in the journal. I listed everybody. Itʼs weird…
I donʼt need her name, Arkham. You could just tell the story, I thought, mentally ordering him back on track. But he needed it. To him it was important. At least for now.
Semanksi! Thatʼs it. Petal Semanski. I knew her first name was odd, but all I could think of was Flower, Blossom, Lily… anyway, Petal was young, fresh out of college the year before. Maybe two. Her folks were farmers in the northern part of the county and raised horses. Did pretty well for themselves, from what I understood. Petal had gone to St. Werburgaʼs, the Catholic school in Machen — only Catholic high school I ever heard of named for a female saint! Where all the girls were supposed to be the prissiest little Miss Perfects around, and the boys all got recruited to play sports (theyʼd pulled one of Collinsʼs best JV running backs over the summer, full-ride tuition). But our guys seemed to like dating their girls and vice versa (of course, rumor had it Mantorville girls were easy, too). Anyway. Petal had been head cheerleader at St. Werbaʼs, gone to college in Dubuque — real stay-close-to-home girl — and not gotten hired for a job at the old high schol when she graduated. Or else there wasnʼt one. Or something.
So now I knew all there was to know about Petal Semanski, Mantorville home economics teacher. Did any of this stuff matter?
Anyway. After living at home with moms and daddy for a year, she took the job at Mantorville, even though she seemed daily to make it known that this was a huge step down for someone like her. And she was cheerleader sponsor, too. But not for football, just the winter sports. School librarian, a fussy old fuddyduddy, was the football sponsor, even though she never went along to away games, just left the girls unchaperoned on the bus with the team.
And Mantorville girls were easy. Got it, Arkham.
Miss Tottenliebe. Whacked old coot. — So Petal was at the party in Snake Hollow, not really supervising her girls, the cheerleaders. Since they werenʼt, I guess, actually her girls anyway. But taking charge of the other stuff. The initiation.
— Initiation? I couldnʼt help it. It just burst out of me.
How long was it going to take him to say it? Having sex, deflowering the young ones.
They were branding them.
— Branding? Not what I had expected, and I couldnʼt stop myself again.
Yeah. Frank said there was a bonfire by the water — a stream flows through the bottom there, sometimes called Snake Creek — and they had branding irons heating on one side. Nearest the stand of trees. And they were using them on the girls. The young ones… they were getting branded. On their buttocks.
Petal was running back and forth getting a hot iron for a cold one and carting the new one into the trees. The older girls and the players, and Roger Dodger, had a drinking game going, Frank told me. Pound a pint whenever one of them screamed. And they were putting plenty of cold ones down.
— Initiation ritual? Rite of passage?
Exactly. Once a girl had it done to her, uh, once she “got her snake,” she was a big girl, a real Serpent. …One of the things the guys would say to come onto a girl was to ask to “see her snake.”
— And heʼd show her his, huh?
And there was plenty of that going on down in Snake Hollow, too. Frank had seen his share of beach parties in California. But nothing, he said, like this orgy. The guys on the team had gotten their brands earlier, the new ones at a party late in the summer, before school started, to kick off practice. Smaller little snake symbols. On the base of their thumbs…
Funny. I had noticed some kids with what I thought were bruises or burns on their hands, and later, I realized that most of the kids, particularly athletes, had squiggly scars. I just never put it all together. Too weird. Too sick.
And of course, being a newbie, that night was Frankʼs night.
Mistakes? Problems? Criticisms? Let me know. As I said, this one is totally fresh and unrevised.