Every spring, in Mount Vernon, some high school students began initiating certain eighth graders into high school. Targets for hazing were students who stood out in some way.
It started on a sunny Saturday afternoon in May. Buzz, Vern and I were walking along Main Street when a car load of boys went past yelling insults at us.
“You guys think you’re pretty smart. Don’t you?”
Another one yelled, “Better keep your eyes open. We’re going to kick the crap out of ya!”
We knew we were in trouble. Buzz told us what to expect.
“They’re going to kidnap us and beat us up,” he said.
He went on to tell the fate of others before us.
“One kid was taken out in the woods and tied naked to a tree and left there overnight,” he said.
“What happened to him?” Vern asked.
“The Sheriff found him. He was covered with honey, left for the bears to eat.”
Then he told us about a killing.
“They took somebody out to a lake, and went out to the end of a dock were they pulled his pants down and made him grab his ankles. Then they hit him with a board and knocked him into the lake and he drowned.”
I believed him. Buzz seemed sincere and truly afraid of initiation. Then he pointed up to a hotel window just down the street.
“They hung a guy out the window by his heels and threatened to drop him.”
“How do you know?” Vern asked.
“Everybody knows,” he said. “Stuff like that happens every year.”
We turned onto a side street and continued our conversation. Just then a carload of high school boys pulled up. A car door opened and we took off running. Buzz and Vern were ahead of me and turned into an ally, running full speed. I turned into the ally right behind them, and ducked behind some garbage cans. The high school boys ran right past and out the other end of the ally, bent on catching my friends. I got up and ran the other way.
On Sunday afternoon, Vern knocked on the door. “What happened to you?”
“Nothing,” I said, “I hid from them. Did they catch you?”
“No. We ran into a store,” Vern said.
Then I posed a question. “Do those guys only want us and not Buzz.?
Vern summed up what I was thinking. “Buzz is from a well-known family. I don’t think they’d hurt him,” he said.
“Then it’s you and me.”
“Not me,” Vern said.
He was right. He never did anything that attracted attention to himself. They didn’t even know who he was.
The next Saturday they caught me. Their car pulled up beside me on Montgomery Street. I was immediately surrounded and pulled into the car. I had been kidnapped.
They took me to a clearing in some woods on a hill east of town. We all got out. My worst fears were coming true. Just like Buzz’s story.
“You ready to fight?” one asked me.
There were four of them.
I said, “No.”
“What’s the matter? Are you a chicken?”
“Go ahead, you hit first.”
“I don’t want to fight.”
“Chicken shit,” he said. The biggest guy did all the talking.
“Do you think you could beat me up?” he said.
He pointed his finger at the littlest guy and asked, “Do think you could beat him up?”
I sized up the skinny runt, who turned pale with fright.
“No.” I said.
“Let’s tie him up.” The big guy said.
It was just like Buzz said. They were going to leave me here for the bears to eat. I always carried a pocketknife. I slipped my hands casually into my pockets. One hand firmly gripped my knife. I would not be tied naked to a tree. I was terrified and stopped talking. I stood quietly with my hands in my pockets while my tormentors continued with threats and taunts. I was acting so casual that they weren’t having any more fun. They eventually got back in the car and left. I spent the rest of the afternoon walking back to town.