I took a deep breath as I crossed the threshold of the two, brown double doors that lead into our school's hallway. The hallway was crowded with students. Around the corner there stood a group of the popular girls. Despite wearing the same, white blouse and red jumper as the other girls. Only there's where accessorized to the max. And everything was named branded too. Headbands from Claries, bracelets from J. C Pennies, and daring two inch high heel shoes.
A sudden chill passed over the spine of my neck as I caught sight of them. There were three of them. In the middle was a blonde haired girl, her bright blue eyes seemed cold as ice as she scanned the crowds. Standing beside her, was two of her main henchwomen. A raven haired girl and a red haired one. Both had their arms crossed across their chest. Their eyes scanned the crowd.
Their stance, action and such reminded of a pride of lionesses stalking a collection of helpless animals. Quickly I tried to melt in with a crowd of my peers. See, our school is like most middle school's across the country and maybe the whole word is like one huge minefield. One wrong step, one faux pass and boom, your social life is gone before you can blink an eye. Blown straight to hell and back.
Okay, maybe its not a battlefield. But it's kind of like the courts of Queen Elizabeth. I mean if you think Game of Thrones is bad, you've seen nothing till you've seen some of the backroom dealing that takes place in the girls bathroom between classes. Anyway, I should tell you a little about myself.
My name is Susan Elizabeth Bell, I have a little brother called James. I attend St. Katherine's Episcopal Church along with the rest of my family. My hobbies include watching anime, reading manga. Doing some causal gaming, mostly Japanese Roleplaying Games (JRPG's) and causal Roleplaying.
With that in mind, I'm not too high up on the social ladder. I'm kind of low in the whole scheme of things. And I'm fine with that. Because a girl who becomes super popular overnight draws attention. And that can be both a curse and a blessing. Because the cheerleaders, the princess's of the school are drawn to that attention like moths to a flame. And once you attract their attention, you have two choices, become one of them, or get snuffed out.
I was just about to dip into the breakfast line, when through the crowd of students a tall, well built women came striding through. The crowd of students parted like red sea before her. She was dressed in a simple tracksuit, windbreaker pants and a windbreaker jacket. Around her neck there hung a cord of nylon rope, a plastic black whistle hung at the end of the cord. Her long black hair was tied back in a nice bun. Her cold, ice blue eyes shifted from one corner to the other, before falling on me.
"Bell." She said peering directly into my eyes. "Gotta minute?" She said striding up to me, soon she was standing before me, looking down at me. "I gotta ask you something."
"Sure." I said taking a deep breath as I peered toward her. "Hey, Mrs. Berkins." I said peering toward the tall women. "I was just about to get something from the breakfast line." She said taking a deep breath as she nodded with her head toward the line that wrapped around the serving counter.
She blinked and blinked again as she peered toward me. After a very long minute of silence she reached over and patted me on the shoulder. Then in a very motherly tone of voice she said.
"Hey, come with me." She said winking. "I have some packets of oatmeal and grits in my office. I can fix you something a lot better than cold cereal and watered down milk, side you and I need to talk, women on women."
Now, that might sound like a gentle invite. But trust me, I can read between the lines. That was no invite, that was a summons. So with that in mind, I stepped back and nodded my head. I was being summoned by the Girls P.E teacher and the coach of the cheerleaders. In terms of power play, the coach of the cheerleaders was one the same level as the boys football coach. Meaning they could and often did overrule the Headmaster when it came to issues effecting there teams.
"Yes ma'am." I said meekly as I stepped out of line. No sooner than I stepped out of line, did Mrs. Berkins wrap her arm around my shoulder and started to walk with me down the hallway.
"Cool, you know Bell." She said smiling as she squeezed my shoulder. "I've been hearing some things about you. Good things you know. Like you taking lessons from Charlotte and being promoted to prefect and patrol leader. You seem like a level headed girl. I mean, I guess one goes hand in hand with the other." She said shrugging her shoulders as we took a sharp turn.
I nodded my head along with her words. I blushed a little, being picked out and appointed a prefect had been, well a lucky roll of the dice. The patrol leader, that came with being a long time scout. See I've been a Girlscout since first grade. So I have roughly eight long years of scouting behind me. That and dozens, upon dozens of badges. That show I can do anything from helming a skirt to performing CPR on somebody. But honesty, that's nothing.
"I could use somebody like you one the squad. I know you tried out for cheerleading at the first of the year. But some problems prevented you from getting a spot. But you know, time has a funny way of working these things out." She said grinning a little as she led me into her office.
Her office was your standard twelve by fifteen square room. In the center of the room you could see her desk, a simple wooden desk. Behind there could be seen a rolling chair. Behind the rolling chair there stood a filing cabinet. On the wall beside the filing cabinet there hung an oversized paddle. One with some Greek letters painted on it. Beside that paddle, there hung a normal size one. Beside that there hung three framed diplomas. One was her High School diploma. The other a AA Degree, followed by a B.S degree. Both of them in physical education.
"Welcome." She said offering me a seat. She then walked behind the desk and reached into the drawer. She then turned to me and smiled.
"I phoned your mom, she told me your size. It just happens we have a brand new uniform in your size right here." She said gently placing a pleated skirt, form fitting blouse and sports bra down in front of me. She winked and then settled down into her seat. "We take care of our own Susan. I hope you understand. Once you become part of the squad. You join something called the PomPom Fortress"
"PomPom Fortress?" I said tilting my head to the side as I peered toward the uniform being offered to her. Taking a deep breath, I shifted my gaze from the uniform toward Mrs. Berkins. I've heard of the term before, but the term was still unknown to me.
"Yes, a collective term. It happens when the whole cheerleading squad closes it on a person, normal a little brother or sister of a squad mate. But in rare cases, it can be a girl or boy from beyond the pale if you will. In such a case, you are going to be an honorary member of the squad. Till you graduate High School. As a result, the girls are going to close ranks around you. And you know cheerleaders can command the respect of the football team as well."
"Cool." I said taking a deep breath as I reached down and collected the garments. "So I'll be going now…" I said as I pulled the clothing across the table. Then before I could leave, Mrs. Berkins stood up and walked over to the window of her office. Quickly she folded her hands across her back.
"Good, but before you go. I need you to do something for me. See, the school's hosting a carnival this afternoon. Funny, a carnival during Lent. Seems wrong I know. But the headmaster thinks it's a good idea. As you know, everybody is doing something. The Rodeo Club is hosting a bull riding thing with the help of the local 4H Club. The drama club is putting on a production of some play nobody's ever heard of. The art club is doing a face painting booth. Mrs. Tiff's is doing something with pies. Computer club is working with the anime club to show this really nice anime movie called Castle in the Sky." She paused and turned around and her eyes fell right on me. "And the cheerleaders are running the dunking booth.
I blinked and quickly drew in a deep breath as I peered toward Mrs. Berkins, there was something very odd about the totally calm manner she listed everything. Totally cool and collective, smiling a little I walked over to where she stood. Once I was standing around a two blocks from her, I smiled and folded my hands in my center.
"So," I said, taking a deep breath. "Can I wear the cheerleading uniform into the dunking booth?" I said smiling a little, as I peered toward Mrs. Berkins with a sly smile. "I mean, people would pay good money for a chance to dunk the new girl." I said with a friendly wink.
"So." Mrs. Berkins said, "Your offering yourself to take the board. In order to spare the Captain and Co-Capitan. Thus winning their favor. That will in no doubt result in an invite into their social circle. And once inside there social circle, your going to use all that wit and charm, Charlotte been teaching you to secure a position of power for yourself?" She said turning around and leaning over.
I whistled a little tune and started to draw a circle around the space in front of me.
"Very well." Mrs. Berkins said, taking a deep breath. "I'll tell your third period teacher. The carnivals are going to start after lunch. So, don't eat too much now. We don't want you to get bloated." Mrs. Berkins said with a little smile as she started toward her desk.
Quickly, I saw her reach into her one of the draws of the desk. Smiling a little, she pulled out an official looking form. Reaching into the breast pocket of her windbreaker, she pulled out a pen, she then started to fill in the blanks. Once all the blanks were filled in, the paper was handed back to me. Taking the paper into my hand, I looked down and noticed a very official looking pass to get out of class. One that had all the bell's and whistles attached to it.
Smiling a little, I neatly folded the official looking paper up and tucked it into my backpack. I then started to collect my new clothing. Once, I had the blouse, sports bra and pleated skirt in my hand. Once the items were in my hand, I felt a sudden hand upon my shoulder.
"Go change honey." Mrs. Berkins said. "I need all my girls in uniform. You'll find a pair of white sneakers in the locker."
A sudden charge passed over me, there was something almost thrilling about being one of her 'Girls', it made me feel like I belonged. Like I was known and loved. Being a prefect was a cold, lonely job. Once you pin that small, silvery shield shape badge to the front of your blouse. You stop becoming a person, you become nothing more than a tool. A tool to be used by some big headed senior who thinks just because she greased her way into a position of power she can now call all the shots.
"Yes ma'am." I said nodding my head with the quickness.
I then dipped into the nearby changing room. Once I was in the room, I started to peel off my school uniform. First came the white, peter pan style blouse. With loving care, I undid each of the large white buttons. Once I had removed that, I tossed it to the side and started to unhook the pleated navy blue skirt. The skirt slid down my legs and fell down upon the floor in a crumbled mess.
Stepping out of my skirt, my stockings came next, followed by sneakers. In a flash of a eye, I found myself putting on the form fitting blouse, followed by the short skirt and athletic socks provided. Yes, today was going to be a good day. One of the best days of my life. One I'll have my daughter about. Because today, I was living every schoolgirl's dream. I was becoming a cheerleader, and going into a dunking booth.
I took a deep breath as I strolled across the football field. The bleachers were empty now. But I knew this coming Friday night they would be slam jam full of people. All cheering on are boys as they take each yard line, score each touchdown and inch us one step closer to victory. I paused as I peered toward the field goal. I was going to be part of that too. Then it dawned on me. For the first time, in a very long time I was getting that feeling called 'School Spirit'. You know that sudden onrush of emotion that seems to swell up from deep inside of you.
The afternoon sunshine was strong too, and despite being September and the hot, musty, earth smelling days of August gone. The late hours of afternoon, still held traces of those deep, earthly smelling days of late August. When the afternoons were hot enough to make ones eyebrow craw and air smelled of grass clipping and fertilizer.
I made the mistake of drawing in a deep breath, I then started to cough and hack and sneeze as my nose was assaulted by the smells. Something strong, and bitter hung in the air.
After thirteen seconds of sneezing and coughing, I finally regained my senses. Looking around quickly for the source of the smell, my pale pink eyes fell hard upon the possible source. A bull in a pen stood there, looking at me hard. Its oily brown skin baking in the afternoon sunshine. Its tiny black eyes peering at me. Blowing hot hair at me, it tore at the ground with its black hoof. Hard as rocks.
"Well hello there." I said smiling.
The bull only brewed a stream of hot air at me, before hammering at the ground again with its big huge hoofs. I could not see the bars of the change covered in what appeared to be melted milk chocolate. A few steps closer and the smell told me otherwise.
Wrinkling up my nose, I kept walking. Beyond the pen, there could be a massive collection of booths and attractions. Self proclaimed BBQ masters at their grills hooked up and where grilling up cheap hotdogs, one stuffed with chicken, pork and turkey. One could smell them sizzling down on a bed of hot coals, restaurant style hamburgers patties, lay next to them, sizzling away next to various chicken parts.
"Hotdogs, hamburgers, chicken plates. All can had here." Shouted the man working the grill. He was a rounded man with a big red face. He was pouring sweat and his eyes were glazed. And his voice was thick with southern twang. In his hand he held a small, red glass. Plastic.
I kept walking. It was way too hot that kind of food. Plus I could smell the cheapness a mile away. And his glazed over expression told me all I needed to know. The man was drunk, drunk out of his mind. Putting the man's face out of my mind, I passed several more booths.
The local lodge of the Freemasons was running a little booth. One where you paid three dollars, picked up a small plastic duck that was floating around in a little wading pool. Once the duck was in your hand, you looked at the bottom, at the bottom was a number. Depending on your number, you could win a small prize or a large prize. Dozens of children from the elementary school were already crowded around the booth.
A few feet from that one. I spotted a dozen or so women, all dressed in old style Civil War style dresses. Each one of them was moving between tables, serving tea from brass handled teapots. Quickly, I made a mental note to check that booth out once my time in the dunking booth was over.
Walking still, I passed by an old graveyard. Yes, I know what you're thinking. Susan, are you telling me there a graveyard behind your school? We'll answer your question, yes there. See the graveyard belonged to our church. Many of the founding parishioners of are parish are found there. Old Vicksburg names too, names like Brown, Williams, Smith, Knight, Lock, Smith, Robinson, Burns, Johnston, Cartwright and finally my own Bell. Names of the powerbrokers, movers and shakers of this tiny port on the Mississippi river can be found just beyond the rusting iron fence that sits on a small section of the field behind my school.
Ten more minutes of walking and I stood before a massive, three hundred round gallon tank of water. The walls of the tank were blue and clean looking. In its center one could see a round glass window. No doubt used to view the person who was just dunked.
"Hey!" A voice called out to me. "You must be the new girl!"
The voice belonged to a red haired girl. Her bright blue eyes seem to sparkle in afternoon sunshine. Freckles splashed across her cheeks, really brought the girl next door vibe she had going on. And her tone of voice was over all pretty friendly demurrer.
I could only nod my head.
"Cute." She said smiling as she called another raven hair girl over to our side. A few seconds she came bouncing over to where we stood. Her long black hair was tied back in two neat looking pigtails. At the base of each tail was a ribbon. The ribbon was stripped in are school colors.
"Welcome to the squad girl." She said holding out her hand. "I'm Ember, and that girl, the red haired girl is Lana. I'm the captain and she is my right hand girl. My second if you will." She offered me her hand.
I took her hand and only smiled as I peered toward the tank.
"Robin is totally stoked to have you with us." Lana said smirking as she and patted me on the shoulder. "You're also pretty brave, getting into the tank. But I guess it saves Ember and myself the trouble of restyling our hair and redoing our make-up."
"Robin?" I said tilting her head.
"Mrs. Berkins." Lana said with a small smile. "Were all one big sisterhood." She said patting Susan on her shoulder. "And your part of that sisterhood too now." She said offering me a little smile.
"Aright girls line up!" Called Mrs. Berkins as she peered appeared on the scene. "Lana and Ember your working the front counter. Remember three balls for five dollars. Susan, you're going into the tank. Ashley and Cindy you gals are going to be collecting the missed balls. Come on ladies, hustle it up." She called as she gave the plastic whistle around her neck a loud shrill.
Like a well oiled machine, each girl took to her job. Taking a deep breath I started to climb up the ladder. Once I reached the top of the ladder, I eased my bottom down upon the blank, a thick piece of blue plastic was the only thing standing between me and three hundred gallons of ice cold water!
Taking a deep breath, I started to peer toward the fairground, I noticed the dunking booth was on a raised section of ground. From my perch high above the ground I could see everything, including the bend in the Vicksburg-Yazoo River Channel. It was quite thrilling to be honest.
A few minutes passed before anybody started to pay any attention. And soon everybody was lining up to dunk me. It was both thrilling and a little nail biting to see that long line of people lining up.
One by one they took turns, tossing those soft, white balls in my direction. My heart started to beat faster and faster with everyone that was tossed in my direction. Taking a deep breath, I forced myself to stay cool and calm as the balls bounced off the matted background. Each time the balls bounced off the matted background, I felt the tightness of my chest ease up a little.
All it all it seemed like I had nothing to fear, till I heard a voice calling my name.
"Susan!" The voice called, the voice belonged to a fiery red haired woman, she was dressed in a simple, pale, yellow sundress that reached down to her knees. A pair of plastic heel sandals and a large straw hat completed the look. "Looking a little to dry up there girl!" Her baby blue eyes shimmered in the strong afternoon sun.
There walking through the crowds was my mom. I took a deep breath and tried not to blush as she strolled toward the counter and placed two five dollar bills down upon the wooden counter. Six, large balls were then placed in front of her. A little smile graced her face.
"So." She said winding up for the pitch. "Remember any last words?" She said looking me dead in the eye as she took her stance.
"Love you!" I said smiling a little as I watched her toss the ball toward me. The ball traveled through the air, before hitting the dead center of the switch. The next thing I knew was the plastic board supporting me was gone and I was dropping like a stone into the ice cold water! I could not help but laugh as I felt the onrush of coldness engulf my body. The sudden onset of being all nice and warm and toasty to freezing cold was thrilling.
"Good shot mom!" I said as I reset the switch and climbed once more up on the plank. Taking a deep breath, I brought my knees together and folded my hands in my lap. Small beads of water where dripping from my pleated skirt. Feeling a little bold, I leaned in over a little and stuck my pink tongue out and called out in a teasing remark.
"Lets see you do it again!" I cried as I watched my mom reach down and pick up another ball. Smiling a little she wrapped her fingers around the ball and let it fly. I took a deep breath and boom, again I heard the ball hit the center of the target! Once more I felt the plank under me give way as I was dropped into the tank again. The onrush of ice cold water flooded over me and sent shivers down my spine. For a minute, all I could do was swim around the bottom, feeling bold, I pressed my face to the viewing window, allowing everybody on the fairgrounds to see my comically oversized facial expressions before resurfacing to face the gathered crowds.
The last of my other shots missed, and the rest of my shift passed without me getting dunked again. At the end of my turn, I was called down by Mrs. Berkins who draped a towel around my shivering shoulders. The weather was charging as it often does this time of year. The warm sunshine is gone now. Hidden behind iron black storm clouds that threaten wind and rain. And that is how the tale comes to an end.