Take a Hit
The group met behind the supermarket every Friday night. Beyond the loading docks it was all wooded and there was a path to follow. The path branched off in several directions; some of the branches doubling back. The uninitiated could get lost out there. The group—a bunch of high school kids—had a place deep in the woods and far from everyone. They called it The Camp.
“We’re doing something new,” Samantha said.
She led the way. Her black hair allowed her to blend into the moonless night better than Brittany with her light blonde jag cut.
“What do you mean?” asked Brit.
“Ethan introduced us to it last week. Said it expanded his mind. So we all tried it.”
“Really? You all did it?”
“You did it too?”
“How did it feel?”
Sam thought for a moment, slowing her step. She turned and said, “At first it was uncomfortable — like a first cigarette. But you get used to it. And then you like it.” An eyebrow rose with this last.
Brit thought about it; the newness, the after-effects, and what it all might mean.
Sam said, “Look at me. I’m still the same. Aren’t I?”
Brit studied Sam’s eyes before saying, “Yeah.” She nodded in confirmation.
Sam said, “Come on, we’ll show you. It’s easy. We’re all doing it.”
She turned and led the way again through the thickening undergrowth. The path forked, but Samantha knew which way to go. They smelled the campfire before they saw it. The rest of them were in the valley; at The Camp. Four of them. Around the fire were old milk crates, long sections of trees on rocks. Weirdly wicked firelight danced on their faces. Christopher was lying on the ground, curled into the fetal position away from the fire.
When the girls got close, Samantha asked, “What’s wrong with Chris?”
Abigail said with a cynical edge, “He took too much. He’ll be all right as soon as some of it wears off.”
Brittany sensed that her friends had metamorphosed in a way she didn’t like. She wasn’t with them last Friday when things had changed, which made her feel like an outsider. She looked at each of them, studying them for outward signs. She found none. But still, there was an unquantified sense of it. Call it a group aura of change.
Ethan stood and ran his fingers through his hair. He hooked a thumb in his pants pocket before he said, “Hey Sam, did you tell Brittany about the latest?”
Sam said, “Yeah. I told her.”
Ethan’s head rolled as he said, “So which of you wants to go first?”
Brittany gave a nervous look at Samantha who nodded with encouragement. As she looked at the rest of the group, she took a step back.
Ethan said, “Don’t wuss out on us, Brit. You have to take a hit. If you don’t, you’ll be eternally damned to the nerds at school.”
On the other side of the fire, Danny said, “Nerds… ha ha ha… nerds.”
Brittany said, “But I don’t want to. It’s not right.”
Samantha stepped up, turned to face Brittany, and in a low voice so no one else could hear, said, “Brit. What are you doing? Everyone’s in on this. You have to take a hit.”
In a forceful whisper, Brittany said, “No. I’m not a wuss. I don’t have to do it.”
On the other side of the fire, Danny was slowly rocking from side to side and staring into the flames. His dark greasy hair swayed with his movements. Without looking up he said, “Stokin’. This is sooo very cool.”
“I don’t want to be like that,” Brittany said to Samantha while pointing at Danny.
Ethan said, “That’s just Danny being Danny. He’s always like that.” Ethan put his hands out in a show of openness and said, “What we’re talking about is liberating. It expands your mind. You know? Makes you think in different ways; makes you see things in a whole new way.”
“I like the way I see things now.”
Brittany took another step back.
Samantha quietly said, “You’re making me look bad here, Brit. I told them you’d do it.” She gritted her teeth and said, “Just take one hit. That’s all. Just try it. Okay?”
Brittany felt cornered, pressured. An overwhelming cloud of doubt cast a veil over her sensibilities. These were all the friends she had in the world. And they had changed. They had turned on her. On one momentous weekend during which she was away—last weekend, they had moved on without her.
The fire popped and crackled; popped again.
Brittany began nodding. There was a single way to catch up to the only friends she had ever known; acceptance of them. She was afraid of being left behind. This was her only hope at a sense of normality and acceptance. She was still looking at the ground while she nodded.
Samantha was smiling again and announced, “She’s in.”
Brittany turned her head up to see the others with tears in her eyes.
Ethan said, “It’ll be easy Brit. Ready for a hit?”
Brittany nodded again, not trusting her own voice. She stood a little straighter as Ethan marched over to her.
They each stared into the other’s eyes knowing that there would be no turning back; and that things would be forever different for them all.
Ethan’s face, half lit by the fire, made him look like a wicked jester.
Brittany sniffed once, and nodded again.
Ethan swung a fist into her gut, and she caved into it.
That was the first hit Brittany ever took.