We were warriors once, of the Scottish variety, wrapped in tartan blankets with our faces painted blue. Our women were Playboy bunnies, bare skin bound in black Lycra, shivering in the frozen night.
The air was so cold that our breaths became crystals, suspended in front of our faces before shattering to the ground. State Street sat a long mile from our hotel, and the walk there was killing us. The shots we’d downed were not doing their job of cloaking our souls in liquid warmth.
“How many more blocks?” Shelly asked me as she wrapped her arms around her frail torso.
“Fifty,” I said.
“No, really. I’m so brrrr.”
We’d driven up the night before, ten of us in two cars, and because we were but poor college kids, only rented a single room. We shared a pair of double beds and one bathroom between us. It occured to me that we were friends solely because we’d all been assigned to the same freshmen dorm. Our association was, therefore, not really a choice but a bond born of random chance.
We turned onto State Street expecting to see some sort of hedonistic parade, but were met with just a sprinkling of costumed coeds, spread out along a stretch of sidewalk that vanished into the Capitol Building, its white dome aglow with moonlight.
So we kept walking until we got to a Jewish frat house, DU or FU or something like that. Cole had a friend who was a brother there and he’d told us of a party. Once inside, I smiled and sighed. The booze-soaked air was toasty from the heat of two hundred bodies. They were packed into every square foot of the place, grinning, laughing, throwing their heads back to gulp from red cups.
Every girl was clad in sexy — Hooters waitresses and nuns. They clearly wanted to be ogled but would make a mean face if you got caught staring at their cleavage for a second too long.
One of the frat boys noticed us in our getups, raised his fist and yelled “Freedom!” We lifted our plastic weapons above our heads and echoed his call.
My group dispersed, in search of something — more alcohol maybe, or the love of their lives. I followed Cole into the blacklight basement and met his friend, a goateed devil. He hooked us up with beers and then vanished.
The two of us were both mostly socially inept, so we just kinda stood there watching the well-adjusted folk. There were at least five smoking hot Britney Spears in Catholic school girl uniforms, but none of them wanted to talk, much less let me hit them one more time.
It wasn’t long before Cole and I retreated upstairs to find Steve. He was angry in a crowded kitchen, yelling at some Dracula twice his size. He’d often get himself into messes like this and expect me to have his back.
“C’mon Steve, let’s go,” I said.
“No. This sonuva bitch thinks I’m wearing a dress.”
“He doesn’t really think that.”
“It’s a motherfucking kilt!”
Cole helped me usher Steve away from an inevitable ass whooping and we located the rest of our party. The girls we were with, the bunnies, seemed enamored with a gorilla who was dispensing an awful smelling banana liqueur. He was pouring it into their mouths, and when they’d had enough and swallowed, he’d beat his chest.
“Are you ladies ready to go?” Trevor asked.
Shelly, as though on cue, lost her balance and tumbled backward, landing hard on her fluffy tail.
“Ouch,” she said and tittered.
Now I could hear something happening outside, a thousand footsteps pounding cement, horns and bugles, a siren’s call. It was time.
Ten minutes later we were out on the street, battling our way through throngs of monsters. Every young-blooded person in Madison must have been out that night. If one were so inclined, he could surf upon the madness for hours and never have to touch the ground.
The din of voices energized the others, but all I could feel was the cold. Though I’d drank as much as any of them, a sober conscience remained within. As tens of thousands of my peers reveled blindly in debauchery, I saw myself the quiet eye of a drunken hurricane.
“Hey, I think we lost Steve,” I said and scanned an ocean of heads for his face. The bunnies, by this point, were oblivious, obliterated, but Cole was still cognizant enough to hear me.
“Steve!” he yelled into the masses.
“Try calling his cell,” I said. I would have but I had no phone.
A gang of full-grown babies passed, in diapers and tight, tiny t-shirts, sipping whiskey from bottles. One of them had a moustache above his pacifier.
“He’s not answering.”
“Well what the hell? He was just with us, right?”
“I thought so.”
We had lost a warrior, our first casualty. I suppose this was no surprise. It wasn’t the first time Drunk Steve had gone missing, and I was pretty sure it wouldn’t be the last. The rest of our group was still intact, though, so I kept my eyes on them.
The ladies were turning purple in their skimpy leotards, yet they didn’t seem to notice, or were pretending not to in the name of fun. It was only a matter of time, I figured, till their naked limbs would be bitten by frost.
Shelly and Tanya kicked off their heels and sat down on the curb, buried their faces in their icy hands.
“I can’t walk,” Tanya cried. “My feet.”
“You have to get up,” I told them. “You’re going to get stepped on.”
A pang of compassion pierced my side. I was glad that I wasn’t a girl. They tried, in their quest for equality, to keep up shot for shot with the guys. They wore shoes to make them taller, and painted their faces year round, and ended up sobbing in the alcove of a pizza parlor entrance, black tears trickling down their cheeks as they lost control and wet themselves.
Trevor called for a cab and when it arrived, we carried the fallen ones over and placed them inside. The other bunnies piled in and were taken away. I was relieved that they were gone and on their way to somewhere safe and warm. Now us brave hearts were left alone to play the night out on our own.
We returned to the frat house to take leaks and recoup. The party had cleared out, and the front room was now vacant except for a thousand empty liquor bottles. I collapsed onto a couch that stank of bananas.
Cole’s friend, the devil, asked what had happened to the rest of us.
“Good question,” Cole said.
Drunk Steve was still M.I.A. Another call to his cell was answered, but not by him. Some random dude had found the phone ringing on the sidewalk and picked it up.
“That means Steve is either dead or in jail,” Trevor joked, although it was quite possible that he was right. But we quickly dismissed this horrible notion when a panting frat brother tore into the house.
“I just saw ten tits!”
“Nice!” we exclaimed in unison.
“The Girls Gone Wild truck is right outside!”
We all jumped up to run out and get a glimpse, but when we got there, the truck was already gone. We’d have to track it down. But just as I began to think that the night might turn out alright, Cole’s phone began to vibrate.
“It’s Mary,” he said to us. “Hello?”
Trevor and I watched as Cole listened. I could hear chanting and glass breaking outside. Cole’s demeanor grew serious. He closed his phone and said, “We have to go.”
“What happened?” I said.
“They’re taking Shelly to the hospital.”
So we said goodbye to the promise of girls going wild and took a cab back to the hotel.
“Goddamn bitches,” Trevor said as we rode. “They ruin everything.”
“Whose idea was it to bring them anyway?” Cole asked. It was the girls, in fact, who had brought us along.
It turned out that nobody was going to any ER. That was just a lie to get us to come back. We complained for a while, but before too long, everyone had calmed down and passed out. Since I’d slept on the floor the night before, I got a bed tonight. But I had to share with Tanya, who had puked and pissed herself. Tomorrow we would tell her about all the things she’d done, and she’d just laugh, embarrassed, and think “Wow, wasn’t that fun.”
Around five in the morning, in the pitch black room, I was woken by someone faintly moaning my name. I listened hard, my heart rate quickened, but I couldn’t hear it anymore. As I started to fade out again, the sound, a little louder: “Luuuke.” The voice was hoarse and coming from the hall, and then a soft thud on the door. I sat up in bed and looked around. Everyone was still out cold. What the hell? Had I gone mad? There’s no such thing as ghosts.
My curiosity outweighed my fear, though, so I climbed out from under the covers and crept over to the entryway. I peered out the peephole. No one there. Only the distorted image of the door across the hall. Now things were getting spooky. I wished someone else was up to verify my sanity. Another thud and that haunting moan.
“Luuuke.” Fuck it. I unchained the lock and pulled open the door to find Steve collapsed on the hallway floor. His blue face was smeared and his kilt was ripped. He seemed to be missing a shoe.
“Jesus Steve, I was sure you were a goner. Where the hell have you been all night?”
“I’m alive,” he said, gazing up at me with ragged eyes. “That’s all I know, man. That’s all I know.”
He crawled inside and crumbled like a desert wanderer. I went into the bathroom and filled a cup with cold tap water.
“Drink this,” I told him. He was lying on his back and tried to sip from this position. Some of the water went into his mouth, most of it dribbled down his chin. He went to sleep and began to snore and I rolled him onto his side. I was still the only one awake.