Ringer’s Night

It’s been fifteen years, but I still regret what happened at the lake that night. It wasn’t supposed to play out that way. 

Every year on the last week of summer break, my hometown has its annual county fair which around here is called the Lake Festival. For the duration of this week its like our whole world revolves around the festival. If you grew up around here you saved your allowance all year round for the opportunity to ride the rides, experience the sideshows, and gorge yourself on carnival food with your friends. When I was younger it was the highlight of my life, it was everything I could have dreamed of.
Now I can’t bring myself to enjoy it, and not because I’ve grown out of it.

The festival is always accompanied by an unspoken tradition passed down through the generations for as long as anyone could remember. On the last night of the festival a secret party is held by the senior class. This tradition is called “Ringer’s Night” and though all the local adults know about it, its organising is always hidden and attendance always necessitated sneaking out. It’s not something anyone ever speaks about, that’s just how it’s always been.
The first time I went to a Ringer’s Night I was a junior, most of the kids my age had already been to the party as sophomores, my friend Justin had even managed to go as a freshman thanks to following his older brother sneaking out. For our first invited year I’d been sick with a fever and for the whole year I was known as the only kid who’s missed out, there was no way I’d miss out again.
In preparation Justin and I had each organised to sleep over at the others place on that night. In retrospect our parents probably knew about the ruse but didn’t say anything, tradition being tradition. Whatever the case, the final night of the festival came and went, the closing fireworks display had wrapped up and Justin and I were hanging out at the show ground waiting for midnight when the party began. Justin was already drinking his first beer, I was climbing the bleachers and asking him about what to expect.

“It’s like, every other party you’ve ever been to,” he starts, sipping at his beer and acting like he was so much older and cooler than me, “But more intense. It only goes for about three hours, but its mental, everyone just goes completely nuts for those three hours and when its over its over.”
I scoff and throw an empty can at his pretentious face and laugh as it causes him to spill some of his beer on himself and glare at me, “Yeah, yeah, Justin, you’re just talking it up because I missed it last year.”
“Shut up, El, you don’t know what you’re talking about. I’m serious, it’s something else. I can’t explain it any more than that.”
“Oh yeah? So why aren’t there any stories?”
“Because, I told you, when the bell rings, it’s over.” He snapped back condescendingly, “It’s like Vegas.”
I laughed and jumped down, tipping his drink up to shut him up. He managed to chug the whole thing, earning a nod of respect from me. For the next couple hours we just kicked around the place, drinking and, in Justin’s case, smoking, and just generally being bored delinquents. Eventually midnight was approaching and we started along the Lakeside walkway heading to where the party was planned.

 

“Hey Justin! El!” Ryan voice shouts out from behind us as he runs to catch us, throwing and arm over both of our shoulders, I can smell the alcohol on his breath, “Great to see you could make it! You two lovebirds just come from getting a little something something?”
I shove him off with a laugh, “Fuck off Ryan”
“Yeah Ryan, fuck off” Justin echoes, before giving me a sidelong look he thinks I don’t notice that reminds me he’s thought about it before.
“Yeah, yeah, whatever you two,” Ryan laughs, his honest charisma dispelling my glare, he gives me a playful wink “If Justin’s not your type, how about partying with me tonight?”
“In your dreams Ryan,” I retort, rolling my eyes and looking as sickened as I can muster.
Not missing a beat Ryan smoulders at Justin, “How about you, J-baby?”
He shoves Ryan away a little too aggressively, Justin’s pretty defensive about being called gay, having a girl as a best friend has directed some teasing his way. I feel a pang of guilt.
Ryan’s got no time to waste on negativity and straight away he’s back walking with us, animatedly describing some girl from out of town he’d made out with at the festival. Ryan’s a good guy, even Justin can’t stay mopey around him.

One colourful retelling of Ryan’s conquests later and the quiet serenity of the lake is replaced by the sound of dampened music and partying voices, as we round the rocky barrier that surrounds Ringer’s cove the volume suddenly kicks up a number of notches. The natural privacy of the cove nestled secretly beneath the lip of the rocky cave system on the edge of the Lake makes it the most perfectly suited party spot in existence.
I can’t remember much from that night, I drank way too much, everyone did, but when I look back on that night, it’s strange. It feels like the hours from midnight until when the bell rang weren’t real. I’ve been blackout drunk before and after that night, and it’s different. It’s been fifteen years since that night, fifteen years I’ve scrapped and clawed at my memories trying to peel back the fog and remember what happened to Justin. It’s only tonight, fifteen years later, as I watch in horror from the woods that I understand. I’m sorry Justin, for what it’s worth…
I now know why the Ringer’s Night ends when the bell rings.

Author: Zairron

I'm writing to build a habit, practice, and be creative.

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