Second period had ended. Karen was on time for her third period girl's physical education class. When she entered the girls' locker room, Alyce Vanderland and Louise Torelli were changing into their gym uniforms. Karen's locker was beside theirs.
As Karen began changing into her uniform of shorts, socks and sneakers, Alyce asked, "So what's the twitter from the Birdhouse?"
"Mr. Charles Avery is a God damned mother fucker!"
Alyce asked, "He's a what?"
"I can't believe what that man just did. He said that the noose had a kink in it, and that somebody deliberately saved my life."
Louise said, "A kink?"
"Yeah." said Alyce. "Her."
Karen said, "This is serious. He said that the rope had been tampered with, and he blamed Dave Krendell for it."
Louise said, "But Dave would never do anything like that."
"I know; but that mother fucker Avery doesn't care. He just suspended Dave for a week."
Alyce said, "I don't believe it."
Louise shouted. "Suspended for a week?"
"That's not all. He's being banned from all extra curricular activities for the remainder of the year."
"Yes Louise; and he won't be permitted to attend his graduation."
"But I was beside him when he took the rope out of the equipment locker. The noose was already tied. I was with him when he brought it out, and he didn't touch the rope after that. He was sitting right next to me in the stands, while you were being hanged."
"It wasn't just that. Dave admitted that he prayed for me, during the hanging. That might have been what saved my life."
Louise said, "He's not gonna graduate for that?"
"Oh he'll graduate. He'll receive his diploma in the mail. He just won't be permitted to attend the Ceremony."
Louise said, "You know you're right. Mr. Avery is a God damned mother fucker"
Alyce laughed, "He prayed?"
"Yeah. He said, 'Lord Jesus. Please keep Karen alive. I love her.'"
Louise shouted. "He said that?"
Karen said, "Face it girl. When Dave Krendell wants it good, he knows where I am."
Louise said, "He told me that he likes girls who are intelligent, dignified and have some class."
"Then what's he doing with you? Forget it Louise. Last year, Dave was doing it with Homecoming Queen Alyce here, even before he started dating me."
Alyce said, "That only happened once Louise. We were celebrating after we won a game. Dave's the equipment handler, and as part of the celebration, I let him handle my equipment while I handled his; but only that once."
Louise said, "He told me that he likes knowing that I'll still be around, after all you warrior team sluts are dead."
Karen said, "Well being a shirking wussy, who never thinks of anybody but herself, is nothing to brag about."
Alyce said, "You got no business calling her that."
"No? Remember last year, when she joined the girls' warrior squad? During her first game, she got one little wound. Then she fell down and played dead for the rest of the fighting; but as soon as the clock ran out, she jumped up and ran to the infirmary."
Alyce said, "That's not true. I fought right next to her in the phalanx. Her shield and mine overlapped. When the opposing team broke through, I saw her get impaled good, with a spear through her side. I was sure they'd scored a kill off her."
Louise said, "So was I."
Karen told her, "So was the score keeper."
"If he'd stuck it in me a half inch higher, we would have all been right about that. Now I don’t know who got up and ran, but it wasn’t me. I didn’t know that I wasn’t dead until after the game was over and everyone had gone home.
“That was when the guys from the meat company were tossing the bodies into their meat wagons.
That was when I woke up, and I found myself lying among all the dead warrior girls on one of the wagons. I climbed up and out of that pile of dead warriors, and off of the wagon. Then I limped slowly, and in great agony, to the infirmary.
“That meant that I was still a student here at L-1378-55 High. That meant I was still expected to have all my homework completed and ready to hand in on Monday, instead of partying in Paradise.”
Alyce said, "What more do you expect?"
"She didn't fight in one single game after that, and she forfeited her family's extra rations. That's what I call shirking."
Louise shouted, "You've got no business talking about my family!"
Karen said, "The only reason you joined, was so it'd look good on your college resumes. You only had to show up for one game to do that, and that's all you did. You didn't care about the game, or the team, or the school, or reducing the population, or your family, or anybody but yourself;
"So why would Dave Krendell think he could count on someone who's as selfish as you?"
Mrs. Ramierez, the Phys. Ed. instructor, stood at the end of the locker row.
"Karen." She said, "Could I talk to you for a minute."
"I apologize for using an obscenity, Mrs. Ramierez."
"Apology accepted, but this is something else."
Karen walked up to the woman.
She said, "As your faculty advisor, it is my unfortunate task, to advise you, that as of last Saturday, you are no longer a member of the cheerleading squad."
"You're kicking me off the squad?"
"It's not my decision. It's the School Board. You see, you are now listed as an officially hanged cheerleader. I don't know what happened, but you no longer officially exist, and the School Board doesn't want to provide any extra rations, for someone who no longer exists, or your family.
"I also have to ask you to hand in your cheerleader uniform and your pompoms."
"They're taking away our extra rations?"
"Sorry, but that's what I was told."
"But after a cheerleader's hanged, her family's still supposed to receive the extra rations, for the remainder of the season."
"Yours would, if you were really dead."
Then Mrs. Ramierez blew her whistle. The girls went out into the Gym. Louise ran past Karen shouting.
"I wasn't playing dead! Were you?"
During this grading quarter, the class was graded on punch fighting. The girls wore no gloves, but thick leather pads were tied across their fingers and the backs of their hands. Metal studs were embedded inside the pads.
Mrs. Ramierez paired them off, generally by size.
Karen was paired with Alyce Vanderland. She pounded her anger into the Homecoming Queen. Alyce hammered back, making Karen cry out in pain.
Nearby, Louise punched out her opponent Sarah Denski with all the anger she felt. She slammed her fist hard into the girl's jaw, knocking Sarah out cold.
"Nice going Torelli!" Mrs. Ramierez shouted. "That's what I like to see! That's an automatic A plus!"
After hearing that, Karen called out, "Teacher's pet!"
Karen had won her fight with Alyce. Alyce was seated on the floor moaning, with two black eyes and a broken nose. That always happened to the Homecoming Queen, during her first gym class after the Dance.
Karen had one black eye, a bloody nose, a split lip, and she was groaning in pain. That always happened whenever she was paired with Alyce. She was however still on her feet, but numb, groggy, and had trouble standing.
Mrs. Ramierez called out, "That's a 'B' for you Bennet! A ladylike 'C' for you Vanderland!"
The pain in Karen's neck had returned. She felt a severe burning where the noose had choked her. Her throat felt tight, and she had trouble breathing.
Now Louise stood facing Karen, with her fists ready and a lusty grin on her face.
She shouted, "You keep away from Dave, you slut!"
Karen was too groggy to move. The nerdy girl's fist banged into the wobbly cheerleader's jaw, making a very loud crack.
Karen was flat on the floor, aware of nothing.
Then through the nothingness, a Voice spoke:
"Karen arise," the Voice said, "and chose life, so that you and your children will live, and possess the land, that the Lord your God has given you."