Prank Night at the Pit: A Jackalope Short

“Hey frosh.”
I jolt awake, swaying hard in my hammock. It is cold. Six masked figures loom over me. High above them, the moon cuts a perfect curve through the Pit’s dirty plexiglass skylight.
“It’s prank night, frosh. You in?”
The stage-whispering figure looming over me has the face of a vampire bat, a wrinkled, hairy thing. Twin fangs gleam beneath two jutting yearling antlers. The six figures looming over me are all wearing antlered vampire bat masks.
“Yeah,” I grumble, pulling my blanket close, “I’m in, I guess.”

Hissed victory cheers, and a leathery object lands on my chest.  The vampire bat masks ostensibly protect our identities, but after some time living in the Jackalope’s home base, it’s pretty easy to identify many of them by build, and many more by the sounds of their voices.  That said, the bat masks are also a badge of team coordination.  Joining the prankster squad means that you have the confidence and trust in your fellows necessary to perform possibly dangerous tasks with any Jackalope in the Enclave, without even knowing for sure who they are.  In some ways, the manner in which I was approached to join the prank squad suggests old-school hazing rituals, but it was actually a mark of trust, and a powerful inclusive gesture by (who I believe to be) members of the Jackalope old guard.

My sleepy fingers fumble it as I slip the mask over my head. The smells of old sweat and leather fill my nostrils, and the elastic band snaps like a finger flicking the base of my skull. I drop from my hammock and face my co-conspirators. They flash the sign; fingers splayed, thumbs to the temples. I flash it back. I match them, and they match me. With the donning of the mask, even something as trivial as prank night becomes a statement: this is our togetherness, our solidarity. In the daytime, when we ride together into the husk of the city, we face capture or death; tonight, assuming all goes as planned, the worst consequence might be an extra day emptying out latrines or clearing clogged drains in the Enclave’s mess hall. But what the hell—no matter what happens, we’re going in it together. This is our way.

We, the pranksters, fan out, checking the hammocks of our fellows for the anchor stitch. The anchor stitch, embroidered at the head or foot of the hammock, means the person sleeping there is not to be disturbed on prank night, pursuant to the wrath of every Jackalope in good standing. After we check for the anchored sleepers, we lift everyone else’s mask and swap it with someone else’s. A few of the non-anchored Jackalopes wear their masks to sleep on prank night—this is a direct challenge to our gentleness. If the mask-wearer wakes up during the process, they have the right to tie up and replace the offending prankster, leaving them maskless and bound for the morning.

There are only three challengers who have left their masks on—one of the novice pranksters is about to remove the mask from a fourth but is stopped by a slap on the wrist from a co-conspirator, who points to the small anchor stitch on the sleeper’s hammock. The other sleepers, two of whom went to bed drunk, have their masks removed and swapped without incident.

Next, each and every unanchored left shoe in the Pit is lifted from its resting place and tied together in a single long chain of shoes. The pranksters ascend the various handholds and footholds available on the walls (carefully avoiding the memorial masks interspersed amongst the bike racks) and string the shoes up like a welcome ribbon above where everyone will congregate for breakfast tomorrow. Some time before, during, or after breakfast, after everyone has found their masks, the Jackalopes will retrieve the shoes, either by climbing the walls or by creating a human pyramid. The shoes will then be distributed to their rightful owners.

These are the traditional prank night pranks, but the entire point of a prank night is that some things are unexpected. This night, the pranksters are feeling ambitious—as the chain of shoes is hung, a large plastic bucket, jam-packed with confetti and glitter, is hoisted onto the waist-high platform above the serving area. The bucket is carried to the back wall, near the entrance to the private quarters.

Once the shoes have been hung and the pranksters are all assembled, one of us briefs the others on the plan: we are going to lift this bucket high overhead and attach it to the clangdelier (the instrument of our reveille, a hanging arrangement of bike scraps, pots and pans, and other scrap metal) so that Mia, the unflappable face of our organization, gets absolutely bombed with glitter just as she wakes everyone up. It’s one hell of a plan—it’s bold, dangerous, liable to fail, and guaranteed to bring the entire evening down if even the tiniest detail is out of place. But we’re going to do it anyway. I can feel the electricity of the moment passing between the pranksters, and can’t help but grin myself.

Pranksters begin to assemble near the wall, getting in position to hoist the glitter-bearer up. Three pranksters are going up on the wall. One carries the glitter bucket, one ties knots while the glitter-bearer holds the bucket in place, and the third holds the clangdelier steady, muting the nearest pots and pans, one hand in an oven mitt, the other shoved into a bunny slipper.

I team up with the hoisting crew and get shoulder-to-shoulder with my cohorts. On a silent count of three, we hoist the glitter-bearer. They ascend almost nine feet up the wall in the blink of an eye. The hoisters attempt to slow the descent of the glitter-bearer as long as possible, to give them time to find handholds and footholds, which they do. The knot-tier and the muffler spring up the wall as fast as they can, and the trio begins the ascent.

A thin stream of glitter falls from the bucket, and our hearts leap into our throats, but we do not move, for if the glitter-bearer falls, it is our responsibility to catch them. When the climbers reach the top of the wall, we watch as the glitter-bearer strains to hold the bucket in place and the knot-tier works with incredible speed. Soon, the bucket is tied. There’s a final moment of dread before the glitter-bearer lets go of the bucket, but when they do, it holds, with only another small stream of glitter escaping. The three pranksters carefully descend, and the rest of us silently cheer for them at the bottom. Tomorrow morning is going to be an absolute riot.

Our work done, we descend the platform. The prankster who woke me up tells me that I am the seventh to go and gives me a location to drop my mask, and we all proceed to the far side of the Pit. Silently, we open the exit door and leave the Jackalopes’ headquarters, parting ways one by one and dispersing into the night.

Once I have some distance between myself and the others, I remove my mask and breathe in the cold night air. The moon hangs above the 37th Street Enclave like a crescent ripple. I can see the very first blush of dawn developing on the horizon as I cut through back streets and cross over a footbridge past Proust’s place. Near a small private shrine dedicated to a lost Enclave resident, I leave the mask where I was told to put it, in a stray shoebox, tucked under a set of stairs. The masks on the walls of the Pit serve as living memory of every Jackalope since the first who fell; considering all the living that happens there, it’s ironic that the Pit is the largest memorial in the Enclave. But even if it’s the most recognized and recognizable tribute to the Enclave’s dead, it’s is far from the only place where they are honored. This private shrine, lit with tea candles even this late, reminds me that the entire Enclave is built on the corpse of a city, that the countless people who died as the city died around them are just as much a part of this place as those who died here knowing it only as the Enclave. The name may change, the Wild Hunt may sweep through, the culture may transform, but the place remains. And therein lies a point of tension in the Enclave’s philosophy—this community is built on remembering what came before, and on forgetting it.

I spend a few minutes at the shrine, then turn back, retracing my steps, and wait in hiding outside the Pit. Once I count the sixth silhouette passing through the door, I wait for a moment, then follow them in, close the passage to the outside, and return to my hammock for a few more hours of rest. Despite the contemplative mode I entered at the shrine, as I drift into sleep, it makes me smile to remember the ritual I took part in tonight, and to know what will be revealed tomorrow morning.