Upstate Vermont. St. Joe’s prep. The girls’ dormitory…
If she does not want to get caught with a boy in her room, Warren Worthington III suggests his girlfriend Amanda keep her groans of ecstasy down to a whisper. The sultry Amanda sits up on her bed. Barely dressed, the arch of her back teases the limits of her open blouse, which lies dangerously close to the edge of her breasts. “No, I don’t want to get caught,” she says, “I want to get hot.” Warren removes his own shirt, and Amanda inches closer and flirtatiously runs her finger along the lines of his chest. However, she sees something alarming and backs away in revulsion. What is it? Warren asks, not understanding she has just glimpsed two swollen, bruised lumps on his back through their reflection in the mirror. “Warren,” she asks, “what are those things on your back?”
Warren insists it is nothing. He abruptly gets up and begins putting his clothes back on. Amanda, now covering herself with a blanket, asks if it is a sports injury. At first, Warren tells her not to worry about it, but then runs with the sports-injury excuse. “I fell the wrong way, scraped my back…” he begins, but Amanda cuts him off, insisting the lumps look nothing like scrapes. She asks if he has seen the nurse, or told his track coach. Still defensive, Warren once again says he is fine, and firmly tells her to drop it.
“Uh, why are you yelling? You’ve been acting all moody and surly, and now this,” she says. “What’s really going on, Warren?”
Amanda’s question is met with silence. Warren hangs his head in hesitation, looks up, and tells Amanda their time together is over. That’s what has been going on; that’s why he’s been acting weird. He was trying to think of a way to tell her. Amanda’s mouth hangs agape. While cradling a stuffed animal on her bed, she asks why? Why is he doing this?
“Because I’m tired of us. I’m tired of you. I need a change, babe,” he says. He walks out and slams the door. Amanda’s cries reverberate through the halls as Warren walks away, but he tells her to keep screaming, as if she actually has feelings. His demeanor changes as soon as he gets out of an earshot. That was low, even for me. As bad as Amanda can be, she doesn’t deserve what I just did, he thinks. However, he needs to hide what is happening to his body. As he storms off, his tie flaps over his shoulder, adding a peculiar-looking shape to his silhouette that almost resembles a budding wing…
Meanwhile, Warren’s roommate Andrew Palmer, juxtaposed against a large, stained-glass window that depicts a knight penetrating a dragon in the mouth with a spear, sweeps the chapel floor. Father Reynolds enters and asks Andrew if he has finished. “Y-yes,” Andrew says, wincing at the arrival of the priest. Good, Father Reynolds says, adding the time has come for Andrew’s weekly confession. Andrew looks at him with anxiety written on his face. He offers no verbal response. Hanging up his coat, the portly priest asks Andrew if he should interpret his silence as meaning he has no sins to confess; does he presume to be infallible, like God? “No, father,” Andrew replies. He hunches his shoulders and looks away in revulsion. “I just…not this week, please.”
Father Reynolds begins to roll up his sleeves. “I see.” As he approaches Andrew, the young man asks him not to be mad, but Father Reynolds insists he has nothing but love, compassion, and forgiveness for Andrew in his heart. He places a meaty hand on Andrew’s shoulder. “That’s why I’m forgiving you the disrespect you’ve just shown me. Not every student at St. Joseph’s has me as his confessor. It is an honor, young man, and as such,” he says, bringing his face uncomfortably close to Andrew’s, “...I expect to see gratitude.” Andrew shudders, but acquiesces.
In the weight room, Brandon Hardy tells his spotter to add more weight to his bench press bar. Thompson refuses, as Brandon has already maxed out, but Brandon insists; he wants to get pumped for Hell Night. “Somebody’s got aggression they need to work out,” Amanda Cobb says, interrupting the athletes’ workout. “Maybe I can help with that?”
Thompson exits after Amanda requests a private conversation with Brandon. She asks if tonight will be a typical Hell Night, as in, dressing up and picking an underclassman to torment. Yes, Brandon replies. You want to partake? “Put on a mask and a scary black robe? No, thanks,” Amanda answers. “But after what Warren did to me, I know who you should target…”
Brandon pauses. What did Warren do to her, he asks? Amanda replies that Warren humiliated her by dumping her that morning. Brandon catches on to what she is suggesting, but misunderstands her target. He reminds her that, as a senior, Warren is off-limits for Hell Night, but Amanda has no intention of going after Warren; she wants to go after his little pal, Andrew Palmer. “Their families know each other,” she says, “so Warren is supposed to, you know, ‘look out for him.’ Doing something to Palmer would be like doing something to Warren…but way worse.” She takes a seat on the bleachers and leans back, seductively. Brandon leans in, places his arms on either side of her body, and asks what he will get in return. Amanda smirks. “Warren’s smarter than you…a better athlete…up until four hours ago, he had a hotter girlfriend…so long as he’s around, you’ll always be number two,” she says, before leaning in and whispering in his ear. “You want to know what you’ll get, Brandon?”
You’ll get satisfaction. At dusk, Warren catches up with his science teacher Mr. Walsh on the sidewalk. Walsh, lugging a large pumpkin, tells Warren it is a bad time; he needs to get home and take his daughter trick-or-treating. Warren flatly asks Mr. Walsh if he can identify a biological specimen, and presents him with the feather he found recently in his bedroom. Do you know where it came from, he asks? “A bird, I’m assuming…” Mr. Walsh says. Warren asks if he could be more specific. Mr. Walsh may not be an ornithologist, but he can tell outright the feather must support a bird of very large mass. Perhaps it belongs to a gull, an eagle, a hawk, or a falcon. The color, however, resembles that of a dove, a bird much too small for a feather of that size.
Mr. Walsh begins to excuse himself, but Warren has just one more question: can he recommend any good books on molting? “Molting? I shudder to ask,” Mr. Walsh says, scratching his head. “Yes, of course I can recommend some texts. But Warren, books about molting do not portend a fun Halloween night for you.”
After night falls, Brandon Hardy and his track-team cronies prepare themselves for Hell Night. Ever since Hell Night was first celebrated on St. Joseph’s campus in 1924, the underclassmen have lived in terror of it. They usually do what Andrew Palmer is doing right now: waiting in his room, praying he is not among the chosen. This year, his prayers go unanswered.
The masked bullies gather outside his room and open his door. He could have locked it, but it would have been futile; locked doors are forbidden on Hell Night, because what good is a locked door against such a tradition? Andrew asks who is there as the bullies enter his room, but they tell him to shut up. They promise he will suffer even more if he screams.
Meanwhile, one floor down, Warren pores over the recommended textbook on molting. He reads a passage about ‘blood feathers,’ active feathers that push out their forerunners during the molting process. Warren tosses the textbook aside in frustration; none of it makes any sense to him. Suddenly, he hears a muffled cry for help through his open window, and recognizes it as Andrew’s voice.
Above, in the communal bathrooms, the bullies reprimand Andrew for violating their command. “Stupid Palmer. Big mistake. What did I tell you about crying for help?” Brandon says while the other boys pin Andrew’s arms behind his back. He orders them to remove Andrew’s shirt and start warming up the showers; tonight, they’re boiling a shrimp.
Andrew begs for mercy. They ignore his pleas and blast his naked back with scalding, hot water. How does that feel, they ask? Does he feel his skin bubbling yet? Andrew manages to plead for them to relent between his anguished cries, but they continue to ignore him. They only pause when they hear a voice from behind ordering them to let him go.
They turn, and see Warren standing in the doorway. “Let. Him. Go. Now.” Brandon tells Warren to get lost; he doesn’t have to participate in Hell Night himself, but that does not mean he gets to ruin everyone else’s fun. Warren pauses before speaking. “Let him go, you sadist. Or I’ll make you let him go.” Brandon refuses to back down. He asks if Warren, the big hero, plans on fighting all of them. No, Warren responds. The way he sees it, he only has to take down Brandon, the group’s ringleader. “Hell Night’s not supposed to be lethal,” he adds.
After considering the threat, Brandon yields, telling his cronies to turn off the hot water. They release Brandon, whose scorched back continues to steam. Warren wraps his friend’s arm over his shoulder and begins to walk with him out of the room, but Brandon refuses to give up the last word. “There he is, Warren…there’s your boyfriend.” Warren stops in his tracks. He releases Andrew, turns, and punches Brandon across the face, knocking him to the floor.
Amanda, kneeling on Brandon’s bed in his room, expresses her shock at the story Brandon just told her. She can’t believe Warren actually hit him, the son of the Vice-President of the United States! Lying with his head facing the ceiling, Brandon states that Warren Worthington is a dead man; he just doesn’t know it yet.
Meanwhile, in Warren’s room, Andrew sits in a wooden chair without his chair while Warren examines his back. It’s blistering, he comments. Andrew finds the coincidence funny. Warren asks what exactly the funny coincidence is. “My back’s all messed up…” Andrew begins, “your back’s all messed up…” Warren stops him right there and asks what the hell he is talking about, and Andrew confesses he recovered the letter Warren wrote to his parents, but tore up and threw away in the trash; he knows what is happening to Warren’s body.