Told Between Puffs, November 2015
In which our hero takes the long walk to Schermerhorn
Death was nigh. There was no other answer. What was this pitiful ordeal? Could it be nicotine withdrawal? Perhaps the first pangs of his transition into some sort of mythical creature—vampire? Werewolf? No, not likely. Sucking on the end of an unlit cigarette, V.V. pondered prostrate on Low Steps.
Swarms of ordinary people rushed around him, some with backpacks, some with name tags, some with cameras; all hideously normal. “This is reality,” he droned mentally. This piercing sun, the gum on the sole of my shoe, the smell of sweet potato and dog crap wafting through the air, this is life. As his eyes fluttered delicately to a close, he took a mighty gulp of the putrid air and sighed.
Respite was brief. He heard piercing sirens ricocheting through campus from Amsterdam. The ambulances, whose desperate calls accented every word of his professors’ lectures and every student’s quip across the quad, bore the burden of life and death, herding the sick and weary to the attentive care of the doctors and nurses at the hospital. V.V. imagined it might feel nice to be truly infirm, lying on a cot in the back of a moving vehicle. The coarse cotton sheets would be warm and clean. V.V. longed for the men in white coats to take him away. An extralegal joyride to sweet, sweet morphine.
Just as he reached the apex of a blissful fantasy about being carted away from mediocrity in the majestic arms of a handsome EMT feeling his heart through a stethoscope, a terrifying specimen of the human species, swaddled in athletic gear and fresh-faced to the point of impropriety, threw him a smile and raised her eyebrows in a gesture of comradeship. Before he could look away, her piercing, white teeth caught the glint of the sun and incised his eyeballs with a burst of UV rays. A gust of wind rushed through her ponytail and picked up a hairball that landed, obtrusively, on V.V.’s trouser leg. As if he were in desperate need of an exorcism, she launched upon V.V. an avalanche of unsolicited advice, support, and anecdotes about the cool class she’s taking and her roommate’s love life and how much she misses their mom and how it seems like it will be an early winter.
“I don’t care!” V.V. screamed. “I don’t know who you are!” As the girl’s face transmogrified from eager to crestfallen, V.V. grabbed his satchel and his lucky umbrella and made a mad dash for Schermerhorn.
V.V. arrived at the ’Horn just in time for the in-between class rush. A stream of backpack-bearing drones burst from the circa 19th century doors and descended down upon him. Oh, Mc. Kim, Mead, and White! he eulogized. You could never have envisioned a future where Division I athletes and massive IVF babies would be barreling through their quaint wooden doors every half second for eternity. Bracing himself for the physical assault of dozens of ravenous students beating him from every side with their bags and limbs, he attempted to channel Moses’s strength as he parted the Red Sea. But he had no staff. At least, not any wooden ones. V.V., tossed asunder, uttered a prayer, and went in, permanently altered from his brush with humanity in the form of the nearest bimbo in leggings.