Sunday, May 15, 2011

"Misprint!" - The Course Overload Novella, Chapter 4

Chapter 4: Standing Alone

As I pulled through the front gates and into the college, I had to maneuver myself past a large crowd that had formed on the soccer field. I slowly inched my way through the masses and squinted into horde, as if crinkling up my eyes would allow me to use some kind of latent x-ray vision. As I tilted my head to get a better view, I caught sight of the cause of the disturbance. It was The Dean. He was standing atop a small makeshift stage in the middle of the snow-covered field, broadcasting to what looked to be the entire remaining population of the college – those unlucky souls who had to stay to the bitter end before winter break began. My heart sank. I knew deep down what The Dean was announcing. A single tear slid down my cheek, turned into an icicle, and broke off.

I stepped out of the car and worked my way into the undulating crowd. At first I couldn’t hear what The Dean was saying. The only thing that registered was his voice amplified through the bullhorn he held, though still indistinguishable. Those around me ranged from indifferent to pissed off. Many were yawning or still wearing their pajamas, because 11 a.m. is still early morning in college life. A liquid snake, I slithered through the mob, closer and closer to the core. Finally, I found myself between a girl in a puffy white jacket and Dr. Zan, a professor that I had last semester for a history class called “Granola Through the Ages.” I could go no further. I twisted my head so my ear was towards The Dean and tried to interpret his muffled ramblings.

“…never talked to him, but his hair looked delicious,” mused The Dean.

“He’s right, you know,” Dr. Zan agreed.

“Who?” I asked, mumbling, though I already knew the answer.

“But I know it must have come as a great shock to us all,” The Dean began somberly, “as I forced you all out of bed, one by one, by screaming at every door with my bullhorn. But obviously with good reason. The death of a classmate is nothing to be ignored; to sleep through like so many parties where you get very intoxicated and pass out in the hot early morning sun. This is especially true when the deceased is someone as widely known and respected as Matthew.”

“Who?” inquired a voice from behind me. I was sure it was someone I wouldn’t have liked anyway, had I known him.

“He was a jerk!” exclaimed a guy to my left who had been droning on a cell phone up until then. I wondered how he could possibly have been listening to The Dean when seconds before he had seemed so immersed in his cell phone conversation. As he melted back into his long distance world, I made a mental note to step on his foot when I left.

Other voices rang out from all sides: “Can we go back to sleep now?”

“I’m missing General Hospital for this!”

“I need to study for my test!”

“I like wearing women’s undergarments!”

I slapped my hand against my forehead. My case of mistaken death had reached as far as the college, and worse, the news had been used as an excuse to get everyone out of bed prematurely. The mood was still somber, but it would have been somber for the right reasons had The Dean waited three hours before giving his misguided eulogy. Now, not only was I “dead,” but hated as well. I was responsible for everyone’s bad mood on the last day before going home for Winter Recess, a day of tests and high anxiety as it was. Now everyone was going to fall asleep on their finals, drooling on the test paper and smearing their answers because their brains were all fried! And what of the people who knew me? More accurately, what about people who know me?

Wait, that was it! I needed to find someone I knew and work from there. Maybe I could convince them that I wasn’t really dead. Yet, how would I get out of the crowd? Since I had weaved my way into the indifferent mass, others had stepped in and formed an impenetrable gelatinous casing around me.

“What do you think happened to him?” asked the short girl in a puffy white jacket. The jacket was so huge on her that her arms rested on its sides and stuck out like those of a stuffed animal.

“Presumably he was devoured by the gods for wearing white after Labor Day,” replied Dr. Zan. “It’s really a pity. Too many of this nation’s youth meet their unfortunate end that way.”

“I never liked him much to begin with,” continued the girl in the white jacket. “His head was always shaped like a carrot. And he smelled like a goat, too.”

I sneered.

“Well, at least I never looked like a walking marshmallow, lardcoat!” I shouted, fed up that not a single individual had mourned my passing since I had arrived. Unintentionally, but very much to my advantage, everyone around me heard my frustrated outburst. Now I had I way out!

Those who hadn’t run away were treated to The Dean screaming like a little girl through the bullhorn. He must have really liked that bullhorn too, because he had neglected to throw it down.

“Oh dear God! It’s his ghost!

 It’s the ghost of Matt!” His bullhorn quivered and The Dean froze in place, apparently too spooked to speak. Unfortunately, everyone who hadn’t heard me the first time was frantically glaring in my direction or already speeding towards their dorm, shrieking and stumbling about like they had been covered in liquefied sugar and left in a field full of fire ant hills.

I slapped my forehead once more, this time grunting because slapping your forehead in disbelief really starts to hurt after awhile. “The obituary was a mistake! I’m still alive! See? I’m real!” I tapped my chest, over my heart, producing a hollow noise to illustrate my solid state.

“But if it’s in a newspaper, it must be true!” blared the bullhorn protruding from The Dean’s mouth. With that, he sprinted from his platform and disappeared into the surrounding neighborhood. Well, at least the captives could go and study for their tests now, although hammering crosses to their dorm room doors and cowering under their beds with their rosary beads was probably slightly above studying on several people’s agendas at that point.

No matter. I needed to find someone who knew me, someone I could trust! But Santa wasn’t coming for another three days, and Mickey Mouse lived millions of miles away in the mysterious kingdom of “Florida.”

Of course! My girlfriend, Kara, would know what to do! In nine out of ten crises, she was the one to help me out. From the time I fell asleep while shoveling my driveway and woke up face down in a snowdrift, with my nostrils frozen shut, to the time I accidentally got a pumpkin stuck on my head and tried to shock it off by sticking the stem in the nearest wall socket, Kara was always getting me out of some sort of trouble. Hopefully she could help me.

“But what if the fiendish lies have reached her by now?” I wondered. It was just a chance that I would have to take. Readjusting the collar of my black leather jacket purposefully, I shot off in the direction of Kara’s dorm.

If she had already heard, any chance of normalcy, of my ordinary world, was lost. (It’s that dramatic?)

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