The school year is nearly over. Practically doubled over from the weight of their leaves, the trees mask the still-roaming spirits. And I prepare to abandon my column for the summer and drift back home.
I’m from Illinois, in case you were wondering. Not the Al Capone part of Illinois. The Huck Finn part. I’ll be working at my parents’ hog farm. My record for shucking an ear of corn is 8.57 seconds. I intend to beat it.
But I digress. I am only reviving the past because I cannot live in a future without Steven G. Poskanzer.
One aspect of this campus I have never been able to appreciate is the extent to which we mock our president. He awakens each morning in Nutting House, dons his academic robes, and sets to work bolstering our student lives. Yet we assail him with cutesy nicknames, as though this man is not the purest and liveliest being on this haunted campus. As much as I detest the mockery, I never imagined President Poskanzer would pack his bags and leave. Something more sinister was at play.
But in the weeks following the initial announcement, all I could concentrate on was mourning. I piled so much food upon my sorrows that even the Vendetta Machine in my residence hall lobby began refusing to feed me. Next, I descended on the LDC brownies—yet the fly-shaped flavor spirits took pity on me and abandoned the desserts, taking their sweetness with them.
At this point, I had not slept in several days. I decided that if the spirits would not let me taste, I might not as well not waste meal swipes. A fistful of grass from outside the Weitz was halfway to my mouth when I heard an ethereal chittering. That benevolent guiding spirit from my first-ever Carleton paranormal investigation, the Whitened Wildlife of the Weitz, stood before me, stretching on its hind legs to meet my eyes.
I rolled a nearby acorn its way, peering at it desperately. It understood. Its eyes glowed a deep, squirrely black as it flexed its tail into a straight line pointing directly behind it. Like a compass. So I walked. I didn’t stop until I found myself in the shadow of a broad, stately brick house.
A sign bolted next to the door read “Parish.” And that, readers, was when I knew I’d been on to something when I began these columns.
Unlike that odd place on the other side of town, Carleton is not a religious school. There is no need for a genuine parish on campus. At best, this discrepancy was a typo. More likely, however, someone had switched the letter E for an A to conceal the horrors within. Perish House is where existences go to cease. No doubt, it held the clues to President Poskanzer’s sudden disappearance.
Unfortunately, the ONE Card reader didn’t let me in, so I had to wait until a student came out and held the door. Even though he was likely an apparition, I thanked him anyway because that’s what one always does.
The door groaned short behind me, sealing me nowhere. I could discern no walls or ceiling; the dust motes congregated where they pleased, spreading sheets of darkness like picnic blankets. I took a careful step to reassure myself there was a floor, then continued forth. “Hear me,” I called out. “I do not fear the spirits. I write about them in what is otherwise the humor section of a school newspaper. If you have brought me here for a reason—”
And then I was lying at the feet of a tall man. I could only assume it was his feet—the only part of him I could see was his hand, which held a flickering brass lamp. Of course, there is only one brass aficionado who calls this college home.
“William Carleton,” I said.
“Yes,” replied William Carleton. The smoke from the lantern stung my eyes, though the tears were already brimming. “You wonderful WASP,” I whispered. “I wish you had been able to see this college bear your name after you donated $50,000 to it back in 1871.”
“And I would gladly give you $100,000 now if you cease your paranormal investigations,” he intoned. His voice sounded like the brass instruments he made. “They will land you in harm’s way.”
I firmly shook my head because I knew he couldn’t see me. “Mr. Carleton, with all due respect, investigating ghosts is to me what manufacturing various utensils is to you.”
“Then you may be the hero I linger here for,” he said. “Long has my soul simmered like the flame in my lamp as I waited for someone to quell the spirits that betray Carleton College’s good name. Even now, they have ousted our president and installed a puppet.”
“Just like what happened with the 2020 election,” I said.
“Maybe stick to ghosts, buddy. In any case, I must go, for they draw near even now. If you wish to continue, your next clue lies in the middle of the night.”
I shook the noble ghost’s hand, strengthened my resolve, pondered his words, and stepped outside—and bumped into a security guard. And then another security guard.
Perhaps I wouldn’t be breaking that corn-shucking record this summer after all.