(A short story, written for YDN Weekend. Will only make sense to Yale people, I’m afraid.)
I woke up and began to panic. It wasn’t far from New Haven to Boston, and I’d fallen asleep after a long night spent polishing my piece for the Harvard-Yale issue of WEEKEND. The train was empty, and I knew I’d missed my stop.
If only life had been that simple.
* * *
Fuck! I thought. Now I’ll miss my interview, and I’ll NEVER be hired for the coveted Slave Internship at StartiFyer Incorporated. That was worth 0.01% of their equity! I could’ve bought a house!
The train rolled to a stop. At first, I assumed I’d stepped out in Maine, probably that one town where all the Stephen King books take place. The sky was grey, there weren’t many tall buildings, and the people around me looked worried, skittering from place to place, as though at any moment a tentacle might burst from the ground and drag them to their deaths. Weighted down by heavy backpacks, they might have been refugees, trapped on an island in the eye of some terrible hurricane.
Hold on. Backpacks?
I turned in a slow circle. I noticed a sign, white letters against a red background: “Massachusetts Hall.”
Since when does Amtrak stop at Harvard? And this must be the middle of …
The train was gone. No tracks.
I tried the usual anti-dream maneuvers: pinching myself, slapping myself in the face, punching a tree. The last one left my knuckles bloody and my brain in turmoil. What the hell is going on?
“Tough midterm, huh?”
I spun around. A girl stood there, wearing a Harvard sweater. Brown hair, medium build. She looked concerned but not alarmed.
“You could say that,” I answered, wary of any suspicion.
“You a freshman?” she asked. “Most people prefer the elm trees for punching.” She pointed, and I followed her gaze to a different section of Harvard Yard, where five other students were punching and kicking the trees, shouting incoherently. “You might want to wait until it calms down,” she finished. “Those premeds aren’t in complete control of their bodies right now.”
“Gotcha,” I replied. I rubbed my knuckles and winced. “Say, you wouldn’t happen to know the way to the train station, would you?”
“I do. Headed there myself, in fact. I’m interviewing with StartiFyer today, but the next Boston train’s not for an hour. If you have time to kill, we could walk together.”
I was on her train, so I accepted her offer, taking in the sights as we walked. A small shop with plate glass windows had a line out the door. Students streamed out a second door, clutching cardboard cups that steamed in the cold air.
“Crimson Country Coffee,” read the sign. A smaller sign, on the window: “Ten percent of every purchase to the red party of your choice! Republicans and Communists welcome!”
There was a newspaper box outside. I stopped to pick up a Harvard Crimson. “You still read The Crimson?” asked the girl. “I guess you’re a freshman, but can’t you see that they run the same stories every day?”
I forgot to answer. A strange feeling washed over me and left hairs standing on the back of my neck as I scanned the headlines:
Three More Socks Left In Quincy Toilets, Sockpetrator Still At Large
Peter Dix ’55 Gives $300 Million, Dix House Construction Soon To Begin
The final story nearly made me drop the paper: Provost Calloway Succeeding Rubin, But Will He Bring Back The Goatee?
“Goatee?” I said. “What goatee?”
“You don’t read the paper often, do you?” she replied. “Calloway’s old goatee is all anyone ever talked about. Made him look like an 18th-century highway bandit, but students eat that shit up.” She shook her head. “I’m sure he’ll make a good president, but I already know I’m skipping the Inaugural Ball if his heavy-metal band plays.”
“Heavy metal? Inaugural Ball?” My pulse quickened.
“Administrators of Anarchy. My boyfriend likes them, but I can’t listen to metal. You know,” she said, peering into my face, “You don’t look so good. Everything alright? If there’s a sock in your toilet, don’t stress. Everyone’s dealing with it.”
“Um, sure,” I said. “Just … having a weird day. Let’s keep walking.”
At that moment, we found ourselves at another gate, leading into a college whose walls stood at bizarre angles. We walked in and I blinked, trying to make sense of what stood before me: a huge grey-pink statue of a lollipop stuck to a submarine.
I sank to my knees and started screaming. There were words I had in mind, but none of them were coming out — just a high, keening wail, the sound of a man trapped in a parallel universe with no way of —
I woke up in a panic.
“What — how —“ I was in my room in Timothy Dwight. My roommate Vijay lay in the next bed, snoring quietly. It had all been a dream. Just a terrible, terrible dream. But my knuckles were still bloody — maybe I’d punched the bedpost in my sleep? But then why didn’t I wake … oh, to hell with it.
I took slow, deep breaths until my heart stopped racing. I had to pee. I got up and walked to the bathroom.
There was a sock in my toilet.