The night was dark as coal, the fog thick as Muhammad’s beard, when I emerged from the ‘haunted’ brick building near Long Lane Farm. Its lonely stone towers overlook the vast, overgrown fields of the Freeman Athletic Center, but its supernatural mysteries had been rooted in mere charlatanism — just some harmless Psi U brothers enacting dark Satanic rituals.
There’ll be no more cat mutilations ’round this part of town, I thought to myself, brushing the dirt from my hands. As I stepped to the curb, a pair of amber headlights cut through the fetid darkness: Wesleyan’s Ride! I sighed with relief and flagged it down, barely noticing the exceedingly strange script adorning its door.
Only when I found myself overpowered by the smells of hookah smoke, unwashed bodies, and myrrh did I realize I had boarded the wrong Ride. Too late I remembered Dave Meyer’s stern campus-wide email cautioning us against the folly of entering unlicensed “Gypsy” Rides: “The University cannot be certain of students’ well-being while inside one of these vehicles,” he had penned, “and the vendors are not equipped to accept Middletown Cash.” The van’s door slid shut behind me — and our ramshackle ride had already trundled off into the inky black.
“Good night,” insisted the mustachioed driver. “My name Yanko. You pay twelve drachma now.” He deposited a wad of tobacco-infused phlegm into the brass spittoon wedged next to the gearshift.
“Pardon?” I stammered.
“Twelve drachma,” the swarthy fellow repeated. “Where you wish go tonight?”
I peered into the hazy darkness at the rear of the van, where I could make out the silhouettes of a Sikh, a Berber crone clutching a jar, two goats, and a beautiful young woman moaning in a low voice, swaddled in blankets. The travelers all huddled around a bubbling stew pot.
“Hold on,” I said to Yanko, reaching for my iPhone 5. “Let me Blirp It.” Suddenly, I felt cold steel against my neck and the Sikh’s hot, curry-scented breath in my ear.
“In my country, such a word is unspeakable,” he growled. “Men die for less.”
“Sorry, sir!” I exclaimed in terror. “What I meant to say was… I like your turban.”
The Sikh slowly released the pressure on my throat. “Fine,” he said, “but next time, I take your testes.”
I turned back to Yanko. “Pearl,” I said. “I just want to go to Pearl.”
Yearning for home, I turned to the window. Vast sand dunes stretched in every direction. This was a part of Middletown into which I had never ventured before.
Suddenly, the blanket-wrapped woman gave a great gasp, followed by the shrill cry of a newborn soul. She raised her new daughter, still dripping with womby fluids, so that the infant’s tiny eyes met her own.
“Esmerelda,” she whispered. “I will call you Esmerelda.”