Stewart Drive & Other Lessons

A bonus story.  See bottom for more notes.

 🏛️

“Wait!  Wait, where are you going?” 

Stana’d only been at the university for a few days — ten, to be specific, and that only if you counted move-in, which had mostly consisted of her parents driving her all around the city looking for things they were sure she needed, most of which were still in their packaging in a neat pile in a box under her bed (the bed risers and the extra big duvet being the two things she had used from that pile).  She knew a few people in a few of her classes by sight, if not by name, and the guy calling out to her was not any of them. 

Still, she stopped, because it seemed less rude than running away.  “I’m going to my dorm…?  I’ve been at the library all evening,” she added.  Her bag was heavy with books and her mind was bubbling with new ideas and she really wanted to sit down at her desk and see if she could make any of it make sense once she’d nailed it to her screen with text. 

She looked at the guy, who was getting closer and closer, anyway.  It might be easier to get him to go away if she was polite. He was tallish, with curly black hair and a furrowed brow, wearing flannel over, it looked like, more flannel. 

Maine.

And he was trying to get between her and her route home.  “You can’t go down Stewart Drive after dark.  Geeze, didn’t your RA—?”

“I’m not sure my RA exists,” she admitted.  “I get emails from her sometimes, but that’s it.  Her room’s always dark.”

“Oh, you got that one this year.  Sorry.  She’s a really good RA for things like conflict resolution, but you pretty much have to communicate by notes under her door.  Still, if you got her, whoever’s up a floor or down a floor should’ve filled in.”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Stana told him.  “But the guy up a floor, I’m pretty sure he’s stoned constantly, and the one downstairs…. best not to say anything at all about her.”

Downstairs was a half-floor, the basement, with the other half being taken up by the very sad rec room and the rather more modern laundry room.  The RA there was either running some sort of business out of the laundry room or really, really liked doing laundry. 

“Urgh.  Okay, here.  Either go around a block and take Dounnal or use the blue light and call the campus safety.  I’ll either walk with you or wait with you or stay out of your way, your choice, but just don’t take Stewart — don’t be on Stewart — when the sun’s down, okay?”

“Why?  I mean, is there —“. This town, for all that it thought it was a city, was too small for a serious crime problem, the downstairs RA notwithstanding. 

“If you’ll move, either to that blue phone or towards Dounnal, i’ll try to tell you, okay?”

He was shifting back and forth, hands tucked in his armpits like he was trying to make himself small, looking down Stewart and then jerking his head away.

“Okay, how about Elroy?  Is that okay?”

“Elroy’s got frat row.”  He relaxed slightly.  “It’s not a fun way, but it’s safer than Stewart.”

“If this is a joke…”

“Then you’re out a block of extra walking on a warm September night and I will never darken your doorstep again.  But for the moment — let’s take a walk, shall we?”

Stana gave in.  “All right.”  He really didn’t seem creepy enough to call campus safety on, and from what she’d heard of their response rates, if he was some sort of ax murderer, if she grabbed the phone, they’d show up in time to fight the crows for her remains. Maybe.

“Thank you.”  He flashed her a smile with crooked front teeth and a lot of dimple.  “This way, then.”

“And you’ll tell me.”

“And I’ll try.  All right, I’m Keirvan, yeah, not my fault and I’ve not figured out what to change it to yet.  I’m a junior here, or, ah, I’ve been here two years, but I’m likely still a sophomore if you count things by that.”

“Stana, and I’m in the same boat, err, that is, on names.  I’m a freshman, but you’ve likely guessed that.” She ambled with him, not trying to pick up the speed.  As he’d said, it was a nice night in September and the moon was out.

“So let’s see.  What I’ve been told about Stewart is that there’s a turn, about halfway between where we were and the circle in front of the Little Three dorms, sort of a bend-and-a-jog in the road because the people who built it, they didn’t want to cut down this ancient oak tree.  The tree there now is barely as big around as my ankle, because that big oak tree came falling down barely an hour after they finished the road, and then the one they planted in its place, that one waited till it was just big enough to hurt someone, and then it fell down too.  So the oak tree’s unfriendly, or cursed, but,” he shrugged, as if to say what can you do? “But the real problem is that, something about that bend, when people walk it at dark, they either never come back, or they’re lost for hours at a time, popping out as long as two days later — or earlier — with no memory of the time passing.”

“You’re kidding.”

“Check it out tomorrow.  You'll find a few things in the local papers.  But the big thing is just don’t check it out in person, not at night.  Okay?  It might just be some silly rumor — but that’s not enough to risk your life on, is it?”

She absolutely was going to check it out — but not at night.  “Okay,” Stana agreed slowly. 

“Good! Good, great. Okay, so there’s a few things like this. Your RA really didn’t even give you a note on this?”

"A note...? Oh, under the door.  No, nothing.  This is - this is RA serious?"

"I'd say disappearing never to be seen again is RA-serious, yeah."  He looked at her like trying to see if she was serious, then finally looked back at the road.  Dounnal was barely more than a footpath, but it was paved, and someone had painted the yellow dashed line down the middle with some sort of glow-in-the-dark paint, so it was shining up at them as they walked.  "Let's see.  Effield Library, don't go in the stacks alone, ever.  Always take a buddy.  Don't wake the student sleeping on the couch in the Student Union.  There's rumors about what will happen if she wakes up, but nobody knows for sure.  I'm sure you've heard about the pond freezing over if a virgin ever graduates, but the truth of that one is far stranger - though there is a committee that goes around, the month before graduation, just to be sure."

"I've heard that one," she agreed.  Someone had shared it with her on her first day in class, along with an offer to help her take care of that unfortunate status now, just in case she was an early achiever.

She noticed for the first time the little lights glittering from the sides of Dounnal Way.  Either the person with the glow in the dark paint had gone splatter-happy, or groundskeeeping or someone had planted a whole bunch of those solar-powered lights.  She peered at a building: it declared itself to be the Parna Visitors' Center, except the visitors' center (called Hoy, not Parna)  she and her folks had visited was a modern building near the center of campus and this was... not.

"The fountain in the arts quad.  Don't ever kiss where the wrong statue can see you - and which one is wrong changes based on a really complicated set of rules that changes with the phase of the moon, so it's best just not to kiss in front of the statues, even though kissing in the view of the right one can bring your relationship blessings and luck."

Stana stopped walking and glanced at Keirvan.  "The fountain in the arts quad is brand new and it doesn't have a statue, just a fountain.  Sort of nouveau-art-nouveau.  No eyes, no statues to see you."

He looked momentarily nonplussed.  "I - they must have finally replaced it.  They - someone must have, someone - it must have finally gotten bad."

"Or someone finally donated enough money with strings tied to the fountain," she countered. "Don't go on the arts quad much?"

"Ah. Ah, no.  I spend more time in the Science quad, I suppose.  And here, too, of course."

"So one way or another, they got rid of the threat of the fountain.  Let's see, I'm not supposed to go in the stacks alone-"

"-Just Effield, the other two are okay, but I mean, probably safe to just not go alone in libraries."

"Okay, and let sleeping undergrads lie.  That's easy enough.  Where did you hear all this?"

"Well, let's see."  He started walking again.  "The thing about not walking Stewart at night I found out pretty much like you did.  Well, and then a bunch of older students said the same thing when we were out drinking.  And the thing about the fountains - there was a girl.  And then someone shoved us and freaked out when we were about to kiss on the Arts quad.  She was a fine arts major."  His smile was wistful.  "Ah, but that was a while ago.  You get a lot of this when people are drinking, you know."  He snorted a little.  "But that's the hard way, and nobody's saying you should find them out that way.  Not when I'm here, willing to tell you things," he added with a little laugh. 

"So tell me more."  They were passing two towers she didn't remember seeing from anywhere else on campus, even though they were taller than the surrounding buildings, made of what she thought was yellow brick and roofed in metal.  They flanked the road, seeming to lean over it.  The one on the left had a sign in Greek she didn't understand; the one on the right said Tuttle Tower. 

"Okay, let's see.  You don't leave the two arched walkways except opposite the way you entered them - if you go in at the north, leave at the south, don't take the east-west arches halfway through.  I'm not sure what's supposed to happen if you go the wrong way on those, but there's rumors of bad luck, the really bad sort.  It's said someone did that every day for a month once, just to see what would happen, and they tripped and fell out of a tenth-story window."  He gestured to the towers behind him.  "They closed the towers for a month, but there was nothing wrong with the classroom, just someone's very bad luck, or perhaps just going through the wrong way on a walkway, which is another way of saying they invited their own bad luck."

"Harsh."  Stana turned to look at the tower.  "Someone really died?"

"Not the only one." Keirvan's voice was less solemn than  sepulchral. "There's a reason you're supposed to learn the rules, that your RA is supposed to tell you."  He cleared his throat.  "There's-" He sounded like he was trying to get back some sort of lightness, some better feeling.  "There's always an empty dorm room in the middle of the Big Three and there's always three of them at the top of the right of the Little Three.  Doesn't matter if everyone else is bunked three to a room, there's always going to be those empty dorm rooms.  Always. You can go into them, nobody bothers to lock them anymore.  One of the ones in the Little Three, at least, it used to be just the way it had been the day the last person to live there walked away and vanished.  I don't know if it still is.  It's not bad luck to walk in there or anything, it's just against the rules.  And a little creepy," he added dryly.

"Like this isn't all a little creepy?" she countered.

"Okay, here's one that's not so creepy. If you get lost, anywhere on campus, anywhere, you just have to look to the south — if you can’t find south, look to the tallest roof you can see — and say ‘I’m lost’ three times.”

“And…?  What, the ghost of lost shows up?”

“You’re thinking Beetlejuice.  No.”  She thought it was possible Kiervan winced a little.  “No, a member of staff will show up.  Or at least, she will look like a member of staff and sound like one.  Nobody’s quite sure how they do it, but no matter where you are, no matter what time of day or night it is, they’ll get you going in the right direction.”

“That’s… that’s actually really sweet.”  It took away from the urge to go into the empty dorm room in the Little Three.  All three of the short towers were open to each other underground, after all. “...what about the tunnels?”

“Nothing really exciting there, strangely.  You’d think a campus like this with a network of underground tunnels would have something interesting, but the most exciting thing I’ve ever heard is that they all are actually connected, but you have to know which locked doors to go through, and you have to have the keys.”

“That would be so useful in winter…!”

“And that,” he smirked, “is why nobody has the keys.”

She snorted.  The weather was nice now, but as they walked down a stretch of road lined with overhanging trees on both sides, pruned so that they brushed the top of her head and thick enough that there was no sign of the moon overhead, she could imagine what it would be like in winter. “Of course.”

“Let’s see. Oh yes.  The chemistry lab — just avoid the second floor.  Don’t take classes in Lomb 205 and if you have to, go in from the first floor and sit in the first three rows.  If you know someone who’s taken classes there… or worse, who’s a research assistant on the second floor of Lomb — avoid them, or at least don’t be alone with them.”

“That doesn’t sound ominous at all.”

“It’s pretty bad,” he admitted.  She glanced over at him, but with the moonlight still shaded, she could barely see his outline. “All right, here’s two nice ones.  The blackboards in Rockefeller Hall.  The sliding ones.”

“The white boards?”

“Those,” he agreed easily. “Slide those back.  You’ll find old blackboards.  Slide those back.  You’ll find more.  They keep going.  I hear a student once spent all night trying to find the end.  We found her there in the morning, but the janitors had moved the boards back to the way they were, and her notebook was full of scribbles. Some of it, Professor Franklin matched to the oldest lecture he could remember giving on campus.  And he — he’s been here a long time.”

“That sounds… like a sort of clumsy way to keep an archive.  But fascinating.  Was she okay?”

“Other than a new interest in archaeology? Absolutely.”

They came out from under the tunnel-like canopy of trees; they were, by her reckoning, nearly at the circle for the Little Three, and she found she didn’t want the walk to end.

“And the other nice one?”

“Oh! Pennington Library. It was built in the 70s as a form of experimental architecture. Not only did they attempt to avoid any right angles — I think there are a few, but they went to some great lengths — but they were trying to demolish the idea of a building with discrete floors. If you haven't been in there yet, it can be quite interesting.  It's also very easy to get lost, of course, since there aren't-"

"-Any floor numbers?" Stana guessed.  "Or right angles."

"Exactly.  And while it's done in Library of Congress, the directions can be a little maddening getting from one sector to the next. 'Turn left at the statue of Pennington - the abstract one - and then head up the spiral staircase.'  That sort of thing."

"That doesn't sound - well, it doesn't sound dangerous." Or magical

"There's even a couple snack carts, so it's all in all pretty nice.  I mean, I heard rumors they were trying to summon an eldritch being, but one of the architects snuck in just enough right angles that it didn't work."

She glanced at him; he was smiling at her.  Stana risked a chuckle. 

"That one  - that one sounds like just a rumor.  There's got to be more, though."

They were at the circle for the Little Three; she could see her dorm in front of her, could even pick out her window. 

Keirvan brushed his hand over hers.  It was surprisingly cold for the pleasant night.  "I'll give you one more, then, until our next walk."

Next walk sounded quite nice.  "Yeah?"

"If you let a ghost walk you home in the moonlight, he'll be beholden to you for the rest of your time at this school - possibly for the rest of your time near any school - because you'll have given him a way to ground himself in the here and now.  You'll have given him hope and purpose."

She swallowed.  "And being beholden... what does that entail?"

His smile was small but it appeared to be growing.  "Well, it seems to entail telling you more about this university, so that you can avoid being lost in some of its more dangerous places.  And walking you home again, of course."

"Of course."  The nicest guy she'd met yet on campus... and he might be a ghost.  "So, should I just hang around trying to do things I shouldn't...?"

"I'd rather you not," he admitted, his smile getting a bit strained.  "But like I said.  I'm normally around the Science Quad, near the arched walkway.  Or near Stewart, when the sun starts to go down."

"I'll keep that in mind."  Stana leaned forward and brushed a very careful kiss across his cheek.  Like his hand, it was chilly, but definitely there.  "Thank you.  For everything.  And I'll be seeing you around."

He squeezed her shoulder; it left a feeling like cold fire behind.  "Yeah.  I do believe you will be."

🏛️

 This story was heavily influenced by & inspired by this thread here - https://radical.town/@velexiraptor/103454725489478703 - and if you read it you'll see a couple specific ones that slipped in there. Some of the rest come from various universities I have attended, worked at, or just hung out at. 

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