My oldest daughter enters college in a few weeks and I am very excited for her, proud too. It’s hard to believe I matriculated to sweet little Wittenberg University in Springfield, Ohio – “America’s Quiet Surprise” (I shit you not) – 28 years ago. I had just turned 17 and in retrospect was too young, but that’s another story.
Springfield was selected as Newsweek’s “Typical American City” in 1981. An entire issue was devoted to an in-depth examination of the town. While Springfield doubtlessly exemplifies middle-America, middle-America isn’t all barbershop quartets and ice cream socials. It was more like Blue Velvet.
A very large cemetery sprawled over hills and dales right next to Wittenberg, and the fall of ’75, my freshman year, saw a series of puzzling incidents there: graves were desecrated, charred animal remains were found in various states of ritualistic dismemberment, and cryptic symbols were found throughout the hilly necropolis.
There were wild rumors: witchcraft, satanic worship, a Jean Dixon prediction of ritualistic murder near a small Midwestern school (it didn’t happen), frightened virgins, frightened libertines, networks of caves, trapdoors under school buildings. This all led to one ripsnorting Halloween as countless students snuck around with butterflies in their stomachs and chemicals in their bloodstreams endeavoring to espy diabolical perpetrators. This heady confluence produced nothing but an overwhelming flow of young adult hormones. The police were hard pressed to explain the Halloween cemetery fornication epidemic that year.
The very next day, All Saint’s Day, my girlfriend and I sought to tether ourselves to the real world with an across-town trip to a pizza haven for a becalming lunch. We achieved this aim without incident and headed back to school in my late grandmother’s Mercury. A few blocks from the pizza place, I noted a figure out of the corner of my left eye.
I glanced toward the figure: she was a boxy, middle-aged woman of featureless commonality. I looked back at the road as we traveled between traffic lights at a leisurely 25 mph. An inexplicable aprehension drew my gaze back to the woman.
As I looked on her face transformed into a hideous rictus – her enormous eyes bore through the protective barriers of speed, steel and glass into the back of my skull, her gaze riveting and malevolent. I knew I had to look at the road, guide the car, get past the glaring evil. I could not.
My girlfriend screamed, “Look out, what are you doing?” The eyes, which seemed to lead the body, found their way onto the road and headed directly for us – they wanted death, their own or ours.
The scream revived me enough to stomp the brakes. We lurched forward and around to the left. The woman – a self-destructive grinning zombie – careened off of the central grill of the car and off to the right as we skidded past.
I shouted wordlessly, my girlfriend screamed again, “Her eyes, her eyes…” I peered in a panic in the rearview mirror where the eyes once again met mine and widened into circles of contempt. Her lips pulled completely back revealing huge, cruel teeth as she shook with sickening silent laughter and waved us on.
There were no other pedestrians and no other cars in sight. I righted the car and looked back again. The woman was gone.
We drove back to school in stunned silence, never more sober or disoriented.
I sure hope my daughter doesn’t run into anything like that.