Gone with yesteryear were the cobbled paths and narrow brick lanes that once made the small town so quaint and attractive, replaced by wide asphalt streets and sidewalks. The lush landscaping and handsome architecture of the traditional private home gave way more and more to concrete parking lots and condominium complexes. Here and there small pockets of resistance flung out petitions and injunctions to stop the onslaught of commercial housing and modernization, but to no avail. The quaint old town rapidly vanished into the dehumanizing embrace of the big city. With the town also departed many of the gardens, the courtyards, the secret paths and the personality.
The quiet darkness of the night held against progress longer than many other things, but eventually streetlights and headlights drove even the shadows into retreat. People feared the night no longer. Instead of hiding behind closed doors and shutters in order to pass the gloom safely, they boldly strode forth into the dimly illuminated city to conduct business and pass the hours without care. Modern life tightened its stranglehold on the world until even the night acquiesced. The silence of the sleeping world gave way to the sound of car horns and revelers, and the day continued on between the setting and rising of the sun.
The great river that flowed through the heart of the nation witnessed the evolution of men's lives. When the first Europeans settled on its banks the river was free to wander about in its course, free to shape the land as the years passed by. Man eventually corrected that freedom, constructing stronger and stronger levees to keep the river captive. By the time the second millennium ticked by on the clock, the river no longer had any choice about course, nor the power to sculpt the earth. Great concrete barriers restrained the flow of the water as it passed through the capitol of Louisiana, nearing the end of its long trek to the Gulf.
High rise apartments looked down upon the river traffic from the east side, on the natural uplift created by thousands of years of sediment. Since the construction of the massive new Army Corps of Engineers embankment, natural levees existed only as geological curiosities in the lower Mississippi River valley. Sometimes people mistook the formation in Baton Rouge for a hill, which was an honest mistake. It provided a small measure of elevation to the area closest to the river, and made for attractive real estate. Anything built above sea level came with a healthy price tag in the land of hurricanes and floods.
The historic River Road provided an address for all that riverfront real estate, and marked the westernmost edge of the urban sprawl. It originated on the northern edge of the city and clung tightly to the twists and turns of the Mississippi as it plunged to the south, to New Orleans and the devastated regions beyond. The River Road whisked cars past the ruined shells of abandoned inner city businesses and the burned out hulls of nearly forgotten plantations. Long ago wagons and horses on the road passed those plantations in their heyday, and classic cars passed those establishments when business was still good. The road, like the flowing water beside it, mutely observed the ebb and flow of humanity's actions, if only for a much shorter time.
Between the urban quagmire and the old plantations a small slice of the cosmopolitan world straddled the River Road, at exactly the point where the city gave way to farmland. The local university bridged the gap between the two environments culturally as well as physically, owing in large part to its designation as an agricultural and mechanical college. The pastures closest to the downtown area had nothing to do with a commercial farm, but were instead holdings of the College of Agriculture and the College of Veterinary Medicine. The school used the cows, fields and crops as learning tools, which catapulted farming straight into the modern educational system. Inside the closest classroom buildings, would-be farmers used computer imagery to diagnose bovine diseases and databases to project future crop incomes. Though not an engineered structure, the bridge was something very tangible.
The turn east off of River Road at the vet school led into the heart of the university, a place like no other in South Louisiana. The buildings and grounds of L.S.U. presented a slice of dignified beauty in an urban landscape that, with the exception of some of the wealthier neighborhoods, had very little of that. The campus looked like an oasis of sanity, education and stability in a world filled with crumbling madhouses. The dilapidated hovels of the surrounding community suddenly transitioned into intelligently designed and well maintained dormitories and classroom complexes. The difference was quite dramatic.
In a testament to the progressive nature of the institution the major structures mutely championed the use of Italian Renaissance architecture. The lawns and gardens between the halls were perpetually watered and pampered, and filled with the best examples of landscaping plants the South had to offer. Giant live oaks accentuated the entire arrangement, with branches drooped to the ground and Spanish moss hanging from their limbs. On top of that the campus covered several square kilometers inside the city of Baton Rouge. The place looked marvelous. There had never been any dispute about that.
Curiously only one street connected the university to the Mississippi River, and River Road. It was called South Stadium, because it curved around the south side of Tiger Stadium. Students, fans, alumni and sportscasters called the stadium Death Valley. On Saturday's during football games the stadium contained almost a third of the population of the entire city.
The stadium changed many times since it's original construction, as thousands of seats were added over the decades. Originally the stadium held only 12,000 people. By 2005, 93,000 people could pack themselves into bleachers that stretched hundreds of feet into the air. The small, inviting sports arena got swallowed by a concrete leviathan that shook the ground during games, registering like an earthquake on the seismograph in the Geology Department. Death Valley suffered the same fate as the delightful college town around it; it grew up and transformed into a monster.
South Stadium Drive continued east past the monstrosity to eventually become West Lakeshore Drive, home to some of the prettiest scenery in Baton Rouge, but long before that it intersected with South Campus. South Campus Drive, along with Field House Drive, Tower Drive and Dalrymple Drive ringed the part of the campus that contained the quadrangle. The quad, as it was affectionately called, could only be described as the physical and ideological heart of Louisiana State University.
The quad was originally cruciform, with two long rows of halls making up the base and top. The Hill Memorial Library and the Memorial Tower formed the ends of the cross piece. In 1958 LSU constructed the Troy H. Middleton Library in the center of the layout, which transformed the longer, bottom end of the cruciform into a quadrangle bounded by nine different halls. The architects intended for the quad to represent knowledge, and they succeeded in a very practical sense. That particular place also witnessed the beginning of a great and secret story, hitherto unknown and all the more important for that.
The remnants of a thin haze lingered around the Spanish tile rooftops of the buildings surrounding the voluminous courtyard. The vaporous morning air curling along the ground between the benches and through the azaleas gave the campus an otherworldly air. Those illusions would vanish when the sun reclaimed control of the world. The southern heat had only started to burn its way through the humidity, so the temperature hovered in the almost pleasant range. The sun would do away with any illusion of mildness as well, later on in the day. In the morning air it was almost possible to pretend that wasn't true, as long as it was very early.
Unlike the heart of the city, campus life still slowed to a standstill at nightfall. A couple of hours after daybreak that reality changed. People appeared in small numbers at first, and then in growing crowds as class times drew near. Cars also materialized in ever increasing numbers on the streets hidden behind the great halls. The volume of cars reached a series of peaks around nine o'clock, then traffic died back down until lunch, and again until the end of the business day. The streets never went back to being quiet while the sun was up, though, nor did the sidewalks, squares and halls return to that peaceful state of emptiness. Daytime affairs involved nothing if not a lot of people moving around.
The act of traveling hither and yon wasn't all that complicated, but sociology devoted a lot of time to explaining why people did it. A few religions sought to still all the motion, and to deny the desires that called it into existence. To the detached mind and unquestioning eye the scene looked mundane and uninteresting, but the same scene viewed from a focused philosophical perspective stimulated a lot of thought. The eye of the beholder sometimes shaped the subjects of observation, and at other times blurred distinctions between them. It was very much a matter of perspective.
The benches in front of Coates Hall provided a perch to somebody with quite a unique perspective on the scene. A young man sat on top of one bench's back, hunched over with his elbows on his knees. His facial structure and his diminutive frame, along with his blond hair and green eyes, suggested that he was at least partially or Northern European descent, possibly with some Scottish thrown in. The hair in question was short and nicely cut, and blended i perfectly in any crowd. He looked to be in his twenties and in great shape, but at a distance his small size could mislead people into thinking he was weak. His Teva sandals looked a little new for a college student's, but only a very close inspection would reveal something like that. He was wearing Docker style shorts, if a bit baggy, and a blue and white Polo shirt. He blended into his surroundings almost perfectly.
The young man's name was William Patrick, but he never responded to William unless he knew the person addressing him. That name never came up unless his parents wanted him to do something. William's friends and family usually referred to him as Scooter.
Scooter died eight months after the morning in question, but his spirit stayed behind. Scooter appreciated dying only partially. He liked the arrangement a lot. After he accident he knew exactly what had happened to him to make him that way.
Scooter didn't talk to himself about it, because he got the feeling it wouldn't change anything. He prayed a lot after his death, which was the most defining moment of his existence. He constantly tried to talk to God. He didn't really miss human contact, but he had a great desire for more knowledge about what was going on. His cognitive and spiritual needs seemed to only grow stronger after death.
Scooter could effortlessly recall every detail of the night he passed away. He found himself thinking about it even when he didn't want to. The first real cold front of autumn had pushed into South Louisiana, in the second week of October during the previous year. The temperature dropped into the upper fifties, which felt like a real luxury after the summer months. Scooter opened all of the windows of his apartment and put on a '95 Phish concert when the sun went down. He cleaned up the place, turned up the music and got down to the business of feeling on top of the world.
It was Saturday night, and the phone rang around seven o'clock. Scooter's best friend needed his input to plan the evening's festivities. The person calling on the phone, Jeffrey Simmons, met Scooter in middle school, and they remained friends from that point on. They decided to take in a late movie, hit a fast food restaurant around midnight and then go out to a club in Lafayette. Also along for the ride would be Meyer Reid, and of course they would all have their girlfriends along.
After Scooter hung up the phone he wondered why he and Jeffrey always made the weekend plans. Only after that did they let everyone else know what they were doing. That also led him to wonder why his girlfriend, Christie, put up with him. But maybe the story should start a wee bit further in the past...
My kingdom for an editor!
Note: Yes, I know it's very similar. That's intentional. It becomes more distracting as the story advances, guaranteed.