by Alex Hartline '13
Episode 4: Gil Goodpen on Zombie Island
8:48PM Tuesday, August 29th, “The Lofts”
“Swag cit-tayyyy!” TJ exclaimed as he strode confidently into our new apartment, his muscular brown arms moving consciously in-sync with his body.
“Not exactly how I would have put it, TJ.” I leaned against the doorframe and flicked my toothpick to the floor. However, as my eyes scanned the living room/kitchen combo, I couldn’t help but feel as if I did enter a “swag city” of sorts. The building was a renovated cigar factory and it looked the part. Hard-wood floors, exposed beams, a dishwasher—our pad was lookin’ swell to say the least. Yes sir, everything seemed to be coming up roses for ol’ Gil. Last semester I switched my major from Business to American Studies (in hopes of getting my foot in the door at the FBI—that’s right, in a few years Gil won’t be the finest self-proclaimed detective any longer). It was senior year and the gorgeous Veronica Vawn was in clear sight. And on top of everything, this swanky College Hill pad.
Binny was already lighting up a celebratory Cuban in the fine leather armchair before we even had a chance to check out our pre-selected rooms. The smoke rose naturally, curled at the ceiling, and twisted around the corner into the first bedroom. TJ was already inside setting up his personal gym. I stopped at his door and eyed up his abode.
“Gee-whiz, TJ, your room kinda’ gives me the willies.”
“Shut-up, dude, I don’t like scary stuff.”
Despite his protests, my keen gum-shoe observations were undeniable. The room was drafty, the bed was eerily over-sized, and the white walls were peeling. Not peeling exactly, more scarred. Like they were carved into. Wait, they are being carved into. I moved closer. There was a message being clearly engraved in the wall by some invisible hand.
TJ looked up from the ab-blaster he was assembling and spotted the writing. He stood up and speed walked out of the room declaring “this is not my room, this not my room, this is not my room…” to the entire apartment with every step.
Binny took his place in the doorway and saw my perplexed personage (not at all spooked) studying the continuous carving.
“Whoa. It’s like in Scooby Doo on Zombie Island.”
“No, it’s not. There’s a logical explanation”
“That’s what Velma said in Scooby Doo on Zombie Island.”
“I bet it’s the frat bros next door trying to scare us out. You know, so they can…have a keg party…or something.” Gil doesn’t specialize in the supernatural. He specializes in college students.
By this point the entire north wall of TJ’s room (or rather TJ’s former room) was filled with writing, leaving more wood exposed than white paint. Curiosity (not fear) was quickly replaced with intuition. Instinctually, I knew what had to be done. Gil Goodpen was about to open his first investigation of his final year at Franklin & Marshall College.
First, I had to preserve the evidence (some local blue badges would probably be swarming in a few hours, fingering up the wall). I transcribe the writing into a word document. One day I’ll have somebody to do this for me. I read the message as I typed:
“Intruders! Intruders, fresh-faced and bright-eyed! Your very presence is an ominous cloud over my existence, but a greater sin has been committed yet. You choke the very air I breath. You disregard the undeniable dangers of your actions, your arrogant opulence, your treason. Are you as blind to the tinderbox upon which you nest as you are my physical form? Scores of men and women I have permitted before you, but none have so used my livelihood against my resting place—my former life! Your embers, your smoke, I made, but never manipulated, within these confines as you so confidently do. Cease or your horrors will continue!”
Hmm. Nothin’. Anyway, my second step was to evaluate my resources. This mystery was mostly writing-based, so why not take it to the undisputed writing experts on campus? The Writing Center! Their convenient hours and location gave me plenty of time to get over there before night fall.
My knock-off Italian leathers moved hot over West James asphalt as I neared Diagnothian, Macbook in hand. I took the stairs two at a time as late sun rays stained by their journey through centuries-old glass lit up my crisp white t-shirt. There I was, a walk-in at the Writing Center.
I was promptly greeted by a friendly, familiar face. The same John who had helped Veronica and I last semester was there to save me again.
“Hey, man! Good to see you again. What would you like to talk about today?”
“I’ve got a pretty serious…assignment.” It suddenly struck me that I couldn’t tell this kid that I’ve got some ghost-writin’ for him to check out. He’d think I’m batty.
“We’ll help you develop any kind of writing here. We even do oral presentations and—”
“Yeah, yeah, thanks, that’s great.” We sank down into a blue couch with wooden handles. I quickly cleared the coffee table of pens and loose M&Ms before setting my Macbook down. “This is a…uh…creative writing piece—that I wrote, of course. And…it…well, I don’t know what it…means…yet.”
“Well, do you have the prompt for the assignment?”
“No, I completely forgot it. I’m just so scatterbrained sometimes.”
“No worries. Describe the assignment to me.”
“I had to write…from the past. Or something. And that…is exactly what I did. Yes, sir.” Plagiarizing a ghost. Had I, Gil Goodpen, really sunk so low? All in the name of detective-ship, I reminded myself.
“Sounds interesting! So what were you, as a person from the past, trying to convey to the reader?”
I snapped my fingers. “That’s exactly what I came here to find out! Ha!” The sound resonated off of the high, baby blue walls. Walls, which I noted, seemed much more likely to produced ghost carving than our humble apartment.
“Alright, then…could you read it aloud? It will help us both understand what’s going on in this paragraph.”
“Yeah, I know the drill. I’m a WC vet.” I read him the paranormal paragraph with a little unease. After I finished, a small silence passed. I spoke first.
“So what do you think it—I mean, I—what do you think I mean.”
“Sounds like you’re eliciting some kind of warning,” Okay, yeah, I got that much, “about smoking.” This really threw me for a loop.
“How’d you get that?!” I suddenly doubted this fellow’s infallibility.
“Well, look at your word choice. ‘Cloud’, ‘air I breath’, ‘tinderbox’, ‘embers’…’smoke’! It’s all there. Is that what you intended? It’s a little cryptic.”
“Yeah, yeah, cryptic…I just need some time to piece this together.”
“You’re welcome to stick around and work on it at one of our computers.”
“Thanks, champ, but I gotta’ split.” I had to find out who would want to screw with us like this. And on top of that, this guy was so accommodating, I thought he was gonna’ give me backrub. I headed for the door, but the tutor spoke again. His demeanor had changed.
“Ya know, Gil,” he was lounging back, both arms spread impressively across the top of the couch, “there are mysteries in this school that go beyond reason. I know you; you think you’ve got it all figured out with your Encyclopedia Brown routine. But sometimes the truth is imperceptible to our own tethered minds.” He let the words set. “Kinda’ like in Scooby Doo on Zombie Island.”
“Uh, keep it classy, kid.” And I scooted out the double door, completely dumbstruck.
My head swam as my feet shuffled. Who would want us to not smoke in the apartment? Was F and O really getting that desperate? Scare tactics seemed a bit much for them. We aren’t even smokers.
Back at the Lofts, I took my time climbing the stairs to the third floor. On the top landing, my hand grazed an original vertical beam. It still had the cigar company’s name burned into it.
I opened the door to our place and became a believer. From floor to ceiling, a book’s worth of writing had filled the apartment. My face froze, mouth agape. However, a second later, my nose twitched: Binny was sitting on his chair puffing another Cuban oblivious or apathetic to his surroundings. My mind sharpened. The building’s history, of course! Nobody would be foolin’ around with fire in a cigar factory.
“Binny, snuff the stogie.” I plopped down on the couch.
“Yeah, no problem, dude. Why’s that?”
“Cause the spirits demand it.”
“Oh, just like in Scooby Doo on Zombie Island.”
What mystery will Gil Goodpen encounter next? Find out in the next episode of…