Kyle Broder has achieved his lifelong dream and is an editor at a major publishing
house. When Kyle is contacted by his favorite college professor, William Lansing, Kyle
couldn’t be happier. Kyle has his mentor over for dinner to catch up and
introduce him to his girlfriend, Jamie, and the three have a great time. When
William mentions that he’s been writing a novel, Kyle is overjoyed. He would
love to read the opus his mentor has toiled over.
FROM FAR AWAY the trees at Bentley College appeared as if on fire, crowns of nuclear leaves dotting the skyline. Professor William Lansing knew it meant that fall had firmly arrived. Once October hit, the Connecticut campus became festooned with brilliant yellows, deep reds, and Sunkist orange nature. People traveled for miles to witness the foliage, rubbernecking up I-95 and flocking to nearby Devil’s Hopyard, a giant park where the students might perform Shakespeare, or enter its forest gates at nighttime to get high and wild. William had taken a meandering hike through its labyrinthine trails that morning before his seminar on Existential Ethics in Literature. It had been over a decade since he’d entered its tree-lined arms, but today, the very day he was reaching the part in his long-gestating novel that took place in Devil’s Hopyard, seemed like a fitting time to return.
His wife Laura hadn’t stirred when he left at dawn. He slipped out of bed and closed the mystery novel propped open on her snoring chest. He often wrote early in the mornings. Before the world awoke, he’d arm himself with a steaming coffee and a buzzing laptop, the wind from off the Connecticut River
pinching his cheeks. His chirping backyard would become a den of inspiration,
or he’d luxuriate in the silence of Bentley at six a.m. when the only sound might be a student or two trundling down the Green to sleep off a fueled night of debauchery.
He’d been at Bentley for over twenty years, tenured and always next in line to be department chair. He refused even the notion of the position for fear it might eat into time spent writing his opus. His colleagues understood this mad devotion. They too had their sights set on publications, most of them well
regarded in journals, only a few of them renowned beyond Bentley’s walls like
William dreamed to be. Notoriety had dazzled him since he was a child—a time
when his world seemed small and lifeless and dreams of fame were his only
His colleagues often questioned him about this elusive manuscript he’d been toiling on for years, but he found it best to remain tight-lipped, to entice mystery. It was how he ran his classroom as well, letting only a few chosen students get close, keeping the rest at enough of a distance to regard him as tough and impenetrable but fair. Maybe he’d made a few students cry when a paper they stayed up all night to finish received a failing grade, or when his slashes of red pen seemed to consume one of their essays on Sartre’s Nausea, which he found trite and pedestrian; but that only made them
want to do better the next time. They understood that he wanted his kingdom to be based on fear, for creativity soared in times of distress.
William’s legs were sore after his hike that morning through Devil’s Hopyard. The terrain was hilly and its jagged trails would challenge even a younger man, but he kept
fit, wearing his fifty-five year old frame well. He was an athlete back in
school, a runner and a boxer who still kept a punching bag in the basement and
ended his day with a brisk run through his town of Killingworth,
a blue-collar suburban enclave surrounding Bentley’s college-on-a-hill. He had
all his hair, which was more than he could say for most of his peers, even
though silver streaks now cut through the brown. He secretly believed this made
him more dashing than during his youth. Women twenty years younger still gave
him a second glance, and he often found Laura taking his hand at department
functions and squeezing it tight, as if to indicate that she fully claimed him and there’d be no chance for even the most
innocent of flirtations. He had a closet full of blazers with elbow patches and
never wore ties so he could keep his collar open and expose his chest hair,
which hadn’t turned white yet. He had a handsome and regal face, well
proportioned, and while his eyes drooped some due to a lifetime of battling
insomnia, it gave him the well-worn look of being entirely too busy to sleep.
People often spoke of him as a soul who never enjoyed being idle, someone who
was always moving, expounding, and expanding.
Professor Lansing,” said Nathaniel, a tall and gangly freshman, who after three
weeks into the semester had yet to look William in the eye. Nathaniel’s legs
twisted over one another with each step. William guessed that the boy had
recently grown into his pole-like body and his brain now struggled with how to
move it properly.
William said, wiping the sweat mustache from his top lip. He could smell his
own lemony perspiration from the intense jaunt through Devil’s Hopyard. “How
did your paper on The Stranger turn
eyes seemed to avoid him even more. They became intent on taking in the
colorful foliage, as if it had sprouted overnight.
boy began, still a hair away from puberty, his voice hitting a high octave,
“I’m not totally sure what you meant about Meursault meeting his end because he
didn’t ‘play the game’.”
responded with a throaty laugh and a shake of his head. He placed a palm on
game, Nathaniel, the dos and don’ts we all must ascribe to. How, even if we
slip on occasion, we’re not supposed to admit what we did for fear of being
nodded, his rather large Adam’s apple bobbing up and down in agreement too. He
stuffed a bitten-down nail between his chapped lips and chewed away like a rat,
leaving William to wonder if the boy was on some new-fangled type of speed. He
liked Nathaniel, who barely spoke in class, but once in a while would give a
nervous peep filled with promise. The students he paid the most attention to
weren’t the heads of the lacrosse team or the stars of the theater productions,
those students would have a million other mentors fawning over them. He looked
for the hidden jewels, the ones who were waiting for that extra push, who’d
been passed over their whole lives but would someday excel past their peers.
Then they would thank him wholeheartedly for igniting a spark.
why Camus didn’t personalize the victim that Meursault killed?” Nathaniel
asked, wary at first, as the two entered the doors of Fanning Hall past a swirl
of other students. “So we sympathize with him despite his crime?”
stopped in front of his classroom, its cloudy window offering a haze of
students settling into their desks. He stood blocking the door so Nathaniel had
no choice but to look in his eyes.
sympathize with him?”
it’s hard to penalize someone for one mistake,” Nathaniel said. “I know he shot
the Arab guy, but…I don’t know, sometimes things just happen. I guess that
makes me callous.”
stared at Nathaniel for an uncomfortable extra few seconds before Kelsey, a
pretty sorority girl with canary yellow hair, fluttered past them.
Professor,” Kelsey said, without looking Nathaniel’s way. William could feel
the boy’s sigh crowding the hallway.
Nathaniel, we’ll continue this debate in class.”
the boy into the room. The students immediately became hushed and rigid as he
slumped into a chair in the back while Kelsey cut off another girl to get a
prime seat up front.
placed his leather satchel on the table, took out a red marker, and scribbled
on the board, I didn’t know what a sin
was. The handwriting looked like chicken scratch and the students had to
squint a bit to decipher it; but eventually the entire class of twenty managed
to correctly jot down the quote. They had gotten used to his idiosyncrasies.
“At the end
of the novel, Meursault ponders that he didn’t know what a sin was,” William
said. “What does that mean?”
of the class raised their hands, each one eager to be noticed. Kelsey clicked
her tongue for attention, as if her desperation wasn’t obvious enough. She
looked like she had to pee. In the back, Nathaniel was fully absorbed in a
doodle that resembled Piglet from Winnie the Pooh.
William barked, sending the pen flying out of the boy’s hand. Nathaniel weaved
his long arms around the desk to pick up the pen and then gave a slack-jawed
expression as a response.
“Why does Meursault insist to the
chaplain that he didn’t know what a sin was?” William continued.
silently pleaded for William to call on someone else. He let out an
“uuuhhhhhhh” that lasted through endless awkward seconds.
it upon herself to chime in.
while Meursault understands he’s been found guilty for his crime, he doesn’t
truly see that what he did was wrong.”
turned toward Kelsey to admonish her for speaking without being called on, a
nasty habit that happened more and more with this ADD-addled generation than
the prior one, but a red-leaf tree outside the window captured his attention
instead, its color so unreal, so absorbing. The red so vibrant like its leaves
had been painted with blood.
came from far away, as if hidden under the earth, screaming to be acknowledged.
waved her arm in his direction, grounding him. She gave a pout.
“Like, am I
right, or what, Professor? He doesn’t truly see
that what he did was wrong.”
cleared his throat, maintaining control over the room. He smiled at them the
same way he would for a photograph.
that’s true, Kelsey. Expressing remorse would constitute his actions as wrong.
He knows his views make him a stranger to society, and he is content with this
judgment. He accepts death and looks forward to it with peace. The crowds will
cheer hatefully at his beheading, but they will
be cheering. This is what captivates the readers almost seventy years after the
book’s publication. What keeps it and Camus eternal, immortal.”
beamed at the class, her grin smug as ever.
went to the board, erased the quote, and replaced it with the word IMMORTAL in big block letters, this time
written with the utmost perfect penmanship.