Bomb Day at Hamilton College
The siren wailed into the field beneath the radio tower. At night, students in Minor Dormitory could see the light atop the tower pulsing across the field. But at day, its beacon disappeared into the sky like a speck of paint in a glass of water.
A member of the Clinton police force kept vigil on the dark side of campus. He patrolled the space between Minor and Major dorms, keeping an eye on the road, on the dark visor of the glen, and on the swath of field before him. He was armed: he would stop any intruders. He swung around on patrol.
Two students, young men, came from the copse edging the field, approaching Minor in a wide circle. The taller of the two walked with a gangly stride under hunched shoulders. Black sunglasses obscured his eyes, and he spoke rapidly to the other, sweeping his arms to emphasize points of his speech. The latter walked with a cautious tread and inclined his head to indicate that he listened. He let the rhythm of his friend’s words fall over him while his eye nervously tracked the black dot of the guard.
They had timed their approach for the blind half of the guard’s patrol. Leaving the field, they came under the concrete entrance of Minor dorm undetected. After swiping in and retrieving a coffee mug and a lighter, the two hurried out of the building, crossed the quad and went off in the direction of the parking lot which bordered the Root Glen. Then they slowed.
A hood of branches at the trailhead glided over their heads. When they were safely inside the glen, Roy Oakloch, the taller of the two, stopped on the path. He gripped the handle of his coffee mug and, with the other hand, unsnapped the mug’s bottom. His hand fiddled with the base. Then the inner segments of the mug extended outwards like a telescope.
—Tchotchke bullshit, mumbled Jonathan Sky.
Roy Oakloch unscrewed the handle of the mug then slotted it into a hole at the bottom. From his cardigan pocket he pinched shreds of bud into the bowl. The bowl packed, he took from the same pocket a lighter and struck a flame. Jonathan watched the flame bend to the bowl, roasting the shreds orange. Roy Oakloch, his face long and princely, closed his eyes and inhaled from the top of the mug. Then he exhaled a cloud and shut the telescope. He held the mug out to Jonathan Sky.
—I’m good, said Jonathan.
—I’ll save my appetite, said Jonathan.
—What was that?
—I’ll wait for pizza.
—For sure, said Roy Oakloch.
They resumed their journey out of campus, following a slope down to where footbridges traversed a stream. As they walked their sneakers thumped the bridge timbers; and they watched patches of shade scramble light through the needles. The hardwoods, not yet leaved, wafted specks of pollen. Webs of shade fell over Roy Oakloch as he talked. He shook his head angrily then said:
—They accuse me of being a coked-out drug man. The coke up here is like seventy-five percent detergent with the active ingredients as meth or ADD pills, and lidocaine for numbing and fentanyl so you don’t realize it’s meth and you die.
Jonathan bowed his head:
—I don’t know man, I’m about to be out of here.
—This place is cursed. The friendliest people here get minimum wage.
The path led them from the glen to a garden enclosed by hedges. The grass was still sere from winter but a Norwegian Spruce cast a patch of shade.
—Mind if we sit down for a minute? asked Jonathan.
—Sounds good, said Roy Oakloch.
They swung over a split-rail fence and then sat down at the base of the tree. Jonathan looked with displeasure at his pocket as his phone buzzed. He took it out.
—What’s that about? asked Roy Oakloch.
—I sent V a picture, said Jonathan.
—Ouch, definitely not the move right now dude. Then he asked:
—The building she’s trapped in.
Jonathan looked past the branches to the day, an ironed blue cloth on which clouds warped. He saw a dragon’s snout, the letter Q forming, the frond of a palm tree…
—There’s no bomb, he said pensively.
—I don’t know man, said Roy Oakloch, Twitter said police found a sus package in KJ.
—Sus with deodorant and fortune cookies.
—You don’t know that, said Roy Oakloch. He illustrated:
—Your lucky numbers today are 3…2...1. He moved his hands apart.
Jonathan said nothing. After a moment Roy Oakloch said:
—Do you think they’ll find out who did it?
—I know who did it.
—The unmentionable man in the turban.
—This has been going on since the nineties though.
—But the fear…
—I dunno, I feel like it comes in waves. Like there was the Cold War where everyone thought they were going to be bombed and then all of the red scares. Don’t get me wrong nine-eleven changed this country–
—I’m hungry, he said.
They both stood. Leaving the garden, they walked to the side of College Hill Road. Clouds rolled their shadows across the treetops, which screened the town of Clinton below. Suddenly, a triplet of humvees, their windshields split into black panes, came growling from the bend. They blew past Roy Oakloch and Jonathan then crested the Hill.
—Jesus, said Roy Oakloch.
They set off downhill in full light of the sun. Roy Oakloch said he thought he needed a Zyrtec; Jonathan paused under a gingko tree to retuck his shirt. The path slowly leveled the further they went.
It was one o’clock when they neared the foot of the hill. As they crossed the intersection the siren in Clinton wailed. To Jonathan it sounded unlike the siren he had heard in the copse, whereinto it rang faint and dark like a trombone. To break the silence, he said:
—I wonder how it will be in Clinton.
—I don’t know, said Roy Oakloch.
—I hope they don’t do anything rash like close Giovanni’s.
Another moment passed in silence. They seemed to have been spirited away from the Hill as they came into Clinton. Cars lay baking in the sun and a line of traffic trickled towards the elementary school parking lot. Jonathan ducked into the natural foods store where he sought a bottle of death sauce. When he reappeared on the curb Roy Oakloch had gone. Jonathan went up the hill towards the central green, where he found Roy Oakloch sitting on a park bench looking into the wishing well.
—You good? asked Roy Oakloch.
Jonathan nodded and they crossed the green to Giovanni’s.
The restaurant had a gray, stuffy aspect. The dining room was empty save for an electrician who gazed at the cars wiping through the glass. In the top right corner, a tv droned news.
As they came towards the counter an employee laid his peel atop the oven. He was a tan, muscular youth with a dark, furrowed brow and a small curve of a smile. His eyes matched the color of his beard, which framed his jaw in dark brown hair. As the employee approached the counter he asked:
—How can I help you guys?
—Hi, said Roy Oakloch. One minute.
Roy Oakloch looked at the assortment of pies beneath the glass then asked for two slices with sausage and bacon.
—Bacon and sausage slices. Anything else?
—I’ll have a soda also.
—What about you bud?
—I’ll take a slice with ham and pineapple.
—Ham and pineapple. Good choice.
—Anything to drink with that?
—Just a cup of water.
—Certainly. You guys together or separate?
—Together, said Jonathan.
Jonathan slid a few crumpled bills from his wallet to the counter.
—Be ready in a few. The employee placed their cups atop the counter.
After filling up they took their seats at a booth along the wall. Roy felt talkative but Jonathan had not much to say. Soon they looked out the window to the cars blurring past. Their eyes watched the road but their ears followed the sound of the broadcast.
With a wail the siren rose through the parlor. The sound would not dissipate: it renewed with frequent rising blasts. Their hearts pulsed with fear and Jonathan said:
—I can’t stand that fucking horn, man.
—Intolerable, said Roy Oakloch.
The siren cooled a moment later. As the last note faded the sound of the tv refilled the room. In a voice of concern the news anchor said:
Hamilton College in upstate New York has been put on lockdown due to a bomb threat made earlier this morning. The school posted on their Twitter feed that KJ, one of the college’s academic buildings, was evacuated at 10:45 after an anonymous caller placed the threat with the school’s campus safety department. Police and school officials report that explosives technicians are en route to the college to inspect a suspicious package found in one of the buildings. We’ll be joining Sylvia Mulberry for more on this story in just a moment. Sylvia?
The tv made the sound of a zooming jet. Then it showed a woman in a stunning burgundy jacket.
—Hi Elizabeth, as you can see I’m here at Hamilton College where over fifty law enforcement officers have reported to se--
The employee lowered a red tray to the table. It held three slices of pizza on paper plates, the tips of which projected over the crimped margin. Roy Oakloch seized a slice by the crust, folded and blew into the hollow. Without waiting for the slice to cool he took a bite and a jet of sauce spurted onto his upper lip.
Jonathan looked at the mosaic of cheese studded with ham and pineapple. He lacked Roy Oakloch’s tenacity and waited for the slice to cool. From the side of the table he grabbed canisters, dusting the slice with flakes of crushed red pepper and oregano, then coating with parmesan cheese before strafing with garlic powder. He waited another minute for the slice to cool.
Jonathan raised the tip of the slice to his lips. With one hand he pinched the crust and with the fingers of the other he made a platform on which the pizza could rest. Slowly he brought the tip towards his mouth as he o’d his lips and blew. As he closed his teeth around the first bite the slice’s layers of bread and sauce and cheese and toppings came undone. The tang of the sauce rushed over his palate followed by the round rank taste of the cheese. The little cubes of ham had a salty taste and his tongue felt sweet on a chunk of lucent pineapple. He chewed. Flakes of pepper and oregano starred his tongue. He wolfed it down, taking bite after bite. When he finished acrid garlic floated over his palate like a gas.
—I’m getting another, he said to Roy Oakloch.
—Hi, said Jonathan at the counter, can I have a bacon slice and two knots?
—You said that’s one bacon slice and two knots.
—Sure thing. Total’s gonna be $3.62.
Jonathan slid the employee cash and returned to their booth.
Jonathan’s mind seemed to rock down into a calm, quiet place. He heard Roy’s straw pull up segments of watered-down soda beneath the ice. Outside, the afternoon shone: no dire news had lit their phones from Hamilton College. Jonathan looked at Roy Oakloch sunnily for the first time all day and said:
—Yea. Gonna get a refill.
Jonathan watched Roy Oakloch fill his cup then place his tray atop the refuse bin and sit back down. A few minutes passed before the employee brought a new tray to the table.
—Bacon and knots, he said.
Jonathan looked greedily at the tray before him. On one plate lay two garlic knots, the dough browned and slick with melted garlic and butter; on the other lay a smoking slice of bacon pizza with ample barbecue sauce. The waves of meat lay atop the cheese like sea-serpents on a medieval map. Without topping the slice he blew fiercely over it and began to eat.
The sauce scalded his tongue on the first bite. Chewing the slice, he let his tongue touch the bacon. With cheese it had an oily yellow taste. After consuming half he began work on the garlic knots. These finished, he took a sip of water and finished the rest in a few bites. The shells of the crust broke apart on his teeth.
Jonathan slumped back in his seat.
—I think I’m good man.
They stood to go, Jonathan throwing out his paper plates and Roy moving towards the door.
—Take care, said the employee as they exited.
The late afternoon sun had turned the sky yellowish blue. Their bellies full, they went to lie down in the green. They drifted off with their faces to the sun. By strokes of sunlight fading they gradually roused again.
It was six o’clock when they left Clinton and headed back up the hill. A professor, Jonathan’s, came down the hill near a medieval dorm. His livid hair, mock-scowl, and sharp blue eyes betokened an acerbic, or joking, manner.
—Jonathan, are you responsible for all of this?
—Too many political theory classes, I… He buzzed his hands over his head.
Shadows elongated as they summited the Hill. Few students paced the walkways and those who did looked down or dead ahead. Jonathan and Roy Oakloch approached the crossing and, without stopping, Roy Oakloch said:
—I’m gonna meet the Dunham Boys.
—Alright peace, said Jonathan.
Jonathan walked the curved road past the dormitories and field, then cut to Minor. He swiped his card for the reader: it emitted a beep and flashed green. Going in, he climbed to the third floor. On the landing Jonathan heard a door in the hallway slam shut. He stepped towards his room door and pulled it open.
Jonathan stepped in. He kicked off his shoes then flicked the light switch. Unlaundered clothes covered Roy Oakloch’s half of the room; atop the refrigerator a jar of uncapped ona gel scented the room with chemical linen. Jonathan rearranged the rubber lobster on his desk and looked around. He was tired. His bed had a black comforter and dark blue pillows. Was Violet home?
In Jonathan’s window the leaves of the treetop began to rustle. Spots of white light played in their crescents, which now began to thrash and, thrashing, upturned branches. Jonathan quelled the terror that burst through his thoughts: he knew without having to think what moved above the dorm.
Thunk. Thunk. Thunk. Thunk.
About the Author: Alex Witonsky is a writer living in Blue Point, New York. He is a graduate of Hamilton College, where he studied languages and film. His interests include mycology, the scientific study of mushrooms.