Welcome, traveler, to my humble abode. Fear not the rats nor the shards of shattered beakers;  my torment extends only to myself. Once you leave these halls, any memories of me will vanish, and I shall be alone once again.

I was not always a creature of the shadows. I served my Lord in the world above, holding hours to officiate and entertain complaints of nonsensical grading, amidst my daily curation of pots of mediocre coffee by the hundreds. But life loses its colors by the seventeenth time around, thus, I am banished down below, until I have found it in myself to return the pep to my step.

Have you ever felt that a professor seemed eternal? My Lord, before I knew him in his truest form, had a stillness to him that loomed as foreboding as a sycamore about to fall. Don’t be swayed by his mortal guise: He has withstood millennia without a flinch, and he only grows stronger.

I serve the Devil. There, that’s it.

Like Dorian Gray, I am trapped in an exquisite hell of my own making. Night after night I burn away the midnight oil with nary a yawn in sight, while the postage stamp-sized portrait on my student identification card grows ever more hideous. My counterpoint’s cheeks are some I have not seen in years, so submerged in eye bags are they. In another life, I fell prey to false hope and paid the fine for a new one, but the same grotesque figure was soon to appear.

Some have willingly entered into his service. I am no Faust: I was merely a fool. Lying in small print, at the bottom of the second page of his syllabus for ENGL 321 – Paradise Lost is For Lovers, was a clause stipulating that all students who achieve a final score of 66.66% will forfeit their souls to eternal damnation and Teaching Assistantship. Not an hour goes by that I don’t curse and bemoan my stupidity, for all that I believed to be at stake was a failing grade.

He called me to his office, on a floor in Rush Rhees that I don’t believe ever existed. It wouldn’t hurt, he promised, and there was much I could stand to learn. Nervous, wondering if I should’ve phoned my friend’s lawyer dad before showing up, I printed my name and UR ID number, and signed. There was a flash and a bang, and I awoke in a nest made of torn lab coats. I have never slept since.

I have accumulated tens of degrees since the follies of my first youth. I have seen the seasons change, the oceans warm, and the woodland creatures die and be born again, over and over. I have made more PowerPoint slides for his lectures than should exist in this dimension. The dull repetition grates constantly, an itch between my bones themselves that I can never scratch, save for emptying my entrails and hoping for the best. 

He gave an eternity of inertia, lifetimes of a world shivering and shriveling and snapping into nothing like the brittle branches of a shrub in winter. And it will go on, for as long as he wills it and as long as my mind can endure it. My fate was sealed eons ago: You cannot save me. You can only save yourself.

Read the damn syllabus.

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Summer vacation is no longer a vacation.

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