The drive was an adventure in itself. The back roads of LaSalle County that took us to the park were, on occasion, twisty and hilly. One in particular was our favorite. Our youthful, creative minds had labeled it "The Hilly Road." We had perfected the method of riding it. You inhaled when the vehicle rose up the hill. When you went down the other side, you held your breath and felt your stomach rise. It had the same effect as a mild rollercoaster. The steeper the descent, the better the feeling. We rose and fell, gasping for breath, our giggles filling the air.
The landscape was breathtaking, too.Miles and miles of cornfields and prairie land flew past, interrupted every now and then by a house or a small town. Tall, wild grasses and flowers along the ditches swayed in the breeze, and the sun glinted off large puddles in fields from a recent rain. Dreams emerged of hidden cottages and adventures with animals in the scattered woodlands throughout the flowing plains...a real-life Narnia.
Youthful minds have no thought of remembering the correct roads to take to a destination--take two lefts, turn right after the third stop sign, etcetera. They are lucky to remember landmarks if they are even concentrating on the course at all.
We anticipated one particular landmark on our journey: the Slugbug Farm. It was a breeding ground (read "junkyard") for old slugbugs--slang for the Volkswagen Beetles. They came in all conditions from "slightly rusty" to "Swiss cheese," and dotted the property, springing from the weeds like clusters of brightly colored flowers.
Jack Donavon was six feet tall with green eyes that laughed when he did. His coppery hair begged my fingers to run through it. Like James Bond, he also had that ability to glance at me a certain way and my knees buckled.
We met in a literature class our junior year of college. I needed the course to graduate. He said he just wanted to meet intellectual women.
I remember the day we analyzed the play, A Fool For Love, about a man who was trying to convince the woman he loved that she should be with him despite strong reservations and their complex history together. Jack had jumped at the opportunity to read an excerpt at the front of the room. All of the other girls in class except me raised--more like waved--heir hands for the female's part, but our teacher chose me.
My hands were sweaty as I fumbled through the pages of the playbook. When I wasn't reading, I kept the book close to my face, refusing to glance at my classmate. It wasn't that I didn't think he was attractive, I just knew I wasn't in his league. Why even build up the hope in my mind?
"Madison?" Dr. Suksang's adorable Japanese accent interrupted me. "You know this story. Remember the movie version we saw last week? Read it with that emotion."
I nodded, took a deep breath, and started again. "You got me confused with somebody else. You keep comin' up here with this lame country dream life with chickens and vegetables and I can't stand any of it. It makes me puke to even think about it."
Jack gave me a lopsided grin and a wink. "You'll get used to it."
I lost my place. The book slipped out of my hands and fell facedown on the linoleum floor with a loud smack. Several of our classmates snickered until Dr. Suksang shushed them. The pages seemed to stick together as I retrieved the book and tried to find where we had left off.
"You're unbelievable," Jack whispered in my ear.
I stared at him slack-jawed. It took me a second to realize he was cuing my next line.
"You're unbelievable," I said with less enthusiasm than before, trying not to let his words sink into my head for deeper analysis.
"I'm not lettin' go of you this time." He stared at me, grinning from ear to ear.
"Yo-you n-never..." I reverted my eyes to the book and swallowed deeply. "You never had ahold of me to begin with."
An hour later, Jack chased after me as I hurried out of class. I had made it halfway across campus before he caught up and gently turned me around. My face was hot and a base drum pounded in my head. He apologized for embarrassing me and I started to say that it was okay, but he silenced me with a kiss.
We went on our first date that night. When he picked me up, he handed me a dozen daisies. He stuck one in my hair above my right ear and whispered, "You're unbelievable!"
Coach had been right about one thing: Twila looked professional. Standing at close to five-foot-six, she was eight inches taller than Molly. But while Molly was vertically challenged, she made up for it in the strength of her punches.
Yet, the muscles that flexed in Twila's arms as her coach watered down and toweled off his protege were just as intimidating from a distance as they were up close and personal. Though Molly felt like a bodybuilder in her blue boxer shorts and matching tank top, her challenger looked the part in opposing red.
Her head throbbing anew from the bell's signal, Molly found herself in the middle of the ring and tuned everything out once more.
A red blur whizzed by her face. She felt the air move and ducked to the left, missing the first blow. She heard Twila grunt. Molly squatted down, swinging above her with a right uppercut.
Glove met bone with a loud crack.
The audience chanted, "Go, Champ! Go, Champ!"
"The fourth floor is now locked and off-limits," Linda said. "But back then, the servants' quarters and a music room occupied the space."
"Unknown to the girls," Jen said, "there was also a worker from the asylum in the dorm. The music apparently drove him crazy. He went up to the fourth floor and tried to strangle Sue with the some of the piano strings."
The fire seemed to flicker a little brighter for just a moment as Jen said that last phrase. A couple of girls stifled their screams. My heart was thumping at my chest, and goosebumps prickled my arms. I really wished now that I'd stayed upstairs.
Jen waited until the nervous chatter died down before continuing. "Sue managed to get down to the third floor where her room was. Unfortunately, Jane had heard the screams and noises above her and refused to unlock the door when she heard someone pounding on it. And because Mary was sleeping two flights below in her quarters at the far end of the building, she never heard a sound.
"Early the next morning, Mary discovered Sue lying in the hallway outside the girls' room, her lifeless fingers gripping the piano strings that were still wrapped around her throat, and bloody scratches covered the room's door. The police later found the worker hiding in the music room. Asylum patients were never allowed anywhere near campus again."
After a few moments of silence, someone dared to ask the question on everyone's mind. "So who haunts Pem Hall? Sue or Jane?"