[Excerpt from Deaduns: The Donnetown Devil and Other True Visitations of the Southeast by Rutger Frears (Barrow Press, 1989)]
A young man never forgets his first encounter with a female ghost. Particularly when she almost drowns him on dry land.
Wednesday, May 21, 1969. Commencement Day at PPRU was a sunny one, breaking the tradition of spring rains drenching the heads of graduating students and their miserable parents. I was one of the hundreds assembled in the Inverted Mound amphitheatre, and was happy to have lucked out on the weather.
We all knew about Marigold Fralinder. Two months earlier, the 19-year-old Theatre major from Aiken had tied herself to a 50-pound kettle weight and drowned herself in the Girl's Varsity swimming pool. She delayed Water Ballet practice by an hour, and left behind some terrible poetry and an insufficient number of credits to qualify for graduation.
My alma mater was not the sort of institution that would (either from compassion for the surviving family or in an attempt to avoid bad publicity) award a diploma to a student simply because she'd died. (They also didn't refund unused tuition.) So, Marigold went to her grave without her BA.
I was in line behind Roger Forte, waiting my turn to walk across the podium and accept my BS in Redactive Journalism*. (I'd also taken a minor in Dairy Science; this was a condition of my scholarship from Blackgall Creamery.) I'd stayed up late, too excited to sleep, and now looked forward to receiving acknowledgement for years of dutiful matriculation.
As my name was called I started across the platform toward Dean Krissgouldt. I became aware of a misty, shimmering form between myself and the Dean, standing directly in my way. Stepping up and extending my hand for my hard-earned sheepskin, I found instead that my whole body was at once immersed in cold water, as if I were completely submerged in a cold lake -- or the Girl's Varsity pool at the Anne More Hall of Bodily Striving.
I struggled to speak, afraid to draw breath for fear my lungs would be filled with chlorinated water and I'd drown as I stood there. At the same time, I heard an odd doleful thrumming in my ears, as if a woman were mournfully keening at the bottom of a nine-foot diving pool.
I knew then, as surely as I knew my own name, that Marigold Fralinder's restless, waterlogged spirit was on that dais, taking her alphabetical place in line and looking to claim the (sadly unearned) diploma that she would be forever denied.
I shoved past the Dean and found myself face-down upon the platform, coughing and terrified, but at least breathing air again. My skin was drenched, yet my graduation robe was dry. This in itself provides compelling evidence that my experience was not of this world, but of the next.**
*PPRU does not record ever offering a degree, or even a class, in anything called Redactive Journalism. Mr. Frears at different times claimed to possess degrees in Veterinary Medicine, Restoration Drama, and Horology. As all PPRU student records for the years 1968-1971 were destroyed by the late Prof. Jean Oubliette in 1992, we have so far been unable to assess these claims with any certitude. -- Samantha Mead
**Darren Frilander, who was in line behind Frears that day, gives a slightly different account: "Yeah, Rotgut Frears! I think he'd been up for two or three nights before Graduation, drinking and popping a regular rainbow of pills. He had this big bowl in his room, looked like a bowl of M&M's. Uppers, downers, God knows what. So we were up there waiting to snag our diplomas, and Frears, he was still sweating out vodka, whiskey, hash, Christ, maybe gasoline, and then he had like a seizure or a religious episode or what have you, and I'm pretty sure he pissed himself. It was awesome. What's he up to these days?"