“Gather round children, for all ye should well hear this tale of love and labor lost. It was a night not unlike this one, when the darkness pounded the ground with its inky fist and the cold filled every crevice like a risen tide. You sit warmed by your fire, by your brother’s company, but these luckless souls had no such warmth to speak of.”

The professor paused. He stepped closer to the light of the fire. “You guys mind if I tell a little story?” he continued. The students shrugged, and the intruding professor took that as a yes. 

“The tale be-tells two students. They sat hunched at desks, pencils in hand, a page of words written and five blank sheets ahead. They sat and wrote and sat and wrote, when suddenly,” the professor paused and raised a finger. He drew his breath and with great expression shouted, “one of the students said, ‘I’ll do this later.’ There began his end.”

The old man stopped and took a deep breath.

“The boy stood from his desk and walked from his room. He put on his finest clothes. Then he went out. He left, and he walked to his friends, who were drinking and making merry. 

“As he walked, the boy came across a bottle of Beer. ‘Hi Beer, where are you going tonight?’ ‘I’m going to see a kid who has one day to live.’ ‘Oh no. You should come to this party afterwards though. It’ll be a good time.’ The boy said goodbye to the Beer and ran ahead so he could get to his party. 

“Later that night, the boy saw the Beer at the party. ‘Good to see you,’ he said. The Beer grinned. ‘Good to see you too man, you want a sip? You don’t have a paper or anything due tomorrow right?’”

The professor paused and stared at the students. His gaze was calculated. “‘No!’” he shouted. “The boy said ‘no.’ Beer considered the lie, obvious on the young boy’s tongue, and decided he was beyond repair.

“When the boy reached for a sip of Beer, Beer shook himself up and shot foam into the boys eyes and onto his clothes and hair. ‘That’ll teach him,’ Beer thought. But Beer had miscalculated. The boy stumbled backwards and into a bookshelf. His friends had no books, because they were stupid, but an empty bottle of whiskey who had been peacefully sleeping on the top shelf started rocking back and forth. Beer knew what he had done, but his regret would do nothing. The bottle fell with a shout from the shelf and cracked on the skull of the drunken, irresponsible boy.

“The next night, the boy awoke, dazed and with a beating headache. He did not know what day it was, and he barely knew where he was either. His friends, stupid though they were, were good people, and they fed him warm tea and scrambled eggs to recover. 

“Then, just as the boy was about to return to write his paper and get some sleep, there was a knock at the door. It was Beer. He was holding a knife. Before the boy could react with even a kick, Beer had lunged forward and slid the knife into the willing chest of the irresponsible boy. The boy was dead, and he never even wrote his paper.”

There was silence around the campfire. Then the professor belched. “Can I have another marshmallow, please?”

“No, sorry, we’re almost out, and Sara hasn’t had her second one yet.”

“Oh, alright. Anyway, the other student stayed in and wrote his paper and did not die. Could I grab a seat for a little bit? I sure am tired.”

“No dude. Get out of here. You’re being weird.”

“Yeah, yeah. Sorry about that.” The professor stepped back from the light and continued his walk. To where is not known.

—J. Eldred