As the final seconds of Janet Levit’s extraordinarily strange welcome back video played out, the students who had viewed the video, whether due to a sense of duty, curiosity or fear, continued to stare at the screen in horror. Though the video seemed like the standard university propaganda, the surreal image of their interim president, provost and supreme leader wielding a lead pipe and jabbing it menacingly into the camera shattered their expectations.
“I feel safe at TU and so do all of you,” she said, repeating the words like an ancient mantra meant to ward off foul spirits.
The video had started with a relative amount of normalcy, the oftentimes overdressed administrator seated comfortably in an office full of fine furniture, luscious carpet and beautiful woodwork. Yet, as the video languidly crawled to the mark of close to six minutes, subtle variations in the background began appearing. One moment, a framed picture of some familial relation or sports victory would shift and coalesce into a different visage — something decidedly less approachable. At first, the images were unpleasant but coherent — a beautiful smile becoming a hideous scowl, a trophy raised in celebration replaced with a captured enemy flag — but considering the strange antics of a university haunted by stray cats, raccoons, rat frats and eldritch monstrosities, Levit’s magical office seemed like slim pickings. That’s when the pipe came out.
It was an old thing, rugged, covered in nicks and dents, and Levit caressed its well-worn base, her stare remaining fixed on the camera. Enunciating her words like those of a general before a valiant last stand, she said, “During this time of change and upheaval we, the TU family, have lost much. Many familiar faces that made this campus what it was have left or retired, but we will remain a steadfast beacon of normalcy in the coming year.”
As she spoke, the pipe lifted in her hand, accentuating her words with flamboyant gestures, converting the repossessed blunt instrument into an oversized composer’s baton. With each word and accompanying grand movement, the cool, almost cold, confident woman began to shake and raise her voice, seemingly agitating something in the room.
The camera shifted as she stood from her chair. “WE WILL MAKE THIS YEAR THE BEST IN THIS UNIVERSITY’S HISTORY. WE WILL OVERCOME THIS VIRUS. I WILL NOT LET THIS SCHOOL GO TO RUIN.” Levit had her pipe facing outward, as if defending herself from unseen adversaries.
The flickering images began mutating faster, lush carpet into harsh, stained concrete; pictures escalating into full-on acts of violence and mutilation; paintings replaced with mocking phrases, criticizing the academic politician for her leadership, saying that she would never fulfill her dreams; the single window in frame showing a blazing world of fire instead of the bright, cheery sky it once held. Too much, too quick. The video continued playing, a cacophony of sounds spreading like a corrupting plague from the watcher’s audio devices. Howling winds erupted, choirs of damnable voices shrieking out jeers. Concrete blocks were ripped and tossed from the building, but through it all the interim president’s voice rang clear, “I feel safe at TU and so do all of you.”
With that, the storm broke, the president’s office returned to normal, and the blue sky outside the window reappeared. Levit sank to her knees, repeating the phrase again and again, her bravado and volume decaying, until the video dimmed and ended, leaving a black screen with ResilienTU in bold blue letters.