When Conor Fellin was on his deathbed many years later, he would remember the day the phantoms came to ACAC.
Conor was at the back of the Benvenuto’s line, a long line even by the restaurant’s standards. He yearned for the sticky feel of a cream-embalmed noodle slipping down his throat, and as he waited in line, memories of the pasta blended together with memories of cool childhood evenings spent on his neighbors’ swing set.
He looked around at the crowd. Some were hunched over their meals, more turned away from the community at large than turned towards their table-mates. Some looked anxiously about the atrium, as if every other face in that room were probing them, searching for something to find lacking.
Conor saw a few faces he knew. Molly Sislo, who had let the wanderers that would disclose neither their names nor their origins squat in her apartment, was laughing with Colby Buchanan, who, though twenty-two years old, had not aged since 3 p.m. on his sixteenth birthday. Jeremy the Anxious was drumming his fingers against the counter of Sushi Blu while the person in front of him paid.
Then it happened. A vast crowd began trickling in from the south doors. Every former TU student was stopping by to visit this new hub of campus activity.
Students from a time when TU made its home in Muskogee conversed guardedly with recent alums who still expected the school to be the same. Two youths debated philosophy spiritedly, neither aware that the one would grow up to be the other’s professor. A few of the youngest alumni tried to start conversations with friends still attending TU, and they met mixed success.
Some current students engaged the phantoms (that was what Conor would later call them, though no one had dared to actually find out whether or not they had physical form). Some ignored them. Conor watched them quizzically while keeping his place in the Benvenuto’s line.
Before Conor reached the front of the line, the phantoms had dispersed, and those who had not done so already returned to their business.
From that point on there was a silent agreement among the students never to discuss the phantoms, though many would remember them fondly when the University fell upon harder times.