A spectre is haunting W&L – the spectre of conspiracy. The ghost of Robert E. Lee’s beloved horse, Traveller, also apparently still clomps around campus from beyond the grave; so that’s two phantoms in two sentences. What unfinished business an equestrian soul could possibly have to preclude its peaceful exit from this mortal realm, however, is something that, like chatty dentists, I’ll never understand. Anyway, when the sun goes down, our university becomes the ghastly domain of shadowy figures and a brazen groundhog or two.
Friends, it is with the most gravity I can muster – and I’m really trying – that I write to inform you of a secretive sect that roams the hallowed halls of our school at night, the totally metal-sounding Cadaver Society. As Morpheus told a certain Neo-phyte initiate into a world where nothing is as it appears:
This is your last chance. After this, there is no turning back. You take the blue pill – the story ends, you wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill – you stay in Wonderland and I show you how deep the rabbit-hole goes. Should the blue pill’s effects last longer than four hours, call a doctor.
If you dare, tighten your tinfoil hats, crank up the Alex Jones, and get ready to wake up, SHEEPLE!
Unfortunately, scant information exists about W&L’s resident secret society. Judging by the fact that they call themselves “The Cadaver Society” and wear all black, I can only assume that they’re really, really cool. But what exactly do we know about this lost Iron Maiden album of a club?
Again, not much. According to rumor, the Cadavers’ ranks are made up of a few undergrad upperclassmen who demonstrate a propensity for leadership and scholarship, an appreciation of university tradition, and a love of cosplay. Members cloak their bodies in capes and their faces in chrome skull masks, and they allegedly traverse campus via underground tunnels that lead to their inner sanctum – a place of clandestine ritual and probably epic candle-lit Dungeons & Dragons campaigns. Under cover of night, they emerge to wander the halls of the girls’ dormitories while cackling in high-pitched voices or to scrawl their calling card in chalk all over campus: a “C” with a poorly scribbled skull in the center.
So…amateur graffiti artists, running around in matching costumes, giggling and shouting falsettos in the girls’ dorm? I’m calling it. Wheerrrooo-wheerrrooo! Nerd alert! The more I hear of the club, the less sinister they seem. Still, creative bloggers, who couldn’t fart without blaming a conspiracy of bean farmers, whisper of the Cadavers being linked to that nefarious boogeyman and Dan Brown arch-enemy, the Illuminati. Membership supposedly guarantees a life of opportunity in elite circles with almost certainly more fabulous get-ups.
Whatever the case, the prankster Cadavers redeem themselves in their philanthropy. Some optimistic bloggers claim that Cadavers will reward a student who successfully catches and unmasks a member by funding the capturer’s post-graduate degree. Returning to reality, the walkway connecting Lewis Hall to the rest of the campus was actually a gift of the boys’ club. Cadaver Bridge even bears their insignia on a placard that declares them to be “a friend of the university,” fulfilling the role in every fully-rounded friend group of the wild-card chum who dresses like a druid and has the disposable income to build a bridge. In 1988 alone, the Cadavers contributed $150,000 to renovate frat houses. In light of such donations, W&L administration appears more than willing to wink hard enough to shatter their eyelashes at complaints of skeletal doodles and cracking voices wailing late at night.
Rumor is one thing, however, and I felt the need to plunge down the rabbit hole myself. After a morning of pantsless research, I put on my investigative journalist britches and set out in search of the tunnels.
Internet writers provide various possible entrances to the underground passages, and I hunted for them all, creeping up hillsides, sliding along bookshelves and basement corners, shooting phony furtive grins at studying undergrads, feeling as vulnerable and exposed as a Janet Jackson breast at a Superbowl. As luck would have it, the Cadavers had been active recently, and the campus, like a Goth kid’s high school notebook, was dotted with fresh skull drawings – tangible evidence pointing to the club’s existence. Unfortunately, after wandering for some time, my search was less generative than a eunuch liger. But finally, I found a promising wall panel, left slightly ajar, in the lowest level of a library staircase.
The metal creaked open with an appropriately bone-chilling squeal, and I ducked inside. A few discarded beer cans lay in the lightless crawl space, whose back wall featured a second panel, this one wide open. As I clambered through this second threshold, the darkness seemed to envelope my weak phone-flashlight, and I struggled to make out what lie ahead.
At that moment, I heard the loud slam of a door from the staircase above me, followed by the sound of descending footsteps. As quietly as possible, I bolted from the crawlspace, out of the basement exit, and down a hill, feigning innocence by joining in step with a confused passing VMI jogger. When I returned, the panel was shut fast.
Whether I actually found an entrance into the world of the elite or a spot where janitors can sneak a drink, I may never know. I can, however, say with certainty that W&L hosts a secret club of affluent kids who mostly benignly dress up to play with chalk at night. So, if I turn up missing or wake up dead, consider me a human oxymoron, because those expressions are contradictory. But if I neither turn up nor wake up, you’ll know, dear readers, what has become of your humble journalist. I’ve probably hit snooze too many times and will be in the next class.
At the end of the day, ultimately, the whole matter remains little more than a question mark with a poorly scribbled skull in the center. And, truthfully, it’s that way at the beggining and middle of the day also. Unbelievably, the secret society likes to keep things, well, secret. And just maybe life, and our campus, are richer with the spectre of a mystery or two.