Benny Stintwhistle's favorite sweater was full of static, and he had no idea what to do about it. He was about to go on a big date -- his first in several weeks -- and he was positive that the sweater was his best bet for a successful evening. But when he picked it up, it so crackled with electricity that he was certain it was probably not a good idea to wear it in that state. Maybe if he got it a little wet...he began to rub the sweater in between his hands in a weak effort to diffuse the static, though he knew ultimately that what he was doing wasn't helping in the slightest. Oh well, he thought, and he finally gave in and pulled the thing over his head and arms, what was the worse thing that could happen? He laughed at his silly fears as he walked out the door, knowing that his static-y sweater was just a scapegoat for his nervous worries about the evening ahead. Everything was going to work out famously, he told himself.
He met Stephanie Bowers at the agreed upon place and time (Howsen Hall at six-forty-five p.m., to beat the dinner rush), and he had to admit to himself that she looked radiant even in her camoflage sweat pants and "No War!" t-shirt. "A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds," he said with a grin when he saw her, and she rejoined in kind without missing a beat: "Emerson is one of my favorites; how did you know?" They both knew at that point that it was going to be a night to remember. Not that there was much doubt in their minds before that; they had spent the previous evening sitting next to Roosevelt Fountain talking for hours about politics and social action, and about how much they cared about the planet and all its inhabitants, not just the two-legged ones. Just before that they had met at the monthly meeting of the local student chapter of Greenpeace, and once their eyes locked it was love at first sight.
Somehow they had pried themselves apart from each other that night, deciding that they should arrange a proper date for the following evening, dinner on campus and then over to the student theater for a free performance of My Fair Lady. Stephanie had considered dressing up, but then decided to just be herself and see if Benny could appreciate her free spirit without all of the traditional trappings imposed by society on young women such as uncomfortable dresses and masochistic shoes. In fact she was wearing rather large, comfy combat boots that came up high around her unshaved shins. And she had decided to forego a bra for the evening (though it did turn out to be a little more embarrassingly chilly outside than she had initially thought), in the attempt to make it clear to her potential man just what kind of liberated, independent woman he was dealing with.
Benny introduced her to his favorite meal at Howsen, pasta with tomato and basil sauce from the Eatza Pizza stand, topped with sautéed mushrooms from the Mr. Potato booth next door. The student dining facility was ingeniously patterned after a typical suburbia shopping mall picnic court, and there were about ten different mini-restaurants inside to provide the students with more foodal variety than they could shake a stick at. Stephanie was impressed with Benny's clever mixing and matching, but rather than follow his lead she stuck to her tried and true dinner of cottage cheese and spanish rice -- to make sure all the amino acids are lined up, she explained.
Benny sighed and confessed that he wished it was easier to give up animal products completely. Luckily there were more and more cheese and butter substitutes being produced all the time, and he was in the midst of a petitioning campaign to get the dining hall to start utilizing more ingredients that were not so dependent on factory farms. As he went on voicing his shame in not being able to completely resist the temptation of cruelty-laden products (though he was careful to state that it was not so much his fault as it was the victimization of the public by evil corporate conglomerates with multi-billion dollar advertising budgets), Stephanie began to feel a bit uncomfortable with her leather boots and cottage cheese. She wanted to be a better person than she obviously was; she wanted to stop being so weak-willed and instead pull herself out of her societal manipulation-induced sheep-like state. And here was the person to help her do it, sitting right across from her speaking so eloquently and passionately about things that really mattered, ideals and principles and other stuff like that. She decided there and then that she liked absolutely everything about him, even the fact that the hair on the back of his head was standing straight up in the air for no apparent reason.
After dinner, the two headed towards the theater and Benny took ahold of Stephanie's hand. She welcomed the touch (the initial contact was so stimulating to her it almost felt like an electric shock), and as they walked her thumb playfully caressed Benny's long, sensitive fingers. All along the way they could not help but glance at each other, smiling when they caught one another's eyes. Benny pictured Stephanie welcoming him into her arms and pulling off her shirt so that he could more easily kiss her small, perfect breasts. Stephanie looked Benny up and down and secretly hoped that under all that neat, loose fitting clothing was a ridiculously hairy sex maniac (she was an animal lover through and through). In other words, they were perfect for each other.
Somehow they made it through the play without jumping on top of each other in the heat of passion. As the lights came up they dashed out of the auditorium, Stephanie leading the way to her dorm just a few hundred meters away ("My roommate's gone to Mexico," she whispered seductively). They reached her building and, unable to wait for the elevator, raced up the six flights of stairs to her floor. As they finally neared her room, Benny was out of breath and his feet began to drag on the thick hallway carpet. Stephanie was a little ahead of him now and fumbled through her pockets for the room key. But just as she was turning the key in the lock, a small explosion from behind knocked her against the door. The door burst open and she tumbled headfirst into the room, not understanding at all what could have happened. In a daze she slowly picked herself up and turned around. "B-B-Benny? Are you okay?" Before her was only a cloud of smoke and the smell of charred flesh. As the smoke cleared, and the other students on the floor started to gather around, it became quite clear what had happened. On the hallway carpet, just a few feet away from Stephanie's door, lay all that was left of Benny: a pile of ashes, a full set of teeth, and those long, sensitive fingers she had caressed just moments before. Benny Stintwhistle had spontaneously combusted.
Chapter 25 was first written November 27, 2001
It was last edited December 7, 2001