Days don’t come much nicer than that handful of warm but crackling spins in early fall. Warm enough that you don’t need a jacket, yet with enough of a cool bite that you don’t wind up dripping. The Hopewell Arboretum was never busier than on those few days, especially since they tended to coincide with the first few major assignments due at the university. Lovely fall days are never better than when they’ve got the pungent notes of procrastination mixed in.

Three pledges from Alpha Qoppa Nu had gone out to toss a pigskin around on the green. They needed time to unwind after a vicious schedule of housecleaning and hazing, for one. For another…well, the green was verdent not only with carefully kept grass but also sunbathers insulated from the world by a cocoon of polarized lenses and pearly earphones.

A pass went wide, and the youngest pledge–only 17 thanks to an awkwardly-placed birthday–saw his throw go wide, bounding off the green and into the rough.

“Go get it, Ralph!” cried his fellow Alpha. “You throw for it, you go for it!”

Ralph complied with a sigh. His given name was Lawrence, or Larry to his old classmates at Deerton High. There had been an…incident…at his first Alpha mixer, though, involving a hose and spirits strong enough to need an exorcism just to get them out of the bottle. After the ensuing mess, he’d been known as “Ralph” to the entire Alpha house. Luckily, they seemed to find it endearing.

The brush snapped merrily, already lined with the beginnings of the fallen-leaf carpet that would soon be crushed under first snowfall. Ralph was able to make his way through the tangle with only a little difficulty, and most of that came from the glare of a magic-hour sun in his eyes.

His football lay about a hundred yards in, having careened of something or other, at the foot of a bridge. Judging by the layout, it had once spanned the reservoir that used to cover the arboretum, but the water’s disappearance left it hanging in space over a river tributary below, swift and deep.

Ralph took a tentative step out, reaching his hand for the oblate spheroid that was just a little out of reach on a structure with less integrity than a New York City alderman. He soon regretted even this timid action, as the rotting timbers gave way and sent man and ball tumbling toward the welcoming drink below.

Inspired by the song ‘Alpha Ralpha’ by Hiroki Kikuta, released under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International license.

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