As they stepped off the bus, Dan noticed three other buses already parked at the
rear of the larger building. They followed the bus driver in through a massive set of cathedral-style doors at the front of that same building. They continued down a long hall, flanked on either side by what Dan assumed must be classrooms. At the end of the hall, they came to another large set of double doors.
The bus driver stood aside as the door on the left opened of its own accord. The students nervously looked to the bus driver for guidance and he indicated for them to enter.
“This is where I leave ya,” he said.
Hesitantly, the students crossed over the threshold into the room beyond. Dan noticed with curiosity that the right wall of the room came right up to the edge of the door, which meant that the right half of the double doorway must either lead into another room or an empty wall. Peculiar design, Dan thought.
The room they entered was long and narrow. A cafeteria-style table was placed in the center of the room, around which the nervous freshmen students began taking seats. Lighting the room overhead was a row of large, crystal chandeliers. At the front of the room was a podium, and behind the podium stood an elderly woman who looked as if she had retired a few too many times – and that the only reason she was currently working was so that she could retire again.
“Good evening,” said the old, but kindly woman in a slow, deliberate manner, “and welcome to the Steven Noricin School for the New Race. My name is Mrs. Pysis. For many of you, I will be your History teacher for the next two years and your Literature teacher for the following two years. The rest of you will have Mrs. Cradin, who is also a Natural Studies teacher, in those subjects. As I am sure most of you are aware by now, you are here because you – like your parents and grandparents before you – ”
“Yeah, I bet she taught my grandparents,” Shelley whispered to Dan, who did his best to painfully suppress a fit of laughter.
“ – are members of a new, more enlightened race of human beings, commonly known as the Norcinites,” continued Mrs. Pysis, unaware of the interruption. “Most of you will have inherited this gift genetically and you shall spend the next four years learning to hone and control your powers. Once you have completed the course here at the school, you will be free to attend an Old Race – or ‘Comman’ – university and choose your life’s career path. There are many Norcinite jobs that you could pursue, or you could pursue a Comman career as well.
“Over the next four years, you will study several different aspects of the Norcinites’ talents and capabilities, including Mental Connectivity – what the Commen term ‘mind reading’ – Matter Control, and Practical Defenses. For your first two years you shall study Norcinite History, and in your third and fourth years that class shall be replaced with Comman Literature.
“In your freshman year you shall take Natural Studies – learning to appreciate the delicate balance we share with nature – and for your remaining three years that class shall be replaced with Health and Wellness, which focuses primarily on mastering the skill of using your powers to heal yourself and others. At the end of each year, you shall take a practical exam that will allow you to demonstrate the skills you have learned throughout the course of the year.”
Dan’s stomach was starting to feel a little uneasy, and he realized he must be getting hungry. He also felt a slight chill, and he noticed that there was a window open. Perched on the sill of the window was a small bluebird looking in on their meeting.
“Well,” said Mrs. Pysis, drawing Dan’s attention back to her, “I think we need not keep your stomachs empty any longer, so without any further ado…”
With that, she clapped her hands three times and with a slight tremor, the right wall crumbled neatly into the floor, revealing a large Dining Hall where the older students were already eating – none of whom seemed particularly perturbed by the sudden disappearance of the wall and revelation of the freshmen students.
A small crew of servers flocked over to the freshmen’s table and quickly placed plates full of food in front of the starving pre-teens. As Dan dug in hungrily to the most splendid meal he had ever eaten, he looked to the front of the hall where about ten teachers and maybe half a dozen other faculty members sat around a large table. Mrs. Pysis herself was just sitting down to begin her meal. At the center of the table sat Mr. Loeren who seemed, for an instant, to glance toward Dan and wink.
As the feast came to an end, the once-empty stomachs of the school’s inhabitants now blissfully full, Mr. Loeren rose and the hall fell instantly into silence.
“I would like to welcome our new students to the school and wish them a pleasant, but hopefully enlightening, school year. You shall find that your schedules have been posted on the message boards of your dormitories’ common rooms. There are two dormitories – one for the boys and one for the girls.
“As much as we all despise rules, I’m afraid that I must start off the year by laying a few down – as few as I possibly can. There is a school-wide curfew. For the freshmen and sophomores, that curfew is eight o’clock. For the juniors and seniors, it is nine o’clock. Lights out is one hour after your curfew. Any student found outside of their dormitory past their assigned curfew – unless approved by a member of the faculty – shall receive detention, no exceptions. Also, no student is to leave the school boundaries – excepting of course for family emergencies – and no one from the outside is to enter, without my approval.
“Now, as I am certain you are all eager to get some rest so that you will be bright-tailed and bushy-eyed for your first day of classes, I bid you all goodnight and happy dreams. If the freshmen will please follow Ms. Virgus, who will be the Mental Connectivity teacher for some of you, she will escort you to the dormitories.”
A tall, skeletal-thin woman with a dark mane of long, oil-black hair rose from the end of the table and motioned to the freshmen to follow her, her black beady eyes scanning the group of fledgling students. A pale, jagged, white scar ran down the left side of her face. Immediately, Dan did not like the looks of this woman and shivered at the thought of having her as a teacher – but he suspected that his luck would fail him and he would end up in the group of students under Ms. Virgus’ tutelage.
Dan could tell he was not the only one of the freshmen that was made uncomfortable by Ms. Virgus’ presence, for almost the entire class was eyeing her with great trepidation.
The anxious students followed Ms. Virgus down a long, dark corridor. As they walked down the ill-lit hallway, Dan couldn’t help but notice a pungent odor permeating the passage. The smell was reminiscent of burnt tacos, and the farther down the corridor they walked the more Dan began to suspect that the source of the stench was none other than Ms. Virgus.
Apparently, Dan was not the only one who noticed the foul aroma, for Mike was turning slightly green and holding in his breath for as long as could.
The hallway finally ended at a wooden door that led them out into the brisk September atmosphere. Once outside, the odor became diluted somewhat by the open fresh air, but the fact that it still lingered just further cemented Dan’s conviction about the source of the scent.
Ms. Virgus briefly closed her eyes and a glowing orb, almost like a miniature sun, appeared in mid-air, bringing light to the dark night. As Ms. Virgus walked across the field toward the two rear buildings, the orb hovered in front of her, keeping pace with her steps.
“The building on the left,” spoke Ms. Virgus in a hoarse voice as they made their way across the clearing, “is the boys’ dormitory, and the building on the right is the girls’. Visitation between the dormitories’ common rooms is permitted until curfew, at which time all students must return to their own dormitory. The Principal has already explained the punishment – the rather lenient punishment – for breaking curfew, so I should not have to repeat it here, unless any of you have forgotten already.”
Dan could tell already that his initial impression of Ms. Virgus was quite accurate, if not underestimated.
“All of you freshmen shall be on the fourth floor of each dormitory,” Ms. Virgus continued. “In the boys’ dormitory, there are five rooms with two beds in each and one room with three beds, and in the girls’ dormitory there are seven rooms with two beds each. For those of you who can’t add, that’s thirteen boys and fourteen girls making for a total of twenty-seven freshmen students. I recommend you choose your roommates carefully, for you will be stuck with them for the next four years.”
They arrived at the first building – the boys’ dormitory – and Ms. Virgus held open the door for the boys to pass through, her pale scar seeming to glow in the light of the strange orb. The room beyond was completely pitch back. Slowly, and with great trepidation, each of the boys passed under the derisive eyes of Ms. Virgus and into the void beyond.
They huddled into the pitch-dark room, the only light coming from Ms. Virgus’ orb, hovering just outside the door. As the last student crossed the threshold, Ms. Virgus slammed the door shut, cutting off their only source of light and casting them into total, utter darkness. After several anxious seconds of nothingness, blinding light flooded the room and bloodcurdling screams rent the air.
As Dan’s eyes adjusted to the light, and his heart rate slowly but surely returned to a healthy pace, he became aware of the sound of laughter underneath the terror-stricken gasps of the freshmen students. As his eyes came into focus, he saw that they were in a large common room populated with several comfy chairs, a sofa, and a fireplace. He also saw the source of the laughter and the hazing prank on the freshmen: twenty or more upper-classmen, still doubled over, holding their sides.
“Sorry about that,” said a tall, blonde-haired boy who had composed himself enough to phrase a complete sentence, “but it’s sort of a tradition, ya know. Gotta see how many freshmen we can get to piss themselves their first night. Don’t worry,” he said with a wink in response to the terrified looks from several of the freshmen, “we don’t check.”
In retrospect, Dan supposed he could see how it would have been funny – but then again, he hadn’t wet himself.
“I don’t suppose they do that to the girls, do they?” asked Mike, whose face was starting to regain some of its color.
“No, they don’t,” admitted the blond-haired boy. “From what I understand they just sit around playing Truth or Dare and top the night off with a topless pillow fight. Not that I’ve ever tried to find out…” he added with another wink, which garnered a laugh from the boys, who seemed to have recovered from the initial scare. “Good, I’m glad to see we didn’t cause any premature heart-attacks this year. Twelve really is too young for that. And it just makes the rest of the year seem like such a drag.
“I’m Daedalus Lambert, and I’m the boys’ Dorm Leader for this year, which means that I’m in charge of the lot of you. But don’t worry, you only have to put up with me for one year. If you’re lucky, next year you’ll get Icarius Johnson. Otherwise, you might get stuck with Silenus, and I wouldn’t wish that fate on a radioactive man-eating llama.”
“Piss off, Dead,” came a voice from the back of the room.
“Thank you Silenus, for your never-ending eloquence and for reminding me to make another point. You all can call me just about anything you want. You can call me John. You can call me Paul. You can call me George, Ringo, Pete or Stuart. You can even call me No-Good-Son-of-a-Hamster-Uncle-Loving-Lemur-Femur-Fu – ”
“What was that about eloquence, Lambert?” came another voice from the crowd.
“Point taken. You get the gist. Just don’t call me ‘Dead.’ I plan on having a nice and healthy life span and don’t need you little tick-eating monkeys jinxing me. Get it? Got it? Good. Now let’s get this party started before I have to send you all to your flea-ridden beds!”
For the next hour and a half, they spent the time socializing while the older students showed off what they could do. Daedalus, as it turned out, was particularly gifted at generating and controlling fire – something about this interesting skill deeply troubled Dan for some reason he couldn’t quite fathom…the sound of someone screaming in pain rose from the depths of his subconscious and Dan shivered convulsively.
Harry Beazer – a sophomore whose surname was actually “Beaver,” at least according to Daedalus – could change his physical appearance at will. “I always pass with flying colors at any stealth test in Practical Defense,” he said as he changed from a buxom young woman back into his normal form.
A sophomore boy named Ron Dean made two pencils march around the room like a pair of legs. Then there was another sophomore boy named Justin McNamara who was enjoying playing mind-reading tricks on the freshmen – “It’s a trick that works wonders on the Commen girls… ‘Wow! Are you like psychic or something?’ Ha!”
It didn’t take long, despite the façade of camaraderie, for Dan to notice a rift in the room – they’d only been at the school a few hours, and already cliques had been established. On one side of the room gathered a group of tough-looking students who seemed to be showing off acts of strength and power. On the other side were the more benevolent-looking students who were simply having fun.
At five minutes to nine, Daedalus clapped his hands, calling the attention of the room.
“A’ight ya boils, it’s five minutes to curfew. I’d hate to have to blight any of you with four-year acne for being up past lights out. Pick your roommate, get your cheeks upstairs and pick your room. As I’m sure Virgus told you with all the warmth and compassion of a poisoned dung-beetle, make sure you like the person you’re rooming with, because I’m sure as hell not going to share a bed with any of you if you get into a marital squabble. I’m all for equal rights and all that, just not in my own bed.”
As the freshmen made their way to the staircase, three boys pushed their way through the crowd to the front. Dan didn’t need to see their faces to recognize that they were the boy named Marcus Noricin and his friends. The troublesome trio rushed ahead of the rest of the freshmen to claim the one room on the fourth floor which had three beds.
“How’s this one?” Mike asked, indicating a free room at the front of the hall.
“Good enough for me,” Dan replied.
Dan crossed to the window of their new room and looked out into the night. Just next door, he could see the girls’ dormitory, the lights on the fourth floor just starting to blink out. Behind the two dorms, he could just make out the trees of the forest, their leaves swaying slightly in the evening breeze. In the other direction, he could see the lights of the main building, casting an eerie glow upon the grounds.
“G’night Dan,” Mike said, climbing under the covers of his bed and pulling a thick book out of his bag (for some reason, Dan was not surprised to discover that Mike was a night reader). “I think we’re in for a good time here.”
“Me too, Mike,” replied Dan, crossing to his bed and changing into his pajamas. As he climbed under the warm, snug covers, he reflected on just how much his life had changed in less than a day. Yesterday, he had been utterly alone, without friends or family and barely any sense of purpose in the world. Now – as he began to drift into what would turn out to be the first completely contented sleep of his life – he had friends, the possibility of finding his family, and somewhere that he belonged. He couldn’t imagine anything that could ruin this feeling of happiness.