Thomas Ian Troas graduated at the top of his class of 750. With a bachelor's degree in business management from Greene College, one of the most respected colleges in its field, Tom had a lot to be proud of. Before his senior year was even over, he was offered a nice job in New York City. It had good pay, and a lot of opportunity for promotion. The offer was the sort that students like Tom dreamed of.

The only down side was that Tom would need to fly out to the city the day after graduation. Tom wouldn't have much chance for the unusual after- ceremony parties or long good-byes, but that didn't bother Tom too much. One of the reasons he was so happy with his new job was that he would get a chance to get away from all the other people he'd lived with for four years at college. There were very few people that Tom would miss.

One of those people would have had to be Dave, his roommate. Dave had made those long days of dealing with the goof-offs and partiers that haunted every college campus slightly more bearable with his mocking humor. He'd also done a lot for Tom's health. When Tom was pulling an all-nighter, Dave would make sure Tom ate his meals and had a healthy amount of sleep. If not for Dave, Tom might have never survived his time at Green College.

The only other person who Tom was sorry to say goodbye to was Jessica. She'd been his first serious girlfriend, and they'd dated from their sophomore years until shortly before their senior years.

In high school, Tom had never had a relationship with a girl that lasted much longer than a month. Most of them had been silly bimbos with no more ambition than to get married and have a lot of kids. Tom would have liked to believe that girls could be just as smart as boys, but the girls back home hadn't done a lot to inspire that opinion.

He'd hoped that by attending Greene College, Tom could escape from the usual laziness and uninterested attitudes, but his freshman year had been a great disappointment. Jessica was different, though. She had a plan- she knew where she wanted to go with her life, and how to get there. If she'd been a guy, she would have probably been Tom's best friend, but as a girl, she made for the perfect girlfriend.

Their breakup had been painful. As the time for graduation approached, they'd begun to discuss their goals and dreams. Tom would never have dreamed of giving up his job in the big city, but Jessica wanted to accept a job at the local high school where she'd student taught. Neither person was willing to give up or delay their career, and both were too realistic to hope that they might beat the odds and make a long-distance relationship work.

Of course, they were still on speaking terms. They still did a lot of things together, such as studying for their finals (although they were taking very different classes) and a few students probably still believed that Tom and Jessica were still a couple. Only his closest friends, like Dave, knew how difficult the breakup had been. He hadn't allowed himself to show weakness in front of Jessica, but Tom knew his final grades had suffered slightly from his inability to sleep from the pain of the breakup. Of course, he'd still finished with a GPA of 3.8.

Dave and Jessica had come to the airport to see Tom off on his flight to New York. Despite their support, Tom hadn't been very emotional during his last good-bye. He'd still write to Dave, and as for Jessica, maybe it was better if they just made a clean break. He'd left them with a handshake each- no embarrassing hugs, and Jessica had begun to cry when he'd finally boarded the plane.

Seven hours and two connecting flights later, Tom was preparing for the next landing in Minnesota. In typical airport logic, he'd first flown to Chicago, Illinois, then to the Cincinnati airport in Ohio, then had flown in the opposite direction of his destination. At least the flight from Minnesota to New York would be the last one.

A familiar beep came over the comm system, and the pilot spoke for his third time during the flight. "We are now approaching the time of our landing Saint Paul, Minnesota. Please make sure your seatbelts are buckled and your trays are in their upright, locked position. Landing time should be within twenty minutes. Local time is 6:28 PM, and the weather is slightly cloudy. It looks like a storm might be moving in within the hour, but no need to worry, folks, it won't be affecting our landing."

Tom began to curse under his breath. His flight to New York was supposed to take off at seven o'clock, and who knew how long it would be delayed by a storm? At least he wouldn't have to catch another connecting flight, and he wasn't supposed to report to his first day at work until noon the next day. He was concerned with arriving at his hotel late, however, and not receiving an adequate amount of sleep.

He was still cursing half an hour later, when his flight was delayed half an hour. He cursed harder half an hour later, when, with the storm still raging outside the airport, it was announced that all flights would be delayed until further notice. An hour after that, he learned that his flight wouldn't take off until the next morning.

At least the woman who made the announcements was very polite about the whole thing. "We're very sorry about the delay, sir," she said. "However, it is dangerous to fly out of the airport during a storm, and we don't have the time to still be sending airplanes out after ten o'clock. For the inconvenience, the airline will provide you with a room for the night, and tomorrow you will be upgraded to first class."

That was acceptable. Tom wondered if everyone on every flight would be upgraded, or if they only did that to accommodate those who complained, like he had. It didn't really matter anyway. From the hotel room the airlines were providing him with, he could call the business. Hopefully, since he hadn't had any control over the situation, they wouldn't hold his lateness against him.

After all, they'd hired him without even interviewing him. He didn't even have any work experience. They must have been very anxious to employ him, and Tom assumed that he wouldn't have any problems explaining things that evening to his boss.

As Tom had expected, his boss was very understanding of the situation. Once he was finished talking with him, Tom dialed the number of the hotel in New York City where he was supposed to be staying. Again, he explained what had happened, and the man working at the front desk assured Tom that they wouldn't give away the room he'd reserved.

When Tom finished talking, he hung up the phone and glared at his bed. Now, he understood why the airline had been so willing to upgrade him to first class and to provide him with a room for the night. They mustn't have spent too much money on the smelly motel.

The room looked like it hadn't been cleaned for weeks, and as the motel didn't have non-smoking rooms, Tom was getting a headache from the fumes. Based on the condition of the neighborhood, Tom had to assume that cigarettes weren't the only things that had been smoked in here.

The bed, while it looked clean enough, was probably infested with lice or crabs. Tom didn't really want to sleep on the floor, though, and he was halfway tempted to take his business elsewhere. Unfortunately, he didn't have any cash with him, and he'd been warned about all the evils of credit card companies the first year of his freshman year. His checkbook was packed away in his suitcase, which had been lost by the Chicago airport and was being shipped to his hotel in New York.

That meant Tom would have to either stay there, or sleep in the streets. The second option might not have been too bad, if not for all the rain. Of course, if there hadn't been a rainstorm, he would have been on the airplane to New York and wouldn't even have to worry about such things.

Tom found a corner of the floor that wasn't stained, and curled up on the ground. He pulled off his jacket and pulled it over himself to use as a blanket, then closed his eyes. His position wasn't very comfortable, and it was a long time before he felt relaxed enough to sleep. Just as he began to doze off, he was disturbed by a crash outside.

Forgetting about where he was, Tom reacted in much the same way he would have when parties got too loud in his dorm building back at Greene College. He opened his window as far as it would go, which wasn't very far, and shouted, "Keep it down out there!"

Only after he'd shouted did Tom bother to see what all the noise had been about. An elderly woman wearing ragged clothing stood among some tipped over trashcans. Cats swarmed all over the street, and Tom immediately regretted his shouting as he realized that this woman was probably homeless. He considered shouting an apology and was unsure of what to do when the woman spoke in a very clear voice. "Tom Troas, come down here."

How could she possibly know his name? While Tom left his hotel room and made his way to the back entrance to find the old woman, he thought of the old saying; "Curiosity killed the cat." Well, Tom wasn't a cat, and he doubted that the old woman could do much to him.

It didn't take him long to find his way to the back alley. The old woman was waiting for him, her cats still gathered around. Tom tried to keep his distance from the animals. He didn't like cats, and still had scars on his arms from his babysitter's cat- inappropriately named Sweetheart. There was nothing sweet about that monster, and when Tom had been a young child, that cat had terrified him more than the bogeyman or the monster in his closet.

"What do you want?" Tom asked, and the woman began to cackle. For some reason, she put him in mind of the witches from television shows and movies Tom had seen as a child. Again, he asked, "What do you want? How did you know my name?" For some reason, it didn't occur to him to leave.

Abruptly, the woman stopped laughing. She raised her arms and whispered, "Be quiet." A second later, Tom fell over, unconscious.