The first thing I noticed about the 'school' was the smell. The place smelt of disinfectant; the heavy duty stuff they use in places like hospitals. Or morgues. I tried my best to block it out. I was still trying to convince myself that all this was real, that I hadn't just gone crazy, but the place smelling of disinfectant and stagnance like a hospital made that near impossible. The most I could do was wrinkle my nose and try to ignore any unpleasant thoughts.
When the 'teacher', who's name I was haveing some trouble remembering, opened the door to what I was told was the dorm, three boys, or young men, whatever, all seemingly somewhere in their late teens, jumped to attention. They all stood at the ends of their beds, feet together and arms at their sides, like in army movies. The fourth guy did so more slowly, walking lazily to the end of his bed and folding his arms, rather than keeping them at his sides. The teacher immediately moved towards him and snapped, "Lytton! Straighten up, now!"
The fourth boy, who I assumed was Lytton, stood up a little straighter, but his arms reamained crossed over his chest. The teacher may have been about to say something to him, but his attention was drawn away by something in the corner. He went to stand at the foot of the last bed, where a fift person I hadn't noticed was lying down, and said, much more softly than I'd heard him speak so far, "Thomas Alexander, would you please stand to attention?" The teacher hadn't struck me as the sort to ask nicely, so I was more than a little surprised, but if this was unusual no-one else in the room showed it. The boy on the bed, who couldn't possibly have been past thirteen, pulled the headphones out of his ears and stood at the end of his bed. "Sorry, sir. I didn't see you come in." he said, appologatically. The teacher just said, "Don't let it happen again," and left it at that.
After a minute or so pacing the room, the teacher stopped and said to the boys, "Listen up, maggots! We have a new recruit, so I'm leaving it to you to get him settled in before Monday. Any trouble and I'll know about it, clear?" Everyone nodded, but remained silent, and clearly that was good enough for the teacher because he then left. The moment the door clicked shut they all went back to whatever it was they'd been doing before. All except the boy in the corner, who came over with a warm smile and held out a hand for me to shake. "Hi. I'm Tom. What's your name?" he said, still smiling.
"James," I mumbled, "James McArthur."
A couple of the others looked at me then, but went straight back to whatever they were doing. Clearly, I just wasn't that interesting. Tom was still smiling at me, though, and remained unusually chipper as he said, "It's so nice to meet you, James. If you have any problems, or just need somebody to talk to, I'm always happy to help. I'm sure we'll be just wonderful friends." Somebody across the room snorted at that, and shouted over, "Yeah, until you try and slit his throat in his sleep." Tom looked a little put out by that, and said, deffensively, "I didn't mean not'in' by it."
"You never mean not'in' by it, though, do you?" the voice from across the room sneered.
There was a soft thump as something collided with the wall. "I won't mean nothing by it, when I clobber you one." one of the boys, Lytton, shouted over to him. It was then that I was able to like the voice with a person, since one of the boys, a taller, older one, sauntered over. "What was that, Lytton?" he asked, leaning over the bed. Lytton rolled his eyes and sighed out, "I said back off else I'll clobber you." There was a brief pause, and then faster than I could regester Lytton was on his feet and had the other boy in an armlock, which he was twisting out of when Tom told them, "Now you two stop it, else the sarj'll give us all hell. You could at least wait until Monday to kill each other."
Despite some grumbling, both boys let go of the other and returned to their beds. When it didn't look like they were going to kick off again, Tom turned back to me and said, "Don't mind them. Victor has a temper, but he's not that bad. And Dan, well, he's just Dan. That's Victor, by the way, in the back corner, and the ginger's Sam. That's Luther, over there, reading, and that's Dan there. They seem scary, but they're alright, really." He said they're alright, but aside from an idle wave from Luther, none of them so much as looked up.
I set about dragging my stuff, packed into two big duffle bags, from the hallway where I'd left it and into the dorm room. Almost instantly one of them was taken off my hands, and Tom actually carried it over to my bed, while I had to drag the other one. "You know, if the Sarj sees you struggling to carry that little bag, he'll make you do two hours of push-ups every morning until you can throw it." I was warned. I turned to Luther, who'd set down his book and was taking his glasses off. "I take it you haven't been doing much weight training lately?" he asked me. I shook my head, and somebody across the room snorted. "Thomas, go and show him the gym, before the Sar does." Luther said, before going to say something to the two in the corner.
Tom, still with the big smile on his face, pulled me by the wrist out of the room and down the stairs. The building was four storeys, with the dorm on the second floor. It was on the first floor that the teacher had told me the classrooms were, and it was the ground floor that Tom dragged me down to. I was pulled past a couple of offices, into a large room fill with painful looking exercise equipment. "This is the gym," Tom beamed, pulling me to the nearest piece of equipment, "and this is a treadmil. Those are rwoing machines, and these are the exercise bikes, and that's a cross-trainer. Oh, and those are the weights over there in that corner."
One by one, I was shown every piece of equipment in the room, plus given an in-depth explanation of how to use them and which muscles they work. It was a little daunting. "Oh, and whatever you do, don't use the weights when you're in here on your own; the last thing you want is to pull a muscle when you're olding twice your weight above your head with no-one around to help." Tom said, still smiling, still chipper. I couldn't understand how he could be so upbeat, but he was still smiling when he grabbed my wrist again, and, pulling me out the door, said, "Come on, I'll show you the medical unit."
The medical unit was just down the hall, and filled with complex looking equipment that I didn't recognise. "This is where you go if you get hurt." Tom told me, as though it was something fascinating and unexpected. "Captain obvious strikes again." a voice from behind us said. Tom turned around faster than I could even look over my shoulder. "Oh, hi, Doctor Stanton. This is the new recruit-" he started, but the doctor cut him off with, "James McArthur, I know. We've already spoken."
"Oh, okay. I was just showing him the gym. Luther told me to show him the gym." Tom told him, still holding onto my wrist. The doctor smiled softly at him, although from what I'd seen he was generally warm any way, so it wasn't unusual like with the teacher.
There was a moment of silence, though not particularly awkward, while everybody just stood there. Then, the doctor asked, "Tom, would you please tell Victor to come and see me? He missed anger mannagement again last night." Tom nodded, still smiling, an starte to pull me out of the room. As we left, Doctor Stanton called over, "And James, could you please try to see me at some point this weekend?" I nodded at him. I would go to see him at some point, but I didn't didn't particularly want to. I didn't much want to talk to him, but I' still go to see him.
I let Tom pull me back up the stairs, asking him along the way, "Why does this place need a full-time therapist, anyway? There's only five of you - six now."
"Because we're all crazy, silly. Tom told me, smiling. "Besides, he's not just a therapist. He's a medical doctor, too, and he's the one who has to stop us killing each other." That wasn't very reassuring. I'd already been trying to convince myself that I'd not just gone crazy, and that this wasn't actually some sort of mental asylum, and hearing that the other boys were all 'crazy' sure didn't help with that.
It must have been obvious that something was bothering me, because Tom stopped and gragged my arm. "Is something wrong?" he asked me. I shook my head, but didn't trust my voive enough to speak. Tom looked at me for a moment, then smiled at me, sweetly, and said, "Well, if you do have any problems I'll do whatever I can to help. That's what friends are for, right?" I wasn't sure what to say to that, but Tom pulled me back into the dorm too fast to respond, anyway.