Net grunted as she hefted her heavy suitcase up yet another step and stumbled backwards under the weight of her backpack. Skipping the line at the elevator by taking the stairs had seemed like a good idea a few minutes ago, but she was seriously reconsidering that thought as her rump hit the hard floor of the landing. Maybe, she thought, if she could get the rest of the way up to the second floor she could catch the elevator from there. Surely some of the people going up from ground level were getting off there. Even if she had to wait a few minutes it would definitely be easier than lugging her things up another two full flights. Net pulled herself to her feet with a sigh, adjusted the strap of the second bag slung over her shoulder, and dragged her heavy suitcase (luckily it had wheels on the bottom) to the next set of steps and began backing up them, grunting as she pulled her load after her.
She paused at the sound of a door loudly banging open somewhere above her. Heavy footsteps echoed through the stairwell as someone descended, but there seemed to be a rhythm to them. Even more, she heard whistling, loud enough to be clear over the footfalls but also melodic. She didn't know the song, but it was definitely a song. Net hefted her suitcase backwards up another step as the whistling stranger came closer, then up another, and then paused as the sound stopped.
"Well," a deep, smooth voice said from above her, "that's not something you see every day." Net looked up over her shoulder to see a young man standing on the second floor landing looking down at her. She was a pretty good judge of height and guessed him to be about five foot ten with an athletic build. He wore black jeans and a similar colored Black Sabbath tee shirt, had a good tan to his skin, and sported shaggy black hair and a two inch beard that was only slightly better maintained. He was smiling.
"What's that?" she asked, and his smile widened.
"Well," he chuckled, "I've met plenty of lazy college students, hell I fit the description myself, but I've never seen anybody make their kid sister carry their bags up the stairs while they took the elevator." Net couldn't stop herself from rolling her eyes, even though she'd long since become accustomed to such comments. When you stopped growing at four foot nine and a half (that half was important, dammit) you had to either get used to the jokes or start investing in therapy.
"Very funny," she said. "Despite appearances, I'm a freshman, not a middle schooler. I thought it would be faster to skip the line at the elevator, but I'm having second thoughts about that right now."
"I can't blame you," the young man laughed. "No offense, but it looks like your bags weigh more than you do."
"They do, actually," she admitted as she hefted her suitcase up another step. "It doesn't take much to do that when you're my size." Net only weighed ninety-two pounds and she was fairly certain that her backpack alone was at least a third of that weight. Buying her books ahead of time to skip the inevitable crowd at the campus bookstore had seemed like a great idea a few months ago. One of these days she might actually learn the meaning of that much talked about virtue known as patience.
"Here," the guy said as he half walked and half skipped down the eight steps to stand beside her. His footfalls seemed to pound out a rhythm, though different than just a moment before. He extended a hand down to the handle of her suitcase. "May I?" Net wanted to insist that she could handle it herself, but then again if he was offering to help it would be foolish to refuse the assistance.
"Sure," she said, letting him take the burden. "I'll just take the elevator from the second floor."
"How far up do you need to go?" he asked as he hefted the big suitcase around to hold the handle over his shoulder. He looked like he was in good shape and probably weighed twice as much as Net, but he seemed to lift the thing just a little too easily.
"Fourth floor," she answered.
"Ah. In that case screw the elevator. I can get this up there before you'd make it to the elevator in the first place. Here," he extended his free left hand, "I can get that other bag too. That backpack looks loaded enough for you."
"Are you sure?" she asked. "Because I don't want to take up your time just because I was too impatient to wait for the elevator in the first place."
"No problem," he replied. "Besides, my coach is always telling us to take any chance to get some extra exercise."
"Well, okay." Net unshouldered her second bag, a pale purple thing with two small hand straps and one longer shoulder strap, and passed it to him. "What coach is that, football?"
"Lacrosse," he said as he grabbed the bag by the hand straps. "What's in this thing," he asked as he hefted it, "rocks?"
"My sewing machine," she told him, eliciting a raised bushy eyebrow. "It's a hobby." He just shrugged and turned, beckoning her to follow with a nod of his head as he began to jog up the steps. Net tried to keep up but was only halfway up the fourth flight by the time he reached the landing. She noted that he was barely breathing heavy while she felt sweat forming on her forehead.
"That coach must be a real hard ass," she panted as she came up even with him.
"You don't win championships by playing patty cake for practice," he smirked as he set down her suitcase and handing over her sewing kit, which she hefted over her shoulder again. "By the way," he extended a hand, "I'm Joseph Lorenzi. Most people call me Joey."
"Antionette Florilli," she said, shaking the proffered hand, "but I go by Net. The shorter name kind of fits better, wouldn't you say?"
"Yeah," Joey laughed, "I guess it does. You've got a decent sense of humor. If I didn't have a girlfriend I'd be tempted to ask you out."
Drat, she thought. Wait, did I just think that? Net felt her cheeks warm and hoped he'd attribute her blush to the exertion of chasing him up the stairs.
"Well," he continued, "I'll quit bothering you now. Welcome to Laurel Valley College and maybe we'll run into each other again sometime. Probably, since it isn't that big of a campus."
"Yeah," she said, "probably. And thanks for the help."
"No problem," he said with a smile. "Take it easy." And with that he was on his way back down the stairs, feet pounding out that strange rhythm from earlier as he whistled the accompanying melody.
Well, at least some of the people around here are nice. With that she pulled the door open and dragged her suitcase behind her into the dorm hallway.
Immediately to her right was a short hall crossing to the other side of the floor, but the numbers on this side were even and her room was four twelve. That was conveniently easy for her to remember, being the same as her telephone area code. That reminded her that she was supposed to call home and let her mom know when she was settled in. That could wait until she got unpacked she decided as she walked down the hall.
To her right, after the end walkway, the middle of the floor was taken up by the male restroom and shower area, with a door about thirty feet from the stairs. The dorm was coed and the female showers were on the other end of the floor. She knew from the tour she'd taken months ago that in between the facilities was a decent sized common area featuring a television, numerous couches and chairs, and a small kitchen area for students who decided they wanted to cook something, though she'd been told that the microwave was the only appliance that really got much use.
Her room, the sixth one down, was just short of that common area, and she overheard a few raised voices arguing something about which deck of cards they were going to play with. Not bothering to waste any thought on the matter, she noticed that the door to room four twelve had a Pittsburgh Steelers pennant tacked to it just above the number. Apparently one or both of her roommates had already arrived and they had good taste. Smiling, Net knocked on the door.
"It's open," came the reply, so she turned the nob and walked in, glancing around the room.
It was fairly spacious as far as dormitory accommodations were concerned. Wider than it was deep, the room extended to her right. First were a set of bunk beds to her immediate right, the top of which had been made up with pale blue sheets. Across from that was a loft bed, similarly made up, with a desk underneath it with a desktop computer set up on it. Past the beds were a pair of desks against either wall, the one next to the loft also sporting a computer, and then a couple of stand up dressers. The far wall had a third dresser and a small bookshelf against it with a flat screen television mounted on the wall above them. There was one window directly across from the door and another above the desk farther down the room. In the middle of the floor, between the desks, two people sat cross legged on either side of a chess board. Both appeared to be tall and lean of build, even seated, and both had pale skin, freckles, and bright orange hair a few inches long that seemed just a little wavy but not quite curly. The pair were obviously related, though Net immediately noticed one key difference as they stood up and stepped toward her.
"You our roommate?" one asked, nodding at her bags and extending a hand. "Antoinette, right?"
"Just Net," she answered, glancing back and forth between the two. The other girl was quite tall, standing at least a foot above her.
"I'm Karen McCullough," she girl said, then jerked her head aside in the direction of the young man standing nearly a head taller than her, "and this is my twin brother Kelly." Net's eyebrows went up at the second name. It was listed on the paperwork she'd received concerning her residential arrangements. She'd figured her roommates were twins, or maybe cousins, but this?
"Aren't you supposed to be a girl?" she asked, pointing up at the boy. Both siblings immediately began laughing with ear to ear grins. Net just looked at them for a moment, trying to figure out if this was some kind of joke. She still wasn't sure by the time they calmed down almost a full minute later, both wiping tears from their eyes.
"Actually," Karen began, having caught her breath, "there seems to have been a bit of a mix up in the campus housing department.
"Yeah," Kelly added, "see we requested a room together since we're twins and we've shared a room our entire lives."
"They told us that that could be arranged since the dorms are coed and all," Karen said.
"But," Kelly chuckled, "we were expecting a regular double room with just us."
"Apparently somebody else, who was obviously unaware that Kel's a boy, switched things around and put us in this triple room with you," Karen finished. The way they talked, back and forth without breaking pace weird, but Net had heard that twins, even fraternal ones, sometimes seemed to read each others' minds. It was still weird, though.
And I have a boy for a roommate?
"We just figured we'd wait and see how you reacted," Kelly said.
"Really," Karen said, clearly trying to sound more serious, "he's not that bad of a roommate. Trust me, if he was I'd've killed him a long time ago."
"Okay," Net said, still not sure what to make of it, "but how does that work out when I'm changing clothes? You might not mind because he's your brother, but I'm not exactly an exhibitionist."
"Ah," Kelly raised a finger, "we already thought of that. We brought some extra sheets that we can tack up to the ceiling around the loft there. I can duck back in there if you need privacy and also when I have to change, myself. Girls aren't the only ones allowed to be modest, you know."
Net looked at both of them for a moment, trying to ascertain whether they were being serious or still playing a joke on her.
"Oh, come on," Karen said in a pleading voice, "seriously, you really could do a lot worse."
"Yeah," Kelly said, "I promise to behave. Well, at least as much as she does." That got him an elbow to the ribs from his sister and a raised eyebrow from Net. "Okay, we both have somewhat crude senses of humor, but if you set a line neither of us will cross it. Promise." Karen nodded in agreement.
Ah, what the hell. "Okay," Net sighed, "I'll give it a chance, but anything inappropriate and I go straight to the housing office."
"Thanks," Karen said. "Honestly we didn't expect you to be so understanding."
"More like too tired to argue," Net said as she unshouldered her sewing bag and then dropped her backpack next to it with a thump. "Three hours on a bus and then lugging all my crap up the stairs kind of makes me just want to settle in."
"You brought all that stuff up the stairs yourself?" Kelly asked.
"It looks like it weighs more than you," Karen put in, "not that I imagine that would take much."
"It does," Net said, "but somebody was nice enough to help me with it partway. I'm guessing the bottom bunk is mine?"
"Yeah," Karen said, "I like being up high, hope you don't mind."
"Despite the similarity in size," Net smirked, "I'm not a spider monkey and I don't have any desire to climb a ladder to go to bed." That got a laugh out of both twins.
"You know," Kelly said as he crossed the room to kneel between the desk and dresser along the back wall, "it's good that you're cool with the arrangement because we only brought one cage." Net was about to ask what he was talking about but paused as a white ferret came scampering across the floor and the lanky boy stood up with another one on his shoulder. The campus did allow for small, caged pets, she recalled as Karen knelt to let the approaching weasel run up her arm.
"Yeah," the ginger girl said, "I don't think these two would know what to do without each other anyways. This here tube rat's name is Athena and Kel's is Ares. Don't worry, they're quite friendly, you can pet them if you like." Net gave the critter looking down at her from the other girl's shoulder a dubious look. It leaned forward to look at her and sniffed at the air in her direction. Cautiously, she held up her hand, flinching for a second as the ferret licked her finger and then rubbed its head against her hand. "See," Karen said as Net relented and stroked Athena's fur a few times, "she likes you."
The rest of the afternoon passed fairly quickly as the three arranged the room. Kelly had left his clothes packed in a duffel bag, just in case Net hadn't been amenable to the situation, and they rearranged the furniture a bit so that the one dresser was next to the loft instead of the desk so that he could access it from inside the sheet curtain that was erected. Net put her laptop on the desk next to the bunk beds, Karen having claimed the one next to her brother's loft which was just fine with Net. She also put her sewing machine on her desk, which sparked some interest from her roommates. They seemed impressed when she told them that she had made the pair of shorts she had on herself; the shorts were snug around her hips but flared out like high fitting bell bottoms around her hips. Black, the shorts matched her simple tee shirt and hair braided half way down her back.
After getting settled in, all three of them went to the nearer of two dining halls on campus, which was located on the ground floor of another dorm building adjacent to their own. During the meal of food that Net found herself complaining about every time she tried something new, they got to know each other more.
Karen and Kelly were from Canonsburg, which was just a town just south of Pittsburgh, which was where Net was from. She was surprised to learn that, rather than being driven to campus by parents like most students or taking a bus like she had herself, the twins had came themselves on a motorcycle complete with a sidecar and a small cargo trailer. She questioned how useful such a vehicle would be in the Appalachian mountains come winter, but they assured her that good tires and the sidecar to add stability would allow them to deal with any conditions a small car could handle. Net remained unconvinced, but they seemed quite confident on the matter.
Net got to surprise them a little when the twins commented that she was complaining even more than was necessary about the cafeteria fare. Her grandmother owned a modest yet successful Italian diner in Pittsburgh and she had worked in the kitchen part time throughout high school which, she insisted, qualified her to condemn the stuff they'd been served as sufficiently bad to be an offense to the culinary arts. They immediately suggested that if she hated the food so much she could take advantage of the kitchenette in the dorm and cook her own food, preferably making some extra for them if she was half as good a cook as she said she was. Net didn't make any promises but she was quite tempted to check out that stove and oven in the near future.
The dining hall stopped serving food at eight o'clock but it was nearly half past the hour when the trio actually left, partially because they spent so much time talking but Net's picking at her food also slowed the progress of the meal.
"Come on," Kelly said as they stepped out of the building, "I'm not going to call that stuff good but it wasn't that bad."
"Says you," Net grumbled with a shudder. "I almost want to demand to see recipes and nutrition information, but I'm seriously afraid that'll just confirm that the pizza crust is really made from overcooked soggy cardboard. And the macaroni-"
"Tastes like rubber," Karen interrupted her, rolling her eyes, "and the cheese isn't really cheese. We got it the first four times."
"I think I agree with you on the cheese, at least, though," Kelly said while making a face. "I don't think a cow was involved in any part of that stuff's origin."
"Say," Net said, pausing halfway back to their own dorm, "I feel like going for a walk. You guys want to join me?" Just ahead of them another sidewalk split off towards the academic buildings, though there were connecting walkways going all over campus and the surrounding area, even into the edges of the surrounding woods. "It really is pretty around here."
"Didn't take you for being into natural scenery, city girl," Karen commented.
"Just because I'm from the city doesn't mean I can't appreciate nature," Net said. "I take walks in parks a lot back home, but this is just so much nicer. More real, you know?"
"That's because it is real," Kelly said, "bears, wolves, and spooky stuff included."
"You're making up the part about the wolves," she said, "and they said that bears don't come close to campus." There were black bears in the area, she knew. She remembered being told, during the afternoon she'd spent touring the campus over the summer, that the two small hotels in town regularly filled up with hunters during the fall, particularly during the short black bear season the first half of the week of Thanksgiving. Still, those hunters typically drove forty miles or more to nearby state forests to hunt rather than seeking their quarries nearby.
"They usually don't," Karen said, "and they usually shy away from people in general, but most people aren't bite sized like you."
"Ha ha," Net grumbled, "very funny. Seriously, you want to go for a walk or not?"
"Nah," Kelly said with a wave of his hand. "I want to read up on some stuff for Graphic Algebra."
"Yeah," Karen added, "I was thinking the same."
"It's Saturday and that class doesn't start until Tuesday," Net objected. Another thing she'd learned about her roommates was that both of them were majoring in Math, just as she was. She was actually double majoring in Math and Chemistry. Laurel Valley College was noted for having very good math and science programs, particularly for such a relatively small school located more or less in the middle of nowhere. It was also noted for its music program, interestingly enough. Suddenly that boy from earlier, Joey, popped into her mind whistling and rhythmically half dancing down the stairs, but she dismissed the errant thought.
"Yeah," Kelly said, "but it's some heavy stuff. Doesn't hurt to be prepared."
"Whatever," Net said, "I've glanced at the book and I get the basic theory. I should be able to keep up in class just fine. I'm going for a walk."
"Suit yourself," Karen said, "just do yourself a favor and stick to the well lit parts and stay out of the woods if you're gonna be out past dark."
"I'm not going to get eaten by a bear."
"I wasn't talking about bears," the other girl said. "There are some spooky things out there, trust me."
"Oh, come on!" Net exclaimed. "You don't really believe those stories about the woods around here being haunted, do you? That's all just bull."
"Maybe," Kelly said, "but there's usually something behind stories like that. Maybe completely harmless, but you never know."
"Oh, shove it," Net grumbled. "Just because I'm the size of most sixth graders doesn't mean you can scare me like a little kid. If you're so eager to start homework ahead of time then go ahead. I'm going for a walk." She started down the other walk.
"Have fun," Karen called to her, "just keep an eye out!"
Seriously, did those two actually believe those silly stories that the orientation guides had mentioned? Net wasn't sure if they really did or if that was a sign of that crude sense of humor they had mentioned sharing. They were definitely a bit strange, but they seemed nice enough. She probably could do a lot worse for roommates.
After a few minutes she was approaching the Quad, the large courtyard surrounded by the half dozen main buildings where classes were held. Instead of continuing straight, she turned down a side path to the right, downhill a bit towards the small lake, more of an oversized pond, really, that took up a good portion of the lower campus grounds. Laurel Lake, as it was so creatively named, was fed by a creek that began somewhere higher up in the mountains at the convergence of several smaller, spring fed streams. She remembered being told that the water was unpolluted and pure enough to drink from, though she didn't feel any particular urge to test that assertion. The lake had a paved walkway circling it completely, and Net elected to go right again, crossing a footbridge over Laurel Creek.
Okay, she thought to herself, I get it. There's a lot of mountain laurel around here. Laurel Valley College, located next to the town of Laurel Valley, home of Laurel Lake which is fed by Laurel Creek. The school's mascot is a freaking laurel bush and the sports teams are called the Vines. Am I the only one that thinks somebody took the theme a little overboard?
Repetitious nomenclature aside, it really was a beautiful place. Even the thick clusters of the eponymous plant lining the edge of the woods bordering the manicured lawn to her right as she strolled along the lake were quite pretty, at least while adorned with white flowers. Across the lake she could see the bleachers of the campus stadium, which was unsurprisingly named Laurel Field. By the time she reached the far end of the lake the sun was partially obscured by the ridge line in the distance and the lamp posts along the walkway were coming to life.
Net paused where another path branched off from the main walkway. This one was made of smooth, well weathered cobblestone and curved back around toward the dorms through the edge of the woods. Deciding to pointedly ignore Karen and Kelly's superstitious advice, Net turned down that path. There weren't any dead ends and it would eventually curve back out of the woods to connect to a main path near the residence halls.
The woods got thick very quickly. Narrow strips of grass were maintained on either side of the stone walkway with lamp posts spaced every fifty feet, staggered on the left and right, but the limbs of large maple trees extended over the path and blocked out what little light remained in the sky. It didn't take long for Net to feel as if she were walking through a high roofed tunnel with walls of wood, laurel vine, and multiflora rose thickets illuminated by the warm glow of the lamp posts. Contrary to what her roommates would no doubt prefer she think, Net found her surroundings quite pleasant, and her step lightened as she strolled along. She listened closely, drinking in the sounds around her.
The chirping of evening birds was beginning to give way to crickets' songs. Off in the distance, deeper into the woods, she heard the deep hooting of an owl, and then the higher pitched call of a screech owl. She knew the latter because a number of the smaller nocturnal birds made their homes in parks back home. She briefly jumped at a rustling sound behind her but mentally chided herself as she observed a raccoon crossing the path about thirty feet back, paying her no heed. At least nobody else was around to have seen her reaction; she was quite certain Karen and Kelly would have teased her to no end.
As she continued along the path Net paid even closer attention to the sounds around her. She noted other animals moving through the underbrush every minute or so, but was no longer alarmed. She even heard some chittering and chirping from above, which she guessed to be bats out to hunt bugs for their nightly meals, though she didn't actually see any of them. She knew she was getting near the edge of the woods when she saw a larger area off to her left cleared and mowed to accommodate a pair of round stone picnic tables, each surrounded by three curved stone benches, and a standing grill, much like what one would expect to find at a campground.
Something caught her eye.
Net turned back and looked at the tables and grill again, but there was nothing there. No woodland critters moving around and not even any branches or bushes wavering in the wind. There was no wind; the pleasantly cool night air was almost completely still. Shrugging to herself, Net turned back the way she was walking, but something seemed to flicker in the corner of her eye as she turned away. A third glance once again confirmed nothing to be there. Just her imagination, or maybe she was simply getting tired. She'd been walking for a while and the path had wound through the woods a good bit, it was probably after ten o'clock by now. Still, as she turned away from the picnic area yet again, she couldn't shake the feeling that she almost saw something.
Nonsense, she thought, there isn't anything there.
Still, she quickened her pace. The edge of the woods had to be close. Net heard a twig snap on the path behind her. It wasn't the scurrying of a small animal, it sounded like someone stepping on a twig. But she hadn't seen any twigs on the path. She froze. Slowly, she turned around. The path was still lit by the lamp posts, and there weren't any twigs on the smooth, clear cobblestone path. Shaking her head, she turned back again.
There it was again, that flicker in the corner of her eye.
Net spun around yet again, her pulse quickening and her feet moving backwards away from whatever it was that she couldn't see. But there wasn't anything there.
No, she thought instinctively, there is something there. I can't see it, but I'm not crazy and I almost saw something damn near a half dozen times now! More than that, she could feel that something was there. She had no clue what it was but it was definitely something. Net turned, again not quite glimpsing whatever it was as she turned away, and ran. She didn't cry out, she just ran as fast as her feet could carry her. She didn't dare turn back and look behind her again, but she just knew that whatever it was was still behind her, following her. Chasing her.
Suddenly she was out of the woods and the dorms were ahead of her. She thought they were nearly a hundred yards from the edge of the woods but the next thing she knew she was yanking the lobby door open and sprinting past the empty RA's desk and into the staircase. Screw the elevator, even if it was empty she wasn't stopping to wait for the door. Whatever it was was still behind her. Seemingly seconds later she was on the fourth floor. The lights were dim and nobody was in the common area. Net grabbed the nob to her room, opened the door just enough to slip in and slam it behind her.
She slid down to the floor, breathing heavily. Somehow, she suddenly felt safe. Nothing was chasing her anymore.
"What the hell?"
Net looked up to see both Karen and Kelly looking at her from their desks. They both had books and graphing paper out and compasses and protractors in their hands.
"OkayI''mnotmakingthisup," she blurted out and didn't stop for breath, "andifyoulaughIswearI'llbreakyourknees-"
"Calm down," Kelly said, dropping his instruments and standing to walk toward her with his hands up in what was supposed to be a reassuring gesture, "and for the love of God breathe in." He knelt down in front of her and she took his advice and sucked in a deep breath. "Now, slowly, what's going on?"
"I," Net gasped, mind racing, "I-I was walking through the woods, on the lit path, and everything was nice and it was beautiful and great but then I saw something. But I didn't. I mean something was there, I know it was but every time I turned around it wasn't there!"
"Oh, shit," Karen said from across the room, suddenly shuffling through the papers on her desk, "gray sight."
"What?" Net asked, only to be distracted by Kelly snapping his fingers in front of her face.
"Focus," he said. "You saw it but you didn't, do you mean like in the corner of your eye?"
"Yes! Exactly! Even when I turned away but every time I looked-"
"You didn't see anything."
"No, but I ran and it chased me, all the way here and up the steps-"
"Inside the building? Dammit there are supposed to be wards-Kare?" He glanced back to his sister, who mumbled something under her breath and then swiveled her desk chair around to wave a hand in their general direction. She stood up and seemed to be looking past them for a second or two. Then she started laughing. Laughing.
"Uh," Kelly asked, sounding a bit concerned, "Kare?"
"It's a ghost," she laughed, "just a normal ghost."
"Wait," Net demanded, "what do you mean a ghost?"
"Oh, calm down and stand up," Kelly said as he straightened and pulled Net to her feet by her shoulders. "It's nothing to be afraid of. We'll show you, just chill out." Karen walked over holding what looked to be a stack of note cards bound in one corner by a key ring in her left hand. Upon closer inspection the cards were actually laminated graph paper with some kind of drawings on them. She extended her right hand to Kelly, who took it in his left.
"Now," Karen said to Net, "step around behind us and put your hand on ours."
Net blinked at her. "What now?"
"Listen," Kelly said, "you aren't crazy. Something chased you, but probably only because you freaked out. Do you want to actually get a look at it or be continuously freaked out every time you leave the room?"
This didn't make sense. They weren't making sense. But nothing seemed to be making sense at the moment and these two were apparently somehow unaffected by the craziness. Or maybe they were just insane, but if that was the case she really had nothing to lose.
"Okay," Net said, taking a deep breath as she stepped around Kelly and placed her hand on top of both of theirs. "Um, what's going on?"
"We're about to show you," Kelly said. "You're gonna feel something, kinda like a tug. Nothing big, but we're just warning you so you don't freak out. Again."
"Calm down and get ready for spectervision," Karen said with a grin as she sifted through the cards in her hand and held up just one. Net got a good look at it, and it had an X-Y graph drawn on it along with a design that she recognized as being made up of lines and arcs, but it looked more like some weird kind of artwork than anything representing a mathematical function. Then Karen said "Setro comaus," and the design just vanished.
Net felt something pull at her hand. No, it pulled through her hand and into the other two. It went to Karen, whatever it was. She suddenly felt lightheaded but at the same time she was more aware of her surroundings than before. Everything seemed a little bit paler in color but sharper in detail, except for the twins. They were brighter, almost as if they were glowing, but they weren't. It was disorienting.
"You still with us down there?" Karen asked.
"Um," Net managed, "yeah. It's just...weird."
"First time always is," Kelly said as he opened the door with his right hand and pulled Net into the hall by the wrist with his left. She tried to resist but Karen pushed her from behind. Out in the hallway she caught something in the corner of her eye and turned and this time she actually saw it, just past Kelly, standing there in the hall not six feet away from her.
It was a little boy. Smaller than her, wearing baggy blue jeans and a plain green shirt, pale skin and dark brown hair styled in a bowl cut, he looked to be maybe nine years old, tops. His blue eyes lit up at seeing Net and he moved to rush at her but stopped in his tracks when she made eye contact with him.
Or maybe he stopped because of Kelly's upraised hand. Either way he looked frightened all the sudden, glancing back and forth between the three eighteen year olds. With a yelp, he turned and ran down the hall and straight through the stairway door as if it wasn't even there. Or, Net realized, as if he wasn't even there.
"That-" she stuttered as the other two started giggling.
"That was freaking hilarious," Kelly laughed, ushering Net back into the room behind Karen. Net walked over and slumped down onto the mattress of her bed. Kelly and Karen both went to their desks and straddled their chairs backwards to face her.
"Okay," she said, trying to remain calm. "I'm only going to ask this once and if I don't get a very good explanation I'm really going to start freaking out and it won't be pretty. What. The. Hell. Just. Happened."
"Okay," Kelly said, "straight answers. It's still going to sound weird, though."
"Weird is the word of the day," Net growled. "Now start with the explaining."
"Okay," he replied, "this isn't exactly a normal college. It's mainly because of the location, but we'll get into that in a bit. Short version is that weird stuff is going to happen around here."
"Like bratty ghosts?"
"Exactly," Karen said, "though they're a lot easier to deal with when you can actually see them, aren't they?"
"That little kid is what chased me?"
"Yep," Kelly chuckled, "that's what freaked you out. Ghost, yes. Creepy, kinda. But not dangerous and not even scary when you can see him." Something still didn't make sense, even if she was going to believe what they were saying about ghosts.
"If that kid was what chased me," she reasoned out loud, "then why couldn't I see him before?"
"Oh," Karen said with a grin, holding up her laminated graph cards, "that's easy, though you might want to take a deep breath before we answer it."
"Just spill it already," Net demanded.
"Karen used a magic spell to let us all see it," Kelly said. "That's what the graphs on those cards are. It worked on us because we were all in physical contact when she cast it. That allowed her to draw extra power from us and bring us into it."
"It also means," Karen added, "that, technically, you are now a wizard, just like us."