Chapter one is turning out quite a bit long then anticipated, so I decided to post it in two parts. I highly doubt I'll finish this story this month even if I get 50,000 words, seeing as these last 5,000 words are such an insignificantly tiny part of my outline.
The Last Day of Their Lives
October 15th, 2006 started out like any other Friday. Corrine Ellison woke up around 8:15. Her roommate Anna was still asleep. This wasn’t surprising, since Anna hadn’t gotten in until about 4:15, when, drunk out of her mind, she’d stumbled in and knocked over the lamp, waking Corrine. Corrine was surprised she’d come home at all – usually when she started her weekend early she did it with some guy. She didn’t bring the guys here anymore, at least. She had Ethan to thank for that.
Ethan lived upstairs. Early on, he developed a bit of a fixation with Anna. He would hang around their room at night, waiting for her to get home from parties to “make sure she didn’t do anything stupid.” Whenever she brought a guy home, though, he’s get scared and run off, and Corrine would be left covering her ears and pretending to be asleep. She thought about confronting Anna about this, but she didn’t want to risk her being mad at her.
One night, about a week earlier, Anna tried to bring home a burly running back named Carl. They were both wasted as they barged into the dorm and headed for her room. That’s where they ran into Ethan.
“Anna,” he said. She remembered how nervous he sounded, but he was resolute. “What are you doing?”
“Who’re you?” asked Carl.
“I’m her guardian angel,” answered Ethan. It was supposed to sound threatening, but coming from Ethan’s thin, five foot six inch frame it must have sounded quite ridiculous.
“Go to bed, Ethan,” said Anna.
“Think about this, Anna,” Ethan answered, still trying very hard to sound sure of himself. “Would you sleep with this guy if you were sober?”
“Is it any a yer business?” asked Carl.
“I wasn’t talking to you,” said Ethan.
“I don’t have to take this!” yelled Carl. He swung at Ethan, but the alcohol had seriously impaired his reflexes. By this time Corrine had come outside to see what the commotion was all about, so she’d seen this all quite clearly. Ethan stepped out of the way, then grabbed Carl’s arm and swung him with a remarkable amount of force against the wall. Infuriated, Carl jumped on Ethan, who stepped out of the way, causing Carl to land in a pile on the floor. Somewhere between the head trauma and the alcohol, he passed out. And that was the last time Anna had taken a guy home. Consequently, it was the last time she’d even spoken to Ethan.
But anyway, she’d come home the previous night, albeit late, and since she’s already missed 15 minutes of her first class, and by the time she got up and made it to the lecture hall it would be half over, Corrine decided to just let her sleep. So she went to the bathroom, took a shower, got dressed, and headed to breakfast.
Not a lot of people at Keansley College ever showed up for breakfast. This was partly because they all stayed up pretty late, and partly because the food wasn’t really worth getting up for. Regardless of the reason, of the twenty or so people in the cafeteria, there were none that Corrine knew well enough to feel comfortable sitting with, so she got her bowl of cereal and sat down at a table by herself, and got to thinking.
She had been at Keansley for about two months now, and the only people she really felt like she knew were her roommate and the weird guy who had a crush on her roommate. And she only knew him because he hung around in her room all the time hoping Anna would notice him. She had met his roommate, Luke, a couple of times and decided he was a pompous jerk. Ethan spoke quite highly of him though.
That was how it was though. There were other people she knew. She had a fair number of people she talked to in class and things. She just didn’t know any of them well enough to hang out with them outside of class.
The thing was, she and Anna weren’t even really friends. She just hung out with her because she couldn’t find anyone else to hang out with. At first, Anna objected to this, because she was convinced that Corrine was prettier then she was and was going to steal all the guys from her. Once it became clear, however, that Corrine couldn’t bring herself to talk to a guy no matter what he said to her (or how drunk he was) she was happy to let her tag along with her to parties.
Parties, it had turned out, were not Corrine’s scene. She didn’t drink, nor could she bring herself to. And she felt very akward standing around watching everyone get drunk while she stayed completely sober. The akwardness only increased when the drunk guys started hitting on her. So she had stopped going to parties. Now it was a Friday morning, and she was wondering whether to spend her Friday night reading or watching Stargate with Ethan. Was this really what college was supposed to be like?
“Hey,” said a familiar accented voice from behind her, “Mind if I sit down?”
Radhika Aggarwal was standing behind her with her tray. Radhika was an international student from India. She had long, black hair with a streak of blue in it and huge, expressive eyes that caught a person completely off guard. She and Corrine had talked a few times but not very many.
“Not at all,” said Corrine. She was glad to have the company, at any rate.
“No one eats breakfast here,” Radhika commented as she sat down.
“I do,” said Corrine, matter-of-factly.
“Well, obviously,” answered Radhika.
They ate in silence for a little while. Corrine was not good at furthering conversations.
“You’re taking Anthropology with Dr. Bronson, aren’t you?” Radhika inquired after a little while.
“No, I have Professor White,” answered Corrine. “Why?”
“His class has been cancelled for three days in a row now!” explained Radhika angrily, “No one will tell me anything about what’s going on.”
“Have you tried e-mailing him?” asked Corrine.
“Yes,” answered Radhika, “He got back to me this morning,”
“Well what did he say?” asked Corrine.
Radhika pulled a small, folded piece of paper and handed it to Corrine. Corrine unfolded it. It was a print-out of an e-mail.
“Concerned students,” It read, “I apologize for the unfortunate canceling of the last three classes. Unforeseen circumstances the nature of which I can not describe to you have required my attention elsewhere, and I did not have time to secure a temporary replacement. With any luck, however, I should be back by Tuesday and classes can resume as normal. Tuesday’s test will be postponed a week, but we will have to work hard to catch up. Everyone please continue with the readings as listed on the reading schedule. Thank you for your understanding. Sincerely, Daniel Bronson,”
“He probably had a death in the family or something,” said Corrine, “Nothing to worry about,”
“I just wish he’d have found some way to tell us what was going on,” answered Radhika. “’Unforeseen circumstances’ could mean a lot of different things,”
“It sucks,” agreed Corrine. As usual, she couldn’t really think of anything else to say. “I have to get to class,” she finished.
She didn’t actually have to get to class. She just didn’t feel like continuing the conversation. Corrine did that a lot. She wasn’t sure why, but when ever she started to have a real conversation with anyone, male or female, she found herself trying to find some excuse to leave. That was, she reflected, probably why she had so few friends. She pushed people away.
Her nine o’clock class was Introductory English, and she both loved and hated it. She loved that she was forced to read fifty to a hundred pages of a novel every day, because she loved to read, and if she wasn’t being forced to she would have felt bad about it. Not that she had anything better to do. But she wished she did, and it was easier to justify a Friday or Saturday night at home with a book if she could say it was “for a class”.
She hated it because of the participation grade. Two sides of her personality conflicted on this issue. On the one hand, Corrine liked to do everything that was for a grade the best she possibly could. It gave her a sense of pride in her grades that she really couldn’t take in anything else. On the other hand, she hated any situation where she was forced to speak, especially if a large group of people were listening. Unfortunately, ten percent of the class grade was participating in class discussion. Usually her desire to be invisible won out over her need for perfect grades, and she ended up just sitting in the bcack listening and taking copious notes, like she did in every class. Sometimes, though, she was called upon to speak, and she generally made, in her mind at least, a total fool of herself.
Today, like most days, she got to class about ten minutes early. Being the first one there, she took her customary place in the back of the room and began reading Don Quixote. Of course she’d finished the reading for that day’s class. But she’d noticed that the reading for the next class skipped ahead several chapters. The professor would probably summarize what happened in that section, but Corrine didn’t like to read just part of a book, so she was reading those chapters anyway. She was about four pages in when someone plopped a backpack down next to her.
“Yo,” he said. She looked up. A tall, lanky boy with longish blonde hair had dropped the backpack, and was now pulling out a chair and trying to fold his beanpole-like body into it. It was quite comical. His name was Aaron. Corrine knew this because he had no problem talking in class – in fact; he sometimes talked even if he had nothing constructive to say. Most of the time, though, his ideas were quite interesting. He also talked with his whole body, which always reminded Corrine of an enthusiastic air traffic controller.
“It’s Corrine, isn’t it?” he asked as he sat down.
She nodded. She was amazed he actually knew what her name was.
“It’s a cool name,” he said. “Always reminds me of, like, a gemstone or something. I don’t know, that’s just what it sounds like,”
Corrine briefly wondered if he was flirting with her. She decided he was probably just talking for the sake of talking. He seemed to do that a lot.
“Why are you sitting in the back today?” she finally asked.
“I don’t know,” he answered defensively. Then more casually, “Just wanted a change of scenery, I guess,”
Corrine shrugged her shoulders and went back to her reading. Aaron leaned over and peered at the book. Corrine leaned over and shifted positions. She didn’t like people reading over her shoulder.
“You know we don’t have to read that part, right?” said Aaron.
Corrine looked up. What she wanted to say was, Yes, you idiot, some of us like to read things because we want to, not because we’re being forced to. All she actually did was nod.
“Just making sure,” he said.
Because it would be such a pity if I accidentally read something I didn’t have to, thought Corrine.
Fortunately, about that time, the professor came in and started class, so she didn’t have to listen to Aaron any more then anyone else did. It was a pretty good class – Corrine was not called upon to speak.
After class, however, Aaron seemed determined to talk to her. He followed her out of the classroom.
“You’re Anna’s roommate, right?” he asked her as they were walking down the hall. She nodded again.
“She’s a fun girl,” Aaron commented, “How come you never come to any parties? She’s always there?”
You just answered your own question, Corrine thought.
“I’m … not really a party person,” she said finally.
“Too bad,” answered Aaron. “They’re a lot of fun. You should come tonight,”
“No, really,” said Corrine, “I’m fine,”
“Oh, come on,” he pushed, “Psi Kappa Theta’s having a great one tonight. It’s in that big house down the street from Hellen Hall,”
“I’m sorry,” said Corrine, “I’m really not interested,”
They had left the building now, and Corrine tried to turn the opposite direction from where she wanted to go, just to keep him from following her. Unfortunately, he turned with her.
“Where are you headed?” he asked, “Your dorm is that way,”
“Library,” she said. It was the first thing that came to mind. “Studying to do,” she added.
“Well, suit yourself then,” said Aaron, “I’m gonna get some breakfast. You should come tonight, though. It’s gonna be a lot of fun,”
“I’ll think about it,” said Corrine, in the hopes of getting him to leave her alone.
“Do that,” the boy answered. “See ya! Oh, hey Luke,”
Corrine very nearly ran into the six foot three bulky frame of Ethan’s roommate. He was build like a football player, but he hadn’t played since high school. Still, his size and muscle structure tended to command a certain amount of respect from anyone he spent any time with.
“Hey Aaron,” he called out. “Corrine. What’s goin’ on?”
“Nothing much,” said Corrine, turning and going around him. Her intention was to circle around the library then head back to her dorm when she was quite sure Aaron was gone.
“Aaron Masterson?” said Luke, quizzically, as soon as he was out of ear-shot, “Promise me you won’t fall in with that jerk,”
Corrine looked up at him confusedly. “We were just talking,” she said.
“Yeah, I’ve seen him talk to girls that way,” he said.
“What way?” asked Corrine.
“Was he trying to get you to come to a party?” asked Luke.
Corrine blushed a little.
“Yeah, he wants to sleep with you,” stated Luke.
“What?” asked Corrine.
“It’s a game Aaron and his friends play,” Luke explained, “They try to find girls who don’t normally sleep around, get them drunk, and have sex with them. Don’t go tonight, ok?”
“I wasn’t planning to,” said Corrine.
“Good,” said Luke. “And if he keeps bothering you, you find me ok?”
“Ok,” she said.
He turned off the other way. Corrine was very puzzled. First, Luke was being unusually nice to her. Second, whatever his attentions, some guy was actually paying attention to her. It was turning out to be a very unusual day.
She got to her room, opened the door and flipped on the lights. Unfortunately, her roommate was still asleep.
“Wha?” said Anna, groggily.
“Sorry,” said Corrine, hastily turning the light’s back off.
“No, it’s ok,” said Anna, sitting up. “What time is it?”
“Just after ten,” answered Corrine.
“Unggghhhh,” groaned Anna, rubbing her sinuses, “I had a class at eight, didn’t I?”
“Shit.” Lamented Anna.
“It was half over by the time I got up,” apologized Corrine, “I figured better to just let you sleep,”
“Probably just as well,” conceded her roommate. “Well, I should probably take a… a…”
“Shower?” suggested Corrine.
“Yeah, one of those,” Anna mumbled. She left the room. Corrine sat down to work on a paper for his Anthropology class. A few minutes later, Anna came back. Her hair was a complete disaster, the result of last night’s carefully prepared style collapsing in a fitful sleep. Her make-up, likewise, was smeared all over her face.
“Forgot my, er, uh….” She began, as she went through her stuff.
“Towel?” Corrine volunteered.
“That thing, right,” said Anna, grabbing hers. She stood there for a moment, a look of complete bewilderment on her face.
“What else do I usually take to the shower?” she asked, after a little while.
“Ummm… soap?” said Corrine. “Shampoo, conditioner, usually a robe, your keys so you don’t get locked out if I’m gone when you get out,”
“Is that all?” asked Anna.
“I think so,” answered Corrine.
“Ok,” said Anna. She then proceeded to collapse back onto her bed.
“Uh, Anna?” asked Corrine. There was no answer.
She walked over to her roommates bed and shook her.
“Anna?” she said timidly, “I know it’s not really my business, but you really shouldn’t miss another class today,”
“Yer right,” mumbled the sleepy girl into her pillow, “Ten minutes, k?”
Corrine shrugged hopelessly. She didn’t know why she felt she was responsible for making sure Anna didn’t flunk out. Some days she felt as if without her prodding, the girl wouldn’t go to class at all. She was sure she was failing most of classes by now anyway.
She sat down to write. Five minutes or so later, Anna managed to drag herself out of bed and again left for the shower. Corrine sighed, then got up, gathered her roommate’s shower things, and brought them out to her.
“Thanks Corrie,” mumbled Anna, “You’re a lifesaver, you know that?”
Corrine just shrugged and headed back to the room to try and get her work done. She hated being called Corrie. Anna had started it, and since she’d been to shy to object, the rest of the girls on the floor had picked it up to. Fortunately, she had very little contact with the other girls on her floor.
Corrine sat down and began to write. She had a very peculiar process for writing. For days before hand, she would gather information, outline, and figure out exactly what she wanted the paper to look like. Then she would find a large block of time, usually three to four hours, and just sit down and write. She would not stop to eat or sleep. She would only stop to go to class, if her writing took her long enough that this was necessary. This was only a three page paper though. She knocked it off in about an hour and a half. Then she decided to go to lunch.
Lunch was much like breakfast for Corrine – a time for eating mediocre food and enjoying generally awkward conversation. She didn’t relish it. There were four lines at Riley Dining hall. One contained normal food, one always contained Pizza, and one offered “International” cuisine, which generally consisted of either bad Chinese food or something Eastern European with an unpronounceable name. The fourth line was a vegetarian option. Today the regular line was very long, and International was serving Borsch, so Corrine decided to go for vegetarian. There was some sort of cheese ravioli that seemed vaguely palatable, so she piled some of that on her plate, and went to try and find a place to sit.
To Corrine, finding people to eat lunch with was generally a lot like choosing what to eat – there tended to be very few options, and she seldom liked any of them. She spotted Radhika sitting with the other Indian students. She’d definitely feel like an outsider there. She moved further away from the line, and saw Aaron talking to some of his friends, including a rapt audience of freshman girls. She quickly turned the other way, and nearly bumped into Ethan.
“Hey Corrine,” he said, “Where are you sitting?”
“I’m not sure yet,” she answered meekly.
“Is Anna here?” Ethan asked hopefully.
“I don’t think so,” replied Corrine.
“Well, I’m sitting over there with a couple of guys from my D & D group,” offered Ethan, “You can come sit with us if you’d like,”
Corrine didn’t think she’d fit in with Ethan’s D & D group, whatever that meant, any more than she would with Radhika and her Indian friends, but she didn’t have anywhere else to go, so she followed him and sat down.
There were two guys already at the table, and one girl. One of the guys was short and slightly overweight, with curly red hair. He was tearing away at a hamburger, and had two more on his plate. So that’s what the long line was for, Corrine thought. The other was a tall, wiry boy with very large ears. He had also opted for the vegetarian ravioli, and was eyeing it suspiciously. The girl Corrine had seen before – she was in her Religious perspectives class. She wasn’t a hard girl to recognize – the short-cropped, bright green hair and the two lip-rngs tended to give her away. She had gotten nothing but a plate full of fries, which she was slowly munching away at, and eight muffins, which she was busily wrapping up in napkins and sticking in her large bag.
“Hey guys,” said Ethan, as he pulled out a chair and sat down, “This is Corrine. Corrine, this is Johnny,” (he indicated the red haired boy) “Zeke, and Tara,”
Johnny and Zeke waved to her awkwardly. Tara didn’t look up. Corrine sat down.
“So,” said Ethan, “Saturday. I have it all planned out now. We’re ready to go,”
“I have to work until three on Saturday,” Zeke informed them.
“Ok, then, we’ll start at three,” answered Ethan.
“But I have a meeting at seven,” said Tara without looking up, “And so does Luke,”
“That still gives us four hours,” pointed out Johnny, “Hey, where is Luke anyway?”
“With his friends,” answered Zeke. He said this last word as if he was saying ‘maggots’ or ‘cockroaches’.
“I’ll pass this all along to him,” said Ethan “I don’t think four hours is long even to get through what I have planned. I was gonna have you guys actually reach the fortress of darkness finally, and I want you to have time to really explain it,”
Corrine was very confused now. Up until Ethan had mentioned the fortress of darkness, she figured they were just discussing some kind of meeting. Now she had no idea.
“We could just run it with three if it goes over,” suggested Johnny.
“You can’t get through the forest of darkness without a Cleric or a Rogue!” Protested Ethan, “Then you have no one to disable traps, or heal anyone.”
“Then NPC us for an hour,” said Tara.
Corrine had no idea what was going on, so she got up to leave.
“Leaving?” asked Ethan, slightly awkwardly.
“I have things to do,” said Corrine. She actually had absolutely nothing to do for the next hour, but saying that would not justify her leaving. She went off to contemplate her existence.
Corrine didn’t know very much about Dungeons and Dragons, but she knew the people who played it were generally not the ones at the top of the social latter. In fact she was pretty sure they were pretty near the bottom. And yet, they had friends. They had a community. She envied them that. She had no community to speak of. She had maybe four people who even knew her name (Five, she supposed, if she counted Aaron.) She needed to do something. Find some sort of direction.
Why didn’t she know anyone? It’s not that no one was interested in getting to know her. But she pushed them away. She couldn’t hold a conversation with anyone for more than a couple of minutes, so the only ones who even sort of knew her were the ones who were forced to spend a fair amount of time around her – Anna and Ethan.
She decided she was going to meet people. She was going to get friends, and she was going to start tonight. She turned around and headed back to her dorm room.