Weekend Stay for Prospective Students
Weekend Stays for Prospective Students in Elsewhere University are something that had to be planned cautiously, from what places to show to what to put in the introduction pamphlets (not just information, other things too), and who were going to be Tour Guides and Hosts for the students.
Being chosen for one of these jobs was an honour and a curse. To be a Guide, it was given that you should be knowledgeable about the university’s layout and surroundings, about which places were safe and which not and knowing how to react when this suddenly changed. People with authority were preferred for this spot, but sometimes it was the quiet ones who knew the school better and had some especial kind of intuition as to which places were safer.
To be a Host you had to know the rules as the back of your hand, and not just know them, follow them too. Your history with the fair folk had to be as clean as possible of things like debts, favours, and people near you taken away.
Here is where the curse part comes: as a Guide or Host you are responsible for a bunch of usually high school aged teenagers who sometimes weren’t good at following rules. That, of course, wasn’t a problem for Mike, he was in his senior year, and in the three years he had served as guide and host, not one single student had gotten lost.
This stereotypical nerdy kid wasn’t going to be the first.
Sarah really didn’t wanted to come here. She felt wrong, as if she was being observed from all angles, and something was also following her. But Noah, who usually wasn’t energetic about anything, had been so hyped that she really couldn’t say no.
Still the weird felling prevailed, and when the guides distributed the introductory pamphlets it just intensified. First of all, if she wasn’t wrong, a little packed of what appeared to be salt or sugar wand glued to the front of the pamphlets, under it, Elsewhere University was written in a fancy font all surrounded by what appeared to be a lot of green vines, she ignored that, but she really couldn’t ignore the first thing she saw after opening the thing: a list of suggestions on how to speak, or better, how to think before speaking, immediately followed by a short set of rules.
“Noah, are you seeing this? ‘Don’t make deals’? ‘Be polite to plants and animals’? What sort of- What are you doing?!”
“Shh! Do you know if crows can eat jerky?” He asked, he had an open pack of jerky in his hands and was eyeing a nearby crow that appeared to returning his stare.
“How would I know and where even did you got jerky? I thought you didn’t liked it,” Sarah asked, side eying the crow that appeared to be very interested in the piece of jerky that Noah was timidly offering.
“A cousin from Virginia was making a visit, she brought a whole box of the stuff, I have a bunch of-” he was interrupted by one of the guides in front of everyone group.
“Attention please!” The Guide, a dark haired guy who looked like he could have been a basketball player, waited until everybody was mostly quiet to talk again, “Good. Welcome to Elsewhere University, we are glad that you have chosen this university as a possible place to study, but before we give more information, I want you to open you pamphlets and pay a detention to the suggestions and the set rules written there. I ask you that you follow those rules, for your own good- and I’m not joking” he added after hearing some snickers.
After a fast revision of the rules they were assigned of chose a partner from the other prospective students, just groups of two, no more. Sarah immediately took hold of Noah’s arm, he sometimes tended to be a bit distracted and had the custom of wandering off during field trips since he was in middle school.
“Now, stay with your partners, and wait for your hosts, they are here to protect you, they will accompany you through all your stay here, again, for your own safety, the university grounds are vast and have a big part of forests, it’s very easy to get lost. Your hosts will review the principal rules with you in more detail before we begin our trip to the dorms.” the Guide looked down to a folder in his hands, looked around and started walking toward them.
Noah looked about to ask her something (“hey have you seen my-“) but someone touched her shoulder before he could finish, “Um, excuse me, are you, um, is this your picture?” a shy looking girl was showing Sarah a picture of her in of one of those folders that all the hosts appeared to have. She wondered why her name wasn’t written there.
“Yes,” she said with a smile, ”you must be my host, my name is-“
“Wait!” the girl looked altered as if Sarah was breaking some kind of federal law, and then surprised of herself for her outburst “We… we don’t use our given names here, it’s, um, a tradition of sorts, for our own protection” she kinda whispered the last part, looking around a bit, Sarah noticed that Noah was talking to the guide who was speaking earlier. His host, she guessed, “you can call me Tina, and you should come up with a nick name too,”
“Um, ah, you can call me Lara, nice to meet you” she extended her hand for Tina to take, she wasn’t good coming up with things in short notice.
“Yeah, me too” Tina took her hand.
“So this is your friend. I’m Mike, nice to meet you miss…” Noah’s host inserted himself in the conversation, with Noah beside him.
“Lara, nice to meet you too” presentations done, they made a bit of chit-chat, revised some of the rules (Sarah looked pointedly at Noah Nathan from now on, every time rules like ‘Don’t eat food that someone gives you unless you’re sure they are human’ came up) and then started walking again with the tour. Suddenly, Mike was called from ahead, he threw an apologetic smile at them, and ran to where his name was being shouted.
They kept walking. Nathan looked near his feat, stopped, and started to crouch. Tina called her attention to something at the other side, just for a second, just one, and when she looked back Nathan was gone, she looked around a bit but couldn’t spot him, “Um, Tina? Did you saw Nathan walk away?”
“Huh, no, why?” after a some talking, Tina had opened up a bit she was still almost painfully shy, ”Wasn’t he following us?”
“Yeah, he was, but I can’t find him now”
“You mean he isn’t around?”
“Um, no, he just kinda disappeared, one second he was here and the next he wasn’t”
Tina looked around, standing in her tiptoes trying to look over the crowd and when does couldn’t find him, she turned pale. “Oh my God” she took a deep breath, her eyes open wide, “oh my God, please no,” now Sarah was a bit scared, and also somewhat confused, “please no, not the first one in three years, not in my first year” Tina was starting to hyperventilate, typing erratically in her phone. Sarah didn’t understood why she was so altered, Nathan had just wandered off, just as always, he would come back in a few minutes.
She saw Mike approach them running, evading people with a grace she wished she had. He had a worried expression on his face, but not as panicky as Tina. He immediately took hold of Sarah’s shoulders, just making her more confused about what they were freaking out, “You sure you didn’t saw him wander off?” he asked.
“Um, yes, I’m sure, but, guys? Why are you so worked up? He’ll turn up in a few minutes”
“No, no, you don’t understand, that’s not how it works here” Tina looked like she was having a panic attack, Sarah looked at Mike unsure of how to react. He had a sour expression on his face, but he let her go to approach Tina.
“Calm down Tina, calm down, we don’t need panicking hosts, remember training. It was near this spot, right? I’ll contact the AR they know what to do, don’t worry about it and attend to your own charge”
“Yes, yes,” she whispered, looking like the only thing grounding her was Mike’s hands, “I’ll do just that,” she looked closer to calm after that. Sarah was pulled away by Tina to keep going with the tour. The last thing she saw was Mike frowning while hurriedly speaking on the phone.
Mike couldn’t believe it. He wasn’t mad with Tina, she was pretty good at this, almost no dangerous encounter in her history, but it was her first year doing this and having a really close encounter (even if she didn’t saw it) during her firsts time probably wasn’t good, so it wasn’t her fault. No, he was mad at himself. He had years in this. Four years to be exact, the first freshman to participate in planning. He was the one people (especially freshies) came for help, he was supposed to be trust worthy.
And then his charge (his charge) was lost in to the Other realm. He couldn’t really know what was being bargained with the Fae, he wasn’t a AR (couldn’t be, really, his major and ‘always ready for danger’ personality caused both respect and fear, but sometimes bit too much fear and anyone would feel cornered and attack, so he couldn’t approach the fae), but he knew that they weren’t making a lot of advances; Fae were chaotic neutral, but sometimes, some of them fit the chaotic part more than the neutral, and it so happens that his charge was lured by one of those. They tried to control this with agreements and other things, but every few groups of prospective students, one or two got lost, and without knowing the rules or constant contact with the fair folk to learn the most basic unwritten rules, they were more difficult to be returned.
His charge, Nathan, was a nice kid, a bit too peppy for his taste, but he was overall nice: followed the rules without questions, and, curiously, seemed to have a connection with the place. If he decided to study here, he would have done well, but now they probably wouldn’t even know.
They tried to keep it as quiet as possible, no one outside the weekend event organisers and AR were allowed to know to not scare the prospective students away. One day, 6 hours and counting. Tomorrow evening was the end of the weekend event, guests were supposed to go back to their homes. The event had been a blast for them, but all the school residents in the know were worried underneath, they just knew how to hide it better.
It was the morning of the last day. Sarah had slept a total of 6 hours in her whole stay here, she hadn’t texted or called he parents in fear of revealing something in accident. They had explained her everything (or as much as they dared to say aloud). Fae. The fairy tales, those that her grandmother liked to tell her, had just turned into a more morbid- realistic view. Noah had been kidnapped by the Fae.
Well, not really, but something like it, and now he was lost on the “Other Real”, a difficult place to get to and even more difficult to get out of. She understood the names thing now, Names have power, more power than ever should be assigned to something so simple.
She was standing near the place with other Tina who was trying get to console her, other university students were passing near. Crows were unusually loud that day. She wasn’t sure why they were standing there, it was her decision, but that didn’t meant that she understood it. She supposed it was a way of coping, and that maybe, if she wished hard enough, he would just come out stumbling from the trees….
…Just like he was doing right now.
“No- Nathan!” he tripped on something and took a hold of a branch for support, “My God, Nathan, are you ok? Are you hurt? Do you remember me?”
She ran to him, being careful to not touch him in case he was hurt, he looked tired, but happy, well, not happy, satisfied was more like it, and a bit more confident than two days ago. He still had his backpack with him, if a bit lighter, his clothes looked ruffled and a bit dirty, but not much. “I’m glad to see you too, Lara, I’m ok, I’m not hurt, and yes, Lara, I remember you, but first things first. Let’s find food, I’m starving” she was happy to obey.
After he was fed and watered, and a comfy as he could without taking a shower Sarah asked him why he had wandered off “My keys. I had lost them near there, and I saw something shiny on the floor, so I confused it with them”. Someone, he thought it was his host, but he wasn’t sure, Some specific recent things were a bit fuzzy in his mind, asked how he had gotten out. “I followed the crows, of course, very trusty fellows if you treat them well”
If he took two extra salt packets from the cafeteria and stuffed them in his pockets, nobody said anything; if not two weeks later he decided on getting hire ears pierced and was looking for iron and silver earrings, Sarah preferred not to comment; and if that year he only applied for Elsewhere University and nothing else, his parents took a look at the place’s prestigious reputation and decided it was better to ignore it.
In campus, the tale of the prospective student who managed to get out of the Other realm by his own will, would continue to spread. Facts changing to make it more interesting (“He came out with the Sight”, “He was blessed by the Queen-“(“Don’t ever mention the Queen, you idiot!”), “He went back in a few hours after and hasn’t been spotted since then”), but if you went near the tree where crows liked to congregate, you may see (very probably) a student, a bit nerdy, but confident, with an aura that seem to fit with the place, feeding the crows, and smiling like he knew something they didn’t every time he herd the tale.
Note: It’s been a long while since I’ve written something that wasn’t a school paper, I think it is glaringly obvious in my inability to write actually short stories. Anyway, when I saw the Elsewhere University post I experienced love at first sight and after reading some asks about prospective students and some people that just seemed to fit in the university this was born. I apologise for the length, I really tried to make it short (yes, it was way longer before editing).