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Day three and still writing! Maybe if I go on for long enough, something will actually happen...

Chapter the Third: Orientation

The dining hall was open. Becca lead Kathy inside with great relish. The initial door opened onto a short hallway, at the end of which a doorframe stood, with no visible means of closing; it was framed in dark wood moldings, and a horseshoe hung above it, open side up. Just past the door was a table with a computer upon it, and an odd device that looked like something you might check out books with at the library, and a boy who couldn't have been much older then them.

"ID cards?" he asked.

Becca slipped off her trench coat and produced hers from a pocket in her worn jeans; Kathy found hers, likewise, in the pocket where she had left it. "Are you a student here?" Becca asked as the man bipped their ID cards with the machine.

"Yep. Okay, you're both on full meal plan, so you can get in here once during any given set of dining hours. All we have for today are sandwiches, the kitchens are pretty much staffed by work-study students."

"Like you?" asked Becca sunnily.

The guy offered a monosyllable of agreement. Kathy looked him over: taller than Becca, probably shorter than Kathy, with a narrow face and a fuzz of dark hair. She couldn't quite place his mild accent; probably somewhere in the British Isles. "So, what class are you? Junior, senior?" Becca pried.

"Senior," he said.

Kathy, who was beginning to realize she hadn't eaten since a cookie and a latte at Starbucks very early this morning, wandered off to the back of the room to get a sandwich. They had white bread; what a treat. When she returned, Becca had somehow forced the ID-card-checking guy over to one of the round tables scattered throughout the large room. "Kay!" she said happily, "Chris is going to tell us some Leshe ghost stories!"

"Not now," muttered the guy, whose name, it would appear, was Chris. "You can't tell ghost stories until after dark, it spoils 'em."

"Just one?" Becca pleaded, but he shook his head stubbornly. She pouted. "Fine. You two entertain each other while I get some lunch."

Kathy took a bite of her peanut-butter-and-marshmallow-fluff, and looked across the table at Chris. He shrugged helplessly. She swallowed. "Hi, I'm Kathy. Or Kay, if you're Becca."

"I'm Chris. Nice to meet you, Kay." He extended a hand across the table, and they shook, very awkwardly. Kathy took another bite of her sandwich and considered how this nickname Becca had given her might soon become unshakeable. Chris looked across the room, out one of the large windows set into the right and left walls. The rain was very light now, almost invisible if one wasn't looking for it, and the campus could be seen, lushly green and steeply sloping. Kathy could make out another building beyond the dining hall, roughly cube-shaped but as lavish and antique as the rest of the campus architecture.

Thankfully, Becca soon returned, and saved them from the awkward silence; she kept up the conversation almost single-handedly between bites of a roast beef sandwich. Kathy soon learned that she was not only from New York, but from Manhattan, the heart of the city; this explained, to Kathy's mind, her wild ways. She was majoring in Victorian Literature and minoring in musical theory, and she had come here to get away from an exceptionally large and stifling family. Chris was a Gothic scholar, like most of the students here, with a minor in the local languages. Kathy felt like the odd one out, admitting that her major was as yet undecided, and she had actually been hoping to study a science; at Becca's startled prompting, she explained she had decided to come to Leshe because her sister had loved it. It was kind of a lame reason, she realized as she said it, for coming somewhere this obscure - but the scholarships had ben good. Leshe wanted to broaden into a proper liberal arts institution, so anyone with an interest in science they would court on bended knee.

Presently, Becca looked at the time. "Aw, durn. We have to go to orientation." She pushed back her chair, picked up her paper plate, and offered a little bow to Chris. "I'm going to hold you on that promise to tell us a ghost story," she said. "You dorm in Benedict, right?"

"Fourth floor," he said.

"Well, we're in room six. Drop by or I hunt you down," Becca threatened.

Kathy regretted walking out into the rain again; she had been very nearly dry after their stint in the cafeteria. At least it wasn't a long walk. She and Becca soon arrived at the main building, and Becca began walking around to the back door. "You can't be serious," Kathy moaned.

"What's up, Kay? They said don't go in the front."

"Yeah, because they're scared of a couple of paintings," Kathy growled. "Come on, it's quicker this way." She walked up to the sunburst-carved double doors and pulled them open, stepping with only the smallest shiver of trepidation into the wide, marble-tiled hallway.

Becca looked around; her eyes alighted on the portraits, and she gave a small shriek. Kathy jumped; her roommate started to giggle. "Oh, your face. I couldn't resist." She walked to one end of the room, then the other. "Wow. Their eyes are following me. Who are they?"

"I think the people who used to own the castle," said Kathy, anxious to leave the room. But Becca walked closer to the portraits, examining them. "What's behind them? Is that on the campus?"

The backdrop for the portraits was a building Kathy had assumed was the castle, but on closer inspection proved not to match up. She shrugged. "One of the other buildings? The dining hall, the library. Come on, we'll be late."

"Fine." Becca walked across the hall and opened the doors. "Which way?"

"Aren't there signs or something?" asked Kathy. There almost always were, in these situations - freshmen were not renowned for their sense of direction.

"No. We were supposed to go in through the other door, remember? Let's try this way," said Becca, and set off down the smaller inner hall.

The building was, once again, eerily empty and silent except for the girls' ringing footfalls. Even Becca didn't say much, except to point out which way they were going next. "Let's try that staircase," she said; it was wide and stone, and it lead downwards. Kathy nodded and followed her down the steps. It got darker as they went, then light again; they came to a narrow, windowless hall, illuminated by fluorescent bulbs that buzzed and snapped. "Straight," said Becca. This hallway didn't throw back echoes as readily as the one above.

At the end of the hall was a small wooden door. It was blank and undecorated, except for a single large, thirteen-pointed star in the center, and two five-pointed stars flanking that; they looked messy and unprofessional, as though gouged there by a penknife. On a hunch, Kathy looked above the door; the paint was all faded except for a dim, horseshoe shaped silhouette, as though one had hung there, long ago.

"This doesn't really look like..." Kathy began, but Becca took the small brass doorknob and twisted it. To Kathy's surprise and apprehension, the door was unlocked.

Directly across the hall, six unnaturally still people fixed her with piercing, ruddy stares.

Kathy started, her heart leaping in her chest, and Becca did that little shriek again, except this time Kathy imagined it was in earnest. Then she blinked, and realized it was a painting, life sized and terribly realistic, against the opposite wall. She touched a hand to her chest as if to calm her pulse and sighed, shaking her head.

"Wow, you jumped half way to the ceiling," Becka laughed, looking a little shaken herself. Some of her corkscrew curls had come loose from her messy bun and sprang out from around her head like Medusa's snakes.

Kathy smiled and walked into the room. It was a small one, lit by more fluorescents, the walls eggshell-colored, slightly off-white. Bedsides the painting, which was propped up against the wall rather then properly hung, there was not much to see; a single narrow door to the left, hung with a padlock that seemed unnecessarily large; some cardboard boxes piled against the right wall. Becca walked over to the painting. "Hey - these people look familiar to you?" she asked, pointing out two of the subjects.

Kathy came unwillingly over. It looked like a portrait of a family, all the people within sharing lean, sculpted features, a haughty, aristocratic look, and feral, piercing eyes with an uncanny hint of red. Two girls and two boys, all bored looking teens or young adults, stood in the center; and to their either side were two adults, a dazzlingly blonde woman and a dark haired man, who were unmistakably the subjects of the portraits upstairs, in the front hallway. "Must be the Leshe family," said Kathy, uncertainly.

"Why shove it down here?" asked Becca, speculative.

"Because it's freaky, that's why," said Kathy. It seemed like the right thing to say, although her curiosity, too, was stirred. "Anyway, orientation is clearly not down here. Let's go." Becca nodded and walked out into the hallway; Kathy made sure to shut the door firmly behind them.

They did find the auditorium eventually, a large, plush room with murals on the ceiling and crushed-velvet chairs. It was on the top floor of the castle, and they located it by backtracking to the side door most everyone else had come in through and following the signs. They were even in time to get a decent pair of seats, and chat for a few minutes.

"Maybe Chris will know why the painting's there," said Becca. "He's been here three years, he probably knows all about everything."

"Do you have a crush on Chris or something?" Kathy asked. She was beginning to feel tired. She never slept much while traveling, and she had been traveling for the last forty-eight hours and change.

"No, I'm just naturally curious," said Becca. "Come on, we could be detectives. Becca and Kay and the Mystery of the Misplaced Portrait. Like Scooby Doo but without the dog. I'll be the one who gets us into trouble, and you can come up with plans to get us out."

Kathy laughed. "Fine, but when my plan fails you'd better have backup."

Their conversation was interrupted by the low whine of a microphone. "Testing, testing - it's on," said someone in a British accent. Kathy looked up at the stage, where a middle-aged man in an old-fashioned suit was toying with a microphone. "Welcome, our newest students; welcome to Leshe," he said, looking out at the audience. The freshmen class greeted this with a scattering of applause. Kathy slumped in her seat slightly and began to doze.

Next thing she knew, Becca was shaking her awake, looking scandalized and delighted all at once. "You didn't just sleep through the entire orientation!" she exclaimed.

"I did?" asked Kathy woozily. "What'd I miss?"

"Not much," Becca admitted. "How the dining hall works, meal plans, class selection, that sort of thing. We have to meet with our peer advisors tomorrow. By the way, do you have an almanac or anything like that?"

Kathy shook her head. "No. Why?"

"Get this. Curfew is one o'clock most nights, right? But- on full moon or new moon nights - it's three hours earlier. At eleven."

Kathy shoved her glasses up her nose and rose to her feet so she could follow the other students out of the auditorium. "Weird."

"Uh-huh. Hey, wanna go out the back door this time?" Becca asked, and Kathy nodded fervently.

All post art not specifically credited elsewhere is mine.

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