College Arcane - John Conroe

Chapter 1

Carpet adhesive. Carpet adhesive and pleather. Those were the smells I would always associate with the first day of college. Well, not college really, because that didn’t start till Monday and this was only Saturday.

Still, it was move-in day and the first day of being away from home and the first day of whatever this was. X-Men academy or Hogwarts, or maybe just the school for the freaky and furry kids.

Caeco was sitting next to me, absolutely still, reclining in the plush pleather cinema seats of the classroom, re-reading the material we had received along with our ID cards and room keys. Not sure why she bothered, as I’m certain she’d memorized the whole damn thing the first time she read it. Having nano-sized computers in your bloodstream is useful that way.

The room was brand new, as were the dorms, the student lounges, and every other room and hall in the place. The building itself wasn’t new, just completely redone and redesigned. The shell was an old industrial building on Pine Street in Burlington, a remnant from the city’s youth. There were numerous old factory and warehouse buildings along Pine, now converted to artists studios, architectural salvage and recycling stores and, of course, restaurants. In Vermont, everyone is a foodie, and new restaurants pop up all the time.

The building stood a bit apart, surrounded by what might have once been storage yards but were now newly paved parking lots. Beast, my trusty ‘72 Toyota Land Cruiser, was safely parked between the gleaming white lines of a secluded spot, well away from the other students’ cars.

It was so bizarre—just a few weeks ago, I’d been in high school, a place my friends, Rory and Jonah were still stuck in, and here I was about to begin college.

Despite the smell of adhesive, which was strongest in the carpeted tiers of seats, the room wasn’t classroom typical. The brick walls and overhead steel beams had been left exposed and the floor of the room, at the teacher’s level, was concrete that had been polished to a gleaming shine. The effect was much warmer, more of an artsy marketing firm vibe, like everything here was balanced to enhance the creative juices. The halls and even our dorm rooms were similar.

Aunt Ashling, her partner Darci, Levi, and Caeco’s mom had all left after helping unload our stuff in the freezing January cold and then taking us to warm up for lunch downtown at the wood-fired pizza place. Since coming back, we had barely enough time to meet our respective roommates before all four of us headed to the largest of the three classrooms in the building, following the instructions of the staff. It was time for a mandatory welcome meeting with the program director, Gina Velasquez. Caeco and I had met her once before. She was just a weary, distraught mom then, excited and relieved beyond measure to get her daughter back. But that’s a whole other story.

Caeco’s an on-time kind of girl, no doubt the result of her military programming, so that meant all four of us were almost the first into the meeting room. With all seating options open, we had mutually decided on the middle of the three sections, third row from the top, with nobody above us. From there, we watched the others file in.

It looked like about forty of us, in a room that would seat a hundred to a hundred and twenty with ease.

Caeco was on her third time through the brochures, policies, and other propaganda, so I occupied myself studying my classmates.

My new roommate, Mack, was sitting one row below me with his sister, Jetta, who was Caeco’s roommate. They seemed really close, which made sense as Mack had told me they were orphans. He was nineteen, a lean five-ten or so, with a surprisingly deep voice and messy brown hair. His sister was two years younger, sporting bottle bright red hair and brown eyes. Standing about five-six in leggings and a Lycra performance top, she looked athletic—and serious. Cute though. My initial opinion was that she might be a good fit as Caeco’s roomate. In fact, even her bracelets were those paracord survival things that you see being sold in outdoor stores and surplus catalogs. Her belongings were minimalist and she appeared to favor practical over flashy. Much like her brother. Mack hadn’t brought much stuff, either. All of their personal gear had fit in their older compact Chevy pickup truck. But everything was clean, well cared