The second floor looked similar to downstairs, save that the rug was the same color as Roman’s school’s. This floor had the same rows of doors, but further apart. There were fewer vases, peepholes on the doors, and the floor had a more cozy feel to it. Beside Roman and Sarah was the next flight of stairs.
“His office is on the fifth floor,” Sarah explained, starting to climb. Jace had gone somewhere down the left hallway while Sarah took Roman up to Mr. Kyle.
The mansion seemed bigger inside than outside. Each floor was much like the next, except the basic structures were different in various ways. Some had an extra bathroom or side hallway. The stairs after the third floor had black carpets, didn’t creak, and looked somehow newer. Sarah didn’t seem to notice anything out of order. On the way up, Roman had decided that all of the doors must lead into bedrooms, because from one he heard punk-rock music, and from others he heard either shuffling or televisions. That, the bathrooms, and the way things were decorated reminded Roman of a hotel, even though he’d only been in one once on vacation.
Roman was content with climbing the stairs, except, after the third floor, it started to get tedious.
“How long is each flight of stairs?” Roman asked.
“I dunno. If you’d mentioned that you might get tired earlier—”
“—I’m not tired, just bored—”
“—then we could’ve taken the elevator.” Sarah finished.
“You have an elevator?”
“If we have a mansion then why is it so shocking? The stairs are better exercise, and the elevator’s slower. It’s mainly for Treaver. He…can’t really climb stairs.”
Roman didn’t ask why Treaver couldn’t climb stairs. He could see for himself later. One thing that Roman had learned in the past few years was to never underestimate the emotional levels of people, and that anyone with a sensitive topic would deal with their emotions in different ways. But no matter how they dealt with them, it was never pleasant.
They turned the last corner of the last row of stairs to the fifth floor. This hall looked very different from the others. There were multi-colored squares instead of dots or black for the carpet. And there were things such as a glass door reading Laundry, potted ferns all along the way instead of flower-filled vases, and at the very end of the hall, there was a large, wall-length entrance with an opaque, glass covering. Scotch-tape letters on the door read:
Please knock before entering
Currently residence of Dr. Kyle V. Garretson
“It’s polite to knock, like the sign says, but you never need to,” Sarah told him, seeing him read the sign.
“You’re not coming?”
“I’ve got more important things to do with the fifteen seconds it’ll take for Mr. Kyle to dismiss me, and they’re ticking away as I say this. See’ya ’round.” She bounded back down the stairs much faster than when she had been escorting Roman up.
Roman walked cautiously up to the office door. He felt compelled to make an impression upon this Mr. Kyle, or, as the sign had told, Dr. Garretson, because he was the leader, and for another reason Roman couldn’t decipher. As he was about to knock, he heard a voice that stopped him.
“Come in,” it called.
Roman slowly turned the thin door handle. The clicking noise it made seemed to echo through the halls and over and over again in Roman’s mind. He was definitely nervous. Roman slowly slid the door open, body slightly against its frame as he stepped forward.
It was a small room with simple filing cabinets to Roman’s right as well as in the back right corner. A pile of chairs stood from the nearest set of filing cabinets to the door. The desk of the office was mahogany, and had papers scattered here and there, along with a few knickknacks that Roman would expect to find in a teachers’ quarters. A side door led off somewhere in between the two sections of metal cabinets. The yellowish-beige wallpaper, like everything else in the hallway, looked brand new, along with the white carpet. At the desk sat the man from the painting in the hall, with his feet on top of the desk, pen to his chin, and a computer coned in his lap. He had ruffled black hair, and eyes only slightly lighter. His skin had a tan only slightly noticeable, like many people in Katy during the winter. He wore plain, black long-pants, black socks, and a black t-shirt.
When he saw Roman enter, he put down his pen. Mr. Garretson sat up in his seat, put his laptop on the desk, and cleared his throat.
“Hello, Roman.” His voice was as his looks were: young and slightly elegant.
“Hello, sir,” Roman replied.
Mr. Garretson smiled at Roman encouragingly. “So I’m assuming that you know who I am?”
“Your sign said ‘Dr. Garretson’, but everyone seems to call you ‘Mr. Kyle’.”
“Normally the new students call me by my last-name, but that stops once they get used to me. Of course, Richie still calls me Mr. Garretson, and he’s been here for over two years. You’ll understand why once you meet him. Have you talked to Millo about your power, yet?”
“Um, no. But I’ve met him twice.”
“Well, Millo can be a little shy. I’m sure that if Gabriel had Millo’s abilities then everyone would know their powers before they knew their own names. So, since I have just found that you’ve arrived, I know nothing about your trip here. Did Jace, Sarah, and Danny do a good job of explaining everything to you?”
“Yeah…I mean, they say that it’ll be less confusing as I go along…”
“So you don’t have any questions?” Mr. Garretson inquired.
“Well, I’m still not sure that all of this is real in the first place…”
“Ah, say no more.”
Mr. Garretson picked up a small, uncolored statuette of a fish with a dog’s head off of the edge of his desk. Then he reached for his sock and pulled it down, showing an anklet held together by a black band with the same kind of gem that Jace had had, except it was deep purple instead of light brown, and symmetrical.
Roman took a step back as a burst of curiosity flashed through him.
Mr. Garretson untied the band and detached the stone. He held it steady and positioned the figurine at an angle to it.
As suddenly as the last time, a bright purple beam erupted from the stone and hit the statuette. Right before his very eyes, Roman watched as the pure-stone statue morphed from a dog-fish into a kitten wearing a tutu.
“Um, yeah…” Roman said after a silence. “Jace showed me his, too. But it could all be staged.”
“Then we really should find Millo, shouldn’t we?”
Mr. Garretson could hear anyone coming from at least a floor away, and was able to keep Roman out of sight until they reached the kitchen. Roman wondered mildly why everyone was so worried about the other students harassing him. As they lingered momentarily in the doorway, Roman saw that the kitchen had more than just the peach-spotted tile, the wallpaper, and the one long, wooden table in the center as he had seen upon arriving. There were also two stoves and eight burners, a second gigantic refrigerator, a few windows looking upon the meadow that reached as far as the garages and behind them to the trees, a back door, an oven, a pantry off to the left corner, a large freezer, another door leading into a bathroom to their right, and six microwaves.
I don’t remember Sarah saying there were any more than twenty people here, why do they need so much stuff?
The long table had about thirty seats. Jace was there, drinking coffee and reading The Houston Chronicle, and Chris was having cereal, toast, bacon, and eggs in a seat close-by. There was a boy sitting next to Jace, looking between Roman and Millo’s ages with hair even blacker than Mr. Garretson’s, and much more unruly. He had a red shirt without any design on the back, and short jeans on. Roman couldn’t see his face, since the boy and Jace were facing away from them. Sitting a few seats down from him was a tall girl with short, salt-and-pepper brown hair, dark brown eyes, and creamy tan skin like Stacy’s. She wasn’t eating, but she had a map of what looked like the whole mansion in front of her. She was holding the map down with one hand, but stroking the head of a purple, papier-mâché cat with her other. Millo sat alone at the end of the table to the left. He was having a pastry that Roman had never seen before, and the same book that Hamlet had been carrying was open a few inches away from his plate.
There he is. Finally, answers…
“Oh, you remember, I mentioned Richie,” Mr. Garretson indicated to the boy with the black hair. Upon hearing his name, Richie turned around to look in their direction.
The only thing that seemed prominent to Roman was the boy’s blazing orange eyes. Roman had missed the day in science class when they were supposed to be learning about how a person could have one orange eye, but hadn’t bothered to look it up because they weren’t going to be tested on it. But this boy had two orange eyes, which Roman didn’t think was possible.
“My name is Richie Calliber Newton,” the boy said, walking up to them. He had a catlike calmness to the way he walked, and a both determined and a relaxed aura.
“Richie here’s first-rate power is being able to find his way around almost any riddle,” Mr. Garretson explained. “And he has a unique way of speaking.”
“I personally would not emphasize the term unique,” Richie stated, not losing his indifferent expression. “I would assume that you may be Roman.” He directed this as a question raising his eyebrows.
“Yes,” Roman said tonelessly, not knowing how to respond.
“Oh, are you the new student?” asked the girl with the map, glancing up to look in their direction.
“I haven’t committed to anything,” Roman reminded them sternly.
“Taking him to see Millo?” the girl questioned.
“Yes. And why am I doing this?” Mr. Garretson responded.
“So that he’ll believe from his own personal experience that all of this is real, I’m guessing.”
“That’s better than a guess. Good job. Keep it up and one day maybe you’ll replace Jace as second in command.”
“Not likely!” Jace shouted over from his paper. Roman hadn’t known that he had been listening.
“So…Millo?” Roman inquired impatiently.
“Yes, of course.” Mr. Garretson clasped his hands together. As soon as they set foot on the tile floor, Roman’s feet making ten times more noise than anyone else’s, Millo and Chris’ heads turned in their direction. Millo adopted a sort of pressured look on his face, while Chris grinned at Roman enthusiastically.
Millo’s appearance of dread increased as they started in his direction. He folded his book and turned in his seat to face them. When they stopped in front of him he said nothing.
“Millo, would you mind telling Roman his first-rate power? We’re having a slight problem with him believing that all of this is real.”
“Your power would make you a great doctor,” Millo began immediately, almost as if on cue. “You can figure out what would be able to cure nearly anything. Is that enough of an answer?”
“Can you give me an example?” Roman asked. It sounded illogically familiar in a sense. Roman stomach flipped from the possibility of continuing to doubt that this was real. What if he didn’t believe Millo? But now, there was no way that he could walk away without hearing this with his own ears.
“If someone were to break their leg, you would know the precise area they would need a cast for. If someone had a cold, then you would know what they needed. Orange juice,” He picked up his drink. “Medicine, or possibly something else. You can also know if someone is sick or not and things like that.” he finished. Millo’s accent had been very subtle when he was explaining Roman’s power, but every other word was flowing with unfamiliar sounds. He also had seemed uncharacteristically calm when using his own power.
Hal’s cut flashed through Roman’s mind, along with the kids at the Cinemark. Every time that Caleb had said that he had been out sick, Roman had known ahead of time that he was faking. Roman himself never seemed to take ill, but this was very, very, very familiar. He knew that Millo was telling the truth, and that he meant it. Roman’s mind ached as it adjusted to the facts that everything in the past few hours, which had felt like at least three days, had been completely real.
“T-thanks,” Roman breathed, not hearing his own words. He snapped himself out of his small trance. “Can you tell what my future power will be?”
“No.” Millo said plainly.
“If only,” Mr. Garretson sighed. “But Millo doesn’t have his second power, yet, so there’s still hope.” Millo let out a small laugh, and Roman saw his shy smile for the first time.
“So, what do you think, Roman?” the girl inquired. Roman hadn’t realized that she and Richie had followed them over.
“I—my head hurts.”
“Mary Beth was referring to your belief in Talismen, Strayers, Rouges—as we say comically—and all general Genedeaues,” Richie corrected.
“Yeah, it’s definitely real…” Roman breathed again.
“I think that maybe he should lie down before going on the tour,” Mr. Garretson declared. “Roman, our first stop will be your new room. But only if you want to,” he added.
“Yeah, sure…” Roman felt like the world was spinning somehow. After learning about his power, he had felt fully ecstatic for only an instant as he realized that he was familiar with it, but now he felt dizzy. The small part of the idea of lying down that he could grasp sounded very satisfying.
The third floor had a storage closet and a fire-exit right by Roman’s new room, if he chose to stay. He subconsciously knew that he would have to wait until his brain was working to decide his possible new life, because the idea of choosing a new course made his head ache even worse.
He didn’t even pay attention to the details when Mr. Garretson opened the door to his room, or when he had to lead Roman over to the bed. Roman was already more than half-asleep before his head had touched the pillow. All he had time to take in was how comfortable the sheets were compared to his normal bed before he fell asleep.
Normally, in the morning, Roman would consider what to do first. If he should take one of St. Jefferson’s limited water-level baths, eat a cold breakfast, or watch action shows on TV, since he had the television all to himself that early in the day, until he was fully awake. He didn’t know if it was morning or not, but when he woke up, the first thing he was forced to do was remember where he was.
At first he jumped out of bed in a panic, not knowing why he wasn’t in his usual room, until he remembered. The room was a very good reminder that it hadn’t all just been a dream.
The whole place was probably seven times larger than his usual sleeping quarters, and it didn’t look like he would have to be sharing it with anyone. There was a door that appeared to lead to a bathroom with his own tub, tile floor, sink, clothing-hamper, and toilet. The door was in the center of the wall to Roman’s left.
The carpet was beige, same with the walls. The baseboard at the bottom of the wall was a plain, brown-colored wood. A half-covered window above the bed was looking onto the lawn in the direction of the road, with drapes that had an orange- and tan diamond pattern.
Overhead, there was a ceiling fan with a beaded-chain hanging off of it. To Roman’s left, next to the door, was a mahogany file desk with a thin mat resting on top. The twin-sized bed had white sheets and a white pillow. Roman had fallen asleep in his shoes, but at least the mud from the snow and rain had cleared up. The bed was at the nearest corner of the left wall, right next to an old television with a VCR and a DVD player built in. There was a bed-side table with drawers and an alarm clock that told it was nine twenty-four in the evening. Roman liked this room very much compared to the one he had been living in at St. Jefferson’s for the past two years. It looked like he could actually take a shower at leisure, not have to fight for control over the television, and even fall asleep while it was going.
Roman didn’t have any fresh clothes to change into, but at least the bed hadn’t been used by others. When he opened the door, the lights hit his eyes like bullets. The room had been dark; the only light coming from through the window drapes, and that was only moonlight. While he was blinking, he knew that somebody else was in the hallway.
“You must be the new kid,” said a voice not completely unfamiliar. It reminded him of school. Roman was certain that he’d heard this voice before. When his eyes cleared, he couldn’t believe that he hadn’t recognized him before.
A boy, who did go to St. Patrick’s, was sitting in the hallway slightly off to the left. He was in the same chair that he used to get around the school, with the pure black wheels and back-rest. He had hair that looked almost gray in the areas where the light wasn’t touching, and the parts that were touched reflected the yellow glow. His skin was pale, even for most people this late in the winter time, and he had striking turquoise eyes. He was wearing a gray t-shirt and loose, gray and black shorts. Roman remembered seeing him in the hallways from time to time, mostly holding someone’s books in his lap while they wheeled him. Roman couldn’t produce a name from memory, but remembered Sarah mentioning how a boy named Treaver couldn’t climb the stairs at the mansion.
“Um, more or less,” Roman answered. “I haven’t decided to stay, yet.”
“Even though you were sleeping in one of the rooms,” Treaver raised his eyebrows. “Ah well, not the newest concept; sleeping after your life gets chewed up. My name’s Treaver. It’s Treaver, not Trevor. You?”
“Roman. Um, do you know where Mr. Garretson is?”
“Oh, he’s helping Tyler cook spaghetti while Jace is fixing the Wii. Gabriel, Elliyo, and Ashley were at it again, and this isn’t the first time they’ve broken something. If you want, I’ll take you to ’im.”
“Sure, thanks,” Roman responded. As Treaver led the way down the hallway, Roman was trying to think of something to say. He felt uncomfortable when Treaver pushed the button for the elevator.
“You go to my school,” Roman said while they were waiting for the elevator.
“Yeah. I’d be in the seventh grade, but I’ve got a summer birthday and the Texas school system does things at different times compared to Florida.”
“So you’re twelve?”
“Yup. And you’re eleven?”
“Yeah.” The metal doors to the elevator shaft opened. The floor inside of the elevator was carpet, the same pattern of multi-colored spots as the hallway they were in. Treaver wheeled inside right away, and Roman followed.
“So when’s your birthday, Roman?” Treaver asked as he pushed the close-doors button.
“January twenty-fourth. But, do me a favor and don’t tell anyone else.”
“Okay, for one thing; Mr. Kyle probably already knows what it is. Second: why?”
“It’s just…I don’t want that many presents.” It was partially true, and Treaver didn’t press him. The slow ride down felt steadier than most elevators, but just as slow. Once the talking had stopped, Roman felt awkward, so he tried to move onto a different subject that had seemed to interest everyone at the mansion he had met so far.
“So, what’s your power?”
“I don’t have my second rate, yet, ’cause I’ve only been here for about a year. But my first rate’s language-translations.”
“Mind going a little more into detail?”
“Oh, understanding other languages, understanding babies, understanding animals…”
“Body-language isn’t much different than verbal language. And I can communicate with any of the above,” Treaver boasted. “But it’s not as easy as understanding it. The body language is pretty much the only way I can understand any of that stuff. Like, if a robot were speaking in Portuguese, I’d be lost.”
“Well, that makes two of us.”
Treaver chuckled. “Keep up the jokes, just in case you get a grudging mentor.”
“Your mentor. If it’s someone like Tyler, then you might have some trouble keeping up. Tyler’s my mentor, and he’s such a jerk. And whenever he’s not showing off to Stacy by lifting weights, then he’s looking at himself in a mirror.”
The doors opened into the left side hallway of the entrance hall. There was a door at the end of the hall with a sign on it. Roman couldn’t make out what it said.
“That’s Jace’s office. Since he’s SIC he gets his own little place.”
“Second-in-command. Pretty easy to remember the acronyms, but if you don’t, once again, you’ll have a tough time in training. HHC is hand-to-hand combat, RAA is random animal attack, PCG is physical characteristics of gemstones, and that class is just as boring as it sounds. A lot like math class. WUC is weapon-use class, TUC is tool-use class, SRP is second rate power, FRP is first rate power, and of course, a lot like boy-scouts is MUC, medical-use-class.”
“Someone’s going to have to make me a list of all of that, because you lost me at ‘acronyms’,” Roman muttered as they started into the kitchen. The halls were brightly lit, like the third-floor, with the chandelier in full-blossom. Roman didn’t hear much noise, and whoever lived here were probably already getting ready for bed.
“Do you guys have a curfew?”
“Oh, not for sleeping. It’s your job to get yourself outta bed in the morning and get ready and everything. You can stay up as long as you want, as long as you’re inside of the mansion and don’t wake up anybody. But for the ‘being-inside-of-the-mansion’ curfew, it gets later with your age. Curfew for eleven-year-olds is ridiculously early; five-thirty. Anyone underneath eleven isn’t allowed to leave the mansion without someone else in the first place. For twelve-year-olds it’s six thirty, for thirteen-year-olds it’s seven-thirty, and so on. You’re allowed to get special permission to stay out later or go with someone older, of course. Otherwise it’d just be stupid.”
“What if you’ve got extra-curricular stuff?” They were just outside of the kitchen doors, and Roman was just planning on finishing his questions. He would ask Mr. Garretson about his “mentor”.
“That would be special permission. Well, hopefully I’ll see you around.” Treaver started off towards the room across the hall.
“Hopefully,” Roman called back.
Mr. Garretson was standing beside someone else, instructing him on how to work a stove. The other boy was tall, probably in high school. He was black with black hair, and Roman couldn’t see his eyes. He was wearing a green t-shirt and brown shorts. Roman remembered Treaver telling him that Mr. Garretson was teaching a boy named “Tyler”, who was also Treaver’s mentor, how to cook spaghetti. Perhaps all of the talk of people that Roman didn’t know wasn’t completely useless.
As soon as Roman’s shoe made contact with the tile floor, Mr. Garretson and Tyler’s heads turned in his direction.
“Who’s he?” Tyler asked Mr. Garretson. Roman now saw that Tyler had hazel-colored eyes, and a round face, though he had prominent cheek-bones.
“Tyler, this is Roman. Roman, this is Tyler,” Mr. Garretson introduced them. “Please excuse me, Tyler. I’m going to take Roman on a tour of the mansion before he decides whether he wants to stay or not.”
“But what do I do if a fire starts?”
“You play with swords, hundred pound weights, and arrows every day and you’re worried about a kitchen fire? There’s an extinguisher in the cabinet over there. As a matter of fact, there are three. And, since you’re already on dish-duty, I would suggest that you don’t punish yourself again, because you’d have to clean all of the damage done by any fire that you start.”
“Me? Trouble? Why, it’s like you don’t even know me.” Tyler pouted innocently.
“That’s the trouble; I do know you.”
As Mr. Garretson turned his back to lead Roman out of the kitchen, Roman noticed that Tyler had started hovering a few inches off of the ground while cooking.
“So, Roman, if you were to choose right now if you were staying or not, which would you choose?” Mr. Garretson asked him, bringing Roman’s attention back to the hallway.
“I’d probably choose to stay, at least to try it out,” he said slowly. “But Treaver mentioned something about mentors. What do the mentors do?” They paused just outside of the kitchen.
“Ah, so you’ve met Tyler’s student. Well, since there’s only me and Jace in charge, and the fact that we still have to work to sustain our bills, we need people who can more personally improve the students and steer them in the right direction. Your mentor normally chooses when you have classes and which classes they should be, so it’s a good idea to get on their good side.
“Right now, we have a dearth of mentors, so each mentor has at least one student, but most have two or three. It’s a bit of a paradox, because if the mentors can’t give the students as much attention, then the students will learn more slowly, and that will mean that they don’t go to the Island as quickly, which keeps them from becoming mentors themselves. But, not too long from now, we’ll get enough mentors to get things running smoothly again. As for the tour, let’s start with the lounge.”
Mr. Garretson led Roman directly across the hall. One of the oversized doors was partially ajar. There was red carpet that was half covered by sofas, chairs, and circular, glass tables. There was a big-screen TV in the center of the room, with a couple of video game systems attached. There was an open section to the room with the tables and lounge chairs behind the TV, covering about half of the room. Another door led into a room so dimly lit it was blue, and which contained a couple of computers with head-sets hooked up. The third, and last, room looked like some sort of formal party room with the same beige wallpaper and red carpet, also including restaurant-like tables, complete with special linen cloths.
Right now there were three kids fighting over a remote in front of the wide-screen. Two of them look relatively the same, with dark-brown hair, tan skin, and brown eyes. Those two both looked about Millo’s age. They were even wearing similar clothes. The third was a girl that looked about Richie’s age with long blond hair, sparkling blue eyes, and was wearing pink everything. In the dark room was a tall boy whose blue eyes blazed in the light. His hair looked purple where the blue touched it, and scarlet-orange on the other side. Stacy was talking to Treaver in the corner, at one of the circular tables. Roman recognized Cole from his Spanish class. He was conversing with Danny at one of the round tables set up in the party room. Everyone, save the boy at the computer, looked up when Roman and Mr. Garretson entered.
“Hey, I knew you’d get here, eventually,” Cole said when he spotted Roman, “Well, buenas noches, amigo.”
“Dónde está tu cerebro?” Roman sneered at him.
Treaver chuckled, reminding Roman that no matter which language he spoke in, Treaver would understand it.
The blond girl rolled her eyes, snatching the remote when the two identical boys ran over to Roman and Mr. Garretson. Stacy and Treaver smiled encouragingly, and Cole and Danny went back to their conversation.
“Hey, what’s your name?” one boy demanded.
“What’s your power?” said the other.
“How long have you been here without anybody knowing?”
“Our record is two and a half weeks.”
“Yeah! Try to top that!”
“Okay; Roman Rolfe Rowland, since about four, and no thank you,” Roman answered. They both high-fived each other and went over to the blond girl to demand for the remote again.
“Roman, they’re Elliyo and Gabriel. I see you already know Cole and Stacy. The girl in the pink’s name is Ashley, and the handsome young man about to go off to college is Jill.”
“Isn’t Jill a girl’s—”
“—He prefers to be called Jay,” Mr. Garretson interrupted him.
“And…for Elliyo and Gabriel…which one’s which?”
“Gabriel has slightly darker hair and eyes.”
“Right…Are they twins?”
“Yes. Also, Elliyo’s power is being good at impersonations, and he’s the younger twin. So if you want to talk to them about something, ask Gabriel. Anyways, this is the lounge. You can watch whatever you want, and can record something as long as it’s not on somebody else’s recording device. Over there is the ballroom,” he waved his hand over to the room with the round tables. “Inside it has the only door to the lab and an extra door into Jace’s office. And that’s an extra computer station.” He waved in the direction of the blue room ahead of them. “We have more computers up in the library, but they’re not as fast. And you can’t get sound on those unless you have your own headphones. So, we use headphones down here so that no one’s bothered by the sound.”
“All right. What do you do in the lab?” Roman asked as Mr. Garretson led him out of the room and back towards the stairs.
“Experiment with things, certain powers, technology, et cetera. That also leads off to the area where we keep prisoners. Currently, we have none. And—”
“It is a war, between us and the Strayers. They’ve gotten a reputation of killing instead of holding captives, which is another reason that most Genedeaues tend to trust us a bit more than them. As I was saying: there’s also our main-computer down there, and it controls all of the other computers in the mansion and we can contact other Talismen sectors with it. It also controls the alarms, most of the electronics…Oh! And did Jace, Sarah, and Danny tell you about the barrier?”
“By definition, it isn’t an actual barrier, but it gets slightly complicated for some of the younger members to grasp concepts like that…The best way to describe it would be the word ‘force-field’, but it’s not what most people would define as one. If we didn’t have that surrounding the mansion grounds, then the Strayers could simply do away with us with bombs or any stealthy assault. Having one may sound a little cliché, but so is saving the world.”
They turned into the right hallway beneath the stairs, pausing at the beginning. There were two doors, one at the end of the hall, and one in the middle. Also, it had three Laundromat-styled plastic bins across from it. Aside from that, it was an empty hallway.
“Those doors, along with the one on the left in the main hallway that you haven’t been in yet, are storage closets. And over there,” he indicated to the plastic bins, “Is the lost and found. It comes in handy a lot when someone buys new clothes, since we have so many people living in one place. Everyone normally puts their names on the tags or collars or wherever on their clothes so that we know who to give them to, but sometimes they forget.”
As they left the hallway and headed back towards the stairs, Mr. Garretson continued. “One of the punishments we have for disobeying rules is laundry duty. Tyler was sent to cook as a punishment, as you may have guessed. Normally, the students get their own food, but occasionally it’s convenient to have someone to make it for you. Mostly kids like Chris toy with whoever’s on cook-duty by complaining that they asked for something different and making them work harder. It comes in handy, actually, because otherwise it’d be the easiest punishment that we’ve got.
“The mentors, on top of training and et cetera, do the chores when no one’s been behaving badly. Normally Danny and Cole, occasionally Elliyo or Gabriel, and on most days, Tyler, and various others take care of the majority of chores. Dish duty, cleanup, cooking, and laundry duty are the regular ones. Mary Beth’s little pets can help with small things, but paper is only so strong.”
They started up the main stairs, this time veering to the right instead of the left. When they rounded the bend, there was a plain hallway stretching out in front of them. The carpet was the same color as the second floor on the left side. The walls were a plain white. There was a single door in the right section of the wall.
“That door leads into the library,” Mr. Garretson told Roman. “We don’t have anyone as a librarian, but we have a list of books, and if a book is missing, then we check around for it. All that’s in there are the computers and book shelves.”
They crossed the corridor in the direction of the side hallway to find more stairs. The third floor’s design very much differed from the second floor. The hallway part stopped almost immediately. The wall where the hall stopped at was curved slightly outward. The walls were the same white as on the previous floor, only changed by the wooden door. The door was planted in the curved wall. There was no other way to go, aside from the stairs to the side. Mr. Garretson strode straight towards the door.
A smell like chlorine came to Roman, along with the sound of air conditioning and the sight of now hard-looking grey walls. A silver rack with white towels stood a few feet away from them, and in front of them were all sorts of different machines that could’ve been found in St. Patrick’s weight room. Treadmills, presses, and other things that Roman could not name were lined up in rows, filling the whole room.
“As you may have guessed, this is our little gym.”
“What did you expect? We live in a mansion,” Mr. Garretson pointed out.
No other doors led out, so Roman and Mr. Garretson left the way that they had come, climbing the stairs that Roman had already seen before. As last time, the carpet turned black as soon as they crossed the line to the fourth floor. This floor had the same design as the previous level, except the wall wasn’t curved.
“Through there is the basketball court and the ball closet that we use to keep sports items and weapons in. Shall we continue? I’m sure that you know what a basketball court looks like.”
“I might have some idea.” Roman was beginning to think of this mansion less as a hotel and more as a resort. They climbed the stairs that loomed before them, and the carpet stayed black. The hallway itself was more like a narrow room. The open space before them was where the fire exit was. To their right was a second door. Through the door was another section of room, except now with eight other doors in front of them. Next to each door was a screen of transparent glass. Each had a simple desk with a chair inside. At least seven different types of papier-mâché animals, most with sharp claws, rested outside of the rooms.
“These are rooms for private studying. I’m not sure why some students don’t just study in their rooms or in the library, but they complain about not having anywhere to study. And on top of it, they never use this place. We’re thinking about replacing it with something useful.”
“Like an indoor movie theater?” Roman suggested.
Mr. Garretson chuckled. “The paper pets tend to come here when they’re tired or when no one needs them. The only reason anyone comes up here is when they need one of them for something. Well, that’s the end of the inside tour, unless you want to see the laundry room, conference room, infirmary…”
“No thanks. I think I’ll just break in my room.”
“Is that a yes to staying?” Mr. Garretson inquired, raising his eyebrows.
“Yeah, it is.”