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Day Fifty-eight: A New Order

“Yeah, Dad, I’m all moved in.” Fiona looked around the tiny dorm room at the suitcases and boxes she’d brought with her. Things to read, things to wear, things to do – the literature from Sylvania University hadn’t been too specific on what incoming freshmen should pack, so she’d just packed as much as possible. Now she barely had a path from her bed to the door and was wondering exactly what to do with all this. “No, I have everything all set. Orientation tomorrow and classes start next week. Uh-huh. Dad, don’t worry…”

He would worry, though. That’s what he did, especially since mom died. The awkwardness of a career man suddenly in charge of raising a teenage daughter was almost unlivable for the first few years. But a lot of talking, fighting, and at least two visits by the police later and they’d gotten most of their issues straightened out. More or less. Still, he worried, and she did her best to reassure him.

They talked for a while longer, and when she was finally able to convince him to hang up, she sat back down on the bed with an exhausted sigh. Four hours of driving in that overpacked car, plus moving all that stuff up was more work than she’d done in a while. She looked around the room again. At least she didn’t have a roommate. A fluke, to be sure, but a welcome one.

Priorities – she’d need something to wear tomorrow, and a few basic supplies. She dug the large black suitcase out from under a stack of boxes, opened it and started figuring out where to store all her clothes.

About fifteen minutes later, and pounding on her door startled her from sorting. It was a slow, measured knock that hit three times, went silent, and then three times again.

She stood up slowly and took the pepper spray from her day-bag, which was still hanging on the back of the desk chair. “Who is it?” she called out.

There was no answer. Just the three knocks again.

Fiona wanted to stay silent, to hide until they went away. But she tried to imagine an entire college career where she hid until they went away – a lifetime of that – and couldn’t see herself doing that. She put her thumb on the spray button, unlocked the door and pulled it open.

There were three people in black robes and hoods standing there. Each one had one of those giant, drippy candles, and the one in the center was holding a large book that was chained to his arm.

Fiona sprayed him first.

He fell to the ground, screaming, and dropped his candle. The other two just froze, looking at her. Fiona held up the can, switching from one hooded figure to the other. Her own eyes were starting to burn. “Now fuck the fuck off or you’ll get a faceful too!” They looked at each other, put their candles out with the ends of their sleeves, and picked up the fallen third, who was by now trying to claw at his eyes through the mask. They dragged him away, staggering under him, and left the hallway. Fiona reached down and picked up the candle, which had gone out when the guy dropped it. “Souvenir,” she muttered.

She looked down the hall and saw some doors closing. There had been an audience to this little play, it seemed, and she’d bet that not one of them would remember a thing if asked. “Fine,” she said, closing and locking the door behind her. “We’ll see if they cause any more trouble. Then I’ll decide what to do.” She put the candle on the windowsill, dug a lighter out of her bag, and lit it.

Orientation had no other surprises for her. Fiona kept her eyes out for any guys who seemed to have puffy, red eyes, but in the last few days before the start of classes that pretty much was everyone. She got her schedule and paid the requisite fortune for textbooks. She even met a few people who seemed like they might be the types who would make good college friends. And she got invited to a party. Not bad for only a couple of days on campus.

It was on her third day that the freaks in hoods showed up again.

This time, she was walking back to her dorm from one of the club exhibitions. They went all-out in the first week to get new members, and she was torn between the martial arts club and drama. Martial arts was fun in its way, but people tended to take it much too seriously. At least they had back home. Drama seemed a little more laid back and fun. She’d never acted before, but there was no reason she couldn’t try.

She was in the middle of imagining what it would be like to play the lead in the Fall performance when the three guys in hoods stepped out of the bushes on the side of the path. This time, the guy with the book was off to one side, and one of the others held up his hands as if to stop her. “Okay,” he said. “I just want-”

Fiona didn’t find out what he just wanted because she was too busy putting him on the ground. She swept his legs out from under him and smacked him upside the head with her Compilation of English Literature textbook, the most expensive of the bunch. One of them got behind her and tried to pin her arms to her sides, but Fiona whipped her head back and gave him a broken nose for his trouble. He yelled, a high, girlish yell, and let go. The one with the book grabbed the one on the ground and pulled him up. They ran off in different directions.

“That was fun!” Fiona yelled. “Don’t go! We haven’t got to the good part yet!” But still, they ran and were quickly swallowed up by the darkness. Fiona smiled, picked her books up off the ground, and whistled as she walked back to her dorm. Once in her room, she lit the candle again and started reading for her classes the next day.

Though she’d hoped to spot a guy with a broken nose pretty quickly, Sylvania University had a few thousand students, and if he was laying low, she wouldn’t have a chance. Just to be on the safe side, she’d filed a report with campus security, detailing their assault the other night, but conveniently leaving out their first visit. The officer in charge raised an eyebrow at her description of events, which was what she’d expected. She was a girl. She just kicked the butts of three guys. That kind of story didn’t work for some guys, which is what usually gave her the advantage in such a situation. The security officer said they’d keep an eye out for guys in robes, and let her go.

It wasn’t until the middle of November that they showed up again. This time Fiona was in the library, putting together some ideas for a paper on the influences of Catholic dogma on the evolution of punk rock. She’d just started looking at the lyrics for “Beat on the Brat” when someone behind her cleared his throat and said, “Excuse me.”

Fiona turned around her her seat and there were three guys standing there, one of them holding a book that was chained to his wrist. They were dressed just like any other guy on campus – cargo shorts, t-shirts, and one of them had a baseball cap on backwards. He was the one whose nose looked a little lumpy, though it might have just been the poor lighting. She stood up quickly, knocking her chair over behind her, but the guy with the book held out his free hand. “Wait!” he said, a little too loudly. A few people turned to look, but then went back to their studying.

“Okay,” Fiona said. “I’m waiting.” She had her feet planted and had already decided which one to hit first. But she was willing to give them a chance to speak. Not like she’d had trouble with them before.

The guy with the book slowly lowered his hand. “We just want to talk to you,” he said. “That’s all we want.”

“Seriously?” He nodded. Fiona didn’t relax. “You go wandering around in bad D&D costumes in the middle of the night and expect that a girl walking alone is going to ‘just talk’ to you?” The other two guys looked at each other, and Fiona laughed. “Man, whatever you guys are selling, I don’t want it. Go nag someone else.” She didn’t turn her back on them, but did take a slightly more relaxed stance.

“But you don’t understand,” the guy with the book said, and the slight patronizing edge to his voice made Fiona change her mind on who she was going to hit first. “We’re here to offer you membership in the Ordum Sylvanius.” He was trying to keep his voice quiet and light, and at the same time effect an air of mystery. He wasn’t quite succeeding. “It’s the oldest and most esteemed student society on the university campus.” He took a step towards her. Fiona raised an eyebrow and he stopped. “Your, um… Your mother was a member, see…”

Fiona didn’t hear what he said next. For a moment, the mention of her mother brought up everything terrible about her loss. The fights with her father, the mistakes she made trying to piss off the spirit of the woman who had gone and left them. Bad boyfriends, lazy therapists, and finally the titanic struggle to realize that she couldn’t let this one horrible thing define who she was.

By the time she snapped back to the present, she had the guy by the throat against a wall, and the other two were trying to pull her off him. She blinked – her vision was getting blurry – and let him go. The other two stepped away pretty quickly, out of her reach. She sniffed once and then wiped her nose on her sleeve. “I don’t want anything to do with you,” she said. “If it’s not clear by now, I’ll have to start getting mean.”

She couldn’t remember if she’d been screaming or not, so she bundled up her books and notebooks, shoved them in her bag, and started walking. First, throw this shirt in the laundry bag. Then, she had to call her father.

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