The dorm building towered over head. It must have once been a good looking building. It wasn’t good looking anymore.
The building wasn’t a wreck though. It was covered with graffiti, strange signs, and things the English language is not equipped to describe, but it wasn’t really a wreck.
If one was prepared to look close enough they would see that, for instance, that all the windows were intact, or that there seemed to be fresh repair work in the walls, or a thousand other things that seemed to suggest that the building was the way it was simply because the inhabitants liked it that way.
Laurie’s heart swelled as she looked up at the building. She blinked a little moisture out of her eye and sniffed. ‘Feels like home’ she thought.
“All right,” She said to the group, “This is where we will be staying”
Derek walked up beside her. “Your university dorm?” he said, incredulously.
Laurie thought that the tone of voice was unnecessary. She straightened up and looked Derek in the eye. “Yes,” she said, “In here it won’t matter what we do; we could practice with the cubes in the hallway and no one would look twice”
Derek took another step back, “Shouldn’t we be hiding somewhere? Going back to your room seems to be the opposite of hiding.”
Laurie was relieved that that was all Derek was worried about. She let herself fall back to a more natural position and looked back at the dorm. “We won’t be using my old room” she said, “It would be too small anyway. We’re going to get rooms on the bottom floor; they’re more spacious and there’s always some available”
Derek looked at the bottom floor and narrowed his eyes; there was a lot of scorch marks along the bottom floor. “If they’re so spacious” he said carefully, “Then why are they always available?”
Laurie had hoped that no one would pick up on that. She felt a little blush come to her cheeks as she said, “Well, that’s where the experimental chemists like to live, and sometimes they get things wrong”
Derek didn’t reply; he just subjected the ground floor to a long hard stare.
Laurie was glad that that was over. She smiled, clapped her hands together and said brightly, “Right, shall we go in then?” She started walking without waiting for a reply; she was keen to get everyone moving before Derek thought to ask how the rooms had ended up so spacious.
Laurie was almost at the door when she realized that the twins were walking beside her and carrying the unconscious man between them.
Laurie was surprised by this. She stopped where she stood and tilted her head to one side. She was sure that Derek had been carrying the man when they had got out of the car. She turned around and looked behind her.
All the others had followed her. Emma and Beatrice had walked after her quite calmly; looking quite at home against the backdrop of the dorm, Derek’s wife had drifted after them with a dreamy expression on her face, and the twins were chatting excitedly as they marched into the dorm with the man between them.
Derek hadn’t followed her. Derek was still standing and watching the dorm as though he expected it to attack him as soon as he took his eyes off it. Jade was holding on to his leg and looking up with her soft eyes.
Laurie’s heart sank, and her face fell; it’s not nice having someone reject a part of your life. “Derek” she called to him, and indicated towards the dorm with a turn of her head.
Derek subjected her to a long look, but eventually he began walking forward; with Jade bobbing along at his heel.
Laurie felt at home as she walked into the reception. A smile flickered across her face. ‘This is a nice feeling’ she thought, ‘This is a safe feeling’.
The reception was overfilled, but clean. Derek’s wife was admiring a picture someone had stuck up of a can of sweet corn. Emma and Beatrice were looking at the stuffed winged buffalo that hung from the ceiling, and were discussing the best gun for hunting it with. The twins were standing at the faded and chipped reception desk and periodically ringing the bell, the man was propped up beside them in a pose of thoughtful contemplation.
Laurie remembered her first day in the dorms when she had done the same thing the twins were doing, and she smiled at the memory. She walked up to the desk and stood beside the twins. “That’s not going work” she said.
They looked at her as though she had just told them that their puppy had died and asked her ‘why not?’
Laurie smiled inwardly and decided to save them some trouble; on her first day she had been at the desk for hours before anyone had told her the trick. She inclined her head towards the desk and said, “The bell won’t work, you need to use the stick. “
The twins looked back at the desk, and there was indeed a stick there. It extended about three inches from the tabletop but its base disappeared through a hole and was hidden from view. There was a raised piece of wood around the bit of the table that surrounded the stick and written on it were the words ‘Lift up high and drop repeatedly for service’.
The twins looked at the stick.
Then they looked at Laurie.
Then back at the stick again.
They reached out and lifted the stick up.
Then further up.
There was a clunking noise and the stick would not rise any higher.
The twins looked at Laurie again.
Then they looked back at the stick.
They let go.
“Ow!” said something underneath the desk.
The twins jumped
Laurie laughed inwardly, but she managed to limit herself to a snicker outwardly. She remembered the first time she had used the stick; she had lifted it up hesitantly the first time too, with people standing around smiling and nodding, and she had done a lot worse than jump the first time she had heard Serv. It felt good, she decided, to pass on a tradition.
The twins turned towards each other and looked at each other with open mouths. Then they giggled shyly. Suddenly one of them reached out and flicked the stick to the very top of its travel.
The stick dropped.
“Gah, go away!”
The stick dropped.
The stick dropped.
The stick dropped
“I’m not here!”
The stick dropped
“Fine; I’m up, I’m up!”
The stick dropped
“Ow! Damnit! I’m up!
The stick dropped- and bounced with a soft springing noise.
A hand slapped onto the counter. Then an arm slapped onto the counter. Finally a face dropped onto it. “Welcome to the Easycare Dorm” it said, from behind a mass of uncombed hair. “How may I be of assistance on this fine day?”
Laurie felt conflicted; she thought Serv looked even worse than the usually did, but she knew she couldn’t let on she’d seen him before; she was a wanted criminal at the moment and she had to hide behind middle aged woman that the twins had made for her face. She settled for patting Serv on the back and asking, “Rough night?”
Serv dragged his head around so that he could see out the window. “It’s morning already?” He asked, “Oh god, I missed the night again!”
It pained Laurie to see Serv this way. She stroked his hair, and then pulled her hand back again; covered with grease. “We need a room.” She said, “I was thinking something on the ground floor would be big enough to hold all of us”
“All of the rooms on the ground floor are booked” muttered Serv
Laurie was surprised. She pulled her head back and said, “What?”
“I was surprised too. There’s some sort of competition going on between the chemists and the biologists and a whole bunch of both have turned up from out of town. I think they’re competing to see who can make the healthiest snack food, or something. Anyway there’s no room.”
There was a loud explosion that caused the objects in the reception to vibrate a few inches away from where they had been before. The winged buffalo flapped up and down indignantly.
“And I think a room just opened up” Serv went on, “Take one of the spare keys for room 17 and leave the money on the counter. We thank you for using Easycare Dorms and we hope to see you again.” And with that, Serv closed his eyes and slipped off the counter and out of sight.
Laurie felt sorry to see him go; she rubbed her forehead and took one of the keys for room seventeen. ‘Poor guy must be overworked’ she thought as she left the money on the counter. She thought about the layout of the building and signalled to all the others. “Come on” she said, “Room Seventeen is this way”
Derek grabbed her arm. “Hold on” he said, “Why are even considering this death trap?”
Laurie felt exasperated by Derek’s over cautiousness and annoyed by him grabbing her. She shook his arm off and said “It’s not a death trap; I’ve lived here for years. Besides the chemists from room seventeen are fine; they’re probably dropping back to the ground now.”
Derek’s expression softened, he seemed to regret grabbing her and kept his hands by his side as he asked, “Laurie is this place going to kill us?”
Laurie wanted to roll her eyes, but she fought against the urge; even if he wouldn’t admit it, Laurie was sure he was worried about jade. “It’s safe Derek” she said, “After the building started wobbling the engineers came down from the top floor and reinforced all the walls with diamond nanotubes, you couldn’t get a bullet through them now. Anything that our neighbours do will be contained by their walls and blasted out their chimneys, and meanwhile we will have total privacy because people try to avoid walking in the corridors on the chemist’s floor. We’re fine”
Derek hung his head and looked away. “Let’s go unpack” he said.
There was a very substantial looking door between the reception area and the rest of the ground floor. It wasn’t made of metal, or even visibly reinforced, but it had a kind of solemn gravity about it that seemed to say, ‘This is where it ends’.
Everyone was making their way towards the door. In the end most of them didn’t make it.
“Oh My God, Hiiiiiiii!”
Laurie’s heart skipped and her body stiffened. She discreetly turned her head and stared at a blank space on the wall. She knew that voice and she didn’t like the tone of recognition it had.
In between reception and the door there was a gLaurieous staircase that led up to the other floors. In its heyday grand parties must have been held there with the staircase as the backdrop. Now it was faded and the carpet had worn away in several places. Lenard’s younger brother Geordie was running down it with his fingers splayed wide.
‘Hi Girllllls!’ he called
The twins squealed and ran to him. They all held hands and danced up and down. Talking in a high pitched rapid-fire chatter.
Laurie felt relieved. She breathed out and felt her heart returning to a normal rhythm. Her disguise had held up; Geordie hadn’t recognized her, she had completely forgotten that he knew the twins too. Laurie started walking again; she didn’t want to hang around someone who knew her quite well while she was pretending to be someone else.
Geordie grabbed Derek and said, “Oh my god, you have such a cool shrunken arm” he said, “You totally need to come to my party too”
Derek gapped and shot Laurie a questioning look.
Laurie thought the look on Derek’s face was hilarious. She stifled a chuckle and shrugged her shoulders at him. How could she hope to explain the weird tastes of the dorms inhabitants without a lecture hall and a few days to prepare?
Geordie chuffed Derek on the chin and said, “So how about it, champ? You know I won’t hear no as an answer”
“No” said Derek
“I won’t hear it. Come along now girlllls” and with that Geordie pushed Derek up the stairs and out of sight; with the twins close behind them.
Laurie decided to memorize what Derek’s face had looked like as he had disappeared round the corner; it would probably provide her with amusement for years to come. She chuckled and turned back to the door. It will do him some good, Laurie decided, she thought Derek was too tightly wound; having a day off would help him take his mind off things.
Laurie reached out to the door. Then she stopped dead.
Laurie realized she had forgotten something very important. She stared at the door; unable to look away. “Hold on” she said, “Did we just let the twins walk off with our prisoner?”