Chapter 2

The hole continued pulling him downwards and Oliver couldn’t help but scream. The wind ripped the air from his lungs, but he kept shouting incoherently until his voice eventually failed him. The hole pulled him down further, deeper than he thought was possible, but even that was lost in his mind to the endless loop of: “What the fuck just happened?”

He craned his head upwards to try to get a glimpse of where he fell from, but he found that he couldn’t even see the hole anymore, no pinprick of light that framed Victor’s surprised face. Soon enough though, another problem made itself apparent. With the air having evacuated his lungs from his screaming, he couldn’t easily breathe. He knew that he could acquire oxygen in the basest sense of the term, but it was that his lungs couldn’t seem to find a constant rhythm in them. He gasped for air, clutching around in vain, but soon enough he passed out, his body continuing to fall limply through the air, ragdolling.

He woke up with an ache that coursed through his entire being. He felt as if thousands of thorns were poking him all over his body, like some kind of ill-advised acupuncture.

His back hurt as well, a rhythmic, throbbing pain that he decided must’ve been from the fall, if not from the sheer psychosomatic stress of the whole endeavor.

While his brain slowly gave him a recap of what had happened, he looked up to see if he could make any sense of where he’s fallen from. The sky was blue, clouds were few and far between. It actually looked liked it was turning out to be a nice day wherever he was now, but there was no hole above him, at least that he could see. The last glimmer of hope that he might’ve had about it being some weird trick-of-nature fled his mind. Something had happened, and whatever it was, it wasn’t normal.

That much he knew.

He gave his body a quick check, making sure nothing had been injured, and he seemed to be no worse for the wear. He was grateful he hadn’t died– or worse, but then he had to pause, wondering to himself what possible would constitute being “worse than death”. His mind willingly supplied mental images and ideas, and he banished the thought as quickly as it had come, trying to ease out the dark thoughts that had eclipsed his curiosity and bewilderment.

He knew he was sitting on something, though he hadn’t put much thought into it. He tried to stand up from his now recumbent position, but found his footing unstable, as if there was nothing there at all. No matter where he tried to plant his feet, they kept pushing through the ground. Confused, he looked around himself and realized much to his bewilderment that he was in the middle of what seemed like a courtyard. Perfectly cut green grass surrounded him, going around a large building in the center in a wide square. There were even a few topiaries it seemed, dotting the courtyard at intervals, but whatever animal or shape they were supposed to resemble was lost on him..

As he surveyed the courtyard, he came to understand his situation. He was sitting at the top of one of the professionally-trimmed shrubs that lined the courtyard, the needling feeling coming from the spines on the leaves. Rolling over to the side, he tried to extricate himself from the bush, but ended up falling gracelessly to the springy grass beneath him, a woof of air escaping his lungs.

He slowly clambered to his feet and, as if appearing from nowhere, out of the corner of his eye he noticed that someone had been watching him .

“Shit!” Oliver cried out, surprised. He could’ve sworn that the courtyard was empty when he’d looked around it a moment before, but he couldn’t deny that suddenly someone else was there with him.

To Oliver’s relief, it was a young man and not some eldritch horror, or whatever else might’ve come up to him after he’d fallen down a rabbit hole into some other-dimension. The man even seemed to be his own age, though he gave off a more mature vibe than Oliver thought he personally did, leading Oliver to think that perhaps the man was a little bit older.

The stranger held out his hand and Oliver took it, pulling himself to his feet with the help. His hair, a dark caramel, was short but shaggy, hanging over his forehead and over his ears..

Oliver looked at him and became somewhat self-conscious. He took a moment to assess himself, brushing off some leaves from his jeans and attempting to rub some grass stains out of his grey sweater. He checked his hair, making sure it stood over his forehead, curling over just the way he liked it.

It felt flaccidly onto his forehead, so instead of fixing it, he tried to imagine himself as a cool young Ben Barnes with the look, and swallowed. The young man had only held out one hand, the other busy holding a lit cigarette. He put it to his lips and smiled reassuringly at Oliver, almost as if they’d been friends before. It was  disconcerting to him in a way

Oliver, simply speechless, stood slack-jawed in front of the man, waiting for someone, including himself, to say something. Just as he began to collect his thoughts and opened his mouth to speak, the stranger spoke first, preempting him.

“Whoo,” he drew out the “oh” sound at the end, sending a long stream of smoke at Oliver’s face, “are you?”

The man frowned momentarily, “And for that matter, where the Hell did you come from?”

He looked up in the air, the same way Oliver had done, scrutinizing him once he’d seen nothing of value in the sky.

This time it was Oliver’s turn to frown, mirroring the young man, “I, uh, came from…”

He pointed up, both their eyes following his finger, “Up there I guess?”

The hole, he knew, was no longer there, but it was the best explanation his brain could come up with after nearly being fried by everything that’d happened. The man looked up again, as if Oliver’s finger had the power to make the hole reappear, to make something change from the last time they’d both checked.

But the same as before, the only thing above them was a beautifully blue sky, speckled by small white clouds. Nothing unusual, besides the fact that earlier Oliver had been told to expect snow later in the evening, and the sky above him definitely didn’t look like it would snow anytime soon.

“Well there was a hole– it seemed to be like a rabbit’s hole but that doesn’t make sense and in hindsight it didn’t make sense either, ‘cause y’know, there aren’t any rabbits on campus, at least that anyone’s seen. Like maybe there’s one or two, but usually when I see rabbits in an urban area, they aren’t making giant holes that can fit people in them. I’d finished class anyway and so I was just waiting for my friends, thinking to myself and I was looking at the hole, I guess because it was intriguing to me, y’know, an– ”

“Stop talking.”

The curt words silenced Oliver, stopping his train of thought in its tracks. The silence continued, as the young man instead chose to tend to his dying cigarette. He reached his arm down, snubbing the ashy tip on the heel of his left shoe, tossing the cigarette carcass carelessly into the grass. Oliver stood by quietly, unsure of what to do or say. He watched as the man pulled out a rumpled carton from his back pocket. A red stripe diagonally cut across the box, with the words “Embassy Number One” written in the middle. He smacked the carton and one popped up instantly. He pulled it out in one fluid motion, holding it in the customary spot between his fingers, looking at it almost hungrily.

Oliver hadn’t been paying too much attention, but he swore he heard the man murmur something like, “Xaphan, if you would?”

Oliver looked away for less than a second, but as soon as he looked back, he saw that the man’s cigarette was lit.

He creased his brow.

Either this meant he was in some sort of brain-tumor fueled hallucination, or everything was a lot weirder than he’d been giving it credit for. He wanted to ask the young man about it, but he didn’t want the young man, stranger he may’ve been, to abandon him wherever he was now if he brought it up. He felt it was better to be anxious and afraid with someone else, rather than anxious and afraid and alone in some bizarre garden in the middle of who-knows-where.

The man spoke now, again letting out a billow of smoke to accent his words visually, “Your name?”

“Oliver.”

“How’d you get here…Oliver?”

Hey, asshole I just told you my name, don’t pause like you’ve almost forgotten it already, or like you’re too cool to remember it. He thought angrily to himself. He felt so close to just letting it out, telling this jackass off, but a cooling sensation touched at his nerves, again reminding him that this man, whoever he was, was probably his only ticket out of the fun house that he’d might end up calling home. He was cranky and annoyed, but he wasn’t going to let that be his downfall– at least for now.

“Well I thought I fell down a rabbit hole, but seeing as that’s somewhat impossible, I have no idea how I got here.” He shrugged, trying to keep his body language neutral.

The man paused, frowning again, his eyebrows creasing, the cigarette drooping from his lips.

“Alright, we’ll leave that little mystery for later, or when you feel like telling the truth, if it comes to that.”

He eyed Oliver suspiciously for a moment, but threw his hands up, shrugging.

“Eh! You don’t look so dangerous.”

He smiled again, the cigarette held between his teeth, “Now I guess it’s only fair that I answer some questions of yours, if you have any at all, that is.” He took a moment to push off of his forehead,, taking the cigarette back out of his mouth as he exhaled smoke with his words.

Oliver felt like he was only a few more aggravations away from an interesting murder charge, and the copious smoke coming from the human chimney that he’d just met wasn’t helping.

“Uh, well I guess I’ll just ask your questions back to you? Who are you and where am I?”

“I’m Osmond, most people call meOz, and you’re standing outside of the Killian Institute of Defense and Diabolism. No, no, shut up, let me finish.”

He put a finger to Oliver’s lips as Oliver began spewing objections, questions, comments.

“The big guy on campus here is Dean Montgomery, and speaking of him, I think he’d love to meet you. This is my second year here, but this’ll be the first time I’ll actually get to speak with him.” He smiled, taking a purposefully flashy drag off of his cigarette. “I guess I’m so straight-laced he’s never had a need to see me.”

He stopped, shook the ash off his cigarette, and put it back in his mouth, sighing “Follow me to the school and you can ask any questions you want.”

He pointed towards the school, which Oliver felt looked more like a Gothic boys school than whatever the Hell an “institute of defense and diabolism” was supposed to look like…

But nonetheless, he followed Osmond towards the school and began throwing questions at him, almost faster than he could even understand Oz’s previous answers. To his credit, Oz performed admirably under the bizarre circumstances that had brought them together.

“Where am I?”

“Didn’t I say? The Killian Institut– “

“No, I mean, Earth? Mars? Utah? Where?”

“Um,” Oz seemed to actually consider this, tapping his chin. “Earth seems like a fitting answer, but it’s not really important where on Earth. I don’t think anyone really knows, but just know we’re usually a twenty minute drive from wherever you need to go, if you get your trip approved with the Dean. You’re not really allowed off of the school grounds without permission.”

“Not really important? What the Hell is that supposed to mean?! I don’t ask questions because I like the way they feel coming out of my mouth, it’s because they’re important to me! What does that mean?”

“It means next question, Oliver.”

“Fine, fine, fine. Next question: You said the guy in charge was ‘Dean Montgomery’?”

“Yup. He’s the head honcho, and by the way you unexpectedly showed up today,” He gave Oliver a quick once-over, “you’d probably be best off not meeting him more than once. It’s for the best.”

“Who even invented this place?”

“Oddly specific question…”

Oz tapped at his cigarette thoughtfully, ash falling like soft snow.

“As far as I remember it was some guy named Killian… something? Edward Killian, I think? Hence the name of the school.”

“Sure, sure…” Oliver considered everything thus far, letting his mind parse it all. His brain began to catalogue things into “What I Know” and “What I Don’t Know”, except one pile was considerably larger than the other. Everytime a question was answered more information was digested, as if he was solving a Clue murder.

“What’s ‘Defense and Diabolism’?”

“Aha!”

Oz’s face lit up, and not just because he’d already started his third cigarette in the short time they’d known each other.

“There’s a real humdinger of a question! Well, I assume you know what defense itself means, but the diabolism part, that’s the million-dollar question…”

He scrutinized Oliver once more, looking him up and down before he finally muttered to himself, “Oh, what the Hell.”

They passed more shrubbery and freshly cut grass as they made their way to the front doors of the school. As it grew closer, Oliver felt his heart rate speed up, his anxiety creeping into his body.

Oz continued loudly enough that Oliver could hear him again, “Diabolism is stuff relating to demons and the demonic. The usual stuff.” He waved his hands in meaningless patterns, as if he was simply recounting common information, not uttering complete nonsense.
“Summoning, contracting, working alongside, that kind of thing. It’s what they teach us and it’s what we do. The name’s kind of funny that way, since the point of the diabolism is for defense but we’re also defenders against diabolism and…” He waved his hand again,indicating vagueness and complication.

He trailed off as they approached two large oak doors, flourishes and patterns engraved in the dark wood. Two large brass knobs adorned them.

“This is the place!”

He smiled over his shoulder at Oliver, who’d been walking nervously a few paces behind him.

“I know it looks imposing, but they just want it to look like it’s some old-timey prep school. I honestly think it works for them, really. All they need is some sister school that specializes in some kind of Frankensteinian hocus pocus and they’ve got the whole set! Anyways, I’ll take you to see the Dean, since I’ve grown to like you so much.” He gave Oliver an exaggerated wink, although it seemed to have the opposite intention, sending shivers up Oliver’s spine.

Oz stepped inside, holding the door open for Oliver. He led Oliver through what felt like endless winding hallways, even going back outside and inside again, up a flight of stairs, around endless corners, leaving him completely turned around and lost. Students passed them going the other way a few times, some waving to Oz as they passed, but none seemed too bothered by Oliver’s prescece, or the seemingly Escher design of the school. At one point Oliver could’ve sworn they’d taken four consecutive right turns, which by all means he thought should’ve led them back to where they’d been before, but Oz didn’t seem perturbed, and Oliver couldn’t seem to recognize anything from before anyway, so the point seemed moot.

After what felt like an eternity of walking, they suddenly stopped, Oz putting his hand in front of Oliver’s chest to stop his mindless march onwards. Oliver “woke up” from his stupor, and looked over to Oz for any information, accepting confusion as a permanent state of being for the day.

Did we finally reach the Dean’s Office? He thought to himself, I feel like I’ve lived a lifetime in these hallways, but I should be out of here soon.

He sighed relief to himself.
Oz fished inside his pocket for a moment, with crunching noises to accompany, and when he finally pulled out his hand, he proudly held a slightly wrinkled cigarette.

“Want one?” He asked excitedly, hoping that Oliver could be his new smoking buddy.

Oliver looked at it for a moment, trying to understand the gesture itself.

“Thanks?” He said, taking it and pocketing it with mild confusion. Oz looked just as confused about the whole affair, but said nothing more about it, instead pulling his own cigarette out and mysteriously lighting it again– seemingly without any fire.  Realizing that the whole point of their stopping was so Oz could find a cigarette, Oliver resigned himself to death.

He’d die here, he decided. This wasn’t so bad, as far as places to die went. They had a nice carpet and he was sure Oz could find someone to officiate the funeral before his body had completely disintegrated, if Oz himself didn’t die of starvation in the maze of hallways. If he was found he hoped they’d give him a nice funeral. He was sure he had an ID of some sort in his pocket, so identifying him wouldn’t be hard, and maybe his parents would spring for a lavish wake, using all the funds he’d never spend on tuition. He smiled to himself at the thought, pleased at the fantasies of gorgeous funerals swimming through his mind.

After that, they didn’t speak as much while they traveled. Instead Oliver’s mind wandered, inspecting the decor. Paintings hung along the walls, some depicting things that looked like scenes from the Bible, while others seemed to be portraits of previous Deans. Vast landscapes of people traveling in caravans were juxtaposed with portrait photos of stern looking elderly men. One painting in particular stood out to him though, as it seemed to depict some guy’s butt. The man, or whatever it was, had great gray wings, with a tail winding along the bottom of the painting beside a golden woman. This painting struck him, and he stopped for a moment, drawn to it. Horns curled from its head, reaching to its shoulders behind it, its skin a light copper that faded into gray, making it look like a humanoid dragon. He stared for a moment longer, looking at the golden woman cowering in fear at the base of the painting, trying to figure out what it all meant.

Finally he managed to pull himself away from the painting, noticing that Oz had already gotten far away from him. He quickened his pace, mall-walking hurriedly until he’d caught up again. He tried not to stray too far behind Oz after that as they made their way to the Dean’s office, for fear of being lost forever in the maze of wood and carpeting.

“Isn’t it counter-intuitive to have the school’s layout be so confusing? How do new students even make it around?” Oliver asked Oz as they walked.

Oz looked back at Oliver with an expression as if he was surprised at his naiveté but all he did was shrug, adding, “You get used to it.”

Oliver guessed he was content enough with the answer, so he closed his mouth and they kept walking until they reached a door with a plaque proudly proclaiming “Office of the Dean of Students”.

Oz pulled open the first door, which led comically to a slightly smaller door. With a completely straight face, he pulled open the next one, again leading to a smaller door. Oliver watched impassively as this happened three more times in succession before the final door, about chest high, opened to reveal an office of completely normal size on the other side. Oz ducked his head and headed in, as straight-faced as he’d been through the whole door debacle. Oliver followed him, feeling as if the inner mechanism that was supposed to tell him when things were batshit bonkers had broken down. The door thing hadn’t even made him blink and he felt at this point if the Dean was a giant banana he wouldn’t be surprised at all.

An entirely normal-looking secretary glanced up from her computer, her fingers still clacking away at the keys.

“Yes?” She asked, her voice slightly nasal, eyes peering over her glasses.

“I’d like to see the Dean, as soon as he’s able.” Oz said, giving her his most genuine smile.

She sighed, rolling her eyes, “First I’d like you to put out that cigarette in here.”. Oz seemed disheartened, and tried to smoke the entire cigarette as quickly as possible before snubbing it out on his shoe and tossing it in a trashcan. Oliver briefly wondered whether Oz was someone he’d rather not be seen associating with.

“Well if you take a seat, I’m sure he’ll be able to get to you within a few hours. Today’s a busy day for him, what with the orientation and summonings going on later.”

Oz frowned, apparently having forgotten about the things she’d asserted so matter-of-factly.

“Okay, I’d hate to make his day any harder, but allow me to show you something that I hope will allow me to see the Dean, at once. Please, watch closely.”

To Oliver, it seemed as if Oz simply pointed at him, and then nodded his head. Oliver felt a rush of air from what he assumed was a vent facing him, and then another small force of wind on his shoulder from the AC turning on. He stood there awkwardly, waiting for Oz to do something, but this itself seemed more than satisfactory to the secretary. She stood up quickly, walking back into the Dean’s inner office, her faced creased with a frown. Through the frosted glass of the door Oliver could tell that she spoke a few words to him and though Oliver couldn’t hear what was said, he could feel that they were purposefully quiet and very urgent.

She stepped outside again, a little more flustered than before.
“The Dean can see you now,” she said gravely, ushering both boys into the Dean’s office. She shut the door behind them and resumed typing on her computer.

The Dean was a stern man, his desk devoid of any personal memorabilia. It simply held the Inbox, the Outbox, and a single fountain pen. He spoke nothing at first, spreading his hands in an implicit invitation for both boys to sit at the two chairs in front of his desk. Oliver began to sweat under his t-shirt, turning red under the Dean’s severe gaze, but when he looked at at Oz, he seemed to not be flustered in the slightest.

As both boys seated themselves, the Dean finally spoke.

“What in the Hell do you think you’re doing?!” He slammed his hands on his desk, punctuating the statement, his face immediately turning a dark red.

Wow, Oliver thought to himself nervously, This guy sure hits the ground running.

“You brought someone like him here?” He said, speaking to Oz while pointing to Oliver.

Oliver, while he wasn’t quite sure what was going on or what kind of person he apparently was, was still a bit bothered about being pointed at with such ferocity and negative connotation. He blushed deeply, crushed by the feeling of being in trouble while simultaneously not knowing what the trouble was.

“How did he even get here? What’s the point of having layers of security if people can just Texas two-step their way through without a problem?”

Oz seemed completely unaffected by the whole affair.

“Well you see sir, I found him on the hedges outside in the courtyard. He seemed passed out, or dead or something, and when he actually got up I helped him down and brought him here. It honestly seemed a better course of action than to simply let the guy wander around, lest he get himself into some sort of…”

He looked at Oliver, smiling genuinely, “trouble. As for how he got here, he and I both have no idea. He says he fell down a hole, but neither of us are quite sure. As I showed your secretary outside, he has no demon, and he can’t even see Xaphan.” Oz motioned towards an empty spot in the air again and Oliver frowned, trying to speak for himself.

“Sir, it’s true. I really have no idea how I got here, I have no idea what this place is, beyond it being called ‘The Killian Institute’, though I’d love to know more.” He smiled, trying to lighten up the mood. The Dean simply stared at him.

“How much do you know?”

“Just the name, sir.” He lied.

“…Alright. Are you a spy?”

“A– A what, sir?” He sputtered, thrown off balance.

The Dean suddenly threw salt at him, the grains cascading down his shirt and onto the chair and floor. Oliver again felt his brain shut down on a level, accepting the incoming stimulus of the world, but choosing to toss it back out the window instead of making any meaningful notes about it. With the way he felt everything had been going today, getting salt thrown in his face seemed like par for the course.

“Stand up.” He ordered Oliver, looking at him analytically. Oliver stood, pushing his chair out behind himself. The Dean stood up as well, inspecting Oliver’s chair.

“Hmm… No sulfur either.”

He looked at Oz, “You said he wasn’t acting suspicious when you found him, and he hasn’t interacted with or approached anyone else?”

Oz looked back at the Dean, actually concerned for once, “No sir, just you, me, and your secretary, I guess. Like I said, he was unconscious on a hedge when I found him.” He stopped himself for a moment, taking a breath.

“But to derail this Spanish-style inquisition for a moment, I was thinking that since he’s here he could join us at the Institute. I know it isn’t typical, but he made it this far, so that counts for something, right? It’s gotta be destiny or something, right?” He looked at Oliver with a reassuring smile, giving a little one armed shrug of “worth a shot, right?”.

The Dean recoiled at the thought, as if he’d been struck across the face.

“This… This stranger? He could be from anywhere, we know nothing about him! We very specifically choose our students so that we can teach them to be as best they can be. We don’t make mistakes, and we won’t stop this tradition on account of…” He faltered, looking at Oliver almost apologetically, “I’m sorry… what was your name?”

Oliver looked up, having zoned out for most of the conversation, his brain trying to catch up with the backlog of information that suddenly seemed relevant. He’d figured after the salt thing that it was safe to just let events flow around him and simply keep afloat, but now they required his input and he scrambled to come up with a meaningful thought.

“What?”

“Your name, dear boy.”

“Oliver…sir.” Oliver said, although he felt the ‘sir’ was becoming strained over the course of the conversation, but he also felt pissing this man off wasn’t on his to-do list today.

“Right… Well I’m sorry “Oliver”, but we simply can’t accept you here. Nothing against you of course, it’s just all completely personal.”

“Thank you for your time anyway, sir.”Oz said.  

As he said it he tightly gripped Oliver’s arm, covertly guiding him to stand up. They both gave half-hearted bows to the Dean, mutually unsure of how to make a less-than-awkward exit, and walked together out of the office. Oz kept ahold of him, keeping Oliver’s hand clutched in his own, leading the way. Oliver winced as the door slammed behind the both of them, resonating with finality.

3 thoughts on “

  1. Hey
    Sorry for tardiness

    I like how you convey the confusing and unknown setting in this chapter. Your description of the long hallways, the multiple-door entrance to the office, the Dean throwing salt at Oliver and all the meanwhile set in a sunny, cloudless day create this absurd hopeless tone, which goes along with the whole situation and the overall theme you are trying to portray very well. I also enjoy reading it a lot and gives the entire story a unique and creative voice. Osmond’s introduction and character are well done; his behavior and attitude are somewhat manipulative and careless, but with slight hints of vulnerability.

    The one thing I found somewhat clunky was Oliver’s and Osmond’s relationship. I don’t feel there is anything wrong with their characters per say; it’s more about Oliver’s attitude towards Oz. At the start of the chapter, Osmond seems to care little about Oliver and think himself superior. However, Oliver’s attitude toward him switches in between timid anxiety and hostile annoyance somewhat suddenly. For example, we see Oliver feeling anxious about Osmond leaving him alone, and then a couple of sentences later, call him an asshole, with only Osmond’s questioning in between. This makes the interaction feel jarring to the reader since Oliver’s attitude, and behavior just switched so suddenly. Making these changes in behavior more gradual would help their interaction feel more smooth and natural.

    Also, I kinda feel like Osmond’s liking to Oliver could be smoothened out a little; same idea as above. Although, in this case, it would only need only to be a subtle chuckle or an apparently meaningless compliment.

    But maybe, (sorry if this isn’t true) you have added these elements on purpose. In that case, my feedback would be to make it more extreme and absurd, to the point where it is still somewhat subtle, but noticeable in the story’s overall tone.

    Finally, a couple of typos:
    “When he finally decided to stop gawking at everything He was elevated from the ground, and he looked down, solving a few mysteries.”

    “Okay, I’d hate to make his day well then allow me to demonstrate something that I hope will allow me to see the Dean, at once. Please, watch closely.”

    Sorry if any of this sounds extra mean or pretentious; I suck at people-talking
    I truly like your story, especially the whole absurdist tone it gives off
    Wish you luck on future chapters

    ~personthatfeelsalonesometimes

    Liked by 1 person

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