Little Cottonwood Cyn
Matt and all of the boys, sitting at the wooden table, looked toward Andersen who had a handful of utensils in one hand and a stack of plates in the other.
“Here, Matthew,” he said. “Pass these out.” He placed it all on the table and returned to the wooden cabinet along one wall for some glasses. He placed the tumblers on the table, too. He then tapped a glittering crystal cuff-link and a round ball of mana flickered and glowed in his hand. He tapped it to the table and all the plates glowed softly. The dirty plate Nehto’s adult had left behind, glowed the brightest. “Clean!” he said in Mananok. The plate flashed and then sparkled cleaner than Matt’s mom insisted her plates look.
“Wow, cool!” said Justin as he took utensils and a plate.
“Take a plate and a fork,” said Andersen, holding his fork in the air before him. Andersen whispered something in Portuguese to Nehto who moved his own tumbler and plate of half eaten breakfast closer.
“Now think of your favorite breakfast and tap your plate.” He tapped his and a flash of light brought bacon, eggs, sausages, hash browns, toast with blackberry preserves. He then said, “And think of your favorite beverage and tap your glass.” Chocolate milk filled his tumbler.
Matt translated for Luc. There were five distinct taps on plates followed by the same on the tumblers.
When the light had cleared, Matt’s breakfast was almost identical to Andersen’s – minus the sausages and with raspberry lemonade rather than chocolate milk.
Justin had Cocoa Krispies and toast. Strangely, his plate now resembled a bowl.
Joel had steak and eggs with toast and milk.
Luc had a ripe and juicy pear and a large, Danish pastry with hot cocoa.
Owain had nearly the same as Joel’s. But, he also had what looked like fried cabbage and potatoes. And his toast had something yeasty looking smeared on it. His beverage was hot cocoa, like Luc’s.
“What is that stuff?” asked Justin looking at Owain’s toast, smelling something vile.
“This?” he asked scooping some off with the tip of his finger and then licking it with relish. “It’s Vegemite, mate. Nectar of the gods!” Justin just shuddered.
After Andersen led them in prayer, the room was very noisy from the sounds of hungry teens wolfing down their delayed breakfasts. When they were finished, Andersen cleaned the dishes and had them put away.
He stood and walked toward the door, not far from the boys, then tapped the crystal on his lapel and pulled out a field of light, which he manipulated. He began what sounded like a phone call, in Mananok. Matt could only hear this side, which sounded like Andersen was asking someone to come in.
“Alright, boys,” he said in a commanding voice. “Stand up and follow me.”
Matt scooted back first, translating for Luc and pantomiming for Nehto. The other three followed suit.
Andersen led them across the hall to the first door but paused there. The door at the end of the hall opened and he greeted a small man who closed the end door and opened the third door which led to a large chamber. Soon the boys were standing in a half-circle before the two adults.
Andersen gathered the young men and tapped them each on the left ear, temple, and lower lip and muttered a key phrase. “Now that you all speak Mananok, the language of the camp, we will begin,” said Andersen. “Matt, you are going to be the leader of the 2005 Squad,” he gestured to the others. “And this is going to be your dorm room for the next year. As Squad Leader, you can choose first. Which of those six beds along that end of the dorm will belong to you?”
Matt examined the three sets of bunk beds. There was nothing to distinguish one from another. There were three identical top bunks and three just the same on the bottom. “Could I turn the lights off?” he asked walking to the door. He flipped off the lights then opened the door they’d come in through. Light, from the hall, landed on the two closest to the door. He flipped the light back on and said, pointing, “I want that one on the bottom, in the opposite corner from the door.”
“That’s bunk number five. Come over here.” They walked to the wall on the left side of the door. There were six metal doors with crystal doorknobs. The second from the entrance had a black 5 painted face high. Andersen waved his hand and the knob glowed. “Take the knob and state your name.” Matt complied and the knob stopped glowing. “This is your vault room, only you and I can open it. I won’t unless there’s an emergency.”
When they were done, Luc had the bunk above Matt; Joel and Owain had the middle bunks, and Justin and Nehto had the two at the far end of the room, the ones the light fell on from the door.
As soon as they had finished, a third adult came in.
“Do you have all the little, baby angels ready?” He practically roared.
Andersen nodded then said: “My name is Agent Lars Andersen. This is Silvester Brumley and this burly one is Archangel Dick Smith. We run this camp. I will lead most of the daytime classes. Brumley will run the evening and night And Smith will take special courses and outdoors events.” He looked around at the boys nodding.
Agent Brumley, a rather small and fastidious man, called the boys together “Gentlemen,” he said in a rather high tenor voice. “I am going to cut your hair in the standard cut. We’ll start with you, Mathew.” Matt looked up, startled at hearing himself singled out. He sat in the metal folding chair offered him.
Brumley pulled a large piece of cloth from his messenger bag, flipped it over Matt and fastened it at his neck. He then took out what looked like a water color brush and walked around Matt, flipping the brush over and over in his hand. He reached out and pulled Matt’s bangs up from his forehead and pushed his hair away from the fronts of his ears. “Still have a baby-face, I see.” He tapped a crystal button on his shirt with his left hand which glowed brightly with mana. Then he tapped the top of Matt’s head with the handle of his paintbrush.
Matt caught the eye of Luc, who was following Brumley’s every movement. Suddenly Matt’s hair lifted straight up as if he’d been playing with static electricity. He couldn’t see what Brumley was doing, but suddenly a huge mass of hair fell off his head and slide down the cloth covering. “What the...” he called reaching up to his head. “Oh! I’ve still got hair.” he nearly yelled. “I thought you took it all off.” He felt about an inch and a half of hair on the top his head.
Brumley thwacked Matt’s hand with his paintbrush. “You have an awful lot of hair on your neck, young man.” Matt felt fingers pulling the mentioned hairs. “And, if we don’t do something, by the time you’re 20, you’ll have more hair on your back than most men have on their chest.” Matt felt the handle of the paintbrush sliding down the back of his neck in several rapid strokes accompanied by the softly chanted word ”Vanga!” Matt saw his shadow on the floor surrounded by bright blue light with each stroke.
“Alright,” he said. “That looks good.” He flipped the cloth off Matt and laid it on another chair. “Now, let’s take care of your back. Take your shirt off.”
Matt stared at the Brumley. “What?”
“Take your shirt off, young man.”
“I told you,” he said using the tone of voice Matt’s geometry teacher used to use, “we’re going to rid you of your back hair. Believe me. Most girls are repulsed by back hair and you’re not going to want it to grow back there.”
Matt reached behind his neck, pulled his shirt up over his head and tossed it to Luc.
“Turn around, please,” said Brumley in his high voice. Matt stood, then swung one leg over and straddled the chair. Again, he felt the brush handle slide across his skin with the verbal sequence. And with each stroke, he saw a flash shadow on the floor before him. When he tried to look, Brumley pushed his head back down stretching his back.
“Okay, We’re done with your back. Now let’s do the beard.”
“You said I have a baby-face!” said Matt.
“Yes, and we’re going to cure you of that.”
“Why?” He was dumbfounded. “Why not just let it grow in naturally, when it wants to?”
“There’s a strong correlation between a full beard and strong mana use.”
“But, what about the Chinese? They must have had mages and their faces are practically bald!” said Justin.
“Well, it’s part of the dress code here in the camp. So, turn around and sit up.” Matt complied and soon Brumley was drawing the edge of a beard and mustache on his face with the blunt end of the paintbrush handle, saying ”Va a’shud!” with each stroke. He then filled it all in with a pink flash. With four downward strokes of blue light, he rid Matt of the possibility of ever having a throat beard. “Now all you have to do is let it grow. Tomorrow it will look like you need to shave. Don’t. You must let it grow.”
Matt reached up and felt his face. It felt like his dad’s did in the mornings after shaving. It was smooth if you touched it lightly, and prickly if you pressed on it. Brumley did the hair and beards of the others. But Luc insisted that French girls like hairy men and “Please, don’t deprive me of this.” Brumley relented, leaving his back alone. He said the others wouldn’t have as much hair as Matt, and left their backs alone, too. He turned them over to Dick Smith, as he vanished the piles of hair.
Smith looked like this was the only time in the last hundred and fifty years or so that he had come in out of the weather. He had an aura of aggression about him, from his sneer to his stance. He looked ready to snap a grizzly bear in half. He also had a staff with a large crimson crystal on the top. “Gentlemen,” he said in the tone of voice that led you to believe that he didn’t believe that word was fit to describe the boys in front of him, or that he wanted to get this done fast so he could go on to more important business, like eating rattlesnakes or something. Matt decided that the man’s first name was very apt.
“Gentlemen,” he repeated. “We have a policy that each of our Destroying Angels must be at least 6′2". Only one of you will reach that height on your own. Justin, you will grow to be 6′3". Joel and Owain, you will both be about six even. Matt, you’ll be just under 5′10". Luc, you will be 5′6" and Nehto, you will be 5′5".”
“Mr. Smith,” said Owain, his Australian accent entirely missing in his Mananok. “I am not doubting you in the least, but I am curious to know how you know this.”
Smith stared until Owain looked away. “I do this.” He slammed his staff to the ground. The crystal flashed brighter than a photographer’s strobe. Mana shot down the staff to the floor and Smith called ”I’jung!” as he pointed at Owain. He twisted his hand clockwise and a shirtless, golden image of Owain at approximately twenty years of age appeared. The image was about an inch and a half taller than the real Owain and the beard was full. There was no body hair on the back. Beside the image, there was a column of writing. It looked like it was in the old Deseret script, which Matt found he could read. Apparently it was how the Mananok language was written. And sure enough, there was a description of Owain’s projected height: 6′ 1/8". Smith flicked his fingers and the image faded.
“We compiled all of this as we gathered information on each of you and more.” Smith stalked to the center of the room, between the two adults. “Justin, stand over here.” He pointed to his right.
Justin came and stood by the very much shorter teacher. “Mr. Brumley,” he asked. “Why aren’t you 6′2”?”
“That rule was put in place two years after I graduated.”
“Shhhh!” said Smith. “Boys, come stand next to each other. And Matt -- put your shirt back on.” Matt looked to Luc who pointed. Matt sprinted to his bunk and retrieved the Rolling Stones shirt.
“And your thongs.”
Matt looked to his vault door and sure enough, they were there. He retrieved them and walked back to the boys, dropped the flip flops on the floor and stuck his feet in them. He slid the shirt on and then looked to Smith expectantly.
Smith banged the staff to the floor and stood up on the balls of his feet as he tapped the top of his head with his right palm. He stretched out his right arm and white, ropey, mana light left each of his fingers and his thumb. It shot across the room to the boys. Each rope wrapped up one of the boys in what looked like a butterfly chrysalis. The light intensified in blinding brightness then faded rapidly.
There was a slight screaming noise. It was Joel. He stifled it as soon as he realized the light show was over.
The boys stood and looked from one to another. All five of them were now the same height. “Don’t worry, Justin,” said Smith, watching him rejoin his colleagues. “There’s nothing wrong with being the shortest one for a while. You’ll be the tallest before you graduate.”
At 5′11 3/8", Justin who used to tower over the others, now looked like their little brother.
“We’re going to use a mana override on you that we almost never use on living beings. You’ll see why in just a bit.” He tapped his staff on the floor, and using his finger like a pencil, he drew in the air with his right hand. Soon the outlines of a pale yellow broom, about nine inches long floated there. He grasped the handle; it became solid. He shook the bristle end at the group of boys and called out “Clean!”
In that same instant, Matt felt a fevered, rush caress every square inch of his skin. It was hotter than a sunburn. It was as smooth as flame. He felt like he was on fire. Matt wasn’t the only one that cried out. He looked down and saw how red he was. He looked at the others and saw that even Nehto, with the dark skin of a Brazilian native, was reddish and suffering.
Just as quickly as it came, the heat disappeared. “I’m not doing that again!” said Joel.
“No,” said Andersen, “If you do it very often, it will damage your skin and hair.”
“You boys were starting to stink,” said Smith. “Owain, when was the last time you had a shower? or used deodorant?”
“Uh, three or four days ago, I think,” he said. “Though it’s not so important on the farm.”
“Well, it is important here, especially since we’re going to visit the Prophet in his office.” He reached down into a box on a chair. Matt was sure the box hadn’t been there earlier. But after half the things he’d seen that day, a suddenly appearing box was minor.
Smith pulled out a handful of combs and some peculiarly shaped bottles of deodorant. “Take one of each of these. Go into your vaults and take all of your clothes off except for your underwear. Go into the bathroom through there.” He pointed at the door directly across the room from the fireplace, the door between vaults three and four. “Stick your head in the sink and get all of your hair wet. There is a stack of towels there beside the sinks. Comb your hair any way you want. Put on the deodorant. Then come back here.”
When they came back, Nehto’s short hair, which had been down to his shoulders, was now standing on end like a porcupine’s. “It won’t lay down!” he said.
He and Luc were both dressed in very tight and very skimpy underwear, like clingy Speedo swimming suits. Justin and Joel were both dressed in baggy striped boxer shorts, Justin’s maroon and gray and Joel’s light blue and white. Owain was dressed in a pair of Y-front briefs. --And Matt was still in his khaki shorts.
“Matthew,” boomed Smith, “why are you in your khakis?”
“Because I don’t have any underwear on, sir,” he said matter-of-factly.
“Do you realize how inappropriate this is?”
“I felt that being naked was even less appropriate, sir.”
“Do you normally go commando?”
“No, sir. It’s not very comfortable.”
“So why, today of all days, did you choose to go without proper covering?”
“I slept in the buff and didn’t have time to get dressed before Andersen got to my house.”
At this, Smith pounded his staff against the floor louder than ever before. He reached up and pulled either a ball of beige colored yarn, or a ball of mana that looked like yarn, out of the air. This he hit onto Matt’s chest. He called out a keyword. There was a loud snap of elastic on flesh and the beige ball of light exploded all over Matt. His khakis lay folded up on the ground at his feet and he was dressed in the uniform of the Destroying Angels.
Matt had an unpleasant expression and he suddenly shoved his hands into his pockets and moved about uncomfortably.
“Why did I spend so much time discussing your lack of underclothing, Matt?” Smith asked.
“To teach us that ignorance of an up and coming event is no excuse for inappropriate conduct?” he asked, hoping that was the proper response. He then added “And yet, might I remind you that I am still going commando? And that’s not good in wool pants. Could I have an appropriate pair of underwear, please?”
Smith suddenly smiled.
This was the first time Matt had ever seen one on the old man’s craggy face. The ball of yarn reappeared and was tapped lightly on his chest. Matt had a very strange expression for a second, then he wiggled his butt slightly. “They feel like boxers,” he said.
Smith nodded. “Very similar to Joel’s.”