I still remember the day that my father took me to Oddwood Boarding School. The day was cloudy and nebulous and the rain fell like small icy needles that crush the skin of your cheeks, that kind of rain that falls as frozen dew chilling you to the bones.
My dad was with me on the carriage. We were not rich but my father was looking to get a senate seat. My mom had passed away a few months ago, and after having some tutors come and go, my father decided to leave me in the boarding school.
The car was struggling to get pass the branches that were scattered along the road, breaking them and making the leaves crackle as we passed by. Autumn was right around the corner, with September starting a new cycle of red forests and fiery trees.
When the road came to an end, a big old manor with a huge old house in the middle appeared behind the trees. Huge, decorated wrought iron grilles with the word “Oddwood” were in front. My father instructed me to take my baggage down the car, and an old gardener opened the iron grilles as we passed. The iron grilles made a metallic sound as they opened, creaking furiously like a crow in the night.
In the garden, my dad went straight to the porch stairs and continued the entrance. Inside the hall was a huge, circular room with a stair that spiraled up the three floors of the mansion. The floor was a chess board pattern in marble that went in spirals in the same direction as the stairs, making concentric patterns towards the center. On the top of the room there was a huge, crystal dome with spiraling arcs, and hanging from that dome there was a long, crystal and marble chandelier, also spiral-shaped, like a long drill. Although everything was old, every bit of that room shined as new.
A man took us to the second floor and into a long corridor. From closed wooden doors with translucent windows stood came voices of children. The doors were numbered from one to five with roman numerals, and in the deepest part of the corridor stood a solid wood double door with the word “Dean” on the top.
We went into the Dean’s office, a warm place with bookshelves everywhere, a desk in the middle, and a sofa and chair next to the window. The atmosphere was filled with a pungent odor of tea blossoms that most people find calming and charming. Opposite the window there was an old contraption for brewing tea, boiling the nauseous tisane into the air.
“Mister Bain, nice to meet you, please take a seat; this must be Daniel, how are you doing little pal?
After shaking my dad’s hand, the Dean bent to me and smiled. He seemed like an easy going person. The Dean then stood up and went to sit at his desk, while I went to sit on the sofa and my dad on a chair in front of the desk.
“It should be a little awkward..." Said the Dean to my father with a somewhat serious expression.
“Why so? – Asked my father.
“Politics are the ones usually behind the desk. – And the two of them laughed vigorously.
The Dean continued the chat...
“Sorry, but I could not help myself, Mr. Bain. I always wanted to say that joke.
“Do not worry sir; it is a good one.
After relieving the laughter, the Dean said to my father in a more serious way.
“I understand that you cannot take your son to the campaign. That is what I understand...
“Exactly, train cabs and cars’ seats are no place for children to be. Unfortunately, I cannot take Daniel around in the campaign. Also, he is really awake for his age, and I cannot take my eyes from him. Since I lost my wife it has been really difficult.
“Sure, I know Mr. Bain. It was a tragic incident indeed, and who would have thought that electricity would be that dangerous? That is why I prefer the good old candles and oil lamps. Oh, how forgetful, please have a cup of tea.
The Dean stood and went to the tea brewer and served a cup of tea for my father and then asked me if I wanted another one, which I declined politely.
“Daniel has never... “My father took a sip of the beverage and stood quiet for a moment.
“… Well, never mind, I am really thankful for your cooperation Dean Cromwell. It will be a wonderful support for the campaign really.
“It is the least I can do. Please recommend our facilities with your people.
“Of course I will do so. Well it has been a nice visit.
“Quite a lovely one.
“Well, time to go. I have to catch the train to Philadelphia and time is running.
“Glad to see you again Mr. Bain, hope you enjoyed your short stay.
“It has been quite productive, thank you again Dean Cromwell. See you later kid.
My dad turned to me and waved his hand as if I were a voter and left the office without even a good bye. The Dean then put his hand on my shoulder and with the gentlest expression talked to me.
“Your dad is going to be great one day. Do not worry, you will be happy here. Enjoy your stay son.
And with that he conducted me to the third floor, to the end of the hallway and into a small wooden stair. The scene was a bit creepy. The door made of dark wood and, for some reason, a chilling air blew from behind the closed door. We stood still and the dean said.
“For the time being your room will be upstairs. It is a small but quite comfortable room in the attic, and the view of the forest is superb, more so at night. It has an observation skylight. You can leave your baggage here and Mr. Jenkins will take it to your room. Your accommodations will be provisional while we find a way of making a space in the dorms, but believe me, this is the best room in the house. It used to be mine. –
The dean said a couple phrases more, but a chilling sensation overtook my senses, and I made out the words “don’t trust” in the thin air.
We continued to walk along the corridor of the third floor, which was the dorms. In Oddwood there were ten rooms for twenty-five children, ranging in age from ten to fifteen years old, ten girls in rooms of two beads each, and fifteen boys in rooms of three each; and I happened to be the twenty-sixth.
Mr. Jenkins was the Dean’s assistant and the butler of the mansion. There were maids that cleaned the house, made dinners, lunches, and breakfasts, and helped the children; however, they are all nothing but bodies with blurred faces to my memory. For some reason I only remember the bodies of those people, but their faces are non-existent in my memory.
Once we returned to the hall, we went to the second floor and into the fifth door of those that were numbered. We passed and walked and entered a class of four or five children. Sitting at the desk was a teacher whose face I do not remember. The dean closed the door behind him.
“Good afternoon class, we have a new member of the crew. Daniel, introduce yourself.
“Good afternoon, my name is Daniel Bain. Nice to meet you all.
“Good afternoon Daniel. “Said the class in chorus.
With a reverence to the teacher, I took a step back and stood still.
“Have a seat. We already made a space for you.
Near the window, there was an old, wrenched desk with a chair like the ones of the other children. I walked to it and moved the chair, trying not to make a sound. My dad used to hate the sound of chairs moving, and every time I dragged a chair, he would yell at me.
“Well, I will return to my office professor. Please take good care of Daniel. He is a wonderful... eh... boy. Well then...
The Dean moved to the door and closed it behind him, and the kids in the class continued giving me glares from time to time. The class was surprisingly dull and almost nonsensical. Curiously, I do not remember any of the lectures of the professor or anything related to the personnel of the mansion, if I close my eyes, I can only see bodies with blurred faces, all with the same male or female voice.
Time went slowly, like running syrup with every minute dripping into that pond of wasted time. When the clock in the hall clanked six o’clock, the class was dismissed and everyone returned to his or her own dorms.
The class went out into the corridor and the doors of the other classrooms opened, allowing other alumni to pass. I used to be quite comfortable with other children, but the kids in mansion gave me the creeps. They were chatting lively among themselves, but their talk was as dull as the class, and for some reason they sounded like my grandpa.
Everyone took the stairs to the third floor and into the long corridor of the dorms. To the left were the boys’ rooms and to the right the girls’. When the contingent came to the top of the stairs, it split into girls and boys, everyone to his or her side with near-martial discipline; and although they were talking their nonsense, they looked like mechanical creatures doing their routine. Finally, when I came to the last stair step and into the corridor, I realized that my “room” was on the girls’ side of the mansion. I took a turn to the right and walked by some of the girls that still where in the hallway. Some of them glanced at me with curiosity but, somehow, with lost eyes. After passing them I went straight to the attic and when I took the first step towards the door, a hand touched my arm. I am not sure if Mr. Jenkins just appeared there or if I did not notice him.
“Master Daniel, the door of your room is open. You can go upstairs whenever you please or need, but you are not allowed in the girls’ dorm for obvious reasons. Your baggage has been unwrapped and put in the clothier. Master Cromwell has also instructed me to tell you that if you ever need anything, you can call with this bell.
Mr. Jenkins put a small bell that had strange spiral patterns alternating from crystal to bronze and crystal again, in my hand. I took the bell in two fingers and rang it. The sound was charming and reverberated along the corridor with singular grace, and it was almost like a woman’s voice. Then I felt the handle between my fingers. It had some curved shapes on it. I took the bell and placed it in my jacket pocket.
“Other kids have bells like this one? “I asked.
“Their rooms are equipped with a bell that they can use to call upon; however, the dorm of the attic doesn’t, which is why Master is giving this to you. Take care of it, for it is not easy to get these anymore.
I nodded with my head in a signal of thanks and then went upstairs into my room.