tagIllustratedIt's My Party

It's My Party

byhammingbyrd7©

Copyright 2008, 2009 hammingbyrd7

Chapter 1.

Time: Friday, December 21, 2018 4:05 PM EST, nine kilometers northeast of Burlington, Vermont

"Are you sure you know where you're going?" Jada looked at the driver with only a tiny hope of getting her roommate to give up. Once Emily had her mind latched on an idea, she had the tenacity of a Maine lobster holding onto it.

Emily pulled the car over to the side of the rough country road and squinted at the signs ahead of them. The sun had been behind thick clouds most of the afternoon, but was finally making an appearance just when it wouldn't do much good. It was ten minutes before sunset and the road surfaces were already in twilight shadows. Only the upper half of the nearby pines and blue spruces were catching the day's brief golden light.

"Enjoy the sun while you can," said Jada. "There's supposed to be a big snowstorm moving in tomorrow."

"Uh huh. Not that big I heard…" mumbled Emily as she stared at her map.

"Emily, are we lost?"

Emily looked up from her map and gave a small sigh. "Nope. I know exactly where we are, right here…" pointing with her finger at the printout in her lap, "the intersection of Discovery and Lost Nation Roads."

"Marvelous! I knew this place looked familiar!" Jada replied with mild sarcasm. They had spent the last twenty minutes making one and a half round trips down and back a short three kilometer run of Lost Nation Road.

Emily gave a dismissive grunt and started up the car again, pulling into a turnaround on the deserted road and making an easy U-turn. "I'll go more slowly. It's got to be here somewhere. You watch the right, I'll watch the left."

"Oh, just drive. I can watch both sides."

"Yeah, okay. Any driveway at all not leading to a house, tell me to stop…"

"Right…" Jada smiled at her friend as the car returned to the southeast. The task of inspecting the now familiar road was boringly easy, and she began to reminisce about meeting her roommate at the beginning of the term. Jada hated the thought of being prejudiced, but she was half convinced architecture students were an entirely different species from engineering students.

Jada's first year as a University of Vermont undergrad had been filled with two major commitments. The first was serious study, spending many evenings working either at the campus libraries or at her desk in her quiet dorm room. The second commitment was fulfilling her training and competition requirements for her partial scholarship. Jada was an orphan, totally on her own and managing a scary package of student loans and a tenuous athletic scholarship. She thought her five-year path to a Masters in Mechanical Engineering was very much dependent both on maintaining an excellent academic record and staying in excellent physical health.

At her dorm, Jada's freshman year was filled with quiet study, but this past term a large herd of architecture students had moved into her area and the character of the wing had changed completely. Parties, loud music, boys wandering the halls at all hours, even during school nights; didn't these architecture students ever have to study? Apparently not, but they paid the price as their term projects became due.

Jada smiled at the memory. Candice, the freshman dorm queen of midnight gothic and heavy metal, had finally been shown the error of her ways. A sophomore engineering student named Erica would pound on Candice's door almost nightly, complaining that the loud music was preventing her from sleeping. And throughout the fall term, her pleas for quiet were ignored.

The moment for revenge had come two days ago at the end of the term when the architecture projects were due. After a semester of partying, many of the freshman students suddenly realized just how much time it took to build a professional model. A number of the students had waited until the last few days, and Jada was convinced several were using speed to stay awake to complete their work.

Late last Wednesday as midnight approached, Candice had walked out of her room exhausted, carrying almost a square meter of a very professional looking building design, due promptly at 8 AM the following morning. It was a full layout complete with parking lots and landscaping and even tiny miniature trees artistically lining the access road. She had created something quite beautiful, and she left the model on the floor outside her dorm room for the glue to dry, Awake for over forty hours, Candice returned to her room and collapsed upon her bed.

Ten minutes later Erica came out of the adjacent room, heading to the bathroom to brush her teeth, and what was in her way but the large landscape. It would have been so easy to walk around it, but should she, after an entire term of pounding heavy metal? No. Boom, boom, crunch, crunch, it was just like Godzilla going through Tokyo.

Jada was awakened by a tremendous scream shortly before 1 AM. Fearing someone was being raped or murdered, she grabbed her robe and dashed outside her room, only to discover a shocked, horrified and bewildered Candice staring at her 3-D model that was now in a completely 2-D state.

It was an act of pure revenge. Erika had confessed to Jada the following day that she was the culprit. Erika had no hope that Candice would take the hint and lower the volume on the stereo system. Erika's action was one of pure revenge, plain and simple, and Candice currently had an incomplete in the course. She would have to rebuild her project after she returned from Christmas vacation.

Emily's car reached the southern end of Lost Nation Road. The connection to Route 15 was now just a few hundred meters away. They could be back on campus in fifteen minutes. Jada turned to her friend and smiled hopefully. "Hungry? I could make some lentil soup. Maybe we could go see a movie afterwards. I hear Flashpoint Seven is pretty good."

Emily frowned and looked at the clock. "The posting said admission would be open until 5:22 PM. We still have another hour to find the place."

"A strange time to turn away new guests, don't you think? I mean, why not a simple 5:30 or something?"

Emily shrugged. "I don't know."

Jada sighed. "I think I do. The winter solstice is at 5:22 PM today. Hello winter! The fact that they're supposedly locking the party doors at that exact moment is a tip-off this is all… well, don't you find it really odd?"

"Oh Jada, have a little faith."

"Faith in what? That there really is a party god? Emily, get real! And besides, it's getting dark." Jada hoped Emily could hear the slight whine in her voice as she pointed through the window towards the east northeast. "See that bright silver light on the horizon? That's what we engineering types call the rise of the full moon. Aren't you afraid of werewolves? And more to the point, how are we going to find this place in the moonlight if we can't even see it in the daylight?!"

Emily's eyes lit up and she snapped her fingers. "Exactly! The castle's lights should be more visible in the dark! Let's make the loop again and look through the trees for the lights of a large building."

"Uh…" But Emily was already making another U-turn, and Jada didn't have the heart to argue the issue. She settled back and began scanning the trees, occasionally glancing at Emily and smiling at her roommate's misplaced determination.

"Well, it's not as if I don't owe her a few favors," Jada thought. Emily shared something in common with Jada. They were both Jewish orphans, and Jada suspected that was why campus housing had asked her if she were willing to room with the first year undergrad. But unlike Jada who had been abandoned, Emily's parents had been killed a year ago in a car accident. She was now of legal age and on her own, but unlike Jada had almost a half million dollars in inheritance and life insurance benefits.

And during their first week together, Jada discovered Emily also had a heart of pure kindness. "What's this?" Jada had asked, walking into her dorm at the beginning of the term and discovering a large pile of brand new textbooks on her desk.

"Oh, I was in the bookstore, getting my course books. You should see the lines!" Emily paused and added casually, "I thought I'd pick up yours too." She turned away and started folding her wash.

Jada stared at the pile of mint condition books and picked up one. "Yeah, these are my course books all right… How did you know?"

"Oh, it wasn't hard…"

"Emily, you're very sweet, but I can't…"

"Sure you can. It's not a big deal, just a few books."

"A few books?! I know how much new books cost! I can use the library. That's what I did last year. These I should return."

"You can't. They're already marked up. The bookstore won't accept them."

"Huh?" Jada examined the pristine engineering text in her hand and then held the heavy book to her nose and sniffed. "I don't think this book has been cracked open since it left the printers. Marked where?"

Emily took the book from Jada's hands, opened the front cover and with her pen made a large checkmark at the top of the title page. "Right here where I'm showing you with my pen. Hey, stop that!" Jada had given a soft cry and had Emily locked in a fierce hug.

Jada eyed her friend now as they started making their third round trip on Lost Nation Road. What a joy getting to know Emily over the last four months. She was now like a sister to Jada, and a shining counter-example to Jada's generally low opinion of architecture students. They both shared a love of knowledge and learning, and in the past few months, Jada had come to appreciate that her roommate was also a first-rate visual mathematician. Emily's only flaw perhaps, was that she sometimes seemed to have no understanding of the word caution.

A few favors indeed! Books, clothes, meals, being invited on sightseeing trips during the beautiful Vermont fall. It had been the happiest time in Jada's life. And whenever she was feeling stressed, she would open her textbook and stare at the checkmark and remind herself that she was now loved. No, Jada was definitely not going to fuss about this trip, even if her roommate was lost on a wild goose chase. Lost Nation Road? Hah! The pranksters had probably picked the street just for its name.

"See anything yet?"

"Sure, lots of nice trees, and I'm pretty sure we passed a raccoon about a hundred meters back."

"Ja-dahhh…"

"Remind me again what this place is supposed to look like."

"A building as big as a castle. It's part of a new shopping mall with a bunch of residential wings mixed in. I've heard they've done some very innovative design work too. There are lots of hexagonal themes in the architecture, should be interesting, don't you think?"

"Oh, I suppose…"

Emily could hear the skepticism in Jada's voice. She gave a quiet sigh. "I know you think this is all a joke, but the building is real. You must have heard of it, Castle Commonwealth?"

Jada leaned back in her car seat and sighed, glad to be in the warm car and not the frigid air outside. "A little maybe, not really."

"Come on Jada, the construction has been going on for years, big bucks too, really serious money. The place is supposed to be enormous."

"Oh yeah? How big?"

"Uh… I'm not sure I ever heard a specific number. But really huge, vast, going far north where the great fires were. The mall is the cornerstone of the area's recovery plan." Emily was referring to a horrific arson attack that had occurred several years previously.

"Uh huh," her roommate finally replied, "And you heard Kappa Alpha picked this site for their frat house?"

"Yep, in the posting this morning. That's where the invitation said to go."

"Earlier I mean."

There was a pause. "No, not earlier."

"Which proves this is all a joke."

"It proves no such thing. The building is real, therefore its access road must be real too. We're just missing it somehow."

Jada gave a quick derisive laugh. "Lost Nation as an access road to a big mall?!"

"Well, okay. You've got me there. I think we're looking for a short cut."

"Oh, I don't know Emily. The school is almost deserted. This is a crazy time to throw a party."

"No it's not. It's a Friday night, Christmas break is here, and there are still lots of students on campus."

"Yeah, right." Jada's mind jumped to how deserted their dorm seemed when they left an hour ago.

"Jada, if the fraternity wants to throw a party now, why not? It's not just me. Other people have seen the postings."

"The guys' dorms too?"

"Heck, how am I supposed to know that? Maybe not, but why would the fraternity brothers invite guys anyway? Do you think they're looking for pledges?"

Jada laughed good naturedly. "I don't think this fraternity even exists!"

"Oh, it's here somewhere."

"Kind of far from school, don't you think?"

"It's not that far. And look how pretty it is here…" They drove the rest of the way in silence. It was almost 4:30 PM by the time they reached Discovery Road again. The sky's gray twilight was fading rapidly.

Jada looked at the dim intersection and smiled at her roommate. "Like coming home to an old friend." She paused for a moment and took genuine pity on Emily's distress. "You don't suppose it could be north of here, do you?"

Emily frowned. "No. The invitation said south of Discovery Road."

"Don't you think it's diagnostic that we've seen no other cars trying to find this place?"

"Not really. The invitation recommended that people find parking between 1:00 and 1:30, and that the party would start before 2 PM. We're very late." Emily stretched and thought for a moment, her fingertips idly drumming on the steering wheel. "I suppose we could try to find a house and ask."

A thin rolling band of clouds began to cover the moon on the horizon, and the dark isolation made Jada shiver. "Oh Emily, in a few more minutes, it's going to be pitch black out here. Do you really want to do that?" She hoped Emily would hear the worry in her voice.

There was a long pause as Jada's concern finally got through to Emily. "No, I suppose not. Okay. You still interested in Flashpoint Seven?"

"Sure!"

Emily nodded and made yet another U-turn and began her final trip down Lost Nation Road.

They had only traveled a minute when Emily noticed another car behind them about a hundred meters back, the first car she had seen since they left Route 15. She watched the car for a short while in her side mirror as she drove back to campus, and then gave a small gasp as the car disappeared. "Huh?!" she exclaimed as she braked the car suddenly.

"Emily, what?"

The car behind us, it just made a left turn!"

"So?"

"Left turn Jada, left turn! Towards the lake area! There were no houses on the left! Where the hell did it go?" In the gathering darkness, Emily carefully turned around and headed back. A few minutes later she stopped before a narrow path. "Well, it makes sense. This is the direction towards the open areas. But how did we miss this, six times in a row?"

"Well, the very last time we weren't looking, but yeah…" Jada examined the trees lit by the headlights for a long moment. "It's an optical illusion. The trees further back are bigger, right where the road curves. It makes them look closer. In the daylight, I bet this road is almost invisible... I guess…" Somehow the explanation didn't seem quite right, and something else was bothering her too. The road was dirt and very narrow. Their small car would be scraping pine branches on both sides. "Emily, this can't be a road to a shopping mall!"

"The mall isn't open yet. Construction access is temporary, further north, through some private land."

"Where did you hear that?"

"Uh… I forget. In the newspapers I think. Jada, I've been here four months. You have a full year on me. You say you never heard of Castle Commonwealth? There are articles about it all the time."

Jada shook her head. "Oh, I might have heard something I guess. But it was completely outside of my… areas of interest. Before you, I hadn't been to a mall since high school." Jada raised her eyebrows as Emily started to approach the path. "You sure you want to try this?"

"Yeah, I'm sure. This is it. And it doesn't have to go to the mall itself, just to the frat house." Emily nosed her car to the start of the narrow path. "I'll be careful. And we can always back out." She switched on her high beams and entered the forest.

Chapter 2.

After the first minute of following the forest path, Jada didn't know whether she wanted to laugh or cry. But she finally decided didn't want to disturb Emily's intense concentration, so she kept silent. The road was a nightmare, numerous tight curves often hidden by the overlapping pine branches. The surface directly underneath them was hard-packed and dry, but there were deep ravines everywhere along the sides, often less than a meter away from the wheels. If they drove into one, it would take a tow truck to pull them out, and a no tow truck could ever make it in here. Emily drove silently, her hands gripping the wheel with white knuckles as she inched her way forward.

Jada had a horrible premonition of the road abruptly ending with no place to turn around. Their only solution would be for Jada to stand outside in the cold Vermont night and try to talk Emily through the turns as she backed up. It would be a miserable, bone-chilling job, and in the dim light of the backup lights, their two-minute trip into the forest would take hours to unravel.

But then there was a final sharp turn and they were out of the pine trees. They both made soft unconscious moans at the release of the tension. Before them appeared a modest overflow parking lot. It was full of cars, and beyond that an enormous building loomed in the darkness. The impression of a vast castle was very strong. It was the theme of the mall.

"See any place to park?" asked Emily. She guessed the lot held about thirty cars, perhaps a few more, and it was packed.

"It's not very well lit. Nothing over here though…" Jada looked to the left and right. There appeared to be acres of parking nearby, but the areas were on the other side of temporary chain-link fences. She finally turned and pointed behind her. "How about over there? You might be able to park on the grass."

"Yeah." Emily drove over to a small grassy area near where they exited the forest and shut off the car. She sighed and then shuddered from the harrowing experience of the drive through the pine trees. "Jada," she said quietly, "I rely on you to be the better part of my decision making. Why didn't you talk me out of this?"

"Uh… I tried to, a little."

"Why not more?"

Jada took the question seriously and thought for a moment. "I don't know. I guess I was like you, curious."

"Hmmm." Emily's face relaxed as she accepted the explanation. "Well, anyway, we're here." She looked at the clock and smiled. "… with time to spare."

Jada couldn't help but grin as she got out of the car. She took a deep breath, savoring the coldness of the frosty air. "Well, we're not there yet. You still want to party? We can get back in the car be on Lost Nation Road in a few minutes."

Emily closed her door and locked the car with her remote. "Heck no! We've come this far. Let's check it out!" It was the answer Jada was expecting, and the two women walked across the dark lot and towards the imposing building.

There was a short row of glass doors next to the parking lot, with an arc of portable lights out in front. It looked like a typical back entrance to a mall. The only distinguishing feature was the wall above the doors. The area had been decorated to look like a drawbridge. It looked like an obvious fake, but Jada hoped maybe they weren't finished with the artwork yet.

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