Nera Cain stood between the whitewashed marble columns on the front steps of Chapman Manor, tapping the glass face of her gold pocketwatch with one well-manicured fingernail. Her dark wiry brown hair was beginning to go gray with age, and she was already sweating in the early humidity of what would surely be a typical hot Kentucky summer day. The high collar and worsted wool skirt she wore surely weren't the most practical for the weather, but she was a woman of propriety, and as she looked out at the empty driveway just beginning to be bathed in golden sunlight, she was annoyed.
An older gentleman with spectacles and a shiny bald pate came around the corner of the civil-war era brick manor-house and spied her. Smiling broadly, he approached her, leaning heavily on his wooden cane and betraying a slight limp. “Good morning, Ms. Cain. Out and about rather early this morning, aren't we?”
Nera looked up rather sharply from her watch, but her features softened into a pleasant smile when she saw who was addressing her. “Good morning, Dr. Harrcraft. And no, I usually do my rounds fairly early. Now I'm just waiting for our new arrivals to the program.”
“Waiting already? It's barely seven o'clock,” the man teased her. “Are you so anxious to meet them?”
Nera's smile seemed a little strained. “Well, there are only three hours before the welcome brunch, and I would think they would want to arrive a little early, get settled in. We've already made up their rooms...”
Dr. Harrcraft bowed his head in acknowledgment. “You are the consummate hostess, Ms. Cain, as I'm sure all of my colleagues here at the manor would agree. You and the waitstaff have been doing an exemplary job so far, and I'm sure our stay will continue to be simply utopian.” The woman nodded, a pleased blush deepening the coffee-colored hue of her skin. “Nevertheless, I do believe you have forgotten that these candidates you are expecting are college students. Modern college students, nonetheless. We are asking quite a lot of them to go six weeks without internet and cable and cellular phones, much less wake up and be somewhere before noon.” Dr. Harrcraft chuckled, and the manorhouse caretaker frowned, pursing her lips.
“I'm sure they'll be here on time, Ms. Cain. Who knows? They may even be early! They are Abnormals after all. No telling what might happen in the next six weeks!” Nera allowed Dr. Harrcraft a small smile, and he put a hand on her shoulder. “Now then, I'd like to discuss the morning's menu with you if you don't mind. I'm told some of our guests have special dietary preferences. I assume Professor Daniels discussed those with you?”
The two turned to walk back into the manor house, discussing details of the coming weeks, leaving the Kentucky sun to continue its ascent over the wooded horizon.
* * *
Kylie Garrett sighed at the blurring view of overgrown Kentucky forest as it passed and looked down at her cheap cell phone. 8:34am. According to the driver it was a two hour drive to the Chapman busstop, and they'd been on the road for more than an hour now. The bus had been fuller when they had left the station, but it was nearly empty now, only a few people on board, and most of them occupied with their own business. No matter, she wouldn't have anything to say to them anyway. Idly, she wondered if any of them were going to the exchange program too. “Guess I'll find out,” she thought. She tried to get a signal to check her email, but they'd been in a continuous dead zone 45 minutes after leaving the station. Kylie sighed again, dropping the cell in her bag and looking back out the window. She fidgeted with a silver ring on her hand as she did so, and thought, as she so often did, of Manuel.
The funeral had been nice, surprisingly so. She and the other urchins had managed to pitch in whatever they could, and a local church that ran a homeless charity that Manuel had often helped out at had footed the rest of the bill. There'd been flowers, a nice coffin, a eulogy given by the church's minister, the works... but it didn't matter in the long run. Beneath the polished wood surface covered with cut blooms lay the body of a boy who had been cut off from life too early, for no reason at all. And now he was gone. Just like everyone else she had ever dared to care about.
Ky felt herself start to tear up and angrily wiped at her cheeks. She ran a hand through her fluorescent pink and purple hair and slouched lower in her seat, trying to think about something-- anything-- else.
So she thought about the program. Her college adviser had said it would be a great choice for her. “To be honest, we don't know much about your kind, Kylie,” he had admitted. “But there are rumors that seraphs are usually amazing singers, and when I say amazing, I mean magical. You're already a music major, Kylie. Tapping into whatever supernatural talent you have can only help you. And who knows? Maybe you'll be doing the world a favor!” Kylie had been skeptical at the man's idealism, but she had to admit... the world could use more favors. And if there was some untapped ability in her that could make music that not only won her standing ovations at open-mic night in the campus coffee bar, but maybe made people... better, well... how could she say no? She owed that much to Manuel, and to kids like him, fighting for good in a world gone bad.
The bus's pressure brakes squealed, startling Ky out of her impromptu nap. She didn't even remember falling asleep, but it looked like they were already here. The beefy bus driver turned and confirmed that conclusion in a loud announcement, and Kylie hastily hoisted her duffel and purse and disembarked. “Have a nice day, ma'am,” the bus driver said gruffly, and Ky nodded at him before stepping down onto the red dirt road.
“Which way--?” she started, but the driver pointed, cutting her off.
“Chapman Manor's about a mile north along this here road, then turn left at the sign. You'll see it,” he assured her.
“Thanks,” Ky called, and he nodded, closing the bus doors and accelerating off again.
Kylie readjusted her bags and started walking, digging out her cell to check the time again. 9:21. She walked faster.
Chapman Manor is situated nearly fifty miles from the nearest town, and is in a dead zone for cell service as well as internet service providers. The manor does have electricity, courtesy of a generator, and may have land lines in case of emergency. The program has arranged for a driver to pick up arriving guests at the airport at 8am, but there is also a bus stop about a mile from the manor house, and candidates are also welcome to drive and park their own vehicles. Each candidate will be greeted by the manor caretaker Ms. Nera Cain, and the Program Coordinator, Dr. Harrcraft, on the front steps of the manor, then briefly directed to their room and then out to the back patio for the brunch. Late candidates will be greeted by a member of the waitstaff. I will allow two days for beginning posts, in any amount and order so characters can get acquainted, if they wish. After Friday, anyone who comes in will be considered "late".]