Gretchen Marsh watched the man walk out of the class room. He had offered help without asking anything in return. Was that normal here? She knew outsiders that didn’t know about Innsmouth would treat her different, but this was very unexpected.
She gathered her books and notebooks in her arms and walked out into the hallway. No one gave her dirty looks or sneered with insults as she passed by. It was almost like she was a normal person.
She walked out into the beautifully overcast day and hurried to the building that David had shown on her map. She found her next class easily enough. It was similar to the last class in that the teacher went over the outline of the course and explained what was expected of them.
The professor was funny and gave a little lecture on the importance of astronomy and did an act that he was begging them to not withdraw from the course because the professor was crazy. She had to cover her mouth to keep from showing her smile.
Why did she do that? Father wasn’t here. He hated “frivolity” in his house, but she was no longer under his roof.
She lowered her hand and smiled. Let them see.
After class she went to find the pool. She asked the young lady at the nearby shop where it was and the girl told her right where to find the pool and even smiled.
Very different from her home.
It was a very new looking facility and much larger than the one at the high school. She saw a group of girls standing in a group and walked over.
“Swimming?” She asked.
“You’re in the right place! You on the team?” A girl with short blond hair asked.
The girl had a strange expression on her face that Gretchen couldn’t read.
“Oh, well. Great!”
Soon the coach came in. She had met her before when she came to her high school to see her ability for herself.
Coach Mikelson handed out uniforms, a jogging suit, a swimsuit, goggles, cap, towel and gym bag. Then she told them to go get changed.
She took the suit and tried to hide her disgust. After three years of performing in such immodest attire she still hadn't gotten used to it.
The other girls didn’t seem to pay her any attention to her which was still much better than outright hostility.
When they were ready they walked back out to the pool. She held her towel in front of her, clutched to her chest. Her long hair was tucked up under the cap and her goggles were on her forehead.
The coach went through a speech about what she expected from them and then started them on some basic warm up exercises. They were rudimentary but essential. She heard some of the other girls complain about how basic it was. Basic didn’t mean useless. They should have known better.
“Alright, ladies. Now that we’re suitably warmed up, I want to see what you can do. Almost as important, I want you to see what each other can do. Two laps, there and back again, fastest time, free style. Use your strongest stroke. I want to see your best.”
They each got on their block and waited for Coach to blow the whistle. As soon as the whistle sounded, Gretchen was off and in the water. She dolphin kicked as far as was permissible and then butterfly stroked the rest of the way. She didn’t look and so she had no idea how the others were doing. She didn't care either. She only cared about doing the best she could do.
She touched the far wall and quickly twirled around and headed back the other way.
She was good in a small town high school, but these swimmers were drawn from the best around the country. There was no possible way that she was as good as they were.
But she never quit and she kept swimming. She could hold her breath for an abnormally long amount of time and practically swum the entire length without coming up for air.
When she reached the starting edge she touched it and pulled herself into it so she could lean on the edge. The coach was standing right there with a smile on her face.
Gretchen turned around and saw that the others were only half way back. She had beaten them by a great deal.
In the locker they still wouldn’t speak to her but now the look in their eyes was different. It wasn’t contempt but more threatened, like an animal trying to bluster away a predator.
She smiled to herself as she felt the curved knife in her dress pocket. If any of them tried to get too close to her and rough her up, she would have a surprise for them. Unlike her parents she had no desire to hurt anyone, but she would if she had to. They thought she was prey, but they’d have a nasty surprise waiting for them if they acted upon that.
The rest of the day went by her schedule and she didn’t have any more trouble finding her classes.
After the last class she went back to her room. There was nothing else to do. She had an hour before dinner started in the cafeteria and no homework. She lay in her bed thinking about the events of the day.
Already life here was so drastically different than what she had known. It was a completely alien way of living and she loved it.
When it was time she went to the cafeteria and showed her student I.D. There was much more food here than the high school cafeteria. She could choose anything she wanted!
One food she did not choose was fish. If she never had to eat fish again she could die happy.
Since it was her first night here, she’d celebrate. She got some pizza and a chicken sandwich and a glass of something called Mountain Dew. The student in front of her in line got it and Gretchen liked the pretty, sparkling green of it.
She found a table by herself and sat there observing the other students as she ate. In high school she always sat alone. As daughter of the high priest it was below her to mingle with the normal people and even less to mingle with the outsiders.
Then a girl walked up to her table. She wore jeans with rips in them so she must be poor, a tight t-shirt with a cartoon girl on it with pink hair, nose, lip and brow piercings and short black hair.
“Hi! Is this seat taken?” The strange girl asked.
Gretchen shook her head and the girl sat down.
“I’m Beth. It’s my first semester here.”
It took a moment for Gretchen to realize that Beth now expected her to introduce herself.
“I’m Gretchen Marsh. It’s a pleasure to meet you.”
For some reason this made the girl smile even more.
“Your first time here too?” Beth asked.
“What’s your major?”
“I haven’t decided yet. And you?”
“Art! I’m an art major though I do dabble in theater.”
She tried to think of something to say. The girl talked fast and didn't leave much time for thinking.
“I have an art class tomorrow. I am rather fond of painting,” Gretchen said.
“I love sculpture and photography, but yeah, painting’s fun too. I gotta say that you don’t look anything like all the others here.”
“No! It’s awesome! I’m glad to find at least one person that doesn’t try to look like anyone else.”
She had never thought that standing out could be considered a good thing.
“I thought people mistrusted and feared people who did not fit in with the norm,” Gretchen said.
“That they do! That’s why I try to do it.”
“But, are you not conforming to a degree?”
“What do you mean?”
“Oh, well…I mean, I’ve seen others with such piercings and clothing. It appears to be some sort of sub culture, but a culture nonetheless.”
“Damn, Gretchen. You got me. I never really thought of it like that. I’m glad I decided to sit here. Now I got to think of something else to do to stand out.”
“No, this is awesome. Sometimes we miss the obvious in ourselves, right?”
“I don’t intend to be different.”
“That’s what makes you special.”
She then dug in her pocket and pulled out a piece of paper.
“What art class you got tomorrow?” Beth asked.
“Painting I at 1:00pm.”
“Me too! I guess it was destiny that we be friends.”
Friends? She had never had a friend before. Was this how friends were made? It seemed much simpler and quicker than she would have imagined.
After dinner with Beth, Gretchen went back to her room and pulled out one of the books she had brought from the mansion’s library. It was a 1902 copy of “Les Miserables.” She doubted her parents even knew it was there or they might have thrown it out. They didn’t allow her to read book by outsiders. They didn’t like her getting useless notions stuck in her head.
But the library did have a few books and she read them every chance she got. In high school she read before, during and after class. She read on the bus and at lunch. She’d check out books from the school’s library and occasionally get on the internet.
Before, books had been her only window in to the outside world. But once she managed to get on line, the world exploded in size, complexity and wonder.
Maybe there was a way to get on line? Perhaps the University’s library had computers?
She took out her map and looked for the library. Once located she hurried out her door and down the stairs. She didn’t have to hide her search for knowledge. Now she could go anywhere and do anything.
The library was the oldest looking building here, made of dark stone with giant pillars out front and a black dome on top. Ivy crept up the sides and the whole place seemed darker than the rest of the campus.
Inside looked more like a museum than any library she had seen. It was old, polished wood floors, but in much better shape than the Marsh Mansion.
There were shelves and shelves of books and in the middle of the library were rows of computers.
She hurried to the first computer and typed in her name and student ID number for the password.
Then, like that, she was on the internet and didn’t have to look over her shoulder.
She looked up news to find out what was important to people. There was a lot of complaining about their leaders. Openly criticizing their leaders? They were allowed to do that?
She spent the rest of the evening there, looking up anything that came up. One site would have an interesting link to something else and she’d click on that and so on and so on.
As the library closed up she made her way to the exit.
But something caught her eye and she turned to look.
There was a heavy door with no windows and a sign above it that said “Rare and unusual book collection.”
Behind those doors she knew was one of the few copies of the Necronomicon in existence. Her father talked about it and wanted to come see it for himself. That wasn’t the only book filled with ancient horrors and wonders. The knowledge of Miskatonic’s rare book collection was priceless.
She hurried past the door, not wanting anything to do with the books to be found there.
That night she dreamed.
She often dreamed, horrible, mad dreams. She dreamed of sunken R’lyeh rising from the waves. The twisted, unnatural forms of the buildings and their unearthly stone. She dreamed of a great storm with continent shattering winds that accompanied Cthulhu’s awakening.
She heard Father and his Esoteric Order of Dagon’s infernal chanting in the back of her mind. This was the thing they sought. They wanted Cthulhu to awaken.
She didn’t know if it was prophetic or a desire sent out by Cthulhu’s dead dreams.
In her dreams she thankfully never saw Cthulhu, but she did hear him on occasion and she’d wake up in a cold sweat.
She looked at the clock. 3:00 Am. Always the same time.
Gretchen didn’t go back to sleep until much later and when the alarm went off, she felt more tired than if she had stayed up all night.
She took a shower and kept her hair dry with a cap. She combed it out, dressed in one of her many but similar dresses, though this one was so dark it was almost black, and went to class. She had never been very fond of large breakfasts, especially when her family often had fish.
Her first class that day was Latin. She already knew a good deal of Latin, but they made her take Latin I anyway. At least she wouldn’t have to study terribly hard.
A part of the course would be reading parts of the Bible in Latin. She had never read the Bible and wondered what it was about. All the other books seemed so normal. There were no Book of Eibon, or Unaussprechlichen Kulten. No great mysteries. Perhaps those were in later courses.
She sat in the back and when asked to repeat something in Latin, she’d respond and the professor would compliment her in her pronunciation.
Then was art class and Beth was there but now she had blue hair.
“Like it?” Beth asked.
“It’s indeed different.”
Beth sat beside her on stools as they sat in a half circle in front of the professor. She was a woman that dressed in oddly bright colors and unkempt hair and she spoke on and on as if there weren’t anyone else in the room. Despite her strange appearance she taught in a very logical and organized fashion.
Gretchen was surprised to learn that art was far less subjective than she had imagined.
“What did you think?” Beth asked after class.
“I’m intrigued. I think I may like this art class.”
“I think I will too. Come on, let’s go have lunch.”
They went to the cafeteria and had a pleasant lunch together. Beth apparently loved to talk. She talked about all the art she was going to do and the plays she was going to be. Already her theater class had an assignment to start reading old plays from the school library to gain an appreciation of the older classics.
“What are you doing after classes?” Beth asked.
“Read in my room or go to the library to get on the internet.”
“Great, I’ll meet you in the library at four.”
Then Beth was off before she could say anything else.
Next up was Western Lit I. This class she felt a little nervous about because that nice man would be there.
She walked into class early and again she was the first one there. She found a seat in the back and sat down. It wasn’t long before David came in. He saw her and took a seat next to her.
She was curiously glad to see him.
“How’s your classes so far?” He asked.
“I’ve really enjoyed them. I believe I will like attending the University.”
“I think so to. It’s a lot different than being in the Army. No one’s yelling at me and I didn’t even shave this morning.”
“You were in the Army?”
“Surprised? I don’t seem the type?”
“I’ve never met a soldier before.”
“Really?” He asked with a look on his face that showed confusion as if she had something very out of the ordinary.
There were so many subtle things about outsiders that she simply didn’t understand and probably never would.