Ben was torn.
He wanted his parents and his younger brother to leave this cramped room so he could settle into his half of the dorm before his new roommate returned. He was excited to check out the campus with some of the other kids he’d seen talking to each other behind half-opened doors as he’d walked down the hall to find his room. But he had to admit he was a little scared about being left alone here.
His mom was fiddling with the bedspread. “Are you sure you have enough covers, honey? I could mail you an extra blanket, or buy it online and have it shipped.”
“I’m fine, Mom. Look, this guy doesn’t even have a pillow.”
They looked at the other boy’s things. He didn’t have much of anything. Just a dufflebag and a plain beige blanket neatly arranged over rough sheets. It looked like a prison cell except for the poster on the wall.
It was a watercolor of three people in a windstorm. Two were standing on the head of an enormous statue of a man. The third one bore the brunt of the wind on his long cape and blue hair. The figure at the top seemed to be commanding the other two. Cartoonish lines indicated telepathic energy radiating off his head.
“Cool, he’s into animé!” Ben’s brother Rick leaned a knee on the thin mattress to peer at the poster taped to the wall.
“Great.” Despite the sarcasm, Ben was glad to have something to talk about with the roommate, even if he’d have to borrow from his brother’s interests.
“Well, time to head out.” His dad wrapped an arm around him in a sideways hug, then walked out the door so no one would see the tears in his eyes. His mom’s blue eyes were shining as she said goodbye. Even stupid Rick looked like he cared a little bit. Of course the new roommate had to walk in on the middle of this.
“Hi.” he said. He was a skinny, nervous looking guy with straight, dark brown hair and glasses.
“Wassup,” Ben wiped his nose on his sleeve. “Uh, this is my family. They’re just heading out.”
Anyone else saying that would have sounded like a smartass punk, but this kid just seemed distracted. He noticed the indentation on his blanket.
“Did anyone touch the poster?”
Uh-oh. Mental health alert. Ben thought.
“Ben, we’ll call you from the road. Nice to meet you, uh…” Ben’s mom realized they hadn’t been introduced.
“Sol.” He looked away from the poster long enough to say his name, then anxiously resumed his examination.
Rick let out a snort. “Sol?” before his mom pulled him out of the room.
“Sorry about that,” Ben offered.
“Hmm?” Sol turned back to him.
“I’m Ben. That’s a cool poster, is it from a book?”
“Don’t touch it.” Sol said.
“I think I’ll go check out the neighbors, OK? I’ll be back in a bit.” Ben left as quickly as he could.
Sol locked the door behind him and returned to the poster over the bed. He tapped a finger on the shoulder of the caped figure in the forefront of the picture.
The man in the image turned to face him. “Where’ve you been?”
“I have a life here, you know. I can’t be with you guys all the time,” Sol said.
“Like hell you can’t! We can’t move without you! Get up there and help Anton with the beacon.”
The blue-haired man reached out a hand to pull Sol into the picture and took off as Sol climbed up the massive stone head where Anton was standing. Anton had no face, just a blank smooth head with ears and hair. But Sol could understand his thoughts.
Hurry. The beacon is broadcasting. We need you to — Anton’s thought stream was broken by three bangs on the door.
“Hey, Sol? Are you in there? Let me in!” Ben had left without his keys.
Anton bowed his silent head in frustration. You must have your own room. You will need to get rid of him.
“What? No, I.. I’ll figure it out.” Sol said.
He climbed back down and walked out of the picture onto his bed.
He opened the door.
“Sorry. I was… reading.”
Ben raised an eyebrow at the empty half of the room. “Yeah, I get it. I forgot my wallet.” He spied the poster. The caped figure was gone, and the other two were standing in a different place.
“Huh. I could have sworn there were three people in that picture.”
“Here you go,” Sol saw Ben’s wallet on the bed and handed it to him.
“I’m heading down to the cafeteria with the guys next door. Want to come?”
Sol shook his head.
“Yeah, probably smart – avoid the inevitable food poisoning.”
A light sparked in Sol’s eyes. “Yes, that would land you in the hospital.”
Another awkward silence ensued as Ben took in the look of pleasure this idea brought to Sol’s face.
“You go ahead, I have something to research.” Sol finally said.
Relieved, Ben replied “Okay, see ya later!”
He kept a sharp eye on the poster as he walked out.