"Kettles, should we be expecting any more strange surprises?"

"All in time, John, all in time."

The door to the suite swung open again. Mark Black walked through the door, struggling to carry and balance a large, well-beaten cardboard box filled with electronic equipment. Wires and connectors hung out of the box, making it look as though he was transporting a collection of octopi and snakes.

"What d’ya got there, Mark?" John wondered.

"It would take too long to explain the nature of this equipment to an uninformed and uneducated jerk, and so I will not waste my time. Excuse me."

"Uneducated jerk? Dude, I've been going to this college since '76. I think that makes your uneducated remark look a little silly, don’t you think?"

"I am building a portal between two worlds, if you must know. Now, get out of the way or I will put this box down, ball my hand into a fist and threaten to strike you with that fist using excessive force."

John stepped out of the way, putting his hands up and smiling as Mark slithered past him. "Sorry, man, I don’t want to encourage the use of excessive force or anything. Best of luck with that portal."

After Mark disappeared down the hall and into his room, John turned to Kettles Johnson and sighed.

"Can’t you get him out of our suite?"

"Can’t do it. He’s an important part of the legend. In any legend it is important to have a mad scientist. Look at Frankenstein and Star Wars."

"There was a mad scientist in Star Wars?"

"Yes. Peter Cushing portrayed a mad scientist in that movie."

"I think he was commander of a spaceship or something. I don't think he was a mad scientist."

"My point is made. It isn’t important."

"What is up with this whole legend deal, anyway? I don’t understand what you expect to have happen with this whole plan."

"Miles. Dear, sweet Miles. You are so young and so naive. We have seen people graduate from colleges all around the country and move on to bigger and brighter things. The one thing they all have in common is they always praise their alma mater. They always talk about their school and how valuable their experience was. What we are doing here is taking that dynamic and applying it to a group of people who together become the essence of suite 324. Instead of one person going on to become a leading investment banker who praises his former school, we will have many people going on to positions of power and influence who will praise suite 324 as the force that made a difference in their lives. We will be seen as an exclusive club, a secret society and a producer of great leaders and thinkers. We will become the core of what will be American society in the twenty-first century."

"Great leaders and thinkers?" Miles cleared his throat. "You mean like John here? You mean like Mark Black? What will we lead? What will we think?"

"All very good questions, which you can reflect on in your new private room, Miles. I have arranged it so that you will move into my single here at suite 324. Phil is getting the new guy. You are getting your own room. It is the same room in which many of my great ideas occurred to me, so this should be of benefit to you. Some of my brilliant ideas might still be bouncing around in there. If you’re lucky, you might catch one of them.”

"Happy back to school day!" Steve Pagan chortled as he marched through the door. "Someone hand me a beer."

John had a beer in Steve’s hand within twenty seconds.

"Welcome back to suite 324, Steve. I hope you had a pleasant trip from Tungsten. We’re expecting a memorable year."

"As long as there is plenty of beer and plenty of women it will be memorable to me. How's the new job, Kettles?"

"Being Assistant Resident Manager for this quadrant is a difficult but rewarding task. As you can see, I already arranged for new paint and furniture in here."

"Well, this color scheme will really hide the stains if anyone throws up on the walls or the floor," Steve said, admiring the multi-colored beige and brown carpet. "Very smart choice."

"The colors were not chosen for that reason. I felt that earth tones would create a feeling of relaxation and inspiration."

"Well it looks better than the aqua and puke green we used to have."

"Turquoise and avocado."


"Okay, now before any of you go anywhere, I have some action plans I need to pass out. There is a sheet in this file for each of you. Kind of a blueprint for what you need to achieve during this semester and this school year. Keep in mind that this is in addition to your studies. It does not excuse you from your normal school duties."

"Action plans? Whoa, dude, that's crazy."

"Is this like a syllabus?" Steve asked. "I hate those things. You know what I would rather do? Remember in 'Apocalypse Now' when they were dancing around on the boat to 'Satisfaction?' I’d like to recreate that scene right now, right here with the people we have. John gets to be Chef."

"No way. I'm the guy in charge of the boat, dude. You are way off base with that. Miles is Chef. You’re the surfer dude, Steve."

"Gentlemen, please. Let me pass out these action plans to you. I’ll get to the other fellas later. I’d like to review them with you before I go back to my office."

"Kettles is Martin Sheen," Steve whispered to John as Kettles continued talking. "Mark Black is Brando."

"Mark Black is not cool enough to be Brando. Roll again, dude."

"Enough with the chatter, gentlemen. Let’s begin our review." Kettles passed a sheet of paper to John, Steve and Miles. He was about to close the folder containing his action plans when Mark LaSote walked into the suite room. "Ah, Mark, you are just in time. I have an action plan for you."

Mark LaSote accepted the action plan silently and glanced at it with a confused expression.

"Our first order of business is with a rising power in the east. As you can see from my notes, suite 515 is attempting to create a legend of its own. They have adopted a song by The Who as their theme and my scouts predict it could be a very successful promotional campaign. This should be of utmost concern to us."

"In the east? Suite 515 is in the next building over."

"Regardless, my scouts tell me that this suite is mainly occupied by fans of the Grateful Dead and members of the school’s baseball team. It is an odd mix that should allow an opportunity to drive a wedge. This is why I have assigned John to coming up with a way to cause internal strife and maybe even all out war between the jocks and the Deadheads in suite 515. Steve will assist him with this."

"Dude, you are putting us on, right?"

"Hardly. This is very important stuff. There can be only one legendary suite and we will take that title. Suite 515 is having a party this Saturday night. I would advise attempting to infiltrate it. They’ve already registered their theme. They are going with a 'Disco is Dead' theme, which is rather lame, but at the same time it gives us an opportunity to throw a party the night before with a better theme. We'll get the jump on them."

"Kettles, you do know that you don’t live in suite 324 any longer, don't you?"

"Yes, of course I know that. Why would you even ask me that?"

"You keep saying 'we' as if you still lived here."

"Once a member of suite 324, always a member of suite 324."

"I see."

The party on Friday night was a success, but that did not preclude most of suite 324 from going to the Saturday night party at suite 515. Since the dormitories were set up with a numbering system, suite 324 was the fourth suite on the second floor of the third building and suite 515 was the fifth suite on the first floor of its building.

Katherine made it to the party, but she spent most of her time attempting to be social and make a lasting impression on incoming freshmen and transfer students who had never experienced her beauty before. Miles stood by himself most of the night, sipping his beer and watching people play.

"How’s it going?"

Her name was Celeste. She was a freshman who had just started her first semester at Southeastern State. She had a tangled mass of short, curly hair somewhere between the colors of black and gray. She wore what looked like an old woman's house dress, functional square shoes and had freckles all over her body. Celeste was also at least one hundred and fifty pounds heavier than what was considered ideal body weight for a woman of her height.

"Not bad. I'm Miles."

"From the legendary suite 324?" Celeste giggled, snorting loudly through her nose with every chuckle. "They told me you’re Katherine’s boyfriend."

"I suppose I am."

Do you want to go outside? I want to smoke a cigarette and get some fresh air."

"Not really. I’m cool right here."

"I’m not trying to put the moves on you or anything."

"Well, I’m kind of keeping an eye on Katherine."

"I know you wouldn't be interested in someone like me anyway. Someone like you wouldn't care about some fat ugly girl."

Miles knew she was right, but the truth of the statement felt like a javelin striking his heart. “That isn’t true," he lied.

"Beauty is only skin deep."

"Actually, that isn't true."

"Oh, come on, being beautiful says nothing about the person inside. Girls like Katherine? I used to go to school with a whole carload of them. They were all bitchy and self-important and treated people like dirt."

"You’re only supporting my statement. A beautiful woman can get away with being like that and still attract plenty of attention. Beauty does have an impact on the person inside. Someone who isn’t so beautiful has to work harder to get people to pay attention to them. Beauty means more than you think it does."

The door to suite 515 swung open. Miles, standing near the door, turned and saw Mark Black in the doorway. His face was contorted and his eyes were bulging out more than usual. A vein throbbed on his forehead as his mouth struggled to form words and shout them into the crowd.

"You will now feel my wrath! You will pay for what you have done!"

Miles was about to approach Mark Black, attempt to calm him down and direct him back to his room when Mark stepped away from the door on his own. He held the door open as he moved away from it. Miles stepped towards him but stopped as he felt something slide past his leg.

At least a dozen squirrels were racing into the room. They all had large, black collars around their necks with antennae sticking out of them. Mark Black raised a remote control with a large toggle stick and six large red buttons on it.

"My revenge begins tonight!" he screeched as he pressed two of the buttons and pushed a toggle switch forward.

The squirrels had an elaborate set of wires strung through their mouths and leading back to the collars. Mark Black’s actions with the controls caused the twelve squirrels to begin speaking simultaneously.

The wires forced their mouths to open and close with the stimulation of vocal chords that had been transplanted into their throats. "All will suffer. We will get rabies and return to bite you."

Everyone in the room froze where they stood. No one could move and no one could speak. No one could believe what was happening. There was nothing anyone could say or do. This was the weirdest thing any of them had ever seen.

The problem that faced Mark Black now was he had not thought ahead to what he was going to do after the squirrels made their unanimous threat. He was used to thinking in terms of writing computer programs. You could run a program before it was complete in order to make certain what had been written worked as it was supposed to. Mark applied that same method to life. He had run what he had so far of the program just to make sure it would work.

"Is that it?" Steve Pagan broke the silence. The squirrels were meandering around the room fearfully as the partiers stood silent and still.

"Yes. Thank you," Mark said, pressing buttons anxiously in an attempt to recall his squirrels. They weren't interested. Mark spent the next hour getting kicked and kneed in the head and ribs as he scurried around on the floor removing the collars and mouthpieces from the unresponsive squirrels.

"Take that, suite 515!" yelled a grinning John Barber after Mark collected all his collars and headed out the door to a round of applause. "You'll never have one like him!"

"Dude, be quiet, the squirrels are still here."

The above is an excerpt from the draft of "Beauty Atrophies." The events described here occur in chapter eleven, and while this story could stand alone with an introductory paragraph, there isn't one. It should probably be noted that the novel takes place between 1979 and 1981

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