“Ah’ve never seen mist like this befoah,” Molly said, slipping back into her native Southern drawl, as she did whenever particularly impressed by something. She took cares to manage her presentation to appear as respectable and impressive as any of her peers, and though most of that was getting over their biases against the fairer sex (though she wouldn’t go quite so far as to wear pants; first, she was pretty sure that would make them respect her less, and second, she considered it a bit of an uncouth betrayal of femininity), she also spent significant effort disguising her antebellum ancestry. When overwhelmed with awe or surprise, though, her accent shone through. Her Chemistry professor, himself displaced from the Deep South, found this an endearing trait and it had caused him to give her a fairer shake than he would have otherwise (and when he discovered this about himself, he spent a dark night of the soul reexamining his own biases and came out a supporter of the suffragettes, and was willing to go to bat on her behalf should the trepidatious University decide admitting women had been a mistake. The fact that he had come to consider her brilliant was just icing on the cake), though in her ignorance of her own habits she was unaware of her lingual foibles.
“Oh yeah, you’re from den seth, you’ve never seen a winter before,” Jim responded in a terrible imitation of Molly’s accent. She scowled and stuck her tongue out at him. Adam clapped them both on their backs, hard enough to knock them each off balance, and strode forward into the fog. “Come along chaps, we have a luncheon appointment.”
Molly and Jim both scowled at him, then looked at each other and grinned. Adam’s attempt at improving their sense of camaraderie at his own expense had succeeded. They moved on into the fog, Adam turning around so he could face them, walking backwards.
“Aren’t you worried you’ll bump into something?” Adam turned around and stared ahead into the fog. “Oh yes, this is much better, you’re right, I can see so much more now,” he responded in a mocking tone, turning back around. “We’re in the quad, it’s 100 yards to the dining hall, what’s going to-” his explanation was cut short as he tripped over a fallen tree.
He quickly scrambled to his feet and looked down at the tree. It was evident from the exploded side and scorch marks on it that it had been struck down by lightning the night prior. There had been a terrible storm, and some bolts had come closer than comfort truly allowed.
Adam stared down at the tree, and said in an unnerved voice “There aren’t any trees in the quad, they’re all on the sides… how..?”
“We must have gotten sidetracked. Not difficult to see how, given all this fog,” Jim said, and shivered. “Heh, difficult to see,” he chuckled at his own unintentional joke. “Let’s keep going. We’ll get to a building, then just take the foot path. If we try to change directions now we’ll just end up walking in circles in the Quad.”
“I agree,” said Molly, and strode off confidently into the mist. After just a few paces she had disappeared, and Jim was struggling to catch up. Adam continued to stare at the tree for a moment too long. He looked up to try to see any of the other trees nearby-the ones lining the edges of the Quad were all planted ten feet apart, and visibility wasn’t that bad, was it? He should have been able to see at least a shadowed outline of the other trees, but he couldn’t quite… and where were Molly and Jim? He whirled around and rushed into the fog in the direction he was most confident they had headed.
When he didn’t catch up to them immediately, he picked up his speed, and started putting his runner’s body through its paces. He had run for a good five seconds when he thought to call out “Molly! Jim! Where are y-” He was cut short by nearly running headlong into them, as they were stopped in front of the stairs leading up to a building.
“We’re right here, dope, where else would we be?” Molly asked, ignoring his lack of response. Adam breathed slightly heavily, which Jim noticed. Adam wasn’t one for getting winded.
Molly climbed the steps, the fog parting in front of her as she did. There was a shadowed figure at the top of the stairs. Jim followed her more slowly, the lack of a banister making the stairs slow going for anyone requiring a cane. Adam finished catching his breath and looked up at the building, what little of it was visible through the fog, with a confused expression on his face. “Hey, do you guys rec-” he started, before noticing he was being left behind again and the others seemed to be ignoring or not hearing them (mist did muffle sound, after all, didn’t it?) and bounded up the stairs. He passed Jim and landed next to Molly, who was speaking with the figure, now visible as Professor Ellery, of the Chemistry department, and Molly’s favorite teacher.
“Professor Ellery! I didn’t know you were here over the winter. How are you? What are you doing here?” she asked. “Yes, well, family can’t quite make it this year,” he lied. He was actually the last of his line, and with his wife having died four Christmases ago, this time of year was always a hard one for him. He had normally preferred a meditative solitude of remembrance, but he was surprised to find himself eager for the company of these young students. Perhaps the signs of life in the younger generation were a symbol of hope springing eternal, even in this dark winter, new life coming after old death..? he speculated to himself poetically. A metaphor for what he was attempting, he hoped. An audience, if nothing else. He felt a twinge of empathy bordering on anger when he saw Jim approaching with his cane. Professor Ellery himself had suffered from polio as a child, and it was only through a series of leg braces, an incredible force of will (what was often called “being as stubborn as a mule”), and some of the best doctors money could buy (his father, being an excellent doctor, could both provide quality round-the-clock care and afford other, more specialized doctors), that he no longer needed to walk with a cane. It would have done him some good, but walking without a cane was his own signal of being independent and not held back by the unfeeling universe which had afflicted him and this poor young lad, and if there was one thing he was intent on doing, as a Chemist, as a Man, and as a Man of Science, it was using his willpower and his knowledge to make the world do his bidding, and to not let the whims of chance decide his fate. And so, no cane.
“Molly, dear, how are you? I didn’t expect you to stay for the winter, I would have thought it much too cold for someone used to warmer climes like yourself,” he said respectfully. “And you, how are you… young man?” he asked Adam with a vague sense that he should know him from somewhere. “Really well, sir. I’m Adam Smith, I took your Introduction to the Natural World class last semester,” Adam replied, grasping the Professor’s hand in both of his and shaking it. “Oh yes, I remember you now,” he lied, and turned to Jim, who had finally made it up the stairs. “Hello, lad. The weather really makes it worse, doesn’t it?” he asked sympathetically, turning his hip to show the distortion of his leg. Jim saw and nodded, understanding the gesture and how the old man must be empathizing. “Yeah, it really does. I’m Jim Sullivan, I don’t think we’ve met.” He leaned against his cane and shook Prof. Ellery’s hand, while Molly and Adam moved out of the way so that all four of them could stand in front of the door. “Jim, eh? Good name. I’m James. Professor James Ellery, chair of the Chemistry department. Molly and, uh, Adam, here can tell you how fun of a class I run, you should consider taking one,” he said jokingly. Molly laughed full throatedly and Adam chuckled nervously, running his fingers through his hair, remembering his not-quite-dismal grades and the overwhelming coursework. “Polio, or an accident?” the Professor inquired. “Accident,” responded Jim. He normally disliked being asked about his leg, but the Professor’s obvious empathy made him feel a bond akin to kinship, the sort shared only by mutual survivors of a traumatic experience. Though they hadn’t been maimed alongside each other, their shared deformities were like access badges to a secret brotherhood, and they immediately felt a bond with each other that went far beyond the polite but somewhat uncaring one normally shared by students and faculty who haven’t shared a classroom. “I pushed this guy out of the way of an auto and wasn’t quite fast enough to get myself out of the way too,” Jim went on, jerking his head in the direction of Adam, who nodded, looking ashamed and grateful for himself and proud of his friend. Professor Ellery examined Adam for a long moment before saying “You have a good friend here, Adam. I expect you to take good care of him.” He turned to Molly “You have fine choice in friends, it seems.”
He turned back to the door. “I don’t know about you lot, but I’m feeling a mite peckish, and so I was looking to see if the dining hall remained open. Supposedly it is, but they’re not very reliable during the break. But I haven’t been able to get this door open. I do hope that doesn’t mean there’s no one here. As a tenured Professor, I am entitled to a fair and equitable share of eggs each day!” he joked, getting a grin from Molly and Jim. Adam responded “I don’t think this is the-” but was cut short by Jim knocking on the door with his cane. It swung open with a heavy creak. “Who needs college, I could be a locksmith!” Jim joked before hobbling inside. James and Molly followed quickly, though Adam lingered for a moment on the door step, looking up at the archway. “I still don’t think this is…” he muttered to himself, but as soon as he realized he was being left behind again, he came inside and shut the door behind himself.