Written by: Mharie West, (Viking Studies, 2014)
Mariah had read a lot of information before coming to university for the first time a week ago. She'd read articles, forum threads and promotional materials on subject ranging from student loans to student diets. In response, she'd learnt how to budget, and tried to learn how to cook. After she'd been accepted, she'd even read up on the rivalry between Nottingham Trent and Nottingham, Uni of. Her homework for that: find out who's currently got the Varsity Trophy, and brush up on her crayon memes.
The one skill that she had never been told that she would need at university?
It was three o'clock in the morning and she was somewhere deep in the bowels of the science side of campus. She knew the way she'd come in – a straight line from the Portland building – so why on earth was it so difficult to find her way out again? There was no-one around and she was seriously considering either sleeping in a corner like a homeless person, or finding a road and calling a taxi.
If she could find a road.
If her phone battery held out.
She shoved her phone back in her hoodie pouch. If she had just listened to her dad and kept her old phone, she would have been able to Google Maps her way home in no time. Instead, high on her new commitment to budgeting, she had left her iPhone at home and was currently holding an LG235C flip phone from about fifty billion years ago. No apps on that.
A sick helpless feeling had been growing in her stomach for the past fifteen minutes. Venting some of the tension in a loud sigh, she turned back again.
She'd passed the George Green library at least three times but that had been before she had come up with the "find a road, get a taxi" idea.
There were definitely roads near there.
Much to her embarrassment, she got back to the library and the square near it within two minutes of purposeful walking. Yes, she was lost within probably a quarter-mile radius of where she needed to be. Shut up.
Just as she trotted past the maths building and reached the road (grinning with triumph, hand scrabbling for her phone) the world decided to laugh at her: now there was someone here to witness her plight. Far enough away that Mariah wasn't sure if she should call out.
Judging by the length of hair (always a dodgy metric) it was a girl up ahead by the Keighton Auditorium, wandering casually in the middle of the road. She was wearing reenactment clothes – or maybe that was her style, Mariah shouldn't judge. She was the one lost on campus, after all.
"Hi!" She was suddenly itching for the sound of another voice. The girl jumped and swung around. She had a round face which looked more suited for smiling than its current shock. But when she opened her mouth to respond to Mariah, it didn't sound like English. Reminded Mariah of Dutch, actually. Mariah frowned. "Hi, sorry, do you speak English?"
More German-y, Dutch-y sounds. The word "English" was definitely in there somewhere.
"Oh, ok. Don't worry about it." Nevertheless, Mariah sped up so that they could walk side by side. She'd take any companionship she could get right now. She smiled at the girl, who did the same. Earlier assumption confirmed, Mariah noted, gorgeous smile. Her eyes were hazel and she had long eyelashes.
"My name's Mariah," she said slowly, on the off-chance this would be understood. She pointed at herself and said her name again. This time she used the more global "Maria" version which most foreign students she'd met found easier. The girl cocked her head and pulled a face, but eventually pointed at herself and said, quite clearly, "Alice." Ah-lees.
"Hi, Alice." They smiled at each other again and walked on.
They were coming up to a road sign now, much to Mariah's optimism.
She'd been cruelly led astray by one of these in the first place, but right now it felt like a beacon of hope.
Upon examination her hope was confirmed. She recognised these building names.
"You're my good luck charm!" she said and gently bopped Alice's arm with her fist. Alice looked confused but shrugged and started talking. Mariah tried to look like she understood, but obviously failed because Alice rolled her eyes and started gesticulating like Mariah's dad on holiday in Spain. "Something about that direction?" Mariah looked to the left, where Alice was pointing. "I should go that way?"
She took a few steps in that direction but Alice stopped her with an outstretched arm. "No? Ok … you're going that way?" That seemed to be the case, as after several more sentences Alice turned and walked off in that direction. She raised her hand in farewell.
"Oh. Bye, Alice!"
It only took Mariah fifteen minutes to get back to Broadgate Park from there. She fell into bed and slept until midday. She looked for Alice on campus over the next few months, but never saw her again.
It wasn't until the middle of third year when she was distracting herself from panic-revising by skimming old Impact articles that she found herself reading about the lost settlement on campus called Keighton. Like Keighton Auditorium. They'd found stuff dating from the Romans all the way to the 15th century. Alice popped straight back into her head again, like it hadn't been over two years. Maybe she had been method-acting, hanging out near her chosen re-enactment place.
But a little part of Mariah's mind still believed in fairies and not stepping on cracks, and that part pointed out how very strange it was that she had never seen Alice again since that night. Or heard anyone speaking that strange, not-quite-English.
She rolled her eyes at herself and clicked onto something else. Don't be stupid, Mariah.