A Room Apart

— Shannon Barnsley

Tell no one, but I think my roommate is from Narnia. Or maybe Middle Earth. One of them, anyway. I know it sounds crazy, but for nearly two semesters every odd occurrence, every inconsistency, every new mystery has sent me down the inevitable path to one incontestable conclusion: my roommate really is from another realm.

When it all began she seemed a perfectly agreeable person to live with. She helped me carry some boxes up to our dorm room after greeting me warmly and saying her name was Ayda. She never gave a last name, but the passive voice of a flickering computer screen had informed me three weeks prior that I was to be in a double with Griffonslayer, Ayda P. When teachers balked at this in our mutual classes she laughed, flicking back her flame-colored hair, and said it was a typo. It was Griffons-Layer actually.

This did not bother me in the least. I was just glad not to be rooming with a serial killer or someone who had sex all the time. Or a serial killer who had sex all the time.

Ayda was the ideal roommate, really. She was friendly and easy to talk to over a bowl of Lucky Charms in the dining hall or as we lay a room apart in our twin beds, the rhythms of the drum circle beneath the window lulling us to sleep. Yet she possessed the equally admirable trait of never prying too much into my personal life. If I ever seemed reluctant to answer anything, she would let the matter drop, a loose thread abandoned on the floor until I choose to weave it back into conversation.

She was a hygienic person who showered regularly and never left dishes or food about. Her side of the room was the immaculate image of a dorm, like the ones you might see in a catalogue selling comforters and lamps to unsuspecting prospies. Her bed was always made—though, to be fair, that very quickly became less responsible habit and more mystery when she started going missing. Of course her bed was made, she hadn’t slept in it for three weeks.

At first it was just that she spent a lot of time at the library (though I’ve no proof that she was ever there). Then she stopped sleeping in the room. The first night it happened I assumed she’d just gotten lucky with the guy in our poetry class. But then she began to go missing for large periods of time. Some mornings she would come back to shower and eat breakfast before dashing away to class. Other times she wouldn’t come back for days.

People told me this was the ideal situation: I had a roommate I got along with (and who wore the same size shoes), but most of the time I had a giant single. Still, I often wondered what exactly it was she did with her time.

Then things started to get weirder. The first incident was the bloody shirt I noticed in her laundry. And I don’t mean like skinned-a-knee-playing-lacrosse or nicked-yourself-shaving blood. It was soaked through the shirt. I told her hydrogen peroxide might help. She nodded but said nothing. I never found out whose blood it was.

Then came the incident in class. We were watching a documentary on war and genocide and she sat there, still, as fat droplets rolled silently down her face. It was a sad documentary and half the class was crying, but half the class didn’t have night terrors within ten feet of me as they slept that night and try to slash me to ribbons with an imaginary weapon when I shook them awake to offer tea or cocoa.

Her disappearances continued. Her friends started to come by looking for her. They asked if I knew where she had been. They hadn’t seen her in a few days and she wasn’t picking up her cell phone. So I called her.

She answered, with roaring and screaming in the background. The singing scrape of steel. She told me she was at a metal concert and would have to call me back. Looking back on it, I have to admire her cell phone carrier for getting service in an alternate realm.

I began to poke around a little. Her Facebook page had no pictures or mentions of relatives of any kind. It said she came from Nebraska before coming to Hampshire College, but there was nothing anywhere to make me believe she had ever set foot in the Midwest.

I poked around the laundry again. That’s when I noticed the scorch marks in the closet, right next to her knee-high leather boots. When I asked her about it she shrugged and said it must’ve been there when we moved in. Hampshire circus kids realizing drunk poi is not as good of an idea as it sounds, or maybe an inattentive student with an incense burner. Some guy with a hookah nearly burned down our building last year so it was more than plausible, but still, I wondered. If we get charged for Wizards’ Fire room damages, she is so paying for it.

During Janterm she was gone for the longest she had ever been. Three weeks of no sign that she existed. I got used to having a single. Then one morning I woke up. On the bed opposite mine lay a roommate-sized lump.

I was confused enough, but there was a man standing over her. I screamed and jumped out of bed. The man turned to me. He was probably our age but far too pretty to be human. He was also dressed like he had lost his way to the King Richard’s Faire. Ayda dressed a little bit medieval, I know, but she still wore jeans and stuff.

As I glanced down I noticed Ayda wasn’t just sleeping. She was unconscious and covered in bandaged injuries and bruises. The boy who couldn’t be human said nothing. He returned several more times to make sure she was okay, grinding down some strange, orange flower into tea and making her drink it. Part of an independent project in wildcraft and homeopathy, to be sure.

Then one day when I was walking through desolate, unplanted corn fields on my way to the country market, she appeared suddenly down the road. There my roommate stood, axe in hand, a triumphant warrior queen in a tattered sun-dress and blood-spattered hipster sweater, her burnished copper mane flowing in the spring breeze.

She never saw me. I never told her what I had witnessed. Her secrets, and the man who was probably an elf but she claimed was an Amherst student’s secrets, were safe with me.

It occurs to me what a truly brilliant plan it was to hide out at Hampshire College. Sure she wears leather boots and a giant, rune-marked tooth about her neck. But that hardly makes her stand out. She’s not the only person to travel to the library at night under the warm anonymity of a thick traveler’s cloak. Nobody would ever suspect that the bone-hilted dagger under her pillow was unusual or that her odd way of speaking was in any way out of the ordinary. Hey, I’ve seen way weirder working the graveyard shift at the Art Barn.

And if she keeps calling the dining hall the mead hall everyone just assumes it’s a joke. Everyone calls the dining hall here SAGA anyway, even though the food supply company that bore that name left ages ago. The gamers and LARPers think it’s funny when she gets tipsy at parties and demands more ale or jumps on the table to belt a rousing chorus of “The Woodlord’s Wife.” Everyone assumes it’s from some obscure epic fantasy series that has yet to get the premium channel sales bump.

And so she walks among us, Ayda Griffonslayer, a portal-jumping princess trying to pass her Sustainability in Agriculture class or pulling an all-nighter to finish her final paper for Contemporary Ethnic Literature before charging off into battle or meeting some dwarves—“UMass students,” she insists—at the pub.

Perhaps one day she will tell me everything or enemy soldiers will storm our dorm and I’ll demand an answer, but until then I’ll keep nodding as she lies through her teeth. I know my roommate is from Narnia. Well, not really Narnia, but something like it. And right now, that’s all I need to know.

 


 

Shannon Barnsley is a writer, poet, and folklore devotee from New Hampshire, currently living in Brooklyn. She holds a degree in Creative Writing/Mythology & Religion from Hampshire College. Since graduating she has been found giving tours at an 18th century Shaker village museum, translating English English into American English for an independent publishing company, and wandering in the woods. Her first book, Beneath Blair Mountain, was published by 1888 in Fall 2015.