The mansion stood tall, looming over the vast landscape that was Bryan Nathanwood’s property. The property was located in Los Angeles, where it
blended in with the other gargantuan estates that lined the city. The main difference was that this mansion was receiving visitors today, as its owner hosted one of the most prestigious programs in
the country. News vehicles were parked outside, awaiting the arrival of the five children who would participate in the Nathanwood Program.
The first car to arrive was that of the Meller twins, driven by Gabriel. The twins had arrived in Los Angeles a week prior to the first day of the
program, by Gabriel’s request. The two of them had spent the week sight-seeing. “I still can’t believe where here in L.A.!” Gabriel said to Elizabeth as he pulled into the Nathanwood estate after
showing their ID and passing through the gate, “We’re about to participate in the Nathanwood Program! We are currently within the boundaries of the Nathanwood estate!”
Elizabeth sat in the passenger’s seat, looking through the window at the lush green lawn that surrounded a small man-made lake just to their left.
There were two high fountains in the lake that pierced the blue backdrop of the sky. She chuckled at her brother’s excitement. “You certainly weren’t this excited when we first got
“Well, I guess I needed time to let it sink in…” He looked around at the estate, and veered the car around the winding path towards the mansion.
“Besides, I didn’t know that it was going to take place in Los Angeles. You know how much I love Cali.”
“Why wouldn’t it be held in L.A.?” Elizabeth said, “That’s where his estate is located. That’s where it took place every other year of the program’s
“Well, I never really put those pieces together until I was explicitly told it was going to be here,” Gabriel responded. He winded through a large
oval path that surrounded a large flower garden and led to the front of the building.
Elizabeth laughed. “And you’re supposed to be the one who’s good at putting together the pieces. How do you expect to become an ‘ace detective’ like
you always were talking about as a kid if you can’t even understand simple logic?” She looked around for their space to park the car between all of the news vehicles. She could see numerous
good-looking women standing with microphones all around the area. “There’s our spot,” she said, pointing to an empty space with a sign saying ‘Reserved for Meller’ in front of it.
“I see it…” Gabriel said as he steered towards the open spot, “And shut up about that ‘ace detective’ stuff. You know that I ended that phase when we
“Yeah,” Elizabeth said with a smile, “You also stopped playing with Barbies when we were seven. That doesn’t mean I’m going to stop making fun of you
Gabriel parked and opened the door. As he stepped out of the car, one woman approached him to ask questions, armed with a microphone inscribed with
the name of a local news station. “You’re here live with L.A. Today, as we are covering the arrival of the first participant in the program. Sir, what is your name?”
“Um…” Gabriel was taken aback at first, but quickly regained his composure. “My name is Gabe Meller,” he replied. The passenger’s door opened and
Elizabeth walked out. Gabriel continued before she could introduce herself, “And this is my sister, Elizabeth. We’re both going to be participants.”
“Do you think that the fact that you know each other already will help you work together for the program?” The woman continued her questions almost
before Gabriel could finish answering her last one.
He laughed as Elizabeth continued walking around the hood of the car and towards the steps that led toward the mansion. “No, no,” he said, “If
anything it will be difficult for me to go one day without pulling her hair out. I’m still excited to meet new peo-”
“Come on, Gabe!” Elizabeth interrupted, “You can’t answer questions all day! We have to get inside!” She was already on her way up the stairs.
Gabriel enjoyed having the spotlight on him for the moment, but he succumbed to his sister. “She’s right,” he said to the reporter, flashing a cheeky
smile, “I had better get going. Thank you for the questions.” He started to walk after Elizabeth, waving to the cameras as he turned away.
Meanwhile, back at the gate, the second party to arrive was confirming his identity to the guard. “I’m Christian Attenborough,” the man at the wheel
said to the guard, “I’m here to drop off my brother Tristan for the program.” He pulled out his driver’s license and gave it to the man. “I also have his identification if you need it.”
The guard sat in a small white booth built into the side of the entrance. “May I see Tristan and his identification, Sir?” he said in monotonous
cadence. He handed the license back to the driver.
“Alright,” he said, turning to the back seat where Tristan sat. “Hey, he needs you to get out for him and show him some ID.”
Tristan rubbed his forehead a little. He was still suffering slightly from jet lag. He and his brother had just arrived the previous night with the
plans to arrive at the estate first thing in the morning. “I know… I heard him. Just give me a second.” He turned and slid open the door to get out of the van. He walked over to the guard, and
pulled out his student ID to hand to him.
The guard took the ID, looked at it for a second, and nodded. “Alright, you’re both clear,” he said, pressing the switch to open the gates. He handed
the ID back to Tristan, who nodded and climbed back into the van.
Once they were passed the gate, Tristan piped up from the back. “Can we turn the music back up now?” He kneeled forward, placing his shoulder on the
shoulders of the two front seats.
“Yeah, yeah. I’m on it.” Christian reached over and spun the volume knob on the radio, allowing the power chords of the CD that they had playing
(AFI’s Crash Love) to blast out. He kept driving as he and Tristan sang along to the song.
It wasn’t too long before they approached the front of the building, as Christian scoped the area for their spot. “Some of these reporter chicks are
pretty hot, Man,” he said to Tristan, “You think I got a chance?”
Tristan grinned at his brother. “In response to the second part of that statement, Hell-to-the-fuck no. In response to the first, they kinda have to
be… Otherwise, who in Los Angeles gives a shit about current events?” He sat up and spoke in a mockingly high-pitched voice, “What’s that you say? The Israel-Palestine conflict is still raging?
Well, that’s too bad for them! I’m busy bathing in my money!”
“True enough.” Christian laughed as he looked around a few more times before seeing a clear strip of driveway containing a sign that read ‘Reserved
for Attenborough.’ He pulled the van over, fitting tightly between two similar-looking news vans, one with its trunk open to reveal the mass of recording equipment inside.
Tristan wasted no time in sliding open the side-door of the van and exiting into the crowd of anchors who were surrounding his entrance. The first man
he encountered introduced himself as one of the head anchors from FOX News. “You’re from FOX?” Tristan asked the man, so as to make sure he heard correctly.
“Yes, Sir,” he said, “What is your name and how do you feel about the excellent opportunity you have been given as a participant in this program?” He
held the microphone in his hand out to Tristan as a man with a camera labeled ‘FOX’ walked around the reporter.
Tristan ignored the man’s question. Instead, he stopped in place, looked at the man, and pointed at the camera. “Is this going live?” he asked. He had
one hand dug into his pocket, and his back molars clamping lightly onto his tongue when he wasn’t speaking.
He turned towards the camera and bent over so that he could get his mouth close to the microphone. The man tried to explain that he didn’t need to be
that close for it to catch his voice, but he ignored him. He opened his mouth wide, took a deep breath, and then screamed, “Penis!” As the reporter stood there in silence for a moment, Tristan
grinned cockily and turned away, continuing to make his way to the entrance.
As he made his way towards the door, it was opened by a balding man in formal dress. “Hello, Master Attenborough. Please make yourself at home here in
the lobby as we await the arrival of the other guests,” he spoke eloquently.
Tristan thanked the man and looked around the room. It was an absolutely huge room with a large staircase going straight through the center. It was
everything that had been in every movie mansion that he had ever seen. Endless gardens, butlers who call you ‘Master,’ and a big-ass foyer with staircase jutting through the middle, he chuckled to
himself, This guy must’ve learned everything he knows about being a billionaire from crappy sitcoms.
There were two other people near the staircase. One was standing at the bottom, while the other sat on the bottom step. The one who was sitting down
waved to Tristan from across the room.
Tristan waved back and started walking towards the staircase. He looked around the room some more as he walked. The room was large and white, with an
elegant chandelier hanging from the ceiling.
As he got closer to the two people at the stairs, he could see that there was one boy and one girl. The girl was the one who had waved to him. Not
bad… he thought, smiling, Excellent hair, pretty face, nice height… Can’t exactly judge her body while she’s sitting down, but she’s at least thin.
He looked over to the guy. He was wearing a suit and tie, with his hair combed nicely. Overachiever, he said to himself. “Hey,” he said, “My name is
Tristan. Tristan Attenborough.” He climbed up a couple of stairs and sat down behind the girl.
The girl turned around in her seat to face him, holding out her hand. “Nice to meet you, Tristan,” she said, smiling, “My name’s Elizabeth, but you
can call me Liz or Beth if you want. Anything is fine, really.” She nudged her shoulder towards the boy and continued, “That’s my brother, Gabe. You can ignore him. He’s not very big on meeting new
She turned back to Gabriel, who stood looking around the room with his hands in his pockets. “You could at least try being friendly with the guy we’re
going to be living with for the next nine months,” she called to him.
Gabriel turned around to look at Tristan. He had always believed that first impressions could tell a lot about a person, and his first impression of
Tristan told him that the boy wasn’t too concerned with first impressions. Tristan wore a hoodie and jeans, with his hair spiked in a random mess. “Hello,” he said blandly, “Nice hair.”
Tristan didn’t seem to sense Gabriel’s sarcasm. If he had noticed it, then he didn’t care. “Thank you. I spend hours in front of the mirror making it
elegantly disheveled.” He ran his fingers through it once, giving Gabriel a toothy smile.
Gabriel turned back to the front of the room, looking at the various pictures that were hung along the walls. Most of them were of Bryan Nathanwood
himself, but a few were simple paintings. There appeared to be a single small clock hanging above the doorway, but on second glance it turned out to simply be a painting of a clock. Why the Hell
would anyone want a picture of a clock? he asked himself.
Gabriel tapped his feet rapidly against the tiled floor. He wanted desperately for the other participants to arrive so that they could make their way
to the dining room for the introductory breakfast. “Does anyone know what time it is?” he asked.
Elizabeth reached into her bag and pulled out a cell phone. She flipped it open and looked at it for a second. “It’s about 10:45,” she said, “We
technically weren’t even supposed to be here until 11:00, so just calm down.” She placed the phone back into her bag and turned back around to face Tristan. “He’s really excited to be in this
“I can see,” Tristan said, leaning back a little with his hands behind his head, “So, where are you two from?”
“We’re from New York,” she answered, “I’m actually kind of a Broadway nut. Gabe always loved the coast of L.A. better, though. He had us come a week
early just so that we could go out on the town for a few nights.” She patted the seat next to her. “Come sit down here so that I don’t have to turn around to talk to you.”
“Alright,” Tristan said. He moved up to take the spot on the bottom stair. “That’s cool about New York. I’m from Indiana, so I don’t really have much
to talk about in the vein of exciting tourist hot-spots.” He looked up to Gabriel, who still had their back to them. “You two twins?” he asked.
“Yeah,” she replied, “I just hope that no one has a hard time telling the two of us apart while we’re here.” She laughed to herself. After she
finished, she turned back to Tristan, “That was a joke, just so you know.”
“I know,” he said, placing both hands beside him on the stair so that his fingers were hanging off. He faked a laugh and smiled.
Elizabeth stuck tongue out. “Well, I know it wasn’t that funny…” she said, smiling as well, “I’ve been using that line on absolutely everyone who I’ve
ever met since I was twelve-years-old.”
Suddenly, there was a loud creak heard from the front of the room as the door opened. Gabriel closed his eyes and crossed his fingers saying, “Please
let there be two people… Please let there be two people…” He opened his eyes to see there was only one. “Dammit!” he cursed under his breath.
The new arrival quickly walked over to where the three of them were sitting and introduced herself. “Hello,” she said, smiling, “I’m Vanessa.” She was
wearing an elegant two-piece dress, like a piece you would see being worn on the red carpet.
Gabriel spoke up first this time. “Hello, Vanessa,” he said, “My name is Gabe. The two people sitting on the stairs are my sister Elizabeth and
Tristan.” He and Vanessa shook hands and the others greeted her before she walked to place her purse down at the foot of the stairs.
Vanessa shuffled over to the stairs and sat down beside Tristan. “It’s hard to walk in this dress,” she sighed, “But my mom would never let me wear
anything less.” She reached out her hand to shake with Tristan and Elizabeth.
“I feel your pain…” Elizabeth sighed, “If we hadn’t arrived in Los Angeles early, my mom would probably have me in the same get-up as you, and it’s
not like my brother’s any better. Gabe almost wouldn’t let me get away with this.” She swept her hands across her outfit. She wore a plain but nice top, and a simple skirt.
Tristan laughed, “Y’see, I’m in the opposite situation. My brother would never let me leave the house in anything more formal than this.”
Suddenly, Gabe spoke up, interrupting the conversation. He was still shuffling his feet in anxiety for the last guest to arrive. “Time?” he
“Damn,” Elizabeth laughed, “Calm down. It hasn’t been more than five minutes since the last time you asked.” She pulled out her phone and checked
anyway. “But since I know you’ll insist, it’s 10:53.”
Outside, Markus was driving his car through the gates of the estate. He smiled as he looked around the lavish jungle of flowers and brush that
surrounded the mansion. “I’m actually here,” he said aloud, despite there being no one else in the car, “I’m actually in the Nathanwood Program! I was the first one accepted!”
He turned up the volume on the car radio, which was playing “Absolutely” by Nine Days. The time was flashing in bright red numbers on the dashboard.
“And it’s only 10:53 – fashionably early. I guess I’m going to be the first one to get here as well!”
He pulled up to the building, in the spot marked ‘Reserved for Faust.’ He opened the door in a single grand sweep of his arm, and stepped outside. He
wore a suit-and-tie and dark sunglasses. He figured they made him look like more of a star. He stood there for a moment, shutting the door and waiting for someone to approach him for an
The person who approached him was the same woman who had been the first to speak with Gabriel. “Hello, I’m Vicki Hornell, live with L.A. Today! What
is your name, Sir?”
Markus looked directly at the cameraman who had followed the reporter. He flashed a gleaming smile and said confidently, “My name is Markus Dietrich
Faust. I am absolutely honored to be interviewed.” He had bought the special teeth-whitening strips earlier in the month solely for this occasion.
“How does it feel to know that in just a few minutes, the Nathanwood Program is going to be kicking off and you’re going to be a participant?” the
reporter pressed, aiming her microphone towards Markus.
Markus spoke with a clarity that suggested he had been practicing for this question months in advance. “It feels absolutely great. It is one of the
most invigorating experiences that anyone has ever felt. Just driving through those gates makes you feel ready to change the world.” He took a moment to crane his neck towards the door, never once
losing his perfect smile. “Besides that,” he continued, “I wouldn’t say the events will start ‘in a few minutes’ like that. We still have to wait for the others to arrive, after all.”
Markus could tell something was wrong by the way that Vicki’s face flushed after he had spoken. “But sir…” she said, hesitantly, “You are the last
participant to arrive.”
Markus felt as though he had just been struck with a heavy object. “B-but,” he stammered, “It’s only 10:50. The invitation we received said that we
should arrive at 11:00. I’m early!”
“I guess the other guests were early as well, Sir…” the reporter responded. She hung her head down as if to apologize to Markus for the
Markus looked up at the door and started to shuffle sideways towards it. He coughed a few times into his balled hand, realizing he had been acting
childish. “I am so sorry for that outburst,” he said, backing away from the cameraman now, “I must be going though. I can’t let the others wait any longer, you know.”
He turned away from the camera, blushing, and hurried towards the entrance. He was greeted by the same doorman who had been there for all of the other
participants. “Good morning, Master Faust.”
Markus turned towards the doorman and thanked him, never stopping his procession through the room to where he saw the other figures. Three were
sitting on the stairs – one boy, two girls – and one was standing in a similar outfit to Markus’ in front. “Hello,” he said, trying to breathe calmly, “I am so sorry that I arrived here so late. My
name is Markus.”
Elizabeth looked at Markus. “Don’t worry about it,” she said, “You’re technically still early. My name is Elizabeth.”
Gabriel turned his torso around and shot a cursory glance towards Elizabeth. His eyes spoke for him, saying, Don’t show sympathy to the man who has
been making me stand here and wait for the past fifteen minutes.
Still, he turned around and tried to act friendly. At least this one’s dressed appropriately, he sighed. “Hello, Markus. My name is Gabriel.” He held
out his hand to shake, as he had with the other participants before him.
After a few more minutes of waiting, during which Tristan and Vanessa introduced themselves to Markus, the five children could hear a large bell
chiming. There was no clock in the foyer, but it was definitely a chime to mark the hour coming from somewhere.
After the noise from the bell had ceased, they saw a man walk into the foyer from a large arched entrance to their right. As he approached the center
of the room, they all recognized him as the dean who had been in charge of their acceptance into the program. “Hello, Children!” he smiled, “Nice to see that you have all arrived here on time.
Punctuality is close to Godliness, or however the phrase goes.”
Gabe and Markus smiled at the dean’s comment, while Elizabeth rolled her eyes. Tristan and Vanessa simply waved to the dean, almost in perfect unison.
The dean continued his welcome, “I assume you have all introduced yourselves to one another?”
The crowd murmured a collective “Yes,” and the dean waved his hand toward the arched passage where he entered the room. “Alright, then. Let’s not
waste any time with more lecturing from me. If you will all please stand and proceed towards the dining hall for your complimentary breakfast.”
Tristan sat down in his place at the front of the dining hall table. The room was everything that he had come to expect after seeing the yard and the
foyer. It was a long, thin, high-ceilinged room of a darker palette than the foyer. The huge, newly-polished mahogany table took up a good 50% of the space, with seemingly over a hundred
Vanessa sat down across from Tristan. “Why would he even need all these chairs?” she asked, “If he had this many people visiting, I doubt they would
be able to fit into this room unless they came in single-file.” It was a fair point.
Tristan shrugged, “Hey, if you’ve got the money to pay for ten thousand chairs, then I see no reason why you shouldn’t flaunt it.”
“Yeah, I guess,” she replied, “But still, couldn’t he spend that same money on a huge, indoor pool or something?” She looked down at the empty plate
in front of her. She was sitting next to Gabriel, who sat across from Elizabeth. Markus took the spot on the other side of Tristan.
“He probably already has five of those,” Elizabeth said, “Why would he waste his money on another one if he can just buy enough chairs to seat the
entire U.S. military instead?”
As they spoke, the dean sat down at the head of the table, a few seats down from the children. “Alright, everyone,” he said, which echoed throughout
the enormous room, “Are you ready for your meal?”
“Of course,” Gabriel said with the same excitement that he had in the foyer. He figured it would probably be a day or two before he finally calmed.
The other participants nodded in agreement.
Suddenly, the door at the opposite end of the room opened and a crowd of men holding various meals over their shoulders rushed inside. They placed the
meals at the center of the table where the children sat and were gone just a few minutes later, as if by clockwork.
“Haha, awesome!” Markus laughed, looking at the vast array of food before him. They had a large ham on a platter, a bowl of fresh hard-boiled eggs, a
stack of pancakes ten high (complete with warm syrup), several fruits that Markus had never seen before in his life, and even more.
“Take whatever you please,” the dean said in a friendly tone, “Also, we made sure that we prepared all of these foods – with the exception of the ham,
of course – kosher.”
“Thank you, Sir,” Gabriel said, reaching for a couple of pancakes and placing them on his plate. He poured the syrup and began to cut his meal before
anyone else had even stocked their plates.
Markus reached out for the carving knife that sat beside the ham, while Tristan turned to Elizabeth beside him. “You guys are Jewish?” he said.
“Yeah,” Elizabeth replied, “Our grandfather was from Poland. I’m not religious, though.” She pushed her plate out towards Markus. “Hey, cut me some of
that too,” she called.
“Me too,” Vanessa said, pushing her plate beside Elizabeth’s. Tristan pushed his plate into the line as well. It didn’t take too long before Markus
had carved a few pieces for everyone who wanted them. They thanked him, as Gabriel was on his way to get seconds.
Later into their meal, as Markus and Vanessa were busy talking about their hometowns, Elizabeth broke into the conversation. “What’s that smell?” she
said, provoking everyone else to sniff except for Gabriel, who was too busy eating. They all smelled it as well. It was an almost rotten smell.
“That’s the durian,” the dean said, pointing towards the fruit bowl, “It’s in there somewhere. Try it. It’s quite good-tasting, actually.”
Vanessa was the one to reach into the fruit bowl and grabbed a slice of pulpy fruit that she didn’t recognize. She held it up as if to ask the dean if
that was the durian, and he nodded in response. She hesitated for a second before putting it into her mouth. “Not bad,” she said, surprised.
“I told you,” the dean said from his seat, “The rest of you should probably eat some as well, unless you want the smell to stay in the room for the
rest of your meal.” He leaned over, grabbed a piece for himself, and ate it. “These are actually banned in some hotels due to their odor.”
The rest of the children took a piece as well, and continued eating their ham afterwards. The last piece of durian was eaten by Markus, who smiled
smugly. “I have conquered the last piece of durian,” he said in a jokingly heroic tone, “You may thank me for vanquishing the smell that has plagued our breakfast for so long.” The rest of the
participants, as well as the dean, applauded.
As they finished their meal, the men came in from the back room again to grab the buffet platters and return them to the kitchen. The children
continued speaking to each other, laughing and joking, until they were interrupted by the chiming din of the dean hitting his fork against his plate.
“Alright, participants,” he said, as the others turned to look towards him, “Now that we are finished with our meal, I would like to continue with the
introduction to the Program.” He placed the fork down beside his plate. “Before I start, does anyone have any questions?”
Vanessa raised her hand. “You do not have to raise your hand, dear. There are only six of us,” the dean said, “Just ask your question.”
She placed her hand back down on the table. “Where is Mr. Nathanwood himself?” she asked. Everyone else realized that they hadn’t ever seen Mr.
Nathanwood since their arrival at the mansion, and started looking around the room as if he were going to suddenly descend from the sky in a golden chariot.
The dean continued smiling. “You’re getting ahead of me, dearest,” he said, “Don’t you worry. That shall be answered before we continue with the
Program. In the meantime, just know that I shall be acting as Mr. Nathanwood’s representative. Any other questions?”
Tristan raised his hand as well, before remembering that he didn’t have to do so. He laid it back down and asked, “In our invitation, we were asked
not to bring any luggage. Was there any particular reason for that, or did you just want us to wear the same outfit for the nine months that we’re staying here?”
The dean laughed. “Ah, Tristan. You’re just as shamelessly brash as the day that I interviewed you. All clothes and entertainment can be provided by
the Nathanwood estate. Each of your respective rooms is already loaded with a dresser containing your standard fair – twenty white t-shirts, ten pairs of jeans, and ten pairs of khakis. If you have
any requests, you may of course bring them to me, and someone will be sent to purchase it.”
There was a moment of silence. “So, you’re willing to buy us absolutely anything we want for the nine months that we’re here?” Tristan continued,
“Not exactly, Mr. Attenborough. For one thing, we can’t buy you anything illegal;” the dean answered, “For another, all of you are starting off with a
one-thousand dollar budget for anything that is not clothing, food, or directly related to your participation in the Program. If you are lenient with your purchases, however, an extension of this
budget can be granted.” Tristan sported a large grin as he sat back in his chair.
“So, without further ado,” the dean said, “Allow me to give my introduction speech. I ask you all to pay attention, even during the parts you already
know, for this year is going to be very special. As you already know, the program is sponsored by the world-renowned billionaire stock market tycoon, Bryan Nathanwood, whose home you are currently
in and will be staying in for the entirety of the program.
“The goal of this program is to bring together some of the brightest young minds in the country – that’s the five of you – to learn from our respected
instructors and from each other, in the hopes of using your innovation to come up with ways to solve new world problems. For the past nine years the program has been a great success, finding cures
for over fifteen fatal diseases and being the source for over twenty-five patents for revolutionary technological ideas.
“Some of you may know me from our interviews as a strict man. Others may know me as being generously lax. Still others may not know me much at all.
But as you are working towards these ends, I will act as your guide.”
There was a moment of silence as the dean paused. Finally, Markus slowly raised his hand. “Sir,” he said quietly, “I hate to be blunt, but why are you
telling us this? We already know how the program works; you even said so yourself.”
The dean smiled wider, as if he were waiting for that question to be posed – which he was. “Well, Markus,” he said, “I am telling you this because
this year there is going to be a twist, so to speak. As your new friend Vanessa has pointed out, Mr. Nathanwood has not made an appearance for you.
“This is because, and it pains me to say this…” The dean’s perpetual smile disappeared almost instantly, yet somehow in a way that seemed painfully
natural. “… Mr. Nathanwood is dying of a serious illness. He is on his deathbed. He doesn’t believe that he is going to make it through next December.”
Gabriel, who was still eating at this point, started choking on his food. Vanessa turned over to make sure he was breathing alright and to help him
regain his composure. Elizabeth stood up in her seat. “What?” she said loudly, “How come I didn’t hear about this on the news or something? Why weren’t we notified?”
The dean remained calm, with his hands clasped together and both elbows placed beside his plate. “It was Bryan’s idea to incorporate his death somehow
into the program for this year. He did not wish to spoil anything for you, so we have done our best to keep any word on his illness. He, I, and now you five are the only ones who know.”
Markus looked confused. “What do you mean, ‘incorporate his death into the program?’” He pushed the remainder of his ham away from him, towards the
center of the table. He no longer felt hungry.
“It’s actually a very simple concept really,” the dean said, “Have any of you read or seen Charlie and the Chocolate Factory?”
Gabriel coughed a little in order to be able to speak after his choking fit. “You don’t mean he’s having us-”
The dean cut Gabriel’s statement short, “That’s exactly what he’s having you do. As the five of you proceed through the program, he will be watching
and listening from his perch through a series of cameras and microphones that are located throughout the building. Once the program is finished, he is going to select one of you to be placed into
his will as the heir to his fortune.”
“This is insane!” Elizabeth screamed, sitting back down, “He can’t just watch us wherever we go! There has to be some kind of law against
“Do not worry,” the dean assured, “I assure you that these are only set up so that Bryan can make a better choice as to who rightly deserves his
inheritance. There are also no cameras in your personal bedrooms or in any of the bathrooms. There are still microphones in your rooms though, but again, only to make sure he does not miss anything
that would influence his decision.
Elizabeth continued to protest, “You still can’t just drop something like that on us out of complete nowhere! We should have been told earlier, like
at the interviews when we were first accepted or something!”
“I do apologize for not being able to tell you beforehand,” the dean said, “But it was part of Mr. Nathanwood’s terms that I must not explain anything
until we were all settled down after breakfast. Even if this all seems rather bizarre to you all, I must remind you that this is an excellent opportunity.”
Tristan raised his arm slightly, with his pointer finger up. “Sir,” he said, “Question. If we’re getting the fortune, does that mean that we inherit
his position in the stock market and as sponsor of the program as well? Because that does seem a little above us, don’t you think?”
“If you are named the heir to the fortune, you will have a financial advisor and be taught everything that is required for success after inheriting
his position,” the dean said, “The program will be put on a one-year hiatus, and a small sum of the money will be granted to me to continue the Nathanwood Program for at least two years after that.
Once my sum runs out, you may choose whether or not you want to continue sponsoring the program.”
The dean stood up in his seat and looked around the room, “I shall give you all a moment to calm down after hearing this news and decide if you want
to accept Mr. Nathanwood’s proposition. Regardless of whether or not you wish to compete for the fortune, you shall continue as a participant of the program. It is your choice whether you want to
take this opportunity or just let it slip right through your fingers.” As he finished speaking, he paused with every breath, and every word seemed to have a great impact.
It was their time to choose.
Markus stood up in his seat. I might not have been the first to arrive at the mansion today, he though, But like Hell I’m going to let one of them get
the first slot as a participant in this competition. “I’m in,” he said assuredly.
There was a moment of silence as the other four children looked at one another. Maybe they felt they would find the answer to this pressing question
in the eyes of one of their colleagues.
Then, Tristan stood up. “Count me in, too,” he said. After that came Gabriel, then Vanessa, and then, reluctantly, Elizabeth agreed to the terms as
well. The whole ordeal lasted no longer than a minute. It was unanimous; they were all going to compete for the Nathanwood inheritance.
The dean’s smile returned, but it wasn’t as bright as it had been before. “So it’s settled,” he said in a voice that sounded near-whisper, “You all
accept the challenge. Remember, it is important that none of you reveal Nathanwood’s status to anyone else aside from those who are currently in this room. If anyone needs a moment to recover or to
finish their meals, speak now. Otherwise, we will continue with our tour of the mansion.”
No one spoke as the men from the back room returned and grabbed their empty – or mostly empty, in Markus’ and Gabriel’s cases – plates to take back to
The first move had been made, and now the game could officially commence.
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