A buzz swells among the crowds milling on the platform as the faint horn in the distance heralds the arrival of the train. It is January 3rd and snow fairies dance on the rail tracks below. I anxiously stare up at the marching hands of the large clock looming overhead. My gaze focuses on a pure white owl staring back with its big gray eyes, as though intently watching me. Suddenly a loud overhead voice booms: “Now arriving train 2020 on platform 7¼ to Boston!” Parents hustle their children to the edge of the platform as they quickly kiss their loved ones goodbye, sending them off on their own once again. The students quickly fill the cars and I push my way inside. After a brief search, I find a seat near the back of the train. I settle myself in and stare out the window, watching the excited passengers lean their heads outside, bidding farewell until summer vacation. Before long, the conductor yells “Alll aboooaaardd!” The train engines begin to roar, smoke filling the clear, white air as we embark on our journey back to the far-away land known as Boston.
Today is January 5th and I am running late for my first day of class. As I dash through the sparkling snow blanketing the Boston streets, stores titillate my nostrils with the aroma of freshly-brewed coffee. Out of breath, I reach the familiar threshold just at the stroke of 8 am on my watch. With one last sigh, I push open the iron gates and enter. “Welcome back to Specwarts!” beams the sign displayed inside. Eager students mingle around, embracing each other, asking about their holidays. For those unfamiliar with this school, Specwarts is a special school for talented, young eye wizards-in-training. By the end of our four years of study here, our ability to restore vision will be so miraculous, you might even say it’s magic. The school exudes a magnificent Victorian style with a grand mahogany central staircase adorned with mementos of Specwarts’ influential past. Portraits of former headmasters and past honored students appear so real, they even seem to move within their frames. Upstairs lurks a hidden (laboratory) room off limits to most students in which covert experiments are whispered to be performed. Some speculate that here new theories are tested on various subjects, while others surmise that mysterious new medicines and potions are concocted…but for many it will forever remain a “chamber of secrets.” On the main floor, students draped in their white cloaks float around the halls. I accidentally bump into a first-year and watch her equipment tumble to the floor. While I offer to help pick it up, I get flashbacks to “Sorting Day”, when during a chaotic hour, students have to decide which equipment company they will associate with for the next four years. Although it may seem impossible to know which one to select, the moment I held one certain “o’scopalo” within my grasp, it felt so right as if it had chosen me instead.
As I snap back to reality, a banner announcing this year’s “Academy Meeting” in Denver dramatically unfolds from the rafters. Every year, students from optometry schools around the country convene to share ideas and experiences, discuss scientific breakthroughs and learn new skills. The pinnacle of the gathering will be the highly-anticipated “QuizGoblet” competition. Here, we all vie for the honor to compete for our school to see who will take home the glorious title of “Champion of Optometris.”
Specwarts is not all fun and games, though. In fact, it requires a lot of hard work in order to master the art of Optometris. For example, we just completed our class in “Potions of Optometris”, such as Diabetis Controllalis, that helps to ward off a dark curse which fills the eye with blood and may eventually lead to blindness. In another class known as “Principalis & Practicalis Optometris,” we learn to defend our eyes against all evils with various magical wands, monocles and elixirs. There are lenses that make the eye grow larger, and tinctures that cause the eye to fluoresce in blue light. However, the hardest yet most essential tool to grasp is the revered “o’scopalo,” which students are required to carry with them at all times. This elongated contraption allows one to wander past the natural realm into the world beyond and seek the truth that lies in the eye of the beholder. After we have finally conquered all our skills, learned all we need to know, we must face one last examination. However, don’t be fooled, this is no ordinary test. This one that is so difficult, so daunting, and so feared that no one dares speak of it until the fateful day in our third year. Individually, yet united, each class must face “that which will not be named.” It will take everything we have, every potion we have studied, every procedure we have relentlessly practiced, in order to defeat it. Therefore, this semester will be the most challenging yet as we prepare ourselves for the supreme battle. If, and only if, one defeats this beast, he or she will be crowned a “Master of Optometris”.
But until that day, we second-years spend most of our time toiling in the training arena. Here, classmates work diligently side-by-side to perfect their skills. The girl to my left fervently repeats “Oculus Repairus!” and with a quick flick of her wrist, the broken spectacles are once again in perfect condition. Another boy practices “o’scopalo” in such deep concentration, it appears as though he labors under an unbreakable spell himself. Suddenly, a large white owl with piercing gray eyes perches on the windowsill. Before I can figure out why this owl seems all too familiar, a screech penetrates the still winter air like a siren forewarning us of what is to come…