ANNO DOMINI ~Allium~
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BOOK 1, CHAPTER 1: THE VERY LONG SCHOOL YEAR
A homeless man known as Biscuits N’ Gravy wandered aimlessly around Chicago’s downtown in The Loop after sunrise. He navigated the bustling streets, unaware he was being followed by the holy angel named Lavi. Then again, nobody ever suspects such an encounter with a legendary being until personally coming face-to-face with one.
There was a period in the homeless man’s life when he walked alongside the general population as a successful and honorable citizen from England, during which his name was Nigel Westfarren. After moving to the United States of America, he became the unfortunate victim of fraud and theft, reducing him to his current state of rags and dirt. He assumed the moniker Biscuits N’ Gravy, although it was uncertain if he chose the identity for himself or if it was given to him by someone else. (No reports existed of him actually eating biscuits and gravy once in his life, but it was speculated that he was an avid fan of eggs benedict, which someone could mistakenly think is a nobleman’s version of biscuits and gravy.)
Despite Biscuits N’ Gravy’s current circumstances, he had maintained his respectful and noble demeanor, earning himself a bit of recognition as “everyone’s favorite bum” in the Chicagoland area.
While ambling slowly down one of the many alleyways to stretch his legs, taking in the familiar smells of motor oil and dumpsters, Biscuits N’ Gravy noticed a bright light from above. Noon was still hours away and he realized the light couldn’t be from the sun. Looking up, he froze, his eyes widening as his jaw dropped.
A young man with flowing, golden hair descended from nowhere and touched gently down in front of the homeless man. Even after his sun-like aura faded away, there was no denying the large, feathery, white wings extending from his back. The halo radiating from his head was bright enough to light the alleyway. He wore a white suit with golden trims and ivory buttons, brown suede shoes, and a gentle smile that calmed the homeless man only to the point of not being scared enough to run away.
“Good day to you, Sir Nigel Westfarren,” the angel told him with a warm voice.
Biscuits N’ Gravy had not heard anyone refer to him as such in years. He trembled uncontrollably, trying to maintain his balance as he backed against a trash can.
“H-how do you know that name?” he replied breathily, doing his best to form cohesive words through his fright.
“You’re just the person I need,” the angel said earnestly. “My name is Lavi. I am an angel who was sent to you.”
The angel Lavi did not seem threatening or dangerous in any way. Perhaps it was his grand appearance that got Biscuits N’ Gravy shook up. Or perhaps it was the angel’s air of holiness and greatness, something that often struck people with such an impact as to leave them speechless and overwhelmed.
“I won’t bring you harm or misfortune,” Lavi said. “I just want you to pass on a message.”
Biscuits N’ Gravy did nothing to reply other than listen intently. There was nobody else around, nobody in earshot, no cameras nor microphones. No other person would witness this encounter.
“The time is ripe for change!” Lavi announced, stretching out his arms as if standing before an audience of millions. “Let it be known that the rusted gears are once again beginning to turn. Far and wide, the masses will know that the course is set and all the world is on its way to a wondrous future. However, the path is laden with peril and is long and winding. Have faith ye who tread this journey, because we are on the cusp of a new era!”
The angel’s voice seemed to carry with it the power to reach every corner of the city, resonating through the homeless man like soundwaves through a wine glass fighting not to shatter, warming him with a temperature-less energy that felt like a culmination of every human emotion all at once.
In joyous terror, the homeless man fell to his knees in the oily alleyway as tears dripped on the concrete ground beneath him. He trembled, not knowing anything but the divine words that wrapped around him.
Lavi, smiling gently, thrust out his hand and pointed toward the nearest exit of the alley, leading out to the street.
“Now go, Sir Nigel Westfarren,” he said brightly. “The message is yours to pass on. Speak of it freely wherever and whenever. Let it be known! Let my voice be heard through yours!”
Biscuits N’ Gravy scrambled to his feet, knocking over the trash can which hit the ground loudly and spilled out. Not looking back, frantic and overwhelmed with the full spectrum of human emotions, he emerged on the street, running down the sidewalk faster than he had in years. A newfound strength carried his feet. Pedestrians looked at him, some questioningly and others with contempt, as he blew past them. His raggedy outer layer of clothes fell off him, revealing the expensive tuxedo (now faded, stained, smelly, and tattered) that he had been wearing on the day of his fall to the bottom of the social structure. Not knowing where he was going, the words finally found themselves in his mouth as he made it to the intersection of Madison and State.
“The time has come!” he shouted in bewilderment. “Change is coming! The new age approaches! The time has come!”
Many people were within earshot, most of them choosing to ignore the delirious bum and his nonsensical announcement. Of the crowd waiting at the crosswalk, only a few acknowledged him, whispering among themselves.
“Isn’t that Biscuits N’ Gravy?”
“He was always quiet before.”
“Guess he finally cracked.”
“What’s he going on about? Some apocalyptic-sounding mumbo jumbo?”
“Glad I’m not a bum, they all seem to lose it eventually.”
As Biscuits N’ Gravy continually repeated himself in a fit of hysteria, fueled by whatever energy the angel seemed to have bestowed, a man recorded a short video of him on a smartphone and uploaded it on a social media website with the accompanying comment, “Crazy bum has something to say! LMAO.”
The homeless man took only a second to catch his breath before running down Madison Street, noisily purveying his message every step of the way, his tattered tuxedo jacket flailing behind him.
Chris Findale sat on his bed in his room, staring at the pistol in his hand with dread and confusion. He had never been exposed to a firearm before, so handling the gun was intimidating. However, the gun itself wasn’t what made him so uneasy. His initial panic was because the gun had suddenly appeared in his hand out of nowhere while getting ready for school.
He repeatedly summoned the strange pistol from thin air in his hand and would dismiss it, vanishing without a trace. Being able to make the gun appear and disappear was mind-bending in and of itself, but it was also surprising how natural it felt to do so. The gun would appear and disappear at Chris’s will as if it was something programmed into his DNA, learned before birth. After repeating this for nearly ten minutes, unable to concentrate on anything else, he held the strange gun in both hands and stared at it.
Although he had never handled a gun before and knew little of their details, he could tell this particular model was a very unique weapon. The design was very sleek, yet bland and too simplified for a normal gun. Its frame and action seemed to blend into a single unit, and the entire gun was mostly made from a chrome-like material that felt almost plastic.
Try as he might, Chris could not identify the safety, hammer, or even how to load the ammunition. He knew guns could be taken apart for cleaning and maintenance, but this pistol looked like an exception. As ridiculous as it sounded, he eventually concluded the weapon lacked those features.
Did that give it unlimited ammunition? Was it even a real firearm? Aching to fire it at least once, he would have to find a good time to do so, but he worried about what would happen if he pulled the trigger.
“It’s gonna be one of those days,” he muttered with a sigh.
Looking around his bedroom, he didn’t notice anything else out of place … it was a typical teenage boy’s room. On his walls were several posters, including one of the American heavy metal band Killswitch Engage, one for the Bleach anime, and several others. His Xbox One containing the disc for Dark Souls III was nestled into his entertainment center, although the game was proving too difficult for him to beat.
The scent of fresh linens and Axe Body Spray paired with the always-present sound of traffic from outside, providing some form of familiarity while Chris remained boggled by the odd firearm.
His smartphone went off, alerting him of a text message. Making the mysterious pistol disappear from his hand, he checked his phone. The text message was from his classmate, a pretty girl named Marilyn Collins.
["Good morning Chris! Hey stop by my locker before homeroom. I wanna show u something."]
Happy to receive a message from Marilyn, Chris quickly sent his response, agreeing to her request. Standing up, he gathered his school supplies and left the house. Both of his parents always left for work before he woke up, so the house was empty as he locked up and headed out.
At seventeen years old and in the eleventh grade, Chris attended Lyonbole Public High School in the North Center community area of Chicago. Many of his classmates typically steered clear of him, subconsciously without really being aware of doing it, mostly because of his appearance.
Standing at six feet and two inches tall with dark brown hair and brown eyes, his intimidating face, the fearless way he carried himself, and his occasional heavy metal band shirt were frightening to the other students who didn’t know him. Not helping his cause was the emergence of a criminal’s mugshot that had floated around the neighborhood over a year ago, and the deranged killer starring in the mugshot looked much like an older Chris Findale; purely coincidental, but high schools were thriving ecosystems in which rumors would flourish, strive for careers, collect pension, and otherwise become immortalized.
Closer to the school, the flow of students increased. Chris joined the crowd funneled through the main gate entrance to Lyonbole Public High School. As one of Chicago’s top public high schools, Lyonbole was praised for its outstanding curriculum, diverse extracurricular options, academic scores, performance in district sports and athletics, and notably high-achieving students. The building itself was less than twenty years old, built in the year 2000, and was not only in great physical condition, but was renowned for its architectural creativity and pleasing aesthetics.
Gun. Gun. Gun.
Walking into the school building through the quadruple-door main entrance, Chris suddenly felt anxious. Thinking about the mysterious pistol, he considered the fact he was (probably) technically bringing a weapon to school. If he accidentally materialized the gun, somebody could notice and inform the authorities, and his damaged perfect attendance would be the last of his concerns at that point.
Don’t get caught. Don’t get caught.
At least he was wearing a plain white T-shirt, which didn’t look too frightening, reducing his appearance of a gun-toting serial killer. Such was one of Chris’s ways of easing himself while (probably) technically bringing a weapon to school.
The wide hallways echoed the dim voices from hundreds of students, a low and subtle din, who were still sleepy as the day was only getting started. Marilyn’s locker was out of the way from Chris’s own locker, but he didn’t mind the detour at all. He wanted to see her.
Marilyn was already at her locker, going through her books and notes. She was very cute, had hazel eyes and naturally burnt orange-colored hair that could become slightly blonde with lots of sunshine. She was wearing a plaid yellow, light blue, and white shirt with the sleeves rolled up to her elbows, black yoga pants, and flip-flop sandals.
Being the same age and in the same grade, Chris and Marilyn had known each other since their freshman days. Her initial fright from seeing his serial killer face the first time had disappeared as she learned, firsthand through conversation, Chris was genuinely friendly and enjoyable to have around.
When she saw Chris, she smiled and quickly approached him. He promptly noted the scent of warm cinnamon, which seemed to hover around Marilyn at all times.
“I wanted your opinion on something,” she said, removing a stack of photographs from her locker and handing them to Chris. “I’m submitting a pic to an art magazine for a contest. The top five entries win cash prizes, but the grand prize winner will be interviewed and featured in a special column in an issue!”
Chris was thoroughly interested, but he also couldn’t resist the uplifting glow of Marilyn’s presence.
“That sounds fun,” Chris said, sorting through the various photos. “Hey, these are all pretty cool.”
Marilyn blushed, saying, “You think so? Some people criticize abstract art like that, saying they aren’t really pictures of actual things. But I like abstract and surrealism in photographs rather than in paintings and drawings. Photographs capture real-life images, so making them abstract is fun. It’s the opposite with something hand-drawn, so I like to paint realistic images. I know it’s weird.”
“No, I sort of understand what you mean.” Chris picked one of the pictures and showed it to Marilyn. “I like this one.”
Marilyn took the picture and smiled. “This one, huh?” She paused for a second, thinking about the picture. “Do you know what it’s a picture of?”
“Not really.” Chris shrugged. “I just think it looks cool.”
“Good,” Marilyn replied, pleased. “That’s the point.” She placed all the photographs back in her locker, then noticed somebody walking past, her eyes lighting up. “Drake!”
Chris turned around and saw his best friend approaching.
“Hey, buddy,” Chris said.
“What’s up?” Drake O’Neil said. He looked at Marilyn and grinned. “Hi, Mary.”
Drake O’Neil was in the same grade as Chris and Marilyn. He was handsome and had a great fashion sense. With shiny black hair and captivating amber eyes, he always knew which collared shirts and sweater vests to match with one of the several high-end shoes he owned.
“Take a look at these,” Marilyn told Drake, already brandishing the photographs that had just been put away. “I’m entering a photography contest in a magazine and need to send the best one, so tell me which you like most.”
Drake took the pictures and looked through them quietly. After a while, he looked up with a smile.
“Um, I think they’re all good,” he told her. “You always take great pictures, Mary.”
“Aw, you’re so sweet,” she told him.
“No problem,” he said, “just being honest.”
“But you need to pick one.”
“It’s hard to say. This isn’t my territory, art and the likes.”
“Just one that catches your eye!”
“Uh … well,” he said, looking over them one more time, “I guess this one ….”
He handed one of them to Marilyn, which she eagerly took to see what his pick would be.
“Very nice,” she told him. “This one is pretty much the opposite from the one Chris picked.”
Chris took a look at it, trying to figure out what she meant.
“How is that?” he asked, confused.
“Not sure,” Marilyn said happily, “it just feels that way in my soul.”
Chris and Drake looked at each other as if to find some sort of answer in the other’s face, but to no avail.
The two boys became best friends in seventh grade and had spent many days together going to Wrigleyville for burgers and burritos, playing video games, adventuring with Pokémon Go, doing odd jobs to afford their own Netflix account to stream movies and TV shows (now deactivated), and hanging out at Hamlin Park to toss around a football or use the community pool.
“What are you doing after school?” Drake asked Chris. “Wanna hang out?”
“Yeah, usual meeting spot?”
“That’s what I’m thinking.”
“Alright, buddy,” Chris agreed, “I’ll see you then.”
Chris and Drake bumped fists before they walked off.
“As you all know by now, the Illiniwek Juncture was one of the most significant events in the mid-1900s.” Andrew Norris, one of the history teachers, was giving his lecture about Chicago’s most notorious event since the Haymarket Affair of 1886. “This event is said to have been so influential that anywhere from six percent to eleven percent of Chicago is very different today than it would be if the event had never occurred.”
A girl sitting in the front of the class raised her hand, whom Mr. Norris let speak.
“But a lot of people say the Illiniwek Juncture never really happened,” she said expressively. “Isn’t there any actual proof?”
Mr. Norris nodded, entertained by the girl’s widespread argument.
“Well,” the scruffy-bearded thirty-three-year-old teacher replied, “it is true that there’s a substantial number of conspiracy theories revolving around the Illiniwek Juncture. I’m sure you’re all smart enough to write long, detailed essays about your thoughts and viewpoints on the matter, but today we’re just going to discuss the textbook theory behind it.”
The girl looked like the teacher had answered her question in some foreign language.
“So … did it actually happen?” she asked slowly.
“According to your textbooks, it sure did,” the teacher answered enthusiastically. “Turn to page 77 for today’s assignment.”
Chris had been flipping back and forth through his history textbook for half the class. Although history was one of his favorite subjects, he just didn’t feel quite up to par that day.
When he turned to page 77 as the teacher instructed, his eyes wandered around the room. Although Lyonbole was known for its aesthetics, the classrooms weren’t much different from other schools. Off-white walls bearing educational posters and charts, shiny linoleum floors tiled primarily with the school’s colors of sky blue and white, evenly-spaced overhead fluorescent lights, interactive whiteboard replacing the obsolete dry-erase boards (or prehistoric chalkboards), and large windows on the left side facing either the school’s perimeter or courtyards, depending on the room.
Chris’s eyes continued to move across the room, eventually landing on another student, a Hispanic boy named Bret Taurus with brown, unkempt hair, and uncolored tattoos on his arms, who was snoozing in his seat upright.
A known delinquent and troublemaker, Bret had nearly perfected the art of sleeping upright, but his snoring would often give him away. Mr. Norris, realizing one of his students was asleep, strolled over to Bret and pinched his nose gently. After a few seconds, Bret let out a roaring snore as he woke up, making the class laugh.
“Eh?” Bret squinted his green eyes and looked up at the teacher with disdain. “What’s the big idea?”
“No big idea, just a small one,” Mr. Norris replied. “You were snoring … again … so it gave me a small idea to wake you up.”
Bret scowled and heaved a sigh.
“So what? I was tired, you were boring, and I fell asleep,” he said curtly.
Mr. Norris was entertained by the student’s abrasive reply.
“If you’re going to sleep in class,” Mr. Norris said, walking back to the front of the room, “then I would recommend wearing one of those nose pads that open your airways to reduce snoring.”
The class chuckled again, but Bret just shrugged and propped his head up on his hands with his elbows on the desk, staring at the side wall. Chris wondered why Bret always acted the way he did. Was it trouble at home? Was it to be the center of attention? Bret never seemed to be interested in getting people to notice him. Or was it just a general dislike of school? Feeling powerless to be of any help, Chris looked back at his textbook.
Bret stood up and, with his hands in his pockets, walked toward the classroom door. Before he could exit, Mr. Norris stopped him.
“And where are you off to?” he asked the delinquent.
“Restroom,” Bret sneered, being half-honest as he backtracked a few steps to grab the hall pass hanging on its hook.
“Alright,” the teacher said, feigning defeat, “don’t come back smelling like cigarettes this time.”
“Yeah, okay,” Bret replied with a contemptuous chuckle. “How about I come back smelling like gasoline and burnt houses?”
He shut the door behind him slightly harder than necessary. The class fell silent that time, no longer seeing any humor in Bret’s antics.
“Mr. Norris!” one of the boys in class said. “Wasn’t that a threat, what Bret just said? Shouldn’t you report that?”
Mr. Norris set down the stylus he was using to write on the interactive whiteboard. Usually an upbeat and energetic character, it was strange to see him appear timid and modest.
“I wouldn’t worry about him,” he said dismissively.
Other students whispered their concerns among themselves. Chris glanced around at the students first, then to Mr. Norris. The look in the teacher’s eyes, though brief and not substantial, was similar to how Chris felt about the delinquent student: another lost soul who was out of reach.
It was lunchtime at Lyonbole Public High School, and Chris and Drake were at a table in the large, luxurious cafeteria; the room itself was a work of swooping, modern architecture, featuring a long stretch of tall windows overlooking the main courtyard and fountain. High ceilings were strategically angled and fitted with stylish panels made from sound-reducing foam, all to prevent unwelcomed echoes by the chattering voices of hundreds of students.
Joining the boys was tenth-grader Garret Faux Pas, who had transferred to Lyonbole from Quebec, Canada. Garret was a slightly pudgy boy with brown, wavy hair. Nobody believed “Faux Pas” was part of his real name, but nobody cared to really look into it. Widely known for getting into trouble for ridiculous (yet mostly innocent) mishaps, he had gained some fame, most notably as the white boy with a green card, being an immigrant to the United States of America.
“Did you get in trouble again for bringing your beaver to school?” Chris asked Garret.
Garret slurped down the rest of his juice box, his third that lunch period.
“Don’t make fun of Mont Blanc!” Garret replied defensively, waving his crinkled juice box. “And yes … I got caught feeding him in my locker.”
“Are you even allowed to own a beaver as a pet?” Drake asked. “I thought there were laws about wild animals kept as pets.”
“Mont Blanc is not wild,” Garret said. “He is sweet and gifted. And Mr. Kampton told me that I wouldn’t get reported to the police when I brought Mont Blanc to school, so he won’t be confiscated.”
Leon Kampton was the school’s vice principal, and was adored by most of the students for being understanding, flexible, and lenient, which was a striking contrast from the grumpy principal, Charles Stark.
“But that doesn’t mean you should keep bringing him to school,” Chris said. “Your luck might run out.”
“Ha! I’m not worried,” Garret said confidently.
Drake rolled his eyes, taking a bite of his cheeseburger with extra pickles while Garret stabbed a straw into another juice box. Chris just chuckled under his breath as he thought how Mont Blanc was indeed a friendly and lovable beaver, although his knack for gnawing through the school’s hockey sticks was hurting the sports department’s budget.
After lunch, Chris’s next class was math. The teacher was Danielle Vaughn, and was a favorite among the male students for being voluptuously beautiful … well-endowed with long legs, bleach-blonde hair, and a “naughty librarian” demeanor matching her looks. It was thought to be no coincidence the boys of her classes always outperformed the females.
Chris had to bury his face in his textbook deeper than usual; Ms. Vaughn’s skirt was a little short, pushing the limits of the school’s dress code. Could that be her way of making sure her students excelled academically? Many believed so.
A black boy named Robbie Smith was sitting next to Chris and was having the same problem of keeping his eyes from wandering into dangerous territories. When he and Chris happened to look at each other, they smiled, realizing they were on the same sinking ship together.
Robbie was Chris’s upperclassman, being a senior. He was easygoing, had good grades, and possessed a love for playing basketball on the school’s team. Robbie was taller than Chris (who was six-foot-two) by an inch. Although Chris and Robbie never associated much, there was a mutual, unspoken kinship between the two.
Deep down, subconsciously, Chris knew he and Robbie would be good friends one day.
While the students were busy working on their assignment, Ms. Vaughn’s desk phone rang. She answered it, had a brief conversation, and hung up.
“Chris Findale,” she said. “That was Mr. Kampton. He wants you to go to his office.”
“The vice principal wants to see me?” Chris asked. “What does he want?”
“He didn’t say,” Ms. Vaughn replied, shaking her head.
Chris walked down the extensive hallways, his footsteps echoing in the absence of the other students. The hall pass dangled from his hand as he wondered what the vice principal could possibly want with him. He had never been in trouble at school before, but curiosity eventually took over anxiety.
He entered the main office, told the scary secretary lady he had an appointment with Mr. Kampton, and was directed to the vice principal’s office. The door was open, so he let himself in. Mr. Kampton was seated behind his desk, leaning back in his chair with his hands holding up the back of his head, his shoes resting on his desk. That unprofessional and unexpected stance made Chris even more curious.
“Christopher Joshua Findale!” Leon Kampton greeted enthusiastically. “Come in. Close the door behind you.”
The vice principal looked like a young man in his early twenties, although he claimed to be thirty-eight. Handsome, blonde, blue-eyed, friendly, confident, and outspoken, he was the symbol of an ideal leader. The air about him put Chris at ease as he closed the door.
“No need to lock it,” Mr. Kampton said, leaning forward and putting his arms down. “I’ve arranged so that nobody can interfere.”
“Should I sit down?” Chris asked.
Mr. Kampton shrugged.
“Up to you.”
Chris took a seat in front of the desk, which was nicely organized. He found it strange, however, there were no pictures of any people in his entire office. Most people had pictures of family and friends, but there was not one such thing.
Mr. Kampton took a deep breath and began.
“Just so you know, you’re not in trouble,” he told Chris. “Not with school authorities, the law, your family, friends, etc. The normal ‘trouble’ you’d think of.”
Now Chris was outright confused, right from the start of the conversation.
“Then … that means I’m in trouble of some kind?” he asked. “It’s not about Garret’s beaver, is it? I’ve only played with it at school once.”
“No, nothing of the sort. But, I do have a question for you.”
Mr. Kampton, while resting his arms on the desk, looked directly at Chris.
“Did you bring a gun to school today?” he asked in a soft tone.
A rock dropped into Chris’s gut.
“W-why do you ask?” It was hard to hide his nervousness.
The vice principal smiled.
“Come now, don’t worry,” he said. “I told you that you’re not in trouble.”
Chris looked at the desk. He knew that he didn’t intentionally bring the pistol with him. As far as he knew, he didn’t “bring” it at all.
“Yes,” he replied. “Well, sorta. But wait … how do you know about the gun?”
Mr. Kampton stood up, and two large, white, feathery wings seemed to unfold from nowhere, protruding from his back.
“My name isn’t really Leon Kampton,” he told Chris casually, as if the conversation was still sailing on calm seas, “it’s Lavi. I’m an angel. And let me tell you something, Christopher.” He peered out of his office window at the school grounds below. “You’re in for a very long school year.”
At long last ... I finally got this story up and running again! When I started writing it, I made it almost halfway through when I realized I just didn't like it. The pacing and development weren't working, so I decided to start over. Now, I'm much happier with it! :)
Also, you may have noticed this is the first chapter of Book 1. Each Book will represent a different story arc. I plan on this being a looong story! XD