Chapter 8:

Book 1, Ch. 8: Contagious Outbreak

ANNO DOMINI ~Allium~


***THANKS FOR READING!***Bookmark here

Hello and welcome, people of Honeyfeed! I meant to have this chapter up a few days ago, but life kinda got in the way with the holiday season in full bloom. If you like the words I've littered this page with, then tackle that "Like" button (and receive a small boost to your badge rank). If you want to litter the comment section with words of your own, then litter away (and receive a big boost to your badge rank), and I'll do my best to reply!Bookmark here

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*******Bookmark here

BOOK 1, CHAPTER 8: CONTAGIOUS OUTBREAKBookmark here

It was a warm and humid day, the type of weather that sticks to the skin and clogs the respiratory passages; that made it difficult for Duke Harrison, officer of the Chicago police force, as he tenaciously pursued his suspect on foot.Bookmark here

The suspect, whose name had not yet been identified, had held a pharmacy at gunpoint less than an hour ago. He was carrying a cloth sack, which aided the police in finding him as not too many people carried such an item. After looting various medications and loading his cloth sack, the suspect had fled the scene without harming anyone.Bookmark here

Still, he had threatened the lives of several innocent people and had to be punished; the suspect was armed and had vocalized his intent to kill.Bookmark here

The pursuit continued down quiet streets. The suspect’s route was erratic and he would periodically change direction and cut through private properties and yards, hopping over fences while clutching the cloth sack like a lifeline.Bookmark here

Officer Duke Harrison, fairly young, tall and sturdy with light brown hair and blue eyes, was not slowed down by the perpetrator’s wild route. In fact, it only seemed to help the officer close the distance to the offender.Bookmark here

When the suspect crossed another street, Harrison noticed a police cruiser rapidly approaching. His partner, Officer Lars Briggs, had attempted to cut off the suspect, but arrived seconds too late. Without wasting any time, Harrison quickly beckoned to have Briggs circle the block. If the plan worked accordingly, they’d catch the criminal between houses before he could make it to another street.Bookmark here

The gap between Harrison and the suspect was narrowing and the suspect was growing tired. Behind a small house, Harrison believed the chase was nearly over. After a quick glance around, the officer could see the suspect had practically cornered himself. Fences surrounded the property, and Harrison was now close enough to grab the offender should he attempt to scale another fence.Bookmark here

There was no escape except through the house … and that was exactly where the suspect headed. To Harrison’s surprise, the man ran straight for the back door of the house, kicked it in, and ran inside. Bookmark here

Without delay, the officer followed, but found the suspect had stopped running. He stood in the kitchen with his hands up, tears and sweat streaming down his face, the medication-filled sack still tightly grasped in one hand.Bookmark here

In less than a second, the officer had his pistol pointed at the suspect; his Heckler & Koch HK45 offered no compromises.Bookmark here

“Get down on the ground!” Officer Harrison shouted. His lungs were sore from the chase, but did not affect his volume. “Get down now!”Bookmark here

“Please, you can’t do this,” the man begged. “I need these drugs!”Bookmark here

“I said to get down now!”Bookmark here

The broken back door creaked as it swung gently on its one remaining hinge. Aside from the recent damage, the kitchen was clean and organized. Shattered glass from the door’s window crunched beneath Harrison’s shoes as he advanced on the suspect, still held at gunpoint. Taking one hand off his pistol to operate his walkie-talkie, he radioed to Officer Briggs and the other nearby officers.Bookmark here

“Requesting backup,” he said into the microphone. “I have the suspect cornered in a small, yellow house …” (he paused to think of the street they were on, but had lost track during the chase) “… and he is being held at gunpoint in the kitchen. Enter through the back door.”Bookmark here

Sobbing louder, the trembling suspect continued to beg.Bookmark here

“Please, officer. You need to help my family.”Bookmark here

Harrison knew the man was armed, or at least had been armed earlier. The desperate look on the man’s face and his pleading words revealed there was probably more to the story. Despite that, the officer’s own safety and the suspect’s detainment were of priority. Once in custody, the suspect could say all he needed.Bookmark here

“I’m giving you three seconds to get on the ground,” Harrison warned, holding his pistol with both hands again, “or I will shoot you.”Bookmark here

The suspect closed his eyes tightly, forcing out more tears as he uttered a soft, high-pitched whine. Dropping the cloth sack, he moved down to the floor facedown.Bookmark here

“Hands behind your head.” Harrison moved into position atop the suspect.Bookmark here

A black officer, Officer Lars Briggs, entered the house through the broken door with a hand on his Smith & Wesson M&P 9 pistol in its holster. His shaved head had a sweaty sheen while he assessed the situation. Harrison acknowledged Briggs with a quick nod, then immediately locked handcuffs around the suspect’s wrists.Bookmark here

“I’m placing you under arrest,” Harrison said, reciting the lines automatically and without much thought, “for armed robbery, improper possession of prescription medications, endangerment of human lives with a firearm, and evading arrest.”Bookmark here

Harrison held the man in place while Briggs put on nitrile gloves and searched the man’s pockets. Inside the man’s jacket was a breast pocket holding a small Ruger LC9 pistol matching the description given by the pharmacy workers, and Briggs carefully removed it, checked the safety was on, found three bullets in the magazine, and placed it on the floor nearby. The only other belongings the suspect carried were typical, including his wallet, keys, cellphone, and a small pocket knife probably intended for self-defense. Bookmark here

Several other officers had arrived. After the man was seated in the back of Lars Briggs’s police cruiser, Harrison and Briggs spoke with each other.Bookmark here

“His name is Ivan Dudek.” Briggs was holding the suspect’s driver license and read the information to Harrison. “Forty years old, just had his birthday last week. His address matches the one for this house. He lives here.”Bookmark here

Harrison thought about it briefly, wiping the sweat from his brow.Bookmark here

“With the way he was running from me,” Harrison said, “I wouldn’t have guessed he was actually heading anywhere specific. But it seems like he was just going home.”Bookmark here

“He surrendered as soon as he made it inside, you said,” Briggs said. “Does that mean he only wanted to make it here?”Bookmark here

“Can’t say.” Harrison shrugged. “I’ll have a word with him now.”Bookmark here

Ivan was still sobbing in the back of the cruiser when Harrison approached and opened the door.Bookmark here

“Do you understand your rights?” Harrison asked.Bookmark here

The man was still sobbing, but he nodded and uttered a vocal confirmation.Bookmark here

“Why did you rob that pharmacy?”Bookmark here

Attempting to calm himself down enough to speak clearly, Ivan sniffled and took a deep breath. His face quickly straightened, wet with tears.Bookmark here

“I needed medication,” he muttered grimly. “We couldn’t afford any because we don’t have health insurance.”Bookmark here

“You mentioned your family,” Harrison said. “Are they in danger?”Bookmark here

“They’re sick.” Ivan blinked his eyes and sniffled again. “I just wanted to make them better. That’s all. And I knew I couldn’t just persuade the pharmacists to hand over the medicine, so I had to take it by force.”Bookmark here

“Your I.D. says this is your home, correct?”Bookmark here

“Yes, I live here with my family.”Bookmark here

“Is your family home?”Bookmark here

Ivan nodded. “Yes. My wife and youngest daughter.”Bookmark here

“Does anyone else live here?” Harrison asked.Bookmark here

“No, sir.”Bookmark here

“I’m going to have a word with them. In the meantime, you’ll remain here.”Bookmark here

“Please, officer. They’re very sick. I don’t think they should be disturbed.”Bookmark here

“I just need to have a short talk with them. It won’t take long.”Bookmark here

Ivan slumped back in the seat as Harrison closed the door. He walked back into the kitchen where Briggs and two other officers were discussing the events.Bookmark here

“Detective Ulysses Townshend is on his way,” Briggs told Harrison. “He took great interest when hearing about the stolen medication.”Bookmark here

“What sort of medication was it?” Harrison asked.Bookmark here

The contents of Ivan’s cloth sack had been laid out on the counter. As Harrison examined them, Briggs explained.Bookmark here

“Antibiotics, mostly,” he said. “Some anti-inflammatories and anti-diarrheal. Some of them are just stronger versions of over-the-counter products.”Bookmark here

“Not your typical meth-making ingredients or abused substances.” Harrison thought it over. “Ivan told me just now that his family is sick. They should be here somewhere, so I want to have a word with them. Seeing these particular drugs makes me think that Ivan was being truthful, at least partly.”Bookmark here

“I’m surprised they haven’t shown up yet,” Briggs commented. “In all the ruckus, you’d think they heard and would come to see what happened. Unless they have reason to hide or flee.” He paused for a moment. “Or if they’re too sick to act.”Bookmark here

“I’ll go look for them. Should be a wife and daughter. Care to join me, Lars?”Bookmark here

“Sure thing, Duke,” Briggs replied. He turned to the other officers in the kitchen. “Hold tight for now. We’re going to check on the suspect’s family. I’ll be right back.”Bookmark here

There was a set of stairs leading up from the living room. After checking the first floor and finding nobody, Harrison and Briggs took the stairs to the second floor. The house was older, but was in relatively good condition and well-kept. Floorboards creaked under each step as the officers ascended the stairs, and they found themselves facing a hallway at the top.Bookmark here

Briggs called out, “This is the police. Is anybody here?”Bookmark here

No response. Briggs walked over to the first door, which was closed, and knocked on it. Still no response. He grabbed the doorknob and slowly turned it, realizing it was unlocked, then gently opened it to peek inside.Bookmark here

There was a bed in the room. Somebody was lying in it. Briggs opened the door halfway and called to them.Bookmark here

“Excuse me,” he said. “This is the police. I hate to wake you up, but I need to have a word with you. Mr. Dudek has been arrested and is in our custody.”Bookmark here

The person didn’t respond. Harrison stood from the hallway and watched as Briggs entered the room, his heavy shoes leaving clear imprints in the soft carpet. Understanding the person in bed was probably resting due to illness, Harrison felt bad about waking them, but they had a duty to perform.Bookmark here

Briggs walked over to the bed, noticing the person sleeping was a middle-aged woman, likely Ivan’s wife. Almost instantly, he saw she was covered in sweat, looked very pale, and was breathing too heavily for someone sleeping or in good health. Keeping his distance to avoid infection, Briggs spoke to her again.Bookmark here

“Hello?” he said loudly. “Can you hear me? Hello?”Bookmark here

“Are they all right?” Harrison asked from the hallway.Bookmark here

“It appears to be Ivan’s wife,” Briggs replied just loud enough for Harrison to hear, “and no, she clearly looks very sick and isn’t responding.”Bookmark here

“We should probably keep our distance,” Harrison said. “She could be contagious.”Bookmark here

“Right,” Briggs said. “And I feel bad to wake her up. I can tell she needs plenty of rest.”
Once in the hallway, Briggs closed the door quietly.Bookmark here

“Let’s check to see if the daughter is home,” Harrison said. “Maybe she’ll be awake.”Bookmark here

The last room down the hall was another bedroom, and the door was wide open. Various stuffed animals lined the shelves, including several plushies of Cold Fjord’s mascot. On the desk was a candid photograph of Biscuits N’ Gravy feeding a large beaver. Posters lined the walls, including an autographed poster of Canadian punk-rock band Leap Into Traffic and the Ouran High School Host Club anime. The entire room smelled like blueberries.Bookmark here

A person was in bed as well, and it turned out to be a younger woman, probably in her late teens or early twenties. Just like the wife, she was also covered in sweat, very pale, and breathing heavily. Nodding to each other, the officers left the room without attempting to wake her, then went back downstairs to meet with the other officers.Bookmark here

Detective Ulysses Townshend had just arrived. Townshend was a renowned (perhaps notorious) private investigator who had a history of working with Duke Harrison and Lars Briggs. Standing at six feet and two inches with slick, brown hair, hazel eyes, and stubbly facial hair, he could always be picked out among a crowd due to his strong presence (and tan trench coat, which he often wore even on the hottest days).Bookmark here

Townshend was being briefed by another officer who was explaining the stolen medication. Harrison and Briggs walked right up to the detective.Bookmark here

“Hello, Detective,” Harrison greeted. “Glad to see you made it.”Bookmark here

“Of course,” Detective Townshend replied, sounding peppy. “I wouldn’t turn this opportunity down.” He smiled at the officers. “It sounded relevant, so I had to jump onboard.”Bookmark here

“Relevant?” Briggs asked. “What do you mean?”Bookmark here

“Oh, I’ll fill you in later.” Townshend waved his hands dismissively. “Did you speak to the family?”Bookmark here

“They were sleeping,” Harrison said. “They seem to be very sick, and the wife didn’t respond to us at all.”Bookmark here

Townshend shifted his gaze between Harrison and Briggs.Bookmark here

“Did you try to wake the daughter?”Bookmark here

“No,” Harrison replied, “seeing how sick they looked, we decided to let her be after the wife didn’t respond.”Bookmark here

“Hmm.” Townshend held his chin in his hand as he thought. “Are you sure they weren’t deceased?”Bookmark here

“Well, they were breathing,” Briggs said.Bookmark here

Townshend already had his notepad out.Bookmark here

Heavy breathing?” he asked, his pen in position.Bookmark here

“Uh, yes,” Harrison told him.Bookmark here

“What were the other symptoms?” the detective asked, scribbling.Bookmark here

“Sweaty and pale,” Briggs replied.Bookmark here

“Were they running a fever?”Bookmark here

“We didn’t touch them,” Briggs said. “We were worried about catching it.”Bookmark here

Ulysses Townshend snapped his notepad shut.Bookmark here

“I’ll gamble that they did,” he said confidently, pointing his pen at Briggs, “and that they had coughing, severe diarrhea, headaches, numbness and tingling in the toes and fingers, and loss of appetite.”Bookmark here

“What makes you say all that?” Harrison asked. “Is this related to something else?”Bookmark here

“It could be,” Townshend said. “Let me speak with the robber.”Bookmark here

Briggs pointed to where Ivan was sitting in the police cruiser before he and Harrison joined the other officers in the kitchen. Townshend walked over to the car and opened the back door to confront Ivan.Bookmark here

“Hi,” the detective greeted. “I’m Detective Townshend. What’s your name, sir?”Bookmark here

“Ivan Dudek.”Bookmark here

“Mr. Dudek, I’ll need to ask you some questions. My fellow officers discovered two females asleep in your house. Are they your family?”Bookmark here

“Yes, my wife and daughter.”Bookmark here

Townshend was already writing in his notepad, his pen movements looking over-exaggerated and wild.Bookmark here

“It’s reported that they’re sick. Is that correct?”Bookmark here

“Yes, sir,” Ivan answered dully. “They’re very sick. They need medication. That’s why I stole them.”Bookmark here

The scribbling on Townshend’s notepad was audible.Bookmark here

“Why not take them to the hospital?” he asked. “They didn’t respond to the officers. It could be an emergency.”Bookmark here

“We have no money and no insurance!” Ivan choked as emotions took over. “I wanted to do what I can.”Bookmark here

“Well, it might not have been the smartest thing to do,” Townshend replied.Bookmark here

Ivan began to sob, but calmed himself quickly.Bookmark here

“I was desperate,” he squeaked.Bookmark here

Townshend looked at Ivan, feeling pity for the man’s situation. However, there was a much bigger picture needing to be mapped out before any sympathy could manifest.Bookmark here

“When did they get sick?” Townshend asked, already scribbling in his notes before Ivan could answer.Bookmark here

“Four days ago. At the same time.”Bookmark here

“What were the symptoms?”Bookmark here

“First it was coughing, sneezing, and headaches. Then they started getting feverish. After two days, they stopped eating and had stomach problems. And yesterday, they started losing the feeling in their fingers and toes.”Bookmark here

Townshend looked up from his notepad. He understood Ivan was in a world of distress, so the detective had to force himself not to smile because his assumptions of the symptoms were true. Looking back down at his notepad, he took a deep breath.Bookmark here

“We’ll have your family transported to a hospital,” Townshend told him. “I suspect that this is a life-or-death situation for them. They sound likely comatose at this point and will need immediate, extensive care. I know you have money and insurance issues, but think about what’s more important here.”Bookmark here

Ivan’s face scrunched up as he fought back the tears. He nodded quietly, balling up his handcuffed fists.Bookmark here

“One more question,” Townshend said. He showed his notepad to Ivan, indicating to what he had been scribbling during his investigation. There was an intricate doodle of a tomato with tiny little legs being chased by a T-rex. “Does this drawing look okay?”Bookmark here

The confusion was clear in Ivan’s expression.Bookmark here

“T-rexes … didn’t eat tomatoes.”Bookmark here

Townshend frowned before snapping his notepad shut.Bookmark here

“Everyone’s a critic,” he muttered, slamming the car door shut and walking away.Bookmark here

*******Bookmark here

The night was cooler after sunset, but the smothering humidity continued to linger under the overcast sky. Traffic never ceased as the evening crowds filled every sidewalk and street corner. Everyone was enjoying the nightlife before the autumn chills swept through the following months.Bookmark here

Officers Duke Harrison and Lars Briggs were off duty and having coffee in a coffee bar famous for its homemade walnut biscotti and buttery croissants. Detective Ulysses Townshend joined them to take a break from his investigation. They had received word a disturbance had occurred around Revere Park earlier that day, but the case had been assigned to other officers.Bookmark here

“I really did take a guess at their symptoms,” Townshend explained while stirring some salted caramel cream into his coffee, “so I was surprised when Ivan nailed it in his answer.”Bookmark here

“But was it relevant to something you knew?” Harrison asked.Bookmark here

Townshend perked up.Bookmark here

“Actually, it was,” he replied. “There had been several other reports over the past week involving a similar disease going around. It’s pretty recent news and still rather unknown, but it concerns me.” He took a sip of his coffee and let his thoughts sink in. “I think we should go public with it.”Bookmark here

Briggs nodded, saying, “We could contact the news stations and have them make a public service announcement.”Bookmark here

“I remember a recent case involving a similar illness,” Townshend said. “Unfortunately, the infected person was murdered by his close acquaintance.”Bookmark here

“That’s too bad,” Harrison said.Bookmark here

“But here’s something peculiar,” Townshend said with a smirk. “The murderer was arrested. He pled guilty, and he said he committed the crime to avoid infection due to contagions. The symptoms matched up with the Dudek family.”Bookmark here

Harrison was quiet. Briggs cleared his throat and looked out the window.Bookmark here

“Sounds like a nasty illness,” Townshend said, leaning forward. “I mean, to kill a person you knew well just to avoid getting it.”Bookmark here

“Ivan’s family looked in very poor condition,” Briggs added. “You made sure they were admitted into a hospital, Townshend?”Bookmark here

“Uh, yes,” Townshend confirmed. “It was actually Ivan. He made the ultimate decision. I feel bad for him, really. He made a stupid choice robbing that pharmacy, and now he still has his family to worry about.”Bookmark here

“He messed up, but it’s taken care of now.” Harrison leaned back. “I’m just glad there were no casualties.”Bookmark here

Townshend took a sip of his coffee, then added some sugar.Bookmark here

“I’ll wait for the coroner’s report before making my next decision,” he said. “I’m curious about these illnesses. If it’s something like the flu, it may still be worth requesting a public announcement from the news stations to warn people. At the very least, we can potentially make a lot of people’s lives easier. That will be enough until more is learned about the disease.”Bookmark here

Briggs yawned and checked his cellphone.Bookmark here

“It’s getting late,” he said, sliding his coffee mug a few inches away. “Better get home to the wife.”Bookmark here

“Yeah, me too,” Harrison added. “My kid needs me to check his homework, otherwise he’ll never get it done.”Bookmark here

“Alright, gentlemen.” Townshend took a big gulp of coffee. The combination of cream and sugar was just right, but the coffee itself was lousy. “I’ll probably be up for a few more hours. Call me if you need anything.”Bookmark here

Harrison and Briggs glanced at each other.Bookmark here

“Need something?” Briggs asked. “Such as what?”Bookmark here

Townshend grinned.Bookmark here

“I don’t know, just to chat. The life of a private eye can get drab.”Bookmark here

The officers glanced at each other again.Bookmark here

“Uh, you have a good night, Detective,” Harrison said with a courteous smile.Bookmark here

Townshend remained at the table alone. He watched the traffic creep by the café, thinking about his wife back home. He thought about how beautiful she had been before marriage, and how her weight had piled on after the years. She had a gorgeous voice that shrieked at him night after night, nagging him about things he couldn’t remember as he gradually mastered the technique of tuning her out. Beckoning to the waitress for a refill on his coffee, he was ready to stay out of the house for another evening to indulge in the peace and quiet.Bookmark here

*******Bookmark here

Andrew Norris prepared for class in the teachers’ lounge before Lyonbole Public High School entered session. He was joined by Beth Sonnet, the young home economics instructor, and Ned Jackson, who taught social studies and geography.Bookmark here

They had all heard the major news headline for the day, either from the Chicago Sons-Times news article or the NBBC 50 Chicago television broadcast. A serious disease had been spreading through the city, and the teachers of Lyonbole had taken it upon themselves to ensure the safety and health of their students.Bookmark here

“Will Charles make an announcement today?” Mr. Norris asked. He was shuffling some papers pertaining to the day’s lessons. “He’s the principal, so I assume he’ll be in charge of deciding how to handle it.”Bookmark here

Beth Sonnet looked at her bottle of unsweetened tea. At age twenty-nine, she was the youngest teacher at Lyonbole, and was very likeable due to her sweet personality that paired well with her gentle face. Her bright orange hair was topped with her usual red ribbon bow with white polka dots.Bookmark here

“I’m not sure what he’ll do,” Mrs. Sonnet replied glumly. She sighed, fearing for her students’ well-being. “Even so, I’ll make my own personal announcement at the start of every class. The kids need to know about this.”Bookmark here

Mr. Jackson nodded in agreement. “It’s an unknown disease. The Centers of Disease Control and Prevention will probably step in soon. They probably have already, shoot.”Bookmark here

“It’s scary, isn’t it?” Mrs. Sonnet shivered at the thought. “Diseases spreading like this. What’ll happen if it gets out of control?”Bookmark here

“I’d rather not think about it,” Mr. Norris said with optimism. “But we need to consider the possibility that this could escalate.”Bookmark here

“Right.” Mr. Jackson agreed. “It’s important to start taking precautions now.”Bookmark here

The door to the room opened with a pronounced creak. Principal Charles Stark entered the room and walked directly to the coffee maker. He removed the coffee pot and sniffed the coffee, making a slight grimace before pouring himself a steaming cup.Bookmark here

“Good morning, Charles,” Mrs. Sonnet said happily.Bookmark here

“G’mornin’,” Mr. Stark grunted.Bookmark here

“Did you hear the news today?” Mr. Jackson asked. “There was a public safety announcement.”Bookmark here

“Disease and such.” The stout principal slammed the cup of coffee in a single gulp. Didn’t the freshly brewed coffee burn him? “Is that it?”Bookmark here

“Uh, yes,” Mr. Jackson said, “as a matter of fact.”Bookmark here

“It’s all over the news,” Mrs. Sonnet added.Bookmark here

Mr. Stark sighed and set his empty cup in the sink.Bookmark here

“I’ll make plans to announce it today,” the principal said flatly. He loosened his tie. “Be sure to stock up your soap dispensers, cover your mouths when coughing and sneezing … all that kind of stuff.”Bookmark here

“Gotcha,” Mr. Norris replied.Bookmark here

Mr. Stark walked out of the teachers’ lounge. As soon as he closed the door behind him, he encountered a smiling Lavi.Bookmark here

“You made the right move, huh?” the angel said with a smirk. “That’s uncharacteristic of you. Are you having a change of heart?”Bookmark here

“Don’t patronize me,” the demon snorted. “You’re one to talk.”Bookmark here

“I don’t know what you mean, Baal.”Bookmark here

“You’re lying and conniving,” Baal said, grinning ironically. “Since when did you holy rollers condone that kind of behavior?”Bookmark here

“I don’t condone it,” Lavi replied. “I just use it against you, just as you use it against me.”Bookmark here

Baal snorted again, this time loudly, as if suppressing a laugh. He walked away, leaving the angel behind. Lavi opened the door to the teachers’ lounge and greeted everyone there.Bookmark here

“Good morning, Leon,” Mrs. Sonnet said happily.Bookmark here

“How are you?” Leon Kampton asked, taking a seat at the table with everyone else.Bookmark here

“I’m good,” Mr. Jackson told him. “Did you hear the news today?”Bookmark here

“Disease and such.” Mr. Kampton leaned back in his chair. “Is that it?”Bookmark here

Mrs. Sonnet chuckled. “That’s exactly what Charles said.”Bookmark here

“Word for word,” Mr. Norris added.Bookmark here

Mr. Kampton stared at the ceiling. He was silent for a moment, pondering a multitude of different things. When no sufficient words in all the human languages (past, present, nor future) came to him, he straightened himself out, smiled gently, and nodded.Bookmark here

“Sounds like him, doesn’t it?”Bookmark here

*******Bookmark here

Lyonbole Public High School’s hallways were filling with students who were still half asleep. The events and lessons for the day were already laid out in Mr. Jackson’s mind, as he expected another day of the same old grind. When he entered the classroom, a few students were already settling down for the period, and they were the same early birds who followed the same punctuality nearly every time. Bookmark here

However, there was a notable variance thrown into the mix of punctual students — Erik Hawthorne was sitting at his desk, talking with other students.Bookmark here

“Hey, not too sick to skip school, Erik?” a boy said jokingly.Bookmark here

“Not today,” Erik replied with a smile. “I actually feel pretty good.”Bookmark here

“Just don’t get me sick, okay?” another boy said, patting Erik on the back.Bookmark here

“No guarantees, dude.”Bookmark here

Erik and the two boys laughed.Bookmark here

Mr. Jackson made eye contact with Erik, who smiled courteously, and the teacher smiled back. Taking his seat, the teacher looked at his attendance sheet and thought about not having to mark Erik as absent again. It was ironic, though, how news of a spreading illness had made the major headlines, and the one student who was notorious for being sick had actually shown up for school. Bookmark here

The room filled up and the bell inevitably ushered in another school day. In accordance to the day-by-day routine, Mr. Jackson started by taking attendance. However, it was peculiar when Mr. Jackson had to mark Chris Findale as absent, who always had a perfect attendance as far as the teacher’s memory served.Bookmark here

Marilyn Collins sat at her desk throughout homeroom, occasionally glancing at Chris’s empty seat. She had nobody to talk with, and quickly grew bored as she used pages from her notebook for origami. Bookmark here

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