Chapter 11:

Book 1, Ch. 11: Looming Threats & Crushing Guilt

ANNO DOMINI ~Allium~


***THANKS FOR READING!***

Greetings and salutations to Honeyfeeders from different nations! I present the 11th chapter of ANNO DOMINI ~Allium~. I'm excited to say that I've commissioned a professional manga/anime-style artist to do illustrations for this story. Seeing my characters with my own two eyes is blowing my mind, and I can't wait to share the finished artwork with everyone!

As usual, rumble with that "Like" button if you like this chapter. I always love comments, so feel free to leave some and I'll reply as best as I can!

*******

BOOK 1, CHAPTER 11: LOOMING THREATS & CRUSHING GUILT

The gymnasium was completely empty, just as Robbie had said. Chris and Robbie snuck into the storage room containing all of the sports equipment. Although they had a high chance of being in private, both boys were “good” students who never acted out of line and were used to following rules, so there was the looming fear of being caught skipping class. They would probably get scolded by their teachers, probably get written up, probably get yelled at by their parents, and probably feel the shame of insubordination piggybacking with them well after graduating.

They would probably also save everyone at Lyonbole Public High School from the unidentified menace that prowled about.

With the storage room door closed, the plotting commenced.

“Excalibur,” Chris spoke in a low voice, “we need a plan.”

“That’s a good idea,” the app replied. “What do you propose?”

“Well … I was hoping you could help with that,” Chris said.

“As I have said, my functions are still limited,” Excalibur replied. “Helping formulate plans at this stage in my development will be difficult. Should you choose to seek my advice, you must approach my answers with some skepticism, because there might be better alternatives that are easily overlooked.”

Chris scratched his head and said, “Is this another one of your jokes?”

“Unfortunately, I am being as honest as I can right now.”

With a sigh, Chris looked at Robbie who could only offer a shrug. Having a more functional app would have been nice, rather than being teased with a low-operational beta version whose truths sounded like jokes and jokes sounded like truths.

“Let’s just take out the bad guy,” Robbie said. “There’s one more of them, right? The first one was easy to beat, so wouldn’t the second one be?”

“Hmm, maybe.” Gunnhildr appeared in Chris’s hand. “Unless the first win was a fluke or something.”

Robbie felt slightly defeated, taking a deep breath.

The holy handgun in Chris’s hand looked the same as it always had, but something felt different about it. Just as when it failed to fire after the first shot during the fight with Al, there was a sort of deadness in the firearm.

Seeing how the absolving bullets had no effect on physical solids, Chris felt it was safe to fire it again to get used to its characteristics. Aiming the gun at a spare archery target, his hand a little shakier than anticipated, Chris squeezed the trigger. Nothing happened. Did it misfire? He pulled the trigger again, but nothing.

“What’s wrong?” Chris was stumped. He examined the gun for a safety release that he already knew it didn’t seem to have. “It doesn’t work most of the time.”

“Gunnhildr needs time to recharge the absolving bullet,” Excalibur explained.

Now you tell me,” Chris muttered. “How long’s it take?”

“Twelve hours. Exactly forty-three thousand, two hundred seconds.”

A rock sank into Chris’s gut as Robbie snickered despairingly.

“Okay, okay.” Robbie was gesturing with his hands as he prepared to turn his messy thoughts into speech. “Twelve hours really sounds like a … an artificial number, don’t ya think? Chris, please tell me, who made this app you have? And I ain’t never seen a gun like that one, nuh-uh.”

Chris sighed.

“Lavi said his boss made the app.”

“Mr. Stark did?” Robbie asked. “Our principal, right?”

“No.” Chris shook his head. “His real boss, I think. I don’t know who made Gunnhildr, but it’s probably the same maker.”

Robbie looked confused, but also appeared to be deep in thought.

“Excalibur,” Chris said, “what else should I know about Gunnhildr? Is there anything else about it in your database?”

“I have information regarding the absolving bullets,” the app said. “For nonphysical entities, the bullet must pierce the core or essence of the being. Think of it as the heart or brain, a vital piece of its existence.”

“Oh,” Chris said, “uh, guess I got lucky against that last thing.”

“I do not believe it was luck,” Excalibur said, “but intuition. You sought out the core and pierced it.”

“Um … okay.”

“When using an absolving bullet against physical entities, the bullet must come into contact with living flesh. Hair and nails do not count. As a general rule, any body part requiring blood supply will suffice for the absolving bullet.”

“Seems simple enough.”

“There is another rule that applies to both nonphysical and living entities,” the app continued. “You must match the spiritual wavelength of your target.”

Chris scratched his head.

“What’s that mean?” he asked. “But, now that you mention it, I did feel some kind of connection with that ancient thing before I shot it.”

“Man, it can never be easy,” Robbie muttered. “That gun shoulda came with a manual.”

“Rules are rules,” Chris said, shrugging. “That twelve-hour reload is the worst one so far.”

“Well, we gotta look at it this way,” Robbie said. “If it takes half a day for your special gun to recharge the Abolishing Beam, or whatever it was, then we’ll have to wait. That’s how I see it.”

“I don’t like that,” Chris said quietly, yet full of steadfast dignity. “Having something loose around here, that shouldn’t be an option.”

Robbie silently agreed.

“You must remember,” Excalibur said, “these particular beings could have been present all along. If they have not caused any disturbances during that time, then there is a good possibility that the second being will remain docile over the next twelve hours.”

“Yeah … that’s true ….”

“Hey, listen!” Robbie hissed. “I hear someone.”

The sound of a person walking in the gym became gradually louder, and the pace of the footsteps was quick. Chris and Robbie held their breaths as the sound stopped outside the storage room door. With deliberate force, the door was pushed open and Katie Vickers came striding into the room. Seeing the two boys startled her, and she jumped back while letting out a shocked squeak.

“Ohhh, you scared the pudding out of me,” she said, clutching her chest over her heart. “Uh, what are you guys doing in here? Looking for something?”

Chris and Robbie looked at each other.

“Yeah, we are,” Chris told her. “The, um,” he glanced at Robbie again, “what were they?”

“Tiki torches,” Robbie answered, nodding.

Katie instantly bought it.

“Oh. I came to look for some TV cables, or something. My science class is using the Blu-ray player for a video, but we didn’t have the cables. They’re missing. Weird, huh?”

“This is the gym storage room,” Robbie told her. “You might not find cables in here.”

That statement was a wakeup call for Katie, who just realized she was surrounded with sporting equipment. Giggling with embarrassment, she said, “You’re right! I thought of a supply room, but not a specific one, so I just came to this one without thinking. Silly me!”

Tenth-grader Katie Vickers was Marilyn’s best friend and knew Chris. She had almond-brown eyes and strawberry blonde hair, typically held down by a headband from her eclectic collection. On the cheerleading squad, her clumsiness often earned her a place off to the side of human pyramids, and her gullibility was the key component of her charming, glowing innocence.

A single, monotonous beep rang throughout the entire school. Someone was about to say something over the intercom for every student and faculty member to hear.

“Attention, Lyonbole Public High School,” Principal Charles Stark’s somewhat flat voice came through the hundreds of speakers in every area of the building. “A lot of people in Chicago are getting sick, so be sure to practice good health and sanitation. That is all.”

The message ended just like that.

“That’s our principal for you,” Robbie commented flatly. “Direct and to the point.”

“People are getting sick?” Katie asked worriedly. “What kind of disease? Is it bad?”

“He didn’t say,” Chris replied with a shrug. “This is the first I’ve heard of it.”

“Flu season is coming up,” Robbie said. “This could be part of it. The vaccinations, I mean.”

“I don’t like shots,” Katie said, getting goosebumps. She rubbed her arms. “So, yeah, I gotta go get those cables. Maybe I’ll check the A/V room. Thanks guys. See ya, Chris!”

“Yeah,” Chris replied. “Later, Katie.”

Katie hurried out of the storage room, leaving Chris and Robbie alone again. They looked at each other and chuckled.

“Well,” Chris sighed, running his fingers through his hair, “I guess we’ll just have to wait until Gunnhildr recharges, but I still don’t like it.”

Robbie put his hand on Chris’s shoulder reassuringly.

“Hey, I know what you mean, man. But we gotta be patient.”

Chris checked the time on his phone, feeling strange to know Excalibur was built into it and probably listening to everything going on. He would have to catch up with his missed morning classes and didn’t want to do the same with the rest of his classes. Robbie was right about being patient, and school was still important while the bigger problems needed time to be dealt with.

“Let’s just go to class,” Robbie said. “It’s all we can do right now.”

“Yeah.”

*******

Katie continued down the hall to the A/V room’s storage. A thought suddenly came to her, making her stop for a moment. Her sneakers screeched on the polished floor as she came to a halt.

“The gym’s storage room has tiki torches?” she asked out loud to herself, putting her index finger on her chin. “I didn’t know they were used for sports. That’s so cool.”

*******

Drake O’Neil sat in his history class, lost in thought. An announcement about spreading diseases had just been made and the school was already buzzing with whispering students.

“Wash your hands after using the bathroom and before handling food,” Mr. Norris was saying. “Cover your mouth when sneezing and coughing, but don’t touch your mouth, eyes, and nose. Just don’t be filthy animals and your risk of getting sick will decrease.”

Leaning back in his seat, Drake looked up at the ceiling and smirked.

“Diseases, huh?” he muttered to himself, flattening the collar on his black polo shirt.

*******

While in the middle of teaching home economics, Mrs. Sonnet was handing out packets of moist towelettes she happened to have, distributing them to her students. Marilyn Collins received a couple, which she looked at before putting them into her pocket. The packaging for the towelettes matched Mrs. Sonnet’s red bow with white polka dots.

“Remember to use these whenever you can’t get to a sink,” Mrs. Sonnet told the class. “If you can buy some bottles of hand sanitizer, that’d be good too. I prefer the kinds with the moisturizer, or my skin will get really dry.”

Mrs. Sonnet paused for a moment and noticed the back of her hand. Now at the age of twenty-nine, Beth Sonnet was the youngest teacher currently working at Lyonbole Public High School. The subtle wrinkles forming along the creases of her knuckles served as incessant reminders that her youth was on the cusp of banishment, and her greatest faith was in the numerous products for anti-aging and vitality restoration in her home.

Before sinking into a deep pit of despair (something uncharacteristic of her, but not entirely outside of her capabilities), Mrs. Sonnet perked back up and continued handing out moist towelettes while wearing an encouraging smile mostly aimed at herself rather than her students.

“I highly recommend the moisturizing sanitizers,” she said, briefly missing the context of her original message of germ control.

*******

Garret Faux Pas entered his science class mid-session after being dismissed from the counselor’s office. The school had contacted the Humane Society to hand over Mont Blanc, a grave and unjust act according to Garret, which had only taken place due to Mr. Kampton’s absence at school that day … according to Garret. However, a deep connection had been formed between the boy and his beaver, and Garret knew no institution could contain Mont Blanc for long, for that particular beaver was a master escape artist. Their reunion was nigh.

The teacher, Maxwell Donahue, noticed Garret entering the room. He was a tall, stocky man with a bushy mustache concealing his mouth, and his eyebrows were similarly bushy as well.

“There you are, Garret,” Mr. Donahue said. “I was wondering if you’d get here.”

“He got in trouble for bringing his beaver to school again!” one student blurted out. A round of laughter followed.

“You’ll rue the day you underestimate Mont Blanc!” Garret spat before sitting at his desk. “Just wait.”

“Now,” Mr. Donahue said, looking at the door and wiggling his mustache, “I wonder why it’s taking Katie so long to get those cables. I hope she didn’t get lost again ….”

*******

Standing at the front of the classroom, Ms. Vaughn’s attention was caught by the sound of her classroom door opening as Chris and Robbie entered at the same time. The two boys being late was peculiar, as Ms. Vaughn always remembered them being very punctual in the past, especially Chris with his perfect attendance.

Feeling awkward, the two boys felt as if there were a hundred people watching them walk to their desks. In fact, the teacher was the only person who noticed and cared.

“Strange for you two to be late,” she said. Her voice was calm and motherly, making it difficult to tell if she was scolding them or mocking them.

“Uh, yeah,” Robbie told her. “We were in the restroom.”

Ms. Vaughn looked at them both intimidatingly, although she was showing no obvious anger. Perhaps the scolding/mocking combination of her attitude was the most intimidating. Additionally, her low cut shirt should not have been allowed for a teacher’s attire, and served as a sensory assault that made Chris and Robbie even more uncomfortable in her presence.

“In the restroom … together?” she asked.

“Yes,” Chris said. “Had to make sure our hands were thoroughly washed. They made the announcement about it.”

The teacher sniffed some obvious malarkey and could have easily retaliated with a horde of reasons as to why that excuse made little sense given the timeframe, but she figured she’d let it slide that once.

Amid the papers on Ms. Vaughn’s desk, there was a postcard from Leon Kampton with a simple message, “Be kind, rewind.” Perhaps it was the generosity instilled within the postcard that spoke through Ms. Vaughn and compelled her to waive the tardiness of the two students who never caused any sort of uproar in the past.

“Take your seats,” she told them. “I’m writing the assignment on the board now.”

From his desk, Chris looked at the interactive whiteboard. The words weren’t making any sense, like there were just a bunch of letters and numbers scrambled together refusing to form cohesive phrases and abandoning phonetic purposes. Too much was going on in Chris’s mind for him to gather any of the information for his math assignment.

Ms. Vaughn continued to say something about logarithms.

*******

School let out for the day, flooding the campus grounds with students. For Erik Hawthorne, the end of the day couldn’t have come any sooner. Throughout most of the day, he had the eerie feeling he was being watched. A chill periodically would brush past his neck as if there were some unseen eyes keeping track of his every move, spying from the depths of another world or dimension.

He tried to blame it on the many science fiction and fantasy shows he was fond of watching, such as Stranger Things or the Noragami anime. He tried to peg the explanation on anxiety caused by being in school when he often called off sick.

But he knew he was just kidding himself. Erik had crossed into a territory that not only most people were unaware of, but from which he felt he would never return.

The air was warm, stirred by a gentle breeze with the passing students on their way out of school, but the tenacious chill kept swirling through Erik. Bucking his book bag strap onto his shoulder, he glanced around before making a quick escape. That was when he heard a familiar voice call to him.

“Hey, Erik!” Robbie Smith called, waving.

Reluctantly, Erik stopped and let Robbie catch up.

“What’s up, Robbie?” Erik asked.

“Not much, man.” Robbie seemed outgoing as usual, but there was an underlying oddity in the subtlety of his actions, like there was some pep missing. “I have basketball practice in a little, but I saw you walking and thought I’d talk.”

“Oh.” Erik looked around, feeling uneasy and wanting to get away from the school.

“What are you doing this weekend?” Robbie asked. “We should hang out, or something.”

“Um, I don’t know yet,” Erik replied quietly.

“Well, do you have the same phone number?” Robbie persisted.

“No … I don’t have a phone anymore.”

Robbie couldn’t tell if there was something going on with Erik, or if it was just his imagination being skewed by the day’s events, but Erik seemed reluctant to have the conversation. His eyes kept moving around as if he was searching for something, and he was slowly inching away from Robbie and toward the main gate.

“Oh, okay,” Robbie said. “It’s no problem. Just wanted to chill again. I wanna clear my head.”

“Yeah, sorry,” Erik said.

A tickling sensation crawled into Erik’s sinuses. Screwing up his face for a few seconds to fight the oncoming sneeze, his failure to suppress it resulted in a mighty blast from his mouth. Like a domino effect typically seen with yawning, a nearby student walking by sneezed as well, followed by two other students nearby, and four more students near them, and then possibly a dozen more students in the area.

Bewildered by that peculiar phenomenon, Robbie looked around him as multiple students sniffled, and he realized he wasn’t the only person who saw the strangeness in what had just happened. Other students were bickering about how weird it was for so many people to sneeze at once like that, then the rumors of the spreading illness instantly cropped up.

Erik chuckled at first, then started laughing heartily.

“That was crazy,” he said.

Robbie chuckled as well.

“Yeah, it was. You better be careful, or people are gonna think you’re patient zero.”

Although Robbie’s comment was meant to be humorous, and although Erik fully understood that, he couldn’t help but feel uneasy.

“Yeah, right,” Erik said dully. “How do you feel? You aren’t sick, are you?”

A few students sniffled as they walked past. Some coughs could be heard in the distance.

“Uh, not really,” Robbie replied.

“That’s good.” Erik looked at Robbie, then diverted his gaze to the ground. “Hey, it’s good talking to you again, but I gotta get going.” He walked backwards away from Robbie. “Maybe someday we’ll chill, okay?”

While watching Erik shy away like that, Robbie remembered he was trying to find out some unspecific information from Erik. However, Robbie had become more concerned with reestablishing a friendship, and now that it didn’t seem likely, he felt sad as he headed toward the gym for basketball practice.

Chris had seen (but not heard) the conversation between Robbie and Erik as he stood next to the school statue of Frederick Randolph Lyons. As Robbie walked back toward the school building, Chris considered saying something to get his attention, but he couldn’t think of anything to say.

Drake came up and broke the silence by patting Chris on the back.

“What’s up?” Drake greeted.

“What’s up, man?” Chris bumped Drake’s fist.

“So, what happened during lunch?” Drake asked.

What didn’t happen during lunch?

“Um, it’s a long story,” Chris replied, trying not to sound as flat as he actually did.

Mild frustration showed on Drake’s face.

“It’s something you can’t tell me about?” he asked rather huffily.

Effort had to be applied for Chris to figure out how to answer.

“Sorry, but it’s nothing personal against you,” Chris told him, “but I really can’t talk about it.”

That reply annoyed Drake, but he decided to accept his friend’s feelings.

“So be it,” he said with a shrug, “if you say so, dude.” He gave Chris a playful punch on the arm. “If you need to talk, just hit me up.”

“Thanks, Drake.”

As Drake walked away, the pain in Chris’s arm indicated the playful punch he had received was tainted with a small dose of anger. Sighing and rubbing the sore spot, he noticed Marilyn and Katie walking by. With a smile, he waved at them. They both waved back, wearing big smiles of their own, and Marilyn hurried over to him.

“Chris, you weren’t in homeroom today,” she said disappointedly. “What happened?”

“Uh, I overslept,” he told her with a shrug. “Alarm didn’t go off.”

“Aw, no way. There goes your perfect attendance.”

“It’s okay. I’m not too beat up over it.”

Marilyn smiled delicately. She lifted one of her feet a few inches, letting the flip-flop sandal dangle from her toes.

“You’ll be here tomorrow, won’t you?” she asked.

With a firm nod, Chris said, “I will. Don’t worry.” He looked at the fence surrounding the bronze statue; it was made from iron, too hard for him to bend. Turning back to Marilyn, he jokingly added, “Will you be here tomorrow?”

“Hmm, if I feel like it.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

Laughing, Marilyn said, “Have a good night, Chris!” She hurried over to Katie, and Chris watched them both leave through the main gate.

*******

The public bus Erik rode on his way home was crowded as usual. Now that his nose was completely congested, he had to breathe through his mouth while surrounded by people, making him feel self-conscious.

Strangely, he felt great. His energy levels were peak and his mind didn’t seem cloudy in the least bit.

A middle-aged man wearing a business suit sitting next to Erik started coughing. Throughout the bus, a few other coughs and sniffles were heard. As Erik looked around at everyone’s faces, he felt depressed. He felt guilty.

There were two teenage girls riding the bus who Erik went to school with. They were standing up as the bus slowed down at a stop, and one girl was leaning onto a post with all of her weight and holding her stomach. Her face looked pale and sweaty, and her friend was trying to comfort her.

“You’ll be home in a few minutes. Can you make it?”

“I feel nauseated, though.”

“I’ll help you at your stop. You look terrible.”

“Thanks.”

The nauseated girl’s friend coughed, burying her mouth into her sleeve as she did so. Erik leaned back in his seat and closed his eyes. He felt extremely guilty. 

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