Chapter 11:

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

ANNO DOMINI ~Allium~ [Beta version]

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

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!Bookmark here

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!Bookmark here

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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.Bookmark here

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

With the storage room door closed, the plotting commenced.Bookmark here

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

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

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

“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.”Bookmark here

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

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

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.Bookmark here

“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?”Bookmark here

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

Robbie felt slightly defeated, taking a deep breath.Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

“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.”Bookmark here

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

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

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

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

“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.”Bookmark here

Chris sighed.Bookmark here

“Lavi said his boss made the app.”Bookmark here

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

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

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

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

“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.”Bookmark here

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

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

“Um … okay.”Bookmark here

“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.”Bookmark here

“Seems simple enough.”Bookmark here

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

Chris scratched his head.Bookmark here

“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.”Bookmark here

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

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

“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.”Bookmark here

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

Robbie silently agreed.Bookmark here

“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.”Bookmark here

“Yeah … that’s true ….”Bookmark here

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

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.Bookmark here

“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?”Bookmark here

Chris and Robbie looked at each other.Bookmark here

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

“Tiki torches,” Robbie answered, nodding.Bookmark here

Katie instantly bought it.Bookmark here

“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?”Bookmark here

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

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.Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

“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.”Bookmark here

The message ended just like that.Bookmark here

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

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

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

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

“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!”Bookmark here

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

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

“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.”Bookmark here

Robbie put his hand on Chris’s shoulder reassuringly.Bookmark here

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

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.Bookmark here

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

“Yeah.”Bookmark here

*******Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

“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.”Bookmark here

*******Bookmark here

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. Bookmark here

“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.”Bookmark here

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

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

*******Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

“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.”Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

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

*******Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

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

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

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

“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 ….”Bookmark here

*******Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

“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.Bookmark here

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

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.Bookmark here

“In the restroom … together?” she asked.Bookmark here

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

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.Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

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

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.Bookmark here

Ms. Vaughn continued to say something about logarithms.Bookmark here

*******Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

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

Reluctantly, Erik stopped and let Robbie catch up.Bookmark here

“What’s up, Robbie?” Erik asked.Bookmark here

“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.”Bookmark here

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

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

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

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

“No … I don’t have a phone anymore.”Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

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

“Yeah, sorry,” Erik said.Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

Erik chuckled at first, then started laughing heartily.Bookmark here

“That was crazy,” he said.Bookmark here

Robbie chuckled as well.Bookmark here

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

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

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

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

“Uh, not really,” Robbie replied.Bookmark here

“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?”Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

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

“What’s up?” Drake greeted.Bookmark here

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

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

What didn’t happen during lunch?Bookmark here

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

Mild frustration showed on Drake’s face.Bookmark here

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

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

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

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

“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.”Bookmark here

“Thanks, Drake.”Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

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

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

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

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

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

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

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?”Bookmark here

“Hmm, if I feel like it.”Bookmark here

“What’s that supposed to mean?”Bookmark here

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

*******Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

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

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.Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

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

“I feel nauseated, though.”Bookmark here

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

“Thanks.”Bookmark here

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. Bookmark here

James K.
Jio Kurenai
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