ANNO DOMINI ~Allium~ [Beta version]
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BOOK 1, CHAPTER 13: TURNING THE TABLES
Phone in hand and Bluetooth earpiece in place, Chris had a low-key conversation with Excalibur on his way to homeroom. Most of the students were in class, but there was the chance a stray ear could overhear the delicate discussion between the boy and his smartphone app, so he kept his voice quiet and a sharp eye out for anyone nearby as he walked and talked.
“There are no malicious readings in the vicinity,” Excalibur told Chris through the earpiece. “Either the second entity I discovered yesterday has left, or they are masking their presence.”
“Oh, okay,” Chris muttered. “Even so, I’ll need you to let me know if it comes back. Or if something similar shows up.”
“Affirmative. I will continue to monitor the premises at all times. How would you prefer me to alert you should I detect something?”
“Good question.” Chris had to think for a moment. “If it’s too obvious, my phone will be confiscated, then I’ll be really out of luck without you. School rules say I need to have my phone turned off or silent during class. Even so, I’m not allowed to use my phone at all during class without good reason, but it’s not like I can tell the teachers the truth.”
“That will make this difficult.”
“I know. For now, just alert me using the vibration. I’ll just have to be sneaky when I check it. Maybe I can use a hall pass to leave class so I don’t make anyone suspect me.”
“Very well. I shall stand by.”
Chris made sure his phone and earpiece were put away before he entered Mr. Jackson’s room. When he opened the door and stepped in, the teacher promptly greeted him.
“Chris, this is surprising,” Mr. Jackson said from behind his desk. “You were absent yesterday, and now you’re late today.”
“Uh, yeah, sorry,” Chris replied with a smile, feeling a little embarrassed. “I overslept yesterday, and I was talking with Mr. Kampton this morning.”
“Yes, I have a note from Mr. Kampton excusing you this morning.” Mr. Jackson held up an excuse slip that was on his desk. “But yesterday … you had a perfect attendance up until then, right?”
“Guess I messed up.”
“That’s too bad. Oh well, there are worse mistakes to make.”
I have an excuse slip from Lavi? Chris thought. That must mean he knew I’d talk with him this morning, and that I’d be late for class.
Before taking his seat, Chris scanned the room. Marilyn gave him a cute, bright smile, instantly making him feel better, which was something Marilyn could easily do. Erik Hawthorne, not surprisingly, was absent.
The morning seemed to drag mercilessly. Phantom vibrations plagued Chris countless times as his imagination kept telling him Excalibur had detected an unholy guest. The tension remained throughout homeroom until the bell rang.
“Morning, sleepyhead.” Marilyn was cheerful as usual when she approached Chris while he gathered his school materials. She was wearing a flowing, green blouse with a light blue sash tied around her waist into a bow on her back, and blue jeans. “You were late.”
“I was talking with Mr. Kampton,” he said, playing it off. “I’m excused this time.”
Marilyn smirked playfully. She swung her hip to the side, making the keychain of Cold Fjord’s mascot jangle from her belt loop.
“You’re turning into a real rebel,” she joked.
“Well, I wouldn’t say that.”
The two chatted as they left the classroom, and eventually they headed in their separate directions. While walking down the hall, a real vibration came from Chris’s pocket where his phone was. His adrenaline soared as he confirmed it was an actual alert.
Excalibur! he thought, glancing around nervously.
Thrusting his hand into his pocket and yanking his phone out rigorously, his blood pressure quickly dropped when he looked at the screen. He had received a text message from Marilyn, which he read while walking to his next class.
["Katie just told me about a band called Leap Into Traffic. Have you heard of them?"]
Chris heaved a sigh of relief knowing a threat hadn’t been detected, and replied:
["Yeah they’re ok. I have the 1st album"]
Within seconds, Marilyn sent a response.
["They have a show coming up at the Aragon Ballroom. We should get a group to go!!!"]
Chris typed his answer and sent it, saying it sounded like fun. In fact, just about anything with friends sounded like fun at that point. Marilyn sent a text back that consisted of nothing but a smiley emoji.
Mr. Norris stretched out in his chair during second period history. His students were quietly and diligently working on the day’s assignment, a simple worksheet designed to prepare them for an upcoming quiz. The coffee in his mug was mixed with a zero-calorie energy drink, and the concoction tasted atrocious. In his favor, the students were all too busy working to notice how he grimaced with every sip, sometimes sending a repulsive shiver down his spine.
The classroom door opened. A handful of students glanced over to see Bret Taurus walk in, groggy and disheveled. Mr. Norris leaned forward to acknowledge the tardy teen.
“Late again, Bret?” he said with a grin, changing the mark on his attendance sheet from “absent” to “tardy”.
Bret scoffed at the teacher and shuffled slowly to his desk. The students tried to ignore him, probably intimidated by his unkempt appearance or disappointed by their slacker of a classmate.
With a sigh, Bret plopped down in his seat, not wanting to open his eyes but unable to close them. He stared at his desk … into his desk, lost in the memory of the events from two nights prior, in which he had encountered a frightening, inhuman character during a non-negotiable deal. If only it had been a dream, but he was fully aware that it had been as real as it gets. As such, he had slept very little since then, with the help of drugs and anxiety.
Dealing with thieves, punks, teachers, and police was fine … but that thing from two nights ago ….
A worksheet slid into Bret’s line of vision as Mr. Norris placed it on the desk and explained what it was. The teacher’s words disappeared into a black hole in Bret’s mind. What had compelled him to come to school that day, anyway?
Why am I here? Bret wondered as Mr. Norris walked away. I hate this place, plus I feel like shit. What … am I doing?
It was no big deal to skip school even on good days, so it was very strange he would show up on a day when he wanted nothing more than to laze around with his buddies, score some booze, and holler at older girls.
Looking aimlessly around the classroom, Bret locked eyes with another student several rows of desks away. Feeling slightly creeped out by the person’s stare, he found it difficult to immediately look away.
Who’s this guy think he is, staring at me like that? Bret wondered. Chris Findale, I think his name is. He looking for a damn fight?
Chris sensed hostility in Bret’s expression, but he also sensed something else. There was some sort of fear or pain in the delinquent. Not wanting to start any unnecessary conflict, Chris looked back at his assignment.
Bret continued to watch Chris for a moment, thinking it was weird for someone to hold eye contact with him for that long. Even weirder was the fact Bret had been unable to look away, and there was something very inviting about Chris’s gaze. Bret shuddered, wondering if Chris swung that way, despite how he often seemed to be around that one cute girl with hazel eyes and burnt orange-colored hair; maybe they were siblings.
Chris was washing his hands in the restroom, thinking about the meeting he had had with Robbie and Lavi that morning, when a stall door opened and Bret Taurus walked out. Chris didn’t hear the toilet flush and wondered what Bret had been doing in the stall.
Bret walked toward the exit, tilting his head back and sniffing forcefully. Automatically, without knowing why, Chris called to him.
Bret stiffly stopped and looked at Chris. They were alone in the restroom, which made Bret uneasy. He couldn’t put his finger on it, but Chris made him uncomfortable. Then again, Bret had never held eye contact with another male (outside a fight) for as long as he had with Chris.
“Yeah?” Bret said.
Now Chris had to think of something to say.
“You’re Bret, right?”
“Yeah. You’re Chris?”
Chris nodded, but couldn’t think of any way to keep the conversation going. The silence gave Bret goosebumps.
“Do you need something?” Bret asked gruffly, glancing toward the exit, his escape.
“Well … I don’t know.”
“Then why’d you say something?”
“I want to talk to you.”
Bret backed away.
“Whoa, hold on, man. I don’t swing that way. I like the ladies.”
“Huh?” Chris had no clue what Bret meant. “Uh, okay.”
Bret dropped his guard a little.
“Oh, I thought you were making a pass at me, or something,” he said.
“No, not at all. Actually, I’m not sure why I said anything to begin with.”
That only made Bret irritated and more uneasy.
“If you don’t need anything, then I’m going.”
“Hey, we should hang out sometime,” Chris said, throwing out the last line of dialogue he could muster up.
Bret looked at Chris warily.
“Okay? But why?”
“I don’t know. Just hang out. Talk and stuff.”
Bret shook his head, longing for the restroom’s exit.
“I’m a busy person,” he said.
“But you always look so, uh …,” Chris fought for the words, “lonely, I guess.”
Folding his arms, Bret replied with a sneer, “So, you think you know me?”
“Not really. That’s, uh, kinda why I wanted to just, ya know, hang out.”
Bret laughed. “Weirdo,” he muttered, then walked out.
Realizing his hands were still wet and dripping on the floor, Chris wiped them off on his pants and followed Bret out.
“I’m just trying to be friends, man,” he said once he caught up to Bret.
“I have no idea why,” Bret muttered, not looking at Chris.
“That’s the funny part,” Chris chuckled, “because I don’t really know why, either.”
“Then why try?”
Stopping in the hallway, Bret got directly in Chris’s face. Although Chris was surprised by the sudden confrontation, he didn’t budge.
“Because I’m a busy person,” Bret told him through gritted teeth. “And I ain’t lonely.”
With that, Bret walked in one direction and Chris in another.
A cart with wheels occupied the teachers’ lounge during lunch, and on top was a massive pile of chocolate cake debris held together faultily with sparkly blueberry frosting. Leon Kampton was gleefully digging into a mass of cake on his paper plate while Beth Sonnet and Ned Jackson ate their more orthodox lunches.
“I don’t know how you do it, Leon,” Mrs. Sonnet told the vice principal. “You eat so many sweets. Aren’t you afraid of developing diabetes?”
“Or rotting your teeth?” Mr. Jackson added, scooping his fork into his leftover stir fry in a plastic container.
“My body responds to food differently,” Mr. Kampton told them nonchalantly. “It’s hard to explain. There’s plenty of cake for everyone. Help yourselves. I know it looks terrible. The delivery driver had to swerve to avoid running over a cyclist. Leave it to a health nut on a bicycle to take down a cake. Mutiny, I declare!”
“No thanks,” Mr. Jackson told him flatly. “I’m trying to avoid sweets.”
“Um, maybe I’ll have some later,” Mrs. Sonnet said, “or I’ll take some home. I love the cakes at Mondo Cake World. They’re so moist with the most extravagant spongy texture! And the frosting they make … it’s all done from scratch … I could eat it every day.”
“You can eat it every day.” Mr. Kampton nodded toward the pile of cake on the cart. “There’s enough there to last you a lifetime!”
Mrs. Sonnet held up her hands defensively and smiled.
“Uh, but I’m afraid of diabetes,” she said.
The door opened and Principal Charles Stark walked in. His stern eyes took in the situation.
“I heard there was cake,” he said grumpily.
“Nope,” Mr. Kampton told him through a full mouth, “the cake is a lie.”
“Then what’s this?” Mr. Stark pointed to the mess of cake on the cart.
“Oh, you caught me,” Mr. Kampton replied with a smirk.
“Please have some, Charles,” Mrs. Sonnet said to the principal. “Otherwise, I’ll be tempted to eat it all.”
Charles Stark didn’t say anything, but looked at the cake and Leon Kampton with dissatisfaction. Mr. Kampton, still eating cake, looked back at him while wearing an eager expression, as if to egg the principal into saying something snide.
“Leon,” Mr. Stark finally said, “did you receive the curriculum notices?”
Leon nodded, swallowed his mouthful of cake, and said, “They’re in my office. I’ll process them when I feel like.”
“They need to be processed by the end of the day,” the principal said, annoyed. “Don’t forget them.”
“Have I ever let you down?” Mr. Kampton replied.
“In a cosmic sort of way, yes.” Mr. Stark narrowed his eyes.
“I apologize for any inconvenience I may have caused,” Mr. Kampton said smugly, sounding like a store clerk who had recited that line millions of times to irate customers.
The principal flicked his eyes back toward the cake mountain on the cart.
“Did you pay for this with the school’s credit card again?” he asked.
“Oh, don’t worry about it,” the vice principal replied. “The school’s budget is fine, thanks to the valiant efforts of our accountant and the student council treasurer, and thanks to you, Charles.”
The pressure in Mr. Stark’s face increased.
“So you did use the school’s money. Is that what you’re saying?”
“We’ll be fine! This is a school expense. I’m using this cake to boost the morale of our faculty.” He gestured toward Mrs. Sonnet and Mr. Jackson, and they clearly didn’t want any part of the discussion as they looked away.
“I told you not to use the school’s credit card for any more purchases without my consent.” Mr. Stark was resisting the urge to go into a fit of rage, only further increasing the redness in his face.
“This’ll be the last time, I promise,” Mr. Kampton said. “Do you want some cake?”
“No, you nimrod!”
“Ah, Nimrod,” Mr. Kampton said with a sentimental look in his eye. “The poor fellow.”
Mrs. Sonnet chuckled.
“Those two always have such interesting interactions,” Mrs. Sonnet whispered to Mr. Jackson with a smile. “I bet they’re really close outside of work.”
“Hmm.” Mr. Jackson washed down a bite of stir fry with some water.
Mr. Kampton threw away his paper plate and plastic fork, looking refreshed and ready to face the afternoon.
“Yeah, I needed that,” he commented happily, looking at the clock on the wall. “Lunch is almost over. I gotta go take care of some duties now.”
“Wait.” Mr. Stark stopped Mr. Kampton at the door and looked at him with suspicion. “What are you going to do?”
Lavi and Baal stared at each other briefly.
“There’s a student I need to talk to,” Mr. Kampton answered. “If you’re afraid I’ll buy something else with the school’s money,” he reached into his wallet and handed over his work-issued credit card, “then here’s that.”
Mr. Kampton left. Mr. Stark looked at the two teachers, who looked away. The blueberry frosting on the heap of chocolate cake glistened with a bluish tint in the fluorescent lighting of the teachers’ lounge. From across the room, the principal could see the coffee pot was empty, and with no further business in the room, he walked out and closed the door. Beth Sonnet stared at the cake pile with her mouth watering slightly. Ned Jackson finished his stir fry.
The end-of-lunch bell resonated through the empty, wide hallways as the vice principal strolled down them. Voices from students began to echo from the direction of the cafeteria, but he headed in a different direction. At the end of one of the hallways, he walked out the doors leading into the parking lot. If he was correct, there was a popular spot for a handful of students around the corner outside the building. A small cloud of smoke wisped around the corner, and the vice principal followed it to its origin. He poked his head around the corner and found a sole student leaning against the wall in the small nook.
“Bret Taurus!” he said loudly.
Bret was startled, dropping his cigarette. With a grunt, he bent down to pick it up.
“Oh, Mr. Kampton,” Bret said with a sneer.
“Smoking a cigarette?” Mr. Kampton smiled.
“Yeah,” Bret replied matter-of-factly, “I am.”
Mr. Kampton looked around.
“This is a good spot,” he told the delinquent student. “Hard to see from most angles. No security cameras can see into here. There aren’t any nearby windows for smoke to enter the building.”
The student stared at the vice principal. As if to mock the authority figure, Bret put the cigarette in his mouth and took a drag.
“I guess I’m going with you, or something?” he muttered, exhaling the smoke as he spoke.
“I’ll wait for you to finish,” Mr. Kampton said with a small smile.
Feeling awkward to have the vice principal stare, Bret tossed the cigarette on the grass and pressed his shoe into it. He sighed and said, “Whatever, let’s go.”
Bret followed Mr. Kampton through the school. Students looked at the pair walking, smelling the dull odor of cigarettes from Bret, and thinking they had witnessed that scene many times before. Some of the students snickered because someone was in trouble, others were disappointed how someone could have such a careless attitude about school, while others were still surprised Bret wasn’t expelled yet.
Once in Mr. Kampton’s office, the vice principal closed the door as Bret plopped lazily into the chair in front of the desk. Mr. Kampton took his seat.
“So,” Bret said, lounging back in the chair, “how long am I suspended this time?” He sneered. “Or am I kicked out for good this time?”
“No, no, no.” Mr. Kampton waved his hands. “None of the sort.”
“But smoking on school grounds is a violation,” Bret said. “This is strike number … oh, what is it now for me?”
“I’ll let it slide today.”
Bret looked at the vice principal.
“Let it slide?” Although he couldn’t care about his punishment either way, he was confused. “What’s that mean?”
“I don’t care what you were doing in that well-hidden nook outside,” Mr. Kampton told the delinquent. “School rules, government laws, and those sorts of things … we’re not here to discuss them today. You’re about to get a full-course meal on what really controls planet Earth.”
Bret clicked his tongue impatiently.
“Are you out of your mind?” he said rudely. “Just get to the point.”
“How are your studies going?” Mr. Kampton asked, interlocking his fingers while leaning back in his chair.
“Screw school,” Bret said. He looked around the office. The chrome trim around the edge of Mr. Kampton’s desk was perfect and untarnished. In fact, the entire desk looked brand new without the slightest sign of wear or damage.
Mr. Kampton smiled.
“You don’t like school?” he asked.
“No.” Bret acted as if that was common knowledge everyone was aware of. “You can’t tell?”
“What don’t you like about it?”
“It sucks,” he replied bluntly. “It’s a waste of time. It’s boring. Teachers always tell me what to do. The kids here are all full of themselves. It’s stupid.”
Mr. Kampton continued to smile, not looking at the student. That annoyed Bret.
“You don’t like learning?”
“It’s not just that,” Bret replied. “This is the worst way to learn, and none of it is good to know. I’ll never apply the garbage they teach in school. If it was useful stuff, then yeah, I’d be cool with it. But making you sit around listening, doing homework, following rules that they make you follow just because they say so … it’s all stupid and worthless and a waste of time. I need to be out there learning how to use these things in the real world, and using things that I know I’ll need.”
Impressed by Bret’s substantial answer, Mr. Kampton sat upright in his chair to properly face the student.
“You mean you’re a ‘hands on’ kind of learner,” he said.
Bret shrugged. “Maybe.”
“But school has rules to teach you discipline.”
Bret shrugged again, unconvinced, and stared at the wall.
“What about books?” Mr. Kampton asked. “Do you like reading? It’s not just for stories. You can choose what types of books to read and learn about the things you want to learn.”
“Reading is for losers,” Bret replied, scoffing.
“I have some recommendations,” Mr. Kampton said. “How about Less Than Zero? The Corrections? Twilight, perhaps? Do you know what manga is?”
“You have to have a reason for bringing me here.” Bret’s patience was already thinning and was continuing to diminish. “What do you want?”
Mr. Kampton stood up, then focused his gaze past Bret. “Tomorrow is Saturday. I need you to have Christopher Findale treat you to lunch.”
The realization set in slowly, and Bret could only maintain half his composure as he stared at Mr. Kampton … a hard, intense stare. He gripped the arms of the chair he was sitting in.
“And why is that?” Bret asked, his tone quieter now, but much harsher. “What’s your aim?”
Mr. Kampton finally laid his eyes on the student across from his desk. A smile crept onto his face.
“Think of it as a favor,” he replied. “For me.”
“Did he talk to you about it?” Bret asked with a growl. “That’s some bullshit.”
“No, he did nothing of the sort,” Mr. Kampton said, looking a little smug. “Why? Did he already approach you?”
Bret stood up and balled his fists. Mr. Kampton could see the denial taking hold of the delinquent student. It was the denial of someone who couldn’t accept the situation as coincidence, and it was the source of the boy’s anger.
“And why should I do you this favor?” Bret asked, already making for the door. He turned around to face the vice principal, seeing for himself the pair of divine angel wings spanning out. As his jaw dropped, Bret could feel the air around him take on a warmth that couldn’t be felt by the skin, instead absorbing straight into his mind and spirit.
“Because you’d be doing yourself a mutual favor as well,” the winged vice principal said, maintaining the exact same expression he had been wearing.
The shock from the angel’s appearance faded rather quickly, and Bret grinned, his fists coming undone. Standing upright, he took a step toward the divine being who stood behind the desk.
“Nice try,” Bret sneered, “but that won’t work so well the second time. You’re not the first to pull this kind of stunt on me.”
Bret was used to using intimidation and boorishness to throw his weight around any social situation. As such, he derived great pleasure when he saw the smug expression fade from the glowing face of someone who obviously existed on a level superior to humankind.
Now dead serious and displeased to have the tide of the conversation reversed, Lavi truly fixated his attention on the delinquent student who wore the winning grin … a grin of impudence.
“What do you mean by ‘second time’?” Lavi asked, narrowing his eyes.
“I already met something like you the other night,” Bret replied cockily as he grabbed the doorknob, “and I’ll tell you this: it was a hell of a lot more threatening than you.”
Bret closed the door loudly behind him. Lavi walked over to the window and looked out, standing in silence for a moment.
“So,” he said to himself, “that’s the route we’re heading down, it seems.”
Kneeling down, eyes closed, palms together, Lavi proceeded to pray.
Another school day came to an end. Chris and Marilyn were walking down the hall together, talking about random things. Once outside, Chris met up with Drake by the school statue and Marilyn joined Katie. As all the students headed toward the main gate, someone approached Chris from behind.
“Chris,” Bret said.
“Hey,” Chris replied, stopping.
Looking pained, as if forcing himself to do something against his will, Bret said, “Tomorrow. Lunch.”
“Oh, yeah, sure,” Chris said happily. “What time? Where?”
“I don’t care,” Bret grunted, holding his phone. The screen was cracked. “What’s your number? Text me the plan.”
The phone vibrated in Bret’s hand as he immediately received a text message.
["Hello, Bret Taurus. This is Christopher’s phone. You may now save the number."]
Bret’s eyes got wide when he read the message. Looking at Chris, who just smiled, Bret stuffed his phone into his pocket and muttered, “Frickin’ weirdo,” before shuffling off, dragging his feet on the sidewalk.
“Did your phone automatically send him a text message?” Drake asked curiously.
“It’s the newest tech,” Chris told him with a smile.
Drake was awed.