Chapter 35:

Book 2, Ch. 10: Conspiracy Theories for Homework


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

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*******Bookmark here


Muggy and dreary conditions were the backdrop of Friday morning. The tail-end of the previous night’s thunderstorm was hesitant to pass, as the forecast called for scattered storms and spotty rain, and the sun was showing no sign of making an appearance as Chris walked to school.Bookmark here

Am I making the right choice? He pulled the hood of his sweatshirt over his head when a few raindrops fell to his hair. Going to school will make me avoid standing out, and education is important, but…there are other things I should be doing.Bookmark here

Chris met Drake near the main entrance of the high school, and they bumped fists.Bookmark here

“Hey, buddy,” Chris greeted.Bookmark here

“Hey.”Bookmark here

They walked past the school statue of Frederick Randolph Lyons and toward the quadruple-door entrance. Drake looked tired as he yawned, although Chris couldn’t tell if the weather caused such an illusion.Bookmark here

“I brought something,” Chris said, reaching into his book bag. “The next volume of ‘Teenagers with Superpowers is a Genre.’”Bookmark here

“Right on!” Drake eagerly took the book and put it in his bag. “Thanks, man. I’ll read it tonight after doing homework.”Bookmark here

Chris looked at his friend.Bookmark here

“You look tired,” he said.Bookmark here

“You look tired, too.”Bookmark here

“I do?” Chris could feel the heaviness under his eyes. Fighting malevolent entities was draining, it turned out. “Yeah, I kinda had a long day yesterday.”Bookmark here

“What’d you do?” Drake asked curiously.Bookmark here

Chris needed to answer carefully.Bookmark here

“Just hung out with some people.”Bookmark here

“Like who?” Drake pressed. “Did you hang out with Robbie?”Bookmark here

“Uh, Robbie and…a couple others.”Bookmark here

Drake gave Chris a short glance.Bookmark here

“Making new friends because I’m too busy?” he asked, sounding upset.Bookmark here

“Um…is that a bad thing?”Bookmark here

They entered the school building and pulled down their hoods, which were approaching saturation with rain.Bookmark here

“Man, I don’t know,” Drake said, irritated. “Probably not, but I feel left out. I just have too much to do outside of school.”Bookmark here

Chris was curious. “Like what? I don’t think we have that much homework.”Bookmark here

Drake didn’t look at Chris.Bookmark here

“I don’t wanna talk about it,” he replied. “Things are making it difficult for me, but I’ll get over it.”Bookmark here

“Oh.” Chris paused. “I can relate.”Bookmark here

To Chris’ surprise, Drake laughed.Bookmark here

“Listen to us,” he said, “we sound like adults, or something.”Bookmark here

“Do we?” Chris thought about it.Bookmark here

Do adults always complain about being busy? I really don’t hear Mom and Dad complain much. Maybe I haven’t paid attention.Bookmark here

“You know how I said we should catch a baseball game sometime?” Drake said while they were walking down the hall, the squeaks of hundreds of wet shoes surrounding them, including their own. “I…don’t know if I’ll have time.”Bookmark here

“Oh, okay. It’s all good.”Bookmark here

“But Mary invited me to a concert with you guys, and I want to go.”Bookmark here

“You’d better go!” Marilyn popped out of nowhere, making Drake jump as she confronted him with shining eyes. “It’ll be really fun, don’t you think?”Bookmark here

Drake yelped in surprise.Bookmark here

“Where’d you come from, Mary?”Bookmark here

The determination on Marilyn’s face made Chris chuckle, and he decided to chip in to the cheery girl’s attitude.Bookmark here

“I’ll buy our tickets today,” Chris said. Nudging Drake’s arm, he added, “Don’t worry about yours, I’ll have you covered. I was gonna buy some baseball tickets for us, but this’ll do.”Bookmark here

“Uh, all right.” Drake didn’t know what to say, so he just smiled. “Thanks, buddy.”Bookmark here

Marilyn squealed with excitement.Bookmark here

“Yeah! It’s settled.”Bookmark here

“Really last-minute, though,” Drake said.Bookmark here

“It’s okay,” Chris said with a shrug. He recalled a past conversation with Lavi. “Somebody recently told me it’s best to just go with your gut. Ya know, live for the moment. Follow your heart.”Bookmark here

Marilyn stared at Chris.Bookmark here

“You think so?” she asked somewhat flatly.Bookmark here

“Yeah.” Chris nodded. “Mr. Kampton said that.”Bookmark here

Follow your heart. Marilyn remembered what Ophelia had said the day before. She remembered the text message she had sent to Katie. The decadent flavor of the maimed apple pie à la mode (a serving worth more than forty-two dollars) still seemed to linger on her lips.Bookmark here

After this rush of memories, Marilyn replied quietly, “I…don’t think he’s right…”Bookmark here

“Hmm?” Chris was confused by Marilyn’s oddly sullen response. “Why not?”Bookmark here

Hesitant, Marilyn said, “The heart can be deceiving.”Bookmark here

What does she mean? Chris wondered.Bookmark here

Everything Chris had been doing in regards to his apparent duty as “mankind’s savior” was centered on trusting himself and listening to the answers within his soul.Bookmark here

What should I say to her? I seem to sense a truth behind her resolve, but it could just be my imagination. I mean…I trust Lavi, though. Man, it’s so hard to tell the difference between my imagination and my ‘sixth sense,’ or whatever it actually is…Bookmark here

Marilyn looked around at the nearby students walking with them, and perked up when she saw her friend Zee Ivanov.Bookmark here

“Zee!” she called, waving. “We got some more people coming with us to Leap Into Traffic!”Bookmark here

The Russian girl crossed through the crowd of sleepy students and approached Marilyn, Chris, and Drake.Bookmark here

“Nice, now it’s a group,” she said.Bookmark here

“What’s this about a concert?” Garret butt in, poking his pudgy, blond head between Chris and Drake.Bookmark here

“Garret, you should come,” Marilyn answered.Bookmark here

“Leap Into Traffic at the Aragon Ballroom?” Garret nodded. “I’m already going. I can’t turn down a Canadian band. I’ll be there, so we can meet up. But I’m really going for Choking on Gum. They’re one of my favorites. My friend wanted to come, but he can’t now. He lost his job and has no money. They fired him! He got caught hiding in the walk-in cooler, drinking strawberry milk out of the ramekins.”Bookmark here

Katie and Zee looked at Garret curiously.Bookmark here

“I had no idea you could get milk from a strawberry,” Katie said, utterly fascinated.Bookmark here

“What the crap is a ‘ramekin’?” Zee asked flatly.Bookmark here

“You should get Mont Blanc to come, Garret,” Marilyn said.Bookmark here

“He is. Although I’ll have to hide him in a backpack.”Bookmark here

Marilyn laughed. “I was joking about Mont Blanc, but I’m happy he’ll be there!”Bookmark here

Katie seemingly materialized next to Drake, making him jump again.Bookmark here

“Mont Blanc is going?” she asked excitedly. “Aw, this is gonna be great!”Bookmark here

“We have ourselves a convoy, over!” Marilyn announced. “I love doing things in crowds, don’t you all think?”Bookmark here

Drake didn’t know how to answer. Seeing Marilyn so happy quickly chased his gloominess away. Her attitude echoed around her, undeniably alluring and uplifting.Bookmark here

His eyes met hers, and she responded with a big smile. The alleviation was so sudden and dramatic, it was impossible for Drake not to smile back.Bookmark here

Chris, who noticed, also smiled. It seemed his friends were going to be okay.Bookmark here

*******Bookmark here

“Just a friendly reminder,” Mr. Norris said to his history class, “Monday is the test. I’ll hand out your study guides, so make good use of your weekend.”Bookmark here

Chris was hardly listening to the teacher. He looked across the room at Bret, who was sleeping upright in his seat. In fact, Chris thought a nice mid-class nap sounded good.Bookmark here

Mr. Norris was a tad more scruffy than usual while he stood in front of his class, his hair slightly wiry and scruffy beard appearing thicker. The lack of a functioning coffee pot on school grounds was the culprit, and as he poured the remainder of his zero-calorie energy drink into his mug of 5-Hour Energy shots, he regretted not purchasing a cup of burnt gas station coffee on his way to work that morning.Bookmark here

“The struggle is real,” he muttered to himself as he brought the mug to his lips. Taking a crude sip, he gulped down his nausea before resuming the lesson. “So, this test will cover the history of Chicago leading up to the Illiniwek Juncture. Starting next week on Tuesday, we’ll cover the Illiniwek Juncture in more detail.”Bookmark here

A girl sitting at the front of the class raised her hand; she always had questions regarding the notorious Chicago event.Bookmark here

“Will we talk about the conspiracy theories about the Illiniwek Juncture, too?”Bookmark here

The teacher knew the question was coming, and he smiled when his prediction came true.Bookmark here

“I knew you’d ask,” he said with a chuckle. “Yes, we will cover some of the popular conspiracy theories.”Bookmark here

Without warning, the classroom door flew open and Mr. Kampton strode into the room with gusto.Bookmark here

“Conspiracy theories!” he declared excitedly.Bookmark here

Bret snapped awake from the clatter, looking at the vice principal with contempt.Bookmark here

“Oh, hi. What’re you doing here?” Mr. Norris asked Mr. Kampton, unfazed by the grand appearance. He was used to the behavior.Bookmark here

“I brought you a present.” Mr. Kampton handed the teacher a paper cup with a plastic lid. “It’s from a local joint just up the street.”Bookmark here

Mr. Norris gasped as he took the cup.Bookmark here

“Is this…coffee?”Bookmark here

“Mm-hm.”Bookmark here

Not a second was wasted before Mr. Norris pulled the plastic lid off and took a swig of freshly brewed light roast coffee, splashing his barren insides with caffeinated splendor. In mere moments, the entire class watched their teacher’s rebirth. It was a touching scene.Bookmark here

“Ah, that’s good.” Mr. Norris promptly banished his energy drink mix into the trash, mug and all.Bookmark here

“Not to eavesdrop,” Mr. Kampton said, “but I overheard something about Illiniwek Juncture conspiracy theories, no?”Bookmark here

“Yes, that’s right.” Mr. Norris placed his rebirth-inducing coffee on his desk. “That’ll be one of the subjects next week.”Bookmark here

With a nod, Mr. Kampton faced the class.Bookmark here

“It was a highly significant event,” the vice principal explained to the students, “and much of Chicago is said to be the way it is today because of it.”Bookmark here

Most of the class was somewhat uninterested. However, when Mr. Kampton clearly made direct eye contact with Chris and Bret, it was certain that at least two students were giving their full attention.Bookmark here

He continued, “I suggest you do your research on the Illiniwek Juncture. It will be of absolute value.”Bookmark here

Chris stared at the vice principal. Even as Mr. Kampton turned away to speak with Mr. Norris, Chris watched, feeling heavy. He looked at Bret, who wore a serious expression with his arms crossed before looking back at Chris.Bookmark here

They had just been given an important homework assignment. More so, the real test would soon follow, and its grading scale likely involved citywide devastation as failure.Bookmark here

*******Bookmark here

When class was dismissed, Bret stopped Chris in the hall and took him aside.Bookmark here

“Just what do ya think Lavi meant in there?” the disheveled boy asked, keeping his voice low.Bookmark here

“I can only guess,” Chris replied, looking over his shoulder, “but I think he’s saying the Illiniwek Juncture is somehow related.”Bookmark here

Bret frazzled his hair with a moan.Bookmark here

“Man, that’s crazy,” he said. “What exactly was the Illiniwek Juncture, anyway?”Bookmark here

Chris shrugged. “We haven’t covered it yet, but it had something to do with political corruption because of a secretive disaster, but the details of that disaster are, like, hard to prove, or something like that.”Bookmark here

“Ha! Sounds like everyday government stuff to me. Who knows what they tried covering up? Can’t trust ‘em.”Bookmark here

After thinking about it, Chris said, “Wouldn’t that mean…we need to look into the conspiracy theories?”Bookmark here

“Man, I don’t know. I hate homework and research and stuff. But there’s one thing I’m sure about: there are a lotta conspiracy theories about the Illiniwek Juncture, and lotsa them go against each other. That means it’ll be hard to see which ones are and aren’t right.”Bookmark here

Thinking more, Chris finally said, “I know.”Bookmark here

Bret rolled his eyes.Bookmark here

“I’m gonna smack that angel upside his holy head. Make him spill the beans.”Bookmark here

“I don’t think that’s a good idea, Bret.”Bookmark here

“You got a better idea?”Bookmark here

“Um…”Bookmark here

Bret laughed insultingly.Bookmark here

“Yeah, didn’t think so. If anything comes up, better hope it’s before school lets out. I’m actually plannin’ to stick around for a full day…maybe. And after that, good luck finding me. My phone’s dead. Something chewed through my phone charger wire the other day.”Bookmark here

“I can find you with Excalibur’s detection.”Bookmark here

“Great. Bye.”Bookmark here

As Bret walked off, Chris sighed and headed to his next class.Bookmark here

“It’s the age of smartphones, and I feel like I’m the only person who has one, and one that works.”Bookmark here

“I consider myself to be revolutionary in the field of cellular phone and handheld computer technology,” Excalibur stated.Bookmark here

“I know.”Bookmark here

*******Bookmark here

The bleak Friday morning light was a rude guest, unforgiving as it entered through the translucent window blinds of Sandra’s hotel room. Sandra gradually gained consciousness, slowly and languidly, as she was stretched haphazardly across the bed. Her first sight was of the rude morning light, which she greeted with a tired, puffy face of revulsion.Bookmark here

Rolling over in a lazy effort to reach the edge of the bed, she saw how the pillow, blanket, and sheets were in disarray, as if she had tossed and turned restlessly all night. When she hung her legs over the side and sat up, she definitely felt as if she had been tossing and turning for…how long was it?Bookmark here

She checked her phone. It was almost 10:00 AM. She had no memory of what time she had gone to sleep, but it’d been late.Bookmark here

Furthermore, she had a missed call and a voice message. They were from Lakedra Lewis at The Stadium of Rad-Tastic Literature.Bookmark here

A missed call? she thought. I have the ringtone on. I slept through it…I must’ve been really tired.Bookmark here

Her mouth was dry and tasted disgusting. Upon standing up, she felt her ankles, knees, and back resist the action. She didn’t have a headache, but the fringes of a hangover were looking her in the face. She blinked her crusty eyes; the morning light was an unruly pest.Bookmark here

With her phone’s speaker on, she listened to the voicemail:Bookmark here

“Hi, Sandra, this is Lakedra from yesterday’s interview. I’ve reviewed the list of interviewees, and I’d like to have you back for a follow-up session today. I’m looking at 11:00 this morning. Please let me know if you’re available. Thank you, bye-bye.”Bookmark here

Sandra stiffened up. The message was left two hours ago. She had an hour to make it to the appointment.Bookmark here

She quickly called Lakedra back. During the conversation, Sandra’s brain was still foggy from just waking up, and the high-energy talking so soon made her a little dizzy.Bookmark here

“I can make it,” she said. “Shouldn’t be a problem.”Bookmark here

“Great!” Lakedra replied. “I’ll see you then.”Bookmark here

“Okay. Bye.”Bookmark here

“Bye-bye.”Bookmark here

Sandra hung up, looked around the room, scrambled to make sure she had her essentials, chugged a glass of water, brushed her teeth, hopped in the shower, washed off the insanity from last night, slipped into another business casual outfit, tidied her hair, grabbed her Neapolitan-colored briefcase purse, then hurried out the door.Bookmark here

The overcast morning light was more forgiving as she headed to her car.Bookmark here

Inside the book stadium, a nice-sized crowd was already gathering, which Sandra saw as a good sign. She walked up to the receptionist, explained her appointment, and entered behind the reception desk to wait for Lakedra.Bookmark here

Within less than a minute, Lakedra showed up, energetic as usual, and introduced Sandra to a man who appeared to be in his late twenties.Bookmark here

“This is Tom,” Lakedra told Sandra. “He’s been in charge of our social media accounts and an important guy in our marketing efforts.”Bookmark here

Tom had an average build and a regular face, brown hair, and brown eyes…not exactly manly looking, but Sandra thought he was rather cute.Bookmark here

“Hi.” Sandra shook Tom’s hand, which was actually softer and daintier than she had anticipated, yet his grip was firm enough. “I’m Sandra.” Her cheeks were still a little heavy and stiff from sleep.Bookmark here

“Tom. Nice meeting you.”Bookmark here

“I’d like to have you spend some time with him today,” Lakedra told Sandra. “Seeing as you’ve applied for a marketing position, this should give you both an opportunity to discuss, well, marketing.” She laughed. “Makes sense, don’t ya think?”Bookmark here

Sandra smiled. “Sounds legitimate.”Bookmark here

Her stomach suddenly felt like it began to sink.Bookmark here

Ooh buddy, Sandra thought solemnly. This is gonna be a hell of a task. Why did I get so hammered last night? And… she flexed her fingers, temporarily spacing out …after all that happened…Bookmark here

“So,” Tom said, snapping Sandra out of her daze, “if you follow me, we can start.”Bookmark here

Tom’s friendliness made it easier for Sandra, but she still carried a hefty load of sleepiness and anxiety from the previous night’s happenings. She was led on a tour through a cluster of rooms used for office space and storage. They discussed the book stadium’s past marketing ventures, and the familiar topic was something she could grasp in her current state.Bookmark here

“We have a wide spread as far as marketing efforts,” Tom explained, indicating to a lone desk with a desktop PC and some folders, “but we also think our efforts are stretched a little too thin due to lack of personnel and not having many solid plans or structure.”Bookmark here

“I get it.” Sandra reached into her briefcase purse and removed a notepad for taking notes. “Um…I’m missing my pen. Heh, did I forget it? Maybe it fell out…”Bookmark here

“You can use mine.” Tom removed a pen from his shirt pocket. “I have plenty, so hold onto it.”Bookmark here

“Oh! Thank you.” Sandra felt embarrassed as she reached for Tom’s pen.Bookmark here

Suddenly, a sensation grew in her chest. It leapt outward, filling her body with a warmth that prompted goosebumps and slight perspiration. It shot through her arm and hit her fingers as she was about to take hold of the pen in Tom’s hand.Bookmark here

The pen tumbled from Tom’s grasp. It fell to the floor.Bookmark here

They both stared for a second, dumbfounded. Then Tom laughed.Bookmark here

“Ha! It’d help if I actually handed you the pen,” he said humorously.Bookmark here

Sandra laughed too. Yes, it was funny. Funny, not strange.Bookmark here

After some market-speak and banter about cooking competition shows and popular food-angled anime, Sandra was shown the main floor’s bar. The back area looked clean, and although she had scant knowledge of food service operations, it seemed much simpler than she had thought.Bookmark here

“Food is getting expensive around this region,” Tom told Sandra in the dry storage room. He patted a sack of all-purpose flour. “Even the common and cheap stuff is getting ridiculously pricey.”Bookmark here

“That’s what I hear.” Sandra nodded and took a moment to herself. “I wonder if it’s because of the economy, or anything like that. That’s what it sounds like.”Bookmark here

“I hear it might be the big corporations behind our agriculture,” Tom said. “If that’s true, because it makes sense, then the underdogs will get their chance to step up.”Bookmark here

“What do you mean?”Bookmark here

“The small-time guys will probably take over,” Tom explained. “Start-ups like food delivery, community gardening—like that—will be better options for people if they can’t afford grocery stores and restaurants.”Bookmark here

The tour continued with Sandra following and listening to Tom while she took notes. Before long, they were back behind the reception area near the entrance.Bookmark here

“Okay, that about wraps things up,” Tom said.Bookmark here

“All right,” Sandra said, finishing her notes. “This was interesting! I think I have an understanding of what you do and what you want to do.”Bookmark here

A brown-haired girl who appeared to be around Sandra’s age entered the back of the reception area.Bookmark here

“Tom,” she called, “your sister is here. She wants to talk to you.”Bookmark here

“Uh, tell her I’m busy,” Tom replied, “and I’ll be there in a minute.”Bookmark here

“She says it’s urgent,” the office worker girl said, “something about kitty litter everywhere…”Bookmark here

Sighing, Tom said, “Fine.” He turned to Sandra. “Sorry, I’ll be just a minute if you excuse me.”Bookmark here

“That’s okay,” Sandra said, smiling.Bookmark here

She watched Tom leave, keeping her eyes on him as he disappeared out the door. Now alone, Sandra took a look around, feeling foolish for something she couldn’t quite put words to.Bookmark here

A faint buzzing sound caught her attention, and she flinched as a fly zipped past her face. She watched it circle around the room before it came right at her.Bookmark here

Lifting her right hand in preparation, she swatted at the fly as it approached. Although she missed, the bug was knocked aside, tumbling to the ground where it remained. Even more surprising, a nearby filing cabinet rattled and rocked, as if something had smacked it.Bookmark here

Sandra was startled, dropping her notepad and pen on the floor. After watching the filing cabinet stop rocking, she held her breath.Bookmark here

“What j-just h-happened?” she whispered to herself, feeling unnerved.Bookmark here

Trying to gather her bearings, she quickly knelt to pick up her belongings, but the notepad and pen juddered away from her as she extended her hand toward them.Bookmark here

“Sorry about that.” Tom returned to find Sandra looking distraught, kneeling, and with her belongings on the floor some distance away from her. He came to an abrupt halt. “Oh, are you all right?”Bookmark here

“Um, y-yeah!” Sandra snatched up her items (thrilled that they didn’t scoot away from her this time) and quickly stood up. “Just, uh, dropped my things.”Bookmark here

Tom chuckled. “You looked kind of scared, so I thought something was up.”Bookmark here

“Nope!”Bookmark here

“So, I think today went well,” Tom said.Bookmark here

“Me too!”Bookmark here

“You seem to be a great fit for what we’re looking for, and I’ll tell Lakedra that.”Bookmark here

“Awesome!”Bookmark here

The young woman fidgeted with her pen in one hand as her other hand’s sweat wrinkled the pages of her notepad. She nodded rigorously.Bookmark here

“Expect a call from us on Monday or Tuesday,” Tom continued, opening a drawer in the filing cabinet that had stopped rocking, and he inserted a few papers. “We’ll have our final decision by then.”Bookmark here

“Sounds great!” Sandra sounded enthusiastic, but she was trying not to have a heart attack from the strange activity happening—things moving away from her.Bookmark here

“Great.” Tom was pleased. “We’ll talk to you then.”Bookmark here

“’Kay, thanks!”Bookmark here

“Take care.”Bookmark here

“You too!”Bookmark here

She hurried out of the building as fast as she could without appearing to hurry.Bookmark here

*******Bookmark here

Soon after Chris walked into his house, he met his father, a man who had the same serial killer face as Chris, but hardened with facial hair and a more defined body structure. He was wearing a nice collared shirt and tying his brown oxford shoes; an indicator that he was going out with the wife.Bookmark here

“Hey there, son. How was school?”Bookmark here

“Good,” Chris answered dismissively, removing his sneakers.Bookmark here

“Your mom and I are going out for an early dinner. Want to come with? We’re going to Squawkin’s Roadhouse, the new place with the weird newspaper hats the employees wear.”Bookmark here

“Oh yeah, I heard of that place,” Chris said. The restaurant’s TV commercials were goofy with an annoyingly catchy jingle that sounded like a rejected Talking Heads B-side single.Bookmark here

“I want to try their seafood entrée,” Chris’ mom said as she walked over, wearing a satin blouse with lace sleeves. “Their ground rib meat burger looks good, too, but I think it’ll be too much for me to eat.”Bookmark here

Chris was interested, but he had important business to look into. The Illiniwek Juncture had been weighing on his mind since history class.Bookmark here

“I have a lot of homework to do, actually,” he told his parents. “There’s a history test on Monday that I really want to study for.”Bookmark here

“Smart choice,” his dad said, patting him on the shoulder. “That’s responsible.”Bookmark here

“Okay, Chris.” His mom gave him a hug after slipping on her white high heels. “We’ll see you later. Want us to bring you something back? We can get something to go.”Bookmark here

“Yeah, that sounds good, Mom. I’ll take that rib meat burger.”Bookmark here

Now home alone, Chris headed upstairs to his room, slid his book bag off his shoulder, took a seat at his small desk, and removed his history text book.Bookmark here

He flipped past the material on the upcoming test and straight to the following section to be covered in class next week, then began reading the introduction to the many conspiracy theories regarding the infamous event.Bookmark here

To Chris’ disdain, he found the conspiracy information for the Illiniwek Juncture was very brief, mostly summarized, and generally disregarded. Scanning the next several pages, he saw there wasn’t any more coverage of the event.Bookmark here

There isn’t much here, he thought, closing the textbook and placing it back in his book bag. That’s fine, I’ll just try the internet.Bookmark here

A noise alerted Chris of something behind him, and he whirled around in his chair to see what he had heard. Unexpectedly, Aleph-Naught disengaged her invisibility magic and was standing in Chris’ bedroom.Bookmark here

“Hi there!” she said with a toothy grin, making a peace sign with her hand. “Miss me?”Bookmark here

“Al!” Chris stood up, surprised to see the blonde girl in the baggy, gray hoodie. “You’re okay!”Bookmark here

“Of course I’m okay,” Al replied confidently, standing akimbo with her hands on her hips. “Who do you think I am?”Bookmark here

“We thought something bad happened to you,” Chris said. “I’m glad you’re…uh, alive.”Bookmark here

“Well,” Al said with a scrunched face, “something bad did happen to me. But I’m all good, and I’ve been here about an hour. I knew you were at school, so I waited. Getting in the house was easy. Your parents don’t lock the door when they’re home, so all I had to do was sneak in through the front and stay hidden.”Bookmark here

“But how long were you in my room?”Bookmark here

“I just came in here,” she replied. “What, you thought I was just watching you all this time?”Bookmark here

“Well, you’re a scout, as you say,” Chris said flatly. “Still, it’s good you came when someone was home, or you’d trip the alarm.”Bookmark here

Al nodded.Bookmark here

“I know. First world people always gotta load their houses with enough expensive stuff to lock the place down with alarms. Makes it hard for me to do my job.”Bookmark here

Chris opened his desk drawer and gathered Al’s recovered weapons. Her eyes lit up when she saw them.Bookmark here

“My bandalores!”Bookmark here

“I have everything you lost or gave me,” Chris told her, “except for one of those white healing crystals, but we had to give it to Robbie.”Bookmark here

“Aw,” Al groaned, “you used my last Panacea Crystal. It’s all right, but they’re hard to procure.”Bookmark here

Chris handed the mound of yo-yos to Al, and she hastily placed them on Chris’ desk, sorted them out, and examined them—ruby red, emerald green, and sunny yellow bodies, with the long string coiled next to them. Within several seconds, Chris could make out the seriousness of Al’s expression.Bookmark here

“Is everything okay?” Chris asked.Bookmark here

With a deep breath, Al replied, “Well, it doesn’t look good.” She turned her head to look at Chris. “They aren’t responsive. I think they’re drained or something similar.”Bookmark here

Chris approached his desk to get a better look.Bookmark here

“That means you can’t use them?”Bookmark here

“Right.” After rolling her eyes in grievance, Al shot an accusing glare at Chris. “What’d you do to them?”Bookmark here

“I didn’t do anything,” Chris told her firmly. “I got them back after Erik stole them from you.”Bookmark here

Al tilted her head while furrowing her brow. She was now attentive to what Chris had to say.Bookmark here

“Who…is Erik?” She spoke slowly and in a deep voice.Bookmark here

Surprised about Al’s sudden stern mannerisms, the teenage boy needed a moment before answering, and realized he had a lot of important explaining to do.Bookmark here

“Erik Hawthorne is my classmate at Lyonbole. I got into a fight with him, and Robbie and Bret were on my side.”Bookmark here

“One question.” Al held up her hand to halt Chris’ explanation. “Did this person possess non-magical abilities?”Bookmark here

Chris nodded. “He did. Bret did too, he’s another classmate.”Bookmark here

“Heh!” Al sneered. “Don’t tell me, but I might know Erik.”Bookmark here

“He said he encountered somebody, and it had to be you. It makes a lot of sense.”Bookmark here

Al was lost for words. She glanced around the bedroom ordained like a typical American teen’s den, clustered with oddities and expensive electronics. An explicit scent of musk, body spray, and deodorant infiltrated her nasal passages.Bookmark here

She sighed. “The negative energy must have tainted or purged the bandalore parts of their magic. I’ve never seen that much corruption from a single source…your classmate, that is. And especially not from a human, who aren’t supposed to be sources of that kind of energy.”Bookmark here

Her dormant accessories on the desk reminded her of the animal carcasses she’d sometimes come across during her livestock duties; once filled with vitality, and now cold and somber.Bookmark here

“It was unfortunate,” Chris murmured. He remembered the misshapen dice that led him to the yo-yo parts, and he removed them from his desk drawer. “I take it that these won’t work anymore?” He handed the dice back to Al.Bookmark here

“No.” She dropped them on the carpet, observing how they landed dully. After calculating the direction of their sum, she shook her head. “They don’t, but I’m not surprised.” She scooped them off the floor and put them in her hoodie pocket. “They’re supposed to point to the string, not the bodies, but the magical energy is gone. The string and the dice are made from the same material.”Bookmark here

“What material?” Chris asked curiously.Bookmark here

“A patented invention by my organization. Well, legally they aren’t patented, but my superiors believe the secret is safe.” Al proceeded to stash the three yo-yo bodies, string, and dice into her hidden hoodie pockets; Chris noticed how her hoodie didn’t seem to bulge with so much in tow, possibly due to its bagginess. “This is a first for me, but it’s possible the excessive negative energy really wiped out the magic.”Bookmark here

“You never told me who your organization is or what they do.” Chris was upfront.Bookmark here

“Yeah, of course not. It’s supposed to be a secret. If it wasn’t for, uh, whatever it is your powers are, then you never would’ve known about us.”Bookmark here

Chris was quiet for a moment.Bookmark here

“Why is it a secret?” he asked after a bit.Bookmark here

Unsure how to answer, Al told him, “I don’t know, but just think about it. Wouldn’t it cause an uproar if everyone found out what we’re doing? And not just the people you know, or the people in his city, but everyone in the world.”Bookmark here

“I can see how it would, but…would that really be a bad thing?”Bookmark here

Without replying, Al shrugged.Bookmark here

Chris pressed. “Is it worth hiding from the world?”Bookmark here

“Geez! Stop with the questions. I’m not the one to ask. I don’t make the rules, and I’ve already told you more than I might be allowed to tell.” She cleared her throat before changing the subject. “Now, there’s a reason why I came back here.”Bookmark here

“Do you need my help with something?”Bookmark here

“Yes,” Al said. “Remember me talking about Saint Baptiste Monastery? I’m currently aiding them, and they’ve given me a place to stay…although I prefer staying here…hint, hint.”Bookmark here

“It’s that huge, fenced-in place,” Chris said. “I know where that is. It looks like a castle.”Bookmark here

“The priest wants to meet you, Father Buck Dood. Sister Farrah Elaina lives there, too.”Bookmark here

The names weren’t familiar to Chris, and he hesitated.Bookmark here

“Okay,” he said. “This is sudden, though.”Bookmark here

“But the sooner you meet, the better. C’mon, let’s go now.”Bookmark here

“Wait, did this priest ask about meeting anyone else?” Chris asked.Bookmark here

“No.” Al shook her head. “Just you.”Bookmark here

“What’d he want to meet me for?”Bookmark here

Al crossed her arms with a small smile. “Come with me and see.”Bookmark here

Chris looked at the small visible corner of his purple history textbook inside his book bag.Bookmark here

“I was gonna do some homework,” he said slowly, “but I think that can wait.” He looked at Al with a confident grin. “Okay, let’s go!”
James K.
Jio Kurenai
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