Chapter 1: Taken by the rot
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Dr. Daren Aldrich sat behind his desk. Across from him sat a student, a young man, 16 years of age and sporting a fresh cut on his bottom lip, the origin of which was placing Dr. Aldrich in a rather uncomfortable position. Although, he was reasonably certain it was far more uncomfortable for the student, young Mr. Tyler Franks.

This was not the first time Tyler was in his office. The young man had some anger issues, but over his talks with Tyler, Daren had learned that the young man favored himself as a protector for his circle of friends. This was a pretty tough school, so it was not uncommon for the children to band together with one or more of the older and stronger kids acting as protectors for the younger ones. Tyler had often expressed fierce loyalty for his friend group and the juniors he had taken under his protection.

Dr. Aldrich could already guess at the situation. He’d already heard the gists. Tyler punched out another student. The student in question was currently in the nurse’s office, far worse for wear than Tyler was. Dr. Aldrich was fairly certain he was about to be told the other kid was the aggressor, and there’s a fair chance it might even be true. But, figuring that sort of thing out is the whole point of these sorts of interviews.

“So then, I’m pretty sure you know why you were asked to come here.” Dr. Aldrech said. “Would you mind telling me what happened?”

“Teh…” Tyler tisked. “Ask anyone who was there, they’ll all tell you it’s Vince who was starting up shit.” He said.

“We are talking with everyone who was involved.” Dr. Aldrich said. “Everyone who was involved in the fight is talking to other people. Right now, Vincent is talking with the vice principal, and your friend Gerald is talking with someone from the attendance office. I am talking to you. We just want to figure out what really happened so we can take appropriate action.”

“Well, what you can do is expel that ass Vincent! The psycho’s gonna get somebody killed someday if things keep going like they been.” Tyler snaps. “He’s been starting shit and going after Gerald for months now! This ain’t even the first time we’ve reported something about it either! Ain’t nothing being done about none of this, so this is what happens when you leave problems to fester here. Is the school finally gonna do something right about this!? This ain’t right at all! Vince came up to our table ta screw with Gerald again n’ I told him to back the fuck off! That’s what happened! And then he starts pushin’ me around daring me to hit him, and so that’s exactly what I did! And then we started trading blows and I proved that I could hit harder! That’s all what happened.”

Dr. Aldrich blew out a long breath of air as though it were a really long sigh. If what Tyler was saying was right, then this sounded like it was really a pretty complicated situation.

“Well, you realize the people who make the decisions are not going to like hearing that, right?” Dr. Aldrich said. “I get that you feel you were defending yourself, but you have to keep in mind that you were the first person to actually throw a punch, and you also really did a number on Vincent as well from what I’ve been told. It’s not going to look good for you here.”

“Yeah, that’s just great.” Tyler said. “You clowns go sitting there with your thumbs up your asses, then when it comes to us having to protect ourselves from the problems you ain’t interested in doing nothin about it’s us who gets punished for it. You know what!? Fuck it! Just fuck it! The school can suspend or expel me if they want, I just about had enough of this shit.” Punctuating his words, the boy stood up from his chair right in time with his final words.

“Tyler!” Dr. Aldrich called out as the boy turned and left out the door without even so much as turning back to face him. Then he sighed. He knew very well that the school authority gave him no grounds to detain a student, and Tyler had just made it extremely clear he had no intention of sticking around.

The tough part in all this is that Tyler is absolutely right. There have been several reports about Vincent harassing and bullying other students, and people have talked about implied death threats. But, because he has not crossed any clear-cut lines as of yet, the school, or at least those in charge, have decided to ignore the problem rather than deal with it until now. There have also been a few teacher complaints about this issue. And now, of course, it’s some student trying to protect their friend from the trouble maker who gets pushed to having to take physical action. It really wasn’t right at all.

Truth be told, Daren was sick of this school full of lazy uninterested management staff as well. About the only reason he was still around here was for the students. This place needed to have the entirety of it’s staff replaced. Yes, the good ones too. He was very aware this solution would mean the loss of his own job, but it’s what needed to happen to help the students. The rot had permeated deeply enough that this nuke from orbit approach that would take out the few good staff along with the bad was about the only way to make it even a possibility for this school to change.

He sighed and stood from his desk. This has gone on way too far. It’s time to have a word with the principal, and it’s going to be a very angry word. If that doesn’t work, well, maybe he can get the word out somewhere outside of the school system. This needs to end.

As he was walking out of the counseling office, he suddenly heard a few loud pops down the hall, followed by students screaming. Suddenly, there was a throng of people running and bodies pressing. And then, he saw Tyler. He was limping and holding his left bicep. On a closer look, he saw that Tyler’s arm was bleeding.

“Tyler!” Daren yelled. The boy looked up, and then Daren reached out and grabbed the bleeding student by the shoulder and pulled him into the office. He set the boy down on the floor and started applying pressure to his arm.

“Oh my god!” The secretary yelled when she saw the state that the student was in and put the pieces together with what was happening.

“I… I told you! I fucking told you!” Tyler let out his angry whimpers as the boy was shaking like a leaf in the wind. Dr. Aldrich’s brows knit together as he recalled the discussion they’d just had in the office.

A moment later, another student charged into the room nursing a massive black eye and a swollen jaw, looking absolutely livid. With the pieces Dr. Aldrich had just put together in his head, he didn’t even need to look down to the student’s hands to realize he had to move immediately. He threw himself over Tyler just in time to catch a bullet in the back as another loud pop rang out.

“You fucked! You fucked Tyler!” Vincent yelled as another loud gunshot rang out and Daren felt more pain in his back. After this there were two loud clicks, indicating the gun was empty. “God damn it!” He cursed and then stepped up and directed a savage kick toward Tyler’s head. However, Daren was already moving his arm forward and received the kick on his shoulder instead. He wrapped his arm around Vincent’s leg and took the boy to the ground even as he was bleeding out from the gunshot wounds he had received.

“Help! Someone help!” The secretary yelled. Meanwhile, Daren was placing all of his remaining mental and physical strength into keeping his grip on Vincent’s leg in order to prevent him from doing any more damage than he already had. He kept his grip against all of the homicidal student’s fighting and cursing efforts. Even as Daren’s life faded from him, Vincent came to discover what the term “death grip” really meant as the ATP necessary for his muscles to relax was depleted, causing the savage grasp to fail to relent even after Dr. Daren Aldrich’s was dead and gone. Vincent was unable to get his foot free until two burly police officers used all their strength to pry the dead man’s arms open.

-

Daren watched the scene of what had happened after his death impassively. It was very strange, seeing his own corpse continue to carry out his final will of protecting his student. Tyler had managed to pull himself out, but it took him quite a while to realize Daren was already dead at this point. Just like anyone else, he did not suspect it was a dead man putting in so much physical effort to restrain the shooter of this incident. Oblivious to this, Tyler just got angry and managed to deliver one or two retributive kicks to Vincent’s ribs before the secretary stopped him and pulled him out of the room in order to receive medical treatment.

Poor boy will probably be devastated when he hears what had happened to the school counselor who saved him. Well, at least he left the room thinking Daren was still alive.

“What injustice.” Another voice said, causing Daren to look up. What he saw was a disfigured man standing next to a smokey repulsive looking creature. It frankly looked like a lamprey on legs. The creature was covered in festering warts, and it was puke orange in color. The thing was drooling saliva and staring at Daren in a manner the freshly dead man could only interpret as hungry.

“What!?” Daren stood with a shocked start as he took in the sight of the two figures in front of him. Fortunately, the terrifying creature seemed to be well trained to behave itself and appeared to be under this nasty looking man’s control. It did not make a step toward him. Instead, it was the man who stepped forward with a chuckle.

“So, what do you think is going to happen with you gone now?” The man said. “You were the only one with the balls to stand up and do something before this happened. You know exactly how corrupt this system is. Do you feel like things will actually work out now that you’re gone?”

“I…” Daren hesitated. What this man was saying made a lot of sense, but honestly his answer would be that he wasn’t even sure things would work out if he was still alive and fighting. That’s how fucked up the system was. Maybe this incident would make it so that something would finally be done though. School shootings have a tendency to attract a lot of attention, and with that attention will come investigations. But still, wouldn’t that go better if he was around to tell his story?

But that’s the problem though. He’s dead now. He’s pretty sure of it. Isn’t it already too late? And besides, looking at these two, it’s pretty obvious what they are. He’d never really been much of a religious man, but he doesn’t need to be in order to recognize what’s clearly a demon.

Suddenly, the loud footsteps of a third figure enter the area, and suddenly the man’s face contorts to a look of pure hate. He hisses and glairs at the intruder.

“Begone demons!” A clear and authoritative female voice rings out through the area. “This soul is not for you!”

Suddenly, the lamprey on legs hisses and starts charging forward. It leaps straight at Daren’s face. He raises his arms to protect himself, when suddenly the horrifying creature is impaled by a javelin made of light, pinning it to the row of lockers in the empty cleared-out school hallway this encounter had been taking place in. The creature is left struggling and hissing, unable to fight against the column of light that has stuck it in place.

In the meantime, a very tall woman, at least 7 feet tall and dressed in what looked like a business suit, steps in front of Daren and is pointing a sword at the man. “I said begone!” She barks again.

The demon man hisses in a manner eerily reminiscent of his pet, and then both of them fade into thin black smoke and disappear.

This just leaves Daren and the dimming and fading light javelin together in the empty school hallway, along with this massively tall woman dressed like a secret service agent straightening her lapel as the sword she had been holding a second ago has vanished as though it was never there.

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