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Ten Days Ago...
Tom Winters and Duane Logan silently biked on their way back to Tom's mother's place, Tom's ears still ringing from the sheer noise of his and his father's latest yelling match. "Dude," Duane said, "Don't let it get you down. Your dad is yesterday's news. I mean, Avengers movies make multi-millions! Nerds rule these days."
Tom was a bushy haired, skinny young man, quick-witted and wearing heavy clothes. Shyness defined Tom's choices in both clothes and mannerisms. His light green eyes darted whenever he was in social situations beyond his comfort. His jeans, jacket and polo shirt underneath that kept him warm.
Duane Logan could be uncharitably described as a reflection of his local celebrity older brother Owen. Duane was like Owen in that he naturally seemed to have a strong form, though not nearly as...supplemented...his light brown hair styled in a somewhat emo manner as opposed to the popular boy's cut Owen preferred. His clothes included a black long sleeved shirt and slacks.
"...You're...probably right. It just feels like I'm coping with where I live. High school football is still king in Sandfield..." Tom sighed, knowing what that meant for the likelihood of his usual foes getting anything more than a slap on the wrist. Jackson often got even less. ..."Duane?"
"You up for some Warhammer Fantasy this weekend?" Tom asked, smiling a little.
"There's my guy. You know I always am." The two of them promptly stopped alongside the road and traded fist bumps and a secret handshake.
Duane and Tom usually invited the rest of the Tabletop Gaming club over to Tom's treehouse to game, chat, and talk about life. The cold mornings and crisp afternoons lent a unique atmosphere to this sort of occasion. It was welcoming, it was how they gathered and socialized. It was theirs.
Then as they kept biking, they started to see the long light of car headlights in the distance, coming closer.
Tom by now could recognize these specific headlights, and gulped.
Duane likewise, trying to hurry along the road home. However before long they ran into the crew of Jackson White and his fellow jocks, including Kyle among them. Jackson drove the car in front of the boys and stopped in order to force them to halt - this was not a road often used, and there was utterly no traffic that night except for the jocks.
Tom looked at the wooded areas along the sides of the road, knowing he couldn't well bike through there.
"Well well well, Tommy, you look like you're out at a dangerous time of night. What? Biking home on that dingy old thing?" Jackson was if anything the smirking face of privilege. Light blond hair gelled back a bit, cleanshaven, outstandingly handsome and angular features, a muscled build that showed even in his letterman jacket, short sleeved t-shirt and jeans. His eyes were an icy blue, his features showing a smarmy grin.
"Fuck off, Jackson." Tom murmured, feeling a lot less confident.
"Come on man, leave 'im alone!" Duane tried to interject.
"What? What?" Jackson chuckled, "Look at this tough fucker! I bet I know why you're so touchy! You two are gay butt buddies! Gay boy Tommy and gay boy Duane!" The other jocks by and large started laughing at Jackson's utterly low brow humor.
Tom evidently had enough, gripping one hand tight around the handles of his bike. He'd dealt with this day in and day out, and Tom finally just couldn't stand it. Even as Jackson continued his homophobic tirade, Tom shouted, "And why're you so obsessed with people having gay sex, huh Jackson!? You're in the closet! It's...It's 2016 not 1956!"
That stopped Jackson cold. The laughter also stopped. Jackson started shaking - teeth grit tight. One of his arms quaked.
The football star turned away from his fellows, sneer turned into a cold grimace of pure hate as he looked at Tom, "...YOU ARE FUCKING DEAD, SHRIMP!! Nobody - nobody - nobody - calls Jackson White a queer!!!" And with that Jackson charged like a man possessed.
Tom almost fell over himself getting off his bike and starting to run into the heavily wooded area, which Jackson in his mad fury likewise almost fell over - before immediately hoisting the entire bike overhead, entirely ignoring Duane's own panicked flight.
He tossed the entire bike at Tom, but before he could go any further one of his friends on the football team prevented him from charging after Tom. "Dude, he's going off into those woods. He's dead meat. Real dead meat. Cool it, cool it bro."
"...called me a gay boy...nobody fucking does that to me. I'm the best fucking footballer in this school, star footballers aren't fucking—-" Jackson let out a primal scream and went back into his car. He noticed by now Duane had managed to get his bike around the car and pedaled away.
Before long, something shifted in the foliage around the area and stirred. Jackson and his friends drove off to their party as if nothing had even happened.
Tom knew he had panicked, knew Duane was likely not following, and knew something was off about these woods. He knew there were stories about them. That this was where those creepy clown sightings happened about two or so years ago. That there were all these stories about a cult too. But he remembered the sound of his bike crashing shortly behind him and his fear ran him as he moved.
But before long, Tom started to hear something.
Something sluicing, made of sludge and squirming things, a mouth squishing as it clenched and opened. The squirming noises seemed to come from everywhere and nowhere. Behind him barely a few feet then off in the distance.
But Tom kept running - he knew the woods here were just on the other side of his mom's house. He desperately wanted to feel safe, he needed to make it home, to the tree house that he was so familiar with. Even as his knees and legs burned with exertion.
He could hear it at all times as he moved.
It didn't say any words he could understand. It was like a thing with a language all its own. Squeaking and booming in a tongue that made Tom quiver. He didn't want to cry or fall, because he knew if he did he wouldn't be able to stop or get back up.
Even as the tree branches seemed to start curving inward, slapping and cutting at his body and face he kept running. He could hear it gaining on him...feel its tongues and leech-like limbs nipping at his heels. Monstrous form bequeathed a monstrous odor - it smelled like old blood and dead animal innards.
Maybe that was because it had recently ate, and still hungered?
Tom gasped as he finally made it to the end of the tree line. He could see the giant, welcoming sight of the tree house. He could see the lights on inside his mom's place. He could not hear the creature any more. Tom wondered if it could only move around like that inside that horrible forest.
Whatever the case, he now knew and feared something beyond even Jackson White, his most horrible bully.
Tom ran for the tree house, still operating on pure adrenaline and instinct. He climbed up before he even remembered the first few steps up the ladder. Tom entered the tree house, laid down on the floor and cried. He laid there in a heap, unable to move, unable to stop crying.
He—-he was safe now. This was a safe spot. A good space. A place he could—-
Tom could hear the creature. Feel a tongue wrap around his leg. The door pushed open, and he saw about seven glowing gem-like eyes in an inscrutable, barely humanoid face. Tom screamed and flailed as he was suddenly pulled into darkness, his flailing sending a shoe into the wall of the tree house.
Tom would not be returning that night to his mother. All he knew now was darkness, swirling miasma and the creature's grotesque form.
Ten Days Later. February 17th, 2016.
Grief counseling made available.
People mourning the loss openly. A shrine set up by the entrance of the Tabletop Roleplaying Club with a picture of Tom on it and donations, flowers, and gifts. His mother had done the media circuit, begging for anyone who knew anything to step forward.
Duane Logan went from class to class that day numb, as he had for the last few days. Tom was gone. He really was gone. Somewhere - the only thing left of him was that shoe, and on it some unknown dark ooze. The police department were saying they were still investigating.
But they had turned up no leads on the missing persons cases of Elwood Sexton and Aaron Cascade so far, which were months old by now. Faith in the police was low, and that was putting aside the scandals of late.
Duane looked out through the window - Monroe High was a stark and some would say brutalistic structure. Numerous intertwining buildings built high, two or three stories, for different departments. Arranged in a half circle formation, the main building taller than the others.
He had never felt more atomized even as he sat here in class.
But when the bell rang and lunch started, the first place he'd go would be to the tabletop gaming room. He'd posted to Tom's friends that he was hoping to discuss something with them about the case and to meet there.
No matter what, Duane thought, he was not going to let them tell him Tom was dead.
Not Father Corpheus and his congregation, even as his mom told him they were just processing their own grief. Not the administrators. And definitely not the counselors.
Tom...had to be alive. He just knew it...!
Edited by NickTheSwing on Dec 9th 2020 at 4:30:48 AM
Jayden was not a close friend of Tom's.
Quite the opposite, actually. The two of them had butted heads all the time on whether or not things like ghosts and cryptids and aliens were real. Tom said they weren't. Jayden knew they were.
Tom didn't believe him. Nobody believed him. They said that the town's numerous disappearances likely had perfectly normal explanations. That nobody here had dark occult secrets. That he was "crazy" and "delusional" and "needed to see the counselor". Or, as Kyle put it, "needed to be in a straitjacket".
Jayden didn't listen to them. He never did. And now was the time to crank his "I'm-not-listening"-ness way up. Tom had been abducted—aliens, cultists, gods from the Outer Planes, something had taken him. And...well, Jayden was worried, but at the same time, this was his chance. His chance to prove he wasn't delusional. That his theories held water.
Earlier today, he'd...borrowed one of his classmates' phones—this girl in the tabletop roleplaying club. He'd snuck it back, of course, but he did find out about the meeting, which would be a good place to get information. Unfortunately, it was for Tom's friends only, and Jayden was not one of them.
Which was why he'd forewent lunch to sit under the table in the tabletop club room, hidden by a tablecloth (actually curtains he'd pulled from the windows, but hey, nobody would notice), carrying his journal and a pencil, ready to write down every bit of information that was discussed during that meeting.
It was a foolproof plan! No, Jayden would not be taking constructive criticism about it.
Edited by LilyTheLitten on Dec 9th 2020 at 4:26:15 AM
There was a loud racket down the hallway from the Tabletop Gaming Club's meeting room, and then one Mina Parker stormed out from one of the classrooms set aside for grief counseling. Her footsteps were not the light patter they had been before the missing persons crisis, but the heavy stomp of police boots. Indeed, she had chosen to swap out her shiny black formal shoes for her mother's old boots overnight, leaving some to gawk and some to laugh at her choice of footwear.
Whatever the case, she stomped her way down the hall to the meeting room, taking a moment to compose herself outside the door. She was wearing all black today, as was suited for mourning a friend. It was her father's request. Even if she didn't believe in Tom's death, she had to put up a respectable front for the sake of others, if not herself.
Mina sniffled as she finally entered. She was wiping at her face with a handkerchief, looking disconsolate, as if she was holding something in. "M-My mother disappeared in th-those same woods a few years a-ago," she whispered softly. "I can't b-believe...th-there's a pattern here, I just kn-know it..."
Her slight shoulders sagged as if a great weight was lifted off of them with this confession. The secret of the forest was too much for but one girl to bear, after all. But now, there were more who now knew...and they would find Tom.
No matter what.
Edited by JumpingFruit on Dec 9th 2020 at 5:53:38 AM
Duane nodded, relieved to see one of his guests (Mina) here - and for his part he didn't even notice Jayden sneak in. He was a little wrapped up in his own world of contemplation and thinking about everything. Duane thought about what Mina said about her own mom for a moment before saying, "...Man that brings back memories. Me and Tom were just heading home from Tom's dad's place. I swear that guy's such an asshole..."
Duane looked out the window, thinking about what also happened that day.
The confrontation and...the fact Duane ran away. "If I hadn't ran off in a different direction, maybe Tom would still be here."
The high school gym was mostly reserved for the use of the football team, in order to make sure they were at the peak of their ability. At present the Varsity Team was just finishing up training there before lunch. Presently in there, sans shirt, was one Jackson White, attempting to deal with the fact it seemed there was a sizable amount of people who for whatever reason blamed him for what happened. As far as he was concerned, Tom signed off on everything when he consciously chose to go that direction.
In all senses of the terminology.
What Jackson was thinking about was different from a lot of the other people so involved. He looked up from his spot at Kyle, presently doing squats. Jackson's eyes followed Kyle's form on the exercise - his teeth pressed on his lower lip. Jackson chuckled, "Looking pretty thick there, Kyle. How're you handling all this nonsense?"
Mina took a shaky breath. Though she did feel the urge to lash out and blame Duane for the current situation, that was not the answer here. Vacillating between almost doormat-like meekness and red-hot wrath would do nobody any good. Thus, she stayed quiet for a few seconds as she formulated her answer.
"I-I don't think s-sitting around feeling guilty is g-going to help Tom any," she said, at length, fiddling with the hem of her skirt. "I d-did just that when my m-mom disappeared, and l-look how far th-that got me. No. Not again. We h-have to act now, in wh-whatever capacity we can m-manage."
"First th-things first," Mina continued. "I w-want to recruit someone f-for our search. You know J-Jayden? I think he m-might be really helpful, if w-we asked. W-We worked together once, to do some s-spirit photography..."
"I-I can vouch for h-him too," she quickly added, flustered. "He's g-got nerves of steel, I s-swear. He didn't g-get scared or run when we w-were inside that spooky old house a-at all. And...he's in-interested in things like these. If you only l-let him get his teeth in th-this, he'd never let go of it. Not ever. Not until we f-found out what happened to Tom."
"Ah, but th-that's only what I think..." Mina finished sheepishly. "There m-might be other opinions..."
Edited by JumpingFruit on Dec 9th 2020 at 5:54:00 AM
"...eh?" Kyle paused, standing up and looking at Jackson. "Fine, mostly. Amy's still freaked out. Thinks one of her friends might be next." His words were quick and straight to the point. "Don't know why."
"Jayden's all over it, though. Mom's been talking about making him see a counselor. If he's not at school or work, he's in his room researching. Thinks this is going to be his big break."
Kyle did not add that he was actually getting rather worried about Jayden, as he'd had to be reminded four times in the past ten days to come down for dinner.
Mina's mom is missing. Vanished in same woods. Possible connection. Jayden frantically scribbled notes in his journal, frowning a bit in concentration. Any similarities between missing people?
Her mentioning his name caused him to pause, looking up in surprise. Wait, she'd actually value my input? Sure, they'd worked together on spirit photography and had gone into a haunted house together (they hadn't found anything, but ghosts could be shy) and she was basically the closest thing he had to a friend, but...
Actually, being a consultant for this case in addition to an investigator would be awesome.
Part of Jayden wanted to pop out from under the table at that very moment and say, You called? ...buuuuut he'd likely get more info where he was, so he stayed put.
Still, the idea of actually having his theories not just listened to, but believed was...amazing, to say the least.
Edited by LilyTheLitten on Dec 9th 2020 at 6:00:56 AM
When the news arrived to Merry, she took note of everything known about it. She wanted to know how and why Tom went missing. Something about this rung a bell to her, but she ignores it, thinking it was just deja vu.
While noting, she contemplates for a bit. "I should start properly investigating this case, shouldn't I?", she thought. "...yeah, that seems to be a good idea."
Were it not for the occasion, James would have been ecstatic that lunch had finally arrived. He always had English class before this period and the teacher loved to have these massive conversations about a single darned paragraph of the text. Of course, Tom's death did overshadow this somewhat. He couldn't believe it had only been a week since the disappearance, time had slowed to a crawl since that fateful day.
James was a bit worried about Duane, he seemed to think that something had taken Tom, that his death wasn't just the work of some random psychopath. He wished he could have the same twisted optimism, to be able to truly believe that Tom was out there somewhere, captive, lost, but still alive. But reality was generally far less fantastical, and sooner or later Duane would have to face that fact. Still he wanted to be there for him during the grieving process, it was the decent thing to do.
He opened the door to find Mina and Duane discussing their options. "Guys look. I know its hard to accept and that people grieve in different ways, but Tom's gone. I wish he wasn't, we all do but that's how it is, and we have to realize that. We can't go through with this whole investigation thing. And please tell me we're not actually asking Jayden, "spooky" Jayden, "the mole-men are communicating with us using traffic lights" Jayden to help us. That kid's messed up enough already, we don't need to further fuel his delusions."
Edited by bobbitwormhobbitwyrm on Dec 9th 2020 at 10:52:29 AM
"Oh, h-hey James," Mina murmured, pulling out a chair for him. "Glad you c-could join us here today."
She clasped her hands together and seemed to think for a while. "I d-dunno. They never found m-my mom's body in the f-forest either. I didn't e-even say anything or t-try to look for her even if I d-did have the option at the t-time and—"
Mina wiped away some tears that fell, unbidden. "—I just w-wanna do everything I can. It's hard to accept th-that Tom's j-just gone! I can't t-tell myself I've d-done everything I can if I haven't in the f-first place!" she ranted forcefully, slamming a hand onto the table. "S-Sorry."
She took several more deep breaths to calm herself down. "I'm n-not saying w-we go into th-the woods ourselves. I'm s-saying we gather here a-after school, and—and I fly m-my drone over the woods, and if we don't spot anything out of the ordinary, we c-can call it a day and give up," Mina suggested. "For th-the closure, since those grief counselors don't s-seem to be d-doing their jobs properly right n-now..."
In the oppressive silence that followed, Mina blew her nose in a napkin.
Edited by JumpingFruit on Dec 9th 2020 at 9:06:46 AM
Zaahira sighed, loudly, so everyone could hear, as she trudged through the hall with her hands shoved conspicuously into the pockets of her hoodie. It was a special sigh, a sigh she hoped would communicate a sort of... inner turmoil. A turmoil that those 'in the know' would get.
She'd ask herself 'where is that crazy guy now?', but she already knew. She didn't want to do this, she really didn't. The thought of doing this made her feel a little queasy - if it were her in his position, she'd probably do the same thing - but sometimes, enough is enough. She hadn't even stopped to eat lunch before heading out. It was only a box of couscous, anyway; plenty more where that came from.
She stepped up to the closed door to that one room where the TTRPG club always met up. The meeting going on in there was supposed to be a secret, but the one she was looking for somehow figured it out, and of course he blabbed to her about it this morning. Whether he meant to do that or not, she didn't know, nor did she care. And if you knew that he knew, it wouldn't take a genius to figure out what he'd try and do with that information.
She was tempted, she was oh so tempted to bang on the door with her fists of fury and yell 'I KNOW YOU'RE IN THERE, YOU WELL-INTENTIONED CREEP!', but no, that's not her thing. It'd be all... incongruous and out-of-character, you know? Plus, she didn't want to make things even harder for all of Tom's friends.
Instead, she lightly knocked on the door, instinctively knocking to the tune of Ryu's stage theme from Street Fighter II. ...She always thought Guile's theme was overrated. Dude's not even the main character; if anyone, it's Chun-Li.
Hearing James articulate that the most likely circumstance is that Tom is dead, Duane looked over at Mina, sighing - but then he felt better when she responded on that count. There was just...so much that didn't add up. Maybe he needed to try and talk to Tom's mom about this. Though he decided he would try not to talk to the dad about it. He knew from experience that talking to Mr. Winters only led to disappointment.
When Mina brought up the idea of flying her drone over the woods, Duane nodded frantically, "Maybe—-Maybe that'd work! It could like, find some hint of whatever took Tom! Maybe he's like being held out in some cabin in the woods or something, and the drone could find him!"
He heard a noise at the door, a knock, and said, "Come in!"
Duane then winced as he heard a sound outside of the TTRPG Club doors beyond the knock. It looked like some security personnel were heading down toward the front of the school. He pulled out his phone and saw a news update from the local news; Father Corpheus and flock commence march of "Justice for Tom" all the way to his school, allege conspiracy.
"Why why why do these weirdos have to act out like this and make the rest of us carry em? Going without meals, running around spouting off conspiracy theories..." Jackson looked at the mirror on the wall, at his well honed form. And even those ten days later, he still remembered those words Tom said to him as if it was just yesterday.
He looked at Kyle. Maybe the issue with Tom would sweep all that under the rug. Or maybe it would incite more scrutiny into Jackson's private business. The last thing Jackson wanted would be for his father to get involved. Then he'd go looking into every nook and cranny as he tried to "take care of things". And chances were...
Jackson breathed and pounded out a few more reps on bench press before getting back up. "I don't come off as gay, do I, Kyle? Because obviously Tommy boy didn't know what he was talking about. I just don't want people getting any ideas."
Whether he meant it to be so or not, Jackson's tone was oddly worried.
Edited by NickTheSwing on Dec 10th 2020 at 12:02:47 PM
"It's m-more for our peace of m-mind, though..." Mina mumbled, looking down at her hands, still trying to make sense of the sordid situation."I mean, even th-the police haven't f-found the missing people y-yet, so we m-might not have a chance at it ei-either. But we can c-certainly try."
"Yes. I-I'll do it," she said, more to herself than anyone else. "I just have to make sure m-my drone is fully charged and then b-bring it from home, that's all. I'll also h-have to make sure all the c-cameras are operational. I w-wouldn't be too surprised if some EMP kn-knocks it out of the sky later..."
Mina fidgeted some more, and then noticed the ruckus at the front of the school. "That looks like F-Father Corpheus," she noted, thumbing at the hem of her skirt. "Do you all want to c-come with m-me to check it o-out?"
After she said that, Mina immediately made preparations to check out whatever the local priest was preaching about in front of the school. Maybe his sermon would have some clues in it...
Edited by JumpingFruit on Dec 10th 2020 at 1:15:08 AM
She received her permission to head inside not a moment too soon; moments later, she heard the thumping of boots as security guards came barrelling down the hall towards her. Her eyes widened at the sight, and without even stopping to think, she quickly opened the door and ducked inside the room, slamming it shut behind her. It was only after they'd passed that she regained her usual composure, just as quickly as she'd lost it.
"Hey, guys," she said, stuffing her hands back into her pockets. As an aside, she looked over at Mina, casually pointing down at her footwear. "Mina! I'm likin' the boots. New you, right?" she said, sincerely. "...Uh, anyway, sorry to interrupt and all, but I'm lookin' for someone, an' I think he's somewhere in this room...?"
Before she could elaborate or even have a closer look, everyone started shuffling towards the window to see some kind of ruckus going on. That must have been what those two rent-a-cops were so peeved about. Not wanting to miss out on some important context, she found herself inching in that direction as well.
"Father who?" she asked Mina, nervously rubbing the base of her neck. First those two guards and now a... priest, she assumed? Hopefully not one of those big-shot evangelical types she'd heard about. Dad told her not to trust them, and based on what she'd seen of them on the news, she had little reason to disagree; and no, their difference in faith had nothing to do with it.
"Oh. Hi, Z-Zaahira," Mina said shyly, making room for her near the window. "Y-You're right. New m-me, I think. They used to b-be my mom's, b-but these boots should c-come in handy when I g-go investigating T-Tom's disappearance too..."
"Father C-Corpheus is someone m-my dad introduced me to," she hurried to explain. "He's a good p-priest, if old-fashioned. At least, he w-was always nice to m-me. He's literally th-the only reason why I haven't told a-anyone that I've d-decided to be agnostic..."
"I'm going to...to check out what's happening," Mina stated, walking away from the window and going out into the hall to cautiously follow after the security guards. "You all t-take care, now..."
Edited by JumpingFruit on Dec 10th 2020 at 2:51:53 AM
Well unfortunately, Mina's egress into the hall is interrupted by a certain blonde's attempt to barge into the room.
"Sup nerds, the UN sent me down here for an announcement relevant to your little club."
Heather mocks an 'ahem' and pulls a piece of paper from her satchel.
"So, through a majority vote the Monroe High Mock United Nations has decided to level sanctions against the, and I quote, 'insidious Necrons' for charges relating to... Xeno-Human Rights abuses and war crimes. Now, I don't know what that means cause I'm not a nerd but if one of you represents these Necron dorks lemme know so I can give you these sanctions."
After reciting her little speech she looks around and also takes a glance down the hallway in the direction the security staff went.
"Weird day today."
Jayden couldn't help but scowl at James's dismissal of his theories as "delusions". They were not delusions, he was not "spooky", and mole men did not communicate via traffic lights, that was absurd!
They communicated through earthquakes.
Suddenly, a commotion went off outside, and according to what he was hearing—oh, his other closest thing to a friend was here too, that was nice—the priest guy was here. Father Corpheus, AKA the guy who'd come up with a new way to insult Jayden (he'd never been called a vulture before).
Well, it didn't seem like he'd get anywhere with this investigation...and what was going on outside sounded interesting...so Jayden closed his journal and slipped out from under the table, following Mina as she headed out the door. When she was distracted by some blonde girl, Jayden slipped past them both, heading for the front of the school.
Shockingly, he could be stealthy when he wanted to.
"...odd question," Kyle replied. "Not really. But from what I've seen, saying things like that tends to raise eyebrows."
His phone buzzed, and he picked it up to check the notification. A text from Amy. "Hang on. My sister texted." He quickly read the message, eyes widening as he did so.
Have you looked at your school?! That priest guy is marching over and says there's a conspiracy!
Immediately, Kyle texted back.
The reply came in seconds.
I know! And he was getting on JAYDEN'S case for conspiracies! Talk about hypocrisy!
He looked back at Jackson. "Something's going on. Father Corpheus. Marching to the school. Claiming there's a conspiracy. Don't have all the details."
"H-Holy shit!" Duane almost jumped back as it seemed like Jayden just emerged from nowhere and followed Mina out. He looked at Heather and lightly tilted his head. The "Necron Representative" was the roomba Tom had brought in. Usually it responded to these sorts of things one way - by spinning around in some approximation of distress.
Following after the others after a short pause to gather his thoughts and contemplate what to do, Duane found himself shortly after looking out through one of the exits as he and the others could now look upon the scene playing out...
Standing at the head of a huge congregation of poor men and modest folks was a slightly hunched forward, wizened and almost bald. He walked with the aid of a long staff of some sort, clenched in both hands. Corpheus wore a shabby priest's habit with the addition of a gray hood sewn on. His features were somewhat pale, a pronounced chin and cheekbones accentuated due to his self imposed poverty, a long aquiline nose and dark eyes.
The school security team seemed on edge, and it was clear that Corpheus had brought an enormous group of protesters - some had protest signs and others wore clothes emblazoned with relevant imagery. The overwhelming theme - that there needed to be justice for Tom.
At the sight of the school security technicians however the protest group stopped, just shy of the sidewalk up to the entrance. Being given a loudspeaker, Corpheus started on it, "There has been no secret of this school's history of pandering to the most powerful among us! We have heard the confessions gathered and story given by the police, and hence, we know poor Tom was led astray from the road and into danger by none other than a perverse gaggle of upper class hooligans. That the police refuse to release the names of those involved tells me the wealthy yet again were involved in the harm of a poor child!!"
His voice carried a lot of force even at his age of 76, bringing with it a charismatic sensibility.
"Just wanted to make sure." Jackson turned and picked up his towel to wipe himself off...
And then he heard what was going on out front from Kyle. He took in the whole of the information, and remembered his dad when he was home scowling and talking about that priest. Always with the class war and "proles rise up" talk with him. Damned rabblerouser.
But at least this was a distraction from a questioning line Jackson increasingly regretted.
"He's...he's what!? That old fuck is just ALWAYS like this. Always something with him." Jackson tapped his forehead, wondering what to do. How much did the old codger know...? Well, beyond the official story.
"J-Jayden!? Sorry f-for talking about you behind your b-back, I-I was—oh, m-man...what a c-crowd, huh..." Mina mumbled to the others, barely disguising the flush on her face as Father Corpheus mentioned the alleged conspiracy of the rich and wealthy. "You have t-to admit that he k-kinda has a point, though. J-Jackson got off last week with n-nothing more than a slap on the wr-wrist..."
Still, Mina was fairly certain that a riot or a brawl was going to break out soon, if nothing was done about this gathering.
She flitted into the congregation, thankful that her slight stature enabled her to better disguise her comings and goings in large groups. Eventually, she reached Father Corpheus, and tugged in his sleeve, since he was much taller than her despite his advanced age. "F-Father Corpheus, sir? Can I have a m-moment alone with you, please? I c-can tell you what I kn-know," Mina pleaded, voice almost lost in the murmur of the crowd. "You kn-know me, right? I'm M-Mina Parker. Tom was—Tom was my friend too." She visibly fought the urge to look down at her shoes.
Edited by JumpingFruit on Dec 10th 2020 at 5:07:08 AM
Meanwhile, Dave was doing something completely unrelated: delivering a box to...an address. He didn't know what was there. All he knew was one of his friends wanted the box delivered, and he was willing to. That was what he did: random tasks for random people, usually driving this guy to that place.
As he was driving he noticed some kind of protest going on. Being in a school zone, he was driving slow enough to get a good look: that priest that looked like a wizard, and had a name like a wizard that he couldn't remember at the moment, was leading the pack. Judging by the signs, it was a protest about Tom, that guy who disappeared.
Dave himself had no connection to Tom, but someone he did tasks for a lot was friends with him. James, right? Maybe later, he could call James and ask about it.
Presently, the act of being near a priest made Dave a bit nervous. Not only was he skipping school, but he had never actually asked what was in the box he was delivering. For all he knew, he was a drug mulenote he didn't want to be a drug mule, and if it turned out he was delivering drugs he'd probably break all ties with the guy who wanted them delivered, but it was still possible. He panicked a bit internally, but looked pretty normal on the outside; after all, panicking on the outside wasn't going to help much.
Zaahira decided to follow alongside Mina as they filed out of the room, only to be stopped by a familiar face.
"Hey, Heather. Still fightin' for world peace, I see," she said. "When did Necrons come up on the agenda? The whole time I was in the Mock UN, we never addressed my 'make Turkish oil wrestlin' an Olympic sport' proposal," she said, in a way that made it clear it was in good humour. The last thing she wanted was for anyone to take that club as a serious source of advice on fixing international relations or whatever.
She was absorbed enough by this brief reunion that she almost didn't notice Jayden seemingly appear out of nowhere from behind them - Mina's alarm probably helped to alert her, as Zaahira barely stopped herself from jumping, too, as she saw the conspiracy theorist's distinctive red hair come zooming past.
"JAYDEN, I was lookin' for you! What the H, man?!" she called after him, hoping that he'd at least guess what she meant by that, since it was clear he had no intention of stopping.
As they headed outside to listen to what this Father Corpheus had to say, Zaahira once again found herself rubbing the back of her head, but this time with confusion and a little bit of intrigue. She was expecting some fire-and-brimstone guy in a suit, flanked by redneck militiamen, instead she's looking at some old monk dude, possibly straight from medieval times, talking about class conflict like he's Vladimir-fuckin'-Lenin. She still remained apprehensive, and made no attempt to get close to him like Mina, but she did find herself nodding when she brought up Jackson.
"Fuckin' Jackson, dude, I tell ya..." she said, offhandedly, forcibly cutting herself off before she could say anything else. She didn't like to point fingers, but even she felt that if anyone had to be blamed for Tom's death, it was him. She'd heard everyone's testimony. Asshole meathead homophobe chased Tom and Duane off into the woods basically because he was insecure. How much more clear-cut could you get? The thought made her tense up, clenching her pocketed hands into fists. She had to keep these thoughts to herself.
"Dunno, wasn't paying attention for a few minutes and then someone told me to courier the sanctions over to your little nerd-club. Not sure why I had to do it but hey gotta keep the UN sweet to keep my seat."
With a little bit of a pout Heather went and propped a few pieces of paper on top of the distressed Roomba and joined the others at staring at the ongoing scene. At the little tirade she quirked an eyebrow.
"Heeeeeeey, you were there that night weren'tcha? You should spill the tea, name names. The school might wanna protect whoever's responsible but you don't have to~..."
Edited by Pentigan on Dec 11th 2020 at 4:38:17 AM
While noting, she realised something. Perhaps, there might be more to Tom's disappearance than what meets the eye. It seems to be worth investigating a little further than just the basics.
After some time has passed, she heads off to find out more, when she spots the scene outside. "Huh, what's going on over there?"
"HiMinahiZaahira!" Jayden said over his shoulder, continuing to dash towards the front of the school. He was the first out the doors, staring at the protestors with wide eyes. "Holy mother of macaroni." This was...quite the turn-out, he had to admit.
There has been no secret of this school's history of pandering to the most powerful among us!
Jayden's head tilted.
We have heard the confessions gathered and story given by the police, and hence, we know poor Tom was led astray from the road and into danger by none other than a perverse gaggle of upper class hooligans.
His lips pursed into a frown.
That the police refuse to release the names of those involved tells me the wealthy yet again were involved in the harm of a poor child!
It started small, and his hand was over his mouth to muffle it. But then it got louder, stronger, crazier, and soon enough Jayden had stitches in his sides with how much he was laughing.
"Oh! Oh ho ho! I see how it is!" Jayden grinned the grin of someone who was far too sleep-deprived to know when to keep his mouth shut. "When I say that Tom's alive, and give my theories as to why, I'm a delusional vulture! But when he says that Tom was killed by wealthy people, there are freaking rallies! I..." He sighed, the grin lessening somewhat. "My sides...my poor, poor sides..."
"Mm. I guess so."
And then two more texts came in.
Oh no, Jayden's out there
OH NO, HE'S TALKING
Kyle stared at his phone. "...shit."
And before anyone could react, he ran out the door.
Even as the crowd got a deal louder at the approach of the campus security technicians, keeping them away from the front of the school - it was radiantly clear the protest was unwanted - Corpheus still looked and immediately responded when he noticed Mina. He slightly smiled, "You know something of this tragedy? ...Very well. I will meet with you. I can trust that you, a friend of Tom, might know more than these servitors would wish."
As the crowd started to shout at the guards, Corpheus suddenly took a step forward and raised his staff off the ground and brought it down. The walking stick emitted a surprisingly solid noise on impact and the crowd went silent. They all started to take a few steps back - away from any confrontation.
Duane meanwhile observed the ongoing confrontation, walking up by Zaahira and nodding. That was hardly the first time Jackson had an outburst like that. There were bigger bullies, but Jackson was the most intensely homophobic. Like he had something to prove. "You know, insecurity is probably Jackson White's calling card, well, that and money. Not so fun fact - his dad's a local leader of the Republican Party, Kenneth White. Biiiiiig time vulture capitalist."
He looked with some concern at Jayden, wondering if that guy had been sleeping or eating at all.
With Kyle running out the door, Jackson ran out after him toward the action going on. Figured that whatever was going on with that socialist would interrupt his workout time with Kyle. He decided to let Kyle deal with his family issues - that weirdo dork needed to stop causing people so much trouble.
It looked like, heading outside, there was a pretty sizable crowd on both sides.
Nigh on immediately one of the campus security technicians asked Jackson, "...Are you alright, Mr. White?" It was a decidedly subservient and pandering response - one Jackson immediately hated. Yet again more of father's brown nosers - probably also keeping an eye on him and keeping him from doing anything.
How much were the hirelings watching him in addition to this? Did he get no privacy whatsoever?
"...I'm fine. Fine. Totally fine."
"Th-Thank you," Mina said, dipping her head slightly and stepping to one side with Father Corpheus, and away from the rest of the crowd. Though, now she was faced with the dilemma of whether or not to reveal any names. She decided to buy more time with an additional statement. "It really means a lot to m-me, that you're willing to listen to wh-what I have to say..."
"Wh-What I heard from Duane is th-that, on that n-night, they encountered some p-people on the football team, who h-heckled him and T-Tom for allegedly being g-gay," she said slowly, trying to marshal her thoughts into order. "Tom u-used the—the—you know—classic 'No, You' thingy, and then th-they got m-mad and chased him into the w-woods and—"
Mina visibly blanched and shook her head. "—And now Tom's just g-gone. I don't think a-anyone else other than T-Tom went into the woods though. E-Everybody is scared of that p-place. Even the f-football team. I c-can't really provide any names, though, because, w-well, the members all k-kinda look the same to me, and I'm not really invested in f-football..."
"I really d-dunno how to feel about this, F-Father," she continued, looking dejected. "Jayden says Tom's still alive, you're saying he's dead because of r-rich people like me and I feel that he's s-still out there somewhere and..."
"...Everyone's on e-edge," Mina finished. "I d-don't feel safe. I g-get that you want everyone to kn-know what you know, but th-the security guards around here h-have been extra a-anxious lately...I don't know what's g-going on except it's p-probably not best to start making theories this early, and n-not when the whole school is still...you know...sad. Having a b-big crowd gather like this...g-gives me the impression that a f-fight is going to break out at any s-second. So it's p-probably not good for my classmates, and..." Mina paused. "Well...I'm just rambling n-now, but...you know what I mean, r-right?"
This was all that Mina could do to exploit certain social expectations to peacefully get the flock of Father Corpheus' followers to go away for the moment. Also, while she had told the truth, it was only ever true from a certain point of view. She really "couldn't" provide names because her inner journalist's ethics prevented her from doing so, and she really wasn't involved in football. Mina, truthfully, was anxious due to the crowd.
Now, to see if it would work...
Edited by JumpingFruit on Dec 11th 2020 at 12:20:57 PM
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