Chapter 1 - The Prodigy Son

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Until that year, I'd never thought about the way our school building towered into the air—how the tops of its pointed gothic frames seemed to disappear in an otherworldly haze whenever fog fell beneath an ominous gray sky. When I was in middle school, I imagined on wispy days that gargoyles lighted atop the high-curved archways and searched with evil, ravenous eyes for willowy bodies to mangle as they paraded in sordid revelry.

Until that year, I never thought anything could be worse.


The middle of October never was particularly exciting, with every warm body under seventeen trapped beneath the weight of teachers' glares, mindless homework, and jealous classmates. Freshmen were still bumbling through the hallways as they tried to figure out where classes met each day; sophomores were busy reveling in their newfound schoolyard status; juniors were scurrying about with stress over impending PSATs.

And then there were the seniors—we were calm, relaxed, and only a bit entitled. At two months in, it already felt like school was a distant memory. Classes were a joke, no matter what the teachers told us. We ruled the gym, the hallways, the cafeteria—and the classroom was no different.

So when October seventeenth rolled around, I thought it would be like any other day. I walked into fourth-period Psychology and nonchalantly shoved past a congregation of no-name juniors with whom us seniors shared the class.

"Quit blocking the walkway," I spat as I strode through. "Dorks."

I took my seat on the back row and fished my phone out of my backpack. Two new notifications from my dad and my girlfriend Grace were there to greet me. I swiped right and started typing.

Grace was easy enough to blow off—a simple I love you, babe. Can't wait for fifth period was all it took.

My dad was another story. He'd been hounding me all week about sharing my "testimony" at Youth Group. We both knew I didn't have much to say: "Hi there. I'm Steven. I was born a preemie, and I survived. God is good. The end."

Still, Dad wouldn't let up. "If you're going to take my place as Senior Pastor at Edgeway, you're going to have to start taking on a more active role at the church, son," he'd said over and over.

It's a fun thing being a preacher's kid. And by fun, I mean full of crap. And it's even crappier when the "church" you attend is also the main sponsor of the private school you go to, meaning every teacher knows your name...and your father's name.

And just in case that's not enough misery, imagine having your dad constantly breathe down your throat about taking over the church, all because he doesn't want you to end up like your college-educated older brother who found a job as an engineer and couldn't care less about some pointless mission to sanctify the souls of the lost—whatever the heck that meant.

I'll have something by tomorrow Dad, was all I could manage to send him before the bell rang, signaling the start of class.

"Good morning, everyone," said Mr. Slatt, our fourth period teacher, as he plodded through the classroom door at the sound of the bell. He ruffled his brown coat before shedding it, then wrapped it around his cushioned desk chair as he took a seat. "I hope you've all had a fun and restful weekend. As planned, today we will commence with your presentations."

Man, this is gonna suck, I thought to myself, rolling my eyes. How am I supposed to make it through fifty minutes of this?

Mr. Slatt had assigned our class a family-tree project: we were to look up the most-common psychological disorders among our family lines and put together a PowerPoint about the biological, psychological, and sociological implications of said disorders in both older and contemporary societies.

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