A/N: Revision! Revision! I've decided to edit, revise, and bulk up my story in the attempt to make it full novel-length (and a lot more descriptive), one chapter at a time. Wish me luck!
"Quiet down, everyone, and get in your seats!" hollered Vice Principle Rosenbaum.
Rosenbaum was a tall, husky Austrian man whom no one dared to mess with. No one except me, that is, because I always knew he had a soft side beneath that bulky exterior. Some people's soft sides make them cry in movie theaters; others make them stop to smell the flowers; but fortunately for me, Mr. Rosenbaum's soft side convinced him to let me off the hook for all the trouble I had caused last year. There was a catch, however: Now I had to use my talents for good instead of evil, so I became a motivational speaker.
There I was, pacing up and down backstage, waiting for the big man to announce me. I wasn't nervous or anything; I just liked pacing. Peering through the curtains, I saw a full auditorium. Everyone was there: the faculty, the students, the seniors, even the super seniors. I gulped. Mad Matt was sitting too close to the stage. (I feared a repeat of the cantaloupe incident, only this time I bet he'd use watermelons.)
"And now, ladies and gentleman, let's give a warm Sugar High welcome to one of our very own students, Mr. Todd Gafferty!"
I shuffled onto the stage with my hands in my pockets. The crowd went wild. Rosenbaum handed me the mic and whispered, "Pull up your pants, sonny!" I glanced down at my father's suit pants, which were indeed three sizes too large for me in the waist. I was pretty sure no one wanted to see my Bugs Bunny boxers, so I gave 'em a big yank.
"Good afternoon, disciples. I'm Todd Gafferty, founder of the Church of Todd. You may know me better as the class clown, resident jackass, or 'that guy', but today I'm coming to you as a student. An equal. I know exactly what you're going through, because, believe it or not, I used to be just like you: an overstressed, overworked, over-tormented study monkey." I gazed around the audience. Most of the students were snickering, but not laughing out loud like I had hoped. A few of them were staring at me with their hands folded, all stiff and serious like. Now that gave me the willies!
"Now, don't get me wrong, school is important, but so is having fun. We should all learn to chillax and take a breather once in a while, instead of freaking out about report cards, essays, that library book you forgot to return that's hiding under your bed with a six-month-old bran muffin...that kinda stuff." Good, here come the laughs. Probably cuz I said the word 'bran'.
"Relaxation is sorta like alcohol: it's great in moderation, but you don't wanna overdo it, or you'll end up like me at Sammy's bar mitzvah. Let school be your Morning After pill, because a balanced mind is a healthy mind. Balance is key."
Okay, let's back up this paddy wagon. My name is Todd Gafferty, and I'm a senior at Sugar County High School, but last year is when I had all the fun. School used to be a nightmare for me. I flunked so many tests and got yelled at by so many teachers that it's a miracle I made it past the tenth grade. I also used to be an atheist. You may be wondering how the two are related. Well, shut up and I'll tell you!
You see, I was baptized as a Protestant, but ten years after that my folks stopped going to church. Perhaps it was because Sugar Congregational's parking lot was too small, or because they didn't serve donuts as a wholesome church should. Or, most likely, because they didn't believe in God. I don't know their exact reason for dropping the charade, but I do know that their beliefs had absolutely no impact on mine.
I didn't believe in God because...I just didn't. Theists seem unable to grasp that concept. For me, rejecting the notion of deities was as simple as telling the color of the sky. (The sky is blue, the grass is green, and God does not exist.)
In contrast to us, my next-door neighbors, the Spitznogles, were extremely religious. But they were Jews, so I guess they had to be. (History of hardship, and all that.) Their son, Samuel Spitznogle, was but a year younger than me and my best friend since diaper days. Most kids called him by his nickname: Sammy Spitz. (Now with fifty percent less syllables!)
I loved Sammy like the brother I never had, but sometimes...sometimes I envied him. He got to skip school all the time to observe the Jewish holidays (that's a shitload of holidays), and the lunch ladies prepared a special kosher meal for him each day, which, let me tell ya, looked a lot more appetizing than the non-kosher mystery meals the rest of us endured.
All that special treatment, because of some religious beliefs? Well, eventually it got me thinking, and I'm dangerous when I think.
My stroke of brilliance arrived during the summer before junior year. What if I created my own set of excuses and called it a religion? And if I acted seriously about it, seriously enough to convince my parents and teachers, then - heck, I could get away with just about anything! But it would have to seem legit. First I'd need to pen some kind of 'holy manuscript', like the Bible or the Torah. I figured this task would come easily and enjoyably to me, a writer by hobby, troublemaker by trade.
So began my summer of little sunlight. I locked myself in my room and scribbled away in my notebook until my right hand cramped up, and then, being ambidextrous, I'd switch to my left. This behavior continued for several weeks (until I ran out of notebooks).
During this time my parents began to worry about me. I didn't want them poking around and finding out what I was really up to, so I started wearing all black. I dyed my hair black, smeared white powder all over my face, and borrowed some Bauhaus CDs from that girl down the street. That way they'd think I'd gone goth and leave me alone. Surprisingly, it worked.
When I finished writing my scripture, I had four notebooks filled to the margins with characters, commandments, and canon. I typed it all up on my laptop and took it to a local printing shop. The final product was a black, leather-bound book with the words 'Student Bible' in gold letters on the front. Fancy-shmancy.
I dubbed my religion Awesomeism, because its followers are required to brag about how Awesome it is, and pray thrice a day to the three Awesome gods: Larrius, Movus, and Curlion. With one week of vacation left, I happily washed the crap off my face, pulled on some khaki shorts and a T-shirt, and went outside. My parents, especially my dad, were very relieved.
"Welcome back to the land of the living, son!" he beamed, giving me a hearty punch in the arm. "I'm sure glad that phase is over. Say, how about I treat you to a baseball game?"
"How 'bout this Friday?"
"No can do, Dad," I said with a sigh. "Friday's the Sabbath." He hit me with a quizzical look.
"Wait a minute. Ain't that Sunday?"
"Nope. For Christians it's Sunday, Saturday for Jews, and Friday for Muslims," I explained, nearly giving Dad a heart attack.
"You wanna be a...a Muslim? Like those terrorists?"
Sometimes my father's ignorance astounded me. And I thought atheists were supposed to be smart. Then again, who's ever heard of an atheist from the Bible Belt?
"Nope," I exhaled, deciding to let it go. "I just like Fridays." (And I had no interest in watching the Sugar Beets take on the Georgia Peaches.) I pulled the Bible from my pocket and swung it back and forth before his beady eyes. "I'm an Awesomeist. See?"
Dad stumbled inside with his hands pressed over his stomach as if he'd just been shot. I tiptoed behind him, crouching in the shadows of the screen porch to listen in.
"Marion! Come quick!" he shouted. Mom bustled from the kitchen with a soapy frying pan, an apron full of grease and a look to kill. (She takes dishwashing very seriously.)
"What? What is it, Albert? Can't you see I'm in the middle of something?"
"It's - it's Todd. He's...getting in touch with his faith."
"Oh dear!" Mom exclaimed, dropping the pan with a cymbalic clang. "I feared something like this might happen." Her eyes darted nervously side to side, and she began chewing on her greasy fingernails like a frightened rabbit gnawing on a carrot. Jeez, and I thought she'd be the voice of reason! "Well, maybe if we leave it alone, it'll pass -" Her voice dropped to a whisper. "Like that goth thing."
"What if it doesn't pass?" Dad barked. "Will we have to start going to church again? Because, let me tell ya, Al Gafferty is not a churchgoing man."
"Oh, calm down!" she shushed, bending low to pick up the frying pan, her Southern hips wagging to and fro. "I'm sure he won't drag us into anything. Todd's always been a clever, independent sort of boy. And who knows? A little religion might do him good."
Way to lie, Mom.
"I sure hope you're right, Mama Bear, cuz if not, I blame you. It was your idea to get him baptized in the first place."
Mom sucked in air, planting her greasy fists on her love handles. The "indignant" look.
"If my memory serves, it was our idea! We did it to appease our folks."
"Okay, Neville Chamberlain, if that's the way the gravy flows. Now how's about you appease my appetite with a little home-cooked grub?"
Blah, blah, blah.
As their argument died down, I nestled into the hammock with a tall glass of lemonade and the Student Bible tucked safely under my arm.
"This is going to be a great year," I thought. "One day as an Awesomeist, and I'm already causing trouble."