1: An Unfriendly Welcome to St. Lawrence Academy

I wasn't the smartest kid in the world, but I wasn't dumb. I knew a rat when I smelled one. When I was five, I stuck a knife in an electric socket. Everyone knows nothing good’s going to happen when you stick a knife in an electric socket. That didn’t keep me from doing it. Sometimes I just wanted to find things out for myself. That was one of those times.

Call me Jason. Not Jase, or Jasey, or Jase-my-man. It’s Jason. Jason West. Maybe if things like people not saying my full name didn't piss the hell out of me, I wouldn’t have ended up at St. Lawrence Academy.

I’ll admit to having a short temper. I’d tell you to ask Dax Leary about it, but the doctors say that he’s got another three months before he should be moving his jaw. Kinda sucks. I warned him, though, so I don't think I should have to feel all that guilty. Wish dad felt the same way. Don’t worry. I’m not gonna give you that crap about being from a broken home and psycho-bullshitting my life to help you get who I am. If you don't get me, screw you.

Dax Leary was the asshole of St. Luke’s football team. St. Luke is a rat-hole Catholic school in Tennessee. By rat-hole, I mean where the rat lawyers and doctors shit out their kids, while them and their trophy wives took trips to Boca Raton, Del Mar, and Akron for five week intervals. Me and Dax never had any issues, mainly because we didn’t hang in the same circles. That wasn't very difficult for me to accomplish because I never had a circle—or friends for that matter. He had hardly noticed me until one day when I accidentally bumped into him in the hallway.

Dax was a beefy guy with unnaturally edged muscles that you and me both know are the result of illegal steroid usage. No 17-year-old is supposed to look like an Abercrombie model. He was a tower of rock, so I ricocheted right off his arm.

“Watch it freak!”

This didn’t really bother me. He was caught off guard, and I would have given a similar knee-jerk reaction.

His goons stood at his sides, their glares encouraging Dax to punish me for my transgression. I slid past them.

"Looks like Jasey’s trying to feel me up!”

I haltedthat kind of halt where it feels like you’re body’s being pulled back.

“What’d you call me?” I asked in a guttural whisper. Dax may have been bigger than me, but my impressive past with a violent disposition assured me that my temper could easily outperform his fluff-muscles.

“You got a problem?...Jasey?”

I turned around. Dax’s arched brow lowered slightly, as his confidence diminished.

“You’ve been warned," I said.

“Oooo.”

“Pcht!”

Snickering.

His goons were amused by my dead-serious words. Dax’s quivering lip assured me that he knew my intention behind them. His game face was ruined, but with his buddies behind him and seeming to be awaiting retaliation, he evidently feared their disapproval over my reaction. He opened his mouth again.

“What?....Jasey?”

If you want to know the difference between the sound of a melon splattering against concrete and Dax’s head bashing into a brick wall: there isn’t one.

So there I was, four weeks later, having been forced to leave St. Luke’s, with my Dad using the influence of money and his high-powered attorney to keep me in school and on 'the right track.'

That’s where St. Lawrence Academy came in. On the brochure, it looked miserable. A bunch of anime-eyed guys patting each others' backs and two girls laughing their heads off. It looked more like a poster for a remake of Invasion of the Body Snatchers than a brochure for a Catholic school. I didn’t know any guys like that—the kind that patted each others' backs and had those ridiculously big eyes. I guess their eyes were so big because they were trying to open them wide enough to take in all the beauty of life. Whatever their reason, I sure as hell didn't want to know them. Claire didn’t like it when I talked about happy people like that—like there was something wrong with them. She said it meant that I could be a sociopath or have suicidal tendencies. There were like a million other things that she thought could be wrong with me because I didn’t want to be a fucking drone. What a bitch. Don’t worry, she wasn’t my girlfriend. Just a slutty guidance counselor that wore a two inch skirt and made us call her Claire instead of Miss Michaelson. I think it had more to do with her inability to accept that she was over 30, rather than an attempt to connect with us on a deep, meaningful level.

I sat in Father Daniels' office. He was the principal of the academy. I was supposed to report to him first thing when I arrived. We had an appointment and everything. Boy did I ever feel special!

I pushed my foot against his desk so that two of the legs of my chair hung in the air. I rocked back and forth.

His office was pretty standard—a lot like Father Russo’s at St. Luke’s. There were school awards and sports pix up all over the walls. Ribbons, trophies, certificates—all presumably won by some prodigy of the system. I’d never won anything like that. I was never interested in anything athletic or that involved any sort of skill.

St. Lawrence’s pride was soccer, as evidenced by a row of framed pictures above the bookshelf behind the desk. These guys were smiling, like the guys in the brochure, but even they didn’t have those absurd anime-eyes. I wondered if the guy’s eyes in the brochure had been digitally altered.

Some muffled voices came from the reception desk outside, followed by the click of the doorknob turn and the rattling blinds against the glass window on the door. Office noises always got me on edge. Everything so quiet and then that shaking and rattling and clicking.

“You must be Jason West,” a voice said behind me. I assumed it was Father Daniels. I wasn’t going to turn around. I wasn’t going to go out of my way for anyone here. And I wanted this guy to know it.

I could tell by the slight pause that he was testing me just as much as I was testing him. He wanted to know if I was going to be trouble, and he had his answer.

“Well, I’m Father Daniels,” he said. He came around to the side of his desk. He was looking all prissy in his priest get-up. I wished for a minute that I’d been in less Catholic environments so that I could enjoy the humor of such a ridiculous costume.

He had a big round face and what looked like had been a pronounced jaw-line, which was now concealed by a flabby double-chin. He had amazingly dark hair—especially for someone who I guessed was in his late fifties. I imagined his heyday being like Dax Leary’s—a big-shot at sports. Now he got to be the powerhouse over a school. I wanted to run back to Tennessee just to let Dax know that he’d have a future as either a principal or a prude cloth-man. And if he was really lucky, he could be both!

Father Daniels stood tall as he rested one hand against the edge of his desk. He looked down at me with a southern smile—broad, but utterly insincere.

“I had a chance to review your file.”

My file. I loved the way they said that, like there was some mystical file that contains everything that anyone could ever need to know about me. In actuality, I knew all that he was saying was that he was aware of how many fights I’d gotten into, with a particular focus on my latest and greatest. It didn't matter. My Dad had surely slipped him a big wad of money that quieted his concern about any of my indiscretions and would be well worth it even if I did manage to get into some sort of trouble.

Father Daniels nodded certainly. “Yes, I’ve seen your file, seen all the trouble you like to make.” He walked around his desk to his chair. “But I understand. I used to be a bit of a rebel when I was your age. Guess it’s just sort of the natural inclination when you feel misunderstood.”

Oh, here we go, I thought. I must be wearing a sign that says: PLEASE ANALYZE ME!

He sat in his chair and leaned back slightly. “But you and I aren’t going to have any problems here, are we?”

I’m no linguist, but I was sure that that wasn't a question.

He looked at me with dead-serious eyes. I couldn’t tell if they were brown or black. I imagined that was what my eyes looked like the day Dax made the mistake of calling me Jasey. I sure didn’t show him a flinch, but I felt that lightening of my arm muscles, like I had suddenly been physically drained. I took a gulp that felt like I was swallowing mashed potatoes.

“Yes…” he said, his voice trailing off. He sounded menacing, almost like he already had something in mind for me. I couldn’t imagine what that might be. “You’ll be just fine here.”

An awkward moment passed where he just stared me in the eyes—not prodding, not analyzing, not even trying to intimidate me. He just stared.

I wanted to say something, but knew better. I just sat there, looking back at him.

He took a breath and leaned back in his chair. His demeanor completely shifted. He seemed much calmer—more like the way he had been when he first walked in. The transition was unsettling.

He opened a drawer, rifled through for a minute, then pulled out a manila envelope. He opened it and looked through its contents for a moment before handing it off to me. “Your dorm number, the key to it, and your schedule is all in there. If you have any questions, feel free to drop by.”

With that odd introduction, I left Father Daniels’ office and trekked outside with my suitcase and backpack.

Towers and arches decorated the brown-stoned mini-castle. Stained glass windows of reds, blues, purples, and greens were scattered across the walls. One depicted Jesus on the cross. Blood dripped down from his thorn-crown, streaked across his chest, and dripped to the base of the cross. It was peculiarly bloody compared to the benign images depicted at St. Luke. The other stained glass paintings depicted either the extreme, bloody suffering of Jesus or the demented suffering of some other apostle or biblical figure. There was even one of Joan of Arc burning at the stake, her head thrown back as she cried out.

Statues of angels and saints lined the walls. They posed in the usual iconic positions: Mary praying, Jesus with his arms stretched out, an angel reaching for the heavens. Their stone flesh was gray and cracked. Several Marys had chunks taken out of their faces or were missing appendages. An angel only had one wing. A Jesus held half a crucifix. Thorn branches, from dormant rose bushes that grew between the statues, wrapped around the figures' limbs and torsos. At the feet of the statues, grouped with the rose bushes, were shriveled-up flower arrangements. The academy was clearly behind on upkeep.

Though it wasn't as well-groomed as St. Luke's, there was something magical about the eerie, aging, overgrown building. Even the smell of rot that filled the air, which I assumed came from the nearby soil, delighted my senses. But another odor invaded my senses as well...and it smelled like a rat.