Oct. 17, 2025, 3:32 p.m.
21.9 Years Ago
“I’m going out,” Paul said, already twisting the knob of his front door.
“Is your homework done?” His mother’s voice came from upstairs.
“I’ll do it when I get back,” Paul replied.
A steady rhythm of footsteps on the stairs caused Paul to look up and see his mother coming down. Just out of the shower, she wore a white slip, and her hair was wrapped in a brown towel. “I asked you to get it done before you went out.”
“I’m just going to hang out at the arcade with Jordan.” He flung the door open and left even as his mom called to him. He didn’t understand what the big deal was.
Since he’d stopped fighting and started paying attention in class, his grades had sky rocketed. All his teachers went from hating him to talking to him about college. He knew he’d go. He had to so he could study more about physics. He knew teleportation was possible because he’d been visited by someone several times throughout his life. Though it’d been more than a year since Nobody’s last visit, things were better.
Paul had just had the thought when he turned onto the next street and saw a man standing on his front lawn. Oh, no!
“If it isn’t Paul,” the man said. “Have you given any consideration to what we talked about?”
“I’m not joining your cult,” Paul said flatly.
The man, Thomas Dorny, shook his head as if he were sad. Maybe he was.
“I’m so afraid that you’re lost,” Dorny said. “You don’t have any patience to even talk about your soul.”
“Look,” Paul said. “I listened to you talk. I’ve even told you I’ve read the whole Bible, twice! I even went to your church with you, and you yelled at me just for going to the bathroom.”
It wasn’t an exaggeration. Dorny had waited until the sermon, an hour-long lecture about how God was furious at how all the other churches but theirs in the world weren’t doing what God wanted, was over, but right afterward, Dorny took Paul outside and told him he was disrespectful and “un-redemptive” to miss any single part of a sermon.
“I’m trying to save you,” Dorny said. He had this self-righteous, patronizing smile that made Paul want to hit him.
“I don’t want anything to do with you,” Paul finally said. He’d had enough. “I’ve talked with … “ Paul was about to say “Nobody,” but he managed to stop himself. “ … other people about God and the Bible, and they don’t sound like you.”
“That’s because they’re false teachers who are trying to corrupt you, and I think they’re succeeding,” Dorny said. The man had an argument or justification for everything, and that was what felt so off about him. He knew there was more to it, but the thing that bothered Paul most about Dorny was how he always seemed to make this about his church or even his holiness. It felt so fake.
“Look, I have to go.” Paul started to walk by, but Dorny shifted to stand in front of him. Paul clenched his fists.
“Are you going to hit me? Is the violence in your heart that strong?” Dorny asked.
This jerk has no idea!
“I said I have to go.” It was an effort for Paul to keep himself from shoving the man. He hadn’t hit anyone since Jordan, who strangely had become Paul’s best friend these days. Paul went to Jordan’s church once, too. They didn’t yell at him, but after going to church with Mr. Dorny, Paul figured he wanted nothing to do with organized religion. At least Jordan never pestered him about it.
Mr. Dorny frowned as he stepped side. “Go enjoy your flesh. Make yourself happy and see what fire it leads to.”
Paul started walking away. He’d endure some sanctimonious crap as long as it got him away from the jerk.
“I blame your mother.”
The comment stopped Paul short. He slowly pivoted around as if forcing himself to move slowly was all that kept him from leaping at Mr. Dorny. “What did you say?”
Dorny smiled like some kid who got caught lying. He shrugged. “Your mother divorced your father.” He said it like that explained everything. “She’s a sinner who’s teaching you to do the same. By abandoning her husband, she’s separated you from the discipline you so desperately needed.”
Paul had stepped right up to the man just as he finished speaking. For years, Paul felt anger. He hit people because of the shame he felt about himself. He hit people because he was angry about how they made him feel about himself. For the first time since his father nearly killed him, Paul was furious.
“If I told you how my father disciplined me, you’d change your religion.” Paul didn’t even try to hide the rage from his face.
Then Paul imagined how his face looked. He had that face memorized from the times his father wore it right before beating them.
No one deserves to be beaten.
This man put that claim to the test. This man deserved it. Paul wasn’t so much smaller than Dorny.
I won’t become my father!
“All children hate the rod, but those who avoid it spoil the child.” Dorny spoke as if that, again, explained everything.
… to be continued …