I hate Sunday school.

Not as much as the girls did, but enough to lie, cheat and steal to get out of it.

One time, I stole a police officer’s hat. I wore it around the playground, giving my friends a ticket for speeding on the swings, drive-by booger-flinging or getting too friendly with icky girls.

I made sure I knew which officer owned the hat. An hour before Sunday school, I returned it. The officer promptly called my parents, and I got yelled at. No Sunday school for that week, even though my parents kept saying how it would straighten me out.

I just hate Sunday school.

My parents finally pulled a trick I thought was below the belt. They drove down to Atlanta and brought back Gramma. As much as I hated Sunday school, that’s how much I loved Gramma, even though she was a religious fanatic.

In between big-lipped smooches and hugs, I heard all about how God loved me, and how I needed to go to Sunday school when she went to church that Sunday. I couldn’t say no to my Gramma, and I couldn’t tell her I didn’t believe a word of it.

I liked God, he was cool. I hated Sunday school because of Carl.

Carl – Big Sweaty Carl – ran the classes. He treated the boys with contempt, yelling at us as though we were infested with Satanitus. Satanitus is the bad bug you get when you know you shouldn’t be doing something, but you do it anyway.

Sorta like stealing a policeman’s hat. I could blame it on Satanitus, but I did it for a good reason – so I didn’t have to see Carl again.

When it came to the girls, Carl was different. He talked all nice to them, and he smiled a lot, with his green teeth and bad breath. The girls were always nervous around him. He kept trying to get them to go into his office to talk.

One Sunday, he got Rebecca to go in there. I admit, I liked Rebecca. She could hit a baseball like a boy, and ran faster than anyone I knew. She also smelled nice, but I never held that against her.

I knew Big Sweaty Carl was up to no good. Rebecca’s cat had died, probably run over by Carl and his stinky Geo Metro. He was taking advantage of her, talking about how God was looking out for her cat, and how the cat was up in Heaven. He got her in his office and shut the door.

Everyone else left, but I waited around. I wanted to talk to Rebecca, and to show her some soapstone I carved for her cat’s tombstone. It got late, but no Rebecca. I decided to go see what the problem was.

Big Sweaty Carl normally locked his office door, usually to keep us kids from swiping his stash of Hershey’s Kisses. Today, the door was unlocked. I twisted the knob slowly, then lifted the doorknob as I pushed to keep the old hinges from squealing.

Big Sweaty Carl was kneeling in front of Rebecca. One hand was up her skirt, and one hand was in her bra, feeling her boobies. She stood there, her face red enough to match her pigtails, too scared to move.

I pushed the door open the rest of the way with enough force to break the little fake stained-glass window over the top of the frame. Then I turned and ran.

I knew Carl was going to tell my parents about breaking the window. My folks would never believe what I saw. I ran to the old tire swing by the swimming hole, a good mile at least, and waited for my brain to stop spinning.

I swung on the old tire until it started to get dark. I still didn’t know what to do, but by now I was getting hungry. I stood up to leave when I heard someone coming.

It couldn’t be Big Sweaty Carl, because he would be huffing and puffing and stinking. I turned to run.

“Please, don’t go,” said Rebecca in a strained voice.

I stopped. Her shirt was still unbuttoned, and it looked like she had been running. Her ponytail was halfway out of the little rubber band. Her hair looked brown in the fading light, and I could still see big tears on her cheeks.

“I don’t know what to do,” she said.

“I know. My parents won’t believe me.”

And she threw herself at me, wrapping her arms around my neck. She started blubbering and crying, but for some strange reason I didn’t mind. She was all slick from sweat, but she didn’t stink. I let her cry herself out, as I absentmindedly stroked her beautiful red hair.

“We have to go,” I finally said. She nodded, and I buttoned up her shirt. She looked nervous when my hands went towards her bra, but I didn’t want to be like Big Sweaty Carl. I was polite, and I walked her home, holding her hand.

When we got to her front porch, she asked me not to tell anyone. I knew nobody would believe me anyway, so I agreed.

And then she gave me a real kiss, on the lips and everything.

I skipped all the way home.

That’s why I hate Sunday school.

I almost tried the I’m so sick, I’m dying of leprosy trick, but I couldn’t lie to Gramma. I was going to be in the same room as Big Sweaty Carl.

I racked my brain, trying to think of ways to kill him with my eyeballs, like Superman. Comics only told you what superheroes did, and never told you how to actually do any of the cool stuff.

I just had to keep out of his office.

Gramma couldn’t drive, so that Sunday I found myself in slacks and a button-down shirt and tie, sitting next to her in a taxi. It was raining something fierce, and I did my best to hold the umbrella for Gramma as we got out in front of the church. I was going to get her to the church doors, then sneak off. Gramma can read minds, I’d swear she could on a stack of my favorite comics. She steered me into the little side door, and Big Sweaty Carl opened it.

“It’s about time you came back to Sunday school, young man,” he said in a fake deep voice, like an AM radio announcer. Lightning popped as I waited by the door, afraid of leaving the safety of Gramma. I knew I was going to hell, and Big Sweaty Carl was Satan.

I kissed my Gramma goodbye, and took my seat with the rest of the damned.

I thought of an idea. “Can I ask some Bible questions?” I asked.

Carl looked like someone had poked him in the ribs with a stick. “Yeah, we have time.”

“Is it true if you lose a leg, like in a war or something, when you get to Heaven, you’ll have your leg back?”

“Yes, you will be made whole again.”

I grinned. Gotcha! “Well, do you end up all gross and hairy?”

Carl scratched his stinky armpit with a confused look. “What are you talking about?”

“Well, all that hair you cut off, or fell off in the case of Pastor Williams, during your lifetime, will suddenly be back on your head.”

The rest of the kids giggled. I noticed Rebecca was there, red-faced and staring at her shoes.

“No, you idiot. Only the important stuff,” said Carl. Another lightning bolt hit nearby and made everyone jump. Crashing, rolling thunder immediately followed it.

“Does it get hard to eat in Heaven?”

Carl blew out a wave of reeking breath over my friends. “No, you will sit at the table with the Lord.”

“Well, how about eating with two sets of teeth? They’re important, aren’t they?”

Another flash and crack. The wind started howling outside the window.

Carl came over and stood over me. “Listen, you little shit,” he hissed in my ear. “I know what you’re up to. Shut the fuck up and we’ll talk in a minute, alone.”

I almost threw up, either from fear or his stinky sweat. He stomped to the front of the classroom and wrote a Bible passage on the blackboard.

“Class, read this now.” He stared at me, and I swore his eyes were red. “You, come with me…now!”

I stood up. I was going to die, I knew it.

“One last question, Big Sweaty Stinky Carl the Pervert. Does God really exist?”

His eyes bugged out. His nostrils flared. He picked up his whole desk, and prepared to smoosh me with it. This was the end, and I asked God and Gramma for forgiveness.

The roof suddenly blew off, and Carl, still holding the desk, was sucked out of the room. Nothing else was disturbed, not even the macaroni pictures the little kids made.

I blinked.

The other kids blinked, too.

Then the rain hit, in big cold sheets.

I was dazed for a while, but ten minutes later I found myself in the main church, sitting with my friends and a bunch of parents shouting. The tornado only damaged the classroom roof and eaten Carl. It was probably off somewhere throwing up.

Rebecca sat next to me. I was holding her hand, and she was smiling.

“I guess you found out, didn’t you?” she said, putting her head on my shoulder.

“Found out what?”

She smiled bigger. “God does exist, doesn’t he?”

I guess maybe he does after all, just like Superman.

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