"We thank you, lord, for this delicious meal. Bless this food, and may it give us strength to carry on and live our lives with virtue and honesty. Amen."

There was a pause.

"Christophe! How dare you disrespect our lord? Repeat after me!"


"Either you say grace like a good Christian, or you go upstairs this minute!"

On the one hand, he could say the truth: that God was as real as the empty promises the church promised. On the other hand, he could listen to his stomach, which hadn't been fed since lunch yesterday, and give in. Again.

"Christophe, I'm waiting." As usual, his mother scowled at him with rabid eyes that belonged to a crazy dog just waiting to be put down. If only his mother was an animal that could be killed easily. But, unfortunately, his mother was an animal that was very hard to kill, at least without being detected.

"Fine. Thank you for this delicious meal that you obviously helped prepare. I hope it gives me strength, amen."

His mother snorted, but knew it was probably going to be the best she got from him. Not looking up at her, Christophe started eating the spaghetti bolognaise on the table. There was a puddle of oil at the bottom that hadn't mixed well, but he sucked it all down anyways. He finished as quickly as possible, and got up, intending on heading up to his room. As he started up the staircase, his mother broke the tense silence that hadn't been broken during the entire meal. "Oh, I almost forgot, you're going back to school tomorrow."

"What? Why?" The hell was this? He knew it was September, when school normally started, but he'd been homeschooled for four years, ever since he'd passed 2nd grade.

"Your friend, Gregory's coming back to South Park, and his father offered to pay for your tuition." His mother sounded happier than she had in years at the prospect of finally getting Christophe out of the house. He was twelve years old, and she thought she'd have to wait until he was sixteen before she could, in good conscience, kick him out. Doing it earlier might be uncharitable to family, and god strike the bitch down if she was ever mean.

"Why's Gregory coming back to South Park?" Christophe asked. For once in his life he was actually interested. Any other time simply gave him this dull bored feeling. He would wake up and sometimes have breakfast if his mother wasn't drunk. In the morning he'd walk around the freezing woods around South Park. It was simple and full of trash from whoever couldn't be bothered to find a rubbish bin, but it was better than his home. Occasionally, he'd even go to his Quiet Place. He'd go home by early afternoon and snatch some fast food along the way. Sometimes, when she thought her non-existent God was being nice to her, she could care enough to produce some fast food for Christophe that he'd snatch from the table and walk out the door.

Then again, she thought her non-existent God was being nice to her no matter what she was doing. What was the point of some stupid religion that forgave everything everyone did? God is forgiving? God will be nice to you so long you say you're sorry.

Oh, I get drunk at least once a week and yell at shadows, but I'm sorry, so I must be going to heaven!

Oh, I let my son wander the woods on his own and don't give two shits about him, but I'm sorry, so I must be going to heaven!

But whether she was or wasn't yelling at him, Christophe would eat lunch outside in the yard or street next to his house.

Then she would home school him, and given her usual state in the morning, she actually did okay. She taught him French, of course, because God forbid they lose touch with their mother tongue. She also taught him Math, making sure he knew how to do fractions and linear equations. Geography and History came in the form of textbooks he was supposed to memorize.

Christophe wouldn't say he liked those times, but he hated them the least. Sure, his mother sometimes got impatient at him and gave him a cuff on the head, and sometimes she'd just get so pissed she'd walk out the door. But they were spending time together, and so long Christophe did everything right, she was happier. She wasn't happy, but she wasn't crying her eyes out, or yelling at some vision of her son while her real son hid under the blankets in his room and tried to sleep.

Dinner was the only sure meal that was provided, and even then Christophe was sometimes so fed up with his mother's bullshit that he called God the uncaring asshole he was and got sent up to his room. A few variations, but Christophe had gone through every scenario, every possibility in his life, and at twelve years old, he knew that he had figured out how his life would go until he was sixteen.

But not now.

"I don't know why the English boy is coming back to this place," his mother said,

"But his father called yesterday."

"So I'm going back to school? Tomorrow?"

"Yes, so don't you dare be late."

Christophe nodded and swaggered back to his room. He tried remembering his old classmates but failed. He remembered some fat kid who always got shit from everyone else. But who knew who might still be in the second year of South Park Middle School? He wouldn't be surprised if the entire year had gotten the fuck out of this cold mountain town. He had been in school until the end of 2nd grade, when his dear mother had determined that she could do just as good as the school and took him out of it. He'd asked her repeatedly if he could go back, but she would start yelling at him. "Well, Christophe, I'm so sorry if I'm not good enough for you! I take care of you for almost ten years, and this is the thanks I get? No, don't bother apologizing. It's not like you mean it."

Et cetera, et fucking cetera. If there really was a God, she'd be going to hell. Christophe was just glad he didn't end up fucked up like his mom. With all the yelling and her trying to make him feel worthless, he was just glad he didn't end up worthless. The only time Christophe thought there might be a God out there was when he went to his Quiet Place, and even then he'd still look around and see tainted bark and churned mud, and be reminded that there couldn't be some almighty being up there.

Still, that night, as Christophe went to sleep, he went to sleep with a smile.

Christophe woke earlier than usual the next morning, and considering he normally got up at six to avoid his mother waking up, that was saying something. It was as cold as hell was hot, but that came from living on top of some mountain. It was always cold in South Park, and Christophe dealt with it like he dealt with all things.

He ignored them, gave it the finger, and it normally went away.

Christophe paced around the room for a bit before his mother came into the room. "Oh, Christophe, up so early?" She was grinning, and it meant she was in a good mood. She was as inconsistent as the weather in South Park: sometimes stormy and a bitch, sometimes sunny and calm. "Let me prepare some breakfast for my favorite son."

Sometimes, Christophe wasn't sure which version of her he liked more.

"Now, Gregory's father said he'd be coming at seven thirty, so that means we have plenty of time to get you ready." His mother said, "I'm so proud of you. You'd better show your classmates what a smart boy you are."

Christophe nodded. Was there a veiled threat in there? Or was he being paranoid? It didn't matter. Nothing Christophe did would change the weather, and nothing he did would change his mother's moods. As he ate, his mother bustled around him, getting out the textbooks he used and having him do some American History, which he revised until the doorbell rang.

Christophe's mother bustled to open the door and let in a boy that was, without a doubt, Gregory Yardale. The two had met in the summer after 2nd Grade. Christophe was eight, and Greg had been forced to live in South Park for the summer while his dear daddy did work in Denver. All the other boys were dicks to him, because he had some stupid accent and was posh. So who else would he turn to? The only other kid with some stupid accent. The two of them spent the summer running around in the woods, pretending they were superheroes, or huntsmen, or warriors in some fantasy world, because anything was better than being two boys in some godforsaken mountain town.

The summer had ended, and so had Gregory's stay. Christophe had never seen him again until today. He still looked the same. His blond hair was slicked back, and this time he stood taller than Christophe. His brown eyes glanced around innocently before settling on Christophe. He smiled and said, "Ready to go, Christophe?"

Fuck, Christophe had forgotten that accent and how stupid it sounded. He had to control himself and make sure he didn't laugh as he stood up too. "Of course." He waved good back to his mother, and breathed a sigh of relief as his mother waved back eagerly. "Have a good day, Christophe!"

The door shut and the two boys got in a car that had been waiting for them. "So, Christophe, how've you been doing?"

"Fine. What's your dad doing this time?"

"Father doesn't tell me about his businesses, not that I'd forget."

"And why are you in this shithole? There have got to be better places in this state." There were fifty states, Christophe remembered, and each state had a capital city. Geography had just been American geography (go figure) and he'd tried to memorize some of the states before his mother flew into another rage. The one he was in was… California? Colorado? Something starting with a 'c' anyways.

"My father wants me to get an experience of how lucky I am by putting me in a public school," Gregory said, "And since he knew how we loved to play together, he thought he might as well put me here."

Christophe nodded, and couldn't think of anything to say. Did he think Gregory would be the perfect friend? Stupid. Gregory was smart, he'd be popular now. There was no room for some home-schooled French idiot. Those kinds of thoughts bounced around his head like hail for the rest of the ride to school.

"Okay, class, let's welcome two new students into our class, Gregory Yardale and Christophe… hmm, Christophe, what's your surname?"

Christophe's first response was to tell the weird looking teacher to go fuck him or herself, he couldn't tell. But he thought of how happy his mother had been. Sure, nothing he'd done could change the weather or her mood, but people still tried, didn't they? They did rain dances and prayed to a holy ghost, so why couldn't Christophe try and change the weather? Why couldn't he try and change his mother mood a little?

"My name is Christophe St. Clair."

"Well, isn't that nice, class?" Mrs. Garrison paced around a very bored looking class of twenty four. "Anyways, I know we've already been in class for a week, but I hope very much that you'll fit right in like I have. Into my new body, that is."

Christophe looked around and noticed two girls glaring at Mrs. Garrison. One had shoulder length black hair and a white long sleeve, with a pink jacket hung over her chair. The other had a thick red fleece on and thick curly blond hair. The girl with black hair had brown eyes while the other blond one had hazel; and both glares were so intense it looked like they were trying to separate Mrs. Garrison's head from her body with telekinesis.

It was definitely a weird head. For one thing, it was bald, not something Christophe was used to. The teacher had a few curves, but mostly had a solid figure. She wore lipstick, but that was it. If Christophe hadn't known better, he'd have thought Mrs. Garrison was a guy.

"Alright then." Mrs. Garrison said, "We seat people by alphabetical order here, so Christophe will sit next to Bebe Stevens, and Gregory will sit next to James Winston." He and Gregory sat in their desks and listened to Mrs. Garrison talk about Math. Christophe was relieved to see that he could keep up. He didn't want to let down his mother when she was in a good mood. He'd done this with his mother before, and finished most of the problems easily.

Once he was done, he looked around to the other side of the room. The fat kid, Cartman, was still living in South Park, and he was trying to copy off the Jew guy. Both had been assholes to Gregory last time, and Christophe was going to stay away from those two. He looked over at Wendy, who was leaning back in her chair staring at the ceiling. She'd been done with her worksheet before anyone else, but the slouch suggested she didn't have any respect for the teacher, something Christophe could relate to.

Next to him, Bebe was still struggling through the rearrangement of an equation. He rolled his eyes and thought about dumb blonds, then about dumb women in general. Gregory was also done with his worksheet and looked at the board attentively, always the goody-goody. Some things never changed.

"Alright, let's put those worksheets away," Mrs. Garrison said, "Didn't finish them? Oh well, you guys are idiots. Now let's have the kids who can actually amount to anything shout out the answers. Christophe, why don't you give us the answer to the first one?"

Christophe looked at Bebe, who was red-faced and glaring even harder at Mrs. Garrison, and felt angry. "Let's see if you amount to anything?" His mother would say, "I give up all this time for you and you still can't do anything right." "Why do I even bother on an idiot like you?" Of course, his mother had been in her worst times when she had said that, but the littlest things stayed.

"Yes, Mrs. Garrison." Christophe muttered, "In the first question we multiply the top and bottom of the right hand side by two, then subtract the right hand side from the left." Mrs. Garrison nodded as Christophe said, "And when you do that, you get the answer: you're a son of a bitch and the worst teacher I've ever met, which is saying a lot."

Mrs. Garrison's mouth opened so wide it looked like she was trying to eat some oversized burgers Americans sold daily. Cartman started laughing his huge ass off, and the rest of the class started following him. Gregory looked horrified, while the black haired girl genius was looking straight ahead, frowning.

"Class! Shut up this instant!" Mrs. Garrison was saying, "Christophe, go right to the principal's office now! Craig Tucker, I swear to god if you flip me off again- arrgh!" He stood fuming for a moment before trying again. "This is not funny! Kenny, what the hell are you drawing? No, Eric, I will not kiss your ass, now shut up!"

"Mrs. Garrison, what in heaven's name is going on?" Another guy appeared in the doorway, and his presence caused everyone to quiet down.

"Oh, Principal Clarke," Mrs. Garrison sighed in relief, "The class got rowdy because of a couple of troublemakers, but I was keeping them in line."

"Didn't seem like it," the principal said, "Alright, send the troublemakers into my office."

Mrs. Garrison grinned at pointed at Christophe. "That one there. He just wanted to stir trouble in this new class. Probably thinks he's some badass or something."

"No, I just think you're a fucked up teacher if you call your students idiots." Christophe said. He noticed Wendy glance quickly at him, Bebe, then him again.

Before the principal could say anything, Wendy said, "That's right, principal Clarke, Christophe was only trying to argue that there were other ways of teaching."

"Wendy, sit down or I'll send you to the principal's office with Christophe!" Mrs. Garrison yelled. "And did you flip me off again, Craig Tucker?"

"I think Christophe was just trying to be encouraging to us," Bebe said, "He just might have chosen the wrong way to do it."

"Don't listen to them, principal." Mrs. Garrison exhorted, "It was all of them that started it. They think because they're in middle school they can act so grown up. I bet that French boy even smokes."

Christophe did, but he was pretty sure Mrs. Garrison was guessing. The principal shook his head. "I knew reinstating you was a mistake, Mrs. Garrison. Well, Wendy, Eric, Bebe, Christophe, and Craig into my office now."

The five of them traipsed through the middle school in silence before sitting down outside the principal's office. The principal ushered Cartman in first while the others stood around under the careful eye of his secretary.

"Remind me why they actually promoted Mr. Garrison?" Wendy huffed, "I can't believe we have to put up with him for another year."

"He kicked up some fuss about some 'transphobic' shit," Bebe said, "I thought we'd finally got free of the bastard."

"Wait, she's some transvestite?" Christophe hissed, "Is that why she looks so weird?"
"Not all transsexuals are like him," Wendy said, "In fact, he gives transsexuals a terrible name. Now everyone in South Park thinks transsexuals are just brutes."

Bebe nodded, but Christophe noticed a silver cross around her neck for the first time. "Sure, and the fact that you're Christian has nothing to do with you not liking him, right?"

Both Wendy and Bebe tensed, while Bebe said, "I'd dislike him anyways, I don't see why that makes a difference."

Christophe sneered as Craig Tucker was called into the room and Cartman sauntered out smugly. "Right, so you think you can do all sorts of shit because your god forgives you? You believe that some God will fix all your problems for you?"

"I don't see how your prejudice is any better." Bebe said, "Besides, it's important to me, so I don't see why you're being such a dick about it."

"So what do you believe?" Christophe asked, "Do you believe that the world started less than ten thousand years ago? That there was a God who flooded the entire world and had all the animals stored in one boat?"

"That's not the point of the Bible." Bebe started to raise her voice. "It doesn't preach the literal truth-"

"Then why do you idiots swear by the thing so much? Isn't it the truth? Isn't it your holy doctrine?"

Bebe opened her mouth but was cut off as Craig Tucker came out and the principal called Christophe in. Once he sat down, the principal said, "Alright, now how about you tell me what happened?"

"Mrs. Garrison was calling half the class idiots, so I called him one too."

The principal sighed. "Look, kid, it doesn't matter if you were right or not, what matters is that you stop giving Mrs. Garrison that attitude. He has power over you as your teacher, so you need to keep in line."

Christophe rolled his eyes, but nodded. Sometimes school seemed the same as his house. Always under the regime of some psychopathic woman. The principal continued, "Well, I can't have you guys start laughing at Mrs. Garrison and have you get off scot-free, so you'll have a detention after school tomorrow, got it?"

Christophe nodded and got up, passing Bebe and Wendy on the way out. He felt the glares he got from the two girls, but he didn't care. It wasn't like he'd have to work with them or anything, right?

He was wrong.

Science class found the two of them as lab partners. He'd only just realized that since both their last names were so close together, they'd be sitting next to each other. They were studying plants, and they were taking turns putting a plant underneath a microscope and trying to see the plant cells. Bebe was doing fine, but Christophe could never get the microscope focused right. He started muttering furiously under his breath about the overrated machines and their lack of practicality and how he wanted to throw them out of orbit.

"Here let me help," Bebe said, "You're doing it wrong."

Christophe glowered at Bebe, but took a deep breath and let her fix the thing for him. He looked down the microscope, squinting hard, and suddenly the image became clear and he could see the outlines of several cells. He stopped stooping over and grunted his thanks in her direction.

After a few more minutes, the teacher had them back in their seats and started talking about plants. "You see, flowers reproduce by producing pollen, and these spores are moved about by the wind, by other animals, or even the rain. Many of these seeds die out because they land in unfavorable conditions, but you never know, flowers always survive and pop up in the most unlikely places, either by luck or by God's plan."

Christophe's eyes narrowed sharply as he glared at the teacher. It was all down to luck, that was all. The stupid teacher didn't know jack shit. Normally when his mother did something particularly stupid the worst he'd feel was pissed off. But for some reason hearing this teacher talk about God like he planned all of nature, like he made the Quiet Place, made him want to grab his old shovel and knock her unconscious. God wasn't in charge of the world, he couldn't be. Only an insane man would create both the Quiet Place and his mother, and he would not believe in an insane God.

Bebe gripped his arm tightly, and he turned his glare on her. She didn't back down and just kept on staring at him. He blew out a breath and turned back to whatever the teacher was saying, jerking his arm away. The two sat in silence for a bit before Bebe broke the silence again.

"I like flowers, what about you?"

"I hate them. They're weak and die out easily."

"But there are so many of them, and they're beautiful when they're in bloom."

"Maybe beautiful for you. To me they're just another part of the forest." Christophe said, "They're like grass, I just step on them without thinking or caring about it."

"Try looking a little closer," Bebe said, "Maybe you'll be surprised."

"Not likely." Christophe said, "Maybe you should look closer at your religion. Then you'll be surprised at what bull-"

"Just shut up about my beliefs." Bebe hissed, "If you don't like it, fine, but you don't have to be a dick about it."

Christophe rolled his eyes, but shut up, trying to pay attention to the teacher's drawing of a plant on the board. From this angle, flowers definitely didn't look beautiful. He glanced at Bebe, but she was fine with silence as well, and that was how they continued their Biology lesson.

"Well, well, look who's in my Religious Studies class, the French troublemaker and his little gang."

"We're not his gang." Wendy said.

"Yeah, we all just happened to think you're-"

"An eccentric teacher." Gregory spoke up, cutting off Christophe from saying something stupid. "It just took a bit of getting used to, that's all."

"Well, it looks like one person in this class has manners." Mrs. Garrison said smugly. "Anyways, last class we talked about how Henry VIII broke away from the church because he wanted to divorce and they wouldn't let him. And who can remember what happened next?"

"The Protestation Reform occurred, and the break between Roman Catholicism and Protestant," Gregory spoke up, "In addition, this Reform was heavily influenced by John Calvin-"

"Yeah, yeah, I didn't ask for the entire history of Christianity, Jesus Christ." Mrs. Garrison muttered, "Alright, now who thinks the break away was inevitable?"

"I think the break away would happen," Wendy said, "Even if Henry VIII hadn't instigated the change, there would, at some point, be friction between the church and crown."

"I agree," Christophe said, "It was only a matter of time until people realized what a load of bullshit religion is."

"Oh, looks like the Frenchboy thinks he's so clever, doesn't he?" Mrs. Garrison smiled, which Christophe thought was weird. Had she just spent lunch thinking of a way to get back at him? Christophe had spent the lunch eating in silence with Gregory while he, Bebe and Wendy traded murderous looks from across the cafeteria. Some bullies tried to get to Gregory's money, but they got scared off quickly when Christophe flashed the knife he always carried on him.

"Well, since our little French boy is so argumentative, I think he'd be the best person to start off the debate I had planned to do in October." Mrs. Garrison's smile broadened.

There were groans from the class, and Wendy said, "But Mrs. Garrison, we haven't learnt enough yet. You can't distort the class because-"

"Oh, is the pre-pubescent feminist gonna tell me what I can and can't do? How about you join the debate as well?"

"I will." Wendy snapped, causing Mrs. Garrison's smile to broaden. She folded her arms and asked, "Any other volunteers?" After a few minutes of silence, she said,

"Well, we need six people, three speakers for each side. Since you troublemakers like talking so much, how about you talk in front of the whole class?" Mrs. Garrison pointed to the others she had sent to the principal's office: Bebe, Craig and Cartman. As Mrs. Garrison looked around for another victim, Gregory raised his hand. "I'd like to participate."

"Well, that's solved then." Mrs. Garrison said, pointing to Bebe, Wendy and Christophe. "This house believes that the Protestant Reformation was inevitable." She pointed to Craig, Cartman and Gregory and said, "You'll be side opposition, arguing the opposite."

Mrs. Garrison took a deep breath before saying, "Alright, you six have the next three Religious Studies periods off until the debate next week. Go into the library and do research." As the six children filed out, she added, "Oh, and this will count for forty percent of your grade this semester."

Christophe was too pissed off to reply to the bitch, and Wendy and Bebe were too pissed off to yell at Christophe. They got down to the library and Craig, Cartman and Gregory went to one corner of the library. Christophe was going to enter when Wendy grabbed him by the collar and bundled him out the school doors. He was surprised at her strength, even though the doors were only several metres away.

"Okay, you have got to get that fucking chip off your shoulder." Wendy didn't yell, but she was pissed. Her eyes poked into his own and she wanted a straight answer. Too bad she wasn't going to get one. He'd be damned if he spilt his entire life story to some girl who probably didn't know anything about the real world. Christophe just sneered at her and tried to move away, but Wendy shoved him back into the wall.

That was it. He hated getting pushed around by some woman who thought she was so high and mighty, under the guidance of some righteous set of rules. He fucking hated being helpless just because some woman thought she was stronger than him.

Batting Wendy's hand away, he shoved her backwards, making her stumble. He meant to go further, but Bebe came between them. Turning to Wendy, she said, "Go in and start researching stuff. Do you mind if you're the second speaker?"

Wendy nodded and said, "Are you sure you'll be okay."

Bebe nodded, but Wendy didn't move back into the school, instead, she took a few steps back. Christophe was starting to shiver as a sharp wind blew through the school. It was warm by South Park standards, but he hadn't been prepared to go out of the building and he was just wearing a thin long sleeve.

"Look, I know you don't exactly like religion, but we need to work together on this. Mr. Garrison's expecting us to fail, so how about we do well."

Christophe huffed. "But you still believe in some magical God, don't you?"

"I think there's something watching over us, but it doesn't interfere." Bebe said, "If he really did create us, then what would be the point of controlling us?"

"Because there are people suffering, and there are people who could use some help." Christophe said, "Because there are people who use it to forgive all the shit they do. Because there are people who try to believe in it but only get fucked over when they find out that God is just like a fart: noticeable, annoying, and smelly, unwanted, and not really there."

"Well, can you try not to insult God or religion while we're working together?" Bebe asked, "It's important to me, alright?"

"Farts are important to, doesn't mean I like people who fart twice a minute."

"Better stay away from Cartman then," Bebe laughed. Christophe recalled the fat guy whose ass spilled out over the chair he sat in and couldn't help smiling.

"But why do you believe in something that's false?" Christophe grunted, "Do you believe all the shit in the Bible?"

"Of course not," Bebe said, "I don't believe in creationism."

"Then why are you Christian?"

"I'm Roman Catholic, and it's because I believe in what the Bible's trying to tell us. It's telling us to love others, and to love yourself."

"Are you sure we're reading the same thing? What happened to the God that flooded the entire world because he was pissed?"

Bebe shrugged. "You could call it cherry picking if you want, but the Bible isn't a history. It's fiction, but it inspires those that read it. And sometimes the inspiration's enough."

"And if it inspires people to do bad things?"

"There's a good and bad to anything. Give a man a tool and he weaponizes it. The Bible's no different, but that doesn't mean all Christian's are like the kind you've had experience with."

"What do you know about my life, bitch?"

"Nothing, but there has to be a reason you've got that chip on your shoulder."

Christophe breathed in and breathed out. "Fine, let's go fuck with that tranny."

"Can you not say that?" Bebe asked, "We already told you, not all transsexuals are like Mr. Garrison."

"Why do you call him a guy?" Christophe asked, "I thought you were all for treating people right." The trio walked into the building and turned the corner to the library. "We don't like calling him a transsexual because he refuses to respect other transsexuals." Wendy spoke up from behind Christophe. "It's probably petty and we should stop, but we don't."

Christophe snorted and sat down. "So what do we do now? How do we even debate?"

"There are three speakers on each side," Wendy said, as Bebe went to find books, "The first speaker of side proposition, that's us, says a speech. Then first speaker of the other side rebuts our points and gives his speech. We take turns speaking until we've all spoken, and then the judge decides who wins."

"How long do we have to talk?"

"For this one we're limited to seven minutes. It's normally more, but Mr. Garrison shortened it, probably because he didn't want to listen anymore than he needed to."

"Seven minutes!?" Christophe asked, "How the hell are we supposed to find that much stuff?"

"It's doable," Wendy said, "I've watched some debates online."

Christophe sighed as Bebe thumped a pile of books on the table in front of him. It was going to be a long week.

"Christophe, I'm not quite sure where this is going." Gregory said, as he clambered over a fallen tree.

"I'm going to show you the best spot in South Park." Christophe said, "I found it one time I was running around the woods."

It was after school, and since Gregory didn't have anything to do, Christophe was bringing him to the Quiet Place. It was where he went when he wanted to cry and yell at his mother. It was where he went when he wanted to run away and never look back. Nimbly jumping over a mossy tree root, Christophe started wading through a thick bush. He could hear Gregory blundering behind him, and wondered if he had done any exercise in the last five years.

Whether he had or not, it didn't matter because the two had arrived. It was a small clearing surrounded by trees with overhanging branches. The grass was soft, and Christophe would lie there for hours staring at the sun from below the tree canopy. To the side, there was a bench that Christophe had made himself by hammering dead branches together. It had taken him several trials to do it right. He'd also climb the trees when he had excess energy, and he had gotten a rope that he'd use to swing from the branches all the way to the ground.

In the middle, a river ran through the edge of a clearing with ice cold water hitting the smooth rocks every second. In winter, the river would freeze over completely, but it was still summer, and falling in the river would just give people hypothermia instead of killing them.

Gregory was looking around the Quiet Place in astonishment. "Christophe, this is amazing."

"Yeah, I come here when I can't deal with my mother's shit anymore."

"What's wrong with your mother?"

Christophe paused. He hadn't thought he'd tell Gregory so fast, the words had just slipped out. "She's just unstable. Ever since my dad left her, she's had these mood swings."

Gregory looked concerned and asked, "Do you want to stay with us? I'm sure father-"

"Don't be a fucking idiot." Christophe muttered, "If you think she's unstable now, wait until I'm gone. She needs me."

"But you shouldn't stay if you're risking-"

"I'm not risking anything, okay?" Christophe raised his voice, "I can deal with it fine. She's happier than she's been in a long time."

"I still don't think what you're doing is right," Gregory said, "Have you told anyone else?"

"How the hell could I? I was home-schooled since you left."

"What? Don't you think that's a tad suspicious?"

"Why would I think it's suspicious?" Christophe was regretting bringing Gregory here. This should have stayed his own place. His own Quiet Place. He had brought Gregory here, and Gregory was pissing him off.

"She doesn't want to let you go, man." Gregory said, "She wants to keep you all to herself."

"You wouldn't say that if you saw her," Christophe said, "She yells at me everyday, doesn't care, she'd be happy if I left."

"Then why don't you?" Greg asked, "Why don't you just come live with me? You said it yourself, she needs you. She wants you so much she doesn't let you go to school and meet new people and start a new life."

"Then why did she agree to let me go to school?"

"She's irrational?" Gregory spread out his arms. "Look, I know you don't want to hear this so I'll just shut up now, alright?"

"You'll do more than that," Christophe said, "Fuck off right now."

Gregory looked taken aback, but he nodded and started walking back. Christophe wanted to stay in his Quiet Place, but not after he'd yelled in it. Yelling was for his mother. Yelling was for the real world, and didn't belong in the Quiet Place. Sighing, he went back home after pacing around the little clearing.

Unfortunately, he didn't find any peace in his home.

"Where have you been!?" Christophe's mother was shouting again, "I know school ends at three thirty, don't you try play games with me. Why did you not come back?"

"I was showing Gregory around South Park. I didn't know you wanted me back so soon."

"Oh, you didn't know I wanted you back so soon? You think I don't want you back then how about you get out? You want that?"

"That wasn't what I meant, mother." Christophe said quickly, "I was just spending a bit of time with Gregory. I'm sorry if it offended you."

"Oh, it's easy to say sorry now. How much do you mean it? Really?"

Christophe shook his head and started to walk up. He wanted to give her the finger, but even he wasn't so stupid. He heard his mother yelling, "Don't you dare walk away Christophe. You come back here right now."

Christophe didn't need this. He wanted to run to the Quiet Place and just lie on the ground, or sit on the bench. He had thought life was getting better. He thought that he life in school might be better. He thought Gregory might make things better. But if there was a God up there, he was having a good laugh at Christophe now. Why not make this stupid kid fail time and time again? No one cares, he makes me laugh! Let's do it!

This was why there was no God in this world. Christophe wouldn't believe that God would be so stupid and oblivious.

Fuming, Christophe went to sleep early and woke up early in the middle of the night. He hadn't been given dinner, but he wasn't surprised. He lay in bed for several minutes before he was able to go back to sleep. He woke up an hour or so later, and saw the black sky had turned blue. The sun hadn't risen yet, but it would. He tiptoed down the stairs in case his mother was sleeping on the couch, then quickly hurried out the door to South Park Middle School.

The first few periods of school were uneventful. Bebe was sitting next to him every class, but she understood that he was feeling more pissed off than usual, so he didn't get any shit from her. Wendy wasn't sitting that far off either because her name was Testaburger. That was one of the most stupid names Christophe had heard, but he couldn't be fucked to say anything. Luckily, the English and French class were easy. He didn't need to do or say anything. History was stupid because he hadn't realized how obsessed the Americans were with their own history. What happened to French history? Or European history? That was a lot more interesting than Americans.

During lunch, Christophe ate ravenously, bullying the dinner lady into giving him extras. It tasted almost as shit as his mother's so-called cooking, which could have passed off as poison in an older era. But Christophe still gobbled it all up, which caused Gregory to give him a suspicious glance. Not to worry, one look from Christophe and he shut right up.

Religious Studies class was where things started to go from downhill to falling off a cliff onto sharp rocks. They were in the library and had been working for a while. Christophe was amazed that it went so well. He liked it when Wendy took charge and was competent. She and Bebe gave him hope that all women weren't complete idiots. Even blonds. That was when Cartman waddled up to the three of them. "Well, well, well, look at all you little girls, working oh so hard."

"Fuck off." Both Christophe and Wendy chorused. Cartman's grin broadened. "Now, now, is that any way to treat a friend?"

"You're not any of our friends, so why don't you just shut up." Wendy said.

"But I'm Christophe's friend, aren't I?" Cartman asked, "I understand him and where he's coming from."

"You don't know jack shit." Christophe said.

"Oh? I understand that your mom's a stupid fanatical bitch." Cartman said, "Why haven't you told anyone else?"

Christophe stared at him angrily and stood up suddenly. Cartman quickly backed up, obviously possessing no balls anywhere near that fat ass. "If you don't shut up, I swear to God, I will kill you."

"Swear to God?" Cartman laughed nervously, "That's not saying much, coming from a fucking pagan like you. Do you worship Satan? Your mom? Can't see the difference, you know."

Christophe flew towards Cartman, but was pushed to the side by Greg. He fell against a table painfully, and Wendy and Bebe both took the opportunity to hold him. Gregory then glowered at Cartman, all his posh pussyfooting completely leaving him. "If you insult my friend again, I will come down on you. I know you're living on welfare, and I know your mother works two jobs just to keep you afloat. I have friends in high up places, so why don't you just shut up."

Cartman's face grew red and he yelled back, "Fine! That's fine! Go ahead, go running back to your daddy. Filthy rich daddy with filthy money he got with his filthy hands. No one gets that rich quick without doing something illegal. You wanna find out just how filthy your daddy is? Huh?"

Gregory's face contorted in shock and this time Craig had to come between Gregory and Cartman. The fat boy started grinning as he saw Christophe being held down by Bebe, and Gregory being held back by Craig. Then his face fell as he turned to see Wendy striding towards him. Before he could do anything, Wendy punched him hard in the throat. There was a huge crash as Cartman fell to the ground, clutching his neck and trying to breathe.

Wendy looked at the clock and saw that there was only fifteen minutes until class ended. "Let's go." She said, and strode confidently out the door. Christophe and Bebe glanced at each other before following Wendy out the door. Christophe heard more footsteps behind him and knew that Gregory was running along behind them.

"Holy shit, you are almost awesome," Christophe said, "You've got more balls than he does."

"He's insulted my beliefs too many times, I won't stand him insulting others." Wendy said angrily.

"Beliefs? Sounds like religion." Christophe said.

"Belief and faith isn't religion," Wendy said, "We all believe in something, and we won't have it insulted."

"Speak for yourself, I don't believe in jack shit."

"If you say so," Wendy said. They turned a corner and all shivered as a cold breeze hit them. "Anyways, I think we're doing well," Wendy said, "We should have Cartman and Craig on the ropes."

Christophe nodded. "You shouldn't have held me back. I could've taken the fatso."

"You could have, but Garrison has it out for you. I'm a star student and take part in half the co-curricular activities. He'd go easy on me."

"I still want to kill him." Christophe muttered, "He had no right."

"Cartman says a lot of stuff," Wendy said, "Just try to ignore it."

"If I ignore it he'll keep on doing it. And if he keeps on doing it, then I'll make it stop." Christophe growled ominously. He hated feeling angry, but at the same time he couldn't help it. He always felt angry at everything: Cartman, Wendy, Bebe, Gregory, his mother, everyone in his life. What was wrong with him?

"You okay?" Gregory put a hand on Christophe's shoulder that he shrugged off violently. He hated being touched.

"No, I'm not. I'm just so pissed off at everything, and I don't know why." Christophe muttered, "And I don't like talking about this shit to others, it feels weird."

"That's because you've never had anyone else to talk with." Gregory said, "Just try for a bit."

"I can't, because I don't fucking know." Christophe spat out the words. "If you want to psychoanalyze my like some parent, then go ahead. Just don't expect me to give a flying fuck."

He stalked off without giving Gregory, Wendy and Bebe the chance to say anything further. Why had he thought going to school would be better? Things wouldn't get better, because God didn't care. Maybe that was what he believed: that there was no God, that the world was cruel and that no one cared.

These self-destructive thoughts rebounded in his head until he got home. He stood outside the door nervously, wondering what he would find, before heading in. His anger was gone now, and it was replaced by nervousness. He crept in the door slowly, seeing his mother sitting on the couch watching the television. "I'm back, mother."

His mother didn't respond, and Christophe tried again. "How was your day?"

This time he got a grunt from his mother. He crept closer and looked down at the couch. There was a bottle of dry gin on the floor, and another in his mother's hand.

"You've been drinking again?"

"Oh, shut up, Christophe, it's just one drink." Christophe's mother stared up at him with gaunt and sunken eyes. "I work so hard for you, and my twelve year old son doesn't care, so sorry if I feel like drinking a bit."

"I was only asking," Christophe said. "But don't you think it's a little early?"

"Oh, for God's sake, Christophe, just calm down!" His mother shouted, "Normal people have drinks. People with lives have drinks. What's wrong with this, huh? You think just because you're living the perfect life in school that I'm living a happy one? Just fuck off, it's not like I ever wanted you."

Christophe just stood there as the words fell from his mother's mouth and crashed to the ground and resounded through the room. He wanted to lash out at his mother. He wanted to yell at her like she had yelled at him. Why was he alone? Why didn't she fucking love him as much as she loved her God? God would never do wrong. God would never let her down.

Tears started to form in his eyes and he ran out the door, not knowing where he'd be going, just knowing that he wanted to get out of there. His mother would never love him. He would never be loved as much as God. Why the fuck would he believe in something that was loved more than a mother loved her son? Christophe found himself running through the woods and into his Quiet Place before he realized where he was going. By now it had become instinctive. He sat on the bench he had built when he was ten and stared at the ground. He didn't know why he cared so much now. It wasn't as if this was the first time he'd heard his mother say she didn't love him.

It was going to school and seeing Wendy and Bebe all faithful and full of belief in something. What the fuck was the use of believing in something if belief led to twisting people like his mother. It was probably her religion that stopped her from using contraceptives. She had tried to abort him with a clothes hanger once. Christophe remembered her telling him one night when he was six. If only she hadn't listened to her non-existent God, and had his dad wear a condom, all the complications would be avoided.

"Um, Christophe?"

Christophe whipped his head up to stare at Bebe and Wendy. Both were approaching him cautiously, for good reason. He would kill Gregory for revealing to them his Quiet Place. No one was allowed here, definitely not two girls.

Bebe stopped several metres away from him, seeing the dangerous look in his eyes. She cleared her throat and said, "We were worried about you."

"I'm fine."

"Look, we're not trying to get into your head, and we're not trying to interfere with your mother."

"Sure doesn't look like it," Christophe spat, "You're already in my head."

"I just wanted to give you this." Bebe stretched her hand out towards Christophe and walked towards him. She was carrying a small and plain flower. "You remember what I said about me finding flowers beautiful?"

"Yeah, I do. You remember what I said about me stepping on flowers until they die?" Christophe had no clue where this was going.

"Well, it's already dead, so you don't need to exert yourself." Bebe said, "You know flowers die when you pick them out, right?"

"Then why the fuck are you giving me some dead flower?"

"Because the flower reproduced. It produced seeds that went all through the forest." Bebe held the flower out in front of Christophe. "Sure, some seeds die, and some seeds turn out terribly. But there are seeds that grow into another flower."

"What's your point? Why are you giving me this stupid flower?" Christophe asked, feeling like Gregory was just playing one huge joke on him.

"Because this flower died, but gave birth to lots of things, some good, some bad. It will rot away, but its children will live on." Bebe said, "It's like religion."

"What the-"

"Shut up and let me finish." Bebe cut across Christophe. "Even if you think God's dead, even if you think God's rotted away or doesn't exist, what's created in his image lives on. And sure, there are good ones and there are bad ones, but can't you find beauty in the good ones?"

Christophe huffed. "Did you come up with all that on your own?"

"Wendy helped." Bebe cocked her head in Wendy's direction. "But what do you think?"

"I think all of what you said doesn't change the fact that my mother's a twisted bitch who needs professional help." Christophe knew he was avoiding what Bebe had said, but he didn't care.

"This doesn't have anything to do with your mother." Bebe said, "I'm just saying that if God exists, he can't create everything perfect, and he can't control what will happen. The flower can't control what happens to its progeny, can it?"

"Are you trying to convert me or something?" Christophe asked, "I'm not becoming a Christian."

"I want you to try and not call out every single belief anyone has." Bebe said, "Maybe it's not what they believe, but what they do with that belief."

"Fine, you're right, so what?"

"It's not Christianity that's at fault, it's what people do to Christianity." Bebe said,

"Fine, I guess Christianity isn't always bad." Christophe said, "I still won't believe in it."

"That's fine." Bebe said, "I just sort of wanted you to admit that Christianity was all bad. Because that meant you thought I was bad."

"You're fine," Christophe said, "Stop worrying so much. I guess I was just pissed off at life, and you got caught up in it." Maybe the Quiet Place was working its magic. Christophe felt much calmer already. He looked at the flower that was still in Bebe's outstretched hand and snatched it away. "Look, I accept the flower, I accept you. Good enough? I don't think you're going to kill anyone for your stupid religion."

Bebe smiled and nodded. "You know, that could be great for our debate, don't you think, Wendy?"

"You mean how the breakaway from Christianity was inevitable because everyone shapes religion for their own purposes, and these purposes will clash?" Wendy thought for a moment. "You know, I think you could be right."

"I don't see why you're talking about this in front of the enemy." Christophe grunted, looking straight at the tree Gregory was hiding behind. Gregory was always terrible at sneaking around, and Christophe had heard him arrive before Wendy and Bebe had.

Gregory peeked out from behind the tree with his hands up. "Alright, alright, you got me. But we're all your friends, you didn't think I'd sit this one out, did you?"

Christophe smiled. "You Englishmen always like poking your noses into the business of other people."

"I'm glad you aren't mad at us anymore." Gregory said, "I felt awful after you left."

"You'll get over it," Christophe said to him. He turned to Bebe and said, "You know just because I'm not pissed off at you guys, it doesn't mean I hate my mother or anything."

"This is about you, not your mother," Bebe said, "Screw her, this is about making you happy."

"I don't even know why I'm not pissed at you guys," Christophe said, "And that doesn't count as being happy anyways."

"Belief is all about not knowing why," Bebe said, "Just feel good about yourself and don't let what you mom says get you down."

"You know, she said I was an orphan once." Christophe usually felt hatred when he brought up the memory, but when he told it to Gregory, Bebe and Wendy, it felt as if he was exhaling deeply. It hurt, but felt good in the end. "This was when I was eight and she was drunk. But she said I was an orphan, because there wasn't anyone in the world who cared about me. My dad didn't, and neither did she."

Bebe turned around and hugged him, causing Christophe to stiffen. His arms stuck out at his sides awkwardly. "What the fuck are you doing?" He croaked.

Bebe laughed. "Just showing you that we all love you. Your mom was wrong about that, you know?"

"Love's a strong word, you know." Christophe said, "Don't make promises you can't keep. I've had enough of those from my mother to last me a lifetime here and three more in hell."

"I didn't know you believed in hell."

"I don't, it's an expression. You thought your grand speech could convert me? You think you could make me live a perfect life just by talking?"

"No, religion doesn't do anything unless you choose to let it." Bebe said, "Besides, I believe in hell, and I don't think you'll end up there."

"Well, that's reassuring. I'm not going to live an eternity of pain under some psychotic devil." Christophe smirked. "Oh, wait, that describes my life pretty well, don't you think?"

"Not anymore." Bebe said, "Now you have us. I know your life won't be perfect, but it'll be better. A lot better."

"Fuck, you really are convincing," Christophe smiled. "If you're this good on the day of the debate, we'll screw the other team over."

"Um, you are aware I'm on the other team, don't you?" Gregory spoke up. The others laughed, and in what seemed like no time at all, the four of them were out of the woods.

Considering everything that had happened before the debate, the actual thing was unspectacular. Sure, Cartman tried to piss them all off, and so did Mrs. Garrison, but Christophe actually didn't care. He just cared about being around his new friends. Wendy and Bebe were smart, and they'd sometimes talk about stuff that made no sense to him, but they were fun to be around. They had gone over to Gregory's house when he admitted that he had a PS4 but had never played it. Christophe lost every single time they played whatever sci-fi shoot 'em up Gregory had, but it was worth it just to be happy.

He was happy, despite all the bullshit he got from everyone else, including his mother. Ever since she had yelled at him last, he had been able to ignore her and not give a shit. He sometimes felt guilty at night, but he thought about his new friends, and realized it was worth it.

He had tried reaching out to her the night before the debate. "Mother, I love you." He had said, as she sat staring at the wall with a bottle in her hand. She had stared up at him suspiciously before grunting, "Sure. Like you ever mean anything you say."

Christophe hadn't been fazed. His mother's sunken eyes didn't scare him. Instead he felt sorry for her. He realized she was not so different from him. She had had a hard life and felt unloved. She thought the whole world was trying to screw with her, and that made her angry and bitter. She was what Christophe would have been if Gregory, Wendy, and Bebe hadn't come into his life.

He wished he could be like Bebe and suddenly make her happy. But as he stepped forward she threw an empty bottle at him. He sidestepped and listened to it crash against the wall. "You might not love me now, but I love you, no matter what kind of shit you make me put up with. And maybe when you love yourself, you might be able to spare a little for me. What do you say?"

His mother had looked bewildered, and at first, Christophe thought she might change. That God might have blessed her with wisdom and kindness. But there was no God, or at least, no God that would solve all of her problems. After failing to comprehend what Christophe had said, she just waved him away and told him to fuck off.

Christophe didn't mind that much. He sometimes wondered if he was being a bad son in just leaving his mother to rot, and maybe he was. But he valued being happy too much to change anything. Maybe one day, when he was as secure as Bebe and Wendy, he would try to help her. One day in the far off future.

The debate itself wasn't memorable. For all Christophe had worked on it, he had zero interest in religion, although he didn't mind when Bebe preached to him. He had been first speaker, which meant he spoke a speech for seven minutes, then let Bebe and Wendy do the rest. Wendy and Bebe both spoke beautifully, and so did Gregory and Cartman. Craig said everything in a bored monotone and didn't even try to rebut.

Mrs. Garrison decided that Gregory's team won. He was a bitch, and all of them had expected the result. But Christophe was learning that part of being happy was not caring. Not caring about others that weren't important, not caring about Cartman gloating, or Mrs. Garrison's smirk. They both thought they won, but so long Christophe didn't care he was the real winner.




If you enjoyed this story, remember to check out the original artwork that inspired it!