Condemned, стр. 1

CONDEMNED

evil is in the eye of the beholder

Christopher Renna

This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events, locales, and incidents are either the products of the author's imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.

Copyright © 2021 Christopher Renna

Cover design copyright © 2021 Christopher Renna

Edited by Angela Houston. ahjoyediting.com

All rights reserved, including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form.

Published by Christopher Renna

North Syracuse, NY 13212

Printed in United States of America.

CONDEMNED

Digital Ebook

Print ISBN 978-0-578-85886-9

LCCN 2021903259

Table of Contents

Title Page

Copyright Page

Condemned

ONE

TWO

THREE

FOUR

FIVE

SIX

SEVEN

EIGHT

NINE

TEN

ELEVEN

TWELVE

THIRTEEN

FOURTEEN

FIFTEEN

SIXTEEN

SEVENTEEN

EIGHTEEN

NINETEEN

TWENTY

TWENTY-ONE

TWENTY-TWO

TWENTY-THREE

TWENTY-FOUR

TWENTY-FIVE

TWENTY-SIX

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ALSO BY CHRISTOPHER RENNA

Darkness on the Horizon

Before the Sun Rises

The Butterfly House

A Long Story Short (a collection)

The Unspeakable Kind

FORTHCOMING

The Souvenir Game

The Darkness Burns Within

The Boy in My Shadow

to Vicky

for a friendship that knows no limits

ONE

"Jared Smith passed away."

Those were the words that Miss Campbell, the English teacher, announced to the senior students at the beginning of first hour. Her expression appeared as a mix of somber sympathy and restrained indifference as if she didn't know which emotion to express. Although, her perpetually relaxed eyes and mouth rarely provided students a hint at her true mood anyway. She could return a low-graded essay to a student with a few spoken words, and the student would ponder whether she'd offered encouragement or guarded disappointment.

The room reacted with a mix of gasps, a few exclamations, and dazed silence.

"He passed away Saturday night," she continued. "There will be a few extra counselors at school in case anyone needs—"

"How'd he die?"

Conner Preston's eyes strayed from Miss Campbell to Adam, the boy who'd asked the question.

Since kindergarten, Adam Wheeler had always been the most vocal kid in class. So, it was no surprise that he was the first to ask.

"I don't know," the mildly gray-haired Miss Campbell said. "Perhaps his family will release more details. Until then, I suggest everyone give the family some privacy during this difficult time."

She approached Allison Jones, who sat quietly crying at her desk near the front of the class. Gently rubbing Allison's shoulder as she passed, Miss Campbell said, "I know some of you will want to attend the funeral. When that information is available, I'm sure the school will let you know."

Conner glanced over his shoulder to Trevor Helms. Their eyes met for only a moment, but it was long enough for Conner to interpret Trevor's silent message. What the hell, man?

At the front of the class again, Miss Campbell said, "I'm not sure if we should begin our lesson as we normally would, or if we should work quietly as individuals."

Allison muffled a sob.

"Quietly as individuals," Adam called out.

Miss Campbell sucked in her bottom lip as if to control a show of disapproval. "Fine. Open your textbooks to chapter eight. I suspect some of you didn't read the assigned section on correlatives."

She returned to Allison's desk. "Do you need to visit a counselor?"

With the shake of her head, Allison said, "No. I'm fine. It's just"—she flicked her wavy, dark brunette locks from her face—I've never known a kid that died before."

"Ah, I understand." She patted Allison's hand. "I'm sure there are a lot of students upset by the news."

A guy in the back of the class muttered, "He was a freak anyway."

In the suburb of Newman, Connecticut nearly all the students had grown up together. Jared Smith's family had moved to town during the second grade. He'd made friends easily and had quickly become part of the popular group. It was a role he'd maintained until the summer before senior year.

On the first day back to school, Jared was noticeably different from his usual friendly, outgoing self. He was moody and withdrawn. He shunned people and avoided the social circle he'd once been a prominent member of. In fact, he acted as if he didn't want friends at all, opting to alienate himself from everyone at school.

A few weeks had passed when Jared was caught fighting with a boy in the hall. Likely, he would only have received detention if he hadn't punched the other guy in the face. As a result, he was suspended for three days. And when he returned to school, his attitude seemed even worse.

Jared was suspended again the following month after throwing a book at a teacher's head. Two weeks later, he was formally expelled for breaking the History teacher's thumb during an argument. No one knew what had triggered Jared's change in personality. It was a mystery that even his younger sister, Leah, seemed at a loss to explain. After his expulsion, she avoided the topic altogether. Now, a month later, he was dead.

At the end of class, Conner slung his backpack onto his shoulder and waited for Trevor. They walked out of the room silently. In the hall, Trevor spoke first. "Yo. It's fing-cray about Jared, right?"

"Yeah. I mean, it's weird, man. I don't know what to think."

"He was on the decline. Moody as hell before he was kicked out of school. Something was off."

"We already knew that. I was talking about the fact that he's dead."

Maneuvering his way through the crowded hall, Trevor pivoted and then walked backward. "Think he committed suicide?"

"Dude, I don't know." Conner motioned to the door leading into the gym. "Until he started getting into trouble and acting all crazy, he was our best friend. But I feel like I don't know anything about him anymore."

Trevor looked like he was going to say something, but he nudged Conner in the side instead. They were good friends akin to brothers. Sometimes words weren't needed between the two, and it had been that way since first grade. They had gravitated to each other's awkward outsider reputation. Conner, the shortest and skinniest boy in class and Trevor, the only kid with an African American mother and Caucasian father. Now, both were tall, lean, and muscular young men considered two of the best looking and most popular boys in school.

A body collided into them from behind,