The Prodigy is a multi-part story, based on events taking place in central Kansas earlier this spring. This is Part Six, the conclusion. Earlier releases can be read at the following links: Part One, Part Two, Part Three, Part Four, Part Five.
When I arrived at the Pearson home in St. Clere on late Saturday afternoon, after an interminable flight and an even longer drive in the rental car, during which time I couldn't reach anyone that mattered, I found Chris Pearson by himself, and in a state of agitation that can only be achieved by those whose energy levels exist in the stratosphere even at the calmest moments. Now, after I walked through the open front door, he was pacing at a feverish pace while clapping one hand urgently against his thigh.
"Mother fuck," were the first words he said to me, and the eyes I saw briefly before they darted to other corners of the room were bloodshot, manic. The second words were, "I'm getting my dad's gun."
It was only with great persistence, and by deciphering the coherent points of a rambling monologue, that I managed to learn the story.
As I had suspected might happen, the Church of Luke had finally made the leap to seeing Hanoch as their messiah. My story on his state championship win, reduced and unremarkable as it was, had helped them see the light. Before that, they had no grasp of the game of golf, or what it meant to play at Hanoch's level, but the publicity clued them in. It wasn't long before they attached spiritual qualities to his performance—qualities, frankly, that even cynical agnostics like me had been tempted to call down to explain the phenomenon. Once the seed had been planted, it wasn't long before Cainan and his followers, including Hanoch's parents, had decreed that their God was making himself known through Hanoch, and by turn through golf.
Once the message came down from the elders, in a Saturday mass in which Hanoch was exalted before his people, the new belief system had been entrenched. Hanoch, the story went, had defeated the heretics and infidels at Wamego Hollow just as their god would bring vengeance and wrath upon the sinners of earth. Hanoch was the axe who would be laid unto the root of the trees, and for now that axe was a golf club, and the prophecy only existed in metaphor. But—you had to admit—not a bad metaphor, at least from their angle.
Hanoch took this all in, kept quiet, nodded along as the service reached its crescendo somewhere in the third hour, and rode the wave out to the end. He knew better than to refuse, and for the moment, nobody asked him to speak; he may have been the new Messiah, but that didn't mean he was going to upstage Cainan the Revelator in his own church.
Then, that night, he packed as many of his clothes as he could into the large pocket of his golf clubs, and he ran away from his family. Only Beulah, he later told Chris Pearson, was awake to see him go. She didn't say anything. He showed up that morning at Pearson's doorstep, and moved in immediately. It was the middle of June.
He was there for less than two months when the Church of Luke took him back.
The afternoon I arrived, Pearson couldn't tell me exactly how it happened, and it wasn't because he was withholding any details. Those days were over—now all information was available to me, but the fact was he just didn't know. Hanoch Warren had a habit of taking long walks at night ("he doesn't use the internet, so what the hell else are you supposed to do?" Pearson said), and two days before, on Thursday night, he hadn't returned. He sometimes came back quite late, and the Pearsons weren't night owls, so they didn't realize he was missing until the next morning. Chris had almost convinced his parents to call the police when they received a phone call of their own on the family landline.
"I'm back home now, and everything's okay. Don't call here anymore."
The voice was unmistakably Hanoch's, and rather than protest, Pearson asked him a simple question.
"Are we still playing Old Cheevers tomorrow?"
"That course has never been good to me," Warren said. "Too long."
And then he hung up.
Pearson's parents, suspicious, discussed calling the police, but—strangely, to them—Chris was the voice of reason, arguing that he was back with his family and ultimately there wasn't much they could do about it. He didn't win the argument, not quite, but no cops were called, though his father promised he would be talking to some friends that day. Then they left for work, and that's when Pearson called demanding that I fly to Kansas, and cursing me when I hesitated.
What he didn't tell his parents is that there is no course called Old Cheevers, either in Kansas or, as far as he knew, anywhere. It was a code he'd established with Warren, a bit of paranoia stemming from the only hobby besides golf that Pearson enjoyed—reading spy books. If there was ever trouble, and they couldn't speak openly, he would ask if they were still playing Old Cheevers. If nothing was amiss, Warren would just pretend not to understand the question. But if something was amiss—if there was major or minor danger—he'd answer as he'd answered on the phone: "That course has never been good to me. Too long."
Pearson had driven by Old 9 Highway, the home of the entire Church of Luke, but the problem is that beyond the occasional hard-worn blackjack oak, the road is totally flat and exposed. There is no escaping the view of its inhabitants, no staking out from a distance, and because few of them work regular jobs, someone is always around to spot an interloper. He couldn't even risk slowing down as he passed, and he saw nothing of Hanoch on his various excursions that Friday.
When I finally arrived on Saturday, he had decided that his best choice was to crash their Saturday service at the church itself that night. If Hanoch had been kidnapped, he reasoned, he was going to kidnap him back, and as such, he needed his father's gun.
The situation had just about overwhelmed me, but I saw clearly enough that my first job was to ensure that there would be no gun play. While he raved and march around the room, I finally was able to put myself in his path and place a hand on his shoulder. He loomed over me, and though there was no menace to him as far as I was concerned, the place on his shoulder where my hand had landed felt like granite. A peculiar feeling of vicarious danger came over me—a sense that in some ancient time, when human combat was less extraordinary, a version of me might have faced a person like Chris Pearson, might be standing in this proximity with life itself on the line. And by his size and his apparent strength, which I had noticed dimly without quite internalizing in our previous meetings, but which now was unmistakable and visceral, it wasn't difficult to guess how such a fight would have gone. In fewer words, I was standing before someone who could kill me, and who was in a semi-murderous state. You could not help but hear the dormant alarms.
With time, though, and some well-chosen words, I was able to remind him that he was a world-class junior golfer who was bound for one of the best programs in the country, that he had a bright future and lots of money ahead of him, and that bringing a gun into some cult's church with the express intent of kidnapping a teenager wasn't the best way to keep his train on the rails.
Once I extracted that concession, though, I had reached my limit of influence. Now I had a choice to make—the mass was starting soon, and Chris Pearson was going to be there, prepared to do something dramatic. Would I stop him? Would I refuse to go, but do nothing? Or would I go along?
One of my more questionable qualities as a human being is that when someone else is about to make a drastic decision, I feel an inexorable pull not just to let them do it, but to be there to see the outcome. It's the curse of the eternal witness, and now I felt powerless to do anything but obey the instincts that had guided me forever.
When he emerged at 7pm with a new change of clothes—a hoodie, trainer pants, sneakers—and jumped in his truck, I was in the passenger seat just a moment behind him.
In the gravel and dust that served as a parking lot for the wind-battered church, as the truck's engine idled—his idea was to leave it running, in order to make a quick escape—Chris Pearson reached into the pouch of his hoodie and pulled out a handgun.
"Jesus Christ," I said, and was about to say more when he pulled the trigger and a stream of water came out and splattered against the dashboard.
He wasn't smiling—this was no joke to him. The water gun was his idea of compromise with the good sense I had imparted earlier. Not a real gun, but enough to threaten, and to get what he wanted.
"You're 16 years old," I said to him. "Put the fucking gun down, fake or not."
"You're wrong," he said.
"What do you mean?"
"I turned 17 a week ago."
And with that, he was out of the truck, and I had no choice but to wait there or to follow. By now, though, even that was not a real choice; I was in this vortex of energy, and the current wasn't about to let me go.
He was already at the church door when I left the truck, and by the time I made my own way to the front entrance and read those heavy words on the architrave, the door was ajar.
I stepped inside to a scene of silence. Pearson waved his gun, spinning around in a crouch, and the Church of Luke backed up to the walls.
"Hanoch! Come on!"
On the small stage, Hanoch Warren sat in a chair beside Cainan the Revelator, looking massive in his purple chausible, standing to full height above the slight, skinny messiah.
And Hanoch stood, heeding the call of his friend. Pearson's eyes were wild, his face red, and he never stopped shifting the aim of his water pistol from one body to the next.
A voice rang out.
"By the power and the awe."
Pearson's gun shifted to the front of the room.
"The blood and the storm."
Cainan, using his two greatest gifts, his size and his deep baritone, took a step off the stage and into the aisle.
"Stay right the fuck where you are!" Pearson shouted.
But he wouldn't. Bigger than the boy with the gun, he took another step, and then another, and his voice pushed him along.
"Bring forth therefore fruits worthy of repentance!"
Along the walls, his flock began to grow bold at Pearson's inaction, and took small steps forward.
"Begin not to say within yourselves, We have Abraham to our father: for I say unto you, That God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham."
The voice echoed within the otherwise silent walls, rising above the sick whine of the rising wind.
"And now also the axe is laid unto the root of the trees."
He was now steps from Pearson, and the crowd pressed inward. I began to sense my own proximity to them—from watching drama play out, now I was part of the theater, and behind me I sensed bodies come closer. I had ventured too far; the witness was no longer protected.
"Every tree therefore which bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down..."
Now he held out his hand, he wanted the gun, and I could see Chris Pearson shake as his eyes darted from Cainan straight ahead to the encroaching men on his left and right. Cainan, sensing weakness, increased his pace and his volume, closing the remaining gap as he reached the crescendo."
"...and cast into the fire."
And at the moment when the Revelator and his flock had inflated themselves to their maximum, Chris Pearson gripped the butt of his gun and threw it as hard as he could. It struck Cainan in the groin, and as he collapsed in on himself with a groan, the shock evident on his wide face in the millisecond before it folded over, the second-best golfer in Kansas stepped into an uppercut that all except Cainan could have seen coming from miles away.
I have never seen a man hit as hard, or fall quite as heavily, as the Revelator.
A hush overtook the room, and when Pearson turned to run, he didn't have to tell me to follow. He didn't have to tell Hanoch either.
Even in the triumph of the ride home, with Pearson shouting out his car window and saying things like, "did you see that purple fuck go down?", the ambivalence on the face of Hanoch told me that while we had reached some kind of catharsis, it would not be the last, nor would this be the final word from the Church of Luke.
In the days that followed, though, there was no word from Cainan or Hanoch’s family, and a temporary truce seemed to have been established. Hanoch would live with the Pearsons, and dreams were discussed freely; Chris would put in a word at Oklahoma State; next year they'd play the U.S. Amateur. Through it all, Hanoch remained quiet, and I understood that my great failure in this story was not getting to the heart of who he really was as a person. I also understood that if given ten years to follow him about his life, I still might never know.
Before I left, they let me play a round with them at a course just past the Pottowotamie Basin on a thin man-made peninsula called Grindstone Neck. There were more trees than I had seen anywhere in Kansas—spruce, firs, even a white birch by the water. The course was short, but not simple, and it proved too great a challenge for me. I was hoping to see Hanoch at his best, but on the front nine I was disappointed. He was good, I could tell, but he shot a two-over 38 while Pearson took advantage of his length and shot 34.
Starting on the 12th hole, though, something changed in Warren, and I felt it change in the air too. It started with a remarkable draw with a driver that he curved around one of the tightest dogleg left holes I had ever seen. It was almost a 90-degree turn, and if the green was to be reached, it would have to be over the trees. Or so I thought. But Warren's ball sailed with just an inkling of draw for 180 yards before, like a flash, it transformed into something that looked more like a hook. When that late movement happened, the ball had cleared the bend, and now it traversed the final 140 yards on another trajectory entirely. We couldn't see it, at that point, but it caught the downslope in front of the hole, rolled onto the green, and came to rest just seven feet from the pin. The moment when the ball came into view, as we rounded the corner, hit me like a revelation, and for a strange moment I almost felt the urge to fall to my knees.
I have never seen a shot like that, before or since, and even as he made the eagle putt, I couldn't stop thinking about the impossible physics behind it.
That was the start; the wind picked up, the conversation between us came to a halt, and now I found myself picking up my ball early on each hole, afraid that I would somehow interfere with what had begun.
I watched the balls he hit, but mostly I watched him, and by the 15th hole I saw it on his face—that strange convergence of ecstasy, terror, and awe. I don't pretend to know what current moved him, but in those moments he was part of it, as surely as the red blood that courses through us makes up part of our whole selves. I could have watched him play golf for hours.
What shook me out of my reverie was a countervailing act of near heroism. Chris Pearson, forgotten by me, would not give in to the rising tide of Hanoch Warren. While the birdies fell, he marched on in stoic resolution, matching those supernovas with pars, a birdie or two, and never anything worse. On 16, with Warren just two feet from the hole for his latest birdie, and Pearson's lead down to one, he poured in a 25-footer, all downhill, breaking left for the whole journey until it straightened, as if chastened for its recklessness, just before the hole. A quiet fist pump, a nod to Hanoch, a walk to the next hole. He was maturing before me, and I realized then that though Hanoch had taken his state championship, his time, and perhaps his friendship and even his love, the strange son of the Church of Luke had given something back in return.
Pearson made a three on the par-3 17th, and a few feet inside him after the tee shot, Warren tied the match with a ten-foot birdie. But on the approach at the last—the brutal uphill 450-yard par-4—Warren made his first mistake of the back nine. It was a minor one, a simple pulled 6-iron, but it left him 50 feet away on the long, narrow green. Pearson outdrove him, and as the sweat trickled down the sides of his face, he peered in concentration at the hole, started that massive looping swing, and hit his 8-iron to 12 feet.
Warren's putt had a chance; with a sense that it was fated to fall, I watched it traverse the green, pace perfect, slowly dying right on top of the hole. At the final moment, it broke a fraction too steep and slid past the low side—a tap-in par. Pearson took a deep breath over his putt, read the break to perfection, and poured it in the center of the cup. Match over.
On the ride home, I sat in the rear seat of the truck and tried to watch their faces without attracting attention. It was quiet—a rarity in any space where Pearson exists—and on the winner's face I saw a new, calm glow of victory. He had learned that he could stand up to the magnificent barrage, could survive it and still win. This was an important moment, and in his silence I could feel the weight of all the times he had lost, and wondered whether he simply wasn't good enough.
And on Warren's face, normally at peace whatever the moment, I thought I detected a hint of puzzlement, if only in the corner of a raised lip, and the narrowing of the eyes. It was impossible to gauge his true thoughts then, and even more impossible to ask in the silence following what seemed more and more like a special moment, so I projected instead a few of my own that seemed, if not exact, at least close to the truth:
You may have talent, and in my cynicism I'm almost convinced that you may have God too. But you are learning for the first time that it might not be enough, and you are already examining the deepest part of your heart to see—in this strange new world that is now yours—if you have the courage and the will to find something more.
Fantastic story Shane. Really enjoyed it.