What I wasn’t looking forward to was going home. Don’t get me wrong; we lived in a nice, white, middle-class house in a nice, white, middle-class neighborhood full of nice, white, middle-class people. Beaver Cleaverville. Sure, everyone on the whole street thought I was a monster, but I liked it that way, being the teenage demon scourge of Findlay. No, it wasn’t the house itself, or the neighborhood, or even the people. It was life inside the house.
My father, Jacob Grinley Sr., died when I was nine. Mom tried to fill the void by going to church. She met this Evangelical pastor who was a widower old enough to be her father, and they got married when I was eleven. For the past seven years, life at home had been hell.
I got home and rumbled into the driveway, blaring some ’80’s metal from the speakers on my bike. As I killed the engine, I was grateful to see that my stepfather’s car wasn’t there. Good. I wouldn’t get chewed out about the music, for once. I went up the steps to the deck and opened the back door. As I entered the kitchen, I was met with the smell of boiling pasta and homemade marinara.
My mom Laura is beautiful. She has curly blonde hair, green eyes like mine, and a figure like a ballerina’s. I know all boys think their moms are pretty, but mine actually is.
“Hey, Mom,” I said, putting my things down by the door.
“Hi, Jake,” she replied, smiling at me. “Where have you been?”
“Detention,” I said simply.
She chuckled a little. “Brooks caught you smoking again, huh?”
“I promise, I’ve learned my lesson. I won’t get caught again.” I grinned. She laughed and I went over and gave her a kiss on the cheek like I always did. She smelled like alcohol. “You all right?” I asked.
“I’m fine, honey. Why?” She turned her head, and I could see the other side of her face. There was a bruise near her left eye. Something in me went cold.
“Nothing,” I murmured. “Where’s Walter?” The old bastard was usually there when I got home.
“He’ll be home late today,” she told me, picking up the pot of pasta with pot holders in each hand. She carried it to the sink and slowly poured the noodles into the strainer that waited there.
“Need any help?” I asked.
“I’ve got it, hun. Thanks,” she said.
I sat down at the kitchen table and got my homework out. She poured the spaghetti back into the pot and put it on the stove. Wiping sweat from her forehead with the back of her wrist, she sat down across from me, in front of a cup of coffee that I suspected had more than just coffee in it.
“How was school?”
“Not too bad. Sarah invited me to a party she’s having tonight.”
“Sounds like she likes you,” Mom suggested, picking up her cup with a knowing look.
I smiled. “She’s dating Kelly, remember?”
“Yes. But from what you’ve told me about them, she’s too good for him.”
“I know. That’s why I’m gonna do what Dad did when he met you.” I grinned and leaned forward. “Sweep her off her feet and kick her boyfriend’s ass.”
“Language, young man,” she warned me, but I could see a hint of a smile on her lips. When we talked about Dad, I could always see a little of the glow she’d had when he was alive.
“I miss him so much,” I whispered.
She reached out and touched the back of my hand. “I do too, honey.”
My parents had been together since high school. When Mom was sixteen and Dad was eighteen, I hit the picture, thanks to a broken condom. Dad graduated, Mom dropped out, and they both worked illegally long hours to pay for the building of our house. It was finished a week before I was born. Dad had a steady job at an insurance company, and Mom quit her job to be a housewife and stay-at-home mom. The December when I was nine, Dad died when he lost control of his car on an icy road and skidded into the oncoming lane. Merry Christmas, right?
I smiled at Mom, trying to shake off the sadness that was creeping up on us. “What do you think he would’ve told me to do?”
“Exactly what you said you’re going to do,” she told me.
I liked that. I always liked hearing that I was anything like my dad. I had the same black hair, high cheekbones, angular jawline, and aquiline nose, but I inherited my mom’s slender structure. My dad had had a powerful build, like a wrestler, but I looked more like a runner or a swimmer. Still a big hit with the ladies, though.
We had dinner and I worked on my homework at the table until I heard the car pull into the driveway. I went upstairs and, after a shower, I went into my room to get ready for the party.
My bedroom was basically what you would expect it to look like. Blood red curtains, black bed sheets, posters of some of my favorite bands, some posters of sexy chicks, a shelf covered in horror and action movies, another shelf covered in CD’s, a bookcase with a bunch of comics, graphic novels, and books, a closet full of black clothes, an electric guitar and amp, a stereo system, a television on the wall, and a desk with a laptop.
I went to the shelf of CD’s, skimmed the titles, and picked out one of the heaviest albums I owned. I twisted the volume knob. Pounding drums, speeding guitars, deep and gravelly vocals. Tension escaped my neck and shoulders. Heavy metal therapy.
I had just put on some jeans when I heard Walter stomping up the stairs like he did when he could hear my music from downstairs.
“C’mon, tightass. It’s not even that loud,” I murmured to myself, kicked a Hustler magazine beneath my bed, and tossed a pile of clothes in the general direction of the hamper. The door opened without so much as a warning knock.
“We need to talk, Jacob,” he said in his Southern drawl, struggling to keep his voice from rising.
“I can turn it down,” I offered.
“I don’t want you to turn it down,” he refused. “I want you to turn it off.”
My jaw clenched for a moment, but I went over to the stereo and turned the music off. He still didn’t leave.
I could see where this was going. He was just under six feet tall, and I was six-foot-six, so he always told me to sit when he was about to lecture me. It’s hard to be intimidating when you have to look up at the guy you’re yelling at. I fought the urge to roll my eyes and took a seat on the foot of my bed.
“When I got home, our neighbor told me that you came back from school playin’ that awful noise so loud, he could hear it from inside his house.”
I nodded slowly, keeping my eyes down, trying to look apologetic.
“You think I don’t know who these bands are?” he demanded, motioning at a few of my posters. “I was around when they first started, Jacob. I know what they’re all about. I thought they’d lose their influence over the years, but you’ve proven me wrong. Look at you, and look at yer role models!” He walked up to one of the posters. “A man with long hair, demonic makeup, skintight pants, named Alice?”
“Well, his birth name is Vin—”
“It’s no wonder you look like a queer! And that!” he cried, jabbing his finger at my Twisted Sister poster. “I cain’t even imagine a woman wearin’ that much makeup, let alone a man! And don’t even git me started on them.” He pointed at my KISS poster.
“Have you ever even listened to them?” I asked.
“I was young once,” he said. “But while Satan was seducin’ everyone else with them Beatles and that Elvis Presley, I was at home, readin’ my Bible like a good young man should. ‘Cause I know what rock ‘n’ roll is. It’s the Devil’s music. It’s nothin’ but lust and rebellion.”
“There’s more to it than—”
“Oh, is there?” he sneered. “Let’s find out.”
He snatched the CD case of Mötley Crüe’s Too Fast For Love off the top of my stereo and took out the booklet. I could tell he was skimming for the lyrics that would best back up his argument. He started reading out the words to “Piece of Your Action.”
I tried to keep from laughing, but it escaped my nose in a snort. I couldn’t help it! Can you imagine a Southern Evangelical preacher trying to read dirty rock ‘n’ roll lyrics out loud? It’s hilarious!
“You think that’s funny, boy? It’s disgustin’! It’s about fornication!”
I sighed deeply and got to my feet. I was done playing along. “You’re right,” I said. “That song is about young, dirty, passionate sex. And y’know what? That’s why I dig it.”
His mouth dropped open and his face turned purple. I hadn’t talked to him with any attitude since I was sixteen, when he had tried to make me cut my hair. I’d told him that I’d wear it however I wanted, and he’d hit me in the face with a belt. It sucked, but I’d kept my hair.
“I’m eighteen,” I explained. “Lust and rebellion are my world, and I love it.”
I turned my back and went to the closet, tuning the old man out as I looked for a clean shirt. He was yelling something about the road I was on, how it wasn’t too late for me, I needed to pray with him, blah blah blah. I chose my 69 Eyes t-shirt, black with the band name and ankh logo in white. I put it on and sat back down on the foot of my bed to put my socks and boots on. Walter was still preaching at me, and it was getting annoying.
“Jacob, if you keep walkin’ this path—”
“—Then me, my evil tattoos, my lust for girls, my love for the Devil’s music, my long fag hair, and my tight fag jeans are gonna burn in hell for eternity, right?”
His eyes bulged behind his glasses in anger. A vein pulsed from between his eyebrows to the top of his bald head. “Don’t you dare joke about hell, Jacob. You may find it to be a very real place one day.”
I laughed and started for the door. He had no idea how real hell was to me already.
“Where do you think yer goin’? Yer not leavin’ this house!”
“Actually, I am,” I told him. “A girl from school invited me over tonight. I figured with her parents out of town and all, I might go over there and drink some beer, smoke a bowl, and engage in some wild, sinful, unprotected, premarital sex with her. Then we’ll probably go set a church on fire and commit ritualistic suicide. Don’t wait up.” I turned back around and opened the door.
“You’d better learn some respect, son! And quick!” he shouted.
He didn’t just call me that, did he?
My anger finally emerged. My shoulders arched. My upper lip curled. I spun back around and walked up close to him. He looked up at me, trying to hold his ground, but seeming a little frightened.
“You’re not my fucking father, you Bible-thumping, wife-beating, son of a bitch,” I growled. “Don’t you ever call me that.”
He tried to speak, but no words came out. I walked back to the door and went out into the hallway.
“You walk out of this house and you’ll regret it!” he shouted. “I’ll be waitin’ when you git back!”
“Looking forward to it,” I muttered, and tramped down the stairs.
“Are you okay, hun?” Mom asked as I went through the kitchen and put on my jacket.
I went into the living room where she was sitting on the sofa, reading a book. “Yeah, I’m just gonna go hang out before the party.” I kissed the top of her head. “Later,” I said, and turned to leave.
“Jake,” she called. I looked back at her. “You know it’s closed after dark, right?”
I smiled a little. She knew exactly where I was going—same place I always go when I’m feeling down.
“I’ll try not to get in too much trouble,” I answered. “But, no promises.”
She laughed in that way she did when I reminded her of Dad. “Have fun, honey.”
“You got it. Love you.”
“I love you, too.”
I stepped outside and closed the door. That was the last time I’d ever speak to my mother.
I followed a winding gravel road just outside of town, leading to the cemetery. It was surrounded by walls and a gate, but that had never stopped me. The gate didn’t have a lock. I just got off my motorcycle, opened it, and rode right in.
I parked my bike behind my dad’s tombstone and walked around in front of it. It read:
Jacob Michael Grinley
1980 – 2007
Beloved Father, Beloved Husband
At the top was a picture of my dad, not even ten years older than I was at that moment. It was almost like looking into a mirror, but with blue eyes, a slightly wider face, and much shorter hair.
I sat down in the grass and leaned back against the stone. The sun had set and all that was left was a pale pink streak on the horizon. It was a nice night, but it was cooling off fast, and getting darker by the minute.
Remember how I told you I was being watched? I was getting that feeling again. It felt like something was boring holes into me with its eyes. The hair on my neck and arms stood up. I tried to shake it off, but it just wouldn’t stop. I looked around the cemetery in the dark, but saw no one. Finally, I decided to try and chill out with a cigarette. I put one in my mouth. My lighter flashed to life, illuminating something that made me curse and leap to my feet, dropping the cigarette and lighter to the ground.
A few rows away from me, the light had reflected from two fiery eyes, peeking around from behind a mausoleum.
I panted and waited for my pulse to go back to normal, swallowed hard though my mouth was suddenly dry, felt around and picked up my cigarette and lighter, then took out my switchblade and crept forward.
It was just an animal, I told myself, but I had trouble believing it. Whatever it was, its head was five feet from the ground, and it had long hair, like a mane or something. But it couldn’t be a person. People’s eyes don’t reflect light like that.
You know this feeling, Grin, I realized. It’s familiar, isn’t it? You feel it whenever you go to St. Cecilia’s. You feel it when you hang out in Arlington after dark.
I put my back against the wall of the mausoleum, just around the corner from where the head had peeked around. “I know you’ve been following me,” I said quietly, managing to keep my voice from shaking. “And I know you’re there. I saw you this time. Now, why don’t you tell me what you want?”
There was no response, but you know how you can tell if there’s another person in the room with you without ever seeing them? I felt the same way. It was still there. I could sense it.
“Who are you?” I asked.
“What do you want? Why are you watching me?”
At last, I heard something. A breath, like a short sigh. It sounded feminine, so I put the switchblade back into my jacket. With my stomach twisting, I prepared to meet my stalker. I grabbed the corner of the mausoleum and launched myself around behind it.
And I froze.
Standing there in front of me was a wolf, five feet from rear to nose, auburn hackles standing up, baring a mouthful of long, deadly, white teeth.
“Oh, fuck me,” I murmured.
Slowly, it crept back from me, still growling. I couldn’t tell if it was moving back because it was scared of me or because it was preparing to pounce. Slowly, making no sudden movements, I reached for my knife again.
“Look, I really can’t die tonight, okay?” I pleaded out loud, maybe to the wolf, maybe to God or whatever powers that be. “I’m going to see a girl I really like, and this might be my only chance to tell her how I feel.”
Almost like it understood me, it stopped growling and baring its fangs, tilting its head in that way dogs do when they’re confused. Then, seeming to lose interest in me, it turned around and loped off into the woods.
I let out a long breath and bent over, grabbing my knees. “Holy shit…” I whispered, and collapsed back against the mausoleum, shaking with adrenaline. Out in the woods, a car started up and drove away.