untitled.

the beginning of the novel with no name

Posted: November 1st, 2008 | Author: michele | Filed under: Uncategorized | 8 Comments »

This first installment is what I wrote in 2002. Pretty much unedited. That will all come later. Please read the about page first.

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Pug was laying in the back seat, eyes closed, feeling the highway pass beneath him. Another road, another city, another of his mother’s men in the front seat. For a minute he can’t remember if it’s Number 7 up there or if he lost count and it’s Number 8.. When he hears the hacking cough and the strains of Whitesnake from the radio, he knows it’s still 7.

Number 7 seemed much like the others before him; dirty, unemployed and perpetually drunk. Pug’s mother had a keen eye for picking out the losers among them. She gravitated toward men in wife-beaters the way gold diggers could sniff out a man in an Armani suit. Pug didn’t know why his mother punished herself like this, why she would subject herself over and over to men who constantly berated her, demeaned her, used and sometimes beat her. Then again, she was also dirty, unemployed and perpetually drunk, so perhaps it was a birds of a feather thing.

He got bored with laying down and sat up to watch the trees out the window, their autumn colors creating a dark blurry rainbow as they sped down the highway. His mind drifted, and he thought of other times. Not better times, because the word better is pretty subjective when you live a life like Pug’s. Just other times. Other cities. How many times he has done this very thing, holding on to nothing more than his backpack stuffed with everything he can call his, huddled in the back seat of another crap car, on his way to somewhere. The somewheres all looked the same after a while, and he couldn’t remember which place was which, if the black eye happened in Virginia, if the stolen tv set happened in New Jersey or Florida, if Number 5 was the guy with the mustache in Ozone Park or if that was Number 3 and they were in Maryland. It always ended the same way, with Pug and some boxes in the back seat and his mother, sometimes alone, sometimes with one of them, driving them off to another somewhere.

Pug knew this would be the last time. Number 7 had plans for his mother. Number 7 wanted to marry her. Take her away, to his own mother’s house in Pennsylvania. But 7 said there wasn’t room for Pug in that trailer tucked away in the woods. 7 said it’s Pug or him. And Pug’s mother told him, her voice cracking, her palms sweating, that she was going with 7. She made her choice and she told Pug it was a hard one, but this was her chance. Pug thought that it wasn’t much of a chance at all. Moving from one trash town to another, from one broken down trailer to the next, from one drunk’s bed to a crackhead’s bed, that’s not a chance. It’s a death wish. And he knew it would be easier for her to do without him. Without her having to lie to another school about his records, without visits from social services, without his mouth to feed. Pug accepted this the way he accepted everything else in his life, with a shrug of his shoulders. When he walked away from his mother after the conversation, he listened carefully to hear if she was crying, or if she was going to call him back, but he heard neither. When he turned to look at her she had already stuffed herself into 7’s arms, and 7 was smiling broadly and Pug was sure his mother was sighing, even smiling, with relief.

This time his somewhere had a name and a purpose. For the first time, he looked out of a car window with expectation. He was going to Long Island, to the house of a cousin he never met, to a family with a house they called their own. His mother made the call the day before, begging this barely known cousin to take Pug in, to help a family member out, and what was unsaid but known; to take Pug off of his mother’s hands. He shrugged to himself and continued to stare out the window, hoping but not really expecting that his life may take a turn towards normalcy. And a part of him that he shooed away, the part that made him write dark thoughts in his journal, wished his mother and 7 a lifetime of misery.

He fell asleep sitting up, his forehead pressed against the car window.

2

His mother woke him when they stopped. They were on a narrow road, small box type houses lining either side. They were nice houses, nicer than he ever lived in, even if they were small. Most of them were clean and neat, lawns mowed and gardens of azaleas and impatiens nearing their autumn death lining the walkways. There were cars in all the driveways and parked by the curbs; cars of content suburban families; minivans, Toyotas, SUVs. His heart lurched a little, and he almost let himself believe this would be good. This would be normal. This would be his world now.

He got out of the car, cradling his backpack in his arms. His mother grabbed him by his arm, and he sensed she was hurrying him, she wanted this over. Not because she was upset by dumping her only child on estranged relatives, but because she wanted to get on with her life with 7, the one Pug had already christened P.P; Post Pug.

His mother’s cousin came outside. She looked rather average, not dirty and weary like his mother, but somewhere between K-Mart and Bloomingdale’s. Middle class, he thought. She appeared to be younger than his mother, but he realized his mother looked 20 years older than she was anyhow.

His mother shoved him towards her cousin.

“Hi, Jackie. Hi. This here’s Pug. Like I told ya on the phone. Pug.” She was nervous and her voice was shaky. Jackie inched forward, and stared at Pug’s mother in horror or awe or a combination of both.

“What the hell happened to you, Brenda?” Jackie looked at a Brenda that was foreign to her; the torn t-shirt, the too tight shorts, the thin white legs and dirty feet. “Last time I saw you, you were wearing a blue gown and looking like a princess. Carmel’s wedding, remember?” Brenda stared blankly at her, and Pug noticed his mother was rubbing her hands together, twisting her fingers, the way she did when she was nervous. Jackie came closer, approaching like one would a wild animal at the zoo.

“Brenda?”

“So this is ok, right? You’ll send him to school and stuff?”

“Who’s the guy in the car, Brenda? You didn’t say anything about a guy.”

“Pug’s just got a backpack. And a few clothes. He’s quiet, won’t be much bother. Doesn’t eat much, sleeps a lot.” The way she’s talked reminded Pug of years ago, when Pug was little enough to be held by his mother, and they were looking at hamsters. The pet store guy tried to sell Pug’s mom the hamster in much the same way she was trying to sell Pug to Jackie.

“Brenda,” Jackie was getting impatient. “Answer my questions. Who is the guy and what have you gotten yourself into?” 7 stared at them and Pug glared back, defiantly. He was sure that he would never see 7 again. Pug’s mom glanced back at 7 and he made a gesture to her, pointing first to her and then to the car, menacing her to hurry. Jackie made a move towards Brenda and closer to the car and as she stepped forward, Jackie turned and fled. Pug watched his mother scramble into the car, close the door and drive off. She didn’t look back. She didn’t turn to see the look on her son’s face or her cousin half heartedly running after the car. Pug stood on the sidewalk, not moving, holding in one hand a Hefty bag filled with his dirty clothes and in the other his backpack filled with his journal. His secrets.

3

Pug kept to himself, and sat on the overstuffed love seat, his legs up against his chest, his arms around his legs, his sleeves pulled down over his hands. He would have been inconspicuous if he had not dyed his hair pumpkin orange the previous week. He stood out against the lilac upholstery, and he shrunk further into himself to avoid the gazes of his little cousin, who wanted to know why his hair is that color. He didn’t talk. He kept silent so long that he heard the little girl, Tiara, asking her mother why Pug can’t talk.

“Is there something wrong with him,” she asked, and not in that sweet innocent voice of a normal five year old, but in the sarcastic, self-important tone of a girl who has already won 100 beauty pageants and would move on to become a cheerleader, a homecoming queen and a slut. Brenda shushed Tiara and moved quickly about the kitchen, fixing dinner, washing dishes, seemingly doing 12 things at the same time with only two hands. Pug was transfixed by her deftness and watched Brenda from his perch on the love seat. He could only see her when she darted in that space between the stove and the sink, his vantage from the living room not giving him full view of the kitchen.

He thought about his mother, something he tried to avoid but couldn’t escape. He had never once seen his mother make dinner. It was always there when he got home from his wanderings, on whatever served for a table at the moment. Tuna, macaroni and cheese, canned spaghetti, the staples of his diet. Anything that could be cooked on a hot plate or mixed in a bowl. He would wander the neighborhood after school, if he went to school at all, and only come home after dark, when he could slip into a different part of the trailer or the house or the motel they were in that night, feigning sleepiness. He would take the dinner with him, clean it up himself, and it only dawned on then, watching Brenda cook, that he had never seen his mother cook one of those dinners. Not since he was small, at least.

He looked at Brenda and wished for a moment that that was how his life unfolded, that he had a mother who didn’t go through boyfriends like water, he had a mother that cooked and cleaned, that he grew up in one state, in one town, in one house, with a room to call his own. He felt guilty and stopped thinking. He got up off the love seat and went to the room they set up for him so he could no longer see Brenda making him dinner, so he couldn’t see Tiara prancing around the house like an evil midget, so he couldn’t see the boys, the cousins he hadn’t met yet, as they came home from whatever pleasant, fun filled after-school activities they took part in.

Pug laid on the bed and thought about writing, but he didn’t. Instead, he imagined what the two boys would be like. All he knew was they were twins, they were the same age as him, and they lived in this suburban dream, and took for granted all the things Pug never had. He pictured them as football players, debate club leaders, yearbook editors. He imagined them dead, just for a moment, and he pictured the principal of their school being interviewed for the local paper. “They were such nice boys,” he says. “So well-liked. Honor students, stellar athletes. Such a damn shame.” He slams his fist on a table and breaks out crying as he says this. This is game Pug had played many times before, the imagined deaths of people and what would be said about them. He had tried it on himself, and he wrote down in his notebook the words that played out in his head.

Pug Barkin was never liked, never talked to, never talked about. Pug Barkin slipped quietly through the hallways of this school like a ghost. Pug Barkin wasn’t here long enough for us to get to know him, but he seemed a vague sort of kid. Like if he stayed longer than he did, we wouldn’t have known him anyhow.

And then Pug wrote beneath that what he would say about himself after his death, if he could:

Pug Barkin was broken in so many places that he could never be fixed. Pug Barkin was unwanted, unloved and un everything else. Pug Barkin was lonely and wistful and dreamed of being someone else, anyone else. Pug Barkin has been to a lot of somewheres and several nowheres and he never had the chance to make any of those places count. Pug Barkin didn’t want to die, but he didn’t want to live the way he did, either.

He laid on the bed, the first real bed he had been on since he was about five, and he slept and dreamed of being in a car, going to one of those somewheres, but never quite getting there.

4

One of the twins came home at about five, and Pug heard his deep voice through the wall of his room. The voice told Brenda that he wasn’t hungry, they ate at practice, and no, he didn’t do any of his homework yet. Pug was sure that practice meant football, and he mentally patted himself on the back for being right. He imagined this boy, he thought this one must be Devin, not Kevin, throwing his football equipment on the floor and heading for the kitchen to take a swig of milk straight from the carton. Pug knew his vision of normal life was skewed by the endless hours he spent in front of televisions, watching whatever channel would come in out in the backwoods with a broken antenna. To Pug, all suburban boys played football, all suburban girls were cheerleaders, all little kids were quick with a wise-ass remarks and milk does your body good. He never saw himself on tv. The broadcast channels he got showed only cheery sitcoms where problems are resolved in a half hour, much laughter ensuing. They never showed depressed teenagers and neglected children and mothers who took abuse from strange men. They never showed kids living in trailers and motels, crying for food or comfort or wishing just once that their mother would hug them and read them a story. It was never about him.

The door to Pug’s room opened and there stood Devin, not Kevin, all 6 feet of him, looking down at Pug. He wasn’t exactly like Pug imagined. He was tall but not big, all skin and bones hiding underneath baggy jeans and hooded sweatshirt. His hair was cropped short, but long enough for the ends to stand straight up, glistening with some kind of gel. He had a ring going through his bottom lip, and Pug thought that he had never seen that on one of his sitcoms. Devin, not Kevin was not a sitcom kind of guy. It almost made Pug feel relieved.

Devin, not Kevin walked towards Pug, a scowl etched on his face and Pug knew it wasn’t an emotional scowl, just a permanent one, that he always looked like that. He stood over Pug’s bed and bent his head down low, so his face was less than an inch away from Pug’s. He smelled like cigarettes and lipstick and Pug saw the remnants of a hickey on his neck. Pug had never kissed a girl. He had never touched a girl. The thought of a girl sucking on his neck makes him suddenly nauseous. He closed his eyes, for just a second, and when he opened them Devin, not Kevin was still there, staring at him, breathing on his face. “Hi.” He whispered, and it sounded more like a threat than a greeting. Devin, not Kevin stood up, walked out of the room and closed the door. Pug laid there for a minute, confused and scared and he found himself suddenly thinking about his mother and where she was and what she was doing. He wanted to think about anything but Devin, not Kevin being a psychotic bastard, anything but a girl sucking on his neck, or even his lips, anything but being in a somewhere that turns out to be another nowhere.

Two minutes later, Devin, not Kevin walked back in the room. Pug was still laying on the bed, trying not to cry, trying not to feel homesick for a home he never really had, but missed nonetheless. Devin sat on the edge of Pug’s bed and came out, rather bluntly, with his first question; “So how much does it suck having your mother just ditch you on someone you don’t know so she can go fuck some guy in a trailer all day?” Pug was neither insulted nor hurt. He shrugged his shoulders and spoke his first words since entering the house. “It’s her life. Whatever.”

5

Pug sat at the dinner table with the Jordan family, which had become his family, for better or worse. He had been in the house about seven hours now, and it had already worn thin on him. Kevin came home soon after Pug and Devin had their scaled down version of male bonding, and it took Pug about six seconds to realize that Kevin was a basket case. He had a twitch in his right eye that was constant and unnerving. He spit when he talked. His clothes were stained with the remains of the day’s lunch. He had acne. More acne than any kid deserves to have. His face was a planet of pock marks and craters, with oil-slicked streams running between them. Some of that oil seemed to have taken residence in his hair, causing it to shine, not with a gel-enhanced shine like his twin’s, but more of an environmental disaster shine.

Pug waited his turn for the mashed potatoes, sitting silently while sneaking glances at Kevin’s twitch, which was sometimes accompanied by a spastic jerk of the head. This amused Pug and he felt guilty for finding a small amount of pleasure in someone else’s neuroses. The potatoes finally made their way to Pug and he dug in, sure that he had never in his life had mashed potatoes that weren’t made from a powder. Mother Jordan, as Pug has been instructed to call her, clinked her spoon against a glass and asked for quiet. No one was talking anyhow. She stood and motioned to Pug as if he were a prize on a game show, with a sweep of her arm. “Please welcome to the Jordan Family, Pug Barkin.” She waited, and Pug half expected lights to start flickering and applause to swell up out of an unseen audience. Instead, Tiara threw him an evil smirk that made him break out in a cold sweat. Kevin, in the middle of a head/eye spasm, grunted something unintelligible. Devin said nothing but poured Pug a soda and nodded his way. Mother Jordan beamed.

It was near midnight and Pug laid on his bed in the dark, thinking of his mother again. He wondered if she felt any remorse, any sadness for leaving him and not even saying good-bye. He wondered if she was right at that moment rolling under the covers with Number 7, breathing heavy and thinking only of the future and the present and not the past, while 7’s mother listened through the paper thin wall of the trailer kitchen, wondering what the hell her son has brought home this time. He tried to put the thought of his mother having sex out of his head before it made him sick, and he turned his thought to his own future, an open, blank book ready to be written in. He knew the Jordans were strange, he knew this was not the happy Stepford family he was looking for, but they would do in a pinch. For the first time since he could remember, Pug felt hopeful.

6

Mother Jordan made no mention of Pug going to school. When he asked her, she said something about studying at home first, catching up on things, and then going in for the second semester in January. Pug liked that idea somewhat; he wasn’t a school person, but he was also afraid of the idea of spending all day watching Mother Jordan bake and clean, watching Tiara bow and curtsy and practice looking like a 20 year old call girl. He said as much to Mother Jordan, but in a nice sort of way, because he’s a nice sort of boy and she laughed in a soft, condescending way that made Pug feel both shamed and excited. Mother Jordan told Pug to go get washed up, that they were expecting company, and he should behave nicely when the company gets there.

He stood at the sink, staring at his face in the mirror, wondering if that face would ever be touched with love, ever looked at again by his mother, ever be recognized for being anything but sullen. As he is examined his own face and contemplated heading to the bedroom for a morning wack, the doorbell rang. He heard Mother Jordan speaking in hushed tones, and a feeling came over him that he didn’t like. He had a good sixth sense. Something was going on downstairs that involved him and he didn’t like it. Had his mother come back for him? Had the truancy officers come for him? Was Mother Jordan passing him on to someone else? In the part of his mind that wrote dark comic strips, he saw himself tied to some impossible contraption, being tortured by a man who Mother Jordan sold him to so she could by more dresses for Tiara. He shook the thought out of his head, literally, and as he is moved his head back and forth to dispel the legends that laid there, Mother Jordan walked in the bathroom. She reacted quickly, assuming he was having some kind of fit and she came up behind him, grabbed his head in her hands and tried to force her hands into his mouth. Pug gagged and bit down on Mother Jordan’s hand. She screamed and pulled her hand out. “What the fuck are you doing? Why did you bite me?” She was rubbing her finger where Pug had left teeth marks. Pug was speechless. He said nothing, did nothing, moved not an inch but stared incredulously at Mother Jordan. “Say something, damn it,” she whispered at him, teeth clenched, “I was just trying to save your fucking life.” Pug stared. He had only been in this house a day or so and he already knew that Mother Jordan was religious, pious even, a Christian through and through, and hearing those words come out of her mouth had rendered him mute. “Jesus fucking Christ, Pug. Get that dopey look off of your face and come downstairs. We have company.” She left the bathroom and Pug broke into an uncontrollable giggle when she was gone. He didn’t know why, he didn’t care. He laughed to himself and he kept laughing because he didn’t want to think of the implications of a good Christian woman using Jesus’ name like that, because he knew supposedly good Christian women who cursed like that when they were out of church, and he knew they weren’t really good Christian women at all. They were mostly evil banshees who used church as a way to demean and punish Pug. He wondered how far Mother Jordan would go to punish him, to wash him of his sins, if she found out about them. If she found out that while Pug had never been with a girl, he had been with boys who kissed him in that way, and that even though he really preferred boys he would still like to bend Mother Jordan over the coffee table and give her some action. Pug washed his face again, trying to get rid of the look of guilt with a few splashes of cold water.

When he got downstairs, he saw the company was not his mother nor a truant officer. It was a man in a suit that some people would call a “Sunday Best,” complete with hat and hanky properly sticking out of the breast pocket. The man sat on the lilac love seat, legs crossed and hands folded in his lap. A look passed between Mother Jordan and the man, and Pug couldn’t see what kind of look it was, but he was sure it was conspiratorial.

Mother Jordan called to him to come down. She was using a different voice now, not the voice that she used in the bathroom to curse at him and Jesus.

“Pug, please come down and meet our company.” It was the voice of too much sugar, the voice that cotton candy would have while it sat leaden in your stomach after eating too much of it. She grinned at Pug, a wide, gleaming grin, and he came down the stairs and stood in the center of the living room, awkward as a new kid at school. The man in the suit stood up and held out his hand towards Pug. “Reverend Furey. Nice to meet you, Pug.” Pug shook the hand of Reverend Furey and his sixth sense kicked in, sending a chilling current down his spine. “Nice to meet you,” Pug murmured. They stood in silence a moment, until Mother Jordan instructed both of them to sit down. The Reverend went back to the love seat, and Pug took the space on the couch next to Mother Jordan. He went into hibernation mode and drew his legs up, crossed his arms and pulled his sleeves down over his hands. He did this without even realizing it, it had become so habitual. There were glances passing between Mother Jordan and the Reverend, and Pug tried to decipher what they were about. Then the questioning began. Reverend Furey turned to face Pug, looking at him with a viscous intent.

How do you like it here, Pug?

Shrug.

Think you’ll be comfortable here enough for the long run?

Shrug.

Were you born without a voice, Pug?

Shake of the head.

Were you born without manners, boy?

The shape and color of the conversation changed. Pug sat up and waited for the next question. He didn’t have to look at Mother Jordan to know that her eyes were piercing him with ultimatums. He’d been in this situation before, with school counselors and social services and he knew how to proceed. He knew how to tell vague lies and make everything sound better than it actually was.

No sir.

Didn’t think so. Even if your mother is a whore.

Shrug.

You glad to be away from her, Pug?

I’m glad to be in a nice home with nice people.

Do you believe in God, Pug?

This would be tricky. Pug didn’t believe in God. He didn’t believe in Jesus or Mary or Joseph or Saint Peter or heaven or hell. He was as solid in his belief of nothing as some people were in their faith of the rapture. He decided not to play good, stoic boy. He had a notion that this man was going to spend a lot of time in the future making him miserable, and Pug wanted to start off not as a feeble, willing victim, but as a worthy opponent.

I asked you, Pug. Do you believe in God.

No.

Excuse me?

No.

You don’t believe in God?

No.

Do you believe in Satan?

No.

What do you believe in, Pug?

Me.

Reverend Furey had expected Pug to answer “nothing” to this question and Pug’s revelation threw the Reverend off track.

You are your own god, Pug?

Everyone is.

You make your own rules, then?

I do what I need to do to get by.

Why don’t you believe in God?

Shrug.

Why don’t you believe in God?

Shrug.

One more time, Pug. Why don’t you believe?

Because if there was a god, I wouldn’t have been beaten, starved and neglected as a kid. If there was a god my mother wouldn’t have left me here without turning around to look at me before she left. If there was a god my father wouldn’t have died when I was two. If there was a god he would have to be a good god, not a bad god, and good gods don’t let little kids cry themselves to sleep every night.

Why does god have to be good?

What’s the purpose if he’s not?

I’m going to prove something to you, Pug. I’m going to make you a believer. You will come to the great understanding that I have.

Shrug.

All the time, while Pug was being grilled by a devil in apostle’s clothing, Mother Jordan was sitting quietly, watching the exchange nervously. Pug stole an occasional glance at her, and he could see she seemed anxious, even impatient. She looked to Pug for answers before Reverend Furey’s questions were even finished. It was planned. It was rehearsed. Pug had been set up for this crazed interview.

Reverend Furey was done with Pug and stood up. He faced Mother Jordan and another of those looks passed between them. The Reverend gave a barely perceptible nod and Mother Jordan bit back a grin. Pug felt once again like the hamster in the pet store, like he had just been passed from shopkeeper to customer. He pulled his knees up to his chest again and shut down his communication skills. He had spoken in the last few minutes more than he had said combined since he stepped foot in the Jordan house. He was done. Mother Jordan dismissed him with a wave of her hand and told him to go up to his room and “draw or something.” Pug walked upstairs, his sixth sense beaming him desperate signals. This was not going well. Not at all.

Night came and Pug laid on the bed, where he had been all day, going over and over the conversation with Reverend Furey that afternoon. He couldn’t figure out what Mother Jordan was up to. Or what Reverend Furey’s interest in him was. He just knew there was something going on, something more than a friendly introduction to the local preacher.

Devin came home at seven, and Pug walked over to his room. It was time to break out a little, Pug thought. He would never know what was going on around him if he kept himself hidden in his little shell.

Devin was putting his equipment away and Pug saw the equipment was unrelated to any sport. Devin was obviously in a band. There were no football player/debate club leaders in this family. There were no sitcom jocks and cheerleaders. There was Devin, all punk and no subtlety, Kevin, a geek to geeky for even the AV club, and Tiara, the crown princess, the shining light, her mother’s meal ticket and dress-up doll. And there was Mother Jordan herself, righteous when needed, pious when watched, phony to the core.

Pug watched Devin for a few minutes, waiting for the twin to open the conversation. He hated being the first to talk; if you talked first, the burden was on you to carry the conversation. Eventually he got tired of waiting.

“What’s the deal with this Furey guy?” Devin still had his back to Pug, but Pug could sense a change in Devin’s expression when he mentioned the Reverend. He said nothing, but continued putting his stuff away. Pug waited. Finally Devin finished and turned to face Pug.

“Stay away from Furey.”

“Well your mother is setting something up for me with this guy. She made him come over to meet me.”

“He’s a phony bastard. He couldn’t give a fuck about god or Jesus or you.”

“Then what’s his deal?”

“He wants my mother.” Pug thought about saying something he shouldn’t. Something about Mother Jordan’s soft, death-black hair. Something about her smile, her lips, her green eyes, her breasts and her hips. He got that feeling again, that ugliness that made him feel like he had the flu, the feeling he got whenever he thought of Mother Jordan naked and willing next to him. The first female he ever really thought about in that way, and she was his surrogate mother. He coughed into his hand, a defense mechanism that he used when he was trying to hide the shame that painted his face red.

Devin sat down in front of his computer, turned it on and stared at the start-up screen while he waited for it to boot up. He was avoiding Pug’s gaze, and Pug imagined that Devin was sorry he said that about Furey.

“Tell me more about him,” said Pug.

“All you need to know is that he’s a mean, nasty, creep you should stay far away from.” Pug had the feeling that there were harsher, crueler words behind that, but Devin didn’t know how to articulate them.

“Why do you think your mother wanted me to meet him? It seemed really strange, the way it went off…” Pug trailed off, not really sure how to describe the feeling he got from Furey or the bad vibes he felt.

“Listen,” Devin stood up and came closer to Pug, as close as he came that first night when he yelled in Pug’s face. Again, Pug smelled cigarettes, but no lipstick this time. The hickey was still there, but fading like an old bruise and Pug stared at it, not wanting to look into Devin’s face. “I’m going to tell you this one time, Pug. One time. And I’m not going to explain myself or anything. I’m just going to tell you. Reverend Furey is a con artist. He’s a fake. He wants my mother’s money. He wants my mother’s pussy. And he wants a card to play. He’s been looking for a kid to use for a long time, someone he can ‘turn around’ and make holy or something. He wants to show his congregation that he’s not just one of those guys who stands up there and shouts shit at them all Sunday. He needs a miracle, like proof of what he’s doing with their money and their prayers and I wasn’t it. So now you are. You’re his new choir boy. And it’s perfect, really. The kid from nowhere. Dead father, abandoned by druggie mother.. See, I have the attitude, I have the non-belief, but you have something else. You have a tear jerker story. This will go over big at Sunday’s big revival. You showed up just in time, Pug. A real miracle. Hallelujah!” As he said this, he raised his hands in the air and wiggled his fingers around, like a gospel singer shouting praise. He grabbed Pug’s arm and pulled him towards the door. “Let’s go smoke.”

They walked around to the back of the house, and down a cement walkway that led towards a clump of trees and shrubs that was probably considered the woods in that part of the country, where trees were sacrificed daily for condos and mini-malls. Pug was surprised at the lush landscaping in the backyard. He had expected something run down, unkempt. He didn’t take Mother Jordan for a nature lover, despite the flowers in the front yard.

The walkway ended where the mini-woods started, and Pug followed Devin through a river of leaves and brush, all snapping and crackling beneath their feet in that noisy autumn way. They walked for a minute or so until Devin made an abrupt right and Pug scrambled to keep behind me. Devin ducked under canopy of branches and Pug followed, thinking this was a long way to go to sneak a cigarette.

When they came out on the other side of the canopy, the woods were gone and there was a long strip of grass and dirt, wide enough for a car but probably never used by one. There was a low, white brick wall lining either side of the strip. The wall was blanketed with years of graffiti, attesting to the fact that Katie had been here and so had Jimmy and Percy High School sucks but Metallica rules. Behind the wall on the left was a high chain link fence that surrounded a sump. Behind the wall on the right were the backs of several houses, most of them with fences that reached high above the wall, because no one wanted to sit in their luxurious suburban back yard looking at a sump.

Devin gave himself a seat on the low slung wall, the one on the left that backed the sump, and motioned for Pug to do the same. Pug took a cigarette when Devin offered even though it had been months since he last tried a cigarette and Devin’s Camels would surely make cough up a lung. They sat in silence for a few moments, and Pug was surprised at how smooth the smoke went down, how good the tar and nicotine tasted, how relaxing it was to concentrate on nothing but sucking in the smoke and blowing it out.

“I’m going to tell you a whole bunch of stuff,” Devin said. “I’m going to tell you the whole deal. And then you can make your own conclusion.”

“I thought you weren’t going to explain yourself.” Pug hoped saying that wouldn’t make Devin clam up. He was just curious why the twin had changed his mind.

“Well I am. It just….needs explaining, ok?”

“Ok. Tell me then”

They sat on that wall until dark, smoking cigarettes, Devin talking, Pug listening intently.

3 years past

The Reverend Furey had been a fixture in town for a long time. His church was small, his congregation smaller. They were a haphazard group of some religion or other, no one really knew. Most people called them Fundamentalist Christians. Furey called himself a savior. They worked out Furey’s house, about five blocks from the Jordan’s. Furey’s garage had been turned into a replica of a tent revival meeting, sans tent. Rows of dull brown folding chairs, most of which went unused at that time, lined the garage. His pulpit was a raised platform, put together by someone who was obviously not a carpenter, and looked to be nothing more than piles of wood stacked up, higher in the middle than on the ends. There were folding tables with pamphlets, and moldy, mildewed shelves with books on Jesus and God and right wing conservative issues.

On Sunday mornings, Furey would open his garage door to reveal his mini-church and a few people, mostly regulars, would stagger in. The Reverend would preach the typical fire and brimstone, hands would go up, joyful noises would be sung, albeit off key, and promises would be made to worship, honor, obey and leave an offering on your way out please. The money he pulled in from the few faithful he had was negligent. But Furey was patient. He knew his time would come. He knew if he just hung on and plugged away and made empty but thrilling promises every week, his time would come.

The Reverend was a grand opportunist, and he knew his patience would pay off. One November morning, opportunity not only knocked, but practically banged down the door.

There had been a murder. Well, maybe not a murder. A sacrifice? A drug deal gone bad? A horrible prank gone awry? Pick your rumor, everyone had a different one. What it came down to in the end was two dead teenagers, another in jail, a town ripped from its quiet suburban cocoon and thrown into hell.

They found Kate and Alan’s bodies on a Saturday morning, and that bode well for the Reverend. If he played his cards right, his tiny garage would be swollen with the prayerful come Sunday morning. Kate had been stabbed, beaten, mutilated. Alan was spared the beating, but had the scars of a knife all over his stomach, and some would say they were random, angry slashings, but some, like Furey, claimed they were signs. Evil, symbolic drawings, reminiscent of ritual slayings. The devil’s work. Satan had come to their town. He left his calling card in a brutal, gruesome manner. Furey was the only one delighted at this prospect. The rest of the town was reeling.