Mar 22 2012 10:30am
An excerpt from Hemlock Grove by Brian McGreevy (available March 27, 2012).
The body of a young girl is found mangled and murdered in the woods of Hemlock Grove, Pennsylvania, in the shadow of the abandoned Godfrey Steel mill. A manhunt ensues—though the authorities aren’t sure if it’s a man they should be looking for.
Some suspect an escapee from the White Tower, a foreboding biotech facility owned by the Godfrey family—their personal fortune and the local economy having moved on from Pittsburgh steel—where, if rumors are true, biological experiments of the most unethical kind take place. Others turn to Peter Rumancek, a Gypsy trailer-trash kid who has told impressionable high school classmates that he’s a werewolf. Or perhaps it’s Roman, the son of the late JR Godfrey, who rules the adolescent social scene with the casual arrogance of a cold-blooded aristocrat, his superior status unquestioned despite his decidedly freakish sister, Shelley, whose monstrous medical conditions belie a sweet intelligence, and his otherworldly control freak of a mother, Olivia.
The lone wolf howls to rejoin the pack from which he is separated. But why does the pack howl when no wolf is lost?
Isn’t it obvious?
Because there is no other way to say it.
The night after the Harvest Moon, the body was discovered. It was nearing October and the sun was still hot, but the leaves were falling now with intention and every night was colder. Peter was walking home from the bus stop when he saw the flashing light of a fire truck up at Kilderry Park. He wondered if there had been an accident. Peter, who was seventeen at the time of which I’m writing, liked accidents: modern times were just so fucking structured. He saw in addition to the fire truck a few cop cars and an ambulance, but no signs of wreckage. He turned his head in passing, but there was nothing more to see beyond the norm. Two of the cops combing the area by the swings he knew; they’d hassled him a couple of times in that kind of obligatory cop way that, in Peter’s experience, every uniform was an SS uniform. Probably some junkie had OD’d or something. There was that bum who hung out around here, an old black guy with yellow and black teeth and one dead eye that looked like a dirty marble who might not have been old, really. Peter had given him a light once, but no change. Better that paid for his own drugs. His interest flagged. Old black junkie kicks it it’s no more news than chance of rain tomorrow. Then he heard it, one sentence. No sign of a weapon, Sheriff. Peter looked again but there was no more to see than a milling cluster of uniforms by the tree line and he put his hands in his pockets and went on.
He had a bad feeling.
Nicolae had always told him that he had been born with an unusually receptive Swadisthana chakra and that underneath the surfaces of things, the illusion of the illusion, there is a secret, sacred frequency of the universe and that the Swadisthana was the channel through which it would sing to you. And the Swadisthana being located of course just behind the balls, he should always always trust his balls. Peter did not know what it was, but something about the scene in Kilderry Park had his balls in a state of agitation.
When he got home he told his mother, “Something happened.”
“Hmm?” she said. She was smoking a joint and watching a quiz show. The trailer was warm and smelled sweet, pot and baked apple. “Hummingbird!” she yelled suddenly, in response to the question What is the only bird that can fly backwards.
He told her what he saw. He told her he had a bad feeling.
“Why?” she said.
“I don’t know, I just do,” he said.
She was thoughtful. “Well, there’s cobbler,” she said.
He went to the kitchen. She asked if he’d been in town.
“Yeah,” he said.
She emptied his backpack of items so small and modest it could hardly be considered stealing while Peter scraped the tar of sugar at the edge of the cobbler and tried to shake this feeling. The feeling that whatever had happened in Kilderry Park was no good. And not in some greater existential sense but no good with his number on it. There was a coffee mug on the counter with the comic strip character Cathy on it and a small chip the shape of a shark’s tooth that held loose change. He dipped his hand in the mug and went to the door and scattered a handful of coins on the stone path out front.
“Why did you do that?” said Lynda.
Peter shrugged. He had done it because he wanted to hear something dissonant and beautiful.
“You are one strange customer, you know that?” said Lynda.
“Yeah,” said Peter.
Nothing Weird About It
And remember: the flesh is as sacred as it is profane. I forgot this.
The green-eyed boy sat alone in the food court and fingered the needle in his pocket. The syringe was empty and unused, he had no use for the syringe. He had use for the needle. The green-eyed boy—he was called Roman, but what you will have seen first was the eyes—wore a tailored Milanese blazer, one hand in pocket, and blue jeans. He was pale and lean and as handsome as a hatchet, and in egregious style and snobbery a hopeless contrast from the suburban mall food court where he sat and looked in the middle distance and fidgeted with the needle in his pocket. And then he saw the girl. The blond girl at the Twist in pumps and a miniskirt, leaning in that skirt as though daring her not to, or some taunting mystic withholding revelation. Also, he saw, alone.
Roman rose and buttoned the top button of his blazer and waited for her to continue on with a cone of strawberry, and when she did he followed. Maintaining a discreet distance, he followed her through the main concourse and stopped outside a women’s apparel store as she entered, and he watched through the window as she browsed the lingerie and finished the cone. She looked around and stuffed a mesh chemise down her purse and exited the store. Her tongue darted to collect crumbs from her lips. He continued following her to the parking structure. She got into the elevator, and seeing there were no other passengers, he called Hold please, and jogged to the car. She asked him what level and he told her the top, and this must have been her floor as well because it was the only button she pressed. They rode up and he stood behind her smelling her trampy perfume and thinking of the underthing in her purse and silently tapping the syringe through the fabric.
“You ever close your eyes and try real hard and trick your brain you’re actually going down?” said Roman.
The girl didn’t answer, and when the door opened she stepped out curtly, like he was some kind of creep when he was just trying to make friendly conversation. But so it goes. The game as it were afoot.
He took out the syringe and palmed it, stepping out of the elevator, and outpacing the clip of her heels he closed the distance between them. She was now aware beyond question of the pursuit though she neither turned back nor made any attempt to run as he came on her and jabbed in an upward thrust, the needle puncturing skirt and panty and the flesh of her ass, and just as quickly he withdrew as she gasped and he continued past her and down the row to his own car.
He repocketed the syringe and entered the front seat, putting it back all the way. He unzipped his jeans, freeing his erection, and laced his hands behind his head. He waited. After a few moments the passenger-side door opened and the girl got in and he closed his eyes as she lowered her head to his lap.
A few minutes later she opened the door and leaned over and spat. Roman’s hands unlaced and his arms came down and as they did his hand fell naturally to her lower back, and just as naturally he rubbed. Nothing weird about it, or even a thing you think about, you rub a girl’s back because it’s there. But at the feel of his touch she recoiled abruptly and straightened. Roman was confused.
“You don’t like that?” he said.
“Oh no, baby,” she said. “I think it’s totally hot.”
But she was lying, and lying, he realized, about the first thing, about the needle and sucking his dick, and not what he was asking about, about her hate of the barest human-to-human gesture at the end. He was depressed suddenly and terrifically by the defeated life of this lying whore and he wanted her to be gone now, and to get out of the fucking mall.
“It’ll take a hose to get the smell of prole out of my nostrils,” he said.
“Poor baby,” she said, neither knowing nor making any attempt to care what he meant.
He reached into the blazer and took out the money in cash and handed it to her. It looked wrong and she counted it. It was $500 over the agreed amount. She looked at him.
“You know my name?” he said.
“Yeah,” she said. It would have been pointless to say otherwise, everyone knew his name.
He looked at her. “No you don’t,” he said.
Details the next day. Brooke Bluebell, a girl from Penrose, the next town, had been found. That is, most of a girl named Brooke Bluebell. Subcutaneous wounds and bite patterns consistent with some wild animal attack, but the coroner could not determine what kind—coyote, bear, mountain lion. Murder wasn’t suspected but rumor was not gun-shy. Rape, devil worship, another one just like this in et cetera . . . In first-period gym class Alex Finster, knowing Peter was in hearing range, said he had heard it was Gypsies, fuckin’ Gypsy cannibals, tastes like chicken.
“Well, people meat is more like bacon,” said Peter.
Ashley Valentine looked at him with disgust.
“I mean, that’s what they say,” said Peter.
In the main building Peter ran into Vice Principal Spears coming out of the faculty restroom. Vice Principal Spears never had anything to say to Peter. Vice Principal Spears was happy to pretend Peter did not exist so long as Peter gave him no reason otherwise. Neither had anything bad to say about the arrangement. But this morning he gave Peter a thoughtful look and said,
“It’s just terrible, isn’t it?”
Peter nodded. Just terrible.
“In this day and age.”
Peter shook his head. This day and age.
“It just really makes you wonder,” said Vice Principal Spears.
“It was probably a bear,” said Peter. “I bet it was a bear.”
Down the hall Peter could feel the man’s eyes between his shoulder blades like pinpricks. He went to his locker. On the other side of the section was some kind of hushed conversation. He paused as is irresistible when you are privy to business not your own and cocked an ear.
For the lamb which is in the midst of their throne shall feed them, and shall lead them unto living fountains of waters—
Oh. Gay. He continued on his way, passing two girls and Mrs. McCollum standing with heads bowed. Mrs. McCollum’s eyes were open and eager for persecution over this commingling of church and state and they locked on Peter’s and lighted indignant. Embarrassed, Peter gave a thumbs-up. What ever peels your banana, lady. Mrs. McCollum shut her eyes, annoyed at the presumptive Satanist’s blessing.
—and God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes.
In the three weeks of school before the discovery of most of Brooke Bluebell from Penrose, Peter had made no friends—and lost one.
Peter and Lynda Rumancek moved to Hemlock Grove midsummer. Lynda’s cousin Vince had died of alcohol poisoning and left his trailer on the outskirts of town to another cousin, Ruby. But Ruby was newly married to the owner of a pawnshop she frequented and had no use for so plebeian a windfall. So she passed it to Lynda in exchange for half a pack of cigarettes and a hand massage. The Rumanceks preferred trade to charity out of principle and Lynda gave legendary hand massages. The timing was auspicious enough. Lynda and Peter had been living in a small apartment in the city for nearly two years and were feeling the itch. Two years was unnaturally long for a Rumancek to stay in any one place; it made a mausoleum of the brain.
Hemlock Grove was, at this writing, a town in transition. Its past: Castle Godfrey, long the colloquial name for the steelworks, which sat on the riverbank shuttered and half razed in a field speckled with gold and white, goldenrod and Queen Anne’s lace. The Godfrey Steel Company, founded in 1873 by Jacob Godfrey, was at its peak an integrated steel outfit encompassing 640 acres and employing upward of 10,000 men in the endeavor of building the country on two axes—vertically in Manhattan and Chicago with high-grade steel from its open-hearth ovens, and horizontally to the west with rail from its Bessemer converters: a gauntlet dropped before heaven and earth, shrouding the sun in clouds of black dust that required the wives of steelworkers to hang whites inside and plated the teeth of livestock miles away with steel filings. But now an old dead thing that interrupted a flower bed. Its future: health care and biotechnology, the two largest employers in the Easter Valley now the Hemlock Acres Hospital, the flagship psychiatric facility of the regional university system, and over the next ridge the privately run Godfrey Institute for Biomedical Technologies. The latter the bastard successor of the steelworks, a 480-foot incongruity of steel and glass the summit of which was the highest point in the county. And known colloquially as the White Tower because it had not in twenty years of operations gone dark once. So after a century-long legacy as a mill town, much of Hemlock Grove had transmuted into middle-class blamelessness. But while the blood of industry may have run dry, the husk, like Castle Godfrey, still breached. Rail yards and strip mines and beached coal barges all fallen to some degree of disuse or decay, streaked with tears of rust in contrast to the forests of the region, the trees and the rivers and the hills day by day overtaking the rude, rotted exoskeleton of the Godfrey empire, all dotted with moldering desanctified churches that had gone the way of the working class.
So—why not?—a change of scenery. Vince Rumancek’s trailer was situated in a wooded cul-de-sac at the end of Kimmel Lane, down the hill from Kilderry Park and just past the tracks—the traditional divider of workers and management and to this day a telling indicator of socioeconomic station. Still, good to get out of the city and give your thoughts some elbow room. The nearest neighbors were a retired couple, the Wendalls, who lived half a mile up in a house over a pond Peter sometimes skinny-dipped in late at night. The Wendalls were tame enough. They bore welcoming biscuits and euphemistic praise of Vince—one, one heck of a whistler—and hid their discomfiture over the Rumanceks’ tattoos. The visible ones, at least. Or Lynda’s tolerance of her son’s semantic dispute with the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania’s definition of “minor”— deduced by the number of Budweisers he consumed over their short visit—and yet how little provocation it took for his laziness to vex her into hurling curses at him in the old tongue, or the lung-flattening hug she pulled them both into on their departure. (The first time I experienced Lynda’s embrace I have the distinct recollection of feeling like she was trying to squeeze the last drop of toothpaste from the top of my head.)
Days later they were visited by the Wendalls’ granddaughter, Christina. Christina was thirteen and small for it, a girl with chipped painted nails and skinned knees and a black raven’s nest bramble of hair containing a face like a single pale egg. Christina was a girl both young and old for her years; she had never shed the breathless curiosity of a child assembling a taxonomy of the known universe—what is that? where did that come from? why is that like that and not another way and what is its orientation with every other thing? why? why? why?—and the only person her own age she knew who wanted nothing more when she grew up than to be a Russian novelist. Naturally, she found it imperative to experience these unfathomables firsthand, and she was not disappointed. How perplexing and thrilling, these Rumanceks! Her own parents were both production support analysts for a firm in the city, and that this lifestyle of breezy and pantheistic irreverence existed and was somehow permissible knocked her sideways. She marveled at Peter especially, a real-life Gypsy close to her own age.
“Half- breed,” he corrected her. Nicolae, his grandfather, was full-blooded Kalderash Roma from the Carpathian region but had married a gadja woman after emigrating.
“What does any of that mean?” said Christina.
“It means his bloodline will forever ride the earth on two horses with one ass,” said Peter.
This setting the tone for their relationship: her confusion over what he was talking about and the evident pleasure it gave him. Half the time she didn’t understand what he was saying, and the other half whether or not he was pulling her leg. For example, the bunch of dried milk thistle and centaury root over the door, the purpose of which he said was warding off the Evil Eye. But—whose?
“It’s more like buckling your seat belt,” he said. “You just never know.”
And his claim that her arrival on their doorstep had been presaged by the presence of soot on a candle’s wick, or the elaborate pentagram that Peter had carved in a tree trunk. (Not, he told her, a Satan thing, but because each point corresponds to an element and the topmost the soul, and because it looks fucking metal.)
Enough! She demanded of Peter how much of this business was real.
He shrugged. “Let’s say it’s a bunch of baloney,” he said. “Then it’s baloney that’s been getting people through the night since we humped in caves. Now look around. Would you say the world has its shit together any better without it?”
She hadn’t thought of it like that.
“And of course it’s all real, numbnuts,” he said. “You know it right here.” He poked below her belly button.
Thus her doom was sealed.
For their part the Rumanceks received Christina’s regular presence the same way they did the bone-bag black cat, all eye and ear, who started hanging around—with shrugging acceptance and one simple stipulation: eat eat eat. Lynda was a woman as cheerful as and similarly proportioned to a beach ball whose maternal inclinations tended to encompass whatever happened to fall into her immediate field of vision.
One afternoon Peter was lying in the hammock idly twirling a string for Fetchit (so named because of Nicolae’s habit, owing to an immigrant’s lack of sensitivity to cultural nuances, of using “Stepin Fetchit” as an umbrella designation for all black cats) and half listening to Christina explain to him that no matter how funny it sounded there was nothing funny about actually suffering from restless leg syndrome, when abruptly she changed the subject and asked him if he was a werewolf. Peter’s hand stopped and the cat went for the kill.
Peter cursed and sucked his knuckle. “What the hell would make you say that?” he said.
“Your index and middle fingers are the same length,” she said.
Peter removed the hand from his mouth and regarded his symmetrical forefingers.
“Jesus,” he said, “where’d you pick that up?”
“I don’t know, TV or something. Just one of those things floating around, I guess. But I was just looking at your hand and poof, there it is. So are you a werewolf or what?”
Peter shrugged. “Yeah.”
“Really?” she said.
“You bet your ass,” he said. “But don’t tell your grandparents. It would probably make them uncomfortable.”
“Were you bitten by a werewolf?”
Peter made a face at this distasteful notion. He was no fan of violence in general, and in particular when it was directed at him.
“Nicolae was the seventh son of a seventh son,” he said. “It’s in my blood.”
“Is your mom?”
“Nah. It’s a recessive gene or some shit.”
The implications of this revelation crowded her head and she tried to think of something intelligent to ask.
“Do you. . .like being a werewolf?” she said.
“What do you think?” he said.
“I don’t know.”
“Use your imagination, dipshit.”
She evaluated the pros and cons. “It seems like it would be kind of neat,” she said.
“Well, it’s probably about the best thing in the world, for your information,” he said. “So there.”
“Really?” she said.
“Obviously,” he said.
She was quiet but her mind was still a whirlwind. How about them apples! But in the tizzy of a thousand and one urgent questions she now had, the foremost popped out of her mouth.
“Can I be a werewolf?” she said.
“In theory,” said Peter, evasive.
He dangled his arm, snapping his fingers a few times, and Fetchit came and nuzzled the back of his hand.
“Little prick,” said Peter.
“Will you bite me?” said Christina.
“Don’t be retarded,” said Peter.
“Come on.” She lifted her leg so her calf was level with him. “Look how young and tender.”
“Get that skinny, sorry drumstick out of my face,” said Peter. “Wouldn’t do you much good anyway. You’d be way more likely to get tetanus and die than turn.”
“Yeah, right. I think you’re just being selfish.”
He considered. “Well. . .there might be another way.”
She was eager. “What?”
“Go get me a beer and stop hassling me.”
After school started, Christina stopped spending days at the lane and Peter saw her only in the halls, but that was the extent of their relationship as of the first day, when she skipped over to give him a hug in view of her friends, identical twins Alexa and Alyssa Sworn, as beautiful and cruel as albino tigers, who were appalled she would have anything to do with that walking herpes factory, let alone touch him without scouring afterward. Though Peter did not take her distance after that personally, it was no picnic being a girl that age.
But the day after most of a girl from Penrose was found in Kilderry Park, Peter really wished he hadn’t told Christina he was a werewolf.
Peter made people nervous, and they did not have to know that once a month he discarded his man coat and roved in the purview of arcane and unruly gods to feel it: he was not their kind. Peter didn’t mind. He had his family and infinite roads to explore and could not imagine needing more, and if this was at the expense of fitting in—whatever that meant—so what. There was so much to learn from every place. Or at least something worth watching. Who was in love with their best friend’s boy-or girlfriend, who was in love with their best friend, who cut, who starved, who locked themselves in the handicapped bathroom to jerk off or cry, who was addicted to what or had been raped by whom—it was everywhere, a wonderful world of darkness and desire right under the roaring bleachers, if you had your eye out. But in the halls of HGHS the greatest concentration by far of curiosity and intrigue collected around two students, brother and sister: Roman and Shelley Godfrey.
Roman was also a senior, well within the innermost ring of privilege and popularity. The Godfrey name as sovereign as Dupont or Ramses, and he made no attempt to obscure it from hair he would think nothing of taking a half day off school to go into the city to have styled and bleached (his bone pallor suggesting a natural dark, not to mention a general indisposition to playing outside), or the small but impressive pharmacy he carried in a tin mint container. And obviously the car. The desire to be burdened by possessions was one that had in the main escaped Peter, but as a teenager of traveling blood he had no defense against anything with a combustion engine and the fact was that car was totally metal. But Roman otherwise had little in common with the other rich kids, exhibiting a nearly complete lack of regard for social expectation. His behavior not rebellious so much as entirely unmotivated to behave in any way that didn’t conform exactly to the cast of his mood at the moment, his sense of entitlement as phenotypal as the green eyes. This characteristic of his dynasty dating back to its first possessor, his three times great-grandfather the legendary steel baron, Jacob Godfrey. (Green of course being the color of money.) It had made him mercurial.
But none of this was what Peter found so compelling about Roman Godfrey.
“There’s an upir at my school,” Peter told Lynda the first week. His Swadisthana made him sensitive to these things.
“Well goodness,” she said. “What’s he like?”
“I don’t know. He seems okay.”
But Peter did not attempt to strike any sort of aquaintanceship with Roman. The upir were a queer breed. Nicolae had told him stories, by and large unverifiable shadows passing through the mist even for an old Gypsy with a credulous child, but Peter had only ever encountered them personally once before, when he and Lynda were living upstate. He’d wandered onto a lakefront property deep in the Lake Erie woods that Snow Moon. The snow was thick and the trees looked like tufts of frayed black thread pulled through a white comforter and there were three of them, one man and two women. They were drinking wine on a patio and speaking French, each nude except for one of the women, a statuesque mulatto, who wore a Santa hat. Peter knew immediately there was something strange about these people. Beyond the obvious. “Loup-garou!” exclaimed the mulatto as Peter emerged from the tree line, and they called to him with great excitement. He came up the stairs and they fawned over him in delight, patting and stroking and putting the hat on him. Making him the life of the party and he was glad to have found such merry friends. But then there was a low whimpering sound in the darkness just beyond the patio and the white woman made a sympathetic uh-oh sound as though hearing a baby in need and took a piece of cheese from a platter on the table and held it out to a shape hanging from a tree branch that came close to the house. Peter moved in for a closer look. His stomach became a knot. The shape was a fox with its hind leg in a snare. The leg was broken and from its pathetic, emaciated appearance it had been here awhile. The woman scratched the fox’s ears and held the cheese an inch or so below its lowermost reach. The fox’s snout worked vainly and she raised her hand just enough for its tongue to lap the morsel, then with a clumsy-me expression she dropped the cheese to the ground. The man smiled at Peter—wasn’t this a fun game?—and handed him a piece of cheese. Peter was paralyzed. Many times later he would replay the scenario where he had the presence of mind and the courage to reach out to the fox and snap its neck, but in the vital moment he possessed neither. It was a living thing with a shine still in its eyes and he would have given anything for the bravery to take that from it. With shaking hands he placed the cheese carefully back on the platter and walked down the steps and back to the tree line, not meeting their faces. “Très vulgaire!” he heard the white woman say behind him and he felt a light thud against his back. Peter whirled to make sure he wasn’t in some danger from their projectiles but she was simply throwing cheese. The man called out insults and turned, waving his buttocks and slapping them emphatically as the mulatto observed him with cool detachment. Peter raced now into the forest, the hat falling softly in the snow behind him.
For days he could hardly stop crying, but after Lynda finally got him to relate the incident she simply shook her head and said, “The French.”
Peter could not say whether or to what degree his classmate was of similar character; nevertheless it did not seem like a bad idea to proceed with caution around Roman Godfrey.
But this policy did not prevent Peter from paying careful attention to the upir’s conduct the day the news about the Penrose girl was out.
Between second and third period Roman bought an ambitious amount of coke from the resident dealer, with whom he engaged in a prolonged and emphatic debate over who would win in a fight between Batman and Wolverine, then skipped fourth period to nap in his car, a 1971 Jaguar with what had every appearance of a mule cart hitched to the back. At lunch he tossed a Tater Tot into Ashley Valentine’s cleavage, and recess he spent sitting on the picnic table in conversation with Letha Godfrey, also a senior and Roman’s first cousin, though sharing none of his more outstanding qualities except, it goes without saying, the green Godfrey eyes. In English, Mrs. Pisarro, who took particular exception to Roman’s cavalier approach to scholasticism, singled him out to read an excerpt from the poem Goblin Market:
She clipped a precious golden lock,
She dropped a tear more rare than pearl,
To Pisarro’s surprise, as well as the bulk of the class, his reading was hushed and reverential, investing the dead words with, of all things, dignity.
Then sucked their fruit globes fair or red:
Sweeter than honey from the rock,
Stronger than man-rejoicing wine,
Clearer than water flowed that juice;
She never tasted such before,
How should it cloy with length of use?
The room was quiet. Ashley Valentine closed her eyes. Pisarro was annoyed. Though he was technically doing what he’d been called upon it seemed an all the more diabolical species of sass.
She sucked and sucked and sucked the more
Fruits which that unknown orchard bore,
She sucked until her lips were sore . . .
Alex Finster said, “Poor baby.”
Duncan Fritz said he could make it all better.
Roman looked at them wearily. “Are you fucking philistines pretty proud of yourselves?”
“Sorry, Mrs. P.,” he said with expert disingenuousness. “I guess we’re all a little rattled by this Kilderry Park thing.”
Peter’s ears perked.
After school Roman gave his sister a ride home.
If Roman Godfrey was a riddle, Shelley was the epic fornication of mystery and enigma—in all of Peter’s own unlikely travels he had not encountered an unlikelier specimen. Shelley was not upir, and Peter was frankly at a loss what in the hell you would go about calling her; she was a blind spot for his Swadisthana. Though a freshman and at least anatomically female, Shelley was seven and a half feet tall, her head and shoulders huge and hunched, her skin the pensive gray of a late November sky. One side of her already misshapen face was paralyzed and she could produce no syllables approaching coherence. But the second strangest thing about her was her boots, for lack of a better term. She wore on her feet two hermetically sealed plastic cubes roughly the size of milk crates.
The strangest was the glowing.
Shelley climbed into the cart and Roman behind the wheel and they drove off, Roman turning his head and looking directly at Peter, meeting his eye. The other boy’s face frank and impassive, dispelling any doubt he knew he was being watched. Roman tapped the side of his nose: Keep it clean. The car turned from the drive and from her cart Shelley raised one broad palm. Peter returned the wave. He had established a precedent of being friendly to the creature, passing winks or courtly bows, one time stopping her and with his foot removing a trail of toilet paper affixed to one of her cubes. The Godfreys passed from view.
Peter turned to head for his bus and discovered that he was not the only one playing I Spy today: over by the flagpole Christina was watching him; she startled on detection and she disappeared with the flux of bodies. Peter boarded his bus and sat holding one hand in front of him and regarded his symmetrical index and middle fingers together as though examining a manicure.
His balls were in a state.
That night Peter went to the park. There was no evidence of the girl except for a warning from the police stating that anyone caught trespassing after hours would be incarcerated. He entered, drawing his fingertips in a stutter across the links of the fence, and nosed around until he found it. To say there was no evidence is an exaggeration, the land has a memory of such things. It was behind a bush, maybe ten paces from the perimeter of the woods. Fewer, you were running. The spot. He lay down where Brooke Bluebell had been killed and laced his fingers behind his head and looked up at the stars and the trees on the hilltops and a few miles to the east the halo of the White Tower. The light that never went out.
Her picture was distinct in his mind. It was not that he felt any special kinship with her apart from morbid curiosity, but that all the news agencies had gotten hold of, if not collectively willed, the Picture. You know it, the one where she’s in her cheerleading uniform and smiling not for the camera, but for her sister or her best friend or a boy or any of the countless things to put one on her face, when she had one. The Picture, pornographic with tragedy.
He wondered if Roman Godfrey had done it. Peter had been in the hills that night and smelled something, a vague but forbidding malevolence. But it was nothing that coalesced at the time, and with a mental hospital down the road you could expect some funny vibrations come full moon. And it wasn’t the first time he had felt some occult disturbance in this town. There was something else, a presence of some kind, dwelling underfoot, no manner of thing under the sun. Peter could not get a grasp of its horns but he knew it was down there, older than the hills it lived under. There had been a couple of times when, in a liminal state on the hammock, a vision would come to him of a snake, a Bible black serpent slowly and sensually consuming itself by the tail. But then his eyes would snap open and he would look at the sky through a lattice of boughs and irritatedly push it out of his mind. Peter had a great talent for not losing sleep over questions to which he did not know the answer, so these intrusions on that very sleep really rattled his cage. But it, what ever it was in some dark place underneath and older than these hills, was not the same thing that had killed Brooke Bluebell from Penrose. He knew it in his Swadisthana. The world is a body and different parts channel the frequency differently. Some more than others, closer to the pulse of mystery underneath the illusion of the illusion. Hemlock Grove was such a place, and the thing under the hills—if thing was not itself an overstatement—was part of it, fearful and unknowable, like the “thing” that superintended that animals breathe in what trees breathe out.
Could the girl have been the victim of a wild young upir? Possibly. It was not their traditional style, but the breed was capable of far greater transgressions. Or so old wives had it. And though Roman did not really seem the type, Peter was one to talk about how far to trust appearances.
There was a breeze and it carried the smell of grass and he held up his hands to feel it pass between his fingers when he saw something in the tree line: a gleaming—no, a twin gleaming, eyeshine: it was a pair of eyes, glowing like a cat’s. Peter rose. Roman Godfrey emerged. They stood apart, looking at each other. Their clothes rustled in the breeze and the cicadas were indifferent.
“What was it like?” said Roman.
“What was what like?” said Peter.
Roman hesitated, hands together, fidgeting. Scared?
“Killing that girl.”
Copyright ©2012 by Brian McGreevy
Brian McGreevy grew up near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and received his MFA from the Michener Center for Writers at the University of Texas. Now a screenwriter who has had two screenplays featured on the best of the year Black List, he is working on an adaptation of Dracula for Leonardo DiCaprio’s production company. He lives in Los Angeles.