Growing up, I didn’t have the best childhood. My parents were both ill, and I was told numerous times that my father was abusive. I later found out that was not the case. My mother, a psychiatrist, was ironically a depressed person who self-harmed. I guess she had an easier time pinning the blame for the cuts and bruises on her skin on my openly insane father. Thinking about it, it’s pretty funny that a person who helps others overcome their mental ailments cannot admit her own to her own child.
My father was terribly ill when I was a kid, and until I was about ten, he had been medicated. However, at some point, he gave up on taking his medication. I never bothered asking why. I honestly didn’t care. All I cared about was not having to deal with parents that constantly fight over every little thing. My father’s illness made him act strange, but he was rather harmless – just odd. He’d speak weird or have random bursts of panic and withdrawn behavior. Other than that, I don’t remember much about him.
When things started “getting ugly” my parents sent me away to live with my paternal grandfather. He lived in the same town, so it wasn’t a big move, and for as long as I remember. Grandpa Stan was the coolest man ever. He might’ve been in his sixties in my earliest memories of him, but boy, he was probably the fittest man I’ve ever met. Not to mention he was fairly lively and in touch with his “inner child” as he liked to call it. I guess my grandma dying young from cancer had a profound effect on him. He wanted to live for long as he could. I loved grandpops like I loved nobody else.
I remember the way he smiled when my mom told him I was going to stay with him “for a while” as she put it back in early 93’. I didn’t really object to the idea of staying with my cool grandfather, away from the painful parental fights at home. I got to keep all the benefits of staying in town while being away from home. Who wouldn’t want that?
We played a lot of field hockey during the five years I’ve spent at gramps’. He was a huge fan of hockey, apparently played in his youth a lot. For a man who had both of his knees replaced due to years of wear and tear he was surprisingly mobile on his feet. He could probably still play in the NHL and make a good buck if he wanted to.
I remember when I turned thirteen, he gave me my first “adult comic book”. The first issue of Watchmen. Gramps was an avid collector of comic books. He had a whole wall lined with various books, spanning multiple companies and even languages. I remember how he sat me down after school that day, telling me that he had a special gift for me now that I’ve become a man. I sat in his kitchen, on an old wooden handcrafted chair eagerly awaiting this special gift, butterflies flying in my stomach waiting to burst out. He came back sporting a grin on his face with this comic book in his hand. He handed me the book, and I remember looking at it for a moment before opening the thing and riff-raffing through the pages. The dark colors, the graphic violence, the unusually serious and painfully realistic “superheroes”. I was blown away by it all. At the time, I didn’t understand the full depth of the story like I do now, but still. I loved every little thing about this comic. It’s my favorite to this day.
I wore a Nite Owl costume for Halloween that year, handmade by Grandpa Stan. He could do it all. Clean, sew, knit, fix anything around the house. Don’t get me started on his cooking – the man would cook like a culinary god. I swear, eleven old me hated vegetables. A month after eating Gramps’ dishes, I could eat salads all day, every day.
At sixteen, he gave me my first taste of alcohol, some Polish vodka of a brand whose name I couldn’t care enough to remember. I wasn’t one of those kids that partied a lot or anything like that. I certainly had my fair share of friends, and I’d like to believe I was well-liked, but I stayed away from trouble. He sat me down one Friday evening after I had come back from school and pulled out a bottle of vodka. Told me we’re going to drink together. He explained to me that drinking together is one of the best shows of love and respect between men. A gesture that creates a familial bond between them. I sat there, listening, letting all of that wisdom sink in. He wasn’t wrong. Drinking is a great way to spend your time with the people you love. As he would say, if you wake up feeling good in the morning after a night of drinking, your night wasn’t very successful.
Gramps poured the sharp smelling clear liquid into a cup and handed it to me. Then he poured one to himself and made a toast for my future, and we downed his liquor. Me, being clueless, I followed suit, but instead of drinking it all in a single gulp, I sipped on the vodka slowly. The liquid scorched my mouth and throat. It tasted like shit and made me cough half of the shot all over myself. I heard Gramps laugh like a madman before he told me I should down the whole thing without quickly. That is, before he offered me a piece of marinated herring. That night was a good one. I woke up feeling awful the next morning, but I knew I had a great time the night before.
Gramps taught me a lot of stuff. He taught me how to be self-sufficient, how to drive a car. He also taught me how to be a decent person, how to take care of others and not be bothered by stupid things and stupid people. Grandpa Stan taught me how to live right, I guess. He was a great man. Throughout the six years, I’ve spent in his care. I infrequently communicated with my parents, and to be honest, I didn’t really mind. At first, my mom’s “everything is fine, honey” infuriated me because I knew nothing was fine with her and dad but then I stopped caring. I was too busy having a good time living.
For all the good stuff in Gramps’ house, there were a couple of odd things about him. He refused to close the windows at all times unless there was truly awful weather. He had excused it, saying he has a dear friend who lives in the forest and might want to visit. I never really believed that, and as I grew older, I came to think of it as a superstition he had brought with him from Europe. He also had that strange habit of sitting on his porch in the middle of the night. The one time I bothered asking him about it, he simply told me he was “enjoying some good company” before telling me I should get back to sleep.
I also have to mention that his house was this old hand made building not far from the local woods. It made some weird moaning noises every now and again in the winter, which at first freaked me out, but I later learned to ignore.
Anyhow, I finished high school and moved out of town for college. As the years rolled on and I grew more independent, I kind of drifted away from Grandpa, I was too preoccupied with my life to even notice that. We did keep in touch, but the conversations and visits became less and less frequent. You know how it goes. You get busy with a job, then end up starting your own family, and the more distant relatives kind of fade into the background. Not that my parents were anywhere near close to me. I found out my parents divorced only during my senior year in college. My dad caught off any and all ties with us and my mom, well I kind of reconnected with her just a few years ago. I now have my own children, and I’m trying my best to be a good father and husband. I think I’m doing fine for now. The last time I’ve spent more than a day around my grandfather was the week I got married. Obviously, we remained in touch, and my wife and I visited him every now and again.
A year ago, I received a letter from my father that Grandpa Stan passed away. It was short and merciless. “Hey son, I’m sending this to let you know my dear father passed away. The doctors said he died in his sleep from a stroke. Said it was calm on him”
I was pissed, I was shattered, I screamed at the top of my lungs and broke into tears. Scared the living hell out of my wife. She was shattered too, because she loved him nearly as much as I did.
I was hoping to be able to make it to his funeral, but I couldn’t reach out to my father. It turned out he moved quite a lot and couldn’t be located; he had no relatives with whom he was on speaking terms with. I felt almost betrayed, I was broken and sunk into a melancholy of sorts. Not being able to part with the man who practically raised me was awful, and while I started slipping up at work. I’d get sick every month or so. Nothing major, just the odd cold. I felt tired and kind of hollow on the inside for the longest time and kind of withdrew from my social life. Luckily, the family kept me on my feet. It took a while but eventually I recovered from my bad episode and accepted the fact that life must go on.
As hard as it sounds, that’s how it is, and that’s how Grandpa would’ve wanted it to be.
Just as it all seemed to get back on track, reality came down knocking me back down. Well, kind of. One night a couple of months ago, while it was still very much summer, a chilling breeze caressed my back as I was sleeping. It was so cold it felt like an icy hand tracing its way across my skin. I woke up, trembling. I tried moving, but couldn’t. I was frozen in place. The notion of sleep paralysis came to mind. I knew that whatever was going to happen was just a figment of my imagination, so I tried my best to stay calm.
That didn’t last long though, as the room started getting colder and colder. I could see vapor rising out of my mouth. That wasn’t a dream. The hairs on my body stood and my heart rate was definitely rising. I was faced with the open window, and the moon shone brightly into my face. Something was wrong, I tried making a sound but couldn’t, nothing but muffled choked noises came out of my throat.
I lied there, a prisoner in my own body as vines started crawling into my bedroom from the window. The more of them crawled, the faster my heartbeat became. Breathing became painful, and my chest was becoming sore. Soon enough, the vines formed the shape of something large. I tried moving, internally screaming and begging for my brain to unlock my body from its stasis. I was panicking as the vines took the shape of a man. It stood there, towering over my bed. Staring with its blank, eerie gray eyes into mine. The skin of its head was snow white and its face. It was painfully similar to that of my grandfather in his younger days. The thing had a collar of sorts made up of branches and twigs around its neck, and it had a wooden staff in its hand. A cloak of withering vines covered its form. We stared at each other for a few moments before it broke the silence.
It spoke with disdain; a tone of pure hatred was audible in its raspy voice. I couldn’t understand a word of what it was saying. I was just hoping that if this thing was corporeal, it wouldn’t hurt my family or me. The thing went on and on for a while, I could only make out one word it uttered. “Stanislaw.” My heart sank when I heard it and the creature must’ve felt it, somehow. It smiled and just walked across my bedroom and dissipated through the door, taking the frigid cold it brought with it. I was finally able to move once the thing was out of my sight. I gasped and inhaled a deep breath of air before jumping out of my bed. Morbid thoughts circulated in my mind. I bolted across the house, looking for the nightmarish creature. It was nowhere in sight. The kids were fast asleep in their rooms and once I was sure my family was safe, a different storm started forming in my head. That raspy voice it played over and over in my ears, that name… Stanislaw… Grandpa’s name. Something snapped in me and I… I’m not even sure why, I just got into my car and drove to his old house.
The whole way I kept hearing that raspy chant over and over, like a broken record, and I just got angrier with every passing moment. Maybe in some strange way, I was working myself up for something. I honestly had no idea of what to expect in Gramps’ old home.
Once I got there, I marched straight to the front door. The exterior seemed to be in pristine condition, as if someone was taking care of the place until recently. Seeing the surprisingly good condition of the old house, I snapped. I kicked down the door without warning. If there was anyone inside, I was going to drag them out. Then, I burst into the old house, a foul stench of rotten eggs and shit attacked my nostrils. Looking around, I didn’t find much at first. The interior was all over the place. Dust coated everything and spider webs hung from the ceiling. Everything seemed so dull and normal for an abandoned place. That is, until I made my way into gramps’ former bedroom. There, the stench was beyond unbearable. Covering my nose with my shirt, I pushed the old wooden door open. The motion caused the wood to creak, before the world came crashing down to a halt in front of my eyes.
Before me swung the lifeless body of my father, a rope tied tightly around his neck.
Below him, the poorly preserved body of my grandfather, dressed in all white… half-decayed…
I have no idea what had happened that night. I don’t know whether this was my grandfather’s ghost that came to me to tell me about the injustice done to his body, or this “friend” of his he mentioned when I was a kid. I don’t know, maybe it was just my imagination… Maybe it was just a dream… I don’t know… Honestly, I don’t really care. Whatever it was, it helped me put my gramps to proper rest.
We may never know for sure, but it seems like my father couldn’t handle the loneliness after Gramps passed. He must’ve sunk further into the abyss that is madness, before finally ending his own life.
Now they’re both buried in the same cemetery, a few short yards apart, but I’ll be visiting only one of them every now and again. Rest in Peace, Grandpa Stan. You’ve earned it.
Written by MLycantrope