Chapter Three; Uncle Ben
July 12, 2017 – North Bay, Ontario
Jay gasped awake, and looked around with bleary vision. A dream, he though. It was only a dream. Relief flooding his bones like a broken dam, he let out a long yawn and blinked a couple times.
“Where are we…?” He turned to face his brother, but he wasn’t in the car. “Jude?” He looked around, and he noticed the wall of white pines no longer surrounded them, and the car was parked beside a log cabin. They were already at Uncle Ben’s house?
Opening the car’s door, Jay exited the Mustang and walked up to the front door, pushing it so he could enter. The chilled wind kissed his cheeks the last moment before he entered the cottage. “Jude?” he called, and he could hear some shuffling in the kitchen. The entire house looked rustic, with old, oak furniture. Red blinds covered the large window that faced the forest with dozens of maples, oaks and white pines. A single couch faced a box television, and a cream coloured rug was spread across the wooden-planked floor.
“Uncle Ben?” he then called, and a short male in his fifties revealed himself. He had a bushy scruff on his face that looked almost like there were bugs hiding themselves in that rat’s nest. And his face had definitely aged almost a decade from the last time he had seen him—and his eyebrows… they perfectly resembled a baby squirrel’s tail.
“Jay!” he exclaimed and moved towards him, giving him a bear hug. “It’s been so long, kid.”
“Yeah,” he breathed. “It’s been, what, four years?”
Uncle Ben nodded. “Ah, yes.” He shook his head. “Those years went by slowly—and miserably—for me. How are you holding up?”
“Y’know, I got into University and graduated—now I’m a cop,” he said with a smile.
“That’s great! You’ve, and don’t have breathe a word of it, have obviously been more successful than your brother.” Jay snorted at his remark. “But don’t look down on him for it. He’s trying to do a good thing.”
Jay considered his words. “I suppose,” he said with a sigh. “Where is he, anyways?”
“I asked him to grab a box of beer from the shed; I keep it out there to get cold ’cause there isn’t any room in the fridge.”
“Ah,” Jay replied and took a seat on the couch, and let out an umph when the seat sunk in.
Uncle Ben roared a laugh, and a hand when over his plump beer-belly. “I should have warned you about the couch,” he laughed. “I resist to sit on that old thing because, I gotta tell you, that thing is going to collapse any moment.”
“You ain’t kidding,” Jay muttered and stood up, rubbing at his ass that had been poked by a dozen springs. Deciding he wouldn’t sit on the couch, he moved to the round dining room table in the corner that faced outside.
“Jude already made the mistake of sitting on the couch, and you should have seen that boy’s face.” Uncle Ben’s face turned red from his amusement. “Pure shock and embarrassment, and he had quickly jumped onto his feet and did the exact same you did. Whimper and pat your ass.”
Jay chuckled slightly. “Yeah, that couch isn’t… Sturdy.”
With a nod, Uncle Ben then exclaimed, “There’s the man of the hour! Jude, just set the beer on the table here.” He gestured to the round dining room table. Jude immediately obliged and set the wooden box in front of Jay, and set three beers beside it.
“Here’s to family,” Jude said as he popped open the cap of his beer and held it high. Jay eyed the Guinness, bottled beer people he removed the cap himself and held it high with Uncle Ben and Jude.
“To family,” Uncle Ben and Jay said at the same time, and they all took a long swig. Jay recoiled slightly at the strong taste of the dark beer, but after a long, tangy moment, the after taste was better than the first.
“So, what have you boys been up to?” Uncle Ben asked the brothers as he and Jude took a seat around the table.
Jude looked at Jay before he said, “We’ve just been on the road—nothing really exciting has happened.”
“I mean, that’s a light way to put it,” Jay said flatly.
“What do you mean?” Uncle Ben raised a brow.
“You know,” Jude answered, “just typically family arguments. Not too much, but there was some of it. It doesn’t matter though. We’re over it.”
“We are?” Jay inquired, staring at his brother. He didn’t recall them ever telling each other that they were over the arguments that they’ve had the past night of being with each other. Especially when they hadn’t seen each other for five years, and suddenly his dragging him Up North, and then they had to go to Nova Scotia.
“Okay…” Uncle Ben said slowly with an uncomfortable tone. “You boys didn’t just waltz in here to start some family drama, did you?”
Jude shook his head. “No, sir,” he replied. He cast Jay a glance that said shut up; he doesn’t need to know your problems with me. Jay glared at him. “Jay will get over it soon.”
Jay took another swig of the beer. “What have you been up to lately, Uncle Ben?” Jay decided to ask so he could lower the intensity between them.
“I’ve been working up at the local farm, helping with crops,” he told them. Something glowered in his eyes. “I’ve been researching, too.” Jay immediately understood what he meant.
“About mom and dad?” Jude asked him, holding the bottle up to his mouth before he took a sip.
He hesitantly nodded. “As you’ve already told me on the phone, you know about the demons, the supernatural… I never wanted you boys to get involved with this kind of stuff, ’cause most people are oblivious to the common truth that dwells in the forest.”
“The forest?” Jay’s eyes widened.
“Sometimes we get some demons crawling in and out up here, but I’ve dealt with them plenty, and I’m not surprised when I see those glowing eyes in the dark.”
Those eyes he saw in the wall of white pines… They were real. He had a feeling he was being watched…
A shiver crawled down his spine.
“I don’t want to frighten you boys, but if see anything… Tell me immediately. I don’t want any of you getting hurt, especially the town folk.”
Jay rubbed the back of his neck. “Jude, do you remember when the radio was going out?”
He thought for a moment and then nodded. “Yeah, why?”
Jay sighed. “I could have sworn I saw a pair of red, glowing eyes. I wasn’t sure if I was actually seeing it… But I have a feeling there’s something out there, and they were waiting for us.”
“Waiting?” Jude’s face turned pale.
“I’m not sure… But the fact the radio went out, and we were the only ones out there…” He shook his head, and he swirled the liquid around in the bottle.
“I’ll send out a message,” Uncle Ben announced, “to the farm. They know certain procedures, and they’ll go out at dusk.” Uncle Ben then looked at Jay. “You’re sure you saw eyes? Red eyes?”
Jay was sure. “Yes,” he told him.
Uncle Ben inhaled a sharp breath and stood from his stool, leaving his almost empty beer bottle on the table. He moved towards the kitchen where an old phone with a cable attached to it hung from, and he took and pressed a dozen numbers. He spoke a few words into the phone after a moment, and when he hung up, he looked at the brothers and said:
“I need to tell you boys something, and you need to listen.”
Jay and Jude both stared at each other with wide eyes.
Uncle Ben returned back to his seat and chugged the remaining of his beer, and went to open another one. “Every story on your book shelf is alive. You’re old enough to know that the supernatural exist, but there’s something that I’ve never told you—that your foster parents never told you. Before Jude had been born, your parents had come to me, afraid. They said they needed to stay with me for a couple months, because they couldn’t go home. Your mother told me: ‘they’re going to find us if you don’t help us.’ I was confused to hear their panic, their worry… But I opened the door with open arms.”
“What are you getting at, Uncle Ben?” Jude asked him, but he held up a hand.
“Let me speak,” he said, and with a nod from Jude, he continued, “I’ve never seen such fear in your mother’s eyes. She was happy, carefree… She always saw the best of things and handled tough situations a lot better than your father. But when I saw the look of distraught, I knew there was something up.” He took a sip of his second beer. “They wouldn’t talk to me at first—they said that it wouldn’t only hurt to know. But then after a couple o’days, your father came up to me and… and he said: ‘mom and dad… they’re dead’.”
“You mean the demon killed our grandparents?”
“Yes,” Uncle Ben said. “Just like how they killed your mom and dad.” He shook his head, and his hand slowly scratched at his greying beard. “It wasn’t the first time that that had happened. Your great grandparents died the same way—it’s a reoccurring curse. I wasn’t sure what to think of it at first, but I did everything in my power to protect them.” He gestured towards the window, and if you stared hard enough, you could see a faded symbol that looked like a cross in the middle of the sun. “I warded every corner of this house from top to bottom. Demons were after your parents.
“Every day I could hear the whispers and growls in the forest—the demons were vicious and terrifying. But they weren’t after me, and I was the only one who could leave the house. Your mom was pregnant with Jude for six months at this time. I had researched everything I knew about demons, angels and monsters, and I had learned… I learned that our family was indeed cursed.” He pulled up his orange flannel sleeve. Two scars were above his wrist. “The demons gave me this when I fought them, when I tried to kill them. I thought it meant I was next, but I realized it meant I was safe—that I wasn’t to be killed.” Jay looked down at his wrist, and a phantom pain caused him to scratch at his skin.
“Your parents, however, were marked with an upside down cross—the Anti-Christ.” He went to a cupboard in the corner and removed a picture from the drawer and showed it to the brothers. “They didn’t know how it had even showed up, but one day when they woke up, it was forged above their hearts. After time, I had read that destroying the mark—removing it from their skin—would mean that they’d be released from the curse. So, after we removed it, the demons disappeared. There were no more shadows, whispers or glowing eyes in the forest. They went home, and gave birth to you. But three years later…” Tears laced his eyes, and he let out a cough. “You know the rest.”
Jay held the picture in his hand, and he eyed the marks above his parent’s hearts. The cross… His breath hitched in his throat, and he had no idea what to say.
“Are we… cursed?” Jude asked their uncle.
Uncle Ben looked at them sadly. “There isn’t anyway to know. The mark showed up out of the blue, and I was lucky enough to not get it myself. But if it were to show up on you boys… You come straight here. No matter what, you come here, and I’ll help you. Those demons aren’t taking anymore Mausers.”
Jay nervously tapped the glass bottle. “Why are you only telling us this now?”
“I was afraid to tell you boys… You just wouldn’t get it. But seeing you two now, mature and open.” He shrugged. “It was almost like yesterday you boys were kids, playing tag down the street.” Jay smiled at that one memory that was good. When he got to see Uncle Ben when he was seven, and Jude was ten. They loved to play games, but that soon ended when Jude turned fifteen. “But you deserve to know the truth about our family curse—before it catches up to you.”
“But what if it doesn’t?”
“We couldn’t be too sure,” he said. “It didn’t to me, but you’re their offspring.”
“You were our grandparent’s offspring, too—“
He shook his head. “I was adopted,” he admitted. “Taken in as an infant.”
Jay raised both his brows. “What?”
“It’s beside the point,” Uncle Ben explained. “It runs in your blood.” He quickly got up and removed an old book from the bookshelf. He blew dust off of the cover, and it plumed all around them. “Your great, great grandfather had left this journal behind before he had gotten… killed. I took it for my own when your father gave it to me one day as young adults.” He opened it to reveal pages and pages of written work. “This is everything that Robert Mauser had of this curse, going back to the beginning of our family. I wasn’t allowed to read it for Mauser blood doesn’t run in my veins.”
Jay greedily went for the book, and he looked through the first few pages of the journal. The writing was nearly impossible to read, with yellow pages water damage. Inkblots could be found in various spots, but what Jay could read, his heart nearly stopped.
“It started when Erica E. Mauser had made a deal with… a demon.” Jude looked at his brother. “Her two sons had died in the bathtub—they were only five years old each, twins—and with the distraught and panic she had felt from that very moment, she had gone to great extents to save her boys. She went to an abandoned railroad and began the ritual—a lock of her hair, a raven feather, and the blood of her dead children. The demon offered her a deal that she couldn’t refuse: her children’s lives would be saved, but their offspring would forever be cursed after generation after generation…” Jay inhaled a shaky breath. “Ever since the night on July 11, 1946, our family has been murdered one by one, and their children continue to prosper until their offspring is born. The Gates to Hell were opened, and no man—not even our family—can close the doors.”
“They killed mom and dad because… because of this?” Jude’s hands clenched into fists.
“It just isn’t fair…” Jay whispered.
Uncle Ben looked at them with a sad look. “I will do everything in my power to help you boys.”
“How could someone make such a deal?” Jude asked him angrily.
“People in desperate times do desperate things,” Uncle Ben sighed.
“What can we do to prevent this?” Jay asked, and he looked at his brother with fear. I’ll always protect you, Jude’s eyes read.
Uncle Ben took the journal back from them, and he said, “Your parents had mentioned the Amulet of Redemption.” Although he was never allowed to read the journal, Uncle Ben went through the pages until he showed them an old photograph of a blood-red necklace. “They didn’t know where it is, how to use it… But they said it could wipe out any species in existence. If you boys get your hands on this amulet… You can save our family.”
Jay eyed the Amulet of Redemption, and he felt as if someone was strangling him. “Where do we even start?”
“The farm,” he said to them, “know a lot more than you think. I’ve worked them for years ever since your parents died, and if we go to them, they’ll have the information that you seek.”
“But why did the Maul’s die? Why did the demons go after them?” Jay suddenly asked. “They had nothing to do with our family—and the others before them? There couldn’t be a relation, could there?”
“Anyone with the same blood, even with a different name, can be connected to us, Jay,” Uncle Ben told him. “The family is large, and most are oblivious to the curse that haunts every moment of your lives. Maul, or other names… People marry into other families and the bloodline grows. Who knows—hundreds of people could be at risk.”
Jude took a long swig of his beer, drinking every last drop. Once he finished it, he set it down on the table with a sigh. “I don’t know what to say,” Jude whispered.
“Does anyone?” Jay asked him rhetorically. “We’re a cursed family, and anyone containing our blood is affected. That’s a lot of pressure.”
Uncle Ben looked at them and said, “You boys need to rest first.” Jay didn’t realize it, but purple bags were under his eyes from exhaustion, and Jude had hair that stuck out at random ends. Rest, he thought, is a good idea. As much as he wanted to get up and go to the farm, they couldn’t do much without a goodnight’s rest, even if it wasn’t even past seven o’clock.
He showed them to their rooms that were both right across from each other on the top floor. The house consisted of many picture frames of Uncle Ben showing off large fish he has caught in the past, pictures of people he couldn’t recognize, and pictures of—
Mom and dad.
Jay looked at the photograph, his hand touching the glass as he eyed them both. He never saw many photos—except for the ones that survived the fire. A tear welled in his eyes, but he quickly sucked them up. He didn’t want Jude or Uncle Ben to see him get emotional. Mom and dad looked happy as they hugged each other, and mom’s hands were over her belly. He assumed she was pregnant at that time with Jude. Her hair was in a tight ponytail and a blue floral dress, while his dad wore a tuxedo with slick, black hair. When he thought back to how old his parents were, he realized mom was twenty-nine and his father was thirty-one.
So young, he thought and removed his hand from the photograph and forced himself to look away. Mom was in High School when she got pregnant with Jude…
“What were you lookin’ at?” Jude asked him with a muffled voice as he exited from his room with a toothbrush in his mouth.
Jay just shrugged and walked towards his room, trying to stuff his thoughts into the back of his mind. “Just some photos…” he replied with a long sigh.
Jude strode over to the hanging photos, and he looked back at Jay with a sympathetic look. “They were so…”
“Happy,” Jay finished his sentence and when he made eye contact with his brother’s eyes, he quickly looked away. He could feel his pain from Jude’s energy.
Jude walked over to his side and placed a hand on his shoulder and stuffed the toothbrush into his pocket. “I know our lives sucked—it’s my fault, and I won’t ever deny that—but you can’t let one photo bring you down and upset you the rest of the night. Mom and dad were happy, and they were happy up to the day they died.” Jay could tell it hurt him just to say it. “Our childhood won’t be made up for, but we have each other. I’d be damned if I didn’t have you, Jay. Heck, I wouldn’t even be… alive.”
When he realized he was staring at his feet, Jay looked up at his brother and said, “What do you mean that you wouldn’t even be alive?”
“You know I’m a mess. I’ve done horrible, childish and stupid things… I was seventeen when my ‘friends’ decided to play a game called snort or mope—which basically meant, either you snort cocaine, or you’re gone and you can cry, beg or whatever. They didn’t care. But I knew—I knew what would happen if you ever found out I did cocaine. I would lose you as my brother forever, and I couldn’t bear the thought. So, I said screw you, I’m out. I left. But if you weren’t in the picture… I would have done things that I would regret a lot more than everything else.”
“You didn’t do that for me?”
A nod. “Yeah,” he sighed. “And I’m relieved I never did.”
“I thought your friends just did weed and stuff…”
Jude barked a laugh and shook his head, leaning against the white door to the bedroom. “They did a lot more than marijuana. I don’t even want to get into what they did…”
“Did you do it too, though? The drugs?” Jude always came home drunk, stoned… But the other things that they did? Did he do those… things?
He looked away, and a muscle ticked in his jaw. “I regret it, Jay,” he admitted. “So, damn much… I would never do it again, knowing that you would hate me. I would never get myself into that stupid shit ever again. It just consumes your life, and it weeds people out of your life and corrupts every inch about you. I was messed—and I’m telling you, I could barely tell up from down sometimes. And if I saw you ever do it—and I know you never would, and I’m so glad you wouldn’t—I couldn’t imagine how angry, how upset…” He shook his head. “Just don’t ever get yourself into that crap.”
He raised his eyebrows. “I never would,” he said.
“Good,” Jude said with relief. “I wouldn’t forgive myself if I saw you do that. I know it would be my fault.”
Jay furrowed his brows, and he started to realize only slightly that his brother was really trying to bond with him. Yeah, he did horrible things, ruined some of the good parts of his childhood… But that was in the past, right? They had to look towards the future. And Jude? He blamed himself for everything. He recognized that what he did was horrible, and he was going to make up for it. Jay just didn’t know the extents he’d go to be a better brother.
“You don’t need to blame yourself anymore, Jude,” Jay said to him with a reassuring smile. “You weren’t the greatest brother, and for me to admit, I could have been better myself. I never actually tried to get you out of that stuff… I was just a bystander. We both had our faults.”
“I’m glad you understand,” Jude said. “I’m so done with arguing…”
“Doesn’t all families argue though?” he mused.
He shrugged. “I wouldn’t know; I don’t know that many families.”
“That’s true,” he replied, and walking to his bed, he sat down and gestured for Jude to sit beside him. His brother hesitantly obliged. “Our lives really turned upside down, eh?”
Jude let out a breathless laugh. The Amulet of Redemption, the discovery of angels and demons when they were younger… Now they were going to go to the farm—some random organization that would have the answers to, hopefully, everything. Who knows what would be next? The zombie apocalypse?
“I wish our lives were normal,” Jude told him. “I wish we could have our parents, we could have grown up happy and I could raise you like a normal brother… I wish our family didn’t have that stupid curse.”
“We can’t just wish for something that won’t ever happen,” Jay said.
“And that’s the thing… We can’t wish for anything. Nothing can come true in like those children, Disney movies… Why can’t we live in a life like Tinkerbell or Frozen? That, I’m telling you, would be an epic life.”
Jay laughed. “It would, wouldn’t it?” He scratched at his cheeks that were in desperate need of a shave. “Maybe we could be the Brady’s,” he then added. “That would be a good life.”
“Yeah…” Jude nodded and looked down at his feet. He was still wearing his red Converse. They were torn and covered with dirt. Jay was surprised Uncle Ben didn’t yell at him to take off his shoes, but then again, it didn’t seem that Uncle Ben cared all that much about his house.
There was a long silence between them before Jay said, “Remember our first time at the theatre?”
Jude looked at him with a grin. “Of course!” he exclaimed. His expression lightened up a bit. “Superman, right?”
He nodded. “Yeah, my favourite movie.”
“It was a good film,” he said.
“Obviously,” Jay snorted. “Nothing could ever beat a flying alien from outer space!”
“Ready to see an action-packed, psychotic thrilling drama?” Jude asked his brother as he took two tickets from the ticket master at the local theatre. A large, red neon-lit sign illuminated the area around them with the title ‘Superman’ that practically called to him.
“It’s hardly a drama,” Jay countered and took his ticket from Jude with a grin.
“More like sci-fi and a barf-load,” Jude muttered.
Jay snorted and shook his head. “Superman’s a great movie,” he explained. “You’ll like it, even if it’s not like Batman.”
“But Batman’s a millionaire that has a bad-ass costume and no super powers—yet he’s strong and awesome.”
He rolled his eyes. “That’s what makes him boring: he has no powers.” Deciding to end the argument, Jay grabbed his arm and pushed him towards the popcorn machine.
“I want to try it,” he said to him. He’s never had movie popcorn before; this was his first time at the theatre. His foster parents always forced him to watch movies at home after everyone on the planet has already seen the film.
“Fine,” Jude obliged and gave him a five-dollar bill. Jay practically squealed and ran up to the worker and received a bag of popcorn and two-dollars back in change. He held out the money to Jude and he stuffed it back in his pocket.
“Anything else before the movie starts?” Jude asked him, and when Jay shook his head ‘no’, Jude nodded and led him to the theatre room.
“The top seats are always the best,” Jude told him once they entered the large room with a gigantic screen. Jay’s mouth opened in awe, and his eyes glinted.
Jay went down the aisle and took a seat in the middle of the top row. You could see the whole screen from here. “You’re right,” Jay said. “You can see everything from here.”
Jude ruffled his black, wavy hair that needed a haircut. “See, kid,” Jude laughed, “you can be a king up here.”
He smiled at the thought, and he hugged his older brother. “Thank you for bringing me to the movie. Fake mom and dad would never let us do this.”
“No problem,” he replied. “Just keep it a secret though,” Jude then warned him, “they think we’re at the library and that I’m helping you with your homework.”
“Okay,” Jay whispered. “I promise.”
“We should both head to bed,” Jude told him after a minute. “We’re leaving early tomorrow, I think.”
Jay nodded. “Okay,” he said and watched his brother stand up and plop his toothbrush back in his mouth.
“See you in the morning,” Jude said and shut the door behind him. Jay looked around the room, anxiety filling his stomach from suddenly being alone. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d been in a room alone. Inhaling a long and sharp breath, he reached over to the nightstand and switched off the light. Getting under the single blanket, his eyes looked into the darkness all night, and he couldn’t find himself falling asleep.
July 13, 2017 – North Bay, Ontario
The morning came long after Jay closed his eyes, but when the sudden light blinded him and had forced him to awake, Jay felt like he only had a five-minute nap.
“Rise and shine,” Jude greeted him as he opened the door with a knock. Great timing, Jay thought to himself grudgingly.
“What does it take for one to get a good night’s sleep?” Jay asked him with a long yawn. Jude’s hair was messier than he’s ever seen it before, and he supposed he slept a lot better than he did.
“Whiskey,” he replied. “Lot’s of it.”
“So,” Jay said slowly, “you’re telling me that drinking before sleeping’s a good idea?”
He nodded with a smirk. “Oh yeah, definitely.” He stretched his arms out. “And a wedge of lime will do you good.”
Jay rolled his eyes and hoisted himself off of his bed and threw on his shirt. “I’ll consider that next time, then,” he said sarcastically.
“Uncle Ben’s making us food,” Jude said as Jay slipped on his shoes. “Bacon, eggs and toast.” Jay nodded to his words and followed him down the stairs. The smell was overwhelming. “But don’t worry, he won’t force you to eat bacon.”
“I wouldn’t imagine it,” he replied.
Jude laughed. “He’d have to deal with you kicking and screaming.”
“Most likely,” he mused.
When they reached the bottom of the stairs, they both turned into the living room, and Uncle Ben placed three plates onto the table in the corner covered with food—one without the bacon, obviously. They both sat down at the small, round table and Jay felt his stomach growl with hunger.
“Wow, thanks Uncle Ben,” Jay said and lifted a fork in his hand and dug in.
Jude nodded and said with his mouth already full, “Y-thanks. It’s really good.”
“Eat up quick,” Uncle Ben said to them as he sat down and placed a napkin on his pants before he took a bite. He added after he gulped, “We leave in five minutes.”
“Jude eats like a horse,” Jay said and took another forkful of food. “He can eat anything in ten seconds flat.”
“Is that so?” Uncle Ben inquired, looking weary but impressed.
“Oh yeah,” Jude replied and was already at his last few bites of food. “You should have seen me eating cake on his ninth birthday.” Jay almost winced when he reminded him of it. “My slice was consumed definitely in ten seconds.”
“You eat like a wolf, boy,” Uncle Ben muttered with wide eyes.
“A proud wolf,” he clarified as he pointed his fork at him.
“A glutton,” he corrected him, and Jude scoffed. “What? The truth hurts sometimes.”
Jay grinned. “It does, doesn’t it?”
“It doesn’t always have to hurt,” Jude muttered and stood up from his chair and brought his plate into the kitchen. Most things you have done, Jude, will always have something to do with something painful.
Shrugging to himself, he continued to contently eat.
Uncle Ben looked at Jay then and said, “Finish it off, and we’ll get going.”