Dance with the Jersey Devil
by Walter Giersbach
So let me tell you somethin’, just between me and you. The truth. It’s painful and you know pain totally hurts. I’m sensitive, sort of pansy-like. Maybe some daisies thrown in. But Miz Randolph called me an aggressive b***h and handed me my pink slip. Hey, all I did was tell the old bag either her underwear was showin’ or her legs needed ironin’.
She told me to hike on out and don’t come back to work.
I went over to see Gramps in his assisted livin’ place to share my depression. — Boo hoo. — I love geezers ’cuz they’re mellow, livin’ somewhere back in 1944 and smilin’ a lot. Cute how they save junk from the past to help explain where they been. Keeps them alive and movin’ along.
I think Gramps was smokin’ some weed ’cuz he just rattled on with this long story about our family in the Jersey Pine Barrens. I paid no attention cuz I’m checkin’ my e-mail until he ended, “And that’s why I’m not wearin’ any underwear today.” Totally LMAO.
Then he gets all squinty and says, “Alicia, I’m gonna tell you somethin’ your Ma don’t know.”
Well, I’m all ears. No jokes about my boobs and butt, okay?
“I got a place down in south Jersey. Want you to go get somethin’ I left there. Take some photos.” Yeah, old people still call them photos and Kodaks and snapshots. “Tell me the old Leeds manse is still standin’.”
Had to look up “manse” and find out it’s a place our people lived a couple hundred years ago. That’s my Gramps, sendin’ me on a mission. Highway therapy.
I’m Alicia Leeds so the past must be my destiny. When I drove down on Saturday I thought maybe I’ll find family roots. Maybe some family weed?
* * *
My GPS put me on a two-lane blacktop. The woods looked like a theme park for zombies. Surprise! There really is a town in the middle of the Barrens. No more streets than lines in a tic-tac-toe game. A few stores and a handful of geri-natives.
Bein’ legal, I went into a joint with a Budweiser sign. I spell civilization B-E-E-R. Some yokel could point me to the Leeds Manse.
“You a stranger to these parts,” this piney says when I order a beer. He’s wearin’ more camo than a yard full of shrubs.
I say, “Just lookin’ for the Leeds place. Know ’bout it?”
“Ahh,” a geri-poindexter at the bar pipes up. “The Leeds place. Hard for the angels to get any sleep when the devil leaves the porch light on.”
WTF? I heard dementia is our number one problem, but I didn’t want any dementors hittin’ on me while I’m drinkin’ my Bud.
“Yessir, it’s the old family manse,” I tell him.
“That’s the home of the Jersey Devil,” he says and cackles like he’s gonna lay an egg.
“Well, my Gramps pays the taxes so the devil can find another squat.”
“No, no, no. The devil was born there in seventeen hundred and somethin’. I’m an anthropologist from Philadelphia studying this phenomenon. Do not go by that place in the woods.”
I have no idea what he’s rattlin’ his jaw over. I smile and say thank you and avoid a snotty comment about him bein’ a wanker history freak.
“Go down Misery Swamp Road,” the piney in the camo jacket says. “When you can’t go farther, get out and go through the trees to the red stream and make a left.”
What am I, the last of the Mohicans?
“Watch out for the pigs with horns that live in the woods,” the old dude says. “They’re boars but don’t really have horns. More like tusks or giant teeth kinda.”
Oh thanks. I really needed to know that.
* * *
Well, Gramps’ house couldn’t be easier to find. And no boars, thank you. The old manse is kinda damp and needed a Martha Stewart do-over. I take my pics and dig through the shelves and cupboards and boxes. Lotsa weird Discovery Channel crap there. Then I do a ninja sneak upstairs to find Gramps’ trinket.
It was creaky gettin’ to the bedroom with every floor board talkin’ back to me. I gave a little girl helloooo to wake up any family skeletons sleepin’ in the closet. Then I let out a grown up shriek when I seen a man lyin’ back on the bed.
“Come in, Alicia,” he says. “I was expecting you.”
“Who told you who I am? The piney from the bar or that dude from Philly?”
“You’re a Leeds.” His voice came out like 20-year-old Hennessey, drippin’ over me and ticklin’ my heart. My other body parts also saw a party comin’ on. This guy was Hollywood handsome, all square jaw and manly shoulders.
“Are you invadin’ the Leeds family privacy?” I ask sharp and lawyer-like. “You s’posed to be here?”
“Sit down here beside me, Alicia, and I’ll tell you a story.”
Hey, I’m a sucker for a good story. I heard so many lines from guys on the make I could write a book. I’ll call it “Lyin’ Rats and What They Did to My Virtue” or somethin’. But his voice was so mellow it skipped my ears and went right to my brain box. Made me feel all tingly and silly. Woot! I’m like a 16-year-old again in the back row at the movies!
“Family ties survive the generations,” he said. “They float past time like the currents at flood tide, ripping and sawing at the shore but inevitably grinding the rocks to sand” and yada yada yada.
I couldn’t understand half the stuff he was jawin’ about. Might have been talkin’ African. I think he hypnotized me ’cuz I suddenly realized him and me were lyin’ naked on the bed like logs on the fire. Somethin’ wicked had happened and my bod got real cold with fear.
“OMG,” I shouted. “Did you just do what I think you did?”
No time for an answer ’cuz at that second somebody did a Swat Team number on the door. Poindexter from the bar crashed into the room shoutin’, “Out damned devil,” soundin’ like a TV preacher. “Begone to the fiery nether pits of hell.”
Nice talk for a gentleman! And me and my hunk both lyin’ naked as babies at bath time. Worse yet, the poindexter pulls out an effin’ pistol and shoots at my man, wingin’ him.
Can you handle the truth? My guy — whose name I never caught — screamed and kangarooed outta bed. His nice hair got shaggy and instead of feet, he sprouted goat hooves. His fingers had become claws as he leaped up and sank them into the old guy’s chest. Yellow fangs bit the old man on the shoulder.
“You guys stop this!” I shouted my grown-up parent warning. The old dude slumped to the floor. Didn’t look like a mortal wound some Neosporin couldn’t take care of, but my guy shot out the window two floors to the ground. Took off runnin’ like a homey robbin’ a 7-Eleven.
Whoa! This had been an awesome Saturday night. Beats anythin’ I ever seen down the shore.
I took the old dude back to the crossroads for Band-Aids and some beers. I had one myself. Beer that is. Then I hit the Parkway north.
* * *
That night Gramps shared his weed and I knew we had a heart-to-heart comin’. “So you met old Deborah Leeds’ 13th son.” He got flinty-eyed tellin’ me how he met with the devil himself. “I socked the devil in the jaw. But you had the devil in your heart.”
“Maybe a little lower, Gramps.” Spleen, liver, pancreas. Oh yeah, womb, I thought, rememberin’ that little time warp. The ah-ha and ooh-ee moments with that fascinatin’ guy who turned into a horror show. “He did the nasty to me.”
A psychic tingle begged my attention. It said, Alicia, you’re gonna to be a mommy. The Leeds line was goin’ to continue. I thought my bubble butt was a problem but somethin’ bigger was comin’. Sorry my phone doesn’t have a pregnancy app so I could pee on it to confirm my future. Another branch was gonna pop out of the family tree and harsh my mellow.
“Alicia, he ain’t no hallucination,” Gramps said. “Folks say they ain’t no such thing as the Jersey Devil.” He leaned into my face. “But he’s real, Alicia!”
A little tear came out of Gramps’ eye, worryin’ about my fate. Hey, I was the one starin’ at headlights comin’ at me.
“I believe you, Gramps,” I say. “I got the yellow tooth that came out of the old guy’s shoulder. See? Looks like the one you socked out of the devil’s jaw. Matches the one you told me to bring back from your old bureau.”
“Alicia,” he groaned and rocked back and forth, “I knocked his tooth out when I found him in your grandma’s bed. Your ma is the devil’s bastard daughter. You’re his granddaughter — and his lover!”
See, I told you the truth is painful. Only thing is, it’s my pain. You just got the story tellin’ part. And that’s the truth.
Copyright © 2014 by Walter Giersbach