Chapter 2: Eyes Of A Tiger
Natalie Genovese stalked out of her house and slammed the front door shut. It felt good to hear her mother shouting for her and knowing she had no intention of going back. She was eighteen years old as of two days ago, and there was no way she was staying in this house, with this screwed up family, any longer. She had money saved up, a bank account in her name… She was out of there.
Maybe her desire to leave had started when she was seven and realized that she was the smartest person in her family – her mother came to her for advice about finances, and, more importantly, listened and put into practice what her seven year-old daughter advocated. Or perhaps it was that night when she was twelve and realized that, not only was her father cheating on her mother, but her mother KNEW about it and never said anything. Maybe it was the time that she answered the phone at two AM, only to find no one on the other end, and realized that it was possible that the phone hadn’t rung at all. More likely, though, was that she’d made the decision when her mother screamed at her that she was worthless and wouldn’t amount to anything – just like she did. That had been a month earlier. Natalie, or Spike, as she preferred to be called, had spent the last few weeks leading up to her birthday making plans, determined to prove her mother wrong.
She wouldn’t be left the way her mother was – trapped in a marriage with a man who didn’t love her, but did bring home enough money to keep her going. She wouldn’t be an alcoholic, cheating asshole like her father, and she wouldn’t be a vapid valley girl with a new boyfriend every five minutes like her sister. She’d refused her father’s offer of a car when she turned sixteen – he was just trying to buy her off again. With no form of transportation save her own two feet, she quickly jogged to the bus stop. She had a job – most nights and weekends, she worked at a video rental store. Tonight, she was off, which was good because she’d need the afternoon and evening to find somewhere to stay.
In the tree lined, hilly streets of her parent’s well-off neighborhood, shadows flitting under cars and seeming to duck behind trees tried to catch her eyes as she headed for the bus. She ignored them. She knew if she turned her head, there wouldn’t be anything there. She’d tried once, when she was much younger, to ask her mother if she’d ever seen the strange shadow people and animals that seemed to be everywhere she went. After her mother gave her a look that insinuated far too clearly that she thought her eight year old daughter was losing her mind, Spike never mentioned it again. She just lived with it, figuring that perhaps her imagination was overactive, or something. Boarding the bus, she spotted a tall shadow figure leaning against a tree, seeming to be watching her. As usual, she couldn’t stop herself from turning to look at the large shadow head on… and, as usual, there was nothing there. Wish a sigh of fury, she boarded the bus and paid her dollar. She’d ride it as far as it took to get away from this neighborhood… from this illusion of normalcy.
She fingered the blue tiger eye stone that dangled like a dog tag from the studded black leather dog collar she always wore – the collar that had earned her the nickname “Spike” in recent years. She wasn’t goth, not really – she just liked black, and liked the way the collar felt around her neck. Blue tiger-eye is a difficult stone to locate at the best of times, but when she found one that would be perfect to hang from her collar, she’d saved up the money and bought it herself. Sometimes she wondered if it was other people like herself – those that seemed to be ignored by society, who slowly turned as black as their own wardrobes and eventually faded into true shadows that created the shadow beings she saw so often. She had an active imagination, yes – the imagination of a writer. None of her ideas ever seemed to make it to paper, though. Instead, they remained in her mind, for her to run through when she had nothing better to do or needed to distract herself. Times like when riding on a bus with no idea where she was going except that it was away from her screwed up family.
She wasn’t the kind of person to shout or scream when she was angry – she was the kind of person who would simply bite her lip and lapse into a furious, stony silence when people refused to listen to her carefully thought out points. She let them talk, let them babble at her. People never seemed to realize that she wasn’t listening anymore, or if they did, they simply didn’t care. They just kept talking at her. At least when it came to the idiots at school, they eventually got the idea and left her alone. They also seemed to hate it when she took something they meant as an insult and turned it into something she could be proud of. That also came back to how she’d gotten the nickname “Spike.”
Five years ago, she’d made a conscious decision to stop conforming. She needed to do what felt right to her – or else she found herself feeling like a puppet rather than a person. Her parents tried to get her to dress one way, her school tried to get her to dress another – it was important to her that she find her OWN style, her own way of expressing herself. All black wasn’t against the school dress code, and it made her feel good. Dark tones, blacks and blues, mostly, slowly began to take over her wardrobe. She blended into the background at school, mostly, taking advantage of the anonymity of a public school and it’s stupid uniforms. Even though her shirt was black instead of white, and she wore pants instead of a skirt, no one seemed to notice. Modified uniforms were allowed, based on the fact that it was known that a lot of people couldn’t afford to actually purchase the uniforms. And while this might slightly defeat the purpose of having uniforms in the first place, for Natalie Genovese, it was a blessing. Any time she needed more clothing, all she had to tell her family was that it was for school, and it would be gotten for her. And so her wardrobe of dark clothing continued to grow.
Then one day, she came home from school to find her mother crying in the living room. At first, she didn’t ask what it was – probably another fight with her father, or something just as pointless. She headed for her room, whistling for Weylin, her white German Shepherd mix.
For the first time in his eight years of life, Weylin didn’t come.
That worried Natalie enough that she stopped on the stairs on the way to her room, and came back downstairs. She whistled for her dog again, but there was no answer. No scrabble of claws on hard wood floor, no excited barks from the back porch or the garage… nothing.
“Mom?” she asked, but her voice came out too quiet for the sobbing woman to hear her. She felt her fury building at her mother, but she restrained it and asked again, forcing her voice louder. “Mom?”
Patricia Genovese looked up finally, and upon seeing her eldest daughter, she burst into a fresh round of tears. “I’m so sorry, honey… I never meant… I’m so sorry…”
Natalie felt her blood run cold. “Mom… Where’s Weylin?”
Mrs. Genovese hiccuped amid her tears. “He was… in the garage. I was late for work… You know that his hearing wasn’t what it used to be… he must’ve been sleeping behind the car and didn’t hear it start…”
Natalie stiffened, her hands fisting at her sides. “No…” When her mother didn’t continue, she stared at the woman incredulously. “You… backed over my dog.”
Mrs. Genovese broke down into a fresh wave of sobs. All she could do was nod.
Natalie was breathing hard, grief and disbelief at war with fury in her head. “Where… is he?”
Mrs. Genovese shook her head. “I… I called animal control to take the body away. I couldn’t just leave him there…” She swallowed and reached beside her, then held something black with silver studs – and a very familiar jingling dog tag “I saved his collar for you…”
Natalie’s hand was shaking, and she took the collar from her mother on automatic. It was sticky, and in the dim light of the living room, she could still guess that the stickiness was blood. She didn’t cry, didn’t scream. She clutched the bloody collar to her chest, turned, and walked out of the house, ignoring her sobbing mother’s apologies behind her. Mrs. Genovese didn’t follow her.
She walked through the neighborhood slowly. In any other part of Los Angeles, a fourteen year old girl walking alone might have been a target for trouble. But in Mount Sycamore, a very affluent area with more fences and security patrols than Beverly Hills (it felt like, sometimes), she was perfectly safe. She didn’t even know where she was going until the double wide car gates of the Hallowed Oaks cemetery loomed larger than life in front of her.
This wasn’t the first, nor the last, time that she snuck into the cemetery. She’d been coming here regularly since she was about ten years old. Amid the old gravestones (some from the late 1800s) was the only place she ever really felt at peace. Despite the creepy surroundings, she found that she seemed to catch sight of fewer and fewer shadow creatures once she was within the cemetery gates. Perhaps there were just enough shadows cast by the headstones and the large trees that her paranoid peripheral vision gave up on trying to create monsters and men lurking around every corner. Or, perhaps, the place of eternal rest was too peaceful for even her troubled mind to conjure beasts.
That day, she slipped through the too wide bars of the old fashioned wrought iron fence and headed deep into the several acre property. She weaved around grave markers and between huge old trees until she found her quiet place. Between the two oldest headstones she’d found (Marshal Winters – Born 1827, Died 1893, and Calandra Septomi – Born 1832, Died 1910), she sank to her knees in the cool grass. The area was “fenced in” from the rest of the graveyard by three trees that were probably at least as old as the headstones they shaded, two of which were Weeping Willows, and served very well to mask her presence from any prying eyes.
Then, and only then, did she finally really look at Weylin’s collar – the only thing left of her best friend for the last eight years. She had been right at home, there was blood on the leather of the collar, and the sticky, semi-dry liquid had stained the hand that had been clutching the collar as she walked. She stared at the collar, and at the blood on her hand… and she felt her fury growing. What right did her mother have to have her dog’s body taken away? Why couldn’t they bury him in the back yard, like a normal family, where she could visit his grave and know that there, under the ground… Much like Marshal Winters and Calandra Septomi… there would always be some part of him there. Her best friend was dead, and she’d been deprived of the only chance she would ever have had to say goodbye.
Her blood was pounding in her ears, and it had nothing to do with the exertion that it had taken to get to her special place. Her hands curled into fists, her breathing sped into a furious pant, and when she opened her mouth, a sound that was more the roar of an enraged beast than a human scream ripped itself from her throat. She screamed, she pounded her fists on the ground, making Weylin’s collar jingle. She was oblivious to any and all sounds around her, lost in her grief and her anger. She’d never felt this furious, never felt this out of control. She wanted to kill something, to make someone else hurt as much as she hurt, to drive the pain she was feeling down someone’s throat until they exploded with it as it felt like her heart was doing.
Her secret spot was isolated enough in the many acres of cemetery that, while undoubtedly some mourner, somewhere, heard her screams of rage – no one was able to locate the source. Eventually, her screams turned to sobs, and she cried for her dog, her friend. It felt like hours later when she finally stood up and turned to leave the cemetery. Before she left her secret place, however, she set Weylin’s collar on Marshal Winter’s headstone, and carefully worked the dog tag on it’s split ring until she figured out how to get it off the collar. She pulled her, until then, very utilitarian keychain out of her pocket (house key, locker key, key to her hope chest – no fobs), and carefully put Weylin’s dog tag onto her keychain. She stared at it for a moment, dangling there, then slipped the keys back into her pocket, and clutched the collar in her bloodstained hand. Only then did she make her slow way home.
On the way out of the cemetery, she couldn’t help but notice something very strange. Something that, despite her grief and fury stricken mind, she swore to herself hadn’t been there when she entered the cemetery that day. Everywhere she looked, under every tree and bush, there seemed to be many different kinds of birds… and every last one of them was dead.
She put the dead birds out of her mind, and when she got home, she disappeared upstairs into her room without a word to her mother. She washed Weylin’s dog collar with leather soap, soap she’d bought specifically for making sure that his collar always had a bath when he did.
The next day at school, it was as if she’d been pushed over that little edge from invisibility, into notoriety. Everyone seemed to know about her mother killing her dog – and everyone noticed the collar that Natalie was now wearing. The popular girls started making fun of her first, calling her “Fido,” or “Spike.” Natalie ignored them, as she always did when people made fun of her – but by the end of the week, the nickname “Spike” had stuck. The rest of the school year passed, and by the time Natalie moved on to 10th Grade, she’d decided that she liked it. She’d been Spike, ever since.
It wasn’t until she got off the bus, an hour or so before sunset, two days after her eighteenth birthday, that she realized where her subconscious had once again drawn her. She was standing at the bus stop, outside the gates of Hallowed Oaks Cemetery. She stood there for a long time, one hand in her pocket, playing with the house key she never intended to use again… and Weylin’s dog tag, her thumb stroking over the engraved letters as it had so many times in the last four years.
Perhaps it was because she was lost in her own thoughts, but when a fleeting, vaguely dog-shaped shadow crossed the street in her peripheral vision, she turned to see where it had gone. She found herself staring at an apartment complex across the street from the cemetery, with a very prominent “Free Rent!” sign. She used to talk to Weylin about how her mission in life was to get away from her parents – to get out there into the world, have friends… have a life. She smiled slowly and, without another moment’s thought, she crossed the street and headed into the Rental Office.