Arlan has settled for allowing his assistants to manage his courses for a few weeks while he settled everything with Caleb and his son’s house. He brushed up on Auryn’s will, noting something about inadequate care for Caleb as well as falling on the guidance of Arlan to make the right decision.
He battled with this over the past few days, both knowing Dunn would hire some sleazy lawyer to argue the language of the will. Caleb was barely sixteen, and Arlan still had another year at the university left to wrap everything up before his retirement. Then there was the matter of everything at the ancestral home. He knew he couldn’t leave it unattended for too long.
Arlan spent the better part of what was meant to be vacation time, researching Ixchel’s family, trying to track someone down to hopefully care for his grandson at least until the summer. Every lead came up empty. He thought as much. Wherever they were, they didn’t want to be found easily. With it being March, Arlan only really had to worry about April. His assistants could manage finals without him.
Caleb dropped by the guest bedroom that his grandfather claimed with breakfast, “I managed to get your flight switched out to spring break,” Arlan looked up from the tiny screen of his laptop, “I thought we could go, take care of whatever it is you need to take care of, and then we come back.”
Arlan paused before answering,“I think spring break is as good of a time as any to at least introduce you to your ancestral home, or at least the one on my side.”
“Yeah, I can actually see it without needing to pay a ticket to go in,” Caleb joked while Arlan looked at him curiously, “Oh...well mom is some kind of native right? Ixhcel is a Mayan name…and the pyramids are...tourist sites? Nevermind...if I have to explain the joke...it's a bad joke.” Caleb laughed at himself before leaving the room. While his grandfather has been staying with him, he hasn’t needed to deal with all the nonsense he usually is stuck with. So weekends were now actual free time. Which left him plenty of time to explore his father’s files and books late at night.
One thing of note, he noticed there were some old journals, dated to sometime before he met his mother that weren’t nonsense, but he still couldn’t make sense of them. Whenever he tried to read them, the words jumbled worse than before, as if telling him “No”.
He persisted as long as he could, all he could pull up were old words in some language he didn’t understand. Even with trying to cross-reference any of the words, they came up with articles listing his father’s discovery of an old mesoamerican temple, with the help of, at the time, his guide Ixchel Garcia. The one word that didn’t come up was nagual, which are effectively tricksters shapeshifters, often mistaken or compared with similar shapeshifting witches or spirits of Navajo folklore, from what Caleb could find using Google and Wikipedia. Though from what he read it's unclear whether or not they were evil too, but it was clear they tended to change into a jaguar.
“Jaguar shapeshifters, ancient temples hidden out in the forest, and a bunch of other words I can’t find anything on,” Caleb threw his head back onto his pillow before tossing the notebook of his own notes to the side. He held his hand up, examining the ring that sat on his ring finger. What more could this ring unlock? Even with his grandfather being here, he could never get a close look at his finger. Caleb hoped to examine it, and see if their keys were the same.
His hand came to rest on his forehand while the other reached to the side to turn off his bedside lamp. Caleb’s eyes slowly adjusted to the darkness as he allowed sleep to overtake him.
His nightmares had ceased but bizarre dreams or distant memories took their place. His mother sang to Caleb, rubbing his back as he rested against her shoulder. He looked to be about six or seven, just before they passed away. His small hands gripped her shirt tightly.
Auryn, golden-haired with brilliant grey eyes, that seemed to glow like silver in the right light, stepped into the blank void of a room that Caleb and Ixchel were sitting in. “Talked to the principal, and well...they want to suspend him.”
Ixchel shook her head, “They started the fight, just as always…so why?” her accent clung tightly to her words, as did her frustration.
“Well, they said all responsible parties suffer the same consequences.”
“Putas,” she cursed, stroking Caleb’s head trying to help him settle down. His knuckles were bruised and bloodied.
“At least they don’t want to expel him,” Auryn had seen the other boys, Caleb had gotten lucky getting away with only a few bruises. One had easily been twice Caleb’s weight. He was proud that his boy, despite being a runt, could handle himself, though how naturally it came to Caleb was the frightening aspect.
“They shouldn’t punish him regardless, es innocente,” Auryn nodded to his wife’s words, unsure how to ease her own fury. The school had contacted Auryn to calm Ixchel, since she had released a tirade of colorful language at both the teachers and the principal as Caleb was being tended to by the nurse.
The one thing that echoed in his mind as his mother cradled him, “He’s a monster, mom” “He was going to tear my arm off” “His eyes glowed red”, his assailant cried to their parents while Ixchel defended her son from them. The adults dismissed their claims that Caleb was a monster but that didn’t stop the rumors from spreading.
As the memory faded, Caleb found himself stirring to the blaring alarm of his cellphone. He tapped it and crawled from his sheets. He began his usual routine for school, just as his grandfather began to stir. The floorboards creaked and squeaked under Arlan’s weight, giving away that he was up.
Once more Caleb and Arlan drove to school, with the young man at the helm of the classic vehicle. Monday proceeded like any other school day until lunch, Caleb found himself surrounded in the courtyard after just finishing his lunch. “Can I help you?” he asked the group of boys, all members of the junior varsity team.
“You little teacher’s pet, first you break my phone and now…”
“Let me stop you there, who are you?” Caleb’s golden eyes met his as he tried to put a name to the face on the boy trying to accost him.
“You bitch,” the shorter boy reached out to grab at him, but Caleb retaliated by catching his wrist, “Fucking f*ggot...let go of me,” the other boys were hesitant to approach as Caleb squeezed his assailants wrist.
“Who are you?” he asked, tilting his head at the boy, recognizing him as the one whose phone he purposefully smashed.
“Fucker...it’s Alex,” a knife flashed in his hand, Caleb’s eyes widened, quickly twisting Alex’s wrist to the outside before pushing him into the wall. There was a wet smashing noise but Caleb didn’t stick around. He booked it as quickly as he could.
Not fucking with someone who has a weapon, unless I can even the odds he thought to himself as he ducked through a group of students as he heard the basketball trying to catch up to him. It wasn’t too hard, Caleb wasn’t much of a runner, though he did manage to duck into the classroom pod. The boys charged towards Caleb as he ducked into a classroom, and like the idiots that they were, they followed him in, thinking it might’ve been an empty classroom.
As Caleb stepped inside, he was tackled. Quickly, he turned in the boy’s grasp and smashed his boot into their face just before Alex jumped on him trying to bring the knife down him. Caleb once more grabbed Alex’s wrist and pushed him to the side at the last moment. There was a snapping noise just before Caleb backhanded Alex against the temple before pushing him off.
Before Caleb’s assailants could regroup they were being pushed back by a group of teachers. “What the fuck?” the teachers shouted as they pulled and pushed the boys away from each other. Caleb had his hands up but just then three of the boys broke free from the teachers and pushed him up against the wall. While he managed to turtle up, one punch snuck in.
Caleb’s knees buckled and tears stung his eyes. Defiantly he reached out and grabbed onto something and began to squeeze. His vision was still blurring but whoever and whatever he grabbed onto fought against his hold. Caleb squeezed tighter and the world began to slow. More punches tried to sneak in, but Caleb used his free hand to cover the exposed side of his head.
Before his vision could clear, however, the punches stopped and whatever he was holding to was torn away from his hands. Caleb quickly covered up once more, waiting for his eyes to clear.
“CALEB!” one of his eyes peaked out from his defensive posture, finding Coach Gil and the athletic director standing between Caleb and the other boys. Slowly he stood straight up and as he did so, his head began to throb and his vision went fuzzy for a moment. Caleb felt the familiar warmth seep from his nose to his lips. Then came the metallic taste as he reached up to touch the source of the warmth and glanced down to see blood on his fingertips, “Oh shit,” he said as he hung his head forward.
“What are you doing? Lift your head up.” Coach Gil tried lifting Caleb’s head up but the young man refused.
“No, I don’t wanna swallow my own blood,” he squirmed away from Coach Gil as the athletic director looked back at the other boys. One had a busted lip, and Alex was off to the side, trying to catch his breath.
He looked back at Caleb, seeing the gloomy-looking boy either with a busted nose or just a rupture from getting punched. Then he noticed the cut on Caleb’s ear. “How did that happen?” he asked, pointing at Caleb’s ear.
As Caleb touched his ear, he felt the warmth seeping from it as well. “Alex had a knife on him.” He pointed to the snapped knife blade.
“YOU FUCKING LIAR!” Alex wheezed as the teachers pulled him away. One of the teachers who had been in the classroom during the incident corroborated Caleb’s claim stating he had been chased in here and the other boys attempted to assault him.
“What should we do?” Coach Gil asked the director once all the boys had been led to the administrative offices by the school resource officer. Caleb was being handled by the nurses.
“They retaliated against him for what happened last week. Clear as day, suspend all of
them,” The director paused trying to process what he saw as he came into the empty classroom. He had expected a normal lunch period but he heard the shouting and screaming, he was taken back seeing Caleb standing in the middle of the room, lifting Alex up and squeezing the life from him. No one would believe that he saw Caleb’s eyes flash red for just a moment before managing to pull Alex away.
Caleb spent the rest of his school day going from the Nurse’s office to the principal’s office. While he didn’t need stitches, blood stained his shirt, which couldn’t be hidden from both the resource office and the parents of the boys. Caleb defended himself from the insults being hurled at him in both English and Spanish, “Look, I’m not gonna let this dumbass walk all over me, so stop defending his stupid actions,” he managed to get out before one of the counsel dragged him before another fight could ensue.
By the time the boys left with their screaming parents in tow, Arlan arrived to pick up Caleb. His grandson had been given a one-day suspension while Alex had been expelled. Needless to say, Arlan was glad Caleb had told him to wait until everything had settled down.
They didn’t discuss what happened on the way home. There was no need. Arlan understood the situation and knew Caleb could defend himself. “Bruising up your face like that is gonna make it hard for the girls to like you.” he joked.
Caleb rolled his eyes and chuckled. “It's fine, most people are put off by the scar anyways.” His fingers traced the pale scar running across his face, “At the very least I have a day off.” With that, they pulled into the driveway and Caleb handed his grandfather the keys as they stepped out of the car, “Despite all the jokes, to be honest, I’m tired of this. This happens almost every year.” Caleb took a breath, “At least this time, they got what they deserved? More than I can say what happened to Cain.”
“You never explained what happened to him,” Arlan noted as they stepped inside, “Are you still not ready to talk about it?”
There was a pit forming in Caleb’s stomach and his throat was tightening. He shook his head, “N-no….not ready yet.” Caleb sat down at the dining table, something still out of the ordinary for him during the school week as he tried to ease his mind.
Arlan set a cup of tea down in front of his grandson and just patted him on the back. Even while sipping at his tea, Caleb’s mind flashed back to the memories of the previous April when his friend Cain disappeared, and when he was found, hanging from a tree in the nearby woods, two weeks later.