That was the first time I ever met Jacob, a strange individual he was. I soon learned that Jacob was the Boyfriend’s brother, and he actually owned that big farmhouse. The Boyfriend apparently had a bad gambling addiction. He lost all his money and had to leave his apartment in Des Moines about a year before he met my mother. Jacob offered to take in the Boyfriend, and apparently us as well.
Many of my days were spent in the care of Jacob. My mother and the Boyfriend would leave during the day for town to work. My mom ended up getting a job at the lone diner while the Boyfriend worked at a body shop. They would usually come home in the evening, sometimes not even coming home until I was in bed. There was also a bar in town and they would frequently indulge themselves after a hard day of work. I hated how the Boyfriends stole my mother away from me.
But Jacob was a strange one. Once a week he would make a trip to the drug store in town and buy groceries. I never saw the man work. Ever. He spent most of his time hidden in his small office, writing what looked to be letters to unspecified individuals. He rarely spoke much, although he took the responsibility of babysitting me rather seriously. He made sure I was fed, had enough blankets at night, brushed my teeth, washed my hair. Despite his cold demeanor, he made sure I was getting what I needed as a child. I still remember being outside and playing with Cass in the front lawn on one of her more lively days. A clear blue sky, nothing but wheat fields on rolling hills as far as the eye can see. And Jacob, sitting quietly on the front porch, watching me like a hawk.
One day I remember sitting in the kitchen, eating cereal, like we did every morning. Jacob always had a book with him lied open on the right side of his bowl. He would get a spoonful of Life, shovel it into his mouth, chew and then return to his book. He licked the thumb of his right hand before he turned the page.
I was focused on my own bowl when, in the corner of my eye, I noticed that Jacob’s focus wasn’t on his book anymore. His eyes had travelled slightly higher, as if he was focusing on a spot on the table. He remained frozen in place, his eyes and body unmoving, except for the movements of his jaw as he chewed his cereal. Up and down, up and down. He swallowed, and I saw the lump in his throat move to accommodate the food. He still didn’t move; his eyes still focused elsewhere.
Jacob was still for a minute. No movement, no sound. I stopped eating and watched him curiously. The sound of his chair scratching against the floor made me jump. He pushed his chair from the table and stood quickly, bowl in hand, and walked to the sink—our after-breakfast routine. Grabbing the edges of the counter, he set the bowl in the sink and remained motionless again. His hands gripped the counter, his head hanging slightly over the sink. My eyes never left him.
Suddenly, the shrill, ear-numbing sound of glass shattering made me jump from my daze. Looking back at the table, I noticed shards of glass covering the tabletop. The light fixture above the table lied in pieces across the table, a loose cable still hung onto the ceiling. I was spared from the shards of glass and light bulbs, but the seat that was once occupied by Jacob was covered in dangerous looking glass.
Still too shocked to think, all I could utter was, “Whoa!”
Jacob approached me and pulled me back from the table. “Why don’t you finish your cereal in the living room? I don’t want you to cut yourself. You can come back in when I’m finished cleaning this up.”
I did as I was told—believe it or not, I was a rather obedient kid—and left for the living room.
As the day progressed, I began to rethink the situation. It was peculiar that Jacob had left his seat before the light had fallen. If he had still been there, he could have been pretty badly hurt. And it seemed as if he knew that the light was going to fall, and that he was in harms way. My mind began racing with fantastic ideas of Jacob’s magic powers of foresight. How excited I was, reeling with the notion that I could be sharing a house with a superhero!
A few days after the incident, I finally worked up the courage to confront him. Jacob was sitting in his usual place near the fire. The rocking chair creaked like usual. Cass watched me as I approached him.
“Are you a superhero?” I asked in subdued curiosity.
Jacob turned and looked at me quizzically, his eyebrows furrowed together. He remained silent, before a small grin appeared on his face.
“A superhero?” He asked, amused.
“Yeah, like an X-Man or something.”
“Boy, what makes you think that?” Jacob asked, leaning towards me slightly. He was still grinning.
“You, like, knew the light was gonna fall and got up from your seat. It would have fell on you. Can you see the future?” I was getting a little disappointed. Was he not a real superhero after all?
Jacob let out a chuckle. He reminded me of an old man being told some ridiculous joke he heard a million times, but laughed anyway to be polite. “No, Corey. I’m no superhero. And I can’t see the future.”
“Are you sure?”
“Yes, Corey. I’m sure.”
I let out a sigh of defeat. Part of me wondered if Jacob was lying, covering up his true alter ego. Jacob could be his secret identity, while at night he saved the world from the powers of evil. He could stop devastating events before they even happened. I wondered what his costume might look like.
Despite his denial, I still tried to catch Jacob in some lie. I would stay up late sometimes and sneak to his office, hoping to catch a glimpse of him doing something superhero-ish, like answering a call from a command center on a high-tech watch or opening the doorway to his secret lair located beneath the decrepit farm house. I had no luck in discovering his superhero identity though. Usually I would find him writing papers in his office, or sitting in the rocking chair in the living room while the fire cracked and popped. Nothing remotely extraordinary happened while I was watching.
I never got the chance to see his power at work again, either. Sometimes I would hope to see him foresee some great event and plan accordingly before it happened. I would watch him by the fire and wait to see if he grabbed the fire poker to prepare himself for a piece of burning wood to fall out of the fire. He’d move the wood back into the fireplace without hesitation, saving the carpet from getting horrible burn marks. But these things never happened. He remained as quiet, cold, and normal as the first time I met him.
I’m not entirely truthful, though. There was one more instance where Jacob’s power arose for me to see. But this was not some fanciful event where I was impressed by his ability to save a vase from falling over before it happened, or any other insignificant situation. Rather, it was frightening. Very, very frightening.
On the night leading up to it, Jacob became even more distant. I wasn’t exactly used to him being open to conversation or interaction, but he seemed to avoid me more than usual. He would go some days without even speaking to me. I thought that maybe I pushed the superhero idea too far, that maybe he decided a 7 year old with an over-active imagination wasn’t worth his time or patience. I was used to being disregarded though, so I never did anything about it. I melted into the background like I always did. Neglect wasn’t a new thing to me.
But it changed on one cold night. There was no moon outside. My mother and the Boyfriend hadn’t come home, more than likely decided to hit the bar that night. I was sitting in the living room with a small notepad that Jacob gave me a few weeks ago. I would take to doodling, sometimes even writing down lines of poetry. Cass was sleeping soundly a few feet away from me, snoring rather loudly. The fire was my only source of light as I sketched some hair on my drawing of a horse running in an open field. I didn’t hear Jacob enter the room.
“How old are you, Corey?”
I jumped slightly, not expecting to hear him in the silence of the living room. I looked at him, standing at the foot of the staircase. It was the first time he spoke to me all day.
“Seven and a half.” I answered quickly.
Jacob tutted yet smiled warmly. His eyes went distant as he stared into the fire. He didn’t answer right away and I studied him as the fire danced across his face. “Seven and a half…” he repeated, more to himself than to me. He chuckled again before turning and walking up the staircase. I was left alone once again, slightly confused at the strange exchange with Jacob. I went back to drawing in the notebook.
It hadn’t been an hour when I hear Jacob walk back into the room again. He remained silent this time, and I looked up at him curiously. I noticed him swallow.
“Corey…” He trailed off. He sighed before motioning me to follow him with his hand.
Without a word, I stood from the floor, leaving my notebook, and followed him as he began to ascend the staircase.
We walked in silence into his office upstairs; the only sound accompanying us was the creaking of the floorboards. It was the first time I ever been inside his office—the only times I seen it was the quick glimpses I would get when I would spy on him at night. The office was just as decayed as the rest of the house. A large desk was in the center of the room, while a large cherry wood shelf occupied one entire wall. Many dusty books were stuffed haphazardly into the shelf. A dusty set of burgundy curtains hung from the cracked window.
Jacob asked me to take the chair in front of his desk. I did as I was told, watching as he sat behind his large desk facing me. I felt like a child in trouble. Suddenly I wondered if I had done something wrong. I could imagine the promises of punishment coming from Jacob’s lips.
But there were no words yet. Jacob was silent, almost apologetic, as he watched me. His hands rotated a shiny black pen over and over again. I could sense his nervousness.
“You’re so young.” He said finally, smiling slightly. I said nothing. Silence again.
Finally, after a few moments, he cleared his throat. “Corey, I want you to listen to me. And listen well, ok?”
“I know you’re just a kid, but what I’m going to tell you is very, very important. Do you think you’re ok enough to hear it? Are you prepared?”
I hesitated. My stomach began to flip-flop and I my hands gripped the armrests of my chair hard.
“Yessir.” I answered.
Jacob went silent again, but after a short moment he pulled his chair back and turned towards a large black safe pressed against the wall. He placed his hand carefully on top of it.
“You see this safe, Corey?”
Another pause. “Listen closely, Corey. You’re going to have a rough life ahead of you. There are going to be some terrifying moments, many moments were you feel lost or scared. I wish it wasn’t this way, but that’s how it’s going to be…”
He stopped for a moment. I could see tears forming in the corners of his eyes. “You’re going to meet a lot of people. Some bad, some good. But, Corey, one day… Someone you care for is going to be in danger…”
Reader, I wish you could understand the feeling I got that very moment. Me, a 7 year old, being delivered such a cryptic message. My heart was racing in my chest. I could feel the sweat building on my back. I was confused beyond comprehension.
“Corey, inside this safe is what’s going to help you save this person.” Jacob continued as he slowly stroked his hand over the safe. “But you mustn’t judge wrong. There will be a lot of people in your life who will deal with horrible things, and you will think that this would be the moment to open the safe. That is not the case. The danger is far more powerful than you could imagine, Corey. Judge wisely.”
Jacob reached for a small pad of paper on his desk and proceeded to write upon it. There was an almost forgiving silence this time. I could hear my own erratic breathing fill the silence.
“The combination is 23-10-8-12-11.” Jacob said, pronouncing every number carefully. “Do not, under any circumstances, forget that.” And with that, he ripped the top sheet from the pad of paper, folded it, and handed it to me. I opened it and saw the same five numbers he told me written in black ink.
“Remember, Corey.” He said. “Never, ever, forget them. And judge wisely.”
I swallowed as I clutched the paper in my sweaty palm. “Yessir.”
He smiled slightly, a smile that seemed to give me reassurance. “My heart burns for you, Mr. Taylor.”
I smiled back cautiously, unsure of what to say in return. I remained silent.
“Alright, you need to get to bed. I kept you up long enough.” Jacob said as he stood up. I practically leaped from my seat. I was anxious to leave the office.
Jacob led me into my room. He gently took the paper from my hand as I climbed into bed. “I’m gonna set this somewhere where you won’t forget it, ok?” He said as he slipped the folded paper into the back pocket of my Mickey Mouse doll’s shorts. I could sense the tone of his voice was different, like he accented ‘won’t forget it’. At that point, I knew he could tell I wouldn’t be living there much longer. The feeling was horrible.
And then he left the room, closing the door behind him like he always does. I stared at the ceiling, my mind foggy, yet racing with anxiety.
It took me a very long time to fall asleep that night.