Ken's dog, Jake, is frightened of Halloween yard decorations, but when Ken tries to show him that the enormous face, partially emerged from a front lawn, is nothing to be scared of, he gets the fright of his life when the eyes open and gaze interestedly at him.
Ken, while walking his dog on Halloween night, discovers a half-buried face and unearths a fifteen foot troll in a neighbor's front yard. This is Grendel, who has come up from the underworld, he says, to look around. Entranced by the troll's magnificent physique and surprisingly gentle nature, Ken befriends him and takes him home. But the pair soon discovers they are at odds with the forces of law and order, and must fight not only for their relationship, but eventually for their very lives. During this struggle Ken discovers more about his own dark passions than he ever guessed existed.
About the story and its origins: The story is a MM romance in the horror/supernatural/humor genres.
I am a recent arrival in the field of MM romance writing, my principal literary field of interest being sci-fi and supernatural. Grendel is to date the longest work I have had published. I am working my way up to submitting a full-length novel, Grendel being just short of the 60,000 word novel category threshold (it's 43,000 words long).
I completed Grendel this past summer in what is for me record fashion—two months—principally while sitting on the backyard patio with our two dogs, under the sun umbrella, enjoying the mildly warm summer we had with a cold drink or hot coffee by my side, my laptop on my lap. That was pretty nice, but even nicer was how, for the first time, a story just seemed to write itself.
It was summoned into existence by a call for submissions by MLRPress, wanting stories on a Halloween theme. Thinking about story ideas, I remembered the experience I'd had several years ago while walking my dogs one evening around Halloween.
They were young dogs at the time, and tended to react when frightened by something. It was dark and quiet on the street, when suddenly they went nuts in response to something in someone's front yard. Peering into the shadows I received a shock of my own as I saw what looked like an enormous head partially emerged from the lawn. I remember it was quite effective, and I found the entire experience really entertaining.
So now I asked myself, what about if the head had been real? The story just kind of went from there: the main character and his dog trying to figure out what the thing was (it's just fake—no, wait, it isn't); being motivated to action; digging it up, and releasing the full person (a fifteen foot troll of tremendous, uh, proportions); befriending him, cleaning him off, taking him home, and finally dealing with the situation of having a fifteen foot troll living in the back yard of a quiet suburban bungalow (he's too big get in through the door).
The possibilities for sex (challenging), romance (again challenging), confrontation with social norms and the drama that would arise from that, just poured from my imagination. And when I'd finished it and my principal beta reader said he liked the story's humor and plot twists, I realized I had a story that could please readers other than myself (at least one, anyway), so I submitted it to MLR (my first submission to them) and was delighted when the offer to publish came back.
To me the story is a kind of homage to my first boyfriend, who was big and burly and really besotted with me. It's also an exploration of a fairy-tale horror figure (the bogey-man), transfigured into an erotic romance in which everything is turned upon its head. If the story is well-received I have an idea for a sequel all ready.
Grendel by G.P. Keith… Published by MLR Press 2014 on 21 Nov 2014
Excerpt from chapter 1
It was dark and quiet when they left the house, the only sound being the rapid click-click of Jake’s nails on the sidewalk. Ken inhaled deeply and smiled. He loved the fall, with its fresh smells and the magical beauty of the shadowy houses with their leaf-covered lawns.
Several minutes into the walk a series of firecrackers went off in somebody’s backyard and Jake started and froze. But in the silence that followed this he soon resumed his interested trotting along the sidewalk. Seeing this, Ken began to hope that his little dog was starting to toughen up with regard to the horrors of Halloween.
After that, the walk was so peaceful and pleasant that they ended up going further than usual. Ken was still careful to cross the street whenever they approached a house that looked like it had yard decorations, though. By doing this, he ensured there were no incidents, and as they were approaching home Ken began to feel that walk had been a complete success. And they had gotten through another Halloween.
He was just congratulating himself on this, when Jake exploded in a fury of barks that caused Ken to jump several inches into the air. Groaning, Ken automatically pulled back on the leash as he peered forward into the darkness. He could just make out some kind of lawn decoration between two cedar bushes. Walking forward to get a better view, he recognized with a sudden frisson of horror, what appeared to be a large head partially emerged from the lawn.
When this reaction had passed, Ken sighed. It wasn’t the first “buried head” he’d seen. Two years ago had been his first—and it had given both him and Jake quite a fright. Last year there had been two of these things, and he avoided those houses ever since. And nowhere was another one! While he appreciated their effectiveness, he also knew that Jake nursed an abiding horror of them.
So, keeping a firm hold on the leash, Ken came up to where Jake was standing, legs spread sturdily, barking defiantly at the thing. The “head” was composed of four separate elements: a nose, two closed eyes, and a broad forehead between straw eyebrows and straw hair, all protruding from the grass.
Ken was struck by the realism of this “face.” Though it was smaller than the others he had seen, being only about three times the size of a human face, it was more convincing. Squatting down, he petted Jake reassuringly, and was pleased when this appeared to have an effect. Jake’s barks became intermittent. Maybe the little dog was getting inured to Halloween!
Thinking this, Ken decided to remain where he was a couple of minutes, so that Jake might finally come to dismiss the thing. It seemed a better plan than pulling him away and so leaving another traumatic Halloween memory in his canine mind.
As he continued to pet Jake, Ken looked the face over. It struck him as curious that the face wasn’t larger. While it was definitely creepy, it lacked the sense of something truly monstrous, which he thought was the point of this type of decoration.
And as he continued to ponder this, Jake’s barking became less and less. He seemed more curious than afraid now. Thinking that this might be the opportunity for him to learn about these things, Ken let the leash out.
“Go check it out, boy!”
Jake, however, wouldn’t move forward. And he continued to bark every few seconds.
Ken shook his head. He would have to demonstrate. He stood up and took a step toward the feature of the face that was closest—the nose—and looked back at his dog. Jake, after hesitating a second, crept up behind him.
Ken took another step forward, and Jake, again, crept forward after him. Ken looked at the face again. From this close, he was even more impressed with the realism of the features. The eyebrows and hair, which had looked like straw from further away, now looked more like—well, coarse straw-colored hair. And the facial features, while caricatures of a human face, the closed eyes being too big for the nose, and the nose itself too pudgy, were very complete in their details, such as the eyelashes and the texture of the flesh, quite realistic in fact.
One more step and Ken was right next to the nose, which stuck up about eight inches from the grass. It was, he decided, probably made of Styrofoam, painted to look like flesh. He almost nudged it with his sneaker, but then decided it would impress Jake more if he touched it with his fingers. So he squatted down and, after making sure Jake was watching him, reached out to the tip of the nose.
That was when the eyes opened.