My Uncle Billy was the black sheep of the family. He was my mother’s older brother, who joined the military in the early 1990s and saw combat in the first Gulf War, but he didn’t come entirely back. My mom said he suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder and something called gulf war syndrome. My father said he did too many drugs and spent too much time in the desert heat. Either way, he was odd. Scary odd.

He was a big guy, 6’4 at least, big but not fat. He had a leanness about him, a strong sinewy look like he spent all his times outdoors. He never cut his blonde hair, so it was wild, shoulder-length, full of snarls and natural dreadlocks. He had a beard, a big bushy beard that always looked dirty, had black specs and greasy food particles in it. He always smelled of rank BO, a thick musk of sweat and grime and blood. Dirty, calloused hands, under his long nails was always black. He dressed in whatever hand-me-downs that would fit him, so he always looked unkempt, un-put together. He had blue eyes, but they weren’t okay. They were perpetually bloodshot, wider than they should be, a bit glassy. He stare at you when he would talk, his rancid breath hitting you like a punch, his eyes never wavering.

He talked a lot about religion, but he wasn’t Catholic or Presbyterian or anything I recognized. I think it was a religion he made up, but it borrowed the worst from other religions. He talked a lot about HIM, who was like God, but scarier, more liable to come for you personally. HE wanted to take you to Hell, HE wanted to make you cry and scream, HE wanted you to hurt.

Growing up, he served as a combination “hillbilly” bogyman, cautionary tale and stranger-danger test to me and my friends. I grew up in West Virginia, a modest town, not one of the poorer coal towns, and he lived up somewhere in the hills about an hour away, out where they didn’t have telephones or internet or maybe running water. He’d walk down into town once every two or three months, buy stuff from the local K-Mart (bullets, mostly, he hunted his own game), act weird, and disappear up in the mountains again.

When I mean act weird, he’s what I mean: When I was 4 or 5, I was having a sleepover at my friends house. We were camping out back, walkie-talkies, G.I. Joes, s’mores. In the middle of the night, we heard a gunshot. When we woke up, there was Uncle Billy stoking up the fire, a freshly gutted and skinned rabbit beside him. It was our breakfast. He talked to us about HIM coming for us to feed us to devils until the police showed up and convinced him to leave.

When I was 7, He showed up unannounced at our house, dirtier and smellier than usual. He said he has been fasting for 13 days, and he saw visions of HIM coming for me, and my parents needed to hide me, preferably underground where HE couldn’t see me. My mom managed to talk my uncle into going home, then called the police, and the next day they called to put in a security system, as well as extra locks on the doors. That didn’t deter Uncle Billy, he would come in a window, and twice smashed in the glass patio door to come inside and pray with us, security system beeping away.

Once when I was 9, I was playing right field during a little league game. In the top of the 4th inning, Uncle Billy, who unbeknownst to me was watching me play from the scrub bushes by the right field line, jumps the fence, walks over to me, hands me an envelope stuffed with one dollar bills and seeds (like carrot seeds), tells me he’ll pray with me that HE doesn’t take me, and grabs my hand in my baseball glove and won’t let go until my coach and my father pull him away from me. That was a typical Uncle Billy story.

On my 10th birthday, he left me a gift on the back porch. It was a Hallmark card of a cat in a birthday hat with the face burned out, the inside of the card full of his scribbly handwriting warning me of HIM, death, Hell, and a yellowed Marmaduke cartoon he cut out of the newspaper.

When I was 12, he was waiting for me outside of school, with a heart-shaped box of Valentine’s Day candies. It was early May. The principal told him to leave, but when my Uncle Billy looked at him, the principal (all 5’2 of him) cowered away and locked down the school until the police arrived.

I asked my mom why they didn’t have the cops lock Uncle Billy up. She said they felt sorry for him, being a veteran, and it was more trouble than it was worth. My dad said the cops were afraid he’d go Rambo on them. It was years before I released that meant he’d start killing them.

Whenever ever something bad, or strange, happened in town, Uncle Billy got blamed. Some things, like windows being broken, or a freshly prepared deer carcass sitting on someone’s front porch as an offering, was him. Others, like people disappearing, or in the case of the murder where the victim was stabbed, gutted, and left outside the municipal building, no one knows for sure. Kids teased me about Uncle Billy, but when he showed up, those same kids tended to shut up and cry.

Christmas Eve one year we got back from church to find him waiting on the front porch with his face busted up and a burlap sack full of “gifts” (mostly ramp mushrooms, some meat, and bullets), a grotesque version of Santa, blood pouring down his white t-shirt: he said someone saw him and jumped him, hit him with a brick. He then held up a big hunting knife and said he made sure that they’d never do it again.

Another time he broke the back window of my parent’s SUV to sleep in the back. I found him an early February morning while taking the dog out, huddled in a ball in the back of our old GMC Suburban, no shoes on his bloody feet, wrapped in a dirty blanket, a rifle next to him.

He came to my first middle school dance, stumbling through the gym doors bellowing my name to save my soul from HIM. Everyone ran like it was the climax in the movie Carrie.

He showed up at my first job as a server at Applebees, sat in the corner booth and refused everything but water, told me HE was here watching me in this den of sin, but left a $10 tip and some pages torn out from the Bible. The next morning every one of the windows was shot out of the Applebees. I was “let go” shortly after.

When I went away from college, hundreds of miles away, he showed up at my dorm one Sunday morning at 5:00 AM my freshman year. He was dirtier and more unhinged than normal. He said he hitchhiked with HIM to get there. He brought me some meat he jerkied himself, and asked if we could go pray. I sat with him on a bench outside the dorms while he talked about HIM coming for my soul for a solid 20 minutes, enough time for the campus security and state police to surround us, then he gave up without a fight. He said it would be a nicer ride home in the back of the police car.

This was a repeating pattern. I’d move, change dorms, change my name, change my look, but he’d find me, show up with some odd gift or prize or something important, and want to save me from HIM. It was scary, but it wasn’t. I grew with this monstrous man, it was like a part of my childhood, HE was part of my childhood, but looking back, there were times it could have gone very, very badly.

When I was 24 and away at grad school, my parents called to tell me he died. It wasn’t anything creepy, lung cancer they said. He was laid to rest in the local cemetery, a private service.

About a year later, when I got a call from an attorney. Turns out, Uncle Billy left a will, and in it, he named me his sole heir. He left everything to me, a bank account with around $5,000 in cash in it, and his “personal possessions” this consisted of bibles with his rambling scribbles overwriting the pages, a dozen guns, about fifty knives, and a bunch of junk. Mostly my junk, things I had thrown away, or donated to the Goodwill over the years. I found my baseball glove, my 4th grade science project, old toys. It was like he kept my things as trophies, or holy relics.

I thought this would be the end of the story, but here’s the thing. I’m 33 now, and every so often I get a card in the mail, or a package on my front porch full of strange things. Once I got a package that was rifle ammunition, and half a hallmark card, ripped down the middle, with bastardized bible verses on it. His scribbly handwriting. Another time my car was broken into, but nothing was stolen. However, whoever broke into my car scratched a cross into the dashboard and the words “HE can see you”. It smelled in the car, like a man who hadn’t showered in months. I’ve moved, from East Coast US to West Coast US to back to East Coast US, and this still happens. I get weird birthday cards with quasi-religious messages, or I’ll find dead, gutted animals sitting outside my house (I didn’t even know New York City had raccoons, but someone found a raccoon around 47th street, field gutted it, and left it outside on the front stoop). I’ll forget about my Uncle Billy, I’ll put him out of my mind, and HE’LL show up in my life in some way.

What scares me is that, outside of my hometown, I’ve never mentioned Uncle Billy to anyone. This is the first time I’m posting anything about HIM to anyone. I could write off one odd thing as a bad prank, or happenstance, but it keeps happening. No one would keep up a twisted joke like this for years. Unless it wasn’t a joke.

What really scares me is that last year, I gave birth to my first child, a little boy. We had a lot of trouble deciding on a name, so my partner (who I never spoke to about Uncle Billy) and I each put our three best name ideas in a hat, and I pulled one, and we decided that would be the name. So I pulled one out. 

William.