They arrive at Father Marten’s home twenty minutes after Grady eases his head back and closes his eyes. Father Marten is a man who made a lot of money before he became a man of the cloth. His house is rather impressive. Even Grady has to admit that his house is one of the best he has seen amongst the many priests he has stayed with. Father Marten has a parish of his own not far from his home but he has gained his fame and notoriety in Texas because of his work with prisoners on death row. Given Texas’ penchant for executing criminals he chose the state in order to be on the front lines of the battle to eliminate the death penalty. His face is common on the evening news in the state of Texas. Donations from all over the world come to his church. He is respected and beloved.
Grady climbs out of the car and into the oppressive warmth of the afternoon. The neighborhood is beautiful and Grady feels a momentary pang of jealousy for the normalcy of it all. He grabs his suitcase and follows the priest into the house.
Father Marten show’s Grady to his room. The guest room would do any bed and breakfast proud. Grady realizes for the first time just how tired he is and how long the trip from Ireland has been. The bed looks amazingly comfortable and tempting. He removes his coat and allows himself a moment to stretch out on the bed and his muscles relax.
Later Grady joins Father Marten for a small dinner of sandwiches followed by slices of some of the best homemade apple pie Grady has ever eaten. Father Marten tells him the pie is from an elderly member of his parish. Grady eats eagerly and afterwards feels the sleepiness of one having eaten a large meal combined with the jet-lag and wonders if it is possible to slip right into a coma. He excuses himself and heads upstairs to change into sweats and a t-shirt. He is tempted merely to crawl into bed and go to sleep but as he changes a thought comes to his mind and he heads back downstairs to the living room where Father Marten is watching television.
“Will I get to meet any family?”
Father Marten looks up with confusion across his face.
“It’s just part of the tradition. Usually I meet with members of the family.”
Father Marten presses his lips together forming a tight line across the bottom of his face. He seems nervous to Grady and unsure of himself for the first time. He wonders again about motives behind gestures and pushes the thoughts away as the ravings of a tired mind.
“I’ll see what I can do.”
“Thanks, father. I’m long past exhausted. I’m going to bed. Good-night.”
“Good-night, Grady. Get some rest.”
Grady climbs the stairs on legs that feel loaded with ball bearings and collapses once again into the bed. He finds it as comfortable he had hoped. He drifts off to sleep much faster than he thought and he soon finds himself lost in his dreams.
Grady dreams and in his dreams it is always the same. He is very small and he has to stretch up so high to reach his father’s hand. The world seems so big and alternately wondrous and terrifying. He doesn’t know what they are doing or where they are going be he things the big house they are walking to is very cool because it has an enormous yard with an enormous tree that Grady would love to climb. He isn’t afraid because he is with his father and his father is the most wonderful person in the world to him with the possible exception being Spider-man.
They approach the front door and Grady notices that there is a party going on. People are everywhere and they give very strange looks to Grady’s father as he passes. His father is warm and kind and smiles and nods and gives greetings. People nod and smile back but there is a sadness that Grady can sense even at that age. A woman answers the door and she looks very old to Grady but she smiles warmly and hugs his father and invites him in. There are more people in the living room and they turn to watch his father as he enters. Their conversations stop in the middle of sentences and no one seems to breath until he passes from view and is led into the large dining room.
The old woman bends down and pinches Grady’s cheek and ruffles his hair. Her face is rosy and she appears kind and happy but that sense of sadness seems particularly strong coming from her and Grady is unsure how to react to her and merely smiles and nods in the right places.
They are led into the dining room and Grady sees that only two places are set and the table is already piled high with food. He smiles at the food and climbs eagerly into the chair that sits off to the side of the head chair. His father takes the spot at the head of the table. Grady picks up his knife and fork and bangs them on his plate playfully until a look from his father stops his playing and wipes the smile from his face. He folds his hands and waits to see what happens next.
More food is brought from the kitchen. Plates of meat are piled on the table along with bread and vegetables and potatoes. His father smiles and nods as the food is brought out and placed in front of him. He begins to take large portions of the meat. He nods at Grady and Grady begins to take portions as well. A glass of red wine is given to his father. Water is poured in the glass next to Grady’s plate. He takes a bit of the meat and it is delicious. His father puts a forkful of meat into his own mouth and chews thoughtfully. Grady is delighted at the meal and can’t help from smiling but he notices that his father doesn’t smile. He chews and stares at his plate and there is a tension there that Grady doesn’t understand. It is as if his father is waiting for a great blow to hit him from behind very suddenly.
His father lifts another forkful of meat to his mouth but stops suddenly. The fork falters and wavers in his hand. A look crosses his face as if the blow he was anticipating has hit him and hit him much harder than he ever thought possible. The fork falls and clatters against the plate and tumbles to the tablecloth. Grady calls to his father. His father opens his mouth and lets out a soft cry. His body stiffens. His hands clutch at the tablecloth. The movement causes the wine glass to tip. Grady sees this all as if it is in slow-motion and he relives it in his dream in slow-motion as well. The glass tips and tips and tips and keep tipping, the red liquid inside catching the light and edging ever closer to the top of the glass. Behind Grady the old woman has come into the room with a basket of bread. She sees Grady’s father and lets loose with a cry of agony that causes Grady to put his hands to his ears. She begins to fall, like the wine, the bread tumbling from her arms in a mass of crust and basket. A younger woman comes running from inside the kitchen and reaches for the old woman. Grady’s father is rigid in his seat, his teeth clenched and his eyes closed. The wine glass reaches the point of no return and tumbles. The liquid falls from it and Grady can see clearly a single drop falling from the lip, tumbling through the air and splashing silently against the white tablecloth He reaches for his father’s hand as the woman lets loose a loud and painful wail that goes on and on like a siren…
Grady’s eyes snap open in the bed in Father Marten’s house. He has a moment when he is certain he is once again a child and clutching at his father’s hand and then he realizes he was dreaming and he remembers where he is. He is sweating. The bedclothes are bunched beneath him and around him. His hands clutch tightly around the blanket. He lets loose as series of ragged breaths and realizes that it is night and that all is dark and silent in the house. His throat is dry and he untangles himself from the blankets and pads barefoot out of the room and down the hall to the bathroom. When he turns on the light even he is shocked by how pale he is. Being redheaded he is always fair-skinned but he is positively ghostly right now. His red hair looks like the top of a matchstick and sticks up crazily around his head. He runs his hand through it absently.
He turns on the water and splashes cold water over his face and eyes. His heart hammers in his chest. He drinks water straight from the tap. He looks at his dripping face in the mirror. His nose nearly touches the glass as he studies his eyes as though looking through them might give him access to the dream he has relived a thousand times.
“Goddamn you, father. Goddamn you, our family and this curse you passed along to me.”
He stares for a few moments longer and then shuts off the light and pads back to bed. He doesn’t think he will be able to get back to sleep but somehow finds a way and manages to sleep dreamless and awake into sunlight.
The morning goes by in a rush. This is fine with Grady because the sooner he gets on with things the better. He eats an apple for breakfast and downs coffee. He wonders what that mixture will do together in his stomach. There is little conversation over breakfast as Father Marten reviews the morning paper and eats two slices of toast and drinks his own coffee. They leave just as the sun begins to make itself really known and head off in Father Marten’s car.
“Have you been to Death Row before, Grady?”
“Never one in Texas, father.”
“Then I hope you slept well. The nature of this place is likely to give your sensitivities quite a work out. It could be a very rough morning.”
The early morning roads are very clear. The prison is set far enough from the city that it takes half an hour to drive there. They pass from suburbs into fields and farms. In the middle of one of the fields there is a fence within a fence and atop both is razor-wire. The buildings are utilitarian in nature. The entire place seems to drain the color from the sky, the sun and the land surrounding it. To Grady’s dismay he sees that a group of people hoping for Grafton’s death have already started to gather. They recognize the priests car and several of them are roused from sleeping bags and they begin shouting at the car. The guards are used to the Father Marten and they let him in quickly to avoid any confrontation.
“What’s that about?”
“Grafton is hardly a sympathetic character, Grady, as you yourself pointed out. Most just want to be the ones to push the button. I barely notice it anymore.”
Father Marten drives to a spot he knows all too well. They emerge from the car and the heat of the day is already starting to rise even this early. The weather is calling for storms tomorrow and Grady hopes that will cool things down and perhaps dispel some of the group outside the gate.
“Good morning, father.”
The guards all seem to know Father Marten and they greet him or nod as he walks into the building where guards will search him. They eye Grady suspiciously and look him up and down. Grady pauses to take one last look at the blue sky and blazing sun before he steps into the shadows inside the building. Immediately the feeling of dread falls over him. Behind these wall is evil and he can feel it emanating from within. Some of the sensations are old, residue left behind by previous tenants. But beyond that residue there is a powerful, pulsating feeling, like a burning fire and that is from something still very much alive behind these walls.
Luis Grafton awaits them and soon Grady will be face-to-face with what many believe is the very embodiment of evil.