By the time Father Marten pulls up in front of his house again Grady is so completely emotionally drained that he wonders how he can even manage the strength to get out of the car. Father Marten still wants to talk to him and he can sense the priest’s need to continue to explain himself. Grady rushes into the house before Father Marten can open his mouth.
Grady enters the darkened home. Outside the rain patters against the windows and the roof. Lightning illuminates the rooms for a moment. It is very pleasantly cool in the home and Grady enjoys the cool air for a moment. He heads to the stairs and gets three steps up before Father Marten enters the house and starts to speak.
“Grady, I – “
“I’m tired, father. I need to try and get some rest before tomorrow. I don’t have anything else to say right now. Just make sure that tomorrow I have a room to myself. I can’ be there in the witnesses gallery. Sometimes the process can be a painful one and I expect this to be one of the worst. I don’t want to be flailing around in front of family members from the victims and people from the press.”
“I’ll see to it, Grady. Would you like anything for dinner?”
“Not right now. I may come down later and fix myself a sandwich or something. I’m not very hungry, though.”
“Do you need anything else for tomorrow? Do you actually need food?”
“No. I’ll just need a room where I can be alone and concentrate on Grafton. His soul will find me once I’ve tuned in to him. The eating thing is the only part of this that’s really a myth and symbolic. In the past I’ve used the act of eating to sort of clear my mind. Like when you’re shaving and suddenly you get a great idea about something. I don’t know if that makes sense.”
“Some of my best sermons came to me while I was shaving or driving. I understand. I wish I could say something, Grady.”
“It doesn’t matter. It’s funny, I should have realized. Most of those involved in the Catholic Church don’t sanction what me and my kind have done. Forgiveness of the soul, according to them, should only come through the church. Getting a call from a priest should have set of more alarms than it did. I guess I’ve grown complacent. I get the call and I go.”
“There’s a lot of things even I don’t understand, Grady.”
“Maybe we’ll talk later, father. I need to rest now.”
Grady makes his way upstairs and into the room. The bed looks so inviting but he pauses to undress and get into more comfortable clothes. He sits down on the floor and crosses his legs. He listens to his breathing and tries to calm himself. His thoughts are scattered a million places and he tries to get them back under his own control. He doesn’t truly meditate but he does this to clear his thoughts and relax. It’s a very fine line between that and meditation, he realizes, but he sticks with that explanation.
So many faces come back to him in a rush. So many sins that leave marks upon him come floating to the surface. He wonders for the thousandth time in his life what this duty he is asked to perform does to his own soul. Who will absolve him of the accumulated sins of so many others when it is at last his time to go. He was not there for his father’s passing and no one was there for his grandfather. Each man died while returning home from a visit to someone else. What happened to their souls?
His father began taking him along on his visits when he was first able to walk. On the very long trips he did not take Grady although he did take him to some conference in Rome once when he was five. At first Grady found the trips exciting and fun. He loved being with his father. The episodes when his father appeared to be having seizures were scary but his father always appeared at peace afterwards and so full of love. As he grew older his father told him what he was and what was in his family. It was something that the McDonnell’s knew how to do and had been able to do as far back as anyone could remember. It was passed through the male genes from one generation to the next, never skipping, always placing its mark upon the men. Some men did not follow the path he had and refused the gift. Only those with a certain spark were chosen to fully develop and hone their abilities.
Grady’s training began in earnest when he turned thirteen. He was beginning to see things when he bumped into certain people. Images and ghostly voices haunted his dreams. His father knew that his abilities were coming into full-bloom and would need to be harnessed. They spent hours together in the fields behind his parent’s home in Ireland learning how to filter the noise. He learned to read the souls of the dying. He learned how to attract the sinful soul of the one he was meant to absolve.
His father introduced him to many others who shared their ability. They were all part of a kind of secret order. The nature of this order was a mystery to them. His father and his friends considered themselves soldiers who followed orders and went where duty told them and did not ask questions or wonder why. A call would come at any time of the day and orders given. His father would disappear or wake him up and take him with.
Grady wondered about the people he worked for. The voices on the phone were different each time. The hours didn’t matter. As the technology became available it was incorporated. He was paged or his cell phone rang. He received e-mails and text messages. The travel was always first class. The lodgings likewise. Transportation was provided. Everything was paid for including his home and food and expenses. He never received a paycheck but his bank account was always adequately supplied with funds. Grady was a good soldier and he did as he was told and he didn’t ask questions.
Tonight he wonders. He wonders about the people he works for and how Father Marten was able to call in a favor like this. He wonders who lays behind the curtains and the phone calls and text messages. These thoughts will not leave his mind no matter how hard he tries and he soon realizes sleep will not come easily despite how tired he feels. He heads downstairs and expects to find a darkened house and instead finds a lighted kitchen. Father Marten is in a bathrobe and sips warm milk at the kitchen table.
“I was wondering if you would really be able to sleep all the night through. Would you like some warm milk?”
Father Marten gets up and walks to the stove. He pours the milk into a mug and hands it to Grady. Grady drinks the warm liquid and grimaces.
“I was trying to relax myself. So many questions kept running through my head. Like, I was wondering how you got a message to me?”
“I made some calls. I met a lot of people over the years, Grady. I’ve become in influential person and can get a lot of things done.”
“Do you know anything about the organization I work for?”
“No, Grady. I know a few names. I know a few people. I hear rumors.”
“That the organization you work for is old. I’ve heard it may be older than organized religion. I’ve heard alternately that it is either on the side of the angels or on the side of the devil.”
“Doesn’t make much sense for it to be on the side of the devil if I send clean souls through.”
“Remember what I said, Grady. I believe that if a person doesn’t believe in Jesus Christ, then the soul still goes to hell. Maybe the devils want clean souls as well.”
“Interesting theory but somehow it doesn’t hold true.”
“You said you don’t know what’s on the other side. How do you know?”
“For every Luis Grafton there have been a hundred people with sins so minor they barely qualify. I’ve been beside children as they’ve passed. I just don’t feel that the work is for anything evil.”
“Why are you worrying about this now, Grady?”
Grady finishes his milk and puts the empty mug on the kitchen table. He rubs his eyes and yawns.
“I’m just wondering what it’s for. I was brought here under false pretenses. Now, don’t get all defensive, I’m not saying I’m mad. I’m just saying that this was the first time I was lied to. I guess I’m wondering if it’s happened before. I guess I’m wondering if everything I’ve done has been for some kind of purpose or has it all been lies? What do I do this for? What does it do to me?”
Father Marten reaches into the pocket of his bathrobe. He removes something small and rectangular. He passes it across the table to Grady. Grady looks down and find himself staring into the face of a beautiful young blond-haired girl. She looks full of life. She looks ready to take on the world.
“That’s Allie, Grady. She’s the reason I brought you here. If you still have trouble justifying doing it for Grafton’s soul then do it for hers.”
Grady holds the picture in his hands. He wonders how a man could snuff out the life he can feel flowing from this child just from a picture. No amount of horror suffered in childhood could justify doing this. No amount of cruelty could justify this kind of returned cruelty.
“I’ll be down here early tomorrow morning, father. I always start my days like that when I know the day is here. I won’t want to eat much.”
Father Marten nods. Grady hands the picture back to him. Then Grady gets up from the table and starts to leave the room.
“I remember a quote I once heard. ‘Battle not with monsters, lest ye become a monster. And if you stare into the abyss, the abyss stares also into you.'”
“Nietzsche, I believe.”
“Tonight I finally understand exactly what that means. Am I becoming a monster, Father Marten? Will I become Luis Grafton in some way after tomorrow?”
Father Marten stares at the picture in his hand. He sighs. To Grady he seems more tired than he has the entire time he’s been here.
“I don’t know, Grady.”
Grady nods and leaves the priest to his own thoughts. He wanders up the stairs and back into his bedroom. He lays down on the comfortable bed and throws an arm over his eyes. The image of Luis Grafton’s face is waiting for him behind his eyelids but he does not turn away from it. He stares into the face. He searches the eyes. He looks through them because the eyes are supposed to be the windows to the soul. He wonders what Luis Grafton’s soul will feel like.
Each soul becomes burdened with sins. No matter the age of the person who has passed each soul becomes stained with sin and heavy with each passing sin. Grady can feel that weight transfer from the passing soul to himself. After each event Grady feels dirty as if black powder has been sprayed across his body. He has been known to spend up to an hour in the shower until the feeling passes. With someone like Luis Grafton, Grady worries the soul may actually “weigh” too much for him. At times when the souls have passed through him he has felt the personality and presence of the deceased. Afterwards he has noticed certainly personality traits that are suddenly his that were the other person’s before. Often these traits vanish over time but a few have remained. His tendency to whistle show tunes came from a woman he absolved five years ago, for instance.
Grady has faced many sins and a few monsters in his time. Never before has he faced a monster of the magnitude of Luis Grafton. He begins to think that sleep will be impossible for him. As soon as he thinks that, he drifts off into his dreams.