Saving Grace – Narrator

Photography: Sarah Szwajkos

Some people say that you swallow several spiders a year in your sleep.  There’s no evidence that this happens.  Logically it makes no sense.  They say it because it’s gross and weird and fun to believe.  They believe it because they can tell it to other people and those people be all like “really?! Ew! Gross!”  

Life is more interesting with hook-handed escaped murder mental patients and soda cans covered with deadly rat urine and sexy organ thieves and upright walking coyotes that can open doors and airlines that want you to die and energy drinks made from semen and fruits that cause AIDS and ATMs that will summon the police if you put in your PIN backwards.  

The Rynerson-Pinheiro compound is deep in the backwoods of Alabama.  It’s very old.  The owners are very wealthy.  They have a very long history in the area.  They’re very reclusive.  Add in razor wire fences and patrols of armed guards with watchdogs around the compound and you have a great target for telling tales.  

Most of these tales are disappointingly banal.  Drug trafficking.  Organized crime.  A private vault with millions of dollars.  Some of them aren’t even rumors so much as accepted facts.  Rumors like the Rynerson-Pinheiros do everything in their power to keep the logger’s union weak so they can maximize their profits, that they’ve killed labor organizers, that they threaten the families of their workers who speak out against their tactics.

Even some of the more exoteric ones are predictably boring.  Civil war ghosts.  Mass burial grounds of murdered slaves.  Satanism.  Eye Wide Shut style orgies, power brokering, blackmail, murder, associations with the Clintons, curses, connections to the Kennedys, vampirism, etc.  

But you dig around enough you get into the weird stuff.  OId man Rynerson is six hundred years of age because he harvests the souls of suicides and unbaptized babies to sustain himself, being a Polish demon that came to the new world you see.  All the security is not to keep anyone out, but to keep in old lady Pinheiro, who after her third miscarriage sold her soul a Babylonian god in return for power over life and death.  Some people will tell you that the first season of True Detective was inspired by the Rynerson-Pinheiro family.  Others will tell you that it’s a cover for a secret government lab and that the so-called “skunk apes” sightings in the area are the actually products of their genetic engineering super soldier project.  

The truth wouldn’t be believed.  Because magic isn’t real.  There’s no such thing as necromancers.  

Grace called ahead.  She tries to be polite as much as she can.  She told Stella’s mother that she was ready to get the resurrection of her daughter underway.  

The road leading up to the private road leading up to the Rynerson-Pinheiro estate is a public road.  It was closed off anyway.  Private security waved Grace through.  

Once she got to the turn off for the private road Grace was met by more private security.  The security men instructed her leave her ‘91 Nissan Stanza GXE there at the end of the private road and drove her the rest of the way to the compound in a black Skoda Kodiaq.  As they were making the switchover Grace made a joke about how her car was too old and ugly to be allowed on the premises of the fancy rich people.  One guy smiled.  

Once they got up to the house it seemed to Grace that there was more security around than last time she was here.  But she wasn’t sure.  She didn’t get a good sense here of how many of them there were before.  But it seemed like more to her this time.

As they were shepherding her around she wondered how it’s possible to find this many people that will work for murdering blood mages.  Are there this many morally bankrupt people in the world?  She hoped that most of them didn’t actually know what was going on, that there were just a few that were involved in the kidnapping and the torture and the murder and the rest were dupes.  When the paychecks are good people don’t have an incentive to ask a lot of questions.

Grace was ushered through the house into a room that had a pond in it.  People that care about these kinds of things call that a water feature.  Grace thought idly that you have to be really rich to come up with an idea like that.  An indoor pond in your house.  The room reminded her of a lobby for the kind of building she rarely has reason to visit.   Or the desire to visit honestly.

When she was shown in Grace was struck once more by Stella’s mother’s almost identical appearance to her deceased friend.  In that moment, like the first two times she laid eyes on her, there’s a split second, just a fraction of time, when Grace’s brain tricks her into thinking that Stella is alive and that’s who she’s looking at.  That’s a good moment for Grace.  Followed quickly by a very bad one.   When she remembers.

If Stella had dressed up, or her mother dressed down it would be almost impossible to tell them apart.  Grace can see a few subtle differences.  She didn’t know Stella for long but she thinks about her often.  Stella’s face is etched into her memory.  Grace can make out the little lines on Stella’s mother’s face that weren’t present on Stella.  She sees the hardness in the eyes of the mother that Stella lacked.

Grace is seated a good distance away from Stella’s mother in an alligator leather chair.  She would be disappointed to find out that the chair cost over fifty thousand dollars.   She would want a chair that expensive to be comfortable, which this chair is not.  She doesn’t understand how rich people chairs work, it’s not about function.  Once she’s seated two of the four men that led her there leave and the other two stand on either side of her.  Two more men flank Stella’s mother across the way.  

“The courtesy of your hall has somewhat lessened of late” Grace remarks.

Grace has never seen the Lord of the Rings movies, she’s just seen that line in memes.  If you asked her about where that came from she wouldn’t know for sure.  Some movie she’d say.  That’s just what popped into her mind.  She thought it would sound cool.  

Say this for Amazing Grace.  She’s memorable.  Obviously because of her appearance, but she has a way about her that’s even more memorable to some.  People would say that for her age, and honestly for her gender, that she has a rare kind of self-confidence.  They’re wrong about that though, what they’re taking for self-confidence is really self-possession. 

Grace isn’t confident in what she’s doing in the least, what she is instead is calm and in control of herself.  The lesson she’s learned is that once you’ve decided on a course of action you have to commit.  There’s no room for half-measures.   Doesn’t matter if you made the wrong call, you made the call.  So do it.

Stella’s mother ignores her remark “You said you’re ready to begin.  Who have you selected as the sacrifices?  Do you have them hidden in your pocket?”

Grace shakes her head “We don’t need any human sacrifices.”  

Grace gestures to the hired goon on her left, who’s holding a LAVRA Printed Canvas Denim Fuzz Shoulder Tote Bag with “Follow My Heart” printed on the side, which Grace bought on sale at Wal-Mart for $3.99 and which currently holds several magical artifacts.  

“I wasn’t able to work myself up to murder, but I’m okay with burglary.  There’s more power here than any three people I could line up for murdering.”

“It was five actually.”

Grace snorts “Of course, five people, my mistake.”

Stella’s mother gestures to the man holding the fuzz canvas bag who walks halfway across the room and hands it over to his counterpart who came halfway to meet him like some changing of the guards.  After the hand-off they both return to their posts, the new courier handing the bag to Stella’s mother who briefly looks through it and then drops it on the floor beside her matching uncomfortable fifty-thousand-dollar chair.  

After a moment she speaks “It won’t be enough.”

Grace blows out a breath “I thought you might say that.  Is the spell that you say can being Stella back from the dead even real?  Or was the entire thing a scam from the beginning?  I consulted with some experts and they said that what you suggested is impossible.”

Stella’s mother purses her lips “You’re not as stupid as you look.”

Smile smiles crookedly “I couldn’t be right?”

She takes another moment before answering “The spell is possible.  The technique I showed you is quite genuine.  I did lie to you.  The power required to bring someone back from the dead is far more than I let on.  A bag of trinkets isn’t going to do it.  Nor would the deaths of five people.”

“How many people would have to die to make it work?”

“Thousands at the very least.  Probably tens of thousands.  I’ve never done it.  So far as anyone knows no one has been able to cast that spell successfully in the hundreds of years.  People don’t have the tolerance for mass human sacrifices like they used to.”

“Why did you do it?  Just to fuck with me?”

“I wanted to see what you do.  And what you did was very disappointing.  Nothing.  My turn to ask a question Grace.  If you knew why did you come here?  You must know that you’re never going to leave this place.  Your disappearing trick won’t work here, I’ve made sure of that.”

Grace thinks for a moment “I didn’t know.  Not for sure.  I came because there was a chance you were telling the truth.  I couldn’t risk the that it might be real.  That I could undo what I did.”

“You risked your life for a chance?” 

Grace shrugs slightly “Stella was my friend.” 

“If it was possible would you exchange your life for my daughters?”

After a long pause Grace answers “No.”

“And yet you come here to die.  For nothing.  You really are stupid.”

“Well, I never did go to school much.”

Stella’s mother’s lip curls slightly “You’re disgusting.  You’re a worm that you’d find under a rock.  I wish that my daughter had never met you.”

“So do I” Grace remarks glumly “I don’t suppose you feel you’ve gotten your revenge for Stella’s death?  Just by lying and making me think about betraying my principals.”

Her head moves slightly side to side “No, I don’t suppose that I do.”

Grace takes a breath and then stretches her way to her feet “Alright, let’s get to it then.”  

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