THE RED GRANITE CONFESSIONAL
Tanner Means wants nothing more than to be normal but he is plagued with terrifying, uncontrollable, and inescapable images in his head. Accepting his psychic abilities with the help of a woman called Kansas, he encounters various residents of East Tower Grove Park of St. Louis, each plagued by their own inner demons. Most bewildering of all is a girl named Opal, and Tanner is drawn into the dark mystery of her life. What can he do to help her? Why is her life any business of his? For Tanner and Opal, is it ever too late for revenge and redemption?
Tanner Means emptied the rose porcelain bowl of blood and spittle and returned to sit at the fett of his now dead grandmother. There were no tears, there was no despair, no remorse. He had experienced those things too many times in the past few years to feel anything now. In the last six months he had grown numb to any emotion he might have once felt for his last family member.
He straightened her faded Rose of Sharon quilt, the last one she'd put needle and thread to, and tucked it around her shoulders. More tired than he had felt in weeks, he settled his six-foot one frame into the sewing rocker by her bed, where he had slept so many nights breathing in the ointments, the salves, and the smell of slow death, if you call it sleep, his half dozing and half listening to the sounds of her tortured body. But tonight, there was no sleeping, nor rocking. She stillness that had settled around the death bed drew him into an inexplicable calm. No longer did he need to listen for her coughing. Lillian Means hadn't struggled to breath these last few weeks. She didn't breathe so much as air seeped into her lungs then escaped out again. The in the last three days her breath came with a fair amount of murky liquid and clots of blood. That was now over for her, and he was grateful more than anything else.
Sometime that moonless night, Tannis straightened the stack of poetry books on her nightstand. For months he had read to her for endless hours while she slipped slowly from life. Poetry comforted her, though he honestly couldn't tell for sure, she gave no signs of approval or disapproval. Even though he had watched her closely, she gave very few signs of still being alive. Poems of love, poems of simple living, and poems of forest and fields had always been her favorites. He turned off the light in her bedroom and Corn Mortuary from the phone niche in the hallway. "Lillian's gone," was all he said. In the small town of Eagen Lake, everyone knew that Lillian Means was dying; it was only a matter of time before Tanner would call.
She was buried on a cold but clear Minnesota February morning.
Three months after the funeral, when spring had finally come up from the south in full bloom, Silas Babb, the family retainer stopped at the simple Means farmhouse to meet with the sole survivor of the Means family. Tanner always thought of Silas as The Gray Man, because everything about him was gray, from what was left of his hair to his clothes and shoes, and even to the shade of his pale blue eyes. Even his personality was a faint gray.
Tanner asked Silas to have a seat at the kitchen table. He wasn't sure what else to do, since Silas didn't seem to be in a hurry about anything when he arrived. Tanner waited as Silas settled at the far end of the table and asked him, "Why are you still here on what's left of this old farm? There's a whole world out there for a young man like you. Go, find out what it has for you."
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