Dark clouds roiled and folded in on themselves, reaching toward
him, as though they were alive and seeking him out. He stood alone,
keeping silent watch, so lost in his own thoughts he seemed unaware of
anything except the open grave in front of him. Off to the side the
keepers of the cemetery waited with a mixture of impatience and
wariness for him to finish his solitary vigil so they could begin the task of
filling in the grave. They were used to completing this task quickly,
without the interference of family and friends. Most times only the prison
chaplain and maybe a nurse attended the short memorial that marked
an inmate's passing into what they could only hope was peace at last; if
not peace, then maybe at least release from the torment that had been
The chaplain, Matthew Rollins, came today, trudging through
mud and water puddles created by the deluge that had gone on for hours
over night. When morning came and the storm let up for a few minutes,
he had hurried out to the cemetery to get this task over with while there
was time. Expecting only the grave keepers, he was surprised to see
a young man standing at the gravesite. His head was lowered and his
face obscured by a cap pulled low over his brow. He was as still as a
statue. Even from a distance the chaplain could see the rigid tension in
the man. As he approached the grave the man heard him and lifted his
head...and stopped Chaplain Rollins in his tracks.
Matt Rollins was no coward. He had served twenty years in the
marines as chaplain, deployed to places most people would never hear
about for missions that would still be classified for the next fifty years.
He had faced down enemies ready to kill him, drunk and disorderly
soldiers, angry military wives, bombs ready to blow him to kingdom
come. He was a big man, well over six feet, and two hundred and fifty
pounds of solid muscle. He was good with his fists when necessary, had
taken lives in the line of duty. Nothing, not one thing in his life had
prepared him for the look on this man's face. He was not one for fanciful
thinking or for being overly dramatic, but right then, standing there
across the open grave from this man, it was as though a demon from hell
had crawled out of that pit, taken the form of a man, and stood waiting
for him. He felt the chill start at the base of his skull and slide down his
spine riding the wave of sweat that trickled down.
He believed in evil, had encountered it often in the course of his
life. Now it stood facing him down from across this open grave, and for
the first time in a very long time, Matthew Rollins felt fear. It was almost
paralyzing in its intensity. For a moment he stood, not knowing what to
do, unable to think. All he could do was pray. As he started to pray
silently, the young man began to pace, his steps quick and jerky, his
manner and visage becoming even more intense, as though he could
actually feel the silent prayer. He was grateful for the presence of the two
grave keepers, though he knew they would be no help to him in a fight.
Even as he thought that he knew that this man's physical presence was
not what he feared. Few men could best him in a fight, fair or otherwise,
and if the young man started anything here, Matt would simply finish it.
This enemy was unseen, but powerful, and Matt was certain that the
forces of good and evil were clashing in this place.
He had performed dozens of funeral services for inmates who were
not believers. He hated that. There could be no comfort for the family of
such a person as he was most certainly not in a better place. Though it
was a sad and depressing situation, he did not believe that those inmates
were evil, just lost. He did what he could to provide a respectful service
for the family and to point them toward salvation, and he prayed for
them. Now, even though he knew it would be useless, he offered the
same to the young man.
"I'm Matthew Rollins, the prison chaplain," he said calmly, hoping
to defuse some of the tension rolling off of the man still pacing. He
checked his natural impulse to extend his hand, thinking at best it
would be ignored, at worst it might provoke some kind of violent
The man stopped and looked at him, but said nothing.
"I'm here for..."
"I know why you're here," the man bit off. "There's no need. You
Stunned, Matt just looked at him for a minute, waiting for an
explanation. There was none. The man continued to stare at him as if
daring him to speak again. Matt had been in his share of stare downs
and had won most of them. He could have tried that this time, but saw
no point in further provoking an already highly agitated man.
He nodded briefly. "Sure. No problem. My office is in the prison
administration building if I can do anything for you." He had almost
added 'God bless you', but decided against lighting that fuse. Turning, he
spoke briefly to the two grave keepers and headed back for his car.
Now the man stood alone, fists clenched, jaw set, staring into the
grave at the coffin ready to be lowered. Thunder rumbled, closer than it
had been and the two grave keepers shifted nervously. They were ready
to get finished and head back in, but were not the least bit inclined to
hurry this man. Instead they sat back and waited, hunching down in
their jackets and pulling their caps farther over their eyes as the rain
The clouds turned the sky black, turning day into evening.
Lightening began flashing in time with booming thunder that he felt to
the bone. It mirrored the storm in his own soul. Grief and rage had
battled for his attention for so long now he couldn't remember peace. His
family had been destroyed and now the last of them, his father, had died
in prison. He had wandered through life, aimlessly, for the past fifteen
years, in and out of trouble, never able to keep a job for long. He went
from job to job, woman to woman, bottle to bottle. The news of his
father's death had solidified his purpose and given him a focus. His
mission was clear now, and he would not rest until it was done.
Staring into the grave once more, he spoke to the man in the
coffin. "I swear to you, I'll make her pay." Hot tears of rage mixed with
the rain on his cheeks. "I swear it!" His vow made, his course set, he
turned and left his father to the care of the grave keepers. It was time to
avenge his father and his family. She would pray for death before he was
through with her. For the first time in a very long time he smiled.