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The Priest's Graveyard
By Ted Dekker
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This item is a preorder. Your payment method will be charged immediately, and the product is expected to ship on or around April 19, 2011. This date is subject to change due to shipping delays beyond our control.
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Table of Contents
"There is nothing new under the sun, now is there, Renee?"
Father Andro's chair creaked as he leaned back. "Whatever you've done, I'm sure God can forgive you." He brought his steaming teacup to his mouth, took a sip, then set it down on his cluttered desk.
I had called three days earlier and asked to see him alone, but only if he could spare the entire evening. Maybe several evenings. By his silence I knew he thought the request strange, especially coming from a woman with an American accent. But for Danny's sake as well as my own, I had to unburden myself.
"Before I tell you the whole story," I said, pulling the old, brown journal from my bag, "I have to know that you can appreciate Danny's past. He wrote this entry when he was in the United States, several years ago. I don't think many people would understand why he did what he did there."
Father Andro looked at me over his round spectacles and took the old journal from me. "But you think I can?"
"If a priest in Bosnia can't forgive him, nobody can."
"I'm not sure I feel comfortable reading another man's confession without their being present."
"You must. I'm begging you."
The father's eyes held steadily on mine. "You would like me to read it now?"
"Yes, please. It's only a few pages."
"Wouldn't you rather tell me—"
"Please, let's just start with what you have in your hand."
Father Andro nodded. "All right."
He lifted the journal, cracked its cover, and began to read Danny's handwritten confession.
The Confession of Danny Hansen
I can only remember one time in my life when I begged for another person's screams to continue.
The screams were my mother's and I was sure that the only reason she'd stopped was because she could no longer breathe. I was still only a boy and I sat in the corner of my bedroom, knees hugged to my chest, praying for her to make another sound, any sign of life, even if it was a scream.
Now, much older, I hear those screams far too frequently and I beg them to go away. I don't know if I'm an angel or a monster anymore.
It's two in the morning right now and storming outside. I've laid in my bed for three hours, staring at the ceiling, and, despite my own vow of silence, I must write what happened that day in 1992, hoping that my confession here will finally earn me enough peace to bring sleep.
I grew up in a small town in northern Bosnia, and was fifteen when the civil war between the Croats and the Serbs began in earnest. There were many reasons for the war, but the only thing I came to care about was that Orthodox Christians were killing Catholic Christians.
My mother, my two sisters and I were Catholic. Good Catholics who attended mass at least once a week and said our prayers every day. For as long as I can remember I was convinced that I would become a priest when the time came.
My father had died of lung cancer four years earlier, leaving my mother to care for myself and my sisters, Marija and Nina. Within two years of Father's passing we had adjusted to life without him and took comfort in our love for each other.
On that fall morning, the weather was still warm and the leaves had not yet fallen from the trees in our valley. We were all seated at the table for a breakfast of muffins and oatmeal in our house on the village's southern edge. I can picture every detail still.
Mother had made the porridge with milk instead of water that morning, so it was smooth and creamy the way I liked it. Marija preferred more oats and Nina suggested more milk so that it could be eaten like a soup. I objected with a sour face and this made Marija laugh. Encouraged, I offered up a few more examples of how I could twist my face and for a few minutes my oddities made us all laugh.
Mother was still dressed in her sleeping clothes, the same pale yellow flannel night-dress she always wore. Her long, black hair was pulled back into a bun to keep it out of her face. My sisters had also come to the table in their pajamas. I was the only one who'd dressed (slacks and the same gray button-down shirt I'd worn the day before) after rolling out of bed at Mother's call for breakfast.
We were still laughing over my fourth or fifth facial contortion, this one involving screwed up lips and crossed eyes, when someone banged on the door repeatedly. A harsh voice demanded we let them in or they would break it down.
Our small town sat in a valley to the north of the fighting that had brought Bosnia to a standstill, but a hundred stories had reached us and each one seemed worse than the one before. Reports of terrible killings and rape, slaughters of whole congregations as they sat in mass on a Sunday, snipers hiding in the woods waiting to pop off anyone's head as they walked by minding their own business.
My mother stood slowly to her feet, face as pale as the porridge. The demand came again, with a curse this time.
Her eyes darted to me and then to my sisters. "Get to your bedrooms! Hurry!"
Marija and Nina fled the table in obedience, but I didn't want to go. Following my father's passing Mother had become my greatest source of security—besides the local priest, she was my only true comforter. I felt safe next to her. And I think I made her feel safe as well.
I started to object, but she cut me short with her finger, stabbing toward my bedroom.
"Now! Run! Climb out your window! Get your sisters and run to the priest!"
So I raced down the hall and was about to turn toward my sisters' room when I heard the front door crash open. I knew that from their vantage whoever had broken down the front door would see me if I ran across the hall toward Marija's and Nina's room.
I can't tell how many times I've relived that moment. It was the first in a string of choices that would eventually land me where I am today, a full grown man with a new name, living in America, courting madness.
Panicked, I slipped into my bedroom and eased the door shut, careful not to make a sound. I was halfway across my room, when my mother's first scream stopped me cold. Then the sound of a slap and running boots.
Afraid I would be caught, I ran to the corner, ducked behind my dresser, and dropped to my seat in the shadows.
The door flew open. Heavy breathing filled the room. Not my own because I had clamped my lungs as tight as a drum.
The door slammed shut. I was alone.
And then another scream, this one from Marija. Followed by the sound of another hard slap. I should have run for the window and gone for help, but even then my first instinct was to stay and save my mother and sisters, never mind that I was only fifteen and as skinny as a twig.
So I didn't run for help. I hid in the corner like a frightened rabbit, hugging my knees to my chest. Finally, the screaming stopped.
I knew they had missed me and I would be safe if I just stayed put, but I never was the kind to sit put. If you asked me to go one mile, I would go two; if you asked for one contorted face, I would give you four. I had already lost one father, and the thought that I might lose my mother or a sister or even all of them drove me to my feet, still trembling with fear.
The house had gone eerily silent except for the occasional muffled voice. Were they already dead? Or were they being killed, right then, while I stood doing nothing? Maybe I could distract the Serbs. Or even lead them away from the house.
I don't know how long I stood there, anchored by my own terror, I only know that I became convinced that I had to know what was happening. So I walked to the door, breathless with fear. Slowly, I took the handle in my hand, and, when the house was silent for a few seconds, I eased the door open and pressed one eye up to the crack.
The hall appeared empty. So I pulled the door open just enough to give me a line of sight to my mother's bedroom.
I was standing in the six-inch gap, peering down the empty hall to my sisters' closed door, when a soldier in a green uniform filled my mother's open doorway, fumbling with his pistol belt. His eyes lifted and met mine. For a moment we stood still, staring at each other. If he had come after me straightaway, he would have been able to grab me and stuff me into a bag or shoot me before I got out of the window behind me. But he hesitated, stunned.
"We have a runt!" he roared. And he ran for me.
If I would have slammed the door and run for the window as any sane person of fifteen would have certainly done, I would be dead. He would have simply opened the door and shot me in the back.
Instead, I jerked the door wide open just as he lunged for it. His lumbering body hurled through the sudden opening. Off balance and carried by his own momentum he flew by me, tripped on my foot, and stumbled to his knees.
His pistol belt had fallen on the floor. I bent down, grabbed the gun and jerked it free. The man's bitter cursing was enough to propel me forward in a blind panic. But now a second soldier threw open my sisters' door and a third appeared at his shoulder.
"He's got a gun," one of them said, eyes darting down to my hand.
My father had taught me to shoot targets with a twenty-two gauge rifle when I was still a young boy. He said I was the most accurate eleven-year-old sharpshooter he'd ever seen. But in the hallway, I realized that if I took the time to shoot the man at my sisters' bedroom door, the man I'd tripped would reach me and kill me from behind.
So I didn't shoot the man. I acted as any sensible fifteen year old might. I ran. Down the hall in a dead sprint. Toward the front door. Leaping over a pack one of them had dropped.
It suddenly occurred to me that, although the way through the front door was clear, my back would be to them for the whole sprint down the path. I would be like a turkey in a fall hunt, with three hunters to shoot me down in the open.
So I spun to my left and ran for the kitchen.
A bullet slapped into the wood frame and I ducked. Maybe the shooter's choice to stop and fire slowed him down enough to give me the time I needed to get out the back door. Or maybe the deafening explosion was enough to give me inhuman speed, I don't know. Either way I was out and running toward the forest behind the house.
But I didn't run into the forest because it was only a thin strip of trees that opened up to fields on the far side. I would once again be a turkey to pick off. I only wanted to run into the waist-high grass that surrounded the forest, and I'd only run a few steps into that tall grass before dropping to my knees, scrambling to my left perhaps ten meters, and falling to my back, pistol at the ready above me, trying to control my breathing.
One of them swore. "He's in the trees."
They hadn't seen that I'd dropped short of the forest! They'd come out of the house looking north toward the burning town and by the time they'd turned in the forest's direction, I was down, leaving only some bent grass to show that I'd gone in.
Or so I hoped.
I recognized the voice of the one whose pistol I'd taken. "Your mother is still alive, you runt! Come out or I swear I'll go back and put a bullet through her head!" The machine-gun fire from the town sounded like popping corn. "I'll give you one chance. We have a whole army; your town is surrounded. Come out and we will let you live."
Their muffled voices approached as I lay there sweating, shivering with fear. But then they passed and faded. They'd gone into the forest?
I eased up, poked my head just above the grass, saw that they were gone and knew I might not get a second chance. So I stood and ran back to the house, praying with each step that I wouldn't be seen.
I raced through the kitchen and into the living room with my mother's name on my lips.
She didn't respond.
Louder now. "Marija?"
I ran down the hall, still clinging to the pistol. Into my mother's room where I pulled up at the sight before me.
My mother lay at an angle on her bed. The sheets were soaked in blood. Her throat had been cut.
My heart stopped.
Her head. It was barely attached to her body. Her dead eyes were staring at the ceiling.
Frantic, I tore from the room, down the hall, and spun into my sisters' room afraid I would find the same thing.
The only difference was that they were on the floor and both naked. Something deep inside of me snapped then, while I stood shaking, staring at my dead sisters. Then the pain came, like an erupting volcano. I dropped to my knees, then slumped to one side. There on the floor five feet from my sisters I began to sob uncontrollably.
I didn't care if I was found. I didn't want to live. If I had full use of my senses I might have put the pistol in my mouth and ended everything right there.
But I was lost in my anguish and for a long time I couldn't think straight. And even when I started to think again, my thoughts were strange ones that might make others wonder if I'd lost my sanity that day.
Thoughts like: I will hunt down every last Orthodox Christian in Bosnia and make them pay for killing my mother and sisters.
Thoughts like: I will burn the house down with me and the soldiers trapped inside.
Thoughts like: I will take a stake and shove it through the eyes of the one who'd come out of my mother's room. Then gut the other two with the same stake.
But out of that dark fog came a few more rational thoughts. In retrospect, I think the notion of becoming a priest who brought true justice into the world with the help of a knife and a handgun first began to take root as I lay there on that floor.
And then the memory of the pack that one of the soldiers had left by the front door entered my mind, and my eyes snapped wide. It was still there.
He would be back for it.
I sat up. My sorrow gave way to such a terrible need for justice that I was able to ignore my pain and push myself to my feet. I looked at my sisters' dead bodies one more time, then turned away, walked down the hall, and entered the living room.
There, I faced one of the most significant choices of my life. I could flee the house and make my way to the town to find help—surely there were many families who'd suffered similar tragedies that morning, milling about, helping each other.
Or I could provide what justice my mother and sisters deserved here, in our own home.
I chose the latter. It was a very easy choice.
The home's primary source of heat during the winter was a black pot-bellied stove that sat in the corner of the living room. After moving the green pack into the center of the room, I climbed behind that stove and carefully stacked firewood on both sides to protect my flanks.
Metal in the front, firewood on either side—I wasn't going to be the hunted this time. It was now my turn to hunt and that green pack by the front door was my bait.
I cleared the pistol, saw that it still had seven unfired cartridges, and chambered a round. Then I made myself as small as possible behind the metal stove and pointed the gun over the top.
They came to me about fifteen minutes later, single file, through the front door.
"Forget it, he's probably in the next village by now. Even if they do listen to him, this kind of thing happens every day now. Get your pack."
"I don't like it. We agreed we wouldn't kill them."
"And you didn't, did you?" the first one snapped.
I could have shot then, they were in my sights. I would at least get one, maybe even two. But I didn't want to kill one or two. I had to kill them all.
So I had to think, which one would be most likely to stay and fight? Because that's the one I would shoot last, knowing he would not run. The one who would run, that's the one I would shoot first if I wanted to get them all.
The one who didn't like what they'd done was the most likely to run. I slowly angled the gun at him, and when the sights were lined up, I pulled the trigger.
The booming recoil knocked me back behind the stove, out of sight, as the man's body thumped to the wood floor. I quickly righted myself and took aim at the second one who was spinning around, trying to determine where the shot had come from. His eyes fixed on the stove. Then on me. And I shot him through his forehead.
This time I'd braced myself and wasn't knocked back. I turned the pistol on the third soldier who still didn't know which way the shots had come from, and I shot him as well.
The gun's echo faded, leaving only the sound of my pounding heart in my ears. There were six dead people in the house and most of me wished it were seven.
I dropped back down against the wall with the pistol loose in my right hand and my rage gave way to pain once again. But I had done some right to fix the wrong, hadn't I? I had done what was right for my mother's sake.
In some ways I took my first steps to becoming a priest that day, and my own house was my first graveyard. Or maybe I have it all wrong.
That was how it all started, born in innocence when I was only fifteen. But that wasn't where it ended.
Dear God, have mercy on my soul…
Father Andro flipped through the journal and saw that the remaining pages were empty. He set the book down and closed the cover.
"I am so sorry, my dear. God forgive us all for the terrible tragedies of that war. Danny's suffering cannot be overstated."
"So you understand what he did? Why he did it?"
"Yes. I was here during the war—you must know that."
But would he understand the rest? The journal was only a litmus test of sorts, a way for me to determine whether I could trust the father with the rest of our story. Our story because Danny and I shared the same story now. We were both as guilty.
"And the rest?" Father Andro asked.
"He writes here that this is how it all started."
"The rest happens in America."
"I assumed as much."
"You'll tell no one?"
"I'm a priest, Renee. Bound by my oath. There is nothing you can tell me that would change that."
I sat back and crossed my legs, suddenly eager to tell him everything. As he said, he was a priest. Who could better understand than a priest who had shared a similar history with Danny?
"The rest begins with me," I said in a soft voice.
"Then tell me about you," Father Andro said.
Eighteen Months Earlier
I can remember some things about myself but not everything. My name, Renee Gilmore, for example, is something I could never forget—how could I, after my failures had been so often pounded into my skull?
You're throwing your life away, Renee. You're screwing up, Renee. You're an embarrassment, Renee.
That much I could remember as I lay in the alleyway with my face planted in the concrete. I also knew that I was in my early twenties. That I was barefoot. That I was dressed in a T-shirt and jeans. That my mother and my father were both long gone or dead.
Mostly I knew that I had to get up and get moving if I wanted to live, although I must admit I was having some difficulty remembering why I wanted to live. A basic instinct, you might say, but when you're strung out on heroin, basic instincts have a way of feeling irrelevant.
These are some of the things I could remember then.
But if you had asked me in that state, I certainly couldn't have told you other things about myself that should have been as plain as day.
I couldn't have told you that I preferred to wear only silver accessories, or that my first kiss was with Tobias Taylor on a dare when I was six, or that my favorite food was a grilled hamburger with extra pickles and mustard but no mayonnaise, please.
Praise for THE PRIEST'S GRAVEYARD:
The Priest's Graveyard by Ted Dekker is an amazing novel, utterly compelling, the story of an abandoned girl and a strange, vengeful priest whose paths eventually cross-with terrifying consequences. Intensely readable, well written, and completely original.
--Douglas Preston, co-creator of the famed Pendergast series of novels"The Priest's Graveyard is a thrill-a-minute ride, with heart-pounding action and a twist that you'll never see coming."
-- Tess Gerritsen, New York Times bestselling author of IceCold
"Here's the best part about The Priest's Graveyard: It's smart enough to realize that, for many, the scariest thing in life isn't a monster or something that bumps in the night. It's love. Love is terrifying. And powerful. And unstoppable. And if you don't already know that, you're about to see why. The Priest's Graveyard will haunt you -- long after you want it to."
-- Brad Meltzer, #1 New York Times bestselling author of The Book of Fate and The Inner Circle
"If you've never visited Ted Dekker's world, do it. The Priest's Graveyard is perfect entertainment. Beguiling, compelling, challenging, and riveting--fantastic gimmick-free storytelling--that's what you get with Ted Dekker. Don't pass this up."
-- Steve Berry, New York Times Bestselling Author of The Emperor's Tomb
- Dekker's new thriller is skillfully written, surprising, and impossible to put down. It might, in fact, be his best novel to date. At its center are two compelling characters: Danny Hansen, a priest who doles out punishment to people who have skirted justice through the usual channels; and Renee Gilmore, who has dedicated herself to getting revenge for the murder of the man she loved. When Danny and Renee come together, united by their pursuit of the same man, they are in store for shocking revelations that could destroy them both-and will keep readers captivated to the end. This is an extremely well-thought-out novel, precisely plotted, and, like a good magic trick, deceptive and startling. Although the story's right-angle plot twist is jolting, it doesn't feel forced or unbelievable, and the book's atmosphere is appropriately dark and unsettling, kind of like the feeling you get from the Saw movies (although this book isn't nearly as graphic or twisted as those). A daring and completely riveting thriller.—Booklist
- On Sale
- Apr 19, 2011
- Page Count
- 368 pages
- Center Street