Grady ambled down the now dark streets. It was cold out, damp and foggy but he didn't want to go home. He couldn't bear to sit in that run-down house for another night, watching his mother and younger sister be miserable, dejected.
They would often move from town to town, as an attempt to escape their troubles. However, it seemed wherever the three of them went, the melancholy would follow.
His mother tried her hardest to keep food on the table, but, despite the most plentiful seasons, their crops would wither and die.
His sister, Grace, was frequently sick, although no physician in the county could ever determine the cause. She was the smartest, most hard-working girl Grady knew, but, to the confusion of all, her school grades were terrible; it seemed she just couldn't get a start in life.
He could not understand it. Grady himself, well, he thought perhaps it was his own terrible fate to watch his family suffer, standing by without the answers.
Grady considered going back to the old church, to sit between the wooden pews that had become a comfort to him these last few months. However, he didn't think his heavy heart could handle another night alone, before the dark altar.
He turned -- continued walking through the mist that hovered, motionless, clutching to the cobbled stones beneath his feet.
His father, he had never known. Sometimes Grady would spend his time trying desperately to remember something about him from his childhood. He would agonize over impossible questions like, would life have been better if his father had been there, to encourage Grace, to help Mother harvest? Could things have been different?
Grady could not answer these questions. His mother would not speak of their father. All Grady could do was fantasize about a different sort of life, made up of nothing but dreams.
Grady lifted his eyes from the ground. A looming, shadowy object stood before him. Without realizing, he had found his way back to the old woman's house.
Why did his feet bring him here? Grady was frustrated. He walked to the edge of the grass and sat down on the curb, making sure to steer clear from Willow's reach. He thought once again about the mysterious smoking arm from earlier, and sighed, realizing it was just another problem to heap atop all the others.
After another heaving sigh, Grady heard a creak behind him. He turned to see the woman peeking out through the crack in the door, her vibrant scarves giving her away easily.
She stuck out her head and whispered into the darkness. "Come, my child."
Grady wasn't as hesitant this time; he stood and easily walked up the steps into her house.
Grady sat down, but the woman stood with her back to him, fiddling with something he couldn't see.
"They call me Balaam, a name more ancient than the demons that damn your family." She paused a moment, sucking in a rattling breath. "Sit still for long enough, boy, and I will tell you the story of your father, the story of you."