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Gray Man

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My grandfather Albert was a gifted orator, he could take the most boring situation and through his vast vocabulary, strong southern accent and perfect pacing turn it into the most captivating tale imaginable.

He was always a very attentive grandfather, always keeping an eye out for me growing up when my parents were never around. I was an only child and our town was very remote, not many kids my age lived within walking distance so my grandfather became a natural friend. He was a tall, thin and slightly overbearing man with thinning white hair and an almost emaciated figure, but he was deceptively strong and had an aura about him. From a distance, one could mistake him for the boogeyman! But he was anything but scary, he was a kind and gentle man who always had time for me when I needed him.

I will never forget the long summer nights I would sit on his front porch listening to him tell a tale about how he met his first girlfriend Sally while he was stationed over in England during the war, having to leave her behind due to his commitments in the army. Or when he met an undercover spy in Germany that he had to protect the identity of for fear of national security. Or how he uncovered a secret bunker beneath the basement of his modest home in D.C before he uprooted and left for Kansas after his father died. He always spoke so fondly of his father, saying he was a “tough but fair” man who “you could sense before he entered a room”. I never pressed him on what he meant, it seemed to be a painful topic for him and I wanted to preserve the time we had. I knew this could very well be our last summer together; he was getting frail and as I was becoming older I would eventually find new interests, so this time was important to me.

His tales varied as the summer dragged on, starting out at the beginning as tales from his past with sombre but captivating structures before slowly leading into more difficult times in his life. Ever changing content but always being delivered from a worn out, blue leather book held in his brittle, veiny hands. The spine was broken and it had various scratches and carvings indented into the side, much like a child would draw on their homework book but with much more definition. I would sometimes ask him what the symbols and scratches meant but he would only offer me a gentle, distant smile in return. Eventually, I learned to simply avoid the subject entirely.

There was one story he told that stuck out to me during the final stretch of July, one that I could never shake the feeling of.

He told me about how he’d been to the execution of a man who was severely misunderstood by society, a man who had his own view of the world and would someday come to reclaim it when the time was right. That he would “rule over an earth of viscera and his reign would be everlasting, presided over by the greatest perverters of justice and morality the world had ever seen.” My grandpa would shiver and shake with joy as he began detailing the “reign” of this man he seemed to admire so much. I asked him if it was Jesus and his body recoiled almost before letting out a shrill laugh, saying I sounded “Just like that shank of meat, Grace Budd!” with such disdain in his eyes that I had never seen until that moment.

He seemed to realise his error very quickly however and his gentle smile returned, explaining that he was just horsing around for dramatic effect. I pressed him on who the man was because I was so intrigued and his smile widened as he turned the page on his book, looking at me unflinching and telling me softly, almost with glee that “this is my favourite part”. He turned the page and after a brief throat clear read the chapter aloud; “The Tale Of The Gray Man.”

I won’t recount here what he told me, some of you may have already figured it out. But for the rest of you, it will all become clear.

What my grandpa told me was a story dipped in some of the darkest indulgences humanity could ever experience, all done with absolutely zero remorse and instead where that emotion would be placed in a rational thinker's heart of hearts, pure unadulterated malice resided. The things he told me of The Gray Man… from his painful upbringing to his travels and to what eventually got him caught and executed by the state. It wasn’t just the nature of what was said, it was how it was told. My grandpa wasn’t using his usual dramatic voices or perfect pacing and gone was his gentle smile and almost hypnotic southern drawl. Instead he told the story with glee like a child remembering a fond holiday with his family or a wedding day with a loved one.

When he closed the book, he leaned forward eagerly, keen to learn what I thought of the story. My head was spinning and even at that age I knew what I had just heard was far beyond the realms of sanity and decency. I knew what I had heard was wrong, forbidden and that I was no longer in the presence of someone welcoming. My sickly gaze must have shown because grandpa offered to go get me some water and hobbled away into the house while I sat dazed on the porch.

I won’t lie, what I did next was by far not my wisest decision, but I was a smart kid and I could not ignore the dots I was connecting in my head as the summer had gone on… the nature of my grandpa’s stories, his travels, the sudden uprooting after his father passed on, the giddiness he displayed when discussing The Gray Man, Grace Budd… it all seemed to go towards one conclusion.

I reached out for the withered book and while making one final stare down the hallway, opened it to the beginning, my eyes widening as I did so, confirming my suspicions…

My hands shook and I dropped the book as I stumbled back over the stairs, smacking my head as I hit the hard ground. My grandpa could be heard calling me so innocently from the kitchen, but I was beyond any human communication by now. My body instinctively knew to flee and that is exactly what my brain was screaming at it to do while straining under the pressure of what I had just seen.

The pages were all blank save for a title, two chapters and a small footnote at the back, the first title on the front page and the second one I found in the middle.

“The tales of the Brooklyn Vampire & The Gray Man”

“Chapter 1: Big Fish”

“Chapter 2: Little Fish”

My Grandpa wasn’t telling me stories.

He was recounting memories.

The Gray Man was executed that night, but he also had his legacy continued.

In Albert Fish Junior.

I knew why my parents were never around, I just never wanted to admit it to myself, just like I don’t have a grandpa. He just seemed so nice at first and I didn’t want to make him angry…

But even with all that to process, it was the footnote that horrified me more than anything, that damning sentence that had my legs stumbling under me as I kicked dirt into my eyes and screamed into the black night for someone, anyone to alleviate this torment as I realised I would be running for the rest of my life.

“I can’t wait to feel his muscles between my teeth, familial prey tastes best...”

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