In 1945, while serving in the Solomon Islands during the Second World War, U.S. Marine Willard Russell (Bill Skarsgård) finds the still-breathing body of Gunnery Sergeant Miller Jones, who was scalped and crucified by the Japanese. Willard gives Jones a coup de grâce by shooting him in the head. After the war, Willard is on his way home to Coal Creek. He stops in the fictional city of Meade, Ohio (which is actually Chillicothe, Ohio) where he meets and falls in love with Charlotte Russell (Haley Bennett), a waitress at a cafe. At the same time, unemployed photographer Carl Henderson (Jason Clarke) meets his future wife Sandy (Riley Keough). Three years later, Charlotte and Willard get married and move to Knockemstiff, Ohio, where they have a son, Arvin (Holland).

In 1950 Coal Creek, Helen Hatton (Wasikowska), a woman who lost her family in a fire and was unsuccessfully set up with Willard, is married to preacher Roy Laferty (Harry Melling). After the pair have a daughter named Lenora (Scanlen), Roy stabs Helen to death with a screwdriver out in the woods, believing to have the power to bring people back from the dead in a hallucination caused by a spider bite. Realizing his mistake, Roy decides to go back to get Lenora, who is being watched by Willard’s mother Emma and uncle Earskell. Roy hitches a ride with Carl and Sandy, but discovers they are serial killers who take pictures of their male hitchhiking victims to satisfy Carl’s necrophilia. As Roy and many others are killed, Sandy becomes increasingly jaded with Carl.

In 1957, Willard builds a sanctuary with a cross in the woods behind his house in Knockemstiff and begins to pray as a way to remember Miller. Despite his newfound faith, Willard teaches Arvin, now nine years old, to beget violence with more violence. When Charlotte is diagnosed with cancer, Willard becomes obsessed with praying for her health and forces Arvin to do so as well, leading to him killing Arvin’s dog Jack as a sacrifice to God before hanging his body on the cross. Charlotte eventually dies from cancer, and Willard, in his grief, commits suicide. After showing Sandy’s brother, corrupt police officer Lee Bodecker (Stan), Willard’s body, Arvin is moved to Coal Creek to live with Emma and Earskell, as well as Lenora, who has been adopted by Emma.

In 1965, Earskell gifts Arvin his father’s Luger pistol on his birthday. At church, Arvin’s family meets the new preacher, Reverend Preston Teagardin (Pattinson), who embarrasses Emma by calling out her welcome greeting of chicken livers, causing Arvin to develop a grudge. A few days later, while Arvin violently confronts a group of bullies who had been picking on Lenora, the pious Lenora is seduced by Preston and has sex with him. After Lenora discovers she is pregnant, she tells Preston, who denies having had sex with her and advises her to have an abortion. Not wanting to bring shame to the family, Lenora decides to hang herself in the family barn. While standing on a box with the rope around her neck, she realizes she and her baby would be okay, and changes her mind. While trying to remove the rope, she accidentally slips, falls, and is hanged.

Arvin is informed of Lenora’s pregnancy and assumes Preston was the father. He stalks and sees him seduce other girls. After giving a goodbye to Emma and Earskell, Arvin confronts Preston at the church, killing him with the Luger and leaving evidence of Preston’s crimes before fleeing town. Intending to bury Jack, Arvin begins hitchhiking to Knockemstiff and is picked up by Carl and Sandy. Upon seeing Carl’s gun and realizing his true intentions, Arvin kills the couple in self-defense.

After Arvin arrives in Knockemstiff, Lee, who is now the sheriff, learns of Sandy’s and Preston’s deaths, with Arvin being the prime suspect. To preserve his image for his re-election campaign, Lee burns the evidence of Carl and Sandy’s wrongdoing and sets off after Arvin for revenge. They confront each other at the sanctuary, and Arvin manages to kill Lee. Before leaving, Arvin gives Lee the last piece of evidence against Sandy, then buries the Luger with his dog in the sanctuary. Arvin is then picked up by a hippie heading to Cincinnati. During the drive, Arvin remembers his childhood as he begins to fall asleep, contemplating his future as a husband or as a fighter in the Vietnam War, both like his father.


[somber piano music playing]

[male narrator] If you asked most people where Knockemstiff, Ohio or Coal Creek, West Virginia were, they probably couldn’t point ’em out to you on a map. But I guarantee, they’d be there all the same. How and why so many people from those two piddlin’ places on that map could end up connected has a lot to do with our story. Some would claim it was just dumb luck, while others might swear it was God’s intention. But I’d say with the way things turned out, it was a little bit of both. In 1957, it’d take someone approximately ten hours to drive from Coal Creek to a paper mill town in southern Ohio called Meade. Once you got to Meade, Knockemstiff was only a short drive away.

[birds chirping]

Four hundred or so people lived in Knockemstiff in 1957, nearly all of them connected by blood by one godforsaken calamity or another, be it lust or necessity or just plain ignorance.

[dog barking]

The Russells had rented the house on top of the Mitchell flats for nine years now. But most of the neighbors down below still considered them outsiders.

[dog barking]

[boy] Hey, Dad.

[man] You’re coming with me today, boy.

[narrator] Years ago, Willard had fitted together a weathered cross above a fallen tree in a small clearing behind his house. He came every morning and evening to talk to God. It seemed to his son that his father fought the Devil all the time.

[Willard] Now, you pray on… what happened today. Now, remember, be honest. No bullshittin’, he’ll know.

[narrator] When he prayed, his mind would often drift back to the war in the South Pacific and the day that he and a couple of other soldiers came across the body of Gunnery Sergeant Miller Jones.

[bombs exploding in the distance]

[insects chirping]

[gunshot in the distance]

[flies buzzing]

[Willard] Holy shit.

[flies buzzing]

[Willard] Fuck. [breathing heavily]

[man] What’s it say?

Miller Jones.

[both gasp]

[man] Fuck!

[Miller gasping]

[man] We gotta do something.

The Japs just left him up there.

[Miller gasping, wheezing]

[gun cocking]

[gunshot fires]


[bus driver] Next stop, Meade, Ohio.

♪ Dream ♪
♪ When you’re feeling blue ♪

[car honking]

[“Dream” by Johnny Mercer continues playing]

[door chimes open]

[indistinct chatter]

[door clanks shut]

Please.

Thank you.

[narrator] Right before Willard fell in love, the man whose seat he took would also meet his match.

I’m so sorry. I forgot my damn keys.

Okay. Guy by the window counter.

So, what’ll you be having?

Ham and cheese.

[whispers] Ham and cheese.

Okay.

You’re a little green on the job.

That obvious, huh?

[man chuckles]

My brother just got me the job, so… Ham and cheese.

You take pictures?

[narrator] In the years to come, Carl would call Sandy “the bait,” and she’d called him “the shooter.”

Only when I find a smile pretty enough to photograph, that is.

[narrator] Both called their victims “the models.”

I’ll have to think about it.

[door chimes open]

[waitress] What can I get ya?

Meatloaf is the blue plate special.

Um– Just coffee and a doughnut.

Thank you.

[door chimes open]

Looks really fine.

[manager] No! No!

Get out. I told you last time.

Come on, now.

[manager] Next time, the cops will drag you out.

[waitress] Excuse me.

Get out!

I’m just gonna take my break outside.

[homeless man] All right.

All right!

[door clanks shut]

[door clanks shut]

[man] Thank you. God bless you.

Did you need anything else?

Um… No, I’m fine.

[soft piano music playing]

That was nice, what you did.

Some people just need a little help once in a while. You know what I mean?

Yep.

Hmm.

You back home from the war?

Nah, I’m just passing through. On my way to West Virginia. My people are from Coal Creek.

That’s too bad. You have a nice face.

[Willard chuckles]

Well… [exhales] It’s nice to meet you.

It’s nice to meet you, too.


[man] Is it true the Japs ate their own dead?

[Willard] Where’d you hear that?

Read it in the paper.

[country music playing on the radio]

[sighs] Lord, that’s good stuff.

Mm-hmm. I got three more in my kit.

Yeah?

Yep. And I’ve got something else for you, Uncle Earskell. Now, this here is supposed to be the gun that Hitler used to blow his brains out.

[scoffs] You still got the bullshit in you, ain’t you?

You think that guy lied to me?

[chuckles] Yeah. That is a nice gift, though.

Yeah.

Thank you. It’s German.

That’s a Luger.


[crickets chirping]

[country music playing inside]

[woman crying] Oh, come here! Oh… [sighs] Oh, Lord, I was so worried.

No… [chuckles] It wasn’t that bad. It wasn’t that bad, Mama.

I would ask you to get down and thank Jesus with me, but I can smell the liquor on your breath.

I know. I felt the need to celebrate. I’m in love.

What’s this girl’s name?

[Earskell clears throat] Well, I ain’t never got her name.

[lighter clicks]

[Earskell laughs]

Earskell.

You ain’t got her name?

[Earskell laughs]

I left her a dollar tip, though.

[Earskell] A what?

For a cup of coffee?

[Earskell] Well, she won’t forget that.

[woman] I know you like this waitress. Oh, but there’s a– a girl from church I want you to meet.

I don’t wanna go to church, Mama.

[shushing]

You get some rest.

[grunts]

You’ll feel better in the morning.

[narrator] Though he couldn’t look at a cross without thinking of Miller Jones, he never told anyone about the crucified Marine.


[man] Welcome.

[woman] Willard. Willard, I’ve asked Helen to sit with us.

Go on, Helen.

Nice to meet you.

[Willard] Hi, how are you?

Willard just got back, Helen.

You–

Welcome home.

[church choir singing]

It’s been four days.

[narrator] Willard didn’t know that Emma had promised God that in exchange for bringing him home safe, she’d make sure he married Helen Hatton. The girl’s family burned up in a house fire leaving the poor thing all alone.

[pastor] Good gracious. It’s hot, ain’t it?

[crowd] Amen.

It’s bound to get hotter. Right now, we got two boys from over in Topperville gonna lead the service today.

[man] All right.

And from what folks tell me, they got a right good message. So, let’s bring ’em up. Boys, come on up here. Let’s make ’em feel welcome.

[woman] Oh!

[man] Welcome, boys. Welcome.

See that one in the wheelchair? Drank too much strychnine or antifreeze, or something is why he can’t walk.

So good to see you. Thank you for coming.

Testing their fate, they call it. It’s going too far, the way I see it.

Thank you, Reverend. My name is Roy Laferty, and this here is my cousin, Theodore. Now, the Holy Ghost is going to visit this little church that bears his sacred name!

♪ Are you washed ♪

♪ In the blood ♪

♪ In the soul-cleansing blood
Of the Lamb? ♪

♪ Are your garments spotless? ♪

♪ Are they white as snow? ♪

♪ Are you washed ♪

♪ In the blood of the Lamb? ♪

♪ Have you been to Jesus ♪

♪ For His cleansing power? ♪

♪ Are you washed
In the blood of the Lamb? ♪

♪ Are you trusting in his Grace
This hour ♪

♪ Are you washed
In the blood of the Lamb? ♪

[Roy] Come on, Theodore!

Whoo!

[guitar keeps playing]

[Roy] What is it you’re most afraid of? Hmm? Because if your worst fear is rats, well.. Satan’ll make sure you get your fill of them. Mm.

[man] That’s right, tell ’em, boy.

Brothers and sisters… you’ll see them, eating away at you whilst you lay there unable to lift a single finger. And it won’t ever cease. A million years in eternity. Now, don’t even try and figure that up.

[man] Come on, Lord.

Ain’t no human head big enough to calculate misery like that!

[crowd murmurs]

[chuckles] Yeah?

And really, brothers and sisters, ain’t no man ever been evil enough, not even that Hitler fella…

That’s right.

…come up with the ways Satan’s gonna make them sinners pay come the Judgment Day!

[crowd] Yeah!

Yeah! Yes, that’s right, my friends!

[woman] Yes, sir! Praise the Lord!

Amen.

Let me tell you something, friends.

[woman coughs]

Before I found the Holy Ghost… [sighs deeply] I was scared plumb to death of spiders. Ain’t that right, Theodore?

Mm-hmm.

[Roy] Mm?

Hmm.

[Roy] I was a runt, hiding under my mother’s long skirts, spiders crawling through my dreams…

[man] Hm.

…laying eggs in my nightmares. They was… hang in their webs everywhere… waitin’. I had fear in me all the time, awake or asleep, didn’t matter. Now, that’s what hell is like, brothers and sisters!

[woman] Praise the Lord.

[Roy] I got no rest from them devils!

[crowd] Amen!

Not until the Lord gave me strength!

[crowd] Amen!

Brothers and sisters…

[woman] Whoo!

[Roy sighs] …behold! The Lord looks out for me now!

[man] Amen!

[crowd gasps and squeaks]

Mark my word, people! The Spirit will take away your fears if you’re willing!


[Willard] Them spiders, sure was a nice touch.

I ain’t gonna sleep tonight as it is.

I wish Helen left with us. Well, she might have come with us, if you’d paid her a little more attention. The right man would make a good life for Helen.

[narrator] Emma was concerned something bad might happen if she couldn’t keep her promise to God.

[“Wheel of Fortune” by Kay Starr playing]

Helen did, in fact, meet the man she would marry that afternoon.

Bless me, Reverend. Bless me.

And Willard’s mind was already hundreds of miles away.

♪ Will the arrow point my way ♪


Be right there.

I ain’t no rush.

Why, if it isn’t–

I never got your name.

[manager] Charlotte, second call on chicken over peas.

Be right back with you, hon.

[indistinct chatter]

♪ While the wheel is spinning
Spinning, spinning… ♪


[man] See, full-time, I’m a lawyer. Real estate isn’t my business, but…

[dog barking]

I own a few of these properties around Meade, Knockemstiff. Real long-term investments.

There aren’t any sinks in here, Mr. Dunlap.

[Dunlap] Ain’t no running water, missy. There’s a well out back.

♪ For love’s precious flame ♪

♪ Oh, wheel of fortune ♪

What do you think, Arvin?

♪ I’m hoping somehow ♪

[mellow music playing]

[narrator] Though he hadn’t talked to God in years, not a single petition or word of praise since he’d come across the crucified Marine. Willard could feel it welling up inside him now, the urge to get right with his maker before something bad happened to his family.

[woman]

♪ Just before the children came ♪

♪ And my room was very quiet ♪

♪ I heard someone call my name ♪

♪ Saying, “Come up here
My little Bessie” ♪

Where’d you go?

I was just looking the land over.

What you think?

It’s nice.

[baby cooing]

Rent seems fair for what we get.

We keep saving, we could probably buy it. Wouldn’t that be something? [chuckles] Arvin have a home of his own.

[both chuckle]

I never did have that.

[Willard] Things are good, Mama. We found a place in a holler called Knockemstiff.

[man] Let’s move!

[Willard] Arvin just turned one, and he has lots of grass to play on now. We’re saving money to buy the house one day. So things are gonna be tight for a while. We’ll get to you as soon as possible. Your son, Willard.

P.S… I got the urge to pray again.

[baby cooing]

“We’ll get to you as soon as possible. Your son Willard. P.S. I got the urge to pray again.”

[car horn honking]

[baby cooing]

Sure you don’t mind watching Lenora?

[Emma] Sure.

Don’t mind. Hand her over here. Where y’all going?

We just thought we’d take a ride.

[Emma grunts]

Get out of that little house for a bit.

[Emma chuckles]

[smooches]

[narrator] Though she didn’t know it, she’d never see Lenora again. Seven years later, they found Helen’s body buried in the woods.

I’m thinking we take a walk. Be fine to pray outside and adore them trees.

Whatever you want, Roy, but what about Theodore?

Theodore will be all right sitting in the car.

That’s right. Don’t y’all worry about me. Maybe I oughta take me a nap.

Just be you and me, sweetheart.

[engine starting]

[engine revvs]

[baby coos]


[dog barking]

[narrator] In 1957, Arvin Eugene Russell was nine years old. He was the only kid on the school bus who wasn’t somebody’s relation. Three days before, he’d come home with another black eye.

You’re coming out back with me today, boy.

You got a deposit to make, sir?

[Arvin] C’mere, Jack.

[Willard] Second time. Those little shits keep picking on him. It ain’t right.

Them boys might be bigger than you. But the next time one of them starts his shit, I want you to finish it. You understand?

Yes, sir.

Now, you pray on what happened today. And remember, be honest, no bullshittin’. He’ll know.

[birds chirping]

[mellow music playing]

[footsteps approaching]

[man] Hell, they having a little revival meetin’.

Shit, I’m thinking now’d be a good time to pay his old lady a visit.

[Arvin] Dad?

This here’s the Lord’s time, not nobody else’s.

[man 1] Probably in bed keeping it warm for me.

[man 2] Shut the fuck up, Lucas.

[Lucas] Wouldn’t you take a piece of that?

Come on, you dumb son of a bitch.

This thing’s getting heavy.

[Lucas spits]

[narrator] Despite Arvin’s fears, the two poachers didn’t head to his home that day.

♪ I was trying to be quiet ♪

-♪ And to think ♪

[Arvin humming along]

♪ Of what you said ♪

♪ Just before the lamps were lighted ♪

[Arvin humming]

♪ Just before the children came ♪

♪ When my room was very quiet ♪

♪ I heard someone call my name ♪

[both]

♪ Saying, “Come up here, my little… ♪

♪ Arvin ♪

♪ Bessie ♪

♪ Arvin ♪

[woman chuckles]

[Willard] Arvin, gonna go gas up.

No sense in you napping in here like a house cat all day.

Get off the couch, Jack.

Can Jack come?

[Willard] Mm-hmm.

Come on, Jack.

[Charlotte] Hey.

Will you get me some sugar?

[Willard] Hmm.

[Willard panting]

Roll up your window.

[car door closes]

[Lucas] Motherfucker!

[both grunt]

[both grunting]

[Jack barking]

[man] Oh, shit! Hey, take it easy!

[man 2] He’s gonna fuckin’ kill him!

[Lucas groaning]

[man 2] Come on! Get off him!

[man] That’s enough!

You’re gonna kill him!

[Jack barking]

[car engine starting]

[man] Oh, shit!

[Jack barking]

[man] God!

-Stubbs!
-Stubbs, get out here, man!

-Get out of here!
-Come on, give me a hand.

Get the fuck out of here!

[Jack barking]

[door bangs shut]

[Willard panting]

[exhales sharply]

Now you remember what I told you?

About them boys on the bus that gave you the black eye?

That’s what I meant.

[groans] Just gotta pick the right time.

Yes, sir.

There’s a lot of no good sons of bitches out there.

[breathing heavily] More than a hundred?

[chuckles]

Yeah, at least that many.

How about I buy you a candy bar, huh?

[Willard panting]

We gotta get some sugar for Mama too.

[Willard] Mm-hmm.

[narrator] Arvin would often think back on this day as the best one he ever spent with his father.

So what kind of candy bar you gonna get, huh?

Um… a Charleston Chew, yeah.

Mama?

Mama?

Mama?

Mama?

[Jack whines, barks]

Dad!

[dog whines]

Mama!

[Willard] No! Charlotte!

Listen to me. Charlotte!

[Willard] What are you saying?

[man] The test results aren’t good.

The morphine will continue to dampen the pain but… there’s no way we can destroy that cancer.

[Willard] Let’s talk downstairs.

[footsteps departing]

Now… them doctors can’t do your mom any good.

But He can save her.

Yeah, if we just pray hard enough.

The Lord can do anything if you just ask him right.

[Jack whining]

Okay?

Now hold them tight.

And pray like you mean it.

Lord, please save my wife.

Destroy this cancer inside her, Lord.

We need your help, Lord.

We need your help, and I know you can do it.

I know you can do it.

Please Lord, please.

[Jack panting]

[loud slap]

Pray, God dammit.

You want your mama to die?

No, sir.

Then pray!

Lord, please save my mama!

Clean the cancer inside of her!

[Willard] We need your help!

Now you pray, now! You hear me?

Yes, Lord!

Save my mama, Lord!

Please clean the cancer inside of her!

[Jack whining]

And don’t be crying, you hear?

Don’t be crying!

Pray like you mean it! Lord!

[Jack whining, barking]

Spare my wife!

[shakily] Don’t take her from me.

[Jack barking]

Don’t take her from me.

[crying] Don’t take her from me.

[Charlotte moans]

[Charlotte sighs]

[sighing]

[exhales]

Everything’s gonna be okay.

God’ll hear us.

And he’ll take care of Mama.

You good, honey.

[pool balls clacking]

[woman] We got cozy rooms in the back if you need some company.

I’m fine.

[narrator] It occurred to him that maybe something more was expected than just his prayers and sincerity.

God had a tendency of asking men to make sacrifices in order to prove their faith.

[Jack barking]

[door shuts]

[gunshot]

[loud whine]

[door clicks open]

Dad, no!

Dad, no!

Dad!

Lord, this here is my boy’s dog.

We loved him.

He loved him.

Now you take him!

Bring him back!

You save Charlotte!

[Arvin sobs]

It’s gonna be all right, Arvin.

It’s gonna be all right.

[shovelful of dirt thumps on coffin lid]

[thump]

[thump]

[Willard] I’m thinking we might take us a trip.

Go down and visit your grandma in Coal Creek.

You can meet Uncle Earskell.

And that girl that’s living with them…

She’s just a little younger than you.

Maybe we’ll stay for a while.

[door opens]

[Willard] Arvin.

[Arvin] I wish you were here, Jack.

When Dad goes to sleep…

I’m going to bring you down and give you a proper burial.

Just like they gave to Mama.

[dog barking in the distance]

[flies buzzing]

I’m not doing that no more, you hear me?

I ain’t prayin’!

You hear me?

I said I’m not doing that no more.

You hear me?

[loud thud]

[“Little Things Mean A Lot” playing]

♪ Blow me a kiss from across the room ♪

♪ Say I look nice ♪

♪ When I’m not ♪

There’s money to be made if a man of the law is careful and… doesn’t get a big head.

I wanna get out of my house, Lee.

I told you, sweetie, it’s only matter of time.

And no more parking lots.

No more Pepsi cups. Just a big ole bed.

Yeah.

People like me in this town.

You know that, honey.

Mm-hmm.

Yeah.

I’ll get myself elected.

[Lee panting]

[woman moans softly]

Get a… cushy place up in Brewer Heights.

Mm-hmm.

You see them…

[Lee groans]

[breathes heavily]

That was good. [sighs]

[chuckles]

You get it all in the cup?

Yeah.

[dispatcher] Any cars out around Knockemstiff? Over.

Deputy Bodecker around those parts?

We got a call from Hank over at–

Fuck.

Can you get over and check that out?

Can I come with you?

Are you crazy?

Come on.

Didn’t you hear anything I said?

I’ve got an election to think about.

[car door opens and closes]

[Lee] Well?

Better not be one of them goddamn window peepers you keep calling about.

[man] I wish it was.

It’s about this boy’s Daddy.

Well, what is it, son?

He’s dead.

And they buried his poor mama today.

It’s a damn shame, it is.

Is that blood on your face?

[Arvin] No.

Somebody left us a pie.

[Arvin] He’s right there.

[Lee] Jesus.

What’s that smell?

[flies buzzing]

God dammit, boy.

What the hell is this?

It’s a prayer log.

Prayer log?

Yeah.

But it don’t work too good.

[baby fussing]

[Helen] Lenora?

Mama’s coming, Lenora.

It’s all right.

[Roy screaming indistinctly]

Hey, it’s all right. [tutting]

[shushes] It’s all right.

[knocking on door]

[Helen] Roy!

[thud]

Your dinner’s ready.

[Roy] I’ve got the Holy Ghost in me!

I’m ready to use it!

[knocking continues]

Lord!

Speak!

Roy?

[thud]

I’ve been thinking…

Maybe the Lord wants you to come out into the light.

I mean, how can you be close to God stuck in there?

The Lord don’t like dark places.

[Roy praying indistinctly]

Roy?

[narrator] Roy’d been bitten on the cheek by a spider while preaching a sermon, and his head had puffed up as big as a pumpkin.

All right, then.

[plate clinking]

Enjoy your dinner.

[narrator] In the time it took the swelling to go down, he’d become convinced that the Lord was testing him to see if he was ready to take on something bigger.

He’d stayed in the dark closet for a fortnight waiting on an answer.

He smelled worse than a truck-stop shitter.

[Theodore] ♪ Stealin’, stealin’ ♪

♪ Pretty mama, don’t you tell on me ♪

[Roy muffled praying]

♪ I’m stealin’ back
To my same old used to be ♪

[Roy] Lord, is that you?

Oh, no, I’m not scared!

[Theodore humming]

[Roy] I trust in you!

[door opens]

Glory to God!

I hear you! Yes, I am here!

Helen. Oh, it’s so good to see you, honey.

Been a while, ain’t it?

Is everything all right?

Oh, everything’s fine now.

Uh, Roy finally got himself straightened out.

Well, that’s good to hear.

[Helen] “P.S. I got the urge to pray again.”

[car honking]

Sure you don’t mind watching Lenora?

[Emma] Sure.

Don’t mind. Hand her over here.

Where y’all going?

We just thought we’d take a ride.

[Emma grunts]

Get out of that little house for a bit.

[Emma chuckles]

There you go.

[smooches]

Yes.

[brakes screeching]

[door opens]

[Helen humming]

This spot looks about as good a place as any, don’t it?

Yes.

The Lord is here, sweetheart.

I can feel him.

God loves you, Helen.

[gasps]

[Helen grunts]

[groans]

[Helen panting]

Lenora…

[breathing shakily]

God…

I’ve heard your word.

Helen…

I resurrect you… with the grace of God in me… I resurrect you!

Return!

God!

It is time!

Resurrect! Return!

Return, Spirit! Resurrect!

God!

[Roy] Resur–

God!

Resurrect!

Come on, now!

Come on, now, res–

I could tell the police what happened.

That it was an accident.

[Theodore] You stabbed your wife in the neck with a screwdriver.

Tried to bring her back from the dead and then buried her body.

[Roy clears throat]

That ain’t an accident, Roy.

That sounds like a crazy person who killed his wife.

Keep driving south.

If we stay off highways, we should be fine.

[“Old Ship Of Zion” by Ralph Stanley playing]

♪ From the storms of life ♪

♪ I could see ♪

[Theodore groans]

[groans softly] Where are we, Roy?

[insects chirping]

Roy?

Roy?

Roy?

[man] Where about?

C-Coal Creek, West Virginia.

We’ll get you close enough, son.

I’m Carl, by the way, this here’s Sandy.

Huh? Ain’t she somethin’?

Mister, I do appreciate this.

I don’t understand people that won’t pick up strangers.

It should be a good thing, helping someone out.

You sound like a Christian.

Carl used to teach at Sunday school.

Didn’t you, babe?

That’s right.

That’s right.

What’s your name, sweetie?

It’s Roy.

Roy Laferty.

So what’s in West Virginia, Roy?

Going back home to see my daughter.

[Carl] Buddy, come on. [tapping]

Hey, come on.

I wanna show you something.

[Carl] Huh?

What?

I’m giving you a good thing here, buddy.

Come on.

Said I’m giving you a good thing here, buddy.

I wanna get some shots of your ugly old mug sitting next to a pretty lady.

Come on, she likes lanky old studs like yourself. Come on.

What’s going on here, mister?

Oh, come on, Jesus Christ, huh?

Pay attention. It’s like I said, you’re gonna fuck my wife and I’m gonna take some pictures, that’s all.

Your wife?

Come on.

I’ve never heard of such a thing.

I thought you was a good Christian–

Shut the fuck up and get that welfare suit off, son.

Jesus.

Well, I’ve been run through the wringer!

Do you really want these hands touching you?

Oh, come on, sweetie.

We’ll just take a few pictures and then the big dumb bastard will leave us alone.

Woman… look at me.

[Carl] Do what I say, you son of a bitch.

[gun cocks]

No, I ain’t.

[breathing heavily]

[Carl] Oh, Jesus.

Carl, maybe we should just get out of here.

Oh, forget it. Jesus.

[Sandy] I’m cold, Carl.

I know it’s cold

[narrator] Roy looked up at the clouds drifting by and wondered if that’s what death would be like, just floating away in the air.

He preached on it for years, but still didn’t know what to expect.

Just one thing.

Yeah, what’s that?

Her name is Lenora.

What the fuck you talking about?

My little girl.

Lenor–

[gunshot]

[gunshot]

[Carl] Come on.

[narrator]

This was still early days for the pair, and Carl was still working out the particulars.

[Carl] God damn…

He realized that he would have to get more selective with his models if he wanted to keep Sandy onboard.

[Carl] Get some shots off down there while the light’s still good.

[car door opens and closes]

[man] Good day, ma’am.

You Emma Russell?

Yes.

[man] I have some papers for you to sign and the boy here’s all yours.

Here, let me have that.

[door opens]

[Emma] Arvin?

Here, you give me that heavy old bag.

[cries] Oh…

[sobs]

[Emma clicks tongue] Oh…

Oh, sweetie,

we are so happy you’re here.

This here is your…

your Uncle Earskell.

Hey, there.

This is Lenora.

Lenora is your stepsister.

Hi, Arvin.

Hi.

[Emma] Here we go.

[Earskell] Oh, here we go.

[Lenora] Happy birthday, Arvin.

[Emma] Happy birthday, honey.

[Lenora] Happy birthday!

[Emma] Oh, no.

[Lenora] ♪ Happy birthday to you ♪

Happy birthday.

[both chuckle]

[inhales deeply]

All right.

[Emma] Make a wish before that candle burns out.

[Earskell] It looks like a dandy cake.

Arvin!

All right, hang on.

[plates clinking]

[Arvin] Thank you.

[clears throat]

Well…

This was your daddy’s.

[Earskell sighs]

[Emma] What’s that?

[Easrkell]

That’s Willard’s gun he gave me.

I figure it’s time to pass it on.

That’s a German Luger.

Brought back from the war.

I… got no use for handguns myself.

But I figure he’d want you to have it.

[sniffles] It’s the best present I ever got. Thank you, Uncle Earskell.

Shotgun’s what’ll do you good.

Maybe, but I don’t have anything else of his, so… thank you. [sniffles]

Time does pass.

[boy] Get down there.

[narrator] Boys in school liked to pick on Lenora for her pious manner and pinched face.

[boy] You’re so damn ugly, I’d need a sack over your head just to get a hard-on.

[narrator] Gene Dinwoodie, Tommy Matson, and Orville Buckman had managed to corner her by the dumpster behind school.

[boy] Probably fucked your brother, you brother fucker.

[Arvin] Hey!

[boy] Come on, get him!

[Lenora] Please stop! Stop!

God dammit! [grunts]

[groans]

[Arvin] Get the fuck off me!

[Lenora] Stop it!

[Arvin] Get off of me! Fuck!

[narrator] Arvin loved her like his own sister.

[boy] Sister fucker.

He would do anything to protect her.

No matter what the weather was,

Lenora would visit her mother’s grave after school.

Some days she’d even read the Bible out loud, and imagine her mother was listening.

Though he wasn’t one for praying

Arvin would often drive her and keep her company.

[Lenora] Arvin?

It was a sight you didn’t end up in the hospital.

Yeah, well, there’s a lot of no good sons of bitches out there. [grunts]

Well, Lord, Arvin, you’ve been saying that almost since the day I met you.

You know, that’s because it’s true.

Maybe you should try praying for ’em then.

Would that hurt none?

You already do enough for all of us, and where’s it doing you much good, huh?

You know what would do you good?

To not be wandering behind school by your own self, like I told you.

Fuckin’ Gene Dinwoodie.

Do you ever think about… how we ended up orphans living in the same house?

No.

Besides, you might not even be an orphan.

As far as everybody around here is concerned your daddy’s probably still out there somewhere alive and kicking.

Fuck, he might even come over that hill any day now, dancing a jig.

[chuckles] I hope so.

I pray every day he will.

Even if it means he did something?

I’ve already forgiven him.

Hm.

We could start over.

That’s crazy.

No, it’s not.

What about your father?

What about him?

I know what my daddy did.

Well… forgivin’ him… if he could come back.

Well, shut your mouth. We both know that ain’t never gonna happen.

I’m sorry for bringing it up.

[sighs] It’s all right.

You know, I appreciate you always coming with me.

I know you’d probably rather be doing something else.

We’re kin.

We gotta look out for each other.

[man] Lenora! Arvin!

C’mere!

[man coughs]

I might be gone a while.

[man coughs]

I’ll be praying for you.

[man coughs]

[man] In the meantime… [grunts] my sister’s boy from down in Tennessee is gonna come up and take my place.

He just graduated from one of them…

Bible colleges.

Well, I would appreciate it if you all would try and make him feel welcome.

Tell your grandmama I’m asking folks to bring a dish next sermon.

[Lenora] Of course.

[man 2] What you got planned after school, Arvin?

Cliff Baker says he can get me on the crew laying blacktop on the Greenbrier stretch off Route 60.

[man 2] Yeah.

I’m probably just gonna do that. You?

Oh, my old man’s holding me here.

Better than getting shipped off to Vietnam I expect.

Yeah, I suppose so.

[Emma] Everyone says they like the way I do them, but I–

Well, just get him a big steak then.

[both chuckle]

You know I can’t afford anything like that.

Grandma, quit worrying about it.

He’s just a preacher.

Anyway, everyone says ain’t no one doesn’t like you, you know that.

So chicken livers it is.

[Emma chuckles]

♪ There’s a village ♪

♪ Hidden deep in the valley ♪

♪ Among the pine trees half forlorn ♪

♪ And there on a sunny morning… ♪

It’s nice to meet you, Reverend.

[Emma repeating] It’s nice to meet you.

Nice to meet you, Reverend.

Nice to meet you.

♪ In the little valley town… ♪

[narrator] Emma was known as one of the best cooks in the county.

When people praised her food, she always told them that she couldn’t fry an egg until she found the Lord.

And that he was the one that guided her hand and made everything turn out good.

♪ Lead us not into temptation ♪

♪ Bless this hour of meditation ♪

♪ Guide him with eternal love ♪

[sighs] All right.

My heart’s in my stomach.

That hat. You know better.

♪ …the mountains high above ♪

♪ And there, twenty years thereafter ♪

♪ Jimmy was to meet his love ♪

Hello there.

Pleased to meet you, Reverend.

Emma Russell.

Nice to meet you too. What you got there?

[sniffles]

[narrator] As Preston Teagardin swished the juice from the chicken livers around in his mouth, he felt the stirrings of a sermon coming on.

Blessed…

are they who hunger…

and thirst…

for righteousness.

♪ Bless, oh Lord, this celebration ♪

♪ May their lives be filled with love ♪

Hope you like them, Reverend.

[narrator] Preston loved the way people listened to him and held onto every word.

[Preston] Hmm.

[narrator] He was grateful his mother decided all those years ago that he was going to be a preacher.

He’d never win a fist fight, but he could recite the Book of Revelation in his sleep.

Friends… [clears throat] there’s no doubt… we’re all humble people gathered here.

[woman] Amen.

[man] Amen.

Y’all have been awful nice to me and I thank you from the bottom of my heart for the welcome.

[man] Yes.

[churchgoers whispering]

But friends… the poor soul… that brung in them chicken livers on that beat-up plate… let’s just say I’m inspired to preach on it for a minute before we eat.

Sure… some of us are better off than others.

And I see… plenty of white meat and red meat laid out on this table.

And I suspect that the folks that carried them platters in eat mighty good sometimes.

[man] Yes, sir.

But poor people…

got to bring what they can afford.

So them organs…

is a sign to me…

telling me that I should, as the new preacher of this church, sacrifice myself.

so that y’all can have a share of the good meat tonight.

And that’s what I’m going to do, friends.

I’m going to eat these organs.

‘Cause I model myself on the good Lord Jesus whenever he gives me the chance.

And today…

he’s blessed me with another opportunity to follow in his footsteps.

[churchgoers] Amen.

[car doors close]

Now, don’t you worry about that pus-gutted blowhard.

I bet he ain’t got two nickels to rub together.

I never been so embarrassed in all my life.

I could’ve crawled right under the table.

All right, I’m gonna go talk to him.

No, Arvin.

None of that.

He sure ain’t the preacher I was hoping for.

Grandma, that ain’t no preacher.

He’s as bad as they got on the damn radio.

Heck, I bet he just wanted them chicken livers all for his own self.

That’s why he did that.

You see the way he was gobbling them down.

You shouldn’t talk like that, Arvin.

Preacher Teagardin wouldn’t be here if the Lord hadn’t sent him.

[“Honeycomb” by Jimmie Rodgers plays]

♪ Honeycomb ♪

♪ Well it’s a darn good life
And it’s kinda funny ♪

♪ How the Lord made the bee
And the bee made the honey ♪

♪ And the honeybee lookin’ for a home ♪

♪ And they called it honeycomb… ♪

[boy shouting] Whoo! Lenora!

[screaming]

[indistinct yelling]

Hey, chicken shit!

♪ Made my baby’s lips
Oh, honeycomb ♪

[Arvin] That preacher’s a little flashy.

Are you not coming?

No, I got some things to do before we go home.

Can’t we go do them after I see Mama?

No, you go on, I’ll be back.

Go on.

[door opens]

[Lenora humming]

[thunder rumbling]

[radio announcer] …stand on the verge of a big breakthrough.

God has said in the next few years, we stand on the verge of paradise.

But there’s something wrong.

And I’m gonna tell you, we’ve got to have prayer power and spiritual power.

In south Vietnam, soldiers fight with arms.

but now our spirit…

[announcer continues indistinctly]

[footsteps approaching]

[Preston] Who is it out there?

Lenora Laferty, Preacher Teagardin.

Girl, you been crying?

It’s nothing.

I just get down sometimes–

Uh…

The kids at school, they like to tease, and I ain’t gonna have family there come next year.

I was like you when I was your age.

Full of the Lord.

Some of them other kids just… came down hard on me.

What did you do about it?

Well… it was a rough time.

They was just jealous.

Envy.

Brings out the worst in people.

Especially the young ones.

I don’t know if you have anywhere you gotta be.

But, uh… maybe we can take a drive.

There’s a quiet place I found I like to go and pray on things.

[“Young Love” by Sonny James playing on the radio]

♪ They say for every boy and girl ♪

♪ There’s just one love
In this whole world ♪

♪ And I know ♪

♪ I’ve found mine ♪

[narrator] Like his father years before, Arvin had always been careful about picking his time.

He knew he’d stand a better chance if he didn’t try to take on all the dirty bastards at once.

[door opens]

[door closes]

♪ Young love, first love ♪

[woman moaning] What was that?

Nothing.

It must not have got shut all the way.

Let’s get them bloomers off, come on.

You– Close that door!

Goddamn better be worth it.

[thunder rumbling]

[grunts]

[Arvin] You piece of shit!

[girl screams]

[boy groans]

[girl] Stop it!

[both grunting]

[Arvin] Motherfucker!

Hey, Orville, will you start it up, man?

I don’t think it’s the spark plugs.

[“Young Love” continues playing]

Hey…

[car starting]

No. Hey, Gene, you want another Twinkie?

I’m all right, thank you.

Wait–

Wait! I’m sorry! I’m sorry!

[groans]

[Arvin] Want your fuckin’ Twinkie now?

Is that what you want?

[boy] No!

[Arvin panting]

[grunts]

[boy gasping and groaning]

[boy wheezing]

You touch my sister again…

I’ll kill you.

Do you understand me?

[wheezing] Yes.

Do you understand me?

I’m so sorry. [wheezing]

[car door bangs shut]

[groans]

Now, we can feel the Lord our here, can’t we?

It’s kind of you to come all this way.

[thunder rumbling]

Lenora… have you truly opened yourself to the Lord with… Preacher Sykes or… any other preacher?

Once…

Reverend Sykes wept with me.

[Preston] Hmm.

That’s not my meaning.

Have you shown yourself as the Lord made you?

You mean in my birthday suit? No.

No?

No.

To show yourself as the Lord made his first children, is to truly turn yourself to him… and his witnessing of it.

Now, that’s courage itself.

[thunder rumbling]

Meaning I take off my clothes?

Come on and pray with me.

[inhales deeply]

Lord, Lenora is showing herself to you.

See her, Lord, as you made her.

She presents herself to you now.

Give her the strength.

[thunder rumbling]

[Preston chuckles]

We are together before the Lord.

Amen.

Amen.

[Preston chuckles]

[door closes]

Sorry I didn’t come today.

It’s okay.

I know there’s other things you wanna be doing probably.

[“Put It Off Until Tomorrow” by Bill Phillips plays on the radio]

[Lenora] So, I can come on my own from now on.

♪ You say our love is over ♪

[narrator] Like her mother years ago, Lenora felt the same force that drew Helen to Roy Laferty.

The girl imagined that she could touch the love emanating from the preacher.

♪ But leave me tomorrow ♪

♪ Wo-wow ♪

-♪ You’ve hurt me enough today ♪

[sniffles, sighs]

♪ You’ve hurt me enough… ♪

Thirty-three to Athens, 50 to Clarksville…

Seventy-nine North to Pittsburgh.

[sniffles]

Thirty-three, 50, 79.

Thirty-three, 50, 79.

Thirty-three, 50, 79.

Fuck you, Carl!

♪ You won’t be coming back ♪

♪ So, stay… ♪

Shit.

Shit.

♪ Loneliness isn’t far away ♪

[narrator] It was the summer of 1965, and the couple were getting ready for what would be their fourteenth road trip.

Carl had decided long ago that young, good-looking hitchhikers were the best.

What the fuck is going on out here?

[sighs]

Couldn’t sleep.

And you went outside for…

Thought I’d pack the limousine early.

[dogs barking in the distance]

We don’t pack early, Sandy, that’s a rule.

[sighs]

You fucking around?

No.

Work?

No.

I gotta go into town for business tomorrow.

Think I wanna drive around in a car full of bags?

Buying a camera ain’t business.

Hmm.

[indistinct TV chatter]

[thumping on door]

[thumping on door]

I’m coming, God dammit!

[thumping]

[man] I’ll break in if you don’t answer.

Jesus.

You don’t look too good.

I was asleep.

What do you want?

[Sandy sighs] Huh?

What are you looking for?

Stop tearing my damn kitchen apart.

You got any candy?

Jane got you sober again? [scoffs]

Going somewhere?

Not that it’s any of your business, big brother, but I’m going on a little vacation.

North Carolina.

Why are you here, Lee?

[Lee sighs]

[Lee sighs]

[Lee munching]

Hmm?

I’ve been getting a lot of calls from people about girls that someone snatched out of Tecumseh.

[munches]

They even mentioned your name a couple times.

That’s horseshit.

I got another election coming up, Sandy.

Ol’ Matthew’s out there doing anything he can to try to make me look bad.

Is Carl the one pimping you?

That fat son of a bitch?

No, he’s working, making deliveries.

Deliveries?

For who?

Hell if I know.

But he’s bringing home money that I don’t gotta ask you for.

Is it Leroy?

Get the fuck out of here, Lee.

[sighs] Son of a bitch has it coming.

[sighs]

Just leave off the horn until after the election, you understand?

Don’t act like you do nothing wrong.

I’m the law around here, little sister.

And that makes all the difference.

[narrator] Cody Hamilton, a 20-year-old carpenter out fishing early one morning in West Virginia.

What the fuck are you doing, Sandy?

[“He Says The Same Things To Me” by Skeeter Davis playing]

♪ If he did there’s no surprise ♪

[door opens]

[woman] Hey, Lee. Sandy’s off.

[song continues playing]

Leroy’s private space owns up half this dump.

I’m gonna inspect those whore rooms.

[woman] Lee, ain’t nothin’ there.

Let me by.

Lawman.

[Lee groans]

[punching]

[Lee grunts]

[man] When the man who puts extra money in your pockets asks why you’re as red as a newborn baby, you tell him who the whore is.

[Lee breathes heavily]

[“Welcome To My World” by Jim Reevs playing]

[narrator] Bodecker believed people were like dogs: once they start digging, they don’t wanna stop.

First, it would just be that the Sheriff had a whore for a sister, and after that, all the bribes and other shit that had piled up since he’d first pinned on a badge.

And if he wasn’t careful, eventually someone would find out about his own dealings with Leroy.

[Leroy] My boy, my boy.

It’s been a while.

[Lee sighs] Yeah.

[waitress] Whatcha having, honey?

Coffee. Ain’t staying long.

You got a new toy?

[man] It’s an English firearm.

It’s really rare.

It’s got special bullets.

Untraceable.

[Lee] Untraceable.

[loud bang, cutlery clanking]

[waitress] Sorry!

[Leroy] Word starts going around Sheriff’s got his eye on the girls at Tecumseh.

That’s gonna cost me my money.

Me losing money is gonna cost you your cut.

It didn’t have anything to do with you.

It does now.

Bobo, you ever go and beat the shit outta someone I made my money off?

[Bobo] No.

Never crossed my mind, thinking about that.

Guy running against me is going door-to-door telling folk I look the other way when it comes to Sandy.

Bobo, don’t eat my scraps.

Give over the envelope.

[Leroy sniffles]

There’s debt you owe me.

What I’m gonna lose at the bar.

Horse shit.

You ain’t losing nothing there.

[Leroy] Yeah?

And you know that ’cause you’re a loaded diaper like everyone else who works for me or because all of Meade knows you’re dirty?

[sniffles]

That’s your weekly earnings ’til we’re square.

Now, get the fuck out of my diner. [sighs]

[narrator] Bodecker knew that Leroy and his errand boy Bobo would kill him soon enough if he made any more trouble.

He had an election to think about and couldn’t afford any liabilities.

[Leroy] My bar is off limits and so is your whore sister, you understand?

[man] Thanks for stopping.

[door closes]

[Sandy] What’s your name, sweetie?

Private Gary Matthew Bryson.

[Sandy] That’s a nice name.

[Carl] You sound like you’re at roll call.

Relax, boy.

[Sandy] Which of them you go by?

Gary. That was my dad’s name, so at home, I’m Gary Matthew.

[Sandy] Matthew?

That’s from the Bible, ain’t it, Carl?

[Carl] Everything’s from the Bible, honey.

Hell, Ol’ Matthew, he’s one of the Apostles.

You probably knew your name came out of the Bible, didn’t you?

[Gary] We didn’t go to church much when I was a kid.

But you’ve been baptized, right?

[Gary] Of course.

We ain’t heathens.

I just don’t know much about the Bible is all.

Good.

Lord knows where a person who ain’t saved might end up.

Hm… Right now it looks like Vietnam.

[Sandy] It’s beautiful, isn’t it?

All them trees just going up, up, up.

That’s a good picture.

[Gary] Sure is.

You’re a nice boy, Gary.

[Carl humming]

[Gary] Thanks for inviting me to lunch.

What do you say we eat, huh?

[Sandy] What do you want, Gary?

[Gary] Uh, bologna’s good.

Bologna? You want cheese?

Yes, please.

Okay.

[Gary] Thank you.

[Sandy chuckles]

Here you go, hon.

[Sandy] Gary?

Oh, no, thank you.

You don’t drink?

I don’t hold it very well.

Usually gets me in trouble.

Well, come on.

You mean to tell me you’re not gonna have a drink with a pretty little thing like her?

[Gary] Oh, what the hell. [chuckles]

[Carl] Yeah.

[Gary clears throat]

Whoo! That’ll wake you up.

[Sandy and Gary laugh]

[Gary] Here.

No, you go on and take another one.

[Gary] Cheers.

[Carl] Cheers.

I got an idea.

Seeing as we might not see one another again…

we oughta record this for posterity.

[Gary clears throat]

[Gary] You mean a picture?

[Carl] Damn right, I mean a picture.

Sure, I’m game.

That’s the spirit.

[Carl] I’ll tell you what, Private.

Why don’t you just… lie down on that blanket there on your side.

[Gary] Like that?

Like that.

Now, take that bottle and hold it like you got it on you all the time.

[Gary] How’s that?

[camera shutter clicks]

[“Wings Of A Dove” by Ferlin Husky playing]

♪ He sends His pure sweet love ♪

♪ A sign from above ♪

♪ Sign from above ♪

♪ On the wings of a dove ♪

♪ Wings of a dove ♪

♪ When troubles surround us ♪

♪ When evils come ♪

♪ The body grows weak ♪

♪ Body grows weak ♪

♪ The spirit grows numb ♪

♪ Spirit grows numb ♪

You’re snoozing through Ferlin.

I don’t like this gospel shit.

[music stops]

You know, we did him a favor.

He was just gonna get shot up and killed in Vietnam anyways.

God dammit.

He wasn’t nothing but another model.

I told you I don’t like this anymore.

Ain’t it fair if I hate the way some of ’em cry?

Not that you’d appreciate it, but tears make for a good photograph.

[narrator] What Sandy didn’t understand was that to his way of thinking, this was the one true religion.

Only in the presence of death could he feel the presence of something like God.

[Gary] No, no, no!

[Gary screams]

[sobbing] Please! Please! Please!

[Gary screams]

[Carl] Don’t you– Don’t you touch that fuckin’ camera there, son.

[camera shutter clicking]

[narrator] The sick fuck.

How about we check into a motel?

Get a couple of steaks, and relax for a day or two.

How does that sound?

[Sandy] Private Gary Matthew Bryson won’t be reporting to Fort Eustis.

But he ain’t a coward, he went and got himself killed.

Buried by the Mechums River in West Virginia.

Chopped up pretty bad in a suitcase.

No, I won’t speak to nobody else.

[Preston] I’ve heard of cases in my reading about sin where someone got so sick… over some sin they felt they had committed that was so terrible that they… started imagining things.

Back, I read a story about… people.

Poor people.

Barely able to write… thinking they’re… the president or… or a Hollywood celebrity like Ava Gardner.

I– I don’t understand what you’re talking about.

The thing is, that’s the part of it.

The book says… it’s not, not understanding.

See, think about it.

How… could I be the daddy… when all we done is spend time with the Lord?

[door closes]

[Arvin] Late night?

[Earskell] Played cards over at Elder Stubbs’s garage again.

You win this time?

No, not really.

[chuckles]

Saw Fred Dinwoodie over there.

He said his boy is just about healed up.

I still think you could have held back a little bit.

Well, he ain’t bothered Lenora since.

Him or his candy-ass buddies.

I gotta go check in on her.

She ain’t been feeling too good.

You keep an eye on her for me while we’re at church.

[Lenora retches]

[coughs]

[narrator] Lenora had stopped asking Arvin to join her at Helen’s grave.

He didn’t mind much.

His mind would always drift back to Willard and the prayer log and his poor dog Jack.

Besides, he’d gotten a job working on the road crew and was busy making some money.

[inhales] I never missed church before.

[panting]

[breathing heavily]

I’m so ashamed.

You ain’t got nothing to be ashamed of.

I’m sure the Lord will forgive you for missing one Sunday.

Ol’ Jesus probably had his fair share of bad mornings.

[chuckles]

[whispers] I love you, Arvin.

[Lenora sighs]

How’s about we, uh… [sniffles] go see your mama’s grave when you’re better?

Sound all right?

[Preston] The good book… is filled with good men and women suffering delusions.

Eve in the garden.

Noah… naked, drunk.

Bringing shame upon his family.

The idol the Jews bowed before in the desert.

And even the Lord Jesus himself was presented with delusions in the desert that only through his faith… and his strength… overcame.

[man 1] Mm-hmm.

[man 2] Praise Jesus.

The Lord’s delusion in the desert was a game… of the so-called “Devil.”

And what the Lord experienced… was a delusion that would’ve kept him from saving us!

But he did not fall for it!

It is our delusions that lead us to sin.

Striking a mother or a wife for something that you thought they said.

Neglecting work or Sunday service, for that matter.

[man] Right. You said it.

Some girl… gets a feeling for a fella and lets him have her holy gift.

Delusions!

Blaspheming the Lord in your mind and in your heart for some wrong done to you by another person.

[man] That’s true.

You’re saying you don’t… remember all the things we did in your car?

I’m saying you must be crazy.

Coming in the Lord’s house and talking all this trash.

Look, my advice to you, girl… is you figure some way to get rid of it.

‘Cause otherwise… it’s gonna be you, a whore mother, and her little bastard child running around, living in that poor old woman’s house who raised you.

If nothing else, think of her.

She’ll die from the shame of it all.

Come on.

Come on.

[narrator] Lenora suddenly knew she was making a mistake.

Grandma wouldn’t be ashamed and she and her baby would be okay.

[choking]

Oh, my God!

Oh, my God!

No! No! No!

[yells] Grandma!

Grandma!

No, no, no!

Grandma!

[grunts]

[somber violin music playing]

Grandma! [grunts]

[narrator] No one would know she wasn’t a suicide and that in the end, she was all right with her maker.

Oh, Lord.

There’s just some things we can’t understand.

But you take her into your arms.

[Emma sobbing]

Uh, ain’t somebody… saying prayers or…

[clears throat]

[somber music continues playing]

[Emma sobs]

[breathes heavily]

[sniffles]

[indistinct chatter]

[man 1] Need to have a word with you, Arvin.

[man 2] All right, see ya, buddy.

[man 3] Yep.

See ya tomorrow.

[Arvin] About what?

[man 1] It’s, uh…

It’s about Lenora.

What about her?

I came by here instead of home so nothing’s… put on your grandmother.

“Put on”? What do you mean?

Well… ol’ Dudley, in the Coroner’s… I ain’t never heard of no Dudley.

Well, he’s a drunk… but he ain’t no liar.

Did you know Lenora was carrying a baby?

That’s bullshit.

That son of a bitch is lying.

I tell ya… Dudley ain’t a liar.

He came to me privately so as your family knew.

I felt he was right.

Now, I might’ve put my foot in something. It… wasn’t my intentions.

You know that preacher ain’t said no words for her.

Not for people that kill themselves.

[engine starting]

[engine revving]

[moaning]

[Preston grunts]

[engine starting]

[grunts]

[inhales deeply]

[sighs] Uncle…

[narrator] Arvin wanted so much
to be able to tell them goodbye,

but they would be better off
not knowing anything

if the law came looking for him.

You have to be good to Grandma.

You know that she ain’t hardly been out
of her bed since the funeral?

Yeah.

Grandma needs you.

All right?

[somber violin music playing]

[Arvin] Dear Grandma…

I’m writing to you
because I cannot say goodbye to your face.

I love you and I will always remember
the things that you have done for me.

[door creaks open]

What I’m about to do,
I do because I have to,

not because I want to.

Please do not try and find me.

Love, your grandson, Arvin.

[lip smacking]

[Arvin breathes shakily]

[breathing shakily]

[exhales]

[quietly] Excuse me.

[clears throat]

Excuse me.

Preacher?

Got time for a sinner?

I’ve been doing wrong
and I wanna get right by the Lord.

Well, that’s what I’m here for.

I’ve done…

lustful acts.

Yeah.

That could be a big problem.

Especially for the young people.

Go on, tell me about it.

I got me a pretty wife at home.

One that’ll do pretty much anything I ask.

But I treat her real bad.

Well, when you say anything,

what do you mean?

Just what I said.

Sometimes she’ll be going down
on me with…

[breathing shakily]

well, you know, her mouth.

Heck, I get so excited I start forcing it.

She ever puke on you?

They got a little trigger,
back there in their throat.

Yeah, well, that ain’t my problem.

Well, what’s the problem then, son?

This guy I work with
has got himself a daughter.

Real young thing,
just started high school.

One day I got this girl in my truck
and I drove her out into the sticks

and I…

had my way with her.

Did she put up a fight?

No.

But, you see, the problem is, is…

once I’d had a taste,
I just couldn’t get enough.

I kept taking that girl there
any chance I got.

So I’d strip her clothes off.

But I’d make her pray
before we got started.

Why don’t you take that hat off, boy.

Sometimes I’d even…

keep her panties.

Now, I’d just…

sniff ’em as she rode off on her bike.

And then I’d go home
to that whore of a wife of mine

and make her bake me a cake
like I was celebrating.

-What in the hell is this?
-[gun cocks]

You’ve been spying on me, boy?

I’ve been watching your every move
for the last couple weeks.

You can’t get enough
of that Reaster girl, can you?

[inhales]
Is that how you did my Lenora too?

So…

Mrs. Russell’s boy?

All right.

Don’t do anything you’ll regret, son.

Why don’t you put the gun down and…

we can talk all about it.

Go ahead and talk.

[clicks tongue]

It wasn’t my fault.

[scoffs]

And Lenora…

was just like this…

this Reaster girl.

She wouldn’t let me be.

But I want you to know that I–

I pray for that girl’s soul

every night.

Do you pray for her baby’s soul too?

Look, I didn’t have…

nothing to do with that.

She came to me…

-saying she got that way from a boy–
-Don’t fuckin’ lie to me!

Lies– [chuckles]

The lies–

The lies are hers.

She got it in her head
that I was the father.

That I was gonna take care of everything.

God dammit, boy!

Listen to me!

I ain’t gonna take the blame
for no bastard child!

It would ruin me, man.

You can understand that, can’t you?

Hell!

Listen to me, boy.

She was…

delusional.

She was crazy.

You see?

No, she was just lonely.

No, man.

-[gunshot]
-[Preston groans]

[groaning]

Please, God!

Please, God!

Fuck. [panting]

[yells]

-Fuck!
-[drops shell]

Shit.

Shit.

[breathing heavily]

[panting]

[groans]

[narrator]
He had to get away from this place

or any he ever called home.

But in this moment, he felt a sudden force

pulling in back towards Knockemstiff.

No matter what else happened,

he had to try to set right
those things about his father

that still ate at his heart.

[engine sputtering]

[car stops]

[engine starts and stops]

Come on.

Fuck.

[“Needles And Pins”
by Jackie DeShannon playing]

♪ I saw him today ♪

♪ I saw his face ♪

♪ It was a face I loved ♪

♪ And I knew ♪

♪ I had to run away ♪

♪ And get down on my knees and pray ♪

[Bobo] Morning, Lee.

[Lee] Heya, Bobo.

Sorry to come by so early.

I was on my way to work and…

I thought I might chew your ear.

[Bobo] Hm.

Still thinking
about that gun you showed me.

Uh… I’m gonna scramble some eggs.
You want some?

Yeah.

[“Needles And Pins” continues playing]

I’ll take coffee if you got any.

[Bobo] Coming up.

Leroy here?

He’s upstairs.

Pistol’s in the dining room.

Pretty nifty.

[drawer closes]

♪ Hey, that’s how it begins, uh? ♪

♪ He’ll feel those needles and pins ♪

♪ A-hurtin’ him, a-hurtin’ him ♪

♪ Why can’t I… ♪

It’s a fine piece.

♪ And tell myself I’m wrong ♪

♪ I’m wrong, so wrong ♪

Wonder if you’d consider selling me it.

[Bobo] Well, I just got it.

But everything’s got a price, I guess.

[eggs sizzling]

You know,
one thing I never can get is the…

scoops and water.

Is it more water to scoops

or more scoops to water?

[muffled gunshot]

[radio announcer]
Jackie DeShannon here on KBWB.

Jackie first toured with The Beatles…

[Leroy] “Bobo, go there do this.”

He goes there, does it.

He’s simple. [chuckles]

You too.

[slams phone down]

Huh.

[gun cocks]

[radio] …at Hopkins Automotive.
And now, for the WIXY sports scoreboard.

[radio announcer continues indistinctly]

[Sandy] Carl?

I see him.

Carl?

-We don’t even know where he’s going.
-Carl?

-Just–
-God dammit, Carl.

He’s going to Ohio.

No one from home. That’s your rule.

[car honks]

Let’s just see where he’s going, Sandy.

Morning.

Where you headed?

Meade, Ohio. You heard of it?

The paper-mill town, right?

Yeah, that’s right.

We’re passing right through it.

[country music playing on the radio]

[Carl] What you going to Meade for?

-Just visiting.
-[Sandy] Got family there?

No, I used to live there a long time ago.

[Carl] Well, probably ain’t changed much.
Little towns never do.

[Arvin sighs] Where is it y’all live?

[Carl] In Chesterfield.

We’re headed up to Chicago, Illinois.

We like picking up strangers
along the way, don’t we?

Meet new people, don’t we, hon?

Sure do.

[Carl] Oh, shit.

My old billy don’t work like it used to.

I’m gonna have to… [sighs]

pull over and take a leak somewhere here.

[Carl] Is that all right by you?

Sure.

There should be a road
somewhere up here on the right.

-Here?
-[Carl] No, a little further.

Little further. Slow down.
Turn in right here.

This is good.

[Carl] Right here.

Yeah, this’ll work.

I won’t be long.

[Carl groans]

[door bangs shut]

[Carl sighs]

[Sandy opens match box]

Oh, shoot.

[Carl] Damn.
That’s gonna be one fine sunset.

You have to be patient with me
while I get a few shots off.

Hon, give me the key.

Don’t you worry none.
We’ve got some hooch in the back and…

[breathes heavily]

Well, Sandy’s good company.

[birds chirping]

[narrator] The thought of killing Carl

and taking off
with the boy in the backseat

suddenly crossed Sandy’s mind.

[Carl muttering]

He was young, but that didn’t mean
she couldn’t make it work.

Tell you what, son. Why don’t you ste–

[shoots twice]

[Arvin panting]

[Sandy gasps] Shit!

[both gasp]

[Sandy] No! Calm down, please!

I don’t wanna shoot you! Put the gun down!

-I don’t want to shoot.
-I’m so sorry!

[gasps]

[groans]

[Sandy] Carl, you want sandals or heels?

Heels.

[Carl singing]

[narrator] Serial murderers
aren’t the most trusting kind.

Carl brought the additional quality
of being maniacally paranoid.

Sandy’s behavior
before they left home made him uneasy,

and Carl thought it’d be better if he was
the only one with a loaded weapon.

[Carl singing]

Poor Sandy never stood a chance.

[groans, breathes heavily]

Her gun was loaded with blanks.

[Arvin panting]

[narrator] Jim Lacey.

New Burlington, Indiana.

Carl never photographed
a more symmetrical face.

This photo really meant something to him.

Jim had been their first.

[breathing heavily]

[radio] Sheriff Bodecker,
this is Deputy Howser. Come in. Over.

Sheriff, you there?

A farmer called in a double homicide
off the 506. I need you here.

I’m sorry, Lee. This is fucked up.

What do you mean?

It’s your sister and her husband.

[man] Carl was shot twice.

Sandy once.

It looks like it was a nine millimeter.

Sandy got one shot off but…

her gun was loaded with blanks.

-[whispers] Jesus Christ.
-[man] Lee?

Give me a couple minutes here
alone with her.

[narrator] She’d always been
sort of fucked up,

but Lee blamed Carl
for the way she’d gone downhill.

Regardless of all that,
she was still his baby sister.

But the sheriff couldn’t help but think
of his own situation for a moment.

He thought about that photo
he found of her

and worried about what else
people might find

if he didn’t get to it first.

Reverend Roy Laferty,

Durham, North Carolina.

Though the poor fucker had been
completely worthless as a model,

Carl was insistent on keeping a record

of both his successes and his failures.

[man] Howdy.

You look like you’ve been traveling.

-Yeah.
-Where you headed?

There used to be a house and a barn
up on the hill over there.

Some lawyer owned it. You know it?

Sure I do.

Up in the Mitchell Flats.

Still there?

Well, I’ll be damned.

You’re that Russell boy, ain’t you?

I just thought, seeing as I was this way,
I’d stop by and see the old place again.

[dog barking in the distance]

[sighs] Son, I hate to tell you this,
but that place burned some years ago.

They think some kids did it.

Wasn’t nobody ever living there
since you and your folks.

Well, heck, I come all this way,
I may as well walk up there anyways.

Sure, just cut across Clarence’s pasture.

He won’t say nothing.

[thunder rumbling]

I never did thank you
for the night my dad died.

You were awful kind of me,

and I just want you to know
that I ain’t never forgot it.

You had that pie smeared
all across your face.

Damn Bodecker thought it was blood.
Remember that?

Yeah, I remember everything
about that night.

He ain’t the lawman that I expected.

Shame about his sister though.

Why? What happened?

Well, his sister and her husband
were found dead.

Not far from Meade.

You come back to see me.

We’ll sit out and drink some beer.

I’ll do that.

[man] Lee.

Got a call from Sheriff Thompson
in Lewisburg, West Virginia.

Wants you to call him back
as soon as possible.

[Thompson]
I had a man shot down here two days back.

He was a preacher.

And we’re suspecting it’s a boy
that used to live up around your parts.

That right?

How’d he kill the man?

A couple shots.

Pistol. Probably a Luger
that the boy’s known to have.

-That’s a nine millimeter, ain’t it?
-That’s right.

What’d you say the boy’s name was?

I didn’t say, but it’s Arvin Russell.

Both of his parents died up around there,
as I understand it.

Father was a suicide,
and he’s been living down here

with the grandmother and the uncle.

Listen, I don’t think the boy’s dangerous.

From what I’m hearing,
this preacher might’ve deserved killing.

Is this boy driving?

Could be.

He owns an ol’ busted up Chevy 3100, ’54.

I don’t know
that it’d make it all the way up there.

At this point, he might be hitchhiking.

Dark hair, not bad looking. Quiet.

[sighs]

Who’s gonna bury Jack?

I don’t know.

I don’t know
who’s gonna wanna touch that thing.

[sighs] Look, kid…

my daddy didn’t do anything
like what your daddy did up there,

but he did up and leave me,
my mama, and my sister.

He just went off to the shoe factory
one morning and never came back.

And there was nothing to do
but forget his sorry ass.

Some people were born
just so they could be buried.

[birds chirping]

[sighs, sniffles]

[narrator] Arvin thought about the days
leading up to his mother’s death,

how Willard wanted so much
for her to live.

His father
would have done anything to save her.

Fuck the blood and stink,
the heat and the insects.

Anything.

Arvin said to himself.

[barking in the distance]

And suddenly he realized,
standing in his father’s church,

that he’d had no other choice,

that Willard had needed to go
wherever Charlotte went.

[footsteps approaching]

Arvin Russell!

I know you’re down there somewhere!

It’s Sheriff Bodecker, son!

Got some questions to ask you!

[gunshot]

[gun cocking]

Sorry about that!

Goddamn bird scared me.

I ain’t here to hurt you!

And I know that you don’t wanna hurt me!

Come on out so we can have us a talk!

[gun cocks]

[panting] Okay.

[Lee]
I figured this might be where you’d come.

Remember that night
you brought me up here?

That was an awful thing your daddy did.

[stick clatters]

[gunshot]

God dammit, boy, don’t–
don’t fuck with me!

Put the gun down, Sheriff!
I got one pointed right at you!

Can’t do that, son!

Just set it on the ground and step away!

What?

Just set it on the ground and step away!

So you can kill me like you did my sister
and that preacher down in West Virginia?!

[breathes shakily]

I’m not a bad person, Sheriff.

That preacher weren’t no good!

He hurt my sister so bad
she killed herself, Sheriff!

I had no choice!

[breathes heavily]

I hate to be the one to tell you this,
Sheriff, but your sister…

and her husband,
they weren’t no good neither!

I got a snapshot in my pocket here
of her hugging on some dead guy.

You let loose that gun
and I’ll show it to you!

[gunshots]

[Lee gasps]

[bird chirping]

[breathes heavily]

[gasps]

[Arvin panting]

[exhales]

I had no choice.

[gasps]

They were gonna kill me, I swear.

I begged her to put the gun down.

I’m sorry.

[narrator] Though it seemed to Arvin
as if hours went by

while he listened
to the Sheriff fight to stay alive,

it actually took the man
only a few minutes to die.

[breathes heavily]

[sniffles]

[dog barking in the distance]

[car honks]

[indistinct radio newscast]

Thank you, mister.

I didn’t think
anybody was gonna pick me up.

Looks like you had a rough day.

[Arvin] Yeah.

Uh, where you headed?

[Arvin] I ain’t figured that out yet.
Where you headed?

[man] Cincinnati.

-All right.
-That okay for you?

[Arvin] Uh…

Yeah, I’ve been meaning
to get up that way.

[reporter] … to make known
his final decision

to significantly increase

the number of US troops
deployed to south Vietnam.

He explained the reason for his actions
in these historic words.

[Lyndon B. Johnson]
We intend to convince the communists

that we cannot be defeated

by force of arms

or by superior power.

They’re not easily convinced.

[narrator] Arvin didn’t want to fall asleep sitting next to a stranger, and as he fought hard to stay awake, his mind began taking him places.

He started to think maybe the law would recognize he had done good.

Maybe he’d be forgiven.

Maybe he’d even be able to see Grandma and Uncle Earskell again.

Or maybe that was too risky.

What happened?

[narrator] But still… maybe he’d meet a girl, start a family like his daddy did.

[Jack barking]

As the thoughts came, he wasn’t sure if he was going backwards or forwards.

He knew wherever this was, it felt nicer than Knockemstiff.

No fighting or screaming or pain.

Then the thought of enlisting got into his brain.

And he wasn’t sure if he was thinking about himself or Willard anymore.

He didn’t want to end up in a war like his father.

But he was good at fighting.

Maybe that’s where he belonged.

Grandma would tell him to pray on it, and he’d laugh at her.

But maybe she knew something he didn’t.

Right now, he needed sleep and just felt lucky someone was giving him a ride.

[indistinct radio newscast]

[tranquil violin music playing]

[“Bank Of The Ohio” by Pokey LeFarge playing]

♪ I asked my love ♪

♪ To take a walk ♪

♪ Just a walk ♪

♪ A little way ♪

♪ And as we walked ♪

♪ Oh, may we talk ♪

♪ All about our wedding day ♪

♪ Only say that you’ll be mine ♪

♪ In our home we’ll happy be ♪

♪ Down beside where the waters flow ♪

♪ On the banks of the Ohio ♪

♪ I held a knife against her breast ♪

♪ As into my arms she pressed ♪

♪ She said Willie, don’t you murder me ♪

♪ I’m unprepared for eternity ♪

♪ I took her by her lily white hand ♪

♪ And dragged her down that bank of sand ♪

♪ There I throwed her in to drown ♪

♪ I watched her as she floated down ♪

♪ Was walking home ‘tween twelve and one ♪

♪ Thinkin’ of what I had done ♪

♪ I killed a girl, my love you see ♪

♪ Because she would not marry me ♪

♪ The very next morning
about half past four ♪

♪ The Sheriff came and
Knocked on my door ♪

♪ He said young man come now and go ♪

♪ To the Banks of the Ohio ♪

[music ends]

[suspenseful violin music playing]