***Thanks, Bill, for helping me out with some of the Catholic terms and information. Hope this is semi-accurate.***
“Forgive me father, for I have sinned. This is my first confession.”
“What brings you here, my son?”
“It’s the burning, father. I can’t get it out of my mind. I can smell their burnt flesh sizzling through the air. I can see their bodies mangled and torn. Piles and piles of the dead. Broken bones mixed with ash and soot. Their screams keep me up at night, and every time I close my eyes I swear I hear them whispering my name, asking me why I didn’t save them. They will not leave me alone, Father. Please, oh God, please forgive me.”
“Calm down, child. Relax. Now breathe and tell me what has you so upset.”
The priest heard the troubled man breathe in deeply. Through the wrought iron window he saw a young lad, perhaps thirty years in age. And though the booth was dark, he thought he saw a silvery reflection in the man’s eyes.
“I saw it all and I did nothing. Nothing! I could have saved them but I was too afraid to act. I just sat there and watched, fascinated and repulsed. All I had to do was get out from where I was hiding and open the door. That’s it. But I was scared; if I showed myself then they’d come for me and throw me in there with them. So I just lay there and tried to block it out.”
The priest let the man speak without interrupting, though he often wanted to. He’d learned that it was best to let the penitent speak first, to get everything out, before offering absolution. We’re to be swift to listen and slow to speak, Jessie, Padre Gabe had told him all those years ago. Otherwise we can ruin the act of confession by corrupting it with our own input. So he sat quietly and listened, occasionally jotting down a note or word that jumped out.
“A few minutes had passed when the screaming began. Men. Women. Children. Babies, even. A church full of chaos, of pleas and prayers for deliverance. They beat on the doors and windows, trying to escape, but they were all sealed and boarded up. I imagined the monsters that locked them in there prowling around, looking for me, and I sunk deeper into my hiding place. I know now that I was alone and could’ve… should’ve saved them. God provided a means for their salvation and I denied it to them all.”
His face collapsed into open palms and his body shook with silent sobs. Still Father Jessie kept his tongue, certain there was more to come.
“I fell asleep,” he began again, keeping his head down. His voice was soft and broken, and the priest leaned closer to the window to listen. “I saw smoke venting through the boards on the high windows and didn’t want to think about what was going on inside. So I slept. I woke up a few hours later, stiff and tense. The air smelled like a slaughter. Slaughter and… a rotisserie.” He laughed, a harsh guttural sound. “I crept from the shadows, knowing that as soon as I did I would be killed. But no one came.
“I don’t know why, but I went to the door and released the latches that held it in place. I felt compelled to at least see the results of my cowardice. I opened the door to the sanctuary and I saw hell. Scores of corpses, pressed upon one another, as if the dead were reaching up for God to rescue them. The entire village was dead before me, nearly four hundred people. Most were burned beyond recognition, thankfully. Putting a face to my nightmares would be even worse. But not all were blackened. Some appeared unscathed, just covered lightly with grime and filth of the ruined building.”
Father Jessie listened with morbid curiosity, his ear all but pressed against the dividing window, his pen scribbling faster.
“I walked around for only a few moments, but what happened next will haunt me until I die. The room came to life. Voices filled the air, all whispers, all hate-filled and accusatory. Why did you leave us? Why did you let us die? The voices of the dead all called out to me, bowling me down with their intensity. Behind me, the altar was smoking, and above the demons of hell were shrieking.
“I fled from the room, through the corpses and towards the vestibule. Standing in the entrance was a girl, her clothes singed and marred, but otherwise completely alive and whole. I stopped short. I didn’t recognize her, and I knew the entire village. She looked about ten years younger than me. She looked confused, like she’d just woken up from a trance or something. She stared into my eyes and then she turned and ran, sprinting faster than any man can.
“I chased after her, but she was already gone. I had nowhere to go; I had no one to go to. I just started walking, putting the dead community behind me. Every step of the way I could hear their whispers fading, but they’re back now and I cannot get rid of them. I saw the cathedral and I came here, looking for penance. I should have helped them, Father. I should’ve done something. Please please forgive me.”
He once again began sobbing. Father Jessie knew the confession was over. What else could he say? He didn’t need to consider the truthfulness in the man’s confession; it was obvious he was remorseful. He wondered briefly how he would act, but then abandoned the idea as absurd. Father Jessie took his glasses off and rubbed his tired eyes. There is nothing new under the sun, Padre Gabe had quoted, and God has forgiven all sins, past, present, and future. Jessie knew how Padre Gabe must have felt. There was nothing new under the sun, indeed.
After all, this was not the first time he had heard this confession. The similarities between them all were truly astonishing. Perhaps with a few more trials the serum would be ready for the legal market. He found the transmitter in his pocket and pressed the silent activation switch.
“Now now, child,” he began, his voice tender and compassionate. “Solomon said that there is nothing new under the sun, thus, no sin is new to God. You must first forgive yourself for the voices to stop. As far as your soul is concerned, Nick, I absolve you of your sins in the Name of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”
The man looked up, with puzzled, tear-stained eyes. “How did you know—”
The door to the other side of the booth burst open. The penitent man did not even have time to yelp. The smell of the chloroform rag was sweet and thick in the small booth. Nick slumped forward into the arms of the assailant and Father Jessie nodded his approval.
Word Count: 1165