“Bless me father, for I have sinned. It’s been…ah, about twenty years since my last confession.”
Father Antonio leaned forward, his face close to the screen that separated him from the man opposite him. In the darkness, he couldn’t make out the man’s features. It was better that way. There were some parishes where penitents had to face the priest head on, without the anonymity of the screen. He’d served in one for a year back when he was fresh from the seminary. He always felt that people guarded their sins more when they had to look a priest in the eye and spill their darkest secrets.
Dark secrets were made for dark places.
“We are very glad to have you back,” he said. “God’s home and heart is always open to you.”
“Thank you, father.”
A long silence followed. Father Antonio heard the whistle of the man’s breath through his nose.
He was well aware that sometimes, especially when there had been a long absence in the confessional, you had to give them space to collect their thoughts. It had been a while since he’d had a prodigal son walk through his confessional door. Most weeks, he heard the same confessions from the same blue hairs who attended mass seven days a week. He’d often been tempted to tell them to ‘go forth and seek fun’. Come back to him with some real sins to be forgiven. The thought made him suppress a chuckle.
After the silence went beyond the typical summoning of courage period, he said, “Do you have any sins you’d like to confess?”
The wood seat groaned as the man shifted his weight.
“I…I did something terrible when I was younger. I thought I could live with it. When I realized I couldn’t, I knew I had to confess but I was too afraid to speak it. I even changed religions. I was an Episcopalian for years. You see, with them, you confess your sins straight to God in your head. And I confessed, every Sunday, kneeling before the cross.”
Father Antonio said, “And did you find forgiveness?”
The man sniffled. It sounded as if he was crying. He ran a finger down the screen.
“No.” He said it with a breathless desperation.
“Have you forgiven yourself?”
Father knew the answer but sensed the man needed to give voice to his sins and perceived shortcomings in order to find the path to healing. He felt a burning tension in his own core, waiting to hear the man’s confession. What must it be like for him, to have a sin so great he’s spent years finding a way to unburden his soul?
“No. I need your help father.”
“You need to tell God your sin. You’ll be amazed how lighter you’ll feel. No sin is without forgiveness. All you need to do is ask for it.”
“Should…should I just say it, then?”
“That would be best. Look at it like jumping into a cool lake. The moment you hit the refreshing water, you’ll wonder why you hadn’t jumped in sooner.”
He listened as the man took several deep breaths, expelling them through his mouth.
“Will God forgive me for taking another life?”
Father Antonio’s heart kicked into a stuttering gallop. He’d spoken to other priests who had been on the receiving end of confessions of murder. What lay people didn’t know, and shouldn’t know, was the weight of those sins that simply shifted from sinner to confessor. Priests were still human. To know that there was potentially a murderer in his parish, to wonder who it could be, and to somehow let it go, to be the conduit of forgiveness, was far from easy.
The man continued. “I was a kid when it happened, still in college. I’d been at a party, had a little too much to drink, too much to smoke, and I’d taken a few pills. At some point, I wandered off, left the club to get some air, I think. After that, I blacked out for a while. Next thing I knew, I was ringing someone’s bell. A pretty woman answered. I asked her if I could use her phone so I could call someone to pick me up and take me to my dorm.
“I must have woken her up. She was wearing a robe and it kinda fell open at one point. I saw that she’d been sleeping nude. She was beautiful. I forgot about the phone. I couldn’t help myself. Before she could scream, I put my hand over her mouth and forced her onto a table. I…I can’t remember exactly what I did, but when it was over, she wasn’t breathing any more. I’d crushed her windpipe. Like a coward, I ran. For weeks I watched the story on the news from the safety of my dorm. The police never even thought to look into the students at my college. My prints weren’t on file. I was free.”
Father Antonio’s mouth went dry.
“But I wasn’t,” the man said. “Please, forgive me Father. I can’t go on like this.”
It was difficult for Father Antonio to speak. He didn’t hear his own words as he doled out the man’s penance. Something about saying the rosary and asking Mary for forgiveness.
The man thanked him profusely, praising him and Jesus for their kindness. As he left, Father Antonio cracked the door open just enough to see the man as he shuffled down the aisle.
It was Gene Fenton. He always sat in the center pews so he could bring up the gifts during mass.
Father Antonio fumbled within his cassock for his cell phone. He thumbed his brother-in-law’s phone number.
“I know who killed our Laurie,” he whispered.
“God brought him to me. His name is Gene Fenton. I’ll get you his address when I return to the rectory.”
“You know what this will mean, don’t you?”
It was impossible to see through his tears. “Please, don’t tell me.”
But he knew. His wife’s murder was why he became a priest, to put as much distance as possible from the man he’d been to who he was now. In both incarnations, he was wholly imperfect.
He disconnected the call.
Stumbling from the confessional, he opened an adjacent door. Father Murphy sat on the other side, unprepared for what was about to come.
“Bless me father, for I have sinned.”
~ Hunter Shea
© Copyright 2013 Hunter Shea. All Rights Reserved.
Nothingness, absolute and pure, was broken by a suggestion.
Slumber torn asunder. Twinges of tissue and cognition, and then he WAS.
Tired. So tired… Confusion and disorientation numbed his mind like cotton wrapped hands. Thoughts felt like a jumble of dusty moths bumped plaintively against a dim light bulb. He couldn’t grasp where he was – what he was doing. His limbs felt stiff and unused.
The stony grip of anxiety seized his mind and burned in his lungs. A deep breath was impossible. Thin air pulled slowly through his nose, bringing with it the smell of fresh clothing and an acrid smell that reminded him of a dissected frog. His anxiety doubled when he realized his mouth wouldn’t open. A hand finally responded to his slow mind. It moved sluggishly, fumbled around haphazardly until it found his lips. Glue. Somebody had glued his lips shut while he slept. Anger and the inability to get a full breath drove his fingers to tear at his lips with a horrible frenzy.
Dry tissue tore without pain or blood. Thin air cascaded over his teeth and dry tongue. His lungs responded mechanically, filling, expelling. Fingers that slowly gained dexterity and feeling touched what should have been painful tears in his lips. He was grateful it didn’t hurt and started to relax slightly.
Another strange sensation penetrated the musky fog of his lethargic mind. His eyes felt like they had something in them. The total absence of light wouldn’t let him see what he was doing, so his hands touched their way past his torn lips, his cold nose, and found his eyes. Tufts of cotton had been stuffed between his eyelids and his eyes. ‘What the hell,’ he tried to scream, but it came out in a hoarse growl. “Wwuu du hehh!”
His hand shot out in an effort to throw away the cotton when it struck something solid. The loud ‘thunk’ reverberated around him as if he were in a closed space. The frantic movement of the severely claustrophobic possessed him as his legs kicked and struck out all around him. A cacophony of quick echoes filled the tight space. His fists pummeled the surface above him, to the side, underneath, and beyond his head. Wordless screams bounced off the smooth walls.
Animalistic fury filled his mind and fueled his raging muscles. His hand shot out in front of him, and struck the surface above his face. The welcome sound of a loud crack met his ears. Lungs pulled at the failing air in massive gulps, like a doomed fish flopping on the shore. A primal scream erupted from his bloodless lips as he struck out violently against his prison.
“Unnghh!” he screamed between breaths. The sounds of his attack morphed from groans and creaks to the splintering of broken wood. A fist erupted through the fissure; his dry flesh scratched, torn and shredded against the sharp edges of his prison. Small pieces of something cold fell onto his face. His hand and fingers vaguely recognized the material as he started to pull his hand back inside and tear at the prison. Realization of what was falling on him came along with the avalanche of freshly dug dirt.
Adrenaline, or its mystical counterpart, burst through his system. ‘Damn this place’ he thought as he struggled against the wood and dirt. ‘Damn whoever put me here’ he thought as he finally got to his knees. The weight of loose dirt above him pressed down on his shoulders and head. Arms tried to push through the soil and pull him up. Hands searched frantically for leverage, for anything. Nothing.
There was no point. Dirt pressed against his eyes, stuck against the dry orbs, preventing him from the tender mercy of a blink. Not even a blink. Small bits of soil worked into his nose. The smell of loam and old decay filled him. Gagged him. He thrashed his head. How long since he took a breath? Fighting to keep his mouth closed was in vain. The muscles in his jaw worked against him. ‘Don’t open’ he screamed in his head.
His head thrashed wildly when his mouth opened. Dirt, a few rocks, and who knows what else poured in. His movements slowed against his will. Hands stopped grasping. Arms stopped reaching. He was dead – or would be. The cold hand of eternity gripped him tightly. He would pass, and be finished with his awful fate. Soon. Please.
There was nothing. His mind still worked, toiled against being stuck in this cold between. Then there was something. From above. A presence. It waited, knowingly. It beckoned. Then it spoke in his head.
‘Can’t move,’ he thought in reply. ‘Can’t breathe.’
Dark laughter filled his head. It remained silent long enough that he decided he had gone mad. ‘Yes,’ he thought. ‘I’m mad.’ The voice filled his head again.
“Mad like the Arab with his Kitab al-Azif? No. Forget who you were, that which was is no more. Stop struggling for air. You no longer need it. Rise!”
It seemed too much, but he couldn’t deny the voice. It knew. The voice was more than suggestive. It carried with it an air of command that left no room for questions or derision. As a marionette moves at the behest of the manipulator, so too was he compelled to move. He pushed deeper into the earthen barrier, inched upwards, and endured the agony of his impossible climb. He fought against the spasms of his lungs craving oxygen they no longer needed as he heeded the call.
Fingers clawed through dirt and grasped at moist air. Forearms broke through soon after, quickly pulling his head past charnel soil. His eyes worked to blink away the earthen mess they had gathered. He hung his head forward, disgorging a voluminous pile of graveyard dirt that had filled his mouth and esophagus. Once the dirt was gone, he pulled in air. Not for a breath, no, he cried out with a nightmarish mix of relief and malice.
He lifted his head up to find the voice. The manipulator. His eyes absorbed the tenebrous night with preternatural ability. A huge moon hung far overhead, shedding its gossamer rays over a small clearing. Spanish moss clung tenaciously to an old Cypress tree.
“Here,” rasped a gravelly voice. The voice spoke in his head as it sounded in his dirt-filled ears. He turned his head and saw the Manipulator standing underneath the Cypress tree. It was too dark under the ancient tree to see the owner of the voice, but he could see a figure of absolute darkness and haunting shape beneath the heavy limbs.
“You are reborn, freed from death’s hold through this necrotic birth. I have not given you life, but something utterly different and blasphemous. You have breached this unhallowed soil which is your second womb. You enter this world bloodless, severed from humanity and unbound by all law but mine.”
The Manipulator raised an arm, cloaked in dominion and despair. A withered hand moved in lesser shades of dark and prompted the reborn man to finish rising. Enthralled by his master, he pressed his now powerful hands against the ground he had crawled from. He pushed, struggled, and cried out with the effort. At long last he dragged himself from the loose soil and ambled towards the Manipulator with manic obsession. The filthy clothes, clean when the man had been buried two days ago, dropped clumps of dirt and soil as he made his way to the Stygian shadow under the Cypress tree.
He stood under the tree and shook with necrotic joy. Eyes bright with malicious zeal looked excitedly at the being that had given him all. “Come,” said the Manipulator. “You and I have work to do.”
~ Zack Kullis
© Copyright 2012 Zack Kullis. All Rights Reserved.
I blink my eyes, but nothing changes.
A complete, debilitating darkness veils my vision. For several moments, I wait, hoping that my eyes simply need to adjust, but no details emerge from the ink-black void.
I turn, looking for something, anything, and the hair on the back of my head crackles, like coarse sandpaper in motion. Then, my ear makes contact with a cold, hard surface and I realize I’m lying on my back.
Where am I? Is this a dream?
I experience nothing but total darkness in either direction.
Maybe I fell and cracked my skull. That might explain the memory loss and malfunctioning vision.
Though I can feel—feel my chest rise and fall, my eyelids moving, my tongue sticking to the roof of my pasty mouth—I sense no pain; in fact, my entire body tingles as if I’m floating atop ocean waves.
In the process of raising my arm to grope for head wounds, my hand smacks into resistance. I search that surface instead, finding it to be cold and smooth, just like the floor. The overhead barrier resides a mere four or five inches away. I can feel the faint rebound of my rapid breaths, tickling my pores and eyelashes—the exhalations smelling sweet, like fruit, but also a bit stale and skunked.
How long have I been here?
I slide my hands along the overhead plane and it doesn’t take long to reach corners—side walls. I’m enclosed. Trapped. Contained in a box.
Oh, fuck! Is it a coffin?
Maybe I’m dead and this is my purgatory—confined in a world of my own making, crafted by a life riddled with bad choices and ruled by lazy indecision.
I frantically feel for the game-over tattoo, the topographical Y carved into a cadaver’s chest during an autopsy. Yanking up my shirt, I pull through the levels of resistance as buttons pop off. The revealed skin is smooth, uncut.
I’m not dead, but the sigh of relief never comes as my thoughts quickly turn to the next possible explanation:
Oh God, I’m buried alive!
My lungs seize and I can’t breathe, the air suddenly locked away.
The momentary break in exhalation allows a different odor to permeate my senses. It overpowers my olfactory system with the rank properties of sour milk, raw hamburger, and fecal matter drizzled with corn syrup. It’s an unmistakable aroma; one that even an inexperienced person like me can instantly identify… death.
Hot bile surges up my throat and is only held at bay by my desperate need to breathe. In a convulsion, I cough out the old and choke down the new. Gasping, sweating, and on the verge of tears, my frantic hands stumble onto something other than the walls or myself.
The object isn’t exactly solid… or dry. My fingers explore the round surface sitting to my left: brittle fibers, sticky fluid, and a spongy covering that slid around under my inquiring touch.
This time the rising bile is unhindered and I vomit. The warm acidic chow flows over my shoulder—most likely splattering the rotting corpse next to me. The putrid odors swirling around my nose threaten to keep my stomach in a perpetual state of upheaval, a tailspin of sorts in which I’m the pilot watching helplessly as death grows nearer with every rotation. Thankfully, my stomach hits Empty after two retched sessions.
My thoughts begin to swirl again as I battle a few lingering dry heaves. Even the most moronic funeral homes in the country, the ones that mislabel mausoleums or bury coffins before their viewings, couldn’t mistakenly shove two bodies into one casket, especially when one has been dead for quite some time. No, someone put me here… intentional entombment, but, why?
Panic strikes. Casting aside all previous hindrances—the thick stench, a convulsing stomach, seized lungs in terror—my breaths pull hard and fast, surpassing the pace of my lurching heartbeat.
Why would someone do this to me?
“I’m a nobody,” I sob, moaning the words to myself in the dark. “I don’t know anything! Why am I here? WHY?!”
The plea echoed painfully around my head like a vehement swarm of wasps. When the ache subsided with the last reverberations, cold silence poured in, bringing attention to sounds I hadn’t noticed before. I held still, listening.
I could decipher a faint mechanical whirring, a droning that ebbed and flowed in quiet waves. And, there’s another sound, too. It’s intermittent… a faint, single bell like the victory chime of a distant carnival game.
If I can hear these things, whatever they are, then maybe I’m not buried deep.
A surge of confidence urges me to action. I feel the surfaces of my confines again, but this time searching with greater care and determination. If there’s a way in, there’ll be a way out.
Eventually, I have a discovery. The sensitive pads of my fingertips detect a line. Directly above my face, there’s a tight seam in the otherwise smooth metal. I don’t know what type of coffin would feature a center seam running the length of the vessel, but I can’t think of one that would have a flat metal lid, either, and there’s no time to contemplate the limits of my knowledge base.
I finger the center line, trying to find a grip on the edge, but it’s too fine, too smooth. Fumbling and growing frantic, I keep at it. Sweat beads on my face, I can feel the prickling heat tickling my pores. At last, I gain purchase; a sliver of fingernail jammed into the seam. Surprised at the sudden change, I pause, forcing my heavy breathing down to an inadequate hiss like that of an officer disarming a bomb. Slowly, I wedge more fingernails into the tiny crack—eight in all. Then I start to pull.
At first, there was mounting pressure, but that quickly escalated into sharp pain. The resistance is too much. I stop to think, to rest.
Could I do this? Could I pull it open enough to get fingertips in there before…
Something stirred in the darkness.
Ice crystals bloom inside my skull and my eyes bulge, still seeing nothing. My ears twitch and tingle in wait of a sound. Then a sound came.
A muffled string of words calling from the void, too distorted to comprehend despite their utterance so close to my ear. My entire body jerks. Startled and instantly terrified, I start screaming. My shrieks, too loud in the confined space, shoot spikes through my eardrums, but that pain is overshadowed by the agony coming from my fingers as I pull at the seam. I feel my nails tear free as a paper-thin beam of light slices into my eyes.
The gap widens, bathing me in blinding light.
I feel myself shaking.
Something has my shoulders, gripping me.
A sharp slap across my cheek.
My eyes adjust and two elderly faces gaze back at me.
“What the Hell’s a matter with you?” The gruff voice came from a burly old man.
“Yeah, look at his eyes,” the woman mumbled. “They’re dilated.”
“Hey,” the old man said, shaking me again. “You’ve been freaking out in the elevator. Poor Charlene, here, nearly had a heart attack when you started screaming in her face on the way up.”
I look around, blinking hard, and finally begin to comprehend the situation. Mr. Koplouski, my landlord, stood in the hall with 83 year-old Charlene Eldelman at his side. At the end of the hall, behind them, the Sunday morning sun blazed in through the window. Glancing down I see my favorite clubbing clothes, a blue patterned button-down shirt and black leather pants. I also see my undamaged hands, fingernails and all.
That’s the last time I partake in the free sugar-cube handouts.
“Sorry, Sir. It, uh, won’t happen again.”
“It better not, or I’ll rent your apartment to someone else! Now, go home and lay off the goddamn drugs, will ya.”
“Yes, Sir, Mr. Koplouski. Sorry.”
I shuffle past them and down the hall toward my apartment. The floor rippling beneath me with each step and every door started oozing blood from the blinking peep-holes.
Fuck, I gotta get to bed!
~ Tyr Kieran
© Copyright 2013 Tyr Kieran. All Rights Reserved.
Darkness surrounds me; my ever-present companion, both the bearer and child of my scorched and withered being.
Inky pools of lesser light that beckon me to breach them. A soft, subtle whisper of promised indulgence; the caress of a dank breath never to be drawn that tugs at my soul; the gentle rustlings of the unknown scuttling though my mind that speak of a dusky beauty – things that never were but should always have been.
Dare I step closer only to find myself enamored by the all consuming draw of your call? Do I finally release the pang that I have held so dear and tender to me these years gone by? Do I allow you to exist in the light or shall I surrender to the smothering depths of a mind already drowned in madness?
The pull of the shadows is such a thing of comfort as to blanket itself around me while it slowly suckles my very being into non-existence. But the exquisite embrace this lack of existence offers is such a supple and soothing one; to fade to obscurity, what a delight that would be, yet an injustice to all that you would have been. Year upon agonizing year I have listened to your call and let it go unanswered, keeping hidden the unbridled desire to glance upon the you that never was.
There may not be a path that leads back to the dimmer shadows once I allow myself this wanton freedom, though I do not believe I would seek one. My poor darling Angel who has lived in a trapped darkness for so long, will you no longer torture me if I allow this coupling its place, or will you still haunt every step I lay upon a ground you shall never touch, breathe the breadth you shall never have, feel and see the beauty that you shall never know?
~ Nina D’Arcangela
© Copyright 2012 Nina D’Arcangela. All Rights Reserved.
Let the Damning Begin!
Those cursed with our foul taint, heed this call, bear witness to this Damned offering. The prizes for burying yourself in our Coffin are as such:
Jaimie Engle shall swig her poison from a Pen of the Damned Flask!
(Pen of the Damned on CafePress)
Pen of the Damned eBook Anthology prizes:
Yessss, the Damned have been scribbling their demented ravings and collecting the torn shreds for your bemusement. May the eyes and ears of the Four Horsewomen of the Apocalypse bleed upon sight and sound of our collective madness!
Lori Joyce Parker, Mari Wells, Georgina Morales, and ShadowGirl
Coffin Hop Anthology:
One final slaughter to add to the Coffin, a Death by Drive-In – no finer way to depart this existence for the next! Juan Gutierrez will be granted an eBook copy of the Coffin Hop Anthology!
Until the next utterance from the Damned, beware what scuttles in the darkened corners of your own mind…