“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.
26 thoughts on “Confessional”
This is a super story, Hunter! Sins, sins, and more sins! My first wife had been a nun for seven years and always drummed in the importance of confessions. She’s dead, I’m no longer a Catholic, and I never really said much in the confessional anyway. A lot is being said in your confessional, however. Perhaps . . . perhaps I should drop by that church of yours and do some recompense. What could possibly happen? What indeed?
So sorry to hear about your first wife. I can see how that could color perception of the church and something as controversial as confession. Knowing priests are very human, I always wonder how they really feel about the things they hear
One never knows for sure about the confessional aspects of a priest’s beliefs. You were certainly a lot tamer than me with the Church. I once chopped off the Pope’s head with a sword. Not this one. Another one. 🙂
Great stuff Hunter! My mind was racing in so many directions as I read, trying to figure out where the story was going.
“I know who killed our Laurie,” he whispered.
I thought this line was laced with all kinds of hidden emotion and meaning. If this story were to be expanded into a movie, then this scene would be included in all of the previews. It was the fulcrum that threw me headlong into the “oh shit!” stage of the story.
I wonder – should it be: I will sin…
At any rate your attention to details made this tale live. Luckily it’s not a sin to read, but it is sinfully good
Thank you so much, Sue.
Thank you so much. I employed a little Hemingway trick by omitting crucial information to let the reader’s imagination fill in the rest. Wasn’t sure how it would work or how people would react to a religious piece. Still waiting for some righteous anger to come my way. 🙂
Waiting for some “righteous indignation” huh? 😉 I think it was great. I’m not terribly righteous, and you certainly won’t get any anger from about this. \m/
I question that anyone who would feel righteous anger at this piece would be reading these posts in the first place 😀
I agree with Zack, that was one powerful line (“I know who killed our Laurie,”). Excellent story, Hunter! The emotional build up and the punch-to-the-gut delivery was fantastic. And, the ending was very fitting. Well done as always!
Thanks a lot, dude! I was very unsure about this one, but what the hell, sometimes you have to throw caution to the wind.
This is great! It is my understanding that horror and religion often come hand-in-hand, and you have showcased a powerful aspect of that here by highlighting guilt and the role of confession. Cleanly written and a pleasure to read, Hunter.
Nice stinger. Poor ol’ Gene. He’s in for a whoopin.
I didn’t think I could make the the time today to read this, but it called me. I can’t stay away from anything you might have written. It was awesome. I was reading along, and wham. Nice. I am not Catholic and don’t believe in confessionals anyway, so no offense taken here at all. We all struggle inside with emotions, even priests, I suppose it’s what makes us human.
Excellent story, Hunter!! (and my apologies – my back went out & all things internet & sitting related went out the window all last week). Although I am Catholic, I do hold an unsavory opinion on the many practices & scandals of the church (which I shall hold my tongue on lol). But CONFESSIONAL brings these questions to my mind: did God bring man to the cloth, or did man go to the cloth for other purposes? The latter question reminds me that priests are indeed human, & only the Lord knows their true intent & moral struggles.
Greatly enjoyed, my friend!
sorry to hear your back is on the fritz again. I’ll send over 15 virginal massuesses. So glad you liked the story!
Dark secrets were made for dark places…I love this line! Kept me reading till the end, and I was glad I did! A new and haunting look at the lives of priests. Thank you!
No, thank you! If they would spill the beans, I think priests would have many, many fascinating stories to tell.
Oh Wow! That was amazing!
Thank you so much, Mari. 🙂
Okay, well minus the religious connotation – hells yeah! Even all those years later that bastard had it coming to him. Priest or not, he deserves his revenge! Great piece, Hunter. I love the loop back to the initial, “Bless me father, for I have sinned.” I do love an unexpected twist!! Really enjoyed reading this one! 😉
Bless you. 🙂
Reblogged this on Out of Print and commented:
‘Confessional’, a horror piece from Hunter Shea at Pen of the Damned.
This was a really good story. Really very good. I’m a sucker for the combination of evil and religion, and the revenge motif thrown in makes the story both a prelude and a completion — what happened before and what happens next, all in my imagination.
You did a great job of capturing the actual emotion the confessor feels — a need to confess while not actually telling anyone what he did. I think that, more than anything, is what kept me reading.
Thank you so much, Briane. For years, I struggled with my Catholic faith, going so far as to studying Buddhism for over 7 years. Theology has always intrigued me to no end. Trying to incorporate it into my writing more and more.