Monday, April 22, 2013

Last Rites

My footfalls were heavy in the dense air of the church sanctuary. They echoed up to the domed ceiling, a mass of concrete and plaster, bent and broken with the pressure of 300 years of snow and wind. Snowflakes battered the windows. My beige work boots traced the ruby stone flooring all the way up to the confessional.

Dust caked cotton rubbed against my fingertips as I drew back the curtain and stepped in. The smell of my last cigar dispensed throughout the cramped space, vanilla and wood, fresh air like the breeze over a frozen pond in winter’s night. The third button of my denim jacket pinged against the flask in my chest pocket as I settled.

“Forgive me, Father. It’s been thirty years since my last confession.”

The man across from me shifted. The old confessional creaked, and I could hear the sounds of his cassock stretching as he fidgeted. How his breathing grew shallow, uneven. A snake’s tongue slithered out to moisten his lips before he spoke. “Johnny Daniels? That you?”

I leaned back in the booth and felt the wood protesting with my weight. “Mickey Boss says you owe.”

“I paid up, Johnny. I swear.”

“You gambled away $100,000 in two years.”

“I’m plannin’ on payin’ it back.”

“Plans don’t always work out now do they, Father?”

I heard him shift, heard the creak of the domed rafters dozens of feet above my head. That’s how quiet it got in that church. So silent and still I could hear the echoes of the old wood inside my chest. They beat in time with my heart. I was so focused on those echoes that I barely noticed how quiet Father Kent had gotten.

The back of my neck prickled.

“You owe,” I said. “Mickey Boss isn’t a guy you walk away from.”


I inhaled deep. Stayed so still then that I could hear his breath rasping through his mottled chest. The veins constricting, clawing for oxygen. I happened to know the Father was a pack a day smoker and had been for years. If I didn’t kill him today then the cancer would come knocking pretty soon. Maybe tomorrow. Maybe the next day.

“Can’t pay you, son. I’m sorry.”

I felt the force of the shot before I heard it. It exploded from Father Kent’s side of the booth; a loud shot, probably from an old revolver, and it burned like hell when it bit off the flesh on my upper arm. Tore a strip of fabric clean off my jacket and blasted a tennis ball sized hole through the wood behind me.

I blinked. Jumped to the side. Hot blood ran down the inside of my jacket and I cursed. It was the fourth one I’d bought in less than a year.

Muffled footsteps echoed across the sanctuary as I stumbled out of the broken confessional. Father Kent was running through the pews, his cassock whirling wildly behind him. I lined my pistol up with the vertebrae on the back of his neck, watching as they rotated, contracting and swaying like a wave about to break shore. I saw the skin on the top of his spine prickle before my bullet blew it clean off. The smell of burnt flesh and gunpowder flooded my nostrils.

Father Kent’s body twitched once before crumpling into a pile on the sanctuary floor. Blood spilled out from his neck, thick and viscous. The church went completely silent.

I waited.

For a second it sounded like Father Kent was whispering some final prayer, his voice like a silver stream of liquid, soft and melodic and barely audible. But he wasn’t whispering. He wasn’t praying. It was just the remnants of the oxygen in his lungs bubbling out. No final words or great wisdom or seedy confessions.

I stood there with one hand on my gun and watched until the blood finally stopped flowing.