1 – Rome
“Bless me Father, for I have sinned.”
The man on the other side of the screen was tall. I could tell that much just from the shadow he cast; and he was broad at the shoulders.
“It has been–too long–since my last confession.”
There should have been more there, perhaps an inquiry, a request for clarification. But after a pause–
“Since then, I have…”
There were sins, so many sins. Mostly minor, although the number alone could have been enough to elicit a response. The list started with those, although the standard order was for the reverse.
As the sins went by, I thought about the man on the other side of the screen. I didn’t recognize him. I couldn’t make out any details, but he had the sort of presence that was hard to forget. But then again, this wasn’t my church. This wasn’t even my country. I was only here because I had been told that to be here, at this church, and that it had to be now. And when you are given a commandment, given as I had been… you don’t disobey.
The sins were greater now, although still far from grave. There was an undeniable sense though, of building towards something, of something drawing strength.
While the list continued, scarcely slowing, I thought of my journey. Of a span of miles nearly beyond count which lay behind me and those I knew yet lay ahead.
And then I paused. The lesser sins were finished, lain bare.
I heard the man, the priest, on the other side of the screen drawing a breath. He believed me finished. But no, there were three more sins that I had yet to confess.
“Forgive me Father, but I’m not finished.”
The breath stopped. I heard weight shifting and knew that the other man had settled back into his seat. Perhaps he had grown bored with my sins, drifting even as I had.
I started with the sin he was least likely to believe. Even a priest has limits and I was about to test his. I very nearly felt sorry for him. But I had been called to this church, to this priest, for him to hear my confession. And hear it he would.
“I confess to the sin of sorcery, of magics not of God’s making. Done with the noblest of intentions, but done nevertheless.”
Silence. I knew he was processing what I had said, trying to discern if I had meant it. So few believed in magic any more, even those who otherwise believe in miracles. Before he could respond, I went on.
“I confess to the sin of murder, of ending another’s life when there may yet have been another option.”
The air felt thicker now, tension drawn tight around the both of us.
One more. One more sin and I could rest, knowing that at the very least I had confessed. Forgiveness still felt as unobtainable as ever. Only God had the power to forgive and with all that I’d done… I didn’t deserve it.
Yet, I knew that confessing this sin in particular would do me little good. There were things over which a priest had no say, no power, things that by Church law only the Pope could hope to absolve.
“And last of all, I have broken the seal of confession. I have revealed another’s sins.”
There. It was done.
2 - Chicago
SEVERAL WEEKS AGO
“Bless me Father, for I have sinned.”
Every evening, I held confessions. On some nights, there was a regular stream, those I knew well and those I barely recognized. On other nights, the church is empty. I pray in silence. Tonight had been the latter case, long hours stretching into the darkness. When finally I heard footsteps echoing faintly from the rear of the church, I raised my head. To my surprise, I saw a teenager, young even by such standards. I had only a glimpse before he vanished into the confessional, but even then I wasn’t sure that I had recognized him.
“It has been one week since my last confession.”
My ears perked up at that. Not only a teenager, but a regular? That was interesting. Particularly since the voice was no more familiar than the glimpse.
“Since then, I have sinned more than I should–”
Isn’t that kind of the point? I thought, although of course I refrained from voicing my concerns aloud. It was enough to acknowledge the sins and ask for forgiveness. In the long run, the details of the asking are less important.
As the young man behind the screen began listing sins, I must confess to drifting a bit. It had been a long day already. It didn’t help that the he wasn’t listing his sins in any particular order. One was supposed to start with the worst sins, but there were so few who remembered that.
”–and that just leaves the one.” The boy was saying. “This morning–”
He fell silent though, without completing his sentence. I almost sighed. Come on then, just get it over with. He thought. After a moment, I cleared my throat, hoping that the young man would continue of his own volition, but he didn’t. A moment more, and I spoke, “Remember, my son, God is love. There is no sin that He cannot forgive.”
The boy was silent for a moment more before continuing in a small voice. “Suicide.”
I felt the surprise on my face, but carefully kept my voice steady. There goes the evening… In almost all cases, a confession was private–known only to the confessor, the priest, and of course God. But in some cases–like attempted suicides–action had to be taken.
“Why?” I asked, trying to choose my words carefully. It was a deviation from the normal script, not something I made a habit of doing. “What brought you to try to–end your life?” Moving carefully, I reached over to a small shelf beneath the screen. There were business cards there, one in particularly for a suicide prevention hotline; I had particular reason to trust.
“I didn’t.” The young man on the other side of the screen replied.
I shook his head, sure that I’d misheard. “But you just said–”
“Try,” the boy cut in. “I didn’t try. I succeeded.”
I blinked. He couldn’t possibly be saying…
I looked up.
The boy was gone.
The shadow that had fallen across the screen for the last few minutes had vanished. There had been no sound, no hint of movement, yet the shadow was gone.
Standing abruptly, the business card falling unnoticed from my fingers, I swung open my own door and stepped back out into the church proper.
The lighting was dimmer than I remembered–even cutting costs and all that, the church was generally well lit–but even so…
If there had been any one in the pews, I would have been able to spot them.
I remembered the soft footfalls from before. The church was nearly silent. If the teen were leaving, he would have made some sound. It would have been next to impossible not to on that hard marble floor.
It was as he had never existed at all.
3 - Chicago
SEVERAL WEEKS AGO
Even long after I knew that the search was pointless, still I looked. It was something to do, something to distract me while my mind churned away at the impossibility of it all.
I considered the possibilities.
Had I fallen asleep?
Maybe there had been a boy and I had heard the first part of his confession. It had been a long day and an even longer confession, so perhaps I’d just fallen asleep. Hearing no response, he had done what I’m sure anyone else would have done under the situation and just left. It was awkward enough to confess your deepest, darkest secrets to someone, you didn’t want to have to face them directly as well.
Then again, if I had fallen asleep, I could have fallen asleep waiting and dreamed the whole thing. There had never been a boy, just a particularly vivid dream.
But that there was the problem with either situation. I didn’t often remember my dreams, but even when I did they always had the feel of dreams, of not quite reality bending at the seams. This had felt entirely too real, there had been no point where I could definitely say that
Had it all been a prank?
I couldn’t quite decide how the boy had vanished so suddenly, but it was possible. The church was large and there were any number of darker corners he could have slipped into. A sudden thought occurred to me that perhaps he had just dropped down and hidden in his side of the confessional, rightly assuming that I wouldn’t think to look for him there.
I went back and search both sides, but of course he wasn’t there. Even if he had been, he would have had ample opportunity to sneak out.
Still, it didn’t add it. I hadn’t recognized him. I made it a point to at least attend the bi-weekly youth masses, so as to keep up with the future of the parish, yet neither his voice nor his manner had run a bell. It was entirely possible that he was shy enough that he’d never made an impression, but then what could possibly have provoked such a prank.
And then there was that other possibility. The one that I had to force myself to even consider.
That everything had happened exactly as I remembered.
That there had been a young man that had come to confession. That he had confessed to committing suicide and then vanished.
I abruptly realized that I was pacing up and back just before the first row of pews. I had looked everywhere, but the boy was no where to be seen.
Well, I guess it’s in God’s hands now. I thought. Perhaps it was destined to remain a mystery.
Carefully packing my things and giving the church a final once over before dimming the lights, I headed for the front door of the church. I would lock up and head home. Perhaps things would make more sense in the morning.
I was just reaching for the front door when a loud knocking rang out. I jumped back.
Then I saw the strange lights flickering in the stained glass above the doors. Red and blue, red and blue.
What in the…
Unable to think of anything else to do, I swung open the door, only to find myself face to face with a rather large looking gun.