Sunday, March 2, 2008

Exorcising of Demons

Father Mahoney’s eyes adjusted to the dim light of the unkempt room. The extravagant chandelier, centered over the table at which he sat, indicated possibilities of past, but the home’s cries for attention had gone unanswered, evident by the peeling wallpaper and broken plaster precariously clinging overhead. Intricate but sheer cobwebs proved little obstacle to the emerging sun. Rays of defiant light crept in under the boarded windows, refusing to obey those who wished to keep all things out. A sorrowful feeling washed over the priest as he mulled possibilities of what could have been.

No matter how intrigued he wished to be with his surroundings, his eyes again returned to his own thick wrist. At first glance the joint appeared no more interesting than any other, but the fact it was bound by handcuffs to a stranger begged more intriguing questions. The priest exhaled loudly as he assessed the situation. Both wrists were secured, one to a large man sitting next to him and the other to the leg of the table. As always he attempted to find some good in every situation, truthfully he knew the removal of the blindfold had been an answered prayer. The priest continued to wrap his mind around this seemingly senseless abduction.

He had been roused from a deep sleep, blindfolded, and ushered quickly out of his home. Although he had not seen a gun, the nervous man implied he possessed one which convinced him it would be in his best interest to avoid anything remotely construed as resistance. The young man exhibited his instability by changing his mind several times, then finally insisting the Father be transported in the trunk of his vehicle. The priest remained there in total darkness until coming to an abrupt stop at this old home.

He turned his attention to the man who sat motionless but connected to him. An unshaven face and salt and pepper pony-tail resting on the man’s back jogged no memories. A tattered Harley Davidson tee-shirt provided no clues either. Father Mahoney knew just about everyone in this small town. If they weren’t regular parishioners he had at least run into them at the local coffee-shop or post office and as any good priest would, extended an invitation to attend mass. Good or bad, it simply remained fact that one’s identity could not be kept a secret in such a small village. Especially as lively looking a character as the stranger appeared to be.

“Pardon me for not extending my hand, but we seem to have extenuating circumstances. I’m Father Mahoney and I don’t believe we’ve met.”

The stranger turned to the priest and nodded slightly. His square jaw did not flinch and gave no indication of an impending smile. His eyes seemed small, hiding in the shadows of his protruding and narrow brows; the whites of them crisscrossed with enlarged blood vessels, almost obscuring the fact they surrounded an iris of pale blue. The aroma of stale alcohol seemed to be his fragrance of choice.

“Sure could use a damn cigarette preach, how ‘bout you?”

“Actually, I’ve been trying to quit.”

The grubby stranger examined the priest closely. The prompted the Father’s lips to slowly spread into a nervous smile.

“That was joke. Can’t say as I ever saw the benefits of smoking, truthfully.”

“You’re a funny guy, preach. Guess we’re even; I ain’t never seen the benefits of goin’ to church, truthfully.”

“Have you ever been inside a church?”

“Have you ever had a Camel light?”

The priest shook his head from side to side, in response to the question as well as the unexpected chilly reception. Perhaps he would remain silent until the young kidnapper returned, hopefully to explain why he committed such an act and what his demands for release would be.

“Tell me preach, what’s so important that goes on in that church that I’m missin’?”

“Well—I suppose the presence of God, mainly.”

“You sayin’ they got God locked up in the church?”

“No, but I believe I’m safe in saying, you’re more likely to encounter God in a church than in the bottom of a whiskey bottle.”

“I don’t know preach, I’ve seen some crazy shit near the end of a fifth of Ten High!”

Just as the priest prepared himself to respond, the young man returned to the room. He adjusted his gaze from one hostage to the other. His eyes moved in an erratic fashion, as if they took in only a small portion of the view before becoming bored and moving on. His torn and frayed blue jeans barely reached the top of a pair of sneakers that had obviously seen better days. The upper portion of his body filled less than half of an oversized gray hooded sweatshirt.

He sniffed violently several times before wiping the excess powder from his nose.
Retrieving a shiny pistol from the pocket of his sweatshirt, he paced nervously back and forth in front of the two hostages. For several minutes he moved from one side of the room to the other, before pausing directly across the table. The small amount of light, that dared enter this room, now seemed focused directly on his face.

“You gotta be shittin’ me”, cried the disgusted voice of the stranger sitting next to the priest. “Johnny, just what the hell do you think you’re doin’, and to your own dad no less?”

The agitated young man struggled to speak, “You…you mean step-dad; you piece of shit!”

Johnny moved toward his step-dad with purpose slamming the pistol down on the table with such force the priest feared accidental discharge. The young man reached for and slid the cuff of his sweatshirt past his elbow, unveiling dozens of scars on his forearm. As he picked out a particularly severe mark he began to speak.

“Remember this one, ‘Dad’—ten minutes late coming home from school in the third grade. How about that one—forgot to take out the trash; now that’s a real travesty!”

Neither of the hostages appeared interested in viewing the scars any longer. Johnny’s step-father repositioned himself as to avoid the inconvenient view. He showed no interest in confronting the unfortunate results of his foggy days past. Father Mahoney’s eyes suddenly found particular interest in a blank wall directly ahead of him. To him each of the scars represented an unfathomably heinous act, but far more importantly the unconscionable acts were perpetrated by a trusted parent. During all of his days as a priest he had witnessed only one exorcism, but Father Mahoney wanted no part of a demon responsible for such abuse.

With one fluid move, Johnny buried the barrel of the revolver in his step-father’s thick chest, their faces mere inches from one another.

“Do you even remember holding the cigarettes to my arm? How I squirmed and begged you to stop, or were you so far into your bottle of whiskey you couldn’t hear my screams?”

The young man expected and received no reply, no apology, not even a feebly constructed excuse. He withdrew the pistol, leaving only an imprint in the Harley Davidson symbol on the man’s shirt, and then casually tossed an object onto the table. A fresh round belonging to the revolver rolled harmlessly to the edge of table, coming to rest against the belly of its intended target.

“Look closely at the base of the brass, you’ll find your initials carved there. I was only thirteen when I inscribed them. During the years since I hoped my raging hatred for you would subside, but unfortunately that never happened. Your role in this torture only lasted a couple of minutes, and you can’t even remember those. I’m the one who couldn’t escape the strange looks from strangers as they saw this disfigured piece of flesh. Do you have any idea how it feels to have literally no control over a situation that forced upon you! Perhaps within a few minutes you will!”

“Father Mahoney, don’t fade on me now. It’s your turn for a trip down memory lane. Come on Father, don’t you recognize me? Perhaps some soul searching is in order.”

The priest stared blankly at Johnny, as it was his turn to look down the dark barrel of the revolver. He racked his brain searching for a time when he and the boy’s paths may have crossed, yet he could recall nothing.

“Son, I’m afraid you have mistaken me for someone else, but you certainly seem very troubled, perhaps I can assist you.”

“Oh Father, you’ve done quite enough I should say. Perhaps you don’t recognize me without my altar boy robe. You hid behind the cloth, satisfying your own twisted needs, while forcing us to keep secret your nasty perverted game! Do you truly believe your God can forgive that wretched soul of yours?”

Johnny whirled toward his step father, as a thunderous roar erupted from the weapon. From nearly pointblank range the inscribed bullet found its mark between the bushy brows. His step-father’s limp body slumped over, and an echo filled the room, as his head made a thud when it came in contact with the table. Father Mahoney reeled in horror, partially because of the dead man still strapped to his own wrist, but primarily due the unsettling realization that his crime against the young man deserved equal justice.

“Yes Father, I do have a round containing your initials, but recently I’ve been conversing with God. Despite my own wishes, God himself has revealed to me another plan for you.”

The young man returned to kitchen, while Father Mahoney fervently broke into prayer.

“O my God, I am heartily sorry for having offended you and I detest all my sins, because I dread the loss of heaven and the pains of hell. But most of all because I have offended you, my God, who are all good and deserving of all my love. I firmly resolve with the help of your grace, to confess my sins, to do penance………”

A strong aroma filled the room, as Johnny continued to soak the table, occasionally splashing the liquid onto the legs and shoes of the priest. He reached across in front of the holy man and slipped his hand into the front pocket of his dead step-father’s shirt.

“For God’s sake Johnny you don’t have to commit this terrible crime! You’ll burn in hell for this, I assure you!”

The young man struck a match and held it perilously close to soaked wood of the table. His hand began to shake violently as the priest pleaded desperately for his life.

“Perhaps hell will be final destinations, but I trust you’ll make a place for me there Father!”

The table and floor burst into flames with an indescribable whoosh. The young man walked calmly from the house, unaffected by the priests screams. As he shifted his car into drive, perhaps his mind should have been consumed by remorse, but Johnny only knew that he would rest easier now.


paisley said...

that was intense dan... wow.. that was a perfect short story... i mean it.. movement length drama back story the whole nine yards... bravo!!!!

Dan said...

Your comments are appreciated, but excessively generous. I hold in very high regard, the words of such an excellent writer as yourself.

Jo Janoski said...

I agree with Paisley. Riveting tale, tensely paced, super ending.

Dan said...

I'm glad you enjoyed it Jo. Sorry, I missed your comment and am just now responding.

Bubba said...

Your story stands as microcosm for why I left the church. I was never personally abused by a priest, but I have a close family member who was... and I'm ashamed to say it still took me nearly ten years to leave. I wish I possessed your character's resolve... maybe then I wouldn't carry around this remorse.

Dan said...

I knew part of your story Bubba, but why do you personally shoulder any of that guilt? Each of those priests, and I believe all of those involved in shuffling and covering up will answer for their own actions.

Bubba said...

Dan, I believe that if you're not a part of the solution, you're part of the problem. My kids were in school and I wanted them to grow up with a belief system. In my heart, I knew the church would never answer up for its sins, but I felt that to suddenly jerk them out would send the message that I didn't believe deeply enough in my convictions to try to work through a problem. I feel 'used' by people whose entire agenda became glossing over the truth rather than punishing the offenders-- to avoid losing their revenue source. I don't feel 'guilty' except in my inability to pull the trigger sooner. I was too trusting... after all, if the church had overcome all of their past mis-deeds (and there were a lot of them), they'd overcome this one as well, if only their flock had enough faith... wouldn't they?