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Fiction Mystery Suspense

“Hello, my son,” came a geriatric voice from behind a mesh screen. “Please begin in your own time.” 

What am I doing here? I wondered. 

“I hurt someone,” I said. The wooden bench creaked beside me. Surely he’s heard worse. 

“I’m so sorry to hear that. Would you mind telling me when the last time you came to confession was?” 

While trying to think, my phone glowed with a notification. My chest and stomach swapped places before I read what I received, a harmless alert from the weather app. Light rain recommencing in five minutes, stopping within the hour. 

“Um. First grade?” I answered. I’m 42. 

“Ah, for your first Reconciliation in grade school that your mother made you complete?”

“That’s right.” 

“Well, welcome back.” A chuckle colored his tone. “I am Father Artie.”

I remained silent, again unsure of what I was looking to accomplish here in this tiny space. 

“So, “ he prompted, “You said you’ve hurt someone? Would you like to expound upon that, or move on?” 

“I don’t have to say what I actually did?” 

“You don’t need to say anything at all,” he said. 

This dark box stunk of incense and cobwebs. Somewhere within the church, an organ began to play.

“I had to do something–” with every intention of continuing, my phone buzzed once more and cut me off. 

Where the fuck are you? It read. 

“Are you running from something, my son?” He asked. 

“No,” I responded too quickly. 

“It’s ok if you are. It’s quite common, in fact. Human nature often feels it necessary to run from the Lord. That is, of course, until they find themselves running from the world. Faith is the perfect escape, we of the clergy understand this. You may say anything you wish in this space, and the only judgment you will find is from your own conscience. A conscience gifted to you from the one true Lord. I am bound to secrecy. Isn’t that why you are here, to confess without the world’s reprimand?” 

“You would keep the secret of a murderer?” I shouldn’t have said it, but couldn’t help it. “How many criminals have you let run free?” 

“I have taken a sacred oath. No sin is too great in the eyes of God, given they repent.”

I stifled a chuckle. Ridiculous.

Another buzz blasted against the wood of the dusty bench and I remembered my location was accessible from my phone. With trembling fingers I disallowed location services, but feared I was too late. Can they arrest me in a church? 

“You are safe here,” he said. 

“I don’t know what happened.” My extremities quivered with the already-blurred memory of the last few hours. 

“You didn’t have a choice,” said the raspy voice. 

“I’m sorry…what?” 

“Ian–” 

“I didn’t tell you my name.” 

“No, there was no need. I believe you have come to the right place. Please do not be frightened.” 

My skin prickled. Was coming here a mistake?

“Coming here was not a mistake,” said Father Artie. 

My hand reached for the sliding screen so I could take a look at his face, but I stopped myself for some reason. Did I really want to reveal my face to him? Surely it was impossible for him to read my mind.

“Not with thoughts as loud as yours,” he said. “Yes, you did it, but your heart is good. My advice is that you confess to God alone. Then, move on. James deserved it, and everyone will agree.”

A phone call came in, blasting my nerve endings even further. I looked down at my phone and my hands shook so badly I couldn’t read the screen. 

“I did a terrible thing,” I replied, silencing the call. “He was my friend.”

“He was a criminal.”

My dulled senses brought me back to the organ player, who was practicing a jovial piece. I tried to ground myself, feel my wet shoes on the wooden floor, tap my toes to the pipes bouncing like little bunnies. 

I killed a man. 

“No, Ian,” Father Artie said, “You saved a woman. James broke into that hotel, he was going to hurt that young lady, and you saved her.”

“Stop!” I screamed. “James deserves to burn in hell, I know. I know he hurt dozens of women, that he’s a monster. I know that now, but I don’t know what happened. I’m not a killer!” My eyes began to burn, but no tears fell. I shook out my hands to gain feeling in them once more. Breathing this smoke-filled air was suffocating. Why did they have to burn such excessive amounts of incense? 

“Try to breathe,” he said, soothing me. 

I couldn’t take it anymore, so I pulled back the mesh divider. 

“You are an appalling man!” I screamed into his wrinkles and liver spots. The organ came to an abrupt halt. “I am a murderer, James is a rapist, and you are nothing more than a complicated accessory to this crime!” 

“Ian?” He asked. 

“What?” 

“Wake up, please.” 

Liquid flew in my face, and I found myself lying in a bed. I was covered in blood. 

“Ian, what did you do?” 

The face of someone familiar appeared in my blurry field of vision. A smoke alarm rang in the distance. There was a fog in the room impossible to see clearly through.

“James is dead,” the face said. “Ian, what did you do?”

Thrilled by the escape from my delusional dream, I shot up and peeled my eyes open. James lay prostrate on the floor of the beige hotel room, decidedly dead. 

“He was trying…he broke in here and I wanted to stop him from…her…” 

“Dude, we need to go. How could you do this??”

“I had to stop him!” I wasn’t even sure who I was speaking to, I had my eyes forward, still unsure what was real. 

Looking up at the ceiling, I said the only thing I knew to be true in both realities. 

“I killed him, Artie, and he deserved it. Now, he’ll never hurt anyone ever again.”

September 30, 2022 18:36

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2 comments

Hope Linter
01:11 Oct 08, 2022

I loved this story until Ian wakes up from a dream, at which point it felt like 'Deux ex machina'. Good tension and development

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Audrey Harmon
16:26 Oct 08, 2022

Thank you, Hope!

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