Content Warning: strong language
Word was going around Hellville that a new priest was in town. The old one died just 7 days after his retirement, but it was just enough time for him to find a replacement. The church was not frequented too often, and for a good reason: the church was built in the deepness of the woods, where tree crowns covered the sky and crows were eating the carcasses of dead animals. Quite frankly, the road was eerie, although a clear dirt path was made; you just had to follow it like being in a maze. Small but not too small, with a slanting black roof and white walls. No flowers or vegetation seemed to have the willingness to grow around the church. It had almost this sterile look to it, and the inside was no different. Every piece of furniture, from the benches all the way to the altar, were made out of cherry wood. A big, almost intimidating cross, perfect in its geometry, was dominating the whole room, just behind the altar. Three rectangular windows on each side would made anyone believe there was plenty of space for light to come through; but the inside of the church was almost always enveloped in cold and darkness. Only candlelight would flicker timidly, sending orange hues all around them.
Ever since the new priest has arrived, the dirt path to the church became busier than ever. Devout citizens would almost jolt each other on their way to the famous priest.
“A miracle worker!” The collective would agree.
With bloodshot eyes they would clamor on their way to the church to repent their sinful, doomed to a life of eternal suffering, lives.
Jack was a 30-year-old man, visiting his grandparents in Hellville. The moment he stepped through the door, he couldn’t but notice a barely perceptible change in his grandparents’ behavior. He couldn’t quite decide what though. ‘Maybe it’s just my imagination.’ Jack thought to himself.
Jack was a vapid writer working for a mediocre magazine. He drove the same silver Toyota Corolla, ate at the same restaurants, read the same books, and watched the same movies. Everything was the same with him. He never changed. Not even his clothes were changing—not even his haircut. But as ‘the same’ Jack was, he was holding a very dark secret. The type of secret that made him twist in his bed every night, and haunts his dreams every sleeping moment. He killed a man. It wasn’t intentional, of course, it was damn raining that night! And what was that man doing in the middle of the night, in pitch black darkness, in the middle of nowhere? Jack thought it was something that didn’t actually happen. The circumstances were too ambiguous and his memory could not be trusted. But his car had a slight bend in the front the next morning. And most importantly, his feelings: guilt, shame, horror, fear, absolute terror. He was a logical guy who never allowed himself to slip over the unseen world of emotions. But this was different. This was something he had to change. So, you can imagine Jacks’ relief when he heard of this ‘magical worker’ priest. He had to go. So, he went.
He chose a rainy, gloomy day when the dirt path was clear. Wind was howling, tearing gusts were pinching his cheeks and the whole forest was clattering and snapping. When he eventually reached the small establishment, an eerie presence was surrounding the church. Something that was trying to keep him away and welcome him inside at the same time. Something inside of him screamed to turn around and sprint to where he came from. Jack didn’t listen. He went inside. Dampness was in the air and the flames of candles were wavering in the draught.
“Hello?” Jack asked timidly.
Nothing. Silence reigned. He almost turned around, when a voice lingered on the walls.
“Yes, my child. I know why you are here.”
Just like ice on a warm body, Jack started to shiver.
“I don’t see you.” Jack responded.
“I am here. You are safe to come closer.”
Jack was reluctant, but took a step forward nonetheless. His entire being froze in place when his interlocutor made himself visible, the shadows etching lines across his face and body. He was wearing a tall, dark hat, covering his deep-socketed eyes. His lips had a bloody hue and his cheeks an ice-blue tint. The long and black garment that was covering his body reached below his ankles, almost like an apparition from a nightmare. The warmth of Jack’s blood could no longer be felt. He became one with the coldness surrounding him.
“People like to be told what to do when they are afraid. I won’t do that for you. I am here to help you see for yourself that which is making you stay awake at night.”
“It is said you are a miracle worker. People love you… how come I am so afraid of you?”
“Have you ever wondered why people are afraid of the dark?” He asked in return, coming down the stairs, onto the clearing between the benches.
“The unknown.” Jack answered in a trance-like voice.
“The meaning they give to the unknown.”
The priest drew nearer as Jack watched him mesmerized. His face was covered by the brim of his hat. The moment he raised his chin from his chest, a pair of hollow eyes met Jack with pensive coolness.
“Why are you here, after all?” His words came from only one foot away from Jack.
“I killed a man.” He responded without giving it a thought.
Jack was baffled.
“What do you mean ‘how come’? It just happened; it could’ve happened to anyone, it just happened to be me! Do you think I enjoy this? That motherfucker was in the middle of nowhere, it was pouring rain! What kind of idiot spends his time on the road, in pitch-black darkness? I hate that these kinds of things happen to me, why can’t I just be happy for once? For goddamn once!”
“You killed a man. An innocent man.” The deep-hollowed voice responded back.
“I did.” Tears were burning Jack’s eyes. “My life seems to be a string of unhappiness. I don’t like my work, the way I think, the way I act when I’m around others, the way I look. I was taking a drive but the feelings didn’t go away. My windshields wipers were barely managing the rain. It was so much rain that night.” He whispers with a tremor in his voice.
“It is frightening to be alone. To think that one day you will die—the final hit that life will give you.”
The windows flared-up from a lightning that stroke the sky. The entire church got electrified by the burst of light. Jack continued after hearing the priest’s remark.
“That is what terrifies the living shit out of me. Being in so much pain alone. Knowing that I’m drowning in poison by myself. Not to mention the world seems so big and unsafe. It’s like I’m a little child again, but this time I don’t have my mother to defend me. I have to defend myself, and I don’t think I can do it. I definitely can’t do it.”
“Nothing in this world is definite. Change is inevitable. Death is merely an illusion. On the other side of it you can find life again.”
Jack’s gaze wondered to the dusty floors. His shoes were wet, dirty with mud and grass.
“Truth is, I’ve handled life pretty well thus far. I had moments of happiness; I have to admit. That man probably committed suicide. I see no other explanation. And I just happened to be the first driver to come by.”
“Sometimes we are just actors on the grand scheme of things.”
Jack’s eyes were filled with hope all of a sudden.
“I will look for news that reported a dead person on the road I was taking! The least I can do is find out who he was and maybe make amends to his family. I never wanted to hurt anyone; I was in shock. This will haunt me forever, but the least I owe to myself is live my life the best I can.”
The priest’s face was motionless. The storm outside came to a calm rain that was tinkling on the window’s glass. Jack was not afraid anymore of the unusual presence of the priest. His dark clothing was rather comforting than unnerving.
After bowing and thanking, Jack made his way back to his grandparents’ house, where his grandma just pulled a fresh apple pie out of the oven. His excitement could be heard in his voice, talking about the relief he felt after speaking with the priest. Jack had mentioned to his grandparents his first impression, describing the priest to the utmost detail. The telling of his encounter was losing momentum as Jack was looking at his listeners’ expressions; was it confusion, fear or bafflement he was perceiving? He stopped talking, to which his grandmother added:
“Sweetheart, what are you talking about? The priest has the most youthful appearance, with bright-blue eyes and shiny-blonde hair. And what are you saying about black clothing? Our priest always wears white! Come on now, eat your pie before it gets cold!”
Jack’s head became light as a feather. If that wasn’t the priest he talked with, then who was that?
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Hi Ivy, cool story. I read your profile, I hope whatever is causing your depression you get some help for it. Maybe it’s just a hard time you’re going through or it’s something underlying but either way I hope you find some relief. It hasn’t stopped your writing, this was really strong. Keep it up.
Hey Graham, I'm happy you liked my story! Your comment is very kind and it put a smile on my face :)
The last words of your story,'then who was that' brought a thought to my head.Honestly, It's an interesting story.
thank you so much, Faith. glad you found my story intriguing:D
The mystery behind the priest was well-crafted. You took emotions we all suffer from (fear of change, of death, etc.) and played them up through the guilt Jack felt from his accident. I like the way you did this. This is a straightforward story, and yet it's not. There are a lot of layers here. Great job, Ivy!
I'm happy you like my story! Means a lot that you took the time to read it and leave a comment <3
Such a shady line! I really enjoy how it's told, nice story Ivy.
A really good story! Very engaging. I have great respect for your writing; with authors like you in these contests, I now know why I will have a difficult time winning anything. But no matter. I enjoy the journey. With the greatest respect, I think you could have improved the story a bit. Consider this line from the "dark-clad man": “Sometimes we are just actors on the grand scheme of things.” For many on this site, this line would be in keeping with their writing. You, however, have much more talent than most. I believe that this particu...
you don't have to worry about me, with my grammar and poor formatting skills I probably won't win either 🤣 And thank you so so much for your words, it means a lot! Also, I have this compulsion that after I finish a story I don't let it simmer, I just put it out there. I know they need some refinement. And I think the last part was necessary because without it, it would have ended too abruptly 🤔 Anyways, thanks, Delbert!