“Forgive me, Father, for I have sinned.”
My voice shook as I spoke.
“It has been two years since my last confession.”
“Go on, my daughter, and tell me your sins.”
The priest’s voice was low, quiet. Unfamiliar. That was by design – I’d driven 20 miles from my apartment to a church in the middle of woods. It was easier that way. I took in a deep breath, but only a squeak came out.
Get it over with, I told myself. Just say it.
“Father, I’m guilty of gossip. Jealousy.” The venial sins came out first, as they always did. It was almost easy to confess them. “And…”
My heart beat faster. My hands grew sweaty, slipping against the wood. I stared at the divider between us. White, cloth mesh. The priest’s dark outline, on the other side.
“I did something terrible, a year ago.”
The kneeler bit into my legs. The stuffy heat pressed into me. He has to accept my confession. Has to absolve me of my sins. Right? As long as I am genuinely, heartily sorry… which I am. The mesh swam before my eyes; the shadow behind it shifted.
“I hit someone.”
Once I’d lanced the wound, it all came bursting out of me. “I knew I had too much to drink. I knew I shouldn’t have been driving. But I did. I sat behind that wheel, started my car, and –”
“Who was it, my daughter?”
His voice was surprisingly calm. No scream, no gasp, no groan of horror. I wondered briefly how many confessions he’d heard like this. Confessions past the normal realm of jealousy, anger, infidelity, theft.
How many murders had been confessed within these walls?
“I don’t know. That’s — that’s the worst part, Father. I just kept driving. I didn’t… even stop.” My voice cracked. Tears burned in my eyes. “I didn’t check if they were still alive. Didn’t call an ambulance. Didn’t…”
“I understand, my daughter.”
It was out. I’d told him everything. The tears rolled down my cheeks as I sobbed. Gaining composure, I said in a shaky voice: “Those are my sins, Father, and I am so sorry.”
It stretched into seconds, then minutes. The hot air pressed into me. My knees ached. Finally, I spoke. “Aren’t you going to absolve me, Father?”
His voice came from the other side, loud and clear. “I’m afraid I can’t do that.”
“What? Why not?”
“Because I’m not a priest.”
Horror thundered through me. “What do you mean, you’re not a priest?”
Who is he? A police officer? A man, waiting to do something terrible to me? Somebody… I lifted myself up from the kneeler, legs shaking, and peered around the divider.
No one was there.
“What the hell?” I whispered. “Wherever you are, I’m going to –”
The voice came from behind me. I reeled around – a shadow flickered across the mesh, now on the other side. Where I’d just been kneeling.
I immediately ran over to the other side. But the kneeler was empty.
“Where are you?” I yelled.
“Everywhere,” the voice echoed back.
In a panic, I ran to the door. Grabbed the knob. Turned it as hard as I could.
“Let me out!” I screamed. The doorknob slipped and slid under my sweaty fingers. “Please, let me out!”
The voice was low and raspy – right in my ear. I whipped around. Nothing there. Just that vague silhouette, behind the cloth mesh. It was standing, now. As if, at any second, it would dart out and grab me.
“Help me!” I screamed, banging my fists against the door. “Please! Help!”
“You know what you did.”
The voice seemed to come from every direction. Echoing, reverberating, growing louder and louder in overlapping whispers.
“You deserve this.”
I threw my entire body against the door. It shook underneath me. Thump. I reeled back and threw my body against it again.
“Nothing can save you,” it continued. “You are beyond redemption. Worthless.”
“No!” I screamed, throwing my body against the door again. But I was weaker, this time. The guilt pulled me down like a weight of lead. “No… please…”
“Even if you get out that door, I will follow you. Wherever you go, I will be there.”
The voice was dark and low. The shadow was pressed up against the mesh, now. It looked wrong – misshapen, twisted, different. Like something trying to look human.
“No!” I screamed and flung my body against the door.
It flew open.
I fell onto the floor. Coughing. Gasping. Spluttering. “Are you alright?” a voice asked.
A priest stood over me. He extended a hand. Slowly, I climbed to my feet. I glanced back at the confessional — the room was empty. The shadow was gone.
I wanted to run. Out the door, into the parking lot, into my car. I wanted to drive and drive until I was miles away from this place.
Miles away from what I did.
But no matter where I went – it would follow me. It would flicker across my rearview mirror on the open road. It would live in the mist on the hotel bathroom mirror. It would lie in the spare bed, roiling and twisting under the sheets, as I lay wide awake.
“I will follow you anywhere.”
Raspy whispers filled my ears. A shadow flit at the corners of my vision. But I forced myself to look away. Forced myself not to listen.
I locked eyes with the priest.
“Father… I need to make a confession.”