Lumenaria

December 22, 2011

Father Alfred Flynn always enjoyed this time of year, but for very different reasons than you might imagine. You see, despite what you might think, Christmas is not a great time to be a member of the clergy. It was after all the busiest time of the year, the equivalent of tax season to accountants. Not only are the services fuller than normal, but usually they are longer and the closer to Christmas the more extracurricular activities pile up. Even things they normally did were amplified, such as the soup kitchens, food drives, meals for the elderly, choir practices, baptisms, confessionals, masses, and youth group meetings.

Everything was passing in a blur of red and green motion and he always struggled to keep up mentally, but that is in fact what he loved about it. No time to sleep, no time to think, no time to dwell on the past or the things he had done. He was always working it seemed and only got a few moments of sleep here or there. He awoke with a start and didn't know where he was for a moment. He had been dreaming, or rather having nightmares… He thought he was in the past, reliving the worst day of his life. He thought that he was lying in the ground, covered in dirt, unable to breathe, or to move. He could feel the limbs of other people around him, some moving and some not. His chest burned from his wounds as well as the earth of the mass grave pushing down on him.

He looked around frantically and realized that he had fallen asleep in the confessional chamber, thankfully while it was empty. He took several deep breaths and then wiped the sweat from his brow with a handkerchief. He was drenched in a cold sweat and his heart was still racing. He lit the backlight on his watch and saw that the church should have been closed and locked a long time ago, it was past 2 am. He jumped slightly when he heard a polite but low cough from the other side of the confessional.

A woman spoke in a low deep tone, "Forgive me for startling you father. You looked tired today and I felt too guilty to wake you, but didn't want you to be alone either."

"Why thank you my child. I'm sorry to put you in that awkward position," he answered in a slight Irish accent, although he didn't look Irish at all, but had a more Mediterranean look to him. You see, he was 'black Irish', descended from shipwrecked sailors from the defeat of the Spanish Armada. He had black hair that was just now starting to show grey and dark brown eyes, women had often commented about how handsome he was but frankly he didn't see it. He mainly saw his crooked nose and chipped tooth, souvenirs from a misbegotten youth.

"Did you know that you talk in your sleep father?" she asked kindly.

"No, no I didn't know that. I usually don't have anyone there to tell me, sacrifices of the job," he said with a slight tone of resentment.

"Well perhaps I can offer other forms of comfort, look outside your door…" she said warmly.

He opened the door and saw a bottle of Liquor and a Low Ball glass. He picked up both and poured himself a glass, noticing that quite a bit was already missing from the bottle of Evan Williams. "Pardon me for starting without you," she explained between sips of her own.

"Thank you. You truly have remarkable timing. My favorite brand as well, my countrymen be damned…"

"You can thank your bartender for suggesting it."

"Were you here to confess tonight?"

"No Father, I am not here to confess my sins, I am here to listen to yours…"

"You must forgive me, I don't understand…"

"Demons come for you as well, don't they… when you sleep at night. I have slept in the bottom of my closet for almost two years; it never gets easier. Sometimes surviving is worse than death. You understand that…" she said rhetorically.

"I really don't know how to respond to that my child. God's plan…"

"Pfftt…" she cut him off coldly."If what happened to us is part of God's plan then he seriously hates us both. Or, maybe he sent me to you… so you can save my soul and sent you to me so I can rid you of your demon."

He heard the door open and then close, "My child!"

"I am still here father. Look at that and tell me what you see and another drink if you would be so kind…" he opened the door and saw an envelope and another glass which he filled and returned to the floor. "Perhaps we should serve drinks and have late night confessions year round, it may bring in the younger members of the flock…" he warmly quipped. He opened the envelope and took a sip as he pulled a photo from the envelope. He looked at it and almost dropped his glass, "Jesus! My God… where did you get this…?"

Anyone else looking at the photo would see a forty something year old black man fishing on a pier and think nothing of it. Besides the fishhook shaped scar on his cheek he looked every bit like a happy tourist reeling in a fish. When he looked at it however a world of horrors came flooding back to him. He heard the man's voice in his ear, and smelled his hot rank breath as he said, "Where are they, we know you are hiding them. Tell us priest and we let you and your people live…" Father Flynn looked down the row of missionaries and when he looked back the Somali Army captain; he was pointing his pistol at Flynn's friend Father Frank Jamison. Jamison looked at Flynn and shook his head 'no' a second before the bullet tore his skull apart. He turned the pistol to the next person in line, "Where are the dissidents hiding!"

Flynn squeezed his eyes shut, "they are at the old garment factory north of the city…"

"Thank you for your cooperation…" he turned and fired a round into Flynn's chest as he left. Flynn heard the automatic fire as the rest of his group was mowed down. He didn't fight for his life as he was later bulldozed into the mass grave. Only later did he claw his way out and he was taken to Doctors by the Somali villagers.

Her voice pulled him back to the present. She said in an icy but eager voice, "So, it is him then?"

"Where did you get this?" he repeated.

"I took it myself three days ago… Is it him?" He could tell her voice was ripe with anticipation but had no idea why.

"Yes… How do you know about that? How did you find him?" he asked as he leaned forward staring through the confessional screen. He saw her porcelain skin through the screen and through a… black vale? The young widow that always sat alone near the booths, he had seen her on and off for weeks. He had never really looked at her before, just glances of pity. She was younger than he thought and quite beautiful.

"Please don't stare Father," she asked as she tilted her head down and shift to the side in her seat as if trying to hide.

"I apologize… You shocked me…" he drained his glass trying to figure out what to do. Should he report him to the police or the Justice Department? "For whom do you mourn… your husband?" he asked distractedly.

"No, Father. I mourn for myself, for the person I was once but will never be again. Thank you for your help. Goodnight," he could hear her get up to leave.

"Wait, where are you going?" he called desperately.

"Home… It's late and my closet is calling. I promise I will come back in a few days and let you know how it works out. Please don't follow me, or mention this…"

.

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Two days later on Christmas Eve, Father Flynn was performing midnight mass when he looked up he saw the woman in the black dress and veil slip through the front doors and then walk around the perimeter of the church until she reached the confessionals. He saw her open the preacher's chamber and place a gift bag inside before closing the door. She gave him a slight nod before ducking into the congregational side of the booth. He felt a frail hand tapping his hand, "Oh, I am terribly sorry Mrs. Simmons!" he had been force feeding communal wine from the chalice, having been distracted.

"I won't tell if you don't dear…" the elderly woman giggled. He blushed faintly as he hurried through the mass while trying to look as inconspicuous as possible. He rushed everyone out afterward and lowered the bar on the front door. He hurried to the chamber, hoping that he hadn't missed her. He moved around the gift bag and closed the door the quickly slid the panel back.

"Are you there my child?"

"Yes, Father. Feel free to indulge if you wish. You are off duty?"

"Yes, I am… if there is such a thing that is," he said as he poured a glass of bourbon which he retrieved from the bag.

"Would you mind if I confess as you pour?"

"No, by all means…"

"Forgive me Father; it has been over a three years since my last confession. I have broken every commandment and nearly every mortal sin."

"Shirley not…" he almost scoffed.

"Oh yes… not all willingly, but broken none the less," the genuine remorse in her voice, it was eerie, almost haunting, and gave him the chills.

"You created graven images?"

"Yes. I created an ornate box to store the evil souls in the world, a representation of Pandora's Box."

"Hmm, have you had homosexual relations?"

Even in the dark he could see her pale cheeks blush, "Once, but I didn't enjoy it… I no longer feel safe in the arms of men, but women are no substitute."

"It pains me to hear that," he said genuinely. He thought for awhile, "Incest?"

She laughed melodiously which pleased him, "No. You got me there. But I do have a small family, so it could be a lack of options," to which they both laughed. "Maybe you should unwrap your present…"

"Why am I suddenly terrified to do so…" he mumbled as he pulled out a small box that was in the gift bag along with the liquor and glass. He unwrapped the present and was momentarily confused by its contents, dog tags. He looked at the name and his mouth fell open, "these are his, the Macellarius {butcher in Latin}! How did you get them?"

"Let's just say that I don't judge people Father. That is for God to do. I merely work as his extradition agent…" There was a long silence which wasn't uncomfortable at first but started to become so as she interjected, "Father?"

He cleared his throat, "Yes my child?"

"Am I father? Am I still your child? Is what I've done God's work or Satan's? I… don't know anymore…"
"It's not I who should answer that question, my perspective is… tainted."

"Do you wish that I had not rid the world of this evil?" she asked timidly.

"I wish you were not the one that had to do it? How is that?"

"It is a start Father. Thank you… I hope you sleep well tonight, I know I will sleep better…"

"I fear that there will be no forgiveness for what I am about to say…" he thought about his friends that had been buried in that mass grave and the 'insurgents', mere women and children, that had been butchered and strung up by their heels to be fed to the birds as he muttered, "…thank you…"

"There is no need to thank me Father. I wouldn't keep those though. Throw them in the channel during your next morning run." There was a stunned silence until she laughed lightly, "I run too Father; we both run in Lummis Park a lot…"

"Oh," he sounded relieved.

"Close your eyes Father; I have another gift for you…"

He sounded apprehensive, "okay…"

He heard her door open and then his opened. He then he felt her warm hand on his cheek, turning his face towards her and she whispered in his ear, "I know he has shaken your faith Father. Tomorrow, let your faith be renewed. Your bed sheets will feel cooler. Your breakfast will be the best you've ever tasted. The air will be crisp and clean. The sound of the oceans waves will sound like angels hushing you to sleep." He felt her kiss him lightly on the lips and then slowly retreat. He heard the widow, the Black Widow's footsteps retreat and the darkness enveloping his heart went with it.

Out of some odd need for closure, he ran to the door and flung it open and got there in time to see her relight a Luminaria candle that had blown out. He missed the irony of the moment, but he heard her mutter, "…out of the light, is born darkness…" He watched as she walked into the darkness and soaked in the sacredness of the moment.

He soon found out that she had been correct about his demons. As he drifted off to a blissful night's sleep, he wondered if he would ever see her again. He wouldn't have to wait long to find out.

.

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That night Lumen Pierce took off her veil and hung it on the hat rack inside the ramshackle little one bedroom house she was land squatting in. She used the house as her hunting ground; she usually enticed her victims to follow her home. The last resident had been a hoarder and there were thousands of newspapers and magazines that were stacked throughout the house. She often read them waiting for her prey.

She picked up the copy of Time Magazine with the Butcher of Somalia on the cover and tossed it into the fire place. She had recognized the man on the cover immediately as the friendly fisherman at the pier where she ran. The priest's interview about his encounter had solidified her resolve to go after the former army captain.

As she pulled her hair up into a ponytail she saw a blue Buick sedan pull up down the street and a man get out and walk under the shadows of the trees to her house. "Ah, Mr. Peterson… I thought you would hold out at least a week, I'm glad I have a present for you…" she murmured as she picked up the tranquilizer gun she had stolen from Boyd Fowler's house when she broke in so long ago…