It was a few minutes after mass on a hot summer morning, and silence filled the cathedral as if the Lord himself had said, "Peace. Be still. "
The quiet didn't last for long. As a breeze slipped between the cracks in the centuries-old walls, and the sun shone through the angels that adorned the stained glass windows, the priest's heavy footfalls marched toward the confessional booth.
Father O'Reilly always walked with purpose to hear confession. He thought it was his most important duty as a priest. In helping his parishioners deal with their sins, he was more than a cog in the church's wheel. He was an instrument in God's holy symphony. That was why he loved to take his place in the confessional booth. It was there that he felt closest to heaven.
As he opened the sturdy wooden door and sat behind the screen, Father O'Reilly brushed his gray, thinning locks away from his eyes, fully prepared to play his part in the dance between sin and mercy.
By the time he closed the door, he could see that the first confessor was already sitting on the other side of the screen. His face partially obscured, the man spoke before Father O'Reilly could even greet him.
"Bless me father, for I have sinned," he said in a thin, gravelly voice. "It's been five years since my last confession, and ..."
The words drifted off into an awkward silence. Father O'Reilly glanced through the screen at a young man whose face was a mere shadow beneath his wide fedora. There was something familiar about him—something so other-worldly that it turned the sanctuary's whispering breeze into a chilling wind.
Father O'Reilly shivered in spite of himself. "Please, go on," he said, trying to sound reassuring. "It's all right."
"Is it really?" the man said, his tight smile evident in his voice. "Well, since it's all right, these are my sins. I've lied to those who've tried to help me, and hidden myself from people who love me."
Father O'Reilly felt uneasy about whatever was beneath those words. He folded his hands to keep them from shaking, and asked the question whose answer he already knew. "Is there more?"
The man chuckled. Then a loud burst of laughter escaped his lips before he suddenly went silent.
Father O'Reilly went from uneasy to fearful. "Listen, perhaps you should — "
"Let me guess," the man snapped, the sound of his voice growing darker by the moment. "Seek professional help? Is that what you're suggesting, Father? Well, that's not what I need. I need forgiveness. Can you give me that? "
"Well, I — "
"Can you grant forgiveness! " the man yelled, his voice echoing through the sanctuary as he slammed his fist against the confessional wall.
The commotion got the attention of the sexton, who started toward the confessional booth from the other side of the vast cathedral. The priest, hearing the faint sound of the approaching footsteps, was relieved, and at the same time, anxious.
"God can grant forgiveness, if you confess," the priest said, his voice shaking as the sexton came closer.
"Then these are my other sins," said the man in a tone that was eerily calm. "I cut off a man's finger while he slept on a park bench. I sliced a child's leg when he wandered away from his mother at a playground. I'm sick, Father, and I don't know what to do."
"You're doing the right thing now," the priest said nervously. "You're confessing."
"That's not the problem, Father," the man said as the sexton drew near.
"Then what is?"
The man stood up and pulled open his jacket, revealing a sawed-off shotgun. "The problem is ... I'm the angel of death."
The sexton opened the door and was about to speak, but the man never gave him a chance. He whirled on him and fired, the blast spattering the walls with the sexton's blood-soaked innards.
Father O'Reilly tried to make his way around the wall that separated him from the killer. As he did so, the gunman confronted a man and a woman who had just arrived to give their confessions.
When they saw the gun, they both tried to turn and run. Both of them were too late.
The gunman shot the man in the back. The impact of the shell threw him into the woman, who fell, face first, to the ground. By the time she pushed the man's dead weight from her back and stood up to run toward the door, the gunman was upon her.
"Please!" she said as she turned and looked at the killer's eyes. "Have mercy!"
"Mercy is God's job," the gunman said coldly.
The final gunshot echoed through the sanctuary as Father O'Reilly watched in horror. When the woman fell to the ground, the killer dropped the gun and walked slowly toward the cathedral's massive doors.
Father O'Reilly ran to the spot where the gunman dropped the weapon. Then he knelt down and picked it up. As he held it and looked at the bodies sprawled on the floor of his beloved cathedral, he was filled with a rage he had never known before.
Raising the weapon until he had the killer in his sights, the priest slowly squeezed the trigger. The angels looked down on him from the stained glass windows. A statue of the blessed virgin watched closely through hollow eyes. The hammer clicked. The gun was empty. So was Father O'Reilly.
He dropped to his knees as grief overwhelmed him. Though he pursed his lips and squeezed his eyes shut, neither gesture could hold the pain inside. Tears poured down his face and he screamed in anguish as the reality of the moment set in.
When the police arrived, he deliriously whispered that the gunman was the angel of death. They took the gun from his hands and lifted him to his feet. They shook his shoulders to stir him from the shock. However, the more they tried to rouse him, the deeper he seemed to fall. It was as if the floor of the sanctuary had opened and hell had risen up to swallow him.
He cried out to God as he fell into the enemy's hands. He yelled for his father to save him from the torment he faced. He looked up to heaven as the tears poured down his cheeks. Then suddenly, someone reached down and snatched him up.
That's when Michael Coletti awakened.