Osmond slunk to the church’s front door. The desire to hunch and hide was so strong he considered crawling. Almost twenty years as a Catholic and he had never come like this, not with anxiety so bad it crippled him. But he had to do something. He couldn’t walk around with this guilt anymore. It was eating him alive, great big bites devouring him.
The front door was open. That was expected. The quiet was not. Osmond anticipated an audience lined up to see the prominent husband and father come to spill his guts. They would huddle against the confessional door, all of them with their hands cupped to their ears. He dreamed of them, a Puritan chorus with shocked O-shaped faces.
The confessional booth was on the left side of the hall, under a huge stained-glass window. Osmond scurried there and paused. The door was polished a deep brown, almost red. Candlelight from the front of the room played flickering shapes over the shine. He swallowed. The wad was thick and sticky and created an association that made him lower his head and groan.
My God . . . this thing inside me . . . please let this work. Please give me peace.
Osmond opened his side of the confessional booth and stepped in. He sat down on the bench. The dark and isolation was complete and for that he was glad. He wanted the real world out there because the world inside him was so jumbled there wasn’t room enough for both.
The wall panel slid back. It was a sound he expected and yet it happened with a rattle and rasp as if the track was full of dirt.
It’s corrupted. Like me.
Osmond intoned the expected invocation. He spoke it with dry and broken words hauled up from his internal basement.
“Bless me Father for I have sinned.”
“What are your sins my son?”
Osmond paused. There was an eagerness to the question, a hunger that flashed visions of an open drooling mouth.
“I . . .” He swallowed. “I have laid with . . .”
“Yes? Yes?” Again, that eagerness, so foreign. Was that Father Patrick over there? No. Osmond was filled with relief. Maybe it was a visiting priest, a trainee of sorts, but most importantly it was someone who did not know him. He was free to speak the treachery inside him, to release the guilt chewing him to ribbons!
“I have cheated on my wife. I have laid with . . . men. I have these desires, Father, and they . . .” Osmond shivered as he confessed. To talk about his urges conjured them and they made him weak, hot, and so excited. Oh God how he craved the strong grip of a man behind him, breathing on his neck, pulling him against a hard chest and wedging the thick shaft of a cock against his ass. Osmond trembled in his desire. Likewise, he trembled in guilt. He loved his wife. He loved his kids. The thought of them discovering this hidden desire was crippling. But Christ how he needed the stab and taste of a man.
The voice next to him sighed in a pleasure that Osmond recognized.
“Tell me! Tell me!” Osmond saw the slip and slide of shadow on the other side of the screen. Electricity needled his extremities. A smell grew, a wet funk. Osmond thought of dogs left out in the rain.
“Tell me your sin, tell me how it hurts, how it makes you feel. Tell me how it tears you in two, how you want and fear, how you wallow in bed at night and struggle with a desire you believe is wrong.” The voice chuckled. “You have been told it’s wrong. Do you believe that? Of course you do. It’s wrong and you knooooow it!” The voice cackled, harsh and deep.
“Father?” Osmond no longer thought a man sat next to him but what else could he ask? Any other question admitted he was with something extraordinary. Had God sent a judge down for him? The thing next to him panted. Its breath was dirt and heat and a familiar metallic zing.
“Tell me how it makes you feel!” Those words were a demand, an invitation, a seduction. “Tell me the pleasure you get when a man barfs his prick-load into your mouth! Admit how you love the taste, how you slurp it down, how you crave the thick, snot-like texture!”
More laughter, rough and from the throat.
“Confess how as soon as it’s in your belly, then you remember your dewy-eyed-red-headed-tiny wife. Tell me how you throw her aside to let a man blast his load up your ass! Tell me how GOOOOOD it feels!”
Osmond trembled. It was true. All of it was so true. He covered his face with his hands and wept.
“Admit that as soon as that forbidden goo leaks out of you, you whine and cry for your woman to make it all better!” Not laughter now but a cackling howl. Osmond’s eyes bulged at the sound. His neck itched with raised hair.
“You need wifey-poo to absolve you of a sin you can’t even tell her about!” Garbled laughter banged around the box. Osmond felt the thing over there growing, filling the booth. He heard the splatter of its drool hitting the floor. It shook its head and saliva was whipped against the screen. It oozed through to Osmond’s side, cloudy and viscous.
“Damned, damned, damned,” the voice sang. “Your guilt devours you because you’re damned. Damned for cheating on your vows, damned for taking forbidden love. Damned and all will know it! I will tell everyone! EVERYONE!” The thing howled, a long, loud dog’s howl that cracked the walls. Splinters flew around Osmond.
He was horrified, but as he swam in the fear, he understood the voice—the creature—was trying to amplify his guilt. Osmond sensed it as one will sense a drop underfoot if walking in strange woods.
“She knows! Your dewy-eyed-red-headed-slip-of-a-wife. She knows! She tastes other men’s jizz on your lips when you kiss her. She smells their sweat! She knows. She knows and she cries in the night when you sleep satisfied beside her! She hurts! SHE KNOWS!” More howling. More pieces of the confessional wall cracked between them. Osmond stood. Regardless of his sins, his guilt, whatever was beside him wasn’t human. He had to run, he had to—
The wall ruptured. A huge brown paw reached through the screen. It grabbed Osmond’s shirt and skin. He felt deep cuts slice into his chest and belly. He was enveloped in a numb warmth. The creature drew him forward, but Osmond felt a bizarre relief. The screen between them was so small.
No way I can fit through there—
But he did.
Soon after Osmond was dead, a figure emerged from the Father’s side of the booth. Some might say dog, some might say werewolf, but neither was correct. What emerged was a hungry and hunched demon that fed on misery and guilt and more recently flesh. It’s brown furry bib was covered in gore and bits of cloth. Its eyes were green gas-fire lamps. A dark tongue unwound and panted. It raised its head and scented the air. Here in this city, this Shy Town, there were many feeding opportunities, so many delicious ways people heaped guilt upon themselves like gravy. The creature salivated. Already it was growing hungry again. That was its curse, but also its pleasure.
The creature hunkered, losing its form. It melted. No longer solid, it became a shadow, a quick moving thing like an oil slick. It glided soundlessly across the floor, up the wall, and out a closed window. It was gone to hunt again, not caring about the mess it left behind.
In the shattered silence, the candles continued to flicker. They continued even when the priest returned to the room and found what had been left. They continued even when he began to scream.
Paul has published over thirty-five short stories in both magazines and anthologies, as well as two novels, and a short story collection. He won the first annual Aiken Community Playhouse playwriting contest that produced my comedic two-act play. He has written nine novels, countless articles, reviews, essays, plays, and over 150 short stories including horror, sci-fi, fantasy, satire, and comedy.