Father Bromwell loved sitting in the confessional. The light was good and it was peaceful, so he could spend the time reading. He had just started the last chapter of John Grisham’s The Firm when he heard the confessional door open. Bromwell sighed with annoyance, closed the book on his finger to keep the page, and slid the window open.
He was met with the smell of smoke. It was an odd smell, almost like pipe smoke and frying bacon.
“Forgive me Father, for I have sinned,” a voice said.
It was a young man’s voice, deep and rich, with a thick accent Bromwell had a hard time placing. Spanish, perhaps?
“It has been,” the man said and paused. “It has been a very long time since my last confession.”
“What troubles you, my son?”
“A great many things, father. More than I think I could name.”
“Confession is open for another half an hour. If that isn’t enough time, we could make an appointment.”
“No. I’ll be dead by then.”
Bromwell was taken aback by this.
“Are you sick?”
“No, but by coming here, I have marked myself for death.”
Bromwell slid his bookmark into the book and put it on his lap.
“You’re in danger? I can call the police.”
“No, father. They won’t help me now. I knew this would happen when I came in here. My time is short, and I want to spend it making peace with God.”
A puff of smoke came in the window and Father Bromwell coughed again.
“There’s no smoking in the church,” he said, and immediately regretted it.
“I’m sorry, Father. I’ll try to stop.”
“Tell me what is troubling you. What do you want to confess?”
“I’m not sure where to even start. I’ve killed a great many people and compelled many more to harm themselves and others.”
“Are you a soldier?”
“Are you in a gang? I really need to understand your sin so I can assign a penance.”
“No gang. I killed for food. I think I enjoyed it after a while.”
“How many people have you killed?”
“I couldn’t even tell you.”
The man said nothing.
Still no response.
“I’m not sure I can give you what you need. Perhaps a therapist or a-”
“I don’t need mental help, I need forgiveness! Please, Father, I have come here knowing it would end me just for one moment to confess my sins and do my penance. Why are you refusing to help me?”
Father Bromwell sighed.
“You committed a great number of mortal sins. Usually, that would require a lengthy penance. Do you truly regret your sins?”
“Every day, Father.”
“Are you resolved to change your ways?”
Smoke seemed to be billowing in through the window.
“Then the first step is the Act of Contrition. Do you remember it?”
“It has been a very long time.”
“Then we will say it together.”
Father Bromwell decided to shorten the prayer. Speed seemed more important than ritual.
“O my God, I am sorry for offending Thee, and I detest all my sins…”
“O my God, I am sorry for offending Thee, and I detest all my sins,” the man said, his voice sounding old and weak.
“They offend Thee, my God, who are all-good and deserving of all my love.”
“They offend Thee, my God,” the man said, and made a choking noise, “who are all-good and deserving of all my love.”
“I firmly resolve.”
“I firmly resolve.”
“With the help of Your grace.”
“With the help of Your grace,” his voice was strangely quiet now.
“To sin no more.”
Father Bromwell barely heard him say “To sin no more.”
“And to avoid the near occasion of sin. Amen.”
There was no sound from the man.
“And to avoid the near occasion of sin,” he said again. There was no response. “Are you okay?”
Bromwell felt a stab of panic. He jumped up and jumped out, kicking his forgotten novel away. More smoke was pouring forth from the other side of the confessional, and he threw the door open. Once the smoke cleared, Father Bromwell found the confessional was empty.
* * * * *
Father Bromwell shared his duties in the church with two other priests. Father Newton scoffed and insisted someone had played a prank on him. Father Jabbar scoffed as well, but later visited him in his room.
“If it was a prank,” Jabbar said, “it would have to be a wonderfully elaborate one. Are you sure he didn’t sneak out?”
Father Bromwell shook his head.
“I know you weren’t dreaming. The smell is incredible,” Jabbar said. “None of the air fresheners seem to make a dent. So, what do you think it was?”
“I don’t know,” Bromwell said. “A vampire, maybe?”
He smiled, embarrassed by his theory.
“Like Dracula? I haven’t read the book.”
“Me neither. Saw a movie once as a kid. I thought you had to stab them with a stake.”
“What if it wasn’t a monster? What if it was a fallen angel?”
Bromwell thought about that for a moment. He had always thought of the stories in the Bible as parables, but if he was considering Dracula, then why not an angel? Bromwell had a thought that made him shudder.
“What if it was Satan?”
Jabbar just stared at him. After a moment, both of them went out into the night air to breathe. Jabbar offered Bromwell a cigarette and, he shook his head. It was time to quit smoking.