The Widening Maw
By Paul Edward Costa
I let out a trembling breath in anticipation of absolution as I made my confession to our local priest. My confession occurred without incident. It all seemed quite routine. I spoke in the dark confessional and the old priest’s soothing, worn voice came through the window between us.
The first indication of something unusual came when I left the booth. I began walking through the church, down its main aisle, and between the stone pillars lining my way. A few candles lit long ago by the remaining faithful flickered in a few far corners. That was when I heard it: silence. The old priest had remained in the confessional alone. He’d not opened the small, ornate wooden door and left. I stood and stared back at the confessional, knowing that he remained inside despite him presently giving no hint of his actual presence. I stared for minutes, and as the time wore on I became increasingly fascinated by what could possibly keep him in there so long. At last I turned and left when I became gripped by a fear that if he eventually emerged after so long a time in there and found me intently staring back from across the dim church that I’d appear as disturbed to him as he seemed mysterious to me.
As I left I passed the old priest’s house just to the left of the church and nestled back in the shadows where two bright white electric lanterns illuminated only the area immediately surrounding it, like its own specially reserved realm. The house had a large front porch with hanging plants and vines providing a semi-obstructed view of the porch itself, but I did see a frame from which hung a wicker bench swinging back and forth constantly without showing any loss of momentum. Each time I had passed to or from an evening confession I saw the old priest’s house and its porch enclosed by well-maintained vegetation I wondered what pleasant Sunday afternoons must be like when experienced in such an idyllic setting with private lighting. You must know that my own existence had been possessed by turmoil for so long that my fading memories of peaceful thoughts frightened me as much if not more than the turmoil itself and the soothing hum of its churning machinery, so to speak. I found a balm for my unsettled thoughts in picturing tea at 3:00pm on the old priest’s porch in his sacred residence.
I could not stand the idea, let alone the reality of one more troubling thought taking residence in my mind, so I turned back to the church when I continued thinking of him remaining in the confessional. I thought perhaps that if I re-entered after a small time away while feigning a search for something I’d forgotten that I might investigate without staying in the church for suspiciously too long.
I pushed the heavy wooden door but found it barely capable of any movement. The town’s quiet nighttime lay asleep behind me and showed no signs of stirring amid the chorus of cricket’s lullabies as I pushed harder and opened the door a single inch. Looking down through the crack I saw a dislodged and turned over pew lying across the doorway and blocking it out. I looked up ahead towards the altar. I squinted hard to see through the shadows lying between the few lit candles arranged along the church’s east and west walls. Their faint flow reflected weakly on the gold decorations of the altar, but after a few minutes of letting my eyes adjust I finally made out the movements of a barely discernable form.
A humanoid figure crouched on the floor at the front of the church. It tightly gripped a silver bowl on the ground with both hands. Its head and body swayed back and forth constantly. Occasionally it shoved its head into the bowl where it inhaled deeply through its nostrils while trembling violently. I heard it sucking fragrant air loudly into its lungs. During one particularly satisfying inhalation several of the gold chalices, long unused candelabras, and pitchers of baptismal water arranged around the altar all went crashing to the ground as a thick tail flickered through the dimness behind the humanoid figure gripping the apparently aromatic bowl with orgasmic delight before it stopped when it sensed an intrusion into its private and sacred ritual.
I hung my head, shut my eyes tight, turned around, and left. With my shoulders hanging low I stumbled from the town with what little energy I had left. I passed the final pay phone remaining in town. The phone rang. I answered it, half hoping whatever lay on the other end of the line might suggest a refuge other than the darkness beyond the possessed town which I’d called home for the past half-decade.
When I picked up the phone I only heard footsteps echoing over a cold stone floor as they got louder and louder, clearly leading towards a revelatory climax, but the footsteps soon faded out to a faint, barely detectible putter. I heard the sounds of people thrashing and gurgling in water while permanently drowning. As I removed the phone from my ear I heard a babbling voice repeating a prayer over and over again. It praised the catharsis of crushing guilt, the necessity of confession, and the cleansing power of holy water. Before continuing my long walk out of town I asked “who does the water cleanse?” before placing the phone back on the receiver. The last second of connection brought a desperate, defeated, and hateful shriek through the earpiece. I continued my slow, weakened walk towards the city limits.
Now I sleep four hours a night in a small shack by a northern lake while gripping an anointed blade in my left hand. Each morning when I wake in the pre-dawn darkness I watch the blood moon rise over the water. In my first few wakeful moments I listen listlessly for silence by the lake before I once again hear a rising chorus of agonized insects. I think of nothing else so that annihilation will not find a clear path into my mind.
Paul Edward Costa is a writer and spoken word performer who has published fiction, non-fiction, and poetry in “Timber Journal”, “Entropy”, “Thrice Fiction”, “Emerge Literary Journal”, “The J.J. Outre Review”, “The Eunoia Review”, “The Bramptonist”, “Alien Mouth”, “REAL: Regarding Arts and Letters” and others. He has work forthcoming in “Mannequin Haus”, “Literary Orphans”, and “Bonk!” He is the founder of the ongoing “Paul’s Poetry Night” spoken word series in the Greater Toronto Area. His areas of interest are illusion/reality, minimalism, surrealism, genre fiction, weird fiction, the grotesque, and the absurd. At York University Paul earned a Specialized Honors BA in History and a BA in Education. He is also a high school English teacher with the Peel District School Board.