The old man the kids called Gramps stood, shaking, in an entryway, watching the front doors to the church. He squinted in the dark, ignoring the tiny drops of water that fell from the sky in a light, irregular rain. He was slightly hunched, and appeared to be in his eighties, although he was only sixty nine. He wore a black outfit, with a wide-brimmed hat. He was gaunt, with deep lines in his face, which hid behind a bushy grey moustache and beard. He occasionally coughed lightly into a handkerchief he clutched in his left hand, while he held a bible in the other.
After twenty minutes or so, a man emerged, dressed in priest’s vestments, and locked the front door. Gramps looked him over. Graying hair, a moustache, bright, light grey-blue eyes, appearing young for his age; yes, this was the man he was looking for.
“Father Mike?” he called out to the priest, stepping out of the shadows. “Yes?” replied the priest. “Hi… Um… I was wondering if you could help me with something…” Gramps spoke in a harsh, raspy voice.
“What do you need?” asked the priest.
“Could you come back here with me real quick? It will only take a moment, and I don’t want it out where people can hear.” The old man motioned to the alleyway between the church and the apartment building he was in front of.
The priest paused. He wanted nothing more than to get to his car and get home to his computer. “Perhaps this can wait until tomorrow? We do have confessionals if you need to confess.”
Gramps shook his head. “Sorry, father. I may not have until tomorrow. I have lung cancer, and my time is running short.”
Father Mike sighed. He nodded and waved the old man toward the alleyway. “What can I help you with, old timer?” he asked once they were in the shadows of the alleyway, hidden from the eyes of the street.
Gramps reached behind his Bible and held on to something hard. “Absolution.” He said hoarsely, and then swung a length of pipe at Father Mike’s head. A look of shock crossed the priest’s face, but Gramps did not waste time on explanations, or the possibility that the first blow hadn’t felled the clergyman. He hit him several more times, even once he was on the ground. Then Gramps began the arduous task of dragging the younger man back into the alley, to his truck.
Father Mike woke up several hours later, his head throbbing. He couldn’t move. His wrists and ankles were bound, and his chin stung when he tried to move his head. It felt like he had been wired to a chair.
Gramps stood out of sight in another room. He had been watching the priest the whole time, waiting for him to wake. He frowned when he thought about what he was going to do. Gramps had always been a cheery, good natured man. He had loved the Church, and the people who followed it. He had never felt the need to become a priest himself, but usually enjoyed their company.
What he loved most were the kids. They had been calling him “Gramps” since he was in his forties, when his hair had turned grey. He was the kind of man who gave out sweets and told stories to children, but without motive beyond making them smile. However, others, within the clergy, weren’t so honest. Gramps would never allow any of the children to be alone with him, so parents would not have to worry about them. When times had changed, and smoking had left vogue, gramps even quit that habit, at the request of parents who disapproved.
Unfortunately, cigarettes had done their damage years before, and now he was suffering the consequences. He had been diagnosed with lung cancer a year and a half ago. After a period of depression, he had decided to give his life a deeper meaning. One for the children he had loved his whole life.
Gramps had used some of his friends in the Church to track down a certain type of man. In recent years, many priests had gotten in trouble for doing inappropriate things with children. These days, most were getting their just desserts, going to jail for their crimes.
Gramps had tracked down a particularly bad case, one who had hurt many kids and had slipped through the cracks. Father Mike was a predator. The Church had recorded over two dozen complaints lodged against him from almost as many kids. He had performed vile, hideous acts against kids who had trusted him. To Gramps, there was nothing more repulsive and evil.
He had a plan for Father Mike.
Father Mike groaned at a sudden pain in his chin. He heard footsteps, and had made the mistake of trying to look in their direction. “Don’t try to turn your head.” came a raspy call. The footsteps came closer, until the speaker stepped in front of the priest.
“I will stand here so we can talk.”
“You! What do you want with me?” Mike shouted causing whatever was in his chin to dig in further.
Gramps smiled at him. “I told you, Absolution.”
Father Mike scoffed. “You want me to forgive your sins, and to do that you kidnapped me? No way in hell.”
Gramps laughed a little, which caused him to break into a small coughing fit. “Father, I believe we can come to a compromise, you and me.”
Gramps help up one finger, as if to say “Wait”, and shuffled out of the room. He returned with a briefcase, which he sat down on a small wooden table in front of Father Mike, then sat in a chair. He opened the case, then licked his thumb and began rifling through its contents.
“I have a friend. He is a young man that I have known since he was a boy. He likes to refer to himself as a ‘geek’. He loves computers. I had him give me a hand with a project.”
Father Mike blinked some sweat out of his eyes. His neck and chin hurt terribly, and when he tried to move any of his limbs, the wire cut his wrists. “What kind of project?” he asked.
“Oh… research. Maybe weaving a little trap.” Gramps smiled and winked at the trapped priest. “But first things first. I will explain where we are and what is going on.” Gramps produced a piece of graph paper with some drawing on it, almost like blueprints. “I was a draftsman for a while, father. It was a good job. I learned some useful skills. This, is part of the project, it is what you are sitting in right now.”
Gramps showed the schematic to Father Mike. It showed a chair with what appeared to be a metal frame around it, and a cable pulley system. “I see you are confused. I’ll explain.” Gramps cleared his throat. “The chair you are in is attached to a frame by cables and pulleys. Each cable is attached to a rod tipped with a scalpel. As you move, they move, cutting you. The point of it is not to kill you, but to make sure I have your complete attention.”
Gramps grinned. “The reason you can’t move your head is a device buckled to your neck. Appropriately, it’s called a ‘Heretic’s Fork’. They were used during the inquisition. One tip is put in the chest, the other the chin. If you move too much, it will drive up into your mouth, and you won’t be able to talk, so I suggest you hold very still.”
“Why are you doing this?”
Gramps’ grin faded into a frown. “Father Mike… I have dedicated my life to children. I never held a job working with them, but I spent my every waking moment outside of work trying to make their world a happier place. I liked to tell them stories; I helped build my share of parks, and even helped with the church for kid’s activities.”
“But it has been hard for the past few decades to be that kind of man. Until you prove yourself, people won’t trust you with them. They are afraid, because people out there want to hurt their kids. Now, I never would be alone with any child. I have no reason to be, and it would only cause concern and suspicion.”
Gramps sighed. “I have several friends within the church, father. Many who don’t agree that the ‘indiscretions’ of certain clergymen should be covered up, but that they should be prosecuted like any other criminal. Not protected by the church.”
Father Mike cleared his throat and shifted nervously. “What are you implying, old man?”
Gramps eyed him directly. “I am implying nothing. We both know what you are. I know about your three stays with the Servants of the Parcelate in Jemez Springs. It’s a so called ‘rehab’ center for priests who ‘stray’. In reality, you get forgiven for destroying lives, and sent to a new flock to hurt.”
“I am NOT one of those.”
“Really? And what of over twenty complaints that you inappropriately touched, or worse, children at the various churches you have presided over?”
“You are mistaken, that has to be another Father Mike…”
“Hmm… I could be wrong. Perhaps… you see, father, I AM dying. Sadly for you, I am not stupid. I believe your email address is FatherMike@citychurch.org?”
“Are you aware that it is stupid to use your email address when using instant messengers to have conversations with minors?”
“Someone clearly logged in as me…”
“Stop right there. I know who you are. I have done my homework. Lying will only make things worse.”
“How could things be worse?” Father mike almost laughed.
Gramps glared. He lifted out of his seat and walked over the priest’s left. Mike couldn’t see what he was doing, but he heard metal move, the felt a sharp pain in his left triceps. He shrieked in pain. The crazy old bastard had just shoved a scalpel into his arm.
“Don’t lie to me father. I am trying to negotiate with you. You won’t escape. You won’t get your way. I will get mine, or you will be left here to rot.”
“Why do you think I would grant you absolution? Shouldn’t you wait until you are on your deathbed?”
Gramps walked back to face Father Mike. “I can’t wait any longer. The pain is incapacitating. I can’t breathe and wake up gasping. Death would be merciful for me. I have been a good man, father, and I know what waits for me on the other side, so I don’t cling to this world the way others do. However, I can’t kill myself; I am Catholic to the core. I don’t want to die with sin on my soul. That is where you come in.”
Father Mike scoffed. “You want me to absolve you?”
Gramps shrugged. “Eventually, you will see things my way.” He kicked another rod and drove another blade into the priest’s shin. It bit into the flesh, and penetrated the bone. Father Mike howled in agony, which only drove the Heretic’s fork further into his chin.
“You are still thinking you can get out of this, right?” Gramps smiled. He held up more papers from the briefcase. “I have detailed records of your past, father. Stuff the church tried to cover up. Victims are very willing to talk when they have access to a safe and sympathetic ear, father.”
His smile grew as he could tell Father Mike was straining for an excuse. “I have taped interviews with three kids who had been under your lead in Connecticut, father. The police have those tapes now, along with this.”
He held up a wad of paper. “Transcripts; of an IM conversation between FatherMike@citychurch.org and brandon1445. You thought Brandon was an 11 year old boy you were going to have come over. Trust me; it took me and my geek friend a while to concoct a believable story to make you actually think he would agree to come over for sex. An eleven year old boy, father…”
“Judgment is reserved for God, father. I am showing you this because, your life is over. So is mine. God chose for me to come home. I chose for you to sit in judgment before God. Father Mike, your life is over. Before I picked you up, I sent all of this to the police, and my friend called them. Right now, there are police cars near your apartment, waiting to serve you with a warrant for child molestation and rape. There are media people there too. Your life is over.”
“And for this, you want me to forgive you?”
“No, no…” Gramps chuckled. “I did nothing wrong here. I ratted out a pedophile; there is nothing wrong in that. It is, in fact, one of the greatest of goods. I want to be able to confess my sins, and receive my last rights before you kill us.”
“WHAT?!” Father Mike shouted. He growled in pain as the fork dug a half an inch into his chin. He began whimpering pathetically as blood began to pour down his neck, making his clothes sticky.
“Yes, kill us.”
Father Mike was consumed with panic suddenly. It felt as if the walls were closing in on him. He completely withdrew within himself; his mind flooded with images of his crimes, he couldn’t block the visuals of police men laying his life bare in front of others, the congregation of his church gawking in horror at the photos in his apartment.
He struggled against the machine. Metal whined and squeaked as he lurched back and forth, from side to side, trying to loose himself. Blades burned as they cut into his chest and back. He screamed a falsetto note when one slid into his right eye. Another pierced his left elbow; Father Mike felt a pain he knew was waiting for him in the darkest pits of Hell. In the small, barely-there part of his mind that was lucid in that moment, he marveled that no one in history had ever experienced such pain.
He finally began to regain a measure of composure after a few moments. He assessed his wounds as best he could. He had lost an eye, and there were blades full buried in his left elbow and right knee. He could tell that in some areas, he had been stabbed or slashed, and the blade had retracted, ready for another attack.
Gramps watched quietly, detached. “Are you quite finished?” he asked, then let the reality of the situation sink in before he continued. “Father Mike; near your right hand is a console with two buttons. When I remove the fork, you will be free to look around. You will see that one button is marked ‘Freedom’, while the other says ‘Hell’. ‘Freedom’ is connected to several gasoline bombs and blocks of C4 located throughout this old house. The other is connected to the machine you are sitting in.”
“You have a choice. You can grant me my wish, and then hit Freedom. The house will explode, killing us both. I will go to heaven, because I will be clean of sin, absolved. If you hit Hell, the device you are sitting in will disassemble, just fall apart. You will be free to go, but all that will await you is prosecution and incarceration. And men like you don’t last long in prison these days.”
“The third alternative is that you don’t grant me my wish, in which case I will leave you and you will die slowly.”
Father Mike fought back another wave of panic, and was trying to think up whatever excuse he could to not have to choose. “You have to be repentant; you have to truly believe you are sorry for absolution.”
“Oh, but I am father. I truly wish there was another way for you. I studied you closely, hoping to find some fragment that would separate you from the others like you. Some single thread that would imply that you are sick, and wanted to change. But you don’t. You like hurting children. You feed off of the hurt and perversion. I saw what you have on your computer, father. Children should never have to see or do those things…”
Father Mike shrank back into the chair as far as he could. For the first time since he started molesting children, Father Mike felt shame for his actions. So deep was his desire to retreat into himself that he barely winced when his movement caused two more blades to dig into his lower back, once less than a half inch from his spine. He hadn’t thought about the pictures. Any of the other evidence, he was pretty sure he could lie his way out of, but the pictures were damning evidence. He had thousands of them, and videos.
The worst part was that he was clearly in many of them.
Father Mike was in agony. Blood oozed from his many wounds, his eye felt as if it had collapsed; deflated. He understood the genius of the old man who watched him, passively. He would take days to die from his wounds if left.
Gramps looked a little surprised. “I will grant you absolution. What are your sins, my son?”
Gramps pulled a seat up right in front of Father Mike and began with “Forgive me father, for I have sinned.” Mike was surprised at how minor this man’s infractions were throughout his life. Not holding elevator doors when he could have, using the lord’s name in vain a couple of times, and stealing a pen from a bank, all said with such frankness, the priest didn’t doubt for a second that he was telling the truth.
When the old man had finished his litany of minor infractions, leading up to the assault, kidnapping and imprisonment of the priest, Father Mike forgave him without penance. He then read the old man his last rights.
When he finished, Gramps sighed. He removed the Heretic’s fork from Father Mike’s neck, and bound the wound it had caused. He also freed his right hand and said “Think hard about your choice, father. You have a chance to make things right.”
With that, Gramps walked out of the room. Father Mike was left alone with his thoughts. He looked around. The room was dark and grimy; this was apparently an old abandoned house. The machine he sat it was framed in shining surgical grade steel. An array of blades was pointed at him. The old man had shown a great deal of restraint, had he used the machine to it’s full potential, he would have been stabbed in easily twenty different places.
He went over his options. If he released himself, he could try to run for it. Maybe he could hide, or go to Mexico. He looked down at his leg. He had a blade buried deep in his shin, so he wouldn’t be running anywhere fast. He no longer had any depth perception. He would need medical help, and if what the old man had said was true (and he hadn’t confessed to lying about it), there would be an APB out for him, so he would be caught at any hospital.
His head hung low. He knew what he had to do, and it terrified him.
Gramps sat in the room next to Father Mike, listening to him look over his surroundings and think. He watched the beautiful sun as it set below the horizon. The sky was filled with rich oranges and reds. Gramps smiled as he thought about the sunsets in heaven. He could not wait to see them. He only hoped Father Mike made the right choice.
He would sit in judgment before God and burn in hell for his sins anyway. Adding suicide to the list would only seal the deal.
He closed his eyes and breathed in deeply, smelling the sweet night air. Perhaps, he would have time for one last cigarette. He pulled one out of his pocket and stared at it with affection. Sure, they had killed him, but they had given him great pleasure during his life. He smiled at himself. It wasn’t a sin, but it should be, he thought. Gramps lit the end, and took a long, exultant pull, tasting every last wisp of smoke as it passed into his lungs. It was a flavor he had missed for years.
There was a click that was not his lighter.
The explosion of the old house was felt over a mile away. By the time fire crews arrived, there was barely anything left to put out.