Penance by Dana C. Kabel

“She was a whore,” Davis said. “Just like all the others.”

His head lay against the oily wood of the ancient church bench inside the confessional. It was saturated with the reek of decades of burned incense.

“And labeling her makes it alright?” The priest asked.

“She was Chinese. That’s a label too, huh? My little China girl. Like the Bowie song. I used a steel meat tenderizer on her.”

“No,” the priest gasped.

Davis chuckled.

Then he didn’t.

“Absolve me!”

His shout echoed off the cold stone walls of the old church until they died.

The priest groped in the dark for the door handle. He wondered if he could escape before the maniac could catch him and bludgeon him on the floor with his serrated mallet.

“Absolve me, priest,” Davis whimpered. “I can’t help myself.”

“I-in the name of Christ…I absolve you.” His fingers found the groove of the door’s edge and then touched cold metal.

“What are you doing over there?”

The metal that the priest touched was a hinge. After all the times he had opened the door in the light, why couldn’t he find the handle in the dark?

“I’m praying.”

“What’s my penance?” Davis yelled.

At last, the priest found the doorknob.

“Don’t kill anymore girls!” He shouted and burst out the door.

It seemed impossibly dark without the light of the votives that once burned in the alcoves. It was like God had struck him blind for granting the killer absolution.

He stumbled through the pews in the pitch dark until he found himself crawling under one of them, trying to hide. The maniac’s laughter was amplified by the cathedral ceiling as the priest curled himself into the tightest ball he could make and held his breath and waited.

After several quiet minutes, the priest knew that he was alone again. He felt it in the emptiness of the darkness that surrounded him. But he also felt the absence of the Holy Spirit, Who had once filled every crevice of this once holy place and protected him.


“No fucking way,” Glenda said.

The skinny junkie scratched her arms and followed Davis up the stone steps. He promised her the best fix of her life in exchange for her services.

Glenda didn’t care if she was paid in cash or smack. She would spend the money shooting up anyway; might as well cut out the middleman.

“You said anywhere.”

“But, a church?”

“It’s fine. Jesus loved whores. It’s in the bible.”

Glenda giggled.

“Nobody comes here but the priest; and he won’t bother us tonight.”

“How do you know that?”

“Guy’s a friend of mine. He’s cool with it. Look, he bought new candles for us.”

Votives flickered in the alcoves of the abandoned church for the first time in years. Their light danced colorfully in the few stained glass windows that hadn’t been smashed out.

The intense look on Davis’s face was unsettling. It momentarily stirred a sense of alarm in her that had been long dulled by drugs. Then the charismatic smile came back and he tugged her hand.

Maybe he wasn’t lying about the priest; he did have a key. The wooden doors creaked open and Davis pulled her inside.

Glenda crinkled her nose as she was pulled down the center aisle like a reluctant bride. There was a bad smell beneath the bottled up, musty odor of moldy wood. It was the rotting death smell from the bodies that Davis had stuffed away in the sacristy and choir loft.

She started to choke on the stench and covered her mouth.

“This is gross. I want to go.”

“Wait! I want you to meet my friend, the priest.”

Glenda tried pulling her hand free and Davis tightened his grip.

“Uh! Alright, but I’m not gonna fuck here.”

Davis smiled and opened his coat, revealing his clerical collar. Then his face contorted like something was coming through it, and the priest spoke.

“Run!” He cried. “I can’t help myself!”

Glenda pulled her arm again, but Davis’ grip tightened more as he reached inside the coat with his other hand and pulled out the steel meat tenderizer.

Low and to the Left by Dana C. Kabel

“Are you deaf?” He shouted with spit.

After his .38 went off next to my ear, I kinda was.

Said, “I kinda am.”

That earned me a slap. The bitch of it was, the gun was still in his hand and my nose opened up from the edge of the gun sight. Blood gushed down my face.

He had me by the collar with his other hand, and when he let go I hit the ground.

“I don’t know what you want from me,” I said.

He kicked me in the ribs. Something snapped. After that, it hurt to breathe.

Then he pulled the crumpled photo out of his pocket again and studied it.

“That’s not me,” I said.


He crammed the picture back in his pocket and locked me in the tool closet.

When Delores pointed him out in the hardware store that morning because he had asked about me, she said, “are you scared?”

I laughed. In hindsight I probably should have been.

He had filled a shopping cart with:

Duct tape.
A hack saw.
Muriatic acid.
A utility knife.
And finally…a shovel and a bag of lime.

He wore a leather coat and black biker’s boots and tattoos crept up his neck and down his hands. He looked like bad news all around.

When he came to the counter he said, “Hey Mick,” and let it hang.

The name meant nothing to me, so I didn’t answer.

I started scanning the items from his sinister shopping spree and bagged the stuff that fit in a bag.

“I said hey, Mick.”

“Sorry, you must have mistaken me for someone else. I’m Brian,”

“Last name McDonald?”

“No,” I said, not offering a replacement.

“Whatever you say, boss.”

“Fifty-eight dollars even,” is what I said.

He threw a crisp hundred on the counter; a little too crisp. I reached for the counterfeit marker and he snatched it back.

“Hang on, I got change.” He replaced it with three wrinkled twenties.

Then he filled his arms with his purchases and left.

“Keep the change, Mick.”

“Jesus,” Delores said. “What a weirdo.”

“You said he was asking about me?”

“Yeah, he described you but didn’t know your name.”

I didn’t think of him again…until I got home and found him hiding in my garage.

“I’m gonna kill your wife and babies while you watch,” he hissed in my ear when he caught me from behind in the dark.

Too bad for him that my wife walked out on me and I didn’t have kids. That didn’t make his threat any less unsettling. I imagined what he planned to do to me.

Company arrived.

“Where is he?” The new voice said.

“Inna closet.”

“Open it.”

He unlocked and opened the door.

“You’re fucking retarded,” the new voice said.


“This is not the guy.” The newcomer wore a cheap suit and taped glasses.

The biker took the picture out again and winced.

“It’s him.”

“You goddamned nitwit.”

“Fuck you, Wylie.”

“No,” Wylie said, “fuck you,” and took out a gun and shot him. The back of the biker’s head exploded and his brains painted the wall of my garage.

The vein on Wylie’s temple was throbbing in time with his rapid pulse. When I was in the closet I had found the tire check I kept in there. It was like a mini baseball bat wrapped in a steel plate at the end.

I swung for a homerun, but I was low and to the left. At least it smacked the gun out of his hand.

Wylie shrieked and cradled his broken wrist.

I was about to catch him on the back swing when he yelled, “Stop! I’m FBI. Check my ID.”

His badge was in his jacket.

“Agent Paris, huh?”

“Yeah. We learned that your Witsec cover was blown. I came to get you out of here… just in time.”

“Yeah,” I picked up his gun. It was still warm.

His story had lots of holes. If I had to guess, he was a dirty cop.

I didn’t have time to guess. And the gun still had lots of bullets in it.