Friday, March 2, 2012

Story of the Week: Brightmoor Confessions

Glass in the Church of
St Bartholomew in Vojnik-Slovenia.
Joel V. Kela's "Brightmoor Confessions" from Fear and Trembling Magazine is a creepy story that will make you angry at first and then terrified, but ends with catharsis so keep reading. It's the story of what happens to Father Loren one night when he's taking confessions in an empty church in a very bad neighborhood.

Loren has been in the confessional three hours longer than normal because Father Tim, a former gangbanger who has lived in the neighborhood all his life, has inexplicably failed to show up. The penitent begins with “Bless me, Father, for I have skinned.” Loren assumes he's heard the man wrong and proceeds with the standard questions, but there's something odd about this penitent. Loren hears a strange sound coming from "the other side of the booth, like someone snapping an empty nutcracker together. Click click click." He also smells something, not alcohol, but "something rich that carried over the scent of carpet glue and wood polish." The man admits to flaying small animals when he was young and says that he's still doing it. He sobs, suggesting he is truly sorry but cannot help himself. “I just have to see them underneath, Father. It’s no good when they’re dead. It’s in the blood—you know?” At this point, Loren realizes what the clicking sound is.

When he was a teenager his brother Mark had gone on a mission trip to the Philippines and came back with a butterfly knife. Mark practiced with the thing over and over—till he cut his knuckles and their mom took it away. This clicking was just like that. Unlock, flip, catch, lock. Unlock, flip, catch, lock.

The man asks about St. Bartholomew--who, according to one tradition of his martyrdom, was skinned alive--and then describes the screams of a dying rabbit. Loren becomes increasingly nervous as he senses how utterly alone he is in the church.

“And so I came here,” the man said through choking sobs. “I had to. Animals just didn’t cut it anymore—” The man laughed, a choking snicker that echoed like crickets in the dark.

Animals didn’t cut it any more? All the hairs on the back of Loren’s neck stood up. “What do you mean?” He shifted on his bench.

The laughter cut off. “I’m damn sorry, Father. Sorry to do this.” The wood floor creaked as the man stood up. “I knew I could get a priest alone. I had to. Forgive me.”

There's a lot of story left at this point and some terrifying moments in store for Father Loren. Kela's writing creates a palpable sense of place and terror. The narrative contains many wonderful metaphors that capture the sense of the neighborhood's decay such as this description of "graffiti that ran up and down the parking lot wall like leprosy." Kela isn't going for cheap thrills. The story focuses as much on community and isolation as it does on horror. Father Loren emerges a changed man and he's going to need the community more than ever.

To learn more about Joel V. Kela and his writing, stop by his blog at

Photo: Attributed to Urharec and used under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

1 comment:

  1. Jeff, Thanks for the review of one of our feature stories at Fear & Trembling. As the editor, I almost didn't accept it. It is a truly horrific tale, but you point out all the reasons this story makes for a "must read" for those who want to understand some of the elements that make up "Christian horror" (a term some see as a contradiction). I'm glad we had an opportunity to publish this piece. Best wishes in your endeavors as well. Lyn