Oct
09
2023

THE QUARTER TO MIDNIGHT MASS

The painting of the chapel was worn and chipped, the bushes had grown around it and the tall and shapeless leaves caressed the side of the building. Inside the little church, a single timid lamp worked with difficulty to illuminate partially the confessional, leaving the rest of the place in complete darkness. Curiously, there was no little red light inside, common in Catholic churches, which indicates the presence of the Blessed Sacrament of the Eucharist.

From inside the confessional, a girl’s voice was heard:

– Thank you for seeing me at this hour, Father. I know that these masses, so late at night, must have you tired, so I’ll try to be brief.

– Not at all, my dear – answered a male voice from the other side of the wooden partition, that prevented them from seeing each other directly, the voice was hoarse and the words pronounced heavily, like someone who has just run a marathon – I only think that we could talk at my house, or in the parish hall, sitting on a nice sofa… maybe drinking something… we don’t need this medieval confessional.

– I prefer to do it here – the girl intervened – Iam very traditional.

– Let’s see … – grumbled the priest – your name is Jaqueline, isn’t it? You may begin your confession.

She waited a moment for him to say the introductory prayer, but when he did not answer, she started to speak:

– I lived my life in a very wrong way for a longtime, Father, always after parties, got drunk a lot and did a lot of stupid things. My friends even nicknamed me Jackie Tequila. I’ve distanced myself from God and from all those who were good to me, but… well, some events made me rethink my actions a lot: I have suffered two assassination attempts in the last few years, in one of which the experience was… supernatural. I won’t go into details, but I decided to change my attitude and return home and to the Church. I arrived home from a trip a few days ago.

– You did very well, dear, very well. We rarely get many visitors here.

– I know, Father, and that’s one reason I came to see you. There is something wrong with this community.

The priest paused for a long moment and then asked:

– And… why do you think that?

– I will explain, Father: Before coming here, I tried to contact my parents and childhood friends who still live herein Pomaré, but I could not talk to anyone. It was as if the town was isolated from the world. I decided to come straight here, but couldn’t find any buses that passed through here, and at the bus stations nobody could explain why, or remember when the town was taken off the routes. I took the car and came as fast as possible, passed the bridge over the river and did not find any other vehicle on the road until I arrived here.

– A series of interesting coincidences – said the priest calmly – but that’s all, I bet you found your parents and friends all right, didn’t you?

– Yes, they are fine and oblivious to everything. I even thought it was just something from my head… but that’s when that strange man in a black coat approached me. He was dirty and his coat was all beat up. It looked like he came out of a horror movie. He said he was a priest, his name was… Monsignor Fernando. You must know him, right?

The priest suddenly moved inside the confessional, making the wooden structure shake for an instant.

– This is impossible, my dear. Impossible. What did this guy want from you?

– To warn me, he said. But he explained nothing, just told me to flee the city and look for a church as soon as possible, then disappeared into the darkness of the forest like a ghost. As there was this chapel right here, I decided to go to confession and get some guidance from you. I have been thinking abou teverything that has happened to me up to now, and how everything seems to be strangely connected. This frightened me even more. Who is this Monsignor Fernando?

– He was the parish priest here before I arrived. I gave him the letter of transfer and he left town a few weeks ago, then came back upset, saying things that made no sense, making a big fuss and setting off aimlessly. He had an accident trying to cross the bridge. It was a bad thing. His car sank into the river.

– Wow, and how did he survive?

– He did not. That’s why I said there’s no way you could have talked to him today.

A shiver ran down Jaqueline’s spine, but soon after her whole body trembled, because she heard the rusty sound ofthe church door opening. She didn’t have the courage to peek outside the confessional, which was all closed, but she heard some heavy footsteps approaching slowly down the central corridor.

Through the cracks in the wooden door, she saw a shadow, which grew larger and larger, coming towards her. The little door had no lock, Jaqueline held the latch with her hands, hoping to keep it closed, but she felt a weight on it: someone was holding it on the other side.

A jolt opened the door, and the girl jumped in fear. A large hand gripped her mouth, preventing her from screaming. Monsignor Fernando’s eyes were serious, staring into hers. He reached out a finger from his other hand and brushed it against his own lips, signing for silence.

– I told you to run away and you come into the clutches of the devil himself? – whispered the man, pulling her outof the confessional.

Turning around, they found the priest standing behind them, a thin man with white hair, dark eyes, forming a menacing smile with his yellow teeth.

– I thought I had got rid of you. – said the priest without losing his smile.

– Stay behind me – the Monsignor said to Jaqueline, putting his body as a barrier between the girl and the strange old man – do not speak to him again.

– But he is the parish priest…

– That thing could be anything but a priest.

From his coat pocket, he took a rosary and a small transparent bottle. He pointed the first object at the old man while taking the lid off the second with his teeth.

– You could have had it all – growled the old man, his mouth was twitching – now what do you think is going to happen? You think you’re going to save the souls of this town? They were lost long before I got here.

The Monsignor sprayed the old man with liquid from the little bottle and spoke words in Latin. The creature had his voice now filled with hatred and would not stop talking:

– They like my celebrations full of feasting. They find it innovative when I exchange bread and wine for soda and cake. Many come to confession with me, and what happens in private… ah, they like it. The further away from Him, the happier they are and the more the chapel is packed with people. While your cathedrals only have a few dying people sleeping during the homily, here they can be whatever they want to be.

The words in Latin came out louder and louder. The holy water made cuts on the old man’s skin. Jaqueline watched everything frightened, cowering behind a nearby bench. She wanted to run out, but she was paralysed with fear.

– You should have died in that accident… and that bitch – he pointed to Jaqueline – would be next. I was so close- the voice was no longer human – I am going to rip out your hearts!

Jaqueline put her head between her knees, closed her eyes and recited all the prayers she could remember. All around her, she could hear benches moving, windows and doors opening and closing, and words in languages she did not understand. Suddenly, there was a chilling scream and a loud bang of something falling to the floor.

The girl opened her eyes slowly, trembling a lot. She saw the Monsignor standing there, sweating and panting, and the body of the old priest lying on the ground a few meters away from her.

– It’s over, my dear… let’s go… it’s all right now.

***

The next day, Jaqueline and the Monsignor were walking under the sun. He was now clean and well-dressed, she, with an expression of relief on her face. The street was full of people walking and chatting energetically. They seemed to make up for a lost time they could not understand.

– I have never been the parish priest here. The previous one disappeared when the old man arrived. I came the first time at the request of the Bishop – the Monsignor explained – because we had many complaints from the community of distorted “masses”, completely off the proper liturgy. It seemed a serious desecration of the house of God. It was much worse than we imagined. We had many disappearances. The town itself was in a way hidden from the world and I escaped death only by the grace of God.

– I am sorry I ran away from you the first time we met. Thank you for saving my life. I seem to be haunted by this kind of bizarre occurrence.

– Have you ever witnessed anything like it before?

– Twice – she replied looking distantly at the horizon – they differed a lot from last night, but were just as strange… always on Halloween…