The Bells of St. Michael’s
by John W. Steele
Table of Contents|
parts: 1, 2, 3
The morning broke cold, clear and magnificent. Sunlight poured through the Venetian blinds and their shadows fell like black ribbons of emptiness on Norman’s lap. He awoke in front of the television and didn’t remember moving all night.
He felt rested and refreshed, as if his last day on this Earth would be the best he’d ever known. When he looked at the clock it was 9 a.m.
He went into the bathroom and showered. Strangely, the abscess had nearly healed. It no longer oozed foul white discharge, and the red, inflamed tissue surrounding it had grown pink and smooth. But it made no difference. Only one thing mattered now, and soon the hour of atonement would be at hand.
Norman put on a fresh uniform and opened the bottom drawer of his dresser. He pulled a dozen banana clips from beneath his folded sweaters and slid them into the pockets of his postal jacket.
It was 9:45 a.m. when he walked out to the garage and fired up his Chrysler. When he reached the empty parking lot a few blocks below St. Michael’s, he got out of his car and headed down River Street.
The locksmith, Neil Waters stood behind the cracked picture window of his bedraggled shop. When he saw Norman walk by, Neil smiled and waved. Through the years they had had many conversations. Waters liked to call himself an atheist, but Norman admired the old man’s open mind and general sense of kindness and humanity. Norman was glad, very glad, that Waters wasn’t in church with the rest of them today. He didn’t belong there.
The postman made his way down the street and stood for a moment in front of the old county building. He watched the massive oak doors of the cathedral swallow up the parishioners. He marveled that he was once so pathetic he believed he could be forgiven for whatever he did, but the time for self-pity was behind him. My deeds are justified; absolution is for sinners.
The postman turned and disappeared in the alley. When he reached the macadam parking lot in the rear of the building, he wandered to the stairwell and climbed through a broken window.
The third floor of the structure was littered with damaged furniture and fragments of plaster that had fallen from the aging walls. Norman crept through the dark hallways, stepping over the spent syringes that lay strewn about on the cracked, tiled floors.
All was quiet, and Norman wandered through the passages instinctively like a dog following the scent of a wounded animal. His hands fondled the ammo clips in his pockets and his breath trailed white in the air behind him.
When he looked up from the floor, a door with the numbers 317 painted on the panel stood before him. He pulled an old oak chair from the rear of the broom closet. The joints of the chair squeaked when he stood on it, but it was as sturdy as a mountain. Norman reached out and strained his arm feeling for the rifle concealed at the back of the shelf.
His fingers made contact with the gunstock and he pulled a Savage 30:06 semi-automatic rifle from the rear of the cube. He locked a clip into the receiver and released the bolt. The shell flew into the chamber and the gun barrel made a ringing sound that hung in the cold still air for a long time.
Sunlight flooded through the windows of the office that faced the front of St. Michael’s. Norman placed the chair near the sill and eased open the window. He rested the barrel of the rifle on the ledge where it could not be seen from the street. When he glanced at his watch it was 10:25.
The gilded domes of the church shone vibrant against an azure sky. Norman felt comforted that the domes would be there for him on his journey back home. His mind was sharp and his hands were steady. He thought about his mission and how the deed of one man would be forever etched in history. The voice inside him whispered with confidence.
How many other men will ever know freedom such as this? The power to do exactly as you believe without guilt or remorse. With one act of will, you will stand among the few that have ever made a difference on this pitiful and merciless planet.
* * *
One of the cathedral doors inched open, and a small figure emerged from the church. Norman placed the crosshairs of the scope on the head of the body and adjusted the optics until he could see the whites of its eyes. The target was Agnes G. In all the years he’d known her, he’d never seen her face. The few times he’d bumped into her, she had stared at the ground or looked away when he spoke.
As he studied her features, he could see she was an attractive woman. Her eyes were blue and shining. She gazed into the sky and tears streamed down her cheeks. A gentle smile graced her face, and she looked as innocent as a child. Agnes descended the steps and walked calmly up River Street.
Norman followed her with the rifle. He thought about guilt and its sting, and the sea of heartache hidden in a moment. A heart forever broken, a heart forever healed. The postman lowered the barrel and brought it back to the church.
With a boom, the cathedral door swung on its axis and the retired police chief Vincent M. strode out on the landing. The dapper investigator was dressed in his ever-present Italian double-breasted trench coat.
Before the chief retired, half a million dollars in filthy money had disappeared from the scene of a drug bust he was in charge of. The cash was never recovered and several unexplained murders forever sealed the mystery of its miraculous disappearance.
Vincent’s impeccably styled hair shone in the sun like a silver crown. A dazzling beam of light reflected from a diamond pinky ring he wore on his left hand. The chief cursed under his breath. He wandered aimlessly in front of the church, his face long and pallid like sallow dough.
You are my avenger... My work must surely be your own. Norman placed the crosshairs on the cop’s temple and rubbed the neck of the stock gently with his thumb.
The doors of St. Michael’s burst open and the laity flooded into street like bats pouring from a cave. Some were laughing hysterically and some were crying. One lady removed all her clothing and ran screaming down the ice-strewn sidewalk.
Bubba M., the owner of the lumberyard and local scoutmaster, stood wide-eyed on the steps. He shivered in the cold and in his hand he clutched a Bible. Everyone but the cops seemed to know he was a pederast. Bubba was a councilman with connections in high places, and he’d been untouchable for years. And if the power within you will not condemn them, how shall they be chastised?
Bubba’s brother Antonio, the attorney-stockbroker, danced on the landing and sang the tune “Stella Mia.” His rich baritone echoed in the crisp morning air. He’d poisoned all the squirrels that lived on the hillside of his enormous estate on Paradise Mountain because he didn’t want them building nests in his trees. Norman focused the crosshairs on the man’s chest. When the heart is only clay, the world is only form.
In the distance, Norman watched Heather Mc-. She paced on the flagstone beneath a bronzed statue of an angel that stood in the courtyard. The harpy was sobbing hysterically, and thick dribbles of saliva drooled down her chin. She wrung her hands and cried out in a desperate lamentation. The gold-digging whore had put her fifth husband in a coma with an overdose of insulin prior to altering his will. And in so doing cheated his rightful heirs out of their inheritance. When placed in the balance, they are evil and broken. They have chosen their destiny. I have delivered them to you. Forsake not the voice of your conscience. Norman clicked off the safety and took aim.
At last Father T. emerged from the church, his face taut and white with fear. His eyes darted in his head and from his quivering lips tumbled a garbled supplication. Norman placed the crosshairs on the priest’s forehead. He set his jaw firm and his finger tensed on the trigger. And when the smoke has cleared and the deed forever cast in the mold, tell me the name of the god you serve?
Scores of the repentant wandered at the doors of St. Michael’s seeking penitence for their errors in judgment. Some of them stood like statues on the steps. Their mouths gaping, their eyes lustrous, like tiny orbs of glass reflecting the light of a fading candle within.
And from the bosom of River Street, the Ghost appeared over the tarmac. And in its hand it held a shield.
Norman eased the rifle from the window and rested the barrel on his chest. He remembered his vow to the beast. When the interiors are open, I will be forever what I do. He lowered his head and uttered a prayer.
A clap like thunder exploded in the sky and it seemed as if the world stopped spinning.
And the congregation raised their eyes, and peered at the hazy cloud that poured sylphlike from the high window.
The bells of St. Michael’s began to chime, a mellow whisper of pity ringing in their song. In a cloud of smoke the world was reborn and, for a moment, heaven and earth were one. Somewhere in the distance, a dog barked and, in the blessing, the sinners were forgiven.
Copyright © 2009 by John W. Steele