‘Flicker’ by Michael Occhionero

“Forgive me father, for I have sinned. It has been seven days since my last confession.”

Father is silent. His face is partially obscured behind the screen, but his familiar musk, and the smell of his clean vestments remind me that I am not alone. Even through the grate I can tell that the father’s hands are folded upon his lap, and his face is drawn tight with concentration.

“Speak your sins, my son. Open yourself to the grace of God.”

Father’s voice is slow, methodical in its usual way. The confessional is close, but the promise of God’s grace sets free my worried heart. Still, I am nervous, for I have sinned gravely. With a deep breath, I begin:

“Three days have passed now since I harbored sinful desires for my neighbor’s wife. She was in front of the house. I was too, leaving for my shift at the factory. I watched her reach down for the morning paper. She was in her nightdress. I watched from the car, lingering, lusting for flesh as she bent over. The nightdress was loose fitting, and she is a woman unabashed by her sexuality. As she leaned forward, the nightdress parted and I glimpsed her smooth breasts. I have been unable to forget the image since, father. My mind has on more than one occasion been overcome by lust for her. Father, I wish to cleanse myself of the torments of this temptation.”

There is a moment’s pause before the father clears his throat. The air seems to thicken in the closed space.

“So it shall be. God forgives all His children their trespasses, so long as they willfully repent.”

Pause. The father’s breath lingers, sweet with the blood of Christ.

“Is there more?”

I bite my lip, resisting the urge to face the figure beyond the grate.

“Yes father, there is.”

I look down at my brittle, hardworking hands.

“Five days ago, I went to the market on Main Street to purchase produce. It is my usual routine, and as such the family who runs the market is friendly with me. On this particular day, the eldest son Matthew was left in charge of the cash register. As I approached to settle my due, the boy greeted me politely, and we exchanged pleasantries while he rang up the fruit. As he added up the bill, I noticed he had miscalculated the bundle of apples. The miscalculation was not grave- it was but a few apples- but it was to my benefit, and I did not point it out. I have been wrapped in the coils of remorse ever since.”

Father inhales deeply. He seems disappointed, or perhaps that is only an impression brought on by my fear of judgment. The screen between us veils the face of God, creates the distance required to judge my sins openly exposed. This is the only way.

“I see. Is there more? Make your peace with God.”

The same slow, methodical voice. It is the voice of selflessness, wisdom, and acceptance.

“I… I neglected my evening prayers, father. Twice.”

The father shuffles in his seat.

“Is there more?”

“No, father. That is all.”

I take a deep breath. I feel lighter, somehow, free of the burden of sin and awaiting my atonement.

“These are many sins, my son, and more than your usual fare. But as we know, there is no sin the Lord cannot forgive. You have humbled yourself before the Almighty, and you shall be clean again. Seventy-five Hail Mary’s, and an equal number of the Lord’s prayer shall set you once more upon the path to salvation.”

I let out a sigh.

“Oh, thank you father, thank you so much.”

The father rises to exit.

“Father, there is… one more thing.”

The open door floods the confessional with light.

“Oh?”

The father’s tone is reproachful. The door is shut. The light fades.

“I… have been having dreams, father. And I don’t quite know what to make of them.”

The black shadow beyond the grate sits. The screen is once more between us.

“Dreams? What kind of dreams my son?”

“Well, you see, there is no easy way to explain this… The dreams always begin the same way. I am here, in St. Michael’s, seated as always in the very first pew, just before the altar. The organ plays a sacred hymn, and the Lord’s healing light sprays in through the stained glass. I am dressed in my Sunday best, and indeed the entire congregation follows my example. The pews are full, and a light chatter fills the air, mingling with the gentle organ and the beautiful sunlight. God’s grace is in full glory, and his people wait eagerly for the morning mass. Finally, you step up to the altar, father, in your most elegant and holy vestments, and you raise your arms and all fall silent. And just as you open your mouth to begin the sermon, my body swells with the warmth of God’s love and there is a… flicker. Everything goes black, for just a second, as though I had blinked, and when my eyes reopen I am no longer in church. Instead, I am weightlessly suspended before an infinite light, brighter than anything I have ever witnessed. I cannot move, and I cannot utter a sound. I can only be consumed by this light, breathing it in, becoming it, until the second flicker comes, and I wake.”

Father’s breathing quickens.

“This is a very beautiful, but strange dream. There is no question that your desire to be closer to God is very great, my son. Though this vision is more than likely the symptom of an overworked mind.”

“What shall I do father?”

“You shall take solace in the warmth of God’s embrace, and let this ease your worry. You are on the path to salvation, and the Lord’s light shines down on you. Get to bed earlier, and say your prayers every night without fail, my son. Most importantly, keep your faith in Him strong, and The Lord will guide you in peaceful slumber.”

*

The next week comes as quickly as the last went by, and I think that I am feeling much better. My atonement, and my staunch adherence to the father’s recommendations bring me peace. Every night when I get home from the factory, I prepare a modest dinner, pray piously and openly to God, and then retire dutifully but happily to my bedchamber. Everything feels good and fine, until Saturday. A day of idleness leads to a restless night, and no amount of prayer can set my mind at ease. I sleep poorly this night, tossing and turning, unable to make peace with myself until the early morning. Upon waking, I realize that I have missed the Sunday sermon, and feel the gravity of my sin deeply. I hurry over to St. Michael’s in the afternoon, ready with humble apology.

“Forgive me father, for I have sinned. It has been seven days since my last confession.”
The soothing rhythm of the father’s breathing puts me at ease.

“Speak your sins, my son. Open yourself to the grace of God.”

“I do not mean to boast, but I have been exemplary this week father. Of course, aside from missing sermon this morning.”

Father’s tone is reproachful.

“It is a grave sin, you well know, to miss the holy mass. Fifty of our father’s prayers are in order.”

“I will gladly and humbly atone for this sin father.”

The father rises. I clear my throat.

“There is a reason for my absence father. I feel I should explain. It happened again last night. The dream. It was more vivid this time than ever before.”

Through the grate, I can see the father’s faithful eyes narrow.

“Oh?”

His tone seems almost amused.

“It began just like every other time. I was here, in St. Michael’s, and it was the same feeling, the same beauty all around me. I was in the first pew, and the organ played the same ethereal hymn. Everyone was dressed beautifully, and the sunlight filtered in through the stained glass. It was Sunday sermon, and you came out in your grandest robes and silenced the mass. And just as you were about to speak, father, there was the flicker. All went black, and I was once more in the overwhelming light.”

The father shuffles in his seat.

“You have not followed my recommendations, my son. Your dream has recurred as a consequence of your rebellious heart.”

I shake my head vehemently.

“No father, this is not so! I followed your recommendations with the utmost sincerity and devotion. This is why I was so stricken by the dream’s recurrence. But, something was different this time. As I lay before the light, I strained to turn away from it, and for the first time I found that I could. The excitement I could scarcely describe. With great effort, I managed to crane my neck to the right. Turned away from the daze of the blinding light, I slowly regained my senses, and I could feel that I was strapped to a table. The table was hard beneath me, and held me fast with straps upon my arms and legs. I struggled to free myself, but in vain. I was weak, and the straps held strong. As my eyes adjusted, I looked about me, and what I saw chilled me to the very bone. I realized that I was in an auditorium. In fact, I was in the very center of this auditorium. In the audience, filling the massive theatre from the grandstand to the bleachers, was a congregation of thousands upon thousands of hideous green insects, buzzing loudly and seemingly staring straight at me.”

I pause to take my breath. My heartbeat quickens at the recollection of last night’s horrors. Father is noticeably unsettled, and I shudder to think how insane this all must seem to him. But I must continue.

“Father, I know this is crazy but you must believe me when I tell you the nature of this dream was something unlike anything I could have ever imagined! Quite naturally, the sight of all these disgusting creatures horrified me. I began to panic and squirm, shaking violently to and fro, doing everything to free myself from my bindings. This seemed to greatly affect the insects in the crowd, as the buzzing in the auditorium grew louder and louder as I struggled, the buzzing gradually drowning even my screams. Soon, one of them approached. As it drew closer, I realized just how vile a creature it was. It stood on three fuzzy legs, with a green face like a praying mantis and black jaws that oozed some unknowable slime. It looked into my eyes and reached out a claw to touch me. I screamed with all my might, drowning in a sea of buzzing despair, fearing that all was lost and this was to be the end of me. And just as I was on the brink of the abyss, the second flicker came, and I woke.”

There is a long silence as the father contemplates my insane story. He mutters something about a mistake, and I fear that my sanity may well be slipping. I need help! But the father will not turn his back on me. He has never turned his back on me.

“That is a wild story, my son. I am afraid that I cannot help you with this. There is clearly some wild turmoil within you, something you must resolve with God. I can only recommend added prayer, and rest. Give yourself wholly to God. Quash your doubts and He will be the one to lead you to salvation and peace.”

I leave the church feeling strange, and indecisive. I can’t help but fear that these inexplicable dreams are somehow undermining my relationship with God. I want nothing more than for them to stop. But how could I effect change when I cannot locate the root of the problem? Perhaps father is right. Perhaps all that is needed is more prayer still.

*

This week passes as quickly as the last. I go to work at the factory all week, but not without a daily hour of prayer in the morning, an hour of prayer at lunch, and an hour of prayer in the evening. It seems to soothe my soul, and the horrid dreams, for now, have stopped. Saturday comes, and by the grace of God I make it through the night without another incident.

Sunday morning, I wake feeling lighthearted and entirely at ease. Before breakfast, I say a little prayer. Then, completely at one with God, I shine my shoes, slip into my Sunday suit, and make my way over to St. Michael’s.  

With a little providence, I even make it in time to secure my seat in the very first pew. The organist plays with extra verve today, and the heavenly hymn swells the church, the steeple, and the congregation with the warmth of God’s grace. The sunlight spraying in through the stained glass is as a vestige of heaven’s beauty. Everyone around me looks lovely, dressed in his or her Sunday best. Even the children seem to have been primped with extra care!

Finally, father, hearing the din of merry chatter and sensing the flock’s eagerness for Holy Communion with God, steps out into the light, and up to the sacred altar. He raises his arms to the skies, and there is silence. And just as he opens his mouth to speak, there is… a flicker.

When I come to, nothing has changed, except that everyone around me is no longer so. The music has stopped, and been replaced with a loud, deafening buzz. I rub my eyes and look around me. Yes! Everyone is a hideous, vile, green insect! With black foaming jaws oozing death and torment!

“Father!”

I call out to the altar for respite, but there he stands, the largest of them all in flowing purple robes, baring his razor sharp teeth and slowly approaching on three legs! I blink, and I blink, but in vain. The buzzing gets louder as they slowly close in, and my cries echo through an empty world.

Just as all hope is lost and I am certain to be devoured, I realize too late what I should have always seen: nothing in this world is for certain, but sheep are bred for slaughter!

 

 


Michael A. Occhionero received a B.A. from Concordia University, and is currently completing an M.A. at Queen’s University. His first novel ‘Idle Hands’ was published in 2017. Michael resides in Montreal, Canada. For more information, find Michael on Instagram or Facebook.

 

Copyright © 2018 by Michael Occhionero. All rights reserved.