Understanding by Nils Durban

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SUMMARY: 1 of 5 entries in the October "vs." flash fiction competition.

Jeff Johnson had picked the church at random, had just walked up to the door and carried on in, unthinking of what denomination it might be. To his relief, once inside, he soon spotted the confessional at the head of the left hand aisle.

The priest was busy with some arrangement or other in front of the alter and had not picked up on the new arrival. Jeff kept it that way, creeping cautiously around the inside wall of the building before slipping within the first narrow door of the old oak enclosure. He slammed the door shut behind him.

There was something he needed to get off his chest.

. + .

The Devil had been riding Jeff's back for twenty years now and Jeff had been ridden hard, but, for all that, the rewards had been both plentiful and enjoyable.

The first time, perhaps unsurprisingly, had been in the schoolyard. Rufus Wilkins forcing a handful of worm ridden soil into Jeff's face and mouth. Jeff had never previously resorted to violence, had always turned the other cheek, following the tenets of their religious studies, but something had been different upon that occasion. Some invisible threshold had been crossed.

Are you going to let him get away with that?

Jeff stood against the wall, muscles taught, muddy tears criss-crossing his berry-red cheeks.

Well, are you?

Jeff hesitated, torn between what he knew was right and this coldly compelling new inner voice.

He'll only be back again tomorrow. You know that don't you?

"B..but..." Jeff stammered.

Rufus had rejoined his playmates but now turned his gaze back upon his victim, "did you speak...worm?" His companions fell about in gales of laughter.


Jeff allowed his rage to surface in a desperate scream and launched himself across the yard at his antagonist, brushing aside Rufus' outstretched arms, grabbing him by a fistful of hair and one ear and, with a kick to the shins for good measure, Jeff forced him down, marrying his nose with the concrete surface of the yard.

The blood had welled instantly and in seconds there was a spreading bright red puddle. Other children stood around, dumbfounded, aghast. A teacher rushed over, asking hurried questions. Jeff did not hear.

Yes! yes! you feel it don't you? Feel it singing in your soul. Feel the strength of it. And why not? He got exactly what he deserved.

The ambulance came to take Rufus away.

That night, condemned to his room without supper, Jeff could not help but laugh out loud but, strangely, he was not laughing alone.

"Who are you?"

Your ka, your soul, your angel, your devil. But mostly, I think, your devil.

Jeff felt no fear, or even trepidation at this. Just strangely comforted.

. + .

He saw the shadowed form of the priest settling into a seated position in the booth alongside his own. Waited. The priest remained silent.

"Father, I have sinned."

The priest cleared his throat, "and you seek the forgiveness of the Lord." It was not a question.

"No father. I do not."

"Then why...?"

"Father," Jeff interjected, "I just want you to listen.

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