This story is by Phyllis Brandano and was part of our 2019 Summer Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
He enters the dining hall of the Seventh Street Mission just before dinner. Dressed in black except for his collar, he carries a set of beads, a bible and a small box. Walking around, he speaks to each man looking for someone to save. He is just about to leave when he sees a figure in the corner. The man’s shoulders are slouched, his head hangs without expression. Walking over, he introduces himself and sits down.
“I’ve never been much of a religious man, Father,” says Mickey rubbing his scarred hands together. “I’m afraid I’ve done too many things God won’t forgive.”
Clasping his hands the visitor speaks, “There is no deed that God won’t forgive, Son if there is true repentance. You must believe in His mercy.”
“I want to, Father but some things are too horrible to be forgiven, don’t you think?”
“Tell me what you’ve done and I’ll help you repent.” He bows his head to listen.
“My old man hated sissies,” says Mickey. “That’s what he called my brothers and me when we lost a fight. He’d say, “Don’t be a sissy. Get in there and make the guy pay. Finish with blood. Show no mercy.”
It begins he thought. Tapping Mickey’s hands he says, “Go on.”
“I’m only sayin’ it started then. I’m not blamin’ him. I knew what I was doin.”
“That’s good, Son. It’s important to take responsibility. Go on.”
“I was in high school when I first killed a guy. His name was Frankie. He was a jock who thought he could have any girl he wanted. But not Melissa. She was mine.”
While listening, he studies the man’s face. He’s young, maybe thirty but shaded eyes and hollow cheeks make him look older. Lines crease his forehead and deepen. Painfully thin, his neck and breast bones bulge through skin.
“I lived in Mountain Bay, near Portland. Kids hung out and drank on one of the overlooks. Someone jumped off the cliff on a dare and soon every guy was doing it. They called it ‘Diving Under the Influence’. A few girls said they wanted to try it, even Melissa.”
His words slowed.
“One night, Frankie started flapping his mouth about ‘getting with Melissa’ and I freaked. She’d been my girl since junior high. Frankie had no right gettin in the middle of that.”
Mickey’s hands move faster.
“Finally, everyone left except Frankie. I snuck up behind him, bashed his head with a rock and shoved him off the cliff. He sank like cement. No one ever knew ‘cause they thought it was an accident.”
“What about the girl?”
“Her family moved away. I guess they were afraid she’d be next. I never saw her again.”
Staring at Mickey he says, “Are you sorry for what you did, Son?”
Mickey looks up. “I lost Melissa anyway so what was the point. But I guess if I was really sorry, it wouldn’t have happened again.” His hands stop moving.
“You said he was your first. Tell me who else.” He passes the rosary slowly over Mickey’s hands whispering a prayer.
“I left Mountain Bay after graduation and hitched a ride to Arizona. I got plenty of scut work: washing dishes, driving a delivery truck. I even got a job at fast food. That’s where I met Sandy. She managed the Jack in the Box in Phoenix. We hit it right off. She was two years older and hated her folks, too.”
Closing his eyes, the visitor recites the Lord’s prayer while rubbing the beads over Mickey’s hands.
“Sandy didn’t have a boyfriend. She’d had it with guys hittin’ on her because she worked nights so I played it cool. I didn’t speak first. I did my job and was nice to the customers, even though they were losers. One night after shift, she asked me out. We stayed together every night after.”
Mickey’s eyes grow darker.
“One night, this joker came in drunk and Sandy asked him to leave. He started yelling about getting his burger and curly fries but Sandy refused to serve him. He called her a bunch of names and stormed out.”
“What did she do?”
“Nothing, she let it go. But she didn’t deserve it.”
“What did you do, Son?”
Lowering his eyes, Mickey stares at his hands. Bruises on his fingers and the cuffs of his shirt are mixed with dirt and blood. After a moment, he looks up grinning.
“I told Sandy I needed a break. While the drunk stumbled lookin for his ride, I got in my truck, revved the engine and mowed the creep down like a pancake. It was perfect. There were no witnesses because it was dark but I drove through a car wash anyway. When I got back, an ambulance was drivin off with the guy but it was too late. I got him good. No mercy.”
Mickey fumbles the beads.
“That was a while ago,” he says. “Sandy and I didn’t last long after that. She felt sorry for the drunk. I thought it was stupid. How could she feel sorry for a guy who humiliated her in front of people?
“What happened with her?”
“I couldn’t take her pitying him so I left. I worked at a state park picking up after tourists. The job had decent hours and reminded me of Mountain Bay. I was happy for a while till I wasn’t.”
Opening the Bible, the visitor recites a marked passage.
“I mean, how happy can I be if I still kill. I thought after the last time, I was finished. But I guess you never really are, don’t you think, Father?”
“Tell me about the blood, Son?”
Mickey tugs at his stained sleeves.
“Last night, a guy had his lights flashin so I stop. He says he’ll pay me ten bucks to fix a flat. When I’m done, he says he thought he had the cash but was short. Says he’ll send it to me.”
“You didn’t believe him?”
“That wasn’t the deal. If someone says they’re gonna pay you to do something, they gotta pay. That’s it.”
“What did you do?” he asks wrapping the beads tightly around Mickey’s hands and reciting a second passage.
“I made him pay all right,” says Mickey. “No mercy.”
– – – – – – –
The visitor saved his first soul when he was twenty-five. It’d been years now and he was good at the work. He was especially pleased that a recent trip to the Amazon rainforest aided his service to God.
Looking around, he notices the empty dining room. Opening the small box, he takes out a crucifix, a sprinkler and a purple vestment and places them on the table. Reaching down, he lifts the vestment and places it around his neck.
“It’s clear, Son that you are in need of salvation. I have heard many stories from those without God in their hearts and I have brought the most deserving to the kingdom of heaven. Will you pray for forgiveness with me?” he says raising the crucifix and holding the sprinkler.
Mickey shakes his head but figures maybe the guy will spring for food or a better place to sleep. Closing his eyes, he remembers one prayer he recited in school. but after ‘on earth, as it is in heaven’, he draws a blank. The old man continues.
“Dear Lord, I am your servant. Please bring this soul to the kingdom of light and forgive him for what he’s done.”
Within seconds, Mickey grabs his chest like he’s been stabbed with an ice pick. A flood of water soaks him and he starts choking but he can’t get air because his nose is jammed shut. He tries to open his eyes but all he can see is a blur.
“Somebody help me!” he cries but his words come in pieces.
No one answers.
“Father where are you?” he tries calling out but his voice is garbled.
Just as he lunges for the man he thinks is seated next to him, pressure crushes Mickey’s chest, his lungs burst and he slumps to the floor.
– – – – – – –
The man dressed in black with a white collar crouches over the body. Finding no pulse, he removes the vestment and places it inside the box along with the crucifix, the bottle of liquid adhesive and the Bible. Unsnapping his collar, he places it on top and closes the lid. Carefully folding the beads, he returns the rosary pea necklace to its pouch. The Brazilian tribal chief warned him of the beans deadly poison when exposed to open cuts on the skin.
Picking up his tools, the man calling himself the Punisher ponders which costume he’ll wear for the next repentant. He enjoys imitating a priest but maybe he’ll try a rabbi or a monk. Sinners trust men of the cloth. Stepping over the body to leave, the Punisher leans down and whispers, “You were right, Mickey. No mercy.”