Estimated reading time — 12 minutes
Publisher’s Note: This story is a continuation of the author’s Father Cooke series of interrelated stories, and will be more enjoyable if you read the earlier installments in the series first. Click here to read the other tales in the series.
I sat on the wide ledge looking down at the people walking by on the sidewalk far below. They really did look like ants when viewed from so far away. I hope I don’t land on anyone. That would royally suck, for them. I wasn’t too worried about it because if it did happen, I’d be seconds away from never having to worry about anything ever again.
Why was I up there getting ready to hurl myself off of a building? Not that I owe you an answer, but if you must know it was because I couldn’t handle the chore of being me any longer. As far as I was concerned, I had reached my expiration date. It was time to punch out.
From the day I was born, to the morning I chose to sit on that ledge, my life had been a series of failures and rejections. It was something I was constantly being reminded of by my family and peers. It started when I was conceived as an oops baby and continued as I grew up.
I once overheard my parents refer to me as slow while talking to my kindergarten teacher during a conference. The teacher had used the term academically challenged to label her concerns, but my parents were never one to mince words. So, you’re saying she’s slow; I remember them asking once the teacher had finished speaking.
It turns out I wasn’t that slow. Sure, I was a slow learner, but I wasn’t retarded as my parents had feared. However, that didn’t stop them from treating me like I was stupid whenever I asked for help with something they thought was easy. I eventually stopped asking them for assistance. It made school a little more difficult, but it didn’t stop me from learning what I needed to graduate.
Making friends was just as challenging for me. I was too much of a tomboy to fit in with the girls and was always just another gross girl to the boys. I was rarely invited to parties and was often considered the cootie kid of my class. You know the kid I am referring to, every class has one. The poor unfortunate soul that everyone is warned to stay away from because of some imagined malady that would befall anyone that befriended them.
A couple of months ago, the wonderful life I’d been living culminated in my parents kicking me out of the home I had lived in for eighteen years. They did it because I told them I was gay. Something I had known for years and had finally gotten up the courage to tell them. I thought they’d be okay with it. They weren’t religious, and I got the impression that they supported gay rights. Boy was I wrong.
When I sat them down and told them I wasn’t attracted to boys, they didn’t embrace me and tell me they still loved me or express their support in any way. Instead, they treated me like a diseased rodent and tossed me out of the house. They wouldn’t even touch me after I confessed. My parents, the people I had depended on my entire life for support now backed away from me when I reached my arms out to them seeking comfort.
After my confession, I was quickly ushered to my room to pack while my father yelled obscenities at me from the doorway. My mother did nothing but wail in the other room as if I had died. When it was time for me to leave, she turned her head away from me as I tried to tell her goodbye. The last nice thing they ever did for me was to pay for the cab that drove me out of their lives.
I don’t understand why me being gay was such a shock to my parents when it was so obvious to everyone else. During my freshman year at high school, I was being referred to as a lesbian before I even admitted it to myself. I guess it just shows how invisible I was to them.
When my parents kicked me out, I tried reaching out to the few friends I had. If I am honest, they were more like acquaintances and not true friends, so it shouldn’t have been a surprise when they either acted like they didn’t know me or claimed they were unable to help. I couldn’t turn to my grandparents because I no longer had any. They died years ago. My parents were both the only child in their respective families, so I didn’t have any aunts or uncles that might be willing to help. I was abandoned and alone.
But I managed to survive despite the obstacles life had thrown in my way. I found a job and a hostel that let me stay, no questions asked as long as I paid the weekly rent on time. Things were looking up for me, and I thought I might be able to forge ahead on my own. My hope for a better future was returning. Then I lost my job, and all of my hope went with it.
I don’t think the manager at the fast food restaurant where I worked liked me very much. I always had the feeling that he was looking for a reason to fire me. He got his reason when I showed up to work two hours late due to circumstances that were out of my control. That happened yesterday.
Fast forward through all of the feelings of anger, loneliness, and self-loathing that had been bottled up for years, all pouring out at once, and that would bring you to the moment this story started.
No point in prolonging this. Keeping my eyes on the street below, I placed my hands on the ledge and started to lean forward, waiting for gravity to take over and pull me the rest of the way into oblivion.
“Mind if I sit?”
The sudden voice from behind me caused me to relax my arms and lean back down onto the ledge. I sighed in frustration, wiped the tears from my cheeks, and turned my head to find a tall thin man standing a few feet away. “Who are you supposed to be…the grim reaper?” I sneered at him after noticing the clothes he was wearing. Someone should tell him there are other colors besides black.
“No,” he spoke softly. “I’m just a concerned bystander.”
“If you are so concerned, where were you when my parents kicked me out? Where were you when I lost my job?” I know it wasn’t his fault those things happened, and there was nothing he could have done to stop them. I was just lashing out, giving voice to the emotions that were still swelling inside me.
“It feels good to let it out, doesn’t it?” he smiled at me. “Much better than letting the anger and frustration build and fester inside you. It is certainly much better than what that thing on your back wants you to do.” He pointed behind me.
“What thing?” I looked behind me and didn’t see anything. I was beginning to think he might be crazy or on drugs. That would explain why he claimed to be able to see something I could not.
The stranger took a couple of steps towards the ledge. I suddenly began to worry that he might try and grab me and pull me back. It was just the sort of thing a concerned bystander would do. But I didn’t want to be saved. I wanted to be left alone so that I could end things on my terms.
As he got closer, I leaned forward and prepared to push myself off the edge.
He slowed his pace when he saw my arms tense and my posture change. “I’m not here to stop you…not in the sense you are thinking.” He held his hands out in a placating gesture. “If I may sit and explain,” he motioned towards the ledge.
“Why? You’re just wasting your time.”
“That may be the case,” he said, taking a seat on the low wall that ran around the top of the building. “But it is my time to waste.”
The two of us sat there and eyed each other for several awkward seconds. I could tell the man was mulling over what to say next, but I decided this was my show. If he was going to be the last person I talked to, I was going to decide the topic of our conversation.
“So what are you? Are you a priest or a shrink?” He looked like he could be either dressed all in black the way he was. He was too composed to be crazy, as I thought earlier, which meant he had to be someone who felt it was his professional responsibility to help me.
“I’m a priest…of sorts.”
“Did someone put you up to this?” I was trying to figure out how this man found out I was on the roof, planning to jump.
“Nobody put me up to this. I am here because I saw you on the street and recognized the burden you carried on your shoulders. I might be able to help you get rid of it.”
“I doubt that,” I scoffed at him. I assumed all of his talk about the burden I carried was just some metaphorical bullshit about my emotions being too heavy to deal with alone. “What kind of priest are you anyway? Why don’t you have one of those collar things?” I pointed to my neck.
He reached into the pocket of his jacket and pulled out a metal pendant connected to a long chain. It was shiny, like silver. He laid it on the ledge, then slid it towards me.
“Is that a pentagram?” I picked the pendant up by its chain and tried to read the Latin inscription written around the circumference of it.
“It says we walk in the dark so that the light does not blind us. It is a Satanic seal. Every Magister is given one when they complete their servitude and take the Satanic oath.”
“You’re a Satanic priest?” I stared at him. I thought he was joking at first, but he wasn’t smiling.
“We call ourselves Magisters, but yes, I am a Satanic priest.”
“Did you come up here to tell me I am going to go to Hell if I kill myself? If you are, you can save your breath. I don’t care.” I handed the pendant back to him. Then a thought occurred to me, which I blurted out before I could stop myself, “Don’t you want me to go to hell? Isn’t that part of your job, getting souls for your boss?”
He laughed at my comment. “No, collecting souls is not my job. Maintaining the balance of power between the entities of Heaven and Hell, here on Earth, that is my job. That said, you will undoubtedly go to Hell if you kill yourself. That is one of the divine laws. There is no getting around that. But that is not why I am here. I am here…”
He stopped speaking when the door to the roof slammed open. We both turned around at the sudden commotion. Standing in the open doorway, out of breath and looking embarrassed, was a priest.
“Sorry,” he apologized while giving a half-hearted wave of his hand. “The door got away from me,” he explained, reaching out to grab the handle and shut the door before walking in our direction.
“Friend of yours?” I asked the Magister.
“More like a business associate.”
The priest hurried across the roof and took a seat on the ledge next to the Magister.
“I thought you were going to wait for me?” I heard the priest whisper.
“I did, but you were taking too long. It’s a good thing I left when I did. We didn’t have as much time as we thought.” The Magister nodded towards me.
“I see that. I would have been here sooner if you hadn’t left this behind.” He reached into the inside pocket of his jacket and pulled out a large narrow box and set it on the ledge between them.
“When I returned to the table, I found that you had left and he was making a break for the ladies’ room.” The priest was annoyed. “Next time he does something like that, I am going to exorcise him.” That last bit was a weird thing to say, but I assumed it was a religious in-joke between the two of them.
I cleared my throat, “If the two of you don’t mind, I’d really like to be alone right now. I wasn’t expecting a crowd, and I certainly don’t want an audience.”
“Have you told her?” The priest asked.
“I was just about to when you showed up.”
“Told me what?” I asked.
“About the sorrow you carry.” He pointed at my back.
“Yes, I’m sad and carrying the weight of my depression upon my back. Thank you for noticing. Is that the reason the two of you came all the up here, just to tell me I’m depressed?”
“No…well yes…but not like you mean it…,” the priest struggled with the right words to say.
“What Father Cooke is trying to say is that the reason you are feeling depressed is because of the thing you are carrying around on your back.”
I narrowed my eyes at him and turned to look behind me for the second time. I still didn’t see anything.
“You won’t be able to see it,” he explained. “Sorrows can only be seen by the ordained. People who have pledged their lives to one of the divine powers.”
“You want me to believe that you can see my sadness as something I am carrying around on my back?” I scoffed.
“A sorrow isn’t sadness. It is a parasitic creature that takes all of the feelings of loneliness, isolation, and depression you keep locked inside of you and makes them worse,” Father Cooke said. “If we don’t get it off of you, the feelings will overwhelm you and push you to take your own life to escape them.”
I laughed. I didn’t think I would ever laugh again, but what Father Cooke just said to me sounded so insane I couldn’t help myself. “I think it’s a little late for that,” I said, spreading my hands before me to remind them where we were.
“Point taken,” Father Cooke said, “But there is still hope. You haven’t jumped yet.”
“Okay, suppose I believe you, which I don’t. Why would it want me to kill myself? Wouldn’t it die too?”
“A sorrow can’t be killed, at least not here on Earth,” the Magister replied while reaching over and picking up the box sitting on the ledge between him and Father Cooke. “They don’t belong here, but can be summoned by someone with the right knowledge.”
“Not from Earth?” I asked, “You mean like an alien?”
“I guess you could technically call them aliens, but they aren’t from outer space.” The Magister set the box on the ledge between him and I. “They come from purgatory. That is why it is trying to get you to kill yourself. The only way it can return home is by hitching a ride on your soul as it travels through purgatory on its way hell.”
“If it can’t be killed, why are you here? Why bother stopping me?”
“While it can’t be killed,” the Magister began, “It can be moved to a new host.”
“Someone who has already accepted their death,” Father Cooke added.
“I’ve already accepted my death,” I gestured at myself with my hands, “And I’d be dead already if Lurch here hadn’t interrupted me.” I titled my head to indicate the Magister. He didn’t look like Lurch from the Addams Family. I was just poking fun at his tall, thin appearance and dark clothing along.
“I meant someone whose death is unavoidable, someone with a terminal illness,” Father Cooke clarified.
“How do I know this isn’t some bizarre scheme to get me away from the ledge so you can have me locked up in the county psych ward? Those places are worse than death.”
“If I can prove that there are things that exist outside your perception, will you give us the benefit of the doubt and accept that what we are telling you is the truth?” the Magister asked.
“How do you plan on doing that?” I asked in return.
“With this.” He placed his hand on the box Father Cooke had brought with him.
“Will it hurt? Removing this…parasite?” I looked over at the two men.
“Not at all,” Father Cooke answered. “You will feel like a great weight has been lifted from your shoulders.”
“What about the person you move it to, what will happen to them?”
“I have an appointment to give last rights to a man being removed from life support later this evening. He has no brain function and won’t notice a thing. He will be immune to the effects of the parasite. Once he passes, his soul will move on, taking the sorrow with him. Both of them will end up where they belong.”
“What happens to me? I still don’t have a job, and I don’t want to stay at that nasty hostel any longer.”
“Father Cooke works with several organizations throughout the city. He can put in a good word for you and see that you get properly settled with the right people. We will, of course, check in on you from time to time.” I could tell the Magister was sincere.
“What if I want to become a Satanist like you?” I pointed at the Magister. “And get one of those swanky medallions.”
“I’m not sure that you’re cut out for this lifestyle,” he responded.
“Maybe I’m not, but we won’t know for sure unless you let me try.”
“We can discuss it after we have removed the sorrow.” By the tone of his voice, I could tell that was his final word on the subject, so I didn’t press him.
“Deal,” I said, reaching out and snatching the box from underneath the Magister’s hand. “Now let’s see your proof.” I lifted the lid of the box.
“Wait!” both men cried out in unison.
But their warning had come too late. The box was open, and the contents revealed. I threw my hands up into the air, tossing the box over my shoulder in the process. You would do the same thing if you opened the box and a severed hand popped out, landing in your lap.
When the hand fanned its fingers to wave up at me, I screamed and knocked the disgusting thing off my legs and over the edge of the building.
“What the hell was that?” I asked, watching it spin as it fell.
“That was Lefty,” the Magister pointed at the falling hand. “Our proof that things are not always as they seem.”
“Lefty?” I couldn’t believe it had a name.
“Lefty is a demon-possessed hand,” the Magister answered as got up off of the ledge. “He is the victim of an improperly executed summoning spell.”
“Victim?” Father Cooke laughed at the Magister’s comment while also getting up from the ledge. “I am more of a victim than he ever will be. You don’t have to put up with his attitude. He likes you.” He pointed his finger at the magister. “I would have exorcised him a long time ago if he hadn’t proven to be so useful.”
“Don’t you mean he was a demon-possessed hand?” I assumed the fall would destroy the creepy thing or at least permanently incapacitate it.
“He’ll be fine. We’ll pick him up when we get down there.” The Magister picked up the box. “Shall we go?” He gestured towards the door that led off of the roof.
I followed the two men back down to the street where they found Lefty waiting for them under a trash can, drumming its fingers impatiently on the ground. I smiled when the hand gave me the finger. I suppose I deserved it. I did accidentally knock it off a building. But that didn’t stop me from returning the gesture.
Want more? Check out K.G. Lewis’s recently-released collection of short scary stories, Through the Mole Hole: Strange Stories for Peculiar People, now available on Amazon.com, containing 28 of the author’s most terrifying, twisted, and thought-provoking tales.
Along the way, you will meet a young man who awoke to find a hole to another dimension in his arm, a couple whose painting is more than the simple portrait it appears to be, and a woman whose cat ate something it shouldn’t have. These are just a few of the unfortunate souls whose stories await you. Do you dare take a peek at the worlds that lie on the other side of the mole hole?
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