This is the 11th round of The Alphabet Challenge mentioned in THIS post. As a refresher, the Broxson twins, Gary and Perry, and I will each write one story for each letter of the alphabet. Meaning, a story whose title begins with the given letter. For this round, it’s the letter “K”.
Readers have until the publication of the next round of stories (about two weeks between rounds) to vote for their favorite story in the current round. Points will be assigned to each writer based on total votes received.
In each round, the story with the most votes gets three points. Second place gets two points, third place gets one point. In the case of a tie, the points for the tied rankings are added and then split equally among the writers who tied. At the end of the year, we tally up and crown the winner with the most points.
Long or short, each story will appear on its own post and the trio will be followed by a fourth post where readers can vote.
Here we go. Presented anonymously, the third of three stories with titles beginning with the letter “K” as submitted by its author.
Sensitive Material Warning:
this story contains language and scenes some readers might find objectionable and/or disturbing.
Copyright 2020 — Perry Broxson
(3,253 words – approx. reading time: about 12 minutes based on 265 WPM)
“Hmph. They say we’re identical twins,” the one man said to the other. They were seated on opposite sides of bullet-resistant plexiglass that could have been confused for a mirror. One man seemed quite comfortable, having spoken on prison phones tens, twenties, hundreds of times. The other man, the visitor, was visibly agitated.
The prisoner, Uriah Moon, leaned back and put his manacled feet upon the ledge. “I just don’t see it.”
Two beats, then three, four . . . on the fifth beat, they both broke into ecstatic laughter. The Correctional Officer, un-affectionately called Bull, turned, struck by the similarities of the laughs. He looked and looked again. If not for Uriah Moon’s facial tattoo, he observed, the two men would be indistinguishable.
“We really do look alike,” Aron said, stating the obvious.
Uriah traced his tear-drop tattoo with his thick finger. “You could use a little ink, brother. You’re too pretty.”
Aron didn’t know what to say. The word brother was troubling. The word pretty was downright disturbing. He wondered if it was meant to be sexual. He’d researched Uriah Moon – aka, the Sorority Slasher – and knew that the killer was a psycho-sexual deviant.
“No, pretty boy,” Uriah said, “I don’t want to fuck you. I like ladies. Smart, young college girls. Blond. Tall. Strong. I like when they fight. It makes everything better.”
Aron laid the Bakelite receiver down on the ledge. He turned to the Correctional Officer, giving the slash sign to his neck, terminating his visit.
Bull thumped Uriah with his baton and said, “What took you so long, Uriah? You pissed off your only visitor in sixteen years.”
“Wait,” Uriah said. At least that’s what Aron thought he said . . . felt he said.
Bull pulled Uriah up by his armpit, intending to return him to his solitary cell.
“Wait,” Uriah said again, pressing his palm to the plexiglass.
Aron, having already stood and started to leave, looked back. The hand. That hand. The shape and length of the fingers, the lines and creases, the whorls in the fingertips . . . it was his hand.
Aron nodded to Bull and sat back down. Cautiously, he lifted the receiver to his ear and mouth. “I know about the horrible crimes you’ve committed, Mr. Moon. I’ve done my research. That’s not why I’m here. I don’t care about your homicidal history. I came here . . . I came here today . . . for our mother.”
“Mother?” Uriah said, his face flashing with emotion for the first time.
“Yes,” Aron said. “Her name is Wanda Seaborne. She’s 79. She lives in Connecticut – comes from a prominent family. She hired a detective to find me – find us. She wanted to explain what happened. Why she gave us up.”
Uriah rubbed his pale, hairless scalp. “I’ll be a monkey’s uncle,” he said. “Mommy was a debutante. Who knocked her up? The butler or the stable boy? Don’t tell me, was it was our grandpappy?”
“She was violently raped, Mr. Moon,” Aron said, his voice cracking. “The assailant was never apprehended.”
“You don’t say,” Uriah mused. “Explains a lot.”
Aron cocked his head. “How so?” he asked.
“You,” he said, pointing to Aron’s starched, clerical collar. “And me – a man with, shall we say, a checkered past.”
Unsure how to proceed, Aron retreated to theology. “Good Catholics, the Seaborne family. Thank God for that. Otherwise, we might very well have been aborted.”
Uriah laughed. “I know of a dozen dead sorority sisters that would gladly take the Pro-Choice side of that argument, brother . . . or should I call you Father?”
Aron blanched. “Please, if you’re going to be glib about the carnage you’ve created, this interview will have to cease.”
“Interview?” Uriah asked. “That what this is? You one of those priests that write murder-porn on the side? You track me down so that you can make me a character in a tawdry novel?”
“No,” Aron retorted. “I tracked you down . . . for two reasons. First, because my mother – our mother – asked me to. She is not strong enough to make the journey. She wanted to apologize. To explain her dilemma, and her painful decision.”
“You know,” Uriah said, smirking, “when my lawyer contacted me and said Father Aron Bryce wants to visit you, I thought it was to perform my last rites. Surely, if you’ve done your research, you know I’ve got less than three weeks before the State sinks the needle.”
“Yes, I know. I’m sorry about that.”
Uriah sucked his teeth, sluicing spit through the gaps. The noise crackled and amplified in the phone receiver. “I was ready to tell you to take your crucifix and shove it in your dickhole,” Uriah said.
“Not a fan of religion?” Aron asked.
“To the contrary,” Uriah said. “Over the last 16 years of my incarceration, I’ve tried ‘em all. I did Jesus for 3 years. Buddha for 2. Allah for 7. Tried Shiva, Thor, Krishna, and Satan. None of them stuck . . . none of them, except one.”
Aron’s left eyebrow lifted. “Which one would that be?”
Uriah’s right eyebrow lifted. “The church of Cormac McCarthy. Every word is inspired, every sentence is scripture, every book is a bible.”
“I’m sorry to say I haven’t read McCarthy,” Aron said. “I understand that he can be quite dark.”
“Dark as a coal miner’s asshole.”
A timer went off (beep, beep, beep). Aron fished in his pocket and switched off the device. He then reached into his black suitcoat and retrieved a bottle of pills. In practiced motions, he swiftly swallowed three large tablets without aid of water.
“You said there was two reasons,” Uriah said. “Mommy was the first. Is that the other one?”
Aron looked shamefully at the brown bottle with its comical child-proof cap. “Yes,” he said, gulping.
“You’re sick,” Uriah said. “I mean, I’m pale – as white as your collar. But I’ve got an excuse. I’ve been in the pen for 16 years. You . . . you just look sick.”
Aron fingered his rosary, counting beads, summoning courage. “I am . . . as you say . . . sick . . . Mr. Moon.”
“Call me Uriah. Mr. Moon is the man that adopted me and then kicked the dogshit out of until I cracked his skull with a wrench.”
“Okay, Uriah,” Aron said. “Funny, you’re the only person I’ve told about my illness. Not my friends, my family, not even my Bishop.”
“Cancer?” Uriah asked.
“No,” Aron said, lowering his eyes. “Kidney disease. Renal failure. I’m on dialysis twice a week.”
Uriah’s jaw clenched and his pale hand squeezed the red receiver. Anger filled him like a noxious gas. His eyes bulged; his knuckles whitened; blue blood engorged the veins in his straining fist. “You want my kidneys,” he hissed. He slammed the Bakelite receiver on the ledge. “You want my goddamned guts, don’t you?” He slammed it again and again, forcing his gaze upon his brother.
Bull jabbed his baton into Uriah’s ribs. “Hey, settle down. That ain’t no way to talk to a Holy Man.”
Uriah slammed the phone receiver once more, breaking the handle in half. Bull wrapped him across the back of the neck. With cuffed wrists, Uriah grabbed the broken phone and used it as a shiv. He drove the jagged plastic into the shoulder of the Correctional Officer. Bull howled for backup as he rained blows with his baton.
“You want my liver too?” Uriah screamed. “My eyes, my lungs, my fucking heart? Take it. Take it all, twin brother! Take my dick and shove it up your ass, for all I care!”
Three large men with shields and sticks and mace barged into the Visitation Room and tackled Uriah Moon. Aron watched as they clubbed and kicked and choked his clone. His kidneys reacted, throbbing in rhythmic sympathy to each strike. He felt his crotch flood with fluids, hot and caustic. He turned and stepped quickly toward the exit. His slacks blotted and his socks soiled. His shiny shoes squelched as he trailed a tacky stream of blood behind him.
Thirteen days later, Aron’s phone rang. It was past 10:00pm, but he didn’t grumble. Twenty-eight years as a priest had taught him patience, had also taught him that peoples’ problems did not conveniently occur between 9:00 and 5:00.
“This is Father Aron Bryce,” he said, not recognizing the number.
“Aron Bryce?” the man’s voice asked. “Brother of Uriah Moon – inmate at Hoke Penitentiary?”
“Yes,” Aron said. “Who is this?”
“I’m his lawyer. One of his lawyers. Call me John . . . just John.”
Aron was confused. “Is there something . . . we’re not close, my brother and I. May I ask why” –
“Listen,” John interrupted. “Your brother’s dead. The piece-of-shit took two good men with him. The prison’s Food Supervisor, Cookie Carlson, and a Correctional Officer, Tim Ryan, a guy they called Bull.”
John made a gagging sound. As if choking on the story. “He, your brother, got in good with Cookie over the years. They were both food snobs. Cookie made him an apprentice, trusted him to manage the kitchen. Your brother exploited their friendship and asked for a special meal – his last meal – something involving Kobe beef and Main lobsters. Cookie agreed and paid for it himself. When it arrived, Moon asked to inspect the meat. Bull escorted Moon to the cold storage unit, where Cookie was waiting.”
“He killed them,” Aron said, his voice devoid of affect.
John sighed. “Yes, he did, Father. Crazy bastard had hidden the 9-inch blade of a kitchen knife in his leg, under the skin.”
“Oh, God,” Aron said, his kidneys gurgling, threatening to explode.
John continued. “Moon didn’t even try to escape. He just blocked the door and sat, waiting for the cold to take him. The boys on the morning shift found the bodies: Cookie and Bull, stabbed in their necks. Your brother, frozen.”
“I don’t know what to say,” Mr. John. “I only met the man, Moon, two weeks ago. It was my understanding that he was to be executed in the next few days. This doesn’t make sense.”
“It does,” John said. “Rather, it will. When you read the letter.”
“Yes,” John said. “You can read it while you’re being prepped. Pack a bag and meet me at Saint Thomas’ Hospital. I’ll be the man with the cooler. You’re getting new kidneys, Father.”
As Father Aron Bryce waited to be transferred into surgery, he read the letter that John had left on his nightstand.
Dear brother-father – or is it, father-brother?
If you’re reading this, I’m dead. Suiting, that of all the lives I’ve taken, mine will be the only non-violent killing. No struggle. No fight. Let it be known, I’m going out humming Pink Floyd’s, Comfortably Numb. My pulse is slowing, my circulation sluggish. I welcome the chill; relish the cold. I can see my breath. It looks like a spirit . . . my soul . . . leaving my body.
I’m kidding about the soul. After we met last week, I had some time to think about us . . . as identical twins. What if there was only one soul and you got it, Aron? Wouldn’t that explain our fates?
I couldn’t stop thinking about it. I mean, who decided that I would be the monster and you the minister? God?
Next time you’re praying to a statue or a candle, ask God that question, please. If I see God in the elevator to Hell, I’ll ask Him myself.
It’s very cold, Aron. I can’t feel the pen. Can’t feel my fingers. Guess I should make my points.
Point one: It didn’t have to end this way. I petitioned the Warden to allow me to donate my organs to you after my execution. He denied my request. No reason given. I suspect it’s because he has college-age daughters. Unfortunately, I was forced to resort to Plan B: Grant my biographical rights to one of my less-reputable lawyers in exchange for a favor. Then, kill Cookie and Bull . . . as well as myself. Please, tell their widows it was nothing personal.
Point two: Why did I do this? Why sacrifice? Simple, really. I’d never done a kind thing in my life – nothing that was not attached to my own benefit. I’ve read volumes on humanism and altruism and empathy. I could not relate, could not internalize these concepts. I decided that my last act as a human was to attempt to be just that: human.
Enjoy the kidneys, brother. All I ask is that when you expel golden fluids into a porcelain toilet, please think of me.
Back to Pink Floyd. I’ve memorized every lyric of every song on every album. I’ll close with an appropriate quote from Dark Side of the Moon.
“The time is gone, the song is over,
Thought I’d something more to say . . .
Uriah Moon – The Dark Side
Six months later, Aron made a phone call. It was to his friend and mentor, Bishop Jim Galloway.
“Bishop Galloway,” Aron said. “Thank God I got you.”
“Aron, my old friend. I haven’t heard from you since the surgery,” the Bishop said. “Tell me, how are you doing?”
“Not good,” Aron said.
“Oh no,” the Bishop said. “Your kidneys . . . the double transplant . . . are there complications?”
“Not exactly, Bishop,” Aron said. “It’s worse than that. I need to see you.”
Bishop Galloway said, “By all means. Come to my home . . . tonight. We’ll open a Ruby Port.”
“The church,” Aron insisted. “It has to be the church. I need to confess.”
Father Aron Bryce entered Our Lady of Sorrows Catholic Church through the vestry. It was late and there were no perishers. He checked his watch. It was 11:58pm. The comingled smells of burnt wax, incense, and chrism oil made his lower back rumble.
“Bishop,” he called. The echo made it sound as if someone was mimicking him, mocking him.
“Over here, Aron,” a kind voice said. “In the confessional booth.”
Aron entered the box and sat on the bench. Through a mahogany lattice he said, “Forgive me Bishop for it’s been six months and nine days since my last confession.”
“Yes,” Bishop Galloway affirmed. “A few days before your surgery. We’ve been concerned, Aron. We’d heard that you were healing well – yet, you seemed to withdraw. Father Harding has done a fine job filling in for you at your parish but . . . as I said, we’re concerned.”
“I am also concerned, Bishop Galloway,” Aron said. “Something’s wrong. Horribly wrong.”
“Tell me, old friend. Rather, tell God what has troubled your heart,” Galloway said, his voice a dulcet instrument.
“It’s not my heart that’s troubled,” Bishop. “It’s my kidneys. I think . . . and I know this sounds mad . . . but I think they are cursed.”
Bishop Galloway pressed his crucifix to his lips to stifle laughter. “Cursed,” he said. “I’m afraid I don’t understand.”
“Saying it out loud,” Aron babbled, “sounds utterly ridiculous.” He slapped his bald pate with his palms. “I should be grateful. God gave me a second chance. It was a miracle. Finding my brother. A perfect match. His sacrifice . . .”
“Men were killed,” Galloway said. “Is that what troubles you, Aron?”
Father Aron turned and looked intently through the gaps in the lattice. “No,” he said coldly.
Bishop Galloway stammered. “Then – then what? What brings you here . . . in this agitated state?”
“I’m not sure you’re hearing me, Bishop,” Aron said sternly. “These kidneys. They’re apart of him – Uriah Moon, serial killer. Once a month, every month since the transplant, I feel him.”
“Uriah,” Aron said, impatient. “Uriah Fucking Moon! My identical twin! I feel him – in my guts. I feel his compulsions, his urges, his . . . his demons.”
“In what way?” Bishop Galloway asked.
“Sexually,” Aron said, wiping his wet mouth with his cuffed sleeve.
Bishop Galloway settled back in the booth. The word triggered a homily. He knew how to address the sin of lust. “Father Aron,” he said with avuncular ease, “we are men. We are captive to our biology. You were unwell for so long – disconnected from your sexuality. Now, by God’s grace, that you have been restored, your glandular compulsions have awakened. This is a good sign, Aron.”
Aron barked a harsh laugh. “A good sign,” he said. “A good sign? Bishop, I came here tonight to ask you for an exorcism.”
Galloway paused. “You’re on medications,” he said. “You’re still recovering, physiologically and psychologically. A double-transplant is quite traumatic.”
“Yes,” Aron agreed. “But these urges. They’re not natural.”
Bishop Galloway shook his head. “Not true. Sexual impulses are perfectly natural. We are fallen creatures. Creatures of lust and lasciviousness.”
“Bishop Galloway . . . Jim,” Aron pleaded. “I don’t think you understand. It’s not just sex – the sexual urge. It’s more. It’s darker.” Aron began to pant. His acrid breath filled the small booth.
“Aron,” Galloway soothed, “tell me, how long have I known you?”
“Since Seminary,” Aron said. “Some 30 years.”
“Yes,” Galloway said, as if proving a point. “I know you. I know your heart. You are a good man. A great man, dare I say. And a great priest. This last year has been tumultuous – physically, mentally, spiritually. Of course, you’re torn, confused, and unsettled.”
Father Aron Bryce began to weep. His tears were viscous and acidic.
“You’re in a state,” Bishop Galloway said, discomfited by the hot, coppery smells. “I must leave now. You’re shaken. I’ll call you an Uber to take you home. I suggest that you use the interim to pray, my brother. Trust in God. He is your shepherd.”
Bishop Galloway sprung from the noxious box, pressing his handkerchief to his nose and mouth, coughing.
Father Aron Bryce lit a candle, knelt, and prayed. He prayed that his burning urges would be quelled, that his demons would be defeated. He prayed for his brother, for he now understood the extent of his affliction.
Why am I the monster and you the minister? He’d asked.
He prayed for Bull and for Cookie. He prayed for his biological mother. He prayed for the man that had raped her almost 60 years ago. He prayed and he wept and he prayed and he wept.
“Excuse me,” a female voice interrupted.
Aron turned, his face ablaze with scalding tears. “Yes,” he croaked. “Who are you?”
“I’m a driver. Uber.” She said, standing at the half-open door. “Picking up Father Aron Bryce . . . that you?”
Aron’s kidneys boiled. His back cramped and his loins burned. He rose and wiped his wet face. “Yes,” he said, and walked toward her.
“Sorry to interrupt your prayers, Father,” she said. “Prayer makes everything better.”
“It does, young lady.” His shimmering amber eyes admired her lean, athletic frame and her long blond hair. She wore a jersey with a Blue Devil on it – the logo of Duke University.
She smiled and extended her hand. “Call me Calli.”
“Ok, Calli,” he said, wiping his eyes, unaware of the tear-shaped stigmata that had branded his flesh and stained his soul.
The two walked out of the Church of Our Lady of Sorrows and into the bone-colored moonlight.
That’s it. This post has ended . . . except for the stuff below.
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