THE MONSTER IN THE SECOND REEL
By Richard Paolinelli
© 2020 RICHARD PAOLINELLI . ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. NO COPYING OR ANY OTHER REPRODUCTION OF THIS STORY IS PERMITTED WITHOUT WRITTEN PERMISSION.
Jerry Daubenberger was running late.
The weather wasn’t helping nor did his taking the wrong turn west of Steele. He was no longer on Highway 10 but rather on old Sterling road. He’d make it to Steele, right in the middle of it to be exact, but then he’d have to turn back to the north to get to the gas station. Looking down at his gas gauge, he tried to determine if he was really on the wrong side of the big “E” while estimating how many miles he’d driven since filing up the last time. He wasn’t paying attention to what was going on outside until it was far too late.
His heavy delivery truck smashed into the driver’s side of Martin’s stolen car at forty miles an hour, sending it barrel-rolling down the street. Martin was thrown from the car on its next to last roll, along with the old book and the film reels. The canister had burst open, ejecting the reels out of the car. Both reels had settled next to the front of the Packard which quickly caught fire. The blaze spread to the reels and they too began to burn.
Kraft ran to check on the driver of the truck while the priest hurried to where Martin’s broken, bloodied body lay in the center of the street. He glanced at the burning reels of film before retrieving the old book, which he slipped into a small bag and deposited into a pocket in his robes as the sheriff walked up behind him.
“We’ve called for an ambulance, but there isn’t one in town,” Kraft reported. “It will be awhile before they get here. I’ve called for Doc Hansen but he lives a couple of miles out.”
“There is no need,” the priest replied sadly. “He has not much longer to live.”
“At least it is finally over,” Martin rasped out, opening one eye. He couldn’t feel any pain, couldn’t move his arms or legs. Even talking was difficult.
“But at what cost?” the priest asked. “How many innocent lives have paid for what you stole?”
“I wish I’d never laid eyes on that book.”
“And yet you stole it from the archives in the Holy City,” the priest accused. “And knowing the forbidden knowledge that lay within, you read it and used it.”
“I never intended to use it, not like this,” Martin gasped out, struggling to draw in air. “But what else could I do once my own son found it and used it?”
Martin drew two more painful breaths of air, coughed up a little spurt of blood.
“He never intended to become a monster, trapped within a reel of film,” Martin rasped. “Never intended to kill in order to survive.”
Another round of horse coughing shook Martin, more bright red blood staining the gathering snow a dark crimson.
“How could I abandon him once he trapped himself within that reel of film? How could I not try to find a way to free him?”
“No matter how many people you had to feed to him to keep him alive?” the priest accused.
“Yes, damn you,” Martin barked, the effort it cost him written in the pained expression of his face. “There was no price I wouldn’t pay to save my son. What would you do, ‘Father’? What would any father do?”
“Our Holy Father sacrificed his only son to save us all, ‘Father’,” the priest retorted. “How could you not follow that example?”
Martin closed his eye. Lay back in the gathering snow and offered no defense.
“What’s that?” the sheriff exclaimed.
The priest followed his gaze and saw strangely colored wisps of smoke rose from the burning reels. They drifted up and swirled around the scene, some in groups of two or more, and then drifted straight up to disappear into the night sky.
“The souls of your victims, Father Martin, are finally free,” the priest said softly. “Go with God, my children.”
“What in hell is that?” Kraft exclaimed in horror as a black sludge poured out of the second reel and seeped directly into the ground below.
Martin reopened his one working eye and watched as the sludge disappeared.
“That is all that remained of the soul of this man’s cursed child,” the priest replied sadly. “He has gone to his punishment, as his father will soon do.”
“Mercy, Father,” Martin pleaded. “Please, I beg you. Pray for mercy for my son’s soul if not for my own.”
“Whatever mercy there may be for you and your son it is not mine to give. You and your son have taken dozens of innocent lives. You will both face His judgment and accept either His grace or His wrath. I would not even dare to hope for His grace if I were you.”
A single tear escaped Martin’s eye as it closed once more. His head rolled to one side, and he exhaled one final breath.
In the distance, a siren announced that the volunteer fire department was finally on their way. Flames fully engulfed the Packard and the film had burned to ash, leaving behind only two empty, blackened metal reels.
“Those six people inside the theater tonight…?”
“Are dead,” the priest finished. “They are with God now, my son, and no longer feel any pain.”
“How do I explain this,” Kraft waved his hand at the wreckage. “What do I tell their families?”
“Let the car burn to the frame,” the priest replied. “Gather up six containers of ash and tell their families that they were inside the car. They died instantly and were consumed by the fire from the accident.”
“Lie to them?”
“Would you rather tell them the truth? That they were fed alive to a monster and suffered that horror in their final moments? The truth will only bring needless suffering. No one else will ever meet their fate. Bring what little peace you can to those that have survived this tragedy, my son. That is truly all we can do for them.”
“What happened here, Father?” Kraft demanded as the snowfall began to increase. “You called him ‘Father’ too. Why was a priest killing people?”
“He was once a favorite of the Pope himself, destined to be a Cardinal, perhaps even one day the Pope, provided he’d kept the secret of the child he’d fathered from being discovered.
“One day,” the priest continued, “he came upon a book in the archives. A book so evil it should have been destroyed centuries ago. He gave in to the dark temptations the book offered. His beloved son was cursed to live as a monster that fed on human flesh, trapped within a prison of celluloid. I was sent to stop him, recover the book and the film, and return them all to the Holy City if possible.”
“Or kill them if it wasn’t?”
“Yes, my son, that was my charge. One way or another, I had to stop the killing. God forgive me, it took me far longer to complete my task than I can bear to contemplate. I pray God will understand why it took so many months to accomplish my task.”
Martin’s body slowly transformed, melting into a black puddle similar to that which had come out of the film reel. The sludge seeped into ground and disappeared. The priest shook his head sadly, crossed himself and turned away. Kraft watched the burning car for a moment before calling out.
“He called you Father,” he said without turning. “What is your name? In case I need to contact you later?”
“My order has come to know me only as, ‘The Jesuit’, my son,” came the reply, which seemed to be growing fainter and more distant by the second. “But there was once a time that I was known as, ‘Judas’.”
“Judas?” Kraft asked, finally turning around. “As in Iscariot…?”
Kraft’s voice trailed off as he found himself all alone on the street with no sign whatsoever of the man he’d been talking to. It was as if the priest had been swallowed whole by the drifting snow.
Or maybe he went in another direction, Kraft thought as he looked straight up into the night sky.
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This story was originally written for and submitted to the Monsters, Movies, and Mayhem anthology. It made it past the first cut but did not survive the final cut. Based on the feedback received I decided to go ahead and share it with you all as part of my weekly serial series. I hope you enjoyed reading it.
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