Monday, March 1, 2010

The Dan O'Shea Flash Challenge

By Steve Weddle

Dan O'Shea put the flash smackdown on us recently and has some great talent signed up for today's challenge. To find out more and track down some excellent entries, head over to Dan's site. While you're there, you'll wanna listen to Dan chat up DSD's own Joelle Charbonneau.

So here's my entry in Dan's latest challenge. The only requirements were no more than 1,000 words and the setting had to be a church.


“Will the bad guys be here, Uncle Oscar?”

I picked him up under his arms and set him on the bench outside the priest’s office. At three or four, however old the boy was, he still understood that his father was missing and his mother was in the hospital. He didn’t understand everything it meant, of course. Neither did I.

I kneeled down in front him, thin light from the ceiling, and pushed his hair out of his eyes. “Zach, I just have to talk to this priest for a few minutes.”

“Can I come with you?”

“You just lie here for a few minutes.” I took off my jacket, rolled it up and made the kid the world’s most expensive pillow. “Lie down here. I’ll be right back.”

“But I’m not tired.”

“OK. You don’t have to sleep. Just lie down and close your eyes for two minutes. Then I’ll be right back.”

He looked at me without saying anything for a second, then rubbed his eyes. “Promise?”

Yeah, kid. After I keep another promise.


The priest was sitting in a leather arm chair, reading some papers. “Can I help you?” I closed the door. He stood up. Maybe 40 years old. Head of dark hair slicked back. This late at night, he wasn’t expecting company.

I told him I wanted to talk to him about my sister-in-law.

“Yes,” he said. “I read about that in the papers. Tragic. If there is anything we can do to help the family.”

“The men who did it, you talked to them. I want to know what they said.”

He moved behind his desk, but was still standing. “I can’t discuss that, my son. Perhaps you should speak with the police. I’ll call them for you.” He picked a cordless up from his desk. I reached across the desk with one hand and into my back pocket with the other, grabbed the phone and smashed it with a small sledgehammer from the garage.

“Jesus Joseph and Mary,” he said, taking a step back into bookshelves. I stepped up onto the desk, then kicked him in the face as he tried to run past. I was on top of him as he hit the floor, grabbed him by the shoulders and dropped him into the chair he’d been sitting in.

“They told you who they were working for,” I said. “One of them. He said things got out of hand. He asked you for your help. I want to know who he was working for.”

“I can’t tell you that. I won’t. That’s just not going to happen.”

I looked around the office. Books. Files. Paintings. Crosses. Tapestries. I couldn’t tell whether he’d break. Or, more accurately, whether he’d break before I broke him.

I spun the hammer around in my hand. “We got off on the wrong foot,” I said, looking at my scuffed boot. “You know what they did to my sister-in-law? What they would have done.”

“I am aware of the incident,” he said, getting himself back together, straightening his collar and pushing his wet hair back down. “What those men did was a sin, but I am not here to judge them. I am here to counsel, to bring the wayward sheep back to the Father.”

“Sheep,” I said. “That in the lemming family?”

“Son,” he said, even though he was clearly a decade younger than I was, “what do you know of sin?”

Little Zach was just outside the door. He hadn’t come in at the earlier crash. I needed to get back, make sure he was ok.

“I know I’ve got enough piled against me that plucking the eyes out of a priest’s head probably wouldn’t make a difference.”

He leaned forward. “A sin is an action that takes you away from the Father. Something that the Devil puts up between you and the Holy Spirit.”

“Father, I’m asking you nicely.” I stood up. “You can tell me what that piece of shit said right now. Or we can spend a little more time and you can Morse Code it to me with whatever is left of you.”

The priest wasn’t going to break easy. “Their sin was no greater than the sin of your brother that brought them to the house.”

Half-brother, I nearly said. My half-brother. But that told me what I needed to know. Confirmed what I’d thought. He’d gotten involved in more than he could handle. Again. “Any chance you tell this to the police? To the prosecutor? Give them the information they need.”

“This was sinful behavior,” he said. “But all sins are equal. All sins take you away from the Father. That is what sin is, separation from the Creator. No sin is any greater than any other sin in the view of the Father.”


“Yes, my son?”

I pulled the mallet around to one side and stepped towards the priest. “You might want to tell the Father to close his eyes right about now.”


After about a half-hour I closed the door behind me, stepped into the hallway and picked up Zach and my jacket. He woke up as I was putting him into my car. “Is mess over, Uncle Oscar?”


“Yeah. Mommy says we have to come to church for mess.”

I buckled him in, handed him a stuffed tiger.

“Yeah, Zach. It’s going to be over soon.”


David Barber said...

Nice piece, Steve. A follow-up to come, I hope. Regards.

Unknown said...

Hardman fiction and Steve Weddle are starting to become synonymous. Great story!

John Hornor said...

The child added a great element to the piece. I really liked this one. Nice work.

Remind me not to cross you.

Kent said...

Great voice and tone to this one, Steve. Cool story.

pattinase (abbott) said...

Beating up a priest? I don't know if you should step outside today. Well done.

Anonymous said...

If I had a hammer, I'd hammer out a confess-ess-ion. Peter, Paul and some bad-ass guy with a hammer. Me likey.

Steve Weddle said...

David, Thanks. Yes on the more to come. Already have some fun with this line of stories.

Keith, Much thanks.

John, Thanks. Tougher to be a bad guy when you have a kid with you. Or a puppy.

Kent, Thanks a bunch.

Patti, But he wasn't a nice priest. And he greased his hair.

Dan, Thanks. And thanks for setting this up.

Dana King said...

A flash snapshot, what could be a tiny chapter between what came before and what comes after. Puts me in mind of a novel written entirely of flash chapters, and this is one of them.

Using the kid was inspired.

Anonymous said...

liked it so much I put it on my site -- kids, priests and hammers -- how can a story fail with set up? --

Eric Beetner said...

Well done. Revenge and church go together like chocolate and peanut butter.

DILLIGAF said...

Without the kid it would have been great. With the kid it was bloody brilliant!

Hilary Davidson said...

Terrific story, Steve!

Steve Weddle said...

Dana, Thanks. I like that idea, too. Seems like it would be -- or will be -- fun to collect all these Oscar Martello short stories and flash pieces I've had out this year. I love seeing little pieces of fiction from other authors and seeing how it all fits together.

Chad, Yup.

Eric, Thanks.

FD, Very nice of you.

Hilary, Much thanks.

Joyce said...

I completely agree with those before me. The story could stand alone without use of the child, but adding him in there was like sprinkles on top of the frosting. Great characters, and tales of revenge are always appealing. Factoring in the confidentiality of the confessional... This one has it all!

Evan Lewis said...

We have to come to church for mess. Love it!

Joelle Charbonneau said...

Wow...great work. I really loved the characterization. Really fabulous stuff.

sandra seamans said...

Wow! Nicely done, Steve!

Dan Ames said...

Nice story, Steve. Great voice.

Jay Stringer said...

great story.

Matthew McBride said...

Nice. Great dialogue, great pace, and the hammer is almost its own character. I just love a tight story with a hammer in it

MRMacrum said...

The Father didn't get in the way of this evil read. As David Barber said, A finisher would be excellent. I guess not being able to put my finger on just what created so much tension in me as a reader is a good indicater. Really liked it.

Cormac Brown said...

I agree with John, the protagonist's motivation to get things done despite any hesitations that should have come up, was sleeping just outside. Of course, now I have that stupid Maxwell Silver song stuck in my head.

Paul D Brazill said...

I thought I'd left a comment on this! That's sobriety for you!

Anyway, I love the Oscar stories and this is a fantastic example of a tight hardboiled piece of flash that satifys you but lead you into wanting to read the next chapter.

Jimmy Callaway said...

The dialogue crackles. That line about telling the Father to close hie eyes, and the line about mass/mess: these make me envious. Well done.

Jarrett Rush said...

I loved the last exchange between the uncle and the kid.