Excerpt from Chapter Eleven
Multi-coloured votive candles shimmered against the polished wood of an elaborately carved altar in the cool, shadowy interior of the century-old church of Sainte Marie-Madeleine. Countless hand rubbings had made the consecrated wood glisten. Flickering light on oiled surfaces gave life to the bas-relief carvings on the altar’s face - Mary of Magdala endlessly reaching out in an attempt to touch her Risen Lord.
Rays of afternoon sunlight were inching their way across heavy wooden pews. The planks that made up the floorboards creaked under foot-worn carpets as Étienne D’Entremont crossed to the Confessional. He entered the elaborate wooden structure by parting weighty, embroidered curtains and closing them behind him, their folds darkened by centuries of Eucharistic incense.
Inside the booth D’Entremont re-arranged the small pillow that made the confessor’s wooden bench less uncomfortable and sat down. He kissed his purple confessional stole, draped it around his neck and slid back the small door that exposed an ornately carved wooden lattice work screen.
A man was waiting on the other side.
“Bless me, Father,” he said. “For I have sinned.”
The voice was deep and frigid and Étienne was startled by the shudder that passed through his body. It was cold dread. But that was ridiculous. He shook it off.
“When was your last confession?”
There was a long pause.
Father D’Entremont was stunned.
“You have never confessed your sins?”
“Once. I even pleaded for forgiveness.”
“But my Creator punished me nonetheless.”
Whoever this was, he was no ordinary penitent. And there was something about the voice. Although he spoke immaculate French, Father D’Entremont suspected that this was neither a Frenchman nor a son of the Church.
“Are you a Roman Catholic?”
“No,” the voice answered. “And neither are you.”
The wave of dread returned.
The man leaned closer to the screen, his familiar face visible only in profile. “You have lost your faith, Father. You believe in nothing.”
D’Entremont began to tremble.
“How dare you!”
“Good…evil…to you they are mere random circumstance. God is an abstraction - the Trinity incomprehensible - the Incarnation more wishful thinking than fact. Yet you continue to administer the sacraments.”
“I am a priest!”
The face that jammed itself against the screen might have been carved from dark marble by a classical sculptor.
“You are a fraud!”
D’Entremont’s mind reeled. His heart throbbed painfully in his chest. He was staring into coal-black eyes and the stony expression of a gargoyle. Horror wrapped its talons around his throat. The face was his face!
“And that is why I can do this!” the creature on the other side of the screen hissed, becoming liquid energy and streaming like mercury through the spaces in the pattern of carved wood.
D’Entremont opened his mouth in a soundless gape of abject terror. His whole body convulsed as if he had just been struck by lightning. The mass of energy that once held the form of a human being surged into his body.
Moments later, when the silence of the empty church returned and enveloped the confessional booth, D’Entremont heard Abaddon’s voice. It was a mere whisper and came from within his consciousness.
“And now, Étienne D’Entremont, you are…me!”