“Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good.”
– Romans, 12:21
Bathed in darkness, filled with light, Titan went against the night. At a glance in the slick moonlight, he seemed to reflect like steel. The glimmer of a “T” flashed across his chest. In a blink, he was just a man. He had boyish features once.
He approached the church at the edge of the trees, surrounded by a black forest choked in twilight. There was evil in these woods. Old, elemental, and dry. Long neglected. Titan knew this; it thrummed deep in his bones. It was a curious sensation… and true.
He climbed the stairs leading up to the church’s thick, carved oak doors. The knotted wood beneath his feet absorbed each step, creaking beneath his weight and the weariness on his shoulders. The small building was on holy land. It was built to channel God to keep the evil in the woods at bay. It had worked for a time. All things change over time; this too.
Titan did not want to go inside. God’s messenger waited inside—the priest. It was time to confront the truth.
The people in this town were kind, peaceable folk. They worked the land, worked machines, and worked to live. They raised their children to do the same. This life wasn’t sad or pitiable, just honest and true. Simple, like things used to be. It was possibly the last place like this in the United States—a land of much luxury, freedom, and evil.
These simple, God-fearing people came to know Titan as James. He was a stranger here. He had walked down Main Street one day wearing worn tuxedo pants a few sizes too big, logging boots, and a weathered tee shirt, and holding a ratty tuxedo jacket over his shoulder. James wore a ratty, patchy young man’s beard. His hair was slick with sweat, rain, and the elements. He stank of musk and the road. The people here were mostly kind folk, though. And when James collapsed outside Lennie’s Diner, a few of the staff and patrons went to him. They brought him to Doctor Wolfe’s house. And it was there he stayed.
The Doc surmised that James hadn’t eaten or slept in days. With some care and some food in his belly, James recovered fast. Healed and refreshed from his long journey, James went to work in town doing what needed doing. He was not very skilled at first. But he followed instructions and worked hard. And people quickly realized that if something heavy needed moving, James could do it. And he did so, quietly, without a complaint or a harsh word. Frankly, James didn’t talk much anyway.
James tilled fields, unstuck tractors, dug ditches, and attended to every other menial task there was. He succeeded initially because he would do a thing until it was done, no matter if it took minutes or hours. He needed to be taught how to shingle roofs, put up siding, and replace windows, but he learned quickly and got better at doing them. He said that his dad had taught him things like that. Some folks asked about his family and friends, but James wouldn’t speak to the subject.
Sometimes when James tilled the fields or mowed lawns, he would take his shirt off. The girls (and women) in town were quick to swoon over his lean, etched muscle and just as quick to recoil from the scars that pocked his back and dashed along his chest and stomach. Freshly pink and bright, the scars were not old and they told the story of a young man who had been through something horrible. James did not say where or how he got them. The priest would soon learn.
Not long after James had come to town, terrible things began to happen. They were the kinds of things simple, hardworking people did not understand and would not abide. No one knew why these things had happened, but some suspected James was behind them. Of course he wasn’t, but the timing was unfortunate.
The evil in those woods was old but not dead and it was coming. It escalated its plans because it knew Titan and what he could do. And it had waited long enough.
Evil had lived in the woods for a long time waiting for its opportunity to enter this world. It knew Titan was a threat. Evil slipped out of the shadows infecting men and commanding darkness to herald its arrival. James couldn’t hide any longer.
Now, he stood at the doors of the church. The young man they all called James pulled open the heavy oak door and entered the candle-lit chamber. He had not been inside the church before and was surprised to see that the pews were handmade from the kind of trees that stood in the forest beyond. The floors, the columns, the altar, and, of course, the cross were also handmade from the trees of the woods. James thought it was ironic.
“Jesus was a carpenter, James,” a voice called from the back. It was an old voice with a hint of Irish brogue. The priest was Irish. Of course he was—all good priests are. “He took up the work of His father.”
“Joseph wasn’t His father,” James’s voice was husky and dry with disuse.
Father Kelly appeared from behind the wall where the crucifix hung. He was dressed for bed in a modest tee shirt, robe, and pajama pants. Ian Kelly was a wiry man whose clothes hung loose on his frame. His face was long and hard, maybe from the sun and maybe from drinking. Probably both.
The candle light, emanating from lanterns fixed to the columns running down the outside of the pews, cast Father Kelly’s face in an eerie orange glow. It illuminated the short beard whiskers on his cheeks and chin. The father must have seen James’s surprise upon noticing the church was built by hand. He smiled with a grin of queer white teeth. “Joseph was every bit Jesus’s father as was the Lord God. He raised Jesus through boyhood, adolescence, and into adulthood. He shaped Jesus, the man, and taught Him his work as fathers do. Lord God raised Jesus from man to God and, of course, taught Him His work as well.”
“As fathers do.” James whispered.
“I didn’t build it by myself, though, James. I had help. But it seems right to build a church to God by hand. Jesus was a carpenter, His father was a carpenter, and Jesus’s true father, the Lord God, was a carpenter, of sorts, too. He built the world and the Universe and the beating heart in your chest and mine,” Father Kelly said. James thought it sounded rehearsed.
“I didn’t come here for a sermon,” James said. “Father. I came to confess. I think you knew I would.” James watched the father for any reaction. There wasn’t any.
“I knew you were special ever since you came to town, James. I don’t know it like I know math or science or history, but I know it like I know my mother loved me and how I know I miss my old dog sometimes when I see Miranda Birch playing with her new puppy. When you came to town, I knew that I had been expecting you even though we’d never laid eyes on one another.” Father Kelly paused and came out into the church. James could now see that Father Kelly was wearing Snoopy slippers. In a less precarious time, he might have laughed.
The father continued, “Have you ever known something like that, James? Known it, but you didn’t know how?”
The father didn’t let James answer. “Belief. I know that you have work here. But more importantly, I know you have work that you have left behind.”
James stiffened and struggled to contain the anger and the fear waging war inside. “I didn’t ask for this, Father. I didn’t ask for the death that I bring. Or for the killing I’ve done.
“There is something inside me, Father. Something powerful and deadly. It might have been noble once. But it’s not mine. It was meant for someone else. How can I be responsible for what isn’t mine? And how can I look at myself knowing what I have done with it?”
Father Kelly crossed to the booth on the left side of the church and stood in the doorway. He motioned to the door beside it and said, “I’ll hear your confession, son. I can’t promise to know the answers to your questions… in fact, I’m sure I don’t. God does. Let’s see what He’ll tell us. Let’s see what He’ll tell you.”
The young man knew that the priest was right. God knew the answers. Whether He would reveal them as the father thought He would was another matter entirely. Regardless, it was time to come out with it.
James did not want to relive his sins, but he would bear it. He would speak and the priest would listen. He hoped God would hear him, too; maybe He could take back what He had given and give the responsibility to someone else. But James feared that, too. Every young man wants to be a hero but curses that fate if it befalls him.
James began the way one always begins a confession, “Bless me Father, for I have sinned. My story is long, but you need to hear it. The beginning of it, you know, actually… or at least you think you do. But I have come to know how it really was and it’s how my story, and all stories, begins.“In the beginning, there was nothing but God…”