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Monday, November 08, 2004

Cannibal
When he first began to hatch his plan, curiously, he thought about what he would wear. He thought briefly about an altar boy's outfit, but at the age of 26, he was just too tall for a jaunt down memory lane. He then gave a thought or two to just casual clothing, the kinds of things you buy at The Gap that make you look trendy. These were the kind of clothes that one would wear if they weren't worried about the slave labor that stitched them together. This potential wardrobe wouldn't do either.
As he descended the fifteen steps of the staircase, his decision revealed itself. He had chosen a black suit, white shirt, solid black tie, black dress socks and newly-shined Florsheim shoes. Looking at him in this frozen moment, with his impeccably drab wardrobe fitting perfectly into place, one would get the impression that today was the day he would go on that job interview at the local mortuary. Yet this was not his purpose today; today, he dressed this way for dinner.
His outer appearance was unexpectedly augmented by a shave and a haircut, received earlier in the afternoon at the local unisex salon, located in a strip mall around the corner from his home. It was performed by a middle-aged Hispanic woman who wore a crucifix and a St. Christopher medal around her neck. As the stylist combed his hair for the finishing touch, he was struck by how many years it had been since he had actually cared what the hair on his head had looked. His mother would comb his hair on Sunday mornings, right before church. He had to arrive early to prepare for mass as an altar boy. He would always serve mass with Father Ryan, who was always insistent with all the parents of the parish of the Church Of The Redeemer that his altar boys ' appearance be of the highest order. Everyone loved Father Ryan for drilling into the boys a strong sense of discipline and order. The woman who gave him his haircut and shave was very gentle with the razor on his slightly acne-scarred cheeks. The stylist's name was Maria.
Hw wore on his face an expression of peace and contentment he had not know for many years, dating back to the simple days of early childhood. It was hard for him to recall the feelings and sensations of that time. With almost 20 intervening years since this contentment he was feeling, one could not blame him for feeling detached from his past. The years since had been filled with inner turmoil and restlessness, chronic truancy, alcoholism and drug addiction. When the prevailing wind blows pain, any shelter from the storm appears as an oasis on the horizon. It was when he was forced to re-enter the storm that he realized that any peace was all too fleeting and temporary, unless he finally confronted the demon that had brought him to such places of desperation.
It was with this in mind that he found himself in his home, dressed to the nines for a very special dinner. The only other person expected this evening was Father Ryan, still much beloved by the community, currently laying dead on the dining room table.
Father Ryan had been missing for four days. He was last seen leaving for his nightly stroll around the grounds of the elementary school, which shared a parking lot with the church. He was a man in very good shape for the age of sixty-seven. He attributed it to healthy eating habits, plenty of exercise and the will of God.
"And not necessarily in that order", he would say to inquisitive parishioners.
When Father Ryan didn't return after an hour, the other priests in the parish became worried. The police were summoned, but no evidence turned up. Father Ryan's face was now the most well-recognized missing person in the greater metropolitan area, thanks to the local media, who loved to lead off their broadcasts with a good tragedy to scare the hell out of the viewers. The adjective most used to describe Father Ryan was "beloved", each passing hour seemingly bringing him closer to canonization. That is, if journalists had been in charge of the beatification process.
He hadn't wanted to be an altar boy. Father Ryan had spotted him after a Sunday Mass one sunny day in May, standing next to his parents.
"Such a strong boy! He'd make a fine altar boy, Mrs. DiGregorio", he remembers Father Ryan saying to his mother.
"Oh Father, Dominic and I were just discussing that the other day", his mother said, mixing her ingratiating demeanor with a little white lie. His parents had never mentioned him being an alter boy until that very moment. Two weeks later, he was carrying the hosts to the altar at the 8:30 mass.
He was an altar boy for roughly a year, telling his parents that he wanted to sleep later on Sundays. His parents didn't fight his decision to stop, figuring that it was all temporary anyway. He always seemed so tired on Sundays after mass. Perhaps the extra sleep would do him some good after all.
At first, being an altar boy seemed easy. He would show up about ten minutes prior to the start of mass, change into his cassock, and serve mass alongside Father Ryan. After about a month, Father Ryan asked his parents if he could arrive a half-hour prior to mass, his justification being that the 8:30 mass was beginning to get progressively more crowded. Things needed to be perfect. Everything needed just that much more time to be arranged. He remembered now that his parents had never asked him directly, but simply complied with Father Ryan's wishes, never knowing or realizing the unspeakable horror this decision brought to their son.
In the moments prior to mass, in an anteroom behind the altar, Father Ryan would tell him to wash his hands in the font of holy water, take off his pants and close his eyes. For nine months, Father Ryan committed atrocities on the boy, commanding him after every episode never to speak of it to anyone, lest he face the wrath of God. During the mass, he would see the Stations of the Cross, displayed in order around the church. His eyes would always settle on "Jesus Bears The Cross". What does he know of suffering, he thought. Why won't he help me now? After he quit as an altar boy, he became more and more enraged, watching the people of the church treat Father Ryan with such reverence, such respect. His parents were deeply offended by his decision, at age twelve, to stop going to church. They thought it just a phase, thiking that he would "return to the flock" in the near future. That return never came.
His grades slipped and he skipped school more frequently as his teenage years progressed. He fell in with the crowd that always seemed to have access to a stray bottle of liquor and an endless supply of Vicodin, burying himself in a place where he could keep the pain at bay, however temporarily. Never once did he mention the burden resting on his shoulders to anyone.
Early in his senior year of high school, his parents, worried that he would flunk out of school, placed him in an inpatient psychiatric ward for treatment. He never opened up the old wounds when questioned by the doctors. When he declared two days into his stay that he wouldn't talk anymore to anyone at the facility, his doctors approached his parents with other options of treatment, one of which was "electroconvulsive therapy", a soft-pedaled phrase meaning shock treatment. He left the facility, two weeks and five shock treatments later, deadened and numb. He graduated high school with barely above a D average.
The eight intervening years brought no solace. More drinking, more and harder drugs, more psychiatry. It was three weeks ago in a group therapy session where he finally had an epiphany. The psychiatrist had spoken of never finding rest until the source of pain was isolated, confronted and put to rest. How could it be that no one had ever said this in such a way to him before?
It was in this spirit that Father Ryan found himself dead on the dining room table, his mouth gagged, his hands and feet bound tightly together, his skin a tinge of blue from suffocation, the imprint of his killer's tightened belt forming a perfect pattern around his pulseless neck. For a man so well known for being in good shape, extinguishing the life from him was rather easy. One could barely see the point of walking at all.
He stopped for a few brief moments to gaze upon the lifeless body of his childhood tormentor. Just a few preparations more and peace would finally come to him.
He thought for a moment of the many ways that this man had violated him. How, as a defenseless child, he had no other option but to close his eyes and take it. His fear was subsiding now, all trepidation and inhibition that had ruled his life slipping away a little farther with each passing second.
Silently and deliberately, he went to the kitchen to retrieve a cleaver from the a kitchen drawer. He thought about Judges 19, the Levite and His Concubine. He thought about the waste of spreading the Levite's comcubine's remains in little pieces in the desert. For Father Ryan, there would be but one vulture to pick from his bones. It would take at least 5 days to consume an entire priest, he thought to himself, as he began the preparations for dinner by undressing the body of Father Ryan.
(Writer's Note: I feel I must make the reader aware of my strong opposition to cannibalism. It also bears stating that this story is fiction)

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