Writing Prompt Wednesday

Any submissions for stories written with this prompt can be sent to writerschestsubmissions@mail.com. Please include the heading: Writing Prompt 07/12
This week's writing prompt:


     You are in an interrogation room. A man walks in and throws a bunch of photos on the table in front of you. The photos are old and taken at different points in history. You are in each one. He demands to know who you are.


Story from last week's prompt:
You can find last week's prompt here!


The Ride


Father Ramos adjusted his clerical collar making sure that it was straight against his vestments. He was an older man, just having turned fifty, a grey streak denoting his age. He was average build, keeping himself in decent shape. Not a gym body but maybe what you would call a 'dad bod'. He looked at his watch and sighed. The cab was late. He was supposed to be at the St. Mary's Children's Hospital on 216th street at 7:00pm. It was already 6:45pm. New York traffic was killer this time of night, it would be very difficult to make it. He pulled out his cellphone, a new I-phone 7 and was prepared to call the cab company once more when a black Cadillac pulled up beside him. He was struck by a brief moment of dread when he looked at the car.
The window rolled down and a well dressed driver looked out to the priest. "Father Ramos, you are waiting for a taxi?"
The priest didn't bothering to hide his irritation from the driver. He got into the Cadillac and shut the door harder than was necessary. His irritation only deepened when he saw the driver smile at him through the rear-view mirror. "What are you waiting for? I'm almost late!" the disgruntled priest said.
"For you to buckle up, Father. Safety first."
Father Ramos rolled his eyes but complied. As soon as he clicked the seat-belt into place the door locks engaged with a sharp thunk. It had a note of finality that caused Ramos to jump but he found that the seat-belt, a full over the shoulder affair, held him firmly in place. Too firmly. Before the priest could say anything, the Cadillac merged smoothly into traffic.
"So, Father, do you ever feel guilty?" asked the driver non-nonchalantly.
"Excuse me?"
"Do you ever feel guilty?" This time the driver said each word succinctly.
"I don't know what you are talking about," Father Ramos said. He had begun to sweat profusely, something just wasn't right. "I'll thank you to let me out right here." He struggled with his seat-belt but no matter what he did, it wouldn't come undone.
"No, Father Ramos, I don't think I will be doing that," the driver said, his voice oily and smooth. When he looked back through the rear-view mirror, his eyes glowed a ugly red.
"What is this?" Ramos whimpered.
"You've been racking up quite a resume, Father. Thirty years you've worn the trappings of faith and without fail, you've disgraced them every single one of those."
"Please... I don't know what you are talking about." Father Ramos' hands were so slick, he could no longer properly grip the seat-belt release.
"Of course you do, Father. May I call you Juan? Anyways, Juan, you've always known you would end up here. You all do. It has been something that has weighed on your soul for quite a while now, hasn't it?" the driver said. His voice was almost congenial.
Father Ramos had. His sleep had been troubled the past few weeks. He remembered that this Cadillac had figured prominently in his dreams. It was an old urban legend, the car and driver. Vengeful spirits that roam the night seeking the sinful. He thought it was just a story people told to scare others straight. He never thought he'd be in this cab. The priest straightened himself and pulled out his crucifix. "The Lord will protect me?"
The driver guffawed and, through the rear-view mirror, Father Ramos saw his eyes flash an even brighter red. It was a deep and throaty cackle that ended in a high pitched whine. "Do you think that is how it works? That piece of wood and metal means nothing. Nothing! It is the faith behind it that gives it power. Let's face it, padre, your faith left you long ago. That isn't the path you walk now."
Father Ramos began to chant, "The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing..."
"We're sorry, the number you are trying to reach has been disconnected or is no longer in service."
"Why are you doing this to me?" the priest cried. Tears, hot and fresh, burned down the sides of his face.
"Because, Father, it is what you deserve."
The simple statement stopped Father Ramos. He looked up, tears quickly drying on his cheeks. It was true. He knew it. His had been a false life since the day he took his vows. If anyone did, he deserved to be in this taxi.
"Where are we?" he asked dully. He hadn't noticed that the entire landscape had changed. They were passing palm trees.
"Your old community, Juan, before the church moved you due to your... proclivities."
The priest only nodded. "What are we doing here?"
"There is someone you need to see."
Father Ramos sat back. The seat-belt had slackened, he noted, but he made no attempt to extricate himself from it. He waited in silence.
They pulled up to a dilapidated house. The roof was missing shingles, the porch had a slight slant to it, the door was in need of a new coat of paint. It should have been abandoned but Father Ramos saw that a light was on. He looked curiously to the driver.
"Go inside."
The belt released easily and the door lock disengaged. Father Ramos stepped out. He was hesitant. He accepted that he was a sinful man. His life would end in an eternity of torment. He accepted that. But he was afraid of what was behind the door.
The doorknob was slippery in his sweat soaked hands. Finally, he found his grip and turned the knob. Father Ramos was assaulted by the smell. Urine, sweat, and spoiled food all combined to atrocious effect. He gagged and quickly pulled out a handkerchief from his pocket. Breathing through that, his eyes still burned but he didn't feel like he was going to throw up.
The house was in total disarray. It took a moment to realize that it hadn't been burglarized, it just looked that way. He stepped gingerly through the chaos of discarded bottles, empty cigarette packs, and other detritus that cluttered the floor. When his foot hit a empty bottle of whiskey, the sound startled a mangy feline hiding within a pile of garbage and it shot out the open door. Father Ramos took a moment to calm himself before continuing.
It took careful navigating but he made his way to a back room. There was a dirty mattress thrown carelessly on the floor. A man, perhaps in his late thirties/early forties was draped across his back on the mattress. His right arm was wrapped by a piece of rubber and a needle was still embedded in a vein. The man's eyes were staring vacantly up to the ceiling.
"Who is this?" Father Ramos said.
He hadn't realized that he had said his question out loud until the man's eyes refocused and he took a deep shuddering breath. Spittle with blood pooled at the corner of his mouth. Only his head moved and even that was grudgingly. "Father Ramos?" the man said in a raspy whisper. It was painful to see him even speak.
"Yes, do I know you?" the priest softly as if speaking loudly would make the situation worse.
"It's Roman, Father Ramos," the man said.
The priest recoiled as if struck. He knew that name. It was a name from the distant past, when he was just starting out in the clergy. A bright eyed boy excited to be an acolyte. His lust for that boy had been unbearable. He had taken that boy's bright eyes and destroyed them. "What happened?"
"I didn't remember for a long time. Then I did. It all came back to me," Roman said, struggling to sit up in anger. At least, Father Ramos thought it was anger. It was so weak that he couldn't tell. "I had a life, Father," he spit the word with such venom that Father Ramos felt a fleck of spittle hit his face, "then I remembered. What you did to me.... I lost it all... my wife... my children..."
His tears were a condemnation upon his cheeks. "I'm sorry."
Roman's eyes went in and out of focus. "Was I the only one?"
"No."
Roman shook his head feebly. "How could you, Father? We trusted you."
"I was weak."
Roman shot up, surprising Father Ramos, and grabbed him by the arm. His grip was uncanny. "You were weak?" he cried, his eyes bloodshot and deranged, "You were weak??? Does that make up for it, Father?"
"No," the priest said, hanging his head. His fiery tears fell on Roman's arm.
"Are those tears for me?"
Even in the depths of his shame, Father Ramos stopped to consider the question. He owed Roman the truth. After a moment, he said, "Yes."
"Why?"
"Because I am lost. I may always have been lost. But you never should have been. All this is my doing, so my tears are for the life you should have lived."
"I'm dying, Father."
"It may be the last thing I do upon this Earth, but if you'd like, I can give you last rites."
Roman let go of his death-grip on the priest's arm. "Will it make you feel better?"
"No."
Roman searched Father Ramos' eyes and found only truth there. "Too bad, I would have told you no then."
"Roman, don't let yourself be dragged down because of what I did. Be better than me, truly ask for forgiveness."
"I don't deserve forgiveness, Father. You saw to that."
"Maybe, but I'm sure the Lord will grant it anyways..."
An hour later, Father Ramos exited the dilapidated house. He had given the man his last rites. As he walked, he gave his first honest prayer to a God he never thought was listening. Lord, if there is any justice in this world, give it to Roman. He deserved better of the world. He deserved better of me. Bitter tears blazed streaks on his cheeks.
The driver was sitting outside, smoking a cigarette. He motioned with a manicured hand to the door. "Get in."
When the cab pulled to a stop, Father Ramos saw that they were outside of St. Mary's Children's Hospital. He glanced at his watch. 7:00pm. He looked up, confused. "You aren't taking me to Hell?"
"Father Ramos, it isn't your time," the driver said.
"Then what why did you pick me up?"
"The children are waiting, Father," the driver said. When the priest made no move to leave, the driver sighed. "Because Roman deserved better from you."
"What do I do?"
"Live your life."
Father Ramos exited the cab. He turned to walk into St. Mary's but turned around when he heard the Cadillac's window roll down.
"Just remember, my cab will be here to pick you up at the end of the line."
Father Ramos could hear the driver's laughter chase him as he drove away. It would follow him for the rest of his life. It was etched on the very fabric of his soul.


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