Tell A Tale — Gothic Fiction

De Profundis By Kathleen Dillon

My cell is spartan, impersonal, free from ornament.

I am in bed but awake. At home, my surrender to sleep is immediate, brought on by evenings of over-indulgence. But here, tonight, I am hungry, sober and alone. Ergo, wide awake.

A muffled voice at the door. I prop myself up on one elbow to hear more clearly.

"Could you say that again?"

"I need a match"

"I don't have one...sorry"

"I'm desperate for a match"

The whisperer does indeed sound desperate.

"I don't smoke, mate"

I lie back and try to ignore this grinding hunger. I think about the smoker, probably trying his luck further along the corridor. Nicotine withdrawal...another form of torture.

I am following an ancient rule, one practised for centuries with unchanging and unforgiving rigour: prayer, sacred scripture, meditation. Repeated throughout the day, beginning in the creeping, desolate hours before dawn and ceasing when the night bell summons us mournfully to the brief respite of sleep.

Meals are simple and taken in the company of others. Company is perhaps the wrong term for we co-exist here, not in community but, in silent isolation. We are on a journey deep into our immortal souls, travelling alone and terrified of what we might find.

I am no longer religious although, in recent years, I have worshipped slavishly at the altar of corporate greed, a jealous and demanding deity that I fed constantly, allowing it to grow fat and toxic. But, to my cost, I learned that guilt and self-loathing refuse to be ignored. They prod and heckle you until, finally, they shoulder their way to the front and stare at you, eyeball to eyeball. On the threshold of complete meltdown, I took this leap: to lose myself, the self I have become, by seeking out the God of my childhood.

The days pass and I recognise a change; the gradual stripping away of the ego, a sort of spiritual sloughing where the trivial and temporal, all the vanities that cloud our inner vision, are swept from conscious thought. At night, sleep comes more readily but it is superficial. I am like the Watchman.

I hear him once more shortly before my departure. I wake immediately. He is chanting, sobbing a fractured mantra of such pitiful despond. His is the saddest voice I have ever heard. This time, I sense his presence in the room, close to my bed.

"...hear my voice...ears be supplication...mercy..."

I recognise it from funerals in my distant past. A psalm. A cry from the depths.

"...I have soul hath hoped...eternal rest...perpetual light..."

I stand to face the now-familiar crucifix and gaze at the figure, another man in extremis, in his final agony. I join with this tortured soul in beseeching God for mercy.

I request to see the Abbot. He seems incurious when I hand him the note and unsurprised at its contents. He speaks.

"I will arrange the Mass immediately"

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