"In Case of Fire Break Glass."

James R. Muri

Copyright 1996
An Assignment from Kristine.

Roger stared at the fire alarm case on the wall, there in the activity room of St. Paul's Church. Somehow the raised white letters on the red background glowed, dancing above the small glass rectangle that reflected his blank face. Karen sobbing in the corner made it all seem surreal, like an opening to some sort of sinister play.

"I was only twelve," she'd told him, "I didn't know what was going on. I trusted him."

Roger's face hadn't changed since the life had drained out of it a few seconds earlier. His eyes saw her, but that was all she could tell. What was he thinking? Was this the end of their friendship? Now that he knew what trash she was, would he just walk away and forget her, or, worse, tell others?

That's when the tears finally started. Four years' worth, first a trickle down one cheek, then the flood as she stood there, watching him. Watching as he dropped his eyes and walked over to the wall, staring at it. Staring away from her. Her sobs shook her. She'd covered her face with her hands, but the tears leaked out through her fingers.

He drove slowly, taking her the long way home. He expected that she'd want to get herself back together before she went inside her home and faced her folks. And his brain raced in slow motion.

Karen hurt too badly to dwell on his silence. She was having a hard enough time remembering it all, dealing with someone else finally knowing. Someone she trusted, liked, hoped for more than just friendship with. But Roger hadn't reacted like she'd expected.

As they drove along in silence, the sound of the wipers and the throb of the engine the only real sounds on this Sunday night, Karen waited for something from Roger. Wanted him to say something, anything, to let her know where it was all going, now that the pain had been made clear, now that he shared it whether he wanted to or not.

"Has he done that with anyone else," Roger asked finally, "or are you the only one?"

Relief flooded Karen. He was back from wherever he'd been. "I don't know for sure. There's only been rumors."

Silence again, nightsounds.

"That's hard to believe about Father Guido. I mean, you hear about things like that on the news all the time, but to have it happen right in your own church -" Karen wasn't sure that he was talking with her as much as he was talking to himself. She was sure that he didn't doubt her story, though.

At the end of the block he turned right. A couple more turns and they were heading back in the direction they'd come.

"Where are we going, Roger?" Karen felt a deep apprehension suddenly.

"Anyone else know he - what he did to you?"

"No. I've never had the nerve to tell anyone."

He glanced over at her. "Why me? Why now?" She thought the pain in his voice was awful.

Karen kept her answer simple. "Because I decided I can't go through life without trusting anyone. I trust you."

He nodded slightly. "You can. Thank you."

She flushed slightly, wondering if he'd taken her explanation the wrong way.

They pulled into the church parking lot. Karen's apprehension increased, but she said nothing as he took her arm and escorted her into the church through the activity room door.

They went into the main chapel, then knocked on the door to Father Guido's office. There was a light inside. He opened the door.

"Yes? Well hello, Karen, Roger. You still here?" He smiled, and Karen felt again that electric charm she'd succumbed to.

Roger led her into his office. Father Guido got a puzzled look on his face, but closed the door and went to stand by his desk. Karen hadn't been in here before, ever. She glanced around quickly, saw that he had a photo collection on his wall. Wallet-sized photos, maybe fifty of them. All girls, all young, all in choir robes.

Just like she'd been. She searched. She was there, just as she'd expected.

"Roger, look." She pointed. Roger turned, looked at the photos. He paled.

"My special Nightingales," Father Guido explained with a smile, "girls who could make the angels weep with the beauty of their voices." But was there a tenseness in his voice? Karen hoped so. Suddenly she was filled with a rush of hatred, a desire for vengeance. It hadn't been just her. He was a plague, a predator, a criminal.

Roger was shaking. "How long have you been Priest here, Father?"

"Fourteen wonderful years, Roger. And with God's grace I'll be here until I die." His benevolent smile was topped by the warm charm flowing from his eyes. But Karen saw, for the first time, that the charm was polluted, discolored, an offense to humanity.

Roger pointed to the pictures on the wall. "All of them, Father? Did you do to all of them what you did to Karen?"

The tears erupted from her eyes again, uncontrolled. Father Guido started, recovered. "Whatever she told you, Roger, I assure you we have only been confessor and sinner. Nothing else."

"You bastard! You unholy curse! You -" Roger held up his hand to silence her.

"So you are a liar, too. A pervert, a child molester, now a liar. And no one has found you out." Karen was amazed at Roger's apparent calm.

"You have been lied to, Roger. Karen is a lovely girl, and it's easy to be charmed by such a beauty, but you must be careful what you believe from them. They can be vessels of evil, needing cleansing -"

Roger smashed him in the face. He fell backward, struck his head on the desk. He fell on the deep red carpet, didn't move. A moment passed. Karen knelt beside him, felt his neck for a pulse. Fear raced through her, Roger saw. Fear and almost panic, but also, he thought, a little relief.

Over on the wall raised white letters on a red background commanded. Roger pointed. "Karen. I think we're being told something."

Karen looked over, and saw what he was pointing at. She nodded. "Tonight's the night the glass breaks."

"But not by us," Roger said through gritted teeth, "only by heat." And he got busy.

As they pulled out of the parking lot and onto the street the first few wisps were beginning to show above the door jamb of the church. Karen turned to Roger, looked at him. She saw him glance over at her and his lips twitch a little in the first hint of a smile she'd seen in a while. She took his hand.

"Can I give you a ride to school in the morning?" Roger asked.

And her life began again, the secret of her youthful obsession safe.

>>>> Note to Kristine: This is the untwisty story. Now, if you feel adventurous, twist it up and send it back. There's a hint at a starting place in the last line. Good luck! <<<<

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