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Long Story Short · Original Minific ·
Organised by RogerDodger
Word limit 400–750
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Remember, O Thou Man
The dulcet tones of the children’s choir practicing for the next night’s Christmas Eve Mass echoed through the cathedral. Father Paul nodded to the cantor as he passed by their balcony, then headed down the aisle towards the vestibule to swap in a fresh guestbook.

He spied a new face in the otherwise empty nave, sitting a few rows from the back. It was an older gentleman, with more salt than pepper in his week’s worth of stubble and receding hairline. He had dark circles under his eyes and a rumpled collared shirt beneath a threadbare sweater vest.

As Father Paul approached, he saw there were tear tracks running down the man’s face.

The man looked looked up. “Hello, Father.”

“Hello, friend,” Father Paul said with a warm smile as he reached the man’s pew and sat next to him. “Something troubling you?”

“Ha,” the man said, “that’s a tale too long in the telling for the time I have left, I’m afraid.” He gave a weak smile. “Suffice it to say that I made a choice, and now, at the very end, I find my conviction starting to wane.”

“Ah.” Father Paul paused, then asked, “Is it your convictions, or lack of faith in them, that brought you to God’s house?”

The man sighed. “Humanity has become jaded, Father. Tragedy rocks the country, the world, and yet within a month, a year, a decade, all memory has faded, and we blithely press on as though no lesson has been learned.” His expression turned sour. “I thought to change things. I had faith that, given the right impetus, humanity could be brought together as one and build a better future. But, now that events have been set in motion, I wonder – could I bear to live in a world where they wouldn’t?” He turned back to watch the choir once more. “So here I am.”

“Yes, here you are. Humanity is a resilient lot, it’s true.” Father Paul laid a hand on the man’s shoulder. “But even a calloused soul can still be scrubbed clean. Have you come to confess?”

“Oh, nothing like that.” The man gestured vaguely at the vaulted ceiling above them. “I’ve had little use for God in my life, but it is staggering, the beauty humanity is capable of in His name. I wanted to see it in person, before the end.”

Father Paul’s hand fell away along with his smile. “Well, you’re not dead yet. There’s still time to–.”

The man slowly shook his head. “It’s too late, Father. There will be no salvation. I will burn. So will you.” He gestured at the choir. “So will they.” His voice faltered as he said, “Nothing short of divine intervention can stop that, now.”

Father Paul frowned at him. “My son, that is the very essence of salvation. Only through divine intervention can we be saved.”

“Ha, I suppose you’re right.” The man checked his watch. “We’ll find out, one way or another, in about twenty seconds.”

Something in his tone made Father Paul’s blood run cold. “What do you mean?”

“I mean that if you have any last words to speak to God from this side of the veil, now’s the time to do so.” He took a deep breath as he closed his eyes, his voice suddenly calm. “As for me, whatever will be, will be.”

Father Paul stood and looked to the children in the balcony. He paused for half a moment, then closed his eyes and said, “Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come–”

A terrible flash of light nearly blinded Father Paul through his eyelids. In shock, he hid his face behind his hands, then, as the glare dimmed, he risked opening them. There, in stark relief on the far side of the cathedral, shone the image of Christ as depicted in the massive stained glass window behind him. The radiance of His visage was still near to blinding as he stared at it, transfixed.

Whatever the light touched, be it crucifix, pulpit, or child’s robe, burst into flame.

Father Paul heard a low rumble below the startled shrieks from the balcony. The stone floor shuddered beneath his feet, and comprehension dawned on him. He looked to the old man, still seated, eyes shut, hands folded tightly in his lap.

Father Paul shut his eyes for the final time and whispered, “Thy will be done.”

The window exploded, and then there was only fire.
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#1 ·
Nothing says Christmas like suicide bombers. One would think that you'de need more than just misanthropic apathy to strap a bomb and blow up a church, but apparently those are the standards of our society nowadays. Tasteless joking aside, I do wish we could've gotten to know his motivations a bit more. Maybe the story could have actually started with him going into the confessionary and they talk about how the man feels before the priest realises what's happening, but it's too late then.
#2 · 2
Seriously. Y'all morbid.

Uh. Don't have much to say here, unfortunately? Prose is solid, but the story just leaves me a bit cold. This is pretty bog standard "humanity sucks" so everyone dies story. Now, I'm definitely the last person to be complaining about standard stories, I just plain don't like this story archetype. :p

That said, I might suggest you actually bring us in a bit closer to the priest's perspective? As is, we end up with a pretty straight series of events. I feel like delving a bit more into the priest's faith (what does he think of the fact that this man has killed them all - is there forgiveness for that?) might be an interesting take? I dunno.
#3 · 1
· · >>Monokeras
The details here are weird.

This guy seems to be saying that humans, given a common cause, will come together against it. That seems straightforwards enough; Alan Moore's Ozymandius came from that, and it sorta worked for him. Moreover, the light igniting things suggests there's a lot more to this than just a simple bomb; that's, like, atomic levels at least.

OTOH, the concreteness of the situation - the implication that the guy has to be here for the explosion to reach him, coupled with 'comprehension dawning' on Father Peter, suggests that this is a fairly local/easily understandable event, which makes a lot less sense to me. Blowing up one church doesn't feel like it's enough for a 'common cause' incident, and the crying man seems smart enough he'd realize that.

I guess... I feel like your themes are fighting. Personal redemption/despair and widescale destruction can definitely work together, but I think the 'personal' stuff is bleeding into the 'widespread' stuff a bit much, and making it more difficult to parse what's actually going on, assuming I even read it correctly. Maybe beefing up the clarity on what exactly this guy has done would help with that... or maybe it would just water down the personal stuff.

Well, the construction here feels pretty solid. The details just need a bit of re-balancing for clarity, maybe.
#4 · 1
Isn’t the guy God himself? Or Christ?
God/Jesus himself complaining humanity has failed?

If it’s the case, this fic is surprisingly close to the last Star Wars installment. Remember, we learn more from our mistakes than from our successes.

Good luck for the next iteration, Lord.

(You gain nothing by obscuring the guy’s identity, I give that to Hat. Be clearer. Swathing the guy’s identity in mistery only diverts the reader from the true meaning of your story. It’s a distraction. Maybe you find that clever, but don’t do that. Be straightforward. Deliver, don’t withhold information just for the sake of wanting to make your reader scratch his head, it confuses the plot. This is not a mathematical riddle, it’s a story.)
#5 · 2
I thought it was a divine 'end of the world' scenario rather than a suicide bomber so I agree that clarity on the details would be helpful in this story.

I liked the back-and-forth between the two characters though. Pretty solid entry imo.
#6 · 2
On the one hand, I enjoyed the religious subject of this piece, focusing on a topic that a lot of other submissions haven’t touched. Also, unlike many other readers, I actually enjoyed the ambiguity of the story’s ending. Is it a suicide bomb? A nuclear explosion? Christ’s return? I think the lack of clarity made the story more interesting than a firm explanation of the final moments.

With that in mind, I think the story’s ambiguity shoots itself in the foot at many points. The mysterious man’s explanation of his despair is interesting, but it raises more questions than the story is able to answer. I also think the ending phrasing could be worked on, as it made it seem like the explosion happened in sections to where the priest could finish his prayer in time.

On the whole, the story’s on the right track. It just needs to figure out what exactly it wants the reader to infer about the events and provide firm suggestions to push the reader in that direction.
#7 · 1
I love the atmosphere you've got going on here. It felt like just the right blend of spiritual, slightly somber, and peaceful to me.
Getting a look into your characters' emotional states was super interesting as well. Both the man's mix of resignation and acceptance, and Father Paul just continuing as he always has before coming to realize there's something more going on felt very genuine and satisfying to read about.

The mystery about the man's identity I'm split on. Initially he seemed like some mythical power, now, with the whole picture, I think he's an engineer who helped develop a doomsday weapon (something atom bomb 2.0 like.) Overall, it mostly added a bit of uncertainty, and I'm not sure whether that's a good thing. It helps with the air of mystery I think you were going for, but what I liked most about your story was how steadfast the characters felt, the calm and certainty with which they faced their end.

So I think this story would've been even stronger without the whole mystery stuff - even more so cause of the "you have about 20 seconds" line. That seemed like it was supposed to fuel this air of mystery, but to me felt like something a teenager trying to sound cool would say.
#8 · 1
I just read this blog about the manhattan project and now I'm sure enough about it to say I finally got the picture you had in mind when writing this:

"Men had been told that the scientists thought there was a small chance for the bomb to set off a chain reaction that would ignite the nitrogen and oxygen in the atmosphere, killing all life on Earth. As the bomb was primed they sat in the site chapel, crying."

Before, I hadn't made the connection to scheduled tests, which made that 20 sec line really extra weird to me, and had assumed this to play in our present. If there's any clues towards time and place I still don't get them..
But with that context I think I like your story even better now.