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THE LAST PRAYER

A Silo Story by Lyndon Perry

For those who are reaching beyond their own silos…

-1-

The gaunt priest set up his makeshift confessional in silence.

It had been quite a few years since the last cleaning—

“Ten or so?” Elias had asked his younger companion when the sheriff had informed him of the recent verdict.

Samuel didn’t hesitate. “Twelve,” his secretary had responded, always accurate, always prompt.

The responsibility, grim as it was, had sparked in the frail servant of God a sense of somber purpose. One he’d thought he’d lost. His previous act of ministry had been declined, well, twelve years earlier—politely, but a rejection nevertheless—and Elias had discovered, time and again, various confirmations of his suspected irrelevance to life in the underground community.

Beads of perspiration dotted the priest’s balding pate as he finished erecting the booth. His secretary handed him the curtain that would provide the confessor a semblance of privacy for the last prayer.

“I hope we’re not disappointed again, Samuel. I fear if our services are ignored our standing in the silo may wane.” The older man sighed. “Maybe I’m fooling myself. Maybe our days are already past and I’m just a relic of a bygone era. Has the sun already set for us, Samuel? Has it?” The priest’s eyes begged for contradiction.

“Elias…” Always accurate. Always circumspect. “…it may be that a new day will soon dawn.”

But both of them knew the truth of it. The number of candidates entering seminary training had been on the decline for years—twenty-seven straight, he’d been informed. And that despite the inclusion of women and the nongendered.

Hell, they’ve even allowed nonbelievers into the priesthood! Elias couldn’t help but be cynical. Dispensing liturgical compassion and rote absolution was a role any literate person could fill, the mayor had told him. But, God Almighty, that wasn’t him! He was a believer, he was one of the faithful….

“Father?” Jedediah Alston knocked at the door, interrupting Elias’s thoughts. Peeking his head into the converted storage room, the broad-shouldered sheriff said, “The condemned has agreed to confession. You ready?”

Elias hid a satisfied tremor with a lift of his shoulders and gave his secretary a flushed smile. Maybe he was needed after all. Maybe he could help direct this one soul—terrified, surely, and lost—toward peace before the cleaning.

“Send him in. All is prepared.”

The sheriff replied with a curt nod and retreated down the hall, passing empty cells until he reached the one that held the prisoner.

“I’ll be just outside the door if you have any need,” Samuel said as he left the temporary chapel adjacent to the near-empty jail. Crime had decreased along with faith, it seemed.

Elias nodded and entered his half of the confessional, settling himself to hear the final prayer of a desperate man. Just as he pulled the door to, he caught a glimpse of Sheriff Alston escorting a young girl into the room and pointing her toward the booth.

This can’t be right. But then he realized he never thought to ask who the condemned person was. Was he addled or simply a foolish and self-absorbed old man? He shook his head to clear it.

The priest heard Alston leave and the girl enter her side of the confessional.

“Father?” she asked in a whisper.

Confidence flooded his veins. Here was a frightened soul needing assurance. Here was his duty. “Yes, my child? Do you wish to make a confession?”

Silence met his anticipation and disassembled it.

“No, Father,” the girl said, her voice bold now, urgent. “I’ve come to ask you to help me clean.”

Elias wasn’t one to sputter. On this occasion it couldn’t be helped. “What in heaven’s name do you mean, child?”

“Yes! That’s it, heaven. We have to scrub heaven’s window.”

So innocent, so troubling.

The small booth grew stifling and more than a few beads of sweat hurdled the priest’s pinched brow and escaped down his sharply chiseled nose. Elias pushed at his door for air and impulsively pulled the curtain aside. Before him was a girl of perhaps ten or eleven, dressed in dreary garb—a sweeper’s daughter to be sure—with an uncertain yet expectant look playing across her face.

“I… I know you.”

“Yes, Father. You said words at my sister’s funeral last year.”

He remembered. The girl’s twin. Blondish hair, the both of them. Spry, wiry things. Inseparable, from what their parents said. The sister had died helping her father in an unauthorized sweep.

“Lorna, wasn’t it? She must have been about ten years old.”

“Lenora, but everyone calls her Lonni. I’m Hanna. And yes, we’re both eleven now. ” She sat up straight, waiting for the priest, meeting his gaze.

Elias coughed. “You’re both… yes, of course.” His eyes flitted to the door that led back to the jailhouse. Straying a bit from his liturgical script, he asked, “So why are you here, Hanna? Why were you condemned?”

“The dreams I think. Lonni’s been telling me about heaven and how everyone in the silo needs to go there.”

Such faith. “Yes, child, this is what I try to tell everyone as well.” He attempted a smile.

“Then you’ll join me in the cleaning?” Hanna matched his smile and raised him a shining glow. “Thank you! Thank you!”

“No. I mean… I don’t understand.”

The glow never wavered. “It’s outside, Father. It’s just above us. We’re supposed to show them the way. Once we clean the window, they’ll see for themselves and follow us to heaven.”

-2-

“Sheriff, we must stop this madness. Young Hanna is clearly touched. In the name of God, why has this child been condemned?”

Hanna had been returned to her holding cell and both Elias and Samuel stood in the office of Jedediah Alston, who leaned back in his chair, boots propped atop his desk. Alston’s easy manner and simple speech belied his strict authority as sheriff, second only to the silo’s mayor in its reach and reputation.

“It’s in the report, Father.” He tossed a file onto a stack of paperwork that looked weeks behind attention. “Didn’t you read it?”

He, in fact, had not. So caught up in his most sacred duty—preparing for a condemned soul’s last prayer— he’d neglected a rather essential part of it: familiarizing himself with the person and the crime. He’d come to rely on Samuel far too heavily in recent months. Or perhaps it was years.

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