Author's Note: Before you read this, I'd like to make it clear that I'm not a Catholic and never have been, so if you are and you spot anything that's inaccurate please point it out. While researching a different story, I learned that priests are forbidden from ever revealing what's said in Confession, which sounds like a system someone's bound to abuse. This story is the result.
Confession of Guilt
"I wish to confess to multiple murders."
Father McDonnell wasn't sure he'd heard correctly. "I'm sorry; what did you say?"
The young woman kneeling on the other side of the wooden lattice gave him an expression that was not so much a smile as it was a baring of teeth.
"As I said: I wish to confess to multiple murders. I see I've shocked you. Perhaps I should start from the beginning.
"I am the eldest of eight children. My parents raised all of us in a small cottage with three bedrooms. My siblings and I had to share everything. Mother and Father worked long hours to earn enough money for us all. Us children started work in the cotton mill as soon as we were old enough.
"Five streets away lived Father's brother and his family. There were only six of them: Uncle, Aunt, and their four children. But they lived in a twelve-bedroom mansion. I passed it every day on my way to the mill. I saw my cousins playing in their wide, well-kept garden, wearing their expensive clothes, and thought of our tiny allotment and threadbare hand-me-downs. And I swore then that I would own that mansion, if I had to kill my cousins and their parents.
"Every day for seven years I walked past that house twice a day. I studied its exterior, its gardens, the rooms I could see through the windows, until I could draw it from memory. I knew where each tree grew, where each piece of furniture was placed in the living room, which doors were commonly used and which windows were always left open. I knew that every day my uncle went out to work at exactly eight-thirty and came back at exactly six o'clock. and my aunt went over to one of the neighbours'. I knew which days the servants had off. I knew the servants never stayed in the house overnight. They didn't even know my name, but I knew everything about them.
"I grew tired of watching from a distance. I used the knowledge I had gained to sneak up to the house and look through the windows without being seen. This taught me even more. I now knew the layout of each downstairs room."
The young woman spoke each word calmly and clearly. There was no hint of either shame or boasting in her tone; she was simply stating facts. As her story progressed Father McDonnell grew more and more alarmed. Never in the short time he had been a priest had he dealt with a situation like this.
He opened his mouth to interrupt. She fixed him with an icy glare utterly unlike the cool, half-amused expression she had worn until now.
"Did I give you permission to speak?"
Father McDonnell closed his mouth. He shuddered and felt almost as if he was in the presence of something not quite human.
"Now, where was I? Ah, yes.
"As I was saying, I knew the layout of every downstairs room and the routine of every member of the household. Until then I had no definite plan beyond determining to take what I wanted. Now I developed a plan. Late one night, when no servants were around and the household was asleep, I would squeeze through the larder window; its latch was broken and it would be easy to open wide enough to climb through. I would go to each bedroom and kill my cousins while they slept. The only thing I could not decide was how to do this in a way that would not be traced back to me.
"I waited, and waited, and finally a solution presented itself. What better way to prevent suspicion falling on me than to frame someone else?
"There was a man I disliked. I don't know why I disliked him. I simply did. I spied on him, and discovered he was seeing another man's wife. This made him the perfect scapegoat: he would be mysteriously absent at odd times, especially at night, and would be very reluctant to give an alibi. One Saturday, when he was out of town, I went over to his house. I rummaged through his garage and I found old clothes of his, a pair of his gloves, and a knife. I took them and hid them in the garden of an empty house. Now all I had to go was choose the date of the murders.
"I chose the day. I took care to have an alibi in place: I would go for a two-day trip to the seaside. I brought a tent to prevent the hassle of explaining why I didn't check into a guesthouse. I bought train tickets, got off halfway there, and cycled back. I hid in the garden until I was sure everyone was asleep. Then I climbed through the window.
"I took care to leave the bloodied knife in the garden. I went back to the man's house and put the clothes I had borrowed back in the garage. Then I cycled the twenty miles to the seaside, put up the tent by torchlight, and went to sleep.
"The next morning it was all over the papers. The police found the knife and questioned the man. He insisted he was innocent. As I expected, he refused to give an alibi. They found the bloody clothes in the garage. That was all the evidence the jury needed. He was tried, found guilty, and hanged.
"With my uncle and his family dead, ownership of the house went to my parents. When they die, it will be mine. And so I have gotten away with murder, and gained by it.
"And now, Father, a question for you: what will you do? I have told you everything. Will you go to the police and break the inviolable seal of confession? Or will you do nothing, and let a murderess go free?"
Father McDonnell found himself unable to speak. The woman got up with a smile.