As part of a creative writing class I teach, students were required to write a short story based on a song. I try to do the assignment with the students whenever I can. So, I wrote this story based on Dire Strait's song: The Man's Too Strong. Part of the requirements were to keep the story between 1,000 and 2,000 words, which is why the story seems so brief. I would however like to revisit this story later and build on it.
The blistering cold wind pierced through the old man’s down filled parka. He walked down the sidewalk staring at the dirty snow lining the side of the street. It was a combination of car exhaust and the pure dirtiness that seeps out of the pores of any city. He kept looking over his shoulder and glancing at passersby. One of them could be him. The only one who couldn’t be stopped. Twenty or thirty years ago maybe he would have had the strength and the speed. Maybe ten years ago the arthritis wouldn’t have been so bad and he would have been able to stop him. But not now. Now, there was just one thing left to do.
The old man began walking up the stairs of the some four hundred year old cathedral. Sanctuary. In his mind and in his heart, he felt a sense of relief. It’s been years, he thought. Years since I have walked into such a holy place. The man was almost amazed that his sinful flesh didn’t burn just by entering God’s house. In many ways he viewed himself as a horrible demon. He saw himself as a betrayer of God, a betrayer of all things that were good and decent. That’s probably why he referred to himself as Judas.
The church was quiet, peacefully quiet. It was dark too except for the few candles that threw a somber glow over the room. But it wasn’t the evil dark that he had grown so accustomed to. It was more like a calming, serene darkness. It was the kind of darkness that wraps around a person like a warm safe blanket. It was a feeling that he was not used to. He looked to the front of the church and saw the cross with Jesus’ pain filled face overlooking the hall. The crucifix today took on a new meaning to him. It didn’t just represent the pain that his savior endured for him. But in this, the most holy of symbols, he could see the hurt and pain he brought to so many. A tear started to stream down his face.
Judas shook his head, wiped off the tear, dipped his fingers in the holy water and made the sign of the cross. Almost amazed, he looked down at his fingers wondering why he wasn’t scalded by the blessed water. Why hasn’t God struck me down yet for entering his home he questioned himself? But he had a mission to complete here and he moved on. The man walked over to the confessional door. It was a heavy dark wood not unlike the gothic doors one would be accustomed to seeing in a place like this. He grabbed the handle that hundreds of thousands of sinners grabbed before him and entered the dark room. A small door slid open and the man could make out the silhouette of the priest on the other side.
“Oh Father please help me, for I have done wrong…” he started. Judas then began telling his story.
Following high school graduation he had no direction in his life. So, he took his father’s advice and joined the military. He seemed to excel at anything he tried. However, it was sniper training and hand to hand combat that built his reputation. By the time he was twenty-one he was the leader of a highly trained, highly elite squad. Their job was simple. Go to foreign countries, meet new and interesting people, torture them, kill them and overthrow their governments. Their missions were beyond the normal black op stuff that his government usually was involved with. When they went on missions, they wore no dog tags, no patches of their country’s flag. They were ghosts.
On his first mission, he and his men overthrew a benevolent government of a third world country and assisted in placing a radical dictator in his place. Why? Simple, to get oil. See, with a radical dictator in power, the neighboring countries felt threatened. So, in their fear, these countries approached Judas’s government begging and pleading for military support and protection. In exchange, the countries gave up a great deal of their oil reserves. It was oil for protection, a simple exchange of goods for services.
Over the years he did a lot of things he wasn’t proud of. The thing that stayed with him and haunted him the most was the torturing. When locals did not give up information quickly, he and his team engaged in long drawn out torturing sessions. The interrogation room, which is what they called any room in which the torturing took place, was always left with crimson stained walls and eternal echoes of torment. During some of the most violent sessions, body parts were removed in the most unceremonious fashion. Arms, legs, and fingers were cut or sometimes slowly hacked off the bodies of the interrogated. Eyes, teeth and fingernails were frequently ripped out with nothing more than a pair of pliers and brute force. But they always got the information they needed.
In the most extreme cases, they even found themselves torturing and beating the spouses and children of those information needed to be extracted from. This drove him over the edge. Decades of beating, torturing, murdering, robbing and essentially rewriting the histories of other lands drove him nuts. So one day he just left. He was trained on how to disappear and that’s just what he did. He went to one of those far off lands that he so often found himself killing in but this time there was no mission, there were no people to kill, no governments to overthrow.
For a good five months he knew peace and tranquility. With a new identity, and a lot of ill-gotten money stashed away, he was able to buy himself a little tavern and earn some honest money. No one died in his bar and no one was tortured, except the people who ordered the crab cakes. He got to know a lot of the local townsfolk and he did a good job hiding from his past.
Then one day, The Man, his commanding officer, trainer, and so much more strolled into his tavern. When he strolled into the bar no one looked at him, no one noticed him and no one thought anything about his presence there. That’s because he too knew how to be a ghost. As he saw this man casually stroll into his establishment he thought back to his initial training. He remembered thinking that this guy, who was at least thirty years older than him, looked young. And now, all these decades later, he still looked young. It was liked he didn’t age even a day. That’s the way of Evil he thought. Evil is eternal. Evil never ages. And this man was that, pure Evil. Who else could take a young man and convert him into a heartless killing machine designed to do nothing but inflict pain? His missions were never truly ones of liberation, or rescue. Those missions were reserved for the regular army. Those men were commanded by God-fearing, mentally stable and upstanding gentlemen. They engaged in moral, honorable battles that were easily thought of as noble.
The man slowly sat down on a stool and said, “You need to come back.”
Without wasting time on pleasantries he looked at the Man and replied, “Look, I know this isn’t exactly the kind of job you can quit but I’ve had enough. The nightmares, the haunting feelings, the constant feeling of death lurking around, I just can’t take it. Besides, I’m old and tired. I just can’t do this anymore” he said.
“You know, the killing, the infliction of pain, the power you feel when you along with a few of your buddies take over a small country is addicting. You say you feel death lurking around, but I tell you this; you are death. Now, I have a job for you,” The Man finished as he threw a file down on the bar.
Without even opening it he slid it back to the man and told him, “I’m done. I know what this means for me. I know what’s coming next. I just want you to know that I’ll disappear before anyone can find me. So, if you’re gonna do me, do me now. If not then just leave because I have some packing to do,” he stated as he cleaned up some of the shot glasses that were left on the bar.
“I have people to answer to as well. My bosses are much less patient than I am and they’ll give you only two choices. I’m gonna tell them I lost you. But then, I’ll be ordered to come back. If you’re here, I’ll kill you. I hope you can drop off the grid as well as you think you can,” The Man picked up the file and walked out the door quietly, unnoticed and into oblivion.
For the next several years, many a man had come looking for him. Some went home as failures and empty-handed, some got lost in remote jungles trying to find him, others were themselves killed by the very man they were sent to kill. He didn’t like the killing anymore. As a matter of fact he avoided as much as he could. With every new death there came another pain in his soul, another sin for him to bear, another lashing from the devil when he finally went to rest in the bowels of Hell.
“Now Father, I come to you asking for forgiveness. I want my soul to be cleansed. I want to die with the forgiveness of God. Death is closing in on me. It is not Gabriel who comes for me; it is an evil, evil man. I’ve hid from him as long as I could but he’s too big and he’s too strong. Besides, it’s time for me to leave this place. So please Father forgive me,” he pleaded with his head now down in the palms of his hands; his tears filling them.
“Aaarrgghh!” screamed the priest as he fell to the floor. It seems the man was so evil that he even wanted to take redemption away from his former trainee. As Judas stepped out of the confessional, standing before him was The Man, the man that trained him, the man that made him a killer, the man that brought him into this world.
“I just wanted forgiveness. I just wanted to leave this world with a clean soul. But you couldn’t let me have that, could you?” screamed the man as he bent over to check the pulse of the dead priest lying on the floor.
His father just stood before him not making a sound.
“Are you going to kill me, now?”
His father looked at him, like only a father can look at a son. Moments later, a deep resonating boom echoed through the church. A few moments later, The Man walked out of the church. His job was done. His loose ends tied up. No one quits this job.
Site: The Man's Too Strong