Good for the Soul, 1914


The Latin Ritual filled the air and summoned the faithful.

It has been a long time since I bothered to attend mass, and had the sound not been so distinct and odd in that village, I might well have ignored it altogether.

The town’s name was gone. Obliterated, as was much of the town itself. There were only a few walls still standing. Half a house here, a stable there. Nothing of any significance. Not until we came to the remnants of the church.

Only one corner of it remained, and tucked into that was the confessional.

I took up a position a hundred or so feet away, chambered a round into my rifle, and waited to see what was going to exit the confessional.

I am, I admit, a cynic, especially when it comes to religion. My father had taught me that lesson, and I had learned it well.

As I watched the confessional, movement caught my eye, and when I turned to look fully upon it, I was surprised.

A battlefield is no stranger to ghosts. Nor are the wounded and the dying uncommon.

What is, however, is what I saw.

Men in shredded uniforms and with great rents in their flesh moved at a slow and steady pace. They were dead. Of that, I had no doubt.

Between them, supported in their dead arms, were men who still lived. The wounds were terrible, and there was no doubt that soon they too would join the ranks of the dead.

Yet the ghosts bore them to the confessional and laid the dying down. As more of the wounded were stretched out, the door to the confessional opened, and a priest with only half his head exited.

He offered the sacrament of contrition, knelt beside the dying, and heard their confessions.

I watched for hours. Neither the ghosts of the fallen nor the priest paused in their work, and as the sun prepared to set, the dead carried the bodies away, and the priest returned to his confessional.

Silence swept over the ruined town, and it was a long time before I stood.

I did not wish to destroy the sanctity of the place with my clumsy footsteps.

In the end, I shouldered my rifle, removed my boots, and slipped out on silent feet.

The dead priest deserved his rest.

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Nicholas Efstathiou

Husband, father, and writer.

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