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Read the HNR Contest Winning Story ‘The Lamb’ by Justin Robinson Now!


TheLamb

The Lamb

by

Justin Robinson

There was a noticeable spring in Father Arthur Chiesa’s steps as he made his way down the hallways of St. Vitus School for Boys.  The susurration of the school caressed him, the murmur of lectures, the scratch of chalk, and the occasional thump of a desk as one of the students restlessly shifted during class.  Nothing quite like the feel of so many young minds soaking up knowledge.  It was a balm after his time away in the desert, but it wasn’t what made his steps so light.

Nor was it the title he had worn for the past week: Vice Principal.  The last one, who had just moved on to a cushy principal job in far away New York, had been an ogre of a man.  Though corporal punishment was a thing of the past, Father O’Bannion had not been shy about unleashing any and all tools at his disposal to cow the student body into passive receptacles for doctrine.

That was a thing of the past.  Father Chiesa was a jovial presence in the halls, always ready with a smile and a joke.  “The reason it’s spelled that way,” he would say, “is because the Vice Principal is your pal!”  He’d place a soft hand on the boy’s back, right between the shoulder blades, and offer a friendly grin.  They didn’t quite believe him yet, so thorough was Father O’Bannion’s reign of terror, but Father Chiesa had time.

The first step was helping transform St. Vitus into a place where boys wanted to come.  Revitalize the basketball program, organize field trips, and add a couple of school plays for the year.  Religious ones, so no one would object.  Though all of these thoughts hummed through his mind, they were not what put the wind at his back.

It was the chance to help.  The time in Jemez Springs had been relaxing at the very least.  Meditation, lots of scenic walks, and of course the pottery.  All of it gave him time to reflect on his life up to that point and renew his commitment to helping young men in the future.

Young men like Joshua Cope.  He was barely ten, and had already lost his father to a drunken car accident.  They said that the car looked like an accordion when they pulled the big rig away from the concrete barrier.  Young Joshua was at St. Vitus on a scholarship, and good thing too.  For the first year after the accident, he had merely been quiet.  The priests had thought once they got him talking about what had happened, his disposition would improve.

They were wrong.  Robert Cope had been a violent man before the accident.  That much was an open secret.  But now the same darkness in father had appeared in the son, as though the accident had caused it to leap from the used-up husk of the elder to find succor in the supple flesh of the younger.  Joshua’s words were black.  He needed the Holy Spirit.

The enforced exile in the desert had prepared Chiesa for the challenge.  He was, after all, an intermediary with god.  Lesser than the angels, but more than the average man.  He had the power to bring Christ’s body and blood from wafer and wine, the power over heaven and hell, the power to save and condemn.  He was a good man, else God would never have entrusted this awesome power to him.

Today was the day when Father Arthur Chiesa would save young Joshua Cope from the demons haunting him.  Take Joshua’s sins upon himself, and through the power of the cloth, absolve them.  Then he would mentor the lad.  Teach him about all the important things in life.  How to navigate the troubled waters of young adulthood.  What it meant to be a man.

Father Chiesa opened the door to the offices.  His was in back, a single frosted window looking out into the general office.  He wanted his office to feel welcoming.  Father O’Bannion had left a bare and spartan thing: a heavy wooden desk, a bookcase with a few Bibles and other religious literature, and the pervasive gloom of a sour life.  Father Chiesa had added knickknacks.  Little toys on his desk that visiting boys could fidget with if they so desired.  A couple posters, one a print of Michelangelo’s muscular and nude angels, the other of LeBron James dunking.  He wanted the boys to think of the Vice Principal’s office as a fun place to go, to know that the man within had some of the same interests.

He sat behind the desk and tried to do paperwork to kill the last forty-five minutes until Joshua Cope was due to be in his office.  Father Chiesa found that the words blurred together and his mind was racing too quickly to make sense of it.  He set the papers aside and had to content himself to nervous energy.

It was a little less than an hour when the boy’s silhouette resolved in the frosted glass of the door.  It faded into being like a ghost, growing hard around the little hand that rapped on the window.  Chiesa sat upright, set his face in a welcoming smile that would put sun in his voice and said, “Come in.”

The door opened and Joshua Cope slunk in.  The boy was ivory skinned, his hair oil-black.  A handsome boy, he was still covered in baby fat, his flesh, what was visible, smooth and unmarked.  Father Chiesa inhaled softly, catching the scent of the boy.  Pure innocence, unmarred by the stink of adulthood.

Father Chiesa allowed himself to savor this moment.  It had been a long time since he put the Spirit in a new boy.  A long time since the church put him in that desert.  He never felt more alive than in those moments just before.  And now, beautiful little Joshua Cope was in his office.

“Hello, Father,” the boy said.

“Hello, Joshua,” the priest said, the smile widening.  He stood up, trusting the robes to hide himself for now, went to the door, and threw the bolt.  Now was not the time for interruption.  He turned, now standing behind the boy, inches from touching.  “Your teachers are concerned about you, son.  They say you’ve been making threats against the other children.”

“No, Father.”

“No?”

“I just told them about the angels.”

Father Chiesa paused.  It was not what he had expected the boy to say.  He glanced up at the clock.  They would be alone for an hour.  More than enough time to hear Joshua’s story and do what the rest.  “Tell me about the angels, Joshua,” he said, returning to his chair to look at the child across the desk.

The boy looked up, fixing the priest with pale blue eyes.  “Are you sure?”

Father Chiesa nodded.

“They’ve been coming to me since right before my dad died.  I didn’t know what they were at first.  They come out of the dark.  They told me that they would take my dad, and they did.”

“No, son.  Your father was killed in a car accident.  The Lord, in His wisdom, took him.”

The boy stared into Father Chiesa’s eyes.  The priest wanted to blink, to turn away.  Those eyes had seen pain and nursed it in their pale depths.  Now the pain gazed into Father Chiesa and found him wanting.  “I wondered what they were.  I found them in the Bible.  The Angels of Ezekiel.”

Father Chiesa held in a grimace.  “The Book of Ezekiel is difficult to understand, Joshua, even for grown ups.  You shouldn’t be looking at it until you’re much older and have a chance of understanding.”

“They’re my friends,” Joshua said.  “But sometimes they scare me.”

The boy had more problems than Father Chiesa had been prepared for.  Still, this is what the priest wanted.  A soul he could really and truly save.  One who needed him.  And the boy was clearly disturbed.  A boy like that would scarcely be believed, should any accusations be leveled.

Father Chiesa’s smile crystallized.  “I’m so glad you were brought to my attention, Joshua.  Would you like to receive the Spirit?”

The boy was still.  And nodded.

“Good.  Let’s begin.”

Father Chiesa stood.  He was painfully hard beneath his robes.  He wanted the boy to see what was coming.  To experience a bit of delicious fear before the difficult work of purging sin began.

Chiesa walked around behind the chair.  His voice ragged, he said, “Stand up, Joshua.”

The boy obeyed.  The priest opened his robes to free himself.

“Take your pants down.”

Joshua stood there, in front of the desk.  In the stillness of the room, he whispered, “Here they come.”

Father Chiesa blinked.  The room was growing darker, shadows collecting at the corners and reaching out into the void.  The walls vanished in the gathering ink.  A cold breeze licked at the priest’s neck.

In the corners of the room, the shadows swelled.  Oily darkness stretched to the ceiling.  Figures shuffled from each of these shadows, coming from them, yet becoming them.  They were swathed in cloaks of black feathers, rustling like old paper.  Each wore a skull over the upper half of their faces, one a huge eagle, the other a massive predator, the third something bovine with horns curving in graceful arcs, and the last something very close to human.  Beneath, only their lower jaws were visible, fleshless and raw, the meat quivering, teeth clicking.

The boy turned around to face the priest.  There was no hatred or recrimination in the pale eyes, just a distant pity.  “They said they wanted you, Father.  They want to take you home.”

Chiesa wanted to step away, but there was one of these in each corner, making nowhere safe.  He turned to the door, but it was gone, replaced in a caul of pure black.

“No, please,” said Father Chiesa.  “I wanted to help the boy.  I only ever helped all of them!  They needed me!  Needed someone to take their sins from them!”

The creatures never spoke.  Each stepped forward, and where they should have encountered something to block their progress — desk, chair — they stepped through it.  Father Chiesa continued to beg them, but when the first bony hand closed over him, he knew it was hopeless.  There was the thump of wings, and the razor kiss of feathers as the four beings eclipsed him.

They dragged Father Chiesa away into that oily darkness, and he was awake for every second of his body being torn asunder in so many inventive ways.  And as his mind slipped inexorably to the agony of madness, he knew that his torment was only beginning.

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About The Overseer (1650 Articles)
Author of Say No to Drugs, writer for Blumhouse, Dread Central, Horror Novel Reviews and Addicted to Horror Movies.

15 Comments on Read the HNR Contest Winning Story ‘The Lamb’ by Justin Robinson Now!

  1. Well Justin you have written a story worthy of reading and I am glad to have done so. I found it to be an interesting tale that deals with the horror of mankind’s own inhumanity towards each other..Keep up the good work…as always…just me….Vitina Molgaard

    Like

  2. Colin Bradley // March 21, 2013 at 12:04 pm // Reply

    I really wanted to not like this story as I entered the contest with one of my own. Unfortunately that wasn’t the case. I really liked it. Well written, detailed and frightening. That’s not an easy thing to do in 2500 words or less. Also, I love a tale that features a villain getting his in the end. Well done to Mr. Robinson!

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  3. Such a good read.

    Like

  4. Wayne C. Rogers // March 23, 2013 at 11:13 pm // Reply

    Justin,
    You have an eloguence with words that is sheer beauty to read. Remember me when you hit the New York Times Bestseller List!!!

    Like

  5. Well said Wayne C. Rogers. Yes, sheer beauty.

    Like

  6. I’ve never read anything else by Justin Robinson, and he may or may not be a fantastic writer elsewhere. But this piece is toothless at first concept. Priests raping small boys, now that’s cutting edge horror at its finest. Definitely crossing into new worlds here! As if being insultingly generic wasn’t bad enough, most of the story was nothing more than constant rambling exposition. “Fantastic imagery” is a blatant lie, equally so the “eloquent writing style”. The writing is stunted and choppy, and the exposition wastes time that might have been spent giving characters depth or at least creating a bit of a mood and atmosphere. Strip it away and this is a story about a priest talking to himself. Nothing happens in this story until an entirely predictable ending, a brief and unsatisfying moment of unoriginality. Very scary.

    As it is, this is a fine piece of amateur writing, but it wouldn’t get a second glance in a truly competitive contest. Even the judges accused it of being disappointingly cliched, which makes it even more bewildering that it was chosen the winner. I hope the rest of the anthology comes out soon. I’d love to see what sort of entries this stumbling thing managed to beat to the top.

    Like

    • The majority of entrants were not exactly seasoned authors. A few were, but the majority were aspiring authors or authors with just a few credits on their resumes. While this story isn’t exactly a display of profound originality, I enjoyed it. There was something (I can’t quite put my finger on it) in the climax of the story that struck a chord, and it’s pretty well written IMO.

      The stories themselves (I actually enjoyed quite a few – even a few with some seriously glaring weaknesses) were judged first by a small circle (about a half dozen of us) of close friends/associates – these guys/gals helped me narrow the field – and I tried to go with majority votes (2 stories I felt should DEF be finalists weren’t, simply because I was out-voted, although 1 did make it into final rotation simply because I personally enjoyed it so damn much; it didn’t win lol) as I wanted a wider range of insight. Justin’s story was heavily voted – and stood out among a few of the others. Todd and Brian (two excellent authors, if you haven’t read their work) stepped up to help make the final call and deliver some honest critiquing.

      Of the final 5 stories, I don’t feel uncomfortable at all about this one winning. Again, I found something special in the finale, and I personally enjoy Justin’s prose quite a bit.

      Ultimately I’m happy with the way things panned out – and I’ve been working at making sure the very best of the other submissions make it into the anthology, while trying to avoid the weaker of efforts.

      At the end of the day, it’s all subjective Miles. You weren’t a big fan of this story, and that’s okay. I think you were a bit harsh with your response (calling anyone a liar over their opinion feels a little immature) – but at the end of the day, it’s your opinion to have and to share, and I think Wayne just responded in defensive fashion. I like to believe we’re building an almost “family-like” community around here and I think the serious contributors can be a little defensive from time to time. Hell, who isn’t? IMO – we all feel a little protective over this growing device.

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      • I stand by my criticisms in all their harshness, and reiterate that it’s too bad that this story was apparently the best in show. Especially when you admit to it lacking “profound originality”, it’s hard to see how much less original the others had to be if they couldn’t best this. I’m genuinely looking forward to digging into the anthology, I’d still love to see the other stories and see the stick that this one was measured with. Until that anthology provides evidence otherwise however, it is my opinion, and one that I will stick to, that the judgment of this piece is dishonest, though I’ll credit that it’s not by intent but by a lack of credibility. This piece has, in very definite ways, extreme structural flaws. More than anything else, I’d argue that it’s too bad that only Todd Keisling gave genuine criticism, with every other note only dishing out heaps of praise for a distinctly lacking story. It’s a missed opportunity and lacks objectivity, which is almost just as disrespectful to the writer as any insult. It’s great that you personally enjoyed it, and clearly others do as well, but does that really mean that it was the most well-crafted story of the bunch? Or is the personal preference of priest-rape comeuppance worth promoting a broken story over the rest?

        As an aside from the story itself, I appreciate receiving a level-headed response without undue “defensiveness”. Intellectual discourse has no room for ill will or personal attack, no room for anything less than honest, intelligent debate and discussion.

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  7. Wayne C. Rogers // March 28, 2013 at 12:22 am // Reply

    Miles,

    My grandfather used to say that an opinion is like an asshole. Every person has one. You’re certainly entitle to your opinion. I would fight to the death over your right to express yourself without censorship. I don’t feel, however, that you have earned the right to call what I say, or what anyone else says, “a blatant lie”. That was rather rude of you.

    Because one person doesn’t like a piece of fiction doesn’t mean someone else might not. That’s always important to keep in mind. One perosn’s garbage is another person’s treasure. Or, variety makes the world go around.

    Did you enter the contest? Did you spend a dozen or more hours writing a story and trying to make it the absolute best you could? Did you shell out fifty dollars to have an artist draw a cover, knowing it was already putting you in the hole financially? Have you spent hundreds of hours during the past year attempting to learn and perfect the craft of writing? Do you love writing so much that the long hours at the computer keyboard creating dozens of short stories each year proves to be worthwhile to you in the act itself? Do you know what it’s like to enter a profession where you have little likelihood of ever making a living from it, not because you lack the talent, though that could be part of it, but rather because the publishing industry has changed so drastically over the last decade? If you can say “yes” to those questions, then perhaps you have earned the right to call what I write a blatant lie. If not, would you please shut the fuck up!

    Like

    • You have bested me, my dear sir. Your credentials and regurgitated clichés stagger me, your fierce conviction and stunning “eloguence” striking through to my heart. It was my mistake hoping that published authors would never mistake basic writing for the expertly done, and my mistake in choosing to use the word “lie” to reflect that clear bias towards a completely amateur piece of writing. Perhaps “ignorant judgment” or “misleading falsehood” would suit it better.

      Unless you were a judge yourself, whose were the only reviews that I referenced, then I’m not entirely sure why you’re so personally upset over my dislike over a piece that you didn’t write and were not involved in. Feel free to correct me on where your personal prejudice lies.

      I appreciate that you find me “entitle” to my own opinion. Luckily for me, I also have the conviction and courage to publish it without referencing irrelevant achievements as if they added weight to my judgment of people that I’ve never met. Kindly return the “fuck” to your own fingertips and try harder next time.

      Like

  8. Karelia Stetz-Waters // April 7, 2013 at 8:13 pm // Reply

    I love the phrase “a razor kiss of feathers.” That’s a great line.

    Like

  9. To those who liked it, thank you! To those who didn’t, I’ll do better next time.

    Like

  10. Wayne C. Rogers // April 13, 2013 at 9:54 pm // Reply

    Justin,

    I certainly apologize for my behavior. Winning a contest should be a time for congratulations and having a beer in celebration. Nowadays, when the majority of magazine, ezines, and websites only pay ten dollars for a story, if you’re lucky, the fact that you were able to win this contest and make a hundred bucks says a lot. Congratulations and keep growing as a writer!

    Like

  11. I do not leave a comment, however I browsed some responses here Read
    the HNR Contest Winning Story The Lamb by Justin Robinson Now!
    | Horror Novel Reviews. I actually do have a few questions
    for you if it’s okay. Is it just me or does it look like like a few of the responses appear like they are written by brain dead people? 😛 And, if you are writing on additional online sites, I would like to keep up with anything new you have to post. Could you post a list of the complete urls of all your public sites like your Facebook page, twitter feed, or linkedin profile?

    Like

  12. Just came across this story, and I thought it was very well done. Nice prose and compact story arc for such a short piece. I find it difficult to generate a well-characterized story in just a couple thousand words, but this one did it nicely. I was motivated to comment because I was so unimpressed with the commenter who spent so much time and energy bashing this winning contest entry, that I thought I’d offer a balance to his opinion. To the author I’d say, people like that are best to just ignore. My guess is that you beat him, and he got angry about it.

    Like

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