What’s the worst sound you’ve ever heard?

Buy me a drink and I’ll tell you about a death, a sound, and the end of a dream.

It was ten years ago and I was a young Church of Scotland minister. Yes, I know I don’t look a man of the cloth, but hear me out.

Matt Duncan was dying when I got to him, thin bubbles of blood at mouth and nostril. His wife had called, pleading with me to come, to help in his last hours. I was young and sure of my faith but the sight of those sunken eyes and the thin rasping from his chest made my heart lurch with pity.

He was trying to speak, and I had to lean close to hear him.

“Bless me Father for I have sinned,” he said. I tried to tell him I wasn’t Catholic, but he merely grasped my hand hard and began to speak.

I won’t bother you with the details. The life he related was full of theft and mayhem, of sexual depravity and of murder. I felt bile rise in my throat as he disclosed one particular story about a twelve year old girl, but my God is a merciful God. I prayed with him, telling him that God would care for him, and I had just reached the end of a prayer when I heard the death rattle in his throat. I placed his hand on his chest and bent my head. It was then that I heard it.

The room hummed with the far off sound of heavy machinery, then a bell rang, harsh and tinny, echoing around the small room.

There came a sliding, metallic noise of a door opening, and a deep voice intoned the words I’ve heard every night since…

“Going down.”

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