Saturday, June 09, 2007

First Excorcist - Chapter 1

As William pulled on his robe he tried to clear his mind of all destructive thoughts. His eyes closed, his hands tugged on the purple linen stohl that he draped over his shoulders, letting it fall easily down the front of his broad chest to his feet far below. His thoughts were interrupted by a loud thud that shook the house, followed by a desperate moaning that seemed to come from all directions. He took a deep breath, recognizing the stale odor of rot on the air. His ears picked up his name whispered on the foul current, a cacophony of voices clamoring in excitement and fear, a few tortured souls let out shrill calls of alarm. It reminded him of the bells tolling in the church towers, the discordant notes that carried far and wide for it’s adherents to acknowledge the call. It gave a new twist to the thought that one’s body is a temple. For who does the bell toll? It depends on whose ringing it.

He thought back to how his day had started. When he got the call from the bishop early this morning to fly to new York he had just enough time to gather his things and leave a note on the door of his classroom that his students were to memorize Hammurabi’s code over the next two days, he would be back Friday to test them. He could hear their cries for pity already. As a professor of archeology he had spent years studying and teaching about man and his demons. Personally, man and his susceptibility to evil was hardly a mystery, but the essence of evil was always a subject that interested him. It wasn’t just his abiding faith in God that drove his interests, it was the peculiar gifts he was born with that allowed him little choice of whether to be attracted to the study of evil. And while he was well known for his archeological discoveries, few knew that it was in putting these gifts to service for his church that sent him around the world more than any archeological digs. Being the Vatican’s First Exorcist was best kept a profession with few admirers.

It wasn’t until late afternoon that he slid into the back of a cab at the airport, and after repeating three times where he wanted to go, he just gave up on the driver understanding him through his Irish accent and handed him the paper with the address on it. As the cab wound its way toward its destination he went over what he had been told about this case. A Father Montgomery had taken ill just as he was finishing an exorcism on a 10 year old boy. He had told his assistants that they were just about done, it had taken almost 18 hours but they had finally reached the clash stage, they had thought they had it beat. Something had gone terribly wrong, Father Montgomery had been attacked by the possessor and either it or the stress of the fight killed him. Doctors said cardiac arrest. William said a quick prayer for him. People never realize that sometimes evil wins. But that was why he was here. For those who were possessed, in a broken ritual like this, he was their last chance.

The unspoken rule is that once a priest begins an exorcism, at nearly all cost he must finish it. If he fails to follow through on the ritual, if the demon should defeat him, not only is his life in danger, the dominance over the soul it has enslaved will take a deeper hold, and chances are incredibly slim that another exorcism will free the possessed. For this reason it is not uncommon for a priest who has been attacked and injured to such an extent that he cannot continue to come back weeks later and finish the exorcism. But Father Montgomery would not have that opportunity. He died almost instantly, apparently dead before he was thrown against the wall across the room. William had met him briefly years ago, the man had a reputation as a solid exorcist with years of experience. What could have happened that allowed the tables to be turned on him was a troubling mystery to William. The man was no beginner.

A subtle vibration moved through the house and broke him from his revelry. He took another deep breath, let it out slowly and left the room. As he passed the stairs leading up the boy’s room, the moaning that had droned on uninterrupted since he had walked into the house turned into a shriek, the rhythmic pounding quickened. He paused there a moment, feeling the anger move through the walls toward him, and then continued down the hall to talk to those who had assisted Father Montgomery. They were a shaken lot. Mr. Brown was the boy’s father. Mr. Hernandez was a family friend and a retired policeman. Father Andrew was Montgomery’s assistant from the local church. They all looked up at him as he came into the kitchen, nervously putting down their drinks on the kitchen table they sat around. They looked like they were clinging to the last shreds of hope, desperation cut deep lines into their faces. The young Father Andrew looked only slightly better, his deep faith being his only anchor. William nodded a greeting to Andrew and turned to the two other men. They both seemed to back into their chairs away from him as if preparing to flee, something about this priest rattled them near as much as the ungodly sounds that filled the house.

“ Mr. Brown, I am Father William Brannen, I have come to take back your little boy.” William’s deep voice defined conviction. The determination in his penetrating green eyes took hold of the father and the man felt hope return, he could not explain why. He just sat entranced by the eyes of this tall, black haired priest who spoke as if what he were saying could be nothing other than the truth. The tension in the small room seem to suddenly release, as if someone had opened a window.

“ You will take him back? “ the father asked.

“ With the Lord’s help, I will. I will not need you or Mr. Hernandez anymore today, Andrew and I will be fine. I ask only that you stay here and pray for him, though. He will need your prayers now more than ever.”

“ That I will, Father." the man's voice faltered, before starting again. " Before today I never knew what fear was. I never believed that the devil was real. I never believed that the .......” His voice fell away as his gaze went glassy with memories of what he had seen and felt the night before. Tears started to form under his bloodshot eyes, his face lost all color and expression.

William put a hand on his shoulder and gathered the man’s attention to him.
“ You must let those memories go. Overpower them with thoughts of love for your little one. Remember him as the healthy, strong son you would give your life for. It is those feelings of love that are his greatest defense. “ He looked over at Mr. Hernandez and nodded in his direction, spending a moment purposefully looking into his eyes to impress on him how important this was. Though men in law enforcement like him are witnesses to evil all of their careers, nothing could prepare someone for the experience during an exorcism. This one was changed forever. The man just nodded in return.

He turned to Andrew and motioned him to follow him from the room. He noticed the young man’s reluctance, as if he thought they were heading up to the room right then. He didn’t feel he was ready to return just yet.

“ Come, Andrew, let’s talk in the den.” William reassured him.

“ Yes, Father.” Andrew answered quickly, regaining his composure and swiping his bible off the table fell in behind William. More low moaning filled the home, a cry like a child brooding over a punishment that was imminent.

William stopped for a moment in the middle of the room and closed his eyes, whispering words in an unknown language. The sound suddenly ceased, the dead calm so thorough that it startled everyone. Just as startling were the screams that broke out after a few seconds of solitude, voices that seemed to come from the walls. “ We know you, priest! You cannot save him! The pig is ours!” Squealing and laughter mixed together before breaking down into a groveling moan that picked up where it had left off. William lifted his head, turned and faced Andrew.

“ I need you with me, Andrew, can you make it?” William started.

“ I think so.” the young man answered.

“ You must be more sure ‘an that, lad. Is this your first ritual?”

“ Yes, Father, it is. I thought I was ready for it, but it is far worse than I expected. It killed Father Montgomery, it threw him...”

“ That won’t happen again. The devil is a cunning beast, but it can only do to us what we let it. Remember that, and ignore all you hear. It is all lies. Never talk to it, or show it you are affected by what it says to you. Tell me, what was Father Montgomery saying before he was attacked?”

“ He was angry, they were arguing. Father demanded obedience, the demon laughed, it was always laughing. Father challenged him, and all hell broke loose.” Andrew answered, his voice quivering.

William knew then what had happened. The battle between man and demon during an exorcism was primarily a battle of wills. The man must always remember that he is just a servant of God, of Jesus Christ, that he himself is no match for a demon. The strategy is to invite the possessor to reveal itself, and then call on the power of God to compel it to leave. The wiles of the evil are powerful, and it’s only hope is to make the battle a personal one. Father Montgomery had been goaded into a taking on the demon himself. It had cost him his life.

William nodded that he understood, and then took the young man by the shoulders and stared intently into his eyes. Their eyes remained locked for what seemed like a long minute for Andrew, but in reality it was only a few seconds. He felt strength fill his heart again, his mind cleared and, in what seemed utterly natural, raised his arms to William’s shoulder and completed the embrace. “ Focus on what you must do, Andrew. Nothing else. Do not talk to it, listen to it, look at it. Ever. I must have the full attention of this host.” William counseled.

“ He’s all yours, Father.”

As they headed for the stairs the lights blinked throughout the house. The tall, broad shouldered priest reached down and picked up his leather bag, his tools for the trade he had been born for. As his foot hit the first step, the phones in the house rang, the television sparked to life and the screen flashed split second images of every channel it offered. By the top of the stairs the noise of appliances in the house was deafening, only topped by the growling that came from behind the door down the hall. None of it fazed William, it was all show for him, he had seen it many times. He looked one last time at Andrew and then reached for the door knob.

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