Nate woke out of
suffocating nightmares into blazing daylight. He crawled out of bed and threw
on an old lumberjack shirt and a pair of chinos. It was late, but he still had
some time until he started his Saturday shift at the store.
Cautiously he made his way to the kitchen, but there was no sign of the
creature he feared so much. The dining room table still held the remains of a
simple breakfast. Next to the cereal bowls, still wet with drops of milk, was a
sheet of paper with his father's jagged handwriting. Off to the aquarium.
We'll pick you up some fish for dinner.ha ha and a big happy face.
Nate poured himself a large glass of grapefruit juice and drank it greedily. He
was about to fix himself a huge bowl of corn flakes when the doorbell chimed.
When he opened the front door Nate saw a tall, elegantly dressed man with
smooth, dark skin. He smiled and removed his hat with a slight bow.
"Good morning, Mister Fletcher." The man's voice was deep velvet.
"Hi." Nate felt a little awkward in his sloppy clothing. "Can I
help you, sir?"
"I am here to offer my services to you, young man. Allow me to introduce
myself." He withdrew a white card from the pocket of his crisp gray vest
and handed it to Nate.
John Whitcomb appeared on the card in refined black script. Beneath, in
slightly smaller letters, exorcist. There was no address or phone
"Is this some kind of joke? A religious pitch, maybe?" Nate thought
about handing the card back but something made him stuff it into his pocket.
"I assure you, Mister Fletcher, that I have no use for either humor or
piety. I am entirely a practical man." Whitcomb's smile faded into a
frown. "I have reason to believe that you have been visited by an
unwelcome and unnatural presence."
Nate's mouth felt like ashes, "You seem to know a lot."
"That is my profession."
"Professionals usually demand payment."
"Certainly." Whitcomb smiled again. "I'm sure you'll find my fee
reasonable enough. I only request that you allow me to take the creature into
my own care."
"I thought you were going to destroy her."
Whitcomb shook his head. "It, Mister Fletcher. And I could not
destroy such an entity if I tried. I can, however, control it, and remove it
from your home. In exchange for which, I will use its powers for my own
Nate felt as if he had fallen into a black hole of irrationality. "I'll
have to think about it."
Whitcomb nodded. "Of course. Whenever you make your decision, I will
return. Good day, Mister Fletcher."
Nate slammed the door shut and ran to his room. He hid the card in his books
and began to dress for work. Whatever Whitcomb was planning, it had to be
better than living with a walking nightmare every day. The rest of his family
was bewitched by her; this was a battle that he had to face alone. He hoped he
would find the courage.
Margaret and David were already seated at the dining table when Dulcifer walked
in with a very sleepy Grace holding her hand. Yesterday's visit to the aquarium
had thrilled Dulcifer so much that Grace had picked up the excitement and could
not be coaxed into bed until far past her bedtime. After all, why should Grace
go to sleep when her friend never did?
"Morning," David said brightly. "This is how we celebrate
Sundays around here." He piled three dark brown pancakes on Dulcifer's
plate. "Buckwheat cakes, real butter, real maple syrup, fresh squeezed
orange juice. Help yourself."
Dulcifer was delighted by the tartness of the juice and the sweetness of the
syrup, and nearly overwhelmed by the complex flavor of the pancakes. She tasted
the butter cautiously but found its flavor as repellent as its odor.
"Well, you seem to be a vegetarian." Margaret lifted a forkful of the
steaming cake, dripping with butter. "At least that's one thing we know
"Has anyone seen Nate this morning?" David asked.
"I keep him away," Dulcifer said. She felt a tear form in her eye;
another new experience.
"Jerk." Grace snapped out of her sleepiness and attacked her
"Grace," Margaret said ominously.
"Sorry. But why wouldn't he like her? She's wonderful."
"People are different, honey. They react to new things -- new people -- in
different ways. Maybe Nate's a little nervous. You have to admit that Dulcifer
isn't quite like anyone else."
"She's my best friend," Grace said firmly.
"It disturbs him that I feel your dreams," Dulcifer said.
"Our dreams?" David asked.
"The bird that attacked you -- I was there."
"I didn't even tell Margaret about that. This is too weird, folks.
Dulcifer, there seems to be no end to your little surprises."
Dulcifer looked at their faces, reading emotions that were still new to her.
They all seemed fascinated by what she had said. Not so much by the meaning of
her words, perhaps, but by the sound of them. She realized that she would have
to learn to use her voice very carefully.
There was a brief silence as they finished their meal. David began gathering up
the dishes and piled them into the sink.
"Well, I guess Nate's off jogging somewhere," he said. "It
wouldn't be the first Sunday he's missed a perfect breakfast. With summer
school and the job, he doesn't have much time to himself."
"Now we've got the whole day free," Margaret said. "We usually
just have fun on Sundays, Dulcifer. We're not much for church services. Unless you
want to go."
"I don't think so. Shall I sing for you?"
"Yeah!" Grace cried.
David sighed. "God, I'd love to say yes. But let's hold off on that for
right now. I'm expecting my old music professor here in a couple of hours, and
I want him to hear you. I don't think I could handle listening to you sing
twice in one day."
"I hope you don't mind meeting him, dear." Margaret said. "I
don't want you to think we're treating you like a carnival sideshow."
"I will sing for him. I sing. It is what I am."
Dulcifer spent the rest of the morning playing in the backyard with Grace.
Together they became everything from hungry wolves to invaders from outer space.
Dulcifer marveled at the power of pretending.
They were both resting on the grass from a ruleless game of running and jumping
when Margaret called them inside. Dulcifer saw a small man with white hair and
beard frowning at her.
"So. This is our miraculous singer." He stepped closer to her.
"Who was your instructor? What parts have your memorized? Are you lyric,
dramatic, a coloratura, perhaps?"
"I don't know," Dulcifer said.
"You're going too fast for her, Professor." David pulled him back a few
inches. "Dulcifer, this is Doctor Gregor Mittlesohn. I told him about your
"And in quite unbelievable terms," Mittlesohn said. "I warn you,
young woman, that I have no patience with any artist who uses only one name. It
is a pretentious affectation."
"I assure you that she is free from all pretense," Margaret said
"Indeed. Very well. Let us begin. Choose any aria you please."
Mittlesohn smiled slightly. "I am not quite as fluent in Italian as
German, but Verdi is as pleasant to my ears as Mozart."
For the first time Dulcifer was reluctant to sing. This man reminded her of
someone from her previous existence, someone who had judged her and condemned
"I told you she has a natural talent," David said. "She
doesn't know anything about written music. My God, she hardly knows anything
"Nonsense. There is no such thing as natural talent. Talent is the result
of years of hard work. If she has not studied singing, then she does not sing.
Listen." Mittlesohn sang a single rumbling note that filled the room with
a rich, mellow tone. "That is the result of decades of daily practice. I
would be considered the worst singer in any professional opera company. If this
child has not worked, than I am wasting my time here."
"She's not a child." Margaret was surprised by her own annoyance.
"I sing," Dulcifer said softly.
"Show him," Grace whispered.
Dulcifer sang. She sang with pride and fury, drawing on dim recollections to
fill her voice. Hidden in the shadows of her mind was the vague memory of one
who was beautiful and fierce, one who had requested her aid in a cause she
could no longer remember.
The song swept over many octaves, encompassing complex trills and runs.
Dulcifer sang without words; words were too weak to withstand her anger. Her
voice grew louder, until it rang off the windows and echoed throughout the
house. Soon it ended. Dulcifer had transformed
her anger into sound, and destroyed it.
Grace was weeping. Dulcifer knelt and embraced her, whispering soft, comforting
sounds until she was calm.
"You scared me," she said.
"I'm sorry. I won't do it again."
Mittlesohn's face was red and his eyes wide open. He stumbled into a chair and
pulled a small brown bottle out of his pocket. With trembling fingers he placed
a tiny white tablet in his mouth.
Margaret and David seemed be coming out of a trance. They rushed to his side.
"I will be well in a moment." He breathed deeply. "Fortunately,
I always carry my nitroglycerine tablets, although I have not had an anginal
attack in quite a long time. Yes, I am feeling much better now. Physically, at
"It's my fault," David said. "I should have warned you."
"I would not have believed you, my friend, anymore than I believed
anything else you said." He glanced at Dulcifer warily. "You possess
an astonishing power. I trust you will never abuse it."
"She didn't mean to frighten anyone," Grace said. "We still love
Dulcifer smiled sadly. She wondered if she would ever be worthy of Grace's
Mittlesohn wiped his brow. His face had faded from deep red back to its
previous paleness. "When I was no more than a boy, I heard Marian Anderson
sing in this nation's capital. I had just fled Germany at the time. I knew nothing
of singing. It was her voice which led me to dedicate my life to music. It was
the most profound experience of my life. Until now."
"Then you understand," David said.
"I accept it, but I do not understand it. I heard layers of harmony in
Dulcifer's voice impossible for anything less than a full choir. Not to mention
the effect on my emotions." Mittlesohn lowered his head. "I am
humbled by your gift, young lady. Please forgive my foolish arrogance."
"So what do we do now?" Margaret said.
"Do?" Mittlesohn seemed astonished. "Why, you bring this voice
to the attention of humanity, of course. Oh, it will be difficult. No one will
want to listen to an untrained singer. But I know a few people. When they hear
her, they will believe."
"This is a human being we're talking about, not a disembodied voice. What
do you want, Dulcifer?"
Dulcifer stood and wondered. They all needed something different from her.
Grace needed to love her. Margaret needed to heal her. David needed to
understand her. Mittlesohn needed to share her. Nate needed to fear her. How
could she decide which identity to assume?
"I want to live here," she said. "You are my life."
"Of course, dear. We've been treating you like a pet or a pretty toy.
David, you can take care of the papers and what not, can't you?"
David shook his head. "It won't be easy. I work mostly with corporate law.
There are some precedents in cases of amnesia, I think, but it'll take time and
"I would not worry overmuch about the financial burden," Mittlesohn
said. "Once you have recorded Dulcifer's voice, you will all be very
"We don't want to exploit you," Margaret said. "Whatever
happens, you will be in full control. Don't let us force you into
"Thank you. I wish to share everything I have with you."
"Excellent." Mittlesohn stood and rubbed his hands together. "I
will return to my office, make some telephone calls, and arrange for a
recording session. I will let you know the place and time."
"I can't ask you to do all that work for us," David said.
"It is not work, but joy. The gratification of introducing a brilliant
musician to the world -- there is no richer pleasure." Mittlesohn smiled
at Dulcifer. "Farewell, my young lark."
They saw him to the door and stood together sharing a silent moment of
happiness and affection. For the first time in her short life on Earth,
Dulcifer felt she belonged here.
Nate's legs ached with the pain of running. His heart hammered against his
chest and his lungs burned as he gasped for breath. Still, he forced himself to
continue around the track. The high school field was deserted on a summer
Sunday, and he could allow himself to run without shame until his fears melted
away with the agony.
Nate gasped and collapsed. He rolled off the dirt track and onto the grass. For
long minutes he stared up at the sky, the sting of sweat running into his eyes.
When his heart had slowed to a normal rate he sat up and wrapped his arms
around his knees. Sundays would be the worst. He could avoid Dulcifer six days a
week with summer classes and work. Evenings he could retreat to his room. But
it would seem strange if he was gone all day Sunday. There has to be a way
to get rid of her.
For a moment Nate thought a cloud had passed overhead, blocking the heat of the
sun. He shivered and realized someone was standing over him.
Whitcomb loomed above him, his eyes hidden by silvered glasses. "You
"I didn't call you." Nate stood. "You didn't even give me your
Whitcomb smiled. "I didn't mean a phone call." He seemed crisp and
cool in the blazing sunlight, his perfect suit a black shadow. "All I need
is a word from you, and I'll go to work."
"Do whatever you think is right."
Whitcomb laid a heavy, cold hand on his shoulder. "I need your permission.
Just one word."
"Why?" Nate pushed the man's hand away. He was beginning to wonder
who was the greater menace, Whitcomb or the thing he pursued.
"For better or worse, Mister Fletcher, you are the most important part of
all this. You are my doorway. Until the door is unlocked, I may not
"I'm not into this mystical stuff."
"Ah, but this mystical stuff is in you." Whitcomb pulled off
his glasses. His pupils were strangely large, as if it were the middle of a
moonless night. "Let me free you from the creature who is tormenting you.
Nate moved back to the dirt track and began running again. This time he ran
carefully, pacing himself so that his heart and lungs worked perfectly
together, allowing him to think. He felt Whitcomb patiently watching him as he
completed one more lap.
"Yes. Do it."
"Thank you. Tomorrow." Whitcomb walked away quickly. Nate stared
after him until he was a tiny black spot on the edge of the field.
Dulcifer was alone in the house for the first time. Margaret had warned her
that weekdays would be like this, but Dulcifer was not yet used to the ways in
which people divided the flow of time into rigid patterns. She experienced a
new emotion: loneliness.
The slow morning hours were spent exploring the life that inhabited the house.
Dulcifer had become quite familiar with the living things outside; now she was
learning about the secret ecology inside.
It was everywhere. Although the Fletchers lived in a very clean and orderly
home, Dulcifer found tiny creatures living in hidden places. She watched an ant
weave its way through the kitchen to a barely visible hole in the flooring
beneath the sink. She heard the quiet chatter of flies drifting through the
The house was full of Margaret's cherished plants. Dulcifer touched a leaf of
each and was delighted by the variety of textures. Some were as smooth as
glass, some rough, some stiff and heavy, some soft and downy.
Underneath, in Grace's bold
scribble, was written
Her favorites were the two cats. Ginger was no longer so nervous around her,
and even allowed herself to be petted if Dulcifer moved her hand very slowly
and gently along her back. Lemonade spent every moment she could sleeping in
Dulcifer's lap. Her calm breathing was so beautiful a sound that Dulcifer
imagined she had heard it before, in her forgotten life.
The sudden buzz of the doorbell took her by surprise. She wasn't expecting any
visitors until Grace and Margaret returned from their many errands. Lemonade
jumped off her lap and followed her sister out the pet door. Dulcifer decided
to welcome whoever was out there to her home.
As soon as she opened the door Dulcifer knew she had encountered this man
before. She didn't recognize him; but she knew him.
"May I come in?" he said.
"Yes." Dulcifer stepped aside. The man walked past her and waited
until she closed the door before speaking.
"It's been a long time. Or a short one, or no time at all, depending on
how you look at it. Time was a very eccentric invention." He sat in
David's favorite chair and crossed his legs.
"I don't know anything about time," Dulcifer said.
"Oh, you know everything I know. You've just forgotten that you
know." He smiled. "You remember me, don't you?"
"Yes. No. I don't know."
"A wise answer. Well, they've given me many names, but I call myself
Dulcifer studied him as if he were a form of life she had never encountered
before. He sat with an easy confidence she could not imagine possessing.
"You're not from here either," she said.
"Certainly not." Whitcomb glanced around the room with disdain.
"I wouldn't want to be one of these pathetic little creatures, living
their insect lives in their cages of flesh. Hell is infinitely
"You speak of Hell as if you knew it well."
"Of course." Whitcomb leaned forward. His eyes were strangely
beautiful, hints of gold hidden in the darkness. "You must remember. You will
Dulcifer felt herself sinking into his gaze. Memory was a whirlpool, drawing
her deeper and deeper into an unknown past. Suddenly she gasped for air, as if
she had barely escaped drowning. Long seconds passed before she could speak.
"Lucifer," she whispered. The name sounded strange and weak when
translated into human sounds. Words could only capture a pale shade of the
magnificent being she now remembered so well.
"I thought --"
"You thought I was in Hell. I am. Hell is in me. I am Hell."
"I never wanted you to be hurt. I was so afraid when the war
"Of course you were, my love. You were always the most gentle of us. But
now you see the consequences of your reluctance to stand by my side." He
stood and raised his arms. "Look at this place! You're as much a prisoner
as I am. Surely you must realize that the Creator is your enemy."
"The war is lost."
"Perhaps not. If you were to join me, what an army we would be! Our attack
will be utterly unexpected; the Creator pays no attention to this world. Heaven
will not stand against us."
Dulcifer embraced her rescuer. He was so lovely and so powerful. Here was her
chance to return to the perfection she only now remembered. She sang.
Her voice was clear and unashamed. There was no need to hide its full power
from Lucifer. Her song was her own now, to be sung as she wished. She sang of
triumph in the voice that had once amazed even her fellow angels, that had
delighted even the unknowable heart of the Creator. She was free.
At the height of her song a voice that was not a voice exploded in her mind and
silenced her. Sounds that ere not sounds made her own voice seem like
the weakest cry of a dying infant.
Dulcifer. The unspoken word was more than her name. It was her past and
her future, her entire existence. The One who named her released her mind just
enough to allow her to reply.
"You heard me."
Yes. Your song reached Heaven. Out of the silence of the universe, only your
voice could reach Us. Now it is time to decide.
She trembled at the power of the Creator's thoughts.
You may join Lucifer in his rebellion if you wish. Perhaps you will even
defeat Us. Or you may return to Heaven and dwell at Our side. Decide.
The Creator freed her mind a little more, so she could move. She stepped away
from Lucifer, still smiling, his embrace frozen in a moment outside time.
A hunger for Heaven raged inside her. To return to the Creator, her cowardice
forgiven; how glorious that would be. Yet here was Lucifer, whom she loved more
dearly than herself. How could she desert him, when together they might rule
Heaven? Again she knew the agony of indecision.
Time passed for Dulcifer while it remained motionless for the rest of the
universe. She knew it would remain still until she chose her path. She thought
back over her lives on Heaven and Earth. At last she decided.
"I choose to remain here. I will have no more of your war. Do battle without
So be it. The Creator left her. It was as if the sun had disappeared,
but left its warmth and light behind.
Lucifer was gone as well. Dulcifer realized that she would never see him again.
Heaven and Hell were closed to her forever. She was a human being, and she
would live and die with others of her kind. She sang a song of joy, in a voice
that was a pleasant, but very ordinary one. She hoped that her family would not
be too disappointed in her transformation. She sang, and waited for those she
loved to return.