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Books by Quantum Muse contributors and friends.
The Tooth Fairy War and Other Tales

by
Jeromy Henry
Time Wars & other SciFi Tales

by
Gordon Rowlinson
The Dreaming Fire

by
Jeromy Henry

Sympathy for the Demon

by

Neil Fulwood



The stage is set for the final act. The undernourished body of the girl I’ve been possessing is strapped to her bed. Her parents are on tenterhooks. Attempts at a scientific explanation have been exhausted. I’ve played all the usual tricks: poltergeist activity, speaking in tongues, cold spots around the house, sub-zero temperatures in the girl’s room, and drastic changes  in her physiognomy.

It’s not a Christian or Catholic household, so the old crucifixes-dropping-off-walls routine or religious icons spinning around like Catherine wheels aren’t applicable. She had one of those “buddy Christ” things on her windowsill, though, so I made it go up in flames. That was the second month of the possession, when her parents were still pissing around with psychiatrists and psychologists and any other so-called professional whose job title ended in “-ist”. It’s my job to push things until they get the hint and call in an exorcist. Torching a “buddy Christ” seemed like a good way of prodding them in the right direction.

Plus I was bored by then. Two months possessing a 14-year-old with a bedroom predominantly done out in pink and posters of non-threatening boy bands all over the place. I recognized one of the bands. Sold their souls en masse a couple of years ago. They’ve got three more chart-topping albums left, then the Boss owns them. Oh, and she’s kidding herself if she thinks any of them are interested in girls.

It was a devout relative who persuaded them to see a priest. I had to put on a real show to convince him, I can tell you. Seriously – there’s something wrong with the world when even fucking priests are skeptics. I was close to letting him have it with the projectile vomiting, but it would only have come across as a cliché. Thanks to that movie. By the time I’d burned pentagrams in the bedroom carpet and made the number of the beast appear as acne scars on her neck, he got with the program and took it to the diocese.

Back in the day, some granite-faced fire-and-brimstone preacher with a leather-bound Bible, a few vials of holy water and a righteous hatred of the likes of me would have been round in no time, spoiling for an old-school, balls-out good vs evil smackdown. Nowadays, they have meetings first. Fuckloads of meetings. Gone are the days when it was possession to exorcism in a couple of weeks tops. Now you’re lucky if the whole process is completed within three months. No wonder quotas have fallen.

That’s the price of progress, I guess. Everybody looks for a rationale instead of believing what’s in front of their eyes.

So here I am, letting my innocent (apart from her taste in music) victim slumber while I wait for the priest to arrive. For the endgame to commence. I know the necessary permissions have been granted. I know he’s on his way. Her father came into the bedroom half an hour ago and there was a look in his eyes that almost dared me to wake up and start with my Satanic shit just so he could tell me my days were numbered. Atheists in fox-holes – my favourite kind!

A car draws up outside and I wonder what my nemesis will be like. Exorcists aren’t exactly your mainstream slightly superior priests with deep baritone voices for the hymns and a saleman’s talent for a good return at harvest festival. Exorcists are the ecumenical elephant in the room. Everyone knows what they do and why but the powers that be are slightly embarrassed by them and there’s an unspoken agreement to keep them out of the public eye. I’m betting that this one will conform to one of two types: an old dude who entered the seminary back when the Pope was still a member of the Hitler youth, who embraces every word of the Old Testament but can’t be doing with any of that namby-pamby New Testament crap with its turned cheeks and forgiveness; or a jittery, whisky-sodden wreck who has looked into the face of evil one time too often and is haunted by his failures both as a man and a servant of God.

Both types are supremely entertaining to wind up.

The car door slams and an engine revs. An inappropriately cheerful chime resounds from the doorbell and the man of the house goes stomping off to answer it. His footsteps sound a little too confident, so I wait a few seconds till he’s admitted the priest then let rip in a raspy forty-a-day voice (by which I mean forty packs) with the welcoming homily, “Leave now, you nun-fucking cocksucker!”

Juvenile, I know. And something of a contradiction in terms. I mean, a nun-fucker and a cocksucker. How does that work? Unless the nuns were ladyboys. Now there’s something to conjure with. But I digress …

Heavy boots pound up the stairs, taking them two – maybe three – at a time. The bedroom door flies open like the Flying Squad was behind it and –

Oh, shit … was I ever wrong about this guy! As he comes barreling through the door, I take in his military style haircut, his broad shoulders and the fact that he’s wearing a leather jacket over the regulation issue black shirt and white dog collar. He’s early thirties, seriously in shape and I don’t think he’s ever harboured a theological doubt in his life. The holy water’s out in a flash and the shriek the girl emits is absolutely nothing to do with me – it’s the reaction of any normal person to a face full of cold water.

Then it hits me and I replace her adolescent yelp with a full-throated roar of ageless evil. This done I reiterate the nun-fucking cocksucker line and follow it up with a bilious assertion as to the activities his late mother is presently undertaking in the underworld.

“Be silent!” he commands. He whips out the crucifix next. A big, solid-looking one. Damned if he doesn’t give it a little twirl, like a fucking gunslinger! “I’ve seen that movie,” he adds, voice lower, a trace of mockery in it, “and if you even think about the pea-soup puke, I’ll rip your unholy ass out of her body with my bare hands and then I’ll really fucking exorcise you.”

Okaaayyyy. Not what I was expecting at all. Quick recap: he’s spoken three dozen words to me, one of them has been “fucking” and the general conversational tone has veered closer to ‘The Boondock Saints’ than ‘The Passion of the Christ’. Now there was a film where Junior got his ass whupped.

Sorry, I’m digressing again.

The priest is at the bed in two decisive strides. He places the crucifix on her face so that the crosspiece covers her eyes and the lower end weighs on her lips. See no evil and speak no evil in one fell swoop. Two out of three ain’t bad. He makes the sign of the cross above the crucifix – which is overkill, if you ask me – then a leather-bound Bible is in his hands and he’s giving it the rite of exorcism.

Usually, I pick up on an exorcist’s weak spot – their deepest fear or hidden secret – straightaway … and exploit it just as quickly. I’m not getting a reading from this guy, though. The crucifix on the girl’s face prevents me from spewing vomit or profanity at him. I can’t turn her eyes red or roll them around in the sockets so there’s nothing but an expanse of bloodshot white staring up at him. (You wouldn’t believe how many men of God that little trick has freaked out.) The straps tying her down are substantial enough that I’m going to have to do some concentrated work before I can thrash her body around or levitate.

I need to buy time. I throw my negative energy out into the room and flick open the window latches, throw them wide open and slam them shut with as much force as possible. There’s a muffled noise and a miniscule pattern of spiderweb cracks appear in the panes. Fucking uPVC! Back in the day, wooden windowframes would have splintered and shards of glass cascaded across the room. Now it’s all lifetime guaranteed double-glazing. Fuck my afterlife!

I yank the drawers from her dressing table with the intention of hurling them at the priest. They prove to be a rickety assembly, originally flatpacked and retailed through a Scandinavian furniture store specializing in cheap utilitarian shit and bad TV commercials. They fall apart within seconds, the dressing table itself collapsing like a house of cards that’s just had one card removed. Probably the joker.

Certainly that’s what I feel like right now: a joke.

To one side of the now deconstructed dressing table there’s a tower rack full of CDs, so I launch them one after another, like clay pigeons. Briefly, I get a result. The first three or four catch him on the head, then he produces another crucifix from the dark folds of his leather jacket and holds it right in my trajectory without even turning to look. The rest of the CDs go up in a white-and-blue flash of holy fire. Well, they were boy bands. I guess they never stood a chance.

I conjure some fire of my own. The boy band posters spontaneously combust, the room filling with a sulphuric reek. Without missing a beat, he produces another vial of holy water, breaks it open and douses the flames. As he does this, he makes a sign of the cross so effortlessly iconic that I wonder if he practices in front of a mirr –

Pride!

The dressing table’s mirror is still intact. Not for long. I shatter it into a couple of dozen shards, making sure to keep the pieces big enough. Then I whirl them around him, a tornado of glass. He’s caught off guard. For a moment or two he doesn’t know what to do. I freeze the tornado, the shards hanging in mid-air. He’s surrounded by his own reflection. My hunch pays off and he looks. There’s a small glint of self-appreciation in his eyes. Then he realizes I’ve sidetracked him and his face drains of vanity. It drains of colour, as well. He flings his arms up to shield his eyes, involuntary making a cross. The shards clatter harmlessly to the floor.

It’s bought me less than a minute, but that’s all I need. I’ve worked the straps free and I’m making the girl levitate. The motion dislodges the crucifix. As it falls, it inverts and is thus robbed of its power. I consume it in the same unholy fire that made short work of the boy band posters. It falls to the fall as a pool of quicksilver which reforms as a snake and lunges at the priest’s ankles. He stumbles as he jerks backwards and goes arse over tit. The snake lunges at him again and disintegrates into hundreds of burning droplets that scald his skin. As he exits the room – first crawling and then, as he gets awkwardly to his feet, at a run – I pull the light fittings from the ceiling and the sockets from the walls. More snake-like business from the exposed cables when he returns, is what I’m thinking. People hate snakes. Really hate them. They’re excellent in my line of work.

I let the girl sink back to the bed and get some rest while I wait. I daren’t risk nodding off myself; I’ve won this round but he’ll be back. That’s the thing with priests. They just can’t let it go. Your only chance is to physically destroy them during the exorcism.

Two hours later, the sound of a car pulling up. Two doors slam this time. He’s got back-up. I’ve levitated the girl off the bed and into an upright position, arms splayed out in a mockery of the crucifixion, by the time they burst in. I consider opening a couple of cuts on her palms to suggest stigmata (blasphemous imagery always pisses ’em off) but I figure the poor kid’s been through enough. Besides, they way they come into the room – crucifixes brandished, vials of holy water at the ready, already at “and let my cry come unto thee” in the rite of exorcism – tells me they mean business.

My tenancy is coming to an end.

Goodnight Vienna.

They think it’s all over – it is now.

Pick your own cliché.

What follows is basically half an hour of these guys kicking my ass. The guy Mr. Leather Jacket Too-Cool-For-Seminary Priest has brought with him is obviously his mentor. A grizzly old bastard with a permanent frown and a shock of white hair. A dour Presbyterian type, the kind who believes that it’s mankind’s lot to suffer on earth and even the eternal reward in Heaven isn’t guaranteed. A grim, humourless man. God and sin and suffering and a constant hectoring along the lines of “ye shall not”. Now I see who Leather Jacket gets his moral rectitude from. And I’m picking up a vibe from the old timer that tells me he’s done his best to hammer the Achilles' Heel of pride out of the young ’un, but to no avail.

And if he was on his own, I could play on his unquenchable self-love again and again and send him shocked and defeated from this pink-saturated bedroom with every clash of his compromised piety and my unambiguous amorality. But now that the old timer’s backing him up with a lifetime’s granite-hewn certainty in the mean unforgiving bastard that is the Old Testament God, Leather Jacket’s weaknesses become less and less exploitable. My hold on the girl weakens. There’s nothing left in the room to fling about, shatter or enwreathe in fire. I vocalize some half-hearted obscenities, but it’s more for appearances’ sake than in hope of distracting or defying them.

Holy water slashes across the girl’s body. Crucifixes are thrust at her. Entreaties in Latin, Hebrew and English politely suggest that I depart forthwith. I save the fireworks for the inevitable moment of departure. As I tear myself from her mortal form, leaving her flesh as uncorrupted as before my residency and her mind blanked of what she’s been through, I blow every lightbulb and electrical implement in the household, open cracks in the walls and ceiling, knock the TV aerial askew (seriously: the shit that’s on, I’m doing them a favour), and set dogs howling and cats screeching for miles around. Clouds roil up out of nowhere and muscle across the skyline. Lightning flashes in jagged patterns that look like the lettering on heavy metal album covers.

And then I’m gone. Drifting upwards. My form – the real me – is incorporeal. I’m just atoms; the Bad Dude is the alchemist who worked out the formula. Looking down, I watch the two priests emerge. The old guy reaches for the car door, gesturing to Leather Jacket to climb in. But he refuses. Shaking his mentor’s hand, he sets off down the street. The ritual’s over and he’s not wanting company. A man alone with his thoughts. I can dig that.

I watch him go, then turn my thoughts to what to do next. An exorcist never actually defeats a demon. They can drive us from the host, sure – and that’s where the books and movies usually end – but we remain. What happens next differs. Sometimes it’s straight back to base for the next assignment. Sometimes we bide our time before repossessing (no better way than planting seeds of doubt than to make men of cloth think they’ve won, then take it away from them in the next go-around). Me, I like a little R&R.

It’s early evening. I drift over to a nearby business park. Some junior executive type in a second-hand Jaguar he’s blown he’s savings on to impress his colleagues is peeling out of a car park. Undertaking a quick reconnaissance, I determine that he’s got no home life, no dependents, no real friends and nothing to define himself by outside of his job. Also, that he’s stressed about a big contract, he’s got a couple of hundred in cash in his wallet, and he’s thinking about hitting a bar on the way home.

So: affluent, under pressure, morally compromised and not likely to be missed. The ideal candidate! Dropping into his body, I send a tendril of insinuation snaking into his mind. He was thinking about hitting a bar; now he’s convinced. He was worried about the contract; now his only concerns are alcohol, women and recreational drugs. Well, what did you think? That I’d sit him down and make him write a letter to his granny then volunteer at the soup kitchen? Fuck that. Everyone wants to be a selfish bastard and live according to their baser instincts. Generally speaking, you seldom get a chance to do so unless the likes of me comes calling.

I give him the barest nudge and he steers the Jag into the nearest pub car park. His head is full of figures, graphs, pie-charts and bald-faced lies (well, you know what they say about statistics) and I let myself seep into his subconscious and persuade him that all these things are unimportant. As he locks the car and pockets the fob, it occurs to him that he’ll probably be getting a taxi home; he can forget about the motor till tomorrow.

I steer him into the pub and soften him up with a couple of pints. He’s usually a lager-boy, this one, so it vaguely surprises him when some cask-strength real ale hits his innards. He doesn’t normally drink scotch, either, but I’m eyeing the selection of single malts behind the bar and thinking that he’s in for an edifying evening.

Ordering a third pint, I sip it leisurely while I plan out my whisky tour of the evening. There are excellent examples of lowland, highland, Speyside and Islay malts on offer, so I let the geography determine the selection. I’m just starting things off with a Glenkinchie when he walks in, hair slightly windswept, the collar of his leather jacket turned up and a dull but steely look in his eyes. He stands slap bang next to me at the bar. He doesn’t know me from Adam.

Or from Pazuzu, for that matter.

As Mae West put it, I can resist anything but temptation. Or was it Oscar Wilde? “Tough day at the office?” I enquire.

He gives me a look that casually invites me to take my business elsewhere in the name of the Lord, then jerks his head at the barman as if wearing a dog collar gives him queue-jumping rights.

“Ahh, have a drink wid an old altar boy, fahdah,” I say, laying on a cornball Irish accent.

“Hold your tongue,” he snaps at me. The next thing he snaps is his fingers. The barman comes running. He’s about to place his order when I deliver my riposte:

“I held your mother’s tongue. Right between my –”

He rounds on me, a picture of fury. “How dare you?” The barman comes to a skidding halt. The low drone of chatter ebbs to silence. Eyes swivel in our direction. “Who do you think you are?”

I let my grotesque features push through the skin of my host’s face. (What do I look like, you ask? Ever seen a gargoyle? Imagine it come to life, in glorious Technicolor and with a Hollywood special effects budget behind it. Got that? Great. You’re halfway there.) “You know who I am,” I reply, in a voice that could carve tombstones.

The barman suddenly absents himself and the patrons make for the exit like the place was on fire. This is how I end up having a drink with the enemy.

He’s resistant at first, reaching into the folds of his leather jacket for the crucifix and giving it some “unclean spirit” and “spawn of hell” and “lapdog of Satan”. Ah, it’s so satisfying to take a man of the cloth, a man whose speech should be rich with the heightened prose of the King James Bible, and reduce him to playground name-calling. So satisfying – and so easy! I reel out the “your mother sucks cocks in hell” line again, remembering his retort from earlier. I figure it’ll be an ice-breaker. Might even get a laugh. Then we can help ourselves to some the quality stuff from behind the bar, have a chat and put all the business bullshit behind us.

Nah, I’m wrong! No laugh, no conversational opening; the ice remains resolutely unbroken. He snatches a half-empty bottle of mineral water that one of the scampering patrons left behind and hastily blesses it, holding out the crucifix at arm’s length with his free hand as he does so.

It’s all getting silly now, so I reach out, pluck the crucifix from his fingers and lay it on the bar. Then I grab the bottle of mineral water and take a swig. I’ll be honest: it burns as it goes down, but no more than a Talisker or a Laphroiag. “Not bad,” I say, handing it back, “but how about we sit down and have a real drink?”

I make a bottle of scotch and two shot glasses float over to a corner table and open my palm in an “after you” gesture. The door closes, the “open sign” flips round to “closed”, the lock snaps tight and the blind falls. I love doing the poltergeist act. Definitely the best part of the job.

“What trick is this, demon?” he asks.

“Dude, for Chr— … for fuck’s sake, just chill out, sit down and have a drink with me. I’ve been stuck in that pink bedroom for months, no company, no conversation. Why do you guys take so long authorising an exorcism these days? They were some long and lonely hours waiting for you to get your act together, I can tell you. Nothing to read but boy band fanzines. Nothing to watch but the Disney DVDs her parents played over and over. I tell you, if I ever get my hands on the Little Mermaid, she’s a fish and chip fucking supper.”

“You are the father of lies and the destroyer of innocence. Do not speak of –”

“Do me a favour,” I interject. “Quit talking like it’s ‘The Crucible’ and you’re Hathorne and Danforth rolled into one. All I’m asking for is your company. I don’t want your soul. I wouldn’t know what to do with it.”

Never taking his eyes off me, he goes over to the corner table and takes a seat. I position myself opposite, uncork the scotch and pour us a glass apiece. “Sláinte mhath!”

And finally, he laughs. “A demon toasting my health. I can officially say I’ve seen everything now.”

“Drink to my health, and I’ll be able to say the same.”

He raises his glass. “God be with you.”

I raise mine. “Yeah, whatever.”

We clink and drink. It goes down like liquid fire and we both make that grimace-like whisky face. He pours us another shot. “We really ought to sip this, you know. It’s too good to knock back like bad tequila.”

“I’ll drink to that, as well.”

For a moment, a companionable silence enfolds us. He holds the glass between the palms of his hands, warming its contents. Then he lowers his nose and inhales deeply. I drink this stuff every chance I get, so I know what aromas he’s picking up: peat, heather, a salty breath of sea air. He takes a sip and an appreciative sigh follows. The man’s got taste.

“Let me ask you something,” he says at length.

“Shoot.”

“You possessed that girl, right?”

I nod.

“I conducted an exorcism, right?”

I nod.

“I drove you out, right?”

I nod again, hoping he’s going to get to the point. I’m starting to feel like a nodding dog on the parcel shelf of a Vauxhall Astra.

“Drove you out as in ‘defeated you’, right? As in ‘dispelled you’. As in ‘sent you back to hell’. As in –”

“As in ‘the power of Christ compelled me’,” I finish off. “Yeah, I get you. What’s your point?”

“What’s my point?” he echoes. “What’s my point? This is my point: why aren’t you back in hell? Why aren’t you broken, ruined, seared by the holy fire of God’s eternal love?” (That’s what I love about religious people: who else could talk about destruction and eternal love in the same breath and deny to their last that there’s even the smidgen of a contradiction going on?) “Why aren’t you a pitiful, pathetic and abjectly humbled shadow of your former self? Why aren’t you begging for forgiveness?”

I’m about to give him the quick capsule answer (i.e. because I’m a demon – duh!) when he throws out another rhetorical question:

“How come you can pick up a crucifix and down half a bottle of holy water when I used those very things to exorcise you?”

And that’s when I realise he’s not being rhetorical. “Shit,” I murmur softly. “You honestly don’t know?”

“Know what?”

“Dude, what the fuck did they teach you at the seminary?”

“The word of the Lord,” he snaps, “and how to recognise the lies of the Adversary.”

Ooops, we’re back in ‘us and them’ territory. The low-key drinks after work ideal has just gone south on a one-way ticket. But, in his own tub-thumping way, he’s kind of hit on it.

“Part of the job, right?” I say.

It’s his turn to nod.

“And you know what they teach us?”

“I can guess.”

“You’d probably be wrong.” He makes as if to protest, but I plough on: “They teach us how to blaspheme. They teach us how to spit on icons – in fact, they teach us how to do much worse to icons than just spitting on them. They teach us how to possess hitherto uncorrupted pre-pubescent children; how to make them say and do the vilest filth. And they—”

“You hell-spawned pedophile!”

“—teach us how to throw in the towel.”

“You venal minion of – … They teach you to what?”

“Throw in the towel. And kindly don’t accuse me of being a kiddie-fiddler. That’s slander. I’ll have my lawyer on you.”

“You have a lawyer?”

“Of course I have a lawyer. I’m a demon. Half of my brethren used to be in the legal profession.”

“Don’t change the subject. What do you mean, throw in the towel?”

“They. Teach. Us,” I explain slowly. “How. To. Lose.” The truth is more along the lines of teaching us how to make the church think they’ve won, but he looks dumbfounded enough as it is so I decide to go easy on him. There’s only so much truth the faithful can take in one sitting. “It’s like this. We live in an age where technology is everything, where communication is immediate. Money’s becoming a concept rather than actual currency. Everyone lives on a mountain of debt and prays to the lottery for their own personal deus ex machina. Nobody prays to the likes of us anyone. People want salvation or a quick morality top-up, they whip out the credit card and pledge some moolah on Red Nose Day. They want transcendence, some obliging fellow with a pocketful of baggies is waiting to sell them their drug of choice. They want a miracle, the tabloids are full of them – ‘dramatic rescue’, ‘hair’s-breadth escape’, ‘have-a-go hero’. They want a saviour, they’ve got this year’s winner on ‘Big Brother’.

“And it’s no better on my side of the fence. Back in the day, they’d sell their soul to the Boss for anything. Immortality? We’d have Mephistopheles countersigning the agreement within seconds. Talent? They’d be lining up at the crossroads at midnight. Women? The all-time number one. You’ve heard that saying that men think through their peckers? None of them ever thought clearly enough to check the small print.” I knock back the rest of my drink and give Leather Jacket the nod to pour me another. He’s stupefied enough to do so unthinkingly. “But that was then, my friend, and this whole vacuous excuse for a society we find ourselves in at the moment is now. And nobody has to pay the ultimate price for anything anymore. Immortality? Any nobody who gets a sex tape online stands a better chance of being immortalized than the greatest artists of the pre-internet age. Talent? Come on! The less you’ve got, the bigger your career. Women? The Russians and Philippinos bollocksed that one up for us. Who needs to barter his mortal soul for a taste of those forbidden fruits when he can pick his own mail order bride?

“Face it: we’re relics, you and me. There’s no call for us anymore.”

“So why do the faithful still come to church? Still fear evil?”

“Because –” I’m doing my Perry Mason bit here, throwing out the cast-iron, ineluctable fact that cinches the case “—we do our job well.” It’s his turn to drain the shot glass and immediately replenish it. “What we do, it’s a job. You can kid yourself that it’s a vocation, a calling, a moral imperative. You can make yourself feel better by thinking that the likes of me get into it for the kicks. That we’re sybarites and sadists and pagans and pederasts. But the fact is, there’s no difference between us. We clock in, we do the job, we file the report, we attend the one-to-ones and the appraisals, and we clock out. They stiff us on the overtime, we never quite get the time in lieu, the management are ball-breakers and the pension’s shit. It’s. A. Fucking. Job.” I snap my fingers and a coat someone’s left draped over the back of a chair picks its own pocket and comes out with a pack of cigarillos and a box of matches. I have the coat float over, hand them to me, then return. I light up and inhale deeply. Smoking ban, my arse. “But we get the job done,” I continue. “We suck it up and resign ourselves to the lousy conditions and our superiors taking the credit for our actions and we get the job done. Because if we don’t, there’ll be no reason for these morons to believe – or doubt. Then we’re all redundant, no matter which side we’re on.”

“You possess innocent children just to give humankind a reminder?” Half an hour ago, this would have been delivered as an outraged snarl. Now, he just sounds depressed.

“Sorry,” I say. And I am. Genuinely. I honestly thought he knew. “If it’s any consolation, it keeps you guys in business, as well.” I take a drag and blow a smoke ring. We watch it drift up to the ceiling. The sprinklers kick in and the moment is lost. The junior executive loser whose body I’ve borrowed spikes his hair with weapons-grade quantities of gel. Within seconds, it’s plastered over his/my face. His nasty suit goes from damp to waterlogged just as quickly. The cigarillo extinguishes. “Guess that’s our exit line,” I say, getting to my feet.

“Answer me one question,” the priest says.

“Sure.”

“Why children? Why don’t you possess adults? Are you really so insecure that you have to pick on such easy targets?”

And there was me thinking he was starting to understand! Still, it’s a fair question and I formulate the fullest answer I can. “Right. First of all, children are not easy targets. Put the deathless and ageless reality of true evil up against a twelve year old girl’s obsession with Justin Beiber and you’re on a hiding to nothing from the start. The main reason, though, is that when people see children in the thrall of possession, it shakes them to the core. Doesn’t matter if they’re believers or atheists: when they see what they fear the most in the face of a child, it makes them much more responsive to the concept of evil. They see it in an adult, they chalk it up to sociopathic tendencies or mental illness. The early doors crowd who stampeded the exit when I showed them my real face – do you honestly think they’re standing around right now agreeing that they all saw a demon? Of course they’re not! They’ll have found a nice comfortable rationale – I’m a serial killer or a terrorist or an escapee from the nearest loony bin – and called the police, and only in the loneliest and most sleepless depths of the night will they even consider admitting to themselves what they really saw.”

As if to validate my thesis, sirens blurt through the distance. The distinctive whump-whump-whump of a helicopter grows louder. I detach myself from my earthly host for a second and conduct a hurried reconnaissance. Armed response team.

“That’s definitely our exit line,” I insist.

He doesn’t argue.

Outside, flashing blue lights are already visible. There’s a low wall at the far end of the car park. “You’d best head that way,” I say.

“What about you?”

“Don’t worry about me. By the time they get here, they’ll find a very confused businessman with a gap in his memory and I’ll be filing my report in Hell.”

He sets off, picking up his steps in the loping gait of one unaccustomed to running. He pauses before he vaults the wall. Looks back with something that almost passes for kinship. Then ruins it. “I’ll pray for you,” he says.

“Yeah, whatever,” I grunt. “Your mom says hi.”


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2012-09-29 22:04:57
Suberb. thought provoking yet not blasphemis. Well done

2012-08-08 17:23:49
I liked the setting and the mood. Main character is solid. More?

2012-08-01 11:30:46
micheledutcher - One of my favorite anti-heros is Constantine - the soul-cursed, dying of lung cancer exorcist in the Marvel? Universe. I thought this was a lot of fun and well written. "Your mom says hi." - cracks me up!




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