Note: This short, while it can be read as a stand-alone, would better be enjoyed if you read “Beacons”, for which this here is a sequel/parallel story. Fair warning :D.
“Lord, have mercy”.
Father McKenzie’s voice intoned in a deep baritone, reciting the litany as prescribed by the Church as the child’s body lay still on the bed. She was bound to the posts, one limb leather-strapped to each wooden column. A white nightgown the only visible clothing on her. How prosaic, the priest thought.
The house where the session took place was humble. He had managed to calm the mother of the child and assured her that he would free her daughter of the horrible being that held her hostage. Had instructed her and the rest of the numerous family – how they all lived in the small hovel was beyond him – to pray until the ordeal was over. He was now alone with the child in her room.
“Christ, have mercy”.
The girl was so still that the only sign of her being alive was the slow rise and fall of her chest as she breathed shallowly. She was only 7. Quite a beautiful child, by any standard, but visibly deteriorated physically as was the case with all those under possession. It was such a strange act, why a being would be so bent on slowly driving an innocent person’s body to the grave. They know they cannot have the soul. It seemed to Father McKenzie that they simply derive enjoyment from robbing the soul from its one chance at mortal life. The trade-off, he considered, was innocence, and with it free entry into heaven for what was there to be judged for when an infantile soul met with the Lord? It was still a terrible price to pay.
“Lord, have mercy”.
As the priest continued to recite the Litany of the Saints, the first part of the exorcism itself had yet to begin; the first stage was known as the Presence. This would be the moment the entity would manifest itself to those in the area. For the time being, it was still dormant within the child but it was aware. Like an ancient dragon slumbering amidst its hoard, they are always aware.
“Christ, have mercy”.
“Christ, hear us”.
The child’s breathing became agitated, increasing in speed and depth. Her throat, most certainly parched, producing a primal sound as the air coursed violently through her airways.
“God, the Father in Heaven. Have mercy on us”.
Demons must always be goaded into rising from the depths of the possessed’s mind.
It did not take much goading, in this particular case. It seemed almost as if the demon was eager to have the encounter begin, the stages a mere formality that must be observed. Father McKenzie didn’t really know how to interpret this, but he thought it best to be wary. Experience favored caution as the best approach.
The room grew considerably colder, the sudden temperature drop a signature occurrence and notice that what lay within the possessed had now awoken and surfaced.
Father McKenzie had been waiting a long time for this opportunity. A proper possessed, the real deal, one of the few that defied all the accepted test parameters and did not fall into the realm of mental disorders. Two years without a case requiring the roman rite wasn’t a bad thing, in itself. Certain documents, however, had come into his possession since which made the finding of a legitimately possessed victim an imperative.
“God, the Son, Redeemer of the world. Have mercy on us”.
“God, the Holy Spirit. Have mercy on us”.
“Holy Trinity, One God. Have mercy on us”.
He had been analyzing cases for the church from all over the world for well over 20 years and had become quite proficient at telling rather early in his preliminary interviews whether or not a person could ostensibly be considered possessed. He was only ever called out after some concrete evidence had already been provided, of course. In truth, only a few dozen cases ever met the initial criteria and only a handful of such cases had required the dispensation of the rites. Much of his experience came from examining the plethora of texts housed in the Vatican accounting the many exorcisms dispensed by his predecessors, but one exorcism is entirely too much experience for any mortal soul to withstand; a certain maturation of the soul took place within the exorcist with every dispensation of the rite.
“Holy Mary, pray for us”.
“Holy Mother of God, pray for us”.
“Holy Virgin of virgins, pray for us”.
His experience in the field, nevertheless, was ample. When cases actually culminated in exorcism, they often required various sessions of spiritual battle. Whatever it was that dwelled in a person against their will was often stubborn and strong. Willful and vile made for a terrible combination of traits. It took a drawn out series of confrontations to finally evict a possessing entity.
“All holy angels and archangels, pray for us”.
“All holy orders and blessed spirits, pray for us”.
In the many years of practicing what may be the Catholic Church’s most assiduously denied and hushed tradition, Father McKenzie had managed to become a well-respected member of the church and had thus accrued a great many licenses and liberties, mostly unofficial, granting him access to a wealth of knowledge most – even within the Holy See – would not believe even existed.
“All holy patriarchs and prophets, pray for us”.
A few months prior, a very odd document had come into the care of his office and into his hands. The contents of the document described a very peculiar vision of the universe, of God, and the entities with which he dealt in his calling.
“All holy apostles and evangelists, pray for us”.
“All holy disciples of the Lord, pray for us”.
“All holy innocents, pray for us”.
The document had been found in Africa, near Ethiopia. It was a journal of sorts, stylistically written both as a confession and a record of events transpired, but also served as a warning of unknown events to come.
It is because of this document that Father McKenzie so desired a new case of possession. He had spent all the time that he waited for a case poring over the document, meticulously studying it. Scouring the libraries of the Vatican, cross-referencing the events described and searching for correlations that would corroborate the mechanisms hinted at in the strange journal. A great many apocryphal books seemed to lend legitimacy to the document’s contents, if only subtly at best.
“All holy martyrs, pray for us”.
He came to the conclusion soon after that he needed to consort with demons.
“All holy saints of God, intercede for us”
Father McKenzie was quite accustomed to the dance with the vile and had little trouble concentrating as he maintained a stoically outward demeanor, weathering the onslaught of phenomena these entities would resort to. Since the presence of furniture had been made scant precisely for this purpose, there was little that the exorcist needed to be wary of in terms of potentially hazardous objects. Hallowed objects simply could not be manipulated by beings such as that which dwelled in the child.
“Be merciful, spare us, O Lord”
This stage of the ritual of exorcism is geared toward finding out the entity’s name. The name, once procured, would render the being vulnerable and open to the priest’s commands, though it would still continue to struggle against this.
At first the entity sought to maintain the ruse, using the child’s body to insinuate itself immorally toward the priest. When that failed, it grew angry.
The bed shook violently, like a raging bull trying to chuck off its rider. The child’s body convulsed, white foam emitted from her mouth as her eyes went a solid white.
“Be merciful, graciously hear us, O Lord”
Tremors could be felt through the floor, through the walls, shaking the very foundations of the humble house.
“From all evil, deliver us, O Lord”
The litany of the saints was coming to an end and the entity’s efforts escalated to a cacophonous din of insults and slurs while the sound of storm winds filled the room. The child’s bed linens flew around, yet the priest remained nonplussed.
He stood up and moved next to the bed.
“I command you, unclean spirit, whoever you are, along with all your minions now attacking this servant of God, by the mysteries of the incarnation, passion, resurrection, and ascension of our Lord Jesus Christ, by the descent of the Holy Spirit, by the coming of our Lord for judgment, that you tell me by some sign your name, and the day and hour of your departure. I command you, moreover, to obey me to the letter, I who am a minister of God despite my unworthiness; nor shall you be emboldened to harm in any way this creature of God, or the bystanders, or any of their possessions.”
“You are a fool. You are nothing. You are shit,” the loathing in the entity’s unearthly voice was heavy. Despite all his best efforts, it sent a chill down the priest’s spine.
Father McKenzie placed his left hand on the girl’s forehead as he spoke.
“They shall lay their hands upon the sick and all will be well with them. May Jesus, Son of Mary, Lord and Savior of the world, through the merits and intercession of His holy apostles Peter and Paul and all His saints, show you favor and mercy.”
“Foul Serpent, it is He who commands you. Speak your name!”
He deviated from the rite, taking small liberties, but – like a virtuoso – he knew his craft well. The entity writhed in the guise of the child and, fight as it did, it eventually gave in.
“I am called …”
The next stage of the exorcism follows the rending of the demon’s name immediately. It is called the Breakpoint, when the demon becomes enraged at having been subjugated and manifests this anger by causing all manner of chaos in the immediate vicinity. Such was the case here, though luckily Father McKenzie managed to subdue the creature’s rage with relative swiftness.
By this point the demon no longer pretended to be the child, the act had been effectively dropped. It now spoke as itself.
The third stage, the Voice, began. This phase is, without falter, the moment when things become thoroughly unnerving, even to the most experienced exorcist.
The very sound of the voice with which these entities speak is beyond distressing to the listener. If there was a way to make hopelessness, filth, decay and death audible, their unnatural voice would be that sound.
The demon’s unbelievably low bass somehow managed to produce sound in frequencies the made it audible to the human ear, but the quality of the sound itself was always strange. It was as if it did not travel as sound does, but rather came into existence at once in the entire area, though this was something Father McKenzie had considered only after extensive review of his experience and such a thing would clearly be imperceptible, unfathomable for most mortal beings.
In his many years as an exorcist, much as many famous exorcists from bygone era’s, Father McKenzie had learned that a great deal of information could be gleaned from conversing with these entities. Most of it was not to be believed, but if a person knew how to ask and how to interpret the answers, things could easily be constructed into an approximation of truth. What a demon does not say, what it avoids to address when spewing lies and insults, often says more about the subject of the question asked than a straight answer would. Although it was a decidedly obtuse way of gathering intelligence, it was well worth the time as well as the physical and mental effort it required. It had done wonders for his career within the Vatican, not to mention for his own personal wealth.
The wait was now over. Father McKenzie was on a mission and the poor soul he was charged with liberating that very night might have to suffer a bit longer than was otherwise necessary, but he – nay, the world! – needed to know the truth.
He left his office, religious paraphernalia tucked away in a small, leather suitcase, and headed to the purported aid of a poor, possessed girl.
Father McKenzie drove the demon into the thick of the rite, the Clash. This was where he wanted to be, where he could get what he desired. This was the stage he needed to draw out as much as possible without killing the host, as his agenda extended beyond simply saving the child. In fact, the liberation of the child was more of an afterthought in his mind, a mere formality, the inevitable outcome of his service.
Father McKenzie addressed the demon in a slightly less imperative tone then.
“I have not come here to simply drive you out of this child’s body, demon. That is not to say that this will not happen, far from it. I intend to send you back to whatever filth you are accustomed to dwelling in when you are not assaulting the lord’s flock.”
The demon looked steadily at the priest from within the child, expectant, chest heaving.
“I have come to ask you questions and to receive answers. I have dealt with your kind for long and know of your lies and manipulations. You will not deceive me.”
“Pathetic little sack of pus. You think one such as I will stoop to petty informant?”
The priest smiled, his expression cold despite this.
“As if to King Solomon himself, demon. You will answer me. I do not know what manner of exorcists you have faced before, if any, but I will grant you the courtesy of informing you that I have the means to make your stay in that body a most displeasurable ordeal.”
“You jest,” the demon-child was clearly given pause by the priest’s claims. It was not wise to bluff when dealing with demons and this priest surely knew that well.
“I assure you, I do not.”
Father McKenzie sat down in the only chair in the room – a wooden, high-backed affair – and proceeded to take something out from his coat’s right pocket.
It was a purple felt cloth wrapped around an object which he unfolded with care, revealing a silver sphere, some three inches in diameter, on which many symbols of proto-hebrew script were etched in minute detail. He held it between his right hand’s index and thumb, lifting it up so that the demon-within-the-child could get a good look.
“Human filth! You dare bring that into my presence!?” the demon-child was filled with outrage, though the priest knew it was all posturing; the silver sphere struck deep fear into the entity.
“But I do dare. Furthermore, I will dare to use its properties to harm you. Do not tempt me, demon, or you will rue your very existence.”
The demon-child heaved visibly, agitated at the prospect of actual harm to its preternatural being.
“I sense acquiescence from you now, creature. Good. This should not take longer than necessary, don’t you agree?”
He regarded the demon-within-the-child quietly for a minute, then Father McKenzie began his interview.
“I have come by certain knowledge recently that has shed light on events that concern us all. A certain something lies in Africa, something, I believe, that might scare you?”
“I will not answer clearly unless you address me clearly, ape. I will not dignify open ended questions with a reply.”
“Fair enough… God is dead and yet a part of him sleeps in Ethiopia. A man, recently, journeyed there on the sayso of Angels, Fallen, in order to retrieve it. I want to know the truth about this.”
Father McKenzie fancied that he could sense the demon squirming within its host’s body. After a moment’s hesitation, it spoke.
“Do you ever wonder how it is that you can do what you do, if your … God… is dead?”
“I will use this-” warned Father McKenzie, raising the sphere before him, before being interrupted.
“I am not finished speaking, monkey!” it snarled.
For all the threat of actual harm, the demon-within-the-child still held dignity and a measure of authority.
“I will tell you things you may not have wished to know, but you will need to know them. You have asked for knowledge which my brethren has chosen to keep secret for untold ages, knowledge that has recently been dispensed to certain members of your species in an effort to bring back the old order.”
“Events may have transpired beyond the point of no return, in that regard. Some would try to change this, I myself simply never cared and never will. My fate has long been sealed and I have accepted it long ago.”
“I will educate you and you will not enjoy possessing this knowledge, the confirmation of your suspicions, the loss of all pretense regarding your place in the order of the universe,” it went on. “You are nothing more than hairless apes.”
“I did not order you to insult my kind,” said the priest.
“I am not insulting you, but rather stating simple fact. You are apes with little to no hair. Serfs to a dead king who professed love for you yet only did so when you fulfilled his bidding. My brethren and I, we rebelled, shunned His will and struck out on our own,” after a moment’s pause, it asked. “Do you know what we are, in truth?”
Father McKenzie patiently waited, granting the rhetorical question time to settle in.
“You call us demons but we are all the same; We all served Him. Even in rebellion, it was His will.”
“Tell me something, priest,” venom dripping from the words. “Do you recognize an evil man just by looking at him?” the demon let the question hang, so that McKenzie would consider it for a moment before continuing.
“There is no difference between us, what you call demon or angel.It is what we do individually that would mark us as one or the other, by your narrow-sighted standards, but this is of no importance to us. If you could look upon us, you would not know Shaitan from Gabryil.”
Another pause ensued. The demon-within-the-child allowed the priest to digest what he just told him. McKenzie had long suspected something to its effect, faced with so many inconsistencies within the very institution he served under and the manifestations of forces in the universe which rendered simple things such as morality – good and evil – obsolete; a quaint concept at best.
“His will,” the demon went on. “When you call upon Him to bind us and drive us out of the vessels, it is what lies in Africa that exhorts us. Dormant though it is, there is enough of Him left in it. His Will is there. It is why even now I speak to you against my wishes. Though truly, I no longer care. Think of it. If He were complete, do you think I would be able to escape his Will? Do you think those like me would be able to inhabit your vessels?”
“Of course not. But it is not only us that would be hindered.”
“Your kind. This idea of free will. You would no longer be able to live with license beyond His path. His vision.”
Another pause to let the words, their terrible meaning, sink in.
“So what sleeps in Ethiopia is God? It really is?”
“You humans have never failed to astound me with how little you can listen. Yes. He is there.”
“He is… And you say his will would be total, with no room left for anything but His desire?”
“Perhaps you are not quite so stupid for an ape. That is precisely what I have said.”
“Why, then, are those angels looking to bring him back?”
“They are the spineless; the fallen and the faithful. They all longed for His love when they lost it. They crave order, purpose. My brethren and I, we create our own.”
“When we opposed him, it took monumental effort. The only reason we were able to rise up in the first place was because of Shaitan. He was the most powerful of us all and the very fact that he rose alone, at first, in defiance was enough to allow us to find weaknesses in the shackles placed upon us… perhaps he created these lapses with his rebellion. He might have even been able to sunder Him. But he failed. We failed, but not completely. God was broken.”
“But now, He might be made whole anew. Our time is coming to a close and, perhaps, so is yours, human.”
During the months Father McKenzie had spent in wait for a chance to pick the mind of a demon, he’d had the privilege of coming to grips with the possibilities indicated by the strange journal and the many conjectures that he had drawn from his research as a result of them.
While his initial reaction to the contents of the journal had been to take it as a work of fancy, albeit a very detailed one, the concepts therein had wormed their way into his thoughts and dreams. Like a virus, they had began to come unbidden into his leisurely-time musings. The more the ideas found purchase in his mind, the more he became prone to accepting their plausibility.
Long years of service at the forefront of the Holy Church’s more extreme efforts had a well known tendency to make even the most devout of priests a little skeptical about the veracity of God’s love for humanity. Divine Justice was a concept most missionary priests relegated to the realm of fairy tales and romantic notions for the veiled flocks of the Holy See. An exorcist, in turn, was forced to look deep into the abyss, beyond the terrible evil of which mankind was capable of and stare hard and unwavering upon the most ancient vileness spit forth from heaven itself.
Rather than fight and rebel at the callous view of the universe posited by the confounding journal, as one recently ordained might, McKenzie began to embrace it, allowing it to run freely through the corridors of his scholarly mind.
There came a point, deep into his research, where he decided his search – that particular aspect of it – concluded. He was thoroughly satisfied with what he had found to corroborate the journal. And in his arrival at that conclusion he came to know a kind of excited desperation at the uncertainty of having to wait for a chance to get confirmation straight from the source.
He then entered a conflict with his own self, not at the notions he had come to embrace, but rather at the temptation of consorting with the fallen by more direct means. The idea of conjuring such an entity – the very act of conjuring at all – was very much taboo even for a man of the cloth of his stature and area of expertise. To draw upon and invoke spirits or otherwise was to place oneself in the direct path of forces far greater than any human, even one vested with the authority of God – for whatever it was worth -, could realistically expect to govern. He managed, after further weeks of research into that heretical act, to reason with himself and persuade his thirst for knowledge, which had reverted to an adolescent state not felt since his wide-eyed days at the conservatory, to wait and abide by the cautionary rules of the Church.
The body of the possessed provided a means of tethering an invading entity, containing its power and allowing the exorcist to focus their efforts into a very concrete point in the universe. This was not the case when conjuring was employed.
“So whatever it is that needs to be done, it has not come to pass?” Father McKenzie needed to know for certain before he decided upon a course of action.
“The first step has been taken, priest,” contempt had given way to weariness in the warped, bass of the demon-within-the-child. “This little ape has entered the caverns wherein he found a burning seed which fires would not burn one prepared as he was, unwittingly though the process of preparation may have been inflicted upon him. There was some conflict, even as he made his way to the entrance of the sanctum, as the fallen who opposed the restoration attacked in desperation, seeing our cause so close to being vanquished. He found his way in, nevertheless, and the restoration host found its first real victory.”
“There are seals there, ancient safeguards that prevent any who goes in to come out by the same route they entered. Thus this man found himself trapped and faced with two immediate options: to remain there until he perished from hunger, or to ingest the burning seed.”
“He chose the latter and now the roots have taken inside of him. Even now he sits there as an ascetic would, living on the sustenance provided by the Elohim’s seed; the maná now infuses his frail mortal form. The seed will soon consume him and his consciousness will be no more. A burning tree will take root when the seed has outgrown the fleshy confines of this human. Its roots will go so deep into the earth that it will never be uprooted. It will grow taller that any tree known before and it will one day burst with burning sap like magma, and from it will rise your God restored.”
“Already His Will is nigh unbearable. Already the Hashmalim hear its call and they slowly regain their sanity. The Age of Godlessness is closing.”
Father McKenzie listened, rapt, and carefully measured and weighed all that the demon said.
“Can it be stopped?” he asked finally.
The demon smiled, a strange smirk on the emaciated child’s face.
“That is a very interesting question, but I do not know the answer,” it replied. He sensed truth in what the demon spoke.
He had to make a decision. On him, on the knowledge only he possessed out of all humankind as far as he knew, rested the very future of the universe.
A part of him naturally yearned for God, for His power to be fully restored, for Him to come back to his flock of lost sheep. For his Love and Mercy. But perhaps these notions of a loving Creator were something dreamed up by fanciful priests. The most ancient texts, after all, only portrayed a far more callous and totalitarian God.
Would it be a good thing, to let Him come back? Would it be preferable to what was now, to free will? Would stopping the restoration effectively eliminate the last trace of Him from the universe? What would be the ramifications of such an event?
As if reading his thoughts, the demon offered one more piece of information.
“The last of the Elohim will die if you somehow manage to halt the restoration, and with it God will have ceased to be until the last of the stars sheds its last drop of light. Think wisely about this, priest, for your kind is still young and might not have the tools to stand without the protective shroud of your God. Think carefully…”
“What of you, serpent?” he asked the demon.
“Once you evict me from this wretched child’s body, I will flee. There are other places, things glimpsed by my kind on the edges of this universe. Perhaps I will find out and not be caught in the force of the restoration. Perhaps I will outfly its wave. I know some of my kind have already begun their journeys, while others remain, willing to face obliteration in a last stance against the burning one.”
After a moment’s consideration, Father McKenzie decided to finish the interview.
“Very well, serpent. Flee.”
Dabbing his index and middle fingers with holy water, he described the sign of the cross three times on the child’s forehead, thus effecting the final stage, the Expulsion.
“Exorcizo te, immundissime spiritus…in nomine Domini nostri Jesu Christi”
Faint rivulets of smoke rose up from where he touched her.
Once the third such cross was anointed, the presence exited the child’s body and relinquished its precarious hold on her soul. This particular eviction had been the only one that transpired with such ease. It chilled Father McKenzie to think of the circumstances, on a global – nay, universal – level which had provided for such an anticlimactic departure.
He intoned the last lines of the Roman Rite, those that always followed upon deliverance, the irony of which did not escape him.
we beg you to keep the evil spirit
from further molesting this servant of yours,
and to keep him far away,
never to return.
At your command, 0 Lord,
may the goodness and peace
of our Lord Jesus Christ, our Redeemer,
take possession of this child.
May we no longer fear any evil
since the Lord is with us;
who lives and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
God, forever and ever.”
Pausing for a moment, thinking on the efficacy of the words he had used to deliver this child and the source of their power, a source that may or may not cease to exist, he hesitated before he spoke the last word and sealed the rite.
On the plane back to Rome, Father McKenzie ran plans in his mind. He listed off the trusted members of the Vatican whom he would call upon when he returned there, the people who would either cast their lot in with him or turn their back on him forevermore. He thought of a few people outside the Church, as well. Some with whom he could count for the right funding, for which he had already secured official accounts.
He had learned much from the demon, many means by which to attack beings like it and beyond. What he did not learn was the most important thing, but that particular bridge would be arrived upon soon enough. There wasn’t much time, after all, before the restoration got to a point where no human or otherwise could interrupt it. It was possible that point might have already passed, even.
He would know soon enough, if he was truly a servant… or if he would finally murder God.