The Honda sedan drove into the street and parked by a streetlight.
Father Mathews looked outside the car. The sky was a faint, inky blue.
Just by looking at the street and how empty it was, he could tell that it was still very early in the morning.
There were few people who could be seen on the usually busy street, hurrying off to their various destinations.
He looked at his old hands. Are they shaking again? he wondered. That must be a good sign. He had been in this business for long enough to know that fear was always a good sign. To pretend that you are not afraid is to deceive yourself, he reasoned. And evil always flourishes in the midst of deception.
He squeezed his old hands together and sighed. He then closed his eyes and began to say a silent prayer.
“It’s awfully quiet, isn’t it, Father?”
The startled Father Mathews opened his eyes and glared at the driver seated next to him. He was a young man, 25 years old with deep blue eyes and wavy blond hair. Even in his priest’s outfit, he still looked very handsome.
Deep in thought, Father Mathews had completely forgotten about his presence.
“What’s that you said, Gabriel?” he asked, slightly annoyed that his prayer had been interrupted.
“I mean the street, Father. It’s so quiet. Even with the few people walking by, I can’t believe how quiet it is.”
“It is usually a sign of the forces that dwell in the area.”
“Yes, forces. Evil forces tend to engulf any presence of light and good. You barely hear birds chirping or feel the wind blowing. No, none of that exists where evil dwells. Rather, you get this. Absolute silence. Like the quietness of an abandoned graveyard.”
“So, you really think that this family we have come to see is right about what they said over the phone?”
“I have no reason to doubt the words of parents about the unusual behaviour of their daughter. And since arriving here and making a preliminary assessment of the environment, I am more convinced about the issue at hand. Yes, evil dwells in this place.”
“You know, Father, when I decided to serve the Lord, I didn’t know much about possessions or evil manipulations. I only wanted to be of service to the people, to help them through their difficulties and pains, to comfort them. I never knew that there could be a whole different approach to serving humanity. I think it is a much deeper and profound type of service. It’s definitely a higher calling.”
“Yes, it’s a much deeper type of service, Gabriel. But it goes beyond service. For the family, you are rescuing them from a severe form of bondage. And for the person or child in question, we offer an opportunity to experience freedom.”
“Do you get scared, Father?”
“Every time, every time. But it’s also a good sign, because it helps put my spirit in check so that I do not begin to feel too proud and self-assured in my own abilities. Evil has a way of spotting such behaviour in us—and once it does, it wastes no time in feasting on our sins, which only helps to make them stronger. And that is the last thing that we want when we go on such assignments. We must strive to do everything possible to ensure that the evil presence does not have the chance to grow any further. So, fear is a good sign.”
“Thank you, Father. I thought I was weak by being afraid.”
“This is your first opportunity to observe such an activity. I want you to make sure that no matter what happens, you do not interact with the entity in any way. Please, remember this above anything else that I have told you.”
“Don’t interact with the entity?”
“Yes, Gabriel. You should never, ever respond to the entity, never react to its questions, suggestions or remarks. They have a way of connecting with our deepest desires and fears, in a bid to weaken our strength and resolve. You must not engage, no matter what’s said or what you hear. Leave the talking to me, do you understand?”
Father Mathews pointed outside. “It’s dawn. We’d better get moving before the sun comes up.”
They both got out of the car and walked to a block of apartments nearby. Gabriel was carrying a brown bag, while Father Mathews held on tightly to his crucifix and bible. As they climbed up the staircase, they could hear a howl of the wind making its way through hidden vents and crevices in the hallways and ceilings.
Gabriel looked at Father Mathews, who could see the flashes of doubt in his youthful eyes. “It’s just the wind, Gabriel. Don’t think too much about it. Evil has a way of blowing the ordinary and the natural things of life beyond proportion. If you dwell on it too much, evil will feed on your fear even more. Be strong. Have faith.”
Gabriel nodded and mumbled a silent prayer as they continued through the stairwell. Eventually, they arrived on the fourth floor. Father Mathews passed by a line of apartment doors and stopped at the one marked A413. He knocked.
“Just a second,” came the reply from inside.
When the door opened, they were met by a woman. She was wearing a pair of spectacles and looked tired.
She adjusted her glasses and looked closer at the two men outside her doorway. “Father Mathews? My goodness, please, come in, come in.”
Father Mathews and Gabriel stepped into the dimly lit apartment. They sat down on a sofa by a table.
“You’re quite early, Father,” Mrs. Rogers said as she sat down on another sofa next to theirs.
“Whenever I answer such a call, I make sure I arrive at the location before the break of dawn,”
“I see. Father, is this your assistant?”
“Yes, this is Gabriel. He’s going to assist me during the process. Where is your husband?”
“He isn’t back from the factory yet. He was on the night shift yesterday. He should be back by eight this morning.”
“We must proceed without him, then?”
“He wanted to be here, but they didn’t give him the day off at the factory.”
“It’s alright, Mrs. Rogers. We can go on without him. Hopefully, by the time he is back, we should be finished and everything will be all right once again. Where is the girl?”
“You mean Anna? She’s in her room.”
“In her room? Unsupervised?”
Mrs. Rogers stood up. “No, no, we’ve taken precautions,” she said, leading them into the nearest room.
Inside, there was a bed, two chairs and a table. A standing mirror was covered with a white bed sheet. The room was dimly lit too.
On the bed was a girl. She was wearing pyjamas. Her wrists and ankles were fastened to the bed posts with shackles and chains.
Gabriel gasped in surprise when he saw the chains.
Mrs. Rogers smiled at him a little apologetically. “Ever since she began to manifest, we had to ensure that she was restrained with chains. This way we know where she is at all times.”
Father Mathews nodded as he looked at the girl on the bed. She couldn’t have been more than seven years old. She was asleep. “When did all this start?”
“Today marks a week since she began to manifest.”
“Just a week? So, the possession hasn’t been for too long.”
“No. It hasn’t been too long, but it’s been terrible.”
“I can imagine. Did she have any encounter with anyone or anything before she began to manifest?”
“She recently changed schools. And after that, she suddenly became, became—” Mrs. Rogers stuttered while searching for the right word to say.
Mrs. Rogers nodded. “Yes. Possessed. It’s terrible, Father. She’s just a little girl. Our little baby girl. And yet look at what we had to do to her.”
Father Mathews patted Mrs. Rogers’s shoulder. “It’s all right, my dear. Be strong. Don’t despair. Evil does not care about anyone. It respects no one and does not seek your opinion or permission before it strikes at those whom we hold dear.”
“I’m so glad that you came. I was growing tired of trying to find out what to do.”
“It’s all right, Mrs. Rogers. I’m glad I was able to respond to your call. How long has she been asleep?”
“Has she had anything to eat in the last forty-eight hours?”
Mrs. Rogers shook her head. “No, Father. She hasn’t eaten in the last two days.”
“And since then, has there been any incidents?”
“No, Father. No incidents at all. I was beginning to think that it was over. Or maybe the lack of food had healed her of the possession.”
Father Mathews shook his head. “It’s merely deception. Unless she has undergone cleansing, you cannot assume she is free.”
“No, Father. No priest has been here to cleanse her.”
“Then, I am afraid she is not yet free. And even as we speak, the evil inside her is fully aware of our presence and what we intend to do.”
At that moment, the little girl stirred and turned.
Mrs. Rogers moved closer to the bed. “Anna? Anna? My little girl. Are you awake? Can you hear me, Anna?”
“Mrs. Rogers, wait. I don’t think that’s a good idea.”
Mrs. Rogers glared back at him. “What do you mean, Father? She’s in chains and can’t do anything. Besides, I’m her mother. I only want to check up on her. Don’t you understand? She has been asleep and hasn’t eaten in two days!”
“I know, Mrs. Rogers, but—” Father Mathews began to say but stopped. Mrs. Rogers was already by her daughter’s side of the bed. He turned to look at Gabriel, who was still clutching the brown bag close to his chest, watching the unfolding scenario with an expression of awe on his face.
“Gabriel. Snap out of it. Give me the bag. This is not the time to stare. Guard your heart and be sceptical of what you may see.”
Gabriel handed over the bag as he watched Mrs. Rogers cradle her daughter in her arms. “Yes, Father. But she looks harmless. Why is she in chains?”
As Father Mathews opened the bag, he glanced quickly at Mrs. Rogers and shook his head. “Looks are deceptive, Gabriel. Looks are very deceptive. The evil one always works through the art of deception. And that is how many of us fall into temptation, into sin, into condemnation. You must understand this, or else you cannot defeat it.”
Anna’s head was on her mother’s shoulder. After a moment of cuddling, she turned to look at the other occupants of the room. “Mummy, who are they?”
“That’s Father Mathews, sweetheart. And the other man is Gabriel.”
“Why are they here?”
“They’ve come to visit you. They’ve come to help you.”
“But I’m fine, Mummy. I don’t need any help. I’m not in trouble, am I? Do you think I’m in trouble?”
Mrs. Rogers wiped her daughter’s face with the sleeve of her dress and straightened her hair. “No, Anna dear. You’re not in trouble. But you need help. That’s why Father Mathews is here. He is going to help you.”
“But why’s he in my room? Aren’t we supposed to go to see him at the church?”
“Yes, Anna. We should have gone to his church, but not in the condition you’re in. We can’t take you out like that.”
“Is that why you put these chains on me?”
Mrs. Rogers sighed and nodded in reply.
“But Mummy, I’m all right! Why would you put me in chains?”
As he heard this question, Father Mathews stood upright and looked at Mrs. Rogers. She looked back at him with a sorrowful look in her eyes. He could tell that she was weakened in spirit already.
“Mrs. Rogers, please step away from the bed. Step away now,” Father Mathews commanded in a stern tone.
Mrs. Rogers shook her head. “She’s all right, Father. Can’t you see? She’s just a child who needs compassion and affection.”
“You don’t know what you’re saying. The evil inside her is already seducing and deceiving you. Please, step away right now—for the child’s good and your own.”
“Mummy, why is he talking like that? Why is he saying all this?”
Mrs. Rogers patted her daughter’s head. “It’s all right, sweetheart. He’s just worried. But he is confused as well. Worried and confused—you understand, Anna? He doesn’t know what he’s saying.”
“Mrs. Rogers! Step away, I say!” Father Mathews insisted. He was now holding the crucifix and a bottle of holy water in his hands.
“Is it true, Father? Is it true that you don’t know what you are saying?”
“Keep quiet, demon. I command you to stop trying to destroy this precious, innocent life.”
Anna turned her attention to Gabriel. She locked her eyes with his and smiled. “Is that true, Gabriel? Does Father Mathews not know what he is saying?”
Gabriel blinked and ran his hands through his hair. “What?”
“Shut up, Gabriel! Don’t respond. Remember what I told you! It’s the devil that talks to you through the child!!” Father Mathews shouted.
“You don’t believe him, do you, Gabriel? Do you believe what Father Mathews is saying about me?”
“Yes, I do.”
“Gabriel!” Father Mathews shouted.
“I’m sorry, Father.”
“I think my daughter is okay now,” Mrs. Rogers interrupted. “Maybe you both should leave.”
Father Mathews shook his head and waved the crucifix. “No. The evil inside her is manipulating you, blinding you to the truth. This is the work of the devil himself.”
“There is evil all right. It’s coming out of you like steam from a boiling kettle, and it’s pervading this entire room! I can sense it, but you are not going to succeed. Do you hear me?”
“You don’t know what you’re saying, Father. It is you who is full of evil. You should be ashamed of yourself, coming after a little girl like me.”
As Anna spoke those words, her mother frowned and stared at her child. It was Anna who had spoken, but the voice was not hers. It sounded like a beast, snarling and roaring. But before Mrs. Rogers could stand up and run to safety, Anna grabbed her fiercely by her hair and pulled her back to the bed.
“And where do you think you’re going, woman?”
“Anna!” Mrs. Rogers screamed, struggling to free her hair from her daughter’s grasp, which was unusually strong for a girl of her age and size.
“You fool! Don’t ‘Anna’ me. I am not Anna!” Anna snarled, pulling on her mother’s hair again.
“Stop it, Anna! Let her go. Let your mother go this instant!” Gabriel shouted as Mrs. Rogers screamed and continued to struggle to get free.
Anna turned to glare at Gabriel. As she did, Gabriel could feel cold fear envelop his heart and spread through his entire body. Anna’s eyes were no longer hers. They were pitch black. No irises, no pupils, just blackness.
“And what do you intend to do, you weak idiot?”
“What? What did you call me?” Gabriel asked, in a voice that betrayed his fear and confusion.
“Idiot, Gabriel. I said idiot. And a very weak one at that.”
“Gabriel. Shut up and stop communicating with the demon. Have you forgotten what I told you earlier?”
“So, you’re still trying to make him like you?” the demon mocked. “Do you really think you could succeed in training him to become a priest?”
“Of course I’ll succeed! Not just in training him to become a priest, but in getting you out of that innocent child’s body.”
Anna laughed in a deep hoarse voice. She then snarled and growled before twisting her mother’s hair once again. As Mrs. Rogers screamed in pain, Anna grabbed her by the shoulder and, to the shock and surprise of both Gabriel and Father Mathews, lifted her above her head.
“Drop her. I say drop her right this very instant!”
“You want me to drop her, Father? Then you can have her.”
Anna tossed her mother towards him with ease. Mrs. Rogers screamed as she flew through the air and collapsed on top of Father Mathews.
Gabriel rushed to untangle them. While he was helping Mrs. Rogers up, he felt someone touch his arm. Fearing the worst, Gabriel paused. He turned around and instantly felt his body freeze. Right there, behind him, was Anna—and he was looking up at her. Somehow, she had gotten free from the chains and was floating, hovering effortlessly, like a feather in the wind.
Gabriel gasped as he took a step backwards.
“What is it, Gabriel? Are you surprised to see me?” Anna asked in that same hoarse voice.
“Wait, Anna. Don’t do anything foolish. This isn’t you. Do you hear me, Anna?” Gabriel said quickly. As he said this, he took another step backwards.
“Don’t communicate with her, Gabriel. Stop calling her Anna! Don’t you understand? That is not Anna anymore!” Father Mathews shouted as he pulled himself towards the bottle of holy water.
“Did you hear the priest, Gabriel? He said I am Anna no more. I wonder what I am now?” Anna said, with her gaze still focused on Gabriel.
“Keep away from me,” Gabriel said, slowly taking another step backwards.
Father Mathews got a hold of the holy water bottle. But as he raised it, he discovered that it was empty. The holy water had spilled when it had slipped from his hand during his fall.
Anna turned her gaze to him. “Disappointed or confused? Tell me Father, which do you feel, now that you have nothing to fight me with?”
“Anna, darling. Please, stop all this and come back to me. Come back to us again,” Mrs. Rogers begged on her knees.
“And what good would that do me, woman? Answer me: what good would it do me to return to that dreary life in a filthy house like this?”
“She’s right, Anna. Come back to your family,” Gabriel said.
“Stop communicating with her, Gabriel!” Father Mathews roared as he searched for his crucifix.
“Father, stop telling him what to do and mind your own damned business,” Anna growled.
“You are nothing but evil that should be vanquished from existence,” Father Mathews said as he searched the more for his crucifix.
“Is that so?”
Father Mathews did not hear any more from Anna. Everything had suddenly gone quiet.
Father Mathews saw that his hands were once again beginning to shake. He closed his eyes tightly and began to say a silent prayer. He focused intensely and earnestly begged God for his interjection in the matter. When he opened his eyes, his hands were still shaking.
He shook his head and looked around. Father Mathews could see Gabriel, who was staring back at him with his mouth wide open, as if to scream—but no sound came forth. Father Mathews caught sight of Mrs. Rogers as well. She was still on the floor and also looking at him. An expression of shock and horror painted her face.
Father Mathews felt his hands shaking violently again. Swallowing, he slowly looked upwards. His worst fears were confirmed.
Anna was no longer hovering above the bed. While he had been busy searching for his crucifix, she had floated above him and turned upside down, her head very close to his while the rest of her body remained suspended in the air, close to the ceiling. It looked as if Anna was being held upside down from her legs, with her face now dangling close to Father Mathews’ face.
It was a horrific sight for the priest as he stared into the little girl’s black eyes at such close range. But before Father Mathews could say anything, Anna abruptly reached out and grabbed his neck. Father Mathews struggled. But the more he struggled, the tighter her grip was on his neck. For such a young girl to possess such a monstrous amount of force was baffling and confusing to even Father Mathews, who was familiar with the effects of possessions.
After a fruitless struggle, Father Mathews gave up and his hands dropped to his side.
Anna was still upside down, looking into Father Mathews’ face, which was now sweaty and tired. “You don’t seem too well, Father Mathews. Is it because I’m slowly taking your old, useless life?”
“Leave him alone, leave him alone!” Gabriel shouted.
Anna turned to look at him while still holding onto Father Mathew’s neck. “And what do you want to do about this, Gabriel? Just look at how weak and scared you are. I’m surprised you haven’t pissed yourself already. After I’m through with this miserable wretch, I am coming for you Gabriel,” the demon taunted.
“Just let him go!”
“Stop it, Gabriel. Stop talking to her!” Father Mathews managed to call out.
He was already feeling faint and dizzy, but he did not relent. Even with Anna still squeezing hard on his neck, his hands searched the floor below him.
Feeling a sudden urge to do something, Gabriel got up and began to walk towards where Anna and Father Mathews were.
Through hazy vision, Father Mathews could see Gabriel approaching them. He began to shake his head. “No, Gabriel. Don’t come here. Go back. Go back!”
Anna smiled at Gabriel. “Finally, you are trying to act courageous. You seem in a hurry to suffer the same fate as your weak, old and useless mentor of a priest.”
Gabriel was not discouraged. He kept advancing. But before he could take another step, Anna opened her mouth and began to cough. As she coughed, she turned her head and looked towards Gabriel.
Anna was still suspended upside down, with both of her hands firmly clutching the priest’s neck in a vice-like grip. From that awkward position, she began to throw up. Anna’s vomit was deep black in colour. She somehow managed to target Gabriel with it, until he was bathed in a slimy and sticky goop.
Gabriel tried to save himself. He raised his hands and took a step backwards. In the process, he slipped and fell on the floor.
At that moment, Father Mathew’s long-searching hands found his crucifix. He grabbed it and mentally heaved a sigh of gratitude. Without hesitating, Father Mathews mustered all of his failing strength and raised the crucifix. It was too late for Anna to do anything to prevent what was about to happen.
Father Mathews drove the crucifix down and deep into Anna’s chest. Screaming gutturally, Anna let go of the priest’s neck and clutched onto the crucifix. As she did, whatever force had held her mid-air had lost its power.
Anna fell on the floor with a loud thud, still clutching the crucifix with both hands. As she screamed out in pain, black smoke began to escape from her mouth and nostrils. Soon, the ceiling was covered in a black cloud.
Mrs. Rogers ran to where the priest was kneeling by her daughter. The blackness was beginning to clear from Anna’s eyes. Father Mathews then pulled the crucifix from Anna’s chest.
Anna touched her chest with her little hands. There was no scar, and neither was she bleeding. She turned to look at her mother. “Mummy, what happened?” she asked in her sweet voice.
Mrs. Rogers turned to glance at Father Mathews. The priest nodded to her, confirming that everything was all right. Mrs. Rogers then grabbed her daughter and hugged her, sobbing all the while.
Father Mathews sat on the floor. He looked at the crucifix in his hands and smiled. He was grateful that it was over.
“Is she better now?” Gabriel asked, momentarily startling Father Mathews.
The priest looked up at Gabriel, who was still covered in the vomit. He then followed Gabriel’s gaze to Mrs. Rogers and her daughter. “Yes, Gabriel. She is no longer possessed.”
A little while later, Mrs. Rogers was by the doorway of her apartment with Father Mathews and Gabriel.
“Thank you for the change of clothes, Mrs. Rogers. Are you sure that your husband won’t mind?”
“After what you and Father Mathews went through to get our Anna healed and delivered? I really don’t think Mr. Rogers would complain if you decided to take his entire wardrobe! It’s the least I could do. Besides, you were too messed up to go anywhere like that.”
“You keep an eye on Anna and let me know if you observe anything unusual. But I don’t think there will be any reoccurrence. The demon has been vanquished back to hell,” Father Mathews said.
“I really can’t thank you enough for delivering Anna.”
“Please don’t thank me, Mrs. Rogers. Just try to come to church this Sunday. Then you can offer your thanks to the lord.”
“I will, Father. I’ll be there, with Mr. Rogers and Anna.”
“That would be nice. Do have a nice day then.”
By the time they got to their vehicle, the sun was already high in the sky and people could be seen walking through the street. For the first time, they could hear the sound of birds chirping. The breeze that blew across the landscape was considerably warmer now.
“The sun is already up, Father,” Gabriel said as they both got into the car.
“Yes, Gabriel. It is. And it has been such a hectic day. Just take me back to the parish. I need to get some rest.”
Gabriel suddenly paused. Rather than start the car, he grabbed Father Mathew’s neck. “Why are you in a hurry to return to your parish, priest?”
Father Mathews felt his hands begin to shake. He then felt the cold beads of sweat begin to fill his face and drip down his neck. He observed all these sudden changes in his body even before he looked up at Gabriel’s completely black eyes.
“You didn’t think I would leave so easily, did you, Father?” Gabriel asked in the now-familiar hoarse and snarling demonic voice.
Father Mathews struggled to remove Gabriel’s hand from his throat, but his struggle was futile. He saw Gabriel start the car with his other hand and begin to drive off, all the while clutching him firmly by the neck.
As he tried to breathe, Father Mathews went over what he could have done wrong. His mind raced through the deliverance that they had just completed. There was Anna. And the vomit. And the black cloud.
Father Mathews would have cursed out loud if he had enough air. The black cloud that had escaped from Anna. He had forgotten to vanquish it. It must have entered Gabriel after leaving Anna’s body.
Father Mathews was shaking his head violently, struggling to free himself from the demonic grip of his now-possessed assistant. But Father Mathews knew that it was too late.
He had made a grave error while delivering Anna.
He should have remembered the black cloud that had risen to the ceiling. Even as he felt his strength failing, he tried to search for his bag and its contents.
“Is it that bag of tricks you need, Father? What would you do if you were able to get the bag? Tell me, what would you do? Too bad you’re being strangled and I can’t hear what you’re saying,” Gabriel snarled.
Father Mathews was now gasping, struggling to claw through any part of the car. But he could not reach anything. From the corner of his eye, Father Mathews finally caught sight of the bag in question. It was far from his reach, in the back seat where Gabriel had put it.
“I’m sure you can see that the odds are no longer in your favour, Father. Right now, all I want to do is deal with you. I am going to deal with you as mercilessly as you tried to deal with me!” Gabriel roared as the car sped away.