This story is by Barton K Mann and was part of our 2018 Fall Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
I think whatever it was I had been thinking I shouldn’t have been thinking… but it’s done. And while the error in judgment wasn’t entirely my fault, sitting here in the ruins of what I thought might be my redemption… I am burning with guilt.
It all began simply enough, a knock at my door late at night, another troubled customer seeking salvation from the weird old man living in a ramshackle apartment in the bad end of town.
I’m one of the last of the exorcists with a shingle still hanging for business. Despite my mission being to save people’s lives, I’m a dying breed. I’m an anachronism like dial telephones or handwritten letters. I’m lucky when I’m only disregarded, not so lucky when ridiculed or harassed.
Yet who do they turn to when the bumps in the night get too bumpy? Where do they go when the monsters come out to play?
I opened the door to a grief stricken couple shivering in the evening mist. They looked desperate to plead their case, but they needn’t have worried. I go where I’m needed. This wasn’t my first or my hundredth rodeo. I’m a battle hardened exorcist, a superior practitioner of the art. I’ve never lost a life or soul.
I wanted to skip the formalities; however Peter and Fran Strickland weren’t in an expedient mood. So much of the night was spent going over the all too familiar details. Two beautiful young children, check. A boy of 6 and a girl of 8, both pillars of innocence and unspoiled virtue, check. They were all living a wonderful life with a wonderful future until they were unexpectedly thrust into the chaos of a harsh reality, check and double check.
Things with the boy were fine, but the girl… she was a different story.
The trouble began about six months ago. She started with ill-mannered mischief, and then worked her way up from setting small fires to performing gruesome experiments on small animals, and then on some not so small animals. Peter and Fran feared where it would end… or if it would end. As their horror grew, they spent more and more energy trying to keep the incidents contained.
Exhausted and searching for answers they turned to various psychotherapists and neurologists. Drug abuse and brain tumors were ruled out. No definitive answers were offered.
Peter first heard about me during a boozy rant about his woes to his drinking buddies. The idea of possession was brought up as a joke at first, as was the mention of me. I’m often the butt of jokes regarding someone’s bad behavior. That’s fine. Let them laugh until they need me. They all eventually need me. And I always save them.
I explained my procedure to the couple. First I had to get the demon to declare itself. I needed to know exactly which type of demon I was dealing with. That step was simple ritual. After that came the exorcism and slaying. Those were never simple.
Two days later I arrived at their home. They lived in a fancy district in an expansive house on the height of a hill. The girl’s room was on the upper floor in the far corner. She had a canopy bed and paintings of fairies on the walls. She herself was a sleight blond child with dimples and pigtails. She’d been sent to her room ostensibly for nailing a stray cat to the backyard fence. She lay still, sulking on the bed, barely acknowledging my presence.
So I began.
The declaring ritual went as expected. A circle of salt surrounded the girl’s bed and the air smelled of burnt wolf’s wort and toadstools. Holy water dripped down her cheek. All was revealed. She was possessed indeed. It was a Suggoth demon, a nasty bit of work with long tusks and curling horns that liked to settle into the delicate framework of little girls. I had exorcised and slain my fair share of Suggoths, they were no particular challenge for me.
The declaring hadn’t been a pretty sight however. While the girl writhed in agony, an image of the beast appeared in welts on her chest and stomach; her flesh became all purple and distended. Strange bluish pus leaked out of every orifice of her body.
Then scratches appeared on her arms. Bleeding, festering scratches, spelling “get out please” and “help me.”
Seeing their child’s suffering put the parents in a total meltdown. I tried to keep them on task. I understood their horror-struck apprehension; nevertheless I proceeded, employing the prescribed methods that exorcists have used for all time.
That was when it all went wrong. The ritual of exorcism had barely begun when the Suggoth demon violently propelled itself out of the girl’s body. It ran back and forth frantically inside the salt circle, and then managed to break through it, something I’d never seen before.
I was certain that it would jump inside a new host, Peter, Fran or myself, or possibly even the little boy downstairs hidden safely away from all the fuss. But no, the beast just shot like a runaway train out of the house, down the hill and from there I knew not where it went. I had to accept that it was a problem for another day.
At that point I assured the parents that the girl was clean and the family out of danger. I was paid and bid them farewell.
Back at my place, I put my equipment up and got ready to take a really long bath. The knocking at my door angered me, but I reminded myself that it was my calling so I went to answer. To my dismay, it was the Suggoth demon. It pushed its way past me and into my apartment. I grabbed a nearby weapon and faced the repugnant beast.
Amazingly, it dropped to its knees and began to sob. I’d never seen a demon cry. “Thank you for helping me, exorcist, I thought I’d be trapped in there forever.”
“You’re mistaken you contemptible creature – I didn’t help you, I saved the little girl from your evil machinations! I saved her soul!”
“You call that a soul? If that’s a soul, why would you want to save it?” the beast asked, “It’s the blackest malevolence I’ve ever encountered!”
I looked into the monster’s eyes and saw a light of sincerity I didn’t think demons were capable of. I resisted the foolish impulse to feel sorry for the thing.
“I don’t understand.”
“Initially she appeared so angelic, a perfect host to despoil. So I went in and instead of innocence I found nothing but gruesome hunger and viscous rage. As soon as I saw that I tried to leave, but she trapped me. Then she forced me to go along with her vilest thoughts and deeds. I don’t know what she is, but either she isn’t human, or she’s the wickedest human ever. It was horrific. I thought there would be no escape. I wanted to die. Then you showed up. Surely you must have seen the messages I sent.”
It took me time to fully comprehend what he meant. The scratches on her arms! “Get out please,” and “help me.” I had read them out of sequence. It was, “Help me get out, please.” The demon had written them!
Suddenly the beast bowed down and said, “You freed me so I’m indebted to you. I beg your forgiveness, but my life is otherwise forfeit.”
I couldn’t be sure if it was telling the truth. It could have been some demonic ruse. I raised the axe in my hand and ended it.
With great urgency I raced back to the house on the hill to warn them if needed… but I was too late.
Peter and Fran were both dead. Their stomachs flayed open; their intestines were pulled out and strung up like Christmas lights. The little boy had been burned alive, his face a charred rictus of agony.
I found her sitting in the back yard eating the neighbor’s dog. As I approached, a sardonic grin spread wide across her little girl face, almost splitting the flesh of her cheeks.
“What in heaven’s name are you?” I asked as I drew the gun from my pocket.
“I don’t know,” she giggled… “monster?”
I thought back to everything the demon had told me. Then I shot her through her baby blue left eye and her skull exploded.
I fell to my knees and looked at her corpse. She was only human after all.
So it’s done. I thought killing her would be my redemption, but there is no redemption. I have tragically failed my mission. I haven’t saved anyone. Not the little girl, not the family, not even the repentant demon.
If only I had known who the monster was.
It is cold and quiet now, and the gun barrel in my mouth tastes like a holy covenant.