Okay, this is my first shot at FridayFlash and it kinda goes over the 1,000 word limit. Like I said, it’s my first attempt…do you know how many times Thomas Edison had to fail before he finally invented the light bulb?
“Your son’s been possessed.”
She looked at me and, if she wasn’t concerned for the well-being of her kid, I swear she would have laughed in my face. “Oh, we don’t believe in that kind of thing,” she finally said, waving a hand to dismiss it—and me.
“Lady, I don’t give a damn what you believe. And, trust me, neither does whatever’s taken up residence in junior.”
Don’t look at me like that. She needed to hear it. And so do you. Screw God. Forget the Devil. I don’t care if you believe in ’em. I don’t give a rat’s ass whether or not you think the Torah, the Bible, or the Qur’an are fact or fiction. All you need to know is this: There are things out there. Dark things. Cruel things. Things that thrive on chaos and grow fat on human pain and misery.
Things that get off on wearing an eight year old boy like a rented prom tux.
I’d read about these things—demons, rakshasas, ifrit—for most of my adult life. I’d even written a book or three on the subject. Of course, back then I used words like “folklore” and “mythology” whenever I talked about the things that haunted humanity’s darkest nightmares. Shit, that should have been my first clue that maybe—just maybe—these things were real. Kara and Max paid the price for my stupidity.
“Mommy, what’s goin’ on?”
The first thing I did when I got to the Park Slope brownstone owned by Stephen and Emily Carlyle was run up to the kid’s bedroom and draw a circle around the little tyke’s bed with some good old-fashioned table salt. That’ll pretty much guarantee whatever’s inside him won’t be able to raise much of a ruckus while I was trying to figure out what to do next.
Of course, if Mommy Dearest runs up to the bedside of her poor little darling and accidentally breaks the circle…
“Mrs. Carlyle,” I try to sound compassionate, but probably fail miserably, “you can’t go in there.”
“This is insane. I never should have—”
Christ. This is where humanity really fucks itself over. Rationalizing. If something can’t be, it isn’t. The Devil didn’t convince the world he doesn’t exist, we did that ourselves.
Okay, Professor. Use your words. You can do it.
“You noticed something strange in Tommy’s behavior, something that couldn’t be explained away with illness or a bad mood or whatever. Right?” I didn’t even wait for a response. “Now, I haven’t hurt the kid, just spilled a little salt on your classy hardwood floor. All I can do is ask you to trust me.”
“He’s been acting out at school,” Mrs. Carlyle said when I finally gave her a chance. “His teacher says he started to withdraw from the other kids a few weeks ago. Stephen and I were considering therapy…until the incident with Muriel.”
Right. The housekeeper. The elder Carlyles had the misfortune of walking in on their pride and joy trying to force himself on their sixty-two year old housekeeper. Definitely aberrant behavior for an eight year old. Neither parent told me exactly how much of an “incident” it was and, to be honest, I didn’t want to know.
I watched as her maternal instincts waged war with her rational mind. Instinct verses intellect. How often had the wrong side been victorious in that little conflict? This was the moment of truth. She’d either accept the truth of what was happening to her son, or send me packing. For the sake of everyone in the Carlyle household, I hoped she would choose the former. When she finally nodded her assent, I asked her if I could set up shop in the spare room across the hall from Tommy’s bedroom.
For the next hour, we sat in the guest bedroom, listening as the thing inside Tommy Carlyle carried on across the hall. There was a moment or two in the first half hour when I expected Mrs. Carlyle to bolt. To the woman’s credit, she just turned in her seat and stared anywhere but in the direction of the open door. I used the time the best way I could. Thinking.
I’m no expert. Like I said, until recently, I was just an academic with absolutely no real world experience in dealing with the forces of chaos. I’d heard of various rituals and incantations that you could use to drive out a possessing entity, but I’ll be damned if I could recite any of them off the top of my head. Fortunately, I’m what you might call a talented amateur.
Eventually, the thing across the hall seemed to tire itself out. That was as good a cue as any. I grabbed the duffel bag that I use to schlep various tools and other useful items from job to job and made for the boy’s bedroom.
“How’s it goin’, scooter?” The thing turned the boy’s head and looked at me through sunken, red-rimmed eyes. Tommy looked to be in as good a shape as you’d expect for someone who’s possessed. His skin was a little pale and sweat matted his dark hair to his forehead. Trust me, it could have been a lot worse. An old woman in Tuscany had once plucked her own eye out. With her thumb.
The thing watched me as I made my way around the room. “No, no,” I said, “don’t get up.” I took a few candles out of the duffel bag and lit them, placing them randomly around the room. I dropped the bag at my feet and stood in front of the boy, his bed, and whatever was inside of him, the tow of my boot almost touching the ring of salt on the floor.
“C’mon, jackass. I don’t have all night.”
The lamp next to the boy’s bed flickered and I felt the temperature in the room drop before I could see my breath in the air. Whatever was inside Tommy was drawing in ambient energy, hopefully preparing to manifest itself. The boy’s body began to shake in his bed. The shaking became a thrashing. The thrashing grew so violent that it appeared as though the kid’s body was wracked by a violent, but unheard, coughing fit. The light from the lamp went out completely, leaving my flickering candles the only source of illumination.
A network of black veins had appeared on the boy’s pale, sweaty skin. His vacant eyes locked on the ceiling and his hands searched blindly for the edge of his mattress. The temperature dropped another five degrees as Tommy Carlyle’s mouth opened in a silent scream of pain. Or rage. Or both.
Whatever had been inside the boy had decided it no longer liked being trapped within the circle of salt. It was going to show itself and try to trick me into releasing it. Fat chance. Thick black tears had formed at the corner of the boy’s eyes. A similar substance trickled from the corner of his mouth and seemed to seep from every pore. The ichor dripped to the floor, congealing in a viscous mass. The tar-like substance shifted, rising into a column a little taller than myself.
“Isn’t this where you start bargaining? Asking me what I really want and promising to give it to me if I release you?”
The stygian mass pulsated and roiled, its black surface rippling. An inky tendril shot out. Then another. And another. I’m sure it would have throttled me if it had been able to. Instead, the tendrils slammed repeatedly against the invisible barrier created by the ring of salt.
“Yeah, yeah, yeah. Big, bad Beelze-bitch.”
A shudder of anticipation rippled through the black, oily mass. It had seen—hell if I know how, since I didn’t see any eyes—me step closer to the protective ring of salt. It expected me to accidentally break the circle. It didn’t expect me to reach into my duffel and pull out a double-barrel shotgun. I leveled the weapon at the thing that had possessed a helpless eight year old boy.
“Suck it.” In this case, “it” was a special shot I used, consisting of silver pellets, holy water, mistletoe, garlic, and monkshood. Whatever the thing was, it wasn’t particularly strong. The shot ripped right through it, dispersing the inky mass.
What? I never said this job couldn’t be easy. It could. Not often, but it could.
The easiest part was knowing when to leave. The Carlyles had been touched by something most people never witnessed. And, I know from personal experience, those who have witnessed it, wish they never had. But, the human mind is great at forgetting, at sugarcoating the strange and fucked-up shit it doesn’t want to deal with. I shouldered my duffel bag and headed for the stairs, leaving Mrs. Carlyle to tend to her exhausted, terrified and disoriented son.
“Professor?” I paused at the top of the stairs and turned. Mrs. Carlyle was standing outside of Tommy’s room, visibly rattled but clearly relieved that her son would apparently be okay. “I’m not… What I mean to say is, I don’t…” She heaved a sigh, a wayward dark blonde curl falling across her face.
“You saved my son, and I don’t even know your name.”
“Solomon. Ezekiel Solomon.”