It’s Friday, so time for another tale from Via Rosa. It’s been a blast these last three weeks writing these stories, revisiting notes on characters, situations, and remembering how much fun I had when I first started drafting these stories. I want to thank each and every one of you who have shown support.
As for insights or comments on this story, all I can say is that I have it on good authority that real exorcisms rarely go this well.
A church filled with the dead listened to his sermon. Father Flores always thought it was impossible to talk about Lazarus and not look into the ocean of eyes simply following as his lips moved. Tell the story, deliver the message, close with a bang. Fire and brimstone and God’s love. He finished his script and everyone prayed, got up, and spoke for a few minutes in the isles before dispersing to catch the lunch specials. When the cathedral finally emptied, he went to his office and looked at the angel waiting for him behind the desk.
Micah would have stood out in any part of Via Rosa. His skin was too fair for the desert and his blond hair was immaculately combed. The golden scepter pin on his dark green suit matched the equally golden tie he wore like a man born into wealth. Everything about him contrasted with the dark brown leather-bound books on the shelves on every wall of Father Flores’ office. The room smelled like old paper. Micah smelled like… nothing. The angel sipped wine from a crystal goblet and Father Flores noted the bottle of wine on the desk was the same bottle he used for the Eucharist.
“Did you have to drink from that bottle?” he asked.
Micah took another tentative sip and put the goblet down, saying, “I was curious. I also wanted to make sure you weren’t using anything cheap. Only the best for our flock.”
“My flock. You just consult. And the wine’s good enough.”
“It’s a little tart.”
“It’s Cabernet Sauvignon.”
“Get something better for the next batch. But that’s not why I’m here. I think you’re losing your touch. Everyone looked half-dead out there.”
Flores took the goblet and took a long drink. He said, “Most of them are here to beg forgiveness for the things they were doing last night. And they were the ones who could get up. I’d count my blessings.”
Micah grinned like a wolf and stood from Father Flores’ chair. He walked around the office and ran a finger over the Bibles on the top shelf and said, “Maybe that’s just it. You’ve turned this into a spiritual drive-through. You’re the Catholic equivalent of McDonald’s.”
Father Flores finished the wine and said, “I’m filling the seats, aren’t I? It’s not like I believe all this any more than they do. It makes us feel better.”
Micah grabbed the goblet from Father Flores’ hand. He hadn’t even seen the angel move and within half a second, Micah’s eyes burned with clear blue light just an inch from Father Flores’ face. Micah remained calm, like a scientist dissecting an insect, and said, “You do what we tell you to do. Get the crowd motivated. Get them to know love. Show them order. Or I’ll personally rip your soul out and burn it for you to see.”
Father Flores walked to the restroom and cleaned the sweat from his face. Book leather-like skin and wrinkles had become his face in the last twenty years. With his collar off so he could wipe the sweat inside his shirt, he could see the horned skull tattoo on the right side of his neck. It was faded and warped with age, but it remained. He made sure to fully cover it before heading back to his office.
He entered and saw a woman sitting by the window, purse on her lap, while she stared at the tomes and the paintings on the wall. It took a moment, but he finally recognized her as he sat behind the desk and said, “What can I do for you, Lupe?”
Father Flores felt her tension almost as soon as he said it. She was young, maybe thirty, but her hair had more gray than him. Her neck tightened and she clutched her purse with both hands. Around her neck hung three crucifixes: one gold, one silver, and the other wooden. She moved her lips as though she were about to say something, but nothing came out. Father Flores poured her a glass of water and saw that the goblet with a bit of wine was still on his desk. He discreetly moved it out of the way and gave her the glass.
“Unless that’s holy water,” she finally mumbled, “it’s not going to help me.”
“What do you mean?”
Lupe loosened the grip on her purse and said, “It’s my daughter, Padre.”
Father Flores had a faint recollection of the girl. “Aurora,” he said.
“She’s been acting out a lot. I keep telling her to come in, ask God for help, but she just goes out with her friends, talks back to me, and her grades are slipping. And then a few days ago, things got really bad.”
He couldn’t help but chuckle a little as he said, “She’s fifteen years old. That’s typical for a kid her age. She’s going through some changes, and I’m sure with a little attention and some space, she’ll find-”
“I think she’s possessed.”
Lupe lived in one of the better neighborhoods in Via Rosa. Father Flores drove his beat-up Ford truck into the driveway already filled with assorted BMW’s and a Porsche. The house’s white columns were nearly as wide as the bed on his truck and the red brick walls, immaculate and clean like a catalogue photograph, made Father Flores self-conscious of the beaten walking shoes he wore. A servant ushered him into the living room where Lupe sat with a pitcher of water as she paced back and forth. When she saw Father Flores, she leapt and hugged him.
“Oh thank you, thank you, thank you for coming, Padre.”
“Lupe,” he said as she finally let go, “I’m not promising anything. I don’t care what you’ve seen in the movies, but demonic possession is not something we really believe in anymore.”
“But isn’t the devil real?”
Father Flores picked up the second glass of water on the table and said, “Of course he’s real. Satan is very real. But demonic possession is the kind of thing we used to blame for everything from schizophrenia to Tourette’s. Now, I’d like to see Aurora and put your mind at ease.”
She nodded and pointed him to the stairs. He smiled and said, “You’re not coming with me?”
“My daughter isn’t upstairs. I don’t know what that thing is.”
Father Flores gripped his rosary and walked up the grand staircase in the main lobby. One hallway was littered with broken picture frames and scratches on the walls. The room at the end of the hall and all the blinds along the corridor were closed. As he got closer, he saw the smashed pictures on the walls. Most were of the same chipper, brightly-clothed girl with mousy features and long black hair. His shoes crunched on bits of glass. Above him, perhaps in the attic, he heard a pair of dogs fighting and growling.
The bedroom door opened before he touched the doorknob.
Aurora’s room was empty except for a four-post bed and home-made restraints. The closed blinds let just a little yellow sunlight trickle into the room, and what little there was reflected off the girl standing facing the far corner. Long, greasy hair hung low below her shoulders and she wore nothing except a pair of running shorts and a white shirt. She mumbled so low he could barely hear her, but she was awake. Holding his rosary in one hand and forcing himself to smile, he said, “Aurora, it’s Father Flores. Can I talk to you?”
She stopped mumbling and barely turned her head, saying, “No.”
She walked along the room’s edge, one hand touching the wall. Father Flores watched her twitch her feet into working, stop and start like a marionette with loose strings, all the while he said, “It’s just that your mother is very concerned about you and she wanted me to talk to you. She says you’ve been violent, but I didn’t know it was like this. Did you do the damage in the hallway?”
“Yes,” she whispered.
“Why did you do that?”
“I was bored. I wanted to go out and play. Lupe wouldn’t let me.”
Aurora neared the corner closest to the door, the one nearest to Father Flores. He hadn’t realized how tightly he held his rosary until he looked down and saw his fingernails turning white. Aurora approached him, her hand still on the wall, hair over her face.
Father Flores said, “You should really call her, ‘Mom,’ Aurora.”
“Why? She’s not my mother,” and Aurora stopped just three feet from Father Flores. She put her hand down and tilted her head while whispering, “I have no mother… and I don’t want a father. He made sure I knew that.”
“Aurora, I remember when your father left.”
“I meant Him,” she said, pointing up, “and I meant you. Priests piss me off.”
“Aurora, I really don’t think-”
“Stop calling me that!” Her voice echoed as though a small chorus had chanted the words. Barking within the walls rattled the pictures in the hallway. The window shook and cracked and Father Flores felt the sound in his bones. He hadn’t felt anything like that since he stopped going to concerts as a kid. It took a moment for the buzz and the sound of fighting dogs to dissipate, and even when they did, Father Flores’ rosary beads clacked in his hands.
The echo was gone. He asked, “What should I call you?”
Aurora looked up. The circles around her eyes contrasted her otherwise fair skin. Chapped lips cracked as she smiled and said, “We are many.”
Father Flores swallowed hard and Aurora giggled. She walked to the center of the room, saying, “You look just as nervous as you did the day you left the Hidalgo Boys.”
Everything went cold. He asked, “How could you know that?”
“You took that beat-up Taurus revolver Antonio gave you and threw it in the river. Very dramatic.”
“You couldn’t possibly know that. How did you-”
“I know all about you, Mario,” Aurora said, and when she reached the center of the room, her eyes glowed with golden light.
To be continued…
Want to read more? Just visit the main Charcoal Streets page and take a look at the complete stories, samples, and other fun features, and stay tuned in 2011 for the release of the first volume of collected stories!