This is just the first part of the first chapter of the novel titled above but it has been created into a short story and is currently in competition here in Florida.
Ephesians 6:12 “For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against the Spiritual wickedness in high places.”
So many years ago, a lifetime ago, I was just a stupid kid, like every other kid in the world. I had no clue what the world was like. I did not know I lived literally in a hell on earth. I did not know how my life was soon to change and that what I saw could never be unseen. However before that fateful day I was like every other boy. I went to school. I played ball with my friends. I tried to make out with girls and see how far I could go. God, I still remember this one girl’s cherry lipstick. At thirteen I marveled at how girls developed so much faster than boys.
Oh yeah, I still went to church, every Sunday with no exceptions. Every Sunday I was in the fifth pew from the front on the right side next to one of the stained glass windows. St. Catherine’s had the most beautiful windows for a simple church. Each window was three paneled and each window told a story from the life of St. Catherine of Siena. It is mostly a blur to me now but I know that they started at the front left by the altar rail and progressed around the church. There were three panels however that would haunt me forever.
There was one window that scared me when I walked by and I quickened my pace on the way to my pew or on my way out of church. As all Catholics were or at least at the time when I was confirmed, we were taught by scary nuns. I had an in with the nun in charge because she was a friend of the family but she still scared everyone else. ‘In those days’, God that makes me sound old now, Bishops came to each church as opposed to everyone going to the cathedral to be confirmed together. It was nice to have your confirmation in your own church.
I must admit though that sometimes I lost myself in prayer at church and those were good times. I had older siblings so I knew what was expected of me on the day of my Confirmation. I wore a red cassock that did its best to choke me and it went down to just above my polished shoes. On top of the red cassock was a white surplice that made me look like a member of the Vienna’s boy choir at Christmas time. I do not remember much about the mass, being anointed with the oils or the receipt of the Holy Spirit. I don’t remember where my parents sat though I know it was not with me. I know my confirmation name was John, not for any devout reason other than my brother John took my name to be his so I liked him and thought it was appropriate that I would take his also.
I stress all these things so you understand the boy I was on that day and the days before. The only thing I remember is where I sat. I was four rows from the back, right next to that window that scared me.
I wasn’t the only one to be afraid. The three panels showed a time in Catherine’s life when she lived in fear. The panel on the right was a beautiful rendition of Christ on the cross raised above a personal altar. In the middle panel was Catherine; her hands raised outstretched to her Lord in petition, kneeling on the ground. Her eyes looking behind her in fear to the third panel……. the one on the left.
There in all his wickedness stood the devil in that third panel. His appearance was a secular one with pointy ears, the angular face ending with a sharp beard upon his chin. He was of human form, dressed all in green. He could have passed simply as an evil looking man if not for the horns and the giant bat-shaped wings that were larger and wider than his body. It was not difficult to understand why Catherine fled for her life and put Godly fear in my heart. It might surprise some that a stained glass window of Lucifer would be so prevalent in a Catholic church. I do not have an answer to that query. I continued to kneel half in prayer and half in fear of the image to my right.
At the end of my mass the Bishop proceeded down the main aisle and out the front stairs of the church. He passed each row of young men and women who at the beginning were just catechumen to later walk as the adult faithful. Row after row got up and proceeded until they got to my row. I continued to kneel in my trance of praying devoutly and in turn staring at the window.
Perhaps he had become real to me at that moment. The faithful were four rows behind me before I was shaken out of my stupor. I finally got up from the pew and followed the stragglers to the vestibule of the church. All five doors to the church were open, one to the left, one to the right and the three in the middle. The bishop was in the middle of it all, glad-handing and providing photo opportunities with anyone that was interested.
I took the door to the left knowing my parents would already be outside and we would take our pictures only as a family without the bishop. I was blinded by the midday sun high in the May sky. I put my left hand above my eyes to regain a modicum of vision as I slowly walked down the stairs. The world around me was filled with noises and the flashing of cameras. Just a few feet away from the last step stood my parents, my sister and my grandparents. My left foot hit solid ground and my right foot lingered on the last step of the church, a last string to my past life and later some would argue my sanity.
When my foot left the hallowed ground of St. Catherine it was as if the blind could see, those struck with infirmity were healed and those who were considered insane had their minds restored. At least as I grew older that is how I would look back, to realize I started to finally see the world. For now as the veil was torn I saw a cursed world for what it truly was.
I was surrounded by hundreds of people and instead of seeing these people in their Sunday finest instead I saw creatures of the most horrific description attaching themselves to most of the people. Perhaps “attaching” is not the right word. For these beings were not corporal in the true sense. They flowed in and out of people but in one way they were “attached” for each person seemed to have their own individual monsters whether groups great or small. The phantoms did not jump from one person to another but remained with their host.
Through all the chaos and horror I was able to see glimpses of the human soul, that immortal vessel. Each of these creatures were cutting through their victims to get to the soul. All this I saw in the first microsecond and after this I looked around frantically going in every direction, trying to come to terms with this new reality. I became unsteady on my feet and I realized that I had forgotten to breathe. I exhaled in the loudest scream imaginable.
I tried to catch myself and my sister came to my aid but I recoiled in horror for the things I would later know in my life as demons were crawling on her outside and within. When I recoiled I fell back, landing back on the stairs of the church. At that very moment everything I just had witnessed disappeared. The world was back to the way it had always been, the normal life I had known. Perhaps it had all just been a waking dream, a horrible waking dream.
Perhaps I would have believed it, if not for the faces all around me staring at me, as if I had escaped an asylum and not just walked out of a church. Though surrounded by the condescending looks and the shaking of heads I was too afraid to be embarrassed. No matter how much I tried to make myself believe it was a dream, a hallucination, an illusion, the one thing I knew to the very bottom of my core, perhaps my soul was that the demons I saw were real. It was with tears streaming down my face that this of all things created my faith.
I looked away from the other parishioners who were already resuming the tedium of their conversations and back to those five people I had loved all my life. My sister had been at the front of the group to greet me. So it was only her and her demons that I saw within my family briefly before. Oh my God what if they were on my parents? What if they were on my grandparents? Were they on everyone including myself?
“Patrick, are you alright?” It was my mom who reached me first. It was so strange that I did not think they would. I thought I would need to leave these steps again to go to them, to confront the fear that once I left the steps all the horrors would return. My sister was there too. She was by my side, my sister again. I would not forget, no matter how I tried to block the vision of the flowing creatures all upon her. My dad was there too, stern but loving in his own way. I never doubted his love, just as I from that point never doubted the knowledge of demons upon the earth. My dad was a man of the world but a man more suited for being on his knees, rosary in hand and his lips slowly moving with the prayers. His faith was as private as was the man. All I saw was the look of concern on his face and I was embarrassed because he did not care about the gawking of onlookers but only of my thoughts and fears. My grandparents’ faces had the same looks of concern.
Soon we were joined by a sixth. Sister Lawrence, the instructor of my confirmation and friend, hurried over as best as her feeble legs could move.
“Patrick, I heard your scream.” She put my hand into her arthritic ones, the skin so cool to the touch. Without me realizing it she once more guided me off the stairs of my sanctuary. With her reassurance I walked out into what I knew now was the real world again. I will give myself some credit for this time I did not scream. My knees buckled slightly as all the images came flooding back towards me. My sister was there again with a darkened soul infested with the things, worse than any disease imaginable. I was able to see my parents out in this world and I saw no demons upon them but inside their souls were the slightest of grey edges.
I looked towards Sister Lawrence in her nun’s habit, refusing to cow-tow to the reforms of the sixties, and upon her I saw no demons. Inside her I saw a white soul, one that must not have been touched by the thousands of demons now inhabiting just this small conclave of people. The tears streamed down my face, drop by drop falling from the sides of my chin.
Her hands with those horribly swollen knuckles came up to my face in a sign of comfort and to wipe my tears.
“Why?” I begged and she knew. It was an understanding not necessarily of the knowledge of what I had seen for I saw her head did not move, her eyes did not dart from this person to that person but rather an understanding in some way within our souls there was a commonality, a link.
“I do not know. I just know that the gifts are rare and as time has passed they have become rarer still.” She answered with sympathy.
“Gift?!” I mocked, half weeping and half chuckling.
“Pain, confusion and despair but a gift nonetheless. I cannot know what your gift is but I know the mark.” She sighed, “I have helped thousands of children become confirmed and I have seen the mark less than the digits on these gnarled hands.”
“Why you?” She continued, “I do not know the answer. Does it make you better than others? No. Does it make you holier? Certainly not!” With that I heard just the slightest brogue of her birthplace. “Is it a cross? Sadly, yes. How heavy that cross will be I have no idea and for years to come neither will you. There will be times when you will be tested and there will be times when you will fall but you will rise up and you will sometimes catch the glimpse of understanding and find a little peace. I cannot give you more than this. You cannot hide behind the walls of the church. You are a man of the world and your gift is to be used in the world.”
And into the world I went, surrounded by people who loved me and countless demons determined to destroy all.