Inez Ponce de Leon - Artist, Writer, Scholar, Educator

Inez's Diary: All Things Dark and Illuminated Chapter 6

The prayers rang throughout the room, with lilts, with breaths that buzzed with the start of every "thee", with the end of every "beseech", with urgency and calm and love.

Nothing, however, stilled the girl. She was sobbing quietly at first, even as she joined the prayers in a halting, tear-choked voice. Soon, she was weeping, wailing low, words directed to the space between her palms, head buried in the shoulder of the man she had called her father for eighteen years.

And when the Holy Water had been sprinkled upon the last Sign of the Cross, she sprang up, stormed out, and ran to the nearest bathroom to lock herself in.

The psychiatrist and doctor were on her heels at once, followed by her parents, leaving the priests and two exhausted brothers at the table.

They listened to the conversation in the hallway, eyes to their fingers or the tablecloth whenever the girl shouted out something laden with more curses than sense, eyes rolling whenever the mother sushed her with, "Please stop! The neighbors might hear you, and they won't stop talking!"

"You should have thought about that before you got yourself knocked up!" Was the last shout, with a tinge of a roar, an undercurrent of rage in a thousand other whispers left unheard. It sent the father out to the kitchen, where he rattled his way through a variety of knives and tools, presumably in a bid to break down the bathroom door.

Bradley groaned into his palm. He had witnessed the same scene many times before, in a variety of sessions that involved lies about the past that suddenly came to light. There were the tiny lies of promises of love sugar-coated by actual curses, the medium-sized lies of alcohol and trysts that happened once and were regretted a thousand times over, the large lies of hidden lives and deceit and no repentance. They were lies, nonetheless, and the forces of Hell ruled over them all. Nothing was ever harmless or venial where wars were concerned.

Bradley's groan was more a testament to his need for sleep than fresh irritation at the situation at hand.

"I'm sorry," he mumbled, when the two priests looked at him mid-prayer, "Hate to say it, but she's right."

"And that doesn't really help us now," Landon half sang.

"Just saying," Bradley chanted back.

Landon waited as the girl's shouts filled the house with vitriol and curses yet again, "She'll come around in a few," he said, one hand on his brother's head, as though in reprimanding comfort, "As for you, you need sleep."

Bradley shrugged, as the girl's vocabulary of swear words dried out in a flood of sobs, and as the sound of an unlocking bathroom door filled the house with a resounding click. The brothers could hear nothing now, save the girl's muffled sobs, the psychiatrist's low words, the ping of a thermometer as the doctor took her temperature.

"I'm not sick," the girl moaned.

"You know what it's for," the psychiatrist retorted, in the patient tone of a professor, "Sit down and we'll finish checking your vitals, and then you can go to bed, all right?"

"My bedroom's a mess."

"You can sleep on another bed for now."

"No bed is safe. The shadow man will always be there, won't he?"

There was a pause, almost a second too long, as the parents sobbed quietly in the hallway, and as the priests paused in their prayers.

"He will be back for as long as we don't keep up the fight," the psychiatrist said at last, voice still soothing, tone as level as before, "So I need you to help us fight, ok? We'll help you, but you need to fight."

"Ok," was the low reply, behind sputtered tears.

"And most important of all," the psychiatrist continued, "You have to want to fight. Can I get that promise from you?"

"Ok."

"Ok?"

"I promise."

"Do you want to talk tonight, or will we talk tomorrow?"

"Tomorrow, please."

"All right," the psychiatrist seemed to pronounce the final verdict on the girl's fate with those two words. He was both firm and soothing, a combination that made the priests bow their heads to their prayers again, and that made Bradley breathe deeply, after what felt like centuries of no exhaling.

And with that, the house itself seemed to let go of years of fists clenched around secrets, of eyes closed against the past. Where there were once dark corners there now seemed to be light. Where there was once a wintry, biting frost, there now was a cool breeze. Even the sound of the telephone ringing in the hallway jarred no one, when it once caused the whole house to jump in fright.

The father picked it up, his greeting low, his words getting louder as he answered the call.

"Yes, this is his father," came out first, jittery, halting; then, in a less trembling voice, "Yes, yes, thank you - this is most wonderful - it's good, very good news. I can be there tonight. Yes, I'll stay with him."

The table heard the father take his car keys from their peg on the wall, and then announce, to all and no one in particular: "He's ok. They fixed everything. He'll be fine. Nothing was broken. He just lost a lot of blood, and he's sleeping, but he'll need someone beside him tonight."

And with that, all they saw was his figure speeding out of the house; all they heard was his car rumbling out of the driveway. No one dared stop him, not even his wife, who was still sobbing in the hallway, or his daughter, who had been silent long after the psychiatrist had promised that she could sleep.

"We can wrap up here," the head priest suddenly spoke up, turning the brothers' heads toward him, "Thank you, both of you. We'll probably need you for the next session. Wait for our call."

The boys nodded. Bradley had to fight to keep his eyes open. "I'm sorry I have to send you away early," the priest gestured, rather awkwardly, at Bradley, as though afraid to refer to the boy as part of his explanation, "But I need you both at a hundred percent - and I don't want to put you in danger, young man. Not again."

Anyone else would have taken offense at the apparent attack on their ability to keep up the fight. Bradley, however, simply nodded, waited for Landon to stand up, and then followed. The boys did not take formal leave of the family. They simply lifted their bags, spoke low to the priests in goodbye, and left. There was no need for elaborate, protracted farewells at the end of each session.

"Unless this is Argentina," Landon had once quipped, when an older, South American priest wondered whether they had ever considered staying for a while and talking to the family.

***

Landon and Bradley had both been a major part of forty or so cases in the last ten years. There were no real definitions, no absolute framework by which they could judge each victim, nor any standards that dictated how exactly each session would proceed and under whose supervision and leadership. Sometimes the session would go on for a mere hour, which turned into a single hour each day, every day, for a year. At other times, the session would take place over the span of forty eight hours, with no letup, no pause. The boys were there to document everything, from the house temperature to the temperature of the victim, from the heat signatures generated by those who were participating to the visible manifestations of those who came and went invisible, from the words spoken loud to to those whispered too high for any human ear to hear. And, when all was done, they would send the files to the Vatican, which would hand them over to priests studying to be part of the newly revived ministry of exorcism.

The recordings were difficult to take at face value, however, and they needed someone to analyze them as a whole rather than in individual parts - a task that their Uncle Jorge had promised them would be done, if only they could find priests both willing and able to take on what would be a grisly, frightening task.

"He's been promising that since he was an archbishop," Bradley once whined to another priest, who was also his uncle's best friend, "But nothing's happened even now when he's a cardinal!"

"It is not an ordinary task, my son" was the priest's usual answer, "Taking on the mantle of exorcist is an act of humility and debasement, an acknowledgement of powerlessness and reliance on the powers of God alone. It is a battle of power that infects everything it touches. You cannot expect one man alone to do this."

"But uncle Jorge said the research could help more people, Fr. Anthony," Bradley had once persisted, in a singsong whine that any five-year old might have made, "There has to be more urgency."

"At the risk of carelessly injuring one of our own?" Fr. Anthony would often finish, "Some have tried, all have given up. We have no other choice but to wait for an analyst."

The same Fr. Anthony also supervised exorcists-in-training across the United States, all while coordinating the efforts of the professionals who recorded sessions and sent them - almost daily - to the Vatican. There were only a dozen exorcists in the country, and that same number of recording and documentation professionals, none of whom were in close contact with each other. It was one way for the documentors to keep their findings from being contaminated by their own perceptions of the findings from other sessions.

After years of working on sessions, the findings sometimes became predictable: Landon appeared to be the more observant of the two, and he could sometimes predict when things would occur, or point out something that happened to disrupt what he saw as a regularity. Bradley, for his part, knew what to expect out of personal experience.