“Oh thank you, thank you, gracias, come in.” The woman babbled in a mix of Spanish and English as she shepherded Father Luiz and the two accompanying nuns, Sisters Anna and Irene, into her double-wide trailer. The story spilled out of her in a torrent of rushed words, like white water gushing over the jagged points of her teeth. Luiz cast a sidelong look at Anna on his right, silently gesturing for her to comfort the older woman. She quickly sprung forward, wrapping her thin arm around the older woman’s much broader shoulders, guiding her towards the kitchen.
“Where’s Maria?” Luiz asked.
“The back room.” Her chest collapsed and fear was a bitter, yellow stain in the air. Anna poured her a glass of water and helped her sit in the nearest chair. She refused the glass, but Anna persisted, pushing it in her hands, and then pushing her hands up to her mouth, forcing her to drink. In that brief silence, they heard the girl in the back room. Growling.
“Tell her she’s not to disturb us,” Luiz whispered urgently. “Make sure she understands.”
The woman could clearly understand English, but she gave absolutely no sign of hearing the priest. Anna bent her head and took the abuela by her shoulders, looking her straight in the eye and holding her with gentle authority.
“You must stay out of the bedroom,” she repeated slowly, in Spanish. “We’ve done this many times, but you may put yourself or your granddaughter at risk. No matter what you hear…” And Anna didn’t think it could be any worse than the tortured-wild-animal sounds coming from behind the closed door. “You must stay in the kitchen.” She pressed her own rosary into the grandmother’s wrinkled, sunbaked palms. “You must pray.”
She nodded, hunching over the rosary, twining the beads around her knuckles as she appealed to the Mother of God to save her only grandchild. The only family she had left in the world. Nearly all the residents of the trailer park were Luiz’s parishioners, and many of them paid him visits and called his home, reporting that Maria, the beautiful young woman who had just returned from college a month before, was behaving strangely.
Luiz knew the girl well. The small town in northern Arizona had been economically depressed for too long, and most of the young men and women there dropped out of school, married young, and set about the drudgery of a life in poverty with grim, if resigned, resolution. But Maria had always been different. Raised by her abuela from the age of six, she cherished books, studied voraciously, and constantly spoke of her plans for university and beyond. He’d done what he could to nurture her curiosity and her intelligence, providing books when she read through the small town’s entire library, giving her money when she left for the University of Arizona, sending her small gifts of necessary items throughout the months she was away.
When word spread of inhuman howling, of her grandmother’s undeniable fear, and the strange and alarming smells wafting from the trailer, Luiz knew he had to investigate. He hadn’t been looking for evidence of demonic possession. He had done his very best to counter that theory, running test after test on the writhing, screaming girl. Girl…it didn’t seem like there was a girl left in that body. She was too pale, too animalistic and twisted. She contorted herself, dropped her jaw open like a python snake, hissed and rattled and shook, her tawny skin glistening in the late afternoon light, her hair a wild crown of damp curls.
Luiz knew he was damned forever more when he looked at the grotesque creature wearing Maria’s skin and still saw her the same as he always saw her—young, fresh, beautiful, nubile. His. In his heart, and in his fantasies, she belonged to him, even if he never formally staked his claim. And now some demon held her against her will, but Luiz would not accept that, could not tolerate it. Even though he’d never performed an exorcism before—didn’t even know of anybody who had, he was determined to see one performed on the young Maria.
Since word of an exorcism in the twenty-first century could not only embarrass the Catholic church but earn him severe censure and sanctions, he told nobody except the two nuns he worked most closely with and trusted without reservation, Sisters Anna and Irene. They were good, loyal women with spotless characters, and he knew he could trust them with this delicate situation. They waited until after midnight to drive across town, and Luiz could only hope that nobody saw them slip into the trailer.
Luiz waited at the door until Anna returned to his side. She carried a messenger bag slung over one arm, the canvas bag heavy with supplies. Irene’s hands were empty, and her head was bare. She was only a novice. Perhaps too young and inexperienced for a rite as intense as exorcism. But she had a calming effect on the environment, a soothing presence as though the spirit of God radiated from the core of her being. Her large, black eyes were luminous, the dark pools as tranquil as a moonless night. She lifted her gaze to meet Luiz’s, and he was proud to note that there was no fear in her eyes. Though, more than ever, it sounded like they were standing directly on Satan’s own doorstep.
“Don’t stop praying,” Luiz instructed, his hand hovering over the doorknob. Heat radiated from the metal, the air actually wavering in front of him. He gritted his teeth and gripped the knob, but it refused to budge. He tried again, but it was completely sealed in place, melted and swollen from the heat. He took a deep breath and stepped back, bringing his foot up to kick through the thin particle wood door. The shock reverberated up his leg, and his foot broke through to the broiling bedroom. The sound from inside suddenly changed, shifting from a growl into a laugh.
A very amused, decidedly undemonic laugh.
Luiz broke through the busted wood, clearing the way for the two nuns to pass. The young woman on the bed laughed again as they entered—a sweet, but husky sound laced with genuine amusement. Despite the surreal quality of the situation, Luiz found himself smiling in response.
“Father Luiz, what are you doing breaking down an innocent girl’s door? People hear about that, they might get the wrong impression.”
She cocked her head, embodying perfect innocence while looking like a thoroughly ravaged slut. Her hair was tousled and hanging in her face and over her bare shoulders. Her bronzed skin was slick with sweat, shimmering like an impossible mirage in the sweltering heat of the bedroom. A sheet hardly hinted at covering her full breasts, draping over her lithe body just enough to cling to her curves. She wasn’t wearing anything beneath the sheet.
“Hello, Maria.” He was surprised by how evenly he held his voice. “I apologize for that, but the door was stuck. It’s very hot in here. Perhaps you would enjoy a bit of fresh air?”
He moved toward the window, expecting her to protest, but she didn’t make a sound or hinder him at all. His assistants watched from the door as he pressed the hooks down, releasing the runner. The levers moved easily enough, but the window itself wouldn’t budge. It wa as stuck as the door. He turned his body, looked toward the bed, and slammed his elbow through the pane. His cassock protected him from the splintered shards, and over the jittery tinkle of broken glass, he heard her broken laugh.
“Oh, padre, what a brute you are. Have you come to spank me? Teach me how to be a good little girl?” She rose to her knees, letting the sheet slip further down her chest. Only a small triangle clung to her skin, gently draping over her erect nipples.
“I’ve come to help you.” Thank the Lord, he still sounded calm. That itself was a miracle. His heart was pounding, the pulse at his temple and his wrist popping, throbbing. His hair was slick, his clothes heavy with moisture. He couldn’t look away from Maria. And even if he had that ability, he wouldn’t look at Irene and Anna, both as pure as Maria was corrupted.
“Do you think me corrupted, Father?”
He jerked with surprise to hear his own thoughts reflected. She bit her lip with a devilish grin…a knowing grin.
“I’m not, you know. I’m just not the same girl I used to be. You remember that little girl, don’t you Father? The one who didn’t understand what all those sly, little touches meant. The one who never pulled away from those long hugs. She didn’t know what it meant.” Maria leaned forward, the sheet falling away completely. “But I do.”
Something sat hot and heavy in his midsection, like a stone pulling his stomach down to his balls. It was the force of his arousal, forcing more and more blood to his dick. Being near her the past two years, since the night of her eighteenth birthday party, always made his blood pump a little faster. Yes, there had been urges…he had witnessed things that he honestly wished he’d never seen. Moments, flashes of skin, familiar but still unfamiliar gestures, motions. Maria caught in the embrace of a boy her own age, a tall, well-muscled youth named Billy. After that, maybe he did indulge in inappropriately lengthy hugs. But that was all. He never crossed any lines.