(A short fiction by Sidharth Vardhan
First written on December 4, 2018)
“It started suddenly one day. We – me, my brother and husband, suddenly heard her screaming in her room. We ran to her room, the door was shut but not locked. She had developed a habit of spending more and more of her time alone in her room and often locking it. We thought it was all a part of growing up but this time the door was not locked.”
John the priest entered the house. A large old bungalow probably made during British Raj time and which in fact was once a place of residence for British colonials. The place was too big for a family of four and as is often the case with such houses wasn’t well lit.
“When we entered the room, she was scared. Her eyes were widened in shock, frightened. She kept telling us about a ‘him’ – we soon realized there was some sort of evil spirit in the room. That he was smiling at her, was going to ‘touch’ her. He touched me, mamma, she kept on insisting with a stress on word ‘touch’ …. She was too naive to know anything like that. After all, she is just a child.”
He was young. Only twenty-two. Perhaps too young to be a priest. But he always knew he had to be a priest. There was something priestly in his ways ever since he was a kid. He could weep tears in compassion for a stray dog, leave alone humans. He figuratively couldn’t stand the idea of harming even a fly. And it needs be told how big a difference the coming incident in his life, we must tell you he was most non-violent person ever possible. From the day he was born, he didn’t even say any harsh words, leave alone pick an argument with another person. It was doubtful whether he was capable of saying a bad word about anyone. He liked spending time with children. Didn’t feel any attraction to women either. This goody two shoes born and raised in comfort, protection, and isolation akin only to people who are very rich like his parents had this far been saved from uglier aspects of life, making him perfect face of the rosier version of Church.
“She kept on seeing the imp at the same time every day. Except her fear increased each day. She grew more and more taciturn. We had to take her out of school because she would start screaming in class for no reason. Soon she was injuring herself.”
But it was compassion that made him different. When someone was in pain, he could read their thoughts … as if by a superpower. And when people coming to him in anguish of their own sufferings found him completing their sentences with distress in his own face as if he had suffered it all himself, telling them how they had felt but had never able to put in words, they thought he was really wise …. When he truly was an overblown momma’s boy. Even now, he was already moved to tears by the distress in the mother’s eyes. “What time would that happen?”
“It always happened just a few minutes before 8 pm.”
They climbed the stairs. The girl’s and her uncle’s rooms were upstairs and that is where she was sleeping. He already knew she was ten or twelve, couldn’t remember which. A child, and to suffer like that!
“It got worse over time. One day when, on hearing her screams, we came to comfort her we saw her body go rigid and rise in the air. And this started happening every once in a while. She would tell us that he sat on her chest and it was so heavy and she couldn’t speak or breathe.”
He carried the familiar weight of the Bible in his hand but this time he held on to it with a more conscious resolve – already feeling some sort of evil presence in the house. He had a kind of sixth sense for such stuff. He could feel the presence of God everywhere. But in this house, there was an evil presence too. There was something wrong, so strongly wrong. Even devils aren’t this evil. It was something beyond God’s ugliest imagination. He was scared but he closed his eyes for a moment and felt, as he has been for years able to do, the comforting presence of God looking over his shoulder.
“After some time she started making cuts on all her body as if trying to kill herself. We did everything. Consulted doctors, Pandits, mullahs etc. Now we are finally turned to you.”
They were standing at the door of her room now. John said “Let us wait till quarter to eight. It is already half past seven. We shall observe from outside for now.”
He looked at the girl’s face. The innocence of a child still showed in that face even though the body suggested a rather early emergence of womanhood. She was tall for her age and had an angelic face. She seemed to be sleeping peacefully – perhaps too tired from daily trial she had to go through. But even whe n sleeping peacefully, she moved him in compassion. He didn’t wish to see her in pain. The very idea of even imagining her in pain distressed him. He felt an impulse to run away, to be able to avoid the agony of seeing her in pain.
At this point, the girl wakes up. He could see her eyes opening silently absorbing the shock of reality that one gets when one wakes up.
it is time. He will come. You must prepare yourself. He shall do things to you. And you won’t be able to do anything.
He asked them to stay quiet – they were sitting at such an angle that despite her face being turned towards them, she couldn’t see them. He wanted her to think she was alone for now. He looked at the expression on the face of the girl (who was too lost in her inner thoughts to realise that she was being watched) – calm When she woke up, but now wrinkling to show anguish though she still was lying in the same position she was moving in.
…..but you can’t prepare yourself. There is no preparing for it. You must just go through it. You wait eagerly. You must not scream. You will try hard not to scream but fail. But you must try. He wants you to stay quiet and maybe he won’t hurt you too much if you do.
He realized from the look on her face that she was anticipating the horror that waited her. For that Lucifer to show. She knows it is time. But she didn’t know that this time she won’t be alone.
He is here. He has those huge teeth with which he has sometimes bit you. A punishment for when you screamed despite his telling you not to. Secrecy is important. No one should know. It will be humiliating if they know. You should learn not to scream.
What must it be like for the child to lie there alone in wait for the torturer!
Your mother wanted to move you to other room but you refused. He has warned you if you change the room it will be worse. No, you must wait quietly. Here he is inching towards your bed. It has occurred so many times already and yet it is an unbearable horror each time. Already you are scared but no, don’t scream.
He sees that the girl’s eyes are widening – she is seeing the devil but why isn’t she screaming already? Why not already call for help? He decided to wait till she screams for help. It was most basic instinct of all living creatures to scream, call for help when in horror. All animals did it. All children did it. Somehow adults forget this instinct. What it must be like for a child to go through such horrors and have such lack of hope for any help?
You won’t even leave your room anymore. It isn’t safe. The room holds the world – the disgusting, painful world but your world. You move out and everything will come to lose and be destroyed. Perhaps the universe will be destroyed and you will be left behind to pick its tiny fragments that survived.
“She isn’t screaming.” The mother says, “why isn’t she screaming?” The priest shushes her but it is too late. The girl has heard them and her face is now turned towards them.
Why are they there? Oh, he (the devil) is angry now and it would be worst for you. He is already climbing on her bed. Any moment he would enter you. It is the same story every time for the last few days but you are still shocked. You must not scream… You must not scream… You must not scream.
She screamed. The priest and the rest – two parents and the uncle run into the room. The priest quickly opens the book, “In the name of our Lord…” He begins…
The devil is inside. He controls your body. He makes you stand up on your bed, your limbs held apart. He has scared away several other Pandits and priests. This one won’t be any different. But this will mean you will be punished. He makes you bite your own wrists to draw out blood. It hurts and hurts very bad. It is as if you will never get used to it. Why won’t your parents understand and leave you alone?
He hears her laughing. A high pitch sound in that laugh – the evil spirit is a male. There is no longer any doubt that she is possessed. He demands that the evil spirit will show itself.
He is now speaking through you with the priest. He wants them, your parents, to know for once and all that nothing like this will ever work. Nothing. Nothing ever works.
The evil spirit speaks through the girl “Go away! Go away!! She is mine”
You know that nothing ever works. Why don’t they understand it? How hard it is for them to understand. Didn’t you beg your parents to leave you alone?
He says “The girl belongs to the God. And I am here to take her from you for Him. You must now leave her alone. In the name of our Lord, I commend you to leave her alone”
Fool. He thinks this will work. You know better. But this one is different. This one… There is something in him, you … He seems a good man.
“you?” The girl speaks “you will take her to god?” She speaks and laughs in that heavily manly voice. “You are a brother of mine. All men are same”
He is right. He has told you before too, all men are same. Why did you think this priest is any different? How foolish of you to think that?
The priest answers “May lord have mercy on you. You are not a man. You are an evil spirit. And I will through the authority of God make you leave her” and he starts reading verses from his Bible
…. but somehow for the first time, you are doubting the proposition. No, somehow you want to think that this priest is different. There is something in his face. Maybe he will save you after all. Look he (devil) is already suffering – suffering for you. May be he will save you after all …. but the idea scares you instead of raising your hopes
Suddenly the girl jumps from the bed. The priest is shocked. The girl takes away the Bible and snaps it to pieces.
so you won’t be saved after all. but even when you thought you were gonna be saved, the idea was not attractive to you. You don’t want to be saved. No, you want things to stay the way they are. You don’t want to let go of this suffering. Why? Why won’t you let go of this suffering?
The act of the girl has made the members of the family jump back. They are scared. This is new to them too. They have seen priests hit the girl with brooms but the girl has never reacted in an aggressive manner ever. Whatever is inside her doesn’t seem to like the priest.
It doesn’t matter anymore. Look the priest is scared now. he lies there on the floor not moving. You are disappointed somehow.
If the evil spirit is powerful enough to tear away something as holy as Bible, the priest wonders, what will stop him? What is more powerful than God’s own word?
You had hoped something from this coward. This fool. You are suddenly conscious once again of the pain in your arms which you had forgotten, also the pain … There down under, inside your legs. You realize he (devil) won’t ever leave you and somehow you won’t ever want him to leave you. Why? This is one question you must answer. Why?
For the first time ever since he heard the word God, the priest is having a doubt. He had always felt God’s presence behind him whenever he had the cross on his chest or Bible in his hand. This time though he felt the impulse to look back and not trust Him blindly. The girl must be saved. He must save her.
You are filled with a new anguish with that regained hopelessness. You want the priest and everyone to just leave you alone.
“Leave! Just Leave!!”
The priest hears the girl say in that same heavy manly voice. To think that her uncle suggested she was putting an act! Oh, God! He begged but remembered that God didn’t seem to be helping him. Whom to ask for help? He himself couldn’t the girl. The girl. Oh! How lonely she must be feeling at the moment.
Outside your body is kicking floor in anger, inside you are crying. Just for once, just for a moment if only someone could understand.
And the inspiration had hit the priest. There is at least one thing he could do. “Child! I now speak directly to you.”
Talking to you? The priest wants to talk to you. Could he still see you ?
“I know you can still hear me. I want you to know that I am here. I will help you, child. I am here. You are not alone now. You won’t suffer from this alone now. I will suffer with you if I must. ”
suffer with you? How could the priest suffer with you? Look, he is crying. Tears. You see tears in his eyes. He is not lying. He WILL suffer with you. No, you can’t let him suffer. It must be stopped.
The priest now stood up seeing the girl has calmed down. He moves ahead and stands in front of the girl. And holds out his hands for herself.
“No” the girl screams but this time it is in a girlish voice. Her normal voice. This worked better than the priest had hoped for.
“why not, child?” He asks
“You don’t understand. I don’t want him to go away. He is better than the other one. He must stay or the other one will come and that one is worse. Far worse.” She had put her hands on her face and was crying.
so you knew but you didn’t realise you knew it before you said it. But now as you speak you are realizing that alternative to this devil is something worse.
“which another one? Are you saying there are two of them?”
She didn’t answer but she didn’t have to say anything. His compassion had walked the last mile, he could read her thoughts now…
He used to come before this one. He too touched you.
The priest felt a shiver run down his spine as he realized this other ‘evil spirit’. But he didn’t stop to absorb the shock as he was able to read on her face what she was too overwhelmed to say.
He made you bad. He made you ugly. He did that every day. One day you were lying in your bed waiting for him but this one came. He is still here waiting for this one to go.
Parents and the uncle had stood stupefied. John finally reacted to all that went in girl’s mind “we will fight with him too child”
“no you won’t, just go!”
John realized she couldn’t possibly know how far better he had understood her than anyone else. Correcting his error, he finally murmured “just tell me child, who is he?”
And the girl, her head still looking down, pointed to her uncle with her finger.
The priest was filled with rage. He felt there was no God anymore and in His absence, the world seemed orphaned.
The girl had created the devil out of her misfortunes just as he had created a God out of his lucky life away from such misfortunes. Images occurred to her of this uncle molesting her. Repeatedly every day. He didn’t need to look at the girl to know what it must have felt like.
You were to go through all that every day. The ugly nightmarish experience that haunted you all the time.
Another image passed in front of his eyes, the girl waiting for this man just as he had seen her waiting for evil spirit lying powerless in her bed.
The waiting was worst. You lie in your bed powerless. He had threatened you of terrible consequences if you scream.
He had his hands at the neck of the uncle. There was no God, justice must be done here on earth. He wanted the man to suffer.
And this was your uncle. In whose arms she had lived your childhood. Once a source of comfort. He was still. the same person in daytime. How were you to accept the idea of him acting in this ugly fashion at that particular time of the day?
Even as the uncle tried to wrestle himself free, the priest in one sudden moment put his two fingers through later’s eyes and broke through the eyeballs.
No you couldn’t think of two as same. You made them two people. The good uncle. The ugly one whom your mind later turned into that ugly monster of your dreams separate from your uncle. Soon you forgot your uncle ever did such a thing. This priest though managed to break through that forgetfulness of yours.
The uncle screamed. And everything went still in the room except for his screams. The parents were too shocked to move or say anything. The priest had done all he had to do. The uncle was screaming and could do nothing. The priest looked at the girl to know what she was thinking.
And now that you remember everything you just want vengeance. You want that uncle of yours to suffer. but all this is so tiring. You do not want to live anymore, even for vengeance. Vengeance could be good. But at the moment, every part of your body hurts. Already your legs are shaking off that weakness you have adopted yourself to.
The girl went to her knees, no longer able to stand. She stayed like that for a while. The parents who seem to finally have some idea of what was going on, still stood stupefied. The mother was mourning heavily now.
“No child” the priest reacted to the thoughts in girl’s mind. You don’t want vengeance. You are innocent of sin” but even as he said it he realized that he no longer believed in God, so calling something a ‘sin’ was absurd “you must save the child in you. It is what Go… What is important. You must be able to forgive him.”
The girl didn’t react. John wasn’t sure she was listening to him at all.
Then finally the girl turned and looked at her uncle still screaming and rolling on the floor in pain. She smiled. A malign smile. John realized that he was too late. The child in her was already dead.