Sure, this isn't what you thought you would be doing with your life. There's something out there, in the world, that's bigger than you. Bigger than all of us. Maybe it is this . Maybe religion is the answer.
At least that's what Ryan had been telling himself every day since he started seminary. Since childhood, well no that wasn't right, but at least since he was a teenager he had felt this indescribable feeling that there was something else out there, something big . All it took was a gen ed requirement in college, a religion class that his advisor had seemed surprised to even see on the course registry to send him down this path he had never even imagined.
He wasn't even religious .
Not like this anyway. Not in the change your major and lose your field specific scholarship to become a priest sort of way.
He had belief. He had a firm, ardent, unyielding belief in something . And maybe that was enough, it got him here didn't it. No one seemed to care what feeling he had driving his hail Mary's or why he felt a tension that made his grip on his rosary tighten when he looked out into the dark for too long.
Belief was belief. It was all the same so long as you weren't too vocal about who you or what you really put your faith in.
Maybe it was that faith of a different kind that got him here.
For all the time he put into becoming what he was, Ryan was hesitant to call it divine intervention; but it was hard to deny that someone hadn't been guiding him here.
He was a priest, a Father, the title was something he had worked hard for but didn't fit the way he hoped it would.
“Father Thomas, Ryan.” Introductions were awkward and sometimes not accepted among other men of the cloth, but Ryan tried anyway he could only take being called Father Bergara so many times. “I was excited to get your message, but I have to say I'm confused about what you would need from me.”
“Well, Ryan,” he said, stumbling over the lack of formality but acknowledging the preference was more than most of the older priests would do, “I have a problem I need some help with, and with this specific matter in mind you come highly regarded by your seminary instructors.”
Pleasure at being noticed for something warred with an apprehension over not knowing what it was. It was a heady cocktail that settled something like anxiety in his stomach.
“You were vague in your message Father, I'm sorry but I'm not even sure what it is you need help with.”
“You've heard of possession, Ryan?”
“Well, yes, of course but-”
“Its real, you know, we still get called to banish demons who have taken hold of the bodies of friends and family.”
Ryan was wide eyed, not in shock, but in the firework up the spine feeling of being told you were right. There was something else out there some other force, even if it was the powers of hell.
“I need you,” Father Thomas continued, “because I can't do this anymore, so I'm training you, the work isn't hard but it's draining and I need someone to take up the mantle.”
It was the easiest yes that Ryan had ever been given the chance to say.
Their first trip was a short one, you didn't think of this thing happening at all but if you were to imagine it Southern California wouldn't be the setting, yet there they were. It was a young man, a casting decision Ryan hadn't expected either, but as they climbed the stairs to the man's room Father Thomas gave a warning. “This isn't what the movies make it out to be, the only way to really know what to expect is to experience it but you have to understand before we go in that you won't see the dramatics of a horror movie.”
“A demon is inside the man we're about to see,” Ryan said, his surprising disbelief coming out in a sharp whisper, “what about that isn't dramatic?”
Father Thomas shook his head and Ryan felt like a school child being scolded, “Watch and you'll understand.”
The room they walked into was normal. It didn't reek of the putrid air of sulfur or sickly flesh. It wasn't filled with a tension of potential failure. It was just a room. A lived in room. The room of an man in his twenties, with clothing in piles on the floor and his belongings scattered on every flat surface beside the odd dish or empty can that had yet to be cleaned.
The man they were there to see wasn't tied to his bed with the sheets pushed down around his knees from where he struggled with his binding like was thematically expected. He was just laying there, sedately, smugly even, with his hands folded across his stomach and his legs crossed at the ankle where they stretched in front of him.
It was the eyes though, that was where you could see something there that shouldn't be. They weren't solid black, they didn't have a slit pupil, they weren't what the movies told you they would be. But they held a knowledge, a blank distant stare of a being that knew the eons and everything they contained, something old and powerful, something that didn't belong here.
It chilled Ryan all the way down his spine and into the soles of his feet, a feeling of discomfort and instinctual fear that a procedural horror movie had never created.
Then it spoke.
“The boys are here! Or should I call you the Fathers? You'll forgive me if I'm a bit unfamiliar with the proper terms, it's been so long since I got to play up here.”
“You don't belong here demon,” Father Thomas said.
“Well that's not fair, who among us can say they really belong anywhere.” The demon said speaking over Father Thomas, “The world you humans created, so accepting yet so condemning, it's a paradox that's driving you all to misery.”
“I will ask you to leave of your own power,” Father Thomas commanded.
“But we all just got here,” the demon said, contorting the face of the body he possessed into something unrecognizable, “I'm still trying to get the hang of this thing. Is this a smirk?” It locked eyes with Ryan and he felt his heart seize inside his chest. “Well shoot, the look on the cute one’s face says no, sorry Father T gonna need some more time to field test this baby.”
The two started to talk over top of each other now, their words dancing together in Ryan's ears like some kind of satanic tango.
“What's your name, cute one?”
“You won't speak my name-”
“Not what you expected is it?”
“from borrowed lips demon!”
“You humans are all the same.”
“Don't answer its questions, Father.”
“Your mother sucks cocks in hell,”
“In the name of the Father,”
“that's what you all expect.”
“the son, and the holy spirit,”
“Oh but you do feel different don't you?”
“I command you! Be gone!”
“Ryan! Oh yes!”
“I think I-”
Whatever was supposed to finish the demon’s sentence was lost as Father Thomas’ final command rang out through the room. The change was as immediate as Ryan had been led to believe but had the same anticlimax as the rest of the encounter. There was no pit that opened up to hell to pull the demon back in. No billowing black smoke of demonic energy pouring out of the mouth. Not even a sound. Just those eyes. That haunting look of dissociated knowledge gone and replaced with a vacant confusion. It was an emptiness that felt so sudden Ryan felt like it changed the feeling of the entire room.
That was it.
Demons were real, they could and did roam the earth by stealing the bodies of unsuspecting humans, and they were laughably easy to get rid of.
There was no latin, you didn’t need holy water. It could all be over and done with by saying a few words with enough conviction. You give them a chance to leave on their own, you call upon the holy trinity, and command them to leave once for each part. That was it. They were gone, cast out from that body and sent somewhere, back to the planes of hell or just away.
Boring. Christ, it was boring.
Ryan had traveled the country, taking up the mantle of demon banisher, and that fear he had once felt over the very existence of these beings was replaced by this bone chilling, mind numbing boredom.
So he went back to California. Maybe it was out of hope that a familiar place would help him shake this indifference, maybe he just wanted to confront Father Thomas. As he had restored humanity to others, Ryan worried that he had lost some of his. The emotion that used to come so easily, replaced with a bland sort of blankness.
It was his own sort of hell, and the irony wasn’t lost.
It was an inescapable sort of duty. If he wasn’t finding cases on his own then he had frantic families coming to request his help. Ryan was starting to understand why the Father had used him as a means of retirement, it was the kind of job that made a man start to question his faith.
“Father, you have to help.”
Ryan was approached within hours of being back in the state, having made the mistake of seeking, not sanctuary but at least something in the church. He’s tall, he’s frantic, he’s handsome.The kind of handsome that if this were a movie, or a story, or anything but the life Ryan has found himself in it would lead to a crisis of conscience.
“Father, my brother, he’s been possessed. I can’t believe I’m even here. I can’t believe this is real.”
But this was real life, and Ryan had elements of his faith that he wasn’t very faithful in. There were things in this world that were too big to be understood by man, and maybe God was one of those things. Or maybe God wasn’t there at all. He had and would maintain his vow to the church, but if whoever was up there had a problem with him finding a guy cute they could suck it.
If whoever was up there had a problem with his casual blasphemy they’d yet to say anything.
The man wouldn’t meet Ryan’s eyes, which was just as well the church had enough trouble with its image without adding a semi-closeted priest taking advantage of a man in need.
“Take me to him,” Ryan said, “I'll do what I can.”
Eyes flickered to Ryan's for just a second, not long enough to be called eye contact but just long enough to ignite a feeling of something that Ryan wished he could name. “You don't sound so sure,” he said, “thought your type was supposed to be sure in their faith?”
He was unknowingly echoing the very thoughts Ryan had just been battling, but the doubting slope of his mouth lit a fire in Ryan that he hasn't been expecting.
“I'm sure that I can help you,” Ryan insisted.
The responding rise of an eyebrow was temptation itself. Temptation to admit that his faith was waning, to admit that exorcism was little more than a stern talking to before sending your kid to time out. Temptation in the more traditional sense.
“And, and your brother,” Ryan finished, realizing just why he was getting that look.
“Yeah, sure call me Shane.”
“Oh, oh, okay, sure. Shouldn't we head over to where your brother is?”
“Hmm,” this Shane had a strange look on his face, almost like he couldn’t control what they were doing, “oh yeah I suppose, he’s really not going anywhere.”
“Um, okay but I really think-”
“No, let’s go Father Bergara, I look forward to seeing you work.”
As he got in the car with Shane he felt something he hadn’t in so long he didn’t have a name for it. A cold trickle of a feeling that dripped down his spine.
“So tell me, Father, what is that drove such a cute guy like you into the arms of the church.”
“Oh well, I mean appearance doesn’t-”
“It must be hard, to believe in something that you can’t see, someone who has made no attempt to prove to you that they are real.”
“Isn’t that the point of faith, to believe in what you can’t prove.”
“Seems like a fine line between faith and madness, at least the bad guys have the decency to prove they’re real every now and then.”
“I wouldn’t call possessing an innocent person, decent,” Ryan said, watching his driver from the side of his eye.
“Who’s to say who’s innocent, and who’s to say they didn’t ask for this?”
“ They usually do,” Ryan said.
He caught Shane’s eye for a fraction of a second so small he wasn’t sure it actually happened. It left the car feeling serious and the air heavy before Shane laughed, drawing a nervous chuckle out of Ryan too.
“Guess it’s a bad idea to play devil’s advocate for an actual devil, and against a priest no less.”
If this was a test, Ryan wasn’t sure he passed, but he laughed and agreed anyway.
Arriving at the house left Ryan feeling the newly ordained priest that Father Thomas had trained. It felt eerily similar to that first house that the Father had taken him too.
“He’s upstairs,” Shane said. “I’ll let you do what you’ve got to do. I don’t think it’s something I want to see, violence isn’t really my thing.”
Ryan didn’t correct him. It was really the Christian thing to do, to preserve the mystery of the experience.
The door to the bedroom opened with a creak as he pushed it open. “Dude, finally I’m starved, forgot these little flesh sacks need-”
“I will ask you to leave of your own power,” Ryan said.
“How the fuck did you get here, this place was supposed to be abandoned?”
“In the name of the father-”
“Oh that fucking traitor!”
“the son, and the holy spirit: be gone!”
“He fucking brought you here!”
“I’ll kill him!”
The shift in the air was palpable, but not in the way it typically was. The demon was gone, yes, but something powerful was here.
“Even when you barely believe in what you’re doing, there’s so much power. You are amazing,” Shane said.
“What are you?”
“I thought you humans never forgot your first? I thought we had something special, Ry.”
Shane finally looked him in the eyes now, a long deliberate look that finally let that spark of recognition bloom into a full flame. There it was, that same haunting stare of something old and powerful.
“I’m going to ask you to leave of your own power,” Ryan said, feeling true fear for the first time in months.
“No you won’t, Ryan. Because you don’t actually believe that you can, and you don’t want to.”
“Yes, I do. There are forces at work here-”
“My forces!” Shane snapped, “I clawed my way back to this plane after that doddering old dick inconvenienced me and it was for you.”
“What are you talking about? I'm going to ask you to leave that innocent man of your own power!”
“Why are you wasting all this energy, putting all your faith in such bullshit? You don't even truly believe in this God, I can feel it and yet you go around exorcising demons in his name. Why?”
“What I do is no business of yours. Leave this man and go back to the pits you came from.”
“If I leave he'll just die all the same. This is as much my body now as it was his, and why would I give it up when you like it so much?”
“Lying is a sin, Father. I saw you look, he really is tempting and I would know being the, well you know. It was just going to waste plugged up to all those wires and machines, a coma he'd never wake up from. A consideration I made for you, Ryan.”
“Why,” Ryan croaked.
“Because I like you, Ryan, I did try to tell you before that meddling Father T ruined all my fun the first time. Your very being is just,” Shane took a deep inhale, face melting into an expression that seemed barely human, “intoxicating. And as a being fueled by faith you're the best thing a man could ask for.”
Demons were beings of temptation. It was hardly new information, but this was something he hadn't prepared for. This feeling of being wanted, needed, this feeling of wanting. It was something more than Ryan had felt in a long time.
“You'd never be bored, Ryan, not like this.” Shane had come up behind him now, his breath and body warm where it brushed against Ryan. His hand ghosted against Ryan's shoulder and down his arm leaving goosebumps in its wake. “With your faith and my power we could do anything , anything you wanted.”
Anything was a powerful word, one that conjured up thoughts of everything and nothing. The kind of word that empty promises were built on. The kind a temptor used to make you fill the gaps in your own undoing.
“Shut up, Shane. I'm not going to let you lure me to the dark side with promises of empty bullshit.”
Shane took his hand, making it so they were pressed together down the length of that arm and keeping his back pulled to Shane's front.
“My word is never empty. I pissed off some pretty powerful people to get you to come back to California; but then I didn't invent an entire class just to get you to join the cloth. I'm just one of a collection of admirers but give me a chance to prove I'm the best.” He spoke in a whisper that sent a shiver down Ryan's spine, his lips so close that they would just barely brush the shell of Ryan's ear as he spoke.
Territory was being crossed from tempting to persuasive.
“I can't,” Ryan said.
“I can show you the world the way you've never seen it, those places where magic and reality kiss and the rules of the universe bend to the will of whoever is strongest. You would never be bored again. Just be mine.”
“I can't,” Ryan said, a rejection that sounded hollow even in his own ears.
“You can! It's so easy to say yes, Ry, just come with me.”
“Not much feeling in that one.”
“Wasn't there a certain threesome you were supposed to invoke before this?”
“Be gone!” Ryan said, his voice nothing more than a choked out sob.
Shane was still there. That presence, that warmth, those eyes were still there. Ryan hadn't done it right. He knew, Shane knew, they both knew that that wasn't how this was supposed to go. But Ryan didn't think he really wanted this one to go right this time.
“Well I know when I'm not wanted. Believe me I know ,” Shane said with a smirk and quirk of his eyebrows that still didn't read as quite human but communicated his intention all the same. “But trust me, cute one, I'll be watching. Maybe next time I'll make you call me.”
“Don't wait by your phone,” Ryan said.
Shane laughed, his smile all at once the most and least natural facial expression he had managed.
“Aw don't worry Ryan, I know you'll make the right decision eventually.”
“Oh yeah what makes you so sure this will go your way?” Ryan said, proud that his voice held steady enough to snark at this demon who was watching him with such a steady, amused, and certain gaze.
“Oh well that's easy, I have faith in you.”