Vade Retro Satana, Nunquam Suade Mihi Vana—Sunt Mala Quae Libas, Ipse Venena Bibas.
“Step back, Satan, do not suggest to me thy vanities—Evil are the things thou profferest; drink thou thine own poison.”
—from the inscription on the medal of St. Benedict, patron saint of exorcists.
Late Winter, 1994
A shaft of cold, wan sunlight reflected off the straight-razor Father Borsson used to keep the bristles off his cheeks. It was an indulgence to his fastidious nature, not vanity. Plastic safety razors had never given him the clean finish he preferred.
He scraped away the foam and hair, rinsed and toweled off his face, and wiped the blade to a perfect polish before tucking it back into his leather kit.
He squinted and replaced his glasses to inspect the job one last time.
“Hah! Good,” he declared to himself. The small mirror of the rectory’s washroom showed him a fresh, pink face clear of any dark or silvering hairs and behind him a framed view of the snow piled high outside the stone façade of St. Francis Xavier.
It had been a heavy storm, even for the Northeast, so he opted for a cassock rather than his usual collarino–overly formal, he’d been told, but Odin Borsson was a stubborn traditionalist.
Armed against the bitter weather with his fedora and a heavy wool overcoat, he marched off through the crunching iced-over snow to work. With his brisk pace, he arrived at the rear door to the church at precisely six-thirty, and within fifteen minutes was sipping at a mug of tea―no milk, no sugar―engrossed in his strange research. His reference books were stacked neatly by category and his pen dashed across his notes.
The current case was worrying, yes, but terribly fascinating.
Arden, North Carolina
Odin sat down hard on his side of the bed. It was a rough night. His boys were stirring up a terrible ruckus–at seventeen and fifteen they fought constantly over their damned gadgets, over food, over the bathroom. Hell; he was fairly certain Loki would argue (and successfully with some people) that up was down just for the sake of the fight.
His eye socket burned with phantom pain, and his temples were in a vise. He pulled off his eyepatch and tossed it on the nightstand.
Frigga pressed a cool cloth to the back of his neck and gave him a pillow sachet for his forehead.
“Lavandula and Syzygium aromaticum,” she said, and rubbed expertly at the knots in his shoulders. Then she kissed the top of his balding head and went to go herd the boys downstairs.
Once he was alone, he poured a double E.H. Taylor single barrel and searched through the mess of his nightstand for the bottle of Zebutal Eir had prescribed for when the headaches got bad. He took one with a huge swallow of bourbon.
Absently, he ran a finger along the scar that cut a vertical line on the axis where the pupil of his right iris used to be. When the glass was empty he poured another.
It felt like the kind of night when the dreams would hit.