The moment Chris lit his final candle, a deafening wave of thunder crashed over the church. Small children jumped and the candles flickered threateningly, prompting him to hold his lighter over the stub. Murmuring filled the aisles, rising to echo in the vaulted ceiling. Most of the evening’s churchgoers were still in the pews, huddling away from the windows. They had long since moved their children to the middle seats, vacated by people who had risked the storm to return home before it worsened. Chris hoped they were safe. The storm was raging twice as hard as it had when they left.
As if summoned by his thoughts, a burst of wind rattled the building violently, the wood planks groaning as if they would snap at any moment. A child started crying. Chris didn’t know what to do besides cross the podium and relight a candle that had blown out again. When he was sure the flames were stable, he returned to his own seat.
With nothing to do but worry, he distractedly crumpled and uncrumpled the piece of paper in his pocket. He’d already done everything he could to comfort the trapped churchgoers; it was kind of his job as a priest, right? All he could do now was hope the storm didn’t damage the church or the cars outside. It would be a shock if none of the cars rolled away in this weather. Chris almost ripped his paper with worry.
Ah…. the paper. He finally took a good look at it. It was a seal- Changbin’s, to be specific. He’d better not rip that. It was his only reference to summon him.
Summon him… yeah. Chris looked out over the small group of heads, nodding gently as parents hushed their children. So many people had braved the storm, only a few were left, looking lost and desolate in the huge room. Still, it was enough people that he didn’t want to cause a panic, so summoning Changbin for help would probably be an awful idea. It would only confirm the rumors about him, anyways, and he was pretty sure that being buddy-buddy with a demon was grounds for being fired from this particular job.
Another particularly loud crash of thunder sounded, interrupting his thoughts. It sounded like it was getting worse, if that was even possible. At least his candles were holding out.
The crying child got louder. He could hear their mother talking softly to them, soothing their tears. Chris rose and strode to their seat in the second pew, the thunderstorm masking his footsteps. The mother and child looked at him with wide eyes.
“Sorry for interrupting,” he said softly. “Can I?” The mother nodded quickly, muttering an apology. Chris knelt in the aisle and tapped the kid’s wrist. He was about six, still chubby, with fat tears sliding down his cheeks as he turned to the priest.
“Why are you crying?” he started.
“‘M scared,” he hiccuped.
The kid sniffled. “The church will fall down.”
“Nothing will bring this church down,” he assured. “God will protect us.” Or maybe a demon, if Chris was so inclined.
“Look, Jason. The Father says we’re safe,” the mother whispered. “We’ll be perfectly fine.”
Jason rubbed his eyes with his fists, still crying a bit. His mother rubbed his back comfortingly, just as lightning cracked in the churchyard.
People gasped and the room broke into chatter, people shying away from the window that the blast lit up. Jason’s mother hugged him closer. Chris looked out with concern, wondering what was struck out there. He worried that the next strike could hit the church.
Standing up, he touched the seal in his pocket. Was it worth it, for the safety of everyone here? The storm was getting violent enough to cause real damage now. If he had even one chance to stop it, shouldn’t he take it?
Jason was still shuddering in his mother’s arms. Watching tears drip down the child’s chin, Chris made up his mind. He returned to the front of the room, standing like he was preparing to give a sermon. After a round of thunder subsided, he addressed the congregation.
“Everyone, I’m afraid…” he paused. “...this storm is becoming too much to handle.” People shuffled in their seats.
“I have a way to get immediate protection,” he continued, “but I guarantee that none of you will like it.”
Whispers erupted immediately. He waited for them to die down.
“I...will let you decide if we need it or not.” Another clap of thunder shook the church, as if to prove his point.
Their muttering was loud enough to reach his ears by now. They, almost universally, wanted to know what he was suggesting. By now, Chris was losing the confidence to tell them. Regardless, he breathed deeply and steeled himself.
“If you’ve been at this church for a while, then you must know… the rumors about me. I’d like to address them here and now, because..” he stumbled hastily over his words, struggling to get them out. “They’re true.”
All at once, the room was filled with noise. People yelled, stood up, and conversed loudly about “the priest who speaks to demons,” “the Father who sold his soul,” and other increasingly outrageous fabrications.
“No!” he yelled. “Stop it! Not those rumors!” Damn it, he should have specified that they were partially true. Even he didn’t know what exactly was being said of him behind his back these days.
“Listen to me!” he insisted. Gradually, the room quieted down again.
“I have a friend, a really close friend, and I know you’ll all hate him, because he’s a demon- a real demon. But I know him well, and more importantly, he’s a friend."
He paused to shush a man who looked like he was about to speak. “I know exactly what you’re thinking, because I thought the same things when he first approached me. He can and will protect this church, so please give him a chance. Just one, that’s all, until the storm passes.” He was speaking much more passionately than intended, but it must have worked in his favor, because the people were hesitant to object.
Or maybe they’d just decided he was crazy and were afraid of him. That was absolutely a possibility at this point.
He steadied himself and brought the crumpled paper from his pocket, holding it out for all to see.
“I’m going to use this seal, so please, don’t be afraid.”
One woman stood up in the back, holding a baby to her chest. “If you do anything, I’m leaving!” Her voice was shrill with fear. It pierced Chris’ heart in an awful way.
“Ma’am,” he said softly. “I would never endanger you or your child. It’s more dangerous out there, and it will still be when I use this seal.”
The woman still stood by the door, looking ready to bolt.
“You can stay back there, but don’t panic when I do it, okay?”
She nodded hesitantly. Chris surveyed the room. All eyes were on him, nervously expectant. Maybe they wanted to trust him.
Telling himself to not delay any further as the storm still raged against the building, Chris produced a stick of white chalk from the desk on the podium, and began copying the seal from his paper onto the floor.
He was absolutely certain that the churchgoers thought he was insane now. Summoning demons was not something that sane people typically did. Did that mean Chris wasn’t sane? He pushed that thought aside, remembering that this was for everyone’s safety. When he finished his sloppy chalk seal, he grabbed a piece of paper with a few sermon notes printed on it and burned it in the center. Changbin needed significant dry heat to materialize, but Chris hoped this was enough.
The paper crinkled as flames curled around it, emitting faint popping sounds that were certainly not normal. The fire jumped higher than what should have been possible.
Suddenly, Chris heard gasps behind him. He turned to see a single disembodied eye, floating in midair between the pews. It’s brilliantly golden iris reflected the fire’s light. It blinked passively as more began to wink into existence.
Chris turned back to the fire, which was quickly dying down, as more and more eyes opened up around him. Finally, grey smoke curled up from the chalk lines, and out from the sputtering embers and smoke walked Changbin himself.
The climatic moment shattered with a bloodcurdling scream from the doors. Chris whipped around to see the woman from before, holding her baby close and struggling to push the doors open with her shoulders. Like a switch had been flipped, the rest of the room erupted in noise. Shrieks echoed off of the vaulted ceiling as Chris bolted towards the doors, attempting to keep everyone inside. No matter what they thought, he knew it was safer inside.
It hurt him somewhere deep inside to hold the door shut in the face of a sobbing mother, but he steeled himself and planted his feet firmly between her and the exit.
“Please, please, he won’t hurt you,” he promised desperately. “It’s too dangerous outside, please just stay here, I swear you’ll be safe.”
Abruptly, more shrieks rose as the crowd parted, stumbling over themselves to get away. The mother scrambled to the side, revealing Changbin walking briskly down the center aisle. With the demon advancing on him, Chris suddenly understood what everyone was afraid of. He’d gotten used to those inky black eyes in the daylight, those eyes that crinkled with a smile just like anyone else’s; but his heart jumped in his chest as his unearthly friend came nearer, swimming in flickering candlelight.
“Changbin,” he said desperately.
The demon stopped directly in front of him.
“Chris,” he spoke, his voice soft with concern. “Why did you do this?”