2nd day of June in the year of Our Lord 1879
It is a bright summer day and the Kansas farm is basking in the warm afternoon sun. The priest and his apprentice step down from the carriage and stand at the beginning of the dirt path that leads to the white-washed farmhouse. The priest, with his black robes and white clerical collar, holds a bible and a rosary. A bottle of holy water is safely tucked away in his pocket. His apprentice holds in his hands a notebook and a fountain pen. Seconds tick away and Jack knows they need to go, but knowing what is waiting for them in the farmhouse gives Jack pause. He hasn't been the priests' apprentice long, only three years have gone by since he left his family's farm to become a priest, but he has never been to an exorcism before and he expects the worse.
"One would assume all is well on a fine day such as this," says Jack finally, swallowing nervously. The formal way the priest speaks is just one of the things Jack admires about him. He knows he sounds ridiculous when he tries to imitate him, but with practice Jack is sure he'll one day sound as respectable and educated as the Father.
The priest offers a small smile. "Yes, it is a fine day." The priest claps a reassuring hand on Jack's shoulder. "I understand how you are feeling, Jack," says the priest, "but the longer we linger here, the more that girl will suffer."
"Yes, Father Connors," says Jack.
Jack begins walking up the path with Father Connors following behind him. When the priest and apprentice step up onto the front porch, the door opens after one knock, revealing Mrs. Rowen, the lady of the house, the mother of the victim.
"Good afternoon, ma'am," greets Father Connors.
"If only it was," says the mother.
Reaching out, Mrs. Rowen grabs the priest's free hand and tugs him inside and Jack dutifully follows. She leads the two through the foyer past the sitting room, and up the wooden staircase that creaks under their weight as they all trudge up. Mrs. Rowen lets go of Father Connor's hand as she stops in front of an unassuming wooden door.
"This is Claire's room," she whispers a fearful glance at the door. "My husband and I have had her tied down her since I sent you my letter three days ago."
"If I may ask, where your husband is, Mrs. Rowen," inquires Father Connors.
"My husband," whispers Mrs. Rowen, "has little faith and no patience. It takes a day to get into town from here and he left that first day to fetch the town doctor, believing Claire is sick in the head. He should be returning sometime today either with or without the doctor."
Father Connors nods in understanding. "If you could wait downstairs, Mrs. Rowen, my apprentice and I shall rid your daughter of this demon."
Mrs. Rowen whispers her thanks as she quickly shuffles past them and down the stairs.
Standing in front of Claire's door it is as if the very air had been tainted by the evil residing in the innocent girl in the room beyond. Jacks fears bleed into his thoughts, deviating his mind from the task at hand. What if this doesn't go well? What if he never sees his family again? What if he can never taste his mother's home cooked meals again? Never feel his hair ruffled by each of his six older brothers as they tease him relentlessly about stupid, mundane things? What if he never again he feels his father's quiet, exasperated, and slightly amused stare as, once again, he gets head butted in the ass by their surly old goat Abe? What if –
"Jack," says Father Connors, seeing his apprentice's head is elsewhere, "Remember what I told you. You are here to learn and take notes. You must transcribe everything that happens and remain absolutely silent unless I say otherwise."
"Yes Father," says Jack gulping nervously, hands tightening around his journal and pen, "And do not forget, Jack," Father Connors adds, "Do not show the demon that you are afraid. You will only give it more power over you."
"I don't - ," stutters out Jack, "I do not know if I can Father."
"Take a few deep breaths Jack and try to compose yourself," says Father Connors.
As patient as ever, Father Connors waits as Jack takes several deep breaths in succession until he seems as calm as possible.
"Alright," says Jack, much calmer now, "I'm – I am ready."
Father Connors gives one last reassuring pat on Jack's shoulder and then opens the door. The stench, before dampened by the door, now hits their noses with full force. It is a ghastly smell, a mixture of vomit, urine, blood, and something evil. Father Connors merely flinches, keeping his composure only through years of experience. Jack visibly balks, his hand slapping over his nose and mouth, but with a stern look from Father Connors, Jack lowers his hand and, after moving around the dresser to the right side of the bed, close to the wall, and opening his notebook, begins to write. Father Connors closes the door behind him moving to stand at the foot of the bed and takes in Claire's bedroom. It's a simple room with floral-pattern wallpaper and hardwood floors with two windows on the left wall. A pine dresser is tucked into the corner by the door to the priest's immediate right. In front of him, with a knocked over nightstand covered in vomit to the left of it, is the bed where the sleeping Claire Rowen is tied. She looks like she's been through hell. Her chestnut red hair is a tangled mess splayed across her pillow and cheek, her skin is sickly pale, angry red marks encircle her wrists and ankles from where she has pulled hard against her bonds. Her dress is ripped up the sleeves, there are splatters of blood on the left side of the collar, and a stain of urine on the lower half of her nightgown. As if aware of the intrusion and the priest's observant stare, Claire begins to stir. Limbs shifting and stretching, back arching up slow and languid, eyes opening and adjusting to the reality around her, the sunlight coming in through the windows. She peers over at Father Connors and smiles, laughing softly.
"Good afternoon, Father," greets Claire, "I apologize for not greeting you properly, but I needed the rest. I'm only human after all."
"You are no human, demon," says Father Connors, tucking his rosary in his belt and opening his bible.
"Must you hurt my feelings," questions the demon still mocking the priest.
Father Connors is no longer giving the demon the satisfaction of conversation, beginning the exorcism and speaking in Latin. At first glance, to Jack whose pen has stilled for the moment, it seems as if the demon within Claire's body is impervious to the holy texts Father Connors is chanting. Until her body begins to twitch and Jack begins writing again. The tremors are subtle, not lasting long, but as Father Connors continues on and his voice steadily crescendos, the smirk falls from her face as her entire body begins to convulse. It is not long before the Father is yelling Latin and the demon is writhing and crying out in pain, pulling hard at the ropes that look like they will snap if abused anymore. However, Father Connors knows this cannot last long if he wants Claire Rowen to come out of this alive. He needs the demon's name if he is to find the right passage in his bible that will send it back to hell. This is where the priests knows it will get more difficult, but the priest presses on as it is his duty.
"Give me your name," shouts Father Connors. Readying his bible and preparing to resume where he left off when the demon refuses.
Instead, however, he is stunned when the demon's cries of pain turns into loud, manic laughter.
"My name," says the demon, still laughing despite breathing hard from the ordeal. "All of that just for my name?" The convulsions turning into slight twitches until her body stills, resting back onto the bed.
"Father, that's so easy," chuckles the demon, "if you wanted my name, all you had to do was ask."
If the priest found this odd or suspicious in the least, he gave nothing away. "Well I am asking now. What is your name?"
"What's the magic word," asks the demon in a sing-song voice, teasing.
Father Connors begins reciting once again and immediately the demon begins to convulse.
"My name is Evil," shouts the demon.
Father Connors stops reading. "I know of your evil nature, demon."
Evil just heaves an exasperated sigh. "No, my name is Evil. I told you, Father, I am no demon."
"You react as any other demon would," argues Father Connors.
Evil just rolls its eyes to the ceiling, as if the priest could not have said anything more stupid.
"I am Evil personified. Speak all you want, but you are not strong enough to pull me out of this body," explains Evil.
"You sound so sure I will fail," says Father Connors, flipping through his bible, "but all it means is that I will use a different passage."
"You WILL fail," says Evil a wide, face-splitting grin spreading across and twisting Claire's face into one of crazy delight, "and when you do I will kill you and make your boy mine!"
Evil begins its loud, manic laughter again as the priest starts reciting from a different passage and, with a thumb covering the open spout of the bottle, begins the toss droplets of holy water on Claire's body. Even as Evil convulses and sizzles from the places the drops of holy water landed, all it does is laugh.
"C'mon Father," taunts Evil, "surely you can do better?"
Father Connors ignores this, still reciting, and Jack keeps writing, the handwriting illegible from how violently his hands are shaking.
Mrs. Rowen sits in the small, light blue sitting room in one of four identical chairs, each decorated with faded floral upholstery, centered around a small wooden coffee table. Simple hardwood floors and white lace curtains that blow into the room on the breeze gives the cramped space an airy atmosphere. Mrs. Rowen takes no notice as she sits there bent over and resting her elbows on her knees as her hands cover her ears to smother the screams and shouts coming from above. She shuts her eyes tight, wishing for all of this to go away. For her daughter to no longer be possessed, in pain. Mrs. Rowen wonders what she could have done to prevent her daughter from this horrible fate. What had she missed? Tears escape from underneath her closed eyes as she curses herself for not being able to protect her daughter. Suddenly rough hands are on her shoulders and sitting her upright. Mrs. Rowen opens her eyes to see her husband glaring back at her.
"What's going on here Catharine?"
"Th-The priest I sent for," stammers Mrs. Rowen, sniffling, "is performing an exorcism on Claire."
Mr. Rowen releases his wife and curses under his breath standing up straight. "Great," he mutters, "first the doctor is away on a house call for a week and now I have a sham priest scamming my wife."
"It's not a scam, Robert," she cries, standing up, "The Father has the power to get rid of –
"Enough," roars Robert, face red with anger. "I'm fine with you believing in some higher power, but I won't have this exorcism nonsense in my house! Claire is sick in the head and what she needs is a doctor."
Mr. Rowen stomps into the kitchen and pulls open a drawer.
"Robert, what are you doing?"
Mr. Rowen pulls out his hidden Colt. "I'm telling that priest to get out of my house and I'm showing him I mean business."
"Oh Robert, no," pleads Mrs. Rowen.
"Don't you hear her screams Catharine," asks Mr. Rowen, giving the gun a thorough once over, "Whatever that priest is doing to her it is not making her any better. Let alone getting rid of some demon."
"Robert I know you don't believe, but I do," says Mrs. Rowen, "and I believe the priest can help her so please, Robert don't use that gun."
Mr. Rowen puts the Colt back in the drawer and slams it shut. "Fine," he scoffs. "I won't use the gun." He storms past his wife and out the door, heading towards the barn.
Mrs. Rowen heaves a sigh, glad she was able to convince her husband from taking rash action. Only to gasp in fear as her husband comes back in with an axe.
"Robert," she exclaims as she rushes to block her husband's path to the stairs.
"I said I won't use the gun, but I'm sticking to what I believe," he says. "And I believe that as long as I'm still breathing I'm not letting that priest, or anything else, harm my daughter. Now move, woman." Shoving his wife aside Mr. Rowen heads up to Claire's room.
As Father Connors continues with the exorcism Jack hears heavy footsteps angrily tromping up the stairs and toward Claire's bedroom. The door flings open and hits the wall with a hard thud revealing a red-faced, angry father holding an axe in his right hand. The intrusion causes Jack to stop writing terrified and shocked from the sudden turn of events, but Father Connors keeps his focus, never wavering not even to turn around and eye the intruder. A good head taller than the priest and built like an ox from many years of hard manual labor on the farm, Mr. Rowen stomps right toward the priest and gives him a shove causing the priest to stumble and breaking his concentration.
"What the hell do you think you're doing to my daughter," asks Mr. Rowen enraged and threatening Father Connors by pointing the axe in his face. "Get out of my house at once."
"Dear, please stop," says Mrs. Rowen, running in after her husband. "Please let the Father do his job and free Claire from –
"Shut up Catharine," rages Mr. Rowen as he turns back to Father Connors. "My wife may have invited you here under misguided intentions, but I'm telling you to stop doing whatever it is that's making Claire scream so, and get out of my house."
Father Connors shifts his bible and holy water into one hand and holds the other one up in a placating gesture. "Sir, I can assure you –,"
A snap echoes through the room silencing everyone. The rope binding Claire's left foot has broken. Everyone is too stunned to move as they watch Evil test the other ropes that bind it. After much tugging the rope binding Claire's right hand snaps. Father Connors starts reciting again, hoping to slow her progress and expel Evil, but is constantly being jostled by Mr. Rowen pointing his axe toward Claire while jeering at the priest, asking how all his scripture will keep her from pulling free of the frayed ropes. Jack just stands there completely overwhelmed by the boisterous commotion surrounding him. Mrs. Rowen pulls at her husband's left sleeve.
"Robert, darling, please let's go back down and let the Father help Claire," begs Mrs. Rowen.
"Claire is sick Catharine, deranged. Not possessed by some demon," scoffs her husband.
Mr. Rowen turns back to the priest and, pointing once again at Claire with his axe, is about to make another threat when he feels the axe suddenly pulled violently from his grip. The commotion, once again, ceases and they all turn and Mr. Rowen turns and looks at his daughter. Claire has freed itself from her bonds and now stands on the bed with Mr. Rowen's axe in her hands, a victorious grin on her face.
"Claire, honey, you're not well –," starts Mr. Rowen, but is cut off by the dark chuckle released from his daughters' mouth.
"So easy," says Evil with a glint in its eyes as it raises the axe and swings it across. Swiftly cutting off Mr. Rowen's head.
No one moves as Mr. Rowen's head flies off, bounces off the corner of the dresser, and then rolls toward and stops at Jacks feet. Mr. Rowen's dead eyes and shocked expression turned toward the ceiling. The silence is broken by Mrs. Rowen's ear-splitting scream, her hands grab and lift her skirts above her ankles as she runs from the room and down the stairs out of the house, taking refuge in the barn. Jack drops his journal and fountain pen, uttering a loud gasp as he backs away from the head into the corner of the room. Father Connors, feeling duty-bound as a priest, desperately begins reciting the holy passage again this time louder and his voice wavering slightly, his eyes often glancing up at the girl as she slowly and carefully gets down from the bed. Jack doesn't know what to do, he wants to run for his life, but he can't leave Father Connors to fend for himself. Jack's internal struggle is interrupted when he notices Evil move in front of the Father.
"Father, we must run," urges Jack desperately trying to reason with the stubborn priest, ignoring Mr. Rowen's head and striding towards the Father.
Father Connors looks up and sees Evil smiling as it raises the axe once again. At that moment Father Connors realizes it is not in his power to defeat Evil, but it is an epiphany that is realized too late as Evil brings down the axe and chops off the priest's hands. The only sounds in the room is the tinkling of shattering glass and the splash of holy water, followed by three dull thuds and Jack's terrified shriek. Father Connors looks down at his gushing, bloody wrists. A moment goes by as Father Connors registers what just transpired, and only then does the priest scream in agony. Frantic, he turns around, stumbling over Mr. Rowen's body, and heads toward the door, stumped arms outstretched to freedom. Before he can escape, Evil kicks the door shut in his face. With not enough time to stop himself, Father Connors crashes headfirst into the door. The priest tries to catch his balance, but without his hands he ends up falling to his knees and pressed against the door to keep himself upright. Evil slowly walks toward the Father with the axe dragging behind it to crouch down next to him, using the handle of the axe for support.
"I told you Father," says Evil in that sing-song voice, "that you would fail, that I would kill you," its eyes briefly flash to Jack before turning back to the priest, "that I would make your boy mine."
The priest says nothing, only howling in pain.
"Don't worry, I'll kill you," says Evil standing up, holding the axe in both hands. "Nice and slow, don't want to rush anything now. Can't do a good job if I rush."
Evil chuckles to itself as it lifts up the axe.
Jack watches in shock and horror as Evil happily hacks away at his mentor, who is screaming in pain and fear, starting at the ankles and working its way up. As the blade of the axe starts to dull, Evil has to hack multiple times in one spot to make a proper cut. Jack snaps out of his shock and vomits on the floor at the gruesome scene before him. There is so much blood pooling, Mr. Rowen's blood mixing with Father Connor's. Claire's feet, hands, and face are covered with blood and her dress is slowly dyed from white to red. In the middle of it all is Evil laughing gleefully looking like a child on Christmas morning. With the exit blocked and no other way out Jack does his best to distance himself from the gore. Backing up until he hits the back wall into the corner he sinks to the ground, his knees no longer able to support him. Curling up, he rests his head on his knees, shuts his eyes, and covers his ears with his hands. He hopes to block out the sounds and sights of the room praying that everything is just a bad dream. Even with his eyes shut and ears covered he can still smell the vomit and urine and the strong smell of blood. He can feel the vibrations through the floor, the pounding of the axe as it cuts away Father Connors piece by piece. Jack doesn't know how long he stays like that, silent and shaking, but it seems like hours when everything goes still. It's only for a few moments and then Jack feels the vibrations of light footsteps walking toward him, dragging something heavy behind not stopping until it's in front of him a faint creaking of the floor as it shifts its weight. Slowly, Jack removes his hands from his ears and looks up a little, opening his eyes. Evil is crouching in front of him, a wide happy smile on its bloody face.
"Here you dropped this," says Evil holding out his journal and pen.
Scared and confused, Jack slowly reaches out and takes the items, hugging them to his chest.
"Oh don't worry," says Evil, moving the axe closer and leaning forward slightly. "I like you."
"W-what," stutters Jack very confused, eyes focusing on the bloody axe.
"Why not become my apprentice," asks Evil. "It'll be fun, or," adds Evil, sensing Jack's hesitation, "I will kill you here," says Evil smile disappearing and pressing the blade of the axe against his throat.
He wants to live, he's afraid of death, but he would be betraying everything he believes in if he went with Evil. How could he live with himself if he lived under Evil's tutelage?
Jack gulps before asking, "Wh-Why?"
"Why what," asks Evil.
"Why d-do you want me as your apprentice? Why not just k-kill me?"
Evil smiles again. "Because I want to watch someone full of good like you to become slowly corrupted by me. Also," Evil adds as an afterthought, "you're cute."
Jack sits there stunned. As he thought, nothing good will come of going with Evil, but if he's alive there's a chance he could see his family again. It's been three years and he always believed he would see them again when he became a priest. He might not become a priest now, but he still wants to have at least the chance of possibly seeing his family again.
"I'll – I will be your apprentice," whispers Jack feeling ashamed and aware of the axe still pressed to the skin of his throat.
"So easy. What a good boy," purrs Evil as it lowers the axe from his throat and pats him on the head. "As celebration of your new apprenticeship to me, let's go say hello to mommy dearest hiding in the barn," it says, grabbing Jack's hand and hauling him up to his feet.
Jack only nods his consent, afraid of what will happen if he speaks his mind. Evil pulls Jack along straight through the bloodbath toward the door. Jack makes a point of not looking around him, closing his eyes and letting Evil lead him out of the bedroom. He hears the dying moans of the priest and the slick slaps of their shoes as they briskly walk out of the room, down the stairs, and out the door toward the barn. Together, hand in hand.