The sun was high in the sky as I pulled into the parking lot of the orphanage. I stepped from my car, looked down as I adjusted my cassock one last time. It was my first time on official church business—investigating a troubled girl in the area. The headmaster thought it to be a possession, but my bishop claimed otherwise.
“There are no spirits to possess,” he said. “It is simply an archaic understanding of the tricks of the mind.” He had sent me, not to truly investigate the girl, but to simply give the headmaster peace of mind. “Given the proper care, the girl could become an upstanding citizen.”
I stepped through the glass front door into the waiting room, where several couples sat, waiting to be interviewed. A lone man sat by himself, reading a newspaper, wearing a pair of blue coveralls and a baseball cap. I thought nothing of him at the time.
Sitting at the curved desk opposite the entryway was an older woman looking down at a computer screen. As I stepped in, she glanced up, put on her glasses. She smiled, before taking her glasses back off and returning her attention to the computer.
I could feel the eyes of the couples around me drawn to my unusual dress as I walked across the room. I wished I could have worn street clothes, but, alas, official church business. The receptionist looked up at me as I reached the desk.
I took a deep breath through my nose. “That I am,” I said, letting the breath out slowly, felt the stress ease away.
“One moment please.” She picked up the dial-less phone beside her. “Father Novacek is here to see you.” She gestured to a nearby seat. “Mr. Kay will be with you shortly.”
I took a seat, stared into space for a moment. I fished my wallet out of my brief case, a polaroid out of my wallet. My family. The family I’d lost. One was taken from me by God Himself, the other I took away by my own shortcomings. Alive, but gone from me.
I bit my lip as I thought about their laughter. As I thought about who I would be if they were still around. Of the things I threw away when I answered the call. I shut my eyes tight as I thought of everything I’d thought I knew.
For a moment, I forgot how many eyes were on me.
A man stood before me in a sweater vest and horn-rimmed glasses, hints of grey in his curly, dark brown hair.
I stuffed the polaroid back into my wallet, my wallet back into my briefcase, stood. I shook his hand. It was clammy and he was clearly shaken.
“Rodger Kay. Would you like to speak in my office?”
I followed him down the hall. The office was cozy: had cream-colored walls, a mahogany desk, plush chairs, a few pictures on a shelf behind him—wife and kids by the look of it.
Mr. Kay took a seat, began poring over an open folder on his desk. Let out a heavy sigh.
“Petunia ‘Petty’ Trinidad; ten years old. Mother died in a car accident when she was five and her father mysteriously died of asphyxiation soon after; grandparents were already deceased, no other relatives wanted her. She’s been here for the past five years—except the few times when she was adopted.” He paused, clicked his tongue as he continued reading the file. “She’s always well-behaved, gets along great with the staff—except one time, but…” He trailed off, shook his head.
“What happened the one time?”
“Father Novacek, please understand, we do very thorough background checks on all our workers, and the caretaker has been fired.”
My face began to feel quite warm and I felt a bead of sweat roll down the back of my neck. “What happened?”
“We, um…” He coughed. “We’re not sure—exactly. A commotion drew the attention of several staff, and they found the caretaker in Petty’s room. Petunia had the caretaker in a choke hold, just kept saying, ‘the pain will go away eventually, you taught me that,’ over and over. The front of her shirt had been ripped open. When we spoke to the caretaker later, he said he thought she was at lunch with the other children—had gone to replace her bedding and she’d attacked him from behind.
“That was nearly two years ago now and we’ve taken measures to ensure that it doesn’t happen again.”
I nodded in understanding as I listened to the man. “So why have you asked for me?”
Mr. Kay let out a huff. “I mentioned she’s been adopted a few times—keeps being sent back here.”
I nodded. “It’s odd, yes.”
“She hasn’t just been sent back—she’s left a trail of bodies in her wake. Everyone who adopts her dies. The mothers usually die some violent death—car accident, mugging gone wrong, whatever.” He stared into space as he spoke. “The fathers usually die soon after from something like an allergy, or carbon monoxide poisoning, sinus infection. Sometimes the mother dies by her own hand after the father, but both parents always end up dead.
“The only exception was a woman who found her husband’s body, brought Petunia back here the next morning. She seemed scared.” Mr. Kay began rubbing his hands together nervously. “She just kept saying she felt like she couldn’t care for Petty on her own. Still alive as far as I’m aware.”
I shrugged, leaned forward. “So, you think a demon is possessing Petunia, causing these deaths.”
He shook his head. “I know she’s behind these deaths. I just can’t understand how.”
“Would you mind if I speak with her?”
He led me through a couple hallways into the dormitory.
It was a nice dormitory as far as group homes go. Each child had their own private room, with carpeted floors, a full-size mattress on a box spring, a nightstand, a wardrobe, and a desk.
When we entered the door of her room, Petunia was sitting on the floor at the foot of her bed, holding a barbie in her hand. The skin was faded over most of it, and certain portions were clearly burnt, the plastic black and melted. She was moving the arms up and down, watching them. It was like she was studying it—trying to determine what made it tick.
Almost as soon as Mr. Kay opened the door, she jumped, both her hands quickly falling to the floor as she tossed the barbie under her bed. Her eyes darted back and forth between us, eventually landed on me. She squinted at me, cocked her head. Looked back to Mr. Kay, smiled. “Good morning Mr. Kay.”
“Good morning, Petunia. This is Father Novacek, he’s with the Church. Do you mind if he asks you a few questions?”
Her words sounded curious, but there was a hint of hostility in her tone. She stared at me, one eye squinted in malice, the other upturned and cheerful.
Mr. Kay hesitated. “Your families.”
Petunia frowned—insincerely. “I have no family.” I found it hard to believe she was only ten years old.
Mr. Kay’s lips tightened uncomfortably as he let out a sigh. He held out his hand, gesturing I could enter before him. I stepped into the room, crouched down.
“Petunia, Mr. Kay thinks you might be in some trouble, and I’m here to help you out. Would you let me help you?”
Petunia furrowed her brow as she scooted away, pressing her back against the bed. “I didn’t ask for help.”
“Do you need help?” I asked. An odd sort of question, I’m aware, but one I thought pertinent to the situation—especially depending on whether she answered the question asked, or another.
Her jaw tightened. No answer.
“Why haven’t you asked for help?”
She pursed her lips as she pressed herself harder against the bed frame. “I don’t like asking for help.”
I nodded. “Mm.”
Her eyes fluttered to Mr. Kay angrily before returning to me.
I sat on the floor, crossed my legs. I relaxed. “You started living here five years ago, is that correct?”
She looked down at the floor beside her, crossed her arms.
“What was life like before living here? Did you like your life before?”
She kept her head turned away as she looked at me through the corner of her eye. I had never seen such hatred in such a young face.
“I have a daughter, you know.” I shrugged. “It’s a little odd for a priest to have a daughter, I know, but I do. She was a little younger than I think you are now when she lost her mother—my wife.”
She looked away again, turned her head further. It reminded me of my Mary, the last time I’d visited her. She wouldn’t even look me in the eye; her hatred for me because I knew I couldn’t raise her combined with her teenage angst made the anger she felt too much to bear. This little girl had the same anger, the same rage, filling her, but in a body six years younger.
“Please look at me, Petunia.”
She bit her bottom lip, looked at me out of the corner of her eye once more before pushing herself up off the floor and onto her bed. I watched as she shuffled her way across the mattress until her back was pressed to the wall. She glared at Mr. Kay.
I stood up, let out a sigh. “Would you mind if I read something for you?”
She scowled at me.
I carried my briefcase over to the desk, opened it, produced a Bible. I sat at the foot end of the bed and flipped it open—Mark 10.
“And they brought young children to him,” I read.
Petunia let out a huff.
“That he should touch them: and his disciples rebuked those that brought them. But when Jesus saw–“
“Stop!” she said. She hadn’t screamed, hadn’t yelled, only slightly raised her voice. She stared right at me; the corners of her lips turned in the subtlest smile as terror emblazoned her eyes. “My parents deserved to die. All of them.”
I shut the Bible, looked to Mr. Kay; he seemed more surprised than I. I looked back to Petunia, frowned.
“What makes you say that?”
She scowled at me. She glanced down at the bed, frowned. She appeared confused—like she didn’t know where she was. Her eyes landed back on me; realization dawned on her. “Leave me alone.”
“Petunia, I can’t–“
“Leave me alone!” Her scream echoed off the walls of the small room.
I took in a sharp breath through my nose. “Okay.”
I stood up, returned the Bible to its place in my briefcase. I started toward the door, nodded to Mr. Kay—who quickly stepped out of the way—and shut it behind me.
“Would you happen to have an address or phone number for the surviving mother on file?”
It was nearly a two-hour drive to Longmont, the gated community where Lorraine Pembridge, the only surviving mother of Petunia, lived. A buzzer sounded as the guard let me through the gate into the neighborhood. Within a minute, I was pulling into a large, U-shaped driveway in front of a rather large house. Nearly a dozen trucks were parked on the street outside.
A woman, perhaps a little older than myself, answered the door.
I nodded in greeting. “The Lord be with you.”
She squinted at me. “And also with you. Can I help you?”
I smiled, though I knew it didn’t reach my eyes. “I’m looking for Lorraine Pembridge, is she in?”
The woman stepped back, gestured for me to enter the house.
There was a large entry hall, complete with a marble floor, a double staircase leading to a balcony up above, and a large fireplace on the far wall. A construction crew was busy surveying the house.
“My apologies,” she said as she led me through one of the many doors that lined the hall, into a sitting room. “I’m trying to get an estimate on the value of the house to see if it’s worth selling and moving somewhere smaller.” She let out a quiet sigh as she gestured for me to take a seat on the plush couch. “Given that it’s only me now. Can I get you anything? Perhaps some water, or tea?”
“I’ll take some water, thank you.”
I was alone as she left to fetch the water. This room had a hardwood floor, another fireplace (which had a painting of Lorraine and a man that I assumed to be her late husband), and several well-cushioned sofas. Large windows looked out into the sprawling yard out behind the house, and along the same wall was a liquor cabinet, with many kinds of drinking glasses, but no bottles.
“Here you are,” Lorraine said as she set a coaster and glass of water on the end table beside me. She sat in the sofa across from me. “Why is it you were looking for me?”
I took a quick sip of water. “You adopted a little girl named Petunia around six months ago, is that correct?”
Lorraine’s face hardened. “My husband and I did, yes.”
“I wanted to ask you some questions about her.”
Lorraine leaned back into her seat, crossed her arms. “Why?”
“Because I believe this may be a matter of importance to the Church. Every parent that has adopted Petunia has died soon after the adoption—except you.”
Lorraine’s jaw slacked as her brows flared.
“All the mothers died violent deaths and all the fathers died of breathing difficulties soon after. Why didn’t you?”
Her brow knit together as she stared at the floor in thought for a moment. She appeared to be making a decision. “I– I didn’t tell anyone before, but I nearly died that day—the day I found my husband, my car stalled on the tracks just down the highway. It was foggy, so I didn’t realize a train was coming—someone busted the window and pulled me out just before the train crushed my car.”
I craned my head. “Do you know who saved you?”
She looked to the ceiling in thought, shook her head slowly. “He was bald. I think he was a mechanic. That’s all I remember. He offered me a ride home, and I was going to refuse, but there was a woman there with him. She said her name was Ariel, I think. Oh! The man was named Ambrose. I didn’t recognize either of them, haven’t seen them since.”
I nodded as I took a mental note. “Do you mind if I ask you more… uncomfortable questions?”
Lorraine bit her bottom lip. “I suppose not.”
“What happened when you returned home?”
She shook her head, shrugged. “Everything seemed fine—at first.
“I was coming back from a luncheon with many of the other women in the community but had made a detour to the grocery store. Bob worked from home most days, so he was home with Petunia the whole time. Usually, if I was out and he was still home, I would come back, announce that I was home, and he would run to greet me.”
She had a hint of a smile.
“He would sweep me up into his arms, kiss me, and tell me how much he loved me. But, on that day, all I could hear was a faint grunting noise, coming from the upstairs bathroom. I ran up to see what was going on, he–”
She choked on her words.
“Bob was lying on the floor. His face was… blue. Pe– the girl– was kneeling over him, beating her hands against his chest. Tears were streaming down her face, but… I swear, she was smiling. Just kept saying, over and over, ‘Quit complaining. The pain will go away eventually, you taught me that.’ She finally stopped and looked at me. I was frozen, I couldn’t– I just watched, I don’t think I even cried, I just… She looked at me, started repeating the same thing, ‘The pain will go away eventually, you taught me that. Suffering is just a part of life, you taught me that.’
“I took her back to the orphanage the next day. The coroner said that he died of drowning—maybe he was getting a drink of water and it went down the wrong pipe, but… Why is the church involved? Do you think she’s possessed or something?”
I took in a deep breath. “I’m sorry you had to relive that.” I wiped my hands on my cassock. “My superior doesn’t think there’s anything wrong, that she’s just troubled, but… the more I learn about her, the more I think Mr. Kay might be right. That she is, indeed, possessed.”
Lorraine let out a sob, rubbed her forehead.
I took a deep breath, let out a sigh. I didn’t want to abandon this woman, but in order to help I needed to be elsewhere. The church my bishop resided over was nearby; then it occurred to me I didn’t need to go there. “Do you have a phone I could use?”
She nodded, stood, and gestured for me to follow. Tears had begun welling in her eyes, though she tried her hardest to suppress them.
I rang the bishop and exchanged pleasantries as Lorraine left. Afterward, I lowered my voice so that the contractor couldn’t hear.
“I need permission to exorcise the girl.”
I was met with silence at first. “No.”
“No, I do not grant permission. Have you conducted your proper investigations?”
“Not all of them, but I have reason to believe the girl is in some way in the domain of the devil—if she is not possessed, there are certainly demons attached to her.”
“I told you before, there is no such thing as possession.”
“And you call yourself a bishop?” My voice rose, attracting the attention of the contractor for a moment.
“You call yourself a bishop?” I repeated, this time a whisper.
“The Pope calls me a bishop,” he growled. “I am a man of God, and you will do as I say. Complete all the necessary investigation, pronounce her in fit spiritual health, and call it done.”
“Why did you ask for me?”
“Why did you request I be placed in your diocese?”
“I did no such thing. Someone else decided it was necessary, I don’t know why, I don’t care why. But you are under my authority and you will behave as such.”
I took in a deep breath, closed my eyes, bowed my head, and pinched my nose. “The Lord be with you.”
I replaced the phone on the receiver before he could respond.
I prayed throughout most of my drive back to the orphanage. I thought about what Lorraine had said, compared to what Mr. Kay had said. What Petunia had said: “You taught me that.” Had she really been speaking to those around her? Had she been speaking to whatever spirit afflicted her? Had she just been speaking to her deceased parents?
Those in the waiting room had completely rotated out, not a single face was the same, not even the receptionist—except one. The lone man, sitting with his newspaper, remained in the corner of the waiting room.
I looked to the receptionist, now a younger woman who wore a cheery, never-ending smile. I walked over to the lone man.
As I sat beside him, he continued staring at his newspaper. His eyes didn’t move.
“What’s happening in the world these days?”
He cleared his throat before speaking with a low voice. I had to lean closer to hear him.
“A little girl’s future is in the hands of two men—one says there is nothing wrong with her, the other knows there is but is under the authority of the first.”
I didn’t know what to say. I sat and stared at the man. My eyes wandered down to the name tag on his coveralls: Ambrose.
“Have you been following this girl?”
“My employer told me to.” He turned the page of the newspaper. “I don’t ask questions—do you?”
I pursed my lips in thought. Was he saying I should, or saying I shouldn’t? He seemed to be indicating I should defy my superior, yet he was saying that he wouldn’t defy his.
He closed and reopened the newspaper to the same page.
I stood, walked to the front desk. “I’m Father Novacek, here to see Mr. Kay.”
She spoke over the phone on the desk before asking me to take a seat. How much more of Petunia’s life had Ambrose been there for, watching as people died? And how did he seem to know more about what was going on than I did? And what was going on with her? Some of her behaviors mimicked that of demonic possession, but was it in the power of a demon to manipulate things such that people would somehow die around the girl for seemingly unrelated reasons?
I didn’t have much time to contemplate these questions: Mr. Kay soon approached me, asking me back into his office once more.
He stood behind his desk, waiting for me to sit. I did not.
“My… superior,” I said, “would like for me to proclaim that this is no demonic possession and that the deaths related to this girl are mere coincidence and nothing more.”
Mr. Kay momentarily slumped.
“I do not, however, agree with my superior.” I cleared my throat as I prepared to—as far as I was aware—defy the will of God Himself. “I believe that an exorcism is necessary and, while Church law dictates that I can do no such thing without my bishop’s permission, I believe God wills that this be done. If not, then my soul shall surely burn in Hell.
“Take me to her.”
I once again entered her room. She sat on her bed, staring out the window. She remained still as I entered the room.
“I have other business to attend to,” Mr. Kay said, leaving me alone with her. I felt a certain unease at his words. He shut the door behind him.
I placed my briefcase on her desk, pulled out her chair, sat down.
She continued to stare out the window, a blank expression on her face.
“Petunia,” I said.
For the first time since I entered the room she blinked. Her arm moved, and I saw that she was spinning a steak knife in her hand. Her bottom lip trembled.
“Petunia,” I repeated. Where had she gotten the knife from?
She gripped her blanket with her free hand as her jaw tightened. I saw a certain resolve swirl in her eye.
“Petunia, I want to help you,” I said. “Will you let me help you?”
She looked at me, her face still directed toward the window. Her eyes held resolve, her brow, fear. “I don’t want to die.” Her voice trembled. She stopped spinning the knife, gripping it tightly. “I don’t want to die,” she repeated. It pained me to hear those sort of words from someone so young.
“I’m not going to hurt you.”
“I killed them, didn’t I?” Not a question of curiosity but of affirmation—an admission of guilt. “They died because of me. He told me they deserved it.” She shut her eyes tight, shook her head. “But I’m the one who deserves it.”
“We all deserve death,” I said, “We all deserve to suffer. But we don’t have to.”
She opened her eyes, stared straight at me. A wicked smile spread across her face. “You deserve death?”
I took in a deep breath, unsure what to expect. “Yes.” I hadn’t noticed her flip the knife in her hand so the blade was opposite her thumb.
She lunged at me, sliced the air.
I ducked, picked her up, and threw her over me. I spun in shock as she crashed into the ground, but she was just as quickly back on her feet. As she lunged again, I stepped out of the way, grabbed her arm. She had immense strength for such a child.
I twisted, hard, and she cried out in pain, dropped the knife on the ground. I threw her by the arm, she landed on the bed. As I picked up the knife, she scurried across the mattress; I held the knife high in the air, out of her reach. She jumped for it, landed on her rear—began to sob.
“Please!” she cried, “Kill me!”
My brow furrowed as I stared down in pity.
“Kill me!” she shrieked.
I watched as her labored breath seethed through her teeth.
“Please,” I repeated, “let me help you.”
Her face softened.
I set down the knife on the desk and began reaching for her, slowly.
She leapt for the blade, plunged it into her chest.
I cried out as I grabbed her, lifted her in my arms.
She sputtered; smatterings of blood came forth from her mouth. “Let me die,” she croaked.
I shook my head as I cradled her in one arm, grabbed my suitcase with the other and ripped the door open. I sprinted through the halls, into the waiting room.
Ambrose was gone.
“Receptionist! Drive me!”
She looked in shock, scrambled out from behind her desk.
I handed her the briefcase. “The key is in the outer pocket. Quickly!”
I laid Petunia in the back seat, sat beside her as the receptionist climbed in the front.
She tried pulling the knife out.
I only barely managed to stop her, held the knife in place, pressed against the wound to stem the blood flow. It would likely be her death, but I needed to try.
It felt like hours as we rushed to the hospital. The receptionist and I barreled through the front door. I lost track of my surroundings. Next I knew, she was in surgery. I remember waiting. Praying.
The receptionist sat with me—Alexa, I learned her name was—she was far more shocked, more disoriented than I was.
Finally, the doctor emerged. We both stood in unison. I didn’t hear a word he said, except the final few: “But she’ll live.”
I let out a breath, almost a laugh, and my eyes began to tear. We were taken back to her room. She was still asleep—and restrained.
I sat beside her. I had known her for only a little time, but she reminded me so much of my Mary. I couldn’t bare to see her die.
The receptionist left before Petunia awoke several hours later. It was dark outside.
She looked at me, still in a daze. Her eyes focused and she pulled against the leather straps that bound her to the bed; her face twisted in rage and sorrow.
She snarled at me before leaning back into the pillow.
“You said ‘he’ told you they deserved it. Who is ‘he’?”
She clenched her jaw, looked out the window.
“Petunia, can you hold this for me?” I held up a golden cross.
She looked at it, snarled, turned her hand over to accept it. She didn’t react as I placed the cross in her hand.
“You’re not possessed,” I muttered. “At least not in the traditional sense. I need you to tell me who ‘he’ is? Who has been telling you these people deserve to die?”
She clenched her jaw, started scanning the room.
A certain weight bore down on my mind. “Who toils among us, afflicting this girl’s soul? In the name of Christ Jesus, son of Mary, I command you, make yourself known to me.”
A sudden breeze brushed the back of my neck. I turned; Ambrose stood behind me, arms crossed as he leaned against the wall.
Petunia’s eyes widened as she jerked against her bonds. I’d seen what I thought was fear in her eyes before, but I realized now what I’d seen was most aptly described as disdain. As she looked upon the man who’d saved her adoptive mother, I truly saw fear in her eyes. Tears began to well as she opened her mouth to scream, but her voice caught in her throat.
“Do not be afraid,” Ambrose said, almost dismissively, as he walked toward the hospital bed. “I do not come to harm, but to heal.”
Petunia shook her head. “No.” Her voice was raspy, strained. “No.”
“Because this man has stepped out in faith so that you can be healed, so shall it be.” He reached for her.
I nearly leapt from my chair to tackle him to the ground, but as I attempted to stand, it was as if several sets of arms were grabbing me from behind, pinning me to the chair.
He placed his palm on her forehead; her eyes rolled back. She started screaming—only for a moment—before convulsing. Her mouth began to foam. It seemed she was choking on her own saliva.
I tried reaching out to stop him once more, but a hand grabbed mine. A woman’s voice said, “This is how it must be.”
I watched in terror. I pleaded for her to be spared as the heart monitor beeped faster and faster.
Finally, she stopped. She laid there, her eyes opened, still rolled back. Her mouth hung open, her chest still—she drew no breath. The monitor wailed—no nurse arrived.
“Please,” I prayed.
Ambrose kept his hand on her forehead. “Awaken.”
She lurched forward, breathed. The rhythmic beep began again.
She breathed heavily, looked at me. She looked even younger now. Her eyes held a certain innocence I had not seen there before.
Ambrose nodded, vanished—the woman with him. I sat alone with Petunia once more—perhaps for the first time.
She looked to me and wept. I leaned over, held her. Still, no nurse arrived.
As she took in a shuddered breath and began to breath again, I sat back up.
“Who told you they deserved to die?”
Petunia gulped nervously. She scanned the room in fear and wonder, returned her gaze to me. As she spoke, her voice sounded younger. For the first time since I met her, she truly sounded like a child, yet her words echoed with an air of morbidity. “Father Colbert.”
I found myself in the study of the church Colbert resided over, poring over the guest book. The sun was beneath the horizon now, and the only light came from the dimly shining sconces that lined the wall.
I read through those that signed the book, looking for those that had turned up dead. Excepting Petunia’s birth parents, everyone was somewhere in at least one of the guest books. I set the last book I looked through on the table beside me and stared into the empty air. Did he believe in demons after all? Did he consort with demons after all? Did someone know this and that’s why they sent me here, to a diocese that didn’t want me?
“Father Novacek?” a voice called.
I looked up. Brother Simon stood in the doorway. I raised my eyebrows in recognition.
“Father Colbert will see you now.”
I strode across the room, my jaw clenched in anger and confusion. How could the church– how could God allow someone so vile to be so high in the hierarchy– to be in the priesthood at all?
I entered his office and slowly lowered myself into the plush seat across from his desk.
“Father Novacek,” his deep voice muttered, with more than a hint of disdain.
“Father Colbert,” I replied similarly.
He tapped the desk impatiently as he rubbed his forehead in annoyance. “Did you do as you were asked?”
“Then why have you come back here?”
“What do you know of the girl I was sent to investigate?”
Colbert rolled his eyes. “She’s troubled. People die when they care for her—a matter of mere coincidence, I’m certain.”
“She attempted to kill herself today.”
He began examining his fingernails. “Understandable for one who has seen so much death.”
“Something was influencing her. I believe it to be gone now.”
Colbert’s jaw subtly tightened as he glanced up at empty space for a mere moment. He cleared his throat. “Then you can report that the girl is clean.”
“She said she knew you. Mentioned you by name, said that you had some influence on her. I wasn’t aware that you’d ever met the girl.”
Colbert wet his lips, began straightening the pens on his desk. “I haven’t.”
“Are you aware that all the deceased’s names appear in your guest books?”
He took in a deep breath, looked to me. His lips pursed and he clicked his tongue. He smiled. “I was aware that all the deceased were members of my parish, yes.”
“Would you happen to have taken their confessions?”
Colbert almost looked impressed. “Perhaps.”
“You’ve been consorting with demons.”
Colbert took in a deep breath, rolled his eyes again. “Whatever was– is, most certainly– inside that girl is no demon, but an angel of justice.”
“I believe I have seen an angel today, and whatever was inside her was most certainly not.”
“The men she throttled deserved to die, Novacek. They wanted to do… unspeakable things. They admitted it to me themselves. Petunia– whatever was inside her– drew in the sort. It only killed after they acted upon it, and the wives died for knowing and doing nothing.”
“You sent them to her, didn’t you? Encouraged them to adopt? You’ve been consorting with demons, Colbert, to dole out justice that belongs to God.”
“You think God will enact the necessary justice? Those men came into confession, earned their penance. Their forgiveness was not justice, it was outrageous, and I– I chose to do something about it, while God let them rest in their temptation.”
“You believe yourself to be above God.”
Colbert laughed. “The Church is God.”
I shook my head and stood. “If this is your god, then I want no part in it. It is not the place of the church to sort the wheat from the weed, but to nourish all, that they may be brought out of their temptation, not die in it. I’ll be submitting a request for repositioning tomorrow.”
“Good,” Colbert sneered. “I’ll make sure it’s granted.”
I made my way back to the hospital, to Petunia’s room. Lorraine was standing in the hall.
“Father Novacek,” she greeted me as I approached.
“Miss Pembridge,” I replied, “what are you doing here?”
“I– There was an error when I returned her to the home. Apparently, the paperwork was lost—I’m still her mother.”
“She’s better now,” I assured her. “Whatever was afflicting her has gone.”
She nodded. “That’s good.”
I took in a deep breath, looked through the door. Petunia was still restrained, though she appeared to be asleep. “Did you know your husband was abusing her?”
She looked at me in surprise. Her eyes darted back and forth between mine before dropping, wide in shock. She didn’t know. Her hand slowly reached up to her mouth. “It all makes…” She looked back to me, swallowed nervously. Her eyes dropped back to the floor. “I should have.”
“It’s okay.” I crossed my arms, looked to the girl once more. “Something tells me your paperwork was lost for a reason. Something tells me you alone survived for a reason. Look after her and keep her safe.”
As I walked out of the hospital, Ambrose stood on the sidewalk across the street, a woman beside him. They were both dressed in street clothes. Barely visible in the dark was an inverted black cross tattooed on his forearm.
“You knew everything, and yet you did nothing,” I said. “Why?”
“It is not our place to know the times that the Father has set in place, only to facilitate them. You have shown promise this day, Maxwell Novacek. I hope to see you again.”
“I’m afraid I can’t quite say the same.”
Ambrose nodded, the woman put her hand on his shoulder, and they vanished.
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