Maxwell Novacek and the Son of Devils

When he attempts to visit his daughter for the first time in three years, Exorcist Maxwell Novacek is asked to investigate a potentially demon-possessed young man; but everything is not as it appears, and he must soon make a choice that will decide his future.

While this story does work on its own, it is a continuation of Maxwell Novacek and the Shepherd of Ruin.

I stood on the step of the sorority house where my Mary lived. She’d just joined, and I only knew where she lived by way of her grandparents—my mother- and father-in-law. 

More than anything, I wanted to see my wife again. I wanted to hold her in my arms, kiss her, hear her sweet voice. She had been ripped away from me. The only thing I had left of her was our daughter, Mary; and, in my grief, I’d let her slip away from me, too.  

I adjusted my clerical collar and took in a deep breath. She didn’t want to see me. I hadn’t seen her in years, since I’d been ordained. It felt strange, standing before the door of a sorority, dressed as a priest at six in the morning. I was a priest, then. 

I brought my fist up, preparing to knock. I wanted to offer her a place to stay. I’d just been reassigned for a second time, and I thought she would rather stay somewhere free for her time at university. But no. She had sorority sisters now. 

As I turned to walk back to my car, the door opened behind me. 

“Can I help you?” 

I turned around to see a young woman staring back at me, wearing baby blue pajamas and a messy bun. Something about her seemed familiar. 

“I apologize, I had the wrong address.” 

“You were standing there for a while.” She cocked her head. “You really a priest? Can you perform exorcisms?” 

I pressed out my cassock. “I do happen to be an exorcist, yes.” 

She crossed her arms, bit her lip in thought. “Can you help me?” 

*** 

I climbed the stone steps of the old asylum, briefcase in hand as the frigid evening air whipped my cassock about. The moss growing up the stone walls were the only bit of green in sight, as the shrubs on the lawn were all but dead and the grass had yellowed from lack of care. The lobby had checkered tile floors and whitewashed brick walls, filled with rows of metal chairs for people to wait before visiting their loved ones. The only other person there was through a window with a hole in it for speaking through. As I stepped in the room, he took one look at me, picked up a phone, said, “He’s here.” 

Before long, I was walking down a hall, just off the heels of an orderly. The fluorescent lights flickered overhead, their faint hum being the only sound beside the rhythmic tap of our footsteps. Patients peered through thin, wire-reinforced windows on the metal doors that contained them; some smiled, some grimaced, and others were devoid of expression—perhaps devoid of feeling. 

One woman in particular caught my eye. Her fists beat against her door and she bared her teeth at the orderly. Once her gaze turned to me, her face softened. She smiled. “Won’t you please set me free?” she said, her voice muffled. 

A man pressed his forehead against the window, his jaw slack as his eyes followed me. He lifted his head as I reached his window, started circling his finger on the glass. He sung—or, at the very least, he attempted to sing—to the tune of a rapidly rotating selection of hymns. “Won’t you set me free, set me free? I don’t like this place. Won’t you set me free, please, for me?” 

The last person I saw before we reached the end of the hall was a man with dried blood on his face and a swollen eye socket doing nothing. He simply sat in the back of his room, arms crossed. He nodded at me as I looked into his eyes. There was something familiar about him. 

We passed through the door at the end of the hall into a stairwell and made our way down into solitary confinement. There were many darkened rooms before we reached the room where the man I came there for was held. There was a slot, just big enough to see through. 

The room was bright, the fluorescent light overhead reflecting off the white padding that lined the walls and floor. He sat with his back to the opposite wall, clutching his head, digging his fingernails into his scalp. Tufts of glistening, black hair littered the ground. Every couple seconds, he would scream, his barely muffled voice piercing through the thick, metal door. 

“One Gregory Huff, admitted two months ago, when he started having delusions of grandeur and tried attacking his father, claiming that his ‘real dad’ would strike him and the whole earth,” the orderly said. “He was put in solitary after attacking another patient that was going on and on about God or Jesus or something—never had to deal with the other patient, but, from my understanding, he thinks he’s a prophet.” 

“The injured patient upstairs?” I asked. “What’s his name?” 

The orderly thought for a moment. “Ambrose Sullivan, I think.” 

Ambrose. The last time I’d heard that name was nearly three years prior, when I’d first been ordained as a priest. I was sent to tell the headmaster of a group home that a little girl had nothing wrong with her. As it turned out, she was possessed, and Ambrose had been following her for years, watching as people died around her. He was the one who exorcised the demon from her. And here he was again—I was sure of it. 

“Does he have a tattoo of a cross on his arm?” 

“Yeah.” The orderly crossed his arms, turned to me. “How’d you know that?” 

The answer was far too complicated—I shook my head. “I need to speak with him.” 

The orderly started turning to go back upstairs; I placed a hand on his shoulder. 

“After.” 

As the door creaked open, Gregory stopped clutching his head for a moment. His eyes opened; he blinked a few times, looked up at me. The way the light hit his eyes, they almost seemed to glow. 

“You’ve come to kill me,” the boy said. 

I looked down at him with pity. He was broken. His whole face trembled as he stared up in fear. I recognized it: an expression I’d seen far too many times in the past three years. When I’d begun my work, I appreciated that it meant—that I would be setting another soul free from the clutches of the evil one. But with each face that bore it, I died a little inside. To know that people had to go through that pain, to feel the fear of the thing which they feared. If something is great enough to utterly destroy you, destroy your soul, how great must the thing be which can do the same to it? 

I knelt down before him, placed my briefcase on the ground. “What’s your name?” 

His face fell. His mouth opened as if to speak, but simply hung there, while his eyes searched the ground for the answer. He looked up at me; his eyes darted back and forth between mine. 

“Gregory?” I asked. 

He shuffled around on the floor slightly as his eyes widened. He almost smiled. Then, he screamed again. The sound pierced my ears, and I threw myself backward. He clutched his head once more, ripping at his scalp. 

“I am not!” he screamed. “I am not! I am not! I am not!” He threw his head back against the wall, bouncing off the padding with a faint ‘piff’ and let out another scream. He made fists and beat the heels of his hands against his head. 

The orderly lurched forward; I raised a hand to stop him. 

“Wait! 

“Gregory, listen to me.” 

He shook his head violently, eyes avoiding me as his hands covered his ears. 

“Gregory, I want you to listen to my voice, I want you to hear what I’m saying.” I reached out a hand. “Take my hand, Gregory, I only want to help you. I want to help you get better; can you do that for me? Can you help me help you?” 

He stared at me, breathed heavily. His hand began reaching. His fingertips graced mine. He took hold of my hand. 

My face slammed into the padded wall, and I fell back, dazed. By the time I’d reoriented myself, the orderly had Gregory pinned on his stomach. 

“Not him!” he screamed. “Not him!” 

I stood, brushed off my cassock, and rushed over to my briefcase. I pulled the Bible from it and began flipping through the pages. “But I say to you who hear: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you and pray for those who spitefully use you.” 

As I began to read, Gregory stopped fighting. He stared at the space in front of him, eyes wide. 

“To him who strikes you on the one cheek, offer the other also. And from him who takes away your cloak, do not withhold your tunic either.” 

Gregory looked at me, his mouth twitched. “You bring the silence.” He stared at me, began to smile. A tear rolled out of his eye and down his cheek. 

I stopped reading; the orderly loosened his grip. For a fraction of a moment, all was well. 

A growl emanated from his throat just before Gregory threw his head back into the orderly’s face and began to scream again. The orderly rolled off him, holding his nose. Blood was running down his face. 

I dropped the Bible into the briefcase and clasped it shut, jumped for Gregory. The orderly pulled a syringe from his pocket and leapt at that same moment. We collided, a needle piercing my side. Everything became fuzzy. 

I woke in the infirmary, with the orderly sitting on the cot next to me. His face was mostly cleaned up, although it appeared his nose had been broken and he had a busted lip. The rest of the room was empty. 

“Sorry,” he said. 

I blinked a few times as I gathered my bearings, sat up. “Gregory?” 

The orderly shook his head. “Knocked me out soon after you. Guessing he grabbed my keys and fled. This is what we get for being understaffed.” 

“You knocked me out.” 

The orderly wet his lips. “Yeah. Sorry.” 

I took in a deep breath, let out a sigh. “Now what?” 

He shrugged. “Police are already looking for him.” 

“Guess I’ll have to find him first,” I muttered. “What about the other patient, Ambrose? May I talk to him now?” 

The orderly cleared his throat as he stood up off the cot. “Sure.” 

*** 

I was left sitting alone in the asylum cafeteria for nearly a quarter hour before they brought Ambrose in. I wondered how it could possibly be coincidence that I would run into the same man three years later, halfway across the country. Perhaps it was a mistake. Maybe he just had the same name and a similar enough face that I thought it was him. Was that any more likely to happen? Even smaller were the chances that he had the same name, a similar face, and the same tattoo. 

The woman. There was a woman with him when I saw him three years prior—Ariel I believe her name was. That’s why I’d recognized the girl at the sorority. It was her. 

I nearly leapt in my seat when the door opened. Ambrose entered the cafeteria, followed closely by the orderly. As Ambrose made his way to the table, the orderly stayed by the door. He sat across from me and stared just over my head. 

I looked behind me to see if there was someone I missed. No one. I turned back to him, crossed my arms. “Why are you here?” 

He shrugged, reclined in his chair, still staring at the air above me. “Because you requested it.” 

I took in a deep breath. “Do you know who I am?” 

He pursed his lips, squinted, as if in thought. “You are a child of God.” 

I wet my lips, cleared my throat, looked to the clock on the wall. “Don’t play games with me, Ambrose. I don’t have time for this.” 

He smiled as he finally looked to me. “Because you must catch the child of Satan.” 

“I’m certain he’s possessed. Just like Petunia.” 

His smile faded. “What makes you so certain? Is it because all you have dealt with in the past three years are possession? How much more must there be? How much more is there which you do not know?” 

“If he’s not possessed then what is he?” 

“I already told you: a child of Satan.” 

“So, what? A sinner?” 

Ambrose frowned as he stared at me in disbelief. “Metaphor too often obscures reality from the truth. They were right to put him in the asylum—there is nothing you can do to help him.” 

I sat forward, rested my elbows on the table. “Can’t I at least try?” 

“There are those who are beyond saving, Maxwell. There are those who do not want to be saved.” 

“No one is beyond saving.” 

Ambrose shrugged. “Perhaps.” 

I glanced at the orderly. “Why are you here, Ambrose? Why are you here at the asylum, why were you there at the orphanage?” 

“I have seen many beginnings. I have seen many endings. I have seen that one cannot exist without the other.” He leaned forward, bringing his face inches away from mine. “And each begins with a choice.” 

The orderly stepped forward; I waved him away, but he continued inching closer regardless.  

 “We’ve been watching you for some time, Maxwell. We know you have always made the same choice, and that is something that we value. You’ve left everything; now it’s time to take up your cross.” 

He stood up and nodded to the orderly, who was now only a couple yards away. 

“I’ll return to my room now.” 

I sat in the cafeteria alone for only a few moments before the orderly from the front desk poked his head into the room. “The police have him in custody.” 

*** 

It was nearly midnight when I arrived at the police station. An officer sat in the corner filling out a crossword—he barely glanced up as I entered the station—and a man using a leather jacket as a blanket with a baseball cap covering his face slept on one of the benches near the middle of the room. An old woman with half-moon glasses and a permanent scowl sat at the front desk, reading a book. “Name?” she spat as I stepped up to the desk. 

“I’m Father Novacek, with the Church. I was investigating Gregory Huff when he escaped from the asylum.” 

“What’s the Church want with an insane asylum patient?” 

“His sister suspects he’s possessed.” 

“Mm.” The woman rolled her eyes. “Well, they told us you were coming, take a seat and an officer will be up to take you to him shortly.” 

I sat down next to the man sleeping on the bench, opened my briefcase, pulled out the Bible, and began to read to myself. The police station was quiet: the entire time I was sitting, no one came in and no one went out. It seemed that no one even moved. 

For at least a quarter hour, there was no sound. Then, a buzz, just before one of the many doors that had a sign reading “Authorized Personnel Only” opened. An officer stepped through. 

“Jared Salem?” 

The man sleeping next to me groaned as he stirred slightly. Before getting up, he slid the baseball cap backward so that it sat on top of his head and pulled a pair of aviators from his jean pocket before opening his eyes. When he walked past, I caught a glimpse of his eyes behind the lens; they almost seemed to glow. 

He looked back at me just before the officer took him back through the door. 

As the door clicked shut, I stood and walked to the front desk. 

“Excuse me, ma’am?” 

She didn’t look up from the desk, her eyes glued to her book. “Hm?” 

“Would you mind if I asked who that is?” 

She turned the page. “Yep.” 

I stood there, waiting for an answer. After a few seconds, I realized I wasn’t getting one and sat back down. The officer behind me spoke. 

“He’s been poking around town for a few days, looking for his half-brother. Got in a couple scuffles, so we’ve had to hold him a couple times, but other than that seems a decent fellow. Anywho, he gave us a description and your boy Gregory fit, so we gave him a call when we called the asylum.” The officer looked up from his crossword at me. “He just happened to get here before you.” 

I nodded and returned my gaze to the Bible, though I didn’t read a single word. His eyes were glowing, I was sure of it. Gregory’s did, too—I assumed it to be a trick of the light at the time, but perhaps not. Ambrose seemed insistent that he was literally the son of Satan, and this Jared claimed to be his half-brother. 

I stood up and spoke almost too quickly to keep up with my own tongue. “I need to speak with him now.” 

Just as I got the last word out, an explosion shook the police station. The officer in the corner leapt to his feet as gunfire sounded through the doorway. 

The officer ran to the door, bracing himself against the wall beside it as he drew his firearm and flipped off the safety. “Outside!” he shouted; the woman at the front desk (whose scowl had been replaced with wide eyes and a gaping maw) and I complied. He followed shortly after, keeping his gun trained on the front door as he moved us across the street. 

Smoke billowed into the sky above as sirens sounded and flashing lights sped down the street toward us. Soon, police cars surrounded the station, at least half a dozen handguns trained on each door, as police officers stumbled from the building. 

From a voice speaking over a nearby officer’s radio, I gathered that two officers and someone else visiting the station were injured and two prisoners were dead. ‘Prisoners’ felt so wrong for them to have used. Those held in the station usually weren’t hardened criminals, they would have been people being held for stupid mistakes. 

I found myself in a place that was very familiar. A deep pit opened in my stomach as my heart ached. It took all the strength I had to not cry out in anguish; I had caused this. The world around me faded as the thought overwhelmed my mind: it was my fault Gregory had escaped. It was my fault he’d been in the police station, and whatever happened because of that. Unless it didn’t. Perhaps the explosion was unrelated. 

I approached the officer who’d directed the receptionist and I outside. 

“Is there any way for you to find out if Gregory Huff is still in the station?” 

The officer put his hand on his radio, put his finger on the button, then stopped. “Do you think he had something to do with this?” 

“His half-brother went back just before the explosion.” 

“Good point.” The officer waited for it to quiet, then spoke into his radio. “Any eyes on Gregory Huff? Over.” 

The next three seconds of silence felt like an eternity. 

“That’s a negative. Over.” 

The pit in my stomach grew deeper. I spent the rest of my time there in a haze as an officer took my testimony and let me go. I returned to my house on the church grounds and laid down to sleep. I didn’t want to deal with this anymore. None of it would have happened if I hadn’t gone to visit my daughter. But it was Ariel who told me to go there. They probably would have just contacted me another way. And I would have complied. Finally, I drifted off to sleep. 

*** 

I snapped awake at the sound of a creaking board, sat straight up in my bed. A man sat in my desk chair, nearly shrouded in darkness. He was situated such that the light coming through the window revealed one key factor: the inverted black cross on his arm. 

“You left the asylum.” 

“I have resources.” 

“You’re an angel.” 

“I never said that.” 

I squinted at him. “What else would you be?” 

Ambrose cleared his throat as he stood, looked out the window to the street below. “I need you to understand what Gregory is.” 

“He’s literally the son of Satan, isn’t he?” I swung my legs over the side of my bed, rested my feet on the cold floor. “His half-brother found him.” 

Ambrose nodded. 

“Why was his half-brother even looking for him? He didn’t seem to even know who he was.” 

Ambrose shook his head. He took in a deep breath, let out a momentary noise before pausing. He sat, staring out the window as gears spun in his mind. “His half-brother started calling himself the Hurting One a few decades ago. He travels around, gathering up the unlucky children of their father. He’s building an army for something.” 

I craned my head, stared into space for a moment. “’Something?’ Shouldn’t you know what he’s building an army for?” 

Ambrose shook his head. “He’s been building it for over a century. There’s nothing that can be done for Gregory now—it’s time we moved on.” 

I stood, turning on my heels to face him. “He’s suffering, and from what you’ve told me, going with his brother isn’t going to help him! I believe we can.” 

Ambrose sprang to his feet. “There are those who cannot be saved, Maxwell! There are those whose captors are too great for you or I to do anything about! There comes a time where we must cut our losses and move on!” 

“No!” A fire burned within my heart, the flames leaping up into my eyes; Ambrose recoiled at the cry of my voice. I felt my tear ducts begin to leak as I looked at the man, his face illuminated by the light streaming from my window. “No one—not a single person—is beyond saving!” 

Ambrose stepped forward, now standing within two feet of me. “I have watched as every single one of his brothers have fallen to his rhetoric. As they have all been led away by him onto the paths of destruction as they gave in to the Madness and became his drones. My heart aches, my mind burns with fury at the pain they must go through; every bone in my body cries out in anguish with each and every one we must let go of.” 

I craned my head, softened my face, spoke softly. “Then why let go?” 

Ambrose set his jaw, let out a frustrated sigh through his nose before taking a step back. “Fine. My employer has told me to follow your direction. If that is what you believe is best, then so be it.” 

I closed my eyes, took in a deep breath, let it go. I pursed my lips and thought for a moment before opening my eyes again. “What would need to be done to save him?” 

*** 

I blinked away my tiredness as I climbed out of the car into the empty street. Lights flickered in an apartment complex several buildings down. Hunched figures with faintly glowing eyes and horns protruding from their foreheads crept along the roof, peering down at the street below. Many more were scattered on buildings nearby, but the one was their primary concentration. 

“This is the only place they could have gone,” Ambrose said. “Ariel should be here soon with the cure.” 

I watched those around us in my peripherals as I stared at the stars above. The only movement from those apart from the main building was a faint swiveling of their heads every few minutes. Those on the main building paced back and forth. 

A whoosh of air blew past us, sending a small cloud of dust down the road as the woman stepped up beside me. She handed me a syringe filled with a thick, red liquid. They were very vague about what the cure for Gregory’s condition was, but, looking at it now, I was certain it was blood of some sort. 

“We only have one,” she whispered, “so be careful with it. Ambrose will lead, I’ll bring up the rear.” 

I slipped the syringe into my pocket and nodded as Ariel handed Ambrose a handgun, which he tucked into the waist of his pants. 

We started toward the apartment; I watched, subtly as I could, while the eyes of those on the rooftops began to focus on us. Their unintelligible whispers and hisses carried down to us. Without skipping a beat, Ambrose turned, entered the building. I hesitated for a moment before cementing my resolve. We would save him. 

When I asked how we knew where he was nearly an hour before, Ambrose told me we had eyes the Hurting One couldn’t see. Now, I was convinced that he had eyes we—or, at the very least, I—couldn’t see. Though I could see nothing, it felt as though hundreds of eyes were peering into my very being, watching. I could hear whispers deep within my mind, probing, searching for an answer to a question I couldn’t possibly begin to understand. Ambrose and Ariel seemed wholly unphased. 

After ten flights of stairs (seemed about half the building), Ambrose drew his handgun and we began down a hallway, stepping as lightly as we could. I myself was unsure why we even bothered when it seemed we were being watched from every angle. At the end of the hall was a door. While the rest had been painted a boggy, blue green, this one was painted a dark crimson, and the number plate had been ripped off—splintered holes remained where the screws once were. 

Ambrose turned around and looked to Ariel, motioned with his hands while contorting his face; she responded in kind. From what I could gather, he asked her something about seeing, and she responded with anger. He rolled his eyes, shook his head, turned back to the door. 

He held up a fist, then three fingers. Two fingers. One. 

The door flew off its hinges after a solid kick and the familiar scream of Gregory Huff filled the hall. Ambrose quickly swept the room before moving onto the next—Ariel followed closely behind. I knelt down beside Gregory and attempted to calm him. 

“You bring the silence, he’d said. 

I began quoting whatever scripture I could think of, and, once he calmed, took the syringe from my pocket. A hand was on my shoulder. I turned, expecting to see Ambrose. What I saw instead was a nearly-naked man with glowing orange eyes, a tail whipping around behind him, and two disks of bone protruding from his forehead—likely horns that had been broken off. 

I clutched the syringe firmly as he threw me across the room. 

I never quite knew exactly what happened next. 

I felt a hand brush me as I flew through the air, and suddenly I was landing on the pavement outside. Demonic creatures surrounded me; Ariel flashed about as a blur, the creatures cried out in pain before falling to the ground. Once they were all down, Ariel disappeared completely with a roar of thunder. Then Gregory was beside me, screaming once more. 

Glass shattered above and I watched Ambrose fall. The thing that’d thrown me fell with him, slammed into the ground. Ambrose and the thing stood. He had a massive gash in his stomach and the blade-like end of the thing’s tail was covered in blood. Ambrose raised both fists, prepared to fight. 

Gregory kicked himself off the ground, bared his teeth as he stared at me. I held the syringe, ready for the moment to present itself. I began to recite scripture once more. 

“You bring the silence,” he said. 

I nodded. 

“I should flee the silence.” 

A thousand whispers echoed him as he leapt toward me; I raised my hands. Fighting back was pointless—I had no training of any kind. But I could, at the very least, defend myself while I took the first steps toward saving him. 

“We are here to save you, Gregory!” His fists pounded against my arms. “We’re only trying to help, to free you from the hold of the blood inside you! Let us help you!” 

“It is the blood that makes me free.” His speech was in direct contradiction to the rest of his body: calm and collected. His fists came so fast, I felt my arms would shatter. 

“What I hold in my hand will make the rage and anger that consumes you, the constant torment you go through, go away. It will clean the blood inside you, ridding you of any demonic influence! I only need you to trust me! Do you really want to serve someone who would kill innocents for his own rotten gains?” 

“He would sacrifice anyone to save me, that’s what he did! He truly cares about me, you only want to lock me up, to seal me away forever so that people don’t have to look at the monster they themselves created when they pushed me to the wayside.” 

My arms were about to give out. Ambrose told me the solution in the vial would do nothing if Gregory didn’t accept it. But there was nothing else I could do; I had to try and hope that he would accept it when his senses cleared. 

My hand shot forward; the needle pierced the skin between his ribs. Before I could press the plunger, his arm clamped down on mine. I heard a faint snap as the needle broke off in his skin. He threw another punch, hit me in the nose. Another—hit me in the gut. 

I fell to the ground. What remained of the syringe flew from my hand, shattered against the pavement. He looked down at me, brought up his foot to stomp down on my head. A knife pierced his throat, splattered blood across my dazed body. He fell. I heard an asynchronous thud. It came from behind me. Ariel, who’d replaced Gregory, let out a scream. She disappeared with the shatter of thunder. 

I rolled. Ambrose lay on the ground. I’m not sure how, but I crawled to him. As I cradled his bloodied head, he smiled at me. 

“I have never had to fear death before. It’s refreshing.” 

Ariel stood behind me. 

“I have lived for millennia, accomplished great things. I have watched as entire civilizations were erased from existence, never to be seen again, but I have never feared when it would one day happen to me, until this moment.” 

“You’re not going to die,” I said. 

“Yes, I am,” Ambrose said with a wince. “That vial contained the one thing that could save me.” I killed him. He grabbed my arm and placed his hand over the inverted cross on his. “I pass this mark to you. May the martyr save many.” 

Ariel muttered from behind me, “May the martyr save many.” 

He released my arm and rolled over in pain. As I stood, Ariel crouched over him. I walked to where Gregory’s body lay motionless, kicked him over onto his back. As lifeless eyes stared back at me, a voice from the distant past echoed in the darkest recesses of my mind; the voice of my wife, my darling Coraline—the last thing she said to me before I made the mistake of leaving her side. 

*** 

As the sun lifted off the horizon, I struggled to keep my eyes open and focused on the road ahead. Ariel sat in the passenger seat, jaw clenched as she sharpened her bowie. 

“It’s my fault he’s dead, isn’t it?” I asked. 

She wet her lips as she closely examined the edge, barely casting me a sidelong glance before returning to her sharpening. 

“If we hadn’t gone after Gregory, he would still be alive, and I’d be asleep in my room at the monastery.” 

Her brow leapt in agreement. 

“I’m sorry.” 

She cleared her throat. “It’s not your fault.” She examined the edge one last time before returning the knife to its sheath. She pulled out another, this one curved—a karambit, I later learned it to be called. “We knew he would die if you made the choice the Centurion thought you would make.” 

I glanced at her for a moment in question before returning my gaze to the road. 

“Our employer. There’s one hundred of us—including you now—so, Centurion.” 

I nodded. She’d told me we were going to meet him, so that I could officially join their ranks. I’d handed in a request for relief from my priestly duties so that I could pursue this secret organization. Several minutes of silence later, I spoke. 

“When my wife was on her deathbed, she told me I couldn’t do anything, that it was her time. The last thing she said to me was, ‘You can’t save everyone.’ Until today, the number of everyone has been one. Today, that number rose to three.” 

Ariel tightened her lips, dropped her hands to her lap, stared at her knife with mournful eyes. 

“By the time your work is done, it’ll feel like that number is everyone.”

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Maxwell Novacek and the Shepherd of Ruin

Exorcist Maxwell Novacek is sent to investigate Petunia, a girl suspected to be possessed by demons.

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.

“Father Novacek?”

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.

“Father Novacek?”

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?”

“Of course.”

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?”

“Of course.”

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?”

“About what?”

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?”

“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?”

Silence.

“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.

“Rest.”

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.”

My bishop.

***

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?”

“No.”

“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.

If you liked what you just read go ahead and subscribe to my blog, either through WordPress or the email entry field on the right side of the page—more Maxwell Novacek stories are in the making. Also, hop on over to our Facebook page and give us a like, leave us a comment, or share with your friends. The more feedback I receive, the better my content will be. Thanks for reading, and Happy Making!

Jonathan Kinkaid

Jonathan Kinkaid woke up in a darkened room; his room. The wary light of the dawn crept through his window and lightly graced the wall above him as he stirred. He felt his pajamas against his skin and the silky sheets that enveloped him on his hands. The springs beneath him poked into his back uncomfortably. He swung his arms in an attempt to throw his blanket off him. It took a few more tries before he succeeded.

He sat up and looked around. He sat on his wooden twin-size bed, hand-carved for his dad by his dad’s grandfather – his great-grandfather. Beside that stood a bed-side table with a glow-in-the-dark alarm clock, its arms pointing to 6:01. Jon committed the time to memory. There was an alligator skin glasses case. He opened it to find his red-framed glasses, a massive scratch on the right-side lens. It happened during PE if he recalled correctly. He put on the glasses and looked around the room once more.

Across the room was his dresser. Next to it was a large wooden chest. His old toybox. He got up and walked over to his dresser and opened the drawer second from the top. Shirts. One stood out in particular – a shirt he’d gotten at science camp. It was in pristine condition; there wasn’t a tear or stain on it. He liked that shirt.

He returned to his bed. His Batman sheets. They were a gift from grandma. Jon always liked Batman. His commitment not to kill. His technical prowess and use of gadgets. Jon liked technology since he was a kid. Woke up before the sun to get on the computer as early as the age of two.

Jon let out a huff as he gave his room one more scan. His Halloween costume hung on the wall. A Batman costume he made himself from construction paper and scraps of fabric. He’d hung it on his wall for a whole year. He’d always wished he could afford a real Batman costume. Or even just better materials. Beneath it was a plastic crate – his comic book collection.

After checking the time – 6:05 – he went to his closet and started looking through the shirts. Almost all of them were smalls. A few mediums. One extra-large that his great-grandmother got him: a Hawaiian shirt. She was old and senile, so it was understandable.

He peaked out his window at the house across the street. It was a yellow brick house with slate grey shingles and pretty, white curtains. There were three cars in the driveway: Mr. Garland’s grey convertible, Mrs. Garland’s cobalt blue minivan, and Sally Garland’s tan four-door. She’d gotten it as a present for her sixteenth birthday. Despite being used, it was in perfect condition. The bumper wasn’t dented. The doors were all placed as they should be. Not a scratch on it.

Jon had always had a crush on Sally. She was pretty. Had wavy, black hair that cascaded over her shoulders, bringing out her pale face. Bright blue eyes. Dimples that pressed deep into her cheeks when she smiled. She was five years older than him, though. For a while, it seemed like she thought it was cute that he had a crush on her. Eventually that faded. Him noticing that her body was pretty nice, too, didn’t help the matter.

Jon looked up at the multi-colored fan affixed to his ceiling. He reached up to pull the cord that would turn it on. It was just out of reach. He could reach the cord that would turn on the lights, though. But neither one would do anything as long as the switch on the wall was in the ‘off’ position.

He sat down on the floor and felt the shag carpet with his fingers. He evaluated himself. He’d gotten used to doing it every morning. Being conscious of his own mental state. To his surprise, he didn’t feel depressed. He didn’t feel hopeless. Didn’t feel like his life didn’t matter. Didn’t feel like dying. In fact, he felt kind of happy. He hadn’t felt that good in years.

He took in a deep breath. He smelled the dust. He smelled the house – that smell you grow so accustomed to after living somewhere a long time you don’t even notice it. He smelled dog potty-training pads.

Sophie.

His family’s Spanador. They’d gotten her the summer after he finished fifth grade. She had brown fur, and big, droopy ears that were too big for her head.

He sat on the floor a while, thinking about the last thing he remembered before waking up in his bed. He certainly hadn’t gone to sleep there, but the details were a little hazy. He was in a car. Going somewhere. By the time he gave up trying to remember, he looked to his alarm clock again. The hands were close to 7:00 now.

He couldn’t remember what time he’d set the alarm for. Probably 7:00. Either way, time seemed to be moving at a normal rate in a linear fashion. He probably wasn’t dreaming. He waited a few minutes and, sure enough, his alarm went off right at 7:00.

He stood up off the floor and turned off the alarm. He opened the door and made his way into the hallway. The shag carpet continued under his bare feet. As he stepped into the hallway, Sophie jumped up from where she was laying down outside his parents’ bedroom door. Her entire rear-end shook from her wagging her tail as she waddled happily to Jon’s feet.

He bent down to pet her. Felt her soft fur on his palm as she excitedly licked his wrist. He felt her floppy ears as he looked into her big, black eyes. He smiled as a tear rolled down his cheek. “Love you, Soph.” After petting her for a few more moments, he looked at the hall around him.

His door was covered in various decorations, most notably: a Batman logo, a radioactive symbol, and a big, red and yellow ‘Keep Out!’ sign. His sister’s door, the next room over, had a glittery butterfly, a rainbow sitting on some clouds, and the head of a unicorn, along with a sheet of pink construction paper with her name, Kimberly, written in crayons of various colors. She’d made the sign with her name on it in kindergarten.

Jon had resented her for a long time. She was born four years after him and seemed to just take away all the attention their parents had previously given him. It wasn’t until they got older that he grew to like her. But by then it was too late. The damage had already been done.

He opened her bedroom door as quietly as he could. The first thing he saw was her pink wall, then the toys scattered across the floor, her bed, with Disney princess sheets that her bright blond hair stuck out of. Maybe she had a nightmare and pulled them up for cover. Or she saw the monster in her closet again.

Jon took in a deep breath and let out a sigh as a smile crept across his face. He closed the door with a soft click. He didn’t want to wake her.

Across the hall from her room was the bathroom. It had a wooden door with a brass knob and a lock. He went inside, closing the door behind him and flipping the light-switch. He shielded his eyes as the light turned on. After giving it a moment, he looked around. The shower curtain with the big sunfish on it. Bath towels with each of his family-member’s names embroidered on them in their favorite colors. His was red, Kim’s was pink, and his parents were green and orange. There were also hand towels with his parent’s initials embroidered on them in gold. The toilet seat was cushioned, with rainbows and unicorns covering it.

Jon looked in the mirror. He blinked a few times before studying his face.

He definitely needed a haircut. He pulled some of his chestnut locks down, and they could nearly touch his cheek if he tried really hard. His hair used to be blond, and in a few years, it would be even darker. He could still see his strong jawline, his dimpled chin, his cheekbones. He felt his cheeks. Perfectly smooth. As a preteen’s face should be. No zits or moles. His ears weren’t pierced. His nose was straight and unbroken. His teeth were just beginning to yellow. If he started brushing now, they’d probably still be white a few years down the line.

He unbuttoned his pajama shirt. Not a single ounce of muscle or fat on him. If he sucked in his gut, he could easily see his ribcage. He didn’t have any surgical scars. Didn’t have any chest or belly hair.

He looked down his pants. Small and hairless.

He pulled up the pant legs. His pencil-thin legs were hairless, too.

He sat, studying himself for a while before he heard movement in the next room over – his parents’ bedroom. He began buttoning up his pajamas and rushed over to the toilet to pee.

“Hi, Sophie,” he heard from the hallway – his mother’s voice – just before a rapping on the bathroom door.

“Just a second,” Jon said as the stream hit the wall of the toilet. His voice was high-pitched. He sounded like a girl.

“Okay!” his mom replied. She sounded happy. He hadn’t heard her sound that way in a while. Not since his dad cheated on her a few years back.

He finished and flushed the toilet before washing his hands. When he opened the door, his mom was smiling.

“What’s gotten into you, washing your hands like a gentleman?”

She had a kind face. Slightly puffy cheeks, with eyes always squinted in a smile, and perfectly white teeth. Her wavy, dark-brown hair was cut just off her shoulders. He was used to seeing it go halfway down her back. She wore a fluffy, white bathrobe, with her and his dad’s first initials embroidered in black on the one side. His dad had a matching black one, with white lettering.

Jon shrugged. Now was as good a time as any to figure out, “Do you know what day it is?”

His mother paused in thought for a moment before smiling excitedly. “It’s my little man’s birthday!”

Jon forced a smile, as cheesy as he could, before stepping out of the bathroom. He made his way down the hall and descended the stairs to the first floor. He made his way to the calendar in the living room. Fourteenth of August 2008. He was eleven years old today. “Jonny’s Birthday” was written in bold, red marker.

His birthday party was going to be at a local kids’ arcade. They served pizza, and you could win tickets for prizes. His best friend, Alan, was going to be there. Jon missed Alan. Jacquie and Dez, too. No one else was going to be there, though. No one else really cared about Jon’s birthday. And Jon didn’t care that they didn’t care. He used to. But not anymore.

He walked into the kitchen and made himself a bowl of cereal: sugary goodness that he hadn’t had in a while. He’d been trying to cut down on his sugar intake recently. But he figured today was as good a day as any to treat himself. He was going to have cake later, anyway. Why not pile on the poor decisions?

He sat down at one of the tall chairs on the side of the island opposite the sink. It had a nice, marble top – uncracked and unblemished. He scooped up a massive bite of cereal.

He expected it to taste amazing. For the first bite to be the best he’d ever taken. He hadn’t had it in so long. But, when he put the spoon in his mouth, he felt nothing. It was just like eating anything else.

Jon sighed as he tried to focus on the night before.

The last thing he remembered was being in the car. Maybe on the way home?

As he tried to remember, his mom came into the kitchen. She had put on sweatpants, and an old t-shirt from college – that’s where she and his dad met. She started making coffee – something she drank every morning but told Jon to stay far away from. He elected to ignore that advice.

After pressing the button to start the coffee maker, she walked over to the cabinet.

“Are you excited?”

Jon forced another smile – not as cheesy this time. “Yep!”

She pulled out a mug – her favorite mug – it was white, with pink and red hearts all over it. His dad got it for her for Valentine’s Day 2007. It was basically a bowl. “What are you most excited about?”

Jon pursed his lips and chewed as he thought about the question. “I think seeing my friends.”

His mom grinned widely as she poured the coffee into her mug. “You see them almost every day, and you’re still excited to see them. That’s true friendship right there; hold onto that, it doesn’t come easy.”

Jon’s smile fluttered for a moment. “I will.”

He ate in silence for a bit while his mom mixed some cream and sugar in before sitting down next to him. “What do you think you’re going to get?”

Presents. Jon liked presents. He wasn’t sure when the last time he got any was. Probably Christmas. He finished chewing his bite of cereal before answering, “Well, what I’d really like is an Xbox. But I know that’s not gonna happen. And an iPod would be nice, but I know that’s not gonna happen, either. So, probably… Fable III, some socks, some shirts, a $20 Walmart gift card, a $20 bill, and… a new Nerf gun.”

His mom gave a faint smile and shrugged slightly as she took a sip from her mug. “Good guesses.”

Jon chuckled. He finished eating before taking his bowl to the sink and rinsing it out. If he was right, the dishwasher should have been run the night before. He looked to his mom. “Are the dishes in the dishwasher clean.”

She smiled. “Yes, they are.”

He set his rinsed bowl and spoon in the sink and dried his hands before opening the dishwasher. It was almost empty – they ran it just about every night. He started taking dishes out of it and putting them away.

His mom’s face twisted into a mixture of happiness and confusion as she took another sip of liquid energy. “What’s gotten into you?”

As he shut the cabinet, he turned to look at her. “What do you mean?”

“It’s like you just turned into a young man overnight. You wash your hands, you don’t talk with your mouth full, you put the dishes away.” She gave him a teasing smile. “What did you do to my son?”

Jon froze for a moment before shrugging. “Maybe I just feel like being a better person.”

His mom shrugged and took another sip from her mug. “Well, I’m not complaining.”

After putting his bowl in the dishwasher, Jon made his way back upstairs to get dressed. He put on a pair of basketball shorts and his science camp t-shirt before sitting on his bed and staring out the window. He looked at the beautiful blue sky, where white clouds drifted across the atmosphere. It didn’t look like it, but it was going to rain. Not that that affected any of their plans.

He looked at his alarm clock again. Almost 8:00. Three more hours to burn until his birthday party.

He went back downstairs and to his desk. He pulled out the drawer that had all his games – some of which his dad gave to him from when he was in college. He looked through them all before deciding on one to play. It felt like forever since he’d played. He expected to be a bit rusty but seemed to do even better than he remembered. For three hours, he let the world move around him, without a single care. He missed that feeling. The only thing that broke him out of his zone was his dad’s voice.

“Time to go, Sport. Put your shoes on.”

Jon closed the game and got ready to leave. His sister grinned widely at him. He smiled back.

The family made their way out to the car and drove to the arcade. His friends were already there waiting.

Alan stood several inches taller than everyone else – probably because he was older than everyone else. He’d been held back in second grade, when he met Jon and they became best friends. The last time Jon had seen him, his hair was pretty long, almost as long as Jon’s was now. Now, he had a buzz cut. He had a scar on his right cheek from when he tried to shave like his dad.

Jacqueline – or Jacquie as everyone else called her – was the shortest of the bunch, with bright blond, French-braided hair that reached almost to her waist. She always wore flannel and jeans, even in the middle of the summer, with cowgirl boots. Everyone at school thought she was weird, but Jon liked her.

Dez – not Desmond, just Dez – was a larger kid. Jon got in more than a couple fights with kids bullying Dez. For his weight and his dark skin.

Jon held back tears as he looked at his friends. He smiled, nay, grinned, as he held out his arms. “Group hug!” he yelled.

They all ran forward and embraced. They saw each other all the time. But they never got tired of each other.

As Jon clung to them, he couldn’t hold back. Tears slowly rolled down his cheeks. He felt them leave his face as they soaked into Alan’s shirt. “I love you guys.”

“We love you, too,” Dez and Jacquie said. Alan was a little less comfortable with throwing that word around. Up until he woke up that morning, Jon was, too.

As he continued holding them, he felt his sister wrap her arms around him. He dropped a hand to pat her back before breaking the embrace. He sniffled and wiped his tears away with his arm. “We go inside?”

The group went inside, and each kid got a cup-full of tokens to use on the games. Jon and Alan went straight to the Skee-Ball alleys, and Jacquie and Dez followed them.

They played through a game, in which Alan swept the floor with Jon. He always used to win because Jon would always end up rolling the ball a little to the left of where he was aiming. He didn’t realize until later that he should aim just to the right of where he wanted the ball to go. Now was later.

“Bet you all the tickets you just won I can beat you.”

Alan eyed Jon skeptically. “You hustlin’ me?”

Jon shrugged and reached out a hand. “You know how much I suck.”

Alan narrowed his eyes as he hesitantly shook on it. “Deal.”

If even half his hits were hundreds, he could beat Alan easy – Alan always aimed for the fifties.

He threw his first ball. 100 points. Second ball. 100 points. Third ball. 100 points. Two more and he’d win. But he’d already proven to himself he could do it. What more point was there? He started aiming for forty.

At the last ball, their scores were 450-350 with Jon in the lead. Only then did Alan take his eye off the goal. He aimed for the hundred. He hit it.

Jon smiled at Alan before lazily tossing the ball. Zero. They were tied up.

“You could have beat me.”

Jon shrugged. “In Japan, it’s considered dishonorable to win.”

Alan shrugged before putting his palms together and bowing at the waist. Jon did the same. He missed the weird little interactions he had with his friends.

They played a few more random arcade games before Jon’s mom found them and announced it was time to eat. After eating, it was time for Jon to open his presents. First was a card from Jacquie with a $20 Walmart gift card in it:

To the friend who makes me laugh when I want to cry

And turns my frowns upside-down

I hope you have a happy, happy day

As you put on your birthday crown

Happy birthday!

Jacquie

As Jon finished reading it, he looked over to Jacquie, giddy with excitement.

“Happy birthday!” she yelled as she threw her arms around him.

He hugged her back before moving on to his next present, a sloppily wrapped box with “To: Jonny/From: Dez” written on it in Sharpie.

Jon ripped through the wrapping paper to find a flimsy cardboard box. Inside were two graphic tees, with characters from one of Jon’s favorite games. He couldn’t control himself as he smiled wide.

“I got you a large,” Dez said, “that way you can’t outgrow ‘em.”

If only that were true.

Alan got Jon a card, too, with a $20 bill inside it, along with a Nerf revolver.

Finally, Jon came to the last box – the one from his parents. It was the wrong size to be Fable III or socks. It almost fit in the palm of his hand. He carefully peeled away the wrapping paper. He had been asking for an iPod since first grade. Now he finally had one.

He thought about trying to get it set up now, but he knew he couldn’t really do that until he got home. Besides, his friends were more important to him now. They played arcade games for another couple hours before eating cake and then heading home.

Jon had dinner with his family – his mother made his favorite, her home-cooked lasagna – before sitting on the couch, trying to decide what to do for the rest of the night. His iPod sat, still in the box, on his desk.

He stared at it for several minutes before looking at his sister. She was playing with Barbies in the living room floor.

“Hey, Kimmy,” he said as he crawled onto the floor across from her, “introduce me to your friend.”

Kimmy’s face lit up. He never realized how happy he’d be to see her smile like that. She squealed excitedly as she talked for several minutes about her Barbie – Beatrice was her name. She was a doctor. That’s what Kimmy wanted to be when she grew up.

First, she wanted to be a knee doctor. Then a brain surgeon. Then a psychiatrist. Then, she died.

***

Jon stared at the ceiling of his bedroom as he tried to fall asleep. He still couldn’t remember what happened the night before. But one thing was clear: this was no dream. He was no longer in his early twenties. He went to bed last night and woke up with a second chance. Maybe everything before was a dream. He’d be starting sixth grade in less than a week, and if history repeated itself, he’d be rolling down the hill of self-loathing in a month or two. He’d one day wake up, with all his loved ones gone or dead.

But that didn’t have to happen.

He could change the past because the past was now his future. It always had been.

For the past four years, he’d been afraid that he was going to die alone after drinking himself to sleep. That his body would be discovered weeks after rigor mortis set in and maggots had started feasting on his corpse. But it didn’t have to be that way. It never had to be that way. It would be an uphill battle no matter what, but he always could have been a better man. He would be a better man and make their lives better. That’s what he decided. Now he just needed to act on it.

If you liked what you just read, go ahead and subscribe to my blog, either through WordPress or the email entry field on the right. Also, hop on over to our Facebook page and give us a like, leave us a comment, or share with your friends. The more feedback I receive, the better my content will be. Thanks for reading, and Happy Making!

On the Subject of Subjectivity (Devilspawn Update)

Another update on Devilspawn! In this post, I talk about the subject of writing from a morally grey perspective to emphasize the importance of morality.

Hello, all, and welcome to another update on the progress of Devilspawn! I am roughly three-quarters or so done with my most recent draft of the first book of Devilspawn, A Demon in the Night, and hope to be done with said draft soon so I can move into a round of Beta Reading. That said, if you would like to act as a beta reader, go ahead and visit our Facebook page to leave a like, comment, or share.

At present, I am at a roadblock and am awaiting feedback from my Alpha Readers for the next scene I intend on writing. This is because the scene addresses several real-world issues and I would like for it to be written in a concise and respectable manner.

That said, I am very happy with the progress I have made and am proud of the draft thus far. I will, of course, need to go back and make some edits, but I don’t think I should need to make any major reworks to the story anymore (at least for ADitN)- I’ve felt the need to make many such reworks between the first draft and now.

One thing I’ve noticed as I’ve been writing this draft is a shift in the way that I approach certain themes. Before, I approached them from a perspective of objective morality – the book is written from a third-person omniscient perspective, and any time a character did something morally dubious, it was evident within the narrators tone (that said, it was previously written from more of a shifting third-person limited).

With this draft, my writing reflects a much more subjectively moral approach. If the group of characters that any given passage focuses on believes that what they are doing is in the right, the narration takes on that tone. With any given argument or disagreement within the story, it is presented that both parties could potentially be in the right. I do this in real life, even in arguments where I have stakes, especially if I feel one side is underrepresented. I blame my losing of Trial by Trolley on that. But I digress.

This moral subjectivity includes portions of the story where someone is most definitely in the wrong, such as in the case of a character who is verbally abusive. When things are described from his perspective, it’s made out to be, at least on the surface, that his actions are justified by his motives. However, from the perspective of the abused and several of her friends, he is made out to be the villain that he is. This is seen for (most of) the other villains in the story, as well – they clearly think they are in the right and dutifully defend their perspective.

And this brings up several questions: Is this how it should be done? What are the implications of presenting moral quandaries in this way? What are the consequences? Is this a way to make the book welcoming to all readers? Will it make the book alienating to all readers? Is there a happy middle ground, or are the extremes the only solution?

All these are questions I have considered, and here are the answers I have come up with, based both on what I have observed of other people, and what I have gathered from reading/watching other writer’s blogs/vlogs.

Implications and Consequences

The most obvious implication that this approach presents is that morality is subjective. It is subjective and measured by whoever is committing the action, and whoever the action is being committed upon. Subjective morality is a dangerous game: if morality is subjective, then no one can definitively say what is and isn’t moral.

So, if the book is written from a morally subjective approach, it could easily lead to others taking that same perspective. Assuming they take everything at face value and don’t bring their own biases into it. Which is impossible.

Let’s assume, for a moment, that everyone who reads the book will take their own biases and perspectives on morality into account when they read the book (and they will). Then, in the case where they are reading something that affirms their beliefs, they will agree with it, and like the writing more because it supports their beliefs. In the case where they are reading something that goes against their beliefs, they will disagree with it and perhaps consider a new perspective. This will, ideally, challenge their own thinking, and help to improve their critical thinking skills.

Now, consider a book which only affirms the authors perspective on morality. The book, whether it does so explicitly or implicitly, will tell the reader what to think on whatever is happening. Rather than thinking critically about everything that happens in the story and coming to their own conclusions, the reader is led by the hand to understand morality from the writer’s perspective. This would be fine and dandy if the writer’s morality was perfect. But no human’s morality is.

So, we must find a different approach. Consider a book which affirms the characters’ perspective on morality, even if told from the perspective of a voiceless narrator. The book will tell the reader that everything the target character is doing is good. This will make the reader question what is good. They will read something not good happening, say to themselves, ‘this isn’t good,’ and then (hopefully) begin to consider the moral imperatives of all things happening. To consider all sides of any given argument.

By this approach, the writer is not leading the reader to a specific moral perspective, but instead leading the reader to a vast library of moral perspectives, where the reader can more easily reconsider their views.

As well, writing from a morally subjective approach highlights objective morality. If a reader can look at something that is happening and recognize that what is happening is wrong, even when all possible arguments are made for it being right, then how can it be that the thing could ever be right?

In contrast, writing from a morally objective perspective, where the writer’s morality does not line up with the objective, does the exact opposite.

Even the Bible (more specifically the Old Testament) is written from a subjectively moral perspective, which highlights the fact that morality is objective. Nearly every act described in the books of Kings and Chronicles is written in an unbiased, here are the facts, format. This leaves the reader to interpret what is right and what is wrong. Even more so, this takes the focus off of the writers biases and places it on the consequences of the events that take place. Polygamy, incest, and rape, all written from a morally grey perspective, lead to dire consequences that lead to the downfall of Israel. We read through it and know that it is wrong, and those who do not see the consequences of those actions.

Welcoming vs Alienating

This, I think, is a question that has plagued me. Finding the line to draw, finding where Devilspawn reaches a point of being too alienating to my target audience for me to include various plots in the narrative. What I have decided on is this: I want people to be uncomfortable.

Devilspawn is written with a wide range of target audience in mind. It is made to make people question their own beliefs and their own actions. It is, ultimately, written from a Christian perspective, but it is made to make Christians uncomfortable, to call the religion itself out on the ways it has failed. It is also written to be enjoyed by those apart from the faith. I have attempted, in almost every scene where Christianity is brought up, to write it in a non-intrusive and digestible way. In a way that everywhere it’s brought up carries with it an important element that relates to the situations each character is going through and that has some plot relevance. Devilspawn is written to make people question their own reality and consider things from another perspective. One of the villains is a judgemental Christian; one of the heroes is a gay Satanist. As previously stated, everything in Devilspawn is subjective, but it all points to one objective Truth.

So, though Devilspawn is certainly alienating, I hope and pray that those it would alienate (i.e. everyone) would read it with an open mind and with the motive of gaining a fresh perspective on reality.

Conclusion: Is This How it Should be Done?

The straight answer is, ‘probably not’. The more complicated answer is that writing the book in this way will likely turn away many readers who are not expecting a book written in this way. As I’m writing this, the possibility of writing a sort of ‘letter from the author’ before the book begins comes to mind. One which explains that which I’ve written above. That the book is intended to make people feel uncomfortable, and make them question their own perspective. Because questions and doubts are the only ways we move forward. Questioning the understood best way to do something is how we find better ways of doing things.

And that is why I’m writing Devilspawn in this way.

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Devilspawn and Divus Update

In lieu of releasing a chapter of Isle of the Dreamer (coming next week), I’ve decided to post an update on other projects I’m working on.

Unfortunately, there is no chapter of Isle of the Dreamer for this week, due to various things going on. I have, however, made progress on other projects in the past two weeks. Significant headway has been made on the most recent draft of Devilspawn, and actual work has been done on the video game I am working on, Project Divus (NP). More details below.

A Demon in the Night, Book I of Devilspawn

Unfortunately, Devilspawn sat dormant for several weeks while I got distracted by the wonderful prospect of doing nothing and lazing around all day. On the bright side, I have broken free from that temptation and made significant headway to the tune of and additional 30 pages.

As I write this, I come to the realization that I have given little to no updates about the writing of Devilspawn. Ever. Better late than never, I guess.

The first draft was 321 pages and the five people who read through it adored it. That, alongside actually finishing a draft for once, was a great confidence boost.

However, much to the dismay of the woman who is now my wife, I was unhappy with that draft. This was for two primary reasons (that are actually just one reason in disguise): (1) the draft had a lot of ‘downtime’ – periods where nothing would happen, involving multi-month gaps in time – which resulted in (2) a lot of plot threads being introduced in the final stretch of the book as they were being tied up. So, I decided to write out the second draft much differently – namely, by filling in the gaps, which padded out the book quite a bit.

The problem is that this made the book very long. It didn’t drag on, mind you, but it became quite long in the process, with many plot threads introduced toward the beginning of the book that wouldn’t be resolved until toward the end. Based on the length of the second draft, that probably wouldn’t have been for another 200-300 pages, which would be less than ideal. Thus, splitting the novel into two books.

Now, I could, of course, just write the whole thing out to its full length of 600-some-odd pages and then find a nice breaking point. The problem is that, with the way it was being written, that wouldn’t work very well.

Devilspawn is a character-focused narrative rather than a plot-focused narrative. There are several major plot points toward the middle of the book that would work as a nice finale for Volume I before transitioning into Volume II. The issue with that would be that its right smack in the middle of multiple character arcs. This would make the book feel incomplete.

Thus, my decision to simply start the next draft with that in mind: restructuring certain character arcs to be resolved before that point and pushing off other character arcs to be introduced after that point. Obviously, some character arcs will still span across both books, but the plan is to make Volume I feel more complete in itself, which is more pleasing in the eyes of readers and traditional publishers, should I end up needing to go that route.

Project Divus (NP)

Project Divus has seen many roadblocks in its production, not the least of which is my own laziness. The other was trying to work with a rather lethargic and disagreeable partner.

The starting area, with the main character swinging a sword

So, there’s been a shake-up in the production team, and I am now proud to announce that I will be working on Divus with my wife, Olivia, who will be working on the majority of the graphics for the game as well as helping me with level design. The two of us together have made what I would call significant progress on the game in the past two days. The starting area of the game is mostly completed, the Player Character (PC) can walk, can’t walk through walls, and can swing a sword. I say ‘can swing a sword’ and not ‘can attack things’ on account of I am currently having issues with making the code recognize certain colliders in the engine.

Other than that minor issue that I’m sure I’ll resolve soon, production is coming along quickly, especially compared to the last 8 months, where nothing was done except the creation of placeholder graphics (pictured above) that were very obviously based on those of the Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening.

Moving Forward

As previously mentioned, there is not chapter for Isle of the Dreamer this week. Rest assured, you lovely people who actually read it and keep asking me or my wife for more, another chapter is coming next week (hopefully). What I’ve been trying to do lately is release chapters on the second and fourth Fridays of each month with short stories being released on the Fridays between (thus, Sunny and Raphael).

The unfortunate reality is that life gets in the way of these sorts of things, especially when you haven’t actually released anything that can make you money (or don’t have a following at all) and have to depend on a day (read: 3 o’clock in the morning) job that leaves you feeling like time doesn’t exist for some reason and nothing matters.

That said, my goal is to release another chapter this upcoming Friday and another chapter the Friday after that, then return to the normal schedule. My hope is to keep releasing chapters and short stories alongside weekly status updates on the various projects I’m working on. If that doesn’t happen, see previous paragraph.

If either of the projects above happened to pique your interest, subscribe to my blog, either through WordPress or by way of using the email entry field on the right. Also, hop on over to our Facebook page and give us a like, leave us a comment, or share with your friends. Thanks for reading, and Happy Making!

Raphael

An orphan wanders through the woods to find a new home. This is a chapter from my upcoming novel, Devilspawn.

Caleb was given specific directions. He was told to follow the signs. To follow the road to Abba’s house. There, he would always be provided for. There, he would never want.

He was told he shouldn’t make the journey alone. Everyone else was too afraid. Too afraid of what lurked in the woods. Of leaving behind the only place they ever knew. So, he traveled alone, from the village of orphans he’d grown up in.

He followed all the signs, followed Michael’s directions perfectly. Until he reached a fork where there was no sign – at least none that he could see.

It was dark, the faint glow of the stars unable to peak through the forest’s canopy. Up to this point, every sign – with the exception of the first few – had pointed down a road that was clearly far less traveled, with the difference becoming less discernible with each fork. Here, both roads looked equally traveled – as if only a single set of feet had traveled each one several times over. Caleb could discern no other difference.

Caleb wasn’t sure how, but he knew he was close. He’d reach Abba’s house soon. So, he kept going, even if he couldn’t see where. He trusted that Abba would guide him.

Soon, he was set upon by one of the Fallen; its red, glowing eyes jumping out from behind a thick tree. Its bladed tail sliced through Caleb’s back, and he cried out as he fell to the ground. It threw a bag over his head and bound his hands and legs before carrying him off the path. He didn’t know how far.

“Abba, save me,” Caleb whimpered.

He was alone now – his kidnapper, Nivael, having just slipped into the next room.

Caleb could hear him talking to someone, although he didn’t know who. The Satan – who works to lead Abba’s children astray? Another of the Fallen, like Nivael? Another orphan, like Caleb?

He didn’t know and at this point it didn’t matter. All that mattered was that he continued to call out Abba’s name. That’s what Michael told him. “Call on Abba’s name, and He will send help.”

So, he repeated again, “Abba, I’m sorry. I took a wrong turn. Please, save me. I know You’re far away, but, please, hear my cry. Save me, Abba.”

Caleb heard a chuckle from the door. Nivael.

“You really think He cares about you? You think that with all the children He’s adopted – millions upon millions – he really cares about you?”

Nivael chuckled before calling into the other room. “Hey, this kid thinks he matters!”

He turned back to Caleb.

“You’re just some random kid who forgot the directions laid out for you. I did better than you did. At least when I went the wrong way, it was my choice.”

Caleb stopped his pleading for just a moment. He looked at Nivael as tears streamed down his face. “You think you’re better than me, just because you chose this? Because you chose to reject Abba’s love?”

Nivael let out a scornful laugh, his eyes darting to the side before focusing back on Caleb. “I didn’t reject Abba’s love. I accepted freedom. I listened to the words of the Satan, and, you know what, he made a lot more sense than Abba. To be able to wander through the woods as I please. To not be locked up inside Abba’s house, only to leave so that I can go ‘guide’ and ‘protect’ other orphans. No. I don’t want that.”

Caleb squinted at Nivael and sniffled. “Are you left wanting?”

Nivael scowled.

Caleb shook his head. “Abba, save me,” he whispered again.

“What was that?”

“Abba, save me,” Caleb repeated, louder this time. He began repeating it over and over again, slowly increasing in volume.

Nivael shook his head.

Eventually, Caleb’s words turned into screaming.

His screams repeated for many hours, until his throat became scratchy and his voice weak. But, no matter how much it hurt him, he had to keep crying out. He needed help. He needed Abba.

Just as he could scream no longer, the door leading outside swung open. The room flooded with light as a new figure entered. A servant of Abba, given the power of shining light, even in the darkest of places. The figure pointed at Nivael, who froze in place. “You shall not have this one.”

Caleb tried to call his name, but he could only manage to mouth it. “Zedekiah.”

Nivael broke from his trance and sneered at Zedekiah. “You think you can save him? You think you can defy the will of the Satan? He was the highest of Abba’s servants! You are feeble and weak compared to him!”

Nivael lunged at Zedekiah. His mane looked like a blaze of fire as he reached out his claws at the figure of light.

Zedekiah reached out His hand.

Nivael flew across the room. His bones shattered as he slammed into the wall and slumped to the floor.

Caleb could hear someone stumbling in the next room. A door swung open and he heard heavy footfalls running from the building. The sound slowly faded.

Zedekiah approached Nivael’s corpse. He strained to draw breath. “Yes. I can save him. And I do defy the Satan. I regret that you chose this name for yourself. I give you one last chance. Choose Abba.”

With all the strength he could muster, Nivael spat in Zedekiah’s face.

Zedekiah placed His hand on Nivael’s forehead, and he drew his last breath. “Goodbye, child.”

As Zedekiah turned to face him, Caleb shuffled around on the floor.

“Abba sent me,” Zedekiah said, bending down to untie Caleb’s bindings. “He was eagerly awaiting your cries for help, and He heard them. It is by your faith – your unwillingness to give up – that you are saved. Abba’s house cannot be reached without that”

Caleb sat up as he rubbed his wrists with his hands.

Zedekiah smiled at him – at least, Caleb thought He did. It was difficult to see His face. “You shall have the name that should have been Nivael’s.”

Zedekiah placed His hand on Caleb’s forehead.

Caleb felt a burning sensation. But it was comforting.

When Zedekiah moved His hand, Caleb’s new name was written there. He didn’t need to see it to know what it was. He knew it in his heart.

“What does it mean?”

Zedekiah stood up, taking Caleb into his arms before walking out the door. “God heals.”

Planners vs. Pantsers

A little blurb about the writing process, some info on Devilspawn, and a hint of life advice mixed in.

A common divide in the writing community is that of Planners and Pantsers. For those who are unaware what this divide is, the former is as their name suggests. They plan their story, outlining, creating all the major characters beforehand, and knowing, from the beginning, exactly what the story is about. Ultimately, things will change – perhaps things don’t go exactly as they expected, or they noticed plotholes that weren’t evident in their initial plan.

Pantsers, on the other hand, do the exact opposite. Their name is in reference to writing ‘by the seat of their pants.’ They do little to plan beforehand, simply starting to write and seeing where the story takes them. They create settings and characters as they emerge, often having a vague idea of where they’re going with things, but with no clear path to get there.

The divide between these two is most evident in that each often finds their own methodology superior. Planners will give new writers the advice to outline and plan everything beforehand. This will often result in a very hardlined story and the finished product will look very much like the first draft. Pansters will give new writers the advice to let the ideas flow through them – let themselves have a trash (or other, less savory, words, if they prefer) first draft. Then, write the second draft in such a way that it seems you knew exactly what you were doing the whole time – much like a Planner first draft. So, ultimately, it would seem, they end up at the same point, just with a different methodology to get there – a methodology dependent on the personality and thought processes of the author.

This can also be compared to the Meyers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI – a popular personality assessment) dichotomy of J and P (Judging and Perceiving, respectively). J’s, within the MBTI, are those who dutifully plan, creating schedules and itineraries, while P’s are those who tend to be more laid back about planning – they still plan, but, for those who strongly lean to the P side, every plan is penciled in; nothing is set in stone. It is known, among those who properly hold to the MBTI, that being strongly one way or the other is unhealthy, and, should someone strongly lean one or the other, they should practice moving more toward center, living in a more moderate manner. As stated by Aristotle (and, to a degree, Solomon before him and Paul after), the key to living a good life is moderation.

The same could easily be said of Planning and Pantsing. To lean more toward one side or the other will not result in an opportune story. Planning everything beforehand – having an outline, with specific characters, settings, and whatnot – disregards the minute, yet important, details that, on the surface, have little impact on the story, but can, in the end, inspire fantastic subplots or twists the author never would have thought of otherwise.

On the other hand, pantsing everything – writing with a vague direction – will result in unfinished stories, with a shoehorned ending that attempts tying up every plot thread in a neat little bow while leaving plenty of frayed ends and holes in the finished product that can be difficult to fix with new drafts without scrapping or adding entire chunks of a story.

I have, of course, seen ups and downs with both these methods in my own writing. My beta readers’ favorite characters (one of which ultimately became the actual main character in Devilspawn: Tara) wouldn’t have existed had I planned everything beforehand. As well, any time I try to plan something, I forget those small important details in the planning that are so important to the story itself. But, when I plan little, I find an issue with knowing where I’m going. With Devilspawn, I got to nearly 70,000 words in the first draft with no end in sight. I did as I previously described and shoehorned in an ending that was satisfactory to my beta readers of the time, but felt lackluster to myself. It felt like it was the ending of an entirely new book as I introduced new plot threads by tying them up. Ultimately, this is what led me to write Devilspawn as one novel in two books – the first book is what was the first two-thirds of the first draft, with more details and shorter, though more frequent, time jumps, made to be longer than the entirety of the first draft (the original first draft was around 85,000 words while the ‘first draft’ of Book I is over 90,000), and ultimately tying up the two main plot threads: Agathon’s search for his brother and his loved ones’ reaction to his disappearance. The second book will take on a couple subplots from the first book as main plots to round out the narrative itself.

As well, I’m much better at making up characters as I write than making them up beforehand. My original plan for Agathon and Sarah (a supporting character who was originally planned to take much more of a front-line role, similar to Tara) was hot garbage; both characters, and the ones I made up while writing (because when I was making the Satanists because my brain went ‘yes, 7, that’s a good number’ – should you read the book, you’ll notice I removed one as he turned out to be underutilized and didn’t serve a strong narrative purpose) turned out to be much better than the ones I prepared beforehand. I believe this to be the result of the fact that I was creating the lore for characters, rather than actually making character’s as described by Matthew Colville in his video on Lore vs Writing.

But I digress.

On the nature of Planners vs. Pantsers, I propose this: do both. If you are good at planning things out beforehand, do that – but not too much. Maybe plan a few chapters ahead as you’re writing (this is what I’m doing with Isle of the Dreamer, though the actual second chapter was never outlined at all and the outlined second chapter will be the actual third chapter). If you aren’t too good at planning things ahead (like me, see the paragraph above), write chapter by chapter, asking yourself at the end of each if you’re moving toward the end of your novel (if your novel is the sort which has a main plot). In both, remember to keep the end in mind.

So I suppose the two main takeaways can be found in the Bible: do everything in moderation, and keep the end in mind.

The Origins of the Void Jumper

I am currently working on my second draft for a book called The Void Jumper’s Chronicles: Devilspawn.

I started my writing, not by sitting down to write a book, but by building a world while I was bored. It began with a simple concept: what if different worlds were at different points on a fourth dimension, and there was someone who could move across that dimension? That idea eventually evolved into ‘The Void Jumper’, which is why the series I’m beginning is called ‘The Void Jumper’s Chronicles’. The world that the books take place in is called ‘The Void Jumper Continuum’.

The idea of the void jumper was originally a much wider a concept, starting with a group of people with latent abilities awoken by intervention from some higher being. The list of abilities available to those people were based on the list given by Paul for those who are filled with the Holy Spirit in the New Testament. The unifying factor among all those who were of this people group was that they had the ability to move between realms (initially called ‘voids’), hence, this group of people were called ‘void jumpers’.

It came to be that I decided this group was not a physical race, but a form of soul. So, someone could be physically human and spiritually a void jumper. As well, there were other physical forms, such as what eventually became known as Deos, and other soul forms, such as what eventually became known as Powers That Be (or Beta Powers).

After many revisions to the idea, void jumpers were split into two different soul types – Jumpers and Gifts. Gifts retained the plethora of latent abilities, activated by the higher power (at this point objectively named ‘Truth’, though different groups call him by different names within the Void Jumper Continuum). Meanwhile, the Jumpers have three different kinds, which can move across different dimensions: Time Jumpers move across ‘Primary Time’ (the combination of two time dimensions), Spirit Jumpers can move across the fourth spatial dimension, called ‘Spirit’, and Void Jumpers can move across the fifth spatial dimension, called ‘Void’, which separates the realms.

The idea of many dimensions eventually evolved into there being nine total dimensions: five spatial (categorized into the three physical dimensions and two metaphysical dimensions), three chronic dimensions (split into primary and alternate time), and the True dimension. While the Void dimension splits up different realms within one Universe, the True dimension is what divides Universes from one another. And each Universe has its own Truth reigning over it (or perhaps different representations of one indivisible Truth).

It was from these basic elements that the rest of the Void Jumper’s Continuum was based on.