Hundreds of years ago, the woman on the bed would have been bowed to the ground, free of her bonds. She would have her face to the dust, her arms to the skies, her body bent in all places where it should have been soft or strong. And before her would have been a man cloaked with sunlight and hope – a mere man, the people would whisper, but one who had been given the blessing of the Messiah to cast out the evil from the woman’s body.
She would have spoken in a language unknown to man then – one that seemed to reach out from the depths of the earth, that clung to the skin long after she had been saved, that threatened to pierce through the calm of the mere man before her.
He would not have faltered. He would not have wept.
Hundreds of years ago, the woman on the bed would have been dragged through the streets. She would have been burned as an example to anyone who dared speak against the word of God. Or she would have been taken to a prison somewhere beneath her city, where she would have been forgotten. Or she would have simply died after being fed a mixture of herbs, after being starved for days, after she had frothed at the mouth in the wake of seizures and nightmares. Perhaps she truly had a disease for which no one had a name. Perhaps her body truly was inhabited by a soul far more ancient, far more evil than hers.
We would never know. The man before her would have written nothing about her past, questioned nothing about her future. He would have simply sketched her twisted body in ink as brown as caked blood. He would have shown her marked by ropes or stabbed by knives or crushed beneath a wooden wheel. She would have no name. She had no voice.
Decades ago, the woman on the bed might have been a curiosity. People would have put her on display for all and sundry to wonder at, to cringe at, to weep at. She could well have been burned at the stake while people held their hands to their hearts and sobbed at her plight. They would have walked away, shaking their heads, thinking that the world was full of mysteries that no one would ever hope to fathom.
And the man before her would simply have written it all down, as though he were merely witnessing a circus. She was a contortionist, or the amazing woman whose face changed from one minute to the next, or the creature of darkness that screamed while she was chained with rusty manacles to the wall. The manacles would bleed their rust for days. Her blood would join the tracks when her spirit gave out.
Perhaps she would be starved, until she was a mere frame of pictures of evil rushing across her countenance. Or she would be brought back to her family when her masquerade was over. Or she would die, like all the rest of the women put on exhibit.
Years ago, the woman on the bed might have been attended to by a priest. He would have read something from a book – in a language that only few knew, and that only few ever dared to study. He would call on the name of someone in the Heavens, someone who once gave a mere man the power to cast out demons. And then that someone would work through him – for days… weeks… months… years if it came to that. There would be endless sessions merely asking the spirit for its name. And then telling the spirit to leave. And then ensuring that the spirit never came back.
The priest before her would grow gray hairs long before his time. Someone next door would make the Sign of the Cross. Someone creative would add ghosts and screams and ceilings dripping with blood, write the script, shoot the movie, and take her story to Hollywood.
Again, she became the show before an audience of many, and who witnessed a mere representation of what was quite a simple tale.