Chapter 1

The tale went something like this.

Once upon a time, a human being did something. Like all human beings, this one, a woman, had a life and a soul. And she was naturally curious. Curiosity makes scientists of us all.

But when the wrong doors are opened wide, it is not always knowledge that flows through.

She opened a gateway. And things changed.

She had unnatural strength. She sometimes did not recognize her own family and friends. When she spoke, a thousand voices seemed to expel filth and anger in unison. When she did not speak, she growled. In the presence of a priest, she thrashed. Under the guidance of a psychiatrist, she appeared normal. All was well, until she came into contact with Holy Water, or a blessed object, or even the Bible. Then she would laugh from the very depths of the earth and mimic whoever was reading the Gospel.

That woman on the bed today would be dealt with in the manner that the Vatican ordained. After hundreds of years of assuming that she was under the control of the Devil, the church recognized that she could have a pathological disorder, and had to rule it out before proceeding forward.

After hundreds of years spent assuming that the demon could be expelled by force, the church recognized the gentle word of God and its power to drive out evil without resorting to blood or starvation. After hundreds of years spent watching the demons in the darkness, the church brought in light. It took hundreds of years; today, the woman on the bed would be surrounded by more than a mere man.

There would be a priest, and his assistants, all of them armed with their faith and the blessing of the bishop. There would be a psychiatrist overseeing the proceedings. There would even be a medical doctor, who would ensure that the sessions went forward safely. There would be more assistants praying, watching the process, and noting what was going on while everyone grew exhausted, and while the energy in the room was pulled out by a force no one could ever hope (or dare) to measure.

And in recent years, there were people recording and documenting the event. They were not there to sell the recordings to Hollywood, nor were they there to write a story that would keep young readers up for nights on end.

They were there, on orders, for the most extreme cases. Armed with recording devices and machines that could pick up heat signatures and computers that could pull it all into a database – they were there. They were there on orders from the Vatican itself.

There were small cases that dragged on for years, and big cases that took mere hours to resolve. But the extreme cases were the ones that had to be recorded, and watched, and monitored, and transcribed.

Those cases began with something small: a spell cast by someone close to the victim or the victim themselves, or an encounter with the supernatural that opened doors without the victim’s knowledge, or a willing opening of spiritual doors that led evil in. And then human curiosity turned into human suffering; but there was a mystery to the suffering, and it had to be documented.

There had long been guidelines on how to recognize the takeover – a true takeover, without misinterpreting what would be a genuine mental disorder, hence the psychiatrist; or a genuine bodily disorder, hence the doctor. But for some reason, and in recent years, there were changes in how the woman on the bed behaved.

Her voice would change; or sometimes, it remained normal. Her body would change; or sometimes, it remained the same. Her knowledge of languages would be great; sometimes, she simply whimpered like a lost baby. There were changes in what were ruled to be genuine cases. But they were all extreme – and in recording them, perhaps a new generation of scientists could formulate new guidelines for the next generation of exorcists to work with.

Because there were too many cases, now. Old, young, male, female, rich, poor, Christian, not. Too many cases judged to be extreme, genuine, and requiring help. Too many cases that seemed to be born of the world that swirled in chaos and rage around them.

And there were too few exorcists willing to wage battle.

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