It took a while for everyone to reassemble in the dining room. The priest-assistants had to finish clearing the girl’s bedroom, the doctor and psychiatrist had to check in with their offices, and Fr. Callahan had to pray in the garden. The father and mother were asking their daughter questions, ever so many questions that she finally broke through with her own inquiry about her brother.
And when her mother finally told her what had happened, the girl broke down in loud, shameless tears.
Bradley and Landon simply sat and reviewed their files, saving them in separate folders, and writing down where the files were. They never spoke to each other, not even when both of them were tempted to tell the head priest about the girl’s specter, not even when the father walked over to their side and told them that there would be coffee and a meeting in five minutes.
At that, they both stood up and made for the dinner table. They sat themselves opposite the father and mother, who had placed the girl between them. On one end of the table were the priests; on the other end, the doctor and psychiatrist. On the table were plates of cookies, but no one seemed ready to eat.
Fr. Callahan finally arrived and began the meeting with a review of what had happened that morning. He pointed to each person in the room in turn, starting with the psychiatrist, who said that the girl had no signs of a disorder; then the doctor, who corroborated the psychiatrist’s findings, adding that he had reset her jaw, and he had truly seen a large hole in her cheeks, but it had disappeared as they were called downstairs; then the priests, who added their own part in the story, from the prayers, to the cleanup, to how they had seen the cloth soaked with the girl’s blood, but were also amazed at how she seemed uninjured; and then at last to Bradley and Landon, who talked about the missing recordings but left out the girl’s sudden appearance and disappearance. Doing so, besides, would have required them to reveal what they had been talking about.
The review was routine, and no one fidgeted or asked anyone to talk faster. Even the girl was quiet; she simply cried into her mother’s shoulder, hiding her face in her hands.
“Thank you, everyone,” the head priest pronounced, taking a seat at the head of the table, next to the psychiatrist, “Before we pray, I need to talk about something that we discussed this afternoon.”
The father bowed his head to the table. The mother continued to hold her daughter. The daughter whimpered, collapsed onto her mother’s lap, and continued her sobbing there, out of sight of the rest of the table.
“This is important to the case,” the priest continued, trying not to appear distraught. His effort was visible in his forcible blinking, which succeeded only in creasing his cheeks further, “But it can be distressing – and it can be liberating as well to all the people involved.”
The father reached up to wipe a tear from his own eyes. The move did not go unnoticed: the girl stopped sobbing, gasped, and sat up.
“Daddy?” She asked him softly, “What’s going on?”
The father did not even turn to her. The girl paled, beneath her mother’s embrace, and under the gazes of the rest of the table.
The priest took a long, deep breath, “This is something that concerns you,” he spoke slowly, as though fighting to control the sobs that seemed to squeeze his throat, “I now need to ask your parents: would you like to tell her story, or would you rather that I tell it as I heard it from you?”
“What?” was the girl’s faint question, “What is he talking about?”
The mother wasted no more time. She gave the girl a quick kiss to the brow, took her daughter’s hand, and nodded at the priest, almost all too briskly.
“She needs to know,” and, with her energy suddenly shrinking, as though she realized that they were not alone, “Please, tell her. I don’t think I can talk anymore.”
The priest recognized the mother’s hesitation, and his next words were stronger, “Everyone needs to hear this because we need to know what to pray for. Our doctor needs to know what physical illness he will need to focus on in the coming years. Our psychiatrist needs to know the next steps in therapy. We all need to pray if we want this all to end soon,” and, with a quick sweep of his hand around the table, “What you are all about to hear will not and should not leave this room. Do you all understand me?”
The priests folded their hands before them. The doctor and psychiatrist nodded once, leaning forward. Landon and Bradley stole glances at each other, and watched the father closely. The man seemed to be praying, or muttering something to himself, his eyes still to his fingers, his hands closed into fists where they rested on the table.
Fr. Callahan made the Sign of the Cross, and then looked directly at the girl, “Your story begins long before you were born.”