Bradley had been no more than ten years old then. He was simply a little boy on vacation with his parents, brother, and uncle in Argentina.
His father was captain of one of the luxury cruise liners that plied their way between London and Buenos Aires. His mother was a former singer on one of those ships who had caught the eye of the quiet captain, married him, and bore him two boys. They were hardly ever together as a family; but come vacation, the boys would speed their way out of the schoolroom and travel the world with their parents.
Bradley was as carefree as any child could be within the limits of his own awareness of his place. He would run through the ship’s lower decks with his brother, but walk like a young gentleman when he was amongst guests. He would run his own races in the streets of Rio de Janeiro or Kingston or Miami, but sit still and eat his dinner like a young lord when his father and mother brought him and his brother along to the lavish parties of the city’s elite. He would be quiet and listen at mass, hands folded, back straight, especially when his uncle was officiating, but he threw caution to the winds when he played at that Buenos Aires park on that spring afternoon.
There was little he remembered of the circumstances that led to the experience, or of the people that allowed it to happen. He would, on occasion, catch glimpses of a slavering hound, its fur singed by a mange that spread black heat over its body; or an old woman, with wings of bone and leather hidden beneath her linen gown, her hair a bright silver that peeked beneath a careworn cap; and a spirit of ice that froze his insides, gripped his joints, kept him in place, as though he had been chosen since the beginning of time.
What Bradley remembered, and with vividness, were the waking dreams. He could not describe them then, and hence could remember events, scenes, flashes, rather than words, conversations, emotions. He only knew that something else was in control, and that something else had edged him out in a battle he never even remembered fighting. It made him say unspeakable things to his mother, made him growl at his father or lunge at his brother from across the dinner table after the latter had more than a generous helping of that evening’s steak.
Oh, but what had truly incensed the spirit was his uncle, who was already the bishop of Buenos Aires, and who seemed to know how to best awaken the anger that seethed and frothed in Bradley. It took but the Sign of the Cross, the holding of a consecrated host, and even a prayer that his uncle had not even said out loud. And then there would be rage creeping in his insides, and his veins would press upwards against his skin, and his nerves would fire all at the same time and he would see both the ceiling and the floor at once, and then his spirit would let go of a rope it did not even remember holding, and then a toy ship was tossing alone on a roiling, boiling sea – and there was Bradley, all alone.
And there was Bradley, in a whole other universe, in a world between sleep and death.
Sometimes he could hear his parents weeping, or his brother screaming, or his doctor saying that nothing was wrong and they could find nothing amiss. And then Bradley would call out to the heavens in his world of storms and waves, and he would call out to all, call out to no one.
“I’m here! Let me out!”
There was little else he knew how to say, for some reason. Bradley did well at school, and often got into trouble for talking too much; but now, he could say so little, save the five words. He spent time in that prison of water, not knowing whether he had been in there for mere hours or centuries. Time had lost meaning when all he wanted to do was –
He did not remember wanting to do anything, and not until he heard several voices crying out at once.
“You have to fight, Bradley,” was the clearest of them. He recognized it as his uncle’s, from the singsong tone of the man’s Spanish, and from the comfort it brought in that dark, starless sea.
To scream, he knew; but to fight, he knew not how. He thought he needed to call in the other ships that he had passed on the way. He felt small beneath some of them, as their metal hulls screeched past his toy boat; and he felt that some of them had been abandoned, tossed forever in the waters, waiting for a harbor –
And that was how he finally knew. He had to fight before sailing out, for to sail alone meant death if his boat had been fashioned for mere display. He had to find his safe harbor, dock his little peep of a boat, and remake it with the help of God Made Man and His Mother, through his guardian angel. And he had to want to do it, no matter how the stormy sea sometimes gave him comfort, no matter how he wanted to be away as master of his own tiny boat.
And so Bradley docked and rebuilt, with steel that arose from nowhere, rivets brought into existence by the words of his angel, and glass that seemed to spring forth naturally whenever he chanced to build a window. Deck upon deck came to life, in those hours or days or months he spent at that harbor, somewhere between the world of the living and the land of the dead.
Around him lurked monsters and beasts, and in his head rang their invitations for him to rest, to give up the fight, to live in total surrender because no single ship was worth all his toil and effort. He learned to shut out their voices; his guardian angel grew ever more aggressive and began raising fists against their foes. Fights would break out often, and the almost endless night would thrum and clang with the voices of the damned; but Bradley kept on.
And one day, there the ship was, glorious and standing against the cries of souls and beasts, fashioned through prayers from above and within, and built by the tiny hands of Bradley’s soul. There it stood, slicing into the darkness of sky and sea to exhale a morning that splashed its glory onto the waters.
His spirit no longer fled or weakened; it recognized the heat and silver blood of a celestial battle.
His ship met a small armada of boats fashioned from masts of skin and decks of bone. He felt alone, for a flicker of a moment or for an eternity, he knew not. But he knew that the battle had to take place, for to delay it would be to push him deeper into the seas, far away from the soothing voice of his uncle, the safe harbor where the Son of Man and His Mother waited, the angel that now stood beside him and urged him forward. To delay would be a willing surrender, and forward he plunged.
It was here that his memories faltered. On some days, he remembered ships crying out in a blast of bone and metal shards. On other days, he remembered sitting with his uncle, confessing his sins, or attending mass despite the invisible rope that gripped him by the neck and attempted to throw him bodily from the church. And on the rarest of days, the sea and the church became one, as he fought the bloodied ships with a growing host of angels and floated in the bridges between worlds.
The battle raged for both centuries and endless hours.
There was a single ship in that armada, he remembered, that looked as though it had been fashioned entirely from linen and nails. It overflowed with spite and hatred and empty rebellion. It drew out the evening, slashed across brightness, illuminated everything with dark metallic light. Bradley knew he had to destroy it, for it was the center of the army, its core of energy, its master and commander.
Every time he tried to sail toward it, the other ships would come forward, block his path, and send forth a black cloud of glass and dust. And each time, Bradley would despair, but only for a moment.
From everywhere around him, he would hear voices, shouts, his uncle demanding that one of the screaming, screeching beings give its name, the black smoke calling back mockery and ravenous rage in languages Bradley could not understand. Against them ran a rain of chants and prayers, which sometimes drew back the darkness and brought forth its own fingers of sharp, soothing light.
Then he would no longer despair, the young captain Bradley, and he would fight on.
And one day, after breaths of battle or centuries of war, Bradley came up against the ship of nails. He could feel nothing but the anger stitched into its hull, see nothing but metallic darkness bleeding from its decaying innards. He felt his angel envelope him in its massive wings, heard voices thundering in command from the heavens, and sensed a single whisper that seemed to echo an order from a Creator who had never left Bradley’s side.
“In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, I demand that you tell me your name!”
The ship cried out in pain, and through the darkness pierced points of light. The anguish was indistinguishable from the screams of the waves dashing against the ships, but Bradley could hear a clear, ringing name that he would never ever speak aloud. The mere name would call the demon back and reopen the doors. It would bring forth the battle once again, and the stormy sea, and the armada of darkness that swallowed the world of eternal time.
Bradley knew that this was its weakest point, and thereupon dashed his ship against the nails. He knew not how many times he fought on that watery battlefield, or what his prayers were as his ship rammed against an enemy built with fear and lies. He only knew that he wanted it all to end.
When he next breathed, he was in his room, in his mother’s arms, and vomiting black nails that disappeared into dark dust the moment they hit the floor.
He had been possessed for two weeks, his uncle said, by a minor demon that had been sent to him as part of a curse. He had met someone who wanted him damned, but who had not counted on the strength of the boy’s faith. The demon itself had its own army of followers, but they were weak in the face of prayers, fleeing at the merest mention of the names of the Saints. Bradley had been strong and had fought bravely, and the expulsion appeared complete.
The episode, for all its quiet desperation, had never been forgotten. The entire family returned to church: Bradley’s father resigned, choosing a desk job on land instead so that he could be with the boys; Bradley’s mother grew ever closer to her sons, and spent more time mending the cracks in her relationship with her husband, which the exorcism had uncovered; and the two boys grew up knowing that the battle had just begun.
There would be more attacks, each fiercer, more determined than the one before; there would be more demons, each more vainglorious than its predecessor, each wanting to break down the walls the family had built.
Their uncle never left them, whether physically or spiritually: even when the man waged his own understated uprising against Argentina’s military regime, even when he was given the title of cardinal later on. Even when he ministered to whole of Buenos Aires, he never stopped talking to the boys.
There was, perhaps, a wish for at least one of the brothers to join the priesthood, but it appeared that they had other plans which, though contrary to hopes, did not deviate too greatly from expectations. Bradley studied film and society at university; Landon, for his part, chose psychology, then sociology, before settling on Latin languages, which he truly loved, he said, after hearing his uncle hold the Mass in Latin. Bradley worked with London film studios that specialized in documentaries on the supernatural, and Landon worked with the European Union office to write and translate speeches.
Their jobs eventually became part-time ventures, however, when they both realized that their childhood had reached out to into their careers in ways they had never imagined.