Landon had always been close to his uncle the cardinal, and he confided in the man, long after Bradley had been liberated, and long after Landon had chosen a career in languages inspired by his Uncle Jorge. The man stood by them for years, as Bradley recovered, as the boys wrote to him about their adventures at school, as their uncle sometimes consulted with them on the exorcism cases he was handling, and as the young men became orphans just as their careers began.
Their parents died in a car crash in London: the boys were off documenting the aftermath of a deadly hurricane in the US for the EU central government, the rest of the world was calculating its next steps as a flood of storms hit land and killed thousands in quick succession, and the church was reexamining cases of priests and bishops who had erred on so many different sides of morality. Their uncle flew in from Argentina to help them with the funeral arrangements, to comfort the boys.
In that same month, the boys saw beyond their grief, and even beyond their careers. They saw their past, a world burbling with chaos, a sea of humanity boiling over with anger and desperation.
“Anger is a gateway,” their uncle said one afternoon, weeks after the boys had laid their parents to rest, “That gateway is open wide today, and has been so for decades.”
There was always a pause whenever their uncle spoke about his tasks. He would shift between heavily accented English and the lilting, laughing Spanish of the Buenos Aires streets. That same song, so deeply embedded in the sentences he once seemed to sing, now mellowed beneath the gold of the coming sunset.
“There are more cases on the rise,” his dismay was almost icy, “We cannot simply sit and wait for someone to fund our proposal.”
Landon asked about the research constantly, in those months following his parents’ funeral. Bradley, with his own experience, sensed that these cases were much like his, if not worse. Like his brother, the boy could not contain his curiosity.
“What does the Vatican say?” they would often inquire.
When their uncle first answered the question, he was at their house, washing pots and pans after he had finished making them breakfast. He continued his response as the boys and he went out for a walk in Hyde Park, down avenues of trees bright green with summer and sparkling with dew. He did not stop speaking even when they had seated themselves at lunch, with baskets of fish and chips, with the boys eating slowly as they listened to their uncle talk about the work he had done in the last few decades, how that work could not bear fruit amongst the many ills of the church, and how that work continued to grow as those same ills came to light.
That church lived in a world that gradually reveled in the velvet darkness of temptation and the defeat of the noble soul – their uncle called it an illumination by shadows.
When the dusk came too harshly, when there were shouts in the streets for justice for this or that boy slain in the back alleys of London, when there was too much anger riding on the waves of beer and ale in the pubs, when there was news of somewhere, someplace on earth that drew out a disbelieving laugh from the most serious of people – when the world grew heavier, their uncle would call it an illumination by darkness.
“We think it guides us,” he would wrap up his fish and chips carefully, and seal the drink he had barely even sipped from, “We think it enlightens us, but it is pure darkness. It is anger. It is neither righteous nor wise, nor seeking understanding. It simply divides and revels in the division.”
Their uncle would sit in silence, as the boys finished their meal, as the world went on its merry way outside. Sometimes there would be laughter from the side streets, or the sound of a child screeching for its mother, or the drone of a motorbike as it navigated the London alleys with sharp angles and turns. And then, their uncle’s voice would break through the low clamor.
“The only way you can drive this out is by light,” his hands rested on the wrapped-up pieces of fish and chips, as though protecting them, “But what happens when that light is so feeble? When those that try to keep the light are laughed at and ignored?”
“I don’t want to crush a good proposal, uncle,” Landon cut in, one afternoon, after almost identical conversations marked the boys’ evenings, “But the course does sound expensive. The Vatican might feel forced to pay for everything, and to keep on paying, if the lessons, as you said, are too complicated to be taught in just a month.”
“I know, young man,” the priest replied, sighing, “The Vatican has enough problems trying to figure out who has paid what to whom. The last I heard, they were not willing to pay money to go to war with invisible enemies that were figures of speech and most likely products of the imagination of people who over-interpreted biblical texts.”
“Well that’s taking it too far,” Landon muttered, following his uncle’s example and wrapping up his own dinner in its parchment.
Their Uncle Jorge had never lost his sense of humor, despite the gravitas his tone took that early evening, “They have money, but they have bills to pay. Surely you cannot imagine the whole of the Vatican run by steam and firewood.”
Landon opened his mouth, drew his breath, almost made an interruption on what he thought the Vatican was truly running.
“And yes, there are cases – and there are many,” his uncle cut him off, sentences overtaken by Spanish words once again, “The Vatican pays its lawyers – I hope it is to see that justice is done, and that priests are not simply sent off elsewhere to spread more evil.”
The boys would be quiet when these moments came, when their brief dinners were suddenly peppered with long conversations and bouts of pregnant silence. The boys were still finding their bearings without their parents, but their uncle did stand in quite well as a guide, on those evenings in London, for that first month without their gentle father and quiet mother, in those four weeks that their uncle would take them out, talk to them, tell them stories.
At the end of their dinner, they would always stand up, make for their apartment, walk slowly as the evening drank its way to life around them. In the beginning, the boys would stand to the side and watch their uncle Jorge give the leftovers of his dinner to a beggar on a street corner. The giving took a good quarter of an hour, as their uncle would chat up the man in his broken English (or in complete, singing Spanish, if the beggar happened to be an unfortunate immigrant), and convince the beggar to return to his family, or seek help from a professional institution, or find a job in one of the nearby pubs.
The boys never knew if the beggars with whom their uncle spoke ever followed the man’s advice, but they never saw the beggars again, save one who once stopped them in Covent Garden and thanked their uncle for his wisdom. He was wearing a dishwasher’s uniform, and was a hundred degrees cleaner and happier than when they saw him last.
One night, Landon followed his uncle’s example, and gave his own dinner away.
And on that same night, despite all their efforts at covering the noise with questions and conversation, their uncle’s phone would not stop ringing.
The boys knew it was his Argentinian diocese calling. The diocese called at the same time every day, on their uncle’s bidding, to report about the parishes, the communities, the priests who often had all the heart but less systematic approaches to their tasks. The boys had heard the conversations so often, they already knew which priest had which problems in which part of the Buenos Aires slums.
The calls, however, would stop after several rings, as the owner knew that their Uncle Jorge was tending to more pressing matters. This evening, the ringing was incessant, almost annoying. The beggar even stared at Uncle Jorge’s pants pocket, as though he, too, knew that the call had gone from simple updating to outright urgency.
They had not heard the news yet, but the single phone call had been enough to send their uncle packing to return to Argentina, and then on to Rome.
It was the day that Pope John Paul II had died.
Everything afterward was a whirlwind of work. Their uncle had helped elect the new Pope, a man who had long been his friend, and who knew of the work that Jorge did in assembling a new course on exorcism. Jorge returned to Argentina right after the elections, there to continue his work as cardinal of Buenos Aires; he did, however, stop in London once again to introduce his nephews to his best friend, the American priest.
Fr. Anthony was an exorcist with decades of experience, with enough smiles to light the world, but enough nightmares to last several lifetimes. Fr. Anthony and Uncle Jorge had been working on the exorcism course together for decades, and had grown to be the best of friends in the process. After all the years of pitching the course and refining it, after hours spent brainstorming on its content, the Vatican finally decided that it was ready for implementation.
The whirlwind of Uncle Jorge’s life, and by some transference, the boys’, turned into a storm of work. Hundreds of priests flocked to the Vatican, to enroll in the month-long course, to practice what they learned in an Italian town for another month, and then to share their experiences and insights for another month as they served as mentors to another batch of priests. The course was as demanding as it was in demand; the waiting list swelled to the tens of thousands as the course was opened to all religious in hundreds of languages.
What the course taught the Vatican, however, was that it was almost too late in coming. The same thousands of priests did not come as blank slates: they had already experienced the unnameable darkness, they had their own stories, they had already struggled with the unseen forces that cast their own light by shadow. The influx of priests showed how woefully backward the course was, and how there were new cases that no longer fit the old patterns so readily identifiable in decades past.
“I think the devil is doing his own research and teaching his own course,” Fr. Anthony once joked over dinner with the boys and Jorge, the latter of whom promptly asked the Sheffield brothers to help him gather feedback whenever they had spare time, so that he could modify the course and update it. The boys dropped everything and took to the task.
The task, if it could be defined in the ways of the world, was not simply about handing out survey forms and analyzing the responses; it soon meant traveling the world with Fr. Anthony, following up with the priests, listening to their stories, even recording a few sessions.
The course was fully booked for the next decade, and it was still being modified every year based on the accounts which the old priest and the boys collected. They joined Fr. Anthony in a trip through Europe, where superstition and cults battled daily with Christianity. There were conference calls with teams in South America, where the demons took on forms to which Landon’s multilingual education could strangely give no name. There were documents from Africa, where the memories of violence and war dragged the blackness in their wake. And, in a few years, there was a long journey across the United States, where people loved to be alone, to purportedly find themselves, only to discover that there were shadows waiting to devour them.
The boys had been ready to move on, but the Vatican kept them in the U.S., where the cases kept piling up; or, more precisely, as in the case of the girl from Boston, where the cases were suddenly emerging, like termites crawling out of a slowly burning house.
There was one last destination: the Philippines, the last bastion of Catholicism in the Far East, and where the cases had long been on the rise. Fr. Anthony called it the best place for an internship for anyone wanting to take a PhD in Possession Studies.
“Why not Italy, though?” Bradley once asked, “It’s just as superstitious, just as dark. Why not a place God calls home?”
The conversation had taken a turn for debate as the boys traveled across the border between Washington, D.C. and Maryland, months before they arrived in Boston and found themselves face to face with the demon of secrets.
Fr. Anthony was in the front passenger seat then, with his blue eyes on the road, and his gaze sometimes wandering to the billboards that dotted the highway. The presidential elections were coming, on the heels of mudslinging and anger, much the same as any other year – this time, however, there was an indefinable something hanging in the air, swelling with anger, resentment, entitlement, if Fr. Anthony were to be asked.
There was entitlement to one’s home, one’s country, one’s borders, with resentment bordering on hatred. The boys once remarked how the toxicity seemed to pour out of crowds, into streets, deep into the nation’s temper.
Fr. Anthony would simply nod, shrug, or, on that afternoon on the highway, sigh.
“Nobody knows why,” Fr. Anthony spoke, in the same voice that the boys remembered on the phone, when their uncle had entrusted them to the old priest, “There are many places on earth that God calls home. The enemy always comes to homes most loved. Perhaps that is why.”
The boys had been in the back seat then, with their laptops and notebooks, cameras and monitors in tow. They sat in a sea of technology, listening to tales of nightmares and darkness, and yet there was no irony or opposition, only truth in Fr. Anthony’s tale.
The car was silent for a while, as the campaign posters kept coming, grew increasingly vile, with vitriol that seemed to spit farther out, with venom written in the most simple lines.
Your leaders don’t care for you, but I do.
Your government is inept when it’s run by a party that doesn’t know how to lead, but I come from a family of leaders, so I know what to do.
Your lives are wasted in a country overtaken by terrorists and immigrants.
Bradley felt as though he were being held under water. He opened his window, bringing in the scent of leaves and rain, along with a biting wind into the car.
“Of course, you know that Fr. Matteo is from there and goes home regularly,” Fr. Anthony resumed his tale, eyes now on the countryside, as the billboards gave way to farmlands, “I have another friend there, just like your uncle – a cardinal, ministering to a flock that prays one day and collects talismans the next. It is a crowd that is happy but angry, beneath it all. Their elections are coming up, too. But I heard that the Philippines is just like this. Angry. Raging. Resentful.”
Bradley closed his eyes, let the wind wash over him, as though to push the imaginary ocean away from his face.
“Imagine a place of happiness, smiles – boiling over,” Fr. Anthony’s voice trailed away, and then rose again, in relief, “Aloysio! There it is – that’s his name. I nearly forgot it. But of course – named after Aloysius Gonzaga, a Jesuit saint.”
Bradley had looked over at his brother then, and found the boy listening to Fr. Anthony while trying to get a signal on his phone. He was about to look up the life of Gonzaga, Bradley knew, but there would be no internet, no signal out in the country.
“We Jesuits have always been the principal exorcists there,” Fr. Anthony’s voice had risen once again, above the hum of the car’s engine and the whistle of the country air, “But the Filipino Jesuits – they’ve been the principal exorcists for centuries. They have libraries filled with transcripts and statistics about exorcism in the Philippines, even some in the region, back when they had to minister to all the other countries. They have records going back decades. Some of them have been digitized, as you young ones call it; but no one wants to study them. No one is willing to take on the task. No one is willing to read through them and analyze them.”
“Woah,” Landon had interjected, half amazed, half inquiring, “Imagine that. A library of stories we could read.”
Bradley knew that the boy was itching to get his hands on the transcripts, and knew the depth of his brother’s thirst for the years and years of knowledge stowed away. He knew how his brother wanted to try his hand at analyzing, even if Landon tended to be shorter on his temper whenever research was concerned. There was always a spark of wonder in Landon, Bradley knew; but it tended to burn bright and fast, so that the boy left off his work sooner than anyone expected.
Analysis of transcripts, let alone transcripts of exorcism, were nowhere in Bradley’s realm of interests. He would willingly record, listen, sense; but to put structure on the task – on a task, by the way, written into memory by detail-oriented Jesuit priests – was something he found limiting, especially when he knew the reality that lived beneath the session. There were unnamed hours in between waking and dying, a sea that threatened to choke him, a Limbo where thousands of voices spoke, where no one had any control.
He understood however, in that very moment, the value of the Philippine trip, if it would ever come: there were records that could push the course forward, and a chance for research in a country where the cases were still ongoing.
It was the last frontier for the team – and it would forever tantalize them, as the news broke of the current Pope’s resignation.