Chapter 11

William, Bradley, Landon, and PJ finally returned to the Jesuit HQ an hour past midnight. Someone set the boxes down by the desks, and someone sorted out tapes into new boxes. Someone returned PJ’s things to the cabinet labelled “For Clergy”. Someone took a pot out of the fridge, set it on the stove, turned on the heat. Someone switched the rice cooker on and reheated rice. Someone set out plates, forks, and spoons, for five people.

And at last, half an hour later, the group sat down to their first proper meal since breakfast. With them was a silent, drawn, almost gray Fr. Anthony.

The exorcist had arrived at dusk, hours after PJ and William had discovered the rice god among figurines of angels and saints, long after the voice in the walls had claimed the house as its own.

There had been no more confession or outpouring from William then, as the house thundered with the disembodied screams of demons, and as the true tale of the beleaguered girl finally came to light.

Her father had told it all, to the doctor who helped his daughter; to a PJ forcibly holding down his frustration; to a William who was, for the first time that afternoon, the voice of both calm and reason; and to Bradley, who had taken on the task of documentation, and who was relatively quiet, though seemingly out of breath. Once or twice William looked at the boy, but received only a thumbs up in reply.

They had all seated themselves in the library, as the world outside rang and pealed with church bells and heavy footsteps. There were neighbors in the kitchen, throwing out the maggot-infested food. There were neighbors in the yard, praying the rosary. There were neighbors (and the girl’s mother) sitting with Landon, as he left the documentation system and helped serve snacks. Inside the girl’s bedroom were half a dozen priests, holding Mass, with voices lending a low drone to the house, so that the woodwork seemed to buzz with a battle of syllables and screeches.

Out back, in an unused corner of the garden, a pair of priests carried out an exorcism on the Bul-ol. They later reported that the statue got heavier and heavier as they walked farther and farther from the house. When the priests would not relent, it seemed to sprout thorns and fangs, so that the priest who carried it dropped the idol, and saw that his palms had been lacerated hundreds of times by fine, invisible whips. And finally, as they prayed the prayers and called on the saints, the ground beneath them shook, threatened to sink; the jungle beyond them rattled with roars and snarls, with the footfalls of what sounded like armies, the pitter patter of what sounded like cloven hooves.

The world fell silent as the two burned the image, and as they went on with the exorcism, despite the noise, despite the heat, even with one priest’s hand bleeding into his copy of the Roman Ritual.

And when it was over, the other priests told PJ later, they simply reentered the house and joined the rosary in the front garden.

Nowhere in Brownie’s documentation had William seen such community involvement in an exorcism. Exorcisms were highly private (shameful) affairs in Boston: no one knew that they had occurred; and if anyone knew, no one spoke up so openly, so cleanly of them. There was always some putridity associated with the rite.

Here, in the golden glow of a monsoon season afternoon, in the fog that fought against the sunlight, in the prayers and conversation that played back and forth against wood and cloth, young and wizened, old and new – the rite was simply another layer of words, another method of comfort, another ritual that everyone simply witnessed.

The story that had brought the exorcism forth unfolded from the father’s own lips that afternoon in the library. PJ had to assist and translate at some points, when the man’s command of English could no longer suffice.

It was PJ who had opened their session, first with a prayer; then, with the speech that William had read, over and over, in varying iterations, in Brownie’s case notes.

“You will all need to hear this story 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, and how he should treat Anna when she is finally delivered. We all need to pray if we want this all to end. What you are about to hear will not and should not leave this room. Do you all understand me?”

A chorus of nods came in reply.

Then, the story.

Anna had not been healthy, but she was a fighter. From birth she battled a premature entrance, with all its attendant coughs, colds, fevers, and fuss. It was expensive to maintain Anna, but the whole family loved her and did its best to keep her safe. The three brothers that had come before her all took turns in keeping house, just so their mother could watch over the frail babe: one brother cooked (and was now a sous-chef on an American cruise liner), another cleaned (and was now in charge of hotel rooms in an inn somewhere in Europe), and another did the laundry (and was now running a modest laundromat business in Hong Kong).

Anna’s eldest sister was a teacher in the capital then, and she sent money constantly to her family to help with the expenses. She went to a nearby church, with a name that William could not pronounce, but which PJ said was a basilica – and one whose reputation as a holy place had been tarnished somewhat by the shopkeepers and merchants that surrounded it.

“Religious images, amulets, potions, abortifacients,” PJ whispered to William later, so that the latter had to contain his shock, “You’ll find them in any of the stalls and shops right by the church.”

One such shop, the father had said, gave Anna’s eldest sister a rosary, prayer book, and holy oil. Anna’s sister took everything home, and, on the shopkeeper’s advice, placed the oil on the infant Anna’s forehead.

“We were desperate to help Anna because she wouldn’t stop crying,” the father’s smile had been wan, “We thought that a little holy oil wouldn’t hurt.”

Anna was cured almost immediately.

Her sister returned to the shopkeeper with the good news. Her baby sister, who had been born premature, had battled illnesses, had been in and out of clinics and hospitals – her baby sister was no longer sick!

The shopkeeper was overjoyed, the father had said; so overjoyed, in fact, that he handed Anna’s sister the very source of the holy oil, and for free.

The oil, the shopkeeper claimed, was ordinary cooking oil; but he kept it in a glass bottle in front of a Bul-ol, which he had found in a grotto somewhere in the mountains up north.

The family simply had to offer up a teaspoon of uncooked rice to the statue every week, and the Bul-ol would bless the oil.

“We thought it was very – clever,” Anna’s father had hesitated, and avoided meeting PJ’s eyes, “So we kept the Bul-ol here, and offered it rice, and sometimes even prayed to it – but we did that only when the other saints weren’t listening.”

Bradley had stopped writing, and PJ had swallowed what William assumed was a lump of protest.

“When you say the other saints weren’t listening,” William had spoken, as the room had fallen silent, “What do you mean?”

The (poor) old man had chuckled then, with a combination of what appeared to be both disbelief at the question, and fear of what he and his family had done.

“When we prayed, we always started with the rosary, and then a litany of the saints,” the father’s voice had sunk, as his once ready laugh disappeared, “But sometimes, Anna just wouldn’t stop crying, and she would have these fevers, and they were scary. My wife was 43 when she had Anna, so we were scared that we could lose her. We had to try everything.

“So we always went back to the Bul-ol. We called him Brother Peter.”

The name, pre-translation, was “Manong Pedro”; the nickname, PJ had said, was akin to welcoming the Bul-ol as a member of the family.

“We always prayed to him, and we always used his holy oil,” the father had gone on, eyes to Bradley’s notes, as though checking if his family had been painted in a good light, “When Anna had nightmares, we put the holy oil on her forehead, and the nightmares went away. Then when Anna was sick, we put the holy oil on her forehead, and the fever went away. Then when she was possessed, we put the holy oil on her -”

The father stopped. Both PJ and Bradley had uttered a chorus of gasps loud enough to make the father pale. It had taken a calm, “Please, tell us more,” from William to make the father continue.

What the gasps meant, however, had not been lost on Anna’s father. His voice sounded mousier, more fearful than when he had last spoken.

“We didn’t know,” there had been a hint of protest, a plea for understanding, “We thought that as long as Anna was getting better, then everything was just ok. We thought that maybe Manong Pedro was really a good spirit that had the power to bless oil, and that he was an angel using the statue as his – his channel?

“So we kept using his oil, and we also kept offering him rice – sometimes more rice, because maybe we did something that he didn’t like, and we didn’t want Anna to get sick again.”

The house had shaken at that very moment, as though reminding the group in the library who was the true master of the place. PJ later found out that it was at that exact moment that the statue was burning in the yard out back. The shaking had been a death knell, a final breath – but only for the Bul-ol’s spirit. It had simply been one among a host of demons invited into the house, asked to live as part of the family, nearly worshippd as saviors.

It was a common lure among demons, one that many in the human world dismissed as harmless: a single offering to a demi-god, a little belief in some superstition, an amulet, a curse spoken carelessly. And then that demi-god made a miracle happen, or the superstition came to fruition, or the amulet worked, or the curse did its grisly job. And then the offering became greater, the belief much stronger, the amulet more precious, the curses more evil.

Priests called it the sin against the Holy Spirit, or a sin against the First Commandment. Brownie had taken a more secular approach and called it the gateway: one tiny misstep on a mistaken miracle, and then the legions would come barging in, destroying everything good in their path.

On that afternoon, in the library, there was so much yet to be done, and so much damage to be undone.

“If I may ask,” William had spoken up, “But where is Anna’s sister?”

It was a question which, it seemed, no one had ever asked the father. Only William could see the change: eyes cast downward for a moment, curl of the lower lip, a smile that looked like it had been drawn upward by ropes pulling on the corners of the man’s mouth.

The ropes – the knots – something had awakened William’s memories. Agnes had said something weeks and weeks ago about the Virgin Mary, the Undoer of Knots. He had brushed it off as yet another name, given by yet another believer in a country that had a hundred names for the Mother of God.

“She’s still in Manila,” had come out all too quickly from the father; and then, in an addition too hasty for William’s tastes, “She really couldn’t come this weekend. She’s very busy. She’s very tired from doing her things – you know – her job.”

William had simply looked the man in the eye, but did not respond. Perhaps if one were to call on the Virgin to undo what seemed to be an army of knots in the poor man’s mind –

“And she has so many things to do,” the father had gone on, tone sharp, accent flitting and flapping, “But we talk to her when we all can, whenever we’re all free.”

And still, William had not spoken. At that point, even Bradley had stopped taking notes, and PJ’s eyes had narrowed, as though he had finally realized what William was doing. He had not heard, of course, the prayer that William had spoken in his head.

“She’s quite – busy,” the father had finally slowed down, taken a deep breath, and looked William squarely in the eye, “She’s very busy with work, and she really has no time for – for us.”

At that point, the father had signaled that PJ should translate his words.

“She doesn’t want to talk to us. She said that we didn’t take care of Anna well. I heard from a friend that she moved to another part of the city and she doesn’t like talking to anyone. She also stopped teaching. Someone said that she works from home, drawing art for a website. But – I don’t know where she is.”

Something cold had crept along William’s spine, a memory of something that Brownie had once written on the margins of his notes when William had first begun his postdoc. It had made some amount of abstract sense when his old adviser had explained it to him, but it made perfect sense in that very moment, as William had framed the final question.

“What about your sons?”

The father had not even bothered to force a smile out, “They send us money all the time. They’re good kids,” and, with a loud swallow, “We sometimes talk, but – you know – sometimes it takes months. They always send money, though. Good children, you know.”

Divide and conquer. Families are favorites.

William had taken longer than his usual pause to digest the father’s words, and reconcile them with the words from Brownie’s notes.

“I now need to talk to you and your wife,” William had said, forcibly tempering the tired edges from his voice, “We will need to document your interview, but we will not record it. Will that be all right with you?”

It was Brownie’s script, and William never knew, never dreamed of the day that he would speak them himself.

And so passed that afternoon for Anna’s parents: first, in counseling with William, then in a closed door confession with PJ.

At sunset, Fr. Anthony came. The old priest embraced PJ, and blessed the boy like a grandfather; but he could not leave off grumbling, as his car had broken down six times on the way to Lipa. The meaning of the number had not been lost on William.

There had been very few greetings between the exorcist and the rest of the team. The house had shaken yet another time when he stepped in, and the same voice in the walls had spoken in acrid Spanish, which Anna’s mother translated as, “Go away, White Man.”

Another mass had begun almost to the moment that the voice had hissed out its last syllables. And then the exorcism had followed, fully recorded, with half a dozen priests and Anna’s parents accompanying Fr. Anthony in the girl’s room.

William had heard Fr. Anthony’s voice all the way in the garden, had marked how crisp and stern the Latin words were as they banged against the evening air. Even the readings, spoken in English by one priest, then in Filipino by another, seemed to lose their gentle narration of some Bible story when the old exorcist began to read the sentences out in Latin. There had been an order for the spirits to leave, seemingly woven into the language, seemingly built into every amen.

None of the neighbors had left, despite the incessant quakes, the choruses of cries and howls that crept through the woodwork, the needles of piercing cold that slashed through the warm, humid night. Some neighbors had remained outside, praying. Others had succeeded in finally cleaning up the maggot-ridden kitchen. Yet others had freed the family’s altar from beneath the rubble. A neighbor had even repaired the collapsed roof and ceiling, sealing the hole with patches of tarpaulin and duct tape.

William had watched it all from his post outside the house, by the gate, where he had wandered as soon as the priests had disappeared into Anna’s room.

It was a community, a large, extended family, perhaps a gift of care by people who had seen the situation for what it was: parents who chose to interpret their children’s fleeing as compassion, their indifferent donations of money as charity, their absence as the duty of an obedient brood. And the parents – they were desperate, and they had always been desperate, and dangerously so.

The father had clasped William’s hand that afternoon, shortly before Fr. Anthony had arrived.

“You are a good man,” he had said, low, almost on the verge of tears, “You are a good listener – and you made me say things and realize things. Thank you.”

It was frightening to be told something so candidly, but William had held himself successfully, and had not drawn back at the man’s earnestness. He had indeed been told so, by students in Pennsylvania, at Boston College, even at his new university. But this was the first time, William knew, that he had been spoken to so gently and gratefully by a father whose daughter lay suffering and possessed in the next room.

William had pondered many thoughts, in silence, beneath the whispered prayers of the neighbors in the garden, through the muffled cries in Anna’s bedroom as the exorcism proceeded with next to no pauses.

He had simply leaned against a post, as far away from the house as he could be without losing sight of the people he knew. He could not walk alone, much less remain alone at the Jesuit HQ, not with the memories still burning in his head.

Anna’s dark eyes, from which peered out both human and creature, alternating.

The dark statue of an ancestral god, sitting among figurines of angels and saints.

The wrinkled hands of a father, a mother’s deadened gaze, their words of both defense and contrition ringing out much earlier than the confession to come.

His own hands – William’s – dried with the salt of his tears.

A garden path one rainy night, leading to a house whose porch was soaked in flesh and blood. Cats and dogs cackling. Red and blue lights dancing.

A girl asking him about her thesis, rejecting him as they sat down to an expensive dinner, naked in his bed, walking into their graduate office for the first time.

A girl who led him on. He had tried to push the nagging thought to the back of his head, had tried to force forward the story of a fling and a non-existent romance and disappointment because she just wasn’t interested. But there it was, in full light, to be met with courage. She had led him on, betrayed him, played with him. And perhaps her murder had made her a saint in his eyes.

Lira. The girl he had pined for, for years, whom he had called a guardian angel. Well, perhaps she was.

And then a firm hand on his shoulder, interrupting the flow of the narrative.

“We need to rest,” had come gently, solid through the sounds of neighbors leaving and mumbling amongst themselves.

William had looked up and found a drawn, almost pale PJ.

The young priest had not participated in the session. He had remained outside with Bradley and Landon, as the boys recorded and documented the goings on. William guessed that Fr. Anthony had given the boy some breathing space, some time to regain his bearings after serving as reluctant exorcist and father confessor but hours before.

“We need to go back,” PJ had spoken once again, as the last of the neighbors left, “They’ll call us when Anna is ready.”

William had almost asked when the next session would be, but he held himself back. There was no telling how long any session could take, how frequent the sessions were, when the victim needed a priest or when a counselor had to be called in. It seemed so presumptuous to even ask, as though he were inviting himself to be the case psychiatrist.

“Are you joining them?” William had to speak up before the cold air could get to his throat, “At the next session, I mean.”

PJ had shrugged. Even the movement had seemed leaden, weighed down with worry. “This is an advanced case, and I haven’t trained enough,” and, as Dr. Santos had rushed out of the house and through the gates, “Anna’s the bigger problem now. She needs to go to the hospital.”

William had felt his jaw drop.

“She dislocated her shoulder – but Dr. Santos put it back,” PJ had replied almost immediately, “She needs some x-rays just so we’re sure that she’s ok.”

Hospital confinement was near inevitable for the advanced cases. Brownie often had to report to a special wing of Massachusetts General, had to enter through an unmarked door from a parking garage, had to greet air sharpened by groans and screeches the minute he walked down the secret hallways. William had never accompanied his boss on those trips – Brownie insisted that he take them alone, because some of the victims already trusted him, and their demons could play with newcomers. But Brownie had always come back with stories, of the girl whose spine had nearly broken in half, of the pregnant woman who had to be sedated and fed intravenously because she was trying to kill her own child, of the grandfather who had to be chained to his bed because he had broken his hip half a dozen times in the span of a decade, all because he could throw himself down any flight of stairs.

The priests here probably had their own hospital, where the doctors expected patients who would speak in various voices, in languages no one could understand; where patients could come in at any time of the night, and have the strength of six grown men; where the patients could appear as any manner of beast, whether an ancient snake with iridescent scales, or a hissing rat suddenly bristling with thick fur.

William had caught only a glimpse of Anna as a van came to pick her up.

She had none of the marks of a creature unhinged. She had simply lain asleep, skin gray, hair glistening with sweat, one shoulder swollen and bruised into a deep black.

And then she had disappeared into the van, with both her parents and a bevy of priests, in a flurry of motion and prayer, into a dusty evening of mumbles and mutterings.

There had been a bare, tingling silence as the van drove away. There had been only a monsoon evening, with the low hum of insects in the trees, a deep thrum of beating wings in the jungles of Lipa. No one had announced any instructions. There had simply been a procession back to the Jesuit HQ, consisting of two priests who walked with deliberate steps, two brothers who stared ahead in a unified daze of exhaustion, and, bringing up the rear, a psychiatrist torn between memories and the frightening present.

The silence had lingered all the way through to the dinner table, as the group sat to its over-delayed meal. Even PJ’s low prayer seemed too soft to be of any consequence. The only breaks to the quiet of the overdrawn men were the clattering of utensils against plates, the rapid chewing of people who never realized how hungry they truly were, and finally, the deep voice of Fr. Anthony.

“This is very good,” he stood up, about to get himself another helping of rice and caldereta – a dark beef stew with carrots and potatoes – when PJ offered to do it for him, “Who cooked this?”

Landon raised his hand, as Bradley pointed at him with a fork. Both the brothers were busy chewing through large mouthfuls of their food.

“Very good, then!” Fr. Anthony smiled briskly as PJ set a full plate before him, “Glad to see more meat on your bones, boys. I’m sure your gift for cooking helped, Landon.”

“Newly discovered,” Landon smiled softly, “Everyone has been very helpful here.”

“They’re a good community,” Fr. Anthony returned the boy’s smile, albeit with some temperance, “Helpful to a fault, but good-hearted. I’m glad they took away that famished look you both had, last we met.”

“He just called you Chubbs,” came out of Bradley, directed oh-so-carelessly at his brother.

“That was for you,” Landon retorted, oh-so-guilelessly.

Fr. Anthony knew the joke, it appeared, and he began to chuckle. It was born as a giggle, then gurgled in his belly, swirled deep in his throat, and finally escaped as a loud, resounding holler that the brothers matched only with their own brand of laughter.

It was a sight to see, at least for William, who could only watch from the sidelines as two different episodes in his life came and met at the dinner table: an old priest with the last of his white hairs hanging on to the margins of his scalp, throwing his head back, laughing as he chewed his late dinner, with joy so bright it made his blue eyes disappear into slits; and two brothers, so tough and urgent and orchestrated in their movements, now gleeful and bantering once again.

It was a reunion, of a priest and his assistants, who had been through perhaps even more brutal exorcisms in their years on the road, across the U.S. They were seemingly used to the sessions, and could wade through the emotions of battle without losing their minds, the way that William had that afternoon. Even PJ, who had presumably been acquainted with everyone else only in the last few weeks, seemed to fit in so well in the jokes and exchanges, seemed to have the power, as well, to go through spiritual warfare without floating away helpless into his memories.

And William – he seemed to be in the thick of things, but on the fringes as well. Useless and useful all at once. Participant and fly on the wall. Breathing the dust and mired in the mud, while clean and observing the fray.

“Quite a weekend you chose, William, to pounce on the Sheffields,” Fr. Anthony spoke up, instantly drawing William into the conversation, “I hope these two treated you well.”

“We made him work, is what,” Bradley pointed his spoon at William, “Good job with the analysis, part 1. Although I might still be mad at you, little Jesuit, for leading him there.”

The last words were directed at PJ, who had been washing his plate at the sink then, but who simply turned around and smiled, “I’ll gladly take the blame. I think we can trust William.”

William felt his cheeks grow warm at the soft salute that PJ sent his way.

“Short story, Fr. Anthony, your Jesuit snitch showed William some resolved case files,” Bradley went on, “But William also made quite a job of the accident.”

“Short story, Fr. Anthony, thanks to William, we just found out that one of the cases is not possession,” Landon finished, glaring at his brother, “So don’t punish PJ.”

Fr. Anthony was simply laughing the entire time, and shaking his head. At one point, he paused and beamed, almost like a proud grandfather, at the Sheffields, then at his Jesuit ward.

“Don’t forget that William found out about the statue,” PJ said, almost sang, as he took his seat at the table once again.

“That was you?” Fr. Anthony exclaimed, “Well – good work, then, young man.”

William felt a low “Thank you” escape him.

“How did you know where to find it, by the way?” Landon asked.

“It was just there – but it looked out of place,” William shrugged, suddenly feeling the need to choose his words carefully, “PJ and I were talking about – some cases, and I guess I just saw that something didn’t fit.”

“Like any good scientist,” PJ put in, clapping a hand to William’s shoulder. The gesture was affectionate (even encouraging) this time, rather than a replay of the rude awakenings William had received from the boy all afternoon, “He was in charge of the interview, too. That’s how we got the full story.”

“Well done – and thank you,” Fr. Anthony was both pleased and solemn, as though he were suddenly thinking of the case, “I’m sorry we made you work, William, but you’ve performed well. It will be hard to find a substitute.”

“And we know what that means,” Bradley grinned, “You’re both on the team. We all work well together. Hurrah!”

PJ glared at the boy, but with far less irritation than he had shown all weekend.

“There will be time enough for planning research,” Fr. Anthony said, with gravity that both silenced Bradley, and lent PJ an air of relief, “Everyone needs to rest. We do not know what tomorrow will bring, only that we need to be prepared for whatever will come. That includes you, Dr. Lambskeep – and thank you, once again.”

William was glad for the recognition, but didn’t press the matter further. He wasn’t quite sure, besides, how Fr. Anthony would react to his corrections on Case 701, or how the priest would have counseled him had he been present much earlier and witnessed how the demon within Anna had made sport of William’s memories. He was quite sure, nevertheless, that the old priest had noticed his swollen eyes, and the tracks of weeping on his cheeks; anyone in the house who had taken a close look at William would have marked it all clearly.

Thank God no one had said anything, and had the grace not to bring anything up. And thank God it had been PJ who had heard his confession. The hour in the library had been an unburdening, as though a weighted void within William had been filled with a purposeful something. He did not feel the urge to laugh just yet, however. There would be time for that one day.

That early morning, after hours of running and listening, and speaking and pondering – after a weekend that began with a back-straining, bone-crushing train ride – after a session that broke every bottle of pain within him – William could finally feel what memories had been set free. There were memories of acid that made his insides churn, memories of salt that made his chest sting, and memories of white paint that seemed to erase names and places from his head.

They lingered, walked in his imagination, made themselves known with a tap on his shoulder. PJ had said nothing about banishing memories, but William supposed that simply dragging them out of their prisons was a first step enough.

Dinner ended not long after Fr. Anthony had quieted the table, so that the kitchen simply consisted of smatterings of conversation, five full stomachs, an empty rice cooker, and a pot of Landon’s now-famed caldereta wiped clean.

William excused himself first, as the wave of exhaustion finally hit him. He had the good sense to get out of his street clothes, and even better sense to take a shower before bed. He needed the water besides, to wash everything out, to wash even the devil out of his pores. The whole world around him simply sounded like rushing water, cold and stinging and gurgling water, and it shut out the mumbling from the kitchen or the footfalls in the hallway or the sounds of cars crushing both gravel and stone outside.

William wasn’t sure when exactly he had fallen asleep. He was vaguely aware of the Sheffield brothers going to their rooms on the second floor, of cabinets opening and closing in the main room of the house, of someone walking in the garden and a car pulling up. And yet he slept on.

He slept and dreamed about strange things, whimsical things, things that made sense only within the context of his dream. There were purple teddy bears and yellow butterflies, the kind that seemed to alight on the tired, and the weary, and the unthinking.

He thought he saw Lira, but it was only a golden-haired bird that flew through a thicket. He paid it little mind.

And then he awakened, and it was as though there had been no exorcism the day before, no watershed breaking, no weeping or frost-sharpened afternoon. He simply rose, and then walked through the HQ as though he had been familiar with the house all his life. Morning shower, breakfast alone in an empty kitchen, no interruptions, no conversation, all routine.

The clock on the kitchen wall said 9:30 AM.

He figured that PJ was out for a run, as usual. Fr. Anthony was probably at the hospital to visit Anna, as usual. There was a pot of coffee and white bread set out, and milk, and a tub of margarine, and something that looked like a block of pale yellow paint and tasted like over-salty cheese.

He swallowed everything down with the ease of someone who belonged there – and the abruptness of the thought frightened him.

He admitted that he wanted to stay, to finish the interview, to contact the family, even hunt for the missing sister. But there was work to be carried out in a campus up north, and students to be tended to, and professors to be calmed, and staff to be reasoned with and trained.

But there was a family, and a box of files in the next room, and research to be done. There was no rule saying that he could do only one thing at a time.

There was also something nice about a weekend commute to and from Lipa. The trains were not half bad, really; and the streets were neither too filthy nor too rocky to walk through and navigate.

William spent the rest of the morning getting his bag together, fixing his things, getting dressed, and planning on asking around about getting the bus back to Manila. He had just zipped the last of his backpack’s zippers closed when a knock came to his door.

When he opened it, he saw PJ standing in the doorway.

“Hey,” was the priest’s yawn-filled greeting.

The boy’s eyes were sunken, deep, and his hair seemed to be less dark, less youthful than the day before.

“Had breakfast yet?” PJ asked, yawning yet again. And, when William nodded, “How are you?”

William didn’t expect to be asked the question so early, so abruptly in the morning, “I’m fine, I guess,” he replied, one hand wandering to his nape to scratch a suddenly tingling itch, “I didn’t think I’d be in an exorcism this weekend.”

“Nobody plans to participate in exorcisms, weekends or otherwise,” PJ retorted, as though in reminder, “Speaking of which: I meant what I said yesterday.”

“About what?” William blurted out.

“About your secret being safe with me,” PJ replied, unmoved, “Just so you know, you can talk to me if you need someone to listen. Resolving everything you told me won’t happen overnight. You’re a therapist, and you have to listen to other people’s problems. You’ll need someone to listen to you, too.”

Coming from anyone else, the words would have sounded threatening, stalker-ish, even creepy. But from PJ, they were consoling.

“Thanks,” William could not help saying, “And – if you need to talk to anyone, I’m here, too. You have to listen to confessions, so you’ll need someone to confess to.”

PJ narrowed his eyes, far less offended than amused. “For the confessions, I have a father confessor, so thanks,” and, as soon as William shared his chuckle, “But I don’t have any priests my age, so I might take you up on that offer one of these days when I don’t have sins to report but lots of worries to talk about.”

“Sounds good,” William felt a smile pull up his cheeks, “And if you need someone to help you look at mind maps -”

“You just had to remind me, didn’t you?” PJ glared at him.

“Or we can just have a beer and you can talk about your life,” William put in immediately, so that PJ’s two thumbs went up, coupled with a drowsy grin from the young priest, “If you want to throw out the mind maps and not think about them for a while.”

PJ offered him a high five, “Put it there, brother,” he said, in a quasi inner city accent.

William could not help returning the high five, although he did feel as though it were outdated, if not out of place. The incredulity must have registered on his face, because PJ gave up another yawn in the middle of a low laugh.

“We don’t give fist bumps, as a general rule,” PJ explained, “Philippine president’s favorite gesture.”

William cringed. Of course he remembered the images on TV: gray, glaring old man slurring out words and sneering out syllables, sometimes spouting vitriol in accented English as though he were halfway between drunken stupor and trying to argue with someone on a topic no one would remember in the morning. And then the photos of fist bumps that looked like he was hiding a secret in his palm, and was threatening to dump it on anyone that pricked the air out of his overinflated ego.

“One more thing,” PJ began, eyes on the window beyond William, “This will sound weird, so just humor me. If you see Agnes, one of these days, don’t tell her that you met me.”

The request was strange, and William was tempted to engage PJ in his first therapy session.

“We usually don’t talk about being assigned to exorcisms,” PJ added, as though anticipating William’s misgivings, “I don’t want to call attention to the ministry. It’s not good for me, and it’s not good for the victims.”

Of course; William remembered it now. No exorcist would be proud of his position, when he was merely a vessel for a higher power. Any exorcist who figured in the public eye was in danger of putting himself at the center of his ministry, and was in danger, therefore, of any of the thousand forms of vanity that would make him like unto the beautiful angel that fell as lightning from the heavens millions of years ago. And that same beautiful angel, now weighed by years of hatred, now in the depths of ugliness, would reach out to him and make sport of his efforts, and the poor victim would simply waste away.

“Got it,” was all that William could say, although it would be difficult to not talk to Agnes about his Lipa affairs if he kept traveling every Friday and meeting her at the station. William wondered, and suddenly, why he was assuming that he and Agnes would meet.

“Good,” PJ’s yawn was wider this time, “How are you getting back to Manila, by the way?”

“Oh,” William had to talk, if only to distract himself from his pondering, “I was going to take the bus.”

“Not good,” PJ’s eyes widened, “Everybody will be taking the bus back to Manila. You’ll be in line for hours. One of the priests is driving Fr. Anthony back to the university at 4. I don’t think he’ll mind if you ride along.”

“Oh – ok – uh -”

“Don’t worry. He’s at the hospital now and he’ll be back before lunch. He hasn’t slept. He’ll be sleeping the whole time.”

William was not sure how PJ had him figured out, but it was refreshing to not have to hand out social niceties after a weekend that was both draining and illuminating. He found himself smiling, a little wider this time, with far less effort, with far more happiness than he had known for years.

“Thanks,” William cleared his throat, unsure of how to proceed, “I’ll think about it.”

“Ok,” PJ walked backwards, “Just let me know after lunch, maybe.”

PJ was already on his way to the kitchen, but William found himself rushing out of his room and calling the boy back.

“So, I uh – I’m not sure how else to ask this,” The words fell from William once again, with surprising, soul-warming ease, “But – do we have any news about Anna?”

PJ seemed to be fighting a smile. “She’s ok,” and, with the smile tempered, “Her parents are with her. They’ll let us know when they’re ready.”

“They have to face the truth,” William allowed the words to flow from him, easy, formless, “They can’t hide behind the money from the kids. But they need therapy, and I could – you know -”

“Offer it?”


PJ was calmer now, but bright, and as encouraging as he had been the day before, when he had faced William in the library.

“You’re aware that this might mean weekly trips here?” The young priest challenged him.

William shrugged, smiled, “Sure. If they need my help – if you all need my help.”

“And it’s a long ride each way, and no guarantee of cars.”

“I like the ride. Gives me a chance to think, see things differently.”

PJ’s eyes narrowed, as though he were on the verge of giggling, “Well then,” he ahemmed abruptly, “Let’s wait until the parents are ready.”

“Of course,” no confession was worth its salt without full consent, William knew, “You’ll let me know.”


“Good,” the smile would not leave his face, “I’ll wait for your call.”

“Good. And the car later?”

“Yeah, I’ll take it.”

“Awesome,” PJ marched forward with another high five ready for the taking, “Put another one there, brother!”

This time, William returned the gesture, all awkwardness gone.

Return to Table of Contents for Book 2