Chapter 1

Alfonso was in love with everything and everyone.

Or, to be more precise, he was in love with the universes inside everyone he met.

He was not perfect by any means. The capacity to love greatly is perhaps given in equal measure to someone who also has the capacity to hate greatly, to hold overflowing emotions, to store them and incubate them and set them free (whether healing flame or destructive fire). Alfonso was capable of bearing enormous grudges, nursing inordinate anger; and he was capable of great, encompassing love.

When he was little, he loved the faces that looked down at him, loved the father who made him run merry circles around the house, loved the mother who made him run merry circles around her office, loved the brothers who ran those circles and chased him and allowed themselves to be chased by the giggling, precocious Alfonso.

When he grew older, he loved his books and the friends who shared his love for adventures, his classes and the classmates who fell in love with math (or even those who didn’t), his afternoons in the football field and how they made his little legs stronger, his evenings at his desk and how working on math problems made his growing brain sharper, his dinners with family and how the conversations leapt from one topic to the next with clarity that made him see how love spun its story in multiple, overarching, heart-entangling ways.

He loved science – loved mathematics – loved the exploring and uncertain exactness of higher-level calculus, the trains and water tanks of problems-based algebra, the angles and proofs of geometry. He loved watching a hitherto empty whiteboard darken with the ink of equations and enlightenment.

And he loved philosophy, too. Loved the methods and madness that went into questioning the world, critiquing its bits and pieces, examining its parts and uncovering even more questions. Philosophy was like science (one had given birth to the other, besides, his readings said), although very few of his classmates saw the connection. Even fewer of his classmates saw the use of questioning, or wondering, of looking at the world and seeing even love and a universe in nothingness.

He loved his home, his country, the soil on which his feet had run and walked since birth. The Philippines had been a mess for decades, but he saw how it overflowed with a loving people that begged for understanding. Manila threatened to be its old, swampy self once again, but there was still much to discover, much to fix, much work yet to do out of love.

When he graduated a scientist, he fell in love with someone.

He called her his girlfriend, and she called him her boyfriend, and they loved each other in the way that one might love someone whom they planned to marry one day. They both sprang into teaching right out of college: he in a small public school in the big city, she in a little town in the province that had one schoolroom for all seven grade levels. They visited each other, kissed, hugged, were faithful and pure and chaste.

But one year into their relationship, Alfonso realized two things.

First: he loved his girlfriend because, like any other person in his life, he saw goodness in everything that she did. Whether she spoke good or ill of someone, he saw her loving heart, saw how her soul wanted to reach out to as many people as possible with as much love as possible, saw how she wanted to speak up against a social structure that seemed to preclude the poorest of the poor from moving beyond their station.

He loved her because he saw God in her, the way he saw God in everything that everyone else did.

And this brought him to his second point.

He saw God in everything, and heard God calling him.

The voice was not a booming trumpet to herald the coming of an old man arrayed in gold. It was not a loud clanging of cymbals to awaken those who were sleeping through their existence. It was not a rude slap across the face or a toss into the deep or a shout across the wilderness.

It was a quiet realization, one afternoon, as Alfonso sat on a bench across from one of his best friends from college, and realized that he loved her the same as his girlfriend as his boy best friend as his brothers as his mother as his father as everyone else whom he knew and cherished in his lifetime.

Everyone called to him; and in their voices, he heard God.

So he heeded the call, and walked into the House of the Jesuits.

He expected his leave taking of the world to be fraught with anger, with tears, with the hysteria of those who would not willingly let go of Alfonso the Professional. His departure was surprisingly calm: his parents rejoiced, his friends said that they knew all along that he would one day be a priest, his cousins reminded him that he had once tried to give them communion when he was just a toddler running around with a bag of potato chips.

Even his girlfriend, through her pallor and broken sobs – even their very last embrace felt like a push of one gentle heart to another.

Their goodbye was calm. Peaceful.

But she never spoke to him again.

And even that, and even then – Alfonso saw love in her every gesture. She had allowed him to take his leave. She had not called him back. She had initiated no correspondence, tried no method to even check on him the way that she used to do when they were together. Alfonso saw only love in the farewell, felt that she prayed for him in the space he had left behind.

As soon as he entered the Order, he fell in love with everything and everyone all over again.

He loved how the theology he had studied in university seemed to be but the prologue to the depths that the subject could reach. He loved how he could still be a scientist, a mathematician, even while he walked the inroads and highways and byways carved by philosophers and theologians long gone. He loved how his circle of friends grew, how some of the constants in his life remained, how he could talk to a young priest from Bolivia one moment and hear the stories of a Nigerian scholastic the next, how he was classmates with boys who were younger than he and bright eyed and excited, how he sat in the same classroom as older men who had left the world behind and had, as well, heard another song sung by God’s voice.

He loved how he was back in the university that molded him as an undergraduate. He loved how he was an older student carrying a tiny grain of wisdom, and was witnessing how it sparkled in the midst of a million stars that showed the light of other lives, other worlds, other minds.

And when he spoke his first vows, and promised himself onto the path to the priesthood, he loved how every word seemed to beat with meaning and truth. He loved how the sunlight streamed through the windows of the church, how the day opened with a sunrise so bold, as though it were telling him that he had chosen well.

Even when the older classmates dropped out and returned to their careers, even when the younger boys lost interest in their theology readings, even when Alfonso had to brace himself for two years of Regency in a Jesuit provincial school, he loved his new world.

There were dawns with fair sunlight, mornings spent in the company of birds that flew into the thick canopy of trees that shielded the House of the Jesuits, lunches with older priests, afternoons in prayer and classes, long dinners with classmates –

There was nothing to not love where he was, where he had been, where he lived.

Even – the exorcisms.

They began right before he was to leave for his Regency, a week before one of the younger novices was to take his first vows. Alfonso and the would-be vow taker were talking on the balcony from which the meal room spilled, on a night filled with the chirping of crickets and the silent sharpness of stars.

The boy had said the three words – poverty, chastity, obedience – so casually, so very lightly – which made the next scene so stark and vivid in Alfonso’s memories later on.

The boy gasped, sprang up as though to jump off the railings, then fell to his knees in sobs. Alfonso heard the novice’s cries as the pleas of a child, but the words that escaped were broken, deep – spoken in voices that seemed both fearful and young, ancient and bold.

The language – it was Latin, which all the Jesuit scholastics (including Alfonso) had to study.

But the structure, the way it was spoken, the confidence with which the sentences escaped – and the suddenly clammy skin of the novice whom Alfonso admired for his silence even when all the examinations were piling up… this was not the friend he knew.

Alfonso began to pray in his head, the prayer that one pope had been given when he had fallen into a trance one afternoon mass – that one pope who had been gifted a vision of a Hell overrun with demons and filling with the darkened souls of the damned.

It was the prayer to the head of the heavenly hosts, to the archangel who had led the celestial army even when his rank fell well below those of the fiery cherubim and seraphim.

“St. Michael the Archangel,” the words played in Alfonso’s head, clear as the clanging of little bells, warm as the winds of summer, “Defend us on the day of battle-”

“That bastard!” the novice screamed, rustling the branches of the trees that wrapped the star-speckled sky, silencing the voices of the rest of the novices who were taking a second supper behind them, “He cast us down. He pushed us down! And down! And down!”

And down and down and down – echoed through the jungles and forests, all across the streets below, into the ears of Alfonso.

“Do not say his name!” the boy screeched, writhed as though the floor were burning coals. Behind them, the Jesuits, once so preoccupied with their food, were on the alert. “Do not say his name, you stupid child!”

Alfonso had not said a single word, and he did not stop praying.

“You will stop!” Slashed syllables through the cloud of prayers in Alfonso’s head, “You will stop or you will regret you were ever born, you scum! You dirty, dirty priest!”

One novice rushed to the boy’s side, and held his head up to steady him, to keep him from choking on his own spit.

And still, the shouting continued. It emanated from the boy’s unmoving, open mouth. It vibrated from the rails of the balcony. It bounced from somewhere in the air around Alfonso, as though there were doors that could be opened at will, with the dark wings and fire of the angels of the underworld.

“You are all dirty priests!” The voices spoke, coming from everywhere and nowhere, from the boy and from a corridor in Alfonso’s skull, “I know what you all want to do with each other! I know you all want each other!”

The laugh that followed felt both derisive and pitiful, and never wavered as more novices poured onto the balcony, as they tried to lift the boy, as they struggled with his leaden bones and snake-like limbs.

“Help us,” Alfonso suddenly forgot the words of his prayer, wrestled with the idea of time. He knew that a mere minute had passed since his once articulate, gentle friend had transformed into a hideous monstrosity that belched and coughed out almost unintelligible sentences. And yet he felt as though a century had gone by, as though the world had broken apart, as though the only place left standing was the House of the Jesuits, now peopled with gray-haired priests.

“That’s right!” The voice hammered into Alfonso’s jaw, “Why do you even try to pray? You will all grow old and tired and die – and I will take you with me!”

One of the younger Jesuits was short of screaming into his phone. Alfonso heard something about an exorcism commission, the office of the archbishop, the name of a cardinal. For a moment, he stopped and wondered what an exorcism office was like. Were there priests there every day, and were there other victims like this, who seemed both human and animal, who sounded like they were being raked with blazing pitchforks and whipped with knives?

“Do you want me to save you, little man?” Came an almost childlike, soothing voice, “Come with me.”

The prayer to St. Michael the Archangel seemed like a mass of mere breaths beneath a morass of hatred. Alfonso tried to wade through the words, through the buzzing in his skull, through the shouts and calls in the dinner room behind him.

“We have permission!” A priest called out, “Get him now!”

Alfonso did not dare move, as though the slightest gesture on his part would mangle the words of the prayer again. He knew how it began; but the words were mere letters forming ever so slowly into the white of angel’s wings, the glint of celestial swords. His imagination called out to the general of the heavenly hosts, just in time for a fresh scream to thunder through the building, just as the youngest Jesuits were ordered back to the residences to fetch their guest.

“They called that old idiot?” Was the growl from the floor, “Well then! Let him face me!”

Alfonso remembered that they had a newly arrived exorcist from Rome. Someone to assist with something, somewhere, somehow – his brain felt as though it were mere cells and numbers, mere molecules and atoms swimming in a sea of death, of anger, of despair.

But the prayer. It was there. In between groans and snarls, it was there. St Michael the Archangel, defend us on the day of battle –

The roar from the once quiet novice was both wretched and frightening.

Alfonso never wavered. He called up the words, felt them beat against the chaos with silence and peace. He simply stood in the corner and watched. He waited, as the night fell heavier, as the stars seemed to blink out one by one, as the clouds parted in the sky to reveal an even darker shade of black. He saw the fear, even the disgust in his classmates’ eyes, felt how repulsed they were, felt his heart sink.

And then he understood why the words alone were not ample weapons.

Alfonso felt nothing but love for the boy on the floor. The once bright novice seemed near gone, and was replaced by a gray-green shell screaming through the prayers that Alfonso had now learned to unrelentingly keep up in his head. Soon, the screams died into gurgles, collapsed into drools – but the sounds of baying hounds and snarling dogs still escaped from every pore of the novice’s body.

The leader of the pack was faltering, but there seemed to be a slavering, slithering army still lying in wait behind.

Alfonso hated whatever it was that was doing this. He could not escape that part of him that wanted to fight, to chase this demon down and kick it back into hell.

Whatever else Alfonso wanted to feel was lost. The victim began to giggle, then laugh, then holler a string of expletives out into the night.

“Be our safeguard against the wickedness and snares of the devil,” Alfonso returned to the prayer, pushing back against the notion that he had been responsible for any calm that might have weakened the demon, “May God rebuke him we humbly pray -”

A phrase in Latin screeched back – and then, Italian – and then another thick Latin language that sounded as though the speaker were chewing on stones.

Alfonso recognized a few words, but he never stopped praying, even as his mind translated that the Being that spoke through his friend was telling him to stop, or he would be hurt, and badly, and his family would pay the price for his prayers.

He did not know why he was intuitively understanding what he assumed was Latin, Italian, or Portuguese. The thought frightened him. Somewhere in his lessons, he remembered that the victims of possession could suddenly speak multiple languages. What if –

The creature laughed, hollered, howled. It was not in pain – it was celebrating. It had read Alfonso, and it was taunting him.

But the creature – it was merely occupying a boy. A human. A novice. A friend.

“Please, God, have pity on your servant,” Alfonso could not help the prayer, so spontaneously rising into the bones of his skull, so easily leaving his lips as a whisper, “Please dearest Holy Virgin, do not let this creation of your Heavenly Spouse come to any harm.”

No sooner had the last words been said, when the novice bawled, snarled, screamed, cried, all at once, as though he were driven through and through by flaming swords.

“Not – that – woman!” were the only words that could be heard, among the scores of beasts that seemed to be slaughtered all at the same time, “Not – that – woman!”

And from behind Alfonso, from the direction of the meal room, came a response in Latin.

“Kyrie, eleison,” Alfonso replied – alone, as the rest of the novices on the balcony bowed their heads.

“Christe, eleison,” the voice came again, from a speaker still in the semi darkness.

“Christe, eleison,” Alfonso answered, still the single voice on the balcony.

“Kyrie, eleison.”

“Kyrie, eleison.”

“Christe, audi nos.”

“Christe, exaudi nos.”

Alfonso finally saw the speaker, finally recognized the guest from Rome, who had come that morning and had spent the entire day with the senior Jesuits. They called him Fr. Anthony Lector, the old man whose head struggled to keep the last of its silver hairs, whose blue eyes sparkled and swam with sunlight, whose voice could run through every kind of pitch and tone, as though he could be both playful and commanding in the same breath.

More novices joined in, as the minutes passed, as the Litany of the Saints proceeded, as the stars seemed to come back to life in the sky.

And then, the confrontation began.

“I will ask you all to pray with me, even in your hearts,” the exorcist had spoken to the ground, but all the priests in attendance knew, as a body, that it was they who were being addressed, “Pay no attention to what is said, and pray only that this young man be freed.”

“Young man!” was the mocking screech from the balcony floor, “He is so wise in the ways of the world! You dare speak to me, you weak priest. Nobody is innocent! Nobody!”

The only thing that Fr. Anthony did was to kneel, place the end of his stole on the forehead of the novice, and speak the Latin words of the Rite of Exorcism. Alfonso knew, vaguely (in lingering fear as well), that the exorcist had “adjured” the “ancient serpent”, had commanded him to “speedily depart in trembling”, to take with him his “raving followers” – and the priest spoke so under the power of Heaven.

Then, the words suddenly shifted to English.

“What is your name?”

It was a command that would have put even earthly kings to shame. The only reply was a giggle. Girlish, garish, mocking – it sounded like knives scratching against porcelain.

“You are commanded by the Most High to speak the truth – what is your name?” Fr. Anthony’s voice seemed a little quicker than usual, as though the giggling had already worn his patience thin.

Nothing but a wail answered him.

“You are commanded by the Most High,” the words were quick but stinging, “You will reveal your name!”

The cycle repeated, over and over, tarry sky rolling upon blackened starlight, commands and orders wrestling against screams and groans. Your name? A curse in a language that was half vowels burned in oil, half consonants caught in a sandstorm. Your name? A roar, an ancient language that sounded like rocks broken apart by a rain of fire. Your name? A squeal of the bastard child of a pig and a goat.

And Fr. Anthony would still not stop. Alfonso knew that without the answer, the exorcist would have no real hold over the demon. Everything that came out of it could be doubted. Anything it said would be a mere chess piece in a game.

Alfonso prayed that the name would come soon.

The demon – the Thing on the balcony began to laugh once again. It sounded like another giggle, grinding and grating; and it played with the pebbles on the street below, made the other novices wince in pain, made Alfonso’s hair stand on end.

And then, a chorus, clear as the tinkle of chimes in a gentle summer breeze.

Ahi, quelli neonati! Molto giovani! Troppo giovani! Ci odiate, si’? Non sapete – non sapete – sarete vicino a noi, presto, un giorno!


And then, a single, gentle, skin-crawling voice.

Quel ragazzo – specialmente quel ragazzo.”

Alfonso had studied Italian, but had not progressed very far. He suddenly understood the words, knew that the demon had addressed all of them, had called them newborns so naive as to hate demons, but who would one day be close to the hounds of hell.

And that last sentence. “That boy – especially that boy.”

He hoped it wasn’t him. His prayers seemed to break in shards at thought.

As though in answer, a new laugh came, from the earth below, into the spaces between the stones on the floor, so that every syllable sounded as though it were being scratched on gravel.

The only voice loud enough to drown out the storm was Fr. Anthony’s.

“You are commanded by the Creator of this world, by your own Creator, to speak no lies, demon,” the priest ordered, eyes closed, head bowed, right hand drawing a cross on the victim’s forehead, “You will not speak ill of those in attendance. You are commanded to give your name.”

The battle continued, loud in its silences and noise, banging and bawling and brawling and crawling through a sky that seemed to take on the color of both tar and blood. The novices remained on the balcony, holding down their brother; Alfonso stood in the corner, rooted in place by the prayers in his head; and the exorcist continued the task of demanding a name as the victim seethed and writhed on the floor.

Behind the group on the balcony, in the meal room, were the Jesuits who could still walk and travel from their quarters. They knelt on the cold concrete, or sat in dark corners, with rosaries in their hands, prayers on their lips, silence enveloping them.

Once, Alfonso looked back. He saw his brothers, and felt the mixture of fear and love that hung over them, that held the ceiling up, that seemed to speak sympathies and encouragement across the darkened hall.

He prayed with them, using what little he remembered from the Roman Ritual; and when that ran out, a rosary; and when even that ran out, his own prayers.

Before midnight struck, the name came.

It sounded like nails across a chalkboard, an iron fork scratching a metal plate, a handful of ugly syllables cowering together because no human language would dare adopt them.

Something in the House of the Jesuits released a long-held breath, as though in relief. It came as a soothing wind through the meal room, taking with it the exhalations, the louder prayers of the brothers. It came as a light breeze through the balcony, so that the novices sobbed, and the exorcist breathed, and Alfonso finally realized how his legs were all pins and needles and nerves.

Fr. Anthony addressed the demon directly, and spoke its name.

The demon howled, a pig branded, a dog defeated.

“How many are you?” the priest spoke, his sentence banging off the gravel, “How many of you reside in this body blessed by the Most High?”

“One!” was the near peep, as though a beast had been cornered, and had been forced to admit that it had nothing else to show for its presence, “Only one!”

“In the name of Jesus, I command you to tell me the truth. How many are you?”

“We are hundreds now!”

“You are commanded in the name of the Most High to tell the truth! How many are you?”

“We are many! Get to know us one by one, you stupid priest!

“You are commanded in the name of our Savior Jesus Christ to tell the truth. How many are you?”

“Five. But we can eat you alive, and your soul will be burned for all eternity!”

“You are commanded in the name of the Blessed Virgin Mary to tell the truth! Who sent you?”

“You do not speak her name!”

“In the name of the Most Holy Mother of God, you are commanded to tell the truth. Who sent you?”

Something came back, in Latin, then Greek, then gibberish – but the exorcist did not give up. It took the better part of an hour for the demon to finally reply, in perfect, unaccented English.

“His mother.”

The silence that fell upon the group on the balcony could be heard for miles across the dense jungles that cradled the House of the Jesuits. Even Alfonso, whose head had been inundated by all manner of prayers, could say nothing more, hear nothing more, feel only a mixture of love for the poor boy and – hatred. Hatred for the one that had dared to do whatever it was she did to undo the miracle that was his existence.

“In the name of Jesus,” Fr. Anthony was solemn now, “You are commanded to tell the truth.”

“His mother called me,” the voice came from the novice’s mouth, but his lips hardly moved, “She wanted her son to go home just today… just now! She wants grandchildren but he won’t let her have them. Or perhaps if he obeys us, he will! One day!”

“You are commanded in the name of Jesus to cease your ravings, unclean creature, you filth!” was the priest’s retort, swift and sharp and cutting cross the sea of ugliness that seemed to creep out of the novice’s pores, “You are commanded to be quiet unless you are spoken to!”

The scream that came in answer was both heart rending and horrifying. It seemed to echo a thousand souls burning in snow.

Fr. Anthony did not stop. He cast question after question, prayer after prayer. Alfonso finally saw the exorcist sprinkle Holy Water, apply Holy Oil to the novice’s forehead. Everything had been a blur of motions before then; but as midnight fell away, as the morning slowly came, and as the narrative formed, then so did the world reveal itself out of the shadows.

The story was that of a mother who had called on all the wrong places for help.

She had asked for an angel to bring her son back to her, because he was the only one they had, and their family needed an heir to carry his father’s proud name.

She had asked her dead father-in-law to do it for her, because he was one of her angels, and he knew, of all people, how important a family name was.

She had been praying for days now, because she wanted her son home.

Someone else had answered the call. Something else. But that Something had not been staying long.

That Something was only one demon. He would leave. He had four other companions who would not relinquish their position, and he could speak only for himself. He would leave.

And he did.

Six hours since the exorcism had started, and it was done. The novice retched out black smoke that smelled like a hundred burning candles. The Jesuit brothers coughed and sneezed, but they never stopped praying, never left their positions in the meal room until their guest from Rome helped the victim to his feet.

Alfonso finally moved from his spot. He spoke to no one that night. When he entered his room, he barely remembered getting into bed; all he knew was that he was tired in a way that bodies were tired if all their bones were removed and only muscles remained. He fell asleep almost immediately, felt as though someone had beaten only his insides to a pulp, but had left his skin untouched.

The poor novice had to be confined at the nearby Jesuit infirmary, to treat his bone bruises and a fracture in one rib. His confinement also allowed him to be far away from his brother Jesuits, at least for the time that Fr. Anthony needed to minister to him and continue the exorcism, and to counsel him and his mother in one place.

The exorcism – and naturally, gossip about what happened during the counseling – dominated the low conversations in the House of the Jesuits for days.

One of the novices that helped hold the boy down said that the victim remembered absolutely nothing – only that the world had suddenly gone black, and he seemed to fall asleep, then sharply awaken, with no worlds or realities in between.

An older scholastic, tasked with bringing theology class readings to Alfonso’s friend, said (furtively, over breakfast as all the younger scholastics bent their heads toward his so that they could hear him better) that the boy’s mother had denied everything at first. Then a bird suddenly crashed into the infirmary window and died on the spot. She admitted to everything almost instantly.

A novice heard that Fr. Anthony had been counseling the mother and son, but because there were language and translation problems, the Jesuits had to fly in a Jesuit priest who was on assignment in Rome. The priest could reportedly see demons.

And they needed the priest because Alfonso’s friend was possessed by the stalwarts, the big guns, the superstars (such was the language of the Jesuit novices). There was an even more powerful demon that knew how to hide itself, and that now decided to come out because his mother was there.

(Oh for goodness’ sake, the older scholastic groaned – don’t you know Fr. Matteo? When the younger Jesuits shook their heads, he had to tell the entire story of the legendary Jesuit priest who could see angels and demons, and who was in demand in Rome, so everybody had to be quiet and keep it on the down low, because nobody knew who would exploit someone of Fr. Matteo’s caliber.  The younger Jesuits nearly fell over each other as they tried to get to the table where the scholastic was, and interrogate him on this mysterious Fr. Matteo.)

Hi mother was not allowed to return home until the exorcism was completely over.

She stayed at the dormitory on campus.

Someone said there were ghosts in her room.

Someone said it was a poltergeist.

There were rumors of another possession, this time in the Jesuit infirmary.

No, another priest said, it was on campus. It was a professor.

No, a Jesuit brother contended, it was a student.





I thought it was both, a novice put in.

No way! Really? The little crowd around the table cooed.

And then everyone ate their meals without tasting the food, drank themselves silly through gallons of soda without paying attention to the sugar that coursed madly through their systems, listened to tale after tale after tale supposedly heard from the friend of a friend of a friend.

Two weeks into the affair, and the rumors were getting out of hand. Alfonso had little time for them, even if he did want to chat about what had occurred on the balcony that one evening, even if he did have a thousand questions himself, and hardly anyone to talk to about them. He wanted his Regency to be uppermost in his mind: he was too busy packing to think of the exorcism, too busy bidding his family and friends goodbye, too busy writing his final papers for his theology classes –

And yet, at the back of his head, where all the unanswered questions lived and breathed and tended their gardens, there reigned a whole city of doubt. The topic of exorcism and demonic possession was the stuff of fright and fancy.

True, the Jesuits learned about the nature of evil, studied it, turned it over and over in theology class as they debated on who the devil was, and if there was such a thing as a real, physical Hell, where there were tunnels of cold hatred and nine levels of damnation.

True, there were books that told stories, movies that overdid it, wildly whispered rumors about a friend of a friend of a friend…

But exorcism, and possession – if it was real…

Alfonso always ended up sinking into a chair somewhere whenever he remembered the hours on the balcony.

The voice sometimes played in his head, and the many voices that joined it would sometimes ring out again in chorus. Even in the libraries of his memories, the voices told him that it was only right for him to worry, because there was so much evil in the world, so much uncertainty in the ways of humanity, that nothing could be done except to sit… and wait …. and despair.

At that last word, at that last thought, Alfonso would always spring up and do something, anything that would drown out the memories that continued to play in the gardens that were tended by the questions in his cities of doubt. He would rewrite papers that had long been due or submitted, call his parents, play video games he had long mastered, email random friends to ask what they were doing, watch a show that he had watched before, read a book that he had read before – anything that would make his mind travel elsewhere.

His mind did travel, but it always returned to that evening, when the stars fled from the sky, and the darkness in the gardens below turned into molten shadows. They would creep, those shadows, like black tar, across the grounds, up the walls, always crawling, always whispering with the gravelly chorus of a thousand angels encased in prisons of ice.

And their voices…. many molded into one, humans and monsters speaking above howls and snarls, in languages both dead and still unknown, coming from nowhere and everywhere at once.

He could no longer understand hitherto unknown languages now, and that was a relief. But the voices – the memories – they would not leave Alfonso so easily. No papers or books or movies or phone calls or video games could push against the whispers that continued to drag and stab Alfonso’s spirit.

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