Daughter of Candlelight

St. Peter’s Basilica, with its high, painted ceilings, with its windows that let in sunlight and brought forth sparkling moonbeams on a marble floor, with its saints and prophets standing watch, with its history and its heartbeat of secrets and whispers –

St. Peter’s Basilica was a buzzing, burbling cave of humanity. It was a trap, and it was frightening.

No tourist would ever see what she saw, from the shadows, from her corner. No one would ever see who they brought with them, who they took with them, into the church. No one would ever truly see what she saw: the darkness, the horns, the bared teeth, the low laughter that threatened to bring down the house of God – to tear it from its foundations.

Many could see, but very few had her gift. Very few could truly walk in two worlds without getting burned, without their hearts giving out in despair.

They walked as tourists, even in the House of God. They walked unaware, with their guide books and their tour guides, with their awe and their reverence. They were tourists, and they would always be.

She did not pity them. She envied them their blindness. She wished the nightmares away, as she had when she was but a child near three decades ago. No one understood her then, and if she spoke the truth, no one would understand her now.

So, she sat quietly, in the corner, watching, reading each face. She pretended to be a tourist sometimes, but it was difficult to look as awed and naive as everyone else when she knew so much – when she knew nearly everything there was to know about the basilica – when she saw what no one else could see.

There were days when she could see only one of them. He – she – it would be running from one person to another, hiding behind children, snickering and jeering, seething and giggling. It would look up at the ceiling sometimes, and then cower in anger; but then it would come into contact with someone, and then it would disappear. The same someone would be angry for a moment, or irritated for no reason.

The human anger would dissipate, and the thing would reappear. It would sometimes weep in rage, as though it had been hurt. Or it would laugh, as though it couldn’t wait to disappear into the human again.

The thing – she could never truly describe it. No novelist, no movie maker, no artist ever could. It would sometimes have horns, or antlers, or mere stubs of bone. It would sometimes be muscled and brawny, hairy and hefty; or it would be skinny, like a spider with but two legs, and slits for eyes. It would sometimes be full of flames and fire, gurgling its pride at being able to enter the House of God. Sometimes, it would be cold, laden with snow and ice, with gaze just as penetrating, just as bone chilling.

But it was ugly. It was always ugly.

And when it saw her, it would grin. Because it knew that she was watching. Because it knew that one day, the protection built around her, by the angels who were her guard, by the Virgin who watched high above, by the humans and their prayers – it knew that one day, that protection would disappear, and she would be fair game.

What would happen then was still a matter of speculation. She didn’t want to think about it. The Holy Father was far more fearful than she, and she had to keep it that way. She had to be stronger and more self-assured, because there was protection, and a host of angels, and a Savior and the Virgin and prayers and humans – and a God who had given her a gift that she did not understand.

The reassurance was easy to come by when she had to deal with only one or two of the creatures. It wasn’t as easy when she had to take on legions of them. They would leap on altars, hide in people’s pockets, jeer at her from the tops of pillars. They would mimic scratching the eyes out of a babe, or disrobing an old man, or violating a young woman.

And then, the whole army would stare at her and laugh. And their laugh would ring through her senses, but it would not echo through the church.

“You can’t touch us!” some of them would caw, in her native language, “And one day, we can touch you! And we’ll rip your heart out and chew on it while you scream? Would you like that, stupid girl?”

In the outside world, she was called Mia. In the shelter of the basilica, she was a spy, a watcher in the shadows, an observer. In the walls of the Vatican, she worked with the exorcists, and was perhaps the highest ranked of them all.

She could not drive the demons out. She was too human, too worldly for that. But she could see them, and sense them. She could hear their voices, know their plans, and speak of them. When a priest finally had a demon’s name, he could command it and place it under God’s power. Mia was instrumental in the process.

She was unwilling, and afraid – but she had no choice. The gift was important – she was but the vessel.

So today, she watched the crowd, just as she did on any other day. There was a little demon leering at her, but it was relatively harmless – in human terms, it was young. It didn’t know about humans, and had little experience in dealing with temperaments, and prayers, and even laughter. It hated smiles. It abhorred joy. It detested the innocence of children.

She wished she had more than prayers to whack the little fanged being to pieces.

The demon giggled in response. She knew it couldn’t read her thoughts, but it could see how white her knuckles were. She unclenched her fists slowly, breathed deep, and prayed.

The demon hissed suddenly, leaping onto the head of the statue of Moses, right above where she was standing. Mia didn’t even know how deep into the crowd she was at that moment, when she saw how many people shoved and ran past her, how many tour guides were raising their umbrellas and guiding herds of tourists, how many priests and nuns were trying to make their way through the mess of humanity.

She looked up, watching the demon play with Moses’ horns – and not too decently, either. She groaned at the sight, but tempered her irritation when a baby glanced at her, then at where she was looking.

The child gasped, and began to bawl.

Children were like that, Mia recalled, as she walked to the nearest pillar, and into the shadows once again. Children could see things sometimes, but their innocence shielded them from the demons. The demons could never touch innocence. They could play at the fringes, grin at the poor children, but they could not harm them.

Mia wished she had the same shield. Or, more precisely, she knew she had a shield of her own, but wished that she didn’t know what she was looking at. She could simply bawl for her mother, and all would be well.

The demon began to laugh uncontrollably. Had Mia a more twisted sense of humor, she would have thought it comical. The sight of a demon laughing on the head of the statue of Moses, in St. Peter’s Basilica, with no tourists sensing its presence.

The mere fact that demons could enter the basilica was not funny. Not at all.

“Miss Mia,” a voice cut her out of her reflection, “I am sorry to interrupt you, but the Monsignor needs you now.”

Mia had to forcefully take her gaze from the demon to the owner of the voice. She found that it her friend the Dominican, an American priest. He was almost apologetic, as though he knew that Mia was doing her job, even when he could not see what she saw.

Mia smiled, trying to ignore the heckling from the statue of Moses, “Thank you,” she swallowed the dry spot in her throat, “I was trying to control a little – trouble.”

She gestured with her head toward the statue. The priest looked, craning his neck slowly, as though dreading to see anything.

“Well – then,” he said in relief, returning the lady’s smile, though not as confident as before, “Is it anything urgent?”

Mia knew the big differences among “urgent,” “pressing,” “high priority,” and “low impact.” The demon before her was too young to cause damage. It was literally playing, unable to take possession of anyone for too long a time. This little one was the kind that played at people’s minds, toyed with their emotions, made messes of their heads. She could step away for a while and it would still be a low impact demon.

She shook her head and turned to her companion, “Don’t worry, Father Barston,” she could hear the demon cackling above the drone of tour guides and chatter of children, “I can go see the Monsignor.”

Father Barston let out a sigh, as though he’d been holding his problems in for the last hour, and was glad to be relieved of them now, “Good,” he was visibly fighting not to look alarmed, “They’ve been setting up the meeting for the last hour. The Monsignor needs you there.”

Mia’s years of observing people gave her the ability to detect the littlest tremble in a voice, and Father Barston’s tone could well have been shaking at her the entire time.

“What’s wrong?” she started to walk with him, out of the Basilica and into the Vatican apartments. They turned a few corners and met with a few Swiss guards before Father Barston finally spoke.

“All I heard was ‘portal’ and ‘open,’ and no one was very happy.”

“Were you spying on the Monsignor?” Mia asked slowly.

Father Barston took her by the arm and led her to a smaller hallway, out of the main path to the Monsignor’s conference room. The lighting there was dimmer, yellower, making it difficult for Mia to see the fright that could not help making its way to all the corners of Father Barston’s face. He was far older than she, with white streaks across his blond hair, and light blue eyes that were often friendlier than they were fierce. His voice, however, was firm.

“I wish I could joke about this one, Mia,” he began, as soon as a passing guard was out of hearing range, “But they’ve been meeting since last night.”


“The Holy Father and the Monsignor.”

Mia felt herself pale. She swore she could hear the demon laughing its way through the corridors.

“The Holy Father,” Father Barston continued, “He isn’t happy about your report – but he wants to hear everything.”

“What are you leaving out, Father?” Mia asked suddenly, “There’s a portal, an opening, a meeting, and the Holy Father doesn’t like my report. I don’t recall writing about an open portal, so none of this makes sense to me.”

Father Barston paused, as though he, too, were confused. When he finally came to, he took Mia’s arm again and led her back to the hallway.

“We’ll let the Monsignor and the Holy Father explain,” was all he said. This time, the trembling was far more evident, and he looked like he was ready to drag her to the conference hall if she protested.