the exorcist

I’m writing this on Thursday because I need to BITCH. I’ll post it tomorrow, but I just need a MOMENT.

Okay, I’m gonna open this post with:

A Quick Refresher Course on Hauntings

1. Remember how last time we were dealing with that haunting back in June when I was whining because hauntings are more like spring cleaning than like the exorcist? Yeah, well, it turns out I was complaining for no reason.

2. There are 5 levels of a haunting. It’s not until the 4th level that people can be grabbed, bruised, bitten or even dragged. Until lately, that’s the highest level the Hawthornes have seen.

3. It’s also the highest level ANYONE has ever seen, apparently. We know it’s possible, because it’s been extensively recorded (apparently, it’s not like I’ve seen these records or anything) but no one living has ever seen a level 5 haunting.

4. A level 5 haunting is a full on possession

5. Full on possession is exactly what it sounds like. On a scale of spring cleaning to the exorcist, it hits closer to the exorcist.

We spent all this morning — Thursday morning — away from the Agan house doing research. We called everyone, starting with Beverly, just see if anything like this had come up to her knowledge. She hadn’t heard anything. So we called Professor Protsman at Palefish, just to see what he thought.

At first Protsman seemed fairly cavalier about the whole situation, suggesting all sorts of alternative possibilities for what it could be. But the more we described the situation, the less pleased he seemed.

“You think this is a possession, don’t you?” he finally said.

The Hawthornes glanced at each other. “Yeah,” Julian finally admitted. “I do.”

Protsman blew out a long breath into the receiver.

“Okay,” he said. “Well, in that case…”

“We’ll call Jade,” Neal interrupted. “Don’t bother Lily with this we’ll handle it. We just thought you should know.”

Protsman thanked him, but I could tell in his voice as he said goodbye and promised to inform Lana, that he was troubled.

Jade already knew what we were calling about when we called her. “You figured it out faster than I expected you to,” was the first thing she said when we called her. “I was going to call you tomorrow morning.”

“How long have you known?” Julian said.

“I’ve been feeling a disturbance for weeks now,” Jade said. “But I wasn’t certain until Monday.”

🙄 Psychics.

“You couldn’t have called us earlier?” Neal grumbled.

I expected Jade to be sassy right back, but instead she just got very grim. “Mercy and Zinia will be there tomorrow afternoon. They’re coming as fast as they can.” And then, after a moment, “I didn’t want to scare you.”

And it was at that point that I realized that we were not just in danger, we were ✨in danger✨

“Our priority has to be just keeping Annie alive until Mercy and Zin get here,” Julian said as we drove towards the Agan household.

“And if that means trying to get that thing out of her before they get here?” Neal asked.

Julian’s voice was even when he said, “if it comes to that we’ll do what we can,” but I saw his knuckles whiten on the steering wheel.

“How do we keep her alive?” I asked.

“Right now, that thing is fighting Annie to take over her body,” Julian said. “One of the ways it fights is to make her body as unpleasant to be in as possible.”

I thought of her horrible, stinking bedroom.

“So the first step is to do everything we can to make her as physically well as we can,” Julian went on. “Hopefully that’s enough to keep her fighting until Mercy and Zinia get here.”

“And if it’s not?” I asked.

There was a long moment of quiet, and then Neal said, “Then I’ll fight with her.”

Julian’s jaw muscle flexed so I figured that wouldn’t be pretty.

The house was as quiet as it was the day before, with the same flock of crows storming on the roof, but inside we could hear screaming.

We didn’t knock, we just crashed in. Aaron was cowering at the bottom of the stairs.

“What happened?” Julian asked and the poor kid just pointed, so we ran.

The door was cracked. Inside, Annie was fighting tooth and nail against Father Luis and both her parents while Father Sidney stood at the end of the bed flicking holy water over her and speaking Latin. She was bleeding, and in the fight her night dress had come up far enough to reveal painfully bony legs. She was begging them to stop.

Neal and Julian didn’t even hesitate. They just barreled inside. Mrs Agan was easy for Julian to nudge out of the way.

“Let’s wrap her,” Neal said loudly over the commotion, and Julian deftly untucked the corners of her sheet.

“Annie,” Julian said loudly over the praying. “We’re going to untie you, but don’t worry, we’re going to wrap you up in a big swaddle so you can’t hurt anyone, alright?” And then to me, “Shiloh I need you to untie her, first that leg —”

Which was enough to interrupt Father Sidney. “No,” he said, right in the middle of his prayer. The thing inside of Annie began to laugh, a low rumble. “Don’t untie her!”

“We can handle her,” Neal said, totally breezy, moving to hold down a leg.

The Hawthornes might have missed it, but I saw the flash of displeasure in Father Sidney’s expression when we disobeyed him.

“We need to clean up this room,” Julian said. “When was the last time she ate something? Had water? A bath?”

“Shiloh, get her wrist,” Neal said and moved to do as I was told.

Father Sidney didn’t like it though. “You are not men of faith,” he said.

“Nope,” Neal said, flashed his best shit-eating grin, and undid the binding on her ankle.

Then a bunch happened really quickly: first Father Luis grabbed me up in a bear hug from behind so that I couldn’t finish undoing Annie’s wrist confines. I obviously shrieked because what the FUCK, which distracted Neal, which gave Annie’s loose leg enough time to wind up and kick Father Sidney, hard, in the stomach.

There was a swell of chaos as everyone rushed to restrain her, but with one leg free, Annie was making a real go of it. The lights flickered, a chair in the corner inexplicably fell to pieces. There was a horrible crack as Annie’s flailing leg broke. Mrs. Agan began screaming.

And that was when Neal lurched forward, put one hand in the middle of Annie’s chest and one on her forehead — just like he did for me when Tilly and I did that spell in the woods.

“Okay Annie,” Neal said. “Let’s see if we can’t turn the tides on this one.”

Whatever was inside her spat at Neal’s face, and her broken leg flailed, even as Julian lunged to restrain it, but Neal just took a long breath, and closed his eyes.

At first nothing happened. But then, slowly, Annie began to relax. Her breathing slowed. She stopped fighting Julian.

I watched in awe as some color came back to her cheeks.

“Stop!” Mrs. Agan cried. “You’re killing her! She can’t breathe!”

“Ma’am, no, she’s okay,” Julian said, without looking away from Neal. “He’s helping her.”

But Father Sidney had recovered. “What is this devilry?”

And that was enough to snap Mr. Agan into action. He gave Neal a shove, and Neal gasped and fell back against the wall. His pupils were super dilated and he was breathing hard.

“That worked,” he said. “It was working! I can help her, I can —”

“I don’t think that’s a good idea,” Father Sidney said coldly. Father Luis was already tying down Annie’s leg again.

“But —”

“You need to leave,” Father Sidney said. “If we need your assistance, we’ll fetch you.”

“Please,” Julian said. “Please, she needs water. She needs to be clean.”

“You just came in here for not even five minutes,” Father Sidney seethed. “And broke her leg.” When we hesitated, he added, “I have the full authority of the church. The glory of God is what will save this girl. Not a bath. Please, we’ll call you if we need you.”

And to my horror, the boys got up and we left.

“What are we doing?” I hissed. “We can’t leave her in there! You were helping her!”

“He can’t keep that up without consent,” Julian said, as Neal leaned against the wall and sank down to sit on the carpet. “Whatever that entity is, it’s too strong to fight it, and Father Sidney as well.”

So now we’re just sitting downstairs again. Waiting. While upstairs who knows what’s going on.

LATER

FUCK this job. I want to scream, I’m so SICK of seeing horrible shit happen I’m so SICK of getting into hopeless situations and not knowing until it’s too late and I’m so SICK of FAILING.

We spent the night in the car outside the Agan’s house just in case, but it was quiet all night.

“That’s a good sign though, right?” I asked.

“Not really,” Neal said. “We want her fighting.”

Mercy and Zinia called us before 7 this morning to tell us they’d be here before noon.

We only had to get Annie through five more hours.

The first two hours we thought it was going to be okay.

Father Sidney came downstairs at ten. He looked exhausted.

Julian, who had been anxiously cleaning their kitchen all morning, brought him a cup of coffee.

“Father, we owe you an apology,” he said, when Father Sidney gratefully took the coffee. “We shouldn’t have just stormed in as we did.”

I glanced at Neal, who rolled his eyes just slightly for my benefit.

“Our methods are not mutually exclusive,” Julian went on. “It would help us, I think, to fight this battle with your god on our team.”

Father Sidney even managed a wan smile at that.

“To God, this is not a battle,” he told Julian. He didn’t elaborate.

“Do you truly believe God will protect this girl?” Neal asked. “Without a single doubt?”

“I do,” Father Sidney said, the picture of confidence, not even a moment’s hesitation. “No doubt in my mind.”

He must have been lying though, because Neal’s expression darkened. Goodness knows what he would have said if Julian hadn’t been there to stop him. When Father Sidney went upstairs again, he left us down here.

I could feel the energy of the house going bad. I don’t know how to explain it exactly, but we could all feel it. It felt like a light fever, or a mild nausea, combined with nagging anxiety and restlessness.

Annie was upstairs dying. I knew she was dying, and I didn’t know if we could save her, but I knew we could at least do better than this arrogant, dogmatic son of a bitch.

“If Annie said we could help her, would that be enough?” I asked.

“In theory,” Julian replied. “But how are we gonna get her permission?”

We couldn’t obviously. Between her parents, the priests, and whatever was possessing her, it wasn’t like she had much agency at this point.

I was so pissed.

Mercy and Zinia called at 11:15 to tell us they were making good time and would be here soon.

“When they get here, we’re just gonna bust in, right?” I said.

“Oh yeah,” Neal replied.

But everything went wrong before they got there.

It started with a thump that rattled the whole house. Then, from upstairs, a whole chorus of screaming.

We just ran for it. Julian busted open the door with his shoulder.

When Annie opened her mouth a different voice came out of her mouth. I don’t even know what it said, it was just SCREAMING, this endless, gravelly scream.

“Please,” Julian said. “Please, you have to let us take care of this.”

The priests just held up their crosses and shouted about the power of Christ while this poor girl thrashed and screamed.

“Oh my god they’re going to kill her,” Neal realized and stepped forward to push between the priests. “You have to listen to me,” he said, holding Father Sidney by the shoulders. “You’re in over your head.”

“God —”

“I don’t know shit about god,” Neal said. “But I can save the girl.”

Whatever was inside Annie started laughing. I heard it say, “the girl is mine,” before Mrs. Agan started screaming about how we were sent by the devil, and we’re killing their daughter, and how much worse everything got after we got here — on and on.

“Please,” Neal said. “Please, she’s going to die.”

I’ve never seen either of them so helpless.

“Begone, demon,” Father Sidney said, but he was talking to the Hawthornes, and once Father Sidney turned on us that was it. They were literally shoving us out of the room, while whatever was inside Annie laughed and laughed.

They slammed the door behind us.

Neal kicked at the carpet and swore, and Julian just slid down the wall and sat on the floor, head in his hands.

“What are you doing?” I demanded. “She’s gonna die in there!”

But when Neal looked up at me I could see in his expression there was nothing more we could do.

“So we’re just giving up?” I said.

“What can we do?” Julian asked. “We’re in over our heads, Shiloh. Mercy and Zinia will be here soon, but we can’t fight the family and… whatever that thing is. If they won’t let us in…” He took a deep breath. “Hopefully the priests will be able to hold it at bay until they get here. Sometimes their methods help.”

We waited in the hallway for fucking hours, unable to leave. We just listened to it going on and on in there, the wailing and the god-fearing and all the crying. Finally the bedroom doors opened and they all came spilling out, sweating and exhausted.

Neal made to go into the room immediately.

“NO,” Mrs. Agan said.

Mr. Agan added, “I thought we made it clear that you were no longer welcome in this house.”

“You are going to kill her,” Neal said. “If you carry on like this, your daughter is going to die.”

“She isn’t going to die,” Father Sidney said. “We put our faith in the lord, and he will protect —”

Neal let out a groan of frustration. “Are you not seeing what is happening in there? Is that what it looked like in your head?”

Father Sidney hesitated and Julian pounced. “All we’re asking for,” he said, “is a shot. We’re not saying you should stop your methods. We just want to add ours.”

For a long moment Father Sidney didn’t answer and I thought maybe we’d get to try. Mr. and Mrs. Agan were looking at Father Sidney, their expressions all full of fear — whatever he said was what they’d do, and for a second I really thought we’d get to save her.

But then, from behind the door Annie gargled, and Father Sidney’s expression hardened.

“No,” he said. “Your witchcraft is the devils work. You were sent here to test me, and it will not stand.”

And that was about when I lost my patience. “YOU?” I shrieked at him. “You think we came here to test YOU? This isn’t about you! This is about Annie, and she’s going to die!”

For a sec I thought I was gonna get socked, but the benefit of the Hawthorne brothers having your back is that you can say just about anything before someone decides it’s a good idea to try their luck.

“I’m calling the police,” Mr. Agan said.

So I shouted back, “Call them then! Tell them what you’re doing in here!”

“She’s right,” Neal said. “We know that this isn’t a medical or mental health issue, but the cops won’t.”

Mrs. Agan glanced at Mr. Agan fearfully, but Father Sidney cut in: “Are you blackmailing us?”

Which was absurd, of course we weren’t blackmailing them. We weren’t even the ones threatening to call the police. And either way, Annie started screaming again, and this time I didn’t wait for anyone, I lead the way back in.

Everything in the room was floating a foot off the floor. Mrs. Agan screamed.

Annie was sobbing. “Help me,” she said. “Please help me.”

And that was the only thing that mattered. I could have been this poor fucking girl, or I could have been her friend.

I hoisted myself up onto her filthy mattress beside her, while behind me the priests started screaming about the devil.

“Annie?” I said, right in her face. “Blink once for yes, two for no. Can you hear me?”

“NO,” the thing inside her said but I saw that girl blink.

“Can we try helping you?” I asked and when she blinked tears slid down into her hairline.

“She said yes!” I shouted over all the priests nonsense, and I swear, in the split second it took for Neal and Julian to jump into action, Father Sidney slammed the door on them. He wasn’t even looking at Annie anymore, he was shouting about the devil and staring at the door.

When I turned back to Annie she was laughing at me.

“Stupid dead girl has no idea,” the thing inside her said. “But you can feel it huh? You can feel there’s something wrong with you.”

Haha I mean my nightmares are honestly getting sort of tame, so thanks that should spice things up.

“Annie, stay with me, I have to go let them in.”

She blinked twice.

“No?” I asked.

“She’s at the end,” the thing inside her said. “And when she’s gone, this is all going to be mine.”

“What?” I gasped. “Annie —” a blood vessel in one of her eyes must have popped because her eye was filling with blood.

She opened her cracked lips. “Kill me,” she croaked. “Stab me in the heart.”

And then, right in front of my eyes, the thing inside her broke her neck. There was a horrible crack and Annie was gone. Everything in the room crashed to the floor, shaking the whole house.

There was a long moment of stunned quiet. Neal and Julian burst into the room, took in the stillness and immediately Neal shouted, “Shiloh get away!”

Before I had time to register what he was telling me, something hit me in the side so hard I was flung off the bed and onto the floor. I twisted around just in time to see what had once been Annie rise up off the mattress and float, feet hanging limply over her filthy sheets for just a moment, before she was flung across the room at Father Sidney.

“The spirit of Christ compels you,” the thing said and tore out his throat with her bare hands.

Chaos.

She was like a hurricane around the room, spraying the walls with Father Sidney’s blood.

Julian launched himself at her, pinned her arms.

“Stronger than you look, huh, monster?” the thing said, trying to squirm away, but Julian just dragged her down onto her knees, and with a handful of her hair wrenched her face upward.

Her eyes had filled with blood and were bright, vivid red.

Neal took a deep breath and put a hand on her forehead.

The thing laughed. “You’ve never seen the likes of me.”

Neal closed his eyes.

“I’ll turn your insides to hamburger,” the thing snarled.

“You’ll try,” Neal said.

I don’t know what kind of battle those two fought. It’s hard to explain, because I didn’t see much. I felt it though, like something electric in the air. My ears popped like I was losing a lot of elevation, my skin prickled, my vision blurred.

“Shiloh, the smoke,” Julian said, and I ran for the med kit, poured out a whole pile of the herb mix labeled haunts into the stone bowl and lit it. The Agans and Father Luis just cowered.

“Right under her nose,” Julian said. “Make her breathe it in.”

Neal shuddered and Julian looked up anxiously.

“Okay, I need you to call Mercy and Zin, can you do that? They should be just minutes out.”

I was literally running on autopilot. My brain was in panic mode, just barely functioning.

Mercy picked up on the first ring.

“I don’t know what you’re doing, but I can already feel it,” she said. “We’re maybe ten blocks from you, is Neal grounding it?”

When I said he was she said, “He just has to hold out until we get there. We’re coming as fast as we can.”

But Neal was violently shaking and Julian was still straining to keep Annie’s body still.

And then, all at once, Annie’s body crumpled. Julian dropped her instantly and lurched to support Neal, who’s knees had buckled.

Mr. and Mrs. Agan fell onto the floor beside their daughter’s body, but we didn’t have time to deal with them.

“Are they almost here?” Julian said. I nodded. “Okay, we’ll meet them outside, he can’t channel all of this himself.”

“Can you help him?”

Something crossed Julian’s face. “No.”

“Can I?”

Julian hesitated. “You don’t know how,” he said, but Neal had started to convulse now, and I was starting to get really scared. “Just help me get him outside.”

Mercy and Zinia arrived on their motorcycle literally as we were stumbling unevenly out the front door.

“Is he alive?” Mercy called, staggering off her bike.

Julian managed to answer in the affirmative, and Mercy took Neal firmly by the jaw and pressed her forehead onto his.

“Okay, let’s see what you’ve got,” she murmured, and her eyes rolled back. Within a few minutes she jerked away with a whoop. “That is spicy as shit, what did you three find?” But she said it with a certain amount of zeal, and went right back in for more, reaching blindly behind her for Zinia, who, with a long breath, took Mercy’s palm and put it squarely on her forehead.

For a few minutes they were a strange chain, and Julian and I watched, holding our breaths. And then, suddenly, Mercy let out a brief shriek, and Neal’s eyes flew open. He lurched onto his hands and knees and puked an ocean of black bile into the grass. Literally I don’t know where he was keeping all that bile. It was like he was puking up his own organs, and when he was done all he could do was flop over sideways and sob.

We’re all at the sketchiest hotel in the universe now. Mercy and Zinia are with us too, they need time to recover. Mercy especially is kind of wrecked — she for sure saved Neal’s ass, and she’s for sure paying for it.

This case sucked. I can’t stop thinking about Annie. We could have saved her. We could have fucking saved her.

Julian called the police as we drove away from the house.

“Ice cold,” Neal croaked. He had two black eyes, and his nose wouldn’t stop bleeding. His hands where he touched Annie’s body were blistered.

I was on Julian’s side. Fuck the police. But if anyone ever deserved them, it was the Agans.

“They killed their daughter,” I said. “I hope they rot.”

“They were just scared,” Neal said.

“We almost lost you,” Julian said quietly, and Neal couldn’t deny it.

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