You can’t kill a demon, and only God can move one out.
Pastor Casey Carl thought as he sat in his Volvo and squinted up through pouring rain. Fingers of fog flowed over the old tower’s turrets and clung to the parapets like needy spirits seeking a cozy home. He zipped his leather jacket. “God is God and I’m not,” he said out loud. Leaning back, the seat creaked in protest. He stared across the street at Hollywood’s Amsterdam Apartments and considered his next move.
Should he give up on holding what Catholics called an exorcism and Protestants like himself call a deliverance service? Seconds earlier, his partner called saying he needed to go check on a kid threatening suicide.
Jesus sent his disciples out in pairs and even then, demons once sent them home disgraced. Christ warned that some demons could only be exorcised through prayer and fasting. Casey was too busy the past week for much of either. But being too tired to confront a demon was not part of his theology. A teenager showed up at his church’s Addicts for Jesus classes a few weeks earlier asking for help with his depression. Tonight, the boy called Casey and insisted he come pray.
But he was alone. His body ached to recline. Unrest pricked his spirit. Rain pelted the black asphalt. Traffic sloshed spray against his dented station wagon. He couldn’t remember if he even had an umbrella. That’s it, he thought. I’m going home. Turning the key, his cranky car sputtered then came to life.
A girl screamed and pounded his passenger side window.
“Luther’s freaking out. You got to help.”
Casey killed the engine, flung open the car door, and jumped to the pavement. A horn sounded. He ran to the car’s front and confronted a girl with skin so white it looked drained of blood. She grabbed his jacket and pulled him so close he could see her tongue stud darting between black lipstick. “He said you were coming to help him. I been waiting for your car.” She backed up and eyed him like a cornered cat appraising a German shepherd. “Luther said you were real.”
In Casey’s universe, you were real if you sat up with a kid and let him talk all night as he tweaked on Meth. You were real if you strolled into one of their abandoned building squats and ignored the needles and condoms as you gave out coffee and donuts. You were real if you didn’t contact their parents. He gazed into the girl’s pleading eyes. “I got scars to prove it.”
Oblivious to traffic, she darted across the street. A car slid sideways, and a young man jumped out cursing. Casey took advantage of the stopped traffic to cross behind her. She un-locked the building’s front door and raced to the elevator. He hurried inside, panting and trying to calm down. She ignored his stare and focused on the elevator’s panel lights. “Your friend,” he said. “He’s not threatening suicide, is he?”
“Just weirded out,” she said, “No telling what he’ll do.” Her startled blue eyes dissolved into an inspection that started at the black Triple X Stetson atop his silver hair and ended at the beads of water on his spit-shined Tony Lama’s. He cleared his throat and tried not to stare back. Raindrops dripped to the floor from her silver zip up jacket, above a knee-length denim skirt with intricate rhinestone fleur-de-lis patterns. This girl was no street urchin. The elevator jerked to a halt. She rushed past him.
He followed her into a ninth-floor studio apartment that resembled something out of a 1930’s movie. Beneath its tin ceiling of engraved squares, pairs of fake-candle wall lights dimly lit the room. Despite its dented radiators and faded yellow blinds, it looked too neat to be lived in. Musty and cool, it smelled of uncleaned sickness and burned candles.
The boy, clad only in shorts, lay barefoot on his back atop a sagging sofa covered with a brown chenille bedspread. His eyes stared at the ceiling with a stillness that made him look dead . . . or overdosed. A circle drawn in red chalk along the hardwood floor enclosed the couch. The boy was either keeping demons in or out.
Casey went to one knee beside him, took off his soaked hat and held it.
“Can you tell me your name again son?”
“It’s not important.”
“Names are very important, especially to God.”
“Then you should remember mine.” Hate flashed in his dark eyes. “My name’s Luther.”
Despite his German name, the boy’s olive skin and coal black hair looked Hispanic. Casey kept his voice soft. “So, Luther, tell me what’s happening.”
“You know, they’re back again. The great old ones. They’re telling me I need to join them. Some of them are in the heavens you know. The veil’s getting thinner all the time. You understand the Bible, preacher. You should know too.”
Casey nodded, realizing he didn’t. “I think you should be in an emergency room.”
Panic bulged his eyes. “No!” he shouted. “I don’t want a doctor. I want you. . . I mean to pray. You told me you’d pray.”
Casey stood, placed his hat on a stained end table and retrieved from his jeans a tiny capsule of oil inside a silver holder attached to his key chain. A week earlier, the man who looked in his early twenties showed up at his Addicts for Jesus meeting then came to his office yesterday, sat on his couch and said he was depressed, telling Casey his mother was a prostitute, and she and her friends had “freak parties” with him. Casey prayed for him, and he left.
“Luther, you want to be set free?”
The boy sat up and scanned the room as if searching for something unseen. “I’m ready to go through the gate. End all the bull on this side.”
Casey pulled up a straight-backed chair and sat close. He opened the cylinder and poured oil on two fingers. The girl sat nearby, her mouth pursed in pleasure, her eyes blinking in anticipation. She parted her legs beneath her wraparound skirt. He moved his eyes to the boy.
“Luther, do you believe Jesus has the power to cast out demons?”
Luther’s eyes clinched. The raised pupils beneath his eye-lids darted about as if he was having a conversation. His eyes opened to stare at something only he saw. His lips curled back, exposing a snarl that expelled a growl, guttural and coarse.
A familiar force swelled Casey’s chest, elevated his chin and narrowed his focus. “Jesus came out of the tomb and said, ‘all authority has been given unto me in Heaven and on Earth.’” Casey didn’t recite the verse to convince himself. It was important the demons hear Christ’s words.
“Jesus is the Name above all Names. I declare in His name that you come forth and identify yourself. What’s your name, demon?”
The growl grew into a blast of sound and breathe, blowing into Casey’s face, gale force.
“What are you to me, preacher?” The voice crosscut Casey’s soul. A gusting squall splattered rain against the window, swayed the old tower and howled across the room.
“I come in the name and authority of Jesus Christ, Yeshua of Nazareth,” Casey said. “Jesus has conquered all demons. You have no power over Christ, and you know it.”
The boy’s eyes regained a presence. They registered surprise. Encouraged, Casey spoke words in his heavenly prayer language given him years ago in a jail cell. Words with meaning known only to God.
“Who are you?” Casey asked, returning to English. “I command you in the Name of Jesus.”
The boy’s shoulders shook. His purple lips quivered. His eyes went empty. A thin tortured moan thickened into anger. “Your soul will be scorched.”
The words seemed to come from nowhere and everywhere at once, booming and echoing off the tin ceiling. “He is my chosen son. I am Dagon.”
Casey raised two fingers wet with anointing oil and moved them toward the boy. “You have no son and no authority, Dagon. Jesus Christ sends you back to the abyss, the pit from where you came.”
“It’s you who has no authority. You’re not God’s Son. You put your own father in jail.”
Pain pierced his temple. How did the demon know? Shak-ing his head, he fought to concentrate. His fingers touched the boy’s forehead. A long wail speared the air. The boy blinked rapid-fire, jerked forward and retched. A stream of yellowish bile hung from his open mouth. His eyes cleared, cascading with wonder.
Screams, like an angry cougar, came from behind Casey. He sprang to his feet. A form leaped on his back, vice-clamped knees around his hips. It was the girl.
Her elbows braced against his shoulder blades, long black fingernails dug into his eyes, searching for purchase behind the corners of his eyeballs.
Staggering, he dropped the oil and clutched at her hands. His foot caught in the chair leg. He tumbled forward. The chair fell over with them and he landed atop it. Rolling to the floor, he wound up on his back. Bare legs straddled his hips. Hands with black half-inch fingernails moved toward his face. Growling with teeth parted, she eyed his neck. From the corners of her mouth, gray foam dripped to his cheeks.
He grabbed at her hands. They clasped only air. Her head sank toward his neck. Mouth open, her forehead slammed into his temple. Teeth closed around his throat. He squeezed the sides of her head with palms and thumbs, and slowly raised it. A pendant and gold chain dangled inches from his face. A star with a diamond at each point. She wore nothing else.
Somewhere, as if it came from above the ceiling or another room, hoots of laughter and jeers echoed. Sounds of insanity rooting her on.
Letting go, he twisted from beneath her, turned onto his stomach, and fought to rise to his knees. She rode him like a horse. He thrust a shoulder to one side, ducked back the other way and grabbed the opposite calf. She tumbled beside him. He planted a knee on each side of her twisting body, captured flailing arms and used every ounce of his 175 pounds to pin her hands to the hardwood floor.
He gasped for air. She writhed beneath him. Her eyes were locked into a different sphere. A wry smile parted black lipstick. She cleared her throat and spat. The boiling hot spittle caused one eye to burn and close.
The apartment door flung open. She screamed again; this one rippled with a fear that wasn’t real. Two men charged into the room and stopped, wide-eyed.
“Help us,” Luther screeched as he struggled to rise from the couch. “For the love of God, stop him. He’s raping her.”