Joanna sat back in the seat and closed her eyes. Stephen had betrayed her. But then to his credit, he saved her too.
It was all very complicated and she wasn’t sure she knew where his true loyalties lay any more.
“Stop the car,” she said.
“First you get me to drive like a lunatic, now you want me to stop.”
Unwilling to debate the matter, Joanna yanked the handbrake up, sending the car careering across the road and causing the driver of the car behind to blow his horn repeatedly.
“Jesus, Jo, you could have killed us.”
“I asked you to stop.”
“You didn’t give me chance.”
“Like you gave me one when you told the police where I was.”
“I told you, I didn’t realise you were telling me the truth.”
“You should have trusted me.”
“I know. I’m sorry. What more can I say?”
“Nothing. I’ll be fine from here.” She started to open the door but Stephen grabbed her arm.
“And where do you think you’re going?”
“Anywhere away from here.”
“Alone? Be serious. Tell me what’s going on. I can help. I
“I don’t think anyone can.”
“Talk to me. Let’s work it out together.”
She took a deep breath and fought to contain the tears threatening to roll down her cheeks.
“It all started at the railway station, when Lincoln lost his arm. I don’t know how or what, but I think it allowed something to possess him.”
“The shadow thing?”
“Yeah, the shadow thing. But he’s no longer alone. He kills people, then somehow, he impregnates them with shadow forms that take them over.”
“Well whatever they are, they’re stronger and faster than us. Did you see how fast they were running? Do you think they’re on steroids?”
Joanna rubbed her neck. She didn’t need telling how strong they were. One of them had lifted her up by her throat with one hand. “No, I don’t think they’re on bloody steroids. I think it’s more serious than that. A lot more serious.”
“So what are they then?”
“I think they’re demons.” She waited for Stephen to respond, to call her crazy, but he didn’t.
After a moment, he said, “And how do we battle demons?”
Relieved that he didn’t laugh or ridicule her theory, she shrugged. “I guess we need to speak to someone religious who knows about these things.”
“Any particular denomination?”
“One that knows about demons would help.”
“Well I think the Catholic Church has a lot to do with exorcisms.”
She nodded, still unable to believe she was talking about supernatural events in such a blas? manner.
These were demons for Christ sake. Honest to goodness, malignant, evil things from another realm that any other time she wouldn’t believe were real. But now, she had seen too much not to believe.
Their footsteps echoed along the church aisle. Around the walls, stained glass windows depicted biblical stories, the outside light shining through and throwing a palette of colour onto the pews. At the front of the church, a pale statue of Christ on the cross stared out.
Recognisable by his dog collar, a priest stood near the altar, removing dead flowers from vases and putting them in a bucket. Thin grey hair adorned his head like a halo and he bore the ravages of age in the many wrinkles on his face.
At the sound of Joanna and Stephen approaching, he looked up and smiled before returning to his task.
Feeling nervous in the cavernous building, Joanna coughed to clear her throat, the sound petering out in the high eaves. She usually only attended church for weddings and funerals, and this felt more like a funeral.
At the sound of her cough, the priest looked up again and locked eyes with Joanna. When she didn’t look away, he said, “Can I help you?”
With no other way to broach the subject, Joanna nodded. “Do you know anything about demonic possession?”
The priest frowned and dropped some more dead flowers into the bucket. “Demonic possession.”
Stephen stepped forwards. “Do you or don’t you?”
Joanna grabbed Stephen’s arm to indicate that he should remain calm.
The priest shrugged. “It’s commonly believed that it’s a form of spiritual possession where malevolent entities gain control over the body of a mortal person.”
“Have you ever dealt with it?” Joanna asked.
The priest shook his head. “Not firsthand, although the church does have guidelines about this sort of thing. Is there a specific reason why you’re asking?”
Joanna pursed her lips, unsure how much to reveal in case he thought she was mad. “What if I thought someone was possessed? What would I do?”
A noise towards the back of the church made them all turn to see a middle-aged woman enter, walk along the aisle and seat herself in one of the pews.
The priest put down the bucket and gestured to Joanna and Stephen that they should follow him across to the side.
When they were out of sight and earshot of the woman, the priest said, “I take it you’re asking for a specific reason.”
Joanna looked at Stephen and he nodded to indicate she should continue. She took a breath to steady herself. “I think there’s a group of people that have been possessed.” Even as she said it, she knew how crazy it sounded.
“A group of people?” The priest tugged on his earlobe.
“That’s what she said,” Stephen snapped.
The priest nodded. “I see.”
Stephen snorted loudly. “No, I don’t think you do.”
Joanna gave Stephen a withering glare. The last thing they needed to do was upset the priest. “Please excuse my friend. I know how mad this might seem, but I’m convinced some people have been, I don’t know, possessed by something demonic.”
“No, no, don’t apologise. I can see you’re both sincere and that you believe what you’re saying.”
“I would need proof.”
“So what would we have to do?”
“To prove what we’re telling you.”
The priest moved from tugging his earlobe to scratching his chin. “First, the person or persons would have to undergo physical and psychiatric examinations to eliminate natural causes.”
“And what if we don’t have time for that?” she asked.
“Well, after that we have to see if the person displays unexplainable physical phenomena, you know, levitation, moving objects, knowledge and use of archaic language, unnatural strength.”
“Unnatural strength. They have that,” Joanna said as she rubbed her neck.
“In spades,” Stephen added. “They run faster than humanly possible, that’s for sure.”
“So if we proved they were possessed, how do we help them, cure them, whatever you call it?” Joanna asked.
“You’re talking about an exorcism, which would only be authorised after all the evidence was weighed, and then a priest would be appointed.”
Joanna stared at him. “Could you do it?”
“What, an exorcism? Goodness, no.”
“I thought all priests could perform them,” Stephen said.
The priest shook his head.
Stephen grimaced. “That’s not what we wanted to hear.”
“I’m sorry, but that’s just the way it is. If you want to take the matter further…”
“Of course we have to take it further. People’s lives are at stake – including ours. These people, they’re trying to kill us.”
“Kill you! Then I would suggest you first contact the police.”
“We can’t. They’re possessed too.”
The corners of the priest’s mouth lifted in a grin that he tried to hide.
“This isn’t goddamned funny,” Joanna said.
The priest shook his head. “Of course not. I’m sorry. It’s just a lot to take in.”
“Then take this in. Whether you believe it or not, the evil that you renounce every week with your bloody sermons, well, it’s here. And as far as we know, this could be it, the end of days, the coming apocalypse between good and evil, and I don’t think you’ll be laughing then.”