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14. neonate

JEFF ARMANDO

Something attacked Father Salat.

It was a burning woman.

Father Salat thinks it was a demon.

And it looked like a woman.

Sort of.

Hands reaching out for us.

The sunlight made it burn.

Coming in through the window.

Its skin was coming off.

Pieces of it going up into the air and turning to dust.

Like gravity was turned off.

And I saw this happen.

Watched it crash through the window.

Of Father Salat’s bedroom.

And we got something from it.

The thing-woman-demon.

It left something behind.

A book.

The demon went through a window.

I’m holding the book now.

We’re back at the church.

Uptairs.

In Father Salat’s library.

Back at that table where he showed me his book.

My brain keeps flashing to Big Kevin and His Fighting Seven.

And I feel like I’m a superhero now.

Part of something bigger than I am.

This is where Father Salat asked for my help.

My stomach is giddy.

I’ve decided I’ll help him.

This is my chance.

To be big.

Like Father Salat and I will be fighting evil.

And I feel like we’re the ones the story’s about.

Like I said.

Superheroes.

And it’s the best feeling.

The church.

Is this our base?

Are we starting something here?

Is this the beginning of something?

Bigger than me?

Bigger than maybe even Father Salat?

The start of when we change things?

Like superheroes.

Except that this is real.

I think.

This is different.

That’s maybe a better thing to say.

It feels like superheroes.

Like superheroes are real now.

Like God is a superhero.

Jesus the superhero.

End times.

And that makes everything different.

Doesn’t it?

Isn’t this really happening?

And this book.

The one with the shape of a ‘Y’ on the cover.

Taking up the whole cover.

The cover that looks like it’s made of skin.

Could it really have come from a demon?

Was that what I saw?

We compared notes, Father Salat and me.

About what we saw.

We think we saw a demon.

But not like the pictures I’ve seen of demons.

It was naked.

It looked like a woman.

It had a halo.

Like an angel.

But it wasn’t like the pictures I’ve seen of angels, either.

This demon had black skin.

And dark, wild hair.

And glowing purple eyes.

And the halo was purple, too.

All around its head, the halo.

The halo coming from its eyes.

Like smoke.

Yes, that’s what it had looked like.

Halo coming out of its eyes.

Like when you pour ink into water.

Only it was like smoke into air.

It’s hard to describe.

The memories are funny.

I’m so many things at once.

Nervous.

Excited.

Scared.

Terrified.

Those claws.

Reaching for me.

Black skin and wild hair.

Smelling my own fear.

I pissed myself.

I never heard anyone come into Father Salat’s home.

Never heard the door open downstairs.

Father Salat says he doesn’t remember if it was locked when we first got there.

So was it in there already?

Waiting?

And I feel even more like a superhero.

My enemy waiting for me.

Waiting for me.

I didn’t hear any window break before I saw the thing.

That came later.

When the demon thing threw itself through the bedroom window.

To escape from us.

Like a comic book.

Like you-haven’t-seen-the-last-of-me.

So, if it was a person, how did it get in?

When I came to Salat’s room, after hearing him scream.

The demon was there, lying on the floor.

Lying in a sticky pool of what looked to me like yellow slime.

It was lying there and looking up at Father Salat.

The  pool of slime all over the carpet in Father Salat’s bedroom.

Father Salat told me what he saw, on our way back to the church.

That the thing just appeared in front of him.

In a flash of light.

As he woke up from a dream.

He said he dreamed that great angels spoke to him.

And told him to gather good people.

For something beautiful and good.

He said he remembered the dream clear as anything.

He wasn’t sure how he was supposed to do it.

To gather the people.

He wasn’t sure what the dream meant.

The end times maybe, he said.

He told me he didn’t have those answers.

I need him to have answers.

But he told me how he woke up and sat there on his bed and then the thing came.

Just a moment after he opened his eyes.

The demon just appeared.

And Father Salat said he just cried out with surprise.

Said he couldn’t do anything.

And that’s how I heard him.

I heard his scream.

I’d been asleep up until then.

So tired after what happened with Michael Laddow.

Our failure.

I think of it as ours.

Couldn’t I have done more?

Was this the demon that had been inside Michael Laddow?

Or is there more than one demon now?

Had a demon followed us from the jail?

Father Salat doesn’t think so.

It was weird when I got to Father Salat’s room to see the demon.

Pain all over my skin.

When I came into the bedroom.

Everything hurt all at once.

Like walking into a cactus, face-first.

Father Salat said on the way that the same thing happened to him, too.

Like someone poked little holes in us.

He said it might be from exposure to a demon.

Traces of it in the air.

That we took into our lungs.

And blinked into our eyes.

I remember feeling frozen at the doorway.

From pain and surprise.

Staring down at the thing on the ground.

With those long black fingers and wild hair.

It had been reaching up.

Reaching for Father Salat.

Then, I’d spotted the book on the ground near the demon.

I’d picked it up.

The book had been sticky with yellow slime.

But I’d gone ahead and picked it up anyway.

And I can’t undo that now.

I did that.

Got the slime on my fingers.

I picked up the book.

To use it as a weapon.

To hit the horrible thing on the ground with it.

I’d only been thinking of protecting Father Salat.

But then, when I picked up the book, the demon had just screamed.

It sounded like a dragon.

And then it came at me.

Came up on its back legs or legs or I don’t know.

And came at me.

Tried to take the book.

But its grasp was weak.

Not too weak that it wasn’t a struggle.

I pushed it away from me.

It fell back into the curtains.

I came at it.

I had the book over my head.

And I hit it.

With the book.

Struck it again and again.

And it fell into the curtains.

And the curtains came down.

And the sunlight came in.

And it started to burn.

Face coming off, like I said.

Skin turning into purple dust.

Going up instead of down.

Sunlight burning it.

And I don’t know what’s real any more.

And I’m so frightened.

Because it might still be out there.

Because it went through the window.

Jumped.

Fell.

I don’t remember.

Clawing at itself and screaming.

And went out the window.

And I ran to Father Salat.

And helped him up.

And we both went to the window.

And there was nothing there.

Just burn-marks on the ground.

No footprints running away, even.

Not that there would be, necessarily, in the grass.

Would there be?

I’m not a detective.

And now, I’m remembering what Father Salat had said to me after the demon left.

“Praise the Lord you were here.  I think you saved my life!” Father Salat said to me.

“Jesus Christ!” I’d said.

He’d crossed himself, then, and then he’d crossed me.

He breathed for a long time after that, fast and shallow old-man breathing.

“My God!” I’d said.

“Not of God, Jeff.  Something not of this world, but not of God,” Father Salat had told me.

More old-man breathing from him.

“Not of God,” Father Salat said again.

His expression had been so dire.

I hadn’t been able to say anything about that.

“I think it was something sent to stop us,” Father Salat had said.

I remember feeling in that moment like I was going to pass out.

But I didn’t.

And then Father Salat had seen the book in my hands.

“Where did that come from?” he’d asked.

“It was on the floor,” I’d said.

I wanted to tell myself I’d thought it was one of Father Salat’s books.

But I could tell it wasn’t.

“I picked it up to protect you,” I explained to him.

At the time, it had seemed like so easy a thing to say.

By then, the pain had turned into a numb feeling.

And a sick feeling.

Both at the same time.

So we drove back to the church, where I am now.

We walked back to the locked door in the church.

Up the stairs to the libraries.

Father Salat told me to put the book on the table.

So I did.

Then, Father Salat washed my hands in holy water.

He said prayers about me to God.

Asked God to cleanse me.

Told God about my bravery.

But at the same time said God must have seen it Himself.

What I did.

When I picked up the slimy book from the floor.

He asked God if we’d been spared because of my virtue.

Then, after that, Father Salat held me in his arms.

A long hug.

And I felt calmer.

Safer.

But, at the same time, I feel weak.

Too weak to be a superhero.

The superhero I have to be.

So all my feelings are going back and forth.

Now, Father Salat is standing next to me, looking at the book.

He looks weak, too.

Pale.

Sick.

Old.

I’m worried about all of that.

Most of all the “old” part.

What have I gotten myself into?

Father Salat had been right earlier today.

When he suggested I’d felt something compel me to come to the church.

Was that how God sounded?

Like your own voice, telling you what to do?

Like when you figure out your business on Earth doesn’t matter?

Did God really send me to Father Salat?

I think that it just had to have been God.

It had to have been.

Because too much was happening to us for this not to be God.

To Father Salat and me.

Together.

And he really does need my help.

And even though I don’t want to touch the book any more, I’ll keep helping Father Salat.

Even though I want to go home.

Or go into the city and finally get a basset hound.

But now my hands are clean.

And my soul?

Yeah.

Father Salat blessed me.

And that should make me feel strong.

But my fingers feel numb.

And the muscles in them feel weak.

Like it’s hard to make them move.

I want to ask Father Salat to wash them again.

But I don’t.

Instead, I try to push through it.

I try to have faith in my priest.

I clench my fingers together, spread them out.

To try to get the feeling back.

Father Salat is sitting at the table.

Just looking at the book.

Not touching it.

“I think this book is evil,” he says.  “I’m certain of it.”

“No shit, Father.”  I can’t help saying that.  It’s funny to me.  And I’m laughing.

I feel dizzy.

Father Salat doesn’t correct me on my cursing.

Or say anything about my laughing.

“What did we see?” I ask Father Salat.

“We saw something,” Father Salat says.

I wait for him to elaborate.

“We saw something profane.”

“Should we take it to Sheriff?” I ask Father Salat.

“Yes,” Father Salat says.

He looks down at the book.

“But we’ll need another witness,” he says.  “There must always be witnesses!”  He’s sweating profusely.

“What do you mean?” I ask him.

“After what happened earlier, I don’t think Sheriff Gaynor will believe us.  We need to look for help from other people.  People on the ground.  People who understand.  People whop believe already.”

“You don’t think that Sheriff Gaynor will-?” I start to ask.

Father Salat interrupts me.  “I think he’ll accuse us of making it up.  He’ll say this book came from my library.  And I don’t want either of us to touch it, for now,” Father Salat answers.

He walks over to the little sink and opens the cupboard beneath.

There are books there, but also kitchen supplies.

He withdraws a garbage bag and lays the garbage bag over the top of the book and slides the book halfway off the table.

Then, he flips the garbage bag around to the other side of the book, underneath it.

Then he pushes the book off the table, touching only the garbage bag.

The book falls off the table, and now Salat’s got the book in the bag like a hammock.

“Get another garbage bag, would you?  And hold it open for me?” Father Salat says.

I get one.

I hold it open for him.

Father Salat drops the book into the bag.

Then, Father Salat gets a third garbage bag and puts the second bag into that one.

Then, he goes to a drawer and opens it, pulling out some rosaries.

He drops the rosaries into the bag.

Then, he cinches the top.

“Like I said, we need a witness,” he says.

“Who?” I ask.

“Someone who can maybe explain that symbol on the cover,” Father Salat says.

“Who?” I ask again.

“Do you know a woman named Hilda Leek?” Father Salat asks me.

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Published inpart 2

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