By Donna Broom
Father Louis Demarco was surprised to see a little girl in the third pew. It was 4:15 pm; his turn to say 5 o’clock mass at St. Gabriel’s church. The adjoining Catholic school dismissed at 2:10, so it was unusual to see a lone child in the church this late in the afternoon. Father Lou couldn’t help but be annoyed. He was already running late, preferring to arrive a full hour before a mass.
“Come on, Lou, get a hold of yourself. This girl needs the Lord,” he thought.
Father Lou strode down the center aisle, his stiff leather shoes squeaking on the granite flooring. Hearing the shoes, the girl turned, and Lou recognized her as Ellie Cardino. He’d administered Ellie’s First Communion and heard her First Confession. She gave him an anxious smile, then faced the massive, cherry wood, crucifix hanging over the altar.
“Ellie, it’s so nice to see you!”
The priest stood as he engaged the girl in conversation. Father Lou took his position as an appropriate role model seriously. When he was assigned to St. Gabriel’s Church and School, ten years ago, Father Lou implemented a rigorous clergy training program and expected respectful professionalism from all church and school employees.
“Hi, Father,” she replied. Her eyes stayed on the crucifix. Her voice, barely above a whisper.
“May I help you with anything? Would you like to talk?” said Father Lou.
“I’m not sure what to say, Father. I guess I’m worried.” Ellie finally met the priest’s eyes.
Seeing her face brought Lou back to Ellie’s First Communion, two years previous. It was obvious Ellie took her faith seriously. Although eight years old at the time, Ellie asked intelligent questions during Communion classes with him. She was prepared and poised when she made her First Confession.
“May I sit?” he asked.
“Of course, Father, please.” Her voice still soft, she slid over to allow space for Lou.
“Ellie, have you been here since school’s been dismissed?”
“No, I went home.” The girl looked down at her lap. She shivered. It was chilly in the church. It was also, eerily, still.
“Did something happen at home?” He leaned in to hear her small voice.
“Yes, something happened at home,” Ellie said, her tone flat. “I think I handled it, though.”
“That’s great to hear! Did you have an argument with James? Your Mom or Dad?” He found that children needed a bit of structure in matters of faith. Asking: who, what, where and why, helped get the conversation going.
Ellie’s expression darkened.
“I think my brother is possessed, Father.”
Acid creeped up the priest’s throat. Lou swallowed, calming his rapid firing nerves.
“Tell me everything,” he replied.
The story exploded out of the child. Ellie’s older brother, James, began teasing her about her faith soon after the First Communion service Father Lou remembered with such fondness. Apparently, the boy tortured his sister by forcing her to watch movies depicting demon possession– Rosemary’s Baby, The Exorcist, The Omen. He sneaked into Ellie’s room at night to shake the bed—making her think the devil was communicating with her. James drafted his friends into the torment. They jumped out of bushes as she played outdoors. They hid behind corners in the hallways at school—taunting her.
“Ellie, Ellie, the devil will get you…No matter what you do. No matter how much you pray,” they chanted.
Father Lou couldn’t believe what he was hearing. It was something out of a gothic novel.
He asked the emotionally burdened child, “Do your parents know about this bullying?”
“No,” she said. “He threatened to kill me if I tattled. He says I’m a baby.”
Poor Ellie’s little shoulders drooped as she, finally, broke down in tears. Father Lou took her hands in his. He knew exactly what to do.
“Ok, you’ve done the right thing coming here. I don’t know if James is possessed but I DO know he is treating you inappropriately.” He patted her shaking hands. “You stay right here. I’ll have Sister Patricia come and sit with you while I call your parents.”
“No, Father! He’ll kill me! He said so!” Ellie screamed, covering her face. The sound echoed through the icy calm of the stone church. The stained glass vibrated with her cries. He hugged the child. Her body trembling in terror.
“Ellie, look at me,” he said, gently.
She hiccupped, pulled away, and looked up at him. Father Lou’s spine tingled as he gazed into her terrified eyes.
“Come and sit outside my office. I’ll handle this once and for all. Don’t you worry any more about it. How about we say an ‘Our Father’ and a ‘Hail Mary’ just for good measure, hm?”
The priest and the girl recited the prayers together. They rose from the pew and proceeded back down the center aisle of the church; two sets of squeaking footsteps. Left, right, left, right.
Father Lou left Ellie sitting on the repurposed pew outside his office as he dialed the Cardino’s phone number. Surprisingly, the phone connected before the first ring.
“Cardino residence, Detective Miller here.”
Startled, Lou sputtered a reply. “Um, this is Father Louis from St. Gabriel’s Church and School. I’m calling for Anne or Perry Cardino, please.”
What on earth, thought Lou.
He heard the detective cover the phone with his hand and instruct the parents to make it short then, handed the phone to Perry Cardino.
“Hello, Father Lou? This is Perry, now’s not the best time.”
“Yes, Perry, I’m so sorry to disturb you. I have Ellie here and—”
“Excuse me, what?” Perry replied.
“I said, I have Ellie here. She seems to be having some disturbing conflicts with her brother.”
“Father, um, I don’t know what to tell you or who you have there but—” Perry’s reply was cut off.
“Father, this is Detective Miller. I’m not sure what is going on, but Ellie Cardino was found dead earlier today. Her brother has confessed to the crime. He claims to be possessed by the devil.”
Louis Demarco didn’t hear anything after “dead”. He sat, frozen, holding the phone aloft. The detective’s voice fading away.
Sister Patricia bounded into the office, out of breath and sweating.
“Father! You won’t believe what I just heard on the news!” She said, hands on hips.
Father Lou ashen-faced, set down the receiver and calmly stated, “I know, Sister. I think I know everything…”
Category: Short Story