Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Take two Ave Marias and call me in the morning

Father Martin Davis stood beside the hospital bed and watched as Dr. Price reset the boy's leg. The boy was maybe ten years old; apparently he'd fallen off his bike and caught the leg in a drain. As a priest, Father Davis didn't pay much attention to the medical portions of the procedure; he was busy composing his mind for prayer.

The bones were lined up and the cast was in place when Dr. Price caught his eye and nodded. Father Martin stepped forward, feeling the Ruach HaKodesh move through him as he prayed: "Holy Father, drive the demons from this boy's injury and keep them at bay while he heals. In the name of Jesus Christ, amen."

"Thank you, Father," said the boy's mother, who had been sitting on the far side of the bed.

Father Martin smiled and stepped back. There weren't any demons or evil influences here in the hospital, of course. The building was blessed far too regularly for that. The prayer was just to discourage them from settling in the wound and causing an infection after the boy went home.

He was halfway to the door when one of the nurses came rushing in. "Father Martin? Come quick. We've got a bad one."

The priest followed her down the hallway to another room. He hated working the Emergency Room, particularly at night, and especially during the dark of the moon, when the most chaotic and malign of spirits were ascendant. So, naturally, that was always when his ministry was scheduled. Father Martin wasn't sure if this was because the Bishop had it in for him, or whether it was intended as some sort of test or lesson. It didn't matter, really: it was his duty and he did it.

He could hear the trouble well before they reached the room. Shouted curses, in English and French, spilled out into the corridor. He could hear bangs and thumps from inside the room, and a shockingly loud clatter as something metal hit the floor. The nurse started, then went in.

Father Martin followed her, and the obscenities moved yet another language: Greek, he thought, but he couldn't be sure. The boy was strapped to one of the beds, but he was thrashing around with maniacal strength. The parents were huddled together in a corner of the room, away from the medical equipment. They looked panicked and exhausted, though their expressions lightened towards relief when they saw his clerical collar.

Ignoring the thrashing figure of the boy - teenager, really - Father Martin turned to the parents and lifted a hand. "Bless you," he said. He could feel no evil in them, no demonic influences hovering around them, but if they'd been in the presence of something like this... well, they could probably use a little extra protection.

He turned back to the boy, and was gratified to see that the body had gone still - though the mouth was still spitting curses. Whatever had gotten into this boy was strong. He made the sign of the Cross in the air in front of him, then stepped closer.

"Bless me, Father," he said softly, "as I work to save this child from the minions of Evil." He felt the Spirit settle over him once again, peaceful and powerful and strong.

This wasn't just a matter of a minor demon hanging around and exerting its influence, he saw immediately. Just bringing the child to the hospital would resolve that sort of problem, placing the child beyond its reach. All that would be left would be to drive out the last of its influence, a practice which filled a great many of Father Martin's working hours. But this... this was worse.

Either the young man wasn't a Christian, or he'd opened himself to sin so much that a beast of wrath had been able to enter his mind. This was a full-on possession, and the spirit that moved those limbs and spoke those words would not be willingly or easily displaced. Somewhere in there, the boy was watching this demon move him like a puppet, and being tempted ever further into despair. How had it come to this?

He started to ask the parents, then decided there was no time. Instead, he turned back and raised his hands over the bound form of their son. "Holy father, we ask that you take the burden from this boy. Release him from his bondage, and drive out this darkness inside him..."

The procedure went on for hours. In the unchanging light of the hospital room, it felt like days. The beast was strong, and it called on its Master to increase its strength. Father Martin prayed for its removal, and his faith in the One Who Could Do All Things never wavered. He had no doubt of the eventual outcome, and so he was not surprised when at last the boy's body gave a great, bone-deep cry. The sound was horrible, echoing, overflowing the room and spilling out into the halls. It went on impossibly long, unbroken, until at last a twisted shape of black smoke rose from the boy's mouth.

Father Martin put a hand out, feeling the Ruach HaKodesh move through him. He caught the smoke, held it while it struggled, and finally crushed it in his fingers. Before him, on the bed, the boy was weeping silently. His tormentor was gone.

With the demon vanquished, the Holy Spirit moved on as well. Its strength went with it, and Father Martin resisted the urge to sag - or to forgo dignity entirely and sit down on the floor. He had one thing left to do before he could rest, and it was vitally important.

There were cards in his pocket, pre-printed and blessed by the Bishop. A prayer was inscribed on each. He skipped the simple ones at the front, and went to the more potent invocations at the back.

As the parents moved towards the bed, he drew his prescription from the pile. "Here," he said, and handed the card to the father. "You can read this, yes?"

"Oui," the man answered. "Yes."

Father Martin put a hand on his shoulder. "You must say this twice a day - the three of you, together. You understand? Once in the morning, once at night, for the next seven days. Your son will seem better - he will be better. But you must not forget. Twice a day, for seven days. If you stop too soon, this thing - or something like it - might come back."

"I understand," said the father.

"The ones that come back, they're resistant to prayer." The family didn't need to know all this, but Father Martin had a regrettable tendency to lecture people when he was tired - and right now he was exhausted. "We have too much of that already, too many new prayer-resistant strains of demons. Pray together for the full seven days, to make sure the beast is entirely destroyed."

"We know," said the mother. "We will do it."

"Good," Father Martin replied. "God's blessing be upon you all."

"And upon you," said the mother. "Thank you."

By the clock on the wall, his shift had ended two hours ago. Father Martin gathered himself, wondering if he could make it home, or if he should find a place to sleep here. The idea of sleeping in the hospital didn't appeal to him, but driving didn't seem wise.

"This way, Father," said the nurse in the doorway. She was short and squat and dark, but right then she looked like an angel sent from Heaven. He wondered how long she'd been standing there. "Let's get you to a bed."

Tip of the hat to Former Conservative, for reminding me that there are people who think this is really how it works - except, of course, that in their view of the world a Catholic priest would be bringing the demons in rather than casting them out.


  1. I love the way the priest's instructions for the prayer card echo the standard instructions for a course of antibiotics to avoid creating drug resistant strains of bacteria.

  2. I like that too! To play with the metaphor a little further, I'd revise this bit:

    There weren't any demons or evil influences here in the hospital, of course. The building was blessed far too regularly for that. The prayer was just to discourage them from settling in the wound and causing an infection after the boy went home.

    Actually, in this metaphor, iatrogenic possession would be a serious problem. There are, as the next "case" demonstrates, demons in the hospital - in fact, there's more of them, and worse ones, there than in regular areas outside the hospital! The staff would have to do a lot of work to make sure that none get missed or evicted from one patient only to latch on to another. Maybe newly-minted exorcists, still in seminary, would have the job spiritually equivalent to mopping the floor - going around blessing everything in sight repeatedly?

    You'd also have to make sure that staff weren't unwittingly carrying demons or sins around with them. Instead of stopping at the doorway to wash their hands with alcohol foam, they'd have to stop at the doorway and bless themselves with holy water, and there would be important jobs making sure that none of the staff were asymptomatic carriers of despair...

    This has a lot of potential!

  3. Good point, Literata - I hadn't really clarified the distinction between "demons hanging around causing medical problems with their evil influence" and "demons brought in as medical problems in themselves" which I saw another order of problem entirely.

    ::goes back to clean up the text::

    Also, I love your extension of the metaphor!


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