“My Family Was Cursed With A Demon … They Pray Anyway.”
by Penny Tailsup
Part One – My Family Was Blessed with an Angel… I Think It Was a Curse.
Part Two – My Family Doesn’t Know Our Guardian Angel is a Demon
Part Three – My Family Was Cursed With a Demon… Now it Wants Blood.
This is PART FOUR of the story: “My Family Was Blessed with an Angel… I Think It Was a Curse.”
The demon owed me an honest answer. Of course, he dangled the promise of answers about Mother’s death… but there were more important things to ask, even if my heart disagreed.
“How do I break this curse?”
My eyes never left Grandma, arms extended like she was about to make a snow angel with her own growing pool of blood. She was alive, but barely. I watched her chest rise and fall with her shallow breaths. I’d already called an ambulance, I could only wait for help to arrive.
“I can’t answer that.”
“You can’t pick and choose my question! You’ve already been paid!” my shout echoed into the grand entry but the demon was unmoved. Oddly, he didn’t even seem smug. If shadows could shrug, his did.
“Reword your question.” I was about to ask ‘how’, but held my tongue when I recognized the trap. I couldn’t waste my one question by asking him how to ask it. He was obligated to be honest once, not twice.
“Nice try.” I muttered. He’d almost had me, so I shut my mouth and resumed my ignore-the-demon policy. I felt it laugh; the sensation made me fall to my knees with the sudden loss in equilibrium.
When my brother walked through the front door to ask what was taking so long, he was greeted with the horrific sight. His expression was blank with shock as he stared at the bloody scene in front of him. All I could say was, “I found her like this.”
That was the truth, to my memory. I didn’t remember pushing Grandma down the stairs, but all the evidence pointed in that direction. Leading up to that moment, I fantasized about doing it. Except, I didn’t even get to enjoy my act of revenge… I couldn’t even remember. It was a thought I hated myself for having.
What happened after that was a blur. The paramedics came and took Grandma to the hospital… No one wondered why I’d been there in the first place. No one asked the question I dreaded most: Did you push her? Is that why she fell?
Grandma hasn’t woken up, which is probably why I’m not in handcuffs. Until she wakes up, no one has any reason to think she didn’t fall down the stairs on her own. Since she’s a known liar, maybe no one will believe her when she wakes up and reveals the truth.
If she wakes up.
During Mass, I couldn’t help but think about what happened. I was used to Grandma sitting beside me with a severe expression, wrinkled hands folded primly in her lap. She wouldn’t be joining us for awhile; perhaps never again.
“You don’t even feel bad, do you?” the demon asked. I grit my teeth in answer, knowing it still sought to provoke me into outing myself. I could see the horror squirming beside me, anticipating my reaction. I didn’t give it the satisfaction.
“You still haven’t asked your question.” I hadn’t, because I wanted to make sure I worded it correctly. Once I figured out how to ask, I would.
As I listened to Father Gabe lead us into prayer, I bowed my head. I did pray for Mother’s sake, and even for Grandma… but I felt like a hypocrite for doing so with a demon glued to my shadow.
“Praying? Aren’t you still an atheist?” the demon mocked me. I didn’t answer, but it was a good question. I wasn’t sure what I believed. Proof that demons exist doesn’t prove that God exists… does it?
Though we were inside a church, the demon didn’t shrivel and die. Of course not. The Contis were a lot of things, but they never missed Mass. A demon spanning generations of a devout family was proof positive that there was no safety on ‘holy ground’.
“Sera, how are you holding up?”
Somehow, the service had ended and the pews were empty. Father Gabe, who was also Uncle Gabriel Conti, walked towards me. He was a tall man with dark wavy hair, smoothed back and peppered with silver. He was younger than Mother, but he always seemed older.
“How long has it been since your last confession?” he asked. I didn’t answer; my skin prickled with anxiety from the question. Nevermind my atheism, with an increasing stash of dark secrets… confession was the last thing I needed.
“I know you’re going through a lot right now. First your mother, then your grandmother falls down the stairs… and…” he paused, choosing his words carefully. “You’re the one that found her like that.”
The way he paused made me wonder if that was really what he’d been about to say. I heard an implication in his concern, but maybe that was my guilty conscience.
“I’m fine, considering.” I amended. “I need to go now.” I stepped past him, trying not to let panic show on my face. My father and siblings were nowhere to be seen. Had they left without me? I hurried up to rejoin them while the demon’s shadow slithered behind me.
“Priest is sharp.” he commented; as always, he enjoyed stoking the fire of my doubts, fears and insecurities.
“Wait, Sera. You’re with me today.”
Wait, what? As I looked around, I realized I was alone with Father Gabe. As I reached the doors and looked out into the parking lot, Father’s car was gone. They’d really left without me. Why?
“Your father asked me to talk to you, he’s concerned. My mother… Your grandmother … mentioned something too, before her accident.” Father Gabe patted me on the shoulder, no doubt noticing my distress. He beckoned me back inside; I reluctantly followed him back into his office.
The room boasted a large window overlooking an empty dirt lot. The church had been undergoing renovations for as long as I could remember. The collection plate went round and round every Mass, but I wasn’t sure where it all went. The church never changed.
“What did you want to talk to me about?” I didn’t look at Father Gabe. He sat down at his desk, folding his hands in front of him as he studied me intently.
“I think you know.” he answered calmly. “You’re keeping secrets, secrets that are… hurting the family.” he spoke slowly, thoughtfully. “I know you don’t want to hurt anyone. Will you talk to me about it?”
“I don’t know what you mean.” I lied, still not looking at him. In my peripheral vision, the shadow straightened and stood at attention.
“Lying to a priest? New low, even for you.”
“The Glory.” Father Gabe answered smoothly, reaching across his desk to touch my hand. “You have it.” I pulled my hand away quickly.
“No I don’t.” discomfort bubbled up with the lie. I grit my teeth, finally looking at the priest. With that discomfort, came anger. A priest of all people should see everything wrong with the family’s “blessing”.
“You do. The Holder of the Glory always changes when they receive the honor, and you’ve changed Sera.”
“Everyone’s changed.” I shook my head, still denying it. I’d been through a lot; seen a lot, of course I’d changed. I couldn’t even begin to explain, not without outing myself… But I saw change in everyone. I’d seen a new side to Grandma, seen my siblings grieve in their own ways– Father, too. We’d all changed.
“You’ve changed the most. Why does our angel frighten you so? You shouldn’t be afraid. If you are, your faith must not be strong enough. Your perspective is warped if you don’t see the Glory as the gift it is. You need to clear your heart of the doubts, pray on this, and I’m sure you’ll see.”
“Excuse me?” I stood up, “My perspective isn’t what’s warped!” I slammed both of my hands on the desk, causing my uncle to jump up in surprise. “I’ll tell you what I see, and it’s no angel. It’s a demon. You’re worshipping a demon. How do you like that, Uncle?”
“Oh, so you’re finally admitting it?” the demon started to pulse with excitement, the umbrage spreading to stain the entire room black as it stretched its ‘wings’. Father Gabe was unaware of the darkness that swallowed us, but he didn’t look shocked by my revelation either. He smiled at me in the reassuring way that priests do.
“I thought that might be the problem. It’s alright Sera. Sit back down.” his calm voice was jarring. This wasn’t the reaction I expected. He looked so calm, sitting back down as if I hadn’t just screamed a terrible truth. It was like I was talking to a completely different person. He went from accusing to comforting in an instant.
I sat back down, his calm reaction really took the wind from my sails. I felt oddly depleted and uncomfortable as I waited for him to keep talking.
“Everyone else has been too happy to inherit the Glory. I’d hoped to have it myself one day, though it wasn’t to be. I thought I’d prepared myself, but in my arrogance I was passed over. I’d thought, surely, if anyone should be given the Glory– it would be a priest. Then it passed to my sister. Your mother. I was humbled by this. The worthier I tried to be, the more I proved my unworthiness.”
“I can see why a demon wouldn’t want to reveal itself to a priest, Uncle.” I said quietly, heart thudding with nervous hope.
“Yes, perhaps that’s true.” he smiled at me, “There’s something I can do, if that’s really what this is. The suicides in our family has concerned me. I didn’t want it to be true, but… I think you’re right about this.”
“Suicides?” that was news to me. I straightened in my seat, giving my uncle more attention than I ever had for his sermons.
“I didn’t know of them, until… My father.” he said, “Though it was said he died of heart failure, the state of his body said otherwise. I discovered him in his study.” he started to rub his chin, casting his eyes to a vacant corner of the room, haunted by the memory. “Your mother, too. I wouldn’t mention this if you hadn’t seen it with your own eyes.” the bloody wings painted from my mother’s pale wrists flashed through my mind.
“What… can you do?” I asked, throat a little tight.
“An exorcism. Normally I’d go through the proper channels to have this approved, but… imagine the uproar. So if we do this, do you promise to keep this our little secret?” I nodded without hesitation, and he smiled at me. “Good. Let’s do it tonight. I’ll let your father know you’ll be staying the night with me.”
“I know lies when I hear them. So should you.” the demon said, but of course he said that. He didn’t want to be exorcised!
“I’ll warn you, the process won’t be easy on you.” he said, “You’ll have to trust me.”
“If it works, it’ll be worth it.” I agreed easily. “I’m sure it can’t be any worse than what’s already happening.”
“This would be a very good time to use my honest answer. Ask me what will happen.” the urgency in the demon’s voice made me smile. I waved it off. No. Nice try, demon. Nothing it said would steer me from this path. I hadn’t trusted Father Gabe, but now I wished I’d come to him sooner.
“You’ll die.” the demon’s warning whispered directly in my ear. I felt it as much as I heard it; tasted iron and rain, the flavor of its influence. Thunder roared in my ears, but I tabled my dread and looked intently at my uncle.
“What do you care if I die?” I asked. Father Gabe looked at me in confusion and shock, immediately sputtering with righteous indignation as he started to shout:
“Sera, I’d never–! That you could even suggest..! How dare you!” I raised my hands up immediately to stop him, recognizing the misunderstanding. Father Gabe had gone red in the face, his brown eyes bulging.
“I wasn’t talking to you.” I assured him quickly.
“Oh! Oh..” he smoothed his hair back and squeezed his temples. “Of.. of course you weren’t, Sera. Of course. Excuse my outburst, it’s been a strange day.”
“He’s defensive, don’t you see it?” the demon hummed. “I don’t want you dead yet, I’m not done with you. You show great promise as a godless host. Who would you pass me onto if you died, hm? I don’t like any of the options. I’m sure you don’t either.”
I instantly thought of my younger brother and little sister. I would never subject them to this dark burden, but if he was gone I’d never have to worry about that. The curse would end with me, hopefully by dinnertime.
“Ready?” Father Gabe asked, his face was still a little red but he’d composed himself. I nodded as he grabbed a book off a shelf and tucked it under his arm, “We’ll do this at my house, we’re less likely to be interrupted there.”
“He means ‘where no one will hear you scream’. Churches have excellent acoustics.” the demon cautioned. I knew he was just trying to scare me into backing down, but I still felt uneasy as I followed my uncle out into the parking lot. He had a sleek black car that reminded me of a hearse.
“Have you ever done something like this before?” I asked as he opened the passenger door for me. I got inside, buckling in as he walked back around to the driver’s side.
“An exorcism? No. Does that scare you?” he drummed his fingers on the steering wheel, staring through the windshield at nothing for a long moment.
“Not as much as the curse does.” I replied, but I couldn’t ignore the roiling fear that bubbled up from my stomach to my throat. My voice was quieter than it should have been.
“He’s done something like this before, but it wasn’t an exorcism. Ask me about it. Ask your question, I will answer honestly.” the demon implored. It writhed in the backseat like a petulant child, darker than the black leather interior of the car; a visible void that threatened to swallow me if I looked directly at it… I turned my eyes away, watching through the window as the car peeled out of the parking lot.
My nerves started to get the best of me when I recognized where we were going. Not his house, Grandma’s house. I hadn’t been there since I’d found her at the bottom of the stairs. My heart was going a mile a minute by the time he pulled into the driveway.
“Why are we here?” I asked.
“I’ve been living here while your grandma’s in the hospital. I’m looking after the place until she comes home. Did I forget to mention that?” Yes. Yes, he had forgotten to mention that. When we stepped through the front door and into the grand entry there was still a bloodstain on the hardwood floors.
“If he’s looking after the house, he’s doing a poor job of it.” the demon remarked. “What a mess.” he wasn’t wrong, but I held my tongue. My hands were shaking, so I closed them carefully into fists and held them at my sides.
Father Gabe stepped over the blood stain; he didn’t go up the stairs. “We should go to the basement.” he said, “I don’t think there’s anything flammable down there. Easier cleanup.”
“Uh… is it going to get messy?” I asked, immediately picturing a certain famous movie scene. Vomit everywhere? I hoped not.
“It’s a precaution, Sera. I’m not sure.”
“Ask your question, Sera.” the demon implored, its voice like warm velvet. I didn’t like that voice, not coming from a creature like that. I wouldn’t waste my question… just in case. As much as I wanted this to work, part of me thought it wouldn’t. Wouldn’t an exorcism be too easy?
My uncle opened the door leading down to the basement, blindly fumbling for the light switch. The lights flickered on, strobing dimly in the dark. We both walked cautiously down the stairs, feeling out every step. Each time the old wood creaked my heart jumped a little higher, lodging itself in my throat.
There was a bed in the basement.
It was an old twin with faded flannel sheets and battered wooden bed posts. It had been there a long time, at least according to the thick layer of dust on headboard, but it did have fresh fingerprints. That detail was enough to put me on edge, I took an uneasy step back towards the stairs.
“Where are you going?” the priest asked, “Don’t be nervous.” he caught my hand but his grip was a lot firmer than it needed to be.
“You should run now.” the demon said, but it was too late for that. As I tried to yank out of Father Gabe’s hold, he tightened his grip and started to twist. Sharp pain shot up my arm as he shoved me towards the bed, producing a pair of handcuffs in his free hand. I aimed a kick, catching him in the abdomen– it wasn’t enough. He hissed in pain and doubled over but he didn’t me go.
“I changed my mind!” I screamed, “I don’t want the exorcism!” I wish I could say his laugh surprised me. Maybe I should have asked the demon my question after all.
“Sera,” my uncle smiled. “It’s time that I inherit my due. If you don’t want the glory, I will carry the burden myself. You will name me your heir and you aren’t going anywhere until you do.” Using the handcuffs, he secured my left wrist to the bed. The gouges in the wood seemed consistent with the handcuffs.
“Uncle… I can’t give you the Glory. I wish I could. But why would you want it? It’s a demon. You believe me, don’t you?”
“You sound like my father.” he rolled his eyes. “It’s not a demon. You’re unworthy, so you aren’t seeing the Glory for what it is. If you’re corrupting our angel, you need to pay for that. Repent, and pass it to me. It should have been mine to begin with. My father made a mistake, and so did I. I won’t make the same mistake twice.”
“I can help you, if you let me.” said the demon.
“Don’t worry,” Father Gabe continued, “I’ll get you into Heaven. As soon as you give me what I want, I’ll let you go. Until then, you’re here with me.” he opened up his Bible and began reading passages out of it. When it was clear I wasn’t listening, he hit me with the book. The heavy spine collided with my nose causing blood to gush onto my Sunday clothes.
“It looks like you need time to reflect.” he said, “Think about what I’ve said, and what you need to do. I’ll be back to check on you soon.” he closed his bloodied Bible, tucking it under his arm. He gave me a long, lingering look before he marched up the stairs and turned off the light.
The basement was bathed in perfect darkness; but even without a source of light, I could see the shadow of the demon. His shadow was darker than the darkness. Not just an absence of light, but an absence of anything. I tried to ignore it, twisting into an awkward position and using one of my feet to kick at the headboard. If I broke it, I could probably free myself from the post!
“He’ll come back down if you make too much noise.” the demon said. “Do you want me to help?”
“No.” I said, knowing there’d be a catch. Accepting his help would be like jumping out of the frying pan and going straight to Hell. “If I don’t get out, I’m sure I can reason with him.” though the blood in my mouth seemed to prove otherwise. My uncle the priest wasn’t who he pretended to be; he wasn’t a kind and reasonable man.
“Even you don’t believe that.” the demon replied. “What are you going to do?”
I didn’t answer because I didn’t know. The delicate skin around my left wrist was already getting scraped and bruised thanks to my fruitless struggling. It hurt, but this wasn’t the time to nurse my wounds or cry about them. I needed to escape and I needed to do it without help.
“I’ll give you a free hint, this is painful to watch.” it paused, probably expecting me to refuse. I didn’t, though I didn’t agree either. I tried sawing the links on the cuffs against the headboard. Maybe I could break them? It wouldn’t get the cuff off, but it would separate me from the bed.
“Use the sword.”
Sword? I paused. I didn’t ask what it meant, because I remembered the sword. That night in this very house, at the bottom of the stairs… I woke with a silver sword in my hand, cool to the touch and light as a feather. It disappeared when I dropped it and I hadn’t seen it since.
“If you want to know more you’ll have to ask. You’re going to die if you don’t. You know it, so why make me wait?” I hated to admit it, even in my own head, but he was probably right. If I died I wouldn’t get to ask the important question anyway.
The lights flicked back on. I blinked, trying to readjust as my uncle came tromping down the stairs. He had a spatula in his hand. When he reached the landing, he offered me a warm smile.
“Are you ready to be saved?” he asked. I was, but not by him. Not in the way he meant. When I didn’t answer he raised the spatula and struck my extended arm– it smacked hard against the crook of my elbow, leaving a red welt in its wake. I cried out in pain, but he didn’t stop. He hit me again, this time on the shoulder.
“Who will inherit the Glory?” he asked. He hit me a few more times when I didn’t answer, it didn’t matter that I tried to dodge or curl up defensively. He hit me anyway. If he missed his mark the blow would just land somewhere else.
“Who will inherit the Glory?” he repeated with each blow, until I was too overwhelmed with pain to even think about answering. After that, he left again– back up the stairs, turning off the lights, and slamming the door shut.
He was angry, but did he really think that would work? The second I gave him what he wanted, I was dead. He meant to torture me but not to kill me. Not yet. I couldn’t die before giving him what he wanted. I knew that was true, but I wasn’t seeing a way to get out clean. Did I want to stay in the frying pan, or go to Hell?
My body hurt all over. I curled up on the bed and closed my eyes. If there was ever a time to wake up somewhere else, it was then. Of course, the one time I needed it to happen… it didn’t. It seemed the demon really wouldn’t intervene unless I asked him to.
“Demon…” I sighed, but before I could ask the question… I heard something. Footsteps. Soft, and excruciatingly slow. The lights were still off. Apparently my uncle meant to torture me in the dark. The footsteps stopped, and minutes passed in silence.
Then the lights turned on and my uncle called down: “Have you had enough time to think?” I didn’t answer, but he started coming down anyway.
The leathery skeleton of Grandpa Deangelo stood beside the bed, looking down at me. Rotting blood oozed from the missing half of his face; he couldn’t speak, only gurgle and gesture. He reached down to pat my shoulder.
I was afraid, but I was more afraid of Father Gabe. He’d replaced the spatula with a steak knife, his eyes a little too wide as he stared at me; showing too much white. The knife had a dull serrated blade, but it would still hurt.
“Let me help you.” said the demon. My grandpa’s head whipped towards the shadow, apparently he could still hear it, even in death. He clasped his hands over his disfigured face and shook his head at me. Brackish gore peeked through those shriveled fingers. He croaked wetly, but without lips or tongue, I didn’t understand what he was trying to say.
My uncle didn’t see Grandpa Deangelo or the demon, but he noticed I wasn’t looking at him. In anger, he grabbed my right hand, his thumb digging into my palm as he turned it towards him. Taking the knife, he swiped the serrated blade along the joints of my fingers. The delicate skin cut along the folds, a sharp sting that slowly grew as blood welled up and dripped from my fingertips.
When he let go, I cradled the injury to my chest. I closed my injured hand into a fist, applying pressure to the cuts– though bending my fingers at all was pure agony. Even then, I noticed movements from the corner of my eye. I looked up to see Grandpa stepping towards the demon. He reached out– plunged his hand into the shadow. Instead of passing through, his arm vanished up to the elbow.
“That won’t work anymore.” the demon said, “You’re dead.”
Grandpa pulled his arm back, it was perfectly intact. I’d half expected him to come away without his hand, swallowed up by the demon… but aside from the grisly state he was already in, he was unscathed.
I didn’t have time to hesitate. The shadow, attached to me, was always in my reach… but I’d never tried to touch it. It seemed counter-intuitive; I’d always avoided the void-shadow, as much as I could avoid something that was attached to me. Grandpa’s actions showed me exactly what I needed to do. I reached out, plunging my red hand into a blackness cold as death.
The icy void burned my hand, but when I whipped free of it…my injuries healed; the blood was gone. In its place was a blade of glittering silver. I brought the sword down on my cuffs. It didn’t cut through the links, it made them disappear. My uncle saw it, and staggered back with his hands raised in surrender.
“You know what to do.” the demon said. I looked towards my grandpa, but he didn’t move. He didn’t shake his head, he didn’t nod. The choice was mine.