I place the recycling bin at the end of the driveway. The sun beams down from the cloudless sky. A chilly breeze cools me down from a morning of arranging my furniture. My new house is in the same neighborhood my grandmother lived in, which helps me remember all our talks and the wisdom she shared, and all it took was a string of luck. A small $40,000 lottery win gave me the confidence to apply for a better paying accounting job, and the down payment needed to become a homeowner in just a few weeks.
Yesterday was a good day to introduce myself around to the neighbors, instead, I pushed my good fortune by downloading the Minnesota Singles app. It was a fruitful choice as I spent the night messaging a woman named Delilah, who moved here from New York City a few months ago. She was inquisitive about my grandmother and the necklace she bequeathed to me that Delilah observed in my profile photo. The necklace is nothing special, just steel nails in the shape of a cross. Granted, I haven’t taken it off since her lawyer gave it to me; I’ve tried, but, then I’d be admitting she was truly dead.
A desk lamp soars past my head and shatters against the driveway. I whip around to see a broken second story window next door. Faint shouting comes from inside. I should be neighborly and see if everyone’s ok. I run to their front door and pounding my fist against it, “IS EVERYTHING ALL RIGHT?”
Time to meet the neighbors, I think to myself as the door jolts open, and I hear a man shouting in Latin upstairs. What the hell is going on? I hurry up to the second story to find another closed door between me and the disturbance. The door flings open.
Clothes and papers fly around a bedroom with two men inside. One is huddled in the corner of the room clenching a rosary and reciting the Our Father.
The other man is dressed in an untucked, black dress shirt. Loosely tied around his neck is a solid gold, skinny necktie. The short jet-black hair around the side of his head is met in stark contrast by his blonde tips on top. Standing like a stoic priest he chants in Latin, his hand outstretched toward a naked woman in her late twenties pinned against the wall by an invisible force. Pea-soup vomit surrounds the woman’s mouth like a goatee.
“Dante LeBeau, the priest who fell for love,” she hisses, as vomit drips from her chin and down the cleavage of her tiny, bare breasts. Patchy spots of pubic hair from a failed Brazilian wax job outline her vagina. “Every day we carve into your wife with our blades and make her our rape doll. Nothing excites us more than when she passes out from the pain and we keep going.”
“Is that supposed to provoke me?” the man in black chuckles. “I’m Dante LeBeau. I do not fear you—”
“No, you fear the first day of your damnation. When you’ll face all ninety-nine of your problems.”
Dante flashes a smirk. “Torment doesn’t scare me. Valdoor is like a child.”
“Who is this sexy new man?” The woman frees herself from the invisible force and lunges at me from across the room. She grabs my shirt. “Do you think I’m pretty?” The woman licks up some vomit on her lips and swallows. “I’ll swallow for you too, handsome.” Her eyes grow wide. I smell the stench of burning flesh, and I gaze down to see that she’s gripping the cross of nails under my shirt. She releases me, screaming in anguish, her hand smoking like a log yanked from a campfire.
“Vincula fatorum!” the man in the black shirt shouts. A metal chain shoots out from his outstretched hand like a spider’s silk and wraps around the woman. He tugs on the chain, throwing the woman against the wall. “Don’t stand around like an idiot!” he says to me. “This is an exorcism—pray to your God.”
I take the cross of nails out from under my shirt and start reciting the Our Father. Clothes fly around the room as if there’s a tornado within these walls. Dante shouts like a condemning street preacher.
“Porta Inferni.” Dante rotates his free hand around in a circle. Against the wall, a beam of gold follows the movement of his hand. When the circle completes, the wall disappears and is replaced by a black void. “EXILIUM! Back to Hell, daemonic whore.”
The bound woman begins to convulse, gasping for breath. Her right breast bursts open, and blood splatters on Dante’s face. A black scorpion erupts from the hole in her chest and lands on the bed. Dante waves his right hand. “Get out of here.” The scorpion is flung into the black void in the wall. The void closes in on itself, and the billiard green wall is intact once again.
Dante rushes to the woman. He places his hand on the hole in her right breast. “Sana.” The hole seals itself, just like the black void. In seconds, the wound heals. Dante turns to the other man in the room and says, “Well, Mr. Carson, ya wife is no longer possessed.”
Rising from the corner, Mr. Carson grabs a blanket off the floor and drapes it over his wife’s naked body. He kisses her on the forehead, “Please come back to me.”
“Don’t worry she’ll wake up soon.”
“I can’t thank you enough.” Mr. Carson runs his hand through the woman’s curly, brown hair.
“Don’t thank me,” Dante says and takes out a pack of cigarettes. He pulls one out with his lips and then grabs my shoulder. “Time get goin’.” He escorts me out of the house.
On the porch, Dante removes his hand from my shoulder, then leans on the white-painted siding, and gazes up at the midday sun with his grey eyes. Dante pulls out a silver lighter engraved with a four-leaf clover, and lights his cigarette, “First exorcism?” He exhales a puff of smoke.
The pungent smell from the cigarette reminds me of the ones my grandma smoked. My heartbeat begins to slow. “That was…”
“A daemon.” He tucks the lighter back into his pants pocket. “I’ll give ya the quick version for ya to catch up. Daemons, real. Angels, bullshit. The souls of the damned walk this Earth. If ya need to label me, call me a master spellcaster, or exorcist, tinker of dark arts, and maybe daemonologist.”
“Ok…” I say, “So, you were a priest and that’s how you know Latin?”
“A long time ago,” Dante puts on a pair of aviator glasses. “My daddy was a Latin professor at Tulane. Seminary school reinforced it.”
“Why did the woman scream when she touched my necklace?” I pull out the cross from under my shirt and show Dante.
“Daemon, not woman. It’s not a she. It screamed cuz those were the nails to crucify Christ.”
“Yeah, right.” I say mockingly. “And if I find a leprechaun, they’ll give me a pot of gold.”
“Nah, they upgraded to bitcoin a few years ago.” Dante flicks the ash off his half-smoked cigarette.
“But these can’t be the crucifixion nails. Those must be in the Vatican or something.” I tuck the necklace back under my shirt, “My grandma bought this from a Christian gift store.”
“They got some nails on display in the Vatican, not the real ones,” Dante says. “Ya see, during the Crusades the real nails were melted down and reforged into four amulets. That necklace is one of them.”
“Even if that were true,” I say, “these are brand new. Wouldn’t they be rusted?”
“Divine objects don’t rust.” Dante smirks. “I gotta say you’re handling this well. Most people are about ready to check themselves into a looney bin after hearin’ about this.
“Occupational hazard, I think.”
“What ya mean?”
“I’m an accountant.” I explain. “I just view things more analytically…My grandma always said to keep an open mind… That doesn’t make sense does it.”
“Why don’t ya take a breath and find ya words.”
I follow his suggestion and take a deep breath, “I guess, I’m just thinking of daemons and magic to be like a new tax law. I knew the old one. Now, I just have to apply new law to the ledger sheet of my life.”
“Ain’t ya just a prime example of Darwinism,” Dante chuckles, “What ya name?”
“Nick Buchanan, nice to meet you,” I hold out my hand.
“Well, Nick,” Dante shakes my hand, “that’s my ride.” He points at a new white Ford Mustang parked across the street. “Ya have till I reach it for me to answer any questions.” He swaggers off the porch and strolls towards his car.
“Why did you speak good English during the exorcism, but now you have an accent?” I ask. “And where’s it from?”
“Noo Awlins, it a liddle thing called Yat. Ya can buy the dictionary online.” Dante paces faster towards his car, “You have to speak clearly when doing an exorcism or casting spells. Pronunciation is life or death during those times.”
“What if that daemon comes back?”
“Keep wearing dat trinket. It will protect you.” Dante drops his cigarette butt on the ground and crushes it with his shoe. He snaps his fingers and the door to the Mustang springs open. After he climbs into the car, the door closes behind him.
The driver window rolls down. Dante raises his right eyebrow. “Last question.”
“Where does magic come from?”
“Magic in born from the pain in one’s soul.” His melancholy tone sends a chill down my spine.
The Mustang’s engine roars to life while the window rolls up. It speeds off like a war horse summoned into battle.
My new house seems mundane compared to what I just witnessed. Then again, an exorcism is one way to meet the neighbors.
My cellphone vibrates—Minnesota Singles. It’s Delilah. Grab drinks this week? the message reads.
It’s been four days since the exorcism. I sit alone at a table in Bootleggers, admiring the silver painted crown molding around the white ceiling while I wait for Delilah. She chose this place for our date. I check my phone 12:30 p.m. She’s thirty minutes late. There are no new text messages from her, just the few I sent, wondering where she was. I’ve been stood up. The other patrons here must be whispering about the man sitting alone staring at up the ceiling.
I wave the waitress over and ask for the bill. Maybe if I had a more exciting job, like Dante’s, she’d be here. Women like mysterious and captivating men; Hell, even I can’t stop thinking about what he did. I can’t sit here any longer. My grandma always said, you don’t need anyone in your life that can’t respect the value of your time.
I take a sip of my beer. This week started well; new house, new job. I should be happy. After meeting Dante though, my life seems mediocre. Right now, he could be exiling another daemon on a tropical island. Shouting Latin with confident swagger, banishing the daemon to hell. He could be saving someone’s life. Probably an attractive woman, that will be so grateful, she’ll do all the kinky things a man can dream of. I just get the pleasure of revising the financial commitments in business contracts.
The light tapping of heels on the chevron patterned oak floors approach my table. Is that Delilah? My heart beats faster as I spin my head around. It’s just the waitress. She places my bill on the table and leaves.
I down my beer, pay my bill with cash, leave the table and mosey towards the entrance. As stash my wallet into my back pants pocket, I notice a flickering bulb in the track lighting above the bar. Underneath the light is a man nursing a drink. It’s none other than Dante LeBeau, wearing his black dress shirt and gold tie like a superhero wears a cape. I wander over to the bar, “Fancy meeting you here.”
“Ya stalking me, Mr. Well-adjusted?” Dante chuckles.
“I was meeting a coworker for drinks. His wife got sick… You and I meeting here is just a coincidence.”
Dante nods slowly, knowingly, and takes a swig of his beer, “Coincidences are unfolding spells from an unknown caster.” He winks, “Join me.”
I sit down next to Dante. He waves the bartender over and orders two Sazeracs. The bartender makes the drinks and gives one to Dante and one to me.
“Put it on my tab.” Dante tells the bartender. He raises his glass towards me. “Dis is a Noo Awlins drink.” We clink glasses “Laissez les bon temps rouler”
I take a sip of the Sazerac. It’s nothing like I expected. The taste is like an old-time ginger ale mixed with a crisp white soda.
“Good ain’t it.” Dante smirks.
“It’s good. I’m more of a rum and Coke kind of guy.”
“Well Nick, Ya got any more questions for me?”
I take another sip of the Sazerac. “I have many. After work I’ve been researching daemons and there’s just so much information. I get it, daemons are real, and magic is a thing. You said magic comes from the pain in a man’s soul. What I still don’t understand is this necklace, like how does it work?”
“Dat liddle trinket, is powerful item. I’d kill to have one.” Dante takes a drink. “It’ll protect the wearer from any harmful magic directed towards them or any magic from a daemon.”
“So, are you going to kill me for this then?”
“Nah,” Dante chuckles. “It don’t work like that. The protection only passes from person to person if the necklace is freely given. No one can jus’ take it from ya.”
“Good to know,” I sigh. “I’ve been wondering something else. What did the Daemon mean when it said you were a priest that fell for love?”
Dante’s grey eyes give me a death stare, “Hmm…back when I was a seminarian at Notre Dame, I was in the group of students studying to become exorcists. It was my first assignment dat I met my wife Beatrix…my Trixie.” He flashes a smile, “Ya see, her brother was possessed. My teacher and I performed the exorcism and saved his soul. After that Trixie bought me coffee as a thank you. We sat outside on the coffee house patio; it was nothing like I’ve ever experience. The world just disappeared, and the only thing that mattered was her…” He enjoys a sip of his drink, “An exorcist can’t be devoted to anyone but God. So, I quit the church, and married her.”
“I don’t see how being in love with another person is a bad thing,” I say. “I’m not a scholar, but isn’t God all about love, and loving his creations? Wouldn’t it be easier to fight daemons if you’re surrounded by all the forms of God’s love?”
“Maybe, but those are the rules of the Church,” Dante huffs. “Ya ain’t gotta be a priest to be an exorcist. I’m proof of that. But there ain’t enough booze in this bar to debate the backwards thinkin’ of the church.”
“So, what happened to your wife? I mean, the daemon made it sound like she’s its prisoner.”
“It’s not just my wife. My son too. They’re in hell,” Dante’s voice goes softer and serious. “Or as one might call it, the Daemon realm. Years ago, we were trying to have a kid. Trixie found out she was infertile. We tried every man-made solution to have one. I thought God was punishing me for leaving the church. One night, Trixie left and made a deal with a crossroad Daemon named Valdoor. Nine months later, we had a son. Then after ten years, he came. He took Trixie and our son to the Daemon realm.”
“How could that be your fault?” I ask, “You didn’t make the deal.”
“I let her,” Dante says. “I knew what she was planning. I knew we shouldn’t. I wanted that dream, the wife and kids, so bad I told myself that I was owed it. That God owed it to me.”
“If they’re in the Daemon realm, are they dead?” I ask.
“Nah, I’m going to get them back,” Dante says. “I will do whatever it takes to get them back.”
“So, that’s what you meant when you said magic comes from the pain in a man’s soul.”
“Nobody really knows where magic come from,” Dante says. “We all just have it. I know my spells are stronger when I focus on my heartache.”
I take a sip of my Sazerac, “What if you’re wrong?”
“Maybe it’s not about the grief, anger, or whatever. But the love you have for your family that makes your spells stronger. That’s where heartache comes from after all.”
“I never thought about it like dat,” Dante finishes his drink. “Ya a strange man, but oddly wise. I’ve gotta cleanse a house. You should come with. Have an adventure.”
I pick up my drink by the rim of the glass, “Um…” I swirl the glass, I can’t be to anxious to say yes, “Why not.” I enjoy a sip of the Sazerac. At the very least this will make an interesting story, and maybe next time I go on a date, I won’t get stood up for being boring. “My grandma always said life is an adventure, go live it…I just don’t want to be in your way.”
“Ya won’t be,” Dante says. “I can do this in my sleep. Plus, that trinket will protect you. Have an adventure and be alive before you die.”
I fumble with the necklace. “This will keep me safe, right?”
“It’ll keep you safe.”
“My grandma always said… When do we go?”
“After you finish that drink.” Dante smiles.
I slam the rest of my Sazerac. Dante signals the bartender over and closes his tab. As we stroll out of Bootleggers, Dante snaps his fingers, and his white Mustang drives to us. We climb into his car.
I fasten my seatbelt. “How come nobody notices a car that drives itself?”
“It’s called a Charon spell.” Dante turns on the radio. “Or ferryman charm. Unless someone is really looking, all they’ll see is a blubberous forty-year-old man driving his Mustang.” He cranks the volume on the radio, Marilyn Manson’s “The Fight Song” blasts through the speakers. “Onward to 1428 Amnity Lane.”
After a forty-minute drive, the car stops itself in front of the driveway of 1428 Amnity Lane. The car dies, static replaces the sound of rock music. The only part of the car working is the touchscreen on the dashboard.
“Is this part of the spell?” I ask.
The touch screen flickers off and then back on. An old blues song starts playing. The touch screen reads; Robert Johnson – “Crossroads.”
“Ghost sonsabitches think they clever.” Dante puts on his aviators, “C’mon, time to give them a whippin’.”
Dante steps out of the car, the music still playing. I follow behind him, heading towards this nice suburban home. A few days ago, I would have expected a haunted house to be an old, decrepit mansion on top of a hill. Its porch littered with cobwebs and surrounded by dead grass. That it would have all the cliché horror nuances that makes you feel death’s scythe pressing against your throat. That is not this house.
In fact, I was thinking about purchasing this very house when I moved to Minnesota. It’s a quaint two-story with pastel green siding and a two-car garage. The previous owners were murdered here, which is a selling point where I could have barter for a much lower price. For a while this was my first choice, I felt compelled to buy it. My grandma would have liked it too. I’m lucky an old co-worker of mine showed me the house I bought.
“Are you coming?” Dante shouts from the refinished cedar porch.
I sprint past the for-sale sign and catch up to Dante, “So, why does this house needs to be cleansed?”
Dante lowers his aviators a bit, just enough to see those stone-grey eyes. “In the 1920s, a rich bootlegger built this house, those who crossed him were burned alive in the basement furnace. One day the son of a man he killed came back for revenge and burned the bootlegger alive in the furnace. A single mother gave birth here in the eighties, she died during childbirth, and her baby only minutes later. The last owner’s son shot up his school, then came home and double-tapped his parents before turning the gun on himself. This house is a roach motel. Anyone who buys it dies inside. This house has seen darkness, attracts it, and lets it grow like mold. That is why it needs to be cleansed.” He grabs the doorknob, “Pantenibus.” Dante opens the door.
We enter the house. Dante pulls out a small metal flask, “I’ve got two rules for this ride-along. One if this starts to go south, get out. And two, no matter what, don’t take off that cross. I don’t need your soul on my conscience.” He dumps a clear liquid from the flask onto his hands.
“That seems like a waste of booze.”
“This ain’t licka,” he flashes a smirk. “It’s holy oil. It’ll banish the lower level daemons here. Stay back.” Dante steps towards the oak staircase leading to the second floor, as I stay put.
“Ignium,” Dante growls. Flames surround his hands, leaving them unharmed. “I’m addressing the malevolent entities in this house. Make your peace and cross over now. If you can’t, I will make sure you do.”
The lights in the house turn on. They begin to glow brighter, as if fueled by the sun. Then they start to burst, shattering glass over the oak floors.
A small boy appears in the hallway next to the staircase. His young body covered in soot like a coal miner after a long day at work. The boy’s grey pants with patches of white cloth are held up by a pair of suspenders over a white dress shirt. On his head is a grey flat hat, “Is this soul one hundred?” His voice is deep and raspy like an old man who smoked cigarettes all his life.
Dante turns to me, “GET OUT.”
I rush to the door. I hear the door lock. I pull on the doorknob with all my might. It won’t budge. My heart begins to beat faster. “It won’t open.”
“Get behind me.” Dante doesn’t take his focus away from the young boy. “I’d like you to meet Valdoor. ”
Bars spring up from the wood floor all around me. In less than a second, I’m trapped inside an iron cage. “What’s going on?”
“Here is your hundredth soul. Now, where is my wife?” Dante barks. The flames around his hands disappear.
“DANTE,” I grab the cold iron bars, “What’s going on?”
“Oh, he didn’t tell you?” Valdoor chuckles. “And people say I’m evil. Tell him, exorcist.”
Dante takes off his aviators and glares at me, “I told you. I’ll do whatever it takes to get my family back.”
“I thought you were a hero.”
“I’m just a man,” Dante snarls, “You’re my mark. An easy one at that.”
“I don’t understand.”
He pulls out his cellphone. “Magic can do many things. It can win lotteries,” Dante starts typing on his phone. “It can whisper in a human resources manager’s ear. Make a real estate agent sell a house. It can’t make people love.” Dante turns off his phone and puts it in his pocket.
My phone buzzes. I pull it out. There’s a message from Delilah: Magic comes from pain.
“YOU BASTARD. LET ME OUT.”
“I can’t do that. Silentium.” Dante waves his hand. My mouth glues shut. Heavy breaths through my nose are they only way I can breathe now. “Much better.” He turns away from me. Dante faces Valdoor. “Here’s your soul. Now, where’s my wife?”
Valdoor snaps his fingers. A middle-aged woman appears with a young boy in front of her. The two of them look tired, covered in soot. The woman’s white dress shows off her hourglass shape. “Dante, is that you, my love?” The woman says, holding the small boy close to her body.
“Trixie, mon Cheri. I’ve missed you so much.” Dante smiles as tears trail down his cheeks.
Trixie and her son stumble their way to Dante. The three of them hug each other. “Let’s go home.” Dante kisses Trixie on her forehead. He rushes his wife and child towards the front door.
“Time to go Mr. Buchanan.” Valdoor huffs, outstretching his hand toward me. “What’s going on?” He puts his hand down and reaches it back out.
My mouth becomes unglued, and I can breathe normally. The cross. Dante knew Valdoor couldn’t harm me.
Trixie pulls open the front door. It slams shut on her. She pulls on the handle, but the door remains closed.
“I see,” Valdoor draws a circle with his hands on the wall. A black void appears. “YOU TRIED TO HOODWINK A DAEMON.”
Trixie and the boy are pulled towards Valdoor.
“NOOO,” Dante tries to grab his family; Valdoor waves his hand. Trixie and the boy get flung into the black void, which closes behind them.
Dante begins to huff. His face turns blood red, “Magia apparatus missilium.” Three green glowing darts fly towards Valdoor.
Valdoor slams his hand on the floor, “Murus Ignis.” A wall of fire stops the darts from hitting Valdoor. “Orbs draconis.” Valdoor smirks as seven softball-sized orbs of fire appear around his wrist. One by one, Valdoor tosses them at Dante.
“Scutum glacies,” Dante blocks each fireball with a small ice shield on his arm.
“Orbs draconis,” Valdoor has seven more orbs appear around him and the fire and ice battle continues.
I grab the cross of nails under my shirt. Dante won’t win playing defense. He needs offense. I can’t trust Dante or this Valdoor, but I’m trapped in a cage. If Dante can vanquish the daemon, I can escape. My only hope is to give the necklace to Dante. I yank the cross from around my neck, “Dante! Catch!” I lob the necklace over to him.
“YOU FOOL,” Dante catches the cross. The incoming fireballs bounce off his body. “Vincula factorum.”
Iron chains shoot up from the wood floors. They wrap themselves around Valdoor. His struggles to free himself are futile.
“Oh, look what we have here. Did I catch a toothless gator?” Dante strolls towards Valdoor. “New deal. You bring back my wife and son. Free the other ninety-nine souls. This guy,” Dante points to me, “isn’t yours either. If you don’t, I’ll send you to hell.”
“You arrogant punk,” Valdoor snipes. “If you read the contract, you’d know. In the event of you sending me to hell or killing me, the souls of your family, and the souls you’ve collected for me, will transfer to another daemon. I’ll bottom line this for you. You’ll never see them again,” he smiles. “I am in a forgiving mood. Release these chains, give me his soul, and we’ll negotiate a new deal.”
Dante mutters something under his breath I can’t make out. The iron bars around me disappear. “Don’t listen to him,” I say. “Show me the contract. I see lots of business contracts every day. He’s a Daemon, they lie, there has to be another way.”
“That’s where ya got it wrong, old sport,” Dante turns to me, his stone-grey eyes welling up with tears. “Daemons don’t lie. They know the truth does more damage than lies. I never wanted your soul on my conscience.” He raises his right arm and stretches out his hand. “Expel.”
The chains binding Valdoor turn to dust and fall to the floor. The dust scatters as a cold wind blows through the house. Valdoor smiles like a child getting a handful of candy.
Dante looks away from me and hangs his head low, “Take him.”
Valdoor waves his hand, a black hole appears in front of the stairs. “Don’t do this,” I shout as I get sucked into the black hole.
All I see is darkness. It’s nothing like closing your eyes at night to fall asleep. My body slams against a hard surface. My hands and feet get pulled in different directions and become bound against the cold metal slab.
Light starts to break the darkness. I’m in an old steel mill, the scent of wet rust fills my nostrils. The table tilts forward, putting me into an upright position, my naked body on display secured to the table in a crucifixion pose.
A black scorpion scurries from across the room towards me. It stops a few feet away. A scorpion sting would only complete this day. The scorpion begins to grow bigger, changing into the shape of a man, and finally becomes a male corpse. Maggots squirm in his teeth and on his skin. The corpse is wearing a dirty, lavender Colonial suit, like the founding fathers of America, covered with holes.
The corpse smiles, revealing his black teeth. “My name is Franz,” he takes off his lavender top hat and bows. “I will be your eternal torturer.” Franz raises his hat and begins to change again.
His hair shrinks into a grey and white perm. The lavender suit becomes a tie-dye t-shirt and white pants. The corpse has morphed into an old woman smoking a cigarette.
I know this woman. “Grandma?”
“No, still Franz,” says a familiar voice. She flashes a smile showing off her pearl white dentures. A table appears next to her, she sets her cigarette down in an ash tray. Next to the ash tray is a jar of melted wax, a wooden stick, and strips of paper. “Alright sweetheart, are you ready for your Brazilian wax?”
My stomach churns as she dunks the wooden stick into the liquid amber wax, my eyes already watering. “Here comes the airplane,” She gingerly pulls the stick out of jar of wax, and weaves it though the air as if it was flying. “Zoom, zoom.” A smile creeps on her face as the hot amber descends towards my genitals.
Fuck, this is going to hurt. I’ll never forgive you, Dante Lebeau.