Print Story New Haven Case
Funny stuff
By Writer In Residence (Thu Nov 05, 2009 at 05:51:13 PM EST) (all tags)
The embarrassing summer of 1925. I was assigned to document yet another of the Church’s demonic possessions, not as a priest, but as a writer. One who quietly reported events and didn’t get involved. By now I could practically recite the rites from memory, but I had no influence or importance in a situation of that sort. I was there only to observe and record.


The church only assigned me Grade B possessions. A real insult. I could write my way around the lame infestations I had to show up for. I could make them really sing if they gave me the chance. But, I never got that kind of work. None of the real tasty ones you read about in under-the-counter dime store novels or stories of the occult only found in the rear of evil dank Paris bookshops. No, I was only given the lousy assignments. I was a functional embarrassment to the industry.

I got the sort of demons that caused clocks to run slowly, demons that gave everyone around the possessed person indigestion for an entire afternoon, demons that made all food taste like boiled fish. I recall one demon who made children pointlessly erudite, another one who demanded only that all wallpaper be changed to green and then immediately left the poor possessed person alone. Cheap, carnival midway stuff; the kind of thing you got in the most tedious vaudeville shows. None of the meaty assignments that other freelancers in my line worked.

They had raving lunatics with blood streaming from every hole, pus oozing from beneath fingernails and hair falling out all at once only to sprout again a second later. They described sulfurous smoke rising from human orifices and evil Latin-sounding spells being carved into the skin of the unfortunate from the area below the skin. And then, gloriously, their subject died at the end of it all, or was sent away to a lunatic asylum for the rest of their living existence. Sometimes the evil spirit would burst the body, sending rotten insides across the room, plastering the walls in pestilence and forcing the unfortunate home owner to tear the thing down and move out of town.

I dreamed of cases like this in elaborate, torrid nightmares, writing them down in the morning just in case they would be part of some upcoming assignment. Perhaps the dream might be prophetic. But they never were.

I remember one case where the demon inside the victim made people laugh, infecting others around them with hilarious laughter at the wrong time, causing caustic embarrassment. It would happen at places such as funerals and during the most indelicate doctor’s exams. The woman possessed by this demon worked as a nurse and would constantly laugh out loud at just the wrong moment – perhaps when a patient was naked, when a rectal exam was being performed, when a family was told their perverted old aunt died of her foul vice and they couldn’t dislodge the carrot. My written assessment of the case only caused the Connecticut archdiocese to laugh. Uproariously. It was very popular for a time, until Rome got wind of it and told them to cut it out. They were getting out of hand and the Pope wouldn’t stand for it anymore. That particular report only precipitated even worse assignments and soon I found myself with barely a name to get me in the door I’d worked so long to pry open. I had no reputation left to lose.

I walked down the foggy morning New Haven street towards the house in question. Clapboard houses surrounding the university on all sides of me. I had been given a telegram as I rolled out of my dusty bed in the rooming house by a slick-haired redhead. He smiled and I noticed his swollen purple gums, but I’d never seen him before. He winked at me and said something about a good one this time. I suppose the delivery boys read the telegrams from time to time. I gave him a couple of cents as a tip and he disappeared into the dark hallway like a ghost. Unfolding the telegram, I glanced at it briefly, saw that it was just more of the same, and got dressed. Time to record another divine comedy, I thought to myself. In nomine patris.

They didn’t always tell me before the exorcism what I’d be walking into. Today was no exception. This was church policy, for my cases alone. Strictly enforced. It would only spoil the fun once I got there. Or, at least, that’s what I think their ultimate reason was. They were afraid one day I’d refuse to show up if they told me that this next or that one case was simply a matter of a young boy who suddenly speaks a certain dialect of some ancient Mayan language whenever his school teacher begins to teach math in the hopes of drowning her out. They were probably worried I would quietly disappear one day and then they’d be stuck finding another cheap lackey on the fly to detail these monotonous infestations of the infernal. No good writer would take a case like mine. Many had turned them down before me.

But, they didn’t know about my opiate habit. Because of it, I was as hooked on the church as I was on the cheap morphine you could easily buy anywhere on condition that you knew the right pharmacist. It was even easier to get when I was a kid. Back then you’d just tell the man behind the counter that it was for your dying granny and he’d sell it to you on discount, the biggest bottle you could carry out. That was when I had my first taste, a cold November afternoon with leaves sticking to the New England gutters in candy wrappers and broken beer bottles, smoky smell of fireplaces. I was thirteen. I never looked back.

The church needed me, but I needed them more. They paid a lot of money to have their inane, embarrassing situations documented and then covered up, so I played my part and smiled for doing it. I was happy to have a cover story to hide and pay for my issues. In the end. The amount of contact I had with doctors due to the nature of the job didn’t hurt me, either. Some of them had a habit themselves and needed patients to pass off larger than normal prescriptions now that the fuzz was starting to crack down on people. First they cut out the booze (not that it stopped anyone) and now they were going after the only known cure for serious pain, both physical and mental, God’s Own Medicine, morphine and opiates.

I saw the old house, checked the number on the telegram and walked towards it. It was in one of the lousy parts of town, near the new railroad tracks and the water. You could smell the sea salt from here and dying fish. I was not looking forward to this, not today, not the way I was feeling. A horrible dread fell over me. It was the dread I got every day for the six months I worked in an office downtown, pulling the arm of the adding machine and hoping my adequate math training had served me enough to do the job. In the end, the bank disagreed with my figures and I had to admit that they weren’t wrong. The feeling in my gut was similar to that experience, or near enough, as I walked up the broken wooden stairs of the yellow home. They creaked beneath my feet.

It was occupied by immigrants. I could tell right away. It was the smell of their food, different from the usual American blandness. I entered the dimly lit house and could tell that something was different. Perhaps more boring, more mundane than any case I’d ever covered. A wall of complete psychic grayness hit me in a wash and I nearly left for sheer disgust at myself. But, I was beginning to feel the need for another fix pretty badly. Cold withdrawal bugs were starting to crawl up and down my legs and I could smell the nostalgic scent of burning leaves and star spangled banners and apple pie, a real American withdrawal. I knew that the money wouldn’t be there unless I stuck it out. The church only paid by the job, like a proper crime outfit or the government.

Maybe there’ll be a physician here who can slip me a little taste of something to calm me down if I give him a good enough act, I began to think to myself.. ‘Oh, doctor, this sight is going to haunt me for the rest of my life, but the church needs me. I’m only here to do my duty to the Lord and to my fellow man. I hope your mother is well, father. Can’t you give me anything to calm my nerves? Maybe some tincture of morphine.’ Worked most of the time.

To be truthful, I believed in Satan more than I did God, these days. Occupational hazard, I guess. I had more contact with him. The devil you know, as they say. At the very least, he seemed like funny guy, maybe someone who’d be fun at a bar. All that drama and blood and vomit that the other freelancers had to deal with couldn’t be the whole story. Even the most evil people had to have a sense of humor. Anyone that inflicted the pointless infestations on the people dealt with had to be at least mildly amusing.

The room I walked into was cold and dull. Everything was out of focus. It smelled of old onions and had the color of the grainy film you see in cheap movie houses, a jumpy reddish tint to everything. Velour wallpaper and old couches, a chair with a spring pressed up desperately against the thinning seat. A patted my snub nose in my belt absent mindedly. Like any writer, I carried a gun. You never know when some nameless critic will want to call you outside and have a duel in the streets.

A young priest sat in a chair by a stove looking serious. He was young, blonde and staring straight ahead. Probably his first assignment. Even my first still haunted me a little. A case of a girl that caused butter to melt in any room she walked into. It was a tragedy that afflicted her acutely as she was the youngest child of a successful dairy farmer. But that old feeling of horror had soon faded.

I held out my hand to the priest and offered him a cigarette.

“I’m the Documenter. Wanna smoke?”

“No, no” he waved away my offer. “Thank you, though.” He continued his staring again, looking out into nowhere, the blank eyes of deep thought.

“What’s your name? I haven’t seen you around before.” I hovered near him like a ghost. He did not look at me.

“Father Mullins. This is my first one. I am not sure I can handle another. The smell…the smell…so horrid…” He rubbed his nose as if it might make the imaginary smell go away. I couldn’t smell anything.

“Yeah, it can be bad. Gotta wonder why demons find a terrible smell so appealing, but it’s popular with them. They must have a union or something,” I joked. He said nothing, did not move a muscle. I rubbed my jawline and watched his silence. “Can we smoke in here?” He nodded and I lit a cigarette.

“Are they upstairs?” I asked after a few moments.

He motioned to the upper level and slightly nodded his head. I tapped him on the shoulder and muttered, “Come on now, we all know any assignment I get couldn’t be that bad, Mullins” and began walking towards the upper level.

“This is different. This one isn’t what you expect,” he said quietly as I ascended the ancient staircase.

“They always are, when I’m involved.”

He said something more that I didn’t hear and then I was out of earshot.

I passed down the narrow, dark hallway to the open door at the end. Morning light from the room was a dull beacon. The smell of human excrement wafted out of it in a wave of ugliness. That was the smell. With my cases you never knew. Sometimes they preferred the smell of roses and you almost wanted to ask the priest not to perform the exorcism just yet given the deplorable conditions the victim lived in. I held my nose and looked quickly into the room. I’d seen enough naked old women and decrepit old men lying in their various bodily fluids (and solids) for one life time. I didn’t want the opportunity to be surprised by another.

The attending priest stood beside the bed and the assisting priest muttered words from the exorcism rites on the other side of the bed. There was no sign of anything being out of sorts. The infested subject, a young boy of about fourteen or fifteen, sat in the bed wearing a blue flannel pajama shirt and holding onto an adventure magazine of some kind. A troop of explorers in pith helmets were on the cover, aiming their guns at a savage cannibal in a pair of hairy underwear eating the body of a barely dressed woman with rather large breasts. Well, the kid had taste.

“Hello,” I said, quietly knocking on the door.

The attending priest looked up and motioned me to enter. I knew him. Father Tom from the New York City parish by way of England. Father Tom had a habit like I had and more than once slipped me a cap after a particularly bad experience or when it was obvious that I really needed it. His eyes had the look of a caring person with very little self-control, thenkind of man doomed to well-intentioned failure. Despite not helping my soul much, he had more than once saved my life. He introduced me to Father Nick, the assisting priest.

“Just sit over there, Carl,” he said to me. He motioned to a wooden seat in the corner. “This is a particularly annoying one. It gives off the worst smell you ever stood still for, but it’s so polite, kind and generally affable that you forget what you’re dealing with. A real trickster. Aren’t you, Calphonas?”

The boy nodded, a wide smile on his face. He had the large teeth and slightly out of proportion face of a boy leaving adolescence. His gums were swollen and purple. Acne marked his cheeks.

“I’m really not trying to bother anybody,” the boy said. His voice was unusually sweet, almost like the sound of two polite nuns speaking at once. “I don’t want to be a bother.” He brushed aside his long red hair. A smell of the most foul and rotten feces, perhaps carrion, drifted from his breath. “I have no actual intentions of harming anyone, you see. It’s just that I got a little lost on my way and I’d much prefer to stay in this cozy little hutch, if it’s quite alright with all of you.” He smiled a big affable smile and folded his hands neatly on his lap.

“See what I mean? He’s nice enough. But his breath! He smells like a Medieval Frenchman with breath like that. My mother would have had me brushing with bicarbonate of soda day and night were to ever breathe such a foul stench!”

“I try and brush constantly,” the boy protested. He smiled and looked sheepish. “I’m really very friendly, as things go.” His smile got even bigger.

“Calphonas?” I asked Father Tom.

“Yes, yes, that’s what he calls himself. He says he is ancient being from another time, before humans, etc. etc. etc. They all say things like that. Always some dull story to try and impress you. It can be a bore, I tell you.” He stood back and took a small nip from a flask. He offered it first to Father Nick and then to myself, but I passed. “Come now, it’s got me nine in the morning somewhere,” he joked.

I took out a pencil and notebook and began writing things down. Smell, sound, feel of the room, all the usual things. I tried to make approximate measurements of the bed, the walls, the height of each person present with estimated body weights. All details might matter later, I knew, though some did not care for my dedication to precision. Force of habit from a love of science.

Father Tom began invoking the rites and slowly alternating the litany back and forth with Father Nick. The boy began to shake slightly. A thin bead of sweat appeared on his forehead. His smiled became more nervous than endearing.

“If it’s all the same to you, Father, I’d much prefer that we don’t do this right now,” he said politely. “I’m trying to read doncha know? I’ll lend you he magazine if you’d like, once I’m finished. Why don’t we just try again tomorrow?”

Ignoring his request, Father Tom shook holy water from a bottle, some of it hitting the boy and causing him to turn slightly in his bed. Calphonas wasn’t exactly a very committed demon, I noted. It was almost like he was bored and couldn’t wait to be let out, but too lazy to move on. He wanted to carry out his mission, but wasn’t totally sold on it. He almost seemed to like Father Tom on a personal level and had decided to be unusually nice to him. I recorded my thoughts.

As the rite ground towards its end the boy jerked suddenly in his bed and the two-nunned voice said something in what sounded like ancient Mayan or Aramaic, maybe French, and then the boy’s body shook for a second, the bed jumping and doing a tap dance, and he went limp. The distinct scent of roses and oranges filled the room for a second and then everything returned to normal. Grey light filtered through the curtains and the smell of his horrid breath was immediately gone.

“Whaddaya you two limp-wristed stiffs doin’ in my room?” the boy suddenly called out. “I ain’t been to confession in a while, but it’s not like I’m some kinda sex pervert here! What is this? What did I do?”

Father Tom nodded silently. He looked at Father Nick.

“It has passed from him, Father Nick. Go get his Mother.”

Father Nick turned and left. I stared at the boy and made a note of his changed condition. He looked fiercely angry at the three of us.

“And who’s this fruit?” he asked, pointing at me? “What am I here, father, a sideshow spectacle or somethin’?”

Father Nick returned quickly with his Mother. She ran to the boy and hugged him. She was large and foreign looking, dark hair and worn out skin. Her dress hung from her like a potato sack and I felt a little sad to see her.

“Oh, Morris, you’re better. You’re better!” she cried in a thick accent, hugging him awkwardly. “I have my son back! My boy ees better! Thank you, Lord Jesus! Thank you Father!”

“Mom, what’s the big idea?” His face was now the ugly, misshapen face of a moody teenager. He smelled like a rutting animal and the pimples stood out on his face more than before, as if they spread in the last few minutes. His red hair flopped over his eyes for just a second. “Why are all these jerks in my room? I didn’t do nothin’!”

“Oh, son, you just don’t remember is all” she said in glowing joy. “But, now you’re back!” She hugged him close and he tried to escape her flabby grasp, but it was no use. The two priests began replacing the items for the rite in their respective cases, looking away.

I wrote it all down, but could see that it was wrapping up. A sudden thought came to my mind for no apparent reason that I could think of at the time and I drew a small centipede at the bottom of the page. It was a doodle to keep me occupied while everyone finished up the ceremony and the gushing. I was a little embarrassed and wanted to leave, but procedure demanded I stay until the priests themselves were leaving. Without thinking much about it I scratched out the doodle as I saw Father Tom begin to recite the usual advice to the Mother.

“Make sure you contact the church again if his demeanor changes at all. I believe we have cast out the infestation, but there are times when the demon is so powerful that it merely hides beneath the surface of the victim’s mind and then does even more damage later. Much like when you think you killed a pestilent colony of ants only to find them return the following Spring. Remember, as the Bible teaches us, when a demon leaves one house it only goes and finds more of its friends and returns to wreak more havoc.”

The mother nodded and thanked the priests who now looked relaxed and ready to leave.

Suddenly my throat and stomach felt a burning surge, like I was going to throw up. My stomach lurched and I knew I would be sick. My mouth began to water. There was no doctor there and the need for morphine began to hit me like a hammer, making me reel. I felt frozen alcohol run through my veins.

I leaned forward and began to throw up what felt like steel wool. It was not steel wool, however. Centipedes began streaming forth from my throat and I tasted blood following them as I fell forward crushing some of them under my knees. Blood shot out of my nose and hit the wall beside me in a splash. It smelled like rotten feces and old cantaloupes. A thick red slime like jelly began to spread over the rough wooden floor of the room. The Mother screamed, the boy swore and the two Priests rushed to my side.

“The demon must have jumped over into Carl,” Father Tom said quickly. “Quick, my Holy Water!”

Father Nick reopened the case and handed it down to Father Tom, now kneeling beside my writhing body, himself awash in filth. Another gush of centipedes and blood shot out of me and knocked it from his hand, shattering the glass against the footboard of the bed. I screamed some hollow, ugly sound and the holy water turned to a vaguely familiar milky white substance that smelled like musty bleach. The sound of seven voices came from my throat.

“You old heroin-addict whore. You think I’m gonna let you kick me around from host to host all day long? We get our hooks in and we stay put.” The voice was coming from my mouth, but it sounded as if someone else were speaking. It sounded far away to me.

“Oh my dear God,” Father Tom moaned. He made the sign of the cross and closed his eyes to pray.

From somewhere deep inside me came more words I didn’t speak, though they came from my mouth, moved my tongue and rumbled in my throat. I spoke them as if I were watching myself from above: “You got the God all wrong on this one, doc. Your magic water tastes like sweet lime to me. I wish you brought some more of it. Hahahaha! Now go take some and impregnate your Holy ‘Virgin’ with it why don’t you?” More husky laughter came from my mouth. It sounded like a crowd of people laughing in unison, the different timbres and sounds of the voices all calling out in a discordant unison.

Father Tom crawled slowly backwards, slipping on the white substance and starring in horror at me. He fell and hit his head on the wooden floor, blood quickly pooling below his head, though he was not hurt badly. Trying to pull myself up, I felt like I was dreaming, though I knew I was not.

“There are plenty of other gods out there, kids, and they will come soon enough and in that day all of you and your late-human society will crumble under someone’s precious hand. Don’t be fooled by my previously loving attitude. I am here as a friend to alert you, not to demonize you, though a demon is the right word for what I am.” The voice paused for a second as I lurched to the floor in another spasm of pain. “But don’t think I won’t get annoyed and do something about it when you try and bandy us about with your silly rituals.”

Another gushing, blood drenched glob of centipedes shot forth from my mouth and dribbled down my chest before I fell back and everything became black. Inside my head the sound of seven voices slowly fizzled out in a mechanical haze. I slept the sleep of possession and withdrawal. I’d seen it plenty of times before.

Two hours later I awoke to the complaining of Morris and his Mother cleaning up the ectoplasmic, sanguine evidence of some strange afternoon in my distant past. I pulled myself up off the ground, apologized for the lack of decorum and left the house quickly. The priests were gone already. My head still hurt a bit, but it was the surprising lack of withdrawal pain that I was experiencing which surprised me. My mouth tasted like medicine. I figured the woman had slipped me something from the Old World. I spit into the gutter.

In a few minutes I was back home, huddled on my bed and trying to sleep. I couldn’t, but there was always trying. Eventually, I got up and began typing up the report. Words flowed like they hadn’t in years and I felt a certain confidence coming back that I had lacked recently. The pages piled up and I began to build up an appetite. It was as if the unholy events of the morning had just faded away into a faded movie screen, all finished and tidied up. That was the bliss of writing of course, no different than morphine for me.

A knock at the door. I got up to answer it and I was handed another telegram, yet again from the archdiocese. This time it was something different: a bleeder with a continual symptom of screaming foul abuse and repeated vomiting of green swamp water putrescence. A real case. Suddenly things were looking up. Somewhere inside I heard a quiet laugh and the squirming feeling that I was no longer quite myself. Instead, I was a success now.

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New Haven Case | 3 comments (3 topical, 0 hidden) | Trackback
good by sasquatchan (4.00 / 1) #1 Fri Nov 06, 2009 at 07:57:09 AM EST
but needs editing. Can't say how.. But some things just ring hollow/stand out as not belonging.. (eg laughing at the "rectal exam" -- that's not something HPL would ever use .. ) A good editor would find those rough patches and help remove/rewrite/reword for better overall.

Re-thinking what was bugging me by sasquatchan (4.00 / 1) #2 Fri Nov 06, 2009 at 08:13:45 AM EST
it's temporal.. Wording/scene/settings first make you think HPL times (very early 1900s) then there's language from the 1950's and later .. That mixing/inconsistency is what bugs me -- hear something near victorian, and then in the next sentence something much more modern..

[ Parent ]
It's funny that you mention HPL by Writer In Residence (2.00 / 0) #3 Fri Nov 06, 2009 at 10:41:00 AM EST
I see why it seems that way but I've really never read him. Maybe a handful of his stories about 20 years ago. But, I see what you mean. I like him, but not nearly as much as other writers. The Connecticut connection is entirely coincidental. I went there this year and just wanted a beat-up old setting for this one, so that's why I used New Haven.

The inconsistencies are somewhat intentional, to be honest. The Lit Trick I'm playing here is introduced in the first sentence, and the inconsistencies are part of that. I could smooth them out, there's no reason to now. This story got picked up already, so it's kinda set in stone. I just posted it here to see what folks think.

But, thanks for the pointers. This is part of a novel, so it may work better to revise this episode in the direction you are pointing for the novel. You can never really revise too much, if Henry James is to be believed. In that sense, it is not set in stone.


[ Parent ]
New Haven Case | 3 comments (3 topical, 0 hidden) | Trackback