Jake is possessed.
Jake is possessed.
The thought kept going round Isobel’s head, echoing off the walls of her mind.
Jake is possessed.
She drank from the huge glass of red wine and stared through her reflection at the moonlit sea beyond. It was hard to imagine it on fire, but that was what was going to happen. She’d seen it.
She drank again. The wine was disappearing quick. Soon she’d have to refill her glass. She laughed humourlessly, a grimace crossing her face. The blood soaked tarot card was clasped in her other hand like a sacrament. Her last communication with Jake.
Who was possessed.
She laughed hollowly again and turned from the window, facing Ramona across the room.
The angel was propped against the wall by the kitchen, swinging her own glass of wine in slow, lazy circles, the purple-red liquid flirting with the lip of the glass, but never quite spilling.
Of course she wouldn’t spill it, Isobel thought bitterly. She drank again. It was full dark now and she knew Jake was out there. She couldn’t kill him. How could Ramona ever think that?
“So what do we do now?” Isobel asked, leaning her head back against the cool glass. Her shoulders, the whole back of her body joined it.
“We proceed as planned,” Ramona told her. “We kill the demons and prevent the apocalypse.”
“You know you’ve never actually explained how that works.” Isobel looked at her from half closed eyes. “How exactly does killing demons save the world?”
Ramona met her challenging stare, still expertly swirling her glass. “Only demons can open the gates,” she said at last.
“The gates?” Isobel repeated, her shell shocked brain was slow to process new things, “The gates to what?”
Isobel arched an eyebrow and drank her wine. “Ask a stupid question,” she muttered half to herself, not caring if Ramona heard her incredulity. She leaned her head back against the glass, closed her eyes and sighed. She was so tired of all this. “And my blood closes them?”
“Yes,” Ramona confirmed with a nod.
Isobel’s lips twitched in a bleak half smile, “Of course it does.” She sighed again and continued, “How much of my blood?”
“I don’t know,” Ramona told her solemnly, “It varies. Maybe all of it.”
“Shit.” Isobel took a long gulp of wine, trying to calm her rapidly fraying nerves.
Ramona just stared at her, twirling her glass.
“Do you have to do that?” Isobel snapped.
“Sorry.” Ramona’s glass halted in its horizontal arc. She took a small sip.
“It’s okay,” Isobel blew out a shaky breath. “So these demons,” she began, “They aren’t all raised by other demons are they? At the first ritual we saw, where we met you, you said people had done it.”
“So who are these people? Devil worshippers? Were they guided to do it?”
“Not in the way your thinking,” Ramona said. “Contrary to popular myth Lucifer has little influence over the Earth. No these people are fools who have chosen that path.”
“They turned to the dark side.”
“If you like, but they weren’t controlled. It was their own choosing. Most of them don’t understand what they’re getting into.” Ramona paused before continuing, “That’s why apocalypses are so random. There were three attempts in a decade once. This is the first one for seventy years.” She gave one of her elegant shrugs.
“So who made me this way?” Isobel asked darkly, “God? The Devil? Who?”
“Does it matter?”
“If I have to lay down my life to save the world, yeah it matters,” Isobel was becoming irate again, “I’d like to know who’s to blame.”
“I don’t know,” Ramona told her simply.
Isobel blinked. “You don’t know!? How can you not know?”
Ramona shrugged again. “If God knows he hasn’t told me,” she said. “No one knows for certain how the Taint began. It appears to be a strain of some kind, like a demonic blood virus or a parasite, but we’ve never figured out precisely how it works.” She sipped her wine before continuing, “Do you remember the story of the Garden of Eden?”
“You remember the serpent who tempted Eve?”
“Get to the point Ramona.”
“The story I heard goes like this: The serpent poisoned the fruit from the tree of knowledge, poisoned it with his own blood. Then it spoke to Eve, tempting her with a delicious apple. When Eve bit into the succulent fruit she ingested the poisonous blood along with it, but it didn’t kill her; it changed her. She became tainted, causing her fall from grace, but not before she bred with Adam. Their children retained the serpents poison in their genealogy and over time it spread down through the generations, throughout all of human history. Any human being can carry the serpent’s poison, but very few are actually tainted. It’s generally dormant in most, but occasionally someone is born who has an active poison gene; the tainted souls.”
Isobel blinked, momentarily shocked. “So it is hereditary.”
“To humanity as a whole, but not to a specific family line. I don’t know how accurate the story is, but it sounds right.”
“Jesus.” Isobel shook her head in disgust and sipped her wine.
Ramona quietly drank her own wine. “It’s not God’s fault you’re tainted,” she said at last.
“God, you’re loving this aren’t you?” Isobel’s face was a mask of distaste, “You actually think this is fun.”
“Not all of it,” Ramona sounded sincere. “I am sorry about Jake.”
“Whatever.” Isobel sighed and sipped from her own glass. Turning an unflinching stare on Ramona she said, “I’m getting him back you know.”
“He’s one of them now,” Ramona told her harshly. “A demon. We have to kill him.”
“No.” Isobel held her gaze. “We’re not doing that.”
“Isobel...” Ramona began.
“He’s the only person I love in this world, Ramona.” Isobel’s voice cracked, but her stare didn’t falter. “He’s all I’ve got.”
“You can try and kill him if you want, that’s fine. But you’re going to have to come through me.”
“You idiot,” Ramona said, disdain lacing her voice. “You’d sacrifice the world for him?”
Isobel raised her chin in defiance, “I would.”
Ramona shook her head again and drank her wine. She pushed angrily away from the wall and stalked towards Isobel. “So what alternatives do you suggest?” she seethed. “What brilliant plan do you have?”
Isobel sipped her wine, letting the angel vent. She took another sip before replying, looking at Ramona’s angry face. “He’s possessed by a demon right?”
“The spirit has taken his body, yes.”
“Then we exorcise him.” Isobel sipped her wine, her eyes fixed on Ramona. “Simple.”
Ramona blinked, then laughed; laughed so hard she threw her head back and made a visible effort to recover. “An exorcism?” An amused smile split her features into an incredulous sneer. She couldn’t believe what she was hearing.
“Don’t tell me it can’t be done,” Isobel replied cooly.
“Oh it can be done,” Ramona said. “It’s just really fucking hard, next to impossible even.”
“This whole thing is.”
Ramona shook her head and looked at Isobel. The other woman stared back earnestly, she was not backing down. “You’re serious aren’t you?”
“Exorcism is heavy stuff Isobel.”
“I like heavy stuff. Look at my CD’s.”
Ramona smiled slightly, admiring Isobel’s determination. “Not many angels will go anywhere near exorcism, it opens up too many bad possibilities.”
“Like your soul being corrupted or ripped apart,” Ramona said ominously. “One angel, millennia ago even lost her soul to Hell trying to exorcise someone. For love.” She gestured at Isobel with her glass. “It’s not something to undertake lightly. Never mind Jake, we might not survive it.”
“But it can be done?”
“It’s rarely successful.” Ramona shook her head and laughed lightly. “I’ve not heard of a successful exorcism in all my years and I’ve never performed one. Besides which we haven’t the time.”
“It’s Jake.” Isobel said simply, spreading her arms as if to say she couldn’t help it. Her voice shook with the force of so many emotions running wild through her. “I can’t lose him Ramona. I won’t.”
Ramona sighed, “He’s gone Isobel.”
“No.” Isobel was surprised how calm she sounded. “Not yet he isn’t. He’s possessed not dead Ramona. We can get him back. I am getting him back.”
Ramona let out a heavy breath and looked at Isobel. She could see the redhead wasn’t going to give up. “We’re running out of time,” she said. “If the apocalypse happens tomorrow and Jake’s on the wrong side I’ll kill him if I have to.”
Ramona nodded. “We know where we stand then.”
She nodded again, considering, weighing the task in her mind. A small smile broke her face. “Right then. Fuck it.” She tipped her head back and emptied the wine glass down her throat in a single swallow. She held the glass out to Isobel who, frowning, poured her another. “Let’s do it.”
Isobel blinked, almost spilling the wine in surprise, “What?”
“Let’s do it,” Ramona said again.
“You’re willing to exorcise Jake?” Isobel’s heart felt like it would burst.
“I’m willing to try,” Ramona sighed, resigned to her fate. “For you.”
Isobel smiled so widely Ramona couldn’t help but return it, albeit with less enthusiasm. “But I’ll need help. And specific supplies.”
“Do you have any salt?”
Smiling, Isobel walked to the tiny kitchen and grabbed a plastic container of economy table salt off the side. She held it out to Ramona with a cheery, “Will this do?”
Ramona inspected it and gave a nod. “That should do.”
“Jake. I’ll need him.” She could see how excited Isobel was. She was practically buzzing with anticipation. “I don’t want you to get your hopes up Isobel,” she said. “This is a dangerous and complicated process. It’s not likely it will work.”
“Yeah, well at least we’re trying,” Isobel said. She looked at her and smiled.
The angel didn’t smile back. She knew this exorcism meant the world to Isobel but she wasn’t happy about performing it.
“We’re taking an enormous risk here Isobel.”
“Were you ever in love?” Isobel asked her defiantly.
“Twice,” Ramona’s voice became more sombre. She looked away, sipping her wine.
“When you were human?” Isobel pressed, fascinated by this new insight into Ramona’s life.
“Once when I was human,” the angel replied reluctantly.
“What do you think?” Ramona was sharp.
“I don’t know,” Isobel said frankly and shot her a dark look. “I’ve never heard a story like yours. I’ve no idea what to expect.”
“It ended badly,” Ramona told her. “Both times.”
“You understand my position then.”
“I empathise, yes.”
“I’d like to know what happened...”
“We’re wasting time,” Ramona snapped, clearly wanting to change the subject. “You want to exorcise Jake or talk about my old love life?”
“I can multi-task.”
Ramona just looked at her, clearly uncomfortable.
“Besides, we’re not doing an exorcism right this minute.”
“Fine,” Ramona said testily. “One denounced me as a heretic and the other...” she sighed wearily, “I’m not going there.”
“That’s all I’m saying,” Ramona warned her. “The rest is personal.”
“Okay.” Isobel shrugged as if it didn’t really matter and sipped her wine. Inside she was dying to know more now that she’d had this tantalising glimpse into Ramona’s past. Ramona turned and walked across the room. She was about to return to the subject of the exorcism when Isobel spoke. “Jake was in my dream again.” Her fearful eyes met Ramona’s.
“Yeah, he’s had a cameo before.”
“These are the apocalypse dreams right?” Ramona asked.
Isobel swallowed. “I watched him burn from the inside out.” She shivered, rubbing her hands over the goose bumps breaking out on her skin. “I’ve never seen anything so horrific.” She sipped her wine.
Ramona nodded, thinking.
“You’ve thought of something,” Isobel noticed.
Ramona looked at her, “Your dream tallies with reality. In that Jake is in trouble, that something horrid is inside of him.”
“It’s not the first time.”
“Some tainted souls have prophetic abilities. I should have known.”
“The dreams are what led Jake and I to that tower block.”
“I know,” Ramona nodded. “Anything else happen?”
“Actually yeah,” Isobel said. “I met a little girl, dark hair, sweet in an evil I’m-going-to-kill-you-all kind of way.”
Ramona’s face drained of humour and more than a little colour. She paused in raising the glass of wine to her lips.
“She said that Jake was calling to me... through the pain he’s always calling to me.” Isobel’s voice shook on the last. She bit on her lip and blinked back tears. When she was composed again she looked back at Ramona, who was staring at her with growing horror. “She said she was called Ramona... and that you weren’t telling me the whole truth.”
Ramona’s eyes had gone wide.
“Was she right? Are you deceiving me?”
Ramona blew out a shaky breath and ran a hand agitatedly through her lustrous dark hair before replying. “Not exactly,” she admitted. “But I haven’t told you everything either.”
“Like about your affliction?”
“Shit.” Ramona drank her wine. She walked across to the windows and looked out over the sea.
“God, she was telling the truth wasn’t she?” Isobel gasped.
“She’s evil.” Ramona stared out of the window as she spoke. “Pure evil.”
“Is she really you?” Isobel asked.
“She was.” Ramona turned to her, frowning. “I’m trying to think how to paraphrase the story.”
“Don’t,” Isobel snapped. “I don’t want paraphrasing Ramona, I’m tired of not knowing what’s going on. I need to know this stuff. I’m trusting you with a lot.”
Ramona sighed, “Fine.” She drank her wine.
Isobel came to stand in front of her, before the windows and watched the dark waves as their reflections drank with them.
“Thank God you filled this glass to the rim,” Ramona smiled without feeling.
“What’s the story?” Isobel pressed.
“You asked me about being in love,” Ramona said. “It’s sort of connected, so I’ll begin there.” She stared out of the window as if looking into the past. “I was denounced as a heretic in 1685,” she began. “The man who did it was my first love, a man I thought was my true love.” She laughed, “I was so damn naïve. I thought I’d marry him, have his children, you know the drill. Anyway he learned of my... affliction and informed the authorities that I was a witch.”
“Why did he do that?”
Ramona gave her another of her elegant shrugs. “It was a different world. Everyone was super religious. People viewed God as a real, palpable entity not just a comforting myth. They saw the Devil in the same way.” She paused to sip her wine. “Joshua thought he was saving my soul by turning me in.” She smiled whimsically, “I guess in a way he did. He was also deeply afraid of the evil I’d knowingly brought into his home.”
“Like you, I was born with a certain gift.”
“The Taint?” Isobel wasn’t entirely surprised, but it was still startling to hear out loud. “You were tainted?”
“No,” Ramona clarified. “My gift wasn’t quite like yours. I could see the future. The possible future at any rate. I could sense when bad things were about to happen. As I got older my gift developed, I could see more specifically what atrocities were going to be committed. It wasn’t just Earthly stuff though, I got images of people eating the flesh of others and an accompanying sense of enjoyment...” She grimaced at the memories.
“I relished in the chaos and the bloodshed with them during these visions. I never forgot that sense of abandon, not ever. But what I saw was sick, evil, I didn’t want any part of that so I channelled that desire into other things. I was always a very passionate lover, at work as well as at home. Sex was a form of exorcism for me... but I still had the visions. One day I decided to tell Josh about them. They were getting worse, like yours, and I believed I could confide in him about anything.” She gave Isobel a dry smile, sorrow tightening her jaw. “Maybe I should have left out the part about visions of cannibalistic demons but I loved him, I wanted to tell him everything.”
“And he betrayed you.”
“He stayed true to his principles,” Ramona said. “Like everyone he was a man of God and he thought that if he turned me over my soul would be saved. I don’t think he believed I’d be seriously harmed, let alone killed.” Her cheeks tightened as memories came to her, “I don’t know which part was worse,” she mused. “The torture or knowing that Joshua, the man I loved, had as good as strapped me in that chair.”
“What did they do to you?” Isobel asked.
“What didn’t they?” The haunted tremor in Ramona’s voice was slight, but it was there. “They had me for days Isobel. Days. I confessed all my sins, anything that could even remotely be called a sin...” her hand shook a little as she sipped her wine. “I told them everything. I even made things up to get them to stop. After almost a week I signed a confession admitting my heresy. My fingers barely worked anymore, I was so badly shaken. You try writing legibly with your finger nails torn out. It’s fucking painful. The next day they hung me in the market square. Joshua was in the crowd. When I met his eyes from the gallows I could tell, grief stricken though he was, that he still believed he’d done right by me. He still believed!” Ramona paused a moment to compose herself. When she spoke next she sounded marginally calmer. “His eyes were the last thing I saw before I woke up in the next world. Where, as it turned out, my soul was evil... at least partially.”
“My ability to see and sense evil came from demonic blood, so Joshua and the priests were right, I was evil. Except God didn’t see it that way. He didn’t approve of the things people were doing in his name and had given the order that anyone who died as a result of interrogation and subsequent executions was to be interviewed for redemption.”
Isobel blinked. “You what, sat down with God and had a chat?”
Ramona smiled, “Essentially, yes. He liked me, said I had good character but that I was corrupted and he couldn’t take me as I was. I thought I was damned just like I’d been told. However, he had a very interesting proposition. He proposed to split my soul, to break off the evil part and send it to Hell while keeping most of me in Heaven as an angel. I was only slightly corrupted you see so it was feasible. ”
“So that little girl is you.”
“She’s the part of me that got purged,” Ramona clarified. “God, with the help of some of the arch angels, split my soul and sent the evil part to Hell. I became an angel. She became a very concentrated source of evil.”
“Is she the Devil?”
“No, but she isn’t far behind. Think about it Isobel, most people are capable of extremely terrible acts when pushed too far. I was no different and on top of that I had Hell vision. My evil side was much worse because of that. There was more evil in me than most.”
“So why did God save you?”
“Apparently I have a good heart.” Isobel raised an eyebrow and Ramona laughed. “His words not mine. I’ve always been honest with people and done what I considered right. My heart’s always been in the right place and I tried to do good. At the same time I’ve always been a fighter; I had to be, especially once I lost my parents. That’s why God spared me. He nurtured me into the woman I’ve become today.”
“But in the process of making you, he also created something unspeakably evil.”
“These things are always complicated.” Ramona rubbed her brow as if she had a headache, “I knew the bitch would be back to bite me in the arse one day.”
“If she dies, do you die?”
“Why? You tempted?”
Isobel smiled, “A little.”
“I don’t know,” Ramona said. “I’m not sure anyone does.”
“She said she was the end,” Isobel told her. “What the hell does that mean?”
“She is the face of Armageddon,” Ramona said by way of explanation.
“Delightful.” Isobel swallowed another large mouthful of wine. “So is she, like, their general? Is she leading the charge?”
“Probably.” Ramona massaged her forehead with her fingers. “I’ve never seen her in battle, but I was probably busy.”
“Busy killing things?”
“So that’s it?” Isobel asked. “That’s the whole truth?”
“That’s all of it,” Ramona confirmed. “How I became an angel, my dark roots, my first love. Everything.”
“You said you’d been in love twice,” Isobel said. “Who was the other guy?”
“An angel,” Ramona smiled, “Issac. He was really nice, until he found out about my split soul. It disturbed him. I think he worried I was going to flip and kill everyone. Bring down Heaven from within. He even petitioned God for my exile. God declined.”
“Yes. I know how to pick them.”
“You really do,” Isobel said. She looked at their rapidly diminishing glasses. “We need more wine.”
Ramona smiled, “What we need is a priest.”
“The exorcism,” Ramona said. She frowned as if distracted and cocked her head to the side as if listening to unheard voices.
“What?” Isobel asked.
“Someone else has died tonight,” Ramona sipped her wine.
Ramona didn’t respond immediately, standing with her head tilted. Isobel was about to prompt her again when she spoke, “A Reverand Percy Connor” she said, her eyes flicked to Isobel, “He ran the Holy Cross church on the other side of town.” She frowned, still listening. “They found a tarot card at the scene.”
Isobel closed her eyes and gulped, “Was it The Lovers?”
“It seems likely.” Ramona righted her head and sipped her wine.
“We really need another glass,” Isobel said, draining hers. She picked up the bottle and poured another, filling it to the brim and finishing the bottle. “Sorry.” She said to Ramona, sipping her refreshed glass. She gestured to the kitchen, “There’s another bottle if you want.”
“There’s a few.” Ramona observed.
“He killed a holy man,” Isobel said. She looked at Ramona, the beginnings of worry on her face. “He’s figured it out hasn’t he? The demon, I mean. We need a vicar or…someone to help…” she trailed off. Her eyes suddenly went wide. “O’Leary!” she cried in alarm.
“My old priest, Father O’Leary! Jake and I went to see him a few days ago about our dreams! Holy fuck, Ramona, he knows my old priest! If he’s figured out our plan…”
“He’ll kill him.” Ramona said.
“If he hasn’t already,” Isobel was frantic. “We have to go Ramona. Now!”