Tainted

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Chapter 19

Fire surrounded her on every side. Wherever Isobel turned, walls of crackling fire greeted her. The heat was incredible, sweat poured off of her, dripping from her nose and chin, plastering her clothes to her skin. She turned and turned until she was dizzy, but there was no gap in the flames, no way to escape. She became frantic, breathing rapidly, her breath too shallow, she felt herself becoming light headed as well as disorientated. The fire roared impossibly high above her head, up and up it went, so far that the top of the flames disappeared from view. Someone was screaming, their agonised, tortured sounds echoing through the inferno above the roar of the flames. Isobel could hear pleading on the wind, someone begging for mercy before a terrible, pain filled cry rang out. With horror she realised where she was.

Hell.

That was the only explanation.

She was in Hell.

She squinted at the fire, it singed her eyelashes, burning the tips away. She knew if she stepped into those flames she’d be gone forever, sucked into their fiery depths, screaming with no way out. With no hope of salvation.

“Isobel,” a high, lilting voice sounded behind her. She knew who it was before she turned. In front of her stood the little girl she’d met the last time she was here.

“Ramona,” she nodded. Next to Ramona stood Jake, a blackened, blistered vision of her lover. Smoke rose from his hunched shoulders as he stood beside the girl. Crisp blackened skin flaked off his arm where she stroked him possessively, as if he were a favoured pet. Jake quivered with fright and pain at the contact.

“He’s with me now, Isobel,” she told her, a sweet, innocent smile splitting her face. She should have been eating ice cream in a park somewhere and laughing, not presiding over the damned in this bleak, horrible place.

“The hell he is,” Isobel said defiantly. “I will get him back.”

The girl’s smile widened, “No. You won’t.” She stepped forward and Isobel looked desperately around for something to cut her hand with, to get to her blood. “There are no weapons here Isobel,” she smiled, reading the woman’s movements and thoughts. She stopped directly in front of Isobel and looked up at her whilst Isobel met her eyes. “Tell Ramona that I look forward to our reunion.” She smiled. Before Isobel could react the child lashed out impossibly fast, shoving her back into the flames.

* * *

Isobel woke up, gasping for breath and looking frantically around, disorientated when she saw she wasn’t at home. It took her a minute to remember where she was; her old bedroom at her mother’s flat. She and Ramona had returned here after the fight. Isobel sat up swinging her legs over the edge of the bed, her bare feet touching the old, threadbare carpet. She caught a glimpse of her black eyes in the mirror over the dressing table and spent a silent moment staring into their shadowy depths. Shouts and guttural growls echoed from other rooms in the flat, muffled by the thin walls.

Jake was clearly awake now. Awake and not getting on too well with Ramona.

For once.

Isobel sighed and buried her face in her hands. She had really had enough of this.

Another roar sounded from the other room.

Sighing wearily Isobel got to her feet, pulling on her socks and trainers she headed to her mother’s room where Jake was imprisoned. They had brought him back here after the ambush. It was close by and had a single bed to tie Jake to. Isobel had pondered the sadness of her mother sleeping in a single bed as Ramona bound Jake’s wrists to the headboard. It was tragic that someone, once so happily married, was now forced to sleep alone. The fact that it was in a single bed disturbed Isobel even more. It spoke of a lack of hope or maybe a reluctance to embrace people in any way anymore. Hell, Isobel herself preferred solitude to company most of the time... but she didn’t want to be totally alone. Her mother, bitter after her father’s disappearance had driven Isobel away, driven her away completely. She had had no one to stand by her, to fight for her when the demons came. They had broken in, tortured her, killed her, then used her body to house a monster. That monster had escaped the fray and Isobel was not looking forward to seeing her again. Too many emotions swirled inside her for that confrontation to be comfortable.

“Hey,” Isobel said, entering the bedroom.

Ramona turned to look at her. “Did you sleep well?”

Isobel shrugged, “Not really. I had another nightmare.”

“I can tell by your eyes,” Ramona said. She turned her attention back to the struggling Jake.

“Isobel!” He cried catching sight of her, “Isobel stop her! She’s insane!”

Isobel cast her eyes down, unable to meet his panicked gaze.

“Isobel!”

“She’s not listening,” Ramona hissed and hit him in the head, the sound echoing through the room. Ramona turned grim eyes to Isobel. “I’ve wanted to do that since the church.”

Isobel was shocked, “That’s Jake in there!”

“I hope so.” Ramona’s face softened a little, “You didn’t see him rip the face off a woman, didn’t feel her pain,” Ramona grimaced. “I did. This thing is evil and dangerous. You need to remember that until we get Jake back.”

“You think we will?” Isobel walked further into the room, peering round Ramona at the man she loved, tied to the bed.

“Maybe.” Ramona was checking the rope, for the umpteenth time, making sure it was secure. The last thing she wanted was Jake breaking free mid-exorcism. Isobel looked her over as she approached. After they had secured Jake to the bed, Ramona had disappeared to wash the demon blood from her skin, explaining that it may upset the dynamic of the exorcism. “If we try to exorcise a demon while covered in demon blood it could backfire. I’d rather not take the chance,” she had clarified.

“Glad to see you’re taking it seriously,” Isobel said.

“Exorcism is one of the most serious things there is,” Ramona told her.

Now she stood over Jake, clean again. She had changed into a simple navy blue dress with a gauzy outer layer. It looked like the sort of thing that would swirl beautifully on a dance floor. Isobel had washed the blood from her skin, but hadn’t any clean clothes to change into and was vaguely bewildered as to where Ramona had gotten hers from.

“That should do.” Ramona stepped back from the bed and examined her handiwork.

Jake’s feet and hands were bound to either end of the bed frame by a length of rope they had found in a cupboard. Alarmingly Ramona had known exactly where to look for it. It looked like heavy duty stuff and Isobel wondered what the hell her mother had planned to do with it. Isobel examined the bindings herself. They looked pretty secure. Ramona had moved the bed out into the centre of the small bedroom so they could walk the whole way around it. A crucifix hung on the wall above the headboard and they had kept the top of the bed parallel to this, hoping it would help. As Ramona had noted, it couldn’t hurt.

Isobel was scared and nervous about their plan. She remembered the ending of all the exorcism movies she’d seen. They never ended well. What if it didn’t work and Jake was stuck this way? What if they raised something worse by accident? Isobel was rapidly gaining the impression that Ramona wasn’t the holiest of angels, part of her soul resided in Hell for God’s sake. Was she really the best person to entrust Jake’s welfare and soul too? Probably not, but Isobel was out of other options. She needed Jake back and this looked to be the only way.

“Okay,” Ramona nodded and let out a deep breath. Her eyes flicked to Isobel. “You ready?”

“No,” Isobel replied frankly. “You?”

Ramona smiled and made a huhm noise, “Not at all,” she said. “I need some salt and holy water to start.” She turned to leave the room.

Isobel watched Ramona her go. Sighing she turned back to Jake. He looked peaceful all asleep. His long hair hung over half his sweat soaked face, where it had fallen. He looked cute, adorable even. She smiled, imagining Jake’s reaction to her assessment. She wanted to crawl onto the bed and cuddle him, just like the other night. There was no outside indication of the monster that lurked within.

Just like the rest of us, she mused. No one ever knew what mum was capable of. Father O’Leary certainly never believed me. She sighed again. The last week had destroyed everything she had. The events had chewed her up, spat her out and come back for seconds. If Jake didn’t make it through this, Isobel wasn’t sure she could continue. Maybe she’d just curl up somewhere and drink whiskey until she died. Her job, her mum, her lover... what else was there? Her sanity? That was shot seven ways to fuck knows where. No one could keep sane in a situation like this. Sighing she followed Ramona out of the room and down the hall into the kitchen.

Ramona had got a large white economy jar of salt out of an overhead cupboard and was busily filling a bucket with cold tap water.

“What the hell do you need that for?” Isobel asked.

Ramona looked round, clearly not expecting her to follow. “Holy water,” she explained and turned the tap off. She lifted the full bucket out of the sink with one hand, placing it on the floor. She stared down at it and made the sign of the cross over it, while reciting an incantation in what sounded to Isobel like Latin. When she had finished Isobel asked, “Does it have to be in Latin?”

“No,” Ramona said. “That’s just how I learnt it.” She smiled, “A bucket full of holy water. We’re off to a good start.”

“You have no idea what your doing do you?” Isobel said, plucking a chipped mug from a red plastic mug tree. She picked up an open bottle of red wine and poured the remainder of the bottle into the mug.

“Not completely,” Ramona admitted, watching Isobel take her first sip of wine. “Maybe that’s not a good idea right now.”

“Ramona, the man I love is tied to a bed and we’re about to perform a half baked exorcism on him. I need a drink.” She watched Ramona frown at her, a slight smile twitching her lips. “What?”

“Wine is part of the Holy Communion, the blood of Christ,” Ramona reminded her. “Is there another bottle anywhere?”

“Should be,” Isobel was already looking. “My mother drinks more than me. Aha!” She pulled an unopened bottle of red from the bottom of a decrepit, partially broken wine rack, half hidden by rubbish and empty cans.

“Great,” Ramona headed out of the room carrying the salt and holy water. She stopped and looked round at Isobel. “We will get him back.”

“We better,” Isobel replied.

“We will,” Ramona turned.

“She said she’s looking forward to the reunion.” Isobel told her with a shudder, the chill of the girl’s words still fresh in her mind.

Ramona stopped and looked back round at her. “Who did?” she asked hesitantly, already sure of the answer.

“Ramona. The other Ramona. I saw her in my dream. She said to tell you.” Isobel looked at her, “Is she gonna try something.”

“Maybe,” Ramona replied, looking concerned. “Shit.”

* * *

Back in the bedroom, Jake had woken up and was struggling against his bonds. He snarled at them when they entered the room. “Morning precious,” Ramona greeted him with a grim smile.

“What are you doing?” He roared at them.

“Exorcising you,” Ramona said cooly. She set the bucket of blessed water down and flipped open the tab on the salt container. “I’m going to walk a salt circle round him to bind the demon to the bed,” she said to Isobel. “That way it can’t escape during the ritual.”

“Could the demon jump into me?” Isobel asked nervously, sipping her wine.

“Not if we bind it,” Ramona told her firmly.

Isobel nodded and went back to drinking. Her nerves weren’t getting any better. Fear still danced through her mind, refusing to be quieted.

More wine may be required. She smiled grimly at the thought. Maybe it was a good thing she’d brought that other bottle in.

Ramona began walking a slow circle round the bed, pouring salt in a steady white stream on the floor as she went. A soft, shushing noise arose as it hit the carpet. “By salt and the holy word of God, I bind you to this circle,” she intoned. “By salt and the holy word of God I bind you to this circle.” She repeated the incantation the whole way around the circle. All the while Jake snarled and shouted at her, calling her several unsavoury names, but she ignored him.

“Isobel, please don’t let her do this,” he pleaded desperately with her. “Please!”

Isobel turned her eyes away and drank. Definitely need more wine.

Finally the circle was complete.

“There,” Ramona stood back. “Now we begin the real work.” She turned to Isobel and nodded at her mug of wine, “May I?” Before Isobel could respond Ramona plucked the mug from her hand and turned back to the bed. She dipped her fingers into Isobel’s wine, coating her fingers in the dark liquid and leaned toward Jake.

He struggled and yelled, “What the fuck are you doing?”

Ramona just smiled cryptically. Ignoring Jake’s cries she leaned over and smeared two fingers of wine down the middle of his brow. “In the holy name of God I anoint you with the blood of Christ the saviour,” she intoned. She smeared more wine on his open palms, “He who gave his life for our salvation.”

“Isobel!”

“His blood binds this body and the soul therein to his divinity.” She stroked wine across his feet, tied together at the foot of the bed. “This man’s soul belongs to God.” She stepped back, letting Jake scream.

“Is that hurting him?” Isobel asked, anxiety straining her voice.

“It bothers the demon,” Ramona told her.

“So yes, then.”

Ramona gave her a hard look, “Do you want your boyfriend back or not?”

Isobel sighed.

“Here.” Ramona handed her back the now empty mug. “Fill it up, we may need more wine to strengthen the link to divinity.”

“And my nerves.” Isobel poured, filling the mug almost to the brim with red wine. She took a long sip. “There’s plenty more,” was all she said when Ramona raised an eyebrow at her.

The angel shook her head, with a faint smile, and turned back to her work. She looked down at the bucket of holy water and frowned. “Isobel, there’s a pepper shaker in the kitchen, can you get it please.”

“Why?”

“Because it will make this easier.” She dipped her fingers into the bucket and began sprinkling holy water over Jake. He screamed.

Isobel left and returned a minute later with mismatched salt and pepper shakers. “Here.” She handed both to Ramona. The angel examined them. They were dirty but they’d do. They’d have to. Twisting the metal caps off, she emptied the pepper into a half full ashtray. She paused, looking at the salt.

“Walk this round the circle,” she said, holding it out to Isobel. Hesitantly Isobel took it.

“What do I do?” she asked worriedly.

“Just sprinkle it over what’s already there,” Ramona told her. “We may as well use it.”

Isobel nodded and went to the task. Jake looked at her imploringly from the bed, “Please don’t Isobel,” he begged his voice high and anguished, “Please don’t help her torture me. You love me, you don’t want to do this. You love me!”

She held his gaze for a moment, considering.

“The demon will say anything to trick you,” Ramona said. “First rule of exorcism, hell first rule of demons.”

“Because angels are so much better,” Jake snapped. “We were happy until you came along. You ruined everything!”

His words were so close to Isobel’s own thoughts she wondered if it was telepathy. “He’s right,” Isobel said quietly. “It was all going well until you showed up.”

Ramona looked upset, genuinely upset, for a moment. Isobel felt a twinge of regret at her words, but she felt the point was valid; Jake and she had been getting on like a big fiery building until Ramona had appeared, flipped their world upside down and tempted Jake away from her. Ramona swore nothing had happened between them, that angels always told the truth… but could she really trust that? Trust her? Isobel didn’t. She stood up straight and looked at Ramona squarely, “I don’t trust you,” she said. “And I’m not letting you do this.”

“This was your idea,” Ramona reminded her, incensed.

“I’m revoking it.” Anger threaded her voice.

“It’s a good idea.”

“It’s not.”

“Go look in a mirror, Isobel,” Ramona’s tone had grown cold.

“Why?” Isobel snapped at her, “What the hell for?”

“Your eyes are black.”

That threw Isobel for a moment, “What?”

“Your eyes are black,” Ramona repeated. “Go check if you don’t believe me.”

Isobel looked at her, a long suspicious look and finally stepped away from Jake, walking to the mirror hanging in the corner of the room. Her reflection stared back at her with pitch black obsidian eyes. “Oh fuck,” she breathed, shocked.

“He’s influencing you,” Ramona said. “Bringing out your taint, using it to his advantage.” She turned back to Jake, “But not for long.” She held up the pepper shaker, light glinting off its plastic edges. “In the name of Christ and the almighty God, I cast you out,” she intoned and upended the shaker. Holy water sprinkled over Jake’s upper body.

The demon thrashed and struggled against his bonds, hollering Isobel’s name over and over before finally settling on an unrelenting scream.

“I cast you out from this body,” Ramona called over the screams, sprinkling holy water up and down Jake’s body. “Refill,” she commanded holding the empty shaker out to Isobel. There was no response; no one took the implement from her hand. Ramona looked round and Isobel wasn’t there. She was gone. “Shit,” she muttered and grabbed the full salt shaker, submersing the other in holy water with her other hand. “Just you and me, bitch.” She smiled at Jake and resumed dousing and intoning. He roared in pain, screaming for an end to his torment. Screaming Isobel’s name.

* * *

Isobel had retreated to the living room. The sight of her black eyes had freaked her out, brought her back to herself. Ramona was right, she had been under the demon’s sway for a minute. She should have guessed what was happening when Jake’s words so precisely mirrored her own fears, but had been too preoccupied with his apparent suffering to think much about it. Now she felt stupid. Still she couldn’t stand it, hearing Jake’s voice, the voice that had whispered words of encouragement in her ear as they made love, manipulating her, tricking her. The screams were as bad, maybe worse, but not as intimate. She sat on the sofa eyes squeezed shut, hands clasped tight over her ears, trying in vain to block it out. She couldn’t. It was too loud. All she could do was muffle the sound. She wanted this over. She wanted her life back. As if that would ever happen now! She opened her eyes and saw the bloody pentagram drawn on the threadbare carpet. Looking at the site of her mother’s gruesome death did not make her feel better. She closed her eyes again. When she opened them, she didn’t know how much later, Ramona was standing in front of her. “What do you want?” Isobel asked angrily.

“I want you to help,” Ramona sounded sympathetic but there was a note of impatience in her tone. She crouched down on her haunches and looked at her.

Isobel took her hands away from her ears. Jake was no longer screaming. She noticed Ramona was holding the mug full of wine.

“Is that for me?” she asked hopefully.

“You can have some,” Ramona held the mug out to her.

Isobel took it, wrapping both hands around it as if to keep warm. She took a long sip, feeling the wine warm and soothe her.

“Your eyes are normal again,” Ramona said gently.

Isobel nodded avoiding the angel’s concerned eyes. Finally she said, “I’m sorry I lost it.”

“It was always going to be tough,” Ramona spoke calmly, despite her clear frustration. “But I can’t do this alone.”

“What do you mean?” Isobel felt a cold chill of fear steal through her, “You can’t do it?”

“Not by myself.” Ramona sighed, “I’ve been in there two hours and had minimal effect. I’ve unsettled the demon’s spirit a little but that’s about it.”

“What can I do?” Isobel asked. “He influenced me, because I’m tainted,” she spat the word like it was something disgusting. “How am I going to be any help?”

“I’ve thought about that,” Ramona said. “Let’s assume he influenced you by calling your tainted blood.”

“Right.”

“What’s to say you can’t call his?” She paused to gauge Isobel’s reaction before continuing. “Stands to reason it should work the other way round.”

It took a while for the full meaning of Ramona’s words to sink into Isobel’s shocked, tired brain. After a period of contemplation she asked, “Are you saying you think I can call his demon out?”

Ramona smiled a little, “Absolutely.”

“That’s fucking insane.”

Ramona’s smile widened, “What do you think?”

“I think there’s a rubber room somewhere with your name on the door.”

Ramona’s smile broadened further. Isobel didn’t return it. She sipped the wine and considered Ramona’s suggestion. The idea had merit and it was logical that she should be able to return Jake’s earlier favour. “I’m more tainted than him aren’t I?” she said slowly, testing her understanding of the idea out loud.

“Yes,” Ramona confirmed.

“So I should be able to influence him more than he could me.”

“If you retain control of the situation, yes, I hope so.”

“Fuck.” She exhaled heavily and looked the angel in the eyes. “What’s your plan?” she asked resignedly.

“I try to cast the demon out with the power of God, you try to call it out using demonic blood,” Ramona explained.

“You push, I pull?”

“Yes.” Ramona nodded, a tiny amused smile curving her lips at Isobel’s phrasing. “I push, you pull.”

“You sure that’ll work?” Isobel asked.

“No,” Ramona was frank. “But it’s got more of a chance than just me chanting at him.”

Isobel sighed. Like so many things lately it didn’t seem like she had much choice in the matter. “Fuck it,” she said and knocked back the rest of the wine. “Let’s do it.”

* * *

She re-entered the bedroom tentatively behind Ramona. Jake was still tied to the bed, his head lolled to the side facing them. “Isobel,” he rasped in a pain filled voice, “Help me Isobel.”

“I’m trying to,” she said softly. “We have to get this thing out of you Jake.”

“You’ll kill me,” he groaned. “Please, Isobel, no more.”

“Don’t listen to it,” Ramona told her.

Isobel eyed Jake uneasily, guilt and confusion vying inside her. She knew strength of resolve and clarity of purpose were important here, but seeing Jake in such a bad way shook her. Especially since she knew she was a part of his suffering. She knew unflinchingly what she wanted though; she wanted this monster out of Jake. She wanted her lover back. She turned to Ramona, “What do I do?”

“Your blood should call to him,” Ramona said, considering. “Anoint him with your blood, like I did with the wine.”

“Then what?”

Ramona gave an elegant one shouldered shrug, “Call him out.”

“Any specific words?”

Another half shrug, “Demon I command you in the name of Christ be gone, something like that. There are a lot of exorcism rites, chants, prayers, things like that, but the main point is ‘get the fuck out’” she said. “Sticking to that principal seems wise. Be direct. And have faith.”

“I’m using demonic energy right?”

Ramona nodded.

“Well, I can’t really invoke the name of God in those circumstances. What am I meant to have faith in?”

“Yourself,” Ramona said.

“Shit.”

“We can do this Isobel.” Ramona gave her a reassuring look and a slight smile, “I know we can.”

Isobel just looked at her, worried. “My blood huh?” She sighed, “Why is it always my fucking blood?”

Ramona just smiled and poured wine into the mug again. “Need a sip?” she asked.

Isobel shook her head, “My gut feels all floppy,” she made a twisty-turny gesture with her hand. Nonetheless she took the mug from Ramona and took a long swallow of the contents before handing it back. She nodded at Ramona. Ramona nodded back and stepped forward, her fingers dripping wine onto the floor. She anointed Jake the same way she had before, repeating her earlier incantation. When she was finished she stepped back and looked at Isobel. It was her turn.

She sighed again and withdrew her wicked looking demonic knife, the flaming runes burning brighter than ever. Staring bleakly down at her scarred palm, she asked: “Scars are sexy right?”

“I think so,” the angel reassured her. Her face returned to business. “Don’t anoint him in the same formation as me, stigmata won’t respond to demonic energy. Go for the head and the heart.”

Isobel nodded, she drew in a breath and released it as she cut her hand. Vermilion blood seeped out of the familiar wound almost immediately. She wiped the bloody blade on her jeans and put it away, stepping forward towards Jake.

His eyes went wide with fear. “What are you doing?” his voice was high and shaky.

Isobel looked him in the eyes and said, “Saving you.” She placed her bleeding hand on his forehead, pressing her palm onto his clammy flesh just below the hairline. He screamed as she did it, but Isobel held her hand in place until her blood ran slowly down the side of his head. “With the blood of damnation,” she intoned, “And the soul of the pit, I call you demon. Leave this body.” She removed her hand with a thick wet sucking noise and moved it down his torso, dripping blood as she went. “I bid you return to the fire, leave this body behind.” She pressed her hand into Jake’s chest, feeling her blood soak through his sweaty t-shirt and onto his skin. She repeated her incantation and stepped back, holding her hand over his body, as if holding the strings of a puppet. “Demon, I bid you leave!” she declared.

Jake jerked against his bonds and snarled at her.

Ramona came forwards with the pepper shaker of holy water, “In the name of our Lord God, I command you to depart,” she intoned sprinkling holy water over Jake’s body.

Isobel watched the water mingle with her blood. She could swear she smelt burning although she saw no smoke. “Demon, I bid you leave!” she cried.

“In the name of God depart,” Ramona declared, showering holy water down on him.

“Return to the pit!” Isobel commanded.

Jake thrashed and screamed, making Isobel wince internally. She could feel something give, a sensation both inside and outside of her, like something jerking on an invisible cord that bound her and Jake together.

Ramona broke off momentarily to grab the other holy water shaker. Isobel pressed her bleeding hands back down onto Jake’s chest and head, strengthening her connection to the demon within, repeating her lines as she did so.

“I think we’re getting somewhere,” Ramona said returning with the holy water.

“Maybe,” Isobel looked uncertain. “I felt something move, but I need more juice.” She took out her stolen runic knife again and, wincing, cut a line down her other hand, opening the palm and drawing blood from within. The knife slipped from her blood slick grasp, landing on the carpet just inside the salt circle. She held both blood dripping hands over Jake, one at the head, the other over his heart and called the demon to her. This time the pull she felt was greater. It felt as if she was holding the strings of something heavy yet ethereal, an incorporeal paperweight. “Demon leave this body!” she cried, “Return to the pit!” She was shouting over Jake’s screams now. Ramona was following suit, her intonations reaching a fever pitch. They continued like this awhile, eventually reaching what felt like a stalemate in the tug of war for Jake’s body and soul.

“We need one more push!” Isobel called to Ramona over the din of Jake’s anguished roars.

Ramona nodded, “I know just the thing.” She withdrew her knife, the glowing light inside brighter than usual, was it just the gloom causing that?

Isobel’s eyes went a little wide, “What the...” she began but had no time to finish as Ramona pressed the flat of the blade hard against Jake’s forehead.

“With blessed steel and holy water I cast you out,” she cried. Jake roared and thrashed against his restraints, one of the cords round the headboard was starting to fray. “With metal forged and blessed in Heaven I cast you out!” she yelled pressing the knife down harder.

“I command you, demon, leave!” Isobel shouted, “Hear my order, back to the pit, leave this body.” She flicked her stinging palms, dripping blood faster from her aching wounds. “Get the fuck out!”

A great roar filled the room, echoing through and around them, a wind picking up although no windows were open. Loose objects began to shudder, a few loose papers whirled up into the draft. Something fell with a dull thud. Still both women kept chanting, doing their best to ignore the chaos unfolding around them.

“In the name of God be gone!”

“Leave this body,” Isobel cried, “Leave this fucking body now!” The roar increased, the wind sent a picture cashing into the other wall, the glass shattering. Isobel felt a rogue shard sting the back of her neck. “Get the fuck out now!” The roar reverberated through Isobel, making her whole body shake. Something shimmered above Jake, a near imperceptible gossamer skin. Isobel barely saw it before she was thrown backwards. Slamming into the wall, she fell to the dresser scattering her and Ramona’s supplies and ended up on the floor. She picked herself up immediately and rushed back to the bed, holding her hands over Jake. She was about to begin reciting her rites again when she realised she could no longer feel the presence in the room. She couldn’t feel it anymore. She smiled and uttered a short laugh. It was gone. Whatever demon had taken possession of Jake it looked like she and Ramona had gotten rid of it. Something moved on the other side of the room and Isobel saw Ramona getting to her feet.

“Ramona,” she gushed excitedly. “I think we did it.” The angel didn’t respond immediately. Isobel frowned with concern, “Ramona?”

The angel brushed her hair out of face and looked at her, “Yes, I’m here.”

“Good,” Isobel said, her smile calmed but was still broad. “I think we got rid of it, the demon.” Isobel was relieved, “I can’t feel it anymore.”

“No,” Ramona said walking towards her. “I think your right. It’s gone.” They stood side by side, looking at the unconscious Jake. Isobel smiled slightly and reached out ruffling his hair with her bloody hand. The coarse feel of it against the cut made her hiss in pain, but she didn’t withdraw her hand. It felt good to touch him again. “I guess we’ll see what happens when he comes round.”

“We will,” Ramona mused, a strange lilt to her voice. “He still calls for you though.”

Isobel froze, all the joy running out of her, her blood turning cold at the words and who had spoken them. “What did you say?” She was breathless as she turned to face Ramona.

Ramona smiled, a sassy smile but Isobel detected a hint of cruelty around the edges. “He still calls to you Isobel. All the while he burns he calls to you. One day you’ll watch each other burn.”

“Ramona,” Isobel said coldly, knowing who was here with her. Fear raced through her, but this time it was chased by anger. “Get the fuck back to Hades, bitch.”

“No.” She smiled wider, “I like it here, think I’ll stay a while. Watch the place burn. You know you want to watch with me, you’ve always been curious about how things will end.”

“Get out.” Isobel stretched her bleeding right hand out towards her and took a step forward, “Get out now.”

Ramona just laughed at her, “That won’t work on me.”

“Then maybe this will.” Isobel slapped both bleeding hands on Ramona’s head, “Get out of here now! Back to the fucking pit you fucking devil whore!” she screamed, pushing her hands as hard as she could against Ramona’s skull.

Ramona screamed, high and girlish, her voice almost breaking with the volume and pitch. She dropped to the floor.

Isobel staggered back, looking round for a weapon to use in case the devil child wasn’t gone. She saw nothing that would be much good. The wine bottle had been shattered against a wall in the supernatural wind and only Ramona seemed to have access to her sword. Isobel pulled out her demonic knife and hoped for the best.

Ramona began to stir on the floor. She blinked up at Isobel, standing over her armed. “What the fuck?” she said groggily.

“Who are you?” Isobel asked, realising immediately how redundant the question was. She re-phrased, “Which Ramona are you?”

“The good one,” she said, then amended, “The angel.”

“That’s what a demon would say.”

“Yes.” Ramona got to her feet, using the sideboard to steady herself. “It’s also what I would say.” She looked at the knife clutched in Isobel’s hand, “That wouldn’t do a lot of good.”

“It’d hurt you,” Isobel said coldly.

Ramona eyed her for a moment, then smiled crookedly. “That it would.” She pressed a palm to her forehead. “Not as much as you’re fucking blood did though. God!” She massaged her head with one hand, the other clinging to the furniture for balance, “You got any painkillers?”

“In the kitchen,” Isobel said warily, not quite prepared to drop the knife yet.

“Thanks.” Ramona walked past her and headed for the kitchen. Isobel heard drawers opening and closing for a moment, followed by a packet rustling and water running. When Ramona returned she was holding a glass of water and two pills. “What the hell was that Isobel?” she asked coming into the destroyed bedroom and popping both pills into her mouth.

“I don’t know,” Isobel admitted, watching the angel swallow the medicine with two big gulps of water. “I just... did it.”

“You shouldn’t have,” Ramona said. She saw Isobel’s frown and clarified, “You shouldn’t have been able to is what I mean. Not at your level of power.” She frowned. “Thank you though.”

“It’s okay,” Isobel shrugged. “She gave herself away, the other Ramona.”

“She would,” Ramona said. “She likes to taunt, to mock her victims. I should know. She’s me... sort of.”

“Is that how she could possess you like that?” Isobel asked, “Because she’s part of you?”

“Yes,” Ramona said. “She’s the missing part of my soul. She can jump back in if she gets the chance. That’s the first time she ever has though.” She blew out a heavy breath and looked at Isobel. “Fucking exorcism.”

Isobel laughed. “Fucking exorcism,” she agreed and lowered her knife.

Jake groaned, his head shifting as he began to come round. Isobel crouched next to him, close to his face as he opened his eyes. “Isobel?” he groaned softly.

“Yeah, it’s me.” Emotion flooded through her and she began to cry, “Jake, is that you?”

“Yeah,” he said hoarsely. “Yeah it’s me.”

“It’s true,” Ramona was standing next to the bed, running her free hand over the air just above the man, “There’s no demonic energy to him.” She frowned, “None.”

“That’s good right?” Isobel said, cautioned by Ramona’s strange tone. “That’s what we wanted.”

“Yes,” Ramona agreed. “It’s good. Maybe too good.”

“What do you mean too good?”

“I’ll explain in a bit.” She moved down towards them, “How are you feeling Jake?”

“Tired,” he groaned. “Thirsty.”

“Here.” Isobel untied his hand nearest her. “Ramona?” Ramona handed him her glass with a smile. He sat up against the headboard and sipped the cold water. “Where are we?” he asked as Ramona untied the rest of the knots.

“We’re at my mum’s,” Isobel said.

“Oh shit,” Jake looked down. “Your mum.” He looked at Isobel, “Izz I’m so sorry. I was there, I.. I saw it all. I did... oh God!” He began to cry, tears of grief and sorrow as memories of the atrocities his hands had committed came flooding back. Isobel hugged him, holding him while convulsions rocked his body. She rubbed his back soothing him, telling him it would be okay. She and Ramona’s eyes locked while she was saying this. Both women knew better. After a while, Jake sniffed and sat back. “I’m sorry,” he said again.

“It wasn’t you Jake,” Isobel said holding his hand, “Not really. You were possessed.”

“That place. That fire...” he turned haunted eyes to Ramona, “Is that what awaits us, when we die? Is that where we’re going? Because of our blood?”

“It’s where she’s going.” Ramona nodded at Isobel, perched on the side of the bed.

“What?” Isobel was surprised, her eyes flicked between the pair. “We’re in this together, we’re both tainted.”

“You both were.” Ramona experimentally ran her hand over Jake again. She frowned, “You mind if I touch you?” she asked him.

Isobel’s jaw tightened at the request, but she said nothing.

“Sure,” Jake said.

“Thanks,” Ramona smiled. She slipped her hand under his damp t-shirt, running her hand over his chest, hovering a moment over his heart, which was beating fast. “Fuck,” she breathed softly and turned to Isobel. “It’s gone!”

“What is?” Isobel asked.

“His taint.” Ramona blinked, “One of my angelic abilities is sensing demons when they’re close by, that includes tainted.”

“So?”

“So there’s no demonic energy to Jake.” She looked up at the man in question. “It was always faint with you, but it was there. I’d definitely be able to feel it during skin to skin contact.” She pressed her palm more firmly onto his chest, feeling his excited heartbeat, responding to her touch. “But it isn’t there, it’s gone.” She looked Jake in the eyes, “When we exorcised you we got rid of your taint along with the demon.”

“You sound surprised,” Isobel said. “Didn’t you know this was possible?”

“No,” Ramona was a little breathless, “I’ve never heard of it.” She smiled wryly, “Of course I’ve never heard of an exorcism performed by an angel and a tainted soul before.” She continued staring into Jake’s eyes with wonder for a moment.

Jake returned her gaze, staring deep into Ramona’s beautiful dark eyes.

Isobel, holding his hand was becoming increasingly irritated, her earlier annoyance at his infatuation resurfacing now that he was safe.

No one is ever safe, she scolded herself. Especially not us.

Finally Ramona withdrew her hand and her gaze, looking across at Isobel. “I think you have it.”

“What?” Isobel said, “What do I have?”

“His taint.” Ramona’s eyes were a little wide from shock. “I think when we ripped the demon out of Jake, his taint came along with it... and it stuck in you. The demons gone but the taint got assimilated into yours,” Ramona’s voice had the cautious, but excited tone of one testing a new theory out loud and finding merit in it. “It explains why you’ve suddenly got the power to cast Ramona out of me single handed.”

“Well I used both hands,” Isobel deadpanned, her face more serious than her tone.

“Point is you acted alone. You shouldn’t have been able to do that by yourself but you did.”

“Couldn’t you have just underestimated me?” Isobel asked.

Ramona smiled thinly, “That’s usually your department.” She turned back to Jake, “You don’t have to worry about going to Hell anymore, you’re purified.” Her smile widened, “You’re saved.”

“Yay for him,” Isobel was angry. “What about me? I’m not saved am I? Hell, if anything I’m more damned than I was before.”

“Damnation is an absolute,” Ramona said, “You can’t be more or less damned. You either are or your not.” She nodded to Jake, “He’s not.” Her eyes flicked back to Isobel, “You are.”

“He...” Isobel began and stopped. There was no point going there, the damage was done; the cord connecting them had been severed. Isobel was alone with the Taint again. And that wasn’t even the half of it.

She still loved Jake but... his involvement with so much death, bloody horrible death at that, was surely going to impact on their relationship. How could it not? She knew it wasn’t Jake who had done the deed, not really, but as she looked on him now, part of her just saw Dave’s killer... her mother’s murderer… She began to cry, silent tears streaming down her face.

Jake squeezed her hand. “It’s okay, Isobel,” he said, voice still hoarse from screaming, “We’ll help you.”

Isobel just cried harder, pulling her hand out from under Jake’s, unable to withstand the feel of his skin on hers after the horrors his hands had wrought. She knew she was being unfair, but she couldn’t help that she felt so disturbed by him. His touch had once comforted her, now it felt like death brushing against her hand, his caress whispering cruel intentions. Finally she broke away from the reunion party and went to find a drink.


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