ALAN PRINCE HAD been in coma for five days, with no real indication that he was going to snap out of it anytime soon. His heart rate, pulse and vitals continued to be stable, and that presented a grand puzzle to the doctors treating him.
Samantha was even more worried than the medical team. She fretted often, contemplating all the grim possibilities around Alan’s state of health. Jonathan was visibly concerned as well, but it behooved him to become a veritable source of courage to his wife in that dire strait, especially now that they were back living under the same roof again, even if on temporary arrangement.
The first night she came back with him to the house, Jonathan Prince felt awkward like a school boy bringing home his teen sweetheart for the very first time. He was all fidgety, worried about impressing her, wondering how she was doing and asking small questions through quivering lips.
Would you like to eat anything?
I could fix you a quick meal, if you like…Something to drink?
You can put your bag over there…No, let me take that for you…
Is there anything you need, Sam? Are you alright?
She only nodded each time he asked a question, smiled softly and stared at him uncertainly most of the time, which further made Jonathan feel nervous because he worried that she didn’t like being there and might soon ask to leave.
“Don’t worry, Jonathan,” she told him quietly, seeming to read his thoughts. “I’m fine. I’ll let you know if I need anything. Thanks again.”
He smiled, edgy. “Yeah, OK.”
She sat on the chair in the living room, sighed tiredly, looking around at the house, which was more modest than she expected. “I need to freshen up,” she told him, after a few minutes.
“Of course,” answered Jonathan. “Let me show you to the bathroom. And you can sleep in the bedroom.”
She looked at him. “What about you?”
“Me? Uh, I’ll be fine on the couch,” he answered. “And it’s not necessarily because of you, Samantha, so don’t worry,” he added, smiling. “I mostly sleep on the couch nowadays. It’s good for my back.”
She smiled thinly. “Thanks, Jonathan.”
He hesitated. “That’s OK.” He showed her to the bathroom, and then the bedroom next-door. “Call me if you need anything.”
“The sheets are clean, too,” he told her. “And there is a fresh blanket in the wardrobe, just in case you get cold.”
Samantha smiled again, said nothing.
“Alright, then. Good night, Samantha.”
The next morning they were both at the hospital together and were a bit downcast to find that Alan’s situation was still as it was. However, his breathing appeared shallower than normal that morning, and he seemed rather pale lying there on the hospital bed.
Now both parents appeared quite distraught, especially Samantha, who had already come to her wit’s end. She sat down dejectedly beside the bed and wept quietly. She silently feared that with his failing health, they might come in one morning one day and would be given the bad news that he’d expired over the night.
And then, even if he didn’t die, how long could they endure seeing him in that state? No one was broaching the point yet, and it may be too early to begin to think of that, but Samantha felt certain that the thought must have crossed the minds of the doctors, or maybe Jonathan’s mind as well, just like it had crossed hers.
They spent a couple of hours at the ER, most of the time in absolute and grave silence when they didn’t know what else to say to each other. Samantha stirred with a hopeful glimmer a couple of times, her eyes alight when she thought she noticed a twitch of Alan’s brows or a slight jerking of his fingers. But she had to sit back in disappointment when she realized that she saw wrong.
On their way out of the hospital, as they walked through the parking lot towards Samantha’s car, a nervous looking, dark-skinned woman with a suspicious stare came up to them almost as if she’d been loitering the area waiting to meet with someone. She looked disconcerted and stared at the couple in a bizarre manner.
“Excuse me,” she began, speaking under her voice, “Could I have a moment of your time, please?”
The two stopped and considered her carefully, noticing how eccentrically clad she was, with heavy silver bangles and multi-colored beads around her wrists, orange painted nails, thick, woven hairs and bold makeup that was sure to stand her out in any crowd, but not for the right reasons.
In all, the woman didn’t come across like a salesperson looking to make a pitch. A preacher perhaps, from one of the New Age religions in town, thought Jonathan quietly, sizing her up. But either way, he wasn’t in any mood for a chat then.
“No, not now,” he said, frowning lightly.
“No, I’m not a salesperson, Mr. Prince,” said the woman, with an uneasy smile.
Jonathan paused and gave the woman a second look, surprised that she said his name. “I’m sorry, who are you?” he asked her, suspicious.
“My name is Agatha,” she answered. “Agatha Tronnel.”
“But have we…?” went on Jonathan quietly.
Agatha shook her head, interjecting him. “No, Mr. Prince, we’ve not met before. You don’t know me.”
The woman took a short, brisk step forward, shifting her gaze between the couple deliberately. “I want to speak to you about your son, Mr. Prince. It’s of utmost importance,” she said gravely.
Jonathan stared, perplexed and exchanged curious glances with Samantha. “Our son?”
“Yes,” answered Agatha. “Alan Prince.”
There was a moment’s pause, wherein the Princes considered the woman with undisguised suspicion in their eyes.
“What about Alan?” Samantha asked her.
Agatha Tronnel hesitated. “I believe I might be able to help, Mrs. Prince.”
Jonathan clenched his lips tightly, looking rather upset presently. “First tell us, Mrs. Tronnel; how d’you come to know us?”
She forced a thin, anxious smile. “It’s ‘Sister’, please. I was here to visit a relative two evenings ago, Sir,” she explained. “That’s how I got to know about your son. Then I made enquiries about him.”
“I see,” said Jonathan, unimpressed still.
Samantha stepped forward. “You said you could be of help, Sis. Tronnel. How, exactly?”
Again, Agatha hesitated before speaking, perhaps wondering how best to say what she had to say to these grieving couple concerning their son. Then: “I worship the Lord with the Sisters of the Sacred Fellowship of Lights and Stars,” she began gravely, maintaining a steady gaze at Samantha. “You may have heard of us perhaps, Mrs. Prince,” she added, sounding hollow.
Of course, both Jonathan and Samantha knew of the Fellowship, or cult, of bewitched spinsters whose idea and practice of the Christian faith was quite out of the box, and that was putting it mildly.
Sister Agatha went on, “Ours is a sect of holy sisterhood given to the act of bringing salvation to the spiritually afflicted and exorcising demons from those possessed.” She spoke slowly as though she was propositioning Jonathan and Samantha Prince for membership or for some financial support.
Jonathan stared at her with a small, dubious frown. “Can you please get right to the point, Sister Agatha,” he said as politely as he could, with clenched lips. “This isn’t quite a good time for us, but I’m sure you know that already.”
“I know, Mr. Prince,” said the sister, nodding. “But that’s why I’m here speaking with you.”
“You said you could be of help to Alan,” Samantha asked again, looking at the sister with cautious optimism. “What do you mean, exactly?”
Agatha Tronnel paused uncertainly, pursed her lips with a small sigh. “What is happening to your son is beyond the realm of medical science, Mrs. Prince,” she declared plainly. “Truth is; it’s way beyond what you or any of the doctors can comprehend. But one thing is certain, and I can tell you that right now; that thing lying unconscious on the hospital bed, whatever it may be, it isn’t your son anymore, Mrs. Prince.”
“What!” retorted Samantha, aghast. “What are you saying?”
“It’s true!” Sister Agatha blurted, folding her fists and startling them into momentary silence. “I’m not crazy. I’m here to help because you have no idea how deep a mess you’re in.”
The couple paused for a moment, bewildered and dumbfounded. Then, quietly but hatefully, Samantha said, “What nonsense are you talking?”
Jonathan folded his hands, stared at the woman squarely. “What are you even?” he said curtly. “Some sort of medium or con artist?”
Agatha shook her head in seeming desperation. “You do not understand the gravity of what’s going on, Sir, I assure you. The longer your son remains in this hospital, the stronger it grows and the more horror that will be unleashed in Tempest.”
The frown on Jonathan Prince’s face deepened, his eyes narrowed angrily now. “It? What’s ’it’, exactly?”
Sister Agatha Tronnel shifted her anxious gaze, turning to glance direly at Samantha, who stood nearby with a stoned expression in her eyes. “I’m talking about a diabolic force that now lives inside of Alan, a grave evil that has already been unleashed and now prowls the night because of what happened to him after he attempted to kill himself.”
“What evil?” snapped Jonathan. “Listen, woman, Sister…Whoever you think you are; I don’t want to hang around listening to your nonsense!”
Agatha’s eyes flashed with unspoken dread. Yet when she spoke, she kept her voice under control, staring fast at him. “Your son’s body has been taken over by a dark demon that science cannot expel. Only God can save him now, and the Sisterhood can be of help.”
“You don’t know what you’re talking about!” said Samantha, looking instantly petrified by the mention of ‘demons’.
“It’s the truth, Mrs. Prince,” insisted the sister firmly. “You have to believe me!”
“I don’t have to believe what you’re saying,” returned Samantha angrily, and she began turning away to get into her car.. But the woman reached out quite unexpectedly and took her by the wrist, which totally alarmed Samantha. The grip was firm.
“What’s wrong with you? Let go of me!” yelled Samantha, furious. But with the grave look in the woman’s eyes then, it was plain to see that she was persuaded about what she was saying, and the thought of it was almost driving her crazy.
“Of course, you’re right, Mrs. Prince. You don’t have to believe me. What I’m saying makes no sense, I must admit,” she rambled on, hoping she would get through to her. “But I have seen your son, looked into his eyes and felt the negative energy oozing from his body. What I’m saying to you is the truth, Mrs. Prince. Otherwise, what reasons do I have to make this up? I didn’t know your family until a couple of days ago, think about it, please!” she said grimly.
“Get lost!” cried Samantha, wrenching her hand free.
Sister Agatha refused to budge. She looked at Samantha steadfastly. “I think you know it in you that what I’m saying is true, Mrs. Prince. You must have seen some signs already, just think about it; weird nightmares? Paranormal things happening?” as she spoke the words, Agatha Tronnel searched Samantha’s countenance for any indication that her suspicions were on track. “None of it is natural, I assure you. It’s all been happening because of Alan.”
“Go to hell!” shouted Samantha. Then she got into the car, with Jonathan on the driver’s seat with a tight, angry look in his eyes. As he started the engine, he paused to glare at Agatha with a cold, hateful expression.
She was standing by his side of the car, leaning towards him. And as he shifted the car into gear impatiently and began backing it out of the parking lot, Agatha carefully slipped her calling card through the narrow slit of the window. It fell on the floor of the car, beside Jonathan’s foot.
“Call me, please, if you change your mind and decide you need help,” she told them as her parting words. Then she straightened up, staring sadly as the car pulled onto the main street, took a turn and disappeared from view.