SHADOW

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CHAPTER 69

THEN A RAUCOUS cough from someone nearby startled everyone again. They turned in astonishment, holding their breath in anxious perplexity.

Lying where he’d been in the center of the Star, surrounded by the praying Sisters with the chain still firmly in place, Alan Prince stirred and opened his eyes slowly, stared around uncertainly in a somewhat cloudy state and possibly wondering where he was and who the people around him were.

Alan coughed again, drew his breath and tried to sit upright but was held back by the chains. Alan was sweating rather profusely, and he appeared very weak with every movement he made, shifting his wandering gaze back and forth anxiously, until he finally saw a familiar face amongst the people glaring at him in trepidation.

Mom? Mom!”

His voice was frail and hardly audible, but the endearing words he directed at her settled on Samantha like long expected dew after an intense drought. She gasped with cautious relief, hesitated for a moment, and then in an outpouring of emotion, she ran forward, broke through the line of women before anyone could restrain her, and fell on her knees before her revived son.

With shaky, agitated disposition, she whisked him in her eager arms and embraced him passionately. It was unbelievable. Samantha cried as she wrapped him in her arms, wetting his face with her tears and burying his head in her chest. She was exhilarated and broken, and she just let her emotions go.

For a long time she knelt there with Alan, her son just back from the realm of the dead, crying feverishly.

“Alan! Oh, thank God! Thank God you’re awake,” she sobbed, held his head for a moment to look at his eyes, and then pulled him into her chest again. “It’s you! You’re OK, thank God. Dear Lord, I can’t believe this is over!”

She seemed to have forgotten he was still bound in chains then. And even if she remembered, it made no difference because now, everything was going to be alright. They would set him free and she would take him home with her, and everything would be alright.

But even as they were locked in that soulful embrace, a foreboding presence still pervaded the air; a peculiar ambience that was both dreadful and ominous. The Sisters stared at the mother and son in quiet apprehension as they soaked each other in tears. Even the Mother Divine had a distinct look in her eyes then, her lips quivered wordlessly as she stared about the hall.

Then quite subconsciously, she began to pray again, picking up the solemn words of a sacred command to expel foul spirits. She seemed strangely agitated and edgy, and the other women took the cue, joining in the grave chants; several voices interspersed only by the chains around the young girl’s ankles that clanged with every slow step she took in her controlled gyration.

Samantha Prince stopped after a moment, puzzled and perplexed as she suddenly became conscious that something wasn’t right. But what was it?

Mom.

That was it; Alan had said ‘Mom’, and she heard him clearly. But it dawned on her just then that the hollow word had actually sounded inside her head! The realization both astounded and panicked her, chilling her on the spot.

Then a cruel, otherworldly laugh rose into the air with a heart-stopping pitch that caused the Mother Divine to freeze in her track. She felt a sickening sensation down in her gut, almost like the squirming of a million tiny, flesh-eating maggots crawling under her skin.

Samantha recoiled and shrieked, letting go of the boy’s head instantly, scrambling backwards in dismay.

Alan Prince laughed on with menacing coldness, throwing back his head and pointing at his mother derisively. He also directed his mockery towards the others, virtually rolling over as he laughed while they stared on as if they were seeing a ghost or something out of the ordinary.

“Boy!” he cackled like a depraved soul. “You ought to have seen the pathetic looks on your faces just now!”

Overwhelmed with the sheer horror of the unfolding nightmare, Samantha edged backwards away from him, crawling on her bottom like some limbless aquatic mammal struggling to move on solid ground.

“Oh, no!” she whimpered terribly. “Oh, Jesus!”

The prayer halted for a moment, and then picked up at once again with no one needing to be prompted this time. The women held onto their Bible tightly and began reeling lines after lines from the Psalms with feverish desperation and urgency, every verse interjected with the words, ’…in the Name of the Blessed Son of God, Him crucified for the salvation of humanity.

But scoffing in their faces, Alan Prince rose to his full height. The chains broke off of their own accord, falling back on the floor as though they were never fastened around him in the first place. He raised and tilted his head awkwardly with a leering grin on his face.

And then, with a delicate and purposeful posture, he crossed his legs in his upright position, one foot atop the other, lifted his hands sideways just slightly higher than his shoulder level and grinned slyly at his petrified onlookers.

The pervading dimness lent a diabolical undertone to the Hall of Rites, and everyone shuddered when they saw what he had done. It was a near perfect depiction of the Christ – the demon-possessed boy had made himself into a physical depiction of the crucifixion.

“Is this your Jesus?” asked Alan, in a deep, inhuman voice that seemed to prick the hearts of the worshippers. “Is this He? Answer me!” he bawled contemptuously.

Samantha started. Then she began to sob again in despair, bowing her head. Ignoring her presently, the demon brought down his hands and fixed his dark, insipient stare on the praying Sisters.

“You do not have the authority to banish me,” it hissed venomously like a serpent, taking slow, rhythmic steps around. “You cannot banish me; get that into your thick heads, you wretched lot!”

You cannot expel me.

“Don’t listen to him,” interjected the Mother Divine in a loud voice, urging the women to pray more fervently. “Concentrate! You are Sisters of the Light and you’re vessels of God!”

“Ah, but I am right, Mother Divine,” Alan kept on. “You’re all a worthless bunch.”

“Silence, Demon! You have no authority to raise your foul voice in this temple,” returned the girl firmly. “I am a servant of the Light, and I order you to depart, in the Name of Jesus!”

The demon hesitated, stood back to contemplate the girl, before proceeding towards her stealthily. “What is it to you, Mother Divine, whether I abide herein or not?”

“It is the Lord’s temple and you cannot stay,” she returned. “It is forbidden, for what fellowship has light and darkness together?”

“You’re wasting your time,” he growled.

But the young girl stared him hard in the face, unwavering in her gaze. “You’re a fallen soul and I command you this instant to be silent!” she said fervently. “Hold your tongue and be gone, in the Holy Name of the Resurrected King of kings,” she shouted confidently, hurling a splash of Holy Water in his face as she’d done before, causing the demon to cry hoarsely in pain. “Be gone from here, you despicable spirit! You have no power over me! The Lord God Himself forbids you from dwelling in this body. Your place is in the chasms of hell! I expel you from here to yonder in the Great and Holy Name of the Lord God and by the power of the shed blood of the Lamb!”

And with that decisive pronouncement, she grabbed the Red Book on the floor, flipped the pages open and began uttering the sacred confessions which were inscribed in ancient Latin.

Alan Prince frowned in frustration, contemplated the fiery stance of the girl for a second as if he was trying to make up his mind what to do with her. Then he turned and slithered away to one of the women deeply engrossed in the cleaning rites to expel him, walking deviously like an animal set to strike down a prey.

“Give no place to the devil, Sisters!” the Mother Divine charged them in a terrible voice. “Pray and cast him from before us! Do not let your hearts be faint!”

At this point the demon was standing directly in front of a particular woman. He leaned forward and breathed abomination into her wrinkled, sweaty face even as she prayed.

“Yes, I smell it,” he hissed sinisterly, and his tongue flicked out like a serpent’s. “I can smell it; it’s the odor of malice. Of fear. It’s there, I know it. In ever dark, beating heart just before I pluck them out, it’s always there. Ahhh,” he sighed with ominous pleasure as he glanced sideways and grimaced evilly at the girl, “I’m sure you smell it, too, Mother Divine!”

He paused tentatively to contemplate the trembling figure of the terrified woman before him, inched closer and peered through her into her soul, sniffed her faint spirit, and then laughed. “Darkness is in your heart,” he bawled at her, “so stop fooling around!”

“Concentrate and pay him no heed, for you have been washed and sanctified!” cried the Mother Divine fervently, even as she kept reading from the Red Book.

“Decay…Ahhh! Oh, the smell of rottenness…”

The demon sniffed the woman over again with a wry grin on his dark face, as though she was a repugnant thing. Then he withdrew slowly, smirked and shook his head like a broken twig.

“Rottenness is in you,” he taunted her further. “A stench of envy.”

But then he veered away from this woman who kept shaking her head in stuttering prayers, and moved on to the next woman to explore the same devious approach – sniffed her several times, taunted and intimidated her.

“Oh, yes! There’s fear in here as well. Fear!”

When he came to the third woman in the circle, Alan stopped and bore down upon her with a dark, creepy expression. “Yes, yes,” he muttered, oozing closer to her, so close that the tips of their noses were almost brushing against each other. “I smell…Hate.”

And in his head, he said the rest with a grave undertone; So let it fill your heart and choke you to death!

Suddenly the woman shrieked in terror and scuttled backward as though stung by a dozen scorpions. She whimpered in agony, scratching her body insanely as her flesh rotted away before her eyes, peeling off like the dried bark of a tree. The scream of the woman caused two other Sisters nearby to cease in their prayers and lose concentration, opening their eyes in utter panic.

The sight that greeted their eyes was that of a bizarre, bloodcurdling darkness that instantly filled their faint hearts with utmost horror, and of their fellow Sister rotting away while still alive!

The two Sisters turned and fled, screaming in hysteria!

The demon’s laugh grew louder, and he went after them in a rush of violent, choking dust cloud that quickly overwhelmed them both. The two women dropped to the floor a moment later, stone-dead, with their eyes blank and staring wildly in trepidation. They were shrunken, pale and grotesque in their appearances.

Then at that moment, as the demon took solid form again from the cloud and stood over the bodies of the dead Sisters, and the terror of death hung palpable in the atmosphere, the Mother Divine lifted her eyes suddenly and cried direly.

“Now!” she screamed atop her voice. “Now!”

The doors of the hall burst open at once and a wave of women veiled from head to foot rushed in like actors on a grand stage or a troop going to battle. There were three lines of six women each, pouring in from each of the two great doors, and they marched forward determinedly with holy incantations issuing loudly from their lips and booming across the hall.

Alan Prince stood transfixed, taken aback at the thirty-six Sisters of Light taking positions on either side of him. They moved quickly, locking their hands together and enclosing him within their midst.

Each had a stern, yet hypnotic stare in her eyes, and they took up the lines of a deeper incantation spell to expel him from the Sanctuary and from the body he was occupying.

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