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SLOWLY, VERY SLOWLY, Alan Prince began to breathe, though his pulse was weak and hardly noticeable at first.

Samantha stared nervously from her half-conscious son to the face of the Mother Divine, hoping that she would tell her what she most desperately needed to hear at that point; that everything was fine, that the demon spirit had been expelled and her son was back to himself.

But the young girl gave no such assurances. Instead, she hesitated uncertainly, contemplating the grim shade pervasive in the Hall of Rites and the pungent smell of sulfur lingering in the air. Then gasping quietly, she put forth her hand and touched the boy’s body.

It felt cold.

Intensely cold!

She winced, slowly drawing back with her heartbeat racing. She glanced around at the people with a forlorn look in her countenance, locked eyes with the detective who was standing beside her and motioned for him to step back.

Davies frowned uncertainly, wondering what was amiss. But he too had sensed that all wasn’t well then; it was gravely evident in the eyes of the Mother Divine.

The demon snapped awake with a sudden and vicious roar, leaping up and almost snapping off the girl’s entire arm with a set of jagged fangs. A hair-raising cry of alarm broke out from the women. They all shrank back in dismay. But rather than flee, Lee Davies lurched out in dexterity and grabbed Alan from behind again, pulling him back to the ground.

The demon growled and thrashed in fury with inhuman strength, tumbling over Davies and the others who had also rallied round to restrain him.

The Mother Divine, who had tripped and fallen down when Alan had gone for her hand, picked herself up and retrieved her scepter from where it fell. Then she whirled round to point it at Alan

“I command you to be gone, you accursed spirit!” she cried fiercely. “Be gone, in the name of the Lord and by the power in His blood!”

And she took the vial of holy oil and poured it around the Star of David, following the edges of the sigil quickly yet meticulously. When she was done, she straightened up with a dark look in her eyes and took a lighter from a pouch in her garment.

On her signal, the company of Sisters fell back from the circle, followed by Davies because he had to time his move until everyone was out of the circle and the Mother Divine had dropped the lighter. In an instant the demon was entrapped in a circle of hissing holy fire.

Its agony increased along with its rage when it saw the fire, and it lurched vengefully in an attempt to break through from the midst of the flames. But it shrank back with a painful howl when the fire touched its body, frizzling its skin like a piece of rotten bacon. So excruciating was the impact of the burn it suffered that it kept its distance within the fiery circle, not daring to venture close to the edges again. It only stood there, flicking his tongue and glaring vindictively at the people at the other sides of the flames, particularly the young girl.

As the flames burned, the Mother Divine walked around it slowly with a Red Book in hand, reciting the inscribed words gravely while the other women took up the Psalms of David in the background:

“Yes, though I walk through the Valley of the Shadow of death, I will fear no evil!”

They chanted just that one verse repeatedly, back and forth and over again. The flames burned higher and brighter as well, further torturing the trapped demon.

When the torment of the holy fire was totally unbearable and it could take no more, the demon shrieked wildly and shot out of the body with the force of wind escaping a pressurized canister. It writhed on the floor like a bruised and limbless creature, until it finally disappeared into the shadows at the far side of the hall.

“What in God’s name was that?” shouted Davies, scrambling back at once.

For a moment, no one else said anything, and a grim, unnerving uncertainty kissed their egos. All eyes were intent on the dark area that the repugnant creature had vanished into, staring in apprehension.

Detective Davies already had his weapon in hand again, and he released the safety as he edged forward cautiously.

Suddenly, with a terrible and deep growl, the demon burst out of the dark, slithering quickly on its belly like a pre-historic serpent, rushing wildly towards Davies.

A loud scream of horror and panic, interjected with a cry of ’Dear, Lord!’ rose into the air from the women as the demon advanced menacingly. The insidious being moved quickly, hissing vilely on its path.

Multiple shots rang out from the Detective’s gun, but the creature kept coming. Then it swung its unnaturally long and clawed forelimb, brutally knocking Davies aside before turning towards the women. As the rest of the Sisters cowered backwards, the Mother Divine stood her ground and stretched forth the silver scepter with a fervent cry:

Be banished, Demon! Get thee hence!

The thing maintained its course, growling insipiently.

“I expel you in the blessed name of the Christ!”

A moment of tension hung in the atmosphere. Everyone watched in trepidation, holding their breath as all ways of containing the demon seemed to have been exhausted by the Sisters of the Light and Stars.

Trembling and staring wildly, the Mother Divine stood in the path between the other women and watched wild-eyed as the gap closed between her and the demon.

Then at that arduous moment, a sudden bright light burst forth in the middle of the hall, heralding a winged being veiled in Light from head to foot, whose eyes seemed as though there were stars in them and whose countenance was grave. The celestial being stood between the Mother Divine and the infernal demon. Everyone turned their face away at once, bowing and shielding their eyes with their hands from the presence of such overwhelming brightness.

The appearance of the Light came along with a great shaking from deep within the earth, because the being in the center of the Light had struck the ground with the shining blade he was holding. Then in the same moment of the impact, he vanished in a blink before anyone could fathom his form.

The ground grunted and quaked terribly, and then it split open, spewing a choking mix of sulfuric dust and bitter flames that quickly engulfed the nefarious creature and sucked it roaring into a fiery chasm. Its shrieking, agonizing cry lingered in the air before the gash on the ground closed up and plunged the hall into darkness again.

Lee Davies turned around slowly with an anxious breath, looking around in perplexity. The Sisters remained still, staring with cautious anxiety at the spot where the ground had torn open and consumed the demon whole.

Samantha was awe-stricken and dumbfounded for a long moment, sweat breaking out all over her body. She stared in confusion with a primal feeling of dismay bristling in the pit of her stomach. Then she straightened up nervously, followed by some of the other women who had survived the ordeal, and hurried to where her son lay motionless on the ground.

She lifted his hand like she’d done several times before, placing it on her thighs gently. She touched the side of his face delicately, and her eyes were already brimming with tears.

With his chest heaving up and down slowly, Alan Prince stirred. His brows twitched. Then he opened his eyes, staring calmly at the curious faces around him. The look in his eyes was clear, even timid and afraid.

The Sisters heaved a sigh of relief. The Mother Divine stared furtively at Alan Prince. Then she turned and wiped the beads of sweat from her face. She was spent and spiritually drained, but the victory had been won.

Samantha Prince pulled her son closer, hardly believing that the demon had been expelled. As she rocked him furtively, she began to sob with her head bowed down, unburdening her heart of the trauma and pain that had seized it all this while.

“Mom?” said Alan quietly, staring up at her.

He was pale and emaciated; with his body soaked in so much sweat you’d think he just had a bath.

Samantha wrapped her hands closer around him and cried some more.

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