Another entry because I was mean last week! The continuing adventures of Lizzie Bell: semi-retired ghost-hunter, reluctant exorcist, currently in conversation with a malevolent spirit.(Part Seven)
“Okay,” I said. “You’ve got my attention. Let’s talk.”
Emily’s eyes rolled in their sockets. “Yes, because I went through all this trouble just to get your attention, Elizabeth.”
“So why are you here, then? Father O’Leary said this is the third time you’ve possessed Emily.” I slipped my hand into my pocket, fingering the waxy candle stub inside.
Emily’s face contorted one again into a horrible grin. “My secret,” said the spirit. “My secret! My secret! You’ll have to guess, Elizabeth. Follow the clues, little sleuth. But softly, softly, lest you guess wrong!” It began to laugh. It sounded like the hysterical giggle of a little girl, but it felt like something darker.
I started edging toward the bed. “Why choose a little girl? You said you’re powerful. Surely you’d be strong enough to take over someone older, and I can’t imagine a child makes for a useful host.” Children have their minds open to the fantastic, and they haven’t learned to read the fine print yet. Makes it easy for a ghost to get in.
“Wrong question,” said the spirit.
I started to sprinkle salt in a large circle around the bed. Salt burns spirits; if you try to cast one out without a barrier it will simply flee into the nearest available body. The salt forces the spirit to return to the Shadow-world that lost ghosts inhabit. “Why choose Emily, then? You keep coming back, so there must be something you need that only she can give you.”
Emily twisted and bucked against the restraints, moaning. Suddenly the sound cut off and she said, perfectly calm, “That’s a better question.”
“But you won’t tell me the answer.” I had finished the salt circle. The candle came out of one pocket, and the lighter out of the other. I flicked the switch with my thumb and stuck the candlewick in the flame. Emily’s eyes had locked onto it. The spirit knew what was coming.
“What are you doing, Elizabeth?” The spirit said, Emily’s voice whisper-quiet. “I thought we were having fun.”
I held up a finger. “One, no. And two…no. Time for you to leave.”
The thing hissed. “I’ll come back,” it said. “I did before.”
“Maybe,” I said evenly. “But not if I can help it.”
The burning candle was in my right hand, wax dripping down to scald my skin. The bell was in my pocket, stuffed with cotton balls; I stuck my finger in and scooped them out, then drew the bell out with my left hand. Father O’Leary had left his bible on the floor in front of the chair, and I scooted it over with one foot, then used a toe to open it to a random page.
The thing about exorcisms is it’s all about will. Sure, the bell, book, and candle make it easier, but it’s fundamentally a big round of chicken. Who blinks first, you or the spirit?
The other thing about exorcisms is that you don’t need religion to perform one. Opinion is divided on whether our rituals work because we believe in them or whether we believe in them because they work — I lean toward the former — but one thing we have discovered through experience is that they’re a lot more flexible than most people think. You don’t need to use a bible, for instance. Any book will do, although the thicker it is the better — it will make a louder thump when you slam it closed.
You also don’t need to chant in Latin. You can say whatever you like; it’s mostly to keep you focused, keep the spirit from distracting you. Getting distracted in the middle of an exorcism is not a good idea. But the point is, you can chant anything you like, from the opening chapters of The Hobbit to religious prayers to the lyrics to the latest Taylor Swift song.
I’ve always been partial to nursery rhymes, myself.
“Oranges and Lemons, say the bells of St. Clement’s,” I began.
I sped up. “You owe me five farthings, say the bells of St. Martin’s. When will you pay me? say the bells of Old Bailey. When I grow rich, say the bells of Shoreditch.”
The spirit was screaming, mostly incoherent sound. I blocked it out as much as possible. But I did catch one more “Adelaide”, and something that sounded like “morbid”.
I went on. “When will that be? say the bells of Stepney. I do not know, says the great bell of Bow.”
The thing was resisting me. I could feel it pushing against the bounds of the salt circle. I could feel it pushing against me. The spirit world was drawing close, now. I could feel it seeping in. The windows were starting to frost, and I was starting to shiver. My teeth ached with the cold.
I forced the last words out through blue-tinged lips. “Here comes the candle to light you to bed.” I blew the flame out, ringing the bell at the same time.
“And here comes the chopper to chop off your head!” I flipped the bible shut with my toe. It shut with a dull thump.
It was like I’d flipped a switch. The room was back to normal temperature. I stashed my tools back in my pockets and approached the bed. Emily was whimpering quietly. I rested my hand on her shoulder. She flinched, then relaxed.
“Your Mommy’s out in the hallway,” I said. “I’m going to go get her in a second. Let me just take these off.” The spirit was gone. I could feel its absence like the lifting of a weight. I unbuckled the restraints.
“Who are you?”
“I’m Lizzie,” I said. “It’s nice to meet you, Emily. I only wish it had been under better circumstances.”
I opened the door, and Caroline Lawlor rushed past me toward the bed. I pointed to Father O’Leary. “We have to talk. With Caroline, too, but I’ll give her some time with her daughter.”
“I’m at your disposal,” he said. “How did you –”
“Not right now,” I said. “Right now I am headed for the kitchen, where I will raid Ms. Lawlor’s liquor cabinet. I’m sure, under the circumstances, she wouldn’t begrudge me a glass of wine.”