110 - Chicago
SEVERAL WEEKS AGO I made call after call to my fellow priests around the diocese, yet I wasn’t having any luck narrowing down exactly what I was supposed to do about the situation. Really, there were two problems that were getting in my way.
First, Alex had told me that he had committed suicide as part of a confession. As strange as the circumstances had been, I still couldn’t break that seal. And that was really one of the cores of my problem was that I couldn’t very well tell them that not only was he dead but that he had almost certainly died in a state of mortal sin.
The second problem was that no one in their right mind was going to believe me. Even after seeing it all, I still barely believed what was going on. I’d always heard that the universe was stranger than we could possibly imagine, but I’d never quite expected to have such a perfect example.
So I persisted, asking questions in vague terms that I was sure weren’t helpful to anyone and hoping beyond hope that someone would have an answer.
Finally, just when I was about to give up all hope, I got my first lead of the night. And from a rather unexpected direction at that.
“Tom, how nice to talk to you again,” the woman’s voice on the other end of the line was a bit on the rough side and spoke to a hard life before she’d ever joined the
“Sister Katherine. Always a pleasure.” I’d known Sister Katherine Lavoie for most of my life. She’d been a teacher at the school I’d gone to as a child and had seemed old even then. Now, she truly had to be ancient, but of course no one would ever say that to her face. She just seemed to keep going though, just as if she intended to go on living forever.
I knew what her response would be and I wasn’t disappointed. “Oh you know better than that, we’ve known each other far too long for the formality. Call me Kat.”
I knew it, yet I couldn’t stop myself. Something just felt weird about not at least acknowledging her title. And I couldn’t very well call her Sister Kat… I just couldn’t. That was weird.
“Kat then. I have a bit of a thought experiment for you.”
I could hear the smile in her voice. “Right to the matter at hand. How very forward of you.” There was a slight pause and I could hear her making the effort to at least be a little more serious. “So what’s on your mind?”
“Say I have this friend…” I stopped. It sounded cheesy even to my ears. “Forget that. What would you do to get rid of a ghost?”
She was silent for a long time. I thought for the life of me that she was trying hard not to laugh, but when she spoke again, her voice was dead serious. “What kind of ghost?”
Something told me that she wasn’t joking. There had always been stories in the school yard about how her life before she’d been a nun. It was said that she’d had a husband and children but that something terrible had happened to them. She’d sworn to have no other man and gone off and joined the nearest convent. Word had it that she hadn’t spoken for ten years after that fateful night.
Of course that could all have been nothing more than schoolyard nonsense, but for some reason her question had brought it right to the forefront of my mind.
“Um. The dead kind?” Unfortunately, I had no idea what she was looking for.
“It means they can interact…”
“I know what it means.” I immediately felt a heat rising up my neck at having interrupted her. Schoolyard habits ran deep; not even the long conversations we’d had long after I had graduated and come back to ask about religious life could change that. I would always consider her my friend, but she’d always be my teacher first. “But it just seems like a strange question. Is there really such a thing as a corporeal ghost?”
“Non-corporeal then,” she said, the absence speaking louder than any answer would have. “Murder or suicide?”
111 - Chicago
SEVERAL WEEKS AGO My mind raced. How could she possibly have known? I couldn’t very well answer her question, not without admitting to something that I shouldn’t have known. But on the other hand, if I didn’t answer, she would know that there was something I wasn’t telling her. I had more than enough experience growing up that told me she would find out. She always did.
So I took the only path left to me.
I could almost hear her processing what I hadn’t said right along with what I had. She would know. She had to know.
“He came to me…” I started to say.
“Shh,” she said. “I know.”
What? How did she know? Even though I had been expecting it, it was still jarring. Had she really known what I had been about to reveal? Or was she just trying to keep me out of trouble?
“He came back angry, didn’t he?” she said. There was depth to that word–angry–had she meant the same thing that Alex had insisted? That he had come back wrong? With a visitor attached?
How did she know these things.
I realized I was nodding a moment before I realized how futile such a gesture was over the phone. “Yes. Angry.”
“Have you ever performed an exorcism?” she asked.
There it was. Out in the open. The reason I had been making these calls.
I had a feeling that an exorcism was going to be the end result. But I didn’t have the slightest idea how to actually perform one–at least nothing beyond what popular culture had made of them. And with how wrong they got most of Catholicism most of the time, I had a feeling that wasn’t entirely accurate.
“No, I haven’t. And I’m not sure that I…”
She cut me off. “That’s probably for the best–”
That hurt. Did she think that I wasn’t good enough?
“–it probably wouldn’t have worked in any case.”
“Pardon?” i couldn’t have made it work or it just wouldn’t have worked in general?
“Exorcism is for demons, not ghosts. What you’re most likely dealing with is a little bit of each.”
I had more or less come to the same conclusion, although I hadn’t been willing to admit it to myself.
“And if that’s the case, an exorcism would just serve to break the two apart, leaving you with a wayward spirit and an angry demon to deal with separately.”
“But wouldn’t the exorcism send the demon…” I found I couldn’t say it. My mind was still catching up to the idea that this woman I’d known my entire life had an entire second life she’d never let on about.
“…back to Hell?” she finished for me. “Well, that’s the idea. In theory at least. In practice, things are a bit… messier.”
Just how much experience did she have with this sort of thing? I thought back to the stories of her husband and children. To the rumors of their mysterious disappearance, but also those hushed tales, never told under light of day. Those tales that said that even after they’d died, people had still seen them in her house, watching the world outside go by.
I shuddered. We’d never actually been able to figure out where Sister Kat had come from, where she’d lived before she’d been a teacher. She wouldn’t talk about it and those particular school records had mysteriously vanished. So there was no way to separate fact from fiction.
“So how do you do it?” I asked. “How can I get rid of him?”
She was silent again, silent for a long time. I realized that my wording had gone well past the theoretical now. Some part of me had not only decided that we needed to send Alex back, but that I was going to have to be the one to do it.
I have to say, I really wasn’t a fan of the idea.
“You can’t,” she said, the word cutting into me like cold steel. If only she had stopped there though. “At least not alone.”