Why do these things always happen on Halloween?
The minister shrugged on his heavy, black, coat, preparing himself for the cold weather. The task at hand, was another matter altogether. Not something one can ever prepare for. It had been several years since he'd attended an exorcism and even then he'd been on the sidelines. Tonight though...tonight he was the headliner.
"Where are you off to Pastor Mike?" asked a short square fellow with thinning hair. He wore a comically "Cosby-like" sweater that he had in recent years stopped referring to as such.
The minister, a tall thin man with a full head of slicked back, dark hair, and a thin, narrow face, turned to his companion.
"Ah, yes, Thomas. I'm actually off to the Barber household. Mrs. Barber phoned earlier asking for my help. She thinks her daughter June is possessed by an evil spirit and wishes me to work my --as she put it-- 'Christian hoodoo.'"
"Sounds serious," Thomas responded.
"I doubt it. I'm sure it's just some child acting out. Likely pulling one over on her mum. Nevertheless, it's my duty to go out there see to the child."
"Unlikely to be acting out. June Barber'd be about 27 now, I should think."
Mike frowned. "27, you say? Maybe we can rule out juvenile antics after all. Guess I better be off."
"Are you sure we shouldn't call a Catholic priest for this? I thought they were the ones what generally did exorcisms."
"I think I'll be fine, thanks."
Mike pushed out into the night. Winter was trying to muscle in early that year. A gentle dusting of flakes fluttered about lazily, dancing over pumpkins long blown out. The ground already frozen hard, was still muddy on top. Typical Michigan mix of weather. Not so typical for a man who had just moved there after spending most of his like in the humid south.
As the Barber house was just a half mile away Mike decided he might as well walk it. Above, the almost full moon was stifled by the cloud cover. A keychain flashlight illuminated his path till he reached the street lights and the smooth evenness of concrete. The streets around him were quiet. Long gone were the trick-or-treaters in their colorful costumes. The church would be holding their own dress up party the next day. An event Mike had been planning for weeks.
At last the minister arrived at the house. It was a one story ranch with a rather average brick design. Up the cracked walkway he strode, to the front of the house. A quick succession of knocks on the door and soon movement could be heard from inside.
When the door opened Mike found himself looking at no one.
"Hello?" he hollered.
"Hello," came a voice from a tiny head that poked sheepishly from behind the other side of the door. A small boy no more than 5 with with wild blonde curls.
"Ah, yes, hello. I'm Pastor Mike. Is your mom home?"
The little boy nodded before running off, presumably to find his parent. Never sure what to do in such a situation, Mike awkwardly dipped his head in and peered around. It would never win any best decor awards, but it all looked tidy and well kept, if not several decades out of style. A few moments passed before eventually Mrs. Barber came to greet him.
"Oh, thank God, you've come," she gushed.
Mike could tell she'd been crying. A somewhat plump lady already, her eyes were red and nearly swollen shut. A bad bleach job on her hair declared she was normally a brunette. Her clothes, ill-fitting, all looked like hand-me-back-ups from the 70's.
"Ah, yes, I came as soon as I could. How are you doing Mrs. Barber?"
"Much better now that you're here. I wasn't sure if I should call a Catholic priest, seeing as how they're the experts and all."
Mike mentally rolled his eyes at the rebuff.
"I'm more than equipped for it I assure you. Besides, I actually used to be a Catholic priest myself. I converted a couple years back."
"Was it the celibacy?"
"Doctrinal issues. I found I wasn't wearing the collar so much as it was wearing me. At any rate I have experience with these types of matters. Your daughter's in good hands."
"Pastor Mike, you're a comfort already. I'll take you to my June in the back."
Down a hallway and to the last room on the right he trailed Mrs. Barber. June was laying on a bed, seemingly peaceful. She was dressed in a soft pink, floral nightgown. Her hair, a natural blonde, lay scattered in array on the pillow beneath her head. In his initial look, Mike couldn't believe the calm, pretty woman before him was the one he was there to see.
"June," Mrs. Barber spoke, "June, this is Pastor Mike. He's here to help you."
June sat up and smiled sweetly at Mike.
"Are you a priest?" she asked.
"Ah, yes. Er, no. Former priest. Current pastor of the Methodist church in town."
"Shouldn't it be a Catholic? I thought Catholics were the experts."
"He's had experience, luv. From when he was a Catholic," Mrs. Barber interjected.
"Oh. So, shall we begin?"
Mike pulled up a chair beside the bed and sat down facing her.
"I've got to be honest June," Mike said, "you certainly don't look like a person who's possessed."
"Oh, but I am. Haven't been able to leave my bed in days. The spirit vexes me so. Sometimes talking to me, sometimes through me. And when I sleep, I have the most awful nightmares."
"How do you mean, you can't leave your bed?"
"I can answer that Pastor Mike," Mrs. Barber interjected again, "her body becomes all rigid. and if you try and pull her off the bed she becomes as heavy as iron."
That rang a bell with Mike. He'd seen similar before. People under the influence of a monstrous force, unable to move.
"I see. Mrs. Barber, I wonder if I might have some time with June alone. These kinds of things can get pretty intense."
"Of course! I'll be waiting in the living room if you need me."
Mrs. Barber scurried from the room closing the door behind her.
Mike turned back to June, who was sitting up cross legged and looking chippily at him.
"June, are you in control right now, or is the spirit controlling you?"
"June cannot control herself," a croaking voice issued from her.
"And who am I speaking to?"
"With whom. 'With whom' are you speaking with."
"A grammatically correct demon. Why not? Alright, with whom am I speaking with?"
"Me who?" Tom pushed.
"Tonya. That's an interesting name for a demon."
"I'm not a demon, I'm a girl. My surname is Harrison."
"You identify as a girl. Okay. Well, girl, demon, evil spirit; whatever you want to call yourself, you cannot continue to inhabit June."
"Why not?" she fired back, her voice becoming shrill.
"Because June does not belong to you. And because God will not allow it."
"I'm not going anywhere, so you might as well leave."
Mike was in uncharted territory. He'd never seen a spirit that was so proper. If it wasn't for the way her voice split in two, he would have assumed June was playing some sort of Halloween trick.
"Afraid I can't do that Tonya. I will give you one last chance to leave peacefully, or else things are going to get pretty serious for you."
"Go away!" she shrieked.
Mike dropped to his knees, hands clutching his bible, and began to pray. As he prayed June's body began to levitate. A mighty wind seemed to be blowing in from everywhere at once. Mike continued praying as he stared at June. June noticed his gaze and returned the look with glowing red eyes. But then, quite suddenly, everything stopped. June fell back to the bed, wind gone. Once again she was sitting peacefully.
"June?" Mike asked, hopeful.
"Tonya. Is that all you're going to do, pray? I thought you guys chanted 'the power of Christ compels you,' or something like that."
"That's from a movie. Though you do acknowledge Christ. You recognize his authority."
"Of course, but I don't see him here currently."
"You're wrong there, for he lives in me. In the name of Christ Jesus, I command you out of June."
June's body was thrown back at those words as if struck by a truck. Her body once again began levitating, all the way up to the ceiling, with her back against the wall.
"Leave me alone," the girl shrieked.
"You recognize Christ's authority, and as a representative, I command you again, come out of June."
"No! If you make me leave, I promise an evil like you've never seen will be visited upon this town."
"I say again, in the name of Christ Jesus, release that girl"
With those words, June dropped quickly, landing hard against the ground. Mike ran over to help her up and get her back into bed.
"Pastor Mike?" June asked.
"That's right June, It's Pastor Mike."
"Is it over? I feel lighter, somehow."
"It's all over now June. You just rest for awhile. I'll have your mother come in shortly to check in on you.
"Thank you pastor."
Just as quickly as it had began, it was all over. June immediately fell asleep, even before Mike could leave the room. Quietly he made his way out to where Mrs. Barber and her son were waiting anxiously in the living room. Mrs. Barber greeted him with tears and praise, which he was quick to redirect to God. Insistent on showing him her gratitude, Mike exited the house with a basket full of banana muffins.
Back out into the cold night Mike walked. The night had a quiet quality that made it hard to believe what he'd just done moments before. He took his time walking back to the church. There was much to ruminate over. Much praise to be given to God. New sermons about faith popped into his head. At last he reached the church where Thomas was just exiting.
"Oh, hey, Pastor Mike, you got here right as I was going to lock up. How'd it go?"
"Ah, yes, Thomas, it went very well."
"June cleansed of evil and all that?"
"You could say that. The exorcism was a success. Wanna grab a cup of coffee and I'll tell you all about it?"
"Wish I could, Pastor Mike, wish I could. My Budgie is waiting dinner at home for me. Was it that Legion-one in the bible that Jesus dealt with?"
"No. No historic demon legions. Just a disturbing one that called itself Tonya."
Mike laughed, "Tonya Harrison, no less. A ridiculous name for a demon."
"What is it?" Mike asked.
"Just a bit weird is all. Tonya Harrison is the name of a girl who died about 15 years ago."
"What, here in town?"
"Yeah. She and June were best friends. June was the last one to see her alive, actually. The two of them were playing in the woods when a strange man ambushed them. Brutal murder. Made all the national headlines."
A worrisome feeling started pricking at the back of Mike's head.
"Did they ever catch the man responsible?"
"No. Never even found a clue to who he was. Only thing they had to go on was June's description. Such a lovely girl she was too. Would have been about 27 herself if she was still alive."
Mike's head was on fire. He dropped the basket of muffins and checked his pockets for his keys. Finding them, he started running towards his car.
"Something wrong?" Thomas hollered to Mike's back.
Once in the car Mike drove quickly through the darkened streets till he arrived once again at the Barber's house. All the lights were still on. He got out and ran to the front door he had just exited 20 minutes before. He knocked, thoughts racing through his head a mile a minute.
It could have been a coincidence, he thought, or the demon playing tricks on me.
No answer. Mike knocked again, louder and longer. Still no one came to the door. Unable to wait any longer Mike burst through the door. The living room was deserted. He went down the familiar hallway to the back room, calling out to anyone as he went. In the back room things looked the same as he'd left him, minus June who was nowhere to be seen.
The other two bedrooms were equally empty. Mike made his way to the kitchen and stopped dead in his tracks. The sight that greeted him was something no one is ever prepared to see. Mrs. Barber was there, as was her young son. Both were seated at the table. Mrs. Barber was slumped forward, her son slumped back. Blood pooled beneath the table and chairs, their bodies still dripping down, A set of bloody footprints led out the back.
As if in a trance, Mike followed the footprints through the door to the backyard. There, bathing in the moonlight and blood he found June. She had stripped off her clothes and was brandishing a butcher knife. Tonya had warned an evil would be unleashed, and here it was in front of him. Hearing footsteps June turned to the pastor. A smile lit her face when she saw him.
"Thank you for freeing me from Tonya," June spoke, "Even as a kid that bitch was always holding me back. Who would've thought when I returned to this stupid town her spirit would still be kicking around trying to stop little old me."
"But why?" Mike stammered. "Your own mother. Your little brother."
"Why not? Anyway he wasn't really my brother. Adopted. So, Pastor Mike, are you here to stop me? The spirit is willing, but how's the flesh?"
"I think," Mike said, trying to collect himself, "I think, I'll leave this one for the Catholics."