The Bury St Edmund’s Cathedral grounds were beautiful at that time of year. Cherry blossom dominated the gardens, the pale pink petals floating to the floor as the wind caught them. The daffodils underneath stood strong against the onslaught, their bright yellow heads bobbing.
Arun remembered the first visit, his excitement that the training he’d been through was going to go to be tested. The following three years were a blur – he travelled the world seeing the strangest the church could offer, helping the local priests and holy men fight back against forces none of them understood.
Archdeacon James McGuire stood outside one of the rows of cottages. He was a small man with a stout figure, leaning forward as if he had a cane. He didn’t look happy being outside. He was happier indoors, searching through books looking for long lost answers to questions no one remembered asking. McGuire supported James, helping him to test the claims of the people he met over the world.
The hardest part of Arun’s three-year journey was rooting out the tricksters, the shysters and the hustlers. The men (and they were almost exclusively men) who claimed to see or experience demonic possession too often had other goals in mind. Whether it was wealth, sex or power, Arun had realised that while the Devil didn’t always work in ways that were as blatant as those he was employed to find and destroy, his aims were shared by a significant number of men.
McGuire held his nerve as Arun approached.
“It’s good to see you,” McGuire said, holding out his hand.
“And you, brother,” Arun replied, hugging the older man instead, “it’s been too long.”
“I’ve seen your reports,” McGuire rubbed the back of his neck. “They make for interesting reading.”
“All thanks to you.”
McGuire laughed. “My contribution is minimal.”
“What does the Bishop think of them?”
McGuire indicated that they should walk, and Arun fell into step beside him.
“The Bishop does not always like why you send through. He feels the details are occasionally too vulgar.”
“I’m not writing a novel, James,” Arun said. “I’m describing what happens out there.”
“That may be, but still.”
Arun seethed. In his view, the Church had a responsibility to its followers. It needed to be more than a place of sanctuary or a symbol of the faith. He wanted it to have an active role in their lives, to protect them from the evils of the world and help them achieve all that they wanted. The best way to prevent evil men was to empower the good. Yet his suggestions, whether he was in Samoa, Rwanda or England, always came up against men (and it was almost exclusively men) who tried to sweep difficult issues under the carpet, hide them and pretend that they didn’t exist.
“So what’s so important,” Arun asked, “that I needed to return here so quickly?”
He’d been in France when the call had come through, dealing with a Parson who was trying to extort money from the ex-Pat community there. The man was a piece of work, using the isolated community as his own personal bank account and creating divisions between them and the French in neighbouring villages.
No demons, just an intelligent man who worked out how to manipulate others around him. Arun had sowed seeds of doubt amongst the parishioners but had been called back before he could restore balance.
“Have you talked to your family much in the last few weeks?” McGuire asked.
“Not recently,” Arun said, “I’ve been travelling.”
“I thought as much,” McGuire said.
“What do you mean?” They reached the door to the building and McGuire pushed it open, disappearing inside.
Arun wasn’t close to his family, not since his decision to join the church. His sister Judith messaged him now and then to update him on the health of his parents and various extended family members, but their discussions were formal and brief.
Inside, the whole building felt dark and dank, like a garden shed after a rainstorm.
McGuire continued to a large wooden door, which he unlocked with a plain key. Arun knew where that door led.
“Why are we going down there?” he asked.
McGuire didn’t answer.
Arun passed through the doorway into a well-lit stairway. The steps were steep and worn, twisting as they descended into the earth. He knew at the bottom would be a long tunnel that led to a row of cells. As part of his training, he’d practised taking someone down here, but on every visit, the cells were empty, a jail for prisoners that never allowed themselves to be caught.
McGuire locked the door behind them and they descended. Arun was grateful for the strong lights. Not for the first time, he wondered how the men and women managed by candlelight when the tunnels were first built
“You’ve caught one, haven’t you?” Arun said. “How the hell did you manage that?”
McGuire continued to walk for a few steps before he answered.
“It came to us.”
The first cell was on their right now, empty. The next would be a distance down, kept away from the others in case multiple occupants ever worked out how to communicate. As they went deeper, they would get closer to the centre of the cathedral above them.
McGuire continued. “It arrived one night, asking for sanctuary. It told us the name, what was happening and what It wanted.”
“It wanted to be locked up?” Arun picked up the pace. He wanted to get a look at this demon that surrendered itself to the church, the one place where people existed that would be able to send it back to hell. “And why didn’t you kill it?”
McGuire pulled back a large wooden plank that barred the door and undid a padlock. Then he unlocked two more locks set into the ancient wood of the door and gripped the handle.
“We’ve tried,” McGuire said, “but it’s stubborn. It’s holding on to her so tightly, we would kill her if we severed the connection.”
“Her?” Arun said.
Using all his bodyweight, McGuire pulled the door open. On the other side was a further door made of metal bars stretching vertically and horizontally.
In the centre of the room, cross-legged, was Judith. Her eyes were glowing green, and her face was a wide smile. It wasn’t how she smiled, it wasn’t how he remembered her. There was madness to it that he couldn’t place, nor did he want to.
“Judith,” Arun said, placing his hands on the cage.
“Brother!” Judith said as she stood awkwardly. Arun watched her as she moved toward the edge of the cell. The smile remained but the green glow in her eyes started to fade as she stepped closer to the bright light of the corridor.
“What’s the matter?” Arun said. “Why is she in here?”
“There’s something ungodly about her, Arun. You see it.”
“I don’t see anything.”
Judith reached the cell and placed her hands over his on the bars. Her touch was gentle and reassuring. Arun felt his blood boil. She wasn’t well, she came for help, and the men he thought where his friends had locked her up.
“I need help, brother,” Judith said. When he looked at her now the smile had gone, replaced by a worried expression. She had bags under her eyes and looked malnourished.
“How long has she been in here?” Arun asked.[Is the demon a reedor?]
“Weeks,” Judith answered. “Weeks.”
“Let her out.”
“But -” McGuire tried to argue, but Arun had seen enough. On his travels, he’d seen any number of excuses for the victimisation of young women, but he never expected to see it in England. He reached forward and snatched the keys from McGuire. There was no argument, no violence offered in return. The other man shrunk back, unsure of how to react.
The next moments happened in a blur.
The second the cage was open, Judith’s eyes started to glow green again. They left a trail in the air, like a firework being waved around.
It was that trail that Arun followed, his sister’s movements too quick, as he saw McGuire thrown against the roof of the passageway. The trail he followed as he felt strong hands grip his shoulders and throw him back into the cell.
Within seconds, he was the prisoner and Judith the jailer. She laughed as she twirled the keys around her wrists. Her foot was on McGuire’s next, squeezing his windpipe closed. Arun, dazed from the attack, could only listen as his peer choked to death.
Judith moved her face close to the bars, pushing her cheek and eye through the gap.
“Karibu nyumbani,” she said. Then she spat through the bars and turned away.
Arun couldn’t ask what was going on, he couldn’t think of a response.
He just sat still, stunned, as Judith left him in the cell.