Photo by Gabriella Clare Marino

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Back to Part Two: https://melcarriere.com/pretty-pink-pen-part-two/

 

Story by Mel Carriere

As a side gig to mailman, Ross volunteered as a Catholic CCD teacher. On Wednesday nights he gave Catechism classes to bored children, and this volunteer work gave him access to the Parish priests. Most of the time this didn’t seem like an advantage, but on this particular Wednesday night he hoped a relatively sober one was around, because he really needed some priestly advice.  

     Ross thought the burden he wanted to lift from his chest would be scoffed at or scorned by most priests. But there was one priest Ross thought might lend an ear to such a tender subject, without judging. As he walked across the parking lot to the classroom, Ross spotted Father Max going the other way, and called out to him.  

     “Father Max, can I talk to you for a moment?” he shouted as the priest dashed across the pavement, probably on his way for a smoke. The priest liked to smoke in the back of the church behind the dumpsters, where parents wouldn’t see him. If parents saw him smoking, they would bitch to the Bishop. Max thought he had enough mother-fucking problems with the Bishop to begin with.  

     Father Max thought about pretending he didn’t hear anything, but stopped when he saw Ross. You couldn’t be shitty to your CCD teachers, because if you pissed one off and they quit, you would be teaching their class next week. “Sure, if you don’t mind me smoking while we talk.” 

     “Not at all,” said Ross. He followed Father Max to the area by the dumpsters, where the priest lit up alongside the grimy wall that enclosed the slimy green trash receptacles. Not even God’s garbage cans kept their luster, thought Ross.  

      The priest offered Ross a cigarette, but Ross politely declined. “What’s on your mind?”  

     Father Max was a fidgety fellow with impatient, shaky hands. His eyes were always darting around like a tiny songbird on a branch, which he somewhat resembled with his short stature, elongated Italian beak, and bald pate. The other CCD teachers murmured that Father Max was so nervous because he had seen things. Nobody could specify what things, of course, but definitely things.  

     Despite his standoffish and impatient nature, Father Max didn’t fuck around with his faith. He subscribed to the entire Catechism, all 2,865 numbered paragraphs of it. He believed in saints, the infallibility of the Pope, and miracles. But most of all, he believed in evil. His homilies on these subjects sometimes got him in trouble with the Parish pastor, who told him to tone it down. Father Max didn’t care too much, he was getting used to bouncing around from Parish to Parish, after he wore out his welcome.  

     “Someone told me you used to be an exorcist. Is that true?” asked Ross.  

     Father Max rolled his eyes, as if to say here we go again. “No, I wasn’t an exorcist. I have assisted in a few exorcisms, and believe me, it’s not something I like to talk about. Why? You know someone who needs an exorcist?”  

  Ross laughed, but Father Max’s expression remained grim. “Oh no, nothing like that. I just thought you might know something about…witchcraft. I know, sounds stupid.” 

     Father Max’s normally deadpan face grew animated. “The reason why witchcraft thrives under so many disguises is that people think it’s stupid. They don’t take it seriously. Personally, I think we should revert back to the biblical injunction – suffer not a witch to live. But please don’t tell anybody I said that. I’ve got enough problems as it is.”  

      “I won’t.” Ross was feeling hopeful.  

      “Do you think somebody is putting a hex on you?”  

      Ross was surprised by the serious way Father Max said this. He didn’t know if he should feel relieved that the priest was taking him seriously, or disturbed that the priest was taking him seriously.  

      “I’m…not sure,” Ross answered.  

      Father Max took a long drag on his cigarette, then blew smoke out his nose, as if to demonstrate that  Satan’s fiery dragons had nothing on him. “In my experience,” he said, “if you’re not sure, that’s a definite yes. Uncertainty is the devil’s playground. Tell me what happened. Don’t leave anything out because you think it’s embarrassing.”  

     “It might take a while,” said Ross. “Class starts in five minutes.”  

      “Don’t worry about those little shits, they can wait. They don’t care anyway. If anyone says anything I’ll vouch for you.”  

      Ross told Father Max the story of the pink stylus, starting reluctantly, tentatively, then gathering steam when he saw Father Max was listening to him with the utmost earnestness.  

     “Yeah, I would say you’ve got a problem,” Father Max said when Ross wrapped up his tale. “This obsession you feel over this woman does not appear to be of the normal garden variety.” Being from New Jersey, Father Max pronounced garden like gahden. “You say this lady belongs to some evangelical Protestant denomination. Would you happen to know if it is one of those prosperity gospel sects?”  

     Ross considered this for a moment. “She said she’s read books by Joel Osteen.”  

     Father Max cringed. He switched his smoke to the other hand so he could make the sign of the cross.  

     “Mother Fucker. Tell me you’re not okay with that,” said the priest.  

     Ross wasn’t sure what the correct answer was. Father Max was looking at him with suspicion, as if he was guilty of a great blasphemy.  

     “I think I’ll take that smoke after all,” Ross said, to cover up the spiritual nakedness he felt.  

     Father Max shook out a cigarette and lit it for him. Somehow Ross knew how to smoke, though he had never done it before. He had seen it so many times in movies and TV shows that the act felt natural.  

     “Joel Osteen and the prosperity gospel represent a great evil,” said Father Max. “If you want to know where Satan has gone into hiding these days, there you have it.”  

     Ross felt emboldened by the cigarette. It was approximately the same size and weight of the stylus, but far less threatening, though it was technically on fire. “I didn’t know Satan was in hiding,” Ross said. “He seems to be everywhere.”  

     “That’s part of his deception,” said the priest. “Wherever you think Satan is, he’s not. He does that to confuse people. You avoid Internet porn because it’s evil, then go read a book by Joel Osteen, thinking you’re safe, and bam! he’s got you. The prosperity gospel is the most obscene form of Satanism I’ve ever seen. If this lady with the stylus is into that, she could either be manipulating you with it innocently, or she really could be a witch, trying to put a spell on you. You don’t know what goes on at these Osteen Bible study covens. One way or another, you’ve got to get rid of that stylus.”  

     The warm cigarette smoke in Ross’s lungs was soothing. He wondered why he had been avoiding smoking all his life, if it felt so good. “Oh, I already got rid of it.”  

     “You did what?”  

     “Yeah, I threw it in the garbage.”  

     “No, no, no!” said Father Max, and began to pace back and forth there behind the garbage containers, exhaling his breath in smoky spurts, like a sputtering locomotive. “You’ve got to get it back! Tell me you can get it back!”  

     With the invigorating smoke warming his soul, Ross thought this dialogue was becoming more and more like that of a B-list screenwriter, who composes scripts for hokey horror films. Father Max’s reaction was not at all what he had imagined. He had expected soothing but meaningless platitudes, designed to make him feel better. He had never dreamed the priest would take him seriously. “Yeah, I suppose I can. The garbage doesn’t go out until tomorrow. I guess I can dig it out of there.” With the nicotine in him, nothing seemed impossible.  

Father Max appeared to have calmed. He stopped pacing and shook out another cigarette. “You have to get rid of it at night,” he said. “If the stylus is in your trash in the morning, its power will cling to you in perpetuity, and once it’s in the landfill you might as well kiss your ass goodbye. You’ll be her slave forever.”  

     “Here’s what you have to do…” said Father Max, and went on to explain the proper procedure for disposing of the stylus. Ross took mental notes, then snuffed out his smoke. He was going to throw the butt over the wall into the green trash bin, but stayed his hand and looked nervously toward the priest. He was afraid to throw away anything now.  

     “Don’t worry, that’s okay,” said Father Max, then ground his own butt into the asphalt with his shoe. Apparently being a priest came with littering privileges.  

     As soon as he got home, Ross got busy. He took a flashlight from his car and started rooting around through his garbage for the pink stylus. He tried to be stealthy so his wife wouldn’t catch him, but the porch light came on and Renée peeked out the window.  

     “What are you doing out here?” she asked.  

     The hardest part of this task was inventing a lie that would appease his wife. Battling sin involved making up a lot of lies. Father Max had no experience with women, he couldn’t fathom how difficult they could be. He had explained to the priest that the only way he could do this was by lying to his wife about what he was up to. The priest just shrugged and said you gotta fight fire with fire. Do you want to save your marriage? 

     Through the back window, Ross told Renée that one of his coworkers had left his debit card in his postal vehicle and he had picked it up, thinking it was his, then threw it in the garbage when he got home, believing it to be his own expired card.  

     “You just threw it in the garbage? You’re supposed to chop them into little pieces so the identity thieves can’t use them.”  

     “Well, it’s a good thing I didn’t, because my friend is really desperate for cash now. You want to come help me?” Ross didn’t say this because he wanted her to help, but because it would throw her off the scent. Renée wouldn’t dig in the garbage if you told her there was a million bucks buried down there.  

     “Are you kidding? I’m not digging in any trash.” Ross silently congratulated himself on his guile, as Renée threw her pretty blonde head back in indignation, closed the window and went back to watching TV.  

     Ross kept digging. He assumed the stylus would be in the top bag, but of course it wasn’t. Be thorough, because that little pink bitch is going to try and hide from you, Father Max had warned him, and he was right. Ross had to rummage through multiple bags, filled with things like stinky onion peels, discarded snot rags, and rotting meat fragments. But at last he found it, buried deep in the bottom of a plastic sack, crouching beneath several sedimentary layers of filth, an appropriate place for the accursed thing.  

     He tapped on the sliding glass door, and Renée peeked through the blind. “I found it. I have to go give it to the guy?”  

     “Now?”  

     Ross nodded shamefully. “He really needs it. He has custody of his kids this week and can’t get them any food.”  

     Renée shut the blinds without a reproachful word, and Ross drove out into the night with the evil stylus in his possession, knowing she would give it to him later. He drove to the edge of his neighborhood, to a secluded place, but not far enough away from residences that he would attract attention, sitting alone in a car. There he conducted the ritual Father Max had assured him would send the demon dwelling in this pink doo-hickey back into the pit, where it belonged.  

By the light of the dashboard, Ross recited The Prayer Against Every Evil. Father Max told him this was supposed to release demonic attachment to a soul by invoking the precious name of Jesus. He read the words out loud, the stylus alit by the glow of his phone, plus a cheap votive candle he had bought in a Mexican market. He had gotten weird looks from the cashier there, who didn’t see too many white guys in the place. Father Max had told him to recite the prayer carefully and completely, following the instructions listed on a website the priest directed him to.   

     “Will I have enough faith to do this?” Ross had asked Max, doubting his own devotion.  

     Father Max had shrugged. “Who the hell has any faith these days? We’re all pretty far removed from God. Just read the words and let them do their job. Just don’t be surprised if you see some freaky shit. The devil might try to scare you, to get you to back off. Keep praying anyway.”  

     “What kind of freaky shit? I’m sorry Father, I mean…”  

     “Hey, I said freaky shit first, didn’t I? You don’t have to tiptoe through the tulips with me. Freaky shit like, for instance, the object might move on its own accord. It might shapeshift. It might speak to you. I’ve heard of all these things happening. Don’t worry, if you’ve taken the eucharist in like, the last hundred years or so, you should be okay. Don’t pay attention, just keep reading.” 

     Ross the lit candle in one cupholder of his Honda Civic, then propped the pink stylus in the other. This all seemed so stupid. How had he gotten himself into it? All this fuss over a stupid stylus, made of cheap plastic. He had half a mind to break off this little seance, or exorcism, whatever it was, and go home. Was he truly fool enough to believe that Natalie was casting spells on him? People hadn’t done things like this since the Middle Ages, when they could almost be forgiven for burning so-called witches at the stake, at a time when scientific explanations for natural phenomena were not available. Wasn’t it incredible that fifteen hundred years later, after humanity had opened its eyes and figured out what was behind those invisible forces, that they were still doing ridiculous shit like this?   

     The candle flame flickered in the cupholder, like somebody’s foul breath was blowing on it. Well, the window is open a crack, he thought. Of course the candle was going to flicker. Or would it? He better just do this and get the goddam stylus out of his life. If not, he would be obsessing about it until it drove him crazy.  

     Ross started the prayer slowly and tentatively. He didn’t see any of the freaky shit Father Max had warned him about, until he got to the part of the prayer where he started rounding up all the evil spirits.  

     Banish from me all spells, witchcraft, black magic, evil spells, ties, curses, and the evil eye; diabolic infestations, oppressions, possessions; all that is evil and sinful, jealousy, deceitfulness, envy; physical, psychological, moral, spiritual and diabolical ailments.  

     As he recited this part, the stylus slid down into the cupholder, making an audible pop as it tipped from its inclined position. Big deal, said Ross, and kept praying. If that was the best the devil had, bring it on. He was more worried about neighbors wandering out in the night for a smoke or to walk the dog. How fricking embarrassing it would be, to be caught like this. 

     Ross wrapped up the prayer with the part where he sealed himself, which he had to repeat three times. The instruction manual said that he would thus break the threefold Satanic seals on his soul, by reciting the long list of bad things that corrupted it. He was supposed to wait in silence for the knowledge of his transgressions to be revealed to him.  

     The first, most obvious word revealed, there in the silence of his Honda Civic, was obsession. He was really obsessed over Natalie, he couldn’t deny that. So he prayed for his obsession to be disposed of properly, to be sealed like toxic waste and taken away by angels – wearing personal protective equipment, to some lead-lined locker in the sky. Then the word covetousness came to him, and he did the same for that. After this his mind went blank, and he had to reach. He wanted one more transgression, because everything in this prayer was done in threes, and he had only come up with two. If he left it at two, his soul would feel itchy.  

     Ross considered lust, but that wouldn’t do, because he really didn’t lust after Natalie. Having sex with her had never crossed his mind. All he fantasized about was sitting on a couch with her, holding hands and talking, something he never did with his wife. Whenever he started to talk to his wife, she just started to bitch. Bitch about unpaid bills, bitch about unfinished projects around the house, bitch about his unpleasant body odors.  

     But Renée had a right to bitch, didn’t she? She was his wife, and Natalie was not. Thinking about sitting on a couch with Natalie, holding hands and talking, was a betrayal. So Ross performed his third sealing over the word betrayal. Then he sped through the closing paragraphs of the prayer and called it good. Such was he haste that he almost forgot to blow out the candle before he drove away. Perhaps this prayer had saved his soul from being consumed in flames, but what would stop his body from being burned, if the candle tipped over and his upholstery was set on fire? 

     Compared to all that praying, the next part was going to be easy. All Ross had to do now was take the stylus to Natalie’s home and dump it on her property.  

Read Part Four here: https://melcarriere.com/pretty-pink-pen-part-four/

 

 

 

 

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