Jerusalem 38 A.D.
Demas drummed stubby fingers on the polished table surface, all the while enjoying the distraught look of the woman sitting opposite him. She reminded him of a mouse-small features, sharp dirty face, and piss poor.
“I do not know what to do. He hasn’t spoken or eaten in days. The other day-” The woman gulped and looked away. “-markings…they appeared on his body then miraculously disappeared. It was like I dreamed what I saw.”
Demas lifted a curious brow. He had only heard of markings but never seen it happen.
“He… he doesn’t attack anybody. I move him about, bathe him but he wouldn’t eat. He stares ahead and mumbles in a tongue I do not understand. Miskar help me, please. My son would die if he goes on like this. He hasn’t eaten in days.” She struggled to hold in her sobs, her face comforting hideously from the effort.
Demas stared on, refusing to utter a word as he watched her silently weep. When he stood, he arranged his robe around his shoulders and circled the table. “Help, you say?”
“Yes, please.” The woman sniffed. “I beg you. I can no longer bare to look at him without weeping. Gasmir was his father, surely you must have heard of him. He gave to the temple frequently. I am his widow.”
Demas turned back to the woman. If she truly was the wife of Gasmir, why did she look so…beggarly? Her gown was a tattered mess, worn from too much washing, her hair possessed a dirty brown colour and hung to her shoulder like filthy strings.
“I remember Gasmir was a man of means. Whatever happened to his wealth?”
The woman’s gaze dropped as she clutched her garment with bony fingers. “His creditors came.” She looked up suddenly, large eyes brimming with more tears. “They took almost everything. My boy and I have struggled since the two years he died.
Her tears didn’t spark a single flame of sympathy in Demas heart. All he was able to catch in her speech was almost. That surely meant the woman still possessed something of value in exchange for his services.
“I am sorry Gasmir passed.”
The woman sniffed and wiped her tears before nodding. “T-thank you.”
If only she knew what was coming next, she’d keep her gratitude. Demas walked to the open window of the little attending room. The street of Jerusalem was bustling with activities; donkeys pulling burdens, Roman soldiers walking past and speaking in their accursed tongue, and poor people-poor people everywhere.
Though his father was the chief priest whose livelihood had to be maintained by the offering the people, Demas and his six brothers had since devised a means to create wealth. Knowledge was a freeing tool-a tool that brought the liberation of wealth. It was knowledge that kept their purses heavy as they moved from town to town casting out demons.
The act of exorcism, though complicated, was possible to learn. Knowledge was power and if wielded properly would bring about astounding results. There were some basic spiritual laws that affected the physical and when these laws were manipulated, it almost always brought about a needed result.
As sad as Gasmir’s widow’s financial status was, there was no way he would offer his services for free. After the exorcism goes right, she would certainly spread the news of his free service to other poor people like herself and before he could blink, they would flood the place, asking for free exorcism the same way they did for a certain Jesus of Nazareth. He scoffed and looked away from the busy street, facing the sniffing woman once more.
“Twenty pieces of silver.”
Her reaction was instant. Face paling, she stared at him with wide shocked eyes. Demas simply walked back to his seat. Pity his heart was already dead to compassion when it came to money.
At last she spoke. “B-but. Please, Miskar. I beg you. You are the son of a holy man.” She dropped from her seat and held her palms together as if in prayer. Her tears fell in big drops, landing on her arms and garment. “I have no one else to turn to. Please, my boy would die if he is not freed f-from t-that.” She began to weep again, releasing loud sobs and doubling over, hands trembling as her stringy hair formed a curtain around her face.
The woman was so much like those who entertained the Romans with their disgusting lewd drama, summoning tears and moving with practiced theatrics. He knew she had the money, in all her pleas and explanation she never mentioned once that she had nothing. She just kept pleading for him to perform an exorcism for free. Irritation flared on his inside. Standing to his feet, he marched to the door and snatched it open. “Get out!”
The woman looked up, disbelief crossing her features. “Miskar?”
“I said, get out. You know what we use the money for yet you stay here, weeping for symphaty?”
“Enough! I wouldn’t even take nineteen pieces. You have stated your problem, I was gracious enough to listen and now you cry in order to prove what? That I am not righteous enough to give you the bill I charged? You insult me, woman. Leave, when you have what I require, come back.”
He watched the woman use her cloth to wipe her tears; it would even seem the waterworks had done an excellent job in cleaning her filthy face. Standing shakily, she clutched both hands in front of her and looked up. All sadness disappeared from her eyes, hardness replacing it. “Gasmir had a plot of land close to Giberthot. I would sell it and give you the required sum. Please, Miskar, try to make it soon enough. I fear delay would kill Hezekiah.” With those words, she brushed past him and stepped under the scotching Jerusalem sun.
Demas allowed a broad smile stretch his heavily bearded face. He had marvellous news for his brothers.
Esli, Amos, Kenan, Joanan, Levi, Melki and Demas, the seven son of Sceva the high priest, walked down the street with shoulders high and ceremonial robes swishing in the evening breeze.
Their black elaborate garment fluttered around their feet, its wide sleeves had ancient Hebrew text embroidered with silk, and the hem had clusters of tassels soaked in lamb’s blood. On their heads, tied with a thick cord, was a small box containing miniature scrolls of the Torah. The small box acted as a helmet of sort that kept the evil spirits from seeing them as the next potential host.
The adulation did it for Demas. He lived for the awe-struck look on the people’s faces as they stared as though they were angels walking amongst men. He also lived for the money. Though, he never told those he rendered his services that silver did absolutely nothing in the actual exorcism, he made it seem as though it was the very backbone of the ritual. One of the means of getting people’s wealth quite easily was to make them not just think but believe their money was going into a righteous cause. If one successfully made them believe that, the silver would never stop coming.
“We are here, brother,” Elsi, the last of his brothers who was almost eighteen, said as they came to a door. He held up an iron oil lamp, the amber glow washing over the impoverished surroundings.
The thick smell of mushroom and moss hung in the air. Demas wrinkled his nose and hoped the house wasn’t defiled by the unclean type. “Knock.”
Esli made three sharp raps on the poor excuse of a door. It was almost as if a strong breeze could pull it from its hinges and slap it to the ground.
When Esli attempted to knock once more, the door opened of its own accord, creaking harshly before slamming against the wall with a bang. Demas heart crashed to his ribs in time with it.
Yahweh protect us.
After waiting for some time and nothing out of the ordinary occurred, Demas took a tentative step in.
“Misker, you came.”
It was the woman who spoke. Though the room was dimly lit by a lone oil lamp that sat on a windowsill, Demas was still able to make out her small figure. As he took another step into the house, he shut his eyes and tried but failed to perceive with his inner eye the presence of a hostile spirit. The air in the room sat still, stubbornly refusing to give a hint.
A part of Demas suddenly urged him to walk out. The description of her son’s symptoms were nothing like what he’d witnessed in all his years of exorcism.
… but the money.
“Something does not feel right.” Melki, his immediate younger brother whispered to his left.
Demas opened his eyes and looked about the room, taking in its bare state. The woman had listened. He had sent words, telling her to clear the largest room in her home in order to perform the needed cleansing. “I sense what you say, Melki. But if you are not willing, I suggest you leave.”
Melki chuckled. “You know I can’t leave. After all, Yahweh is in need of the silver.”
Demas would have laughed at his brother’s sarcastic reply, but he fought the urge. Turning to the rest who still stood outside the house, he beckoned to them. “Come in brothers. Seven is the number of strength. We will banish this spirit the same way we’ve banished others.”
They obeyed, walking in carefully and looking about.
Demas beckoned to the little servant boy that pulled the cart containing their equipment. “Bring it in.”
Once the boy offloaded the content of the cart, he rushed out of the house like the hoard of sheol were snapping at his heels. Demas chuffed.
Being the first of his brothers, Demas stood aside and observed the rest prepare the place. In a short time, the room was awash in the bright yellow glow of several candles. He was finally able to take in the appearance of Gasmir’s widow.
She was seated on the floor at a corner, looking traumatised and tired. Her shawl covered her head as he instructed, and her garment was long enough to cover her feet. She was swaying slightly, eyes fixed ahead and lips trembling. Demas shook his head in pity and looked away. She must have witnessed something.
A wide basin of water was placed at the centre of the room, and a large star of David was drawn around it with salt. Taking careful steps forward, his brothers backed away. Demas retrieved three holy scrolls written by the high priest before his father. Reaching the iron basin and being careful not to step on any salt-line, Demas unrolled each scroll and submerged them in the water. Turning back, he stepped out of the star. “Bring him.”
This was the moment—the fragile moment each word and action must be treated with utmost caution.
When the woman stood and approached a door to her left, it swung open of its own accord and slammed against the wall. She muffled a scream and jump back.
Demas narrowed his gaze and stroked his beard to appear casual. Do not show fear.
The open door exposed a yawning darkness that seemed to suck in the light from the candles. The silence was thick and the air pulsed with the tension of every held breath.
A hand slowly emerged from the blackness.
The nail of each digit was dagger-like and they all possessed a dark blue tinge at the base. The fingers gripped the door frame, sharp tips scrapping the wooden surface. The lethal image it created chilled Demas. He gulped.
“Hezekiah! My boy.” The woman, ecstatic, rushed to her son at the very moment he pulled himself into the light.
“No—” Demas admonition died on his lips.
The surprisingly sane looking young man of about twenty hugged his mother back. Demas would have sworn all was well with the boy if not for his horrifying finger nails.
“Mother, I have missed you.” Hezekiah said as he patted her shawl covered head.
With his mother’s gaze averted by the embrace, a demented grin suddenly stretched Hezekiah’s face. His eyes turned pitch black as he watched all seven brothers with the cold calculation of a predator.
Demas was shaken, but he refused to let it show. The young man appeared calm and wild at the same time. It was like something was dying to be let out but at the same time willing to wait.
“You brought visitors?” His voice was breathy, like he was actually excited to see them. “You should have told me they were coming.”
Demas blinked in surprise when his eyes suddenly changed to its normal brown colour. The predatory look equally vanished.
The woman leaned back and looked at her son’s face, cradling it in her palms. “You were…” The woman paused, as if in search for the right word. “…sick. But now you are better. Thank Yahweh.”
She turned to Demas and his brothers. “He is better! The markings are gone. Look at him, my boy is back.”
Amos, one of the twin, walked up to him and whispered, “The boy is heavily possessed.” Amos was the one with the clearest spiritual eye. Demas agreed with him. The demon in the boy was stronger than anything he had ever encountered in all his years of exorcism.
“Step away from him.” Demas directed the sharp command at the woman.
She turned to him, brows furrowed. “Why? He is okay.” Returning her gaze to her son, her frown deepened. “Hezekiah?
His eyes were black again. The woman let her hands drop from his face. “Are you okay?”
“Okay?” The word came as a deep baritone, a stark contrast to the boy’s mellow tone. At the sound, his mother attempted to detach herself from the embrace she initiated. She failed.
“Help me.” She pleaded, wide eyes darting to Demas.”
“Step into the basin in the name of Yahweh,” Demas commanded the demon with a strong voice.
Hezekiah cocked his head, watching the seven of them with the same calculated look in those black depths. His gaze dropped to the basin. “What did you say?” He asked, still holding the struggling woman in a death grip.
“I said step into the basin in the name of Yahweh,” Demas repeated in an even stronger voice.
Hezekiah curled his lips into a snarl and in a blink, he flung his mother aside. Her small frame soared through the air before slamming against the wall. She crumpled to the floor with a dull thud and went limp. Demas winced.
“Come to that?” He asked then laughed. The sound was loud and full of mockery.
Demas second guessed himself. Perhaps he was wrong. I should flee while I ca—no! He was a son of Sceva, his first born son at that. He would never run. “Brothers, now.”
The rest stepped forward, three at each side. Moving with fluidity that years of experience afforded them, they withdrew thin scrolls held at the sash of their robes. They read the words contained in unison, their voices blending and rising with each verse. After the reading, they waited.
The demon had to obey. Demas was sure if it.
At last Hezekiah lifted his eyes, trapping Demas in that same mocking stare. “I should step in?”
Demas refused to reply the vermin. He would not defile himself by uttering another word until he was submerged in the holy water. The basin was big enough to fit a grown man if he bent his knees a bit. It would contain Hezekiah just fine.
Demas nearly sighed when the demon conceded.
After taking careful steps over the salt lines that formed the star of David, Hezekiah settled into the water, sighing deeply as he did so. When he rested his back against the rim of the basin, he turned in their direction and flashed a slow, wicked grin. “So, what next?”
“Bro-brother, I think—”
“Shut up, Esli.” Demas snapped. “Do not be the weak link. Bring the silver.” With an eagle sharp gaze, he watched his youngest brother walk up to the small chest and pull out a sizable bag of coins. Esli was the tallest amongst them, but it seemed his height made him the physical embodiment of awkwardness. He walked with a slight tilt to the right and was caught frequently mumbling to himself.
When Esli finally brought the bag to him, Demas grabbed it and stepped forward. The possessed man leaned forward and gripped the edge of the basin with clawed fingers. He slowly bowed his head, preventing Demas from seeing his face.
There was absolutely no reason to pour the coins in the water but Demas did it anyway. It was a thing of show for the benefit of whoever paid for their services. The people had to belief their money was in a way being used for a holy service. Even if the young man’s mother was lying unconscious at the corner of the room, Demas still poured the coin in, just in case she came to herself before the session was over.
He beckoned to his brothers to step forward. They did so promptly, each keeping their face solemn with palms held up and facing the ceiling. Six of them stood at each point of the star of David while Demas drew a perfect circle around it with salt, chanting as he did so. With one voice, all the brothers began mumbling the ancient psalms of exorcism along with him. Surely, the demon residing in the man would fully manifest itself soon.
At the instant the last word left their lips, Hezekiah’s head snapped up. Each eye appeared wilder and so bloodshot they looked entirely black. The water he sat in rippled in circles and the light from the candles swayed as the demon stared at them all.
“You insult me.” His voice was deeper, a hash abrasive sound much like scrapping from a bottomless well.
Demas ignored his statement, suddenly feeling smug that the demon was fully out. He looked him straight in the eyes. “What is your name?”
“He insults me then asks what my name is. What should I do to them?” The demon questioned with an unamused chuckle, the predatory glint returning to his eyes.
Demas felt a thicker kind of fear creep up his spine.
The demon stretched his host lips with a slow, menacing smile. “I and myself have agreed to answer your question. I must be in good spirit.” He chuckled darkly then suddenly bit back the sound. “Mel’tek of a thousand hordes is my name.” He glowered at Demas and snarled. “What is yours?”
Demas ignored his question. “Come out in the name of Yahweh.”
His brothers turned to him, eyes going round and jaws slacking. That had never occurred in all their years of exorcism. Around the first period they started the business of exorcism, after coming across a particular ferocious demon, they had promised themselves never to deal with what was beyond their capability. They were to leave immediately and not linger for a moment. As it seemed, they had already lingered enough.
The look the demon was shooting their way—that cold glint that promised torment caused whatever courage he had left to disappear in a poof. He felt exposed. If a demon could reply with such audacity, then there was definitely nothing to be done but to flee.
“You appear surprised.” The demon grinned, exposing teeth that suddenly looked shaper. “And I cannot help but notice you are yet to tell me your name. I believe I asked politely.”
Demas witnessed, with a cold chill, as the hand that gripped the edge of the basin squeezed. Deep imprints dented the iron surface.
“Brothers, let us leave. There is nothing that can be done here.” He turned to leave but halted when he heard a whimper. It was the woman; she had pulled herself to a sitting position, gripping her head as she cried silently.
“I gave you the money.” She sniffed. “I can even give you all of it. Please, free my boy.”
“There is nothing we can do!” Demas shouted before motioning for the rest to begin packing their supplies. This was a mistake. At the very moment she mentioned markings, he should have shown her the door.
“That was all I needed.”
They all paused at Mel’tek’s words.
The woman’s frightened whimper was the only sound that pierced the ensuing silence.
“You broke the line.”
Demas looked down and saw what the demon meant, but he still did not understand.
“A pathetic exorcist you are. You broke a line after a demon had submitted itself to you. How careless.” He laughed and right before their eyes, a change began.
Black lines mapped their way from the bottom of his eyes and spread downwards. It was like the man was shedding black tears in straight lines that made its way over his body like fast slithering snakes. In no time his skin was a canvas of lines that branched about at different odd angles.
The sight was so terrifying and awe-inspiring that Demas and every single one of his brothers simply stared. When he finally snapped out of his initial shock, he slowly turned to the door. Demas jumped when it slammed shut. The light from the candle flickered, dancing about as though there was a draft. His brothers were still staring with agape mouth.
The man stood.
Water cascaded down a body that appeared abnormally large, thick cords of muscles looking like those of those bull-like roman wrestlers. And the marks did little to lessen his paralysing effect; they ran across his entire body, even seeming to darken the skin around his eyes.
“Go ahead, rebuke me.” A crooked smile exposed a flash of sharp looking canines.
Demas stumbled back, shaking with fright despite himself. He raked his mind for an answer. When one came, he hoped with all that was in him that it worked. He was desperate and very ready to use any means to escape. There had been a certain Paul that went about casting out demons in the Name of Jesus for free. Surely, the power had to be behind the name alone. Demas gave it a trial.
“I command you in the name of Jesus, whom Paul preaches, to come out!”
The demon, paused mid-step then threw his head back and laughed. His eyes shone with dark excitement as he took in the sight of his brothers. His gaze finally rested on him. Tapping his chin with a clawed finger, he cocked his head and frowned. “Jesus I know, Paul I know. But, who are you?”
When Mel’tek lunged, Demas screamed like a little girl.
The demon’s glistening talons was all Demas saw before the sharp pain pierced his side, gripping then flinging him over his shoulder. As he soared through the air, for a single moment, he took in the sight. Everything seemed the go still; the frozen look of horror contorting the faces of his brothers, and the woman pressed to a corner with wide watery eyes fixed on him.
Demas slammed to the ground, pain exploding at his wounded side upon impact. His jaw clamped over his tongue as he skidded and collided with the opposite wall. The coppery taste of blood flooded his mouth. He groaned and tried hard to blink away the stars that dotted his vision. The demon was heading his way.
“I and myself would enjoy this. It has been a while since we had so many toys to play with.”
Demas groaned again and fought to sit up. A slow flow of blood was steadily soaking his side. He managed to spit out the blood in his mouth then gritted his teeth.
“I shocked you all to silence.” His gravel-like voice held a proud tilt that seemed to snap his brothers out of their stupor. They rushed at Mel’tek.
If the demon heard the sound of their approach, he did not let it stop his leisurely gait or wipe his grin for that matter.
When the first of his brothers, Joanan, got to him, Mel’tek slapped him away with a vicious backhand. Joanan slammed into the rest, causing them to tumble to the floor in a heap of limbs and confusion.
Mel’tek finally stopped in front of Demas and grabbed fistfuls of his robe. Lifting him clean off the floor, he stared at Demas with those black eyes. Demas blinked to tear himself from the hypnotic feeling it evoked.
“You are a foolish, foolish human and I will enjoy teaching you a lesson tonight.” Mel’tek smirked. Fangs flashed. “I have a sweet feeling generations to come would read of this moment and laugh.”
Demas trembled. He could see it—sense it even. Mel’tek meant every word. The treat in his coal black eyes… the way his muscles seemed to move like something was roiling beneath the stretched skin.
The woman whimpered in the background and Mel’tek snapped his attention to her. “You want to see something entertaining, mother?”
Mel’tek turned to him with fire in his gaze. “I would show you anyway.” His voice deepened as a fierce scowl contorted his face.
Demas gulped. His brothers had gotten to their feet, but instead of coming to his aid, they rushed for the door. The blow of their betrayal could have hurt him if his terror wasn’t doing a better job.
“Don’t bother with the door.” The demon said with his lethal gaze still pinned on Demas. “None of you can leave until I am done…until I get what I want.”
His brothers paid no heed to the demon’s words. They clamoured for the door, each fighting to get through. The door remained shut, refusing to budge.
Mel’tek chuckled again, then turned with Demas still in his grip. His sharp nails rent the garment as he pulled him forward, hardly allowing his foot gaze the floor. He stopped when he was fairly close to where his brothers still pressed against the door.
“Look at me.” Mel’tek commanded.
They obeyed, each reluctantly turning to face him.
“I told you, you insult me. I might take it kindly but I cannot say the same about myself.
“I have encountered many, many exorcists but I have never come across a band as pathetic as you lot.” The demon spat and grabbed at the band across Demas’s forehead. The thing snapped away with a burn before the demon chucked it into a dark corner of the room.
Through the blur of his sight, Demas saw his brothers foolishly take threatening steps forward. Their pride would kill them.
“Why don’t you come at me?”
Don’t take the bait.
“Seven”—he looked down at Demas then shook his head—”six against one. Your number is far greater.”
Then they foolishly took the bait.
They rushed forward, bounding at Mel’tek with a mixture of fear and determination alight in their stupid—stupid eyes.
The demon stood firm, twisted his neck with a pop then loosened his shoulders. He swiftly grabbed the first that got to him by the lapel of his robe; it was Joanan. Slamming him to the ground, he snatched another. Levi’s scream was muffled by the clawed hand that held his face. Mel’tek refused to let go even as the rest crashed into him. He remained an unyielding wall as he received showers of blows and kicks.
Finally seeming to get bored of their antics, he threw his arm in a wide arc. “I will take your strength.” Kenan and Amos went flying. “I will take your pride. “He carelessly flung Levi aside, discarding his body like a used towel. “I will bless the eyes of the world with the shame of your nakedness.” Esli was the last standing. He trembled before the demon, eyes going wide as he mumbled and tilted farther to the right.
Get away, boy.
Mel’tek rushed forward and grabbed Esli by his arm. The boy wailed and attempted to struggle free. The demon laughed, lifting their youngest brother by the tattered remains of his robe and flinging him about. Esli’s arms went slack as his tall frame hit the floor over and over.
At the sight, rage tore through Demas. He sprung to his feet and rushed at Mel’tek. Without turning, the demon easily clamped a large hand around his neck, stopping him dead on his track. His claws dug in. Demas eyes budged as his air supply was cut short.
“You shouldn’t have come here, but the money tempted you.” When Mel’tek turned to him, his eyes promised pain. “You have given us a gift.”
Just as Demas tried to make sense of his statement, he was smashed to the ground right next to a very still Esli. Was he dead?
Then it all turned for the worse. The candles flickered and went out… then the flames awoke again. As the cycle continued, horrified shouts filled the room. Claws ripped through his skin, shredding his clothes in the process. Mel’tek tossed him upon the floor, upon his brothers, and upon the basin. Water splashed. Confusion. It was as if he was going mad. Nothing made sense.
The pain was maddening. Every joint burned and his skin sang with the agony of numerous wounds. And blood… it was the only cloth still clinging to his body. Everything he had worn—the elaborate robes, Persian sandals, his perfectly woven silken sash—everything was destroyed. Now he lay naked on the floor, slipping on blood as he dragged his battered body towards the door.
He knew it was futile, yet he hoped like a fool that the door would open when he reached it.
Just a little bit more.
The candles flicked off again. When the warm amber glow returned, Mel’tek was there, grinning down at him like a friendly demon from sheol.
“Have you learned? Be glad I killed none of you.” Then he stood, strolling to the door and opening it with flourish.
“I believe there is an audience awaiting a parade.”
Demas, looked beyond the door. People had indeed gathered. They would see him naked. No. He turned to his brothers and to his everlasting shame, they were also lacking any sliver of attire.
“Get out.” The demon’s voice was like a whip.
They pulled themselves to their feet. Demas noticed Esli. He stood straighter and with almost impossible ease. It seemed as though his body had received no damage from the bashing Mel’tek dealt him.
I will consider that later. Face this humiliation now.
When they stepped out, the shame was like a blanket—a blanket that offered no covering. They walked past donkeys pulling burdens, Roman soldiers speaking in their accursed tongue, and poor people—poor people everywhere laughing at them.
Mel’tek revelled in the silence, sitting on the floor with folded legs as he looked through the eyes of the new host. When his lid flew open, he settled coal black eyes on the small figure at the corner. She stood.
“Fools.” She smirked as her eyes reflected the same black glint in Mel’tek’s. “You did well.”
“I know.” Mel’tek grinned. “Esli would be changing family soon.”
She chuckled, the sharp sound far removed from the trembling woman she pretended to be moments ago. “Make him meet us at the border of Jerusalem. We head East at the setting of the sun.”
“Yes, Myself,” Mel’tek answered with a bow then shut the door with a soft thud.
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