The wind nearly blew the old Cadillac off of the road. It pushed at the car as Alex struggled to keep it on the road. This is insane… I shouldn’t be out driving like this.
He looked over to see Tersa shivering and rubbing her hands together. He immediately switched on the heat and adjusted it for her, “Put your hands under the vent.”
Alex continued up the road until he came upon something that he had not expected. On the opposite side of the road, sat a silver 1978 Oldsmobile Starfire Firenza. Alex scoffed as he looked at it, “Jeez, you drive that?”
“Yes, it’s my father’s. I was borrowing it until mine got out of the shop.”
“Why would your father be driving that?” Alex asked.
Tersa looked at him sheepishly as she responded, “He’s had it since he met my mom. He’s kept it up and refuses to trade it in. None of us have the heart to tell him that it’s a piece of junk.”
“Maybe he’ll listen now.”
Alex pulled up behind the old car and got out. With nary a thought to the rain pouring down on him, he opened the driver’s side door to the old Firenza and popped the hood. The car responded with a small clanking sound.
Alex pulled the hood up and looked at the engine. To his surprise, it was actually in decent shape and very clean. No doubt that Tersa’s father thought it was a classic.
Tersa came up next to him as he inspected the engine, “It has no power, could it be the battery?”
“Possibly, let me see…”
Alex pushed at the battery slightly to take a look at the wires hooked up to it. He shook his head, “I don’t see how… rain water shouldn’t affect it. Do you have jumper cables?”
Alex scratched his head, “Unfortunately neither do I.”
The look of worry returned to Tersa’s face, “What am I going to do now? I can’t call for help, I can’t get home…”
Alex really just wanted to get back in doors, “All right, let’s get back to the house. We’ll figure out what to do from there.”
“Are you sure you’re okay with that? I mean clearly you don’t remember me…”
“I’m sure.” Alex replied, once again perplexed by her word choice. “Its either that or you can wait out here in the rain and the dark.”
“Okay, you’ve got a point.”
Tersa slid back into Alex’s car and continued rubbing her hands. Alex got back behind the wheel and put the car in drive. He kept looking over at Tersa to see if her expression had changed. She had calmed down a little, but she still seemed uneasy.
The ride back was completely silent and somewhat awkward. Alex wanted to ask her how she knew him, but didn’t think it was the right moment. He was finally granted some relief when they pulled into the driveway and slid the car into the narrow garage.
The lights went out and they were once again embraced by total darkness. Alex got out first and grabbed the candles as Tersa’s door opened. He beckoned to her to head for the house while he closed up the garage.
Once everything was secure, Alex joined her at the front stoop and opened the door, “All right, go on in.”
Tersa stepped through the door into the main foyer between the living and basement levels of the house. She stood shivering for a moment as she stripped off her raincoat. Alex pulled off his soaked shirt, leaving him in a white undershirt that was not much better off.
Even with a raincoat on, Tersa had been drenched to the bone. Her clothes hugged her figure. She was a healthy, somewhat athletic build. Her legs were well toned and she clearly took care of herself.
Her hair was matted to her head, but he now had a clearer view of her face. Her demeanor was innocent albeit mystical and her brow curled in an almost sinister way. She returned his gaze, waiting for instruction.
Alex beckoned her up the stairs to the main sitting area where the fireplace was. The fire was still vibrantly burning and enenating enough heat to fill the house. A gentle orange glow lit up the room.
Tersa knelt in front of the flame and stretched out her hands. Though she was slightly warming up, she was still shaking. Alex noticed and turned to his room, “Wait here.”
Tersa nodded as he disappeared down the dark hall and returned with a heavy brown robe, “Here, you may want to change out of those wet clothes.”
Tersa eyed him suspiciously. He could have sworn that, for a moment, Tersa’s eyes were glowing, but he dismissed it as the effect of the fire as she spoke, “You know, my father will kick your ass if he finds out.”
“Would he rather you got sick?”
“He’d probably view that as a convenient excuse.”
Tersa smiled as she took the robe from him and went into the nearby bathroom to change. It was the first time that he had seen her smile, at least that he remembered. He was now certain that he’d seen her before.
The moment she was out of sight, the hair stood up on the back of Alex’s neck. He’d sworn that he’d heard a voice on the other side of the wall to his house, “We’re near…we’re coming… we’re close…”
Could it have been the wind slamming against the house? Possibly, but then why was he so spooked? He hadn’t felt this way since… since that horrible day in Rome. He’d never forget it, the day that he lost his faith and left the seminary.
Be silent… be silent… come on, Alex, calm your nerves!
Movement out of the corner of Alex’s eye made him jump and he quickly turned in its direction. His eyes scanned the darkness as a bare leg from the knee down stepped into view. It was only Tersa.
Alex sighed as he let down his defenses and quieted his nerves. She moved closer to the fire and sat down in front of it to warm up, “I left the clothes in your bathtub. I didn’t know where else to put them.”
“I really appreciate you letting me dry off.”
“Don’t mention it… especially to your father.”
They both chuckled as the tension left the room. Alex looked at her quizzically as she struggled to dry her hair, “How do you know me? Who are you?”
Tersa stopped fiddling with her hair and looked down at the ground. A saddened expression came over her face, “You really don’t remember me do you?”
“I… I’m sorry, I don’t.”
Tersa shrugged, “It’s okay, I shouldn’t have expected any better.”
Alex watched her as she slowly released a breath and spoke, “I was two years behind you at Windsted High School. We were both invited to the same party, Henry McCallister’s, you remember?”
“How could I not…?”
“Well we were both having a good time, though that was the first time that I ever really noticed you. Then someone brought a whole case of booze… beer and a lot of stronger stuff.”
Alex nodded, “Yeah I remember. The party got out of control. Henry’s house was trashed.”
“Everyone went nuts… except you.”
“I did what I had to.”
Tersa looked up into Alex’s eyes, “You did more than that. You were the adult at this party and tried to get as many people home safly as you could. You… you took me and my friend’s home. No matter how irrational and out of control any of us were, you never raised your voice or got angry.”
Alex thought back to the party, “Yeah… for all the good it did me. After the third trip, the police were called. I spent the night in jail until my mother was called to get me.”
Tersa frowned, “I know, my father was the arresting officer. When I found out what happened, I begged and pleaded with him not to file charges against you.”
“So that explains why I got a call the next day being told that I was off the hook.”
“That’s right.” Tersa replied. “I didn’t want you punished for being a good guy. I asked my father not to say anything and just make it go away. It took some work, but he did.”
Alex couldn’t be sure if it was the flame reflecting on her cheeks, but it almost looked like she was blushing, “I guess I kind of crushed on you after that, but you were always Mr. Popular. It was like you had a peremeter of friends around you to keep away people like me.”
“It wasn’t like that.”
“No, I know, but that’s how it felt. I actually told some of my friends that I wanted to ask you to the Sophmore Semi, but my friends said that I was crazy. They said you would just laugh at me.”
“I wouldn’t have laughed.”
Tersa shook her head, “No, I didn’t think you would either, but back then I just didn’t have the confidence to approach you. Then you began talking about being a priest… so I pretty much gave up.”
Alex shrugged, “Well I never became a priest.”
“Yeah I know… I read your book.”
“All of them actually.”
Tersa frowned, “I don’t know, it seemed like you were damaged. The things that happened to your main characters were very mean spirited and the endings always gave me the feeling of hopelessness. It’s like you lost your soul.”
Alex smiled faintly, “You got all that from my books?”
“Can I ask you a question, now that I’ve answered yours?”
“What happened to you in Rome?”
“It’s a long story…”
“I’m not going anywhere anytime soon by the looks of things.”
Alex rubbed his forehead and reached into his pocket for a cigarette. He just realized that it had been at least an hour since he’d had one. He lit the end and took a long drag.
Tersa shook her head, “Ugly habit, did what happened cause this too?”
“So tell me.”
Alex sighed, “Well I guess I’ve got to tell someone… I saw hell.”
“I guessed that.”
“No I mean I actually saw hell.”
Tersa sat quietly as Alex finally unloaded his story, “A young woman came to the Vatican. Her name was Liliana… she was speaking in tounges and lashing out at everyone. The doctors said that she had some form of schizophrenia and narcolepsy. It wasn’t.”
“What was it?”
The light flickered off of Alex’s face as he spoke, giving him a sinister look, “Adramelech… the ancient Assyrian God.”
Another faint whisper caused both of them to look towards the window. Their eyes nervously scanned the window for a few moments until they were convinced that nothing was there. Tersa looked back into the flames, “What happened?”
“At first, nothing. I was called in because I was an exorcist in training and the church thought that a little field experience would help. We stood over her chanting the words of the Roman Ritual over and over again. As she struggled against her restrains.”
Tersa noticed the pain in his eyes as he spoke, “But then… I’ll never forget it… her eyes began to glow a disgusting yellow, her face distorted into something that wasn’t even human, and her smile… that will be with me forever. Adramelech showed us his true power. He broke free and attacked the exorcist. He was so quick… we couldn’t interfere in time. That creature… it killed Father Gonzaga.”
Alex shook his head, “God wasn’t with us in that room. It fell to me to take over… I said the chants over and over. I helped restrain her as I doused her in Holy Water over and over. She was just a child… she didn’t deserve that.”
Tersa touched his hand, “What happened?”
“I saw hell in her eyes and couldn’t continue. The exorcism was called off the moment another priest arrived. She went back into the care of her doctors.”
Tears filled Alex’s eyes, “She died two days later of internal hemorrhaging. That beast tore her apart from the inside.”
The fire flickered through Tersa’s eyes. She didn’t seem bothered at all by the story, “It didn’t end there, did it?”
“Why do you care so much?”
“Maybe because you look like you really needed to let this out?”
Alex sighed. She was right and he knew it, “Fair enough, no it didn’t end there. It’s bad enough that the doctors tried to accuse the church of wrongdoing, but since then… I’ve been having nightmares. Dark ones like nothing I’ve ever seen… and sometimes… I’m not sleeping when they happen.”
Tersa turned so that she was no longer facing the flames anymore, “I wish that I could say something to help, but to be honest, I know what you’re talking about.”
“You do, how?”
“I’ve had nightmares since I was a child.”
“No, not really, they’ve gotten worse as I’ve gotten older, but they’re manageable.”
“What do you think they mean?”
Tersa shook her head, “I don’t know. My mother used to say it was because of when she found out that she was pregnant with me.”
“I don’t get it…”
Tersa turned back toward the flame, “Niether do I. She wouldn’t talk about it. She just said to try to ignore them.”
“Your mother sounds like a somewhat… interesting character.”
Tersa smiled, “Weird you mean.”
“I didn’t say that.”
“Well you’d be right if you did. How do you think I ended up with the name Tersa? She thought that if she gave me a name like Heather or Julie, I would just blend in and never be anything special.”
A small smirk appeared at the edge of Tersa’s lips as she looked at Alex, “A lot of good it did me.”
Alex sat back and yawned, “It’s getting late… listen… since I’m in town for a few days. Maybe once you get home and get cleaned up, we can try to solve your mystery?”
“Sure… maybe it’ll help make the nightmares go away.”
Tersa nodded, “I’d like that.”
“Good.” Alex replied as they stood up. “Come on, I’ll show you to the spare room.”
Tersa stood up and followed Alex down the hall, “You know that I’m only agreeing to this because I’m completely stranded right?”
“Just so we’re clear. I don’t go around sleeping at strange guys houses.”
“Good. Hopefully this storm will be cleared up in the morning.”
Alex turned and headed to his room to curl up and go to sleep when a hand touched his shoulder. He turned back to look at Tersa. A sympathetic look appeared in her eyes, “I was really sorry to hear about your mother’s passing. My mother used to have lunch with her all the time.”
“Have a good night.”