SEVEN

Jerusalem 38 A.D.

Demas drummed stubby fingers on the polished table surface and flatly stared at the distraught woman seated in front of 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 brow. He had only heard of markings but never seen it happen.

“He… he doesn’t attack anybody. I move him about and 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 stifle her sobs, her face contorting 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 bear 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 white 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 for the two years.”

Her tears didn’t spark an ember of sympathy in Demas heart. All he caught 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 face before nodding. “T-thank you.”

If only she knew what was coming next, she’d keep her gratitude. Strolling to the open window of the little attending room, Demas observed the bustling street of Jerusalem; donkeys pulling burdens, Roman soldiers walking past and speaking in their accursed tongue, and poor people—poor people everywhere.

Though Demas’ father was the chief priest whose livelihood had to be maintained by the offering the people, he and his six brothers had since devised a means to create wealth. Knowledge was a liberator—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 and purifying homes.

The act of exorcism, though complicated and risky, was possible to learn. 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 spread the news of his free service to other poor people like herself and before he could blink, they would flood his attending room, asking for free exorcism the same way they did for a certain Jesus of Nazareth. He chuffed and turned away from the busy street.

“Twenty pieces of silver.”

The widow’s reaction was instant. Face paling, she gawked at him with wide shocked eyes. Demas maintained his stoic expression as he settled into his seat. Pity his heart was 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 will die if he is not freed f-from t-that.” She released loud sobs and doubled over, hands trembling as her hair fell like stringy curtains 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 within him. Rising to his feet, Demas marched to the door and snatched it open. “Get out!”

Miskar?” She looked up, disbelief crossing her pale features.

“I said, get out.” Demas stabbed a finger at the busy street. “You know what we use the money for yet you kneel, weeping for sympathy?”

“I—”

“Enough! I wouldn’t even take nineteen pieces of silver. You have stated your problem, I was gracious enough to listen and now you cry 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.”

The widow wiped her tears with the threadbare sleeves of her robe; it would even seem her waterworks had done an excellent job in cleaning her filthy face. Standing shakily, she clutched both hands before her chest and looked up. All sadness disappeared from her eyes, hardness replacing it. “Gasmir has 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 a delay would kill Hezekiah.” With those words, she brushed past him.

When Demas shut the door, a broad smile stretched his heavily bearded face. He had marvellous news for his brothers.

~

Esli, Amos, Kenan, Joanan, Levi, Melki, and Demas, the seven sons of Sceva the high priest, walked down the street with shoulders high and ceremonial robes swishing around their sandaled feet.

The wide sleeves of the fine black garment had ancient Hebrew text embroidered with silk thread, and the hem had clusters of tassels soaked in lamb’s blood. On each of their heads, tied with a thick cord, was a small box containing miniature scrolls of the Torah. The small box was a helmet 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 wonder on the people’s faces whenever they passed by. They looked upon them like angels walking amongst men. He also lived for the money. He never told those he rendered his services that silver did absolutely nothing in the actual exorcism. To them, the silver was the backbone of the ritual. A sure means of getting people’s wealth was to make them 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. Held aloft in his grip was an iron oil lamp, its amber glow washing over the impoverished surroundings.

The thick smell of moss hung in the air. Demas wrinkled his nose and hoped the house was not defiled by the unclean type. “Knock.”

Esli made three sharp raps on the poor excuse of a door. A strong enough breeze could rip it off its hinges and hurl it across the room.

When Esli attempted to knock a second time, 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 the loud sound.

Yahweh protects us.

After waiting for a moment and nothing out of the ordinary occurred, Demas took a tentative step in.

Misker, you came.”

It was the widow who spoke. Though the room was dimly lit by a lone oil lamp that sat on a windowsill, Demas could still 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 sudden fierce desire to flee seized Demas. The description of her son’s symptoms was nothing like what he had 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 widow 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 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 demon the same way we’ve banished others.”

They obeyed, walking in carefully and looking about.

Demas motioned for the little servant boy who pulled the cart containing their equipment to come forward. “Bring it in.”

Once the boy offloaded the content of the cart, he rushed out of the house.

Being the first of his brothers, Demas stood aside and observed the rest prepare the place. Soon the room was awash in the bright yellow glow of several candles and he was finally able to take in the appearance of Gasmir’s widow.

She was seated on the floor in a corner, appearance haggard and exhausted. A black 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 lip trembling.

A wide basin of water was placed at the center 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. Face solemn, he stepped out of the star and gave his first order to the widow. “Bring him.”

This was a fragile moment each word and action had to be treated with utmost caution.

When the widow 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 yawning darkness that seemed to suck the light the candles provided. The silence grew thick and the air pulsed with the tension of every held breath.

A hand 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. That urge to flee returned but he gave it a fierce kick.

“Hezekiah! My boy.” The widow 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 fingernails.

“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. 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.

Demas was shaken.

“You brought visitors?” His voice had grown breathy like he was excited to see them. “You should have told me they were coming.”

Demas blinked in surprise when the boy’s eyes turned to a normal brown colour, the predatory look vanishing like it had never been there.

The widow leaned back and looked at her son’s face, cradling it in her palms. “You were…” She paused, as if in search of 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 twins, walked up to him and whispered, “The boy is heavily possessed.” Amos was the one with the clearest spiritual eye. Demas completely agreed with his conclusion. 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 widow.

She turned to him, brow furrowed. “Why? He is okay.” Returning her gaze to her son, her frown deepened. “Hezekiah?

His eyes were black again. The widow’s hands dropped from his face. “A-are you okay?”

“Okay?” The word came as a deep baritone, a stark contrast to the boy’s otherwise soft tone. At the unfamiliar sound, his widow attempted to pull away from the embrace she initiated but failed.

“Help me.” She turned wide pleading eyes to Demas.”

“Step into the basin in the name of Yahweh,” Demas commanded the demon with what he hoped was a strong voice.

Hezekiah cocked his head and watched the seven of them with that same calculating look in his black eyes. His gaze dropped to the basin. “What did you say?” He asked, still holding the struggling woman in a tight grip.

“I said step into the basin in the name of Yahweh,” Demas repeated in an even stronger voice.

Snarling, Hezekiah flung the widow aside. Her small frame sailed through the air before slamming against the wall. She crumpled, her face hitting the floor with a dull thud. Demas winced.

“Come to that?” Hezekiah said then laughed.

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 a fluidity that years of experience afforded them, they withdrew thin scrolls held at the sash of their robes and began reading the words contained in unison. Their voices blended and rose with each verse. After the reading, they waited.

The demon had to obey. Demas was sure of it.

At last, Hezekiah lifted his eyes and trapped Demas in that same mocking stare. “I should step in?”

Demas refused to respond. He would not defile himself by uttering another word until Hezekiah 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.

“Alright.”

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 worsened his 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 into the water but Demas did it anyway. It was a show for the benefit of whoever paid for their services. The people had to believe their money was in a way being used for holy service. Even if the young man’s mother was lying unconscious in 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 maintaining a solemn visage with their 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 went. 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.

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 had now returned.

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 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. “Mel’tek of a thousand hordes, I command you to come out in the name of Yahweh.”

“No.”

What?

Demas’ brothers turned to him, their eyes growing round and jaws slacking. That had never occurred in all their years of exorcism. 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 sharper. “And I cannot help but notice you are yet to tell me your name. I believe I asked politely.”

Demas witnessed, with dread, as the hand that gripped the edge of the basin squeezed. Deep imprints dented the iron surface.

too strong.

“Brothers, let us leave. There is nothing that can be done here.” Demas turned to leave but halted when he heard a whimper. It was the widow; she had pulled herself to a sitting position, gripping her head as she cried.

“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 widow’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.”

Right before their eyes, a change began.

Black lines mapped their way from the bottom of Mel’tek’s eyes and spread downwards. It was like the man was shedding black tears in straight lines that made their 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 his brothers simply stared. When he snapped out of his shock, he slowly turned to the door. It slammed shut. Demas flinched. The light from the candle flickered, dancing about as though there was a draught. His brothers were still staring with agape mouths.

Mel’tek stood.

Water cascaded down a body that appeared abnormally large, thick cords of muscles looking like those of bull-like roman wrestlers. And the marks did little to lessen the paralyzing effect of his appearance; they ran across his body and darkened the skin around his eyes.

“Go ahead, rebuke me.” A crooked smile exposed a flash of sharp-looking canines.

Impossible.

Demas stumbled back, trembling with a terror so raw he could taste it. He raked his mind, desperate for a way out. A possible solution came to mind. 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.

“I command you in the name of Jesus, whom Paul preaches, to come out!”

The demon paused mid-step and stared at Demas. Then he threw his head back and laughed to the ceiling. When he stopped laughing, his gaze roamed around his brothers. When his black eyes rested on Demas, he tapped his chin with a clawed finger, 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 were all Demas saw before burning pain pierced his side, gripping then flinging him over his shoulder. As he soared through the air, everything seemed the go still; the frozen look of horror contorting the faces of his brothers, the demented grin on the demon’s face, and the woman pressed to a corner with wide watery eyes fixed on him.

Demas slammed to the ground. 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, blinking away the stars that dotted his vision.

Mel’tek headed his way with unhurried steps.

“I and myself would enjoy this.” Mek’tek chuckled. “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 blinked at his blood-stained hand, unable to fully comprehend how badly the exorcism was going.

“I shocked you all to silence.” The demon’s gravelly 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 aside with a vicious backhand. Joanan slammed into the rest, causing them to tumble to the floor in a heap of limbs and confusion.

Stopping in front of Demas, Mel’tek grabbed fistfuls of his robe and lifted him off the floor. He stared into Demas’s soul. “You are a foolish, foolish human and I will enjoy teaching you a lesson tonight.” Mel’tek grinned. Fangs flashed.

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 widow whimpered in the background and Mel’tek snapped his attention to her. “You want to see something entertaining, mother?”

“No please…”

Mel’tek turned to him with fire in his gaze. “I would show you anyway.”

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 stung if his suffering 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 but the door remained shut.

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 to graze the floor. He stopped when he was close to where his brothers pressed against the door.

“Look at me,” Mel’tek commanded.

They all obeyed.

“I told you, you insult me. I may overlook your rudeness 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—” Meltek looked down at Demas then shook his head “—six against one. Your number is far greater.”

They foolishly took the bait.

All six of his brothers 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 grabbed the first that got to him by the lapel of his robe; it was Joanan. Flinging him aside, he snatched another. Levi’s scream was muffled by the clawed hand that gripped 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, Mel’tek 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. “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 grabbed Esli by his arm. The boy wailed and attempted to struggle free but the demon laughed. Lifting their youngest brother by the tattered remains of his robe, he flung 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. 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.

Escape.

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.

“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 reaped like a whip.

As they pulled themselves to their feet, Demas noticed Esli. He stood straighter 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 thin useless type that offered no covering or warmth. 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, he looked through the eyes of the new host, familiarizing himself with the new body. When Mel’tek’s lids flew open, he settled coal-black eyes on the small figure at the corner. She stood.

“Fools.” The widow 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 only 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 reverent bow.

The end.

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