"He's a software engineer, all right, and that job he did for the Mill messed him up real good, but it ain't his hand that got hurt... it was his soul."
Larry leaned back in his chair, happy to have a chance to show how knowledgeable he was. "See, he knew he done a good thing, saving all of those jobs, but then he thought about all the robots he put outta work, and all the robot makers he put outta work, and it tore him in two. On the one hand, no pun intended, he did this great thing, but on the other hand, he felt like he'd had to do something awful in the bargain. He felt like he had to do penance."
"So he wandered the Earth, traveling from New York Mills all the way to New Hartford, searching for redemption. And then, one day, he stumbled into this church, and the preacher there told him about this power bigger than him, about forgiveness an' redemption, and about a war bein' fought, a war for men's souls. A war between God and the Devil, between Heaven an' Hell. And Thomas, without a moment's hesitations, said 'sign me up.'"
"So he was a... priest?" Terry asked, incredulous that a man of the cloth could be such an imposing figure.
"Not jus' a priest," Larry said, slapping his hand on the table. "An exorcist!"
It was quiet, almost peaceful, but Thomas knew that the calm was a lie sent by the Devil himself. The Enemy was a crafty foe, a liar from the beginning, but Thomas was not ignorant of his devices. This was merely an effort to lull him into a false sense of security.
Just the calm before the storm.
He paused outside the door to Apartment Six, on the Sixth floor of Tower Six of the Fallen Angel Rental Complex. He shook his head; how had they not seen this coming?
But he reminded himself that it was only a short time ago that he, too, had been blind to the truth, ignorant to the spiritual war that raged around them all. He couldn't judge these poor people. He could only do his best to help them.
"You really don't need to do this," the Apartment Manager said. "I'm sure they'll be able to work things out on their own. You don't need to get involved."
"I'm afraid my hands are tied, Mr. Siefer, and I am duty bound."
"Please, call me Lou," the Manager said. He looked at the ground, then walked away, leaving Thomas to himself. Thomas muttered a brief prayer, then knocked on the door.
The door flew open, revealing a short, squat woman inside. "Mr. Thomas?" she asked.
"Yes, my child," he said to the older woman.
She looked him up and down, briefly overwhelmed. He was a tall man, with piercing blue eyes that hinted at a deep, hidden pain. He was dressed in black from head to toe, and was wrapped in a long coat which billowed around him dramatically, despite the lack of wind. In his left hand he clutched a Bible, the cover made of black leather and embroidered with a celtic cross.
"Thank you for coming, sir. My daughter... she is... not well. And I am told that you... may be the only one that can help her."
"I cannot help her," Thomas said serenely, "but I work for someone who can." His eyes traveled around the room, as if searching the air for hidden things. Finally, he turned his gaze back to the woman. "Take me to her."
The girl was tied down to her bed with sheets, a fact which obviously distressed her, given the way she thrashed about. Her long black hair was lank and unwashed, and her skin had taken on a sickly, gray color. Her eyes were bulging and bloodshot.
"You," she hissed in an unearthly voice. "I knew they would send you!"
Thomas looked back at the nervous mother. "Leave us," he said simply.
The exorcist addressed the possessed girl. "So we meet again, Mephistopheles! Have you not yet learned that Utica isn't safe for demons?"
"You boast now, human, but one day your faith will fail you, your hope will desert you, and your enemies will overcome you!"
"Perhaps, vile demon... but today is not that day!"
Boldly, Thomas strode into the room. "In nomine Patris, et Filii, et Spiritus Sancti," he intoned in practiced Latin, while tracing sigils in the air. The demon writhed.
He opened his Bile then, turning automatically to a familiar passage. "These signs shall follow them that believe," he said. "In my name shall they drive out demons..."
"No!" The fell beast cried...
The struggle lasted through the night, and into the early morning. Weary from battle, but determined to free the girl before him, Thomas offered up one final prayer, and then issued a command: "in the name of all things holy, demon, begone!"
The creature screeched and screamed, the sound of a million unclean things being torn asunder by even less clean things. The girl's body jerked and shook, and the demon came out of her, a vaporous apparition that flew around the room, seeking a body to inhabit.
Thomas' body was the only one available.
The evil thing flew at him, and Thomas raised his hand to defend himself, but the spirit latched on to him, possessing his hand. The appendage turned as black as night, and the demonic force began to creep up his arm.
"Never!" Thomas shouted, and through sheer force of will and belief, he drove the evil influence back down, constraining it to the two smallest fingers. With his free hand, he reached into his long coat, and drew a dagger.
"What is that?" the now free girl asked.
"The Sword of Saint Michael," Thomas replied. "The blade is made of the purest silver, forged in a sacred fire and quenched in holy water. The handle is carved from the bones of Jaques, the Patron of we who battle the forces of evil."
"The Sword of... but that's just a knife."
"It turns out," Thomas said, "that Michael is quite tiny."
Thomas walked over to the dresser and slammed his hand down flat. He uttered a silent prayer, closed his eyes, and raised his blade...
"And that," Larry said, "is how he lost them fingers. Gave them up in service to the Good Lord, he did."
"Larry," Bill said. Everyone looked at him; it was rare for the big man to speak, and when he did, people tended to listen. "That is the dumbest thing I ever heard. What kind of shlocky horror movie did you get that idea from? Yeah, he was a preacher, and sure, he did an exorcism here and there, but ain't no demon possessed two of his fingers. 'Sides, demons go for the left hand. Everyone knows that."
Bill finished his whiskey, and threw down another handful of peanuts. He thought for a moment, then continued. "Here's the rest of the story..."
Tune in tomorrow for Part Four of the Incredible Narrative of Thomas' Misplaced Appendages, The Mountain Missionary Rescue!