5. Fast food & Exorcisms
Carrowsville isn’t much to speak of, but big enough to boast one cheap motel at the north end a with strip mall across from it, making it the largest town we’ve seen all day. We arrange for three motel rooms with cash and I gas up the car while the magician goes into the Subway and comes back with fifteen subs in three bags, handing them all over to me.
“Wake Jay. Eat, talk. I’m going to circle the town and see who is following us.”
“I can look after myself,” he says dryly, then offers up a grin that takes at least five years from his eyes and is simply not in front of me, vanishing between moments.
“Show off,” I say, then open the back and shake Jay away. He wakes in a moment, sniffs the subs in the air and then stiffens.
“He’s gone for a walk to see if he can draw out anything weird I think. And pointed out he can take care of himself. And we can take care of each other. Capeesh?”
He bites his lower lip tight, ignoring his stomach’s gurgles and the subs entirely as he scans the parking lot before reluctantly following me into the first motel room. The rooms are cheap double-bed affairs that are just two single beds rammed together, bathrooms with a shower stall, sink and toilet. No TVs, not even a radio in them, but they are clean and that was all I cared about. I toss the subs on the bed; Jay waits for me before sitting on the bed and wolfs down four subs like something on the nature channel or a McDonalds patron before surfacing, gulping back pop and eating two more as I finish one.
He begins eating a seventh at a pace entirely human and pauses with it half-eaten, staring up at me.
“Stomach acting up?”
He rolls his eyes at that. “No, I feel – full?” he says, poking his stomach a couple of times before looking back up. “Like I don’t need to eat more food?”
“That is being full, yes.”
“I know that, I mean – do you want it,” he says, offering the half-sub almost shyly.
I take it and thank him, and receive a huge grin in reply; he’s still trying to grasp the world, and has a lot of confusion with gifts, mostly because there doesn’t seem to be such a thing where he is from and because the idea of them not being bindings baffles him to no end. I plan on letting the magician explain Christmas to him.
“I –,” he begins, the pauses, head cocking to the left. “Do you hear?”
“Hear which?” I say, catching nothing unusual, the god inside me not stirring at all.
“I don’t know? I think I am being talked to?”
I begin to ask who is talking when my ears pop. Nothing else happens; Jay just looks puzzled and rubs his own ears. A gesture gets him to go still as I stand and walk to the door, opening it a crack to find an older man standing in the parking spot outside the suite. A long black robe is straining to hold his stomach in and the old man’s few wisps of hair hang from his head like dead spider’s webs as he sways in place, sweat beading his face.
“This place is cleansed,” he says, voice wavering. “I have spoken the rite of blessing, exorcised the demon from this world. You are safe.”
I pause. He’s not a priest: I know that in the way I know it when I see a god, when I catch traces of power around someone. Whatever touched him is spent and gone and seems to have done nothing at all. But he was sent here, used, and so I open the door further.
“We have subs,” I say, “if you’re hungry.”
“What?” he says.
“Food?” Jay says, beside me between moments.
“You said you were full.”
“Not all the way,” he says firmly. “I have room for chocolate.”
The old man gestures with his right hand and begins chanting in something that’s probably Latin. I feel nothing, and Jay just looks confused.
“By the power of the Holy I cast you out, vile demon!”
Jay goes still beside me. I feel it as much as see it, my gaze drawn to him without conscious will. His eyes are almost colourless, veins visible under his ashen face, but his voice is glacially calm when he speaks: “I am not a demon.”
The old man stumbles back as the words. There is no power threading into them like a magician does, or the nastiness of a god-monster that I can call up, just a clear, brutal certainty that nothing human has ever known. He spins and bolts from the parking lot a moment later, fleeing the motel for the bright lights of the mall before it closes, whatever moment he had entirely lost.
He turns his head slowly to look up at me and for a moment I think he doesn’t know me before colour returns to his eyes, a flush spreading across his face.
“Are you all right?”
He shakes his head and bolts inside and onto the other bed, ignoring the subs entirely to dive under the bed in fear.
I walk inside and close the door, standing near the bed. “I’m not angry at you, Jay.”
“Promithe?” he says in a small voice.
“Yes. Please?” I sit down on the bed and wait.
He crawls out the other side and then is sitting beside me, head buried in my side and letting out small pained whimpers. I wrap my arms around him carefully and he buries his head into my side and trembles for a good five minutes, sucking on his right thumb without even noticing. I pull it from him mouth when he sits back and he doesn’t even notice for a second, then stares at it and up at me with a stricken look on his face.
“It’s okay to be scared,” I say.
“I wathn’t thcared. I wath thcary,” he says slowly, as if hunting down esses and forcing himself to speak them. “It’th like thomeone elthe thpoke, but it was thtill me.”
“That does happen. You okay?”
“Would more hugs help?”
“Yeah?” he asks, and snuggles into me a moment later, taking deep care not to end up sucking his thumb and saying nothing else at all.
“It hurt,” he offers up a time, “like a crack in a window. It hurt like it hurt but didn’t hurt enough, for me to do that. To have that voice?”
“Could you do it again?”
“I hope not,” he says so firmly all I can do is laugh. “What?” he demands, pulling away.
“Most people don’t refuse power.”
“I’m not a people, and power …. it meanth you have to keep otherth weak and I’m weak enough,” he says, and looks about to add more but lets out a huge yawn and passes out a moment later right into my lap.
I push him off and wrap him in blankets, shove his head under the pillow and take a cautious sniff of the air. He still smells human-weak, as if he hadn’t done anything at all earlier; what he has done was more than a voice but it seems to have slipped away from me even as he did it in the way dreams can slide out from under you and lose what little sense they had.
I can feel the god inside me waiting to wake; I try not to draw it up in front of Jay, since I scare him when he sees what I can do, and if I did now – I have no idea what would notice, so I hold it inside carefully and listen to the world with merely human senses. And get jack all for the effort. I can eat gods, but I don’t sense them until they do things to me or I’m almost on top of them. I think I can get better at that, but it would involve eating more gods.
So I haven’t, for all sorts of reasons, and the god-monster in me mostly offers aid only when I call it up. Jay was never human; I’m not sure how long I’ll remain human, or if some day I will call up its power and not be able to rein it back in. The magician says its possible but nothing else; not if it will happen, or when – or what he might do when I change. We are dancing, but neither of us know to what song or measure and I’d lay good money on the magician having never danced at all before but I’d probably be wrong about it.