A priest is in the middle of a personal crisis when a killer lures him into a twisted world of moral corruption, cover-ups and revenge.
'It is commonly believed that a priest must be holy and virtuous to be an exorcist, and this is undoubtedly ideal; the more virtuous he is, the better. But strictly speaking, any priest can perform the rite of exorcism. Even priests who are not the most edifying can expel demons... though the exorcism may take longer."
-- Father Jose Antonio Fortea, Exorcist for the Catholic Church
Jake pulled himself upwards one agonizing branch at a time. It was clear Ty's comments about his belly roll approaching the size of a tire was more than harmless banter. Too much fry bread drenched in honey. It's back to the gym.
When he grabbed hold of the metal ribbing of the tree stand, it creaked. The surface was covered with rust, as was the bench meant to hold his full weight. He looked back at the ground.
If I fall from here, there are broken bones in my future.
Farther up the tree, two branches merged and looped. Appears sturdy with enough leaves to provide good cover. Shimmying his way to a seated position, Jake waited for his rapid pulse to subside. Being an avid bird-watcher, he kept a pair of compact binoculars in his utility belt. Panning the woods through the lenses, he homed in on the cabin, looking for any signs of movement. Where are you Pearce?
A flash of movement at one of the windows drew his eye. Shit! Ty wasn't lying to me.
The painted dog's eyes drew him in despite a raging urge to look away. Its muzzle contorted into a sinister smile, and Jake's brain buzzed with alarm. A disembodied metallic voice urged, “Get in your car and drive back to your safe life. No need for you to die today.”
The binoculars slipped from his hands and landed against his chest thanks to the leather strap around his neck. Jake fell forward and curled his arms around the branch to steady his violent shaking.
The Elders weren't lying. The devil dog is real and capable of casting spells.
A vision of himself, throat torn and life-blood soaking into the ground beneath his body, compounded his fear. What should I do? I've got a three-year old son to consider.
“Leave while you can, fat boy,” the voice jeered.
The sound of three shots followed by two more shattered the forest calm. Jake's concern for his partner and best friend, Ty, over-rode superstition.
Should I pinpoint the origin of the gunfire from my vantage point or haul ass and find out first hand?
Deciding on the latter course of action, he estimated the distance to the ground was too high for a simple drop, so he slid backwards along the limb's length while running worse-case scenarios through his mind. I hope Ty was at the delivery end of those bullets.
He froze when he heard something crash through the trees. A Latino male with a body slung over his shoulder stumbled along the uneven terrain. Jake tucked his feet up toward his knees to avoid detection. Am I looking at Edward Pearce's accomplice? Maybe the bastard's dead, forcing his partner to move to a different location.
The stranger paused long enough to shift the weight of his load before continuing west. Jake's relief was short-lived. In his bones, he felt a bad situation waited for him at the cabin. Hurrying in its direction, he pressed his memory for where the man could be headed.
There's no dwellings on that part of the reservation because of the...
Jake halted mid-step. Retrieving a map, he dropped to one knee and spread the paper on the ground. It showed every reservation landmark. He quickly found his current location, then followed a blue line marking a long-abandoned road. Suspicion confirmed, Jake shoved the map back into his belt and sprinted toward the cabin.
My being in that tree is a godsend 'cause I know where the guy is headed: old Cayuna Mine.
Father Brian had a vision in his mind of where he needed to go. It was a place hewn out of the earth. In his mind's eye, he saw timbers holding up the walls and tunnels without light. A location both isolated and formidable.
I know there are abandoned mines throughout central Minnesota, but I don't remember any of them being this close to the reservation. Yet, that's what I keep seeing.
He stopped to wipe the sweat from his face. Thick air mixed with the smell of fetid vegetation weighed heavy on his chest, adding to his mounting anxiety. He laid his valise at the base of a tree and leaned into the trunk. Think, Brian. Did Tony ever mention anything about an old abandoned mine?
An urgent sense of danger caused a mental block. Brian slapped his forehead as if the blow would knock something loose. So much riding on me right now. What if I fail?
“God cares nothing for you, Father. No more than he cared to show your own mother mercy. He deals in absolutes. Suicide equals hell. Just ask your mother. She's here with me, you know.”
The priest refused to face the source of the voice. He knew looking into a demon's eyes could be fatal. But he couldn't deny his heart's pounding at the mention of his mother's fate. It was an area of his life where God was not welcome.
My mother was mentally ill at the time. I refuse to accept such harsh judgement.
“I agree, Father! I've said all along a truly loving Father would never demand that his children suffer. Humans come to me because I promise to fulfill their deepest desires. If you let me, I can do the same for you. Think of being with your mother again. I can see to that, you know. Yes.. I, too, can raise the dead.”
Dropping to his knees and burying his face in his hands, Brian's mind reeled with a sudden, sure knowing. My bitterness contaminates me.
Inhuman shrieks battered his skull. “Come join me, Father. There's always room in my ranks for a smart guy like you.”
I will not forsake my vows. Covering his head with his arms, the beleaguered cleric prayed, “Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with you, blessed are you among women and blessed is the fruit of your womb, Jesus.”
The shrieking took on a desperate tone at the mention of Jesus. But for Brian, a light uncoiled itself in the center of his mind. Though but a pinpoint, it carried the breath of holiness.
Adonai leads me home.
A wind set the tree tops flailing and slammed him into the trunk. Bark, leaves and debris pelted him. Brian fell sideways, dazed and bleeding from a cut on his cheek. An arm's length away, the roots of a fifty-foot cedar lifted up out of the ground and whipped about like snakes in a mating frenzy. Severed of its security, the trunk toppled forward.
Brian closed his eyes and prayed, “Jesus, forgive my sins against you and bring me into your light.”
He felt the pressure of teeth against his thigh and the sensation of being pulled along the ground. Where he'd lain, a dagger-sharp limb pierced the ground. His body trembled with the realization he'd faced certain death. Looking around, Brian spotted his savior.
“Wasu! What are you doing so far from home? Have you come to find Tony?
The hound bayed at the mention of his master's name and danced in a circle as if chasing his own tail.
Brian sat up and reached for him, but Wasu backed away from his touch. “You know me boy. I just want to hug you for saving me.” The dog continued to retreat.
Something's different. His fur... it's glowing. Then Brian recalled Jana's statement that Wasu had been murdered, his body buried.
An Angelic bloodhound! Just what I need right now.
Brian rose first to a kneeling position to test his steadiness, then pulled himself upright. He searched the area for his valise, and found it untouched some ten feet away.
“Wasu, take me to where I'm needed.”
The hound leaped into motion, and Brian hurried to keep up as they entered an area of the reservation called Ghostland.