"You're the exorcist?" The haggard looking man anxiously ran a hand through his silver speckled black curls, sensitively ignoring the receding hairline of his forehead. Gray eyes clouded, wrinkles creasing the corners of his eyes like crow feet, coupled with the dark violet circles, the poorly shaven beard and nicked spots-he wasn't doing well. If the stained jeans and old green t-shirt were any indication. God. Had he bathed? It made me wonder how long his daughter had been suffering…

Damn skeptics. It wasn't a fucking seizure when a nine year old started spurting Aramaic curses. If people would call the Church sooner, things would go much smoother. The longer the demon's habitation, the harder it was to tear the bugger out. I frowned at him; he looked down at me as if I was some sort of aggravating insect. Narrowed his gaze, annoyed. Or offended. "Father Xavier?"

Blatantly mocking now.

I smiled, close lipped, biting the tip of my tongue tightly between canines, so as to avoid insulting the poor fool. "Sister Xavier is fine," I said flatly, rearranging the strap of the purse, its braided cord cutting into my shoulder. "And yes, I'm it. Do you mind showing me to your daughter's room, Mr. Gambier? She could be climbing the walls."

He seemed to remember his upper class manners at the strained reminder. Mumbled something apologetic and pushed the door open, clinking the bronze doorknocker against its white wood finish in the abruptness. I bowed my head in thanks, wrapping my arms around the black jean jacket, pulling it closer, stepping off the concrete porch-and out of the cool September air-in favor of a warmer house.

Through the foyer, past the umbrella basket, coat rack, and a nice picturesque depiction of a ship leaving harbor at the foot of the stairs. I paused at the painting, feigning interest. When really, I was attempting to maintain my even temper. Are you the exorcist? It wasn't the question, it was the way in which he asked. I knew that the general stereotype was the elderly Catholic priest, and maybe a twenty something with pixie cut blonde hair wasn't exactly the comforting sight he desired…

But it wasn't my age, I knew that. It was my sex. I was a woman, and women weren't exorcists.

Well I only had one thing to say to that. Bull. Shit.

At least he let me in. I couldn't count how many times a door was slammed in my face before the victims in question speed dialed the Church and received vocal confirmation that yes, the five foot nothing little tart with a purple scarf was the exorcist. Mr. Gambier's response, I felt, probably had more to do with desperation, less to do with his belief that I was really qualified. His daughter was in jeopardy.


And that was my cue. My head jerked to the side, ripped from the painting. The scream tore from underdeveloped vocal cords, much too deep, shuddering loud. The words cascading down the stairs and lashing my body. Followed by a high, shrieking cackle of maddened laughter. A shiver crawled up my spine.

Mr. Gambier was frozen between the first two steps, hand clenching involuntarily on the wood banister, so tightly it creaked-and his knuckles painted white. He stared up at, seemingly, nothing. Horrified, no doubt, that those filthy sounds were spout from his little girl.

I cleared my throat. "Does your daughter speak Italian, Mr. Gambier?" Cool as a cucumber. That was me, when being screamed at: In the name of Satan, My Father, I spit on you, Exorcist. Nope. Nothing out of the ordinary there.

Calmly, I shrugged the purse off my shoulder, laying it down on the foyer table. Not before unzipping it, and pulling out my items. Three. A small, pocketsize green leather rendition of the Bible, both Old and New Testaments.

Finally, Mr. Gambier, once dumbfounded, stuttered, "N-n-no. No. She does not."

He hesitated. Awkward silence spilled forth, save the abrupt, uneven pounding of something upstairs. Above my head. I glanced up thoughtfully. Realized he was waiting for an explanation.

My gaze trickled to the full grown man clinging to the banister. "Okay." I shrugged. "I was just wondering."

Next, a six inch gold cross with a silver center and a tiny ruby gem, indicative of the more pagan aspect-the All Seeing Eye.

"How long has she been possessed?" I inquired smoothly, holding the cross up to the light, "Have you restrained her?" I wiped away a smudge on the ruby with the thumb of my right hand.

"Pos-ah, uhm…" His gaze shot to the floor, pupils flickering, struggling to recall, "Um, five days, Mis-Sister." Blinked. "Yes. Yes I think-" Another resounding thump. "I think so."

"Five days?" I repeated. "Why did you wait so long?" Finally, a small glass tube with a block cork. Containing within it a viscous yellow liquid. It looked like milky urine.

It wasn't.

I glanced at him. Mr. Gambier flushed scarlet, tugging at the collar of his shirt. I caught a flick of his eyes. Guilt. A lot of guilt. Ah. Wouldn't pressure him. But it'd be a bitch to chase out the demon now. Great. Fucker probably already had a good hold on her.

"Don't worry about it," I said encouragingly as another crash echoed through the house. He stared at me. "It's just the bed," I elaborated, gathering up my items. "It's showing off." Peeled off my jacket as well, leaving just the black Yale sweatshirt that didn't even belong to me. I wouldn't take the purse either-I'd once been strangled by a demon with that wretched cord. And zippers from jackets? Also hurt.

"I see." When he plainly did not see. Poor fool was terrified out of his wits. "What's that?" I tossed the jacket on top of the purse before turning towards him.

"This?" I shook the tiny tube, one finger covering the cork. He nodded. "Holy oil." As if everyone should have known.

"Oil? Don't you need water?"

I shook my head, though pleased that he possessed some knowledge. Probably from the movies. "Common misconception. Olive oil works better." I crossed the hall, pausing beside the railing, readjusted the bruising purple stole decorated with twin golden crosses sewn into the ends. "Where is her room?"

Finally, something he could answer for sure. "Ah, Charlotte's is the first room on the left, I'll show-"

"Unnecessary, Mr. Gambier," I interrupted clearly, stepping around the curve of the railing. Standing in front of the navy carpeted staircase, I stepped aside, closer to the wall that arched up to the second landing, decorated with framed photographs of the family. I ignored them. I hated seeing before pictures of the victims. Made me sick.

I gestured with the hand holding the cross that he should walk back down the stairs. The man's gaze sharpened, instant territorial defensiveness. His house. His daughter. He wanted to be present. Too bad.

"You'll have to trust me, Mr. Gambier. I cannot have you present."


Parents. Mothers were worse, clinging to their children, bitching at your interference. But fathers were almost as bad, especially if they were single parents. God forbid someone invade the turf, despite the fact that I wasn't much of a threat. Not a parental bone in my body, so to speak.

Another thump, a crackling screech. More like an animal, not a human.

I winced. Tilted my head, cracking my neck, impatiently. "Mr. Gambier, when demons are forced out, they will jump to the closest open entity. In this case, it would be you. I am protected. You are not. In addition, the demon will attempt to coax you to help, beg you to save it-in your daughter's voice. You will do so, and you will probably be thrown into the ceiling. I on the other hand, will most certainly be attacked."

Don't even ask me to go into those experiences.

Twat parents.

His eyes bulged slightly; I could see defiance bubbling up. A promise he wouldn't interfere. Yeah right. "Please. Call Father Jonas, reaffirm your shaken belief that I am, indeed, quite capable of doing this alone. He will be pleased to assure you that intervention is not wise."

I tried to keep my voice as even and friendly as possible, considering the circumstances. And the knowledge that he must've been hurting badly. Although it wasn't his fault Charlotte was possessed, he felt guilty.

Rather than accept defeat, he took the brush off as personal. Crossed his arms, defensive gesture. Towering over me. I was pretty damn petite, maybe two and a half inches over five feet. He was at least six one. And using it. I hated when men did that.

"Miss Xavier, you are barely twenty-"

"I'm twenty three, Mr. Gambier. Please move."

A muscle in his cheek twitched, annoyed by the interruption. I stared at him; the man did not budge. Oh for Christ's sake, this wasn't the time to have a pissing contest…

"I cannot allow you alone with my daughter, Miss Xavier." Intentionally not using the title, as if it would insult me. As I wasn't really part of the Church, it didn't. People just seemed to feel better if they assumed as much. "I don't think it would be safe for a…a person of your stature to deal with-"

My stature. Or my sex? That did it. I could deal with a lot, but insulting my competence? "Perhaps you'd prefer a priest instead?" I asked frostily, gaze narrowed.

"Perhaps," he challenged.

Enough. I licked my lips, clasping my hands, and items, before me. "If you'd like a more impressive individual, feel free to inquire of Father Jonas who exactly has successfully served more exorcisms than I have. Seven years, Mr. Gambier. Seven years of sending demons back to Hell, and I don't do this in addition to another, more pressing career. This is my life."

Meaning, I was the best.

I hesitated, waiting for him to do the math. "Sixteen?" Tone suspicious.

"Yeah." He stiffened slightly at another assaulting set of whistles and shrieks. "Ask for another priest, Mr. Gambier. And while you're on the phone explaining your sexist view of my capability, your daughter could be breaking her wrists free of your bindings, hyperventilating, choking on her own vomit, bashing her head into the wall, suffocating…"

I quickly fingered through, in my mind, what other disastrous effects had come from past possessions. The slight nuance of his flesh communicated horror.

I was almost sorry. "If you want your daughter back now, Mr. Gambier, let me do my fucking job. Move."

He moved.

Without looking at the man, I started up the creaking stairs in favor of the second landing and-presumably-the girl's bedroom. I risked a glance down to the foyer-he was gone. Probably to call the priest, as I had suggested. Good. Let him. I didn't really give a damn, as long as he let me work. Seventeen steps. I counted. The demon would probably know this as well; they were peculiar about numbers and statistics.

I glanced down the hallway, counted five other doors. No hint of anyone else in the house, however. Good. I stood in front of a white doorway. There was a nail in the center. I looked down; Charlotte's Room. The sign was even decorated with a tiny painted spider. Two letters, R and M, broke free of the glue. Must have been knocked down with the banging demon.

I relaxed my shoulders, rolling them slowly. Breathe.

Blinked, hardening my gaze. Okay. This was it. Nothing bad. Just routine.

The demon started sniggering. Low, choked laughter, almost gasping. Mocking. Mocking me. I gritted my teeth and, cradling my items in my left arm, twisted the bronze doorknob, pushing it open.

Slipped inside, shouldering it so that I could get in the smallest crack, then kicking the door shut with the heel of one black tennis shoe. Twisted the tiny lock in the center of the knob, staring at the door-one last breath. Shifted the cross back into my right hand. Still clinging vial and Bible in the other. Breathe.

Then pivoted around, trepidation vanishing behind the neutral mask. "Hello, Shithead!" I announced cheerfully.