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Regretful rays of sunshine abandoned the earth they protected each day, as the tilt of the planet dragged the light behind the community church. Little feet scrambled to run indoors before their names were harshly called into echoing streets. Water ran from faucets inside houses as the families rinsed away the taint of the night before supper. All members of the community spoke an individual family prayer; their houses swiftly filled with family chatter and the clatter of silverware.
Yet something was missing inside each set of the supposedly safe walls, a harmony to complete the overall score of small town life - laughter.
Inside the community church itself, two children mechanically lifted half-filled spoons to their soft lips as their grandmother spoke to them. The woman had clearly won in her battle against Father Time. Her short body was lean; though she chose to conceal her body beneath floating robes, she carried herself with the air of a woman trained in powerful arts.
“There are many beings on this earth,” she told the children, carefully plaiting her silver hair into a braid as she spoke. “Some are good. Some are evil. Some can be either. Now, name some evil things for me.”
“Demons,” the boy whispered, dripping red liquid from his spoon. His light eyes, full of fear and tension, contrasted with his greasy dark hair.
The woman nodded, a slow and reluctant twitch. The children were young, both under the age of ten. There would be a day they found themselves wise enough for her to explain herself thoroughly. Until they could understand, they had to believe what their pastor taught them – whether the young man was correct or mislead himself.
“Mother,” a man called from a top floor. “If the kids are done, they need to come upstairs to do their chores.”
The boy and girl groaned. The old woman smiled, her fingers finishing off the stiff braid.
“Listen to your parents, children. They are right, of course.”
“Ah, Grandma,” the girl protested. Under the stern gaze of their grandmother’s dark eyes, they stood and kissed the woman’s pale cheek before stampeding away.
A younger lady came in to clear the table. “I always wonder about those two,” she admitted with a glance at the stairs. “I wonder how they’ll grow...”
“They will be smart, like their mother,” the old woman confidently assured her daughter. The woman shook her head and opened her mouth to wave off the compliment, only to be interrupted by a ringing emergency bell. The sound clashed through closed windows, demanding attention and arrogantly calling away any who would dare to silent it.
With a sigh, the grandmother stood up. “I feel my body protesting this more and more every night,” she murmured quietly as she strolled out of the church.
Her daughter forced herself to pretend she had not heard the words the grandmother had uttered. The grandmother had no successor, could not even think of aging when no one stood ready to take the protector’s place.
Outside, the night had swiftly been clasped between the fingers of a deep chill. Ignoring the icy blasts of a furious wind on her face, the old woman raised a cedar wood cross that hung from her boney wrist.
“Demons of the night,” she growled to the wind. “Enough with this! Enough of the crimes you commit in this community! Return to the place in Hell you belong!”
A shadowy hand reached from the darkness behind her. She couldn’t see it; she could merely feel it, as well as the arctic grasp colder than the raging autumn winds.
The grandmother gasped as the arctic shadow wound itself around her body, a dark chain made to cling and destroy by touch alone.
A bubble of panic inflated in the grandmother’s chest.
Desperately, the grandmother chanted, the rhythm of her voice interrupted by gulps of air. But the arctic shadow did not weaken at the words of her ancestors. It tightened, clamped around her waist and imprinting its numbing signature into her skin.
The bubble in the grandmother’s chest broke as she saw her pale skin beginning to resemble radiant snow drifts. She struck the shadow with a blessed pointed tip of her cross. The shadow did not react with more than a snarl over the wind.
‘Am I going to die?’ the grandmother asked herself within her struggle. Would the next exorcist and protector in training have to take her place too soon, without proper training, preparation – initiation?
The grandmother’s fading vision latched onto a shining movement of silver; the shapeless, floating color slipped among the shadow, breaking the chain-formed darkness into separate strands. The darkness was forced to release its grip, cracking apart with a metallic growl. Along with the freedom of movement came the blessing of warmth, and the return of color underneath the grandmother’s wrinkled epidermis.
The old woman surveyed her surroundings; both black chain and mysterious silver had disappeared.
Her weak, trembling legs barely managed to support her frame as the relief bubble replaced the panic one.
“Is anything truly evil?” she wondered aloud with a shaking voice, remembering the friend she had made in the night twenty-some years ago. How in a stroke of compassion, she had bandaged the arm of a demon in its human form.
He had been more charming than any she had found, asking for her love and receiving it in a moment of blind abandonment.
He had also been easily influenced and swayed by her compassion. Never again had he committed a crime that led her to exorcise him.
“And are the answers ever simple?” the grandmother asked the sky that had swallowed her dark lover and the enemy he had battled.
She walked back towards the church that her job and tradition demanded she dwell in; never mind her differences of opinion.
Her daughter stood waiting in the door frame. “Are you all right?” she asked.
“Yes,” snapped the aging woman, in a tight voice meant to strangle any who tried to protest it.
“Mother...this is the third time you have been caught within the last few years. You never had this problem before this decade. Perhaps...”
“No!” The grandmother smacked her hand into the wall as she caught her balance. “It’s not the end of my time yet. I will not choose a successor to finish training yet!”
Inside her mind, away from the probing of her limited daughter, her thoughts did not agree. It was her time, yes…yet…
‘I cannot let my friend fall victim to an exorcism by mistake. One day, I will die. Until then, I will protect him as he protects me. I will find the way. I will convince the next protector not all the demons are evil. Not all deserve to be locked back to the Hell they sprouted from…
‘We like to think the world is so simple, under our control, when truly we have no power. We only long for comfort, stability, and knowledge. Are even the facts we live by reliable? And who am I, to judge these things?’
She had the answers to none of her questions; the claustrophobia of her attic room could force her to ponder continuously, but never participated in the discussion.
Apart of her knew she never would understand, no matter how extensive her pondering. Despite her powers of exorcism, her gift to protect, she pondered as much as her relatives just what humanity needed to be protected from.
That was her connection to all others – the pondering, the hesitancy to claim one evil was greater than any other forms.