- Serial Saturday: Parasites by R. Minter, Part 1
- Serial Saturday: Parasites by R. Minter, Part 2
- Serial Saturday: Parasites by R. Minter, Part 3
- Serial Saturday: Parasites by R. Minter, Part 4
- Serial Saturday: Parasites by R. Minter, Part 5
- Serial Saturday: Parasites by R. Minter, Part 6 Scheduled for December 9, 2023
Parasites: Part Five
Leila stared at the convent from the sidewalk. It looked straight out of a medieval manuscript—all sharp edges, crosses, and stained glass windows. A statue of the Virgin Mary prayed on the wildflower-dotted lawn.
The business card flipped between her fingers as Leila thought about going in. The convent looked a lot more professional than her actual destination.
The address on the card pointed toward a squat, ramshackle house across the street. Its windows were barely hanging on, and there wasn’t a religious symbol in sight. In fact, it looked like the kind of place young girls went into and didn’t come back out.
“Can I help you?”
Leila lashed out at the voice, hitting a gray-haired guy in a threadbare business suit right in the gut. He grunted, but didn’t budge as pain radiated up her arm.
“My apologies for startling you.”
Leila yanked her throbbing hand back. The hair on the back of her neck stood up. “Uh… sorry. I’m a little jumpy.”
In reality, she wasn’t sorry at all, and wished he’d move on. But a small, still civilized part of her wanted this to be a normal conversation with another normal human being.
“Understandable. Especially if you’re desperate enough to seek me out.”
She stared at him with a frown.
He motioned at the card still clutched in her hand. “That’s my business card. Matthew Newcomb.” He held out a hand, then retracted after an awkward moment of silence. “I only give those out to my closest acquaintances. They only give them out to those in the greatest need.”
This is stupid, the civilized voice said. It played over and over in Leila’s mind as Matthew looked her over.
Satisfied with whatever he saw, he motioned toward the ramshackle house. “Care to tell me your troubles?”
Leila glanced in its direction, pretty sure the house had grown darker since she last looked. “Can we talk here?”
Matthew chuckled, an affable sound that did nothing to calm the prickling of Leila’s skin. “If you want. Let’s start with what’s happened recently in your life. What makes you think you need an exorcist?”
“I don’t.” Leila blurted the words out, then backpedaled at his skeptical expression. “I mean, I’m not sure I do. A lady came to me and gave me this card.”
“Some accidents have happened where I work.”
“They’ve all… happened near me, and—” Leila swallowed the sudden lump in her throat. “One was to someone I care about.”
“Describe the accidents to me.”
That was the last thing she wanted to do, yet the words poured out of her mouth in grisly detail. A feeling of being detached, a passenger in her own body, came on in full force. The corners of her mouth twitched as she neared the end, as if she was about to smile.
Leila forced her mouth down, clamping her jaw shut mid-word.
Matthew stared at her, eyebrows drawn together. “Have you been having nightmares?”
The middle-aged lady’s words echoed back in Leila’s mind. Have you been having nightmares, Ms. Roberts? She glared at Matthew. A bit of vagueness was to be expected from anything related to religion, but this was getting ridiculous. “Why? What’s so important about bad dreams?”
“Yes.” Anger boiled up, burning away the last vestiges of discomfort at the situation. She’d started the week partying with her best friend, and since her life had all gone to hell. Now she stood on a strange sidewalk next to a strange man while her friend bled out in a hospital. None of it made sense, and she was sick of it.
“I’ve had a few nightmares,” she said through clenched teeth. “Nasty ones. Ones I could swear were real, yet couldn’t possibly be. Do you want me to describe them to you as well? Maybe they’ll haunt you as much as me. Did I tell you my friend is dying? Why the hell am I here, and not with her?”
“Because you need my help. Your soul knows it, whether you do or not.”
Leila scoffed. “My soul? Are you going to preach? Is that what I came out here for, a sermon?”
An image flashed through her mind. Matthew, stretched across the pavement, with his ribs split open. The copper scent of blood filled the air, along with a deep earthen tang. A bulbous headed creature, barely reminiscent of a newborn, dug into the open chest cavity and giggled.
Leila choked, gagged, then vomited the remains of her lunch into the street.
Matthew reached out to touch her shoulder.
She shied away, her hand dropping to her stomach, where the sharp pain had quickened in tempo. “Can a baby be possessed?” she asked. Desperation creeped in thick. “Before it’s born?”
He hesitated. “I’ve never seen it.”
Leila coughed out a short laugh. “So that’s a maybe. What about eleven?”
Leila yelled, doubling over as the pain in her abdomen turned sharper. This time, she didn’t have the strength to move when he wrapped an arm around her.
A woman’s voice she didn’t recognize called out from the direction of the convent.
Matthew called back. Leila tried to focus on their words, anything to distract herself from the searing agony spreading across her mid-section.
A long, thin knife.
Creatures with needle-sharp teeth.
Motion. Matthew scooped her up, folding her in his arms. A bulge in her abdomen. Leila cried out as the agony sprouted more blades. The bulge grew, pushing out from under her shirt. The surface of her skin rippled, contorted, as something writhed to be free. A hand pressed from the inside, tiny fingers etched in her flesh.
“Don’t worry, now,” Matthew said in a strained voice. “We’ll take care of you.”
He yelled something about a book and a circle, but the words lost meaning. Leila screamed as the blades pierced out and down. Whatever was inside wanted out. Shadows covered her vision as they entered the church. A loud boom and rattling. A shock of cold on her back as Matthew laid her on hard ground.
Leila screamed again and kicked, bashing her head against something hard. A numbness spread, blessed relief as wet poured down on top of her, soaking into her skin and pooling underneath.
The relief was short-lived.
Fire burned it away as her insides twisted, turned inside out. A wail, not her own, cried out. High, piercing.
The agony faded to dull throbbing.
A high-vaulted ceiling hung over her, a prism of colors dancing across stone walls from stained glass windows. Leila lay on her back in a puddle of cool and warm, gasping for breath.
Rhythmic murmuring came from all sides. She forced her shaking limbs under her and pulled herself up into a sitting position. A holy water basin lay upturned beside her, its contents spilled on the marble floor where it mixed with crimson.
Leila’s breath caught as another wail echoed off the convent walls, answered by a boom of thunder which shook the stained glass.
Nuns surrounded her in a circle. Praying, hands clasped at their chests and mouths. One sat at her feet, habit sleeves red.
Don’t look. That small voice, long ignored. Leila ignored it once more.
She looked past her bare legs, pants awkwardly pulled to her ankles, to the pile of flesh, blood, and holy water between her legs. An infant thrashed, gray wrinkled skin contrasting with the red covering it. Large, rheumy eyes stared at her. It sucked in another breath, opening its mouth wide to reveal rows of shark-like teeth.
“No, no, no.” Leila tried to scramble back. Her hand slipped in the mess, laying her on her back once more. Pain bloomed in her skull, but she didn’t care. She had to get away from this thing.
The nun with blood on her sleeves moved up beside her and pushed down on her chest.
“Let me go, damn it!” Leila swung a fist, hitting the nun in the shoulder. She didn’t get a second chance. Two more nuns appeared, pinning her arms to the floor.
She fought, but it was pointless. She was too damn tired, too weak to dislodge the women. Hot tears ran down her cheeks.
The chanted prayers got louder. The sky answered. A peal of thunder shook the church as if God himself hammered at the ceiling.
“Our God in heaven, hallowed be thy name.”
Matthew’s voice at her feet. Leila tried to look, but the bloody nun blocked her view.
“Thy children call upon thee in their hour of need.”
More hammers from on high. Rain pelted the roof, melding with the ever-increasing volume from the chants and prayers, creating a cacophony that vibrated in her bones. Leila gritted her teeth, wishing she could block out the noise, but the pounding of her heart would have given her no respite, anyway. She choked out a sob and screamed.
“Have mercy on this innocent soul,” Matthew continued. “Cast out the demon. Remove it, and cast it into the bottomless pit.”
Glass shattered as another hammer fell. Multi-colored shards rained down outside the circle of nuns. Then, silence.
Black clouds dissipated outside of the broken windows, giving way to a sunny day in seconds. Two of the nuns holding Leila down moved away. One stopped, removing the outer layer of her habit and draping it over Leila’s lower body. The last nun wrapped her arm around Leila’s shoulders and pulled her up into a sitting position.
She felt numb, drained, teetering on the edge of an abyss that refused to claim her.
Matthew stood in front of her, dangling a cross pendant over the baby he cradled in his other arm. He looked at Leila and smiled. “The exorcism worked. It’s a boy.” He leaned over and offered the naked child to her.
Bile rose in the back of her throat. “No.”