The rain fell with persistence. John hated the feel of wet cloth against his skin and wished he had thought to bring an umbrella.
Arriving at their destination, Ben pulled something out of his pocket and shoved it towards him. “Eat this.”
John looked at the rock hard pink peep in his hand with disgust. “It’s been over a month since Easter.”
“Don’t be silly. They sell peeps all year round now. I bought this last week.”
”Why is it so hard?”
“I poked holes in the package. It’s the only way to eat them.” He took another peep out of his pocket and plopped it into his mouth.
“If you say so.”
“Trust me, you’ll need the sugar.” It was hard to understand him as his mouth was full of marshmallow and sugar.
John did as he was told, making a face. He hated peeps when they were fresh, and, as he soon learned, they were worse stale. “Why are we here?”
The older man looked at him. “The bishop didn’t tell you?”
John shook his head. The intensity in Ben’s blue eyes unnerved him. To make matters worse, the older priest recited the prayer to St. Michael the Archangel in Latin as they ascended the stoop and knocked on the door.
A middle-aged man in slacks and a dress shirt greeted them. “It’s about time. Come in.” They barely crossed the threshold when he slammed the door shut. “I’m not Catholic.”
“No one is perfect,” John joked.
Ben elbowed him.
The man continued as if he didn’t notice the interruption. “Heck, I would have said I didn’t believe in God a few weeks ago.”
John smiled. “You’ve had a change of heart about your beliefs?”
Before the man could respond, Ben put out his hand. “I’m Father Ben. This is Father John.”
“Bob Smithfield.” They shook hands. “I’ve told your Bishop that I’ll be baptized and become a practicing Catholic if he’d help.”
John was intrigued and suspected a hefty donation was promised as well. He caught Ben’s eye.
“The Smithfields have a pest problem.”
“I see. An exterminator might be a better option. My second cousin runs Rid-A-Pest. I’d be glad to give you his number.”
“We need an exorcism, not a bug bomb,” came a woman’s voice from behind them.
They turned to see a lovely young woman, about twenty-years Mr. Smithfield’s junior.
As far as John was concerned, things were starting to look up. He missed the fairer sex living in a male only rectory and the woman was a treat for the eyes.
“This is Meg, my sister.”
Father John smiled. She reminded him of the girl he dated in high school, before he got the calling. “I’m sorry, Meg, but I could have sworn you said you needed an exorcism.”
“That’s what we’re here for,” Ben assured her.
John raised his eyebrows. He thought the church has stopped performing exorcisms years ago.
Bob looked down at his hands. “I didn’t know who to turn to. You see, we inherited this place from our uncle and moved in a few weeks ago. Since then, there have been some strange occurrences. At first, we thought someone was playing a joke on us. Things weren’t where we left them, pictures were knocked off the wall, that sort of thing.”
“Why didn’t you call the police?” John asked, practically.
“Trust me, my first call wasn’t to the church,” Bob informed him. “The police were useless. One cheeky cop suggested we call a psychiatrist. Can you believe the nerve?”
John could, but refrained from saying so.
“What’s been going on,” asked Father Ben, all business.
Meg spread her arms. “All sorts of weird things. At first it was harmless. The lights would go on and off for no reason.”
Bob scowled at John. “Before you ask, or recommend some other relation, I called an electrician. The wiring in the house is brand new.”
Meg continued. “We’ve seen clothes flying across the room – Bob’s socks, mostly.”
“The oven and cabinet doors are always opening and closing, but no one is in the kitchen. The noise could drive a man to drink.”
Meg held up a dainty hand. “The can opener keeps running. I’ve tried unplugging it, but it still goes off.”
John couldn’t remain silent any longer. “Do eggs pop out of their carton and fry themselves on the counter?”
She frowned. “No. Is that a thing?”
“Was your uncle a worshiper of Gozer?”
“He was a Presbyterian. Does that matter?”
John was on a roll. “Does anyone sleep over the covers? If so, how many feet over them?”
Ben leaned over and whispered angrily in his ear. “Stop referencing Ghostbusters. This is serious.”
“When people die, their spirits go to Heaven. They don’t play with dirty laundry.” John shot back. “These people are either messing with us, being messed with, or totally delusional.”
“You’d be surprised at how little you know.” Ben hissed. Out loud, he asked if there was anything else.
“Isn’t that enough?” Bob asked.
“We like to be thorough.”
The pair looked at each other, and shrugged. Bob said, “We find the back door open in the morning, yet the alarm isn’t triggered.”
Meg pulled a faded red pillow off a nearby chair. “Every morning, I find this in bed with me.”
John sniffed. He wouldn’t want it in his bed. It was covered in cat hair and questionable stains
Meg pulled up the sleeve of her shirt, revealing long scratch marks. “The other night, I was watching the evening news when I was scratched.”
Ben nodded sagely, while John resisted the urge to roll his eyes.
Ben continued questioning the sibling.
Bored, John decided to explore the house. Entering the dining room, he found an old man in the corner. He wondered why the Smithfields had claimed they were alone in the house. Putting on a friendly smile, he greeted the man. “Hello, there! I’m John.”
Putting a finger to his lips, the elderly man knelt and made a clicking sound with his tongue as if calling a cat over.
“Is your cat missing?” He asked.
“Lower your voice, boy, you’ll scare Mallory.” The man whispered.
“Is Mallory your cat?”
“No, I summon my lady friends like this. It drives the women crazy. Of course, she’s my cat.” The man shook his head in disgust.
John wasn’t sure, but he thought he heard the man mumble ‘moron.’ “When did you last see her?” He asked in a whisper, not wanting to suffer the man’s sharp tongue again.
“I can’t remember, exactly. It’s been a while.”
It dawned on John that the man might be senile. “What’s your name,” he asked gently.
“Come with me, sir. Meg and Bob are with a friend of mine. They might know where Mallory is.”
“Those numb nuts? They’ve been useless up until now.”
“It can’t hurt to ask again,” John said patiently.
The man sighed. “Fine. Just help me up. These old bones get stiff.”
After gently easing the man to his feet, he led him back to the foyer where Ben still stood with the Smithfields.
The small group watched their slow approach. They had odds looks on their faces.
“Has anyone seen Mallory,” John asked, still holding the old man’s arm.
Bob and Meg looked at each other. “How do you know about Mallory,” Meg finally asked.
“Tom here wants to know. He’s been looking for her.”
The color drained from Meg’s face, while Bob looked outraged. “I don’t appreciate being the butt of a joke.”
Ben’s eyes gleamed with excitement. “Who do you see?”
John was beginning to think he took a train to Crazyville. “This gentleman is looking for his cat.” He patted Tom’s arm.
Meg stared at him. “Um, Father, Tom is our uncle. He died over a month ago.”
“That can’t be right.” John looked at Tom, willing him to contradict what she said. When he didn’t, the bemused John described the man at his side. “He’s right here. Say something, Tom.”
“Ask them about my cat.”
The hair on the back of John’s neck stood on end. He let go of the man’s arm and took a step back.
“Well? What’s he want?” Ben demanded.
“He wants his cat.”
“I dropped that think off at the pound weeks ago.”
“Bob, you didn’t!” Meg scolded him. “You told me the cat was missing. I hung flyers all over the neighborhood.”
“That cat was my companion for ten years. She was my child. Tell him to get her back.” The old man poked John’s arm.
John conveyed the message, while thinking Tom had boney fingers for a dead guy.
“I will not.” Bob crossed his arms and stuck out his chin like a petulant child. “That cat was pure evil. She hated me.”
“She always was an excellent judge of character,” Tom bragged. “Regardless, I expect them to take care of her.” He threw out his arm. The next thing they knew, Bob was being levitated off the ground.
Bob screamed, arms and legs flailing.
Meg grabbed Ben’s arm. “Do something!”
The priest pried her fingers off his arm. “Young lady, the ghost isn’t an evil spirt. He wants his cat looked after.”
Tom smiled. “Finally, someone with some sense.”
Meg looked around, wildly. “If we get the cat back, will he move on?”
Tom nodded. “They had better treat her right, or I’ll be back.”
“He says you need to spoil her. He’ll know if you don’t and will come back to haunt you. What’s he’s been doing now will seem like child’s play.”
“Fine! Whatever he wants!” Tears were running down Bob’s face.
“You’re beginning to grow on me, kid,” Tom chuckled.
It took a while to iron out all the details, including calling the pound to tell them Bob had changed his mind and decided to keep Mallory. Tom promised to move on once Mallory was safely home.
As the two priests headed home to the rectory, Ben patted John’s shoulder. “You did well today.”
“How is that?”
“You helped Tom find peace. Had he been left alone any longer, he would have become a poltergeist. I would have been forced to exorcise him to hell. It would have been a shame.” He smiled. “You have a future ahead of you in the Church.”
John didn’t respond. He had seen more that day than he ever expected. He has so many questions, but decided he wasn’t ready for the answers. Tom was a good man – ghost? – but from what he gathered, there were times when Father Ben had encounter evil entities. John wondered if he was ready to physically battle the devil. Perhaps he should find a post as a music director in a small church?