Sarah Aisling’s Picture Choice: Both
Title: Cast Off Thy Demons
Author Note: If you’re easily offended by controversial subject matter, you might want to skip this one.
There is nothing like the smell of old polished wood, deep and pungent. Perhaps it shouldn't be, but this is my favorite time of day—after all the parishioners have gone, even the janitor. Silence fills the sacristy, settling in a rich cloak around me. It expands through the halls, the sanctuary, all the nooks and crannies, until a sense of spiritual expectancy has filled this holy place.
I finish polishing the chalice with a soft cloth and make sure everything is in its place before exiting the room and closing the door behind me. My footfalls echo softly off the stone walls of the hall. There’s still paperwork to be done, but that’s okay. Entering the office, I lower myself into the padded leather chair behind the mahogany desk and tackle the pile waiting for me. Many of the tasks considered downsides by most assistant pastors are pluses for me.
The mountain of papers is reduced to a small hill when a knock on the door sounds. I’m not expecting anyone this evening, and it’s rare for unexpected visitors to show up.
“Yes?” I rise from my seat, rubbing at my tired eyes.
The door swings open and Derek Lang pokes his head in. His expression is apologetic and feverishly urgent at the same time. “Good evening, Nate. I wonder . . . if I might speak to you privately.”
Taking in his owlish expression, I resist the urge to laugh. Who else would be here at this hour?
“I’m the only one here, Derek. Come in and have a seat.” I gesture to the pair of leather chairs facing my desk. “Can I offer you something to drink?”
He casts a furtive glance at the decanter of brandy on the side table, and his face reddens. “Um . . .”
“Would you like a glass of brandy? It’s not as if you’re underage.”
I pour brandy into goblets for us both, free to knit my brows in consternation while my back is turned.
Derek is a quiet young man in his early twenties. He's attended Abundant Mercy, along with his family, essentially since he was born. In the five years I've been with the church, I haven't learned much about him; he tends to keep to himself and out of trouble. I know he's met with Pastor Bryce several times in recent months, and those meetings seemed to be intensely personal. Derek slunk out of Pastor's office after a particularly long one, and when Joe came out of the room, his face was florid. I'm not sure I've ever seen him so flustered.
Arranging my features into my concerned-but-neutral-mentor persona, I give Derek a brandy and seat myself behind the desk again. His hand shakes as he brings the glass to his lips, but he downs half of the amber liquid in one draught, wincing at the bite.
“What can I do for you, Derek?” I clasp my hands on the desktop and attempt to appear as if I know what I'm doing. In reality, it makes me extremely nervous when anyone comes to me for advice.
“I'm just wondering how . . . how the demons will be exorcised. I mean . . . will it be painful?”
“Demons?” The question is out before I can stop it.
“Well, yeah. Pastor Bryce said the demons must be cast out . . . so I can be healed, normal.” Derek swallows hard, his Adam's apple bobbing, and looks away.
“Forgive me, Derek, but what demons are you referring to?”
“You mean, you don't know?”
“I'm . . . gay. Well, Pastor said I'm afflicted by demons that make me think I'm gay. He wants to have a service to . . . cast them out.”
My mouth drops open and I'm yanked twenty years into the past. Back then, it was me in Derek's place, me having demons “cast out.” Feelings of adolescent confusion and anxiety wash over me, pulling me under. My face heats with remembered shame, and memories of standing at the altar as parishioners lined up to touch me and pray over me flood my mind.
Their hands on me were confusing at first, but as the service went on, I was drawn into the tidal wave of sensation as I felt God all around me. Tears streamed down my face and my body went limp, rendering me prostrate before Christ on the cross.
I became involved in the church, working my way quickly through the ranks until I was an assistant pastor; I never felt worthy of being in charge of an entire congregation, nor did I desire that responsibility.
Through the years, I convinced myself I was “cured.” I threw myself into religion, and nobody asked why I was still single—at first. As I got older, it became apparent I had no attraction to women. All the well-meaning ladies trying to set me up with a daughter or niece or friend made me feel uncomfortable. Eventually, I moved to a new church and then another.
“Are you all right?” Derek's hoarse voice snaps me back to the present, and I down a slug of my own brandy, cleaving to the burn.
“Derek . . . yes. Yes, it hurts to cast the demons out.” I stand up and pace behind my desk, lacing my hands behind my neck as anger lances through me. “It might not hurt you physically, but it can destroy your soul.”
“B-But I thought it would save my soul.”
“That's the story they fed me, too,” I mutter.
Derek stares up at me slack-jawed. I feel something inside me unfurling, twenty years of discipline and tension I wasn't fully aware of.
“Pray about it.”
“But God won't hear my prayers until I'm cured.”
“That's just not true. God is always there to listen to our prayers. Always.”
“Even someone like me?”
“Everyone, all the time. Let Him guide you, not Pastor Bryce—or anyone else.” I sink back into my chair and slump over, weak as a kitten.
“I take it you aren't sure you made the right decision.”
“You would be correct. I have some serious praying to do.”
Derek stands up, smiling shyly. “Well, some of my friends are having a parade in a few weeks. Didn't think I'd be there, but now . . . maybe.” He reaches into his pocket and holds out a closed fist. I reach a hand out, and he places rainbow-colored stars and glitter in my palm. “You're welcome to join us . . . depending on what conclusions you come to.”
“Thank you. You never know—we might be marching side by side.”
Sarah Aisling hails from New Jersey and loves living by the ocean with her incredibly indulgent husband and awesomely precocious daughter. She’s currently putting the finishing touches on her upcoming novel, The Weight of Roses. When Sarah isn’t being enslaved by her characters, she can be found with her nose in a book, biking, hiking, camping, and spending time with friends and family. Twitter: @SarahAisling Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/SarahAislingAuthor