By: Susannah Hurlbut-Noonan
View all Susannah Hurlbut-Noonan's works
The pale and boney fingers of hunger were creeping up her insides, and Anneliese retreated further into herself, clutching her knees to her chest as if her life depended on it. In a way, it did. She suppressed the urge to cry. I can’t let out more water. I need this water. If she did cry, would anything come out? Did she have anything left to give? Despite her efforts, tears brimmed in her eyes and one rebel of salt water rolled down her cheek. Ravenous and desperate, she shot her finger up to her eyelid, catching as much of her sorrow as she could. A thin line of water was now dancing on her index finger, a thing of beauty in her dark present. She put her finger in her mouth, licking it top to bottom like a cat on a Sunday. Sluup. Schlip. Anneliese felt a surge of anger go through her, what little emotion she could still have with the energy she had left. They had beaten her down and built her back up, just to beat her back down again. They went so far as to take away her simple right to cry. The idea that she could no longer afford to cry, living this life that had become of her, filled her with rage and grief and hunger. She was so goddamn hungry. And all because of what? Her ‘demon’. Those stupid priests were killing her because of a supposed demon hiding in her body. What kind of demon would want to live like this? If you’re actually there, just leave. I can’t imagine this is very nice for you.
Anneliese just sat like that, curled into a ball, not crying, for some time. She didn’t know how much time though. It could have been five minutes or five hours, and she wouldn’t have been able to tell the difference. But her sorrow was interrupted by the lock on her prison door moving, unlatching, clicking out of place. Anneliese curled up tighter, hoping that if she were small enough, they wouldn’t even see her there. Fear had now joined the hunger inside her body, but no adrenaline was coming to help her. Her body was incapable of making anything more than blood. The heavy metal door creaked open, and two men walked in, toting a library cart filled with various contraptions. These machines were not unfamiliar to Anneliese. In fact, she’d been acquainted with them more than 2 months ago, and they had been the things she saw most in that time.
“Hello, Miss Annie. How are you doing today?” No response was uttered. The men barely noticed her position, or her lack of conversation. She doubted they cared. The authority of the men, Brian, took a flask out of the cart, labeled ‘holy water’. He uncorked it, sniffing the aroma as if it were a nice pinot grigio, and he was in a vineyard in California.
“Now today is going to be something special. If you would, Annie, please get into position.” Reluctantly, Anneliese uncurled herself and repositioned her body on her creaky cot so that she was lying on her back, straight as a line and arms crossed over her chest. This is how I’m going to look soon. The leader priest sprinkled the holy water around her figure, tracing out a silhouette. She flinched as his hand came close to her face while pouring the water, involuntarily. Seeing this, the second priest chuckled to himself.
“Ok! Josh, if you’ll help me with this part?” The second man strode from the corner of the room to the cart, where he picked up the torch. A long piece of wood with some lambskin wrapped around the top, and dipped in gasoline, Josh took a lighter to it, and it exploded in flame. If she didn’t know what was coming, Anneliese might have found it beautiful. It was the only thing that wasn’t fluorescently lit in her painful existence. She welcomed the few small moments in which it danced on the wood, and didn’t hurt her irrevocably. Thinking of this, her hands involuntarily traced her thigh, blistered and scarred from past ‘activities’. Her fingers running over her textured skin relaxed her, in a way. She was real. This isn’t some sort of purgatory. There might be an end to this existence. Brian picked up his trusty and battered Bible from the cart, and turned to the pages he had marked. These passages were very familiar to Anneliese. At this point, she could probably exorcize herself of her demon. Brian stood above her, speaking with a booming voice like God himself was imbuing him with power.
“Prayer to St. Michael the Archangel
In the Name of the Father,
and of the Son,
and of the Holy Ghost.
Josh waved the torch over Anneliese’s body, and the heat was welcome. She was so, so cold. She knew the pain that was coming, but chose to appreciate the small moment of peace she had while Brian was praying to St. Michael. Saint, my ass. Who wants to do this to people? Brian continued.
“Most glorious Prince of the Heavenly Armies,
Saint Michael the Archangel,
defend us in “our battle against principalities and powers,
against the rulers of this world of darkness,
against the spirits of wickedness in the high places.”
Josh turned back to the cart, grabbing a pair of tongs, and holding them over the torch. Brian was humming for the minute or two that the tongs were being warmed up, and Anneliese’s heart did some exhausted backflips. Anxiety persists.
“Come to the assistance of men whom God has created to His likeness
and whom He has redeemed at a great price from the tyranny of the devil.
The Holy Church venerates you as her guardian and protector;
to you, the Lord has entrusted the souls of the redeemed to be led into heaven.”
And with this prayer, the tongs clasped Anneliese’s right ear. She screamed, a loud, animalistic roar filled with anguish. The priests smiled, taking it as a sign of her demon feeling some pain. Those tongs stayed on her right ear for two minutes. Then they did the same on the left. All Anneliese could feel was pain, and she made it clear. Screams had filled the small room, and she was writhing in pain, a fish caught in a net. But it got worse.
“Well, Annie. This hasn’t worked. I guess it’s time for your surprise.” With a grin, Josh pulled a pair of garden shears from the cart. Though she didn’t think it possible, Anneliese’s heart started beating faster. Her eyes widened with fear as Josh came towards her. She thought he would do much worse, but he only used the shears to cut open her nightgown. Every single one of her bones was showing, her pale and blotchy skin heaving with frightened and shattered breaths. Josh handed the shears to Brian, who held them over the torch. While it was warming up, Brian spoke to her.
“This has been a long time coming, but you will finally know the wrath of God. BE SENT BACK TO HELL, FOUL DEMON!” And with that, he took the shears and started carving into Anneliese’s body. The screams got louder, and louder, and louder. Sweat was dripping down Brian’s face, and he was smiling maniacally as he hovered over Anneliese’s face.
“Pray therefore the God of Peace to crush Satan beneath our feet,
that he may no longer retain men captive and do injury to the Church.
Offer our prayers to the Most High,
that without delay they may draw His mercy down upon us;
take hold of “the dragon, the old serpent, which is the devil and Satan,”
bind him and cast him into the bottomless pit
that he may no longer seduce the nations.”
He had finished his masterpiece. Etched into Anneliese’s stomach (or what was left of one) was a cross, topped with a moon. She’d been forever branded. Life flew out of her view, and life was filled with black. She was grateful.