The Last Customer
A Novel by
Daniel P. Coughlin
The Last Customer is a work of fiction. Characters, names, place, incidents, organizations are a product of the author’s imagination or used fictitiously.
The Last Customer
Daniel P. Coughlin
Copyright © Daniel P. Coughlin 2012
Published by Hellfire Publishing, INC.
All rights reserved. No part of this document or the related files may be reproduced or transmitted in any form, by any means (electronic, photocopying, or otherwise) without the prior written permission of the publisher.
Digital ISBN: 978-1-937179-93-9
Cover art by: Dara England
This novel is dedicated to John and Kristine Coughlin. Thank you for nurturing and encouraging me to act on my dreams…however sick they may be.
The Last Customer
By Daniel P. Coughlin
Part 1: The Introduction
Father Leslie Gardner, standing six foot two inches tall with stout posture and shaggy brown hair—with a bit of a dark complexion—ran his brown eyes across the twelve-by-twelve inch paper calendar pinned to the far wall of his small dorm room. The calendar’s bottom corners were faded and curling. His pointy right index finger traced the thick glossy paper until it fell upon the square box which revealed the date as August 18, 1980. He double tapped the box, making sure it was secure by applying pressure with the pad of his finger.
He was staying in a catholic rectory. His living quarters were standard at best. The room was a basic eight-by-eight cube with no windows and baby blue walls. The rectory sat to the side of a beautifully constructed catholic church. In this small town, the steeple was visible for miles, giving the panoramic view a picturesque quality. The interior of the holy structure held a vaulted ceiling. The body of the church was accented with brand new pews, freshly varnished. Every inch of the building was polished to perfection. The recently waxed floors shined bright. The stained wooden pews gave off a lemon scented glimmer. The statue of Christ held not a speck of dust.
Father Gardner had only been residing in this small Iowa town for eight days. The town rested forty miles west of Sioux City. His assignment was to assess, evaluate, and conclude whether or not a young woman had been seized by a demon—a foul presence.
Within ten minutes of meeting Donna Shaney, an average sized woman of thirty years, he’d concluded that she’d been the victim of demonic possession. All of the symptoms were prevalent. Her eyes held a ring of white fire.
Upon entering Donna’s room, on the first day, Gardner immediately wanted to cup his nose. The stench was awful. The odor hung in the air like fog, but he wouldn’t allow the demon to sense any weaknesses. He refused to cover his nose. Even a small gesture such as masking-a-scent would reveal a weakness to the demon, allowing the demon to prey on it. Breathing deep, Gardner allowed the foul air into his nostrils. He became accustomed to the smell, eventually getting over it.
Gardner had conducted many exorcisms. He knew that the demon was looking for any avenue to exploit him. If the demon found a weakness, it would certainly utilize it, and the result could interfere with the rite of exorcism. That was unacceptable.
Father Gardner went into every assignment clear headed. At least he tried to. Over the years, he’d developed a thick shell. He’d enabled himself to disregard foul smells and insults. He’d been desensitized to the ways of the demon.
Donna’s room was freezing. The wallpaper had begun to peel because the pores had dried up, which was the result of the unnaturally cold temperature. Gardner shivered as he made eye contact with the demon, while walking to the right side of the room. He took a seat in a wooden rocking chair near the queen sized bed. He leaned forward toward the girl, causing the chair to creak. As he moved closer he glanced at the bed. The sheets were covered in yellowing sweat stains and foul waste.
He then spoke to the evil presence inhabiting the girl—the demon. And as always, the demon lied. At first, it had claimed to be a serial killer from the nineteen fifties. Gardner knew this to be false. Serial killers were unable to possess the human body. Possession was the fallen angel’s game.
The demon recited many subjects that the young junkie woman could not have known. It spoke in Latin and German languages and it insulted Gardner with both. It laughed when asked questions about Judas and other biblical characters. The demon spouted out specific instances in which it had possessed others, laughing as it threatened to destroy Donna. Gardner found this threat valid.
After taking vital signs—a strenuous chore—it was revealed that Donna was severely dehydrated. Every organ in her body revved on failure. Her skin had turned a sickly yellow, indicating her liver was failing.
Gardner visited with Donna every day for a week. He needed to perform psychological testing. In the past, Gardner had disproven many possessions. Mental illness was often misconstrued as possession but after going through his checklist, Gardner approved the exorcism.
On the eighth day, Gardner awoke early. He forced down a decent sized breakfast of toast and eggs, knowing he needed his energy. Then, he prayed intensely for over an hour. He begged for strength. In his heart, he felt the awareness of the power of good. The Holy Spirit was breathing within him.
After leaving the rectory kitchen, he jogged down the cement stairs from the second floor. The nuns had gathered in the small rectangular shaped lobby near the coffee table. They stood from their seats as he entered the room. They were frightened and intimidated by his presence. None of them said a word. They stood erect with their lips sealed. Gardner could feel their judgment. It was written amongst their cold gazes and faithless expressions. Not a lack of faith in God, but zero trust in him.
Gardner didn’t wear the traditional uniform of a catholic priest. Or any other priest for that matter. He was dressed in simple black slacks and a cheap button down white-shirt with a black tie.
Nodding toward the middle aged women dressed in their traditional gowns and hoods, he stepped into the light of the new day.
The brisk morning air refreshed his clean face, while filling his lungs with crisp oxygen. His heart rate quickened as he continued down the walkway.
Gardner was a handsome man of thirty. There were no prominent wrinkles in his skin. His face appeared vibrant, soft skin accentuated the candy-brown eyes that were set neatly on his face. His square jaw gave him a masculine appearance. His hair had growth, but it wasn’t too long.
As he continued toward the sidewalk. His thoughts and attention deviated when the pigs from the slaughterhouse across the street began to scream as he walked by. Gardner picked up his stride, moving quickly past the large cement warehouse that contained the swine about to be processed. The squeals of fright and terror spilling from behind the thick concrete walls were nowhere near as unnerving as the sounds that he would hear upon entering the house on Cleveland Street.
The morning walk through town was pleasant and much needed. It gave Gardner a chance to review his thoughts and settle his nerves. Before he knew it, the sidewalk ended.
A Dead End sign stood to the right, in the center of the street’s end. A cluster of elm trees led way to the forest behind the long rectangular wooden plank with a large reflective orange octagon bolted to the middle.
Gardner glanced up at the sky and gave thanks before turning to the two-story brick home on his left. He always gave thanks for the gift of life. Every day was a battle, but Gardner cherished his life. He understood his purpose. Purpose was a luxury that most people didn’t have and his purpose was to fight evil—to destroy it before it spread like disease.
He traveled across many countries conducting the business of holy cleansing. At first, it was hard to accept—His calling.
Gardner grew up in a good home. He was raised by a fine family of God fearing parents. Both Ethel and Peter Gardner were strict and loving. His childhood was ordinary, happy even. Then he discovered his gift.
The spiritual world, which existed beneath the earthly plain of existence, showed itself to Gardner at the age of ten. At first, he wasn’t able to grasp what was happening. His life had suddenly become different from the other children. For a boy of Gardner’s age, that was hard to accept— impossible to talk about. Even at such an early age, he acknowledged that he was special. It was frustrating. He wanted to be like the other children, playing kick ball at recess and baseball after school, he tried his best to hide the things that he knew.
The first awareness of his unique gift had been revealed to him on a warm September morning on his way to school.
Lolling down the cracked sidewalk of Elm Street with his school books tucked under his left arm, he was struck by a blinding vision. At first, his sight went hazy. He dropped his books and stumbled back a few steps. Everything went bright as if a light bulb had exploded. His gaze washed white, blinding him. Scared, he waved his arms in front of his face then wiped his eyes, hoping the feeling would stop. He quit moving as the darkness set in. Everything became silent. There was no movement, not even the wind. The passing cars seemed to stop. The air was still as the sky parted and peeled back as if the world was merely a two dimensional painting. Before him, he saw more dimensions. A realm of existence was exposed beneath the world’s surface. The silence turned into a whirlwind of pain and screaming. Gardner was scared. The parallel world where demons and angels battled had opened up to him. Good and evil clashed. Everything was fire orange or black. The world in front of Gardner had become a supernatural warzone. There was torment and agony. Even the angels fought with brutal tenacity.
Gardner tried to run. His legs wouldn’t move. He stood frozen while snarling creatures surrounded him. They circled in on him with glossy eyes and watering mouths. Their fangs jutted from their scaly mouths. Some looked like wolves. Others appeared as dark shadows with razor sharp teeth.
Gardner feared that he’d lost his mind. A scaly creature snarled while galloping toward him. He closed his eyes and prayed to be somewhere else.
Again, there was silence. When he opened his eyes, he was back on Elm Street. His school books were strewn across the sidewalk. His math book lay in the grass near the curb. He wiped the tears from his eyes as he picked up his belongings.
Looking around, he saw no one and no one had seen him. There were no worried neighbors. No dogs barked and no bullies laughed. He blew a long sigh of relief and wiped away more tears. He took a deep breath and continued to school.
The images that he’d been shown to him on that day scared him. He wanted to tell someone. But who would believe him? He figured it would be best to keep the vision a secret.
The entire incident had only lasted seconds before it was gone. It wasn’t until years later that he would be experience another and on that day, he was given his first guiding vision. From then on, he received visions of the future—images of places and people that he would need to help. The visions called to him and the answers were revealed. They eventually led him to the ministry and from there he’d been able to meet others like him. It was comforting to know that there were others with the gift. Together, they were able to organize their supernatural gifts and assignments were distributed. His life as a holy warrior began.
Now, turning away from the sidewalk, Gardner looked up at the street sign.
He spun his head and peered down the street. His gaze opened to a neat row of small homes that he’d past, oblivious, on his way to the Shaney’s home. There was nothing off-kilter about the aesthetics of the house. It was a standard brick home with a screened-in porch. The brick was a fading cream color in need of a pressure wash. The lawn was bright green, a bit overdue to be mowed. But other than the slight lack of upkeep, the house didn’t stand out. It didn’t reflect the evil burrowed inside.
Gardner’s clicked his heels together at a forty-five degree angle before the first cement stair leading up to the porch. Standing with the screen door propped open was an older woman, Silvia Shaney, Donna’s grandmother. As he looked at her he felt a familiar rush of energy course through his system. It was the Holy Spirit, preparing him to fight.
Silvia tried to a smile. The exhaustion and angst beneath her expression wouldn’t allow comfort. It was obvious that she hadn’t slept in days. Her eyes were dark circles. The creases in her skin were unnaturally deep; all the moisture had been depleted. Still, as haggard and tired, as she appeared, the deep love that she held for Donna was unmistakable. It radiated from her sunken glare.
“Thank you for being with us, Father Gardner. Please come in,” she said in a pleasant, but shaky voice, yet held a hospitable nature. She stepped aside, her light blue dress fluttered above her ankles as a breeze whisked past. Her silver hair danced across her forehead where it had fallen from her braid. She was a good woman. Her abundance of life exceeded her age.
Upon entering the quaint home, Gardner immediately heard shuffling and thunderous stomps from the upstairs bedroom. It was the sound of bouncing bedposts.
Quickly, he shuttled up the hardwood steps and landed on the second floor, ready to face his opponent. Through research, prayer, and the visions that God had shown him, he knew that the entity living within the girl was the demon Sammael. Gardner had never been challenged by this particular demon. And, as always, he hoped that today would be their last meeting.
Making the sign of the cross, Gardner looked out the hallway window. The view opened up into the neighbor’s yard. There was an aging wooden fence separating the Shaney’s property from the nearest neighbor. The day was bright with many rays of sunlight bending and refracting through the Elder trees outside. It was pleasant and comforting, if only for a brief moment.
Gardner continued down the hall.
He entered the room.
The bedposts ceased slamming against the hardwood floor when Gardner entered the room. The demon spun its head toward Gardner, quick and concise. Their eyes met. Her lips were livery and grey. A large tear had settled in the center of her bottom lip. Crusted dried blood branched downward from the abrasion. The split in her lip broke further when the demon smiled.
The odor permeating the room was horrendous. Gardner tried to get used to it but couldn’t.
Maintaining his composure, he walked to the edge of the bed.
Donna sat upright against a soggy pillow with her back arched. Every muscle in her body flexed and strained. Her ashen skin had become so dry that the top layer broke. There were lesions crossing her sunken cheeks. The restraints on her wrists held crusty brown streaks where her skin was rubbed off. Her blonde hair was wiry and matted—caked with sweat, blood and vomit.
She opened her mouth and smiled maliciously while licking her broken, bleeding mouth. “Go away. You haven’t the strength to fight me.”
Gardner received a vision. Fairly often, he received visions during the course of exorcism. They didn’t come to him during every exorcism and not every exorcism had been successful. On more than one occasion, Gardner had expelled the demon, but lost the host. A few victims had died during the rites of exorcism. The body could only take so much fight before it quit. It disappointed Gardner when the physical body became so worn-out that its soul couldn’t maintain its ground. Luckily, with Donna, her body wasn’t to the point of terminal exhaustion, yet.
Falling back a step, Gardner’s vision became clear. The blinding light dissipated. He saw her. It was Donna and she was beautiful. They stood in the light. She held her arms out, inviting him to cleanse her body of the demon. There was fight within her. Her soul was capable of beating the entity and Gardner was the catalyst needed to lead the evil spirit out.
Confident of what his duties entailed, he smiled at the face of the demon Sammael.
The vision cleared. Gardner adjusted his tie then stepped forward, extended his arm across the bed and rested his palm upon Donna’s forehead. He pulled out a small silver vile and dribbled holy water down her forehead. The demon hissed. Gardner’s face lowered to the demon. Sammael spit at him. Yellow mucus and brown blood dripped from Gardner’s face. He wiped it away, unfazed.
Looking into the demon’s eyes, he whispered, “I cast you out. The power of good…that which is greater than you, casts you out.” The octave of Gardner’s voice heightened. “The Holy Spirit casts you out!”
The demon growled. It shook furiously on the mattress, shredding the tangled blankets. The bedposts rose and fell successively on the wood flooring. The demon continued hissing and swearing. It didn’t want to leave the body of this young woman. It wanted to rip her insides to pieces and kill her earthly body. Nothing would satisfy the demon more. It wanted to take her soul to the depths of eternal pain.
Gardner was contended as he took part in the demon’s defeat. As the evil began to separate from Donna’s body, it looked to Gardner and gnashed its teeth. It spoke in a deep harmonic tone that made Donna’s grandmother writhe and back away. It spoke, “I will come back for you. I will tear the skin from your corpse and burn you in the eternal flame. It will hurt more that way.”
The demon closed its eyes. In an instant, color returned to Donna’s face. It was as if she’d awoken from a deep sleep. Her body jolted sprung upward from the bed.
Gardner closed his eyes and began to pray. There were no certainties in life—he knew that more than anyone.
With grace, Gardner stepped aside while Donna lurched above the bed. The demon howled as it shed from her body.
Donna landed softly and bounced on the mattress. Her voice rattled and huffed. As if waking from a horrible nightmare, with clear eyes, Donna looked around the bedroom, seemingly confused. This was a normal reaction. Her eyes fell upon Gardner and she asked, “What happened?”
Donna shook her head. Her face contorted when the pain struck. She groaned, grabbing at her aching back, then fell to the bed. The physical aches had set in. Gardner went to the bedside. He ran his hand down the side of her exhausted face. The demon had stretched and torn her organs. Her body had been twisted, contorted and depleted for weeks. She would have very few recollections of what happened during the short period in which she was possessed. In time, she would be enlightened of the encounter with her evil entity. Sammael.
Silvia went to Donna’s bedside. She didn’t care about the filth soaked bed sheets or the awful scent that her granddaughter gave off. She only saw her beautiful Donna.
The awful parasite that preyed on her had been cast away. Her granddaughter was pure in spirit. She could continue life with a clean slate.
Gardner stood, backing out of the bedroom and into the hallway. He didn’t say goodbye. The longing between these two women—to bond and love one another—was too strong. Gardner refused to interfere. His leaving went unnoticed.
Walking down the stairs from the second floor, Gardner glanced to the neatly framed family photos that hung, staggered, across the walls. The captured images were sweet. There weren’t many pictures of Donna and her parents, but there were many of her and Silvia. It was easy to see that Silvia loved her granddaughter like a mother.
Gardner left the Shaney’s home. The soft hum of the summer afternoon felt right. From here, Gardner would drive until he found a nice café to stop at. He enjoyed small diners. He could relax with a nice cup of coffee. Small town greasy spoons were a treat.
The screen door creaked as Gardner pulled the latch and swung it open. Stepping down the cement staircase, he looked back to the second story of the brick house. He heard Donna crying...thanking God. He smiled. His joy came from their happiness.
Gardner continued down the stairs toward the base of the sidewalk. A shadow spilled over him. He glanced at the sky, seeing a dark cloud creep over the house.
In that moment, Gardner felt the damning power of Sammael. His presence hovered above and he was angry. Demons became furious after being expelled.
The Demon had been defeated, but not destroyed.
Sammael would find Gardner again.
Their battle was far from finished.
Gardner could feel
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