“So I got a call. Me and this young woman from the tribe. She had some potential as a shaman.” Manny seated himself. “It went bad on me.”
“Yeah,” Manny said. “Started out pretty routine. Same sort of thing I’ve done a dozen times or better. Except this time, the entities being banished called in reinforcements.”
Manny crumpled, his posture sagging, his head dropping. “I tell you, Coyote,” he said. “I think I finally got a look into Hell.”
Dave exhaled, shifting in his chair.
“Of course I didn’t back down. Did it by the book.” He paused. “We freed the kids.”
“Swear to God, Coyote,” Manny said. “I got closer that day than I ever wanted to get.”
“What happened?” Dave asked.
“The parents,” Manny said. “We freed the kids, but the parents, it looked like they were being squeezed by some giant, invisible hands. They popped like a couple of balloons, just split open.”
“It tried to get us, too, Coyote,” Manny said. “Me and Linda. Something hit me like a truck, something I couldn’t see. Knocked me clean across the room. Broke two ribs when I hit the wall. And Linda…”
“That the girl’s name? The shaman?”
“Yeah. Linda.” Manny rubbed his eyes. “I think maybe she did see something. She died screaming, pointing at something. The look on her face, I’ve never seen such a look of absolute horror.” He cleared his throat. “The official cause of death was given as massive hemorrhaging.”
“I’m sorry,” Dave said.
“It was my fault,” Manny said. “I should never have brought her into that situation. I thought she was ready.”
“Hey, come on.” Dave said.
“It spoke to me. Coyote,” Manny said. “That was the worst thing of all. I say ‘it’ because I don’t know what else to call it.”
“The devil, you mean?”
“Yeah. What we think of as the devil.” Manny hesitated.
“Go on,” Dave said.
“I’ll never forget it. It was playing with me, Coyote,” Manny said. “It made Linda do things to herself, disgusting things, before it killed her. It wanted me to watch. And it laughed while I tried to pray, laughed at me. Its voice was like some—I can’t even explain it. You know what it said to me, Coyote? It said, ‘Little thing, I grow weary of you.’ That’s all.” Manny shook his head. “The police investigation wasn’t as bad as it could have been. They ended up sweeping it under the rug. They didn’t want to deal with it. It scared the hell out of them. They were more than happy to leave it in my lap. The Church, too, truth be told. Everybody looked the other way. They always do.”
“They the ones took the picture?” Dave asked.
“Yeah, the police. Gave it to me. Like I said, it freaked ’em out. The visible confirmation of the reality of evil.”
“You’ve done a bang-up job of freakin’ me out, too,” Dave said.
“I told you about it,” Manny said. “Because I want you to think about things in a way I never did, not until after what happened.”
“How’s that?” Dave said.
“I was just a diversion to it,” Manny said. “The one time I’ve been noticed at all, and I was an annoyance to it at best. What I’m saying to you, Coyote, is that we’re out of our league. Both of us. All of us.”
“I’m not sure I understand,” Dave said. “You’re all for confronting evil head on,” Manny said. “You have this new pupil, and you’re ready to put him in the ring to duke it out with the Presence that I encountered that day in Arkansas. And I’m telling you, the kid doesn’t have a chance.”