Desolation

by Tom Carlisle

The problem with being an exorcist in the American Midwest, Wilson LaBrea reflected, was that more often than not people would contact you about things that, strictly speaking, didn’t actually have anything to do with exorcism at all. Ordinarily it wasn’t a problem, since there typically wasn’t a massive amount of work coming in nowadays, but this week was different, because now he had the case to deal with, and the case had changed things.

He’d been sorting out a particularly nasty incidence of mildew on the east side of a flea-ridden town called Desolation when he’d found it, and at first he was grateful, because after all, the mildew calls were the worst. A bunch of Midwest folks seemed to have got it into their head somehow that they still had to live according to Old Testament law, and naturally the local priests (who had enough to do at the best of times) had figured this out and started sending them his way. He would have been angry, but after all, he needed the money.

The case, though. Sitting there in the middle of the floor in a shaft of sunlight as though someone had left it solely for him. He could have sworn he’d heard a choir of angels singing. He’d claimed that had happened to him quite a lot, though, and so people were less convinced by it now than they had been once.

The bank notes inside it were forgeries. Wilson had learned enough about frauds over the course of his life to say that much. But they were good forgeries. Convincing. You’d have to have had the right eyes to tell that something wasn’t right about them. And Wilson LaBrea was no fool, to be sure, but the folks out there were a different matter.

He hadn’t always wanted to be an exorcist – and it was hardly as though anybody got into it just because it was a hobby of theirs. No, his father had done it, and his father before him too, back in superstitious days when the profession was less embarrassing and exorcists did a brisk trade (even if it was chiefly a trade in peace of mind). And sure, he believed in demons. Of course he believed in demons. But then, that was hardly the issue any more, now was it?

No, the case had changed things. This wasn’t the way things normally went.

The first thing he’d done after looking inside it had been to head over to the Desolation Tailors and have himself three pristine gunmetal suits made up. New briefcase, new Bible, new Bentley. A cigar, for luck (not that a man with a briefcase full of forged notes needed luck, these days). And then he’d strode out of Desolation a new man, almost as though Wilson LaBrea had died and come back to life again in that mildewed house.

These days, if you were to look up the name Wilson LaBrea in the telephone directory, you’d probably see his advert – it takes up a full page. And if you were to speak to anyone in the Midwest now, they’d tell you the stories that once you would have only heard whispered to you by a shy man after dark in an empty bar somewhere, now the marks of his glory. They’d tell you how one day he breezed into town with the sunset red as blood behind him and the look of a devil in his eyes, and he made them all believe again.

If you ask in the right places, you might even hear whispers of how he sold his soul and left it in a battered suitcase in a mildewed house outside of Desolation.

But then these days, no one fears demons. They fear Wilson LaBrea instead.

Tom Carlisle used to write short stories, but now mostly consoles himself by writing blogs about food here instead.

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