I came to a stop and slowly scanned up, across, and down the street. It was the same all over. Everyone came to a stop and had turned to look at me. My heart started to pound. As I turned to glance inside the pizzeria, I saw four customers and the guy behind the counter all looking intently at me from behind the store’s glass window. I felt someone poke me on the shoulder and turned quickly. I was not aware of anyone near me.
It was the pizza waiter with the demon head. “I didn’t think any of you god-lovin-fools could see us. Join us or die!” The waiter pointed at the mass of people now huddling around and repeated. “Join us now, or die!” The crowd swelled. There was no place to run. The demon waiter laughed, The crowd chimed in as the laughter began to swell. Beneath it, I could hear whimpering. I looked around and saw a young woman with dark blotches.
She extended her hand. “Help me.”
I could barely hear her. As she repeated it, I could see her lips form the words. Upon closer observation, there were several blotched faces in the crowd all mouthing the same words. Originally, I thought everyone was laughing. They were not. The fully demonic faces were enjoying a raucous laugh. The others seemed to be asking for help.
The demon waiter raised his hand. All became quiet. The cries for help ceased as well. The crowd parted as the three demons from the provincial’s office approached. The one who killed Fr. Manuel came to a stop directly in front of me. “There is no place you can go, no place you can hide. You see us, we see you. Seers like you must either join us or die. You must decide now. What will it be, priest?”
I looked across the landscape of demonic and blotched faces. My gazed settled on the young woman whose hand had been extended. There were tears in her eyes as well as in the eyes of other blotched-faced individuals. I saw her lips move silently to form “Help me.”
What will it be, priest?
The demon picked me up by the throat.
I gasped for breath and tried to free myself to no avail. I managed to utter “Go to hell!”
The demon smiled as he held the bloody dagger he had used to kill the provincial in his other hand. “Very well, priest.” The creature thrust the dagger deep into my side.
I felt the sharp sting of the blade as it ripped through my flesh. Then my side began to burn as the energy drained from my body. I felt the demon’s grip tighten around my neck. My vision blurred, then there was darkness.
Fr. Wayne let himself in. “Fr. Manuel wants to see you, Oliver.”
Oliver clutched his side, as he sprang up from his dream and looked at Fr. Wayne.
“Are you OK?”
Oliver wiped the sweat from his brow. “I’m fine. I must have dozed off, just a bad dream. I’ll be there in a few, just want to jump in the shower. I’m sweating like a pig.”
“Good idea,” replied Fr. Wayne. It stinks in here.
Oliver jumped in the shower and felt a sting as the cool water as it touched his scar. He felt the area and noticed the scar which was not there before his nap. It felt tender but was not bleeding. He examined it, almost four inches wide. It was the exact spot the demon had stabbed him during his nightmare. “How can this be? That was just a dream. I didn’t have this before.”
Oliver entered the provincial’s office. “Sit down, Oliver,” said Fr. Manuel, as he put a book on a bookcase and walked to take a seat behind his large mahogany desk.”
Oliver sat down and waited for him to take his seat.
As Fr. Manuel was about sit, he froze, looked at Oliver with a blank expression, eyes opened wide.
Oliver darted up out of his chair.
Fr. Manuel waved his hand, motioning for Oliver to sit back down. “It’s this dammed heartburn. I get it every time I eat pepperoni pizza. It’ll pass in just a moment. I didn’t mean to scare you.” Fr. Manuel noticed Oliver’s pale skin color. “Are you all right, Oliver? You look like you’ve seen a ghost.”
Oliver sat back down. “No. It’s just that I thought you were in real trouble for a moment.”
Fr. Manuel took his seat. “I will be if I keep eating pepperoni pizza.”
“Fr. Wayne said you wanted to see me.”
“Yes, I know today was an important day for you and the church. I just want to see if there is anything you want to discuss. I’ve been there myself. There are occasions of buyer’s remorse among a few newly ordained priest. It is a reality of our calling. You come all the way, to this point, and decide it is not for you after all.” Fr. Manuel paused and studied Oliver. “Is that the case with you?”
Oliver took a deep breath and looked intently at Fr. Manuel. “No, that is not the case with me. This is where I need to be.”
“Are you sure, Oliver? This is not simply about the rest of your life but about the lives you will touch as an ordained priest. Let your truth come forth, whatever that may be. You are still one of God’s precious creations and have his unending love whether or not you follow through with your vows. Do not let human pride or fear stand in your way of acknowledging what you must do. If it sounds like I am trying to convince you to leave the priesthood on the day you became one, that is not the case. I just want what is best for you and the church.”
“I understand, Fr. Manuel. I assure you I have no regrets, or second thoughts about becoming a priest.”
“What happened this afternoon? Your comrades were worried about you, seeing spots and all. It sounds like a severe case of second thought to me, enough to make you physically ill. It started the minute you left the church, didn’t it?”
“I think it is time for an eye exam. I’m not seeing spots anymore, perhaps a bit of nervous energy after ordination. But I assure you, I’m fine.”
The provincial nodded. “Let me ask you this Oliver, would you like to take a few weeks off to think about this and clear your head. I think it would be…”
Oliver held up his hand in a stop motion. “Fr. Manuel, I appreciate your concern and your insights. I also very much appreciate your offer for me to take off for a few weeks.” Oliver got up from his chair. “I can assure you it is not necessary. I think you are misreading the signs. As a matter of fact, from the minute I stepped into the street, after my ordination, until right now, everything I have experienced or sensed has validated the fact that I must serve God. I have no desire to do anything else. I have no regrets, just the opposite. Our world is being consumed by evil. I feel there is a sense of urgency to reach those who are trapped in sin. I have never been so sure of anything in my entire life.”
Fr. Manuel sat in silence for a moment, then nodded. “Yes, there is a great deal of evil in our world.” He let out a sigh and smiled. “But there is plenty of good in it as well. We just have to look a little more closely.”
Oliver rose from his chair. “That’s exactly what I plan to do.”
“Well, Fr. Oliver, I guess I’ll stop being an old father hen. I’m glad you feel so strongly about serving the Lord. It goes without saying, should anything come up, I am here for you.”
Oliver, nodded. “Thank you, Fr. Manuel. I will take you up on that should something arise. Right now, I’m starved.”
Fr. Manuel chuckled. “Yes, of course.”
Oliver opened the office door, stopped, and looked at the provincial. “Thanks, Fr. Manuel. I think I’ll take a walk to the pizzeria and have a pepperoni pizza.”
As I walked to Ray’s Pizza, I prayed for guidance. The night was cool and brisk. As usual, there were people coming and going. I did not bother to take a close look at their faces. A homeless man sifting through a trash can stopped as I walked past him. He rushed toward me. His gnarly grey beard was ladened with bits of crumbs lodged in it. His eyebrows rose and his gaze pierced through me. “You must pretend you don’t see them. It’s the only way to be safe!” He immediately withdrew and began sifting through the trash again.
I approached him. “Excuse me, sir?”
The man stopped his trash can digging and looked at me as he backed away. I held my hand up and smiled. He stopped, squinted his eyes, and smiled, exposing two teeth as he held out the palm of his hand. “Do you have any spare change, sir?” He tilted his head and kept the smile on his face waiting for anything I might be inclined to give.
“What was it you said before?” I asked.
With the smile still on his face he repeated. “Do you have any spare change, sir?”
“No, before that?”
“Any spare change, sir?” He repeated with the smile still plastered on his face.
I gave him a couple of dollars and continued my walk to Ray’s.