By Rudolfo San Miguel
The first time I spoke with the Devil, I found him surprisingly down-to-earth. He offered me a seat and explained it was a long time since he had a simple conversation. He spoke casually and, I’ll be honest, he was easy to talk to. I always pictured him as synonymous with the eternal, a creature of ethereal existence with enigmatic words and ominous tonality. In reality, the Devil was quite plain-spoken and interested in more mundane matters—especially regarding donuts.
He held high regard to old-fashioned chocolates and confessed he felt that Crispy Creams were the real evil in this world.
He wasn’t boorish or vulgar but had a dash of modesty in his narcissism and wantonness. Frankly, and he told me once himself, he was bored with God and the whole “Eternal Conflict with Divinity” thing. It gave him little comfort from his torpid existence. The donuts helped—that and the rare opportunity for small talk.
During our first conversation, I was actually talking to a young boy whose interest in donuts seemed to give away any pretense of demonic possession. I thought he must have mental health issues or a wicked sense of humor. Being a 25-year-old priest a couple of years out of seminary, I didn’t understand what was meant by pure evil.
The boy lived with his mother in a small house in Pacifica, around fifteen miles south of San Francisco. He’d been in the possession of the Enemy for several months, and his mother had successfully petitioned the Church to have the unwanted guest removed.
While I was doing prayers before Father Bill arrived to perform the sacrament, the little boy introduced himself by asking whether I knew who he was. Being unconvinced that evil manifested in possession, my answer was Emanuel Lopez, though his mom referred to him as Manito. He introduced himself as Lucifer, then asked me about my favorite donut.
I tried not to laugh and instantly was sure that Manito’s mom wasn’t brilliant. Nonetheless, I answered—powdered donuts. He admired my choice but insisted that powdered donuts made a mess and, therefore, he lessened in his ranking.
This began our conversation. We chatted for twenty minutes about the nature of pleasure and how it sometimes became more prominent in life than one’s relationships with friends and family. At the time, I thought I understood better how Manito, both charming and articulate, could fool so many. Father Bill walked in on our conversation and politely asked me to leave the room.
The next day, Father Bill and I had breakfast at a diner next to our motel. The place reeked of the beguiling aroma of fried bacon and cheap coffee. He was a little frustrated and felt it was necessary to debrief me and offer feedback.
“Frankly, Father Jones,” he said after sipping his coffee, “I don’t know if your too young or just plain stupid. Why work with me if you’re unwilling to believe that the Enemy was in possession of that boy?”
“But the boy showed no signs outside of his story that he was in the enemies’ possession.”
“Father,” he said, placing his cup on the table, “Do you expect crap flying all over the room? This isn’t Hollywood. This is Pacifica. And the Devil doesn’t do special effects. He is not belligerent or cruel, nor is he vulgar. His weapons are flattery and charm.”
“Father, I wasn’t convinced….”
“You don’t have to be convinced. We already had our people conduct an investigation and background check. They certified the possession.”
I wasn’t sure if this argument should continue. At the time, I wasn’t ready to admit the direct influence of evil in this world. It was more plausible that the Enemy inspired the little boy to play a trick on everyone. Yet, Father Bill’s zealotry on the subject left small room for an argument. There was little chance of convincing him otherwise.
“Of course, Father Taylor. Please, excuse my naiveté.”
He wasn’t buying it and grinned. “Father Jones, you’re a nice guy, and so I’m going to give you some advice. When someone’s words are as convincing as their smile, watch out. I’m not telling you not to believe them or take them as false but think about their intentions. I’m sorry, Father, but I can’t have you work with me. I am going to have you reassigned to a parish. You’re a good man and will make a good priest.”
“Father, this was my first day. I haven’t had a chance to learn and grow….”
“William, you don’t believe a devil was in that boy, and I’m not sure why you want to be part of this work. It’s time for you to do the will of God instead of your own. I’m sorry.”
“But it was just small talk. I wasn’t interfering with your sacrament or acting outside your authority.”
“You weren’t supposed to have the conversation in the first place,” he said while moving his Denver Omelet with his fork. “And frankly, you weren’t supposed to enter the house until I arrived. Crap, Father Jones, what did you two talk about anyways? He didn’t start talking about breakfast pastries? Did he?”
The Oatmeal rose toward my esophagus. This was the first time that I considered the Devil was real. I had just spoken with him through a small Nicaraguan boy in Pacifica.
* * *
Five years later, I worked for a parish in San Antonio close to the University of the Incarnate Word and decided that my encounter with the Devil was a mishap. I found the root of evil not in possession but the Enemy’s dark suggestions to the human heart—confessions were revealing. At least three affairs were going on, several unwanted pregnancies, alcoholic/drug abuse, horrendous amounts of domestic violence, countless petty thefts, wanton sexual behavior, and at least a dozen fantasied murders, and a cornucopia of foul language.
At the same time, the parish offered a peaceful, simple life. Saint Peter Prince of The Apostles was a small church with a warm congregation. But of course, it didn’t last.
It was a Tuesday in the middle of summer when all of this changed. Father Zamora asked me to meet with him in his office. There was a problem with Patrick Lamott’s mother. She was 76 years old and had been living with her son and daughter-in-law for around three years. Something was wrong with her. I agreed to speak with her and came over the following Monday, around three o’clock.
Mrs. Lamott lived in a small in-law connected to her son’s house. It was a moderately sized room built on top of the house with a view of the university. The room was about the size of a studio with a bed, a small couch, seats surrounding a coffee table, a cage with a half dozen canaries, and of course, a 50″ Samsung flat-screen television. She later told me she occasionally watched the Cowboys, mainly if they played against the 49ers.
She also had two bookcases filled with volumes of philosophy and literature. She had a thing for Cervantes and Flannery O’Connor. Coffee and donuts were waiting for me.
We talked for a while about living in San Antonio and gossiped. She told me about her time growing up in Corpus Christi and her years in Houston before moving in with her son to San Antonio. After all this, she admitted that we had spoken before and was surprised I didn’t recognize her.
“It was a while ago, Father Jones,” she said while stirring creamer into her coffee, “I’m surprised you wouldn’t remember. I’ve traveled quite a bit, and so far, you are one of the most legitimate priests I have encountered. Tell me, have you always been in the ministry? Did you have a wife and family before? You know, so many of these priests only take the cloth after enjoying life; before, of course, they give it up to make good with their God. Is that the case, father? From your experience?”
These odd questions helped me realize why her son was concerned. Of course, I responded with some placating humor, which she smiled at before excusing herself for the afternoon.
* * *
This was the beginning of my frequent conversations with Mrs. Lamott, which increasingly became more intense. We discussed poverty and wealth, the value and the nature of strength, the history of Southern wines, when it’s best to lie for the good of the community, Japanese Kabuki theater, slavery, lust versus love, the futility of marriage, French pastries, and of course politics. Mrs. Lamott was a libertarian.
“You know, William, I’m surprised you still haven’t recognized me?”
“Mrs. Lamott, I cannot remember meeting you in the past.” I was sipping my coffee.
“Well, William, never mind then.” she then paused to slowly pick up her donut and sink her teeth into it.
“I’m sorry, Mrs. Lamott, maybe you could remind me where we had met?”
She ignored that and picked up her tea and sipped it gently; then, putting it down, she wiped her lip with a napkin. “Really, think nothing of it, William. It was a little while ago, and I was quite a different person.”
I smiled, considering if I should offer an apologetic platitude.
“Let’s talk about something else. Shall we?” she said, “You spent your life wondering how God works in this world. Have you ever thought about how the Devil works also?”
“I’m surprised, William! Well, have you considered that, as you say, if there is inherent good in people, an instinctual desire to live under God’s will that has to be encouraged to grow in their hearts, then there is also an inherent dissidence to be free of this will and harness a liberated consciousness?”
“And if God works through people to enforce his will, then, it goes without saying that the Devil also works through people to resist it.”
I was speechless but smiled to at least demonstrate I was still listening.
She smiled weakly and leaned back in her rocking chair, belching. “Please excuse me, William. I get a little ahead of myself. Back to my original point, have you ever considered that the Devil and his disciples may use possession of the living as a means of working through people? Furthermore, have you considered that God does the same thing?”
At that moment, I was sure of two things: Mrs. Lamott needed a more clinical-based therapist, and I needed to leave. I excused myself and left.
* * *
Later, I made sure to volunteer as much as possible in the parish. I explained to Mother Rossi that Patrick Lamott’s mother needed professional counseling. I focused my attention on helping Mother Jimenez with the catechism and running errands for Father Zamora. As the weeks passed, Mrs. Lamott was notably missing at mass. My curiosity got the best of me, and I decided to talk with her the following week.
We had just had some tea and talked about mundane yet pleasant topics.
“Mrs. Lamott,” I asked after a while, “I have to ask, as it has come to mind over the last couple of weeks, but I would appreciate knowing when we had met previously.”
“Oh, William, I’m surprised. You seemed so put out when I kept bringing that up that I felt I was a pain. Do you need to know?”
“Yes, Mrs. Lamott, I apologize for my behavior, but I would like to know.”
“Well, William, you don’t want to believe in me, do you?”
“I’m sorry, Mrs. Lamott, I don’t understand what you mean?” I smiled warmly to mollify any of her possible frustration or hurt feelings.
She leaned forward on her knees while offering a toothy grin. “Well, William, I’m the Devil, of course.”
I kept my warm smile as if frozen on my face. I was sure Mrs. Lamott was crazy this time.
“You think I’m crazy, don’t you?” she said before biting into her donut.
I picked my words carefully as not to hurt her feelings while maintaining a warm tone of voice. “Mrs. Lamott, I’m sorry, but I wasn’t expecting that.”
“You have an amazing capacity, William, to repress anything you don’t want to hear. I would be careful if I were you. Someone might use that against you.”
I considered what to say while scratching the side of my face and sitting back in my chair before she continued.
“Remember back in California in the coastal community by San Francisco? You were with the old priest, and I was residing in the small Latino boy?”
I kept smiling, processing what she was saying. She began rocking in her chair while starting to eat another donut. It finally sank in. I felt a burning, hostile feeling in my stomach.
The Devil began coughing harshly. “Uh, I think the old bat is coming down with the flu.”
“I’m sorry?” I murmured, not entirely aware of what the Devil said.
“Please excuse me, William,” the Devil apologized, resting Mrs. Lamott’s head against the back of her chair, “I didn’t mean to be crude. Could you be a dear and hand me that box of tissue on the table next to you?”
I looked over at the end table beside me and passed across the tissue. The Devil blew Mrs. Lamott’s nose and excused himself.
I then left, thanking the Devil for his time. The Devil graciously understood and asked me to ask Mrs. Lamott’s son if he could bring up some Tylenol and chamomile tea.
* * *
While processing everything, I reflected on the Devil expressing the idea of possession as a means of enforcing the Enemy’s plans and challenging God’s will, which was both frightening and paranoia-inducing. But the insinuation that God was participating in this strategy seemed absurdly sensible—how else would he work through us?
My anxiety grew as the idea sank in about the Devil using possession as a means to employ people like pawns on a Chessboard. I began seeing the Devil everywhere and quickly began to seclude myself. I avoided both Father Mendoza and Moore, under the suspicion of demonic espionage, and lost touch with the Aguilars.
I began to wonder about Mrs. Lamott. Did the Devil still possess her? Was he still driving her son crazy with his dark and peculiar pontifications? Or was the Devil wasting his time binge-watching Netflix and HBO?
I decided to visit Mother Rossi and ask. It was a busy time. The spring confirmation mass for the parish children occurred in around a week, and the parish office was bustling. Getting to the point, I expressed my fears about Mrs. Lamott’s mental health—it was the best excuse I could think of—and wanted to know how she was doing. Mother Rossi expressed her confusion about why I didn’t pop in and check in on her myself. For lacking anything better to say, I simply said I didn’t think of it.
“What?” Mother Rossi mutters, “Mrs. Lamott’s health, unfortunately, has deteriorated. She has had the flu for some time, and from what I heard, she now has pneumonia. I suggest you visit her, William.”
“Oh, that is sad news. Yes, I should visit surely.”
Mother Rossi smiled warmly and patted my folded hands, which were resting on her table. “Alright then, have a pleasant day, Father.”
Unsatisfied with the Mother’s response, I felt compelled to linger, not knowing what to expect and feeling the Enemy wasn’t through with me. “Mother, if I may ask, what is your opinion of the Devil?”
She answered while scratching her neck and stretching in her seat. She tried to smile but avoided eye contact. “Well, I don’t like him since you asked.”
“Have you considered the Devil’s hand in Mrs. Lamott’s state of mind?”
She tried to smile softly. “Well, William, I do believe the Devil works in our lives just as God does, only as a malign influence, of course.”
I looked into Mother Rossi’s eyes. “How about possession?”
She didn’t say anything for several seconds but look at me politely.
I felt incredibly nervous. No one but Father Zamora knew of my past work with Father Taylor, so I felt safe asking. I realized after asking that the Mother would probably bring it up with Father Zamora. And what if the Devil was telling the truth?
She finally said. “We’re all possessed of some evil in our hearts, William. That is why we pray to God to enter our hearts and possess us instead.”
“Oh, of course,” I muttered.
The Mother smiled, and I excused myself.
* * *
Later, I visited Mrs. Lamott. She was in her bed. Her health indeed had collapsed as sores and jaundice marked her skin. Her hair was beginning to thin. Her lips were arid and chapped. She breathed unearthly with gasps and phlegm. She looked up at me, akin to an animated corpse. Her eyes were a dirty yellow.
“Hello, William,” the Devil said, “Please excuse me for Mrs. Lamott’s ill-begotten condition. I’m afraid that she may pass away soon between her flu and my over-extended visit to her body. Be encouraged, though, that she will not feel a thing and will pass peacefully.”
Anxious, I sat down and kept calm. “Very reassuring, and, if I may ask, what of her soul? Will you free it, or shall it be consumed?”
The Devil laughed at this with Mrs. Lamott’s harsh, infected voice and sat up in her bed. Her eyes were bulging. “Hardly, first of all, I do not consume souls; I recruit them. Secondly, my possession of Mrs. Lamott served a purpose, which is now concluded. Unfortunately, prematurely due to her health.”
I shook my head gently, crossing my legs and leaning back while looking around.
“I have a question, William, why did you not inform your superiors of my presence? It seems the proper thing for a man of the cloth.”
“Who would believe me? Father Zamora is fully aware of my past experiences. I’m afraid it is notorious among some circles in the clergy. Also, I was considering saying something but wasn’t sure how to go about it with any success.”
“That makes sense.”
“You believe me? Don’t you?”
The Devil turned up a full and disfigured smile on Mrs. Lamott’s rotted teeth. “Of course, I do.”
I left briskly and returned to the parish.
* * *
It was soon after that I left the clergy. I found myself on my own with some money to get by while searching for a new vocation. I moved to Dallas, deciding it was too uncomfortable living in San Antonio as a failed priest. I kept to myself, driving freight trucks. I made friends and slowly became another person. About six years later, I partnered with a friend, opened a small delivery company, and bought a house. Life was completely different, and so was I.
It was in the middle of the holiday, right after Thanksgiving. My partner and I were extremely busy. An old flame named Fran called asking for help. She was brief. She was having trouble with her daughter, Ruth, who was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. Because they were Christian and had a vague knowledge of my former life in the clergy, Fran called to see if I could offer my opinion. Fran was frightened of being alone with her daughter, whose behavior changed in ways she couldn’t understand.
When I walked into Ruth’s room, she laid on her bed staring at a wasp nest hanging outside her windowsill. She wore a pair of gray sweatpants and a Cowboys T-shirt. Ruth turned to look at me with jaundiced eyes and putrid teeth.
“Is it you?” I murmured.
Ruth grinned while sitting up in the bed, resting her head against the backboard.
“You have no idea how hard it was to find you,” he said in Mrs. Lamott’s voice.
“How did you know I was here?” I said, unnerved to hear the old woman’s voice coming from this teenage girl.
“You have done a remarkable job of getting lost. I hadn’t had this much trouble tracking someone down in a very long time. Please excuse me for this spectacle, but I didn’t know what else to do. My imagination is waning in my old age.”
“Will you leave?”
“In time. How are you? I could imagine things are a little crazy during the Holidays. Your friend had mentioned you had your own local delivery business. It must be busy with the holidays. It sounds like a wonderful opportunity for profit, though I understand that Dallas’s traffic is challenging. The cost of gas must be killing your profits.”
“Why are you doing this?”
“Well, William, I wanted to finish our conversation. There were still some more we had to discuss, and you left so abruptly.”
“Why are you talking to me with that voice?”
“The voice? I just wanted to make sure you knew it was me. Excuse me for the theatrics. I couldn’t imagine how startling that could be. Regardless, there are one or two things we needed to discuss.”
“Like what?” I leaned against the wall.
Ruth, aside from the aforementioned eyes and teeth, looked somewhat in good health for a teenager. As usual, the Devil maintained a clean-living space. This had been a significant tip-off for Fran. She explained Ruth was a chronic slob.
The Enemy sat Ruth up with her legs crossed. He took a pillow that he hugged against her chest and leaned forward, smiling. “I know it was years ago, but during our last conversation, I had asked you why you had concealed my possession from your superiors. You, of course, said something like you were embarrassed and worried about your position. Then, suddenly, you left.”
“Yes, it was startling, and those were my concerns.”
Discarding the pillow, he laid Ruth’s belly on the bed facing me. Her hands were supporting the chin. “I understand your argument, but you never allowed me to respond. Let’s face it. You were lying. I know a lot about deceit, and yours was obvious.”
I squatted against the wall, feeling weak. “What do you want to say to me?”
The Devil was now playfully kicking the bed with Ruth’s legs as if it was some kind of gossip session. “Nothing too exciting, but I just wanted to remind you, of all people, would know you don’t converse with anyone possessed. It’s in your church’s rules. They’re very concise and direct. So, I can’t help but believe that you wanted to talk to me, get a taste of what evil sounds like. That’s why I asked for you after discovering you were a part of Mrs. Lamott’s parish.”
“That was a long time ago.”
“So it was. Have you spoken with the old priest recently?”
“No, I assumed he’s dead by now.”
The Devil laughed, rolling Ruth over on her back and staring at the wall. “He wasn’t that old, and, yes, he is still alive. He’s been getting into my business again.”
“And I need you to convince him and his people to leave me and mine alone.”
“Because,” the Devil replied, slapping Ruth’s palms against the mattress in exasperation, “You can get close to him. And believe it or not, he likes you.”
“How am I to get him to stop?”
“That is up to you, but you will know what to do.”
“Why would I? What are you going to do?”
The Devil then sat Ruth up and looked me directly in the eyes, grinning with her rotten teeth. “Nothing, I understand your reservations, especially now. It seems you became remarkably successful after our last conversation. And your departure from God. Why would you want to ruin that?”
I didn’t respond to the Devil’s insinuation.
“I don’t want to do anything, I can still get to the old priest, but this would be a lot less trouble for everyone. It would be a favor for me. Think about it.” The Devil cocked Ruth’s head to one side and continued looking me in the eyes.
“In time,” he said, “You may decide that helping me would be for your best interests. Think of our fellowship over the years. And what has the old priest done for you? Think about it. You’ll know what to do.”
I didn’t know what to do but wasn’t seriously considering anything. “But, really, what if he won’t listen?
“The old priest, I want you to kill him. But only if he won’t listen. When the time comes, you will know what to do. Trust me. I know how these things work.”
I left immediately. Fran and I talked days later. Ruth’s behavior returned to normal. I never told Fran anything nor anyone else.
* * *
Soon after that, I sold my part of the trucking business and moved to San Francisco, and my decline began soon afterward. Everything started fine. I started driving a truck and got a room with a couple of other drivers off Geary and Larkin. Soon, my roommates’ behavior began to seem suspicious. No longer attending church, I spent my free time watching TV and drinking myself into a blackout. In the end, I lived in a shelter run by the Catholic Church between moments of sober time. I began volunteering with the local parish, never mentioning my past life as a priest.
It was there that I had a run-in with Father Borromeo, who I had known while a priest when I was in the Bay area. I was suspicious of him until he spoke of Father Bill.
“The father moved here a couple of months ago. I heard he was retiring and would be living with the monks at St. Dominick’s. He seemed like Father Bill for a while. I went and visited a couple of times. I heard he had become maudlin and isolated. He would remain in his bed most of the week and barely ate.”
“It must be hard after fighting the Devil for so many years.”
“That’s not a problem, William. After a couple of weeks of isolation, many others in the community began to have strange thoughts enter their minds. By then, the Father could be heard talking to himself in his room. Eventually, the conversations began to get louder. There were also reports of bizarre accidents and objects moving on their own. Whatever was wrong, the father was in a very dire condition. Your name has come up repeatedly during this time.”
Borromeo wanted me to meet with Father Rizzo, the exorcist, after his arrival. A day beforehand, I decided to see Father Bill and sneaked into his room.
Father Bill was in horrible condition. His skin was dry and cracked, covered in sores and bruises. His hair had begun to fall out. He shook like a drunk drying out and smelled of a sewer pipe. His breathing was shrill and guttural. He spoke with the voice of the little boy he had possessed.
“Hello, William! Sorry for the condition of this room. My associates have been busy.”
I started laughing—full-body belly howls with the smell of Bacardi on my breath. I had to keep my pants from falling while snot rolled down the side of my face.
And then the Devil said unto me, “Are you drunk?”
I had, of course, been drinking. I tried to stay sober but found it impossible. “Yes, so what? Is that a problem?”
“Don’t you think that’s a bit rude?”
We were both quiet for a moment. I could see that the Devil was feeling a little awkward because of my condition. He rubbed Father Bill’s head and lay against the backboard of the bed.
“Well,” he finally said, “My associates have decided to take matters into their own hands and punish the old priest before he dies….”
“I thought you wanted me to take care of it. Why would you let this happen?”
“What am I supposed to do?” the Devil bellowed in an unholy tone I had never heard nor wish to hear ever again.
There was another moment of awkward silence. Soon, though, the Enemy offered a smile from Father Bill’s emaciated complexion, somewhat embarrassed at his outburst. “It’s their will and desire, and this priest has wronged us. Who am I to hold them back? They do as they want. That is our way.”
“You’re lying,” I said while trying not to fall over, “Why are you here? Did you know that I would be here?”
It was then that the parish Pastor walked in with several others. This was so frightening I thought I was going to pass out. The Devil kept his composure, if not feeling a little embarrassed for me.
“Sir,” the pastor demanded, “You must leave now! Father Taylor isn’t feeling well.”
“Well, William,” the Devil said in Father Bill’s voice, “This is embarrassing. I’m sorry that this seems to have turned into a spectacle. I have to admit I knew you were coming. I was going to surprise you. You see, my request was just a little joke.”
There was another moment of silence—aside from the pastor murmuring to his associates. I just shook my head and tried to keep myself upright. The pastor paid attention to our conversation and used language that I found highly creative, making the Devil scoff offended. The pastor then, with a lot of masculine theatrics, gave a direct order to one of his associates to call the police while the Enemy and I looked on.
“Joke?” I said while the pastor attempted to lecture me on sober living and a good life, “What joke?”
“Well, I didn’t want you to do anything. I just wanted to surprise you when you finally confronted the old priest. I mean, both of you would be surprised. It was supposed to be a joke. You know, like a practical joke. I didn’t realize my associates were preparing to get even with the grimy old fool. Please forgive me, William.”
“You’re lying! Everything you say is a lie! Do you know how much I lost because of your bullshit!”
The Devil looked at me, pained. I knew it was nonsense. After so many years running from his words, I finally realized it was all a joke to him. Maybe he considered me as a friend, and perhaps he didn’t. What does friendship look like to the Devil?
“I rebuke you!” I screamed, “I rebuke you, Satan. In the name of all that is holy and good, and through the grace and eternal love of the one true God, I rebuke you.”
“Okay,” the pastor said, grabbing me, “Enough is enough. Let’s go, buddy!”
The whole ordeal had left me spent. The liquor was starting to fade. My realization was beginning to affect me on an emotional level. I had thrown away so many friendships and half of my life because of this one toxic relationship. And yet, evil maintained his innocence and, frankly, could have been sincere. How does he truly experience eternity?
And then the Devil uttered the last words he would say unto me. “Oh William,” he murmured, “Boring. Very, very boring.”
About the Author: Rudolfo San Miguel is a writer and student who graduated from the BA Creative Writing program at San Francisco State University. His work has been published in Scarlett Leaf Review, October Hill Magazine, and the 2020 Rabbit Hole Short Story Anthology. He lives in Pacifica, California, where he continues to work to improve as a writer.
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