Melcarius’s first earthly assignment did not start well. With youthful enthusiasm, he tried to teleport into Vatican City itself. Rookie mistake, one he had been warned against during orientation. Only very powerful demons like Asmodai or Pat Robertson could slip past the centuries of warding that protected the heart of Christ’s Church. Melcarius bounced off the wards so hard he almost achieved orbit.
Disoriented, he landed on a clammy white floor made of tiled stone. The air was cold, sterile. Melcarius shivered, half from fear of failure, half from encroaching hypothermia.
His eyes strained in the harsh white light. The room was unnatural, filled with a row of doors that didn’t quite reach the floor and a table with a dozen tiny waterfalls. The wall held a white box that randomly emitted wind gusts.
He’d spent his life trimming trees in the Wood of Suicides. It was honest work, but spending your days beset by moaning teenagers was enough to make even a demon contemplate a lava bath. Melcarius aspired to more. He could go far, maybe even oversee his own Circle someday.
First he needed a warm body to occupy. He hadn’t excelled in Possession. He’d managed a ferret for a few minutes, but that’s easy. Ferrets are already evil.
Melcarius searched for a soul. People bustled around him. Most of them were speaking English… maybe. If only he had paid more attention in language prep.
He heard the sound of water rushing. A woman emerged from one of the doors. She must have traveled here through an artificial river. Melcarius was impressed. Humans were nothing if not clever. Not that it helped much, when they finally met their end.
Possession was easiest with souls weakened by sorrow. This woman’s eyes were damp, red. She looked pale. Melcarius had found his ride.
He jumped onto the waterfall table. There was little risk of being spotted. Some things humans simply preferred not to see. Melcarius concentrated, letting his gaze bore into her eyes. He slipped into her mind without resistance.
Something was wrong. She wasn’t grappling with despair! Her mind felt detached, afloat, yet strangely happy. He struggled to control her, but couldn’t quite manage. He was just along for the ride.
She turned to leave. The door opened onto a vast corridor where thousands of people strode purposefully forward. Wheeled creatures chased them. Dogs? Didn’t dogs have legs?
Ahead, people formed lines before a series of archways and put their shoes and wheeled creatures onto a curious moving road. Some assumed the Crucifixion pose while others waved them with a scepter. A Church? Panic swept Melcarius. He couldn’t hold on across the threshold of a Church!
Advancing through the line, his host retrieved a slip of paper from her bag. Melcarius strained to read it, but he could barely read Sanskrit. Literacy wasn’t a priority among tree trimmers. Still, he recognized a few letters. First word, V A… second word, D I…
He pondered. Va… Vatican? Di… Direct! He couldn’t believe his luck. His host would take him straight to his goal. Someone down there was looking out for him.
The woman advanced and Melcarius braced himself for the archway. She plunged through.
Nothing. Nary a tickle. Had Churches lost their former power? Perhaps he was more formidable than he’d given himself credit for.
The host continued down the endless hall at a rapid pace. “I’m late,” she muttered. Eventually, she slowed and joined a lengthy line, wheeled creature at her heels. “Whew!” she said in relief. “Made it.” One by one they walked through the door.
She walked down a ramp, then turned and entered a small hall with a low ceiling and rows of seats on either side. Before sitting down, people grabbed their little wheeled animals and stuffed them into boxes built into the ceiling.
Melcarius noted absently that many of the occupants on this vessel were on the small side.
He froze. The shock he felt was enough to stop his host dead in her tracks. Sitting with a distinctive white patch over his Adam’s apple was one of God’s own warriors, Book of Lies in his hands. To his horror, Melcarius’s host sat down next to the Heavenspawn.
Melcarius felt his stomach contort. His host must have felt it too, for she started to cough as though the smoke of Hell itself filled her lungs.
“Are you alright, my child?” the Heavenspawn asked.
“Oh, fine, Father. I’ve been fighting a cold for a while now,” said his host. “The cold medicine isn’t helping at all. It’s just making me groggy.”
Melcarius felt the penetrating stare of the warrior upon him. Then it all came apart. With a mighty contraction, his host roared.
It felt as though she tried to expel her entire chest. Melcarius’s grip weakened. Before he had a chance to recover, the cursed Paladin leaned closer. With dismissive ease, he whispered, “God bless you.”
His mind screamed as the words exorcized him. Melcarius flailed to regain Possession, but he had been banished — stuck in the seat inches below his former host and wracked with despair.
He would remain in the chair, in limbo, until he could find a replacement host. One beset with grief, easily infiltrated. If his instructors were to be believed, the wait would not be long. But the waves of excitement he felt from this crowd, especially now out of his former host, were worrisome. There was no hope for a new host on this flight. At least he was still headed in the right direction. The paper had said Vatican Direct, had it not?
“Where are you staying?” asked the Heavenspawn.
“The Polynesian,” said the woman. “I’m meeting my family.”
“Welcome to Vacation Disney,” the flight attendant said. “Non-stop flights to the happiest place on Earth.”
Melcarius wailed, stranded in purgatory — forever watching The Little Mermaid on the in-flight movie.
Patrick S. Tomlinson lives in Wisconsin, where he is hard at work writing his first novel. In addition to trying to claw his way up the publishing ladder, Patrick also helps edit stories for Apex Magazine. Time not writing is spent training for triathlons, maintaining a stable of Ford Mustangs, and snuggling with his unnaturally supportive wife.