Old Scratch (EBOOK)

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Father Noah Godfrey is no stranger to turmoil.

A former soldier turned priest and son of an acclaimed exorcist; he struggles to find work. Living life under his father’s shadow is taking its toll on him. 

He needs money to survive, but with few viable prospects, his chances aren’t looking good.

Father Zachariah, a religious zealot, separated St. Agatha’s Church from the church body and reestablished a new physical church in the middle of Texas. 

His return from a mission trip in Brazil raises questions. 

The once beloved priest is a shadow of his former self and is believed to have gone mad. Despite his bizarre behavior, he’s amassed a huge following and has taken his evangelism to the airwaves. People have flocked to The Foundation. His captive audience has even gathered an elite group of believers who spend time at the compound.

When the congregation draws attention for all the wrong reasons, the Church dispatches Noah to investigate and report back on the validity of the rumors. Soon, Noah finds himself ensnared in what could be the greatest hoax the world has ever seen…or the location for the final showdown between God and the devil himself.

Will Noah uncover the horrifying secrets and expose the truth, or will the congregation’s unwavering and deadly loyalty stop him in his tracks?

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Chapter One

May God have mercy.
Noah Godfrey adjusted his clerical collar one last time, an act Amelia, his sister, claimed was just “fidgeting” at this point.
“It suits you,” she said, standing off his elbow, her eyes searching his clothes for wayward threads and bits of lint.
Noah looked at his sister. With her auburn hair, trimmed short and neat, and a youthful face with high cheekbones, she could have been his twin. The only difference between them were the natural dimples Amelia had somehow managed to keep despite many hard years as an emergency room nurse. Shift work, regardless of the stress level, took a toll on people, but for Amelia, you’d have no idea, worry lines only just starting to appear on her forehead.
Noah put the mirror to his back, no longer able to look at himself. His reticence wasn’t out of shame; it was more nervousness than anything. No one could read his face and tell he’d just graduated seminary. He didn’t look like any priest he’d ever seen. They were either young and vibrant or weathered and wise. Noah was neither.
This feeling, though misguided, was only emphasized by a photo of his father—“in action”, as it were—looking up at him from a silver frame on the dresser. His father looked like a priest: stern, confident, and brave.
“I feel odd. Like I shouldn’t be wearing this. Like I’m a fraud,” he said, gingerly touching his clerical collar again.
Amelia chuckled, but it was cut short when Noah didn’t join in.
“You’ll grow into it,” she offered reassuringly. “Every priest does, right? Give it time. You’re a long way from the Army. You can’t honestly tell me you were confident leading soldiers your first day out of boot camp.”
Amelia was right, of course, a fact that he found less annoying over the years, as they grew closer. Their childhood had been rife with disorganization; their father had always been away and their mother had passed while Noah was still in high school. The church had provided surrogate families for a few months. Normally, they comprised ancient nuns or grumpy priests that wouldn’t play a board game or cook anything beyond a box of macaroni and cheese. This went on until Noah had started to join his Abraham on his trips and he’d got a real taste of why his father had essentially sacrificed their childhood in the name of the Church.
It was still so surreal in Noah’s mind—surreal and chaotic. After high school, he’d been desperate for structure. He lacked the tenacity for hard studies and was often distracted by the substance of his father’s work to really care too much about algebra or science. History was the only thing he excelled at—and only because he took an interest in the Church’s impact on history over time. When it turned out that colleges didn’t hand out scholarships for students who can’t be bothered to fill out any applications, Noah did what any punk kid did to gain a bit of confidence and straighten his life out: he joined the Army.
Four years later, he’d left the military with an honorable discharge and immediately went into seminary. It had been a stark contrast, but it had felt like the right decision. He’d felt compelled by God, like servitude was a well-worn path at his feet for him to naturally follow.
Most in seminary had to describe their calling to join the clergy—to justify it, in a way, in front of thirty or so junior priests. When it was Noah’s turn to do so, he’d choked and spat out some generic answer. Later, he’d vowed to solidify what he’d say the next time he was asked—not how, but why he’d left the Army and became a priest. Whoever asked such a question deserved a righteous answer worthy of the collar he was wearing.
Noah turned back to the mirror, but avoided his own face and instead scooped up the framed photo of his father from the plain brown dresser, scarred with age.
A runner, Abraham Godfrey had been lean and had always kept his hair combed neatly to the side. A boring brown color, he’d called it, but his mother, Sabina, had always said it was “rich and full,” whatever that meant.
Noah had inherited most of his father’s looks and all of his mother’s temper. Tall, pole-like, and nimble, his face couldn’t grow a single hair, and his eyes gave him a constantly sleepy appearance. But when he got angry, they widened in a way that made him look like a madman on a bad high.
He sighed, his heart racing as his nerves finally took hold. He had an interview that day, and he’d be taking his father’s photo with him in the car for good luck.
Amelia smiled longingly at the photo, too, her eyes creating crow’s feet at their corners. “He’d be proud of you, you know? How many … you know … How many did he do?”
Noah knew what she meant. He, unlike her, was privy to the specifics of his father’s job. It was what he was most known for, especially in the later years of his life, as he’d begun to tell his stories to anyone who would listen, instead of just Noah. He’d kept them quiet for a long time, but end stage cancer had a way of loosening the tongue to the point where he gladly would have told the Church to shove it if they’d commanded him not to speak.
“Exorcisms? Twelve, over the years. I saw four of them. But if you ask me, it felt like hundreds. Each time, he came back different. Distant, in a way. He’d spend hours locked in his study, then, when he was ready to talk, he’d make a phone call to the church and they’d send a team to debrief him. I remembered those calls. He’d dial a number that wasn’t written down anywhere and all he’d say was, “It’s done.” Within hours, he’d be taken away by limo, only to return days later, looking worse than before.”
Noah gave the photo one last glance. His father held a hand raised in prayer over a woman, held down in the middle of a kitchen floor by her family, a dark pool near her wrists.
Though the photo was in black and white, Noah knew that it was blood.
After many nights poring over his studies, the photo on the desk beside his papers, Noah had come to memorize the image. Not because of the brutality depicted, but because it captured one of the last exorcisms ever conducted by Father Abraham Godfrey.
The one he’d said had scared him the most.
It wasn’t long after the photo was taken that his father was diagnosed with leukemia. Six months after that, he was gone.
Amelia’s reflection moved into view. “You don’t have to be like him, Noah. What he did was remarkable, but so is what you’re doing now. Don’t compare yourself to him.”
With that, before Noah could respond, his sister gave him a hug. They’d been through a lot over the years. One of their father’s wishes had been that they’d grow closer as a family. For a long time, though they’d lived in the same house and eaten the same food, the Godfreys had never acted as a family should. Noah had gravitated toward their dad, and Amelia toward their mom. Now, with no one to drift toward, they could finally be a family.
It was so very odd—the idea that death could be uniting, in a way. The same way tragedy stilled petty differences.
“I’m going to get this job,” Noah said confidently, charging out of the memory of his father like a bull fresh out of the pen. He didn’t want to dwell there; not with him. Not in death.
“You’re going to get the job,” Amelia mirrored, smiling. “And you’re going to move into the clergy house. Then, you’ll have room for a cat.”
“I don’t know if they’ll allow animals.”
“You should ask them!”
“How about I get the job first? Then I can pay you back. After that, maybe I can get a cat.”
Amelia brushed it off. “There will always be money.” It was the sort of generic response that told him she was done talking about it. He’d always broach the subject of money, making sure Amelia knew he was going to pay her back. Someday.
Noah gathered his keys from a dish on the dresser and made his way to the closet to get his coat. It was the middle of November, but in Texas, that had little to no meaning as far as predicting the weather went. It could be hot and sunny for an hour, then a blizzard for the rest of the day. He checked his plain Timex watch, then made a motion with his head toward the front door.
Amelia followed. He slipped on his coat and said, “You just put me through seminary. Honestly, if I get this job, you can probably take a few years off.”
She stopped at the kitchen table and leaned on one of the hard wooden chairs, which wobbled beneath her weight. With a disapproving look, she occupied herself with picking up their plates from breakfast. Noah knew this behavior; she’d clean the house as an excuse to avoid the topic of money. Not that it would take her long; the condo was small, and the amenities nearly non-existent.
“I’ll let you buy me a new kitchen table first. What happens if you don’t get this position? Not that you won’t … I’m just curious, is all.”
He checked his watch. He still had time.
Noah strode across the kitchen and filled a cup with tap water. Taking a drink, he said, “I have two other interviews lined up, both of which are tomorrow, but this church has the clergy home and pays the most. Do you think it’s wrong that I’m looking at the money? Do you think I should just take whatever position I’m handed?”
Amelia stopped scrubbing the counter. “I don’t think so. Even priests have to afford to live. I think as long as your heart and intentions are pure, that’s all that matters.” Her eyes drifted to the clock on the stove. “Let me walk you out. You don’t want to be late.”
Together, they went to the front door. Noah stepped outside first. To his surprise, it wasn’t just chilly; it was freezing, and the wind was already biting at the tips of his ears. There wasn’t much in South Texas to quell the winds, anyway. Most of the land was flat. The one benefit of the season was, the sand was mostly frozen to the ground and wasn’t picked up by the wind.
Noah tried to shove Amelia back inside, as she was only dressed in scrubs, but she was stubborn and escorted him to his car anyway, her teeth chattering and her exposed skin covered in gooseflesh. For his sister’s sake, Noah jumped into the seat of his worn SUV, hoping she would see sense and head inside. But when he went to say his goodbye, he saw that her eyes were not on him, but on something across the road.
“Sis?” he said, getting out again. He turned and followed her gaze. Instinctively, his heart leapt into his throat, and the hairs on the back of his neck stood up.
Across the street was the biggest black dog he’d ever seen. Its fur was matted, its eyes brown and predatory. Noah noted that its paws had to be as large as a man’s hand. Even through the soft whistle of the wind, its growl carried over to them. He watched in horror as its lips peeled back and exposed a mouthful of white teeth, sharp as little daggers. Hot breath billowed from its maw like the breath of a dragon.
“Get inside!” Noah instructed out of the corner of his mouth. “Move slow, and get inside.”
“I can’t,” Amelia whispered.
The dog seemed to be able to hear her words and bent down, leveling its eyes on her. It was like an old Western shootout, with neither the dog nor Amelia wanting to make the first move.
“Amelia, get in the house,” Noah urged, his arm creeping toward the door handle.
Then, as Amelia lifted a shaking foot to step back inside, the dog leapt forward, and a man’s voice, deep and commanding, stopped the beast in its tracks. “Hero, heel!”
Noah let out a huge sigh of relief and saw his neighbor standing under the awning of the shared carport for the condo across from them. He was wearing nothing but jeans and held a light green beer bottle in his hand. Strangely, his eyes had the same intensity as the dog’s.
Lifting the bottle in acknowledgment, the neighbor called his dog inside. The screen door slammed behind him, and yelling came from inside the house.
Noah and Amelia both exchanged nervous smiles, then, noticing the time, he retreated to his SUV while his sister finally went inside.
Now a few minutes behind schedule, Noah wished more than ever that he’d get this job. He’d get the job and have his own house, away from neighbors who started day drinking at 9:00 A.M. on a Tuesday, someplace hellhounds were kept on ranches rather than two-bedroom townhouses.
He turned wishes into prayers the entire drive into town.