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BLATTY, William Peter

The Exorcist

The two priests stepped into the warmth and the dimness of the hall and leaned wearily against the wall.

Karras listened to the eerie, muffled singing from within. After some moments, he spoke softly to Merrin. “You said—you said earlier there was only… one entity.”


The hushed tones, the lowered heads, were confessional.

“All the others are but forms of attack,” continued Merrin. “There is one… only one. It is a demon.” There was a silence. Then Merrin stated simply, “I know you doubt this. But you see, this demon… I have met once before. And he is powerful… powerful….”

A silence. Karras spoke again. “We say the demon… cannot touch the victim’s will.”

“Yes, that is so… that is so… There is no sin.”

“Then what would be the purpose of possession?” Karras said, frowning. “What’s the point?”

“Who can know?” answered Merrin. “Who can really hope to know?” He thought for a moment. And then probingly continued: “Yet I think the demon’s target is not the possessed; it is us… the observers… every person in this house. And I think—I think the point is to make us despair; to reject our own humanity, Damien: to see ourselves as ultimately bestial; as ultimately vile and putrescent; without dignity; ugly; unworthy. And there lies the heart of it, perhaps: in unworthiness. For I think belief in God is not a matter of reason at all; I think it finally is matter of love; of accepting the possibility that God could love us…”

Again Merrin paused. He continued more slowly and with a hush of introspection: ‘He knows… the demon knows where to strike….” He was nodding. “Long ago I despaired of ever loving my neighbor. Certain people… repelled me. How could I love them? I thought. It tormented me, Damien; it led me to despair of myself… and from that, very soon, to despair of my God. My faith was shattered….”

Karras looked up at Merrin with interest. “And what happened?” he asked.

“Ah, well… at last I realized that God would never ask of me that which I know to be psychologically impossible; that the love which He asked was in my will and not meant to be felt as emotion at all. Not at all. He was asking that I act with love; that I do unto others; and that I should do it unto those who repelled me, I believe, was a greater act of love than any other.” He shook his head. “I know that all of this must seem very obvious, Damien. I know. But at the time I could not see It. Strange blindness. How many husbands and wives,” he uttered sadly, “must believe they have fallen out of love because their hearts no longer race at the sight of their beloveds! Ah, dear God!” He shook his head; and then nodded. “There it lies, I think, Damien… possession; not in wars, as some tend to believe; not so much; and very seldom in extraordinary interventions such as here… this girl… this poor child. No, I see it most often in the little things, Damien: in the senseless, petty spites; the misunderstandings; the cruel and cutting word that leaps unbidden to the tongue between friends. Between lovers. Enough of these,” Merrin whispered, “and we have no need of Satan to manage our wars; these we manage for ourselves… for ourselves….”

The lilting singing could still be heard in the bedroom. Merrin looked up at the door and listened for a moment. “And yet even from this—from evil—will come good. In some way. In some way that we may never understand or ever see.” Merrin paused. “Perhaps evil is the crucible of goodness,” he brooded. “And perhaps even Satan—Satan, in spite of himself—somehow serves to work out the will of God.”

He said no more, and for a time they stood in silence while Karras reflected. Another objection came to mind. “Once the demon’s driven out,” he probed, “what’s to keep it from coming back in?”

“I don’t know,” Merrin answered. “I don’t know. And yet it never seems to happen. Never. Never.” Merrin put a hand to his face, tightly pinching at the corners of his eyes. “Damien… what a wonderful name,” he murmured. Karras heard exhaustion in the voice. And something else. Some anxiety. Something like repression of pain.

Abruptly, Merrin pushed himself away from the wall, and with his face still hidden in his hand; he excused himself and hurried down the hall to the bathroom. What was wrong? wondered Karras. He felt a sudden envy and admiration for the exorcist’s strong and simple faith. He turned toward the door. The singing. It had stopped. Had the night at last ended?

Some minutes later, Sharon came out of the bedroom with a foul-smelling bundle of bedding and clothing. “She’s sleeping now,” she said. She looked away quickly and moved off down the hall.

Karras took a deep breath and returned to the bedroom. Felt the cold. Smelled the stench. He walked slowly to the bedside. Regan. Asleep. At last. And at last, thought Karras, he could rest.

He reached down and gripped Regan’s thin wrist, looking at the sweep-second hand of his watch.

“Why you do this to me, Dimmy?”

His heart froze.

“Why you do this?”

The priest could not move, did not breathe, did not dare to glance over to that sorrowful voice, did not dare see those eyes really there: eyes accusing, eyes lonely. His mother. His mother!

“You leave me to be priest, Dimmy; and send me institution….”

Don’t look!

“Now you chase me away?…”

It’s not her!

“Why you do this?…”

His head throbbing, heart in his throat, Karras shut his eyes tightly as the voice grew imploring, grew frightened, grew, tearful. “You always good boy, Dimmy. Please! I am ‘fraid! Please no chase me outside, Dimmy! Please!”

… not my mother!

“Outside nothing! Only dark, Dimmy! Lonely!” Now tearful.

“You’re not my mother!” Karras vehemently whispered.

“Dimmy. please!…”