by Ben Larken
The first time I saw The Exorcist I was thirteen years old. I saw it one night after my parents went to sleep and then spent the rest of the night lying awake in bed, staring at the ceiling in total horror. One question kept my eyelids from drooping—what if something else was staring back at me? The thing about the demon in the film (and later, when I read the book) was that it was so open to interpretation. It was a force of nature, as unexplainable as the path of a tornado, and the idea that beings might be out there that unpredictable and dangerous never left me.
But I would argue that no matter how good the movie, the story ultimately does a disservice to a character that at first seemed totally original, totally iconic, and totally bad ass. Bringing such characters back to more innocent times only waters them down. Finding out the Alien started out as black goo didn’t exactly ignite my imagination. And I didn’t need to see Darth Vader as a petulant teen. Filling in the back story ourselves is something we do naturally. If the story and the characters are compelling, we’ll fill in the blanks.
In the case of my book Pillar’s Fall, I was telling the story of a detective investigating a series of murders that lead back to a boy and, more importantly, the demon who lives inside him. Like Exorcist, I knew I didn’t want to waste time on the demon’s background. I wanted his nightmarish actions to speak louder than his words. But when he did talk, I wanted it to be about where he was going, not where he’s been.
In the following scene, Detective Thomas Pillar is driving his van when he realizes he has company…
Tom looked behind him, terrified.
Seth sat in one of the back seats, his legs crossed, his seatbelt fastened, his gaze cold and calculating. His clothes were crimson and damp. They clung to his body, dripping all over the floorboard.
For a moment Tom couldn’t draw enough air into his lungs to speak. His breathing was too shallow and he couldn’t force himself to react. The sight of the boy painted in blood had him petrified. When he finally found his voice it was nothing but a raspy murmur.
“Seth, what did you do?”
Seth smiled. “Do you really think this is Seth you’re talking to, after all you’ve seen? I expected more from you, Pillar.”
Tom jerked the wheel, and the van screeched into a U-turn. “We’re going back to the station.”
“No, we’re not,” Seth replied casually.
As they came out of the U-turn, Tom tried to right the steering wheel, and felt his spine freeze. He couldn’t right the steering wheel. The van was still turning. He stepped off of the gas pedal, but the van kept going. In fact, it sped up. The van made a complete circle before the steering wheel shifted on its own, and they continued down the street.
Tom turned around, looking at Seth. “What do you want from me? If you’re not Seth, who the hell are you?”
The boy’s eyes narrowed, his gaze as sharp as a hawk’s. “I’m the future,” he said and licked the blood from his lower lip. “I am the way to the Promised Land.”
Tom looked back at the road. They were still accelerating. Street lamps flashed by every few seconds. He glanced at the speedometer. On a forty-five speed limit street they were doing sixty-five. Seventy.
“The only thing blocking that way is you, Pillar,” Seth continued.
“Stop the car, Seth.”
“The angels have disappeared. Even they are afraid of me. All the king’s horses and all the king’s men have left town. They left you, though. For some reason, they let you remain.”
“I said stop!”
Somewhere behind them a police siren sounded. Tom looked back to see a squad car spring into action on the street, its lights blazing. It was way back in the distance. Tom looked at the speedometer. Ninety-two.
“You are the blockade of God,” Seth said, grinning. “What God does not realize is that you’re more of a speed bump. You will be out of my way soon. Maybe God intended you to be a great leader, and He is partially right. You will be famous, to be sure. But how will you be famous? Ahh, that’s the fun part.”
“Shit!” Tom cried as the van hit a highway on-ramp and turned left to enter it. The whole van tilted onto its right wheels, giving him a split second to realize he never buckled his seat belt in his rush to leave the precinct. The left wheels went airborne, and he toppled into the passenger seat. His shoulder hammered the passenger window, sending a web of cracks through the glass. Somehow he managed to look behind him and see Seth again, still sitting with his legs crossed, still looking tranquil in his sea of blood. The van rounded the corner completely and the left side crashed down, the shocks squealing painfully. Tom scrambled to get back in the driver’s seat.
“You’re going to be big all right,” Seth continued, his voice controlled and knowing. “You’re going to be the most famous serial killer of the new millennium.”
Tom hit the brake, but it didn’t depress. It was an immovable rock. He looked at the speedometer. One hundred and twelve. The air in his lungs went still as the Odyssey shot off the on-ramp. All four wheels left the pavement as the vehicle arced through the air and then slammed down again. A huge spray of sparks rained from the front as the headlights exploded from impact. Tom’s head bobbed on his shoulders and slapped the headrest.
“Damn you! Stop this thing!” Tom yelled, his voice hoarse and creaky. They were on the highway now, zooming in and out of lanes. Other cars honked as they sped past, but the shrill sound faded the moment it started. Tom saw the speedometer had stopped on one hundred and fifteen, the highest it could go. But they were still accelerating. He felt it in the G-force pinning his torso to the seat. Red taillights shot by in a firestorm. Tom thought of one last option.
“Criminologists will study your motives for years,” Seth speculated. “A man who got his taste to kill by dropping a child from a bridge, a man who shredded his victims to pieces, an evil man that no one will ever guess is innocent.”
Tom turned to Seth, his gun firmly in his grip and aimed at the boy. When he spoke again it was with authority instead of terror.
“You’re gonna stop the car. Right now.”
Seth arched an eyebrow, his blue eyes piercing. He shook his head like a disappointed parent. “Ah, Pillar,” he said. “I’ve told you all this and you never even asked why.”
A surge in the air that made every hair on Tom’s body stand up. Something was wrong, more wrong than everything that came before, more wrong than the rising speed. The van had gone silent. Where squeals and screeches had blistered his ears a moment before, now there was nothing. Tom didn’t want to take his eyes off Seth, but he had to. He had to see what was happening. He slowly turned to the front, keeping the gun on Seth. And then his stomach fell to his knees.
The van had lifted about a foot off the ground. It was still over the highway, still shooting in and out of traffic with an impossible deftness. There was no contact with the pavement. They were hovering. And the speed climbed. Every car they passed was a blur. The night sky was a tornado of dark shapes and splashes of light. Tom only made out one thing with any real definition. The Flux Bridge. They approached the suspension bridge like suicide bombers on the final pass.
“God,” Tom whispered in awe, his eyes stuck on the coming structure. “How can this be happening?”
Seth’s voice was right in his ear. “Let’s just say the devil made me do it.”