By: Thomas S. Flowers
Galveston, Texas. 1979
Sister Mary Martha held her breath as Father MacGowran knocked on the door of Amon Palace. Father Danforth and Father Harris stood behind the aged priest. The humidity of the swamps surrounding the house hung heavy in the air. Mosquitoes buzzed, singing in their ears. High above, a large moon shined down on them through a clearing in an otherwise cloudy sky. It had just stopped raining, but the forecast called for another downpour later in the night. Droplets trickled down the sides of the house on wet stone puddling in what she could imagine to be a beautiful garden—had anyone bothered to dig up the old dead roots, turn the soil, and plant the seeds. The vegetation was so brown surrounding the house, even an apparent invasion of kudzu only got as far as a few feet up the foundation before wilting into gnarled husks.
Father MacGowran, a tall dinosaur among the Catholic clergymen with long thin arms, hammered again on the large wood door, his gray hair just visible from underneath his Cappello Romano hat.
“They do know we’re coming?” asked Father Harris, a short and stocky priest with a large bald spot on the top of his head. He always seemed in need of a good night’s sleep to Sister Mary Martha, and she noted a certain odd glint in his eye whenever she saw him at St. Mary Cathedral for mass, a wariness of his professional, she supposed.
“Of course—wait, what time is it? Happy Days might be on,” joked Father Danforth, an average height middle-aged priest with wavy brown hair and a handsome smile who seldom acted his age or position with the Church. There was a rumor he was being groomed for Archdiocese of Galveston–Houston. Sister Martha had always liked him, he made her laugh in the most impromptu times when he helped around the Children’s Center.
Father Harris slapped his neck. He stared at his hand, examining his kill. “I don’t know which is worse, being eaten alive on the stoop of this ghastly house or listening to your horrid jokes.”
“You’re probably right, Father Tuck—they seem more like Mork and Mindy fans,” Father Danforth quipped, glancing back at Sister Martha with a rueful wink.
Sighing loudly, Father Harris said, “I do wish you’d stop calling me that.”
Hammering again on the door, Father MacGowran growled. “Highly irregular,” he huffed, shifting the large black leather M.D. paramedic bag he carried, seemingly oblivious to the conversation going on behind him.
Father Danforth posed to retort when the door finally opened.
Standing in the doorway a man dressed in jean overalls with a gaunt expression stared out at them. His icy blue eyes searching each in turn. His black hair parted perfectly in the middle.
Sister Martha pressed her lips. She hated to think ill of anyone, but this man was not who she expected to find opening the door of such an elegant mansion—even one with a tainted history as Amon Palace. He looked more like a carpenter or handyman than butler.
“Miss Driscoll is expecting us?” Father MacGowran reported, partly asking, glancing past their would-be doorman into the house.
“I know who you are—come on in. Marge is tending to the Misses medicine. She should be with your shortly,” said the man.
“Marge?” asked Father Danforth.
Father Harris groaned quietly.
“Marge—my wife, she tends to Miss Driscoll,” reported the man.
“And you, sir?”
“I’m John, John Anderson. When things break, I fix them. That’s what I do around here.” Mr. Anderson shuffled on his feet, looking very uncomfortable.
“Hello, John—I’m Father Danforth. This is Father MacGowran. This is Father Harris. And this is Sister Martha.” Father Danforth gestured to each in turn.
Mr. Anderson nodded, seemingly taken aback by Father Danforth’s cavalier manner. He took a step back to allow them passage. “Yes. Right, well go on inside. You can wait in the parlor down the hall.”
The group shuffled past him.
Father Danforth nodded more pleasantly than the situation required.
Sister Martha bowed slightly as Mr. Anderson gazed at her with his chilling eyes. “Thank you, sir,” she said meekly, avoiding eye contact as much as possible, and joined the others as they waited for John to guide them to the parlor.
Mr. Anderson shut the door and turned to the group somewhat surprised to find them standing there waiting for him. “Right,” he said, “this way,” and lead them down the hall.
As everyone settled inside, he reminded them Miss Driscoll would be with them shortly and then closed the parlor door, leaving them alone.
“Charming fellow,” tutted Father Danforth.
The others spread out, examining the different pieces of furniture and paintings and the rest of the antique looking collection.
Sister Martha marveled at the decadence. “So much space here—to think only Miss Driscoll lives here.”
“Is anyone else finding it cold?” asked Father Danforth.
Now that Danforth mentioned it, Sister Martha shivered, rubbing the back of her arms.
Father MacGowran turned away from the unlit fireplace, glancing at both Father Harris and Danforth. “Remember the case file. Almost all reports of hauntings, psychic invasions, and the like, all bear a strong parallel to the experiences Miss Driscoll herself has reported to the Church. What is referred to as cold spots,” he paused, looking over at Father Danforth, “also slamming of doors or banging on walls by some unknown force, there’s also retrocognition.”
There was a lulling quiet—and a thunderous boom on the horizon as the predicted night’s storm made its way toward them.
“These cases, Father MacGowran, correct me if I’m wrong but what was it that you published with the Vatican? I believe I read that you mentioned something about a correlation between hauntings and demonic possession?” asked Father Harris as he inspected a small picture frame with a young girl walking along a dark overcast beach.
Father MacGowran nodded, his gaze downcast, as if he were preparing himself for something incredibly difficult. “Yes, hauntings such as these sometimes serve as the first manifestation of an entity ultimately bent on demonic possession. According to my research, odors of human excrement or rotting eggs, sulfur can be a characteristic clue of demonic infestation.”
Sister Mary Martha listened to the aged priest with a feeling of both awe and a sickening in her stomach. Though she had never met him personally, she sensed a great wealth of both experience and suffering emanating from him. She herself had only one such experience to which Father MacGowran had dedicated his entire career. And it was only by happenstance. A boy under her care at the Children’s Center Orphanage had gone through peculiar changes. He became distant from the other children. Prone to illness no doctor could identify—they’d assumed it was all psychosomatic. The sisters and herself included had almost believed them until other strange phenomenon began occurring—just as Father MacGowran had described. Lights flickering. Banging on the walls. And a foul odor. Eventually the boy became too far advanced for their unexperienced fumbling efforts and the Archdiocese reached out for the Church to send an Exorcist.
“Is that what you believe is going on here?” Father Harris asked. He found a comfortable plush leather chair and eased into it.
Realizing their wait could be longer than he probably expected, Father MacGowran set down his large black medical bag and his Cappello Romano hat on a nearby table and turned back to the fireplace. From inside his black coat he produced a wrinkled pack of Pall Malls and lit one without answering Father Harris.
Father Harris and Father Danforth exchanged a quick glance.
Just as Sister Martha had decided to rest in a leather armchair, a knock came at the door. Miss Driscoll arrived, pushed in a wheelchair and covered heavily with blankets.
“Sorry to keep you waiting,” said the old woman as a tall stern looking woman guided her around the large dark couch, positioning her in front of the group beside the darkened fireplace. She gazed at each of her guests. “I’m Elizbeth Driscoll—and this is my caretaker, Mrs. Anderson,” she gestured to the prudish looking woman with a tight hair bun and dressed in a long grey skirt and an eggshell colored long-sleeved shirt buttoned all the way to her chin. A true opposite in appearance to her benefactor. Despite her age, Sister Martha thought Miss Driscoll had beautiful features—hidden partially by the many wrinkles that lined her face. Her white hair was long and immaculately brushed, almost silky in appearance. Her body and limbs, from what she could see, seemed withered and unused. A woman who was very much elderly and sick, yet her dark brown eyes held a certain power and her voice was sown with charm.
“Pleased to make your acquaintance, Miss Driscoll,” said Father Danforth, speaking up as he glanced curiously to Father MacGowran. “I’m Father Danforth, this fellow here in the armchair is Father Harris, over there is Sister Mary Martha, and this gentleman before you is Father MacGowran. The Archdiocese has sent us—”
“Yes, I know why you are here,” Miss Driscoll interrupted. “It only took the Church more than a decade to answer my call.”
“Of course,” Father Danforth bowed slightly, “these are…unusual circumstances, you understand?”
Miss Driscoll seemed expressionless except for a slight curve of a smile, like a fox’s smile. “It is my understanding that all matters dealing with spiritualism are unusual, wouldn’t you say?”
Father Danforth smiled politely, nodding his head, apparently unsure how to take Miss Driscoll’s comment.
Father MacGowran cleared his throat. “The Archdiocese has informed me you have requested a Rite of Exorcism of your house—is this correct?”
Miss Driscoll turned her attention to the tall aged priest. “Correct,” she said curtly.
“I have read the letter you sent to the Church, but in your own words can you tell me why you believe your house needs to have this rite performed?” Father MacGowran asked, his voice even and calm.
For a moment, the old lady regarded Father MacGowran, as if measuring him with her eyes. And then she nodded and said, “Even before what happened to my dear friend, Amon Palace has been a place that has never felt entirely safe. I was born within these walls, have lived here all my life, and for all those many years while the presence has been keenly felt, it has never been hostile.”
Father Danforth stepped forward, leaning with his hands to the back of the couch. “You are referring to the…incident involving the Grice family? We are to understand she was a family friend?”
Miss Driscoll looked into her withered hands. “Amy Grice was a dear friend who loved her two girls and her husband dearly. I do not believe she would ever have intended to hurt them. It was my fault. I should have never allowed them to stay.”
“You believe the house—this presence you mention—what? Provoked her; Possessed her?” Father Harris asked from the armchair.
Looking up to meet his gaze, Miss Driscoll nodded and said, “Yes—whatever residues and has resided in the bones of Amon Palace influenced her to murder her girls and husband.” She looked over at Father MacGowran, “And henceforth I have been inquiring upon the Church to cleanse my home of this wretched evil.”
Father MacGowran gazed at the old lady for some time before finally nodding and saying, “We will do what we can, Miss Driscoll. As Father Danforth has said all too correctly perhaps without even realizing it, this is an unusual case.”
Miss Driscoll once again smiled with that cunning sort of way and said, “That’s all I ask.”
Sister Martha watched quietly as the priests dawned the vestments Father MacGowran brought with him in his large black leather medical bag. The old priest himself dressed in a black surplice and purple stole over his black clerical uniform. Together in the parlor, they took Communion. Each in turn eating the Body of Christ and drinking the Blood of Christ as the old priest blessed them and prayed over them.
Father MacGowran then led the Rite holding an aspergillum, shaking the silver stick, sprinkling Holy Water as they walked down the hall towards the staircase. Behind him, Father Danforth recited from the Litany of the Saints, while Father Harris gently swung a metal thurible, spreading frankincense and myrrh incense. Sister Martha followed the single file march holding a large wooden crucifix, repeating the prayers spoken by Father Danforth.
“Lord, have mercy,” the priest chanted.
“Lord, have mercy,” the rest chanted in reply.
“Christ, have mercy.”
“Christ, have mercy.”
“Lord, have mercy.”
“Lord, have mercy.”
“Christ, hear us.”
“Christ, graciously hear us.”
“God, the Father in heaven.”
“Have mercy on us.”
“God, the Son, Redeemer of the world.”
“Have mercy on us.”
“Spare us, O Lord.”
“Graciously hear us, O Lord.”
Further into the house they continued chanting and spreading Holy Water and incense. Pausing at the staircase, Father MacGowran gazed up with a sort of unsettled expression.
Our Father, who art in heaven…
…Hallowed be they name, Sister Martha recited to herself.
“Is something wrong?” Father Danforth asked quietly, almost whispering.
For a moment, Father MacGowran said nothing, and then he whispered to them, “Can’t you feel it? Like a cold undertow, pushing against us?”
“Or pulling us,” Father Harris added.
Father MacGowran glanced back at him and nodded, “Indeed.”
Finally, the old priest took the first step and ascended the staircase.
On the second floor they walked past what Mrs. Anderson had described to them as the guest quarters. Continuing with the Litany prayers and spreading incense and Holy Water, sprinkling droplets on the rug and walls and doors, Sister Martha could feel a growing pressure, like being under water, deep, deep undertow. The hairs of her arms stood on edge. She squeezed the large cross in her hands, focusing her mind and repeating as Father Danforth recited the Litany.
Together they march with Father MacGowran, passing a large portrait of a woman with a hooked nose and gaunt face. The still image glared at them as they passed, spreading more Holy Water and smoke. The condition of the house seemed to worsen, and she wondered if the Andersons ever dare venture to this part of the house to tend to its needs, to dust or clean. Sister Martha noted the dust covering tables and lamps and paintings and cobwebs laced in the crown molding, broken items and large cracks in the wall and plaster eroded exposing the skeletal ribs of dark wood, as if confirming her suspicion that they in fact did not. The hall stunk of musk. And it felt very narrow, as if Amon Palace itself was coiling around them like a giant snake, squeezing around them.
Suddenly Father MacGowran stopped.
Sister Martha looked around Father Harris.
Before them stood a large red door covered with loathsome looking carvings, each mark dark as if the door bled black ink. Along the outer edge there were partial pentagram stars within stars with pyramids farther in. At the center was the largest and most odious symbol by far, a spherical shape within circles over tentacled looking wisps and a great seeing eye like orb at the center.
“What is that?” Father Harris whispered. “Looks occultist.”
“Did Miss Driscoll neglect to mention if she was even a member of the Church?” Father Danforth quipped, but his voice waned and cracked with strain.
For a moment, no one said anything.
And then Father MacGowran mumbled, almost too quiet to hear, “No—something here isn’t right. This is no ordinary demonic possession. We need to turn—”
As he spoke, the large red door flung open.
Sister Martha flinched, dropping the wood crucifix. The hand carved image of Christ thumped on the rug, but she did not take notice.
She stared—they all did—into the doors open maw.
What seemed like a black voidless space began taking form. At first, just sounds, like thousands of snapping fingers. Over and over growing in intensity. And then shapes and mass congealed in the unmentionable darkness. Immense amorphous eyes with a blasphemous intelligence gazing upon them with disinterest, Sister Martha could not be certain what it was.
She exhaled loudly, taking in gulps of air. Her voice trembled, whimpering, “Lord have mercy…”
Father MacGowran glanced over his shoulder, his eyes wide and bloodshot. “TURN BACK!” he shouted, dropping the silver aspergillum, struggling to close the door.
Sister Martha stubbled backwards, her legs unsure what to do.
“Father?” she cried softly.
Through the black maw of the door, a pale blue phantasm, like a giant root of a tree pulsing with bulky ghostly flesh and sinew and nerves, shot out. Pushing aside the priests and impaling Sister Martha.
Gazing upon herself, Sister Martha watched as her feet left the floor.
To her right, Father Danforth pressed himself against the wall—eyes wide and spasming with fear. His once handsome features dissolving into a hideous mien.
And to her left, Father Harris sat dumbstruck and watched, his mind seeming to have snapped, the thurible forgotten smoldering on the floor.
In front, Father MacGowran regained his footing and continued struggling to close the door, the nerves throbbing along his neck.
Sister Martha coughed as red froth bubbled from her mouth. She tried not to move for each movement sent a crackle of molten pain through her body. Blood spluttered from the bluish wisp pulsing limb that penetrated through her flesh, soaking into her white habit, pooling on the floor under her feet.
Looking up, she muttered, “Lord save my soul,” and then she was snatched and swallowed into the open door.
The priests fled Amon Palace, shaken and silent. Father Danforth had no jokes to give, his humor seemingly drained from his soul. Father Harris kept his gaze into his palms, as if the answers to the nightmare they had all just witnessed could be found in the lines. Father MacGowran said nothing to the men with him. His withered paper skin paler now and cold. When asked by the Archdiocese what had happened, he told his Superior what came of the lost Sister Mary Martha.
“And what of Amon Palace—do you believe it is demonically possessed?”
“No—there is a presence, but its not demonic. Not really.”
“Then what? What could have done this?”
“I don’t know…”
If you dug what you’ve read here, you can nab Palace of Ghosts on Amazon. eBook is currently marked down at $0.99 through May 31 in recognition of Mental Health Awareness Month with the Horror Writers Association (HWA). Both paperback and audiobook are available also on Amazon and Audible.