Saturday, June 30, 2012

Walk of Evil

“It was bound to happen sooner or later,” said the Tammy Faye wannabe at the next table. “That jujitsu’s of the Devil, like all those other martial arts.”
My ears pricked up at that. How could they not? After what had happened to me in Ice Lake, my ears are tuned to all conversations featuring both religion and ignorance.
“I’m just so glad she came!” said the Tammy Faye lookalike’s friend, a man with the voice of Pat Robertson and the body of Jerry Falwell. “A literal Godsend, if ever there was one.”
Tammy, Pat Falwell and I sat in a Tim Horton’s in downtown Orillia, a medium-sized town two hours north of Toronto. I’d been job hunting, and was enjoying a coffee after a lengthy interview with the manager. Now, though, I was very interested in the conversation next to me. I’ve had some experience with the supernatural, specifically angels and demons, so naturally I’m nervous about all things God-sendy.
“Do you think that man will try to open another dojo?” Pat Falwell asked. “He did put up quite a fight to stay open.”
“No. Not possible,” Tammy said. “Not after one of Meredith’s miracles.”
My ears perked further. First a godsend, now a miracle? Time for me to butt in.
“Excuse me,” I said. “I’m Stuart Bradley. Did I overhear something about a miracle?”
Tammy and Pat Falwell were only too pleased to fill me in. It seems there was a jujitsu dojo down the street, and it had drawn a lot of opposition from the Christian community. Why? Because the dojo owner, Lesley Peters, was a gay man. The fundies had protested outside the dojo, waving signs and handing out fliers to anyone who would take them.
“We had to warn people!” Tammy said. “Otherwise, parents might send their children there, ignorant of the danger.”
“What danger,” I asked, “would that be?”
“Well, he is a homosexual,” Tammy said, as if that explained everything.
“You don’t put a wolf in the henhouse!” added Pat Falwell.
I smiled, and resisted the urge to punch them.
A number of parents pulled their kids out, lest they be exposed to the gay virus that people like Lesley (and me, by the way) were put on this earth by Satan to spread. The loss of those kids hit Lesley’s business hard, but he hung in there and stayed open. The fundies responded by stepping up their protests, but their efforts failed to have the desired effect. The dojo owner called the police on them several times, and tried to get them charged with harassment. Things looked bleak for the fundies and their cause to drive an innocent man out of business. But then the miracle happened.
Meredith Donic came to town.
“She’s just wonderful!” Tammy said. “So prophetic!”
“You can see the light of the Lord shining in her eyes,” Pat added. “A real soul-winner.”
“Who is she?” I asked. “And what did she do?”
Meredith Donic, they told me, is a modern-day miracle worker. She travels the country ‘as the Lord provides’, righting wrongs in the name of her Heavenly Father. She came to Orillia because ‘she sensed a calling.’
“She always turns up where she’s most needed,” Pat Falwell said.
“Do you remember that mosque they tried to build in Toronto?” Tammy asked me. “The one at the very spot where the terror attack on the subway took place?”
I did remember the Muslim community centre that was to be built five blocks north of the subway bombing site, and two blocks west.
“Meredith went to the building site,” Tammy said, “and the next day those Islamists lost a critical part of their funding. The whole project was cancelled!”
“Same thing happened to that dojo,” Pat Falwell said. “Isn’t that wonderful? The Lord in action!”
“Fantastic,” I said. “So where’s this Meredith now? Has she moved on?”
“No, she’s staying in our church out on Brodie Drive,” Tammy said. “Apparently the gays are organizing some kind of rally.”
“And they’re planning on holding it in the park right next to our church!” Pat Falwell added. “They blame us for what happened to the dojo.”
“There’ll be dozens of them,” Tammy said, “right outside our place of worship. And during a service, too!”
“Children might see them!” said Pat Falwell.
“As if they had the right,” Tammy added.
“You mean, holding a demonstration outside a place they’re at odds with?” I asked. “Waving signs and handing out flyers?”
“Exactly!” Pat Falwell said. “That kind of behavior, well... it’s disrespectful.”
“It’s discrimination, is what it is,” Tammy said. “But Meredith will be there in our hour of need. Those queers will never have their rally.”
“I see,” I said. “I’ve got to meet this Meredith. Where can I find your church?”
They gave me directions, and told me the best times to catch her there. I thanked them for the talk, shook both their hands, then told them I was gay. The looks on their faces were priceless. As I left, I saw them squirting sanitizer onto their hands.

Lesley’s Dojo was easy enough to find. Like Tammy and Pat had said, it was just down the street at Peter and Elgin. I looked through the front window and saw a man sitting on a large gym mat next to a case of beer.
“We’re closed,” the man said when I came in.
“So I’d heard,” I replied. “You Lesley?”
“That’s me,” he said. “You here to gloat?”
“Have the fundies been doing that?” I asked, and he nodded. “I thought their holy book didn’t encourage pride.”
“Their book says a lot of stuff,” Lesley said with a hint of a smile, and he waved me over. “What can I do for you?” he asked.
“I heard there’s going to be a rally this weekend,” I said as I walked over to join him on the mat. “I want in.”
“I’m not sure that’s still on,” Leslie said, taking a long pull from his beer. “After what happened...”
“What did happen?” I asked.
“Why so curious?” he wanted to know. He made to offer me a beer, then seemed to think better of it. I am still a teenager, after all.
“It’s... kinda my thing,” I told him. “I ran into some of your gloaters, and they told me about a woman named Meredith...”
Leslie straightened, and his eyes widened.
“That woman freaks me out,” he said. “She told me if I didn’t close myself down, she would ask the Lord to do it. I didn’t take her seriously, but that night she walked around this block, around and around with her arms out like this,” he demonstrated for me, “and singing – really badly, by the way – about how she wanted God to close me down.
“At the time I laughed, but the next day over half my remaining clients pulled their kids out. Someone’s check bounced, too. And then the landlord called up to tell me he was raising the rent. Just like that! Everything was going fine, except for those religious homophobes who kept showing up outside. Then that woman comes and suddenly I’m in hell.”
“Ouch,” I said.
“My friends want to help me organize that rally,” Leslie went on, “but I’m having some serious second thoughts. When I heard that woman’s doing her walking thing – I think she calls it a prayer walk – around the field where we’re planning to have it...”
“You really believe she has some kind of power,” I said, “don’t you?”
“She’s got something,” he replied. “You know, when I was closing up shop after I got the bad news, she came right up to me and said, ‘the power of the Lord in action.’”
“Don’t call off that rally yet,” I said as I rose to my feet. “I know someone who might be able to shed some light on this...”

“Hmm,” said Fon Pyre, a two-foot tall, brown-scaled creature. “That sounds like the work of a djinn.” He sat on the kitchen counter, staring disdainfully at the cup of coffee in his hands.
Fon Pyre was a demon, and therefore an expert on the supernatural. I’d summoned him up a few months ago to help me deal with some unpleasantness in my former home of Ice Lake, Ontario. It involved fallen angels and angry townspeople, and nearly cost us both our lives.
“A djinn?” I asked. “Is that like a genie?”
“Not really,” Fon Pyre said, and he sipped at his coffee. “Ugh. Where’d ya get this crap?”
“Starbucks,” I replied with a sigh. “I forgot to get your stuff while I was at Timmy’s. Sorry.”
Fon Pyre clenched his teeth and grunted. Then he did so again, his entire body shaking.
“Since I’m unable to toss this swill in your face,” he said, “we can conclude I’m still bound by the demon code of honour not to hurt you.”
“So it would seem,” I said, trying not to look too smug.
“However,” he went on, tossing the coffee over his shoulder, “I can still irritate you.”
“Right,” I said, and I got up to get a rag.
We lived with our friend Father Reedy, the former priest of Ice Lake. His cousins, Lionel and Wendy Wefland, owned a two-level house on Cleopatra Court, and had been kind enough to give us their children’s former bedrooms after we’d high-tailed it out of Ice Lake. Because of that unpleasantness I’d mentioned, with the fallen angels.
The Wefland’s don’t know about Fon Pyre, and hopefully they (or anyone else, for that matter) never will. They are, however, really anal about keeping things clean. Knowing Fon Pyre the way I do, I keep several rags around their house in strategic locations for just this sort of situation.
“You were saying about djinn?” I prompted him as I began the clean-up.
“Oh, no,” the demon said. “I’m not sayin’ squat until I get my cup of Timmy’s.”
“I am not,” I said, “going back into town just to get you coffee.”
“You’re right,” Fon Pyre said. “I also require a donut.”
“Forget it.”
“Then no info,” Fon Pyre said, eyeing me triumphantly.
“Oh, come on,” I said. “This fanatic is gonna use her djinn to stop a gay rally. I could do something about it if I knew what I was dealing with.”
“And I should care because...?” Fon Pyre said.
What could I say to that? He was, after all, a demon.
“Answer me something,” Fon Pyre said. “Why do you care? A guy got his business shut down and a bunch of other guys are gonna lose a rally. What’s it to you?”
“Because people like her,” I said, “really piss me off.”
“Ah, so it’s a revenge thing,” Fon Pyre said. “That I can get behind. One condition, though.”
“Coffee and donut?”
“I’m getting that anyway,” Fon Pyre said, and it was his turn to look smug. “If you want my help, I get to come with you.”
I sighed, shook my head and tossed the rag in the sink.
“You know I promised Reedy I’d keep you here,” I said, remembering when we’d first arrived here in Orillia. While we were still unpacking, Fon Pyre took off to have a little fun on the town. The next day, there were reports of dead pets all over the neighbourhood. I’d given Fon Pyre some marching orders when I summoned him, ordering him not to kill anybody. He’s also under a special demon code to protect me, because I saved his life one time. None of that, however, can stop him from killing dogs, cats and the occasional rabbit.
When he got back to the house, I went back into my summoning manual and set up some special wards that a demonic creature cannot cross. Father Reedy made me promise not to release those wards under any circumstances.
“Yep, I remember,” Fon Pyre replied. “Do you want my help or not?”
I glared daggers at him. He beamed enthusiastically back at me.
“Fine,” I said. “But don’t do anything I’ll regret.”
“Swear to God,” Fon Pyre replied, crossing his heart.

Fon Pyre filled me in on djinn while we made our way to the church. Well, not right away. He remained silent until I came out of the nearest Tim Horton’s with his order.
“Djinn,” he began, his mouth full of Boston crème, “are nasty little buggers. Smaller’n me and harder to spot, but really powerful. They can bend reality.”
“Bend... what?” I asked.
“I don’t know how they do it,” Fon Pyre said, “but they can change the course of events to make wishes come true. If we’ve got a djinn to deal with, well... this is gonna get interesting.”
“Come on, Fon Pyre,” I said. “They can’t be that powerful. Can they?”
“I guess we’ll find out,” my demon said, and we walked the rest of the way in silence.

We arrived at the church, a modern brick structure just a stone’s throw away from Orillia Square Mall. It didn’t look all that big; I guessed it would only hold about sixty, maybe seventy people. As advertised, there was a large grassy field next to it.
I looked over at the field and saw a woman walking slowly around the field’s perimeter. She had blonde hair down to the small of her back, and the dress she wore was so modest and conservative it rendered her almost androgynous. She had her arms outstretched in that way believers do, to show they are filled with the Holy Spirit. We could hear her was singing, and even from a distance I could tell she was flat. Lesley had been right on the money.
“That looks like your baby,” Fon Pyre said. “Want me to pull her lungs out?”
“Sounds like she’s doing that to herself,” I replied.
“Ooh, snap!” Fon Pyre said. “So what do you wanna do?”
“We should check for the djinn first,” I suggested. “If Meredith is staying in the church, then...”
“It won’t be in there,” Fon Pyre said. “Non-dimensional beings like myself are not fond of holy places, remember?”
“Right, right,” I said. “Well, that’s one less place to look, I suppose.”
“I’ll find him,” Fon Pyre assured me. “Why don’t you go talk to the cacophontrix over there.”
“Okay, good plan,” I said. “Meet me behind that fishing supply store we passed on the way here. We’ll compare notes then.”
“Roger,” Fon Pyre said, and he ran off into the foliage.
I walked across the field toward the woman, thinking about how I should play this. After all, it wasn’t as if I had any kind of authority. If she wanted to keep singing badly while walking around this field, I had no grounds on which to stop her.
I did, however, have a moral obligation to try.
“Excuse me,” I called to her as I approached. She kept on walking and singing as if she hadn’t heard me. She sang the same thing over and over: “Lord, keep the gay people off this ground.”
“Pardon me, hello?” I said as I arrived next to her. “Are you Meredith Donic?”
She continued as if I wasn’t there. Time to resort to drastic measures.
“Jesus Goddamn Christ!” I shouted.
That worked. Her eyes flashed open, the cat-strangling stopped, and her face took on a look of righteous indignation.
“Do not take the Lord’s name in vain,” she instructed, her voice high and nerve-pinching.
“I won’t if you won’t,” I replied.
“Young man,” she said, “I have never, in my life, taken the worthy and precious name of our Lord in vain.”
“I’m talking about the things you do in his name,” I said. “Like what you’re doing now, for instance.”
“I am on a prayer walk,” Meredith said, “to bless this land in preparation for the coming of the unclean.”
“...the coming of the unclean,” I repeated, not quite maintaining a straight face. Who actually talks like that? Seriously. “Would that be the planned rally to protest the closing of Lesley’s Dojo?”
“Those people are homosexuals,” Meredith said. “I have tried to reach out to their community, but few of them welcome my message of Salvation.”
“Fancy that,” I said. “Maybe it’s because they think you had something to do with the dojo’s closure. Did you?”
“I did a prayer walk around that block,” she said, “and asked the Lord to work his Will.”
“The ‘Lord’s Will’, huh?” I said, making quote marks with my fingers. “You wouldn’t say, then, that you have other supernatural forces working for you?”
“Certainly not!” Meredith snapped, and the horror in her eyes was real. Whatever kind of creature was carrying out her wishes, she clearly wasn’t aware of it.
“The Lord works through me,” she went on. “It was His Will that the dojo be closed, not mine.”
“But it didn’t exactly sadden you when His Will was done, did it?” I said.
“Of course not,” she said. “I rejoice when the Will of the Lord is done. Now, if you will excuse me...”
“Not so fast,” I said, holding up a hand. “You are hurting people with your prayer walks. I want you to stop. I’m asking you, nicely, to stop. Please.”
“I will do as the Lord asks,” she replied. “Not you. Now stand aside.”
I did so. There was no point in refusing. I wasn’t going to convince her to stop, that was clear. Hopefully, Fon Pyre would have some information for me about her supernatural help.
I watched as Meredith walked away, arms spread and voice howling. She really believed she was doing God’s work. Me, I’ll settle for just doing the right thing.

I met up with Fon Pyre half an hour later, next to the dumpster behind the fishing supply store near the mall. He wasn’t alone; he held an apple-sized creature in his hands.
“Who’s your friend?” I asked.
“This,” Fon Pyre said, “is our djinn. Nasty little bugger, isn’t he?”
Fon Pyre held the fat blue creature at arm’s length, where it wiggled and struggled in his grip. It looked like a small Bhudda statue, except its eyes were longer and almond-shaped, and his ears were like Mr. Spock’s.
“Leggo! Leggo!” the little djinn cried. “Tell your demon to release me.”
“Want me to kill him?” Fon Pyre asked hopefully.
“No! You can’t,” the djinn said.
“Oh, I can,” Fon Pyre assured him.
“But you will not,” I said. “Djinn... do you have a name?”
“Rofar,” the blue creature said.
“Rofar,” I said, “you are granting wishes for a woman named Meredith, aren’t you? We want you to stop.”
“That’s what this is about?” Rofar asked.
“We don’t like what she’s doing,” Fon Pyre said. “Well, Stuart there doesn’t like it. I don’t really give a...”
“Shush,” I said.
“Look, um, guys,” Rofar said. “I can’t stop.”
“Sure you can,” Fon Pyre said, and he squeezed harder.
“Noyoudontunderstand!” the djinn cried.
“Ease up on him, Fon Pyre,” I said. “What do you mean you can’t, Rofar? Help us to understand.”
So he did. He explained that when a djinn is summoned to the Earth dimension, they must agree to a pact with the summoning human. In that way, it was very similar to the rituals I’d done to summon Fon Pyre. For djinn, in order to leave the ritual site and fully enter our world, they had to pledge their lives to a person of the summoner’s choosing. Usually this person would be the summoner themselves, but occasionally they would choose to bond their djinn to another.
And that’s what had happened here. Meredith’s sister, a woman named Raven Donic, had called up Rofar. She’d pledged the djinn to Meredith, and instructed him to carry out Meredith’s prayer walk requests.
“So, whatever she asks God to do,” Fon Pyre asked, “that’s what you do?”
“That’s it exactly,” Rofar replied.
“And Meredith has no idea you exist,” I said.
“That was one of the terms of my pact,” Rofar said.
He went on to explain how he went about fulfilling Meredith’s prayers. It turned out he couldn’t simply change reality as Fon Pyre had thought. At least, not exactly.
“To get the dojo closed,” Rofar told us, “I talked to the parents of the kids who went there. I visited them while they were asleep, and planted the suggestion into their heads to take their kids out. Same with the landlord of the place. Told him to raise the rent, and he did.”
“And the cheque that bounced?” I asked.
“That was just a coincidence,” Rofar said.
“And you have to obey, right?” Fon Pyre said. “No way out of the pact you made?”
“Can you get out of your pact with your human?” the djinn retorted.
“He is not my human,” Fon Pyre pointed out.
“But you do obey him.”
“Hah!” I said.
“It’s a demon code thing,” Fon Pyre muttered. “Not the same at all.”
“Tell me something,” I asked the djinn. “Do you go by the words that Meredith uses, or by what she actually wants?”
“Isn’t that the same thing?” Rofar asked.
“You tell me,” I said.
“Well, technically,” Rofar said, “I grant her wish based on what she sings. Like this time, she’s been singing for God to keep the gay protesters off the ground of the field next to the church.”
“Don’t know if I’d call that singing,” I said, “but yeah, that’s what I heard, too.”
“I was gonna arrange a few accidents for some of them,” Rofar went on, “maybe get a few of them sick...”
“But all you really need to do,” I told him, “is keep them off the ground.”
“Huh?” Rofar said.
“I think I see where Stu’s goin’ with this one,” Fon Pyre smiled. “Tell me, Ro, you actually like that woman you’re stuck with?”
“Not really, no,” the djinn replied. “If she knew about me, she’d consider me an unclean thing.”
“Then listen to the kid,” Fon Pyre said. “You’re about to have some fun...”

When Rofar heard my plan, he was all over it. He spent that week sneaking into the homes of Lesley, his friends, and anyone else remotely interested in the rally, planting seeds in their minds. He also put in a word or two with members of the press.
The night before the event, Rofar grabbed the materials for a special piece of equipment. I went out to help the djinn set it up, and I brought Fon Pyre with me. It was the second time I’d taken down the wards that kept my demon in the house, but he’d proved he could be good under supervision. Besides, we needed his strength to carry the materials around.
On Sunday morning I turned up bright and early at the church, and so did Lesley and the other protesters. None of us set foot on the ground of the park. Instead, we all stood upon a wooden platform that hadn’t been there the previous night. It was big enough to fit all one hundred and twenty-two of us with room to spare, and when seen from above (like, say, from the vantage of the news chopper that flew past), it was clearly a giant triangle.
None of the protesters left the triangle for the ground around it; Rofar had instructed them not to. The djinn’s marching orders had indeed been carried out to the letter.
As the parishioners arrived, there was no disguising their shocked surprise. Clearly they’d been so sure of Meredith’s abilities that the idea of the rally actually happening hadn’t occurred to them.
The look on Meredith’s face was priceless. I thought I’d bust a gut laughing when she emerged from the church and saw us. She looked the way my mom used to when her PC crashed; “I’m pushing the right button,” she’d say, “but nothing’s happening!” The other parishioners didn’t seem to know who to be mad at: us, for showing up; or Meredith, for having failed them.
Meredith didn’t stay stunned for long. She launched into a prayer walk around us, arms out and screech-singing to the heavens. “Remove these homosexuals from our sight!” she sang. We all covered our ears, and so did quite a few church-goers, but we stayed put.
I felt something small zip up my left side and perch on my shoulder. It was Rofar, and he did not look happy.
“I have to obey her,” he told me.
“I know,” I replied. “But she isn’t saying when she wants us removed from her sight, now is she?”
Rofar’s pained expression turned into a beaming smile. He gave me a thumbs-up, then zipped off once more.
When Meredith had completed one full orbit around our group, and we still hadn’t budged, the parishioners apparently decided it wasn’t going to work. One by one, they turned and walked into the church. Meredith continued her prayer walk, oblivious.
I walked toward her, taking care not to leave the triangle, and I gestured at Lesley to follow. I came up with something appropriately rude and blasphemous to say, and said it as she started to walk past us.
“Meredith,” I said when she turned to face me. “This is the power of gays in action.”
Lesley and I exchanged a high-five while she bustled off in a huff into the church.

There was a party afterwards. How could there not be? I made several new friends, and nabbed quite a few phone numbers. My social life had taken a turn for the best!
Sadly, I had to leave early; turns out my job interview at Tim Hortons had gone very well. As I headed for the bus stop, a tiny figure darted out of the bushes and ran toward me.
“Rofar!” I said. “Nice work today, man. I can’t thank you enough.”
“I should be thanking you, Stuart,” Rofar said as he climbed up onto my shoulder. “Seeing my master taken down a peg was the most fun I’ve had all year!”
“I gotta say, you really went to town,” I said. “Convincing the media to come... and where did you get that lumber, by the way?”
“Don’t ask,” Rofar said. “Look, I just wanted to say goodbye. My master’s leaving town tonight, and I have to go with her.”
“I wish we could free you from your pledge,” I said.
“Don’t worry about it,” Rofar replied. “I’ve never felt so free.”
“Wonder if I’ll ever know what that feels like...?” a sullen voice muttered when Rofar had gone.
“Aren’t you supposed to be at home in the closet?” I asked, looking down to see Fon Pyre.
“You forgot to reset the wards last night,” my demon informed me. “Guess you’ll take care of that the second we get in, right?”
“I’ll have to, yes,” I replied. “Reedy’s getting suspicious.” Then I paused, and considered. “I’ll reset the wards when we’re both home.”
“When we’re both...?” Fon Pyre said.
“Just stay out of sight, and be quiet coming in,” I said. “And please don’t kill any pets.”
I rarely see surprise on Fon Pyre’s face. This was one of those times.

On Monday morning, I started work at the downtown Tim Hortons where all this had started. And who should come in but Tammy and Pat Falwell! They did not look like happy campers, not at all. I started to make a pot of coffee while straining my ears to hear their conversation.
“...couldn’t believe it, either!” Pat was saying.
“She thinks she must have offended God somehow,” Tammy told him, and I had to bite my lip to keep from laughing. “She left town to get back in touch with the Spirit.”
“I hope she does,” Pat said, “or it could be a devastating loss for our church.”
They reached the counter and placed their orders. I poured their coffee, but when I tried to hand them over they stepped back in disgust.
“We know this person,” Tammy told the cashier. “He is a homosexual. We don’t want any coffee that a homosexual has touched.”
Whatever, I thought, as I held my customer service smile in place. We’d won a battle, but the war goes on.

The End

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