The Oldest Enemy by Michael J. Webb

Prologue

Dresden, Germany
February, 1945
“Your name! Tell me your name!”
Father Michael Lighthouse’s hoarse voice betrayed his exhaustion and his pent-up frustration, a potentially disastrous mistake. He swallowed several times, but his mouth was as dry as the Sahara and lent nothing to soothe his raw throat. The bound man lying before him writhed in agony as thin streams of grey-white mucous leeched from his flared nostrils, and bubbles of pink saliva dribbled from his contorted mouth.
A thick layer of fear wrapped itself around the young priest as the room grew colder and darker. His breath puffed white before his face. The administrator had cut off the heat in this room two days ago, but this cold wasn’t natural. Father Michael drew his heavy cassock tighter over his lean frame and shivered. Over the cassock, he wore a waist-length white surplice. A narrow purple stole hung loosely from his neck.
He was on the second floor of the city’s largest hospital, located across from Wettiner Station, in the Friedrichstadt. Behind the hospital, in the direction of the river, were the stadiums where he had played soccer in his younger, happier days. Beyond the stadiums, at the edge of the Grosses Ostragehege, a large area of wild, undeveloped land, was the Public Slaughterhouse where the prisoners of war were housed. The SS barracks were located further north and west, in the direction of Heller, on the outskirts of Neustadt. To the immediate west of Wettiner Station was the Hofkirche, where his small office was located, and beyond that was his beloved Opera.
He wished he were there now, listening to Wagner.
He frowned, refocusing as pressure began to build around and in him.
Father Werner, the Jesuit priest from Hamburg with whom he’d consulted, had warned him about this moment. “If you get that far—and many don’t—you must press on relentlessly,” the aging Jesuit had said during a static-filled phone conversation. “You gain the advantage by forcing as complete an identification as possible. Succeed, and you will have assured the domination of your will over your adversary.”
“And if I fail?” he’d asked.
“Remember, my son,” the older man said, “the evil spirit you are about to engage has found a consenting host. It will not depart without a fight. It will claw at you, deceive you—even risk killing its host. Once cornered and exposed, the spirit will attempt to lure you into a field of battle filled with tempting traps. Do not think for a moment you can circumvent them with your own intellect or logic. Rely upon our Lord and Savior, and you will not fail.”
The conversation died in his head, and Father Michael grimaced. Part of him was repulsed by the man before him—who he was and what he represented—yet the priest in him had compassion for the young man’s torment. No one, no matter how evil, deserved what this man was going through.
The young patient with striking blond hair and pale-white skin was skeletally thin, as if he were being consumed from the inside by some sort of ravaging disease. His face was gaunt, and there were dark circles under his blue eyes. When the two Waffen officers now stationed outside the room had brought him in, he had worn the rumpled uniform of the dreaded Schutz-Staffel, the SS. Now what was left of his shirt hung in tatters, exposing his hairless chest.
Father Michael rubbed his eyes then glanced at the small table next to the bed.
Between two burning candles, the only light in the room, lay a crucifix, a vial of holy water, now half empty, and his prayer book. He moved closer to the bed and table. He should have been accompanied by at least one assistant. Father Werner told him three was the usual number. And he was only half the age of the typical exorcist. By all rights, he should have been the assistant, not the one conducting the exorcism.
The flickering candlelight danced across the frost-covered, chipped concrete walls and cast wraithlike shadows.
For a moment, in his mind’s eye, he thought he could see the city in the midst of the flames.
His heart constricted. His beloved Opera must not be destroyed. That would be unthinkable. Yet wails of people engulfed in flames tormented his ears.
He blinked several times and shook his head, then wiped stinging sweat from his eyes. The candlelight must be playing tricks with his mind. That, or his lack of sleep was getting the better of him.
Dante, be damned.
He returned his gaze to the man on the bed.
Sister Evangeline had given him the man’s name when she’d called, but that wasn’t the name he’d been demanding to hear. No, he needed to hear the name of his adversary—the demon who now possessed Josef Rauch.
Only then could he cast the demon out.
He picked up his prayer book and opened it to where he’d left off. “I must know your name,” he commanded forcefully, drawing upon a reserve of strength he had not known he possessed as he splashed holy water over the man’s exposed chest.
Suddenly, Josef lunged against the thick leather straps that bound him to the bed. The straps groaned but held. The young man opened his mouth wider than seemed humanly possible. “You!” screamed a guttural voice. “You want to know My name?”
Father Michael staggered as the words pummeled him. He grabbed the edge of the small table for support as the blood drained from his face.
“Get out of here, you impotent eunuch,” continued the evil voice. “This one is Ours. He’s been Ours from the womb. He asked to be a part of Us. You have no power to stop Us. There is no power anywhere that can stop Us. Leave now—before it’s too late for you as well.”
“Praecipio tibi!—I command you!” Father Michael shouted in Latin, drawing himself up straight and gulping air. “Praecipio tibi, quicumque es, spiritus immunde, et omnibus sociis tuis —I command you, unclean spirit, whoever you are, along with all your associates who have taken possession of this creation of God, by the mysteries of the Incarnation, Passion, Resurrection, and Ascension of our Lord Jesus Christ—”
Josef wailed in his own voice, “Please—help—me—” He strained at the straps that bound him, raising thick red welts on his wrists and ankles.
Father Michael ignored the man’s plea. “Eradicare, et effugate ab hoc plasmate Dei—Depart and vanish from this creature of God,” he continued as he made the sign of the cross over Josef. “Ipse tibi imperat, qui te de supernis caelorum in inferiora terrae demergi praecepit—For it is He who commands you, He who ordered you cast down from the heights of heaven into the innermost pit of the earth.”
Josef’s body arched with a spasm, and, without visible cause, deep scratches appeared on the exposed skin of his chest. Each mark produced a line of glistening blood.
Father Michael caught his breath and groaned. The ruby-red lines spelled three words:
GO TO HELL.
Trembling, Father Michael renewed his prayer.
“O God, Creator and Defender of the human race, who has formed man in Your image, look down with pity upon this, Your creation, Josef, for he has fallen prey to the craftiness of an evil spirit. The ancient adversary, the archenemy of Earth, the oldest enemy, enshrouds him in shuddering fear. He renders his mental faculties confused, and he holds him captive, striking terror within him. Repel, O Lord, the power of Evil Spirit! Dissolve the fallacies of its plots. May the unholy tempter take flight. May your servant be protected in soul and body by the sign of Your Name.”
Father Michael made the sign of the Cross on Josef’s forehead with his thumb, careful to keep his hand clear of the man’s mouth. He repeated the gesture on the young man’s chest three times. “Preserve that which is within this person, rule his feelings, and strengthen his heart,” he prayed. “Let the efforts of the Enemy power be dispelled from his soul, Lord, because of this invocation of your holy Name. Grant the grace that he who has inspired terror up to this moment now be put to flight and retire defeated through Christ our Lord.”
Josef spat on him, then cursed him. “You will die tonight in agony, My poor, castrated priest. The fires of hell and damnation will burn your flesh from your body. They will turn your bones into grey-white dust before the cock crows. All who live in this place will die in the inferno. All will join Us in the kingdom.”
“Tell me your name!”
“You think I care what you want? You are less than nothing. I know you well, priest. You prefer boys to girls, don’t you? Your perversions abound. You think you have power to save souls, but you only delay the inevitable.”
Father Michael ignored the lying taunts. “Who—are—you?” he rasped.
“Fool! We are all ONE. Never anything else. Always the same. One. You and your prayers are nothing against the One.” Harsh laughter erupted from Josef’s mouth. It grew louder and louder until it filled the small room with its nauseating sound.
Father Michael covered his ears. He must regain control. Finally, he cried out, “Tell me what name you will respond to. Now! In the Name of Jesus—I command you!”
Abruptly, a new, more coherent, voice rolled from Josef ’s mouth.
“Who dares command the Lord of All Knowledge, the Unconquered One? Who dares intrude into My kingdom? By what authority do you claim the use of the name of the Unmentionable?”
Father Michael’s heart thundered against his ribs. It was time to finish. He began a final prayer.
“O God of heaven and God of earth, God of the angels and God of the archangels, God of the patriarchs and God of the prophets, God of the Apostles and God of martyrs—”
The building shook, and the window exploded inward. A hail of shattered glass, like the onslaught of a swarm of maddened bees, drove Father Michael back. His face stung. He reached up and touched his cheek. His hand came away wet, red with blood.
Josef cackled. “How magnificent this is going to be” came the voice from the bed. “I feel the flames caressing Us. Can you feel it, my impotent little priest? The fire cleanses and purifies Us. And the smell—it reminds Us of the ovens. Burning flesh always makes Us feel so—alive!”
Behind him the door flew open, and Sister Evangeline entered the room. She was short, much older than Father Michael, and her once-dark hair had gone completely grey. “We must leave—now—Father,” she cried.
He shook his head. “I can’t. It’s not over.”
The sister brushed past him, headed toward the bed. “The entire city is on fire,” she said over her shoulder. “We need to find shelter. I’ll help you with the patient.”
Fire. Just like Hamburg two years earlier. Almost fifty-thousand people had been killed there. What had the demon said about the fires of hell and damnation? And what about the image he’d seen flickering in the candlelight, and the wailing voices he’d heard? Was the horrific vision coming to pass?
A piercing scream filled the small room then choked off abruptly.
Father Michael turned and gasped, his limbs suddenly as feeble as an old man’s. Sister Evangeline had attempted to release the patient. She’d gotten one of his arms free and then Josef had grabbed her by the neck.
“Welcome to the kingdom, Sister,” the demon growled. “We’ve been waiting for you a long time. Ha-ha-ha-ha-ha.”
A sickening crack lashed the air as Josef snapped the nun’s neck like it was a thin sapling. Her lifeless body collapsed to the floor. The possessed man grabbed the leather strap that bound his right hand and ripped it from the bedpost.
Now only Josef’s legs remained bound.
Father Michael grasped his head with his hands, groaned several times, then opened his mouth to scream. All that came out was, “I must know your name!”
“Fool!” cackled the voice. “I am the Father of Cain. I am the Ruler of All. I am the Destroyer of Worlds. I am Legion!”
Outside, there was a thunderous roar. The concrete wall behind the bed shuddered, then collapsed outward in a ball of flame. It dragged the bed, and Josef, with it.
Father Michael stumbled over to the precipice and gaped down in shock at the huge pile of rubble ten feet below him.
Immersed in fire, trapped by the crushing concrete, Josef screamed—not in agony, but in wondrous, rapturous ecstasy—as the flames consumed him. “I am stronger than Death,” he bellowed. “I—AM—DEATH. I have always been, and I will always be. We are the One. We are the king—”
The howling explosion of another incendiary bomb cut the demon’s words short.
The force of the blast knocked Father Michael off his feet. His hair and clothes were on fire, but he made no attempt to put out the flames. Instead, he muttered, “I failed—God help me, I failed.”
The room began to spin as consciousness faded.
A pair of strong hands grabbed hold of him, and a comforting voice whispered in his ear, “You called in trouble, and I delivered you. I answered you in the secret place of thunder. I proved you at the waters of Meribah—”

Author Bio

Michael J. Webb graduated summa cum laude from the University of Florida and obtained his J. D. from the same university.  Over the past forty years he has travelled the world in search of adventure.
He is a history buff, both ancient and modern, and is fascinated by the intersection of the scientific, supernatural, and Biblical world views, and has studied and taught from the Bible extensively for more than twenty-five years.
He is also intrigued by recent discoveries in quantum physics that are now providing extraordinary insights into the reality of the spirit realm, especially as it relates to the study of Light.  He incorporates all of the above into his supernatural thrillers.
Michael and his wife make their home in Charlotte, North Carolina.
Books by Michael:  The Master’s Quilt, The Nephilim Parchments (formerly Balaam’s Error), The Song of the Seraphim (Giants in the Earth trilogy), The Oldest Enemy, The Gathering Darkness (agented with Donald Maass at the Maass Agency).
 He is currently working on The Devil’s Cauldron, the sequel to The Gathering Darkness.  He also authored a non-fiction work entitled In the Cleft of the Rock: Insights into the Blood of Jesus, Resurrection Power, and Saving the Soul.
Michael can be reached on Facebook or his website
The Oldest Enemy can be purchased at Amazon.
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