'Parousia' by Kari Castor
The visitations began when she was sixteen. If they were really visitations, that is, which was a subject that would become hotly debated in the coming years. Theories included dreams, insanity, and simple deceit. To be fair, Virginia herself assumed the first one was a dream. Angels don't simply appear in one's bedroom and announce the second coming of Christ, after all.
It wasn't until her period was late that she started to wonder a little, and even then she didn't think much of it. She'd mostly put the strange, vivid dream out of her head, and her periods weren't always completely regular. Late was unusual, but there was certainly no reason to think she might have an unexpected visitor in her own body. But late turned into later, and later turned into way overdue, and way overdue turned into where the hell is it already? And the dream that might not have been a dream began to work its way into the forefront of her consciousness.
So Virginia bought a pregnancy test, and when the little blue plus sign appeared she felt obligated to be incredulous, but she'd really kind of expected it.
Not that she intended to go through with it. Her parents might drag her to church on Sundays, but Virginia harbored secret atheistic urges in her soul and she certainly had no intention of giving birth to a god. She wasn't prepared to give birth to anyone just yet, and it seemed awfully unfair to expect her to do so without even getting to enjoy the act of creation. No, Virginia thought, God could just go find someone else to bear this little burden for him. She wasn't interested.
She asked her sister to take her to the clinic. They weren't particularly close, but Virginia couldn't think of anyone else who could help her solve her problem. Scarlet stared at her blankly for a long moment, then broke out into peals of laughter.
“Seriously, Virginia? Oh my God, what would Mom say if she knew? Her perfect darling daughter!”
Virginia waited patiently until her sister had laughed her fill. “Will you go with me?”
This set Scarlet off into laughter again, but she finally pulled herself back under control. “I'm sorry, Ginny, it's just that I had no idea my baby sister was up to such naughty things.” She gave Virginia her sweetest smile. “Of course I'll go with you.”
“And you won't tell Mom?”
“I wouldn't dream of telling her.”
“Because you're planning to use this as blackmail.” Virginia's sister rarely missed a chance to exploit knowledge for her own gain.
“Oh, Ginny, how can you think such things of me?” She traded the sugary smile for a wounded expression.
Virginia shrugged. “It's fine. I didn't expect you to help me for free.”
“Don't be silly, Ginny. You're my sister.”
“Whatever. Just don't overdo it. I know a few things, too, you know.”
Scarlet's eyes narrowed slightly, appraising her sister. “I always suspected you had fangs in there somewhere, Gin. I'm not sure if I should be glad or worried that you've finally found them.”
“Just help me with this, Scar.”
Scarlet's mouth quirked in amusement again. “Yeah, yeah, alright. We'll go this weekend; Mom and Dad have that charity auction thing in the city. Just... I have to ask, Gin. Who's the father?”
Virginia smiled wryly. “Immaculate conception.”
Scarlet shook her head, laughing. “Shut up, you tramp.”
A small, birdlike woman who said her name was Dr. Trotsky performed the procedure and sent Virginia home with instructions to rest and a handful of condoms. It was all over surprisingly quickly, and soon Scarlet had her settled on the couch at home and was solicitously bringing her a cup of hot tea and a bottle of Ibuprofen.
Virginia raised an eyebrow at her sister.
“It's not my first time at the rodeo, dear sister,” Scarlet murmured.
Virginia's eyebrow crept higher.
“Oh, don't give me that look, you little tramp. You might be surprised to know that I've been responsible enough not to get myself knocked up. I do, however, have an assortment of friends who are not so responsible.” She tapped her sister's feet, and Virginia obligingly pulled her knees up further. Scarlet flopped onto the couch in the empty space. “Give me the remote,” she demanded.
Virginia handed it to her. “Scar?” she murmured.
And that was the end of it, Virginia assumed. One Second Coming, successfully averted. Until the visitations began again.
The first few times the angel reappeared, he seemed to have come for the express purpose of lecturing her. She was given to understand that she was a foolish woman, and that the will of God was not so easily thwarted. How dare she murder divinity? And so on.
Finally, by the fourth such tiresome visit, Virginia had grown tired of being harangued. When the angel appeared at the foot of her bed, she told it, in no uncertain terms, exactly where it could go. It stared, aghast, at her for a long moment, then disappeared without a word.
Virginia rolled over in satisfaction and went back to sleep.
The next night, a new angel appeared.
The first angel had looked basically human, rather like the paintings that hung in the fellowship room of her parents' church – tall, muscular, and handsome in a slightly androgynous way, with long golden hair and white feathered wings.
This new angel was something else entirely. It was a seething mass of feathers and fire, as though a careless god had discovered a pile of random leftover bits after he finished crafting his minions and mashed them all together to create this one last creature. It was a thing that shouldn't exist, Virginia thought. She told it so, before it could speak to her.
It ignored her rudeness. It fluttered and blazed, and from somewhere indeterminable a noise emanated that Virginia's mind was somehow able to translate into words.
“Greetings, favored woman. You must rejoice, for the Lord is with you!”
Virginia snorted, but the angel carried on as though it had not heard her.
“Be not afraid, for you have been blessed by God! You shall bear a child, and his name shall be Jesus, just as it was before. Your son shall be the Son of the Most High, and this time, he shall establish his Kingdom without end.”
Virginia opened her mouth to speak, but before the curse had crossed her lips, the angel was gone. It left behind a small, charred hole in the carpet where it had stood.
Virginia groaned, and pressed a hand to her flat belly. Not again.
The next day at school, Virginia asked for a pass to see the nurse. “How soon can you get an abortion, Mrs. Simon?”
Mrs. Simon shook her head sympathetically. “How far along are you, dear?”
Virginia checked the clock on the wall behind the nurse. “About eight hours.”
Mrs. Simon pursed her lips uncomprehendingly. “Eight hours?” she repeated blankly. “But you can't possibly--” She paused.
“Ah. I think I understand. I take it you had a bit too much fun last night?”
Virginia shrugged. “I wouldn't call it fun.”
The nurse frowned, her brow furrowed with concern.
“Virginia... Did someone force you?”
“You could say that,” Virginia muttered.
“Oh, my dear!” cried the nurse, her hands fluttering nervously.
“Do you want to tell me what happened?”
Virginia sighed. “You wouldn't believe me if I told you, Mrs. Simon.”
The nurse gently patted her hand. “Of course I'll believe you, dear.”
Virginia shook her head. “Never mind, Mrs. Simon. I'm fine. It's just... There's a pill or something I can take, right? To make sure I don't get pregnant?”
“Yes, yes, but don't worry about that right now. We ought to get you to the hospital. Do you want to make a police report? I wish you would, but I can't force you to.”
“The hospital?” Virginia looked startled.
“To, umm, collect the evidence,” Mrs. Simon explained. “You'll want to have it for the police report.”
“No,” Virginia said firmly. “No police, no hospital.” Mrs. Simon started to protest, but Virginia cut her off. “Mrs. Simon, no. I won't do it. There's no point.”
“Of course there's a point, dear!”
“No. Just tell me about the pill.”
She had a friend drop her off at a strip mall down the street from the clinic, under the pretense of wanting to visit the used book store. She waited, peering out the window of the bookstore, until her friend's car was out of sight, then pulled her hood up and walked to her real destination.
The door was locked, just as it had been last time, and the windows all blacked out. She poked the buzzer and gazed at the camera overhead. The door clicked open.
Inside, the woman behind the desk smiled warmly at her and beckoned her forward. “Hi, hon, come on up.”
There was a different doctor this time. Dr. Rogers was a heavyset woman with wide eyes and thin lips. She looked over the file the receptionist had handed her, noted Virginia's other recent visit, and suggested that it was probably time to go on birth control.
Virginia promised to look into it. Dr. Rogers sent her home with a pill and another handful of condoms. “Use them!” she commanded. Virginia nodded meekly at her.
The angel was angry. It appeared at the foot of her bed again that night, fire streaming from it. It shrieked at her in ear-splitting fury, and this time Virginia could find no words in the noise.
She stared coldly at it until it left. The paint on the ceiling was blistered from the heat.
Virginia enjoyed four weeks of blissful, undisturbed sleep.
On the night before her seventeenth birthday, Virginia awoke, shivering. It was June, and the light blankets she'd been sleeping with were still right were they should be.
She rubbed the sleep from her eyes and saw the source of the unseasonable cold perched, squatting, on top of her dresser. It was about the same size as her four-year-old cousin and more or less human-shaped. It sat in front of her mirror, and the glass near it was frosted with ice. When it saw that she was awake, it scurried up the wall and across the ceiling to hang over her, its unnaturally long neck curved backwards so that it could gaze down at her.
Virginia was not entirely sure that this one was an angel.
It dropped suddenly onto the bed with her, twisting as it fell so that it landed on all fours, facing her. Virginia squeaked and scrabbled backward.
It cocked its head at her and smiled widely with a mouth too full of too-sharp teeth. It crept slowly up the bed toward her, and she pulled her knees to her chest.
This one scared her as the others had not. This one's eyes held nothing but malice.
It pulled itself up her legs and perched on her knees, its face barely inches from hers. Her skin burned with cold where it touched her.
“Greetingssss, woman,” it hissed at her, flicking a long tongue over her face. “You've been chossssen. You may not refusssse.”
The next morning, Virginia had welts where the thing had touched her. Her mother brought her breakfast in bed and saw the weals on her face from its tongue.
“What on Earth are these from?” she asked in alarm, gently running her finger beneath one.
Virginia grimaced. “I think I need an exorcism,” she said.
Her mother's eyes widened. “Virginia, what are you saying?”
“Something was in my room last night.”
“Oh my God,” her mother breathed, and it sounded like a prayer. “Oh my God.”
Virginia's father was less easily convinced, but even he had to admit that the evidence on Virginia's face had not been there the night before. He interrogated her about whether she'd snuck out and been up to something unsavory, but he eventually agreed to call the priest.
Scarlet was downright skeptical. “What the hell, Gin?” she asked. “And don't give me this demon story.”
Virginia grimaced. “It might have been an angel. I'm not sure. Can you exorcise an angel?”
“Seriously, Gin. Who did this to you? Is it this boy you've been seeing?”
“I haven't been seeing anyone, Scar. Not any boys, at least.”
Her sister eyed her balefully. “Well, you were clearly seeing one a few months ago.”
Virginia wrinkled her nose. “That was... more like a one-night-stand. Well, several one-night-stands.”
“Fine. Whatever. Did he hit you?”
She sighed. “No.”
“Dammit, Ginny, will you tell me what happened?”
“I did tell you.”
“You think you can feed me the same bullshit you fed Mom and Dad?”
Scarlet's eyes narrowed. “Fine. Whatever. Go ahead and be an idiot.” She stalked to the door, but turned around again before she left. “If you decide you want to tell me the truth, though... I'll be here. I can help.”
Virginia bit her lip. “I wish you could, Scar. I really wish you could.”
The priest asked her a thousand questions and wrote rapidly in a little spiral-bound notebook. She sat in the chair in his office and stared up at that crucifix on the wall behind him.
She told him everything. Sort of.
She told him they'd tried to trick her into believing they were angels. She told him they wanted her to bear a child. She let him believe it was an unholy thing they'd grown inside her.
She told him she'd miscarried.
He tried to hide the excitement in his eyes behind a mask of horror, clutching the silver crucifix at his chest. He agreed to the perform the exorcism, his eyes wide with barely suppressed glee.
That night, he sat in her bedroom reading prayers and chants. Virginia could see from the papers that he'd printed them off a website. He burned candles and incense and gave Virginia the Eucharist.
Nothing seemed to happen, but the little cold thing did not come again.
Nothing came for several more weeks.
Then it was a woman with wide-set chocolate eyes and skin the color of coffee with too much cream. She sat quietly on the edge of Virginia's bed and brushed a strand of hair from her face.
Virginia rolled over. “Go away,” she murmured sleepily. “I'm not doing it.”
The woman said nothing, just sat in silent vigil night after night. Virginia ignored her until her period was late again.
Then she sat up waiting. The woman appeared. Virginia knew she'd been alone in her room a moment ago, but it somehow seemed as though the woman had always been there and would always be there.
“Let me guess,” Virginia said. “You're Mary?”
The woman said nothing, just gazed sympathetically at her.
“I thought I'd made myself pretty clear by now,” Virginia said. “My answer is no.”
Now the woman spoke, and her voice was melodic and sad. “It was never a question.”
“The answer's still no,” Virginia said.
She asked her sister to take her to the clinic again.
Scarlet pursed her lips worriedly and inspected Virginia for welts or bruises. She found none.
“I don't know what's going on with you, Ginny, but it has to stop,” she said.
Virginia rolled her eyes. “That's what I keep telling them.”
Scarlet gripped her arm tightly. “Them?!”
Virginia rubbed her temples. “Look, Scar, I'm tired of this shit, and I really don't want to talk about it right now. Will you just take me?”
Scarlet took her. They rode in icy silence on the way there.
She left with a prescription for birth control pills, written by Dr. Rogers, and a baggie full of condoms. They stopped at the pharmacy to fill the prescription, then went home.
Scarlet wouldn't sit with her on the couch. “Call me if you need something,” she said. “I'll be in my room.”
She'd expected to have a couple weeks of peace. She'd half-thought it might finally be over.
The woman was in her room again that night.
Virginia swore at her. “Go away. Go away and leave me alone; I'm not interested.”
The woman said nothing, just sat on the edge of the bed watching her with sad brown eyes.
Virginia began researching Satanism. The priest's exorcism had been of limited use. Maybe someone who played for the other team could help her banish God and his servants from her bedroom.
She found a message board online and posted on it. The people who responded told her they didn't actually believe in Satan. Their Satanism was a kind of atheism.
Virginia thought about asking why they called themselves Satanists, then, but it seemed a bit pointless.
When she moved on to Wicca, she found a woman who agreed to perform a banishing ritual. Virginia rode her bike to meet her in a local forest preserve.
The woman was warm and motherly, dressed all in shades of green. She gazed worriedly at Virginia for a long moment before saying anything.
“You're sure about this, dear?”
“If they are who you say they are... Well, I don't know if it'll work.”
Virginia shrugged. “Nothing else has, either, really.”
“It would be more effective if we could do this in your room, where the visitations have been happening.”
Virginia shook her head. She didn't think her parents would be quite so easily sold on Wiccan banishment rituals as they had been on priestly exorcisms. “Can you teach me how to do it myself?”
The woman's face brightened a bit. “I can do that, child.”
That night, Virginia performed the ritual in her room before slipping into bed. She slept peacefully.
In the morning, Scarlet slipped into her room, eyes red from lack of sleep. She sat on the edge of Virginia's bed, shivering.
“Scar? What are you doing?”
“Ginny, I think... Your demon... I think I believe you now.”
Virginia bolted upright. “What happened?”
“A... A thing. A little cold thing. It talked to me. It told me... It told me this was a warning. That I should tell you that, and you'd understand.”
Virginia felt a brick settle in her belly. She thought she did understand.
She did not perform the ritual that night. She waited, sitting cross-legged on her bed, for someone or something to arrive.
And suddenly the coffee-skinned woman was there again.
“Ok,” Virginia said. “But only on certain conditions.”
The woman gazed at her for a long moment, her eyes serious.
“Tell me,” she said.
Virginia told her.
The woman listened thoughtfully. “I'll see what I can do,” she said. And, “I'd have been proud to have a daughter as brave as you.”
It was a full week before her parents mentioned the strange dreams they'd begun having about divine visitors with glorious news. Virginia wasn't sure if the expression she saw on their faces, when she told them that she'd gotten the news too, was relief or terror.
“It's ok,” she told them. “I'm going to name her Vivian, after Grandma. She doesn't have to save the world if she doesn't want to. And nobody is getting crucified this time around.”
Later, when they were alone, Scarlet asked her teasingly, “So how's Jesus in the sack?”
Virginia smiled. “Well, I don't have much of a basis for comparison, but... Pretty damn good.”
Scarlet looked at her searchingly for a long moment before she burst out laughing. “Hang on, you're serious, aren't you? You little tramp!"
Kari Castor writes fiction, poetry, and comic books, and her work has appeared in Fae, Polychrome Ink, and The Future Fire. She lives in the Chicago area with her husband, two dogs, and a cat named after a space princess. Find her online at www.karicastor.com