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05/26/08: Issue 2

How I Got My Soul Back From Hubert, The Big Faker
by Randall Martoccia

 

1

I was kicking butt on my French final when it struck me -- why am I kicking butt on my French final? Before the test, “I would have been late if I had taken the bus” would have baffled me with its complex verb tenses. During the test, though, the translation came with ease and certainty. I even had time to contemplate what might have caused the autobus’s tardiness. Perhaps it struck a chien or blew a pneu de voiture. The possibilities were legion.

I suddenly knew how to distinguish the future from the conditional and the past imperfect from the pluperfect, which was weird, but even odder was when I realized that until that moment I had not a miniscule clue what the pluperfect was.

I told my neighbor Gerald about the test and threw out my half-joking diagnosis: “Maybe I’m possessed.”

Gerald looked up from his bong and asked, “Possessed? As in Linda Blair, pea soup, and all that?”

“Exactly. Remember how she knew Latin though she was never exposed to it. Same thing.”

“Dude, you’re exposed to French,” Gerald said. “You’re taking a class in it.”

“Trust me -- French has neither exposed itself to me nor I to it. The language -- mon Dieu -- was a mystery to me.”

“Interesting,” Gerald said and went back to his bong.

My theory needed a more responsive listener. I kicked Gerald out of my apartment, sprayed around a little air freshener, and invited my girlfriend Silvia over. Silvia was a Christian, so demon possession would surely get a rise out of her.

“The words just came to me,” I told her. “By the end of it, I was thinking in French.”

“That is weird,” she said.

“Even now French just pops out occasionally. It’s pretentious as Hell and tres annoyant.”

Silvia gave me her dubious look -- smiling mouth, wrinkly brow.

“That’s not the only thing. I’ve been seeing a lot of bizarre things lately.” I told her how during my Econ prof’s PowerPoint presentation, a pie chart morphed into a pentagram. I also described the odd scratching noises behind my Led Zep poster. “It all adds up to a clear case of demon possession.”

“Kevin,” Silvia said, “you do appear to be following the demon-possession playbook.”

Had I not been so anxious, I would have corrected her. It was the demon who was following the playbook. Instead, I said, “Yeah, the way everything lines up with The Exorcist is uncanny.”

“Judging by those images you saw, I’d say the influence is the digitally enhanced director’s cut.”

“Right -- the re-release.”

She silenced me with a raised index finger -- a move she learned in her course on courtroom gestures and techniques. “So, Kevin, this suggests that your demon has access to CGI technology. Maybe he has a friend at Industrial Light and Magic.” She laughed and laughed.

Okay, so I’d been rope-a-doped. While I should have been relieved that my theory was too outlandish to believe, the fun she had at my expense hurt. I insisted that I was not faking.

Silvia said, “Well, we’ll just have to wait until you have another spell -- unless you know a way to confirm it.”

I thought of the Ouija board but hesitated. Silvia was not especially zealous, but she was a churchgoer. Church folk generally frown on Ouija boards—a fact I picked up from an episode of 7th Heaven. “I do have, um, a Ouija board,” I said. “It’s cardboard and made by Parker Brothers, but who knows?”

Silvia looked upwards and deliberated. I could never understand why she couldn’t just act instinctively. She always appeared to be asking someone for permission. After a half-minute, she nodded.

I fetched the Ouija from the hall closet and set up the board between us. Silvia grew uneasy. She took in the game’s archaic lettering and faux woodcut images, including one of a medium in the midst of a séance. When she finally did put her fingers on the planchette, she had the look of one getting into a not so sea-worthy rowboat.

She asked, “What do we do now?”

“I think one of us is supposed to ask a question.”

At precisely that moment, I remembered something about the French exam. I had missed one. “You know, I must not be possessed,” I told Silvia. “Would a demon likely confuse hair and horse?”

Then the planchette moved to a letter -- W -- and to another and another. It moved slowly at first and than sped up as if getting the hang of it.

Silvia whispered, “Don’t cheat.”

Before I could say I wasn’t cheating, I was taken over by a feeling of disconnection, a dream-like loss of control. Silvia told me later that my eyes rolled over white like a shark’s in the midst of an attack.

Silvia followed the gliding planchette and sounded off the pointed letters. “W. H. A. T. Slow down, Kevin. I can’t even read what you’re spelling out.”

Then a gravelly voice spoke. “What do you expect? I haven’t taken a French class in twenty years. Missing one is pretty good.”

Silvia said, “Huh?”

The voice continued, “It’s not like they offer a refresher course down here.”

That was when I realized that the odd voice -- a smoker’s probably -- was coming from my mouth. You’d have to get possessed to know how weird that feels. Just take my word for it.

Then the spell was broken, and I was back to my old self. I said, “Whoa!” It was less Keanu and more Joey Lawrence.

Silvia gave me the dubious look again. A moment later, she was at the computer reading the Wikipedia page on “Demon Possession.”

“You have to believe me now?” I said and gave her my righteously indignant look. It was a convincing look, which I learned from her. “I couldn’t make that croaking voice if I tried.”

She ignored me and said, “Okay, Kevin, here are the most popular reasons for a feigned possession.”

“Feigned? Listen: I am a demon, ack, ack, ack. Not a bit like the voice we heard -- entirely different tone and texture.”

“Reason number one -- to escape unpleasant duties.” That shut me up. My sloppiness was one of the reasons Silvia gave for not wanting to move in with me. Her gaze moved to the stack of magazines on the coffee table, the dishes in the sink, and the goddamned smoke alarm, which had been hanging by a wire ever since I knocked the hell out of it with a shoe after it went off while I was broiling a rack of lamb.

I told her that I’d get to those things as soon as demons quit possessing me.

“Number two -- to attract attention or sympathy.” She gave my bandaged left hand (the lamb again) a skeptical look.

“You were there,” I reminded her. “You rubbed aloe on the blisters.”

“Number three -- to act out sexual frustration,” Silvia said. “We can cross that one off.” Good -- finally something we could agree on. “Yep, as long as you have use of that other hand--”

“Okay, laugh it up. I still say I’m possessed.”

Back to that sexual-frustration thing -- actually, Silvia and I had an active sex life. Of course, Silvia’s sexual activity went against traditional Christian teachings -- often way against them -- but she didn’t appear to feel guilty about it and that was fine with me. Sure, I played the smartass when other actions of hers did not meet doctrinal standards (when she ordered lobster or wore pants, for example), but her sexuality was one contradiction I’d never talk her out of.

Silvia squinted into the screen. Silvia said, “Hey, they go over possession criteria. We can test you.”

“Can’t you go to a more reliable source? See the note there. That entry hasn’t even been properly disambiguated.”

Silvia ignored him. “According to this, a possessee will -- quote -- have an aversion to anything holy? So all we have to do is find something holy here.”

We exchanged looks. She said, “Ha!”

I said, “Um, I got water...Pure, you know.”

“It needs to be blessed by a priest,” she countered.

“It’s filtered by a filter.”

“Do you have a Bible?”

No, I didn’t. Not now. I used to. It never made the move into my condo, but I couldn’t tell Silvia that I threw it away -- if that’s really what happened to it, which I would never admit to.

Silvia asked, “What happened to the little one you got from the Mormon?”

Yep, that was the one. And yes, I threw it away. When I tossed it, I remember thinking that throwing a Bible out with the leftover shells and cheese just wasn’t right, but -- come on -- it’s not like it’s a real Bible. It was green, for Christ’s sake.

I had to be careful though. As I said, Silvia was not zealous, but she was devout in her way. When I met her, I had hoped that her faith was a phase. No luck. She had been going to church regularly since she was twelve -- when her parents divorced. She still went to her hometown church, an hour drive away, every week. I slept in, watched Lost in Space on Nickelodeon, ate waffles, and played Sudoko -- the “devilishly tough” Sunday version. I told her that this ritual was my version of church. She said it was just my laziness carrying over into spirituality.

Back to the Bible. I told her, “I think I, um, gave it away.”

Sylvia smirked. “To an orphan, right? Or was it a homeless person? Forget it. Okay, how about a crucifix?”

“There’s got to be one around here.” I started to rise. Something in my eyes told her the search would be hopeless.

Silvia shook her head. “Do you have any two straight sticks that can be held in the shape of a cross?”

I scratched my head, looking very much like a monkey. “How straight do they need to be?” Then I figured my simian scratching would remind her of Darwin, another sore subject between us.

We ended up using a carrot and a chopstick. Silvia sat me down on the floor and joined me there. She made a cross with the two items and touched my forehead with it.

No sparks. No searing flesh. Nothing.

“Oh well,” she said and lowered the cross.

Then the scratchy voice returned: “You have got to be kidding me.”

“Oh good,” Silvia said, “You’re back.” Silvia looked me in the eye. “What is your name?”

Hubert.”

“Okay, Hubert,” Silvia said and shook her head. “And what is your purpose?”

Purpose,” said the voice. “Do I need a purpose?

Silvia was silent.

Am I supposed to have a purpose? I really don’t know.”

Silvia said, “Okay, joke’s over.”

Seriously, should I?

Then Silvia’s face changed. She lowered her chin, looked down, and frowned. I wanted to say something to her, but the demon had me in his grip.

Silvia then gave me a look of utter disappointment. I willed my hand to reach out to hers. I focused all of my concentration, all of my will power, into moving my arm. I tried to remember every little thing Oprah said about thinking positively.

“You’re very funny though,” Silvia said. “I’ll give you that.” She threw down the chopstick.

I visualized reaching out and grasping her hand. I thought positively. I told myself, “I can do it. I can do it. I can do it.”

My little finger may have moved a centimeter -- definitely not two.

I could only imagine what kind of dead-fish look I -- or, rather, Hubert -- was giving Silvia. She stared back at me. She absently picked up the carrot. Her expression said either “What a hopeless case” or “What an asshole” or some combination of the two.

After twenty long seconds of this, she said, “I’m glad you find my religion to be so amusing.”

Hubert did not allow me to defend myself.

“It must be so easy for you to make fun of me,” she said, pointing the accusatory carrot at me, “since you believe in absolutely nothing.” She trailed off and looked at the vegetable in her hand. I noticed something strange about it too. It drooped. Then Silvia took an un-crunchy bite out of it. Her eyes opened wide. She smiled, revealing carrot bits in her teeth.

“What?” My voice returned.

Silvia, still smiling, said, “The damn -- darn thing is cooked straight through.”

2

We got to know Hubert from Hell in the weeks that followed. While on earth he had been a lawyer. I know what you’re thinking, but no, he wasn’t a shyster. Being a lawyer was not what doomed him. He wouldn’t say what did -- not even to Silvia, on whom he had a crush, a crush he did not even try to conceal.

Hubert told us a few things about Hell. Surprisingly, Hell’s not that hot a place. It only seems hot because of the polyester jumpsuits they make you wear. Chafing’s a big problem down there, according to Hubert. Days consist of a lot of itches that can’t be scratched, names that can’t be recalled, and unsatisfying bowel movements. In fact, that last problem is so prominent folks have come to nickname Hell Destination Constipation. All and all on the agony meter, Hubert placed Hell somewhere between a state fair in the Midwest and a four-way stop in Boca Raton, Florida. “It’s definitely not worse than the DMV,” he said to clarify.

When Hubert took control, I was conscious but motionless and speechless. He was able to talk to Silvia undisturbed that way. Don’t tell anyone I said this, especially not Silvia -- if you do tell, I’ll call you a miserable fucking liar -- but on some days, when Hubert commandeered my body and conversed with my girl, I appreciated the break.

One disappointment was Hubert’s reluctance to make a scene. Just my luck -- of all the demons out there, I had to be possessed by what had to be the least demonstrative one of all. Silvia said we were well-matched in our lack of ambition. Levitation, supernatural strength, telekinesis, projectile vomiting -- all of these would be great at parties. Hubert would occasionally burp loudly, and one day he made me touch my toes. The pain was excruciating and my ligaments creaked like floorboards in an old house, but it made for a lame spectacle. Some people can actually touch their toes without screaming. So here I was, with the usual loss of will power that comes with demon possession but with none of the glory and attention. I figured out why Hubert was playing it cool one night when he was talking with Silvia. He was always more open with her than me.

Silvia asked Hubert, “You’re not much of an exhibitionist, are you? Most possession stories involve--”

Everyone knows what they involve,” Hubert said and then stuck out his tongue and made inarticulate demon noises. “And how do these stories always end?

“With an exorcism?”

Right. Why would I want some old priest mumbling Latin over me and sprinkling me with holy water? And do you know what would happen after that? I’d be back in Hell with my balls in the grip of that damn polyester jumpsuit.” Yikes. Often his depictions of Hell’s torments were so vivid I could feel them.

“You know you can’t win, Hubert. The power of Je--”

Hold on. Before you bring up ol’ what’s-his-name, let me just tell you you’re right. I can’t win. The best I can do is put off that eventuality, and laying low with mild-mannered Brian is the way to do it.”

“So you’ll be periodically taking control of Brian’s brain. That’s your plan.”

No, I’m moving in full time. This man’s life is pretty easy to master.” The demon took Silvia’s hand. “And it’s not without its attractive qualities.”

“For how long?” Silvia asked. Her voice was distressingly calm. To her credit though, she did break from the demon’s grasp.

The demon then explained how the best thing for Silvia to do was just keep quiet. He gently explained that if she talked, both she and I would be in danger of winding up in the loony bin.

Hearing this, the news of my pending permanent possession, Silvia kept her composure. I would have appreciated a protest, some anguish, a tearful outburst -- in short, a little more Ellen Burstyn. Instead, she said, “Fine,” she said, “as long as one of you washes the god-darned dishes.”

3

Silvia still hung around. Had I control over my tear ducts, I would have cried. Had I control over my mouth, I would have asked Silvia, “What the hell?” Did she really consider our relationship so disposable? My personality got usurped and she didn’t care. Well, I sure cared -- though not so much when Hubert worked for me at the electronics store. He had to deal with the idiotic customers, my tight-ass manager, and the rush-hour traffic to and fro.

But I missed Silvia. I still could see and hear her, but I felt my senses were covered in bubble wrap. My body felt less and less my own. I missed how Silvia smelled. (Scent was the first to go.) I missed kissing the birthmark on the back of her neck. I missed pretending to pluck off and eat her little toe when we were squeezed together on the love seat. I even grew to miss our religious arguments -- and not because I always won. I missed the way her cheeks reddened when she tried to explain away a Gospel contradiction. I missed her passion. Oh, and I missed making up after our fights. I needed to get this creep out of my body.

In the mean time, Hubert was busy. In that month, he redesigned my apartment (minimalist Swedish bullshit), revised my resumé (changing my “can keep my cool even when management slashes the prices on wide-screen TVs” to “adept at multifunctional flexibility in customer-heavy work environment”), and ran up my credit-card debt by taking Silvia to one cozy bistro after another.

4

Sometime in the second month, I realized that Silvia was starting to fall for Hubert. It made sense. He had been a lawyer; she was studying to be one. He had my face; Silvia always said I was cute in a Ricky Schroeder, circa 1984, kind of way. Plus, he had the demon thing going for him. Let me explain. I long suspected that Silvia fell for me partly because I, being a skeptic, presented such a challenging conversion project. If that was the case, then Hubert, being a demon from Hell, presented nothing less than the evangelist’s Holy Grail.

Bad signs all around. I noticed that she would stay later and later at the apartment. She let him pick up their dinner checks. They rented movies together. What convinced me of her feelings for him was when she started giving him grief about going to church on Sundays. She had to care about him to put up with his excuses for staying in and eating waffles. “You don’t understand--” Hubert explained, “in Hell, the waffles are very very awful.”

One night, about seven weeks into the possession, my urgency switched over to panic. Silvia and Hubert were at the Starbright Café, the coziest bistro in town. They sat at a window table overlooking a fountain and sipped after-dinner Lemoncellos.

Hubert told Silvia that her goodness had finally worn him down and he was beginning to see the light -- praise Jesus and what not. “I wish there was some way I can prove my sincerity to you,” he said.

“There is,” Silvia said. “You can go to church with me on Sunday and be baptized.”

I think I’m ready,” Hubert said.

Silvia reached out and grabbed his hand. “It would make me so happy, so happy I might,” Silvia said and stopped herself.

You might what?” Hubert asked. Yeah, I wondered the same thing. What the hell might she do?

Silvia just stared back at Hubert. Then her lip curled into a smile. It was sly and sexy, and to see her give Hubert that smile was a hammer blow to my chest. Horribly, I could also sense Hubert’s growing erection.

Hubert asked for the check.

4

I’d never seen Silvia so flirtatious. On the drive from the bistro, she let her skirt rise to mid-thigh, and she giggled at his jokes and sometimes for no apparent reason. She was never so overtly sexy around me.

Silvia invited Hubert inside her apartment -- another first. She asked him to take a seat -- on her loveseat, argh! -- and went to the bedroom to freshen up.

Instead of sitting, Hubert looked around the living room. He walked over to the shelves of photographs, most of which were from Silvia’s many high-school mission trips. One showed her waving with a turquoise hand in front of a turquoise house. Another showed her leaning on a shovel next to other kids leaning on other gardening tools. Before now, I never noticed how happy she was in these pictures. She looked exhausted, covered in paint, dirt, and filth, but her smile was luminous in each picture.

Her smile also glowed in the only picture of us there -- a grainy photo clipped from the local newspaper. Hubert leaned in for a closer look. It was our first date. We were at an outdoor concert and had just been dragged into the middle of a conga line. She had a daisy in her hair. I wore a Hawaiian shirt. I had shorter hair then and was a good twenty pounds lighter, but what was most striking about the picture and what Hubert was fixated on was my euphoric grin. It was the kind of stupefied expression one might have when flipped upside down by a rollercoaster.

Hubert looked into a mirror and said, “What happened to you, man?” Then he moved to place the picture face down. No way, I thought -- this is my hand, motherfucker, and that picture stays put. We wrestled for control of my hand and the picture. The hand merely quivered at first, and then it shook the frame with the ferocity one might shake a stubborn bottle of ketchup. Hubert and I were evenly matched, but I was gaining the advantage. The fight for the right hand was taking every bit of willpower I had.

Then Silvia came out of her room, and the sight of her -- white filmy negligee, long purple sash, glossy red lipstick -- blew my concentration. The fight was lost. While Silvia turned off the overhead light, Hubert put the picture face down. As for me, I lacked even the power to do what I most wanted to do -- just look away.

Silvia took Hubert’s hand and led him to her bedroom. Probably a dozen candles burned in there. Her bed was covered with a purple bedspread. Her room looked like a soap-opera seductress’s bedroom, but it looking like a Hollywood set made it no less effective. Her white skin took on the warm glow of the candles. I noticed that her nightstand Bible was absent.

She sat him down at the foot of the bed and stood in front of him. She swayed slowly, sensuously in front of him. Her crucifix dangled in her cleavage. She looked him over, unsmiling, intent in her purpose.

“Do you trust me?” Silvia asked.

Of course,” Hubert answered.

“Trust is absolutely necessary in a relationship.”

And I absolutely trust you.”

Silvia leaned forward and kissed him. Hubert’s hands went right to her hips and moved with them. She took his right hand and pulled it to a bed post. Then she brought the sash into play. She tied one end of the sash to his hand and wrapped it around the post.

What are you doing?” Hubert asked. Only a fool would question a beautiful woman in the middle of a sexy act. That was a reason enough why he didn’t deserve my body.

“Hubert, you have to trust me.”

Silvia turned her back to Hubert and pulled up the negligee, showing Hubert her underwear -- tight, pink, and ruffled. Then she resumed her slow hip gyrations. Even Hubert had sense enough not to ask any more questions. She kissed him on the mouth and brought what was left of the sash around the other post and tied it to his left hand. She moved very subtly.

Hubert, bound, could do little more than watch. Silvia let the negligee fall off her shoulders. The gauzy fabric got hung up on her hips, and Silvia freed it with a hip thrust. The negligee fell to the floor, revealing her very pale skin and her breasts with the cute little nipples, like pencil erasers. Hubert’s heart beat quickened. With her right index finger, Silvia touched the crucifix and then her belly button. Her hand moved with the same sensual slowness as her dance. She touched her left breast and then her right. I grew nauseous.

Silvia turned away at that moment and walked to the closet. I wondered what the next outrage would be.

She was gone for a minute. “You’re killing me, baby,” said Hubert.

I was thinking the exact same thing. What happens to the usurped soul? Would I just exist as a voice in Hubert’s head? Would I just settle into one of his lesser organs with nothing to do but chart the coming and going of bodily fluids? Or would I fade away entirely? I gathered up all of my strength, summoned up my will power, and armed myself for the final struggle.

Memories of better times with Silvia were my fuel. I remembered laughing late at night at the doughnut shop. I remembered her ankles interlocking behind my back and seizing me in her leg clench just before she climaxed. I remembered our eyes tearing up in synch when Rick told Ilsa to get on that plane. I remembered her shoulder massage and neck nuzzle when I said, “I’m achy.”

My hearing suddenly became acute. Silvia opened a box in the closet. I heard hollow cardboard thumping and harsh tape tearing. And, oh God, the packing foam made unbearable squeaks. I could not even guess what might be in the box.

Hubert appeared ill at ease also. He tugged on his right arm’s restraint. It didn’t budge. Neither did his left arm’s. She picked up those knot tying skills on her trip to Guatemala. “Um, baby,” Hubert said, “what are you doing in there?

When Silvia walked back into the room, my first thought was “Good, she’s not covered in black leather.” My second thought was “What the hell is she covered in?” Draped over her was a floor-length white robe made of a heavy material. Silvia’s arms disappeared in the long, loose-fitting sleeves. Her curves also disappeared. It was by far the least sexy outfit I’d ever seen Silvia in. She looked like a giant white cowbell.

I see you’ve done some shopping,” Hubert asked.

“Yes, this is called an alb. I got it on eBay,” Silvia said and walked over to her desk. She lit an incense stick.

Hubert coughed. “Let me guess. Frankincense?

“No, it’s myrrh.” She looked at Hubert and lifted her arms. She shook her hands free of the fabric and revealed a round vial sitting in her left hand and her Bible in the right.

I know what you’re doing, Silvia, but it’s useless. You’re not a priest.”

Silvia walked to him -- got in his face, actually. “I’m not even Catholic.”

A big nose full of incense hit me as my sense of smell returned.

And you’re not a man,” Hubert said. His voice was tense. “The rules are quite strict on that point.”

“I’m flattered that you noticed.”

And you really really enjoy sex. I saw the gymnastic stuff you and Brian got into. The writers of that book would not approve.”

She removed the vial’s top. “Well, Hubert, it really depends on what chapter you read.”

You’re nothing but a...a Jezebel,” Hubert shouted. His voice became much more guttural. “Harlot. Scarlet woman.” He tried to kick Silvia, but all he hit was the heavy fabric of her robe.

She opened the Bible to an already marked page. “I’m reading from the Song of Solomon,” she said as if addressing a congregation. She raised the vial, looking like an executioner preparing for the chop. “Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth.” She then lashed Hubert with holy water. He yelped. “He shall lie all night betwixt my breasts.”

A douse of holy water punctuated each verse. Feeling returned to me. The water was as refreshing as a tiptoe through a sprinkler on a hot day. Hubert, however, writhed as if the water was searing. He also yanked his restraints, and I’m pretty sure at least a few teeth were gnashed.

Silvia continued with steady voice and relentless stare. “I sat down under his shadow with great delight, and his fruit was sweet to my taste.”

Whore of Babylon,” Hubert said but his heart wasn’t in it. He lowered his head and just hung from his arm restraints.

"His left hand is under my head and his right hand doth embrace me."

Okay, okay,” he said between sobs, “I’m leaving.” The tee shirt was soaked.

His descent was not pretty. “Oh, man, the guys are gonna give me Hell for this. Here they come. Hey, same to you, pal. What’s my waist size? What difference does it make what my waist size is? You’re just gonna give me a pair two inches too tight. Ow! Careful with the zipper. And what’s that the cafeteria’s serving? Ah, the smell of sulfur. Big fucking surprise. Eggs again!

With that, I was free. The bubble wrap was off. The feeling was exhilarating. The only thing I can compare it to is diving into a pool after sweating it out in a sauna.

I had many questions for Silvia, but Silvia was currently wiggling out of the bulky robe, climbing onto my lap, and putting my face betwixt her breasts. I was no fool. The questions could wait.

 

 

Randall Martoccia is the great (x 200,000) grandson of Grothbart Ikthub of the Ikthub clan of the African plain. As the great Grothbart wielded his club while chasing mastodons on the Serengeti, Martoccia wields his keyboard chasing recognition. Unfortunately, unlike his forebears, Martoccia must also work a real job -- teaching at East Carolina University -- in order to feed himself.

 

   

 

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