“What do you guys want?” Derek asked. He was in the driver’s seat, twisting his whole body around to look at Adam and Jesse behind him.
They were laughing and pulling things out of the seat’s pockets in front of them. “What is this?” Jesse asked, holding up a crumpled sock. “It’s all crusty.”
Derek grabbed it from him and said, “It’s my sock. I was working’ out in the gym and then it was pouring when I came out. Rain soaked right through my shoes so I took my socks off.”
“And just stuffed ‘em in your seat pocket thing?” Jesse asked, still amused.
“What?” Derek smiled. “I forgot they were in here when I went to pick up Ally. I just put ‘em back there to get ‘em out of the way.”
“You and Ally broke up,” Devon reminded him in his thick Grenadine accent from the passenger seat.
“It was sweaty,” Adam said to Jesse, “and you touched it!”
“It’s crusted sweat!” Derek added and flung the sock back at Jesse.
Jesse jumped and, laughing, quickly batted the sock off his lap and onto the car’s floor.
“Now what do you guys want?” Derek repeated. “We’re next in line.”
They told him and they soon heard the familiar, “Welcome to McDonald’s. What can I Scooby-Dooby-do-ya-for?”
“What’s up Martie!” Derek laughed into the drive-thru speaker.
“This is still Burger King!” Adam yelled from the backseat. “Not McDonald’s!”
“Yeah, well sometimes I forget, you know?” Martie answered. “Ya can’t blame me. So what do you want.”
Derek gave him their order, being careful to change it about five times just to mess with Martie, and then received the appropriate response: “All right, that’ll be one hundred seventy-six dollars and eleven cents. Please pull to the first window.”
As they pulled around the side of the building, they could see Martie’s head sticking out the window. “What’s in his hat?” Jesse asked.
“I think it’s a Shaggy toy,” Derek answered, squinting and leaning forward.
They pulled closer and sure enough, Martie was wearing his Burger King hat backward with a Shaggy Kid’s Meal doll stuffed in between the sizing band and his forehead. “That’s awesome!” Jesse commented.
“Thanks,” Martie answered, taking their money from Derek. “What are you guys up to?”
“Band practice,” Derek answered.
“Band?” Martie asked, suddenly excited. “What kind of band? You guys don’t do marching band or something lame like that, do you?”
“No, we’re putting together a rock band,” Derek answered. Then, from seemingly out of nowhere, Adam pulled out two drum sticks and began knocking the other three on the head with them to illustrate. The friends ducked and shouted at him to quit, but finally had to wrestle the sticks away from him.
Holding their food out to them now, Martie asked, “Do you guys need a fifth? I play guitar.”
Derek looked around at the other three in the car, trying to get some clue from them as to how to respond, and then settled on saying, “Well, it’s a Christian band.”
“I’m a Christian,” Martie answered.
Derek looked at the other guys again and especially at Devon and Adam. They both nodded and Derek turned back to Martie. “We could maybe use another guitar player,” he said. “You know where the Luther apartments are on campus?”
“I know where everything is on campus,” Martie assured him.
“Okay. Well, we’re in number three-oh-one. Stop by sometime when you’re not working.”
They drove off and Derek asked, “Do you think he really is a Christian?”
Adam shrugged. “I guess we’ll see if he is or not. It can’t hurt to let him try it out.”
Devon said, “I just hope he really can play guitar.”
“How’s he know campus so well?” Jesse wondered.
“He lives here,” Adam answered. “He’s probably had other friends that lived on campus.”
“He might’ve even taken classes at some point,” Derek suggested.
“How old do you think he is?” Jesse asked.
Adam shrugged again while digging into his bag of food. “College age.”
The next evening, Martie was at their door, Fender Stratocaster, amp, and effects pedals in hand. “C’mon in,” Derek said, holding the door open for him.
They all gathered in the living room and Devon began copying down some of the chord and tab charts he was using for their songs. He gave them to Martie and they all began to play; Derek playing keyboard and singing, Adam playing drums, Jesse on bass, and Devon and Martie on guitar.
They played one of the songs twice and Martie was able to follow along perfectly. He even started improvising on the third time through. “You’re really good,” Devon complimented him.
“Yeah,” Derek agreed, “we sound a lot more full with two guitars.”
They played a couple of cover songs the group had picked out and Martie did equally well with those.
After a couple of hours, Jesse suddenly unhooked his bass strap and called, “Food time!”
Everyone else set their instruments down or stood up and followed Jesse out the door toward the Wittenburg Castle.
The Wittenburg Castle was just the fancy name of the Student Union building. The five friends hung out there for about an hour, eating pizza, watching ESPN, and playing pool.
On the way back to their apartment, Martie and Adam were walking a little way ahead of the others while Derek, Devon, and Jesse trailed behind, debating different names for their band. “Salvation Rage,” Jesse joked.
“How about just Salvation?” Derek suggested.
“Salvo,” Devon said.
“Isn’t that when you, like, bomb somebody?” Jesse laughed.
“You want to rage on them,” Devon shot back.
Derek shook his head. “Like I said, how about just Salvation?” Something caught Derek’s eye then and he looked up to see Adam staring at a pine tree on the side of the walkway.
“Martie?” Adam asked. And then he started running toward the tree.
Derek exchanged confused glances with the others and then jogged up to the tree as well. Adam was just dragging Martie out from under the branches. Even in the twilight, Derek could see the scratches on Martie’s face and arms from where the pine branches had caught him.
“What happened?” Devon asked.
Martie was awake but he looked dazed.
“He ran into the pine tree,” Jesse answered. Everyone looked at him. “What?” Jesse asked defensively. “The guy does weird stuff. He sticks toys in his hat.”
“Why’d you run into the pine tree?” Derek asked Martie, who was starting to stand up now.
“I don’t think he ran into the pine tree,” Adam corrected them. “It was too quick. We were just talking and…boom! He was in the tree. It was like something threw him.”
Everyone was serious now, even a little spooked. “What were you talking about?” Derek asked.
“I just asked him how long he’s been a Christian and where he went to church,” Adam answered.
“And…” Derek prompted.
“He started to say something, but then, like I said, he was just…in the tree.”
They all looked at Martie again, but his face was different now. He was scowling at them, the scratches from the branches still visible on his shadowed face. “Stay away from Martie,” he warned in a voice that was more harsh than Martie’s had ever been, “or next time I’ll hurt him worse.”
The four guys kept staring, not knowing what to do, until Adam said, “Martie?”
“Is he possessed?” Derek asked. The others glanced at him, but no one answered or gave any indication as to their opinion on the matter.
The scowl vanished from Martie’s face and he seemed to relax a little. “What’s going on?” he asked.
Back in the apartment, with everyone gathered around in the living room again, Adam asked, “Martie, were you just messing around with us out there? Be serious.”
“What do you mean?” Martie asked, dabbing at his face with a wet napkin. “You think I did this? I don’t even remember how it happened!”
“Are you…?” Adam was going to ask if Martie was mentally disturbed, if he had schizophrenia or multiple personalities or anything like that, but then decided to put the question more delicately. “Do you take medicine for anything? Like, prescription medicine?”
“No…” Martie answered.
“Do you remember what we were talking about?”
“You were asking me where I went to church. And then you threw me into that tree.” Martie smiled. “Now I’m joking. I know you wouldn’t do that. Um…the thing is it’s been a while since I’ve gone to church. I used to go, but then I kinda got mixed in with the wrong crowd. I started doing drugs and drinking and just hanging out. I haven’t done any of that stuff for a couple of years now, but then I met Gary.”
“Who’s Gary?” Derek asked.
“He’s this guy – he’s probably like forty-five or fifty, somewhere around there – he lets me stay with him. Anyway, he took me to this church service once, but it was out in the middle of a field somewhere. And they were just killing these birds and cats and stuff. It must have been some kind of Satanic thing. I’ve never been back to church since all of that. I still believe. I guess I…Well, that’s why I wanted to come hang out with you guys. You seemed cool, you know?”
Adam nodded. “You say you’re living with the guy who took you to a Satanic sacrifice?”
“I want you to stay here with us tonight, then,” Adam said. “If you want to come back to God, then you need to be as far away from that as possible. You shouldn’t be having that kind of influence around you.”
“Okay,” Martie agreed. “I just stay with him ‘cause it’s cheap. He won’t miss me one night, anyway, I guess.”
The five of them jammed a little more before finally settling down for the night. Martie was given an extra blanket from Derek’s stuff and a throw pillow for his spot on the living room couch.
At about two-thirty a.m, Derek and Adam were startled out of their sleep by a loud crashing sound coming from downstairs. They stepped out into the hall to find Jesse and Devon coming out their room, as well. The two of them looked like they hadn’t been asleep yet and Derek could see the blue light of a television shining through their cracked doorway. As a group, they walked downstairs into the living room to investigate.
They found Martie there, wide-eyed on the couch, with a floor lamp and a large stereo speaker pinning him down.
“What the what?” Jesse laughed.
“Not a very safe sleeper, are you?” Devon asked.
As the four friends began hoisting the stuff back upright, Adam asked, “What happened, Martie?”
“I don’t know,” the astonished Martie answered. “I was having this dream. It was like I couldn’t see anything, but God and the devil were both calling to me, wanting me to come to them, only it wasn’t the devil. It was like…I don’t know, a demon or something. They were on either side of me and if I started to go toward God, it felt warm, you know? Like really nice and cozy. But I could tell if I went toward the demon, I would just keep getting colder and colder, like it was freezing wherever he was. Which is weird, right, because you’d think it’d get hotter going toward the demon since he’s supposed to be in Hell and all, but…”
“Martie,” Adam interrupted, “I’m not sure that was a dream. Or not a normal dream, at least. Today with you blacking out and…ending up in the tree – I think a demon is fighting for your soul. You might even have a demon inside you.”
“What?” Martie objected.
Derek nodded. If Adam was ready to say it, then so was he. He and Adam had grown up together and it was Adam, the pastor’s kid, Adam the religion major, who had brought Derek back to Christ in high school. If there was demonic activity going on here, and Derek had already suspected that there was, then Adam would be the one to know it. “You weren’t yourself tonight,” he said.
“Do you believe in spiritual warfare?” Adam asked.
“I guess,” Martie answered. “You mean like angels and demons, right? But why would they care about me?”
“I don’t know,” Adam answered. “I assume they care about everybody. It’s all about how many people they can get. It doesn’t really matter who...I think we should pray for you.”
“Okay,” Martie nodded, closing his eyes.
Adam reached over the back of the couch then and put a hand on Martie’s shoulder. The other three did the same and Adam began to pray. “Father God and our Lord Jesus, we pray that You would be with Martie tonight, Lord. We pray that You would put Your protection around him and help him to choose to follow You. We deny Satan’s power over him and claim him as Yours, Lord. In Jesus’ name and through the power of the Holy Spirit, we pray, amen.”
Martie was gone the next morning when they woke up, but he was back again that afternoon. “I had to open today,” he explained. “I asked the manager to switch me over to day shifts for a while so I could try out this band thing with you guys at night.”
“Do you remember anything from last night?” Adam asked.
“Well, yeah. I guess I have a demon, you know, trying to keep me away from God. But you guys prayed for me and now I’m good.”
“You didn’t have anything strange happen to you today?” Derek asked.
“No. I’m fine. I was thinking in my head today about a song I’d like to try, though.” Martie picked up his guitar and took a seat on the coffee table. Playing a couple of power chords, he started to sing:
When You were born,
The wise brought You earthly treasure.
You showed compassion
And the teachers gave You hypocrisy.
You bled and died,
Oh, Lord, to save me.
But I had nothing I could give
In return except for my own sin.
What can I do? What can I give?
All I have is my own sin.
I've done nothing to deserve
All Your patience and Your love…
I have more, but…”
“That was really good,” Adam said, moving to his drum kit. “I don’t know what’s going on with you, but you’re definitely a Christian. You couldn’t have written that if you weren’t.”
The four guys were awoken again that night by the sound of thumping coming from the living room. When they turned on the lights, they saw Martie smacking the back of his head against the couch’s armrest. “Grab his head,” Adam ordered. “And hold him down.”
Derek cupped his hands under Martie’s head while Jesse and Devon took hold of each of his legs, just in case. “At least the arm rest is padded,” Jesse commented.
“It could still hurt,” Adam said, grabbing Martie’s arms. “Martie,” he said. “Martie.”
Martie’s eyes shot open. “Martie is mine,” a coarse voice said. “I told you to leave him alone.”
Adam jerked back, but held onto Martie’s arms. Derek let go of Martie’s head altogether and saw that Jesse had taken a couple of steps back as well. Only Devon seemed unfazed and was now holding down both of Martie’s legs.
“Who are you?” Adam asked, recovering from his shock.
“My name is Artequil and I have inhabited this body for over two years now. I will not allow you,” he sneered on the word ‘you’, “to take it away from me.”
“This is not your body, Artequil,” Adam said sternly. “This body belongs to a child of God and I command you to leave him.”
“Ha! Who are you to command me? I am a Nephilim!”
“In the name of Jesus Christ,” Adam rephrased, “I command you to leave!”
Martie began convulsing and Derek quickly cupped his head again. When Martie woke up a few seconds later, he was himself once more.
The next afternoon, Derek and Adam went to see the Dean of the Religion Department, Professor Forester. The Professor was an elderly English gentleman, thrice converted before finally landing for a time at his current institution. “It is a sad state of affairs,” the professor said after hearing the boys’ story, “when Satan thinks he can take over the Kingdom of God by turning over lamps and stereo speakers and throwing fellows into trees.”
“You think it really is a demon, then?” Adam asked.
“Oh, there’s no doubt in my mind,” the Professor assented.
“Well…,” Derek began, “what do you think we should do? Is he safe? I mean, should we really be letting him stay with us?”
“Well, the University may have something to say about it, of course – letting someone stay on campus for free – but as far as your safety is concerned, now, I should think you rather needn’t worry. A demon-possessed person cannot harm someone else. Scripture is quite clear on that. We have the account of the man cutting himself with rocks and the boy being thrown into the fire or into the water, but never attacking a bystander.”
When Adam and Derek had left and were walking back to their apartment, Derek said, “Professor Forester said a demon can’t hurt anyone besides the person they’re inhabiting.”
“Right…,” Adam agreed, sensing a question coming.
“So how was Satan able to kill all of Job’s children and put sores all over his body? I know there wasn’t any demon-possession in that story, but still, you’ve got Satan outright attacking someone.”
“Hmm,” Adam nodded. “I don’t know.”
Martie had another episode that night. He woke up screaming and the four friends rushed down the stairs to find Martie pacing frantically with his eyes closed. “He wants in!” Martie yelled without opening his eyes. “He’s so loud! He’s banging on my mind! Cursing me and begging me to open up to him!”
“Don’t do it, Martie!” Adam commanded. “You’re a child of God. He can’t come in unless you let him!” Then, turning to the other three, Adam said, “Help me restrain him. Make him sit on the couch.”
Devon, Derek, and Adam grabbed Martie and forced him to sit. Jesse wouldn’t touch him. He just stood, looking on.
“He wants in!” Martie roared. “I want to let him, just to make the banging stop!”
“Fight it!” Adam yelled. “Don’t let him in!”
“I can’t help it! He’s coming!”
Martie went rigid then and a couple of seconds later, his eyes popped open. “Martie was fighting me that time,” came a rough voice. “I may have to bring some friends with me next time. Anyway, how are you boys doin’?”
Adam looked puzzled at this last question. Did the demon really want to have a conversation with them? The idea sounded ridiculous.
“Don’t talk to him,” Derek warned when he saw Adam’s hesitation.
“It’s okay,” Adam assured him. Professor Forester said he can’t hurt us.” Then, to the demon, “What are you doing back here? I sent you away, in Christ’s name, just last night.”
“‘When an evil spirit comes out of a man, it goes through arid places seeking rest and does not find it,’” quoted the demon. “Then it says, ‘I will return to the house I left.’”
“What is your name?” Adam asked.
“I told you. It is Artequil and this is my home. I am not leaving.”
“So you’re going to make us banish you every night and every night you’re just going to come back?”
“I am a demon,” Artequil explained mischievously. “I can play this game much longer than you can.”
“Why do you want Martie?” Adam asked.
“I found him. He is mine.”
“How did you find him? Why him?”
“He was at my church service with his friend, Gary. He was so empty, so I filled him.”
“Why?” Adam asked. “What do you get out of possessing Martie? You can’t keep him from God.”
Artequil spat. “God! You think everything is about God. God is secondary. I want a body! Can you imagine not being able to eat, not being able to sleep or to touch? It’s maddening!” Artequil laughed. “It’s hell!”
“You said you were a Nephilim,” Adam said. “What is a Nephilim?”
“Forget the Nephilim,” Artequil said. “That was a lie. Think of me more as a cursed spirit, a ghost.”
“A ghost?” Adam asked, raising one eyebrow.
“Yes,” Artequil averred seriously. “I was a soldier in the Roman army. I was there at the crucifixion…of Jesus. I gambled for His clothing. One doesn’t get off very easy for that kind of thing, though I never struck Him myself. Still, I’m cursed now to wander the earth as a wraith, a demon, as someone would call me, until the final Judgment comes.”
“You weren’t a Roman army officer,” Adam said smugly. “And you aren’t a ghost. There’s no such thing. People either go to Heaven or Hell when they die. They don’t ‘wander the earth’.”
“Ha!” Artequil yelled. “So smart is the pastor’s kid! Why don’t you tell me to leave, then?”
Ignoring the demon’s question, Adam asked, “Why do you sound so much like Martie when you talk?”
“…Why?” Artequil asked suspiciously.
“Because I don’t know if I believe Martie really is demon-possessed. You could be faking this every night for us, just trying to get attention.”
“You doubt me?” It was Artequil’s turn to sound incredulous now. “I have to use Martie’s voice. That’s the fate that’s been allotted to me. I have no voice of my own anymore.”
“What about spinning your head all the way around and stuff like that? Can you do that? Without killing Martie? Do that and I’ll believe you’re real.”
“That’s just in the movies, you moron!” Artequil protested. “Read your Bible. Demons don’t do things like that. We can only control the natural abilities of the person we’re inhabiting.”
“What about when you threw him into the tree, then?” Adam asked. “How did you that?”
There was a long pause and then Martie said, “Guys?” It was definitely Martie’s voice again. He sounded confused, just like he always did after Artequil had taken over.
“Go back to sleep, Martie,” Adam smirked. “We were just talking to your demon again. He apparently didn’t want to answer one of my questions.”
“What were you doing down there?” Derek asked once he and Adam were back in their room.
“What?” Adam asked.
“Talking to him!” Derek exclaimed. “Talking to a demon. Telling him you didn’t think he was real.”
“Did you notice how he changed his story? How he said he was a ghost instead of a Nephilim this time? What was that all about? Then when I asked him to prove himself, he couldn’t. He didn’t even try. He just changed back into Martie, or gave Martie control again, or however you wanna say it.”
“So I wanted to show Martie, if he is playing a part in any of this, that he can’t keep fooling us, and I wanted to show the demon, if it really is a demon, that we can outsmart him. It’s not worth it for him to come back here again.”
“Or else the demon’s just trying to confuse us,” Derek muttered.
The next evening was Wednesday night chapel. All of the guys were going and Martie was eager to join them. It would be his first night back in a real church service for over five years. He was fine all through the worship time, but when the chaplain began praying, Martie started shaking all over and Bibles and hymnals suddenly flew out of their pew-racks and started buzzing around the room. The entire auditorium had to duck to avoid being hit.
The friends restrained Martie again so he wouldn’t hurt himself, shaking all over as he was, and the chaplain ran over to them. Touching Martie’s forehead, he ordered the demon to, “Leave!”
“Ah-ah-ah,” Artequil said, staring defiantly at him. “You forgot to pray first. And you didn’t say, ‘In Jesus’ name,’ either. You know you don’t have any power unless you get the formula right.”
“I have power because I am God’s son,” the chaplain said firmly. “Now leave!”
And with that, Martie became still and was himself again once more.
Derek and Adam lay awake that night, knowing that Artequil would appear again and dreading every minute until it happened. Neither them, nor anyone else who had been in the chapel service that night, doubted that there was genuine demonic activity going on.
At half past one, they heard a very loud throat-clearing noise. “Was that Martie?” Derek asked.
“Yeah,” Adam said, “except it was Artequil, summoning us.”
Devon met them in the hallway. Jesse had apparently opted to stay in bed.
“I’ve made a decision,” Artequil announced once the three of them stepped into the living room. “I’m going to be leaving for a while. I’m sorry I’ve bothered you. I’m going back up to Heaven to try to see God. I want to repent.” And with his speech apparently finished, he was gone.
“I heard him that time!” Martie said, his eyes wide with astonishment. “It was like he was using my mouth to talk, but he didn’t shut me off. He let me hear what he was saying.”
“I don’t know if a demon can repent,” Adam said.
“Why not?” Derek asked. “God could forgive the demons if He wanted to.”
But Artequil was back again the next night. Martie, Adam, Derek, Jesse, and Devon were sitting around, working on a new song Martie was writing, when he suddenly convulsed and then straightened again as the demon.
“How’d it go?” Adam asked, an amused expression on his face.
Artequil made Martie stand, walk toward the door, and open it before he answered Adam’s question. “He wouldn’t take me,” the demon said, and then he made Martie’s feet walk out the door.
The four friends ran out after him, but he was gone.
“Do you think he was serious?” Derek asked. “About God not taking him?”
“I don’t know,” Adam replied, shaking his head in wonder. “I don’t know.”
Look for Martie and Artequil in The Gifted: Book 2: Coming of Age.
Read more great Christian fiction for free at Wherever It Pleases!