Possession – Prologue

May 21, 2013 in itchysocks, Possession by itchysocks

Possession

Reader Discretion: Possession will contain violence, profanity, gore, sexual themes and coarse language.

*

Professor Aaron Ashby headed to his office after he finished another two hour lecture. He felt a little guilty for scolding some of his first-years, but they really needed to stop being so enamored with their laptops. He understood that it was an elective for the majority of the class, but he wanted them to walk away with a proper knowledge of the material.

Moving down the vaguely familiar halls of the arts building, he remembered how he often got lost inside the archaic open spaces when he started his first work term at the university. He had taught before in world class cities like New York and Boston, but at institutions that were much less reputable than the one he worked for now. This university resided inside a small college town, with an equally small population. It reminded him of his own hometown in Kentucky, only more developed.

Turlock had been nicknamed the City of God by its founders.Ashby found the name appropriate.

When he first arrived in the summer, he was utterly amazed by the breathtaking scenery of the jagged California coast and the sprawling farms and rolling hills that were just outside the city borders to the East. Within the Turlock itself, a myriad of luscious parks and mansion-like homes were all developed around the school, the centerpiece of the town. But as a World Religions professor, the unusual masses of churches were the fixtures that caught his attention the most. Even driving along Bay Street, which was situated by the shoreline, he would pass by several churches which were incredibly well-designed for a town as small as Turlock. The attention to detail that the townsfolk had when building them was commendable. Some of the churches were even smaller replicas of real ones that he had seen on his travels around the world. They were popular tourist attractions and another form of income for the small town.

When he had his housewarming party after moving in with his young family, the Dean – Robert Walsh – had recommended him to stop by his local church for weekly sermons. The entire town was very religious and it showed. However Ashby politely refused the invitation. He was a non-believer, but not how one might expect.

Growing up Ashby was a proud Christian. Technically, he still had a lot of that spirit deep in his heart. However years of studying the religions of the world had garnered him a tremendous amount of respect for all systems of belief. There were amazing commonalities, but also important differences that he grew to appreciate. He decided that there was no one religion that should be placed above the others. He preached this in class and it seemed like it would be hypocritical if he subscribed solely to Christianity. It was true that one’s work and personal life should be kept separate, but Ashby was not the type that liked to hold multiple identities. Of course his father, who was an influential pastor in Kentucky, was irate with his youngest son. The truth at the end of the day was that Ashby did believe in God, just not in the concept that a single religion was the be-all end-all.

He had seen too much in his thirty-seven years to doubt the existence of a higher power.

After walking up a long flight of stairs to his office, Ashby turned the corner and was caught off guard by a recognizable voice from behind him.

“Professor Ashby?” they asked.

The professor turned to face the sound and was met with a student that he had already learned by name and most-definitely by appearance. She always stood out from the crowd. Maybe it was her pale skin, black attire, smoky make-up or the fact that she seemed to radiate an exotic beauty. Today, she had tied her long raven black hair into a pony tail and sported a rocker-esque leather jacket that reminded him of his own college days. Spikes and studs included.

“Tiffany, how are you?”

“I’m great,” she replied. “I was wondering if you could help me answer some questions about some excerpts that I’ve been reading up on.”

Ashby was always excited by enthused students. “Of course Tiffany, just follow me to my office and we’ll get right to it.” The girl nodded and followed Ashby. Her black heels echoed as the two of them walked down the hall. Students that were passing by gave the girl a double take. Tiffany was naturally bewitching.

The professor led Tiffany through a large set of doors after a short walk. He guided her down a long spiral hallway, which held offices for every Arts professor on campus. The air inside was musky and while some might have found it uncomfortable, Ashby was used to it. Growing up in a church, he had acclimated to the congested air, smells and heat of older buildings. Still, he always wondered why this building seemed particularly ancient when compared to the rest of the campus. It was especially weird considering Turlock University was historically a business and engineering school. He told himself to ask the Dean at dinner later that evening. They had made plans.

Passing by a couple of familiar arts professors, which they both greeted, Tiffany and Ashby finally arrived outside his office, which was the last one at the end of the winding hall. Unlocking the door to his workspace revealed a rather spacious room that was cluttered with cabinets and paperwork. There was a small display case that held his most precious items and artifacts, save for a sword from the Crusades which he kept at home, locked away in his basement. He invited Tiffany inside encouraging her to take the lone seat that he had reserved for guests. Unfortunately he was in dire need of some more chairs. Ashby was popular with students, he had always been. Maybe it was the fact that he still had his rugged looks, golden locks and an athletic build from serving two tours in Afghanistan, but the blue-eyed professor always felt like his knowledge was what made him popular. He strived to make his lectures engaging more than anything else.

Looking at Tiffany, who sat across from him in her dark but stylish attire, he saw a girl with a bright future. Everyone in the World Religion’s department knew who Tiffany Hwang was. At a recent meeting he had heard the Chair mention how determined he was to give the girl a Ph.D. opportunity upon her graduation. Professors were not supposed to talk about their students with colleagues, but her work found its way around the department like it was an official memo.

“So Tiffany,” said the Professor. “What was your question?”

He watched as the girl played with the zipper on her leather jacket, nonchalantly. “There’s this book that I’ve been reading,” she said, slightly hesitant. “Here let me show you.”

Ashby watched as she took out her large handbag and excavated, yes excavated, a massive and ancient looking textbook from its depths. It looked like an artifact that he had found on one of his digs in Egypt.

The professor glanced at the cover with criss-crossed lines and a goat’s head with wild horns. Demonology. For some weird reason he was not surprised. Tiffany looked like she was a young Wiccan, or witch. He had a few colleagues like that back in his school days.

Flipping through the pages, Tiffany finally arrived at a particular excerpt that she wanted to examine and showed it to Ashby. He glanced at the header.

Leviathan: The Demon Lord of Envy.

Reading the passage immediately engaged the professor. He realized that the entire book had been written with an old style of calligraphy that he was familiar with. It seemed like it was an ancient text, possibly of English origin, but the paper felt modern and manmade as he touched it with his fingers. To him, it was more aesthetics than anything.

He did wonder where Tiffany had managed to get a copy of such a book. In all his years, he had never seen a young Asian American girl so interested in the dark arts. Well, except for that one time with Grace Chen back in New York, but that was a different story. She had been trying to curse her ex-boyfriend with some odd satanic spells for cheating on her. Supposedly they were spells that would shrink his manhood. He had quite a laugh at her academic tribunal. But Tiffany seemed more serious. Much more engaged.

Ashby was surprised that the passage caused Tiffany trouble. It seemed very straight-forward. Leviathan was the demon lord of envy and he took the form of a snake that could, and would, devour the world if given the chance. Indeed, envy was a sin that was capable within every man and woman.

“What exactly is the problem Tiffany?” he asked, curious.

“I’m doing a paper on the seven lords of hell,” she said, eyes wide. “Leviathan, he’s not a normal one. You talked about his origins today in lecture; can you just elaborate on it?”

Ashby stared at the young woman with amazement. “Wait, you went to my lecture?”

“Yeah, I like to go to as many as I can.”

“You’re not in my class,” he replied.

“That hasn’t stopped me before.”

The professor let out a hearty chuckle. “You really are something,” he said, happily surprised. Ashby began formulating an answer for her as she patiently waited. Indeed, Leviathan was a demon inspired by other religions. The concept of a world eater was his original identity, not the reflection of a sin. He talked about the origins of the ‘world snake’ in Ancient Mesopotamian religion and even how it seeped into Egyptian and Greco-Roman stories. They were also sometimes referred to as dragons and the adaptation of this beast as a demon was a natural progression. He was a mythical being widely feared across cultures. Before he knew it, Ashby was drabbling on about his travels around the world that led to encounters with other world eating monster mythos. Tiffany was captivated with his stories.

“Did I answer your question?” asked Ashby, feeling apologetic for taking up her time, a weird reversal of roles.

Tiffany nodded. However she had a more important question in mind. It was a question that made the trip a necessity. “Well I have one more thing to ask you.”

“Shoot.”

Tiffany flipped to a page, which revealed a rather alluring painting of a naked-woman with a snake in her hands. She had fiery red hair and a curvy stature. Again, Ashby glanced at the header.

Lilith, The Demonic Mistress of Lust.

The teacher inside Ashby made him realize that the first question was just an ice-breaker. He felt like this was her real question all along.

“Lilith,” said Tiffany. “I’ve read about her, researched her and people seem to be mixed about whether or not she belongs as one of the seven lords of hell.”

Ashby was familiar with all the interpretations of Lilith, there were stories of her being Adam’s first wife, others of her being the literal embodiment of Lust when she turned vile. Since her fall, she was always depicted as a shady character in all interpretations and adaptations of the great gospel. Some scholars believed that she was theoretically the first demon to exist, even before Lucifer fell. Before hell even existed. As such, some labelled her as the true demon of lust for being one of the first to fall from grace. However this was a minority view held by a very vocal cult that Ashby was familiar with. Most believed that Asmodeus served that role.

“I’m sure if you write about her instead of Asmodeus it should be fine.” Ashby gave a warm smile. “People will enjoy an interpretation of Lilith just as much. Just remember to justify it.”

“Actually Professor Ashby, I was curious to hear your own thoughts on the subject,” said Tiffany, as she took out a digital voice recorder from her bag. He he had seen these littered all over his podium when he had classes in large lecture halls. Tiffany turned it on and pointed it in his direction. “On the record if you don’t mind.”

Ashby laughed. Tiffany was rather resourceful.

“Well, Lilith is an evil bitch,” he joked, showing his hidden country accent. “On the record.”

Tiffany laughed. “What else?”

“Well, theoretically she’s been considered to be the Queen of female demons, Succubi, and the like. I dare say if she is the demon of lust then she’d be a rather cunning one. She’s well known for her clever tricks and manipulation. After all, she even made an Angel lust for her.”

Tiffany seemed pleased with his answer. “And Asmodeus?”

“A fitting representation of lust as well. There are dozens of demons that you could argue fit specific sins. I could go on-and-on really.”

“What about her history Professor?” Tiffany asked, “Before she fell from heaven.”

Ashby smirked. “She was the paragon of virtue. A being of innocence that was meant to be a servant of man. Adam specifically.”

“How do you explain this dramatic change from a virtuous being to, as you said, an evil bitch?” Tiffany asked, half-joking.

“All demons were once angels,” said Ashby, engaged. “Just as it is in the real world, sometimes the mightiest of us fall. Lilith was like Lucifer, she refused to be subservient to Adam, subservient to man.”

Tiffany had one more tidbit that she wanted to ask Ashby. “But Lilith wasn’t an angel, right?”

The professor paused. “No one knows for sure, but the odds are she wasn’t.”

“Then is she even a demon?”

Ashby didn’t need to second guess himself. He knew the answer. “Yes.”

The girl in the leather jacket nodded and gave him some time to clear his mind. “Talk about the exodus from heaven,” Tiffany urged. She knew that Ashby was an expert on the subject.

“As you know, in some religious texts they mention the fall of a third of the angels from heaven during Lucifer’s exile. These angels all agreed with his views, and for good reason. The devil has a silver tongue. Lilith was one of the heavenly beings that sided with him from the very beginning. After all, she was a witness to the sin that Adam and Eve had committed. Which is why she is characterized as holding the snake from the biblical tale. Anyways, that’s why demons exist right? To tempt man to commit sins.”

“And what were they trying to prove?” Tiffany questioned.

“That man is indeed a vile and sinful group of lowly beings,” answered Ashby. It sounded pretty harsh coming out of his mouth.

He watched as Tiffany nodded. “What do you think about man?” asked the girl, digging into something more philosophical then he had expected.

“I think we all have our own vices. Some of us overcome, others fall. You know, we’re not all that different from angels and demons,” Ashby added. “The only difference is, we aren’t cursed to eternal damnation. We can change, be better than what we are. Our world is not so black-and-white.”

“Redemption professor?” Tiffany asked.

“Yes, redemption.”

Ashby could tell that Tiffany had gotten exactly what she wanted out of him. “Thanks Professor, that’ll be useful for my thesis.”

The interviewee had an expression of surprise as he heard her last word. “Thesis? I thought you said this was for a paper.”

Tiffany smirked. “That’s what a thesis is, isn’t it?”

Ashby let out a mocking laugh. She was still three semesters away from graduation. It seemed liked she was also getting ready for her doctorate. The Chair of the department must have told her. “Alright, I get it.”

Tiffany shot him another one of her smirks and quickly headed out the door, her silver necklace reflecting the rays of light that flooded his office from the window behind him. She was gone without another word.

The rest of Ashby office hours were far less exciting. He met with a few more students who asked the typical questions: How much is this worth? What do you want us to do for the paper? Can we get an extension? Does this count for participation?

None of them had ancient texts like Tiffany did, but one particular girl stood out from the rest when she entered and introduced herself.

“Hello, sorry to interrupt Professor Ashby. I’m Seohyun.”

The first thing he noticed was how courteous the girl seemed to be. She had a tinge in her deep brown eyes that made him feel that something was different about her.

“I’m in your first-year class,” she said.

Ashby motioned her to sit on the lonesome chair in his office. “Please, come and make yourself comfortable.”

He simply watched as she bowed, her long and wavy light brown locks hanging down and looking rather otherworldly in the afternoon sun. The girl was dressed professionally, in black pants, modest heels and a casual-looking white dress shirt with black inside the collar. She wore a golden cross necklace with the heavenly ornament resting on her chest.

The name Seohyun sounded familiar to Ashby. “Okay Seohyun, what can I help you with?”

“I’m here to talk about this paper that I got back today,” she said politely. Seohyun began taking out a rather thick essay from her purse. “I want to know why I got the mark that I did.” She handed the paper to Ashby who immediately noticed the grade that he had personally given.

“A ninety isn’t good enough for you?” he asked, perplexed. Looking at the title page of the paper, he now realized that this was the highest mark in the entire class and knew it was the best one he had read.

“I just want to understand why it got a ninety,” she replied.

“Your thoughts on ancient Egyptian religion were fabulous. It was a great read.” He put the paper down and gave the girl a reassuring nod.

Leaning forward in her chair, it appeared that she was not satisfied with his answer. “So why is it worth ninety-percent?”

He now remembered where else he had heard her name from. It was another one of the Dean’s favourite discussion topics besides his local church. Seo Joohyun. Apparently she was the perfect student. The Dean went on about her modesty, quiet confidence, work ethic, intelligence, politeness, innocence and her constant pursuit for improvement. Ashby thought the Dean had fallen in love but knew that he was a stark professional. He just loved brilliant students. They made the school look great after all.

“Alright, let me take another look at it.” Ashby flipped through the pages, looking for where he had left markings and realized that there wasn’t a single one. The paper had no spelling mistakes or grammatical errors that he had caught on his read-throughs. However there was one thing that bothered him in her paper and he remembered it as he skimmed over the pages. “There’s something about the way you write,” said Ashby, pausing, unable to find the proper words.

“What do you mean?” she asked with an adorable innocence.

“It’s a little overconfident and too self-assured,” he reasoned. “This paper presented an argument but it didn’t address the potential flaws.”

Ashby watched as the girl politely nodded, accepting the mark. She was different from other keeners that would have called him a subjective prick. Maybe the Dean’s praise was well deserved.

“It was a great paper,” Ashby replied, reassuring her. “You’re not a first year right?”

Seohyun nodded. “Second year.”

“I know this is a weird question but are you close with the Dean?”

“Excuse me?” she asked, slightly confused. This girl was sharp.

“Never mind,” chuckled Ashby, awkwardly. “Just include the potential flaws and it’ll be a perfect paper next time.”

“Thanks,” she said, bowing again. Reactively, he did the same. The girl had an impressive motivation for improvement, whereas others would simply want to be handed a higher mark.

Ashby stood up and offered a handshake and was pleasantly surprised at the firmness she had with her grip. Holding her hand, he felt like this girl was destined for greatness, even more so than Tiffany, who was his department’s prized pupil.

Unfortunately Professor Ashby was not a prophet. If he was, he would have never moved to Turlock in the first place.