You probably think, if you're thinking at all, that my subject's a typographical error, but I mean what I say. You don't have to take my word for it, though. I'll start, as the Romans would've said, in medias res, right in the middle of things, and let you decide whether I know what I'm talking about.
* * *
The familiar tang of sawdust and too many sweaty bodies assaulted my nostrils as I tugged on thick leather gloves and leaned over the fat woman who lay strapped down, semiconscious and panting, on the makeshift table at the tent revival.
She was the last one of the half-dozen or so I'd be able to help tonight. Her bulk was obscured from the close-pressed audience by a white sheet. I used the sheet solely to save my viewers from having to see the obscene innards of my patients exposed - unlike charlatans who used their hands or other instruments in pretense, I had no need to hide what I was doing.
Moving slowly, conscious of the theatrical nature of what I was doing as well as the religious ritual these surroundings demanded, I opened the leather case an admirer had given me years ago, and pulled out my vice grips.
The tool itself was nondescript, at least to my eyes - different people saw different things, and many saw nothing at all. Jaws of dull gray metal were attached to shiny crosshatched handles, the lines nearly polished away by the time I received it. Its appearance had not changed in the years I'd possessed it. There were no maker's marks or identifying numbers, but the ancient priest, or rabbi (I will not say from what church, or even what religion) who'd handed me the grips had shown me a line of scratches down one side that he said was Aramaic for "to the glory of the Most High." I do not know in what guise he saw the grips.
Lifting the edge of the sheet, I turned the knurled knob to loosen the vice grips, and placed them against the woman's bulging stomach. I closed my eyes, focusing, and plunged them in without warning.
The woman screamed in mortal agony and struggled against her restraining straps. I felt a scrambling beneath the metal jaws as the thing that possessed this woman tried to escape, but my sense of its presence was too strong, and I knew that the vice grips would find it quickly.
A twitch from the grips warned me in time to press closed the jaws on something rubbery and alive, squirming. I pulled the grips out with a squelching sound that caused some of the audience members to faint. Attendants began helping out those who couldn't bear the sounds, but they were overwhelmed by the rush towards the exits when I raised the vice grips high, revealing something white, filamentous and wriggling, mostly mouth, with a long skinny body trailing behind, still attached to the woman via a cord that merged seamlessly with her skin.
Inside every fat person is a skinny one trying to get out, they say, but in this case it was ferociously resisting its eviction with tiny rootlike claws. As the demon-creature grappled with the grips, trying to reach my gloved hand, I pulled even harder, until it separated with a wet snap from the woman it had ruled.
She stopped struggling, although she was still breathing heavily and her face had turned an alarming shade of pink. As always, I was a little out of breath myself as I gestured for the paramedics in attendance, followers of mine who'd once been skeptics but had come to believe. They came forward with their oxygen and their instruments to help her recover from the necessary ordeal I'd just put her through.
Bad as she looked, she was smiling. Without the avatar of Gluttony riding her, she'd soon be slender again.
* * *
Inside my motor home that night I pulled out the vice grips again and used them on myself, as I'd done every night since the grips had come into my possession when I was but ten years old. The pain was minimal, bearable... my vices rarely had time to grow large enough to threaten me. But still the effort left me gasping, and left a small pile of wriggling pale things slowly growing still beside me.
* * *
The next night, my first subject was a small, sweaty man. He was evasive about the exact nature of his vices, which appeared to be sexual in nature, but he was eager to be rid of them, and he signed my standard release without hesitation.
My attendants got him strapped down, though he was almost too small for the restraints. As I had so many times before, I reached into the case and brought out the vice grips, plunging them into his abdomen in search of the man's hidden evil.
The grips were almost ripped out of my hand by the strong surge that rippled the man's chest. I held on and pulled out a small, rounded figure, far too small to have caused that sort of upheaval. But its legs were wrapped around another small figure, whose arms held yet a third pale form in a carnal embrace... and another, and another.
The man was a pederast, who had held in his putrid secret till he was full to bursting and then come to me for release. I pulled back and the chain lengthened... tiny waxy children strung together in a hideous garland, all squirming obscenely in my sight and the sight of all around.
I turned my head away to retch and almost lost control of the grips yet again as the chain of the children he'd deflowered lengthened and whipped around, snakelike. Screams came from the audience, screams that dwarfed the customary revulsion which greeted one of these manifestations. I kept pulling; the end was not in sight, but I could feel it at last, a powerful lump pressing out the man's ribcage as it fought to disentangle itself from its conquests and get away from my grips.
I tightened my grasp and yanked with all my strength. Suddenly, all resistance ceased. I stumbled back. The thing that flew out, slick with human blood, engorged and blue-veined in its bald, squat nakedness, was as large as my two hands cupped together. It snatched the grips out of my hand and scampered away. The demonic creature capered around the tent, scattering fluids upon the onlookers, who scrambled to escape its leering flight, and trailing its chain of victims behind it like a nauseating feather boa.
We all panicked. All of us - attendants, paramedics, the few hardy audience members who had remained and myself - dropped everything and chased the twisted demon of Lust that had possessed the man for so long. That was a mistake, I must admit. The demon, deprived of its shelter, was already faltering in the light of day as such creatures do, and while we were all running after it the man on the table gave a soft sigh and expired.
When I'd retrieved my vice grips and discovered what the man had sacrificed, I collapsed next to him, consumed with guilt and rage. Oh, we were covered, of course; the insurance payments for any death occurring under the Religious Freedom Acts were guaranteed. And the man had committed crimes, crimes that would probably have earned him the death penalty - I'd merely cheated him out of a dignified death at the hands of the state. But I was unconsoled. This was the first time that the ordeal I put these people through had killed one of them. This was the first time I had failed.
I snatched up the vice grips and pounded at the fallen demon's disintegrating form, shouting wordlessly, until the paramedics took the relaxant intended for my... my victim... and injected me with it, then helped me to my RV "to sleep it off." I don't know what they told the crowd, or the five other sinners awaiting the release only I could have given them. I stumbled into the van and went to sleep, not even stopping to return the vice grips to their accustomed place in my case.
* * *
I awoke in the coldest, grayest part of the night. Four A.M., when even normal people have trouble with their thoughts. I could not bear it. I pulled the vice grips from my pocket and dug into my flesh with savage strokes, pulling out each tiny proto-vice and, not content to let them expire as usual, crushing them each under my thumb. Tears streaming from my face, I dug deeper than I ever had before... and felt it.
It was large, smooth and rubbery. It resided at the core of my being, and it was too large for the grips to hold. The surface of my buried vice slid away from the grips like an inner tube in a pond. I slid the grips up and down the length of my abdominal cavity, searching for a narrow place where they could take hold... but the demon that possessed me seemed to be the same thickness throughout.
I widened my search, going deep into my groin and up into my neck. Finally I sensed a weakness... but couldn't grasp it from the angle I'd chosen.
I thrust the grips down my throat and pulled, pulled harder than I ever had. The pain made blackness surge behind my eyes but I kept pulling until I felt the demon shift, awakening to its peril. I felt a tearing that reached to my toes and knew that I was succeeding, that I would root out this evil as I had so many others. Then I felt the vice grips slipping...
* * *
I awoke this time in a puddle of decayed liquid, its stench filling the suddenly-tiny RV. The vice grips were by my side. I picked them up and ran outside as if the motor home were on fire, knowing I'd never be able to go back into it again.
It was still early in the morning, and no one was stirring in the camp. I leaned against the side of the RV and angled the vice grips back to my chest again. They met no resistance to my probes. But I cannot bring myself to probe too deeply.
I fear what I might find.
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This document was last updated March 15, 1998.