There was nothing remarkable about the fact that Jake did not want to go to school in the morning. His claims that he was not who they thought he was were on par with his use of his vivid imagination. When he asked his mother and father what their names were so that he might address them properly to plead his case, both parents were annoyed, but still forced him to get dressed and get on the bus.
In fact, it wasn’t until later in the day when they received the call from the principal that they thought anything might be unusual.
“Mrs. MacNeal, we need you to come in and pick up Jacob. His behavior today has been,” the principal paused long enough for a thousand different adjectives to run through Mrs. MacNeal’s head before concluding, “troubling.”
When she asked the principal for an explanation, Jake’s mother was advised that she ought to come and see it for herself. This prompted her to consult with her husband who, having some free time at work, decided he would accompany her to the school. Mrs. MacNeal waited for her husband in the parking lot and they walked in together.
Now in the third grade, Jake had never been in trouble at school before. While his parents were willing to overlook a single incident, they also hoped to nip any continuing problems in the bud.
“Jacob has been disrespectful to his teachers and fellow students today,” the principal explained as they sat across the desk from her. “He is normally such a pleasant student, so we are very concerned that something might be wrong with him.”
Jake’s parents glanced at one another. Jake was in another room where they had not been allowed to see him yet. “Disrespectful in what way?” asked his father.
“There have been complaints from students that he keeps bothering them. Apparently he has been scribbling all day and keeps asking the other children to take a look at what he has done. Then he calls them stupid for not understanding what it is that he has written down,” she explained.
“What about the teachers,” asked Jake’s mother.
“He refused to participate in the computer class and ranted about the quality of our PCs. Then, when Mr. Gathers told him to take a seat and do the work that was asked of him he called him,” the principal adjusted her glasses and read from a pad on her desk to make sure she got the wording correct, “myopic and totalitarian.”
Jake’s parents looked at one another again. They had met Mr. Gathers before and while they believed both of those words defined him well, they could not say they agreed with their nine-year-old expressing such sentiment publicly.
“Jacob’s teacher tells me that he is one of the better readers in the class,” continued the principal, “but that even these words seem beyond his vocabulary. To be honest, Mr. and Mrs. MacNeal, it is almost seems as if your son is a completely different person today.”
It was agreed that Jake should see a doctor. Upon entering the office where Jake waited, they found him reading the business section of the local newspaper. Next to him lie the already completed crossword puzzles from the day. He looked up at them and squinted in thought.
“These are my parents, right?” he asked the principal.
“Yes, Jacob, they are here to take you to the doctor,” she said then turned to Mr. and Mrs. MacNeal and whispered, “Good luck.”
Jake walked with his parents silently through the halls, glancing around nervously all the while. Once they got him into the back seat of the car, he began talking quickly.
“Alright, look, um, Mom and Dad. That’s what I’ll call you for argument’s sake. I know we got off on the wrong foot earlier. I was a little pushy. I’ll admit that now, but you two were not listening to a thing I had to say and what I have to say is really pretty important if you take the time to hear me. It’s why I’m here, actually.”
Jake dug a crumpled piece of paper from his pocket, unfolded it and smoothed it against his father’s headrest.
“I’ve been writing everything down,” Jake started again. “This is some amazing stuff. It’s beyond anything I’ve come up with before. It’s as if all the free time I’ve had now has really allowed me to think clearly.”
“Free time?” asked his father as his mother stared wide-eyed at her rambling son.
“Yeah, since being released from my, you know, earthly form. I’ve been able to just think and let my mind go to some amazing places. I just had to get back down here and share one last thing. See, these are the schematics as best I could draw them up today whenever those bastards weren’t shouting at me to stop…”
“Watch your mouth, young man,” Jake’s father yelled as he snatched the piece of paper from Jake’s hand and shoved it into his own pocket. “I don’t know who you think you are all of a sudden.”
“You wouldn’t believe me if I told you,” answered Jake. “Do you think I could have that paper back, though, because if you aren’t going to use it then I might as well give it to…”
“You’ll get it back after we see the doctor,” his father interrupted. “Now sit there and keep quiet until then.”
“Fair enough,” answered Jake.
The doctor’s visit found very little. No fever. No pupil dilation. All vital signs normal. At the end of their time there, Dr. Patel called Jake’s parents into the hallway.
“Medically speaking,” he began, “there is nothing wrong. Our official diagnosis would involve sending him to a specialist, in this case a psychiatrist in order to get to the bottom of what is really going on here.”
“It sounds like you’re hinting that there is an unofficial diagnosis,” Jake’s mother said.
This prompted Dr. Patel to look around and lean closer to the MacNeal’s, lowering his voice as he spoke.
“I do not know if you are spiritual people,” he began, “but your son’s behavior is consistent with the behavior of something that has been described to me in great detail. I am a doctor, a man of science as it were, so while I would never admit to telling you this, you may have to consider that your son has been…visited.”
“Visited?” they asked in unison.
“Your faith may call it possession. Regardless of the term, there have been stories for many centuries regarding individuals who have suddenly begun to act beyond their normal mental capacities and have claimed to be someone other than who they really are. Most religions believe that the human spirit exists beyond death and it is not so far fetched then to believe that one who has passed on may come into contact with another still living.”
“So you think Jake may be possessed,” said Jake’s father.
Dr. Patel looked around again, nervous at how loudly the shocked Mr. MacNeal had spoken. “I am merely offering a potential explanation as to why your son’s condition lies outside of our ability to properly diagnose it. I do not pretend to know whose ability it lies within. It is up to you as his parents and as human beings to decide what you believe to be the best course of action from here. Regardless, I regret to tell you that it is beyond my comprehension and I wish you luck in progressing forward from here. I must go now.”
As Dr. Patel hurried down the hallway and opened the door to another patient’s room, the MacNeals looked at one another again before Jake’s mother said, “I’d like to see a priest.”
“Come on,” Jake protested as his parents led him into the rectory at their parish. “I sat through the doctor’s office like you asked and now you’re putting me through this. I’m not even Catholic. I’m Buddhist. I’m not sure I’m under this guy’s jurisdiction. You’d be better off at a non-denominational church.”
“You most certainly are Catholic,” his father snapped. “You’re really starting to test my patience so I suggest you keep quiet.”
“Okay, okay, but make me a promise,” Jake said. “After I sit quietly through this nonsense, you have to give me back my paper and let me borrow the car so…” Jake looked down at himself suddenly. “I forgot. What am I, like eleven?”
“You’re nine,” his mother answered, distraught.
“Right, nine. So let me just take my bike for an hour and I can take care of what I need to take care of. Then I will leave as soon as I can. Okay?”
“Shhh,” Jake’s father hushed him.
“We’re here to see Father Flashington,” Jake’s mother said to the sweatered old woman sitting at the desk in the lobby. “He’s expecting us.”
“Oh yes, you must be the MacNeals,” she responded. “Go right in.”
“Thank you,” Jake’s parents both said.
“Thanks,” Jake added with a smile, “and I’m sure I’ll be seeing you again soon.”
“I hope so,” the old woman smiled back then said to herself, “What a polite young man,” not noticing that Jake’s father had grabbed him by the arm forcefully.
Once with the priest, Jake’s parents described in detail the ordeal that their day had been. They relayed to the quiet, black-clad father that their son was not normally this way. Jake’s mother said she believed what the doctor had told them about possession because it was the only explanation why her son, who was normally such a good boy, had been behaving so strangely. During that part, Mr. MacNeal stared uncomfortably at the floor.
“I am so sorry that your family has gone through this hardship,” Fr. Flashington responded after listening for a long while. “I certainly know of hardship. As you may be aware, our parish is in danger of closing if we are unable to increase our donations.”
The room fell silent for a moment.
“This is a burden I have been struggling with recently. It may not be unlike the burden you are currently experiencing.”
Jake’s mother nudged her husband with her elbow. Jake covered his face with his hands. “I’m not sure I’m understanding here,” Jake’s father stammered. “Are you saying…? Is this…? Are we supposed to…?”
“One of the many reasons why I’m Buddhist,” Jake said without lowering his hands.
“Quiet,” Jake’s father growled at him, then turned back to the priest. “I know this must be a strain on your parish, father, so I would like to make a donation on behalf of our family as a gesture of thanks for your services here.” He pulled a checkbook from the inner pocket of his suit coat. “How does…one hundred…?”
Father Flashington looked up toward the ceiling with only his eyes, then looked back to Mr. MacNeal.
“Two?” said Jake’s father.
The priest looked up again.
The priest lifted his eyes to the ceiling one more time.
Jake’s father groaned. He turned to his wife. “Really?” he asked her.
“Dear, please,” she whispered to him.
“Shameless,” muttered Jake behind them.
“Okay, father,” Mr. MacNeal said as he fervently wrote in his checkbook. “I’m going to write you a check for one thousand dollars. If that will not do enough to alleviate your parish’s suffering, then please let me know now.” He ripped the check from the book and thrust his hand across the desk toward the priest.
“Bless you for your generosity,” Fr. Flashington said and took it gently from his hand then placed it into the top drawer of his desk. Jake snickered slightly but the priest pretended not to notice. “If you will give me a moment, the church still has an exorcism ritual, but I have not had the privilege of performing it. I’ll need to contact the Cardinal. It would be helpful if one of you came with me so that you can answer any specific questions he might have.”
“You’d better go,” Mr. MacNeal said to his wife and she left the room with the priest.
Jake and his father sat silently for a while, alone in the room together now. Jake’s eyes inspected his father as he bent over in his chair and rested his head in his hands.
“Look,” Jake began. “You seem like a really nice guy and from how highly everyone thinks of your son, you two must be good parents. I’m not trying to make your lives difficult. I didn’t even choose to be here. It just happened. Obviously there’s something I haven’t finished yet and that paper you took must be it.”
Jake’s father looked at him. He looked beaten. Begrudgingly, he removed the paper from his pocket and began to look it over.
“I’m not looking for credit,” Jake continued. “I just feel that this could really help the world, you know. I suppose I’m here to make sure it gets into the right hands and I guess the universe has decided that your hands are capable. Maybe it was decided that if you were hearing this from your son, you would eventually believe it.”
At first, his eyes merely skimmed the numerous diagrams and calculations on the sheet. It barely registered that what he was reading made any sense. Eventually, however, he pulled the sheet of paper closer to his face and his eyes widened.
“This is…” he began. “This is…amazing.”
“I know, right?” said Jake. “Like I said, I don’t need credit. It’ll definitely make up for the grand I just cost you.”
Jake’s father looked up from the paper and stared at Jake suddenly. He stared at him as if he was looking into him more than at him. “This is real, isn’t it?” he asked. Jake nodded. “Who are you?” he asked then.
“Let’s just say I used to run a really innovative company and I haven’t been gone long,” Jake answered. “I’m sure you can figure it out.”
“This,” Jake’s father said holding up the paper, “is remarkable.”
“I know,” said Jake, smiling.
“I mean, this is light years ahead of all the other stuff,” his father said.
“I know,” repeated Jake.
“And you want me to develop this?”
“It’s a gift,” said Jake. “The profits are yours. Just get it out there. It’ll make things better. I know it will.”
“One last question,” Jake’s father said. “Is my boy okay in there?”
Jake sighed and smiled again. “It’s as if he’s sleeping,” he responded. “I’m pretty sure that once this is taken care of, I’ll be gone. You’ll have him back very soon.”
Jake’s father nodded, stood up and put the paper back in his pocket. “Thank you,” he said.
“No,” Jake said and sat down in the chair where his mother had been. “Thank you.”
Just then, Fr. Flashington and Mrs. MacNeal walked back into the room.
“Someone will be here tomorrow to perform the…” Mrs. MacNeal looked at her son who was sitting in the chair with his back to her as she entered.
“Sacrament,” the priest interrupted helpfully.
“So we can go now?” asked Jake’s father.
“Go where?” asked Jake. “Where are we?” The boy looked around the room, confused. “Mom? Dad? What’s going on?”
Jake’s mother grabbed him around the neck and squeezed. His father smiled and chuckled. “Looks like he’s back,” he said.
“Ah yes,” Fr. Flashington added. “The Lord works in mysterious way.”
“He certainly does,” agreed Jake’s father and shook the priest’s hand. “He certainly does.”
On the drive home, Jake’s parents explained to him that he had been sick and acting funny all day. “You must have been delirious,” his mother said. “But everything’s fine now.” Then she turned to her husband and said quietly, “I’m sorry about that check, honey.”