Michael Strong --
When the search party reached the disused grain store known locally as Puh-Chi (One Window), the bombing of Nanking was at its height. The night sky was bright with incandescent flares and filled with explosions. Japanese incendiaries were wreaking havoc on Nanking's wooden buildings. It was December 11, 1937, about 10:00 P.m. The Yangtze delta all the way down to the sea was in Japanese hands. From Shanghai on the coast to within two miles of Nanking was a devastated area on which death had settled like a permanent atmosphere. Nanking was next on the invaders' list. And defenseless. December 13 was to be its death date.
For one week the police of a southern Nanking city precinct had been looking for Thomas Wu. The charge: murder of at least five women and two men in the most horrible circumstances: Thomas Wu, the story was, had killed his victims and eaten their bodies. At the end of one week's fruitless searching, Father Michael Strong, the missionary parish priest of the district, who had baptized Thomas Wu, sent word unexpectedly that be had found the wanted man in the barnlike Puh-Chi. But the police captain did not understand the message Father Michael had sent him: "I am conducting an exorcism. Please give me some time." *
The main door of Puh-Chi was ajar when the police chief arrived. A small knot of men and women stood watching. They could see Father Michael standing in the middle of the floor. Over in one corner there was another figure, a young, naked man, suddenly ravished by an unnatural look of great age, a long knife in his hands. On the shelves around the inner walls of the storehouse lay rows and rows of naked corpses in various stages of mutilation and putrefaction,
"YOU!!" the naked man was screaming as the police captain elbowed his way to the door, "YOU want to know MY name!" The words "you" and "my" hit the captain like two clenched fists across the ears. He saw the priest visibly wilt and stagger backward. But, even so, it was the voice that made the captain wonder. He had known Thomas Wu. Never had he heard him speak with such a voice.
"In the name of Jesus," Michael began weakly, "you are commanded . . ."
"Get outa herel Get the hell outa here, you filthy old eunuch!"
"You will release Thomas Wu, evil spirit, and . . ."
"I'm taking him with me, pigmy," came the voice from Thomas Wu. "I'm taking him. And no power anywhere, anywhere, you hear, can stop us, We are as strong as death. No one stronger! And he wants to come! You hear? He wants to!"
"Tell me your name . . ."
The priest was interrupted by a sudden roaring. No one there could say later how the fire started. An incendiary? A spark carried by the wind from burning Nanking? It was like a sudden, noisy ambush sprung by a silent signal. In a flash the fire had jumped up, a living red weed running around the sides of the storehouse, along the curved roof, and across the wooden floor by the walls.
The police captain was already inside, and he gripped Father Michael by the arm, pulling him outside.
The voice of Wu pursued them over the noise, "It's all one. Fool! We're all the same. Always were. Always."
Michael and the captain were outside by then and turned around to listen.
"There's only one of us. One . . ."
The rest of the sentence was drowned in a sudden outburst of flaming timbers.
Now, the glass rectangle of the single window was darkening over with smoke and grime. In a few minutes it would be impossible to seeanything. Michael lurched over and peered in. Against the window he could see Thomas' face plastered for an instant of fixed, grinning agony, It was a horrible picture, a Bosch nightmare come alive.
Long, quickly lashing tongues of flame were licking at Thomas' temples, neck, and hair. Through the hissing and crackling of the fire, Michael could hear Thomas laughing, but very dimly, almost lost to the ear. Between the flames be could see the shelves with their gray-white load of corpses. Some were melting. Some were burning, Eyes oozing out of sockets like broken eggs. Hair burning in little tufts. First, fingers and toes and noses and cars, then whole limbs and torsos meltirig and blackening. And the smell. God! That smell!
Then the fixity of Thomas' grin broke; his face seemed to be replaced by another face with a similar grin. At the top speed of a kaleidoscope, a long succession of faces came and went, one flickering after the other. All grinning. All with "Cain's thumbprint on the chin," as Michael described the mark that haunted him for the rest of his life. Every pair of lips was rounded into the grinning shape of Thomas' last word: "one!" Faces and expressions Michael never had known. Some he imagined he knew. Some he knew be imagined. Some he had seen in history books, in paintings, in churches, in newspapers, in nightmares. Japanese, Chinese, Burmese, Korean, British, Slavic. Old, young, bearded, clean-shaven. Black, white, yellow, Male, female. Faster. Faster. All grinning with the same grin. More and more and more. Michael felt himself hurtling down an unending lane of faces, decades and centuries and millennia ticking by him, until the speed slowed finally, and the last grinning face appeared, wreathed in bate, its chin just one big thumbprint.
Now the window was completely black. Michael could see nothing. "Cain . . ." he began to say weakly to himself. But a stablike realization stopped the word in his throat, just as if someone had hissed into his inner ear: "Wrong again, fool! Cain's father.
* This is the only exorcism reported in this book for which I have no transcript and could not conduct extensive interviews. My sole source was Father Michael himself, who recounted these events to me and allowed me to read his diaries.(Continues...)