This story takes five years before The Pilgrim’s Digress. You can purchase the book from Terror House Press here.


“Sir, did you forget your cross?”

Amos Cavendish glanced over at the grocery clerk further down the food aisle. Taking a break from his work as a “puritan,” aka a bounty hunter, he had left his headquarters at Cambridge Hall to pick up groceries for a special dinner his wife was preparing to mark their anniversary.

“Excuse me?” he asked.

“Do you have a cross to wear while you’re inside?”

Amos touched his bare neck, then chuckled as he reached into his pocket to find his metal cross necklace. “Sorry, had to take it off for something and forgot to put it back on when I came here.”

“No worries, just wanted to make sure we’re keeping everyone safe.”

The clerk departed around the aisle as Amos grabbed some spices his wife had told him to get. Next to him was a large cardboard poster that read, “Stop the spread of demonism. Take up your cross.”

It wasn’t a metaphorical expression. Whether indoor or outdoor, everyone within Cambridge County and thus under the Church’s jurisdiction was required to wear a cross around their neck when in public to prevent the spread of demons that had entered their region. However, some of the more fanatical church members insisted that people wear it in private and even when alone, just to be extra cautious in the event demons could travel on their own and enter people without person-to-person contact.

Taking the groceries to the front, he handed them to a cashier who looked no older than 16. The young man noticed Amos’ holstered sidearm and distinct grey attire.

“I’m not sure why my coworker insisted you wear a cross,” the clerk said. “If there’s anyone immune to demonic possession, it’s a puritan.”

“He’s just following Church decree out of concern, considering the situation we’re in.”

“I heard the churches are getting overwhelmed with new victims. Our exorcists are getting overworked.”

Amos held his tongue. He knew the number of victims wasn’t as high as most people seemed to believe. The Church had long had a shortage of exorcists, a problem it wasn’t quick to admit out of fear of how the public would respond.

“I’m personally getting tired myself,” the cashier said. “It’s been more than a year since this demonic activity broke out here. The Church told us it would go away in a week or so if we all wore crosses. But then it kept getting worse, so they encouraged everyone to get baptized as a way to strengthen our resistance to demonic influence. Even then, more kept getting possessed. Some got baptized a second time. Now we’re required to have our baptism certificates with us to go anywhere and do anything. I had to show mine to my boss here to keep my job.”

Amos shrugged resignedly as he paid for the groceries. “I don’t enjoy any of this. But believe me when I say our public spiritual health is better now than when I was your age.”

“Before the Turbulent Era?”

Amos nodded. “Imagine having to face this crisis, but instead of the Church ruling over you and making decisions by trusting the Holy Spirit, it’s a collection of superstitious lunatics trying to pass their psychosis off as ‘science.’”

“I can’t imagine.”

“Indeed, except it was even worse than that.”

“How so?”

Amos was walking out the door when he answered. “The crisis then was invented or created. This is one is real.”

“How do you know?”

“I know what it’s like to see someone demonically possessed. At least this time they’re not in charge of everything.”

He was in the parking lot opening the door to his vehicle when he got a message from Jonathan, one of his puritans.

“What is it?” he asked.

“We’ve got reports of a man entering a business without showing his baptism certificate. They don’t want to approach him for fear of getting demonically possessed, so the Church is handing the bounty to us.”

“There are other puritans who handle this petty stuff. We’ve got bigger heathens to burn.”

There was a pause before Jonathan replied. “Apparently, he’s Victor Klaus, a notorious Christ-denier and anti-baptism activist. The other puritans don’t want to go near him and risk exposure to his demonic presence, so the Church is willing to triple the usual bounty for such offenses.”

Exhaling quietly, Amos checked his watch and mulled it over. “How far away?”

“Only a couple miles.”

“Then let’s not waste time. I have a wife and dinner to enjoy.”


The lack of a cross necklace around his neck made it easy for Amos and Johnathan to spot the man when they entered the business lobby. It was a strange sight to behold, where Klaus attempted to get the attention of people around him but remained far away and pretended not to notice him or pay him any attention, per the Church’s spiritual distancing guidelines.

Remaining discreet, they approached the receptionist, whose three crosses indicated how in danger she felt of being possessed.

“Does he have a weapon?” Amos inquired.

The receptionist trembled, speechless. She was no older than the grocery cashier. Johnathan offered her reassurance that the man posed no threat to her, since she had not violated any of the Church’s guidelines.

“I’m still afraid,” she said. “It seems like everyone and anyone can expose others to demonic influence.”

“You’re just anxious. Don’t be afraid. Trust the Church.”


“Does he have a weapon?”

“I don’t know. I don’t think so.”

Amos nodded. “Good, remain here.”

Brandishing his sidearm, Amos had Johnathan approach Klaus from another part of the lobby.  After giving the signal, Amos approached the man confidently while keeping his gun at his side.

“Victor Klaus!” he spoke boldly.

Klaus eyed Amos, chuckling. “So, they brought you to deal with me?”

“You’re observant.”

“Get too close and you’ll be exposed to my demon. Isn’t that how it works, puritan? Or do you think that cross actually protects you?”

“Whether it does or not is irrelevant to why I’m here. You’re in violation of the Church’s public spiritual health decrees. Either produce a baptism certificate and wear a cross or get out.”

“If I’m baptized, then why do I still need to wear a cross?”

“Considering you’re a Christ-denier, I can safely assume you’re not baptized, so that, too, is irrelevant.”

“So, what are you going to do about it?”

Behind Klaus, Johnathan crept up and then silently pounced. Pinning him to the ground, Amos came over to help restrain Klaus as Johnathan placed restraints on his hands now held behind his back. Lifting him up, they carried him out of the lobby and to their vehicle waiting on the curb. As they walked, Amos anticipated some sort of applause or celebration, only to see crowds quietly gather in hushed terror.

“So much fear,” Klaus remarked.

“The only person who should be afraid is you,” Jonathan said as he shoved their prisoner into the back of the vehicle. As they drove away, Amos heard Klaus murmur in the back.

“Yet I’m the only who isn’t, aren’t I?”


Amos entered the holding cell where Klaus was held. Now unrestrained, he was eating the meager meal the puritans had provided him.

“You’ll stay here tonight,” Amos said. “Tomorrow, you will handed over into Church custody.”

“Where’s your friend?”

“He’s eating, like you.”

“Afraid of being exposed?”

“We fear only God here, heathen.”

“Ha! Your people fear their own shadows!”

Smiling, Amos leaned against the wall and folded his arms, his pistol in his right hand. “Do I look afraid?”

“Please. This isn’t about you. It’s about everyone else, our entire society. They’re consumed with fear.”

“Demonic possession is real, Klaus.”

“And how does wearing a cross change that?”

“It symbolizes our faith in God’s love.”

“So it’s all for show?”

“To not wear one discourages others struggling against demonic influence.”

“And what if we don’t believe in demonic possession?”

Amos grew stern. “The Bible says it’s real.”

“What if I don’t believe in the Bible?”

“Then you’re denying Christ and the Resurrection, which is spiritual violence against believers.”

“I have a right to think and say whatever I want!”

Slamming a fist down on the table in front of Klaus, Amos’ face was red with anger. “You don’t have a right to put other people’s spiritual health at risk!”

“Their relationship with their fake god is their own affair. You can’t force me to comply just to make yourself feel better.”

There was a period of silence.

“When I was a boy, your people thought quite differently,” Amos said.

“I’m sure yours did, too.”

Klaus picked at his food, growing impatient as Amos stepped back to smoke on his tobacco pipe. “If I were to wear a cross and get the baptism, this problem would all just go away, wouldn’t it?”

“Sure,” Amos said.

“However, what if I wasn’t sincere? What if I did it just so I could go about my business?”

“That’d make you a liar.”

Klaus grinned. “But that’s what the Church has essentially been telling me to do, isn’t it? They don’t want sincerity. They want compliance.”

Amos was wordless.

Klaus went on. “How many ‘Christians’ out there with their crosses and baptism certificates are just as much a heathen as I am? How many? How many are demon possessed? You don’t know, because complying with the Church doesn’t mean anything except that they’re obedient for one reason or another. Demons don’t care about lying.”

Amos was still quiet.

“Ironic, isn’t it?” Klaus said. “Being a liar and dishonest gets you acceptance and reward from Christian society, whereas I’m an honest heathen. I don’t believe anything you do. I just refuse to lie about it, that’s all. Yet here I am, awaiting sentencing and punishment because I won’t deceive.”

It was a while before Amos moved, his eyes fixed firmly on Klaus. He then went to the cell door and opened it, calling for Johnathan. By the time he arrived, Amos moved the table and gestured toward the corridor.

“Escort him outside,” Amos said to Johnathan.

Both the puritan and heathen were baffled.

“What?” Johnathan said.

“We’re releasing him.”


“Do it.”

“But he could expose others! He needs to be quarantined.”

“He’s not demonically possessed, and the only person whose spiritual health he jeopardizes by his actions is his own.”

“How do you know he’s not demonically possessed?”

Amos stared hard at Johnathan. “I spent my youth under the thumb of such men. Some I killed myself during the Turbulent Era. I know them when I see them. Now do as I order and release him. I won’t ask a second time.”

Klaus gazed at Amos with a surprised but genuinely appreciative face as he walked out, following Jonathan around the corner. Amos continued smoking and checked his messages; his wife was preparing dinner and needed the spices soon.

Johnathan returned with an exasperated look. “What have you done?”

“I did the right thing.”

“But he violated the Church’s decrees.”

“Then let those who come up with those decrees take the trouble to enforce them.”

“But we’re paid to do it!”

“Not unless we do it. We haven’t been paid, have we? I’m not obligated or bound to enforce any Church law. I’m merely paid when I capture those who violate them, at my discretion.”

Johnathan didn’t answer.

Tamping down the burnt tobacco in his pipe, Amos laughed. “It’s ironic. In a way, that man and I are alike. We won’t violate our consciences to obey a law we don’t believe in. He won’t lie, and I refuse to arrest a man for not lying. A law that rewards a man for lying, and punishes men for honesty, is a flawed one that I won’t enforce.”

Johnathan reflected over Amos’ comments, swallowing hard. “One day the Church might actually do it themselves.”

“They might. But if they themselves are sincere, they’ll stop when they see the harm the law causes.”

“To what?”

Amos took the cross off his neck and held it in his hand. “To our spiritual health.”

He then handed the cross to Johnathan. “Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a wife and dinner to enjoy.”