It's half past ten on a Saturday night when Father Blatty receives the call. William Reagan, a ten-year-old boy and member of his congregation, is frantic. Apparently, his mother Mary has been ill for a few days. She hasn't gone in to work—she hasn't even been out of bed. William's only calling now because he's run out of whatever dry goods were in the pantry and is hungry to the point of pain.
Father Blatty has his driver, Igor, take him to the boy's house at once. The car's barely stopped before Blatty's gotten out and crossed the yard to Mary's door. He knocks heavily and William answers just a half second later. Blatty is shocked by what he sees.
It's not only the general dishevelment of the house, but by the sight of Mary herself that's shaken him. Her nightclothes are browning and twisted. Her eyes, void of all color, rest open but unfocused, and a pale yellow crust has formed around her mouth.
Mary turns and walks further into the house, and Blatty quickly steps past William to follow her. He feels no chill as he enters, but is suddenly overcome by cold as he steps into the bedroom where Mary now waits for him atop a barren mattress.
Before examining Mary further, Blatty takes ten-year-old William by the hand, grabs his coat hanging from the hall tree by the front door, and walks him outside to where his driver still waits in the car. He asks Igor to take William to the diner for a hot meal around the corner, and wait there until called.
William seems to go not just willingly, but happily. Before they leave, Blatty opens the trunk of the car and takes out what some people might associate with a doctor's bag: black, stiff-handled, utilitarian. Yes, there are remedies inside, but perhaps not the kind a country doctor might carry.
Father Blatty knows instinctively that Mary might actually be the first case of demonic possession he's ever seen for himself. As a young priest he'd heard of such things, and although he couldn't say whether or not he'd believed in them at the time, he'd been intrigued enough to voraciously read everything he could find about exorcism and its related rituals.
After many years of tending to all sorts of people, including the sick, the dying, the diseased, and the insane, Blatty finally felt in his heart that evil existed in the world, and that it was capable of presenting itself in many forms. Although he didn't advertise his knowledge of exorcism, nor the skills he'd spent time developing in Rome, seeing Mary in this condition, well...all the signs were there.
Blatty gathers himself and walks purposely back up the front steps of the house, through the door, and to the bedroom. Clutching his bag in his hand, he crosses back into the cold room he'd left just minutes before. He feels as though someone's waiting for him—knows he's coming—and it isn't Mary Reagan.
What's about to transpire is certain to be more horrific, more frightening, and more testing of his faith than anything he can likely imagine. The contents of his bag are the only things that stand between the peril of his and Mary's soul and the demon...which of course has its own bag of tricks.
Five hours later, Mary is quiet and Father Blatty is spent. It's difficult for him to know if his attempt at ridding Mary of whatever evil is inside her has worked. Just as Blatty is beginning to find hope that it has, a creak at the top of the steps startles him. Both Igor and William come through the door.
Father Blatty stands up and shouts, "Nooooo," and as he does, Mary sits upright in the bed, the color immediately returning to her pallid face and she throws out her arms to embrace her son. What comes out of her mouth is a sound Blatty is sure no human should ever have to withstand.
The priest tries to get between the boy and his mother's arms but is cast aside as if he was a Raggedy Andy doll. William flies into his mother's arms and within moments, his young face takes on a greenish cast, his eyes blacken, and his mouth forms a slow smile as his mother falls back onto the bed.
The next morning Blatty's church is packed with people. It's typical for the first day of the year to see so many uplifted faces here, but this year seems particularly crowded. Yet still, the haunted visage of William Reagan swims up from the sea of faces like a personal taunt to the priest. William's young mother sits beside her son, as pale as ever, almost ethereal in her countenance.
Father Blatty can't help but wonder if what passed between mother and son last night is more than either should be made to bear; if somehow, he as their spiritual adviser failed in some way. He sighs and thinks to himself what he always does—that God will help them find their way even if he cannot.
Blatty begins the mass and proceeds to go through its entirety without thinking about what he's doing—a sin in and of itself. Presence is what counts in a house of the Lord and Father Blatty's heart has certainly not been into his work the past few years.
Ever since he took a fork in the road that led him to the world of demonic possession, he's seen more of the evil, bad, and downright frightening side of life than he'd ever thought existed. It's tested his faith, yes, but perhaps even more importantly, it's tested his belief that good exists in everything.
Blatty tries to return to Mary's house that night, but finds himself unable to get through the door. He looks through the window and finds William's face, now strangely distorted, looking back out at him. As they stare into each other's eyes, he wonders why this boy, this thing that inhabits this boy, had come to a house of God this morning.
He wonders if it was trying to learn how priests gained the trust and love of their flock so that it could do so as well. A shiver runs down the spine of Father Paul Blatty. He says a quiet prayer as he walks back to his car.