Victim Soul Chapter Five

 

Saint Gemma Galgani with Jesus (2)[Author’s Note: In this chapter, Gemma refers to Satan as “Chiappino,” which means “burglar.”  The only artistic liberty is that while my research states that one of the devil’s tactics was to attempt to turn her against her spiritual director Father Germano, it is not clear whether this happened as one incident or a series of incidents.  For the sake of brevity, I will be depicting this as one event.  My research states that Satan resorted to violence when Gemma “persevered in writing.”  However I decided to have Gemma politely tell him off for the sake of her character development.  Finally, this chapter will be the first time that Gemma looks Satan in the face.  Up until this point, I have had Gemma refuse to stare at her attacker.  However, in the upcoming chapters she will be seeing him in different forms (a dog, a giant, etc.) so I figured that now is the time to have her (and the reader) see the prince of darkness in the flesh].

A black bird sits on the window frame, whistling a cheerful melody.  From her table, Gemma glances up at the feathered creature, greeting it with an affable smile.  “You can go wherever you like.  Why here?” she asks softly.  The bird tilts its head, as if puzzled by her words.  She looks back down at her paper and resumes working on her letter to Father Germano.

“For some days, Chiappino has pursued me in every guise and way, and has done all in his power against me…”

She jumps when the bird lands itself near her candle.  She takes deep breaths as she carries on with her writing.  The endearing pitter-patter of the bird’s sticklike feet fills the silence of her bedroom.

“This monster keeps on redoubling all his efforts to ruin me and tries to deprive me of whomever directs or advises me.  But even should this happen, I am not afraid…”

“By the way you jumped just now, I would have thought that the little bird was one of my minions…” The bird darts out the window and into the morning light.
Gemma lowers her head when she feels him standing next to her.  Chills run down her spine when he places his talons on the table, dangerously close to her elbow.  She feels the weight of his infernal shadow looming upon her.
“Ignoring me is not going to make me disappear.”
Gemma ponders her options.  Within her mind, she remembers Jesus in the desert, facing the temptations of the evil one.  She rubs her trembling hands.  “If my Jesus had to face you, then I must do the same.”  She rises from her chair and turns around, looking directly at the prince of darkness.
“Dear God…” she steps back as tension’s grip takes hold of her body.
Satan’s ashen lips curve into a sinister grin.  “Your God isn’t here, child.  Only me.”
Gemma keeps a stoic expression on her face as she watches the demonic creature with skin the color of shadows pace around her.  She swallows, trying not to think of the pain that he could inflict upon her with his sturdy fingers.  She shudders at his black, tattered wings; wings that had once been magnificent, but lost their beauty once he rebelled.  When she notices the seething lust in his iridescent eyes, she turns her head to the crucifix on the wall.
“I notice that you don’t own a mirror.  Are you afraid that I’ll send my demons after you through the glass?”
Gemma keeps her focus on her Lord.  ‘My Jesus, I trust in Your protection.’ she thinks to herself.
“What a shame.  If only you could see what a beautiful girl you are…”  The devil reaches for her chin, but Gemma turns her body away.  Satan rolls his eyes and focuses his gaze upon her letter.  He pricks at the paper with his talons as he skims through it.  “Oh, Father Germano, Father Germano, please come and save me, for I am but a poor and helpless child being tormented by big bad Beelzebub!” His mocking spiel is accompanied with dramatic gestures.
Gemma looks at her letter, inhaling through her nostrils.  In a split second, she snatches the letter off of the table.  She rushes to her drawer and pulls out a cross.  She holds it up between her eyes.
Satan laughs, “You and your guardian angel need to learn to relax.”  He walks away from her and lounges against her door with his muscular arms crossed.  “Go ahead, work on your little letter.”
Setting down her cross, Gemma holds up her head.  For a moment, her eyes narrow with contempt.  ‘I shouldn’t give him the power to upset me,’ her conscience speaks.  She softens her face into a nonchalant expression.  Her heart continues to race, but she maintains her poise.  With her back turned to the devil, she sits herself down and begins writing.
“Now I may be the ‘father of lies,’ but even I know when a certain spiritual director may not be the best one for you.”
The pen in her hand never stops moving.  She glances up at the window, almost wishing that the little bird would come back.  A silent creature would make better company than the corrupter of souls.
“One of my fellow demons was listening in on dear old Germano’s homily, and he told me that the man is quite fanatical.  I can see why he would have you feeling so stressed and uptight…”
Gemma dips her pen into the ink.  After letting the ink settle on the pen’s tip, she starts writing again.  She hears Satan tread across the room.
“You excelled in music, French and arithmetic as a child, am I correct?”
She responses with a careless, “Mm hmm…”
“So you’re obviously intelligent, despite acting like a dumb mute,” his words “dumb mute” emphasized with a threatening snarl.  “It is a travesty that such a refined woman like yourself is being subjected to the ‘counsel’ of the delusional Germano.”
She sighs and tucks a strand of hair behind her ear.  His growl frightens her, but not a single bead of sweat is visible on her face.  She feels his talons grip at the back of her chair.
“Say, has your precious spiritual father given you any strategies that could help you deal with me?” She hears him drum his talons against her chair as he waits for an answer.  She rubs her nose to relieve an itch and says nothing.  “I’m going to take your irritating silence as a ‘No…'” Satan shrugs, “Seems to me that Germano may be a good listener, but not the best advisor.” Gemma leans forward to keep her back from making contact with his talons.
“I was able to open Eve’s eyes to a wealth of knowledge in the Garden…
“And all of humanity fell because of it,” she laments in a hushed breath, repulsed by his pride in the downfall of mankind.
“I could open that sweet and innocent little mind of yours to a world of knowledge if you allow me to be your teacher…”
She feels his talon pressed against the side of her head.  She tenses, bracing herself for a violent migraine.  “You can relax.  I’m not going to induce another headache,” he assures with an unsettling chuckle.
Gemma bites her tongue when he runs his talon down her hair.  As her heart pounds, she sits up straight and folds her arms on the table.  She tilts her head slightly to where she can only see the devil from the corner of her eye.
“Excuse me, but are you finished speaking?” she asks politely, catching the look of surprise on the devil’s face.   “You may do what you wish, but please let me write.”  Her shoulders loosen as she finishes up her letter.  The peace that follows lasts longer than expected.  She is almost tempted to look over her shoulder to see if the devil is still there, but shakes her head, deciding to enjoy the silence instead.
Her pen is ripped from her hand in a fierce swipe.  She sees it released from Satan’s hand as it flies across the room.  His face contorted in rage, Satan grabs her letter and proceeds to tear it in half.  As he rips it to shreds, his piercing eyes bore into hers.
Before she can do anything, he grabs the back of her chair and pulls it out from under her.  The wind is knocked out of her as her back hits the floor.  As she tries to collect air into her lungs, she feels his claws scratch against her scalp as he pulls her by the hair.  She grits her teeth as her scalp burns from being dragged by the hair.  With great force, he throws her against the wall.
“WAR, WAR AGAINST YOUR FATHER, WAR AS LONG AS HE LIVES!” Satan screams as he disappears into a burst of flames.
Some time passes before a shaken Gemma is able to stand up.  As her beating pulse calms, she collects the shreds of paper from the floor and disposes of it.  She walks to her drawer and pulls out a new sheet of paper.  Sitting down at her table, Gemma flexes her quivering fingers.  All is quiet as she rewrites her letter, though the devil’s words remain in her mind.
“Believe me, to hear this despicable wretch, one would think that his fury was rather against you than against me,” she writes to Fr. Germano, her spiritual father.
She folds up her letter and slides it under her candle.  Rising from her chair, she looks around the room.  There are no demons coming for her, only deep shadows in every corner.  Fixing her gaze into the darkness of her bedroom, Gemma lifts her cross from the table and presses it against her heart.

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CGB Review of The Huntsman: Winter’s War (2016)

Ironically the theater auditorium I saw this in (Theater 10) was the one where I endured last year’s Fant4stic Four…
Beware of Theater 10!

This is my review of The Huntsman: Winter’s War!

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Okay, so this is a prequel/sequel to 2012’s Snow White and the Huntsman, which means my summary will require some time travel.  Where’s the DeLorean when you need it?!
Anyway, so long before the events of Snow White and the Huntsman, the power-hungry sorceress  Ravenna (Charlize Theron) learns that her sister Freya (Emily Blunt) is carrying the child of the Duke of Blackwood.  One jumpcut later, the baby girl has been born and is destined to become fairest of the land because–fairy tale.  On the night that they are supposed to marry and run off together in secret, Freya sees that the Duke has murdered their daughter, so she unleashes her suppressed ice powers and kills the Duke.  From there, Freya becomes a tyrannical Elsa and raises an army of kidnapped children into soldiers.  Two of those soldiers are Eric (Chris Hemsworth) and Sara (Jessica Chastain), who are engaged in a forbidden romance that gets them kicked out of Freya’s ice kingdom.
Fast-forward seven years after the events of Snow White and the Huntsman, the magic mirror of Ravenna has gone missing, Freya is planning to destroy Snow White’s kingdom and Eric, Sara, and four dwarves must find the mirror to keep Freya from finding it and using it to resurrect Ravenna.

Am I the only one whose brain hurts after reading that summary?  Just imagine what it was like to get through this mess.

The Hits
I’ll give them this: The costumes for Freya and Ravenna are very pretty.  While Ravenna’s costumes are a little too extravagant, they do fit the fairy tale setting.  I did like how Freya’s dresses were white and silver; this keeps her from being an Elsa duplicate.
I understand what they were going for with Freya’s character; a hardened, grieving woman who tries to quash all sentiment while suppressing her own motherly instincts.  In scenes that call for Emily Blunt to be heartbroken and vulnerable, she conveys these traits very well.   With better writing, Freya’s tragic arch would have been more compelling than what we currently have.  As it is, I found myself sympathizing with Freya, just not empathizing with her.
The first act is fine for the most part.  It’s nothing to write home about, but I was fairly invested.  The idea of a betrayed queen “raising” an army of child soldiers had potential and even some of the scene transitions were pretty creative.

The Misses
The writing!  Holy cow, the script is embarrassingly amateur!  The story is painfully predictable, the flat and one-dimensional characters speak about how “true love conquers all” in blatant, on-the-nose spiels and the second act of the film is boring filler.  If I had been watching the film with my high school creative writing teacher, he would’ve been face-palming every five minutes because the plot suffers from a plethora of narrative missteps.
I’m sure that you know the difference between a plot-driven narrative and a character-driven narrative, but I will go over it anyway because once I do, we can get to the heart of why The Huntsman: Winter’s War doesn’t work.
A plot-driven narrative is where the events move the story and the characters are a small part of a bigger story.  A character-driven narrative is where the story could not happen without the central protagonist(s); it is specifically about the evolution of one person or a group of people. Star Wars is a great example of a plot-driven narrative while American Sniper is very much a character-driven piece.  Some films like Pan’s Labyrinth and Imitation Game are a seamless mixture of both.
In the case of The Huntsman: Winter’s War, this is a plot-driven film that really should have been a character-driven narrative.  From the dialogue, I could tell that the screenwriter intended for there to be more to Freya, Eric, Sara and the others, but whatever they intended got lost in the director’s agenda.  This doesn’t work as a plot-driven story because the actual plot is very weak, which explains the sluggish second act and the rushed third act.  The action gets in the way of any unique ideas that could have been explored and because Eric and Sara are written so poorly, Hemsworth and Chastain can do very little to make their characters interesting.  After the first act, Freya comes in and out of the plot, so whatever interest there was in her gets lost.  As for Ravenna, she is a shoehorned villain who is only prominent in the third act.
The story should have been a character study of two rival queens who are also sisters.  If Eric and Sara needed to be a part of the story, have Eric be Freya’s confidant and huntsman and make Sara the right-hand woman of Ravenna, then use their forbidden love to deepen the seething hatred between Ravenna and Freya; love and hate would collide through these characters.  The freaky magic mirror (which looks more like a gong, but whatever) could have been some all-powerful treasure that both Freya and Ravenna were after and would add even more fuel to their animosity.  I’d rather watch that movie!

All right, I’m just gonna say it: This movie is pretty awful and it’s all because of the stilted, mediocre writing.  Hey, Universal Pictures, do us all a favor and let Disney handle the live-action fairy tale genre.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m gonna go cleanse my brain by watching Maleficent and Cinderella again.

Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton, pray for us.

CGB Review of The Jungle Book (2016)

Just looking for the bear necessities!  🙂

This is my review of The Jungle Book!

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In the jungle, the mighty jungle, there lives a “man-cub” named Mowgli, who lives under the protection of a black panther named Bagherra and a pack of wolves.  All is well until the diabolical tiger Shere Khan comes looking for the man-cub, since man is forbidden in the jungle.  For his own safety, Mowgli must leave the jungle and go to the “man village.” Along the way, he meets the laidback Baloo and other colorful characters.

The Hits
The CGI is truly remarkable.  I honestly forgot that I was watching CGI characters.  The level of detail on everything from the animals’ fur to the weather effects is quite stunning.
Neel Sethi is endearing as Mowgli.  Inquisitive, adventurous and even noble, Mowgli serves as the story’s emotional center.  Speaking of the actors, all of the voice acting is top notch!  Ben Kingsley is perfect as the firm and brave Bagheera while Bill Murray brings the warmth and charisma as the fun-loving Baloo.  Scarlett Johansson nails the trickery and cunning of the serpent Kaa.  Idris Elba–good Lord–he is terrific as the diabolic Shere Khan!  His deep, commanding voice gave me chills, making him an excellent villain.
Baloo and Bagheera have great chemistry as polar opposites, as well as guardians of Mowgli.  Bagheera keeps Mowgli grounded while Baloo helps the young boy feel safe and relaxed in his jungle home.  Out of all the characters, Baloo has the most character development.  His evolution from careless, self-centered wanderer to a competent and protective mentor to Mowgli is sweet and natural.
I like how the task of protecting Mowgli challenges other characters such as Baloo and even Bagheera to an extent to rise above their own imperfections for a worthy cause.  Keeping Mowgli safe becomes a community effort and in the end, community triumphs over the lone Shere Khan.  I particularly appreciate how Mowgli defeats Shere Khan not with ruthless violence, but by courageously standing his ground in the face of insurmountable opposition.  It reminds me of something Saint Thomas Aquinas once said, “The principal act of courage is to endure and withstand dangers doggedly rather than to attack them.”
A friend of mine named “N.M” recently told me, “Let the angels and the saints deal with the devil.  They know what they’re doing.”  I kept thinking about her words as I watched the movie.  Throughout the film, animals fight off Shere Khan while Mowgli flees to safety, which reminded me of the angels and the saints fighting off the devil and his minions.  Oh, yes, Shere Khan has the similar characteristics of the fallen angel Lucifer.  There’s a particularly chilling scene where Shere Khan is indoctrinating Raksha’s (Mowgli’s wolf mom) cubs.  “Well, it looks like the screenwriters read 1 Peter 5:8,” I said to myself.  By the way, feel free to type in what 1 Peter 5:8 says in the comments section.  🙂  Granted, I highly doubt that the filmmakers were looking to demonstrate how our Heavenly advocates fight for us, but then again, our God can make use of anything, even secular forms of art, to make Himself known to us.

The Misses
So Christopher Walken sings/speaks “I Wanna Be Like You” and…yeah, about that.  It is as if the filmmakers couldn’t decide if they wanted Mr. Walken to either sing the actual song or just say the lyrics without musical accompaniment, so they said, “Just do both.” As a result, Mr. Walken sounds awkward and stilted when he is sing-speaking the lyrics.
Personally I prefer character-driven stories over plot-driven ones, so even though I liked Mowgli, I couldn’t connect with him; he is sympathetic, not empathetic.  This hiccup doesn’t make the film less enjoyable, but just weak when compared to Maleficent (2014) and Cinderella (2015), both of which were poignant character studies.

I would highly recommend the Jungle Book as a fun family film.  While some of Shere Khan’s scenes are quite dark, the majority of the movie is light-hearted and entertaining.  Kids will enjoy the animals and action, while the adults will be pleasantly surprised with the film’s depiction of courage in the face of danger.

Saint Dominic Savio, pray for us.

Presidential Candidates Won’t Save You

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Don’t worry, I’m not going to go on a megalomaniacal rant about how I can’t stomach any of the candidates.  This post would be longer than Tolstoy’s War and Peace if I did that.
As I watch the debates (yes, both the GOP and the Dem debates), read articles online and listen in on conversations about the candidates among my family and friends, there is a theme that strikes me.  Mr. Trump continuously promises to “Make America great again,” while Mr. Sanders swears to hold big corporations responsible.  Miss Clinton vows to uphold the rights of women and other minority groups, while Mr. Cruz pledges to protect religious liberty.
What do these four people have in common?  They promise to be a savior in some capacity.

Even in our secular society, the concept of a savior still appeals and rings true for many people.  While the savior complex has always been prevalent in past presidential elections, the idea of electing a man (or woman) who can “save our country” from the path we are currently on is especially strong during this presidential season.  If you talk to a supporter of Mr. Trump, Miss Clinton, Mr. Cruz or Mr. Sanders, there is definitely a sense that they truly believe in their candidate’s ability to save our land.

During this past Lenten season, I found myself really pondering Jesus’ sacrificial offering and its meaning.  By His death and resurrection, He redeemed humanity and paved a way for us to obtain Heaven.  Our Risen King stripped the prince of darkness of his hold over mankind and gave us a lifeboat.
The idea that a single presidential candidate can bring about salvation of any kind does in fact benefit someone; a particular entity whose goal it is to keep our attention off of the True Savior.
I truly believe that Satan uses political rhetoric to his advantage, to take people’s eyes off the state of their own souls and keep them distracted with the state of the political climate.

I am in no way telling you to not vote.  I am not trying to discourage you from participating in the political process.  What I am saying is that a politician can only impose legislation, not salvation.  A president can improve the economy, but not shield us from Hellfire.  Presidents come and go, but Jesus is the One who stands between us and the deception of the evil one.

Stand by a candidate if you wish, but keep your eyes to Jesus always.

Saint John Vianney, pray for us.

CGB Collaboration Review of God’s Not Dead 2 (2016) with My Friend Mickey Kelly

God is most certainly not dead…but His patience with these movies, I’m not too sure about.

This is the second CGB collaboration review of God’s Not Dead 2!

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Grace Wesley is a kind and optimistic high school teacher who finds herself in hot water after answering a student’s question about Jesus.  With a nonbelieving defense attorney as her ally, Grace’s case ends up being one that could remove God from the public square once and for all.
Right after my Batman v. Superman collaboration review with Patheos blogger Monique Ocampo, my good friend Mickey Kelly asked me if I wanted to do another collab with him.  We picked this movie as the subject for our collab.
Now I actually liked the first God’s Not Dead.  Is it flawed?  Absolutely.  However, given that it was a compelling rivalry story about a Christian student and his atheist professor, I found myself thoroughly enjoying it.  Mickey’s points are in blue while mine are in pink.
So let’s see how the sequel holds up!

CGB Hits
In the first movie, Professor Radisson was the character who interested me the most.  In this movie, I found Brooke Thawley to be the person I wished the story was about.  Though her evolution from grieving sister to committed believer is a tad rushed, I did find her to be the most sympathetic character. 
I did like the idea of an agnostic attorney defending the Christian protagonist.  I saw the potential for an interfaith friendship to bloom between the two characters, or at the very least have them come to respect each other despite not sharing the same belief system.
I am glad that Amy Ryan, the atheist blogger from the first movie is back as a new believer.   I like her arch as a Christian convert who is questioning her faith after she learns that she is in remission.  This subplot on its own could have made for an interesting story.
One of the biggest strengths that the makers of the God’s Not Dead series is that their subplots could make for their own stand-alone films.   I would like to see a film about Martin, the Chinese convert to Christianity or liberal-blogger-turned-believer Amy.  I remember the first film featured Ayisha, a Muslim girl who is a closeted Christian; why can’t we get a movie about her?!

Mickey’s Hits
Grace Wesley was a resilient character who held on to her faith and hope, which is nicely conveyed by Melissa Joan Hart’s genuine performance.
Tom Enler and Grace Wesley developed well in the movie.  While Enler tells Grace that he is a non-believer, Enler sees this case to the end to help Grace win an impossible court case. He goes from an inexperienced lawyer to someone that figured out Kane’s methods and outsmarting a heavy weapon for the ACLU.  I appreciated that at least one nonbelieving character was portrayed in a positive light for the most part.
The writers made an interesting transition from the classroom to the courtroom which is happening in today’s world.  Grace Wesley, with the help of her students, aging grandfather and Enler, perseveres despite some crushing setbacks during the trial.

Mickey’s Misses
Some questions about the end result of Martin and his father are in limbo.  Will they seek each other’s forgiveness or will they never cross paths again?  The film fails to develop the relationship between Martin and his father.  Also, Martin’s dialogue makes him feel less like a character and more like an agenda pawn.
Like in the first film, I felt that the writers did too much to tell a story involving so many
characters. 
It seems that the writers neglected to develop Kane’s assistant, who had little to do in the movie but watch Kane get defeated by Enler.
The movie will appeal to some, but not all those looking to watch a good Christian movies due to an off-putting tone with some painful moments in the film such as Grace’s struggle to see the trial through. 

CGB Misses
Many members of my family work for the justice system, so I am what I call a “courthouse baby.”  Hence, this courthouse baby found that Grace’s trial was riddled with unrealistic moments that would never fly in a real-life trial.  How Tom Enler handles his final arguments before the jury deliberates had me shaking my head.
Any time you write a story that tackles a social issue, you do need to write with some emotional restraint.  Otherwise, if you harbor resentment towards those who do not share your views, it will show in the story.  In this movie’s case, it is clear that the filmmakers hold some animosity towards atheists.  The end result is that vilification of atheists is a major issue in this movie.  Whereas the first movie made the atheistic Professor Radisson a three-dimensional person who undergoes an intriguing evolution, this second film has made every single atheist character as unlikable and abrasive as possible.   Brooke’s non-believing parents are heartless towards her grief over her brother.  The ACLU lawyer Pete Kane is the overacting foaming-at-the-mouth atheist.  The people who oppose Grace are unreasonable protestors who ridicule the Christian supporters.
I don’t know if the filmmakers have had bad experiences with atheist men and women, but I would like to take the time to say that I have plenty of atheist friends and they have always been kind to me and understanding of my beliefs. 

Here is the thing with the God’s Not Dead series: There are good messages to be found in  both of the films: Stand with God and not the world, be committed to your convictions and if God brings you to it, He will get you through it.  So while the messages on their own are not wrong, the presentation of these messages is where the wrong begins.  You’re not going to convert people by portraying every single Christian character as a saintly hero and every atheist as a rabid jerk.  Christian persecution is real, but here in America, no one is being stoned in the public square for reading a Bible.
God is not dead and He calls us to present His word in a reasonable and compassionate fashion.

Saint Gabriel Possenti, pray for us.

Victim Soul Chapter Four

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[Author’s Note: Gemma’s guardian angel is introduced in this chapter.  Originally, he was going to be an off-to-the-side character, but after learning of Gemma’s deep bond with him, I asked God to help me incorporate her guardian angel into the story.  My research confirms that one evening, after taking a particularly terrible beating from the devil, Gemma was unable to move.  Her guardian angel picked her up and put her to bed, then stood watch for the rest of the night.  There are three artistic liberties taken.  The first is the conversation that takes place between the guardian angel and the devil.  This sequence has been created to develop the guardian’s angel character.  The second is the insertion of Gemma’s quote “Oh God, I am weak….give me…a little strength.  No matter what will happen to me, all is for You.”  This is a documented quote from her.  It was said while she was in a state of ecstasy.  However, I made the decision to insert it here to show Gemma’s resolve.  Finally, the third liberty is what Gemma says to her guardian angel about almost giving in to the devil’s temptation when she was ill.  This was created to reestablish Gemma’s motivation for remaining strong against the devil’s abuse.  In addition, I realized that I needed to show their rapport].

Her face swells from where his fist struck.  The bruises pulsate with a throbbing pain that spreads throughout her body.  Pressing her worn hands against the cold floor, her fingers quiver as she struggles to support her own weight.  She feels blood trickle from her nostrils, creating miniscule crimson puddles on the floor.
“That’s enough for one night, wouldn’t you say?”
Gemma can feel his fiery eyes cast down at her.  She glances up and sees his immense shadow looming over her.  “My–my Jesus…my Jesus, please…” she struggles between breaths.
Her body becomes rigid when he kneels down beside her.  She is too weak to stop him from cupping her chin into his talons.  “Your God does not care about what happens to you.” Satan releases her chin and stands up.  He turns to leave, but then stops and turns his head.  “My offer still stands, Gemma.”
She keeps her eyes on the floor.  “Just kneel before me.  Pledge your allegiance to me and I will protect you.  You won’t have to suffer for some dead carpenter if you just–“
“No.” Gemma raises her head and darts her eyes to the crucifix on the wall.  “Oh God, I am weak….give me…a little strength.  No matter what will happen to me, all is for You.”
A sudden force pins her to the floor.  Staring up at the ceiling, she clenches her fists, bracing herself for more pain.
“Hmph, suit yourself, little one.”
She shuts her eyes the minute his body whirls around, his fist aimed high.  The thud rings against her ear.  She opens her eyes and sees that his fist has just barely missed her face.  As he disappears into a swirl of smoke, the echo of his vicious cackle remains.
Weakness has rendered her immobile.  She turns her head and sees a sizzling hole where the devil’s fist landed.  Her beating heart drums in her ears.  She glances up at her extinguished candle as it sits barren and alone on her small table.
A flame flickers on the wick as warmth takes hold of the room.   A glowing set of feet stand on top of the sizzling hole.  Gemma sighs in relief to see her guardian angel.  She feels one of his feathers gently brush her bruised cheek.  “Angel, I can’t move.”
Her guardian angel kneels to the floor.  He wipes the blood from her nostrils with his sleeve.  The blood dissipates into the fabric until it completely disappears.  Reaching underneath her, he lifts her in his arms, cradling her.  Sleep, my child.  You have nothing to fear.” His ethereal light dulls every ounce of pain that has ravaged her body. Gemma takes deep breaths as she is lowered onto her bed.  A strange chuckle escapes her lips.
“What makes you laugh, Gemma?”
Lying flat on her back, her eyes bore into the ceiling.  “To think that I almost surrendered to that monster…” She closes her eyes, sinking into the painful memory.

“I can take away your suffering, Gemma.  Whatever you desire, I will grant you.  If you submit to me, obey me, do as I say, I will see to it that your body never betrays you again.”  He opened his palm and reached out to her.  “Just take my hand and I will free you from your misery.”
Gemma kept her eyes on the ceiling.  Desperation began to drown her.  As if her body was moving without her consent, her hand lifted.  She pulled back, clenching her fist.  She relaxed her hand, leaving it mid-air.

When she opens her eyes, she sees her guardian angel holding up his hand, “Leave in the past what belongs to the past.  He will attempt to use your weakest moment against you, my dear.  Accept that you have been forgiven by our Lord and go forward.”
She turns her head to the candle’s dancing flame.  “If this is how he treats those who oppose him, imagine how he treats the ones who do exactly as he says.” A chill runs through her body at the thought of being a follower of darkness. The idea of the almost haunts her; almost taking his hand, almost pledging her allegiance to Hell, almost trading her eternal soul for temporary comfort.
Her guardian angel pulls the sheets up to her chin.  His hand touches her head. “Remember who are you and Who you belong to.” He points at the crucifix, “Before anything else, He is a savior.  He will not let you fall.”
Gemma looks at the crucifix, mentally absorbing every detail of Jesus’ body.  She touches her cheek, realizing that the swelling is gone.  Looking at her arms, she can see that the bruises are no more.  As tears of joy pool in her eyes, her face brightens with a tender, assured smile.  She places her hands over her heart, “Oh Jesus, I see You as greater than all the treasures on earth.  Yes, my sweetest God, my most lovable Jesus: to my eyes You are greater than the greatest treasures on earth.” She notices that her stoic angel’s mouth has lifted into a smile, as well.  As she drifts off to sleep, she hears his wings stretch out, shielding her from the terrors of the night.

Her guardian angel holds his sheath, ready to strike any demonic forces that draw near.
“And how is our little Gemma?”
The guardian angel faces the prince of darkness with a stoic expression.
“Oh, relax.  I’m not going to throw her across the room.”
The guardian angel crosses his arms, “You beat this woman for over an hour.”
Satan rolls his eyes, “You angels of God are no fun.  At the very least, allow me to check up on the poor girl,” he reaches out his claws for Gemma’s forehead.
The guardian angel grabs Satan’s wrist.  Within seconds, his light burns the devil’s skin.
“AAAAAAAHHHHHH!!!!” Satan recoils to the floor, clutching his bubbling wrist.
The guardian angel pulls out his sword and points it at the enemy.  A brilliant light shimmers off the blade, blinding the devil.
As Satan recovers, the guardian angel stands above him.  He looks back at Gemma, who is sound asleep.  He hears Satan beginning to stand and faces him.
“Hmph, you’re just as much of a menace as Michael!” Satan hisses as he props himself up.
“Why do you want this daughter of God?  Many people have fallen into your hands and the whole earth is yours.” The guardian angel places his sword back in his sheath.  “Are the ones who already reside in Gehenna not enough for you?”
Satan walks over to the candle.  He runs his talons over the small flame, releasing a dark plume of smoke into the air.  The guardian angel clears the smoke with the light of his sword.
“Hell is populated by my easiest targets.  Many of them made the quiet and comfortable journey into my hands.” He raises his talons and points at Gemma, “Imagine the glory of snatching away one of God’s finest…” A sinister smile plasters his face.  “I would love nothing more than to look a former servant of God in the eye and say, ‘Welcome to Hell.'” Satan narrows his eyes, his unflinching focus set on the holy woman.  “Hmph, I almost pity the poor child and how she allows herself to suffer for a being she cannot see.” The guardian angel tenses when he sees a spark of lust in the devil’s eyes.  “She is quite lovely…”
The guardian angel stands in front of Gemma, blocking her from the devil’s line of vision.  “Leave. Now.” The guardian angel once again withdraws his sword and presses the tip of the blade right at Satan’s throat.
Satan smirks as he steps back.  He glances at the crucifix, but can only look at it at a second before it burns his eyes.  “Whether it is a docile girl who prays or an abrasive drunkard who lies and cheats, I want everyone to be as far away from the Almighty as possible…” The devil turns his back to the guardian angel, then stops and tilts his head slightly.
“I won’t stop until everyone burns.”

Victim Soul Chapter Three

St_Gemma_Galgani

[Author’s Note: The first artistic liberty taken is that Satan’s words to Gemma, “Do you not see that this Jesus does not hear you, and wants to have no more to do with you.  Give up, and be resigned to your unhappy lot” have been inserted into the opening scene.  My research confirmed that this is one of the many insults hurled at her by the prince of darkness, but when exactly it was said is unknown.  The second artistic liberty is that after Gemma fails to receive Communion, she sees Satan’s silhouette in a dust fog.  This sequence has been created to foreshadow the epilogue of Victim Soul, which involves a stare-down between the two characters].

“Dear Monsignor Volpi, I must I tell you what happened last night.  I never went to bed, because the Devil frightened me with his blasphemies, and I thought he was in the room; I could neither sleep nor pray.”

“AHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!!”
Watching the candle’s restless flame, Gemma sits frozen at her desk as the screeching, maniacal laughter of the devil pierces her eardrums.  Her trembling body trapped in a hunched position, her lips are pressed against her folded arms.  Gripping her scapular in her hand, she dares not to look for her adversary.
“Do you not see that this Jesus does not hear you, and wants to have no more to do with you.” 
The darkness infused with his words shake her to her core.  Gemma shuts her eyes, which swell with coming tears.  She slowly turns her head to the crucifix, from where her beloved watches her.  “My Jesus, I know You are with me now,” she whispers.  She takes deep breaths as she struggles to fight the dread and loneliness that threaten to consume her troubled heart.  She jumps when she feels a tug at her hair, but refuses to turn around.
Give up, and be resigned to your unhappy lot!” The devil’s words are a diabolical hiss that seep into her conscience, furthering her fright.  His presence ceases, but the sting of his cruelty settles in her bones.

Fingers of morning light peer through the stained glass windows.  The altar ahead is a blur in her line of vision.  Gemma’s head turns to the stained glass window next to her pew.  She rubs her eyes.  “Wake up, wake up,” she murmurs to herself.  She freezes when she feels a hand on her shoulder.
“Are you all right, Ms. Galgani?” asks a female voice.  As Gemma glances at her shoulder, for a moment she sees not a hand, but dark talons clutching her.
She shakes her head and looks back at her shoulder.  There are no talons, only the hand of a woman with a round face.  ‘Just like mother,’ Gemma bites her lip. “Yes, signora,” she answers with a meek nod.  She switches her gaze to the altar before she can be questioned further.

1885
“Come here, my darling Gemma…”
Seven-year old Gemma sat herself on Mother’s lap.  She rested her head against mother’s sturdy shoulder. 

“I have prayed so much that Jesus would give me a little girl,” Mother stroked Gemma’s hair.  “He has given me this consolation; it is true, but too late.  I am ill…” her mother’s chest rises as she inhales.  Tears begin to swell, making her eyes look like small pools of grief.  “…and I must die.  I must leave you.” Mother gripped Gemma’s tense shoulders, “Oh, if I could only take you with me!  Would you come?” 
“And where are you going?”
“To heaven with Jesus and the angels…”

A single tear escapes from her eyes.  Gemma wipes it away as quickly as it came.
It is time to receive the Eucharist.  Gemma’s face lights up with a peaceful smile.  Standing at the very end of the small line of parishioners, she raises her eyes to the large crucifix, placing her hands over her heart.  She turns her head to the statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary, which stands by the stained glass, shimmering in colorful incandescence.  “Oh, my Heavenly Mother,” she says in an affectionate whisper.
Looking back at Jesus on the crucifix, she lowers her head as an aching sadness begins to overwhelm her.  As she draws nearer to the priest, the sensation of sinking oppresses her.  ‘My sins, my imperfections put Him there…’ “I put Him on that cross…” she closes her eyes, envisioning Mary cradling the mangled body of her Son.
When the Precious Body is held before her eyes, she turns her head away.
As if her body is moving without her, Gemma realizes that she is running out of the church.  Throwing open the doors, she is blinded by the scorching rays of daylight.  She whirls her body back and forth, trying to remember where she is.  A sudden gust of wind kicks a cloud of dust into her face.
“AHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!!”
Rigidity takes hold of her.  Within the fog she sees a dark silhouette.  Time seems to have come to a halt.  For what feels like an eternity, the world consists of a frightened girl and an entity of darkness standing opposite of each other with only a fog of dust dividing them.
Gemma turns her head, then pauses.  Inhaling air and dirt, she slowly looks back and straightens her shoulders.  The silhouette has vanished, but the cackle continues to ring as a faint echo.
Tightening her lips, she holds up her head.  As her racing heart calms and the tremors throughout her body cease, she moves ahead to the church.  She opens the doors and returns to the line.
The minute the Eucharist passes her lips, her heart is kindled with a tender flame that burns as passionately as her love for her King.

Back at home, Gemma carries a bucket filled with water to the house.  Her eyes downcast, she watches her step to avoid spilling.  Her nostrils fill with the crisp air of springtime.  Opening the door, she treads down the hall, where she stops at a portrait of the Sacred Heart.  Closing her eyes, she places her hand over her heart.  “Jesus, make haste, give me the grace to be ever united with You, in such a way that I may never be separated from You!”
There is a whooshing sound, which is followed by what feels like an array of fiery fists striking her shoulder.   Overcome by white hot pain, Gemma collapses to the ground. Though the fearsome rage of the evil one is palpable, she dares not to look and see if he is physically present. When she finally does look up, she sees that the bucket remains intact with the water perfectly still.  She smiles as she lifts her gaze to the Sacred Heart.

Gemma’s letter to Monsignor Volpi verbatim:

“I must I tell you what happened last night.  I never went to bed, because the Devil frightened me with his blasphemies, and I thought he was in the room; I could neither sleep nor pray.  I did not make my meditation, nor pray from 11 am to 12:00.  I went to church, but when the time came I felt I could not go to Holy Communion. I came out of the church and I heard the Devil laughing very loudly. I understood why, went back to church again and received Holy Communion.  Jesus told me had I not conquered that morning I should never have done so…Yesterday morning my aunt asked me to draw a bucket of water; I filled it and bringing it back had to pass before the picture of the Sacred Heart. I saluted Jesus with these words: ‘Jesus, make haste, give me the grace to be ever united with You, in such a way that I may never be separated from You!’  Just after I had said this I felt a series of sharp blows on my shoulder, so that I fell to the ground, but without breaking anything.”