I’ve written a few short stories (in the eventual hope that I’ll have enough stuff to put into an anthology), and thought that, since it is appropriate given the season, I’d publish one of them here as a Christmas treat for all my fans and friends. It is from the Suburban Vampire universe, and is titled Merry Christmas, Grace Montoya. SPOILER ALERT: If you haven’t read Suburban Vampire Ragnarok prior to this, go out now, buy a copy, and read it, then come back. No, it’s not just a marketing gimmick, it’s for real. Also, in case you weren’t sure, this isn’t something to read to this kids, as it has a bit of violence and scary bits. So sit back, break out the egg nog, and enjoy this Christmas tale from the Suburban Vampire universe…
MERRY CHRISTMAS, GRACE MONTOYA
Jeremiah stood outside St. Michael’s church as the cold December rain fell, waiting for the arrival of Father Armando. Jeremiah had been contacted by the archdiocese earlier that day, advising him of an issue of grave importance. Father Armando was more than a parish priest, he was also familiar with the Rite of Exorcism. And if one who was trained and enabled by the Church to perform the Rite of Exorcism was coming to seek help from Ministry, the particular issue was most dire indeed.
Father Armando soon arrived, driving an old VW Golf which he parked on the curbside. Armando was a middle-aged man of Mexican descent, with a slight paunch and a large mustache. He walked the stone walkway to the church. Jeremiah met the priest and shook his hand.
“I understand that you seek the services of Ministry,” Jeremiah said.
“Indeed, I do,” the priest responded. “May we speak within?”
Jeremiah led the priest into the church. They entered the nave and sat in the last pew. Jeremiah noticed that the priest was nervously fidgeting with his rosary beads. “What troubles you, Father? Why do you seek the services of Ministry?”
“There is a particular couple in my parish,” Father Armando began, “Who came to me in all confidence with a problem. This problem, of course, involves demonic forces.”
“Please, tell me all you know about this case.”
“Very well. This couple, Mark and Gloria Christenson, have a boy who is twelve years of age this year. In fact, his birthday coincides with Christmas. Very auspicious, yes? To have a birthday the same day we celebrate the birth of our Lord and Savior, you would think this would indicate some nature of blessed status, correct? Alas, I wish it were so.”
The priest breathed heavily, then continued his story. “When their boy, Matthew, was yet an infant, he was diagnosed with an irregularity of his heart. He was placed on life support. The doctors were unable to help the child. And so, it seemed he would die. The parents prayed, oh, how they prayed, that their child would be spared. However, despite their prayers, the child’s health worsened, until the doctors gave the child but a day to live. And so, the parents turned to… other forces. They eventually made contact with an entity, a demon of great power, who promised the Christensons that the boy would live. However, that life was to come with a price: Upon the boys’ twelfth birthday, the demon would come and claim the child. Needless to say, the parents were desperate, so they agreed. Of course, they came to regret the bargain. They hoped that they would find a way to deny this evil spirit its prize. So, they came to me. I performed various rituals and sacraments, but I fear that they will not be enough. In fact, I know they will not be enough. For I know the entity that made this bargain with the Christensons.”
“You know this being? Then, you know its name?”
Armando nodded. “Yes. I do. Its name is Yuzu.”
At the mere mention of the name, Jeremiah’s eyes grew wide. “Yuzu? Is this the truth?”
“It is. You too know this demon.”
“I do. I have had encounters with him before. He has taken many lives, and driven many more mad. When physically manifest, he appears as a being of flame, like a man on fire. He has been attested to since Medieval times, and has manifested in other parts of the world as well. There are Persian, Indian, and Chinese writings that attest to his terrible power.”
“Then you know what I, and the Church, are up against. It is my understanding that Ministry has ways of causing demons to become physically manifest, so that it is easier to defeat them. I was hoping that this would be the case.”
“Yes. It is the case.”
“Then you would be able to help us?”
Jeremiah understood that, as a vampire, he was among the most unholy of beings, despite the fact that he had allied himself with Ministry and its struggle against the forces of darkness. This was not a fight he could take on, knowing as he did the dread power and authority of a beast like Yuzu. He feared that he might be manipulated, as he had been in ages past, and forget his allegiance to God and mankind. “I, myself, would be unable to help you, for I fear that my presence may only complicate this matter further. However, we do have agents who have prepared for such matters, and I can assign them to assist.”
“I would be much in Ministry’s debt, if you could send your agents to back me up.”
“Think nothing of it. That is what Ministry does. We are the Church’s ally when it comes to fighting the forces of darkness.”
“And it is appreciated. Please, have your men meet me at the address I will provide you. It is imperative they meet me there on Christmas eve just as darkness falls.”
“It will be done. But one of the agents I am considering for this task is no man.”
“Major Crimes Unit, Detective Ellis speaking, how may I assist you?”
Kevin Ellis, and his partner, Grace Montoya, were not only detectives with the Clackamas County Sheriff’s Office, they were also agents of Ministry. Both had proven themselves in encounters with the supernatural, and Jeremiah had confidence in their abilities. The young man with the cropped blonde hair sat at his desk, across from his partner, attending to a pile – a not particularly short pile, at that – of criminal cases they had been assigned.
“Kevin, this is Jeremiah. I have for you and Grace an assignment of utmost importance.”
Kevin waved at Grace, gaining her attention, as she was wrapped up in reading a report of an assault written by a responding deputy sheriff. “Grace! Ministry!”
Grace nodded, picked up her telephone’s handset, then hit the proper combination of buttons in order to join in a conference call. “Jeremiah?” She asked. “What’s the assignment?”
“I need you to meet a Father Armando at an address in North Portland. He is going to be performing various rites and sacraments for a family and their child.”
Grace’s eyebrows raised. After all, she had been raised in the Catholic Church, and was familiar with many of its practices, even some considered unusual or arcane. “What sorts of rites and sacraments, Jeremiah?”
“Rites and sacraments for protection, spiritual cleansing – and, if need be, exorcism.”
Now it was Ellis’ eyebrows that raised. “Exorcism?” He asked. “Really? Isn’t that a skill set that is above our pay grade?”
“Kevin has a point,” Grace noted. “We may fight supernatural monsters, but I don’t think we’re skilled enough to take on an exorcism.”
“Father Armando will perform the rite of exorcism,” Jeremiah said, “Should the other sacraments fail. And if the exorcism should fail, then you two must perform the Solidis Facite.”
“Solidis Facite?” Grace asked. “The ritual of making a demon physically manifest? Isn’t that a bit extreme, Jeremiah?”
“I should hope it would not come to that,” Jeremiah responded. “But if all else fails, in order to save the boy’s life, it is something you must do, in order to bring the demon into the physical realm so that you may quickly and more easily dispatch it.”
“Is there anything more you can tell us about this demon?” Ellis asked.
“It is an ancient being of dread power. It has shown itself in several times, in several parts of the world. I myself have encountered it, in times past. Its name is Yuzu.”
“Yuzu?” Grace asked. “I’ve heard of that guy. He’s a real hard case. This is big-league stuff you’re talking about, Jeremiah!”
“It is, I admit, a most serious matter. But I would not have contacted you if I did not feel you two were up to the task. Besides, you are the only agents I have available, at such short notice.”
Grace gulped. “Well, your confidence in us is touching, really, and I mean that.”
“You understood this would be a difficult job, did you not? I do not send you lightly into this good fight. But a child’s life, and very soul, are at stake here, and I am unable to intervene.”
“We’ll do it, Jeremiah,” Kevin said. “You can count on us.”
“I know. Contact me when you are ready to head out, and I will brief you further. Good luck, and Godspeed you both.”
With that, Kevin and Grace hung up their phones. “Well, you wanted a piece of the action, Grace,” Kevin said, “This is it.”
“I was hoping to stick with vampire-slaying,” Grace replied. “At least I know that’s something I can do.”
After they checked out of their “day jobs”, Grace and Kevin proceeded to the address in North Portland provided by Jeremiah. The neighborhood was an unassuming lower-middle-class area, populated by working families, and the house was just as unassuming as the rest. It was a single-level rambler built in the ‘60’s or ‘70’s, painted sky blue with white trim. It was covered in festive, colorful Christmas lights, as were some of the other houses nearby, as was usual for the season. A lighted Christmas tree was visible in its front window. Father Armando’s tan VW Golf was parked directly in front, so Grace and Kevin parked a few houses away. As they approached, Father Armando got out of his car to greet them.
“You are the agents Jeremiah sent?” Armando asked.
“We are,” Kevin said. “Detectives Montoya and Ellis, at your service.”
“So, what’s the situation?” Grace asked.
“Right now, all is calm,” Armando replied. “There is no sign of Yuzu yet. But according to the unholy bargain, he should be along soon, so we should go inside and meet with the family. But first, we need to begin a plan of attack.”
Grace and Kevin nodded, Armando opened the hatchback and pulled out a leather satchel. “I have everything here that I need. I have crucifixes, blessed salts, incense. I have even brought extra holy water, and can give you some of mine.”
“That won’t be necessary,” Grace said. “Kevin, get the gear bag, okay?”
Kevin ran down the street, popped open the trunk of their black Dodge Charger, and pulled out a large duffel bag. He brought it to the curbside where Grace and Father Armando were conversing then opened it and revealed two items of interest. Father Armando nearly laughed.
“Super soakers?” Armando asked. “Filled, I take it, with holy water?”
“They are indeed,” Kevin said, “And there’s more in our car.”
“Well, I don’t know if that is approved by the Vatican, and I myself have never used holy water in such a manner, but I am sure it will be effective! Now, just follow my lead. Hopefully your services will not be needed.”
Grace and Kevin nodded and followed Armando to the front door. The door was answered by an attractive blonde woman with short hair, in her late thirties or early forties, wearing a festive green and red sweater. “Oh, thank God you’re here, Father,” the lady said, taking the priests’ hand. “Please, come in.”
“Thank you, Gloria,” Father Armando said. “Oh, may I introduce a couple associates.” Grace and Kevin both introduced themselves to Gloria Christenson. “They are lay workers who specialize in assisting with cases like these.”
“Well, come inside,” Gloria said to the group. “I’ve got Christmas cookies, and hot chocolate, or coffee, if you’d prefer. Anyway, Mark is at the dining room table, and Matthew is in his room.”
They arrived in the dining room, where a near-middle-aged man was sitting, concern etched on his face. The wrinkles on his face and his greying hair made him look older than he was. He too was wearing a festive holiday sweater. Father Armando introduced Kevin and Grace, but remained standing.
“Please, Mark,” Armando said, “Fill my assistants in with some details about your particular situation.”
“I made a bad decision,” Mark said.
“We made a bad decision,” Gloria added.
“We just didn’t know how bad,” Mark continued, “And truth is, we didn’t even think about it. But we were so desperate, and now, this thing may take our boy. My God, he’s only twelve years old!”
“We used a spirit board,” Gloria said, “And through it we contacted a being that seemed kind, at first. We didn’t know what this being would later require of us, not at first. You see, it’s our boy!”
“We can’t even say its name,” Mark said. “And tonight, tonight it is coming.”
“How do you know it’s tonight?” Grace asked.
“Because it said so, the night after it healed our baby. Gloria and I consulted the spirit board one last time, and that last time wasn’t like the others. It was dark and frightening.”
“And that’s when we know we were in trouble,” Gloria said. “We hoped we’d find some way to avoid this night, through the sacraments, through blessings, even through baptizing our boy. But every once in a while, it appears to us. Usually at night, in our dreams. And it has been appearing very frequently, these days.”
“How does the entity appear to you, in your dreams?” Kevin asked.
“Like a man on fire,” Mark said, “Completely red, and burning, with eyes as black as coal. Absolutely horrifying.”
“Then we haven’t much time to waste,” Father Armando said to Grace and Kevin. “Let us go meet Matthew, their son and the subject of this intervention. Matthew is a nice young man, very intelligent. He is fully aware of what is happening, so you needn’t sugar coat it for him. I perform a blessing on him, in his room. Again, should the demon show his face, I’ll need you at the ready.”
“May we come, as well?” Asked Gloria.
“Very well,” Armando responded. “But if things should go awry, I may ask you to leave. Alright?”
Gloria and Mark agreed, then followed Armando, Grace, and Kevin down the hall to their sons’ room. The room was of moderate size, painted in a similar sky blue shade as the exterior of the house. The walls were covered with posters of various sports teams and muscle cars. There were models of fighter jets on one of the dressers. Matthew Christenson sat huddled on his bed, dressed in blue pajamas. The boy, too, had the appearance of fear on his face, as he looked at his parents, the priest, and the two newcomers.
“Hello, Matthew,” Armando greeted.
“Hi, Father,’ Matthew shyly responded.
“How are you doing tonight?”
“Oh, I’m okay, I guess.”
Father Armando nodded. “That is good to hear. So, you haven’t experienced anything tonight? No voices, no objects moving, no unusual thoughts?”
“No, nothing,” Matthew’s eyes drifted to Grace and Kevin.
“Oh, these are my assistants,” Armando said as he introduced the agents of Ministry. “This is Kevin Ellis, and the lady is Grace Montoya.”
Grace went over to the boy and sat beside him on the bed. “We’re here to make sure everything goes smoothly. We won’t let anything happen to you, okay?”
“Yeah,” The boy said. It was apparent to Grace that he didn’t have much confidence in her promise. Grace looked around at the posters.
“Ah, the Seahawks,” She said, “They did well this last season.”
“No, they didn’t.”
“Oh. Okay then. Hey, I see you have a poster of a Mach I Mustang. Kevin and I have a friend who owns one.”
“Really?” The boy said, his fear retreating somewhat. “What year is it?”
“I don’t know. Kevin?”
“It’s a 1971, I think,” Kevin replied.
“Cool! Does it have a 351 engine?”
“Why, yes,’ Grace said, “I believe it does. Big engine, it just growls.”
“Wow! Could I get a ride sometime?”
“Slow down there, champ! I’ll have to ask my friend. His name is Scott. He’s a character. You’d like him.”
Father Armando had taken the time to open his satchel, which he placed on a bookshelf, and remove many of the items he needed, including a purple stole he placed around his shoulders. He opened his copy of De Exorcismis et Supplicationibus Quibusdam, and called the room to prayer. The prayer was brief and non-liturgical, but finished with a recitation of the Our Father. “I have elected not to begin this as an exorcism,” Armando said, “Because there is no sign of appearance or even oppression at this stage. These are tools that we have just in case.”
Oddly, the lights in the room began flickering. In fact, the lights throughout the house flickered. The stereo in the living room turned on; Leroy Anderson’s “Sleigh Ride” came on, sounding through the house. The priest had no time to waste as he quickly pulled the Eucharistic elements from his bag and began the rite of Communion. The boy was able to take the wafer and drink the wine, which was a sign that the demon had not yet attempted to take the child. The priest took some holy water and anointed him. At that point, the lights flickered again. Then the power failed.
All was dark. Only the ambient light from the street came through the windows. The only sound was the patting of rain on the windows.
“How do you feel, Matthew?” Father Armando asked.
“I feel okay,” Matthew answered. “Okay, but scared.”
“So are we all, son,” Mark Christenson said.
Father Armando then said the St. Michael’s prayer: “St. Michael, the archangel, defend us in battle. Be our defense against the wickedness and snares of the Devil–”
A laugh. An ominous, arrogant laugh. It seemed to issue from nowhere. “You fools,” a deep, snarling voice said. Mark and Gloria grabbed for each other. Kevin and Grace looked around, searching for an enemy they could not see. Father Armando stood his ground.
“You fools,” The voice repeated. “You think you can deny me what is mine?”
The priest continued his prayer. “May God rebuke him, we humbly pray, and do thou, O Prince of the heavenly hosts, by the power of God, thrust into hell Satan, and all the evil spirits, who prowl about the world seeking the ruin of souls. Amen!”
Matthew then was attacked. He fell into a violent seizure as Father Armando lay hands on him and anointed him with more holy water. “You cannot have this child! He is a child of God!”
Tears ran down Mark and Gloria’s faces as they watched, knowing they could not intervene. Grace and Kevin stood at the ready, still not sure what to do. But just in case, Grace took the book of incantations, which contained the spell of Solidis Facite, and held it close.
“Come out of this child,” the priest roared. “He is not yours. In nomine Patris et Filii et Spiritus Sancti, I abjure you! I know your name, beast! Your name is Yuzu! And by the power of Christ, Yuzu, you shall be cast into Hell! The power of Christ compels it!”
Then, the boy stopped seizing. He was drooling and attempting to catch his breath. Father Armando anointed him again, and continued to pray for a few minutes afterward. The boy caught his breath, then slowly sat up. The priest looked into his eyes.
“Matthew?” He asked.
“Can you say the ‘Hail Mary’?”
“I think so. ‘Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee; blessed art thou amongst women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of death. Amen’.”
Father Armando smiled. “Very good, Matthew. How do you feel?”
Matthew smiled. “I feel good. Does this mean I’m free? Is the demon gone?”
The mood lightened as the power came back on. Matthew hugged the priest as Gloria and Mark embraced each other.
“Well, looks like we weren’t needed,” Grace said to Kevin. “Our work is done. Let’s get out of here.”
“No!” That same scratchy, deep, snarling cried out. “I am not gone. I said I will take the boy. If I cannot take his soul, then I will at least take his life!”
“Damn you,” Cried Mark, “Leave him alone! Take someone else! Take me!”
Gloria pulled away from Mark. All eyes were on him. “No, dad!” Matthew cried.
“As you wish,” the voice growled. Suddenly, Mark shook, as though he were having a seizure while standing up. He ceased his shaking as his eyes rolled back into his head.
“M… Mark?” Gloria asked, as she reached out to her husband. Suddenly, he glared at her.
“Mark is gone,” he said, with that same deep, snarling voice. “I am Yuzu!”
Mark, now fully consumed by the demon, grabbed Gloria by the throat, then with one hand, snapped her spine. She fell dead upon the floor of the boys’ room.
Father Armando thrust a crucifix toward the being that was formerly Mark. “The power of Christ compels you!” He cried, only to have Yuzu thrust Mark’s hand into the priest’s chest. Blood gushed from the gaping wound as Yuzu ripped Father Armando’s heart from his chest. Armando fell, as dead as Gloria, as Matthew screamed in terror.
“Well,” Yuzu said, “I thought you gave your heart to Jesus. And yet, here it is.” He threw the bloody organ out into the hall, then turned to Matthew. “Now, it’s your turn, boy!”
Kevin thrust a second crucifix toward the beast, as Grace opened the spell book. “Solidis Facite!” She cried, as she began reciting the Latin text.
“Oh, so it’s the Solidis Facite, now is it?” Yuzu asked. “So be it.”
Mark’s body burst into flame. His body was consumed almost instantaneously as Matthew continued screaming, curling himself into a ball as if that would help him escape his fate. Mark’s body decayed into ash. What remind behind was Yuzu – a humanoid figure that looked to be of pure flame. His flames not only consumed Mark, but began to catch the walls around it on fire.
“Now you see me,” Yuzu snarled. “Now, your fate is sealed. Now you shall all die.”
Kevin dropped the crucifix and drew his SIG Sauer P220, loaded with warheads, ammunition designed to stop vampires, werewolves, and manifested demons – most manifested demons. He fired several rounds, to no obvious effect. The demon simply slapped him aside. He crashed into the wall, denting the drywall, then slumped to the floor.
“You are brave,” Yuzu said. “Brave, but stupid. I will kill you last.”
Yuzu then turned to Grace. She had no time to react. Soon, she, too, would be consumed. Fortunately, Yuzu was overconfident, as demons tend to be. He did not notice that Kevin was not only still conscious, but had taken action in the form of a vial of holy water. Without announcement, he threw the vial at the demon. It cried in agony as the liquid hit its back, and the area it hit turned from flame red to a cool blue. It turned once more to Kevin.
“If you wished to anger me, you certainly have done it,” Yuzu told him. “I have changed my mind. I’ll kill you now.”
But Yuzu then turned his back to Grace, who took advantage of the distraction. She grabbed one of the super soakers from the duffel bag and cocked it. The noise caught the attention of the demon, who turned again to Grace.
“Hey, Yuzu!” She cried. “Time to cool off!”
She began firing the super soaker in bursts, the holy water drowning the demon’s flames as Kevin scrambled over to the bag and grabbed a second super soaker, with which he helped Grace drown the demon’s fire. Yuzu cried out in pain and in horror as his corporeal self was melted by the cooling jets of holy water. Soon, there was nothing left of the demon.
The fire it started, however, began enveloping the house. The hallway outside Matthew’s room was a burning hell. Grace grabbed Matthew in her arms as Kevin smashed the window. They climbed out the window as the flames began to consume the room.
Grace and Kevin sat on the curb as the Portland Fire Bureau continued to extinguish the flames. Matthew Christenson sat in the back seat of a police car as firefighters, paramedics, police officers, and investigators milled around. A fire investigator stood at the curb, questioning Grace.
“Damn,” Inspector Lucinda Moss said, “There wasn’t much left of Mr. Christenson, that’s for sure. And you guys said you were investigating the family?”
“We were called there, by Father Armando,” Grace said. It was not a lie, at least.
“And the father killed the mother, and the priest, then set fire to himself?”
“That’s what it looks like,” Kevin said. “I’ve never seen anything like it.”
“My god, I’d say that’s so! Well, I think the detectives have your statements, so that wraps it up. I’m sorry it ended this way.”
“What’s going to happen with Matthew?” Grace asked.
“Well, seeing that there’s no family in town, he’ll be remanded to the Department of Human Services. Hopefully they’ll find him a foster family to live with.”
“That’s the best we can do. It’s out of my hands. Or yours, for that matter. In any case, they’ll be able to provide counseling, because that kid is going to need it.”
Inspector Moss then excused herself and left to speak with the DHS agents. Grace remained on the curbside, tears coming to her eyes.
“Hey, Grace,” Kevin said, “I know it’s pretty shitty, but you’ve got to consider this a win.”
“A win?” She responded. “Seriously? Three people are dead, Kevin! There’s no way that could be considered a win!”
“The boy is safe. Yeah, it came at a cost. A pretty heavy one. But sometimes, you just have to take what you can. Because sometimes this life doesn’t give you much.”
“It didn’t give us much, this time, and that poor kid, he has nothing now. No home, no family. Only memories of something horrifying. That’s not a win, to me.”
Kevin could not say anything, as he knew what Grace was thinking. He told himself it was a win, but even he was not totally convinced.
After a while, Kevin left for home. Grace had him drop her off at a favorite “thinking place”, a place she would often go to just be alone and contemplate the insanity that was life. She stopped at the eastbank esplanade, looking across the river at downtown Portland. The rains had stopped falling; now, it was just cold. By now, there were few other people in the area. It was Christmas eve, after all, and they all had families and friends and places to be.
But not Grace. She stood on the river bank, thinking about the day. But she found no consolation among her thoughts, so she decided to pray.
“God, what was the point of today? We saved a kids’ life, and that’s good, but what does he have to look forward to? He will never be the same. And what’s the price? Three people, one of them your servant, gone. Just like that. We saved one, but lost three. Is that the tradeoff? What’s the point of any of this? Is there any hope? Any hope at all?”
“Oh yes,” Came the gentle voice of an older man. “I think there is hope.”
Grace looked to her side. An overweight transient man, dressed in drab, shabby clothing with a long, white beard came along beside her. “You think there’s hope?” She asked. “You probably wouldn’t, if you had to go through what I’ve had to go through.”
“I think there’s always hope,” He said. “You know, God doesn’t necessarily work through big, show-stopping miracles. He works through people, in everyday acts of kindness and selflessness. That hope may come in small ways, barely noticeable to most folks, but to some others, those small acts of kindness, of mercy, those are what make all the difference. You are one of those people. You may not think it, but you did good today.”
“Thanks for thinking so. But I just don’t see it. I can’t see it.”
“Then, maybe you just need to open your eyes, because it’s there. You may not see it, but I assure you, hope is there.” The old man then looked at his wrist. There was no watch there. “Well, look at that, it’s getting late, and I must be going. It’s Christmas eve, you know.”
“Yeah, it is.”
“Don’t give up hope, Grace. Not matter how dark the night, no matter how it seems the deck is stacked against you. Never give up hope. Merry Christmas, Grace Montoya.”
Grace looked out upon the lights of downtown as their reflections shimmered in the river. “Merry Christmas to you, too, old man.”
As a light snow began falling from the sky, something occurred to her: How the hell did that old bum know my name?
She turned to see where the old man had gone, but he was nowhere to be seen. Then she heard the sound of sleigh bells and the crack of a whip. She looked up, above her, to see that same ragged old man sitting in a red sleigh, being pulled through the air by eight tiny reindeer. She thought she heard the old man laugh a hearty “ho, ho, ho!” as the sleigh flew into the night air.
Grace stared at the sleigh as it flew out of sight, her mouth gaping and eyes wide open. She shook her head in disbelief.
“I did not just see that,” she said.