The Devil and Mr. Hernandez

A man possessed, plumber turned amateur exorcist Paul Hernandez wants to get the Hell out of Phoenix.

When Tierney told him he'd crashed his Geo Metro after falling asleep at the wheel, Hernandez decided that Satan had made him drowsy. But even Tierney believes there was nothing abnormal about the incident.

When his son Paul Michael drove his car off an overpass five years ago and nearly killed himself, Hernandez blamed "two bimbos" he'd been associating with that night, saying they represented the incarnation of evil.

But Hernandez's strangest anecdote is one that's not open to interpretation.

Paolo Vescia
Cage Keller (left) is a former juvenile delinquent who says Hernandez rescued him from demonic voices that urged him to commit violent acts.
Paolo Vescia
Cage Keller (left) is a former juvenile delinquent who says Hernandez rescued him from demonic voices that urged him to commit violent acts.

He says a few years ago he was hiding from Satan in a friend's townhouse when he had a most unwelcome visitor at the back door.

"This guy was standing there, and he confronted me," Hernandez says. "He was about 25, a little bigger than me. When we met eye to eye, he walked around me three times. He said, 'I'm one of the sons of Satan and I've been sent here to kill you. You know I have a knife and a gun.' He pulls out the knife and puts it against my throat."

Hernandez says he responded, "Number one, the knife's not going to cut it. And the gun's not going to discharge. Go back and tell your pal that he better send more next time."

He says he told the man that he needed to repent and be gone. He adds that the man walked away, turned around, and gave Hernandez a look of utter hatred.

The one person who can bring Hernandez back to earth is his 89-year-old godmother, Mary, who he refers to as "Nina." His bond with her is deeper than all others. When he was a child, she saw to it that Hernandez made it to church every Sunday, no matter how stressful his home environment was. Whenever he needs advice or support, he turns to her.

A devout Catholic, whose living-room wall is filled with framed pictures of Jesus Christ and the Virgin of Guadalupe, the frail, white-haired Nina tends to zone out when Hernandez starts talking about his battles with evil. He interprets this as a manifestation of her deep fears for his safety, but it seems just as likely that the whole issue of exorcism makes her uncomfortable.

Nina doesn't hesitate to castigate Hernandez for splitting up with his ex-wife, or for expressing dubious spiritual theories.

When he tells Nina that his ex-wife's husband has experienced some bad luck, he pointedly adds, "God is punishing him."

Nina hesitates for a moment. Then, with firm conviction, she shoots back, "No. God doesn't work that way, mijo."

Coming from anyone else, the statement would probably be dismissed by Hernandez. After all, what does anyone else have to teach him about God, in light of all the monsters he's tangled with?

But coming from his Nina, the words take on the aura of profound insight. He leans against the wall silently for a minute. For once, the man with all the spiritual answers has nothing to say.

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