The train blasted to the surface and upward to the elevated tracks, trading stifling underground dark for open nighttime black. Gulping for air, I gripped the cold metal pole so hard my knuckles went white. I felt I would leave a layer of skin sizzling and smoking on its frigid surface. As soon as the doors opened, I pushed into the November night to await the next train and continue on home.
Sometimes the anonymity of a big city was a good thing. If I didn’t talk to anyone, they probably wouldn’t talk to me. First the surrender song and now that horrible gift had come back. My mind again demanded, why now? There must be a reason. I couldn’t hold back the tears that spilled over my lower lashes and left an icy trail down my face. Nor could I halt the terror marching up my spine.
“Please, not again,” I whispered through my sobs. Seeing energy creatures again meant only one thing. Trouble. Somehow, I had managed, by the grace of whatever power, to banish the visions of the insidious beings, but only after long practice and long denial. The gift I did not want was coming back.
Why me? That phrase chimed inside my head; I wanted to scream it into the night. This “gift” had done nothing but ruin my life and turn my family against me. I had nobody to talk to or ask for help. People would call me crazy, or well on my way there, if I said anything about strange visions. After all, though the Bible may talk about things like demons and the Gifts of the Holy Spirit, folks I knew talked about them in past tense, not as something you ever saw in real life. It all sounded so beautiful and harmless in the scripture, but the reality brought me nothing but pain.
My next train rolled up, and the doors opened and spewed out bundled passengers. I stepped into its warmth. No visions, but I could feel so much despair and loneliness around me. Just what I need; an emotional barometer of humanity. But at least no one had brought a source of evil with them that I could detect. This time I was able to sit forward-facing, which made it easier to stare into the mingled reflection and blackness of the window.
My mind took me back to the worst day of my life. I was only eight years old. The stiff dress Mama made me wear for services itched something fierce. I couldn’t wait to get it off me, but we hadn’t even gone to church yet, so it would be forever before that happened.
Pa was next door at the church going over his sermon. Mama and I ate breakfast together. She made pancakes, my favorite, but I picked at my food. She asked me what was wrong.
“I’m worried about Pa.”
“I think something’s gonna try and hurt him.”
“He has a dark place, and it’s getting worse.”
Mama pursed her lips and shook her head. “Just pray for him.”
“I do, every day. But Mama, I get my signs when he’s around.”
“He’s a preacher. The Lord looks after his own. It’s in God’s hands, not yours.”
Her sharp voice cut my spirit. Mama kept telling me to sit still and eat my breakfast. She yelled at me for wasting food when so many folks went hungry.
I ran to the church and listened to Pa finish practice-preaching his sermon. My palms hurt. The black funnel over his heart had drawn the biggest, nastiest-looking demon I had ever seen. It was fiery red beneath with black scales and eyes like smoldering embers and a tail full of stingers. The demon had hold of him but good. I had never been so scared. I prayed for God to help me help my Pa.
When he finished, I ran up to the pulpit. The demon glared at me. Swished its barbed tail. A nest of pulsing pale green eggs rested in the bottom of the lectern. Did Pa see them? Or the demon?
I couldn’t let it alone. I was so worried. Whenever I mentioned the blackness I saw around his heart, he got so mad he belted me. If I could just help him get free of the evil, he’d be all right, wouldn’t he? I had to try.
Pa patted me on the head. “My sermon should put the fear of God into them.”
I tugged his hand. “Pa, please, may I speak with you?” What if the demon crawled clear inside him and took over? It shook its barbed tail at me and hissed. I bit back a scream.
Pa gave me a wary look. “Folks will be coming in any minute. Make it quick.”
My heart pounded so hard I thought anyone could see a lump every time it beat. I opened my mouth, but no words came out the first time. Finally, I pointed and squeaked, “Father, a demon is trying to hurt you. Please let me pray with you.”
Pa’s eyes blazed like the devil himself looking out at me. Shaking from head to toe, I brought my hands together, fingers pointing downward, charging them with power to send that demon on home. My golden bubble surrounded me, shining bright, protecting me.
Pa pointed a shaking finger at me. “Impudent child, how dare you enter a house of God and speak such evil!” The nasty creature inside him growled. Waved its tail like a mad cat. Pa raged. People started coming into church for services. Everything blurred together.
Stunned faces. The demon. Pa’s flaming eyes. Yelling. Screams.
Mama ran into the church and called my name.
Pa pointed at me and proclaimed, “This child has prayed with many of you under the guise of easing your suffering, but she has misled us all. We cannot allow such evil among us.”
He threw a Bible at my head. I dropped to the floor to avoid being hit. It wished past my hair and thudded into the pew behind me. I jumped to my feet, quaking head to toe.
More screams. One of them Mama’s.
Pa’s pronouncement shook me so hard my teeth clacked together. I tried to speak, but no words would come out of my mouth. I didn’t think anyone else could see the demon that had hold of him—the power of darkness he himself had invited. I looked at the horrified faces all around, some shaking their heads, some crying. None of them dared defy the preacher. Nobody came to help me, not even Mama.
Pa wrapped his hands around my throat, lifted me way off the ground and addressed his flock. “This demon-possessed child has no place in our church.” He looked straight into my eyes and decreed my doom. “You have forever fallen from grace. God cannot love one such as you. Now be gone! Let me never see your face again.”
He threw me to the ground. I clambered to my feet, turned to look at him in shock. Nobody spoke. My tears blurred the stunned faces of those who had been, until now, my church family.
Mama’s “No!” and her gasp echoed around the church.
I wanted to protest, but I could barely breathe, much less speak. Only a feeble squeak came out of my mouth. Why would nobody come help me? They all stood frozen.
I ran toward Mama. Surely she could talk sense into Pa, fix this horrible mess. She clutched at her chest and fell to the floor. I dropped at her side, calling to her, but she could not answer. Her face went white as snow. I yelled for someone to get help. As if glued in place, they stayed put. Not a single soul moved to help her.
Pa picked me up by my neck and tossed me toward the door. “I said be GONE, child of Satan!” The demon had hold of him clear to his soul.
The door flew open. For a terrifying moment I thought his fiend had done it, but two policemen ran into the church. I darted between them and fled into the morning.
No one followed. My world shattered, I ran all the way to the lake, about two miles. Silent tears poured down my face to join its waters. Waves lapped around my ankles, embracing me. My parents, my church and God abandoned me all at once, even though all I did was try to help.
The train lurched, pulling me back into my current surroundings. I shook my head to clear it and swiped away tears. I wished I could emerge from terror’s dark grip. I trembled but not from cold. Stop it, Kass. Get a hold of yourself.
The burden of this “gift” had brought me beating after beating, which was nothing compared to this ultimate act of betrayal. Power had worked through me to free people from evil, but I couldn’t help the person I feared for most.
God had surely abandoned me, my parents and the First Baptist Church. Betrayed by everyone I held dear, all because I had a special power that God had supposedly given me to help people. That’s how it felt to me. No evidence of any higher power or even a lesser one helping me. I don’t deserve God’s attention anyway. Besides, I prayed long and hard about it as a child. My reward? Only beatings. Betrayal. Banishment.
The train swayed and roared along, stopping to take on and let off passengers bundled against the chill. The cold rushes of November air somehow helped me clear my mind. Watching people generally provided a fun distraction. Whenever someone would ask me what my hobbies were, I told them writing, reading, and people watching. Okay, eavesdropping, truth be told. Visions of evil spirits would come when they came, and I couldn’t figure out what to do about it, so I took to my third favorite hobby of people watching until it was time to get off the train and walk the four blocks to the apartment I shared with Julie.
Was I just playing ostrich? I couldn’t solve the problem of my re-emerging ability, and stewing about it wouldn’t bring me any closer to a solution. All I could hope for now was some bigger purpose or reason for this unwanted talent to return, and also some way to make things better. Although I have no warm fuzzy feelings about religion and not many about God, I do want to make a positive difference in the world. But why couldn’t I be useful in a normal way? Other people write books or start charities. Why did I have to see harmful critters on people? I don’t even know if I will be able to help like I did back then.
During my walk from the train station to the converted Victorian mansion, I peered into the shadows to be sure nobody waited to jump out at me. Not that I’m paranoid by nature, but I’ve had to run from would-be troublemakers more than once in the months I’ve been in the big city. Tonight could be one of those times, for all I knew.
All right, time to admit it to myself. I was spooked.
Well, who wouldn’t be?
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