They say the Old Manse rests on consecrated ground, but we know different now. When evil comes, it does so without warning, without provocation, and without a care of the sacredness or sanctity of one’s home.
The devil lives among us. In fact, it sleeps in the parlor beneath my bed, the one I shared with my older sister, Jessamine, until four weeks ago. It festers within her frail body, a host that grows weaker with each passing day, so weak that I wonder how much more my poor sister can endure.
A week ago, I heard Father mention a word I’d never heard in my studies before.
Reverend Newton claims Jessamine is possessed by an evil spirit. It’s the only thing that can explain the physical change in her body, the mad gibberish she spits at us unabated, the fantastic feats she performs at will. Just yesterday, I watched her rise from the settee as if she had the weight of a cloud. It took Mother and Father to pull her down from the ceiling.
Oh, the terrible things it/she said to Father. The awful epithets it/she hurled at Mother.
The worst is saved for the Reverend. How the demon in Jessamine despises him.
The good Reverend arrived four days ago. Most of his time has been spent at her bedside, reading scripture, sometimes shouting, other times issuing commands in a soft yet commanding voice.
My sister’s exorcism is in its fourth day. It feels and looks as if we have all aged twenty years. Mother’s hair is whiter, and the weariness of Father’s eyes along with his sunken cheeks have given him the mask of a much older, decimated man.
Tonight is to be the last night. Either Jessamine will die or the Reverend will perish from the struggle between God and the Fallen One. I know in my heart of hearts that neither can persevere another day.
I was ordered to stay out of the parlor, but I can’t leave my sister’s side. I watch in mute horror as her body contorts and strange, terrifying sounds issue from her chapped, raw lips.
A hail storm, wild and white with gale winds that batter the glass windows of the Old Manse, howls in unison with the demon that has lodged itself within Jessamine’s throat. She is so pale. Her body is awash with sweat and blood, yet she shivers as if immersed in an icy lake.
“Child, the Reverand’s Bible!” my father shouts at me.
My heart hitches in my chest and I freeze.
It takes everyone in the room, Father, Mother, Reverand Newton and Esther, our charwoman, who was strong as ten horses, to contain my teenage sister’s writhing body. The popping of Jessamine’s shoulders and hips bring a wave of nausea to my already tormented belly.
“Mercy! The book!”
My mother’s panicked voice breaks me from my stupor.
Jessamine had smacked the book out of Reverand Newton’s hand when he tried to place its binding against her flushed, creased forehead. I find it under the chair and run to him.
Using his free hand to press down on my sister’s chest, he opens the book to a page with a red felt bookmark and begins to read.
“Submit yourselves to God! Resist the devil, and he will flee from you!”
Jessamine roars, an inhuman wail that sounds like a zoo of beasts in agony.
I step back, stifling my tears. I squeeze my doll, my only source of comfort, tight against my breast.
“We’re almost there,” the Reverand says to my father.
Jessamine’s eyes roll to the back of her head and her body goes limp.
The Reverend continues, “Draw nigh to God, and he will draw nigh to you. Cleanse your hands, ye sinners, and purify your hearts. Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and He shall lift you up!”
A hail stone the size of a man’s fist crashes through the window. The angry wind follows, billowing out the heavy, maroon drapes. All of the candles snuff out and we plunge into darkness.
I scream. I know I’m supposed to be strong and brave for my tormented sister, but out it comes anyway, a scream from the pit of my soul that won’t stop until my throat is torn to pieces. I want it to cease! I can’t bear another moment under this roof, wrestling with the devil that has taken hold of my dear, loving Jessamine.
Through my screams of terror, there is no way to know that all had grown deathly still.
A pair of cold hands place themselves on either side of my face.
“Mercy, please, it’s all right,” a voice hushes. Stale breath brushes across my face.
Reluctantly, I open my eyes, and my spirit soars.
I throw my arms around my frail sister and we go crashing to the floor.
“Be careful,” mother admonishes.
“You’re back! You’re really back!” I cry, gazing into her clear, exhausted eyes.
A stream of tears flow down her cheeks and she kisses the top of my head. “I am,” she replies. “And just in time, I see. You dropped Lucy.”
She hands my doll to me and I notice the crack in her once perfect, porcelain head. It runs from the corner of her right eyebrow to her painted hairline. Normally, such a tragedy would devastate me, but on this day, it was a pittance.
My sister had returned!
…to be continued, Part 1
Written by Hunter Shea, Story & Concept by Ivy Shea and Veronica Shea
~ Hunter Shea