Originally posted on Pen of the Damned October 9, 2012
Mercy – Chapter 2
Jessamine slept often, those first few days after her return. I was allowed to take her to the garden for one hour each day, where I read poetry to her and piled dozens of fresh picked flowers on her lap. The hail storm had laid waste to our vegetable garden, but the heartier flowers that lined the old house were spared its wrath.
“Do you remember how it felt when…” I couldn’t bring myself to finish the question. Father had told me to never mention the word exorcism again, especially in front of Jessamine.
She shook her head. “I don’t remember a thing. It just felt as if I’d disappeared, like sleeping without dreaming.”
“Please don’t go away again.”
“I promise, I won’t. Big sisters are supposed to take care of their little sisters, not the other way around. Thank heavens you had Lucy to watch over you while I was…gone.” She cradled Lucy in her hands, smoothing her thumb over the tiny fracture.
I had to say something that had puzzled me ever since her possession. “You’d think living in the Reverend’s house would have prevented something like this from happening. I mean, this is sacred ground of sorts. ”
Jessamine stares at the old stone manse, at its tall windows and gabled roof. Her eyes glazed over as if with fever. Her lips were dry and cracked and her voice was soft and distant when she replied, “Yes, you would think so.”
Despite father’s insistence that we put Jessamine’s episode behind us, lest we give the evil the power to creep back into our lives, it was hard for me to stay silent. I had so many questions.
I lay in my bed letting the questions twist round my brain. The moon was full and brilliant and cast silvery shafts of diaphaneity across our small bedroom.
How did the evil worm its way into Jessamine?
Where did it go?
How did it go? Was it simply a matter of saying the right words by the Reverend, or was it something more, something that couldn’t be seen or heard?
“I’m sure it’s in hell, where it belongs,” my sister blurted from her sleep. It was if she had read my thoughts!
It gave me a terrible fright. I touched her lightly on the shoulder but her heavy exhalation told me she was in a deep state of sleep.
The house took on a preternatural silence and the radiance of the moon no longer seemed so gay. Sleep did not come easily.
I was awakened by Esther’s piercing scream. Jessamine and I threw off our blankets and rushed down the stairs.
Esther was still in her nightclothes. A wide, dark streak of blood marked the trail of her pained walk from her room by the kitchen to the dining room.
She reached out to us with shaking hands. “Help…me!”
It was awful. Her round face was red with strain and rivers of tears flowed from the corners of her eyes. Our charwoman had always been a source of invincibility in our home. She lay upon the floor like a helpless rabbit caught in a trap. Her leg was a mass of gore. With trembling hands she tried to stanch the flow of blood.
My father brushed past us and knelt by her side. He asked her how she had come to be hurt but poor Esther could only babble. The house was awash with our cries.
Mother had been given a prescription of laudanum to help her frayed nerves, so she remained oblivious to the commotion.
“Jessamine, fetch me that cloth over there,” he said.
When he turned to ask for her help, I saw the red, pulpy swath that had been carved into Esther’s leg. The edges of the wound were ragged, as if…
As if something had gnawed the flesh from her leg.
Esther’s moans died in her throat when she passed out, and I ran to the well to fill a basin with water.
The doctor arrived an hour later. He took Esther with him to the hospital. She awoke when Father and he lifted her from the floor and screamed like a madwoman all the way to the doctor’s carriage.
None of us ate that day. We couldn’t get the image of her gnawed-upon leg out of our brains.
“Father, what could do such a thing to Esther?” I asked. “Could it have been a wolf?”
He shook his head and smoothed the sides of his great, bushy mustache. “I’m not sure dear. Esther was in no state to tell us. Perhaps when she settles down at hospital, she’ll recall. I’d say it had to have been some animal she encountered in the yard. I want you girls to pray for her recovery and that it wasn’t…rabid.”
When mother awoke in the early afternoon, she shuffled throughout the house, calling for Esther, wondering about supper.
It seemed we couldn’t escape the madness.
~ Hunter Shea