Authors: Melissa Sanders-Self
Tags: #Contemporary, #Fantasy, #Ghost, #Historical, #Horror, #USA
“Blow out your candles, then, and let us sleep.” The Reverend called good night from John Jr.’s bedroom, where he lay in Jesse’s
bed. I lay in my bed not even long enough to feel a feather poking through the mattress ticking, before I rose up and went
to my door. I was surprised to see no candlelight wavering into the hall from the boys’ rooms. I did not wish to blow my candle
out and I decided I would not, but a sudden gust of wind accomplished the task for me and WHACK! I was slapped in the face
in the dark by an icy hand. I screamed and heard the sound of chairs whipping to the floor all about the house, and then Mother
and Father came running up the stairs. I saw behind the flame of their candles they hadn’t yet undressed.
“Mother, it has struck me!” I held my hand to my cheek.
“How say you?” The Reverend entered and stood bowlegged before me in a long white nightshirt begged off my father. His candle
dripped wax into its holder as he tilted it toward me.
“Look, there is a mark.” Mother lit the lamp and held it up. The Reverend bent so near into the light above my face I could
see the silver whiskers sprouting from his nose.
“It does look to be a handprint on her cheek,” he said, verifying what I had felt. I watched him step back toward the doorway,
appearing much preoccupied with the splintering sounds of breaking wood occurring throughout the rest of the house. Joel and
Richard squeezed by him and climbed onto my bed. They were not crying, but very solemn, and they kept their eyes on the Reverend
to see what he would do.
“What can this be?” he mumbled and held his candle high, looking to Father as if for sustenance, not at all the godly force
I had expected.
“The light no longer has effect,” Father dryly observed, for though the room was well lit with the lamp and candle, the gulping
sound remained audible, as if all manner of animals were chewing cud inside our ears.
“I have never …” The Reverend concentrated, listening hard to the choking rasps that followed the smacking of lips.
something!” I was desperate, for what violent destruction would follow the gulping sound? What evil act? I despised the shaking
of the house and I pleaded with the Reverend as my only hope, “Take action!”
“Yes, child,” Reverend Johnston raised his fingers to his lips to silence me, “I will.” He paused only a moment before determining
he would speak to the entity as if it were possessed with human character. “In the name of the Lord,” he pleaded, “what are
you? What do you want? Why are you here?” Incredibly his queries brought a sudden silence to my room. Mother and Father exchanged
a quick glance I could not interpret, then all of us spontaneously bowed our heads in silent meditation and prayer. I prayed
and listened to each breath and shuffle of nightclothes with wide ears for the better part of an hour. Joel, even when frightened,
had no tolerance for attentive waiting, and he had just fallen asleep when I felt a yank on my braid and the quilt wrapped
about us was whisked to the floor.
“It’s back!” I cried, receiving a sharp stab in my neck as though a straight pin jabbed me. The unseen hand slapped me broad
across the face again and I shrieked in pain from the force of the blow.
“Oh Betsy,” Mother whispered. Everyone else distinctly heard the slap. She sobbed and held her hands to her own cheeks, watching
the red mark appear on mine.
“Dear Jesus!” the Reverend said. He placed his hands across my shoulders to steady me and better see my injuries but I was
pushed from behind by invisible hands, wrenched from his grasp and thrown face down to the floor. The sound of choking filled
the room as I lay prone on the wooden planks. I did not wish to move for I was afraid I would be struck down again. I closed
my eyes and kept my cheek against the rough wood, while the smacking lips played in my ear.
“Get up!” Father commanded, lifting me by my waist. I was beside myself with fear and did not rise willingly. The Reverend
Johnston took my arm to help him and I went limp as a slave to the whipping post, crying silently to my chest, leave me alone,
evil, leave me alone.
“Miss Betsy, what has pulled you down?” The Reverend spoke sharply to me, squeezing my forearm with his pudgy fingers.
“I know not!” I cried, and then again, an icy slap struck my face. I threw my hands up to protect myself from further blows,
but it was no use, needles stung my cheeks and fingers. Father and the Reverend made a sudden grasp for my arms, to hold me,
but I was pulled from them and thrown down by what I could not see, though I felt its strength, and it was greater than any
man’s. My forehead to the wood, I could not get my breath.
“In the name of God, I beseech you, cease your torture of this innocent! What are you and why are you here?” The Reverend
threw his arms up to the ceiling, mustering great passion for his query. Again, the noise did stop.
My lungs opened and I dropped tears onto the floor. Mother kneeled beside me and stroked my back and the sudden silence felt
as much a shock as the horror that had preceded it. No one knew what to do, but the Reverend began to pray.
“O God Almighty, our Father in Heaven, hallowed be thy name! This is a house of righteousness, inhabited by worthy servants
of the faith! If there is sin, forgive us, forgive us Lord, for any abominable unclean thing, for we shun profane and vain
babbling, knowing they will increase unto more ungodliness, and we are good, and strive to walk with you, O Lord.” The Reverend’s
prayer was rambling and breathless, compared to his usual sound oratory. He too kneeled beside me and hissed into my ear.
“Miss Betsy, rise and tell me, what do you know of this disturbance?”
“I know only I am suffering with these torments you do witness.” I raised my head and saw the Reverend studying my face as
if he thought I might be the cause of the violence rather than its victim. “What do
know of them?” I responded, insolent,in tears. “Is this a punishment from God, Reverend? For what? What have I done?”
“Nothing!” Father was angry at the direction of the Reverend’s inquiry. “Ask the Good Lord, not our Betsy, to explain to you
the unexplainable, Reverend, so you may interpret unto us the right true path through this malignant force.”
“It is unfathomable, Jack, until it is experienced. I know not how to act.” The Reverend huffed and stood, nodding to my father,
much subdued. He smoothed a hand down the round front of his nightshirt, stroking his belly in anxious contemplation.
“Your prayer has helped immensely, Reverend. Hear the quiet now,” Mother said, attempting to console and encourage him.
“But will it come again?” Joel asked very softly, frightened. “If it does,” Mother comforted him, “I will hold you tight as
before and we will pray to the Lord and trust He will keep us all safe, as He has so far. Look, are you hurt? Is your dear
sister hurt?” Mother pulled Joel off the bed with one arm and pulled me at the waist with the other, so we were facing one
another. His fearful eyes locked on to mine and he wrapped his arms about my neck. I found his curls the softest handkerchief
for my tears.
“I am not hurt, little brother,” I reassured him. I understood it was necessary to be brave, and I allowed Drewry and John
Jr. to help me back to bed. I pulled them down to sit beside me, and once again we clustered together, a litter of siblings,
guarded by Mother and Father and the Reverend too.
“Has your Betsy been singled out to suffer grievously at every visitation?” The Reverend turned to Father, pursuing aloud
“Yea, though she has not suffered on her own.”
“Has no one else been physically abused?”
“These events have abused us all.” Mother was absolute, and I realized seeing me suffer was as horrible for her as suffering
“What connection do you postulate, Reverend?” Father seemed annoyed and impatient, and his voice flickered like the lamplight
on the wall.
“I know not. I am grasping for an indication of a meaning here. Perhaps there is some connection, or perhaps there is none.
I want not to offend you in any way, but we must strive to know all in our quest to expunge evil.” Flustered, the Reverend
turned his round face to me. “Betsy, do not be afraid, for the Lord is with you, but tell me, is there any cause or reason
for the Devil and his demons to have business with you here? Is there a sin of yours of which we are not aware?”
“What say you, Reverend Johnston? Pray to God the answer to your query is within your soul this moment. Our Betsy is as innocent
as the day she was born!” Mother stood, so upset I thought she might ask him to leave our home with his dubious speculations,
but there came the metal tapping at the glass and a wind entered and blew out every candle, leaving only the one lamp, low
on oil, burning darkly atop my washstand.
“Please, no!” I cried before I felt a thing, for I wished to attempt to communicate with my torturer as the Reverend had successfully
done, assuming it had human character and could understand my pleas. It paid me no attention except blows to my cheeks and
I screamed in pain. Slowly, the room began to shake with the thundering noise. The lamp rattled on the china basin and Father
took it in his hand before it hit the floor. My brothers grasped my arms and I screamed again, “Please! No!” They tried to
hold me to the bed, but I saw their hands stream past as I was wrestled from them to the floor. I struck it with enough force
to know I would have bruises in the morning.
“Good God!” Mother threw her body over mine where I lay face down, struggling to catch my breath. I prayed silently, don’t
hurt me, don’t hurt me.
“In the name of God, I beseech you, cease your torture of this innocent!” The Reverend resumed his tone of passion and intensity,
his arms raised to the ceiling. “What are you and why are you here?” he yelled, and again the noise did cease. Flat silence
and my quick breaths filled the room.
“Keep talking, Reverend.” Father seemed annoyed. He lifted me in his arms as though I were a small child, and set me down
on the bed where the boys embraced my battered body and I began to cry in despair, aware of how powerless I was in the grasp
of unearthly torments. We endured this way until the early hours of the morning, when the attacks ceased and we were allowed
a few hours of precious sleep before the dawn. No one left my room, we were all so exhausted. My parents, my brothers and
the Reverend lay strewn about my floor like the quilts ripped from my bed.
“Jack, if I had not witnessed with my own eyes this phenomenon, I would not have believed such was possible.” At breakfast
Reverend Johnston and Father discussed our situation. “Clearly God must mean for us to find the righteous path amid evil in
“It is evil.” Father stated this, but the tone of his voice conveyed a reluctance to believe that it was so.
“Evil is more often the province of man than God. Perhaps it is not evil, but of another nature?” The Reverend raised his
“What counsel have you?” Father was direct.
“Jack,” the Reverend paused and set both his wrists on the table edge, leaning toward my father. “Jack, I believe you are
experiencing what is called a supernatural affliction. In my opinion, all our community should be informed, so many minds
can try all means of investigation and hopefully solve the mystery of why it plagues you.” I held my breath and waited for
Father to reject this idea but he did not immediately speak.
“Why, Reverend, would a supernatural force disturb my peace? I have no questionable dealings. The realms of both Heaven and
Hell are beyond my days on this land.” Father could not accept the injustice of it.
“Why, is not for us to ponder, but this, perhaps, we may discover. I suggest you read the Book of Job, and recall how the
Lord can test our faith. I will return tonight with Mrs. Johnston, and we will pray together here again.” The Reverend stood
and Mother rose to walk him to the door, so he might speedily depart and recount to his good wife his strange experience at
“Good Reverend,” she said, “you are a true friend to our family and a wise man, clothed by the Lord. Look into your soul and
ask the question you did voice aloud regarding our Betsy, and understand, Betsy is innocent, a mere child, suffering greater
pains than you or I may know.” Mother graciously opened the door for him.
“Dear Lucy, never in my imaginings have I envisioned such a scene as what I witnessed in your home last night. I was not myself,
but overwhelmed by the presence of the power descended here. I confess I was thinking of the bygone days of Salem and the
awful mistakes of that good congregation, all from the fainting fits of young girls.”
“Reverend, you saw yourself, this is no fainting fit.” Mother shook her head.
“I did see, Lucy, and you need not belabor it with me, I will hold to God in the highest what I witnessed here was not perpetrated
by any person on these premises. I warrant the cause of this disturbance is unknown to all of us, and it will be my sole purpose
to discover what it is and banish it from your home.”