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.
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