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.
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