It had been a long day, and I desperately wanted to sleep, but when I drifted off, the image of the man with the serpent attached to his neck came into my mind. My palms heated and tingled like they used to when something evil was around. Not that it ever helped before, but I rubbed my hands against the covers, wishing this would banish the images. I knew what the burning palms meant.
The nasty critter itself didn’t bother me, but the implication of seeing it formed a cold stone in the pit of my stomach. Although I could sense the creature, it was not likely to come after me. They never did in the past, except that super baddie that had hold of Pa. Well, maybe the one I encountered today could try to get me, but it didn’t. If it does later, I’ll just have to deal with that crisis then. He munched on that man’s energy with evident glee. Why leave a steady food source, right?
That line of thought didn’t make me feel one bit better. Not even a little teeny tiny bit. I chewed on it for a minute and figured out what really gnawed at me. Now that I was aware of a source of evil, I didn’t know what to do or how to do it. A religion in which I no longer believed shaped my way of dealing with it as a child.
What did I do now? Was I responsible for clearing every critter I found attached to someone? Even if I was, I had no idea how. I thought back to the various ways people got infested like that. Some folks actively invite harmful presences and provide a well-decorated home for them. Since I did everything I could to push the accursed talent away, I had not considered any of this in years. As a result, I had never thought it through from an adult perspective. I didn’t understand how my ability worked or why I could sense these entities.
Were they mindless energy creatures, demonic beings working for a more powerful evil, or just some unpleasant life form? This was like living a Dean Koontz novel, and I didn’t appreciate the infringement of the supernatural world in my life again. I figured some of those energy critters possessed more power than others. What makes the difference?
Entirely too weird.
An image of Mrs. Marian Cole came to mind. Funny how the brain works. When I was about seven years old, she had come to talk to Pa. They sat in the wooden pew of the little First Baptist Church in Lampe, Missouri, where Pa was the preacher. Could be he still is. I don’t know.
That day, Marian had cried her poor heart out. Her husband had died some little while before, and she told Pa she always felt sad and so tired.
“I know we all die, and I know my George went home to Our Lord in heaven, so why am I so low all the time?”
My palms stung like a hive full of bees, and I could see what had gotten hold of the widow. Something green and sticky hooked into the grieving woman near her heart. It reminded me of a great big stick bug, maybe a foot long, but it sported a sickly shade of green never seen in nature. Pa never acted like he could see when someone had a bad thing attached to them. Probably, he couldn’t, but I sure could.
Pa quoted scripture and talked to her about how Jesus loved her. When he stopped, I asked a question in that formal way I always had to when we were at church, “Father, may I offer to pray with Mrs. Cole?” I could never call him Pa in front of folks without getting belted for it later.
“I imagine she will agree to that.” He patted me on the shoulder. “You may ask her.”
“Your girl has such perfect manners.”
I had a good reason for those perfect manners. Pa would have beaten me with his big, sharp, silver belt buckle if I ever forgot to ask nicely, but nobody knew that, except for Pa and me. Not even Mama.
She brushed back my long brown hair and gazed into my eyes. “Of course, child, I would welcome your prayers for me.”
I put my palms together with fingers pointed out and felt the stinging sensation change to blue fire that only I could see. I never knew what I would say when I prayed like that, but the words always came to me. Back then I thought I must have an angel helping me say the right thing.
I began, “Lord Jesus, your beloved Marian is hurting, and she needs Your love and protection.”
Marian nodded her head and said, “Yes, sweet Lord Jesus.”
“She is under attack. The enemy wants her to turn from you, Lord, but she will not waver. No power is stronger than Your love.”
Marian sat up a little bit straighter. “Yes, Lord, nothing is stronger than Your love.”
The green thing started to dig a dozen little feet into her and keep hold. I put my hands over Marian’s heart for a moment and pulled the sticky nasty thing off her chest. The creature writhed and screamed in my hands as it melted. I brushed my palms together to get all of it off them, then raised them heavenward. “Lord, I claim Marian under Your divine protection and ask that you keep her safe from evil forever.”
I waited until I saw the golden glow surround Mrs. Cole so I would know nothing bad could stick to her like that again. She was safe now. I dropped my hands to my sides and said, “Praise Jesus. Amen.”
Mrs. Cole and Pa added their “amen.” She brushed away tears and hugged me.
“God surely has given you a special gift,” she professed, stroking my arm.
“Yes, God has indeed blessed her.” Pa gave me a The Look, but he said nothing to me right then. He seldom spoke to me in front of other people. That expression meant I was in big trouble. This was the day I figured out how to spare my bottom that big, sharp silver buckle.
“My father taught me to pray that way.” I meant my father God but looked right into Pa’s eyes, so he would feel like I meant him.
“Of course he did, child,” Mrs. Cole said, patting me on the head. Yuck. I hated when people did that.
A scream shattered my memory into a thousand shards, bringing me gasping back to the present. The eerie sound shrilled again, loud enough to be heard through the frosty closed windows. I jumped to my feet and grabbed the long knife I kept hidden between the mattresses, expecting at any moment to defend my life. What was that? Tomcats brawling? Yeah. I rubbed my eyes. Didn’t realize I had dozed until the yowling startled me.
I couldn’t see anything in the pitch black. No sounds of stirring came from Julie’s room. I swear she could sleep through the end of the world.
“Yow-wow-wow-wow,” called one cat. The other answered in kind. Then they went into a Who Can Hiss More Ferociously match. Knowing I was overreacting, I still couldn’t help but clutch the knife and maintain a battle-ready stance. One tom let out an ear-splitting cry that stopped mid-shriek. Silence came so abruptly that I gasped and looked around in all directions. One probably killed the other. Or maybe some other predator had finished him.
Keep your imagination in check, Kass. It’s just a cat fight.
I slid the dagger into its hiding place and tried to get a grip. Reality check. Well, no, surreality check. That wasn’t a real word until just now. No tell-tale burning sensation in my palms. Still, the adrenalin rush left me amped with no ability to think of sleep anytime soon. Not wanting to disturb my roommate by tramping around the apartment, I rested my pillows against the wall so I could lean on them. Heart thudding, I grabbed the stuffed tiger Randy won for me at the county fair and squeezed it to me.
I always felt so safe when Randy was with me. Not just because he was a soldier. I wanted his arms around me. With him going off to the war and dying in another country, we never got to live as a married couple. I didn’t want to think of my husband and all the time we had lost right now, but I imagined myself enfolded in his warm embrace. Unbidden tears dripped onto the tiger’s ear.
Okay, great, yet another thing I didn’t want to think about. Randy, my father and my accursed ability coming back. “The hits just keep on coming.”
Why now? Why ever?
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