She sat on the white porch swing, rocking back and forth while taking a break from the heavy responsibility she bore. The May breezes brushed past her face. Spring air whispered a song to her while caressing and embracing her now thin, salt-and-pepper hair. Emily Walker knew she was living in the End Times. She rejoiced, knowing the time had come to engage and defeat the evil in the world; and they were ready. Her band of deathlinks and few compadres had been preparing for years. She was starting to worry, though. God gave her dreams and visions of a young minister who was supposed to join them. His spiritual demeanor seemed unstable and moody and she hadn’t seen or heard anything from him. She feared the old demon, Lucifer, found a way to deter him, or worse, to defeat him, but certainly God would have allowed her to know that. Still, she sensed this young man was naive and this war had no place for naiveté.
Most people look upon evil as having a name, like Lucifer, which is true to a certain extent. Yet, Emily knew that evil in all its channels and in all its configurations wasn’t just one black and empty soul, but evil was sundry and all acted as Lucifer to bury the human race in sin. That’s why her task and the task of her deathlinks was so unnerving. Evil manifested in sad sack characters all over the world. It wasn’t just one guy, it was iniquity of every kind and it was determined to defeat the Creator and mankind.
Emily looked out on her Uncle Zeb’s farm and realized this journey of hers started so long ago, even though it seemed like yesterday. She relaxed to the swaying lull of her beloved swing and allowed the beauty and freshness of the day to sweep and enfold her. Memories flooded her mind; her total conversion, her hard but necessary lessons in faith, and ultimately the spiritual battles that brought her to acknowledge God’s will for her. All of the events that took place in the past were crucial occurrences in the definitive plan ordained by divine providence.
It was a hot September day where perspiration formed under Emily’s lightweight cotton dress and she felt the roughness of her uncle’s freshly harvested crop beneath her bare feet. She decided to lie down in the field where stillness enveloped her. Even the bees found it too hot to move. Her dreams that day were of a handsome young man she met at a church social. Her uncle introduced them and their meeting was quite brief, yet she felt drawn to him. In her heart she knew he was going to be something special in her life. He was a tall, six-foot, three-inch blonde with curly hair and the biggest blue eyes she had ever seen. Emily was not usually attracted so easily to young men. She was labeled aloof and tom-boyish growing up, and the locals loved to tease her about those characteristics every now and then. But, she was easy to love because of her kind nature and loving, cheerful disposition. So no harm was ever done.
Michael was his name, Michael Harrison. What a splendid name. What a marvelous name for the strong and sensitive being she just had the pleasure to meet. She was sure he seemed interested in her as well. Who could she ask, though, to make certain? As if he wasn’t handsome enough, he played the guitar and sang so as to make a girl’s stomach flip flop and heart pound. Like St. Michael, the defender of God’s children, her Michael …
“Well, hello Miss Treece. What are you doing out here all by yourself?”
Emily was startled by the voice, and couldn’t make out the face for the bright afternoon sun, but the voice … something in the voice. Jumping up like a jack-in-the-box, she stood face to face with none other than her beautiful Michael and some woman. Who was this woman? She hadn’t noticed her at the social. She had to know who she was.
“Emily, I would like to introduce you to my fiancée, Miss Claire Overmeyer. Claire, this is Miss Emily Treece. We met earlier at the church social while you were visiting your aunt.”
“A pleasure to meet you, Miss Treece. I’m not from around here. Actually, my family is from the East, but my mother’s sister, perhaps you know her, Mary Tuggle, has lived in Branchford for years.”
“How … how do you do. You … you startled me. I guess I was day dreaming a little.” A little, you were darned near knocked out into another universe, you silly girl.
“We are on our way to meet with your aunt and uncle. Your aunt has offered to help me get started organizing the church’s first youth choir. I understand that you are quite the singer yourself.”
“Yes, I mean, I guess. That’s what people tell me. Anyway, I like to sing. Do you sing, Miss Overmeyer?” Emily asked because she wanted to know just how much of this newcomer she was going to have to tolerate.
“Lord, no! I couldn’t hold a tune if my life depended upon it. It’s really a curse, you know. Michael has such a gift and I’m afraid I truly shame him, truly.”
Michael had his arm around Claire and he gave her a slight squeeze. Emily thought she would vomit right there on the spot, but guessed this would truly ruin any good impression she managed to make up to this point … truly.
The very awkward threesome walked the quarter of a mile to Emily’s house. There her Aunt Jenny and Uncle Zeb were on the porch, their usual place on a sunny Sunday afternoon.
“Well, Reverend Harrison, what a splendid surprise,” greeted Emily’s Aunt Jenny.
“What brings you out this way, son, and who is this delightful creature you have beside you?” Emily wanted to sock her uncle for the unsolicited flattery he decided to throw that woman’s way. I mean, let’s not bring it all to Michael’s attention all over again.
Emily felt very young and unsophisticated next to Claire. Claire was built like a china doll. She had impeccable taste in clothing and seemed to have an innate ability to know when to speak, laugh, giggle, and flirtatiously roll her eyes. On the other hand, there was Emily, with her underdeveloped seventeen-year-old body and her absolute inability to do anything the least bit enticing at any given time, much less know how to do it. So, there she was, leaning over the porch railing, wondering just when this nightmare was going to end. A piece of her auburn hair fell down in front of her face. She started to watch it swing back and forth in a hypnotic fashion and as she started to get caught up in the rhythm of the whole thing, she heard her Aunt Jenny say, “Isn’t that right, Emily?”
“What … Aunt Jenny, Oh, I’m sorry, I … I mean what were you saying?”
“Honestly, Emily, I was just telling Michael and Claire how you sing like an angel. She really does. She brings tears to your eyes. I can’t wait for you to hear her.”
“Aunt Jenny, please don’t go on so. I’ll be so embarrassed if he doesn’t, I mean, they don’t think so. Oh, you know what I mean. Does anyone want any lemonade?”
The afternoon wore on. Plans were made regarding the new youth choir. Emily’s aunt and uncle filled Michael in on all the local residents; how long they had lived in Branchford, whether they had past relatives who fought for the Confederacy, and who most likely would be good parishioners. Rehearsal times were set and Emily was volunteered to make sure all participating youth were advised.
Emily was bursting with the anticipation of working with Michael in the choir. He mentioned that perhaps they might sing a duet together, and she couldn’t believe it. She felt she had died and gone to heaven. Tryouts were scheduled to begin the following evening, but the time from now until then was going to be agonizing.
The next morning, Emily got dressed, gulped down her breakfast and all but ran to school. In her mind the faster she went, the faster the day would go. She hustled down the old familiar path, through the woods and was near to the clearing where the old schoolhouse stood when her books were popped out of her arms. She lost her balance and fell to the ground. She looked around to determine who did this, and as she got up, the figure of Bentley Madison loomed over her. She never could understand why this boy always unsettled her. He was relentless in his pursuit. It’s not as if Bentley were huge. He only stood about five feet seven, and had a husky build. He just was overbearing and mean. Bentley’s face could have been considered handsome, if he lost that sour expression he carried around with him all the time. “Hey, sweet baby goodnight, how’s your sweet, good lookin’ self doin’ today?”
“Bentley, please stop pestering me.”
While Emily got up brushing herself off, Bentley grabbed her by the shoulders. His icy blue eyes shot through her, paralyzing her. She tried to tug away from the grip he had on her, but she could not budge.
“Listen Emily, you know how I feel for you. I lay awake nights thinkin’ about you, your body, and your sweetness. I want you, girl. I want you and you mark my words, I’m goin’ to have you, one way or the other.”
A shiver made its way down Emily’s back. She froze under his power. He always frightened her, and there was something sinister about him; some eerie aura that followed him around and he always found ways to get her attention. Usually they were cruel and unthinking, but he never before said things like this. She looked into his cold and riveting eyes. He pulled her nearer to him and before she knew what was happening he had his lips on hers. The kiss was hot and unlike anything she ever experienced. It was wild and fearsome and filled with passion. Her senses were rattled. No sooner was the kiss planted than Bentley released her with a jerk and ran ahead, laughing in a crazed high-pitched laugh on to the schoolhouse.
Emily gasped trying to catch her breath and assess what just happened. Her heart thumped. She wanted to cry, but she was so shocked she couldn’t. Bentley was gone, but the evil remained. That strange aura of insanity hung over her as she picked up her books from the ground, and in a dutiful daze she walked to school.
Inside her schoolroom, everyone was talking about the choir. He’s a tenor, and she’s an alto, and the other one was a soprano. Emily was still so stunned she didn’t even take part in a conversation that under normal circumstances piqued her interest. She felt cold and shaken. She looked over at Bentley, who stared at her with a half-smile plastered on his face and an expression of quintessential evil.
The school day passed. Emily tried to ignore the feeling that she was in inexplicable danger. She just wanted to get through the day. As she was leaving, Sally Traverse stopped her at the door. “Em, what’s up with you? You feeling sick or something? Boy, I hope not. We have auditions tonight, and you are sure to get some kind of solo to work on. You have got the best voice … “
“Sally, please walk home with me. Please … walk slowly and walk all the way to my house. I need to tell you something. I don’t know what to do.”
“Sure, Em. Of course, what’s going on? Talk to me, friend.”
Emily and Sally stepped out into the bright, September afternoon. The sun lit up the beautiful autumn sky and a gentle breeze blew through the clearing, which made things seem almost normal. Sally was Emily’s best friend since the second grade. They were inseparable. The townsfolk used to tease them, calling them Siamese twins, “practically joined at the hip.” Emily told Sally about the morning incident.
“Oh, Emily! I think that, well it’s, well it’s devilishly romantic!”
“Are you out of your mind? Sally, it wasn’t like that. It was as if Bentley were telling me he and only he had power over me; that he could do whatever he wanted to me, whenever he wanted. It felt dirty. It was the most frightening thing I have ever experienced.”
Sally soon was affected by the story. “Em, what are you going to do?”
“I don’t know. I guess I’ll just pretend this never happened and maybe he’ll stay away.”
Emily and Sally decided to try to stay together. They walked back and forth to school together. They thought this would deter any further situations. They hoped, anyway.