Ka-boom, ka-boom! Emily startled at the deafening blasts from the coal mines. Beautiful planet Earth struggled to survive; like dominoes, one unnatural incident affected the next. Emily Walker realized that losing the earth’s resources threatened human extinction.
Her sixth sense revealed that the first wave of the apocalypse was closer than anyone wanted to admit, and it surely wasn’t what many believed it to be. Humans did not acknowledge their mindless actions and, as the destruction continued, it expedited the upcoming annihilation. The Divine had nothing to do with it beyond giving humankind free will. Her tribe’s plans to stop it demanded that they be as diabolical as the dark energies engineering the planet’s demise.
Emily’s gift burdened her soul, and her anxiety grew, knowing the time to engage and defeat the destructive forces on earth was upon them. They were ready. Her tribe had prepared for years.
She and a few others traveled to Alabama to wrap up her aunt and uncle’s estate, but she heard the call and knew Michigan expected her any day now. Dreaded dark entities who only flirted with her tribe in prior encounters would again challenge her in Michigan, and Emily sensed this next engagement to be pivotal.
She sat on the white porch swing, now dirty with soot, rocking back and forth taking a break from her heavy responsibility. Another loud boom shook the earth. “Good God, what have they done to your beautiful planet?” Emily asked out loud as she coughed and dodged the circles of dust floating past her.
The May breezes from her youth used to brush past her face with warm, comforting gusts, but the coming of the first wave disrupted those random spring breezes. She missed the whispers that caressed and embraced her skin and hair.
Alabama suffered from the mining of coal, especially the farming communities, and the erosion of the soil, sedimentation, and the waning of the water level devastated her Uncle Zeb’s farm. Because of the environmental assaults, she lost her aunt to respiratory disease, and her uncle to lung cancer caused by coal emissions.
Along with coal mining, Alabama lost one-third of its tree coverage over the last years, displacing wildlife, and creating conditions for more infectious diseases, plus raising carbon emissions. Emily’s ruminations ceased when interrupted by her son.
“Mother, have you seen this minister guy in your dreams? If he is the real deal, where is he? We need all the help we can get.” Andrew pushed through the squeaky screen door, letting it slam shut. The minister was supposed to join them, but his spiritual essence was erratic and moody, and they had heard nothing from him.
“I have. He’s different, wouldn’t you say?” Dreams and visions of the naïve minister plagued her, too.
“Yeah, that’s one way of putting it. The problem is, do we believe the visions to be true?”
“Not until we test them. I see specters related to him.” Creepy black wisps had always haunted her, but the minister had his own demons that psychically imprinted on her. “So, are you seeing his demons, too?”
“Seeing them, sensing them, nauseated by them… yeah you could say that,” Andrew said with disgust. “Why? What are you thinking?”
“I must have faith that my gift allows me a sense about something as vital as his role in all of this. Cold patches and black shadows appear every time I reflect on him. I dare not while I lay in bed. A massive black shadow creeps up my bedroom wall and threatens to come closer until I close any thoughts of him. Even now, the dark creatures unsettle me with shivers and nausea. I fear this is a glimpse of the terror yet to come, and I still don’t know his purpose.”
“I get that. Knowing what his role is eludes me, too, and I get sick to my stomach when I imagine his part in the days to come.”
“So, does that make him a good thing or a bad thing?” Emily asked as she crinkled her nose.
“Maybe he is so vital to the outcome that we perceive the threat from the Darkness. There must be a reason we both have visions of him. Well, until he shows, we can’t know anything.” Andrew took keys from his pocket. “I’m going into town. Do you need anything?”
“No, thanks. I’m good.” Emily watched her son get into his truck and drive down the road, stirring up even more dust. She rocked on her swing and fell into deep thought.
Most people look upon evil as having a name, like Lucifer, which is true to those who still believe their Sunday school bible stories. Yet Emily’s experience was that humans possess free will, which by their choice turns them toward evil… or not. A Lucifer is wickedness-a complete perversity. While it can be a single being, most of the time, it isn’t just one. Evil varied, and every sort answered to the Darkness that dwelled past the veil to bury humanity deep in its sin.
Malevolence threatened their goals. Her tribe was frightened. Toxic forces grew in intensity and manifested in vile creatures throughout the earth. Iniquities of every kind were determined to devour humankind.
While her thoughts consumed her, she noticed a dark billow of haze and dust approaching. It took shape. Emily’s body froze. The sick, twisted creature that haunted her from the time she was seventeen drew close. She wanted to run, but her body sat paralyzed.
Jaakobah sauntered up the porch steps. He didn’t even try to disguise his actual form. Blood dripped from his bared teeth. He tipped his horned head and in a gravelly voice said, “It’s time we had a chat, old girl.”
“Get away from me, devil!” Emily whimpered.
“I see you still fear me. You should remember that fear as you embark on your next excursion to thwart our plans. You can’t stop us from demolishing this planet,” he growled. “Humans are too selfish. By the time they realize what they have done to their natural resources, it will be too late. Quit while you are ahead, and you won’t die in agony.”
Taking control of her quivering essence, she breathed in. She said, “The Source loves you and sends me to surround you with positive energy and light.” A bright white light surrounded the creature.
“Stop it, damn you! I demand that you…” Jaakobah lunged at her and snarled.
Emily trembled in fear. She continued. “I wrap you in God’s love.”
Writhing in pain, he vanished. Nothing remained but the stench of his visit. Emily shook off the fear but understood that bit of positive energy had not destroyed him, and he would continue to stalk her every move. She, as usual, suffered no peace.
“It is not we who seek the Way, but the Way which seeks us. That is why you are faithful to it, even while you stand waiting, so long as you are prepared, and act the moment you are confronted by its demands.”
~ Dag Hammarskjöld
The Mark is Initiated
Emily’s journey began on her Uncle Zeb’s farm long ago, but it seemed like yesterday. She recuperated from the dark visitation and relaxed into the swaying lull of her beloved swing. Memories flooded her mind; her conversion, her hard but necessary lessons in spiritualism, and ultimately the pain that bent her to a greater will. Each event that took place in her past was crucial to a plan ordained by divine providence.
The recollection of a sultry September day consumed her thoughts when the memory of perspiration formed under Emily’s lightweight cotton dress. She sensed the roughness of her uncle’s freshly harvested crop beneath her bare feet and breathed in the hot air as she lay down in the field where stillness covered her. That beautiful day was so hot that even the bees found it too stifling to move.
Back then, her daydreams were of a handsome young man she had met at a church social. Her uncle introduced them, and even though she found him attractive, their meeting was brief. In her heart, she knew he was going to be something important in her life. A tall, six-foot, three-inch blonde with curly hair and the biggest blue eyes captured her teenage heart.
Young men rarely drew Emily in so easily. His name was Michael… Michael Harrison. What a splendid name. What a marvelous name for the strong and sensitive being she just had the pleasure of meeting. He seemed interested in her, too. Whom could she ask to make certain? As if he wasn’t handsome enough, he played the guitar, and his clear tenor voice made a girl’s heart pound.
“Well, hello Miss Treece. What are you doing out here all by yourself?”
Emily’s trance broke and she couldn’t make out the face because of 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 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 here. 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 daydreaming a little.” A little, you were darned near knocked 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 organize the first youth choir. I understand 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. She wanted to know how much of this newcomer she was going to have to tolerate.
“Lord, no. I couldn’t hold a tune if my life depended on it. It’s a curse, you know. Michael has such a gift and I’m afraid I truly shame him, truly.” Claire looked up at Michael and blushed.
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 made up to this point… truly.
The very awkward threesome walked the quarter of a mile to Emily’s house. 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 gave that woman. Let’s not bring it to Michael’s attention all over again.
Emily felt very young and unsophisticated next to Claire. Claire was 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 roll her eyes with all the charm of a debutante on her way to a cotillion. Then there was Emily, with her underdeveloped seventeen-year-old body and her absolute inability to do anything the least bit enticing, 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 in front of her face. She watched it swing back and forth hypnotically and as she got 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 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… if they don’t think so.” Flushed, Emily stomped her foot and said, “Oh, you know what I mean? Does anyone want any lemonade?”
The afternoon wore on. They made plans regarding the new youth choir. Emily’s aunt and uncle gossiped Michael up on all the residents; how long they had lived in Branchford, whether they had past relatives who fought for the Confederacy, and who most likely were good parishioners. Rehearsal times got set, and they volunteered Emily to make sure all youth taking part heard the news.
Emily was bursting with anticipation about working with Michael in the choir. She gulped hard when he asked, “Emily, perhaps you might do a duet with me.” She couldn’t believe it and thought she had died and gone to heaven. Tryouts were to begin the following evening, but the time from now until then was going to be agony.
The next morning, Emily got dressed and ran down the stairs to the kitchen. She downed her breakfast. “Emily, slow down! You will choke if you eat so fast.” Aunt Jenny chuckled.
Emily ran to school, imagining the faster she went, the faster the day would go. She hustled down the familiar, sweet-smelling path through the woods, and as she neared the clearing where the old schoolhouse stood; a force bumped into her hard, and her books popped out of her arms. Losing her balance, Emily fell to the ground. She got up to see the figure of Bentley Madison looming 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 barely stood five feet seven but had a husky build. He was overbearing and mean. Bentley’s face could have been handsome if he lost the sour look he carried around with him all the time.
“Hey, baby, goodnight. How’s your sweet, good-lookin’ self doin’ today?”
“Bentley, please stop pestering me.”
Emily turned to leave, and Bentley grabbed her by the shoulders. His icy blue eyes shot through her, paralyzing her. She tried to tug away from his grip, but she could not budge.
“Listen, Emily, you know how I feel about you.” Bentley ran his hands down her hips. “I lay awake nights thinkin’ about you, your body, and your sweetness.” He tweaked her chin. “I want you, girl. I want you and mark my words, I’m gonna have you.”
A shiver trickled down Emily’s backbone. She froze under his power. He always terrified her, and there was something sinister about him; some eerie aura followed him, and he always found disturbing ways to get her attention. They were cruel and unthinking, but he never said things like this before. She peered into his cold eyes. He pulled her nearer to him and before she knew what was happening; he had his lips on hers. The kiss was passionate, unlike anything she ever experienced. It was wild and fearsome and thick with obsession. It rattled her senses. Then, no sooner was the kiss planted than Bentley released her with a jerk and ran ahead, laughing in a crazed high-pitched cackle into the schoolhouse.
Emily gasped, trying to catch her breath. What just happened? Her heart thumped. She wanted to cry, but she was so shocked she couldn’t. Bentley was gone, but the aura of evil remained. That strange sensation of insanity hung over her as she picked up her books, and in a dutiful stupor she walked to school.
Inside the schoolroom, everyone was talking about the choir. He’s a tenor, and she’s an alto, and the other one is a soprano. Emily, still stunned, didn’t even take part in a conversation that would hold her interest under normal circumstances. She was cold and shaken. Bentley, who stared at her with a half-smile plastered on his face, was carnal perversion personified.
The school day passed. Emily tried to ignore the feeling that she was in 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? Are you feeling sick or something? Boy, I hope not. We have auditions tonight, and you are sure to get some kinda solo to work on. You have got the best voice… “
“Sally, please walk home with me. Please… walk slowly and walk to my house. I need to tell you something. I don’t know what to do.”
“Sure, Em, of course. What’s going on?” Sally looped her arm through Emily’s. “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 tried to explain her unsettling experience to Sally.
“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 was telling me 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, affected by her friend’s fear, asked, “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 agreed to stay with each other. They planned to walk back and forth to school together to prevent further situations. All they could do was hope.
Fate leads the willing
And drags along the reluctant.
The Slithering of Fate
Everyone, and that means everyone who could sing or who thought they could sing, was present at the auditions for the youth choir. Emily looked around. Many of her classmates and even friends that were out of school wanted to take the chance and become part of this new adventure. It was clear by the huge youth turnout that poor old Branchford just didn’t have that many exciting things going on. Bentley sat at the back of the church. Emily didn’t see him until her warm-up, but it panicked her he was going to audition for the choir, and her body shuddered at his mere presence. She tried to shake it off.
Michael Harrison took his place at the front of the church. “Attention! Attention everyone! Thank you all for coming tonight. I must say, I didn’t expect this great of a turnout. I’m pleasantly surprised. The order in which you show up on the sign-in sheet will determine the order in which I take the auditions. Now, let’s see here. Okay. Here we go… Miss Emily Treece.” Excitement was in the air as everyone prepared to hear the best voice in town. “Emily, please come up to the front of the church. Situate yourself by the piano. What is it you plan to sing?”
“Well, I thought I would audition with ‘Oh, Promise Me’ if that’s all right?”
“Of course. You may try out with anything you feel comfortable singing.”
Emily loved to sing. It was easy to lose herself in the music and forget her cares and anxiety, and she soon melted into the notes that sprang from her special delivery of loveliness. Her soprano voice was clear and vibrant. Melodic intonations, power with gentle overtones, captivated the hearts of the people present. Michael’s face was in awe of the beauty that enchanted the room.
When she finished, the room fell silent. Michael stood in place for a moment. His face was flushed, and Emily could tell a new admiration had developed for her. Her song moved Michael, as it did everybody. Emily and Michael were entranced, locked into a mutual appreciation of each other’s talent. For a moment, their souls bonded. Loud applause followed by whoops and hollers burst forth in the church and the affinity of the moment ended.
A thrilled Emily looked around the room only to discover that Bentley was also in tune with Michael’s and Emily’s mutual admiration. He glared at Michael and then at Emily. Hatred oozed from him. Michael was a threat. Not only because Bentley noticed Emily had a fondness for him, but because Michael was a good man and Bentley was not. It all infuriated him, and he was going to do something about it.
Fate chose its rhythm for this terrifying dance in Emily’s life. In her soul, it was a matter of reality that what lay ahead was necessary, and because of its preordained nature, there was nothing she could do about it. The idea she could not stop it from happening frightened her. She knew it, Bentley knew it, and she was helpless.
The church, which had been teeming with vocalists, soon narrowed itself down to the genuine talent in the community. Out of forty youths who auditioned for the choir, only twenty made it. Lucky for Emily, Sally’s rich alto voice caught the interest of Reverend Harrison, so Emily at least had her friend to protect her. Bentley Madison, however, did not make it into the choir – a decision that enraged him. He left the church agitated.
Packing up to go home, Michael stopped Emily and Sally. “Emily, you possess a remarkable talent. Your Aunt Jenny was right. I did not know your voice was so beautiful. I just assumed it was parental pride.” The three laughed, but Michael grew serious. “Would you honor me by performing that duet you and I talked about earlier?”
“Michael! You flatter me. I… yes, I will do the duet. Thank you.”
The lucky girls left the church. They talked about nothing but the audition on the way home. When they arrived at Emily’s, Sally left her, and still dizzy with excitement, Em wasn’t paying attention to what was going on around her. Humming her audition tune, she skipped to the back of the farmhouse.
“Hey, baby angel.” Bentley stepped out of the shadows where he was waiting for her. She ran back toward the front of the house, but he grabbed her. He pulled her close to him. His brawny chest pressed against hers and backed her up against the house. Bentley moved his face close to hers. It forced her to smell his rank, alcoholic breath laced with the pungent odor of tobacco. He was sweating and his body reeked of a combination of cheap cologne and old perspiration. Emily’s body became the object of his visual lust as he watched his hands rub up and down her thighs. He pulled her dress up. An unnatural aura came over him. To Emily, it was fiendish and sick. It left her immobile.
Bentley’s grinding pelvis pinned her entire body against the house. With every breath that he took, he rubbed up against her. “Emmy, girl. I told you this morning that I love you. I hope you and that Reverend choirmaster don’t plan on having anything goin’. If you would just tell me you love me, I can make you feel real good.” His hand crawled up her breast to unbutton the top button of Emily’s dress. She pushed him and broke away, running toward the front of the house, but Bentley caught her and pinned her against the house once again. This time he kissed her, and with an open mouth, his forced tongue salivated into hers. That combined with his foul breath, she gagged. Every beat of his heart, every pulsating movement, was angry. He unbuttoned the second button and slipped his hand down her dress. She was powerless. Bentley wanted more, but a door slammed and broke the spell.
Uncle Zeb called, “Emily! Em, are you out here?”
Bentley cupped his hand over Emily’s mouth. “Baby don’t say anything. He’ll go away and if he doesn’t, you just tell him you are with a friend talkin’. Ya hear me? Do you hear me?” Emily shook from the terrifying, hissing whisper. She nodded. Uncle Zeb was not giving up.
“Emily Marie Treece, you better answer your uncle or there’s gonna be hell to pay.”
“I’m here, Uncle Zeb. Bentley walked me home from choir practice and we were just talking. Is that okay with you?”
“Okay, darlin’. But you come in soon, an’ make er’ quick.”
Bentley let up on Emily. He buttoned the buttons on her dress and gently kissed her on the mouth. “You see how wonderful I can be, baby angel? I love you and nobody is gonna love you but me.” He left Emily trembling. She knew she had to get a hold of herself before going into the house. Her aunt and uncle had to be told about it, but in this town, everyone thinks when something like this happens, the girl is to blame. The girl led the boy on. Dread gripped her soul. In the recesses of her being, Emily knew that what was to come was inescapable. She didn’t know when it was going to happen, and she did not know how to stop it.