It is not like me to volunteer to travel hundreds of miles from my comfort zone to deliver supplies to flood survivors in some backwoods swamp. I do not like water, especially the black syrupy kind with a life all its own. I do not like snakes, spiders, mosquitoes, anything that bites- least of all alligators. Yet here I am.
“According to the map there is a small cabin in that direction- just beyond that tree line. I can see the top of the chimney from here, puffing away. Jonathon, you go there.”
“Ok, boss.” Youth pastor Mike, formulator of this expedition, hates it when I call him boss. I smile.
“Mark and I will take the two houses down this road. We meet back here in half an hour.”
I reach the shack and knock on the rickety screen door. “Hello?”
A wrinkled and bent figure stands before a smoldering fireplace.
“Hello, ma’am, I’m here to ask if you need supplies or medicine or maybe a lift into town.” No response. “My name is Jon...”
“I know who you be... Jonathon.”
Baffled I start to ask the ancient woman how she knows. She lifts an aged wooden box from the mantle and holds it toward me.
“Open it!” She screeches.
I slowly lift the hinged top and see a bracelet inside, with ‘Jenny’ engraved on the plate.
“Where did you get this?” My head reels as fog of confusion becomes a whirlwind of disbelief.
“So… we have secrets, yesss?” She hissed. “Jenny- she be your hush-hush, hmm?”
“How do you know about…?”
A withered hand thrusts deep into my chest.
The pain… I cannot breathe.
She withdrew and my knees drum the floor as I struggle for air. Her icy grip has left my heart frost bitten, losing its rhythm.
Slithery boiling beneath the cracks in the floor drives me upright again.
Her fingers drip with a sticky blackness which she stuffs into her toothless face with a sucking sound.
“It… it wasn’t… my fault.” I stutter between gasps.
“Her parents…, disowned her. That’s why she…, I would have taken care of them… both.”
“I told her so. The night before…”
“Come now, les’ be honest wid’ each ohder.” She cackled and spat brown muck into the coals which burst into flame.
Six yellow tongues leap from the hearth and dance in a circle around my feet.
“You tol’ hush-hush you don’ wan’ no wife, no behby. You say get rid of it. Dat’s why she dead. Aint dis’ so?”
The room gyrates with smothered memories now revived.
“God help me. Jesus, forgive me!”
The hag laughed- this time with an assemblage of voices.
“I know what you are- a demon from hell.”
It spat again.
“This is my domain and I claim what is rightfully owed my master.” It howled.
“Liar! Everything in existence, known and un-known, belongs to my master. You are already defeated.”
I feel the Holy Spirit embolden me. “By the power of the name of Jesus, the Christ, I command you to return to your pit.”
“You…” A futile effort to reprove me using vilest of profanities fueled its anger. “I am not finished. I will return.”
“I will be ready.” I stood poised and unmoved.
The evil spirit disappeared and the floor beneath me gave way. I fell hard.
I awake to Mark and Pastor Mike patting my face with bottled water.
“Jonathon, are you ok?” Mike backed off a bit as I opened my eyes.
“Yeah…, I think so.”
“I must have tripped and hit my head. Man, I had one doozey of a nightmare.”
“We told an elderly couple about the chimney and the smoke and they freaked. They said this place burned years ago- along with some old voodoo woman. We came running when you didn’t answer your radio. Then we saw the flames and black smoke.” Mark surveyed the surroundings. “Where’s the fire?” Touching a piece of charred lumber he said confused, “This is cold and wet. I… don’t understand.”
“What’s this stuff on your shirt? It smells worse than stink bait.” Mike snorted.
“I don’t…,” I reach up and notice I am still clutching the bracelet- the one I gave Jenny seven years ago. The one she was buried with six years ago.
“Help me up guys. I’m going home. There’s something I have to do and it can’t wait- not any longer.”
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