The birds fly in covering our view of each other. They come at us from all angles. The sound of wings beating against each other fills my ears with their chaotic rhythm. I let go of Papa’s hand, trying to use my arm to shield my face. With the other hand I swing my flashlight around knocking birds away, but more replace the one’s that I had cleared. I keep doing this until a large group of them rush at me. The ravens push me back. I feel my body thud against somebody else’s.
“Come on, sweetie, we got to get you out of here,” Calista says; somehow managing to whisper in my ear. The chaos seems to have snapped her out of her trance. I try to pull away, not wanting to leave Papa or Sage. “They’ll be all right. It’s you he wants remember?” Calista grabs my hand and leads me blindly towards the general direction of the hall. I cover my head as we push through the birds. They claw and peck at us every chance they get. One grabs a strand of my hair and yanks it.
“Ow!” I cry out. I use one hand to swat at it. I don’t realize that we’re out of the living room until Calista starts pulling me up the stairs. How can she even see? I hear someone cry out in pain. Who was that? What’s happening to Papa? Sage? The others? When we begin to approach the landing the birds begin to thin out as if they are being pulled back for some strange reason. When we reach the landing they stop altogether. I whip around and see the birds staring at us intently. They continue to flap their wings. Ready to attack, but they don’t approach. They act as if the landing is some invisible boundary that they cannot cross. I get a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach. I think they corralled us up here. I turn to tell Calista, “I think they —” Wham! Calista strikes me.
“Ooh,” my head is throbbing. I attempt to rub the sore spot, but I can’t move my hands. Why is that? I open my eyes. I find I can’t move my hands or legs, nor can I speak. My hands and legs are bound. My voice is restricted by a gag. I turn my head a little to the side. My eyes take a moment to adjust. As they focus I see Calista walking around the room. Her back is turned against me. Everything in the room has been pushed back to the walls. What is going on here? I try to make sense of it all. I try to remember the last thing that had happened. That’s when the memory floods back. It all makes sense. The way she could find her way in all the chaos. How she led me upstairs instead of taking me outside. That’s not Calista.
“Yer awake,” George says through Calista carelessly. “Girl, ya ain’t as ignorant as ya look. Now don’t look at me all bamboozled. Ya came on yer own accord,” he says, before clicking his tongue at me.
Calista walks towards me with a canister of lighter fluid and pours it in a circle around me. My only act of defiance is to stare him down, but this only makes him look more self satisfied. He’s going to drag my death out. God, save me!
In fear I begin to pray in my head. Please, God, help me! If you don’t mind, now would be a good time to send one of your angels!
“Filthy whore! God said, ‘— The soul that turneth after such as have familiar spirits, and after wizards, to go a whoring after them, I will set my face against that soul, and will cut him off from among his people.’ And, ‘Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live.’ I believe ya know the consequence of being a witch. Witches burn.”
I flip him off. I’m going to die and he’s already going to torture me to death. What more can he do to me?
George continues, “ ‘— The fearful, and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone.’”
He/she lights a match and throws it onto the lighter fluid. Promptly, I am engulfed in a circle of flames. Calista’s eyes are aglow.
Just then I hear a loud crash as the attic door explodes open and in comes Sage. Thank you, God!
The flames are starting to rise. The world seems to freeze. Through the flickering of the flames I can see Sage’s eyes are on me. Horror flashes across his face as he sees my predicament.
Don’t just stand there, do something! I think. The flames are starting to spread towards me. Hurry! I scream in my head.
Crash! Sage’s body slams into Calista as he tackles her to the ground. Sage tries to pin her down, but she manages to wriggle one arm free and scratch him across the face. Sage gets a hold of her arm and regains control.
“Our father —,” Sage says.
“Shut up!” George shrieks.
Just then, Papa and Allan run into the room.
I hear Papa’s voice but there’s no time to celebrate. I’m still in danger of being burned.
“Help!” I cry out only to be muffled by the gag. It hurts to breathe. My nose and throat are stinging. My lungs are on fire. My eyes are watering. Sweat is beading on my forehead. A flame licks at my shoe. Without delay I smother it out. The wall of flames are inching its way towards me. All I can hear is the crackling of the blaze. I feel a tingling sensation on my back. In an effort to kill the spark I roll a little on my back, quenching it. Sizzle.
“Aah!” My hair! I watch helplessly as the flames eat away at my curls. Rashly, I fling about trying to douse the flames but that only makes things worse. Whoosh. A large moving blanket envelops me, suffocating the flames.
I feel a pair of hands tuck the blanket so that it’s hugging my body. The blanket is then removed. Papa is standing over me, to my right Allan is in the process of stomping out the last embers as he has doused the flames with another moving blanket. Calista is still being pinned down by Sage, but she is no longer struggling. I believe she’s knocked out.
Papa pulls my gag off, he then pulls out his knife and unbinds me. Thank God, that’s over!
I give Papa a quick hug.
“Are you hurt?”
“No. Is she dead?” I ask looking over to where Calista/George is at.
“No, she’s just out cold.”
“Sorry to break up the family reunion, but I’m going to need your assistance. Marimar you are going to help say the prayer,” Allan says. I race over to him. He takes off his backpack and pulls out a box of salt, candles, a smudge stick, and a lighter. He hands me the box of salt. He directs me to go around in a circle and pour it around Sage and Calista. As I begin, Calista’s eyes pop open. He/she thrashes in Sage’s arms so much that Papa has to step in and help him. When I’m finished with the salt Allan has me light candles around the circle, leaving a gap for the boys to exit out of.
“Okay, now on the count of three, Mr. Utt, Sage, you are going to let go of her and step out of the circle.”
“What?” the three of us turn to him and ask. Did I hear him correctly? He wants them to let go?
“Are you f**king crazy?” Sage asks. I did hear him correctly.
“Trust me, he can’t cross.” They still look unsure, but they get ready to move. “One … two.” Everybody is tense. “Three. Do it now!”
They both let go and jump out of the circle. Calista supernaturally rises to her feet. I jump back as she runs towards me only to be knocked down on her back by an invisible wall. It worked! She spits on the ground in frustration. Papa and Sage walk towards me and take defensive positions on either side of me. A moment of relief washes over me, only to be broken.
“This can’t hold me,” he shouts. We pull back, but Papa keeps my hand. He’s probably never going to let me out of his sight again.
“We’re not done,” Allan remarks shakily. He places the remaining candles in the gap the men escaped through outside the salt. He then slips out of his pocket a piece of paper and hands it to me. “Read this. Everybody repeat after her.”
“We ask Father God and Mother Earth for your love to flow in and shield this place. For neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to divide us from the love of God and the Goddess which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. We ask for Jesus Christ’s blood that was sacrificed for our sins to be upon us now and that the Father and the Mother’s armor will be on all of us in this place and all who dwell within. We ask for your warring angels to guard the North, South, East, and West of us. For the ‘Angels of the Lord encamps all around those who fear Him, and delivers them.’”
“Shut up ya bitch!” George screams directly at me. The entire time we’ve been praying he’s been hurling obscenities at each member of our party in an attempt to break our concentration.
“We cut with the sword of God all blasphemous souls and sin ties between George and this house, its’ contents, the land and its’ contents, all his personal items, and all those who dwell within. We release George to the Lord Jesus.”
“No, no, damn ya’ll, no! I ain’t going. Ya’ll can’t make me!”
“And we command all negative spirits to follow you into the abyss in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
“I cover all blood that was shed with the Lord Jesus. Let reign in the home, peace in the name of Jesus Christ. For Jesus once said, ‘Peace I leave with you, my peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.’”
“Now everyone close your eyes and take a deep breath. Good. Now on your next inhale, I want you to count up to ten filling in your lungs. When you exhale, I want everyone to imagine a door appearing inside the circle. See the color of the door, what it’s made out of,” Allan instructs.
“Ya’ll er gonna pay for this!”
“Imagine the door opening and a brilliant white light shining out of it, feel the warmth on your skin and the radiating peace and love seeping into your body. Now imagine George leaving through it. Marimar, tell George to leave.”
“Please don’t do this!” George begs, “The light burns! Yer sending me straight to hell!”
My knees are almost buckling with fear as I say, “George I want you to leave. I’m sorry but this is not your home any longer, this is mine and you no longer have any business here. You’ve suffered enough. I think it’s time for you to rest. I know your family hurt you, but that was a long time ago. It wasn’t your fault they did those things to you. It was your parents. God does not want you to be in pain, you’re only hurting yourself by staying here. Go to the light! Please, George, go to the light!”
“Nooo!” George lets out one final, plaintive cry.
Calista’s body slumps to the floor.
“Calista?” Allan asks. Everybody leans forward. Did it work? Calista sits up unsteadily.
“Where am I?” she asks, still dazed.
“Wait, how do we know it’s not a trick?” Papa asks.
“If it’s a trick she won’t be able to pass the salt,” Allan responds calmly.
“What’s going on? What happened?” she asks disoriented.
“Calista, if you will come towards us,” Allan asks. Papa wraps his arm protectively around me. Sage is standing between Calista and me, blocking her. Everybody backs away as Calista attempts to exit the circle. She crosses the circle of salt. Calista’s back! It worked!
“Don’t worry, we’ll answer all your questions later,” Allan promises. “Just in case, keep your eyes on her,” he whispers to Sage.
“It’s safer if you stick with me,” Sage says to Calista, looping his arm with hers.
“Okay,” Calista answers.
“Now we will smudge,” Allan says, holding up the smudge stick. “This will make certain he won’t come back.” He pulls out a shell from his backpack and then a feather. With a shaky hand he lights the smudge stick over the shell. He allows the stick to smolder. He fans the smoke onto me starting from my feet to my head and from my front to my back. He then hands me the shell and the feather and directs me to fan the smoke onto each of them the same way he did me. He instructs me to chant, ‘All negative energy, I command you to leave in the name of the Divines’, for the duration of the smudging.
Allan has me go around the room counter clockwise smudging every corner, while the gang gathers their stuff. Allan, Papa, and I go through every room; working our way from the attic, to the second floor, then the cellar, and finally to the front of the house until every nook and cranny in the whole house is filled with smoke. Allan opens the front door for me.
“All negative energy, I command you to leave now!” Allan has me wave the smoke out for a minute longer before I’m allowed to snuff out the stick.
“It’s gone,” he pronounces wearily.
Nobody says anything. We stand unspeaking, unmoving, staring at the open door, watching as the last remnants of the smoke disperses into the dark sky taking with it the spirit of my tormenter and emptying the house of the dark shroud that had been hanging over the house and my family since we moved here. It’s gone.
The air is light, peaceful. I feel … relief but shouldn’t I be ecstatic? I feel sort of happy, I can’t deny that, but strangely … mostly I feel exhausted. But there’s something else … some feeling I can’t explain … something I can’t seem to shake. I think that maybe, I’m just … in shock. I mean it felt like this would never end and now it’s just … over? It’s almost unbelievable.
All of a sudden, I feel myself being lifted in the air. The next thing I know I’m being swung around; held tightly in Sage’s arms. He’s laughing and is in high spirits. He puts me back on the ground. And then it happens. Before I can react, he kisses me.
For a fleeting moment his warm lips are pressed against mine and I feel that shock of ecstasy I had been missing and then ... Papa pulls him back from his shirt collar separating us.
“Not on my watch.”
Sage’s eyes widen as the realization of what he had just done hits him. “I-I —”
“Sage, give me a hand with the equipment?” Calista asks mercifully. She walks over and loops her arm with his. She sneaks me a wink.
Thank you, I think. She nods in reply.
“Right,” he says relieved. He avoids making eye contact with Papa as do I.
“I’m going to go help them … a, yeah.” I reach on my tip-toes and give Papa a quick kiss and a hug before I follow after them.