Columbi Bueno is kept company by Redhead Romietta, southpaw Hercules and Bubbles the Belly Dancer as she writes dark fiction and watches haunted movies. Stories to follow at http://columbibueno.wordpress.com
Vision of Darkness
Maura turned off the ignition and practiced her speech. “Prophet Ezekiel, I need your wise counsel.”
Should these be her opening words? The Prophet punished flatterers. Public whippings behind the Church were reserved for holy days.
NO, I can’t call it a Church anymore: Maura reminded herself of this by slapping her own face. House of the Ultimate God, she chanted. The car windows fogged as she kept up her crying and slapping.
Someone rapped their knuckles on the driver’s side window. Maura stopped everything. Her heart was quivering. Maybe she would die right there behind the wheel.
“Maura, is that you?”
Pamela, oh yes! Sister Pamela.
Maura quickly used her sleeve to dry her tears and blow her nose. She rolled down the window. Cold air. Pamela was alone.
“Maura dear, I saw your car when I pulled up. Everything okay? The windows are so steamy.”
“Problems with the ventilation…”
“Have you told Elder Esau?”
“Oh Lord, I couldn’t bother my husband with such trivialities. You know how busy he is.”
Pamela smiled. “Of course.” Her hair was pinned but the wind scattered strands around her face. “You’re shaking! Best we get inside.”
Maura took her place at one of the bake stations in the large basement kitchen. Busy women glanced from their work and Maura could tell they were making private notations of her late arrival.
But she had to do it. “Oh gee! I left my spatula in the car. Be right back.”
“Go dear, go dear go,” the women intoned.
Maura stepped out, then used the side entrance. She walked up the emergency staircase and tiptoed across the marble floor. Ruth the secretary was on vacation.
Have mercy. Maura knocked.
He sat behind the long dining table. Stacks of newspapers and bibles occupied one end.
“Sister Maura!” He stood.
Maura wrung her hands. “Prophet, may I have thirty seconds of your time?”
“Please. That chair.” They sat at the same time. “What is your need?”
The Prophet liked direct people. No faltering.
“My son Samson is being violated by his father and…” Maura was about to name the other Elder culprits but Prophet Ezekiel put his hand up.
“Two–sentence description, please.”
Maura pushed herself back against the armchair. “The men are taking children to the woods and violating them. He is just one…”
The Prophet’s pointy nose and sculpted face reminded Maura of a tanned actor from the eighties. She was allowed to watch television back then. Indiana’s early spring offered weak sun and chilly temperatures. The Prophet’s copper skin stood out against his crisp blue shirt.
“How many children do you have, Sister?”
“I have seven, not counting the stillbirths.” She wouldn’t remember those, no, never. Instead she pronounced the words stilled berths and imagined a train waiting to take her and her children far away from here.
“That is correct, Sister.” The Prophet stood and so did she. He walked around the table. Her face was level with his chest. She stared at a shirt button laughing at her.
“Now don’t you go mentioning this again, you hear?”
She looked up at him because he was so close. His eyeballs were bullet holes. She remembered her father’s backyard shooting. She’d pick up the cans afterwards. Jagged marks of death burned all color into black.
“I’ll take care of this,” the Prophet said. “Now go. And recall my instruction.”
She waited for word about her son. Her husband ignored her except at night when he pulled off her nightgown and inserted the propagator, bounced around for a minute and then finished.
The Prophet didn’t call.
Samson was stepping down into a mute world. Maura saw cuts on his arms and legs. She found switch marks on his back and chest.
“It’s almost time for Church. You get dressed now. Prophet Ezekiel will have an answer for us today, I just feel it in my bones.”
Maura saw the tears. “Samson, there’s no crying in this family.” But she kissed him on the forehead anyway.
She braided her hair and wound it over her head, from ear to ear. The style meant you were proud of your Church and your child–bearing status, both pleasing to the Lord.
The Hall was packed. Maura and her family took their seats in the front row.
The Prophet came on stage in a white suit. His white basketball sneakers enabled him to jump high for God.
The congregation applauded. Maura held Samson’s hand.
“Brothers and Sisters, I have an announcement.” He looked around and nodded to some, frowned at others, stopped at Elder Esau. “Tomorrow we’ll be celebrating a once–in–a–lifetime holy day. God has ordained it.”
The women lowered their eyes, the men praised with Hallelujah, the children swung their legs.
The Prophet thundered into his invisible microphone, “No restless leg syndrome in our House of the Ultimate God! Some of you children are afflicted. Parents, take care that evil spirits stay AWAY.” The Prophet jumped several times. Maura never knew how he did it. She tried in secret and could barely get her toes off the ground.
“Brothers and Sisters, tomorrow's dawn brings us together here, in the Hall. Then we head out to watch the heavens regale us with a black sun from which the Archangel Michael shall appear.”
Some people swooned, others whispered messages behind their hands.
“Brothers, Sisters, quiet now!” The Prophet jumped, arms reaching high. “Everyone, look! I’m grabbing the Angel’s robe. I’m not letting go, no I’m not, and neither shall you. The sword may cut but we will be saved.”
He bowed his head. “Father and Mother, lead us into your promised land. By the sword of your progeny the Warrior Angel, let us all be cleansed.” Then he yelled. It sounded like a celestial engine revving up, “Tomorrow! Glory be!”
He left the stage.
The congregation sat stunned though a trickle of words, praises and suspicions. Wild hope snaked through.
The footpath was lit at intervals by small jack o’ lanterns hoarded and stored after every Halloween. Maura hated orange and black, orange faces, black grins, orange arrows, black dawns. The people carefully walked the few miles until they reached the Clearing. Maura and her children took up position in the Ultimate Circle. Prophet Ezekiel and ten Elders, including her husband, formed a smaller outward facing circle within the center. Everyone prayed, sang and jumped. The sun cleared the treetops.
“Look up, Brothers and Sisters.” A vague shadow appeared over the left rim of the sun.
“Don’t stare. Blink, look away, then return your gaze to the creation.”
“All quiet,” the Prophet commanded. But only birds rustled their wings in the false night.
When Archangel Michael finally cut open the sun’s eye to reveal its black void, a figure in a brown sackcloth and Roman–style sandals plucked Samson from the circle and settled the boy on a low cot, now revealed as the Elders parted. Orange fires multiplied and cast light on the child who lay paralyzed by terror and hopelessness. The brown figure kneeled by the boy, pried open the lids of his right eye with one hand and produced a glinting object with the other. The object emitted an orange beam. In a flash the figure manipulated the orange beam around the perimeter of the eye and then removed the boy's eye with a spoon. Samson screamed and fainted. An Elder took the eye and dropped it in a container. Then the figure did the same with the other eye.
“Such a miracle,” Barbie whispered as she and the eye surgeon checked on their patient. “There must be some special significance, what with the eclipse.”
“Not that I believe in hocus pocus, but this girl’s guardian angel really came through,” Doctor Trait said. “Thank you, Barbie. With this hospital’s great staff and your connections, a cutting–edge operation put our beloved Maryland hospital on the map and returned eyesight to a girl who’s been blind for seven years.”
“We have the city's Ultimate Impact Worship Center to thank,” Barbie said. “Did you know the girl’s parents are parishioners over there? I know them. Such a coincidence that I should be the team surgical nurse, don’t you think?” She smiled down at the child whose eyes were heavily bandaged.
The girl became restless that night. Barbie carefully tied the girl’s wrists to the bed.
When the girl wouldn’t stop screaming, Barbie called the doctor and received permission to increase sedation. Barbie made sure rounds were conducted every few minutes so that blood pressure, heart rate and respiration could be properly monitored.
The girl babbled about scary visions. The parents allowed a psychiatrist to speak to the patient the following day.
“Orange eyes, black smiles,” the girl cried. “They keep lunging at me, the orange knife!”
“A child’s fears usually appear as nightmares,” the psychiatrist explained to the parents out in the waiting room. “These dreams will subside once she recuperates, once she regains her sight and becomes normal again.”
Doctor Trait and team members were poised for bandage removal.
“Now don’t move, honey. I’m going to cut over here, on the side.”
The girl whimpered.
“It won’t hurt, I promise! Just keep your eyes closed until I tell you to open them, alright?”
The mother held her daughter’s right hand, the father held the left.
“Here we go…”
The doctor made his incision, and then unwound the bandages. Barbie carried the bloodied things out of the room.
The girl had her eyes shut tight.
“Just pretend you’re looking up,” the doctor said. “Then slowly open, but only a little, until you see a sliver of light.”
The girl followed instructions. Her eyelids fluttered open just a smidgeon. “I don't see light,” she cried. "I see darkness and orange faces. Whips and bad men!" She screamed, "No–o–o–o!"
“Shhh, dear, shush. Listen to the doctor." The parents squeezed the child’s hands.
"Take your time, you’ll get used to the new feeling,” Dr. Trait said.
“These aren’t my eyes!” The girl screamed.
“We know that honey. These eyes came from a donor…” The mother caressed her daughter’s hair.
“An ultimate sacrifice for our little angel,” the father said.
The child's eyes flew open, wide open, huge and bulging. The glossy pupils bled jagged edges into dirty blue irises. The girl shrieked, “I see the forest – He is coming to take my eyes, He is taking my eyes! Archangel Michael!” The girl’s screams carried down the hospital hallways, even with the door closed.
Barbie rushed into the room. "More sedation, Doctor?"
"Yes, right now nurse. Give her the drip." The doctor walked out shaking his head.
The girl moaned on about Samson and Michael. The girl's parents waited until she fell into a deep sleep.
“It will pass,” the parents consoled one another. “The Center will help us all heal. It was The Center that gave the gift of sight. Our little girl's life, our lives belong to our Worship, forever and ever."
"Amen,” the father prayed.
“Amen, my precious,” the mother whispered into her unconscious daughter’s ear.