Daughter of Darkness
For Adam Leeds, a darkness worst than physical shadows had begun in his soul. The satisfaction with himself he felt earlier today was countered by mental and physical fatigue. His euphoria, which had little foundation, developed into inertia, so that for a while he just sat there at his desk staring into space. He had planned to pray this hour for his alcoholic wife, but his inertia seemed stronger than his will. Now, as evening drew near, an exhaustion of the spirit as well as the body began to afflict him as he tried to pray.
Something began happening now that could not be seen or heard. He felt it there in the silence of this room: an ambience that had nothing to do with God. It didn’t frighten him and cause him alarm. It was simply there, at first, as a prickling at the back of his neck, as if something was about to happen in this house… perhaps to the world. He was aware, without understanding it, of Satan’s presence in the room.
Deliberately now, the Tempter moved as an ill-wind across his desk, a sudden drop in temperature sending a chill down Adam’s back. Jolted from his torpor, the reverend could feel the current creep slowly over his knuckles and then brush his cheek. He had been lulled by such ambience before, absorbed in the finality of it all. But now, as it stirred the papers on his desk and blew around his ears, he knew something was wrong. Something was definitely amiss. The door and window were shut and yet there was air moving about. The air conditioner was turned off and yet there was a chill in this room.
Carefully inspecting the remainder of the house, Adam could find nothing to explain the change. After peeking into the master bedroom, he found Cora still on the bed. She was sleeping soundly in spite of her recent binge. The look on her baby face belied a tormented soul. For someone with so much hostility, she seemed so peaceful lying there in her robe with her arms across her chest… almost corpse-like, the thought came to him, as if death suited her better than life.
Pausing to check the thermostat on the way back down the hall, he discovered that the house was actually rather warm. The temperature had been set at a toasty seventy-three. After moving the dial back a few degrees, he walked slowly away, a sensation of light-headedness entering his head. Since he knew of no logical reason for a breeze or chill to be in his study, he wondered if he might be ill. After feeling his forehead and testing his pulse, however, Adam sat down shakily in his chair, realizing that for the first time in a very long time he actually felt good—not just physically but mentally good, as if a long shot of alcohol had suddenly taken effect. But was it from God? …. Was it inspired by faith? …. Or was there something else other than the Holy Ghost stirring his soul?
For several moments, Adam sat there with his eyes shut, mumbling out a prayer. A verse from the New Testament seemed appropriate now: “Behold, I stand at the door and knock.” Many years had passed since he had been ordained. He could remember the joy he felt when ministering his first church. But he couldn’t remember ever feeling Christ’s knock. Perhaps his calling had only been in his mind and not in his heart. If this was the case, he wished he could hear it now. As he prayed, he found no change in his pulse or in the shortness of his breath. He wanted something significant to happen while he was communicating with God. After finding just the right words, he asked God to send him a sign. An inward feeling of grace or at the very least a sensation of warmth would do. This chill seemed most inappropriate at such a time. While he waited for his sign, however, Satan—not God—responded to his prayer. The temperature became colder, and the breeze blew purposely across his desk. Adam Leeds decided, on these shaky grounds, that the Holy Ghost was present in this room. God, after all these years, was reaching out to him to give him a message, perhaps a new mission for his life. The fact that the air was cold instead of warm seemed irrelevant now. And the knowledge that the Holy Ghost should move within him rather than without was ignored as Satan blew cold air into his face.
Finally, as the conviction took hold, Adam felt a pounding in his chest and a cold sweat forming on his brow. Carefully and reverently, with trembling hands and surging pulse, he began skimming—Ouija board fashion—through the Bible: back and forth, up and down, eyes closed, as if the Lord, Himself, were guiding his hands and blessing his choice, until, at last, he came to a likely spot to open his eyes. The text his finger fell upon was the Twenty-third Psalm, a perfect balm for his nerves and spiritual salve for dispelling his fears and uplifting his soul. Pouring across his thoughts now, portions of it became catchwords blinking on and off as beacons in his brain:
The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He maketh me to lie down in green pastures.
He leadeth me beside the still waters.
He restoreth my soul and leadeth me in the paths of
righteousness for his name’s sake.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of
death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me.
Thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.
Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies.
Thou anointest my head with oil.
My cup runneth over.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.
In the ambience of his study, he felt illuminated and truly blessed. The Lord, Himself, had chosen this psalm; he was sure of this now. What did it matter that he had done it Ouija board fashion? He believed that God was here this very hour. For a while he basked in His ambience, only slightly annoyed by the chill, totally caught up in the experience, until a noise brought him down to earth. From the valley of the shadow of death, he could hear his wife stirring in the house. The noise was progressive as she rose from her bed, rushed down the hall and slammed the bathroom door. Then it began, the awful purge, faint in the beginning, then rising to a crescendo as violent wretches tore from her throat.
At first, he tried to ignore them by singing a hymn to himself to blot out the sounds. But the sound of his own voice was as much of a distraction as the original noise. Not only did he sing off key but he could not remember the words. The hymn he had chosen also grated on his nerves. As the words “listen to my heart Lord” trailed off his tongue, he left the verse unfinished, realizing how tired he was of listening to his wife. Rising to his feet now, he stood there in his study painfully aware of the noise. He heard a series of wretches followed by a short silence and a long sickening moan. He knew Cora had the flu, but her latest binge had also taken its toll. This seemed to be more than just the nausea following a binge. Perhaps this time, after drinking for so long, her body was in revolt. She had never been this sick before. He had tried to use psychology on her, but it had failed. The fear of God certainly never worked. Once again, as he had in the past, he would use hard medical facts to scare her into submission. Now perhaps, since she was so sick, he could use her present condition to convince her she needed help.
As he walked down the hall, a mixture of dread and disgust filled him, until he reached the bathroom door. When he found the door once again locked, he sighed with relief, feeling less obliged to go in. As he stood there in the hall, a battle of logic versus conscience raged in his mind. Should he stay outside where it was safe or go inside to assist his ailing wife? He was afraid to confront Cora in such a state, especially after yesterday’s shower. Several times in the past, as she was coming to, she had grown nasty, sometimes slapping his face. Wide-awake and full of spite, there was no telling what she might do. On the other hand, he felt it was his Christian duty to offer his help. She was, he reminded himself with a shudder, still his wife.
After a long period of silence on the other side of the door, he wondered if he had waited too long. Perhaps, he thought hopefully, Cora had passed out. Perhaps she had even expired. Then he heard the toilet flush, doorknob rattle, and waited anxiously for her to emerge. Would she still be angry? Would she even remember what happened in the shower? These questions were paramount in his mind, as she fumbled with the door. As she walked from the shadows into the light, the ambience he had felt recently was with him in hall. He began to sense a linkage between Cora and the breeze. She was the dark side of his life, his opposite in every way. But she was also very sick and needed his help.
“Cora,” he chose his words carefully “your alcoholism is more than just an addiction now. It’s a disease that is eating up your insides. I know you don’t want to be cured, but do you really want to die?”
“No,” he thought he heard her say.
“Do you know what happens to a person who dies that way?” he asked her, while helping her down the hall.
“Uh uh,” she shook her head, “I just have the flu.”
As he helped her into bed, he studied her in the dim light. She was very pale, and there were dark rings beneath her eyes. There was absolutely no question about her being ill. He must totally convince her of this fact before she fell asleep, using her current illness to sway her mind.
“People who die of alcoholism die horribly.” he persisted, looking deeply into her eyes. “Their vital organs are eaten up, and they develop sclerosis of the liver, which is in itself a terrible disease. Afterwards, it effects their brain, so they eventually go mad.”
Seeing what looked like fear on Cora’s face, he prayed that she was sober enough to understand what he said. Judging by her diarrhea and vomiting, it seemed more likely that she had a virus that merely exacerbated her problems. Nevertheless, his facts about sclerosis were correct. It was just a matter of time, he reasoned, before her liver and other organs gave out. He hoped he had frightened her enough this time, so she would remember his words the next time she reached for a drink.
For a moment, the question seemed moot as he watched her lashes fall heavily over her eyes. She looked at peace, almost deathlike in her pose. As he rose up to leave, however, he heard her mutter venomously to him: “You bastard, I’ll get you for that!”
“What?” he gasped, moving out of harm’s way.
“You heard me!” She whispered hoarsely. “You wouldn’t have done that if I hadn’t been drunk.”
Taken back momentarily, Adam backed away from her now. Sobered by her ordeal, Cora’s memory also seemed intact. Her words had been clear and unslurred, and yet she was too weak and dizzy to physically react. After waiting for a response that never came, he felt confident to have the last word.
“All right Cora,” he stood his ground, “I’ve been patient with you—more than you deserve. But you’ve made my life a living hell. Now you’re sick, really sick, and even you—
stinking drunk that you are—should know you need help. So don’t complain to me about what I’ve done, Cora, because I’m the one with the complaints—seven years of complaints, beginning with your first drink!”
Satisfied with himself then, he left her lying in the darkness as he shut the door. It was where she seemed most at home, he concluded, as he walked back down the hall.
The past several hours had been important for Adam Leeds. His wife was very sick. In spite of her reaction just now, he had convinced her of this; there was no mistaking the fear he saw on her face. Compared to previous behavior, her recent outburst seemed mild. If she had been sober or only partially drunk, she would have attacked him outright with bared teeth. That is why his timing had been so important yesterday: Cora had drunk just enough to be physically harmless and yet was sober enough to understand most of what he had said and done. Symbolic though it was, her cold shower yesterday had been the beginning of her cure. After she had become violently ill this afternoon, he relied on her own fear to drive this point home.
Monday morning would be crucial. While she was weak and hung over, he would have her hospitalized. Today was only Saturday; there were thirty-six hours to go. Hopefully, she would remember the warning he gave her today; he needed her fear as well as her physical ailments to keep her in line. In the meantime he needed his rest. A weariness of mind and body settled over him as he sat at his desk. It was not yet 5 p.m., but because Daylight Savings had ended, darkness was filling the room. Darkness also fell upon his soul. Cradling his head in his arms, he felt himself floating weightlessly into sleep.
While he drifted toward slumber, he felt the breeze blowing faintly over his neck, and realized that it was warmer now, very close to the temperature of the house. The Lord, he fancied, was adjusting to the ambience of his soul. Yet he felt a disquiet as well as a peace as he finally fell asleep, until, after several murky seconds, he was in the midst of a dream. A reel began to play then, and a drum roll peeled as a plot moved purposely across his brain. It was a familiar theme for him in times of trial and tribulation. He was in front of a multitude much larger than his congregation at church. His sermon was more animated than anything he had delivered before.
“Hallelujah!” They cried. “Praise the Lord!” As if on cue a trumpet blared, a choir sang, and he began walking among the multitude, his voice filling the stadium with his inspired wit.
He was capturing their imagination and uplifting their hearts. He believed he was living another life in another time, his stature rising with their applause. But gradually the picture became fuzzy and the sound grew muffled, until suddenly, as the people and music disappeared, he found himself alone again in the dark, falling down that long black corridor leading from sleep. On the way down, he felt a breeze again like the one that had blown across his desk. This time, however, the temperature rose and there was a distinct odor to it: brimstone, the odor from hell.
When his eyes had opened again, he was back in his study blinking up at his lamp. Barely an hour had passed since he had fallen asleep. The breeze and ambience seemed normal, and there was no brimstone in the air. But a foreboding filled him as he looked around the room.
Rising sluggishly from his chair, he stood there a moment listening to the house. There was silence and yet disquiet in his home. Abstractedly now he wandered down the hall, looked in at his wife, then found himself looking at himself in the bathroom mirror. A haggard and careworn face looked back from the glass. There were crowfeet now around his eyes. The first streaks of gray had appeared in his hair.
After rinsing and drying off his face, he turned away from the mirror and walked slowly out of the room. As he wandered up the hall and entered the living room, he could feel the ambience in the air. He reflected, at this point, the nature of the breeze. It was faint now and difficult to discern. In the beginning, though, it had acted as if it had a mind of its own. It had followed him from his study into the hall and seemed to be at home in this house. From cold to warm it had transformed. When it reached room temperature, it became difficult to detect. Now, at room temperature and barely blowing, it seemed to be part of the house, no different than any other household breeze. As he considered this possibility, another possibility entered his mind: what if this phenomenon wasn’t real and was merely a figment of his imagination? Both possibilities were unacceptable to him now. If it was a natural phenomenon, he was a fool. If it was his imagination, he was losing his mind.
As he entered the kitchen, his thoughts turned naturally to food. He had not eaten since this morning. Since Cora had begun drinking, the refrigerator had remained bare. But there were still plenty of can and dry goods in the pantry, including an assortment of soups, stews, vegetables, cereals, and crackers. Choosing a likely can, Adam hastily opened it with the electric can opener on the sink. Afterwards, he heated its contents impatiently in a pan, filled the coffee maker, and then gobbled up the stew, while the coffee dripped slowly into the pot.
With a slight case of indigestion then, he carried his coffee into the bedroom, and stood there in the dark looking down at his wife. He could hear her wheezing softly as she breathed. There was a slight frown on her baby face that indicated a dream. After a few sips of his coffee, Adam set the cup down on the nightstand and lie down next to his wife. Whatever nightmare she suffered would be nothing compared to the nightmare of withdrawal. If she found out about that phase of her treatment, she would not go in. He had no illusions about the difficulties lying ahead. He just hoped Cora would remember her ordeal today and go along with what he had in mind.
The light streaming in from the crack in the door was enough to highlight her delicate features and the outline of her large breasts beneath the sheet. As he lie there in the darkness, he watched the steam from his cup rising to the ceiling above. For a second, he thought he saw eyes looking down from the steam. It almost appeared as if the steam wasn’t coming from the cup at all but was winding around in the dark on its own. The devil laughed softly to itself, as it came within visual range. While Adam tried to focus on this phenomenon, however, he found his eyelids growing heavy again. As he fell back into slumber, Satan looked down at the man chosen to minister its flock and whispered icily in the shadows “this is my beloved prophet of whom I am well pleased!”