For the life of the flesh is in the blood

Leviticus 17:11

 

“Thank you for taking the time to meet with me.”  The woman said as she took a seat in one of the children’s desks in the classroom. She felt a bit like a child again, subject to the teacher’s authority. However, as a parent, the teacher answered to her.

“It’s no problem at all, Mrs. White. I’m Ms. Yeager.”

“It’s Ms. White, actually. I’m not married.” The parent clarified.

“Oh, right, sorry; I forgot. So, what was it you wanted to talk about?” asked Mrs. Yeager.

“Well, I wanted to talk about some stories that Faith has been telling me.”

“What kind of stories?”

“Well, they’re really disturbing.” Ms. White confessed with a hint of confrontation in her voice. “They’re about this town, and they’re about demons. She told me that the town is possessed by demons. I’m not religious, so I don’t really want my child to be fed these stories.”

The teacher chuckled.

“Is something funny?”

“Sorry, it’s just that, well, it’s not a story, not really. Well, I guess it is, but it was a big event in this town’s history. I told the class the story while I was teaching history.” Ms. Yeager explained. “Since y’all are new in town, I guess the story would come as a shock to you and your daughter.”

“Listen, I don’t want my kid to hear about any of this. I may not believe in any of it, but she might.”

“I’m sorry,” Ms. Yeager apologized. She got up from her chair and sat in one of the desks next to Ms. White.  “Maybe I should explain the story to you; you’ll understand better if you know what happened.”

 

***

 

During the harvest season of 1960, Shole, Alabama suffered a series of alleged demonic possessions. There were three reported cases the week of Halloween. The sheriff called the town’s sole religious authority, Reverend Cole Turner, every time there was a reported case.

The first possession occurred in the home of a coalmine worker, but no one remembers his name. The town only remembers the family’s name: Hucks. It was a family of three: a couple and a teenage boy. The horror began when Mrs. Hucks ran into the tiny old town hall. She had ran the whole way there, over three miles at a full sprint, and she was covered in blood. When she arrived in the sheriff’s doorway, she collapsed.

After administering some cold water and some smelling salts, the sheriff managed to revive the poor woman. She looked up at the man with hopeless fear in her eyes. Bloody claw marks covered her forlorn face. All she managed to tell him was “The Devil’s in my house.”

Sheriff Jeremiah Owens did not have any deputies, and Shole had never experienced a crime like this. Sheriff Owens knew that he needed help, so he went to Beulah Baptist Church, and deputized Rev. Turner.

The pair went to the Hucks’s place. When they arrived, they found all the windows on the tiny farmhouse broken, and glass covered the ground outside the house.

“Has anything like this ever happened to you before?” the reverend murmured.

“No. I reckoned maybe you had more experience with this kinda stuff than I do.” The sheriff said. “That’s why I went to you.”

The preacher looked at his friends hopeful eyes. He shook his head, and a shiver gently shook his body. Together, they cautiously approached the front door. The door was swinging back and forth slowly on its hinges, like a rocking chair missing its occupant. Through the house they could hear a quiet muttering. The voice continued as they stepped inside, but they couldn’t see anyone.

“I think it’s coming from out back.” Rev. Turner whispered.

“Yeah, must be coming from the barn.”

The two walked slowly through the house. They could see the barn through a window in the backdoor. A heavy, foul smell filled the air, a mixture of sulfur and manure. They opened the backdoor, and they found Mr. Hucks, fifty yards from the back door, lying face down on the ground with an axe in his back.

The sheriff drew his pistol, and the preacher chambered a round in the shotgun he’d borrowed from the sheriff.  As the two approached the barn, the unintelligible muttering grew louder with each passing step. When they got to the door of the barn, they saw the boy. He sat crouched down on the ground and rocked back and forth, muttering to himself. As soon as the sheriff and the reverend stepped inside the doorway of the barn, the boy stopped, stood, and faced them in a single swift motion. A sinister smile began to manifest across the boy’s face as he stared at the two men. He looked at the two men with empty, dark, bloody eye sockets. In his right palm he held his eyes, twirling them round and round in a circle. In his left hand he held a fillet knife.

“God, Jesus, help us.” The reverend gasped

“Boy, I’m going to need you to come with me.” The sheriff demanded, keeping his voice calm.

“Hmmm, no, not now.” The boy whispered quietly.

As soon as the words left the boy’s mouth, the child lunged at the sheriff and sank the knife into his shoulder. The boy pulled out the knife and swung it towards the sheriff’s neck, just as the reverend shot the boy in the left portion of his back with buckshot.

The boy tumbled off the sheriff before the knife reached his neck. The reverend chambered another round and shot the boy again, this time in the head. The boy’s skull shattered, and brains and blood soaked the hay-covered dirt floor of the barn.

The reverend stood silent for a moment, stunned at what he’d just done. He dropped his gun, and attended to his wounded friend. The sheriff lay on the barn’s dirt floor, covered in his own blood and the blood of the Hucks boy. The preacher helped his friend back to his truck, and the preacher drove him to a hospital.

That was the first reported possession.

After the incident, Ms. Hucks fell into a catatonic state. Mayor Roger Wilson personally took her to see his doctor all the way in Birmingham. They hospitalized her and sedated her. When she awoke the next day, she seemed perfectly fine to all the doctors and nurses, so they released her. The hospital phoned Mayor Wilson, and he came and got her.

When they returned to the town hall, Mrs. Hucks broke. She attacked the mayor, and she killed the mayor’s secretary. Mrs. Hucks called Beulah Baptist Church and asked to speak with Reverend Turner.

“Hello?”

“I’m surprised at you, Reverend. Who knew a holy man had balls?” she hissed into the receiver.

“Who is this?”

“We met yesterday. You thought you’d beaten me, but I spread. I’m a plague. You can’t stop me.”

“Who is this!” he yelled.

“Actually, I’ll give you another shot. Come try to stop me. I’m at the town hall, with the mayor.”

When Turner arrived at the town hall, it was dark. Window shades were drawn and lights turned off in the old house that served as a workplace for both the sheriff and the mayor. Again, the reverend came packing. He carried a black 45 revolver in a shoulder holster beneath his suit coat.

When he stepped into the  mayor’s office, both the mayor and Mrs. Hucks stood behind the desk. The mayor had a bloody gash in his face that stretched from his right cheek to his right ear. Mrs. Hucks stood behind the mayor, holding a bloody bronze letter opener in Mayor Wilson’s earhole.

The reverend stood before the two with his gun drawn, and he had it pointed at the widow. “What do you want?” he asked the woman.

The woman giggled slightly, making a deep, guttural sound that no earthly animal could make. She scratched at the stitches in her clawed face until she began to bleed. She rubbed her bloody face against the mayor’s long, deep cut, and then bit down into his bloody gash. The mayor howled in pain, and the agony pried his eye sockets wide open. “I want the town,” she said. Her voice had the sound of a growl from another world.

The reverend shot her in the chest. She stumbled backwards onto the wall, and he shot her again in the belly, and again.

The mayor stumbled off to the side, trembling and petrified by fear. Mrs. Hucks smiled at the reverend, and the reverend shot her in the jaw. She slumped down the wall, and as the vile life left her eyes, the reverend shot her again and again until his gun made soft clicking noises.

That was the second reported possession.

Reverend Turner took the mayor to the same hospital that treated the sheriff. The reverend waited with Mayor Wilson until the doctor finished stitching the gash in the mayor’s face. Once the doctor had finished the two returned to the town. The entire time, the mayor did not say a word, to the doctor or the sheriff. The entire ride back to town, he sat in the passenger seat of Turner’s truck, staring out the window, his eyes unmoving.

The next day, the mayor phoned the reverend, and asked him to make an announcement to his congregation during the midweek service. He also called the local newspaper and asked them to run an advertisement. He wanted to announce a free barbeque for the city of Shole. Everybody in town was welcome, no matter what race, for free burgers, free hot dogs, and free fun. The barbeque would be on Halloween. When the reverend asked for an explanation, the mayor told him that the town needed something happy to help it heal the recent horror.

When the hospital released the sheriff, the mayor went to pick him up. Both the mayor and the sheriff made all the arrangements for the barbeque. They planned to have it on the town hall’s front lawn.

On Halloween, almost the entire town showed up for the barbeque. As the mayor and the sheriff prepared the food, the kids played games and the adults chatted about life. For a little while, the town forgot the recent horror.

Soon, the sheriff and the mayor rang a couple of cowbells, and everybody lined up for their free food. Everyone sat down at long tables and enjoyed their food.

The reverend arrived late, soon after they had already served the food. When the preacher arrived, hundreds of people sat silent, staring at him as he walked from his truck to the sheriff and mayor. “You’re late, Reverend,” the mayor said, smiling in mock chastisement. “Want a burger?”

The reverend smiled and prepared a burger for himself. He spread the sheriff’s famous barbeque sauce onto the medium rare hunk of meat, put it on the bun, and took a bite. He looked at the townspeople, and they all grinned at him as he ate the burger. “Why’s everyone actin’ so funny?” the reverend asked.

The sheriff and mayor both smiled the same hideous grins at the reverend. All the townspeople stood then, and said in unison. “We’re all part of the plague now, reverend. Welcome to the fold.”

 

***

 

“So, let me get this straight,” Ms. White said, anger made her voice tremble. “You told my daughter a story- a piece of horror fiction- about the town we’ve just moved to?”

“It’s not fiction,” the teacher said. She examined her fingernails absentmindedly as Ms. White began to pace up and down the row of desks.

“How could you say that?” Ms. White yelled at Ms. Yeager.

The teacher grabbed Ms. White by the arm. Ms. Yeager’s grip felt stronger than a steel vice. She stood and looked Ms. White in the eyes. The white part of the teacher’s eyes had turned black, and her retinas had turned red. The teacher then stuck her finger into her mouth, and bit until blood trickled down her lip. “The story is a choice that we give to all the newcomers here in Shole,” she said, and a smile began to grow on her face. “Join us, or don’t.”

 

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Published by John Du