Speaking With Your Demons
11: The Lost Give Redemption a Shot
As a single footstep will not make a path on the earth,
so a single thought will not make a pathway in the mind.
To make a deep physical path, we walk again and again.
To make a deep mental path, we must think over and over
the kinds of thoughts we wish to dominate our lives.
Henry David Thoreau
“Uh, I think this is the wrong place.”
“It’s the correct address,” Phil insisted.
“That may be, but clearly, this isn’t right,” Abe countered.
“It’s a church. What makes you think it’s the wrong one?” Meg asked.
Abe bit his lip, not wanting to state the obvious, but his sister had no problem with stating what he was thinking. “Your uncle doesn’t think Tracy would attend a colored church.”
Abe was silent for several moments, but couldn’t keep his frustrations bottled up. “Seriously, there’s not a single white person here. I mean, I don’t object to attending a black church, but I suspect Tracy set me up, rather than giving me the address to hers.”
“Let’s not jump to conclusions,” Phil cautioned. “There must be some reasonable explanation. After all, why give you a fake address when you’re going to see her again on Monday? Talk about an awkward conversation.”
The day Tracy asked Abe to attend, he was sure she hadn’t given him the address, convinced she’d changed her mind. However, he’d discovered it in his shirt pocket that night, raising questions about her background, though it didn’t alleviate his doubts.
He was nervous about attending. Not simply because of his worries about her intent, but also due to religious concerns, his background and the fact he hadn’t attended an established church in years. So nervous, in fact, he asked the others to accompany him, even though she hadn’t asked them herself. Meg was excited, as she hoped to meet some kids her age. Her mother wasn’t interested, but couldn’t abandon her brother, given how much he’d done for her over the years when she showed little interest in helping herself or her daughter. Phil was genuinely curious about the private lives of those he worked with, appreciating the insights they provided.
“I’m sure she didn’t mean anything by it,” Betty said. “She might have mistakenly listed a church she once attended.”
“Which doesn’t answer any questions,” Abe countered.
“There’s someone white,” Meg exclaimed, pointing to a younger woman with long black hair.
“Nope,” Betty observed. “She’s with her black boyfriend, and neither one is Tracy.”
“Well, we’re wasting time,” Phil said, climbing out of the car. “Even if she didn’t make it for some unknown reason, we’ve got no better plans, and it’ll only take an hour. However, I wouldn’t question Tracy’s motives until we know more. There’s no sense jumping the gun over something this minor.”
“I don’t know,” Abe said as they headed for the building, “as uncomfortable as I’ll feel walking into any church, we’ll stick out like sore thumbs here.”
“Hardly,” Phil corrected him. “They’re no different than anyplace else, and the whole basis of Christianity is forgiveness and acceptance.”
“Not from what I’ve seen,” Betty griped.
“Being Christian doesn’t make anyone perfect, but at least they try to be forgiving, which is better than a lot of people.”
Meg clutched her mother’s arm. “Look at all the hats. Can I get a hat like that? I’ve never seen so many pretty hats.”
“Just wait until you hear them sing,” Phil warned. “You’ll love it, Abe and your mother, not so much.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” Abe demanded, though Betty didn’t object to the aside.
“Nothing, it’s just I’ve never seen you dance. In fact, you don’t even listen to much music.”
“That’s ‘cause I couldn’t keep anything to play it on the street for long. Going without for so long, I got out of the habit.”
“Believe me,” Phil said, “you never forget how to dance as long as you’ve got a happy spirit. You’ve just allowed yourself to become a curmudgeon. You need to let your hair down and have fun occasionally. You’ll live longer if you aren’t serious all the time.”
Abe stared at him. “Look who’s talkin’.”
Phil placed his fingertips on his chest. “Who me? Why do you think the Creators choose me, cause I’m the only one with the sense of humor to adapt to this nonsense.”
“I love music,” Meg said, as if Phil had any doubts.
“Then be prepared to sing,” he replied as they entered.
Despite Abe’s worries, there were a several other nationalities in the church, though there weren’t many.
“Let’s sit in the back,” Abe suggested. “Since we’re new, I don’t want to call attention to ourselves.”
“I wanna go up front where I can hear everyone sing,” Meg said, dancing in place.
Phil considered him, without saying anything, while Betty shrugged.
“Abe!” someone called out from near the front of the crowded church. “You brought Phil and everyone else, too. Come up and join us.”
Tracy stood with a few other whites with a group of blacks and two Hispanics. They appeared to be part of the same group, as they all turned and watched, a few others waving them forward.
“See, what’d I tell you,” Phil said, slapping Abe on the back. “By the way, lose the cap. It’s disrespectful. If you wanted to cover your head, you should have invested in a better hat.”
“They’re right up in front,” Meg said, excited because many of the women wore large flamboyant colorful hats with plumes, something she’d never been exposed to.
As they approached, Abe and Betty hung back as Meg ran ahead. The group got the people behind them to shift over, creating enough space for them behind Tracy.
“I’m so glad you could join us,” Tracy said as Phil slid in beside Meg, who was busy looking at everything. “Lucy, this is Meg, the girl I was telling you about.”
“Pleased to meet you, Miss Meg,” Lucy said. “You’ve made quite a name for yourself, leading your own research experiment.” However, Meg was having none of it.
“I love your hat. Do you wear them every Sunday?”
Lucy laughed. “We certainly do. In fact, if you come again next week, I’ve got an old one of my daughter’s which should match your dress.”
“Can we come next week, Mom?” Meg asked, as she and Phil joined them.
Tracy reached back, taking Abe’s hand. “I’m glad you made it. I wasn’t sure you’d show up, it’s almost time for the service.”
Phil grinned. “It was difficult prying Abe out of the car. He’s not overly fond of crowds.”
“This is my sister-in-law, Lucy,” she explained. “They invited me to a service one day, and I’ve been coming ever since. They don’t turn their backs on anyone. Whatever you may have done, it doesn’t matter, you’re welcome to worship and celebrate with them.”
“Ah, that ... explains a lot,” Abe said, earning him an elbow in the ribs from his sister.
Lucy didn’t wait, spreading her arms, leaning over and enveloping him in a hug. “I hope you don’t mind,” she whispered in his ear, “but Tracy told us about your past.” She pulled back to look him in the eyes. “My brother and nephew were both medevac’d out of Iraq, so I’m familiar with what you’ve been through. Anyone who’s earned a Purple Heart is a hero, deserving honor in my opinion. You were willing to sacrifice everything for those of us back home.”
Abe glanced down, his cheeks reddening. “I never mentioned a Purple Heart.”
Lucy put her hands on her hips, glaring at him. “Go ahead, tell me you were struck with shrapnel while on R&R in Hawaii.” Phil chuckled.
“No, ma’am. I can’t say that either.”
“Don’t pull that shy crap on me, again,” she warned. “You should be proud of what you did. You don’t need to volunteer it, but there’s no point in denying it, either.”
“Were you injured in transit or combat?” Tracy asked.
“Uh, we were relieving another group under attack.”
“Come on.” Lucy waved to pull the information out of him faster. “How many people did you save?”
“Me personally?” Lucy nodded. “I was struck after escorting two others to safety, carrying the last one out.”
“Was he injured too?” Tracy asked, upset hearing about someone she never knew getting hurt.
Abe blushed again. “No, I dropped him, losing consciousness. Even wounded, he dragged me behind some rubble, saving me. He recovered while I was immediately shipped to Landstuhl, Germany.”
“Keep going,” Lucy encouraged. “How many did you not personally save, and how many hours did they operate?”
Abe stood a little taller, though his pink cheeks never lessened. “Five others, and the initial surgery took six hours, though I had several, both there and back in the states.”
The music started, so Lucy couldn’t extract any additional information.
“What page is the song on?” Abe asked, trying to whisper over the opening hymn. Instead of answering, Tracy handed him her open hymnal, sharing Lucy’s. Betty shared his, while Phil glanced over to see which page his was open to.
As Phil predicted, Meg loved the sermon. Between the charismatic preacher shouting “Hallelujah” and the congregation’s response of “Amen, Brother,” she ate it up. When everyone danced in place, holding their hands aloft, she did too. Only, with the entire congregation standing, she couldn’t see the minister. After shooting Phil a nervous glance, she solved the problem by climbing on the pew, duplicating the women’s dancing by rotating her hips. She wouldn’t have attempted it if her mother had any say in it, but with Phil between them, sheltering her, it made it easier. Phil grinned, shaking his head but said nothing. The other members of the congregation turned, but smiled, encouraging her. “You go, girl!” “Let the Lord know you love him!” “Praise the word, honey!”
As far as the sermon went, she had trouble following the biblical references. The last time they attended church, she spent most of her time in Bible School, but she loved everyone’s enthusiasm. Her mother shook her head, trying to disappear behind those surrounding her, but no one was terribly concerned.
When they served communion, Phil glanced over to study Betty’s Devils. He grinned when she gripped her stomach as she edged towards the altar. It was reassuring knowing they took his new guidelines seriously, even in situations like this. At that point, he wasn’t worried about the tiny amount of wine on a single wafer, as long as she clearly knew the cost when she did. He also noticed neither Abe’s demon nor Meg’s dragon tried to take advantage of their weaknesses. He and they had a lot to be thankful for.
As the service ended, Meg followed Lucy and Tracy as they entered the aisle, dancing towards the entrance. Afterwards, Phil, Abe, and his family got together with Tracy and hers. Everyone was extremely supportive and kept drawing Abe and Betty from their shells by pestering them with questions. They avoided asking them about their lives for the last few years. Abe and Tracy spent most of their time beside each other, and Betty knew better than to interfere. Meanwhile, Lucy cornered Phil, revealing they knew about him too.
“Is it true you communicate with devils and demons?”
Phil chuckled, cracking a smile. “They’re not exactly like those in the bible, though I suspect the fairies passed the images of them to artists, so it makes sense there are parallels.”
She cocked her head. “So you don’t think biblical demons actually exist?”
“I’m not saying that,” he hedged. “I doubt they look like the paintings. Instead, I imagine they, like angels, are purely spiritual beings, while the artist’s muses provided details to make their works come alive. After all, you hardly wear silk in a manger.”
She folded her arms, studying him. “So you’re saying demons influenced the bible?”
“These creatures have been working side-by-side with humans for a very long time, so I wouldn’t doubt it. By suggesting physical attributes, they helped to flesh the real devil out in a way we could better grasp, accepting the lessons of the bible more easily.”
“Now you’re saying the Holy book isn’t the inspired word of God?” she asked, the corners of her lips turning up slightly.
“I’m not saying these creatures came up with the biblical verses, only that they’ve been communicating ideas humans have needed for millennium. I’m sure the Old Testament was laid out by prophets, and the New Testament by the teachings of Jesus, but the more artistic details were likely embellishments to win more people over to the established teachings.”
She slapped his arm, grinning. “You take all the fun out of teasing. You’ve got a serious answer for every leading question. If I didn’t know better, I’d say you knew what I was doing all along.”
“You’ve got a bit of a tell, plus I’ve learned over time to pick up when someone’s leading me on. It’s come in handy working with the mentally ill.”
Of course, they met the minister as they exited the church. He seemed to share Lucy’s sense of humor.
“Ah, Mr. Walker. I’ve heard a lot about you over the past year. It’s nice meeting someone who also combats the devil on a daily basis.”
“Except, unlike yours, mine are little teeny ones,” Phil said, making a much smaller size impression with his index finger and thumb. “They’re easier to fight than is God’s one-time right-hand assistant!”
“I’m not so sure that’s true,” he countered. “Many have tried combating their influence before, but attacked the wrong target. I’m now reconsidering, as I may have done the same with my ministry.”
Meg approached the minister, following Phil.
“I liked it. Don’t change a thing. Any church I can yell and dance in is my kind of place.”
The pastor, George Orland, chuckled. “You’ve got the gift of dance, young lady. If you ever tire of being a university professor, you might try the stage. If not, we always have room in our choir.”
“Sorry, but I prefer being in the audience where I can wear the fancy hats.”
“Ah, that’s too bad, but as long as you keep coming back, I’m not worried. As long as your voice joins ours, we’re better off than we were.”
Outside, they broke into their own little group, as Phil watched Abe and Tracy.
“So, is this a regular thing?” Abe asked, fishing for additional information. “I mean, do you spend much time here on other projects, or do you just come on Sundays?”
“I’ll admit, I’m mostly a Sundays and holidays Christian,” she confessed. “Between my work at the university, my reading and checking my numbers at home, I don’t have a lot of spare time.”
“Well, I’m not much good with figures, but if you’d prefer the distraction of a movie, it may help you relax.”
“If you’re asking for a date, I’d be delighted,” she answered, grasping his hand. “Though you need to lose the crummy skull cap. After all, I have my standards.”
Abe hesitated. “I’m not sure...”
“Listen, not being faced with these things directly, I may be talking out of my ... cap, but from what I’ve seen, you’ve got nothing to be ashamed of.”