Valley of Shadows- Chapter Thirty-Two

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Reverend Mother stood alone in the church basement, broom in hand scrubbing at the concrete floor.  Ignoring her aching back, she persisted in her labors. The task always triggered memories of her as a little girl, back when she was just Hester,  sweeping off her mother’s front stoop and dreaming big girl dreams.  Those were fond memories.  Now, it was a sad reminder of all the years that had flown by.

Reverend Mother missed her younger self; the person she was before the harshness of life had taken its toll.  Reality had a way of wearing a person down, like water dripping on stone.  Getting pregnant so young, then facing everyone’s disappointment and judgment alone had broken her.  Hester had settled for less and less until she forgot how to dream.

Marriage to Gabriel had rescued her self-respect.  She became Reverend Mother and his dreams became hers.  When he died, she soldiered on alone.  Her confidence in his vision was unshaken for twenty years, until Nicole came along.  One stick from that needle had robbed Reverend Mother of her health.  She could feel it leaching away day by day. What started out as a tiny stab of pain had grown and slowly spread until her entire abdomen was inflamed.

Tonight, Reverend Mother was in church to get her mind off of the constant dull ache in her gut.  Normally, just being in the house of the Lord was comforting.  Tonight, she felt nothing but guilt and a vague sense of dread. Reverend Mother could not shake the feeling that she wasn’t alone. There seemed to be some sort of supernatural presence hovering around her. She felt it in her spirit.  More than once, she had looked over her shoulder, half expecting to see a figure hiding among the deepening shadows of the cavernous basement.  Turning on more lights did little to ease her fear.

Was the pain God’s way of punishing her for trying to blackmail Nicole?  Or was it a test of her faith?  If that was the case, then she was in serious trouble.  Her faith had been shaken apart.  If one woman could so easily tear down what took years to build up, then maybe she never truly believed.  Reverend Mother was starting to think that what she actually believed in was Gabriel.  He always had enough faith for the both of them.  The strength of his convictions always reassured Reverend Mother.  She missed that reassurance.

Reverend Mother had known that blackmail was sinful.  At the time, she was focused on what was best for the church.  Reverend Mother stopped sweeping and nodded, trying to convince herself.  She almost dropped the broom when a sly voice sounded at her ear.  Were you concerned with what was best for the church or make yourself look good?    What would Gabriel think, if he knew about the underhanded things you’ve done in the name of his vision? 

A chill raced up her spine.  She resisted the temptation to turn around, knowing that no one would be standing beside her.  The voice had to be in her mind.  That too had begun after Nicole had paid her the fateful visit at the hospital.  At first, Reverend Mother thought that the voice was the small, still voice she sometimes heard when the Holy Ghost was chastising her.  Then she realized that the ugly, mocking tone was evil.

Tears blurred Reverend Mother’s vision.  What would Gabriel think if he knew about the terrible things she had done over the years?  She heard footsteps behind her and spun around.  For one heart stopping moment, she saw Gabrielle standing in the doorway.  The figure passed through the shadowy entrance and the light in the basement revealed that it was Joshua.  He came in and dropped into a bench against the far wall.   Reverend Mother put a hand over her galloping heart, as her tensed shoulders sagged.

She could see that he was upset about something.  Knowing Joshua, he wouldn’t share what was on his mind until he was ready.  She continued to sweep and let him sit in preoccupied silence, while she waited for her heart rate to return to normal.  Reverend Mother was almost finished sweeping when Joshua sighed.  She put away the broom and sat down next to him.

“Alright son, what’s on your mind?”

“It’s Thomas.  He has let that…that woman psyche him out.”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean, he has let Nicole burrow so far inside his head that he’s having nightmares and sleepwalking.  The man actually thinks that she has put some sort of voodoo curse on him.  Can you believe that?”

“I believe that evil exists in many forms.”

“Wait a minute, are you saying that you agree with him?  You believe voodoo is real?”

“There was a time when I would have said no without hesitation.  But, after everything I’ve been through lately, I’m not so sure.  I believe that evil is real, no matter how you dress it up.  If Thomas believes that he is cursed, then he is cursed.”

“Oh I get it, you’re talking about the power of suggestion.  We’re actually both saying the same thing.  That fool went to some hole-in-the-wall voodoo shop and bought some stuff for what they called a spiritual bath.”

“Did it work?”

“He hasn’t tried it yet.  Nicole stopped by his apartment unannounced.  So, he made me take the stuff and sneak down the fire escape.  I just can’t believe someone as streetwise as him would let a woman manipulate him like that.  Nicole is devious, but she’s pretty much harmless…”

“I don’t know about all that Joshua.  If you ask me, Nicole is anything but harmless.  That woman is dangerous.  She is the kind of woman who lashes out when she feels threatened.  I ought to know.”

“Are we back on that needle thing?  I didn’t want to say anything while you were sick in the hospital, but something always bothered me about your story.   Why would Nicole inject you with something that wasn’t strong enough to kill you?  Seems pointless and more than a little risky to me.  What if you decided to get the cops involved?”

“My son the deep thinker.  Alright, I’ll play along.  So what if I had decided to get them involved?  She wasn’t worried about me calling the police, because I had no proof.  The police need more to go on than suspicions.  When you’re lying in a hospital bed, people are quick to assume that your judgment is compromised.  My own nurse didn’t believe me, when I said Nicole had injected me with something.  Did you ever stop to think that Nicole might have made me ill, just to give me a taste of what would happen if I crossed her?”

“I think that your nurse was right.  You probably dozed off and had some kind of…I dunno…waking dream about Nicole injecting you with something because you felt threatened by her.”

Reverend Mother gave her son a withering look and lifted her shirt to expose the bandage on her stomach.  Joshua couldn’t believe his eyes.

“What is that?”

“The needle injection site never healed.  Whatever she injected me with is worming its way through my stomach.”

“Did you show that to your doctor?”

“Of course I did.  He told me it was a bacterial infection and put me on antibiotics.”

“Oh well, there you go.  I knew there had to be a rational explanation.  You were probably exposed to the bacteria during surgery or something.  People get bacterial infections in hospitals all the time.”

“This is different.

“What makes you say that?”

“Because she’s still after me.”

“You mean, she came to see you again?”

“No, I haven’t laid eyes on her since that night in the hospital.”

“I’m confused mom.  Are you saying that she’s harassing you?”

Reverend Mother nodded miserably.  Joshua was taken aback.  He didn’t know which was more surprising; the fact that she kept it from him or the fact that she allowed someone to intimidate her.  Reverend Mother had never been afraid of anyone or anything.  On the contrary, she seemed to enjoy confronting people.  Joshua waited for an explanation that wasn’t forthcoming.

“Why didn’t you tell me?  What is she doing, making threatening phone calls?  Following you around?”

Reverend Mother shook her head in response to his questions.  Joshua gave her a searching look and saw fear in her eyes.  He was unprepared for her response.