Seven

After the riot, Russell and his friends came to a graveyard on the south side of town. As soon as Russell emerged from Tom McLaughlin’s van, there came to him out from among the tombs a youth under the power of an unclean spirit. This teenager, along with other members of his Wicca coven, continually met among the grave sites and his parents, try as they might, could not subdue his obsession with witchcraft. They had often shackled him with home restriction, trying to handcuff his exposure to his dark friends, but he broke every rule and attempt to restrain him. During the Wicca rituals he ran shrieking and screaming among antebellum headstones, slicing himself with razors that he wore sewn within his clothing.

When from a distance he saw Russell, he ran and knelt before him in desparation. Crying out in a loud voice, he said, “What do you want with me, Russell Hicks, servant of the Most High God? What is there in common between us? I implore you by God, do not begin to torment me.”

Peter and the others moved back toward the van, urging Russell to let the kid alone and leave with them, because Russell was commanding the unclean spirit to come out of the youth.
 

“What is your name?” Russell asked the unclean spirit.

“Wicca,” the boy said in a hissing, cryptic voice. “We are many here in the high schools and churches. Do not send us away. This is our place.”

 “You must leave. The Kingdom of God is here.”

“Then send us into a neighboring county where the people deny the reality of our world and are defenseless against our schemes.”

Russell looked off toward the east, as if grieving for those who would succumb to the deception and destruction of this wily, insidious hater of mankind.

“Go,” he said, nearly whispering.

Forty miles away a group of teenagers cracked the seal on a bottle of whiskey, the second of the night, as they sped south on I-95. The driver, a senior at Beddingfield High School, felt a sudden, breathtaking infusion of power burst within him. A similar, intoxicating sense of immortality swept through the souls of the car’s other four passengers and they screamed for higher speeds and more whisky. The now invincible driver jammed the accelerator to the floor and when the speedometer reached 110 mph he lost control of the station wagon. The guardrail above the Tarboro River barely slowed the vehicle as it ripped through the barrier and landed upside down in the cold, dark depths, where the five young people drowned. 

Two police officers, dispatched to the nightly complaint of teenagers loitering in the Wilkins Cemetery, arrived to find Russell and the Wiccan youth, with whom they were quite familiar, sitting on the curb.

The older, more portly of the two officers shined his flashlight in the faces of all the boys standing and sitting in the parking lot, but fixed the beam on the face of the Wiccan boy.

“Hey Lewis, take a look at who we got here, sittin’ real quiet and calm.”

The younger officer finished checking Tom McLaughlin’s license and registration and walked to his partner. 

“Well, I be damned...”

“I pray that you won’t, officer,” said Russell.

“…if it isn’t Kenny Madison the warlock or witch or whatever you’re supposed to be.”

“I’m finished with that stuff now,” said Kenny rising to his feet. “I’m sorry for all the trouble I’ve been. I didn’t really know what I was doing.” He offered a conciliatory hand to the policeman.

“You’re creepier now than when you were spray painting tombstones,” said the officer, refusing Kenny’s hand. “And who’s your pal here?”

“His name is Russell Hicks and he came out here to set me free from the demonic power that controlled me.”

“Run them out of here, Lewis,” said the senior officer. “I don’t like all this talk about demons. Gives me nightmares.”

As Russell climbed back into the van, Kenny Madison said, “Let me hang around with you guys from now on.”

“No, Kenny. Go home to your family and friends and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how He has had sympathy for you and mercy on you.”    

So Kenny Madison left and began to proclaim publicly in his part of town how much God had done for him, and all the people were astonished and marveled at his transformed life.        

The following day Russell sat in Chemistry class wondering how he might help his teacher, Mr. Emory, who talked often about a bitter dispute he was having with his oldest daughter. One of the school’s secretaries entered the room and ordered Russell to Principal Harrod’s office.

Wondering if he was in some kind of trouble, Russell knocked and then entered Dr. Harrod’s office.

Unceremoniously the principal said, “Russell, this is Mr. Jarris, a leader in the Episcopal church here in Wilson. Because he is a very influential man I have allowed him to interrupt your class in order to ask a favor of you.”

The two men eyed one another with an intensity that suggested to Russell that a volatile discussion had preceded his entry into the room.

“For the record I think this is nonsense, but I won’t deny a father’s right to do everything he thinks necessary to help his daughter. I’ll leave you two alone.” Dr. Harrod closed the door behind him with some force, restating his disapproval of the meeting.

“My little daughter is in such a deep state of depression that I’m afraid she’s going to die,” said the church leader. Deep lines of anxiety creased his face. “We’ve tried everything but nothing seems to help. My sister said you helped her son with a serious skin ailment and Billy Balkman’s father said his son is an honor role student now. I thought maybe if you just came and prayed for her…” his voice cracked in anguish. He removed a monogrammed handkerchief from his breast pocket and wiped his eyes.

Russell reached over and put his hand on the man’s shoulder. “Let’s go ask God to heal her.”

As the two exited the administrative office the bell rang dismissing classes. The halls flooded with students hurrying to exchange books in lockers, visit restrooms, or catch up on any juicy gossip that might have developed in the last ninety minutes. Russell and Mr. Jarris were jostled and jolted in the sea of students. Getting to the exit was proving difficult.

Just outside the surge of students stood Debbie Webster. Clutching against the knife-like pain slicing through her abdomen she watched Russell trying to pass through the crowd. She wondered if he could help her. The abortion had been more horrible than anything she could have imagined. It had been thirty minutes of invasive agony, where she felt as if her organs were being ripped from her. And her baby. What had she done? The tears gushed across her heavily rouged cheeks, like the flow of blood that never seemed to stop pouring from her body. The termination of her pregnancy had not made her life easier, but more tragic. Debbie Webster knew that mentally she was bleeding to death.

Gathering up her courage she pushed toward Russell. She had heard other students talk about how Russell had helped them; how in touch with God he was. She thought that if she could just touch someone that spiritual, perhaps things would change. It was a stupid idea, she knew, but she had no other hope.

“Ewwwh, don’t touch me,” one of the Act Teen girls said as Debbie squeezed between her and another student. “We saw you going into the abortion clinic the day we were protesting. Murderer.”

Debbie cried harder. She strained her right arm above the head of a freshman, grabbing Russell’s shirt collar with such determination that he spun around to face her.

“Who…who’s pulling on me?”

Alarmed and frightened at her own actions, Debbie tried to break free of the crowd. Her feet became tangled with those of a lanky basketball player and she fell to the floor at Russell’s feet.

Kneeling beside her, Russell slipped his hand under her arm, helping her to sit upright.

“I had an abortion,” she cried, hysterically. “I…I killed my baby. It was a girl. I’m so sorry. Oh God, my insides burn all the time.”

Russell pulled her head to his chest and held her tightly. “God calls you His daughter,” he whispered into her ear. “Did you know that?”

Knotted, spasmodic cramps within Debbie began to loosen. She lifted her face to examine the sincerity of Russell’s words.

He smiled down at her. “What’s your name?”

“Debbie,” she said. Makeup spread clown-like across her face and a filmy trail of mucus bisected her lips, yet Russell saw the beauty trapped within.

“Why’d you grab me, Debbie?”

She shook her head and sniffed hard. “I think I was really trying to grab hold of God.”

“Come on. Stand up.” Russell helped her to her feet and Mr. Jarris offered her his damp handkerchief.

“Debbie your trust and confidence in grabbing hold of me springs from your incredible faith in and longing for God. He has already restored you because He has already paid for your mistakes. Just receive what He has done for you and go in peace. Be continually healed and freed from your pain and distress.”

While Russell was speaking, there came from the administrative offices another secretary, who handed Mr. Jarris a phone message. He read the note, then crumpled it and let it drop to the floor.

“I’m not going to bother you anymore, Russell. My daughter’s comatose and in intensive care at Wilkins General.” Debbie returned Mr. Jarris’s handkerchief to him. He dabbed his eyes.

Ignoring the news, Russell said, “Don’t accept this information. You came here in faith, so let’s keep believing.”

The Longley and Jackson brothers approached, so Russell asked them to accompany him to the hospital. When they arrived at the waiting room outside the intensive care unit, Russell looked carefully and with understanding at the tumult and the people weeping loudly. Gaining the permission of the nurse in charge, Mr. Jarris, Russell, the Longley and Jackson brothers and the family entered the girl’s room.

“Why are you making such a commotion weeping?” Russell asked the family, exasperated. “Reject death. This little girl is not dead but is only sleeping.”

“Are you a doctor?” said a relative, scoffing. “This girl has been dying for weeks now. I’m sorry, Bill,” he said referring to Mr. Jarris, “but accept the fact she’s beyond help, and begin the grieving process.”

“Get out!” Russell screamed, clasping his hands over his ears. “Get them out of here.”

Mr. Jarris and his wife ushered angry relatives from the unit and rejoined their daughter. Russell knelt by the bedside and gripped the motionless child’s hand firmly. “What do I do, Lord?” He waited a moment, listening, then leaned close to her face and said, “Little girl, tell death to go away. Right now. Say it in your spirit. Tell death that God orders him to leave you alone.”

Mrs. Jarris shot a questioning glance at her husband, but he nodded reassuringly as if to say, “what can it hurt?” Then, a movement beneath the sanitized sheets.

“Oh, God!” Mr. Jarris squeezed his wife tightly.

“Yes, God,” said Peter Longley hardly believing what was happening.

“Little girl, is anybody with you?” Russell asked, bent so close to her face his lips nearly brushed her cheek.          

“Yes,” she whispered, her eyes still closed. Mrs. Jarris nearly collapsed at the sound of her daughter’s voice.

“Who is with you?” Russell asked.

“A bad man and Jesus,” was the faint reply. “Jesus is telling the bad man to go away.”

“Is the bad man leaving?”

“Yes,” the girl said nodding her head. “Yes, he’s leaving.” A slight smile lifted her pale lips, but her eyes remained closed.

“What does Jesus want you to do?”

“He wants me to come take his hand. He’s holding it out to me.”

“Jesus is life, little girl. Take his hand.”

The child lifted her arm from beneath the sheet and clasped her fingers around an invisible object. She opened her eyes and sat up in the bed. The Jarris couple rushed to embrace their daughter in an astonished outpouring of affection and joyous relief.

“Don’t try and explain this to anyone,” Russell warned the appreciative parents. “Oh and give her something to eat. She’s probably really hungry.”

Without another word, Russell and his friends left the room.