I did not see Aurelius Finn for three days after that night. Nor Adam, for that matter.
I went with Mrs. Silverton to visit sick members of Pastor Silverton’s congregation. I played with Edison and talked with Iana. I joked with Pastor Silverton.
But there, in the back of my mind, was the story that Finn had told me.
Oh, how I turned his words over and over in my mind!
How those words pushed and tugged at my spirit.
I did not know what to do with the story. And I wasn’t quite sure why he had told me.
I believe…to help me understand something…but I wasn’t sure what .
On that third morning after Finn had spoken to me about how he had found Edison, I awoke to a strange kind of feeling in the pit of my stomach.
I opened my eyes and looked at the clock at my bedside.
What…why was I awake?
“Oh, your sleep is so sweet, isn’t it? So dear it is to look upon. So perfect.” The voice was whiny, high, and familiar.
I sat up quickly and scanned the room, looking for the source of the voice.
I swung my feet over the side of my bed.
“Oh, don’t get up, now! Don’t get up.”
The voice sneered, absolutely saturated with evil.
“I wanted to give you a nightmare. You ruined my fun…” The voice trailed off into nothingness, planting a vague unsettled feeling in the center of my stomach.
The word nightmare swelled up and rose in power and sound over my head, nearly overwhelming my commonsense.
For a moment, the darkness of the room whirled in front of my eyes.
Or, perhaps the swirling was in my head…
I closed my eyes and pressed my hands to my eyes, praying for it to stop.
Once I had gained more of a sense of equilibrium, I took my hands from my eyes and turned on the bedside lamp.
But still, some darkness remained.
The darkness slowly formed into a shape.
The shape of not just one demon, but two.
One was Poke
The other one concealed his face.
I glared at the one I could see. The one I was familiar with. “What are you doing here, Poke?” I spat out.
I became slightly fearful when I saw that he had grown since I had seen him last, a few months before.
That usually meant that a demon had been promoted or had been successful…about winning a soul…over to Satan.
Instead of being knee high as I had always seen him before he was now about my height.
But as he stepped closer to me I saw that he was perhaps a little taller than I was.
A feeling of danger and eeriness swept over me. I tried to get a look at the other demon’s face to find out what I was up against, but he withdrew himself further.
I decided to deal with what I knew first. Then I could deal with what I didn’t know.
I stood up and stared Poke down, forcing fear from my voice and posture and replacing it with as much courage as I could muster.
“Oh, I know your secret now, little girl.” Poke jeered in a dark whisper.
He began to circle me. “I know your little secret.”
I raised my chin. “And…what is that?”
Poke shrieked out a laugh. It screeched and scratched every sense I possessed, leaving me feel raw and more unsettled than before.
Then, Poke rose up before me and, his face an inch before mine, hissed a name that made my blood turn to ice, my heart turn cold.
I swallowed, but refused to break eye contact, refused to back down.
“What about him?” I simply said. “He’s my…friend.”
“Ah…but you hesitated.” The other demon said in a smooth, even tone, his face finally emerging from the shadows. Ice white skin appeared paired with soulless eyes a shade darker than black.
A lunatic color, that black.
A color not of the world I knew.
“Rass.” I mouthed, fear robbing me of my voice.
“That will be all, Poke.” Rass said, flipping a hand at the lesser demon.
Poke’s face screwed up into a horrible little scowl and his voice became high enough to break glass. “But I wanted to—”
“That will be all.” Rass repeated, jaw going rigid. He stared straight ahead at me, never even turning to Poke.
“But I found her weakness for you.” Poke hissed. “I deserve more than this, Rass!”
Rass’s lips upturned slightly. I shuddered.
What a horrible excuse for a smile…
“Did we not agree that the…objective…was not your reward but the ultimate goal?”
Poke muttered for a moment. But he finally disappeared, disintegrating into the shadows.
Poke turned his full attention upon me. His eyes became hypnotic and changed to a strange, violet color.
Slowly, they became lighter until the color of Rass’s eyes was the same color as Finn’s.
Horrified, I stared into his eyes, now more beautiful and soulful than dark and soulless.
Rass began to walk in slow, sure steps around me. I turned in a slow circle with him, making sure he never got behind my back.
“You’re…one of Satan’s.” I whispered.
Rass paused. “Really? And how did you discover that, little one?”
“But…Finn could see you…I mean…he saw you.”
Rass smiled. “Ah, yes. Finn. Yes, he can see me. Of course he can. He hasn’t told you everything yet, has he, love?”
An icy shiver ran down my spine when Rass called me “love”.
The way he had said it had sounded so…real…as if he really meant it.
“Aurelius Finn…” Rass said, in an almost thoughtful tone. “He could be…more…more than a friend...to you.”
“What makes you so sure?” I asked. But the merest hint of a tremor infiltrated my voice, betraying my heart.
He froze. “You love him.” Rass said, the word on his tongue sounding sweet and fake. “Am I not right, Meredith?”
When I remained silent he smiled. His smile was as beguiling as the color his eyes had changed. He was beginning to look like Finn… “Don’t you love him, Meredith? There’s no shame in admitting it, you know.”
I squeezed my eyes shut and tried to block the demon out, tried to stop the strange influence he was wreaking upon my senses. Finally, when I could take no more, I blurted out, “So what if I do? What is that to you? It’s nothing! It does not matter. It cannot matter.”
He laughed. And though his face had become beautiful, that laugh was a wretched thing to my ears. “What a person loves will always influence them,” He said. “Influence them in this life. Influence them in the next. When a person loves something, that something is woven into the fabric of the soul.” He looked up at me slyly. “It matters, little girl. And it will matter forever.”
I set my jaw. “But why are you so concerned about it?”
“Because this is a…unique circumstance. And the situation deserves…special handling in order to turn out the way my prince wants it to.”
“I will not allow it to turn out the way your prince wants it to.” I said in as threatening a whisper as I could manage.
“But I have discovered a weakness, just as I always do in the end. Both in you…and in him.”
I could not breathe. “No…”
“Yes. Oh, yes. Oh, yes. You see…he…”He met my eyes. “Is your weakness. But...what is more you are Aurelius’s weakness. And you shall be his downfall. What is that old cliché? Two birds with a single stone?”
“You can try what you like,” I said fiercely. “But you shall not get to him. He is too strong.”
Rass shrugged, lifted his gaze, smiled the slightest bit. His eyes began to return to their normal color. “Perhaps. But…I can get to you.”
I blinked and, just as quickly as he had appeared, the demon was gone.
I stumbled back onto my bed and pressed one hand to my heart, one to my mouth.
Aurelius Finn was one of the Seven.
I didn’t know what it meant.
But with a clarity I had not possessed before I realized I needed to find out. If for no other reason than to make sure Rass no longer held that knowledge over my head.
“Mom, I made a new friend! Her name’s Dacy. She says she’s friends with Finn. But she’s only eleven. Isn’t that strange? How do you think she’s friends with him?”
“That is strange. Where did you meet her?” Mrs. Silverton asked.
“Oh, right outside on the driveway. We’re coloring with chalk right now. I just came inside to get popsicles for us. Meredith, come with me! You make great pictures with chalk. And Dacy says she wants to meet you.”
“Yes, please go, Meredith,” Mrs. Silverton urged. She lowered her voice. “Make sure that this girl is an…appropriate playmate for Edison.”
“I will.” I assured her as I followed Edison to the front drive.
As I walked into the sunshine, one of the first things I noticed was a glowing brown head.
At first, I thought it was glowing on its own. But I blinked and realized that it was just the sun, bestowing its golden benediction upon that little head.
The little girl was sitting down on the cement of the driveway, making a picture with chalk. She seemed a little sad and deeper in thought than any child I had ever seen.
Edison bounced up to her and held out a popsicle. “Here!” He cried.
She blinked and looked up at him, the sadness dropping away. “Oh. Thanks.”
He smiled, plopped down next to her, and took a humongous bite of his treat.
His face scrunched up and he cried out, “Cold!” before he immediately hopped back up and ran around the house to the backyard. The fence door slammed shut a moment later.
The girl stared after him, a smile lighting her pretty face.
She glanced up at me and I realized who she was.
She was the girl-angel that I had met when Edison and I had been walking home from the park a few days before.
Her umber eyes glowed at me, thoughts running behind them that I could not guess.
I looked at the picture she had made of chalk and barely kept my mouth from falling open.
The picture was of a tree with wide, spreading branches. It was a lovely tree with branches full of thousands of tiny gold leaves and fairly dripping with a strange yet attractive looking fruit.
One of the fruits lay on the ground, a single bite taken from it.
I stared at it. The detail of the chalk drawing was astounding! The more I stared at it, the more I thought I saw those branches move and the fruit sway in the breeze…
“It looks like…” I whispered.
“It is.” The girl replied, standing up and dusting off her sky blue dress. “The tree of good and evil.”
She studied her artwork for a moment, then shrugged. “What is done is done. No going back now. Only forward. Ever forward. Only forward.”
She turned to me and met my gaze.
Her eyes were old. It was the most disconcerting thing to see the eyes of an ancient soul within the form of a child.
“I suppose you found Poke?” She asked. “I can sense some of his annoying restlessness clinging to you.” She had asked me if I had seen Poke at our first meeting.
“Poke always finds me.” I said, rolling my eyes.
She studied me a moment more and frowned. “But…there was…someone else. Another demon with him? A stronger demon. Who was it?”
I opened my mouth, closed it.
“I just want to help you, Meredith. Would it help if I told you that I’m one of the Seven?”
Hesitantly, I nodded once. Truth be told, it relieved me somewhat to learn that. Although I didn’t know what it meant yet.
I looked away from her, down at her drawing. “Rass,” I finally said. “It was Rass.”
She stared at me, horror filming the clear gold of her eyes. “Did he do anything to you?”
I shook my head. “No. At least…I don’t think so.”
I had had somewhat of a headache since my meeting with him at 4:00 that morning.
But besides that I was fine.
“Finn won’t like to hear about this.” The girl muttered.
She realized she had a Popsicle in her hand and took a bite. “Where did Edison go?” She asked.
“Ummm…to run off the cold that his Popsicle gave him?”
She smiled. “He’s such a sweet little boy. God will do great things through him.”
A car pulled up in the driveway. Pastor Silverton got out and smiled at me. He opened his mouth to say something but before he could Edison raced up to him—red curls bouncing, popscicle melting— and hugged the man around his waist. “Dad! Dad! I made a new friend! Do you see her? I like her. Can she stay for dinner?”
Pastor Silverton ruffled his son’s curls and looked up at Edison’s new “friend”.
“You are welcome to stay if your parents allow you to, young lady.” He said.
She smiled at him warmly. “Thank you, sir.” She said simply.
Pastor Silverton made his way inside. Edison bounced after him, asking question after question.
“Well…I should be going.” The girl peered up at the sky. “Tell Finn I stopped by. Oh! And try to break the news of how Rass visited you gently. You don’t want Finn angry. Even if it is a righteous anger. You’re his girl, though now, right? So it will be all right.”
“His girl?” I repeated.
She smiled. “His true love, silly. You’re his true love.”
She began to walk away, her steps confident and measured.
“Wait—I forgot to ask your name.” I called after her. I remembered vaguely Edison had mentioned it before, but I couldn’t remember what it was.
She turned halfway around. “Oh, goodness. That’s Finn for you. He never gets to the details quickly enough. I’m Dacy. Dacy Dru. One of the Seven. Just as Rass is. Just as Finn is.”
She turned back around and began to walk once more, this time whistling a tune. “Tis so sweet to trust in Jesus and to take Him at His word…”
I stared after her.
Rass was one of the Seven as well?
I tried to puzzle this one out but found it impossible.
And…she had said Finn would be angry once he found out about how Rass had approached me.
Thinking of their last meeting when I was present, I was prone to agree.
I prayed that Finn would not be too angry when he saw that Rass had done nothing to harm me.
I remembered the last time somebody had gotten angry for my sake.
It had been with Naomi, surprisingly.
Sweet, dear Naomi who had never had a single wish to hurt any person who hurt her.
We had been best friends.
But she had become a foster child and I had been left behind…
I remembered, though, that one day that I had seen her angry for the first time.
It had been a righteous anger.
I remember being somewhat shocked at Naomi’s vehemence. I had been reading my Bible by the lake when seven boys had surrounded me, circled me, taken away my Bible and began to push me from one boy to another within the circle. They had done it for a very long time, taunting and jeering and mocking me. Finally, one of them had thrown my precious Bible—the one that my mother had given me right before she died—far out into the lake. They had all left me then, tears streaming down my face, sobs shaking my shoulders. Lose
Naomi had found me. Once I told her what had happened, she had become very, very angry. She had known three of the boys in that group. I had never seen her lose her temper like that before. But that was the day I learned how deeply Naomi loved when she loved someone.
I missed her very much.
She had been my best friend. My only real friend that I had probably ever had. I did not doubt that she would have stuck by me when God gave me the gift of seeing into the spiritual realm.
But she was gone by the time that happened.
Still. Sometimes I wondered…but I doubted that it mattered whether or not she would have been there when I received it.
People would have judged me the same, all that had happened would have happened the same.
On some deeper level I realized that perhaps I had to face what I had faced in order to grow stronger in God, to go higher with God.
And to realize I could never be alone, no matter how it appeared to me that I was.
I crossed my arms and stared at Edison’s scrawling impression of a sunset upon the sidewalk.
I wondered where Naomi was now.
A breeze blew across my face and played with my hair.
It was warm and soothing and carried upon it a sweet, exotic scent.
Something like jasmine…which reminded me of my mother for that was her favorite scent…
I closed my eyes to breathe it in, the scent as familiar as a memory.
I opened my eyes.
That was her voice.
I looked around, bewildered.
I saw nothing, nobody.
This time the voice was more demanding, sounding slightly less like my mother’s.
Wait a minute. Yes, it sounded like my mother’s voice. But there was a strange note in it that--
A sharp, cruel pain knifed through my brain, leaving me without breath and stealing my ability to think.
I doubled over, my hands clenching my head.
I tried gulping in air in short, stilted breaths.
But it seemed my lungs were refusing the oxygen I tried to give them.
With a vague realization I knew I was about to faint…
My knees touched the cement and I would have fallen over if two strong, powerful arms had not caught me.
“Meredith. Meredith, whatever the matter is, don’t let this get the best of you. Fight.”
I felt so relieved that Finn had me I was tempted to just let the blackness take me. To let the pain have me so that it would go away.
He pressed a hand to my forehead and whispered. “Oh, dear God, please.”
I think he prayed more, but I was not able to hear more.
But, ever so slowly, inch by inch, the knifing pain in my head let up until it was gone entirely, leaving in its place a dull but manageable ache.
I opened my eyes and breathed in as much air as I could.
Finn’s concerned blue gaze met my glazed eyes.
I found myself on the couch in the Silverton’s living room, Finn sitting on the edge of the couch.
How in the world had I ended up in here without realizing it?
I rubbed my temple, groaning slightly.
The pain must have been too great for me to have realized anything happening.
“She’s awake.” Finn said.
I finally noticed Mrs. And Pastor Silverton right behind him.
I tried to sit up but found myself too weak. My head hit the pillow behind it once more.
I looked up at Finn and studied his beautiful face. I sighed a little. “What happened?” I whispered, bewildered to the greatest degree I had ever been before.
Nothing like this had ever, ever happened to me before.
He opened his mouth as his golden brows drew together, before closing it again.
He avoided my gaze and then said simply. “You need to rest.”
“But, Finn, I want to know what happened.”
He swallowed and stood from where he had been sitting beside me.
“I’ll tell you.” He said quietly. “Didn’t I say I would? I’ll tell you but…not right now. I need—I need to think some things through.”
With that, he left the room.
Pastor Silverton stared after him, his expression thoughtful.
Mrs. Silverton reached down and brushed a strand of hair from my brow. “How about some hot chocolate, dear?”
I nodded the tiniest bit, still wary of my headache. “Yes. Thank you. That sounds nice.”
I managed to sit up and drink the steamy, sweet liquid. It seemed to sooth my headache somewhat.
“Where’s Edison?” I said.
“Sleeping.” Mrs. Silverton replied.
I cradled the mug of chocolate in my hands and savored the warmth.
I bit my lip and glanced up at them. “I’m not sure what happened.” I said, knowing they were concerned. “My head…I just had the worst pain I’ve ever experienced in my head. But…it’s gone now. I think I’ll be okay. What time is it, anyway? How long was I out?”
“It’s 2:45 in the afternoon,” Pastor Silverton answered. “You were unconscious for five minutes.”
I drank the rest of my chocolate and set it on the table beside the couch. I stretched back out and sighed. “I’m just going to…rest…for a while.”
I fell asleep and did not awaken till much, much later.
When I finally awoke the first thing I heard was the sounds of men’s voices. My brain tried to make them crystalize as I struggled to become fully awake. I sat up on my forearms and glanced at the clock on the wall. It was…7:00 P.M.?
I nearly gasped. Had I really been sleeping that long?
At least my head wasn’t pounding anymore. I felt much better.
I didn’t hear Edison or Mrs. Silverton or Iana’s voices anywhere.
I guessed they had probably gone on a walk to the park.
I sighed and pushed my hair from my face as I sat up fully and looked toward the window, where a sweet, cool breeze brushed over my skin.
The men’s voices were coming from the open window.
I stood and stepped towards it, they’re voices becoming clearer as I did so.
“…can’t go on like this forever.” The pastor was saying. “These visions of hers, or what have you, seem to me to be growing more dangerous to her.”
They were standing on the porch, which was just to the left of the window. Neither of them noticed me.
Finn stood, arms crossed, jaw tight, gaze fixated on Pastor Silverton.
“What could we do, Smith?”
Pastor Silverton looked up. “Don’t you agree with me, Finn? Don’t you think this could be…the death of her eventually?”
Finn remained silent, though it seemed his whole body had tensed slightly once Pastor Silverton mentioned death.
“Is there nothing you can do, Finn?”
“Me?” Finn’s deep voice cracked with incredulity. “What could I possibly do that you could not, Smith?”
“I know more than you’ve told me, Aurelius Finn.”
Finn’s arms dropped to his sides. “What are you talking about?”
Pastor Silverton looked at the ground. “I…found something. Just this week.”
Finn continued to look at him, saying nothing.
“You know the man I went to visit over at the nursing home every week?”
“Yes. Jonathon Miller.”
“World War II survivor, you know.”
Finn gave a single nod, expression growing wary. “Where is this going, Smith?”
“Well, he…was showing me some pictures the other day.”
Finn’s face became strange. It turned from wary to stone. I could not decipher a single feeling he might have been experiencing in his expression. Finn turned around, looked out over the yard and crossed his arms once more.
Pastor Silverton continued. “He speaks often of his days in the war, Jonathon does. Had some nice photos that I didn’t think much of. Until…he showed me one that was taken seventy years ago. Right before World War II ended.”
A chilling premonition touched my skin, raising goose bumps on my arms.
“It was a black and white photo of him with a…friend of his. One of his best friends, he said. A friend that…disappeared on May 8, 1945. The end of World War II.”
The Pastor walked up close behind Finn and said in a low voice, “Do you know who that man was, Finn?”
Finn stood, unmoving, silent.
“It was you.” The pastor finished. And then, a little louder, he said, “It was you, Aurelius Finn.”
Finn turned halfway around. And when he spoke his voice was hard and contained a dangerous edge. “Are you sure it wasn’t a misunderstanding, Pastor? They seem to happen all the time with me.”
“I looked and I looked for a distinction between the man in the picture and you. But I could find nothing.”
Finn’s icy expression melted away, replaced with haunted eyes and tortured face. “It’s better not to ask questions like this, Smith. It’s better to leave this alone.” Finn swallowed. “Have you told anyone about this?”
“No. Course not.”
Finn nodded and sighed. “I suppose it was bound to happen sooner or later. But I never thought it would be you, my dear friend, that discovered it.”
“Am I mad, Finn?”
“No. You’re not. It’s me. Me that’s messing with your mind. That has taken too long to come to a decision I should have made long, long ago. But God is good. And He is merciful. And He has…allowed me this time. I know not why.”
The pastor shook his head and closed his eyes, rubbing his temples.
Finn studied him, set his jaw. “Do you want to know, Smith?”
“Yes…but I’m afraid it will be too much for my mind to handle.”
“Then, prepare yourself, preacher.” Finn said, a strange smile crossing his features. “Because this is a story you shall never forget, though you may not believe me.”
Finn turned my way and met my eyes.
His smile faded. “You too, Meredith,” He said. “You will need to hear this just as much as the pastor.”