Something possessed me when I was seven years-old. It made me do unspeakable things.
It’s a scary thing, being apart from yourself– being a tool. Have you ever been possessed? I’m guessing not. Most haven’t. And they can thank their lucky stars for that.
I have though.
I’ve felt the suffocating grip of something closing around my mind, squeezing it until every last ounce of me was gone. I’ve felt the horror of knowing I’m not alone. The horror of knowing I might never be alone again.
Three days after I turned seven, my life crumbled into pieces. It became unrecognizable. That night, my foster parents locked me in the attic, and jeered that there were monsters coming to eat me. Werewolves.
“We’ll let you out in an hour,” they laughed. “If there’s anything left to let out.”
It wasn’t real, of course– the werewolves. The whole thing was just meant to scare me into obeying their strict rules. I was young, though. Naive. I’d confided in them about my deepest fear, of men that turned into beasts, born from an old Goosebumps novel I’d checked out of the library. They’d use it against me. Psychological warfare.
Betrayal cuts deep, but the betrayal of a parent? Of the person who’s supposed to protect you when the whole world turns their back on you? That cuts deeper than skin. Those scars don’t fade.
I spent my first minutes in the attic screaming and crying, beating my fist against the door, but they threatened me with six hours in the corner, standing on my tippy-toes if I opened the hatch. I knew what that meant.
“You deserve this,” they told me, from the other side of the hatch. “You know damn well you’re supposed to keep your eyes closed during Sunday prayer.” A pause. A deep breath. “You embarrassed us, not only in front of the church, but in front of Father Andrews too. Shame on you.”
It was true.
At least, it was true that I’d opened my eyes. I was a distractible child, later diagnosed with attention deficit disorder, what was I supposed to do? That didn’t matter to them, though. In their eyes, not only was I disrespecting the law of the house, I was disrespecting the law of the Lord. That made punishing me easy. It made it an act of God.
“Do I really have to stay up here a whole hour?” I whimpered, gazing warily across the sea of darkness. The light in the attic hadn’t worked for years.
“That depends,” my foster mom replied. “If the werewolves get you first, you might only be in there for ten or twenty minutes. Who knows? You might get lucky!”
The two of them left down the hallway, chuckling to themselves. I toyed with the idea of opening the hatch and slipping out of there, but I knew the consequences wouldn’t be worth it. Not only would I spend three hours in the corner on my tippy toes, but if they noticed I was resting my feet, they’d put the wooden board and nails underneath my heels again.
I’d been there before.
So instead, I took a deep breath, steeling myself against the nightmare of the attic– against the threat of werewolves lurking in the shadows. I took a deep breath, and I threatened them.
“I’m not afraid of you!” I called out. “I’m a monster too, you know!”
It was a lie, but a comforting one. The only thing I knew capable of harming a werewolf was a silver bullet, and I had precisely none of those, so the next best thing seemed convincing them I was too tough a target to hunt. After all, running wasn’t an option.
I began my punishment waiting near the hatch, panicked and full of adrenaline. I waited for a howl or growl to meet my ears– for the sounds of my doom to come out and greet me, but they never did.
After I’d made it ten minutes without being eaten, I decided to get riskier. I decided I’d venture beyond safety of the hatch and try to improve my situation.
The lightswitch was far beyond my ability to repair, but finding a flashlight was still a possibility. There was enough junk in the attic to fill a small museum, so it stood to reason that there might be a light hiding in one of its many teetering boxes.
I closed my eyes. I took a breath. I mentally prepared myself for the hardest voyage I’d taken thus far in my short life.
I stepped forward. Into the dark.
My footsteps groaned as I crept through the attic. I stumbled around blindly, holding my arms out and praying I didn’t encounter anything with fur. A few steps into the journey, I bumped into an old table that from the feel of it, was draped in cloth.
My hands felt across its surface, desperately hoping to find a flashlight, but instead finding a nightmare. Eight tiny legs dashed across my skin, skittering up my hand and toward my arm.
I yelped, falling backward and shaking the spider loose like a sticky grenade. Then I slapped my hand five or six times. Just to be sure.
“You’re kidding me, Frank!” A voice boomed from beneath me. “Keep that up and you’ll won’t just be out of job– you’ll be out of a wife!”
I listened as the laugh track to my parents favorite sitcom kicked in downstairs. My foster mom, Sharon, shrieked in amusement, while my foster dad, Joey, grunted. I wasn’t allowed to watch TV , but I often wondered if the show was as funny as my momma made it seem.
“It’s not,” a voice replied.
“You deaf? I said it’s not.”
I jumped, stumbling backwards into a mess of cobwebbed boxes. “Who’s there?” I asked, panick seeping into my words. “I’ll–”
“–Do nothing!” the voice sneered, suddenly beside my ear. I hollered and scrambled away from it, my head colliding against the sloping roof on the far side of the attic. Pain exploded across my skull.
I groaned. My vision swam. “Hello?” I said, gazing in mounting dread toward the source of the voice. In the dark, I couldn’t see a thing. “I’m a werewolf, you know,” I said, my voice shaking with counterfeit authority. “It’s a full moon tonight, so I’d watch out if I were you!”
“No, it ain’t. And no you ain’t.”
Something thumped beside me, and my heart skipped a beat. Another thump. THUMPTHUMPTHUMP. The floor beneath me trembled. Reverberated. The attic hatch, I realized. Somebody was knocking on it.
“You better not be breaking anything up there!” my poppa shouted from the other side of the hatch. “If I hear any more banging around, it won’t be the werewolves you need to be afraid of. I’ll beat your ass myself!”
I swallowed, pressing myself into the far corner of the attic. Making myself small. “There’s somebody up here,” I called back. “I need you.”
“You’re not only disrespectful,” came the reply. “But a liar now too?” He whistled, and I could almost see him shaking his head in mock disbelief. “That sounds like you’ve just earned another twenty minutes up there!”
“No! Please, I–”
“I don’t want to hear it,” he growled. His footsteps faded as he walked back downstairs.
A minute later, I heard my foster mother ask what I’d broken. “Nothing,” poppa replied, “if he doesn’t want to go to school with a black eye tomorrow.”
“You’re not safe here,” the voice said, this time a few feet in front of me. It was low, raspy. It sounded hungry. “Not safe at all.”
“Leave me alone,” I pleaded, wanting to throw something at it, but afraid of what my foster parents would do to me if I did. “I wasn’t kidding about being a werewolf–”
“I can make you safe, you know.” A prickling sensation swept across me, deepening with every word the voice spoke. “I can make all of this pain go away. Doesn’t that sound nice? You just have to say the word, and then poof, you’re home free.”
“The word?” I repeated, confused.
“That’s right, the word. You know the one. The one you say kneeling beside your bed every night, praying to the big guy in the sky.”
Laughter echoed around the attic, erratic and mocking. “Amen? I meant the other word, the one you mutter with tears in your eyes and fear in your heart– afraid your dear parents might hear you say it out loud.”
I pursed my lips, a terrible feeling growing in my gut. Suddenly, the voice felt so much worse than a simple werewolf– it felt like it was manipulating me. Testing me. “I don’t cry when I pray,” I said defiantly. “I don’t know what you’re talking about!”
The voice stepped forward, and the entire house rattled against its weight. Dust drifted down from the rafters. The floorboards squealed. It was loud. Too loud.
“The fuck did I just tell you, boy?” Joey shouted from below. “If I have to get up from this couch, you’re gonna wish there really was a lock on that hatch!”
I swallowed, desperately praying that this terrible voice would just leave me alone. “Go away,” I told it. “Just leave me be.”
“No.” It took another step forward, and another shockwave rippled through the house. The frame trembled with a low rumble. “I’m not going anywhere. You’re stuck with me.”
“He’s gonna be mad,” I whimpered, pressing my hands to my ears and shaking my head. “Stop making so much noise. He’ll hurt me.”
A sound met my ears; dull and low, like a cardboard box sliding off of another cardboard box. My heart froze.
A symphony of glass shattered my pleas. A second later, another box tipped. Something tumbled out of it, obnoxious and heavy, rolling across the floor like a bowling ball.
“I’m going to make you believe,” the voice laughed. “No matter what it takes.”
Beneath me, the TV went silent. Muffled voices rose from the living room, and the sound of snapping leather met my ears. “… nothing in him that my belt won’t fix!”
“Why are you doing this?” I hissed into the darkness. “Why are you making them hurt me?” Tears welled in my eyes as I prepared myself for the discipline that was coming my way. For the pain. Footsteps thundered up the stairs.
“No!” I called down, desperate and afraid. “I didn’t break anything! It wasn’t me!” Panic stole my senses. This wasn’t fair– I didn’t deserve to be punished. I was good this time. I made sure of it.
“Say the word, boyo,” the voice said, jovially. “Say the word or you’ll beg for it later, beaten and bruised.”
I shook my head, tears staining my cheeks. “No. No! I know what you are, monster. Go away! I’m a good kid and I pray every night!”
A fist pounded against the underside of the attic hatch. The handle rattled, like somebody was tugging on it, trying to open it, but it wouldn’t give way. “Get your hands off the hatch!” my foster dad roared. “Or you’ll regret it for the rest of your life!”
“Say the word,” the voice hissed. “Do it now, before he gets you!”
I clamped my hands to my ears, shaking my head wildly. “No! Just leave me alone! Go away!”
My foster mom’s voice joined the chaos beneath us. “What’s he done now, Joey?” she asked. “Locked himself up there? Well, he can just stay up there for the rest of the night then, trapped with the werewolves.”
“No he damn well can’t, Sharon!” He shouted. “I’ve got valuable things in those boxes and the little shitstain’s destroying them!” My foster dad grunted and the attic hatch squealed as he pulled against it with his entire weight.
“Running out of time,” the voice said, closer to me now. “Tick tock. Say the word, or you’ll pay for this in blood. Who knows when he’ll stop beating you? Hopefully before you drop dead.”
I screamed, collapsing onto the floor and bawling, clutching my hands over my ears. “Stop it!” I shrieked. “Stop it!”
There wasn’t any escape. Threats surrounded me. My foster parents below. The voice in the attic with me. One wanted to physically hurt me, the other wanted to turn me from God– to make me admit I didn’t have the faith I claimed to have.
I just wanted them both to go away. Forever. I just wanted to go to my room and play with my action figures and read my story books. I just wanted to be a normal kid again, with a normal family.
A creak sounded, followed by a snap of wood. Light flooded the attic and I gazed in horror toward the newly open hatch. He had managed to pull the steps free.
“Little. Fucking. Shit,” my poppa snarled. “I’m gonna teach you a lesson.”
“Lord knows that he deserves it,” my momma chimed in. She sounded eager. Earnest. “He’s been disobedient since he got here last July. You need to quit going easy on him.”
“No!” I howled, staring toward the hatch. Poppa Joey’s face appeared above the floor line, stomping up the steps, eyes bulging. He looked wild with rage. In his raised hand, he held a belt, its large metal buckle gleaming in the downstairs light.
“Little fucker,” he growled. “You’ll wish you were still living with that drug addict mother of yours.”
I scrambled back into the far corner of the attic, my heart pounding out of my chest. Cobwebs tickled my skin but I didn’t care. How could I? I had bigger problems.
“This time,” Joey said, stepping toward me and raising the belt. “I’m not gonna stop until you bleed.”
I recoiled, raising my hands defensively as tears gushed from my eyes. A word fell out of my lips. A single, piercing word that I shrieked with everything I had, even though I knew it wouldn’t change a thing. Because it never had.
“Help!” I screamed.
“That’s more like it,” the voice said, dripping with sudden violence. “Took you long enough.”
I woke up in a large, white bed. A man in a robe stared down at me with cold, calculated eyes. He looked angry. He also looked familiar.
“Look who’s up,” Father Andrews said dryly. “It only took you four days.”
I blinked, bleary-eyed and unsure of what was going on. “Four days?” I said groggily. “Father, where am I?”
“You’re in the hospital, Alex.” He nodded to the other beds in the room. “Do you remember what happened?”
“Something happened?” A memory crossed my mind– of a belt, and Joey’s angry face storming up the steps. I remembered feeling like I was in a lot of trouble. I remembered feeling afraid. “Am I okay?” I asked.
“That depends,” Andrews said with a frown. “Do you feel okay?”
“I feel tired. And my head’s a bit sore.”
His eyes bored into me. “Do you feel… like yourself?”
I squinted, my mind beginning to catch up to the situation. Memories lurched out of the dark spots of my mind. Memories of a voice. Of a malevolent presence, tempting me to admit I’d been crying during my prayers. Now I was here, in the hospital next to a priest.
“What happened?” I asked, more urgently. Even at seven, I could paint a decent picture of what was going on.
“The doctors have been in,” Andrews explained. “You’ll be happy to know that you’re fine– physically. And they’ll be happy to know you’ve woken from your coma.”
“Coma?” I had no idea what a coma was, but I didn’t have time to find out. I had other questions I needed answered. “Where’s momma Sharon and poppa Joey?” I asked. “Are they mad at me?”
A sinking feeling formed in my gut. After the voice had destroyed so much of the attic, my foster parents were bound to be furious with me. I’d probably get a second helping of discipline when I got home.
“Joey and Sharon are dead,” he said.
I stared, the gravity of the word beyond my understanding. “What do you mean?”
Father Andrews glanced at the room around us, then pulled the curtain around my bed, shielding us from prying eyes.
“You killed them, Alex,” he whispered. “You burned away every ounce of blood in their bodies and seared crucifixes into their foreheads. When the police showed up, you were comatose. Sharon and Joey were husks.”
“What…” I swallowed. “No. I…” Horror wrapped itself around me. Realization swirled in my head. I remembered the attic, the voice tempting me to break my vows to God– it had asked me to say a word, to give myself up to its evil. My voice cracked as my body shuddered with tears, my world beginning to crash around me. “I loved them,” I said, sobbing. “I wouldn’t do that. I loved them. I promise.”
“That may be,” Andrews said, reaching into his jacket and pulling out a vial of clear liquid. “But they only played at loving you.”
He unstoppered the vial, and doused me in its contents. I recoiled. “Stop that. It’s –“
“Holy water,” he explained. He gave the vial a gentle shake in front of me, showcasing the small amount of liquid left inside.“I’ve poured most of this vial onto you over the past three days, but it’s never had any effect. Do you know why that is?”
Holy water. I wracked my mind. I’d heard of that in Sunday School. It was meant to protect against demons and other terrible things.
Understanding dawned on me. I gazed up at the Father, horrified, shaking my head as though if I just denied it hard enough, then I could make it all go away. I knew better though. So did he.
The way Andrews looked down on me told me he already had a good grasp of the situation. He knew, and now he was challenging me to lie about it. To prove that I was still possessed.
“I talked to a demon in the attic,” I blurted out, guilt twisting inside of me. My lip curled and tears poured out of my eyes. “I’m sorry. I’m sorry! I gave myself up to it. I’m so sorry– so so sorry! I didn’t meant to say the word! I didn’t know–“
He grabbed me by my shoulders, his eyes urgent. “The word? You said a word?”
I nodded, wiping my runny nose on my sleeve. “It– it wanted me to say it.”
“What word, Alex?”
“I don’t think I should say–“
Andrews leaned closer to me, his mouth to my ear. Even though his voice was quieter, it felt more menacing. More serious. “What was the damn word, Alex? Say it now.”
I shuddered. I’d never heard Andrews curse before. “If I say the word,” I stuttered. “The demon might come back and–“
The Father snarled, gripping me by the front of my hospital gown. “Say the bloody word!” He tore the crucifix from his necklace and pressed it against my forehead. “Enough excuses!”
“Help,” I whimpered.
“I’ll help you once I’m sure–“
“No,” I said. “That was the word. I asked for help.”
“Help?” He stared at me blankly, as though processing something. “You asked for help?”
I nodded, shaken.
He heaved a sigh, releasing me from his grip and pocketing his crucifix. “Oh, Jesus,” he muttered. He ran a hand through his hair, then back over his face. He smiled at me. “Thank God.”
I blinked. “For what?”
“You really were possessed, Alex,” Andrews said, resting a hand on my arm. He took a deep breath, and when he spoke again his voice was softer. Consoling. “Some force took control of your body in that house. It used you to commit unspeakable acts of violence against your parents. Through you, it killed them.”
My heart fell. There was no running from the truth now. My body quaked with the fresh onset of tears, and my reply came between ugly, choking sobs. “Am I bad now, Father?” I asked. “Will I always be possessed by that demon?”
“Demon?” Andrews said, taken aback. He gazed at me for a moment before shaking his head and pulling me into a tight hug. “Heavens no. You weren’t possessed by a demon, Alex.”
“You were possessed by an angel.”
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