CINDY and Billy Ramsey were running late to church again. The atmosphere in the car was icy after this morning’s fight. Helen didn’t notice as she sucked her binky, but Cassandra noticed. She knew that it was her fault, and she swallowed past the lump in her throat. Her white clenched knuckles stared back at her as she looked for a miracle in the floorboard of the car. There will be nothing on the church today, she told herself. There will be nothing above the church doors today, she told herself. They’re not real. I make them up.
They pulled into the parking lot, and a scream joined that lump in her throat. Jesus save me, she prayed yet again. Billy parked the car, but Cassie never looked up as her parents got out. The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want, she began silently to herself.
‘She’s only 5, Billy. She’s making this stuff up, like an imaginary friend. She’ll outgrow it. She just has to,’ declared Cindy.
Billy stopped pulling Helen’s stroller out of the trunk and stared at Cindy. ‘What kind of kid sees demons and monsters as imaginary friends, Cindy? My imaginary friend was a little boy just like me. Stop making excuses. We need to get her some more help. She’s terrified to be around most public buildings now. How is she going to go to school in the fall? What about Helen? Maybe the doctor is right, and she needs the pills, like an old fashioned elixir for an old fashioned haunting.’
Billy yanked the stroller free and yanked Helen’s car door open. He smiled at his startled one year old daughter and winked at her. She smiled back and patted his cheeks with her hands. Helen was the happiest, most trusting baby he’d ever met, the exact opposite of Cassie in every way. He glanced at Cassie with her head down and her body trembling, and his heart ripped open again. How could he help his baby? He’d gladly take her terror from her. How is a 5 year old already terrified by life? Who did this to his baby girl?
Cindy opened the car and pulled Cassie out. Cindy could hear Cassie reciting the Lord’s prayer to herself, and she hugged Cassie’s frail frame. ‘You can do this, baby. They’re not real, and Mommy and Daddy are right here. Come on. You love seeing Miss Becky every week.’
Billy got Helen situated in the stroller and joined his girls on the other side of the car. He glanced quickly up at the church, but he saw nothing up there on the roof or hanging from the side of the building. He often found himself trying to see what Cassie saw out of the corner’s of his eyes. Sometimes, he just wanted to see them, so that he could know his baby girl was not crazy. He looked at Cassie’s bent head and felt so angry because he couldn’t help her. He took Cassandra’s other hand and started walking towards the church.
‘Where would you like to go to lunch, Cassie? We’ll go anywhere you want to go, sweetie. Just tell Daddy where you want to go.’
A mumbled reply floated up to Billy, but he couldn’t understand it. ‘Where, sweetie?’
Cassie raised her head to reply Steak-n-Shake and froze. Her hands jerked free, and she stumbled. Right above her Daddy hovered the big monster that she saw so frequently that she’d named him Meanie. Meanie’s wings beat silently, but his claws hovered just above her Daddy’s head like he was about to snap her daddy’s neck. Her eyes dilated in fear at the parody of a smile on his face. His teeth gnashed silently as he mocked her. She couldn’t move. She couldn’t pray. A silent scream stayed trapped inside her throat.
Billy growled in reflected pain, and he picked his baby up and threw her against his shoulder. ‘Cindy, grab Helen,’ he called out as he almost ran Cassie to the church doors. Other church goers stared at his rudeness, but he was past the point of caring. Cassie stared over her dad’s shoulder as Meanie perched on Nora’s moving stroller. Cassie urgently reached her hand out towards them and felt a prick on her neck as they made it through the door.
Cassie saw the two familiar demons join each other in the courtyard as the Ramsey family made it into the church. Other people walked right through them as they waved and blew kisses at her and laughed. She closed her eyes and repeated the mantra that they were not real. She’d rather be crazy like the doctor said than have them be real and hurt her family.
When they got outside of her Sunday school class, Billy dropped her to the floor and knelt down beside her. ‘You okay, sweetie?’ he asked as he stroked her hair. She looked up to see Miss Becky walking towards her, and she relaxed a little more and nodded. Miss Becky would pray with her to keep the demons at bay.
‘I love you, Daddy,’ she responded and walked into the classroom. Miss Becky extended her hand for Cassie’s coat. When Cassie’s hair swept to one side, Billy noticed that there was blood on Cassie’s neck. He and Cindy rejoined each other and made their way to the sanctuary to hear today’s message, but he couldn’t shake his feeling of dread. When had Cassie gotten hurt? How could an imaginary friend, even a mean one, leave a real mark on his baby? What is she saw things that were there? Oh, dear God in Heaven, what if his innocent baby really saw demons? What if demons were real?
STEPHEN and Nicodemus stood together and stared at the closed church doors for a while after everyone had filed inside. Then Nicodemus sighed and turned towards his fellow soldier.
‘Why did you mark the girl, Steve? Her father noticed the blood and wants to believe her.’ Nick crossed his arms and glared at the younger demon. ‘We’re here to drive her insane and make sure that no one ever believes her. You know we don’t leave physical proof.’
Steve sucked her sweet blood off of his claw as he shrugged. ‘That child is going to need a lot of beating down, Nick. She’s got a strong will for such a young human. Hell, she’s got a strong will for an old human. She’ll be able to survive us if she keeps the love of her family. We’re going to need to turn the parents against each other and possibly kill the father, too. My little scratch will be healed by the time they leave the church, but Billy is going to have doubts and fears that drive him into a bottle just like his hated old man.’ Steve closed his eyes and smiled. ‘The bottle drives him into a tree in 5 years, and he’s ours by the time he dies because he hates a God that allows us to attack his baby girl with demons. It’s going to be a lot of fun to see little Cassandra Ramsey shatter after I convince her that she killed her daddy. If I work it just right, she’ll kill herself before she gets to 16.’
Nick nodded his head slowly and smiled. ‘You are ready, my friend, to fly solo. Congratulations, Lieutenant Stephen. You will report directly to Lucifer from now on. We’ll need to feast in your honor because you’ve made it!’
Stephen grinned and flexed his leathery wings. ‘Let’s go debauch some virgins at a frat party to celebrate.’
Nick smiled. ‘You’re on!’
They jumped into the air and left the church far behind them. Cassie wasn’t going anywhere anytime soon.