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My eyelids were beginning to feel heavy after reading for what seemed like hours. I pushed my glasses up to the top of my nose and peered across the room at the ticking clock.
“Two o’clock already?” I muttered to myself.
I pressed a bookmark into the Bible’s crease and closed it slowly. My favorite chapter of Revelation was just pages away, but it could wait. Regardless of the time, my body was already threatening to fall asleep without my consent. Unable to battle the fatigue any longer, I set my Bible and glasses aside and switched my lamp off.
Within seconds, I was already transitioning into a deep slumber. Before the first dreamlike image could touch my unconscious mind, a sound made me jolt upright. I tried to rub the sleep from my eyes and process what’d just happened. It had to have been the cat.
Every muscle in my body protested movement, but a mix of fear and curiosity urged me out of bed. In fact, I could have sworn I heard an audible voice coercing me. I pulled on my slippers and gave in to whatever internal drive was pushing me out my bedroom door.
“Rex,” I called out, hoping to see the cat’s furry orange head emerge from behind the counter. I clicked my tongue while analyzing the floor for something that’d fallen. Everything seemed to be in its proper place.
I turned the corner into the living room where Rex usually slept. It made my stomach flip when I saw him lying in his basket, looking as though he’d been there for hours. If it wasn’t the cat, what could it have been?
My body went rigid as another sound echoed through the house. It was a knock on the front door. Pounding in my ears began to drown out all other noise. I wanted it to stop, but the beating on the door was persistent. The deafening pound in my head should have silenced the knocking, but it was still so clear as if the sound was echoing in the walls of my mind instead of my house.
With a reassuring breath, I attempted to overcome the fear that was accumulating inside of me. I inched toward the door as shivers penetrated so deeply that I could feel my bones tremble. The pounding on the door and in my ears did not cease until my hand touched the knob. At last, I found the strength to pull the door open.
Nothing stood beyond the door. I craned my neck outside of the frame, every fiber of my being numbed by fright. Not a trace of existence stood in my line of sight.
I retreated inside, securing both locks on the door. A sense of dread ran through me, forcing me to my knees. Beads of sweat rolled off of my forehead and along my temples. After losing all sense of time, I could no longer determine whether tears or perspiration soaked my face.
“Cyrene,” someone breathed.
Whoever’s voice this was, it was calming. I looked around and saw no one, but then my eyes met with the crucifix hanging on the wall.
“God,” I wept. “God, I’m here.”
“Get up.” The voice cracked like lightning in my head, no longer comforting. “Get up!”
My legs were weak, but I was afraid to disobey God. Throughout my thirty years of life, I never expected to speak to the Lord directly. Awe filled me, but His voice did not fit the prototype of the loving Father.
“You deserve death, Cyrene,” the voice hissed perversely.
“Who are you?” I wailed. Evil’s presence filled the room where God had once been.
My gaze shot from the crucifix to a painting in the living room. They settled on the last panel of the triptych The Garden of Earthly Delights. The depiction of hell on which my eyes were fixed seemed to come alive. The figures acted out every horror that was once contained inside the artist’s imagination. Now, before my waking eyes, impossibility breached reality.
“Cyrene, you’ll never escape this.”
A shadow gathered in my peripheral sight, confirming the existence of evil on earth. The thick cloud expanded, and all I could think to do was run.
Multiple voices plagued my mind, each whispering distinctive insults. I pressed my clammy palms over my ears and stumbled through the hallway. Once inside my bedroom, I slammed the door shut, hoping the voices and figures would disappear behind it. The shadows and voices continued as if they clung onto me like an extra skin.
I recited the Lord’s Prayer, emphasizing one line especially.
“…Deliver us, Lord, from every evil…” My voice was failing me. I choked on the final words of the prayer as if something was holding them inside of my throat. In my right hand I clutched the silver cross hanging from my neck. My mouth was too dry to produce any more words, so I repeated the prayer in my head. It seemed impossible to think about anything. The words were blocked out as something violated my mind again and again. An unbreakable wall surrounded my thoughts, allowing nothing else to enter.
The sun’s bright rays peeked through the blinds and forced me awake. I felt so worn out by the night that I was incapable of even lifting myself off the hardwood floor. To my own horror, the first thing my mind could wrap around was a voice. It wasn’t the voice from last night, but rather a child singing. And although the song was cheerful, something about it was heartbreaking.
The voice was distant and hardly audible, which brought me a small degree of relief. I tried to push it out of consciousness and contemplate what action I should take.
I picked myself up from the floor and made my way to the kitchen. Apprehension filled me as I passed through the hall, recalling memories of just hours ago. Rex sauntered in from around the corner, meowing happily, which seemed to lift some of my anxiety.
When I reached the phone, I held it to my ear and waited. I couldn’t decide who to talk to. Anyone who listened to my story would undoubtedly believe I was mad by the end of it.
I set the phone back on the hook and sank into a nearby chair. Rex made himself comfortable in my lap as I desperately searched for a solution, but the girl’s song created a sort of fog in my mind, making it difficult.
“Maybe this is God’s way of testing me,” I suggested as if Rex understood. He only replied with a long, drawn out purr. “What else could it be?”
My thoughts seemed to arouse more voices, because more than one person began speaking to me. An angry chorus of men drowned out the song and spat insults at me. I refused to hear them and continued scratching between the cat’s ears.
“I shouldn’t tell anyone. This is between me and the Lord.”