Chapter Seventeen: Disclosure
"I saw it. A darkness. It dims her spirit, clouds it, weighs it down and she is lost in grief and sadness. I've never seen anything like it before."
Graydon sat in the warmth of the small fire outside Mike's cabin; they shared the flickering firelight. Fleeting shadows outlined worried frowns on their faces.
"I've seen it before. Not often, but often enough. It weighs so heavily on a person's soul they can become lost, lost to themselves and everyone around them. This is a terrible burden for anyone to bear. For one so young as this girl you describe, it can be the end. She could be lost and never recover."
"Please, Mike. Don't say that. I feel a powerful urge to help her. I don't know why and I sure can't say it's all that smart, or even that it's my part to get involved in this, but something mighty strong is pulling me to help her."
Mike smiled inwardly. He remembered himself as a young man. He too had been moved to get involved, and look where it had led him!
"Follow your instincts, but be careful. Move slowly, softly, and be careful not to stir her awareness or touch any feelings you find. Let yourself explore and learn, but beware of doing anything before you have more understanding."
Mike stirred the glowing embers, returning burnt ends to the center of the small fire. "Visit her dreams; learn what you can. If it becomes too painful, ease away and rest. Gather strength, surround the evil with wards, and return to her another night. When you have learned enough to know where the darkness originated, come here and explain it to me. We will consider it together and see what next we might do.
"Above all, do nothing alone. You have great ability but little experience. Rash interference could destroy her, and put your own soul in great peril, young shaman. Come to me and we will deal with this together, if deal with it we must, and from the darkness you felt, I'm sure we will. I say "we," young Graydon, for it will take your growing power and my lifetime of experience with the dark side of existence to intercede safely into this horror that binds her."
That said, a wisp of wind curled around the fire, raising a slender tower of sparks and smoke, and it danced away into the night as an omen of a journey, perhaps a journey into darkness itself.
She tossed under her sheet, her pillow damp, her blanket hanging half off the small bed. Her hands clasped and gripped at something unseen. Her face was twisted in the rigors of fright, revulsion, and pain.
The dusky doe lay under the girl's window, her slender head with its long nose and great ears raised in the darkness, sniffing the damp night air but otherwise she lay still, her vision focused inward, linking, seeing. She could not understand what she saw but it was of no matter. She saw shapes, movements, heard the words and cries and whispered threats, and these she linked to her spirit companion, the young shaman who lay in a wake-sleep state on his sleeping bag in the dark hayloft of the homestead barn.
The girl was young, too young, barely nine years old. The priest, her family priest for all those years and more, was holding her against his bulging belly, his fat hands fondling her thin legs under her summer dress. She sat pinned on his lap, facing him, feeling his rough hands on her, moving, touching. She could smell his rancid breath, see his greedy eyes, and she sobbed a quiet protest.
"Please," she sobbed, "let me go. I won't say anything. I'm sorry I didn't know the lesson. You asked a different question than the ones we studied; I don't know that answer but I'll study more, I'll get it right."
"No, young Mari, you'll have to do better. I'm not punishing you, but I must move the spirit into you. I must chasten your small body and stir your obedience. Trust my hands and my holy person to move the spirit into you; you'll come to understand the special feelings. Your body will begin to tell you when it's right... "
Graydon turned his mind away; he could feel her revulsion building, and worse, he could feel her innocence being drowned in a flood of guilt. "I must be bad, a bad girl, or I wouldn't be here. Father Bernard wouldn't be doing this, he wouldn't touch a good girl like this... If I studied harder..."
He followed her dreams. Not dreams, nightmares. A series of fragmentary glimpses, horror followed by horror, a girl trapped in a family tradition of Sunday services and Sunday school and church picnics and outings and a long summer camp where Father Bernard followed. Glimpses of afternoon "chastening lessons" in Father Bernard's office; an evening of painful invasion in Father Bernard's cabin at church camp; rough-handed groping and violation tumbling one after another in her serial nightmares.
Graydon knew, after several evenings of sharing her nightmares, that the horror had spanned several years, not ending until the day she could endure no more and she confessed everything to her parents.
"I'LL KILL THAT SON-OF-A-BITCH!" Frank screamed, punching his fist against the bedroom wall. Marilee shivered and shrank against the pillow on her bed where she'd been sitting as she sobbed, confessing the horrible things she'd "done" with Father Bernard. It was her fault, she said. She caused it. She just couldn't get all her lessons right, and she needed to be chastened, she explained. But it felt wrong and it frightened her and she couldn't do it anymore. She had tried to make him stop, but he threatened that her disobedience would be an evil that would harm herself and her family. Especially her family, the priest threatened. Her disobedience would cause her to be taken from her family. He threatened that her parents would be excommunicated and everyone in her family would descend into Hell. Despite his threats she could endure no more. She would not go to church and Father Bernard, no, not ever again.
Madeline sat on the bed, reaching out to her thirteen year old daughter, horrified that Marilee must have endured years of abuse at the hands of their most trusted family institution. Madeline's face, streaked with tears, was frozen in a white mask, her mind paralyzed with conflict: disbelief, betrayal, revulsion, grief, fear, all bound together in a tight knot that threatened to cause her to vomit in disgust on her daughter's bedroom floor.
Frank felt no such paralysis. He clenched his fists and held his arms frozen in mid-air. He had struck the wall and screamed his rage. He looked to his terrified wife and daughter; he saw his duty to provide assurance and comfort to them, not to terrorize them by indulging his rage against the walls of their home.
God! Holy Mother of God! Holy Jesus born of Mary, what have we done to offend God that He would let loose this monster against our child!
It was the longest, most terrible night, one they never dreamed in their darkest nightmares could ever visit them; once visited upon them, it became a corruption of faith and authority.
"You monstrous spawn of Satan who professes to wear the cloth of our Church and speak in the name of our Saviour, you miserable Hell spawn ... How DARE you put your perverted hands on my child!"
Frank stood, shaking with rage, in the Priest's office, his large hands gripping the edge of the massive carved desk lest he leap over it and strangle the life from the fat-bellied, robed caricature of a human being sitting in the oversized chair.
"Your child? You accuse ME of touching your child? I certainly did no such thing, Mr. Jacobs. In all my years as priest in this church, I have never done such a thing. It is YOUR child who tells damnable lies, Mr. Jacobs. She has been a headstrong and willful child, slow to obey and quick to neglect her lessons!
"Now you listen to me, Mr. Jacobs. Leave my office and silence your accusations, or I swear I will set the Bishop and the legal authorities upon your house! They will destroy you and your family for slandering the Priesthood and His Holy Church! Be away with you, this very moment, before I call the police!
For the first time in anyone's memory, the Jacobs family did not attend Sunday services in their Kansas City parish. Some families remarked on this aberration, and a few even enquired of the Priest to ask if they were well or if some misfortune had befallen them.
"Aye, they have some grief in their life. Their child, the young Marilee, has become headstrong and indulges in vicious prevarication that troubles them greatly. Being the devoted, obedient Christian souls that they are, I'm sure they are praying for His blessed forbearance and aid. Sadly, the Mister himself is touched; he has been persuaded by the Devil's tongue itself that the child speaks some measure of truth, but with time he may be dissuaded of this horrible evil and come to see that the child, her innocence notwithstanding, has been corrupted. It is vile evil that issues from her mouth, and her own father has been infected by it!"
That said, the Priest turned away and sought sanctuary in his office. He was troubled; this could become a troublesome affair. He'd not fully considered the high standing of the Jacobs family in his parish before he'd indulged himself in the pleasure of their young daughter. This would take careful handling. He picked up his telephone, and dialed the Bishop. He would seek higher assistance in handling a rebellious family, led astray by a child's lying words.
The man was unknown to Frank. He sat in a guest chair in Frank's office at the insurance company where Frank was a mid-level executive with a promising future. The man had arrived without appointment and demanded to speak to Frank. He was admitted despite his rude and brusque manner.
"What can I do for you, Mr... ?"
"My name is not important, Mr. Jacobs. But my reason for being here is extremely important to your future. Understand, this is not a threat but an order I bring you. Our office has been informed that your daughter and yourself have been spreading vicious slander against the holiest institution of this city! And it must stop! Stop it immediately, or we will bring the full weight of the City prosecutor's office down upon your head, Mr. Jacobs! Slander is a vicious offense, Mr. Jacobs, in any circumstance. But when you attack the Holy Church itself, the institution to which this entire city turns for comfort and guidance, you attack the very fabric of our society. It will not be tolerated! Not for a moment! And we have full legal authority and resources to crush it, and you! Do you understand, Mr. Jacobs?"
Frank sat, open-mouthed, stunned, behind his desk. Before he could respond, the stranger stood and laid a blue-jacketed legal document on Frank's desk.
"Read that injunction, and obey it. Violation of that order will bring the harshest penalties, I assure you. It will result in the loss of your job, substantial monetary fines, a long prison sentence, and without doubt it will destroy your family. I advise you to consider carefully, and act accordingly."
The man turned and left. Frank stared after him, reeling in shock. With a trembling hand, he opened the document but he already knew what it said before he read the opening sentence: "You are henceforth advised and adjured ..."
Frank called his attorney. He had an appointment for the following afternoon.
"Yes, we could certainly fight this. You have every right. It appears to me that you have every reason: I've known you for years and few clients can claim the integrity and honesty you've shown me. We could make a strong case and fight this, but as your attorney and, I hope, your good friend, I must also protect you from certain disaster. The Church has endless wealth and will fight viciously to defend itself. To destroy you and this lawsuit, they would most certainly destroy your daughter by attacking not only her veracity but her sanity. Then they would turn on you.
"But that is only half of it. They have the support of the City's prosecuting attorney's office. Totally and completely. The City will not hesitate to turn every resource against you. I'd wager they would even find cause to investigate my office. If it were necessary to defeat you by destroying your legal counsel, they would. They certainly could.
"Now, ethically, I leave the decision to you. You must decide."
Later that evening a totally disillusioned and defeated man sat on the edge of his bed, speaking in a broken voice to his frightened wife:
"We can do nothing. We're beaten before we even begin. They have all the power, and we have nothing. We dare not speak again. No one would believe us, and it would only destroy us. All we can do is isolate ourselves here at home, and try to restore something to our lives.
"I cannot risk my job; we would be destitute and lose everything. I could ask for a transfer to another city, but that would solve nothing. We'd suffer great expense, and even then we can never return to the Church, not even in another city. I will never trust the church again. I cannot approach that institution without heaving my guts out on its steps.
"I have no answer and little hope. What can we do for Marilee? She has been accused by the Church itself of slanderous evil, of infecting her own family against that Priest! It will be difficult for her at school, but that will pass. It is her Church association that has become impossible; her school difficulties with pass, with time."
Frank sat hopelessly still; Madeline sat frozen-faced beside him. If God were to grant her an audience with the Priest, she would gleefully cut him and leave him a eunuch. Her eyes stared straight ahead, unfocused, seeking refuge in her unholy fantasy.
Marilee stood unseen outside their half-open bedroom door. She had thought to sit with her parents, to ask their forgiveness for the trouble she'd brought down upon them. Her father's words ended her world, destroyed it utterly, smothering her faith. A curtain of darkness descended upon her. She knew, truly, she could no longer live here with her parents, in this house, in this neighborhood, in this city, in this state... even in this world?
A few days later she confronted her mother in the kitchen.
"You can give me some money or I can wait and steal it. I have packed my suitcase and I have Uncle Ken and Aunt Helen's address in Washington. I need the money for a bus ticket and meals. I'm leaving."
Madeline stood at the sink, her mind racing. What had only a week ago seemed unthinkable was now probable.
"Yes, I think you can do that," Madeline replied. "You need to be away from here. We cannot help you, truly help you. You must escape to live where you will be free. I'll explain to your father, and if he is angry, let him be angry with me. I will get the money and call for a bus schedule."
Marilee boarded the bus the next day; Madeline told Frank that evening. Rather than lose her precious love, he held Madeline in his arms. Leaning against each other, they grieved until there were no tears left.