Voices CarryBy: Mariah Stewart
The nightmare always began the same way.
Outside, the monotonous drone of cicadas would drift through the sultry midnight air. There would be faint light from the single bare yellow bulb that hung outside, over the front door, and cast a small pale spot of illumination within. Cheap handmade curtains, pulled back tightly to one side to permit the maximum amount of still air, hung on windows screened against mosquitoes and all those other things that flew about at night.
She lay upon her cot, her light brown hair tousled around her child’s face, curled in sleep that had been long coming. She’d been willful that day, sneaking off during morning meditation to pick flowers to take to her older sister who’d been confined in the camp’s infirmary with another of the recurring headaches that had plagued her that summer. One of the counselors had reported the girl’s transgression to Brother Michael, and he’d chastised her—though not by name—before the entire camp at the end of evening prayers, rambling on and on about how some little camper’s spirit needed purification. She’d been standing near the back of the group that gathered in the prayer circle, and hadn’t been able to see him—she’d gone just about all summer without seeing his face—but she knew he’d been talking about her. Just about everyone knew that she’d been the one who’d made a forbidden raid on the flower garden that afternoon.
She’d been surprised at having been let off with nothing more than a public berating. It had been well worth a few moments embarrassment to see her sister smile at the offer of a few daisies and the handful of pretty stones, stones that could be rubbed for luck and hidden under the pillow while she waited for her headache to wane.
Only the sympathetic glances from some of the older girls as she’d passed them on her way to her cabin had disturbed her. She’d lain awake that night for a long time after lights out, trying to decipher what exactly it was that she’d read in their faces. After several hours of trying to define what she did not understand, she’d finally fallen into a sleep so deep that she hadn’t heard the cabin door open.
Hadn’t felt the thin blanket being drawn down, nor the hands that had, with practiced deliberation, lifted her from her bed and carried her with measured steps out of the cabin and into the night.
It wasn’t until he stumbled on the path, jolting her, that she’d awakened, disoriented and confused.
“What… ?” she muttered.
“Hush,” he’d whispered gruffly.
“But where are you…” She attempted to twist away from him, but his arms only tightened around her.
“Hush, I said.”
“But I don’t want…”
Damp grass tickled her bare feet as she was lowered to the ground in one quick motion. One strong arm tightened around her neck, the hand clasped over her mouth.
He dragged her along, the light of the moon dimly illuminating the path into the dense woods before them and playing off the gauzy white robe that hid all but his hands.
She struggled, fear surging through her thin limbs with every step that he forced her to take.
“I’ve been watching you, Genevieve. You are headstrong and disobedient and in need of purification,” he said in a low voice, not quite a whisper, now that they were on the path leading down through the woods toward the playing fields below, far away from the cabins. “It is my duty to consecrate your body and drive away the impiety that infects your spirit.”
“Let me go.” She kicked blindly backward, catching his right knee with the sole of her foot.
He grunted as her small foot hit its mark, then punished her with a blow to the back of her head with his fist.
“I can see that you will require more than the usual hallowing.” He spoke softly, calmly, directly into her right ear.
The hand clasped over her mouth again, and he dragged her farther into the woods, her heart racing frantically as she struggled against his strong arms.
Everyone knew that something bad lived deep in the forest, back beyond the pines. It was whispered among the younger girls that the woods were haunted, and sometimes late at night, she had thought she’d heard hushed cries carried on the sultry night wind. She, like the others, had sworn to never go past the dense wall of pines that bordered the end of the soccer field. She squeezed her eyes tightly closed. If one of the dreaded specters lurked about, she was pretty sure she didn’t want to see it.