"Katie," she called as she stepped into the backyard. Where was that child?
Her call went unanswered, and the daylight faded like a popped balloon. In the darkness, crosses appeared, all around to haunt her. Huge wooden structures that blocked out the stars, the moon — hope. She stepped through them and found her daughter sitting in a patch of mud.
"Oh darling, you're filthy. A lady should always look her best. Let's get you cleaned up."
"I'm wet," Katie said. "I can't fly, Mommy. I'm wet, and it's cold."
Scorching heat hit her back, and she turned to find that the crosses had ignited. At each intersection, letters burned in a brilliant white. Compassion. Love. Forgiveness. The words dissolved into a cloud of blinding ash.
When the ash cleared, she saw a white car. A noose, tied to a beautiful tree, dangled over its hood. She smiled and climbed onto the car. Today was her day to do the dance of death. After patting down her hair, she grabbed the rope and paused. Something wasn't quite right. Where was the music? Of course, the car radio needed to be on. You couldn't do a dance of death without music.
She let go of the rope and took a step. The hood had grown slippery with morning dew, and she slid. Falling down the hood. Falling off the car. Falling. Falling. Falling....
Shirley's body jerked, and she woke, disoriented. She didn't remember falling asleep, but it shouldn't be surprising that she'd been tired. After all, she had received quite a shock that day. She needed her rest. With a delicate sigh, she stood and went to make some tea. Her cell had grown chilly. Something warm would do her good.
"What an odd little dream," she whispered.
Katie had come to her. Why? She hadn't dreamed of her daughter since the accident.
Maybe it was time to stop calling it that. There was no reason to hide the truth anymore. Nothing to be gained from it. Besides, she had done what had to be done. And she knew it had been the right thing because the nightmares had stopped. Once that car had sunk with her daughter inside, the Devil, who lurked in older version of Zeke, had ceased to haunt her dreams. He no longer came to rape her and brutally implant his seed. He no longer taunted her with images of Katie wrapped in his arms, her eyes glowing red.
Yes, since her daughter's death, she had slept good because she knew Katie was at peace and free from Hell. And the only one who had had balls enough to see to that had been her. She deserved a good night's sleep.
The kettle whistled, and Shirley poured herself a cup of tea. Even stained with mud, Katie had looked so pretty and innocent. Her daughter had been beautiful, when she wasn't tainted with Satan's mark. One hand slipped to her stomach, and she pressed hard. She knew why Katie had come to her. Her daughter was warning her not to be fooled by fake innocence.
Was it just mere hours ago that the "compassionate" doctor had told her she was pregnant? Soon the fools would try to convince her that she carried an innocent life and not the Devil's spawn. Shirley knew differently. Already she could feel the demon growing, determined to make its way into the world.
She pulled her hand away, wrapping it back around the teacup. Slowly she took a sip, and tried to ignore the twisting in her stomach. Shirley looked around her cell; the comfy sight made her smile. Her daddy had always said she had a talent for making a real nice home. Of course, he had also told her that if you acted like a lady, kept a man well fed, and gave him children, he'd treat you well. That had been a load of shit. It didn't matter what you did, they still beat the crap out of you, just like her daddy had.
They had always lied to her — the Quaker schoolteachers, the Lutheran pastor, her father. Things got better if you look to the Lord. Didn't they get it? Didn't they know the truth? God wasn't here. She didn't know where he was, but he wasn't on earth. He'd left here long ago, and if he was in heaven, he wasn't gazing back at this pit. When you prayed, it wasn't God who heard. It was Satan. He heard and preyed upon your weakness. Shirley wondered if that nice priest, Father Mukada, really believed that his faith kept him safe. She supposed he did. What a shame. The world would eat him alive.
Well, she couldn't blame the Father for being naïve. It was a hard truth to swallow. Even once she had uncovered it, she had wavered, wondering should I believe or should I doubt. She believed. Yet, still she had been stupid. She had thought she'd defeated the Devil, fled from his clutches. But here he was again, trying to make her his whore.
This time instead of petrifying her with fear, he'd come with soft words and sweet gifts. Desperate for a friend, for a kind touch, she had fallen. That had always been her weakness, the need for just a touch of human kindness, and the Devil knew it. Well, he wouldn't win. On Thursday, the state was going to kill her. She should count her blessin's that her final appeal had been rejected, because this time, she didn't have to do anything to free a child from Satan's grasp. This time it was simple. All she had to do was die.
With Katie, it had been so hard. For years, she had wanted to lash out at Satan and wipe his presence from her life. But when she tried, all she saw was her daughter's sweet face. It had hurt so much to put her in that car, but it had been the right thing to do. Hadn't it? Her head pounded and for a moment, doubt and sorrow wracked her heart. Of course it had been the right thing. This was just the Devil trying to make her doubt her convictions. She knew it had been right. The nightmares had gone. Shirley took a deep breath, and the sorrow fled. She was calm again.
The clang of metal bars brought her out of her thoughts, and she put her cup down. She had a visitor. "Hello Warden," she said.
"Shirley," Warden Glynn said.
Didn't that man ever smile? He always looked so grim, even when she was looking her best.
"I just spoke with the Governor. After being informed of your pregnancy, he issued a temporary stay of execution."
She knew the Warden continued to talk, but she couldn't understand the words, as the laughter was so loud. The mocking sound of it terrified her.
"Darling, did you think you could get away from me?" the Devil said, his voice eerily like Vern's. "I marked you as my whore long ago. You can't run."
The Warden nodded at her and left. Shirley barely noticed. She felt like a deer frozen in the headlights. This couldn't be happening. Her hands clenched at the bars, leaning into them to keep from falling. They had to execute her. She needed to die. Somehow, someway, she had to kill this thing inside of her. Nothing should come from her body, her blood. The Devil would be silenced; the nightmares wouldn't return.
Sweet Jesus, please don't let the nightmares come back. I'm sorry for what I did. I'm sorry for being weak. I promise I'll do what has to be done.