Pastor Timothy Ford Jr. woke in a cold sweat, choking down the scream in his throat. He sucked in oxygen with heaving, gasping breaths that made his bottom lip pop in and out of of his mouth, scraping his teeth over and over until he could taste blood. He gripped the thin, stretched afghan and held it firm against his chest with his left hand, while searching the nightstand blindly with his right, until his fingers locked around the cool leather-bound cover of his father's Bible.
As he hugged that old Book tight he found he could breathe again, the hammering in his chest slowed to a healthy, dull rhythm. The scent of the pages beneath his chin was venerable and comforting; the feel of the leather against his bare chest, soothing. Already the nightmare was fading, only an unfocused memory of pain and death. And evil.
But it felt so real.
With a dying tremor of fear in his voice, Pastor Timothy whispered into the darkness, “For the wo-word of God is living and powerful, and s-sharp-sharper than any two-edged s-sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.”
Speaking the words helped to calm the young preacher. The verse was like a shield that made the darkness feel less... gaping. He laid the Bible in his lap and reached for the nightstand again, fingers fumbling gently across several books and loose scraps of paper until he found the thin chain which hung from the lamp.
With a click, the naked eighty watt bulb chased off the dark. Timothy gritted his teeth, refusing to flinch away from the illumination as his eyes strained to adjust. He was no lover of darkness, and no matter how weak his flesh might be, he would never hide his eyes from the light.
And the light was everywhere. Aside from the matching three foot mirrors, which hung on each side of the room and reflected the lamp so that no shadow could hide, Timothy's walls were bare. Bare and painted with the cleanest, whitest white the preacher had been able to find in the hardware store. Every surface in the room glistened, reflecting the light of that single bulb and turning his room into a beacon. A beacon which he was sure, if it weren't for the roof on the house, would cut a brilliant swath through the soulless night sky.
Even his solitary nightstand, the only furniture he allowed himself aside from his twin sized bed, was whitewashed. On that nightstand was a lamp. It was the one thing that Timothy had not covered with that awful, blinding white. The lamp had no shade, of course, because Pastor Timothy knew since childhood that it was important to let his light shine (hide it under a bushel? No! I'm gonna let it shine). It wasn't the brightness of the lamp, though, that made it a treasure—it was the base.
A hundred years ago, the base of that lamp had been just a block of wood. Until his grandfather, a wholly devoted follower of the Lord, (or Lawd as the old man had said it) spent three and a half years carving it into an intricate tableau depicting the death of Christ. The Figure on the cross hung limply, His face peaceful, His eyes closed, as a tiny Roman soldier jabbed a spear into His side. Three women with featureless faces knelt feebly before the cross, hands reaching toward the Son. The colors of the lamp were stark—the blood was a glistening crimson, the wooden cross all but black, the soldier's armor like rust. And the Lord's face, as white as everything else in the room.
The lamp was the only thing left once his family picked through his grandfather's things after his death. To this day, Timothy remembered watching the old man's children (the preacher's mother included) as they picked over the tiny apartment, squabbling for each morsel. Every possession the old man had gathered through his life. Pastor Timothy remembered thinking that the scene must have been much like watching grave robbers fighting over the treasures found in a pharaoh’s tomb.
But nobody wanted the lamp. It was too old, too harsh, too ugly. Too sincere, Timothy had guessed, even at his young age. Getting his mother to allow him to bring it home had been a fight, but when she finally relented, the boy had snatched it up and hugged it like a teddy bear. Years later, when Timothy began his ministry, the lamp was one of the only fragments of his old life that he held on to. His grandfather's lamp, and his father's Bible.
Soon, his pupils retracted and the light was less offensive. Timothy's eyes were dry and sore, so he allowed his lids to drop for the barest of moments.
With a fizzle, the bulb winked out, leaving the room in darkness again. The preacher could feel it. Without needing to open his eyes, he knew that he was no longer alone.
With a breath, he began whispering again, “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”
“Tsk tsk tsk,” a high-pitched, gravelly voice rang through his skull, “Wrong. You're always wrong, Tim-tim. If you'd just open your eyes, you'd see that your precious light has left you. Again.”
It was hard for the young preacher to breathe as a knot of fear swelled in his belly. His hands shook so fiercely against the Bible in his lap that it sounded like a child clapping somewhere in the distance. Still, he continued, “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.”
“Now you're getting somewhere, Tim-tim. No flesh and blood here. You're done wrestling now. Your light failed.”
“No.” Timothy's voice quavered, even his whisper was frail. “I belong to the Lord. You can't change that. Nothing can change that. You are already defeated,” finally, he was able to grip the old Book once again. “Begone, Unclean One!” he shouted with renewed strength.
With a pop, the bulb flared back to life, coloring the world behind the preacher's eyelids orange and pink. His throat clicked as he tried to swallow the saliva that was not there. Timothy clucked his throat until it unclenched and ran his tongue over his lips, over and over and over. Exhaustion and fear and relief mingled until the preacher was hunched over, moaning something that was between relieved sobbing and hysteria.
He let it out. The tears and the laughter rushed by in waves until he was sure he was going mad. Then just as suddenly, they were gone, and Pastor Timothy was sitting silently in his bed. He laid the Bible back on the litter of books that covered his nightstand and got up off the bed to get a glass of water. As he stood, though, he caught sight of his own reflection in the mirror across the room from his bed.
He was only thirty-two years old, but his skin was pale and thin and worn. He walked closer, stopping when he could reach out and touch the surface of the glass. He ran his finger along the dark lines which circled the turgid bags beneath his eyes, leaving streaks on the mirror's polished surface. He parted his lips, showing his darkened gums and yellowing teeth to his reflection. His once thick, raven colored hair was now threadlike and being swallowed up by patches of dingy gray.
It was the Voice, he thought. It was coming too frequently now, stealing his dreams and replacing them with unspeakable visions while he slept. It had a way of shaking his faith, cracking the foundation of his beliefs, one terrifying word at a time. And as he looked at himself in the mirror, he knew that It (whatever It was) had been right about at least one thing.
His light had failed. Whatever strength he used to possess, whatever it was that he had that kept the Voice at bay for the last several years had left him once again. Timothy dropped his hand from the mirror, ready to walk away, but before he could turn, something caught his attention. There was something wrong with the mirror.
After a moment of confusion, the young preacher realized that his reflection had not moved with him. It was still staring out at him, hand pressed to the mirror's surface, eyes searching. The reflection was reaching out for him. A violent shiver crawled over his spine as he stepped in for a closer look. The other him, the one in the reflection wore a cruel smile—lips parted, teeth too large and soaked in shining gore, eyes colorless and dull. Blood ran free from corners of his... no, Its mouth, leaving ruddy streaks down the reflection's chin and neck.
The reflection's fingertips broke through the mirror's surface as the Other continued to reach for him.
Timothy let out a guttural sound from deep in his belly—closer to a roar than a scream, grabbed the edge of the mirror, and tore it from the wall. The rectangular frame flipped and fell to the floor in an explosion of glass that scattered mirror fragments throughout the room.
“That seems a bit extreme,” said another of his reflections, from the mirror on the far wall. The voice wasn't his, but it was just as familiar to the young preacher by now.
Timothy spun and saw the same dreadful face—his face, but broken and vile, smiling out at him. Still reaching for him.
He fell prostrate; shards of glass tore into his flesh wherever he touched the floor. His knees. The palms of his hands. His forearms. Timothy spoke out, voice barely a whisper, “The Lord is my rock and my fort... fortress...” He was weeping now, tears flowing and mixing with snot and spit on his face, dripping to the floor. He stared down as he watched the blood from his palms spreading into the carpet. The sticky, sweet smell of death threatened to swallow him.
“You don't get it yet, do you, Tim-tim?”
The preacher flinched at the sound of his mother's nickname for him. She was the only one who had ever called him that. Until...
“Your words mean nothing. If I come from the darkness, it is the darkness of the grave. The darkness of rot and time. If your god is up there, he doesn't give a shit about you. You've been left here for me to play with, and I'm not finished with you.”
Timothy was woozy with panic, barely able to keep his mind in the moment. He slid to the floor, no longer feeling the slivers of glass as they rolled with his movements, grinding and churning his flesh, digging themselves deeper. Into the tissue, the meat. Timothy only knew fear.
Laying there on the floor, Timothy could see the corpse, still and rotting, beneath the bed. Ten days since he'd slit the woman's (Harlot's) throat, and already the Voice was back to haunt him. Each time, the blood seemed to be less potent than the last, while the Voice grew louder and stronger with each visit.
As the preacher drifted to unconsciousness, he imagined the oceans of blood he would need to spill to fulfill God's mission. Whores and blasphemers and homosexuals would scream. They would bleed. They would repent. They would die.
Then the Voice would finally be gone.