BACK TO WRITING CENTER
First Place, Fiction
Arbuckle Awards, 2004
by Jessica Bradshaw
The air was alive. She could feel it, weighing down on her. Each breath was agony, the pressure filling her lungs. She sunk lower, deeper into her bed, holding the covers tightly over her head, trying to muffle the sound of her ragged breathing. Every noise was amplified. Even though the room was silent, her ears still caught noise. Her mind was racing, filled with fear. Only one thought kept repeating, echoing.... "Say My name."
As she struggled to fight back the pulsing waves of fear, she questioned this -- but what else was there to do? In a dry, rasping voice - no louder than a whisper -- she said it. "Jesus.” The presence she felt lessened a bit, like something had lost its grip and was trying to regain it again. She licked her lips and whispered it again, but this time with more confidence. "Jesus.” The weight began to lift, and she lifted the covers off from around her head. "Jesus.” The atmosphere in the room returned to normal within a matter of seconds, the oppression gone, and the only noise the sound of her sister's breathing and the rain outside. Everything was just as it was before, everything moved at the same pace, made the same noises. But she knew, she absolutely knew there had been a change.
Nili’s eyes shot open. Then with a groan, reality sank in and she rolled over to turn off the blaring alarm. She kept on rolling and tumbled out of bed, heading towards the kitchen as soon as her feet hit the floor. “What is today?” she mumbled to herself, and then laughed. She sounded like an old woman – forgetting the day- and at seventeen, this isn’t something that should necessarily be happening. Today was Friday, which meant she had to go to school.
Wrinkling her nose, she changed her direction, moving decidedly towards the shower; the smell radiating from her body was definitely unattractive and today she hoped to see Philip. Nili looked around self-consciously, as if it was obvious she was thinking about him. She could already hear her parent’s voices, the dislike and sarcasm obvious. “Philip? Philip Handers? Right, Nili, because he’s a NICE guy who will lead you more towards Jesus… shouldn’t all your relationships honor God, blah, blah, blah…” To be honest, she really didn’t want to think about what her parent’s would say if they found out she was interested in Philip. After all he was a Christian, and even though he had been in some trouble lately – so what? She’d been in trouble before… and doesn’t God see all sin as the same anyway? Not that this line of reasoning would work with her parents; as far as they were concerned no boys was a good thing. Nili snorted.
“What’s so funny?” her mom asked, startling Nili.
“Good grief Mom!” she screeched.
“Sweetheart, are you ok?”
Nili rolled her eyes, “I’m fine Mom, I’m gonna get ready for school, ok?”
She took off for her room, pausing to knock once before throwing the door open. Her sister opened her eyes and glared at Nili from her bed.
“Could you keep the noise down?” she snipped.
“Could you keep from talking?” returned Nili, quickly gathering all she would need from her room and running to the bathroom.
After a fast shower, she hurried into her clothes and grabbed a bagel. She threw open the door and hurried out, feeling she couldn’t get out fast enough. Nili started walking the few short blocks towards her high school, thinking about life and her family as she went. This wasn’t how it used to be; she used to love being at home with her family. But lately, she had just not been into it. Her parents had recently developed this really annoying habit – asking her what God was teaching her and encouraging her to embrace her walk with Him. She didn’t mind that so much, but they did it all the time and made such a big deal out of it, and she was really getting tired of them trying to tell her what to do (which was what they were trying to do, they were just hiding it in questions).
It was like they didn’t grasp things….she had embraced it, she went to church, and she didn’t do anything bad… “But what are you learning? What has God been saying to you?” was always the comeback when she listed all the things she did do “right.” What was the big deal anyway? And, hello, had they read the Bible lately? Did they even know how hard it was to read it, let alone study it? Nili shook her head as she approached the steps leading into the high school. She had too much to worry with, with school and all, to bother with these thoughts right now.
At school she suffered through her first few classes and bolted for the door as soon as it was time for lunch. Nili scurried into the cafeteria, quickly spotting Philip and flashing him a bright smile.
“Hey Philip, what’s up?”
"Not much Nili, just trying to get myself caffeinated enough to sit through American History.”
Nili nodded her head in agreement, “I know what you mean.” They both stared at their lunches for a second, and then Philip spoke up again.
“Found anything picture worthy in your hiking lately, nature girl?”
Nili’s face lit up, not only from the endearment (or at least a nickname!) but from excitement as well. “Yeah, I went hiking through the forest again, the one in Jamboree Campgrounds. Last week I found a pretty awesome waterfall and was able to take some pictures too.”
“You better be careful with that camera of yours, you might take a picture of something that doesn’t want its picture taken – especially around Jamboree,” Philip teased.
“Now you sound like my mother,” Nili scowled at him, “She’s always telling me, ‘Be careful and look out for bears!’ I don’t think Mom’s figured out yet that we don’t have to look for bears if there aren’t any around here.” Philip laughed and Nili smiled; at least he found her somewhat amusing.
“Well, lunch period’s up. What class do you have next?” Philip asked.
“Math,” Nili said, wrinkling her nose,
“Fun stuff! I’ll trade you classes, American History for Math.”
“No thanks,” laughed Nili, “I’m not that desperate! Later Philip!”
"See you later Nili,” he replied, as they both set off towards their classes.
After school, Nili headed home quickly, wanting to get some pictures taken before dinner. Rushing inside her house, she dumped her bag on the floor of her bedroom and grabbed her sneakers, camera, and an extra roll of film.
“Mom,” she yelled as she waked through the kitchen towards the back door, “I’m going over to the campgrounds.”
“Be back in time for supper, and be careful,” her mom yelled back.
Nili let the back door swing shut and hopped in the car. It was a twenty minute drive to Jamboree Campgrounds, and Nili enjoyed every minute of it – watching the rolling hills go by, speckled with cows and sheep. She turned into the campground and drove towards the back of the area, parking by the entrance into the forest. This was her favorite place to go and take pictures; the scenery was enchanting and the atmosphere was soothing.
Today, however, as she wandered through the forest, she could feel a difference. The air was charged with excitement, and her muscles tensed at the smallest sound. Giggling at her own jumpiness, Nili came to the waterfall located at the heart of the forest. This was the place she liked to take pictures at the most, but today she felt like she wanted to explore a bit. The area south of the waterfall was uncultivated and wild – actually it was off limits. But Nili knew her way around a forest, so she set off, walking past the waterfall and towards a small cluster of trees. The land was even more beautiful than the cultivated areas, probably because no man had really touched it or altered it. She snapped photo after photo, quickly using up one roll of film.
About a half hour into her walk, Nili turned around and headed back towards the main trails, using the markers she had left to find her way back. Her mom would have thrown a fit if she had seen where Nili was, and what she was doing. She always told Nili when she was little and they went out, “If you lose your way or get lost, stop and pray and tell God you trust Him and He’ll lead you right home.” Nili had believed this when she was a child, but as she got older, trust in God became something she said more than showed. Now, as Nili once again found herself losing her way through the forest, searching hard for her trail markers in the fading light of dusk, she wondered about if her mother’s words so long ago were even logical. After all, why did she need Him to help her find her way? She took care of herself quite well, she didn’t need something to lead her; she was strong and able.
Nili had just rediscovered the second to last trail marker when she saw something on the floor of the forest. Stopping down she brushed aside a few brown leaves and picked up a small gray book. She turned and leaned against a nearby tree, opening the book and flipping through the pages. The pages were all blank, but when she closed the cover, there was something written on the front. Nili frowned, “I could’ve sworn that was blank too” she murmured. She squinted at the writing and read aloud. “‘Falling Stars’. Hmm, that’s cute.” she said, straightening up and continuing on her way, “Mom and Dad wanted me to get a notebook to take sermon notes in anyway. I guess you’ll do.” Nili stepped back onto the trail and started towards the parking lot, the gray notebook tucked under her arm and the sun starting to hide its face behind the hills.
When Nili got home, she threw her stuff in her room and went downstairs to eat supper. After supper and homework, she limped slowly over to her bed, said goodnight to her sister, and fell asleep. Quiet breathing filled the air and it huddled in the corner, waiting till Nili’s sister was deeply asleep before it decided to let its presence be known. Around 2 am Nili woke up (not a rather abnormal thing for her to do), but with a decided sense of something not being right. After getting a drink of water and returning to bed, she rolled over towards the wall, hesitated, and then rolled back, facing the middle of the room. Her eyes flicked over the content of the room, left to right. The dresser, her sister's bed, the closet, the door... she stopped at the door, and quickly looked back towards the closet, by her sister's bed.
An overpowering feeling came upon her, one of dread and fear as Nili observed something, dark and shapeless, crouched in front of the closet door. She searched her mind, trying to come up with what it might be - but unable to think of anything, she just lay there and stared at it. It never moved, but she could feel its presence begin and grow. It's nothing, I'm imagining things, Nili thought, even as her heart pounded, her breathing became shallow and her eyes flooded with tears.
After an hour of hiding underneath her covers, trying not to make any noise, she finally relaxed enough to go to sleep. But in the morning, when Nili woke, her bed was an absolute wreck, covers torn off and thrown everywhere.
"You toss and turn last night?" asked her sister.
"I guess," she said, surveying her side of the room with a twinge of apprehension. With a shrug, Nili went on with her daily routine, but in the back of her mind, the questions waited.
The next morning, the windows of Lucas Community Church offered little escape to Nili; the view was only of the rainy day outside. With a sigh, she turned back around and glanced towards the pulpit, a look of extreme boredom on her face. Pastor Dan was talking about trust again – he never could seem to let things be. He also seemed to always pull out some topic that her parents could use against her later on. The last thing they had used was about the notebook she had found in the woods. She had shown them what she had found and told them it was so she would have something to take sermon notes in, so she could study them, and she would use the notebook only for that and keep forever and all that crap. All they had had to say was that the title (that she did mention was already on the book) was evil looking, and hadn’t Pastor Dan preached about not reading or using things that even hinted of satanic things – good Lord, why couldn’t they let a few things be – don’t wear this, don’t look at these, don’t listen to this, don’t go here, don’t drink that…
Nili started a bit as she felt somebody tug at her notebook, which had slid to her side while she was thinking. Philip scribbled a few things on it and slowly slid it back to where it had been. Carefully Nili looked around to see if anyone had seen it, and when she was sure that nobody was watching, she picked up her notebook, shot a sheepish smile toward her parents, and pulled out her pen, pretending to be writing but in all reality just tracing over Philip’s words.
Whoa! Little spaced out there aren’t you Nature Girl? Couldn’t possibly be bored out of your mind could you? I thought Pastor Dan was like, your idol or something…
Nili let a small smile play on her lips and looked up at Pastor Dan, in his dowdy suit and long hair. She nodded and muttered a yes, acting like she was agreeing with what he was saying as she really replied to Phillip.
Oh yeah, my dreamboat - must be the mullet. Seriously though, aren’t you tired of him always preaching this stuff? It always seems like the same thing and always seems to have the same purpose to make me feel guilty or give my parents ammunition to make me feel guilty.
She let the notebook drift to her side again as she pretended to study the Bible passage pastor Dan had them flip to. While the congregation was flipping the pages in their Bibles, Philip nonchalantly picked up her notebook and scribbled some more in it.
I know what you mean – but what can we do, Nili? You looked a little ticked off when you came in – get up on the wrong side of the bed?
No I didn’t sleep very well last night – it was weird, I like, had a nightmare or something – I don’t know. That and I had to fight with her to get into the bathroom this morning – she totally drives me insane! You mean your sister?
Yeah! I mean, I know we’re complete opposites but still. She’s so, so annoying – and she does it on purpose. You have no idea – girls can be so rude and catty!
Nili laughed, quickly covering with a cough when her dad turned and shot her a glance. Philip had drawn two pictures in the notebook. One was of a black and white cat with her sister’s head, hissing “I get the bathroom first, Nili!” and the other was of two cats squaring off, one black and one white, with the words cat fight cat fight written around them.
You’re awful! Hey, whadaya think of my new notebook – pretty sweet huh? My parent’s about threw a bloody fit when I took it to church this morning. They don’t like the title – I don’t see what their big freakin’ deal is. I mean – it’s a whole load of crap, why do they have to make such a big deal out of things like this?
I know, my parents make a big deal out of crap to – it’s like they don’t understand that I don’t have to believe everything they tell me – I can make up my own mind.
Exactly what I’m saying! I like, almost hate coming to church anymore – it’s boring – I’d rather be at home sleeping. But I come, and I pretend to pay attention and I’m nice and I’m polite – and then the whole week my parent’s are like, have you been reading your Bible, what have you been learning, did you talk to somebody about God, how are you doing spiritually, what did you think about the sermon on Sunday, what was the lesson about in youth group – I just want them to leave me alone and quite trying to shove all this religion down my throat – I’m doing well enough. I don’t need to do any of that extra stuff; I wouldn’t have any time to live. And I don’t want to go through life focusing on all that and not being able to have any fun. Ya know?
Philip reached his hand over to pick up the notebook, but Nili’s dad reached across her and set it firmly in her lap, pinning them both with a glare. Pay attention, he mouthed, and they both sighed and returned their attention to the front of the church.
Once they got home after church, Nili didn’t wait to get yelled at. She walked into her parent’s room and said “I’m sorry” and pretended to listen to their concerns about her, nodding her head and eventually claiming to have a paper due tomorrow so she could escape to her room. With a huff of exasperation, she flung herself on her bed and pulled out the notebook.
“I don’t see what’s so wrong about you,” she murmured to it, “you’re a book. And since when can books hurt you?” She pulled it open and reread what she and Philip had written, getting worked up again just reading it. “You know what?” Nili said out loud, suddenly, “This is exactly right. Exactly right.”
Later that afternoon, she went for a walk with her mother, sister, and brother through the neighborhood where they lived. The walk was pleasant despite the humidity, the conversation funny, but about twenty minutes into the walk she sensed something. Nili peered over her shoulder and saw a black tail whisk behind a shed. Frowning, but otherwise unconcerned, she continued walking. They all smiled and laughed as a stray black and white cat joined them, seemingly leading them in the direction they should go. Once again, Nili paused as a shimmer of evil climbed up her spine. She slowly turned and saw a cat, strong and mean, as black as ink. “That cat’s weird looking!” she told her family, and they turned around to see. When the cat hissed, as if in reply, Nili and her family all started laughing – what was it with the cats today? By the time they were done giggling, they had run from a cat, they realized the black and white cat was gone.
Suddenly Nili heard a noise, a ferocious sound. Her mom, sister and brother had already started walking on, but since she was nosy, she followed it to a nearby house and inched up along the garage, looking around the corner warily. There was the black and white cat and, with a sigh, Nili started forward towards it, only to stop. As she stood there, the black and white cat walked through a shimmer of heat, and all of the sudden there were two cats - one black and one white. The cats circled each other, getting ready to fight, fur raised and mouths open, hissing and growling. While she watched, the black cat jumped on the white cat, ripping open its entire side with three easy strokes of its claws. With a scream, the white cat tried to get away, but the black cat pounced again, ripping apart its insides and shredding the white cat to pieces.
As the white cat lay, no longer white or a cat, but a puddle of blood, tissue and bones, the black cat turned and looked at Nili. She stood frozen, mesmerized, feeling the absolute hatred oozing out of the cat’s gaze. Without one backward glance, the cat turned and walked away. Nili stood one second longer, then tore off, calling for her family desperately. She rounded a corner and found them still calling for the cat. When she told them what happened, they seem to not believe her and brushed it off saying, “So what if it did happen? We were looking for a black and white cat weren’t we?”
“Yeah,” said Nili defensively, “but the black and white cat like split or something, I don’t know…”
“I think you’re suffering from heat stroke”, teased her mom.
“Yeah, maybe,” said Nili “I do have an overactive imagination...and it is pretty hot out here.” But even as she was saying this, she knew that what she had seen was not a flight of imagination or heat stroke. They turned around, walking back home, but with each step, Nili felt like she was carrying a heavy burden on her back. She peered over her shoulder again, and seeing nothing, kept walking on, even as the feeling grew and grew and grew…
3 AM. Nili shot up; sweat drenching her body, a scream still sounding out of her mouth. Her bed was torn apart, the covers wrapped tightly around her body, binding her in place the more she struggled with them. As Nili lay crying, she felt it again, and not wanting to face the faceless thing, she pulled one set of covers free and hid under them. Remembering the previous night, Nili took a deep breath and began to speak. “Jesus protect me, Jesus take it away, I’m scared, I’m so scared…” Muttering and rambling, she pleaded for the nightmares to end, the presence to stop, and after a few minutes, it eased enough that she slipped into a deep sleep.
The next morning Nili woke with a start, the ache still present in her soul, like her mind has been raped and pillaged. Slowly she got started with her day, only to be stopped by her family at the table.
“Are you feeling ok?” her mother asked.
“I’m fine,” Nili saids, “I just had a dream, a nightmare, that’s all.” She relayed it to them, only for her family to laugh, saying she has the strangest dreams.
With a sigh, Nili pulled out her homework, but after reading a few pages, found she still couldn’t focus. What was that thing in my room? she pondered and, after a little thought, decided that she didn’t want to know. So many odd things had been occurring…. the thing in her room, the presence she had felt, and was still feeling, the night terrors, waking up crying and screaming…. what did it mean? Was there really a point to this? Nili sat in her chair, dwelling on these things. Maybe I’ll try sleeping in another room tonight, maybe that’ll help. It was worth a try wasn’t it?
Night came and Nili piddled around, waiting until her family had gone to bed before bunking out in the living room. She was hesitant at first, frightened a bit by the emptiness and vastness of the room, but eventually she settled her nerves and stretched out to sleep. Bong! Bong! Bong! Bong! – The old grandfather clock rang four, waking Nili from her dreamless sleep. Stretching and rolling over, she settled back into the pillows closing her eyes – and reopening them. Across the room, looking like it was sitting in a chair was the shadow. She drew her breath in sharply, but forced herself to keep her eyes open, making her gaze stroll through the room, looking at things, trying to appear as if she had not seen the being. Slowly Nili brought her eyes back to the chair and the shadow. It was still black and almost formless…but this time she could make out something more… almost a head…
The harder Nili stared at it, the more she could feel physical changes happening around her. The air grew taught with a heavy presence; the atmosphere was chilling, her eyes burning as they struggled to make out more discernable features. “What are you?” Nili whispered, “What do you want?” The shadow was silent, its gaze an ever present feeling in the pit of her stomach, a constant ache in her mind, almost torture to her soul. As she continued staring at the shadow, mesmerized by the hatred pouring out from it, Nili noticed a light that seemed to squirm across the room. She dismissed it as the nearby street lights shining through the window and returned her attention to the shadow – frightened of it but still helpless to ignore it. Suddenly she felt cold, as something icy and small slid up her spine. Nili shivered, trying to touch her back, as if the feeling were alive.
The feeling then continued, sliding up her spine and neck, as if it was a snake. Nili jerked and tried to smack the feeling off her neck, but found her arms too heavy to lift, as if bound to her side. Her breathing became erratic as the snake-like coldness slithered up the side of her face. The more she struggled, the harder it became to even breath, but still Nili fought, trying to break free.
Suddenly there was a flash of silver, and her head exploded with pain. Nili sat straight up, as a light reflected and then all was darkness again. She shook with fear, and glanced toward the chair, noticing the shadow was gone. With a half-sob, she lay her head down to go back to sleep and looked towards the window. For a second it looked as if her temple was glowing, but as she peered closer, it seemed like just a refraction of light. Sighing, Nili flipped over, shielding her eyes from seeing anything. Eventually she fell asleep, her body inactive, but her mind still quaking from the encounter. Nili woke up around 5:30a.m., her body feeling stiff and sore as if she had spent the whole night being beaten. Slowly she rolled off of the couch, letting her feet sink into the comfort of the rug, even as her thoughts sunk in. Last night – the shadow – her head…what did it all mean? As much as she just wanted to laugh it off as a dream, Nili knew she couldn’t. What had happened had been real – real and tangible. Her hand reached up and massaged her temple as a pain shot through her mind. She trudged through the house and flopped down at the kitchen table.
“Sweetheart, what’s with the funky mood?” asked her dad.
“I don’t know Daddy, I’m just tired.”
“I saw you slept on the couch – bed too lumpy or what?”
“No”, replied Nili, “I just wanted a change of pace.” They both sat there for a few minutes, the only noise that of cereal being munched and coffee being slurped. Then Nili, mustering up some humility, cleared her throat.
“Umm, Dad?” she asked.
“I was just wondering, um, if you believed in, oh… I don’t know, you know when you hear or read about people who see something in their houses?”
“Like ghosts?” he replied, “I don’t believe in ghosts, but I definitely believe in demons taking human form and tormenting people.”
“Demons?” Nili shuddered, “I guess, but they can’t really do anything to Christians can they? I mean, aren’t they here to torment people who aren’t saved?”
“Didn’t you listen in church last week? You really need to start taking notes and quit passing them during the lesson,” admonished her dad. “Demons can torment anybody – it’s just whether you take it or not. Satan loves to go after Christians. He wants to knock down the ones who are growing like crazy, and he wants to keep those who are struggling down so they’re ineffective.”
“Oh,” said Nili quietly.
“Why are you asking Nili?”
“I just wondered, that’s all”
“Ok,” and with that statement her dad returned to his food and coffee.
Nili returned to her food, but found she pushed the cereal around the bowl. With a sigh, she left the room and headed for her bathroom. She stepped through the doorway and froze. The temperature had dropped instantly as she entered the room. Fear flooded her mind and she felt a breeze of even colder air taunt her from the direction of her bed. Nili hesitated as her heart rushed up to her throat and her hands started shaking. The room smelled like death and it was dusky since the morning light hadn’t dawned yet. She glanced and seeing nothing, walked to the sink, gripping the sides to support herself and glancing into the mirror. Her reflection stared back at her – her face twisting into a leer and eyes mocking her. Nili gasped, seeing the shadow’s eyes glaring at her where her own eyes should have been reflected.
“What do you want?” Nili whispered, finding the words easier to get out than she thought.
“What do you think I want” replied her reflection in a deep gravely voice, obviously not hers.
“I don’t know, but I want this to stop” she answered, feeling brave. I can handle this, she smirked to herself, why was I thinking I needed to get help somewhere else?
Her reflection laughed at her, “You think you can do anything? I have control.”
Nili became uncomfortable – she couldn’t possibly be having a conversation with her reflection, she must be sleepwalking. She turned to walk away, but before she could take a step, she saw it and tremors overtook her body. There, sitting on the edge of the bathtub, was a person. The body was dark, but the face, arms, legs, and torso – everything was discernable. The shadow had human-like features and its eyes held Nili’s as she shook. The shadow flowed towards her, and Nili could do nothing but stand still, her feet rooted to the floor. The shadow lifted one hand and closed its wispy fingers around her throat. Nili started, as if coming out of shock, and then reached up, trying to pull at the relentless grip around her neck. When her hands closed around something solid, her eyes shot to the shadows, and she couldn’t pull away her gaze: it was bound in place by the evil seeping from the shadows eye sockets. She struggled to breathe, her hands still pulling at the cold fingers around her neck, her eyes still locked to the shadows. It grinned, lifting her up off the floor, raising her towards the ceiling. Nili began to kick her legs, even as her lips opened and closed noiselessly, desperately trying to draw in air.
Her mind drew a blank; she knew she was struggling uselessly, but what else could she do? Then it hit her. Jesus, she thought, her eyes still caught in the shadows. The shadow’s gaze intensified, and it lifted her higher, so her head brushed the ceiling. Jesus, Jesus, Oh Lord Jesus, help me Jesus. The thoughts came easier, and they rushed through her mind and soul frantically. Help me, Help me, Savior, help me – please Jesus, please.
Suddenly she fell to the floor with a thump. Gasping and weeping, she lay on the bathroom floor, whispering through her tattered breaths, “Jesus, Jesus, Jesus….” After a few minutes, she shakily stood up, using the bathtub and the wall to balance herself. The shadow was gone, no trace that it was ever there – she didn’t even have a mark on her neck, and she was staring at her natural reflection in the mirror. Where do I go from here?
Nili, still shaken by the encounter, trudged slowly up to her room, only pausing once to growl at her brother before going and getting ready for school. The more awake she became, the more she realized that she was just letting things get to her. After all, didn’t people who were worried or stressed a lot start having paranoia too? That had to be it. There was no other explanation – at least no other logical ones. Nili shivered, and finished putting her shoes on.
“Mom, did you pick up my pictures for me?” she called across the hall.
“Yes Nili, I put them in the living room, on the coffee table.”
“Thanks,” Nili replied, and tripped down the stairs, snatching the pictures before heading outside.
As she walked to school, she forced herself to think of schedule for the day, trying to keep her mind off of what had happened earlier. Today was basically normal, except that the youth group was having a party out at Jamboree Campgrounds tonight instead of at the church. That would be kind of cool, and Philip was supposed to be there. Nili smiled to herself, walking up the stairs to the main floor of the high school and around the corner into her first class. By the time lunch came around, Nili could hardly take it anymore. The pictures had been in her backpack all morning and half the afternoon – she couldn’t wait to see what they looked like – and to show Philip. She bounded into the lunchroom, quickly spotting Philip and heading over to the table he was sitting at.
“Hi Nili, how’re you doing?”
“I’m doing ok,” replied Nili, “I’m tired though, and my head aches.”
Philip nodded sympathetically, “You shouldn’t drink so many beers before going to bed, it’ll do that to you.” Nili laughed and smacked at him “You’re such a dork, like I would actually do that. Hey, I brought my new pictures, want to check them out?”
“Sure,” said Philip with a smile, “I bet they’re great.”
“Well I don’t know,” blushed Nili as she fumbled to open the pictures, “I haven’t even looked at them yet…..” Her sentence died off as Nili stared at the first picture in her hand, a fission of fear going through her mind. Philip looked at her weirdly.
“Nili, what’s up? Let me see.” He scooted his chair around and stared at the pictures in Nili’s hand. “What’s with the huge shadow?” he asked, “Did you take pictures in the rain or what?”
“No,” mumbled Nili, “It was bright and clear that day.” They flipped through the whole roll, and then Nili flipped back through them again, as if that would change anything. In every single picture, there was the shadow, in its originally unformed state. Nili’s heart raced in panic, even as she reasoned it out.
“You know, come to think of it, there were some pretty tall trees around this area – I bet it’s just an overlaying shadow from one of them.”
“You’re probably right,” agreed Philip, “These are still really nice looking, though. You’ll have to show me where you took them at.”
“I will,” said Nili, finally coming out of the shock, “That is if you’re still coming tonight?”
“If you’re there, I’m there,” he replied. The lunch bell rang, they said their goodbyes, and Nili spent the rest of the school day trying to forget what she had seen in the pictures. When she got home, she ran back up to her room, took a quick shower and started getting ready for the party. Warring emotions fought inside of her; she was excited about spending the whole night with Philip, but she was unusually anxious. The pictures, which she had tried to put out of her mind, were still bothering her. Nili took them out of her purse and threw them in the trashcan, heading out the door. She wasn’t going to let them bother her tonight – tonight she was going to have fun.
At the campground, everything was in full swing, teens running all over the place and laughter echoing through the place. The youth leaders gave them all permission to wander around and do whatever until the bonfire later, and Philip quickly found Nili.
“Hey Nili, want to go for a walk?”
“Sure” she replied, and taking his arm she followed him into the forest. They soon came to the waterfall and the split in the trail. “This is where I took that last bunch of pictures at; do you want me to show you where I was?”
“Yeah, that’d be great” Philip said and she started to lead him off the trail. With each step she took, her muscles grew taught. The noise of the birds in the trees ceased, and she worriedly looked over at Philip. He didn’t seem to notice anything, so she kept on walking, going farther and farther out until she came to the spot. They looked around for a little bit, poking at stuff, talking and laughing. After about twenty minutes, Philip looked at his watch and said “Hey, dinner starts in a half hour – if we start back now, we’ll get there in time.” "Ok," answered Nili and they started back.
They hadn't gone two feet when Nili faltered and cried out. There, standing in front of them, was the shadow. It had full human form, and it spoke by itself.
"Why, hello there," said the shadow.
"C'mon Nili, we're going to be late," Philip tugged on her arm.
"Don't you see that, Philip" she asked, her voice faint.
"See what? Listen, we need to get going, I'm seriously hungry." Nili tried to move, but every time she took a step forward she staggered, as if taking a blow to the stomach.
"What's your problem Nili?" asked Philip, angrily, "I'm not playing around...are you coming or not." Nili just looked at him, trying to get the words out, but seeming to be unable to speak.
"Fine,” said Philip, “I'm out of here. I'll talk to you later." With that, he took off, leaving Nili alone, to face the thing.
"Now what are you going to do," the shadow asked smoothly, "You're all alone, Nili - and you're all mine."
"How do you know my name?" replied Nili, finding she had a voice. The shadow just chuckled, shaking its head at her.
"You have no idea what you've gotten yourself into do you? But that's all right with me."
"I don't think it's fair that you know my name and I don't know yours," said Nili, feeling a bit better now that she could speak.
"Getting a bit bold aren't we?" mocked the shadow, "Are you feeling stronger? You shouldn't be. I have all the power right now, and I'm afraid there's not much you can do about it. And why should I tell you my name, when you don't even understand yours."
"What are you talking about? And why are you doing this? I don't understand." A pain shot through Nili's head as the shadow smiled, a deep sinister smile.
"I know. That's the beauty of it all. I'm here, because of you - you have everything to do with me being here. Doesn't that make you feel special, Nili?" For a twisted moment, it did. After all, how many people have things coming after them - she must be on of those Christians that Dad was talking about who.....
"Wait a second; I know what you're trying to do. You're trying to stop me, to slow me down..."
"No," replied the shadow, sarcastically, "Am I? What does it matter - what can you do anyway? You’re incapable of anything." Nili was almost rocked backwards with a wave of fear - it was right. What could she do? She had no power over it obviously, and she didn't even know where it came from. Unless... Nili stuck her hand into her coat pocket and pulled out the notebook.
"This is how you came to be isn't it," she asked.
"Yes," replied the shadow, "it’s how you chose to welcome me in, but I could have come any way I wanted to, by any means. You made it very easy, and it actually looked quite inviting to come and 'visit' you," it laughed. Nili looked down at the notebook. Slowly she opened, flipping through the once blank pages, now filled with line after line of her writing. The conversation with Philip at church, the pictures, her complaints about her family and God... it sank in and numbed Nili to the bone. Through each of the things she had written in the book, she had given it more power. She could see that now; see how it had progressed, like cancer, throughout the notebook. Would that mean that the only way to stop it would be through the book?
She knew the shadow could hear all of her thoughts, because it suddenly moved towards her, becoming more menacing as it got closer.
"You're wrong, you're dead wrong, why would anything you think work? Don't you remember what your parents have told you? Strength comes through a relationship that you don't have - you're useless, why would anyone want you?
Nili struggled to clear her thoughts as she was bombarded with what the shadow whispered. Lord give me strength, she thought, and the voice in her mind dimmed a bit. If she had given the shadow power through what she had put in the book, couldn't she take it away in the same way? Nili grabbed a pen and sat down on the grass, opening the notebook.
I believe that God loves me.
The shadow had by now reached her side and was whispering in her ear. As she wrote these words, it hissed in pain, and began its speech again, this time with more earnestness.
"What good can that do? Don't you know that you are all powerful? You can do anything you want."
Only through God can anything be accomplished.
"You write that," the shadow grimaced, "but that doesn't mean anything. You shouldn't trust anybody but yourself - you are the key to your own happiness, life and salvation."
The shadow reached down and gripped Nili's head, causing pain to ricochet through it. A light flashed from her temple and the brightness blinded her. She felt around for the notebook and finding it, scribbled across the pages unevenly, I trust God - I trust Him completely. The shadow tightened its grip on her head, wrapping its other hand around her wrist, tugging at it, trying to force the pen out of her fingers.
"All the things your parents ever told you about Him? They're all lies - none of this Christianity stuff is true! It'll get you nowhere in life, it's all false," the shadow raged. She fought back, placing the notebook under their struggling hands and focusing as hard as she could in her heart on what she wanted to say.
God is LORD of my life. The shadow screamed, and began to tear furiously at Nili. She cried out and flung herself at her notebook.
Be gone in Jesus' name. I am His own.
Suddenly the shadow was gone, and the tension eased instantly. Nili looked around in shock; it was like nothing had ever happened. Everything looked the same, except for the notebook laying in her lap. The wind blew through and flipped the pages, relieving whiteness where before her pen had marred the pages. The wind caught the cover and Nili grabbed the book before it would blow away. The title now read “Beloved.” Nili let herself breathe then, tears streaming down her face. "I am Your own Lord; I am Your own - from this point on."
“I have a really stupid question for you... but I was wondering...what does my name mean?”
“I though you knew what your name meant, honey” said her mom, “It’s not an interesting story, we just came across it one day, and felt like the right name for you. It's a Hebrew acronym. It means 'the Glory of the Lord does not lie”
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