Camel's Hair and Locusts: Is Anybody There?

It must have been the very late fall of 1971.  Maybe early December.  It was a cold, central Michigan night but the pavement was clear and the air was dry, and I was flying around the curves on River Road, easily slipping up and down through the gears and putting my '65 Triumph Herald through its paces. 

I was drunk but I don't remember how or why other than I had just turned 18, and in January the legal drinking age was about to change, and I know some of my friends and I took this as an opportunity to get a head start on our rapidly approaching young adulthood.  As I think back, this might have followed a night of road beers in Mike Naffziger's very cherry red '68 Camaro.  I remember now.  That was it.  Dave Hoxie, Steve Burke and I had left our cars in a downtown Alma parking lot and had killed a six pack apiece while cruising the back roads out west of town with Naffziger.  Afterwards, we picked up our cars to go home, and it was too early and I was too drunk to sneak into the house, so I decided to kill some time by running the curves on River Road, out north of St. Louis. 

So, I was out on River Road alone and suddenly feeling drunker than before, when another car came up on my rear and jockeyed out into the left lane to pass.  I decided that wasn't going to happen.  Accelerating, I drifted half way into the other lane, then angled back and hugged the right line like a Formula One driver to set up my drift through the next curve.  Whoever was behind me caught on and the race was on.  The four cylinder Triumph wasn't powerful, but its handling characteristics were excellent, and I did know how to drive it.  The faster American car could run up on my tail but he couldn't get around me, and this went on for several miles.  Paying more attention to my rear view mirror than to the road in front of me, I felt victorious as the headlights of the slowing vehicle behind me began to move farther back.  Then, out of nowhere, the old one lane WPA steel bridge that was still there in those days appeared, and I was suddenly breaking, downshifting, swerving and terrified.  Somehow, I missed the concrete abutment and proceeded to fishtail across the bridge, just missing the side rails and finally decelerating off of the other side. 

By now I was panting and shaking, and pulled off on the shoulder and stopped.  The driver of the other car came off of the bridge and turned his dome light on so I wouldn't miss the fact that he was giving me the finger as he drove past.  The insult thus added to the injury, he sped off into the night and I was alone.  My stomach was heaving and I got out into the cold night air and vomited violently behind the car.  The exhaust fumes and a whiff of hot transmission grease inspired an additional round of dry heaves, and it felt like my guts had turned inside out.  I climbed back into the car and wiped my mouth on the napkins from the A&W I kept stashed in the glove box, then decided that it was now time to head for home.

As I rolled easily and much more slowly back down River Road and through St. Louis, then down Michigan Avenue towards Alma, I found myself sober enough to be deeply shaken by what had just occurred, and drunk enough yet to come up with an idea I wouldn't have followed through on sober, even if it had occurred to me, which it probably would not have. 

I turned into the Eastminster Presbyterian Church lot and decided that I was going to go in and pray—something I did little of at this point in my life.  Pulling around to the back of the church where I would not attract the attention of the late night police patrols, I went in through the back door and made my way through the fellowship hall to the sanctuary.  I sat in the back of the church in the dark and I found myself overwhelmed by the quiet.  I tried to speak to God, to give thanks for the fact that I wasn't being pulled mangled and dead from the wreckage of my little sports car, and in the quietude and peace, where I expected to find solace, I found nothing at all.  It seemed empty and cold and dark, like the universe itself.  And I was alone.

Slowly, the anger I had bottled up in me began to bubble and slowly come to a boil. 

I was going to college and hated it.  I just wanted to work and make money, but my boss at JC Penney's had told me that if I wasn't going to college they would hire someone who was willing to do so.  Fine by me, as I was a hard worker and jobs were a dime a dozen in those days, but my folks kept telling me that they wanted me to have the advantage of the education that they could never have, though from my perspective they certainly hadn't done badly without it.  A highly unmotivated student, I was in the process of flunking out of Alma College and blowing the money I had saved through high school in the bargain, and it wasn't lost on me at all that this was enough to buy a really nice set of wheels.  And I was much more motivated toward making money and driving nice cars than I was toward a college education.  The one reason I had always had for going to school was to avoid going to Vietnam, but a high number in the lottery solved that problem, and the benefit of a deferment had evaporated before I had even left high school.

My life seemed to have no purpose and no meaning.  And to give it some was going to mean confronting all of this and making some major changes.  And there would be wailing and gnashing of teeth at my house to make this happen.  In the midst of this, I had worked out a plan with my grandmother in secret that would eventually allow me to assume control of what was left of the last farm property in the family, and this was the point in my life when I was truly getting in touch with my deep country roots.  But I also knew that this was a major transition and required a maturity that I believed I could grow into, but had yet to achieve.  It was a dream much more than a done deal, and the truth of this would shortly be revealed in no uncertain terms.

And the back drop to all of this was the fact that though my childhood and young social life were centered around an active church participation, I now quietly, but also deeply, questioned my faith in God.  I did not know how to approach my pastor about this, so, in the fall of 1971, I had made my first attempt at finding the answer to this deeper question by taking a religion class at Alma College.  The class I chose was taught by Dr. J. Tracy Luke, a man my father knew and liked, and someone I knew from the times he had preached at Eastminster.  This proved to be a much different experience than what I expected, as the man who I thought would help me strengthen my faith had, in truth, lost his.  And though this was an Old Testament class, many of his lectures ended up in diatribe against the Christian faith and in a renunciation of church and all it stood for.  And so, here was the ordained Presbyterian pastor I had chosen as the man who would reveal the deeper Christian truth to me, displaying a harsh bitterness towards the faith and a deep disdain for those who sincerely believed it.  In those days, I didn't speak up in class.  I just listened and learned; took it all in.  And, as I sat there in the darkness and cold of this empty church that had brought me so many joyful moments in more innocent days past, it suddenly seemed to be the great lie Dr. Luke said it was.  There was nothing here.   There was no one here.  And this was the moment in which I came to believe that Tracy Luke was right.

On somewhat wobbly legs, I made my way up to the front of the sanctuary.  The pale light from the car wash next door showed through the colored windows and cast a surreal and eerie glow over the scene.  I stood facing the cross on the back wall and I proceeded to give God the tongue lashing I only hoped his ears would hear:  "You didn't save me tonight, I was just lucky.  You're not even there and if you are, you are so far away you don't care about me or anybody else.  There is no love in you and this is all just bullshit...."  

On and on it went like this, and the longer I ranted the more emotional I became.  With tears now streaming down my face and choked with raw emotion, I screamed into the dark, "If you are real show yourself!  Why do you hide?  Reveal yourself!  Show me you are real and show me what to do and I will do it!  Give me a sign and I will follow it!  Show me the truth and I will believe it!  And if you want to strike me dead, do it!  Come on, do it!"

I waited for the revelation, the lightning strike, whatever it was that God was going to do to prove to me he was real, but nothing happened.  No answer.  The silence became more deafening, and I fell to the floor on the steps leading up to the altar, or "Lord's Table" as it is called in Presbyterianism,  and wept as bitterly as Peter, though believing that it was the Lord who had denied me and not the other way around.  The silence and the darkness only seemed to confirm the emptiness I felt inside of me.  My worst fears were realized.  There was no God.  Or worse, there was and he didn't care.

With my head now pounding, I got slowly to my feet and slipped quietly back through the church and climbed in the Triumph waiting outside.  As usual, the little engine fired on a quarter turn and I rolled through the parking lot with the lights off.  Entering the street and flipping the switch on resulted in an almost blinding brightness.  The truth of artificial light.  I drove home in the numbed silence of my mind, slipped quietly into the house, went to bed and slept it off. 
From the time of this late night non-encounter with God at Eastminster, there occurred what Lemony Snicket would call "a series of unfortunate events."  In January, my grandmother suffered a massive heart attack and died suddenly, and so did the dream of the farm.  In May, my other grandmother passed away from the same cause and almost as suddenly.  These were two women of quiet strength and deep faith who had both been a kind and loving inspiration to me, and I felt their loss deeply, as did our family in general, and my parents in particular.  By this time, my friend Rex Fetzner's older brother, Gary, who had been our Sunday School teacher and a pillar of faith and spiritual strength in his fight against Multiple Sclerosis, was now clearly losing the battle and was obviously gong to succumb to the disease—which he subsequently did.  Gary was a hero to me, and the more I prayed for him to recover, the sicker he became.  This may not have been the sole cause of my anger with God and the unbelief that resulted, but it was surely a major contributing factor.  However, the coup de gras to my mortally wounded faith came on a beautiful, early summer day when Bobby Macdonald, the six year old son of our pastor, Ross, was hit by a truck and, in spite of several hours of emergency surgery and the fervent prayers of the entire community, died from his injuries later that same day.  This meant that when I finally saw the need to turn to my pastor in hopes of strengthening my own faith, I would find him, understandably enough, struggling with his own.

By the early fall of 1972 I had entered into an ongoing and deep depression and had begun a slow, downward spiral into unbelief that would ultimately result in years of doing wrong things for what seemed like right reasons, and right things for wrong reasons I was unable to recognize.  Losing sight of heaven now made me concentrate my energies within the world, and material success was easy to achieve and seemed to fill the holes and dark places in my life.  Flunking out of school initially seemed like a good thing, as I worked full time and made money and drove better cars—first a '71 Mustang Fastback 2+2 and, when I tired of it, a bright red Triumph Spitfire.  I continued to attend church out of force of habit and because it was my social life.  It was at church that I met a girl named Cheryl McCarty who was a student at Alma College and, mostly because everyone else thought we were such a nice couple, we ended up deciding to marry.  It seemed like a good idea at the time.  And with any real belief in God voided from the equation, I now saw church as a powerful force for social good and a source of healing for troubled souls, and after broaching the subject of the Presbyterian ministry with the still grieving Ross Macdonald, he seemed to grasp onto this idea with an enthusiasm greater than my own.

This would, of course, mean going back to college for a bachelor's degree, and then on to seminary for three years, and this raised obvious issues for someone who was not merely a drop out but a flunk out.  However, by applying myself and working hard I had done very well in the working world, and, by the time I turned 20 in the fall of 1973, I was a local assistant manager at the new K-Mart in Mt. Pleasant.  I made good money, was respected as something of a wunderkind by my bosses and co-workers, and was being groomed for company management.  This had me brimming with self confidence at the same time that I was growing tired of being looked down upon as intellectually deficient and a failure by those who thought this was what it meant when I was asked to leave Alma College.  And many with this attitude were counted among those I attended church with, and I relished the idea of sticking this right in their faces and showing them that I was as good as their kid and as good as anybody else.  Hell, even better. 

As for Cheryl, she was totally enamored of the life of a pastor's wife, and so we had ourselves a plan.  This plan was put into effect when we were married in the spring of 1974.  Going back to Alma College turned out to be a relatively easy matter of getting my grade point average up to 2.0 and demonstrating elsewhere that I had the ability to succeed as a student.  I enrolled in three courses at Montcalm Community College in Sydney, and enjoyed many a glorious morning in the summer of '74 roaring the forty miles to Sydney with the top down on the Spitfire.  I found the classwork easy and enjoyable, and racked up three "A's" in my three classes.  My grade point average breasted the tape at 2.1, and Alma College welcomed me home in September.  I asked Tracy Luke to be my faculty adviser and I began to mold an academic career in the likeness and image of his.

At church, I began working as Ross McDonald's paid assistant.  I remember hearing Jerry Falwell once refer to the ministry students at what was then Liberty Baptist College as his "little preacher boys," and while I found this remark distasteful, it aptly described what I was and what I did for Ross McDonald.  To be fair, I enjoyed it.  It was easy, and the more pastoral Ross, as my mentor in learning the Presbyterian ministry, proved to be a nice counterbalance to the acerbic, sarcastic and outspoken Tracy Luke, and I began to mold my professional life in the likeness and image of his.  I got the opportunity to preach, discovered I was quite good at it, and earned the respect that I had sought by doing all of this.  And I had a wife who was proud and pleased with the progress of her little preacher boy. 

For a while, this all went very smoothly.  In fact, it went so smoothly and I was so focused and absorbed in what I was doing that it took me very much by surprise when Ross Macdonald took me in his office one day, closed the door, and confided in me that he had accepted a new position as an associate pastor at a bigger Presbyterian Church in the town of Pittsfield, New York.  I was stunned.  And since the time required to fill his position with a new pastor was 18 months or so, the question of who would do this in the interim was of general importance to everyone and of particular importance to me.  And the solution that he had come up with was equally surprising: he had asked Tracy Luke to assume the duties of the Moderator of the Session (the governing body of the church) while I would gain even more valuable experience running the day to day operations of the church in an expanded version of my role as preacher boy.  I could supply the pulpit three Sundays a month and Tracy could do the other.  We could share the pastoral duties and I would run the basic programming.  It all sounded good, and when Ross confided to Tracy and to me that he and his wife, Ginny, were not dealing well with the death of their son and desperately needed a change in their lives, it all sounded necessary. 
So the Macdonalds left for Pittsfield at the time of our first wedding anniversary, and my life, my marriage, and the life of Eastminster Presbyterian Church deteriorated rapidly.  The church was in financial crisis, there was a threat from the Presbytery to revoke the charter and merge it with the much disliked bigger Presbyterian Church in town, and the infighting between the various factions that had been suppressed under Ross for the sake of church unity now re-erupted.  Suddenly it seemed as though all of the pots on the stove that Ross Macdonald had been able to keep a lid on boiled over at once.  Tracy Luke's approach to the session and the congregation was to heal their wounds by ripping off the bandages, scrubbing them in public, and dousing it all with iodine.  And the more this made the faithful howl, the more effective he determined he was being.  In fact, he enjoyed it.  And now that my professional life in the church was also molded in the likeness and image of my academic career at college, I found myself square in the middle of this and began following my leader by denouncing the church and the very Christian faith itself from the pulpit.  And in the midst of this turmoil, my young wife learned to loathe me, and, in my self righteous hubris, I her.

By the time the academic year ended at Alma College in the spring of 1976, the Eastminster session had convened without Tracy Luke or myself present and decided that they would do whatever was necessary to call a pastor sooner rather than later.  It was determined that my services were no longer required, and this was fine by me.  Since I had become so adept at alienating the congregation present from the pulpit, I took the honor of preaching at Cheryl's home church in Sarnac on the July 4th weekend of the Bicentennial as an opportunity to expound upon the ills of the United States as well as denounce the Christian faith, and did so in a way calculated to be of maximum offense to her conservative Republican parents.  And my calculations were right on the mark.  After a quiet and tense ride home, she moved out the next day.  This was a relief to both of us, as at least it meant the constant arguing and fighting was finally over.  I was so tired of hearing about what an ass I was that I decided I would prove it once and for all, and I most certainly did.  I actually ended a marriage with a sermon, and, in a twisted kind of way, I was even proud of myself.

The fall of 1976 marked the beginning of my senior year at Alma College and it began under far different circumstances than I had originally expected.  A friend of mine moved in to the apartment Cheryl and I had shared, and then his girlfriend moved in with him, and I didn't mind, as it covered the expenses.  I began to hang out with my college friends, and for the only time in my college career, I actually lived like a student without all of the responsibility and drama that had been the case heretofore.  The extra time I now had on my hands was devoted to smoking marijuana, going to the bars, and finishing up the light class load I had in preparation of graduation.  On rare occasions, I did heavier hallucinogens like LSD or mescaline.  I spent much more time with Jack Quirk, my best friend in the religion department, and someone I quietly admired because he had somehow maintained his basic faith in God even in the face of persecution from our professors, including, and perhaps most notably, Tracy Luke.  I had left mine on the floor of Eastminster Presbyterian Church, right in front of the Lord's Table on a cold, December night some years before.  One would think that in the study of religion at a Presbyterian college this would make me the exception rather than the rule, but it wasn't so.  Jack Quirk, as a believer, was the exception in our department.  And those who did openly profess to be Christians in that place and at that time, were routinely ridiculed, belittled and mocked, and I know this for a fact because I did this myself and was proud of it.  Proud of it.

When winter term came, I found myself in need of one class to meet the requirements for graduation.  Money was tighter now because I had thought I was graduating in December, and the one science class I was short took me by surprise.  Since my folks now spent their winters in Florida,  I was able to let go of the apartment and move into their house in Alma for the last few months of my college career.  This allowed me more time to be introspective, and the first inkling I had that there might be a spiritual awakening in the offing was the fact that I decided, much against my usual egoism, to drop my senior honors thesis.  The topic I was working on was the origin of the Christ concept in the dying and rising god motifs of the ancient Canaanite Ba'al myths, and when I realized at one point in my research that Satanism had it's origin in these ancient pagan myths, I knew that I would eventually end up arguing that Christ and Satan actually shared a common historical origin.  The idea that an historical argument could be made that Jesus Christ and Satan were, essentially, the same person amused Tracy Luke, and my first inclination was towards excitement at thinking of such a radical topic to write upon.  But the more I thought about it, and as I did the research for it, I found something deep within in me that didn't want to turn this corner.  I touched a profound sadness in the murky depths of my being that spoke to me and said quietly, "This stops here."

A great emptiness now seemed to fill me and engulf my life.  I was lonely in a way that companionship with friends and even my deeper conversations with Jack Quirk couldn't fill.  It was a spiritual loneliness that he demonstrated with a voice that echoed in the void, "Is anybody there?" It was an existential voice that posed a question the answer to which was the lack of any answer.  I had asked this question that night years before when I had almost died on River Road, and the answer still reverberated, not answered and yet not unanswered.  Still it echoed in the void which meant that it had continued to be asked.  An argument from silence is not valid historical method.  The lack of an answer is not a definitive proof.  I still wanted to know:  Is anybody there?  The question was still valid and the lack of an answer proved nothing.  Perhaps the question itself was invalid if posed to a God who proved to be as distant and uninvolved as that imagined by the Deists.  Perhaps the question of a greater spiritual reality could be posed to a closer and less disinterested entity.  But where to find one?

Springtime came and with it graduation.  Rather than defined by the second year student, the term "sophomoric" might better serve as a description for one with a newly minted bachelor's degree who now believes himself to be an anointed expert in his chosen field of endeavor.  I saw my new diploma as proof that I was now a bona fide expert in matters religious, historical and theological, and as a credential that justified my quest to prove my evolving theory that to find God required a first step of establishing the existence of the supernatural.  I saw this as both a spiritual quest and an academic pursuit, and it made perfect sense to me that success could lead to a paper far beyond the scope of my discarded senior thesis.  Maybe even a book.

Graduation was in mid April of 1977, and I spent the next couple of weeks in the library reading what I could find on spiritualism and the supernatural.  There was little of scientific or academic value in the works I found, and it was quickly apparent that occultists such as the theosophists were charlatans and the so called "spirit mediums" frauds.  The works of Carlos Castaneda came to mind, but to pursue this course as he did meant a chance encounter with someone who was involved in the "deeper way of knowledge," as those who practiced this sort of thing were not to be found in the Yellow Pages.

With May came the Alma College Spring Term classes, and with nothing much better to do, I served Tracy Luke's local archeology class as something like an ad hoc graduate adviser, as I had taken this class for three years and knew my way around the procedures.  I led a field survey team, which established the location of new sites of prehistoric human occupation, and required someone who could relate to local farmers and also recognize and verify the signs we were searching for.  Like my mentor, Dr. Luke, I could be down to earth, warm and charming in such situations, just as I could be terribly caustic and upsetting in the pulpit.

One of the students in this class was a girl named Melissa McKinstry, a strange waif of a girl who babbled to herself and seemed off somewhere in her own little world.  I noticed that the other students treated her as something of a pet and an oddity, and I don't mean that in a cruel way at all, as she was also treated with a certain dignity and an amused respect.  When I mentioned to one of the boys in the class that she seemed somewhat, well, different, he said, "You mean just in general or because she does stuff like talk to dead people."  This piqued my interest and I decided that Melissa was someone who should talk to me.  And so I made it a point to strike up a conversation with her and the result of this would far exceed any expectations I could have had.

Melissa McKinstry told me of living in a farmhouse populated with ghosts, of encounters with the spirits of the dead and disenfranchised, and of a spiritual world filled with wonders and delights as well as horrors and fearsome creatures.  It was a parallel world that co-existed and interacted with the physical realm, but did so in a way that was imperceptible to any but those few who where tuned in to this other reality.  She told tales of losing her consciousness in this realm and somehow going through the motions of her life until awaking with no memories of a seven year period.  Astounding for someone 18 years of age.  Astounding for anyone, for that matter.  A relatively short time before in my life, this would have been something and someone that I would have written off as absurd and insane, or at the least greatly deluded, but in my state of mind at that time, I was fascinated.  If Carlos had his Don Juan, perhaps I had found my Melissa.

"Can you teach me?" I asked.  Her answer was that, yes, she could teach me some things, but that she wouldn't be responsible for me.  I asked her about God.  She told me that she knew nothing of God, and that she made no attempts at understanding what she experienced in a religious or philosophical way.  She only reacted to it as best she could and took what happened to her at face value only.  I asked her, "Then what does it all mean?"  She responded, "I don't know."  I asked if there was such a thing as good and evil and she answered, "Yes.  That's why I can't be responsible for you."

On Saturday, May 14, I took Melissa for a ride out in the country so that she good introduce me to this other realm of reality.  The Spitfire was laid up for some reason, and so I had borrowed my dad's '68 Olds Cutlass.  We cruised up and down the roads out west of town that were out beyond the farm country and which went through wooded areas, swamps and more undeveloped places.  This was for the purpose of performing an exercise that Melissa called, "Good place, bad place."  It was to learn to sense the spiritual energy that was the residual left behind by previous human activity.  Or so she said.  We found several places that she sensed in this way and, at which, I thought I could feel something of this residual energy.  We got out of the car and walked around at several locations, and she would ask me the nature of the energy present and I would respond "good" or "bad."  I was able to guess correctly—or somehow I knew.  Back in the car I asked her how it was possible to know we were really feeling anything at all and not just imagining it.  With the radio switched on and the knob turned down as low as it would go, the radio suddenly rose in volume and then fell back silent.  "Little things like that," Melissa said.  I was impressed.

By now it was late afternoon and we were on North Luce Road heading back towards Alma.  On this road, we would go past Adams Road, which to the east ended down about a half mile where the freeway went through.  Just before the road ended, there was a house that had been deserted for many, many years and which sat in ruins.  The windows were gone, the yellow brick was peeling from the exterior in places, and it was derelict and deserted.  There was a barn and another old outbuilding that sat in similar disrepair.  It was an eerie looking place to see from Luce Road, and when one day Glen Vogelsong and I had driven down Adams and had ventured up close to it to look around, we both got a cold, creepy feeling about the place and had left in a hurry.  In light of "good place, bad place" it seemed like showing Melissa this place was the perfect way to end the day.
We turned down the road and as we approached the house, Melissa suddenly became animated and insisted we turn around at once, "Get out of here now!" she said.  And then her head fell on her chest and she said calmly, and I swear in another voice that was not hers, "I am a prisoner here. I am unloved and alone, but if you can love me, you can free me."  Melissa raised here head again and resumed her near panicked insistence that we need to leave at once.  I got the Cutlass turned around as quickly as I could and threw some gravel getting back to out on Luce Road.  "What was that all about?" I asked her.  Her response was simply, "I don't know but it's not good."  I asked her about the comment she had made concerning being a prisoner, and she had no idea what I was talking about.  She was agitated and upset, and as I dropped her off at her dorm, the last thing she said was, "Stay away from there."

Talk about good advice gone unheeded.  The more I thought about what had happened, the more obsessed I became with the house on Adams Road, and the more determined I became to find who or what was there and what it all meant.  The words that I had heard Melissa speak, or that were spoken through her, seemed to be the key to understanding and establishing a deeper communication with the entity or whatever it was that had inspired such a strong reaction in her.  I was convinced that this was something real and, regardless of Melissa's strange and fearful response to it, I was convinced that there was nothing to be afraid of; that a more measured and kindly approach would result in a deeper and more profound communication, and that at least some of what I wanted to know about greater spiritual realities could be learned here.  If Melissa had led me to learn of the existence of a realm beyond our own physical world, how much more valuable would it be to communicate directly with someone from this mysterious place?  And so I sought the answer to this question.

I spent most of Sunday deciding how to deal with all of this, and by the afternoon time, it seemed I had the answers.  The way to open and establish communication with the entity at the house was to share a simple meal with it.  Perhaps this was more symbolic than anything else, but the gesture would certainly be appreciated.  I packed a partial loaf of home baked bread and a thermos of iced tea and then sought the obvious solution to the dilemma of not having a car available to me.  I called Jack Quirk, who was always game for anything, and who would both find this all ridiculous and, at the same time, go along with what I wanted to do and help me out.  And so on this lovely spring evening, he picked me up in his unkempt blue Ford Pinto and out Luce Road to Adams we went. 

As expected, Jack thought this all absurd, and, as expected, was game and went along.  As I made my way down to the house, he sat out by Luce Road and enjoyed a smoke while taking in the lovely evening and even having an amiable chat with a police officer who stopped to ask what he was up to.  Since he didn't want to sound as insane as he presumed I was, he just stated the obvious about the lovely evening and the smoke, and the officer bought this and went along his way.

Meantime, I approached the house and invited whatever it was that was inside to come out on the porch and talk to me.  Something seemed to move out onto the front porch and I could see the overgrowth of shrubbery moving at its presence.  At times it seemed to fade into near physicality and appeared as a squarish, whitish object with what appeared to be horns like those of a longhorn steer perched on top of it.  I sat down out in the yard and served my meal.  I told this thing that this was an offering of peace and love, and (based on what it had said through Melissa in the car) this act of kindness should make it free.  I said, "If love is what it takes to make you free, then I love you and you are free!"  At this, the entity appeared as a white mist and shot high up into the air and disappeared.  I sat there for a moment and then began walking back up the road towards the car and Jack, who was leaning on the rear quarter having a cigarette.  The entity seemed to be present behind me and as best I can describe it, followed along like a happy puppy.  "Well, this is most interesting," I thought, and I found the experience almost exhilarating.  Jack and I ended up at the Big Boy having coffee, as I told him the details of all of this.  On the way out he said, "Keep your friend away from me," and she moved around to my side away from Jack.  Oh yes.  The entity had assumed a gender now.  I somehow sensed it was a female.      

Now if I was to recount in any detail the high strangeness that occurred over the next two days it would take up many pages.  Suffice it to say that as I went through my daily routine, the entity became a companion that chose be around me more and more, and by the second day, Tuesday, May the 17th, this presence was becoming oppressive and the initial lightheartedness around all of this had dissipating into a rapidly growing malevolence.

Jack had by now grown more curious and wanted to get to know Melissa, and so the three of us found ourselves walking through downtown Alma in the late afternoon so as to have dinner at the Burger Chef.   Actually, it was the four of us.  The entity now tagged around with me wherever I went, and as we walked down the street it seemed to use me to shield the fact of its presence from Jack and Melissa.  I contributed virtually nothing to the conversation, and by the time we were walking home, as Jack and Melissa were absorbed in an animated discussion, I noticed that the entity was trying to influence my behavior.  It was as if it was experimenting with me to see what it could get me to do.  And I found that if I did not exert a conscious will to the contrary, it was succeeding in getting me to do things that I wasn't initiating.  At one point, I found myself trying to open the ground level door to the upstairs offices in the Polasky Building, and someone driving by in a car was yelling at me for trying to break in.  Jack walked out in the street and reassured the person that I was attempting no such thing, and I stood there stunned, as if I had just awakened to what was going on. 

Now I was afraid.  As early evening approached, Jack went to the Theta Chi House where he lived, and Melissa went to her dorm room.  I went and sat under a tree and tried to collect myself as best I could and figure out what to do.  The entity now seemed to grow bigger and stronger, and it took on what I can best describe as a darkness.  Like a shadow.  I could feel it grow stronger and I could feel myself growing weaker and more unable to resist it.  I went to Melissa's dorm room and she wouldn't let me in but came outside long enough tell me that there was nothing she could do to help me.  "This is something way stronger than anything I know how to deal with.  That's why I told you to leave it alone.  You got yourself into this and this is why I told you that I can't be responsible for you.  You must leave now because the daylight is almost gone and I don't want to be anywhere near you in the dark."

In the gathering darkness the entity loomed behind me and above me like a growing shadow.  I was weary and wanted to lay down but feared that if I slept for even an instant my life would no longer be my own.  I had a key to Gregor MacGregor's dorm room because I had been crashing there when I worked on campus, and I headed in this direction because I didn't know what else to do.  It was dark enough now that I could see the light coming from the student union, and, on impulse, I walked in this direction. 

I walked in with the giant hulking shadow looming behind me, and saw Jack and Gregor at a table near the back of the room.  I sat down and gripped the arms of the captain's chair I was sitting in with all my might, as it now took all of my will to keep the looming entity at bay.  It seemed to grow stronger by the minute as I grew weaker.  Gregor made some remark about being freaked out about whatever it was that was hanging around me, or some such thing, and told me I should crash somewhere else, at least until I got this figured out.  Jack suddenly looked up at me and, either seeing or sensing the horror of what was happening said, "I think I know what this is.  I saw something like this at a Jesus People meeting in California once.  We have to get out of here.  Do exactly what I tell you."

We stood up together and we walked outside of the union.  I asked him what to do and he said, "Pray."  And for the first time since I had stood in the dark at Eastminster and screamed at God to show himself to me, I did.  Praying seemed to move the entity back a little.  It was almost as if this took it by surprise somehow or even repulsed it. 

Next thing I knew, we were walking across campus and towards Bahlke Field.  Jack prayed and I continued to pray and the entity seemed to follow along.  It was every bit as strong, every bit as malevolent, but it also seemed somewhat neutralized.  This is the best I can describe it.  Somehow, I began to believe that there might be a way out of this after all.  We walked through the gate and out onto the grass of the football field.  Jack stopped me and, as I recall, he put his hands on my shoulders and commanded, "In the name Jesus Christ..."  That is all I remember hearing.  I know he commanded the evil entity to leave, but I don't recall the exact words he chose because at the name of Jesus Christ, I was thrown to the ground and I felt something take hold of my throat and, using my vocal chords, it proceeded to emit a series of ear piercing screams into the night air.  Suddenly, I felt as if I was falling into a dark and endless abyss, and as I fell, I could hear the screams fading as if growing farther and farther away.  Then I found my direction reversed and I was flying back upward as the screams coming from my throat grew louder and louder.  As I slammed back into my body, the screaming abruptly stopped, and it felt as if something popped from mouth. 

I was on the football field, Jack was there, and the entity was gone.

Phil Ropp

Phil is the owner of the news portal Radio New Jerusalem    

Editors Note: It is the considered opinion of the editor that the individual named Jack Quirk in the above story is therein described in a far more flattering light than he deserves, and urges the reader to adopt that point of view. There will be no rebuttal forthcoming, however, in that discussion of autobiographical details is not among the editor’s predilections. 

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