Monday, July 5, 2010

Those who put their hand on the plough….

It was a bitter cold January morning in 1996. The clear blue sky changed to a dull grey. Soon the delicate white snow flakes would fall and the expected forecast of icy roads and sub zero temperatures would set in. Refilling her coffee mug, Victoria returned to the bedroom and picked up the letter to read again.

"…my parents would be delighted if you could stay here while they spend some time in Spain. You will be interested to know that adoration of the Blessed Sacrament continues from morning to night in the adoration chapel next door." Then she read on. "I have to say that I invite you to stay in my family home for several reasons, but prefer to wait until I see you to talk more.” Victoria jumped out of bed, pulled out a suitcase from the closet in the hallway and started packing. She already had the feeling this visit would be very different from previous stays with her friend.

“Who is it?" the voice asked over the intercom. "This is security, reporting for duty, ma'am.” The door opened with the familiar buzzer sound. Victoria stepped into the polished parquet tiled hall, happy to have arrived before the big freeze. “Well look who the wind blew in!"

Anne passed the coffee mug to her guest. She sat back on the sofa looking out onto the garden. Taking a biscuit from the plate, she said “It’s to do with my brother.” “Your brother was in America, he’s back home then?” Victoria asked. Anne sipped some coffee before answering, a worried expression on her face. "He has returned from Chicago with his new girlfriend who’s Austrian. He was working in a pub there for a while. He’s different. He’s not the brother I know and love. When I ran down the stairs to welcome him home, I just froze. At Mass that morning, I prayed for him and suddenly I was crying." She shook her head. "What is it?" Victoria asked, hearing the gravity of the situation. "I'm not sure," Anne hesitated. "Not sure? Or not sure you want to say?" "Not sure I want to say just yet. But I do know that my brother doesn’t have an idea about his girlfriend or what I think I know.”

“So is she staying here, in this house now?” Victoria enquired. “No, she’s temporarily in a flat at the end of the road, a small garage converted into a neat little pad. I know my brother plans for her to move in here. My mother is worried; she has an uneasy feeling about her to say the least, and does not want her in the house while they are away. Which reminds me of another problem, her cooking.” “What do you mean?” Victoria stopped and looked at the home-made cookie in her hand. She listened attentively to all that Anne was saying. “I don’t like what she cooks,” her expression recalling an episode in the kitchen only the day before. “Plus the fact my brother has never looked so unhealthy. He has no idea what this woman is about; both my mom and I feel something is very wrong. Also, in the mornings he finds it difficult to get up. He feels exhausted and without energy. This is not my brother.”

Victoria knew in her heart what her friend feared. “There is one thing more you should know,” Anne added. “I called to her flat unannounced a few days ago, pretending I was looking for Damien. She didn’t invite me in, obviously! But she had the Bible on a coffee table which you can see from the doorway, and a rosary beads hanging from a hook on the corner of a wall shelf.” “H-m-m-m,” Victoria nodded. "This is a typical cover and guise. She probably reads scripture verses to your brother as well.”

“Feel free to use mom’s prayer room at any time,” Anne reminded her friend. “Remember when she converted the old linen closet into a prayer room? It has become a welcome prayer corner, so peaceful in the back corridor. The small silver crucifix on the centre of the wall, with a painting of Our Lady to the right has been admired by all the visitors who have been here.”

The front door opened and shut with such a bang that Victoria swallowed on the biscuit and almost choked. Anne stood up. "They're here!" she whispered. “Be prepared for a hostile reception.” Heavy footsteps marched across the hall floor, down the two steps and in walked Anne’s brother with his Austrian visitor. Damien took one look at Anne’s guest and nodded a curt hello before walking over to the coffee pot. He poured coffee into two cups, neither of them uttering a word as his girlfriend remained standing there staring at Victoria. While she continued to take in every detail of the woman sitting on the sofa, Victoria in turn looked up at the European lady.

Her skin was pale, an off-white colour that raised a question. Her eyes, blue as the ocean and cold as ice, were fanned by dark spiked lashes which tilted up at the edges, curved by dark beliefs and heavy mascara. She was tall and slim, strange and disturbing at closer quarters. Her long hair, black as the raven and glossy as shimmering silk fell across her shoulders. As she stood there with a smile that left one cautious, a door closed quietly in Victoria’s heart, bolted from the inside. Giving a short laugh, that seemed one of disbelief, she walked across the floor, moving in a way that carried the perfect imitation of a model walking across the catwalk. Then, the dark haired woman, seeking a distraction fumbled through her shoulder bag, before placing her hand over the silver pendant hanging on her neck - the pendant that Victoria continued to look at.

Victoria stood up. Slightly taller than the dark lady, she introduced herself and then said “You must be Damien’s girlfriend?” The European lady flung her hair back in a dramatic gesture. She finally spoke in a polite and courteous manner, her Austrian accent giving an air of mystery to the English language. "Hello, I’m Caitlyn." She could almost pass as royalty with her full length fur lined coat and Russian hat. Lifting her face upward with a defiant expression, she waited for attention. Unnerved by Victoria’s direct look and indifference to image, she turned to her boyfriend, her eyes signalling for him to say something. ‘She is like the lone ice princess’, Victoria thought. ‘A sad and beautiful princess, who has secret meetings in the forest; an initiated female who has danced naked before the full moon, for her masters, and drank from the chalice of the pagan gods, giving her body and soul over to the night rituals containing lies and false promises.’ No one knew what either woman was thinking as Victoria remained silent, keeping her inner thoughts to herself, while the Austrian visitor kept her thoughts hidden from her boyfriend watching on. Damien threw the remainder of his coffee into the sink and walked out. His girlfriend followed, throwing one last glance at Victoria - a dark look that refused to remain hidden behind a professional smile.

“Do you know anything about Wicca witches?” Victoria asked as they prepared lunch. “I know that some of them wear a pendant, a five-pointed star with a blue stone in the centre. It’s used as a symbol of Wicca.” “That’s right,” Victoria confirmed. “What she’s wearing is known as a pentacle. But for many folk who don’t know about these symbols, it is just another trendy piece of jewellery worn around the neck. For the practising witches and those involved in pagan ritual, it is a sacred symbol, possibly blessed in their pagan ceremonies before wearing them."

That night Victoria couldn't sleep. It was three o’clock in the morning when the front door opened and closed downstairs. She sat up in the bed. Suddenly the handle of her bedroom door slowly turned around until the door opened and Anne arrived in without a sound. Waving in silence, she pointed to downstairs. “What’s going on?” Victoria whispered. “My brother has just arrived in but she was here all the time and we didn’t know. He must have let her in a few hours ago or else she has a key. We have to pray the rosary.” Anne took a blanket from the chest of drawers beside the bed and stuffed it along the base of the door before she lit a blessed candle. “If she’s creeping around the house, she will see the light on here so that blocks it out.” Victoria grinned. “Are you sure you haven’t been involved in strange gatherings as well?” she joked with her friend. “Hey, I’m a colourful character, just look at who Our Lord chose. He knew what He was doing.” They both started laughing, but knew things were more serious than they cared to admit. “She has been burning incense in the living room,” Anne whispered, pulling up a chair. “I have been out on the corridor for a while. There is a horrible atmosphere.” “So that’s why I couldn’t sleep!” Victoria said. “Probably,” Anne continued. “I waited at the top of the stairs and watched as she came out several times. I could smell the incense.” “Okay, we know now what we are dealing with here.” Victoria whispered. “This is serious. There’s a saying that goes when one is going to prayer...’burning incense invites spirits in, burning a blessed candle keeps them out.’ It looks like we have some kind of witchcraft going on here.”

“So what’s the plan?” Anne asked over breakfast, “now that you’ve got some sleep after you prayed more.” Victoria smiled. “Right, first we need to pack our bags and have them ready to put in the car at a moment’s notice; I suggest you pack a little extra.” Anne looked taken aback. “Are you serious?” she asked. “Yes, I know we have to do this, and then we wait. If this woman is involved in what we think, and they are in a sexual relationship, which is step one for her, then you can’t tell your brother. He won’t believe you because she may already have some kind of hold on him. She carries all the hallmarks of what we think she is. She burns incense, has some good wine for when Damien calls to the flat, or drinks with him here. She may even tell him some sob stories, and I know Damien from being here last year. He is quite gullible and overly compassionate. The sob stories are an old trick which always seems to work for them. Then he in turn opens up to her. She will offer him a body massage with her oils, maybe burning a little incense to create a certain mood. That’s all it takes. It may not be all in that order or all of the same, but it’s the general run of how those involved in pagan worship plan their first steps for their intended.”

Victoria was restless. Something was up. She kept looking out the window at the falling snow and paced the floor but didn’t know why. That evening the two friends returned to the adoration chapel next door. Time passed as the two worshippers stayed longer than intended, aware of the all-powerful majesty of God, as they rested in His divine presence. God would not let His servants down. Unknown to them both, they were being prepared for the trials ahead that every true follower faces. Their willingness to be present before the Lord was all He needed. It was here, in the confines of the beautiful chapel of adoration that Jesus the Lord, was working quietly in the souls who love him. Walking home, the air was fresh and pure, but not for long. The North winds were gathering and the eye of the pagan storm was heading towards Anne’s home. Victoria spoke to Anne. “You are in danger, we both are. She knows we know. It’s time to get our luggage into the car.”

Back in the empty house Victoria picked up the phone and dialled a number. “Hi, Sr. Bernadine, do you happen to have a few rooms vacant without notice?” “Sure honey, I was only wondering lately if you will be out on a visit to us soon.” “Is it alright if it’s pretty immediate, but it could be quite late in the evening?” “Of course! Whatever time is right. I’ll let security know to expect you. Just give me your car registration number again so he can open the gates when he sees you arriving.”

It was late in the evening. Anne walked into the bedroom, her face ashen. “What’s wrong? Anne, tell me!” Victoria persisted. Tears fell down her friend’s face but no words came out. She looked towards the prayer room. Downstairs heavy rock music suddenly filled the house and Victoria froze. The visitors had arrived and they were pretty loaded with wine. Alarm bells rang loud and clear. Victoria followed Anne to the prayer room and saw why her friend was ashen. The small silver crucifix and the painting of Our Lady were both turned upside down. Turning the painting upright, Victoria then took the crucifix, kissed the five wounds of Christ and put it in her pocket. “Get the car keys, quickly! It’s okay, everything’s okay. God is with us.” The sound of the music increased in the living room, “Who’s down there?” Victoria asked, as they ran back to their bedrooms, grabbing their toiletry bags and handbags. “My brother, a few of his friends and his girlfriend,” Anne replied, still shaken. The music became louder; the last reminder that time was running out, as the undertones of the heavy rock band threw aggressive vibrations into the partying group and throughout the house. Victoria stood at the top of the stairs while Anne tip-toed down a few steps, leaning over the banister to check the living room door was still closed. Then signalling to Victoria they ran down the stairs, across the wide hallway and out into the street. Once outside they caught their breath and walked quickly to the car. Seat belts on, they began to recite the prayer to St. Michael the Archangel.

Fifty minutes later they arrived at the convent, the automatic gates opening when security recognized the driver. It was so good to see Charlie again, Victoria thought, as he shone the torch light onto the faces in the car. A man of deep faith, not many knew that in his nightly watch he prayed often while others slept. Once inside, they went straight to the beautiful chapel. There, before the Most Blessed Sacrament they knelt and gave thanks to the Lord that they had arrived safely and at peace! Resting in His presence Victoria and Anne knew there would be no going back. Those who put their hand on the plough don’t look back. And for some - they don’t go back.