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The Babylon Visits
By Leslie P Garcia
Friday, February 14, 2003
Evil exists in the world...what to do when it comes?...
The rottweiler didn’t bark at the living room beams anymore, and I didn’t know when he had stopped. The realization came to me early one morning when I was lying there unable to sleep. The hairs on my arms stood up, and coldness washed over me in spite of the warm summer night around me. Suddenly more afraid than I had been in years, I pulled the sheets up around me, then plucked a pillow out from under my head and clutched it to me. Protecting myself, the way I had years ago. Because once again, the danger had changed, had gone underground. But it. . .they would be back. The years and the miles had taught me that there was no real escape, and lying in my bed, I could only lie there, awake and breathing hard with the fear, and wait.
Moving can be a nightmare for grownups, and death for children and teens. My father moved frequently, following the growing aerospace industry, transferring blithely and leaving my mom to pack up children and households and follow along at some future time. After the turmoil of constant moves in my early childhood, news that we were leaving suburban Atlanta—Douglasville—for a place in rural southwest Georgia broke my heart.
I had friends in Douglasville, for the first time ever. Becky invited me over to play, eat, exchange confidences—to be a normal young teenager, for the first time in my life.
Gone were the strange games of a few years earlier, when the Man With No Color presented himself to my sister and me before disappearing into the warm Georgia landscape without a trace. Gone were the secret trips to the haunted house on Mile Long Road, and the equally secretive visits to clean up for sick, elderly Mr. Logan, in exchange for his tales of how his horse Pet would visit him each night from her new home in cans of dog food on his shelf. Mom’s fear of our isolation and …weird pursuits lessened as my sister and I found friends, went to movies, excelled in school.
And then—the move. Dad dropped it on us all casually one night, just as if being torn from the town we had come to love meant nothing. We would move to Greenville, a rural town in deep south Georgia, with a beautiful pasture. That was the one good bit of news, because we had two horses and a pony, great danes, cats—lots of animals. We didn’t realize it at the time, but in reality, we were just beginning our collection.
Children have little say in their lives, and in the blink of an eye, we were whisked from our familiar schools and close friends to that little town of 300 inhabitants, a town where bigotry reigned supreme. Black and white children didn’t speak, northern and southern families had nothing to do with each other. My parents were northerners—the only northerners, or Yankees, in the town—and we immediately understood there would be no friends, no trips to the movies or boyfriends.
So I consoled myself, as I was wont to do, in the natural beauty of our new home. The house wasn’t part of it—a two hundred year old antebellum, built before the Civil War, with rotting columns, floors, a roof that leaked—and no indoor plumbing. When nature called, a slippery path lead to the outhouse, creaky and as old, it seemed, as the house itself. There were several outbuildings—a stable and slave cabins. The realization that those simple, one room houses represented a grim part of American history was a little unsettling, although they were merely more ramshackle buildings when we moved in.
But the pecan orchard, off to the side of the house, the broad sweep of pasture, with one gently sloping hill up and then down, to the end of the immense field, flanked on both sides by thick, pungent pine—the way the red clay would flame with each sunset—those became my consolation for being snatched away from the only real home I had known.
There were two other features of this beautiful property—a family cemetery, with gravestones dating from the Civil War right up to World War II, and a large clearing running alongside the highway that had been a cotton field, until the soil gave up its nutrients and became just hard, lifeless clay. The cemetery nestled between the clearing and the pecan orchard, its spiked fence rusted and covered by kudzu.
For those who don’t know, kudzu is a vine that takes over acres and acres of ground in the southern United States, creating a million hideaways for ponies and kids. There is no stopping kudzu, and though we tried to clear the cemetery fence of the honeysuckle and kudzu that climbed everywhere, we never finished. By the time we cleared a second patch of fence, the first had been reclaimed by the jumble of vines. So we gave up.
My father, although an aeronautical engineer by trade, was a madman by design. Sometimes his insanity hurt us, sometimes we profited, at least in the short term. When he announced that we would build an amusement park in the middle of nowhere, on that lifeless patch of cotton field, the pain of being forced to move, of losing my friends—the pain even of growing up an abused child—became secondary to the dream, a.k.a. The Development.
The idea began with a coke machine under a roof, to refresh truckers on a long haul from Atlanta to Florida, in days before interstates had been finished. There was room to pull over and drink a cold soda, even nap briefly. But since the Coke machine looked lonely, a snack machine followed, then an exhibit of native snakes—since we had so many crawling in and out of our house anyway—a ring to give pony rides, because we kept buying ponies—the Development was the world’s worst idea. But nothing ever meant as much to my brother and me, and while my sister went off to college, we worked to turn an impossible plan into reality—without success, but we didn’t care.
And then the voices began. No one but me heard them, although my sister, father and brother all saw the ghost. Billy C, the landlord’s son, died a few years before we moved to Greenville. A ball struck him in the head during high school baseball practice, and he died from the impact. His father was never quite right again, townsfolk said, which is why he agreed to sell his two-hundred year homestead to some “Yankees” who showed up from nowhere. Several times, someone—sometimes my sister and brother, or just one of them, or my father—would notice a young man, dressed in a white tee-shirt and blue jeans, loitering around the small family cemetery.
He moved with grace, they noted, but almost languidly, as if he were in no hurry—or as if he were dazed, or lost. The first few times, they rushed up to the Development to see if he needed help or was a vagrant, up to no good—and he would linger, then turn, and simply vanish into the cemetery. Billy wasn’t buried there; modern regulations meant that he had been buried at the city cemetery. But no one doubted that it was Billy, coming perhaps to be with family—or maybe, to warn us away.
But no one understood why he would be a warning, an omen of God only knows what—because only I heard the Babylon voices.
I didn’t call them that, then, of course—didn’t even realize until just before we fled the antebellum with its dark, secret history—that there were voices, specifically. There was. . .something. It meant me harm. But at first, I dismissed those as childish notions. Wasn’t I a teenager, a young woman? How could I believe evil lurked around me, sought me out? What sin of mine was so great that I could never escape the forces pursuing me?
Days were okay. My brother and I, occasionally helped by my sisters or other brothers, built cages, sold the occasional soft drink or ice cream to visitors drawn by the brightly painted plywood fence shielding our ever-growing collection of animals and amusement park rides. From a hundred year old ferris wheel to an African lion, given up by a man who also had a cougar that did Mercury commercials, the development provided safety and illusion during the day—we would succeed, my brother and I, with this little place in the middle of nowhere. Three hundred miles from Atlanta, our scraggly make-believe world would someday rival brand new Disney World. We really believed that, my brother and I.
During the day, I could walk deep into the woods, looking for ponies camped out in fairy tale worlds of kudzu and pine, and not be afraid. Nothing scared me, except the occasional snake—and even those I would catch, as exhibits for the development. Visitors loved to see snakes, so if I stumbled across a milk snake or a bull snake, I would get a stick, pin its head—screaming all the while—and carry it gingerly back to put on display. No, the day was my safe time, though I had always been a child of the night, unable to sleep, excited by darkness and the silence of night.
Sometime after the move to Greenville, though, the night lost its benevolence, and became part of the evil seeking my destruction, my loss of life or of sanity. Huddled in bed in the corner room of the upstairs, the room looking out over the pecan orchard, I would pray in quiet little whispers for safety and peace.
Summer or winter, I would pull blankets up around my neck, vaguely hopeful that what moved through the pecan orchard couldn’t find me buried deeply enough in my covers. During the summer, sweat would pour from my body, drench me—but still, I clutched the covers and pillows around me, knowing that death might find me if I didn’t.
There were…spirits, for lack of a better word, that moved there, night after night. There were vague visions of them in my head, almost comic cartoon visions of dark bodies slipping from tree to tree, moving always towards the house. . .towards me.
But the visions weren’t really accurate, and I sensed that. The darkness was not body color, but the color of evil, and their steadfast trek towards the house had only one objective: my death.
At first they came without speech, just shapes sliding in and out among trees. I could see them without looking out the window—would not have been able to see them, anyway, even on moonlit nights, because there were so many trees, so big and dense, that anything could have hidden there, unseen. And it wasn’t dream—I couldn’t sleep, would lie awake, would pray—would get up and pester my sister, just to find the courage I lacked. She wasn’t afraid of Billy C’s ghost, I reasoned, she could help me with the . . .the things, coming through the trees for me. She didn’t believe, though—didn’t see them or hear them when they talked. True, Billy C appeared to her—but evil didn’t.
When the voices first began, the babble was soft, urgent—and unintelligible. My father decided one day that we, formerly fairly regular churchgoers, would be atheists. And so we were. But before he told me I didn’t believe in God anymore, I read about Babylon—how the constant bickering and quarreling drowned out communication and caused the downfall of a human triumph.
My brother and I had trouble letting go of our beliefs. Even though we were both punished—he much more brutally than I—we continued to pray. To believe. And the voices were like Babylon, a jumble, a soft, angry sound in the depths of the night, rising and falling in discordance. Speaking against me in hatred. I knew it, without understanding a word.
And then one night, the words became clear. Not each word, but many of them. And the words came out of the darkness with what I had always known: I was to die. I never heard why, and in fact there was some discussion. But I heard voices say clearly, “We have to kill her.” The statement was cold and remorseless, ringing out like a funeral bell from the clamor of the words I still couldn’t make out.
To say I made peace with death would be a lie; I feared death, couldn’t bear to think of leaving the world, even with the pain and terror that wrapped around me from day to day. Safe only in my pines, my pasture with its long, golden grass, I thought so often of death and how inevitable it was. How sad that I should die, for some sinister purpose beyond my comprehension. But death would come for me, there, in the summers of my teenage years, and I knew that without doubt.
Life is funny, though. Being a teenager facing death—believing oneself insane to boot—is enormously difficult. And then, one day you wake up—and the solution is there, and again life moves you as it will.
We were losing the development, the dream, those years of illusion and moving again—to Texas. I wasn’t quite 18, and I had spent my teenage years trying to build the amusement park, never working for pay, never striking out on my own. For some perverse reason—perhaps knowing that I should accept, not flee my fate—I knew I should stay there. Though it would mean insanity and then death, I didn’t have the right to flee that Georgia home of mine.
But with no income and no logical means of staying, I helped sell the horses, the ponies, the lion, the monkeys—every piece of my soul that had kept me alive when something. . .someone wanted me dead. The nightmares came, later—the horses were starving, and it was my fault. The lion hadn’t been fed in months, because I was afraid—and I couldn’t go feed him, because I was even more afraid to find that I had caused death through my own inaction. What troubled times those were.
But the voices stopped. For many years, the voices stopped. Foolishly, I thought, I had won. The danger no longer pursued me, I could quit living with the knowledge that I had to die for reasons unknown to me. Yes, death finds us all—but the evil pursuing me had given up.
I thought. When I became pregnant with my second child, the voice came back—but it was one clear, demanding voice now, calling my name at night. It was Death. There was no question in my mind; I left the night light on whenever I had to sleep, knowing that to sleep without light would be to die. Somehow I survived that, survived, too, my father searching for me to kill me because I had married against his will. The baby survived, survived the beating suffered when my father did find me. Fate snickered when my first—my father’s first grandchild—was born at one minute after midnight on June 29th—my father’s own birthday. For years, I pretended that the voice had never returned, death had never called me so often or insistently.
And then, reminiscing with my son one day, I mentioned my second pregnancy and its problems. How I could only eat popcorn and hot dogs—anything else came right back up. How much I wanted my daughter to be healthy, after dreams that she’d been born deformed. Lightly, I told him Death tried to win me away during that time—that she(in keeping with my husband’s culture) had called me again, and again, but I hadn’t answered. I turned away, so he wouldn’t see the tears fill my eyes and trickle down my cheeks, thinking about how very near death I must have been.
He should have laughed and told me I was crazy, should have shown the indifference of a man, almost grown, listening to his mother’s tales from past times. Instead, he turned to me, and there were tears in his own eyes.
“I know,” he said softly. “When you wouldn’t go, she called me—over and over. Sometimes your name, sometimes mine. She wanted me to go open the door and turn off the light, but I wouldn’t.”
His revelation shook me to the core. We’ve never spoken about it since, this young man whose birthday is the birthday of my own father—of the most evil man I know. There is nothing of evil in my son; when his own father fell ill, and I was in college, he found a job. Four years of high school he worked, played football—gave to his family. Then he went to college, became a career man. Bought his loved ones a house.
The voices dulled and faded with time; as long as my son and I didn’t speak of Death, she didn’t exist as a presence in our lives. But then the rottweiler, a graduation gift to my son, a symbol of the demons he’d overcome, since he’d been terrorized by dogs for many years, began barking furiously at the beams in the living room. Eyes red, then blinded with fury, staring up and shaking with rage—night after night.
We thought it was senility. We spoke of putting him down, but we couldn’t. He was family, he was part of what we were. So we smothered our ears with pillows, begged him, scolded him, punished, pleaded—but he barked.
And then one night, he stopped. And with the silence: realization. He hadn’t been senile. He’d been protecting me, in that blind, frenzied rage, attacking what others couldn’t see. Protecting me from what, will, in the end, take my life.
I don’t know when I’ll hear the voices begin again, jumbled, then growing in clarity until one voice demands my death. I don’t know why I must die. Lying in bed, I wrap myself in my blankets, pad myself with my pillows. Ignore my husband’s muttered protests. Whisper softly, “Our Father, Who art in Heaven. ..”
But the Babylon voices have found me. “Forgive us our trespasses. . .” Dear Lord, forgive me. And in the night, I wait for the voices. . .for them. . .and know that this time, I won’t find salvation.
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|Reviewed by Regina Pounds
|Leslie, Leslie...so much fear, hardship, suffering, so much indecribable courage! Your writing fits the tale...lucid, gripping, message conveyed in style and haunting...one's heart goes out to the child, the teen, the mother whose son and then dog, as well, know and also suffer...protect her.
Immensely touching and I'd like to encourage you to write The Book about this life. It would be a 'Can't put this down page-turner' but it also would be a most riveting and valuable lesson about life, human and family and pet interaction.
|Reviewed by Robert Montesino
|Wow! What an outstanding write Leslie! I enjoyed your story and more importantly learned a few things while reading it!|
|Reviewed by Nickolaus Pacione
|This is a tight read. I am glad I found this one. It has a V.C. Andrews feel to this, if she was colaborating with Peter Straub. Definate Weird Tales material here, one writer you should look into is E. Hoffman Price because you definatelly have his feel here too.|
|Reviewed by m j hollingshead