RACING TOWARD THE LIGHT
© 2009 Sandra Pavloff Conner
Noah finally returned to a standing position, wiping his face with his hands and then immediately wrapping his arms around Serenity and gripping her to him as if she were a life preserver. The sobs had ceased, and Noah was trying to take slow, deep breaths to quiet himself enough to speak. Serenity still had tears trickling down her cheeks, but she clung to Noah as fervently as he did to her.
After another moment, Noah felt quieter, and he released his hold just enough to reach back to his back pocket for his handkerchief, forgetting that he had given it to David. Serenity had stepped back just a fraction and, realizing what he was trying to do, she looked around for some tissues. Clint stepped over to them and handed Noah a clean, folded handkerchief. “You gave yours away, remember?” he said, smiling at Noah. “Use my clean one.”
Noah reached out and took it, nodding his head as he unfolded it. “Thanks, Clint,” he said in a husky voice, and proceeded to blow his nose and finish drying his face. He took another deep breath and looked straight at Serenity. “I think it’s time I explained some things to the two of you.”
“Please, Noah,” she answered, her eyes pleading even more than her voice. In unison, they all turned back toward the table to resume their seats. “Why don’t we sit in the living room a while,” Clint suggested.
“That’s fine,” Noah said, and picking up his coffee cup from the table, turned to lead the way into that area of the cabin. The living room area consisted of a sofa and two chairs, each with a footstool in front of them. Noah sat down on the sofa, and Serenity joined him there, still feeling a need to try to comfort him — or protect him — she wasn’t sure which. Clint took the chair that let him face the other two and leaned back, trying to relax and hoping he could help Noah and Serenity do likewise.
“Just take your time, Son, and tell us everything you think you should. As I said, nothing needs to go any farther than this room if that’s the way you want it.”
Noah looked at Clint and tried to smile. “Thanks, Clint . . . I trust you and Serenity as much as I would anybody . . . and really none of this is a secret. My whole county back home knows the story inside and out, but it isn’t something I’ve wanted to talk about.” He took a deep breath. “Mainly because I would really like to just forget it, although I know that isn’t possible . . . and then partly because it’s so horrible a story to tell that I cringe, even now, at the thought of your having to hear it.”
He stopped and looked at Serenity. “I think you should slip in and take a peak at David. Make sure he’s sound asleep, because I don’t want him to overhear any of this. It might frighten him terribly.”
“Okay,” Serenity said and rose to go and do as he asked. She came back momentarily, smiling. “He’s out like a light . . . even snoring a little bit.”
“Good . . . that’s good,” Noah said, letting out a deep breath. “Well . . . I might as well start at the beginning . . . at least at what was the beginning of my involvement. But promise me that if you want me to stop at any time in the telling of this . . . if you just feel you don’t want to hear anymore . . . you’ll tell me so.” He looked at both of them, and they both nodded.
“I promise, Noah,” Serenity answered first.
“You have my word, Son,” Clint said then.
Noah nodded and leaned back on the sofa, trying to relax, knowing it was impossible. “Well . . . last summer, we began to get reports in our office from some of the local hunters and farmers around the county. They had come across evidence of some unusual activities out in the woods or sometimes one of the fields that had been left idle during that season in order to let the land rest. They didn’t seem to know what was going on, but a couple of times they reported seeing strange lights and hearing what sounded like some kind of chanting.
Most of them didn’t want to get too close, but one or two did ease in close enough to see that several people were standing in a circle, all saying something together. There were lighted candles in some of their hands, which worried one of the farmers, because we had been short on rain during that particular time, and things were pretty dry. One time, a hunter reported that the group was standing around a huge bonfire, and he would have thought it was just some kind of campout except that they all seemed to be wearing capes with hoods. Each time, I sent men out to check the areas, but the calls had come in after the fact, and my men just found a few traces of a campfire or footprints, but nothing that indicated a problem.
Then some time later, we got a call about lights that were seen moving around in an old abandoned schoolhouse. That particular elementary school had consolidated with two others in the county, and a new building had been built to accommodate the whole student body, so the building was left empty. It hadn’t been used for two years, and the county was trying to make a decision about what they wanted to do with it.”
Noah stopped to take a drink of his coffee. When he did, Serenity, who had been sitting toward the edge of her seat, looking directly at Noah, finally sat back and rested more comfortably against the back of the sofa.
Noah sat his cup down, still leaning forward in his seat, and the story began again.
“About that same time, we began to get calls from the local farmers about missing animals. About once a week, someone else would report an animal lost . . . or stolen . . . and most of the time it was one of the goats. It became almost an epidemic, and we were stumped until we began to come across those same animals slain and gutted . . . and often mutilated in bizarre ways . . . again out in the woods or some fallow field.”
Noah had been sitting with his elbows on his knees and his hands in front of him. Now he gripped his hands together so hard his knuckles turned white, but then he began to relax them again. “And then . . . we found the pentagrams. . . . The first one was actually painted onto the ground in broad brush strokes with black paint. We found mutilated animals in the same vicinity. The second one was painted onto the asphalt parking lot at that abandoned school. And again, there were parts of a mutilated animal on the scene.”
“So you’re saying that the animals evidently had been used for some kind of satanic ritual?”
“It appeared that way, and shortly after those two symbols were discovered, two of the farmers began having bizarre calamities occur on their farms. One of them had a major fire, and the fire department was never able to figure out how it could possibly have started in the place that it did, especially considering all the preventative measures that farmer used on a regular basis. And by that time, we had been blessed with plenty of rain, so that wasn’t the problem. And there were other things. One farmer reported that a pitchfork had come at him from his hayloft, as if it had been aimed and thrown at him deliberately, although he had left that pitchfork stuck in a bail of hay outside of the barn that afternoon. . . . And . . . well, there were other incidents, but I don’t need to go into all those details.”
He took deep breath, letting it out forcibly and finally tried to lean back again. “Well, I had been trying to tell myself that all of the sightings in the woods and fields had been innocent camping parties, amplified by the imaginations of the witnesses . . . or by their intake of alcohol … or both. And then when the animals started showing up, it was harder to explain, but I still tried to make myself believe it was coincidence. . . . You see . . . I knew that there were Satanist in this country . . . and that they did some kinds of bizarre things . . . usually around Halloween . . . but I had never learned any actual facts about what all that activity involved, and I just assumed that normal people wouldn’t be bothered by them as a general rule.
“And my church taught the basic gospel message well enough, but they never spent any time discussing the activities of the devil, or even any of the passages where Jesus had to deal with demonic powers. So I had just kind of let all that slide too.” He sighed again, and finally got up and began to pace around slowly. “But when we started finding the pentagrams and the animals together, I finally had to admit that I was up against something that I didn’t understand. Then when we added in the factor of the bizarre, so-called accidents on the surrounding properties, I finally faced the fact that I was just plain scared.
“I wasn’t really scared of the devil or his activity as much as I was of the fact that I had to find a way to protect the people in my jurisdiction, and I didn’t have a clue how to do it. And because I didn’t, my whole force was totally ill-equipped to handle the situation.”
“Your church couldn’t help you at all?” Clint asked.
Noah shook his head. He was leaning against a bookcase along the wall between the sofa and chair where Clint sat. “I talked with my pastor, and he said he didn’t really know enough about any of it to teach me anything, but that he supposed I should be able to handle all of these problems the same way I did other minor crimes.” Noah let out a bitter laugh. “Minor . . . he called them minor. Can you believe that? Oh, I know stealing and killing an animal isn’t the same as first degree murd —” He stopped suddenly and sucked in his breath, swallowing hard and closing his eyes. Finally, he shook his head as if to clear it and opened his eyes once more, breathing deeply.
“As I was saying, those aren’t at the top of the list of the most grievous crimes, but when you consider that the animals were stolen for the purpose of mutilating them to worship Satan, and that the acts were repeated on a regular basis . . . and then that damage was done to private property and attempted on some of the people themselves . . . I couldn’t see the situation as minor at all.” He sighed once more and finally sat down on the sofa again, leaning forward, one elbow on his knee.
“Anyway, I finally contacted the state to ask about other jurisdictions and their handling of these kinds of things, and they informed me that there was some instruction available through a state program to better acquaint law enforcement officers with ritualistic crimes and the best ways to deal with them. So I attended the classes first, and then I sent two of my sharpest deputies to do the same. We learned quite a bit, but I still wasn’t satisfied that I was in control of the situation.
“So my next move was to seek out a minister from the area who was known for his belief in casting out demons, Pastor Mark Houston, and I asked him for an interview. I felt I had to tell him all the details of the crimes, even though we were trying to keep some of them quiet so as not to alarm people unduly. As I poured out my story, he was instantly sympathetic and told me in no uncertain terms that the Word of God had the answers I needed.
“So I began to study my Bible as I never had before, and twice a week, I met with him so that he could explain anything I didn’t understand on my own. I got a real crash course in spiritual warfare; that’s for sure. I can tell you that I prayed like I hadn’t prayed in a long time . . . actually in ways I had never prayed until then. But the Lord really taught me. I began to truly understand what we were up against, and even more important, I understood that although I had to do everything I could from the natural, legal standpoint, I couldn’t depend on the legal governmental structure to effect the complete remedy in this case.” Noah stopped for a moment, looking away from both of them, obviously caught by another thought that had come into his mind.
Serenity was impatient, although she was trying not to be. “So, were you able to track down the people responsible?”
Noah looked at her again, took a deep breath, and finally answered her. “It got a lot worse before I got that far, Serenity.”
“Oh . . .”
“We conducted an investigation in as thorough a way as I knew how, of course, but we were getting virtually nowhere. I blame myself for that now. I should have been giving it the highest priority of anything my office was dealing with, but I didn’t. I knew it was important, but so were all of the other ordinary types of crimes, and we had a rash of other events that . . . at the time . . . I believed demanded my attention before those satanic things. I don’t think I’ll ever stop blaming myself for not moving on the whole problem harder and faster.”
“Noah, you’re human after all,” Serenity defended him. “Hindsight often makes things look as if you did the wrong thing at the wrong time, but if you look seriously at the past events, you’ll probably see that you did the best you could with what information and knowledge you had.”
Noah shook his head. “I don’t know. I just don’t know. But I did do one other thing that I thought at the time might help. When I asked Pastor Houston how all of this kind of activity managed to get such a stronghold in our area that these people could hold these meetings and steal and mutilate animals without anyone being able to catch them, he told me that they had been moving in so gradually and subtly over an extended period of time that most people weren’t aware of if at all.
“And when I asked how, he told me that one of the easiest ways was through the media. He mentioned specifically the Sally Stone books and movies.”
“Sally Stone!” Serenity sat up on the edge of her seat again.
“Yes. And the use of some of the mind-expanding games straight out of the new age movement . . . like ‘Inside Myself.’” Serenity’s eyes grew wider. “That’s why I told you in no uncertain terms that I believed you did the right thing taking David out of that Library Club. That librarian is using those demonic tools to ingest the demonic message into those children in order to prepare them to accept witchcraft and the demons that go with it. Oh, she may not be aware of what she’s doing. She may just be that ignorant. But it’s happening, nevertheless.”
“And the children in your county were being exposed to all of that too?”
“Yes, and the parents. Adults read those books too, and they flock to those movies by the droves. Mark Houston helped me see how Satan uses the books and movies, as well as the games that go along with them, as mediums to open a door to the evil spirits attached to them so that they can enter the community and even the people themselves. Those spirits blind people’s minds to what’s really going on around them. They make people apathetic about getting rid of evil of any kind, and even worse . . . they stir people up to commit evil that they wouldn’t have committed if they hadn’t been under the control of those demonic powers.
“That environment then gives the witches greater leeway to work, and prepares the children . . . the innocent, unsuspecting children . . . that we adults are supposed to protect . . .” Noah’s voice grew harsher with each statement. “It prepares those children to accept witchcraft and supernatural visitations as normal and makes them want to know more and more about all of it. We eventually discovered that even some of the children who weren’t exposed to the game and actually taught to seek out a spirit guide still recognized some kind of spirit being as having a place inside of them, trying to direct them . . . or sometimes force them to do certain things.”
“And did all of this involvement with these books and other media lead to more crimes then?” Clint asked.
Noah got up again, agitated now beyond being able to sit still or even hold himself still. He paced back over to the bookcase, running his hands over his head and around the back of his neck in angry strokes. “Yes,” he said in a course whisper. Then he turned back to face them. “Yes, it led to much more horrible crimes. After a while, some of the children formed a Sally Stone Club in several towns in the county and met on a regular basis to read the books and watch the videos and play the games. Then all the clubs in the county met periodically at the civic center at the county seat. I learned that they even began ordering other witchcraft materials via the Internet. And the whole county knew that they were planning some kind of big celebration for Halloween.
“So . . . and this is what I referred to earlier as the other thing I did for prevention’s sake . . . I called all the pastors together and asked them to talk to their congregations about the dangers of those books and accompanying materials, and to warn their people that their children needed to understand that this problem was real and something they needed to stay away from. Some of those pastors shook my hand and thanked me for filling them in. Two told me that they had been praying fervently for a breakthrough in all of the deception that those books had been responsible for.
“But several of the pastors said I was being an alarmist, and that they were not going to discourage their people from engaging in what they considered to be harmless entertainment. However . . . I then discovered that there was a coven of witches in operation, actually over in the next county, and there were certainly no barriers to keep them from holding ceremonies and slaughtering someone’s animals in our county too. So I called the pastors together once more to inform them of those facts. At that time, a couple more of them took the whole thing seriously, but most still didn’t.
“At the same time, I became very unpopular with a number of people in my county as a result of what I did and said, but I didn’t care. The only thing I couldn’t do was get out and speak publicly against all of this as something demonic that we needed to take spiritual authority over. I wasn’t allowed to do that as sheriff, and I didn’t think the Lord wanted me to jeopardize my job enough to lose it right in the middle of the investigation. There was a good chance a new sheriff, knowing how unpopular the subject had made me, wouldn’t have picked up the investigation and continued it. So I figured I was wiser to keep my mouth shut a little and still be able to carry out the search for the perpetrators and, hopefully, put an end to all the witchcraft activity in our county.”
Noah sat down on the footstool in front of Clint’s chair, leaning his elbows on his knees again, clasping his hand together in front of him. “Serenity . . . go check on David one more time before I tell you the rest. Make sure he’s asleep.”
Serenity looked up at him, but his head was bent down. “Okay, Noah,” she said quietly and rose to go to the bedroom. She was suddenly afraid . . . afraid for herself and Gramps because of what they’d have to hear . . . but even more afraid for Noah . . . because he would have to relive all of it in the telling. She wished she could take the hurt for him, but that wasn’t possible. “Please help him, Jesus,” she whispered just before she eased open the bedroom door. David was still fast asleep, peace on his little face, and tears sprang to her eyes at the thought of how the Lord had protected him all of his life.
Clint could see that Noah was so tense that his shoulders were strained tight. He placed his hand on one shoulder and began to pray. “Dear Lord, please give Noah Your peace right now. And give him the strength to tell us everything You want him to tell us, Father. And please . . . keep him from any more pain. Thank You, Lord.”
Clint was just finishing his prayer when Serenity returned and assured them that David was fine. Noah was still sitting on the footstool, so Serenity moved to the other end of the sofa where she could be closer to him. She reached over and laid her hand on his hands. “Just tell us as quickly as you can without trying to spare Gramps and me, Noah. You just need to get it all out.”
He turned his hands and grasped hers in both of his, nodding his agreement with her. He straightened up but didn’t let go of Serenity’s hand. “Well . . . my deputies and I had gradually been able to identify several of the people in that coven, but we didn’t have them all yet. And two of the people we didn’t connect with it were the two people who were the sponsors for the kids’ Sally Stone Clubs. They seemed like upright citizens, very civic-minded and interested in a number of children’s programs in the community. They even attended one of the churches in the county seat.
“We hadn’t caught on to their connection with the coven of witches, but we had started identifying a pattern in the ritual ceremonies and the farms the animals were being stolen from. We even managed to sneak in close enough to watch their rituals on two different occasions, and I felt like we were almost there . . . almost to the place where we could find a way to put a stop to all of it. Then Halloween week was upon us, and, of course, most of the people went all out to dress in horrendous costumes, put on scary parties, and all the rest. You know how the world does.” Serenity and Clint both nodded their understanding, and Noah let out another bitter laugh. “Did I say the world?” He shook his head. “ It seems to me that most of the church jumps in to celebrate that evil holiday with just as much enthusiasm as pagans do.”
“Unfortunately, you’re right,” Serenity said.
“Well, anyway, from my first year as sheriff, I had made it a practice to put all of my deputies on duty on the night of Halloween. We have a couple of towns overrun with taverns, and they usually had a full house, dressed for trick or treat and full of liquor. That usually led to some pretty wild activity along about midnight, so I liked to be prepared. I had thought that maybe I should stake at least one man out at the two sites that we knew were used most frequently for those rituals, but before the evening shift started, two of my men called in sick. Vomiting, diarrhea . . . really sick . . . and it had hit both of them all of a sudden. I know now that it was a pre-planned spiritual attack to keep me at a disadvantage, because that left me short-handed, and I dropped the idea of covering those secluded places. My reasoning was that I needed the most manpower in the more heavily populated places, since the most people’s safety was at stake there.”
Noah began to grip Serenity’s hand harder, and he swallowed convulsively before he went on. “About midnight I got a call that two children had been reported missing. One was a twelve year-old girl and the other a ten-year old boy. They weren’t related, and there was no reason to believe they would be together, so I took one family and sent a deputy to the other home to get all the information he could. Both families lived just outside the city limits of the same city, but in different directions.
“The parents of the boy told me that he was a member of the Sally Stone Club, and there had been a county-wide Halloween party that night, for all of the kids in the clubs. But it had been held in the civic center of their own town, and they had expected their son to call for a ride home by 10:30. They’d waited another half-hour, thinking he was just dawdling in getting away from his friends, but then they’d called the civic center. There was no answer, and figuring the office must be closed, but that the party was still going on, the father had driven by there, but all the lights were out. So that’s when they called 911.
“I checked with my deputy to see if the girl had turned up yet, and when he spoke with me, he told me that she too was supposed to have been at the Sally Stone Club Halloween Party.” Noah’s grip tightened even more on Serenity’s hand, and she put her other hand over his to try to comfort and encourage him as he went on. “I can still feel exactly what the knot felt like in my stomach when I realized that the party had to be the connection.
“And then . . . all of a sudden, the back door of these people’s home burst open, and a boy, who I later learned was the missing son, ran through the house to the living room where we were sitting. He looked absolutely wild with terror. His eyes were huge, his face was red, and he could hardly breathe from having run so far and so hard. His mother grabbed him up into her arms, and his dad knelt beside him trying to calm him. He was trying to talk, but between the gulps for breath and the convulsive sobs, he wasn’t able to say any words for several moments.
“Then I saw the marks on his wrists. They looked like rope burns, and then I knew . . . I just knew . . .” Noah’s voice had dropped to a whisper, and his eyes were filled with tears that began to trickle down his cheeks. After a few seconds, he cleared his throat so that he could speak more normally again. “I tried to get the boy to speak coherently, and finally, he began to mumble out some words between sobs. First it was just the girl’s name . . . Melinda . . . she went to the same school as he did, so he knew her . . . and then he said something like ‘they killed her.’ Of course, it was all jumbled up with his sobbing, and it still took me several minutes to find out if he meant the witches. When I got that much out of him, I needed him to tell me where they were, but he couldn’t right then.
“I called all my men and alerted them to be ready to move at a moment’s notice. Then I began to describe the two places we were already familiar with as ritual sites, and the boy, Danny, finally recognized one of them, so I was pretty sure we had the location. I took off at top speed and radioed my men where to meet me, and we converged on the place in about fifteen minutes. It was a secluded wooded area, and there was dead silence all around. We couldn’t see or hear anyone, and I was afraid we had the wrong place.”
Noah’s grip on Serenity’s hand was causing her pain by now, but she didn’t dare let go. She could tell that he was barely holding himself together as he continued. “But as we began to sweep the area carefully, we could see that there had been some activity there earlier.” He swallowed hard. “And we finally came across the pentagram and a fire that was still smoldering . . . and then . . . a few feet away . . . we saw . . . Melinda.” The last words were choked out on a sob as Noah covered his face with his hands and finally lost the fragile control he had been trying so hard to maintain.
Look for Chapter Thirteen here tomorrow.