It was Halloween night. I awoke to darkness. I’d been dreaming that I was driving in the dense fog, and had thumbed the defrost button on the dash of the old Chevy Silverado. Was I still dreaming? Given my penchant for sleepwalking, my disorientation was understandable. Comprehension cleared my head as the heater cleared the windshield, and in the moonlit night I could just make out that I’d turned down the driveway of the old abandoned Bosch Family Chapel. With my next breath I was being dragged inside the pitch black building, having instantly changed surroundings as so often happened in my dreams. I didn’t know if something had killed the nightlight in my bedroom, or if I was, in fact, still dreaming about the old haunted church.
It was the noise that clued me in. Or rather, the lack of noise. I lived in a busy rectory. Even late at night, there was always a priest mumbling devotions, a car driving past, or a dog barking. Now everything was dead silent. A rush of adrenaline took over my body like a personal sport’s trainer for my circulatory system. My blood raced through expanded blood vessels preparing me for fight or flight. Still, this could be a dream. They say you can’t feel pain in a dream, so I made a mistake. I pinched myself.
Pain is something you can describe with magniloquent prose, yet to put pain to paper fails to do justice to the exquisite amalgam of anguish and frenzy. While the reader merely sees the words on paper, the subject must physically endure every second of agony. That somnambulistic pinch coincided with the realization of pain, transforming my semi-conscious self into a fully awake, alert human animal.
I found myself anchored hand and foot to the top of the dilapidated alter in the old church, fighting unyielding bonds. Muted light filled the room as the full moon peered through a ragged hole in the far wall, a hole that had not been there in my dream. Standing over me loomed the naked form of a masculine creature of questionable human ancestry. He held the head of a jagged broken statue of the virgin mother which he was using to open my right inner thigh muscle, ripping up towards my groin.
My scream was uncompromising as every terror-rending atom coalesced into a wail that escaped past my tonsils, fruitlessly seeking sanctuary outside my pain wracked body. Cords of magenta slime popped free of the confines of my flesh as the edge of Mother Mary’s severed torso tore its way up my pant leg. My shriek distracted the creature, and the jagged edge stopped before reaching the crotch of my flannel PJ’s.
I gazed into his face; if it’s true that eyes are windows unto the soul, then the shades were open, the lights were on, and the devil was planning an orgy. As God’s warrior, I was not unused to looking into the face of evil, yet locking eyes with this thing will not be easily forgotten. His large, block-shaped head framed deep set features and stalks of silken grey strands wilted in the mulched bed of his scalp. Rows of craggy brown scars traversed his broad torso and he absent mindedly picked at them, leaving bloody nuggets of scab under his claw-like fingernails. My scream froze in my throat. If you have ever seen an African wildlife video, you are familiar with that look of resignation on the face of a wildebeest that has fallen prey to a pride of lions as they eviscerate it, and feed on its bowels. I had that look now, and this creature knew it. Taking up the scabrous statue he reached toward my genitalia.
“Trick or treat, trick or treat!” Children’s voices came laughing nervously up the chapel walkway, unbidden, unexpected and astonishing. A booming adult voice claimed “I find your lack of faith disturbing. You don’t know the power of the Dark Side.” Astonished, I watched Darth Vadar escort a score of assorted super-heroes, goblins, and one particularly disturbing sponge-like creature into the vestibule.
The man-creature glanced back and lumbered to its feet. The evil in his eyes changed to fear, and he ran ape-like on all fours towards the open hole in the wall of the building.
Simultaneously, Darth Vadar’s league entered the hall. All frivolity ceased when they saw me bound to the alter. As the Sith Lord approached me, I passed out for the final time that night.
Days later, when I was released from the hospital, the police determined that I had suffered from an attack of somnambulism in which I had driven to the old church, where I was accosted by a vagrant. It is said that the Lord works in mysterious ways; I can attest to that truth. A group of trick-or-treaters had come to the chapel that night on a scavenger hunt. Darth Vadar was in fact an emergency room surgeon who saved me from bleeding to death. My severed femoral artery was repaired using a pixie straw and some thread from a Spiderman costume in a brilliant display of field medicine.
With the help of crutches and the confidence brought with the sunlight, I find myself back in this God-forsaken place. On the wall is a full size mural; a reproduction of Hieronymus Bosch’s Garden of Earthly Delights. There is no longer a hole in the wall. Where the hole had been, the naked form of a masculine creature of questionable human ancestry lounges on top of a wooden torture device. It locks eyes with me from the painting with an expression of evil I have never before seen and will not easily forget.
Joan Childs grew up moving about the country with her family, in the military tradition, and eventually settled as an adult in Los Angeles, CA. She met her husband while working at a pet store, and they married in 1981.Joan went on to become a veterinary technician and animal control officer, then turned her hard won equestrian talents into a career as a professional horse trainer and riding coach.
In 2005, the Childs moved from Los Angeles, CA to West Tennessee. Joan is the owner and trainer at Finish Flag Farms, an equine training and retirement facility located between Memphis and Nashville. Joan has been happily married for 30 years and has two adult sons.