The Bible Bashers.
Copyright Ned McCann
LETTERS TO THE EDITOR.
Without exception, the world’s major religions, comprising of Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, and Budists are of the belief that everyone is possessed of a soul. Some are of the belief that every animal; tree, rock, and flower are also possessed of that soul, we Christians believe to be imperishable.
Without exception, the world’s major religions propagate the belief that the corporeal is at risk of infestation from demons, devils, and evil spirits.
To combat such, experts in the art of exorcism are regularly employed by all of the major religions to purge the infected body.
For those, chosen by God to act upon his word as spoken through the gospels, to be pilloried in a court of man’s law, as Mrs Leah Clugston and those she has anointed are now having done to them, is an abomination before the Lord. To my mind, it heralds the ‘end of days.’
O. Smetnar (Mrs.)
It was hot in the crowded courtroom; so hot Magistrate McDonald called the usher to open the doors and windows. Leah Clugston waved the oath card before her face as she waited. When the usher returned from opening the doors and windows, she took the bible he handed her, read the oath from the card and handed him back the bible.
“Thank you, Leah,” he said.
“Thank you,” Mrs Clugston replied.
Born on a farm, married to a farmer, Mrs Clugston has lived on farms for most of her 80 years. When speaking to you, she has a very direct look, catching and holding your eyes with hers.
She turned that cornflower blue look to the crown prosecutor, who had just put a question to her. “Of course I know Mathew.” She nodded a smile to a blond haired young man sitting in the dock. “And Ralph and David,” pointing to the two men sitting with him. “And Leanne.”
Charged with manslaughter and illegal detainment, the woman and three men in the dock looked up from the Bibles on their laps. The young man, flicking a lock of blond hair from his face, grinned a toothy smile back at Leah, who turned again to the prosecutor. “I initiated Mathew Nuske myself into the great work for the Lord,” she said. “According to Holy Scripture and personal revelations, I anointed him with consecrated oils, making of him a soldier in the army of the Lord.”
Before the prosecutor could ask another question Leah held her finger up against it. “Oh, excuse me,” she said. And cupping a hand to her ear, she listened as one would to a sea shell.
The magistrate leaned forward from his bench.
“ I’m sorry.” Leah’s eyelids fluttered closed. “I’ll be right back.” They fluttered open again. “ When the Lord has finished speaking.”
The court recorder poised her fingers as Leah gave a little shudder, caught her breath and cocked an ear to a voice seemingly by her shoulder. “Yes, Lord,” she said.
Leah has no control over this. When the Lord wants to talk to her, he talks to her, tells her to do things. “Silly things sometimes; as if he’s testing me. But when the Lord tells you to do something you do it.”
A ceiling fan creaked and the court waited.
Leah smiled. Her eyes opened, and she swivelled that direct look between the magistrate and prosecutor. “This is the message from the Lord,“ she said.
Again she shuddered, again she caught her breath; a sure sign that what she was about to say was in the Lord’s name. And when Leah had caught her breath, she said, “Cease ye the persecution of these my servants.”
It had been a long day and Magistrate McDonald called it when he slammed his gavel on the bench.
The forecourt was crowded with people lighting up, or already smoking. As they left the building, the four accused held their Bibles before their faces and the smoker’s fug was whisked away by the Channel 9 helicopter rattling above.
“There was television cameras and those flashbulbs,” Mrs Clugston remembered. “And reporters asking questions. Horsham had never seen the likes. And even when you got home, they were on the doorstep, or on the phone. That one from the Deutsche, Dutch something?…That German paper, he was most insistent. Never a minute’s peace. As for the neighbours, I’ve seen some of them cross the street to avoid me.”
The land around Horsham is a flat, fertile basin ringed by a range of mountains the early settlers named the Grampians. Farmers still plough up fossils from when the basin was covered by a fresh water sea. There is a permanent exhibition of fossils in the town library, along with a papier mâché reproduction of a 2 metre high carnivorous marsupial baring a sabre-toothed grin.
Now, instead of a sea, a river snakes through the area. A river the European invaders named Wimmera-as close as they could get to pronouncing the aboriginal name.
According to a plaque on the tourist information centre, incorporating a milk bar and a Mexican takeaway, which now occupies the spot, the town grew from a slab walled convenience store cum post office, established beside the river in 1849.
The settlers spread along the flatlands and gave to their settlements names like Ferntree, Rainbow, and Antwerp. Antwerp is a general store by a bus stop. The Ebenezer Mission Hall sits in the middle of a field opposite. Hard by the crossroads is a rail siding and beside that a wheat silo, the tallest structure in Antwerp. A four fingered signpost beside the crossroads points to Tarranyurk. The road to the right leads to Warracknabeal. The road to the left peters out to a track after Glenlee. The fourth finger points back to Horsham.
There is no pub in Antwerp. But there is a general store which opens at the owner’s whim. When not working their daddies’ fields the local youth hang out at the general store-if open. Of a Saturday night, they get a slab of beer there, pile into cars, drive to the river, light a fire, drink the beer and howl at the moon.
According to Madge Loan, who still lives close to where it occurred, there was a crime wave one Saturday night back in 1963. “Or it might have been ’64. Blasted memory’s goin’, I tell you. Some local kids, hooning around on a tractor, king hit that row of mailboxes. Went down like nine pins they did.”
That Sunday morning after the night before, the incident was discussed in the Ebenezer Hall. It was a long meeting and the youths concerned were made to sit in front of the hall. The elders, citing, ‘That ‘teleevision’, ‘bodgie boy jackets,’ and ‘suede jumpin shoes,’ blamed the vexation on Johnny O’Keefe, the shouting wild one, who strutted his stuff in exactly that get up every Saturday night on 6 o’clock Rock.
The kids were made commit to community service. They apologised for the inconvenience, reinstalled the mailboxes, and gave the meeting hall a coat of paint. And, when they had done all of that, they watched the paint dry and the seasons merge one into the other from the riverbank where they lit fires, drank beer and howled at the moon.
Twice a week, Monday and Thursday, there’s a bus from Horsham that passes through Tarranyurk, Warracknabeal, Glenlee, and Antwerp. You get your ticket from Roger. Roger manages Victravel from a handsome red brick building that was once the old police station. The new station, a low concrete blockhouse, squats adjacent; peering through vapid, brown windows with brushed aluminium facings from behind a bank of rhododendrons.
Roma Carriss is a big woman who doesn’t walk too well. Heart not the best, she is on tablets for diabetes, dropsy and blood pressure, “ like you wouldn’t believe.” And was puffing in the heat as Roger helped her aboard with her overnight bag, sponge cake in a tin, and the bunch of flowers picked from her garden, he knew Roma was going to visit her friend, Joan Vollmer. And he knew Joan, who was regularly dropped off in town by her hubby, Ralph, to do some shopping, and got the Thursday afternoon bus back to the pig farm in Antwerp. Salvation Army people, as was Roma- good people.
Roma thanked God for air conditioning, for the temperature outside was hitting the 40’s as they drove among fields of golden cannola, which Roma noticed could have been doing better; blaming the current drought, as everyone did, on that little bugger, el Nino.
The bus dropped Roma at Antwerp’s general store. The store was closed, but Ralph Vollmer was waiting for her in its shade.
He helped Roma down from the bus and put all her bits and pieces in the back of his ute. Roma noted that the ute appeared to have been recently painted and badly, bodywork streaked in bright pink, doors sky blue.
When she had settled herself, Roma fluffed up her wilting flowers. ‘I’d better get them into water,’ she thought, ‘and give them an Aspirin.’ Joan, she knew, was bound to have some for those wretched headaches she suffered from.
The trip from the store to the Vollmer place took less then three minutes. Roma noticed the words, ‘Stop bothering the Lord,’ in red paint on the whitewashed sides of some sheds by the front gate when they got there.
“I did that,” Ralph said. “Reminds me to stop bothering the Lord with little things when he has enough on his mind already.”
“Very considerate, ” Roma said.
“I could hear Joan speaking aloud in a very strange voice as I came to her door”, Roma would say later. “Then she began singing. It was lovely her singing, just like a nightingale’s.”
Joan came to the door. “Still in her nightie, hair in curlers.” She pulled on a dressing gown, took Roma into the kitchen, sat her down at the table and put the kettle on the hob.
“I’ll leave you to it,” Ralph said and went down to the sties to tend his pigs.
Joan busied herself rearranging the crockery on the sideboard and Roma watched as she restacked the plates on the plates, the saucers on the saucers. She changed the cups around on their hooks so that the handles were all on the right, rather than to the left as they had been before, all the while chattering about the development of her pregnancy. Granted, Joan’s belly was distended. However, at Joan’s age, 49, pregnancy was unlikely. Wind, more like. Roma thought.
Trying to get Joan to sit down, talk about it, Roma, took her by the hand.
“Her hands were cold as ice.” And when she did at last sit down at the table she began pulling the petals from the flowers Roma had brought. And, as Roma watched, “Joan’s shoulders began to hunch and she took on the shape of an old woman.”
“No,” Joan rasped in an old woman’s voice. “I’m not pregnant- not yet. My belly’s filled with cancer though, and there are these things that want to rape me. Things that want to possess me.”
Roma looked around her at Joan’s spotless kitchen. “Oh, Joan,” she remembers saying. “It’s all in your mind.”
“Oh yes,” Joan moved a sugar bowl on the sideboard, so that its handles were perfectly aligned with that on a milk jug. “That’s what the doctor said in Lakeside when Ralph had me committed.”
“Now, dear,” Roma said. “ You weren’t committed. You only went in for a little rest.”
Joan moved the milk jug closer to the sugar bowl, just so.“ Rest be buggered,” she said. “It was an involuntary admission and there was nothing wrong with my mind.”
They both turned to a heavy step on the back veranda and the thump of boots being shucked off.
Ralph threw the kitchen door open with, “Hiyagain, Roma?”
“Hiyagain, Ralph?” Roma said.
“Tea ready?” Ralph put on his slippers. “I could do with a cuppa.”
“Kettle should just be boiling.” Roma prised her bulk from the chair, went to the stove.
The stove was cold, the kettle, Joan had put there, empty. “There’s a sponge I’ve brought to go with it,” Roma said as she filled the kettle and lit the stove.
Joan smoothed a crease from the tablecloth, made sure that cups saucers and plates were just so. “Would you excuse me?” She said. “I have to water the garden.”
“Ralph?” Roma cut into the sponge. “Is Joan OK?”
“Well, look at her.”
Ralph looked from the kitchen window. Joan had taken off her nightie and dressing gown. Standing with arms and legs outstretched, she was watering the mint, parsley and sage.
Ralph rose. “Give thanks to the Lord for your tea, Roma.” He moved before the window, obscured the view. “And try to ignore that which may offend you.”
Roma, sipped on her tea, but couldn’t help looking again to the window. Her friend was now lying on her back, writhing among the rills of her garden. “But.”
And before she could say more, Ralph raised his finger against her.
“ Roma,” he said. “If thy right eye offendeth thee, pluck it out.”
Roma peeped again to the window. Ralph stood away, allowed her to see the sight of her friend kneeling and digging around the dampened earth with her fingers. Pointing, he said, “If thy left hand offendeth thee, Roma, cut it off.”
Ralph sat down at the table, swirled a cup around on its saucer. “This is what I go through every day,” he said. “This is a normal day. Normal, now, that when I walk in that door all the furniture has been rearranged so I don’t know what room I’m supposed to be in. Normal that when she says I have done a painting for you. And shows me the painting.”
Ralph pointed from the window at his pink and blue Toyota. “And the painting is my ute!”
“Normal? That is not normal behaviour, Ralph.”
“Right, Roma, and what you are seeing is not a normal person. Our Joan is possessed.”
“Possessed? Well I don’t know about possessed, but I reckon she’s sick. Should be in Lakeview.”
“No. We’ve done Lakeview. Lakeview is pills and pills don’t work against what is ailing her.”
“And what’s ailing her?”
“Demons, ” Ralph said.
Roma was washing the tea things when Joan came into the kitchen. “Has he gone?”
“He’s tending his pigs,” Roma said.
“Cares more of them than he does me.”
“Oh, Joan, that’s not so. He loves you. We all love you.” Roma, wiped her hands on the tea towel and made towards her.
“Love?” Joan turned away from her.
“Joan,” Roma said. “Are you taking your medication?”
“Ralph says the medication does no good. And he’s right. “ Joan pulled her friend towards the window. “What use is medication against them?” She pointed through the pane and Roma saw trees, bushes, hens dust bathing in the dry earth. “Who?” She asked.
“Them!” Joan pressed Roma’s face closer to the window.
“Not the bloody hens. Them ones out there who want to rape me.”
It was around five when they sat down to a dinner of ham and salad with spring onions and big, juicy tomatoes.
“Now that’s what I call tomatoes,” Ralph cut into one with his knife. “Not like those tasteless things from town.”
“They’re very nice,” Roma said. “Do you grow them?”
“That’s Joan’s department,” Ralph said.
Roma remembered Joan’s irrigation of the herb garden. “Oh,” she said. Then, “They are very nice, Joan.”
Joan smiled her thanks to Roma, but said nothing. And Roma watched as her oh so thin friend cut and diced and moved the food around on her plate. And when the other two had finished, Joan took their plates and placed them on top of hers so no one could see what she hadn’t eaten.
Roma helped Joan wash up and although it was only 6.30 when they had put the dishes away on their shelves she was so exhausted from all the goings on she called it a day.
Ralph looked up from his Bible and watched as Roma counted out her medication. “Gee, that’s a lot of pills you take, Roma,” he said.
“A lot of pills,” Roma said. “And they cost a lot.”
“Prayer,” Ralph said.
“Prayer before pills. Prayer will cure you of what is ailing you better than pills.”
Roma lost the count of her pills. “Oh,” she said and had to start again with the blue one for blood pressure, two of the little white ones with the X on for...
“I have witnessed miraculous cures using the power of a healing circle,” Ralph said.
“I’m sure you have, Ralph.” Roma started to count again. “But the pills seem to help.”
“Seem to,” Ralph said. “Seem to help. But the cure is in prayer.”
“I pray every night, Ralph.” She counted them again before cupping the pills into her mouth.
“By yourself, Roma,” Ralph said. “But the power of prayer is more focused within the circle.”
She washed her pills down with a mouthful of tea.
“Our circle meets regularly.” Ralph said. “You should come along.”
Roma rinsed out her cup. and laid it to drain. “Thank you, Ralph,” she said. “I’ll think about that.”
Joan picked the cup from the draining rack, wiped it dry and put it on its hook.
“Do,” Ralph said. “Cheaper than pills.”
Joan turned from where she was re-arranging the dishes. “Good night, Roma,” she said. “May the angels of the Lord guard your sleep.”
Roma had just put down her bible, was about to turn out the light when she heard a soft scraping noise at her door. “Yes?”
Joan peeped around the jamb. “Are you asleep?”
“Just about,” Roma said.
Joan climbed in beside her and cuddled up. “I want to tell you something,” she said.
“But first, there’s something I want to show you.”
She pulled Roma from her bed, led her towards the window, and pointed. “Now do you believe me?” she said.
Roma peered into the darkness. “What?”
“Them,” Joan stabbed her finger against the pane.
Roma rubbed her fingers across the glass. “Who?”
Joan banged her fist on the frame. “Them,” she said. “Oh why can’t you see?”
Joan dragged Roma from her bed many times that night, pointing, forcing her to look. But never once did she see a rapist, or a demon.
Roma made breakfast. She turned rashers around in their frying pan, cracked eggs into their bubbling fat and served them to Ralph on a willow patterned plate.
“Joan’s having a lie in,” she said.
She poured herself a cup of tea and watched as Ralph dipped bread into the yolk Watched as his long teeth nibbled on the bread and crunched on the bacon. She tried to make conversation. But Ralph’s ears were cocked towards the bedroom, where Joan was singing again in that sweet voice Roma had heard when she first arrived.
“She’s in good voice this morning,” Roma said.
Ralph rose from the table, took his hat from the peg on the door. “Yes,” he said. “But there’ll be tears before bedtime.”
Ralph had no sooner gone than Joan, came fluttering into the kitchen holding the ends of her nighty up like fairy wings. “What a beautiful morning, Roma,” she grabbed her friend’s hand and danced around the table with her on tip toes.
“Stop it, you silly thing,” Roma laughed and made her sit down. “You’ve got me all out of puff.”
Joan blew her cheeks up and blew a raspberry through her lips.
“A cup of tea and a slice of toast,” Roma said.
Joan blinked, looked around and it was some time before her eyes seemed to focus on where the voice was coming from. “Thank you,” she said. “Not yet. Later… perhaps.”
Roma began to clear away the breakfast things.”Let’s make some scones and bickies for Ralph’s smoko,” she said.
Joan turned and looked at her. “Smoko?” She blinked again, “ So much to do,” she said. “So much.” She picked up a plate, laid it on the sink and
Roma washed, while Joan dried and placed everything just so among the other crockery on the dresser shelves.
“Flour!” Roma jumped as Joan shouted. She had never heard Joan shout before.
“Flour,” Joan shouted again, pointed her finger.“
Roma looked to where her friend pointed.
“The flour and things are in the pantry,” Joan, but not Joan, said.
Roma went to the pantry. “Well you’re the one who wanted to bake,” the voice behind her, ‘ and it was not Joan’s.’ followed her to the door and was still behind her as she brought flour and all the bits and pieces necessary for the making of biscuits from the pantry and laid them to her hand on the kitchen table.
There was a thud on the table as Joan slammed a heavy mixing bowl on to it. “You want Anzacs,Mrs Carris, you make Anzacs.” she said and went into the other room.
Roma followed her. “Joan,” she said.
Her friend stood in the middle of the room. She was looking at a desk in the corner and tapping her teeth with a knuckle. “I think over beside the window,” she murmured and turned. “I thought you were baking,” she said.
And Roma didn’t like the way she said it. “All I said was, let’s make some Anzacs,” she said.
Joan came towards her and her eyes had a strange look. “The operative word is, us,” she said. “And just include me out of the us.” Turning her back, she again gave her attention to the positioning of the desk. “I’ve better things to do.”
Roma wandered back to the kitchen. She glanced at the wall clock. It was just after 8 and the bus back to Horsham would not be until five. She looked at the baking things on the table, sighed and began a batch of Anzacs.
Ralph opened the door to the smell of baking. Roma knocked biscuits from their tray to the table and looked up.
“Smells good,” he said and sat.
Roma put biscuits on a plate. When it was full, she put what was left in a tin. “Where’s Joan?” Ralph said.
Roma looked at him, and turned her eyes to the door. Ralph listened and from the next room could hear the sound of furniture being dragged across a floor.
“Roma,” he said after a while. “I didn’t sleep much last night.”
“I didn’t sleep much either,” Roma said. “Neither did Joan.”
He took a biscuit from the plate, broke it between his fingers and nibbled on it. “Yeah, Joan,” he said and winced as something else was dragged across the floor.
“Look, Roma, he said. I think it would be better if you went home, leave Joan and I be.”
Ralph sat down beside her, took her hand in his. “I’ve been through this many times, Roma.” He wiped away a forelock of hair and brushed his eyes with the back of his hand. “Believe me, what’s happening here, now, is more than you can handle.”
Roma slipped her hand from beneath Ralph’s and held it in her lap.
“I have to be alone with Joan now, before calling others to our side.”
Roma wanted to ask who the others were but…
“Just leave us be, Roma,” Ralph said. “To do what has to be done.”
Ralph packed eggs, apples from the orchard and a ham hock from the smokehouse into a basket for Roma to take with her. Roma got her things together and thanked Joan for a lovely time. Joan thanked her for coming and said she must come again, perhaps in the autumn when it was cooler.
They drove down the track to the corner and Ralph flickered his hand to an old guy sitting on the veranda of the general store. The old guy tapped a finger against his brow as Ralph turned on to the bitumen.
Once on the bitumen, the tyres began to hum. As he drove, Ralph joined in and hummed a few bars of, The old rugged cross, then began to sing it. Driving alongside the Wimmera, he was inspired to sing, Let us gather by the river. As they entered Horsham, the grapes of wrath were being trod while the Lord’s terrible, swift sword flashed in the sun. And all the time Roma sat silent and didn’t say a word until they turned into her street.
“Ralph,” she said. “I’m terribly worried about Joan. She doesn’t seem…” She hesitated, and then came right out and said it. “right. And I think she needs treatment…” And wishing she had never said anything, finished with, “of some kind. That’s what I think.”
“Just leave it to me, ” Ralph said as he helped her down from his Ute.
“So I just left it to him,” Roma said. “And that was the last time I saw my friend, Joan.”
Ralph came home to a ringing phone. He picked it up and said hello.
“Hi, neighbour? Ollie Macken.”
“Oh hi, Ollie, what can I do you for?”
He waited for Ollie to continue.
“It’s just that- uh, well.”… “Joan’s out in the field again.”
Ralph looked over to the bedroom. The door was open. Through it he could see the window. The window was up. A slight breeze made the curtains ripple.
“She’s down in your bottom paddock.”
“Thank you, Ollie. I’ll handle it.”
“It’s just that some kids saw her from the school bus.”
“And she didn’t have much clothes on.”
“I said I would handle it, Ollie,” Ralph said. “And thank you for calling.”
Ralph grabbed his Drizabone from its hook. Scattering hens, he strode through the orchard, across the style and down to the paddock.
The first thing he saw was Joan’s dressing gown. He picked it up, then her nightie; one of her slippers and then the other.
She was lying under the hedge sleeping when he found her. He wrapped her in his coat, carried her home and was surprised how light his burden was.
Ralph put Joan to bed. He stroked and hushed her and when she was quiet he left her there and closed the door behind him. He went to the woodshed. There was some fence slats there. He took the fence slats, a hammer, a pocketful of nails and began to nail the slats across the window frame.
When he had finished, he returned to the bedroom. Despite the noise of the hammering, Joan seemed to be still asleep. He took some stockings from her drawer and tied her wrists to the bedposts with them.
“Its for your own good, love,” she heard him say.
It was getting dark now. Ralph sat down at the table, pulled the lamp down on its chain and opened his Bible.
“Ralph.” He looked up as Joan called through the locked door. “Ralph.” And turned again to the book, he had opened at page five- THE NAMES AND ORDER OF ALL THE BOOKS IN THE OLD AND NEW TESTAMENT. Closing his eyes, he turned the book three times and stabbed his finger at the page.
When Ralph opened his eyes, his nail was on Mark and Joan’s voice had become louder, strident.
“There’s more to life than the bloody Bible, Ralph,” she cried.
Ignoring her, he turned to The Gospel according to St. MARK. Closing his eyes again he turned some pages and again stabbed his finger at random.
As well as Joan’s, other voices now seemed to come from the room. One in particular was low, guttural, harsh- quite unlike hers. “You heap of shit,” it growled. “How dare you tie us up like a dog?”
Ralph opened his eyes and his finger was on Mark’s 5th chapter.
And they came over unto the other side of the sea, into the country of the Gadarenes.
2 And when he was come out of the ship, immediately there met him out of the tombs a man with an unclean spirit.
3 Who had his dwelling among the tombs; and no man could bind him, no, not with chains:
“I’ll bind you with chains, cunt!”
Ralph looked up from his reading as the voice roared at him from behind the closed door. It wasn’t her voice- not the voice of the Joan he knew and loved. Ignoring it, he continued reading.
4 Because that he had often been bound with fetters and chains, and the chains had been plucked asunder by him, and the fetters broken in pieces: neither could any man tame him.
5 And always, night and day, he was in the mountains, and in the tombs, crying, and cutting himself with stones.
6 But when he saw Jesus afar off, he ran and worshiped him.
7 And cried with a loud voice, and said, What have I to do with thee, Jesus, thou Son of the most high God? I adjure thee by God, that thou torment me not.
“Fuck you, Ralph, and fuck your cock sucking Jesus up the arse with a yard broom.”
8 For he said unto him, Come out of the man, thou unclean spirit.
9 And he asked him, What is thy name? And he answered, saying, My name is Legion: for we are many.
“And the many will shove it bristle end first. Right up your lily white arseholes.”
10 And he besought him much that he would not send them out of the country.
Behind him the racket had become even louder and Ralph could now hear at least three distinct voices calling out to him. Sometimes singly, sometimes in unison cursing him, cursing the Lord.
11 Now there was nigh unto the mountains a great herd of swine feeding.
“You perfidious cunt. How long have you known me, 20 years? Release me!”
12 And all the devils besought him, saying, Send us into the swine, that we may enter into them.
“You and your fucking pigs. Fuck them, cunt.”
13 And forthwith Jesus gave them leave. And the unclean spirits went out, and entered into the swine: and the herd ran violently down a steep place into the sea, (there were about two thousand;) and were choked in the sea.
Ralph closed his bible and thanked it for again showing him the way. Something had to be done. Something, he decided, would be done. He raised his eyes. “But not the pigs, Lord,” he said.
Pushing back his chair, he stood up from the table and went to his office.
Ralph’s ‘office ‘ was a roll top desk in the corner of the kitchen. There, he kept his breeding records, his receipts, his tax files and the myriad of pamphlets and directives from the Departments of This and That. Everything was there for the orderly running of a pig farm-everything except a phone.
“Joan, dear?” Ralph put his key in the lock. “I’m coming in. Don’t be afraid.”
A high-pitched shriek came from the other side of the door. The shriek reminded Ralph of the night a feral cat had been caught in the fox trap. The shriek was just like that and when Ralph opened the door, Joan’s eyes were blazing and she was hissing and spitting just as the cat had.
She lay on their bed, tied as he had left her. Her fingers clawed at air, then his face as he came towards her. “Dear,” he said. “ Where did you put the phone?”
Joan raised her head from the pillow. She growled from deep in her throat, spat a great gob of spit in his face and lashed out at him with her legs.
Ralph leapt back. There was a crash and tinkle of breaking glass as he knocked over a small table and a splintering sound as he fell on top of it.
Disentangling himself from the wreckage, he cut his hand on a shattered crystal vase. It had been a wedding present and Joan was very fond of it.
“I’m so sorry, Joan. I’ll glue it together again. He picked up the pieces and put them on the dressing table. “Be good as new,” he said. But knew it wouldn’t.
He stood behind the bed’s footboard and looked down on the howling Fury his wife had become. “Oh, Joan”, he said. “Oh, Joan.”
Again Joan spat at him, “The fire in her eyes was like red hot coals.”
Ralph sighed. He closed the door quietly behind him and locked it again.
Joan sat up and began to nibble the knotted bonds with her teeth.
Ralph wiped the spit from his face. The first time Joan had ‘tidied away’ the phone, and couldn’t remember where, they had found it together in the linen cupboard wrapped in a tea cosy. Then they had laughed.
Ralph opened the linen cupboard and found only sheets, neatly folded with sprigs of lavender between them. And every time he opened another door, or a drawer, Joan’s voice screamed out at him. When he searched for the phone among the jars of preserves in the pantry another voice, it definitely was not Joan, called out, “Warmer.”
And when he noticed the phone sitting on the office desk where it should have been, a pen and pad sitting beside it, as they always were, the screaming stopped.
He picked up the receiver, held it to his ear. There was a tone and just as he began to dial the laughter began; from the other room, great gouts and shrieks of laughter. Then the voices again. “Fool, cuntface, fuckwit.” Mocking, deriding and humiliating him.
When her phone rang, Leah Clugston was watching television with her husband, Jim. Jim, after 40 years driving tractors with the exhaust roaring beside his ear is profoundly deaf and needs the volume turned up loud.
Leah took the phone into the hallway and closed the door against the Benny Hill Show, which Jim liked, being mostly sight gags, but she could do without, regarding Benny as vulgar.
“That’s better, Ralph,” she said. “I can hear you now.
How’re things down on the farm?”
“Not too good, Mrs Clugstone. That’s why I’m ringing.”
“Joan? Is she sick again?”
Ralph was impressed by Mrs Clugston’s ability to put her finger right on the button. “She’s sick again,” he said.
“Oh, poor love. Shall I come over?”
“Its worse this time, much worse.There’s voices.”
“She’s hearing voices?”
“No, I’m hearing them.”
Ralph told of how he had found Joan in the field, the lost phone, the voices, what they had said; but not the words they had used.
“Have you tried praying?”
“Constantly. And can hardly hear myself think through the noise they make.” Ralph turned to a banging on the door behind him. It was so loud, so heavy, he thought the panels would split.
Ralph held the receiver towards the door. “ You can hear that?”
“I can hear something.” She held a hand over her ear to shut out Benny’s silly music and the audience’s laughter. “Is that Joan?”
“No, its not Joan,” and he was ashamed to admit it. “It can’t be Joan. I tied her to the bed.”
And then that voice again, sneering this time. “Who’s that you’re talking to, Ralph, your fancy woman? Does she know you fuck your pigs?”
“Shut up!” Ralph, turning from the phone, shouted towards the door.
“I’m sorry. Not you.”
“Give them blow jobs?”
Ralph turned again to the door. “In the name of God,” he shouted again. “Depart from me, ye cursed!”
Mrs Clugston had never known Ralph to raise his voice before. As for tying Joan to the bed… Was she hearing him right? “Ralph,” she said. “Just calm down. Take a deep breath.”
Ralph took a deep breath, another and then another. She listened as his breathing became a sobbing. “Oh Leah,” he said. “I’m in such trouble. I need help.”
“I know you do, Ralph. But I’m not the one.”
“I can’t handle this by myself.”
“Nor should you,” she said.
“What can we do?”
“We should pray now for guidance.” She closed her eyes. On the screen, in the other room, Benny, with rockets tied to his wheelchair, was chasing old ladies around a park. Although the smoke from his calabash streamed behind him, the tassel on his smoking cap was upright and rigid. It was very funny.
Leah began to shudder.Ralph listened as her breathing pattern changed to a series of small gasps; concerned, he thought she was having an attack of some kind. And just when she thought she had gasped her last, heard a voice quite unlike Leah’s.
“I stretch my arms out unto thee,” he heard the voice say.
“ Verily I say unto you”, the voice gathered strength, boomed in his ear. “He that believeth in me, the works that I shall do he shall do also; and greater works than these shall he do.”
“Whatever ye shall ask in my name, that will I do.”
To the booming voice, that was definitely not Leah’s, Ralph said, “Come, Lord. Rid my wife of the demons that infest her.”
There was there another great banging and thumping from the next room. Ralph turned from the phone to the noise and tightened his fist on the receiver, as the door handle seemed to move, turn, then stop.
“When will you come, Lord?” he said.
“ He is hard by the door,” Leah said. “Hang up and let me make a phone call.”
Ralph kindled a fire. It was too hot for a fire, but he needed the comfort of the flames. He prayed before the flames; prayed for his wife, watched the flames and prayed that his plea would rise on the flames to reach Jesus sitting on the right hand side of God his father in his heaven.
Ralph nodded before the fire into a dream in which he was sitting in another room.
It was a big room, a long room. The walls were made of burnished brass embossed in a fleur de lys pattern and they seemed to stretch on both sides into the mists of infinity.
Flames flickered in a fireplace tiled in the finest of alabaster. A clock sat on the mantlepiece.Two angels inside the clock struck the hour with golden hammers. On either side of the clock, lilies, daffodils and peonies spilled from two porphyry vases.
Two armchairs sat on either side of the fireplace. The young, blond haired Jesus occupied one and on the other sat his white-bearded father. They were engrossed in deep discussion. Opposite the fireplace was a huge couch, huge enough to seat all those consecrated down through the ages as saints.
The saints stroked their beards and looked at Ralph. And while they looked, the blessed virgin, Mary, wafted in from the kitchen through a serving hatch on the wall. Carrying plates of biscuits, Devon, tomato, cheese and ham sandwiches, she offered them first to the Father, then to his Son. Bypassing Ralph, she offered the plates to the saints sitting on the couch.
Ralph watched as Cherubim, carrying pots of tea, cups, saucers, bowls of sugar and jugs of milk flittered in her wake; and saw the Holy Ghost reach down from his eyrie in the cornice for a Tim Tam.
The role of Holy Ghost in things had always been a worry. If the New Testament were to be believed, the Holy Ghost was an adulterer. For it was the Holy Ghost who had impregnated Mary- blessed Mary, ever a virgin, spouse of Joseph, with his seed.
Ralph looked up to where the Holy Ghost held the Tim Tam in his little pigeon claws, watched as he nibbled it with his little pigeon beak. He blinked as crumbs from the biscuit fell into his eyes and awoke to the sound of a car coming up the drive. The sound of the car must have awakened the demons too, for they started their shouting and crooning again. Rushing on to the veranda, Ralph waved a torch at the approaching vehicle.
As they bumped up the track, the car’s driver and his passenger could see clearly in the car’s headlights Ralph’s pale face; furrows from the torment he was obviously suffering ploughing deep from eye to jaw.
At first, Ralph appeared surprised as the light fell on the smiling face of the dark haired young woman as she got out on the passenger’s side. He smiled back and reached out his hands in welcome. “Leanne,” he said and pecked her cheek with the Christian kiss of peace. Turning, he gave his hand now to the driver, a man he recognised, but could not quite put a name to. “David,” he said. “David emmm…”
“ Klinger,” the man said. “David Klinger.” He took Ralph’s hand, turned his cheek from his kiss. “We met at the prayerfest last year in Adelaide.”
Ralph led Leanne to the house. David unloaded their luggage from the boot and wrinkled his nose as the smell of, snorting, grunting, squealing, pigs wafted up to him from the sheds.
Jim was asleep. Leah lay beside him reading her Bible. She sipped her Ovaltine and lifted the phone on its first ring.
“You’ve sent Leanne Reichenbach,” Ralph said.
“I didn’t think you’d send Leanne.”
“You asked for help in his name. Through me, the Lord sent you help”
“But I know Leanne. I would be embarrassed to do it with her.”
“False dignity, Ralph. It’s like becoming a parent. You wrap your dignity in the contents of the first nappy.”
“Are you sure?”
“Between them, “Leah said, “they’ve conducted more than twenty exorcisms. Put your faith in Jesus and your trust in them. Believe me.”
The three spent that night clearing carpets, curtains and furniture from the room. When they had done that, they lit a smoke bomb and when the smoke had cleared not one spider or roach was left alive.
“According to Sermons,” Leanne told them, “Cleanliness is indeed next to godliness. Satan and his minions, revelling in that which is unclean, anchor themselves to that which is dirty.”
Ralph, at her bidding, rustled up every cleaning implement he could find. He issued to them brooms, mops and buckets and standing high on stepladders, they washed down ceiling and walls; crouching on their knees, they scrubbed, scoured and picked the dirt from every crack and burnished the floor with a mixture of ash from the fireplace and salt from the kitchen.
When they had finished it was morning; the birds were chirruping, the cicadas shrieking and the sun shining through the diamond clear windowpanes.
Leanne asked for a table, preferably round. Ralph had the very thing and Leanne made him wash it in bleach water before he brought it into the room. She laid her Bible on the table and opened it on the bookmark. Holding her arms wide, she ushered the men to group around her. Taking their hands in hers, she led them into silent prayer with a reading of Paul’s letter to the Corinthians.
“ Put on the whole armour of God,” she said. And felt the feel of the men’s hands in hers; hard hands roughened by hard work, as were hers.
“That ye may storm against the wiles of the devil,” feeling their strong fingers, nails cut blunt, piercing into the palms of her hands. She heard a fluttering sound and shuddered as the Paraclete come down among them.
“He is come,” she said and felt him cover them with his wings as a dove would his mate. The others heard it too and their limbs and coupled hands also shuddered as the strength of the Holy Spirit entered into their circle of prayer. And when their circle of prayer had become charged with his power and complete the clamour from the other room begin again.
Leanne raised her voice against the battering on the door. “For ye wrestle not with flesh and blood but against principalities in spiritual wickedness,” she cried.
The clamour from the other room died to a whimpering.
“In the name of God.”
“ In the name of God. “
“In the blood of Jesus.”
“ In the blood of Jesus. “
“With the word of God.”
“With the word of God.”
There was a frozen moment after the last response: a roaring silence where neither a cicada nor a bird chirruped.
After a while Ralph said, “They’ve gone out of her.”
“Don’t be fooled,” it was Leanne. “They’re just resting.”
“No, Leanne,” it was David. “Evil doesn’t rest.They know what’s coming. They’re preparing.”
Leanne pointed to the bedroom door. “Would you open it, Ralph?”
Ralph put his key in the lock and looked at Leanne. Leanne stared back at him.
Ralph turned the key and they all heard the lock click. He put his hand to the door handle and turned again. “Now?”
“Now,” Leanne said.
Ralph threw the door open and it slammed against the wall. “Joan?” he called.
There was no sound, no perceptible movement-nothing but an odour so foul and cloying it was almost palpable.
“What’s that smell?” Ralph asked, as the miasma seeped from the darkness.
“The smell of evil,” David said.
“The smell of demons,” Leanne added, and reeled back as something struck her on the face and clung to her cheek. She clutched her hand to her face and smelled it. “Aww shit,” she said.
Ralph stood outside the bathroom door calling apologies to Leanne above the sound of running water.
“It’s all right, Ralph,” Leanne called back. “If you could just bring me my bag, thanks.”
When Ralph brought the bag to her, she opened the bathroom door just enough to take it and flash a tight smile at him through the crack.
Leanne stayed in the bathroom for a long time. When she at last came out, her face was pink from the scrubbing and had a very determined look.
David smiled to her from his seat by the fire. He was sipping on a mug of tea Ralph had just given him.
Ralph turned “Look,” he said. “I must apologise for Joan.” He picked up another mug of tea, offered it to her.
“Please, Ralph.” Taking the tea from him, Leanne smoothed a barely perceptible crease from the white smock she was now wearing, readjusted the white headscarf, her hair was now tucked under. “Don’t apologise for Joan.”
Taking a sip from the mug, she grimaced and placed the mug on the table next to Ralph’s Bible. “What we have here,” she pointed the forefingers of each hand towards the bedroom door. “Is not your wife, Joan.”
A loud thump on the door, they all heard it, caused David to jump. ”Listen to her, Ralph,” he wiped a splash of tea from his leg. “She knows of what she speaks.”
“What we have here,” Leanne lifted the mug, took another sip of tea, grimaced again.
“What’s wrong?” Ralph asked.
“Sugar,” Leanne said. “I don’t take sugar.” She put the mug down again.
“Sorry,” Ralph said. “I thought you took sugar”.
“And no milk.”
“Tea-no milk, no sugar.” Ralph repeated as he went to the kitchen.
“ Lemon, if you have it,” Leanne called after him.
Ralph gave her a fresh mug of tea, slice of lemon floating on top. Leanne smiled thanks to him over the mug rim, sipped the tea through the lemon slice.
“What we have here,” she said, pointing to the door. ”Are demons, the satraps of Satan; those who have invaded and possessed Joan’s earthly form. To save her, we must put on the armour of God that we may be able to stand against the wiles of Satan.”
Ralph looked towards David.“The wiles of Satan,” David said.
Kneeling, the three prayed for the Lord to guide and protect them and again bowed their heads for the Paraclete to endow them with the fire of faith.
They dragged Joan spitting and screaming from her room. Ribbons of gnawed stockings dangled from her wrists as she lashed out at them. They sat her on a chair and, when she wouldn’t sit still, began to tie her to the chair, again with stockings Ralph got from her drawer. Still she bucked, heaved and thrashed her head from side to side. “You lousy fuck, Ralph. You rotten, lousy fuck.” Now she turned her head to Leanne and spat towards her, while Ralph stood wringing his hands at what his wife had become. “You tunnel cunted whore,” she cried. “Untie me!”
When the binding was finished, Leanne stood before Joan, raised her hand against her and made blessing. And when the blessing was made Joan grew quiet.
Leanne went close to her, spoke softly. “Joan,” she said. “You are possessed of demons.”
Joan blinked. Her eyes widened. “I am,” she said.
“We’re going to release you from these demons.” Her eyes, they noticed, had lost their previous wildness.
Joan looked around her like a child who was seeing everything for the first time. “Thank you,” she said.
“Do you want Jesus to set you free?”
“Yes.” Her look had become soft.
“Yes, yes.” And she smiled at them.
“Yes, yes, yes. Let Jesus bless me.”
Leann drew herself up and stretched out her arms. The sleeves of her gown billowed from her like wings as she addressed herself to the demons. “We are the sons and daughters of God,” she said. “Ordained and anointed in the name of Jesus the Christ, with authority in his name to cast thee out of this woman.”
As Leanne said that, Joan’s face seemed to lose its previous softness. Her brows angled into sharp chevrons. The sides of her mouth sank. “ Fuck thee,” she growled. “I will take her with me to the Lake of Fire.”
Leanne thrust her face towards Joan’s spittle flecked lips. “You can never do that,” she said. “For I have saved her spirit in the name of the Christ.” And reeled back when she smelled the foetid smell of rotting fish she knew was not Joan’s, but devil’s breath.
“In His name, yes.” The voice seemed to come from far below Joan’s vocal chords. ”You have gained control of her spirit for now,” it said. ”But I will have this body.”
As the voice said that, Joan’s body began to buck and writhe. Her hips began to gyrate and grind into the seat of her chair, and Leanne covered her eyes with her hands to blot out the grotesque parody of sexual coupling she appeared to be engaging in.
Leanne suddenly opened her fingers, uncoupled the index and thrust it towards Joan. “Neither her spirit, or body will you have,” she said, and no sooner had she said it than Joan’s smile widened and she began to laugh. Each peal of her laughter led to another that bounced from wall to wall, through every room, until the house echoed with a lunatic mirth. And just when Leanne thought the laughter had peaked,Joan glared back at her the defiant smile of a weird child, thrust her middle finger at her and began that laughing again.
The telephone rang and Ralph picked it up.
“Hi, Ralph, Annie.”
“Oh… Annie. Whadyaknow?”
“Less and less with each passing day, I’m here to tell you.” His neighbour said; still that hellish laughing.
“Say, Ralph we’ve just finished harvesting the peas and we’ve heaps of straw. Any use to you?”
“Yeah. Do you want it?”
“What’s that noise, youse having a party?”
Ralph cupped his hand over the mouthpiece.He looked behind him to where his wife was rocking backwards and forwards in her chair; Leanne and David trying to restrain her.
“Its Joan,” he said.
Annie Bunn was concerned. She knew Joan well. Knew of her stay at Lakeview for her, ’little rest.’ The Joan she knew didn’t laugh like that. In fact, as she said to her husband later, she’d never known Joan to laugh. A shy little smile over tea and buns at a Salvation Army Citadel social, but not this.
“Ralph, is Joan O.K?”
“O.K? Yes she’s O.K. ”
And still that laughing Ralph could not stifle no matter how close he cupped his hand over the mouthpiece.
“Its just that she’s not too well at the moment.”
“Oh. Ralph, should I come over?”
“No, no, Annie. Were handling it.”
“Yeah. Leanne and David are with me. We’re handling it.”
“Who’s Leanna and David?”
“Leanne, Leanne Reichenbach. You know Leanne. The healing group?”
Ralph looked over to David. “And David…”
“Klinger,” David said again.
“Leanne Reichenbach!” Annie said. “ Ralph?”
“Look, Annie,” Ralph said. “Its really not convenient at the moment. Howiffen I call you back?”
“Call me back,” Annie said.
“About the pea straw,right?”
Ralph put the phone down and came back to where Leanne and David were attending to Joan. “Annie Bunn,” he said. “ She’s got a load of pea straw. Wants to come over.”
“I don’t think that’s a good idea, Ralph,” Leanne said.
“That’s what I told her.” He put his hand out towards his wife. “How are you, darlin’?”
Joan’s mouth opened. Her lips drew back and her teeth snapped at Ralph’s hand.
Leanne shot out her arm, kept Ralph from coming closer. “As I said, not a good idea.” She turned. “David?”
“Would you get me my bag? *
Leanne drew a bayonet from her bag. It made a schlicking sound as she unsheathed it. Joan’s head swivelled to the sound and her eyes narrowed.
Holding sheath and bayonet before her in the form of a cross, Leanne said, “For they brought unto him many that were possessed of devils.”
“Who do you think you are?” The words spat from the depths of Joan’s throat like crunching gravel.
Thrusting the bayonet’s point at Joan’s throat, Leanne said, “And he cast out those devils with his terrible, swift sword...”
“Blessed is the word of Jesu,” David, responded.
“And healed all that were sick,” Leanne finished.
“Who are you?” This was a different voice. Harsh, guttural, like the first, but different and again quite unlike Joan’s.
“I am who I am,” Leanne said. “Consecrated, sanctified and protected by the armour of the Lord against such as you. If you have one, give to us your name.”
Joan’s eyes rolled back in their sockets until there was nothing but white showing. Her tongue flickered from her mouth as if trying to capture air.
“My name is legion,” the voice said. “But Princess Joanie will do for now.”
“O.K., Legion, Princess, whatever you call yourself, my name is Leanne. Whadyaknow?”
“Leanne. That’s a pretty name,” Joan mocked.
When Leanne heard the voice sneer her name, she realised her mistake. Despite the experience of ‘almost twenty exorcisms’, she had given her name to the devil: knew that in so doing, she had given power to one able to make that word flesh. One with the power to invade that flesh, infest that flesh with its spawn.
“When I say legion, bitch,” the alien voice continued to growl from Joan’s throat. “I mean we are many; too many for you to count. I, the first among the many, am called Princess Joanie.”
“Okay, Princess Joanie, if that’s what you want to call yourself. I command you to come out of the body of this, our sister in Christ.”
As Leanne said this, Princess Joanie’s voice was drowned out by another and another until the room seemed to be filled by the clamour of many voices; each calling over the other for attention. And the more they prayed over Joan, the louder the babble became until Leanne held up her hand against it, turned her face away from it and declared the session ended…for now.
They carried Joan still tied to her chair into her bedroom and closed the door on her. Long after closing the door, sat in the kitchen discussing their experience, they still could hear her voices.
Leanne counted the voices and reckoned Joan was possessed by at least ten entities.
David Klingner scraped his fingers over his balding head all the way to his neck, and brought them back to pinch that ache of tiredness between the bridge of his nose and eyes. “I think there are more, many more than that,” he said.
Demons or no, Ralph had a farm to run. Leaving David and Leanne to their deliberations, he pulled on his boots and made his way to the sties.
It was peaceful in the sties. Golden motes danced in the ribbons of light filtering through the open louvres as Ralph pushed his barrow down aisles of snout thrusting pigs grunting their matins.
He stroked their snouts, tickled their ears and called them by name. For they all had names and answered to them. Margaret,Louise, Mary- his favourite among the sows- and among the boars, Charles, Henry and Big Boris.
Boris, he had hand reared from a litter runt to the magnificent creature he now was, put his hooves up on the rail and snuffled down the apple Ralph took from the pocket of his overalls and held out to him. Ralph gave a tickle to the beast’s flopping ears.“Oh, Boris,” he said.
A pig grin crooked across Boris’ big, fat face. His sly, little eyes glittered. In their glitter, Ralph saw a slew of pigs tormented, racing towards a cliff. Pigs plunged over cliffs and Ralph, gazed down as their soft bodies smashed on the rocks below. Saw them drown in a boiling sea of crimson spume, along with the unclean spirits the Master had cast unto them and wondered if the Master had ever enjoyed the softness of a pig’s ear between his fingers. Boris grinned his grin and winked a sly, little piggy eye.
It was late when they sat down to lunch. Ralph apologised for it. “Joan,” he said, “would have my guts for garters if she knew.” He waved a buzzing fly from the loaf. It flew around the bottle of grape juice and hovered above the hunk of cheese.
“It’s fine, Ralph.” David cut a slice from the loaf. “Really.”
“No. I think we could do better.” Ralph looked towards the bedroom door. Putting a finger to his lips, he rose from the table.
They watched as he tiptoed to the pantry and came out with a jar of pickled onions and a tin of sardines. “Joan pickled the onions,” he said as he placed them on the table.
Leanne raised her hands over the table. “ We thank you,Joan, and you, O Lord, for these, the gifts of thy bounty.”
“Amen,” David and Ralph said it together, as Ralph opened the tin and poured the sardines on to a plate.
Leanne forked an onion from the jar and cut into it. “These are delicious,” she said and looked to the door. No sound came from behind it and Ralph cut more bread, Leanne sliced cheese and David forked onions among the sardines. They ate this washed down with the grape juice. The cheese was sharp. Ralph wiped away the beads of sweat it brought to his nose and dabbed at his brow with his napkin, for it was very hot now. Hot enough for a storm. He looked to the window. The sky was blue and cloudless and it was hot.
The sun angling through the slats showed Joan as they had left her. She lifted her head when she heard the door open and smiled at them as they untied her.
Leanne helped her to the bathroom and Ralph held the door open for them. “Can I get anything?” he said.
“A fresh nighty for starters.” Leanne lowered Joan on to the bath edge and closed the door.
“Now, how about a nice shower, Joan?” she said.
“A shower ?”
“Yes,” Leanne said.”A tub. Bet you could do with one.”
“I don’t know,” Joan said. “Tank’s pretty low.”
“I think there’s enough for a quick one.” Leanne pulled open the curtain and made to turn on the shower.
“No, I’ll get it, Leanne,” Joan held her hand. “You don’t need the hot.” She turned the handle. “As it comes will be fine,” she said and stepped in as the water began to trickle from the head.
She pulled the curtain closed and let the water pour over her face and hair. She towelled her skin with her nighty, let it slip from her and treading it beneath her feet she washed it.
Joan turned the shower off. As she shucked and flicked the water from herself, she heard a murmer at the door and Leanne said,
“Here’s a fresh nighty, Joan.”
She took it from her, and when she had put it on, she opened the curtains and stepped from the bath.
“Well,” Leanne said. “Shining like a shilling on a sweep’s bum.”
Joan smiled at her as she sat on the edge of the bath and slipped her feet into a pair of fluffy mules.
Leanne handed her a towel. “Would you like to dry your hair?” she said.
“Thanks.” Joan took it and stroked her hair with it.
“How’re you feeling?”
“Fine,” Joan wiped her face . “Just fine,” she said.
“Did you sleep?”
“Tied to a chair?”
“It’s for your own good, Joan.”
“My own good.”
“When you’re possessed, you’re a danger, not only to yourself but to others.”
“And you reckon I’m possessed.”
“Joan. Have you heard yourself? Have you heard the filth that pours from your mouth?”
Joan rolled her as eyes as she thought back. “Oh that,” she said. “Did I say that?”
“No, Joan.” Leanne wiped Joan’s brow with a corner of the towel. “The demons said it from the depths of your body which they have possessed.”
“Oh yes, those.” Her eyes stopped rolling, were becoming focussed. “And how will we bind these demons? Tell me again.”
“Through, prayer, abstinence and mortification of the flesh.” As Leanne said that, she thought she saw a glint of ruby flicker in the depths of Joan’s eye.
“That’s fucking bullshit and you know it.” Joan looked up. Her eyes were fully focussed and flashing.
“Ralph.” Leanne called as they pinned her to the wall.
“Pray, to faggot Jesus?” Joan’s eyes were huge, rays of malevolence pulsing from them.
“Ralph!” Leanne held her hand up against the eyes and backed away until she felt the cold edge of a glass shelf against her neck and could back no further.
“You slack arsed fucking moll.” Ralph heard a rough voice say it as he opened the door. David, bobbing behind him heard it too.
“They’re back,” Leanne said.
Ralph and David took Joan from the bathroom. The little woman hardly struggled as they tied her again to her chair, although she spat at each of them as they held hands and walked a ring of power around her.
“Oh, Lord,” they prayed. “Grant thy strength into this circle.”
“Fuckyez,” Joan growled.
“That we servants of the holy light may prevail against the servants of Satan with all his pomp, and lies.”
“Servants of the holy light?” The harsh voice mocked them. “Servants of the holy shite more likely.”
David broke the circle. He picked up a bible from the table and thrust it against Joan’s face. “Hush thy blasphemy,” he cried. And for the time he held it there, no sound escaped from Joan, although she shook her head from side to side so violently she nearly fell from the chair.
When David took the bible from Joan’s face, it was some time before she opened her eyes; sometime longer before she spoke. “We didn’t like that.” Princess Joanie said in her little girl voice. “You hurt us.”
“You can expect worse the longer you stay in that woman’s body.” Leanne axe thrust a bible at Joan’s chest and Joan winced as she held it there. “Are you comin out, or are we comin in to get you?”
Joan eased herself on her chair. She pushed her body forward , thrust out her chin and eyeballed her. “Suck on this,” she lisped, then farted.
“Right, miss,” Leanne said. “You’ve been asking for it.”
Mrs Clugston likes to watch Donahue. Her phone rang as he was interviewing a guest who, after undergoing three separate sex change operations, still could not make up his mind as to whether she was a man inhabiting a women’s body, or a woman inhabiting a man’s.
Mrs Clugstone picked up the phone.
“They don’t like that bible,” Ralph said.
On screen, Donahue’s guest fingered that side of his upper lip which, unlike the other, was moustached.
“The demons don’t like the bible.” Ralph said.
“It’s a well known fact.” Mrs Clugston turned Donahue down and listened as Ralph told her of the demon’s reaction when the bible was placed upon Joan’s body.
“Did you beat them with it?” Mrs Clugston said.
Ralph looked over at Joan. Still tied to it, she slumped forward in her chair.
“Did you beat the devils hard?”
“ We gave them a few taps,” Ralph said.
“With no change?”
He looked over again at Joan. Her bunched fists twitched on the chair arm. One of her fingers, the index, uncoiled and tested the air like some blind sucking thing before standing upright and thrusting in his direction.
.“No change, Mrs,” he said.
He looked over at the two other exorcists, now slumped on a couch. “Mrs Clugston?” And he hated saying it. “ I don’t think this is working.”
Mrs Clugston sighed. “There’s nothing else for it,” she said. “I’ll just have to call in Nuske.”
“Nuske? Who’s Nuske?”
“Matthew Nuske. Another one I chrismed. With the strength of his youth, and the grace of the Lord, he will make an end to it.”
“Call Nuske,” Ralph said.
Kath Nuske lives just around the corner from her friend, Mrs Clugston. In 1993, her street had been awarded a plaque for being the best kept in Rainbow. The Shire President himself had attached the plaque to the agapanthus Kath had grown on the nature strip.
Kath takes a pride in that agapanthus, the plaque she gives a polish to, and her street. When she looks down the neatly trimmed strips, planters overflowing with floribunda, it is pleasing to her eye that her neighbours, perhaps following her example, also take pride.
Although Kath’s house is within cooee of Mrs Clugston’s back fence, the friend’s communications are mostly by phone. They call each other daily and have done since the old days of party lines, with phones ringing at all hours and Miss Johnstone who manned the telephone exchange, and everyone else listening into your conversations.
Someone saying, “Oh look we must be discreet. Miss Johnstone will be listening in.”
And Miss Johnstone roaring down the line, “We do not listen in!”
Kath listened to what Mrs Clugston had to tell her about Joan’s possession. She wasn’t surprised at what she heard. Satan’s legions, she knew, worked their work, always would until the trump call of Doomsday.
“We need your Paulie, Kath,” Mrs Clugston said. “ He’s a consecrated virgin, and we need the strength of his youth.”
“I’ll call him and get back to you,” Kath said.
When Kath Nusk’s son, Paul, turned eighteen, she drove him that Saturday morning from Rainbow into Horsham.
“He’ll be ok,” Roger the travel agent, said.
The venetians on the cop shop windows next door flickered as the 9.a.m. bus to Ballarat drew away from the Vic travel centre.
Kath snuffled into her hanky and waved.
“He’ll be ok, Missus,” Roger said.
It was late when Paul’s train drew into Spencer street- 10 p.m.- and the streets, he noted, still crowded with people. He took a tram and it was well after eleven when it dropped him at the Y and the Y’s midnight curfew was tolling by the time he’d checked in.
He phoned Kath from the lobby to tell her he had arrived safely. Outside, a gaggle of long legged girls shrieked and hugged each other on the pavement. Paul yawned. “This travelling sure takes it out of you, mum,” he said. “Going to bed now. Its a nice room.”... “Love you, too.”
Paul took the tram every morning from the Y to his job as assistant green keeper at a golf course. It was a good job. With his tranny on his ear, he took the early sun and tended the dew soaked greens with tractor and roller. After lunch, when the sun was high, he pottered the leafy, lush gardens around the clubhouse. He enrolled at Wesley College where, at night, he studied theology, philosophy and bible history. Within a month, he left his room at the Y when he answered a card on the college notice board offering board and lodgings in the house of a good Christian.
The good Christian’s wife snapped on the bed light. She frowned at the alarm clock, nudged her husband awake.
The phone in the hallway rang again. “It’s for you, Mr Sankie,” she said.
Sankie pulled his dressing gown around him. The linoleum was cold beneath his feet as he hobbled down the hallway and he was busting for a pee. He picked up the phone and tutted at his dressing gown cord entangled in something. “Hello?” he said.
Shifting the receiver to his other ear, Sankie tried to free himself from the spiralling phone cord. “Yes?” And knocked the box- ‘No Offence, each Call Fifty cents.’- from the phone table. Coins rolled across the floor and it was sometime before he could make sense of what the woman on the other end was saying.
“No, no,” he said. “ Not at all. No trouble. I’ll get him.”
He pulled the phone cord tight around the tassel of his dressing gown and turned to the stairs.
Paul turned his ear from his trannie to the noises below and placed his pen on his notebook. “Natives are restless tonight,” he murmured and had just picked up his pen again when he heard the tap of a knuckle on his door.
Sankie wiggled his cold toes in the thin ribbon of light wisping from beneath Paul’s door. “Phone,” he whispered.
Paul looked at the clock.
“I think it’s your mum,” Sankie said.
“Is anything wrong?”
Sankie shrugged and Paul followed him downstairs. He picked the phone up from the floor and listened to what Kath had to say while Sankie scooped the fallen coins into the no offence box.
“I don’t think I’m ready, mum,” he said when she finished telling him.
Kath began again and Paul listened again, as she told him again of that poor women in Antwerp possessed of demons, how the combatants were exhausted and needed reinforcing. “With all that study at Wesley,” she assured him, he was indeed ready, and able to expel the demons from her.
The down stair toilet flushed as Paul was going up to his room. He leaned over the banister as a figure in a dressing gown came out from it. “I’ll be away for a few days, Mr Sankie,” he whispered.
The figure looked up at him. “Mrs Sankie,” it said.
Paul closed his door behind him and looked around his room. His desk light shone on a Bible, its Concordance and his open notebook with the pen still nestling in the spine. He turned from them and throwing himself to his knees prayed before his bed for guidance and for the strength to free Joan Volmer, body and soul from the thrall of the demons inhabiting her.
He paused in his praying and looked up as a breeze riffled through the curtains. The breeze was chill as it brushed the back of his neck, icy as it touched his cheek. He didn’t dare turn his head to the sound of flapping wings at the open window, but felt the surge of power behind him as a black presence seemed to flow into his room.
Folding its wings, the presence settled in the room’s darkest corner. And from that corner Paul heard it whispering to him and watched from between his praying fingers as giggling, long legged creatures crept and slithered from the street below to hug and tug him from his prayers with lubricious thoughts of impurity.
Paul turned his face and mind from such thoughts. He prayed and prayed through the night and banged his head on the pillow as he did.
“What’s that thumping?” Sankie felt his wife nudge him again.
“Oh, go to sleep,” he said.
But she couldn’t sleep, for the thumping and moving around didn’t stop until the first tram passed the door at five.
Paul got up and took a shower shortly after. It was a long shower, as usual. Mrs Sankie wondered what he did in there that took so long. She dozed as the meter ticked the water gushing down the waste pipe and listened as Paul phoned his boss.
“I won’t be in this morning.”
“Flu?” There was a lot of it around.
“No,” Paul, who prided himself on never having told a lie in his life, said, “I’m on the Lord’s work.”
“When’ll you be back, from the Lord’s work?”
“When the Lord’s work is done,” Paul said and put down the phone.
Sankie felt a nudge.
“I didn’t hear him put any money in the box for that call.”
“I’m sure he did.”
“ShouIdn’t rent to students,” Mrs Sankie said.
Paul sang as he drove to Rainbow. Kath had a meal ready and waiting when he got there. When they had finished their meal, she filled a flask of tea, still warm from the pot, and sandwiched what was left of the bacon and scrambled eggs between wholemeal bread. “To keep your strength up,” she said as she parcelled the sandwiches in Gladwrap.
Paul continued to sing as he drove to Antwerp through country he knew well. Sang, as he drove through the slumber of hamlets dreaming of days long gone, or life to come.
“Be strong in the Lord and the power of his might,” he sang in basso profundo. And as the mood took him, repeated the line again in bel canto,
He lowered the window and the angels of the air swung in on gossamer threads; bringing with them sweet scents of honey bees, pollen, and gum from the giant reds lining the river. And taking the deepest breath from it all, Paul sang loud into the wind, “Put on the whole armour of the Lord,”
he sang. And as he sang, the car seemed to fill with light. The hum of the engine seemed to become a single chord in the middle of an intricate melody that had no beginning, or end. The angels of the air played that one chord on woodwinds, strings, brass, finger cymbals, and huge kettledrums and were still fumbling towards the crescendo as he pulled into Antwerp.
“That ye may be able to storm against the wiles of the Devil,” Paul finished and was surprised at how many individual voices he could identify singing in chorus with him.
An old guy sat on a car seat in the General Store’s veranda shade. He had a racing guide spread on his knee and a squawking transistor clutched to his ear. He looked up as Paul stepped on to the porch.
A screen door, skewed on its hinge, banged against the jamb of the locked front door. “She don’t open Saturdays,” the old guy said and spat along a line of spent spit stretching from his outstretched legs to the veranda edge.
A passing crow took rest on the silo across the road as Paul put a coin in a drink dispenser on the sidewall of the veranda. Cocking its head, it listened as his coin dropped and watched as he pressed buttons.
The crow stretched its wings as Paul rattled the dispenser.
Paul rattled the dispenser again.
The crow cawed and flew off.
The old guy pulled his trannie from his ear. “It don’t work,” he said and spat again.
“Country’s going to rack and ruin,” Paul said as he sat down beside him.
“Reckon,” the old guy said.
“I’m looking for the Vollmer place?”
“You’re pretty close.” He pointed up the track. “You’ll know your closer when you hear the hymnsingin.”
“Hymsingin. Ralph and his mates have been up there hymnsingin most the week.” The old guy waggled his stick. “Hundred yards up the track. Soon’s you smell the pig shit you’ll know you’re there.”
“Thanks,” Paul said.
“At night, they play Mormon Tabernacle records.”
“Oh,” Paul said.
“And George Beverley Shea.”
“Don’t know him.”
“Came out here with Billy Graham in the sixties.”
“Bit before my time,” Paul said.
“ Meyer music bowl. His big number was Lead Kindly Light.”
“Good number,” Paul said.
“Yeah, but I prefer Mahalia Jackson’s version,” the old guy said.
Paul drove through a tunnel of untrimmed shrubbery, pulled up at a gate. Beside the gate, a twisted post had a white kerosene tin with VOLMER scrawled across it in red. The same red paint dripped STOP BOTHERING THE LORD across the white washed walls of a nearby shed.
Paul drove on to the verge. He could hear pigs grunting from the shed as he wrote the date and time of arrival in his notebook.
He walked up the driveway to the house and a tall, thin man with tousled hair, staring eyes and stubbled cheeks opened the front door at his knock.
“Praise the Lord,” Ralph said when Paul introduced himself.
The three exorcists were exhausted.
“We’ve been on our feet for… how many days, nights?” Leanne said.
“I don’t know, I’ve lost count,” David said.
“ Five days and still devils shrieking through the house,” Ralph pointed to where Joan writhed in her chair, head down and muttering.
Paul approached her. He stood before her, held out his hands towards her. “Joan,” he said.
“Be careful,” Leanne said as Joan raised her head.
Her face, Paul noted, was very pale, her eyes, sunk deep in blue circles. Lines of mucus ran from her nose, mixed with a crust of dry spit on her bloodless lips.
He gave his hand palm down towards her and saw a flickering from the depths of her eyes. Her lips began to move and he came closer to hear what it was she was saying to him, but it was gibberish. He heard Joan clear her throat of the gibberish; and clear her throat again and again, until the clearing became a growling. And watched as her cracked lips opened and her teeth snapped at his fingers.
Ralph put his hand over Paul’s and pulled it away from Joan’s gnashing teeth. “See,” he said.
Ralph showed Paul to the toilet. It had been a long day and Paul sighed as he gushed the day into the bowl. He smelled the bubbling in the bowl, liked the smell, wondered if it were a sin to like the smell, and wondered how Joan managed to piss tied to her chair.
When Paul had finished, Leanne was preparing to go. She had hubby and bubs to take care of back home in Glenlee. It was just up the road.
“It would only be for a little time,” David said, as she took him with her.
Ralph sat Paul down by the fireplace. There were no flames now, just a grate of ash, some embers, and a kettle hissing on the hob. He threw some twigs among the embers and as the flames grew up he poured water into the teapot. Swirling the water around, he threw the old leaves to the back of the fire and made a fresh brew.
Paul took the mug handed to him in both hands and blew his breath across it. Ralph watched as he did and noted Paul’s thick, strong fingers wrapped around the mug as he rose and went to the pantry. Rummaging there, he found the tin of Anzac biscuits Joan and Roma had baked and couldn’t believe that had only been six days ago as he opened the lid.
Ralph sniffed at them. “If they’re good enough for the Anzacs,” he said and poured them on to a plate.
Paul turned and smiled over his shoulder at him as he came back with the biscuits. Ralph noted Paul’s shoulders, broad as his smile. Noted the muscles bulging from his rolled up sleeves, blond hair, same colour as that on his head, curled on forearms burned red from the sun. Obviously a worker, he would have his work cut out for him this night, he thought. “You’re young,” he said.
“So was David when he took on Goliath,” Paul said, and reached for a biscuit.
Ralph told young Paul everything. How, according to Joan, her own mother had sacrificed three of her newborn children to Satan.
Paul’s eyes widened as Ralph told of Joan herself being dedicated by that mother of hers to Satan at the age of three, the year of her possession. They widened further when he was told how Joan, when she gave herself to God at a charismatic convention, received so much spiritual food and nourishment there that the demons within her rebelled.
Paul sipped on his tea as Ralph told of his anguish; watching the woman he loved climb from the depths of depression to the heights of madness. How, trying conventional treatment, he had her admitted to a psychiatric facility.
Ralph put down his mug and rose. Paul rose too, but Ralph sat him down again, as he went to his office, unlocked a drawer on his desk and took out a file.
Paul put down his mug as Ralph handed him the file. He opened it and rifled through magnetic resonance images of someone’s head and slice by slice shots of their brain. He held one of the slides to the light. It was a scull in profile. And as he angled it to a sudden flare from the fireplace, an aura like glow seemed to flicker around the delicate tracery of the nose’s cartilage so that he could almost see a face there, eyes staring.
“As you can see,” Ralph pointed out, “ perfectly normal and nothing wrong with her brain.”
Paul couldn’t see, but took his word for it and gave Ralph the slides back. He dug into the file again and brought out some papers fastened together with clips. “This was the Lakeview doctors’ prognosis,” he said and handed them over to Paul.
The text was dense, filled with medical terms Paul was not familiar with. Ralph looked over his shoulder as he read it and pointed to a paragraph towards the end. “ This is how the doctors saw it,” he said. “Hypomania. This mood disorder can severely impair judgement, resulting in a person hallucinating or having grandiose delusions, and may lead to embarrassing or dangerous acts.”
Ralph put the papers back in the file. “Embarrassing, or dangerous acts,” he said. “Like dancing naked in the fields; tending a herb garden in the dead of night.”
He lifted the teapot and made to pour. Putting his hand on the lid, he angled the pot steeper. “And all they could give her for it was pills.”
No tea came out. “I’ll make another pot, shall I?” Ralph rose.
“No, Mr Volmer,” Paul stayed him. “We’ve had our tea. The longer we wait the stronger they become. We should never give them rest. We should begin our work.”
And they must have heard, for no sooner had Paul spoken, than that screaming, those hellish ululations, rose and that battering began again on the door.
Paul consulted his notebook. “Do you have any Glad wrap?”
“We must wrap the outside of the house in Glad wrap. Protects us from evil. Unclean spirits can’t penetrate Gladwrap.”
Paul prodded the page with his finger. “Its in the book,” he said. “And I had a vision of an angel in the car coming over here who confirmed it.”
“An angel. The car was full of them.”
“There could be some Gladwrap in the kitchen,” Ralph said. “I’ll see.”
While Ralph ratted through drawers and cupboards looking for Gladwrap, Paul looked down at Joan who was pulling at her bonds, shaking her head from side to side. He came closer. Standing before her, keeping well away from the teeth, he lifted his hand in benediction. He had read all the books, seen others perform the rituals over other bodies similarly possessed, but this was the first time he had done it all by himself.
He raised his arms and prayed to the Lord with all his might to send his strength down through those arms into the body of his willing, though unworthy servant.
He looked down at Joan. She smiled up at him and he gasped out a white explosion of pain as the devils made her drop kick the bulge in his crutch.
“Are you OK?”
Paul wiped the tears from his eyes to see Ralph standing before him. “Yes,” he said.
“You don’t look OK.”
“No, no.” Paul took a deep breath, which only made the pain worse. “I’m fine.” He clutched at a straw he had read about somewhere. “Its kidney stones,” he said.
“Oh,” Ralph said. “I’ve had that. What are you doing for them?”
“I’ve got pills…” Paul took another deep breath. His voice rose an octave as a king tide of pain lashed over him. “From the doctor?”
“I’ll get them,” Ralph said. “Where are they, in your bag?”
“Yes,” Paul said. “No. I forgot to pack them.”
“Oh,” Ralph said. “Would you like an aspirin?”
Paul tried another breath. The tide was receding, but the roar of the surf still boomed in his ears. “Did you get the Gladwrap?” He said.
Ralph held up a roll of wrinkled plastic, the cardboard tube clearly visible beneath.
“There’s not much there,” Paul said. The surf was now a dull roar beyond the horizon of his pain.
“There’s this.” Ralph now held up a roll of tin foil. “Barely used.”
“No. Mrs Clugstone stipulated Gladwrap.” The surf roared in again. “Gotta cover the whole house in Gladwrap,” Paul gasped.
“And where am I gonna get Gladwrap to cover the whole house this time of night?” Ralph was tired. His eyes burned. “The store’ll be closed.”
“That bloody store’s never open.” Paul looked at his watch. “Big Fresh,” he said. “They don’t close till midnight.”
“And olive oil,“ he called from the veranda as Ralph gunned the ute.
Ralph leaned from the ute’s window. “Olive oil?”
“We need oil for our anointing.”
“There’s Canola in the pantry.”
Paul consulted his notebook. “No. Says here, olive.”
“Virgin olive oil. That’s it?”
“ Just that and the Gladwrap,” Paul said.
Ralph repeated gladwrap and virgin olive oil until he drew into Big Fresh parking lot. He grabbed a trolley from the rack and the trolley careened from one side to the other as he cruised the aisles for cooking oils. Placing his hands firmly on the trolley’s bar, he willed the wheels to turn in the direction he wanted to go and had it broken in by the time he found the olive. Making sure it was virgin he grabbed a bottle- a big bottle- as the trolley bumped against the legs of a shelf stacker who pointed the sad eyed man to Gladwrap.
Ralph noted the length of Gladwrap in a roll and made calculation against how much it would take to cover his house with it.
He cleared the shelves and picked up some rolls of duct tape as he forced the trolley to checkout and watched the totalling click on the screen. “Gee, Gladwrap’s dear,” he said.
The checkout chick changed her finger on TILL. “Like if you’re buying 87 rolls,” she said and held out her hand for the money.
Paul helped Ralph take a ladder from his shed wall and they climbed on it to the roof. Although it was dark, there was starlight enough for them to see what they were doing; and they spent the night taping a shroud of Gladwrap around the farmhouse roof and walls to protect them from the evil lurking beyond the darkness of the surrounding trees.
When the wrapping was done, they climbed down, stood back, looked upon their work and it was good.
“How do we get in?” Ralph said.
Paul turned, looked at him, looked back at the wall festooned with Gladwrap. Without a word, he took a Swiss army knife from his pocket, reached up and slashed across the wall with it. He looked again at Ralph and slashed the knife down.
Pushing where he had slashed, Paul ushered Ralph in. “Through the door, of course,” he said.
After making a curtain of Gladwrap around the door to cover their entry, they lit candles around the room and logs in the grate.Paul placed a bowl before the fire and poured oil into it.
The fire flared and when the bowl of oil before it was warmed Paul blessed the oil and poured it over Ralph’s bowed head.
Blessed, anointed, and protected from evil influences by Glad wrap, they laid their bibles on Joan’s shoulders and prayed over her. They prayed and prayed for the devils to leave her. And when Joan’s head slumped forward, one or the other would place their bible under her chin and raise it up again, and still the devils screamed obscenities from the woman’s mouth.
Paul referred again to the notes he had been given by Mrs Clugston. “It doesn’t seem to be working,” he said. “I don’t understand it.”
Ralph looked down at his wife. Blood flecked froth was forming around her lips. She appeared to be suffering, but he knew she wasn’t. It was the demons who were suffering. He would never subject his wife to such pain, but he would demons.
“Perhaps we should ring Mrs Clugston.”
“I think that is a good idea,” Paul said.
Mrs Clugston listened to Ralph’s latest update. “You’ve got them on the run,” she said.
“Praise the Lord.” Paul, listening over Ralph’s shoulder, punched air.
“Is Leanne with you?”
“I’ll phone her, then,” Mrs Clugston said. “ Hang in, you're almost there.”
They took Joan from her chair, laid her on her bed, tied her there with a clothes line and locked the door behind them.
Paul pulled aside the Gladwrap curtain and went outside to check and tape any gaps.
Ralph heard him call out to him and when he came Paul was pointing. “What is this?”
Ralph looked to where he was pointing. “Its Joan’s herb garden.”
“Joan’s gnomes.” He peered down. “Her cats. She collects them.”
“They’ll have to go,” Paul said.
“Go. And the herbs, for this is Devil work.”
“I don’t understand.” Ralph looked down the neat rows of plants Joan had sowed, hoed and watered, the posturing gnomes and cats she had placed around, as if guarding.
“These are all symbols of evil,” Paul said. “Evil attracts evil. Believe me.” He picked up a hoe and slashed the head from a gnome with it.
Ralph looked to where the head lay among the loam. Still with its red cap on, that beard jutting from the chin, the tongue lolled lasciviously from the mouth as if about to say something dirty.
“You take that.” Paul pointed to spade leaning on an apple tree. “For this shrine to evil must be destroyed.”
Ralph picked up the spade and weighed it in his hand. Paul lifted his hoe.
Together they smashed Joan’s collection of ceramic cats and gnomes.
“Witches, as is well known,” Paul said, “use cats as familiars.” Gnomes, like fairies, were Lucifer’s fallen angels. Unicorns, red spotted toadstools, and blue china rabbits all symbols of evil.
And when they had done all of that, they trampled the shards underfoot and spaded and hoed them among her herbs - God knows what the herbs had been used for. Better to destroy it all, for the garden was obviously a shrine to Satan- the source of all the trouble.
They were deliberating whether to cross plough the area and sow it with salt, so that nothing would ever grow there again, when they heard the sound of a car.
It was Leanne and David. They had rested, but the dark circles under their eyes proclaimed not well.
They took Joan from her bed. The demons within her were obviously weakening, for she hardly struggled as they bound her again to her chair.
In accord with the instructions in Paul’s notebook, they turned her face to the North, so she could not communicate with the devils hovering in the trees outside.
They formed a circle around her and begin to pray. And, as they prayed, they placed their bibles upon her.
“Come, Holy Spirit, light divine,” they prayed, and lifted their bibles from her. “ Come, to thy true and faithful flock, who put their trust in Thee,” they prayed and laid their bibles on her again.
And everytime they laid their bibles on her a great groan rose from the demons within her.
And the more the demons groaned, the more the exorcists prayed and laid and lifted their bibles to Joan’s body until the lifting and laying became a striking ; and still the demons screamed from within her and screamed until dawn broke glittering blood red through her tears.
Leanne pressed her hands against Joan’s stomach. “The devils have lodged in her womb,”she whispered and turned as Cicadas began screeching it from the trees.
Joan broke from Leanne’s grip, and despite being tied to the chair began to shuffle with it around the room. She looked like a Fury as the others followed her. Hair dishevelled, stiff with sweat and grime, her eyes were blazing, her teeth gnashing and snapping. Watching out for those teeth, David managed to get her in a headlock. Ralph and Paul, taking a leg each, locked them between theirs. Meanwhile Leanne continued to force the devils from Joan’s womb towards the throat. David, still holding Joan’s head pulled her eyes open with his thumbs. Placing his thumbs beneath her nose and his fingers on her chin he forced open her mouth. Now Leanne pushed from Joan’s chest to her throat. “Not a hard press, a soft press,” she claimed later. “Just enough to push out the last of the demons.”
Ralph watched as his Joan’s cheeks dropped into deep hollows and her chin sunk into her throat. Her eyes rolled back until the pupils disappeared behind the lids. Her colour changed from white, to purple, then blue. And the last of the demons hissed from between her blood flecked lips.
He reached for her wrist, felt for a pulse. “I think she’s dead,” he said.
Paul consulted Mrs Clugston’s book of instructions. “This condition,” he said, “Is quite normal.”
He leafed another page. “The condition is merely a manifestation of Satan’s power and is temporary.
He held out the notebook for them to see Mrs Clugston’s instructions. “Pray with me. For if you do, Joan, renewed in body and soul, will arise from this corruption.”
He snapped the book closed. “Within two days,” he said.
They untied Joan from her chair. The eight stones she weighed were no burden at all as they carried her to her bed; and her limbs flopped, just like a dead person’s, as they laid her on it.
The men stood back from the work they had done, looked down upon her and it was then they heard a great groan.
They turned and Leanne stood behind them with her head thrown back. Eyes closed, she threw out her arms, cleared space.
She groaned again. Her body began to shudder, her head shook from side to side. And as her head shook her hair fell free from its binding. She swayed. And, as her knees failed her, the men caught her and lowered her on to Joan’s chair.
“Oh my God,” Ralph moaned. “What now?”
Leanne’s eyes opened wide. She blinked and her eyes became slits as she attempted to focus. “I can see Joan,” she said.
The others looked down at the body on the bed; back again to Leanne. whose focus was on a place beyond their kenning. “She is on a road. At the end of the road is a tomb.”
“A tomb?” Paul leafed through his notebook.
“A tomb,” she repeated. “ The tomb of Lazarus.”
The men looked at one and other. Lazarus- dead for three days, already stinking-raised from death by the Lord.
“She is confused, afraid; afraid to enter the tomb.” Leanne’s eyes opened wide. Her head turned. “Joan must enter the tomb, Ralph!”
Her eyes locked on his. “Then will she be raised,” she said.
“Enter the tomb, Joan!” Ralph clasped his hands together. “Enter, Joan.” He stretched them towards the body laid out on the bed. “For God’s sake, enter.”
“God is telling me Joan can hear you, Ralph, but she is so confused.”
At Leanne’s urging, the other men now joined Ralph in his pleading.
“Enter!” Their chanting voices combined until the word became a mantra.
“Enter!” A mantra, which in their imagination became an arrow.
“Enter!” A needle pointed arrow.
“Enter!” Flying across the void to rend Death’s veil.
Leanne raised her hand and the men ceased their chanting. Her fingers curved back until it seemed as if they would touch her wrist and they watched as they uncurved from that position and clenched into a fist. And from that fist she shot out the index finger and pointed it at Ralph. “God is telling me,” she said, “for you to get down on your knees.”
Ralph looked around at the rest of the guys, but they were staring straight ahead and Leanne’s eyes were boring into him.
He got down on his knees.
“God is now telling me that you should put your mouth to Joan’s ear.”
Ralph shuffled over to the bed and pressed his lips to Joan’s lobe.
“She is so confused,” Leanne said. “But she can hear your voice, although she doesn’t know from where it comes. She is looking around her. Speak to her, Ralph. Speak to her.”
A cloud covered the sun, made the room suddenly dark; and the others made silent prayer as Ralph whispered into the ear of his wife the assurance that all would be well if only she would enter into the tomb of Lazarus.
“Yes! Yes!” The silence was broken by David. And when they turned to him, his face was beaming with a heavenly light, his eyes streaming tears. “Joan is entering the door,” he said.
They covered Joan with a sheet and placed candles and tea lights on shelves, and on the floor around her bed. When they had done that they prayed and waited.
Leaving the others to their vigil, Leanne phoned Rainbow.
“I just knew it was you before I picked up the phone,” Mrs Clugston said. “What news?”
Leanne turned from the phone and glanced into the candle lit bedroom. “Joan has been slayed in the spirit.”
“I know. I had a visitation from the Lord just before you rang. He told me of Joan’s condition and that I should come personally for the laying on of hands.”
“I think she’s dead,” Leanne said.
“Nonsense. Another of Satan’s ploys, I’ve seen his workings before. After the laying on of hands, within three days she will rise again.”
Leanne sniffed. “Paul said two,” she said. “ And she’s beginning to smell.”
“So was Lazarus,” Mrs Clugston said.
Exhausted from their labours, the four exorcists grouped around the table reading their Bibles, looked up as Mrs Clugston bustled into the kitchen.
Greeting them each in turn, she refused Leanne’s offer of tea, (“I had a cup before we left.”) and had them go through, step by step, their week’s work.
When she was satisfied that all had been done in accordance with her instructions in Nuske’s notebook, she asked to see Joan.
They pointed to where she lay and followed her into the bedroom.
The candles, by now, had burned down to nubs. By their flickering light, Mrs Clugston assembled the four of them at each corner of the bed and bade them direct silent prayer towards the body. Occasionally breaking into glossalia she encouraged them to pray harder while she laid her hands on the body.
The candles were now sputtering wicks in pools of melted tallow. In the flickering light, as Mrs Clugston pressed lightly on Joan, it seemed as if there was an answering- a rising of breath in the woman and the spirits of those attending lifted with it.
“Praise the Lord,” they cried.
Scarlet points in a dark room. “We must continue our prayers,” Mrs Clugston saying.
The sweet smell of decomposition mingling with that of dead candles.
“And, if the Lord provides, Joan, our sister, will rise in three days.”
“Halleluiah,” someone replied.“
A light breeze skimming across the Wimmera had kept the night comparatively cool- around 35˚. But, by noon, the temperature was hovering again over the 40 mark. Occasionally there was a gurgle from where Joan lay on the bed and the vigilants would raise their heads from their prayers. But it was only the sound of expanding gasses, or the buzz of a blowfly.
The Dettol soaked cloths they held to their mouths muffled their prayers, while the smell wafted from the room to hang in every corner of the house. The stench was so strong, the assembly moved to the veranda. Exhausted from lack of sleep and constant praying it was there that their faith began to waver and the worms of doubt to slither through their minds.
Ralph was the first to express the doubt. His body slipped from where he was standing and folded into itself until he was hunched sitting on the veranda floor. Tears poured through his fingers as he held his head in his hands. “Perhaps we should call a doctor,” he said.
“Have faith, Ralph.” Leanne rubbed the back of his neck. It was a tightly knotted ball of tension.
He dragged his hands down his face, pulling the tears from his eyes with them. “I have faith, Leanne,” he said. “ But my strength has gone. I can pray no more. And I think Joan’s beyond prayer.”
“No one, no thing, is beyond prayer, Ralph.”
“Phone for the doctor Leanne,” Ralph said.
Ralph was mucking out the sties and looked up when he heard a car sound its horn at the front gate.
As he came up the drive, Doctor Swailwell noted the huge tea coloured stain in the middle of the mattress, Leanne had that morning scrubbed, washed and left in the sun to dry. And smelled the death before Ralph showed him into a room which except for a chair sitting in the middle was empty.
“In here, Doctor,” Ralph ushered him in further and Swailwell followed his nose to the bedroom.
Doctor Swailwell corrected the Crown prosecutor. “It is a misnomer,” he said,“ to refer to a corpse as being badly decomposed. The decomposition of a dead body’s cells is as natural as the continual regeneration of those in a live one. Decomposition is neither good, nor bad. It merely is.”
Joan Vollmar was obviously dead. Dr Swailwell waved away a cone of buzzing blowflies. Maggots, crawling from her ears, nose and mouth, testified she had been dead for some days; decomposition well advanced.
Swailwell noted what could have been bruising around the throat and on a cheek. However, due to the onset of lividity, he couldn’t be sure.
“Lividity,” Swailwell looked over his glasses at the Crown prosecutor. “Is the condition of a corpse where the settling of bodily fluids causes the skin to take on a mottled look, not unlike marble.”
“Do you have a phone?
“I think we should call the police.”
“Through here,” Ralph said and showed him to his office.
When Dr. Swailwell had made the call he took a seat on the verandah.
Leanne asked if he would like a cup of tea while he was waiting.
Swailwell, waving a prescription pad before his face, said he would like nothing better.
And while she went to make it, a car horn sounded down by the front gate. Ralph came to the veranda, looked down the drive. There was a car there. The car had stripes and a blue light on top.
“I think you should make the tea in the big pot, Leanne,” he said.
The cops noted 2p.m as they went into the bedroom with Dr Swailwell. They noted, as he had, the buzzing flies, the crawling maggots, the smell and referred thereafter to the body lying on the bed as, the decedent.
Leanne was pouring tea when they came out on to the verandah. They all had a mug and sat down to drink it and talked first about the weather. How it was cooler here than in Horsham. Ralph pointed out it was because they got a breeze about now from the river. And when they had drunk their tea the cops took out their notebooks. Referring to the decedent, they asked what had happened. And took statements of what had occurred over the past seven days and seven nights. When they had taken the statements they cautioned first Leanne.
“Do you want to communicate with a legal practitioner?”
“No.” she said. “ He’s already here.”
“What do you mean by that?”
“God,” Leanne said and waved her hands around at his wonders.
Mr Bremner (Bremner’s Quality Funerals.) had been burying and embalming folks around Horsham for 40 years-had even buried his own father. He listened as Ralph stood in the cool room before Joan’s sealed casket and told him what he wanted.
“I don’t think that would be allowed, Ralph,” Mr Bremner said and little puffs of frozen air came from his mouth as he said it.
“ An open coffin?”
“Its the authorities, Ralph. Health reasons. Joan had been dead for some days before she came into our care - and then the autopsy…”
“Joan is not dead.” Ralph stabbed his finger against the casket. “Her spirit is in Heaven waiting for the call. Her casket must be open.” He stabbed again. “So people can witness God’s miracle.”
“The authorities, Ralph.” Mr Bremner said. “Health reasons. Its not allowed.”
“God has revealed to numerous people that Joan will rise from the dead within three days, Mr Bremner,” Ralph said.
“I don’t know about that, Ralph. It’s not really my area. All I know is that health regulations stipulate a sealed casket.” He tapped his finger over Ralph’s. “This casket is sealed and the law says it stays sealed.”
Ralph took his finger away. “God will not be stopped by a coffin lid,” he said.
The Channel 9 helicopter was a nuisance. The 300 people assembled in Horsham cemetery held on to their hair and hats as it swooped across the tombstones.
Cameras clicked, flashed and someone said, “Do you really believe your wife will rise from the dead today?”
Ralph blinked at the flash and smiled his long toothed smile to a camera. “God has told several people she will,” he said into a mic thrust before his face.
Behind him, crouching video operators practised tracking shots across the loam and into the grave open and waiting for his wife’s body.
“The message to these people, who are very sensitive to God’s voice, is that we should be calm, stay cool and trust,” Ralph said.
“Paul Nuske is 19. Is he qualified to fight devils?”
Ralph turned to a camera. “At 19, if qualified to fight for his country, he is qualified to drive out evil spirits.”
Ralph turned to another camera. “Trained by God,” he said.
Bremner’s hearse slid into camera view and Ralph turned as he heard it crunch on the gravel. “Excuse me,” he said and went to join with the other pall bearers.
Joan’s brothers, were already sliding her casket from the hearse as Ralph got there. He joined them, and sharing the weight of her on his shoulder, carried her with them to the open edge of her grave.
One of the brothers, Geoff, cut a tassle from the coffin with his penknife. He put the memento mori into his pocket and they all stood looking at each other as Bremner slipped cords under the coffin and waited for his tap on their shoulder, or some sign from him to lift.
Ralph stood back and raised his hands against them. “Do not,” he said. “Bury her.”
“Fuck, Ralph,” Geoff said. “You’re really outta line.”
Ralph ignored him. “For she is to rise again,” he said and held his hands up against them as the diggers spaded the earth back into the grave. And was still standing there long after the lights were out, the grave filled and the cameras gone.
“Byee.” Annie Bunn waved from her kitchen window as Meg settled herself in her young man’s ute.
“Fancy a drive into Edenhope?” Jasper helped Meg buckle her belt.
“Oh that’d be nice,” Meg said and waved back.
“Its Gala day. We can watch the procession.” And braked as a wombat ambled across the track. “Dopey buggers,” he said. “And then have our tea at the Chinese.”
Meg wrinkled her nose as they drove past the white washed huts with don’t bother the Lord painted on them.
“Dunno,” Jasper said. “Dad says his brother’s managing the place.”
“Oh,” Meg said.
“Dad says he’s living at the Reichenbach’s for a while.”
“Too many memories here,” Meg said.
They drove down the tunnel of trees, waved to the old guy sat spitting from the shade of the general store veranda.
The store was closed. The old guy waved back as they turned left at the Silo and drove down the bitumen to Edenhope.
Letters to the editor.
On Saturday, February 13, my fiance and I were passing through Edenhope when we were stopped by a parade down the main street-full marks for such community spirit.
We sat and watched as children on bikes and other gaily-coloured vehicles went by. But we were soon sickened and disgusted as not one but two gruesomely bedecked floats passed us in a macabre dedication to the recent sad events at Antwerp.
On these floats under banners adorned with swastikas and pentagrams, we witnessed scenes of brutality and violence.
In full view of children, families and the elderly, in fact for their entertainment, we watched as a life sized dummy was repeatedly beaten, throttled and driven through with a stake to the abundant merriment of onlooking spectators.
Blood sprayed from the effigy and dripped on to the main street where it was still visible the next day.
We watched a ‘body’ being forced through a mangle to exorcise its demons while devils and members of the Klu Klux Klan wandered the street and black banners proclaiming and encouraging the possible uses of exorcism stretched the length of the float.
I likened this behaviour to being entertained by the Hoddle St massacre.
We are disappointed with Edenhope for permitting this. We are angry at the organisers for allowing the floats on to the streets and we are appalled at the people who had the ‘perverted sense of humour’ and the insensitivity to design and participate in this grotesque parody of a tragic episode.
To say that this spectacle was in poor taste is an understatement and it seems a shame that the citizens of Edenhope should wish to promote their own town at the expense of human suffering.
Yours in disgust, M.Bunn.
At Horsham County Court on November 31st 1994 David Klinger, 30, of Warialda and Leanne Reichenbach, 32, of Glenlee, were convicted of the manslaughter and false imprisonment of Mrs Joan Vollmer,49, formerly of Antwerp.
Ralph Vollmer, 56, now of Glenlee, was acquitted of manslaughter but convicted of recklessly causing serious injury and false imprisonment.
Mathew Paul Nuske, 24, of Bayswater, was acquitted of recklessly causing serious injury but found guilty of false imprisonment.
Wimmera Mail Times.
Exorcise it all from the mind.
The law has spoken. Its authority is absolute. While people are within their rights to question and criticise judgment, their criticism must not cross the bounds set by law.
Many have written emotional, bitter protests over the outcome of the widely publicised exorcism case at Horsham Magistrate’s Court.
Their letters will not appear in print because, without exception, they cross those bounds.
The law found the defendants innocent and innocent they remain.