“Michael… Michael it’s coming for me again.”
Michael was raised in a Christian fundamentalist home. Coming of age in Rashosha, WI, this was par for the course. Churches lined the streets and were as ubiquitous and homogenized as the McDonald’s and 7/11s that littered the sleepy borough. His parents enshrouded him in a world where angels as well as demons were very real and active forces on human lives. He attended a church in which the pastor would perform exorcisms regularly. People would writhe about and scream in agony as the preacher would enthusiastically thump his Bible and shout with a showman’s charisma.
“Unclean spirit begone!”
The parishioner would then proceed to smile in ecstasy and crumble to the ground as if the heaviest burden had been lifted from their chest. Witnessing this on a regular basis, he became used to the song and dance, and would muse at times at how silly the whole enterprise was. Time had worn down the once burning passion in his soul for religion. At the tender age of thirteen, he was already beginning to regard the world with cynical eyes. That cynicism was beginning to sharply focus on his religious upbringing, but he maintained a modicum of his faith and devotion not out of any true fervor but more so out of habit. He accepted the long shadow that religion and the spiritual cast on his life with a certain malaise.
However, all of the talk about demons and possession began to affect his younger brother deeply; the extent of which would not become clear to him until the most terrifying night of his young life.
His younger brother, Joseph, was the sweetest kid in the world. Joseph had nothing but good will for others. Even though he was only nine years old at the time, an altruism permeated his being far beyond his years. He would go out of his way to share his toys and videogames with Michael. A warm and reciprocal love followed him wherever his two tiny feet would take him.
The evening of June 6th, 2004, began like any other.
It was a Saturday night. The family happily convened for a dinner comprised of a roast lovingly prepared by Mrs. Roberts. As they sat at the kitchen table enjoying the delectable meal and each other’s company, Norman Rockwell himself couldn’t have painted a more accurate portrait of the quiet bliss that the Roberts exuded. The two children were sent off to bed at 9:30 PM in order to be well rested for the early Sunday church service. Michael drifted off to sleep effortlessly to the sound of Joseph’s faint snores as he had already fallen asleep on the other side of their shared bedroom.
Michael awoke sometime past three to a whisper calling his name in a shaky voice.
He opened his eyes slowly to see a dark figure standing next to his bed. It took a few seconds for his eyes to adjust to the darkness and see that it was Joseph waking him with a pallid look of indescribable horror on his face. The sheer terror written on it immediately put him ill at ease. Joseph said to him in a whisper he had to strain to hear.
“Michael, it’s coming for me again.”
Joseph had been having dreams about a demon. He never got a good look at the phantom, but he could hear his shrieking voice and see the incandescent green light it emitted from its dead eyes. It was appearing to him nightly and telling him to do awful things in a high pitched voice that he described as “how a person sounds when they breathe a balloon.”
Joseph said that he would start to pray to God to save him to which the beast would interrupt him by screeching.
“Fuck your God.”
This part especially alarmed Michael. Given their extremely sheltered upbringing, he lived in a house where there was absolutely no cursing allowed, and they hadn’t been exposed to media with obscene language. He was surprised that Joseph had even heard that word before.
Michael would always tell him in his most condescending big brother tone when he brought up the demon: One, it’s only a dream. Two, even if it is real, God would protect him. This had no effect on his demeanor. He was convinced that it would get him, and always thinking of others, he would say.
“After it’s done with me, it’ll get you too.”
As Joseph was standing over Michael’s bed his tiny frame shaking violently with fright, Michael repeated to him that it’s just a dream and to go back to sleep. In a hushed tone with the most fear he had heard and, truthfully, he would ever hear a human voice carry, Joseph said to him.
“It’s not a dream this time. It’s in the closet.”
His body froze. Sweat exploded from his brow. A palpable, insurmountable fear engulfed Michael. The content of what his brother said was enough to put him in that state, but the truly terrifying thing was the certainty in which he said it. He looked Joseph in the eye as his tiny mouth exclaimed from the deepest reaches of his soul.
“Jesus, help me!”
Michael could swear he heard another voice retort to the prayer inside the room. Not a sound with a clearly audible pitch but more like a faintly discernible buzzing, the white noise you hear in the black void of silence at times that can seem just beyond human perception. With a dread that poured over him like an all encompassing shroud, Michael turned his head a millimeter at a time toward the origin of that penetrating sound, the closet.
At first he saw nothing, just blackness. But, before relief could wash over him, he noticed the faintest green light emerging from a crack in the closet. His heart lodged into his throat.
Fear gave way to reason as he reminded himself that Joseph had neon green glow in the dark stickers attached to his coat which hung in the closet. A relief as tangible as the now dissipating fear filled him. His terror and concern for his brother and himself suddenly turned into a venomous rage toward Joseph for scaring him so badly. Michael yelled at Joseph to go back to sleep. He protested, still paralyzed by fear. The anger that had filled him expressed itself as hubris as he climbed out of bed with gusto. Michael confidently walked toward the faint green light in the closet telling Joseph he would open it and show him that there was nothing to be afraid of. Joseph screamed.
“Don’t, don’t! First, it’ll get me, but it’ll get you too”.
As he moved closer to the closet the light started to get faintly brighter. The almost indescribable whirring grew louder. His newfound confidence working his body, Michael reached for the knob of the closet and opened it in one swift movement as the green light engulfed him.
Michael woke up the next day in a state of utter confusion in the hospital. As he was to find out later, his parents came into the bedroom as they heard the blood curdling screams of Joseph. They discovered Michael passed out in front of the closet incapable of waking. Joseph was found crumpled in a heap not much further from him with foam bubbling from his young mouth. Michael was quickly discharged as the doctors could find nothing wrong with him. Joseph, however, was a different story.
The doctors said he had suffered from a grand mal seizure. He was kept in the hospital for a full week under observation. Michael went with his parents to visit him. He overheard them talking to the doctors discussing his prognosis. At the time, he did not really comprehend what they had said. Something about the CAT scan revealing some anomalies, but essentially giving him a clean bill of health. Michael’s parents assured the doctors that the power of prayer had healed him, and that the Lord had told them that he was safe now. The physician gave him some anti-seizure medication and sent him home.
The whole ordeal had taken a monumental toll on the little guy. Poor Joseph was never the same. The sweet and wonderful child that Michael berated but ultimately loved became a sullen, introverted, and selfish person. He grew up to constantly have run-ins with authorities. Trouble in school, juvenile court, you name it. As Michael grew into adulthood and distanced himself even further from his former faith, his thoughts on Joseph’s changed demeanor switched from a supernatural explanation to a psychological one.
In college studying psychology, he heard the story of the man named Phineas Gage who, in a freak accident, had a metal rod impale his frontal lobe. This caused a severe and marked change in his behavior. Essentially, the nicest guy in the world, due to brain damage, became the world’s biggest asshole. This gave him comfort when he came to the conclusion that the anomalies that the CAT scan had revealed were most likely of this sort. This sealed for him a neurological explanation for why his little brother had become an insufferable sociopath.
On March 20th, 2014, almost 10 years after the incident in the bedroom, Michael returned to his parent’s home after attending Joseph’s funeral.
While Michael was away at college, Joseph was dating a lovely girl. Granted, she was much older than him and had a child by another man, but Michael had hopes that having love in his life would change Joseph’s personality for the better. Words cannot describe the shock when Michael received the call from his parents telling him that Joseph was in jail. That he was being accused of murdering Amber, this beaming and lively girl, as well as her young son.
He didn’t go back home for the trial at first. He knew it made him a coward, but he still couldn’t deal with it emotionally. One night he got very drunk and in a morose state read the details of the crime online. Something he came to regret immediately. When he read that her young son was stabbed so many times in the neck that his head accidentally rolled off the gurney as his body was being transported, a little piece of him died.
Michael emboldened himself enough to attend the announcement of the verdict to support his parents. He shuddered as he saw the smug smile that appeared on Joseph’s now haggard face as the verdict of guilty was announced. He stared into his brother’s eyes one last time searching frantically for a semblance of the boy he had once loved. If eyes are the windows to the soul, he was staring into a vacant house, a condemned property. He went back to school to finish the summer term and finally graduate.
Not two weeks after returning to Madison, he received the call. Joseph had hung himself in his jail cell. It was of little surprise that the selfish prick didn’t even have the courtesy to write a suicide note.
As he lay in his childhood bed that evening in the cursed room that had started it all, words filled his head. Words that he had tried so hard to forget and rationalize through the years. It’s Joseph’s sweet, young voice saying repeatedly,
“After it’s done with me, it’ll get you too.”
A faint whirring sound filled the bedroom and grew, ultimately culminating in a high pitched squeal which slowly wormed its way into Michael’s perception. He had heard a similar sound in many quiet moments in his life, but something about this noise was indelible.
He turned to the closet which was now ajar after shutting it tightly an hour prior. A green light engulfed the room as thoughts of murder, pestilence, hate, and destruction became his reality, became his purpose, became his being…
After strolling through the kitchen on feet that no longer belonged to him, he entered his parent’s room. His mother awoke with a start. She gasped as he overtook her. A bloodcurdling scream escaped her mouth as she saw the butcher knife in Michael’s hands. He pinned her down. He swung it downward swiftly as his mother cried out.
“God, help me.”
As the blade pierced her neck, and blood erupted from the wound, he retorted to his mother’s cry.
“Fuck your God.”