The Valley of the Shadow

Miles David Moore

writings: story

September 2013

Sept. 14, 2005

Dear Reverend Tupper,

     I appreciate your asking me to write about my experiences for The Solid Rock. I have been a subscriber for more than thirty years, and through all those years I have found your magazine an unerring source of inspiration and God's Word. Had you asked me six months ago to write for the magazine, I would have considered it an unimaginable blessing.

     Now, however, I must regretfully decline. It's not that I'm not honored to be asked. But now I fear that I have no words of wisdom, no balm in Gilead, to offer your readers. You assume that the story of my deliverance from the Valentine Killer would demonstrate the miraculous saving power of the Holy Ghost. Which I guess it does. But not in a way that would inspire anybody.

     You know what you need to know about the Valentine Killer. Everybody does by now. To know that he murdered thirteen people in my town in the four years before this one--including a family of five in one fell swoop--is to know that you keep your doors locked at all times, and have a peephole put in your door if you don't have one already. Not that either would help much, because the Killer's an expert housebreaker--I can vouch for that--and nobody's really sure what he looks like.

     I took all the precautions everybody takes--not only the peephole, but also never walking alone if I could help it, though no one knows if the Killer has ever come up to anyone on the street. Whenever I went to church, or to a Women of the Church meeting, or to visit the shut-ins from our congregation, I always made it a point to pick up a friend on the way and take her with me--usually Mildred Stayton or Lynette Baumgardner. I'm not sure what Mildred or Lynette could have done to save me from a serial killer, but at least I felt better when they were in the car with me.

     Reading the newspaper stories about the killer, I felt afresh the pain of being alone. My first husband, Steve, a captain in the Army, was killed near Khe Sanh. Our daughter Marie, my only child, was born just three weeks before I was notified of his death. I've always been a believer, but it was after Steve's death that I really turned to God for solace. It was in church that I met my second husband, Del. We were married for sixteen years, making our church and our mutual love of Christ the focal point of our lives  together, until the day he ran off to Arizona with his secretary.

     Between Steve's pension, Del's earnings during our marriage and my divorce settlement, I've never had to work for a living. At one time--when I didn't need an excuse to keep myself occupied--I considered that God's blessing.

     Just because Del deserted me didn't mean that God did, and I never made the mistake of thinking He had. I continued with the church, and for twelve years--until very recently--I was president of our chapter of Women of the Church. Some people in the congregation, mind you, looked at me askance as a divorced woman. But not everyone. Mildred and Lynette stood by me, and Reverend Dawson--a good friend of yours, so I'm told--never said a word of criticism to me. For that I bless his name.

     Everything went as smooth as silk until last March. It was Wednesday night, our usual night for the Women of the Church meeting, and it broke up as usual around nine. I gave Mildred a ride home as usual, and we were only a few blocks from her house when, out of the blue, she said, "It's been a year today."

     I had no idea what she was talking about. "A year since what?" I asked.

     "A year since the Valentine Killer struck last."

     I looked at her in surprise. I couldn't remember Mildred ever even mentioning the Valentine Killer until that moment.

     "Mercy me," I said. "What brought that on?"

     Mildred didn't even look at me, or change expression.

     "My sister in Akron sent me a valentine this year," she said. "The first I've received these ten years. She put a letter in it. And I couldn't help but think of that poor family a year ago, the mother and the father and the three little children, and how the Valentine Killer strung up their bodies and pinned homemade valentines with handwritten letters to their clothes. A different letter for each of them."

     Mildred's face suddenly looked strange, the way the light from the street lamps shone on it. "Mildred Stayton, I'm surprised at you," I said. "It's not like you to get morbid like this!"

     She shook her head, as if trying to wake up from a dream. "I'm sorry," she said. "It's just that ever since I got my sister's card, I've been dreaming about that family. I've dreamed about their dead bodies hanging from my ceiling, and their dead eyes staring at me."

     At the time, I really thought I was helping her. "Mildred," I said, "you just can't let dreams rule your life like that! Certainly the Valentine Killer is scary, but you know as well as I do that Christ protects those who believe in Him!"

     For the first time since she started speaking, Mildred looked at me. "The family that was killed," she said, "went to First Avenue Methodist every Sunday. Don't you think they believed in Christ?"

     I didn't know how to answer that, so I was silent when I pulled up to Mildred's house. Neither of us said anything as she got out of the car, not even goodbye. But seeing her walk toward her front door, I was seized by an overpowering desire to see Marie and my grandson, Adam. Usually I was tired after Women of the Church, and I hate dropping in anywhere unannounced, even my daughter's. But the need to see my daughter's face, and to hear her voice, suddenly became imperative.

     I have to stress: I didn't literally hear a voice from Heaven telling me, "Jean, go and see your daughter." If anything, the feeling was in response to what Mildred said. I just had to see my daughter and my grandson, to make sure they were safe, even though I knew Adam would be asleep by then and Marie and her husband, Jason, probably would be getting ready for bed. Marie's a nurse and Jason's a teacher, so both of them have to be up early.

     Marie lives less than a mile from Mildred, so I was at her house in no time. There was still a light on in the living room, so I went up to the front door and rang the bell. I could hear a faint sound of crying, and the thud of stocking feet padding to the door. Jason opened it, his hair tousled.

     "Why, Mother Edwards," he asked, "what brings you here so late? Is something the matter?"

    "Nothing at all," I answered. "I just needed to see my family." I really felt awful coming there at what was obviously a bad time, and I felt worse when Marie came up, in her bathrobe. She was holding Adam, who was bawling his eyes out.

      "Well, here we are, in all our glory," she said. "Maybe you can help with Adam. He's been screaming for the last hour. We think it's because he's teething, but the pain drops Dr. Tyler gave us don't seem to work."

       I felt useless at that moment. I remember when Marie was teething, and there was nothing I could do then except let her cry herself to sleep. But it was the strangest thing: Adam stopped crying the second I took him in my arms. He looked at me with his big blue eyes--his grandfather, whom he will never know except in Heaven, had eyes like that. I smiled at him, and within a minute he was laughing. Within ten he was in his crib, asleep.

     After that, Jason went to finish grading that night's papers while Marie and I went to sit at the kitchen table. Marie poured us each a glass of iced tea.

     "You still haven't said why you came at this hour, Mom. Usually you go straight home after Women of the Church." She gave me an apprehensive look. "Del hasn't called you again, has he?"

     For years after he left me, Del would call me occasionally, without warning, any time of the day or night, though he hasn't called in a long while. I hadn't known until just before he left me that Del was a secret drinker--we never kept liquor in our house--and once he was gone the secret was out. Anyway, he'd always be reeling when he called, crying about how much he missed me, and how his new wife was a witch (actually he used the word that rhymes with witch--a word I never heard him use while we were married).  Marie's voice always took on an edge whenever she mentioned Del's name; only after he'd left did I truly realize she had never liked Del, never regarded him as a father. Sometimes I wonder if he tried to molest her, but that's not a question I would ever ask without more proof than that.

     "No, honey, Del hasn't called," I said. "It was just a sudden urge I had to see you." I told her about what Mildred said, and she looked at me oddly.

      "Oh, Mom, that's really morbid," she said.

     "Yes, honey, that's just what I told Mildred. But I don't think it's morbid for a mother to want to see her daughter, no matter what brings it on."

     Marie leaned over and kissed me on the forehead. "You can come see me any time you want," she said. "Just so long as we don't have to talk about the Valentine Killer."

     We sat and talked for a long time, about old friends and old places. When I saw it was a quarter past ten, I said, "I'm sorry, honey, I didn't mean to keep you up so late." She took my hand, and said, "Why don't you stay a while longer, Mom? That was a good idea you had, to come over tonight." And I felt so wonderful when she said that. I figured the Lord really had intended me to see Marie that night.

     We moved into the living room--I don't remember why, since we didn't want to turn on the TV--and talked some more. The next thing I knew, I was lying on Marie's sofa, alone, with an afghan over me and only one dim light in the corner.

     The light was too dim for me to read my watch, but the time on Marie's DVD player was easy to see--1:26. I felt so embarrassed; I'd fallen asleep on Marie's sofa like a lump, and she'd decided to just let me sleep.

     I was a little groggy, but I decided it would be better to go home. I folded the afghan neatly and locked the door behind me, leaving the light on. I figured Marie or Jason might need it in the night, with Adam teething.

     The one thing I remember about driving home that night was that so many street lamps seem to have burned out. Nothing was illuminated; the houses and streets I've known all my life seemed nothing more than shadows.

     The lights on my block, however, burned as brightly as ever. My garage is attached to the house, so I opened the garage door with my remote control, pulled in, closed the garage door and walked into my house through the side door that opens into the kitchen.

I turned on the light and saw everything familiar--the Blue Willow china I inherited from my mother, the old refrigerator that came with the house but still keeps my milk cold. Yet something looked amiss. At first I thought it was just because I was tired, but then I realized what it was.

     For the past thirty years I have read a chapter of the Bible every morning. I keep it in the same place always, in a place of honor, on the stand beside the easy chair in my living room.

     There it was, in the middle of the kitchen table.

     Moving toward it, I noticed one other thing: the bookmark had been moved. I'd finished Revelations not long before, and was now on an early chapter of Exodus; but now I saw the bookmark was placed somewhere toward the middle.

     I opened my Bible to the bookmark. It was on the Song of Solomon, and one verse had been underlined in red, near the top of the page. I never read the highlighted passage, though. Instead my attention was drawn by the puddle in the middle of the page, something white and sticky, oozing off the gilt edge...

     I screamed. There is no way to soften what I'm about to tell you, Reverend Tupper. Whoever had moved my Bible had also masturbated into it.

     "Who's there?" I cried out. "WHO'S THERE?" I went to the drawer where I kept my big butcher knife, the only real weapon I had in the house.

     It was gone.

     I was trembling so hard I had to brace myself against the counter, just to stand upright. I grabbed a steak knife from the drawer, then moved to my purse and took out my cell phone to dial 911. My only other phone was in my bedroom.

      I know I should have run out of that house that second, not even waiting to make the emergency call. But I couldn't run. I had to see what else was there.

     I tiptoed through the house, knife upraised. I didn't turn on any lights in the living room, but the light from the kitchen allowed me to see that nothing had been moved there except my Bible. Its empty stand stared at me.

     I started to repeat to myself the Twenty-Third Psalm: "Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for Thou art with me; Thy rod and Thy staff, they comfort me."

     I had to wait several seconds to catch my breath enough to switch on my bedroom light. What I saw when I did made me wish I could stay in the dark forever.

     The handle of my butcher knife stood exactly perpendicular from my pillow, the blade fastening some sheets of cheap paper to it. The top sheet had a giant heart on it, drawn crudely in red, and underneath, printed also in red, were the block letters: "WHERE WERE YOU JEAN?"

     I realize it was foolish of me to grab the knife and spoil the fingerprints. But I had to read those pages. I had to know what he wanted of me.

     It was lined paper, its ragged edges showing it had been torn from a spiral notebook.

The handwriting was large, but so haphazard that it was hard to read. Nevertheless, I made it out: "Why did you not come home Jean?" it read. "On Wednesdays you are home at nine. You are ALWAYS home at nine. I could only stay till midnight. The angels tell me I can only stay till Midnight. We would have had such fun--such Sacred Fun. The knife that would have sliced your veins in a Fantasia of Joyous Holy Lust now slices only paper. When I told the Angels it was YOU I would Kill, all of them--every one--applauded from Heaven. They longed for you in Heaven, Jean. Why did you cheat them? I will leave my Seed in Your Bible on the Song of Solomon to cement our Eternal Holy Pledge to each other."                                               

     That wasn't all there was, Reverend Tupper. I do not quote it because my hand cannot write such filth. I no longer have the paper--the police took it as evidence--but every word is etched on my memory as if it were The Lord's Prayer. I was reading the last of it when the patrol car pulled up.

     "Tell me once again why you touched the Bible and the knife," Detective Murvin said for the twentieth time. "Even a six-year-old knows not to spoil fingerprints at a crime scene."

     The patrolman, who was very nice, called for plainclothes backup as soon as he saw that the Valentine Killer had been to my house. Detective Murvin, he told me, had been working the Valentine Killer case from the beginning. I'd always had unmitigated respect for the police, but Murvin was making me revise that. He looked like someone Del might go on a bender with. The first thing he did upon entering my house was light a cigarette, and he ignored me when I asked him to put it out.

     "I told you," I said. "I couldn't stop myself. I needed to see what had been done in my house. I needed to see what this monster wanted of me."

     Murvin turned away from me, waving his arm as if I were a fly he was trying to shoo. He stared out my kitchen window with those awful basset-hound eyes--as if he could see anything there at three o'clock in the morning--and let his cigarette ash fall into my sink. I didn't have an ashtray, and he didn't ask for one. At least my sink was better for his ashes than my floor.

     "OK," he said. "You wanted to play Sherlock Holmes."

     "That wasn't it at all!"

       "If you say so."  He sighed, apparently at the pain of having to deal with a moron like me. He threw his cigarette--his second of the night--into my sink, then lit another. I'd given up telling him to stop.

     "Probably doesn't make any difference anyway," Murvin said. "In four years we've never gotten a single usable print from the Valentine Killer. We think he uses rubber gloves." Now he tells me!

     "What do you need fingerprints for, anyway?" I said, suddenly feeling bold. "Not to put too fine a point on it, Detective, but my Bible is swimming in his DNA!"

     Murvin turned to me again, his cigarette glowing like Hell's fire in his mouth. No other human being has ever given me such a look of disgust.

     "Sure, we have the DNA," he said. "And we have the DNA from every other murder he's committed. The problem is, if this guy was ever arrested for anything anywhere in North America, it wasn't for anything that involved a DNA sample. So all we can do is run in circles, proving it's the same guy who committed all the other murders we can't solve!"

     His tone was more than I could bear. I am ashamed to say that I started to weep. Seeing this, Murvin didn't exactly show sympathy, but saw he had to deal with me.

     "Look, Mrs. Edwards, you need to understand how lucky you are," he said. "The Valentine Killer has killed thirteen people. Do you know how many of his victims got away? Zero. Absolutely none. You're the first. The very first." He started to put his hand on my shoulder, but stopped in mid-gesture. "Frankly, we were hoping the killer was dead--he's never gone a year between murders since he started. There's always a chance this is a copycat--we won't know until we test the DNA--but it sure doesn't look like it. The M.O. is exactly the same--the crazy handwriting and the message about sacred perverted lust. Apparently this creep stalks people he knows are churchgoers, and sends  them to Heaven in a ritual he invented. It's not the kind of ritual you or anyone else ever saw in church. For some reason your God let all the others die, but spared you. You'll just have to figure out His reasons for yourself."

     I had another question I wanted to ask, but he said something I couldn't let drop.

     "What do you mean--MY God?" he said. "He's your God, too. He's everybody's God!"

     Murvin looked at me as if he were trying to bore holes in my skull. "And is the Valentine Killer's God your God, too?" he spat. "Do you worship the same way he does?"

     "How can you say that?" I asked. "How can you compare my faith to that of a homicidal maniac?"

     Murvin turned away from me, shaking his head. He reached in his pants pocket and pulled out his wallet.

     "Here," he said, tossing a dog-eared photograph onto the table before me. "This is something I always keep with me. Maybe you'd like to see what you escaped."

     I picked up the picture, and dropped it almost immediately. It was a crime scene photograph--a little girl of maybe seven, undoubtedly from the family that was murdered the year before. She was hanging by her neck, and was so pale she almost looked like a mannequin.

     I have heard that the police sometimes withhold or alter details of a crime scene when talking to reporters, so they'll know if prospective witnesses actually saw the crime rather than just hearing about it in the news.

     The papers and the TV stations always said the Valentine Killer's victims were found fully clothed. But this little girl was naked. The valentine note was...

      I can't go on, Reverend Tupper. I cannot describe that picture to you. I would rather cut off my hand than write down what that monster did to that poor little angel.

     That spring, I tried to carry on with a normal life. I went shopping, I visited Marie and Adam, I prayed. I continued to go to Women of the Church, though now I needed someone to follow me home every Wednesday, to make sure everything was all right. Detective Murvin said that since I was the first of the Valentine Killer's victims to get away, there was no way to know if he'd come back.

     Of all my friends, you would think that Mildred would be the mainstay, considering our conversation just before the killer struck my house. But she barely spoke to me at church or at Women of the Church meetings, and started asking other people for rides. Finally, one Wednesday in May after a meeting, I asked her outright: "Mildred, why are you avoiding me?"

     She didn't have the courage or the decency to look me straight in the eye, but instead gave me a resentful sidelong glance. "You're bad luck, Jean," she said. "I don't know why, but the Lord has it in for you, and I don't want to be around when whatever's going to happen finally happens." We haven't spoken since.

     The following Monday, the killer struck again. Victims Fourteen and Fifteen were an eighty-one-year-old shut-in and her private duty nurse, both members of St. Bernadette's Catholic Church on River Street. The news reports said neighbors heard screams from the

house, as well as a loud voice reciting the Lord's Prayer--they said they couldn't tell whether it was a male or female voice. By the time the police arrived, it was too late.

     I set down my paper as soon as I read the story. My hand was shaking so badly I could barely press the buttons to dial Lynette Baumgardner's number.

     "Lynette, honey," I said, reasonably calmly I think, "could you please take over for me at the next Women of the Church meeting? Something's come up."

     I was able to persuade Marie to do my grocery shopping for me, and when she couldn't do it, my neighbors could. I spent a lot of time just sitting in my living room, looking out the window. I went out in the yard sometimes to water the lawn or the flowers. Jason came over to do the mowing, which he's always done anyway. When the paper came in the afternoon, I plummeted on it. The only TV I watched was the local news.

     All this time I barely had an uninterrupted night's sleep. I dreamed all the time, and remembered most of my dreams. Sometimes it was of the little girl in Detective Murvin's photo, but never the way she was in the photo. I'd hear a knock on my door, and there she'd be, in a frilly party dress, smiling and holding out a handmade valentine--but her eye sockets were empty. Sometimes I dreamed the killer was standing before me in my kitchen. Sometimes he was a big, ugly brute, sometimes small and neatly groomed. Sometimes he just stood there, a blank expression on his face; sometimes he stood there, still looking blank, but--I hate to report this--holding his penis as it gushed onto my open Bible. Once or twice I dreamed that Del was at a pay phone, but he wasn't calling me; he was calling the killer, giving him my address.

     Little Adam started walking in May; I missed it. His first birthday was in mid-June, and I was determined to go to the party. I told Lynette exactly what gift I wanted for him—a book of nursery rhymes I'd seen in the Calvary Bookstore, rewritten from the Christian point of view--and she bought it for me, along with gift wrap and ribbon. How I cherished inscribing the book for Adam, wrapping it and tying a bow on it! I wanted it to be really pretty for him. Although it was ten o'clock on the morning of the party, I felt so happy and satisfied about wrapping the gift that in turn it made me feel sleepy. I'd barely slept the previous night, so I did something I almost never do--I went to my bedroom, set the alarm clock in time to get ready for the party, and lay down.

     I heard a knock at the door. I got up and walked through my living room, which looked as normal as apple pie. A shaft of sunlight shone on my Bible on its stand. Adam stood at the door, smiling. He was naked. He had his eyes, but his smile was the lipless smile of a skull. He held up a valentine to me. The heart on the valentine dripped blood on my stoop.

     I grabbed the phone the moment my eyes opened. Marie barely said "Hello" before I started screaming GET OUT GET OUT GET OUT THE KILLER IS COMING THE KILLER IS COMING! She said, "Mom, is that you?" and I said FOR THE LOVE OF GOD GRAB ADAM AND GO THE KILLER IS COMING HE'S COMING FOR YOU NOW! Marie asked, "How do you know this, Mom?" and I said FOR GOD'S SAKE DON'T ASK QUESTIONS THE KILLER IS COMING GET OUT GET OUT GET OUT! Marie said, "I'll call Detective Murvin, Mom," and hung up.

     For the next two hours I sat in my living room, looking at Adam's gift on the coffee table, waiting for someone to call. It was 12:30 when I called; the party was supposed to start at 2. I tried to calm myself, tried to tell myself that "for the love of God" wasn't swearing, that I had meant it literally. Finally my cell phone rang. It was Detective Murvin.

     "We checked your daughter's house, and all around it," he said. "We'll keep a patrol car there tonight, just in case, but there's no sign of the killer or of anything unusual."

     I sighed with relief. "Thank the Good Lord," I said.

     "Why did you think the killer was coming?" Detective Murvin asked.

     "I had a dream," I said. "God sent me a dream."

     "A dream?"

     Don't think I didn't notice the disbelief in his voice, Reverend Tupper. "You didn't have the dream, so you don't know," I said. "I've had dreams about the killer before, but this one was different. This one was real. The Lord sent it to me. I know He did!"

     There was a silence of several seconds, then Detective Murvin repeated, "A dream." He took another long pause, then said, "By the way, your daughter canceled your grandson's party. Thought you'd like to know."

      He hung up. It was one of the longest days of the year. I sat in the living room for hours, watching the light change, watching the shadows creep up on Adam's gift until at last they swallowed it whole.

     It's mid-September now, Reverend Tupper. It has been nearly three months since I have set foot out of my house. I have watched a whole summer go by through my picture window. It used to be the cleanest on the block. You can see hardly anything through the streaks now.

     At first Reverend Dawson came every Sunday to bring me Communion. Then, one Sunday in July, he told me the Women of the Church held a special election and made Lynette the new president.

     I was floored. "Why didn't anyone tell me?"

     Reverend Dawson looked at me sadly. "I'm sorry, Jean. I didn't know myself till yesterday. I surely thought Lynette would have called you. I mentioned it just in case."

     I thought of Lynette, how sweet and fluttery she was when she brought the present for Adam, how she said she'd do anything at all to help me. And now this!

     "At a time like this, you really find out who your friends are!" I said, thinking of Mildred as well as Lynette. Reverend Dawson turned away. I could tell from the look on his face that he hadn't told me the half of it.

     "What is it?" I asked. I fear that my tone was not pleasant.

     From the way Reverend Dawson pursed his mouth, I could tell he was deliberating on exactly what to tell me, and how.

     "You know, Jean," he said finally, "this goes back a lot further than the incident with the Valentine Killer. You remember there was some controversy about your ever being president of Women of the Church in the first place."

     I was flabbergasted. "You mean about my being a divorced woman?" I asked. "But I've been divorced for fourteen years!"

     Reverend Dawson turned to me and put his hand over mine. "Some people have long memories, Jean," he said, in that wonderful sympathetic tone that shows he is a true man of God. "It's sad, but true. The Lord made people what they are."

     It was then I realized that Reverend Dawson was my only true friend. When Lynette called a few days later--naturally to tell me about the election--I was very polite, but I let her know without saying so outright that we had parted ways forever. Praise be to Reverend Dawson for helping me to see when I was blind! I feel such joy when he comes to visit. It isn't every Sunday now, but he's such a busy man. It's a wonder he can come here at all.                                                            

      Marie came the day after I called her about the dream to pick up Adam's gift. Of course he came with her; it was so sweet to see him toddle to the pretty wrapped present, and to see his joy as he ripped it open! But I noticed that Marie was subdued, and kept looking at me oddly. I knew I had to apologize to her for spoiling Adam's party, but when I started, she stopped me.

     "That's all right, Mom," she said. "I know what you've been through. But I worry about you being alone all the time."

     I put my hand on her shoulder. "I know it's scary, honey," I said. "We don't have any guarantee that the killer won't come back. But I'm making myself as safe as I possibly can, and I have Detective Murvin's number right here in my purse when I need it."

     Marie frowned. "That's not what I'm talking about, Mom," she said. "You act confident now. But if you're so sure you can make yourself safe, why haven't you left your house for over a month? And why were you so panicked by a dream?"

     Looking back, I guess I should have expected she would say something like that. But at the time, I was surprised. I let the part about my not leaving the house pass for the moment. "I told you, honey, the dream had to have been from the Lord," I said. "You can't imagine how real it was."

     "But it was a dream, Mom!" Marie said. "And it turned out not to be true."

     I am afraid I bristled. "Just because it didn't come to pass yesterday doesn't mean it won't!" I said. "The dream came from the Lord, I tell you! He doesn't give us timetables for His prophecies to come true!"

     "You can believe what you want, Mom, but your behavior is starting to worry me. And you still haven't said why you won't leave your house." Marie leaned toward me. "You know, Mom, if Reverend Dawson can't help, there are plenty of counselors and therapists out there. I'm sure some of them could even be persuaded to make house calls!"

     I was seeing red by then. "How dare you suggest that Reverend Dawson can't help me in my time of need!" I said. "And I refuse to see any Godless therapists who think my religion is an illness! It seems to me, young lady, that you don't have enough regard for your Lord and Savior!"

     Marie shook her head. The way she shook her head, Reverend Tupper--it was so dismissive, as if she couldn't believe a sane human being could love and fear the Lord. I am ashamed to say that really set me off. Of course I am not ashamed of defending my faith, but I am afraid I drove away my only daughter that day. She still does some of my shopping, and Jason still comes over to mow my lawn, but they don't speak to me much, or linger at the house. What hurts most is that they don't bring Adam to visit. I ask them how he's doing, and they say fine. I ask them when they're going to bring him over, and they say something evasive. One time when Marie stopped just for a minute, I could have sworn I could see Adam in his car seat through my window. More than once I started to apologize for what I said, but each time the apology died in my throat. Choosing between your daughter and your Savior, Reverend Tupper--it's not a choice any woman should have to make.

     The Valentine Killer claimed his sixteenth victim at the end of July. It was an eighteen-year-old boy, working the late shift alone at a gas station on the outskirts of town. This was the first time, according to the paper, that the killer had struck anywhere besides someone's house, but the other details were such that it couldn't have been a copycat.  The story said that the young man had won a scholarship to a Bible college in Mississippi, and would have started there in September.

     The day that story came out, I called the paper and canceled my subscription.

     I also stopped watching the local news, and watched only Fox News. Of course it would have reports on the Valentine Killer, but not as many or as long. Two weeks after the last murder, Fox News carried a report about a tornado in Oklahoma. The twister had destroyed all the houses on one street, except for one it had skipped over. The house's owner--a fat, middle-aged woman with wispy gray hair and not a tooth in her mouth--was being interviewed.

     "Hallelujah! Praise the Lord!" she shrieked at the top of her lungs, flapping her toothless gums with a cigarette stuck between them. "He has delivered me!" And then she started quoting the Twenty-Third Psalm: "Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil..."

     There I was, watching this woman celebrate her deliverance while all of her near neighbors had been wiped out. And then I stood up and started screaming at her. I will not repeat what I said, Reverend Tupper; I am still ashamed of the language I used, words that had never before left my mouth and rarely even entered my head. To this day I am still praying for the Lord to forgive me for it.

     At that moment, I was lucky I didn't hurl my Bible through the TV screen. In any case, I turned off my TV. I have not turned it on since.

     The Bible on my stand is a new one Reverend Dawson brought as a present. Detective Murvin took the old one as evidence. It was my family Bible, my mother's and grandmother's before me, with all the births, weddings and deaths recorded. But after what that monster did to it, I wouldn't take it back, even if Detective Murvin offered.

     I look at the new Bible. It seems cold and alien. The old Bible had so many memories attached with it. I remember Grandma holding me in her lap when she read to me from it. Of course that memory has been spoiled forever.

     One day I tried to resume my old habit of reading a Bible chapter a day. I thought I would start with Exodus 4, the chapter I was on when the killer came. I trembled so hard when I picked up the new Bible that I dropped it. It slammed to the floor, falling open to Job 34: "In a moment shall they die, and the people shall be troubled at midnight, and pass away."

     I put the Bible back on the stand. I have not touched it since.

     That's the strange thing, Reverend Tupper: I still believe every word of the Bible. I still believe in God and the saving power of Jesus. What I have trouble believing in now is God's justice and God's plan. That He delivered me, I have no doubt. But for what? And for how long? 

     I am sixty-two years old, Reverend Tupper. That's far from a great age nowadays, and I don't think of myself as old, but still I've lived a full life. Why did God let the Valentine Killer spare me, and take that sweet little girl and that poor young man? Or for that matter that poor old lady from St. Bernadette's, who had no way to defend herself, and had earned the right to die in peace?

     When I think of what that monster did to them...

     And I know far better than anyone else alive, with the single exception of Detective Murvin, exactly what he did.

     All I can do now is sit in my living room and pray. I beseech the Lord to reveal His plan for me. I know He has one, and I need to know it. What did He save me for? For the past six months my life has been no good to anyone--not even myself. I'm too frightened to go through my own front door, even to water my roses. I am estranged from my family and friends, except for Reverend Dawson. I'm not even certain my own grandson would remember me now.

     So what does the Lord want from me? Will He suddenly grant me some great change of heart, some vision to go out into the world with, to spend the rest of my life in His service? Barring that, will He allow me to shake off my fear, trust in Him again completely, and resume my life as before?

     Am I just a sitting duck, waiting for the Valentine Killer to come and finish me off?

     Or--what would be infinitely worse--was I kept alive for the phone call from Detective Murvin, informing me that my daughter and grandson have been slaughtered?

     The dreams haven't stopped. Oh my, how they continue. I dream every time I sleep, and I remember every dream. They get worse and worse. Sometimes Del is the Valentine Killer, or Jason, or Reverend Dawson, or Detective Murvin. In one dream Marie was the killer. Sometimes my walls are oozing blood, or semen. Once I dreamed I was roasting a Thanksgiving turkey, and opened the oven to baste it; it was the little girl's head, with an apple in its mouth. Another time I dreamed that Adam was running to me across my lawn, and I opened my arms to him. As he ran, his movements because more jerky and unnatural, and one by one his clothes fell off. By the time he reached me, he was stark naked, his penis erect, his teeth transformed into the blood-stained fangs of a vampire.

     That is why I cannot write my story for you, Reverend Tupper. What Christian wants to hear this? Who among your readers wouldn't think me an apostate, or downright insane?

      Only one dream I've had--only one--showed me any hope for the future. And even then it may be a false hope.  

     It was not quite a week ago. Again I heard a knock on my door. I opened it, and there was Steve. He was exactly as he looked on our wedding day, in his full dress uniform, except that he was barefoot. The sunlight shone on his blond hair, and his eyes, his beautiful blue eyes, looked at me tenderly. He was giving me that look I remembered so well, when he had to tell me bad news and hated in his heart to say it.

     I started to cry, and hugged him. Gently he put his arms around me. There are things you have to forget, Reverend Tupper, or at least put out of your mind from day to day, to go on living. The one thing I've had to forget is the reality of Steve--how wonderful he was, and how he was the only man I've ever truly loved. Even when I thought I loved Del, it wasn't the way I loved Steve.

     "Oh Steve," I said when we broke from our embrace, "please help me! There is evil in this world, and I don't know what to do about it!"

     Steve stroked my hair. "Jeannie with the light brown hair," he said. That's what he always called me when we made love. Now that my hair is streaked with gray, those words are a pain in my heart. He looked at me so lovingly that I wanted to die then and there. "There is so much evil in the world, Jeannie. I always prayed you'd never have to face it, the way I did. But that's the toll we pay on the road to Heaven." As he spoke, his hair grew longer and darker, and his face sprouted a beard. His clothes uncinched and billowed out, until his uniform became a flowing white robe. Blood began to flow from his hands and feet.

    I was in my living room again, sitting in my easy chair, blinking at the early afternoon sun as it streamed through the picture window. Normally I would have chided myself for nodding off at that hour, but instead I could only think of the dream, and how it made me feel--happy and sad and frightened, all at once. But mostly happy. The sunlight formed blocks of gold on my walls, Reverend Tupper, and oh it was a kindly light.

     I felt the warmth on my face, that beautiful light and warmth. Without thinking, I got out of my chair and knelt in the light.

     "O Lord," I prayed, "show me Thy mercy and Thy strength, so that I may be of use to Thee and Thy children. Amen." You cannot imagine the feeling of peace and joy I had the second I finished that prayer, Reverend. I felt whole and right with the Lord.

     And then the doubt entered my mind.

     Here I was, praying to the sun like a pagan. My dream had conflated my dead husband with my Savior, making them appear one and the same. What could that be but blasphemy?

     It hit me all at once: the dream had been sent by Satan, not by God. But another thought came to me a second later: what did it mean, if the one dream that made me feel like a child of God again had actually come from the Devil? And if my other dreams had come from God, what did that say about Him?

     The next night, I dreamed that the Valentine Killer--this time with Detective Murvin's face--was masturbating into my Bible, then tearing the pages out and eating them. I have had that same dream ever since.

     I am completely immobilized, Reverend Tupper. I feel lost and unworthy. The effort of writing this letter is almost too much for me. What is the Lord trying to tell me? Reverend Dawson hasn't been by since I had the dream about Jesus and Steve, and it's hard to get him on the phone, he's so busy. I've left him half a dozen messages. It is now Friday; how I pray the reverend will come on Sunday! If he doesn't come, Reverend Tupper, may I call you? I know you're busy too, but I need to talk to a man of God. I will wait a few days, until I know you've had a chance to receive and read my letter, and then I will call the number listed in The Solid Rock.

     It is afternoon once again, Reverend Tupper. The mailman will come any time now, so I must wrap up quickly.  The sun is shining much as it did on the day I dreamed about Jesus and Steve. It looks like a holy light--but is it? Soon enough the shadows will overtake it, and the darkness that hides murderers will reign. Which is more powerful, Reverend--the light or the dark? Which is more blessed? And when I know the answer to that question, how should I proceed? Is it truly God's plan that the Valentine Killer should claim me--in one way or another?

     Please help me to see. I beg you--please. 

     Yours in Christ,

     Jean Edwards                                                                 

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©2013 Miles David Moore
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Miles David Moore is the author of three books of poetry and the Film Critic for Scene4.
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September 2013

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