(Inspired by the true story of Charlotte Thomason which you can read at charlottethomason.com)
The mud seized Beth’s boots with each step, the sludge doing its best to drag her feet and ankles permanently into its murky depths and hold her there ‘til she could no longer recall where she was going. She slowly ran a distracted hand over the ridiculous curve of her belly. It ached and twitched as if some demon was fighting to escape. Realizing her own movement, she shoved her hand into the deep pocket of her dress, her eyes darting from one side of the street to the other. Had anyone seen? No, of course not. No one cared about a plain little girl aimlessly wandering about the market. She was invisible and that was for the best. If only the mud would finish its job and bury her altogether.
“Beth! Oh, my goodness Beth, I’m so glad I found you.” The girlish voice rang across the market, and Beth’s face twisted into a grimace. She looked about to see if she had an exit but no such luck. Pulling her cloak around her, she turned to face the petite, blond firecracker heading her direction.
“Meg…well I’m right here, not too hard to find standing in the middle of the market.” Beth forced a grin onto her face and gave a small wave.
“Oh, dear Beth, you are a mess. This won’t do at all. He wants to see you right away. I’ve been looking forever, but no you can’t go like this. You just can’t. Come, we will get you all sorted out at my house and then we will…”
“Meg. Stop. First, I’m just fine the way I am.” Beth eyed Meg’s spotless boots and crisp hemline with suspicion. Did the girl float? “And second, who wants to see me and why should I be in such a rush to be at his particular beck and call?”
“HIM. You know who I mean and don’t act as if you don’t. He says you’ve been avoiding him for weeks now, and he won’t have it any longer. Our ceremony is in just a few days and you’ve not prepared at all! He’s says if you aren’t ready, none of us will get to participate. Beth, you have to go!”
The ceremony. A shiver ran over Beth’s skin when she thought about it. White dresses, flowers, wine, little girls theoretically becoming women, but no one in town would suddenly see them as women just because they had their first monthly and went through some silly rite of passage. Seriously, Meg had the chest of a boy and Lena still spent her time with an ever-growing family of dolls. For most of them, the ceremony was a frivolous tradition from an age when life was harder, and children grew up more quickly. For her, the ceremony was a pointless hypocrisy of a path she had followed months ago, which He well knew.
She pulled the cloak tighter around her and looked pointedly into Meg’s eyes. “I will see him when I wish to see him.” With that, she turned and walked the other direction with as much conviction as the mud would allow. Bewildered blue eyes stared after her.
It was another day before Beth made her way to the ancient stone structure on the outside edge of town where He spent his days. She approached it with caution, her eyes taking in the old stone, moss, and runes carved into each of the four walls. The runes had always frightened her, and yet also drawn her in. The Ministry had been housed here for as long as the town could remember. The Ministry protected and guided the people and had done so for hundreds of years. None of the town folk knew the meanings of the runes, but he had always told her they were words of great magic and power and that those who spent much time within those walls absorbed that power.
She stepped back from the wall, her skin crawling and her stomach lurching into her throat. She had spent a good deal of time in those walls.
“Beth! It’s about time you came to me, child.”
Beth’s eyes locked onto his and he came towards her, arms outstretched. “Vincent.”
She skirted past his embrace, into the Ministry. Cold stone walls greeted her; every piece of grand furniture, every book and piece of paper, all stood in pristine order. Her feet moved soundlessly across the polished floor. A small piece of mud fell off her shoe as she walked and the corner of her mouth curled up. She removed her cloak, tossed it over a chair, then turned to face him, her hands on her belly.
“I don’t think I’ll be participating in the ceremony, Vincent. It doesn’t seem appropriate.”
His eyes widened at the site of her round belly, emphasized by the cut of the dress she wore and the careful placement of her hands. To her secret delight, he looked visibly ill and nearly fell over the chair behind him as he instinctively backed away from her.
“Well, what do you think? Is it appropriate?” She took a step towards him, looking up at his stricken face. Was he always so tall? Another step forward and he seemed to tower over her small frame. She felt the tremors as they ran across her belly. She shivered under his gaze, but she would not let this moment go.
“Or perhaps it’s a perfect chance to introduce your future child to the village? What do you think?”
Her words did not have the desired effect. Vincent immediately raised himself to his full height and crossed the remaining distance between them. He reached out and grazed the side of her cheek with a calloused hand. “Perhaps not my dear one. Perhaps not.” She felt his other hand on the side of her belly, and the infant inside her kicked in wild response.
Then she broke. The confidence and conviction fleeing her body in one swift and debilitating motion. She dropped to her knees as the world went cloudy and dark. His voice murmuring soft assurances in her ear. “Thrilled. A small obstacle, my precious girl and my precious child, so much power…”
In that moment, she realized the truth. This thing inside her must surely be evil. She had thought perhaps the child would bring her some joy, someone to love and protect as she had never been. With a dizzying certainty, she knew this could never be. The ministry was a dark place, full of dark magic and Vincent was its vessel. Her child, conceived in this place, born of his blood, could only be a creature of darkness.
Shame ripped through her and Beth let the world blessedly fade to black.
Through her window, Beth watched the deep purples and oranges paint the sky. For a moment, she simply let its artistry still her racing heart. Beth envied the sun as it escaped the night, taking its beauty and leaving this world to the darkness.
She had at first been relieved when Vincent had decided she would not take part in the ceremony tonight. As she watched the town make their way to the ministry though, she felt very alone. Her family had not understood. In fact, they assumed she had in some way shamed them. To be excluded was unprecedented. The questions had been relentless, “What have you done? Can it be fixed? Surely, if you just talk to Vincent, he will give you a way to repent and be included?” That one always made her laugh, as if it was she who needed to repent…she, who had no say in the evil which grew within her. But she could not tell them. She could not answer their questions; Vincent had forbidden it. His dark eyes had flashed with rage when she pleaded with him to acknowledge the child. He had a plan and it did not involve sharing his dark secrets to spare her dignity.
So here she stood, alone and shamed, while he stood proud and revered.
At the ministry, Vincent watched closely as the girls drank from the sacred cup. As they drank, he looked at each girl and asked for their offerings. Most of the girls placed toys or ribbons into the center of their circle, gifts, marking their first step into womanhood. Meg quietly unhooked the chain at her neck and placed the tiny lamb pendant into the pile. Lena held back, her hands hidden in the folds of her skirt. Her eyes met Vincent’s and in one swift motion she tossed the ragged doll into the center.
As this last artifact of innocence landed, Vincent lit the torch in his hand and held it high. Gasps echoed among the townsfolk, but the girls stood silent, rivulets of fire lighting their innocent faces with an otherworldly beauty. The torch came down and girlhood became spark and ash.
The pain went through Beth’s belly, doubling her over as she reached for a nearby chair. She heard a scream from somewhere and wondered detachedly if it was her own voice. A second tearing pain and another scream came almost immediately. Yes, it was her own voice, ‘though it reminded her more of some wild thing being torn apart.
More pain…she couldn’t stand. She couldn’t make it to the bed. She felt a rush of warm wetness run down her thighs but couldn’t make sense of any of it. Another stab to her belly and her legs gave out. She collapsed into the water and blood that covered the floor beneath her.
Beth screamed again, this time intentionally. She knew she was alone in the house, but instinct forced her to cry for help. No one answered. As another pain wracked through her body, both hands grasped her stomach. It was coming. That was the answer. It was too soon, and something was not right but regardless, she would be rid of this thing inside her tonight and if it took her life in the process, she could accept that.
Beth made it through the next 2 hours of pain without blacking out. She knew nothing of childbirth, but instinct told her to get the creature out of her at all costs, so she pushed. There was too much blood, she knew that much. She managed to pull a blanket from the bed and did her best to get it under her. Two hours seemed like fifteen but finally the creature escaped her body. At first, she simply let it lay there. Beth couldn’t bring herself to look at it. Eyes closed tight, she waited for the thing to make some sound signifying its presence in this world. Nothing.
Her eyes cracked open. There between her legs lay a tiny person with thick black hair and ten perfect fingers and toes. Beth was in love. She reached out a quivering hand, and gently touched the child’s chest. A cry erupted from the tiny girl. Tears streamed down Beth’s face, and she reached out to hold this precious girl, but the room began whirl around her. Beth couldn’t focus, couldn’t make her body obey her. Slowly a deep blackness crept in and stole the moment from her.
Voices snuck in and out of Beth’s awareness. First shouting, “Oh my goodness, Beth! What’s happened?! Oh God! There’s a baby here…” Her mother.
Later, Vincent’s deep voice, “We’re losing her. We are too late…nothing to be done now…”
Did he mean her or the baby, oh please God don’t let it be the baby! Beth desperately tried to wake herself, but all sound disappeared, and Beth was lost to a darkness devoid of life.
Her eyes were closed, but she was certain if she opened them, she would be utterly alone. She still felt as if she was spinning, her mind still clouded. She didn’t understand what had happened, what was happening…then the world stopped spinning.
A strange warmth filled her body. She felt the exhaustion seep out of her body while peace ran through her blood with a swiftness that left her gasping.
Slowly, Beth’s eyes opened.
The darkness was gone. She found herself in a field. Each blade of grass shimmered silver-white as they tickled her fingertips. A breeze swept past her, the grasses danced and swayed to its tune and a sweet, comforting aroma enveloped Beth.
Looking down, she realized she was standing on a smooth, white path that led to a large, alabaster door which glimmered in the brightness of the place. The door stood without building or wall to hold it up. It simply was.
Beth was drawn to the door, but also simply wanted to be in the moment. Her eyes closed and let the gentle music and fragrance of the place wash over her. She was safe at last.
A calm voice entered her reverie and whispered, “Beth, open your eyes.”
After reluctant pause, her eyes opened. Before her stood a white robed man, a sleeping infant tucked contentedly into the crook of his arm.
“Where am I? Who are you?” Beth asked with more curiosity than concern. For several moments he simply looked at her and smiled, as if he wanted her to figure it out on her own. She looked around her, then as an afterthought looked down at herself. She was no longer in the old and bloody gown she had been wearing that night. She was in the pure white frock of the ceremony. The dress she should have been wearing that night if things had gone differently. She also became intensely aware of the fact that she had no pain. She should at a minimum be sore after the ordeal of the night, but there was nothing. Amazingly, she felt quite good.
None of those realizations answered her questions. The man, seeming to realize this, moved closer to her. As the man got closer, she realized she knew him. Well, in a way she knew him. He was the man her people had once referred to as the Savior. Some still did, she did or thought she did until Vincent had brought her fully into his world. Still, in this moment, she knew him and more importantly he knew her.
Her eyes moved to the infant in his arms. She took in the thick, black hair and perfect features and knew this was her own sweet baby girl. Joy surged through her body and her arms stretched out to take the precious bundle from his arms.
“No.” His firm, gentle voice tore at her heart. “You must go back. You have more to do.”
A scream tore from Beth’s throat, “Why do I have to go back? For Vincent? For a town that hates me? For a body that betrayed me? All that is in that world is evil and darkness.”
Letting her hands drop to her side, her voice faded to a whisper, “Let me go through the door with you and her. Let me be done with that life. Let me stay.”
He replied to her pleas with firmness that was undeniable, “No, you are not done with your beautiful life yet. You have so much more to do.”
“But I am all alone in the darkness.”
“I am with you always Beth. You are not alone and not all is darkness. Light lives in you, and if you look, it lives in others as well. You are called out of darkness and into a wonderful light.”
Behind him, the door opened and Beth heard singing and laughter spilling out into the field. The Savior turned from her and walked through the doorway.
As the door closed behind him, the sounds of singing faded into nothing, the sweet smells disappeared, and Beth felt the darkness surround her again.
“She’s back!” said a familiar voice jarring her into consciousness. Beth’s eyes unwillingly opened to the site of her mother’s tear stained face and the healer’s wide eyes. Behind them Vincent bent over her bed fumbling hurriedly with something out of her line of sight. Pain washed over her. The blackness was gone but her journey through darkness was just beginning.
Over the next few weeks, she learned from her mother what had happened. When her mother had returned home from the ceremony, she had come to check on Beth and found her and the baby laying on the floor covered in blood. She sent a servant for the healer and Vincent. The healer almost immediately pronounced Beth dead on his arrival before turning his attention to the child. Moments later, Beth had gasped for air and she was indeed back.
The baby, however, was lost. Beth’s heart was shattered. She raged at what the Savior had taken from her. She raged at Vincent. It was too much. As the weeks passed, Beth withdrew into her own world. She barely uttered a word of resistance when Vincent proposed quietly burying the child and keeping her very existence a secret. Vincent assured mother and daughter it would be best for Beth if no one knew what had occurred. Beth nodded quiet acquiescence, taking the rage and burying it deep within her.
Eventually her rage at the Savior passed, though she still did not understand what purpose her coming back would serve. Her world was still dark and her rage at Vincent remained. Still, the flashes of a shimmering field, the echoes of faraway music, and the memory of kind, loving eyes gave her peace in her worst moments. She was alone. Yet, she wasn’t.
As she neared her 18th birthday, Beth found herself at the doorstep of the Ministry. Her hands traced the old runes and she felt the rage rise within her. Most days she barely remembered that night; she preferred it that way. Today though, she remembered, and there was only one way to ensure she could forget forever.
She gripped the deadly blade hidden in her cloak and pushed open the door.
The place was deserted. Empty. She searched everywhere, but there was no trace of him. She dropped the knife to the floor and sagged into a chair. Vincent was gone and if he never came back, she could forget. She could imagine the darkness didn’t exist, she could live her life.
The mud seized hold of Beth’s boots with each step, the sludge doing its best to drag her feet and ankles permanently into its murky depths and hold her there till she could no longer recall where she was going. Hearing a girlish squeal from across the circle, she glanced up with a smile. A young, copper-headed firecracker was waving at her as she held up some ribbons and began walking towards Beth. Taryn, what had she bought now?
“Momma! Look!” The young girl shouted over the din of the market. Beth shook her head and laughed as she watched the girl cross the space between them with clean boots and spotless hemline. Goodness, did the child simply float?
A man in a black cloak stepped suddenly towards the girl. “Those are lovely ribbons for a lovely girl.”
“Oh! Um, hello sir, thank you.”
He stretched out a hand with three small coins, “Let me buy them for you. You remind me of a precious child I once knew.”
Beth watched with a small smile as Taryn reached out her small, frail hand and touched the old man’s wrinkled one. Then the man pushed back his hood and Beth felt the blackness creeping in. Vincent. Older, harsher, but still Vincent.
“Stop!” The single word ripped from her throat as if it was the only thing that mattered in the world. Images of runes, raging eyes, and a black-haired babe cascaded through her mind. Her eyes closed at the onslaught, as if the darkness could somehow hide her, could stop what was happening. Her nails bit into the palms of her hands as the memories overtook her.
Then there was light breaking through her darkness — silver-white grass that sang like the angels, and there was the Savior. A familiar warmth swam through her blood and she remembered. She was not here to hide, to live in the fear and pain. He had sent her back for a purpose. Her eyes opened, fixing on her precious girl. She would stop hiding from the darkness and start seeking the light.
Korine Martinez. “Light in the Darkness.” An Unexpected Journal 2, no. 1. (Spring 2019): 87-100.