The Benefactor

by J. B. Tilton

PROLOGUE

The band of people marched through the small wooded area. All were dressed in the traditional garb of the time. Of Salem, Massachusetts, in the latter part of the 1600s. At the forefront marched a distinguished gentleman who wore the trappings of the local minister. He walked with confidence and arrogance, holding a copy of the Holy Bible in one hand and a rolled piece of parchment in the other, like a man set upon a specific path who could not be swayed.

Many of the men carried burning torches to light their way and many carried weapons of some sort. Most carried only pitchforks, shovels, rakes, or other farming implements. Others, however, carried muskets. As they marched, the full moon shined brightly overhead illuminating the scene with macabre shadows.

Shortly the group came to stand before a small cottage in a clearing near the center of the woods. Smoke rose lazily from the chimney giving mute testimony that it was, indeed, occupied. The minister stepped to the front of the cottage.

"Jebediah Small," the minister bellowed, "it is I, the Reverend Samuel Parris. I have come with the good townsfolk of Salem on a matter of the Lord's business this night. We would have a word with thee and thy wife, Sarah."

The door to the cottage opened and a man stepped out holding an axe. He was young, perhaps in his early thirties, and he sported a beard that was commonplace among the married men of the day. He looked around the gathering of people, contempt and hatred flashing in his eyes.

"It is not the Lord's work thou art on, but thine own lust for blood," he hissed at Reverend Parris. "Thou hast come to persecute myself and my kin when in truth we have done nought against thee. Leave this place. Begone, I say, and do not think that thy petty words can hold sway over me."

The wail of an infant could be heard from inside the cottage. Reverend Parris ignored the sound, and instead unrolled the parchment he carried. In solemn, deliberate tones, he read the words inscribed on the paper.

"Jebediah Small," he said, "thee and thy wife, Sarah Compton Small, have been charged with the crimes of witchcraft, blasphemy, and consorting with Satan. Thee and thine unholy wife are to be taken to the town of Salem in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, there to be tried for thy crimes. If thou wilt not come of thy own accord, thou shalt be taken by force. If thou art found guilty of these crimes, thou will be punished in the manner as prescribed by the law."

"Nay," hissed Small. "Neither me nor my wife shall place ourselves in the hands of the likes of thee. Thou hast deemed us already to be guilty and our fates were sealed before thee did come here. Thou seeks only to use torture so that we might admit to the crimes which thou hast charged us with.

"Satan, god of this world and most powerful of all forces, send to me thy power and thy servants so that we may smite thy enemies and cast them from us. Hear thy faithful servant and grant me the boon which I request. Infidels and unbelievers have come to thwart thy work and destroy thy followers. Grant me the power to smite them even unto death so that we might continue to perform thy glorious work."

"He calls upon the evil one to come to his aid," shouted one of the men in the mob. "Surely there can be no greater proof of his guilt. Strike him down now, before we are all damned for his heresy."

A pistol was raised and fired. The musket ball struck Jebediah Small in the forehead. Stunned by the impact of the missile, Small dropped to his knees, teetered for a moment, then fell forward to the ground.

From the cottage a young woman ran, screaming at the mob. Her blond hair whipping in the wind as she dropped to Small's side and cradled his head in her lap. His body shuddered once, then became still. A woman ran from the crowd into the cottage beyond.

"Hypocrites," screamed Sarah Small. "Murderers. We have done thee no harm. Thou hast no right to come to us in the night and force thy will upon us."

"Witch," shouted Parris, "thee stands accused of crimes against man and God. Thy husband, in calling upon the name of the evil one, did condemn himself from his own mouth. It may yet be possible to save thyself. Renounce thy evil ways. Submit to the law which shall judge thee. While thy life may be forfeit, thy soul may yet be redeemed."

"Nay, murderer," shouted the woman. "Thou hast slain my husband and I cast a curse upon all of thee. From the power of Satan I command that from this day forward, thee shalt never find rest. And that when the time has come to fruition, we shall return to avenge ourselves upon thee and thy blood. And all mankind shall suffer for thy sanctimonious self-righteousness."

Another musket fired and the woman was knocked backward from the impact of the musket ball. Blood seeped from a wound in her chest and her lifeless body lay next to that of her husband.

The woman who had run into the cottage emerged holding an infant only weeks old in her arms.

"I have found their infant son in the cottage, Reverend," said the woman. She held the child out to Parris for inspection.

"The spawn of Satan," said the man who had fired the first musket; the musket which had killed Jebediah Small. "Conceived and born into this den of iniquity and blasphemy. Better that we should slay this child now rather than let it's evil spread."

"Nay, Nathanial," said Reverend Parris, placing a hand on the musket which Nathanial held. "For scriptures tell us that those who have not reached the age of accountability are unstained by sin. He is but an infant, who has caused no transgression of the law. Wouldst thee slay the son for the sins of the father?"

"No, Reverend Parris." Nathanial hung his head as if in shame.

Nathanial looked around the mob, embarrassment on his face. He could tell that others, too, had thought as he had. Now, they felt ashamed of it.

"Did not our Lord command to let the children come unto him?" asked Reverend Parris. "Did he not say that whatsoever we did to the least of his children, we have done unto him? Nay, my friends. This child is an innocent. We shall not shed the blood of the innocent."

Reverend Parris turned back towards the bodies that lay on the ground.

"But these," he said, indicating the bodies of Jebediah and Sarah Small, "have convicted themselves from their own mouths. The scriptures command us that we shalt not suffer a witch to live. Cast their bodies into the unholy structure which did house their blasphemy and idolatry. Burn this unholy place and all that is within it so that nothing shall remain.

"Let it be a sign to all who would consort with Satan and his minions of the price they will pay for their sacrilege."

Several of the men in the crowd handed their torches and weapons to others. They then carried the bodies of Jebediah and Sarah Small into the cottage and the cottage was set ablaze.

"So shall it always be for those who sup with the Devil," said Reverend Parris. "As for the child, he shall be called Lazarus from this day forth, for he has been raised from the death of the worship of Satan and brought into the light of the worship of the Almighty."

"Reverend," said the woman who had rescued the child from the house, "I would ask that I be allowed to raise this child in the light and admonishment of the Lord. I have only recently lost my own child and husband to the evil brought by these worshippers of Satan."

"Sweet Matilda," said Reverend Parris, taking the young woman's chin in his hand. "I can see no better course than this. It shall be thy recompense for the evil and harm which these worshippers of darkness did spread over thee. Take the child. Rear him in the fear and respect of the Lord. So that one day he may rise up and be a blessing to the community of believers and a beacon for the Lord."

The mob of people watched as the house and all that it contained burned. When the fire had extinguished itself, they sifted through the rubble to make sure that nothing remained intact. Then they turned and returned to their homes.

* * *

"Lazarus, my son," said Matilda Credence, holding the young man by his shoulders, "today thou art a man."

Today was Lazarus Credence's eighteenth birthday. He had looked forward to it for many months. Today he would take his place among the other men of the town of Salem, Massachusetts.

"Yes, mother," he said, and kissed her softly on the cheek. "I think I will go to my special place for prayer and meditation before the celebration."

"That is good," said Matilda.

She was proud of her adopted son. He had grown into a fine young man. And Reverend Parris, who was advancing in years, had even agreed to teach the boy all that he knew. So that Lazarus Credence would one day become the next minister of the church in Salem.

After reaching his special place, Lazarus sat on the rock in the middle of a clearing. The remains of an old, burned out house sat several yards away. No one knew of his secret place. He had come here many times over the years. He always felt at peace in this place.

A light mist drifted into the clearing. The sun was beginning to set and Lazarus knew that he had to be getting back. A grand celebration had been arranged for him.

"Lazarus Credence," said a voice behind him.

Lazarus stood up and turned around. He saw a couple standing just a few feet from him, smiling. The man stood just over six feet tall. His jet black hair barely moved as the wind whistled through the trees. The woman's long blond hair fluttered about and reminded Lazarus of the stories of angels which Reverend Parris had spoken of during many of his sermons.

"Art thou lost?" he inquired. "Can I be of service to thee?"

The couple looked somehow indistinct. As if they weren't real. But Lazarus somehow felt that he could trust them. That they meant him no harm.

"Nay, Lazarus Credence," said the man. "It is we who will be of service to thee. Know now, Lazarus Credence, that she whom thee doest call 'mother' is a usurper. It was not she who bore thee into this world."

"My husband speaks the truth," said the woman.

Her voice was soft and melodic. It was soothing to Lazarus.

"I tell thee now of the evil which those whom thee calls friends did visit upon us," said the man. "We, who meant harm to no man, but were struck down because of the ignorance and vile which did fill their hearts. Stand now, and learn the truth of thy heritage."

Images began to flood Lazarus's mind. He dropped to his knees, holding himself up with his hands, as the images permeated and invaded his every thought.

He saw the mob of people come to the house. He saw this same couple, whom he now knew to be his mother and father, struck down. He saw the woman whom he had called 'mother' take a small child from the cabin. Then he saw the cabin burned to the ground as those around rejoiced and thanked God for their victory.

When it had ended, Lazarus stood up. Anger and hatred filled him. For his entire life, no one had spoken to him of these events. No one told him that Matilda Credence was not his true mother.

"The usurper has raised thee as her own," said the woman, "but in truth, thou art our child. Born of my womb to be reared in the service of the true god. Know that it is by his power that we have been allowed to return and tell thee of thy true heritage."

"To the south," said the man, "is a cave unvisited since that night. Within the cave thou shalt find all the knowledge which we did possess. And with that knowledge shall come power. Power such as thee has never dreamed of. Use that knowledge and power and avenge our deaths. Strike down those who did murder us."

"Mother, father," started Lazarus, but the images began to fade before his eyes.

"We can stay no longer," said the woman. "Use that which we have given thee to continue the work which we did begin. Thou art a blessed child, blessed above all others. Thou has a destiny which cannot be ignored. Go. And know that our love goes with thee."

The couple faded from sight. Lazarus thought about what he had learned. He had heard of the witch hunt that had occurred shortly after his birth. All his life he had been told that his father had died during that hunt.

Now, to learn that he had been lied to. By the good, God fearing people whom he had called friends. What else had they lied about? Even his own mother had lied to him. No. Not his mother. The pretender who claimed to be his mother.

Lazarus made his way south and found the cave of which his father had spoken. Inside, hidden behind rocks and boulders, he found books, tomes, rituals, incantation, and all sorts of other implements. He began to read what he had found and became fascinated with what he read.

* * *

Lazarus Credence walked through the woods to his secret cave. For three years he had studied the material provided to him by his deceased parents. Many within the community of Salem commented how he had changed since his eighteenth birthday. His own mother now seemed afraid of him. The thought pleased him.

He walked into the cave after checking to make sure that he had not been followed. In the back of the cave was an altar. A headstone which he had stolen from the graveyard served as the altar and chairs which he had made himself were seated around the room. He opened a book and began to recite the passage he had marked.

"Hear me, Prince of Darkness. I, Lazarus Credence, fruit of thy servants, Jebediah Small and Sarah Compton Small, do call upon thee this night. Give me the power which I ask for so that I may spread thy glory and dominion over those who blaspheme against thee. Use me as thy vessel so that I may subjugate those who would destroy thy servants. Grant me what I have requested."

Thunder boomed in the night sky and lightning flashed near the mouth of the cave. A mist began to drift into the cave, but Lazarus was not frightened. In three short years he had mastered most of the incantations and rituals he had found in the books hidden within the cave.

"Who has summoned me and risks my wrath?" boomed a voice from out of the air.

"I, Lazarus Credence, have summoned thee. I offer thee my body and my services to spread thy word throughout the earth. Grant me the power which I ask for so that none may stand against me."

"What does thee offer in return?" questioned the voice.

"I offer thee my undying allegiance," said Lazarus. "I also offer thee the sacrifice of blood to seal the bargain."

Lazarus Credence moved to the very rear of the cave. He pulled a blanket away that was covering something underneath. It was a young girl, bound and gagged and unconscious.

"I offer to thee this young girl," said Lazarus, "as proof of my loyalty and devotion. Her life and her blood I give to thee to seal the bargain which we make this night."

He picked up the young girl and laid her on the altar. Then he picked up a ceremonial dagger and a bowl made of solid silver. He raised the dagger high over the girl.

"Hear me, Satan. This girl becomes the first offering to thee. I swear that from this day forth, all who stand in my way shall die for thy greater glory. None shall escape my wrath."

He looked down at the young girl. She was the granddaughter of Samuel Parris. A fitting first sacrifice, thought Lazarus. And after her, he would deal with all the others who had murdered his parents twenty one years before.

Without hesitation, he plunged the dagger, up to the hilt, into the girl's chest. The body convulsed once, then lay still. As the blood poured from the wound, Lazarus caught the blood in the silver bowl. When it was nearly full, he raised the bowl over his head.

"With this symbol of my devotion," he intoned, "I pledge all that I am and all that I have to thy service and worship. Grant me, Lucifer, the power to sweep thy adversaries away. Grant me, Prince of Darkness, the devotion and servitude of all who worship thee. Grant me, oh Great Deceiver, thy protection so that I may accomplish thy greater glory."

After finishing the speech, he lowered the bowl to his lips and drained the contents. Lightning flashed at that moment, and he knew that his bargain was sealed. He packed the books and other implements into a wagon waiting outside and drove away from the town of Salem, Massachusetts.

In the years to come, those who had murdered his parents and stolen his heritage would pay dearly for their blasphemy.