"There, last bill paid" you sighed. Shutting the laptop down and closing the lid, a loud voice behind you said "Post is here, Love". Closing your eyes, you feel the hairs stand up on your neck. You learned long ago that no one was there. No matter where you were or what you heard, no one was ever there. (Maybe this time. Should I?) You spun in your chair in hopes of catching a glimpse of...something? or someone? As you looked, there stood the empty kitchen with its faded cabinets, peeling linoleum and that weird rusty pipe sticking out of the wall. Outside, you can hear the rumble of the mail truck pull up at the end of the drive, stop then start again and drive off. "The post is he-" The loud voice began. "I HEARD IT!" you shouted to the kitchen. You jumped at the loudness in your own voice and up angrily and went to the mail box.

It was quite a stack of envelopes today. "Jesus. I just paid all these!" you said, slamming the stack on the table and heading to the back porch for a cigarette. Turning on the radio and taking a drag you remember the first time you heard the loud voice. At your 7th birthday party, your family had just moved in to this damn house. You had no friends in the neighborhood yet so mom, dad and your brother David were the only guests. Same back porch and same picnic table, so faded now. Sad looking and splintery. Mom made cake and dad let you step on his feet to dance. David was just moping around because teenagers shouldn't be forced to attend a 7year old's party. Mom and Dad had given you that pretty pink jewelry box with a red bow and opening it to find a tiny bracelet with enameled white and yellow daisies. It was the most beautiful thing you had ever seen. Your parents smiled as you held it up to catch the sunlight. Dad offered to put it on and you held out your wrist. His big, rough hands fumbled with the latch and suddenly the bracelet slipped through his fingers and fell to the deck. Gasping, you dove to catch it but just as quickly, it slid through a gap between the boards, falling out of sight. Dashing to the steps and leaping to the sidewalk, you raced to the side of the porch and peered under. Barely hearing your mother's words of caution, you crawled on your hands and knees into the darkness. Stripes of sunlight shone through the slats above making it very disorienting. Looking ahead, you can see your bracelet laying in the dirt half in half out of shadow. Crawling faster, the strange sounds from the darkness didn't register in your 7year old brain. It was an odd humming/ growling noise. And then there was the smell. It didn't smell good that's for sure. Kind of like that dead raccoon your brother brought home from the woods last summer at the old house. The ground under the porch was littered with dried leaves, rocks and sticks mixed in with the dirt. Almost there, you thought, trying to pick your way through the debris. As you reached for the daisy bracelet, a sudden sharp pain pierced your knee. You could just see the black shard of glass sticking out and blood running red over the leaves and rocks around you. A sudden hiss of strange laughter more like a wheeze by your ear and a scream from far away, you suddenly felt something grab your ankle and start to pull. Terrified, you were dragged backwards, feeling every stick and rock dig into your stomach, legs and arms. Into the blinding sunshine, you realized your father had been pulling you out, your mother standing next to him with a worried look on her face. "Jill, you were screaming!" Her voice was shaking as she bent to look at your knee. The black glass was gone but it had left a huge gash that was gushing blood. They wrapped it so tightly in a towel from the kitchen trying to stop the bleeding. The pain was excruciating and the light blurred as you passed out clutching the daisy bracelet in your dirt streaked hand.

Light fading back in, muffled voices, shadows. You recognized mom's voice then Dad then a stranger with an accent and you opened your eyes. Mom's face was so close, covering yours with kisses. Dad ran out to get the nurse. The glass had cut through ligaments, and you had been through an intensive surgery. The doctor came rushing in. He had kind eyes and a red dot on his forehead. He told your parents that it was successful but it would leave quite a scar and you would require much physical therapy. (He called it "Terepy".) Pain meds, sleep, lime jello, pain meds more sleep. You were there for five days before they could take you home. It was all pretty foggy. In and out of a morphine induced haze you barely remember anything except the voices of your parents, Dr. Sharma, a large nurse named Miss Tenley and a British man. You were glad to go home to your own bed. Dad carried you the whole way. Mom brought you soup and when your knee started throbbing too badly, she gave you a pain pill. They made you really sleepy, drifting off watching the breeze blow the curtains gently. "Hullo, Love." The same British voice by your bed startled you awake. You opened your eyes expecting to see a doctor or nurse come to check up on you maybe? But you were alone in your room. Dreaming? Your heart pounded as you heard your mom coming up the stairs.

The neighbor's dog Felix started barking from behind the fence bringing you out of your thoughts. Cigarette done, you headed back inside to make some lunch. That voice has been with you ever since your 7th birthday. It made its presence known every day at least once a day, sometimes constantly. At first you were terrified and would run to your parent's room and jump in their bed. You had tried to explain it to them but they just waved it away saying it was left over trauma from your experience under the porch and that it would stop soon. But it never did. Eventually you stopped telling your parents about it. It was useless. The voice would say nonsense sometimes and other times it would tell you things. Always in a British (cockney?) accent. Where lost items were in the house or that David had climbed out his bedroom window to run away again. You tried to speak directly to it but it would never respond. As you grew older it became very distressing when it spoke to you in the bathroom or while you were dressing for school. You would shout "Privacy please!" and it would seem to understand and stop until you were done. It would follow you to school and try to tell you the answers which would have been great only most of the time he was wrong. It made interactions with other kids tough because they thought you were weird and talking to yourself. You did have one friend who lived around the corner. That lasted about a year until she came over to do homework and excused herself to use the bathroom. Her screams shattered the hot afternoon as she ran out of the house leaving her book bag and papers. Later that night a pounding on the door brought your father running. You could hear the shouting downstairs and assumed it was her father come to collect your friend's things. After the shouting and the door closing your father had come upstairs to talk to you. You had to explain what had happened but it happened so fast you weren't really sure. Although you could guess who had caused her panic, you never mentioned the voice you'd been hearing. Your father assumed it was David playing a joke on the poor girl. You had tried to say it wasn't your brother but Dad wouldn't listen. He proceeded to David's room and burst in. The argument and shouting went on for an hour with David insisting he wasn't even home from school yet but he couldn't prove it. As you listened, the voice said "David's been off smoking wif his mates, he has". You had cried burying your head in the pillows.

Every time his voice spoke in your ear, it gave you the shivers and your stomach tied in knots. What the hell was this thing? Why wouldn't he leave you alone? At night it would wait until you fell asleep and whisper "You're mine now, Love. I've tasted yer blood." Or at breakfast eating cereal "Does that taste nice Love? D'you like it? I've liked tasting you!" Followed by a wheezing laugh. You would wave your hand by your ear like swatting at a fly. Constant interruptions during the day made you very irritable. Your parents took you to shrinks and other specialists but no one could come close to the real explanation. You tried to tell one nice psychologist about him but she furiously wrote notes on her pad and prescribed you with mind numbing Haloperidol and Clozapine. Those just made it worse. Eventually the voice began telling you about things your father was doing. "'He's cheatin' on yer mum" or "He's no really working late, is he Love". Your parents began to fight more and you noticed during your high school years that there were a lot more wine and liquor bottles in the recycle than there used to be. "David's gone." Was one morning wake up call. Your parents frantic, David's window open and his clothes missing. He never came home again. His relationship with his father had never been the same since he was accused of terrorizing your friend. Soon after, your parents divorced leaving you and your mom alone in the house. Mom tried to drink her sorrow away and after your graduation she became very ill. Lingering for over a year you had to watch her slowly decline. "She'll be wiff me soon enough" said the voice. "Leave me alone!" you'd screamed. At the time you were shopping at the Food Way and in the frozen section people all stared.

"Hospital's ringin' yer" he said. Some would think you'd get used to that by now, but no. You nearly jumped out of your seat when the phone on your desk rang. Luckily, your job with the City in the records department left you mostly alone all day. So when he spoke to you no one else was around to witness. You had a sinking feeling as you answered the phone. The nurse had said Mom had a bad night but finally fell asleep around 4 A.M. When they went to check on her at 6, she had passed away. That was a year and a half ago. Now, alone in the house. Just you and your thoughts... and his thoughts. You had tried to get a cat at one point for company but it took off out the door on the second day. "I 'ate cats" it laughed in your ear as you watched it sprint across the yard and was gone. You had tried dating a few times but that didn't last long either. There was that cute guy, Bill, from the surveyor's office who had asked you out. Dinner and a movie, it was nice. Through the whole evening wheezing laughter rang in your ears. Bill never called again. Your one moment of peace is when you go to the park and read. The voice seems to go elsewhere like taking your dog, he's off exploring. You try to go as often as possible just to catch a break from him. One day as you sat staring at your book, not really reading, an older woman with four or five plastic bags walks by you and stops in her tracks. "Are you alright?" she asks. Startled, you look up and without warning you began to cry.

She sits down and waits for you to gather yourself. "My name is Loretta, what's yours?" You introduce yourself. "My name is Jill. Jill Millen. I'm so sorry to do that" you said. "I don't know what came over me!" "I do!" said Loretta, taking hold of your hand. "You have a darkness around you. I can feel it. Tell me, Jill. Tell me your secret." No one had ever spoke to you like Loretta. She was very comforting. Something in her voice, calm and cool, invited you to talk about him. You hadn't meant to but you found yourself spilling your entire story with this stranger sitting next to you. As you spoke, her face never changed. No looks of disbelief or horror. No darting eyes looking for a quick escape. Loretta listened so you kept talking not realizing tears were streaming down your cheeks again. Before you could finish, Loretta was crying too and she leaned over and hugged you tight. She smelled like roses. She sat back and closed her eyes. "I think I can help you." She said finally and smiled.

Two weeks came and went. Loretta had said you must not know when this was to happen because then he would know too. You sat in the kitchen when, "Right, ladies comin' up the walk." He giggled in your ear. You gasp at his closeness, spilling your coffee. The doorbell rings and as you open it you see not just Loretta but six other ladies waiting to come in, all carrying large tote bags. When they enter, their faces visibly change from smiling and happy to serious and frowning. One lady even sniffs the air and grimaces. Lorretta whispers to you "Let them do what they do." As you clear off the dining room table, the ladies begin to unpack their bags. Some have books, candles of every color, sage and other weird trinkets. They don't sit however. They begin to walk around your house, every room, every hall and closet is inspected. Not a word spoken. After the tour reaches the back porch, you can see them all looking silently at each other and nodding. Now seated at the table, Loretta stands. "Sisters, you all know why we have gathered here today. We all can feel without a doubt the presence that lingers here. He has been around a long time and is NOT a good spirit." As Loretta speaks, the voice in your ear says "What's this then? Tryin' to dislodge me?" His wheezing laugh seemed to move around the room. The ladies could not hear his voice but all felt a chill as he spoke. His wheezing laugh continued as Loretta spoke. "Now we speak to YOU, Foul Darkness, he who curses this house and this child. We know you yet we do NOT beseech, we DEMAND. You will be pried from this house with force not gentleness!" As she went on, the ladies began to light candles, one after another in a circle. The sage was lit in an incense burner in the center of the table and the smoke started to fill the room. His laughter turned to rage and he began to bellow. You had to cover your ears with your hands to muffle the sound. The ladies, at the same moment, began to chant. Softly at first but with growing intensity. Their words were foreign to you but apparently not to him. His bellows turning into growls like a caged monster. You sat hands clamped over your ears and squeezed your eyes shut. The sage smoke seemed to be gathering in one spot at the top of the ceiling in the kitchen. Swirling and moving around and around. "Stop this!" He growled. The smoke began to move into the dining room. Swirling faster now, it shifted again to the hallway towards the back door. The ladies continued their chants and Loretta kept speaking directly to him louder and louder. As her intensity rose so did his. Growling "Damn you Bitches! She is Mine! This house is MINE!"

As he howled every curse and swear word and foul threat, the smoke began to speed up moving back to the kitchen, to the dining room, hall and back door. Over and over, whirling but not dissipating. You seemed to feel a vibration in the air around you making your skin crawl. The chanting and Loretta's demands to leave this place reached a new intensity. The sage smoke swirled into the dining room and surrounded the table but the ladies never wavered. You opened your eyes and saw the smoke spinning around the table like in a wind, blurring their faces like they were melting. His howls now sounded like screams of pain to you and he started to make unintelligible noises and hisses like you'd never heard before. Suddenly all the ladies stood at once still chanting. Loretta took up the chant and they all grabbed an item that they had brought from the table. As if with one mind, they thrust their talismans into the smoke and all screamed at once, "PELLERE! WE BANISH YOU!" The sage smoke suddenly stopped spinning and seemed to freeze. His voice screaming in your head, "NO! NO! NO!" The smoke then split into seven sections with an audible ripping sound that shook you to the core. Each lady held her talisman tightly as the section of smoke in front of them was sucked into each one. Then silence. No one moved. The ladies panted with exhaustion. "Quickly Sisters!" Loretta whispered. She had a cloth bag with a draw string and held it out as each lady walked by and dropped their talismans into it. Closing it up, she placed it carefully into an odd leather box with a circular latch that you had not noticed before. Taking a black candle and pouring the liquid wax onto the latch she took a brass wax seal out of her pocket and pressed it onto the cooling wax. The seal looked like a compass but seemed to point in all different directions. Loretta stood next to you and gently touched your cheek. "Almost done Honey." She smiled.

It felt like only an hour or so but it was almost dark out now. The ladies each took another charm from their things and formed a line and began to head out to the back porch. Down the steps and right to the spot you had once crawled underneath. Each took their fresh talisman and bending down tossed it into the dark space as far as they could go. They then formed a circle and holding hands, bowed their heads and began another chant. It was almost like a song. Very softly this time. As they sang, something in the dark caught your eye. Seven glowing embers appeared under the porch each where a sister had tossed her talisman. They were glowing brighter with every note of the chant. The song faded away and the glowing embers did the same. "Those are for protection" Loretta said. Walking back inside, you could feel the change in the air. Not so heavy, not so cold. You let a sigh of relief wash over you. The Sisters all looked disheveled and exhausted. You offer to make some tea but they refuse and begin to pack their things. One by one, you hug them all as tightly as possible as a thank you. Loretta was the last to go and you begin to thank her but the tears start and your voice cracks. "Hush now" she says hugging you and not letting go. "You are safe now." She whispers in your ear.