It was happening again. This time it came in the form of a frantic bee buzzing around me searching for a weakness. I swung my arms like a world-class baseball player trying to bat it away, but it landed under my armpit and planted its stinger in my body. As the bee tore away, reeling in death, I knew it was an attack launched by the devil himself. Angrily pulsating, a red, swollen welt formed, and the pain vibrated and throbbed through my body. It was just one more sign that made me feel "something" hated me here.
What was I doing here? As a single woman, I was often asked by my friends to stay at their homes while they enjoyed their vacations. It was a welcome change from going to bars looking for Mr. Right, which so far hadn't worked out for me anyway.
"Here" was a home- a term I use loosely because it was actually a mansion of over six thousand square feet- that stood on over eighty acres of prime real estate near a quaint little town in southern New Jersey. Although it was gorgeous at the time, it had lain in disrepair for many decades before it was bought by my friend, Beth, and her family.
I first learned about the house when Beth decided to buy it and restore it to its once grand state. In anticipation of Beth's acquisition of the property, I drove out to see it one cold winter day. The wind whistled through the broken windows, and the door banged and thumped. A dead tree behind the house scratched its bare branches across the roof, which only added to its eerie character. The floors were dry rotted and you could see the the once grand entrance was littered with debris from whomever had broken into the house. The house looked menacing, and it made me feel very uncomfortable.
I loved the old age of the house, though, with its winding staircase, which I could imagine some wonderful woman dressed in a long gown slowly gliding down to meet her waiting friends and family. The mansion was built for entertaining, featuring grand rooms, twenty-foot ceilings, hardwood floors, and crown moldings of etched motifs and elaborate patterns which revealed the love and design originally put into this house.
I knew that Beth would restore the home to its original splendor. She and her husband owned a company whose profits were skyrocketing into the stratosphere, so money was no object.
While they fixed up this mansion, she lived in a small six-acre farm not far from there. It was here that I originally met Beth. She was pregnant with her third child and not doing well with the pregnancy. She was looking for someone to ride her cantankerous horse while she took some time off to be a parent. My riding instructor heard about the opportunity, and she immediately thought of me. Because of my inability to purchase a horse of my own, I was very willing to exercise her horse while she was on hiatus.
This was supposed to be vacation for me too. A pool, horse farm, and a gorgeous house to lounge in was an escape that I could relish. Leaping at the opportunity, I was delighted to stay in this mansion and take care of the many horses in her barn.
But unfortunately, it wasn't turning out that way. Though it was only six in the morning on day 6, I was already exhausted because I was no longer sleeping in Beth's home at night.
I actually tried for two days, but the house made me feel very uncomfortable. Music wold play without anyone turning on the stereo, chairs would move, and lights would turn on by themselves. The noises scared me the most. I would turn around quickly, sensing that someone was looking at me. There was an angry energy in the atmosphere that was unmistakable and very scary.
At first, I made excuses for the home and these idiosyncrasies. I reasoned that maybe the music from the stereo and the lights were on a timer and the chairs moved because of the dogs. Not only that, but Beth told me when she first bought the house, the construction workers said they felt an eerie presence there. One guy fled in the middle of a job and never came back. She herself had said she felt something dwelled in her house. The difference was that she liked it and it apparently liked her. Clearly, however, it did not like me.
It would not let me rest. What was most disconcerting was the fact that my dog, Amy, a Lab mix, would not go in the house. This was a dog that would cry as soon as I left her alone. She would walk through fire to be with me. Her life revolved around me. My dog basically confirmed what I wanted to deny- that there was danger in this house. After much coaxing, she would grudgingly come in with tail tucked and head down. Her fur rising on her back, she was fearful of what I could sense but she seemed to see.
On day 2, I decided to call the Catholic diocese in Philadelphia. I am not a Catholic, nor is anyone in my family, but I had heard that they believed homes could be haunted. The logical solution was to call them and explain what I was experiencing. A sweet older woman picked up my call.
"All right, dearie, tell me what is happening at this house you are watching?" Her sweet grandmotherly voice was soothing.
"Um.... lights go on without anyone being in the room. I hear noises, like humming, bumping, screeching, and thumping. Chairs move, and my dog, a Lab mix, won't even come into the house, which is weird because this dog would follow me if I walked into fire. I don't know- I'm scared." I blurted that last part out.
"Hmmm, that sounds like there may be some activity there. How old is the house?" She asked.
"Old, like hundreds of years old. It was abandoned for many years and then my friend bought it and fixed it up. She hired me to stay here, but I'm too scared. Do you think I am in danger?"
"Dearie, I think you shouldn't stay there. Just do what you must do to take care of it, but I think you shouldn't put yourself in danger," she answered.
"Thank you for your time; I really appreciate it," I said. Echoing through my head was her voice telling me not to put myself in danger.
While Beth was gone, my responsibilities included feeding the horses, teaching riding lessons, cleaning the barn, and taking care of this beautiful home. My heart was torn. I wanted to do all of that and more, again, I could not stay at her home at night. So, I decided to compromise and spend the nights at my home in Delaware. I would come early in the morning and then leave around nine or ten at night. Every day I would set the home alarm and take her gigantic black Doberman Pinscher, Alfred, to my house to share my bed with Amy and me. I wanted Beth to enjoy her vacation, so I didn't bother her with any of my suspicions that anything was amiss at her home.
The problem was that now, on day 6, it became clear the disturbing events weren't happening just at night. The bee attack happened while the sun was shining brightly over the farm. A feeling of dread crept deeper and deeper into my mind and heart. Tiny pinpricks of fear clamored as they danced up my back and onto my neck, breaking into a crescendo at the crown of my head.
I drove to the barn on a separate driveway from the house. It wound through a deep forest across a small bridge and over a babbling brook. The barn, along with the covered indoor arena that allowed riders to exercise their horses no matter the weather, sat upon a hill. Today they sat glistening in the sunlight like a diamond.
This horse farm was unlike many farms in the area. There were several riding rings, an indoor riding arena, outdoor cross-country course, and a stadium jumping arena. The heated barn came complete with a vacuum to groom the horses, and it also boasted a wash stall with hot and cold water to ensure that each horse got a royal bath. The tack room was heated in the winter and air-conditioned in the summer. Comfortable over-stuffed couches and chairs adorned the tack room too. Riders often gathered together there to share stories about their horses, and a crowd of boarders and lesson students could also be found relaxing in this room.
It was here that I taught riding lessons, a position I held with great regard because Beth had entrusted me to begin the horseback riding program at her grand farm. I was proud to be a part of this beautiful farm with its many amenities for the horses as well as the riders.
As I walked into the barn, the horses whinnied in excitement for their feed. I usually called to them by name, but after my run-in with the bee, I was frankly in no mood to be cheery. I went into the feed room and turned on the lights. They flickered on and off-something they had never done before- and it just aggravated me even more. Frustrated and irritated, I found myself getting impatient. This was another indication that something was here, and it had chosen to harass and hound my every step.
Hearing tires on the gravel road to the barn, I glanced out the window to see my friend, Sharon, driving up to the barn. I had met Sharon at the high school where I was working in the fall of 1990. She was the school nurse, and I taught special education. We had similar personalities in that we were both nurturing and caring. We loved the students, and we would mutually come to the same conclusions while helping many of our most difficult charges.
When she discovered her husband no longer wanted to be married, she was devastated, but she started attending a small country church, where she said she found strength and peace by getting to know God. She would share the pastor's lessons and teachings with me. I listened halfheartedly because, to be truthful, I did not really believe in God. She was definitely not one of the friends I went bar-hopping with.
As I greeted her at the barn door, I said, "Look at this," instead of offering my usual hello. I raised my arm and pointed to the now red lump that had grown to the size of a golf ball under my arm.
"What happened?" she said, squinting to inspect it.
"I was attacked this morning. And it wasn't just accidental- that bee came straight at me like something told it to."
As if in perfect unison with this account, the lights flickered and sputtered. We were not alone. Shuddering, I could see that Sharon was shaking too. I fought the urge to flee, but my nerves needed release, so I started to laugh-high and shrill like a ten-year-old. Sharon joined me.
Sharon was the only one with whom I could share any of these scary experiences. I trusted her because she was a born-again Christian and believed in the existence of supernatural happenings, just like I did. If I'd told any of my other friends or boyfriend, they would have thought I'd gone insane.
Besides, it wasn't like I had a choice. I'd been there only a day when Sharon stopped by with some pizza and cool watermelon chillers she purchased from a produce stand.
I was surprised that she stopped by unannounced yet touched that she was thinking of me. We sat on the couch with the steaming pizza in front of us and a good movie, Black Beauty, in the VCR. We sat back with the pizza in our hands and began to watch the movie, when it began fast-forwarding on its own. At first, we thought we had accidentally touched the remote control, but it was laying on the table. We both looked at each other and began to giggle nervously. Then it resumed the normal play speed.
We sat back again, relaxing and enjoying the tasty pizza. Suddenly, the volume dropped to zero, so we could not hear the movie at all. We both scrambled for the remote control, but it was to no avail. Regardless of how hard we pushed the button, we could not get the volume to go up. In frustration, we turned off the VCR, and I related what had been going on there. She was initially shocked but then confessed that she felt a weird presence there too.
The next day she started coming to help with the feeding- and share my fears. Upon hearing our laughter now, the horses understood that their food would be coming soon, and their neighs and whinnies swelled to a cacophony of noise. As if snapped back to our primary purpose at that moment, we looked at each other and then began preparing their feed and hay.
"Let's each load up a cart," I said. "You take that end of the barn, and I'll take this one."
Within a few minutes, the horses were happily slurping and chomping on their feed. Sharon had involuntarily become a horsewoman, and I appreciated her willingness to help me. The horses' halter rings clanged in time with their greedy mouths, which made a harmonious song I would never tire of hearing.
"All this feeding is making me hungry," Sharon said. "Have you had breakfast?"
"I didn't have time."
Sharon nodded. She was the only person I'd told that I was making the trek home every night and leaving at the crack of dawn to get back here.
In the feed room, I grabbed the empty feed barrel for a seat and Sharon grabbed a stool, but she didn't sit right away. She laid out an elaborate breakfast, and I admired her ability to always be so giving and thoughtful. She knew that I probably had not eaten, so she made time to stop on her way to the barn to get us freshly baked croissants with strawberry jam, and small Styrofoam cups of steaming black coffee. It was all delicious, and it was something to think about besides all the things that were freaking me out.
"I've already eaten two of these," I said as a started to pick up another croissant. I paused when the phone rang. It echoed throughout the barn, interrupting the melodious sounds of content horses eating their breakfast.
I rocketed off the barrel and ran to the other end of the barn to the office. After twisting the doorknob and realizing that it was locked, I grabbed the key above the door jam and hastily unlocked the door. Practically leaping across the desk, I grabbed the phone, I held it to my ear and began to speak when I heard the dial tone on the other end. Thinking it strange, I ran to the feed room, where Sharon was cleaning up the remains of our breakfast and feeding the barn cats.
"Sharon," I said, "it was weird. As soon as I picked up the phone, all I heard was a dial tone. You know that 'nnnnn' sound?"
"That is weird," she said looking at the clock. "It's only 6:30 in the morning. Who do you think was calling?" The cute little calico kitten jumped into her lap, and she fed it a tiny piece of her croissant.
"I don't know. I hope it wasn't Beth," I said, knowing I tend to think the worst. I didn't want Beth to know that I wasn't staying at her house at night.
We began our routine of letting the horses out one at a time into their designated pastures. I started at one end and Sharon at the other. I took out the boarding horses, and Sharon led out the docile lesson ones. At the end was a beautiful black Thoroughbred named Thunder. He was over seventeen hands high, and his presence struck awe in all who met him. I reached up to attach the lead line to his leather halter and opened the door wide to get him to his pasture twenty feet away.
As soon as my foot graced the threshold, the phone rang. I pushed Thunder
back into his stall, and he unhappily shook his head at me. I ran as fast as I could to the office. I pushed the door open so hard that it knocked into the door stop and all the papers on the desk flew off. I was determined to get this call. But again, all I heard was the "nnnn" sound of a disconnected line. I sat on top of the desk puzzled. It was now 6:42, and there had already been two calls. Someone must need me.
I started to gather the papers and neatly place them on the desk. I waited for a few minutes until I heard Thunder's whinny for me to come back to reality and set him free. I left the office door open so there would be nothing but a clear shot from the stalls to the phone.
I snapped the lead on Thunder once again. As soon as my foot hit the cool concrete of the aisle, the phone blared out again, piercing the air. I pushed the big black Thoroughbred back into the stall again. This time, he jerked around and tried to pull me back into the aisle. He pinned his ears and made a menacing face as if he meant to harm me if I didn't let him go. I insisted and shut the stall door just in time as his teeth bore down at me.
The feet of a gazelle could not have run faster than mine, and I slid across the desk like a baseball player rounding for home. But it was all to no avail. As I reached for the phone, all I heard was that same "nnnnn" sound. I slammed the receiver back into its cradle. This time I pulled the thing off the desk. As the phone sat precariously in the aisle, it would be easier for me to reach should it ring again.
I walked back to Thunder and told him that I was sorry. He paced and pranced in the stall, arching his neck, each muscle rippling in the sunlight. He did not trust me, and I couldn't blame the big fellow. I opened the door and started to walk him outside into the crisp, beautiful morning as he pulled me in anticipation of having a great gallop around the field.
As soon as I let him off the lead, he reared and struck the air with purpose. When he landed, the sound of thunder could be heard from his mighty hooves. Then he sprang into a full gallop, completing five large bucks. He was beautiful and majestic. Glancing over his shoulder, he paused to see if I was watching his grandiose show of power and might, and then he shook his head as if he knew I was admiring his antics.
Suddenly, I heard the faint ringing of the barn phone. I sprang into action, running like a world-class sprinter. In record time, which even Steve Prefontaine, the world's greatest runner, would have had a hard time beating, I jumped across the aisle and impressively reached for the phone. Breathlessly, I breathed into the receiver and heard the aggravating "nnnn" sound.
I screamed as loud as I could, "I hate this haunted, weird, demonic place! I can't take it anymore! I want out of here!"
After voicing what I had repressed over the past few days, the truth of it caught me off guard. I was in a place of uncertainty and strife where I was not in control, and its unfamiliarity made me angry. There was no way I could explain, rationalize, work through, or find a solution to help me with this force that was unseen and unnamed.
I composed myself and started to let the last horse out, a beautiful palomino quarter horse named Que. He was my favorite horse at the farm. With his quirky personality, he was always full of mischief. His favorite treat was honey buns, and he loved to torture me by pulling on my clothing looking for the elusive goodie that I would hide in a side pocket. He was quite a handful to lead because he used his lips to tickle me. I spoiled him terribly. He was a great lesson horse and one the favorite mounts for my students to ride. He always made me laugh, and I needed that now.
The sun glimmered in the sky, and I heard the faint sound of a faraway owl. I could also hear the barn phone ringing. I knew I would never be able to reach it, so I took my time leading Que out to his paddock. I held up the honey bun and he greedily ate it. Then he licked my hands, and I kissed his beautiful, dignified face. I let him graze on the sweet grass outside of the barn and buried my head in his strong neck. His sweet aroma gave me comfort, and I desired that feeling more than ever. He pulled his head up as if to reassure me, and I scratched him under his chin.
I reluctantly put him out and secured his gate with two chains. He was a real Houdini and could undo any lock with those infamous lips of his. He stood watching me.
"No, Que," I said. "There will be no loose horses on my watch." I reluctantly left him, not knowing what I would face once I got back to the barn.
As I rounded the entrance to the barn, I could hear the phone ringing again. Sharon met me in the barn office and sat on the sofa across from the desk. I could tell she wanted to say something, but there was nothing to say. I was slowly losing all dignity and control over myself. I placed my head in my hands and then wiped my eyes.
"I can't take this anymore," I said, fighting back tears. "This is destroying me. The truth is, I'm scared. I can't fight this by myself. I'm ill-equipped."
Sharon said nothing, but her face said it all. She knew that there was something here, a presence that was menacing and looming in every room and stall. This ominous and threatening spirit hung over us like a dank odor. It intimidated and convinced us that we were at its mercy. The jail sentence had been handed out, and what we were guilty of we did not know or understand.
The phone rang again. This time I did not hold it to my ear; instead, I picked it up and slammed it down. Anger recoiled like a snake and lifted its ugly head from the depths of my soul. I gritted my teeth and grunted. Sharon sat with a look of horror on her face. We were both terrified.
Abruptly, Sharon said, "I have an idea. Let me call my pastor. His name is Don, and he's wonderful. I told him about you last night, and I explained what has been happening here. He told me to tell you that you should call him."
"No, Sharon," I said. "I don't want to talk to a pastor. What is he going to do?" I was incredulous. To me, pastors were weak people with stiff personalities. Talking to a pastor, I thought, would be a waste of my time.
The phone rang again. I guess this was the theme for today: a ringing phone to drive me crazy. I shook my head as tears welled in my eyes. As I accidentally hit the bump that was now the size of a softball under my arm, I winced in pain, recalling the first assault of the day.
Sharon picked up the phone while I busied myself with straightening the papers on the desk. I knew who she was calling. I glanced at the wall clock. It was barely seven in the morning.
"Pastor Don," she said, "I'm sorry to call you this early, but it seems that things are out of control here and I think Jill needs to talk to you. Remember, she's the girl who's staying at her friend's farm while the family is on vacation?............Yes, it's starting again, but it has never happened this early or so intensely before now. She was stung by a bee, and the phone has been ringing incessantly with no one on the line...Would you like to talk to her?" She paused and held the phone at arm's length, and with her free arm, she waved frantically like she was holding the keys of hope for those in despair.
I vehemently shook my head and placed my arms across my chest. I continued with my business of organizing the papers until she held the phone up to my face, and then she did the unthinkable. She walked away forcing me to pick it up.
I held the phone up to my ear. Choked with frustration, my voice came out cracked and weak as I uttered, "Hello."
"Is this Jill? His gentle voice was calmly reassuring. I just wasn't sure I could trust it.
"Yes, I understand that Sharon told you about me and what we're experiencing here," I said.
His calm voice evoked a feeling of peace, and I longed for it like nothing else before. I was like a weary traveler yearning for rest, and his voice was a soft, downy pillow that was oddly comforting to my soul. This might be the strangest happening yet: five minutes ago, I was resisting him like one of the horses would do. Yet now, I was all ears.
"Yes, Sharon did tell me about you and where you're staying. I actually know the place. If I'm correct, it's one of the oldest historic sites in New Jersey. What exactly are you experiencing there?"
He wanted to know every detail. Like a faucet, I turned on the spigots full blast and spilled out the whole story- the music that blared from unseen speakers in the house, the TV that changed channels and the rise and fall of the volume without any button being touched, the chair that scraped across the wooden floor even though no one was near it, the chandelier that was only partially lit, and the screaming fight I heard on the balcony outside the bedroom I was staying the first night. I told him about the ferocious thunderstorm that night, which rumbled and roared while spitting out bolts of lightning as if it were a battle between good and evil. I told him about the banging and thumping pervading the house- no matter how hard I searched, I could never find the source. I shared how I turned the lights off, but as soon as I got to the balcony, every single light in the house came one. I told him about the flickering barn lights, the red welt under my arm, and persistent phone ringing with a dead line as soon as I answered.
I told him about my faithful dog that would whimper and refuse to step foot in certain rooms. At times her fur would stand up around her neck, and she would snarl as if she were protecting me. She would stare and follow an invisible force that seemed to float above her.
I realized I had been recalling these weird happenings without taking a breath. My heart was pounding as I involuntarily paced nervously in the small office.
Pointedly, I asked, "Am I in danger?"
He took a deep breath and said, "Yes, I do believe you are. Accept Jesus as your personal Savoir. He is the only one who has the power to break the stronghold of these demons. Once you ask Jesus into your heart, His blood will cover your sins and you will be His. No one will be able to mess with you. You will have the power to overcome these demonic forces that are...quite obviously harassing you. Now, would you like to accept Jesus as your personal Savior?"
He had given a name to these forces; demons. I had watched scary movies about supernatural forces, but I did not think that they existed. I was frightened and confused. Why were they harassing me?
All I could think of was how much I disliked Christians. They always seemed so judgmental and condemning. Pastor Don was just the opposite, however. He had a soft, soothing voice, and it seemed that he had a lot of experience with people who were in trouble or frightened. He was calming me by validating these frightening occurrences. And most important, he held out a solution. He talked about Jesus' blood and the cleansing of sins. However, I felt I did not fit in with the other sinners of the world. I reasoned that I was a good person and my sins were not all that bad.
He continued to talk about the blood of Christ and that all people are sinners and need the Savior. I halfheartedly listened as he spoke, since I had always believed that Christians were crazy, and I didn't want to be one of them. I could not comprehend the powers I could not see, yet I seemed to be in the midst of them. It seemed the only thing I was certain about was that I did not want to be a born -again Christian. I liked my life the way it was, and I was certain that it would go back to normal once I left this place. All I needed to do was leave this disturbed house and farm, and I reasoned that would be happening in precisely two short days, sixteen hours and thirty minutes.
"No thanks," I said emphatically.
No sooner had I said those words than the phone started to ring while I was on it. I held it away from my ear and stared quizzically at it. Sharon quickly came back into the office. I motioned to her that I was still speaking with Pastor Don but the phone was ringing again. This was impossible because there no other line. How could the phone be ringing while I was on it?
My mind raced ahead. Would I be in this condition forever? Would I be harassed by demons for the rest of my life? Surely this was supernatural and demonic.
"If I accept Jesus as my personal Savior, will this stop?" I asked him as the unremitting ringing of the phone interrupted my thoughts and I began losing my concentration. What I really wanted at that moment was rest, and more important, peace. I knew this pastor had the answer for me.
"I don't know," Pastor Don replied. "What I do know is that if you accept Jesus, you will have the power to come against these demonic forces because He will be in you. Therefore, you will also have His power." He paused, but only for a second. "Jill, whether you realize this or not, you're in a dangerous place. It's not only dangerous for you physically but spiritually as well. I won't be able to help you, and Sharon won't be able to help you. Jesus is the only one who can help you now."
He said this so forcefully that I was frightened. I knew deep in my heart, however, that what he was saying was the truth.
The phone continued to ring, interrupting our conversation. His words soaked into my brain. I was faced with the reality that I would not be able to escape this harassment, and it pierced the core of my being. A perfect compromise arose in my mind, and I leapt at the chance to use Jesus at this time to get rid of these forces. This was a viable solution to me. Then, I believed, I could forget all about this and resume my normal life.
"Okay, how do I accept Jesus into my life?" I asked as the ringing continued.
He took a deep breath and said, "First you need to confess that you are a sinner. Then you need to ask Him to wash you clean of your sins. Ask Him to dwell in your heart. That's all."
"But how do I accept Jesus?" The simplicity of salvation hadn't sunk in yet. There must be more to it than this.
"Why don't you repeat after me?" He didn't wait for me to respond but just plunged forward. "Jesus, I recognize that I am a sinner...." He paused for me to repeat after him, which I did.
"I ask that you wash me clean of my sins...."
"Come dwell in my heart, Jesus...."
After I said the prayer, relief and peace inundated my thoughts and permeated my being. The phone had finally stopped ringing, and I felt free. In that brief moment of prayer directed by the pastor, I knew something had happened inside of me and somehow, I was different.
I was hoping that now all of this harassment would stop, and life would become normal again. Little did I know that things would get a lot worse before they would ever get better.