In 2008 I had the privilege of traveling to India and Nepal with some members of my church. I was a year out of high school and invested in leadership work at my community college, so I was asked to speak on time management and rest at some small leadership conferences for church builders. For two weeks we had the joy of experiencing their hospitality and passion for God.
When I returned to America there were moments I realized my view of the world was forever changed, but much of the impact came in subtle memories that surfaced for years afterward. I spent more time in India, but the weekend spent in Nepal holds some of the most powerful moments of the trip. Two particular experiences stand out, though for opposite reasons.
One day I went far out into the country to farm fields where the grass was unashamed to show its colors and the sky insisted it look its best for the glassy pools scattered among the grass. We walked narrow mud paths that served as bridges between sky and earth while listening to the liberated wind laugh and fleck our arms with tickles.
Walking to the most peaceful place on earth.
We walked out in the middle of nowhere to a church. It was a skeleton of skinny boards with a roof half covered by plastic sheets. Its length was no more than people standing side by side. The church leaders had so little…and the church was the best they could make.
I am sure the wind was still touching us when we arrived, but I remember that even the air seemed to fade away. The voice of the grass became a silent dance and peace ruminated from that place. It was rich with it, but not a gaudy, thick type of wealth we associate with greed or mountainous treasure troves. This was a gathering wealth that invited you over and drew you in with warm and gentle arms. It invited you to stay and breathe its presence through your body.
It was a sacred space that deserved reverence, but never asked for it. It was the humblest of spaces, but the grandest of abodes. There are only a few places from my past that I have ever missed, and that was one of them.
My other memory in Nepal is far stranger and unpleasant.
The street where our hotel was located.
The small hotel we stayed at sat near the building where we held our leadership conferences. By most standards, it was nicer than some of the other places we stayed while traveling. In this building there was less chance of bugs, and the bathroom was attached to the room. I did not expect anything different when I went to put my suitcase upstairs.
The bedroom felt strange when I entered. It was a bit like the environment was shifted and rubbed up and apart like bunched and clumpy fabric. My stomach felt like it was emptied and stuffed in my bowels and I recognized the feeling. I had felt it many times before.
I mentioned to the woman from my team that I thought there was a demon in our room.
As an important aside, this was not that cheap “Let us go hunt demons or supernatural creatures” stuff you see in the movies. This is not to say that all supernatural dosed stories are cheaply done or that you cannot like it without me thinking you are a tasteless idiot. Please, like what stories you want and use what creative elements you like in your stories. I have no desire to decide that for you. I say cheap because a lot of supernatural stuff can be made out to be prettier, sexier, more sensational, or fun, than it actually is. I know that part of this is a product of the genres that traditionally frame supernatural story elements, but seeing demons is neither sexy nor thrilling.
I had seen demons wander around before. They were not like ghosts or shadows on walls but actual beings with bodies sometimes like humans, but much taller, which sometimes required them to bend over to enter through doorways. Others would somehow make it inside places, solidifying out of nowhere. Some I saw following behind people. Others seemed to like particular spaces. Whatever way I saw them I was checking and double-checking my senses. No matter how many times I tested them, it came out that I was seeing clearly.
In the hotel room I saw nothing, but I could feel something…unusual. I confessed that I felt a demon in the room and my other church members prayed with me. We prayed over the room and left it at that. The feeling was not completely gone, but I did not want to bother anyone else and thought that, perhaps, it might leave while we were out.
I do not remember if it was that night or the one following when it happened. I was getting ready for bed when a thunderstorm started outside. Electricity is a unsteady luxury in India and Nepal, calling in absent at the most inopportune times and failing when most predictable. I thought that it was the best opportunity for a storm, since the power would probably go out. It was evening and the lights would be out anyways. The storm would pass and the next day would probably be clear.
I do not know what specifically woke me up, maybe it was a crack of thunder, but when I opened my eyes there was an eight-foot tall grey shrouded demon looming over my bed.
I sat up and looked around, checking a clock and the window for a sense of time. The window was black except for momentary white lightning. There were no working lights. The thunderstorm drummed.
In normal circumstances I have the leisurely convenience of lucid dreaming and waking up before things go bad. I thought that maybe it was a dream, but after a few moments I was sure it was not a dream, and that I could not imagine the thing away.
It was not that it looked particularly frightening, but the way it stood, purposely still, staring at me with invisible eyes. I had seen faces of demons before, but this was cloaked in tight wrinkled grey and a hood that covered its face. A hushed and isolating presence seeped into the room.
I commanded it to go away in Jesus’ name. It stayed.
I panicked. I fumbled for words, for prayers. I remember asking God why the storm, power outage, and the demon would happen at once. It was perfect accidental irony, and I knew it. Irony was the last thing I wanted to think about. I wanted the storm to go away. I wanted a light to turn on. I grabbed the flashlight beside my bed, turned it on, but it did nothing to the demon. The thing was still there, the only clear thing in the dark.
It moved from the foot of my bed and stood near the corner of the bed. Other demons bubbled from the space near the door. They were smaller crawling creatures hissing and chattering at me. They would not go away no matter how many times I commanded them.
I woke up the other woman from the team who slept in the bed beside me.
“There is a demon in the room,” is all I managed to say. At that point my heart lugged and my body trembled. I kept repeating it to leave. A stiffening terror wormed its way through me. I curled up in the bed and begged it to go away.
The woman sat up and prayed. She said that she felt God was saying to focus on him, rather than the demon. She continued to pray.
I tried praying again, and somewhere in the prayer I started to sing. It was probably something silly or simple, some worship song chorus without much deep artistic merit but written from an honest and well-intentioned heart. I think I said the 23 Psalm, somewhere toward the end. Or maybe I prayed it. It hides my favorite verse, the one about walking the valley of the shadow of death without fear because God is with me—a somewhat subtle theme of my life. I stood up and danced slowly while I meditated on the words I spoke.
When I looked over the grey demon was still there, standing alone. Maybe I gave it one last command, but I seem to remember simply looking at it and it faded away.
I sat back down on the bed to check the room. The power was still out, but as I looked up at the curtained window I could see the faint blue lights of the early morning slipping its thin fingers along its folds. The thunderstorm rumbled, but gradually rolled away into a low moan and dissipated in a quiet sigh.
I lay down, curled up in my sheets and slept straight until morning.
The other member from my church asked me about it at breakfast that morning.
“She told me you had a hard time last night,” he said.
“I am all right now,” I said. I felt guilty for such a straightforward and unconcerned response. I could see the worry on their faces, but I felt nothing anymore.
It was gone.
I have not shared this story much. It is a story that I have mentioned briefly to close friends, and usually people of the same faith and beliefs. It is a difficult story for some people to believe, if they believe it at all, and I understand that. It is not something you hear often. It will probably be dismissed or reasoned off. I tried to determine its root in my imagination, but I never arrive at an imaginary end.
Why tell this story now? Last week I wrote a part of my novel where a girl experiences something similar to what I did. It was a small sample of vulnerability on my part that was both difficult and healing, but I realized it was one step. Though my story takes place in an imaginary world I needed to say that some of what the character experienced was very real. She shares a part of my story.
A sprightly teenage me with my Sunbrella walking to the church.
This story is, in many ways, one of the scariest things for me to write. If anyone knows Meyers-Briggs types I am an INTJ, the epitome of logic and analytical brainpower. I am smart and have succeeded very well academically, just missing a 4.0 in my undergrad by a sliver and attending the top school for my master’s studies. My brain is, in many ways, the pillar of my skills and livelihood. I was picked on and isolated quite a bit growing up, and my eventual fall back was to present my intelligence as a front, that way, even if people did not like me, they could at least think something good about me. I might not be cool or pretty, but I was, at the very least, smart.
So saying something like this is not flattering to me…at all.
But it is honest. And that is what I hope it to be. I don’t mean this story as a guilt trip or any sort of philosophical argument. It is not a story to convert or win over. This telling is not even meant to be eloquent—I poured my creativity into my novel where it was easier for me to write.
This story is a young woman being vulnerable and honest in her writing and her telling. It is the story of an author who is growing, changing, and drawing from the earth around her to understand and see it better.
Most of all, this is a story of faith. I did not only feel the demon in that room. I felt God there too. He was warm and golden. It was a presence like the peace at the church in the farm fields that wrapped around me. I looked over at the demons and realized that there was a space between us that they had never crossed and would not cross. I had been protected before I ever woke up. It was God’s presence that sent the demon away. I fell asleep consumed by peace, for I saw the shallow reaches of the physical and spiritual world reflected in a drop of God’s infinity.
And that is my story. Though you might agree or disagree, my hope is that you might grow somehow, because, at its core, I believe the best writing grows others and the author herself.