Betty slid from her barstool and staggered into the chill of a New Orleans winter. She slammed the door on her convertible and struggled to insert the key into the ignition. Several failed attempts later, she leaned back in her seat and closed her eyes. A blast of cold air snapped her out of the twilight she drifted into and cleared her mind. She picked up her keys that slipped from her hand to try again. Success. The engine roared to life.
As her car barreled down the highway toward the interstate on ramp, she looked to her left and saw a woman driving her car. What am I doing here? Who’s driving my car? She stared intently at the woman who bore her image weaving from lane to lane, flaying her arm, mumbling incoherently.
Stillness descended on the Betty sitting in the passenger seat. I’m driving the car! An epiphany dawned. There is something wrong with me. Betty looked up. A man seated on a cloud, eyes blazing like fire, stared at her.
The wailing of police sirens pierced Betty’s consciousness. Her eyes snapped open to a red brick wall. Glass lay in her lap. Her head ached.
“Lord, help this woman. Lord, please don’t let her die. Lord, save her soul.”
Betty turned her face toward the voice pleading with the Lord. A hand gently squeezed her shoulder. “Don’t move. You might be injured. Help is on the way.”
“Who are you?”
“I’m Pastor Judas.”
“You got any Vodka?”
A police officer shined his flashlight onto Betty’s face. “You been drinking tonight?”
“I had a few,” slurred Betty.
The beam from the officer’s flashlight traveled from her face to survey her body. “Are you hurt?”
“I’m thirsty. You got any Vodka?”
The officer took several steps back. “Please, step out of the car.”
Betty opened the door, tumbled onto the ground, and burst into gales of laughter. Pastor Judas grabbed her hand and helped her struggle to her feet.
“Can you walk without help?” queried the officer.
Betty took two steps and fell to her knees. “I ain’t got time for this. I’m on my way to a party.”
“Party’s over,” said the officer. “You’re are not going anywhere but jail.”
Familiar uncontrollable rage swept over Betty like the crashing of a wave on a sandy beach, giving her svelte 120 pound frame a supernatural strength. She leaped to her feet and swung. Her two inch carefully manicured nails raked furrows on the officer’s face. Betty swung again and again and again until the rage within blinded her. She felt herself descending into the darkness she loved. The friend that protected her. The darkness she hated. The tyrant that tormented her.
Betty opened her eyes to a sea of blue. Her head bounced against the back of the burly officer. Handcuffed hands dangled below. She looked left. A row of bars. She turned her head to the right, more bars.
The officer carrying Betty entered an empty cell. She felt his muscles tense as he heaved her off his shoulder. Her back hit the steel frame bed with a painful jolt. He looked at the officer standing in the doorway, holding a bloody towel against his cheek. “Do you want me to take the shackles off?”
“You don’t take shackles off a devil.”
“You pigs better let me outa here,” screamed Betty. She stood to run after them, but the short length of the shackle tripped her. The cell door slammed shut, and the officers walked away laughing.
Betty struggled to her feet and paced the length and width of her cell mumbling, “I ain’t drunk. What am I doing here? How will I get out?” Tears streamed from her eyes. She wiped the tears from her face and then laughed hysterically.
Betty stopped at the tiny window against the back wall of the cell to peer outside. A full moon stared back. Her vision blurred then focused. A smirking face appeared in the moon, its black eyes dancing with laughter, mocking her. She froze trembling with fear, then turned and charged at the bars holding her captive. Shaking with rage, her thoughts swirled like debris caught in the winds of a vindictive tornado expelling her from its grasp then picking her up to repeat the cycle over and over again. Betty beat her head on the cold stone bars. Weary, she collapsed on the floor and crawled to the darkest corner of the cell. Pulling her knees to her chest she willed herself to disappear back into the womb that gave her life.
The door to her cell slammed open. An ebony beauty sporting muscles reserved for the male torso was thrust in. “I’ll kill you. Let me outta here or I’ll kill you,” she spat.
Betty sat up and fixed her eyes on the stranger. She stood and stepped from the darkness of the corner she sought refuge in. “Who are you?”
The woman turned, “Tisa, don’t get chummy. I ain’t stay…” The thin ghostly figure emerging from the corner into the dim light took her breath away. Betty’s swollen red eyes encircled a blackness summoning Tisa to come closer. She shivered and step back. Betty stepped forward. She stepped back until the bars stopped her retreat and she screamed with terror, “Help, help, somebody help me.”
Betty smiled. “Yea, that’s right. Call them. When they open the door, we’ll jump em. Take their guns, and we’ll both get outta here.”
“I’m going to kill her,” the unearthly guttural growl leaped from Betty’s lips betraying the smile on her face.”
“This woman is crazy,” screamed Tisa and struggled to squeeze her body through the bars. “SOMBODY HELP MEEEEE!”
An officer appeared at the door. Betty slipped back into the dark corner of the cell. He unlocked the door and Tisa pushed her way out and into his arms. “Thank you, O God, thank you.” He handcuffed Tisa and led her down the hallway.
Betty emerged from the shadows, lay on her iron bed, and closed her eyes. For the second time that night she sensed something was terribly wrong with her. A stench of death burned her nostrils. Her eyes snapped open. She stood at an open gate. The heavy chain that held the gate shut had been unlocked and dangled to the ground. On the other side, flames filled with disembodied spirits wept and cursed God. An unseen force pulled her forward. She grabbed the chain with both hands, blood oozed from her clinched fingers. She vomited. Urine ran down her leg.
“You need, Jesus,” thundered from the heavens.
“I’m a daughter of the devil. Why would Jesus help me?”
“You need Jesus,” thundered again.
“What if I call on Jesus and he doesn’t show up?”
She accepted it was her lot in life to spend eternity in hell and loosened her grip on the chain.
“You need Jesus,” echoed from an explosion of thunder and lightning.
She strengthened her grip on the chain and looked up, “Jesus?”
Suddenly, she was in her cell again. Jesus stood by her iron bed and showed her the scars on his hands and feet. “You don’t have to die Betty. I love you just the way you are.”
For the first time in her life, Betty felt loved. Tears streamed from her eyes. First, a trickle then a flood until she cried so hard, she could barely breath and gasped for breath. Peace slowly enveloped her like a warm blanket. Her breathing returned to normal. She lay still, hoping the moment would never end.
The cell door open. An officer entered, removed the shackles, and helped her walk to a phone.