The Possession of Lawrence Eugene Davis
At the beginning of the Great Depression Lawrence Eugene Davis returns to his family's ranch to set his father's affairs in order. But the house stirs memories of his unhappy childhood and his miserable time in the trenches. Memories are not the only thing woken, however, and Lawrence finds himself hunted and eventually overcome by the sinister presence.
Salvation comes at the eleventh hour in the form of a stranger who claims he can rid Lawrence of the demon threatening to possess him—but in exchange he wants Lawrence for himself.
“Are you sure you’ll be all right here on your own?” Mattie stopped the Mercedes in front of the ranch house, looking up at it pensively.
From beside her, Lawrence tried not to frown. “I’ll be fine.”
“Are you sure?” She looked over at him, her hands still on the wheel. “I just don’t like the idea of you being in such a big house all by yourself.”
“I told you.” Lawrence reached for the car door and pushed it open. “I’ll be fine.”
“You’re stubborn like Father.” Mattie pushed her own door open, stepped out, smoothed down her skirt, and moved around the car to stand by him. “He died in this house, you know.”
“I am not going to die.” Lawrence put his cane out of the car and managed to lean on it enough to push himself out. Mattie held her arm steady, and after a moment, he took it and leaned on her as well.
When he was finally out of the car and standing on the gravel drive, Mattie fussed with his suit jacket and hat. Lawrence ignored her, scanning the pastures beyond the house and stables. He could see the horses, cropping at what grasses and scrub still grew, and felt a wash of excitement and happiness at the thought of spending his days with them.
“Who’s been taking care of the horses?” he asked and Mattie turned to look.
“Mother’s been paying Billy and Tommy to do it. I think Billy’s been living in the house too, at least until I rang to tell him you wanted to move in.” She frowned and Lawrence reached for her small hand and gave it a squeeze.
“I’ll be fine,” he said once more. “There are plenty of people around here I can call if anything happens, and Billy will be here every day to take care of the horses. What could happen to me?”
Mattie didn’t say anything to that. Instead, she led the way toward the front door.
The house was huge, painted white, with two gables at the front, and a long wraparound porch. Lawrence could remember his mother sitting with her friends on the porch drinking tea and embroidering. The white wicker chairs were still there, he saw as he pulled himself up the two steps and onto the porch, despite the fact that his mother hadn’t lived in the house since the war ended. Someone pushed open the screen door to the house before they reached it, and a tall broad shouldered young man in overalls and a cowboy hat stepped out.
“Billy,” Mattie said and then turned to Lawrence. “This is my brother, Lawrence. He’ll be living here now. Lawrence, this is William Johnson, Dick Johnson’s youngest boy.”
“Pleased to meet you.” Billy held out his hand, which Lawrence shook while Billy smiled down at him. Although he was a big lad, strapping even, Lawrence could not quite get over how young he looked. Twenty, at most, certainly not old enough to have fought in the war. His dark hair curled around his ears, his hands were big, and his skin was the dark tan of a man who spent most of his time outside. Lawrence felt a pang in his chest and pulled his hand away.
“And you,” he said after a careful moment. “My sister tells me you’ve been taking care of the horses.”
“Since the older Mr. Davis passed.” Billy reached up to touch the brim of his hat. “It’s my pleasure, really. You folks have the finest horses in the state.”
Lawrence couldn’t help but smile at that. “Yes, we’re lucky to still be able to keep them in this dark time.” His mind went briefly to the economic depression that had swept the nation. “My family has been fortunate that so much money trouble has passed us by.”
“And I’ve been happy for the work.” Billy’s face clouded briefly. “Farming has not been what it used to be these past years, what with the drought and dust…”
“Billy,” Mattie said from beside him, “will you be a dear and go down to the car and bring Lawrence’s bags inside?”
“Yes ma’am.” Billy moved passed them as he headed toward the car.
The side of the house was the same as Lawrence remembered it. There was a closed-up, musty smell that would have never been there while his mother had been living in the house. All the heavy mahogany furniture was still there: the grandfather clock and large silk upholstered settee in the living room, the huge table and chairs in the dining room.
He was too exhausted from the drive to make it up the stairs to the second floor, so Mattie settled him on the settee in the living room. She left him there while she went to make up the first floor guestroom. From his vantage point, Lawrence could see that while the heavy drapes had been pushed back from the windows, dust motes still turned lazily above just about every surface in the room. He would have to get someone in to do a good cleaning, and soon. His hip felt like someone was shoving red-hot needles as wide as his fingers into it, sending pain down his leg and up his back at the same time. He tried to reposition himself to alleviate some of the pain, but it was futile. Leaning back, he stared at the ceiling. He would need to clean Father’s office out. According to Mattie, it hadn’t been touched since their father’s death. Their mother had not returned to the house after the fight that had caused her to leave for her sister’s in Richmond, Virginia, taking his two sisters with her.
Mattie gave him a small smile as she stepped into the living room. “The bedroom’s been made up for you. Since you housekeeper won’t arrive for a day or so, I thought I could make us some dinner before I leave.”
“You could spend the night.” Lawrence reached for his cane, pushing himself up, and she waved his comment off.
“Rich is meeting me back in town, and we’ll be heading out early for Chicago.”
“You should have him come here.” He followed her along as she started toward the kitchen.
“No!” Mattie turned to him, her voice softening when she saw the look on his face. “I’d rather not stay here if it’s all the same to you, Lenny.”
He didn’t understand her insistence but only shook his head. “Do as you like.”
“Do you want to sit on the porch while I cook?” she asked, and Lawrence nodded.
“I’ll go do that.” The sky was beginning to darken as the sunset, the twilight casting long shadows in the hall. Something moved at the corner of his vision—something dark that seemed to scuttle up the wall—but Lawrence ignored it as a figment brought on by pain and exhaustion. He pushed the door open, stepping out onto the porch. After a few tries he settled himself onto one of the wicker chairs, and turned his gaze to the horses, letting calm settle onto him.