In the years leading up to the poltergeist, the Reverend Jonathan Charles had been undergoing a crisis of faith. Always seeing himself as a rational Christian, he had sought to frame his faith within the context of scientific discovery. Recent developments in the field of psychology, however - notably the idea that even the non-insane mind still has the power to create ‘presences’ inside itself; mental models of imaginary individuals apparently so real they can sometimes even seem to speak – had led the Reverend to a very troubling thought. What if the presence of God he had so often felt, and the overwhelming sense of love that had accompanied it, were nothing more than a phantom of the brain, with no external source? He could not bear it to be true, yet the more he dwelt on it, the more agonisingly plausible it became.
Then the knocking started. Raps on the walls; shaking of the windowpanes. Objects began to disappear, only to reappear in a different room. Things would suddenly fall from shelves, sometimes even flying through the air as if hurled.
At first, the Reverend was careful to seek out the most overtly reasonable explanation. Tricks of perception, perhaps, or maybe an unusual electromagnetic phenomenon. Even a diagnosis of a genuine poltergeist would not necessarily be so fantastically supernatural in origin; for as often theorised, they could well be manifestations through psychic energy of anxiety, usually that of an adolescent. Indeed, his daughter Isobel was nearly thirteen; puberty was upon her. If a remotely paranormal explanation was needed at all, the Reverend thought, that was undoubtedly it.
Events became more disturbing in the second week. Isobel was rocked backwards and forwards violently whilst sitting in a chair. Scissors and knives would fly across the kitchen and embed themselves in walls. A set of curtains stored in a box in the spare room mysteriously caught fire. And then, through Isobel, it spoke.
The Reverend was conducting a prayer meeting with his wife Sally and a small number of his congregation, when Isobel walked in the room, as if sleepwalking, and stood in the middle of the prayer circle. Sally asked her what the matter was, and the reply was startling. Speaking in a voice lower and gruffer than any girl of her age could sustain, Isobel let out a torrent of blasphemous obscenity. The Reverend attempted to move her outside but found that she was as if made of stone, and could not be shifted an inch. The blasphemy extended to describing the Reverend and his wife engaged in ritual acts of abuse upon Isobel herself; a vile monologue of accusation that only ended when the girl’s eyes rolled into their lids and she blacked out. When she woke she claimed to have no memory of the events.
Isobel would enter into these states on many more occasions over the coming weeks. The obscenity would become more explicit and the blasphemy more obscure, with references to arcane texts that the Reverend could not believe that Isobel would ever have read. As time went on, the Reverend became convinced that this was not some attention-seeking ploy on the part of the girl, and neither was it the result of some unfortunate medical or psychiatric condition. Rather, it could only be the manifestation of a dark spirit: a servant of the Devil. In the midst of the storm, there was comfort. By inference, the spirit’s existence renewed the Reverend’s belief in its master’s opposite: a loving God.
The attacks continued. Now Isobel would cut herself while the spirit possessed her, and smash her arms against the wall, causing fractures. One time she threw herself, or was made to throw herself, down the stairs. Miraculously, she was relatively unharmed. Meanwhile, fires still started, knives flew and objects still broke, as if placed under extreme pressure. Little sleep was ever found by any of the inhabitants of the vicarage, as the night was filled with constant banging on the walls and ceiling. Window glass would often break inwards, shards flying within centimetres of an eye.
After a month and a half, the Reverend and his wife were cut and bruised all over, and sick from lack of sleep. Isobel, with fingers and limbs in splints, was spending the summer holidays with her grandparents in between bouts of psychiatric observation. There, the attacks upon her ceased, but a quick visit to the vicarage to collect some possessions would unleash the spirit upon her again, seconds after walking in the door. The malevolent presence had not faded in her absence, and incidents had continued. She could not, the Reverend reasoned, be the source.
It would be another couple of months before the Reverend convinced the bishop of his diocese to authorise an exorcism of the property. Deprived of Isobel to act as its mouthpiece, the spirit had taken to writing its blasphemy on the walls: long, dense texts appearing in an instant while a back was turned; pens emptied of their ink by the unseen hand.
Although not required to carry out the exorcism himself, the Reverend Jonathan Charles was encouraged to witness it performed by a more experienced member of the clergy, and bolster its strength through an expression of his faith. But as he stood, quietly repeating the words of the ritual, he knew he had nothing to offer that would be of use. For although he now believed in God with a fervency that he had never before possessed, he no longer saw that faith as any kind of blessing. He could see at last that the Devil and his God were one and the same, and that the dark spirit was being challenged in the name of its own master.
Nevertheless, shortly afterwards, the spirit seemingly left the vicarage, yet to return. Perhaps upon seeing the Reverend Jonathan Charles quietly weeping, no longer capable of participating in the ritual, it considered its work to be done.