Ruth’s dirty white stucco house lay in a worn out neighborhood at 40th and Central. Once considered a rather well-to-do section of Indianapolis, poverty had spread to its edges, and only three blocks to the east, hookers and drug dealers shared the streets with well-dressed elderly black women. The house itself had ornate iron railings that wrapped around each of the upper-floor windows. Originally, they might have been considered “cute,” but now, upon closer examination, the rusty ironwork appeared drab and inhospitable. But it was home, shared by Ruth, her son Jack and two castaways; both of whom were far removed from family and friends.
Ruth had been divorced for more than a decade and she had long before lost track of her ex. Her short red hair was dyed to the point of exhaustion, and it seemed like she was drinking beer whenever she wasn’t asleep. Her only son, Jack, had returned home a few weeks earlier and slept in one of the downstairs rooms. Jack was convinced he was the heavy-weight boxing champion of the world, and Ruth was planning on having him committed.
Dennis lived in the room across the hall from me. With short black hair, muscular arms, and a wrestler’s build, he seemed a bit pitiful as he limped around the house. Dennis worked in a factory that made prosthetic limbs, and was convinced that it was his life’s calling. After crushing his femur in a motorcycle accident, Dennis was told his leg would have to be amputated, supposedly the next day. That night he made a deal with God; that if his leg was spared he would go to work making artificial limbs. The next morning, the doctor decided his leg could be saved and Dennis was as good as his word. He now rented a room from Ruth, with nothing more to show for his accident than a slightly lame leg and a new profession. It certainly seemed odd, but it did make me think.
As for me, I had been at Ruth’s for two weeks. I was on cloud nine. I was attending a small charismatic church and they were big into casting out demons and faith healing. I had almost five hundred dollars and just started a “ministry.” That was my inside joke. I told my Christian friends that I had a “deliverance” ministry: I delivered pizzas of the Spirit of Pepperoni for “Jack’s Pizza” in Broad Ripple Village.
I had only been a christian for a week, and most of my free time was spent talking to Ruth in her living room. My friend, Lou, would stop by a lot. He had been a Christian for three months and I was the only other believer he knew, outside of church. He would listen to Ruth and I going back and forth about God, and rarely commented. He did have a way of making a point, however. When Ruth said she didn’t care if she went to Hell, Lou asked her to hold out her hand. In a flash, he pulled out a lighter, lit it and held it under her palm. That pretty much ended the conversation.
Our discussions rarely included anyone else. It seemed as if Dennis worked day and night, and visited friends from his church on weekends. As for Jack, he never talked with anyone, not even his mother. He mostly drifted from room to room, singing a chilling, tuneless song he made up about killing people.
That drove me crazy. There was no reaching Jack, nor was I likely to try. His eyes shone, fierce as a wolf’s. His gaunt frame and angular face appeared like a specter late at night or in the early hours of the morning, and his head came to a point where his chin should have been. Jack’s long curly hair seemed more like a mane than anything human. It wasn’t very long before I decided I had to do something.
That was a problem. Two weeks before, I would have known just what to do. But now, I felt like I knew nothing. I didn’t have the slightest idea what a Christian does to a crazy man with a spirit of murder. So I asked Chuck, my Pastor.
Chuck wasn’t exactly practical. He suggested I “bind” the Spirit. He might as well have suggested I hypnotize him. I was absolutely clueless as to what “binding” something or someone entailed. Chuck explained that all I needed to do was speak softly, out loud, and tell the Spirit that lived in Jack that I was binding it in Jesus’ name. Jack didn’t even have to hear me. Whatever I bound in this earth, Chuck said, would be bound in spiritual places.
“Whew! I thought I’d seen it all until now!” I put down the pay phone and walked back towards the rooming house.
I didn’t try binding the demon until another week had passed. During that time, I tried to stay focused on my work and church. My truck was an old army pick-up, and it kept me going on the job. Other than church three times a week, the only other place I ever went was to Lou’s. In the evening, Ruth and I would stay up late discussing the Bible and Christianity, for which she, personally, had little use. Ruth had a great heart, always giving her tenants time to catch up on their rent, sharing her food and taking the time to talk. Especially to me. She seemed lost, in the real sense of the word, and had somehow drifted away from whatever friends and family she had in her past. Now her only companions were the somewhat itinerant renters that paid by the week.
One night, just as I was getting ready to go to bed after a long discussion with Ruth, I heard Jack coming down the stairs, singing his evil ditty. I stepped into Ruth’s dining room, just avoiding Jack as he drifted towards his mother’s bedroom, at the rear of the house. I could still hear him singing as he puttered around, moving to the kitchen.
“OK, this is it.” I closed my eyes and spoke softly into the empty room.
“I bind you, you Spirit of Murder, in the name of Jesus. I command you to shut up and be quiet.” That’s it. Silence. I never heard Jack sing again.
One evening, Jack and Ruth got into a terrible argument. Ruth had told her son that he she was having him admitted to the psych ward at Methodist Hospital. The demon inside of Jack wasn’t singing, it was roaring. Lou and I heard dishes crashing and cursing. Shrieking, “Oh God, oh God!” Ruth’s cries drifted from the bedroom.
Ruth stood at the bottom of the stairs. In her hand, she held the can of highly caustic carbon tetrachloride that I used to clean my boots. Whatever the outcome of her argument with Jack, she was becoming hysterical. Hyperventilating as tears ran down her face, she breathed in short rapid gasps.
“Ruth. ” I softly spoke her name, trying to calm her.
“I don’t care anymore,” she shrieked. “I just want to die!”
With that, Ruth lifted the can to her lips and began to gulp down the contents.
Lou and I just stared at her. After taking several large swallows, Ruth raised the can and began to pour the carbon tetrachloride into her eyes.
For a moment, I imagined the chemicals stripping away the lining of her esophagus, vapors searing her lungs. I could barely stand inhaling them when I stripped the grease off my leather boots, even with the windows open. I imagined her eyes, ruined and scalded and blind.
Ruth tottered for a moment and then fell flat on her back. In that instant, Lou and I looked at each other, speechless. Ruth neither moved nor moaned.
It never occurred to Lou to call for an ambulance. He simply said, “Karl, pray!”
And that is what we did. Kneeling beside her, Lou took her hand while,I placed my hands over Ruth’s eyes.
“LORD God, I bind the enemy in Jesus’ name! I speak healing into Ruth in the name of Jesus and, LORD God, protect her eyes. Father, cause these chemicals to be of no effect, in Jesus’ name.”
And so we prayed for, probably, five minutes. I grabbed a cup of water from the kitchen and poured it over her eyes. Ruth began to moan, opened her eyes and sat up! We kneeled by Ruth, surprised at what we were seeing. A thought rose in my mind, like the morning sun rising over the horizon, burning away the mist. The Living God, creator of all things, was living with me in a rooming house! He stood watching over us, there on Ruth’s living room floor, and He had healed Ruth.
As Lou and I put our arms around Ruth, her sobs filled the house. We never did call 911. The castaway, adrift on the ocean, waited for a rescue that never came. I lived with Ruth for almost six months, got a better job, and rented a small house with some other guys from the church. I never saw Ruth again.