Agyrophobia (Fear of crossing the road)
“Be sure to be back before sunset, girl, or Satan will get you and make you one of his harlots.”
“Do not worry, mother, I will not forget”.
Doreen always went through this routine with her mother every time that she either had to run an errand or went out to pick flowers. This time she had to go over to the next village and pick up some cloth that her mother’s friend had promised her. Doreen had left the village an hour after the sun had risen and she did not believe that there would be any situations which would cause her any major delays. Doreen was fourteen and she had what her mother called “a happy heart”. Every one in the village would greet her with a smile on their faces whenever they saw her. Doreen had taken a basket with her in order to carry both her lunch and the cloth that she had been told was not very heavy for a girl her age. She enjoyed doing things for her mother, since her father and two brothers spent most of the day in the fields. Even though an extra hand in the fields would have been helpful, Doreen’s parents wanted their only daughter to grow up and, with God’s help, attract the attentions of some lord so that she would be protected throughout her life and, knowing their daughter’s proclivity for generosity, would be a help to her family.
An hour after she had left the village, Doreen went into a field which was covered in bright yellow flowers, and, not having had any breakfast before she left, sat down among the flowers and ate an apple. Overhead, the sun was shining and the morning air was warm enough for comfort. A few dragonflies fluttered around Doreen’s head as she sat in the field, and she laughed as she tried to catch one in her hands. She was startled when a bird swooped down out of the sky and caught one of the dragonflies in its beak just as she was about to capture it. With a sigh, Doreen rose up from her seat in the field and continued her journey. Within an hour and a half, Doreen knew that she was almost at her destination when she came upon the crossroads. During the day, the crossroads were considered safe but in the dark of night, it was considered an evil time to be caught in the crossroads. Everyone knew that the Devil would summon his minions and demons at the crossroads in order to bring death and misfortune to those who dared to travel them at night. Doreen, of course, knew all of this since her mother always warned her about the crossroads any time that she left the village. In her heart, Doreen knew that her mother cared about her, but really, some of the things that she said! The Devil? Why would the Devil waste time waiting at crossroads for unsuspecting travelers? Surely, the Devil had bigger fish to fry, like the sheriff’s men when tax time came around. Oh well, Doreen thought, I shall be home long before sundown. Doreen was in such a happy mood that she did not hear the sound of hooves heading in her direction. She had just stepped into the middle of the crossroads, when she was knocked off of her feet and her lithe body was sent sailing into the air. The moment that her body hit the ground all of the air in her lungs went out of her, but she did not experience this for very long because at almost the same moment, her head hit a stone and she passed out. The accident did not kill her, but by the time that she regained consciousness, it was two hours past sunset. At first, Doreen was not sure if she was dead or alive, but when the pain hit her, she knew that she was still alive. Shakily getting up from the ground, she felt the back of her head and felt the wetness of blood but she also felt that some of it had dried out. She, then, tried to stand up. Her legs were a bit wobbly, but she managed to stand and then looked around for her basket with the cloth that her mother’s friend had sent. The moon had not yet risen and it would not have been of any use since this was the time of the New Moon. It did not take Doreen very long to find the basket along with the cloth and a couple of bread rolls that the friend has given her. Doreen, having secured everything, then stepped out of the field that she had been tossed into and proceeded to go across the crossroads. She heard sounds in the darkness, but she recognized some as them as owls and other night creatures. Due to her injuries, Doreen’s return journey home took longer than it normally would, but she did manage to make it. Her mother became somewhat hysterical when she saw her injured daughter enter their hut, but she eventually had the presence of mind to soak a rag into some water and wash the blood away from her daughter’s head. Before Doreen passed out from fatigue, she managed to tell her mother what had happened to her as much as she could remember. Doreen’s mother sat by her bed all of that night to make sure that her daughter did not come down with a fever.
The next morning, Doreen woke up and saw her mother preparing her father’s and brothers’ lunch for them before they left for the fields. As she tried to sit up from her cot, she gave a moan. Her mother heard her, covered the basket with the men’s food in it, and brought a ladle of water over to Doreen. As she was drinking the water, her father and brothers came into the room. Her father grabbed the basket and, without saying a word of kindness or concern to her, pushed her brothers out of the hut. It was over a week before Doreen felt well enough to get up from her cot and go outside. When she did go outside, she did some minor chores, such as cracking beans and bringing water from the well. Everyone in the village, however, noticed that she was no longer the cheerful girl that they had known before. She would sit outside and barely acknowledge anyone who greeted her. She would not ever sing little songs that she had made up which had delighted those that heard her. Her mother tried to bring out her former self, but it was of little use. Her father, and occasionally her brothers, would glance quickly at her and then make the sign of the cross.
One day, as the chill of autumn was in the air, a traveling priest came to the village. His name was Father Bernard and he was making his monthly rounds to the surrounding villages since there was no major church in the area. He was a fairly healthy looking man, neither lean nor obese, in his early fifties and his tonsured hair was barely showing any gray. He had visited with some of the villagers, having gone first to the Chief Steward’s home, and hearing about Doreen’s predicament, decided to pay her and her family a visit. Since the time of year required every able bodied person to help with the harvesting, Doreen was the only one home when Father Bernard arrived. The priest found her sitting outside, looking sadly at the ground and making swirls in the dirt with her foot.
“Greetings, my daughter! I hear that you have had a harrowing experience. Wouldst thou care to speak of it with me?”
Doreen stopped her foot and slowly raised her head in acknowledgment of the priest. She said,”Yes, it was a horrible experience, but I am better now, thank you Father.”
“Aye, so you say, but I sense that there is more that you wouldst not speak.”
“Father, there ARE some things that worry me. Why do my father and brothers barely speak to me and seem afraid?”
“I believe that it is because, through God’s mercy, somehow you escaped the clutches of the Devil when you found yourself out at night at the crossroads. They may fear you because they still are superstitious about such things.”
“I thought that the story about Satan and the crossroads were a bit foolish myself, but their fear causes me great sorrow.”
“I should speak to them of this, if you wish it, my daughter. But, I am also concerned that the light of Joy does not shine out of you as others have told me about. Surely there must be more to your tale?”
“What dost thou mean, Father?”
“People have told me that when they would see you, your smile wouldst bring one to their faces and your songs wouldst seem as birdsong to their ears? What couldst cause you to no longer share these gifts which the Lord has given you?”
Doreen sat in silence for a minute or two and then said, “Father, if the Devil did not catch me at the crossroads, how can I believe that he exists?”
The priest’s face grew red at this statement and he was almost ready to jump up and hit the child for her blasphemy, but he managed to tame his anger. Anger never really converted anyone and Father Bernard felt that, as God’s local representative on Earth, it was his duty to see to every villager’s spiritual needs. The fact that a child of such tender years would question God’s purpose in allowing the Devil to exist must be answered in such a satisfactory manner as to strengthen her belief in God.
“Tell me child, dost still believe in God?”
“Oh yes, Father, I do.”
“Good. Then if God exists as a source of joy in our lives, why would He not test our faith in Him? In order for Him to do so, He must allow the Devil some little power to test us. Remember that Satan was once one of God’s angels who, through pride, fell from grace. He was there even when our Lord, Jesus Christ, lived and if even our Lord can be tempted by Satan, then who are we to question the Lord God and his deeds?”
“I suppose that you are right Father. Thank you for your kind words.”
“Think nothing of it, my daughter. And I shall now go out into the fields and speak with your father, shall I?”
Doreen smiled and nodded her head. “May I go with you, Father?”
“Of course you may.” After Father Bernard had spoken to Doreen’s father, with some of the other villagers near by listening, life in the family went back to normal. The only thing that changed was that Doreen was never allowed near the crossroads by herself. A year later, with her parent’s blessing, Doreen was allowed to join a nunnery, where she spent the rest of her life.
Eight hundred years later, a girl was born in a town which sat on the ruins of the village in which Doreen and her family had lived. Her name, by coincidence, was also Doreen…Doreen Nunley. When she was just six years old, her mother sent her down to the local store to buy some cakes for their tea. This Doreen, at that age, was also a very happy child until that fateful day. Doreen had just crossed to the middle of the road when she was hit by a speeding car. She did not die that day, but she became a child with a more nervous disposition. Her mother worried about her and decided that she would never send the child out on errands ever again.
As Doreen grew up, she eventually got over her traumatic childhood experience. Or so she thought. It was her last year of high school and she was very worried about her exams. She, generally, was a very good student, but the thought of graduating and going off to college frightened her a bit. She had never gone out of the town that she was born in and the thought of new places and experiences had an effect on her. Her mother told her that she would have to leave the nest eventually and that it would be good for her to get out and see more of the world. The night before her first exam, as she was sleeping, she had a nightmare. It was of a young girl crossing a dirt road and being hit by a speeding rider on his horse. When Doreen saw the girl’s body go flying into the air, she started out of her sleep. It was unnerving, but she managed to go back to sleep ten minutes later. Her dream returned, but in this case, it was later and at night, and the girl’s hair was red with blood. She saw the girl look startled about something, but Doreen did not hear what had startled the girl. Somehow, Doreen did manage to hear what she thought was the girl’s thoughts. “The Devil will not get me, the Devil will not get me.” With these words still rumbled through Doreen’s head, the alarm clock went off and woke her immediately.
Doreen, after getting washed and dressed for school, went down to the kitchen and had breakfast with her mother. The words from her dream distracted her enough that her mother noticed and asked her if anything was the matter.
“No, it’s just some silly stuff from a dream that I had last night.”
“Oh, well, in that case, here’s your lunch and be off with you. Good luck on your exams today.”
Doreen grabbed her lunch bag and went out the kitchen door. Bernadette, her next door neighbor and best friend, greeted her at the gate. They walked and talked about other people in school and who was dating who. They only talked about the forthcoming exams as little as possible. Bernadette was good at keeping Doreen’s mind off of troubling subjects. In fact, they had become so engrossed in their conversation that they passed the street which led to their school. They laughed about it and decided to go up to the next street and take it to the school from another angle. They got to the crosswalk and waited for the light to change to their favor. Doreen happened to look up and saw that the street that they were waiting to cross was locally known as “The Devil’s Road” due to a local legend she had heard all of her childhood. The green man flashed and Bernadette tugged on Doreen’s sleeve in order to get her attention. Doreen, when she realized where she was, and remembering the words from her nightmare, froze in place.
“NO! No, Bernie, let’s go back! I can’t cross here!”
Bernie looked at her friend with curiosity and said,
“What are you on about? Why can’t you cross here?”
“It’s The Devil’s Road! I had a dream last night and I’m afraid that if I cross this street, that something bad will happen to me.”
“Oh, come on, Dorry, it was just a dream. Let’s go!”
But Doreen refused to budge no matter what Bernie said to her. Bernadette was just about to give up and lead her friend away from the street, when Doreen saw a priest walking towards the crosswalk. She stood there watching the priest walk across the road and waited to see if he made it all the way through. It was, in fact, at that moment, that a truck came barreling down the road. Doreen could hear some of the music from the truck’s radio, and looking quickly between the distance of the truck and the priest, Doreen acted. She ran quickly into the crosswalk, tugged at the priest’s hand, and led him to safety. Bernie stood there with her mouth wide open in disbelief, but quickly came to and ran over to her friend and the priest. A few feet before she got to where they were standing, Bernie heard the priest thank Doreen and she heard one other thing. The final verse from a song which was coming from the truck. It was the Rolling Stones “Sympathy for the Devil.”