Chapter Nineteen: The Ghost and Edith

Editor’s Note: Madam Lafayette’s story is well-known throughout Vine: Sunday School classes cautioning against trusting fortune tellers. A contrast to her brother, John, who married the daughter of an Elder and then had a daughter who would marry a Captain of Industry. “See the upward mobility you can achieve staying on God’s path,” they say. 

This story was given to me by Andre Sherman Pilt, who says his sister, Mary Pilt, has been working on a history of their family. Compiling journals, maybe adding a little narrative here and there. My mom liked to say that truth lies somewhere between verifiable and unverifiable fact, and I’ll say this: there has always been a hole at the center of Vine’s dominant religious narrative. For all the talk about being God’s Chosen People in the Americas, the land being consecrated—suffering here persists, and poverty is felt in this hermetic town. As much of a chokehold as the Elders have over both religion and politics here, the people of Vine can feel in their hearts that something’s missing. Maybe that’s why they so easily put their faith in people like Madam Lafayette. 

Or maybe it’s as the Elders say, and Vine is simply a land of miracles. The following is reprinted with permission from Mary Pilt, who attached the note: “I only hope ALL members of my family get fair treatment in history.”

Edith Discovers She Can Talk To Ghosts

The sound was coming from inside the wall, of that he was certain. Three nights prior, a knock had broke through his dreaming sleep-not thunderous but insistent, damn near polite, as though a knock in the wall was the most natural thing of God’s creations. He entered his children’s room to find Edith sitting upright and expectant. There’s someone in the wall, she said before he could ask. A kind dismissal and a back to bed was the response that first night. The next night dumbfounded anger. Scratching his chin with calloused knuckles.  Both children were in his room. Yet still the knock sounded. A single thud. Silence. And again. His wife looked at him with worry while Edith remained steadfast in her belief that there was someone within the wall itself. Perhaps it will answer a question since it knocks so diligently. Is someone there? A knock. Is one knock yes? Knock. Shall two be no? Knock. Now his wife was near shaking, clutching their son, while Edith approached the wall. An innocent question, the silly question of a child: Are you alive? 


Edith Learns The Ghost Responds To Her Alone

I was nine when the nights of knocking occurred. My mother was terrified by the prospect of a demon, so my father called upon the preacher to investigate. The preacher came near midnight, having been caught at a particularly contentious meeting of the Elders for hours prior. My brother and I both laid in bed, but neither of us slept. Partially due to the knocks, but also because we wanted to hear what the preacher said. We knew all about demons and witches from church, but we had never heard of any actual confrontations. I begged Father to permit me to join them, but he said that children were ripe vessels for a demon, especially me as a girl. 

I could hear their muffled voices as they waited for the next knock. Ten minutes passed and the preacher voiced his impatience, so I decided to help. I slid out of bed and crept to the wall. Are you there? Knock. I could hear my father’s relief and the preacher’s shock. Using my method, they began to ask questions. Is this the Dark One? Be ye Apollyon? Does thou know the light of God? Silence met them. It seemed the knock only communicated with me. I heard the preacher begin to pray. My brother looked at me, fear plain on his face. Will you please make it stop? I don’t know why I asked the question I did. Will you come out?


John Sets Out On His Own While Edith Becomes Caretaker

He looked at the body of his sister as the preacher read the traditional Vine funeral invocation.

O Lord of Earth, Lord of Vine, come fetch the untethered soul this body wrought.

May the wood claim the one we once loved and may the Lord guide their spirit home.

He was surprised the Church allowed her a service at all. He assumed he and his family would be carrying Edith’s body into the woods alone.

How to tell his sister’s story, John pondered in his heart. They were close as small children, but grew apart after the strange events of that autumn. He barely remembered any of it, but Edith would always say that’s where she got her ghost. Imagination is cover for childish indulgences for only so long—eventually whispers started. Mother began daily church attendance, earnestly praying with the preachers. Father changed nothing besides how little he spoke, a man who came home from shifts at the mill with a face as welcoming as a cliff. One night at dinner, Edith began laughing, saying you say the strangest things! to nobody visible. Father had enough. He struck her from her chair and commanded her to never speak this nonsense again.

Edith stopped talking about her ghost after that. So committed to living humbly and obeying her father’s wishes was Edith that she served seven years as her parents’ caretaker until their health failed and they joined the Heavenly Choir of Angels. All the while maintaining obedient silence.

And where had John been? Obedient, in his own way: married the daughter of an Elder, Priscilla Sherman, who bore him two daughters: Mary Lauren, who would later go on to wed Gregory Shepard Pilt, and Jeannie Elizabeth, who would later be rumored to be involved with witchcraft in her own right. But was it not righteousness, to live humbly and serve God? John worked his shifts at the General Store, had a drink at Gentleman Jim’s, and supported his family. Was this not righteousness? 

Edith Speaks To Her Ghost

Are there others like this here? Unalive but on Earth? Knock. Are you okay? Knock. Are you here by choice? Knock knock. Will I get stuck here? Will my parents? Silence. Do you know why you are stuck here? Knock. Can you tell me? Knock knock. Are you in Hell? Knock knock. Is Heaven a lie? Knock. Then a pause. Then another knock.

John Notices The People Of Vine Worshiping In Strange Ways

Now it was in those days after John’s parents had died—with Edith as silent caretaker—that the people of Vine took to worshiping God in unnatural ways. Groups of young men, often numbering 30-40, began congregating in pastures where sheep and cattle grazed to speak in tongues and shake wildly. Groups of women—often widows, often spinsters, sometimes wives of the men of Vine—would gather near the lake in simple green robes, join hands in a circle of silent prayer, then shed their clothes and wordlessly swim naked. Children, forgetting their fieldhand tasks, would drop their tools and erupt into singing hymns. 

It was during this time that John kept his head down, living humbly and serving God. Others of Vine, though, found themselves pulled toward the spirit world as surely and gradually a branch might fall through a thick-canopied forest.

It was during this time that Edith became Madam LaFayette.

Edith (Madam Lafayette) Begins To Help The People Of Vine With Her Gift 

I am anointed by God, chosen. My offering is to exist in the space between God’s two creations: Heaven and Earth. I am awaited to be sitted at the right hand of God upon my death. My time on Earth is devoted to helping others. 

Does my mother know peace? Is she sitted at the right hand of the Lord? Knock. Will my crops yield come autumn? Knock. Is it true the people of Vine are chosen? Knock. Does God’s path for me lie in the Seminary? Knock. Can you bring back the dead? Knock knock. When I die, will my spirit become trapped, as yours? Silence. Do you have power over death? Knock knock.

John Visits Madam LaFayette

Madam LaFayette. She said she had been touched by God and given another sight, something beyond what the world could see. She would be the first and only fortune teller of Vine. 

John had not been close with his sister for years at this point, but after his wife visited her (Oh John, it’ll be another girl for us and she’ll come under the Harvest Moon…) he went to see her.

A shack at the base of the mountains. She had not allowed her popularity to interfere with her humility. Her residence overflowing with gifts from grateful customers: blueberry cobbler on the counter, lilacs in a vase, a hand-carved table from Whittling Will’s, paintings he recognized as Myrna Thomas’s. 

“You were right. When we were young. The ghost. I owe you an apology,” John said. 

“It is forgotten,” she said. “It has been forgotten since God first breathed life into Earth.”

“All the same, your forgiveness—”

“How could you understand? I have never been without my ghost. Oh, I could have told you his name decades ago. It is beyond this world, outside the boundaries of Earthly language, to tell you his name. It is a name only children or the dead can understand.”

After reconciling with his sister, John walked humbly with God through the forest. He kept those things his sister had told him of the space between God’s two creations and pondered them in his heart. He walked and contemplated the blessings of Vine, the land consecrated for God’s Chosen People in the Americas. After a while, John became at peace, and walked back to the town square, where he saw a new preacher speaking to an assembled crowd.

The Young Preacher Speaks Before The Assembled Crowd

O my brothers and sisters, what good it does us to praise God! O my brothers and sisters, what a righteous joy it is in my heart, to praise God and know the Lord is enough! For the Lord our God has made Heaven and Earth, and granted us dominion over the Earth for a brief time. In death, the chosen and saved are sitted at the right hand of the Lord our God! In death, the evil and wicked are cast into the fires of Gehenna! O my brothers and sisters, what a righteous joy to know the simple ways of the world! O my brothers and sisters, those who practice witchcraft will be cast into the fire! O my brothers and sisters, I say it as truthfully and joyfully as the plain English God created for me to speak: those who practice witchcraft and indulge sorcery shall not know the Kingdom of God!

John Contemplates What He Has Heard

There was no mention of Madam LaFayette, nor need there have been. John had known this preacher—as a boy, before Seminary, he had worked with John at the General Store—and he was indeed a preacher filled with passion and the fire of the Lord. When he spoke, the people heard the Word of God.

Thus it was that interest in Madam LaFayette’s gift began to wane.

Madam LaFayette’s Gift Fades In The Face Of Persecution From The Church

I awoke from a night of uneasy, tossing sleep, a space of unconsciousness filled by appearances of laughing demons with no name or shape, and upon awakening, I felt a cavernous silence, a blood-freezing silence, the unexpected panic of a moth who found flame, a stiffening realization that a lifelong presence was suddenly gone, thus did I run, run out of my home, hair red and tattered in the wind, run to the only other lifelong presence I had known, throwing open John’s door, only to frighten the children (to my shame), thus did John counsel me in 

Madam LaFayette Visits Her Brother And Returns To Edith

No torchlight hunts. No guns no anxious hound dogs. No knock at the door. No knock from inside the wall. No public accusations no trial. No acknowledgment: the effect the preacher’s back-to-basics zeal had was as though a tornado had swept through Vine, knocking over and carrying away Madam LaFayette’s shack alone, and after everyone had swept away the scattered tree branches and picked up the pieces, they forgot to look for her. Yet Edith was still there.

It was after that day, another day in autumn, when she had come to him in a panic, seeking counsel because of silence. Well, now. Some quiet from the ghost couldn’t be too bad, John thought, picturing his young children. But he knew better than to be flippant. Still, how could he—who had not been anointed—assist one who had lost everything at the hands of God?

But Edith lived the rest of her life, John knew. He knew because he visited his sister daily until her death, his sister who once again sat in calcified silence, waiting for the faintest whisper of another knock.

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