It had all started as me and a group of friends from my Catholic church where sitting down at a table at the local bowling alley. One of them, seventeen year old Kara Lewis had been out late the weekend before and had experienced some spooky goings on in the cemetery where her father is buried. My friend, fifteen year old Michael Putnam and I related similar experiences in that area as well.
The island our church is located on is considered the second most haunted place on the East Coast. The north end of St. Simon's is especially known for purported supernatural activity. Our group of friends decided that we would all go ghosts hunting one night. We had come up with a list of haunted locales and would spend one night investigating the ghost stories. The group that was set to go was Kara, Michael, my seventeen year old brother, David, fifteen year old Cat Belsky and I.
At a number of subsequent youth group meetings we formulated our plan of attack for that night. We scheduled the hunt for a number of nights, but it was postponed for a variety of reasons. We finally got one night where everything fell into place and we were set to rock.
Michael and I had planned this operation down to military precision. We bought food and drinks. I even acquired a bottle of rum from a friend who had connections to a liquor store that did not check identification. We had transportation figured out and contingency plans in case pulled over by the cops.
We all swore to not drink until after the ghosting was over because I'd be driving and we wanted to be stone cold sober so that anything we saw would have validity. Our final contingency plan was a supernatural one. Our youth minister, a deacon, had overheard our plans one night and warned us about messing with the supernatural. With his help, we armed ourselves accordingly.
At final countdown on the night of the hunt, our armament consisted of four crucifixes of varying size, half a dozen rosaries, two Bibles, half a gallon of holy water, and an 8 inch tall statue of the Virgin of Guadalupe that Michael "borrowed" from his house. As one further note of prudence, I researched some old exorcism prayers. I had searched for the text of the Roman Ritual; the Vatican endorsed exorcism text, for almost a month but could not find it. In the end I resorted to little pieces of old Latin exorcism rights such as the rite of Saint Benedict and what I could remember from reading about the rite of exorcism. As it turns out, my precautions were a very good idea.
Enter Michael Evan Burley, nineteen years of age, practicing pagan. I had known him while he was a member of my JROTC unit. He had gone off to join the Marines but was back in Brunswick after being discharged for "mental disturbances..." At the time Michael, who will hereafter be referred to as Burley, was secretly dating Cat, a relationship her parents disapproved of for obvious reasons.
Michael and I had been sort of enablers for this relationship, even hiding Burley in the trunk of my car one time, when we were picking up Cat. At the last minute Kara had to work and she dropped out of the endeavor. Cat asked if Burley could come. At this time I was not aware of his spiritual background and I also thought it would be fun to have him along. I agreed for him to come. It was a very fateful decision. I still wonder who that night would have turned out if he had not been present.
The night started off light hearted enough. The Catholics all went to Vigil Mass first, than to Michael's house, the field base for that night. My cover for that night was that I was staying at Michael's house. My dad is also deathly afraid of anything even somewhat related to the supernatural occult and would never had let me do this. After we collected all our gear, we picked up some pizza while dodging a kid who thought he was supposed to be coming on the trip.
We then drove back to my neighborhood, and snuck through the darkness to the house I was house sitting for the week, where I had stowed the rum. This too was almost a military operation. We ditched the car because we did not want my parents to see it in the neighborhood. We also dodged any cars driving by for fear they might have been my parents, even diving into bushes and dropping into ditches a number of times.
After acquiring the rum, we high tailed it back to my car, carefully avoiding my house, where my parents were, and drove back to the island. At approximately 2200 we picked Burley up at his work. From there we drove to the first, and as it would turn out, last stop.
We thought we were going to Dunbar Creek, the site of a famous slave mass suicide via drowning. Michael however had read the map wrong and instead we were at a place which had once been settled by slaves and also interesting enough, had a Masonic lodge close by. We parked the car and got our things, said some quick prayers and jumped the fence to go towards the creek and the dock. I had been there before and the place is freaky during the day. I never feel spiritual disturbances and even I felt there was something wrong with the place.
Allow me to briefly digress. My ancestry, at least what I claim, is mixed Gaelo-German on my Dad's side and Mexican with a splash of Apache on my Mom's side. The German's gave us the Black Forest and some of the creepiest fairy tales known to man. The Irish have always been a superstitious people thanks to those Druids. The Mexicans too seem to have some kind of supernatural connections and my Apache grandfather claims to have had visions of Victorio, the Apache war chief who he maintains was our ancestor.
As you can see, my parents have connections to the spirit world. It seems that they can sense spirits and things not of this world, usually of a malevolent nature. They call it Discernment, a gift of the Holy Spirit. My gift of the Holy Spirit is Knowledge. I was not blessed with this gift; it didn't pass to my generation. For this reason, my parents have always warned me to be careful. Michael also has a family with spirit connections (they're Irish) and he has them as well.
Returning to the story, as we were exploring the area Burley kept getting drawn to the dock, saying that he wanted to go swimming. As we moved around, with Michael and me at point, Michael was becoming increasingly agitated saying that we should leave. For the first time in my life, I began to detect a presence, although very faint, around us. Michael was getting visibly disturbed, mumbling prayers in English and Latin, his face turning into a pale mask of fear. I can not use my own words to describe my feelings at this time so I will use Tolkien's: "There was a fell presence on the air..."
I was just about ready to leave but we had to find the others first. Suddenly I heard Burley scream, "Let's get the hell out of here!" as he came hurtling out of the bushes, David and Cat close at his heels. Michael and I bolted. I felt the presence bearing down on us now, like a hawk swooping down. Michael and I turned around and tried to hold it off with crucifixes but then Cat got stuck on the fence. We ran to help her, got her over and than jumped over ourselves. As I turned I saw Burley in mid-air over the fence but felt as if the presence was upon us. Burley lost consciousness suddenly, going completely limp with his eyes open.
David and Michael picked up his limp body while I sprinted to the car and started the engine. Cat jumped in the back with David and Burley while Michael took the co-pilot's seat next to me. The first minutes were purely survival mode, getting out of there and checking Burley's pulse and breathing, which Cat did. Although his eyes were open, Cat reported that she could not feel either Burley's pulse or breathing. Knowing that he had mental issues in the past, my first thought was to get to a hospital, but it was beginning to seem like a spiritual problem.
When the time came for the turn that would take us to either the hospital or the church, Michael screamed church. By this time, Burley was virtually catatonic. In the front seats, Michael pulled out the sheets I had printed out and we beginning reciting the Litany of the Saints and the Prayer to St. Michael. According to Cat, whenever either of us uttered the name "Saint Michael," Burley's eyes would roll into the back of his head.
My car was practically on two wheels as I spun into the turn into the church parking lot. My intent was to get Burley into the chapel and the presence of the Blessed Sacrament. Unfortunately the chapel was locked. I ran back to the car, but as soon as I opened the door, Burley went limp again. We dragged his limp body across the pavement but suddenly, he started coughing as if he had been underwater for a long time and finally surfaced. We were all relieved.
When he had composed himself, I asked him "Michael Burley, will you accept a prayer of exorcism?" I did not think he was possessed but I wanted to make sure. He agreed. Michael and I laid hands on him, prayed the rather fragmented Latin exorcism prayers and read from the Gospels. Burley mentioned hearing a woman's voice and feeling as if his wrists were being cut before blanking out. We all felt the worst was over and were very much relieved. Burley stood up and I asked him if he would let us bless him to which he agreed. I reached into the car and pulled out my cup of soda, while Michael retrieved the (half-gallon) bottle of holy water. With my right hand I reached over and traced a cross on Burley's forehead with the holy water. Then all hell broke loose. (Literally)
Burley reached up to his head, screaming and doubling over in pain. I swear I heard a sizzling noise. It was just like in the movies. Burley took off running. We are all sort of stood in shock and just sat there staring at him until we realized that he was running at a speed no one could naturally run. I yelled, "He's heading for the road..."
This seemed to break us all out of a stupor and we split, tearing down the sidewalk after him. Michael reported after the fact that as he was running, he heard Burley yell "Drink the poison yourself..."
This is interesting to note because a line from the Latin rite I used was Ipse venena bibas which means "Drink the cup of poison yourself..." As verified by my Latin teacher, the phrase is Latin II level and Burley only took Latin I...and failed it. Later research showed that a common symptom of demonic possession is the ability to understand unknown languages.
We ran down two blocks from the church looking for Burley and could not find him at all. He was absolutely nowhere to be found. We tried to figure out where he was going when it dawned on us that he might be running back to the house where he had lived until a few weeks ago. Cat and I had spent one morning a few weeks prior driving to this house to ensure that Burley did not commit suicide after he wrote a text message as a suicide note. Now we were afraid that he might try it again.
David took the keys to my car and started to drive back to the church in order to try to find Burley. He told us later that he had found a scapular hanging from my rearview mirror. It was the same scapular I had given Burley to wear for protection. The only problem was that I had locked the car when we abandoned it to go looking for him.
We were searching for Burley for about half an hour during which time he, or whatever was possessing him, communicated with us via text message. One message was "bye bye David" which caused us to panic because we were afraid a vengeful spirit was set to harm my brother. As it turns out, Burley had sent that message while he was watching David drive away. Another message told Cat to "stop singing..." She had been singing a song very softly in order to calm herself and one would have had to been very close to hear it. Burley was nowhere around.
This fruitless search went on for about an hour. I caught up to Michael, who was heading back to the church. When he walked into the parking lot, he raised his crucifix high in the air and began calling in a loud voice for Burley to come out of the woods. I stopped dead in my tracks as I saw movement on the far side of the parking lot. Michael kept walking still ordering Burley to come out of the woods in the name of Jesus.
Finally a figure stepped out of the woods and walked up to the church property line, but it was not Burley. It looked like Burley but it did not walk like him and did not talk like him. Even from a distance I could tell that something was wrong from the way he swaggered and flicked his cigarette. Michael commanded the spirit in the Name of Christ to advance but it could not walk on hallowed ground. I ran up behind Michael, we were both holding crucifixes. Michael ordered the spirit to kneel. It looked at us as if it was about to refuse but it complied, getting down on Burley's knees and putting Burley's hands on the ground in front of it. As long as Michael and I held up our crosses, the spirit would not allow Burley to raise his head to look at us, unless we ordered him to do so.
Per standard procedure, we asked the spirit to identify itself. It stated that its name was Elizabeth Hall. That name meant nothing to us. We asked what purpose it had in possessing Burley. The spirit tried not to answer and I got angry and yelled at the spirit, a mistake during an exorcism, I told it that it had no power against the name of Christ, that its power came from the Lord of Lies, and that we would rebuke it and send it back to Hell. (Apparently you aren't supposed to taunt the spirit.)
Michael shushed me but the spirit said that "He promised me eternal life..." When I asked it who, it responded the "One you call the Lord of Lies..." That was unsettling. We had enough with the questioning and were about to begin our own bastardized version of the exorcism rite when Cat came running into the parking lot. David was behind her trying to get her to stop because with the kind of things that tend to happen during an exorcism, it would be best for her not to watch. Especially because precisely at that moment the spirit made Burley's body go limp again.
While Michael prayed over Burley, I took Cat and hugged her and told her that everything would be okay. David had leaned against a light post and appeared to be praying the Rosary. Meanwhile, Michael called me over for help as Burley's body began to convulse. I ran to him to make sure that he was alright and placed my hands over his head. I began repeating the Latin Vade retro satana, Vade retro draco, Cruz sacra mihi lux as Michael prayed the prayer to St. Michael behind me. We also prayed the Litany of the Saints.
Suddenly, Burley's back arched up and he suddenly flopped back down still. He opened his eyes and Burley looked back at me. Without me saying anything, he said "I believe..." I could think of only one thing to do. I knew that the Rite of Baptism carried an inherent exorcism and rebuking of evil spirits. I also knew that even a lay Christian could baptize someone. So I baptized Burley that night, in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. I thought it was the only way to save his soul.
After literally emptying the jug of holy water on his head, I helped Burley to his feet and embraced him. He also went to hug Michael, who told him to "go to his girl..." She was weeping just beyond us in the parking lot and ran to Michael when she saw that he had returned to normal. We let them have some alone time in the car as David, Michael and I talked about the night's events.
I looked at my watch and say that it was shortly after midnight on Sunday. Needless to say, our night was over. I broke open the bottle but Michael did not feel like drinking. He returned Cat and Burley to their respective homes and than returned to Michael's house. Fortunately, his mom was not up because none of us felt like relating the night's events to anyone else. He went into his room and I spent the next two hours drinking rum to try to dull the chill of what had happened and researching demonic possession and Dunbar Creek and the name Elizabeth Hall.
All we came up with was the fact that a famous medieval exorcist was named Sebastian Michaelis which was interesting because Michael had taken Sebastian as his confirmation name. Around three in the morning, we decided to pray a rosary for Burley. I was heavily intoxicated and it was thus my only drunken rosary but I prayed it with enough clarity. We finished with the St. Michael Exorcism Prayer (different from the Prayer to St. Michael) and I passed out on Michael's bed. The greatest miracle besides Burley's deliverance that night was the fact that I did not wake up with a killer hangover.
Although we all entertain some doubts, we all firmly believe that we encountered an evil spirit that night. Research before and after the fact continues to point to the same conclusion. Burley could have been a very cruel, very elaborate prank on all of us but he would not have known enough to make it so credible, and the Latin he understood precludes this possibility. The area had voodoo influences as well.
So, if this really was a demon, how was it banished? Neither Michael nor I are ordained priests, although Michael plans on becoming one. The closest to priestly training I have received is my altar server training, which does not include banishing out demons. Although many Christian faiths hold that any baptized Christian has the authority to rebuke demons, only a Catholic priest can perform the actual exorcism rite and than only with the express permission of the local bishop. (Most dioceses actually have a position called an Exorcist and it is his job to investigate all claims of demonic activity.
Unfortunately, most dioceses do not keep this position active, including the Diocese of Savannah, which is where this incident took place. Savannah is widely considered one of the most haunted cities in the country and THEY DON'T HAVE AN OFFICIAL EXORCIST! It makes no sense to me. Regardless, Pope Benedict XVI has recently taken steps to address the issue of vacant exorcist positions.)
Granted, the exorcism prayers that we used were not the complete approved Roman Ritual, rather they were borrowed from a bunch of different exorcism rites, but that makes it all the more astounding that the prayers actually worked. Also, the exorcist is supposed to be in a state of grace. There was hardly a time in high school when I was in a perfect state of grace but Michael had gone to confession earlier before Mass.
Perhaps, it was our faith that the prayers that work and that God would free Burley even if we didn't know the exact words that freed him. I tend to believe that the day had something to do with it. As we were exorcising Burley, the Feast of Divine Mercy began. Our Lord had told St. Faustina that he would grant anything to the soul who asked for something in faith on that day and that the ocean of God's grace poured on the world especially on that day. Her motto was "Jesus I Trust In You..." David had been praying the Chaplet of Divine Mercy.
I believe that it was our faith and trust in Jesus, Cat's love for Burley and the limitless mercy of God that freed Burley on that night. And we learned not to mess around with the supernatural.