There are no mirrors in Matthew Ravenblack’s home. He is not adverse to his image and has no disfigurement or blemish that his vanity tries to deny. No, Matthew Ravenblack has Eisoptrophobia; a fear of mirrors. For a mirror reflects one’s true self and one cannot hide anything from a mirror: It knows who you are including all your secrets and when you look into the mirror you can never be entirely certain of whom it is that is staring back that you from the other side.
Aside from his aversion to mirrors Matthew Ravenblack considered himself fortunate. He had received his calling from an early age; to help people and keep them safe. People had wondered why he chose this line of work because there were rarely any thanks or credit for doing well. It wasn’t the status that came with the job and it certainly wasn’t the money. Matthew Ravenblack enjoyed being a social worker for the privilege for being in a position where he could make a difference to someone’s life. Drawing on sociological models and psychological theories he helped to empower the people of the Greenway Estate by helping them to stand up for themselves and challenge the discrimination and oppression they faced from the wider society. Lately however, the pride he felt in his job had lessened. Matthew had once thrived on the fast paced excitement of the Family Support and Assessment Team. Based in the community centre on the estate he had enjoyed the variety of work that came with the job but as the last decade had passed his feelings of stress and disillusionment had waxed while his motivation waned.
Matthew often felt a little jaded; having to run from one crisis to another with an ever increasing case load. It was frustrating that he could not focus all of his attention on each client because there were several others needing his help at the same time. He often used the analogy of fire fighting; having to put out one blaze then turn to deal with another while a third erupted behind him. It was wearing, both physically and mentally and bit by bit, the constant low level anxiety at the back of his mind increased. His head felt as if it was constantly vibrating on an ultra-sonic frequency that only he could hear. Like an emotional tinnitus where he was the only sufferer in the world while the rest of the team just carried on and took it all in their stride. Furthermore, his health was suffering as one cold followed another in quick succession. It was undoubtedly stress related but he had not taken any time off. He didn’t have time to take time off sick because there was no one to cover his caseload. If he went off then he would come back to find all of that day’s work plus today’s work and also any additional crises that had arisen and he risked drowning in the sea of tasks that needed to be completed. Besides, being at work and dealing with things was far more preferable to sitting at home, worrying about what he’d find when he returned to the office. He was tired and emotionally exhausted from working at home in the evenings these last few weeks as he tried to stay on top of things. What’s more, his concentration was failing as well. He couldn’t focus on any one thing as his mind was constantly boiling with ideas. Thoughts incessantly clambered for his attention but he couldn’t pick out the details or focus on any one idea at a time. It was like a deck of cards being thrown into the air and he was only able to glimpse the face of the odd card before it tumbled away with the others. The stress had been steadily building and he knew it was only a matter of time before something gave out.
“It knows who you are including all your secrets and when you look into the mirror you can never be entirely certain of whom it is that is staring back that you from the other side.”
Matthew Ravenblack sat down at his desk agitatedly fingering his black goatee beard and trying to ignore the ever-present fluttering in his stomach. He had just come out of a team meeting where they had spent the last forty five minutes discussing the wording for a new poster advertising a carers support group in the community centre. Forty five minutes debating something that had barely any impact on the daily functions of the team. The longer it went on the more exasperated Matthew felt; there were a hundred and one more productive ways he could have spent that time. Coming out of the meeting room he grabbed a handful of biscuits from the kitchen area and slunk back to his desk. This comfort eating was a way of dealing with the stress but it annoyed him that he had to do it. It was greed and greed was another ploy used by the devil to tempt people. He felt peeved again and suspected other forces may be at work on his mental resolve.
It had started out as a silly childhood fear where in his darker moments he suspected the devil was trying to claim him but that suspicion was growing with every passing day. He feared that one day the devil may actually get him and he would lose his soul in eternal damnation. Matthew Ravenblack believed the devil watched him through mirrors and planted dark thoughts and ideas into his head. Matthew knew this for a fact because of the fury that constantly simmered within him like a rumbling volcano about to erupt. It was worse when he was tired, that’s when Satan batted at his mind the most.
Throughout his school days Matthew believed Satan had stalked him, hunted him knowing he was one of God’s chosen few. But the devil could not catch him, for Matthew was too quick witted to be deceived by his evil tricks. In retaliation the devil had turned people against him; convincing his mother and his teachers that he was a bad child and so they would be punish him on a regular basis. When his mother’s beatings didn’t turn Matthew from the path of God and righteousness the devil changed his methods. During his adolescence the dark prince turned to seduction to corrupt him. Girls would tempt him with their bodies and project lustful thoughts into his mind, dirty, sinful thoughts that were an affront to all things good. He had never truly felt comfortable around women. He had been with them in the past but not for any length of time. Each time he tried to take them to bed Satan intervened on every occasion causing the adolescent’s will to fail rendering him unable to deliver. The few women had been intimate with mocked him with their caressing and fumbling, no doubt knowing he would be unable to rise to the occasion. That had been a valuable lesson for Matthew Ravenblack about the wily trickery of women and how the devil used them to corrupt the innocent. Once the true nature of women had been revealed to him Matthew avoided these harbingers of evil and shunned their advances, opting for the purity of celibacy instead.
When he reached his early twenties he went to university and broadened his mind. He had quietly left home one weekend and not left any forwarding details for his mother. She did not know where he was living or even that he was at university at all. With her lack of insight, so the devil lost track of Matthew as well. Satan did not know where he had gone and for a time Matthew had actually escaped his evil and for the first time in his life he was free, liberated. Matthew was able to enjoy a normal life, free from his responsibilities of being one of God’s chosen. He thrived on life and discovered the wonders of the world, although he was careful not to let his guard down by avoiding women and not allowing any mirrors in any of his homes. Matthew felt normal and at ease with the world for a few years. Then his freedom collapsed the day his mother died. Although Matthew didn’t shed any tears it was still a tragedy and the devil honed in on his grief like a searchlight in the darkness. Satan had found him once again and he hadn’t let him slip from view ever since. His mother had been taken by the devil, of that Matthew had no doubt. The devil in his anger at being unable to find him had lashed out and taken his mother. Matthew still felt the weight of guilt like a millstone around his neck every time he heard the word ‘cancer’. Matthew shook the memories away, annoyed that he had let his defences slip again and had wandered into a maudlin pool of despair. Satan enjoyed taunting him with his pain that was usually locked away in a dark prison deep inside himself where it would not affect him.
“Throughout his school days Matthew believed Satan had stalked him, hunted him knowing he was one of God’s chosen few. But the devil could not catch him, for Matthew was too quick witted to be deceived by his evil tricks. “
The social workers’ tortured mind reeled as he discovered that during the last two hours he had received twenty three emails, six telephone messages and four new referrals that needed to be actioned today. Furthermore, this was on top of his never-ending to-do list that lurked beneath his computer monitor, like a venomous predator silently watching from the shadows, ready to strike without warning if he let things slip. Releasing a deep weary sigh Matthew laid the papers out before him on the desk and looked at each of the new referrals first. He had planned to go out and see a man with a learning disability who lived on the estate today. He had recently started a new job and he wanted to see how he was getting on and check that everything was going well. But, he realised with a heavy sense of regret, that that visit would have to be put back now, again. He couldn’t cope with this and in his mind he heard himself screaming like a lunatic, venting his rage over the futility of his efforts to stay in control of his work. He wanted to tear up the referrals and his to-do list, rip them to shreds and throw them across the office. He felt an urge to pick up his computer and hurl that to, preferably out of the window. That thought felt very satisfying but the ease at which he gave into his impulses these days was worrying. Fearing he might actually act on the thought, he quickly distracted himself and resisted his violent desires by reading the first referral. It described a Polish couple who had been racially abused again in their home and wanted to move to another area but needed support from a social worker. Next, there was a form with the hospital logo at the top informing him of an elderly man whom had had a fall last night and been admitted to hospital. He was ready of discharge now and the ward wanted someone to asses him and make sure he had everything he needed at home. The third was a client with a diagnosis of bi-polar disorder who had stopped taking her medication. Her family were concerned she was showing signs of mania again and putting herself in risky situations with undesirable men. Finally, the one in his hand was a referral from the local junior school saying a child had been suspended for bringing a knife into class and they wanted a social worker to speak to Mum to make sure she was coping at home. As Matthew looked at the referral in his hand something inside him threatened to break as his mental resilience reached the limits of its endurance and his vision seemed to waver for a moment. The paper shimmered in and out of focus and Matthew blinked, looking around the bustling office to try and clear his vision. When he looked back at the paper a second time he was relieved to see it maintain its integrity. There was a mild buzzing in his hand like pins and needles as he held the sheet and read the referral again. Suzie Gadstone was the name of the mother on the referral. Matthew knew the name, having heard it banded around the office. About a year ago Suzie had been domestically abused by her now ex-husband. Numerous reports had been passed to the team and the husband was well known to the police. Suzie hadn’t wanted to take any action against her husband but the police arrested him anyway despite Suzie’s objections. She continued to see him and subject herself to his abuse. She said she loved him and needed him and was willing to put up with the occasional violence. The team, however, did not share her sentiments and in the end threatened to remove her children if she didn’t get rid of her husband for good and so she finally told him to leave. The case notes on the system said that she had successfully attended a confidence building course at the community centre and she was doing a course at college that would help her to train as a nurse in the future. It sounded like she was starting to get her life back on track but there was something strange about the referral. Matthew turned the information over in his mind: She was a single mother where there were possible issues of neglect. Even without his current high levels of stress, this situation was abhorrent to Matthew as echoes of his own emotionally starved upbringing played out in his mind once again. Usually he would remain detached from his own past and not let it interfere with his work but with his current state of agitation and the intensification of the in the devil’s harassment towards him, the connections were too strong to ignore. The pent up agitation drove a sense of urgency in him, compelling him to take some kind of action. He watched his hand twitch with nervous energy as he looked at the numerous burning tasks he had to prioritise. His swirling mind was unable to focus on just one of them. He feared his head may explode as a panic attack, no doubt triggered by the sudden resurfacing of painful memories, threatened to take hold. His mind felt as if it were over-loading and deep down something finally broke. Some vital part of his psyche that held his sanity intact snapped sending fragments of his unconscious thoughts and desires hurling into the face of his conscious mind. Confusion swirled through his head as his reality began to dissolve into a living dreamscape of illusion. Suddenly nothing made sense and everything made sense at the same time. Through his chaotic thoughts, Matthew Ravenblack quickly pieced together a water-tight argument that only someone in the grip of madness could truly appreciate. Somehow there was a link between Suzie Gadstone and the devil and he had just found it. This was a message from God, Matthew realised and for the first time in days the fog clouding his mind suddenly lifted leaving a calm stillness in its wake. He felt a crystal clarity to his thoughts that he had not experienced for a very long time. This really was a sign showing him the course that he had to take. It was what he had been waiting for all his life. All other vital tasks that he had to complete were forgotten in that instant. Sarah Gadstone was the person Matthew needed to see first. She was his priority and he left the office pausing only to pack some items from the back of his car into his bag before going straight to her house.
“Suzie Gadstone?” Matthew inquired as an attractive young woman opened the door and regarded him cautiously. Her gothic black outfit stood in sharp contrast to her pale features. Dark mascara highlighted her eyes that peaked out from behind her long lank purple hair that covered the left half of her face and ran down below her shoulders. She stood partly hidden behind the door while her fingers played with a silver cross that hung around her neck. Her timid demeanour gave her Matthew the impression she was much younger than she actually was.
“I’m Matthew Ravenblack from the Family Support and Assessment Team. May I come in?”
Suzie hesitated but then let him in. Matthew tried to hide his distaste at the nose ring and cluster of studs adorning her ear. Her short skirt revealed her slender legs which pulled at Matthew’s attention provocatively and he took an immediate dislike to her as she led the way into the lounge. She dressed like a whore, Matthew decided, and, being unmarried with children; she most likely acted like a whore as well. Yet, he realised, here he was alone with her. A moment of panic gusted through him and he wondered if she had dressed this way for his benefit? Was she trying to seduce him? He suddenly felt very self-conscious for no obvious reason as he caught himself appraising her figure from behind. His face flushed with embarrassment and he struggled to find words to fill the pregnant silence that had followed him into the house. The air inside the council house carried a not unpleasant aroma of incense and Matthew noted various coloured candles arranged in clusters around the hallway and up the stairs; all heathen articles he observed grimly.
Suzie opened the door into the small cluttered living room where children’s toys lay scattered about the wooden floor. She explained she hadn’t got round to clearing them up yet as the kids had gone out. Pink and white lined wall paper covered the walls and was peeling back in places. Alongside the smell of frankincense there was an unpleasant closeness in the house that banged at back of his mind. Matthew quickly identified the cause as he saw he large silver mirror hanging over the fireplace opposite the door and he quickly sat down on the lumpy sofa, averting his eyes from Satan’s spyglass. The piece dominated the wall and Matthew had to slouch back on the sofa to avoid catching his reflection in it.
As Suzie went into the kitchen to put the kettle on, a book laying on the floor caught Matthew’s eye. He reached down, careful not to cross the line of sight from the mirror and picked up the book. It was a children’s book with a blue cover with a picture of a young girl on the front. Her long blonde hair ran down her back and she sat facing to the side looking at a book herself. The sense of oppression closed in further around him like a physical clammy embrace and he felt a sudden claustrophobia. As he held the book in his hand his vision shimmered again and a movement caught his eye. He looked at the book and watched in horror as the girl on the front cover turned her head to look at him. Her face changed from pure sweetness and innocence to a snarling expression of rage. Matthew reflexively dropped the book on the floor and sprang to his feet jumping away from it. In that moment he immediately recognised his error as he turned to face the mirror that he was now standing directly in front of. He looked away quickly before anything could materialise next to his reflection and nervously reached for his bag at his feet. Satan would now know that he was here so he had to act quickly he realised as he rummaged in his bag. Usually he carried only the odd file, clipboard and note-pad but recently as he had sensed the building of evil and the devil closing in he had filled his bag with other tools besides those used for social work. Matthew Ravenblack found what he needed and hurriedly made his way into the kitchen to find his quarry before it was too late. His task was now clearly revealed before his eyes.
“The sense of oppression closed in further around him like a physical clammy embrace and he felt a sudden claustrophobia. “
Cable ties were his favoured tool of restraint and after sneaking up on Suzie Gadstone and hitting her over the back of the head he dragged her prone body onto a wooden chair in the kitchen and securely fastened her wrists behind her. The turmoil in his head seemed to withdraw and Matthew felt a cool detachment come over him. The ever-present stress and anger hounding his thoughts was replaced with a mechanical orderliness that lent him clarity of mind. He moved as if in a dream, like an observer looking through someone else’s eyes. He enjoyed this feeling of disconnection as it offered him a temporary release from the overwhelming pressure normally pressing in on him. He knew that he owed this state to God’s will. He was channelling God right now, riding a wave of his thoughts and carrying out His wishes. This knowledge swelled his pride at the privilege he had been bestowed. Matthew carefully selected from his bag one of his favourite CD’s by his beloved Beatles and put it into the stereo in the lounge and turned up the volume to drone out any shouts of protest from the woman slumped before him. He sat opposite her and waited for her to come to again while enjoying Ringo’s heartfelt plea of needing a little help from his friends. It didn’t take long before she was stirring and mumbled a question about what had happened.
“Miss Gadstone” Matthew said over the music. “I know what you are”.
Suzie shook her head in confusion and immediately winced in pain. “What’s going on?” she asked looking around and her expression changed from confusion to fear as she realised she was tied to the chair. She repeated her question and struggled but there was no way she would be able to break free. Ravenblack sat back and let her struggle until she finally accepted she could do nothing.
“What do you want?” she quivered looking at the social worker but unable to meet his gaze. Ravenblack imagined years of domestic abuse had taught her remain quiet and unnoticed and she had returned to that role once again.
“Witch” he spat. No other explanation was needed; she knew her secret was now exposed. “I want you to confess to your crimes against God. There is no hiding the truth” he replied sternly. “Tell me about your witchcraft”.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about” the woman said with obvious dishonesty.
“You are a witch, Miss Gadstone. How do you think I found you?” Ravenblack pointed out. “God guided me to you and I am here to help you save yourself”.
“Let me go. What are you doing to do? For god’s sake, let me go!” the woman begged causing anger to flare in the Witch Finder’s heart. He pushed it down with an effort of will.
“Don’t use the Lord’s name in your defence” he snapped. “See how you wear the cross around your neck? You wear it as a mark of defiance and mockery of all that is good. You are in league with the devil, Miss Gadstone. Evil has corrupted your soul and you risk suffering an eternity of hell and damnation for turning away from God’s light. But I can help to purify your soul once again. Just confess your sins”. The truth was irrefutable but she continued to avoid his questions and weave more lies, but Ravenblack was too clever to be fooled by her.
“Please, I don’t know what you’re saying” Suzie tried to spread further deception. “Take what you want but don’t hurt me, please”.
“Your attempts at bribery only highlight your associations with evil. The only thing I want form you is a confession. Confess that you are in the service of the devil” Ravenblack said slowly getting to his feet. “Admit the truth and this will be all over very quickly. I am here to save you and will help you find mercy in God’s love. Purifying fire must cleanse your soul and if you confess now your passage to heaven will be easier” Ravenblack explained. He felt his heart swell with righteous pride which confirmed to him he was doing the right thing. God had guided him here at this time for this very purpose. God wanted him to save this young woman’s soul, of that he was certain.
“I’m not in anyone’s service. I don’t understand”.
“Lies!” Ravenblack proclaimed pointing an accusing finger at his charge. “How many people have suffered because of your witchcraft?”
“I don’t know anything about witchcraft” she began sobbing. “You’ve got the wrong person. I’ve not done anything wrong. Please. I don’t know what you want me to confess to” she sobbed openly now, fake tears began to fill her eyes in an attempt to use her femininity to appeal to his chivalrous side and thus weaken him. But that would not work on Mathew Ravenblack.
“I will not be swayed by your crocodile tears. It is just another example of your deception: More evidence of your witchery. I know what you are and your tricks are wasted on me. You serve the prince of lies and your continued denials just confirm your allegiance to him. Of that, there is no doubt Miss Gadstone. Confess your sins before our Lord and you will find forgiveness” Ravenblack began pacing the kitchen, pausing in front of a dream-catcher hung on a wall next to the fridge. “See” he said pointing. “Idols of Satan are opened displayed in your home, yet you continue to deny the truth. What’s more you are subjecting your children to this evil and that is why you must seek forgiveness”.
The accused woman sniffed loudly, looking at the floor still struggling with her restraints. Ravenblack felt irritation growing inside him but he remained calm and turned back to her. She was no doubt terrified that her secret was revealed and her master had abandoned her. It was unlikely that she would confess her sins. It would have been easier if she did but it did not change anything. She was guilty and if she admitted her guilt or not it was irrelevant in the grand scheme of things. God had already passed judgement on her and she needed to burn whether she chose to confess or not. Ravenblack lowered his voice and approached her. “I see” he began. “You realise that you have no need to beg for mercy, because you are admitting your guilt by your very silence” he reasoned. “I am satisfied with what I have learned here this day. I pronounce your guilt in the eyes of our Heavenly Father and judge that you must be burned in the cleansing fires to purify your soul so you may yet find forgiveness and peace in Gods loving embrace”.
“There has been a misunderstanding” she pleaded again as her tears ran down her soft pale cheeks. “I thought you were a social worker. Please stop this and let me go. I’ll do whatever you want and I won’t tell anyone”.
“Even now you try to tempt me” Ravenblack‘s tone hardened as he glanced at the shortness of her skirt as it rode up over her knees as she struggled. Mixed emotions and sinful thoughts flickered at the edge of his mind, projected into his head no doubt by the witch in desperation as she drew on the dark magic gifted to her by her master. “The devil has taken your mind and you are bewitched by him. Purification is the only way to salvation and so you must burn”. Ravenblack reached into his bag and produced a large plastic container filled with petrol. Ravenblack took a shaky breath, knowing what he must now do. God would give him the strength to do this task but a moment of weakness was passing through him and he paused.
“Please, don’t do this” the witch wailed. “Please, I have children”.
As she uttered those final words the Witch Finder heard the will of God in his mind again. His moment of weakness quickly resolved into ironclad determination as he realised the poor children had already been corrupted by their mother! By virtue of sharing the same home as her they had been exposed to the same evil. They were tainted also and that was why one of them had brought that knife into school. No normal child would do that, he had must have been acting under Satan’s instruction. Now it was clear; they had to be burned as well to ensure their own passage into Heaven. “You’re children need protecting” Ravenblack said quietly and Suzie Gadstone looked at him, meeting his gaze for the first time with a look of fearful anticipation in her eyes.
“They need to be returned to God’s path and must be purified of their sins as well”.
“No!” Suzie screamed as she realised what he was saying. She struggled with renewed vigour, Satan no doubt hearing her cries at last and lending his strength to her own. She fought against her bonds as if possessed and suddenly sprang to her feet as Ravenblack stepped up to her, ready to pour the petrol and light the cleansing fire. She kicked out at him, her foot connecting with the container. Its contents splashed back into his face and he swore loudly clawing at his face as the liquid stung his eyes, momentarily blinding him. He suddenly felt a hard shove in his chest and toppled backwards. Ravenblack tripped over his chair behind him and fell onto the floor, as more petrol glugged out over his face and chest. The fumes stung his nostrils and he coughed, tasting the bitter tang on his lips. He heard the witch’s footsteps as she ran away down the hallway tapping on the wooden floor as she went. She was screaming loudly, befouling the inspiring lyrics of Lennon’s Revolution 1 with her harsh tones. Ravenblack sat up and blinked his eyes open, forcing the stinging sensation aside. The witch had gone, fled into the street and no doubt summoning the police with more of her lies. The Witch Finder had worked on the Greenway Estate for over 12 years he knew it wouldn’t be long before police officers would arrive. He didn’t have much time. He had met Satan face to face this day but he had failed to vanquish the demon. He had failed in the good lord’s eyes: the immortal souls of the witch and her children were still at risk of being lost forever. Every minute she remained alive was an affront to God and it was his fault. His head boiled with impotent anger but he was determined to make amends. His job no longer mattered to him; not even his life meant anything anymore. Whatever happened to him was irrelevant; he had to find Suzie Gadstone and her children and cast them into the cleansing flames to save their eternal soul’s before police, no doubt aided by Satan, found him and locked him away. He gathered up his bag and hurried out of the house, all the while trying to ignore Satan’s mocking laughter echoing in his head.