“It’s been seven weeks since I’ve heard from Portia, Father Thomas,” I said.
Father Thomas shook his head at me. “It doesn’t matter where she is now, Tanner. You know we don’t support her kind of lifestyle. It’s better that she’s gone.”
I shook my head. The priest in front of me knew Portia for as long as I had, ever since she was an infant. He had baptised her himself, but here he stood in front of me, denying her life as a whole.
“It doesn’t matter how she lives. She didn’t tell anyone where she went, where she’d be, or even what she might have been doing. Father, you knew her as a child. Just like I did. You have to be at least somewhat concerned, right?” I held out my hand for him to grab it. Even if he said he didn’t care, he could show me cared by at least grabbing my hand.
He crossed his arms in reply. “Tanner, if you know what’s good for you, you’ll abandon this search. Just let her go. She’ll face god one day on her own, and she’ll return to you once she does.” He nodded. “Have a good Sunday, Tanner. I hope you enjoy the sermon.” he turned from me, and returned to his path to the podium. I sighed, and sat down at the closest pew, in the far back corner.
A few minutes passed with me wringing my hands and playing with the songbooks in front of me before Father Thomas began his sermon.
“Good morning everyone. I hope that God has graced your week so far, and will do so next week.” There were some murmurs and nods from the audience.
“A time to search and a time to give up. A time to keep and a time to throw away. Ecclesiastes 3:6. We all have things that we seek. Some of us desire wealth. Some desire to reconnect with an averted past.” It felt as if Father Thomas’s gaze lingered on me as he said this. “Some wish to be popular online. We all have our reasons for seeking these things, and they are not sinful on their own.
“However, just like with all vices, they can consume you if you do not hold them in moderation. No matter what it is you seek, you must know when your effort is being wasted. Otherwise, you will perform evils to achieve what you want.
“And is it really worth it,” Father Thomas said, “to turn away from God and eternal enlightenment to pursue temporary human pleasures?”
Father Thomas looked directly at me. My eyes saw his, and they burned. “No. It is not. Nothing is more valuable than God’s love.”
He turned away from me and gave the rest of his sermon. I remembered none of it. None of it mattered. None of it was meant to address me.
I drove to my parents’ house immediately after the service. We normally got together for an early dinner and to watch football, when it was in season. It was in season currently. Mom was in the kitchen cooking, while Dad was in the front room waiting for the game to start. I sat in the kitchen with mom, drinking a glass of lemonade.
I held the glass with both hands, rubbing it nervously. No one had talked about Portia since she left. I was the only one who made sure to text her occasionally, to which she typically replied with “still alive” or something to that effect. I had texted her numerous times in the months that she had left. She stopped replying seven weeks ago. Nearly 2 months had passed since she had affirmed to me that she was alive.
“Mom, has Portia called you or anything lately?” I asked. I knew I was taking a risk by asking her, but I knew she might care more than Dad.
“No, she hasn’t. She hasn’t since said anything to us since she left,” Mom replied, still cooking.
“She hasn’t replied to me in a while. I’ve been texting her, but she doesn’t reply.”
Mom shrugged. “It’s probably better this way. She never really appreciated family.”
I sighed. “Mom, I’m worried about her. She’s out in New Orleans. You know what kind of city that is.”
“Well. Then it’s a perfect fit for her, isn’t it?” Mom replied.
I barely gasped. I shouldn’t have been surprised, but I was. “Mom, she’s a good girl. Even if she makes some alternative choices. We shouldn’t just spurn her away like this. She’s still family.”
“Tell that to her!” Dad shouted from the living room. He stepped into the kitchen. “I’m not going to have a damned faggot in my family. She can either straighten out herself or never come back. I’m not holding my breath.” Dad crossed his arms. This conversation was over.
That night, I found myself scrolling down her facebook profile. I never really interacted with the kind of things she posted, they were too liberal for my taste, but I had made it a point to check on the page every night. Just in case she posted something.
She never did. At least, not for 6 weeks. She had shared some image about gun control. It was a weird note to leave off on. At least, I thought so.
Every night I checked her profile to see if she had posted something. Every night I found nothing. Yet I still found myself scrolling down the page, looking for some clue I knew wasn’t there.
There was always one post that I found myself reading all the way through, every time I passed it. It was dated June 22nd, 2017. It was from two years ago, but it still felt important.
Hey everyone. I’ve got a lot on my chest right now. It’s 2 am. My parents found out I was a lesbian yesterday. They didn’t respond well. My dad told me to kill myself and to never talk to them again. My mother told me it wasn’t god’s way. Tanner didn’t say anything. He didn’t know what to say. I think that hurt more than anything.
I’m typing this on my phone in the parking lot of the Donaldsonville McDonald’s right now. I don’t have anywhere to go. I’m going back to New Orleans, but I don’t know what I’m going to do there. Semester isn’t in session, so I can’t go to my dorm room. Honestly, I’m not sure I’ll be able to even afford to continue going to college anymore after this.
I just feel so alone right now. I’m so scared. I don’t want to do this. I just want things to be simple again. I just want to live. Why can’t I just do that?”
I never read the comments. They were all awful. I tried to convince Portia to just delete them, but she refused to. She said it would remind her that she could never come back.
At first I didn’t agree with Portia being a lesbian. It was against God’s will, I had been told. But I doubted that more and more as time went on. It didn’t feel right after a while. She didn’t choose the lifestyle, right? She never had a boyfriend, and she never seemed happy until after she left the house.
I closed facebook and dropped my phone on my bedside table. I sighed and picked it back up. I opened the app again, and found the post one more time.
Why can’t I just do that?
I hit the share button, and chose to type something on top of it.
Why can’t she just do that?
I hit the enter button, then got out of bed. I needed to look for her.
I threw on my shoes and a jacket, grabbed my keys, and drove out of Plaquemine and to New Orleans.
I woke up on a motel bed. I had almost forgotten where I was and why I was there.
I got up and stretched. It was 10:47 in the morning. I had gotten here at about 2 A.M. last night. I got dressed, grabbed the couple of things I brought with me, and went to check out.
The man at the desk was the same one who was there last night.
“I’d like to check out,” I told him.
“What’s your name and what room were you in?” He asked.
“Tanner Hide, room seven,” I told him.
He typed a few things into his computer. “Alright, give me your key and then you’re good to go.”
I handed him the small key card and thanked him. He waved goodbye as I left and got into my car.
I took out my phone and looked up the directions of Tulane university. This was where Portia had been going to university. Most of her money came from scholarships, but some of it was from our parents. I didn’t know if she had gotten the money she needed to keep going, but hopefully since it was the summer and the next semester hadn’t started yet, the college might still have some information on her.
I drove to the college. The streets were much busier than I had had any experience with. This was a disgusting city rife with crime, and I never had a reason to come here. I honestly still didn’t want to be here.
Eventually, though, I did make it there. It took me a while longer to find a parking lot, and then more time to find somewhere I could find information on her. By the time I had finally been pointed in the right direction, it was already 1:23.
Sitting at the desk was a young black woman. She greeted me as I approached. “Hi, what can I do for you?”
I leaned on the desk. “Hey. My name is Tanner Hide. My sister, Portia Hide, goes to school here. I haven’t heard from her in almost two months. I was hoping you might be able to help me find her.”
She cocked her head. “I’m afraid I’m really not in any position to give that information out.”
I sighed. “I know. But I’m so damned worried about her. She was kicked out of the house and disowned by our parents around this time last year. I know she was able to come this last semester, but I’m scared something happened to her. If you could just point me to a friend of hers, a professor, her dorm keeper or whatever they’re called, anything. I just need something.”
She sighed. “If you can give me some piece of information that proves your her brother, something I can verify, I’ll let you in.”
“Her birthday is the 17th of August, 1997,” I replied.
“You could’ve found that on her facebook,” She replied. “Which, by the way, I have pulled up as well. Just so you know.”
“Oh, good. Her middle name is Eileen. Portia Eileen Hide. She hates her middle name, so that’s not public.”
The woman clicked around for a little bit. “Alright, that seems to be true. Here’s what I’ll tell you: her current mailing address. But only if you give me your living address. If I find out you pulled some bullshit to the people at this house, I’ll know exactly where to point the police to.”
I shrugged. “I guess.”
We exchanged addresses, and I went on my way.
Again, the drive to this little house took much longer than I expected. It was on the edge of town, and looked totally abandoned. The windows were boarded up, the door was basically plastered over, and the mailbox attached to the wall looked as if it was going to fall off at any moment.
“I really hope Portia wasn’t actually staying here.”
I parked in front of the house, got out of the car, and looked for a way in. I checked out the doors and windows, hoping that maybe one of them was open in some way. Of course, one was. Unfortunately, it was a tight window leading into the basement. It was difficult to get myself in there, but I did manage it eventually.
Once inside, I found the place eerily empty and clean. I expected to find graffiti, needles, and ashes all over the place. But there was really nothing. Everything was covered in layers of dust, though. It was as if the place had been cleaned up a couple of months ago, but then abandoned to time.
The basement was just one large room, with some exposed piping. The only way out were some stairs that lead up, so I took them up.
The small home was just as clean and dusty as the basement. Every room, from the kitchen to the bathroom, was in the same condition as the basement.
There were only two rooms in the small hallway that lead out of the kitchen and living room. One was the bathroom, and the other, I presumed, was a bedroom. Probably an empty, dusty bedroom. Something about that idea unnerved me more than anything else.
It was also the only closed door in the house. Approaching it felt wrong. As if it was never meant to be opened again. As if whatever secrets this door held hadn’t been seen by anyone for 7 weeks, 3 days, 14 hours, 6 minutes, 47 seconds and counting.
Still, I put my hand on the doorknob. My shaking, cold hand. I twisted the metal ball. I could feel it struggle against me, trying hold itself closed, trying to keep anything from disturbing what’s inside. I put my second hand on the door knob, and twisted harder. Still, it struggled and creaked against me, begging me not to open it, screaming at me to stop. But I wouldn’t. I couldn’t. Not at this point.
I twisted and pulled, as hard as I could. Then, the door knob let go. It turned with ease, and the door fell open without any struggle.
There was ink everywhere. It was unmistakable how drenched in raw ink the room really was. The ceilings, the walls, the floors, the…
The floor. There was a body in the middle of the room. In the middle of a rune.
“What the fuck satanic shit did I just walk into?”
The body was laying on its side, with a knife sticking out of its back. There was blood pooled around it, and yet the rune still managed to stick out through it all.
The body was rotting. It looked as if it had been there for 7 weeks, 3 days, 14 hours, 6 minutes, 59 seconds and counting. 7 minutes and counting. Despite the fact that bits of flesh were falling off and decaying, there was no trace of any worms or flies. Not even a mold or mushroom. The body was fading through some means that weren’t natural. This body wasn’t meant to be here. This body wasn’t meant to be used how it had been.
I ran out of the room. I ran and never looked back. I climbed out of the basement, ran to my car, drove home as fast as I possibly could, and convinced myself that it was just a dream. That I had been making it up. That Portia was fine and that she’d call me tomorrow and say sorry for worrying me. Everything would be okay. Everything will be okay. Everything is okay.
Hours passed, and I knew it wasn’t. I had seen a body. I had stumbled onto an untouched murder scene, where a demon had been summoned, and then ran away. I never called the police. I didn’t even send an anonymous tip at a payphone or something. I did nothing.
I sinned. I’m a sinner. My fellow man was lying dead at my feet, a perversion of god, and I did nothing about it.
I needed to tell someone. I needed to be absolved of my sin. I wanted to be clean. I wanted to free. I needed to be forgiven.
It was 6:35 at this point. It was late, but I wanted to see if my church was open. I needed Father Thomas. I needed help. I needed intervention from God, and I needed it now more than ever before.
I got back into my car, and drove to my church. If Father Thomas was there, he’d know what to do. He could save me. He could absolve me of my sin and save my immortal soul. He could quell the demon that has been loosed upon this earth, and he could prevent more sin from spreading.
I parked in front of the church. I felt safe just looking at it. “I hope the doors aren’t locked.”
I stepped up to the doors and pulled them open. They did so, with ease. I sighed with relief. Everything would be okay.
I walked into the building, and turned to enter the main steeple.
“Father Thomas, are you-”
Father Thomas was being held 2 feet off of the ground by his throat, held by a woman with bare, grey skin. She wore no clothing, allowing her visage to be completely absorbed by anyone who looked. Her long legs had a dark skin tone attached to them, appearing as some sort of decoration on her. She stood on the balls of her feet, with her heels in the air.
She grinned devilishly as she held Father Thomas. He gasped and struggled against her. She only smiled at him in response.
Then, she spoke. Her voice sounded like the voice of dozens, maybe hundreds of people speaking together in one cacophonous moment.
“I thought you would be glad to see me, Father Thomas. What happened to our history? Does my baptism mean nothing in the eyes of God anymore?” Her grin widened to an unnatural length. She lifted her other arm up, reached into Father Thomas’ mouth, and pulled his tongue out of his mouth.
“What’s the problem, Thomas? Are the words having trouble finding their way to your tongue? Perhaps I can help with that,” she growled. A third arm came out of her chest and made its way to his tongue. She curled back all of her fingers beside the index, and looked to be writing something on his tongue.
“Perhaps you’ll want to call me a faggot again? Or claim that my existence is a spit in the eye of God? What will it be, Father Thomas? What are the last words you choose to say to me?”
No words came out of Father Thomas’ mouth. No sound came from his throat. It was clear he wasn’t dead from his struggles, but he made no noise.
The demon frowned. “Of course you have nothing to say. I’m holding your tongue. A skill you seem to have never learned.” She furrowed her brow.
“Disappointing!” She shouted. She jammed her index finger through his tongue. With only this finger, she ripped it out of his mouth completely. Blood spilled out of his mouth, down his chin, and onto the demon’s arm.
“I wrote the word sinner on your tongue. I hope whoever finds your body understands the irony.”
She moved her third arm aside, still holding the tongue on her finger.
Without a sound, a fourth arm burst forth from her stomach and pierced Father Thomas’ own abdomen. He shrieked in pain. A fifth arm did the same. Then a sixth. Then a seventh.
She pulled one arm back through his body, and licked her hand with an extended tongue. She dragged the tongue back into her mouth and licked her lips. “Delicious. Now, let’s ensure your blood can only tell others what your final thought was before you died. Let’s see what that might be.”
She reached one hand back into his stomach, this time pointing it upward. It moved through him and up into his rib cage. He coughed, and blood came out. He coughed again, and the blood began to turn black. It fell onto the ground, and began to writhe It moved for a while, but then stopped.
“You will die in seven minutes, Father Thomas. The number of your God. Your blood will write down your sins for all to read. You shall receive no absolution, and you will die in here alone. Good luck, Father Thomas, because these seven minutes will will be of nothing but your failings and the harm that you’ve done to others.”
Her face was neutral as she stabbed her finger with the tongue attached into his chest. Her face made no change as she pulled the arm back into her body, missing a single finger. She looked beyond Father Thomas as she dropped him to the ground.
I saw all of this transpire while standing in the entrance of the steeple. I stared in terror as the demon did this to Father Thomas. I stood just as still when she spoke to me. “I heard you come in. I apologise for failing to greet you, but as you can imagine, I was handling more important topics.”
She tilted her head to look at me. Her expression was still blank. “Do you hate me too? Are you scared that I’m going to ruin the sanctity of marriage? Or displease God with my alternate lifestyle? What is it that you think of me?” Her extra arms slinked back into her.
This was when I finally heard it. The loudest voice of them all. It was Portia.
I fell to my knees. “I was looking for you.”
She frowned and cocked her head. “You were?”
Her face was suddenly right in front of mine. Her neck was stretched across the room, and right in front of me.
“Tanner. I see,” she said. The rest of her body followed her neck, and was in front of me again. I couldn’t find the courage to say anything else.
“Give me your tongue, Tanner.” She brought a single arm in front of our faces. One hand, outstretched. I saw her adjust her body in front of me, in order to be in a more comfortable crouch.
“Tanner. You can either stretch your tongue out willingly or I can take it from you myself.” Portia’s eyes were unfeeling. At least, that’s how they felt.
I opened my mouth, and pushed out my tongue. My hands were shaking. So this is where I die.
Portia pinched my tongue between two fingers. “What have you to say, Tanner?”
I felt my existence slip away from my body. I was suddenly watching myself from outside of myself.
I looked at my hands. They were transparent. I was in my soul.
I looked back to Portia. I saw small, glowing feet above her physical body’s back. My eyes slowly moved up to look at her.
She looked unamused. Maybe even disappointed.
“Tanner,” she began, “We have all the time in the world here. Nothing will happen in the waking world while we sit in this plane. Tell me all that you want to tell me.” Her voice this time was hers alone.
I sighed. “I’m sorry, Portia. I really am. I have so many thoughts right now, and so many questions. I’m just so confused and scared, and I just want you to forgive me.” I laughed. “It doesn’t matter what I want, does it? I wasn’t kicked out of my home for just being me. I never lived through what you did. I probably never will.
“I’m wrong about a lot of things, aren’t I? And to think, it took you murdering the worst influence in my life for me to finally realise. I have a lot of learning to do.”
Portia crossed her arms and waited for me to say more. “Is that all? You know we have literally eternity in here. There’s nothing stopping you from saying anything else. Anything you want to get off your chest or whatever you can do right now. This is all you.”
I shook my head. “I have nothing else to say. I’m wrong, and I’m sorry. You deserved a better life.”
Portia sighed and dropped her arms to her sides. “Alright Tanner. You’ve learned something.”
My body was mine again. Portia let go of my tongue. “You may leave, Tanner. I have others who need retribution.” She stood up to her full height and walked away, still standing on the balls of her feet. I watched her as she left. I wasn’t sure if I was scared still or just sad.
She turned her head back to look at me, and put a hand on her hip.
“I haven’t seen Heather or Paul in a while. Do you think they’ll be pleased to see their daughter all grown up?”