Mistake

Portia’s brother, Tanner, hasn’t heard from her in 7 weeks. Where could she be?

Purpose


“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 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 there 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.

Thee 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. 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 can. Then, door knob let go, It turned with ease, and the door fell open without any struggle.

There was ink everyone. 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 women 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 into his tongue, and then through it. 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?”

I nodded.

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?”

Some More Haikus

Sound in the morning

My cat’s at my door again

Making a big fuss

Broken down machines

Left abandoned in the woods

To rust and decay

A foreign language

Words I should know but I don’t

Memory has failed

Shouting and shrieking

Late into the deep, dark night

My friends never sleep

An awkward mirror

Left alone in a thrift store

It reads “IM A GINE”

Drive on the freeway

Music blares for me and him

Despite that; quiet

Doodles

It’s important to take care of your pets, and okay to worry about them

I stepped to my front door. It had been a long day at work, and I just needed a break. I figured that I could just sit around and nap for a while. I think that I earned it, considering how rude my manager is.

I took out my keys, and unlocked my door. It slid open, my key glided out of the lock. “Doodles!” I yelled for my cat. I waited for a second. How odd. Normally he’s right at my feet the moment I open the door.

I began to walk around and look for him. “Doodles?” He wasn’t anywhere to be seen. “Doooooodles!” I heard a faint meow at that, coming from my room. “Doodles!” I was concerned at this point.

I walked into my open door frame. I looked down. Doodles was just lying there, breathing harshly. A pile of vomit lay near him. “Oh god, Doodles, what’s going on?” I panicked a bit. Doodles had never actually been sick like this before. I picked him up, and wrapped him in a blanket. I needed to get him to the vet’s.

I carried him away and put him in my car’s passenger seat. “It’s okay, buddy, I’ll get you better in no time.” Do veterinary clinics even have a pet emergency room?

Doodles mewed faintly. This looked bad.

I started to speed. I only hoped there weren’t any cops waiting to ticket me.

I continued driving to the clinic. I had him caught up on all of his vaccines, why is he so sick? I braked at a stop light, eager to continue. Maybe he just bit a bad bird or something while he was outside? The light turned green, and I pounded the gas. What if he caught avian flu or something? Can cats even catch diseases like that? I turned right into the parking lot, and parked as close to building as possible.

I hopped out of my car and ran to the other side to get Doodles out. I picked him up, to which he mewed again. I rushed inside the clinic. “Hello Miss, would you like some help?” I sighed in relief, and handed the man Doodles.

“Yes. I came home from work to see Doodles on the floor of my room next to a pile of vomit. I don’t know what’s wrong, but I think he needs attention right now!”

The aid smiled. “Of course ma’am. We’ll get Doodles attention right away,” he handed Doodles to another aid, “In the meantime, I’ll need to you to fill out these forms.” He handed me a clipboard. I took it, and thanked him.

I filled out the papers as quickly as I could. Name, Address, pet’s name, medical problem, insurance, the works. I had basically memorised all of this, since I took doodles in at least once every three months. I took the form up to the attendant. Then I waited.

I looked at the clock. It only took me a couple minutes to fill out the form. I had only been here for about ten minutes. I doubted that they would have examined him that quickly. I tapped my toes. Who knew how long it would be until they called me in? I had never had an emergency like this before. I looked at the clock again. Only a minute had passed. I leaned forward and put my head in my hands.

I tapped my fingers. I tried to avoid thinking about what could be wrong with Doodles. Instead, I thought about my three day weekend and all of the naps I would be taking. Yet, Doodles usually sleeps on my bed with me, and my thoughts fell to him anyway.

“Sophie?” Oh thank god. I stood up and walked over to the same aid who greeted me. “Right this way.”

He led me to my usual doctor’s office. I wouldn’t have guessed he was on emergency duty. The aid opened the door and let me in.

“Sophie, good to see you are well,” Doctor Rhodes greeted me. I got straight to the point, “How’s Doodles?”

He turned to my cat. “He’ll be fine by tomorrow. He just caught a rough bug that’s been going around the neighborhood. Just keep him inside for a couple weeks, and put him next to food and water for tonight.”

I smiled and laughed. “Thank you so much, doctor. I was so concerned that something really bad was going on” He laughed, too. “Just make sure you don’t speed on the way home.”

I wrapped Doodles back up, thanked the doctor once again, and brought Doodles home. “I’m so glad you’re going to be okay.”

Purpose

Portia and Caldwell summon a demon. Well, one more than the other.

Caldwell lit the last candle. Everything was in place, exactly as it was meant to be.

The room we were in was completely devoid of furniture, and was lit only by candles. In the center was a rune and a circle. On the floor was a basket of tulip petals and a silver dagger.

“Portia, I think I’m done. You ready to follow through with this? I mean, I trust you, but I’ve never heard of a demon story that turned out well in the end.” Caldwell stood up from his crouch. “Maybe it’s media bias or something, I’ve never met a real demon, but still. Sometimes stereotypes hold a bit of truth?” He looked at me. If I couldn’t hear the concern in his voice, I could see it in his eyes.

“Yes, Caldwell. I’m sure. I’ve done as much studying on demons as I possibly could, and I know this ritual inside out. The demon will give us what we want, and and we only have to give it something small in return. Demons like knick-knacks.”

Caldwell laughed. “You going to give a demon your baby blanket?”

“Maybe. If it wants it. Kind of ironic how sentimental demons can be.” I shrugged. “You’d think souls of the damned wouldn’t want anything to do with earth, but whatever.”

“Yeah. It’s strange.”

We both stood silently, staring at the rune and circle we had etched into my floorboards. The rune would be the actual mechanism which would allow the demon entry- it literally translates into portal- while the circle would keep the demon from wreaking havoc. We carved the circle with the silver dagger and filled it with salt. It sounded like superstitious bullshit, but nearly every account said it worked, so I chose to trust the books.

“Well,” Caldwell clapped his hands, “The candles won’t burn forever. Should we start?”

“Yes. Let’s start.” I kneeled next to the circle and sprinkled tulip petals into the circle. They began to burn as the touched the wood, their form changing into rotted teeth.

“Oh. That’s what the petals are for?” Caldwell asked.

“Yeah,” I replied.

“Honestly I just thought demons needed you to set the mood. Can’t get it up without the right atmosphere right?”

I didn’t bother responding, and instead threw on more petals. This handful turned into rusty nails.

Caldwell sighed. “Tough crowd tonight. Hopefully the demon likes my jokes a little.”

“Sorry if i’m a little dry tonight. I am trying to summon a demon.”

“Oh yeah, don’t mind me. I just figured you might need some more help from me.”

“I’ll let you know when it’s your turn to do something.” I tossed a last handful of petals into the circle.

This time they turned into polaroids. Each image was of a failure I had endured. My second spelling bee, failing in the second round. My junior high school valentine’s dance, where I was turned down by a girl I had a crush on. My high school graduation, where my uncle showed up drunk.

Each photo held places and objects that would mean basically nothing to anyone else looking at them, but I knew what they were. I could see all of them. The first time I tried to get into a sorority and they told me they didn’t accept lesbians. The first time I tried to join and fraternity, which I had almost forgotten about. There was even the first time I was fired from a job, some sushi place that decided I “didn’t fit in” because someone else outed me.

I could feel my hands shake. I let out a ragged breath, and pushed the remaining petals aside.

“Whoa, Portia. Are you alright? You look like you just- scratch that. What’s going on?” Caldwell kneeled next to me and put his hands on my shoulders.

I didn’t respond.

“What’s in the photos, Portia?”

I brushed his hands off. “Nothing. That just means the ceremony is working.”

“Okay…” Caldwell slowly stood up. “I believe you. Just let me know if something goes wrong. I’ll get you out of here.”

“Mhm.” With that, I stood up. “Okay. It’s your turn now. Stand where I was just standing and close your eyes.”

Caldwell shivered. “Hoo, yeah, okay, that gave me the chills. Close my eyes? This is a little too spooky for me.”

“It’s okay, I have everything under control,” I reassured him.

He sighed. “Alright. Okay. Yeah. I can do this. I trust you. This will be alright.” He stepped into the spot where I had been only a moment before. “I can do this,” he told himself one more time.

“Oh, and Portia?” He started. “In case anything bad happens, I just want you to know that I care about you a lot” He turned around to look at me. “I… I hope this demon thing gives you what you need.” He closed his eyes and turned back around.

I blinked a few times. “So do I, Caldwell.” I leaned over and picked up the dagger. “So do I.”

I thrust the knife between his ribs, then pushed him into the circle. He gasped as I did. The he fell to the ground, and his blood began to pool around him.

I pushed his feet into the circle. I didn’t need any demon getting out

There was nothing but quiet for a few moments. Then, the candles turned into a dark red light. The room hard a harsh wind, circling around Caldwell. His body floated in the center of the circle, turning until he was face up and his feet faced the ground. A bright spear of energy suddenly shot through his chest, and his eyes opened. They were bloodshot, and his pupils replaced his irises. He floated down, landing on his feet.

There it was. The demon I had spent so long attempting to summon was in front of me. It took a step toward me, stopping just a moment before the barrier that kept it from murdering me.

“So it’s you. I had heard about you.” The demon’s voice was just Caldwell’s voice. Nothing had changed. “Tell me. What is it your name?” The demon stared at me. The blood in its eyes receded back into white.

“My name doesn’t matter,” I told the demon.

“Oh, do you think giving me your name gives me some power over you?” The demon asked. “No, names mean nothing. They’re a human construct. Gods and demons know each by essences, and have no need for names. However, for dealings like this we tend to have one. You may call me Moniker. My pronouns are gi and gir.”

I laughed. “You know what moniker means, right?”

“Very,” gi responded. Gi didn’t laugh along.

I cleared my throat. “Very well. I am Portia.”

“Portia. Interesting. Now what would a Portia want with a demon?” gi asked.

“I want… I want a purpose,” I told it. “I want to feel like my life will make a difference on this earth. I want to prove that I’m worth something, and I want to-” I stopped myself from saying something I might regret. “I want to make the world a better place for me. And for others like me. I don’t want us to have to live in fear anymore.”

Moniker cocked gir head and smiled. “Interesting. And who are you, Portia? Who would you categorise as ‘like you?’”

“I’m- I’m a lesbian. And the people who I’d say are like me are other queer people.” I clenched my fists. “We deserve better.”

“Hm. I’m not usually one to mettle in human affairs.” Moniker clapped gir hands, much like Caldwell used to. “I will do this for you, however.”

“What’s your price?” I asked Moniker.

“Hmm. This room is rather empty.” Gi looked about the room, before scanning the floor. “I’ll take the photos in my circle. They feel charged with emotions. It’s been a long while since I’ve felt an energy like this.”

“Oh. Demons really do like knick-knacks,” I said.

“Who told you that? We keep that part of our deals secret. We like to surprise those we deal with,” gi said.

“I honestly made it up a few minutes ago,” I replied.

“Hm. Interesting.”

I and Moniker sat in silence for a few moments. I stared at the photos at gir feet.

“Well, I need you to do one more thing for me to enact my end of the bargain.”

“What is it?” I asked.

“Give me your hands,” the demon responded.

“Oh no, you aren’t fooling me,” I told gir. “I know how this works. I break the circle, you kill me, and then you kill everyone else in a mile radius. Not happening.”

“I have no intentions of killing you, Portia.” I winced when he said my name. Just like Caldwell. “I will change the fiber of your being, yes, but I will not kill you. You will do that much more effectively than I could. Your form will be suited to the job.”

“Hold on, I interrupted. “Will you run that by me just one more time?”

“I’m going to transform you. Your human life as you know it will end, but you will be reborn as something greater. You will be beyond humanity, and even beyond demonhood. You will roam the earth and be submerged in glorious purpose. I almost envy you.”

“I still don’t trust you,” I replied.

“Portia, I’m trapped in a human body with a knife sticking out of my back. Do you truly believe I pose a huge threat to anyone, save infants?” Moniker shook gir head. “No. I will give you what you crave and take the photos in return.”

I stole a glance at one last photo. It was of a leather recliner. A recliner I lost my virginity on. The recliner that my parents walked in and kicked me out of the house.

“Portia, time is running thin. The candles won’t burn forever. Shall we start?” The demon extended a hand, stopping just before the circle.

I sighed. “I trust you.” I put my hand in girs.

“Wonderful..” Moniker gripped my hand, holding on tightly. I felt nothing for a few moments. Then gi let go.

“Welcome to your new purpose. Welcome to your new life,” Moniker said.

“Nothing is happening,” I replied.

“Not yet,” Moniker said. Gi began picking up the polaroids. “They’ll happen soon. Farewell, Portia. I look forward to our next meeting.” Gi had picked up all of the polaroids. They all burned into ash, and then gi closed gir eyes. Caldwell’s body fell back down.

I knelt on the floor and began crying. Had I really killed someone for nothing? Was this really how this was going to happen?

In between sobs, I wiped my eyes. Looking at my hands, something was amiss.

My hands were covered in ink. I pressed them to my face again, and felt the cool liquid.

“Ink. Curious.”

I started laughing, but my breath failed me and never let a sound out. I dug my nails into my cheeks, and felt more of the ink fall out. I felt no pain.

Continuing my cold cackling, I grasped my shoulders. They were soaked. I ripped into my own flesh anyway, just to feel even more of my cursed blood leak. I danced around the room, leaving ink stains on the walls with my hands. Sometimes I dragged my hands across the walls, sometimes I threw ink off of them onto the walls.

I finally knew what it meant to be real. I knew exactly why I was on this earth. I could feel my reason to exist welling up in my chest.

I was born for this.

Suddenly my laughter could be heard. It was quiet. Private. Only I needed to hear myself laugh. No one else deserved to hear me. No one else had the same amount of purpose that I had, and no one ever would.


Mistake

A Wintertime Tale of Asexuality

During a wintertime festival celebrating snowfall, Ash has to explain asexuality to ver mom.

I was walking down the cold winter street with my mom. We were at some sort of winter festival thing, where people got together to celebrate the snowfall, and subsequently the runoff that would supply us with water during the summer. I had only heard about it this year.

The festival always took place on the 21st of December, the winter solstice, every year. It didn’t matter if it had actually snowed or not, apparently, because this year there wasn’t any snow yet. Well, there was a bit on the mountains, but not any down here.

The festival took up about two blocks of the city, and the roads were filled with small vendors selling all sorts of things, as well as a few street musicians. They were mostly playing Christmas songs, which I found quite irksome, but it was nice that there was music anyway. I always liked hearing acoustic musicians, but could never actually find the time to go out and listen to any. I just wish they’d choose some song other than “Let It Snow.”

I saw a cart filled to the brim with books. I stopped and looked at it, while my mom walked ahead without noticing. Picking up one of the books, I noticed it was some schlocky romance between a city girl and a country boy. I put it down and picked up another. This one was a schlocky romance between an alien woman who crash landed on earth and a farm dude. Shaking my head, I grabbed a different book. If you couldn’t bear to guess it was schlocky romance. This one was between two detective girls though. Neat to see some queer representation, I guess.

“Ash, what are you looking at?” Mom shouted at me. I guess she noticed I fell behind.

“Oh, it was just some books. I thought I might find something cool, but it was all romance,” I replied. I put the third book down and walked to catch up with Mom.

“Ah. You sure none of it would interest you?” Mom seemed to be hinting at something. I wasn’t a fan of that.

“No. I’m not really into romance. Or dating.” I picked up the pace a bit, hoping that forcing mom to move faster would distract for long enough to not ask about it.

“Yeah, but those are just stories. They aren’t real or anything.” Turns out my plan didn’t work.

“I know. That doesn’t mean I’m going to enjoy them.” I pushed my mom toward a small pizza stand. The smell was rather tantalising. I also figured I should sit down for this conversation.

“I’ll have a slice of margherita,” I told the stall worker. “Anything you want, mom?”

“I’ll have what he’s having,” she replied.

“Ve. What ve’s having,” I corrected. I paid for the pizza slices, gave the worker my name, and then sat down at a small table nearby.

Mom sat down with me. “So who are you attracted to?” she asked.

“I’m not attracted to anyone,” I told her. “I don’t really experience attraction like you do. I’m asexual.”

“Oh. Okay.”

The stall worker called my name and I grabbed our food. I was surprised my mom had let that go so fast. I was sure she was going to keep pressing for my sexual and/or romantic preferences. I don’t really think she knew what the difference between the two was, though.

“So if you were to date, would you rather date boys or girls?” She asked immediately as I handed her the pizza.

“Yup, there it is,” I said. “I’m not going to date, and the answer really doesn’t matter. So please stop asking.”

“I just want to know, that’s all,” she added trying to seem innocent.

I sighed. “Mom, I don’t feel attraction. I’ve literally never felt attracted to anyone to the point where I wanted to date or have sex with anyone. The most that I’ve ever done is conflate thinking someone was cool and maybe a little cute with feelings of attraction when I actually just wanted to be their friend. I ended up making supposedly romantic gestures to these people and pushing them away because of it. I’m not attracted to people.”

“Well, of those people you liked, were more of them boys or girls?” she retorted.

“Jesus, you were sitting on that response, weren’t you? Neither. Well, that and it’s kind of reductive to only include binary genders when I’m nonbinary. I don’t even like being called a boy in the first place. I literally changed my name to escape that kind of gendering.”

“Oh. Right.” Mom took a large bit of her slice of pizza. I think she was biding her time before she said something else. Which I guess I was the one who opened up that opportunity in the first place by buying food. Oh well. I took a bite of my own slice.

“I know you said you’d never get married a few times. I guess it makes sense that that should extend to dating,” Mom said after a few moments of quiet.

“Thanks for realising,” I said.

I was content to sit silently for a while, but Mom seemed to want to keep talking. “I guess I’m just curious.”

“Curiosity is fine,” I told her, “but that implies learning. You were really pushing for boys or girls in your questions. You should have asked a new question instead of reframing your old one.”

“I see.” After that she was okay with just eating and listening to music. A nearby group had started performing Auld Lang Syne.

No Stops Tonight

Halloween night? Time for a fright…

“Fucking subway pass,” I mumbled, while attempting to reload it. “Damn thing got wet, and now it just refuses to work.” I threw the pass onto the ground. “Whatever, just forget about it, Tessa. You’re fine.” I had the printing machine print me another pass. That was three dollars out of my pocket I could’ve saved.

I hate New York’s subway system so much, but it’s much faster than trying to bus. I’m not even going to attempt to drive in this city.

The machine accepted my cash, then dispensed a thin slip of paper, with a magnetic stripe on the backside. That was why getting it wet was a problem, because the water would just seep into the paper and screw it up if it got too wet. I had ten dollars on my last slip, and that’s just gone, too. I need to move to a different city.

I took my new pass, swiped it at the gate, and waited for my next train. The station was practically empty, except for one guy waiting by the stairs to go up. I stood next to the tracks, and waited for my train.

It didn’t help that it was gross down here, either. The tracks for the trains always seemed to have water pooled in them, and I’ve seen plenty of rats taking drinks from the damn puddles. The walls were often tiled, and that looked good, but the tiling was pretty negligible when the wall just above was nothing but rusty metal, same with the ceiling. Hanging from the ceiling were plenty of light fixtures, which hung on by thin and similarly-rusty tubes. I was always worried a light might just come crashing down one day. Oh, and the ground is often just a dingy and browned concrete. Seriously, it’s disgusting, and probably has never been cleaned since it was installed.

Then, as if to make today worse than it was already was, the lights all went out. I screamed, and ducked down. Shit shit shit!

Only a couple moments later, the lights turned back on. I stood up and looked around. Nothing had changed, except the guy by the stairs had left. It was just me now. “Damn it. I got scared for nothing.”

I pulled out my phone just to look at it. I didn’t have any service. Figures, that’s what happens when I’m underground.

I heard some strange noise coming from down the tracks. It sounded like some sort of quiet chanting. I looked down the dark tunnel, but couldn’t see anything. I lifted my phone and turned on its light. I still didn’t see anything new coming from the tunnel, but I stared for a moment.

Suddenly appearing in my light was the shape of a person. Well, sort of? It looked absolutely like a shadow, but also shimmered a lot and looked blurry. It looked like it was expending a lot of effort to hold itself together.

“Oh FUCK!” I shouted as I realised what was shambling out of the tunnel. It wasn’t human, that’s for damn sure.

I quickly looked back and forth, trying to decide what I should do. Was running a good choice of action? What about my train? Shit shit shit shit shit shit shit!

Then, I heard a rumbling from the distance. The train was approaching. I smiled at the thing and stuck my tongue out at it. It was going to get hit by a train, because it was so slow it couldn’t move out of the way. Whatever it was, it wouldn’t be my problem.

Just as I expected, the train rammed through the shadow-thing and stopped. I stepped onto the last train car, and sat down on a bench. I just beat a weird monster by literally waiting for a train.

“Wow, I should probably be reacting to that more, shouldn’t I? Fuck it, I’m way too tired for this bullshit anyway.” I leaned back in my seat, and got nice and comfortable. “Not. My. Problem.”

The train car was empty besides me. Honestly, the whole train was probably empty except for maybe a homeless person somewhere in the train. I didn’t need to worry about anyone bothering me, I just needed to worry about getting off at my stop.

Then, the conductor of the train spoke over the speaker. “We will be skipping the next stop due to unforeseen technical difficulties. Sorry for the inconvenience.”

“Yeah, whatever. The most inconvenient thing is how impossible it is to hear you. Damn, speak up.” Seriously, I hated how impossible it was to hear that speaker, even in an empty car.

Another minute passed before the man spoke up again. “The issues are continuing, so we will be unable to stop at any stations until further notice. Sorry for the inconvenience.”

“Are the brakes not working or something? Jesus. There is literally no other reason for us to not stop.” I stopped and thought about it. “Actually, maybe this is a good thing. No one will bother me on my car.” Smug, I snuggled into the chair.

A few more moments pass, then the loudspeaker started up again. I waited for the voice, but there was nothing. All I heard was that quiet static from the speaker. I sighed. “You knocked the speaker switch on, buddy. Turn it off or something.” I think this conductor didn’t know how to do his job. I’ll be furious if I die on this train.

The static just kept going for a while. I was angry. “Why is the conductor having such issues just running a train?”

I looked at the door connecting the cars. There was a large red sign that made it very clear that you shouldn’t be crossing between cars while the train is moving. Probably for the best, but I might just have to go find that conductor and give him a piece of my mind. He can’t drive a train and he can’t even keep the intercom from turning on. Seriously, who hired this guy?

I got out of my seat, and stepped toward the door. “Yeah, someone needs to go figure out what’s going on. It’s probably just me one this train anyway.” I shoved the door open, and a furious wind started blowing into the train car. I pushed against it, and tried to hold my breath. Not only was the harsh wind making it hard to breath, but the subway never smelled that great.

I stepped between the cars, trying so carefully to keep from flying off the side. Lights from the tunnel were soaring past me, blinking in and out faster than I could think to use them. I pulled the door closed behind me, and got into the next car. With great effort, I shut that door, too. I was relieved once the wind was no longer tugging on me and trying to pull me to my death.

I turned and looked at the car. All of the seats were empty, of course, and there was an empty energy drink can rolling back and forth on a seat. The car also smelled pretty badly of alcohol, so I was in no mood to rest. I went straight for the next door.

Again, a harsh wind blew into the car once the door was open. However, the usual gross smell of the subway was not as bad as the smell of the car I was just in. I almost welcomed it, but the gusts from the train’s speed were still too much to breath.

I covered my face with my arm as moved, this time. I could breath a bit better through my nose this way. I took careful and small steps to cross the short distance from one car to another. I pulled on the door, stepped through, and then pulled it shut. The wind stopped, and the smell went away a bit. I breathed a sigh of relief as I looked into the next car. There was a paper bag that was floating down to the ground and settling, probably because of the door I opened. Once it landed, it rocked back and forth with the movement of the train.

“Wow, you just can’t escape trash in the subway, can you?” I said. Maybe I had too much of a habit of talking to myself. “Yeah, whatever, it’s not like anyone else is affected.”

I started walking to next door when I heard the static suddenly rise in volume. I had forgotten that was even playing for a while. I stopped in my tracks and looked for the nearest speaker. It was up on the ceiling of the car, in a corner. “Oh, yeah, that’s lovely. So atmospheric and nice.”

I stomped over to the next door and pushed it open. After doing this twice, I felt much more confident in myself and got through much quicker and steadier.

The next car looked worse than the previous cars. There were plastic shopping bags fluttering about, and the contents of the bags were too. There were unlabeled cans rolling around, a broken and cracked carton of eggs making a huge mess, wrappers and other sorts of paper trash flying about, and even an empty and spilled milk carton was bouncing around. It took a couple of moments, but everything eventually settled in place.

I sighed again. “Seriously, who just brings a carton of eggs onto the train? And how do you get a carton of milk to open and spill like that?”

The lights went out, and the car was dark. The only source of lights were the quickly passing ones out in the tunnel. I looked out the window and saw us blast past a station. There were a few people waiting for a train, but they clearly didn’t get to catch this one. Something was more off than just an incompetent conductor.

I pulled my phone out and turned on its light. I flashed it around the train car. Nothing looked different than when the lights were on, but now the trash caused bigger shadows in the car. I quickly stepped onto the seats and walked over the trash. “I really didn’t sign up for this shit.”

I hopped off of the seats and in front of the door that led to the next car. I grabbed the handle, ready to turn it and shove the door forward. Then, I heard a noise behind me. It sounded like chanting, again. “Fuck no.”

Without letting go of the door, I turned around and shined my light back into the car. Walking through the door behind me was a blurry and dark figure. It opened what had to be its mouth, and I heard more whispers float from it and toward me. Its mouth-thing connected one side of its head to the other, but certainly wasn’t quite grinning. It lifted one hand, a hand previously resting near its knee, and reached out to me.

“What the fuck!” I shouted. I pulled on the door handle and used my entire body to shove it open. I stumbled out into the between-car section, and tried as quickly as I could to tug the next one open. I slid open as quickly as I could make it, and I stepped onto the next empty train car.

“You’ve got to be kidding me. What the fuck?” I realised my phone was in my hand. “Oh shit, no no no no.” I patted myself down, and touched a large shape in my pocket. “Oh, fuck. Okay, I’m good, I still have my phone. I never even realised that I stuffed it in my pocket while trying to move from one car to another. Fuck, dude.” I pulled the phone out of my pocket. Its light was still one, so I shined it into the car. The seats of the car were covered in a blurry, shadowy mess. The shadows were slowly moving onto the floor of the car. I ran past them all and to the next door. I pocketed my phone again, pulled on the handle of the door, and shoved the bastard open. It easily let me out, and I moved over to the next car.

“Please let there be one more, please let there only be one more,” I whispered. My light illuminated the car. For a moment I thought the light wasn’t working, because I still only saw darkness. I turned the light to my face. It was definitely still on. The static from the speakers was suddenly more apparent in the dark. “Fuck me, is this really happening?”

I put my left hand in front of me, and tried to use it to help me figure out what was in front of me. My legs bumped into what had to be the seats often, but my hand didn’t touch anything. All of my steps were slow. And agonising. I was already sick of this train car. Then, my hand touched a pole.

“Shit!” I shouted, and stumbled backward in pain. I looked at my hand. The dark stuff was a little stuck to it. “No!” I tried to shake it off. Luckily for me, I was successful. My hand was reddened from where the shadows had been. It stung.

Eventually, I stumbled to the other side of the train, and found the other door. I guessed at where the handle was. I grabbed it, grunted from the pain, and tugged the door open. The lights from the tunnel were still flashing by. I stepped through the doorway, and tugged the door closed behind me.

“Aah!” I screamed as I let go of the door. I felt relief from the pain, but then a stinging followed. I shook my hand vigorously. I pulled out my light and shined it at the other door. That same darkness covered it. “Fuck. Fuck!”

I stood in place for a few moments, thinking of what to do. An idea crossed my mind. “Hell, I might as well give it a shot.”

I pulled my shirt off, and the winds were even colder on my bare skin. I used the shirt to keep the shadow-stuff off of my hand as I pushed the next door open. It worked, and I didn’t feel the same pain from touching the darkness. Yet, the stinging sensation was still there.

I entered the train car and put my shirt back on. “How the hell can this thing cause me so many problems, yet not even be here?” Shining my light into the train car revealed everything as it was supposed to be, and I sighed in relief. “At least I can see again.”

I crossed my fingers as I approached the next car. “Please be the last one, please be the last one, please be the last one!” I pulled on the handle, and the door opened. From the side of the train, I saw a really bright light. I looked over, and saw a stop approaching. “Yeah, great, I bet we’re missing this one, too.”

No one was at the stop as we flew by. I wish there had been at least someone. How many of the other stops had people at them that I just missed? How many times had I lost the chance to call for help?

The light from the stop disappeared in the distance. I was only illuminated by the tunnel again.

Suddenly, I realised I didn’t really remember why I was trying to move to the front of the train. What was my goal?

“Right. I should probably stop the train. Hit the brakes or something.” I sighed. “Fuck, how did this happen?” I turned over to the other door and pulled it open. Inside was just another passenger car.

“Why the fuck does this just not end? I’m done wasting time.” I stomped over to the other door, and ripped it open. I shut it, and broke into the next car.

My phone light illuminated seats. I lifted it up to the other wall. “Oh thank god.” The door was closer to me than any of the other ones had been. “The fucking cockpit or whatever you call it. Jesus, finally.”

I ran to the door, and pulled it open. I gasped.

The conductor’s face was covered in pitch black. The speaker microphone was hanging, just above the ground. I was reminded of the static playing behind me. I pushed past the man in the chair, and started looking for an emergency brake. “Fucking fuck, there’s gotta be something somewhere!”

Behind me, I heard the whispers again. “You’re fucking with me.” I flashed the light back into the train. The shadow was stepping through the door, and toward me. “You’re fucking with me.”

I stood in place. There was literally nothing I could do to stop it. I flashed my light at it, constantly flicking it off and on, but it didn’t change anything. It just kept chanting and stepping towards me.

I stopped flicking the light, and just kept it on. “What the hell do you want?” I could feel a lump welling up in my throat. It was halfway through the car at that point.

I felt a tear slide down my face. Am I crying?

Its chants got louder and louder, and I saw it open its mouth. It was as wide as my face, and split the head greatly. Shadowy strings connected the two halves. Its body shuddered.

I regained control of myself, and immediately started hitting buttons on the control panel. One of them had to be a brake or something. Right?”

Nothing was happening when I hit the buttons. They all just kind stayed dim.

“Won’t… Work…” I heard from between the chants. I looked back, and the thing was maybe two feet away from me. I tried to scramble away, shining my light at it. The area behind it was suddenly covered in pitch blackness.

“Turn… Off…” Were the only understandable words that came through its mouth. Maybe its mouth? It was making noise, and it was still chanting. “Off… Light…”

I breathed quickly, and my vision was blurry. I wiped my eyes with my arm. The creature was inches away from me. I still held my phone at it. Its body quivered more and more the closer it got to my light. It grabbed the phone in my hand. The light turned out, and the screen itself powered down. The sound of static was loud again. The chanting disappeared.

I covered my head in my arms, and I sobbed. It was so dark.