“I’m probably going nuts.”
Tuesday morning, 5 April 2016
GM: Sylvia groggily wakes up. She thinks she hurts less than last night. That’s also not saying much, because she still hurts like a bitch. Anna’s still in bed with her, but is already awake and scrolling through her phone.
“Hey, sleepyhead,” she says with a tired smile, planting a soft kiss on Sylvia’s forehead.
The time is close to noon.
Victoria: Sylvia smiles at the kiss.
“Morning. Did last night really happen?”
It’s not the first time she said that.
GM: Anna’s smile turns sadder.
“This is the first time I’ve not wanted to say yes.”
Victoria: Her smile falters. She still feels like she laid down on a highway.
“What a fucking night…”
She checks her phone.
GM: Nothing from Jordan.
Victoria: She tosses it back to the nightstand, and sets out for a shower. Clothes. Covering wounds. Being pretty. Pretty enough. She can’t cover everything.
GM: Her soaked and dirty clothes are already removed. Maybe she took them off. Maybe it was Anna.
There’s no response to the text.
Victoria: She calls Jordan while she waits for the shower to heat.
GM: It rings to voicemail.
Victoria: He’s probably dead.
Hopefully he didn’t talk.
She opens a text to Christina.
Her fingers hover.
She closes it. No. No bringing in Christina without a solution.
She navigates to the Parish website. Do they list new prisoners?
GM: The closest is an inmate search field.
Victoria: She enters Jordan’s name.
GM: Jordan is not listed as an inmate at the prison.
Hospitals won’t release that information.
Where the fuck is he?
GM: No answer is immediately forthcoming from Victoria’s Solaris.
Victoria: The shower gives her some clarity in thought. What the fuck is she going to do?
If you were a private detective, what would you do, Victoria?
Find the demon.
Five minutes later, she enters the kitchen guided by the scent of hot food.
“I’m going to church.”
She waits for Anna’s head to spin.
GM: She finds that Anna’s made breakfast by the time she gets out of the shower. Cheesy scrambled eggs, grapefruit, cinnamon toast. The household cooking is her job, after all.
Anna’s head visibly spins.
“Did last night inspire a conversion?” she asks.
She may or may not be joking.
Victoria: “A conversion? No, I don’t think so. I need to understand what happened to him, and the only way I can do that is to retrace some semblance of his footsteps. I don’t know where the events took place, but this is close enough. For a start.”
“That smells wonderful.”
GM: “Thanks,” smiles Anna. “So this is the church your client goes to…?”
“Uh. I mean, ex-client.”
Victoria: “Something like that.”
GM: “Don’t you think it’s a little inappropriate to show up to a client’s church or workplace…?”
“They probably want that as separate as possible.”
Victoria: “Nope,” she answers, popping a bite of toast into her mouth.
GM: Anna looks like she’s trying to suss whether Sylvia’s joking.
Victoria: “It’s one of those things, Anna. You’ll get the answers you need to get when it’s time.”
Nibble, nibble. Bite.
“…he was raving about demons all night. He visited someone close to a church. I want to see if there’s an obvious connection.”
GM: “Well, I said I’d trust you,” says Anna.
Victoria: “Mhmmmmn… and you’re doing so well at that,” she replies with the warmest of praise.
“It’s a church. What’s the worst that can happen?”
GM: “They fill your head with anti-gay talking points and you dump me and quit being a dominatrix to become, I don’t know, a puppy veterinarian.”
Victoria: “Hardly, Anna, I’m much more likely to renounce my femininity, masquerade as a priest and fondle altar boys to bring me closer to God. You know, the traditional way.”
GM: “So you’d be a transgender pedophile priest?” muses Anna.
“I’m pretty sure there are some trans rights groups that’d want to give you a pass for that.”
Victoria: “I’d call it a middle ground,” she shrugs. “Love you, bye!”
She tosses a handful of scrambled eggs into her mouth, and begins lacing up her shoes.
GM: “Love you, too!”
Tuesday afternoon, 5 April 2016
GM: The interior of St. Louis Cathedral is cavernous enough for Victoria’s footsteps to audibly echo. Flags of nations from France to England to the United States hang from the ceiling, interspersed by the soft light of candlelit chandeliers. Tiny cherubs proffer basins of holy water beside gold-festooned pillars. Stained glass images of Christ and the Twelve Apostles serenely gaze down upon the Friday afternoon’s small congregation. Many of their heads are silently bowed in prayer. There are tourists too, but they are quiet as they take pictures. There is some quality endemic to cathedrals this vast and old that engenders a silence more total than any library’s.
Victoria: Victoria has as much respect for the sanctity of this building as she expects from the many who seek her services. Every deity should have respect in their own domain.
Plus, Mary would kill her if she was anything less.
She’s never been here—not that she can remember—despite her familiarity with church due to her adoptive mother. She wanders the hall for a time, another tourist among many.
GM: Her tranquility is interrupted by a text from Anna.
Hey you know how you were thinking about all those different lenders to approach? And the one named Simmons?
Sylvia may or may not have told her everything about the man that Émelise did.
GM: he’s been dead for weeks
just read a news story on it
GM: heart complications in his house
Victoria: i don’t believe it
GM: fake news lol?
Victoria: She puts the phone away. What the fuck is her life?
She looks around. Is anyone looking at her?
GM: No one that she sees. People in the fairly empty cathedral are either praying or admiring the architecture.
Victoria: She looks for a member of the clergy.
GM: She does not see any immediately present.
What did she expect to happen? That a demon would be present, sitting in a corner at a table with a warm cup of cocoa waiting?
She looks around for any staff at all.
GM: There is a clerk at the gift shop outside of the chancel.
Victoria: She wonders if this church actually performs any church services at all.
The dominatrix approaches.
“Hi there! Are there any members of the clergy around? I have a confession to make.”
GM: “I think the father still is,” says the woman. “Father… oh, forgive me, I forget his name.” She makes a sign of the cross, then smiles. “He’s not our usual priest. He’s filling in for Father Malveaux today.”
She stares a bit at Victoria’s bruises, but doesn’t say anything.
Victoria: “I’ve no preference for who. I’m new here. If it’s not a bother… but if it is, I can come back!”
GM: “No, I don’t think it’ll be. He’s probably with someone, if you didn’t see him in the chancel. Things are pretty slow after mass.”
“That’s at noon every day, usually.”
Victoria: “I see.”
Normally she’s up before then.
GM: Normal does not describe the last 24 hours of her life.
The clerk offers her a friendly smile.
Victoria: “Thank you! I’ll be inside while I wait.”
GM: “God bless,” says the woman.
Victoria: She reenters the main room and admires one of the windows.
GM: Victoria waits in peace for perhaps ten minutes. Eventually, an elderly man in a priest’s black cassock and white collar emerges from the confession booth, talking quietly to a parishioner. The other man murmurs something, lowers his head, and takes his leave.
Victoria: She waits patiently for the father to finish his conversation and the parishioner to depart. Once he appears open to more conversation, she approaches.
“Hello, Father.” She holds a hand out in welcome. “I’m new here. Do you have time for one more confession?”
GM: “All the time in the world,” he smiles, shaking her hand back. “I’m retired and filling in for the regular priest.”
He gestures towards the booth.
Victoria: She follows him, moving to sit on her own side of the partition.
GM: “In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, amen,” says the priest, making the sign of the cross. Victoria knows she’s supposed to do that part as well.
Victoria: She performs her motions in turn, as all good Christian girls do.
“Forgive me, Father. I have some sins to confess.”
And an ice cream man has a cone or two to peddle.
GM: “Of course. How long has it been since your last confession?” the priest asks.
“It’s all right if it’s been a while. Confession is like exercise. Some is always better than none.” The priest smiles faintly.
Victoria: A fucking while indeed.
“Longer than it should be.”
GM: “Are you happy in your life?” the priest asks.
Victoria: “Are any of us truly happy, Father?” she returns.
GM: “All of us know pain and sadness,” says the priest. “No one’s life on Earth is completely happy. It can be more useful to think of happiness in degrees, than as a yes or no. Are we happy enough? Do we feel we experience God’s love in our lives, more often than not? Do we feel we should be content with what we have, or do we feel our lives are lacking something?”
Victoria: “I think too many don’t ask themselves that question, and seek more to fill a void they keep widening themselves. That’s not why I’m here today, though.”
Truthfully, she isn’t sure why she’s here, either, but she suspects that if there is any truth to Jordan’s lunacy, then they’ll be watching her. She knows she needs to be respectful, and appear normal to everyone else.
GM: “Greed is a void that never fills,” says the priest. “Whoever loves money never has enough; whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with their income. This too is meaningless.”
“That’s obviously about money, but it can apply to many other things too.”
“You’re right, though, you’re here for confession. What do you have to confess?”
Victoria: “Truthfully, I’m not sure. I’m not a terrible person. I don’t harm those that don’t deserve it. I also don’t keep God as close to my heart as I should. Is it wrong that I should want to tell you that?”
GM: “Not at all,” says the priest. “Having a close relationship with God enriches our lives in immeasurable ways.”
“Is that something you wish you had?”
Victoria: “In some ways. I grew up with a relationship like that, and somewhere along the way, it fell by the side. Life has a way of doing that when you don’t keep what’s important front and center.”
GM: “So it does,” says the priest. “In what ways do you wish you still had that relationship?”
Victoria: “What do you mean, Father?” she asks, a little confused.
GM: “Oh, I’m sorry. You said that in some ways, you wish you had that relationship. A better way of asking might have been, what do you miss about having a relationship with God?”
Victoria: “The warmth. Knowing I have someone to turn to. It’s like contacting an old friend after far too long: there’s a sense of guilt in knowing that you want to reach out because you need them, not because you want them.”
GM: “Tell me about that. What it means for you to need God without wanting God.”
Victoria: “It’s the difference between needing a friend because they provide you a service, and wanting them in your life because you enjoy their company. I wonder how many people in this world pray when they’re cold and lonely, versus how many pray because they want that relationship.”
GM: “I think that many people do,” says the priest. “They want someone to turn to. They want warmth and assurance in their lives. They want to feel that someone loves them, or that there’s a guiding moral center to the universe. They aren’t worried about being good Catholics. They don’t try to live their lives any differently. They just want God to be there for them.”
“And you know, that’s perfectly all right.”
Victoria: She perks up, looking through the grated window.
GM: “Being a good Catholic is something you do for yourself. It’s something you do for other people. But it’s not something you need to do for God. You don’t need to earn His love. He’s there for everyone who wants Him.”
Victoria: “Even if we only want him here and there? How is that fair to Him?”
GM: The priest chuckles.
“What’s unfair? Taking advantage of someone, by taking more from them than you give back? Lying to them about why we want them?”
“We can’t lie to God. He sees our hearts.”
“We can’t take from God. He has infinite love to give.”
“He doesn’t run out.”
“God isn’t like other people in our lives. If you only call your friend because you want to feel like someone cares about you, and don’t actually care about him or her, that is an exploitative relationship. You’re either lying to your friend about your feelings, or they’re a lonely person who’ll take a bad friend over nothing.”
“Or, maybe your friend is compassionate person who’s loved in other relationships, and cares about you so much that they still want you to know their love.”
“That’s also not an exploitative relationship, because your friend knows what he or she is doing.”
Victoria: She hasn’t considered it like that before. She’s been on both sides of those relationships, where she’s been needed, and where she’s needed one.
Is that what she was to Anna, in some ways? An overwhelming wave of love that carried her completely through the worst times of her life?
Anna loves her, too, though. She always has.
“Do you believe in demons, Father? Not the stories we hear in mass, nor the movies. Real demons.”
GM: “The stories we hear in mass are real to me,” says the priest.
He smiles faintly. “The movies are not.”
“But yes. I believe in demons. And angels, too.”
Victoria: “Have you ever seen one?”
GM: “I believe demons, like angels, are invisible to us. But I believe their influence is at work in the world.”
Victoria: “Curious. They never directly touch us? Physically.”
“How would they influence us?”
GM: “May I ask why you ask this?” the priest requests.
Victoria: “Curiosity. We’ve always been warned about the devil’s influence, haven’t we? But we don’t see horned men in the corners.”
GM: “So we don’t,” smiles the priest. “In the end, I think what’s in our hearts is more important than the devil’s influence. The devil can’t make someone do anything. The devil can’t make you not do the dishes, hit someone in anger, or cheat on your partner. The devil can only tempt. We have to let him in.”
Victoria: “We all have a bit of the devil in us. Don’t we?”
A pause passes.
GM: “Of course. As you say, we all do.”
Victoria: “How does the devil manifest in you?”
GM: “Like with all of us, he does in many ways. The most recent was sloth. The church asked me to fill in for Father Malveaux today, at the last minute. Part of me didn’t want to. I wanted to sleep in.”
Victoria: “I see. I think that’s the smallest of sins, all things considered. Is Father Malveaux all right?”
GM: “Some would say it’s not so small. Lots of people come to the weekday masses. They deserve to have a priest. The part of me that wanted to sleep in didn’t care. To that part of me, and to the devil, what I wanted was more important.”
“As to Father Malveaux, I’m told he was feeling unwell and took a sick day.”
Victoria: She smiles faintly.
“That’s not so bad. Even the most pious catch colds. Father, how does God view sex outside marriage? I know the texts. How would he view me?”
GM: “God believes you should not have sex outside of marriage, in the same way that a mother believes her child should exercise and eat a healthy diet. Both are good for you. Being good to yourself will better allow you to be good to others. The church teaches that reserving sex to married couples enriches the marriage, provides a healthier environment in which to raise children, and best supports a loving family. Loving families, in turn, support a better society.”
“So, like a mother, God hopes you will make good choices. But God’s love for you is unconditional. God loves you even when you make harmful choices.”
Victoria: For a long moment of silence, Sylvia wonders who she would have been in life today if this man was her father.
Of course, men who portray this potent kindness in public often beat their wives at home.
“No matter what? As long as we ask for forgiveness, God will love us and welcome us when we die?”
GM: They’re similar enough words to Mary’s.
She didn’t get a Catholic father, but she did get a Catholic mother.
“God wants to welcome all of us to His side when we die. But that doesn’t mean what we do when we’re alive doesn’t matter. It’s possible, through our own choices, to reject God’s welcome even when we say we want it. A mother can tell her son he’s always welcome for dinner, but if he murders a man and gets arrested on the way over, they won’t be able to share a meal together.”
“That’s why his mother gave him so much advice growing up, like God gives us advice through church. To keep us out of ‘jail’ so we may enjoy our creator’s love.”
“But even when it looks like we’re going to jail, God’s love can do amazing things. Do we honestly regret our mistakes and want to repent them? When we ask forgiveness, are we just saying the words because we figure that’s our ‘get out of jail’ card, or because we mean them in our hearts?”
“So, yes. As long as we ask forgiveness, and really mean it, God will love us and welcome us when we die.”
“God will be the mother who springs us out of jail when we have no hope.”
“God makes possible what should be impossible.”
Victoria: “What if we’re already in jail? What if we begin to regret our decisions in life during our eternity in Hell? Can God save us then? The brevity of life and all that happens in it seems so small in comparison to eternity. We’re so young in our lives. Infant souls. I don’t believe we stop learning after death, so why should eternal torment be judged on that infancy?”
GM: “So that’s a complex question you’re asking. Why are we condemned to Hell forever, when we make choices in a life that’s not forever. Why do finite actions earn an infinite punishment.”
“There are several answers.”
“Saint Thomas Aquinas wrote one. He said that some mortal sins can have infinite repercussions. For instance, if you kill a man, can you ever undo all the harm you’ve caused? Can you make up for all the good he might have done in his life, that he never did? If he has a wife, children, friends, anyone who loves him, can you fairly compensate them for a lifetime’s worth of memories they will never get to experience? No, probably not. So Aquinas says that a punishment that is infinite in duration can be justly imposed for mortal sin.”
“But there’s another conundrum there, as you’ve pointed out. Can a soul change its nature? Can we continue to learn from our mistakes and grow as people after death?”
“The Catholic Church says no. The Catechism teaches there is no repentance after death, because of the irrevocable character that man’s choices take on after the soul separates from the body. The Catechism defines Hell as the ‘definitive self-exclusion from communion with God and the blessed.’ We are choosing, when we die, that we want to reject God’s love forever. We are making a choice with infinite repercussions, like Aquinas wrote about.”
Victoria: His words give her a lengthy period of silent contemplation. She’d come here to needle at what happened to Jordan, and had found some level of enlightenment. What a day.
She answers with some uncertainty. “Can we choose to accept God’s love while we sin?”
GM: “Think of it this way. Can a mugger accept his mother’s love while he continues to steal from people?”
Victoria: “I think you underestimate the motive and sociopathy of many muggers.”
GM: “Some muggers might steal out of desperation, to feed hungry children at home. They might hate what they’re doing, but believe they’re out of options. Some sins can look very justified under the right circumstances.”
Victoria: “So I can sin my life away, and as I die regret it all. As long as I repent in my heart and ask for God’s love, I’m welcome in his Kingdom?”
GM: “Yes. You would be welcome in His kingdom. As long as your remorse is genuine, and you sincerely wish you had led a life without sin.”
“There’s another reason the church tries to stop people from sinning when we’re alive, though. It’s because we’re the sums of our habits, and the more times we do something, the harder it becomes to change our ways.”
“For example, could Hitler have repented at the moment of his death? Theoretically, yes. In practice? He’d need to be a completely different person than the hate-filled man who plunged the world into war. That kind of change very, very rarely happens overnight. It’s the product of years of hard work.”
“So, is someone who’s sinned their entire life away likely to regret it all—and to become a different person—when they die? Much of the time, the answer is no. That’s why the church encourages people to live a life of virtue for as long as possible.”
Victoria: Victoria is nearing her fill of religious philosophy.
“What’s your name, Father? I appreciate your counsel.”
She still hasn’t given a confession, either.
GM: “I’m Scott. Counsel is part of the sacrament.”
Victoria: “Thank you, Father Scott. You’ve helped me today. As for my sins… where do we start?”
Where does she start? It’s like picking individual strands of hay from a barn.
“I’m not telling my partner the whole truth. I tell myself it’s for her betterment, but I wonder if it’s hurting her.”
GM: “Do you believe she would want to know the whole truth?”
Victoria: “I do, sometimes. But she also trusts me to know better.”
GM: “What makes you believe she would want to know the truth, during those other times?”
Victoria: “I think she might. But she also knows that the truth can do more damage than ignorance.”
GM: “There are people in occupations whose spouses know they keep secrets. For example, lawyers have attorney-client privilege with their clients, and military servicemen may have secret security clearances. The partners of these people know they can’t talk about the details of their jobs. But these people are honest with their partners about the fact they are keeping secrets.”
“Usually, partners are understanding about this, because the nature of the work has nothing to do with the partner’s life, or the couple’s marriage.”
“Do you feel the secrets you are keeping impact your partner and her life, or do they have nothing to do with her?”
Victoria: She considers the question for a time.
“Could more than do, but in that, her ignorance makes her safe.”
GM: “Does she also believe her ignorance of these secrets betters her life, or her relationship with you?”
Victoria: “I… think so, yes.”
GM: “Do you think so, or do you know? Have you asked her?”
Victoria: She shakes her head.
“I haven’t asked her.”
GM: “Trust and honesty are the foundations to any successful relationship.”
“You don’t have to tell your partner your secrets. But you should be honest that you are keeping secrets which have bearing on her life, and ask what she wants to do.”
“She might agree that her ignorance will keep her safe. She also might not.”
Victoria: “That’s a fair point, Father. Thank you.”
GM: “You are welcome.”
“I noticed you had some bruises, too, coming in. May I ask if all is well in other areas of your life?”
Victoria: You don’t know the half of it.
“I was mugged.”
GM: “Oh, I am very sorry. Are you all right?”
Victoria: She huffs.
“Injuries happen. I hope the man who hurt me finds peace in his life. I don’t wish him ill.”
Maybe a little ill. She’d love to punch him in the dick and steal his debit card, but she doesn’t hate him. Really, she’s worried about him.
“He was raving about demons. Said I’m one, and took it out on me. I’ve been robbed before, and I’ve never seen anything like him. You think the police might have picked him up?”
GM: “I don’t know,” says the priest. “If he was causing a public disturbance, it’s possible.”
“But your compassion towards the man who hurt you is commendable. You’re a strong person to wish him well.”
Victoria: Understatement of the year. He was a public menace.
“Thank you, Father. I think I feel better now.”
GM: “Good. Then here is your act of penance. Speak with your partner, about the secrets you are keeping in your relationship, and pray to God this evening.”
Victoria: “Yes, Father. Bless you.”
She moves to exit the confessional.
GM: “Just a moment,” says the priest. “There’s three last steps.”
Victoria: She pauses, hand on the door.
GM: “First, I will hear your act of contrition. That’s a prayer where your express your resolve to sin no more. It can be in your own words, or the ‘standard’ one. Here’s how that goes:”
“O my God,
I am heartily sorry for having offended You,
and I detest all my sins,
because of Your just punishment,
but most of all because they offend You, my God,
who are all good and deserving of all my love.
I firmly resolve, with the help of Your grace,
to sin no more,
and to avoid the near occasion of sin.
Victoria: “Oh my God,
I’ve been wrong for so many years,
and in that wrongness I’ve wronged you.
I can’t promise I won’t sin again,
but I swear that I will repent for the sins committed so far,
and all in the future.”
GM: “And now, for the second step, I absolve you. You’ll say ‘amen’ when I’m finished.”
Father Scott extends his right hand above Victoria’s and makes the sign of the cross.
“God, the Father of mercies,
through the death and resurrection of His Son
has reconciled the world to Himself
and sent the Holy Spirit among us
for the forgiveness of sins;
through the ministry of the Church
may God give you pardon and peace,
and I absolve you from your sins
in the name of the Father, and of the Son,
and of the Holy Spirit.”
GM: “Now, the third step. Go in peace, and express your conversion through a life renewed to the Gospel and steeped in Christ’s love.”
Victoria: “Thank you, Father.”
This time, she exits into the main hall.
Tuesday afternoon, 5 April 2016
Victoria: Victoria spends some time in a nearby coffee shop. She orders one—black—and sits, staring at it. Where the fuck is that man?
And then it hits her: she doesn’t need to go to be police. She’s been so frantic in what happened to her that she wasn’t thinking clearly.
The woman draws out her phone and looks him up in the NOLA registry.
GM: She finds his address in Gentilly.
Victoria: And a short while later, she steps out of the Ryde in front of his place, marches straight up to his door, and knocks.
GM: It’s a quiet- and average-looking suburban home, all things told. It looks middle-class. A sheriff’s deputy probably doesn’t draw the biggest salary, but Victoria well knows that his less than honest inclinations draw in extra on the side.
The door’s answered by a gray-haired older woman with a resemblance to Jordan. She’s lanky-limbed, like him, and doesn’t look to have aged well. Her face bears many years of scowls.
“May I help you?” she asks with a peeved expression.
It may or may not be from the bruises on Victoria’s face.
Victoria: She flattens her expression once the door opens. Calm down, hellcat.
“Hi there! Is Jordan home? I’m a friend of his.”
GM: “Yes, he is,” says the woman. Her peeved expression deepens. “This is a bad time.”
Victoria: “You’re telling me.”
She gestures to her face.
“It’s really, really important.”
GM: “Not to me,” the woman answers pitilessly.
She closes the door.
Victoria: She puts her foot in the door.
“Look, he was not okay when he did this to me last night. I care about him enough that I want to make sure he’s doing better, and if he’s not, then I want to help him. Please.”
She gives her best pleading expression.
GM: The woman gives an exasperated sigh.
“Fine. He’s been a mess since last night. I expect that he did something stupid, like usual for him. Now he’s missing work.”
“Come in, if you can get him to stop blubbering like a big baby.”
Victoria: She steps inside before his mother-assumed can change her mind.
“I will. Where is he?”
GM: “Jordan!” yells his presumed mother. “Someone’s here to see you!”
Victoria: “I think it might be better if I go to him. Given his condition.”
GM: There’s no answer.
“Jordan!” snaps the woman with a look between disgust and disappointment.
She strides deeper into the house. It feels more like an aging woman’s than a young-ish man’s. Everything from the decor to the furniture says ‘retirement-age woman who lives alone.’ There’s kitschy pieces of art, ceramic chachkies, floral wallpaper, pink and magenta living room chairs. It feels like it was decorated decades ago.
The higher-end TV and stereo set, in comparison, feel distinctly out of place. They feel like things someone newly come into sudden cash might have bought. Grabbing the most expensive toys without changing the rest of the home.
The woman bangs sharply on a door, then opens it without waiting for any response. It’s decorated in a younger man’s more minimalist style. Jordan lies in bed, the blankets pulled up to his head.
The woman walks up to his bed and slaps his face.
“Jordan! Wake up, you stupid layabout!”
Jordan makes a startled half-scream of fright, bolts up, and pulls the covers to his chin.
His mother rolls her eyes. “Oh, for fuck’s sake. Your father would be ashamed if he could see what a pathetic little loser his son turned out to be!”
Victoria: Even Victoria winces at that. It’s no wonder he comes to her to be praised and loved.
GM: Jordan’s eyes scan the room. He sees Victoria.
He gives another strangled yell, and makes an awkward motion between dropping the covers and pulling them up further.
“G-get out! GO AWAY!”
Victoria: “Hey,” she croons. “It’s okay. It’s okay, Jordan. I’m just here to check on you. You weren’t okay last night. I care about you.”
In that moment, she even believes it herself.
GM: Jordan furiously glowers at her. He’s got a black eye and bruises along his mouth, too.
“G-go away!” he yells, leaping out of bed. He has a t-shirt and boxers on. “G-get out, or you’re under arrest!”
“You can’t arrest people, you idiot, you’re off-duty,” snaps his mother.
“Given that someone decided he was feeling too bad to go in to work today.”
Victoria: “Jordan,” she snaps. “I am trying to help you.”
Maybe some structure will set him straight.
“So let me. Sit.”
GM: “You duh-didn’t help! You gave me THIS!” Jordan angrily points at his own black eye.
His mother doesn’t even look concerned.
“Fix this. I want him going back in to work,” she snaps, then turns to leave.
The door slams behind her.
Jordan glowers at Victoria.
Victoria: “And you left me unconscious, bleeding in a gutter! I’d think we’re even!”
She considers sitting, but decides against it.
“Take a breath. Relax. What happened?”
GM: “You went psycho!” sputters Jordan. “You duh-didn’t help! You were awful!”
Victoria: “Jordan. You pissed yourself in your sleep, attacked me, and ran out the door.”
GM: “Go away!” Jordan yells, pressing his hands to his head.
Victoria: Now she approaches, clasping his cheeks gently.
“I need you to relax.”
Her words are calm and even.
GM: Jordan stiffens under Victoria’s touch. His breath is raggedy and uneven. He angrily glares into her eyes.
Then he starts crying again.
“I’m g-going to H-Hell…”
Victoria: “The only place you’re going, my Jordan, is into my arms until you are calm. Okay?”
She tries to pull him into a hug.
GM: Jordan doesn’t resist.
But he doesn’t stop sobbing.
“I’m guh-guh-going-g t-t-to H-H-Hell…”
Victoria: “One day.”
She strokes his hair.
“We all go somewhere. But you don’t have to worry about that. You belong right here. And here is all you need to focus on.”
GM: Jordan bawls his eyes out. Tears and snot get over Victoria’s shirt.
Victoria: She doesn’t mind. She needs him to cry this out. They’re both a mess.
GM: Jordan cries for a while. Long enough that Victoria starts to feel sore standing.
There’s seemingly no catharsis when Jordan is done. Just numbness. She can only tell he’s done from the fact he lapses into silence, and stops shaking.
Victoria: Eventually, she sits. Numbness is better than raving.
She takes his hand in her own.
“You know how much you matter to me, Jordan?”
GM: Jordan gives her a hopeless look.
Victoria: She pats his forearm. Her back is going to rebuke her later.
“How did all of this start, Jordan?”
GM: Vague confusion enters his face.
Victoria: “The fear. It’s not you. What was the moment it began?”
GM: “The nightmare,” Jordan mumbles.
Victoria: “In your dream? When you called me?”
GM: Jordan makes a noise like assent.
Victoria: “Do you see demons around you right now?”
GM: Jordan uneasily looks around.
Victoria: She looks around with him.
“Have you seen them since that dream?”
GM: Victoria sees nothing out of place.
“Nuh-no,” he numbly repeats.
Victoria: “They can’t get you. They saw that you’re too brave.”
She rubs her thumb against his palm.
“Do you know what you should do if you see them?”
GM: Jordan’s face is without hope.
He does not look as if he believes her.
Victoria: “You should arrest them. You’re a godly boy, aren’t you?”
GM: Jordan’s face sinks even deeper at that question.
“No,” he whispers.
“I’m going to Hell.”
Victoria: “Do you know what I did today, Jordan? I went to church. I confessed my sins. I bathed in God’s good will and I’m with him again. You can do the same. Do you want Him to protect you?”
GM: Jordan looks ready to cry again at those words.
“I’m going to Hell,” he hoarsely repeats.
Victoria: She seizes his face.
“God forgives those who ask. Do you want to be forgiven?”
GM: “I won’t be,” whispers Jordan. His eyes scrunch.
Victoria: “My love, if God can forgive me for all I’ve done in sin, he can forgive you.”
“We are going to church tomorrow. Or… tonight.”
She pulls out her phone and looks up mass times.
GM: “D’you tell God you raped a priest?” Jordan asks hollowly.
Victoria: “Do you regret what you did?”
GM: Tears bead from Jordan’s eyes.
Victoria: “Do you really regret it, deep in your heart? To your core?”
GM: Victoria finds that mass is scheduled for noon tomorrow.
“Yeh-yes,” Jordan repeats.
Victoria: “Then repent, and God will forgive you.”
“I will pick you up tomorrow at 11:30.”
GM: Jordan gives her a bleary look.
He doesn’t protest.
He doesn’t object.
He doesn’t say no.
He just repeats, in the same numb and hopeless voice,
“I’m going to Hell.”
“An’ so are you.”
Victoria: “Is someone making you say that, Jordan? You’ve said the same words over and over.”
Her eyes are laced with concern.
GM: “What the demon said,” Jordan mumbles. His eyes are far away.
Victoria: “The demon mentioned me?”
GM: Jordan doesn’t nod. Just answers,
“Asked about you.”
Victoria: A chill rips through her spine.
“What did it ask?”
GM: “Your name,” Jordan says in monotone.
“What you wanted.”
“With the priest.”
Victoria: “What did you answer?”
GM: “Tol’ it your name,” Jordan answers hollowly.
“Said you wanted the pictures.”
“Said you paid me.”
Victoria: “In your dream?”
GM: “I begged,” Jordan whispers. “I said I was sorry. I was sorry. S… so, sorry…”
Jordan doesn’t shake with sobs. He doesn’t even tremble. But tears starts to roll down his cheeks again.
“Said I was goin’ to Hell. For what I did.”
“Said it’d be waiting.”
Jordan’s stare is a thousand miles away.
Then his head slowly tilts, and seems to look both at Victoria, and through her.
There’s a low sound in the back of Jordan’s throat. Like the strangled afterbirth of a laugh. His features twist into a hollow parody of a smile.
“It’s coming for you.”
Victoria: Victoria Wolf doesn’t scare easily. She’s the predator. She’s the alpha. She’s the pack mother, and the protector.
Sylvia St. George is terrified, more for her girlfriend than herself.
GM: “Dunno,” says Jordan.
Tears still trickle down his face, past the joyless smile.
He gives a faint, cough-like laugh.
“I dunno… anything…”
Victoria: She wraps her arms around him, pulling him into a hug.
“You’ll be okay, Jordan. I’ll make sure of it.”
Tuesday afternoon, 5 April 2016
GM: “So, how’d it go?” Anna asks when Victoria gets back.
Victoria: She shakes her head, falling into her partner’s side and laying her head on her shoulder.
GM: Anna hugs her and rubs her back.
Victoria: The hug’s long enough that Sylvie loses track of time.
“I committed a crime to take revenge on those who took away what you loved, working with someone to take revenge in loss for someone who they loved. I don’t know how, and I don’t entirely believe it, but I think they know. It’s a feeling. The logic isn’t there. It’s not. I shouldn’t lie to you. I shouldn’t boast my own position to you and obfuscate. I’m sorry.”
GM: Anna slowly takes in that confession.
Finally, she says,
“I don’t want you to commit a crime. I don’t want revenge. I just want to be a teacher again.”
Victoria: “I know.”
She knows it’s selfish, too.
“Have you practiced with the gun lately?”
GM: That question does not look as if it puts Anna at ease.
“Sylvia, what happened? What was the crime?”
Victoria: She holds a silence.
Her voice breaks.
“I don’t want to tell you. Penance. That’s what it was. Blood for blood. Not enough blood.”
GM: “You’re scaring me,” says Anna. There’s fear in her voice as her grip on Sylvia tightens.
“What’s happening? Why are you asking about the gun?”
Victoria: “Because I have a really bad feeling, and I’d rather know you’re safe than you’re not, okay? Just—you can be mad at me, but later! Right now I need to know you can protect yourself if I’m not here.”
GM: “Sylvia, I’m not mad, I just want to know what’s going on! Why do I need to protect myself?!”
Victoria: “The guy I paid to deliver that penance? He’s the one who called me last night. He’s losing his mind, going on and on about demons. The scary thing? The thing that gets me?”
She rests a hand on Anna’s thigh, trying to reassure her. It’s wracked with tremors.
“The questions they asked him—his dream—it just—I don’t know! Something feels wrong! Like it’s more real than a nightmare!”
GM: Anna gives a laugh of relief, but it still sounds more than a little desperate.
“That’s all this is? That guy’s crazy!”
“You heard what a nut he was!”
Victoria: “I did! But he wasn’t like this before. Something’s different. Something—”
“I don’t know.”
GM: “Look, he obviously has problems. Is he your first client who’s gotten this crazy?”
Victoria: She nods to her girlfriend.
Maybe Victoria is going crazy.
GM: “Just scary? Yeah, this wasn’t something you signed up for!”
Victoria: She’s still shuddering.
“I—I don’t think…”
But she has no evidence of it, does she? Nothing at all. The only evidence she has is her own involvement in the crimes.
GM: “Look,” says Anna, rubbing her back, “you’re freaked out about this whole thing. Crazy client and getting caught up in a crime.” Worry returns to her face. “What’s the story there?”
Victoria: “With the crime?”
Her horror transforms to concern. She knows how Anna will feel.
“I don’t know if you’ll forgive me.”
GM: “Right now I’m more concerned about keeping you out of prison. I don’t want that, whatever you did!”
Victoria: “If I tell you, you will be accountable for reporting it. I’m not putting the love of my life in prison.”
GM: “Then talk to a lawyer,” says Anna. “At least do that. Please.”
Victoria: She pinches the bridge of her nose.
“If it comes to it, I will. Promise.”
GM: Anna shakes her head.
“Please. This is what I’m asking, if you won’t talk to me. Get ahead of this, before… before it gets out of control.”
“A lawyer can’t report you or turn you in.”
Victoria: “Legally. Okay. Okay. I’ll get advice for lawyer from someone I trust.”
Christina, or someone similar.
“Promise. I’m not going to jail.”
GM: “Then let’s do that now,” presses Anna. “No sense putting it off.”
“Take it from the teacher. It’s always best to do homework early.” She gives a weak smile.
Victoria: “I would need to call a few friends.”
She presses still hands to Anna’s cheeks.
“I will be fine.”
Victoria always is. She’s worried about Anna.
GM: “Then call them,” says Anna, mirroring the motion and pressing her own hands to Victoria’s. “Please! I’m really worried after how scared you were!”
Victoria: “Look. I’ll do it. I promise. You have my word, and my words aren’t overruled by my position. For now, I need to know that you can defend yourself if something happens.”
Like what? The demon coming for you? Victoria believes in demons, even the fictional kind. They come in dreams, and they work through people. This? This feels different. Unbelievable, yet unshakeable.
GM: The fear returns to Anna’s face at that question.
“Sylvia, what do you think is going to happen?! I have no idea if I can defend myself, not without knowing against what!”
Victoria: “A gun! Our gun. I’ve taught you how to shoot it. You’ve done it before. You remember. Yes?”
GM: “Yes, I do remember! Now will you please tell me what’s going to happen?!”
Victoria: Victoria should be in an asylum with how she looks at her girlfriend.
“I. Don’t. Know.”
GM: Anna’s answering look seems on the verge of tears.
“Sylvia, that is scarier than anything else you could say!”
Victoria: “I’m probably going nuts.”
She’s lost her mind.
“I’m probably just being overcautious.”
She always is.
“But I want to know that you’re safe. You’re my whole world.”
GM: Anna gives a long sniff.
“I don’t feel safe right now. I don’t. I’m scared.”
Victoria: She pulls Anna into such a tight hug that she struggles to breathe.
GM: Anna loses herself in Sylvia’s embrace, as if hoping her girlfriend might squeeze out her fears and turn everything back to normal. Take control, like she so often does.
Victoria: Moments pass. Then minutes. She lets Anna breathe, but doesn’t let go.
“I will make it okay.”