Flesh and Forgiveness Part 2

A red and orange medley of leaves fell lazily along the river bed. The stream gurgled and moved along the smooth skinned rocks, reflecting the morning sun back to the sky. Pete’s sedan sped along the sidewinding road as cigarette smoke floated out of the half-lowered window. Fast food wrappers littered the passenger side floor and the backseat was a mess of extra suit jackets and assorted trash. He’d been meaning to get it cleaned out but, as any bachelor would know, motivation for cleaning can be scarce whenever its only you to inhabit the car.


He’d hardly got a bit of rest the previous night. After his meeting with Mr. Johnston, he reacquainted himself with another familiar label, this time of clear liquid, at his favorite watering hole. He had to get his mind right and he was badly shaken up after their meeting. He had sat at the bar, as the regulars had moved and talked and socialized around him, staring at the picture of what used to be his wife. The image of her, beaming ahead, blue eyes smiling a mile wide, struck a chord with him. He had never seen that look. He knew, in retrospect, he hadn’t won the best significant other in the neighborhood award, so maybe he hadn’t deserved those eyes.


And the writing. In blood. ‘Forasmuch then as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, he also himself likewise took part of the same; that through death he might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil’’’ Was missing Anna a child? Why had he never heard of Cenacle? It was the Christian belief for victory over death, through Jesus’s flesh and blood. Communion, from a distance, would seem an awfully odd ritual to view out of context.


He had awoken with no more answers than he had gone to bed with and woke up with headache. He had taken a cold shower, dressed himself in some discreet business casual wear, a tucked in white shirt, wind breaker, and his freshly washed pants without the rank brown stain. He made himself coffee, put it into the thermos, and exited his cluttered apartment. He locked the door and started the Sedan.


According to his map of the area, it was a 2 hour drive out to the eastern border of the state. He stopped to get a breakfast sandwich. With a big bite and greasy clumps falling on his lap, he made the turn onto the highway and headed east.


It was a beautiful drive. The foliage was a sweet autumn hue, and the cool fall air felt good on his puffy face as he steered with his left hand along the windy highway. The water was clear, the bright sun bouncing off it, and he could imagine the sound of the white foam rapids if he had been beside them. As the sun rose higher, he fumbled in the console and found his sunglasses, fingerprints a plenty, and put them on to dim the sun’s rays.


For an hour and a half, he absent-mindedly guided the sedan, letting his mind wander as he went. He imagined what he would say to his wife.


He had slept badly the previous night. He had had a dream, a dream he was no stranger to. A reoccurring nightmare of sorts, but not of his imagination. It was a moment etched into his mind, a cross for him to bear for the rest of his days.


It always starts the same way.


A sunny day, he is behind the wheel. The car isn’t moving, and he in a parking lot. He is not parked well, sideways of sorts, and he waits by a soccer field. His mind is thick and heavy, and he struggles, within the dream, to compose a thought or move.


In the cupholder of the door is a familiar bottle of brown liquid, with a familiar label and familiar taste. It is half empty.


It had been a long day on the force. He could not remember within the dream why it was long, but there had been a confrontation of some sort. He was drained. He wanted to be asleep. But he had to be at this soccer field.


The back-passenger door opens. A faceless child, bearing a familiar smile, resembling the one in the locket, climbs in. The words, “Are you okay daddy?” emanate in the car. The face is still smiling, its lips did not move or change. “Yes, honey.” He struggles to form the words. He is talking in molasses.


The car, seemingly on its volition, pulls out of the parking space. It haphazardly jerks out and speeds away. He can’t control the steering wheel, as he is in a paralysis, a passenger in the journey.


The car speeds along, swerving, with the bottle coming up to his lips. “Slow down daddy” he hears. He can’t slow down. The car goes even faster, running a red light. He is screaming internally now. Why won’t the car slow down? He spills the bottle on himself and looks down. “Daddy!” He hears a scream. He looks up and sees headlights. Then the dream ends. He wakes up crying, in a cold sweat.


He could not count how many times he had had this dream in the past 2 years.


He had been removed from the force, but his connections had been enough to see that he wasn’t incarcerated, but sometimes he wished he would have been. He had come so close since to putting an end to any sort of dreaming, but he couldn’t bring himself to do it. He was scared.


He pulled a flask from his jacket as he passed a sign reading “Cenacle 15 miles” and took a long drink. The back of his throat burned, and he embraced the heat as it made its way through his body, all the way out to his fingertips. He was ready to get out of the sedan.


Nearly there, the car powered its way over a steep hill, and at the top it was rewarded with a few of the valley that contained Cenacle. A color wheel of red decorated the town, it was truly a post card kind of view from the top of the mountain. He could see the old church staking its claim close to the river, and the town itself close by. He could see a tall courthouse, and the square design of the town. A main drag cut down the middle, with shops, restaurants, an inn, and all the small-town staples. A more residential area squared around the drag, with houses going about 4 blocks outward. If Anna or his wife was here, it shouldn’t be all that difficult to find them. The car began the decline towards Cenacle as the sun peaked above his head and the autumn temperature descended with him.


The speed limit lowered as he entered town. He allowed his foot to rise from the gas and fall to the brake as he stopped at the stoplight. A group of children jumped rope in colorful outfits on the sidewalk beside him. He could hear the laughter of a little girl over the hum of his motor. The light turned green and he sped ahead. He kept going to the center of town.


He arrived at the Cenacle Inn and pulled his car into the parking lot behind the inn. He figured this would be a two-day job and might as well get a place to stay now so he didn’t have to worry about it later. He grabbed his clothes and toiletries from the backseat and made his way to the front door.


He opened the door and was greeted by a cheerful smell of cookies in the oven and autumn-scented candles. The front desk was directly center of the low-ceilinged lobby, a large space with tables for sitting and, what he guessed, to be a buffet table as well lay on the right. Stairs were to the left of the check in desk.


No one was at the desk. A plate of hamburger and fries were half eaten beside the phone. He couldn’t see anyone, so he rang the bell. A small lady of no more than 5 foot 4 came out from a door behind the desk, with a tooth pick in her mouth. She removed the toothpick and put it on the plate of leftover food.


“Welcome to the Cenacle Inn! How may I help you sir?”


“One room, one night please.”


“Sure honey, that’ll be 120 dollars.”


It could have been 1200. He was going to milk the expenses on this trip.


“Sure, ma’am.” He pulled his checkbook from his back pocket. “Can I have a pen please?”


“Yes sir.” She handed him a pen. He glanced at the burgundy pen and the inscription on it. “CENACLE INN – BEST BBQ IN THE STATE”.


She noticed him reading it. “We’ve won it 3 years running. We serve dinner at 7 every night, it’s included in your room fee. If you’re up to it, we will see you there.”


He finished writing the check and handed it to her. In exchange, she handed him the room key. Room 214. He stared at the red plastic attachment embroidered with the number.


“Everything okay sir?” She had noticed he was frozen. He shook himself out of it. “


“Yeah, yeah I’m fine. See you at dinner.”


He picked up his belongings and made his way up the stairs.


The room was old fashioned, minimalist, and clearly a little traditional. A picture of the last supper hung at the head of the bed. A cross hung on the wall across from the foot of the bed. He placed his belongings down, and with no doubt in his mind, made for his first stop. The center of orbit in this town was the church, and if anyone knew where Anna or his wife was, it would be whoever ran that church.


He got back in the sedan and made his way towards the river. The wooden church was larger than it had seemed on the post card. It was old, but clearly a lot of attention had been paid to it over the years. It was in good condition for being the state’s oldest church. He parked out front and looked up at the cross on top the steeple, casting a shadow over the town. He took his sunglasses off and made his way to the door,


He pulled it open and glanced inside. The floor was wooden, and a long alley of red carpet separated the two sides of pews from one another. Elevated, at the end of the alley, was the pulpit. An organ was to the right and a place for the choir was to the left. A door was half open behind the pulpit. A giant cross hung on the back wall. The vestibule that he had walked into had a set of stairs to his right, a bathroom to the left. He made his way forward on the red carpet of the alley. He looked back once in the center, between the pews. A balcony looked over the pews and pulpit. He kept moving to the half-opened door.


He looked at the pulpit once behind it. In it, he saw a large, old, leather skinned bible. He pulled it from the shelf and placed it upon the reading stand of the podium and opened it up. The pages were ancient. This book had to have been as old as the church itself, if not older. He flipped the pages. Then a thought shot across his mind. He flipped to Hebrews 2, flipped again to verse 14 using the memory of his bible school days to remember where it was.


The page was missing. On the right side of the pages that remained was splotches of red. What the he-


“Welcome to the Cenacle Church sir, can I help you?”


Pete shut the bible lightning quick.


“Maybe you can. I’m looking for someone. My name is Pete Cross, P.I.”


“I hope I can provide some guidance. I’m Father Abraham. I’ve been father at the church for 40 years.” His long silver hair, well kept, ran along to the small of his back. He had a tan complexion and a kind face. Very trusting, which Pete guessed must lend itself to acting as a good shepherd. He was as tall as Pete, maybe a little under 6 feet.


“Well father, there’s been a girl that’s run away. Hasn’t been seen from in 3 weeks, and we found was a picture of this church on a postcard.” Pete handed Father Abraham the picture of Anna. Abraham studied it for a moment.


“We have all kinds of strays come through Cenacle. And we welcome them all with open arms. I think I vaguely remember seeing her during Sunday Service a week ago. But I haven’t seen her since.” He looked up at the balcony in thought. “But I don’t want you to take this as gospel. This is usually a packed house every Sunday.”


Pete frowned. “What do you consider a ‘Stray’ father? Addicts, runaways, vagrants? Is there a reoccurring type?”


“The forgotten ones. The abused. Those wronged by the world around them seeking solace and peace. All are welcome here.” Abraham turned his gaze to Pete. “How about you? Go looking for strays often?”


Pete smirked. “It pays the bills. One more thing father.” He pulled the newspaper from his pocket. “What can you tell me about this woman?” He unfolded the paper and pointed to his smiling wife in the choir. Abraham studied it. He smiled.


“Why, of course, this is our beautiful soprano talent Samantha. I’d recognize that smile anywhere.”


That’s not her name, Pete thought.


“Long time member?”


“If I correctly recall, two years ago she came to us. Has been a perfect member of the congregation since. Why might you ask?”


“Just trying to get some answers. We found this newspaper in Anna’s room.”


“That’s curious, Mr. Cross. This paper is only printed and sold in Cenacle. It’s the only paper for 50 miles.”


“That is curious, Father.” Pete had more questions than he had answers. “I had better be on my way. Probably a few more people and places to follow up on in town. Thank you for your time.”


Abraham smiled. “I hope you plan on enjoying the Inn’s barbecue. It’s the best in the state, after all.”


Pete was already making his way down the red-carpeted alley. “I’ll do my best.”


Father Abraham smiled. And in the room behind the half-opened door, a pair of blue eyes rest on a smiling face as well.



Pete made his way through town, stopping at the gas station, super market, and courthouse to show the picture of Anna and glean some answers or leads. The story was always the same. “Maybe saw her a week ago, don’t quote me on it.” “We see lots of drifters come through town.” He felt less and less optimistic as the sun traveled west. He purchased some beef jerky from the gas station to hold him over until the barbecue.


Once he had exhausted his leads for the day, he made his way back to the Inn. For the return, he took a roundabout way to see some of town separate from the main drag. He got about 3 blocks away, out into a street of duplexes when something caught his eye. It was in an alley, and there were 3 individuals, huddled around each other.


It looked as if they were dancing at first. He pulled the car a little closer, so he could have a better view. 2 of them were shaking uncontrollably. They were filthy. They looked as though they hadn’t showered or bathed in recent memory. They were also emitting noises, like they were trying to say words, but Pete couldn’t understand any of it. The 3rd one lied on the ground, shaking, and manically laughing. Pete couldn’t take his eyes off the scene, as they mumbled and shook for the next minute. He thought he could barely make out the words of the two standing men, it sounded like they were saying “More” Almost sick, Pete drove away from the scene to the inn.


The barbecue was in full effect when Pete arrived in the parking lot of the Inn. They had a smoker set up in the lot along with a few charcoal grills. The sweet smell of barbecue the filled the air, and Pete’s appetite came around after the scene he had witnessed 20 minutes earlier. The kindly woman from the front desk approached him.


“I highly recommend the brisket, Mr. Cross, look at this perfect smoke ring.”


Pete glanced at the brisket on her white picnic plate. She wasn’t kidding.


“I think I will ma’am. Thanks for the advice.”



Pete helped himself to some brisket and pulled pork off to the side of the main gathering. The people of Cenacle gathered around, beers from the cooler in hand, and socialized over full plates of meat and potato salad and corn on the cob. They were all smiling the smile he had seen his wife feature. It was a picturesque scene, with the autumn foliage and barbecue, but Pete couldn’t shake that there was something wrong taking place. Something off. He finished his plate, sipped from his flask, and made his way up to bed.



It was nearly midnight when Pete awoke. The first thing his senses gathered was the outline of shadows on the wall of the building adjacent to the inn, projected by firelight. Pete roused himself awake. “What in tarnation is going on out there?” He made his way to the window.


Outside, a horde of hooded figures in red cloaks with torches in hand made their way through the street, headed towards the church. The sound of an organized chant permeated through the walls. “Flesh of my flesh, blood of my blood.” They repeated. Whatever I thought this was, Pete thought, it’s certainly something different. He watched the figures move past the Inn. He quickly got dressed, placed his gun in his belt, and followed them out, maintaining a safe distance behind.


He hid behind vehicles in the church parking lot, watching the horde file into the vestibule and in the pews. On the side of the church near the riverbed, trees rose beside the church, providing a good vantage point in through the windows on the side. Pete quietly made his way over to the trees and climbed silently up. Once at the top, he noticed that a window close by was open to the balcony. He moved through the window and crouched behind a pew on the empty balcony, watching the scene below.


There, in the space between the pews and pulpit, was a man. He had to have been mid-20s, in his undergarments, ribs showing he was so skinny, and his feet and arms were chained. He was screaming for help. The hooded crowd chanted around him, furthering whatever perverse ritual was taking place.


With a coordinated suddenness they stopped, as a hooded figure in a gold robe made his way to the pulpit. He pulled back the hood to reveal the face of Father Abraham. “Good lord.”, said Pete.


“Brothers and Sisters,” Father Abraham’s voice boomed. This was the aura of a different man than he had spoken to earlier. “We gather to take solace in the power of the flesh. And to claim victory over death as our ancestors of Cenacle have for generations. We as a congregation open this book for guidance, wrapped in the flesh of the fathers before.” He held up the leather book. Pete strained his eyes to see and then his stomach dropped. “That book isn’t just leather, its-“ He put a hand over his mouth to keep his stomach’s contents inside his body.


The father continued “The guilty among us are purified. Their chains are broken, and we absorb their release. Their freeing from this mortal realm frees us from the mortal feelings of vengeance and vendetta so that we may live a more perfect life. Come forward, Annabelle and Jonah!”


Pete watched as two hooded figures, one small one tall, made their way to the front of the crowd around the bound man. They dropped their hoods to reveal Anna, alive as ever, and Jonah, looking the same as he had yesterday in Pete’s office.


Abraham walked to Anna, holding a gleaming silver dagger. “Anna, it falls to you to prepare him for release. The congregation has found him guilty of transgressions against the community.”


He cried out, “Please, no! I will never do it again, I promise! It was just a loaf of bread, I was hungry!”


Anna’s face didn’t change expression. She plunged the dagger down into his heart. The noise ceased, and he fell limp. “Feel the freedom from the shackles of guilt.” The congregation chanted.


Pete’s heart was now beating 1000 times a minute. He, with shaky hands, pulled the flask from his coat and took a drink.


Father Abraham smiled, “Now, brothers and sisters, we can partake in the flesh and find victory over death and the devil, as our ancestors have over hundreds of years. Let us give thanks in our bountiful feast.”


Suddenly, the congregation moved forward in a surge. The hoods came back, revealing the townsfolk he had just dined with hours before. With teeth barred, they moved towards the limp body of the young man.


Pete could barely maintain his composure as he witnessed the congregation tear into the young man like hyenas. Snarling and gnashing, the bigger ones pushed to the front and smaller ones fell to the back. There were 3 different fist fights that broke out between participants, it was truly an unholy free for all of which Pete had never seen, even on the force. He couldn’t afford to think about the barbecue he had eaten before. I’ll deal with those demons after I make it out, he thought.


He had seen enough, he made for the window and the tree to exit the nightmare church.


“Where do you think you’re going, Mr. Cross?”


His heart dropped to the bottom of his chest.


He looked over the balcony to the congregation to see Abraham with a bloody smile.


“We’ve been expecting you as our honored guest.”

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