San Francisco was never her favorite place. She might have called it home, but it wasn’t in her heart to name the City a place close to her heart. The weather was too cold, the prices were too high, and there was something in the air – something amiss – that always gnawed at her consciousness. She wasn’t sure if it was an omen or some kind of psychic ability she unknowingly possessed, but she always felt San Francisco was burdened by evil.
Sure, crimes were constantly committed in the city. But that was no different than any other city. Cram 8 million people into such a small area of land mass and Murphy’s Law will always prevail, sooner or later.
No, this intuition, this discernment, was something else. During the two years Vanessa lived in the City, she always felt like someone – or something – was watching her. A presence that weighed on her spirit, an entity unseen, unheard, but definitely felt. Like molasses running down a wall, or honey spreading across the back of a cat. A wet blanket in summer. Suffocating. Invasive. Unwanted.
Of course, she had no outright proof of her theory of a physical entity watching her. Her friends – what few she met during her time in San Francisco – didn’t want to hear about ghosts or demons or whatever it was that plagued her. They just wanted to have a good time, talk about good things, and not be burdened by a young girl’s paranoid delusions.
A fly surfaced in her soup one day, when she decided to visit Chinatown. She complained to the waiter, but the waiter insisted the kitchen staff kept their food areas clean. The restaurant had an ‘A’ rating with the health board. The fly must have been a fluke.
Until she found a fly in her sandwich in a restaurant on Pier 39. And a fly in her bottled water at home. And a swarm of dead flies in her mailbox.
Maybe the City was in the middle of an infestation? She had seen nothing on the news.
Her friends scoffed and told her to start bathing. She found their constant lack of sympathy and respect toward her unbecoming.
It might have started with flies, but it continued with dreams. They were always sexual in nature, and they always left her feeling an ache she knew only a man would be able to cure. But she wasn’t one to sleep around, and she wasn’t going to start just because she was having some kind of odd hormonal imbalance.
The strangeness continued when she found notes in her journal – notes she didn’t remember writing. And seeing as she lived alone, and her journal was kept at home all the time, she found the fact that scribbled quotes like, “The cathedral beckons,” and, “Hortus Tenebris will fall,” and crude drawings of crows filled her notebook unsettling. Had someone broken into her small apartment? She found nothing missing from her few belongings.Would someone go through the trouble of breaking into her place just to scribble notes in her notebook?
She told herself she wrote those things and drew those things upon waking in the middle of the night. She just didn’t remember doing so. She did indulge in absinthe on occasion, before bed most times, so there was no telling what she did under the emerald spirit’s influence.
But combined with the other weird happenings…
A message written on a bathroom stall in the City: “I know you dream of me, Vanessa.”
A dead cat found in the middle of her living room floor.
A constant tap on her shoulder when she was in the movies – when there was nobody sitting behind her.
The presence was constant. It weighed heavy on her spirit and made it unpleasant to do almost anything.
As if the supernatural harassment wasn’t enough, Vanessa found herself having strange urges to purchase small statuettes she found in a gift shop on Fisherman’s Wharf – statuettes of a black cathedral made of glossy stone. Why in the world did Fisherman’s Wharf have statuettes of black cathedrals? She didn’t care – she just found herself mesmerized by them. Something about them drew her to them, something beckoned. She found herself obsessed with the inanimate baubles, and began buying them up by the pair.
Strangely enough, the inventory of these black cathedrals continued to refill day after day, and when asked of this, the store owner simply shrugged and mumbled something about his wife being put in charge of ordering everything in the store. When his wife was questioned by Vanessa one cold day, she shrugged and mumbled something about her husband giving her lists of what needed to be ordered every month.
Vanessa made room in her small armoire for the statuettes, quickly filling the wooden display case. Her collection overflowed to her bedroom, where she installed four horizontal shelves along the wall opposite her bed, so she could stare at her collection every night before drifting off to sleep.
Her friend, Brittany, caught wind of her nonsensical behavior one day when Vanessa insisted they visit the shop on Fisherman’s Wharf to purchase another pair of statuettes. Brittany blew her friend off as being strange and weird to purchase such an uncanny item, but Vanessa could see a glow in her friend’s eyes when she saw the statuette. Brittany walked out of the store with her own copy.
Vanessa woke in the middle of the night with a soft, gliding hand caressing her bare back. She allowed the massage to continue for a full minute before she came out of her absinthe-induced stupor and found nobody in her bed but herself and her hallucinations.
Life went on for Vanessa. Time passed, but in a tunnel this entity, this presence, had been building for her. She bought statuettes every day, saw death and disease every day in the form of a dead animal, flies, or fecal matter, and felt something – or someone – caressing her back every other night.
She finally slapped herself out of her stupor one day. She withdrew from the absinthe. She stopped buying the cathedral statuettes – donating the ones she had to an old church in the center of the City. She installed new locks on her apartment door. She threw away her journal.
And then the despair set in. She felt something missing, a hole that had been cut out in her spirit. If one were to look at the hole, they would say it looked a bit like a cathedral, much like burnt toast can look like any number of different things, like Jesus, the Mother Mary, or Al Gore.
Her friends were insensitive to her despair, calling her a paranoid emo. She had no family to call for advice or help. Her job – the call center for an insurance company – offered her no paid time off to allow her time to take a vacation and get away from San Francisco for a while.
And so, on a cold morning in mid-November, Vanessa took an elevator to the roof of a new high-rise that had been built in the last couple years, and she pondered her existence while looking out at the city skyline. The sun had risen shortly before and was still burning off the cold chill that swept in from the Bay. The City was just waking up from its Tuesday night, and everything was coming to life.
She had never felt more dead.
She peered over the edge of the highrise. Diamond-shaped cables prevented her from falling, but she knew there were other buildings that didn’t have the same protective measures. She could make her way to the top of one of them and then jump down. It would all be over. The despair. The feeling of death. Whatever or whoever was following her, tagging along with her, harassing her, spying on her, molesting her – it wouldn’t be able to touch her in the afterlife. She would be safe in the darkness of her deathly slumber.
She turned to leave the roof and find another, when she spotted something in the distance, out past Telegraph Hill where Coit Tower sat perched like a land-hugging lighthouse. It looked like…
Vanessa took hold of the nearest tourist viewfinder. She only saw black, and then thought to put a quarter in. When she finally got the machine working, she used it to get a closer look at the…
A black cathedral rose out of the Bay, like a monstrous building-shaped Godzilla. The surface of it glistened in the morning light, and Vanessa could swear she could hear beautiful organ music pouring out of its openings. She wondered if she were the only one able to see the monstrous illusion, and then wondered if it really mattered.
She could see it.
More importantly, she could sense it.
It called to her. Beckoned her.
She felt it in her spirit. The cathedral was her home. It’s why she bought the statuettes. It’s why she felt despair when she dismissed the cathedral as a figment of her delusional mind.
Come home, Vanessa.
She heard the voice, knew immediately that it was attached to the individual who sought to caress her back every other night. It wasn’t the absinthe. It was destiny.
“I’m coming home,” she said aloud. The words inflated her with joy, much like a black balloon can be filled with poisonous gas.
She turned and left the roof. She ventured through the City until she reached the Bay.
Vanessa was never seen or heard from in San Francisco again.