My sister vanished when I was ten years old. At the time, I didn’t know how it happened. One afternoon I was walking home from school, kicking a dented soup can across the sidewalk. I was deep in thought thinking about this girl I liked. It was a few days before Valentine’s Day and I was thinking of the perfect way I could say how much I liked her. It was a warm day for February and I was lost in thought. I turned the corner onto my street to see a couple of police cars parked in my driveway. I could hear my mother’s wails as she bawled her eyes out. Picking up my pace, I ran home. I could feel my anxiety building with every step I took. My heart was pounding like a heavyweight boxer was using it as a punching bag. I felt like I was going to throw up and piss myself at the same time. Reaching to the front door, I ran into my home. My mom’s wails were even louder then. She clutched a white rag, pressing her face into it while sitting in the living room. My father was sitting next to her, holding her in his arms, trying his best to console her. Two officers stood across from her, their expressions dark and empty.
“M-mom?” I asked. You could hear the fear in my voice. They all turned to look at me simultaneously. I had never seen such an expression of fear on my dad’s face before. It only made what I was feeling even more intense. They had some bad news that was going to change our lives forever.
“Sit down Andrew. We need to talk.”
One whole hour. It took one whole hour to change our family. They had to explain it to me a few times because, well, I think my brain just couldn’t grasp it. I made up all types of theories. Maybe she was staying late after school. She could just be over a friend’s house and forgot to call and say where she was. None of it was true though. The school called my mother to ask if Vanessa was staying home today, to which she replied no. The school said that my sister wasn’t at school. She began to worry. Now, when my mom begins to worry, she gets into this overprotective mood, like the mom from Stranger Things. We always knew it was coming from a caring place, but before we knew it she was outside driving around calling out Vanessa’s name up and down the neighborhood. She checked parks, her friend’s houses, and even the local strip mall. Nothing. It was like she just popped out of existence. There was one last place she wanted to check though.
You see, sometimes Vanessa would wake up late. Her phone had a weird glitch where you had to reset the alarm every time it activated. You could set it every Monday through Friday but then you had to go into the alarm setting and turn it back on. She would sometimes forget and wake up late. To cut time for her walking commute, she would take the old train tracks that would get her to school 10 minutes early. Mom hated it. It always gave her a bad feeling and she forbade us from ever going in there, but like kids are, we sometimes didn’t listen. It was there that my mom found the white rag, at the start of the shortcut. A red stain bloomed from the silk cloth. What my mother found was a finger clipped down to the second knuckle with aqua green nail polish on the tip of it. Vanessa’s favorite color.
Thus the search began. Flyers went up. Search parties combed nearby woods. The police were looking everywhere. Following every lead that could help, no matter how small. Even our priest, Father Donovan, lead a special mass in hopes that God would bring Vanessa home. Father Donovan was always there for us. He and my mother talked for hours on the phone almost every night. He would always find the right words to say to quell my mother’s worries at least long enough for her to fall asleep. The church was so packed that people were standing on the sides and even then, people had to squeeze in. I hardly even remember it. I’m not saying it wasn’t important, mind you, but it felt kind of pointless being there. I mean, here we were, wasting time when we could be out there searching for my sister. After the service, I was sitting on the front steps of the church, fiddling with my fingers. My mom and dad were talking to other adults about how they held on hope that they would find Vanessa soon. A shadow loomed over me and I turned around to see Father Donovan with a kind smile on his face and a couple of sodas in his hands.
“Can I sit down with you? Seems like you’re in need of a friend.”
“I have plenty of friends at school.” I really didn’t. After everyone at school found out, they started avoiding me like the plague. I didn’t know why. Maybe because they just didn’t know what to say to me, so to avoid a possibly awkward moment they just refused to talk to me. 10-year-old logic, what can I say.
“Well what’s one more.” He sat beside me, handing me a small can of orange soda. “Heard it was your favorite.” He gave me a small wink and took a sip of his ginger ale. I took a sip of my soda, looking at the cars passing by.
“Father Donovan, what do you want?” I asked coldly.
“Son, I’ve been meaning to talk to you for a while now. I wanted to check in with you to see if you’re okay.” There was such care and compassion in his voice. So far, everyone had given me pitying smiles and sympathetic lines. His question caught me off guard.
“I-I don’t know honestly. Everyone keeps telling me she’ll be found, or she’ll come home soon, don’t worry. I just don’t know…I have a feeling she’s dead and I’m never going to see her again.” My feelings just spilled out of me. All my pent-up frustration erupted like a volcano. Tears were welling up in my eyes. I looked down to my soda as drops of my tears hit the top of the can. Suddenly, a comforting arm was around me. I broke down into racking sobs.
“What kind of God would let this happen, Father?” I asked between gasps.
“Andrew, do you know the greatest gift and curse God gave to mankind?” He was quiet for a moment, letting the question linger in my mind. “Free will. Free will is what makes us who we are, and sometimes free will can lead a person to do very bad things. We can’t blame God for that. What kind of life would it be if no one could think for themselves? I’d say a pretty boring one. Yes, your sister has disappeared, but we must still hold out hope. Not only for ourselves but for her too. You must stand strong and keep moving forward, enjoy the life you have been given.” I had to admit, his advice was a bit selfish. How could I move forward without knowing if my sister is alive or dead?
A deep cut had been gauged into our family. My mother was cold and distant. She sat, slept, and ate by the phone, hoping that the next call would be from someone saying they found her. She didn’t shower for weeks. Have you ever seen a person die inside, like the light in their eyes is just gone? As if their soul was ripped out and now what sat there was a husk of a human being. Yeah, well, my mother was worse than that. Our father couldn’t cope. He depended on drinking and crying in the bedroom. It was never the same after that. Things felt duller. New experiences lost their spark and life became a grey existence. Somehow, we survived though. We came together and supported each other through long nights of tears and quiet solemn days. Before we knew it, I was 18 and hugging my parents in my college dorm room.
“Are you sure you have everything?” My mom asked, her eyes getting misty. I could see how proud she was of me. I shook my head and gave a small smile.
“No, no, I’m good! WIFI, TV, and game system are all set up. All the essentials I need for college living.”
“Oh yeah? Well, remember you came here for an education. I don’t want you to be one of those idiots who gets themselves drunk every night because mom and dad aren’t around to patrol them.”
“I know, I know. I’ll do my best to make both of you proud.” I said it like it was the most important promise. In some ways it was. I was going to show them and the world that my sister’s disappearance wasn’t going to hold me back. Yes, I missed my sister, but I couldn’t let it hold my life back and this was my chance to prove it.
“Well don’t push yourself too hard. College is not just about getting a good education.” My father placed his hand on my shoulder. “It’s about experiencing new things too.” For the first time in a very long time, a hopeful smile was on my father’s face. Who knew it’d be the last time I ever saw it.
College was certainly a change of pace. There was an infectious buzz in the air as I went around exploring the campus. I made a few friends, got my textbooks, and started on the fast track to working towards a degree. The flurry of classes, papers, connections with people, and a few parties made me forget almost all the problems I had. Notice how I said almost. The issue was still Vanessa. Every morning, a dull ache reminded me that she was out there somewhere, her remains probably buried out in some field. Forgotten by almost everyone. Never to be returned and never to be laid to rest.
I was in English 102 when my phone buzzed on my desk. My mom was calling me, which was very odd. I gave her my schedule, so she knew when to call me. For her to call me in the middle of class, something had to be wrong. An ‘ahem’ came from my professor. I looked up to see glaring green eyes. She hated cell phones and had a strict policy against them. Even the slightest bell ring from a notification could get you out of her class. I didn’t even look at her as I stood up and gathered my things. I answered the call as I slung my backpack over my shoulder and walked out.
“Mom? Mom what’s goi-” Before I could even finish, her cries flooded my ears. I had to turn down the volume just to make the call bearable. “Mom, calm down! Please, what going on?!”
“Andrew, oh God, Andrew! I think I’m gonna be sick.” I could hear her almost dry heave over the phone.
“Mom, what the hell is going on?! Is dad okay?!” I felt like that 10-year-old boy who didn’t know what was happening all over again. The familiar erratic beats came back for an encore.
“Vanessa! We found Vanessa! She was delivered to our front porch!”
“Delivered?! What does that even mean?!”
“Oh Andrew, she was hacked to pieces and delivered to us!” She exclaimed. Now it was my turn to be sick. “And that’s not even the worst part…” What could be worse than finding out your sister was found in pieces?
“What do you mean mom?” My voice was shakily filled with panic and fear.
“The police, the police said that, oh God, I don’t know how to tell you this. She was older! Like she was in her early 20s the police said! She was alive all this time, going through the worst kinds of torture. So many bruises and cuts on her limbs and her face was unrecognizable. The only way I could recognize her was by her hand. She still had the aqua green nail polish on her nine fingers. They were in a tiny wooden box with a note on top saying, ‘Thanks, she was certainly fun to play with.’”
It was at that point that I felt tears on my face. I covered my mouth with my hand. I didn’t know what to say. Not only was my sister alive all these years, but she went through unimaginable torture just to die without even knowing her family was still hoping she would come home.
“I’m coming home, I’ll be there later.” I said matter-of-factly.
When I pulled into my driveway a few hours later I could see my mom standing on the porch near catatonic. The distant look in her eyes was all too familiar. Walking up to her, I touched her shoulder. We didn’t even say anything. We just embraced in a hug. Her body shuddered in fear and sobs. I stroked her back gently, turning my head towards the window. I could see the bottle of Jack Daniels on the dining room table. A glass half full and my father with his hands over his face. This was going to be a long night. It was a blur of interviews, police, and people coming by offering their condolences. My parents wanted her cremated and her ashes finally brought home where she could rest in peace.
The wake had a big turnout. It was comforting to see people came by that still remembered Vanessa. People were lining the sides of the church, wanting to say a final farewell to Vanessa. Dad went to the funeral parlor to hash out some last-minute details. The organ played a soft melody, signaling everyone to sit down and be quiet. I was looking at the white pamphlet with Vanessa’s most recent photo in it. A student yearbook picture with the date below saying born on August 27, 1994 and died October 2017. Two soft nudges came from my right side. My mom was nodding up to the podium. I couldn’t believe my eyes. Father Donovan was leading the mass. A small smile crept across my face. He looked a bit older. His once all brown hair was beginning to grey and he had a few new wrinkles. He looked down at me and nodded with that same kind grin.
“Today we welcome home our child who has been lost for so many years. Vanessa went missing in 2009. She took a familiar shortcut to school and was never seen or heard from again. We spent so many years looking everywhere for her. A few volunteers from neighboring towns came and helped the best they could. Bless them for trying, but now we come to this bittersweet moment. We found Vanessa. We always knew in the back of our minds that after so many years, she had long passed away. But the way she was discovered was awful!” He slammed his fist down on the podium. I swear you could see everyone in the church flinch. A baby crying in the back row could be heard. “Left in pieces in cardboard boxes to be found in front of her mother’s front door. Honestly, when I heard this, I thought to myself, what kind of depraved monster would do this to a child? The worst kind, that’s who. And I have them here today to explain exactly what they did.”
Confused murmurs came from the crowd as Father Donovan stepped down from the podium and walked to the left towards the side hallway where his office was located. Everyone was silent. My mom leaned over and whispered, asking me what was going on. I shrugged my shoulders as I was just as confused as she was. A moment later we heard muffled screams coming from the hallway. Father Donovan was dragging a naked man tied to a chair, his face hidden by a cloth bag. He dragged him to the center of the front two benches for everyone to see. The once calm and collected man I knew as Father Donovan was gone. What stood before me was a devil wearing the skin of a priest.
“This man right here.” He ripped the mask off revealing my father’s face. He had several cuts and a bruised eye. “He is the one who kidnapped his own daughter. Kept her in his little dungeon for years. Isn’t that right, James!” A hard backslap from Father Donovan echoed across the halls of the church. Everyone was silent, waiting for someone to scream stop or ‘I’m calling the cops,’ but no one said anything. “James, James don’t pass out on me. Your family is here and I’m sure they would love to know what you did. Now tell them.” He pulled my father’s hair back to make him face us. He yelped in protest, asking for someone to help him, but morbid curiosity kept us in our seats. Tears fell down my father’s cheeks as he began to tell his story.
You see, Vanessa did remember to activate her alarm, but it was Dad who deactivated it when she was asleep. Normally Dad left first in the morning. He parked his car near the shortcut and waited for Vanessa, knowing she would take this route to get to school on time. He took her and knocked her unconscious, then stuffed her in his trunk until his lunch hour. When that time came around, he drove to an abandoned building and used the concrete basement to do unspeakable, horrific things to her. The things he did…well, I won’t repeat them. To already hear it once is bad enough. People threw up after hearing what he did. Children cried. A lot of them were angry. I turned to my mother and she had such a scary look on her face. Years and years of lies, telling her that he would be late coming home from work because of a new project his company was working on, just so he could have a couple hours of free time.
“But, how did you know, Father Donovan?” I asked. My hands were shaking, and I felt like I was going to explode. He turned to me with a small smile on his face.
“Aqua green nail polish. You see, son, when you were on your way home from college, I stopped by for a visit with your mother. After she called you, she called me, so I came over. Your father was outside speaking to the detective. I consoled her the best I could and then left, but as I was walking down your driveway towards my car, I noticed something peeking out under your father’s seat. A half-used bottle of aqua green nail polish with a blood stain on it. After that, I just simply had to bide my time and wait. Yes, I could have called the cops, but this, this felt better.” A wide grin spread across Donovan’s face as he pulled a pocket knife from his back pocket. I stood up, feeling an urge to stop this, but a hand grasped my forearm. It was my mother’s hand. Her grip was so strong. She couldn’t take her eyes off my father. She didn’t need to say anything. I sat right back down.
What happened next was pure carnage. My father, no, James, screamed in agony as Father Donovan proceeded to cut various words into his chest. In large bloody letters, sinner was carved across his forehead, monster was carved across his chest, and r****t was carved across his stomach. Yelling dark verses as he was doing this, a pool of blood was steadily widening beneath their feet. A very rough castration and a throat slit later, James, the father to me and monster to Vanessa, was dead. He wiped the blood off the knife with his sleeve and bowed as if he gave the performance of a lifetime.
“God bless you all.” That was the last thing he said before heading towards his office, locking the door, and shooting himself. That day, nearly 200 men, women, and children saw Father Donovan kill a guilty man. The police did find the nail polish with the blood on it. It was a match to Vanessa and justice was finally served.
Today I’m heading to church. They’re holding a service for Father Donovan. Some call him a monster while others call him a psychopath. I don’t see him as either of those things. What my mother and I see him as, is a hero.