“Shut up, already,” James mumbled out to the howling wind, frustrated.
The noise had grown to become deafening at times - it echoed off the pillars and walls of the cathedral he was hiding in with great intensity. Heavy rain and hail was pounding against the sides and roof, clattering about with ire. He felt as if he wasn’t wanted in such a place, despite it currently serving as a safe haven – people like him weren’t exactly welcomed with open arms, unless if they were seeking to beg forgiveness. James tried to make himself more comfortable on the stiff mahogany pew he had chosen as a bed for the night.
Looking up at the towering ceiling of the cathedral, he could make out intricate, ancient-looking patterns carved upon every surface. Massive, intricately engraved pillars met with the ceiling, forming elaborate arches above his head. The walls were detailed in a gothic style, with macabre-looking figures peering out from corners and pillars. It was eerie. The longer he looked around, the less comfortable he felt. Suddenly, he heard a loud crash, accompanied by a small squeal of fright.
“Caroline, get out of there,” he called out, realizing the commotion had come from his younger, fifteen-year-old sister rummaging through a cabinet in one of the many alcoves in the cathedral. She emerged sopping wet, her dress stuck to her body and hair plastered to her face.
“What the hell did you do now?”
“Sorry. I was looking for food. They usually keep that bread they like so much here, don’t they?”
“Probably. Why are you so wet?”
“I tripped over something and knocked a big bowl of water over. I think it was a loose tile on the floor.”
Suddenly, there was an immense crack of lightning overhead. It illuminated all of the cathedral’s chipped stained glass panels like an eerie light show.
“That was probably holy water, you klutz,” he said. Caroline looked horrified upon learning this, and scrambled back over to the alcove.
“Hey, maybe you’ll be safer from the storm than me now!” he called out jokingly. Soon after, Caroline re-emerged. She was carrying a heavy looking, chipped clay bowl with a mournful look on her face. Suddenly, she sprinted to the giant oak doors of the cathedral’s entrance. Before James could react, she had bolted outside with the bowl outstretched in her arms. He pounced from the pew and ran as fast as he could. The wind was so powerful that it had blown the doors open, leaving them bashing loudly against the walls forming the entrance. More lightning crackled across the sky, striking somewhere close by with great ferocity.
“Caroline! Get back here!” James roared out into the blackness of night. He could barely keep his eyes open as the wind blew chunks of hail at his face. He remained at the entrance for what felt like an eternity, hollering out for his sister. Then, through a veil of raindrops, she returned absolutely drenched.
“I’m sorry! I’m sorry. I had to do it,” she cried out through the relentless noise of the storm. James was stunned to find her still holding the bowl in her hands – which was filled to the brim with rainwater.
“Are you insane? You could have been blown away! We ducked in here to get out of the storm! Look, just go inside, before you catch pneumonia or something - and give me that bowl; it isn’t worth getting killed over,” he scolded her, snatching it from her hands. The two of them pushed with all of their might against the giant wooden doors. After what felt like ages of fighting the increasingly violent wind, they sealed them. After James locked them, he returned to the nearby pew and picked up the bowl of rainwater carefully. Caroline was waiting for him back at the far end of the cathedral.
“It goes there,” she muttered, directing his attention to a large wooden pedestal. He plunked it down, irritated that she had run outside in such insane weather without needing to.
“Don’t be so stupid.”
Caroline rolled her eyes and shook her head. Sometimes James couldn't tell if she was fifteen or five.
“You don’t understand. You just don’t," she snapped back.
“What are you talking about? You spilled the holy water, then ran outside like a psycho to fill it. It’s not that complicated. Or am I missing something?”
“Shut up. Just leave me alone, James.”
“No. If something’s bothering you, then spit it out, already,” he said, frustrated.
Caroline looked as if she was doing her best to stay silent, but couldn’t any longer.
“It’s because you’re a faggot.”
They locked eyes without speaking for a moment, the thunderclaps dancing behind the windows like a mockery of fate around them.
“You do not get to do this. I can’t believe you,” he replied, perplexed at his own sister’s disregard for his own feelings.
“You expect me to hold it in for the rest of my life? Why do you think that I’m upset? James, I wanted to make him happy,” she said, staring up towards the ceiling.
“Are you for real?” James asked incredulously.
“I knew spilling the holy water would make him mad, and figured we were in enough trouble because you were here too.”
“I’m not some evil monster, you know.”
Caroline shot him a filthy look.
“He’s going to burn you.”
James couldn’t help but be flabbergasted by his sister’s change in attitude, tinged with bigotry and hatefulness. After several minutes of wandering around the cathedral, listening to the roaring rain and screaming wind, he returned to find Caroline flipping through an old bible.
“What the hell are you reading that for?”
“To save myself. I’m going to need all the help I can get, bringing you here.”
He couldn’t believe what he was hearing. The days of playing together and having a special bond that only siblings could were suddenly in danger of ceasing.
“Look… I can’t change. I was never given the option to choose my identity. This isn’t a fucking role-playing game. Can’t you understand? I didn’t do anything wrong. I never chose any of this!”
“You can say anything you want, but it won’t change how I feel,” she mocked him in a singsong voice, not looking away from the bible. James was confounded. Caroline was always more than supportive of his identity, and understood the fact that he never chose his own genetic makeup. It was almost as if the bible glued to her hands was brainwashing her, pulling her into a great cocoon of bigotry and closed-mindedness.
“Where did you get that thing from anyway? Since when were you so convinced by a religious cult?” he asked, eyeing the little black book with a look of absolute loathing for all the harm it caused in their chaotic world.
“Is it any of your business? No,” she shot back, continuing to stare at the book as if it was to deliver some sort of salvation – whether from the storm or from James, he couldn’t tell. Giving her a demanding look, she gave a long sigh.
“Fine. I’ve been helping out here on the weekends, and took the book home with me. Happy? It still doesn’t change how much of a sinner you are – and don’t call my religion a cult you… you faggot. They’re there to open my eyes wider.”
“You just took it? As in stole it?” he probed, smirking at the look of realization etched on Caroline’s impressionable young face, “So it’s all right to label me, but you didn’t do anything wrong? Really?”
The walls shuddered as a bolt of lightning struck nearby, sounding as if it weren’t even a few hundred yards away. Shards of stained glass on the floor shimmered in its glow.
“Shut up. Just shut the fuck up.”
“I won’t. They’re teaching you to hate who isn’t on their side so that you support and learn to need them in every way possible. Trust me. They’re a business like any other – only more cult-like. You just come in and sweep, and they know that you don’t understand their ways. That is how they condition you.”
“It’s all your fault. You brought the storm here. You put us into this situation by sucking cocks and kissing men. You’re vile and a bad omen,” she snarled from behind the open bible in her hands, evidently not listening to him.
Despite that James could see a hint of doubt in her eyes, he knew that she just wouldn’t budge – typical Caroline, he thought. He headed for the great entrance doors, wrenching them open with all of his strength. Enough was enough.
“What the hell are you doing?” she cried out after him, poorly stifling her concern for her brother – perhaps a sign of her love for him remaining despite her current mindset.
“I just can’t be here with you right now… you’re not yourself. I still love you, Caroline,” he called out, turning around to glare at her as the doors creaked shut on her unquestionably bewildered face. Soaked already by the rain, he splashed through the sloshy streets to find his way home, the fierce wind nearly lifting him off of his feet along the way. Hail, lightning and screaming air pelted him the whole way – Caroline’s frustration in a brutal physical form. Still, he was no longer afraid of the storm – Caroline felt like the real threat to him. Right now, there was no way they could see eye-to-eye. They needed space from one another.
James struggled with himself everyday, as did she with herself most likely. To him, it wasn’t a question of whether or not Caroline loved him – she obviously still did. The problem was that it simply wasn’t safe for either of them to be around each other, and that he didn’t want to be a burden anymore. As frustrating as this all was, he just wanted Caroline to be happy.
Reaching the wind-battered door of their house, he realized that, as usual, his parents weren’t home. Likely another overnighter with friends, he figured. Packing a bag with essentials (a Gameboy, batteries, potato chips and all the money he could find stashed under his father’s mattress), James listened to the crescendo of natural violence just beyond his bedroom window, afraid and alone. The screams of the storm were now so intense that they stifled any emotions or thoughts – it was like a twisted symphony that calmed his nerves. Between flickers of power, the radio in the living room echoed garbled warnings, with mention of a possible tornado before cutting out.
All was grey and blurry to James mentally. Lying under the covers of his bed, holding himself with his bag of essentials at arm’s reach, he prayed. The regret over abandoning Caroline intensified, turning his stomach. But going out there now was suicide, as the scream of the wind grew louder and the crashes of objects outside intensified. After a while, somehow, James passed out amidst the crashes and bangs of the wicked night.
The next morning, he awoke to his bedroom window cracked and water damage on the walls coming from the roof. He immediately crawled out from his damp, dishevelled bed, put his backpack on, and headed outside. Aside from a few beaten-up houses and downed trees, it seemed as if the worst of the storm missed the area, but hearing sirens in the distance, he felt his stomach turn again. James followed them downtown, which was like a war zone. There were many shocked and upset residents who had made their way over to search the rubble, as many buildings had fallen.
Then, James was met with the worst sight. He fell to his knees, shattered like the shards of stained glass glimmering in the sheer daylight. Despondent, he observed the mountain of crumbled stone where the cathedral – and Caroline – once stood.
The worn walls of worship had fallen upon her overnight.