04 Apr I Haunted a Cult That Sacrificed Me
“I Haunted a Cult That Sacrificed Me”Written by Wentz Hesselman Edited by Craig Groshek Thumbnail Art by Craig Groshek Narrated by N/A
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🎧 Available Audio Adaptations: None Available
⏰ ESTIMATED READING TIME — 17 minutes
I was 17 when I died. Okay, I’m lying. I was 46. But I was 17 at heart. I was living like I was 17. I was still at home with my mother, still living in my room that I had since I was born into that house. I was also sponging off of her shamelessly. Dad had left behind a generous amount of money for both of us. I managed to piss all of my share away on beer and other things that weren’t much better.
When I had spent all of it, I found ways of spending Mama’s share. It was the same tactics that had worked when I was four years old. The same tactics that had worked when I was ten. When I was 17. She was one of those mothers and I was one of those sons. I had denied it up until I died. I knew I was a piece of crap, but no force on earth was going to get me to admit it. My pride and my hard head guaranteed it. Well, in my current state, pride is pointless, and I checked on my head where it got left. It’s got a crack in it. So it’s not as hard as it used to be.
God bless my mom, but she really is as stupid as she is loving. I had been going to have a night with my guy friends who were like me; they didn’t do much after high school and sponged off our parents. Those old yearbook signatures we left for each other that said “Best friends, together forever” were really quite literal, thanks to the power of alcohol and laziness.
I can still see her as I had my foot in the door. She told me to look both ways before crossing the street and not to talk to strangers. Just like she talked to me when I was a kid. I had done some pre-drinking, so my rebellion levels were elevated. I told her that I was going to do whatever I damn well pleased. I strode out the door to prove it. I ran blindly across the first busy street I came to. And the one after that. And the one after that. I didn’t have a license, thanks to an ongoing relationship with driving under the influence.
Horns honked and tires squealed, and I still managed to come to the other side yelling, “Lookit me now, Ma! Lookit me NOW!” and I knew she was at home worrying about me.
Me and the guys slurred our hellos and got down to business. Business was finished at the usual time: when we got thrown out. All I could think about was how Ma had told me not to talk to strangers. So as the three of us staggered our way to wherever, I ran up to everyone I saw and tipped my green camo ballcap and said, “Howdyado?” Then I’d run off shouting something like, “Look ma, I’m talking to strangers!”
The guys laughed, not really knowing why.
I got so caught up in saying hey to every stranger in sight, and the guys got so caught up in following me that we didn’t notice that my trail was taking us away from anything familiar. There’s such a thing as a beer buzz so deep that every house looks like your house and every street looks like your street. So as far as we knew, we were all close to home. Nope.
We were skirting the edge of our small town where there were acres of dark timber. My beer goggles kept me from seeing the leaves and the brush and tree trunks. I still thought I saw houses and sidewalks.
And when there was an ominous figure standing in the woods wearing the severed head of a deer-like headdress with the blood flowing down his bare chest, I just saw another random person in a t-shirt and jeans. The guys didn’t see the same thing.
“Hey Denny, you might wanna leave that one alone,” one of ‘em said.
“Shut up, idiot, you startin’ to sound like my Ma!” I fired back.
I got right in the deer’s dead face. I could smell the rot. The skin was warped, like the skullbone had been removed.
“Howdyado?” I said, tipping my hat.
“Are you a virgin?” the stranger said.
“Well yeah, but your voice sounds right manly, so I ain’t looking to–”
I didn’t see the sawn-off shotgun that aimed at hip level and fired at my friends. Todd’s lower jaw disintegrated and some of the fragments fell down inside his shirt.
Randy’s ribs all on his left side got exposed, and I think I saw the moonlight reflecting off part of his beating heart. And Bill? Billiam, as we called him? Well, he suddenly had only one leg, and he crawled around in a tight circle screaming like his nipple was caught in something with mechanical parts. Then he stopped moving.
I managed to ask the mysterious stranger if my friends were gonna heal up in time for another drink. That’s when he got me good on the forehead with the butt of that shotgun. I saw stars that danced around like real pretty fireworks. I wanted to go back to that when I woke up, but there was no going back.
I was inside some rickety old church. Like your great grandma’s house out in the sticks, except it’s like one day she said, “Hey, let’s turn this place into a church!”
I was by myself, and I had this horrible pain in my left shoulder. Something was poking out of it, and that weren’t normal. It was some kind of meat hook. I hung like a dressed cow over a pan apparently meant to catch any drippings. Churches gotta stay clean.
I wanted to loudly articulate both the severity of my situation and my feelings about it, but all my mouth would manage were squishy, wailing vowels. Either I was still drunk, or I had been drugged. Strange that the same people that would hang me on a meat hook would be nice enough to give me drugs.
I was in the middle of telling the Lord that I’d start coming to church again if I could do it without the meat hook when the crooked double doors of the church opened. Three boys entered, one of them with a pitchfork, another with a shovel, and another with a hammer. They looked exactly like the kind of boys you’d expect to be named Delmar, Floyd, and Bubba. They weren’t smiling, like they took their names seriously.
“Waugh-wub wurb wuh wuh woolagawaaah,” I said, which was supposed to come out as “Get me down off this hook, for crying out loud.”
Either they didn’t understand or they didn’t care.
“Okay, let’s tenderize him,” said the tallest one.
I found out that tenderizing isn’t a good thing. The one with the pitchfork tried to ram the handle up my backside, and when that didn’t work, he thought that the fork end might do better. Let me tell you, it didn’t.
By the time I was hog-tied and laying on the altar, surrounded by a bunch of hooded crazies in overalls and old-timey clothes, I was feeling grateful. The end had to be near. It had to be.
A high priest of some kind in shimmering emerald robes slashed my throat, collected my blood in a chalice, took a big swig and spat it onto the crowd in the pews. This must have been a good thing because they all started hootin’ and hollerin’ and jumping up and down.
Then death finally took me. Or had it?
I found myself still laying on the altar. But I could move. I didn’t hurt anymore, so there was that. Moonlight bled through the cracks in some of the stained glass. That was the only light, and yet I could see just fine. I felt my face. I didn’t have night-vision goggles or nothing.
I felt cold and somehow felt okay. I was at peace, and this bothered me. You shouldn’t be feeling alright after you’ve been violated with both ends of a pitchfork and then volunteered as some weird cult’s sacrificial lamb. Todd used to get off on some pretty crazy stuff, and even he wouldn’t go for what I had been through.
I went to the door and somehow went through it. My reaction was delayed by the sight of a great bonfire just outside the church where the entire congregation was gathered. They were singing, dancing, and eating.
My heart skipped a beat when I saw my own severed head on a wooden stake, the mouth hanging open, as if to say something but hesitating.
Then I noticed my heart wasn’t beating at all. I was dead. The full reality of it hit me.
I clenched my eyes shut, and I took a deep breath and I nodded.
“Okay, Lord. I’m ready.”
I opened my eyes. The picnic was still there.
I closed my eyes again. Opened them again. Then I rapid-fire blinked to see if that would help.
“Anytime, Lord,” I said. But there was no answer and no change. I was both confused and worried. I eyed my feet warily just in case they would start sinking into the ground. That didn’t happen, neither.
I looked around, and my eyes were arrested by the one pair of peepers that were actually trained on me. A young guy in a t-shirt and jeans that didn’t look so well. He was pale and sick. He looked dead.
“You look dead,” he called out.
“I was thinking the same about you,” I shot back.
“That’s because I am. You must be dead, too, if you can hear me.”
“How’s a guy supposed to get to Heaven around here?”
“You can’t. You’re stuck. The cult’s got some kind of dark mojo that holds all the spirits in.”
“That’s not funny,” I said.
“I’m not lying. And ain’t you a bit old to be a virgin sacrifice?”
“I don’t know you, but we can’t be friends. So long,” I waved at him and left.
* * * * * *
I learned a few things about being dead. First, if you daydream, days fly by like minutes. Time is completely different. Second, you don’t get tired or hungry. Getting stuck in a conversation must be hell if you can’t make the excuse that it’s getting late and ya gotta go.
Third, there is nearly no way at all to interact with the living. Nearly. My little tale here is about what “nearly” entails.
I spent weeks wandering around. I thought that I might hit some sort of barrier that wouldn’t let me go any further, but instead I just kept ending up back at the cult’s little village they had going on in the middle of the woods. North, South, East, or West, if I walked far enough, I came back to the same spot. Kinda like Pac-Man.
I kept seeing that same ghost from before, the kid in the shirt and jeans. You never really stop jumping at the sight of a ghost even though you be one yerself. I kept avoiding him. You just don’t mock someone’s virginity right after they die and expect them to be friendly.
But he was persistent, and we eventually started shooting the breeze. His name was Eric, and he was kidnapped and murdered just as he was about to lose his virginity in the back of his cherry-red Corvette. He was about to turn twenty. That was over thirty-five years ago. Apparently the girl he was with had lied about her virginity cuz she was nowhere to be found.
The sun flew overhead fast, chased by the moon in a rapid race with no finish line. That’s when I found out time speeds up during conversation, too.
“Where’s everyone else? We can’t be the only two people they’ve ever murdered,” I asked.
“There’s a few that are still around. But there’s something about the area that dissolves ghosts. Like it has a way of eating them.” He saw my alarm and waved his hand, adding that it takes hundreds of years for spirits to be fully consumed. But that didn’t make me feel better. I looked around at the cult’s fields of grain and vegetables and the clear blue sky, and I felt as confined as Jonah in the belly of the whale.
I didn’t care if I had a hundred years or a million. I wanted out.
“What kind of people are these? How do you have a colony like this in the woods and never get busted by the police?”
Eric just shrugged.
“Can’t tell you much about their history, man. They’ve got books, but nobody reads them. That’s par for the course for most faiths.”
“And you can’t pull the books off the shelf yourself.”
“Well, I could, if I waited long enough. But even that will try the patience of a ghost.” He must have seen the question in my eyes, and he gestured me to follow.
He led me to a run-down shack near the church. It was full of bookshelves, and none of them matched. Some were wooden, others metal, others plastic.
“Get comfortable. We could be here a few years,” he said.
“What are we looking for?”
“Just wait, okay?”
Turned out we only had to wait a few months. Something like a pucker floated through the air. I don’t know what else to call it. It looked like the air was being pinched by invisible fingers into a pucker…an ethereal butthole drifting along like a feather on every subtle movement of air.
Eric maneuvered himself so that the floating ghost anus was between him and one of the rows of books. He pushed his hand through the pucker and pulled a book off the shelf, but it ended up flopping onto the floor.
“It doesn’t last long,” he said.
“What the hell was that?” I asked.
“I have no idea. But they let you do stuff like that for a few seconds at a time. They’ll also let you be heard, too, if you speak into them. They usually aren’t worth the wait, though.”
“What on God’s green earth do you mean they aren’t worth the wait? That’s got to be the ticket for something!”
I left Eric there, not waiting to hear what he’d have to say. I felt like an inmate that had been handed the master keys of the prison, and I had every intention of using them.
I settled into the home of one of the families and made their home into my laboratory for experimenting with floating buttholes. I learned that the cultists were very much inbred. The gene pool was just deep enough to keep the kids from coming out with three heads.
The man of the house was a goatish-looking thing named Jeb. He had his dumpy, warty wife, who was also his cousin, Edith. They had twin girls and a son that led the girls by three years or so, Gretchen, Bella, and Martin.
I pulled objects off of shelves and tables, I yelled at people, and they heard me. But nothing happened that would help me.
By the time my swell of hope fizzled out, Martin was old enough to be looking at his sisters all hungry like. There were a lot more puckers in the air on Halloween, but not enough to get excited over. Eric had been right. The only real thing I had managed to do was spook the family I was squatting with.
I got attached to the twins, something I hadn’t planned on. They weren’t pretty kids to look at. Both of them had large noses like sweet potatoes. Their eyes were pretty, but everything else was the stuff of trolls and ogres. They ate the congregation’s victims with just as much relish as the rest of them. But I had failed at having my own family. Twin ogre kids were better than no kids at all.
I would have liked Martin more if he didn’t eyeball his sisters like that. The girls were just as evil as he was when it came down to it, but they were girls. It was somehow easier to ignore cuz of that.
Bella was somehow less awful than Gretchen. A gentleness would cross her eyes at times, and she was the most bullied by her parents and siblings. I knew deep down that it was a case of a vicious dog being picked on by bigger vicious dogs. But I couldn’t help it. The father I never got to be responded to her.
I resigned myself more and more to the fate that Eric had told me about. So I thought I’d spend my remaining time on that side of oblivion next to Bella and interacting with her however I could. Whether she was grabbing a field mouse and eating it alive, or getting kicked around by her parents, or sitting in church listening to the screams of another poor idiot that couldn’t get any poontang, or just snoring gently in her bed, I was there.
Eric dropped in on me after one really nasty sacrifice. I had the house to myself, as everyone was outside around the fire eating. I saw my Bella twisting the meat off the victim’s toes, and I just couldn’t do it that time. I stayed in.
“You’ve adopted that family, huh?”
“I’ve adopted her,” I said, nodding to the linseed oil portrait of Bella that hung above the fireplace.
“She’d be the runt of the litter if she weren’t a twin.”
“She’s just as awful and disgusting as the rest of them. But I love her.”
“I know. I never got to be a dad, and kids…well, they don’t ask to be born into any of this, you know? Bella didn’t ask for this life or those parents or this religion, or any of it.”
“Her brother might marry her. He could marry both of them if he wanted to.”
I shuddered. “Why are you telling me this?”
“I can just tell you’re getting attached. The damned should look out for each other.”
“I was attached a long time ago. So what comes after this? Just nothing?”
Eric shrugged. “It’s just like the last life. We didn’t know what came after it, and now we don’t know what comes after this. I’ll leave you to your family. I just wanted to say hey.”
With that, he was gone.
* * * * * *
The twins hit thirteen, and they grew these awful, misshapen breasts that their brother couldn’t take his eyes off of. I sat by Bella’s bedside and told her everything I knew about staying away from drooling, horny boys. Thanks to one opportune pucker floating by one night, she got to hear about four or five of my words. Her eyes fluttered open, glanced around like a frightened scavenger dog, and then drifted back off to sleep.
Shortly after the girls turned fifteen, their brother could no longer control himself. He raped Bella first, and I can’t remember wanting to harm a living human being so badly in my life or my death. He left her in a broken heap in the woods, and then he went and found his other sister to do the same to her.
And nobody did anything.
The girls told their parents, and they barely batted an eye.
I continued to stay by Bella’s side. It hurt to see how the trauma had changed her, but I didn’t know what else to do with myself. Her sleep wasn’t sound no more. She would beg someone to stop what they were doing. Sometimes she woke up screaming and crying. Her brother would come in and tell her to be quiet unless she “wanted it” again. She would panic, but direct her screams into her pillow. He walked away smiling each time, and if I still had blood, it would be boiling.
Her night terrors turned into sleepwalks. And that’s when I noticed something. There was a pucker embedded in the left side of her head. It looked like someone was pulling the skin of her head inward, and it was sinking into a great inner vacuum. She looked around with empty eyes.
“Bella? Can you hear me?” I tried.
She slowly turned to me, slack-jawed.
“You can hear me?”
“You can see me?”
She began to nod. Then her eyes fluttered, and she screamed.
The pucker disappeared from her head, and she stared at where I was standing.
“Bella?” I said again. Nothing. She turned her head this way and that and ran out of the room.
I was thrilled. She had seen me and heard me. And it wasn’t the last time. Whenever she went sleepwalking, there was that pucker on the side of her head, and I tried to present myself in a way that wouldn’t get her screaming. I failed each time. Whatever Casper’s secret was to being a friendly ghost, it went over my head.
Then her brother assaulted her and her sister again.
She had a pucker in the back of her head after that. Throughout the day, it would appear for a few seconds and disappear for several hours. I reached out to her even more, but she was as terrified of me as ever.
I sat beside her one night in despair as she got out of bed for another sleepwalk.
“Too bad you can’t burn this place down with ‘em all locked inside,” I said. Her empty line of sight swept over me and she staggered out of the room. I got lost in my thoughts, and the sounds of a yell and shattering glass broke my concentration. Surely her brother wasn’t going to assault her in the house.
I went downstairs to find that she had taken the family’s large oil lamp and knocked it off the table. It was usually a nightlight, but this time it wasn’t lit. Only the cover had broken. The reservoir of oil was intact. The family rushed downstairs, cleaned up the glass, chastised their daughter and they all went back to bed. I stood and stared at the floor where the lamp had fallen.
She not only heard me. She had acted on what I said.
Martin’s assaults on Bella became a regular part of her life. Even with dividing his energy between both his sisters, he was still on her often. And the puckers riddled her body, blinking in and out of existence like spiritual bullet holes. The more puckers she had, the harder it was for her to wake up from a sleepwalk. She also became listless and had all but completely stopped talking.
She began responding to detailed suggestions. I could get her to do a set number of laps around the living area. I could get her to retrieve specific items in a specific order. I had a power over her that I would have used to extremes when I was freshly dead.
But by then, she was “my” daughter, and I had no idea what to do with my ability to program her.
One night like any other, I sat beside her bed as she went to sleep. The ambient moonlight washed out just enough of her harsh features that she almost looked pretty. I gazed at her until she opened her eyes and looked right into mine. This made me jump.
“You’ve been in my home for a very long time,” she said.
“You and your family sacrificed me and ate me. The least you could do is let me stay with you,” I said. I couldn’t remember if she had been born before or after I was murdered. Didn’t matter.
“Ma and Pa told me that the outsiders we eat aren’t any smarter than pigs.”
“I talk pretty good for a pig ghost, don’t I?”
“Why are you always following me around? You’ve scared me so bad, and now I see you all the time. I’ve tried pretending I don’t see you, but you’re everywhere I go.”
“I can’t leave this place. Plus, too, I never had kids. I guess I kinda fell in love with you.”
Her pupils flared. “Marty too?”
“Oh, hell no. Not Martin, not at all. It kills me all over again to see him come near you. I mean that so much, Bella. I…”
And I didn’t think it possible, but I started to blubber ghost tears. She got misty-eyed also.
“You wanna be free?”
“Of course I wanna be free, but I can’t. Besides, I don’t wanna leave you now.”
“Well, I wanna be free, and I’m gonna be.”
“You gonna run away?”
She didn’t answer. She just pulled her dirty blankets around her and rolled over.
I haunted her really hard after that, pestering her with questions and begging her not to do anything stupid. My mind flew in all directions with paranoia. I didn’t know if she was going to run away or kill herself or what. I could tell she heard me and saw me plain as day. But she wouldn’t pay me no mind. I finally gave up and went off to be by myself. It wasn’t like when I was alive, and I could just go to bed get away from what was on my mind. No, it was a constant state of dread. So I folded up and went to the church. I stood next to that awful altar where it all started.
I could feel the evil radiating off of it like heat. I got that feeling throughout the place, but it was strong at that altar. I couldn’t tell what was so special about it. It was wooden and covered with bloody hay.
I got lost in thought, and I watched the daylight blink in and out through the stained glass as days rolled on.
I was interrupted by the congregation coming in for another slaughter. They dragged the poor fool to the altar, bound and gagged. The pews filled up, and the high priest came front and center with that knife and that damned chalice.
I scanned the crowd for Bella. I found her, and I swear she was looking right at me. The entire throng got worked up, feeding on the priest’s bellows and howls, which they echoed back to him. All except for Bella.
When my eyes fell on her again, she was smiling at me. She got up and slipped out of the church at a peak moment when nobody would notice.
The priest made the kill, the chalice filled, he took a mouthful of the warm blood and spat it upon his flock. Then things fell apart quick.
The round stained glass window at the peak of the wall and the roof behind the altar shattered. Something heavy crashed against the floor and erupted into flames. The church was mostly wood, and the fire fell in love with it. In the flash of confusion and panic, the flames suddenly rushed across tracks of hidden flammables to reservoirs of oil and other combustibles beneath the pews. The explosions were impressive. A few pews were launched whirling into the air, crushing and swatting parishioners. As soon as I remembered that I was dead and flame-retardent, I passed through the walls of the church to look for Bella.
That girl, I swear. I saw that all the doors had been barricaded from the outside. There were brackets for holding heavy lintels that hadn’t been there the day before, and nobody noticed until it was too late and the lintels were in place.
The church burned down with everyone locked inside.
I felt the change when the fire had kindled on the altar. Eric appeared beside me, and we exchanged the same look.
“Your daughter’s work?” he said.
“Yep. Sure is. I’m proud of her.”
We were so caught up in watching the church burn, that we were both startled by the sound of the trumpet that came from the sky. Me and Eric exchanged looks again.
“Oh, man, this just keeps getting better and better. Come on, let’s go,” he said.
“I need to find Bella first.”
“No, you don’t. You might not get a second invitation, now let’s go.”
I watched Eric buoy up toward the sky. He was right. If she survived the journey out of her old home, then I would see her eventually. Hopefully. She was still innocent in the whole mess, in my opinion.
“I’m ready, Lord,” I said. And the most wonderful warmth I had ever felt wrapped around me.
🎧 Available Audio Adaptations: None Available