28 Oct The Goat Room
“The Goat Room”Written by Elias Witherow 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 — 24 minutes
My phone buzzed in my pocket. I reached for it, only half-listening to the sales meeting I was in. My boss was rattling on, stressing about how we needed to push numbers, increase our revenue, the usual slog. The other eight salesmen around the table looked as bored as I did, staring with half-lidded eyes, mouths slightly ajar. We heard the same pitch every year and honestly, we were tired of it. If someone was dead set against buying, there was literally nothing we could do about it.
I loosened my tie and checked my phone under the table. The number was blocked. My heart skipped a beat. Could this be?
It was a text. It read: Congratulations, you’ve been accepted.
I wanted to jump up and pump my fist into the air, excitement rising in my chest like lava from a volcano. I couldn’t believe it. After all this time, I had finally done it. After all my hard work and dedication, all those times I went the extra mile and thought no one noticed. It felt good to know it was all worth something. It felt great. The possibilities this would open up, the life it could lead to…it was everything I had ever wanted.
I shot a glance at my boss at the head of the room (still rambling and pointing to a pie chart on the projector) and quickly sent a message back: When do I start?
I placed the phone on my leg, drumming the tabletop as I waited for an answer. I forced myself to breathe. I felt like I could burst for joy. I was tempted to give my co-workers the finger and walk out of the meeting, but resisted. I could stay professional about this. I wanted to call my wife and tell her the good news. She would be so proud of me. And the kids!? Wait till they heard what a hotshot their old man was about to become!
I was so proud of myself. I was setting such a good example for my family. I was really doing this. And to think they picked me?! I couldn’t help but smile thinking about it. My phone buzzed again and I quickly checked the reply text: We start tonight. Meet at Quincy Office at 8 pm for orientation. Feel free to bring your family. And well done!
I felt like I could die with excitement. Tonight!? My guts bubbled and I shifted in my seat. There was so much to think about, so much to prepare. I thought about what lay ahead of me and worms worked their way into my stomach.
I pulled up my wife’s number and sent her a quick text, not being able to help myself: They chose me!!! Orientation is tonight at 8! U and the kids can come! SO EXCITED!!!
The finality of it hit me then. Something about sharing the news with my wife made it real. This was really happening. I was really going to do this. Our lives were about to change forever. I was about to lead my family into the next tier of class.
I stood up suddenly, pocketing my phone. My boss and fellow salesmen looked up at me, eyebrows cocked. I looked around at their washed-out faces, almost feeling sympathy. How many of these poor saps would die at this job? How many of them had already settled into the monotony of what their lives had become? That’s what separated me from them. I strove to do great things. I pushed myself and walked that extra mile. I had passions, fire in my chest.
“Do…you want to say something, Thomas?”
I blinked at my boss, staring down the long table at his expectant face.
“Thomas?” He called to me, finger hovering over the all-important pie chart.
I looked around at everyone, a small smile planted on my lips, “Uh…” I snorted, shaking my head, “Uh, I think I’m done here, guys. It’s been a real pleasure, but, uh…” I started laughing, not able to hold it in any longer, “but I got better things lined up! Take care now, you hear?” And with that, I marched myself out the door, followed by shocked stares.
When I got home, my wife met me at the door with a big hug and a sparkling smile. She told me she had left work as soon as she got my message. She was beaming, ushering me inside and taking my coat, compliments bubbling from her lips. She told me she was just so proud of me and all the hard work I had put into this. She told me I was special, that she had always known I was, and finally other people had noticed.
I asked her where the kids were, smiling myself, the excitement and rush still fueling my emotions. She told me they were at school, but she had called the principal and notified she needed to pull them early. They would be excited too, I just knew they would.
“What should I wear tonight? Are we going to be there for the whole orientation? Will they let us stay?” She asked, running into the bedroom and pulling out dresses from the closet.
I shrugged, grinning like an idiot. “I don’t know, hun. I guess we’ll find out.”
She spun around, a small blue dress pressed to her frame, and said, “How’s this? Is this good? Oh, Thomas, I’m just so happy I could burst!” She ran over to me, giggling, and kissed me, her arms around my neck. She looked up into my eyes, admiration shining from her own. “Can I tell everyone?”
I laughed. “They’ll all be at orientation! You can tell them then, before we start! You know how these things go. We’ve been to enough of them, right?”
She smiled, a picture of beauty from ear to ear. “I know, I know! It’s just so wonderful!” We picked up the kids together, my two boys, from their middle school. They climbed into the backseat, positively beaming that they had gotten a half-day. I wanted to take them out, have some fun, celebrate.
As my wife pulled the car out of the school parking lot, I leaned over my seat, grinning, and looked at my children.
“I bet you guys are wondering why you got to leave school early?” I couldn’t help but feel a little smug. They weren’t going to believe this.
They both shook their heads. “Well,” I said, folding my hands, “your ol’ dad, is going to ORIENTATION tonight! I’ve been accepted! Isn’t that great, kids!?”
Both my son’s mouths dropped in unison, followed shortly by whoops of excitement. I laughed and clapped my hands, enjoying their reaction to the news.
“Do we get to go?!” my eldest asked.
I nodded, “You sure do. All of you get to go. And guess what? It’s tonight!”
Well, that did it. They screamed, the hype just too much. I laughed until tears rolled down my face, watching the delight ripple across their faces like shock waves. It’s wonderful to have kids. Often times they say or react in the ways adults aren’t allowed.
Finally, I raised my hands and told them to settle down (still wiping the tears from my eyes). I told them we were going to have a family day of fun to celebrate and then after that, I was taking them to dinner. More eruptions of joy followed – along with a few shouts of ‘this is the best day ever!’ – and I chuckled again, asking them what they would like to do first.
After some discussion and negotiation amongst my family, we decided that we were going to go to the movies. After that, it was off to our favorite burger joint for dinner and milkshakes.
We spent the afternoon in the movie theater, slurping down overpriced soda and munching on stale popcorn. After the movie, I wiped butter from my kids’ fingers and ushered them back to the car. Despite having just consumed a barrel of popcorn, my sons moaned that they were sta-a-a-arving! Having not eaten but a few kernels myself, I was glad to hear it. I checked my watch and saw that we had two hours before we had to be at the Quincy Office.
We drove across town, our ride filled with commentary about the movie we had just seen (my sons loved it, my wife, not so much). I argued with my oldest about some of the plot points, goading him a little bit just because I was in such a good mood. My wife shook her head, smiling to herself and enjoying the positive energy that sparked around us.
Thirty minutes later, I pulled into the restaurant and parked. Already shouting out what they wanted to eat, the boys bounded from the car. I opened my door and got out, telling them to settle down, the burgers weren’t going anywhere.
As I watched my wife follow our kids, it hit me like a shotgun blast.
You’re going to the Goat Room tonight.
I bent over, suddenly in need of air, and sucked in the evening sky. I blinked a few times, clearing my head, the realization crippling my mind. I pulled in another couple of breaths and chuckled. The gravity of the night before me was astounding.
At that moment, I felt like the luckiest guy in the world.
I looked up and saw my wife calling me, asking if I was ok. I straightened, and gave her a thumbs-up and a big smile. I walked to them at the front of the restaurant, taking in my surroundings, letting the setting sun cast its warm rays across my face. What a time to be alive. We got a booth and ordered our food (I got my usual Buffalo Burger), watching the day fade into night through the windows.
We chomped through the patties, my kids devouring theirs with alarming speed, and I ordered us all a round of milkshakes (as promised). I didn’t think they needed any more sugar buzzing through their systems, but what the heck – we were celebrating, weren’t we?
As I watched my youngest slurp down the last of his frothy treat, I wiped his face with a napkin and checked my watch. My eyes met my wife’s and I nodded to her.
I paid the bill and herded my family back to the car. From the restaurant, it was only a ten-minute drive to the Quincy Office. As the night blurred past the windows, I felt myself grow quiet. My wife seemed to notice and did her best to shush the kids. She knew I needed some serenity, the weight of the evening approaching fast. She squeezed my arm and offered me a smile. I returned it and focused on the road. I was grateful for her support, grateful for my wonderful family.
“You doing okay?” she asked quietly. I nodded.
“Better than ever. This is just a big step for us, you know? It’s a lot to take in.”
We pulled into the Quincy Office, its many floors towering above the parking lot. I found us a spot and noticed a few familiar faces already entering the building. The kids took notice as well and began to unbuckle and call out to their friends. I let them go, turning the car off and smiling as they raced to their buddies.
The cool night air tickled my skin and I felt a kind of euphoric awe settle over me as I got out of the car. I walked around to my wife, taking her hand in mind. As we walked inside, we waved to Parkers and Kleins, both of whom had just arrived.
The interior of the building was air-conditioned and I nodded my hello to the security guard at the front desk. My wife signed us in (she always insisted on being the one to sign us in) and we went to the elevator. There was already a small crowd gathered around them, all waiting to ascend. I spotted my kids excitedly talking to their friends and I guessed they were already spilling the news.
Troy saw me and made his way over to us. He shook my hand and exclaimed, “Thomas, I heard your kids talking, I heard you got the promotion! Is it true?”
My wife answered before I could, admiration lacing her words, “It sure is, Troy! I always knew he’d get it one day. He’s such a dedicated man. How could he not get it?”
I blushed as Troy slapped me on the back and congratulated me. He called his own family over and told them the news, earning me another round of thumbs up and courteous congrats. At that point, the news was spreading around the lobby and I was suddenly assaulted by a barrage of handshakes and hugs from all our friends and acquaintances. They all wished me luck and I detected notes of jealousy from more than one of them.
Finally, we piled into the elevators and pushed the button to take us to the top. The whole way up I got slaps on the back and smiles, an endless stream of affirmation. It was a good feeling, a great feeling. I looked at my kids and saw their eyes glowing with respect for their ol’ dad. I reached out and ruffled their hair.
A ding announced our arrival at the top and we poured out, the doors closing behind us to collect the next batch in the lobby. My shoes clicked on the marble floors and I saw Kent and Bradly (both rocking beautiful grey suits, I might add) already waiting for everyone.
They held up their hands, smiling and quieting everyone. White light illuminated the hallway, casting a glare off the floor that almost stung my eyes. I blinked and focused on what Kent was saying.
“Alright everyone, settle down!” he announced with a grin. “I know it’s a big night tonight, but we’ve all done this before. You know the drill. Follow Bradly to the conference room and we’ll get started in just a little bit.”
He turned to me then, “Except for you, Thomas! You come with me and I’ll start prepping you for orientation. When you feel like you’re ready, we’ll join the others in the conference room.”
I turned to my family and gave them all a big hug. I kissed my sons on the head and my wife on the lips. She beamed up at me and gave me one quick nod. Go get ‘em.
The tide of people flowed down the hall, led by Bradly, towards the conference room. I went the opposite way, led by Kent, who brought me to his office. A beautiful, polished oak desk dominated the room, the walls lined with oil paintings nailed to dark wood. It was quite the contrast to the modern marble design of the hallway and as the door shut behind me, I felt like I was in a different building.
Kent waved for me to take a seat on the plump leather chair opposite the desk. With a contented sigh, he plopped himself down in front of his computer and leaned back, folding his hands on his chest. I took my seat across from him and licked my lips, feeling a little nervous.
“Are you nervous?” Kent asked, grinning.
I chuckled, “Yeah, I think so. But that’s a good thing, I think. I’m excited.”
Kent tapped the top of the desk, “Glad to hear it. Now, let’s get down to business. I know you’re aware of how the first part of this goes, correct? I’ll take you to the conference room and swear you in. After that, you’ll say a few words to everyone and maybe assure them of your dedication. After that, Bradly and I will escort you… well… I think you know the rest.”
I nodded, “Then I go to the Goat Room.”
Kent grunted, “Yes, then we go to the Goat Room.”
He leaned forward, “Now, do you have any questions for me? I’m assuming you know what happens after you’re sworn in and we move you? It’s a silly question. I’m well aware you understand, but it’s something I have to ask.”
“I understand,” I said, “and I have only one question. It’s about my family…”
Kent cut me off with a curt slice of the hand, “Worry not, Thomas. You’ve ensured a better life for not just yourself, but for them as well. The very fact that you’re sitting here has already sealed that.”
“Again, thank you, sir.”
He sat in silence for a moment, letting the words sink in. Then, he stood up and ushered me to the door.
He led me out the door and down the hall, our footsteps echoing off the walls. I realized my palms were sweating and I wiped them on my pants. Everything I had worked so hard for was finally coming to fruition.
We entered a large room that was dimly lit. I looked to my left and saw the familiar stadium seating filled with shadowed faces, all excitedly watching me. Kent led me to a small table under a spotlight. As soon as we crossed the threshold of light, uproarious applause shook the room. I couldn’t help but smile, staring out at the familiar faces. I felt like I was in a college classroom about to give some freshmen a lecture that would change their lives. Bradly was waiting for us by the table, clapping along with the rest of them. I squinted and saw my wife and kids in the front row, beaming from ear to ear. I gave them a little wave and centered myself behind the table with Kent and Bradly standing at either shoulder.
They let the applause continue for a few moments before Kent raised his hands, quieting them. He walked around to the front of the table and began to speak.
“Good evening everyone and thank you for coming! Tonight marks the thirty-second promotion! Tonight we honor our devoted friend Thomas! Let’s all give him a hearty congratulations for all his hard work and contributions!” More applause spilled from the crowd and I began to feel like a celebrity. The room eventually settled and Kent turned to me, picking up a small black book from the table. He motioned for me to put my hand on it. I knew the drill. I had watched the thirty-two others before me go through the same ritual. I couldn’t believe I was standing up here, no longer just an observer.
I placed my hand on the book, already knowing the words that came next.
“Do you, Thomas James Martin, swear to uphold your position to the best of your abilities?” Kent said loudly, his voice echoing into the now silent room.
“Do you swear to give your life, if need be, in order to further our cause?”
“Do you swear upon your faith and family that you will proceed with the purest intentions?”
Kent then nodded, giving me a hidden wink, and passed the book over to Bradly who took it and motioned for me to place my hand on the cover again.
“Lastly, do you swear your loyalty and motivations are in accordance with our guidelines and that you will see this through until you have completed your task?”
He cleared his throat, then, “Thomas James Martin, I hereby congratulate you on your promotion, thank you for all you have done thus far, and pray for your continued dedication through all you endure.”
“Thank you, sir,” I responded.
Bradly glanced at Kent and they both nodded. The book was lowered and I was deafened by cheers and whistles. I smiled so hard I thought I’d rip my face in half. I winked at my wife and waved a hand to the crowd. Bradly and Kent both shook my hand and offered more congratulations. Bradly motioned me forward, offering the floor to me so that I could address everyone.
The room quieted as I licked my lips and prepared the words on my tongue.
“It is such an honor to be standing here tonight,” I said, my voice strong and sure. “I owe so much of this success to the patience and guidance of these two men right here,” I pointed to Kent and Bradly, who nodded their thanks to me.
“I also want to thank my family,” I continued, “for their undying love. I want to thank you all for your kindness tonight. I promise not to let you down. I promise I will see this through to the very end if need be.” I paused, scanning the room, slowly, taking it all in, meeting everyone’s eyes. “I love each and every one of you. I believe in what we do. I believe in you. I always have. And tonight I ask that you believe in me.”
The crowd went wild.
Kent and Bradly motioned for me. It was time to go. I waved to the people and exited the room to cheers and whistles.
It was time.
It was time to go to the Goat Room.
I had a sack over my head, the fabric blocking my sight completely. Kent was silent as he drove the van out of the city. Bradly was driving another one that held my family. I remained quiet, unsure if it was appropriate to speak. I felt the road vibrating through the floor as we trekked through the night. This was it. No going back now. I swallowed and felt my heart skip a few beats.
I don’t know how long we drove. This was part of the promotion ceremony that I had never been allowed to see. I knew what we were doing, but I was clueless as to how long it would take to get there. I wiped my hands over my knees, scrubbing more sweat from them. I summoned the faces of my family. They probably had to be blinded as well. I smiled inwardly, imaging my kids with black bags over their heads. They were probably complaining, giving Bradly a hard time.
Finally, after what felt like a few hours, I felt the van jerk to a halt and my ears picked up the spray of gravel under the tires.
“We’re here,” Kent announced, breaking the long silence. “Give Bradly a moment. He’s bringing your family inside now.”
I sat in the darkness as the van idled. My stomach churned as nerves wormed their way through my intestines. I took a breath to steady myself. I was ready.
“Let’s go,” Kent finally said, pulling the cloth from my eyes.
I rubbed my face, letting my vision adjust. We were at the end of a gravel road in the middle of an open field. In the far distance, I saw woods swaying in the night sky. A large single-story building stood before us, its plain concrete walls bare of windows. Despite its sprawling size, I only saw one entrance. I glanced at Kent and saw he was looking hard at me.
“You ready to do this?”
I nodded. “Of course.”
We exited the van, the small rocks crunching beneath my feet. A yellow moon hung fat in the sky like an infected boil on dark skin. I followed Kent up to the entrance, noticing a few more cars parked in front of the building, along with the van my family had come in. They were already inside, waiting for me. I wiped a hand across my face. Steady now.
Kent pushed through the large black door, the entranceway lit by hanging fluorescents. I didn’t see anyone, the interior as bare as the concrete walls that lined it. The air was musky, some long-forgotten odor rising from the ground. I wrinkled my nose and followed Kent down a long hall, our feet echoing across the bare concrete floors. The ceiling was high over our heads, lights hanging from it like dead bodies, motionless in the still air.
“Where is everyone?” I asked.
“Waiting for you,” Kent answered without turning.
We turned down another hallway and were stopped by two large double doors. They pulsed with red light and I could hear sound from the other side. Candles illuminated the space, stuck into the walls like knives, hot wax running down the cement like dried semen.
Kent turned to me. “Here we go. Ready?”
I nodded, pushing down my nerves.
Kent pushed the doors open and heat blasted across my face. The room before me was huge, circular in shape, its walls curving like a swollen stomach. A bright red light lit the space, shadowing everything beneath it in an eerie glow.
Seated along the far wall was The Word, his tall figure hidden by flowing red cloth that draped over his head and ran down to pool on the floor. He didn’t move under his garment, giving him a strange, statue-like appearance. Seeing him sit upon his bone-white throne, I wondered what he looked like, the fabric revealing nothing but a gentle pull around the mouth when he breathed.
Sitting to the left of him was my family, somber, but I could see a muffled excitement underneath their watchful eyes. Spanning out past my family were the rest of the Executives. They sat in their perfectly pressed business suits, eyes trained on me as I stood in the door. It was the first time I had seen them, knew who they were, and a couple of the faces surprised me.
The floor was covered with red markings, circles and hard angles crisscrossing along the concrete. Candles littered the floor, rising from the ground like broken teeth. The air was heavy and thick, almost fog-like, the red light obscuring my vision slightly.
I felt something prod my back and I turned to see Kent motioning me forward. Hesitantly, I moved towards the middle of the room and stood before The Word. I wondered where everyone else was, the prior thirty-two who had been promoted. I didn’t see them anywhere. Perhaps they’d come later? My eyes circled the room, meeting the gaze of the higher-ups. I wasn’t going to let them down. They’d see.
“Hello, dear Thomas,” The Word said, breaking the pregnant silence. His voice rolled across the space between us like a bulldozer.
I bowed my head slightly, a sign of respect. I couldn’t believe he was actually speaking to me. It was hard to not pop with pride. My children would one day tell stories of this night, every detail of the tale spooling out in front of me in real-time.
“Before we begin, I’d like to thank you for your unwavering loyalty. It has not gone unnoticed and tonight you will reap the rewards of your efforts and commitment to us.” The Word shifted slightly, the cloth covering his head wrinkling in the haze. The lack of any eye-holes gave his appearance an almost eerie look, as if under that robe, something inhuman dwelt.
“Thank you, sir,” I said, hoping it was okay to speak.
He spread his arms, the red cloth swallowing his limbs. “Let us begin then.”
A door opened to the right of me, one I hadn’t noticed, and two huge men stepped into the room. They were stripped down to their waists, their faces covered with hoods, one white, the other black. Bulging muscles coiled across their shoulders as they carried in a large chest, decorated with flakes of black and gold. They came and stood beside me, gently lowering the chest.
When it was set, they turned to The Word and waited for his signal. My legs felt weak and I forced my knees to stop clacking together. This was what I had been waiting for. This is what it all came down to. I had talked the talk and now I had to walk the walk.
The Word stood, the red gown rippling across his body like dripping gore, and spread his arms again, “Thomas, you were born a man and now must be reformed into the image of our Lord. Kneel and be baptized with the blood of our God, so that your blood may be one with his!”
The men with hoods pushed me to my knees and I felt sweat bead along my forehead. It was suddenly excruciatingly hot in the room, the red light warming the air like fire. The ground was hard under my knees, my joints popping as I took my place, head raised and ready.
The man with the white hood opened the chest and took something out. He came and stood behind me, cradling my head with his bicep as he placed something in my mouth.
I took the funnel into my throat, holding it steady with my teeth. He reached back into the chest and pulled out a clear jug that sloshed with fresh goat’s blood. I gripped the funnel harder with my teeth. The jug he held had to be at least two liters and it was filled to the brim.
The man in the white hood took his place behind me and wrapped a meaty arm around my neck, holding me in place. My heart danced in my chest like a wild drum. Sweat trickled down my spine in anticipation. I could feel my kids watching me.
The hooded man took the top off with his teeth and tipped the mouth of the jug into the funnel. Blood sloshed into my mouth, taking me by surprise. It was warmer than I had imagined. I closed my eyes as it streamed across my tongue, flowed down my throat, and filled my stomach. It tasted like burnt metal, the thick liquid coating my insides.
More… More… More…
I began to sputter, opening my eyes and realizing I still had over half the jug to drink. My stomach felt distended, a bloated bubble of sick nausea. I began to cramp and I had to fight my gag reflect as I ingested the blood, feeling it mix in my gut with bitter acid.
The man tightened his grip around my neck as he felt my body tense. I fought to keep the fluid down. It felt like I was drowning. I forced my eyes shut again, my stomach howling as it continued to fill. I hiccupped and burped, spraying red out the side of my mouth. It felt like the blood was rising back up in my throat, trying to escape.
Please, I begged, don’t throw up.
Suddenly, my abdomen hitched and I felt the contents of my stomach hurtle up my throat towards my mouth. The man holding me felt it too, because he tightened his grip, locking my mouth shut around the funnel. He shoved a finger to block the hole just as blood and half-digested buffalo burger rocketed into my mouth. With no exit, the mixture of bile and blood exploded out of my nostrils like gory fireworks.
I choked and struggled to breathe, my nose burning with stomach acid. I squeezed my watering eyes shut and forced myself to swallow the vomit back down. My body screamed in protest and I let out another gooey burp, traces of stomach bile leaking from the corners of my mouth.
Suddenly, the funnel was removed and I fell forward onto my hands, gasping for air. I took a few steady breaths, testing my body, wiping my mouth with the back of my hand. Tears leaked down my face from the revolt my body had put up.
Well, I thought, the easy part is over…
I crawled back to my knees, still sucking in the hot air, feeling my stomach gurgle. The Word was sitting again, his figure motionless. Kent and Bradly were standing on his right, watching me with intensity. I looked toward my family and my wife offered me a secret smile. My youngest gave me a small thumbs-up, a grin plastered across his little face.
“The Blood of the Goat is now your own,” The Word boomed from his throne, “for change starts on the inside, and from the inside, one can change anything he desires.”
He motioned to the man in the black hood. “Thomas, you have ingested His blood, filling your mind and heart with His warmth. Now, reflect on these miracles as you transform into his image.”
I gritted my teeth as the man in the white hood held me still again. Black Hood reached into the chest and I shut my eyes, preparing for the miracle. I felt my lips tremble and I bit down on them. I needed to be strong. My family was watching.
Black Hood grabbed my right arm and began sawing it off at the elbow.
I screamed, eyes bulging, as pain exploded like thunder. My arm convulsed as the muscles were severed from bone, the hacksaw chewing through my skin and spraying blood across my face. The corners of my vision blackened as the saw screeched across bone, sending lightning bolts of pain charging across my body.
And then it was over. I fought to maintain consciousness, the agony unbearable. White Hood didn’t release his grip. I watched through bloodshot eyes as Black Hood set the bloody hacksaw down and pulled a blowtorch from the chest. A blue tongue of flame poked from the spout as he brought it to my squirting stump and began to cauterize the open skin.
I screamed even louder, the pain beyond anything I thought possible. Seconds later, I blacked out.
When I came to, head pounding and vision blurry, Black Hood was cutting off my other arm. After he sliced the last strip of skin from my new stump, my mind went dark again. The world swam, red-colored and air hot. I was on my back, White Hood staring down at me. He gently slapped my face, rousing me from the nightmare darkness. I blinked at him and tried to speak, but the words died in my throat.
White Hood looked up and told Black Hood to keep going, that I was okay. I wanted to see my wife’s face. I wanted her to tell me the pain would end soon. I knew it was going to be bad, but this was excruciating, far worse than I ever imagined. I tried to block it out, telling myself that it was almost over, that this is what I wanted. Black Hood began to saw my legs off, the blade spewing through my flesh, just above the knees.
I passed out in a torrent of misery and pain, my howls dying in the air.
I coughed up a mouthful of mucus and blood as I regained consciousness. My body was a furnace of agony. Something itchy was covering my face. My vision was limited. Heat. My limbs felt funny. Someone was talking, a voice muffled by my dream-like state. I wanted to throw up. My head felt like it had been stuffed with burning coals.
I tried to climb to my hands and knees, blinking the darkness away, but something wasn’t right and I fell back down. I shook my head and felt hands grip me and gently pull me up. I shook my thundering head, the black pulling away from my vision like a spider web.
Metal hooves had been screwed into my elbows and knees, my body slumped and weak as I stood on all fours. The transformation was complete. I had done it. The itchy mask covering my face must be the skin of a goat, my eyes now seeing out of the empty eye sockets. I felt my head was bare and guessed they had already shaved it and implanted the horns in my skull with a hot knife.
I steadied myself on my new limbs, my hooves clacking against the cement floor. My body shook with effort, my muscles weak and exhausted. I ground my teeth and forced myself to stay upright. I could feel the goat horns digging into my skull. The skin pulled over my face smelled like rot and scraped against my cheeks like sandpaper.
The Word stood and I suddenly noticed there were more people in the room than before. Well… ‘people’ was a stretch. To the right of The Word were the thirty-two who had come before me, the thirty-two who had gone through what I had, and failed. They shuffled where they were, heads held low to the ground.
A herd of unworthy goats.
Their hooves shot echoes across the walls, an array of once-human-beings just like I had been. Men, women, all with goat faces pulled over their own, horns jutting from their bare heads, downcast with shame. Leashes were tied to collars around their throats, the ends of which were held by Kent and Bradly.
The Word leaned forward on his throne, assessing the state I was in. White Hood and Black Hood were planted on either side of me, arms crossed. I stared straight ahead, doing my best to stay upright.
“Well done, Thomas,” The Word said finally. A smattering of claps rounded the room, the Execs in suits nodding their approval. My wife had tears running down her cheeks and a smile that shone like the sun. My kids were slapping their palms together in awe at my resolution.
The Word waited for the room to silence. When it calmed, his voice became deadly somber.
“The rest is up to you now. You know the words?”
I nodded, feeling the weight of my new horns pressing my chin to the floor. I worked my jaw so I could see properly out of the eye holes of the goat skin. Almost there, I thought, I’ve almost done it.
The Word leaned back on his throne, scanning the room with unseen eyes, “This is it my friends. Not a word will be spoken during this time. Thomas needs complete silence and total focus. I think we can afford him that, yes?” He turned his covered head to me, “When you’re ready.”
The two Hoods backed away against the far wall and the red light above us dimmed. I noticed now that the scarlet symbols beneath my hooves were glowing. Candles lined the edges to form a circle.
I took my place at the center of the Pentagram.
I closed my eyes, concentrating my mind. I pushed all thoughts from my brain, emptying my head. I focused on breathing, on the heat that swirled around me. I saw the red light filtering through my eyelids and let it dance behind my eyes. Sweat and blood dripped off my new face and fell to the floor. My limbs screamed in their new form, but I silenced the tormented flesh.
I drew in a long breath, and then spoke, my voice strong and determined:
“Dear Father, Lord God of the Goat, I come before you, not as Thomas, but as one of your flock. I have cast aside my worldly form. I long to be one with you. I have consumed the holy blood. I have whittled my body to mirror your Holy Image. I am yours, my life, my love, my future, my suffering. I beg you to return to the earth and lead us into glorious paradise. We stand ready, humbled, and in awe of you. I have displayed my undying devotion to you and my desire to follow in your footsteps. I pray of you, please, return to us now and lead us into your kingdom!”
As the last of my plea left my mouth, the room shook slightly and a soft cry went up from the bystanders. Their eyes went wide and they looked around at one another, mouths agape.
My heart pounded in my chest as the Pentagram flared and blood began to seep from the edges. I couldn’t believe it. This has never happened before, not a single person had conjured any kind of reaction.
The herd of human goats looked up at me with shock and awe, their eyes bulging under their masks. The Word stood, his hands gripping the armrests of his throne as the floor quivered beneath us. The light flickered above and a few of the candles went out, a sudden wind stirring the air.
I shuffled my hooves on the floor, trying to keep upright as the quake continued, blood pooling from the symbols around me. Even through the pain, I felt a smile creep across my face. I always knew I could do it. My wife had her arms around our boys, a look of utter amazement plastered to her face.
And then commotion ceased.
The ground solidified beneath me and the red light stopped flickering, returning to its constant warm glow. The dust froze in the air and then gently wafted back to the ground, the wind leaving as quickly as it had come. I watched in horror as the Pentagram sucked the blood back into its borders and the glow faded.
And we were left in silence.
“No, no we were so close!” The Word roared suddenly. “What did we do wrong!? What did we do?!”
The Execs cast their eyes to the ground, devastating disappointment leaking from every face. Kent and Bradly shook their heads at me, frowns pulling their mouths to the floor.
“WE WERE SO CLOSE!” The Word continued to scream, “WE THOUGHT THIS WAS THE ONE! WHAT DID WE DO WRONG!?”
Kent raised his hands defensively. “Sir, we followed the bloodline down to him. We were sure it was the right line. We’ve narrowed it down so much. It has to be him!”
The Word waved a hand at me from under his robe. “I’m disgusted by the sight of you. Someone get him out of my sight! Put him in the pens out back with the rest of them!”
“No!” I shouted suddenly. “No, let me try again! I can do this, I know I can! Please!”
Black Hood was grabbing me, dragging me back and away from The Word, growling to shut up. I felt something clasp around my throat and I was suddenly jerked forward.
I had been leashed.
“Please, just give me another chance! I’m the one! I know I’m the one! I CAN DO THIS!”
Black Hood kicked me into line along with the rest of the goats. They were streaming out the side door, pulled along by their own leashes as White Hood led them out of the Goat Room.
Just as I was about to be pushed through the door, The Word turned to me, an arm raised.
“Wait a moment. We weren’t wrong…we had the right bloodline…”
He turned to my eldest son, “Just the wrong person.”
I thrashed against my leash, screaming, “No, he’s not ready for this! HE’S NOT READY FOR THIS! GET YOUR HANDS OFF MY SON!”
🎧 Available Audio Adaptations: None AvailableElias Witherow Edited by Craig Groshek Thumbnail Art by Craig Groshek Narrated by N/A