Here’s a quick expert of one of the stories show in the back of the book.
Blood Drinkers of Kre
Jonny entered Bill’s one bedroom home on Conover St in East Lansing without knocking. He kicked his shoes off in Bill’s living room with a cocky kind of smile that would have vexed Bill if he’d seen it. But Bill wasn’t inside his home. He was sitting on the back porch staring at his keyboard and hoping to find the words which had evaded him for most of the day. In his open sliding door which connected the dining area and the porch area he’d set up a ten inch TV which loudly played a true crime story.
Jonny crept across the carpet of the living room and slunk through the dining area into the galley kitchen to retrieve a domestic beer he was sure to find in the refrigerator. The house smelt freshly cooked bread, probably Bill’s lunch. Then he casually strolled past the little television out onto the porch where he cracked open the ice cold bottle sure to avoid even looking at his baffled friend at the old picnic table beside to him.
“You just come barging into my house?!” Bill said throwing a hand into the air with disdain, “How many times do I have to tell you to knock!”
“Yeah I forgot,” Jonny said taking a seat across from Bill, “I’ll knock next time,” he winked, “How’s the book coming?”
“Is that my beer?” Bill tried to act angry but after ten years of friendship he didn’t know why he bothered still trying to tell Jonny not to come in without knocking or not to drink his beer. Jonny was keen on doing both. To a small extent Bill thought that Jonny might knock if he’d been initially told to just come in. Jonny was like that. Always trying to cause a stir.
“Yeah but don’t worry I got more in the car if we need it,” Jonny said, “How’s the book?”
“The books coming along fine. I’ve got a few more interviews to do next week in-”
Jonny interrupted, not unexpectedly, “Did you see that thing in Utah? About the girl who got shot in the head?” Bill was caught off guard, he’d seen nothing of it in the paper. He opened his mouth to answer but Jonny continued, “Straight in the head,” Jonny pointed between his eyes, “Pft! Right here! And she lived! A nine year old!” he paused, “Well she looks like a nine year old. The parents say she’s a nine year old but apparently they are in this cult. You could use them for your book maybe. This cult thinks the girl is over twenty years old and that she’s some immortal god risen from the dust of the cosmos or some shenanigans to save mankind. The girls already up and walking. I saw it before I came over. Crazy stuff.”
Bill ensured that he saved his document three times, redundancies, and then closed his laptop, “Shot in the head and she’s walking already?” He moved his prized copper pen off the table and into his pocket.
“Yeah!” Jonny took a slug from the beer, “Crazy stuff. Was on channel twelve.”
“Interesting,” Bill said, flipping his television to channel twelve, “It’s probably not what I’m looking for. The cults I’m putting together for this book are rare. Hard to find. Not the kind of people that let themselves get on the news.”
“Yeah, yeah, secret society type and all,” Jonny said nodding to the television. There was a procession of police and doctors standing on stage with a very young girl. She was a pale girl with little freckles, curly brown hair, and skyline blue eyes that caught the camera. There was a bandage wrapped around the poor girl’s forehead that was also taped down the top of her nose, “That poor girl.”
A diagram came on screen with an explanation that the bullet entered her head, passed perfectly between the lobes of her brain and then exited the back of her skull. Scientists claimed her to be a miracle. Then the broadcast went into the fact that the girl already had followers and was viewed as a god by her family and the people she lived around. The girl was part of the cult of Ak’Ke’Kal, a group in northern Utah. Her people claimed that she was the ageless vessel of a god which was older than man and whom would bring humanity into its cosmic destiny.
“Well that actually is amazing,” Bill said, quite surprised that Jonny had actually shown him something that might prove useful.
“So you can use it?”
“I mean,” Bill paused, “Probably. Clearly this is a cult. Look at these people all dressed in grey robes. They all have the same glasses, clothing, and jewelry. I’d have to look into what Ak’Ke’Kal means, or is, and what they really think this little girl is. If they include some ancient god yeah they’d be great for the book. And relevant! My publisher would love it.”
Jonny tipped his beer in Bill’s direction, “Yeah see! Jonny’s got ya!”
Bill smiled, almost laughed, “Thanks. It’d be a good get.”
“So you’re gonna hire me right?” Jonny made a funny face, pushing down a burp and squinting his eyes. He turned the funny face into a big hopeful smile.
Bill’s publisher had given him an advance on his next book to cover the expenses of the extensive travel it required and after recent events had given him a little extra for personal security. On his last trip, to Nebraska, Bill was assaulted while asking questions about a girl who’d disappeared. He’d found their cult though one of the woman’s coworkers which he’d met in an online message board. Her coworkers had seemed more concerned for her disappearance than her family and the local authorities had done nothing to find her. In some weird way Bill had possibly been that woman’s only hope for justice and he’d been forced to abandon her. The group was keen to abolish even the memory of her name. After his book was published he’d hopefully forget about his failure to find her answers. Hopefully his book would make a difference and keep people from joining the twisted blood centric cults that seemed to be popping up all around the world. It was hard to tell if the cults were related. They all had a similar theme of blood rituals and an ancient being that predated humanity at its head.
“I told you I’m not sure I can hire you as a bodyguard. They do check into what I spend the money on. I can’t just spend it willy nilly. Getting a contract for this wasn’t easy. Four other writers bid on the job.”
“Yeah that’s why I set up an LLC. Triple J Guarding at your service. You can even invoice me at my business address,” he paused, “Also my home address,” he smiled, “We’re good to go traveling!”
Bill was worried about losing his publishing deal already. His last book had been highly profitable selling nearly one million copies worldwide but this book wouldn’t have a built in audience. Herbert Publishing had questioned the relevance of a book about strange cults around the world and were near ready to put a stop to the project when Bill had been assaulted in Nebraska. Hiring Jonny could make himself look bad and possibly lose him his publishing contract. But then it wasn’t exactly his contract to lose.
Bill was ghost writing this book for Charles Dex. Mr. Dex had commissioned the work through Herbert Publishing. Bill’s agent had gotten him the job partially because Bill was already working on what was supposed to be a much shorter piece about the blood cults.
“Come on Bill,” Jonny said in a whiny tone that quickly changed to sounding sad and disheartened.
Jonny was by all definitions, a fuck up. He talked his way out of most interviews because he couldn’t keep his mouth shut about things he didn’t like at his past jobs and if he was hired his unemployment shortly followed. But he was good at heart and had been there for Bill whenever Bill had needed him. Jonny was like a brother that most families would be ashamed of. Ashamed, and yet, they’d still help their brother in a time of need.
“I like that idea Jonny. I think I might have less panic attacks of a friend comes with me opposed to some brute I’ve never met.”
“Having panic attacks again like when we were kids?”
“Yeah, ever since Nebraska.”
“Funny how things come back around ain’t it? Remember when you freaked out over a pop quiz?”
“It’s not that bad now. It was just the one time… And when the plane landed on the way home.”
“You had a panic attack when Lora left you too.”
“No. That was different.”
“Yeah, you didn’t leave the house for a month. Then you took off to Belize to write a book about those Indians.”
“They weren’t Indians. They were a newly discovered civilization that predated the previous finds in the area by over one thousand years. I was the ghost writer on that one.”
“And you always said you’d never do that.”
“Seems to have paid off financially. This gig has turned into another ghostwriting job too.”
“I liked you writing fiction better than these factual books. More interesting.”
“No one else in America did.”
“Yeah well everyone else in America is stupid. Have me come with you. Then I won’t have to worry about you coming home with another broken arm.”
“Thankfully, I think Arizona is a little more civilized than Nebraska.”
Jonny laughed, “I think Arizona is probably more dangerous. More poisonous snakes.”
There was rough turbulence that occasionally made the 747 vibrate but it wasn’t anything new or alarming, just annoying. Most of the passengers didn’t notice it with their books, tablets, and phones to entertain them. But Jonny hadn’t flown before. He’d never been more than a hundred miles outside of Lansing Michigan before either. Now he was over four thousand feet in the air, inside a metal tube, being held up by some form of science bending air to create upward thrust that he’d never understand. He had one rum and coke to keep his cool and then another to actually feel the liquor in his system. At the request of Bill, Jonny followed the rum with a beer to keep his nerves calm and to stop Bill from being too annoyed by Jonny’s constant antsy fidgeting. Bill liked his light beers but he was not typically a heavy drinker like Jonny. Jonny could finish a fifth of vodka in a night and get up the next morning at 5 am ready to strangle the tasks of the day. Bill in the same situation would be incapable of even caring for himself the following morning. Bill was typically more anxious on planes than he was with Jonny around. Their friendship had been the only consistent thing in Bill’s life since he was a boy.
“So,” Jonny slurred a little looking at Bill typing in the seat next to him, “These cults you’re writing about now. These are like offshoots of Christianity or Islam right? But like the old old versions from back when Jesus was around?”
“No,” Bill said, “They all seem to claim to be from a time before modern religions arose. Some claim to be from a time before man. There’s a moon based cult that I interviewed a follower of in Manhattan that claimed his priest could speak with their holy book and that the priest was the voice of the moon god. The moon god being a creature of the cosmos that predates the Earth itself. He didn’t say much once he found out I wasn’t interested in joining them.”
“Trippy shit,” Jonny said looking out the window, “Think it’s all real?”
“I think it’s all rubbish. These poor people are being taken advantage of by cult leaders. The weird thing is that it’s happening more and more. They found Inuit’s in a bay in northern Canada that were land locked on a series of islands somehow surviving by only eating whales and fish that washed up on their frozen shores.”
“They didn’t fish?”
“They didn’t know what fishing was. They all claimed that their god was under the bay and was feeding them. That they’d been sustained for centuries surely on the gifts of their god. It seemed ludicrous and yet for a hundred miles around them there is no society and hardly any animals. Yet these people scrawl the same strange language into their skin that’s popping up all around the world. Like these cults just stopped hiding and started screaming, hey look at me!”
“Well maybe they weren’t hiding. Maybe no one was looking for them.”
That was Jonny’s hidden brilliance. An answer to a question that’d been burning away at Bill’s mind. Why didn’t anyone know about these religions or this ancient language? Because unlike the other religions, no one knew to look for them. They didn’t seem to advertise or recruit. For the most part the cults existed in areas for generations without change. If no one knew to look for them, no one would find them. With modern communications everything is accessible. Bill had found most of his cultist leads in online forums. Most were fake or just a three or four person group getting together to do drugs under the guise of a purpose but the ones that were real had all used a variation of the same strange sigiled language.
“That actually makes sense,” Bill said, pushing the save button three times before closing his laptop.
“Yeah. I mean we didn’t know gravity was gravity until we looked for it did we?”
“That actually makes sense,” Bill said. He never expected much in the way of logic from Jonny. Jonny had a reputation in their old circle of friends for being brash and ignorant in his views. But much of that had stemmed from his upbringing and years of teenage rebellion. Many of their shared friends were from grade school. Many things had changed between then and their late twenties. Yet in some ways much had stayed the same.
“I’m glad you let me come. Got me out of the factory. I hated it there. It’s so boring watching the parts run by all night. I nearly do nothing. Well I guess I should say I used to do nearly nothing before they fired me,” Jonny paused, he’d been fired a week prior, “I hate the plane but at least this plane is something new.”
“No thanks needed. Having you around makes this easier. Getting started in these communities is a lot like selling magazines door to door. You get told to fuck off a lot and when people do sit down to talk to you they hardly have a thing to say.”
“Think it’ll be better with two people?”
“No. But it will be more fun than slogging through weeks of it alone in a hotel room. Of course we could get lucky and find people to talk to day one. You never really know what will happen.”
“We are good to talk to the cult in Mexico right? They said yes before we got on the plane?”
“No,” Bill’s voice was stern. He wanted to be sure Jonny heard him clearly so there wasn’t any confusion, “I have a contact that knows about the cult and has agreed to share what he knows with us. He should be able to tell us how to find them. He doesn’t know you. These people get touchy. I will be asking all the questions. You’re going to need to keep quiet.”
“Real serious about the whole body guard thing huh?”
“Had a gun pulled on me more than once in Kansas? The local cops didn’t even care. It was weird. You’re here because you’re tall and look a bit intimidating. That scar on your cheek will make most people think you’re some kind of badass when I tell them you’re my bodyguard. Probably stop most attempts. Your like my beware of dogs sign.”
Jonny half laughed and rubbed the little scar under his eye. He’d crashed his bike at age ten and still bore the wound from it, “Shoulda let me bring my gun.”
“Yeah having an unregistered gun on a plane would be great,” Bill rolled his eyes, “We’ll be fine. I’ve done this loads of times. Just follow my lead and look tough. Easiest job you’ve ever had.”
Their first stop in Arizona was outside Sierra Vista where the rolling plains of dessert met sparsely spread houses in the hot desert air. It was good that it was so dry for if the air had been moist like the Michigan air Bill and Jonny were used to the air itself would have engulfed them in a blanket of stagnant heat which even a hard wind could not move. Instead, because of the dryness, there was a dusty grainy feel to the air and a sense that everything was covered or would be covered in an endless supply of sand. Although they’d only actually been outside for brief moments of time they each felt their skin sucked dry of moisture and they’d each experienced bits of sand floating into the crevices of their bodies. Their throats were dry, and so they consumed copious amounts of water in the drive from Phoenix to Sierra Vista. Bill had rented a midsize Sedan with good gas mileage for the tip. They likely were getting the mileage of a truck with how high they ran the air-conditioning.
The duo pulled into the rocky driveway of Matthew Livingston and almost didn’t want to leave the car. It was a ranch style two bedroom home down an unkempt stretch of road. The house’s exterior was dilapidated and gave the initial impression that when the wind blew up sand it would not only pass through the side of the house but still have enough gust to continue on through and leave the old structure. Jonny swore he saw the house tilt in a light blow of wind but Bill hadn’t noticed. Bill instructed Jonny to just let himself do all the talking. It’d be easier that way. As much as Bill liked having Jonny around he didn’t quite know what to expect from Jonny when it came to actually getting work done. Bills nerves were shaky and he’d have been lying if he tried to say he wished he were there alone.
The old door felt solid even though a few paint chips fell from it when Bill knocked. It creaked open slowly revealing the burly bearded Matthew. He’d opened the door looking half asleep even though it was noon and motioned the two men into the living room. There they sat with their shoes on top of Matthew’s 80’s style blue shag carpet on the only furniture in the home, a hundred dollar futon with its back righted to form a couch. Matthew leaned against the wall across from them and finally spoke, “So your Bill right?” he paused while Bill said yes, “Great. For a second I was worried I let some salesmen in without even questioning it,” Bill couldn’t imagine Matthew getting a lot of salesmen out near nowhere, “Don’t mind the mess this here’s a flip of mine. Haven’t done the living room yet. Just the two bedrooms and the kitchen. Anything to drink?”
Jonny sat silent, Bill answered, “No were good. I’d really like to just get right into it. You said your son was part of a cult?” He pulled out a pad of paper from his knapsack. The air inside the little house was stale and smelled of drying calk.
Matthew sighed, “Yeah my boy Phil got in with some folks across the border into Mexico. Come to see him about a month ago and he’s got these symbols carved into his arm. All scabbed up and bloody. Wont wrap the things because he’s supposed to bleed for some god of his.”
“Fuck,” said Jonny making a weird face.
Bill glared at Jonny, “Matthew can you tell me how it all started? How he got involved in this?”
“Yeah,” Matthew said nodding his head and scratching at his beard, “Well I suppose it started when he an Pete Meyers started boxing together a few years back. That turned into this MMA kick each other in the face stuff you see now. The real violent stuff. Well they were into that at a gym up in Tucson and they’d go up there and get roughed up every week or so. He was getting very strong. Started turning into more muscle than man I think. So they’re doing that and talking about getting involved professionally. Which I think is a good way to die. But heck I could cut my hand with the saw tomorrow and bleed out before anyone came to help me out here so I didn’t think too much harm in it if made him happy. Besides from what I understood he usually won.”
“Do you know the name of the place they went to in Tucson?”
“No. Can’t recall that. They only went there for a few months before they started going south to meet with some people Pete found that fight by the border. Like a Mexican American fighting contest of sorts. Well not quite. I don’t want to sound racist or nothin. They were people from Mexico and people from America. They all just liked fighting each other in the desert at night. Phil, my boy, was doin good, making money. Then I didn’t see him for a good month. Thought something had happened to him down there. So I went lookin.”
“Mexico, just across the border.”
“You know where they went?”
“Yeah, I followed them once. I couldn’t get a hold of Phil and I saw Pete driving his truck one afternoon so I swung around after him thinkin I’d just ask him if he knew where Phil was. The boy goes driving down out of town towards Mexico so I figure if Pete’s going to Mexico they’re meeting and Phil will probably be there.”
“Pete is Phil’s friend from boxing and MMA? Did they know each other before that?”
“Yeah, they uh, they went to high school together I think.”
Bill nodded and wrote it down.
Matthew continued, “So we’re going down this road and Pete veers off into the desert. At this point I know he knows I’m following him because there’s only the two of us on the road and there’s no chance of someone just happening to be flittin off into the dessert like that unless they are following you.”
“Right, right. So do you still remember where you went?”
“Yeah I could find it if I wanted to. Not sure that I do though. Some places you don’t wanna go back to.”
“But your son is still with them right?” Bill was perplexed. What father would not want to find his son?
“Yeah he’s one of them,” Matthew shrugged, “If it makes him happy that’s all the matters.”
“Usually when I’ve talked to people whose kids or friends are in cults they are trying to get them out. Why’d you contact me if you’re ok with it? The message board we met on was about breaking ties with cults and churches.”
“Ya know. Ya have a few drinks and worry a bit more and then you look for solutions. I have days where I worry more than others. Got a letter a three days ago that said he was doing alright. The return address was a PO Box in town here. He said everything was fine and that he was happy. Said he was working on something and that he’d visit when he could. Communication cuts the worry.”
“What happened when you followed Pete into the desert?’
“Huh,” Matthew looked confused for a moment, “Right, Pete. Well we’re out there and it gets dark. I’m wondering if I’ve got enough gas to get back home without finding a gas station and then we go over this ridge and down below are all these cars in a circle. It was like a scene out of Mad Max. Those old Mel Gibson movies? Ya know? With the cars in the desert and all the crazy people on motorcycles, big trucks, and covered in spikes? They’d set up their own kinda thunder dome made out of chain-link fencing. It was actually pretty cool.”
“They let you in?”
“Oh yeah, lost sight of Pete but they were a very inclusive bunch. Shook my hand introduced me to a few people.”
“They didn’t bar you at the gates? They didn’t shoot you away? That’s weird. The cults I’ve been looking into have generally pushed outsiders away.”
“Oh no not these folk. They were all nice. Gave me a beer told me to have a seat and said if I wanted to see Phil I’d have to wait because he was fighting that night.”
“But they let you see him?”
“Yeah after he beat this guy to a pulp with his hands. Really messed the guy up. Can’t say I wasn’t proud of the boy but I did feel bad for his opponent.”
“Did they have a doctor or anything?”
“Looked like they did. The guy Phil beat was unconscious when they took him out on a gurney. I missed a lot of his sports in high school because I was working. I felt like being ok with this kinda made up for that,” Matthew struck a weird look like he didn’t know what to say next, “So the two er three hundred people watching all cheer and scream some words I don’t understand, an I know it ain’t Spanish, then this guy in tan robes comes out with two beautiful women who were naked. The whole image was very metal. Like how the old metal rock bands tried to look. Very metal, like the music Phil likes.”
“Was he a priest?”
“Looked like it. He took this leather wrap and put it around Phil’s arm. It was hard to see but it looked like it had holes in it that the guy dragged a little blade down through. At first I thought it was a pen or marker. Like a tattoo type deal. The guy next to me nudged me and told me what an honor it was to receive what Phil was receiving. That Phil was now some elite warrior in their group. He pulled the leather off his arm and blood just slopped out of it. Phil smiled like he used to at Christmas and held his sick bloody arm up to the roar of the crowd. It was like ancient Rome or something. Then someone said Phil was next in line for running the place.”
“What’d he say when you spoke to him?”
“Well I hardly spoke to him that night. It took me an hour to get close enough to see him, what with everyone fawning over him for his victory. I asked around about the guy cutting into his arm and these people kept telling me that it was to show he’d never been defeated and that he’d honored Kre, whoever that was. When I finally got to Phil he hugged me, got blood all over my coat and said he was overjoyed I’d witnessed his greatest day. So I told him he needed to cover up his arm. It was all covered in those symbols you were posting online. Cut deep too! He wouldn’t cover it. Said Kre would protect him. Then when I argued, not even about how it’s crazy to cut your arm, but that he could at least put some disinfectant on it and stop hugging sweaty strangers long enough to clean the fucking wound,” Matthew looked like he was expecting some showing of understanding from Bill and Jonny so that Matthew would know he wasn’t being irrational. Jonny agreed and Bill nodded, “He tells me he loves me. Which is weird because he ain’t said that to me since he was near twelve! Then he tells me that he’s sure I’m confused and he’ll visit me the next day. Like a Father can just see his son beat a man half to death, get some fucked up runes carved into his skin, then go home and sleep? Shit,” Matthew was worked up now and breathing heavy. His face was red and he was clearly more worried than he’d originally let on.
“So did he visit you?”
“Yeah he visited me two days later. Came in with his damn arm still unwrapped at about ten at night the next day. Said he couldn’t stay long because he had plans! Said he wasn’t working at the repair shop anymore and that he was going to go live in the desert with these people in Mexico. That he’d come see me now and again but that I might not see him for a while at first. Which was fine. Ya know, do what makes you happy. But then we got into this argument about how I worry too much and how he’s fine and that he’s gonna heal just fine. He wants the scars. Their part of his new religion. Then he just stormed off. Wasn’t here more than five minutes.”
“That’s rough,” Bill was scribbling everything down, “Is this like a fight club then?”
“I thought so. Then I saw the guy in the robes and these people shoveling up and boxing all the bloodied sand. They took it all with them back into some tunnel off in the distance that night. I hope Phil isn’t living underground like an animal. But like I said, if it makes him happy,” it sounded like Matthew was trying to convince himself to accept his son’s decisions but that in actuality he was not fully sure of his son’s safety.
Bill let the room go silent for a moment. He could tell Jonny was biting his tongue but couldn’t imagine what would come out of his mouth. It took Bill longer than most to process information. He had to think about things, rationalize them, and remove all fantasy or points of suspect so that there would be only truth and fact before he made a decision based on what he’d learned. After doing so Bill asked, “Do you know if Pete lives with Phil in the desert?”
Matthew looked to be thinking, he glanced out the window next to him and then back to the two men on his futon, “I heard he’s living with his mother now. Up in Saint David.”
“Do you know where in Saint David?”
“No but I can give the number for Phil’s ex. They broke up a few years back but she ran with Phil and Pete long enough that she should know. You think talkin with him might help?”
“Yeah,” Bill stopped himself, he wanted to say he’d try to help get Phil out of the cult but that wasn’t his gig. He was there to observe and learn. To write about the cult and share the knowledge, “I’m only here to learn about them. I’m not here for an intervention. I just want to make that clear. I’ll give you everything I learn but like I said when we spoke online. I’m just a writer. I’m not here to get people out of cults. My name won’t even be on the book.”
“Oh no I understand. I mean I just want to know more. If you go in and find out they’re all good people and he’s happy that’s great. I’d rather see that than have an intervention. Easier an all.”
“Thanks for understand and helping. If we decided to go out to find them would you be willing to show us where you followed Pete to?”
“Yeah. I could do that. I’d like to see Phil again. Maybe convince him to have lunch once a week or something,” Matthew sounded sad. Like he’d been hiding his sadness the whole time Bill had been in his home.
The three shook hands. Bill declined free beers much to Jonny’s disappointment and after Matthew gave them the ex-girlfriend, Meg’s, phone number they were back in the sandy rental car making their way back to their motel.
Jonny was stir crazy after spending two days sitting in a motel room with Bill working away at his computer. Bill had tried to contact Meg four times the day before and already three times that day. He was intent upon spending this day writing or calling Meg so that he could get a hold of Pete. Bill hadn’t left a voicemail as like many salesmen he feared she would not return his call if she knew is intent. Still with their next flight set to leave in four days Bill didn’t have much more time to waste on this lead before they’d take a trip into the desert. So on his fourth call, at five that afternoon, Bill left her a message saying that he was trying to find Pete and Phil because they’d joined a cult and just wanted to ask her one question. He emphasized that he’d only ask one question and that after that Meg would never hear from Bill again. Bill reasoned that to most people this was a reasonable request.
He finally got a response from her in the form of an angry phone call at near eleven that night. Meg was nasty with Bill over the phone, calling him all sorts of names, because he’d called her so many times without leaving a message. She then claimed that whatever bad situation “the bastard” Phil was involved in he probably deserved it. Still, after she calmed, Bill was able to get a general idea of where to find Pete. She didn’t have an address, only a description of the cross roads and that the house was a two story and white with a waterless angel fountain in the front. Bill thanked her and she told him that if he called her again she’d call the cops for harassment. He didn’t plan on including that in his book.
The houses near Pete’s parents’ home where nicer than the ones around Matthew’s home. The yards were mostly nearly arranged stones with the occasional statue placed to brighten up the landscape. It took them two hours of driving in circles down the mix of roads around the intersection Meg described until they at long last found the home. There were no cars and no lights on around noon when Bill and Jonny rolled past in their rental car. Bill took down the address so he could find it more easily and drove away. Jonny wondered why and Bill explained that he wanted to drive past again in a few hours when there might be a car or some indication that someone was home. Before then they would get some lunch. Jonny joked that it was like stalking but was happy to be eating a good meal instead of fast food or pizza brought back to the motel.
While eating lunch Bill checked his usual online message boards. Places on the internet where people came together to talk about their family members involvement in weird cults and discuss the appearances of weird symbols around the world. Bill had located nearly one hundred different cults that all had similar glyphs and sigils in their writings or embroidery. Some theorized that these were secrete religions of the old gods that only now we’re seeing the light because of our widespread communication but others theorized that these religions were all some elaborate hoax by a group of internet trolls. A member of one of the message boards, Mr.Fluorite217, privately messaged Bill telling him that he’d created a way to “see beyond the mortal realm and glimpse that which lies in the layers just beyond our sight. A place we can not touch but only see and that even there the glyphs existed.” Mr.Fluorite217 asked if Bill had made any progress in learning more about the cults and explained that he might be able to help if Bill were to come to London to help figure out what the creatures one layer deep might be doing and how they interacted with the human world. He also rambled about beings built of pure hate residing in conjunction with his own world and that beyond them was a radiant world of colors and physics where books could be absorbed by sight and gravity could be seen. Then user Mr.Fluorite217 rambled on some more about how he hadn’t shown anyone else for fear of the world taking his invention from him. Bill responded that he would look into this after his current task and noted to Mr.Fluorite217 that he’d be busy for much of the coming week with work and unlikely to respond at any quick pace. Bill was leery of Mr.Fluorite217 and discarded the story as it likely was the ramblings of an elaborate internet troll.
When they returned to Pete’s parents’ home there still were no cars but the living room curtains that had been closed were now open. Jonny hadn’t noticed but this fact made Bill confident that he would get some information when he knocked on the door. They knocked and waited. There was no answer so Jonny moved to leave. Bill motioned for Jonny to stop which he did. A short while later Bill knocked again, this time harder and twice as many times. Still nothing. After waiting a good five minutes quietly listening for sounds inside the home Bill knocked a third time. This time with a happy kind of rhythm to the knocking. The door was answered by a twenty something half asleep man with bloodshot eyes and sweat that wet his clothes like it’d just rained. He was a grumpy man who didn’t so much as answer the door but grunted at them.
“Hello,” Bill stated calmly yet with a sort of absent authority, “I was just stopping by your home to talk to Pete or Phil. Pete’s dad sent us this way.”
The young man almost closed the door then stopped, “What about?”
“Well I’ve heard a lot about some group in the desert. I wanted to learn more before visiting them. I was hoping Pete or Phil could help lead me in the right direction?”
“What’s in it for me?”
“Fifty bucks if you’ve got any good information, sound fair?”
“I need a hundred to finish paying rent here this month.”
“I can do one hundred.”
He opened the door and stepped back motioning the two men in. The young man lead them through the living area to the dining room table then sat down across from them without saying another word.
“Your Phil I take it?” Bill said as he took a seat. He could tell Jonny was itching at a chance to talk to someone other than Bill and worried that Jonny would start talking during his discussion and distract from the process.
The young man rumpled his face and said, “No I’m Ned. I just live with Pete. We rent this place out from his parents. Pete’s asleep in the basement. Sleeps most of the day.”
Bill opened his wallet and pulled out five of his eight twenties setting them on the table, “We really wanted to speak with Pete.”
“Well Pete’s out cold. He’s been awake for about four hours a night the last week or so since we got back from Kal’ara.”
“Yeah Kal’ara is a little place in Mexico about three hours south of here. Pete and Phil took me out there to take part in their macho fighting club. I’ve only been once. Pete was apparently living there. Wanted to recruit me on account of my being all state in wrestling in high school. You want to hear about these cult fuckers huh?” Phil wiped some sweat from his forehead onto his wet arm, “AC is on full blast. You guys are probably a little nippy? You got an accent from up north somewhere? Sounds like you are talking through your noses.”
“Were fine,” Bill said, he had goosebumps from the cold and could see goosebumps on Jonny’s neck but the cold was bearable, “You visited the cult too and you knew it was a cult?”
“Pft. I knew it was a cult as soon as I found out Phil was living there now and had all those scars on his arm. Shit, some of them never healed and just bled a little all day every day. Which of course Phil said was part of the honor. Which was weird. So when we got out there and I saw these fuckers going all wrestle mania on each other, but for real, I figured I should leave. But that wasn’t enough ya see? I was there at the start of the night and we had to stay until the end.”
“So you only went the one time?”
“Yeah I went the one time. Pete’s last time out there too. These guys were crazy why you want to know about them anyway.”
“I’m writing a book about cults around the world that all have the same symbols. Like the ones on Phil’s arm.”
“There’s more of these guys around the world? It’s some creepy Fight Club esque shit.”
“Yeah there’s a lot of cults using the same sigils. Some claim to predate christianity.”
“Yeah these guys said that too. Said Jesus was a false idol and that the only true god was some ancient thing that was all about blood and pain and war or something. Real dark shit too. There were some very pretty girls there though. They were getting guys to come then kinda getting all sexy on them to lure them into getting into the ring for fighting. Twisted if you ask me. One of them girls just about mounted me trying to get me in there. She had some runes or symbols carved across her chest that looked like the ones on Phil’s arm. They bled a little too. She was a real twisted chick. Saw her take down another girl in two quick moves. Really horrorshow that girl.”
“So it was mostly fighting you saw?”
“Yeah what I saw was mostly fighting. I had some of their sacred wine and after that I wanted to fight but I knew it was wrong. Can’t just beat people out in the desert like that. Glad I didn’t fight neither after what happened to Pete.”
“Did Pete fight?”
“Oh yeah Pete fought! He had a good bout against four smaller guys. They all came at him with pipes and there was Pete all alone. They called it his final conquest. Four on one with friggin pipes. Crazy, count me out. I told him to get the fuck out there.”
“Did he win?”
“Pft, no. Four guys with pipes against just Pete? He’s lucky they didn’t kill him. But it’s not that that’s the worst. It’s that after they pummeled the guy they dragged him out and told him he had to start all over again. That he was now an initiate. Not even a member. He’d have to earn his way back in. Pete just laid there. I had to help the guy into his truck and drive him back here. He’s been sick as a dog ever sense and won’t go to the doctor. Keeps saying he needs to go back to Kal’ara. The sun hurts his eyes. It’s like a heroin addict coming down. Real scary shit. Worst part is that I want to go back too. I dream about Kal’ara and being its glorious champion. Pete though, he’s ruined. His wounds have mostly healed but he can’t stay awake and gets worse every day. Won’t see a doctor. Just wants me to take him to Kal’ara. Says he has to become a Berserker and join the pack. Whatever the fuck that means.”
Bill took note of all of this in detail, “Maybe there was something in the wine? Cocaine or some other stimulant that’s addictive?”
“Their wine was trash. Tasted like metal. I think it’s the pussy!”
“All those girls dragging men out there. They get the girls when they win. Part of the prize. Winners of the girl’s fights fuck the winners of the guy’s fights. It’s like some big victory orgy inside their cave temple place according to Pete.”
“Can we speak with Pete please?”
“He’s gunna be unconscious. I’m telling you he’s not going to be awake,” He wiped his face with his t-shirt to remove the dripping sweat, “Fucking hell I can’t stop sweating sense we came back from that damned place.”
“Please. If we talk to Pete we might be able to get more information from the cult when we visit.”
“No. After talking to Pete you won’t want to visit. Once you see what they’ve done to him you’ll want to just turn around and leave,” Ned stood and moved to the back of the kitchen where there were stairs leading down to the basement. He motioned for Bill and Jonny to follow. They did. Down the creaky stairs in a room that was hardly lit even with the light on. The basement had an odd sickly smell. Bill and Jonny watched as Ned shook a man who was lying directly on the cement floor, “Pete wake up,” Ned said but there was nothing. After a few more attempts to shake Pete awake, Ned knelt next to him and checked his pulse. Ned’s previously reddened skin went flush. His posture changed to one more diminished and he tearfully turned to Bill and Jonny, “There’s no pulse.”
“We need to call an ambulance,” Jonny said scrambling up the stairs. He rushed out to the street to find the house number and street name so that he could get help. But help would do nothing. Pete was declared dead on the scene and Ned was taken to the hospital for examination. The police interviewed Jonny and Bill but found no reason to keep them or prosecute for any cause so they let them go. By eight PM the duo, mentally exhausted, retired to their motel.
That night Bill had trouble sleeping. The other cults he’d investigated had their own kinds of intensity but none had been like this. When he’d seen Pete and Ned it almost looked like the two were recovering from an addiction. He’d seen alcoholics take a week or more to come down and start feeling like normal people again. In Albany he’d been chased out of a small temple in the woods and in Nebraska he’d been threatened consistently. These glyphs or sigils, or whatever they were had been popping up all over the world. They were showing up in the background of news articles and occasionally on bodies found in all variety of places. Increasingly high numbers of people were seeking help to get their family members out of the cults in online forums. The only similarity between all the cults was that some point there was offering of animal or human blood. Trying to figure out how the cults could be so widespread and yet seem so unknown to society puzzled Bill. He was fascinated by them.
Jonny was tossing all night. His body was overheating like he had a fever but it was really just the dark light of his dreamscape. Images of battling in a cage repeatedly awakened him with the horrific detail of bludgeoning and baseball bat battles. He shuddered at the joys of blood victory on red sands he’d never before seen. Still, after the carnage had ended and dawn arose, Jonny felt a call to battle that hadn’t existed since he’d played football in high school.
In the morning Bill and Jonny commented to each other about how awful the hotel beds were and how neither had gotten sleep because of it. They didn’t talk about much else as they ate their free hotel breakfast buffet and then left in the rental sedan to meet with Matthew at eleven. Both men wondered if each other had shaken nerves over finding Pete dead the day before but they both declined to comment on it. Talking may have convinced them to retreat from their task.
Matthew was over eager. He no longer seemed to hide his want in removing his son from the clutches of the Kal’ara cult. Matthew brought with him his M1911 after arguing with Bill that he was going to bring a few rifles. After Bill noted the increased difficulty in passing through a border with firearms Matthew resigned to only bringing the M1911 pistol and had said he’d only use it if they were threatened. Bill hoped Matthew was just paranoid.
After the near speechless three hour drive south into rural Mexico, Matthew slowed his truck on a long empty road and began looking for the path to Kal’ara. It was a rocky, bumpy, path and Matthew had to backtrack twice because he thought he was going in the wrong direction. By the time they actually found the desolate metal fighting ring they’d been in the desert for over two hours. Even with the air conditioning of Matthew’s old Ford F250 the desert heat was stifling. The creaky shocks of the rusted truck were the only music out there because radio stations didn’t broadcast to places with no people.
When they did finally find the fighting ring they were in a desolate place with very little signs that humans were around. If someone was living nearby they were very clean people who kept hidden. Around the large circle fencing were tracks from the tires of the spectator vehicles, footprints, and blotches of maroon sand that were presumably dried blood spots. It was a dusty place that even lacked the refreshing feel of wind. In the direction of the road they’d turned off of to find this place was a large hill. Around the ring there were a few rocky outcrops that didn’t seem large enough for a cave to be present. One outcrop took the shape of a rough cubic viper head complete with upper and lower fangs. In the viper’s mouth there was a dark area visible at a distance that could have been an overhang but was unlikely to be a cave deeper than a few feet. Someone could stay there for a night but no person could make it a home that far out in the desert. Still, the snake head outcrop was the only possible lead they had so after meandering around the ring without any other ideas Matthew directed the group in the snake head’s direction.
It was a quick drive over that back in Michigan wouldn’t have been worth the gas. But in the heat of the Mexican summer Bill and Jonny were thankful for Matthew’s truck. The mouth of the little cave was just barely tall enough for two men to walk through side by side and on the tongue of the snake there was a heavily traveled path. The back of the cave was eclipsed by darkness. Still at this closer distance the cavern did not look large enough to house more than one or two people and in that respect their presence should have been noticeable but it wasn’t.
“This is the only cave entrance type thing we’ve seen but I don’t see how anyone could live here,” said Bill, “It looks like people travel through here often though.”
Matthew pulled out his pistol and started up into the cave.
“I don’t think you need your gun for an empty cave,” said Jonny.
Matthew turned around saying, “Rattlers like the cold. I’d rather shoot a snake then let them bite me,” then as Matthew turned a dark figure emerged from the blackness of the cavern behind him. The figure moved with horrific malice in extending its lanky arms over a large rock and it moved in a fluid motion like a striking mountain lion clawing at Matthew’s upper body and pulling him back head first into the rock face it’d reached out from. There was a crack but no sound from Matthew as his body dropped limp to the sandy floor of the cavern.
Jonny moved for the knife in his jean pocket but was stopped as a coarse palm grasped his arm like a vice. Bill moved towards the truck, ever the coward, and turned into the sweaty chest of a man covered in blown sand which caused his skin to feel like sandpaper against Bill’s cheek. Sudden impact coupled with the immediate salted taste of the strangers sweat sent Bill stumbling back a few steps into the cave.
The lumbering Red Man behind Bill was hot from the beat of the sun on his naked peeling flesh. There were blisters on his shoulders and arms that oozed pus and popped with each movement. No doubt the wounds of standing as a hidden guard outside in such hateful heat. Near behind, to the right, and shorter than the Red Man were two bulked women with their once fair skin equally desecrated by the sun and their muscles tensed in equal preparation to the Red Man’s. One of the women had Jonny’s arm and had begun pinning him hard against the curved rock wall of the cavern while the Red Man grabbed stumbling Bill’s shirt collar and pulled him forward into the Red Man’s fist. It was a blackening impact that shook the light from Bill’s eyes leaving only a blur. He slumped back knowingly letting himself fall towards the ground only to feel himself pulled back and given another fisting. This second impact left Bill near unconscious. He couldn’t tell if he was falling or sleeping. Another jerk pulled him up and he knew his nightmare was not over. Bill’s face shook against something hard again. He hoped the ground. Then he felt to fall until at long last he felt the crush and scrape of the back of his head against stone and sand. A feeling he’d never thought he’d welcome. Bill tried to keep conscious and look dead but his mind was too wracked for pretend.
Read the thrilling second half of this story in Cabals of Blood!