March 5, 2017 at 12:00 AM

I am here to discuss my experiences with a band, known as Vantablack. They are a progressive death metal band, based in my hometown of Battered Grove – a small, but lively, town in New England. The band consists of five members: a drummer, two guitarists, a bassist, and a vocalist. Beyond their roles in the band, I know little about them. They’ve exclusively played shows at my hometown venue since they formed a few months ago – nowhere else, but I’ve never seen them in town before. I still don’t. I don’t even know their names. The band and its members are shrouded in mystery. The only thing I’m certain of is what I’ve witnessed.

Before we get into the details of what I’ve experienced, let’s talk about Battered Grove’s local music scene. The bands here and in the surrounding towns are predominantly metal or, at least, metal in some form. Their genres range from extreme metal, death metal, and black metal to metalcore, deathcore, and even grindcore. If you aren’t familiar with these genres, don’t worry. It’s not important to understand the context of my situation. I’m just trying to paint a clearer picture for those who are familiar.

These bands play at our local venue, Garrett’s Locker. It’s a small, run-down place, but it’s ours. A great place for kids to have fun. I go there every chance I get. Watching bands, in addition to moshing, is a great stress reliever. But it’s more than that. Being at a metal show is a thrilling experience. The environment is positive, the people are friendly (for the most part, occasionally, there’s a moron who likes to crowdkill every chance they get), and the music is phenomenal. It’s a heavenly assault on the ears and an alleviating comfort to the soul. There’s nothing else like it.

In more recent years, financial issues have led the venue owners to allow in touring bands. These bands have a bigger draw than locals, and more people equals more money. There’s nothing wrong with keeping your head above water, especially when it means saving the place, but I miss when the venue was ours and only ours. It was like a secret club, almost, a place for local musicians only. Our escape from the day to day troubles of the world. I mean, it still is all of that, but the touring bands bring fans with them that just don’t give a shit. Scene girls that care more about who’s cuter, rather than the actual quality of the material. I’m not judging. I just miss the old crowd.

One day, I noticed an invite on Facebook to an event page for Garrett’s Locker. It was a show, but not just any show. It was an “ALL LOCAL METALFEST JAMBOREE!!!”, as it said on the page. All locals, huh? I was intrigued. I hadn’t been to a show at Garrett’s with all local bands in years. This was great, I thought. I looked at the lineup to see who was playing. I recognized every band on the bill, save for one. Vantablack. They must have been new, I thought. But new local bands almost always were openers. Vantablack was headlining the event. I found this very odd, but I assumed they paid the promoter for the spot or something. Things like that happened occasionally. Rarely, but they happened. I figured this must have been one of those times.

Fast forward to the day of the show. My friend, Billy, and I showed up early, as we usually did. We always loved to hang out in front of the venue for a while before the show started. It gave us a chance to meet friends and meet some of the bands during load-in. We already knew all of the members in these bands, having seen them play for years. Instead of a meet and greet, it was more like a family reunion. But at every family reunion, there are always new relatives to meet. You know, those cousins you never knew you had? That was Vantablack.

While talking with the lead singer of my favorite local band, a bus pulled up. Thinking it was an actual bus using the parking lot to turn around, everyone got out of the way. Instead of turning around, it parked. That’s when I noticed the lettering on the side of the bus, “VB”. That’s when I knew that it belonged to Vantablack. This was a surprise. No local band, or even touring band, had ever showed up to Garret’s with a bus. It was always either multiple cars, a couple of pick-up trucks, an SUV, or a van. Having an actual tour bus was impressive, especially for a local band. This, coupled with the fact that no one else knew anything about the band either, caused everyone to stare. We were waiting to put a face to the name, so to speak. We were waiting for the big reveal.

With equipment in hand, five cloaked figures came off of the bus in an orderly fashion and walked into Garrett’s. When I say cloaked, I mean cloaked, hood and all. I couldn’t even make out a single face. Strange is an understatement. It was downright bizarre. Billy agreed, having seen nothing like it, and he’s been to more shows than I have. Besides confusing us, Vantablack’s “grand entrance” succeeded in making people interested. It was all anyone could talk about the whole night. The mystery surrounding the band was enough to make everyone insatiably curious. I have to admit; I was looking forward to seeing what they offered.

The night was going well. I met new friends, enjoyed the music of some of my favorite bands, and moshed to my heart’s content. It was shaping up to be one of the best shows I’d ever attended. All of my favorites had taken the stage, and the only thing that would make the night better is if Vantablack lived up to the hype. Having not emptied my bladder all night, however, I took a bathroom break right before their set.

The bathroom for Garrett’s Locker was actually in another building, connected to Garrett’s via a long and narrow hallway. This meant a bit of a walk was needed to get there and back, which was part of the reason I hadn’t gone all night. When I finally arrived at the bathroom, I noticed something weird. Among the many band stickers on the wall by the sink, there was something else. Carved into the wall was the letters “VB”, followed by a strange symbol. I figured that one of Vantablack’s members had put it there. It was kind of fucked up to carve it in the wall, though, and besides, what was the purpose? Carving your band’s initials and symbol into a bathroom wall isn’t exactly the greatest method of promotion. I simply brushed it off and finished my business before returning to the show.

Upon returning, I could hear the music as it filled the room. Vantablack had already begun their set. From the sounds of it, they were good. Not just good, but great, even better when I got a view of the stage. The members were dressed up in dark, brooding get-ups. Some of their clothing included gauntlets, spiked boots, chainmail, and horned helmets. The vocalist was wearing what looked like samurai armor. They all had different styles, but all of their clothing and armor was black. To be honest, they looked like villainous characters right out of an RPG. It was awesome.

This is where things get a little weird. I was so caught up in the music and the band’s appearance that I didn’t notice what was going on in the room. Looking down at the crowd, I realized what everyone was doing. They each had their left arm in the air and were swaying back and forth in unison. It looked as though they were in a trance. I’ve been to a lot of metal shows, so I know how things should operate. Movement from the crowd is always sporadic and unpredictable. This was not the case. Everyone was perfectly synchronized. No moshing or dancing, just swaying together like zombies. And let me tell you; it was fucking creepy.

After noticing the seemingly hypnotized audience, I caught up with Billy to see what was going on. I noticed him standing in the back of the crowd, so I went over to him and asked what he was doing. I received no response. I kept yelling in his ear, but he wouldn’t reply. I eventually became aggravated and shook him. Nothing. No reaction. Just constant swaying. Everyone, swaying. I looked over at the sound guy and the person running the concession stand. They too were moving back and forth, mesmerized by the music. I was baffled.

I watched the rest of Vantablack’s set from the back of the room, not knowing what the hell was going on. Eventually, they played their last song, and just like that, everyone snapped out of it. Looking dazed as ever, they all wandered out of the room and to their cars. Billy was my ride home, so I followed him.

On the drive home, I mentioned to Billy that I tried to get his attention during the show. He acted like he didn’t recall this. But what he remembered was Vantablack. He wouldn’t shut up about how great they were. It’s all he talked about the whole ride home. He even ventured to say they were his favorite band now. That struck me as highly unusual. I’d known Billy for years. I also knew his favorite band. He would never put another band above them, especially after only seeing them play once. I didn’t voice my thoughts to Billy, though. I just wanted to go home and sleep and forget about the whole thing. And I did, until the next morning.

I woke up the next day, sore. My arms and legs were in pain from the night before. Moshing will do that to you. Because of this, I popped a few aspirin before starting my daily routine. Everything was back to normal, until I checked my phone.

I had a few Facebook notifications. Nothing out of the ordinary at first, a like here, a comment there. One notification, though, was an invite from Billy to like the page “Vantablack”. I then remembered the peculiar show they put on and how they hypnotized my friends. I decided to do a little research.

I visited the Facebook page and checked out their music. They had one release, The Nihilist. It was free to download and contained five songs, all of which I recognized from the previous night. One that really stood out to me was “Knowledge of the Damned”. This was the song they were playing when I entered the room. All songs were professionally recorded and sounded as high-quality as any touring band’s music would sound. I was impressed, but that wasn’t what I came to the page for.

I scoured the page for any answers to what happened the night before. I found little. The page had just been created. There were no posts or pictures. Still, they had roughly 200 likes. This was also about the number of people who had attended the show. No new band could gather likes that quickly. It was unheard of. Something still wasn’t adding up.

As I sat there, completely baffled, I noticed Vantablack make their first post. It was for a show the following day. It read “VANTABLACK SECRET SHOW: TRUE FOLLOWERS ONLY”. The title was odd. I clicked on it to find out more. These were the details provided:

Welcome to your new belief-system! This is an opportunity to show Vantablack you are a true follower. Rules are simple. Find a stygian tome. This will be your ticket into the event. It also contains the event’s coordinates. Tome locations are outlined below.

Several locations were listed, including the Grovewood Cemetery, right near my house. I didn’t understand the secrecy or the meaning of the event, but I was compelled to find out more. Something wasn’t right, and I wanted to know exactly what it was. I thought that, perhaps, the secret show would shed light on the situation. As such, I decided to find a “stygian tome”.

I searched for a few hours in the cemetery before finding what I was looking for. Leaning up against one of the gravestones was a small, brown, leather-bound book. I picked it up and inspected it. It lacked any noticeable features, aside from the black silhouette of a ram’s head embossed on the front. Inside, there was a single page with the show’s coordinates, followed by several blank ones. Despite the lack of characteristics, the book was very nice. Vantablack was going all out for this show. It made me want attend the event even more, if only out of pure curiosity.

The next day, I punched the coordinates into a GPS app on my phone. The place was in town, but seemed to be in the middle of the woods. This made me hesitant, but morbid curiosity outweighed my concern. I would have to walk there, but it wasn’t that big of a deal. A hike wouldn’t be the worst thing for me. Giving myself enough time to get there before the event started, I set off into the woods behind my house.

It took nearly two hours to reach the spot. There were no trails, so I fought with branches and briers most of the time. It was hell, but I made it there in time. Upon arriving, I noticed something right off the bat. I saw no instruments or equipment. Kind of hard to play a show without those, right? What I didn’t know, at the time, was there would not be a show, at least not of the musical variety.

The members were standing near a large tree, wearing those cloaks they adorned when first entering Garrett’s. Others were showing up. I watched as they walked over to the members, handed in tomes identical to mine, and then stood in a circular formation. I followed.

The circular formation was purposeful. On the ground in front of us was a large design, spray painted in red on the ground. It was the symbol I had seen carved into the bathroom wall contained in a circle. Before I could contemplate its meaning, I noticed Billy walk up and turn in his tome.

I was about to wave and say hi to Billy, but I quickly discarded the thought and chose not to. He looked different. Different, but familiar. It was the same look he had when swaying during Vantablack’s set. I then looked around and realized that everyone looked like that. They were all in a trance, just like they had been during the show. I was the only one out of place.

In an attempt to follow the pack, I decided to sport a similar expression on my face. I had to blend in with the “true followers”. I couldn’t risk getting kicked out, especially after I’d traveled so far. Shortly after I did this, the vocalist stepped forward and removed his hood. The event was about to begin.

Vantablack’s vocalist spoke with authority and conviction, reciting the following at the start of the event:

“Welcome, believers. We appreciate the journey you’ve made to get here, today. We appreciate the sacrifices you’ve made in your lives: past, present, and future. We are here now to share the burden. We are here today to unite as one people. Are you with me?”

In unison, everyone replied with a loud “YES!” I failed to do so, but was sure no one noticed. For roughly an hour, the vocalist continued to speak and asked for more synchronized responses. I don’t remember much of what he said, as I was more focused on fitting in and fearing what might happen if my true intentions were discovered. I do, however, remember what happened towards the end of the event. It’s difficult not to.

At the end of the vocalist’s long and drawn out sermon, he raised his left hand and shouted “NO ESCAPE, NO JUSTICE!” which I recognized as lyrics from “Knowledge of the Damned”. The group then repeated this back. I did as well, having caught on by this point. After this, one of the other members of the band came over with the skull of a ram and placed it at the center of the symbol. The vocalist stepped forward until he was directly behind the skull. I didn’t know what to expect.

At this point, Vantablack’s vocalist called out names. Full names. How he had that information, I didn’t know, but when he called out a name, that person would step up to the skull and face the vocalist. Billy was the first one called.

Still hypnotized, Billy walked up to the skull and held out his arm. I was confused by this. The vocalist then pulled out a dagger from within his cloak and sliced Billy’s arm, allowing the blood to drip onto the skull. Billy didn’t react. I did instead. I shook in fear. Was my arm going to be cut as well? What if I screamed in agony? What would they do with me if they found out I wasn’t a “believer”? These were the questions that raced through my mind as I watched my friend’s blood paint the skull red.

I watched in horror as names were called, and skin from each person was torn open by the vocalist’s blade. I didn’t understand, nor did I want to. I just wanted to get the hell out of there. I thought about making a run for it, but I knew I wouldn’t get far with the plethora of obstacles the forest offered. Plus, I was outnumbered. It would only take one person to catch up with me and drag me back into the ceremony. I decided to stay and play along.

My name was the last to be called. I hesitantly stepped forward and faced the vocalist. He stared at me for an awkward length of time before speaking.

“Are you a true follower?”

“Yes,” I said.

He continued to observe me and then spoke again.

“NO ESCAPE!” he shouted.

“NO JUSTICE!” I retorted, almost instinctively.

The vocalist then sliced my arm open, and my blood dripped onto the skull like the others before me. I felt the color drain from my face, but I didn’t react. The pain was great, but my will to live was greater. The vocalist smiled and allowed me to walk back to the herd. I must have played my part well.

After slicing my arm open, the vocalist concluded the event by thanking everyone for their participation. I began walking home, but started running when I got far enough away from everyone. I was officially spooked. However, I was more ecstatic that I was able to make it through the event. Who knows what might have happened had I cracked under the pressure? After getting home and bandaging my arm, I sat down and took a deep breath, thankful to be alive.

Vantablack has played many shows at Garrett’s Locker since their sadistic ritual in the woods. I haven’t gone to any of them. I wasn’t affected like everyone else was, and I think it’s because of what happens at the beginning of their sets, whether it be a spell, incantation, or ritual. I missed the start of their set that night due to my impromptu bathroom break, and that is most likely what saved me.

Despite not going to their shows, I pay close attention to their Facebook page. After every show, they gain more followers. After each surge of likes, they put on another “secret show”. I don’t know what to do. I’m scared of what’s happening to my friends, and I’m scared of what Vantablack will do next. I thought of calling the cops, but I’m too paranoid. If the members found out that I was trying to put a stop to their antics, I could become a sacrifice in one of their rituals.

I have nightmares about that day in the woods. It plays out like it did in real life, only instead of slicing everyone’s arms, he stabs them in the heart, killing them instantly. I want to run, but cannot move. After watching everyone else die, the vocalist walks over to me. Just as he’s about to deal the final blow, I wake up. Every single night this happens. Why? Why?!

The thing that scares me the most is that I keep finding myself listening to their music. It’s the only thing that seems to comfort me. And when I do, I feel the need to join them. I feel the need to be a part of their nefarious cult, and I don’t know why. I’m at the end of my rope, here, and I can feel myself slipping. Their lyrics keep ringing in my head, and I think they hold true. There is no escape, and there is no justice. I don’t think they can be stopped, and I don’t think I can keep myself from them any longer. I want the nightmares to end. I think it’s time to become a true follower.

Credit: Christopher Maxim

The Mirror Game

February 12, 2017 at 12:00 AM

The next time you’re alone in your house, go into your room and turn off your lights. Stand in front of your mirror and light a white candle, let the match burn until the flames are about to touch your fingers. If it goes out before this point, leave your room and turn on every light in your house. Lock any doors that can be locked, bar them up, do anything. Leave the house and do not return until morning. You are not safe.

If the match does not go out on its own, blow it out and set it aside. It is time for the next step. Hold your candle in both hands, and keep it at chest level. You are to remain quiet for one whole minute, and keep your eyes closed. Do not open them. If the wax drips and burns your hands, do not make a sound. Count down in your head. When you reach one, stare into the mirror. Lock eyes with yourself. Whisper out one thing you can’t live without, this is your safe word. Don’t worry about your reflection, how its lips don’t move when you talk, the way it’s staring back at you. Next, utter the thing you desire most, this will be your end goal.

Look down at the candle in your hands, “The light in my hands is my ally, and so it shall protect me, and so I shall do for it.” You must whisper out. Blink once, look back up at the mirror. Resume immediate eye contact with your reflection. No matter what you see, keep eye contact and don’t blink. You must do this for one minute, but this time counting up. Don’t get distracted by your doppelgänger’s horribly disfigured face, the razor sharp teeth in its mouth that’s curled into a terrifying grimace at your betrayal, choosing the calming glow of the candle over it.

Ignore the urge to blink, the burning in your eyes like searing hot needles carving away at you. Once you reach sixty, and only when you reach sixty, you may blink. Now you must complete the last step. You must say goodbye. Keep eye contact, and say “You must leave now, or else the light will expel you.” Of course, your reflection will not go immediately, but don’t worry. This should always work. If not, follow the same steps as before and leave the house. Don’t come back. You must now fulfil your end of the bargain, assuming the candle has kept you safe thus far.
Do not blow the candle out. Stay awake all night if you have to, wait until it burns on its own. When the candle finally dies out, sleep. The next morning, open your door and the thing you need will come to you within a week.

If you happen to look away at any point not specified in this ritual, or blink, you may see the shadows behind you, crawling in your peripheral vision. The thing in the mirror will know. A dreadful crackling will fill your ears, and you must blow out the candle immediately. Do not say goodbye, do not look back to the reflection and most certainly; do not look into its eyes. It’ll smile at you, whisper your name. Close your eyes and pray, pray to God that you may get through this night. Speak out your safe word three times, and sleep.

You might be wondering what the safe word is for, right? If you fail, they will take something from you. You best have chosen wisely, because after all, you can’t live without it, can you?

Credit: 666ItsFinnley


January 27, 2017 at 12:00 AM

Oil portraits of dignitaries and ancient politicians had been hung in a boastful collection on the encircling walls, a burgundy dark enough to impart arrogance to the unsure and confidence to those of likened wills, the marble pillars and brass railings emitting an astounding gleam from all sides, and Stewart felt assured to be in the proper place.

It had only taken him a few minutes to find it…

Two others were waiting, another man and a woman, sitting on oaken chairs with cushioned seats. The woman’s blonde hair reminded him of wheat, her face evoking the sun rising over the fields. She didn’t say anything to him, but seemed to be gauging his ability, his deftness, grinning slightly with her piercing green eyes.

The man, however, arose from the chair and held out his hand—a large fellow, with a full beard, of apparent Latin American heritage, perhaps Iberian. “Welcome, Mr. Unitas,” he said vestedly. “We’ll be with you in just a moment. Sarah here has had her appointment postponed for over an hour.”

“Oh?” Stewart replied. The man nodded, adjusting his charcoal-grey knit sweater vest, and gazed regretfully upon the woman, evidently another recruit seeking entry into the prestigious club.

“I’m afraid you’ll have to stand until it’s time for her to go in.” At the same moment a black woman in a black dress opened the large metal doors at the back of the hall, exchanging a brief communicative look with the man in the vest. He turned to smile at Stewart, his face showing not a hint of blush, and soon the engagement ensued—Stewart found himself awkwardly sitting in the second chair, still warm from the hour’s delay.

“Must be busy this time of year, eh?” Stewart asked the man, who had yet to retake the seat. The presumptive member of the Bay Area Betterment & Health Society again confirmed, and turned to select one of the pamphlets piled upon an end table of miniscule height.

He handed one to Stewart. It was a single folded page on thick glossy paper, showing a picture of Golden Gate Park and what seemed to be the large group photograph of a club gathering.

Stewart thanked him for the informative material, though he had already been well-versed regarding the scientific organization, from its four-hundred year history to speculation upon its upcoming plans and charity work.

“Oh, that sounds swell,” he mimicked eagerly, affecting himself to be naively unaware rather than firmly convinced of his own indubitable qualifications.

He had heard online, and more helpfully from a friend he knew on a forum, the club only spoke in official terms behind closed doors to facilitate for its members more liberated discussion. Great intellectuals had been initiated, and great intellectuals had been made.

It said so in the pamphlet.

Laughter came from the closed door, and Stewart tried not to think how it would be very nice if Sarah, the girl before him, would also be admitted, so he could get to know her more. As if getting accepted would need more benefits to persuade, to pique!

This was the place to be, said them all, what one must do in order to become a full-fledged leader of progressive society. And Stewart had always wanted to be a vampire.

He scanned over the paper, and even the alluring language came off to him as exclusive. Stewart could not hold back his smile any longer, and the other man noticed.

“I’ve actually read your file, my good man,” he said, stroking his thick hairy chin. Stewart awaited the completed placation and once they had met eyes the club member continued by whispering, bending his head closer to him, “I think we would be fools not to let you in!”

His heart kicked and his fist clenched in excitement. Stewart’s smile grew, showing brightened teeth, and he could only mutter, “Thank you. I am a big admirer of what you do here.”

“Is that so?” asked the man, finding a kindred spirit.

“Yes,” Stewart answered. “I think this is exactly where I want to take my skills. I’m looking forward to seeing how I can help and contribute to the club’s furthering success.”

The older man nodded, smiling also. “We’ll see what we can do with you.”

Thoughts of the future flowed through Stewart’s field of vision, unable to be contained. The high class society, a company of gentlemen and the finest edge of female colleagues, using advanced techniques to extract untarnished hemoglobin and innumerable additional nutrients which had been enabling their superior race to thrive without the brutal need for harvesting, enslaving, or killing anyone, or anything, not even pigs!

Stewart knew all this. And he knew he belonged here, in this association of immortals moving the world forward. Especially if people like Sarah would be among them, and he withheld the rushing desire to envision her transformed, unleashed, beyond the standards of commonplace beauty.

It would be truly empowering to finally live and work as he wanted, and here was the goal, at last!

The door opened and the secretary kindly said his name. “Mister Unitas? They’ll see you now.”

His heart quickened, perhaps for the last time as a feeble primate, and the man in the vest wished him good luck while Stewart walked to the door, buttoning the top button of his coat.

“We’re sorry to make you wait,” she noted effectively. The secretary, upon closer vicinity, was also an ostensible initiate. The women showed signs almost instantaneously, and more dramatically than the men, according to his research. Stewart worried his new appearance would be overshadowed by those of fellow neonates. It could take decades before the distinction of his vampiric training could be portrayed by looks alone. But he marched on, nonetheless.

“Right this way,” she said, smirking, and Stewart followed her to a set of double doors, which he hardly saw open before he realized he was inside the room.

Against the opposite wall sat four elders in shining judicial robes behind a normal white plastic table. Stewart made sure to catch each of their gazes once the doors had been closed behind him.

But there was a fifth individual standing next to the door, and a sixth. Stewart’s pulse fluttered once he recognized the golden-grain hair, now bolstering the pale mystique of her form and face alike. The green eyes sank into him, as if they were aimed and fired.

The other member stood well higher than the average man, meaning he must have been a guard or security worker of some kind, but Stewart didn’t know why Sarah remained in the room when her interview had hardly preceded his.

“Welcome, Mr. Unitas,” said one of the elders, one of three balding men with stonework cheeks and cropped hair of glistening pearly silver. He smiled magnanimously, but Stewart felt his voice carried with it no trace of impression.

“We’re sorry,” the speaker continued, “but we are afraid we can cannot offer you a position with our organization at this time.”

When Stewart had just begun reeling he noticed the guard and Sarah both approaching from behind, from opposite sides, and before he could make his case the larger man’s grip had smothered his mouth, quelling all protest, and the youngest member of the Bay Area Betterment & Health Society revealed freshly protruded canine teeth before jabbing them into Stewart’s neck, playfully pausing while their eyes were partially locked, decisive jowls vicing quivering flesh. She pulled back sharply and his liveliness gushed away for her to drink, to serve as an irrefutable pledge of loyalty.

As she sucked from the struggling neck the others in the room cheered and clapped, remembering the blissful intensity of their own first kills. The lone matron of the panel reached for the appropriate ink stamp and markedly punched it upon the girl’s papers, printing sternly in bold crimson letters.


Credit: Edmund Gray-Graham

A Question of Faith

December 11, 2016 at 12:00 AM

You know what would be delightful? To maybe watch television, or just sit around the house, or take a ride in the car without my father bringing up religion.

Father is a master at turning any conversation into a lecture about faith. Anything he reads, sees or hears in the media is a prompt for him to hold forth on spirituality. Good God, I’ve even seen the man be inspired by weather patterns.

Know that we are not alone, and that there exists a power greater than anything we can conceive of on this Earth, he says.

Know that the courage of faith is a bravery surpassing that of the assembled armies of the Earth, he says.

Faith will be tested, he says. Faith will be rewarded, he says.

And says, and says, and says.

Please don’t misunderstand. I am a believer. I have been brought up in the faith, and strive to adhere to it. However, I find it increasingly difficult to be a blind follower. For if we fear to ask questions of faith, is that not an admission of doubt? An acknowledgement that our faith – our rock, our shield – cannot withstand the slightest scrutiny?

Father will have none of this, and our exchanges escalate into shouts and angry tears.

“Know that we have been blessed beyond measure,” he says, a pointed finger trembling inches from my face. “Never forget, boy.”

Still, my questions persist. Lately, they grow in number.

Forgive me. I don’t mean to be so critical of my father. He is unshakable in his belief, and that can be inspiring. I think of my mother’s recent passing. A man less devout might have abandoned his convictions, strayed from his path. Not my father.

I’ll also admit that, to those not ceaselessly subjected to his spoutings, father is quite charming. The impression he gives is not that of a wild-eyed zealot. He’s patiently persuasive, and has a certain charisma. Several people in our town have come ‘round to his way of thinking, and they include some of our more notable residents – elected officials, captains of industry, members of law enforcement.

Good friends to have.

I can see many of them now, as father and I enter the clearing in the woods behind our home. Some avert their eyes; they’re new. Others offer a friendly wave and a warm smile.

Father is at it again, telling me about the demands of faith and the comfort that awaits after our earthly trials have ceased. A comfort no less than eternity!

All this talk about religion goes a long way toward explaining why my sister is bound upon the altar.

It doesn’t make what I’ve been told I have to do any easier.

Credit: Inscribe

I Went to Vote Early, but I Stumbled into the Wrong Building

December 9, 2016 at 12:00 AM

So, I voted today. Before I get started, I’d like to point out that I’m not politically savvy or community-oriented. That’s probably how I wound up in this mess. I’ve voted once before, but that was on election day, and I had a friend with me. This time around, I wanted to get it out of the way, but I had never voted early before. I didn’t know how to go about doing it all; so, I decided that a search engine would have to be my guide.

Have you ever tried to search for something on your phone, but accidentally opened Facebook instead? I have a habit of doing that, and this time was no different. I even typed my inquiry into the Facebook search bar before realizing my mistake. I typed in “vote early”. Just as I was about to close the app and open my web browser, I noticed one of the results. It was an event with the title “Battered Grove – VOTE EARLY BEFORE IT’S TOO LATE” – Battered Grove being the town I live in. I could have left it and went about my business, but I was curious.

I clicked on the event only to be greeted with little information. One tidbit that stood out was a disclaimer stating that the event page was for “Clan Members Only”. Other than that, the page had a date, time, and place for voting; November 4th, 8am – 8:45am, 54 Marion Road. Despite the weird disclaimer and small voting window, I assumed the event page was there to inform last minute voters like myself. I knew the fourth was my last chance to vote early in my state and it was the only day I could do so because of work restrictions. I saved the info into my phone and set an early alarm for that day.

Fast forward to the day in question – today. I got up early, went about my morning routine, and headed off. My phone’s GPS informed me the address was only twelve minutes away. Wonderful, but about six minutes in, I realized that it was taking me to Forsaken Falls.

In Battered Grove, there is a large area of abandoned living space that the locals have dubbed Forsaken Falls. It’s not its own town, but everyone treats it like it is. It’s comprised of a bunch of old, decrepit houses too dangerous to live in, but too ancient to tear down. Many years ago, a history buff by the name of Molly Winthrop fought with the town over their historical values. After months of bickering, documentation, and surveying the land, she won. All the buildings in that area were deemed historical monuments and thus could not be demolished.

Everyone knows the story, and usually, people stay away from that part of town. There’s no reason to go out there unless you want to see a bunch of eyesores taking up space in an otherwise beautiful town. So why, then, was early voting taking place there?

I brushed off the thought and drove out to the address. I found myself at the old town hall. This was probably the only building in Forsaken Falls deserving of the title ‘historical monument’. Still, it was abandoned. I wondered if I was the victim of some sort of prank. My car was the only one there. I was about to drive away when I noticed a small sign on the building, just above the back entrance. In crude red lettering, it said “Voting Downstairs”. Maybe I was in the right place after all.

I looked at my phone and saw it was a little after 8:30am. I quickly rushed into the building to make it in time before the polls closed. More crude signs were inside, leading me down into the town hall’s depths. It was odd, but I didn’t question it; I just wanted to get the voting done.

After rushing down a few flights of stairs, I wound up in what looked like an auditorium. I waltzed in, ready to cast my vote for the presidential election. That’s when I noticed that something wasn’t right.

I will explain the layout of the voting area for those of you who haven’t voted before. The voting area itself is usually roped off with a designated entrance and exit beside each other. To your left, a person at a small podium helps with questions or concerns you might have; it is very helpful for first-time voters. To the right and left of the voting area are two long tables. The one on the left is where the town staff sits and is cut up into precincts. You must go to the person assigned to your precinct, as they have the list of registered voters for that area and will hand you your ballot. The table to the right has sealed envelopes that contain the ballots after voting is complete. The middle-man is straight ahead – the voting booths. The ones I know are small, chest-high tables separated by makeshift drapes – like how patients are separated in hospitals.

Everything was set up as normal, but here’s the weird part. The ‘town staff’ were all wearing red cloaks. And instead of precincts, they were divided by faction. The podium had a strange symbol carved into it, and the ‘drapes’ separating the booths were of a gross, dark red hue. Something was off, but I concluded that I was the dumb one, having never voted early before. So, I decided to go along with it.

I walked past the podium and directly to the cloaked figure assigned to Faction 5, knowing I lived in Precinct 5. Instead of asking for my address or name, the person simply handed me my ballot. I gave them a weird look and took my place at an empty booth. That is when I realized that I was not in the right place.

The ballot was normal, aside from its text. In place of the presidential nominees, there were candidates for “Leader of the Clan”. The only name I remember is Abbadon. There were other positions to vote on, the nominees of which I had not only never heard of, but I could barely pronounce their names. I flipped the ballot over to reveal the questions. This side seemed normal, but instead of ‘Questions’, they were called ‘Queries’.

On a ballot, there are various questions to vote on. If enough people advocate for a specific proposition, your state’s Senate will vote for it. At least, that’s how I’ve come to understand it. On the ballot itself, the Question displays the outline of a proposed policy followed by a summary. The summary will read something like “If you vote YES on Question 3, this will prohibit farmers from using chemical-based pesticides on their crops”. I usually skip to the summary or pass the Questions altogether. These ‘Queries’, however, were impossible to overlook.

I will divulge to you the two Queries that shocked me the most. They weren’t worded exactly like this, but you’ll get the gist of it:

-Query 3-
The proposed law would allow high-ranking clan members to acquire new disciples through the local community via force. Children captured under the grounds of this law will be trained in the ways of the Clan. A potential cure for underpopulated factions.

A YES VOTE would give Clan paladins the right to kidnap civilian children.

A NO VOTE would make no change in current laws pertaining to civilian children.

-Query 4-

The proposed law would allow any Clan member to murder a civilian on sight for crimes against nature. Humanity’s destruction of the earth is deemed reason enough for the ultimate punishment. Humans will bleed for their insolence.

A YES VOTE would give Clan members the right to kill any civilian above the age of 18.

A NO VOTE would make no change in current laws pertaining to civilians.

My heart sunk after reading Query 4. What had I stumbled into?

Realizing rather quickly that I was somewhere I shouldn’t be, I slowly backed away from my ballot and walked away from the voting booths. The cloaked figures watched me. I think that’s when they too realized that I was out-of-place because they moved in my direction. I ran as fast as I could to get up those flights of stairs and out to my car.

Luckily, I made it to my car unscathed, but the cloaked figures weren’t far behind. I looked behind me for a split second and noticed the town hall doors swing open. I panicked and dropped my keys. I heard one of them scream, followed by the unpleasant sound of several people running. I thought I was done for.

I picked up my keys, get into my car, and drive off before they could get to me. I booked it out of Forsaken Falls and back to the comfort of civilization. I was shaken, but I was free.

I called the cops shortly after arriving home and told them everything. They said they would check it out. About an hour later, they called back and said that they found absolutely nothing at the old town hall. No trace of anyone being there in years. The man on the phone even accused me of trying to prank them. I assured him I wasn’t and said that I spoke the truth; he didn’t seem to believe me and hung up.

And that’s it. That’s the extent of what happened to me, today. I would have never expected a twisted cult to put parameters in place for proper voting, much less that I would somehow end up in the middle of it. The thing that gets me is that they’re still out there, doing whatever it is that they do. And if those ‘laws’ of theirs are passed, Battered Grove will be terrorized by them. I only hope that, at the very least, they didn’t get a good look at me. I don’t want to be a victim of Query 4.

Credit: Christopher Maxim


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