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[Please read the first in the Chalk series here! -Derp]
You would think that being a cult investigator would be so exciting that I couldn’t get bored. The problem is that I get completely obsessed with something, learn everything about it, and when I figure there’s nothing new to see I lose all interest. It doesn’t matter how freaky the subject is or how dangerous, there comes a point where I get the sense that I’ve seen it all, done it all, and it’s time to move on.
Devon and that night at the warehouse changed all of that. I discovered that there was something I hadn’t seen yet, and it was bigger than I could have imagined. In my defence, though, nothing could have prepared me for this.
When I first got hooked on the dark and dangerous world of cults my mom completely freaked. “Kevin,” she said, “you’ll just end up shaving your head, selling everything you own, giving all the money to some degenerate, and then you’ll kill yourself so that you can join the mothership or something!”
Later I found out that, as crazy as that sounds, people really do that. They do it every day, all over the world. There is some serious brainwashing going on out there.
I didn’t want to worry my mom, but I was just too fascinated. The strangeness of seemingly normal people randomly tossing their lives out the window was just too much to resist. I told her that the surest way to make sure I never became a victim was to learn everything I could about the subject. Eventually she grudgingly agreed to let me take a few courses.
If the courses had been good I might have been satisfied and moved on, but they were a total bust. Documentation on this stuff is pretty sketchy and usually takes the form of dry police reports or glossy made-for-TV documentaries that skip most of the details. It’s all pretty surface-level, and doesn’t explain how or why any of these people do what they do.
Eventually I decided to dive in and do my own research. I got good at hunting people down who were currently or had been in cults, as well as family members of people who had joined cults and disappeared forever. When I found them, I interviewed them, and eventually had enough material to start writing books about it. I was never really popular, but I hacked out a modest living.
At first it was great, but, I’ve got to be honest: it’s just the same old story every time. Some guy looks for people who are insecure. They’re easy to find; they’re everywhere. He tells them that not only are they special, but that he has the secrets to unlock what’s special about them. He tosses out a bunch of pop-philosophy that he read out of a magazine to get them thinking that it might be true, and they start believing in him in the hopes that he can make the world a less intimidating place.
Then they’re welcomed into the group with open and loving arms, and it’s all chanting and social pressure. They start getting social validation and encouragement every time they obey orders without question and voice their agreement with the leader. If they disobey or question the leader, well, maybe they’re not such a great person after all. The group turns against them until they fall in line, and when you’ve been insecure your whole life and finally find a group of people that accept you, you fall in line real quick.
To seal the deal they’re encouraged to avoid contact with outsiders so they don’t get “contaminated”. The group becomes their whole universe, and nothing makes sense outside of it. Then you just mix in a little group-hypnosis, a low-protein diet, the occasional drug-induced “mystical experience”, and voilà: you’ve got yourself a brainwashed cult.
I’d start one myself but, damn it, I’m just not depraved enough yet. Maybe someday.
I had seen it so often that it had gotten boring, but then I met Devon. Now, I know that it’s a horrible cliché having your mother call you up out of the blue to set you up on a blind date. Her friend’s cousin’s daughter has “a great personality”. It’s an old story, but that’s ma for ya: a true classic. Truth is, I love her for it, and considering how long it had been since I had a date at all, I was open to seeing anyone even if their “personality” weighed 100 pounds more than I do.
So you can imagine my surprise when I met Devon. She was a stunner: a tight 5 foot 3 inch package with long black hair that shimmered and flowed past her shoulder blades as she moved. The killing blow were her dark eyes: they looked right into you. There was something about the way she moved, the way she smiled, and the easy way she laughed. This was a woman that was confident, had herself together, and was enjoying the hell out of life. The effect is more seductive than anything you can imagine, trust me.
She was way out of my league. I mean, I’m not ugly, but I’m not the kind of guy anyone would pick out of a crowd. Average guys don’t get these 10 out of 10 girls. So, when I met her, I figured it would be our first and last date. You can imagine my surprise when, at the end of the night as I was dropping her off, she stopped mid-sentence and kissed me.
“Sorry to kiss you out of the blue like that,” she said.
“It’s OK, you can kiss me like that any time you want,” I said.
We went on a few dates and things went well. She laughed at my jokes and ignored the drooling stares other men gave her. She was witty too, always with a quick turn of phrase or clever observation. Her sharp features and pale skin went well with her dark hair and eyes, and that stare she’d give me sometimes just melted me to the core.
She recently quit her job as a lawyer, and was trying her hand as an artist. When I asked her why she just said: “There are more important things, you know?”
Still, the better things went, the more doubt built. I just had to know: why was she bothering with someone like me?
Eventually I just decided to put her on the spot. We were walking home one night after a few drinks and stopped on a foot bridge over the highway just to watch the streams of cars come and go. It was just something to do to pass the time, and she was funny like that: she never really needed entertainment. I swear we could be staring at a brick wall and she’d be just as content, as long as we were together.
After awhile I asked: “Seriously, why are you dating me?”
She laughed: “You’re a great guy Kevin, why wouldn’t I be?”
“No, seriously, I mean… why did you agree to go out on a date with a stranger you had never met anyway? You must have guys falling all over themselves trying to get your attention.”
“Well sure but… I don’t know.”
For the first time I saw her hesitate and look away, holding something back. I knew I was on to something.
“Was it a bad relationship or something?”
“No, no my relationships have been fine.”
“Well do you have some dark secret, like a criminal record? Or you’re an asylum escapee? Or you’re really a dude?”
She laughed, and said: “No no, I’m fine, and I’m all woman for your information!”
I think I must have shown some visible relief because she laughed again. I guess I had been pretty worried that she was going to turn out to be a cannibal, or worse, a man.
“Well then… do you just go out on every blind date that your mom sets you up with?”
“No, I never do.”
“So then why did you agree to go out with me?”
I had her then. She bit her lip and looked down at her feet. I waited.
“Well I… heard you wrote about cults.”
“Oh! You’ve read my books?”
“No. Well I mean yes, I picked them up after our first date, but that wasn’t why…” She just trailed off there, still looking down and avoiding eye contact.
Something was really bothering her, but I couldn’t figure out what. I’ve interviewed dozens of people involved in cults, possibly hundreds, but this wasn’t the typical level of anxiety or sadness people usually wore on their faces when talking about this stuff. This was more just… concentration. Like she was just trying to get the words right.
She had never been tongue-tied before. She still had too much of that lawyer in her. I decided to give her a little time to come around to it, and watched the stream of headlights below us.
“I know someone Kevin. Someone you really need to meet.”
Oh no. Not this. I know this speech.
She continued: “Look before I go on I need you to trust me that he isn’t a cult leader. He doesn’t manipulate anyone or keep anyone from contacting the outside world, and doesn’t even ask for money! He’s just… ”
I had meant to let her finish, I really did, but anger got the best of me: “Are you serious? Are you really being serious right now? Every single person who has ever been in a cult has sworn that it wasn’t a cult! That’s how they all work! They don’t ask for anything and have this big outer layer where everyone comes and goes, but once you’re accepted into the ‘inner circle’ then everything changes and it’s goodbye bank account, hello poison Kool-Aid!”
“Kevin will you please… please just let me explain. Please can I just have the floor for 5 minutes?”
Her eyes were pleading. I couldn’t say no to them, so I put my hands on the railing and stared out at the line of red tail lights, grinding my teeth.
“Ok, first a quick yes-or-no question: have you ever heard of a guy called Chalk?”
I shook my head.
“Alright, there’s a reason for that. Chalk isn’t a fake prophet come to get people’s money. He’s the real deal, Kevin. Not exactly a ‘messenger from God’ or anything, but you would not believe the clarity he brings to your mind!”
I wanted to tell her that that’s why they call it “brainwashing”, but I bit my tongue. She had over 4 minutes left.
“For example: would you believe I used to be shy? I mean crushingly shy, like I wouldn’t talk to anyone? It made my job as a lawyer really, really tough, and with his help I was able to become so much better at what I did. I got so good but in the end, I realized I just didn’t need it anymore to prove that I’m worthwhile. There are more important things. And you know what Chalk said to that? He agreed, and recommended I take some time out to find what I’d like to do instead. Now I ask you: if he was some kind of power-hungry cult leader, wouldn’t he have wanted me to stay a lawyer to look out for his best interests?”
I had to admit, she was making a good point… but it could have either been a stupid rookie mistake or an advanced long-term play on his part. It didn’t really change anything.
“The reason I decided to date you was because of something he said once. He said that one day he would love to meet someone who was an expert in cults so that they could judge him. He would answer their questions fully, go on record, and let them decide for themselves. So I thought… I thought…”
She thought… what? I lost my composure as the realization hit me: “Oh my god that’s even worse! So you’re saying you’re dating me to recruit me?”
“No! No that’s… I’m not explaining this…”
“Devon, let’s go meet him. Right now.”
“What?” She looked surprised.
The fact was that I was furious, and someone was going to pay. This bastard, whoever he is, reached out to me through this amazing woman and toyed with my emotions. I wasn’t going to let that slide.
I had my handy Olympus digital voice recorder in my pocket that I carried around for interviews, and I was going to put this cult leader on YouTube for everyone to hear… with my commentary picking him apart, of course. And if I happened to find an opportunity to break the guy’s nose when I was done, so much the better.
Despite it being around 11 at night, Devon said that Chalk should be available. We caught a cab and she gave the driver directions to a warehouse down by the pier.
In the cab, Devon seemed to suddenly transform. She had been understandably upset on the bridge, and flustered that I had caught her in her little manipulative scheme, but that all changed now. She let out a long, satisfied sigh and leaned back in her seat, looking out the window and ignoring me. There was a small smile that played on her lips, almost like she had won something. Like she had beaten me.
My sense of humiliation grew, and I just got angrier as I became more and more convinced that she had played me every single step of the way.
Were any of the things she told me true? Was the whole “shy thoughtful moment” on the bridge just a big put-on to bait the hook? Was she really in control of the conversation the whole time, just pushing my buttons, provoking me into reacting?
It didn’t matter. I was going to meet this Chalk, and expose her little god for the pathetic fraudulent degenerate he was. Then we’d see if the little bitch smiles so smugly.
When we got there we entered through an unlocked door that faced the street. It was dark inside, with only a few lights were on inside the warehouse illuminating the centre of the room. A man was on his hands and knees in the open space creating a complex pattern on the floor about 50 feet wide filled with arcane symbols and various languages.
A young woman met us at the door. “Hi, is this Kevin?”
I wasn’t surprised that Devon had told them about me. It is a cult, after all.
In the dim light I could see that she was a young woman, maybe a college student, and her expression didn’t give a hint of a threat. Still, I’ve seen that before in some real psychos, and considering how much of a fraud Devon was turning out to be, I wasn’t about to let my guard down towards her.
When neither of us spoke she smiled warmly and extended a hand. “I’m Amber. Welcome, you’ve been expected. From what I’ve heard you’re probably pretty pissed right now aren’t you?” Her expression implied that there was a joke in there somewhere, but not knowing what else to do, I decided to grit my teeth and stick to my manners. Show no weakness.
I shook her hand. “Hi Amber. Well I… I mean… I’m just a little confused, let’s say. Could I talk with Chalk?”
“Of course, go right ahead,” she said. She waved me towards the man in the centre of the room.
I took a few steps before I realized that Devon wasn’t following. I turned around and she just stared at me blankly. Of course she wasn’t following. She had done her job and delivered me to her leader, so that was it. There was no reason for her to bother with me anymore.
I should have just kept walking, but I couldn’t stop myself: “What kind of bitch does something like this? Dates a guy and plays him for weeks just to set up some meeting?”
“I understand, but there are more important things. Chalk will explain,” said Devon.
“Chalk will explain. Go now, he’s waiting,” said Amber.
I wanted to scream at her, to hit her, to make her feel some of the anger and pain that was boiling inside of me, but it hit me: this is the lion’s den, and I’m going in completely unprepared. In fact, now that I had the chance to think about it, this is not the way I do things at all.
When doing interviews for my work I would usually have left a message with a friend about who I was meeting, where I was going, and how long to wait until calling the police if they don’t hear from me. I would have also written a note with the same information and left it on my desk for any investigating officers to discover later. I would have also definitely been going under an assumed name.
Tonight I don’t think I even mentioned to anyone that I was going on another date with Devon, and I could feel eyes in the dark corners of the room watching.
I bit my tongue, turned around, and walked on. The danger of the situation meant I had to try to bottle these emotions and keep my cool. I admit, I wasn’t finding it easy. I promised myself that I would make the bitch hear me though, sooner or later.
The man in the centre of the room looked like he was just finishing up his work, putting the finishing touches on the design in the middle. He stood up and dusted off his jeans. When he looked up at me he shook his hair from his face and simply waited for me to join him. He had angular facial features, a wide smile, and wore a tweed vest over a purple button-down shirt with the sleeves rolled up.
As I passed over the patterns I began to notice some distant similarities between some of the symbols in occult texts such as “The Lesser Key of Solomon”, as well as a few Egyptian heiroglyph references, but for the most part they were a language and art style I had never seen. Either he had pulled from some pretty obscure source material for his holy scribbling, or it was just art made to look like language.
Even if it was nonsense, one thing was definitely true: there was something gorgeous about it. The characters (if that’s what they were) seemed to have a compelling flow to them, a churning that pulled at the concrete they were drawn on. It was just chalk on a warehouse floor, but somehow it really did seem like magic. It was almost like there was a humming, or some kind of vibration coming from the patterns as I stepped on them.
The sceptical side of me was screaming to ignore stupid, fanciful thoughts like these. I bit my cheek on purpose then, hard, focusing on the pain, focusing on my anger, and looking away from the swirling patterns on the floor. The man in front of me was my objective. Focus on him.
When I was just a few feet away I stopped. “You Chalk?”
He nodded, but said nothing. He had a pair of glasses on that were reflecting the light so I couldn’t see his eyes.
“So? You wanted to speak with me, right? You know you could have just called, instead of sending someone to trick me into coming. I don’t like being played.”
He didn’t flinch or speak or even raise an eyebrow. He just stood there, smiling.
A part of me found his calm stillness in the face of my aggression unnerving, but I wasn’t going to give in. You have no idea who you’re dealing with buddy. I don’t get intimidated that easy. I pulled out the Olympus and said: “I’ll be recording this. You don’t mind, do you?”
Oh please object, please give me a reason to start arguing with you…
He slowly shook his head once.
Fine. Now if I could get him to speak.
“So how long has your little group been in operation?”
I waited but… silence.
“No? OK well, how big is it then? What’s it called?”
Again, silence. It was making me feel uneasy and a bit paranoid. Why was he just staring at me? Was I missing something? Is he setting me up for something?
“Look, I was told that you wanted to be judged, that you were going to give complete answers. How am I going to get these answers unless you start talking?”
“You haven’t asked the right questions,” he said. His voice was difficult to describe. I’d say it was like wind through the leaves in autumn or the babbling of a brook but, to be honest, I can’t quite call it up in my mind. It was a human voice though, I’m certain of that. I’m certain.
I stood there thinking for awhile, trying to work out how to navigate this man. He was like a statue of a person, rather than a living being. I couldn’t even see him breathing. I had ventured beyond the world of generic degenerates and into some real psycho territory.
Well, if he’s a cult leader, he’ll only really be interested in spreading his little twist on philosophy and holy doctrine. If the preacher wants to preach, then let him preach.
“What is it that you’ve been teaching people?”
“Do you want me to tell you, or do you want to know?”
It only took me a few moments to realize that his question was a trap. Word games like this almost always are, and if a cult leader asks you an either/or question you can be sure you’re being manipulated. Now it’s just a matter of working it out to use it against him…
So, if I choose “I just want you to tell me” he’ll say something like: “well if you aren’t going to try to understand what I tell you, why bother?” Classic dodge.
If I say “I want to know” then he’ll tell me about the long, long journey ahead in order to truly comprehend his teachings. That way he can drag it out over months, giving me tiny bits of his holy doctrine each time and promising me more in the future, all the while making me participate in ritual after ritual to break me down.
Either way, he doesn’t want to give a simple answer to a simple question.
I decide to stick to my guns: “I want to know, but I want to know right now. Tonight. Within the next hour, ideally.”
He smiled a little more broadly and said: “Your offer is accepted.”
He took off his glasses, and the world went black.
Gravity is gone, and just like that, I understand everything in existence.
It hurts of course. Hurts like hell. Hurts like someone is reaching into my skull from a thousand different angles, piercing my skin and hacking away chunks of bone.
The cerebellum goes first; a smooth chop just up beneath the base of the skull. Just like that I no longer have any sense of what it is to work a human body. I still feel it though. I still suffer from it. I just have no notion of how to control it.
A hundred needles pierce the back of my head, destroying my concept of vision. The needles become drills and they bore in further, killing my ability to speak, wiping out my ability to understand abstract concepts. Pain is left, however. Pain and confusion remain, overwhelming and all-encompassing.
Knives stab up through my chin and sinuses and up up up into my temporal lobe. I can’t remember who I am. Every record and memory stored in my brain is forever obliterated. There is no moment before now, nor is there one after now. I am the eternal essence of suffering and confusion.
When the concussive force of the sledgehammer crushes the front of my skull the confusion disappears. I am simply pain. I have always been pain.
Agony is the universe in its entirety, and it is infinite and eternal.
Then, out of the fabric of pain, a new concept is offered. There is a record of a man named Kevin. I can use that record, pretend to be him, and escape this universe. I can exist on a whole new level of reality.
My guide and saviour will be Chalk. He will bring me forth into this new plane of existence, one filled with thought and new feelings other than pain. Once there I will help him exchange energy. It will be my infinite pleasure to do so, and in exchange he will give me experience beyond my imaginings. He will show me how to puppeteer this body, and how to operate the brain to make-believe I’m a convincing “person” named Kevin.
I do not hesitate in my acceptance of the offer.
As I am created anew by Chalk, I am told that he would normally complete this process without pain over the course of months. At first I don’t understand until he teaches me what months are, and what it is to be without pain.
The sheer wonder of it is beyond anything I was ever capable of imagining. To exist without constant, never-ending suffering, is just incredible. Even this is merely a step on the road to something greater. A thing called “death” awaits me that will provides the promise of absolute oblivion. It will be here in just a few decades at most – barely a blink compared to the eternity I have anguished. My only disappointment is that I have such a tiny blink of time to serve my savior.
When I am fully reborn, Chalk is smiling at me, and I at him. I notice this body is still standing in a warehouse, holding Kevin’s recorder out. I hit stop on the recording, and then delete it. It seems blasphemous to have a record of this moment beyond that which has been shared between us so intimately.
“How can I serve you?” I ask him. Speech is a wonder. Breathing is a wonder.
He points down at our feet. We have been standing on a beautiful image of Kevin’s mother. No, I must learn to say “my” mother. That is my mother on the kitchen floor, covered in blood, her head nearly but not quite severed from her body. That is Chalk and I standing next to her.
I know that I must make this art become reality.
As we walk to the exit there are two beings Kevin thought he knew: Amber and Devon. Those aren’t their names of course, just as Kevin isn’t mine. We are greater than that: we are servants of Chalk.
Other servants are also in the room, ones that Kevin had only guessed at. They are standing in small groups, taking up residence in the shadows to watch our savior work his art on the floor. There are even more servants out there in the world, each with their own make believe character to play, although how many of them are out there I cannot know.
Kevin would probably object to what we’re going to do to my mom, but it’s fine. I can do things that Kevin wouldn’t do, as long as those things are in the service of Chalk.
After all, there are more important things.
Credit To – Sidney Crawlspace