People don’t die cleanly.
It’s messy, miserable work. Everyone fights back, regardless of age or gender. It’s an animalistic instinct driven by the bolts of adrenaline rushing through their brain.
Fight. Resist. Run. Escape
Those were the thoughts whirling behind the bearded man’s eyes as my knife slid into his body. A choked gargle spewed flecks of blood from his cracked lips, which clumped in his greasy beard. His eyes held that primal shine to them. I admired it even as the knife parted his flesh. He clung to me, choked over and over; “Deliver us from evil, oh lord. Deliver us.” He struggled under me and I watched curiously. His hands left marks on my arms and life fled from his eyes with the permanence of dusk leaking into the night.
Sitting back on my haunches, I examined the marks he’d left on my arms.
Remnants of my past lived in my skin. Dark streaks cast across my forearms where belts cracked down again and again. Ridges of white scar tissue etched into my fingers and knuckles where knives sliced me to the bone. Long pale lacerations from whippings crisscrossed along my spine. My eyes sat slightly off-center – a result of the sledgehammer that had cracked my skull when I was five.
I knew I should be dead.
Left alone in the desolate wilderness of Quebec, Canada, where a world of complete isolation created the perfect place for a madman to plant the seeds of his new cult.
I suppose it would be prudent to provide context as to who I am and where I came from. Why I know what the human spirit can endure. How it felt to grow up in a commune run by a religious zealot with a vision that God would smite all but his followers sometime in the conveniently vague future.
I was born in the early seventies, on the shortest, darkest day of the year when winter winds ripped at the commune’s chapel roof and shook the poorly fitted wood pilings to their core. An exhausted midwife wrapped in a ragged shawl delivered me squalling on a cheap foldable table from the womb of a younger woman bound tightly by her arms and legs.
There were screams. From the midwife commanding my mother to push. From our communal leader, Robert Gauthier, leading the thirty or so followers knelt around the table in prayer. From my mother herself, digging deep furrows in the table with her nails.
There were screams. And there was blood.
Lots of it.
“Welcome! Welcome our new brother in the glory of God on high! Welcome! From this day forth, you shall help us prepare for the time of reckoning when our lord shall send his vengeful angels down from the heavens to smite the wicked and wreak judgment upon those who do not heed his word! Welcome! Welcome!”
His followers echoed his call with cries of their own: “Welcome! Welcome! Child of God! Welcome!”
Robert used a grimy knife to slice my umbilical cord and placed me in my mother’s arms. Naked, fetid, shivering in the cold, I could remember the moment the warmth left her body. She held me in the crook of her arm and looked up into the rafters of the chapel, and the light left her eyes.
A human’s will to live.
I don’t know why I remember those moments so vividly and not others. Maybe I had been told about them years later and simply believed I’d remembered them.
I suppose this was logical. I couldn’t recall what happened after the midwife slid me from my mother’s arms. Those details were filled in by the kids who’d been praying during my delivery. From what they said, I realized not remembering was perhaps a blessing. Snippets of my mom’s lifeless body slung into a wheelbarrow, wheeled out into the cold, and dumped down a mineshaft on the other side of the commune’s hill like garbage – that seemed wrong. A violation of her memory.
Humans shouldn’t treat one another like that.
But Robert Gauthier said otherwise. It was our duty, he said, to live through him as he was commanded by the lord almighty. We lived a Spartan lifestyle. Simple, brutal, efficient, cruel. My earliest years were relatively unremarkable. Our community lay in the shadow of a hill – a rising knoll perhaps six hundred feet high that rose above the surrounding land. The commune consisted of the chapel, a barn, a woodshop, a mess hall, a small medical hut that doubled as Robert’s office, and three ramshackle halls where the men, women, and children slept apart from one another.
The older children were tasked with looking after the younger ones. I found myself placed primarily in the care of a girl named Ali who was ten or eleven years older than me. She couldn’t be sure of her exact age. The midwife who’d delivered me was named Sheryl and she oversaw Ali during my first year or so. After that, it became Ali’s job alone. We grew to love one another like siblings. Most of the children – ten or in all, with their ages ranging from infants to early teens – kept close to one another. When we reached fifteen, we were moved to the adult halls.
In total, there were thirty-two of us. Robert had three main disciples; Paul, Carver, and John, all of whom believed wholeheartedly in his stature as the envoy of God. They enforced his bidding with a fervor that bordered on sadism. As I grew up, I quickly learned that not following Robert’s word resulted in harsh and often unnecessarily cruel punishments.
Robert and his henchmen would spy on the other commune members for any sign of “profane” or “sacrilegious” behavior. Then he would confront the offender before the others, a maddened glint in his eye, and scream at them about behaving without purity.
“We are the lord’s final bastion of righteousness on this earth!” he preached. “We live through his divine will and shall be rewarded in turn when his angels descend upon us! If you do not heed his words as he has spoken them through me then it falls upon my shoulders to purge the evil from you! We can only summon our savior by living purely.”
What he said filled my head day and night. With no other perspective to understand much of what he was saying, I took his words to heart.
These enraged sermons were spat forth with colorful hand gestures and much pacing through our old chapel. I remember sitting quietly among the kids. I was partially hidden by Ali who did her best to conceal me behind her skinny, pale frame. She and the others would wince when Robert doled out whatever punishment he believed to be appropriate for the offense given. I only watched on with indifference. My mind was numb to the commune’s horrors even then.
Lighter transgressions; like humming, joking, or not selling enough of the baked goods that composed the bulk of our income were met with beatings, lashings, and group shunning.
Heavier offenses; taking the lord’s name in vain, sexual deviancy (only he was allowed to have intercourse with the women in the hopes that his seed would strengthen the commune’s bloodlines), and suspected defection was left to Robert’s constantly fluctuating mood. If he felt merciful, it might be getting left out overnight in the brutal cold or being suspended from the ceiling for extended periods by your thumbs. If his mood turned sour and felt that the presence of the devil and corruption was at work among his members, then one could expect to be “cleansed” with a chemical enema or to maim themselves with a sledgehammer he often wielded during a session. He would bring the offender out into the center of the room and hand them the hammer, then beseech them to show repentance by striking their leg.
Many commune members hobbled awkwardly atop badly knit shin bones and lopsided knees.
I remember one time when a boy named Anthony walked in on Robert forcing himself upon one of the commune women. Anthony ran off into the snow and Robert chased after him, drunk and naked and stumbling. A metal flask glinted in his left hand. He saw the rest of the kids gathering firewood at the base of the hill and ordered us to grab Anthony.
Terrified, we listened. We dragged Anthony back to the commune kicking and screaming. He cried and begged us to let him go. I was five at the time and believed what he’d done must’ve been of great insult to the lord. We marched him back to stand before Robert, who stood there, trembling with rage in the cold winter sun. He had a look on his face like a parent disappointed that their child had been caught lying. He simply glared at Anthony, who begged him for mercy.
I’d never seen a ten-year-old repent so extensively or with such passion before.
Anthony invoked all the right words, bible passages, prayers, and words of praise to Robert and the image of God that shone through him. I was impressed.
Robert was not. He swayed on his feet and took a swig from the metal flask in his hand.
“Tie him up to that tree over there.” He pointed. “We’re gonna have a stoning.”
Anthony was tied up. The rough bark of the pine tree dug into his back. His eyes, wide and brown as the earth beneath us, raced from kid to kid. He landed on me last of all, piercing my gaze with a pleading so intense I caught my breath.
Ali stepped up to me and pressed something cold into my hand. I looked down at the hard, smooth stone in my hand, then back at Anthony.
For the first time in my life, I questioned myself. Was this truly what God wanted?
I looked up at Ali. She was fifteen now. Old enough to be moved into the women’s hall. Old enough to attract the affections of the man looming over them all. Her jaw was set and her gaze looked hollow. A tear glittered in the corner of her eye.
“Just… do what he says,” she told me.
I looked from her to Anthony and realized they both had the same vacant expression. Lusterless, desperate, devoid of hope. The same look my mother had had.
I looked at Anthony once more and whispered, “I’m sorry.”
Then the first rock smashed into his head. Something cracked inside me that day.
By the time Robert, who’d now been joined by Paul and Carver, drunkenly called for us to stop, Anthony was limp against his bindings. Only the tree held him upright. The cold winter air made the deep purple welts along his arms and legs stand out grotesquely. Robert stumbled over to check his pulse. His jagged fingernail dug into the pale flesh just below Anthony’s throat.
Eventually, Robert nodded and turned back to us. His words were slurred when he spoke. “This is what happens when you disobey. Our savior won’t come if I can’t perform my sacred duties! We need new life in this commune!” He took another swig from his flask and then pointed to Ali and me. “You two take him to the shaft and dump him.”
We did as we were told. By the time we dragged Anthony up to the mine shaft, his body was stiff from the cold, and rigor mortis had set in. Those brown eyes stared passively into the grey slate of sky above, glassy and empty. I looked down into the shaft and realized with a start that the bones of my mother were down there. I hadn’t thought about her in a long time. I realized that my last memory of her mirrored the look on Anthony’s face now and wondered what his mother must be thinking.
A hand gripped my shoulder. I turned to find Ali beside me, her lips peeled back in a thin grimace. She seemed to know what I was thinking about.
“She helped raise me when I was younger,” she said. “Protected me from… from Robert’s ways.”
I nodded. That sounded nice.
An unspoken agreement formed between us. Together, we rolled Anthony’s body back away from the shaft and into a little cleft below it. There we buried him under a pile of stones and branches. I still had a lot to figure out, but this felt better than listening to Robert’s sermons.
We made our way back down the hill in silence.
When we got back, the other kids had dispersed to the main hall for supper. But Robert remained outside. He’d gotten dressed at least, but now he held his dreaded sledgehammer in one hand. A sickening grin twisted over his face like a rotting pumpkin, exposing browned teeth and purplish gums.
“God told me you didn’t do as I asked,” he growled. “I said to throw him down the shaft so his blackened soul couldn’t taint us anymore. So why’d you bury him instead?”
Ali stepped forward. “It was my idea, Robert. Please. You can take me into the hut and we can…” she took a shuddering breath, “we can replace Anthony with a clean, pure soul.”
“That’s mighty noble of you, dear,” Robert agreed. He licked his teeth and nodded to Paul and Carver, who were marching back down the hill. I realized they were Robert’s so-called “message from God.” They took Ali by her arms. “But we still gotta repent. Salvation won’t come if we don’t do as we’re told.”
He raised his sledgehammer and brought it crashing down on my head.
The only thing that saved me was Robert’s drunkenness. His swaying threw his aim off so that, instead of crushing my skull, he only glanced at the top of my head.
Still, that was enough to send a thundering shock tearing across my vision in waves of scarlet, purple, and black. My eyesight blurred, then went dark and something in my mind cracked.
I fell to the snow, stunned by the pain. Above me, Paul and Carver grabbed Ali and dragged her screaming toward Robert’s hut. Robert regarded me for a moment, snorted, and spat on the ground next to me. He pointed to two nearby commune members and instructed them to drag me to the medical hall.
Recovery took six months. My cranium was fractured, carving a tight line down my nose to my upper lip. The right side of my face shifted downward several millimeters, throwing off its symmetry just enough to make people do a double take when they saw me. Two teeth were knocked out and my eyesight in my right eye became permanently blurry, but I counted myself lucky. In among those moments of horrendous pain and rolling darkness I held onto the memory of Ali defending me. Of those things she said about my mother. They opened up the possibility of a hope that I hadn’t dared to linger on for as long as I could remember.
The hope that, perhaps, Robert wasn’t the ultimate power in our tiny, desolate corner of the world.
But such thoughts were dangerous. And I had to keep them to myself.
As the years passed and I grew, I learned how to slip under the radar of Robert’s religious sadism. My later childhood years saw plenty of abuse, but only surface deep. Lashes, beatings, punches, but none of the crippling injuries suffered by so many of the other members of the commune. Over those years, Robert continued to grow crueler and crazier.
His judgment day changed dates more than a dozen times. His sermons came at all hours of the day and night; drunken ramblings about God and his avenging angels and our savior from the wicked world beyond and how someday we would be elevated to the gates of heaven.
I would listen to his words and think about them, comparing them to the conversations I had with other commune members. Ali, I saw less and less of. She’d soon fallen pregnant after my encounter with the sledgehammer and her transfer over to the women’s hall meant I was left in the care of the other children with whom I had formed no close attachments. I remained quiet and withdrawn, observing the world through my fractured, uneven eyes.
Raging headaches would sometimes through my head, roaring against my temples like a winter gale. These would often reduce me to a fetal position on the ground and I would imagine myself curled up in my mother’s arms.
One person I did grow closer to during these times was Sheryl. A woman of forty with brown hair streaked in grey, with kindly, but cautious brown eyes, she found me during one of my thunderous headaches and bundled me up against her chest. I remember opening my eyes after hours of nausea and realizing then that she was Anthony’s mother.
“I heard what you did for him,” she whispered. “Thank you.”
That was all that needed to be said.
From then on, we formed a cautious, but deeply-felt connection brought on by the mutual loss of our loved ones. Sheryl proved invaluable in telling me how to steer clear of Robert and his gang. She could weather him because she’d been a seamstress before joining the commune and made many of our crude clothes. Her skill afforded her special privileges. Mainly exemption from Robert’s attempts to force himself on her.
I was not so lucky. I had no discernible skills beyond taking abuse without complaint and remaining invisible. My view of the world was narrowed to what was provided by the commune. Sheryl sometimes talked of life in an actual town, but the idea sounded alien to me. So out of reach, it may as well have been the kingdom of God that Robert promised would be coming any day now.
It was 1988 when something actually happened.
I’d grown up slender, but strong over the past fifteen years alongside all the other commune kids. They moved me into the men’s hall which proved no different from the kids’ quarters save for the fact that Robert’s closest followers also slept in there and kept an even closer eye on us.
But I knew how to keep on their good side. My mind turned to autopilot during our repenting sessions, my talks with Sheryl were always out in the open, far away from the prying ears of God, and I took Robert’s drunken punishments with the humility expected of a good little disciple. His long-winded ramblings still held considerable sway over me, making me fear the outer world beyond our commune, and I longed for the day his rapture would arrive. But talking with Sheryl and remembering the kindness of Ali and the desperation of Anthony kept me from fully believing in his words. From giving myself over to him mind, body, and soul.
The day our judgment day arrived in 1988, I was prepping food in the mess hall when a commotion near the chapel drew commune members out into the cold winter air.
Paul and John held Ali between them. She was struggling and protesting as they dragged her into the chapel.
“Thought you could just up and leave, huh?” Paul growled roughly. “Let’s see if our prophet agrees.”
I made to follow, but sharp nails snatched my bicep. I turned to find Sheryl looking up at me pleadingly. She sported a fresh bruise on the side of her head and blood crusted above her lower lip.
“Please,” she begged. “You can’t help her. Not in there. But you could be of use if you come with me.”
I heard the sound of cries and protests in the chapel, followed by Robert shouting angrily and the unmistakable crack of his belt. Ali was too tough to scream outright, but the moans she made when the belt buckle found flesh churned my stomach. A sordid expression of pain that could only be made by someone intimate with it.
Turning back to Sheryl, I nodded almost imperceptibly.
“Thank you,” she gasped. With surprising force, she yanked me towards Robert’s hut, explaining her plan as she went along. “It’s my fault Ali’s being punished. We’ve been discussing leaving and one of Robert’s men must’ve overheard. I told her what I’m about to tell you.” I regarded her cautiously, her deep brown eyes alive with fright and something else: the possibility of escape. “There’s a telephone in his hut,” she continued. “It’s the only one here. It’s how he keeps us from calling home or friends or…”
She trailed off, but I knew what she would say next.
Someone to come and save us from the shadow of a maniacal prophet’s lust for absolute religious control. My heart beat faster at the prospect.
Sheryl noted the difference in my face.
“There’s something no one ever told you about your mother,” she whispered as we trudged along the splintery wall of the hut, snow licking our boots. “After you were taken from her, she began breathing again in the wheelbarrow. She needed medical attention badly, but she was alive. I wanted to take her to a hospital, but Robert came out after us and told us to leave her in the snow.”
She was crying now and I looked around to make sure no one overheard us. Slowly, I wrapped my arms around her and held her. Inside, my mind was reeling with conflicted feelings; the last of my fear toward Robert sliding away and a dark mass of anguish and anger welling up in its place. Sheryl released a shuddery breath.
“I’m so sorry,” she whispered. “I promise, if you help me, I’ll call the police and bring them here. I just need someone to stand lookout.”
She looked up at me and I nodded again.
Together, we headed for the hut. No one was inside, so Sheryl quickly slipped in while I stood at the corner, trying not to look conspicuous. I listened to her shuffle around the filthy, cramped nest of our prophet, which was strewn with bottles of beer, torn bibles, ragged clothes, cans of food, and items of punishment: belts, whips, and that accursed sledgehammer. An ancient black phone lay beside a stained mattress. Sheryl picked it up from its cradle and dialed 911. She cried with relief when a dial tone came through and an operator answered.
“H-Hello? Y-yes, my name is Sheryl Lemonte, I live in a commune outside Sainte-Marie and want to report Robert Gauthier to the police. For what? Ummm… rape, abuse, starvation, imprisonment…” she looked back at me and swallowed hard. “M-Murder.”
Whatever the operator said next, neither of us heard as a powerful hand clamped down on my shoulder and ripped me from the doorway. I spun out into the snow, landing hard on my tailbone. Above me loomed Robert. His disciples stood to either side of him, looking amused.
“Well, well, looks like all my little sheep aren’t as devout as I’d prayed.” Robert lifted a hand and smacked me across the chin. My head snapped back and I tasted blood. Snow grated against my spine and I briefly imagined this must be how my mother had felt. When she was left to die in the cold.
Fury took hold of me and I yanked back my foot to snap a kick at Robert’s knee. My heel connected with his shin and he gave a startled grunt, toppling into the slush. Only Paul and Carver kept him from falling completely.
“Why you sacrilegious little shit heel.” He planted a foot in my groin and my world turned red. My mouth flew open in a soundless gasp. “Grab the little fucker,” he ordered. Paul and Carver seized me by my shoulders and wrenched my arms behind my back, dragging me to my knees in the process. John came out of the hut with Sheryl in his hands. She cried out as Robert turned on her and punched her in the stomach.
“She managed to get an operator,” John grunted. “Dunno if they’ll come.”
“Let’s imagine they will,” Robert snarled. “I want these two shits out of sight before they get here.”
They were going to kill us, I realized. Kill us and dump us somewhere.
I had to get their attention on me and away from Sheryl. Give her and Ali and all the others some semblance of a fighting chance. I had to make Robert so angry he would want nothing more than to punish me. Even if it meant exposing himself to the police.
Without thinking, I snapped my head backward into Carver’s nose. Cartilage collapsed under my skull with a therapeutic crunch and he broke away howling. Ribbons of blood erupted from both nostrils, saturating the ground with splatters of red. I broke free, ran at Robert, and tackled him into the snow. He yelled out but not before I landed a double-fisted blow that cracked several of his teeth. He roared and John released Sheryl to help Paul yank me off him. Carver grabbed the sledgehammer from the hut and raised it to kill me when Robert screamed, “NO! The police, you fucking idiot! You do that and we’re fucked. Blood all over the buildings and ground. They’d have a fucking field day.”
Staggering to his feet, Robert reached into his mouth and extracted a shard of tooth. He gazed at it in the half-light before curling his hand into a fist and slugging me in the stomach. I gaped like a fish as nausea twisted my guts into knots. Dropping to my knees once more, I felt Sheryl lunge forward to catch me.
“Thank you,” she whispered into my ear. Then it was Robert, shoving her aside and crouching before me.
“You know all these years and I never heard you make a sound,” Robert hissed inches from my face. He bared his brown teeth and blood-blackened beard. “I think today will be the day that you do.” He nodded to John and Paul. “Take him. We’re gonna take him up to the mine shaft and get rid of him before the police come.” A quick glance at Sheryl. “You, we will deal with after.”
Robert left Paul behind to keep watch over things. Carver and John were conscripted to keep my arms trussed to my back where they felt ready to burst from my sockets. Together, they frog-marched me out of the commune and up the hill to the mine shaft. I turned to look back at my home for the past seventeen years. Paul grabbed Sheryl roughly and shoved her toward the chapel where Ali waited with a gaunt look on her face. She caught sight of me but said nothing as Paul sent Sheryl stumbling into her arms and all three of them disappeared into the old building.
The other members of Robert’s congregation continued living their life as though nothing had happened. For them, this was simply another bleak day of their existence.
By the time we reached the shaft – a gaping black maw in the side of the hill – Robert was panting heavily. Years of poor health, cold air, excess drinking, and no proper medical care had rendered him gaunt. His arms poked out at the joints and his skin shone in irregular patches of white and red. John and Carver didn’t look much better; Carver with his nose and John by virtue of the brutal life in the commune.
They surrounded me as I was shoved to the hard-packed earth of the shaft’s entrance.
“Here,” Robert said, “Is where you meet your God.”
He wasted no time in laying into me. John and Carver followed suit. All three of them landed enthusiastic kicks, punches, and slaps that stung my flesh in the winter air. My vision swam when a powerful backhand caught my temple. The breath in my lungs abandoned me with a brutal kick to my abdomen. I eventually found myself collapsed on my side, dirt digging into my cheek as I stared down the mine.
My final resting place. Her resting place.
Robert nudged my bruised side with his foot. “You know I cannot allow anyone to risk our salvation. I was called by the lord on high to deliver us from the evils of the world. All the wicked will be struck and burnt away.”
“Amen,” Carver and John echoed. They made a cross across their chests.
I curled in on myself, my heart pounding against my ribcage. I crawled toward the shaft. The dirt tore into the pads of my fingers, cutting them as I scooted on inch by inch.
Robert helped by slamming his foot into my backside. Grit filled my mouth. I closed my eyes, letting him draw in closer so he could gloat more.
“We dumped your mother down there the day you slithered out of her, you know. She lingered awhile after, but now she’s nothing more than bones in the darkness. Her evil is buried down there where no one can ever be tainted by it again. Now you can join her. Mother and child. My last act of-”
Whatever Robert was going to say next never passed his lips. The sharp rock I’d managed to grab while crawling deeper into the shaft did its work beautifully cutting into Robert’s Achilles tendon with hardly any resistance. The great prophet screamed hideously and toppled over into the dirt, blood sheeting from his crippled ankle.
John and Carver were both stunned for the briefest of moments. But that allowed me enough time to lunge to my feet and smash the rock into Carver’s already ruined nose. The sound he made as the stone stripped the cartilage from his face entirely sounded more beautiful to me than any prayer. A ragged hole was left where his nose had once been and he staggered back, wheezing and gurgling.
I shoved him back and whirled around into the giant fist swinging out at me with the force of a train. It slammed into my ear and my vision in my right eye darkened almost to nothing. My cracked skull lurched, threatening to give, but I hung in there. Years of passiveness festered within. All those atrocities I’d witnessed, the awful things I never resisted. It all came rushing out as I absorbed John’s punch.
Luckily, the man was no proper fighter. The punch forced him to overbalance and I took the opportunity to smash my fist into his throat. My blow had little force behind it, but it struck flush against his Adam’s apple. He choked and took a step back, his boot coming down right on Robert’s exposed ankle. The smaller man screeched like the devil and John slipped on top of him.
My entire body screamed in agony as I limped over to John and brought the spiked rock down on his eye. I had to incapacitate him more than anyone else. The big man yelled out as the rock pierced his skull, and he ripped the stone out of my hands. Blood and white jelly pulped across his socket. I rolled off as he thrashed backward toward a small cliff just below the shaft’s entrance.
A moment later he toppled over the edge. He landed headfirst on the pile of rocks that housed Anthony’s remains. His spine made unnaturally sharp sounds. The big man went limp.
My attention hazed out for a moment as the vision in my bad eye flickered on and off like a faulty light switch. I turned to see Carver come back to his feet, and he lurched toward me in spurts of darkness. His nose clung to his face by just the barest shreds of skin. His voice sounded nasal and desperate.
“Gunna thill yah, yah futhing bathard!” He almost managed to get the better of me. Carver reached towards me and launched a kick at my right knee. He connected my leg buckled. As I came down, his knee shot forward and cracked off my forehead.
I felt the momentum whip my head back. The world spun, but I somehow stayed conscious. I caught my balance and drove my head back into his stomach, winding him. He staggered; his face a mass of purple and red. As he stumbled, something sharp cut into my calf like fire. I looked back to see Robert had dragged himself over to plunge a hunting knife into my leg. The bright blade gleamed against my skin and blood welled in the wound. Without thinking, I reached back and yanked it free to slice across Carver’s belly as the noseless man came stumbling toward me one final time.
The blade caught him just above the hip bone and opened his abdomen up like tissue paper. Pale pink intestine and marbled fat slid out onto the cold ground, followed closely by the man they belonged to. Carver’s face contorted into a rictus of pain and suffering as the life slithered from his eyes. When he hit the ground, he still somehow managed to cling to it long enough to fix me with a loathing glare. Pure hatred burned in his eyes. Then fear. Then nothing. He expired there, holding his guts like a newborn babe in his hands.
I breathed heavily and checked behind me to ensure no more surprise attacks would be coming. John and Carver taught me well enough to expect pain at every turn.
Luckily, Robert’s fucked up tendon occupied his attention.
He looked startlingly vulnerable at that moment. Mewling, clutching his ruined ankle, rocking back and forth while hunched over his injured leg. I wondered what had driven him into creating this hell in the frigid wilderness of Canada. Surely, he hadn’t intended evil and suffering to become his tools of choice in ruling his doomsday commune, but they did. Or perhaps he didn’t see his actions as evil at all. He pursued the grace of his lord, the heavenly angels that would scour the earth for him and ascend him up to heaven. And he did so at the cost of those who followed him so blindly. Time and drink had warped him into a bitter, cruel man who knew only how to govern through fear, damnation, and abuse. Torturous routines of his devising that cost me and so many others their sanity.
I barely felt a thing when he gazed up at me pleadingly and whispered, “Help me. Please.”
Rising to my feet, I stumbled over to him, knelt, and pinched the end of his exposed tendon. His howls rolled across the white fields. He snarled at me and tried once more to grab me, so I crunched the hilt of his knife into his jaw. He flopped back on the stony ground, the lip of the shaft rising above him like a mouth.
“I only wished…. to deliver the… world from evil,” he whispered. His eyes were unfocused now. I’d broken his jaw and his words curled out in slurry clumps. “Call down… God’s angels… make things right.”
I stabbed him. Again and again and again. Everywhere. Anywhere the blade would reach. Up to the hilt. Metal parted flesh and blood answered, seeping out in long, coppery rivulets. He groaned but didn’t have the energy to scream. My last thrust found his throat and he went silent.
Collapsing back into the dirt, I heard the first wail of sirens crawl through the countryside. Their sound seemed foreign in this desolate land. A place where Robert’s maniacal beliefs had somehow evolved into righteous law. I realized our beliefs were what we made them.
He prayed for the world to be delivered from evil.
So I answered.
Credit: Hayden Dalby
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