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The heat surrounded me, steadily engulfing me until I suddenly sprung awake. I felt as if I were melting as I wiped the sweat from my forehead and looked up at the beaming sunlight pouring through the top of my tent. I reached over, grabbed my pants and shirt, and leisurely got dressed. I unzipped the front of the tent and crawled out, gathering myself and moving towards what was once my firepit but since had become a pile of ashes. I restarted the fire and placed my coffee pot on it, waiting for the slow brew. I sat on the ground and leaned back on my hands, taking a deep breath and feeling melancholy. I enjoy my time alone; I spend every day pretending to care about people’s lives and carrying on small talk before returning to my small apartment alone, so I always enjoy my solo camping trips. I have always been an introvert, preferring my own company. Something about the isolation of being in the woods brings me serenity. The coffee finishes brewing. I stand and pour myself a steaming hot cup of black coffee; I take a sip and stare to my right, deciding that is the direction I will head today. I relax a bit more until the coffee is finished, grab an apple from my bag and pack up my belongings and head off to the right. I enjoy each step, sound, smell, and visual. The sound of leaves crunching under my feet and animals scurrying along as I trample through their domain. I always tend to go off paths; I love feeling adventurous and exploring places where I imagine no man has set foot before. I follow sounds and sights, going wherever I see fit. Continuing through the forest I see what appears to be a circle of chairs and tree stumps in the distance. I trudge forward, advancing toward the circle. When I get about halfway, I reach out to steady myself on a tree and touch something odd that makes me jump and pull my hand back. I then notice it’s a piece of paper in a page protector nailed to the tree. It has been there a while as it is old, weathered, and curling in on itself.
I unroll it and read, “MISSING PERSON STACY CUNNINGHAM AGE: 24. EYES: BROWN. HAIR: BLACK. HEIGHT: 5’4”. WEIGHT: 115. LAST SEEN IN HER HOME ON NEWTOWN ROAD. IF YOU HAVE ANY INFORMATION PLEASE CONTACT LOCAL AUTHORITIES.”
I release the paper, letting it curl in on itself again, with more questions than answers. Why would that be all the way out here? I move forward to the next tree. Another missing person poster. This time it’s a twelve-year-old boy. I go to the next tree. Another missing person, a thirty-year-old man. Each tree had its very own missing poster nailed to it, each poster a different person. There were hundreds of them covering the trees surrounding the circle of chairs. I stepped backward taking in the massive number of posters and got a sunken feeling in my stomach. I dropped my bag in front of me and removed my large hunting knife; I never usually get to use it, but this feels like the time to have protection. I extended my arm straight forward, knife pointed outward, as I move towards the circle of chairs. As I approach them I notice a small platform in the center of the circle. I get within five feet of the circle and notice red stains on the platform. I stopped dead, realizing I probably made a mistake by adventuring deeper into this site. I reach into my bag to call the police and inform them of the scene I found, but I have no service out here. I start to head back from where I came so I can report this once I get to town. As I begin to head in that direction, I hear voices and footsteps in the distance. I have no choice, I take off running in the opposite direction from which I came. I run until I am out of sight of the circle, but I am still able to keep an eye on it. The sun is setting now, and I know I have the ability to stay out of sight. I take the knife and slide it down into my boot. I stare hard into the direction from which I heard the voices coming and wait desperately. I fear what I may see, but I figure if I continue hiding they will eventually leave and give me the opportunity to make a run back to my car. I see movement deep within the trees beyond the circle of chairs. I feel fear rush over me as I expect robe-wearing Satan-worshipers to appear dragging a poor girl behind them. But that’s not what I saw at all.
Seven people come through the tree line and into sight. They are each very normal looking, some wearing dress shirts and slacks and some just t-shirts and jeans. I notice one of them appears to be carrying another man, but if that is the case the man being carried must be incredibly light. He is being carried with such ease. The trees blocking my vision are a blessing and a curse as they prevent them from seeing me but also inhibit me from seeing them. The man sets the weightless man onto the platform, and they all take their seats around him. The man who was carrying him does not sit down but instead stands next to him, leans toward him and speaks, getting reactions from the group. I am too far away to interpret what they are saying, but I don’t dare get closer. After remaining hidden in the tree line for what felt like hours, I decided to try to move a bit around the group. It is now pitch-black outside; the only light is from the small fire the group made, and I am too far away for it to be of any assistance to me. As I edge along the tree line I pay close attention to their conversation, while I cannot make out any words, I pay close attention to their tones, praying I don’t hear them become alert. I suddenly hear every notification my phone was not able to receive before come through as I suddenly got service. The voices stopped and all their heads snapped in my direction. They couldn’t see me but they knew I was there. Motionless, they remained still and silent. Waiting for anything to give them a sign to take action. I stood still, clutched my breath deep and halted my body. I begged they would think it was just some strange animal mating call, but all in the same motion they stood up without a sound and charged. They began rushing toward me blindly through the woods full speed. I snapped out of it quickly and begin sprinting as fast as I possibly could. The darkness consumes any hope I would have of seeing my path; I am just blindly running in a direction with the occult following closely behind. They say nothing; the only sound is their feet slamming against the forest floor. A sudden change in elevation sent me stumbling forward on my hands and knees. I feel a sudden hard impact to the back of my head, and then darkness.
I come to and find myself bound with a throbbing headache and surrounded by the people I was once running from looking down at me. Smiles covered their faces. They were not happy smiles but more of uncomfortable smiles.
I managed to mutter out, “What is going on?”
Then I heard a clear and excited voice say, “This has to be the one.”
I struggled and managed to sit up, the group still peering down at me. I look across and see I am lying directly in front of the platform. Upon the platform stands a completely nude mannequin with a hyper-realistic face. It had blond shaggy hair, blue eyes, a thin nose, and slim lips. It had pretty much all the same features as me. The man talking was standing next to the mannequin; he was a physically fit man with a slicked-back pony-tail, aviator-style eyeglasses, and a full bushy beard. He continued to lean over, placing his ear to the mannequin’s mouth and then would react as if he were having a conversation with someone. I gathered up some courage and tried to sound tough.
I shouted, “What the hell is going on?”
My voice cracked as I said it, and I knew it made me look weak. The bearded man then stopped and looked at me and smiled.
He slowly walked over kneeling next to me, “Oh, Messiah. You have returned to us. You told us of your time of resurrection and the time is now.”
I stared at him blankly and confused, saying, “I am not whoever you think I am, so please let me go.”
He gave me an intense, puzzled look and said, “You are the resurrected Messiah. Allister said so. This will be a glorious metamorphosis.”
He pointed in the direction of the mannequin and then leaned uncomfortably close to me and petted my hair.
“You will remember soon; we just need to place the spirit into the vessel.”
I wanted to tell him to let me go or scream some insult at him, but before I could do or say anything, he made a quick hand signal to the group and they gagged me and lifted me onto the platform next to the mannequin. I tried screaming, but it was no use. The bearded man removed his shirt revealing a large tattoo across his chest of a thin crooked cross, obviously self-inflicted. He placed one hand on my chest and the other on the mannequin’s chest.
He rolled his eyes back and began to chant, “AGA SHA SSARUTA COME RISE BARRA MASS KLAATU.”
He was repeating the phrase over and over, increasingly getting louder. I was wiggling and trying to scream and fight, but it was no use. I was helpless. I had no idea what was happening, and I was losing it. He continued chanting until he screamed it as loud as he could. I remained there, completely still and staring at him.
He came back to, looked at me and said, “Allister?”
I guess by the fearful look in my eyes he could tell I was not whoever Allister was. He then gave me a baffled look and rose up; he leaned over placing his ear to the mannequin. He was still for a moment and then suddenly flung himself up and started screaming and destroying chairs. The group just stood around watching him. He walked over to me and was breathing hard from exhaustion.
He said, “Our leader was supposed to fulfill his destiny and become a man again, but you ruined it.”
I had no way to respond in any way, so I just stared and hoped this would mean I could go. He wiped his nose, cleared his throat and stood up to face the group.
“Children, Allister promised us God would send us a new being to worship in his image. I know we have been keeping Allister alive with the blood of those who do not believe. But this man is the key to our salvation. Tomorrow we try again. It will be glorious.”
I was just watching uneasily as each person came over and kissed the bearded man. When the group was finished kissing him, he came over to me and untied my feet.
“Tomorrow you will rid us of this diseased word.”
He dragged me over to a skinny tree and tied my arms back behind it. He rustled my hair as a father would to his son and smiled before walking back to the fire pit and sitting down.
I immediately began shuffling my boots around as the group sat around the fire singing Sunday school songs. Eventually, I kicked the left boot off and my hunting knife came out with it. I used my feet to kick it over towards my hands, with a lot of effort I finally managed to get it within fingertip distance and began to cut myself free. After what felt like hours of cutting with my fingers, the rope finally snapped off, and I used my now free hands to ungag myself. I took no time to wait, taking off running in the opposite direction, which was also the opposite way from which I came. I no longer cared about that, I only wanted to get away from the Manson family bullshit. As I was running I noticed I didn’t hear them coming and felt a moment of relief. When a sudden loud snap sound and a crippling pain surged through my left foot causing me to scream aloud unintentionally. I looked and saw I had stepped directly into a bear trap with my exposed left foot, and it was borderline severed. The group noticed the scream and came running; the bearded man looked angrier than ever before.
“Do you understand the damage you are doing to this vessel?” He continued to scream at me
The pain was so intense all I could hear was a loud ringing, and I began to vomit. He sent two men over who undid the bear trap, and they dragged me by the arms back to the circle of chairs again. They laid me back on the platform next to the mannequin, and they all stood around me. The bearded man then shot me a disappointed look and looked amongst the group and said in a low, dissatisfied tone, “Let’s make a bonfire.”
They all nodded and began throwing all kinds of wood and objects into the fire until it was as tall as a one-story home. They stood around it and just stared into it, whispering to each other in low inaudible tones. My foot was now sitting in a huge pool of blood, and I felt incredibly cold. My body’s natural painkillers must have kicked in because my ankle was no longer was in pain, but I could feel it dangling, barely hanging on. I knew I had no chance, I was too deep in the woods to escape and I was going to bleed to death within the next few minutes. I made an internal decision if I was going to bleed to death because of these lunatics I was going to try and make them regret it. They were so captivated by the fire they did not notice me drag myself slowly and painfully up onto one foot and hop over to the mannequin. I grabbed it by the hair and became uncomfortable with how it did look oddly similar to me. My brain raced as I realized all of these missing people were murdered because of this piece of plastic, and fury consumed me. I took what strength I had left, and a surge of adrenaline kicked in as I dragged the mannequin behind me and hopped over to the fire pit. I knew I was making too much noise but at this point, it didn’t bother me, I had one mission: stop this mannequin. I got close enough to the fire to feel the heat burning my face. I tightened my grip on the mannequin’s hair and swung it around like I was performing the Olympic hammer throw. Right as I released my grip, a young blonde girl standing near the fire finally noticed me and let out a bloodcurdling scream as she watched her leader fly into the raging blaze.
The mannequin landed a little off target, landing partially center with one foot sticking out of the fire. But still, it was ruined. The group began frantically running around the fire letting out sobs, screams, and moans. The bearded man rushed to the side the mannequin was on and let out a deep growl. I collapsed from exhaustion and blood loss. I let out a small chuckle as I watched it burn. The bearded man turned quickly to me and gave me the evilest look I have ever seen. The look in his eyes was that of pure hatred. I raised both hands in front of me and gave him the finger. Everything started to get blurry and hazy, but I was no longer afraid. I probably just saved the lives of so many people who were going to fall victim to this “happy little family.” I heard the bearded man scream out,
“GRAB HIM!” before another man screamed in agony. Then everything went dark.
I awoke to find myself alive, surprisingly. I was still in a great deal of pain and very fatigued. I was tied flat to the platform, each limb tied to a different corner. I lifted my head and looked down to see my foot was crudely stitched back on. I could not move it, and it was a sickly pale, purple color. I turned my head to the left and noticed the sun was coming up, and the sun’s beams were lasering through the trees. The group was standing around what appeared to be a bathtub on top of an open fire. One woman was stirring something inside it while the bearded man sat beside the tub on the ground rubbing his temples.
He rose and began to preach, “The man who sacrificed our leader did it with purpose; he knows we have been wrong. I told you all resurrection would be soon. God will not let us die. God will not let Allister die. God will protect us, and he has sent us a vessel. We thought we needed to transfer Allister’s spirit from its hollow domain into the body of this wanderer, but no. We need to transfer Allister’s dormant form upon this man.”
He pointed in my direction, and he noticed I was awake. The corners of his mouth rose a bit.
“Let us begin,” he whispered among the group with an intense purpose.
They walked over, and they all grabbed the sides of the platform, lifting me over their heads and carrying me. They laid me down beside the bathtub, and I attempted to begin calling them whatever obscenities would come to mind, but before I could a scalding hot ooze coated my legs. I screamed, and tears formed in my eyes. I lifted my head and looked down as they cascaded a white sludge across the lower half of my body. I shook as hard as I possibly could, battling to break free, but it was no use. The bearded man leaned down in my ear and whispered, “You will look just like him soon enough.” He quickly reached and covered my mouth to prevent my response. They continued slathering the goo over my body until only my head was exposed. I could feel my skin peeling and melting as the boiling hot plastic painted my body. The heat surrounded me, steadily engulfing me until I suddenly start to shake as the intense pain takes over. The bearded man stood up, uncovering my mouth, but the agony was too intense, and no words would escape my lips, only wheezing breaths. They began coating my face and everything went completely dark. I felt every inch of my skin cook as the plastic seeped through. The only thing I could hear was my own heartbeat. It was slow, barely beating at all. Then I heard a man’s voice get closer as he leaned toward me.
He seemed to celebrate as he said something that sounded like, “He’s back."