October 8?, 201X
It's been a crazy time diary,
I’m not sure what to put for the date for this one. Technically since I went into the woods after midnight it was Sunday, but something about the almost full moon, freezing breeze, and the ghost-town like appearance of Fortuna, while I was biking there, made me still get those Saturday-night vibes. Like anything could happen, and as I biked in the direction of the moon I thought that even if it was a prank everything would be okay.
Once I got to the entrance of the woods I had to duck under the closed barrier to get in. I locked my bike up and headed out. There was no one at the little shack that serves as the border between the picnic area and the honest to goodness forest but I still crouched down as I sneaked by. Last summer at the height of hiking season they did talk about installing cameras, so I didn’t want to take any chances.
As I hiked I held the card in my hand like a talisman, though I wasn’t looking at the actual map. Even though we weren’t going there this year I had hiked to Juniper Place many times with the girl scouts, and had even led a hike there last year. So the map was a bit redundant to me, maybe it would have been more useful if I was hiking in the dark. But since my flashlight was pretty bright, I didn’t even need to get out the map until I actually got to Juniper Place.
The card instructed me to go off the beaten path, something that was very hard for me to do. And not because my boots used to be Nathan’s and are too big for me. Ever since I joined girl scouts when I was nine it had been drilled into my head never to go out off of the path, and to never eat something from the woods. I looked at the blood-stained card again and took my first step into the brush.
The card became my only guide as I walked deeper and deeper into brush, unable to get my bearings. Above me the leaves were so thick that I could barely see the moon and judging by the height of the plants no one had walked there in ages. I’ll admit to you diary that I was a little scared. Even the earthy smell of the plants that was usually comforting during a hike told me that I was far away from everything, that if I got lost I would be on my own.
But fortunately I didn’t get lost in the woods and the map on the back of the card was pretty accurate. I thought about how I would know when I got to the spot, but it turned out that I didn’t need to worry about that. It started with some little flashes of light between the trees, then everything got brighter and I came to the edge of a clearing. A man-made clearing I might add. Little plants were growing in the dirt and what looked like a pile of uprooted plants almost tripped me as I came to the clearing. And those little flashes of light I saw? Candles, actual lit candles sitting in piles of stones resting on the exposed roots of pine trees.
My mind was still on the many exposed, seemingly unattended small fires in the middle of a forest when I walked into a clearing, but my eyes widened when I saw what was inside. People, teenagers, a random assortment of people I see every day walking the halls of Fortuna High, assembled in the clearing. Everyone was sitting cross-legged in a rough circle, fingers resting on their knees as if meditating. It was so shocking that when I tried to take a step forward I tripped on my size-too-big boots, but someone reached out and steadied me before I completely fell. Though I was barely conscious of what was happening to me, what was in the center of the circle was something I would never even dream of.
Evelyn’s loose black hair flowed down her shoulders and her eyes flickered red in the candlelight. She was wearing red jeans and a white t-shirt painted with blood. In her hands was a vase, but not the flower kind, more something out of our annual biblical plays. And in hindsight, I actually think it was from one of the plays, a vessel for anointing. But instead of oil flowing from the fake gold jar, it was blood, deep red thick blood. In all of the clearing Evelyn was the only one standing, and everyone else was sitting down. Except one guy, who was kneeling like he was about to be knighted. His fist was grinding into the dirt as more and more blood poured into his hair and dripped onto what I assumed were white clothes. While she was pouring Evelyn was saying something, chanting something but I was too stunned to really listen.
All I could think to say was, “This is such a fire hazard.”
Someone laughed, “Not really, as far as I know, there’s never been a fire here. But Evelyn always insists on having an extinguisher ready, just in case.”
Since the voice was familiar I turned around and it was Julian! His cool brown skin looked almost ghostly in the moonlight, but his brown eyes were smiling in a way that made me relax for a second. He had been the one to stop me from falling but once I noticed him he pulled me down, and both of us adopted the cross-legged position that everyone else was in.
Evelyn kept chanting and pouring the blood on the guy kneeling beneath her and everyone was so enraptured by the ceremony that they didn’t notice, or didn’t care that I had crashed the party. It was almost like a church in a way. I remember my first time going with Derrick and Mom when I was eight. The bench was hard and everything the preacher was saying was going straight over my head. We were new so I wasn’t enrolled in Sunday school yet, and I was a kid bored out of my mind. Since I was confused I tried asking questions, but Mom was practically entranced and Derrick kept shushing me. Eventually, I learned to keep my mouth shut.
But tonight I wasn’t at church and I wasn’t bored. No, I was confused, enraptured, and at the same time very scared. There was this energy in the air though, that told me what was going on was sacred and special, and that I probably shouldn’t interrupt. But I’m not eight anymore and what was going on was too weird for me to not ask a question.
In the quietest whisper I had, I asked Julian, “What’s going on?”
I thought he would tell me to be quiet, with vague promises of explaining things later like Derrick always gave me but to my surprise he answered.
“Michal’s taking the vow of the Seven Deadly Sins, he’s been waffling on it all summer but he’s finally becoming one of us,” Julian whispered back to me.
‘One of us’, just that praise sent shivers down my spine. But even though Julian had explained things he had provided me with more questions than answers.
“What’s the vow of the Seven Deadly Sins?” I felt ridiculous asking that, it’s like I stepped out of reality and into an alternate dimension. I half expected everyone to jump up and yell, fooled you! Even though the atmosphere in the clearing was nothing but completely sincerely serious.
Julian didn’t answer me, instead, he just pointed one finger towards the center of the circle. But it seemed like the ritual was coming to an end.
“Michal Rodrick Hall, from now on why do you live?” Evelyn asked Michal, and I raised an eyebrow when I heard his last name. Michal H. is a sophomore representative for the school council and a star member of the debate team. He even volunteers for vote drives in local elections. Normally he would be bullied relentlessly, like many other members of the debate team, but since he’s “hot” Michal’s just considered to be the smart one in the popular crowd.
But he didn’t have his usual “wise” tone when he answered Evelyn, instead he sounded so zealously devoted I wondered if Evelyn had gotten his name wrong, “I pledge to live my life only for myself and Satan.”
He was covered in blood and his green eyes were burning in their tanned sockets, but something about it. The people sitting on the grass, Evelyn standing over him, and the fact that he had just pledged himself to Satan. I couldn’t help but giggle.
Julian’s eyes snapped back and he looked at me and smiled slightly. I was glad that at least someone realized how crazy all of that was. As soon as Michal “pledged” himself to Satan the blood in the urn ran out and he stood up. I thought there would be some sort of cry, or more ritual things or something but instead, everyone just stood up and started talking to each other.
It was very surreal, everyone hanging out in the forest in the middle of the night like it was a picnic. There was even a box of cookies on the ground that everyone was grabbing from. I looked next to me to ask Julian more questions but he was gone. When I looked forward I saw him next to Michal. Julian speaking to Michal H. would have been a weird thing normally even if one of them wasn’t covered in blood.
I was just standing on the sidelines. Everything felt weirdly similar to my first day of high school. Me standing in the parking lot feeling so uncomfortable. After a minute of just standing there, people yelling out SATAN! every few seconds I was just about ready to leave.
“Naomi!” Charlie came up and hugged me. Charlie hugged me. In the middle of the night, in the middle of the woods. During some satanic ritual. Charlie.
“Hey,” there was nothing I could say, absolutely nothing that would have made that any less weird.
Somehow Charlie didn’t see how awkward I was because she just kept speaking, “I heard you might be coming but I didn’t think it was true, I’m so glad you’re here Naomi!”
I didn’t say anything but she started pulling me deeper into the clearing. No one really looked at us, even though I was new and Charlie was super bubbly, “Come on grab a cookie, I brought a lot.”
How long had Charlie been in this cult that she was comfortable bringing cookies for people to share? That’s a bit of a redundant question though diary, Charlie could be invited to a funeral of someone she didn’t know and still bring cookies. Charlie stopped pulling me when we got to the cookies, and I sat down, resting on the back of a tree root and started to nibble on a cookie. It was chocolate chip, but I think I tasted some oatmeal in the batter.
“So what is all this?” I said in between bites of my cookie.
Charlie looked confused for a second then it seemed to click on her what I meant, “It’s basically like girl scouts but with anti-religion, I guess?”
I looked behind her and saw someone licking the inside of the blood urn.
“Girl scouts?” I repeated back to her.
“Yeah when it’s warm we all hike here and have ritual and when it’s cold we meet in the old community center,” Charlie sat down next to me, on the opposite side of the tree root leaving against the large imposing trunk that reached up into the night sky, “This was an initiating ritual, but they are also black sabbaths and cursing rituals and lots of other fun stuff.”
Willis told me that black sabbaths were like mass but satanic. When she told me that I thought goat sacrifices and people wearing black robes. But when Charlie said that her eyes shone and she basically used the same tone as when she was talking about declaring her journey.
“Just like girl scouts,” I said again.
Someone plopped themselves down next to us and started munching on a cookie. It was Gina, she was part of the group of gymnastics team members that Kelly and Steven kicked out of their table. But she didn’t seem too mad at me instead she was smiling and running her hand through her kinky black hair.
“So are you guys going to church tomorrow?” she asked us, both of us which was weird. I had never even had a conversation with her, but she felt comfortable asking me about my Sunday plans. And for some reason, I felt comfortable answering her.
“Yeah, my mom’s out of town though so I’m going to have to walk.” I said, then a thought, “Actually can I sit with your family Charlie?”
Gina seemed to jump up,” Why are you going to church if your parents are out of town? Just skip it, they won’t know.”
Charlie seemed to agree with her, “Yeah don’t worry I can tell them you were there both of us sit near the back the pastor won’t know.”
“No, no I have to go. I promised my mom I would go and someone might notice I’m not there,” I didn’t say any of this with conviction though, sure I had promised mom I would go, but the prospect of a free morning was really tempting. But I shut down Gina when she tried to encourage me to skip anyway, Mom loves church, she needs me to go so I’m going. End of discussion
“But speaking of church do you think we’ll be able to curse the pastor this month?” Gina asked.
Charlie said that she didn’t know but I wondered who else in town they had cursed. Had the car crash on Columbus day been a curse, or just coincidence? Damn it diary, now I’m starting to think curses are real. Anyway Gina, Charlie, and I talked until about 5 am. Once the clock struck five, the metaphorical clock that is, everyone just started leaving. No exit ritual, no nothing. Charlie took the cookies and Evelyn took the urn. Michal didn’t even clean up the blood before hiking back.
And in a way that last part was the weirdest thing that had happened. I’m laying here in my bed with Satin writing all this and I still can’t believe that I had a conversation with someone on the gymnastics team. Or that Michal H. had walked somewhere looked unpresentable. Charlie said she would text me with the next meeting date, and I think I’m going to go back. Just to experience that strangeness again.
Ughh, I just got back from church diary. It’s still October 8th so I’m not going to put this under a new day. Even though I was up till 5am I woke up alert and full of energy. Like that cookie, I ate converted into pure caffeine or something. But as I got up and showered I got more and more muggy like the weather. It started out as cloudy when I woke up but by the time I was dressing up and looking out my window, it was drizzling. But I didn’t get tired because of my nighttime hike, no it was the looming specter of going to church that really dampened my mood.
Satin was propped up on my pillow while I was dressing up. But before I got out some of my church dresses from the back of my closet I turned him to face the pillow. I didn’t want him to see me wearing something like that.
As I zipped up the back of my large yellow and orange print full-skirted dress I sighed. Derrick almost threw me out of the house when I tried to go to church in a black dress, saying that I was going to invite the devil into my heart. Derrick isn’t really that religious though, he just didn’t want people to think that I’m “weird”. And even though he wasn’t there today I still wore one of the five church dresses I haven’t put up in the attic yet, didn’t want to be more of an embarrassment after all. If I comply enough, maybe he’ll take me to Olympia next time. I put on my white church kitten heels and looked in my mirror, the tulle of the dress felt like spiders on my skin and no makeup would improve how uncomfortable I felt.
Even though I knew I would be soaked by the time I got to church I didn’t wear a hoodie. Because you had to be presentable in the house of the lord! That’s what Miss C, the Sunday school teacher always says. I tried to listen to music on my way but I found that the tiny pitter-patter of the rain as it hit the asphalt was doing better at calming me down than anything out of my earbuds.
Fortuna Baptist Church was built in the 70s and in the eldest style possible. With the white columns and domed ceiling when I first saw it I thought it was a cathedral. But really the architect was a multimillion was tons of disposable income and a drinking problem, as I walked up the curved marble staircase I thought that he must have been at least a bit tipsy while he was designing it.
Like Charlie said we sat near the back, farthest row on the right under the stained glass window of Jesus coming back after three days. I sat between Charlie’s parents like I was eight years old again and needed to be monitored to make sure I didn’t kick my legs. But when Pastor Phillips started talking, I was honestly a bit tempted to start kicking.
“Family is the most important institution that we can promote. Family starts with us. You shall not commit adultery is one of the 10 commandments. “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.” so says Ephesians 5:25. Children should love their parents as they love Christ, family starts in the home and extends outward. How can you love your neighbors if you don’t first love those who live in your own home?”
It continued on, and on, and on. Until there was a hymen break and then back to sermons. And then it was over, two hours of being yelled out and given orders and singing songs. I almost wish I had just skipped.
I was all ready to leave once the pastor stopped talking but people started coming up to me as soon as things ended.
“Naomi how is your brother doing in Olympia?”
They hadn’t texted me since they left on Friday but I smiled, “I bet he’s doing great, they’re a shoo-in to win.”
I made my way towards the door after that, but just as I was stepping down the stairs.
“Wish Nathanial luck for me, Naomi!”
I nodded, “Of course, Mr.Simmons.”
“Are your parents enjoying their mini-vacation, Naomi?”
She could literally just ask them, she could just text or call them. I know she has their numbers!, “They must be, Jaona, Olympia is a great city.”
I eventually got home and I’m just trying to recover from this whole day. Never knew my mood could flip-flop so much. Anyway, they’ll be back tomorrow, diary. See you then.
Naomi J. Morgan