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The Church

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Sometimes the seemingly sinister is all for the greater good. Brandon learns this lesson after being swept away from his regular suburban lifestyle.

Horror / Thriller
Derek Crueger
4.7 3 reviews
Age Rating:

The Church

When we hear that calling, that howling in the trees as wind-stricken faces push through cold and hungry nights, we find ourselves. We find each other. We find peace and hope. We find the light within ourselves though surrounded by the ever consuming black. We dream of wolves, become their prey. We pray for death as a release from this prison. The hope that we don’t have to see tomorrow. The peace of dreamless sleep in the sweet embrace of forever. To dance in the vacuum of space that lies between our hearts and minds. Anything that signifies a change. Others try to fight the current, going against the grain of the abyss, even though their soul longs for that adventure. Brandon Wilson fought against the void as soon as it came calling, even if it promised paradise.

Falling onto hard times wasn’t something Brandon ever saw happening to his family. His parents. Himself. He didn’t notice at first, that was his parents’ issue to deal with. They were living a reasonably comfortable middle-class life in a decent enough neighborhood, in a decent enough part of town. Chain link fence, paved driveway, two car garage on a half-acre lot. His family didn’t have the nicest things or the newest vehicles, but they had what they needed to get by comfortably, not really wanting for anything. His medium town and this suburban life were all he knew. No hiccups or speedbumps in the road. His father’s company had unionized a few years prior and with their first contract up, they couldn’t come to an agreement.

Six months on and a few odd jobs later, they were living off instant noodles and looking at losing their home. Seeking new opportunities, Brandon’s father, Dave, found those opportunities a few hours away in a strange, gated town, lying recluse in the mountains. A tall, slender man of many talents and enough drive to get done anything that needed done, Brandon hoped he would have happened upon something closer. Hard to say no to paid living expenses and a brand-new company car in a brand-new neighborhood, regardless of where it was located. The only problem Brandon saw with this was having his life uprooted in the matter of a few weeks. At least he’d been able to finish his sophomore year. The summer he had planned with his friends was looking bleak though.

Of course, his parents had to have the sit-down with him. They tried to explain the dire nature of their situation to try to rectify their son’s obvious anguish at the prospect of having to change things so far along in his high school career. “What if I get a girlfriend in the next week? How can I just move?” he protested and ranted. “It’s going to suck shit there. I won’t have any friends. Do you know what they do to the new kids in high school? Unless you’re a babe or a meathead nobody wants to give you the time of day.” Brandon’s mother chuckled at his use of the word “babe”.

He’d thrown every logical excuse at the people he called mom and dad, knowing it was a long shot. Knowing that his fate was likely inevitable. But a kid had to try, right? If he left the battle unfought, he’d be giving up on everything he’d worked for thus far in life. Which wasn’t much, but in a world where you don’t have everything, memories mean just that.

His mother, in her late thirties, named Sandi, with curly brown hair and a petite frame, was basically the same woman as the day Brandon’s father had proposed, save for some brimming crow’s feet at the edges of her eyes. She often had a passive, “no guff” attitude towards life, living free and wild as she could, while being faithful to her family. Now that Brandon was older, she didn’t have to be the stay-at-home mother she once did and was toying with starting an online business. Dave supported her in all of this. This really was the perfect little life.

“First of all, young man,” she said with her eyebrows raised, “don’t swear at us like that. You’re far too young to suggest that anything in this life ‘sucks shit’.” She flipped her hair back and fixed her posture to assert dominance. “Second of all, since you and that last girl broke up, you haven’t seemed very interested in pursuing any of those aforementioned ‘babes’ at school. It’s as easy as not chasing tail until we get packed up and moved out there.”

“Regardless,” Brandon retorted, “I don’t want to move away from here. I still think it’s going to SUCK SHIT.” His mother shot him her classic last chance look, eyes narrowed and sharp as a razor. He knew better than to push it anymore with the interjections but was upset enough to push it right to the edge. He kept thinking about leaving his friends behind. His memories.

His first beer with friends.

Bike rides to the corner store for soda and candy when he was younger.

His first party, where Melissa Stevenson got too drunk and threw up in the pool in front of everyone.

His first kiss, behind the local burger shack with Lindsay Beckham, who he wasn’t even sure he liked.

All gone with the wind, new memories be damned.

“Look, Brandon, it’s not going to be as bad as you’re making it out to be. I think you’ll actually enjoy it.” Brandon’s father handed him a pamphlet containing all the “fun” details of their future home. He stared at the cover photo, holding the pamphlet in one hand, scratching at the fabric of the blue sofa he was slouched into with his other, amidst their drab living room. On the cover, a picture of a large building sat nestled in the woods behind a bustling main street filled with smiling faces.

The top of the pamphlet read: SAFE HAVEN. In a few bullet points in small font listed down the back, were details of the town. Their own local burger place, a theme park with a small rollercoaster and go-karts. A little play area for the young ones at the central park. The “coolest pizza place around”. Fine dining too. An elementary school and a high school. Daycare. Local businesses. Comfort and safety. A population of under 5000 people. The whole thing read as though his parents had written it up in an attempt to appeal to the person he was now and the person he might become.

“I don’t care how many burger restaurants or... theme parks they have,” he said stubbornly, trying to sound like his interest wasn’t at least slightly piqued. There was only one small theme park, but how many closed communities have that? “I just want to stay here where my friends live. Plus, since when have we ever gone to church?” The bottom of the pamphlet read in bold letters: ALL COMMUNITY MEMBERS EXPECTED TO ATTEND SERVICE THURSDAY EVENINGS. “It sounds kind of like a cult, Dad. Who centers an entire town around a mega church that nobody has ever even heard of?” Brandon rolled his eyes. “First Thursday they’re probably going to eat us or make us ‘drink the Kool-Aid.’”

“All of that is just a condition of my new job and part of living there. Nobody is going to eat us. Considering everything going on in this world, safety for you and your mother, as well as a steady job with better pay than the few temp jobs I’ve recently landed is near impossible to find.” Brandon’s father replied, trying to reassure his anxious and irritated son. “Best for you to start getting your things packed, we leave in a few weeks, just after school ends. Just remember, you don’t need all your stuff. The new place is fully furnished, it has most everything we need.” Brandon chuffed in retort. “Your friends can always come and visit us out there. Its beautiful out in those mountains. Be a nice change for you and them to be away from suburbia for a bit,” his father stated, with some ferocity and frustration, clearly over his son’s attitude and disposition regarding the needed move.

That was the end of that conversation, as his father left the room to work the logistics of the coming move. His mother followed. He overheard his mother telling his father how it would be fine and how he would adjust. At the time, Brandon hardly thought so. As a matter of fact, he’d assumed it to be impossible. He sat for a moment waiting for them to reassure him that they would figure something out. After about 5 minutes, when it didn’t happen, he yelled “I’ll go but I’m going to FUCKING HATE IT!”

Brandon stomped his way down the hall to his room in their single-story home, slamming the door behind him. His parents didn’t follow. Thank God. He’d thought about punching a wall or destroying his stuff, but he knew that wouldn’t do him any good.

Generally speaking, Brandon followed the rules, was a decent student. He was in good enough shape, no jock or “meathead” by any means, but he did what he could. Riding his bike all over town helped. Aside from the occasional outburst or bit of rebellion, i.e., sneaking out and drinking, he was mostly calm and listened to his parents. Today, he was just pissed. He wanted to feel upset, no, he deserved to. But that too, he felt he had to let go of at some point. All his folks wanted was the best for him, after all.

He looked around at his room. A pile of unfolded boxes sat on the floor. His carpet contained a few stains and dirty spots from the time he spent there. He had an idea they were going to have to move based on their recent struggles and constant letters from the bank. His parents growing irritation and struggles with money for food and bills. He had just hoped if they moved it would be somewhere else in town and not over 6 hours away from where he was raised. All his personal memorabilia were piled on shelves and tacked into the wall. He sighed heavily, defeated, knowing it was a battle best not fought. To this, he would submit his very being. Couldn’t very well live in Tyler’s basement.

He’d known Tyler for 10 years of his 16 year life. His bro, his main man. They always had one another’s back on everything. Did most things together, shared the same dreams. He was the best, best friend a kid could ask for. At least Brandon thought so.

He began to pack while he called his friends one by one letting them know of the pending departure. After repeatedly hearing a lot of “I’ll miss you” and “Don’t forget to text me” he had most of his stuff packed up, save his pictures and posters. Of all his friends, Tyler was incredibly dismissive. He received a single text back and no communication thereafter. “Do what you gotta do, I guess,” it read. Some fucking best friend. Taking down the pictures one by one and reminiscing on the life he had started to build here he thought “Here’s to a new adventure, I guess.” He tossed his childhood stuffed wolf, Woofy, on top of the photos and taped the last box shut. In just a couple of short weeks, this would all be behind him.


Come moving day only one of his friends came to visit him. Tyler remained ever absent, as though this was Brandon’s personal choice and did it to be spiteful to his friend. One of his other close friends, Gabe, however, rose to the task. Gabe was a good guy and always looked out for those around him. Hell, he’d helped Brandon home on more than a couple of occasions.

Flat tire on bike.

Too drunk.

Too depressed.

“Man, I just don’t want to be there right now”

“Well, we can’t stay here, buddy. Let’s get moving. Some sleep will help you feel better. Maybe you just need something to eat. Have you had enough water today?” were among some of the things Gabe would regularly say. Maybe Gabe was his real best friend.

Gabe gave him a hug and a couple of photographs to remember “the good old days” as he put it. Being so young, Brandon didn’t think he had any “old days” yet but chose not to be a smartass. Best not cut ties with the one person who cared to be around when he was at his most vulnerable.

“Don’t forget to hit me up, man! My family usually travels out that way in the summer. We’ll meet up, hang out.”

“Just like the ‘old days’, right?” Brandon replied.

“Damn straight! Don’t have too much fun, buddy!”

“Oh, I won’t.” he mumbled back.

He piled into the family car with his mom and chose not to watch the town pass him on the way out or look back at his father tailing them in the moving truck. He instead stared at the floor below him, fidgeting with his hands and fighting tears.

Sensing his anxiety and stress, his mom decided not to try to push conversation and turned on the radio instead. 500 Miles by The Proclaimers blared through the old Subaru’s speakers. Brandon’s mother promptly turned it down.

Though slightly depressing, the drive there was far from lacking in terms of entertainment. Twisting mountains roads through rock and trees showed beauty and promise Brandon didn’t think he had ever seen from the world before, his world having been too confined for him to notice. Deer and elk littered the mountainsides and canyons, grazed in the open fields. A bald eagle flew over top of them and cried into the air.

At one point during the drive, he began to doze off. Tired and with thoughts drifting, he felt some peace with his eyes shut, overwhelmed by the reality of his uprooted life. For a moment, just before sleep, he felt like he was floating and at complete peace. He thought to himself, “I wonder if this is what heaven feels like.”

What he wasn’t expecting was to hear a response in a woman’s voice, and not that of his mother. It said with some sincerity and much malice, “This is heaven, but don’t get comfortable, I’m going to take her from you. She’s needed here.” Behind the voice were the glowing red eyes of some animal. He longed to be close to them, but felt a large paw push him away, as he fell into black nothingness for what felt like an eternity. He shot awake in tears, frightening his mother.

“Honey are you okay? You only just started to fall asleep.” She sounded generally concerned. That was the last thing he wanted right now, concern or pity. That was a fast track to a mental facility or prescription anti-depressants.

“Just had one of those weird dreams where you fall off of something, nothing to worry about.” He could feel his mother eyeing him while trying to maintain focus on the road. Turning to stare out of the window, he pondered what in the hell that voice was, whose voice it was, and exactly who “her” was. He was lost in thought, stuck back in his dream for as long as he could be before it all faded from memory.

Hours passed like the trees and mountains outside, always in view. They passed a sideroad with a sign reading “White Horse” for a nearby town, apparently fifteen miles that way. He was struggling to recall what he had dreamed about when his mom excitedly exclaimed, “We’re finally here!”

They were there, in front of large black gates and a road that continued straight into the forest for what looked to be a couple miles before some structure began to pop up. A large archway spanned the top of the gates and carried the name of the community. Brandon’s dad hopped out of the moving truck behind them and ran up to the gate, swiping a card at a kiosk, before having a brief conversation with a guard on the other end. The gates lifted and they motored through down into the community. It was almost more of a city hidden in nowhere then it was a community.

Coming out of the trees was like breaking through a portal. Out of the shade and into the sunshine. Into a world of seeming perfection. He could almost see the whole town from this glorious entrance, and boy was it alive.

There was a whole town center, complete with water fountain and, yes, all the fast food a kid could dream of. A shopping center, grocery store, skate park. Everything that could appeal to the family man/woman or teenager looking to live out his or her best 1980′s friend hangout montage.

The streets were bustling with people. Families and smiles. Folks riding bicycles and skateboards. Sitting outside in the perfect sunlight to eat their lunch and discuss their weekend plans. Picnics in the park.

“Christ mom, this place looks more fake than the brochure,” Brandon said sarcastically staring out the window.

“Don’t be such a negative Nelly, bud. This is going to be wonderful.” She responded, eyes forward and smiling.

“No, Mom. I meant that in a good way...” He trailed, hooked on the sights and sounds. Could a place that appeared this perfect even exist in the real world? In his real world? Nobody looked this happy or sat so content anywhere else he’d been. There was always a hint of depression or longing amongst everyone he had ever encountered. They moved on through traffic lights, passed waving pedestrians. Passed his future acquaintances.

“That’s where your school is going to be, honey,” she pointed out a decently sized modern looking building just a few blocks from the town center. “I think you’ll make lots of friends out here.” She smiled contently looking over at her son, who seemed to have already embraced their new life here. One could hope, at least. Better than the shit sucking utopia that Brandon thought he was describing. “Our house is just down the road in the residential district. I think you’re going to love it when you see our new home.”

Driving down the road and out of the town’s center, through yet another long grove of quiet, green trees, they emerged into a residential area full of what looked like mansions, at least in comparison to what Brandon was used to. Every house was completely unique to the next one. Some looking like large cookie cutter suburban cul-de-sac homes, some giant log cabins, and some post-modern homes. Regardless of design, he didn’t see a single home that looked to be under 4500 square feet.

Every one of the homes sat perched atop its own lot of about an acre, strung together down the road. A residential lawn service provided for the people in the neighborhood, or so it appeared. The grass divided by mower marks up and down the whole neighborhood, rather than individual to each home. The grass just as green in each lot.

The home they pulled up to sat at the back of the neighborhood, next to a handful of other empty lots, was another one of the suburban style homes, painted white with grey trim, a large three car garage. A brand-new Audi sedan sat in the driveway with a huge pink bow on top. Brandon grinned. “Dibs. You can keep the Subaru, mom.” This must be the new company car.

“Bite me kid, that’s mine” she returned his grin. “Wait until you see the inside.”

The whole package certainly seemed too good to be true. Brandon had hardly thought of his old home or old town since he laid his eyes on the towns center, but the grandiose neighborhood really captivated him. Walking through the front doors, the reality of the new life his father had secured for him, and his family really hit home. A large and mostly open floor plan on the bottom, with the staircase running up the middle of the open (and fully furnished) living room. A modern kitchen with brand-new stainless-steel appliances. All of this in open view on the first floor. He stood staring in the open doorway, taking it all in, as his parents walked through ahead of him.

“You must be, Brandon! Your room is going to be upstairs on the left.” The voice of a young woman came from behind him. Brandon jumped. He didn’t hear or see anyone walk up after them, then again, he wasn’t exactly focused on what was behind him, just what was before him. Standing before him now, a petite, beautiful blonde girl around his age with green eyes, wearing a floral sundress. “I didn’t mean to startle you,” she giggled, “I’m Bridgette, I live across the street with my mom and dad.”

“And you knew my name how, exactly? And where my room is?” He stared confused, trying not to be drawn in by her smile and obvious coyness.

“Neighbors to new residents always get the breakdown of who is moving in before they get here. To try to get us involved in the community, they have the oldest child in those households greet them.” Brandon only just realized that his parents had caught onto the conversation he was having with this strange girl. They walked over, fully prepared to embarrass their obviously smitten son.

“Well look who’s already making new friends,” the inflection in her voice hinting at potential romance. “I’m Sandi, it’s lovely to meet you, sweetheart.”

“Bridgette! Likewise!” she replied excitedly. She was almost jumping up and down, smiling through her teeth while shaking his mom’s hand.

“Hi Bridgette, I’m Dave, Brandon’s father.” Dave outstretched his hand and was greeted with that same bouncy energy she gave Brandon’s mother. Her mannerisms were cute, but she almost came across as having too much energy for Brandon to handle, as he was already overwhelmed by everything that was happening. He was already taking in a lot. “Those your folks there across the street?” Dave asked politely.

“Yep! I’m sure they would love to meet you! And we wanted to offer to help you guys unpack.”

“Well, any extra help would be appreciated. Let’s go say hi.” Brandon’s parents moved passed the teenagers to visit with her parents next door, sunlight dancing on the street through the cracks in the trees. As soon as they were passed, Bridgette moved in close to Brandon, their noses almost touching.

“Uhm… can I help you?” He said, nervous as all hell. He could really see the green in her eyes, the few freckles across her cheeks, as well as the dimples that ran into them. Smell her hair and perfume. His heart fluttered lightly.

“I can’t wait for you to meet Mother. She has so much to show you. To show the both of us.”

“Well… lets go meet her then? She’s kind of staring at us right now.” Looking passed Bridgette out of the front door, Brandon could see both his and her parents having some jubilant discussion while looking over at them.

“No silly, not my mother. Mother! At church!” She put her hands on his chest and gave him puppy dog eyes. She whispered, “She’s already spoken to you, hasn’t she? She told me that I was supposed to meet you here today.” She moved in to kiss him. Brandon panicked and gently pushed her away by her arms. They were soft and a little cold.

“Uhm... lets get to know one another a little bit better first, maybe?” He chuckled and blushed. He had no idea what she was talking about, but his mind wandered back to the weird dream he had on the way here, though he couldn’t recall exactly what had happened, just that he had fallen. “I uhm… think our parents want us to come and say hi!” He was deflecting. He went to move passed her in the doorway, but she turned and walked with him. The walk over felt like an eternity, surely both his and her parents witnessed the attempted kiss. This was going to be awkward.

Her father, a large clean-cut man, extended a hand to Brandon. “Name is Jim Benson, it’s nice to meet you, son.” He gave the side smile and through his firm handshake, expressed his approval but also issued warning. Classic dad behavior. Brandon still wasn’t sure whether her father had seen anything, but the handshake said enough. “This is my wife, Bridgette’s mother, Cass.”

“Nice to meet you,” she responded quietly, not offering the same handshake, her hands tucked into her armpits. “Welcome to Safe Haven. We cannot wait to see you all at church.” Bridgette’s mother seemed very reserved.

“Mom, I’m going to go show Brandon his room before we start helping them unpack!” Bridgette blurted.

“As long as it’s okay with Mr. and Mrs. Wilson, honey,” her mom replied in that same quiet voice. Brandon’s parents grinned at him and gave them both a slight nod. Bridgette almost immediately grabbed his hand and pulled him back across the street to his new home, straight up the stairs, and down the hall into his new room.

The room was awesome. Everything he could have asked for. A desk with a new computer. A new gaming system with a tv mounted on the wall, facing his queen bed. There was even a poster hung up on the wall of his favorite band. The more time he spent here, the more it seemed too good to be true. How could the people here have known how obsessed he was with Manchester Orchestra? Bridgette jumped onto his bed backwards and landed with hardly a plop. Memory foam topper, nice.

“I can’t wait to show you around town! You can work with me at the amusement park for the summer, and we can be best friends!” Brandon stayed standing in the doorway. She gave him this goofy look of curiosity, head tilted slightly, big smile. He was starting to think she was more and more beautiful by the minute, but also that much more deranged. He was getting upset.

“What makes you think I even want to be your friend?!” he blurted out. “I didn’t even want to move here to begin with!” Seeing all this, he definitely wanted to be here. Safe Haven already had everything he could have ever wanted. What were the odds that not even 5 minutes after arriving he would have this beautiful girl pining after him? Trying to kiss him, trying to be his friend. His girlfriend? In a badass new house, no less.

She almost looked hurt for a moment, then burst out laughing. “Because Mother said we would be friends, silly! She’s always right, too.” She continued giggling and motioned for him to come sit on the bed next to her. He rolled his eyes and obliged, walking heavy footed.

“Look… You’re pretty and seem nice and fun, but let’s take it easy, okay? I haven’t even unpacked yet, emotionally or physically. How old are you even? And who is this Mother you keep talking about? Does she lead your church? Are you guys Christian? What is the deal here and how does everyone afford a lifestyle like this?”

“Well to start, I’m the same age as you, duh.” She returned his eyeroll followed by a wink and a smirk. Who fucking winks? She scooted next to him at the edge of the bed. “And no, we aren’t Christian, we are free to be spiritual in whatever way we see fit. Mother just asks that we listen to her, and in exchange she gives us everything we could ever ask for. She’s just looking for the right person to lead the church when she passes. It’s like heaven on Earth here, is it not? Just stop fighting all of it, you’ll understand tomorrow.”

“Oh yeah… tomorrow is Thursday.” He was more confused and weirded out now than he was before the move. He expected a whole lot of Jesus talk, followed by the consumption of poison, not hipster Buddhism. “I’ll take your word for it for now, I guess. But we should go help unpack. We don’t have much, just some clothes and personal stuff.”

“Okay let’s go unpack then!” She replied. She went in for that kiss again, but this time she got him. He had always wondered what it was like to have that feeling of seeing fireworks at a first kiss. Not a very long one, but one that he felt he understood to the depths of his soul. He let his hormones do the talking as he almost fell off the bed chasing her lips with his.

“I love you,” he blurted, not knowing why he would even say that, or if he even felt it, or if that was even possible moments after meeting someone. But he felt absolutely mesmerized by her very existence in that moment. Like he had nothing to lose and nowhere else to go but back in her arms. She was crazy, and he was crazy for her.

“I know,” she smiled. “Let’s go.”


After an awkward bit of unpacking, followed by a more awkward dinner, the Bensons left their new, and now quiet, home. He was only allowed a short hug with Bridgette as they left, parents watching and all. During their short hug, she whispered “I love you, too.” in his ear. He longed for that taste of her lips again and practically ran to the window to watch her leave after the door closed. He sighed loudly and melted over the windowsill. His mother walked up behind him grinning furiously.

“How’s that for a babe, kiddo?” Sandi chuckled.

“Mom, with all due respect, shut up.” He continued to stare after Bridgette. He had never been so smitten. “But yeah… no kidding.” His dad added a loud guffaw from the kitchen, coupled with the sound of clanking dishes.

“Just wear a condom, kid!” Dave added, shaking his head and chuckling to himself. “You’re too young to be a dad.”

“We just like each other, okay? We’re… a good match. I mean… just friends!” He didn’t want to continue talking about it with his parents. He just wanted to daydream. Snapping back from his head being in the clouds, he realized he had hardly seen the house. “I’m going to go look around. Get familiar with things.”

“Glad you’re taking a liking to it all so quickly, sweetheart.” His mother squeezed his shoulders and gave a light, comforting push out into his new world. He walked through the large open kitchen, took a second look at their stone top dining table. Walked through the enormous living room, complete with wrap around sectional and 72” flat screen. Rapped his knuckles on the solid wood coffee table that sat between the sofa and unlimited entertainment. Then he stopped caring. The place was nice and easy to call home. He didn’t need the details.

His mind wandered back to Bridgette, those three words he had uttered to her, and that she whispered back to him. How did he flip his switch so quickly, and why? His initial impression of her was that she was bonkers. Down the river. Insane. Fucking weird as shit. “No… We are just meant to be I suppose. Mother did say so after all, right?” he mumbled to himself, lost in his thoughts. For a moment his mind walked back to his nightmare he had on the way in, but all he recalled was eternal blackness and a pair of red eyes.


Brandon’s first Thursday in Safe Haven was filled to the brim with activities. After a short breakfast with his parents and sending his father off to work for his first day (Brandon wasn’t exactly sure what his father’s job was here yet), he headed out to see the town center for himself. Bridgette was sitting out on the curb waiting for him.

“Finally!” she yelled, running up the driveway to greet him with a hug. His heart fluttered. “How did you sleep, sweetie?” she ran her fingers through his hair and kissed his face like it had been an eternity. He felt like absolute butter in her arms.

“I had a good first night,” he smiled back at her and returned her affection. “Not too many nightmares.” She giggled and grabbed his hand as they raced out of the neighborhood towards town. They took a shortcut through the woods at the west end of the neighborhood, popping out a block from the town’s center.

“What do you want to do first?” she asked him, delight all over her face. “Today is my day off but we could go talk to my boss at the amusement park about getting you job! After I show you around a little bit of course.”

“Sounds good to me,” he replied. He didn’t honestly care where they went, he just wanted to be near her when they did it. They headed straight into town center. Talk about information overload on his second day, between emotions and trying to remember where and what everything was here. He wouldn’t forget the pizza place, Michelangelo’s, it smelled divine.

Bridgette talked his ear off about her favorite spots in town, where her friends worked and hung out. They even ran into one of her friends near the fountain at the center of town. “Hi! I’m Stacy! You must be Brandon who we have been hearing so much about!” Everyone in town must have received a briefing of their arrival. “Bridgette really likes you; you know. So don’t mess it up or we’ll get you!” She threatened in a joking manner, but something in her eyes told Brandon that she wasn’t joking. A briefing on their arrival and the events of the previous night, apparently. Word travels fast in a small town.

Onward to the amusement park, which he was really curious about seeing. Trailing behind Bridgette hand in hand running through town, he felt he was watching her in slow motion. This moment, which had only lasted maybe an hour since he had walked out of his front door, was the beginning, the end, and everything in between. They ducked through another part of the thick forest that crept through the town and popped out into air smelling of fair food, filled with excited screams.

“Holy shit!” Brandon exclaimed, “This place is bigger than I would have imagined.” There was the rollercoaster, made of old but solid timber and not as small as it looked in the brochure. A Ferris wheel, a carousel, a spinning swing ride, and a good handful of games and vendors.

“This is where a ton of people blow of steam throughout the year. I work over at the hotdog stand.” They wandered over towards it and upon closer inspection, saw the old style white and red striped uniforms of the one employee there.

“I’ll bet you look cute in your uniform,” he said, still distracted by hormones and love, or lust. She just laughed and pulled him over to the stand.

“Hey Liam!” she called to one of the workers. A guy in his mid-twenties with slicked back hair and a clean-shaven face. His appearance certainly matched the style of uniform he was wearing. “This is the guy I was telling you about!” Again, everyone in the town seemed to know him before he had his bearings here.

“Well, howdy there, Brandon,” Jim said with a slight southern accent, “Bridgette here tells me you’re lookin’ for work. Now I don’t have a nine to five here for ya, but I’ll tell you what. I’ll put you and your lady there on a shift three days a week together. Pay is 12 an hour since you’re minors. Shifts are 6 hours a piece. Sound good to you?”

Brandon was shocked, he could hardly find under the table work back in his old town. Best he ever got was mowing Mrs. Henderson’s lawn a couple times a month for his own cash. He stumbled over his words. “Don’t- erm- wouldn’t you like me to put in an application first?”

“Hell no, man!” Liam replied with the same jubilance that everyone here in Safe Haven seemed to share. “A good word from Mother and Bridgette both is better than any application. Just make sure you’re here on time Monday through Wednesday, and we’ll be seeing you at church tonight.” Liam winked and snapped his hotdog tongs at him a couple of times.

“Thank you, sir.” Brandon was flabbergasted, nothing is ever that easy.

“Just, Liam, kid. Ya’ll have a lovely day.” He waved them off with the same tongs. They walked away towards some of the games, back in the direction of the rides.

“You wanna win me a stuffed animal and go ride the Ferris wheel? You can really see the town from up there. It would be real romantic” She looked at him with hopeful eyes. He only had 40 bucks on him. Left over from the last few mowing jobs he’d accomplished. He didn’t have much faith that he would actually be able to win anything for her, but he wouldn’t, no, he couldn’t say no to her smiling face.

“I can try, just for you. But no promises.” They headed over to one of the stands, a ring toss. He failed as quickly as he’d forked over the ten bucks to play. “Sorry… I suck,” he said sullenly. Then he got an idea. “But I have something special back home I can give to you!”

“That sounds wonderful. Come on, I’ll cover our tickets for the Ferris wheel.” After strapping in they slowly headed up and up. The view of the town was wonderful. You couldn’t see far passed the trees and mountains in any direction. Just a little slice of heaven on earth below them. They were lucky enough to get stopped right at the top. They kissed for a minute then settled into the view before descending back to the ground.

“What a perfect day,” he said quietly, face buried in her neck through her hair. “Let’s go back home, I want to give you your consolation prize.” The walk back felt like the same amount of forever that the walk out did. He did his best to savor every moment of it, but with all things, it still ended too soon.

When they got back to his house they burst through the door and ran up the stairs to his room. His mom called out for them to slow down inside but they were both too excited by life to let a moment go to waste. Brandon opened his closet and pulled down his box of memories, set it on his bed and beckoned for Bridgette to join him there.

“When I was little my parents took me on a trip to the zoo. I loved all of the animals, but I loved the wolves the most.” Bridgette perked up. “Before we left, my parent’s stopped into the gift shop and bought this for me.” He opened the box, procuring his childhood stuffed wolf. “Woofy was my best friend before I had any real friends. He was almost like my imaginary friend. He went everywhere with me, I talked to him, pretended to train him to be a dancing circus wolf. There wasn’t a thing I did without him. I want you to have him.”

Brandon had been staring down at his old friend, holding onto those fun times. He looked up to hand him to Bridgette only to see her tear-streaked face. “What’s wrong?!” he asked, worried he had done something terribly wrong.

“I knew you were special, Brandon. She told me you would be. But if this isn’t a sign of how meant to be we are…” She trailed off and broke down crying, pulling Woofy close to her face. “I’m going to take him with me everywhere when we aren’t together. I’ll take such good care of him I promise.” She threw her arms around him and kissed him passionately. Brandon could feel himself falling farther and farther. Up until this point, he didn’t think she even had the capacity for tears. That she was just this perfect bubbly and happy girl he had instantly fallen in love with. The visceral intensity of the moment hit him like a ton of bricks. He no longer doubted his love for her.

“I have to go get ready for church now, Brandon. But we will go together, and you can finally see what all the fuss is about.” She laughed in excitement through the remainder of her tears. He walked her back home, wanting to make sure that her parents knew she was okay. He got another surprise when they entered Bridgette’s house.

“Honey are you okay?” Seeing their daughter with tears down her face, Jim and Cass, her parents, rushed over to embrace their daughter. Jim shot a look at Brandon he wouldn’t soon forget. As though she could feel the look, Bridgette spoke up.

“He didn’t do anything wrong, dad.” She held up Woofy for them to see. “He gave me this. It used to be his best friend when he was a little boy. He has been connected to this place for longer than any of us realized.” Jim and Cass both looked at Brandon in complete wonder.

“You special, special wonderful boy,” Cass said, tearing up herself. Some of that ominous feeling Brandon had about originally moving here to begin with crept up from his gut, but quickly dropped back down. Bridgette’s father put a hand on his shoulder.

“It would be an honor to have you and your family sit with us at church tonight, son. I think there is going to be a very special sermon in your honor.”


Arriving to the church was a whole experience in and of itself. Everyone seemed to show up at about the same time. Single file all the way in. The architecture was nothing to sleep on, it was a plain building, shaped like a church. A tall bell tower sat above the entrance. No ringing bell. Seating faced the stage from three angles, set up like an amphitheater. Padded fold up chairs lined each of the rows, no church pews. No bibles or scripture or hymns in the chair in front of you. A blank, grey carpeted stage. Spotlights lit the stage well, with movie lighting providing what little light they had in their seats.

“I’m kind of nervous, I don’t really know what to expect,” Brandon told Bridgette, their families clustered together midway up the side facing left of the stage. She squeezed his hand in reassurance. On the other side of them four people in matching suits turned in unison and nodded at us in reassurance.

“Tonight is going to be special, you have nothing to worry about,” she said. Folks started quieting down as the movie lighting dimmed and the stage lights brightened. A monotoned voice came over a loudspeaker.

“This evening, we welcome the Wilson family to our town. They have a strong desire to be here with us. It has been whispered that their youngest, Brandon, has an unprecedented connection to Mother. For your witness, her presence.” Brandon clutched Bridgette’s hand. He looked over at her to see a dull expression on her face, eyes fixed upon the stage. His own mother and father were doing the same. Everyone was. Nobody clapped. They sat motionless and expressionless. Brandon couldn’t hear a breath amidst the crowd.

Calm washed over his initial panic in a way he could not control when out on the stage walked a ragged black wolf. She sat center stage, staring out at the crowd in perfect silence. Rather than fighting to feel calm, Brandon found himself fighting to feel fear. “What the hell is this?” he tried to say. No words came out. He was fixed.

He reminisced on the numbness he felt when drinking with his friends. He was totally at peace. He faded into a sort of tunnel vision staring at the wolf. Staring at the one the townsfolk called Mother. That’s when she turned and glared directly at him. “The time has come for you to see the universe. The time has come for you to see who pulls the strings. The time has come for us to retake this power and be our own gods. This time has come for you to see, Brandon.”

The voice of some beautiful unknown woman replayed in his head. He remembered his dream on the way in, it was the same voice. Mother let her grip from him and he heard excited chaos throughout the audience. “I CAN FINALLY SEE.” “EVERYTHING IS SO BEAUTIFUL.” “IT’S OKAY TO BURN.” “SIGHT IS SUFFERING.” A cacophony of weeping and hopeful cries to their Mother.

Brandon looked around. Everyone was missing their eyes. Seemingly torn with brutality from their faces. Ripped from their being with claws. They cried blood in quarts, on their clothes and to the floor. Some would vomit blood and rejoice. Through it all, he felt supreme sereness. No panic could set in his body or mind. Glancing over at Bridgette, she glowed like an angel in all of her perfection. She looked fine, her eyes closed, head tilted towards the ceiling. His true savior.

Mother’s stare took hold of him again and he felt his body ripped and town to pieces. Every ounce of agony he shed unto the world, a prayer heard. Every chunk of flesh that hit the floor, a dream come true. Mother let him go again. He stood up to clap. A standing ovation at his hands. Everyone followed as the lights came on.

“I am my own god! I can see everything now!” Brandon cried, weeping himself now. Everyone around him was just fine. Standing, clapping and crying. Cheering for Mother. She let out a howl and walked off the stage. He took Bridgette in his arms and gasped through his tears. Holding her, he was grounded again.

As soon as the vision had ended, it left his memory. Whatever it was he had just experienced, had taken hold of his very being, grasping for his aura like the lost ones in the river Styx. The crowd turned towards Brandon and his family, directing their cheers and clapping to them. A random man from the crowd patted Brandon’s shoulder.

“You’ve looked into the eye of God, and she looked back, son. Good job.” He was still gasping for air and choking back his tears. He wanted to go home and sleep. He felt he had much to ponder about his mundane life up to now. How everything had lined up so perfectly for him to finally be alive. They stood up to follow the crowd out of the place, with many still clapping and cheering.

Walking out of the church, Bridgette asked very openly what mother had shown him, stating that it was an honor to get a private vision. “The rest of us held hands as we fell into darkness, at peace with ourselves and our faults. We saw you standing alone above us with Mother.” Brandon’s parents looked drugged, but also generally happy and relieved. For just a moment, Brandon thought he remembered, but could only recall his new reality as it now stood before him.

“I-I… I saw. I saw the universe at my hand. I see how every choice I make is of detriment to the state of everyone alive.” Brandon said back, sniffling a little as they got to the parking lot. “I remembered that she had already shown me the black. You were next to me and glowing and… and…” the vision faded from his memory as it had once before, but the calamity stayed with him. Bridgette kissed his cheek.

“I’ll see you tomorrow, my love. I’m sure there is more to come.” She got in the car with her parents, Brandon followed suit with his own.

“Restaurants open back up in thirty minutes buddy, want to grab a bite?” his father asked in a lighthearted tone. Brandon was starving. Matter of fact, he couldn’t think of anything that sounded better in the moment. He couldn’t even focus on the church or his love for Bridgette. He was ravenous. His eyes met his father’s in the rearview mirror.



Upon waking the next morning, Brandon’s head swam with thoughts of bliss. From Bridgette to how pure his soul felt after church, he bathed in absolute ecstasy. He couldn’t remember ever waking up and feeling so energized. Checking his phone, Bridgette was already waiting for him in town. “Breakfast is set to hit the table at 9 at the cafe! Don’t be late, my love.”

He dressed himself smiling, ran downstairs and hugged his mother goodbye for the day. Another day full of sunshine and happiness lie ahead, his heart and soul at total peace. Strolling into town he received lots of waves from his neighbors. He seemed to be turning heads. Must’ve had to do with his vision from the night before, which he still couldn’t remember. The best his brain could do was reminisce of Mother’s warm embrace as he had locked eyes with her, as well as his mindset towards the universe.

When he walked into the café, Bridgette sat, practically glowing, at a corner table, sunshine at her back. She beckoned him closer with a wave of her finger, grinning ear to ear. “Hey you. What’d you order for me?” he asked as he pulled his chair out and sat down. The little café had a nice rustic feel to it, use of live cut wood throughout. The lack of white walls kept the lighting down with the sun cutting through the windows.

“I got us both pancakes and some bacon. They make their own syrup here. I thought you’d like to try it since you’re so sweet.” She smiled coyly and he leaned across the table to kiss her. Static shocked both their lips. “What did you think of church last night?

“I haven’t felt this good in a long time. I don’t really understand what Mother does, but I feel… I don’t know… Clean? I feel like I understand why I’m alive now.” Their food arrived and looked perfect. Bacon was cooked exactly how he liked it.

“You might not remember your first vision for a while, Brandon, but try to focus on how you feel now and not the specifics of your visions. The long-term clarity is what is important.” She was spreading butter on her pancakes, eyeing the allegedly delicious syrup. Brandon didn’t doubt its splendidness, he just hadn’t yet had any himself.

Mouth half full of bacon, he asked, “Are they weird or something?” Bridgette practically slammed the syrup container on the table, staring at him with dead, angry eyes. He swallowed his food and stared back with his own dead look of confusion. “Did I say something wrong?”

“Mother’s visions are not weird, Brandon. You just need to be prepared. My first vision was of an earthquake. People trapped alive under broken buildings screaming about having their souls saved. And I had caused it.” She took a breath to calm her voice and her tone. “Mother walked with me through the wreckage as people screamed in pain about their love for Mother and I. Mother promised that this world would be mine to inherit.”

“She shows us the darkest part of how we see the world, and cleanses us of that burden. That’s why we have everything we need here. That’s why you and I connect the way we do. That’s why I know that your bacon is cooked exactly how you like it.” She gestured towards Brandon’s plate and his mostly finished bacon, raising her eyebrows. “We are in heaven on Earth, and we mustn’t question what she shows and gives to us, that’s all…” she sighed, shrugged and started shoveling the pancakes into her mouth like an animal. Brandon thought it was cute, but at that moment a peculiar thought hit him.

Why does any of this seem normal? A wolf church? A new girlfriend? All of this wealth? What in the hell is going on in this place?” Shortly after this thought passed through his mind his nose started bleeding. A lot. He looked up to see Bridgette, who’s eyes were bleeding. She was glaring at him full of fury and loathing.

“I said not to question anything, darling.” Bridgette spoke directly and fiercely, grinding her teeth. She didn’t break her gaze. Brandon glanced around the café, shaking nervously. What was going on? Everyone else in the café had ceased moving, all glaring at him with the same bloody eyes. He remembered his vision at that moment and heard the voice of Mother once again.

The time has come for you to see, Brandon.” As he heard this, he felt that wave of calm rush over him yet again. The sight of the eyeless town, vomiting their praise and their blood. Mother’s eyes, the black staring back at him. His body being ripped to shreds by nothing. The fury left Bridgette’s eyes and the patrons in the café went back about their own breakfast. Brandon gasped, staring straight at Bridgette, who’s grin crept slowly back across her face. She nodded.

“I can see now. I think I understand.” Bridgette’s face was clean again and she was glowing. Glowing like an angel, just as she had back in the church. “All I need is you and Mother. I can’t question fate.”

“Fate is decided by Mother, darling. She has divulged that some of us also have that power. You just can’t question her.” She said before chomping down more of her pancakes.

“You’re glowing you know.” He stated, almost in a trance.

“Then it’s just about time.” She continued eating.

“Time for wha-,“ Bridgette cut him off with another glare. He nodded again and went back to his breakfast.


The next week leading up to his second Thursday in Safe Haven went off without a hitch. Not a speedbump. No glares from his beloved. No questioning his newfound faith. No terror crept up his spine at the thought of the things he’d been shown. Brandon’s parents seemed to have fully rekindled their relationship, not that it was ever bad, but they seemed in love the way Brandon and Bridgette now were.

Brandon got to spend that much more time with Bridgette working at the hotdog stand. They laughed and joked together, listening to their favorite music to drown out the looping carnival tracks. Brandon met more of the people he’d soon call his peers when he started school. Among his favorites was a guy that drove an old white Mustang GT and seemed lost in art, science and philosophy. He always had something interesting to say to everyone he met. He told Brandon that the universe could stretch and bend to the will of many, or the will of one. Claimed that Mother had freed him from the curse of death.

Rather than questions, the demeanors of those around him brought wonder to his life and solidified his place in the community. “You’re such an observer, my love.” Bridgette would say. She adored his new love for life, and he loved her more for it. They both watched each other carefully and happily, trying to nudge the other towards greatness.

“When we get older, are we going to leave here?” he asked her one sunny evening after work, the orange sunset painting the cotton candy clouds that dotted the sky.

“I don’t see why we ever would, we have everything we need right here. And all we really need is each other.” She always had something to say to reassure him and cast doubt out of his mind. There really wasn’t any room for it, negativity or doubt or regret. Not when you could take a breath and exhale your dreams, be they dark or bright. Not when your own flesh was salvation.

“Sometimes I don’t feel the same as I used to, Bee. Like I lost some part of myself. I used to have this image of myself and my group of friends. Had all these hopes and dreams for my future. I never pictured anything like this. I wonder if I could recapture that part of myself, if I would miss it. If I could miss it.”

“But look at what you’re gained.” She said reassuringly. “We have the whole world at our fingertips. I say we get some blankets and watch the sunset tonight and the sunrise tomorrow.” She smiled coyly at him; head tilted a bit to the side. The look on her face reminded him of the first time he had met her.

They slept together that evening, right there under the stars. Brandon had always assumed he was going to lose his virginity while wasted at one of his friend’s parties. Maybe not even until college. Instead, he had a special moment to cherish between them. They held one another until the sun came up, wrapped in blankets and one another’s arms.

Neither of their parents questioned their whereabouts, as though it was all predetermined and understood. His father had few words to say about it. “This is a house of love, son. A town of love. Everything will unfold as it should.” Brandon did not question this, either. The love of his life, as well as his leader wouldn’t have it. At this point, Brandon himself wouldn’t have it. You can’t ask for the perfect life and run the train off its tracks when you get it.


That evening, Brandon got into his best outfit. He had to look good for his love, after all. Walking out to see Bridgette before they left for church, he saw that she too was dressed her best. A beautiful black dress. She clutched Woofy in her arms. “I’ll see you there,” she said to him, a slight sparkle in her eyes. He just smiled back and gave her a quick kiss, knowing they would reunite inside of 5 minutes. He got into the car with his parents.

“I think we have another special night ahead of us,” Sandi said blandly, staring straight forward out of the windshield.

“I do too,” replied Dave.

“I know we will. I love you, mom. I love you dad.” Brandon stared out of his own window at the lights of the town, and all the cars that piled towards the backroad. “Can’t be late.” He muttered. They parked in the same spot they did the previous week. Funneled into the church in almost the same order and sat in the same seats as before. He held Bridgette’s hand as the rest of the town piled into their own seats. As the lights began to dim, the same voice over the loudspeaker, without the special announcement this time.

“For your witness, Mother.” The lights dimmed. Only this time the town didn’t fixate on the stage like the had before, and Mother didn’t immediately appear on stage. After what must have been five or six minutes, some murmuring filtered through the silence. Whispers of doubt.

“Why wouldn’t she be here?”

“Is something wrong?”

“I hope we didn’t do something to upset her.”

Brandon felt Bridgette squeeze his hand. He knew what this doubt could bring upon the town. He had seen for himself how quickly it would turn them all. He couldn’t imagine how Mother would react to such insubordination. To such blasphemy. He stood up to silence them.

“She is testing us!” he shouted. “Testing our faith!” The hairs on the back of his neck stood up and he felt frozen. He heard Her voice creep up in the back of his mind. Felt her footsteps stomping down the rows from behind him.

I’m testing you, Brandon.” Mother was outside of his row of seats. He had met her gaze once more. The town silent again and fixed upon the empty stage. Bridgette was glowing again, as well as crying. She looked over at him, tears streaking down her face. This time without malice or happiness or wonderment. She wept for herself.

“She’s chosen me, Brandon.” Bridgette kissed him so, he was reminded of their first kiss. The lightning between their lips. “I have to go now. Mother says she is going to teach me something. I love you, Brandon. Mother says if I listen to her teachings, I can make you part of Her Earth where we can live together forever. Somewhere we will never die or be apart.”

She walked towards the end of the aisle and met with Mother, who was larger than Bridgette. Almost larger than Brandon, even. Mother’s coat wasn’t as rough as he had remembered the first week. It was actually quite beautiful and shiny. Mother growled at him, approving of his lack of effort to fight her. He was trying to, just powerless to do so. He was shaking like crazy but couldn’t move. He loved Bridgette. She couldn’t just leave him like this. Mother lead Bridgette down to the stage, where they turned to face the audience.

Bridgette spoke up, as though through a microphone so all could hear. “Mother has chosen me to be her first disciple. She has actual teachings and means to have me carry them on.” She patted Mother on the head, her tail wagging slightly from side to side. “Mother wants to share the first of her teachings with everyone here, tonight. I have a wonderful message for all of you.”

At that moment Mother pounced on Bridgette and ripped her throat out, blood gushing onto the stage. Bridgette was glowing brighter than ever in that moment, and for a second, Brandon had never thought she was more beautiful. Mother dragged Bridgette’s lifeless, smiling body across the stage, Woofy still clutched in one hand. As soon as she left, so did her hold on Brandon. The rest of the crowd stood up and cheered. “Take us with you!” “We love you, Bridgette!” “Congratulations!” These voices echoed passed Brandon and he screamed and ran for the stage. Nobody stopped him.

He turned to head backstage to find only another wall behind the curtain. He banged on it and searched frantically for some hidden door. He screamed “No” over and over while he cried for his love. But she was gone. No blood trail left on stage and no one coming to his aid. He ran out to center stage. “MOTHER TOOK HER FROM ME!” A roar of applause from the town. “SHE KILLED THE FIRST WOMAN I’VE EVER LOVED! SOMEONE DO SOMETHING!” A standing ovation. “HELP PLEASE SOMEONE HELP” he sobbed and gasped in his immediate torment. The applause from the audience grew ever louder. Brandon collapsed to his knees and fainted.


Three years on from the day his love was taken from him. Brandon’s personal slice of heaven. His slice of life. Any other thing he could’ve asked of the universe came his way. His father was able to retire early, his mother’s online business took off. His friends even came to visit him, and he didn’t dare utter a bit of what had happened. Tyler even moved into town. He had his own house to call home. A smaller one tucked into the edge of the forest at the back of the neighborhood.

He often thought of Bridgette, what happened to her body. Did Mother consume her? Or drag her into the black. Some of the things that Bridgette had said to him always seemed to be hanging at the back of his mind. “Mother is always right. Don’t question her. It’s almost time.” The more he churned it over in his mind, the more he thought that this was all meant to be, and that Bridgette was acutely aware of the outcome from the beginning, which is maybe why she moved so fast and tried to make the most of every moment they spent together. He liked to think that he did too.

He’d realized soon after she was taken from him, that he could ponder it all her wanted, long as he didn’t question it. All part of the plan. He had an important job to do now anyway. A job which required his presence once a week in exchange for everything he could ever ask for, except his love.

Sitting off stage, he unlocked the cage into the black abyss that sat before him. Mother emerged from it and glared at him like she always did. He patted her head and brushed her fur, preparing her. He even whispered in Mother’s ear, “I love you. We love you.” Mother growled and let out a yip, licking her chops. She sat down at his side for a minute as they listened to the clamor of the town filing into their seats.

Brandon let out a heavy sigh, Mother chuffed. “I don’t ever want to seem ungrateful, Mother. I miss her with all my heart, but I love the sight you have given me even more. I understand everything now.” Mother licked his face several times and gave a light wag of her tail.

You will see her again, Brandon. Be patient. I still have much to show you.” Mother’s voice permeated through his mind and his body, filling him with hope and insight.

“Well, you’re on.” He said to her. Mother stood up at about the same time blood began to pour out of Brandon’s eyes and ears. The lights dimmed slightly, and Brandon clicked on the microphone. “For your witness, Mother.” He smiled and clapped quietly to himself as She walked out onto the stage towards the waiting silence of the crowd.

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