I press my back into the harsh brick of the random building we are pausing beside, waiting for Elijah to elaborate. He’s occupied with scanning around each direction, his attention drifting to every little noise no matter how insignificant.
“What is it?” I say quietly, bored with his silence.
“Keep walking,” he says. “This way.”
He continues walking and I push myself from the wall, walking quickly to catch up to him as I try to match his giant strides that are exhausting me, he’s so tall. We walk in silence for a few seconds, before he turns me down a secluded pathway that leads to the entrance of another orange-bricked cabin.
“You did good back there,” he whispers. “It’s not easy to watch.”
“Seriously?” I say, anger rises in my voice. “It not easy? Are you joking? No one should be watching that at all. It shouldn’t even be happening at all."
“I understand,” he says. “It’s your first day and you’re probably in shock by what you’ve witnessed today. But, there’s more to it than you think.”
“It’s a cult,” I whisper. “I’ve worked that much out.”
“It didn’t used to be,” he says. “Not since. . .”
“Since?” I say, scanning over the side of his face. He still refuses to look me in the eye, like he has difficulty with it.
“That’s not important. What is important is what is going to happen. Pastor likes to test new members, to provoke sin from them. In most cases they will just watch along, in other cases, they will scream or try to stop the renouncement. In your case, you did both. You controlled yourself, but it wasn’t enough.”
“Is that what you wanted me to know?” I say.
“I told you not to react to anything.”
“I didn’t,” I say. “I stayed silent.”
“You walked out into the aisle, every leader was watching you. And they also saw the member pull you back.”
“Ruth?” I say. I grab his arm, halting our walk, making him meet my frantic gaze. “Will she be alright?”
“What do you think?” he says. His face falls sad, almost weak, as he stares into my eyes with a longing for something that I’m not sure about. “Ruth will be punished, severely. It’s against the rules to intervene with a member’s choice to sin. Pastor is now going to test you again.”
“I’ll have to do something to spare Ruth?”
He nods. “That’s how this works.”
“Is this a game to him?” I ask. “These are people’s lives."
He steps forwards, breathing down onto me with sharp, hollow breaths. “Listen to me carefully. You’re a member here now, you’re a part of this now. You have to do as they say, and you have to control yourself. It’s the only way to remain who you are.”
“Yeah, I’ve caught on to that part,” I say. “Group A and B seem fun.”
“Is this a game to you?” he accuses. “I can tell you’re intelligent, and with that comes responsibility. Manipulating your way through the system won’t get you anywhere. However intelligent you are, Pastor will always be a step ahead. And that’s why group A and B are the way they are.”
“But you’re not,” I question, reading his bright, green eyes. “Why are you helping me? Why are you different to them?”
He swallows, turning his face away. “I’m not. Like I said before, none of us can be helped.”
He’s in denial. How can he not see that he’s helping me? How can he not differentiate between speaking to me like a human being and commanding me like I’m a slave? He is different, and he is still in control of his own mind. I’m not even sure I played a part in that anymore, I don’t believe he’s ever truly been gone--he’s just awakened. Perhaps in a way I helped him, perhaps I contributed to waking him up, but he mustn’t had been that far brainwashed for it to work so easily. And that is the hope. That is the only hope any member here can have--remembering who they are.
We approach the entrance to the building, leaving that conversation dangling behind us as we move on to the other part of his warning.
“What is this place?” I say, staring down at the first step up to the door before I place my foot upon it.
He doesn’t answer for a moment, he looks upwards with an expression of longing and sadness, before delivering his fear-provoking reply. “Medical.”