By Robert Russell
Crepuscular rays reflected off the empty edifices in the distance, clouding the landscape in a vague sepia film. The sweltering heat had subsided with the nearing sunset and a cool breeze gently grazed the boys’ backs ushering them into the ghastly ghost-town known as Omen, Texas. Shia and his best friend Cody inched closer to the desolation donning two backpacks filled with booze, excited for what they both expected would surely be a good night. The deserted town was a local hotspot for teens like Shia and Cody. Just outside of the jurisdiction of the Lubbock Police, guys and girls, loaded with spirits and an eagerness to unshackle themselves from the tethers of their daily lives, frequented the place nearly every weekend during the summer to hold massive debauchery-filled saturnalias. Shia and Cody were ready.
Into the dust, ancient buildings of an old Wild West type paralleled the strip. The boys knew where to go: The Dive. It used to be an old saloon, double-swinging doors, a stretch-around bar with stools, and tables that littered the cracked floorboards. All the stocked booze behind the bar was long gone, looted forever ago by degenerates not unlike themselves. Upon entering, Cody hit the light-switch and the place was empty–they were early, they thought. Taking two seats at the bar, the boys wiped the dust off the wood and snatched their bags off their backs from which they retrieved two large canteens filled with a dark, pungent liquid. “Trash Water,” the kids called it. They grimaced in tandem at the first swig.
“Hey man, you think I got a chance with Rose?” Shia casually asked Cody, a tiny grin the corner of his lips. “Nah man, no way,” Cody responded with a slight chortle as punctuation.
Conversation ensued as they waited for more people to arrive. Ten minutes became thirty which became an hour, and night descended onto the city of Omen.
“Dude, where is everybody? I figured this place would be poppin’ by now” remarked Shia. Cody responded, “I have no idea, man. I thought it would be too.” At that moment, sounds of footsteps struck the two boys who immediately turned their faces toward the double-swinging saloon doors. Through the void below the doors, a murky mist crept into the bar, and the boys looked at each in confusion with a hint fright. The mist floated across the floorboards turning the wood into a haunted cemetery. Suddenly, the double doors flew open, hitting the walls behind the hinges with a loud thwack. The boys jumped in their skin.
Through the doors, black hooded shadows drifted in, as if they were levitating. They lined the entrance, figures filing into formation halting at an even twelve. The boys watched in a mystic intrigue, wondering what the hell was happening. The last ghoul emerged through the space, walked toward the boys, came to a stop a few feet before them, glanced down to the floor, and removed the black cloak hood from its head. A fair woman’s face buried in a mane of crimson looked up and locked eyes with the boys.
“We are the Cult of Jeheminy,” the woman announced. “And I am Despe, the Mother.” The boys sat in shock, silent, in awe of what was happening. It seemed like a dream. The air became cold and still; time ticked by slower than ever, their stupors diminishing rapidly. “We are here to escort you two to the Sea’s Respite” the woman stated in a monotonous, colorless tone.
“What?! No, we’re not going anywhere. In fact, let’s get out of here, Cody” Shia rebutted and turned to Cody. Shia dismounted from his stool and made for the doors, Cody a close second behind. As they passed through the throng of cultic freaks, a quick snap of the woman’s fingers echoed through the bar. Suddenly, the boys saw black.
“Remove the velvet” instructed Despe.
Two minions ripped off the velvet black shade from his head. Shia slowly came to his senses and found that he was standing in the center of an almost completely dark room, hands manacled behind a warm, metal pillar. Before him stood the shadows; in front was the Mother. A stench pervaded the air, one he couldn’t quite place. As the terror set in, Shia whipped his head back and forth searching for Cody. He was nowhere in sight.
“What is happening?! Where is my friend?! Where is he?!” the boy cried, a whimper growing large in his throat.
“He is gone, and soon, you will be too,” answered Despe. Shia felt the wails rise from his stomach and erupt like a volcano; there was no avoiding it. His cries reverberated through the room. A rush of helplessness strangled the boy as he shook his hands repeatedly attempting to break free from his chains.
The woman walked up to him, and, an inch away from his nose, she whispered, “We have to do this. You won’t understand, but we have to do this.”
As she slowly turned her back, she began loudly reciting lines in another language. She faced the hooded figures, preaching in what, Shia could decipher, seemed to be Latin. Her vocals echoed and each line cadenced in a crescendo. The woman raised her arms slowly with her words and the floor began to vibrate. She is calling something the boy thought. As she continued to proclaim, Shia, overwhelmed, confused, and utterly petrified, noticed two members diverge from the group and walk into a corner. Not a moment later, the room was illuminated. The members reconvened, one of whom was carrying a large flame-lit torch.
Suddenly Shia recognized that encompassing, putrid reek. Gasoline.
He glanced down at his feet to see that he was standing on a pile of dark, soaked hay. A jolt of fear flew down his spine paralyzing him.
Then the Mother concluded her prayer and seized the torch.
She turned again and pointed to the last member on the left, number thirteen, who, upon his call, proceeded forward and took the torch into his own hands.
Shia tried to scream, but the words evaporated in a dry spout of air.
The figure stood before him, turned and faced him, then removed his hood.
They locked eyes and Shia stared into the dead, deep holes in his head. The shadows of the flame danced on his face turning him into a morphing monster.
Shia watched in horror as Cody threw the torch into the hay. It hung in the air for what seemed like forever, suspended in a horrific, fiery limbo.
Then, an explosion of fire erupted immediately and the last image that Shia would descry as the flames engulfed him was the haunting semblance of a twisted smile on Cody’s face.