My short story ‘For My Sister’ appears in the anthology “Thrill of The Hunt: Buried Alive,” released August 1, 2019! Here’s an excerpt from it:
Ever since I fled Khdes Populus, I’ve had nightmares: I’d emerge from a coffin, see my hands, and find my fingertips coated in blood from all the scratching inside the coffin in a desperate bid to get out. Yet after some intense therapy, I think I’ve gotten some footing on my sanity. Now I’m fit to rescue my sister Antonia before she suffers the same fate as me. I survived being buried alive for a week as part of Khdes Populus’s ritual for “baptizing” new members, but who’s to say she’ll survive too? Who’s to say her mental health will remain intact as a result?
This was it. This was the moment. I was getting Antonia out of here, out of the depravity of this ritual, out of the wickedness of this cult. It’s my fault she’s here, so it’s my responsibility to get her out.
How I was able to break onto the Changs mansion property, I can’t explain it – both because the process happened so fast I couldn’t recap it, and also because that’s not the point. The important matter is ensuring that wasted sack of skin – I mean, my little sister gets to a hospital safely. All I can say is, as a former member of Khdes Populus, I knew how to maneuver through the mansion belonging to the founder Lisette Chang and her mouthpiece of a brother, Etienne.
I released Antonia – a frail, skeletal shell in an oversized white nightgown, someone whom I don’t recognize – from a locked chamber in the corridor while the cult’s “apostles” in the next room chanted and prayed in preparation for the “baptism” ritual. Left, left, right, left, right – the complex connection through these hallways made the mansion seem like a labyrinth in itself. Among what seemed like rows of doors, a lit wall lamp every few feet guided us.
My and Antonia’s huffing filled the otherwise quiet halls. After who knows how long we ran, Antonia sank down and sat. I leaned against the wall.
“Why?” Antonia asked, panting. “Why the hell are you doing this?”
“What do you mean ‘Why am I doing this’?” I said. “This is a rescue mission.”
Antonia guffawed. “‘Rescue mission’? A rescue mission! – is that what you’re calling it?” She laughed.
I pushed through my weariness and glared at her. “Yeah, a rescue mission, because if I hadn’t come and rescued you, you’d be locked in a coffin while ghouls would be praying and singing hymns while your unconscious self was in a coffin.”
“I was not locked in a coffin. I was sleeping in my bedroom when you found me.”
I continued. “Then someone would read a eulogy – which was really an obit that you had to write up the week prior – as a way for ceremony guests to visualize what your life would have been like have you lived it fully. Afterward, they’d have taken the coffin with you in it from the mansion to some undisclosed location, bury you and leave you there for a week.”
Antonia cast an expression of disbelief. “No, that’s not what happens at all! No one gets buried alive! I know because I’ve been to these baptisms! What really happens – as you should know – is after the ceremony the church would have transported me to some other room of this house, where I’d stay for a week. It’s there that I’l have isolation filled with fasting, introspection and meditation. My life has never been in danger. No one in Khdes Populus has ever been.”
I rambled on with my story as I lifted myself off the wall. “Like I said, you would have been buried in that coffin for a week with very little food and water. The leaders of Khdes Populus would be watching you through cameras installed in the coffin while they fed you oxygen through a tube. When the week is finished, and hopefully you’re still alive, there’s a ‘reawakening’ ceremony where the inductee is brought back up to the surface, taken out of the coffin, and given medical attention by some quack who’s also a member of the church. Then you’d be in, with no way of getting out of it.”
A shame that, though her description of the baptism ritual could be perceived as the truth, her truth or the truth didn’t matter. What mattered was how I could persuade her that Khdes Populus is corrupt. If they could kick me out – I mean, if I could escape them, then it was worth going through the trouble saving her from a doomed destiny.
Antonia sighed. “If it’s all that dangerous, then why did you join in the first place?” The wall lamp behind her backlit her head, giving off a halo glow around her hair.
I paused at that question, hesitating at how I should answer it. “I joined because it spiritually enlightened me. It enabled me to overcome our parents’ death and our family’s bankruptcy. Plus, I was ordered to recruit people so I could advance in the church and get a leadership position. That’s why I approached you about it. Still, I had to escape.”
Footsteps echoed through the hallway, getting louder and louder. They’re near. I jumped back onto my feet.
“This isn’t over,” I whispered to her. I grabbed her hand and ran in the opposite direction of the approaching footsteps.