Everything changed the day my sister Mia ran away. She never got along with our parents, but I was still taken by surprise when I came home from school that warm afternoon to find her belongings gone and a note addressed to me.
I'm sorry, B. Forget me.
But I never could.
The police weren't keen to investigate a runaway teenager from a poor family, and after a while Mom and Dad just gave up. Mom turned to pills, Dad turned to the bottle, and I was left alone with questions only Mia could answer.
I went through an unending cycle of emotions—anger, grief, hopelessness. Any happy moment was accompanied by a sense of loss; what would Mia think of me graduating high school, or getting my first job, or marrying my girlfriend? I hired a private investigator, but he never found anything besides leads that led to nowhere.
Years passed. Mom died, and Dad drank himself to death not long after. A failed marriage, Mom's medical bills, and losing my job drained my savings until there was nothing left to pay the PI. I spent sleepless nights scouring the internet for any traces of Mia, but I found nothing: no social media, no arrest reports, no pictures of her beyond the frowning photo from her missing persons flyer. Mia had asked me to forget her, and instead no one seemed to remember her but me.
Then one day I got a phone call I thought would never come. My sister had been found alive.
She was the only survivor of a cult's mass suicide.
I rushed to the hospital. I nearly wept when I saw her; she was painfully thin, and looked as if she'd aged twenty years in the past ten.
The police filled me in. Mia had belonged to a cult for the entire time she'd been missing, and two days earlier they all drank from a tray of paper cups. Alarm overrode a decade of brainwashing just long enough for Mia to covertly spit out her drink and lie limp as everyone around her died a slow, agonizing death. When the moans of pain finally ceased and the bodies no longer spasmed, Mia fled the compound and ran until she arrived at a small roadside diner where a shocked waitress called the cops to inform them of the grimy, babbling woman that'd just burst through the door.
I took her home with me. She constantly asked for permission: to eat, to shower, to even use the toilet. Often I found her weeping. I knew it would take time for her to adjust. Deprogramming doesn't happen overnight.
It was months before she spoke about the cult. “They wouldn't let me leave,” she told me tearfully, “no matter how much I asked.”
“I'm just glad you didn't kill yourself like they did.”
Mia's response made my blood run cold.
“You don't understand,” she sobbed. “They didn't commit suicide. I put poison in their drinks.”
Written by CertainShadows