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Part 1[]

Are you sad? Lonely? Have you ever felt that the world had some considerate stance against you? Are you unloved? My family apparently felt that way. My name is Madison Ludlow, my younger see was named Emilia. We were always knee-deep in familial issues. Dad was a drinker who'd go all out in brawling my Mom. Often because he would impulsively waste our finances on buying booze. My Mom eventually had to force herself into working two jobs to make ends meet. It all came to a head when we were evicted from our home when the payment was overdue. We moved in with my Mom's parents soon afterward. One day, my grandmother asked us a peculiar question.

"Have you met with Ash Mystique?"

"Mom, who is this Ash Mystique you speak of?" my Mom asked. While we were Catholics, we weren't strongly convicted with it. Besides, while I love my grandmother, why would she suggest that going to see what could very well be a priest would fix all our problems? That is the same bullshit that I would expect from some faith healers or megachurches.

My grandmother smiled widely. "Ash Mystique is the leader of a group called the Illuminated Ones. They are a community of 500 followers. They say that Ash is the latest incarnation of Christ, Confucius, Buddha, and Moses."

My eyes rolled back so far back into their sockets, my nerves strained. Really? This man, Ash Mystique, somehow convinced some hapless idiots into believing these blatant lies? Obviously, whoever fell victim to his deceit is susceptible to being robbed of everything they're worth. More surprising, my Mom actually decided to take my grandmother up on her offer and before I even knew it, we were on the road. After several grueling hours, we arrived at the entrance of some woods. There was a crudely drawn sign stretching between two trees that stated: "WELCOME TO THE ILLUMINATED ONES."

Part 2[]

We trekked through the entrance and saw many small building structures mounded together by mud, straw, and sticks. The cult members scurried out of their "homes" to greet us. They were wearing rags and had Cheshire grins across their faces. And yet, at the heart of the community was a cottage from which the "legendary" Ash Mystique emerged. He didn't fit my mental image of a loony cult leader: he was a tall, handsome man wearing a purple robe with a tanned complexion. His eyes glowed a yellow hinge. He had small, trimmed facial hair topped with a hat crafted from a seagull's body. On his finger was an emerald. He had a...strange hold over the cult. Thinking back, while Ash was an unambiguously a fair looking man, he was also entirely hideous at the same time.

"Friends, let's welcome this family to our way of life!" he said with enthusiasm. The cult members bombarded us and stripped us of our clothing and other valuables. As I stood there confused, we were handed rag clothes while the ones we wore coming here were pitched into a fire to burn.

"I'm sorry," he said in forced pity, "but we strive to be as close to nature as possible."

The first few days were entertaining if I could even muster that without jabbing an imaginary needle into my arm. They consisted of Ash reading from a decrepit-looking scroll, conversing to the tentative cult members in a bizarre language. Instead of any screaming or jumping for joy, they wordlessly stared intently at Ash. He held his ring finger up and waved it back and forth. Immediately after the reading was done, the cult members were released of their trance. Many of the cult members from the young to the old engaged in dancing around the fire and having massive orgies. Ash would just sit by in his high chair watching the madness transpire.

Days turned into weeks and weeks into months. Whenever Ash wasn't preaching to his followers, he would task them with backbreaking work. True to his word, the Illuminated Ones did not believe in technology or the industrialized world. Ash had told them fervently on the evils of modern society and how it was a cesspool of festering abominations such as government control and socialism. The cult lived off wheat but because of the location it was established at, the soil was infertile. Adults plowed the field 24 hours straight while the young children, as I was, worked ten hours. The food supply was dwindling down every day. Hunger arose; dissenters were beginning to rear their heads in disapproval.

There was a family of 10 who was one of the first members of the Illuminated Ones. They have comprised of the mother and father; four boys; and four girls. The father worked as a corporate executive until he encountered Ash. They broke out of the mind control enough to formulate a plan of escape saying that before the ringing of the morning bell, they would leave before anyone noticed. I don't remember how it happened, but I seem to recall that one of the kids accidentally let the plan slip out to one of Ash's top agents. They were brought before the community with their arms and legs bound. Ash stood in front of them with a scornful glare. He directed it towards his followers.

"We have some unhappy dissenters here, my friends," he remarked, "what say is the punishment for their disbelief?"

The answer was obvious. "Execute them! Execute them!" The crowd turned into a rabid batch of unhinged animals with thick frothing coming from their mouths. They were red with anger. The family tried to plead their case, but there would be no forgiveness that day. The family was gathered onto large pieces of dry straw and sticks. Their binds started to rip into their tender skins. Ash readied a torch.

"For your crimes, I sentence you to the eternal flames."

He gave the torch to one of his men and it was tossed at the bottom of the stockpile. It slowly caught aflame: within minutes, the flames raged towards the heavens, consuming the family of 10. Their screaming was atrocious. Those shrill shouts of excruciating pain. Their bodies developed boils from the exposure to heat. The putrid smell of burning human flesh. The only thing they could do at that type of predicament was huddle together as closely as humanly possible. The pile was completely gone seven hours later.

Part 3[]

We remained in the Illuminated Ones' ranks for two years. In that short amount of time, half of the 500 cult members died from different ailments like malnourishment; heatstroke; even treatable sicknesses like the common cold resulted in twenty children having to be buried because one of the rules that they adhered to was the distrust of hospitals or modern medicine. Any families that were caught trying to steal scraps of food had their bones broken with tools made of stone. Or sometimes, Ash would systematically starve the followers by continuously reminding them that their spiritual growth was more important. The bastard always said this with the giddiness of enthusiasm. He loved to watch us suffer veiling it as being essential to being closer to God. Many resorted to killing wild animals and crude fishing to satiate their hunger only to fall victim to rabies and the like. Some were desperate enough to eat any green plant they saw...and expired not to shortly after getting poisoned. One day as Emilia and I were harvesting the wheat, we both smelled something good cooking in a tent designated as the "kitchen." It was roast pork. My mouth salivated...before I remembered that two teenage girls were led into the kitchen by Ash and his men.

The final straw for my parents came when during one of their daily fire dance rituals, my Mom looked at some young women. They all had bloated midsections. Research would dictate that they were Ash's "Chosen," women who had been trained from birth to be his "brides." There were 13 women in total. Each of them had been impregnated by Ash and were heavy with child. They moved about in an unnatural manner, clawing the ground on all fours and attacking bystanders engaged in all counts of depravity. When one of Ash's men was taking part in what was happening with the women, my Dad ran and physically pried him off. He got into a tussle with the man who was larger and younger than him and immediately getting the upper hand. In his struggle, my Dad saw a rock and in a mad frenzy, he bashed the man repeatedly on the head until his face was converted to mush. One of the partiers ran to notify Ash about the dilemma.

What happened next was a blur: three men seized my Dad and roughed him up. His limbs were stretched out and under Ash's direction, tent pegs were driven into his hands and feet. He screamed in hideous, excruciating pain. They each took turns breaking him down slowly with their stone tools. They dropped a larger rock on his chest, making him whimper as blood formed around the tips of his mouth. Ash was indifferent towards the turn of events.

"My wives shall give birth to my spawn, and very soon, we will take this world," he said, "but I do always appreciate the simple things in life such as this."

My Dad coughed up blood by the time a rock was dropped on his screaming face. My Mom tried to stop the men from doing it, but she was stopped when one of the bystanders threw a rock at the back of her head and she fell unconscious. By now, you do realize that with no medical assistance there was not much help for my dear mother? She remained in her unconscious state throughout the afternoon and was officially declared dead at 3 AM. It was just me and Emilia now.

Part 4[]

My desperation to escape arose when I overheard one of the cult members mentioning that the wives of Ash were showing peculiar signs. They were becoming more hostile every given day. They were mauling cult members and speaking in unintelligible languages. With all of the chaos being wrought, the cult member made it clear that they did not want to be there when the wives had their children. Who would know what they had the potential of becoming given how their mothers are now basically becoming mindless animals broken down by Ash? The day arrived with the droning of a bell. The people were gathered into a tent with the 13 wives sprawled out on the floor with their legs wide. Their wombs pulsated sporadically. They bit their lips in sheer agony. Their bodies bent in inhuman fashion. Deep, demonic growls rolled out from the pit of their stomachs. Ash stood before them with a look of satisfaction.

I made sure that my sister and I got up early in the morning before the morning bell droned. We grabbed a torch and sprinted into the woods. At night the woods were especially nightmarish. The wind howled sending flurries of leaves at us. The trees' limbs resembled claws and also appeared to be keeling over in pain. The forest itself felt alive and was reacting violently to the impending births of Ash's children. Regardless, we kept running until we found a path to the road. Miraculously, a man happened to be crossing that path in his car, and we tailed him down for a lift. A large storm formed upon the community sending destructive rain down. By the time the weather subsided, news came out that the community was completely destroyed with no survivors in sight. Ash was posthumously accepted as one of the casualties despite his body being missing. Of those bodies, there were mysterious chunks removed from them. Almost as if some creature was eating them.

Written by AustinDR
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