Cult Illustration #20, ball point pen on paper, 11" x 8.5"

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events and incidents are either
the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.


Ms. X decided to visit the Foundation’s website, just to see what was going on. In the back of her mind she was thinking about what the students might see should they google her name and find she was a seed pearl shaped by the Guru and his wife. Her fingers flicked over the keys and the images appeared on the screen. 

The sub was confronted with a group photo, smiling faces of all colors, and on one side, the aging plump Guru, still tall and still bald, giving that “try as they might, no one can destroy me” smile. On the other side, the photogenic wife, exotic looking with her head band and feathers, expensive amulets and chic clothing, but Ms. X noted that she was a bit off, not grasping anyone, her arms hanging limply by her sides.

Her heart sank. She was not there and she did not recognize any of the faces, all new! In such a short time too! But the overriding concern was her absence in the photos, it gave her a sinking, sickening feeling. Yet there were full length photos of Ms. X hidden away in other parts of the site, she had seen them only recently, and any kid could find them too.

They won’t understand how really white bread this organization is, thought Ms. X but then she clicked on a photo of a bloody goat, it’s neck severed, lying serenely beside a crimson spattered pot with a tangle of beaded trinkets. She felt a sudden chill and her throat went dry. As if in defense of the photo she uttered,

“They won’t know who the Guru is, that he’s actually listed in the Who’s Who. The busy bodies won’t get the legality of it.”

The thought of anyone seeing her biography as a chief member of the Foundation juxtaposed with photographs of dead animals made her highly anxious. 

Browsing the site, she picked up invisible jabs that only she could detect, directed at her alone. The wife wrote an article about the so-called friend who wore masks of deceit, and the special way the almighty energy directed the Guru and herself in dealing with the exclusion of this bad character. A character who was once a prized member! The monarch pair couldn’t come right out and denounce her by name, it would be bad for business, especially since so many clients and protégés had met Ms. X and were told how special she was. She had made so many changes in her life! She was a model acolyte! Ms. X couldn’t help visualizing the wife smiling approvingly at her, and the Guru giving terse yet extremely grave praise. It had made her dizzy with elation at the time.

Her works of art were still for sale along with her many herbal mixtures, the ones she collected and dried in a sacred way. Her books were still for sale. She was a big earner. Years worth of answers she had provided could not be removed from the Foundation’s Q & A database, she was a top-poster. But! She was gone. She was purged from the emailing list too, after receiving a number of messages over a period of two months, which repeatedly excited her until she looked closer and saw that they were mass mailings not really meant for her. She was in a way banished, or maybe she left, or, was it both? She was disowned for sure, not because she refused to perform the rites but because she wanted to be an important person, not famous like the Guru, important like the wife. The monarch pair could not see that, they felt they had given her everything just by letting her into their lives so closely. Now, they viewed her as a kind of shapeshifter, a long time friend, they discovered, one day, was using them.

But they were wrong. They had no concept of the fervor in which Ms. X had drawn herself into their storyboard. Only Ms. X knew the depth of her own passion and this she squeezed tight into her gut, like a coiled spring, a habit that kept her perpetually thin even as she grew into elderhood. What they did see, for over ten years, pleased them and her vigilance was rewarded, sparingly by the Guru, with praise (mixed with a neutralizer of sorts, in the form of cruel, but honest observations). The wife’s approval was effusive, and physically affectionate, and together the duo managed Ms. X in a see-saw manner, just to keep her balanced. They agreed that she should participate in the sacrifices more often and invited her to make a cross country move and live free at the place where the rituals were held. It was a wooded hideaway deep in the wilderness of Florida. The Concealment, as it was called, consisted of a small house surrounded on all sides by the "sacred gardens".  The gardens were not as one might expect to find in an arboretum or botanical park, they were more of a tangle of mismanagement. Vegetation around each holy space was roughly hacked away to permit a place for piles of sacred rocks and other things like massive iron caldrons and crude cement sculptures. The wife tried to make each garden more discernible with hand made signs sculpted from wood, the words barely comprehensible. The foliage and insects and animals were ever present, bearing down on the gardens, so that Ms. X had to carve them out and make them habitable preceding each major ceremony. Ensconced in these green artifices clients undergoing initiation, would hop about under assault by stinging Fire Ants, or trip over protruding roots, but this was a minor distraction in contrast with the spectacle of sacrifice.

After their ceremonies, clients were left alone, tucked into the quiet sanctuary of one or another garden contemplating the death experience, while the poor corpse lie next to them attracting flies and growing stiff. When Ms. X would happen upon them, looking to pick up the dead beast and heave it into the wheel barrow, they would always ask the same questions; when can I go back into the house, and when can I shower off the blood from my head and face? It must have been kind of scary, sitting there alone without anyone to tell them what it was they were feeling, thought Ms. X, and even if she wanted to comfort them, she did not. She had to hurry to the next garden for another sacrifice, taking her position in the event as someone special. Quickly, so that she would not miss anything, she would always tell the questioning initiates the same thing; ask the wife. It was the wife who would decide when they would be admitted to the little house to shower and sleep. Sometimes the Guru would tell the wife they had to sleep all night with their plastered hair and blood mapped faces, head to head with their congealed fetish pots. If Ms. X told them something else, she would look stupid in the end, so she did not offer answers to most of their questions.

There were a number of deep pits on the acreage of the Concealment, dug with heavy machinery. These were gradually filled, by hand, with dead animals. The stench was almost as unbearable as the significance of the person in charge of the task, but Ms. X was willing to please. The pits would become as overgrown as the gardens, rimmed with thick vegetation, except for the beaten path that led to the arena and the most accessible edge. Next to this stood a hill of sand and earth, deposited when the pit was excavated and used strategically to cover each new layer of dead animals. Here, at the edge, Ms. X would tip the wheel barrow so that the beast would tumble into the hole. The wife had instructed Ms. X to cast it to the farthest end in order to avoid a lopsided fill, but that was impossible, unless she had a helper take one set of legs and she the other, and then swing it before letting go on the count of three. A shovel was stuck in the sand nearby and Ms. X was instructed to layer the dead bodies with lime and at least a foot of earth but this too was difficult. Ms. X had to hurry to the next event.

Up until her first day subbing in high school, Ms. X thought the elementary children were the easy ones. They were young and more helpless and she always had the impression that they would be “fun”, even when her days with them had been filled with pandemonium, mixed with only a few moments of pleasure. These moments of pleasure usually revolved around Ms. X making one of her dramatic points about injustice, or the inability of the human race to solve their problems, lest they use creativity. But now she could see that she had grossly misunderstood the species. Her experience for two days in high school had been quiet, respectful, and calm. She theorized that the trade off for these peaceful experiences would be the risk of a lost soul coming to school with a gun and a mission. Total control. Fame. Death. All in a matter of minutes, an explosion of “being in the moment”. She decided that the risk was worth it and she always reviewed her sub packet with carefully outlined procedures for an emergency lock-down. The list was long yet the sentences were terse, commanding, and seemed to have the flavor of an actual emergency.  Ms. X noted the secret pass words, if the intruder was in her room and a policeman came to the door and the intruder forced her to answer it, Ms. X was to say “May I help you Deputy?”

She had not actually tried locking a classroom door. After several days at the high school she started to pay attention. She inspected the doors for locks. The only way to do it was with a key. The teachers had keys but Ms. X did not. This was something never given to her. Thinking maybe she was not getting it, Ms. X asked a student if there were a way to lock the door in case of an emergency lock-down.

The girl thought for a moment and said,“You need a key.”

“I don’t have a key, so what do I do?” asked Ms. X

“They’ll take care of it,” 


“The janitor has the keys and he will go around and lock the doors”

“Oh,” said Ms. X, “the janitor is going to wander around in the halls saving everyone’s life with his key?”

The girl and Ms. X giggled.

But when Ms. X was home and alone, sipping her vodka and orange juice, she would think about the times, quite ordinary now, when crazed young adults took guns to school and killed people, sacrificing them, as it were. 

Ms. X had seen many animals die but she never got used to it. She disagreed with the taste of meat and veered away from the meat coolers in the grocery store. The neatly packaged pieces and smell of raw flesh sanitized, made the slaughter incomprehensible to others, but she knew all about it. She could not eat it yet she could not, in good conscience, call herself a vegetarian.

Her years with the Foundation were documented by her articles posted by the Guru. They justified animal sacrifice in abstract terms as often as in human terms, recounting the scores of people for whom ritual sacrifice helped. She watched them make deep shifts as they witnessed death. None of their other experiences seemed to match it. She met the elite, the impoverished, the sexually abused, the gifted, the hit man turned holy man, and a number of children ranging in age from babies to teenagers.

She knew them all, wafting sage smoke around them in the shedding circle. The tips of her fingers touched them as she began to carefully pull their clothes away from their flesh, to snip with shears. The pieces of cloth were ribboned within a quarter inch of falling off their bodies. The waist bands and bra straps were tight, so she had to lift the elastic away from their warm soft skin to make the first incisions. While draped in their ragged strips, the wife would coerce them into a strange and awful place by pouring cold herbal infusions over their heads and using a predictable set of prompts. It was here that the wife expected the clients to break down, howl and cavort like cornered animals, crying for their mother. When a client steadfastly refused to perform for the wife and remained stoic, she felt cheated. Sometimes it was Ms. X who got them to reveal their secrets, only because she wanted the shedding over. Feeling jilted, the wife composed herself, and allowed Ms. X to take over. And when the initiates were sufficiently cleansed, they were instructed to rip the strips of clothing off their bodies, jump out of the rags on the ground, and into the swaddling sheet that the women held like a curtain before them. Ms. X never got used to their screams, whimpers, and confessions. She came away affected, even if she promised to leave it in the circle of purification. She carried some of their stories with her and like the wife, she told things, but not for the same reasons.

In ceremony, Ms. X said prayers, saw visions, complimented, instructed. She carried goats through the palmettos. She knew life and death as one force intimately, and feeling such great importance with her role, she longed for greater acceptance. This void always made her reckless and she sometimes boasted to the world outside the Foundation, not caring about the silences and stiff postures her confessions caused. Even her more thoughtful and worldly aquaintances found her narratives creepy, but they could not dissuade her from her storytelling. She would have glorified in their questions, an interview of sorts, had she lacked the dignity to come right out and demand it from them.


Cult Illustration #19, ball point pen on paper, 11" x 8.5"


© 2017 Lea Atiq, all rights reserved