stories of faith and fright
In The Pit
Al Bruno III
Science had long ago replaced the faith of Professor Mercer Conrad’s childhood. With no prayers to comfort him he could only whisper scraps from his latest thesis to keep madness at bay. “...in order to pursue my examination of the convergence of post millennial social degeneration and economic disruption...” he said, “...I will approach the subjects directly and establish a dialogue...”
The pit they had thrown him into was eight feet deep and barely a yard across. It had been dug out of the concrete sub-basement of a half-completed house. Serrated ridges were carved into the walls of the pit and the simple act of moving was enough to cut bare flesh to ribbons. A thick iron lattice had been placed over the mouth of the pit and was bolted down. When Mercer shook the bars they didn’t even rattle.
Somewhere a halogen lamp blazed, it cast dark, sharply defined silhouettes along the walls and ceiling of the sub-basement. From his vantage point in the pit Mercer watched the fate of his friends and co-workers unfold like grotesque shadow-plays that ended when the puppets were reduced to scraps.
There were other pits nearby, most were empty but not all. A shape drifted past, the cloaked shaman was about to choose a new victim.
“Hey!” Mercer shouted, “Please talk to me!”
But there was no answer, none of his captors had spoken a word this night. They had committed each of their atrocities in silence.
Mercer said, “...in times of social and economic despair religiosity inevitably takes hold of the general public but in this era of skepticism and spiritual nihilism those impulses have become...”
The clang of a nearby gate being flipped open startled him into silence. Then there were the familiar grunts and cries as another one of sacrifice was dragged away.
What would it be? Flaying or spikes? Or perhaps something far worse. Mercer cursed his foolishness. Where others had seen unsolved mysteries and unreported disappearances he had only seen right-wing fear-mongering and urban myth-cycles.
His teaching assistant Farkas had tried to warn him but Farkas had been the first sacrifice. They had let him keep his tongue and he had shrieked and begged until his voice became the choking gurgles of a half-drowned man.
“...legends that spread over social networks, so-called evidence that is nothing more than here-say and poorly doctored photographs...” Mercer breathed, “...they are the embodiment of middle class fears, the terror that a lost job or economic setback will throw them down amongst...”
A cry rose up and dwindled. There was a sound that reminded Mercer of celery stalks being torn from the root.
A week ago Mercer had convinced a group of friends and students to join him in Las Vegas for what he had promised would be a ‘working holiday’. They would spend a few days enjoying the sights and the shows, then they would head off to Vantage Acres with digital cameras and notebooks.
The cloaked shaman drifted past again. Mercer called out, “Listen to me! People know where we are!”
That was a lie, both he and his captors knew it, but wasn’t that all part of the ceremony? Weren’t sacrifices supposed to beg?
“...the recent wave of foreclosures have left the city of Las Vegas with one of the highest concentrations of empty houses. Pools have become stagnant breeding grounds for biting insects. Vermin infestations are common as are encroachments from larger animals like bobcats and coyotes but rumors abound that human beings are responsible for the most terrible...”
Mercer heard the sound of someone blubbering, then a struggle and a brief chase. The chase ended with the muffled ringing of metal pipes crashing down on soft flesh.
At first Mercer and his friends had found exactly what they were looking for, downtrodden families living in forgotten homes, foraging for food in the garbage of the financially solvent and stealing what they needed from local stores. As wildlife slowly reclaimed the abandoned neighborhoods some families and clans had begun hunting and trapping.
A crowd of strangers had approached Mercer and his friends shortly after sundown. He had marveled at their piercings and their warpaint and most of all how young they were. Most were little more than teenagers in dirty designer clothes but some of the older ones wore faded military fatigues with the insignias torn away. Farkas and the others had wanted to retreat but Mercer made them stand their ground. He needed to speak to these people, to understand and explicate them. His conversation was rambling and one sided as he had tried to draw them out by talking about class warfare and economic angst.
“... they are called many things such as Urban Headhunters, White Savages and, most often, the Pilgrims. Supposedly they roam the countryside snatching up unwary children and stealing wi-fi. What truth is there behind the terrible legends that have sprung up around them? There are...”
The shaman passed by again, rough fabric trailing across the bars of the pit. Mercer grabbed at the hem of the dark robe and caught it in his bloodied fingertips. He held tight.
There was a soft tear as the cloaked figure stumbled and turned back. The face beneath the cloak was bespectacled and cherubic, it stared indifferently at him.
“Talk to me!” Mercer demanded, even now he was sure that if he could just establish a dialogue he could save himself and his career, “Please. Just say something.”
The cloaked shaman paused thoughtfully, then spoke with a soft, sickly voice, “You're next.”