infirmament

Before I get to how it’s going, let’s just take a minute to list some good things:

+ It’s nice to be near the ocean

+ Since we’ve been in town, there haven’t been any earth quakes, which according to the past few weeks of earth quakes, is very lucky

+ We haven’t had to actually meet any of these cult psychos yet

Okay great, that’s done now.

There’s not a lot we’ve been able to actually DO because there’s no getting into their community. They all know each other, and they’re all weirdly on alert, which I guess isn’t that weird, since they’re a literal CULT and who knows what fucked up shit they’re up to.

What it essentially means for us though, is that there’s no parking the car on a street and casually waiting for shit to go down. We spent last night literally lying on a hill overlooking the neighborhood with binoculars, waiting for something to happen. All we saw was that Kelvin the cult leader went on a walk in the middle of the night through town with one of the girls. That’s it.

We gave up hoping to see something at like 9 and went to go get some breakfast in town.

“We’re not here to figure out what’s going on,” Neal said. “Lana’s on her way. This is her problem. We’re just here to find Cara.”

This case is bothering Neal. It’s bother all three of us. Cara literally called and told us she needed help and we didn’t do anything, and now she’s straight up missing. But also, we’re trying not to like… feel that too much because what the fuck were we supposed to do differently, given the circumstances?

As far as atmospheres go, this whole… generalized guilt isn’t like ideal for me. But you know, it was it is. At least we have literally no idea how we’re going to get inside the cult.

We can’t even just ask to join because we’re the goddamn cannibals from TV.

Okay, so we might have our break.

It took very little research to find disgruntled ex-Infirmament members. It took a single google search to find 4 who were already vocally ringing the bell on their own personal blogs, and though they were all out of the country now — yes, they all LEFT THE COUNTRY — they were not only willing but eager to talk to us.

We haven’t slept in like 32 hours, but we know something.

The first woman was named Kate Phillips, and she was practically begging us to record our conversation.

“Listen,” she said. “The only way these guys are going down is if we expose all the bullshit they do.”

The trouble is, she left the group two years ago, and though she wasn’t at entry level, she also wasn’t a ranking officer or anything.

“I can only imagine what the upper echelons know about Kelvin,” she said. “I never made it that far. The further in you go, the uglier it gets.”

She didn’t have the really juicy stuff, but she was the one who explained how it works.

Essentially, the Infirmament bills themselves as a community improvement program. Their goal is to create small, self-sufficient local communities. Little pockets of paradise. And slowly, more and more of these little utopias will spread and grow until we’ve achieved perfect human harmony.

Recruits begin by doing “self-study intensives.”

“They tell you that their goal is to strip you of your ego, and your defenses,” Katie explained on Facetime. “The things that the world forces you to develop in order to protect yourself — anger, defensiveness, jealousy, laziness, fear, self-sabotage, judgment — you have to let go of all of that, because true community cannot be achieved unless we leave behind all the damage society has done to our ‘essence.’” She rolled her eyes for emphasis on FaceTime.

“Then, once you’ve done all of those courses — which, by the way, cost thousands of dollars — you’re asked to prove your loyalty and commitment to the community. That can mean just about anything, anything that Kelvin decides. Kelvin asked me to give him the deed to my house.”

“Did you?” Julian asked.

“I did,” Katie said. “They make it seem very casual,” she went on, knowing how crazy giving away the deed to her house looked. “Very informal. Like we were all just friends. It didn’t seem like a big deal, and when I pressed on the issue, I was assured that I didn’t have to sign anything, and that the deed would be sitting in a safe somewhere, no big deal. And anyways, in exchange for the deed to my house, I was invited to live in a house in their little neighborhood and start practicing everything I’d been learning in those classes.”

Katie took a long breath there, apparently struggling to explain what she was feeling. “The thing is,” she said. “That I was… I mean I was alone. I was at the worst time in my life, feeling hopeless and useless. And then along comes this community of people, and they wanted to help me be the best I could be. They wanted to be the best they could be! They wanted not just small time, individual change — they wanted no one to ever experience that loneliness and worthlessness, again. They wanted to make filling my individual needs global, sustainable, good for all of us, and good for the planet. It felt so simple. I wanted a piece of that! So yeah, you want to hang on to the deed to my house for a while? Sure, have it. Just take me with you.”

She sighed heavily. “Of course, what living in that little neighborhood actually means is that you just do whatever Kelvin tells you. I found that out pretty quickly.”

“What was it that made you realize you needed to leave?” Julian asked.

Katie laughed. “Ironically I was feeling jealous,” she said. “When I first arrived, I felt like a superstar in the neighborhood. Kelvin does this thing where he summons someone to his house every night, and if it’s you, you get to spend the whole night talking to him, about your feelings and dreams, about your place in the community. Sometimes he’d take you out on a walk with him, and that was when you really knew you’d made it, because if Kelvin was taking you on a walk it was basically like he was showing you off to the whole town. It meant he liked your ideas, that he wanted some of his power to rub off on you. In my first few months there, he called me to talk to him several times a week. Once, we went on walks outside every single night.”

“When did you sleep?” Julian asked.

Katie laughed again. “Oh I didn’t. Of course I didn’t. I didn’t need sleep, I had Kelvin’s ear! But then, once I became a recruiter and started pulling in my own people, suddenly Kelvin was spending more and more nights walking with other people. One of the guys specifically, Michael, an old friend of mine from college — Kelvin loved Michael. Suddenly I wasn’t getting the attention I wanted. And when I brought it to Kelvin’s attention that I was feeling neglected, the discussion was not about what we could do to help meet my needs, he wanted to dissect where my issue was coming from, which was of course his whole MO. Personal responsibility. And I mean, he wasn’t even entirely wrong — I was being very jealous and territorial when I had no right to be. But when I asked him to acknowledge at least that he wasn’t spending the time with me that he used to, he acted like my desire was further evidence of my issues. He took no responsibility whatsoever. Meanwhile, I had to take responsibility for everything? I’m not explaining this well, but the interaction planted this seed of anger. I felt that that there was some kind of hypocrisy happening here, and I couldn’t put my finger on what, but it was driving crazy, and then I realized… this place was supposed to be solving my problems, and it wasn’t. It was really that simple. This was supposed to work, and it wasn’t, and while a good Infirmament member would think, well, if it’s not working, that must be me putting in enough effort to make it work, I just had my little fit of rage, I decided to move out. So I asked for my deed back.”

“Ah,” Julian said.

“Yep,” Katie said. “You see it. At first, it wasn’t that they wouldn’t give it to me, it was that it was filed away somewhere, and they’d get it when they could. Then they were acting like they were worried about me, that they didn’t want to lose me, that I’d come so far and learned so much, was I really gonna throw that away? Then they said they depended on me, and how could a healthy society function if people went back on their commitments. And on the one hand, I was buying all of their bullshit, but on the other, I was just plain pissed, and I couldn’t let it go.”

“Did you ever get your deed back?”

“Nope,” Katie said. “And when I tried to just move home myself, there were already people living there. They’d rented my place out without asking me.”

“Did you call the police?”

“I did,” Katie said. “But see, I’d signed leasing agreements to live in the Infirmament. I hadn’t looked closely enough, and they’d slipped paperwork in with the stack. All the leasing papers were above board, and there was nothing I could do. I’d left my job for god’s sake, I couldn’t afford lawyers. And the Infirmament — they have deep pockets.”

That was nearly the end of the conversation, but right before she hung up, Katie added this: “I have lived a privileged life. I knew that there were manipulators, and schemers, and that no matter the intent of the law, it could be used to hurt you. But I never knew what true helplessness felt like until that place. We’re a hairs breath from absolute lawlessness.”

Which seems pretty fucking dramatic to me, until I remember that I’m currently a runaway, with a fake drivers license, fake money, fake health insurance, and I hunt cryptids, so lol maybe she’s right.

Anyways, that was just the first woman we talked to.

“What you have to understand about Kelvin,” said Simon Sykes on the phone. “Is that he truly believes that he’s going to be able to bring everyone along with him. He really thinks that he’s going to keep building this thing until he has the whole country behind him, and after the country, the whole world. He’s a sociopath, and while he seems like he can only control people on a one-to-one level, he has more power than you think, and you should be very careful with how you proceed with whatever story you’re writing.”

Simon had gotten in a little deeper than Katie, but only because his wife had been so dedicated to the cause, and after her death, he realized began seeing through some of the bullshit. For example, his daughter wasn’t welcome at her mother’s funeral because of a falling out between his daughter and Kelvin. To this day, Simon isn’t sure how that happened. Weirder still, neither is his daughter. All either of them knows is that it was never even a question of whether she should come to the funeral or not. She felt unwelcome, and didn’t come. All parties felt, at the time, that this was for the best.

“But that’s how he works,” Simon said. “He makes you dizzy, so you don’t remember how things get decided. You lose track of your own sense of right and wrong. Pretty soon, you find yourself just doing things in a certain way, and you realize — it’s his way. You’re doing things his way. And I’ve seen it work on individuals, and I’ve seen it work on groups. And it’s seductive. He’s able to bring everyone on board, and pretty soon, it’s coming at you from every angle. That’s how he’ll impose his will on a large scale.”

Okay, sure, so our cult leader has plans for world domination. That tracks.

After Simon, the other two didn’t want to be identified. We’ll call the next guy Man Two.

He had a similar story to Katie and Simon: he was in a low point in his life, he got swept up in this community of well-meaning people, he had big hopes about saving the world and the environment — and then all at once he saw through the bullshit and he had to get out.

“Kelvin has set up an elaborate persona to ensure that even if people do catch on to how toxic and abusive his program is, it’ll be hard prove that he was motivated by anything other than a starry-eyed desire to improve the world,” Man Two explained. “He has all of his followers convinced of his brilliance and his purity of spirit. But don’t let him fool you. He’s there for the power. I’m convinced that he’s of an absolutely average intelligence, above average marketing skills, and absolutely no conscience.”

A damning assessment to be sure, but what is Kelvin actually doing in there? What did he need Cara for, and where did he get magic? So far, none had brought up anything paranormal at all.

“He knows that at some point he’s going to hit some resistance,” Man Two went on. “He knows that not everyone is going to buy into his bullshit. Right now his biggest goal is to avoid the limelight for long enough that he has enough legitimacy behind him for when people call his shit out.”

He took a long pause then, hesitating. “Listen, Kelvin wants to awe people. He wants to awe them beyond being able to doubt his methods. He wants to have something, a shocker, a main attraction.”

“Something like what?” Julian asked. We all leaned forward, because we were finally getting close.

Man Two took a long time to answer. “I’m not sure,” he said finally. “I was in the inner circle, I was in, I really never thought I’d leave. But Kelvin became obsessed with FOG TOWN.”

Bingo.

“Fog Town?” Neal said. “What did he care about Fog Town?”

“Well, it was a weird situation, right? Like something out of a damn fairy tale. A town suddenly shrouded in an impenetrable fog? And then suddenly the government is rolling in and no one there is heard from again? Kelvin sunk his teeth into that story. He really thought something about that situation could help him. He was obsessed with it. I couldn’t be part of it anymore. We were supposed to be about saving the world, not dazzling it.”

And then the final piece of the puzzle.

The final woman, we’ll call her Woman One, was, apparently, one of Kelvin’s house mates. She only left Infirmament two weeks ago. She didn’t tell us who she was, and used a voice distorter to speak to us.

At first, it was just a recap of what we already knew, with a few nastier details. Remember how Katie told us that Kelvin would call people to his house at night and it was a huge honor? Well, turns out not everyone who was called to his house was called there for their stimulating conversation. Of course not, Kelvin is sleeping with the women, because of course he is, right? He’s a cult leader. But as much as I would have loved to tear Kelvins gross face off with my hands just for that, immoral sex wasn’t actually what we were there for. We were there to figure out where Kelvin was getting his magic.

Julian was the one who pressed her. “The last man we spoke to mentioned that he was obsessed with Fog Town.”

Woman One was quiet for a long moment. “He was.”

“Why?”

She sighed. “Kelvin believes in — and I know what this sounds like — magic. Or something like magic. He believes that if he can harness this force he calls magic, than he’ll be able to slowly reveal it to the world, and that’s how he’ll be able to change the world.”

I started inappropriately laughing there because like… of fucking course that’s what he’s up to. Of course the power hungry sociopath thinks that he can use the tiny amount of magic he suspects exists to hoodwink the whole world.

“I know how it sounds,” she said, misunderstanding my laughter. “But…” she made a defeated noise. “Look. Look, I don’t know — I don’t know how to do this without sounding like an insane person. But Kelvin found… something.”

That hung suspended between us for a long time.

“What kind of something?” Julian asked.

She sighed heavily. “He calls it a god,” she said.

This brought the boys up short. “A god?”

“I’ve seen it,” she said. “I’ve met it a few times.”

“What is it?”

“Years ago, Kelvin became obsessed with caves,” she said. “There’s a whole cave system under the Infirmament neighborhood, that stretches for miles up and down the coast. He thought that if we could go down into caves, we could access some ancient wisdom. It was all very metaphorical — he loves to mix his metaphors. Something about rebirth, and connecting to our ancient roots, all nonsense. What it was really about was fear. Kelvin loves to scare us, so he’d make us go down under ground and turn off our lights and explore the darkness. The caves were terrifying, but that was part of it. He liked to trigger the intense feelings — it connected us, made us feel very alive. And in one cave, we went in very deep in order to face our fears. And we found… well. I don’t know what it is. But it was huge, and it was sleeping.”

Neal shot finger guns at Julian and mouthed bingo.

“Did you… wake it up?” Julian asked.

Woman One laughed outright. “Thing that size? Trust me, you’d know if we woke it up. It would have ripped a hole in the ground sitting up.”

“What is it?” Neal asked.

“I can’t be certain,” she said. “It’s face suggests a very large snake.”

Neal whacked my arm in excitement and I whacked him back because despite the fact that this cult is a nightmare, this creature sounds like a gigantic ass underground snake and that my friends is unequivocally bad ass.

“And you’re sure it’s alive?” Julian said.

“Oh yeah,” Woman One answered. “It’s breathing. That’s how we found it. We heard air moving deeper in the caves and followed the sound, thinking there was another entrance. Instead we found the snake.”

“The last man we talked to,” Julian said. “He mentioned that Kelvin was looking for something to awe people. Something to prove to the world that he was extraordinary. Do you think his plan is to use this snake creature to do that?”

Woman One laughed. “No,” she said. “We have no idea what that creature will behave like when it wakes. No, finding Great Snake was just the proof he needed to be certain that magic is real. And he does show Great Snake to his inner circle to awe them into following him, but that won’t work on the masses. No, his plan didn’t solidify until this year, after Fog Town.”

And that is when I started to feel sick.

“What does Fog Town have to do with it?” Julian asked.

“He was certain that there was magic there,” Woman One said. “But there is no going to Fog Town anymore. It’s heavily guarded by the military 24/7. He started asking around, asking some of his connections. It was one of them that passed him to the blond.”

“The blond?” Julian asked, but we all already knew.

“She didn’t tell us her name, she just brought the bottles of fog,” Woman One said, and it seemed like she had more to say, but she couldn’t quite bring herself to say it.

“What is he doing with the fog?” Neal asked.

Woman One took a shaky breath. “He started having people inhale it,” she said. “He was hoping it would give them magic.”

“Oh my god,” I said accidentally.

“At first nothing happened,” she went on. “But then —”

“Then?” Julian prompted.

“I’m sorry,” she said. “I’m sorry, it’s difficult. They began to notice that they were exhaling more fog than they were inhaling. Not much, at first. But some. Then people began showing signs of behavior change. They were more passionate, they reported feeling really energetic and responsive. And the more fog they inhaled, the more they exhaled. Soon we didn’t have just a few bottles. Soon we had gallons of the stuff.”

“Oh my god,” Neal said.

“And the cancer?” Julian asked.

“What cancer?”

“I saw an article that said the Infirmament had cured a woman’s cancer.”

Woman One laughed bitterly. “Oh that. We have a few doctors in the Infirmament. One of them, our surgeon, injected the tumor with fog every day for a few weeks. Soon the tumor was gone. When they ran scans, the cancer was gone. She felt great for a little while. But she died a few weeks ago. By the end, her insides were like swiss cheese, and she was all full of fog.”

Julian said, faintly, “Oh my god.”

“I left pretty soon after that,” Woman One said. “They weren’t going to stop trying to use the fog on people. Kelvin made it seem like we were explorers on the cusp of a new age. Like we were a new type of being. But that wasn’t true. Kelvin has to keep most of the people that started inhaling the fog down in the caves now. They’re unlike themselves. They’re violent. They’re… some of them are barely in there anymore.”

“We know,” Julian said. “We’ve seen it.”

“What happened to the blond who brought the bottles?” Neal asked.

“I don’t know,” Woman One said. “She sold us the bottles of fog, and then she disappeared. Last I heard Kelvin was trying to track her down again.”

That was more or less the end of her story. We thanked her and let her off the phone, and then we sat in the car silently. We sat in that gas station parking lot, staring out at the dark for a long time.

“Fuck,” Neal said.

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