I used to be in a cult, in fact the majority of my late teen years through my mid-twenties was spent as a trusted member. It’s not quite what you think though. I know, that’s probably exactly what you’d expect an ex-cultist to say right?
Truth is, it is only now, some thirty-odd years since I last associated with them that I can even recognize the group for what it was. Cult’s don’t always involve a higher power, sometimes it’s just a group of people whose noble intentions are used to justify the most horrendous actions.
There was no ‘god’ in our cult. No stringent religious doctrine, child abuse, mass suicide or anything else one would normally equivalate to cult-like behavior. There was however a strong emphasis on adhering to the prevailing narrative. Dissidence was not tolerated, and heresy was punished with excommunication, which to me was worse than death.
I’ve always loved nature, animals and being out in the wilderness in general. I’ve dedicated the majority of my life to conservation efforts and preventing disruption of wildlife ecosystems in whatever way I can. Some would probably call me a hippie, and I suppose I am, but we called ourselves earth protectors.
You’re probably rolling your eyes at how pompous that sounds, and I wouldn’t blame you. It was pretty cheesy but I always kinda liked that. It was the title I adopted for over a decade, when I was a part of the Earth Defense and Environmentalist Network. EDEN as it was known, was initially a localized group of likeminded individuals which began at the University of São Paulo, Brazil. I was a freshman there, when I first met a guy by the name of Tiago Lemery.
Lemery was much like me, enthusiast of nature and passionate about the conservation of it. He and I hit it off right away, and quickly became close with our group of friends. Lemery was a born leader, a strong spokesman and visionary perhaps too advanced for his contemporaries. He seemed to gain a following wherever he went, and used his profuse charisma to enthrall others to his mission.
We dedicated most of our weekends back then to environmentalist efforts. Whether it was picking up trash from a local beach, helping to transplant trees in logging areas or volunteering at animal shelters. Anything and everything we could do to help nature survive and thrive we happily did.
It was not long after that EDEN became the unofficial title of our group. There were nine of us in the beginning. As time went on, more members joined and things began to grow strained. Several members of the group wanted to legitimize the group and make it an official organization, but Lemery, myself and several others disagreed.
It was our belief that if we became a legitimate business entity, it would take away from our initial goals. Lemery argued that it would prioritize profit rather than conservation, and many of us agreed. The group split soon after that, unable to mediate our differences. We lost over two thirds of our members, who then went on to found a rather high-profile organization that still exists to this day.
It was then I first began to notice a change in Lemery. He was always an upbeat guy, always friendly and welcoming, but after the split he became more… bitter. It seemed like with every clean up, he became more resentful and spiteful. He would scowl at people frolicking on the beach as we used our pikes to impale candy wrappers and soda cans.
“It’s really disgusting what people do to this planet y’know?” He stared at me with narrowed eyes as he took a swig from the Jose Cuervo bottle. It had been a long hot day of shoveling trash from the canals of Rio de Janeiro. He passed me the bottle and I took a swig as he continued.
“Like with all the beautiful things on this earth, people are content to just fuck it up. Like no one even cares about it.” I lowered the bottle as the rush of tequila descended my throat.
“I do.” I handle the bottle back, wincing. Lemery scoffed.
“Yeah, we can only do so much though.” He stared away from the campfire and into the dark of the night.
“That’s what happens when the ecosystem is unbalanced.” Another voice broke our conversation, and Larissa strolled up to the fire. She was another long-standing member of our group. She took a seat across from us, and Lemery handed her the bottle.
“How many people on this planet? Six, seven billion?” She took a swig, and her eyes glinted at Lemery. He glared back.
“Too many.” I went to bed not long after that, but that should’ve been my first warning sign. Most of our conversations took on a much more sinister undertone after that. As if a great storm was approaching, but I was young, and blind to the danger on the horizon.
A man by the name of Reuben Cavalli joined the group soon after that. He wasn’t like the others though. The others were passionate, easygoing… but Cavalli, he was somber, rarely spoke. His eyes seemed dark and brooding at all times, like whatever lingered on his mind was something he dared not say.
He and I rarely ever talked, but both Larissa and Lemery seemed to take a unique liking to him. I’d always see them chatting and laughing amongst themselves. I don’t think he trusted me much, because whenever I came around, he would suddenly become stoic again.
Lemery seemed to get worse, growing more hateful and contemptuous. He’d lash out for the smallest of things, and more than once he made another member of the team cry for the tiniest of errors. I didn’t understand his sudden change, but one night, our conversations made things much clearer for me.
“Did you know if bees went extinct, the entire world would basically die?” He suddenly asked the question after he and I had been conversing for a while. Keep in mind, this was back in the eighties, and the whole bee phenomenon was not yet widely known.
“No, I didn’t know that.” Lemery nodded and stared at the ground.
“Yep, they wouldn’t be there to pollinate flowers anymore. Crops would suffer as a result and struggle to reproduce. The animals that eat plants would then be hard pressed to find them, so on and so forth.” He paused and gave a sly chuckle.
“Amazing how delicate the balance is y’know? One single organism disappears and we’re all pretty much fucked.” I nodded back to him.
“Butterfly effect I guess…” Lemery nodded.
“Something like that, but you know… if humans disappeared, every other species on the planet would flourish.” I laughed and nodded back.
“I wouldn’t get your hopes up for that.”
“That’s what happens when you’re so far above the food chain that there is almost zero risk. Population grows out of control; I mean be honest for a second with me. How many people on this planet do you think are absolutely necessary?”
I didn’t have a good response for him at the time, but now I’ve got a hundred. I wish I would’ve argued, it wouldn’t have changed his mind, but it may have alleviated some of the guilt. I didn’t say anything, because I, like Lemery had begun to hate humanity, and so I was content to let the cold chill slither down my spine unheeded.
A couple weeks after that conversation something happened. Two people were caught at an oil refinery about an hour north of us with a van full of explosives. They had over a dozen homemade pipe bombs in their possession, and that led police to assume they were attempting to detonate them and sabotage the pipeline. Those two people were also members of EDEN.
I never knew of their plans to do anything like that, and that discovery really caught me off guard. Lemery didn’t seem to be phased by it though. The cops investigated us, but we denied any and all involvement. I still don’t know whether or not that was true.
Things got a lot more divided after that. The media spun it as some sort of eco-terrorist operation. It was false for the most part, but it was enough to scare away nearly half of our members at the time. That should’ve been the moment I called it quits as well, but it wasn’t.
I didn’t have a whole lot going for me at the time. No real family left, and no other ambition to do anything else. I also wholeheartedly believed in Tiago Lemery and the message he spoke. So I stayed, convinced by my peers and determined to continue our work.
That event really galvanized Lemery, and he began to speak in terms of frantic measures we needed to undertake. He cursed those who had left as treasonous cowards, and assured us that we were on the path to something incredible.
His rhetoric became far more radical from that point on. You could almost see the flames in his eyes, and taste the venom form his words as he angrily lectured about the disgusting human species.
He spoke of a bizarre wish that he held; of his desire to see an apex predator to keep human populations in check. He said he wished he could revive dinosaurs or other ancient beasts to help slash human populations or ‘cull the herd’ as he called it. His cracks began to show, but I of course downplayed the sentiment, because it wasn’t like his fantasy was actually going to happen.
I was young, I was naïve and foolish, and I bought into his message, hook, line and sinker. I began to truly hate human beings outside of our group, and became convinced that the world was doomed if we did not do something to save it. Back then, I would’ve done anything to save the world I loved.
At the time, Lemery owned about a dozen acres out in the woods just outside of Bãrretos. It was there that most of us made our home. A small compound away from the cities, in which we would all work together to survive off the land. I realize now how cult-like that sounds, but at the time it was just a community of likeminded people who cared about nature. Lemery had quickly begun to grow more radical though.
“You’ve seen the lies they’ve told about us. You’ve seen how the rich tycoons who plunder natural resources point the finger at us and dare to accuse us of being the problem. As if protecting the planet is a bad thing. But we all know… we all know what the real problem is, don’t we?” The members of his audience nodded back, and in the corner, I saw Reuben Cavalli leering with a wide, eager grin.
“Humanity. They rape, pillage and destroy this beautiful world. Slaughter animals in deathcamps to feed their insatiable appetites, poison oceans with filth and eviscerate the forests to accommodate more of their parasites. THEY, are the real problem. They sit atop the food chain, with nothing to keep their numbers at bay.” He paused and let his words roll amongst the crowd for a moment. Another member then stood and posed a question.
“What can we even do? People just don’t care about this enough to change…” Lemery paused at his podium, and a meager smile crossed his lips.
“We must show them the danger of not caring.” Lemery then locked eyes with Cavalli, and seemed to share a silent secret together. The congregation questioned him how he planned to do it, but Lemery didn’t say much more. For months we were subjected to that barrage of misanthropic propaganda, while Lemery, Cavalli and others began to sow the seeds of malcontent.
I remember the night it happened. We had prepared for months, gone over the details of the procedure ad nauseam, and recited the details again and again. I thought it was only a ceremony of some kind, or a rite of initiation. I had no idea what I was in for.
Our group stood there, garbed in black robes with our arms spread out in cross formation. We had spent hours applying the intricate patterns on our faces with red and white paints. I felt like a fool standing there, as the pyre of flame bellowed in front of me, but I didn’t dare question it.
I didn’t even think that what I was about to be a part of was anything out of the ordinary. Lemery had spent years studying the customs and teachings of local tribes and men of the wild. Turns out, they knew a few things we didn’t, specifically, things I never had thought possible.
The fire burned bright and hot, at least ten feet high as our group awaited the appearance of Lemery. Before long he finally showed, accompanied by Larissa. Both of them wore the black robes, with opulent necklaces embroidered with scarlet jewels. Their eyes were wide, yet unfocused as if in a trance.
Then he came after, the man who for years had been a constant anxiety for me. Reuben Cavalli, a renowned practitioner of the blood arts. Heretical things that had been long outlawed by local authorities, but there were those who continued to dabble. He held a scroll of parchment in his hands, and upon it, something eerie was depicted.
I hadn’t the faintest idea what to expect, but I held my position all the same. As the fire grew taller and hotter, as Cavalli began to chant, and even as the shadows began to twist around me. Cavalli laid the mural on the ground, and even now I find it hard to describe. An ancient thing, instructions from those whose origin has long faded into oblivion.
Upon it, there was a beast of otherworldly appearance. Razor sharp claws on it’s hands and legs. Ctenoid scales upon it’s back and chest, covered by a blanket of black feathers. A whip-like tail that ended in a vespid stinger, and a long slender neck, topped by a mammalian snout with jagged and mismatched teeth. An abomination by all accounts, and a thing that should not have been.
Cavalli continued to chant, as the maddening sounds of the chorus serenaded the forests. Somewhere far off I heard the agonized cries of animals, as if they were deeply opposed to what was transpiring. The winds bolstered, blowing the flames about the vicinity and sending showers of sparks in all directions. Then I heard something deep in the woods, which to this day makes me shudder. Laughter, from something that enjoyed the dance of heathens.
Tiago Lemery and his lover Larissa both entered their respective coffins. Lemery looked at me one last time. I saw no shred of hesitance in his eyes, only hatred. Other members of our group placed the lids on the coffins, and rolled them into position atop the open pits.
The other members then lugged in the two offerings. Two men, rich business types from the city. They were bound and gagged, and their faces were rife with terror. They pleaded in indiscernible voices for mercy, but none listened. Lemery had diligently convinced his congregation that they were the enemy, and no mercy was to be shown to them. They were held in position, and the locks upon the sides of the coffins were secured.
Cavalli then lay his hands upon each of them, and began to speak his blasphemous words. I’ve never heard a language like that before, and I hope to never hear it again. The carved runes which decorated the coffins seemed almost to glow in the light of the fire.
Cavalli’s words grew louder, and his eyes rolled back into his head, leaving only white slits. The flames seemed altogether unbearable, and lashed back and forth, up and down like the sea in the midst of a cyclone. Several of the others suddenly fell to their knees, while others began to writhe about as if intoxicated by ecstasy and agony.
They cried, cackled, moaned and screamed hysterically. I then felt it, a creeping madness nibbling at the back of my mind. I tried to resist it, but the feeling was altogether overwhelming. Visions struck me like bolts of lightning, worlds burning, oceans boiling and an innumerable number of people suffering in ways too grotesque to even mention. I knew then, it was wrong.
My eyes began to flutter, and I fell to my knees like the rest had. With all my strength I managed to look towards Cavalli, just as his acolytes slit the throats of the two men. They gurgled and flailed, before being tossed onto the coffins. Blood poured from their gullets, staining and saturating the lids and soil.
The coffins began to shake about, and I heard terrible screams coming from inside. Something than changed within me, as I watched the breath drain from the two men. A horrifying realization struck me, and I realized what I was.
“No… no stop this. Cavalli this is not right.” I begged and tried to force myself towards them, but all the strength had fled my body. I could do nothing but watch and cry, as my two friends were lowered down into the pits, coffins still adorned by the fresh corpses of the business men. The last thing I remember, before fading out entirely, was Tiago Lemery screaming from within his coffin, the last words I ever heard him speak.
My eyes opened, and daylight greeted me. I sprung up to a seated position, and coughed from the oppressive smoke. The once raging pyre had smoldered into ashes and cinders. Around me lay the other members of EDEN, still fast asleep.
I then realized the coffins were gone. At their position, I realized the pits had been filled with dirt. I scrambled toward the mounds and franticly began to dig with my hands. I had to get them out.
“They’re not ready yet.” A familiar voice called out. I looked up, to see the chatoyant eyes of Reuben Cavalli staring back at me.
“What the hell did you do?” Cavalli dusted the ashes from his robe, and looked to me with a devious smirk.
“I made them what they needed to be.” Others in the congregation began to stir around us then.
“No… no we need to get them out. They’ll die!” I screamed as I resumed digging.
“And we will, but not until the time is right.” He and I stared, a mutual disdain simmering between us. I thought they were both dead, and I thought I had witnessed their murders and been unable to do a thing about it. I don’t know how or if I even could rationalize what I saw that night. All I know for certain, is that when I put my ear to that mound of dirt, I could hear a rhythmic pulsing, almost like a heartbeat.
For three entire days I questioned my own sanity and everything that had happened that night. I wanted to go to the police, but I knew they would never believe what had happened. I didn’t have anywhere else to go, and more than anything I feared what the repercussions would be if I betrayed EDEN.
That moment was a true crossroads for me, and for those entire three days I couldn’t eat or sleep a wink. It was like I knew what I had to do, but I hated the idea of doing it. Finally, as dawn broke on the third day, I left it all behind.
I just couldn’t get over the guilt, and didn’t want my life to solely consist of hatred and vengeance. I went straight to the police, and told them everything that I have here today. They were skeptical to say the least, but agreed to accompany me back to the compound.
I returned to my former home with the police the next day. The primitive wooden homes came into view as we crested over the hill, but immediately something seemed different. The cops sprung into action and swarmed into our small village. They screamed orders for everyone to exit with their hands up, but no one answered the call.
I could see the confusion begin to swirl in their eyes, and after a couple minutes of searching the police chief approached me.
“Where is everyone?” I didn’t know how to answer. Everyone was gone, but something found in one of the houses seemed to offer a clue. There was a large hole torn in the side of the small building, and within it, a spackling of blood coated the floor. I begin to inspect it with them, until another officer called for our attention.
He was up on a hill, towards the area that are strange ceremony had taken place. His face had gone pale, and his rifle quivered in his hands as we approached. Once we crested the hill, I saw what it was that had terrified him. There was a girl there, well what was left of her anyway. She was missing her right arm, and had a large hole in her sternum. Her name was Rosa, and she couldn’t have been more than twenty years old.
My knees grew weak beneath me, and I turned to vomit as I saw her. The cops too seemed incredibly disturbed by the sight. Flies buzzed around the vicinity, and the hot sun had begun to rapidly degrade her corpse leaving a horrendous smell. I don’t think anyone expected to come across something like that, but the worst was yet to come.
“Show me the spot.” The police chief turned to me with sharp and hateful eyes. I hauled myself up from the dirt, and although I didn’t want to, I had to know.
We continued along the trail for some time, and soon a powerful stench began wafting through the air. The smell of rot was so harsh it made my eyes water, and with every step I grew more nervous of what we were about to see. Finally, we entered the small clearing, and I felt my heart completely deflate.
There were more bodies there, at least half a dozen by the looks of it, but they were so mangled it was difficult to be sure. Some were headless, others were missing limbs and large chunks of abdomen, and some even looked like something had taken a bite out of them.
The pyre stood as a blackened pit upon the ground, and around it, the vegetation seemed to have retreated from the spot. It was as if even the plants feared that place now. In the center of it all though, was the most disturbing sight of all.
The two coffins sat upon the ground, wide open, mangled and empty. The two men killed as sacrifice were nowhere to be seen, but beside the coffins, I recognized a familiar face. Reuben Cavalli, dead like the rest with an enormous hole where his chest had once been.
Others in the police brigade began to gag, wretch and a few dropped to their knees to say hail Mary’s. The police chief took a look around, and even he seemed entirely appalled.
“What in god’s name did you do?” Once again, I didn’t have an answer, but as I pondered, my eye fell upon something sitting in the dirt. Cavalli’s mural. That parchment that displayed that wretched creature. Both of us just stood staring at it for a moment, before something split the very air of the evening.
A scream, a sound so wretched and painful it seemed to rip the bark from the trees. My blood turned to ice in my veins, as the inhuman cry blared out like thunder. The cops drew their rifles and formed a defensive blockade around the camp. Their hands were shaking, and I could see their pupils double in size.
We must’ve stood there for at least ten minutes, cowering and awaiting whatever terrible fiend had made that noise. It had to have been dumb luck, or perhaps their appetites had already been satiated, because whatever made that dreadful sound never showed it’s face. We finally left sometime after, but the damage could never be undone.
My memory after that point is a bit clouded. There were cops, investigations, trials and oh so many questions. They must’ve interrogated me at least a dozen times, and in my desperate stupidity, I told them everything I have written here today.
Seven of our members lost their lives that day, and five others have never been found. Tiago Lemery and Larissa Avila are two of them. Some members of EDEN had escaped, and a few of them were found and brought in for questioning. Their stories ended up being remarkably similar to mine.
They spoke of the two monsters that had arisen from the coffins and slaughtered everyone they could get their hands on. Another girl named Marirose had a massive wound across her chest. It looked an awful lot like claw marks to me, but the police were unwilling to even entertain the fables.
After a lengthy negotiation process, and unwillingness for the police to substantiate my story, we were all tried for manslaughter. After my testimony, I was deemed to be ‘mentally unfit’ and was ordained to an asylum. I spent the next 17 years there, and every day I questioned everything I had seen and heard. I probably never would’ve been allowed to walk free if I didn’t abandon trying to tell people the truth. No one believed it, and I don’t blame them.
I am an old man now, and I wish for nothing more than to erase these memories. But this is my life, and these are the things I have done. I don’t expect forgiveness for what I took part in, I just hope others can learn from my mistakes.
Don’t assume that your benevolence will yield positive outcomes, because there are those who will use it against you. Be smarter than I was, and beware those who seek to use your kindness against you.
I still spend most of my days cleaning up litter. It’s the only thing that really brings me peace. As you may have imagined, they never found any trace of those… things. Some nights, when I am alone back at my house, I can swear I hear that wretched howl once more. Every once in a while, we get a story here in Brazil of someone being horrifically mutilated by an animal attack. It’s not animals though, it’s monsters.
They’re not Lemery and Larissa anymore. They are the apex predators they always wished for, hunting down humans just as they had wanted all along. I doubt they’ll ever be found, but for the sake of all of us, I just hope they can’t breed.