Code Red River | Chapter 1: It Happens Quick

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Written by: Kevin Gatti

SHORT SERIAL FICTION

Genre: Horror | Thriller | Suspense

STORY MODE: DARK | LIGHT

There was blood in my mouth, and it wasn’t mine. I came up for air and everything I saw around me was red. I could hear screams and cries in the background. I wanted it all to be over. I put my head back under the bloody water. My eyes were closed, and I could hear nothing. I eagerly waited for my end to come.

As I floated under the water my mind started to wander and suddenly a realization came to me. “What are you doing?” I remember thinking. It was only at that moment that it hit me how insane it was that I was in a river filled with blood and bodies. It was that same moment that I realized that I had been a part of a horrible cult. The emotions I felt in that moment couldn’t fully be expressed in words, but I can tell you that I remember clinching my fists and screaming from the top of my lungs inside my head.

I popped my head out of the bloody water once again as I gasped for air. I could still hear the screams and cries in the distance. I started to swim through the current of the river and around the dead bodies all around. I was baffled and couldn’t believe that I had a hand in this awful massacre. I felt sick, and as I continued to gasp for air, I said a loud to myself, “How the hell did I get here?”

About two years earlier I was sitting on my couch watching TV. A commercial came on for an organization called the Love Thy Self People. I remember thinking at the time how much these people made me think of a cult. I even chuckled aloud to myself and said, “Another crazy cult. They shouldn’t even be allowed to run commercials.”

A week later, my friend Jeff mentioned the same organization to me. I was shocked to learn that he had joined.

“You didn’t seriously join that cult, did you?” I asked.

“It’s not a cult. I’m serious. It’s totally different. If anything, it’s the complete opposite of a cult. The vibe is just completely different. It’s truly saving my life.” Jeff explained to me.

Of course, I was super skeptic. “And how is it saving your life?” I said.

Jeff went on to tell me how he joined. “With everything going on in the world and losing my job, I just felt completely lost. I considered ending it. You know? Then I saw their commercials about their self-love classes, and I figured I would give it a try. I have nothing really to lose. Plus, once you’re invested, they take care of you…”

I had to interrupt him there. “What do you mean, when you’re invested, they take care of you?”

Jeff answered, “When you start signing up for classes and officially join, they take care of you. They make sure you have a roof over your head and food to eat. You see, it’s more than just an organization, it’s a community. We’re family and we’re always looking to grow, so you should join us. I know you’re going through a tough time too. This would be perfect for you.”

I was going through a tough time. Everyone was going through a tough time. The world was in a Pandemic and as a result I was unemployed. The uncertainty on pretty much everything was at an all-time high. I was single and living in an apartment that I had no idea how I was going to afford. We were all in quite a bind, which made most of us the perfect prey for them to swope in and suck up. 

A few days later I was sitting in an introductory session for the Love Thy Self People with a sticker on my shirt that read my name – Simon Doman. Jeff had twisted my arm enough to attend at least that. I continued to be skeptic and had no real plans of doing anything beyond that session.

The introductory session started out just as you would expect. They had speakers who spoke about the different classes that you could sign up for and how there were different levels to the organization. The different levels carried a different level of seniority within the organization. They discussed how the organization was founded ten years prior and how there was a prophecy that predicted an event that would occur and would cause membership in the organization to spike, which would spark a period of growth and prosperity. The Pandemic was apparently this event, and it surely fueled the believers already a part of it.

The price per class started at $500,000, but it was fine if you couldn’t afford it. They would help you sell all your possessions including your car and any home you owned so you could pay, or at least start a payment plan. Another option was working for the organization, which would help pay the cost of the classes and in some cases get you free classes. Concerns about living expenses were addressed and everyone was reassured that once you joined that you would always be taken care of. A place to live and food would always be provided to you. In fact, they even mentioned that they had future plans to buy an island and that we would all live there one day. There was a prophecy about that too. In the meantime, they had a large ranch in Wyoming that acted as their headquarters.

I was living in New York City at the time and the introductory session I was at was a part of an outreach program they were doing in various cities. I was one of quite of few who had signed up that day. Even after signing up, I was still a little skeptic, but figured I had nothing to lose.

Interestingly, the first thing I did with the Love Thy Self People after that was not a class. It was to take part in a protest with Jeff and a bunch of other members. I had mix feelings about how the government was handling the Pandemic. I also had mix feelings about wearing masks. My heart wanted to believe the science, but the information was so new, and everything was happening so fast.

On the morning of the protest, a girl named Gloria was briefing us all on the bus about the dangers of wearing a mask and how the doctors, media and government were all lying about it. She told us how the masks were a form of censorship and control. I’ll have to be honest, while her argument was based completely in falsehood, she was still extremely convincing. By the time we had gotten to our destination of Washington, D.C. she had me completely convinced.

As we exited the bus many of the members were expressing disappointment that the leader of the organization was not going to be present for the protest due to a prior commitment. Everyone called him Mick. At the time, he was still a very mysterious figure to me. Everyone I had met up until that point had only sung his praises. It was only later, that I learned that it was forbidden to speak ill of Mick. I also learned later that Mick skipped the protest because he was actually home quarantining like the rest of the country, taking the threat of the virus only seriously when it came to himself.

Drowning in my own ignorance, I joined the march out on the National Mall. We all had signs and we were all chanting. There was about thirty of us participating in this protest. All of us were members of the Love Thy Self People. Everything was going smoothly for us until one of the members yelled, “NO MASKS! NO CLOTHES EITHER! FREE US COMPLETELY!” They stripped down completely naked and started to run. At first, we all looked at each other in a degree of shock and confusion. Then for some strange reason we all started to strip down and get completely naked ourselves. We all continued to chant as we ran towards the Reflecting Pool at the Lincoln Memorial. Once we got there, we all jumped in.

It was pure euphoria. I remember not caring at all what would happen to us for skinny dipping there. It felt like freedom and the words we were chanting matched completely how I felt. As the police arrived and arrested us one by one, I didn’t care at all. I was all in. I was a complete believer of the Love They Self People, and that was my baptism. Looking back, it’s shocking to me how a self-described skeptic like myself fell so deeply, so quickly.

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