My name's Kyle, and let me start off by saying that even though I might be into some weird stuff--and I certainly have my share of weird stories to tell--I have never been into the occult. This whole thing was just a sad accident for me.
I remember Tina very well. She was a petite twenty-year-old woman when I knew her, standing five feet tall and weighing ninety-eight pounds, with short blonde hair, tan skin, and dark brown eyes. The moment I met her, the lines around her mouth suggested to me that she was the type who smiled effortlessly and constantly. This turned out to be true. At the slightest provokation, she exposed all her teeth. She had freckles on her nose and cheeks and shoulders from spending so much time outdoors, and she giggled a lot. Her bleached pixie haircut and dangly earrings made her look like a ditzy girl, much younger than she really was, and her exuberant personality and squeaky voice tended to reinforce that impression. In reality, she was neither dumb nor all that happy. She hid behind her sunny, featherbrained facade because it was her only defense.
I met her at a three-day music festival in the Pacific Northwest. I won't say which. We started talking while waiting in line for a hot dog and ended up sharing my tent.
It turned out that she lived only an hour and a half away from me, and we went out a few times. She was fun, but exhausting company. And she had the odd habit of calling me late at night "just to see how I was."
It took several weeks for me to figure out that she had a drinking problem, and I think she was doing a lot of pills, too, but I'm still not sure. She had mood swings--which I had first attributed to her general zany nature--and this undercurrent of nihilistic bleakness that manifested itself from time to time. I pieced the story together from numerous conversations and offhand remarks: a high-school cheerleader who had been sexually abused from an early age, she suffered from attention defecit disorder, earned consistently bad grades, and had nothing but an alcoholic mother to come home to. She became a nude dancer after she dropped out of high school, and then for a while followed a touring garage band called Left Truck. It was their bassist who introduced Tina to Blight, a cult who worshipped an ancient pagan deity they called Nacrosti. Apparently, Blight had gradually become the new focus of Tina's life, giving her hope and meaning in an absurd and chaotic world.
"You just have to come with me to a meeting," she pleaded after she had revealed her involvement in the cult. "Please! C'mon, Kyle, I know it sounds weird, but it's just so intense--if you could just experience it, you'd understand!"
I thought the whole thing sounded pretty weird, and I was frankly afraid of getting mixed up with this crowd. I'd heard about these mysterious groups who were supposedly responsible for cattle mutilations, kidnappings, and ritual human sacrifices in the area, but I'd dismissed those rumors as typical urban legends. The more Tina told me about Blight, however, the more I began to suspect that there was some truth to the stories.
Even as my friendship with Tina began to cool off (she was making me increasingly nervous), my curiosity about who she really was and what sort of strange lifestyle she had discovered was growing. She gave me tantalizing hints about what went on when Blight had meetings, and if even half of what she was implying was true . . .
Finally I agreed to go, but only on the condition that I could leave at any time if I got uncomfortable. She assured me that I would be free to leave.
We jumped in her Red Chevy S-10 Blazer on a rainy, cloudy Friday afternoon and drove far out into the wooded hills, off the main highway and onto a small country road, and then onto a bumpy dirt trail. A bunch of other vehicles were parked around what looked like an abandoned hotel that must have been close to a century old. Despite its poor condition, it was an impressive and gothic structure.
Tina introduced me to Blight's chapter leader, some kind of priest or something (his title or position was never made clear to me), and he seemed friendly. He said I could call him Chuck and that he was glad to have me there. "We do ask that all visitors be accompanied by a member of our sacred family," he told me, "so you'll have to remain with Tina. And we also ask that you take a vow of secrecy."
"I don't mind," I replied, trying to seem calm.
He made me recite an oath never to tell anyone what I had seen there. The oath mentioned the wrath of Nacrosti. I didn't fear Nacrosti, but I did fear these people. My primary concern was being able to get out. My secondary concern was making sure no one got my full name, address, or phone number. I was glad we had taken Tina's truck.
Inside the building, a circle of torches had been set up around an altar. Chuck donned ceremonial robes and a headdress, and the group gathered around. Most of them looked like ordinary people, although a few had strange tatoos.
There were songs and chants, and readings from a scroll. Then Chuck cut the head off a rabbit and offered it to a statue of a serpent with a woman's head. Finally, it was time for the main event, and by now everyone was tense with anticipation. I could tell that something really big was about to happen, but it was not at all clear what, and I was scared.
The group gravitated down a corridor and to the edge of a pit. Down in the shadows was a huge anaconda. I had never seen such a big snake.
They began to sing a song, and it was very creepy. A young woman was led forth, and she was wearing what looked like a bizarre corset with a turtleneck. From her vacant stare and ecstatic grin, it was obvious that she was high on something very powerful. She was being tugged along gently by one hand, and she was using the other hand to play with herself. She could not have been much older than sixteen. She had long, black, straight hair and a dark complexion. Although relatively short, she was not a small person; in fact she was rather plump. Her face, arms, and legs had been painted with symbols.
"What's going on," I asked, nudging Tina.
"She's volunteered herself to be offered to Nacrosti," Tina whispered, excited. "We're preparing for the ritual."
"What do you mean, 'offered'? You mean they're going to . . . you know . . . they aren't going to, I mean, they aren't . . ."
"You'll see," she said. "Just watch. It's beautiful."
Everyone in attendance swarmed around the volunteer offering, touching her and caressing her. She moaned with delight. Hands stroked every part of her body. Chuck, still wearing his robes and headdress, appealed to Nacrosti to accept this humble gift, and to consecrate these proceedings. I wanted to escape, but at the same time I was absolutely fascinated.
Presently the group stepped back. The volunteer, I learned, was named Maria. Maria stood there, surrounded by eager observers, and began to recite something in a language that I did not recognize. Then she walked forward and down a set of stairs into the pit with the anaconda.
Everyone moved to the brink to watch. She sat down right in front of the giant snake and waited. In a few seconds, the great lazy bulk of the animal began to undulate, and soon it was wrapping Maria up in its coils. I had no idea how to react, or what to do. I was powerless to stop this lunacy, and fleeing the scene in the middle of it did not seem wise.
Soon I figured out that the apparatus Maria was wearing was designed to protect her from constriction as the anaconda attempted to suffocate and crush her. She made little wheezing noises, but she could obviously still breathe, even when the massive scaly thing had enveloped her almost from head to toe. Well, that's not so bad, I thought with relief. They let the snake attack her, but the snake can't hurt her in that armor, so it gives up and leaves her alone, and then they pull her out. Actually, it was a pretty slick gig.
"That thing she's got on is kind of cool," I mumbled to Tina. "It can withstand the pressure of the snake trying to squeeze her to death . . . look, she's breathing fine. That's amazing."
"Yeah, isn't it awesome? And it's completely digestible, too."
I paused. "Did you say digestible?"
"Yeah, it's made of all-natural stuff, so the snake can digest it."
"Do you mean . . . are you saying that the snake is going to eat her?"
She rolled her eyes like I was an idiot. "Well, of course the snake's going to eat her. That's the whole point."
The anaconda's head was the size of a milk crate. It opened its mouth and wrapped its jaws around Maria's feet. She cried out with pleasure. "Oh, yes, take me, Nacrosti," she exclaimed. As I stood there among the rest of the Blight clan, horrified, the anaconda loosened its coils and began to swallow Maria. It worked its way up to her knees, and she did not struggle at all. She just lay there, inert and passive, playing dead except for her occasional outbursts, which were almost orgasmic. The snake's body rippled as it crawled forward, dragging Maria into its gullet. Her thighs disappeared, and then her hips, and then her waist. When the tip of its nose had reached her belly button, she folded her arms across her chest. The snake took in her arms as it continued to draw her down, and in minutes there was nothing visible of Maria except her head and shoulders. She was still grinning blissfully as the snake swallowed her up to her neck, and then began working on her h! ead. I couldn't believe that they were letting this happen--I expected that someone would surely leap down there with an axe and split the snake open and save her, but these people were serious about appeasing Nacrosti.
The snake's mouth closed over the top of Maria's head, leaving only a couple of strands of dark hair sticking out, and a large bulge extending from its jaw about five feet down its body.
Chuck said some kind of benediction, and everyone cheered. Then there was a closing prayer, and then the meeting was over.
I don't remember leaving, just realizing that I was out on the road again, staring out the passenger-side window of Tina's truck. The windshield wipers were going. Tina was listening to a Barry Manilow tune, and singing along. I could see trees whisking by in the rain and the darkness.
I looked over at her. "Do they . . . do they do that every time they have a meeting?"
"What? Oh, that. No, they just do it when they have a volunteer."
"How often is that?"
"Oh, you know. Whenever. Once every couple of months, I guess. They have three snakes. Marba, Tristy, and Oolungua. Tristy's my favorite."
I sat quietly for a long time. "Tina? Why do you go to Blight meetings?"
"Because Nacrosti gives me strength and power and vision. She has made me see the beauty that is in the blackness. Here, you want some gum?"
I did not reply. I simply resolved to get my phone number changed as soon as I got back.
My car was at Tina's apartment. As I got out of her truck, she asked, "so, do you think you might want to come to another meeting? We're having one next Thursday."
"Maybe," I said. "We'll see."
She frowned. "Kyle, did you have a bad time? Did any of this make you uncomfortable? 'Cause I really want you to understand what this is all about. It means so much to me, and you're my best friend--"
"No, no, it's just that . . . it's late and I've gotta get home. I'll see you, okay?" I waved and moved hastily to my car.
As I drove away, I saw her in my rear-view mirror still standing there, watching me.
I had my phone number changed, and two weeks later I changed jobs and moved to another part of the state. I often suffered pangs of remorse for saying nothing. I wondered if I should tell someone, and if so who--and what? Was it illegal to let a woman voluntarily feed herself to a giant snake? Would anyone believe me? Would the Blight come after me for talking?
It had been more than a month and a half after that night when I had witnessed Maria getting consumed that I got the call.
"Phone for you, Kyle," said a co-worker, waving the receiver at me. I took it, distracted by a busy day.
"Kyle? Is that you?"
"This is Kyle Liston, who is this?" But I felt a twinge of anxiety as I recognized the voice.
"Tina . . . how did you get this number?"
"Why did you leave? You never even told me where you were going."
"Listen, Tina . . . this is a really bad time. Can we talk later?"
"No. We have to talk now. You have to come here."
"What? What are you talking about? Tina, I--"
"You have to come here right away."
"I'm hanging up the phone, Tina."
"I'm at the warehouse around the corner. The one that says Duvall's Meats."
I hesitated. "You--you're here in Harrisville?"
"That's right. Get over here. And come alone."
I stood there listening to the dial tone for a long time before I put the phone down. I glanced around the office. No one seemed to notice that anything was going on.
I knew Tina well enough not to be afraid for my own safety. She was simply not a violent person. I had a pretty good idea of what she wanted: a theatrical confrontation, a face-off, a chance to cry and play the victim, a chance to make me apologize and ask for her forgiveness. She wanted guilt. She wanted to make sure that I felt appropriately terrible for abandoning her.
Should I go? If I didn't, no doubt she would keep stalking and harassing me. If I did, I could probably end this whole mess with a gentle but firm speech.
I briefly considered calling the police, but that would just add fuel to the fire.
No--the thing to do was go, and settle this.
I told the boss I had to go take care of an emergency errand. The warehouse was so close that I didn't even bother to drive. It took me ten minutes on foot to get there.
I found the side door ajar. The rusty hinges creaked as I pushed it open and stepped into the dusty shadows.
"I knew you'd come," came Tina's voice, echoing metallically.
"Where are you?"
"Right here. Stay where you are, Kyle."
"What do you want?"
"I just wanted you to see this."
There was something eerie in her tone, something way too calm. Maybe this was a bad idea. "What? What did you want me to see?"
She stepped into a dim patch of light. She looked haggard, and she was grinning lopsidedly. She had a .38 caliber pistol in her hand.
"Oh, shit," I said, mainly to myself. "I can't believe this." What I couldn't believe was how stupid I'd been. It didn't occur to me to try to dissuade her from using that thing.
"Don't worry . . . I'm not going to shoot you. C'mere." She gestured with the pistol. "Sit down."
I sat down on top of a wooden crate next to a support beam, where she directed. "Keep your eyes forward, please." She tied one of my wrists to the beam with a thick, scratchy rope. I thought about whirling around and grabbing her, but it wasn't worth the risk. I still didn't think she had brought me here to do me harm . . . she just wanted some drama. That was her way.
"That's not too tight, is it?"
"Er, no. Tina, what are you doing?"
"I wanted you to be here to see this," she said. "And I didn't want you to interfere. Sorry about tying you up."
"Look, you want to talk? We can talk. There's no need for any of this."
"Talk?" She laughed contemptuously. "The time for talk is long since over, Kyle."
"So . . . what . . ."
"Just be still and watch," she said, and walked away. My eyes were beginning to adjust. There was a big rental truck parked in here. Tina went over to it and opened the driver's side door. She climbed inside, and there was some shuffling around. When she reemerged, she was wearing the same corset-like apparatus that Maria had been wearing. She had removed her shoes and all her jewelry.
A hot, cold surge went through me. "Tina, what are you doing?"
"Just sit back and enjoy the show," she instructed me, opening the back door of the truck. "This is all for you."
"Tina, you don't have to do this--"
"Don't tell me what I have to do," she snapped. "You could have been there if you'd wanted to, to tell me what was what, but no--you had to go because I wasn't good enough for you, because I was too strange with all my strange friends . . . well, now you can't tell me anything, and you'll just have to deal with it." She put down the pistol and picked up a big long knife. "Now shut up and watch."
"I said shut up!"
She lay down on the warehouse floor, in front of the open truck. Momentarily, the giant head of an anaconda appeared, and the snake began to slide out of the back of the truck, its tongue flicking, heading straight for Tina.
"I don't believe this," I kept muttering to myself.
Tina clutched the knife. I observed her every motion closely. Obviously she was planning on fighting the snake--but why? Was this just an elaborate psychological ploy to make me feel protective?
"This is Tristy," Tina said breathlessly. "Tristy's my favorite. I stole her. But that's okay. They'll find her. They'll get her back. And I'll be in her tummy."
"I said to shut up!"
The anaconda reached Tina's feet. Tina had placed her ankles close together, and was pointing her toes, wiggling them at the snake. Slithering with surprising speed, it moved alongside her, wrapped itself around her, and began to squeeze.
Tina moaned, apparently with pleasure. The body armor she wore seemed to effectively protect her from asphyxiation.
Its scales undulated, as the muscles under its skin moved.
It was quiet. The whole scene was so surreal that I found myself feeling removed from it, distant and adrift.
The snake opened its mouth and then closed them over Tina's feet. She squealed happily. "Oh yes . . . that's it. Eat me, Tristy. I'm your supper."
"Tina, this is insane!"
"Sorry, I don't remember asking for your opnion." She bit her lower lip. "Oooh, Tristy . . . that feels so good. Yeah, just like that. Am I yummy? Are you enjoying me?"
The big snake oozed its way forward, taking in Tina's calves. The coils relaxed as the snake assumed, by instinct or habit, that its prey was deceased and ready to be swallowed whole. Its mouth reached her knees, passed them, and worked its way up her thighs. She squirmed and writhed, just like Maria had, apparently deriving great pleasure from the experience. She still had not used the knife. Was she planning on cutting her way out from the inside? Surely the digestive juices would burn her . . . but then I had no reason to believe at this point that Tina was acting rationally. There could be no doubt: the snake was really eating her.
Opening very wide, the snake's jaws slid over Tina's hips and down to her waist. From the belly button down, she was inside its body.
And it was still going. The tip of the anaconda's nose moved raplidly along her abdomen. She was in up to her rib cage, then up to her breasts, then up to her arms. When only her arms and neck were still outside the snake's mouth, she turned and smiled at me. "I wanted you to see this, Kyle. I hope you enjoyed the show. I hope you'll never forget it. Here, this is for you." She threw the knife. It clattered to the floor and slid right to my feet. "That's so you can cut the rope and go back to work." She laughed, as her neck disappeared into the snake's mouth. "Have a nice day!"
I knew what I had to do--there was still time. I started to saw vigorously on the rope, and in half a minute I had sliced it apart. I ran over to the snake. Her hands were just vanishing into the anaconda's mouth. I brandished the knife. What was the best way to do this? Cut off its head and then make a slit along its underside? Whatever I did, I had to do it quickly, before she smothered in there.
The sound of excited talking came through the walls. Someone said, "this is it, this is the place."
The door crashed open behind me, and a big group--maybe twelve people--came charging in. They had flashlights. A couple of the faces and voices were familiar--they were members of Blight.
"There she is," one of them yelled, pointing to the engorged snake.
One of them--Chuck--demanded, "what are you doing here? What are you doing with that knife? Where's Tina?"
"Tina," I said. "She brought me here . . . she's inside the snake! The snake ate her!"
They all froze in silence. They all looked at the anaconda, at the large lump. Finally Chuck spoke up. "She sacrificed herself to Nacrosti? Right in front of you?"
"Yes . . . she's in there right now. We've--"
Chuck raised his arms and said something very loudly, something that I did not understand. The others lowered their heads and began chanting.
Chuck came over to me. He took the knife from my hands. "You must go right away," he whispered. "It is dangerous for you to stay here. Leave in peace. And remember: the Blight is protecting you now."
So what could I do? I went back to work. I never told anyone about Tina, or about the Blight, or about what happened in the warehouse. But I think that Tina accomplished her objective: I have dreams that you wouldn't want.
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