“Hunt down the traitor, bring them to me alive.” a hoarse voice barked in the tone of an order. There was a buzzing, as of static, and then sounds of various footsteps clattering. And then the tape cut off.
I glanced at officer Audrey Bullwark. She sat across the table from me, looking puzzled. It was the third time we had run the tape, and those were the only words on it.
Finally, after a brief contemplative pause, she turned towards me and raised an eyebrow.
“That is basically very, very bad news in our line of work.” I explained to her. “Since you are new here, let me explain what it means.”
Audrey puckered her brows in her way, the way she does when she is being instructed. I, for one, took a long sigh and sat back in my chair, closing my eyes.
We were seated in the constabulary of Horizon, a small town in central Nebraska. It was largely ignominous, no different from countless others like it. But this one is my indistinct corner of the world, since I am its serving police inspector. Audrey was new to her job at the time, a fresh new trainee from the cadet school. Her face had that determined look you see in people who are yet to feel the bile rise in their belly, yet to see a crime scene that proves every single thing they believed about human nature to have been wrong.
I took my time before replying. I needed to get my words right.
“In this town and its surrounding towns, there are certain groups of people known as ‘cults’. You have probably read about them. They are elusive groups of extremely irrational and violent people. Most of the time, we do not see them or know what they are doing. But sometimes, they surface and commit horrid, violent murders.”
I shuddered inspite of myself, as memories of a certain July evening from long ago seeped into my mind. Pushing it away with the here-and-now, I continued.
“That was the voice of one of the cult chiefs. I have been here long enough to know that voice. Its a man named Merryweather. Little is known of him, but what little we do know is that he is the head of the primary cult around this part. We do not know what this cult calls itself, but we call it the ‘moth cult’, because they leave several dead moths wherever they commit their rituals. And he is angry.”
I took a breather. I needed one. I picked up a glass of water and began sipping it.
“So, basically, they’re like a gang, or is it more like…” Audrey began, but I shook my head vehemently.
“Its not a gang. It is more like a religious gathering, only that they worship a group of things they call gods. Violent, ghastly things by all accounts – I do not know why they deem these things as being worthy of worship.”
“They are real?” Audrey asked, half-mockingly, her eyes widening a little.
“Well, they believe those things to be real. That is the problem. Its what makes them commit horrendous crimes.” I responded.
“Oh, well, I see.”
“Well, the moth cult has been behind several kidnappings and disappearances over the years, and this tape tells me they are responsible for Kregman’s disappearance too.”
Ed Kregman was a journalist for a small local paper. He had been reported missing, and we had discovered the tape at his residence four hours before.
“We have been on their tail for about sixteen years now.” I continued. “I know a retired inspector who left before you joined, lovely chap named Gordon. He once managed to infiltrate their base. Never would talk about some of the things he saw there.”
I ended there, and we had a brief pause, each lost in their own thoughts. It was Audrey who finally broke the silence.
“So, this Merryweather, what does he want?”
I thought it through before answering – “Someone in the cult opened his own cult. Or maybe someone broke the rules of the cult. They possibly stole some artifact sacred to the cult. This is going to lead to bad blood. Infighting between–”
Here I was broken off by the young officer Shaun Muller, who entered the constabulary red-faced and panicked. One look at him, and I knew what had happened.
“Sir, there’s been an ‘event’. The moth cult is involved. Three homicides in Perrington Street, and the room smells like its sprayed with sawdust.”
“Right!” I said, rising from my seat and motioning for Audrey to do the same.
“Mike, you stay here and keep watch. I will take the jeep and visit the place.” I ordered to Michael Forbes, a capable subordinate who sits and runs the operations when the acting team is away at the crime scene.
I turned to Audrey. “Come along, this is the scene of the first murders.”
* * *
It was a bit early, and I had not expected the moth cult to take action this soon. They typically take about a day or two before acting. The tape recording seemed fresh, and was probably not a day old. It was still ten in the morning. The murder was committed sometime before six in the morning. I tried doing the math, but whatever I said to myself, it did not change the basic fact – these people had acted speedier than they normally did. Merryweather was not going to be disappointed this time.
“So, like, what happens now? Will they kill the traitors?” Audrey asked, looking a little worried. This was a sign of immaturity. The experienced were not supposed to be a little worried. They were supposed to be very worried.
“Well, one of two things. Either Merryweather and his men will kill off all the people who betrayed him, or the ‘traitors’ will succeed in making a different cult. And if that happens, it will probably lead to continued violence for months – maybe even years.”
Audrey gulped. “This is like gang wars, but worse.”
“Oh, wait till you see the crime scene. It will be much, much worse.”
* * *
We arrived at the location. It was a small run-down place nestled between a villa compound and a small grocery. The building was a small library but it had been running poorly of late, especially since the coming of modern technology and electronics meant the doom for its business. Presently the building was taped off and had another police car standing outside.
I lifted the yellow tape and walked in, followed by Audrey in tow. There was a smell all right, but it was not the smell of sawdust. It was a woody smell, easy to mistake for sawdust.
“Dead moths.” I said, and sniffed. We entered the building.
The smell inside was intense, and I knew at once why. Hundreds of dead moths lay all over the floor boards, upside down and with their spiny little legs craving upwards for air. Why would anyone shove truckloads of dead moths into a room after committing murders in it? The very sight made a shiver run uncomfortably up my spine. Beside me, Audrey gasped and turned around, cupping her hand over her mouth. She was a bit averse to insects, her report from the cadet school had mentioned.
“How many people did they murder?” I asked, knowing that the cult left a number of moths in their crime scenes proportional to the number of people they had killed.
“About three, although there might be more in there. We have not been able to penetrate the inside of the building completely, and we were awaiting instructions.” officer Jeremy Pilcas told me. He and officer Hannah Morley were standing guard on the ground floor lobby of the defunct library. They had been stading in a foot-deep layer of moths, and I pitied them.
“Let’s go in.” I said, bringing a hesitant Audrey inside.
Four of us walked inside. The first room beyond the lobby was the reading room, a fair-sized room with several small round tables, each surrounded by four chairs. On the far side of this room was a door leading to the main library chamber, the one with the bookshelves. On each side of this door, there were two bodies in sitting positions. They had clearly been placed in this position, hadn’t they? And both of them had streams of blood running down from under their eyelids. I could not confirm the condition of their eyesballs, since the eyelids were shut. That seemed to be the only injury on them. Apart from the blood streaming down from their eyes, there was no other gash or wound that let out blood on their entire body.
The bodies were seated ornately, each with its back to the wall behind it, on either side of the door. One was a young blonde man in loose bluish-white pajamas, and the other seemed like a middle-aged gentleman in a formal work attire, replete with a tie.
“That’s how we found them, slumped along the walls. Dressed up to go with the scene, like all the cult murders. Clearly, the bodies were arranged after their deaths. We need to perform a post-mortem to verify–”
Jeremy continued his explanation, but here my attention was drawn to a moth, quietly exiting the slightly-parted lips of one of the two corpses.
“How did you determine that they were dead?” I asked Jeremy.
“From their stillness, sir. And then from their pulse. We were called by the people from the villa nearby when they heard screams from inside about an hour-and-a-half ago.”
I noted this. The time of death was recent. “Where is the third one?” I asked.
“Inside, sir.” Hannah said, gesturing towards the main inner chamber. I realized they had walked passed the two corpses into the inner chamber to scan the area before me and Audrey could arrive.
“We sent Shaun a call to fetch you guys immediately when we saw what’s in there.” Jeremy explained. “Of course, he wasn’t quite dead yet when we saw him.
“What?” I asked.
“Yeah, the third one was still alive, and jerking violently. He pointed at the door to the small inner storage room, which is supposed to be locked. But the lock was broken in. We tried to open that door, but it seemed to have been locked from within. It has no windows, so we just called for backup. Its not like anyone inside could have run, now, could they?”
I nodded. I decided to scan the faces of the three officers. It was important for me to know their morale before proceeding.
Hannah was a veteran of these kinds of things, and she had accompanied me on three separate cult killings before. She was holding up fine, but I still gave her a smile. “Be brave.” I told her. “You’re experienced, and I am counting on you.”
Jeremy had only been to one of these before, so he was a little pale in the face. I smiled at him and patted his shoulder. “Listen, remember, none of their beliefs is real, all right? You are not afraid of the devil here, you are afraid of crazy people. And that’s okay, everyone is afraid of violent, crazy people.”
And finally, he turned to Audrey. Her training at the cadet school had made her stronger than the average person of her age, but this was still her first time. He pitied her – he wished she had encountered a more normal crime as her very first in Horizon. But it was the way it was.
“If I didn’t need backup, I would have asked you to return. This should never be the first case for any young recruit. But on the balance, I think this is a good turn of events. You can now accompany me inside, and see for yourself what cult killings are like.”
I placed a hand on her shoulder, and looked meaningfully into her eyes. “Just remember, by the time we reach the spot, the deed is done. There is no more criminal inside. It looks horrible, but whatever murderer was lurking inside is gone. So it is a ghastly sight, but a safe one. Got it?”
Audrey nodded. Her eyes had a trembling look, like she still didn’t feel quite convinced. I couldn’t rebuke her for it. Even after so many years, I still felt a bit ill whenever I came across a cult killing. All my reason could not remove the nagging feeling at the back of my mind that there was more to this violence than mere superstition and fanaticism.
Together, the four of us went inside the room. Shaun was standing guard outside the library, so we knew there would not be any intruders coming in to disturb us. We stepped into the dust-covered library chamber, with the large shelves of books standing some six feet high. There was a path between the shelves, leading straight to the other side. We began trudging along it. On both the right and the left there were shelves, leaving thin lanes between the rows of books that branched perpendicular to the path we took.
At the other end of the room was clearing, with a small table and an accompanying chair. It was clearly intended for security personnel to sit on.
On the table was a body.
We approached it. I expected to see horrific gore, and my expectations were not proven wrong. The table had a body with a gaping maw, gasping in agony. The hands and legs were at odd angles, as if they had been randomly angled at the joints. The skin was oddly gelatinous – still solid, but somehow thick, slimy and curiously translucent at places. Dark veins left riverine marks under its fading pallour. I did not want to touch it.
“Looks like alkaloid poisoning, right?” I asked, and Hannah shook her head.
“Not alkaloid. We found him shivering violently, vibrating, and his hands and legs were jerking at odd angles. Like he was being electrocuted.”
“Did you see any wires?”
“Funnily enough, no! We looked for them. We didn’t want to check his person, but there might be something inside his clothes.”
I nodded. The victim was wearing a black leather jacket, and faded denim jeans below the waist. His inner shirt was hidden away by the jacket. There might have been a wicked implement of electrocution hidden inside as well.
“Do not touch him.” I warned. My team acqueised in silence.
I took stock of the surroundings. There was no sign of a struggle. It was as if the man had been asked to lie down on the table and then quietly killed. It was the same with the murders outside. It was somewhat uncanny, unusual even for a cult killing.
“There is usually a lot of blood and violence involved in a cult killing.” I explained to my team. “But some of the time, it is done quietly. Without a major hassle.”
I walked back from the body. “And when this happens, it usually means the top brass of the cult is involved.”
Hannah drew in a sharp breath. I knew why. She was experienced, and she had caught on.
“Yes, this might be it.” I said. “Merryweather.”
Hannah made a sharp intake of breath. Both Jeremy and Audrey understood the significance of this. Merryweather was the main ringleader of the moth cult. He had been personally offended by betrayal. He had moved fast. He might not have been able to trust his cult members. He might have decided to make his own move. These murders might have been the handiwork of Merryweather himself!
To our left was the door of the storeroom. The lock had been broken in. I walked over towards it, knowing the horrendous bloodshed that might be behind it. There was no stench of blood or rotten flesh, but I was nevertheless suspicious.
“How much time do you think they had between the screams and your arrival, to dress the corpses like this and hide themselves?” I asked.
“About half-an-hour, at most. This place is a little far from the station.” Jeremy said.
“Right. I need cover.”
All three of the officers pulled out their guns and loaded them. They held back from the storeroom door, their guns pointed at it.
“I am going to give them a warning. If there is no response, we will assume the worst.” I said. Then after some hesitation, I decided to explain this point – “By which I mean a ritual suicide.”
I walked over to the door and hollered, rapping my knuckles on it: “Come out, I am going to warn you only once! We will shoot if we see any funny business!”
There was no sound. Was it possible that it was a victim inside, an innocent who had fled from the scene of the crime? I had once experienced a cult killing in a suburban family, in which a closet had been locked from inside. When we broke it open, there was the daughter, twelve years of age, hiding inside. She had fallen into a coma somehow, even while hiding inside the closet. She had been the sole survivor of the incident, and had lost her mind soon after recovering from the coma.
“It is all right, this is the police!” I yelled. Still no response.
“Right. I am going in.”
I slammed the door open with a kick. It had never been a tough door, and reverberated at the hinges. A few more kicks were enough to bring it down. The door slunk into the room, and the darkness inside was revealed. A little of light entered from the chamber outside, the florescent lights from the library bringing scarcely any visibility to the storeroom.
It was a small storage, no bigger than a large closet. Just big enough for a mop, and a few other janitorial essentials. And there seemed at first to be nothing besides these things inside.
And then I heard the scuffling.
It was a sound of scuffling, of rustling, of hissing. A strange, inhuman sound that came from inside.
“Careful! There is a person inside!” I cried out to the officers.
“Indeed.” a hoarse voice responded.
I jumped. Straight-up jumped. Hannah let out an excited hiss. It was a voice we could recognize in most places.
“Merryweather?” I asked, incredulously. Was the man himself here, alive and helpless? I quickly pointed my loaded gun into the broken doorway.
“Yes.” The hoarse voice said matter-of-factly.
“All right, Merryweather, you are under arrest for involvement in seventeen homicide events, accounting for twenty-eight murders.” I had remembered this by rote, almost. “You are…”
Merryweather cut me off.
“Run, you fools. Leave this building at once!”
“Did you not hear me?”
I heard another scuffling, but this time behind me. “Jeremy, go check up on that sound behind us.” I ordered.
Jeremy did, I heard his footsteps trailing off. Five steps exactly. And then he screamed.
“Sir, its the body! Its moving!”
My eyes popped wide, and I repressed the urge to turn around, keeping my gun fixed on the door of the store room.
“On the table?”
“Yes, sir. Its getting up!”
“He’s alive then.” I said.
“He is not alive.” Merryweather said curtly from the darkness of the storage. “But he will serve me in unlife, since he has never been loyal to me in life itself.”
“What?” I asked, but the rustling sound within had suddenly intensified. It was rising from a slight breeziness to an all-out storm. I back away a bit. Something was off about the rustling. It was like leaves, but not leaves in the wind. There was something rapid about it, like leaves vibrating.
“What the hell are you doing?” I demanded. “Come out now or I will fire–”
I was cut off by three simultaneous things. First, a gunshot went off behind me, just as, second, Jeremy shrieked in fright. And third, something came leaping out at us from the storage room.
It was not a man. It was not an animal. It was a hoard of moths, the rustling of their wings as intense as a storm among trees. It leapt at us like a rushing smog, and we rushed back, covering our eyes. Vaguely, as the moths attacked us, as I flayed my hands to remove them, I noticed out of the corner of my eyes glimpses of sights which I remember to this day.
Audrey and Hannah were likewise trapped by the attacking moths. Jeremy was firing madly at the man in the black leather jacket, who was advancing slowly on him, his limbs twitching violently as he walked.
But most of all, I remembered Merryweather as he emerged from the room.
He was no man. He was no beast. He was a moth.
A giant of a moth, no less than the size of a horse, crawled out of the room. It crawled on the ceiling, emerging out of the door, occupying the entirety of the upper half of the doorway. Audrey and Hannah must have seen him. Jeremy had given up on his pursuer, who, inspite of several gunshot wounds, was not dead.
“Retreat!” I yelled, grabbing Audrey and Jeremy and pulling them towards the exit. Hannah did not require such persuation. We rushed out of the library chamber, with its bookshelves. As we did, out of the corner of my moth-stricken and watering eyes, I noticed the two corpses. Their heads, with the shut and bleeding eyes, turned quietly as we ran past them. It was as if they were following us with their gazes.
We ran to the exit, to the lobby. And there was a sight I wished I had been prepared for.
Every one of the moths, which had been dead so far, had risen and were flying about in circles. It was a vast vortex, like a tornado. We ran through it, moths biting and attacking our skin and eyes, the massive moth hot on our tail behind us. We ran, somehow, through two walls of flying moths. There were moths in my mouth, in my nostrils, in my ears, in my eyes. Almost blindly, I made it out of the door. I rushed out, into the morning sun, and the moths seemed to give way. I stood before Shaun, who looked at me shocked and terrified.
I turned around to check on the others. Audrey, Hannah and Jeremy followed behind me. All three left the house at a desperate pace. But while they were flaying their hands about, while they were rapidly fluttering their eyelids to keep the moths out, I could make out no moths around them.
The moths were all dead, and they were all on the floor.
“Sir?” Shaun began, but the itch of moths in my eyes and on my skin reminded me of how real it had all been. I could not shake off the events that had occurred inside that building.
“Come on, into the car and the jeep, we are leaving!” I declared.
We did leave. We rushed into the vehicles, and we left. We went on a long detour, and returned four hours later. This time, we went in with a camera and other tools to do a proper check on the situation.
The corpses with the blood streaming down their eyelids were still there. The blood had dried now. Their heads were exactly where they had been the first time I had seen them. The moths were all dead. The corpse on the table was a corpse. Its position had not changed. All that remained on it were two bullets from Jeremy’s gun, a reminder of the horror we had seen. As for the giant moth, there was no sign of it.
In the days that followed, all four of us developed violent rashes on our skin from the mothbites. It was odd, since the moths were not supposed to have been real. Shaun remained non-plussed by the entire situation, until the event of the winter cult six years later. But that is another story.
We managed to extricate Jeremy from the implications of the two bullets in the man with a jacket with some hassle. The bullets in the jacket were a little too incriminating of police brutality, but we were able to convince the bureau that the shots were fired after the victim was deceased, and had begun decomposing. We never could explain why, but for some reason the inquiry had been suppressed. Someone way up seemed to be interested in keeping the whole thing under wraps.
I could see why – the whole thing was beyond suspicious. Post mortem revealed that the two victims outside had no eyes. Also, the entire visual cortex of their brains – the part responsible for vision – had melted off. Both men had bled out of their eye-sockets, their eyes closed.
As for the man in the jacket, there was no way to tell what his deal was. He was dead, and he had seemingly died of muscular spasms, which shook his entire being, all the way to the diaphragm. The forensics told us that his death would have been extremely painful, resulting from the cessation of breathing when his diaphragm contracted and spasmed out of control. What had caused the spasms, nobody knew. There was no chemical inside him – no Sarin gas or vegetable alkaloids. There were no signs of electrocution. He had simply spasmed his way to death. As for the odd decomposition of his skin, the forensics knew more than they were willing to let on. I may never know.
As for Merryweather, our report remained inconclusive. All four of us – me, Audrey, Hannah and Jeremy – had seen the dead man rise and walk with his joints twitching. All four of us had witnessed the giant moth. All of us had been attacked by the moths, and Audrey had requested a vacation after the event. I had agreed. We all needed a vacation after that. But there was no sign of Merryweather.
The next I heard of him was when a man had entered, spasming at his mouth and drooling, into the police station of the next town West of Horizon. He had mentioned an attack on his ‘order’, led by the ‘cult of Merryweather’. It was a full three years after the events of the library.
Did Merryweather have his vengeance on his traitors? I think so. The violence ceased after this event, at least in our town, and at least for five of the years that followed. After that, there was another killing. But that is a story for another day.
But the quiet, nagging suspicion that there is something more to these cults than just bland superstition is not a suspicion anymore. I have become more aware of the hidden nature of these cult groups, and I no longer see them as quasi-religious orders of misguided, drug-addicted, violent youths. I have seen too much.
Sometimes, when I hear fluttering at night, I rise terrified in my bed. The event of the library has left all of us scarred. But life goes on. It has been fifteen years since. I retired yesterday. I was, after all, a bit eager to retire. I have a scrap of paper from a deranged cultist I apprehended three years ago. It is full of exciting mysteries, and I would like to get to the bottom of them all. Just a personal quest, nothing unusual. Perhaps, if I devote enough time to them all, I can make sense of the things I saw. Some day.Recommend0 Simily SnapsPublished in