Bogleech.com's 2018 Horror Write-off:
Submitted by Blackmouth Cur
Seyton! I am sick at heart.
When I behold— Seyton, I say!
Macbeth, Act V, Scene III
“Satan is real, Mr. Weaver.”
Such things are sometimes said to me when I’m on the ground in the Old Testament parts of the Northeast. That very phrase was spoken to me just the other day, when I visited the home of the Hintons in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. I drove in from New York one afternoon in February to interview them about a painfully sensitive matter. It was unfortunate, and the police were saying that it was a crime with religious motivations— but, the long and short of it is that their daughter was attacked.
They didn’t start with the Satan talk. They eased into it.
“We have a small family. Sometimes I’m glad for that, because it means others haven’t had to be brought into this pain,” Mallory Hinton said as she put a plate of iced sugar cookies on the table in front of me. I turned my tape recorder on. “Sometimes I regret it, because maybe if there were more of us the grief could be more spread out.” She continued to explain to me that she and Curtis used to not eat so many sweets, but since “it” happened they realized that life is just too short.
The crime perpetrated against Mallory and Curtis Hinton’s daughter was so ghastly, and was cloaked in just enough mystery, that it had been a favorite story on the internet for weeks. The City of Bethlehem had been tight-lipped about the details, for reasons of privacy and ease of investigation. And the Hintons were in such shock that they just hadn’t considered contact with the press. So the rumors spread.
There was a prevailing theory. My kid brother mentioned it to me, and he was corroborated when I checked the first page of Google.
Everyone was saying that Elizabeth Hinton had sex with a demon.
The extreme secrecy, her being cloistered indoors, the scared-shitless state of her Protestant parents, it all pointed to Liz’s flesh having been rent by infernal claws during the conjugal act, or her eyes having gone stark white and her skin devilly purple after having shared her bed with the Old One. Or even that she still had a flock of little demons flitting about her, and they all had to be shut up indoors together. Or that she had one hulking, massive demon lover keeping her preoccupied at all times.
Of course, it was all very hard to believe. I’m an atheist, and such supernatural claims don’t impress me. They’re salacious and scandalously interesting, sure. But such things don’t happen. Demons just don’t exist.
I didn’t say this to the Hintons. They believed in demons, they believed in Satan, and they believed their daughter had only recently escaped his influence. I was not about to debate the likelihood of those facts. The Hintons welcomed me into their home and chose to break their silence with me because they knew I had a special connection to the Christian community.
I’ve been a journalist with the New York Times for eight years. Evangelicalism and cults are my areas of special interest. I wrote a book in 2015 called Into My Arms, about an Evangelical pastor in New Hampshire who claimed to be able lead his congregation on spirit-journeys into Heaven. He could help them speak to their dead loved ones, and, after a long and meaningful glimpse into that other world, bring them back into their pew, the conversation they had with their mother or father or husband or wife as vivid as if it had just happened. Even for the Evangelicals, it was pretty mystical ookum-spookum kinda stuff.
Devoutly Christian readers are a tight-knit group, and tend to only read explicitly Christian authors from explicitly Christian publishing houses. But, strange times create strange bedfellows. They made an exception for me. Christians loved that book, probably even more than did secular audiences, and celebrated me as this pastor’s herald. Like I said, strange bedfellows.
So, I don’t go around professing my atheism. A journalist shouldn’t draw such attention to himself anyway. But I felt I owed it to my readers to let them know that they were heard, and that I wasn’t judging them. That their plight and their beliefs were fascinating to me, and that I would represent them with respect and gravity.
However, that sometimes means that I’m confused for a Christian.
“Satan is real, Mr. Weaver,” Mallory said. “You know it. I know it. And the silver lining of all this, is that America is going to know it too.”
“Fornication, all that,” Curtis cut in, “that just didn’t happen. That’s not what’s been going on here. He has other ways. He finds poor, unfortunate, lost people and has them carry out his evil will.”
I munched on a cookie, listening.
“Have you ever been in a chat room, Mr. Weaver? An internet chat room?”
“Yes, I’ve been on some. To talk about sports and books and things.”
“Elizabeth, too,” Mallory mourned. “And she talked about boys and music and all that. Before she strayed off the path.”
The “Digital Coven” chatrooms. That was the other part of the Elizabeth Hinton myth currently in circulation. She fell in with a group of online Satanists (or kids with a prurient interest in Satan, it was unclear) and she talked with them every day after school. They tempted her with songs she’d never heard by bands like Dead Can Dance and The Sisters of Mercy, and made her laugh at things she’d always thought too serious to laugh at. Eventually, they had her send nude pictures. Eventually, they met up in real life.
It was a story of and about the internet. Elizabeth met her fate on the same internet we all use. Wedged between the Facebook pages, the movie trailers, the porn videos and the glossy amateur photoshoots, Elizabeth Hinton was being seduced and destroyed by an online ring of Satanists. It happened while we weren’t looking.
Mallory slid a stack of papers across the coffee table. It was a log of Elizabeth’s chats in the Digital Coven IRC.
“If you take a look at those, everyone in the group is making constant references to their leader. That G guy. I can’t pronounce his name.”
Me neither. On every page there was at least one wheedling, affectionate reference to someone using the screenname Gehembredenbedemn. Spelled exactly like that every time. All the participants had memorized it. They cracked jokes, trying to make him laugh, said that something they saw at work reminded them of him, said that they missed him and loved him, said that he could expect the stuff from his Amazon wishlist to come in a few days. He responded only seldomly. As I flipped through the first ten or eleven pages of the chat log, I only saw a couple messages from the user Gehembredenbedemn. They were “ahaha” (in response to the suggestion that Bo Burnham should have his limbs pulled from his sockets) and “fuck yeah” in answer to whether he’d be present at a real-life meetup the next week. The one that Elizabeth went to.
“Sometimes I hate him,” Curtis said, “but then the Christian part of me takes over.”
“Anyway,” Mallory said, “after Elizabeth started using this chat room she just started hating us and the church. She’d say the vilest, most foul things I’d ever heard in my life. She said she’d kill us, kill herself, drive Curtis’s car through Sunday mass. She’d scream until her voice was hoarse and ragged. It’s possible she was possessed at that time. Because the girl who said those things wasn’t Elizabeth.
“After a certain point, she just talked and talked and talked with these people online. She’d get home from school and talk to them until 6:30, come down to dinner, silently shovel the food down, and then go back to the computer until bedtime at 10. And, of course, she snuck on after 10. There was no controlling her. We were prepared to send her to a Christian sleep-away program. And just as we were starting our research, she was attacked.”
Mallory went on to tell me that two of Elizabeth’s chat room friends came by the house to pick her up at 2 a.m. on December 15th. They were two girls riding in a black Chevy Impala. With Elizabeth’s help, they had planned their arrival for a time when Mallory and Curtis wouldn’t notice. Then they roared down I-76 towards Philadelphia. Elizabeth smoked marijuana for the first time in that car.
The Digital Coven members had ownership of a modestly-sized loft space in Old City. People from all over the country participated in the chat, but the core group lived in the Philadelphia metropolitan area and met for parties and rituals at the loft. They celebrated the solstice and the equinox, cast spells in attempts to influence global events, and sometimes just held dance parties. Or, more bacchanalian events. Many of them practiced chaos and sex magic, and some indulged in arts even darker than those. Group chanting, blood pacts, animal sacrifice, and invocations of obscure figures with names like Blaphasephagous and Ik fell under their purview.
As Mallory related this to me, partly from memory and partly by referring to police reports, each additional detail sunk further in my stomach like a burning coal. These people were not roleplayers or daytrippers. These people were way more hardcore than I had first expected. They were not like any cult I had ever heard of before.
While Mallory and I were planning this meeting over email, we kept referring to the “attack” on Elizabeth. “I’d like to have an open-hearted, Christ-focused discussion with you about the attack on your daughter.” I once wrote to them. “Ever since the attack on Elizabeth, Curtis and I haven’t slept more than four hours a night.” she said. And so on, and so on.
But, as these details were revealed to me, details that the Hintons had never before shared with a journalist, an unremittingly painful fact slowly unveiled itself.
There wasn’t an attack on Elizabeth.
There was an unsuccessful sacrifice of Elizabeth.
Mallory went on rehearsing the facts of that December night until she couldn’t go on any longer. She clutched her brow as hot tears ran down her cheeks. With extreme gentleness, Curtis put his hand on her knee.
“This is what the police and Dr. Shadyac told us. Mostly Dr. Shadyac,” he said. “He was there.”
“Who is Dr. Shadyac?” I said.
“Dr. Shadyac is a paranormal investigator.” There was stillness in the room.
Elizabeth was summoned to the flat in Old City as a human sacrifice. She was placed over a pentagram drawn on the floor and an elder member of the coven approached her, the congregants fawning around him chanting his long, strange name in wolfish anticipation. Lifting his grey finger, the elder began to mutter and curse in an unknown language. A flaying spell was cast on her. Like a bandage being unwrapped from a wound, her skin was lifted off her body in long, thick straps. The humid air of that crowded room lapped against her fatty and connective tissues. On her arms and legs, it touched her muscles. Finally, it touched the deeper layers of eyes and mouth, as her scalp and face were sloughed off like a mask. Runes began to etch themselves on every inch of her flesh. A pinprick colored impossibly black materialized at the center of the pentagram and spread, slowly, billowing like a cloud of ink.
Shadyac heard her screams.
“Dr. Shadyac was on the corner of the building in Old City,” Curtis said. “He was staking it out. He knew the coven sometimes met there, and he knew it was possible they were meeting there that night. He’d never before intervened; he had feared for his life. But when he heard Elizabeth’s screams, he knew his fear was an impertinent thing.”
Shadyac entered the flat and rescued Elizabeth. He brandished an ancient gun in the face of the congregation. He said some of them cowered and seized at the sight of it. Casting his longcoat over Elizabeth’s body, he lifted her up and took her away.
“We are so incredibly blessed for Dr. Shadyac. He took Elizabeth into his home, treated her with calendula and aloe vera. He took her to the hospital, too, of course. But a hospital can’t treat a girl who’s had her skin torn off. Only someone like Dr. Shadyac can do that. And has, for these past months. He still visits her, and cares for her wounds. They have a wonderful relationship.”
I took a moment to find myself in the room. Then it occurred to me.
“Mr. Hinton,” I said, “forgive me for saying so, but this Dr. Shadyac sounds like a mystic. Why are you so comfortable leaving Elizabeth in his care?”
Mallory looked up darkly from the wad of tissues she held in her hand.
“Even Christ consorted with whores, Mr. Weaver.”
Curtis nodded solemnly. “Of course we would’ve preferred for someone from the church to have intervened. But strange times call for strange cures.”
I hit the stop button on my tape recorder. I was feeling dizzy.
“Mallory, Curtis. Thank you so very much for letting me into your home. I cannot begin to imagine what it feels to have gone through this trial with Elizabeth. But, please believe me when I say my empathy for you runs very deep.” We all stood up, and I shook hands with both of them.
“You know,” Mallory said, “Elizabeth is in her room. Would you like to say hello?”
That gave me pause. I hadn’t considered that Elizabeth might be in the house.
“Yes…” I forced out, “yes, I’d love to see Elizabeth. She’s accepting visitors?”
“She is, in some capacity.” Mallory said. “It’s so important that she be reintroduced to the world in these small ways.”
She swallowed hard. “Just, please be aware,” she said, “a skinless person can’t ever fully heal. God knows we tried. But the medicine’s not there yet. She knows how she looks. So just please don’t make her feel unwanted, or hideous, or monstrous, or like she shouldn’t be alive…” her voice trailed off.
“Mrs. Hinton, I’d love to say hello to your daughter.”
She nodded. “Then, then just come over here— that’s her room right there. Tell her that you’re here with us and that you’re of God, and— well, you know what to say.”
Mallory opened the door. It was very dark in that room. I stepped over the threshold.
“Oh,” Curtis piped up, “and say hello to Dr. Shadyac. I believe he’s in there too.”
When I turned around to respond, all I saw a shutting door.
The first thing I noticed was the smell. Elizabeth’s room smelled fetid and overripe, like an old person’s bedroom with years of unwashed bedclothes. As my eyes adjusted, I saw before me a clamor of sheets and blankets and strips of gauze. It was Elizabeth. She was in her bed, facing away from me.
“Hello, Elizabeth. My name is Thomas. I just met your parents. They’re wonderful people. They love you very much.”
The person-shaped mound laid there, unmoving.
“You’re a very strong girl. Do you feel able to speak with me for a moment?”
Stiffly and with great effort, Elizabeth turned to her side.
Almost all of her body was encased in a plaster cast. I saw that her left hand, her eyes, and her mouth were exposed. On her chapped lips, characters from runic alphabets unknown to me made dark furrows. Her eyes were red, bleary, and deeply tired, mucus and yellow film running down the portion of her cracked, scabrous flesh left uncovered by her stained bandages.
She had a text-to-speech device in her hand. Slowly, she began to tap out a message.
She hit Enter.
A tinny electronic voice vibrated out from the machine in her hand.
Struck, I felt my hand touch my chest. I was about to respond when I saw a glint of light behind her.
A set of stained teeth were the first thing I saw. They were at eye-level, and even though they were caked in grime, I could see them gleaming like ivory on the other side of the room. They were surrounded by a long, stringy beard and mustache, hanging greasily around that wide mouth. My eyes followed a puffy, broken nose upwards to a pair of bulging, delirious eyes, at once suggesting only a fishlike intelligence, yet also an advanced will to do harm. Framing these bulbous globes was a landslide of thin, lusterless hair, scraped away from the face in an oily middle part.
From the corner of that room, that man smiled his whole smile at me.
Elizabeth’s device sounded again.