Flash fiction prompts 22 (virgin) and 23 (HB pencil) have been combined in this story cause it was a weird challenge to combine those two things and I also don’t want to get behind on my days. I had to take a break yesterday because I’d slept a total of 5 hours out of the previous 63 and I’d forgotten how to word.
Content warning: This story is set in a cult. It’s not any specific cult and I was very careful not to attach it to any kind of existing religion. There are suggestions of the creepy culty stuff going on, cause that’s the point of the story, but no descriptions of anything.
I’ve lost count of how many days I’ve been in here. I was trying to keep track but it’s difficult because sometimes they wake me up when it’s dark outside and then I’m tired so I sleep when there’s light coming through the shutters. I remember it being seventy-four days the last time I was sure but now it could be a hundred or more. I don’t know and they won’t tell me. They said I had to stop asking because it didn’t matter. They said it was right that I was in here, that the Teacher had told them to keep me away from everyone else until I stopped being bad. I would never dare to say this out loud, not until I’m far away from here, but the Teacher is full of crap.
I was really little when we first came to live on the farm. We were given our own house for me and my mum and my big sister Anna. My dad didn’t come with us. It was exciting because there were so many people living on the farm and lots of other children to play with. We had school where we learned about the Teacher and how he’s going to save us and we were allowed to play outside in the field as long as we were good. We made up games and even though we were always quiet like we were told to be, it was fun. We helped with the cooking too. We set the tables for meals and did some of the washing up afterwards. The grown-ups even taught us about how to grow our own food. The Teacher always said we had to know how to do these things because it helped us to serve him.
They made us wear funny clothes, not like the ones I remember having before. Girls weren’t allowed to wear trousers which annoyed me at first because I missed my jeans but then Anna showed me that my dress was just like hers and I didn’t mind so much. Anna was so pretty and clever and I wanted to be just like her. When she put on her long white dress, I told her she looked like a beautiful angel and she helped me get dressed so I could be an angel too. She looked a little bit scared, but I think she was trying not to. It reminded me of way she used to look when Mum and Dad shouted at each other downstairs and she told me not to cry because she would look after me. I believed her because she played lots of sports in school so she could run fast and she was very strong. And Anna never, ever lied to me.
She got in trouble though and had to go away, which made me sad. I cried a lot but Mum looked frightened and said I mustn’t cry, that the Teacher knew best and Anna had been bad. I don’t know what happened but I heard Mum talking to one of the Teacher’s High Helpers and they said Anna’s name and the name of a boy she had been friends with. The High Helper said lots of things I didn’t understand and Mum kept saying sorry. She even said that what Anna and Jared had done was her fault because she hadn’t taught Anna the right way to be before we came to live on the farm. The High Helper said all girls must be virgins until the Teacher invites them into womanhood himself. I didn’t know what that meant but I hoped I was a virgin because I didn’t want to be sent away too.
After Anna left, we weren’t allowed to talk about her at all. We weren’t even allowed to say her name. Any time I asked about her Mum looked scared and told me to be quiet. I didn’t want Mum to be scared anymore so I stopped asking. Some of the other grown-ups started coming to our house in the evenings to talk to Mum but I wasn’t allowed to stay so I sat in my bedroom and drew pictures with the special pencils Anna had kept in a tin under her bed. I wanted to draw pictures of Anna but I knew that would be bad so I drew pictures of the Teacher and the farm instead. Next to my pictures, I wrote some of the things the Teacher said, about how he would save us and how much he loved us. One day I brought my pictures downstairs to show to Mum and one of the High Helpers was there. He said I was a very special little artist and he even borrowed one of my drawings to show to the Teacher. I was so proud! I thought Anna would be proud too. And I hoped this meant I was a virgin.
I have no idea where Jared is and of course they won’t tell me that either. At the start, right after they put me in here, they told me Jared had been taken for purification but that’s all I know. I asked if I could go with him but they said no, that my purification would be different and I had to wait for the Teacher to decide how best to do it. I know what they think we did but we didn’t do it, we really didn’t. We might have done it if they hadn’t found us, but we didn’t. I’m scared for Jared but I’m more scared for Emily. She’s so young and I know she’s started to believe all this, just like Mum. When Mum said we were going to live somewhere Dad couldn’t find us, I was relieved. I figured I’d stick it out wherever we ended up until I was eighteen then I’d leave but I don’t think this is the kind of place they let you leave.
One of the High Helpers came by earlier and told me that the Teacher had asked for my presence tomorrow. I’m not stupid so I know it wasn’t really a request and I don’t get to say no but I swear to every god anyone ever made up, I am not letting that bastard purify me. We did self-defence classes in school and I’ve seen enough films about fighting to have at least some idea of how to get away. I just need to wait until I’m on my own with him and then I’m going to do it. I’ve been eating everything they’ve given me while I’ve been in here and I’ve been doing my exercises as often as I can so I know I’m still strong. And more than that, I’m really, really angry.
The Teacher came to our house to talk to me today. Not to talk to Mum, just me, on my own. He said the High Helper had shown him my picture and he immediately knew that I had potential and could be one of his Companions when I’m a grown-up lady if I want to. He told me I had lots to learn while I was growing up and that he would teach me himself as long as I promised to keep what happened in our lessons secret. I recited for him, “The Teacher know best, The Teacher knows all, I will follow the Teacher and answer his call”. He looked happy and said I was a good girl. Mum came in just before the Teacher left and she looked happy too. I was glad Mum was happy.
That night I was so excited I lay awake in bed for ages but I must have fallen asleep because I remember waking up later. At first I thought I was dreaming because Anna was sitting on the edge of the bed. She had blood on her clothes and in her hair and her dress was ripped so it felt like a bad dream and I was scared. Then she put her finger to her lips so show that I should be quiet and she held my hand so I knew it was all real.
“Emily”, she whispered, “Remember I said I would look after you? Well, you have to trust me now. We’re going to go outside and we’re going to run but you have to be quiet and you must not let go of my hand. It’s all going to be OK but you have to run with me as fast as you can and not stop or look behind you, not until I tell you it’s safe. Then I’ll explain everything, I promise. Can you do that?”.
I nodded, got out of bed as quietly as I could and followed her. The moon was big and round in the sky. I ran as fast as I could, I only looked straight ahead and I didn’t let go of Anna’s hand because my big sister never, ever lied to me.
About the photo
I was thinking about how to express the concept of willing capture and came up with this idea. It felt weirdly familiar but I couldn’t work out why. Then I realised I’d already taken this photo. Years ago. Clearly the effects of sleep deprivation haven’t entirely worn off yet.