Wednesday, April 25, 2007

cult of personality

thanks to everyone who voted in my little writing poll! by popular request, here is the cults portion of my 'flirting, burgers and cults' post. believe me, the flirting and burgers were not that good, especially compared to this. depending on the response to this, i may post the 'ashes' entry, which came in 2nd.

writer's caveat: i've only cleaned this up for tenses, so just keep in mind it's a braindump originally written at 730am. :-) that said, if you have a comment, feel free to be honest. my writing skin's pretty thick.

i'm at a male friend's house. i don't recognize him at all but he has a light tan, sandy blond hair and is about my height. we're in an octagonal parlor room, with white bookshelves for walls and a large bay window seat. he's telling me about his dad who, until his death, had been the leader of a cult down in south america.

'see these stairs?' my friend points to a set of minature steps near the window seat. it's just two stairs, like a stepping stool. they're about a foot and a half wide and other than the metallic frame holding it together, is composed entirely of nails. 6-inch nails, point up, with only the slightest rounding atop them to prevent puncture to its visitors.

as we walk up to the stairs, my friend continues, 'my dad would use these in his rituals, but he also just liked to walk on them all the time.'

'wow,' i reply. then, 'do you have any shots of him using them?'

'sure,' he says, and after pressing a few buttons on the wall, directs me to look out the window.

now i had been looking out the window already, because there was a verdant forest outside it. lots of green, light and thin, brambly trees. suddenly the trees began moving toward me, and a voice boomed, 'the forests of south america proved a perfect place for julian's cult to hide.'

i turned to stare at my friend. 'this is video?'

my friend nods. 'it's a combo screen.'

still stunned, i go back to watching the show. there is a closeup of my friend's dad, julian, talking to someone off-screen about his philosophy. behind julian i see a series of elevated train tracks, probably 30 feet above ground and pure steel. there's a larger set of nail stairs off to the left, leading to a small platform under the train tracks.

'look!' i point at the stairs. 'where do those go?'

'you'll see,' my friend says.

the narrator finally stops talking. i hear julian saying, 'we believe that by riding this way, we are freeing the soul. by climbing the stairs, we move past the pain of our earthly shell. then by connecting ourselves to the underside of the train, we honor that which is forgotten and misunderstood.'

the footage changes to show julian climbing up the stairs, pulling down what looks like a backpack attached to a T-bar, and strapping the backpack around his body. he closes his eyes, and we see his mouth moving in silent prayer. when prayertime is over, he looks above and presses a button recessed in the tracks. slowly but with increasing speed, julian begins moving away and along the tracks, swaying ever so slightly as the rails curve out over a forested canyon.

as he clears the curve, julian's previously recorded philosophizing continues. 'finally, by passing over the earth in this way, our bodies unencumbered and free to experience the elements, we shake off that which is foul, that which is death. the wind and trees and sun cleanse us with each turn of the rails and earth.'

now the scene changes from julian to grainy footage of another swaying train rider. unlike julian, whose hands were closed in supplication, this man's hands are hanging limply at his side. his eyes are closed, mouth open and his face grey. he is dead, but still moving down the tracks.

the narrator chimes in, 'these cleansings do not appear to be without casualty. as seen in this rare footage, there have been deaths attributed to julian's methods.'

the hanging dead man retreats into the screen, and because of his uncontrolled swaying, smacks into a nearby tree. his body begins to get a little mangled but fortunately i can't see much of it because he's so far away. this does not stop my stomach from churning.

the shot changes back to julian, standing in front of the tracks. clearly having been asked about these fatalities, he shrugs and says, 'some people cannot be cleansed entirely. they make the journey, and sometimes the earth must take them back.'


Kelly said...

I'm so impressed that your dream and your recall of the dream is both cogent and illustrative.

My dreams, when I remember them, usually involve people who would never be together in any context. Like my grandmother doing the tango with Pee Wee Herman, for example.

I'm still trying to decipher what that is supposed to illuminate in my life...

heather said...

thanks kelly! i think because my dreams are often quite vivid, i feel like i'm watching/in a movie and thus find them easy to write down.

grandmother and pee wee, i love it! without knowing more about your grandmother it's hard to comment but wow that's rich for possible interpretations. nice work!

gs said...

I found this quite disturbing. That's not a criticism. In fact, as a commentary on the writing, it's a compliment.

heather said...

thanks greg. while obviously i didn't go to sleep wanting a dream like this, for what it was, i like how it turned out.

Dharma said...

What GS said. Fascinating stuff. Of course by the little I know about you I am tempted to draw some connecting lines about representations but it all be pretty lame and 99% wrong. Great writing, nice tone.

heather said...

go ahead, postulate your theories! ;-)

i was thinking bout this the other day, and while this piece is thematically darker than i would label myself in general, it does have several "me" elements: religious background, the absurd, a little humor (mostly tongue in cheek) and a strong sense of observation. so anyway, yes, i am in there. =)