When I found Miles, he was in Freedom Park, scrubbing the stoned pathway leading to The Darius’ room. He was down on his knees, a red towel underneath them. I walked up, standing next to him, “Do you need some help?”
“Only if you promise to sit with me during dinner later,” he shot me a side glance with a charming smile.
“I pinky promise.”
He handed me a round yellow sponge. I dipped it into the bucket next to us and picked a stone to massage in circular motions. Miles was moving his sponge up and down on a stone next to mine, creating foamy bubbles around our hands.
I lowered my voice and asked, “Miles, what happened to Jody?”
Miles' hand stopped moving, he stared at the stone he was cleaning and didn’t look at me.
“She’s just assigned to the Red Room now.”
“But when I asked Penelope, she acted like Jody never existed here.”
“Ivy, when people are assigned to the Red Room, it’s pretty important so The Darius doesn’t want it discussed. We are taught to forget about it in order to remove distractions. You understand?”
“So, Jody’s okay?”
Miles locked eyes with mine. “Of course she’s okay. We shouldn’t talk about this here.”
“Okay. Sooo, how do you think I’m progressing with The Entrance…mentor.” I threw him a smile.
“I have to admit I am pretty impressed especially since you’re such a youngin’. You have really dived fully in and The Darius notices people that have such dedication. You’ve been here about two months now. You’ll soon be finishing The Entrance and moving into The Love phase.”
“I can’t wait. I want to be here forever. I have never had a family like the one here at Freedom House.” I reached my soapy hand onto Miles’ and he looked up at me with such gentle eyes.
“Let’s finish these stones and get to feeding the animals.”
Later that day, after dinner, Miles told me he had something very important to discuss, “The Darius would like to see you. I’ll come with you since I am your mentor.”
“Should I be worried?” I asked, thinking I had done something wrong.
“Never.” Miles said but he wasn't very convincing.
I was relieved but still nervous. The Darius was so important, why would he want to see me?
I walked down the stone path, staring at The Darius’ doorway entrance. I wore the clothes that Miles gave me months back for Entrance members, brown loose pants and a brown shirt. I walked through the doorway, into the dimly lit room, tealight candles were around the perimeter. There were about six members on each side of the room, sitting on the floor and staring at The Darius with concentration.
The Darius sat crossed legged, his long golden hair looked like silk. His eyes never left mine and he kept both palms pressed together right under his chin. “Sit with me Ivy.”
He gestured right in front of him. Although I was nervous, his posture and eyes were comforting. I wanted to sit in front of him forever.
“Ivy, I have been noticing you. You are one of the youngest here at Freedom House yet your wisdom and beauty far exceed your youth. I need you to work more closely with me. Everyone here at Freedom House has a purpose. Some are here to help with the daily chores and others are meant to work directly with me, like Miles and Sky. I would like you to be my secretary. You will make sure Freedom House is on track, schedules are on time, and that everyone is moving towards The Free stage all at once. We will need everyone to be at the same stage very soon. We must prepare for The Free and I need your help with that. Are you ready to move to The Love stage?”
“I am more than ready The Darius.” My words slipped out of my mouth without any thought.
“That is great to hear. Miles, bring Ivy her new clothing.”
Miles walked over, holding the neatly folded clothes out on his forearms. There was a bikini top similar to Sky’s and blue loose pants. The Darius smiled, “Ivy, put these on.”
“Thank you, I will put these on right away.”
“Put them on here, right now.”
I stood up slowly and looked around at the members sitting on each side of the room. Their expressions hadn’t changed since when I entered. I looked down at the clothes I was wearing.
Miles grabbed my hands, “I will help you.”
He took my shirt off. I pulled my pants down, trying to hide my tiny breasts. The Darius stood up. He got close to me and said, “Ivy, you never have to be ashamed here. You are beauty. Everyone here is beauty. He put his hands out. I placed my hands into his. He lifted my hands, our palms together and moved them high up above our heads. My arms were fully stretched above my head and I stood there naked for all to see.
“Welcome to The Love stage.”
The Darius received the clothing from Miles and put the bikini top on me, tying the back. I felt so beautiful. He handed me the blue pants and I put them on. “Since Miles has been your mentor, he will introduce you to The Love room tomorrow.”
I was so ecstatic. I was given a special job as The Darius’ secretary and was in the second phase. My dreams were coming true. I found a family and was finally important. That night, I could barely sleep. I was lying on the floor in the living space, Miles was asleep to my left and a girl named Cat was to my right. Our arms and legs touched, with little space to move. All the members of Freedom House slept here. The room was dark, not a single sound except occasional snores. I was thinking about how The Darius picked me and I couldn’t wait to move to the next stage. I wonder what The Love room would be like. Then, in the stillness of the room, I heard something. The sound was rhythmic, but I couldn’t make out what it was. Was it an animal outside? I lied on my back, looking up at the ceiling and tried to make out what it was. I carefully pushed myself up with my hands to avoid waking anyone. I looked down at all the sleeping bodies and moved my feet and legs as slow as I could, stepping around people to not wake them.
I listened for the sound and made my way to the kitchen. The sound got farther away. I turned around and walked to the hallway. I stood at the beginning of the dark hall and looked down towards the red door. I could barely see but I heard the sound louder now. Was it music? I moved one foot in front of the next, placing my toes down first and then gradually placing my heel down. The yoga room door was closed. As I walked past the bathroom, which didn’t have a door, I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror, a dark blurred figure creeping through the night. As I got closer to the red door, I heard it again. Down into the unknown depths through the red door, girls were softly chanting but I couldn't make out exactly what they were saying. Why would they be singing in the middle of the night? I couldn't help myself and reached for the doorknob just on the chance that it might be unlocked. As my fingers gripped the knob I inhaled deeply and was beginning to turn it when someone behind me whispered,
"Ivy, what are you doing?" It was Miles.
A jolt of energy jumped up into my body pushing my shoulders into a spasm. I had to force myself not to scream from the surprise.
"Do you hear that?" I said.
"Ivy, you know you are supposed to be in the living space sleeping."
"Miles, what really happened to Jody? What's in there?" I asked.
"Look, Ivy, I don't want you to get…in trouble or anything. We need to go back to the living space."
"Miles, I saw Penelope slaughtering a pig. Why did she do that?"
"There's a lot that goes on here that people don't know about. Things that you will find out along the way. Ivy, I really care about you."
Then Miles leaned in close to my ear, the heat of his breath shot down my neck. "You should get out before it's too late."
I couldn't believe what I was hearing. What was Miles trying to hide from me and why would he want me to leave.
"How could you say that? This is my home. You brought me here. I don't understand."
"Ivy, please don't take it wrong. I am trying to protect you."
"You're just jealous that The Darius chose me to be his secretary."
"It's not like that."
"Just leave me alone. I don't want to talk about this anymore."
"I'm sorry if I upset you. Please come back to bed soon."
Miles turned around and walked back to the living space as I stood in shock. I couldn't believe my own mentor would try to kick me out.
Then I caught someone's single eyeball peering through the crack of the door to The Love room. The door slowly shut, and the eye disappeared behind it. Someone was watching us. But who?
-Written by Sterp
All Rights Reserved
I am Sterp. I write horror fiction and have a very unhealthy obsession with disturbing narratives. I am the author of The Cult Called Freedom House: Sophia Rey Book One. My short story The Lost Tea Cup will be in Issue 26 of The Literary Hatchet in 2020. I am also a painter.
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