Acolyte

by Pierce Nahigyan

Joining the cult had been a bad idea. Ryan realized that only some months after the fact, and some months more after the incident that had driven him into the salty, saffron-hued robes. He had been two months behind on rent, jobless, his dog had died chasing his cat into the street, the cat was long gone, he hadn’t been intimate with a woman since the last president was in office, and he found out – and this was more just icing on the cake and not so awful in and of itself, more an annoying epilogue to a bad, bad season – that he was allergic to peas. Very allergic to peas. Very suddenly. As if God, or whoever was running the universe, had mishandled his dietary prescription until his late twenties; only then was his paperwork sorted out and his lethal reaction to that small emerald vegetable certified. A pop-up on the internet had led him to the cult, promising to take care of his earthly worries for the sake of enlightenment. Rash, even risky, but Ryan had very little to lose.

The cult had done what it promised. After signing some documents in blood, they paid his rent, got him a job working in their downtown office, and introduced him to a cute, petite girl in accounts-receivable who was a little lonely, a little messy, and low maintenance. They dated for four weeks until it became serious, and he liked that. They had found each other as acolytes to the shining cause of human redemption, two human beings in a dense urban landscape, preaching their way to personal improvement and the general welfare of their fellow men.

It was only when Cindy and he were engaged to be married that he was reminded by his pastor of his sacred duty. And having failed to read the fine print on his bloody documents until that cryptic suggestion, Ryan was surprised to discover, in one of several plain clauses inside his contract, written to negate any alternative interpretation, the stipulation that he donate his brain to his personal cephalopod (given to each acolyte upon entering the cult, to serve as their aquatic avatar). Ryan and Cindy were to transcend frail human flesh and live on in the massive aquarium the cult operated near the harbor. The donation (i.e. surgery) was to take place the night before his wedding.

The odder aspects of the cult had never frightened him. He didn’t mind keeping a schedule that prevented him from going out during the day; he and Cindy worked the same schedule and enjoyed midnight movies. The tending of his personal squid was a fair replacement for his lost dog and cat. He did miss his relationship with his family, but it was necessary to sever all communication with non-members to further his personal rejuvenation. Ryan did feel, however, that it was in his best interest not to let the pastors try to squeeze his brain and upper spinal cord into his squid. He didn’t really see where it would fit (it was not a very big squid).

Ryan confronted Cindy about this, but she was enthusiastic. It made sense to her. She told him not to worry, that he was just getting cold feet, and after they were in their new bodies everything would be perfect and enlightened.

The night before the operation, Ryan told everyone the wedding was off. Cindy was devastated. The pastors were disappointed.

The squids, in their tanks, shrugged their tentacles and returned to knitting more saffron robes. Transcendence was not for everyone.