A cult is quite often a religion with unorthodox practices. In a world where the court of public opinion is one which holds the most esteem, being swept up in cult like waves becomes easier and easier. When asked why someone would join a cult the most likely answer is that they can find something there that they can’t find anywhere else. Affection, acceptance, understanding, or a mixture of all those things. It isn’t always some sinister group hidden out of the way of civilised society. You can see it in the chanting of songs at football matches. It can be seen in a crowd of teenagers wearing the latest trends. It can be the way we are hooked to social media.
For the moment allow me to examine the idea of cults in their most natural form. With the help of cult deprogrammer, John Reynolds, I was offered an insight into the depths of these cult groups. Before this interview I would have dismissed the cult idea as foolish people being brain washed. Reynolds helped me understand it better and it was more than that. It was more about a power struggle rather than brain wash. I am reporter, Sam Crusow, and I invite you to join me as we step inside the cults of Coldford.
As I sat in my usual booth at Bobby’s lunchbox looking across to John Reynolds the first thing that became apparent to me was the brightness in his persona. When I had been told I would be meeting with a cult deprogrammer I must admit my mind went to a stereotypical assumption. I expected a brooding character. I expected a troubled soul. When he bounded into Bobby’s Lunchbox with a cheery, “I’m super stoked for the interview, Sam,” my presumptions were completely off.
We took a seat and I began to record.
“For legal reasons I understand that most of your cases are classified,” I began. “I’m not looking to press you. I don’t want to put anyone in a difficult position but I would love to hear your insight.”
Reynolds smiled. “I’ve been doing this for a long time. I guess it’s about time I talked about it. Get a load off, you know?”
I nodded. “I am agreed that nothing will go to print without your say so so feel free to talk openly. Consider this entire thing off the record.”
“What do you want to know?” Reynolds asked.
“Why don’t you start with some of the cases that shaped who you are.”
“Funny you should ask,” he said. “The first one that comes to mind, you reported on.”
John took a sip of his water. Although he seemed calm I could see a little tension shake him just below his skin. Giving account of some of his experiences seemed to be taking a toll on him. I pushed stop on the recorder.
“We can take five, if you like,” I asked. “This is your story to tell. It’s up to you how you wish to tell it or how far you want to go.”
I was going to remind him that his story deserved to be told as a way of urging him to open up but it seemed I didn’t need to. He had already decided that for himself.
“No,” he said. “It’s fine. I’ll go on.”
I pushed recorded again.
“You may remember a gnarly story In the Express some time back. It was about a girl named Eileen in her late teens. She had found herself in trouble. She was pregnant by her step father. Her mother was a drug user who accused her of seducing him. She was only a young girl and the step father was a real shitty dude,” John explained.
It was a typical tale of abuse, if you find yourself desensitised to such things.
Eileen was forced to leave. She didn’t have enough money to buy a plane ticket. She didn’t have enough money to pay for a hotel room for the foreseeable future. She found herself on the docks of Swantin. A lot of unfortunate souls found themselves there. Their bodies were the last marketable product they had at their disposal so it stood as the best chance of survival. She had been real close to a small vessel called the ‘Lily Ann’. It was no ordinary boat. It was a floating brothel. She had been almost been at the point of climbing on board when she heard the ferry man calling,
“The 6:15 Hathfield Bay! All about the 6:15 to Hathfield Bay.”
Eileen approached the man.
“Excuse me, sir,” she interrupted. “How much for a ticket to the island?”
The Harbour Master eyed her suspiciously. She had no bag with her, the leather of her shoes was bursting and she had a look in her eyes that suggested she would be drugged and whored before the night was out.
“I have been kicked out of my home and I have nowhere to go,” she went on to explain.
He passed her a ticket.
“I’ll let you on,” he said. “You look like you need a break and I’d be honoured to be the one to give you that chance.”
Eileen looked at her ticket.
FERRY WAY LINE.
CHAMBERLAIN DOCKS, COLDFORD – HATHFIELD BAY ISLAND: ROYCE PORT.
She could see the Royal Chamberlain crest on the side.
“Why are you doing this for me?” She asked. She wasn’t much used to generosity or kindness from strangers.
“I said you look like you need a break. The Wigan commune is over there. If you go to them they will give you shelter. They’ll look after you. They don’t have much but they are welcoming.”
Eileen had taken note of the Wigan pin the man displayed proudly, now it held a lot more interest.
“Thank you,” she said.
“Wigan bless you,” was his response.
She had heard of the Church of St Wigan. She didn’t personally know any members but if they could offer her some shelter and sanctuary it was her best bet. Better off in the hands of a religious commune than a brothel, right? Perhaps.
The travel across the sea was freeing. The waves that lashed against the side of the ferry liner were like her problems being washed away. By the time she arrived on the island she was smiling again. Although the thin rain had soaked the clothes she arrived in. When she reached the entrance of the commune she was feeling a little feverish. Pulled the purple tasseled bell. She could hear the deep knelling ring. Before long she was a greeted by a woman not much older than herself.
“I have nowhere to go,” Eileen said. “Please can you help me? I’m pregnant. I’m with child.”
The girl looked at her blankly at first. Then she smiled. It brightened her freckled face. Her smile was natural and soft. Her hair was long and tangled. She had purple ribbons tied into her braid.
“Wigan embraces all,” she said in response. Her island accent bouncy and warm. “What’s yer name?”
“Eileen,” the young woman said.
The Wigan girl introduced herself. “My name is River. Come in and rest. You are safe now.”
Eileen entered the commune and the door closed behind her.
The first days in the commune were quite pleasant actually. Eileen had no regrets in accepting the Harbour Master’s passage. She had been given clothes. They were real basic but they were warm and comfortable. They even had some elderly women check on her baby. They gave her a lot of old wives tales about the tell tale signs of it being a girl that she carried but they seemed to know what they was doing and according to them the baby was healthy and its heart was beating strong. The real world seemed so far away. Wandering onto the bay at the rear of the commune where she could hear nothing but the waves was her most favourite activity. On this particular day I now detail she had looked up at the sky first. The clouds were thick and grey. The rain wasn’t far off. There was a man sat on the sand, looking out onto the sea. He had drawn his knees up to his chest and was embracing his surroundings like he was seeing them all for the first time. He turned when he heard her.
“I didn’t mean to disturb you,” she apologised.
The man smiled. He had an engaging stare. She could feel herself smiling too. There was some white in his dark hair, despite his youth, just a streak. He reached his arm out beside him.
“Ye might as well sit with me,” he said. “It would be nice to have the company.”
Eileen took a seat, delicately at his side. He kept his attention focused out onto the sea.
“So you must be the city dweller they call Eileen.”
Eileen agreed. “Yes, that’s me. I came for sanctuary and I have been given that. I will always be grateful.”
The man nodded. “That’s good to know. I’m glad.”
“Have you been here long?” She asked him.
The man chuckled. “My whole life,” he said.
Eileen was fascinated. “It must have been quite different from the city.”
“They say not much could go on on a little island but you’d be surprised. You really would,” he explained.
“My life was shit over in the city. My mum was a drunk. My step dad forced himself on me. The baby I carry is his. My mum blamed me and the Harbour Master took pity on me. Now I’m here.”
The man turned to her. “Fear not,” he said. “You’re safe here. We are like a big family. We’d love for you to be part of our family.”
“I’m not really a religious person,” Eileen was ashamed to admit. She felt ungrateful given how accepting they had been of her, no questions asked.
“Maybe now’s the time to start,” the man suggested. “Ye can find out quite a bit about yerself.”
Eileen made a vow to try. She really did want to show how appreciative she was.
“What’s your name?” She asked.
“Dominick,” the man returned.
“Your Eminence!?” Came a cry from the commune. There was a monk standing by the entrance in robes.
Dominick looked back. He nodded to the monk who went back inside.
“Your Eminence?” Eileen questioned.
Dominick stood. He reached his hand out and helped her onto her feet.
“I’ve been blessed with the leadership of our church,” he explained. “We always welcome new members.”
Eileen took a vow that very day. She vowed to learn what she could about her new family. Before the baby was born she took a bonafide vow.
Reynolds had been based in City Main at the time. He was working out of the offices of CPD. He had been brought onboard when the Office of Law Makers brought their attention to the rise in missing person’s cases in the Coldford. Reynold’s specialty was people who weren’t necessarily missing. They just didn’t want to come home.
It had taken a few months before Eileen’s mother began to show concern. The deadbeat step father had done the same thing with a neighbour so she threw his ass to the kerb and decided she wanted to reconnect with her daughter. A hand written letter had come to the mother with the stamp of the bay. In this letter it told of Eileen’s indoctrination so far. She was pleased to be where she was. She was turning her hand to all kinds of positive things. She was embracing a religion and it was bringing out the best in her. What she made abundantly clear was the fact that she had absolutely no intentions of coming home sans step father or not. That ship had sailed and it had sailed off to Hathfield Bay carrying Eileen’s mother’s only daughter with it.
Eileen’s mother, whom records had named as Lorna P, made an appointment with our investigator.
“I want my daughter back,” she had plead.
She was preaching to the converted in this scenario because Reynolds wanted the girl back too. The issue was as he looked at her she looked real spaced out. She said she had given up the drinking but she had been rad with it very recently. All the signs were there. Her bulbous nose was red with burst vessels. Her breath was putrid. She had made an effort to dress herself but the clothes had a smell of dampness about them. If this girl was to come back, what exactly would she be coming back to? For better? For worse? It wasn’t Reynolds’ decision to make but he had to make sure she understood.
“I will do what I can to bring her back but you gotta level with me. Are you going to be there for her.”
Lorna scowled. She looked as though she was about to give the usual, ‘are you telling me what to do with my own kid?’ speech but she retracted her statement before it was aired. She knew she had treated her daughter like shit. She should have stood by her daughter. She would be heavily pregnant by now if she hadn’t lost the child. The letter never mentioned either way.
“I want to do better. I want to put the past behind us,” was her claim. “I got a job. I’m cleaning at the Lunch Box.”
Reynolds leaned back in his chair.
“It could get real rad,” he warned. “You need to be ready for that. If she does come back you need to be there for her. The process could take a long time.”
Lorna P nodded. “I’m ready for that,” she assured.
Rule number 88 of a Cult Deprogrammer: First contact with the lost soul could make or break a case. That first contact had to be made.
The meeting had been set for four pm. The location was Bobby’s Lunch Box. With Reynolds’ consultation Lorna P had composed a letter of apology to Eileen. She wished her well. She was not to ask her to come home. She was not to make any demands of her. All the letter was to do was to let her know that the mother was open to meeting should the daughter accept invitation. No mention was to be made of the baby.
In response to this letter Eileen accepted the invitation. She too said nothing of the baby.
Lorna P was keeping an eye out for her daughter. The young woman who had come in her place was not her daughter, at least in everything but the physical sense. She looked nothing like the way she had when she left. She had let her hair grow long. She wore a long, grey dress made from thick fabric. It spilled over her ankles. She had a purple ribbon tied around her neck and a Wigan pin on her breast.
“Who are you?” She asked Reynolds at first.
“I’m pleased to meet you, Eileen,” he said. “I’m John Reynolds. I was asked along by your mum. I was hoping we could have a chat.”
Eileen eyed him suspiciously but she took a seat at the diner booth.
“I don’t go by Eileen anymore,” she said. “I shed my city dweller name. They call me Heather now.”
“Heather?” Asked the mother. “Why Heather?”
Reynolds had encouraged her to ask questions as long as they weren’t asked in a challenging tone.
“It’s my favourite plant. You would know that if you knew anything about me,” the girl responded.
“We’re just here because we’re wanting to reconnect,” said Reynolds.
Heather, formally known as Eileen, scowled at him. She turned back to her mother.
“Been off the booze?” She asked her. “For how long this time?”
“For good,” she said. “I promise.”
Reynolds directed the conversation. “We’re stoked that you came,” he said. “There’s no pressure on you. Your mum told me about your letter. You seemed really thrilled over on the island.”
“I am,” said Heather ney Eileen. She was beginning to wonder who this John Reynolds was. Why would he be associated with her mum? Surely he wasn’t a boyfriend. Although he looked like he was a bit of a boozer too so maybe that was how they were connected. Was he her sponsor?
“When you left you were pregnant,” said Reynolds. “Would you like to share what happened? Are you well?”
Eileen started to soften a little. No, not Eileen, her name was Heather now.
“I had a little girl. I named her Ivy.”
“Pretty name,” said Reynolds. “Your mum is glad to be a grandmother.”
“She couldn’t be a mother. What chance does she have of being a grandmother? Did she tell you who fucking knocked me up?”
“Wigan opens his arms to the sinners. You cannot be saved. Your baby cannot be saved. Your ma most definitely cannot be saved,” Dominick had said to her.
“I want to try, Eileen,” said Lorna P.
“My name is not Eileen! It’s Heather.” The girl shrieked. “I am a child of Wigan and he accepts me for all of my sins. You cast me out and he found me.”
Lorna P made to say something but Reynolds stopped her.
“So you took the oath,” he said with a casual calmness that eased the tension. “Who was your sponsor?”
Eileen was quite taken aback by Reynolds’ knowledge of it. Wait. No. Her name was Heather. She was Heather and she was a daughter of Wigan, not some drunk who let her step dad impregnate her.
“You’re a Wigan?” She asked. He had no tell tale signs. He had no pin. His mannerisms were far too mellow for someone who had taken the oath.
“I’m not,” Reynolds replied. “I am familiar with them though. Have you been to McIvor’s Ice Cream parlour over on the bay yet?”
“I have,” she admitted. “I go there quite often.”
“Do you have a favourite flavour?” He asked.
“Strawberry,” she replied.
“She always loved strawberry,” said Lorna P with some measure of pride.
“Some days it was all you gave me to eat,” responded the daughter.
“Family is more than blood. We are bound here stronger than any mother and child, any father and son, any brother and sister. We are the family of Wigan and we’re all here for each other,” said His Eminence.
It was the family that Heather needed. When she took the oath she felt complete. It was fate that the Harbour Master gave her that ticket. It was fate that she fell in love with His Eminence.
“The weather over there can be a little temperamental,” Reynolds said matter of factly.
Heather smiled. “These clothes keep me dry. These clothes keep me warm.”
The commune keeps you safe. The commune keeps you fed.
“I’m going to call you Eileen,” said Reynolds. “It’s not to upset you. If you have shed that name then that is your decision but your mum wants some closure before you return to the commune and it’s the name she recognises. It could be her chance to shed it too if it is what you really want.”
Lorna looked to Reynolds with some surprise. They hadn’t discussed the possibility of her never returning. That wasn’t part of the deal. She kept her mouth shut though. Reynolds seemed to have a handle on the situation.
“I have nothing left to say,” she said. “You can call me what you like. I know what my name is.”
LET THEM BE CONSUMED BY FIRE!
Coming back the city was not going to be easy. She had seen way too much. Her life had changed.
“If could just sit and maybe hear what your mum wants to say?” Reynolds urged.
Heather, no Eileen, was held in her place.
The smell of the burning flesh was stomach churning. At least it was at first.
Dominick had been screaming, “you cannot be saved!”
He was crazed but in that moment but as she watched him she could only think of how passionate he was and how much he loved his Wigan family. He was leading them into a future with furious fire. She had been so swept up she helped with the torches. The city dwellers screamed in pain but their cries for mercy were drowned out as the congregates began to sing.
‘Eileen. I’m going to call you Eileen. That is your name. You are not Heather. Heather was a bayside lunatic who watched four city dwellers burn. Heather gave birth to a little girl named Ivy. Heather danced with the strangely named River, Autumn and April whilst Ivy was blessed into the Wigan faith. Eileen was still on the docks contemplating becoming a prostitute.
You cannot be saved Eileen.
“Yes you can,” John Reynolds reminded her.
I pondered the question first before I voiced it.
“Did she come home?”
“It was one of those deals where you gotta count your blessings,” Reynolds said. “She was coming home. She had gotten as far as a little fishing boat she planned on rowing herself all the way over from the bay. She had Ivy with her.”
“Then what happened?” I asked.
“Did she return to the commune?” I questioned.
“I don’t think so. She had made the resolve to leave. Rule number 36 of a cult deprogrammer: when the victim attempts to leave, the cult will use any force necessary to keep them.”
The truth of the matter was the little fishing boat had been found, beached just a little while along the coast. The blanket she had wrapped Ivy in was discarded, wet and sandy. Ivy was carried by River back to the commune. The seasons changed and the little girl grew beyond infancy. She didn’t know her mother. She didn’t know Heather. She most definitely would never have recognised Eileen. The Wigan life was what she came to know. Praise Wigan!
Discussing this case gave me a lot of food for thought. We can all find ourselves swept up in an ideology. It’s like an unstoppable force which in the hands of those who wield it well can be destructive. It takes people like John Reynolds to combat that kind of thinking. As he would say, ‘you can be saved. You can succeed. You can come back.’
How far must someone fall though before they are merely a sandy, soggy blanket on a discarded boat? Or a victim of a complete stranger’s anger?
John Reynolds will keep fighting on though until everything is groovy again.