cult of personality

I’m at a male friend’s house. He’s telling me about his dad who, until his death, had been the leader of a cult.

‘My dad used these in his rituals.’ My friend points to a set of miniature stairs near the window. Other than the metallic frame, the stair’s two “steps” are composed entirely of 6-inch nails, with only the slightest rounding to prevent puncture to its visitors.

‘Wow,’ I say. ‘Do you have any shots of him using them?’

‘Sure,’ he says, and after pressing a few buttons on the wall, points out the window.

The window held a verdant forest, full of green light and 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 turn to my friend. ‘Video?’

He nods. ’It’s a combo screen.’

I turn back, and there’s a closeup of my friend’s dad, Julian, talking to someone off-screen. Behind Julian is a series of train tracks, 30 feet above ground and pure steel. There’s a larger set of nail stairs to the left, leading to a small platform under the tracks.

‘Look!’ I point at the stairs. ‘Where do those go?’

’You’ll see,’ my friend says.

Julian says, ‘By riding this way, we free the soul. By climbing the stairs, we move past the pain of our earthly shell. By connecting ourselves to the underside of the train, we honor that which is forgotten and misunderstood.’

Julian then climbs the stairs, pulls down a backpack attached to a T-bar, and straps the pack around his body. He closes his eyes, his mouth moving in silent prayer. Prayer time over, he looks above and presses a hidden button. 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.

Julian’s previously recorded philosophizing continues. ‘Finally, by passing over the earth in this way, our bodies free to experience the elements, we shake off that which is foul, that which is death. The wind, trees and sun cleanse us with each turn of the rails and earth.’

The scene changes to grainy footage of another rider. Unlike Julian, this man’s hands are hanging limply at his side. His eyes are closed, mouth open, face grey, he sways down the tracks.

The narrator returns. ‘These cleansings do not appear to be without casualty; several deaths have been attributed to Julian’s methods.’

The dead man recedes into the screen, flailing and then smacking into a nearby tree. His body begins to mangle, but fortunately I can’t see much since he’s so far away.

The screen returns to Julian, standing in front of the tracks. He shrugs and says, ‘Some people cannot be cleansed entirely. They make the journey, and sometimes the earth must take them back.’

cult of personality


Portland, United States

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