This is part of Haunting’s Recollection series – it is a complete account of nocent’s two-part experience, A Memory of Murder and Initiation. It contains full spoilers and is intended for readers who have attended or could not attend the show, or are curious about this creator’s work. You can read the non-spoiler review of the experience HERE. Special thanks to 00011 for their contributions to this article. memory of murder recollection
A Memory of Murder
Greetings, I am 00014… and you have been deemed worthy of reliving your first memory.
The voice on the other end of the phone is stern, yet mysterious. He informs me that I am part of a group of hopefuls invited for a rare, in-person initiation into nocent in honor of the bissextile day.
To accept my offer, I am sent to a storage locker just outside LAX where I discover a backpack full of dirty clothes, drug paraphernalia, newspaper clippings, a plane ticket, and a note from 00013. The remnants of an event four years ago, this backpack tells the story of a grisly murder and a hasty escape to Mexico City for someone named Joseph Winkler.
I leave an offering, and shortly afterward, I receive directions to an isolated location in Joshua Tree. With close friends and fellow initiates at my side, I drive into the desert, ready to relive the worst night of someone else’s life.
Two months of confessions, emails, mysteries, and dedication have all led up to this exact moment. The combined weight of everything I’ve experienced so far and everything that I’m about to experience settles on me with the utmost sanctity. I make my way toward a solitary mailbox. Candlelight illuminates it from below, and the starlit desert sky from above. It’s impossible to tell whether I’m shivering from the cold or from the anticipation.
I reach the mailbox and open it to find a note, a flashlight, and vial of deep amber liquid. The note details the next steps of my journey:
Take the vial containing the memory
remove the cork
inhale deeply; exhale
inhale deeply again; exhale
drink the memory
let it sit in your mouth
dwell upon it before you swallow
take the flashlight
walk towards the main street
do not cross it
take the dirt path to your left
walk until you reach the line of rocks
someone will meet you
I sip the bitter tincture and hold it under my tongue, breathing deeply and allowing my mind to slip into this new reality. As instructed, I take the flashlight and begin to walk down the desert path to my left, alone in the dreamlike haze of semi-darkness. Just when I begin to wonder if I’ve gotten lost, the pounding of footsteps on the path behind me startles me. I whip around to find a strange, disheveled man running toward me at breakneck speed. He’s rambling something, but his words are incomprehensible over the rushing wind. The man greets me by name, but stops short when he registers the confusion in my eyes.
He says it in the way estranged acquaintances sometimes do, like they’re not quite sure if they have to. He begins to tell me his story, his voice full of sadness, shame, and anxiety, stammering as he grapples with the words.
As he continues to speak to me, I gather that Joey and I are old childhood friends whose lives have taken very different paths. He’s the kind of friend you’re surprised to hear from but that nostalgia and loyalty prompt you to reconnect with, no questions asked. I follow him back along the path he met me on as we reminisce about old memories.
As we talk, I realize I may have misread the tone in Joey’s voice. What I initially assumed to be excitement at our reunion begins to feel a little more like desperation. He talks very quickly, cutting me off, and keeps bringing up our promise to always have each other’s back. While it’s sweet at first, I become hesitant as I realize he’s gearing up to ask a huge favor.
I feel as if he’s manipulated my trust and nostalgia, and I wonder what sort of trouble he’s in. His nervous demeanor puts me on edge, but naturally I agree to help him with whatever is troubling him. Upon hearing this, his eyes flood with noticeable relief as he pulls me into a hug.
He talks to me about our past – his mom’s drinking, sleepovers at my house where innocent childhood camaraderie was tinged with the more sinister undertones of his grief and fear, and our naive hopes for a better future. He breaks off suddenly, chuckling self-consciously, and halfheartedly asks about my life. It’s as if it’s suddenly occurred to him that he skipped through the expected social niceties.
I give him the highlights and he smiles politely, but I can tell his mind is preoccupied. He compliments me on my college experience, but his resentful tone is dissonant with his encouraging words. Jealousy leaks through his nonchalant and flat questions, even as he actively denies blaming me for his pain.
“So, I… really appreciate that you’re here. I know that we were on different paths even from the start, so like… I don’t know. I just wish I could be on the same one as you. I’m just sorry I brought you into this.”
With downcast eyes he tells me what happened when I left for college. With his only safe haven gone and nowhere else to turn, he fell in with a bad crowd – a crowd that only got more dangerous as time went on.
I’m thoughtful and silent as I take in his story. I know this is someone else’s memory, but the words cut to a very deep guilt I have held in my heart for years, and calls to mind the people I really did leave behind when I left for college. The story really feels like my own.
I launch into an apology, maybe some words of consolation, but Joey stops me. This is not what we’re here for. We’re approaching a house, brightly lit against the stark desert backdrop. I feel a rising sense of dread. Joey’s scattered stammering reflects back my fear and shame. He’s telling me more about his “friends,” but they don’t strike me as friends at all, or as the kind of people who even remotely have his back.
Shamefully, he tells me he’s been using crack cocaine again. The truth comes out, I think to myself. He claims he’s getting sober and that he came here tonight to settle his account with his dealer, but that he needs my help. He tells me how much I mean to him, that I’m the only one he actually trusts with this, and my pity mixes with anger as I recognize his thinly-veiled emotional manipulation. I’ve seen it a million times before – friends roping my bleeding heart into their personal drama. I sigh to myself. Joey doesn’t seem to notice.
Joey cracks open the door of a dimly-lit house. The whole place is a mess – disheveled furniture, scattered pizza boxes, sheets of black tarp on the floor, a lamp knocked off of a table, drug paraphernalia, and… are those needles?
I can hear my own heartbeat as I take in the scene. There has clearly been drug use and some kind of struggle. There’s music playing but I don’t recognize it. It’s heavily distorted as if I myself am experiencing some kind of drug-induced stupor. Joey is shaking and wringing his hands. He’s having more and more trouble stringing words together, fighting back tears as he moves from room to room with a sort of compulsive pacing.
He tries and fails several times to explain why he brought me here before finally collecting himself enough to give me the basics. He came to pay his dealer, but the man wanted nothing to do with him. When he finally made himself heard, his dealer claimed he owed him far more money than he brought to pay with and threatened to call his enforcer, which sent Joey into an uncontrolled panic. His version of the story paints him as an innocent and confused victim, until he mentions getting his hands on a knife.
In a moment of bravery or perhaps simply a lapse in judgment, Joey finally tells the truth. “I stabbed him over and over and over again,” he says as he makes a manic twisting and stabbing motion with his empty hand, enough to drive his point home.
I’m starting to get the full, grim picture of what happened here.
Joey’s voice gets louder and shriller as he continues his story, and he emphatically claps his hands in my face as if to convince me that he’s telling the truth. I struggle to find anything comforting to say, something to at least indicate that I understand. Something that will get him to just breathe. His drug-induced stammering is punctured occasionally by a ringing phone, and each time it rings his panic increases. Finally, he breaks down sobbing, mumbling something about a plan to drag out the body. He’s twitching, fumbling with a bag full of cleaning supplies, and nearly unintelligible. He instructs me to put on a pair of gloves and flips on a light near the bathroom.
“Oh god. I tried to do it myself. But there was nothing I could do. It was too heavy… I tried to dismember it… I got his leg and… I touched… everything.”
He trails off again, pulling his sweatshirt guiltily over his face. He opens the door to the bathroom and it’s just carnage. A body twisted, half in the bathtub… and half not. There’s blood everywhere, a dismembered hand in the sink, various bits of skin mixed with meat and coagulated blood on the floor, and the smell makes me retch. I’m paralyzed.
“Did anybody follow you? Are you sure you came alone?” Joey asks. I force myself to reassure him that I wasn’t followed, and as I survey the bathroom he resumes his frantic, twitchy pacing and swearing, trying to formulate a plan over his chemically exacerbated panic, and the now constantly ringing phone.
He tells me to start cleaning up blood and fingerprints, and I halfheartedly wipe down the nearest two door knobs that I see, far more concerned with keeping an eye on Joey. He’s trying to reassure himself, saying something about getting rid of the body using his car and a body bag. His nervous energy is only adding to my own anxiety, and finally he turns back to me, as if he’d temporarily forgotten I was there.
“You didn’t… fucking do anything?! Fuck!”
Joey’s screaming at me now, his head in his hands, still pacing in anxiety as I stand there overwhelmed and useless with a damp paper towel in my hand. He continues telling me off as he grabs a handful of trash bags, spouting disjointed plans for how to get rid of the evidence. He doesn’t believe that I wasn’t followed, and he’s too restless to hold still or focus on anything.
Suddenly, Joey notices headlights bleeding through the window, and now a car is in the driveway. His already unfocused eyes light up with pure, animalistic fear. He’s running from corner to corner of the living room, turning lights on, swearing, clearly too high to think critically about the danger.
He ushers me into the bedroom with frantic urgency. My eyes quickly scan the sparsely furnished room, but there’s no hiding spot to speak of. I slink behind the door frame and brace myself for a confrontation.
“Steve? Steve, where are you? Come on, man. This ain’t funny!”
I hear a man burst into the house. He’s poking his head into every room, looking for Steve, the dealer. As he rounds the corner toward the bedroom, Joey walks up to him with a casual friendliness that is obviously overcompensation. His attempt to diffuse the situation is cut short when he realizes that the stranger is armed, and he throws his hands up in shock.
The man breaks into an interrogation. Joey is still strained and struggling to explain, and the stranger is not satisfied in the least with his attempts. Joey pleads and tosses out useless excuses with a careless attitude and a bit of an unfortunate smirk on his face. The man demands to know where Steve is.
“Ok. He probably went to the bank. Or the fucking… I don’t know. He left his phone. He just told me to clean everything up. There’s just a lot of shit in the house so… It’s all good. It’s fine.” Joey says, his tone full of thinly-veiled guilt.
It’s 10:15 pm. Steve is obviously not at the bank. Nailed it, Joey, I think to myself. The stranger also does not seem to think it’s “all good.” Especially when he notices how much black tarp is scattered around the room.
Joey is still blaming it on oddly specific cleaning instructions from Steve. The stranger flies into a rage at the blatant lie, grabbing Joey by the shirt and pinning him against a wall. “Why the fuck would he leave his phone, Joey? Do you think I’m fucking stupid?”
He grabs Joey and throws him to the side as he approaches the bathroom. Joey protests, attempting over and over again to block his path and earning multiple shoves against the wall by the now highly annoyed stranger, who he calls Benny.
Benny eventually throws him to the ground hard enough to make it to the bathroom, where he finally sees what happened to Steve.
His tough exterior almost breaks; he clenches his fist and screams. There’s so much rage and horror, which quickly turns to a robotic coldness, and I am legitimately scared that he’ll find me.
Then he does.
He grabs me, pinning me to the wall, and puts his gun to my head.
“Who the fuck is this? Did you help him with this? Do you like to get high too, motherfucker? Don’t lie to me.” He whips around to face Joey again. “If she’s not part of it, why is she here, you dumb, crack-headed fuck?”
I protest, and Joey assures him that I’m not part of this, but Benny isn’t buying it. With calm and icy anger he puts a hand around my throat as he resumes his interrogation of Joey.
Joey seems to have lost the ability to speak. I’m not even sure he can breathe. Whether it’s the drugs or the fear, he’s been reduced entirely to unintelligible mumbling.
Now completely out of patience, Benny forces Joey to lie face down on the floor, gun still pointed at him. He begins to direct his questions to me instead, convinced that I’m just another addict killing a dealer I can’t afford to pay.
“I had nothing to do with this. I’m just a friend of Joey’s.” I plead with him repeatedly, but I don’t think Benny cares either way. Benny puts me into a headlock and starts to drag me out of the bedroom.
He stops so I can see the severed leg unceremoniously deposited in what he informs me is Steve’s kid’s room.
I can tell from his voice that he’s disgusted, and frankly, I am too. He throws me around the living room. My legs flail as I struggle to find footing to lessen the uncomfortable choking sensation.
Eventually they give out, and I fall to my knees. Benny is behind me now, fueled with anger, and looking for any outlet. He grabs the closest thing, and I scream in pain as he breaks a plate over my head.
He yells at me to get up and to give him my possessions. I shakily and uselessly gesture in the direction of the bedroom, mumbling that I left them behind, and internally shocked that I don’t quite remember when I dropped them or why.
He screams for me to go and get my stuff. His voice is unbridled fury, swearing over Joey’s renewed attempts to placate him, and cornering Joey against the wall as I scramble across the floor to collect my abandoned belongings.
Benny’s gun is against Joey’s forehead and I can hear Joey’s ragged breathing as Benny explains that he intends to collect on the money that Joey owed Steve. Joey is still attempting excuses, but they’re cut short as Benny forces him to his knees. With condescending rage, Benny explains that it doesn’t much matter if Joey paid Steve since he killed him minutes later.
I’m a shaking heap on the floor, clinging to my reclaimed belongings as Benny turns back to me, gun aimed straight at me. He demands my ID and I fumble with it until he loses patience, grabbing my bag and dumping out the contents with petty, grumbled sarcasms. He reads off my name and home address. He interrogates me about my home and family, what valuables are in the house, tells me about his “people in Texas,” and asks if I’d like my family to live to see another day.
Joey begins to plead again, and Benny turns on him, screaming. I only have time for a couple of breaths before he turns back to me once more and, with his gun against my temple, assures me that every Nelson in Texas is at risk until he gets his money: $60,000.
Joey is whimpering reassurances that he can get the money, and I’m wincing away from Benny’s screams that drown out Joey’s empty words with reminders of just how much he owes. He gives Joey an hour, and snarls that he will be using me as collateral. Joey is still protesting, but Benny’s hands are around my neck again, and his continuous screaming and swearing send Joey cowering back to the corner, useless.
Benny is halfway to the door, pulling me along at gunpoint, when his eyes land on a body bag lying on the floor. “What’s that?” He whirls around on Joey again, lips curled with rage as he demands an explanation.
Joey is silent, but it’s clear to us all what Joey was planning to do with the bag. “Lay it out like you were gonna do for Steve.” Benny snarls.
“Get something to tie her fucking legs up with.”
He’s barking instructions, frustrated with Joey’s inability to focus. It seems my fate has become slightly more complicated. I’m coughing and wheezing now, fighting for every breath against the pressure on my throat.
Joey complies at gunpoint, rambling under his breath as he lays the bag at my feet with his head bowed in shame. Angry and confused, he’s still halfheartedly trying to plead with an increasingly incensed Benny. At Benny’s persistent yelling, he shuffles off to the kitchen to look for zip ties. Meanwhile, Benny is whispering chilling threats in my ear, stopping only to startle Joey into faster compliance.
“Do you think this is a motherfucking game? See them kids’ books? You get high with crackheads and kill family members.”
I’m shaking my head, trying to assure Benny that I’m not an addict or a killer, no threat to him at all, but he’s already made up his mind about me and the words stick in my throat as I feel tears welling up in my eyes.
Benny throws me to my knees, and Joey to the floor next to me. He’s yelling even louder now, instructing Joey on how to tightly zip tie my arms to my legs, and pressuring him into speed and me into compliance.
Joey mutters apologies and reassurances that he’ll get me out of this. The words fall flat, barely audible over Benny’s rage. Benny is pacing now, swearing and shaking his head. His self control is failing – there’s no sign of the cold and calculated interrogator from just minutes before.
He reads off my address again and decides that if he doesn’t get his money, my family will be dead by morning. He shouts threats, countdowns, and insults as Joey struggles to tie my arms and legs. When he’s finally done, Benny crouches down and whispers at me to crawl into the body bag. The whispers are far more frightening than the yelling.
When I hesitate, he pushes me forward. I roll onto my back and lie there immobilized and sobbing as he grabs Joey by the shirt to berate him one last time for his insolence and incompetence.
“You’re not done until I say you’re fucking done. Speed it the fuck up Joey, I’m not goddamn playing. Move at your crackhead-ass pace.”
Benny throws Joey onto his back and towers over him, demanding that he zip up the body bag with me inside it.
Joey tries to collect himself, whining and crawling back toward me. Every hesitation from Joey is met with more screaming, and I don’t dare to speak. I realize what’s about to happen, and I can’t stop crying. Joey is highly dissociated at this point, and he carries out these final instructions with useless whispered apologies and curses. Benny is irate and grieving over the death of his employer and friend, and he can’t resist a couple of hard kicks at Joey’s ribs.
Joey whimpers and tries to placate Benny, fearing additional violence. He quickly zips me into the body bag as I shake and sob.
The last thing I see is Benny, pacing as he mutters expletives.
The world goes dark.
I force myself to stop crying, to slow my breathing.
My breath feels hot in the enclosed space and I’m not sure how long I’ll have air for. I hear footsteps, a door opening, endless shouting between the two men.
Joey is sent to collect my belongings, and shortly afterward I feel myself lifted off the ground. I’m dizzy and completely disoriented, counting my breathing and willing myself to stay calm.
“You know where to meet me, Joey. One hour. 6, 0kay? Have my fucking money or you know what it is. It’s both of you in the fucking ground, alone in the desert.” A small pause and then, “I’ve got a special place for people like you.”
I’m hoisted onto a flat surface and told to lie still, a few more threats thrown in for good measure. I hear the trunk close and the car start. Joey is pleading and screaming, assuring me that he’ll come for me. Benny yells insults back at him as the car pulls out of the driveway.
The drive is disorienting, every turn and shift causes me to roll helplessly against the walls of the trunk. My breath is ragged.
When I’m finally hoisted out of the car, the cool air is a short-lived relief. I feel myself being dragged across the ground.
Against the backdrop of desert wind I hear the sound of digging. Any doubt I had about the severity of my predicament is dispelled when I hear Benny’s voice, still muttering in anger over the death of his friend.
“You know Joey’s not gonna give me all that money, right? So I hope you like rattlesnakes and cockroaches and coyotes.”
He’s laughing now, tossing out a few last threats, taunts, and expletives. With horror, I feel a pile of dirt land on my chest. More and more dirt piles on me, drowning out my whimpers and protests.
When I’m sufficiently buried, Benny wishes me a good night with simpering condescension.
The last thing I hear is the car starting up and driving away. Then it’s just the wind and fear and silence.
After what feels like ages, my contemplative silence is broken first by footsteps, and then words – my own words, read back to me in a woman’s voice.
“Here lies the girl whose darkness was self-abandonment, whose shadow was martyrdom. Her Call of the Void finds its footing in other people, no matter how many walls she tries to build.”
It’s the eulogy that I was instructed to write prior to coming to the desert. Passages have been chosen from the whole to retell my grief as a story of pain, strength, and growth. There is a moment of silence as I take in my journey so far, the things I am most ashamed of in myself that in this moment have been brought to light.
I listen to the entire eulogy, spoken to a backdrop of desert wind.
When it concludes, the woman starts to hum as she gently unzips the body bag.
Finally, my sight is restored and I see that my rescuer is wearing a white porcelain mask with black tears running down from the eyes. It’s a symbol I have come to know very intimately in recent months.
She is nocent.
The woman uses a pair of black scissors to free my hands from the zip ties, and I’m finally able to shakily sit up and look around me at my solitary desert grave. She offers me a hand, and I stumble as I step out of the body bag.
This woman is 00009, the member of nocent who has guided us through each step of the initiation process. She is the mother of our rebirth, the voice in the darkness, the public face of nocent.
There’s sadness in her voice as she informs me that Joey abandoned me, escaping to Mexico to save his own skin, and that the killer was never caught.
I know this was not my memory, but my heart still sinks at the shock of such a cold betrayal by my childhood friend – leaving me to die by exposure in an unmarked grave.
Her voice takes on a more ceremonious tone as she congratulates me on surviving my first memory, reminding me that I am not the body left there in the bag. Poetically, she describes the weight of memories and the way that they fall on us, sink into us, and penetrate our minds and souls.
Ever the patient teacher, she asks me to tell her what I’ve learned, how my life has been affected by what I’ve seen. Through the tears, I try to gather my scattered thoughts enough to share the lessons that I’ve learned about consequences, loss, authenticity, and acceptance.
“Are you ready to make a significant change in your life, to let the old parts of you die?” she asks.
I’ve never been more ready, and I confidently tell her as much.
“Please, join us.” she says as she gestures at me to follow her.
Guided by a soft light, she leads me away from the grave that represents my former life. We walk for five minutes in silence, toward a black horizon. The vast emptiness of the desert is so starkly contrasted against the claustrophobia of the body bag and the chaos of the drug den. It’s two sides of the same coin: life and death, order and chaos, free and bound, past and future.
After a much needed walk, we arrive at a masked man standing in a circle of candles. Solemn music drifts through the air.
“Have you brought your totem, the representation of your past self, imbued with all the pain, trauma, and guilt of the past?”
I’m still shaking as I pull out a small, silver ring with a broken stone and cradle it gently in my hands. I’ve held it closely for the past few days, meditated for hours on its story, and prepared to say goodbye to it forever.
The masked man greets me as I approach him. His voice is kind, but also mysterious and stern with a chilling edge to it and just a hint of madness, as if he’s looked into the void and seen things he cannot unsee.
He introduces himself as 00010, a member who is intimately acquainted with pain, who he refers to as “her.” With a wildness in his eyes he describes to me the process of death and rebirth, the shedding of old suffering. His words strike a deep chord in me.
00010 paces in circles around me as he imparts his lessons, stopping occasionally to gesture to the tiny graves of other totems, or to look me in the eyes with a soul-searching gaze. He asks to see my totem and to hear what it means to me.
I’m crying in earnest now. There is so much that I want to leave behind, so much that has left me heavy, so much relief at how much his words resonate with me.
I tell him about my totem, that it was a gift given to me a long time ago by someone who ultimately did me harm. I tell him about my inability to stop wearing it, in spite of how much it hurts to do so. More broadly, I tell him how hard it is for me to ever let go of the past – of things, and especially people, that I have lost.
He nods, pleased at the realization that I also know pain the way he does. He asks me sternly if I’m ready to kill my past, repeating the question over and over again until he’s stirred in me a fervor that he deems sufficiently convincing.
He finishes his lecture with a lesson from his father: “If you have to kill something, make sure it stays fucking dead.”
He offers some last words of encouragement for the work I’m about to undertake and hands me a shovel, pointing to a spot on the ground and instructing me to dig. His words echo in my mind as I comply.
When I’m finished, he affirms my work and we kneel together to place my totem in its grave. He asks me to destroy it, to show him how much I want it dead, to let him feel my desire to leave it behind.
I set fire to my totem, and with wild eyes, I watch the flames take hold of all the painful things I’ve held onto, the thoughts about myself that keep me up at night, my fears and failures and griefs over not being accepted, not being wanted, not belonging.
When the fire burns down, 00010 lets me say one last goodbye. He helps me push dirt over my totem, slamming his full weight on it, burying it forever and willing dead pain to stay dead.
He asks me how it feels and I tell him that it hurts but that it also feels like letting go of a heavy weight. He smiles grimly and tells me that that’s how it should feel, and as I rise to my feet he thanks me for the gift I’ve given to Pain. His tone takes on a passionate, religious fervor, almost euphoric.
He pulls me into a hug, and I suddenly find myself surrounded by masked figures who are there to witness my transformation. I wipe my tears on the sleeve of my shirt. I feel seen. 00009 puts her arm around my shoulder.
“Your guilt has been weighed, and your actions match our conclusions. The elders have granted you level 10 membership of nocent. Do you accept it, and everything that comes with it? Would you like to continue your initiation?” She asks. A final choice.
My path to this moment flashes once more to my mind as I irrevocably make mine.
00009 leads me down yet another path, bringing me to a small altar presided over by a masked figure who instructs me to sit before him.
He is 00007.
“Symbolizing the darkness within, we now offer you the blood of the first, the guilt of the second, and the darkness of the third.” He takes a vial out of a strange wooden box, preparing the ritual in front of me. I recognize it as a Eucharist, but appropriated through the darkness that is nocent.
He first passes me a crystal chalice.
“When you drink, their shadow will infuse yours, their darkness will fuse with yours, which will begin your path to rebirth.”
I drink, as 00007 nods in approval. The thick black liquid burns as I drink it.
Next, he hands me a silver plate with a small wafer on it.
“This meal is washed in the guilt of our order. Consuming it will allow you to take our guilt upon yourself, just as we take your guilt on us. Your guilt will merge with ours, much like the sin eaters of old. In this manner, we will begin to become one.”
I eat, and am surprised by how bitter the taste is. I find myself lost among the mystery of his words. This benediction reveals a great deal about the order I am joining, but raises far more questions and stirs in me a desire to go deeper into this dark world. I’m self-conscious, trying so hard to give the ceremony the sanctity it deserves while my mind races at the revelation.
00009’s soft voice breaks me out of my reverie.
With characteristic kindness, she explains the last step, the last part of the old me that must go: the very clothes I wore to the desert, which I will never see again. Gently, she asks me to trust, to shed everything that’s left of my old identity. This trust has been earned over my entire journey, and giving it to her in this moment is effortless.
I strip down to my undergarments and feel the desert air cold against my bare skin. I wrap my arms around myself for warmth as 00009 places a blindfold over my eyes and leads me forward. I feel arms on either side of me, giving me strength and support in return for the trust I’ve given them.
I am guided feet first into what I realize is water chilled by the desert air – desperately, painfully cold. I gasp in shock as my breath catches in my lungs.
My blindfold is removed and every nerve is screaming as I will myself further into the icy pool of dark water, far blacker than any normal water under a night sky.
I kneel, focusing on only 00009’s voice as the cold reaches my bones. I let it in without fighting it.
“Look at me.” she says. “Repeat after me: My past matters not. My name is forsaken. I will live the life I was supposed to lead. I am nocent. Nocent is me. Let the baptism begin.”
Another figure is behind me, his mask out of the corner of my eye more frightening than the rest. I feel his breath on my neck as he leans in and whispers my number.
It’s my first time hearing it, and it serves as an anchor through the waves of cold and shock. He tells me that he is baptizing me into the eternal darkness of nocent, wrapping an arm around me and pulling me down into the water.
The cold water on my face is unbearable and I twist and flail in panic as he holds me under with a quiet and ceremonial strength.
When he finally lets me up, 00009 is there with a hand once more, assuring me that the ritual is over. She formally welcomes me as a member, the cloud of witnesses by her side.
She returns my shoes and guides me to a pile of clothes, not mine of course, those selected as new clothes, a new start, a path forward.
I dry myself off and find the biggest and warmest sweatshirt I can.
She hands me my membership card. It’s surprisingly heavy, made of black metal, and etched in grey is my new name.
I hold it to my heart, savoring this moment of warmth, triumph and belonging.
00009 walks with me again, this time more casually, her tone congenial.
“We are nocent. There is no longer any need for societal masks. You may remove yours as I will remove mine.”
She takes off her mask, and we walk back toward civilization.
She exchanges words with me about my journey, about my strength – words I needed to hear. She whispers words of hope and consolation even nearer to my heart. I realize that I have never been alone on any step toward this moment.
We reach a path and 00009 tells me that I must walk the rest of the way forward in solitude.
I say my goodbyes and begin my return journey under a bright, full moon that is breaking through strange clouds among endless stars.
I’m free now to cry openly at the beauty, the pain, and the fear in what I’ve just experienced, as well as my own strength and the power of my decision to be here. I have walked the path, I have stepped into something new, the trial is over.
Space opens up inside of me, something raw and mysterious that feels like freedom. I arrive back at the car, curl up in a blanket, and turn the heat up as high as it will go, still shaking from cold, adrenaline, and awe.
On the dashboard I find a note and a cupcake. “Happy Birthday, from 00008.” It’s no surprise that nocent’s lovable and empathetic confessor remembered that today marks not just one birthday for me, but two.
While A Memory of Murder has concluded its run, new participants are welcome to join nocent by emailing email@example.com or engaging with the confessional. There are many ways to join an initiation class. Find out more about nocent on their website, Instagram, and Facebook page. Check out our Event Guide for more ARX and horror events throughout the year.
MORE ABOUT HAUNTING
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