Below is a Recollection–this is not a review, but rather a full spoiler walkthrough of the author’s experience in The End, the final night of The Tension Experience’s immersive experience event entitled Ascension. Prior to this experience, the OSDM began to lose their grasp on The Overseer of The OOA Institute, better known as Addison Barrow. A select group of people were contacted by The Overseer and invited back to the institute, ready to support her in case of a final confrontation with the OSDM.
“aut vincere aut mori:
Tomorrow, you are to bear witness.
Tomorrow, is Our new beginning.”
I arrive at The OOA Institute well before my designated time. Waiting under a large oak tree, I am surrounded by other members of the Brotherhood of Seraph (BOS); a group of renegades opposed to the practices of the OOA, citing them as unjust and inhumane. We have a mission, a job to complete. Michelle, a radical within the OSDM (Oracle Security and Data Management, the administrators of the OOA), met with a small group of the BOS the previous day. Her message was simple: to record everything that is to happen inside. To expose the atrocities that are occurring behind the walls. Little did I know, I would be recording the deaths of many I had considered friends.
With Michelle’s orders in mind, I approach the compound. A man shines a flashlight, ushering us all closer, ordering the many who have gathered to line up against the wall. We comply. And then we hear music, a song— Amazing Grace. But not the patriotic version I am used to. This version is slowed down, haunting, and echoes through the halls, reverberating on the dreams that died within. And then we recognize the voice of the singer—it belongs to Addison, also known as the Overseer.
The doors of the compound bang open, startling us all from our daze. Two of the handlers emerge. Their white dresses are covered in blood. Their hair, their hands, their face—all splattered with red. As the crowd gasps, two more follow them out. They walk down the line, pausing to stare at us—or for us to stare at them. They continue to appear until eight girls, every one drenched in blood, move amongst us.
A man barks out names, and six people form a second line. One of the handlers grabs the hand of the first person and leads them through the metal door—disappearing into the echoes of Amazing Grace. I remain in line, my anxiety building with each repetition of the song, until my name is called.
I follow my handler—Susan—as she leads my group inside. I enter the main lobby, a place previously brimming with Southern Hospitality. But instead of receiving a warm welcome, I see Mary Lynn seated in her chair, head pulled back, mouth open, her throat slit. Her blue floral dress is stained a deep crimson, and fresh blood runs down the corkboard behind her. My heart sinks. This is a woman I had known, I connected with, I cared for. And now she is dead. I want to pay my respects, to restore some of her dignity, but I am already being ushered forward by my handler.
I pass Myles, the kind gentleman who took my picture, now a lifeless body on the floor. I enter the recreation room and am only met with more carnage. An older couple sits on a back sofa with their necks slashed, blood already soaked through their clothes. An old woman sits at a table, a phone cord wrapped around her frail neck. I turn my head away and keep walking.
Entering the changing room, I see two bloody handprints running down the rules board—and Ellis Gordon dead in the center. I rush past him, past another body in the hall, and into the processing room. And in front of me is Simon, the hardened backbone of The OOA. I can’t help but look—and I see he didn’t go down without a fight. His face is bruised, and his left eye is mangled by a bullet—leaving a bloody hole in its wake. A girl in our group falls to her knees, sobbing uncontrollably. Someone tries to help her, but it’s futile. I leave the room, her sobs disappearing behind me.
I pass many more bodies: Mrs. Waters, Sentinel, and the doctor. My heart hurts. I reach the final room—the church of Anoch. My handler leads me to my seat in the ceremony room and then joins the others on stage. Behind them is a girl strapped to a chair with a hood over her face. But the red dress she wears is unmistakable—it belongs to Addison, the Overseer. Men in suits and masquerade masks line the walls—but it is unclear whether they are hired help or part of the OSDM itself.
As the remainder of people file in, Amazing Grace, still blaring throughout the compound, slows down. Off key and slurring, the song is a sickening mockery of its former beauty.
“You are our guests tonight. Do not interrupt the proceedings. Do not touch anyone. The only person you are allowed to follow is The Overseer. You are here to bear witness. This is The End.”
The handlers all speak in unison.
The dark, suited figure of the OSDM’s Samson emerges from off stage and removes Addison’s hood. Usually a man of few words, he thanks us for our journey out here and tells us that he was actually worried when Addison invited some of her most faithful followers to join her tonight. But this is an example of what happens to communities led by her. The hood removed, he whispers in her ear and she begins to talk, to tell us that she was confused. That it doesn’t matter who speaks the word of Anoch – all that matters is the words are true and we are here to witness the truth and unity offered. She continues, repeating her short monologue until she begins to stutter and stammer and mix up her words.
These words, used to control Addison in the past, now appear to have no effect. Samson frantically tries to discipline her, but a new voice can be heard.
“I’m sorry, please continue. I believe you said me and my associates are corrupt liars.”
This interruption comes from Michelle, who leaps onto the stage and thrusts a knife deep into Samson’s chest. He collapses into the arms of the masked men, and is dragged away.
“Now I want all of you, every single Clock Maker, to watch what you’ve created disappear. She’s amazing isn’t she? The perfect subject. Show her!”
Michelle brandishes a gun as a sign of strength. She orders the Overseer to stand, and a video begins to play on a large screen behind her. It shows the girl we have known as Addison and the man that claimed to be her father, Tom Barrow. Tom instructs her: “Your name is Addison Barrow, I am your father and I love you.” But she resists—“I don’t know you.” Tom repeats the statement and Addison responds the same. This time, Tom slaps her across the face. This continues in a frightening manner, leaving the audience in shock—until Addison finally concedes: “my name is Addison Barrow, you are my father and you love me.”
The video ends and the girl in the red dress is left utterly displaced and confused. Michelle laughs spitefully.
She then explains what Addison really is – a mirror. In her, we see ourselves. The struggling artist, the lost daughter, the sister to protect, the lover waiting to be rescued, the strong woman waiting to dominate and lead. She is the reason all of this worked; why we are all here. They continued to fine tune her because she is more important than she even realizes.
But Addison can’t yet see the truth. She refuses to believe it, citing her faith in Anoch, His words, and us. Michelle laughs again. She explains that actual faith is the one thing they couldn’t program out of her. But she’s not alone—Michelle’s supervisors are watching from the shadows right now and they believe in all this too. But we have the power now.
“I honestly don’t know if a God damn word of this book is true or fantasy—and you know what? I don’t care!”
She throws the Book of Anoch onto the floor in a grand display of disrespect.
“I care that it is bait; just like you see, it’s all part of the narrative that pulls them in and makes them care. The mysterious cult! See the Clock Makers thought the words in that book were power, a mystical God that speaks only through oracles. A God that no one has heard from in centuries. No, no, no. The real power lies in the faithful themselves.”
She returns her attention to the young women in their blood-stained dresses, thanking them for their service, informing them that the pill in their hand is poison – guaranteed to kill them if they swallow it. They each take a pill from a jar and hold it shaking in their hands.
“We’ve known how to brainwash using physical trauma and conditioning. It’s been amazingly effective, but you already knew that.”
She turns to the handlers. She thanks them for their service and informs them that the pill in their hand is poison—it will kill them if they swallow it. But they do anyway. She then yells that they are free: “Go!”
The handlers snap out of their trance. Real fear can be seen on their faces. They run for the door—but it’s already too late. Foam runs down their chin and they choke violently. They try to vomit onto the floor, but only collapse to the ground; some beginning to crawl, others clutching each other, desperately seeking comfort in their final moments. Their bodies finally cease the struggle, leaving them lifeless and cold.
“Individuals are particularly easy to condition and manipulate. We find out how they react to things like extreme emotions and trauma and then you re-enforce an agenda to their subconscious. But if you want to control the masses you need all the media variables from a large data set! Control of information on how people react to excitement, desire, joy, and most relevant of all: anxiety… tension, if you will. Now if you had that kind of knowledge and kind of power you could affect pretty much any kind of change you wanted don’t you think?”
She tells of the power she would have with that information. Her superiors, their shadow governments and behind the scenes manipulations would no longer have the power they thought they did. She provides proof in the election—as they manipulated it with help of the data we helped them collect. She grabs a handful of our questionnaires from a box and throws them across the room.
“Within these walls, thirty-one of you handed us your cell phone and unlocked it. Forty-two of you answered a two-hundred question survey! Why?! Because we asked you to.”
She turns to Addison: “but you, you have given us everything.”
Addison begs to be released. Michelle scoffs at her, commenting that she doesn’t have control over her own fate and sets her gun down. She walks back towards us, and Addison grabs the gun, putting it to her chin with a shaking hand.
“I am in fucking control now!”
She pulls the trigger.
And pulls it again, and again.
“No, Sabrina Kern. You never have been.”
Michelle uses the name some have heard before, but has not been confirmed – until now.
One of the masquerade masked men emerges with a large cardboard box. He walks it over to the stage and sets it on the chair. Michelle watches as Addison/Sabrina walks to it, opening the box and beginning to sob uncontrollably.
A second video begins to play.
“Tell us about your background with Immersive Theater.”
“I love Immersive Theater. I have been to Sleep No More—I love that. What is this?”
As the video plays, the girl on stage slips out of her red dress, shedding her role as the Overseer like a snake sheds its skin. Standing vulnerable, in front of all us, she leaves Addison behind, transforming back into Sabrina Kern. First her blue jeans, and then her white shirt. The video explains that she is an actress auditioning for this part. She reads and signs a contract and rehearses her best “Glory Be!”
The video freezes. Sabrina, still crying, begins to walk off the stage. We stand, rushing forward to follow. But as we walk through the doors, the OOA Institute has changed. The darkness is replaced by stage lighting, fog machines line the floor; the walls are being actively torn down. The compound is now a set being deconstructed.
We have seen behind the curtain. None of this was real. Addison was an actress named Sabrina; The OOA Institute, an elaborate set. And all of this was a clever trap for the OSDM to record our reactions and gather data.
We follow Sabrina outside. A beige Toyota Corolla waits in the parking lot. The men in the masks hover around her. She approaches the car and then stops. She turns to us.
“This time, just let me go. Okay?”
She gets into the car and drives off the set, leaving behind her stunned followers in the compound of lies.
A huge thanks to Maxwell Robison for helping transcribe The Tension Experience’s periscope, Victoria Camps for her edit of this article, Dan DaCunha for the fifth image, and Shaun Rader for the cover image.