Below is a Recollection–this is not a review, but rather a full spoiler walkthrough of the author’s experience in The Tension Experience’s Ascension. As Ascension will never occur again, spoilers should not be a major concern. Further, this is only one path of many that were available during The Tension Experience / Ascension. It was highly personalized to the participant, and thus, many paths and many choices were available. Although this recollection is the participant’s first time through, some elements of a second time through were incorporated because of special circumstances.
When I stumbled across The Tension Experience in early July 2016, I was merely looking for a distraction from my half-hearted attempts to start writing a second book. It promised not only horror, but that I would learn something about myself in the process. I wasn’t hoping for any more than a procrastination tool – I live in the UK so how involved could I really be?
Little was I to know that this was going to change my life in unimaginable ways.
The best analogy I have found to describe the whole thing to the always curious uninitiated is this: Imagine you get hooked on the first season of this amazing television show, “The Tension Experience: Indoctrination”. It has a compelling plot, characters you love, characters you hate, all that stuff. Now imagine you can interact with that TV show remotely, solving puzzles, communicating with the characters, picking a side, in some ways even affecting the story-line. You make friends with a bunch of other fans and even see some of them get walk-on roles in the show.
Then comes the season finale – “Ascension”. And everyone is invited to take part! But Ascension is going to be taking place over 5000 miles away. So, you’re happy to live vicariously through the recollections of the friends who by now have become your family across the ocean. But they’re not happy for that to be it for you. Imagine they put the money together to fly you out to Los Angeles, because they believe you deserve to do this…
And that is how I came to find myself standing in a parking lot in Downtown LA one Sunday evening at the end of October.
When I arrive with a friend, there are already a few people milling around. I start chatting to a young woman named Liesel, a waitress and writer – just like me. I find myself saying “me too!” too often for this to be mere coincidence. Alarm bells are ringing in my head. And those alarm bells scream “PLANT!” Not that she is actually some kind of herb, but that she is an actress hired by Tension to infiltrate the wannabe initiates… I’ve heard the rumors.
Talking to her is a nice distraction however, as I am beginning to wonder why the hell I thought this was a good idea. You see, I am about to step onto enemy territory. I am about to enter the compound of the OOA, the Oracular Order of Anoch – what I believe to be a dangerous, murderous, religious cult that I have acted in opposition to since joining the Brotherhood of Seraph (BoS). I am a rebel with a cause. And they know I am coming… The Overseer is waiting for me.
A black van pulls up and two incredibly brusque men call out our names, handing us waivers to sign. Who signs something without reading it? Um, apparently me… See? I’m learning something about myself already.
As soon as we are in the van, we are commanded to put black hoods over our heads and ordered not to talk. Classical music blares from the stereo in short bursts, interrupted by one of the men telling people to leave their hoods alone (I am dubious as to whether anyone actually tries to peek, but it certainly adds to the… tension…). Suddenly, the van pulls up, the door slides open and my friend is told to get out. The door is slammed shut and off we go again. Music. STOP MESSING WITH YOUR HOOD SIR! Van stops. Liesel is told to get out. Off we go again. I know I’m next. I try to take deep calming breaths, but that’s easier said than done when you’re wearing a cloth bag over your head…
The van pulls up abruptly. The door slides open. The hood is ripped off. I am pointed towards a metal door. “Knock on there, as loud as you can.”
The van drives away.
And I am alone in an alley.
I have no choice. I take a breath of fresh air, wondering if it will be my last.
And I knock. Hard.
The door opens just a crack. A face peers out at me. A girl. A hauntingly beautiful girl. With bobbed hair. Dark make-up around her huge eyes. She regards me. Smiles. Tells me she likes my shirt. I tell her I like her white dress and that she looks very pretty. She opens the door and pulls me into the warmest and most genuine of hugs before taking my hand and leading me into a reception area. And there, waiting, is Mary Lynn, the famous receptionist of the OOA Institute with her heart-shaped pout and penchant for following unsuspecting people into bathrooms.
She moves straight over to me, taking hold of my hands.
“Oh sweetheart, you’re shaking!”
I shyly admit that I am a little nervous. She wraps her arms around me and tells me how happy they all are that I have made it. She leads to me to a chair and I begin to fill out the questionnaire on the reverse of the waiver.
I have my head down, concentrating on questions such as “who knows you are here?”, when a pair of shoes come into view. They stop directly in front of me. Full of curiosity, I look up and straight into the face of the Overseer – a petite blonde in a red dress who, as her title suggests, oversees everything within this compound. I actually gasp from shock. I have such mixed feelings about the young woman, but in this moment, I am in awe. Mary Lynn shoves my head back down, reminding me to be respectful. I carry on with the questionnaire although it is impossible to concentrate when the Overseer is standing next to you, playing with your hair… She whispers in my ear. And then she is gone.
I still haven’t finished my questionnaire when the handler who opened the door to me reappears, puts a hood back over my head and leads me away from the reception. We walk this way and that and although thoroughly disorientated, I trust this girl completely. Her touch is firm yet gentle, like we are old friends.
We stop and my hood is removed.
I gasp for the second time tonight. I am in a smoky room, illuminated by a red light. In front of me stands the Overseer. Behind her is a sea of faces – it seems like every single member of the OOA is here in this room, their eyes on me. I can’t make myself focus even though I know if I look carefully I could pick out people I recognize.
I. Am. Terrified.
Overseer talks about how far I have travelled. Everyone calls “Glory Be!” to me. And I “Glory Be!” back, because I am not exactly in the ideal situation to start being defiant. Overseer reaches for my hands. I think this is part of the welcome, but she turns my hands over, looking down at my fingers until she finds what she is looking for… My BoS tattoo.
Overseer holds my finger aloft, showing my tattoo to those behind her. I swear, amidst the horrified gasps, I hear some of them hiss at me. Overseer says she isn’t going to invite me to join the OOA like she has asked others, even those who had once been an active part of the BoS, because that simply isn’t my _path. But she welcomes me nonetheless and hopes that my time here is “enlightening”.
The hood is placed back on my head and I am returned to the reception area and taken into a side room where I meet the lovely Myles. He greets me with a hug and then takes my photo, attaching it to my file and writing the word “coward” on my still incomplete questionnaire. My time with him is far too short; just being in his presence has a calming effect on me and my hands cease their trembling.
Everyone has been so nice so far, so warm and welcoming (despite the hissing, granted). Am I being lulled into a false sense of security? Would it be so foolish to let my guard down, just a little?
I am taken from the photo room and into a communal lounge area. An older lady sits at a table, working on a jigsaw. My offer to help is politely declined. I wander around, joining Liesel as she looks through what appears to be a book on anatomy. She points something out, something scribbled on the page. I know that there are messages hidden everywhere in this room, but I am more interested in personal interactions so I join an elderly couple, him seated in an armchair, her on a couch.
I learn that they are Leonard and Mildred. Leonard is an elder in the OOA and is tired from a meeting that ran on too long… Mildred seems sweet so I try to ask her some questions.
“Have you been here a long time?”
“Oh yes, a long time” she replies.
“And you like it here? I mean, are they good to you?”
“Of course, dear.”
Her attention is caught by a young man entering the room and she asks him to dance to the music that plays on the stereo. I try to engage with the gentleman, but he is grouchy and wants to be left alone.
“Don’t you want to look around?” he snaps.
“This is your home,” I tell him. “It would be rude of me to go riffling through your things.”
He shrugs. “I don’t mind. Besides, it’s what you’re meant to do.”
Then he returns to his newspaper.
I take the hint and idly flick through a magazine, while watching those around me, waiting for Mildred to return. I make eye contact with another of the beautiful handlers who roam the room in their pretty white dresses. I smile, but she glares at me until I look away. Liesel sits beside me on the couch. The mood is somewhat relaxed, although I sense something bubbling, just under the surface.
Without warning, Jigsaw Lady gets up from her puzzle, muttering loudly, and turns off the “racket”. The dancing ceases and Mildred begins to protest. A confrontation ensues which results in Jigsaw Lady calling Mildred a bitch. I take a sudden and intense dislike to her. Her behavior is so unnecessary – all Mildred wants to do is have a dance.
Leonard calms the dispute by turning the song back on and agrees to join Mildred on her makeshift dance-floor. Jigsaw Lady comes over to the couch, introduces herself as Ina, and tells us that Mildred is stupid and that Leonard actually loves her. I have somehow found myself in the middle of an over-60’s love triangle… “I’m going to cut in,” she tells us with a spiteful giggle and does exactly that.
Mildred sits back down next to me. “She’s so mean,” she confides quietly. “She came to a party one night and just never left. She is delusional. I think she might actually have something wrong in her head. She tells everyone that my husband is in love with her. So, I let her have these moments with him. It makes her happy. What harm can it do?”
“You’re a good person,” I reassure her as we watch her husband dancing with mean, old Ina.
The song over, Leonard invites us all to join him in a toast. The group reconvenes at the couches; everyone, except Liesel and I, now wearing white overalls. Cups of Kool-Aid are handed around. I hold the cup to my lips but do not drink – I mean, come on, who drinks the Kool-Aid in a cult compound?!
It is then decided that we will play a game: two truths and a lie. Let’s just say I am surprised to discover that Mildred isn’t as sweet as she appears and leave it at that…
Everyone is taken into another room while I am led into a changing room with Liesel. Waiting for us are a strikingly handsome young man, and an older woman. We are ordered to strip down to our underwear. As someone who is usually incredibly self-conscious, I focus on the task at hand, reminding myself that these people have absolutely no interest in my pasty, un-toned body.
Liesel fumbles beside me and I have to stand there for what feels like forever, shivering and trying to hold my stomach in. The young man, although telling Liesel to hurry up, regards me the entire time with a surprisingly appreciative expression.
As soon as I am handed my own white jumpsuit, I clamber in as quickly as I can, glad to cover my body again. We begin to exit the room, but the young man stops me as I pass. “You are a queen amongst women”, he purrs into my ear. I blush, unused to compliments, and thank him. “A queen,” he repeats, then lets me go.
We enter a large white space and I am told to take a seat on a bench to await my turn for “processing”. But instead of being called forward to one of the many desks that fill the room, I am once again led away from the rest of the group. In the corridor outside I am met by Overseer who wants to talk to me in private. Out of the earshot of any handlers or other members of the OOA, she tells me that we believe in the same things, that we are not enemies, but friends. I am moved by her kindness; this tiny young woman who seems so frail and yet radiates such power and confidence. Maybe I was wrong about her?
As I confirm that we are indeed now friends, a handler approaches us and tells Overseer that it is time. Overseer seems confused.
“Time for what?” she asks.
“I don’t know,” replies the bewildered handler, “you just asked me to tell you when time was up.”
“Ok, ok. Thank you Sadie.”
“My name is Susan.”
Overseer shakes her head, and when she turns back to me, her expression is as if we have never met before.
“Hi!” she says brightly, “I’m Addison Barrow. Nice to meet you!”
I play along and shake her hand, before turning to follow Susan back down the corridor.
“Oh, and Sadie!” Overseer/Addison calls after us, “if you see Benny, can you tell him I’m free later if he can run through those lines with me…”
Back in the processing room, I am seated on a bench in front of a TV set on which a promotional video plays. It has a retro feel, like something filmed in the 1950’s, yet there is Overseer smiling on the screen. The confident, in control Overseer. Not the one I just saw in the corridor. I can’t shake what happened, as if something made Overseer revert eight months back to when this all began, when she was Addison Barrow, a wannabe actress. The sweet and naïve Addison who was in love with Benny, who in turn brought her into the clutches of the OOA and changed her life forever.
A man approaches my bench – the infamous Simon, who rules the processing room with a short temper and sharp tongue. I brace myself for a barrage of abuse, but Simon is welcoming to this fellow Brit, sitting beside me and affectionately chastising me for bringing the rain from the UK.
When a desk becomes free, he guides me over and introduces me to the lady seated there, Thresa.
She begins to ask me a series of questions that seem to be assessing my moral standpoint. I have to answer quickly and honestly; she knows when I’m lying or holding something back.
Satisfied, she offers me a bowl of candy. I take a Tootsie roll.
Simon is getting antsy, barking at the women to hurry up and complete their interviews. Thresa is visibly irritated and as soon as I finish describing the taste of the candy on my tongue, she begins to ring her bell aggressively.
I join the rest of my group and we line up, with Simon hurling insults as he walks up and down. But his threats and abuse seem almost half-hearted to me, almost as if he is resigned to this role, but tired of it.
We file into the next room, which is filled with a dense fog and red light. I realize I am at the opposite end of the room I was taken to first. I struggle to make anything out other than the floor which is covered in sand and rocks. There are glimpses of movement further into the room and I realize we are not alone. As the smoke shifts and swirls, I can see a man and a woman, scantily clad with amazing bodies all painted in black, adorned with tribal headdresses. A countdown clock ticks down time. Someone finds an envelope and begins to read aloud. We are to pick someone to answer a question. A lady volunteers and is beckoned to where the exotic man and woman stand. A shaman figure prowls around the rest of us.
The lady is asked to describe something she has done that has disgusted her. She answers and is given a key and another piece of paper.
She picks the next person based on the instructions she is given and he answers his question, returning to us with a key and further instructions. He picks another man in our group.
This man is asked about something he desires to do, but never has.
“A threesome,” he replies honestly. He is asked why he has never had one. “Never had the chance!” I bark out a laugh. Through the smoke, we can see the semi-naked figures writhe and grind against him, the woman’s sexual moans getting increasingly louder. He is allowed to return to us with his key and instructions, black paint smeared around his crotch.
“Pick the person you feel has lived the most privileged life.”
He points at me. I am a little stunned, wondering what I have said or done to give that impression. I stumble, disorientated, trying to find my way to the mysterious painted couple. I can’t see the woman at all anymore. I fumble around until someone calls out to me, “look down!” And there she is, lying on the sand. She beckons me closer so I bend down towards her. She draws me closer and closer until I am kneeling beside her, my ear against her lips. She asks me a question about loss. I stand up and reveal something incredibly personal to everyone in the room. I return to them with the final key, but we are out of time.
A gruff bearded man berates us for our failure as he leads us from the Red Room. Ahead of us is a wall covered in clocks and in front of that, a table on which appears to lie a corpse covered in a sheet, the feet protruding. I have an urge to reach out and touch a toe, just to see if the body is real, to see if it is cold.
We are joined by two handlers, the one who greeted me and the one who glared at me in the lounge area. They discuss the fleeting nature of time and the inevitable mortality of humans. To help demonstrate, members of our group are systematically removed from the space. Once we are down to four, two men and two women, I am made to stand in front of one of the men and forced to make eye contact. For me this is torture – I struggle to maintain eye contact with those closest to me, let alone a complete stranger. The handlers circle us, encouraging us to imagine kissing the lips of the person in front of us. I am so incredibly uncomfortable and my head drops, but a handler reaches out for my chin, forcing my gaze back up. I allow my eyes to glaze over and am startled by the appearance of the now animated corpse; an elderly lady who has risen from the table and is circling us along with the handlers.
The two men are escorted from the room, leaving myself and the other woman alone with the handlers and the corpse lady.
We lie down on the floor, and the light in the room darkens. The two handlers talk in unison and I am hypnotized by their words. One of them climbs on top of me, her lips close to mine as she continues to talk. I can smell an apple scent on her skin and the coffee on her breath as we breathe together. Everything melts away until it seems as if only she and I exist. I am so present in this moment that I feel an emotional wrench when she lifts her weight off me and the light snaps back on.
As we get to our feet, the gruff man returns and congratulates us on proving ourselves worthy. But there is one final test. Behind him, there is a door. It could lead somewhere, or it could lead out of the compound and our time here will be over. We can choose to take this door, or we can follow the others and return to the safety of the group. But we must make the decision now. We both choose to take the door.
We are hooded and taken out of the room. I don’t know how the other woman is treated, but I am shoved around roughly, the man’s hand clamping down possessively on the back of my neck.
Our hoods are removed and we are led into the man’s “classroom”. A typical classroom with a blackboard, desks, and an anatomic model. We are told to sit at the school desks and he approaches each of us with an apple. I take a bite, but quickly spit the fruit into my hand and discard it on the floor while he is occupied with the other woman. A video begins, a happy little propaganda film that tells us Anoch is our best friend. The video flashes with subliminal messages, reinforcing our trust in Anoch and a fear of the outside. Suddenly, the teacher is behind me, his hands on my shoulders. I keep my attention focused on the screen as he presses his nose against my neck, behind my ear, and inhales deeply.
“Your scent is intoxicating,” he growls. “I could drink you up…”
His words are so unexpectedly sexual that a shiver runs down my spine, but I refuse to respond verbally. I mean, what do you say to that? Thank you?
The next room we are taken to is very different to every other room I have encountered so far. It is dark; there are dried flowers and herbs hanging from the ceiling and an altar behind which stands a cowled Priest-like figure and a young woman who appears to have been blinded. It has a very Pagan vibe.
We are told to kneel on cushions as the Priest begins to recite to us from the Book of Anoch, the OOA’s holy text. He does this from memory and as he tells us the story of the first Oracle, he moves from behind the altar, coming closer and closer until he is upon us. He presses down onto our backs, causing me to fall forward slightly, my knees now grinding into the stone ground. He tells us that to reach true enlightenment, to enter the Ascension ceremony, to find the next Oracle, we must lose all five senses.
First is sight. He pulls my head back, holding my eyes open and adding drops of an unknown liquid into them. He then applies a blindfold – I can now no longer see. I am led into another room, and my hands are placed onto a table covered in something slimy and cold. I am now to lose my sense of taste and smell. I am given a strong vinegar to drink, and as it hits my stomach, I panic as it threatens to come straight back up. Then I am given something I am led to believe is human flesh to eat and I do so, simply to stop myself vomiting right here, right now. And that’s when I realize. The stuff on the table. Could be vomit. Could be entrails. I try to wipe my hands on my jumpsuit.
To remove my sense of smell, some kind of smelling salts are held beneath my nose. The burning in my nostrils now matches the burning in my belly.
I am moved along again.
My wrists are bound tightly together. With three already taken, my remaining two senses are heightened – a voice tells me I am about to lose my sense of touch and I am shocked when my hands are plunged briefly into something hot. My fingers fuse together and I realize it is wax that now covers my skin.
Finally, to complete the ritual, a pair of headphones are placed over my ears. I am shoved back and forth a few times. And then nothing. I am cut adrift in an unknown space, unaware of anything around me, lulled into a trance by the white noise in my headphones… Until I feel a whip across my back. I jump, but the assault continues. Whoever is whipping me is really going for it, but then, it’s not as if I can fight back. It ends as soon as it starts and I am left alone, truly isolated in my own little senseless world. Seconds tick by, or maybe minutes. Time has no meaning as I experience the sensation of a person, maybe more than one, moving around me, but I’m not sure if this is real or imagined…
The headphones and blindfold are ripped from my head.
Someone shouts at me to run. I stumble forwards, towards the exit where a van awaits. As I reach it, someone helps me remove the binding from my wrists. Then up into the back of the van.
Dazed, I look up into the face of Ellis Gordon.
“You know who I am?” he asks me, his eyes drilling into mine.
I nod, unable to speak.
“Ellis Gordon, Andrew Perez, David Miscavige…” he reels off, listing all the names I know him by, out there, beyond the compound.
“Your Sentinel,” he finishes and I am stunned. I had been under the impression that another man was Sentinel, the enigmatic leader of my beloved BoS; a man named Peterson I believed to have been murdered by the OOA. But here is Ellis/Andrew, a character I love, an actor I admire, standing in front of me, telling me that he is my Sentinel. I feel a surge of triumph – the OOA thought they could kill our leader, but there will always be another to take his place.
The van begins to move.
Ellis continues, his voice filled with emotion as he asks me what I am doing here. “How could you be so stupid?! They were going to kill you. I almost told you not to come, but…”
I begin to apologize, my voice barely above a whisper.
“It’s okay now, we are taking you away from here. I will protect you,” he promises, revealing the gun in his hand. I should feel safe, but instead I feel an overwhelming sense of dread. The OOA will not let us get away that easily…
The van screeches to a sudden halt, sending us all lurching forward, Ellis’ face contorting with confusion. “This isn’t right,” he says. “Quick! Get to the back! Crouch down.”
I scramble into a far corner, followed by the other woman who I hadn’t even noticed was with us, and we duck down, making ourselves as small as we can.
The shutter at the rear of the van slams upwards, revealing a gang of men with baseball bats. Ellis points his gun at them and leaps to the ground, but is soon overpowered. We are dragged from the van and thrust onto our knees in front of a mound of sand. We are back in the compound; the men surround us, jeering at our failed escape, saying that we are to pay the ultimate price. But Ellis begs them to take his life, not ours.
“NO!” I shout as a hood is pressed into my hands.
I try to make eye contact with my Sentinel, to tell him that he doesn’t have to do this. That I am sorry that my own stupidity in coming here has led to this moment. Another Sentinel may follow, but that seems unimportant now. I don’t want Ellis to die.
He kneels on the sand in front of me, facing away.
The men continue to demand that I put on the hood, but I refuse, defiant.
“Do it. Or do you want to watch us smash his head in?”
I feel tears pricking at my eyes and something inside me breaks. I place the hood slowly over my head, because I don’t want them to see me cry.
There is a moment of silence, broken by the small sob that I realize has come from my mouth. Then a loud thud and I feel a splatter across my jumpsuit. I break down completely as the hood is ripped from my head and I see Ellis slumped on the sand, his head covered in the blood which now also covers me. Sobbing uncontrollably and unashamedly, I am led away from the body of the man who saved my life and into the Ascension ceremony.
Through a veil of tears, I see a stage on which there are two chairs, one occupied by Liesel and the other by another woman from our group. Next to them stand the two handlers from the clock room. And at the front of the stage is Overseer. She sees me and leaves the stage, moving down the aisle towards me. She takes me in her arms and tries to soothe me, but I hold my body stiff. My sobs begin to subside and she guides me carefully to a seat.
I take a few deep, shaky breaths as she returns to the stage. Overseer resumes the ceremony. She asks me and my friend to stand. She tells everyone how we have been part of this since the beginning, that we deserve their thanks. A chorus of “Glory Be!” rings out and my grief crystallizes into something hard and cold. Overseer tells my friend to be seated, but leaves me standing as she informs everyone of how important I am, how far I have traveled to be here. She commands them all to bow down to me. I glare around at these people, not only my group, but also members of the OOA; I glare around at these complicit fools, trembling with anger.
They think this will create a new Oracle. But to do this, a worthy person must sacrifice first their five senses, as we all have done, and then also their life. We are “lucky” that tonight, we have two such worthy people – two chances to achieve the ultimate enlightenment, Ascension.
I watch as the handler, the one who greeted me at the door at the very beginning of all of this, approaches Liesel with a scalpel. I watch as she struggles to find the courage to perform her role. She cries desperately, her internal battle written across her pretty face. She is not a murderer. The second handler grabs the scalpel from her friend, driving it deep into her stomach, before leaping onto Liesel and slashing her throat. Once the deed is done, realization sets in and she returns to her friend as she collapses to the floor.
Overseer tells us all to get out and we leave behind the handler, sobbing over the now lifeless body of her friend.
The Ascension has failed.
And two people are dead.
We are herded out of the compound and towards a wall emblazoned with “The TENSION Experience”. A man awaits, camera in hand. The photographer tells us to move in close, and the man next to me puts his arm around my waist as if this is a happy occasion, a group of friends recording the memory for posterity.
I cross my arms and glare.
“Smile!” the photographer says to me. I raise my eyebrow and he shrugs, taking the photo.
We are pointed in the direction of an outside stall where our clothes await us. I refuse to talk to anyone, retrieving my clothes and dressing quickly before going to stand away from everyone at the entrance of the space, my blood-splattered jumpsuit clutched against my chest. I gaze out over the outside space, still within the confines of the organisation that planned to murder me. I watch a figure I recognize as Samson, head of the OSDM (Oracles Security and Data Management – those who oversee the Overseer and therefore the whole of the OOA), get into his car and leave the compound. And then I see another of the handlers, one I haven’t seen before, walking towards me.
She stops in front of me and her eyes lock onto mine. I am still so angry that the eye contact doesn’t faze me and I stare back at her. Her pretty face is impassive, but there is a deep sadness in her eyes. Does she want me to help her get away from here? I reach a hand out towards her, then pull it back. What can I do? I couldn’t save Ellis, I can’t save myself, and I most certainly cannot save her. I begin to cry. Not a single word has passed between us. I can’t bring myself to say I’m sorry. She turns and walks away, leaving me feeling truly hopeless.
Someone reaches out to me, offers me their seat, but I refuse, praying for the van to pick us up soon. It arrives and I climb in first, turning my face to the window. We reach the parking lot and everyone climbs out. I am wondering how I am going to describe my behavior to my friend. But both the driver and his co-worker block my path.
“Miss, can you please get back into the van?”
Completely thrown, I do as I am told. The door slams behind me and we drive away, leaving everyone else at the parking lot.
Unfamiliar with LA, I have no idea where we are going. The van pulls into what looks like an abandoned gas station and stops. They tell me to get out of the van and not to worry.
Not to worry?! I am being left here, alone.
“He will be here soon,” they inform me and speed away.
I am scared, emotionally exhausted, and desperately thirsty. My mobile phone is in my friend’s car. All I can do is wait. I wrap my arms around myself, trying to convince myself it is going to be ok, that I am not going to die here.
Then I notice a car. Samson’s car. He flashes his lights and I walk towards him. What choice do I have?
As I climb into the passenger seat, he asks, “are you thirsty?”
I nod. “Very.”
“Let’s go and get you a drink.”
He drives me to another gas station, this one reassuringly well lit, and we go inside. He tells me to choose whatever I like. My hand initially hovers over something highly caffeinated, but I check myself and pick a bottle of water.
“Are you sure?” Samson asks. “You seemed like you wanted something else.”
I shake my head, “I don’t think sugar and caffeine are the best idea for me right now.”
He leads me round to a fridge filled with an even larger selection of drinks and again tells me I can choose anything I want. I stick to my water. He pays and we leave, getting back into the car. As I gratefully begin to drink, he tells me how my choice of water tells him a lot about my character. He talks to me about power in the modern age. It doesn’t seem like a lecture, more like he is sharing some thoughts with me about data and large corporations. I listen and am surprised to find I agree somewhat with the things he is saying.
Then he tells me that he is taking me back to the compound and starts the engine. After a short while in silence, he presses a button on the dashboard and music begins to play. I recognize the Nat King Cole song and begin to nod my head in time. It is a couple of lines before I realize Samson is singing along. Not only is he singing along, he is singing the words to me. His voice is wonderful and the words poignant: Straighten Up and Fly Right.
As the song ends, we reach the OOA Institute once more. I tell him what a great voice he has, and he merely huffs in response. Samson definitely isn’t one for two-way conversation, so I get out of the car and follow him inside.
This time, making our way through the compound, it is a completely different experience. As soon as Samson enters a room, everyone stops whatever they are doing and faces the wall. Anyone who doesn’t is met with a furious glare. Samson is powerful and people seem scared of him, which is at complete odds with the kind man who gave me water, talked to me like an equal, who sang to me in his car.
We walk through parts of the building I have not seen before, through a tiny door which looks to the untrained eye like merely a part of the wall. And then suddenly, we are in a control room and in front of me, seated at a bank of screens, is Darren Lynn Bousman, the director of The Tension Experience. I smile at him, but he seems unaware of me, interacting only with Samson. Samson is unhappy with his data being interfered with by Clint Sears, Bousman’s co-writer. It is clear who is really in charge here.
Samson ushers me back out of the room and as we make our way down the corridor, he asks me who I want to win the upcoming Presidential election. I point out that as I am British, I don’t really get a say, and that neither option seems particularly great to me, but I give him my choice anyway. He nods and says “I’ll see what we can do…”
We enter a large space, and in the center of a circle of chairs stands Overseer. She is visibly distressed upon seeing my return. “Why is she here? Why have you brought her back? She isn’t meant to be here!”
“Watch this,” he says in my ear, a hint of amusement creeping into his voice. He asks her questions about her faith in Anoch, and she responds devotedly. “Isn’t it funny?” he asks me, “she actually believes it.”
He demands her name and she cannot give him a definite answer. The Overseer? Addison Barrow? She is confused and begins to shout at him, but he cuts her down with the order:
“Put her in the helmet!”
Handlers appear from the shadows and I watch, passively, as they drag away the young woman who was supposed to be my friend. She screams and screams and screams, but I don’t move. Samson escorts me out to the van and I leave the compound for the final time, the sound of the Overseer’s anguished cries still ringing in my ears.
Check back for our Recollection of a second-time through Ascension and The End, the final night of The Tension Experience.