Below is a Recollection–this is not a review, but rather a full spoiler walkthrough of the author’s experience in Heretic’s V A N I S H. As this event will not occur again, spoilers are not a concern. This event has patrons driving to Hesperia, half way between Los Angeles and Vegas. This is a story of voyeurism, disease, and abduction. Rooted in real cases of missing people, V A N I S H has me driving deep into the desert to meet with a necrophile named Mr. Sloth with the intent to disappear.
“Taylor, I don’t know you and you don’t know me, but I have to read you these instructions and you have to follow them. And if you don’t—just… just fucking follow them. Sunday, November 29th, 2015; listen clearly and make sure you understand. The girl knows how to get you in, so listen to what she has to say. She knows… she knows. She has no name, don’t call her anything. She will tell you where he is—Mr. Sloth. Play dead for him. He likes his girls that way. He likes you quiet. The address is [censored]. I hope you got that. You have to be there at 5:45pm. Don’t be late… don’t be late.”
On Friday, I received a call.
On Sunday, I drove to the desert.
I am two hours out from Los Angeles. The landscape is unfamiliar and bleak. I park at a seedy hotel on the outskirts of town. The air is cold and the wind cuts at my skin like a knife. I approach Room 124, and notice a woman in a long coat smoking a cigarette. She’s beautiful, but something is off about her. I don’t know it if it’s the sunglasses she’s wearing (even though it’s practically dark), the bandage across her nose (suggesting a nose job), or her perfectly platinum hair (to further hide her identity).
I don’t even have a chance to introduce myself, as I am forcefully pushed against the wall and held there. She pushes her body against me and leans in, seductively blowing her cigarette smoke in my face. My usual distaste of smoke is replaced by an odd attraction. She brings her mouth to my ear, and whispers:
“Knock three times on the door…”
She lets the words linger in the air. She maintains her grip on me, and takes another drag on her cigarette. She then leans towards my ear again, and with a bit more urgency:
“Mr. Sloth is inside. He likes his girl still. Play dead for him. Whatever you do, don’t move.”
With each sentence, she switches ears. She releases her grip and watches me. With the smell of her cigarette still on my mind, I knock three times on the door. The thought passes through my head: was she the voice on the phone?
I don’t have time to ponder it though as the door opens. Another girl dressed in the same coat, same bandage, and same platinum hair stands there. She pulls me inside. I don’t have any time to examine the room because I drop to the floor, eyes oriented at the closed bathroom door, and lie as still as possible. Both girls are now in the room.
“You can watch, but don’t move.”
They reassure me, stroking my hair with their hands. The bathroom door opens and a very large shirtless man wearing a cloth mask and underwear emerges. He lumbers towards his latest prize. He bends down and lifts my arm, then my other arm. He grabs my head, inspecting it closely. He lifts my lips and looks at my teeth. He grunts approvingly and returns to the bathroom. The girls squeal with glee and raise me up—but the girls are not wearing their coats anymore—and they aren’t even girls. They wear lingerie tops and their penises are prominently shown below. They throw me onto the bed, which is covered in plastic and blood. I cough as the blood covers my face and clothes. I hear the bathroom door open again as the girls spread my legs.
I don’t see it, but I feel it as Mr. Sloth climbs on top of me. He grabs both my hands with his and begins to grunt as he thrusts on me. I know there’s no point in resisting, so I let it happen. When he finishes, the girls stand me up in front of Mr. Sloth. He looks me over one last time and reaches into the back of his underwear. He digs around for a few seconds and pulls out a condom. The girls raise my hand out to him and he places the sticky plastic in my hand.
“Look for a girl—a girl with white hair. Don’t let her see you. Follow her. She will lead you where you need to go.”
I am pushed out of the hotel with a condom in my hand. I open it and find a crumpled piece of paper in it containing an address. I am left with a choice: do I follow this address or do I turn around and go home? Everything from here on is my choice, my decision. No one is forcing me to go on at this point. So I get back into my car, plug the address into my GPS and drive to the location.
I turn onto a nondescript street, and immediately notice her: a girl, much like the other two, with hair as white as snow. I kill my headlights and creep forward until I find space to park. I emerge from my car and begin to follow her, much like a stalker would. She doesn’t look back, she doesn’t change her pace—she simply walks with a bit of an impaired gait. I follow, looking behind me, preparing for someone to jump out at any moment—but it doesn’t happen. She crosses the street and walks up the driveway of a house and into the door. I walk up the same driveway, and I worry if this is the right house, if this is the right girl even. But I open the door anyways and step in.
The house is dark. Only the light from the streetlamps outside, bleeding through the partially covered windows, illuminate its interior. The house is empty but still feels dirty. But before I can explore, I am grabbed and forced into the garage. I am pushed onto my knees, my hands duct-taped behind me. I feel burning on my skin, but it’s not fire—it’s the frigid cold of liquid being poured on me. Then I am thrust down, next to a body. The door closes behind me, and I left alone, cold, and wet with this dead body. I wait an undetermined amount of time, and then the man returns. He talks to me, but I can’t pay attention because something he has is so nauseating that I begin to gag. He approaches me and rubs it against my hands. It appears to be some sort of liver—possibly from an animal or the body next to me. He rubs it on my shirt and then throws it down. He pulls me out and brings me into the kitchen.
“Why do you want to disappear? Would anyone miss you?”
I ponder on these questions for a moment and respond. I tell him of my past and that I need a restart, that no one cares about me anymore, and that disappearing is all that left. The smell of the liver still lingers on my shirt.
“Your next stop is The Devil’s Room. In here you will face the demons of your past. This may be a fate worse then death… or you may see nothing at all.”
He takes me to a side bedroom and opens the door. The room is empty. He tells me to kneel, facing a wall—my back is to a sliding glass door leading outside. The man then leaves, shutting the door behind him. I wait, anticipating what is in the darkness behind me. I hear the slider open and close. And then my hair is grabbed, my head pulled back. The devil laughs and throws me onto my side. She sits on my chest and begins to scratch at me. My hands are still duct-taped behind me, so I can’t resist. She throws me around the room and pushes my head into the wall, whispering my ear all the things she will do with me. She throws me back to the floor and goes into the bathroom. She then shoves a toilet paper gag into my mouth and pats me on the head.
She moves to the closet and pulls something from it. She throws it on top of me and I realize it is another body. A simultaneous torture of both of us begins. She tortures him, forcing me to watch, and then switches back to me, running her nails down my back. I look at him and realize that it’s a friend of mine, Mike Fontaine, and not another actor. He started the experience thirty minutes before me, so he must have been in that closet for a while. She decides she has had enough and throws me into the bathroom and Mike back into the closet.
I hear the door open, and another victim enters. The slider once again opens and closes, and then I hear the grunts and cries of torture. Time passes, and the original man enters, demanding that one of us is given to him. The devil hands over Mike, and the other victim is thrown into the bathroom with me. This cycle continues as another victim enters the room and is tortured. The Devil returns to the bathroom from time to time to claw at my back and remind me that she has not forgotten about me. The smell of the liver remains with me keeping me company.
After the three subsequent participants have moved through, the man returns, asking for me. The Devil is reluctant to give me, digging her nails into my back to claim ownership. He grabs onto me, dragging me from the room as she continues to claw at me. As I’m pulled into the entryway, I see the four other participants kneeling on the tile. I am placed at the end.
“The next part of your journey is takes you 20 minutes into the heart of the desert. It is freezing outside—28 degrees. There’s no turning back after this. If you need to safe word, do it now.”
But no one does. We are led into the car, Omar—another friend of mine–and I in one car, and Mike and the others in the second car. Static is played on the radio, and the driver does not engage us as we are driven out. We pass civilization and continue into the desert. Street lights disappear, and all we see is darkness on a bleak horizon. Omar and I start to worry as the streets turn into dirt roads.
We pull over to the side of a tiny dirt road and the cars are turned off. Omar and I wait in the first car. We see people emerge from the car in front of us, but we can’t see what happens. Anticipation fills my mind. Soon it is my turn. I am pulled from the car and approach the edge of a dirt path. I see Mr. Sloth’s girls standing there, wearing large fur coats to combat the frigid temperatures.
“Strip down to your underwear; you may keep your shoes on.”
I take off my jacket, my sweater, my shirt, and my pants. I instantly start to shiver. A mask is placed over my eyes; it distorts my vision so I can’t see more than shapes and color. It doesn’t matter much anyways, everything is black. They put my hands on a rope and instruct me to walk. I begin, to follow the rope with slow, deliberate steps. The air bites at my bare skin as Mr. Sloth’s girls dance around me. They appear as shapes, giggling, and then disappearing back into the darkness. After what feels like an eternity, I reach the end of the rope. My blindfold is removed and I see a pile of clothes.
“Are you ready?”
I agree, still shivering. I reach down and put on a pair of tight black pants and a shirt that I later realize is a woman’s shirt. I start to shiver less.
“Taylor, you have been transformed.”
I had walked the line of transformation and emerged stronger. Mr. Sloth led to me to where I needed to go, The Devil removed the sins of my past, and the cold darkness of the desert stripped me of my former self. I am now a new person, empowered by my experience, transformed by what I had survived.
V A N I S H was truly ambitious in nature: set across three distinct locales and spanning a nearly four hour time-frame. It was cinematic and empowering, but also terrifying and dark. These themes were in direct contrast with each other, raising the impact of each. Further, this was not a ‘wrong-place, wrong-time’ story. Rather, I was given the choice to vanish. It was this choice that made my journey personal and meaningful. With V A N II SH on the horizon, I look forward to see the next evolution of this narrative.