The Congregation

Jasonriexinger
8 min readJan 15, 2021

You didn’t have a choice… Your friends always expected so much from you and you didn’t have the heart to offend them.

Go with the flow, you told yourself. It wasn’t like you had ambition, no. They had ambition. You were simply the one with the hammer, and the skills to use it.

Honestly, it was easier that way. Simpler. Just go with it and they’ll take you places. Even if those places were painful.

But then, you became trapped at the bottom of a pit. And everything changed.

The ruins were an ominous artifact of a time long ignored. Only few told stories about what could lay crumbling and dying within, and only a few of those stories revealed a glimpse of the horror at its depths.

Your friends were surrounding you as you stood next to a wall split and cracked by vines.

“Smash it to pieces,” they chanted.

You were anxious about this, but your friends collectively decided — with your knowledge, that this wall would be the entrance. But they needed your hammer.

So you shook the anxiety from your head and lifted the hammer high and tight, and you brought it down on the wall. This was your method of solving problems and your friends wielded it without care.

As the wall fell, wet dust clogged the air.

You covered your face and returned your hammer to your side.

You felt a nudge as your friends pushed you aside to peer within. You were left alone for a moment, and in that moment your self doubt started to creep up. Going home sounded pretty great right now. But then, one of your friends — your closest friend actually, turned and placed her hand on your shoulder.

“Great job,” she said. Her face radiated charm and approval and any anxiety or doubt you had disappeared. She was just so chill about everything.

Your other three friends didn’t offer such approval or thanks. One of them, your small friend, pushed the other two aside and bounced inside — instantly being enveloped by the darkness behind the threshold. Her desires towered over her tiny stature. The wild friend and the nervous friend remained at the threshold, locked arm in arm.

These were the people you threw your hat into the ring for. They brought out the best in you for the worst reasons.

To your friends, these ruins lived up to expectations. To you, they were just a bunch of broken rocks and leaves. There may have once been thought to the stonework, and the arches and pathways. Now, an unreasonable amount of time later — lying dormant and untouched, they were in such disrepair that every single step was perilous. Everything moved when touched. It was turning to more wet dust before your very eyes.

The only thing keeping it together was nature, acting as a glue between all the seames.

Despite this decrepit appearance and your apprehension and warnings, your small friend kept doing what she does. She laughed, and grabbed, and climbed on anything within eyesight — only returning to the group to tug on someone’s sleeve and point at something interesting in the distance.

Your wild friend and nervous friend — ever the uncoupled pair, ignored her and turned to your chill friend. She always was the leader of the group.

“Where is it?” they demanded in perfect harmony.

You could see her surveying the area. It was dark, but your eyes had begun to adjust.

While fending off your small friends constant tugs, she said “What we want is in the center.”

She turned towards you and grabbed the collar of your shirt and began to pull you forward.

“That. Do you see it?”

In the middle of these disastrous ruins, there was a pillar. It was different from the rest, colored in a dark purple/black shade and it stood tall amongst the debris.

Your wild friend butted in.

“There’s always something interesting buried underneath. I’ve heard things.”

Her companion, your nervous friend, chimed in.

“But this place is different…”

They gave each other a glance, then another towards your closest friend. Her grip on your collar gracefully shifted to a reassuring grip on your shoulder.

“This place is different,” she repeated. You noticed her eyes were the picture of calm and your tense shoulders relaxed.

“Do your thing.”

Do your thing she said. She meant grab your giant hammer and drill into the base of this thing and find whatever was buried beneath. But you knew what was actually being said.

We want something and you can’t let us down. Now do what you do best and listen to us.

Your choice was to turn around and go home, or keep going.

Go with the flow…

When the floor fell out from under you, you knew things went wrong.

One swing was all it took. One glorious swing at the base of the weird pillar and the spigot was broken.

Your nervous friend was the first to reach, letting out a scream violent enough, it broke the grip on her companions arm. She fell back onto her hands in a pile of pebbles and dirt, and then when the ground disappeared she continued further into the darkness below.

You tried to hold onto anything, but everything around you and in your life was falling to pieces. It was utter chaos. Something swirled under your feet. You couldn’t find the faces of any of your friends. Then you fell.

The darkness gobbled you up. You were lost in a void without your friends to push you along. At some point you landed in a heap, and time stood still.

And it remained that way in the silence until you saw a peculiar blue flame come to life.

The few that told stories about these ruins never mentioned a pit of supreme darkness. They most certainly never mentioned what hovered out in the dark.

Those stories were pointless now, considering your situation. When the dam broke and you were swept into this pit of nothing, you came to realize something else was stirred.

Your eyes struggled to adjust, but you began to make out a shape. Vaguely out in the distance was a long bumpy silhouette barely illuminated by a blue flickering flame that wavered in the wet air. It appeared to softly bob and sway, giving off the smallest amount of light.

Why couldn’t have you thought for yourself? You cowered in the dark in a wet pile of leaves next to a wall so thoroughly demolished it might as well not exist. But it was the only thing between you and it. A lot of things in your life had to go wrong to get you here.

You felt the silhouette move, silently. Only a gentle disturbance in the pebbled and brush gave it away. The single blue flame appeared and disappeared as it twisted. You shifted in place, moving to a knee. The flame kept hovering, but its intensity changed. It held steady and your eyes became fixed onto it.

You felt your thighs burn underneath your weight. The flame flickered once and you heard a voice.

It beckoned you forth. You heard an offer of tea. A plea to come in from the cold.

It wanted you to join its congregation. It sounded so pleasant.

It would be rude to deny an offer of hospitality.

You began to stand. You were going with the…

But your small friend couldn’t help herself. Her desires towered over her stature. From somewhere else, some dark nook only she could fit within, you heard her voice and saw the outline of her tiny frame bounce towards the flame. Her tiny feet slapped against the stone floor.

What you could make out from the safety was little, but enough. Her body, as small as it was, blocked the miniscule light emanating from the blue flame.

You heard a cheery greeting, followed by a light gasp, and then silence. The flame returned and continued to hover.

You were in danger. You began to panic, but you were alone. Your friends always knew what to do. You never knew what to do. Your heart beat increased and you couldn’t breath.

Her hand was on your shoulder again. Your closest friend. She gripped.

“We have to leave.”

You couldn’t make out her face but you imagined it, and it was enough.

But you thought of the other two. They weren’t your closest friends, but they were companions still. You thought about their bond, how their polar demeanor complimented each other. You thought about how closely they gripped one another at all times.

She spoke again.

“We have to leave,” and she gripped tighter. You didn’t want to let her down. She controlled the momentum.

You pressed your hand onto hers, and together, you moved.

You navigated the wide darkness with your closest friend pushing you along the way. She was your guide and you were the blunt object. Your hammer was useless to you now.

She held onto you tight and pushed and pulled slightly. You were her holy shield.

Out the corner of your eye you saw glimpses of the flickering blue flame, and traces of the silhouette. The congregation darkened spaces that were already pitch black. Their presence was ever apparent, whether close or far.

For a moment, you caught a look at the tail end of the procession. It was nothing more than a black mass but there was a hint of something familiar there. You recognized a small outline, bouncing along behind the rest. The poor thing, with such energy, now fell in rank.

You’d be damned if you let this happen to yourself, or your closest friend.

There wasn’t a goal, that much became clear. Your closest friend, who had always been your guiding light, was sending you in circles. You were sure. You were sure you could climb the cracked facade and get out, but they were so confident and you didn’t have the guts to challenge their leadership.

Suddenly you heard a yelp.

It was your nervous friend, and you knew the sound well. She would let out such sounds even if the situation wasn’t a big deal. But this was, in fact, a big deal.

You could see the pair a short distance away, faintly illuminated by a blue light. From your angle, the illumination was all that could give away what threatened their lives.

For the first time in as long as you could remember, you resisted her pull. Your closest friend tried to pull you away.

“They can’t be saved,” she protested.

You wavered.

Had you been able to see her face, clear as day, would you have had the moxey to commit?

You had always been good at two things, following the flow of things and wielding your hammer.

You bucked your shoulder and gripped the handle of your hammer tightly.

The stories told by others — that heard the story from others, varied. But stories were stories.

You saved your companions. You wielded your hammer with ease, creating enough chaos to break them free from the spell. They would later exaggerate to others and say you were ten feet tall with muscles the size of ham hocks. In the end, the part that mattered was your determination.

Nobody knew what happened to your closest friend. And that didn’t matter one bit.

Because when you stayed behind — at the bottom of the dark pit, the dark presence kept you company. Your hammer was strong, and they appreciated your willingness to take charge.

And you earned your spot at the head of the procession.

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