The Cult Trilogy is nearing completion. Will you start journey on A Train Called Forgiveness?
I make a point to share my own creative work with you every few posts. Why? Because I want you to buy it, of course. That’s true, but it’s not the only reason. In fact, I give much of my writing and music away for free.
I believe that we can learn more about the creative process by studying that process. It’s my hope that you’ll learn more about the creative process with these posts about my own creative journey.
The Cult Trilogy started with a journal in the late 1990s. As a kid, I was a child victim of a cult. Like most cults, it had a difficult ending for all involved. It took me years to sort things out. I tried and failed at writing my story several times. In 2011, I tried again. It was a success, and I published A Train Called Forgiveness in 2012.
Sometimes Writing is Like Driving a Spike into a Railroad Tie
Writing is not always an easy endeavor. Sometimes it flows. Sometimes you have to drive it. The Cult Trilogy has been a long process. The first book, A Train Called Forgiveness, which I’ll be sharing from later in this post, came quickly. It flowed. That doesn’t mean it was easy. I had to dig deep into my own past to get the words onto the page.
The second book of The Cult Trilogy, At The Crossing Of Justice And Mercy, was a bit more of a challenge. The book is more fictional than the first. I reached a point in the story where I was not sure where to turn. I took a few months off to deliberate. I had to drive that one to the end. But it was worth it. The story is filled with mystery and suspense. Over the next few months I’ll be sharing some excerpts from At The Crossing Of Justice And Mercy.
This leads to the third book of The Cult Trilogy, The Track To Redemption. This book took longer to write. I spent more time away from the story in order to develop it. My editor spent more time thoroughly editing the manuscript. I let it sit for nearly a year before I did the rewrite. It’s aged. The Track To Redemption is in the final proofing stages. The book will be published later this year.
Here’s a Little Gift for You
I want to offer you a free sample of my writing. In this post, I’ll be sharing the third chapter of A Train Called Forgiveness. If you’d like to read the first two chapters, go to these posts:
- Chapter 1 – Getting Started Is Half The Battle: My Story
- Chapter 2- The Darkness Of Our Past Can Lead To A Future Of Light
* * *
The Second Summer
I turned 11 years old in the summer of 1974.
Peter said, “You’ve got to be twelve to work in the fields.”
Another kid, Calvin, was a little younger than me. He said, “I can do it Peter. I can work.” That was it. Calvin and I were on the crew. We both moved into The Quarters for the summer.
First thing, they cut our hair. Peter said, “Crew cuts keep you cool in the summer.” He stripped us of our individualism.
The schedule was tough. We got up every morning at 5:45, had to be to breakfast by 6:00. We were expected in the field by 6:45. We had half an hour for lunch. We worked until 6:00. Supper was at 6:30. After supper we took showers. Lights were out by 8:30. It was grueling.
Our entertainment was strictly monitored. There was no television. There was no music. There were no books. There were no games. There were no cars or trucks, except for work.
Life was strictly controlled, ruled by regimental procedure.
I was a scrawny kid and the work was hard.
We cleared brush, branches, stumps, and heavy rocks to prepare fields for tilling. We marked, sectioned, and staked 20 acres for planting. We planted a large variety of vegetables by hand. We built fences for livestock. We dug ditches for pipe. That summer there were no irrigation lines. We lugged five-gallon buckets, filled with water, through the fields, to gardens and water troughs. My arms felt ripped from the sockets.
On the 4th of July, we planned to see fireworks. Peter called a special meeting. The crops were getting too dry. He scorned us for being irresponsible. We worked late into the night. We watered the crops. There were no fireworks. We worked.
All summer, we worked.
We worked in the sun.
We worked in the wind.
We worked in the rain.
Peter was rarely around, but Jared was always on us, yelling and screaming for us to work harder and faster, and harder and faster, and harder and faster, and…
We swept, cleaned, organized, and painted. We loaded and hauled. We stacked hay. We sunk posts and stretched barbwire. We fed and watered chickens, hogs, and cattle. We collected eggs and shoveled manure. We harvested crops. We built a produce stand and sold produce.
And when we didn’t work…
There were meetings on Friday nights. There were meetings on Saturday nights. Sundays, we could rest, sometimes.
We could visit our families on Sundays if we were good, if we worked hard enough. According to Jared, I wasn’t good enough. I didn’t work hard enough. I often sat alone on Sunday, dreading Monday.
I was the smallest one on the crew. It didn’t matter to Peter or Jared. I still had to lift, shovel, rake, sweep, hammer, push, and pull as hard as the rest. Still, they always told me I wasn’t working hard enough. They always expected more from me. I gave it all I could, but it was never enough. They yelled at me, they screamed at me, they took me to the woodshed and made me pull down my pants, and smacked me hard with a big slab of wood. It stung.
Some of the older guys treated me bad. I was teased. I was taunted. I was made fun of. I was picked on. I was shunned. I was mistreated. I was made to feel worthless and unworthy.
I was divided. I was divided between myself and who they wanted me to be. But that division was my saving grace.
My spirit could not be broken.
I was a rebel. I was a fighter.
I would not conform.
I would not become one of them, or completely one with them.
I would remain “I” in the midst of the collective.
I was in the cult, but I was not of the cult!
I ride my bicycle to the Jocelyn River. I sit and think. I watch the river flow. The voices are mild today, but still with me.
I ask myself, “How can I tell my story?” They answer, “You can’t.”
I ask myself, “How can I share this burden?” They answer, “You are the burden.”
I ask myself, “How can I let go?” They answer, “We have you in a choke hold.”
I ask myself, “How can six years of life in a cult be put into words?” A soft voice speaks directly to my heart. It simply says, “Have faith.”
The task set before me seems too big, too burdensome. Excruciating details of cult life are etched into the crevasses and caverns of my mind. Yet, I have to keep my distance, hold back, or the waters of my past might consume me, extinguish me.
Cult life is the same thing, day in, day out, day in, day out. For most, this kind of repetition is too much to bear. The epic nature of a cult story seems impossible to recreate. The story could easily have 100 characters. It could easily span ten years. It’s monumental.
I glance across the river and look up to the hills.
The emotions attached to cult experiences are heavy. The subjects, sometimes shocking, extreme. How can I share ugliness with grace?
I run my fingers through the rocks and sand along the riverbank.
My own struggles, the voices, the fear, all distract me from the task. Yet, they are both a part of, and a result from, my experience.
I reflect on my predicament while watching little glints of light reflect on the water.
I can only share my story by disconnecting myself from it, by deconstructing it, and then reconstructing it in a way that allows me to write the story without reliving it. This won’t be an easy task. It will be drudge work at best and sheer hell at worst.
So, I’ll break the story into little bits and bites, tiny digestible pieces of poetry and prose, jumping between the life that is and the life that was, while looking forward to the life that’s yet to come.
I sit. I think. I watch the river flow.
I get up and ride my bicycle, and today, the voices still ride with me. Perhaps, they always will.
The summer dragged on. I started counting the days until school began. The work was hard, but the weather was harder, and the silence the hardest.
Like Seattle, Bonneveldt is rainy. Locals said the summer of ’74 was one of the hottest on record. Working 11-hour days with the sun beating down was tough on me. I’d sweat profusely. I got intense headaches. My arms, back, and shoulders burned until they turned tarnished bronze. It took something out of me.
I lost the energy and zeal of an 11-year-old boy. I became zombie-like, getting up, working, eating, bathing, sleeping, repeating. I wished we had never moved to Washington. I missed my home in Camber Creek.
Talking was not prohibited. It was strongly discouraged.
Calvin was a few months younger than me. Jack and Mark were a year or two older. We were normal kids. We talked about school, family, sports, vacations. Sometimes we worked close together so we could chat.
Jared put a stop to that.
When he saw us talking, he shouted, “Less talk and more work boys!” Later, he started separating us. I spent hours every day, weeding the garden, on hands and knees, in silence.
I learned to listen to the little things. I listened to the wind. I listened to the hums and buzzes of insects. I listened to the birdsong, the frogs, and the crickets.
I made music to pass time.
Back in Maine, I used to listen to Top-40 radio. I sang along with my favorites: Elton John, Jackson Browne, Paul Simon, The Eagles, Chicago, Blood, Sweat & Tears. I listened to Casey Kasem every week.
In the fields that summer I sang songs, in my head, to fill that dreadful silence. When I ran out of songs, I started over. I pretended I was Casey Kasem. I made up my own songs. I made up my own Top-40. Music was my salvation.
I did anything to keep my mind working during hours of mindless work.
Still, the summer dragged on.
Why won’t the voices leave me alone?
Lately, the voices are incessant.
I’m in my trailer. I’m on my knees. My face is buried in my hands.
I cry out. “God help me!”
Where do they come from?
What brings them on?
Why do they choose me?
They whisper. They scream. They preach.
My mind calms a moment as I consider the idea of torturous voices as preachers. How could that be? Preachers work for God, don’t they?
These voices are judgmental. They hate. They’re violent. They condemn. They inject terror into my heart. Could this be from God, a sermon?
Are these the messages of preachers, of Christians, of the Bible? Have all the religious messages I’ve heard led to this? Has it all led to chaos?
The voices intensify, telling me I’m a blasphemer. They tell me I have angered God.
They say, “God has left you forever. There is no hope for you, Andy.”
I stand up. I scream. “Get out of here, now!”
I’ve been awake most of three days. When sleep comes, it’s broken. I’m tired. I’m tired of the lies. I know they’re liars, yet I still listen to them. Why?
They tell me someone is outside, waiting for me, to harm me. I’ve checked many times. I check again.
I unlock the door.
Slowly, I go outside.
I cautiously look around.
Nothing. No one is here, but me.
I hear the faint sound of cars on the highway, the rustling of apple leaves in the breeze, the caw of a distant crow, my own breathing, my frantic, pounding heart. I hear nothing else.
I see thin white clouds in a darkening blue-black sky. I see long rows of apple trees. I see dry, browning grass, gently waving. I see the graveled drive leading to the road. I see the neighbors’ quiet homes and the old workers’ shacks across the road. That’s all. I see nothing else.
I feel an early-autumn chill in the air.
I go back inside, curl up on my bed, and moan.
I’m reminded of my older brother Joel. He moaned. He howled. During that second summer at Paradise Farms, he had a breakdown.
He was 14 years old. We were in The Quarters on our bunks. Suddenly, Joel started moaning, wailing, howling. Several people rushed to see what was wrong. Nothing had happened to Joel. He wasn’t physically hurt. He just broke down. I saw fear and terror in his eyes. He went on wailing a long time. He could never quite explain what was wrong, either then, or now. The next day, he went back to work.
In the summer of ’74, mom and dad bought a house. Actually, the house would officially be owned by Paradise Farms, under Peter’s control.
Peter alway’s needed to be in control. That was his mode of operation. He dropped out of seminary because he wanted to write his thesis outside of the Catholic standard. He gained followers by visiting religious-fringe groups. He used his charm and charisma to convince already vulnerable individuals that his spiritual powers were superior. He gained followers by taking control. He insisted on complete control. He would not allow people in his group who would not submit.
So it was with our house. Peter had control. On paper, he owned it. The house was in the nearby town of Stillholm. It needed a lot of repair.
Joel and I were allowed to move home at the end of the summer.
Simon was not. He was oldest. He had run into trouble with Peter.
Peter told dad, “Simon needs more discipline. We’re going to keep him at The Quarters during the school year.” Dad agreed.
One night after supper, Simon went to the hayloft where our belongings were stored. He took his portable radio. He turned it on, carried it on his shoulder, next to his ear, and listened to rock & roll music. He refused to turn it off. The news got to Peter.
Simon took the radio with him the next morning when we headed out to the field. We were surprised Jared allowed it. We were glad to have music. It helped pass the time.
Peter came to the field that day.
“Whose radio is this?”
No one answered. We were scared.
Peter raised his voice. “Whose radio is this?”
Simon said, “It’s mine.”
Peter’s face turned red. He spoke louder. “Simon, you know the rules about music. It’s not allowed.”
Simon shot back, “I think your rules are stupid!”
Peter rushed Simon. He grabbed Simon’s arm with one hand. He snatched the radio with the other. Simon resisted and yanked his radio out of Peter’s hand.
Simon yelled, “That’s mine, you jerk!”
Peter pulled the radio back, throwing Simon off balance.
Simon regained his balance and took a swing at Peter.
In one quick sequence, Peter smashed Simon’s radio on the ground, punched Simon on the ear, and jabbed him in the gut. Simon fell to the ground.
Peter spoke loudly, and said, “Let this be a lesson to all of you. This is what happens when you go against me, when you go against us. We’re on a mission here. It’s God’s plan. Anyone who goes against my commandments goes against God’s commandments, understand? Now get back to work!”
As Peter walked off, Jared shouted, “You heard Peter. Back to work!”
A few days later, the second summer ended.
* * *
You’ve just read the third chapter of my book, A Train Called Forgiveness. If you’d like to buy a copy, the book is available in paperback, kindle, and audio at Amazon. If you’d like to learn more about all my books and music, check out my Books & Music page.