“Five minutes, man,” the cop said. He stood from his desk, placing his plate near the screen that showed the highlight of today: a man screaming at the President right before he was to make his address.
“Why do you want to talk to him?” the officer asked.
“We’d fail as journalists if we didn’t,” Shawn, a tall, bespectacled guy spoke.
“Plus, we think he’s hiding something,” his colleague Mercy, short in comparison clad in a stripped pant suit added. He led them past a steel door, down a corridor of steps and into the empty holding cell.
“Where is everyone else?” Mercy asked the officer, who simply shrugged and walked away, nodding to Shawn as he did.
“There he is,” Shawn said, pointing to the disheveled prisoner with his head in between his legs, mumbling inaudibly as he rocked back and forth.
“Hey,” Mercy started, the man looking up.
“It’s not him,” the man kept saying.
“What do you mean by that?” Shawn asked the prisoner. He stopped and looked up at them, then without warning, stood up and charged towards them, holding the bars as if he was going to tear them apart.
“Jesus!” Mercy shrieked, her hand on her chest.
“This can’t be,” the man started, shaking his head vigorously.
“Weren’t you on the detail? I saw you there before you left,” Shawn asked him. The man eyed Shawn for a while, then calmed down and nodded as he spoke.
“I was. I was the copilot.”
“Why did you call him an impostor?” Mercy probed.
“So many of them, so many of them were taken,” he rambled.
“Them? Who’s them?”
“Us, the other countries’ people too. Said it was repayment for our crimes, said they were taking what was theirs.”
“Taking what was theirs? Please elaborate.”
“It was a big story there. Many leaders, many dignitaries dead.”
“Dead?” they asked in unison, exchanging confused glances.
“At the summit. Many of them attended. It wasn’t to usher in a new government.”
“Then what was it?” Shawn demanded, Mercy being taken aback slightly.
“It – it was a ritual. A local told me about this. An ancient one that they’ve used for millennia, to take back what was theirs.”
A smile broke on Mercy’s face as she stepped forward, a breath away from the man.
“Tell me the story,” she said. She could see calm return to the prisoner as he sunk onto the floor.
“According to this guy, their neighbours were into some dark practices. And I mean really dark, devil-type things. One of them was what they called ‘The Heart of the Tribe.’”
“Come again?” Shawn asked as he squatted to face the guy.
“The Heart of the Tribe. They would pass down the traditions from one generation to the other by cutting out the hearts of people and replacing them with those of the ancestors. They would do so mostly on the children.”
“Jesus Christ,” Mercy spoke, eyes agape at the image of the same.
“The younger they were, the easier they were to influence. They managed to do the transfer in many influential people within their neighbours’ ranks, and this would ensure…”
“…that no one ever bothered them?” Shawn chimed in, to which the man nodded.
“Have you always wondered why it is that part of the world is always backward? They don’t like technology, they prefer the simple life; their allies ensure that it remains so.”
“And what of the Summit?” Mercy asked. Before the prisoner could answer, the officer’s voice resounded.
“Come on, just a few more minutes,” Mercy pleaded.
“No can do, Madam. You want me to get fired?”
“Okay. Can I come back tomorrow?”
“Depends. How much do you have?” the officer asked, much to her disgust.
“We’ll talk about that later. Let me sort you outside,” Shawn said as they both walked up the steps, leaving Mercy with the man. She crouched and looked at his twitching eyes that peered right into hers. Her heart melted and she couldn’t help but reach into the cell and hold his hand. The shivering stopped and he turned his palm over to reciprocate; she felt a small hard object on her palm as he squeezed her hand.
“What is…” she began, but he shook his head slightly. He looked up the stairs they came from, then around and finally at her.
‘It wasn’t the ritual they used though,’ he whispered.
Here, show the world the truth. Let me not die for nothing.’
‘Die? Someone wants you dead?’ she asked him. As the door to the room opened, she felt a chill in her body when she heard the words:
‘I was the only survivor. No one came back from that trip.’
“Mercy, come on,” she heard Shawn say. She withdrew her palm, the device firmly in hand. She waved at him with the other and joined Shawn up the steps.
“Did he also reveal the true identity of Santa Claus?” he joked. She fake laughed as she followed him out
“No I just think he’s in shock, that’s all”
“Shock from what?”
“He refused to say, but I think he saw something. And whatever it was, it must have been disturbing enough to call the President a traitor.”
“You believe him?” Shawn asked her, stepping infront of her.
“I don’t think he’s telling the truth. But conversely, why would he lie about something like that? Anyways, I think I’m going to head home.”
“Not back to the office?”
“No. I’m not feeling very well.”
“There’s a chemist down the road, madam,” the officer added.
“No, I think I need to lie down for a bit. Thank you though. Nice to meet you, Shawn,” she said as she walked out the door.
‘Please work’, she told her computer while inserting the memory card she was handed, celebrating when it read. There were two files, a video and a PDF document. She opened the PDF to see a scanned page, appearing to be a scroll, with large capitalized letters screaming:
“THE HIGH PRIEST’S OFFERTORY”
“What is this?” she asked herself as she read on:
“The Kikeero’s initial ceremony only involved the heart of the individual. A good start, as they have enjoyed their way of life for centuries. But the Gantyrrans, looking to do more than preserve their lives, were looking for revenge. Their blood still boiled over the pillaging of their lands by the invaders, and they sought to do it more theatrically.”
“So, it’s payback?” Mercy said, reading on. Her eyes widened as the read the next passage:
“There was a flaw. The individual would be sympathetic to the plight of the Kikeero, but could choose not to act on those memories. Then they discovered the secret: not only the heart, but the individual. An ally within their ranks, one who could be controlled just as easily.”
“This can’t be real, can it?” she asked herself again as she sat down, bracing herself for what she saw next.
“The allies would go back to their respective nations, while the others would remain in Gantyrra, seeing as they loved it so much. On display for all to see.”
The image below was of infants curled up in a circle, at the centre of which was a hideous face. The caption read: the High Priest’s offertory.
“What the hell?” she asked. The other file was disk entitled “THE TRUTH”.
She inhaled deeply, then pressed play:
The co-pilot let one tear flow down his face as he droned:
“Hello. I was a pilot on the Summit at Gantyrra. If you haven’t read the document on this disk, I suggest you start with that one. It explains what you’re about to see.
I need to say this once, and only once: I am the only survivor. No one else made it out alive. I – I don’t even know if will remain alive, but I just need the world to know about this.
The people in Gantyrra are into extremely dark arts, which they learnt from their neighbours, the Kikeero, I believe. Everything from childbearing to farming has some form of divine connection, and this essentially means that the practitioners of their religion are the ones with the most authority. The High Priest is the final say.
The most sinister of these practices is what they call ‘The High Priest’s Offertory.’ They take an individual to the temple, torture him and replace him with…something else. That individual then remains in the temple, while the replacement roams free, bringing more for the ceremony. They used this during the war in their country, converting many soldiers into allies that would fight on their side. This is why more troops kept being sent here: to fight their own brothers and sisters.”
“Oh my God,” she said to herself, pausing for a while to digest what he was saying. She took a breath, then went on:
Have you wondered why there are many cases of PTSD in hospitals all over? Wives talking about how different their husbands have become, parents crying over how distant their children have been since they came back? They say they aren’t themselves, because they really aren’t. It’s not them!
I have proof right here. Please, show this to the world. Let them know what horrors happen here.
The camera trembled past the rows of circular columns and into the large hall; rectangular in shape and golden yellow in colour, the sun pierced through it through the intricately carved oculus in the ceiling, highlighting the central platform the dripped blood onto the floor.
‘Look at the walls,’ one said. The camera shook as it followed two soldiers to the walls, where they saw many, dressed just like them, pinned on the wall, hands holding their knees and eyes wide open.
‘Guys, over here’ she heard another soldier say as they walked to the center of the hall. On the floor next to the platform were the bodies of many, dignitaries judging by their more eloquent dressing, arranged in a fetal position around the structure. He crouched to one of them, seeing his face clenched as if he had tasted something bitter; his eyelids were torn open to reveal yellowed eyes that must have seen something horrifying; his skin was graying and wrinkled, but the wounds still bled.
“Jesus Christ,” she muttered, jerking forward slightly when her gag reflex kicked in.
‘It’s all of them; all of them are like that,’ he said, placing the camera on the platform; it showed him running to a corner to puke, then came back to it. Before he picked it up, his sweaty face lit with amazement.
“Look at this,” he said, focusing on the platform; the sunlight above showed recesses on the platform.
‘They’re engravings,’he said as he walked around it, commenting:
‘They are telling some form of a story; I see a woman standing at a higher level, hands raised to the sky, and people doing the same around her, in a building that appears to be a temple. It must be a temple, I guess, this one? And she’s a priestess of some sort. But what is that above her? It looks like…ow!”
The camera crashed on the tiled floor, the lens cracking on impact and focusing on another one of the leaders.
“OH MY GOD!” she screamed, her eyes bulged out and jaw on the floor. She leaned into the screen, shaking her head as she repeated:
“It can’t be; it can’t be. That can’t be right.”
Curled up in a ball like the rest, eyelids torn to reveal remnants of blue eyes bleeding profusely and teeth gritted, his body twitched slightly.
“Oh Jesus!”they heard the cameraman say, as he focused on the body, then to the soldiers, who exchanged glances with each other.
The beeping of its battery cut off the transmission and went back to the copilot, who had given in to emotion and bawled his eyes out as she whimpered:
Please, share this information. They might kill me if they realize that I’m not one of them.’
She leaned in the couch, mouth agape and eyes bulging out of her sockets at the footage.
“It all makes sense now,” she said, recalling the event earlier today…