Erica snorts. Mia chuckles.
“It’s not a cult,” Rena protests, stifling her own laughter.
Erica says, “Oh, it so is a cult. Though to be fair most religions started as cults. And you can do worse than worshipping Thor.”
“We don’t worship Thor, he’s mythological. We worship the true Thunder God.”
Erica counters, “Ah, but if a Thunder God truly exists, that means Thor truly exists; a Thunder God by any other name still smells as smoking hot etc.”
Rena laughs. “You’re horrible.”
“You don’t really believe this stuff though.”
“No one there does. It’s just a bit of fun. It makes me feel good.”
Mia nods and Erica gives a grunt of acceptance. Lissa rolls her eyes but says, “Fair enough.”
The sky yells loud.
Rena scrolls through her feed, there are more messages to pass on. It’s exciting, seeing how far they can spread, everyone speaking together, working together, building something. She hovers over a strange one. It’s not in English. It doesn’t look like it’s in any language, just an array of random symbols. There’s an odd effect in place, they glow eerily. She shrugs and shares.
And then goes outside to stand in the rain.
She walks, not knowing where she’s going, until she finds others like her. They march together, gathering others as they go. They all chant the words of that foreign message. Even though they don’t know what they’re saying. Rena doesn’t think about it. She only does it.
Thunder crashes. And the sky yawns bright with lightning.
“How are you not more freaked out by this?!” Lissa demands.
Rena shrugs. “I guess it was weird. But you know, it’s all just part of it. Nothing bad happened.”
Mia stares into her glass, twirling her straw. Erica shifts uncomfortably.
Lissa argues, “Nothing bad happened! They put you in some fucked up trance and mind controlled you into doing their bidding!”
“It’s just part of the thing, just to spread the message. I’m fine. Stop making such a big deal out of it.”
“You’re not fine. They’re clearly dangerous. And the fact that you’re not understanding that shows how much of their crazy-ass cool-aid you’ve swallowed!”
The thunder echoes. It leaves ringing whispers in Rena’s ears. They tell her she needs to cast aside the negative people in her life. The people who only want to stifle her. The people who only want to bring her down. The people who only want to ruin her new-found happiness.
“Rena’s not coming,” Erica says.
“Of course not. I’m here,” Lissa replies.
“I can’t believe that she’s okay with them just telling her she can’t see you anymore.”
Mia says, “They’ve twisted things around in her head. I’m guessing she believes it’s her choice.”
“We need to help her.”
“We can’t until she lets us. If Mia and I say anything she’ll just push us away too. And then she’ll have no one and be even more vulnerable in their clutches.”
There isn’t a cloud in the sky. Mia and Erica and Rena sit huddled together at a little corner table. There’s no dark presence hovering over them. Those thoughts are easily forgotten. They’ve been friends a long time. They fall into easy patterns. Erica munches through an endless pile of fries and Mia pokes the ice in her glass with an overly long tooth pick. And they chat and smile and laugh like they always have.
But when silences come, they’re awkward not comfortable, and when Rena brings up the cult messages on her phone Erica breaks.
“This isn’t healthy. We can’t just all keep ignoring it!”
“What are you talking about?” Rena asks, voice weary.
“No, you don’t! You’re the ones who don’t want me to be happy!” Rena cries.
And then the real yelling begins.
It’s raining again. Dark crackles rumbling out around them. Mia and Rena sit opposite each other on a table with far too many spaces. Rena talks about her new-found happiness and complains about their friends.
Mia nods and makes sounds of agreement, all while frowning inside. And she stays quiet. She’s used to staying quiet. This time it hurts, but she does it because she has to. Because Rena needs her to whether she realises it or not.
It’s after Mia has swallowed the final sludgy remains of her drink that Rena’s voice softens, speaks earnest and urging, “You know it really is a great place. You should join too.”
Mia stills her fingers and quells the urge to panic. She doesn’t know what to do. Seconds stretch. There’s really only one thing she can do. “Okay.”
The place is horrific. It’s dark and loud and generally unpleasant. But what upsets Mia the most is seeing Rena hurt. Ensconced here, Rena is a shadow of her former self.
“Rena,” Mia implores, she hopes the word holds everything she means but can’t afford to say.
Rena simply states, “I’m fine.”
Mia isn’t doing well. They all know she doesn’t belong here. She doesn’t want to be here and they don’t want her here. But they won’t get rid of her. Not when they’re endlessly seeking out more (and more and more) people to spread the message, to feed the thunderous roar.
It’s violent, this hive-voice. It feels like electricity crackling behind her eyes. She can’t sleep. They are trying to break her, to bring her truly onside.
She’s exhausted. She carries on, she has to.
Rena looks surprised when she sees her and Mia tries to fake a smile. But Rena just stands there, staring, taking in Mia’s condition. Mia wonders if it’s her turn to say she’s fine.
Then, looking pained, Rena says, “We need to leave.”