I keep getting invited to this church called The Enlightened. They won’t leave me alone.

I feel like I’m going crazy. I’m paranoid, I can’t sleep, I can’t stand this anymore. I need to tell someone what’s going on.

It started last month, when I was walking to the bus stop to get to work. I don’t drive, not since my car accident about two summers ago. Car got totaled and getting a new one just wasn’t in the cards. Since there was a bus stop less than a mile from my apartment anyway, what was the big deal?

I wouldn’t have run into them if I did have a car though.

A pair of guys were at the stop. Both were probably around my age, both were clean cut, wearing white button ups and ties, and both wore matching blue disposable face masks. One of them was tall and scrawny, a toothpick of a guy, a bag full of papers slung over his shoulder. The other wore glasses and was about my height, and uh, let’s just say I’m not exactly a tall lady, and he was trying to hand out said papers… which were so clearly religious pamphlets.

I thanked Christ my bus was pulling up right then. Jehovah’s Witnesses are a menace. The shorter guy cleared his throat as I passed and was likely about to start his spiel. I cut him off with ‘I have to get on this bus’ before he could even get started. I was not in the mood, I had things to do and I did not want to get preached at.

I practically forgot about them by the time I got to work anyway. I cracked a few jokes about it to my coworkers, we laughed, then we got our heads down and went to work. Wasn’t worth the second thought. By the time I clocked out and got on the bus to go home, I was thinking about dinner and how to extend my groceries a little longer so I could save up for a new laptop.

I couldn’t believe my eyes when I got off the bus and those two guys were still there. Tall guy with his bag of pamphlets, shorter guy trying to strike up a conversation with less than interested people passing by. Even if they were still the same guys, I could tell they were disheartened. The tall guy was starting to nod off from where he sat on the bench and even the upbeat short guy was losing steam. I got off the bus just in time to hear a passerby tell him to fuck off and the poor short guy looked like a kicked puppy. I’d bet twenty bucks they hadn’t given away a single pamphlet all day.

“Excuse me, miss?”

I felt bad for them, even if I find what they were doing completely obnoxious. So I slowed down.

“Yeah?”

The short guy’s eyes went wide. I thought it was because he was shook someone actually stopped but it was actually for something else.

“Hey, you passed by this morning!” He reached up and tapped his mask. “I recognize the cats on your face mask. I remember thinking how cute they were.”

I laughed weakly before glancing at him and his buddy. “Have you seriously been here all day?” I asked.

“Yeeeaaahhh… keep telling the minister that we’d probably get better success stories if we weren’t in these monkey suits,” The guy pulled at his shirt collar and mock gagged, “Everyone just thinks we’re Mormons or Jehovah’s Witnesses.”

“Wait, you’re not?” I blurted out. I couldn’t help it, but can you blame me?

The guy chuckled, the area by his eyes crinkling as he no doubt was smiling. “Hell no. We’re a bit different. Hey, it’s about time to give up for the day. Peter and I are gonna go grab a coffee, how do you take yours?”

I snorted. “Just because I’m being nice doesn’t mean I’m gonna listen to whatever crap you want to tell me,” I said.

“If you don’t tell me, I’m just gonna get you a caramel macchiato.”

I sputtered for a moment while Peter gathered up his bag of pamphlets. The short guy held out his hand.

“I’m Sam. Do you want a caramel macchiato or not?”

In the end, I accepted the free drink. It was cold, I didn’t want to seem like a jerk, and I enjoyed it outside with the pair of weird street preachers. Now that they were done with their thing, both had immediately relaxed their wardrobe. Both had ditched their ties, Peter had pushed up his sleeves to show off a fantastic flower themed sleeve tattoo on his right arm, and Sam had untucked a necklace from his shirt that had a bunch of little strange silver charms on it.

Sam sipped at his latte while we made polite conversation. Turned out Peter wasn’t really the chatty type, only offering a ‘mmhmm’ and ‘sure’ every now and then to the conversation, but Sam was the one carrying the conversation. He had to take off the mask to enjoy his drink and he was actually kinda cute, completely inoffensive appearing human being. We didn’t talk religion. We just talked about our days, what we do when we’re not at work or preaching to uninterested people on sidewalks, and by the end of it I figured they weren’t so bad. I only took a pamphlet after Peter offered one the second time, turned out Sam wasn’t the only one who could look like a kicked puppy. I left figuring I’d never see them again, that this was just a funny little coincidence and it’d make a great story.

Now I can’t help but wonder if they had stayed at the bus stop waiting just for me to come back.

The next day I was heading back from work when I heard someone call my name.

“Amy! Amy, wait up!”

It was just Sam, now dressed down in a t-shirt and jeans, still wearing that goofy charm necklace but now wearing a neat custom face mask with little skulls dotted all over it. Under his arm he was lugging along a laptop. I stopped and he caught up, a little bounce in his step as he pulled his mask down to reveal his beaming smile.

He raised the laptop up to me. “For you,” He said.

I stammered and immediately went to reject it. “I can’t accept this-”

“Oh, don’t worry about it,” Sam laughed, “When you said yesterday you were trying to be a writer but your laptop wouldn’t stop freezing when you tried to do anything on it, I remembered I had my old laptop just chilling in my closet. So what the hell, better put it to better use, right? If it makes you feel better, consider it a loaner until you get one for yourself.” Once again, he presented it.

I won’t say it was like brand new, but it was clearly bought within the last two years. And man, a free laptop. I chewed the inside of my lip before I slowly reached up to take it. “It’s a loaner, then. It’s yours when I get my own. How often do you get new laptops?” I asked.

“Practically every other year,” Sam grinned sheepishly, “I play a lot of video games, and I always want the best. I can afford it.”

“Didn’t think that giving out Jehovah’s Witness pamphlets paid that much,” I said as I continued to examine the laptop.

“Funny,” Sam scoffed. “You didn’t even read that pamphlet, did you?”

I knew I was blushing, I always do when I’m embarrassed. Sam, thankfully, didn’t seem all that offended. “It’s cool. I know you were trying to be polite. I won’t tell Peter, but if you ever see him again, he’ll totally figure out you didn’t. And he’ll be grumpy. He’s pretty passionate about this sorta thing, you know?”

I sighed. “Fine, I’ll read it once I’m home.”

“Great! I gotta get going,” Sam rolled his eyes, “Pamphlets to give out, people to talk to. Ta for now!” With that, he pulled his mask back up and hurried back the direction he came from.

I took my new treasure home and almost immediately booted it up. It ran like a dream compared to my old computer. I was thrilled to bits and resolved to read that pamphlet while I worked on dinner, as my thank you to these pair of weird street preachers.

The pamphlet itself wasn’t too bad. It was white, with a black clip art oil lamp on the front and Times New Roman font reading ‘The Enlightened’. Inside was more basic clip art of people holding hands and it really just gave off the really basic feeling of community and raising each other up. The first line read ‘The age of enlightenment is upon us. The reason behind everything exists with us.’ Sure, I laughed, that sounded cheesy as hell. But I read the whole thing, and it didn’t seem all that nutty off the bat. The whole message can be summed up as how we’re here to lift each other up in this world and that should be our goal in life.

I had just finished boiling the noodles for my spaghetti when I heard a knock at my door. I didn’t think much of it, wondering if it was just a late package as I headed for the door.

I opened the door and there they were. Sam and Peter, back in their clean white shirts and ties, Sam raising his hand to knock again.

We both froze. Sam’s eyes bugged out before he chuckled. “Huh. Funny coincidence. Hi, Amy!”

I cleared my throat. “Hi… how did you find out where I lived?” Get that question out first.

“We didn’t,” Sam shook his head, “We’re just going door to door to see if we can get more pamphlets out and if anyone that took one has any questions. Did you read it?”

He sounded honest, completely innocent of anything creepy. I glanced around the door to make sure there wasn’t about to be like a mob coming in to murder me and steal my stuff. “Yeah, while I was cooking dinner. It’s… interesting?”

I could tell both guys were smiling. Sam pulled his mask down. “Then can we come in? We’ve been already going door to door for like an hour, and we’re supposed to be out until eight. Love to kill some time just chilling with a friend.”

I don’t know why I didn’t say no. They were near strangers. Maybe I felt obligated because of the coffee and the computer to at least give them some of my spaghetti, let them do their little ‘come to god’ thing before finding a way to shoo them out the door.

Honestly? I would’ve taken Jehovah’s Witnesses over this. This was on the same level as Scientology for me, as in it was completely freaking batshit insane.

The Enlightened aren’t a Christian sect, Sam explained as we ate dinner and I tried to remain as open minded as I physically could. They worshiped the Beings, well, not really worshiped. Peter cut in to say it’s more like they respected the Beings, relied on them for guidance. The Beings were here before humans were, and oh, how did humans get here? They were originally fish swimming through space, finally coming to earth and evolving into life as we know it.

Oh, and apparently, the sun is apparently a portal to hell. No. I’m not shitting you. The sun. Is a portal. To hell. It took literally all of my restraint not to bust out laughing at that point. I would’ve thought they were pulling my leg if Sam hadn’t said it all so calmly and matter-of-factly. By the end of our meal, I almost gave Sam his laptop back. This was absolutely ridiculous and I wanted no part of these crazy people.

But before they left, Peter took my hand. He didn’t even ask.

“The Being I rely on most is called Yehunee,” He said, which was the longest sentence he’d said all night, “She can see the future. I’d like to see your future.”

I tried jerking my hand back but Peter had a firm grip. My heart started to pound a bit and I started thinking of how stupid it was to let two strange men into my place when Sam grabbed Peter’s arm.

“Peter, let her go, you’re freaking her out.”

Peter released me before Sam turned to me. “I’m sorry, he was a raised Enlightened and I swear that broke his brain from common sense. Just let him do the reading, it’ll be like a minute, and then we’ll go. We hope to hit a few more doors tonight.”

I sighed. If this was the best way to get them out of here, so be it. I gave Peter my hand back and he stared at my palm so intently it made me want to squirm. I almost expected him to start speaking in tongues.

“… Don’t be afraid of strangers, they’ll mean well and be there for you when you’re in a bind. You’ll find what you love doing is not only an option but a profitable one as well. Look out for hooligans, they won’t try to hurt you but they won’t know their own strength. And by the end of the week, you’ll need your love to keep you going.”

Peter finally released my hand and I sighed with relief. “Right, so you said you had to be going?” I said, practically jogging to the door to escort them out.

“Yup! Thanks for letting us take a break tonight!” Sam grabbed his face mask and headed out, Peter right behind him. “Hope to see you again sometime!”

When I closed the door behind them, I was already thinking about how to get to work without going to that specific bus stop. Thanks, but no thanks.

It was just too uncanny that the next day Peter’s prophecies began to fulfill themselves.

I was picking up my groceries, since I no longer needed to get a laptop I splurged a little, got a few wants along with all my needs. For me that made it all the more humiliating when I reached for my wallet and it wasn’t there.

My face turned tomato red as I dug through my purse before checking all of my pockets, the girl at the register looking less and less impressed by my insistence that it ‘had to be here somewhere’. I wanted to melt into the floor when I confirmed that somehow, one way or another, I’d lost my wallet. God. Damn. It. I could just feel the judgment from everyone witnessing this.

Then I felt someone tap my shoulder and I turned to see the elderly woman in a nice red coat who had been in the line right behind me. I opened my mouth to apologize and she held up a hand. Then she looked at the cashier.

“May I pay for this girl’s groceries?”

I nearly started crying. I almost told her to not bother, but something stopped me. And that something was Peter’s freaking voice in my head saying ‘Don’t be afraid of strangers, they’ll mean well and be there for you when you’re in a bind.’ So instead I thanked her, again and again, while she laughed and said it was hardly a big deal. In this world we’re here to look out for each other, after all.

I didn’t notice until I was about to walk away that this woman had a few pins in the lapel of her coat. The two that stuck out the most were a small fish and a lamp. An oil lamp.

I just thanked her once more before I excused myself out of there. It was a coincidence, of course. I knew of a few Christians that also used fish as a religious symbol, same with the lamp. It was just bizarre.

It was when I was heading home that I got the sudden impression that I needed to duck. I practically dove to the ground, and it was lucky for me that I did that. A glass bottle flew through the air right where my head had been, shattering on the wall behind me. It had come from a black car whizzing by, and judging by how loud and rowdy they sounded, they were probably drunk and just having a good time. The car sped down the street and rounded the corner with a screech of the tires. Like that, they were gone, off to keep on partying and doing whatever a bunch of drunk morons do on a weekday.

‘Look out for hooligans, they won’t try to hurt you but they won’t know their own strength.’

My skin, I swear it crawled as I remember Peter’s third prophecy. I reminded myself that there was just no way he could tell the future. It was just a bizarre coincidence.

I got home, I made dinner, and I crawled into bed.

The next morning I woke up to several missed calls from my boss. He was so apologetic, but it was an emergency, and he recommended I turn on the local news for the full effect.

I won’t be too specific where I work, because I don’t know who’s reading this, but where I had worked had burnt to the ground. It looked like faulty wiring had just taken the building down, thank god no one had been inside when it ignited. But because the kind of work I typically do isn’t really one you can do from home, I was now out of work.

‘By the end of the week, you’ll need your love to keep you going.’

My head swam as I instinctively headed for my new laptop and started scrolling through my email, looking through all the writing jobs that I had been wanting to apply for but never had the time for. Submissions for magazines or anthologies, things like that. I wanted to test something and that something was Peter’s only unfulfilled prophecy.

‘You’ll find what you love doing is not only an option but a profitable one as well.’

Sure enough, by some miracle or whatever, I got an email back from one of the jobs I threw my name in the hat for. They liked what I had to offer and were going to pay me double the rate if I could it done by the end of the week. Which I could, because I had a lot of sudden free time.

Every single prophecy. Every single freaking one. Just as Peter had told.

But I couldn’t shake this nagging feeling that these prophecies were self fulfilling. I felt like I was being played with, and I wasn’t going to accept this at face value.

So. I started by googling the name of the editor of the magazine that had offered me the job. He was pretty internet absent shockingly enough, but I found his Facebook page. It was practically vacant, except for two things-

He was friends with the old lady from the grocery store and a Samuel Sutton. And the one thing he’d liked was The Enlightened Facebook group.

Samuel Sutton didn’t have a picture on his Facebook profile that was of his face, but I recognized the charm necklace he was putting together in one of the public photos. Sadly, The Enlightened Facebook group was not public, at least it wasn’t now. Maybe it had been in the past. I don’t know. Either way I was definitely spooked. I knew I was right to be suspicious.

Of course this is when my internet started cutting in and out on my laptop, making further research from there damn near impossible. So the rest had to be done from my phone, all while I side eyed the innocuous laptop from where it sat on the table, the webcam now covered with duct tape.

I didn’t have any scotch tape and I was starting to feel rightfully paranoid.

I googled The Enlightened and didn’t come up with much other than a webpage clearly designed in the 90’s. I scrolled through the bad website design and I came up with basically nothing new, other than the Enlightened were founded in the late seventies by a man named Ray White, formerly Ray Bram. He’s now ‘forever with the Beings’, aka he’s food for the worms… or whatever the Enlightened do to their dead. I do not want to know.

I blamed my following dreams that night about all the Enlightened crap floating through my brain. I dreamed about floating through space, followed by thousands of others just like me. Not floating… swimming. We saw the beautiful blue orb that grew bigger with every moment, until I realized that the blue orb was a planet. There was a golden light in the distance that also attracted by attention, and although its warm pulled at me, I knew I had to go to that blue planet. So down I went, through the atmosphere, through the clouds, and into the ocean below.

I woke up before I started turning into a person, because I presume I was one of those stupid fucking fish Sam talked about. I hated it.

What I hated more is that Sam just ‘bumped into me’ while I was out for coffee. Nevermind I’d never seen him at that coffee shop before he got me that stupid macchiato that started all this in the first place, and now suddenly he was there, acting like he’d been getting coffee there his damn life.

He perked up when he saw me and waved. “Hey, Amy, you’re usually at work right now, right? Something happen?” He said, sounding so casual and relaxed.

My stomach twisted. “I’m just here to pick up my coffee and go, I’m busy,” I said, trying to hold back the shakes that came from seeing him here. “When do you want the laptop back?”

“When you don’t need it anymore. But hey, if that one’s not working out, I can see if Peter’s willing to give up any of his old machines,” Sam laughed, “But I doubt it. He still has one of his dad’s laptops, the thing’s practically a blunt weapon with how heavy it is.”

“Yeah, I have to go,” I said, almost dropping my coffee with how fast I grabbed it.

“Same, see you again, Amy.”

Sam left just in front of me, and when I left the coffee shop I swear my heart stopped. I dropped my coffee and didn’t even try to pick it up as its contents spilled out all over the sidewalk.

Sam was getting into his car. A black car. Not unlike the black car I saw that night with all the ‘hooligans’ inside. He noticed me staring real quick and managed to pull off confusion pretty frikken’ well.

“You good, Amy? You need a ride? I just have to make a stop back the church, but I can get you home.”

I swallowed, shaking my head. “I… I’m good,” I murmured before I walked away, using all my restraint not to bolt down the sidewalk and get away from what was no doubt an actual fucking crazy person. Some sort of deranged stalker hiding behind his bizarre religion to freak me out and try to manipulate me.

I threw the laptop away in the dumpster. I locked my door and all of my windows. I drew the shades, I curled up on the couch and dug out my emergency wine stash. I did not want to be sober anymore.

I don’t think I drunk that much. I don’t know anymore. Because I remember pouring myself a glass and the next thing I was waking up in bed, and I could hear someone in the kitchen. Someone was humming.

I was still wearing the clothes I had been the day before, which was a fucking relief, but I still crept out into the kitchen expecting to see a psycho. Instead, it was just Sam, frying up some eggs and bacon, buttering toast and looking perfectly natural.

“What the fuck?!”

Sam looked up and winced. “Ooooh, that’s how bad the hangover is, huh?” He said.

True, my head was killing me, but I wanted to run. Run like hell. “How the hell- why are you-”

“Did you forget?” Sam walked over, his brow knitting in concern. “You called me last night and asked if I could come over.”

“I don’t have your number,” I said.

“I gave it to you yesterday at the coffee shop. You wrote it down on your hand.”

I was trembling as I raised my hand up.

It was a phone number, in blue ink, my handwriting, in my palm. Like where I write everything that I’m scared of forgetting.

“I didn’t call you,” I said, shaking my head.

“You did, and you sounded… really drunk,” Sam exhaled as he went back to the stove to turn over the bacon. “You were crying about losing your job? I’m so sorry about that. I didn’t mean to come off as insensitive or anything yesterday, I didn’t know about the fire until you told me.”

I bolted for the living room, my head throbbing so bad I wanted to vomit. I picked up my phone and unlocked it, checking my outgoing calls. Sure enough, around eleven I’d made not one, not two, but five fucking phone calls to the number scrawled on my hand.

“I was worried, so I came over. You cried all over my t-shirt, you were upset and I didn’t really know what else to do. So I helped you get to bed and I figured I should stay, just in case you got sick or something. I was worried, Amy.”

I shook my head. “I locked my door though, windows too,” I said.

“Did you?” Sam frowned. “I let myself in after you didn’t answer. I didn’t check the windows though-”

I did. I ran around the apartment like a chicken with its head cut off, checking everything. Windows weren’t locked, my emergency wine bottle was empty even though I can only remember that one glass. My makeup was all ran like I had been crying, like Sam said I was. Everything lined up with what he said had happened, except for my own memories.

When I finally returned to the kitchen, Sam had two eggs, two pieces of toast and a stack of bacon ready on a plate and was pouring a glass of orange juice for me. He still looked worried. “You look a little pale, Amy, are you okay? You look messed up.”

I opened my mouth to respond but instead just ended up running for the sink to vomit. Sam held my hair back and just patted my back while I vomited up was I presume was the oh so lovely mixture of stomach bile and wine.

“You know what? How about you go lay back down, I’ll bring you your breakfast in a bit. You got tums or advil for the pain?”

I shoved Sam away, wiping the puke off my mouth best I could. “I don’t remember calling you. I know I locked the door, I know… I know I did. I threw away your laptop. I didn’t drink that much, what the fuck is going on?” I sounded pathetic I’m sure, but you try sounding great during what felt like the worst hangover of my life.

“You what?” Sam left my side and poked his head into my office before he laughed. “What are you talking about, Amy, my laptop’s right there. Christ, how wasted did you get?”

No. No way. Despite the room spinning around like I was on a carnival ride, I ran to the office. The laptop was still there. Not broken. Not even dirty.

Had I thrown it out after all? I can’t even tell you for sure now. I just sunk to the floor, ready to start crying, while Sam squatted down next to me.

“I… I…” I swallowed. “I need to be alone. Or, I need my mom, she’s not far from here…”

Sam handed me my phone, I’d probably dropped it somewhere along the way during my run around the apartment panic. “Go ahead. I gotta go to church anyway. If you need some support while you’re between jobs, I promise, The Enlightened can give you any help you need,” He said, giving my back a final pat before he got up and left the apartment.

I didn’t end up calling my mom. We’re not that close. I’m not really close to many people, if I’m honest. I lost a lot of my friends after high school when they all took off for college and I hung behind to join the work force. It’s not like they dumped me on purpose, we just lost contact. I wasn’t really close to my coworkers either, I’d chat with them but I never really made plans with them. I’m not lonely, or I don’t think I am. Maybe I am. Maybe that’s why I talked with Sam and Peter that day. I was that pathetic and lonely that I talked with two randos I thought were Jehovah’s Witnesses.

This all started a month ago and I keep finding Sam and Peter in my life. Mostly Sam, and never Peter without Sam. I’ve refused all other fortunes from Peter, which clearly upsets him but I don’t know if I care about his feelings. I am getting more writing jobs thanks to that first connection I made with that editor, but I am not using the laptop Sam gave me. That’s currently in a box, that’s in another box, that’s duct taped shut and shoved to the back corner of a closet.

I don’t know how Sam’s wormed his way into my life so efficiently, but now I even find myself calling him on my own. It feels like he’s always been there. Sometimes I even see him in my dreams, laughing or smiling at me, looking at me with fondness and warmth that makes me feel… good about myself. I sometimes wonder how good I felt before I met him, if I felt this good before.

But I don’t know. My brain’s been so turned around. I don’t know how much I can trust myself, if I’m losing my mind. I know I cannot join the Enlightened, even if Sam and Peter are okay at times. It’s nuts, right? It’s all crazy talk. There is no Being in my dreams telling me it’s okay to doubt, but it’s never okay to assume something’s wrong from the get go. His name isn’t Riesis, and I know that those shadows outside my window aren’t people watching me, it’s just trees.

I don’t know anything anymore. I just. Don’t. All I know is that every time Sam asks me to go to the Enlightened Church with him, it’s becoming harder and harder to say no.

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