Of Man and Monster
TESTIMONY OF PHILLIP GIBSON
(Recovered audio recording from the “Oxford County Faith Baptist Commune Unsolved Crimes”, transcribed)
I can say all this, now that I’ve got enough gin in my veins, and a gun in my hand. By tomorrow morning I’m sure I’ll be dead. Now, please, whoever hears this, don’t think I’m some kind of unstable degenerate—I didn’t want any of this. But if you saw what I saw, experienced it firsthand, then you’d probably find yourself in a similar state. Oh, Christ, even if I explain, you won’t know, you can’t know, you won’t be able to fully grasp the twisted sickness of it all. The alcohol I’ve turned to doesn’t even do much to alleviate this constant dread, this sense of hopelessness. But—at least you’ll be able to understand, or guess, what turned me this way now. Someone’s got to know what’s going on.
Let me say everything, while I can. Let this be my confession.
Ah, it started with the church. I’m a pastor—was, anyhow. Phil’s my name. In Shingle Town. Good, quiet, little Shingle Town. And Becky. Oh, poor Becky. B-Becky was—no, Rebecca was—no. No, no. All wrong. God damn it, I’m not making much sense here, I know. I know. I’ve never been this scared in my entire life. I’m afraid, okay? Yeah, I’m truly afraid. And I’m sorry, too. Let me say that. For everything. I’m so sorry. Just—let me compose myself here and have another drink. I’ll try again.
[ ... ]
If I want to say what happened, I have to start with myself. My name is Phillip Gibson—I want everyone to know that, I’m as to blame as anyone else—I was an apprentice pastor at the Faith Baptist Commune, here, in Shingle Town. Now Shingle Town is a small, very small community, way well on out in Oxford County. There’s pretty much nothing of interest out here, except for the church, its school, and a gas station. The church, as it looks, isn’t really something you’d call a church, more like a square box. Anyway, folk drive through here all the time—don’t even notice it. See, there’s trees, lots of trees. And it’s only two roads. Gotta be only a few hundred residents. But you can find it on a map, don’t worry.
So I came out here, young and eager, in ’98, placed for apprenticeship under this town’s previous pastor, Reverend Jona McGoughney. The council had recommended me for my ordination. “Ordination”, that’s, you know, that’s the word we use for becoming a full-out pastor. My father was a pastor, many of my friends were pastor’s children and I knew people and I thought I really had a shot at it. I wanted to spread the Word. Spread the ... spread the Love.
Love—Love, Love, Love, Jesus Christ, what does that word even mean anymore—?
Allow me another drink here.
[ ... ]
Everything was going so perfect. They gave me a massive deal on a house out here, old, but sufficient—it was practically free, let’s just say that. I took Mr. McGoughney’s very own office in the church for myself, and he would only advise from behind the scenes. I was performing all of the sermons, baptisms, weddings, funerals. I felt confident. And not only that, but the townsfolk were all over me. They were always excited to meet me, stop in after hours, seeking advice, or just to chat. And I’d have dinner almost every weekend at Mr. McGaughney’s. The McGauphneys own a lot of property in Shingletown, even though most of it is farmland, but they own land from here all the way to the Nith River. At these dinners, Mr. McGaughney would spend a lot of time filling me in on the ins and outs of the business side of things. If you didn’t know, there’s a huge, almost unnecessary amount of financing in small practices like this.
It wasn’t until too late that I realized that the closeness and intimacy of this commune was a precursor—a segue into something absolutely sinister. I think I was too naïve and excited about how everything was going to suspect a damn thing.
I learned a whole ton about the faith while I studied here, down to details I’d sooner forget now. I also learned about the ministry itself, the way they operated, and I was surprised to find out they had no intention of staying here forever. Nothing was set in stone, as Mr. McGoughney put it, and he kept emphasizing how important it was to collect donations. I remember being surprised, too, to learn that there were ten or so grown men living in the basement of the church. When I asked, I was told that they were ‘retired’ clergymen, ‘taking some time off’, and that they’d be gone soon. But a few of them were too young to be retired, and in the entire year I’ve been here, I never saw any one of them ever actually leave. As I speak, I’m sure they’re still living here.
Ah, listen, now, if anyone is hearing this—remember Mr. McGoughney, okay? His name is Jona McGoughney. Ah, sixty-six, on rural-route six. Shingle Town. That’s the last place I knew he lived. He’s got a chubby face and a big round belly, short curly black hair, clean shaven, and small eyes with circular gold-rimmed glasses. And the schoolhouse, please, please ... check the schoolhouse. If it’s the last thing anyone does.
All of that leads up to this summer—just two months ago. After having spent a year in this town, and following the teachings about God and about Love and about everything in between, we had a busload of college students arrive. They stayed somewhere on the top floor of the schoolhouse—it used to be a hall up there, I guess, but it was since converted into living quarters with bunks and rooms and kitchenettes. Mr. McGoughney told me the young visitors were of the faith, on retreat for the holidays. I didn’t see anything wrong, it happened very often throughout the year, and Mr. McGaughney’s son, Joseph, knew people from all over who were always coming and staying, and then leaving, and sometimes coming back again.
One of the students was a girl named Rebecca Lamprecht. She insisted I call her Becky. Barely into her twenties, positively radiating with youthful energy, rosy cheeks and a smile that just always revealed this pure kind of jubilation ... Her most appealing quality, though, was her goodness, and charm, her optimistic attitude toward life and her genuine eagerness for learning new things. She was so confident of herself. And set in her womanhood, if that’s a decent way to put it. By all rights a happy girl ... sorry, this is making me ... just talking about her is ...
[ ... ]
Becky and I, we instantly became great friends. She was a good learner who processed completely what lessons I could provide. Her eyes would light up at any new information, and God was it invigorating. She made me feel so important, like the damned single most interesting thing in her life. I could help her, I thought, I could guide her. Sometimes, though, she’d ask so much that I felt like I didn’t know enough to answer. Then I’d have to refer her to Mr. McGoughney.
Maybe that’s where I went wrong. I should have just taken her away, right then. I don’t know what happened between those two, but after she had talked to him she seemed so much more distant and depressed. I hardly ever see her smile again after that, and if she did, it looked so very strained.
Some time shortly after the arrival of these students, I was over for dinner at the McGoughneys. While his wife and the kids were out of the room, the Reverend and I spoke.
“Beautiful thing, that Rebecca, isn’t she?” he said.
I told him she was.
“You know she’s very misguided,” he told me, that she’d been lied to for a very long time. That she had to be baptized again.
I told him I didn’t know, but that I’d be willing to help however I could.
Then he said “You want to get to know her better.”
I think I blushed and then told him I did.
“Phil,” he told me, “if there’s anything you want out here, you just let me know. Anything. We’re the shepherds around here. We tend to the herd.” Then he said something like, “And as long as you keep the gate closed, the herd never strays.”
I looked at him sort of confused. He was grinning, picking his teeth with a toothpick, and staring at the ceiling. I remember squinting as my brain tried to wrap itself around his meaning.
I can’t exactly remember how that conversation ended, but it was then that he told me about his ‘séances’ they had in the schoolhouse. I hadn’t ever been educated on that sort of thing.
Mr. McGoughney began inviting me to those séances. They occured late at night, when the children had left the school for the day. They were supposed to be for people who were looking for further teachings, outside of the church hours. No one else was invited, except for me, a the clergymen, and of course the students on retreat who were lodging up there. He told me he’d been communicating with the council, and my attendance was to be the go-ahead in the final steps in my ordination. I was so happy about it I became too willing. God, I could have looked it up, I could have done something! For Christ’s sake, I was completely oblivious.
My memory of these séances is just a jumble. I honestly have very little memory of what exactly took place during those nights, I’m sorry. What I do remember, at least, is the emotion. I was filled with absolute joy when I came to these things. There was music, dance, worship. That small top floor—it was basically a penthouse—it was filled with the youth, the visiting students, wide-eyed, brimming smiles, looking for the Lord, looking for the Love. Becky was there too, with me, and I was so happy to see that she was learning more than I could ever teach her on my own. And best of all, she was smiling again.
There was fervent preaching like I’d never experienced before. We’d play music and recite prayers with no reservations. There was little or no protocol. Everything was very loud, very energized, very physical. There was a lot of touching and holding. The Love was always the primary focus. Look, you’d feel so tall at these things, like a giant, like you could see over everyone’s heads. We were the most knowledgeable, most important people on Earth. Everything seemed within reach, everything. We had friends, we had God, and we had Love.
Ah, that doesn’t make any sense. I know. But just listen, okay? There’s more to it. That intoxicating boost—that cerebral thrill of knowing, knowing you can do anything, be anyone—I’ll admit, it wasn’t all natural.
Mr. McGoughney always served us the Eucharist at those sermons, the Lord’s Supper, right? It’s just bread and some wine. He was very adamanent about it. There was always enough wine. Christ, thinking about it now, I know it couldn’t have been just wine.
And the other clergymen, the ones who lived in the church basement, they’d come and participate too. The clergymen were socializing a lot with the students, these were men ages from thirty to sixty. Whether I was in my right mind or not, I remember thinking it was so right, it was so right to share this close connection with everyone.
But every time, before around midnight, they’d disappear in a group of three or four with Mr. McGoughney, into one of the side-chambers. Sometimes with women. Sometimes with men.
Often times, after those gatherings I remember going through my laundry, and I would pick up an odd scent of some kind of sweet, sweaty odor that clung to my clothes. Thinking about that, with what I know now, it’s making me shake. I haven’t got one single memory of the actual action of going home from those séances, and every morning I’d wake up not at home but in a room in the church.
Bit more gin.
[ ... ]
Listen, now this is where I’m going to have a hard time. It started getting very strange. I have fragmented memories of us, all of us ... in that basement, and the memories I do have are tormenting me.
Ah, give me a second here. I’m sorry, I just—I need a moment.
[ ... ]
Okay, okay. Okay. This must have happened more than once. I know it did. We would ... Oh, God, we would all lie on the floor, on these mats, without—without any of our clothes on. Becky was with us too, and like everyone else her eyes were unfocused, hollow. I must have been so doped up on something, I would never have done that normally. I don’t think I had the ability to speak sanely, either, when I talked I think it was just incoherent regurgitation of what we had learned.
I want to say we didn’t do anything crazy. I want to say that. But it’s just not true. And I just don’t know. I can’t remember everything.
There were people talking too, usually the clergymen “God has sent us His Love,” and “This is how we receive His Love.” We were served more wine and nothing could anger or scare us. We were convinced of everything about God’s Love and Love’s joys and Love’s pleasures and that we exist to spread Love. And we went along with it, unwilling or willing, conscious or unconscious. Mr. McGaughney told me one time that his Love was overflowing and that if he didn’t let it out he would die.
And this isn’t even the worst of it. I’ve got memories of ... blood. Blood on people, on skin, on the floor. On me. Ah, a—a fucking bath of blood! Christ I don’t remember it all, this is just what I saw! I don’t know why, I can guess why, sure, and you can too. But all I know is that we were naked and there was blood everywhere. And I didn’t do anything. No one did anything. Oh my God, nobody did anything about it.
[ ... ]
Let me at least say that I went to the police. I did. I tried calling them, but I knew right then something was wrong, my cell phone had no service. No service! No matter where I went and no matter how I angled that antenna, never any service. But I’d been using with no problems before. So, I went straight to the station in Waterloo, and they told me to wait in a room. I was lucky, I really was, because I had a window there.
From the view outside, I saw three older men wearing brown suits and holding briefcases get out of a black car in the parking lot. They marched into the building.
I’m telling you two minutes after they arrived, I was escorted out by officers. I was told to go home, that I had been drunk, or I might be manic. I was also recommended one of the top psychotherapists in the country.
I know though, it was one of the ministry’s psychotherapists.
When I got home, a message was on my phone from Mr. McGoughney. He told me he wanted to talk and sort out any concerns.
Well, he sure sorted out.
When I walked into his home office, he said that everything I saw was true, but there was nothing wrong with being scared. He told me he felt disappointed about everything but to not forget about the teachings. He said I had one more chance to spread the Love, and that if I didn’t, I would die, and that if any word of this got out, it would never reach anyone’s ears. It would be erased. It would be God’s Justice.
He showed me photos and documents and ID’s regarding past ministers. All of them, he said, were gone now. He said they were like me, trying to betray the Lord, and I could look them up now and search all I want, but that I wouldn’t find them, and that they had paid the ultimate price for their refusal to spread the Love. I remember crying like a child, completely broken down, and he put his hand on my head and hugged me. He told me to come with him to the school and that he’d show me something to make me feel better.
We went. I was a complete mess, I didn’t know who to turn to, and somehow Mr. McGoughney seemed like my only beacon of light in it all. When he opened the door to the hall, where the students were supposed to be, my heart sank and faded away into nothingness.
The hall was spotless. All the stains and the blood and the mess was gone, totally gone, and my horror came from the fact that it looked even cleaner than it did before. Cleaner!
I asked him what happened to the students, where Becky was, and he told me they went home, and never to ask about them again, but that I might see Becky again. Then he left me there in my stupor, and I think I just stood there for a good fifteen minutes.
Which brings me to last night.
Faced with life or death, I went to yet another séance. I was pale and drained, but everyone was glad to see me and they all shook my hand and patted me on the back. They hugged me and uttered some things about repentance. They offered me drinks and I refused. Then they guided me over to the back of the room. I should have chose death. I should have chose death instead of having to see what I saw.
There, lying on a table, was Becky.
She was completely naked. She looked conscious but heavily drugged. Her arms were tied down and her legs splayed open.
The men undressed.
I was—I was demoralized alright? And helpless. They were holding my arms as I watched. All I could do was watch. I was clenching my teeth, biting my tongue, closing my eyes to deny myself every urge in my body to lash out, but I could hear them. Oh, I could hear them! They were panting like dogs and grunting and rooting piglike as they violated her. One at a time. One after the other.
Then they told me it was my turn.
“Phillip,” they said. “Go. You must drink from the fountain. She is God’s Gift. She is God’s Love. She must be made well.”
Mr. Mcgoughney asked Becky, “Are you ready for him?”
She didn’t move or look at him, only stared off into space, and after a pause only said, “Yes.”
“Do you feel Love?” he asked her.
“Yes,” She said.
“Do you want to go to Heaven?”
They wrestled me into submission. They forced me to drink, that wine, that drug, whatever is was, they splashed jugs of it on me and held my mouth open.
I became dizzy and stupid, and the next thing I remember was being face-to-face with her, on top of her, with their hands on me, and pushing. Pushing me.
Christ, God, almighty.
As I ... did this to her, they were constantly muttering that it was good. I don’t know every detail, I’m sorry. But I do remember one thing vividly. One thing, that I’ll never forget, the image of it burned into my mind and because of it I can’t live with myself anymore. Even in that hazy mist I could see it clearer than anything.
A lone tear dripped down Becky’s cheek.
Whether it was hers or mine, it makes no difference. I wanted to untie her. But there were so many around us. So many. Everything became a blur. I think I fought, I think I tried, I want to think I tried, and then was hit, but I did run, I must have. I ran. I think I ran very far.
I ran in the night, shirtless and cold, across fields and through forests, clutching onto the cell phone in my pocket. There was so much mud on my socks I could barely keep my balance, but I just kept going. Eventually I ended up knee-deep in the Nith.
One last drink. And then my time is up.
[ ... ]
I woke up this morning in a shed. I believe this one of Mr. McGoughney’s. I never knew he kept this many guns. But it doesn’t surprise me now. Nothing does anymore.
There’s a bottle of gin, so I took it. I still have my cell phone, no service. But he’s got a stereo here, on the workbench, one of those ones where you can record your voice. And a pile of homemade tapes, church hymns, homemade recordings of songs. Or maybe for something else, I don’t even care. He must have used this thing as he cleaned his guns, maybe. But it works, I tested it out this afternoon, I can record myself, so I’m using it.
I can hear them now. I can hear them howling out there, in the woods, screaming, howling, searching for me. God knows what they want. Coming closer. Coming to the shed.
I’m scared of what I’ll do. If they find me I’ll either shoot them or shoot myself. I could have run, yeah. But when I saw this tape-recorder it was too good to be true. And I’m tired, so tired and groggy, and I don’t think I can live with myself anymore. If I would have known, if only I would have known of man and monster, maybe I could prevent this. Or would I? Is it that they just prowl, that they simply move from town to town, adding more and more to their numbers? Will it ever end? And how to tell?
I will never know. No one might ever know.
This has been my confession. I see it all now, I see it all in perspective. I’ve been so blind and ignorant. They’re coming now. Banging on the door, trying to break the lock. I’m going to hide this tape in here. I’m going to hide it somewhere they won’t find.
So let me say it then, my last words. My name is Phillip Gibson, and I denounce my faith! If God should exist, then so should the Devil! What kind of monster could be allowed to hunt, be capable of something so horrible, so perverse? What creature is so sly, to the point that there’s no stopping it, that it can cover its tracks better than any predator? Something as untouchable as God? As elusive as ghosts? It’s Man. Man! Sins don’t exist in text, or in myth, but they’re real, in our minds, and in the crimes that we use our own filthy two hands to commit.
This is it. Goodbye.
[END OF RECORDING]
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