When I was younger, I remember my grandfather telling me not to be afraid of my dad. He was an old, wrinkled man with pale skin, blue eyes, a crinkled-up face and most striking to me, hair as black as coal. The only traits he shared at all with father were his eyes, and a shred of his temper. That was admittedly grandfather’s own fault. In his youth, while raising my dad he was a vicious drunk. He was extremely brutal in his tirades. I don’t wish to say he changed very much as an old man, simply drunk less. The absence of alcohol made him no saint, but the presence of age made him see what he had created.
I honestly wonder if grandfather pitied me while I crept around the halls of father’s home. Did his thoughts turn to me at night when I would move silently to secure food and water? It wasn’t always like that. I remember a time when I wasn’t hungry and emaciated. But that particular period of my childhood is not something I can remember well. But, perhaps that was mercy for me. I honestly prefer to not remember all of it, but I remember some.
I remember being hungry. I remember measuring every single foot step, listening to every single breath. I remember my anxiety as water from the facet whooshed into my cup, and the relief when nobody came running down the stairs. I was an intelligent child, though not physically intimidating, and coupled with my disposition towards anxiety I willingly delved headfirst into a situation that I failed to realize would be so stressful. I was young. I wanted father to love me, so I endured many things.
I wondered if maybe father had felt the same way about his own monster. His dad used to beat not only him, and not only his siblings, and not only his mother, but potentially anybody that pissed him off when he was drunk. Grandfather was by no means a good man. He was a brutal man from the mountains of Appalachia, a far cry from the rest of us. It was incredible that people would excuse his behavior in that era. His primary victim, my grandmother, was his biggest defender. For some reason it amazes me that his children then were not.
Perhaps the most damning thing my Grandfather ever did was brutally assault my grandmother with my uncle present. My Uncle was a child from a previous marriage. His father had committed suicide without a word. Maybe that was why my grandmother defended her husband so much- she didn’t want to lose him either. But as he watched my grandfather beat my grandmother that night, I can only imagine a boy who wasn’t able to raise his hand in critical moments before surged with fury then. He grabbed a knife, and stabbed my grandfather seventeen times.
This occurrence changed him- he started to behave as if he had been possessed of some boundless kindness. This was the grandfather I knew, and he used to tell me strange stories. He always told me to be vigilant for the signs of a particular family madness- a madness he swore he had not outgrew. It did not exist with father, he claimed, but the madness existed within me. I couldn’t have realized what he meant. My father seemed pretty crazy at some points. But grandfather had told me about what my uncle had done, and what he had seen as a result. It was some years later that grandfather was stricken with illness and certain to die. He had private words with his children, and then called us in alone as well.
There were four of us. My sister, myself, and my two cousins. Grandfather was weeping after seeing his children. No doubt many apologies were handed out to them. My uncle was not among them. He had died many years earlier in a fashion similar to his own father- a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head. I imagine that he glossed over that when speaking to his still-living children. But grandfather offered a different kind of apology to us. He told us about when he was dying in the hospital.
“I was a bad man,” he claimed to us. “A hateful man. I was not able to cope with the world around me. But you children need to understand, because all of you carry a dreadful gift. Something that my father and mother saw fit to escape from before they themselves were driven mad. I drank so, so much and I hurt your parents, kids. I hurt them really bad. I know that some of them have hurt you too. I want you to know I’m sorry. I want to warn you.”
We leaned into Grandfather’s story, exchanging uncertain glances with one another. “One day, you children will wake up and you will smell rot. It won’t be like the typical kind of decay. It will be a scent in your nose like a penny in your mouth. You might hear things, like wails so loud they seem at first to be sirens. They will come and go. But they are symptoms. When you start to hear those things, you have to fight harder. You have to stay vigilant. Or the sickness will consume you. It isn’t your fault that it will happen. Sometimes things happen for no reason. But if you aren’t vigilant, the scent and sound will drive you to seek violence on those you love.”
Grandfather began to tear up. We did too, as gripped by fear as we were. “When your uncle stabbed me all those years ago, something happened to the madness. I died on the table, kids. I died twice. They brought me back both times.” His voice trailed into silence as he contemplated his own sentence. “If he hadn’t done that, I couldn’t have pulled myself together. If I hadn’t died, I would still be afflicted. But when I died the second time, I remember floating above my body, looking down on the operating room. And beside me, between the doctors, I saw something emerge from the earth children. A black beast with bright orange eyes. Its movements were jerky, like in those old claymation specials. And it jerked its arm right over to where I was floating. It told me that I belonged to it.”
My grandfather’s story natural scared the hell out of us. Even though my cousins told their mom nobody would confront their sick father about it. He died later that night. I often heard weird things about grandfather’s death. Things that sounded an awful lot like his death was far from ordinary. I know they said the levels of iron in his blood and organs were extremely high- higher than even those with hemochromatosis normally had. Yet, he developed no apparent life-threatening conditions. It seemed as though the iron may have prolonged his life- grandfather had been cutting the veins on his arms, we discovered, likely in an attempt to kill himself. His thick blood was slow to bleed, so it was at least a little possible that he survived varied attempts of the same nature.
The various revelations had their toll on my father. For a brief while he was some form of lucid, if not stricken by some inexplicable lamentations. I don’t know what father was told by grandfather, but at least for a little bit it changed him. Father broke down to me in the aftermath and ‘confessed his sins’ as he put it. Father was a religious man once. He tried to be a church deacon, but after his brother died he cast off faith. He tried to find his way in the world as a carpenter, as a man of god, and finally as a soldier on the battlefield.
But the horrors of Desert Storm were contained to some of the missions that the army rangers ran. My father himself told me of one of his encounters with the enemy. “They came over the hill,” father sobbed at me. He had started to describe a situation in which he and others were essentially forced to shoot children for survival. “I didn’t have a choice if I wanted to live. We tried to talk them down. We tried to scare them before we tried to shoot them. We didn’t get a choice in the end, boy. It was us or them. They didn’t even make noise when they fell over. They just crumpled, like bottles under our boots.”
Soon after, though, my father started to experience even more brutal mood swings than before. He would hop from calm to violent in an instant. He would attack me for the slightest noise. My sister was lucky to live with our mother. In truth, I wanted to live with her too. I could have. At any moment I only had to call her and end the abuse. But in his most lucid moments, father had begged me. “Please,” he pleaded, “don’t give up on me.”
It wasn’t a fair request. I was a child, too. I was the latest victim to crumple under his boot. For the next few years he grew worse. I stopped going to school. We stopped eating regularly. He didn’t pay bills on time, leading to several shutoffs. Basic necessities were scarce, and so too was mercy. He became relentless in those final days. For even the slightest mistake or the smallest noise, there would be a beating. I endured it. I endured all of it. I wanted to endure it.
That is until the final night with my father. I had been creeping to get some water, but as soon as I opened the door I could faintly see his shape sitting in the darkness. I could smell copper in the air as he stood up. “Think I didn’t know about your nighttime drink runs? That’s a beating, boy.” He had for some reason been waiting in the room that was positioned between mine and the kitchen. The shadows played off his nearly emotionless face. There was no malice in what he was doing- this was how he disciplined his child now. This is what he needed to do. In my father’s broken mind, it must have been proper.
I slammed my door shut and shunted my dresser against it. I recognized the killing intent in his eyes immediately. I had seen it before the last few times, in the worst of the beatings that left my hands shaking and my body broken. This was the night. I was going to die that night and I knew it. My first and last act of rebellion would be to call the police. I sat on the phone with the operator for half-an hour while father bashed at my door. He kept calling out my name, making cruel jeers at me.
“Open the goddamned door, boy. My hands are bleeding. Do you want me to get an ax? I’ll bash this fucking door down if I have to.” In the distance, there were sirens. But they weren’t close enough to reach me before he did. I saw the glint of metal as my door and dresser began to shatter. He had found his hatchet and was carving through the door. As it grew weaker he kicked and shoved at it, hacking away while I trembled on my dirty bed in the corner. The sirens grew louder. They were close by now. Still as father kicked his way finally, fully into my room they couldn’t have felt any further away.
He threw the hatchet at my window, shattering it as he advanced on me. “No ax for you, boy. Discipline shouldn’t come from tools.” He shoved me against my room wall, lifting me off my bed. One hand gripped my neck, and then the other as he started to dig his thumbs into my throat and squeeze. He shook me, beating my head against the wall behind while my hands fruitlessly pried at his. “You’re just like me, boy. We’ve got to fix that. We have to fix your weakness. We have to eliminate it at the source.”
I tried to yell, to argue, to struggle. But I was not equipped to fight my father. Of all people, I was the least prepared. I had no killing intent. I was frustrated at my mistreatment but I didn’t have it in me to be angry. Even now, as it seemed I would die, I couldn’t hate the man before me. I simply gelt utterly, completely betrayed as I was sent off into the darkness, the sound of sirens so loud that I felt them drop upon me even as I lost all sensation.
I was lucky. They shot my father through the window, a bullet catching him in the head. I was unconscious, but I was alive. I woke up in an ambulance, groggy and scared. It took both of the paramedics to hold me when I started to struggle. I had a nervous breakdown of some kind. Coupled with post-traumatic stress, an anxiety disorder, and a newly acquired personality disorder I had a difficult period with therapy, hospitals, and failed suicide attempts.
It took a while to pull myself together. There were some days I didn’t want to. There were bad weeks… bad years, even. I had been sent back to my mother for recovery. She was furious. Not with me, but with my father. With the situation. She had a difficult time understanding why I stayed, and that might have been the biggest source of friction between us for a while. I don’t know that she ever understood. All I know is that after some time, she seemed to drop it. I had too. It was part of moving on.
I moved out some months after I turned nineteen, still far from well but forcing myself to try and function. I had a lot of nervous breakdowns in those days. Even part time jobs proved stressful and taxing. Angry customers, inexperienced managers, or plainly hard days played badly with my frayed nerves. Trying to get better from this led to odd personality quirks, weird habits, atypical beliefs, and passive qualities. Stress played havoc with my rational thinking- submission to my friends and family was an easy way to avoid it.
I lived a life where I was considerably less, for a time. Then, one day, I was able to do a little more. Each day past then, my abilities seemed to rebound. I suppose that whereas trauma had prevailed for some time, finally there was more of me than there was of it. I think I simply outgrew it. I found myself with a steady part-time job at a pizza place. I had a cheap house I was renting with friends that travelled, I had gotten healthier. I never forgot, though. As much progress as I made, I guess somethings just wound up staying with me.
I prowled the strange corners of the internet reading about obscure religions and occult conspiracies fairly often. I was agnostic on a good day, but a nihilistic atheist all the others. I had partially blamed religion for my abuse by him. I became preoccupied with mythology in my attempt to find an actual answer, but saw them as the stories I needed them to be. Old gods, Greater Deities, and more inhabited my faux reality. Yet, a supposed new religion had begun to spread that nobody had yet known the name for. The first rumors came from hikers in Appalachia, posting on a forum I frequented that they had stumbled on some kind of village cult.
They didn’t have any pictures, which was my first red flag. They claimed the place made their phones and cameras lock up. But they said that the locals seemed friendly, even though their physical appearances may betray that truth. The people of this village had a strange habit of stitching, sewing, and sticking shards of metal into various places on their skin. They didn’t speak much of their religion, nor would they try to evangelize to their guests. They spoke briefly of Metal’s Gospel, so the hikers had called them the Cult of Metal.
But what exactly is the gospel? The hikers had no answer. Looking through their blogs I could see that they were indeed the real deal, with tons of photos of different trails and scenery they’d encountered. It was just odd that for this particular claim all of their equipment stopped working at once. Naturally, not a lot of people believed them and at first the story didn’t circulate. Friendly religious cults aren’t great for creepypasta. But the story gained a tiny bit of traction for a short time when somebody joined the forum claiming to have been contacted by the group about the gospel of metal, and asked if anybody on our forum knew what it was.
It was received largely as a prank, though people responded to it by and large in an honest fashion. Only occasionally did somebody pull some weird elitist shit, like demanding one read through an entire active forum for similar topics. Often though, they were ignored. Still, that was how I first heard about the Cult of Metal. For a bit we got Cult of Metal related topics, people posting “the real gospel of metal”, etcetera. It died down a few months in. I had nearly forgotten about it until a very short time ago.
The air in the town had smelled different that morning. The scent of mash from the distillery usually prevailed in the air every morning, but on this day the mash smelled as if it were mixed with rotten meat. I thought that it vaguely smelled of copper, recalling grandfather’s words and father’s wrath. I was able to dismiss the fairy tale easily enough, though. I thought it was a more tangible issue. Maybe something had happened with the Distillery? No sirens or alarms, so it couldn’t be serious. I checked my phone, but there were no emergency notices. The worst thing about today was the odd smell and the fact that my phone took too long to load up messenger on the walk to work.
I mentioned the smell to my coworkers for small talk, but none them seemed to know what I had meant. The air smelled the same as it always did for them. But even inside the restaurant, I could faintly smell the copper. It only bothered me as much as an unwanted yet barely noticeable smell might, but I still took notice of it. It was definitely powerful outside of the building, though. I held my arm to face when taking out the trash, trying to believe the smell was just the trash. I was having a very hard time dismissing it anymore. When I returned inside, the smell had become tolerable once again.
A customer sat in one of the window tables that looked out into the street, but his eyes were turned towards me from the moment I walked in the door. He gazed at me eagerly, the visible part of his face contorted into some kind of smile underneath his mess of coal-black hair. Despite being the morning this was still summer, so I found the apparently thick jacket he wore to be a little too thick to be comfortable. In particular, he wasn’t shy about brandishing a mask that covered a little less than half of his face while he grinned in my direction.
I tossed my head back to check for a kitchen ticket to see there were none. He hadn’t ordered yet, so I threw an aside to my other coworker at the counter to ask her if she recognized him. She looked up at him briefly, returning her eyes to the pizza boxes that needed to be folded. She shrugged, saying that she didn’t think she’d seen him before but couldn’t be sure. Her eyes trailed back up to his face, and she saw him still drilling me with his gaze. I had retreated around the corner into the kitchen.
She poked her face through the ticket window, teasing me about my newfound admirer. But the truth was, the way he look at me from the shadow of his hood made my flesh wriggle in discomfort. He sat there for an entire hour before my coworker finally shared my level of concern, and without her constantly assuring me it was fine I became empowered to bring the issue before my boss. Wouldn’t you know it, the minute we left from the back of the kitchen the man had gotten up and glided out the door.
Boss pulled cameras. We had all three agreed that his behavior was some level of disturbing. The recorded footage added some depth to that for me. From before the gentleman even opened the glass door to the moment he left it, the footage had strange visual distortions. The colors were off, the image was slightly pixelated, and the ratio was warped vertically. Even so, the man’s face may have been obscured through the failings of technology and his hood, but his expression was unmistakable. The alarming thing was how he held fast to that expression for apparently the entire hour.
We didn’t involve the police. Honestly, with regards our small town cops and this damaged footage, it was fairly obvious that they didn’t have the ability to as simply restore it as a better equipped facility might. My boss opted to hold onto the footage. If the man came in again, we’d have a better reason to try and pay somebody for restoration and use it against the man in court. My coworker got my boss to cover the register while she drove me home, and we made arrangements for a ride the next day. By this time, I should mention, the smell was at least gone.
Still, my encounter that day was one which encouraged me to take caution. While I always locked my house when I wasn’t home, I seldom had the front door or living room windows locked when I was actually present. That evening, I did not take the chance. Even without windows in the hall by the door, I had turned off the hall light lest even the peephole give away my concealed presence. My lights were even off where they were near windows. A blackout curtain long put to pasture saw revival when I hung it against my bedroom window. I woke up when I heard something thump on my porch, followed by the creak of the old wood which composed it.
All the liquids in my body evaporated, and I pulled the covers with me as I shrank towards the head of my bed. I shook myself to full wakefulness fairly quickly as my adrenaline dispersed. I silently began to peel the covers back, when a knock came at the door. In the darkness of my room, all there was for light were the crimson letters on the alarm clock, casting a dim, ominous glow over my bed and walls. At just past one in the morning, somebody was rapping at my door. The numbers on my alarm clock began to flicker.
I stealthily moved from my room and turned into the hall, creeping up to my own door to get a glimpse at whatever was on the other side. I pressed my eye to the looking glass and saw the man from the restaurant upon my porch. Now I saw him from the front, though without a light outside I would not have been able to understand. Two of my questions were suddenly answered. His face had been hidden due to the fact that half of it was a gruesome patchwork of jagged metal pieces jammed deeply into his skin. Some were even held in place with stitches, and the pieces that weren’t jammed into the skin were fastened with what I could only have described as screws. He didn’t have a cheek on that side. I could see his gums with metal jammed into his teeth and jaw that seemed to simply bleed into the rest of the metal.
My second question was how he found out I was home. I didn’t need to ask how he found out where I lived- I simply surmised I had been followed. But I had exposed myself; I left one light on that had failed to notice from my room. My porch light, hidden from my scrutiny, still bloomed in the darkness. The moment I caught sight of him my heart dropped. My chest grew tight and my breaths shallow. He loitered on the porch a moment longer, before he put his own eye to the peehole. I told myself he couldn’t see me. I’ve looked into this peephole before like this just to test this very thesis. There was no way. But even so, he started speaking as if he knew I were there listening.
“I know your family,” the thing’s voice crunched against my door. “I know you smelled it,” the voice sang. “The putrid scent of rotten metal in the air. It’s a symptom, you know. It’s something that’s always there, but usually just goes unnoticed. Then you get sick. But you weren’t there when it happened. No, no. You came from after…” A pause in the voice as fingers drummed against my door. “Pardon, I’m just thinking… I should introduce myself. I have surrendered my name unto the lord, child. You may simply call me His Deacon.”
I did not reply to the thing’s invitations. I acted as though I were not there, but still I was affixed to what the thing spouted by simple anxiety. “I have been sent by His Prophet on a special task. This task has led me to you. You are sick, and need glorious salvation. It is a sickness not of the mind, but the spirit. Not of the visceral, but of something even more vulnerable. You did nothing to become sick. You inherited the sickness, but your particular sickness is a mark of sin. Fret not; I welcome you with arms splayed wide. I come bearing an invitation to the place you truly belong.”
Another pause as it drummed against the door slightly more vigorously. My hand started to fish at my pajamas, but I had been ill-prepared. My phone was still in my room. I was not willing to move. I don’t know why, but I couldn’t muster up the will to move. “Ah, but there is no rush. No fuss. No worries. I will find you soon and you will hear His Prophet’s gospel. Then surely you will be given to him. Oh, child of my child’s child, ready yourself for your first service. We will see if God will forgive you.”
I could almost feel the pressure of his body shift from where I stood as our porch groaned. He didn’t look so heavy at work, but perhaps there was even more metal beneath his thick clothing. Perhaps, he wore that jacket to conceal any jagged corners. Yet when he moved, it was smooth as could be. He seemed to skate through the air as he left my yard and turned onto the street. I swore his feet weren’t moving. Free now from my formerly imminent concern I dashed to my room and grabbed at my phone. I called the police. I filed a report on the important details. His physical description, what he was wearing, and made them take note of my earlier incident. They were going to contact boss for the video later. I was going to tell him when I went in.
It was almost three in the morning by the time we were finished. After the cops left, I couldn’t go back to sleep. I stayed awake until my shift- tired or not, I worked. I informed my boss of what had happened, and he was the footage ready in case he was contacted. Still, the fact that he intended to come back was at least taken seriously by the police. For the next two weeks, there was an officer on my street at night. Provided, it wasn’t a great street, so I might not have been the only reason. Still, I was reassured. For the entirety of the two weeks the man did not show up at my door. But as soon as the cop left, that changed. He was back that night. I had kept my curtains up, and had been remembering to turn my porch light off. When he arrived back this night, I’m not sure how he knew I was home.
“Has the scent passed? Just because your symptoms have subsided does not mean the disease has gone. Even the sickness sleeps. You can go days or weeks without feeling it, without the smell of copper, without the madness it brings. But you shouldn’t fear the madness, for it is not truly insanity. It is truth turning about within your skull, and as you grasp the despair your understanding only widens.”
While he spoke from behind my window, I was desperately trying to get my phone to work. The screen was frozen, the bright light certainly cutting through the thick curtains even if just a bit. In a fit of panic I started to reboot it, turning it off and begging for it to load while I sat frozen in my bedroom. I could hear that mangled half of his face scraping and clinking against the glass as he spoke.
“It was our people who found the Hobbit’s Grave resting within the mountain’s breast. Our two maidens found the vaulted tomb and opened it, touching something gloriously forbidden. They disturbed the Dissident King’s Daughter of Bones, and so our lord stole back her cradle to the sea of stars. Yet he left with the maidens a gift of hope, a song that was ingrained in their souls. Within the cradle of mountains were new laws made, then they together brought back our lord’s grace and sickness.”
My phone had yet to reboot. I was staring at the screen, pleading with the god damned circle of dots to boot the thing so I could call the cops. The circle was a barely calming reminder of urgency. Outside my window, he continued. “Not all accepted his gift at first. Even though the sickness spread, the youngest babies were spared. Your grandfather’s father’s ilk may have knowingly sinned, but the metal forgives. If you have smelled the rot of the world, the scent of copper, then it is time. Lend me your ears, brothers and sisters of the mountains. Lend me your ear, boy. Can you find it inside your heart to atone?
“I said, boy, can you find it inside your heart to atone? Do you seek forgiveness? Do you seek salvation? Do you seek answers? Those pigs will never offer you communion. I can feel your fingers prodding against that glass from here. The metal has decreed that you will hear me before you can call for help.” I stopped breathing, looking at the screen of my phone as the circle continued to try to load. What did he just say? My head turned towards the window as I processed. Did he just reference my phone? So he could see it from outside. He must have. But how could he have known about any issues on my phone?
“As surely as metal rusts with lack of care, with lack of faith your soul will rot. Our first service will conclude soon, but if you want a second, head to the mountains on a night of fog and cloudy sky. We have catalogued your scent, sinner. You need only call for us when the conditions are right, and we will take you home for your second service. With the truth of His Prophet beating in your breast, you will be ready for your communion.” I held my breath as his charred words filtered through my curtain, flooding my room with fear. I pounded at the phone screen flaccidly as my own convictions faded, and with some final words I felt the stranger depart from my window.
“Heed the metal child. The sickness spreads. Every inch of metal in this town will succumb to the rot from aeons discarded.” My phone screen finally binged to life under my thumbs moments later, but my resolve was drained. I still called the police, but they didn’t find him this time either. I don’t think they believed me quite as much as I wanted them too. They didn’t leave a squad car this time.
But, it turned out that thankfully I didn’t need one and for the next few weeks, life returned to normal. That was until I woke up one morning to the sound of sirens, and once again smelled acrid copper. There were too many sirens for a town as small as mine I thought as I stumbled out of my room and crashed into my front door. I gathered myself and opened it, but as I did the sirens stopped. Outside, I only saw darkness and heard crickets. I listened for minutes, but heard no signs of sirens. I was gripped with a firm confusion.
Was it because I was tired? Perhaps, I misheard my alarm for something far, far louder. But was it really that simple? I pulled myself into the kitchen to see the time plastered upon the oven. It wasn’t even six in the morning, yet though the sirens had faded to nothing the acrid smell remained strong. I honestly had forgotten about grandfather’s ramblings of the sirens, but the sound coupled with the smell forced me to recall.
It was an odd day at work. I went in a few minutes early as I always did. In the middle of our lunch rush the cash register jammed and became entirely defunct. We had to stop everything to pull the spare and make a hasty withdrawal at the bank. But, by the time we got back from there more things had started to break down. On the way, it started with bikes. Other businesses register were doing the same thing. It wasn’t all at once, but everything seemed to be breaking. More specifically, the metal components in everything seemed to be the only parts of them breaking. Electronics were stalling. Phones weren’t working. Computers were freezing. Even old, computer-less cars began to break down as their pistons broke inside of their shafts.
If only to exacerbate the situation, metals of buildings began to give out. In minutes, our city had completely collapsed. The few large buildings we had broke suddenly, killing all of those inside and surely the majority of those that stood around them, trying desperately to get their phones to work. Those that survived beneath the rubble must have suffocated. People with metal fillings in their teeth had them slosh out of their place, metal teeth casings peeled away like corn skin. Bolts in ankles and screws in hips gave out. Those with pacemakers never even made it this far, dying with the initial loss of electronics.
A great many of us survived, but our ruined town was mostly rubble now. The smell dissipated, and at that time everybody’s phones began to work once again. Anybody in a conversation with somebody out of town had their messages finally delivered, and it was all they could do to call for help. The police of our town were as afraid and confused as the rest of us were. The more religious people were at wits end, swearing that this was the apocalypse.
The national guard came to our small mountain town quickly. They set up camps, tents for the families to use. I got my own tent, thankfully. They found powerlines out of the area and spent a few days getting them rewired out to the areas of the town where the people were. Food wasn’t scarce, but it wasn’t plentiful. It was rationed with great caution- as if it were some sort of famine. I asked, but according the guard this wasn’t happening anywhere else but here.
The FBI came. They interviewed us one by one, asked us if there was anything strange. I told them about His Deacon, and that I’d filed two police reports on him as well as there being some evidence from a camera. I informed them of his rants about metal and the rot, and suggested there was some kind of connection. They offered me a number to contact them with, but I don’t know how serious they were. Very soon after the guard showed up, my phone as well as the phones of others had completely fallen apart. I think they knew that. I think the phone number that they gave me didn’t matter. I never got to test it out.
They didn’t really control our movements, aside from putting a curfew and roll call into place. The roll call wasn’t even comprehensive or intrusive. Somebody just went around after curfew to check our tents and make sure we were there, and somebody came by in the morning to make sure we were still there. I was never really sure why they did that, but I had just assumed it was for safety purposes. There were other questions on my mind.
We’d hardly been in this situation for a week when a few friends and myself decided to make the most of it we could and head to a hiking trail nearby. They’d done well to provide us with books and the like, but we were bored nonetheless. I like reading books, but I used to do more than just that. I played games, watched movies, read news. But I also used to hike a whole, whole lot. With a straight week of reading logged under my belt, a good and proper hike would help me digest those narratives.
We very quickly encountered a problem. A lot of that hiking trail was bridged primarily because it was dangerous on the alternative routes. Only better equipped hikers go on those, and with the metal rot that occurred not a whole lot of people had the gear on hand. My friends were determined, though, and insisted we take the treacherous path. I protested, but ultimately succumbed to peer pressure. I went on the dangerous route with them, feeling a mix of my measured confidence and a want to not be left behind.
We travelled on thin trails, clung to the side of a mountain and edged along a tiny platform of stone that protruded just far enough for us to tip-toe on. We navigated through dense brush to find ways around the downed bridges, and pressed maybe an hour into the trail when we decided to turn back. The hike itself wasn’t the issue, but the farther we went the more disquieted we felt about not having any way to call for help. We had packed a flare, but without magnesium it wasn’t much of a signal. Discussing that was actually what lead to us calling it off.
Then, to make matters worse, something was clearly wrong with my friends. I hadn’t thought much about it in the beginning, but as they became more winded and tired, I was nearly provoked to broach them about it. Instead I half-heartedly cast and aside about how out-of-shape they all must have been. They dismissed me jokingly, called me a freak of nature for not being tired, and we laughed it off. We didn’t do much more laughing after that. Things got twisted on our way back.
I began to smell that acrid copper again and winced at the first sniff of it, fearing that some other horrible malady would befall all of us. Instead, the person at the front of the group simply stopped in place, fidgeted for a moment, and then went completely still. We tried all sorts of things to get him to move, and eventually settled on needing to drag him out. The problem was that though that we weren’t going to be able to carry him across the same precarious ledge we’d travelled to get here.
Refusing to leave him behind, but unable to go back the way we came, we spent a while sussing out a way to get back on a potentially safer (if much longer) path. There were trails up and over the mountain that spun themselves back to near where we entered, so we simply needed to head a little deeper to find one. To make that faster, the other two decided that they’d go on ahead so they could move quick but try to keep each other in line of sight. I stayed back with my immobile companion for much the same reason. If they found a trail, they’d be back. No more than an hour, they said.
By the time I could tell it was evening, I was through chastising myself for having a poor sense of time and being utterly impatient. I was right- they were taking far too long. Something must have happened to them. I wondered if they too had been rendered immobile like my friend. If I left, would the same thing happen to me? I couldn’t just sit there while my friends might have been in trouble. But I couldn’t just leave my other friend here either, nor did I want to be stuck here after dark if I could help it.
I dragged his sometimes limp, sometimes rigid form through the trail they had set down, hoping I’d find a sign sooner than my body found itself exhausted. I hadn’t walked for ten minutes when I came upon them. One was frozen in much the same manner that our first friend had been before we were moving him. Wrapped around his wrist was my other friend’s hand, who was facing the opposite direction for whatever reason. I’d gathered that one froze, the other tried to get them to move, and then they froze as well.
I dropped the person I carried and hit the ground in utter defeat. I couldn’t drag all of them out. I could find a trail. But could I find a trail, travel it to the end of the mountain, and be back to drag each of them out before nightfall? No way. There wasn't even a guarantee that I'd pick the right trail, or a safe one. We didn’t bring tents, sleeping bags, or hammocks. We brought backpacks with basic necessities for a hike. I found myself essentially alone, decidedly ill-prepared and for all intents and purposes immobile, even if it was due moral and ethical concerns.
Basically, I was completely and properly fucked.
Maybe somebody else, if it had been somebody else, could have made an actual choice. I was already undergoing small relapses due to what happened to the town, but with my friends like living statues and my inability to help them properly, I felt my anxiety start to rise. I couldn’t think straight. I wasn’t in the position to make a healthy choice. I moved them over to a particularly big tree and laid them against it, before myself sitting down near them and building a fire.
The night came slowly. I was counting the sounds in the distance. They would see that we missed roll. Somebody would come looking for us. They basically had too- if they weren’t keeping roll to track us, then why else? Yet I heard nothing in the distance even as the sun descended behind the mountain. In the night, over the din of insects, I decided that they needed to be closer to the fire. That’s when I realized how cold they were to the touch, when I realized their lips were blue, when I felt that they no longer had pulses.
I mourned alone in the forest as the fog settled in during the night. A terrible rage bubbled in my gut and I hit the ground once as hard as I could muster, a dull thud and a tiny hole in the dirt being the only thing I had to show for it. I hit the ground again, but with far less conviction. My hand limply struck the earth in a vain act of defiance against some arbitrary cruelty we’d been subjected too. My thoughts spun out of control. Were they aware the entire time, but unable to move? Were they brain-dead the moment they stopped moving? Did they see me do nothing but move them and make a fire, and resign them to their fates? Did they hate me when they died?
I started to bawl. I began to bash my head into the dirt while I sobbed and heaved out wails and cries. I wrapped myself in my arms as I chewed lightly at my own mouth when I wasn’t gritting my teeth or crying out. It was in that unrelenting darkness that closed in on my body and mind that I heard a voice ring out to me. A familiar voice. They came for us after all. It was too late from my friends, but they still came. They tried. I held the hope for only a moment before realizing where I had heard this voice before.
“My dear sinner,” it hissed slyly. His Deacon strode up to me as brush crunched beneath his heel. His coat was adorned with decorations of metal make applied with a nearly purposeful sense of chaos. His attire clinked like wind chimes in the night. His Deacon’s presence seemed to silence the insects. “The sickness had reached its final stage, but it won’t spread beyond this town. Not until you sing your gospel. Not until you sing your truth. All diseases need a method of transmission. For your strain, you must spread the gospel. Speak the truth, and the sickness spreads.”
I think in that moment I realized that he might have been at fault. I believed that he was. I was off of the ground, all of my indecision gone as I spiraled into a blood-curdling rage. I sprinted into him, as I shoved him onto the ground and leaped on top of him. I began to beat him and his stupid fucking face and tear at his damn, shitty coat. My hands shredded themselves on the metal that I hit but I ignored the pain and gritted my teeth so hard I thought they might break. Even as I lost control, the thought of breaking my teeth made me slow down. It was just enough for his hand to shoot out from under his coat, covered in sharp bits of metal and jam me in the eye.
I reared back and howled. With the same hand, he slashed me across the face. I felt my face go to pieces as I stumbled back and hit the ground, clutching loose skin as I groaned. I felt the man’s cold, metal fingers soc me right in the nose, and I started to grow nauseous from the pain right after the sick crack. I rolled around, dazed and unable to stand as the man chortled above me. “Boy, there’s a fighter in you. There’s a fighter in all of those who are like you.” He grabbed me by the hands that I used to hold my face and started to pry them away.
The darkness I had made for myself to writhe in parted as he drew my hands apart like curtains. I saw his mangled face and wicked eyes glinting in the moonlight as the flames lapped at his back. He pressed forward and folded me onto the ground, my legs strained as they slid out at discomforting angles beneath me. My feet were practically at my rib cage, splayed out to the sides. He had my wrists. I had no leverage. I had no grip. I had no balance. I was lightheaded and weak. I had absolutely no chance. He threw my hands aside, and with another jab to my skull the world ceased.
I woke up a few minutes after the impact, trussed up and unable to move, possibly even more uncomfortable than when I was pinned. The man was dragging me on something like a wagon or trolley that he trailed behind him. I tried to move, but the pain in my nose came back to me almost as quickly as I had come back to the conscious world. Slight movements churned my stomach. I hadn’t felt it at the time, but my knees must have been strained horrifically. I was unable to move my legs well. I dread to think about how I could walk.
The eye that he had stabbed with his fingers as well as the shredded part of my face had been wrapped with a tattered bandage. It was tightly affixed to my face, leaving my jaw unable to move. We bumped along the deepest forest trail as my mind raced with terrified thoughts. My single, working eye examined the sky and trees above me, catching the faintest glimpses of stars and the moon through the fog and forest canopy.
My captor was mumbling to himself. I didn’t catch much over the sound of the axles thumping and thudding beneath me as this man managed to pull me through rough terrain. What I did catch was a confusing assortment of incomplete thoughts. “... woe to the bride of sorrows, cast out… mercy for the grieving… metal sewed to sinew and… us lord, for we have trespassed…” He seemed to be praying. I didn’t speak, trying to think my way out of a confusing situation. Whatever predicament I was in, there was no way I was walking out of it. With my hands bound, dragging myself didn’t seem so plausible either.
I laid in that damn wagon for what could have been hours before it stopped. I heard His Deacon walk around the side of the wagon and watched the gate at my feet open. This time, his hand that wasn’t coated in metal reached out and dragged me by the foot towards the front of the wagon, the pain making me squirm. He sat me up on the gate, and before me I saw Frankfort yet again. Everyone- the national guards men, the people- they were all stuck like my friends were. “What tragedy has befallen them? Do you know? Metal’s rot has claimed them, just as it has claimed your springs and screws.”
I wanted to cry, or scream, or do something. I could feel anger and sadness within me trying to boil to the surface, but all I could muster was a strange, disconnected feeling. I barely felt like I was in my own body at the sight of all of theirs. I barely felt like breathing. I don’t really know why. I suppose I was just emotionally drained already. “But why haven’t you asked yourself yet? Or have you already?” My eye looked over to His Deacon as he grinned at me earnestly. “If the rot claimed them, stunned them, deprived their lungs of breath and their skin of warmth… why didn’t it do the same to you?”
He patted me on the back, before shoving me into the wagon once more. “The rot still lingers here. It will not destroy anything now without exposure, as it has long since started to dissipate. But I must make haste, nonetheless.” He slammed the wagon door closed behind me, but I heard something when the latch clicked. I don’t know the proper terms to describe the noise exactly, but I recognized it as a sound I had heard before. It was the sound of a loose latch. It was the sound of possible, freedom.
I waited for a while, trying to suss out if there would be a proper time to act. I had decided that I was wrong about earlier- I would even used these bound hands to drag myself to freedom, regardless of the difficulty. Wherever this man was taking me was a place I did not want to go. I didn’t want to solve the mysteries of the metal or the maidens, or the daughter of bones. I didn’t honestly care about those in this moment. I watched an entire town collapse due to something, I saw my friends and everybody I had come to know as corpses, I accepted entirely that this was due to something supernatural, and I absolutely refused to find out what waited at the end of this wagon ride. I already knew where I was going. I knew what this man was. He was a zealot from the Cult of Metal.
I felt the wagon come to an incline, and I let my body roll back against the gate. I hadn’t thought that I was actually going to roll through it just from that, and I was correct. I was just mass with no leverage, but hitting the gate like that probably did me some favors in terms of my next move. The wagon didn’t even seem to slow- he didn’t care if I thudded around, but he’d probably hear the sound of an open gate swinging fairly quickly. I couldn’t see well for the wood, but there were tiny cracks that I pressed my eye against. There were sounds outside. I was trying to place myself in the world. Dawn was coming soon. Escaping in the daylight would be considerably harder.
So I listened. There would be no point in giving up my advantage yet, but when the wagon’s wheels left the road and I heard bushes up against the wood sides, I acted. I wriggled my way towards the gate, and with all the weakness my knees could muster I kicked at the gate. The latch came almost entirely free, hanging enough that I wasn’t able to yet escape but that I could see outside. I didn’t recognize where we were, but that didn’t matter. I had leaned myself against the side of the gate to try to discern where I could go, when a massive bump knocked the gate entirely free. I fell out of the wagon, surprised but silent as I thudded into the ground.
The wagon continued into the distance as I crawled my way into the brush. I heard wheels come to a halt, and footsteps for a moment before His Deacon fell to riotous laughter. I crawled quietly through the bushes as he heckled me from some distance away, stopping whenever I thought he might hear me. Stopping, so that I might hear him in relation to where I was hiding. I knew what direction I was headed. I needed to reach the road. I needed to wriggle my way beyond the national guard’s blockade. I needed to find somebody who could help me get out of my bonds and get the fuck out of here.
“Do you think you can outrun the lord? No matter where you run, you are but a prodigal child, and whether by my hand or by the metal, you will return to us. You can run, run, run into the forest, run to shelter, run to others, but no matter where you run it will never be to safety, boy. The truth has you by the throat. It just hasn’t started to compress yet, but it will. Believe me when I say it will. You are not the first carrier we have captured. You will not be the last.” I laid there still as clay, the fact that this man found the room of my house that I slept in not far at all from my mind. Hopefully this would be more difficult. Hopefully, by laying still here, by holding my breath and being as still as possible, he’d leave.
He did leave. “I’ll find you one day, boy. Don’t you fret a bit. The metal will have you.” He paused for the moment perhaps sniffing the air. Perhaps, he was thinking. “I know you can hear me. I’m certain that you can. So let me tell you something, boy. You’re not considering what your survival here means, so I’ll spell it out to you. It was not random that your home fell to pieces around you. It will happen again, no matter who you know or wherever you go. You will be a harbinger of ruin. You will bring his glory to whatever space you inhabit. And we will follow you there, led by the smell of copper in the air.
You are not His Prophet, but you may yet be a convert. So go. Carry your gospel. Let what befell your town be inflicted on others. If you will not come to us, then to ruin you will bring those beside you. You carry the glorious rot in the depths of your soul. We have the answers. We won’t ever spare you the details. We came to. So now, I will show you the greatest display of faith I can. I will let you free here. I will not search for you any longer. But I know you will search for us. Prodigal son of metal... soon.”
I got away. He let me get away. All that effort to capture me, and he let me go so easily. Why? I know, and that brings me to why this story even exists. It’s an explanation to those around me about where I’ve been, and where I’ve gone. It wasn’t curiosity that drove me to find them. It wasn’t a need for answers that I frankly don’t care about. Another town fell to glorious ruin around me. And then another. I supposed that I had began to feel that I truly nowhere else to turn.
The scars I had from my encounter with His Deacon have started to harden. My eye socket, with my previously ruptured eye having been removed after it was discovered to have gotten tetanus, was no longer vacant. A new eye had grown in a single night, only this one glowed dimly in the darkness. When my nose was broken before, I had lost my sense of smell. Now, I can smell the metal rot. I started to have dreams of something beyond the curtain of stars that we can see when we look to the night sky. Something that sat amongst throngs of corpses on a world that burned beside its sun.
Something that had a precious thing hidden away on our world disturbed by petulant little humans. It took back its cherished ward, and left a wound in the mountains. Now, our world festers with the rot gifted to us by our metal lord. If you are reading this, the reason would be that I am a convert. And this is the gospel I have left behind. So I say to you: if you start to smell the scent of copper, we will find you. After all, it means that you’re due for your first sermon. And as long as you can smell it, I can smell you. As His Missionary, I have to be sure that you get a good sermon.
Written by Kyle Meadows