My name is Robert Straw, Jr. but everyone calls me Bobby for short. I’m writing down my story because someone needs to hear about this, whether they believe me or not. It all started months ago, when I was browsing the internet for anything that would catch my interest. Eventually, I came across an ad for a local motivational speaker named Elias Hutchison and his group, called the Self-Improvement Network. It said that they were always looking for new members and catered to anyone who didn’t consider themselves “perfect in every way”.
Of course that applied to me because I’m not a narcissist. So I looked into some of his sample videos to get an idea as to what this group was all about. He spoke about how the traditional education and employment systems were flawed and both make it much harder and more expensive to follow your dreams. He also said that it’s easy to be lazy and blame other people for your shortcomings, but the only person that can propel you forward is yourself. The more I listened, the more I agreed.
Before long, I had signed up for Elias’ newsletter and was watching his videos every day without exception. There was just something about this guy that made me feel like he was speaking directly to me. All my life, I had been trying to please everyone else without stopping to think whether it would get me closer to something that I wanted. Here he was, offering to teach me how to take responsibility for my own destiny and take from life whatever I wanted from it. After about three or four weeks, I decided it was time to officially join the network.
When I subscribed to the group online, I immediately got an e-mail notifying me of the location and time that we were to meet that week. That Saturday afternoon, we gathered at a nearby high school auditorium in front of a stage with a podium in front. Elias came out from behind the curtain, and his presence was even more commanding in person. He was tall, statuesque, and in better physical shape than anyone else in the room. Yet, he never came off as if he felt superior. The way he spoke made me feel like he considered all of us to be equals.
He asked if there was anyone new in the audience, and I raised my hand. Then, he asked me to stand up, introduce myself to the group, and give a brief summary of why I was there. I did, and he smiled and said that I would especially appreciate the lesson he had planned to teach us. When he began his lecture, entitled “Physical Fitness: The Outer Shell of Success”, I listened intently and even took notes.
The message was all about how people in poor physical shape, like I was at the time, are generally unmotivated to pursue whatever makes them happy. Instead, they cling to easy comforts like fatty foods and television. But he never sounded judgmental towards those people. He simply illustrated that if they could find the right motivation within themselves, they could re-shape their body and, as he put it, “Get hard”.
In retrospect, this was the first of many instances where Elias would utilize a term or phrase that could easily be converted into a sex joke by the juvenile-minded. However, no one in the group went there and I barely noticed it. He went on to say that getting in good physical shape was not only beneficial to the health of the body, but also of the spirit. Because that drive could also be used to find financial success in one’s chosen career path.
After the message, I asked him about a workout regimen and diet plan. He said there was a health and fitness section on his website that I could consult any time, since I was now an official member of the network. I didn’t remember seeing it when I was on there before, but I went home and found it without much trouble. The next day I started changing everything about what I ate, even going shopping for healthier and less processed foods. For the first time in a long time, I went to the gym to workout.
I must have been doing something right, because I was dropping weight day after day. All the while, I watched Elias’ videos about “getting hard” and “growing thick”. At the next meeting, I showed off how I’d been burning fat and gaining muscle. Elias called it “obtaining rich spoils” and compared it to historic examples of Vikings and pirates with their plundering and thieving.
About a month later, I had worked my way to a promotion and a raise. Even my boss didn’t know what was different about me, but recognized that I was on my way to success. Elias was also impressed, and I asked him if there was anything I could do to be more involved with the group that had changed my life in such a positive way. He told me there was a smaller group that he was a part of that met separately and would often inspire his message for the Self-Improvement Network meetings. Intrigued, I asked what I would need to do to join.
He pulled me further aside and said that it was a clandestine group and that, in order to join, I had to swear not to breathe a word about anything that happened there to another living soul. In addition, I had to sign a non-disclosure agreement for legal reasons. I figured he just didn’t want the source of his self-help secrets getting out for free, so I obliged. Elias told me that they were meeting the next night in the basement of a church that was closed for renovation.
Needless to say, it’s a little strange to meet in an abandoned church, but I felt like I owed Elias the benefit of the doubt. I went into the darkened basement and immediately shivered at the cold temperature of the room. I only saw the light of a torch on the wall. Elias appeared, taking the torch from the wall and motioned for me to follow him. The basement was a lot bigger than I expected, and it was like being led through a labyrinth of concrete.
We approached a room with a stone platform in the center, surrounded by chairs. It seemed like an odd choice for a table to sit around, but I figured it was just part of the old church. I was handed a robe and instructed to put it on. I did and, as the group lit more torches around the room, I could see that they were all wearing them.
The meeting began with Elias speaking about how it was one thing to be motivated and successful, but their true purpose was to ascend to levels of authority where they could influence others to their will. One member introduced himself as a lawyer, another as a college professor, and one was even a priest at the church before it was closed.
They each claimed that they were losing their charismatic ability to appeal to people. The priest was feeling un-welcome at the church he had temporarily transferred to. The professor was starting to see students showing less interest in his lectures. The lawyer said he was losing cases. Elias even pointed out something I hadn’t even noticed: that the attendance of his meetings was beginning to drop.
One man who had been quiet the whole time stood up and removed his hood. I recognized him from seeing him on television. He was a senator from our state of Georgia. He said “It’s time once again to appeal to OUR authority.” The professor nodded and said “I took care of that. One of my students spends so much time texting in class that she didn’t notice when I added something to her coffee.”
He brought out a young woman who was tied up and gagged. Her face was covered in tears as she tried desperately to scream for help. They threw her onto the table, and the senator produced an old book. Elias pulled from his robe a medieval dagger with symbols carved into the blade. I was frozen in horror. I wanted to help the girl, and stop this madness. But for some reason, I just couldn’t move.
The senator began reading from the book in some ancient language, most likely Latin. While the others were chanting “give us the power of will, oh lord” repeatedly. When the senator finished reading, Elias plunged the dagger into the woman’s chest and the other members grabbed goblets from the table. They started collecting the blood as it poured out from her body, and they were drinking it.
The only thing I could do was cover my mouth with my hand in an attempt to stop the horrified scream from escaping my lips. I was in utter shock, but I also knew that reacting the way I wanted to would likely turn them against me. In an act of self-preservation, I continued to go along with it. Elias handed me a goblet and told me to drink, so that I may acquire power and influence over people, the way they had.
Feeling the pressure, I put the goblet to my lips and started drinking. It was sickening, and I wanted so badly to spit it out. But I kept thinking that even the slightest sign of disgust could get me killed. So, I downed the whole thing. The meeting was apparently over after that, as they began taking off their robes and cleaning up the body. Elias said to me before he left, “Now you have the power to influence people as I do. Use it as you wish.”
That is why I am writing this all down. Because if I actually gained some ability to influence people, I want to use it to make them believe me that the Self-Improvement Network is just one organization headed by a blood-sacrificing cult member. I know how crazy it sounds, but if there is anyone out there who believes me, maybe there’s a chance that these monsters can be found out for what they are. Even if you don’t believe me, just keep in mind that no matter how charismatic or benevolent an authority figure may seem, you never know what dark secrets they may be keeping.