Recently I went to visit my in-laws in South Carolina. They live in a rural town where all there is is farmland, rolling hillocks and trees as far as the eye can see. My wife, Selina and I only stayed for a weekend so we had to cram a lot in just three days. I am a city boy from the greater L.A. area and she was born and raised in the heart of the south. I had never been to the south before so the only image that came to mind was of bible-thumpin’ hillbillies who still wore tall, pointy white hats on occasion. But of course I knew better, it was just the stereotype that the media has perpetuated for decades.
The flight wasn’t too bad, but being on a plane for four hours can start to take its toll on you, especially on your bladder. I don’t know about you but I am always am a bit hesitant to use any lavatory on a plane. It’s like a public restroom 29,000 feet in the air.
My wife had the ever-coveted window seat and I was stuck in the middle next to a middle-aged businessman in a crisp armani suit.
One thing I’ve noticed when flying on a plane is what restless creatures we truly are. The man sitting next to me could not sit still. At first he was laboriously writing an email on his Ipad, his large fingers hitting numerous keys at the same time. He did this almost every other word, cursing all the while under his breath in frustration.
After this, he put it away and sat for a few moments drumming his enormous hands on the arm of his tiny seat. He quickly flicked his wrist and peered down at his over-sized watch. When I say over-sized I am not exaggerating, this watch was the size of a small saucer. The man gave a weary sigh, then looked up at the call button above our row. He pressed it several times as if this would quicken the flight attendant’s arrival.
A portly woman in her late fifties lumbered over to our row, her over-powdered face beaded with sweat with the effort. She was so large that she had to turn to the side in order to squeeze through the narrow aisle.
She bent over and broke out in a well-trained smile. Her ruby lips spread so wide across her face she looked almost clownish.
“Double-shot of whiskey neat.” He said it so quickly that I had no idea what even said. The man had an accent I wasn’t expecting. It sounded Australian or perhaps New Zealand English but I wasn’t sure.
The woman had a nonplussed expression on her colorful face. “Excuse me, sir. What was it you want?”
The man gave a waspish sigh.
“I WOULD LIKE A DOUBLE-SHOT OF WHISKEY NEAT.” He spoke his words exaggerating the pronunciation of each word.
The woman smiled again. “Of course, one moment.”
The man laid back in his seat as if exhausted by the ordeal of ordering the libation.
A moment later the woman came back with the drink in hand, as she neared our row the plane must have hit a head wind and shook due to the turbulence. The woman stumbled, drink in hand, her momentum driving her straight towards the hapless businessman. The drink flew into the man’s face spilling all over his pristine ironed suit.
When I say the man’s face turned red, it was truly red. If you could physically touch anger you could practically peel it off this man’s face.
When we landed the sun was just peaking its brilliant head over the rolling foothills. By the time we got our bags we were dead tired and ready for a good nap.
My in-laws were pretty punctual and we hopped in the car making our way back to town. They lived in a small town of about 2,000 people called Jeffersonville. Now I grew up with a myriad of churches, mostly Mormon temples, almost on every other block, but here you were either Baptist Protestant, or Episcopalian. The funny thing was that these churches were built no more than twenty feet from each other. I have never seen so many all in a row. It was like a strip of churches.
Here in the south there is one fast food joint that even beats the number of churches. It’s the equivalent to KFC but far superior, it’s called Bojangles. They have these Bo-tato rounds that are similar to potato wedges but so much better, dip it in some gravy, mmmm…oh excuse me, I seemed to have drooled on my keyboard again.
Anyways, so eventually we made it to town, and it couldn’t have been soon enough because Don, my father-in-law, was weaving down those windy roads like he was getting ready for the Indy 500. I have never seen someone with such a heavy foot, mind you this guy is in his seventies.
As the color slowly returned to my pallid face I saw a Confederate flag proudly displayed on someone’s front porch. I turned to inquire, because to me and I am sure to most Americans who didn’t grow up in the south they general consensus is that the Confederate flag is advocating slavery, but my father-in-law set me straight.
“See there, one of the old patrons. See people have the misconception that it symbolizes pro-slavery, but that couldn’t be further from the truth.” He said in a steady drawl.
“What do you mean?” I asked.
“The confederacy was not all ’bout slavery. Back then the south was much more’n plantations and slave trade. It had it’s own culture, it’s own customs, and way of life. That flag that ya saw back there, that was the Navy Jack flag, it stood for the original thirteen colonies and the blue X stood for the Southern Cross and was originally the official battle flag that Robert E. Lee’s troops used.”
From that moment on I kept my stereotypical thoughts to myself, and I realized time and time again how gullible and accepting I was of what the media has fed me over the years.
We finally got to the house. It was a quaint brick house that stood on top of a little knoll, with large oaks huddled so close to the house they were practically hugging it.
The inside was very traditional “country living” decor with lots of wooden furniture, lots of gaudy wallpaper and black and white photos of grim-looking people I never knew or would know. The room we stayed in was small with a queen size bed laid in a wrought iron bed frame.
Since I was working nights now I slept during the day and it was probably noon back home and I was bone tired. I asked if they had a floor fan mainly just for noise and they looked at me as if I had two heads. I had to explain that in Arizona you have fans going year-round and that it was necessary for me to go to sleep.
They eventually dug one up out of the basement. It looked as though it hadn’t been used in years, maybe decades. I plugged it in and the blades gave a whine of protest and the first thing I thought of was rusty gates grinding on old hinges to some haunted cemetery.
It screeched like a banshee and I took the grill off and tightened the center and that seemed to work for the moment.
The afternoon light filtered in like angelic wings gently brushing against the sheets. My dark lids soon grew too heavy to lift and I fell with it.
The next day my wife and my father-in-law went into town to drop her off for a doctor’s appointment since she didn’t trust any Arizona doctors and I didn’t blame her one iota.
In the meantime, my mother-in-law, Linda was deftly chopping carrots preparing lunch. I felt kind of useless and asked if there was anything I could do and she simply said no. So I told her I was going to go for a walk around the neighborhood.
I ventured down the hill coming to a small gulch long dried up and now overflowing with vegetation. I felt like a kid again jumping from rock to rock pretending I was a frog listening to the wind rustle through trees.
I crossed a little road and saw a tall hill rise in front of me. My natural inclination was to of course see what was on the other side. Little did I know what awaited me.
As I was trekking up the hill I saw a white utility van drive down the little road that curved up it. As it passed I could tell that it was slowing down and actually stopped at one point. Not think much of it I kept on walking. I heard the van eventually leave and then I saw it come back and stop. Well this began to alarm me, but I still pretended like I didn’t notice.
Then I saw that there was a little house on the top of the hill, and I saw a maroon SUV pull away from the house coming down the same road that the van did. Once again I walked nonchalantly up the hill and heard the car stop and then pull in reverse!
I heard a woman’s voice call out to me in a harsh southern accent.
“Excuse me sir, where are you going?” She had a concerned almost hostile tone to her voice.
“Um, just taking a walk.”
“This is private property from that road to that one over the hill.” Pointing vaguely in a general area that could have been anywhere in my opinion.
“Oh ok, I’ll head back down then.”
This seemed to satisfy her and she continued down the hill.
But that wasn’t even the worst part.
I figured well I just won’t go over the hill and so I turned to the left to a group of trees and decided to go through there. As I did so I could hear dogs barking in the distance. I couldn’t see where they were but I knew that they were big. Turning towards the hill I saw a tall silhouette of a man holding what looked like a twelve gauge and two large beasts on either side of him barreling down the hill at an incredible pace.
Now I was genuinely scared shitless, so I ran cutting through the dense thicket, heart thundering in my chest. I could feel branches tugging at my sleeves and pulled violently tearing my jacket in the process.
I came to a small wire fenced and quickly hopped over it and tumbled down a steep incline. I fell hard onto the ground. I scrambled to my feet, the sound of dead leaves crunching beneath my feet.
I finally saw that my in-laws house was only a few houses down so I ran as hard as I could crossing through another neighbor’s yard.
The old woman was on the phone, with two yippie dogs raising Cain as I approached.
The woman stared in horror, I must have been quite the site. My hair disheveled with dead leaves in it, my jacket torn, mud smeared on my face.
I stammered that I was with the Johnson family and quickly crossed the old woman’s yard without a response. Raced into my in-laws house and slammed the door shut.
Linda looked at me, concern written all over her face.
She rushed over. “Whoa now slow day-own there hun.”
Once I caught my breath I told her the whole story. The face that was once so concerned was now grinning from ear to ear.
She broke out into a fit of laughter. She was laughing so hard that she actually bent over.
I looked at her in shock. Here I was running for my life and my mother-in-law was getting a good laugh out of my misfortune.
“I-I’m sorry, it’s just so-” She was crying now, wiping at her eyes with her hand as her small body shook with laughter.
“What is it?”
“Ya-” she cleared her throat. “I forgot to tell ya that we live next to a cult.”
I looked at her incredulously. “A cult?”
“Yes, the Woffers.”
“The Word of Faithers. The church of the Word of Faith. It’s a cult. They take in the lost and vulnerable and basically imprison ‘em and if they try to leave, they ruin their lives so ya can’t leave. They make ‘em dress a certain way and whatever they make it goes straight to the church. I also heard that if they think you have seened they gather round in a circle and literally scream at ya unteel they throw up. It’s disgustin’ if ya ask me. I gay-us it’s a type of exorcism, ya know, to get the demons out.”
I was blown away. I have heard of such things but to literally waltz right into a commune of some crazy cult, well it was unsettling is what it was.
When my wife and my father-in-law came back I told them what had happened and they all got a good laugh out of it too.Her dad told me that they saw a bunch of the “Woffers” pulled over on the side of the road, but they didn’t know why they were there.
“They looked like they were lookin’ fer somethin’, but we didn’t know what, now we know!”
I thought, at least now I can check that off my bucket list. Chased by crazy small town cult, check.
That afternoon they drove us back to the airport, we said our goodbyes and I practically ran to the gate and never looked back.