It turned out that tracking Edna Boltson down wasn’t quite the chore I’d been expecting. A quick online search of her name the next morning turned up an official website (and a few fan-made ones), social media accounts, published works, and links to interviews and articles detailing her work.
The photos on her site showed her to be very…yellow. Her hair, cut into a short, smart bob, was dyed yellow, her clothes were yellow, the rims of her glasses, her handbags, and shoes, all the same, bright shade of sunshine. Not exactly the kind of person I’d had in mind when I’d first heard the word “occultist”.
There was no doubt I had the right woman, though.
Her bio described her as a retired professor of the occult and an expert on “fringe religious groups and practices”, which I took to mean cults, and she had at least a dozen books to her name with titles like “Modern Day Mysticism: A Study of Pagan Worship In The 21st Century” and “Under Our Noses: Uncovering America’s Secret Societies”. I watched a couple of talk show clips and, even when discussing such macabre topics as Jonestown, I found her to be as bright and cheerful as her chosen color.
The site’s contact page didn’t list any of Dr. Boltson’s personal information, but it did have a number for her agent, Ken Maknamara.
The secretary who answered the phone had all the polite, disinterested airs of someone too busy to be dealing with the likes of me and, when I asked if I could speak to Mr. Maknamara, she made a point of asking where I was calling from.
“I’m interested in getting ahold of one of his clients, Dr. Boltson?” I said.
“Ok, are you a booking agent, a publisher…?”
“Well, no, but-”
“Mr. Maknamara and Dr. Boltson are both extremely busy. If you’re a fan looking to get in touch, I can provide the PO box address and you can send in a letter. Dr. Boltson tries very hard to respond to every one she gets in a timely manner.”
It was the most perfectly rehearsed and professional “Fuck off” I’d ever heard.
“Wait, wait,” I said, afraid she might hang up, “can you just pass on a message? Can you just tell Dr. Boltson that Janice Greer referred me to her and that I need to talk to her about The Gathered. I’m not looking to waste her time, I just really need to talk to her.”
After a short pause, the secretary sighed. “What’s your name?”
There was no masking the relief that filled my voice. I left my number, along with repeated “Thank yous”, but she didn’t waste any more pleasantries on me and hung up.
Patience had never been my strong suit and I paced restlessly round my hotel room. I had no way of knowing when, or even if, Dr. Boltson would be returning my call and it made me anxious. To quiet the frustrated slither in my stomach, I plopped back down on the bed and opened a new browser window.
Looking up “The Gathered” got me a lot of hits, but none of them related to what I was looking for. I tacked the word “cult” on to my search and, while it did narrow the results down, it was just all the same stuff my mom had already found. I was almost laughably annoyed by how she’d beaten me to the punch.
With the internet failing me, I turned to my phone and the recording I’d taken during my meeting with Janice Greer. I rewound it and played it from the beginning, listening for anything new she might have offered that I’d initially overlooked. Anything Mom might not have uncovered before me.
I wandered the room in slow circles while I listened, my phone held loosely in one hand in front of me.
“The only thing Delilah would say when they asked her for more was ‘Gorrorum’,” Janice’s voice said.
I paused in front of the single window overlooking the parking lot and expanse of woods beyond, where dark, angry looming clouds were brewing on the horizon, and I hit rewind again.
“…more was ‘Gorrorum’.”
“Gorrorum,” I repeated softly.
Mom hadn’t made any mention of that particular word. I let the rest of the interview play out, but it only came up once more, when Josie had said that they were meant as a gift to Gorrorum, which led me to believe that it was a name of some kind, but of what or who? I tapped my phone against my lower lip and looked outside while I turned Janice’s story over and over in my head.
My gaze wandered idly over the trees, watching them sway in the growing wind. A growing certainty, one I couldn’t immediately put my finger on, began to prickle along the back of my neck. I was being watched. I scanned the parking lot, all of its cars, the woodland’s edge, but I didn’t see anyone staring back up at me.
Still, the feeling persisted.
I stepped back and lifted my arm to drag the curtain closed, but stopped halfway when I caught sight of a lump sitting on the hotel entryway’s concrete overhang three stories below my window. From that distance, it was hard to make out exactly what it was, just that it was small and fleshy colored, but when I saw it, that watched feeling only intensified. I leaned forward again until my forehead was pressed against the glass pane, my eyes narrowed, trying to figure out what exactly I was looking at.
My phone erupted into the tinny, default ringtone that I’d never bothered changing.
With a final glance down at the lump, which hadn’t moved at all, I answered.
“I’m calling for Faith York?”
I immediately recognized the voice from the clips I’d spent the morning watching.
“The same,” she said pleasantly. “Bernice told me that Janice Greer referred you.”
“Yeah, that’s right,” I replied, yanking the curtain all the way shut and turning away from the window, “she said you’d be able to tell me more about The Gathered.”
“So I heard; an unusual group for such a young sounding person to be looking into. I can’t say I get many requests for it.”
“I think they might have been involved in my father’s death. Or, well, something related to them.”
“Ah, so you’re calling regarding the mountain sect,” she said knowingly.
“There’s more than one of them?”
“Oh yes, at least half a dozen spread out across the states, but thus far, only the one has claimed any measure of success.”
“Success at what, exactly?” I didn’t notice that I was gripping the phone so tightly until my fingers began to ache.
“Opening the door. The Gathered believe in a place they call Ibsilyth; it’s a ‘realm between’, kind of like a limbo that exists just on the edge of dimensions. They think if they can access it, they’ll free their god.”
“Gorrorum,” I said, a piece finally snapping into place.
“Yes. The Festering Father, pleasant sounding fellow, hmm?” I heard the hint of derision in her voice.
“You don’t believe in him?”
“No more than I do the Judeo Christian God or Xenu or the Flying Spaghetti Monster,” she replied. “Cults serve a singular purpose, Miss York, and that is to give people a sense of belonging. Higher powers, rituals, worship, it’s all a fascinating look into the human need for something more. I’ve studied them all for a long time and I’ve found them all equally interesting and all equally fictitious.”
“Is that what you told the Greers when they asked you to help them find out why their daughter was killed?”
“A gentler version, but Mrs. Greer didn’t want to hear it. She called me so many times hoping I’d have some other answer for her, but I never lied to her. Delilah and all those other people died for a belief in something that wasn’t real.”
I wasn’t sure why I had thought Dr. Boltson would be different than almost everyone else I’d talked to about the mountain. Maybe because she’d specialized in a field that I had thought required a more open mind, but it seemed that same work had made her cynical.
“Is there anything in particular you wanted to know about The Gathered?” I heard her asking through my disappointment.
“Yeah,” I said, deciding not to waste the opportunity she was giving me, “everything.”
Instead of spending the next hour breaking down the cult over the phone, she asked for my email address and said she’d send me some write ups she’d done over the years, some for Mrs. Greer, others for her books. Typically, she told me, she wouldn’t just give away her work for free, but it didn’t amount to very much and wasn’t one of her more popular talking points. She wished me well and said to keep an eye out for an email from Bernice.
Before we hung up, I had one last question for her that had been in the back of my mind since I’d first visited her website. “Can I ask one more thing, unrelated to The Gathered?”
“Why all the yellow?”
She laughed. “Because darkness breeds darkness, Miss York. In my line of work, it’s easy to get caught up in all the hurt and despair that surrounds these topics. Consider yellow my middle finger towards it.”
I sat on the edge of the bed after the call ended and listened to the storm arrive outside. Raindrops fell heavily against the window and thunder rolled in the distance. Dr. Boltson had been kind, likeable, but any hope that I’d had that she would be able to help me had dissipated. She was entirely clinical in her approach to The Gathered and it made her unapproachable even when I had first-hand experience with something terrible that I knew had come from them.
It made it so that I’d been able to bring myself to tell her about the spider-armed woman.
But that had been the issue all along, hadn’t it? I’d been wasting my energy trying to convince people who didn’t want to believe, who couldn’t, maybe, that my father had been killed by a monster. People who had no reason to seek out anything but surface answers that all ended with, “This cult was just crazy”. I was seeking out the wrong people.
What I needed was others who had witnessed that thing upon the mountain, others like me, and Mom had already given me one.
I dug back through her research until I found the ones from a decade before, about a lumberjack who had been sent to a mental hospital after witnessing the spider-armed woman dragging one of his companions through her trapdoor. They listed both his name and where he had been admitted.
It was a long shot, but I located the facility (one, as it turned out, that wasn’t far from the mountain) online and called in as a concerned niece seeking out her newly discovered uncle, the one her family had kept from her her entire life because they were embarrassed by him. Somehow, I must have gotten the most sympathetic nurse in the world on the line because she bought my story completely.
“You would not believe how often that happens,” she said irritably. “Mental health issues are nothing to be ashamed of! Our residents need their families now more than ever.”
I murmured my agreement. “So, I was wondering if I could set up a time to visit?”
“We allow visitors Mondays, Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays between ten and five. You can come during any of those hours. Should I tell Charlie to expect you? He hasn’t had a visitor in years; he’ll be thrilled!”
“Uh,” I stammered, “s-sure. Sure. He might not know about me, though. He and Mom weren’t close.”
Or even related, I thought nervously, worried that I was shooting myself in the foot by agreeing to let him know I was coming beforehand.
“Today’s Friday, so I can come by tomorrow?”
“Wonderful. Oh, this will just make his day!”
“Yeah, looking forward to meeting him.”
At least I could end the conversation on a kernel of truth.
I tossed my phone beside me on the bed and exhaled slowly. A bright flash of lightning illuminated the edges of the curtain and I crossed the room to peek at the squall outside. Rain thrashed against the hotel, carried sideways by the wind, and half the parking lot was already beginning to flood. My eyes travelled back to the entryway’s overhang where I had seen that odd lump, but it had vanished.
So, too, I noticed, was the feeling that I was being watched.
I shuddered and let the curtain fall back into place. Whatever it had been, some instinctual part of my gut told me that I wanted it gone even as I tried to convince myself it had been a rogue child’s ball that got stuck after a too-high toss.
While the rain continued to beat against my window, I began to pack my things, leaving out only my laptop to check for Bernice’s email and a change of clothes. I hadn’t wanted to stay in the mountain town, I certainly hadn’t planned on it, but now that I was making the two hour drive back only a couple days after my last visit, it’s what made the most sense. My desire to research from afar wasn’t working.
If I wanted answers, I was going to have to return on a more long-term basis.