Tickets for the West Mountain Vintage-Voodoo Rogue Slave Cannibal
Encounter could only be purchased on the other internet. There was
danger, undocumented disappearances. Same could be said for Mount
Everest. No one was stopping you. You just had to look harder for
access. For some it was their first time on that internet. These days
you must look deeper into the dark for an authentic cultural experience.
It was at West Mountain, uncharted Appalachia. A map can’t cover every
little thing. The group we descend on are mostly white, some ethnic, but
all a mix of curious progressives and edgelord vets of dark tourism. All
share an all-knowing fraternal glee, a fizz of courage and camaraderie.
If any are nervous, nothing is revealed.
The tour guide is a man, a black man. He wears an Indian (or something)
headdress of multi-colored feathers and skulls. Are the skulls real,
someone asks. My name is Sisyphus he answers, I’ll be your guide. Feel
free to ask any questions but wait until we are done. West Mountain is
an imposing presence but because it’s an old coal mine it won’t take
long to reach the top through its circuitry of tunnels and switchbacks.
Now we begin, says Sisyphus, leading the group into the trailhead. For
the duration of the short thirty-minute climb he doesn’t say a word,
even when someone asks him if Sisyphus is his real name, how funny that
we are climbing a mountain led by someone named Sisyphus, if people ask
him that a lot.
West Mountain is among layers of dense green lush and neglected forest.
They’re not sure how they got there since they were all busy talking,
getting to know one another on the bus. When they reach the top of West
Mountain, the road has disappeared, it’s just all green, as far as the
eye can see. The Mountain is tall, but the trees are taller and now they
are without sky.
At the top there is a large basin, or pool, or what is this, someone
asks. Gather around and I will explain, says Sisyphus. This is the
sacred pot of the tribe where they would make their stews, family style
as you say. Are you a descendent of the tribe, someone asks. Miss, the
only tribe I belong to is the human tribe, he says. The group laughs in
righteous solidarity, maybe they’re relieved the experience is not
that authentic. It would be irresponsible for me to say all lives
matter but I am from the human tribe, your tribe, he says, outstretching
his arms, presenting themselves to themselves. Smiles smatter across
engaged, giddy faces, a feeling of all is one now that the tribe’s drink
is being distributed and consumed eagerly, a delightful, fermented fruit
juice someone exclaims as wow boozy.
This pool is a natural hot spring, he says. When the rogue hybrid slave
tribe would make their stews, any liquid removed would be replenished
within minutes, a miracle spring. Is it hot, someone asks. It’s a hot
spring, he repeats. Can you get in it, someone asks. Oh yes, it’s very
lovely, he says, his inflection hillbilly with Creole sophistication. I
love your accent, someone says. They were cannibals, right, someone else
says, impatient Sisyphus might be holding back the good stuff.
Yes, they would capture and kill humans—you know, our tribe, he says,
serving themselves to themselves again. Leftovers were preserved in the
mines below. Some early canning techniques were used as well, to sustain
them into winter, he says.
So the slave tribe believed in human sacrifice then, someone says. Was
it to appease a God?
Yes, killing and consuming humans was to appease their tribal Gods, but
they clearly picked up the brutality of their slave-masters who were
practicing similar ruthlessness. Some were born into the slave-masters’
atrocity, so they knew no difference, no contrast to the
barbarism—through submission, they learned the goal was to dominate
others until they could no longer speak. Cannibalism would be the
logical conclusion of dominance. But things are different now, as we
know. Please, won’t you step inside the spring? Clothing is optional
here at West Mountain.
Some are trepidatious, change the subject, under the guise of processing
information. Others disrobe completely, naked for the full-effect of
submergence, sticking toes in first to check temperature. Satisfied,
their whole bodies sink into the soup. Those who changed the subject
feel major FOMO since they paid the money, so they follow the leaders
while Sisyphus remains stoic when he isn’t nodding his head for
encouragement. Don’t worry, if it feels too hot at first, your body will
adjust, he says to one woman who is having second thoughts, but she
doesn’t want to be the only one to doubt the hospitality.
All twelve of their bodies do adjust, surrendering to the heat quickly
just as Sisyphus said. Their heads hit the water with a splish-splash
stagger until they go face down, bubbles rising as the bodies bob
freely, now lighter, free from the weight of spirits. With only their
backs exposed from the scalding liquid, it looks like they’re playing a
game, a game of endurance, yet no one has endured, so that’s the end of
Three other men, three other black men who are dressed like Sisyphus,
emerge from the corner, they heard the crowd’s silence as their queue.
One holds what appears to be a boat paddle until it begins to stir the
soup. Sisyphus leads the other two to the other corner to retrieve the
tables and place settings. The one who stirs prods the bodies, making
sure they’re lifeless, cooking evenly, while the others set up the
tables, which will soon be covered in expensive white linen clothes,
then large white bowls. The men, only men, who just arrived at the
bottom of West Mountain will sit two to each table. Sisyphus begins his
thirty-minute descent to lead them up.
One by one, the new arrivals reach the top, led by Sisyphus. They are
men, white men, dressed in expensive suits to match the expensive meal
in synergy with their overall expensive tastes which, to their
frustration, they must go painstakingly out of their way to savor. Until
the meal begins, where all is forgiven, where this forbidden luxury is
almost tangible. It’s an eternity to their impatience until they hear
the sound of the chainsaws. At least it’s a start—the broth will now
be made, so they are not bothered by the invasive noise—some even wink
to one another, here it comes, it’s getting ready. The only ones who
would be ruffled by the screeching machinery are no longer conscious, so
they will have no chance to point out that it’s inaccurate to the
period, to the authenticity they were seeking.
Once Sisyphus and his co-workers ladle up the stew to the client’s
bowels, they are dismissed to leave until clean-up the next morning, so
the guests can commiserate in privacy. There is much to talk about and
must be done so without prying eyes or ears, even though they have all
shared the most intimate exchange, other people’s blood. Likely, they
are dismissed because they have all just shared the most intimate
exchange, other people’s money.
Sisyphus and his co-workers descend West Mountain, removing their
incongruent Indian voodoo headdresses on the way down. They board the
bus they came in, now empty. Sisyphus will drive, but since the costumes
have been removed, they can now call him Bill. As Bill starts the
engine, he sees the new guy in back lean over his seat, staring at the
aisle until he vomits. I’m sorry, Bill. It’s okay, he says. We’ll clean
it in the morning, and eventually you’ll acclimate to that feeling.