Standing in cold black darkness, expanses of nothingness stretched for miles in front of me. I was taken into the desert, and wrapped in 28 degree darkness. The freezing air bites at my bare skin, and the fact that I’m wearing nothing but shoes, socks, and underwear becomes painfully apparent. I shiver, but continue walking deeper into the desert. Mr. Sloth’s girls dance around me, appearing and then disappearing back into the darkness. When I reach the end of the line, I am asked if I am ready—and I am. What took place changed me.     

I was transformed.

On Sunday, I experienced V A N I S H, the next installment of Heretic’s horror immersions. Their most ambitious show yet, Vanish spanned multiple locations, embraced a cinematic narrative, and ended 35 minutes into bleak desolation where a real murder occurred and body was left to rot. My experience started with a phone call a few days before.

“Taylor, I don’t know you and you don’t know me, but I have to read you these instructions and you have to follow them. And if you don’t—just… just fucking follow them. Sunday, November 29th, 2015; listen clearly and make sure you understand. The girl knows how to get you in, so listen to what she has to say. She knows… she knows. She has no name, don’t call her anything. She will tell you where he is—Mr. Sloth. Play dead for him. He likes his girls that way. He likes you quiet. The address is [censored]. I hope you got that. You have to be there at 5:45pm. Don’t be late… don’t be late.”

Apart from the phone call, Heretic also sent almost nightly emails leading up to the show to set the atmosphere. These emails painted a noir tale of voyeurism, disease, and abduction. They told stories of missing people, contained links to real cases, and unveiled haunting imagery. This is the beauty of Heretic—it isn’t just an event. It is a disease that infects your mind until it is all you can think about. Each email, each story adds to a tapestry that is completed during the performance.

This performance was different than other immersive events I had done. Rather than taking place close to home, Vanish took place half way between LA and Vegas—in Victorville. The unfamiliarity of the location combined with a two hour drive left me more nervous than usual. The address given led to a seedy motel on the outskirts of town. I arrived on time, parked in the back of the hotel, and approached Room 124. Standing outside was a woman in a long coat, smoking a cigarette. It was easy to see she was beautiful, but there was also something very off about her. She had long white hair, high cheekbones, sunglasses on (at night), and a bandage over the bridge of her nose revealing signs of a recent nose job. She appeared to have stepped out of a David Lynch film.

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She pushed me against the wall, holding me there. Pushing her body against mine, she leaned in and spoke directly in my ear. She told me to knock three times on the door, and that Mr. Sloth was inside. She reiterated what the phone call instructed me—that he liked his girls still, play dead for him. With each sentence, she switched ears, pausing only to take a drag of her cigarette. The smell of it on her lips stuck with me as I left her and knocked on the door, three times. A second woman—looking identical to the first—answered the door and pulled me inside.

I quickly lie on the floor as still as I could. The first girl had followed me in, and both warned me to not move, but to watch. My eyes faced the bathroom, and within seconds, a very large, shirtless man wearing a cloth mask emerged. He inspected my arms, my legs, and my face while I remained dead. He grunted approvingly and returned to the bathroom. The girls stood me up and played with me, expressing that they liked me too. It was at this time, that I noticed the girls had removed their coats. Underneath they had on a lingerie top, and nothing below—except their penises. These were not girls at all. I was then thrown face down into a pool of blood on the bed, my legs spread. Mr. Sloth returned, assuming his position on top of me. He interlaced his fingers with mine and began thrusting on top of me. As uncomfortable as I was, I did not resist. When he was finished, I was stood up and presented with a balloon that he pulled from his anus. Inside was a small piece of paper that revealed an address. The girls told me to head there.

“Look for a girl—a girl with white hair. Don’t let her see you. Follow her. She will lead you where you need to go.”

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I had come to this motel to vanish and this perverse necrophile had given me my next step. I drove further into the desert and turned onto a nondescript street. There, I saw a white-haired girl walking with an impaired gait. I turned off my headlights and pulled to the side of the road. I followed. I assumed the role of a stalker as I hid in the shadows. She led me further down the street and entered a house. Thoughts danced in my head. Was I even following the right girl? Whose house is this? And worse, what’s inside?

I don’t want to spoil everything this experience offered, but I want to go over a few details that are pertinent to understanding the narrative. Inside the house, I was asked these questions: “Why do you want to disappear?” “Would anyone miss you?” I was forced to introspectively reflect on these choices (even if it was a performance). And then I was taken to a room—the devil’s room—in which I would face my demons. I was told I might experience fates worth than death… or I might face nothing at all.

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These pieces helped define the narrative for me. Unlike other horror events, this one became intensely personal to me. It was my choice to seek out the white haired girl and Mr. Sloth. I wanted to disappear, to vanish from my problems. This was not a “wrong place, wrong time” type of scenario. No, these horrors were my choice. I was also the one who traveled in my own car to the second location. I was not forced into this. In this location, I had to face the decision on why I wanted to disappear, and also, the demons of my past. Only after I had faced those nightmares could I enter the bleak expanses of the desert, shed my clothes (and my old identity), and walk that line of transformation. When I emerged from the desert (wearing all new clothes in fact), I had been stripped of my former self by the cold darkness and was transformed—I was a new person. It was an extremely moving and powerful message—one of positivity and warmth, which was in stark contrast to what I experienced before.

That being said, it is important to not downplay the horrors that lead up to this transformation. The show was cinematic and beautiful, but also dark and fearful. There was use of a rotted liver (from what animal, I do not know), and that scent stuck with me for days after the event. I was aggressively thrown, restrained, and gagged. I was scratched, pinched, and slapped. I was stripped in the darkness, shivering uncontrollably. I left with marks on my body that I still have as I write this article. But facing those hells is what makes the ending that much more rewarding and empowering.

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I survived. And I am stronger for it.

This was a hauntingly cinematic journey that lasted four hours and traversed three distinct locales. This was an ambitious step for Heretic, and it paid off—it was a huge success. It did have a few minor hiccups and some missteps, but that is to be expected of a performance that runs for a single night for an extremely small group of people. Heretic’s beauty is in the instances that stick with you far beyond the night of the show. For me, it is in the smaller details: the way the cigarette smoke smelled on the girl’s lips as she spoke to me, the moment when I noticed I could no longer see the lights of civilization while we were driving, the freezing air that grabbed at my skin, the words “You’ve been transformed, Taylor.” These details are what make Heretic special.

Heretic remains an underground show. But with the continued quality in the writing, special effects, and acting, they would rival any large scale theater performance. But it’s easy to tell why they remain small. It’s this nature that allows them to continually innovate, unfettered by casual viewers. Do yourself a favor and support the underground. Heretic is a haunting piece of art, and it is here to stay.

About the Author: Taylor Winters

Taylor Winters dresses up as his childhood nightmares. He’s become Freddy Krueger, Jason Voorhees, Michael Myers, and even Leatherface. He also owns an extensive collection of Haunted Mansion memorabilia, skulls, severed body parts, and even a replica of his own head. Taylor received his PhD in Bioengineering from UCSD and now resides in Tustin, CA, where he works on fixing human hearts. But in his spare time, he’s working on starting the great zombie apocalypse.
By Published On: December 7, 2015Categories: Haunts, hereticComments Off on VANISH, a Heretic Horror ImmersionTags: , , ,