Sunshine in my Soul

I’ve had a lot of dead-end jobs before, but never one that required me to sign a non-disclosure agreement.

“Before we order your background check, we need you to sign an NDA. Is that okay?” Clyde, the president of Kimball Private Municipal Services, said.

“A what?”

I’ll admit, I didn’t know what an NDA was at the time. But once Clyde explained what it was, I felt something I hadn’t in years.

I felt important.

“Just so we’re clear, if I sign this, I can’t tell anyone what I do for my job?” I asked.

“You can tell people you clean sewers for Kimball Private Municipal Services, but you can’t divulge any sensitive details about our clients,” he said.

“Like what?”

“We run into odd things in the sewers occasionally, and our clients generally don’t want word getting out,” he said.

“Like dead bodies?”

There was an awkward pause.

He’s definitely talking about dead bodies.

“Cause I’ve seen like a million horror movies and dead bodies do not bother me at all,” I said, hoping to reassure him.

“Tell you what, if you see something weird on the job, and have a strong desire to tell someone outside of work about it, run it by me first.”

“Fair enough.”

Assuming the NDA is still in effect (which I'm pretty sure it's not), I've changed the names of all people and places in this story.

--

Four days later, I was in a Kimball Private Municipal Services truck with Clyde and two other guys, heading to my first job.

I sat in the back with a guy I’ll call Beard A. Clyde and another guy I’ll call Beard B, were in the front.

“Now, Scotty,” Clyde said, half turning around from the driver’s seat. “We have a unique job,” he said.

“Most of our clients—well, all of our clients—are small towns in Central Montana,” he continued. “They’re too small to manage their own sewer system or they don’t have the manpower, so they outsource to us.”

“Too small to manage your own sewer? Why do you even exist as a town at that point?” I asked.

“Good question,” Beard B said.

Clyde continued. “Well, pretty much all the residents in these towns are old people—retired folks living out their golden years without the hustle and bustle of big city life.”

“It’s gotta be incredibly boring for them,” I said.

Beard A laughed.

“Let’s just say, they can be very creative in finding things to occupy their time,” Beard B said.

“Like what?” I said.

The truck was silent for a while.

“I assume I’m about to find out?”

Beard A turned to me and nodded, smiling.

Our first job that day was a routine pump clean in Rowley. Beard A and I went down the manhole with our power washer and tools. The whole job took about an hour then we were on our way out.

Beard A went up the ladder first.

Just before I was about to go up, I noticed something bobbing in the water.

“You coming, Scotty?” Beard A called down.

I pulled the bobbing thing out of the water. It was a blood-stained shoe.

I instantly felt sick.

“Someone died here,” I said.

If I hadn’t been so hyped up about finding weird shit in the sewers, I probably would’ve investigated further, but not then.

“Yeah, maybe,” Beard A said.

I hauled ass up the ladder and apparently looked very spooked, cause the Clyde and Beard B commented on it.

“Jesus, you see ghost down there, Scotty?” Beard B asked.

“No, no I’m cool. Just, ya know, the smell of shit all over,” I said awkwardly.

Beard A laughed.

“You’ll get used to it,” Clyde said.

“I sure hope so.”

--

Twenty minutes into the drive to our next job, I was feeling uneasy about whatever was to come.

“So, where are we going next?” I asked, in a shaky voice.

“That reminds me,” Beard B said. “You got the weed, Beard A?”

“Sure do,” he said and pulled a silver cartridge from his bag.

Is Clyde not gonna do anything about this—smoking weed on the job?

Beard A took a long drag and exhaled slowly, extending the cartridge toward me.

“Oh, um—I’m good,” I said.

“You don’t smoke?” he asked.

“Well, I do—I mean, I did until I had to get clean for this job. And also, it’s my first day of work. I want to stay sharp,” I stammered.

Beard B took the cartridge and did three quick puffs.

Then, to my shock, Clyde—the company president and operator of our vehicle—grabbed the cartridge from Beard B and took a couple deep drags. “You sure, Scotty?” he asked.

“Am I missing something? Also, no one ever answered my question—where the hell are we going?” To be honest, I was a little pissed that everyone was so casual about smoking weed on the job. I mean, I was stoked that my team was cool with smoking, but part of me felt like I was being set up.

“Right,” Clyde said. “We’re going to Arch Falls. Ever heard of it?”

“The little lake town? Of course. But didn’t that place burn down in the 70s?” I said.

Beard A snorted a laugh.

“It burned enough to shut the whole town down,” Beard B said. “But a lot of the structures are still intact.”

“But I thought you couldn’t even drive to it, it was so bad,” I said.

“There’s a little county road that goes through the backside.”

The three of them pass the cartridge around again.

“Wait, so you’re telling me that Arch Falls is one of your clients?”

“One of our clients, Scotty,” Clyde reassured.

We pulled onto a dirt road that led into a small canyon.

“T-minus ten minutes,” Beard A said and laid his head back.

“Who exactly is paying you, I mean, us? The town is abandoned, isn’t it?” I asked.

“Not exactly,” Clyde said.

“There is sunshine in my soul today,” Beard A started singing with his eyes closed. He was smiling. “More glorious and bright—“

“Dude, Scotty, you NEED the weed, man!” Beard B said from the front seat, high out of his mind.

“Oh there’s sunshine blessed sunshine—“ Beard A bellowed.

“Listen Scotty—we had you sign those NDAs, right?” Clyde said over the singing.

“Yeah,” I said.

“What?”

“YES, I SIGNED THE NDA.”

“Where the peaceful happy moments roll—“ Beard B and Beard A sang together.

“Good,” Clyde said. “Okay, the people who—the people that—occupy Arch Falls are religious. Like weird religious.”

Beard A butted in. “Like—Scotty, man. Take the weirdest shit you can think of and multiply by a hundred. That’s how weird this religion—dude, why are we calling it a religion? It’s a straight-up mutha fuckin’ cult if I’ve ever seen one.”

Once we made it through the canyon, we followed a windy road that had mountains on one side and the Arch Falls lake on the other. The imagery was striking. Especially as the town came into focus. The buildings were half-standing and charred almost completely black. The roads were a kind of powdered asphalt. The place was a sea of 50-year-old rotting rubble.

“When Jesus shows his smiling face, there is sunshine in my soul,” Beard B sang.

We stopped in front of a church in the middle of Main Street. Its facade was badly scorched, a composite of the original red brick and sloppy patchwork. The big ornate wooden door looked fresh as if it had been replaced recently. There were fresh flowers out front.

“You can’t prep me for what I’m about to see?” I asked as we unloaded, still sick from the bloody shoe.

“Like I said before, you NEED THE WEED,” Beard B said, handing me the cartridge. “That’s the only prep that’ll work.”

I reluctantly took it, zipped my suit up, and took a deep, deep drag.

We opened the manhole on the sidewalk in front of the church and dropped into the massive sewer tunnel. The thing was huge—the kind of underground sewer you’d expect in New York City, not some rinky-dink ghost town in Montana.

As we slushed through the sewage, our flashlights bobbing down the long tunnel, Clyde gave me a partial rundown.

“The client is called Crescent Ministries. They’re like an offshoot of the Mormon church, I guess. A lot of old people,” Clyde said.

“Old, rich people,” Beard A said.

We got to an intersection of tunnels and turned left. The sound of water pouring reverberated down the tunnels.

“Most of them live here in town. I know the buildings look abandoned, but most of them aren’t. In fact, the only people that occupy this town are from Crescent Ministries.”

“What about the weird stuff y’all were mentioning?”

“Well, over the years, Crescent Ministries has developed some interesting rituals,” Clyde said.

“Rituals that cause immaculate plumbing problems,” Beard A said, laughing.

We turned a corner and I could see a light at the end of the tunnel—literally. It appeared to be the outlet point of the sewer.

“The sewage dumps into a huge basin down there,” Clyde said. “Except, obviously, it’s clogged right now.”

“Hence, us,” I said.

“Indeed.”

As we got to within a hundred feet of the outlet, the water got to be three feet deep. The closer we got to the clog, the deeper the water got.

It smelled horrible.

Worse than pee and shit.

The water was thick and full of debris.

“Just follow our lead, and try to keep it together if you can,” Clyde said.

As we continued, the debris began taking similar shape. Bodily shapes.

“Holy hell,” I muttered.

The sewer was full of bodies dressed head to toe in white, bobbing in the water. Most of them were floating face up with their arms and legs tied together. Little water dingys wrapped around their necks kept their heads afloat. Oh yeah, and their eyes were open.

The other three continued unfazed down the tunnel.

That’s when something bit me.

“SHIT!” I screamed.

I flashed my light down at the source of pain and saw a man dressed in all white, facing skyward, with his hands tied in front of him. His eyeballs were bright against the dark backdrop but were red and swollen.

“Get me the fuck out of here,” the man said in a raspy voice.

“Holy shit—holy shit,” I said, wading away from him. “Guys, we got a live one here!” I yelled.

“Please,” the man whimpered.

“Okay, I’ll help you. One minute,” I said. “Guys!”

They kept going, wading further and further away.

I started sloshing through the water, now waist-deep, moving in and out of dead bodies. As I continued, more voices rang out. Some of them hushed, some of them loud. Some were singing, some were babbling, some were pleading. How many of these bodies were alive?

“I’ve—I’ve been in this shit hole for like three days. Get me out,” one said.

“There is sunshine in my soul today,” a woman sang in a hushed voice.

“There is darkness before the light, there is darkness before the light, there is darkness before the light,” another one muttered.

I continued past all of them, trying to hold my breath.

The closer I got to the end of the tunnel, the deader the bodies got. They were dressed in white as the others, but their faces were bloated and waterlogged. All of their eyes appeared to be open. As I inspected one of the bodies closer, I realized why.

They were all missing eyelids.

My heart was pounding.

Clyde, Beard B, and Beard A were all at the end of the tunnel hacking away at the clog.

“Clyde, Beard B, why is no one responding to me?” I yelled.

Clyde turned around and motioned for me to come over. “We need your muscles, Scotty,” he said.

As I closed in on them, I saw what they were hacking away at. Of course. It was more dead bodies, piled eight feet high.

“Welcome to Arch Falls,” Beard A said, handing me a long machete type thing.

“You guys—” I started, before feeling a wave of nausea pass over me.

Beard A and Beard B continued slashing at bodies clogging the tunnel, with muted crunches.

“I can’t do this,” I said.

“Scotty, I know it’s weird, but it’s their religion,” Clyde said over the sound of crunching dead bodies.

“There’s live ones back there,” I said.

“I don’t know what to tell you, man. It’s their belief. They see darkness before light or some shit like that,” he said.

“Their eyelids—”

“Yeah, it’s creepy as fuck, believe me,” Clyde said.

“Hell yeah, the clog is clear!” Beard A yelled.

The water started flowing again, carrying the bodies down the tunnel to the outlet point, where they plunged thirty feet to the basin below.

“There is sunshine in my soul today—” another woman sang just behind me. Her eyes were red and nearly swollen shut, but she was smiling.

“Jesus,” I said, watching her bob up and down.

“We’ve got a singin’ sister,” Clyde announced.

“I got it,” Beard A said.

“—brighter than the sun,” she sang as Beard A waded closer to her.

“My sister, are you ready for the sunshine?” Beard A asked in a mock-pastoral tone.

“My brother, I am ready for the sunshine, show me the sunshine!” she cried. “Jesus Christ, I am coming—"

Beard A wielded his machete high above his head and slammed it down at her throat, instantly decapitating her.

A combination of the rotting sewer water and blood splashed on our faces.

“Goddammit, what the fuck!” I yelled.

Beard B high-fived Beard A. “That was clean as fuck, bro.”

The woman’s remains floated another thirty feet or so until it reached the end of the tunnel, then disappeared.

The voices got louder and louder as the group of live bodies flowed toward us.

“Please—oh god—please get me out of the goddamned tunnel—this is not how Pastor Artie said it would be—he did not say we’d be trapped in a sewage tunnel for days like this—” a floating man said frantically.

Another floating woman spoke. “Peter, enough, my brother, our time is almost here.”

“Hello, my brothers and sisters,” Beard B said.

Both Beard A and Beard B wielded their machetes and came down on their heads. The man, Peter, got a blade in the middle of the face. The woman got the top part of her skull torn off.

I threw up in the water.

Clyde patted me on the shoulder, blankly watching the water, making sure it was flowing correctly. “It’s a little shocking at first, I totally get it.”

The water slowed again.

“Dammit,” Clyde said. “We’ve got another clog.”

“No way,” Beard B said. “I’m exhausted. Too much slaughtering for one day.”

“Scotty’s fresh,” Beard A said. “Plus, he’s done shit since we’ve been down here.”

He handed me a machete. “You got this, bro.”

I gulped hard, wiping the vomit from my chin. I looked to Clyde—our fearless leader—for guidance.

“Beard B, Beard A, you guys take ten. Scotty, head to the point of congestion there at the end of the tunnel and work it out,” he said.

“Work it out?”

“You know what that means,” he said. “And here, take this.”

He handed me the vape pen.

My heart was pounding through my chest. I took a couple of deep drags until the drug made its way to my head. I felt light, careless.

I nodded slowly and closed my eyes. I gripped the machete and began making the trip to the end of the tunnel, sloshing through the bobbing bodies. Voices called out—some yelling, some singing, some pleading. I ignored them the best I could.

Near the end of the tunnel where the clog was, the bodies were stacked four-high.

I closed my eyes and steadied my breath.

There is sunshine in my soul today…

“Start slashin’ away, Scotty!” one of the Beards yelled down the hall.

I lifted the machete and came down heavy, blindly striking the bodies. I don’t know how many live people I hit, but the screams were deafening.

“Couple more!” a Beard said.

So, I did a couple more.

Slash, crunch, thud.

The pile eventually broke free and the water started flowing again, much stronger this time. I jumped to the side of the tunnel, allowing the bodies to float by and take their final plunge.

“That was quick, Scotty. Way to go!” Clyde yelled above the rushing water.

I’ll admit I felt proud. Disturbed, yes. Sick, absolutely. But the other guys were impressed, and I was okay with that.

I started walking against the current, which became increasingly difficult as the flow picked up.

When I was about fifteen feet away from the mouth of the tunnel, I felt another bite on my leg.

“Jesus—are you kidding me!” I yelped. I turned around to watch the biter flow past me.

“Please, please,” he pleaded as his body floated to the end of the tunnel and plunged over the edge.

“Goddamn,” I said, lifting my leg out of the water.

A group of three bodies drifted sideways and caught a fast stream, plowing into me and knocking me off my feet. I fell on my back with my head toward the end of the tunnel.

I was heading full steam ahead for the plunge.

“Help!” I yelled.

The rushing water was so loud I couldn’t hear if the guys responded.

I tried swimming against the current, but there were so many bodies in my way, I couldn’t get traction.

“Come with us,” an old woman said, her eyes wide and red.

I tried putting my feet down to find my footing but couldn’t.

Pure horror filled my bones as I realized what was coming next.

The light at the end of the tunnel got brighter and brighter. The echoes of the tunnel faded away, giving way to the above-ground world.

And then, engulfed in the blinding light of the sun reflecting off the basin, I fell.

--

I braced for an impact that never came.

That’s because I wasn’t falling.

I was flying.

I was flying a hundred miles an hour towards the heavens.

A chorus was singing.

There is sunshine in my soul today

More glorious and bright…

I looked around and saw old people dressed in white with their arms extended—not tied together like they were in the tunnel—and their eyelids appeared to be normal.

They looked at each other lovingly.

Someone grabbed my hand. It was the biter from the tunnel—only he wasn’t aggravated anymore, he was happy, joyful.

Someone grabbed my other hand, a similarly happy old woman I recognized from the tunnel.

I tried to speak, tried to ask what the hell was happening, but I couldn’t.

The flying people continued coming together forming a giant circle.

Oh, there’s sunshine blessed sunshine—

The biting man leaned over to me. “We’re almost there,” he said, smiling.

I directed my gaze ahead to what seemed to be an all-encompassing source of white light.

“Home,” someone said. I smiled.

I was overcome with an intense feeling of peace. This was heaven. I was dead and this was heaven.

Just as we seemed to be slowing down, the feeling went away.

The intense white light surrounding us clicked off and the flying sensation stopped, leaving us floating in pitch black.

The biter and the other woman holding my hands released them.

It was silent for a moment, then rumblings among the cult members started.

“Where’d it go?” someone said.

“My God, why hast thou forsaken me?” someone else said.

It got cold.

It was suffocating.

“Where’d the light go?” someone said.

People started talking loudly, then started yelling. Then, as the air around me thinned out, the cold air piercing my lungs, the yells turned to screams.

Gut-wrenching screams from all directions.

This heavy, crushing blackness was killing us—squeezing our souls to oblivion. Heaven wasn’t the endgame; this was the endgame—a horrible abyss of nothing.

I gripped my chest, gasping for air. “Please,” I muttered among the thousand screaming voices.

--

I awoke gasping for air.

It was dark.

For a moment, I thought I was still in the black abyss, but then I recognized the blue digital numbers of my alarm clock.

I was home.

Somehow, I was home.

My head was throbbing, and I was pretty sure my arm was broken (it was). I stumbled to the bathroom for some pain meds and caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror. Boy, did I look like I just tumbled out of a sewer drain. I took the pills, grabbed an ice pack from the freezer and returned to bed.

There were so many questions swirling around my head. How did I get home? How did I survive that fall? What the hell was that dream about? How long have I been out?

The mystery of it all, combined with the batshit crazy dream/near-death experience made me restless. My throbbing head and arm didn’t help.

Even though it was 3:00 AM, I decided I had to do something about it. I picked up my phone and called Clyde.

It rang four times and beeped.

“You’ve reached Clyde with Kimball Private Municipal Services. Leave a message.”

“I don’t know what the hell happened or how the hell I got home, but I’m pretty sure my arm is busted and I’m gonna need to file workers comp or something. I’d really appreciate it if you’d call me back,” I said, taking a moment to breathe. Then I felt tears coming on. “What the hell was that today, man? God, I’m traumatized for—”

My phone beeped. It was Clyde calling back.

I switched the call over. “Hello?”

There was silence on the other end.

“Clyde, are you there?” I said.

The faint sound of rushing water came through the other end.

“Clyde?”

The water was echoing as if it was coming from underground sewer tunnels.

“Clyde, are you there? Can you hear me?”

Above the rushing water, a chorus of voices started singing.

“There is sunshine in my soul today—"

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