A common unit of measurement while at sea. The equivalent of three nautical miles.
The connection is, um, three. Like, the word three. Because Led had a trio of dreams during surgery, and that was it, three, this being the last one. Three nautical miles to one league, three dream sequences to one testicular excavation.
I’m profoundly unhappy.
During the final stages of his procedure, Led was intravenously given a second dosage of a common anesthetic known as propofol. Most patients who receive propofol or similar sedatives report having no dreams while unconscious, but a small minority mention experiencing visions in the form of depressing emails between soon-to-be former business partners.
This is an extremely rare occurrence.
Dear Cold Shepherd,
I knew even before writing this letter that you are going to choose to interpret it as some scheme of mine. Part of that is you being the arrogant ass you are, and part of that is me being unable to stop myself from coming off as theatrical. I can’t help that, and for whatever it’s worth, I apologize. I haven’t forgotten how much you claim to hate drama.
That said, I want to make it clear that my mind is made up, and this letter is not written with the intention of trying to change yours. Regardless of how you choose to respond, I’m done. This letter is for me, not you. I’m only here to vent.
You changed the course of my life more than anyone I’ve ever known. I hate thinking about that, now that I know you for you, but it’s undeniable. My parents raised me, my mentors taught me, but it was you that introduced me to the world that would come to define who I was. I could live for another thousand years without ever having a few months as personally impactful as that first semester of university together. You were more than a friend or a randomly-selected roommate. You were my brother. It’s no exaggeration to say that I would’ve taken a bullet for you.
I loved you, man.
I remember, about three weeks into the semester. We’d already chatted enough to call each other good friends, a few late night beer runs and bowling alley trips quickly solidifying our friendship. That’s when you first mentioned it, the family business. Your dad was the leader of a small family-run compound in the backwoods of Maine, The Red Sunshiners.
It was a small cult. Your parents, your siblings, the twenty-five rural churchgoers you had brainwashed and systematically dehumanized. It was a tiny operation — the type of humble hand-grown cult most kids moving to college would almost be too embarrassed to mention — but you were so, so proud. There was a fire in your eyes, this magic spark that popped up whenever you told stories about how your Dad worked to pull it all together, slowly co-opting a small town church and becoming its pastor. In a year he’d gone from new neighbor to living reincarnation of the savior, demanding and receiving possessions, incomes, homes.
You wanted to make him proud, you told me. Go to college, make your own group, but bigger, on a scale your father in his wildest dreams couldn’t have imagined you achieving.
Your passion blew me away. At the time, I recall you remarking about how special I was, coming to decide that I wanted to become a leader with you as quickly as I did. Most people from non-cult families have difficulty getting over that initial hump of conventional morality, but not me, so you said. That’s why you liked me, why you knew I was the one who could take you there.
But it was always you. Your voice, that demand, that need for success blazing in your eyes. It was the first time I’d ever seen someone who really knew what they wanted, and it made me realize that I wanted it too. To lead. To rule.
You brainwashed me, just like all the others, only earlier. But I knew that, and it never mattered to me. You were special, and I was always an equal partner to you, at least back then. As long as I could serve the Kool Aid by your side, I never had any problem drinking some myself.
You made it special, just for me.
It was great, the early days. You remember, I’m sure, starting at the dorms. We were young and over our heads, but god, we were good. We knew what they wanted, and we were merciless. Whatever it took to get them into those early meetings: girls, guys, booze, memes. And they fell like dominoes, back then.
Those first spiritual weekend retreats into the campus woods, hell. How many did we manage to drag with us? Two-fifty, three hundred? Something like eighty-percent stuck around to join, in the end. Monday morning, after they’d all gone back to their dorms to pick up their belongings and tell their parents about the New Truth, the two of us just looked at the page of new recruits and laughed and laughed. So many. We knew that we’d done well from the sheer diversity of sheep, nerds and football players and sorority girls and grad students alike, all with us, all ready to surrender all worldly thoughts and possessions in order to join what we had created.
We even got that pair of professors. Lucky. That saved our skin, later down the line, once the administration started getting on our back. But you can get away with anything, if you have the right folks in the right places. You were the one who taught me that.
By the time we graduated, we were almost one-thousand sheep strong. One-thousand former human beings who saw us as the literal sons of god, worshipping, giving us everything. More than one-twentieth of an entire university at our beck and call, the most important pair of men on campus.
It wasn’t enough for you. Obviously! You’re you, after all. You could never be satisfied, and that was what made you so special, what I loved about you. You weren’t satisfied with the interest of a city and the occasional pesky FBI agent. You wanted everyone’s attention.
When you showed me the plans, even I was stunned. But you talked me into it. This was bigger than the college hippie shit we’d been doing. It was big, beautiful. Perpetual doomsday threats, bunkers, a self-sustaining commune with our own LSD-filtered water supply.
It was terrifying for me, selling our first cult on the open market. But your reasoning was sound. We couldn’t morph the New Truth into what we were aiming towards; we needed to start fresh. Moving west, we took the money we’d earned and invested it into our new communities, buying land, building the giant multicomplex that would become our new home.
It was such an amazing feeling, building up our second group. I was worried at first about trying to target specific powerful individuals to join us, but my fear in your idea was misplaced. You knew what you were doing. You always did. Millionaires, business owners, artists, influencers.
All of them, our sheep. Within only four years, we built our own city, our own little nation. The FBI, the CIA? They couldn’t stop us, with our influence. They sent those infiltrators and spies to come to our recruitment retreats, and they’d always end up the same way, our loyal little sheep.
You weren’t there for it, but my favorite moment ever, watching this big muscled French guy who’d come from whatever government agency finally break from the sleep deprivation, crying, his eyes getting real, real wide. He said he realized that we were who we said we were, God and God, admitting who he really was, a spy. I gave him a hug, telling him it was fine, that he could repent and receive our infinite love. Had him show me the wire, break it in front of me, rip up the picture of family in his wallet. Kissed him on the forehead, like a baby.
Another six hours in the sleep deprivation room, after that. Brought him out again, one more kiss, twelve more hours. After that, made him call his wife and call her a traitor and a sinner. Got her to put his daughter on the phone too, thinking she might be able to snap him out of it. Sixteen years old, but she cried like a baby, hearing him tell her what I told him to tell her. She kept repeating “I love you, I love you” and he just repeated what I ordered him to say, accepting that I knew better, that his offspring was worthless, meaningless to him. A mistake.
He thanked me, afterwards.
I wished you heard her sobs. Maybe they would’ve made you understand, because that was close to when you turned on me. It was the first time your magic drink ever soured on me, when I realized you had sympathy for them.
You cared about the sheep.
You walked up to me, some months ago, saying that you wanted to stop the fasting. I laughed and agreed, assuming that you were joking. But when I neglected to change it — and of course I did, with the wonderful sounds of those screaming stomachs, those rattling ribs — you came to me for a “serious conversation”.
I won’t repeat the worst of what you said, even only to put it to paper, out of respect for your father, your family. If they knew the lows you wanted us to sink to, it’d break their heart. Drug-free water, food. No torture of any kind. Eight hours of sleep, each and every day. End the harems, let them call family, stop telling them that doomsday was right around the corner. You wanted us to go from deities to glorified spiritual gurus.
It broke my heart, to hear you of all people going on about morality. The words “human rights” left your mouth, at one point. I would’ve rather you shot me.
I don’t need to carry on about the conversations and arguments we’ve had since. It’s clear that your heart isn’t in this anymore. Maybe it never was, I hate to think. I can only wonder if that passion-filled freshman I met always thought that way, walking around with a heart infected and rotting with compassion. Beneath all the splendor, maybe that’s all you ever were.
I’m leaving. I threatened it before, and my heart wasn’t in it, but it is now. I don’t want to fight you, so I’m backing out on my own, before there can be a struggle. You can keep close to everything — I’m taking the Frenchman, along with a dozen or so of my other favorites — without restitution, without pain. Enjoy the flock of thirty thousand, the compound, the land, the resources. It’s all yours. If you want to throw it all away in pursuit of emotion, be my guest.
With the next to nothing I’m taking, I’m going to go abroad and start over. I won’t lie, it’ll be hard. I’ve become a master, watching you do what you do, but you’ll always be the king of rounding up sheep. With enough luck, I’ll be able to build something almost as big and beautiful as what we had in twice as much time. But it’s necessary. I am nothing when joined to a man who is unable to acknowledge his superiority.
You’re the best shepherd in the world. But that doesn’t matter, I’ve come to understand, if you don’t have the heart to harvest.
Sheep are meant to be sheared.
A Man Who Shall Never Go Without Wool.