“The only reason I believe in God anymore is that I want someone to blame.”

– Jim Bowman, Non-Practicing Cultist

Non-Practicing Cultist, #75 in the Short Sharp Shocks! series by Demain Publishing, by Scott J Moses is a gripping, unpredictable adventure through the bayou, a tale of revenge, trauma, and confrontation of the belief systems instilled upon us as children. As with Moses’s phenomenal debut collection, Hunger Pangs, the story is full of remarkable characterization and emotion in incredibly short form. 

The narrative follows Jim Bowman, a man fresh home after a tour in Vietnam with a score to settle. Raised in a cult since childhood, Jim works his way across the Southern United States eliminating sects of the cult who irreversibly warped his perception of the world. The story begins here, amidst one of these eliminations, and from the moment the reader is stuffed into the cramped cab of Toby’s pickup truck with Jim, it becomes apparent that this novelette will be something special.

From the first page, Moses weaves threads into the story in a masterful fashion, turning what initially seem to be benign details into narrative threads, only to pull them when least expected. There’s a thrilling unpredictability to Non-Practicing Cultist, one which had me eager to dive back in for a second read. Being such a short tale, I can’t say much about the overall plot without spoiling it, but rest assured, Moses delivers a satisfying tale that leaves me begging for more. If there is any “fault” in this story, it’s the length—for the love of God, give us more Jim Bowman and the cult. I could have read another 100+ pages of Jim and his relentless pursuit, of his struggle against a normalized perception of society and the brainwashed worldview he was forced to adopt during the developmental years of his life. There is more to Jim, as a monstrous depth lurks beneath the world Moses has crafted in such painstaking detail.

The horror in this story is more subtle than loud, and often steps into the realm of magic realism. There’s a dream-like, near-fairytale aspect of the story that I really enjoyed. Horror alternates between what happens as Jim confronts the cult and what Jim was forced to do while in Vietnam, a blend which fleshes out Jim’s character. The entire cast is strong, with each character fully realized and distinctive. Moses interweaves both current events in the Louisiana swamp and flashbacks in the jungles of Vietnam in a seamless, fluid manner, likening the horrors Jim experiences in both locations to a central human rot which Jim cannot escape. This technique is found in most all of Moses’s writing, and it’s one of the strongest qualities of his work–character depth is conjured out of thin-air, tone is breathed into the prose, plot threads hidden in memories. This masterful literary technique is what keeps me coming back for more, and Non-Practicing Cultist features some of Moses’s strongest writing yet.

As with Moses’s debut Hunger Pangs, the collection of fiction which precedes it, Non-Practicing Cultist is teeming with the powerful writing that Moses excels at, who, once again, masterfully crafts compelling characters, an engaging plot, strong emotion, and a rich world in mind-boggling short form. The language is tight, the writing is profound, and the story is gripping. Non-Practicing Cultist is the perfect weekend read. Snag a copy of this as soon as you can. Let Moses take you on an adventure into the bayou, but beware—there are things far worse than gators lurking beneath the murky waters of Moses’s mind.

Justin Montgomery

Justin Montgomery

Author

I’m an author. I’ve loved literature since I was a child, and my life has revolved around stories, whether they be books, film, comics, or otherwise. I’ve always gravitated toward them, found comfort in the language, the characters, the impossible worlds conjured by authors and brought forth onto the page. It was no surprise when I discovered that I wanted to be a writer when I grew up.

 

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