The sound of the bell interrupted me, tolling another lecture. It made my heart jump. I climbed down, swinging from my special tree branch and ran to the classroom.

Things seemed different now. I always felt afraid when we had “lectures,” afraid I would be called on. After all, didn’t he know everything? The grownups said so. How could I possibly learn it all? Every time I knew the answer, it still left me like one of my butterflies, my mind going completely blank. I’d sit there, heart banging, sputtering as nothing came to mind, ears ringing from fear and humiliation.

I settled into my chair. Everyone faced Pavel. He looked stern today. He had grown out his white beard and mustache, and wore his tall Russian cap with a visor. He had a confident, serious look on his face. His lectures were his power, and he took full advantage of the captive audience.

His wife Sandra could put fear in you with just one glance, and her loyalty to Pavel remained fierce. I didn’t know exactly why, but she sat under the table, close to him during his lectures. Every so often she tied his shoelaces if they became untied. Wasn’t it uncomfortable down there?

A small monitor attached to a slide projector sat on the kitchen table. Television had been banned. Pavel clicked a button in his hand changing the slides, depicting various historical events. He gave a passionate rendition of what they meant and how we were to think of them.

He spoke of the great saviors of the world, special men, of course, who throughout history were born to enlighten the lesser masses. He set down the book in his hand and looked over the classroom. His eyes, full of fire, commanded a hush. My heart always raced when he looked that way.

“Jesus Christ was born, as was Buddha,” he declared, brandishing his glasses in one hand. “Throughout the ages God has touched those meant to be leaders. And now, I have been so blessed.”

He often compared himself to Christ and Buddha; no one questioned him. The thought never entered my mind that these might be opinions instead of fact. His words were, to everyone, “fact.” “Touched by the hand of God,” he remained blessed. We even used “Pavel's word” as an oath of honesty, something unbreakable…

What makes me any different than anyone else living on this planet? Well that depends on who you are. It is only much later in my life that I discovered that others have endured the same confines of dictatorship in their lives as well. In my case, it took the form of a cult in backwoods Maine, where the isolation brought forth the corruption of one and the degradation of many. I knew nothing of the word cult, and recognizing it for what it was as an adult, has been a long and difficult process.

I have tried to forget the means by which I was raised in this world, yet something in me demanded that I put it out there. The thought of simply suffering the aftermath of that life with no apparent rhyme or reason drove me to find reason of my own. If sharing the madness of my world, could in any way help shed light on the prison of other’s, then I would use the very thing that sought to break my spirit, and transform it into something of meaning.

So what is my story? Well, briefly…at the age of eight I was moved to Maine with my mother, brother and sister as well as a group of single young women and their children by one man, the man who claimed to be touched by the hand of God. And so my journey began. I had known him all my life; from my very first memories as a child he had been there, the influencing force in my mother’s world. But what started as an apparently harmless quest for a better life was not to be. From a benevolent “wise man” over a period of years, and with increasing fervor, he took on the mantle of a dictator.

What does this do to a child, witnessing the only adults in her world accepting and imposing those values on her developing mind? I can only tell you my experience from the inside out.

I grew up in a world void of personal freedom or expression, one in which women and children were valued only for as much as they provided for the “greater good” of this man’s increasingly twisted dream. Opinions were not allowed, free speech was an unheard of concept, and total obedience was expected without question. The only form of expression allowed was that of writing, and the reading of carefully selected books ordained to be acceptable. Little did he know that devoid of any other contact, this opened in me an escape into a world he could not touch, a place hidden beyond his reach, and there survived my own inner voice.

I always knew that one day I would write a book, and lost myself in the dream of escape from that tiny imprisoned corner of the world. And so “Firewalker” was born. Will sharing my experiences change things? Evoke responses that beget a better world? Save even one person from suffering the same fate? That is yet to be seen. For me, such a dream was my life raft. And since isolation and silence is the founding strength of dictatorship, then outcry and communication should be its downfall.

Lyca Shan:

Author's Bio: 

Lyca Shan has always known she would write a book about her life. She saw this process in part as therapy “to try to make sense out of the chaos” that was her life. She began work on Firewalker in December of 1999, and spent nearly 3 years writing it in her spare time. Granddaughter of Dr.Thomas Harris, author of the best seller, I'm Okay, You're Okay, Lyca Shan's first love has always been writing.

After leaving the cult in 1989, Lyca moved to Washington, where she put herself through school by working odd jobs such as bartending, modeling, acting, and housekeeping. She graduated with Associates in Computer Science in 1994 and has worked as an infrastructure analyst and Systems Engineer for major fortune 500 companies ever since. Visit her website.
About the Book: Firewalker is Shan's courageous story of her first hand experience with cult indoctrination. This book illustrates - in captivating detail - the horrors of growing up in a cruel environment of mind control and physical isolation. It is Shan's compelling account of falling victim to the cult mentality, and finding the inner strength to break free.