The hymn (another mournful dirge) ended. Guitar-Guy put down his instrument and became all serious. "Noooow we shall mooove the chairs back for the saaacrameeeent" he ordered. Everyone leapt to their feet.
"The sacrament?" wondered Denys, who at this point wouldn't have been surprised if someone dressed in a bedsheet and fake beard had walked in and claimed to be Jesus. The cultists were busy pushing their chairs to the back of the room and stacking them up, so Denys, not wanting to stand out any more than necessary, did likewise. He then stood in the corner hoping to give the impression of an observant bystander, who was in no way involved in the proceedings. He failed completely.
Noticing that he was standing back, one of the cultists came and grabbed Denys, dragging him into the rough circle that was forming around the periphery of the room. In the centre Guitar-Guy was unfolding a somewhat beat-up card table. This was obviously meant to be the focal point of the proceeding, but an inconvenient pole made it impossible to place the table right in the middle. Guitar-Guy had to compromise by ramming it as close as he could get it. He looked as though he'd have much preferred to rip the pole out with his bare hands.
Once he was reasonably happy with the position of the table, it was decorated with a white cloth and small candles procured from the far end of the room. From Guitar-Guy's frenzied whispering it became clear that there were meant to be seven candles, but his assistants could only find six. "It wiiiiilll have to doooooo" he sighed resignedly.
By this point Denys was becoming very suspicious. Who knows what these loonies were preparing to do?
The serious woman on the synthesiser started up again, playing another Celine Dione intro. Or perhaps it was the same one. In any case the cultists began swaying from side to side in time with the music and softly singing. "Alleluia! Alleluia!" they sang. Denys sang, but refused to sway. He had some dignity left. Apparently happy with the situation, Guitar Guy summoned an assistant, and sent him out the door with the instruction "Teeeell him we're reaaaady."
"He's gone to get Jesus no doubt" thought Denys. "Either that or the guy with the sacred knife to sacrifice the newcomer." He wasn't all that far wrong, as the assistant returned with a fully robed Priest, holding aloft a chalice.
"Oh right" thought Denys with relief. "They're going to distribute communion wafers. This I can handle". The priest walked up to the table, and ceremoniously placed the chalice between the candles (he didn't seem concerned that one was missing). Then he retreated towards the doors.
Guitar-Guy marched into the centre of the circle. "Ooooooooh Holy Spiriiiiiiit!" he intoned "Weeeee are gaaaaathered here tonight to wooooooooorship you!"
"Pretty tame" thought Denys, then almost collapsed from shock as Guitar-Guy started yelling at the top of his lungs.
"COME DOOOOOOOOWN OH SPIIIIIIIRIT!!!!! BE WIIIIIIITH US AND HEEEEEEAL US LORD!! PULL APAAAAART THE VEILS OF THIS WOOOOOOORLD AND TAKE AWAAAAAAAY THE THINGS THAT KEEEEEP US FROM YOU!!!! COME OH HOOOOLY SPIRIT!! HEEEEAAAAAL US! HEEEEEAAAAAL THIS MAAAAAAN!!!"
Guitar-Guy lept at a nearby cultist, and slapped his left hand onto his forehead. He waved his right hand up and down past the cultists face. His yelling subsided into a monotonous whine.
"Heeeeeaaaal this maaaaaan oh spirit! Heeeeeaaaal him! Come down and bring your heeeeeaaaaling to your seeeervant! Send us your pooooooower to heeeeeaaal!" The Cultist collapsed and was caught halfway to the ground by two Burly Assistants who had mysteriously materialised behind him.
"HEEEEE IS HEEEERE!" yelled Guitar-Guy. A look of joy spread over the faces of the Cultists. A look of extreme panic spread over the face of Denys. He stared in horror, his eyes almost leaving their sockets. His stomach churned and threatened to deposit his dinner all over the thin brown carpet. He'd thought this kind of thing only took place on American Evangelist TV shows, the kind the networks put on as early morning filler. Yet here he was, slap bang in the middle of an episode of Benny Hinn. As he looked on in terror another Cultist collapsed to the floor.
Denys prayed. "Pleasenotme! pleasenotme! pleasenotme! pleasenotme! pleasenotme! pleasenotme! pleasenotme! pleasenotme! pleasenotme! pleasenotme!" he chanted under his breath like a mantra. Guitar-Guy prowled the circle, looking for potential victims. One pounce, a few words to the spirit, and they'd fall to the ground with a trout-like expression on their stunned faces. Some of those still standing started to sob underneath their chanting. Denys almost joined them, although for completely different reasons.
Glancing feverishly around for a means of escape he set eyes on the Priest, who was standing outside of the circle by the doors. "He'll save me!" Denys thought "He's a Priest! He won't stand for this kind of freak show!" Guitar-Guy bounded up to the Priest. "HEEEEAL THIS MAAAAN!" The priest fell to the floor. Denys almost screamed.
The cultists continued chanting, and Guitar-Guy kept invoking the spirit. Every now and then he would shout out a new phrase such as "God our saviour!" or "Lord above us!" It would be taken up and chanted by all. He continued around the room, invoking the spirit in a louder and louder voice, and throwing more and more cultists to the floor.
There was one cultist in particular who captured Denys's panicked attention. Guitar-Guy seemed to be having a particular problem knocking him out. He spent about five minutes with his hand on his forehead, crying out "HEEEEAL! HEEEEEAL!" but he just refused to drop. Instead he drooped towards the floor like a melting candle. Guitar-Guy took a break and went off to paralyse some other cultists, before returning for a second try. He did no better, despite dragging him into the centre of the circle and waving his arms like a windmill in time with the chanting. In the end he gave up. The resilient cultist was left standing in the middle of the circle like a grotesque marionette with half it's strings cut.
During this spectacle a strangled burbling sound arose from the far side of the room. Denys glanced nervously over. Sure enough Weasel-Boy was speaking in tongues again. He'd fallen to his knees and tears were cascading from his eyes. The scene was so horrifyingly captivating that Denys didn't notice Guitar-Guy sneaking up on him until it was too late.
"OH HOOOOLY SPIRIT HEEEEEEEAL THIS MAAAAN!" yodelled Guitar-Guy and slapped his hand onto Denys's forehead. Denys, paralysed with fear, realised the eyes of the entire room were on him. "OhfuckwhatdoIdowhatdoIdo!?!" he thought. Guitar-Guy continued his chanting, and Denys realised the two Burly Assistants had moved into position behind him. Guitar-Guy peered into his eyes and lowered his chanting to a pleading whine.
Denys suddenly started awake. "What the fuck?!?" was his immediate though. "It's OK, just relaaaaaax!" whispered Guitar-Guy before returning to his whining "OH HOOOOLY SPIRIT COME DOOOOWN UPON THIS MAN HEEEEEEAL HIM SPIRIT HEEEEEAL THIS MAN TAKE ASIDE THE VEEEEEILS OF THIS WORLD AND SEND YOUR HEEEEEEALING"
Denys suddenly got very sleepy. His legs decided to turn off, and his knees buckled. He was caught by the two Burly Assistants, who lowered him flat to the ground, despite his struggles. "Let me fucking sit!" he tried to say, but he couldn't move his lips. Probably just as well, the two Burly Assistants would have been quite offended had they heard him. As it was they put his struggles down to the power of the spirit, and moved on to the next victim. Denys lay on the floor trying to figure out what the hell had just happened.
After lying flat for a few minutes he regained enough muscular control to drag himself to a wall and sit up. In the meantime his brain had been working overtime to form a theory to account for what had just happened. Possession by the Holy Spirit could probably be ruled out. Communion with such an entity would be unlikely to make a person think "What the FUCK is going on?" which was Denys's main activity during the entire exercise. Then the explanation hit him like a ton of bricks.
"The bastard fucking hypnotised me!!!" he mumbled under his breath.
It suddenly all made sense. The chanting, to get everyone into a semi-trance state. The toneless measured speaking at a constant BPM. The mesmeric hand passes. The guy who wouldn't fall. The sleep-like deactivation of muscular control. The guy was using hypnosis.
Denys continued sitting up against the wall. Most of the cult, with the exception of the hypnosis resilient member who was still standing in the middle like a lightning blasted tree stump, were lying prone on the floor. Guitar-Guy was taking care of the rest. Before long he, the two Burly Assistants, and the serious woman who was still working the keyboard were the only ones left erect.
The appalling chords from the aforementioned instrument slowly grew louder, and people started to stir and groan. Those who had actually fallen asleep were poked awake by their neighbours. Guitar-Guy produced a small wicker basket which was passed from person to person, each cultist emptying their wallet into it as it went past. Denys dug a dollar coin out of his pocket, and added it to the $150.00 or so in tens and twenties that filled the container by the time it reached him. He wasn't happy. Not at all.
He noticed that people were standing up. Putting aside moral issues such as the taking of cash from people who were still in a post-hypnotic daze, he struggled to his feet. Around him people were linking hands, and rather than stand out he decided he'd better comply. "All tooooogether noooooow!" shouted Guitar-Guy. The cultists threw their arms into the air. "JESUS OUR BROTHER!" they yelled. The ceremony was over.
There was a fair bit of hugging (which Denys managed to avoid), and Weasel-Boy let out some whoops and jumped up and down a bit. The circle started to break up into little clusters, and plates full of biscuits appeared out of nowhere. An urn and some foam cups materialised. The guy who refused to be hypnotised was the butt of some good natured ribbing. If the main topic of conversation hadn't been Jesus and "the spirit", it could passed for any bad party, minus music and alcohol.
Denys floated around the periphery. Now that the worst was over he wanted to strike a deal on the web page, then get the hell out of there. He was looking around for Ear-Boy when Zombie-Girl raced up with a look of wild enthusiasm splashed across her features.
"So what did you think?" she asked in a state high excitement. Denys pondered for a few seconds. Should he lie, and say it was an awe inspiring religious experience, which is what she obviously expected? Or should he be honest and say it was a carefully orchestrated hypnosis show worthy of Spano (he with the eyes that polarise)? Deciding on the middle ground he said "It was interesting".
"Interesting?" she echoed in a shocked monotone. "Yeah, interesting" repeated Denys, peering around for a quick way out of the conversation. He was saved the trouble, as she wandered off, muttering "interesting" under her breath, no doubt preparing to warn the others that Denys was a disciple of Satan.
Just as she disappeared into the throng besieging the urn table, Ear Boy bounded up. "Have you had a biscuit?" he yelled with far too much enthusiasm "Have you had some coffee? There's coffee!!!"
"I don't drink coffee" asserted Denys, musing that Ear Boy was a perfect example why. Need for further conversation was eliminated by the arrival of Guitar-Guy.
"Sooooo, you're going to do our weeeeebpage?" he drawled. "Can we have a dooooove?" Denys nodded acquiescence. "Goooood, we'll talk about it next weeeeeek." He grabbed hold of Ear Boy and they both wandered off. Next week!!??!!
Denys decided he needed some air. After grabbing one of the less unappetising biscuits he headed outside. Some of the younger members of the cult were sitting on a bench up against the demountable, drinking their coffee and talking earnestly about "the spirit". Denys was reminded of a couplet from his favourite Banjo Patterson poem......
There were some gilded youths who sat along the barber's wall
Their eyes were dull, their heads were flat, they had no brains at all
In an attempt to get as far away from them as possible he wandered around to the far side of the building and hid in the shadows.
After an all too short period Ear Boy wandered out and found Denys studying the constellations, trying to determine if he was still on the same planet. He was carrying a cup. "I brought you some coffee!" he explained enthusiastically. "Some of us are going to McDonalds to talk, do you want to come?" He sounded as if only a fool would refuse.
Carcinogenic semi-food and amateur Christian theology. Wow. Denys considered saying he had to get up early the next morning to plan a satanically influenced Dungeons and Dragons campaign, but thought better of it. "Nah, I've got to be up early tomorrow" he said.
"What, work?" asked Ear-Boy. "No I'm seeing some friends" improvised Denys. Ear-Boy turned to his fellow cult members who were dispersing into the car park. "Denys has to go to work tomorrow, so I'll take him home!" he yelled. Denys wondered if he'd been listening to a word he'd just said. He poured the coffee into a convenient bush and walked over to the car.
After a bit of hugging and back slapping Ear Boy returned to the vehicle. He let Denys in and gestured vaguely at the glove box. "Do you like U2?" he asked. Somewhat surprised at the secular turn the conversation had taken, Denys took a moment to reply.
"Yeah, they're all right" he said.
"There's a tape in the glove box" said Ear Boy, starting the motor and driving out into the street. Denys fished amongst the collection of Christian Rock tapes he discovered crammed into said compartment, and produced a dubbed tape with U2 scrawled hastily on the label. He handed it over.
"I like their old stuff" said Denys, "But that new Discotech thing's a load of rubbish." He would have normally said "a load of crap", but wasn't sure how Ear Boy would take it. In actual fact he seemed to have got all the religious mania out of his system, and was acting like a normal human being. Denys relaxed slightly.
"Yeah" agreed Ear Boy slamming the cassette into the tape deck. "It's terrible. They used to be a really Christian band you know?". Silent screams of terror exploded in Denys's head, as he was once again plunged into the insane religious maelstrom of Ear-Boy's existence. Oblivious to this, Ear-Boy continued.
"Did you know the Pope actually asked to meet them?" Denys shook his head frantically in sheer terror. "But I think they've lost the way now. They need to find Jesus again." Denys nodded. "We should probably pray for them" Ear-Boy concluded. "I hope you like your music loud!"
Ear Boy cranked the volume up to ten, and started singing along to With or Without You while banging his hands in time on the steering wheel. The insane amplification thankfully made further conversation impossible, although it did threaten to blast Denys's eardrums into his brain with the force of a shotgun. Given that he was contemplating an existance in which he'd never be able to listen to In the Name of Love again, such a death, while messy, would have been merciful.
After a brain numbing eternity of Bono amplified to near apocalyptic levels, the car pulled up outside Denys's house. Ear Boy turned down the music.
"I'll come and pick you up the same time next week" he said cheerfully. Denys nodded, his brain overclocking as he tried to figure out a way to get out of the whole deal. "After that" continued Ear Boy "I could always make a slight detour each week, it's not far out of my way". He grinned unnervingly.
"Uh.. yeah OK... see ya!" mumbled Denys, fleeing for the front door. He closed it behind him, just as Ear Boy drove off into the darkness. He looked at the clock. It was 11:45. The whole terrifying episode had lasted the better part of four and a half hours.
Next Friday night Denys rang up Ear Boy at about 7:00. Pinching his nose and drawling his speech (not unlike Guitar-Guy) he claimed to have a really, really bad cold. He then sat down to watch an absolutely dire episode of Sliders based on H.G. Well's The Time Machine. Ear Boy must have got the message, because despite Denys's growing anxiety, he failed to call back the next Friday, or any Friday after that. Ear Boy, Guitar-Guy, Weasel-Boy and the rest of their merry crew are probably still out there burning their candles, singing their songs and hypnotising each other. In Denys's humble opinion they're welcome to it.