THE FIRST THING Samantha noticed, aside from the very delicate appearance of the interior and the intense brightness of the space, was the stillness that hung in the atmosphere, a chilling quietness that was immediately infectious and made you act in line. Standing tentatively behind Agatha, Samantha stared around quietly, but with a tinge of eerie feeling nudging at her inside.
They got in front of the high desk of tempered glass and glossy wood, and the thickset black woman seated there grinned warmly at Agatha whilst scrutinizing Samantha with her gaze, as though she was there for a job interview or for some other less glamorous motives. Samantha looked away uneasily and tried not to stare directly at the woman who had turf advantage.
With the pleasantries done, Agatha Tronnel led the way through an adjoining door to the left of the reception table, where they emerged in a larger space that struck Samantha like an ante-room. She showed her to a seat, asked her to wait a moment and then she went back out the door.
The ambience in this room was as serene and tranquil like in the reception lobby, with flowers and green plants about, and warm paintings displayed on the walls. Most of these paintings were of abstract images; a combo of colors and impressions. But several were of angelic beings, of vanquished demons and religious symbols, as well as depictions of biblical heroes, kings and prophets – David taking the head of the giant, Moses parting the Red Sea, Samson slaying the lion with his bare hands, and Jesus stilling the storm on one image and raising a dead child on another.
There were several people seated in morbid quietness in this waiting room, mostly women with their young children, and a couple of men as well. To some extent, Samantha felt awkward sitting in the midst of these people. At closer look, she thought that many of them were irritable, sick or outright insane.
The place had a strong stench that thoroughly upset her stomach and threatened to make her throw up, and she concluded that most of the folks waiting along with her were poor and hopeless fellows who hadn’t had a bath in days. Thankfully, Sister Agatha came back shortly after and saved her from her misery.
They both went through a narrow, small corridor that was lit by dozens of incandescent light bulbs fitted into the walls at different spots. Although it was night time, Samantha thought that all those lights were unnecessary waste of energy.
But observing the look of awe in Samantha’s eyes, Agatha said, “It’s for the demons, Mrs. Prince. We have to make these halls as bright as possible.”
Samantha looked at her quietly, said nothing.
The Sister offered an explanation, nonetheless: “Demons don’t like the light, really. They abhor the light, that’s why we call them ‘Dark Spirits’.”
Samantha nodded without conviction, and muttered an incoherent response, said nothing more partly because she was still suspicious of the environment and mainly because she had no idea what to say when issues of demons was on the front burner.
The next room they came to, equally well lit, was a rather compact office of bookshelves holding large volumes, more paintings and bronze sculptors depicting religious arts and symbols donning the red background wall. There was a sort of consultation bed behind a transparent curtain to the side, with more volumes on the table opposite the door. Near to that, a big, red bible; the biggest that Samantha had ever seen, and beside that, a moderate sized scale of the globe gently revolving on its base.
There were two cushioned chairs positioned in front of the table for visitors no doubt, and taking a cue from Sister Agatha Tronnel, Samantha walked forward quietly and sat in one of the chairs.
There was a single white chair behind the table opposite the seated women, and it was presently unoccupied. Samantha felt like speaking, wanted to ask many questions that she currently found difficult to articulate. Again, like the first time when they were walking to this room, Agatha sensed her growing nervousness, for just then she stared at Samantha in the face.
“Be calm, Mrs. Prince,” she whispered. “Nothing to worry about now; everything’ll be alright.”
Samantha looked up with wet, vacant expression, smiled thinly and nodded. A few minutes later, a red door opened on the wall by the side of the chair where Agatha was sitting. It was quite a surprise, because Samantha hadn’t seen or noticed the door initially. It had been camouflaged deliberately no doubt, its sides and hinges lapping so well with the wall surface.
Through the open door came a little girl, closely escorted by two women in plain black silk gowns with gold embroidered patterns at the helms and sides. In contrast, the girl was arrayed in a white garment, with black patterns at the helms. She was only a child, thought Samantha, as the girl walked towards the table. She was little and pretty, but looked so severe and full of years.
At the appearance of this girl who couldn’t be older than her deceased daughter, Sister Tronnel rose to her feet reverently, with her face bowed to the ground, gesturing Samantha to follow suit. Samantha felt awkward, taken aback as she got up and bowed before the girl as well.
“Welcome, Mother Divine,” said Sister Tronnel, in a quiet, respectful tone.
There was a brief pause, and Samantha instinctively got the idea they were waiting for her to speak as well.
She gasped, fidgety. “Greetings, Mother Divine,” she managed at last, in a faint whisper.
The little girl’s face broke into a small smile. “Greetings, Daughters,” she said. “May the heavenly saints be with us.”
“Amen,” Agatha responded.
“Amen,” Samantha said as well.
There was another pause as the Mother Divine took her seat regally, flanked by the two sisters who came with her, and looked up. “You may sit now, Daughters,” she said, in a quiet, innocent sounding voice.
Agatha and Samantha sat down, bowed again and the meeting commenced – the meeting where Samantha Prince, haunted by demons and afraid of the evil unknown, had come to solicit divine help from a group of star worshippers led by a mere child.
“Great,” thought Samantha, sighing with dismay. “I can’t believe I’m doing this.”