THE GLOOM SETTLED quickly and by the time the large twain-doors of the inner sanctuary opened again, everywhere was quite dim.
A procession of six women filed into the hall solemnly, walking in utter silence to the center of the hall where Samantha had taken position beside her son, while two other women lingered at either side of the door like sentries on guard.
One of the women marching forward was Sister Agatha Tronnel who, like the others, now bore a hard, hypnotic gaze in her eyes that subtly unnerved Samantha. And coming in at the rear of the sacred assembly was the Mother Divine; she held a small golden scepter in hand and wore a gold-plated band around her head. Drawn on the forehead of each of the Sisters was the holy inscription of the Magen David.
Samantha Prince got up on her feet and watched the women in apprehension, with bated caution. Then she stepped back a few paces, giving the Sisters room as they formed a circle around Alan, standing at various points of the Star. At the other side of the hall, Detective Lee Davies stared at the ongoing calmly, with subtle concern. He seemed somewhat alert, watching out for anything untoward or out of the ordinary, given the minor information he’d been able to gather of the activities of the sect. He took a few cautious steps forward, closer to the circle of women, almost holding his breath.
The ceremony began.
First was the fervent prayer and holy incantations: the women, standing on the spot, moved their bodies back and forth slowly from side to side as though they were drowsy or sleepy, and then they began humming intense yet quiet words in unison; same words spoken by several tongues.
Davies at first thought the must be praying in French, or Latin. Or it was a mix of both languages. Then he gave up altogether, stood back and waited to see what the prayers would yield.
There was an unnerving, chilly silence all around the Sanctuary, apart from the humming voices coming from ongoing intercession. Other than that, it might have been possible to hear the tremulous heartbeat of Samantha Prince from where she stood, tensed and afraid.
The prayer continued under a grave, ominous atmosphere for a while, with the tempo alternating between high and low, falling and rising in rhythms, rising and falling at regular intervals. After a few more minutes of intense supplication, the Sisters bowed their heads and squatted beside the boy, each from her corner piercing him with an intense gaze.
Then the Mother Divine dipped her fingers in the bowl of Holy Water beside her, scooped up some of it and poured it gently from the hollow of her palm on Alan’s chest. She did that a number of times; three times actually, according to Davies’ count, although it may have been more.
Davies was paying close attention to the ritual, noticing every slight movement of Alan’s limbs as though the boy had stirred in his sleep. At first he was taken aback, somewhat petrified when Alan’s left foot jerked as the water ran down the sides of his body.
As he watched, Alan jerked again reflexively in his unconscious sleep. His body moved in short spasms at first as though electrified with a low-powered defibrillator. Then the movement became more intense and frantic, until Alan propped himself up and lifted his upper body off the floor, letting out a horrendous, gut-retching scream. The veins on his neck and arms stood out intensely like they were about to explode.
Samantha was instantly petrified, and she let out a low whimper of surprise, clutched herself in untold fear. Lee Davies was as shocked as she was, and he took a step forward, his jaws hanging open, eyes staring in wild disbelief.
The Sisters had paused in their prayer then, watching in awe at the boy. Alan gasped for a prolonged moment, drew his breath and wheezed excruciatingly as though struggling for breath, before he finally collapsed back on the floor, limp and almost lifeless as he’d been for days.
He relapsed into dreadful unconsciousness again and remained still. The Sisters moved quickly then, broke the circle and closed around Alan’s body, bounding him firmly in chains.
It was at that point that the protective instinct of a mother kicked in and Samantha rushed forward impulsively.
“No!” said Sister Tronnel terribly, looking up.
Detective Davies moved, quickly intercepting Samantha. He grabbed her arm and pulled her back in a firm yet gentle manner. She seemed drained and hopeless, and began to sob with despair.
After restraining Alan tightly with the chains, the Sisters of Light took a Bible each and returned to their former positions standing on the six-pointy edges of the Star. They flipped the pages with nervous fingers, found a marked chapter in the Book of the Psalms of David and began reading the words of the verses in grave, ominous voices.
Davies wasn’t the church-going type, but he knew the 91st chapter of the book of Psalms, mainly because he’d read it many times as a lad, as it was mandatory to recite the chapter during assembly years ago when he was in primary school.
The women read the verses authoritatively, quoting them in turns, one verse for each woman. And at the end of each verse, the Sisters echoed ‘Amen!’ ominously, before the next woman read her verse, and the shout of ‘Amen!’ in unison followed. This they did, until they finished reading the entire chapter.
Meanwhile, as the book was being read, the child-leader of the sect who remained in the midst of the Star beside the boy was carrying out her own religious assignment in dreadful and chilling silence, almost as if she was oblivious of the presence of the other people in the hall.
She got out an used razor blade and began cutting the boy slightly, inflicting small wounds on his forehead and wrist, chest and arms, drawing blood each time – Samantha winced at seeing this, pursed her lips but looked on desperately.
Next, the girl lit the censer and watched silently as the peculiar smoke wafted dreamily into the dark atmosphere, saturating the hall with the pungent scent of sulfur and ash. Then the Mother Divine got up slowly, taking the burning censer in her hand and swinging it back and forth, from side to side over the body of Alan Prince, invariably bathing him with the smell and smoke of the incense from head to foot.
The fervent prayer, hypnotic chants and Bible reading continued for a while, and then the atmosphere suddenly changed ominously, everyone around feeling it in their bones like raw ice. Detective Davies stiffened and turned around with bated breath, glaring about uncertainly. He suddenly had an uncomfortable welling in the pit of his stomach.
As he looked around tentatively, he noticed that the hanging chandeliers had started to swing gently back and forth even though there was no strong air in the hall that should move them. Something wasn’t right, Davies thought to himself, and gasped apprehensively.
The prayer session continued; the women remained steadfast in their sacred activity rather than being distracted by the ominous atmosphere, which had become so eerie and intense that it was hard for anyone not to notice it. Then a sinister, unseen presence filtered into the Hall of Rites like a foul mist, spreading with the smoke of the burning incense and filling the hearts of the people with utter dismay.
It was an evil, otherworldly stirring that gave one the creeps.
For a moment, Lee Davies saw nothing amidst the cloudy ambience in the hall. He could only feel that something was amiss, and he felt his pores stretching, his hairs standing on end. Samantha, also aware of the same blood-curdling essence, was now looking about in wearied anxiety, wondering what gives. Her heart beat frantically, her blood freezing over at that moment.
Then suddenly, from nowhere a sibilant wind hissed through the hall, rattling the chandeliers further and blowing out the candle lights, thus casting the place in semi-darkness. This was accompanied by an unnerving gloom, and then everywhere became still and quiet at once.
The prayers had ceased by this time, of course, and everyone was now staring about in utter bewilderment and unspoken fright. One of the women rose quickly and went about relighting the candles with tremulous fingers while the others stood rooted on the spot with their bibles in hands.
Then, at the far side of the hall, a dark misty form oozed out of the ground and coalesced mysteriously, taking a tangible human shape.
The silence that followed that surreal manifestation was dreadful and utterly frightening.