Satan was announcing the initiation of new members into the high priesthood. Thirteen men left the second circle and, threading through the first, approached the altar. The thirteen men had removed their robes and now stood naked.
Wait, all I have to do to make hot dudes take off their clothes for me is start a religion based around myself and operate on insane troll logic all the time?! Why didn't someone tell me sooner?
Hey, you know what? We haven't seen many naked men in this book at all. There's the orgy scene towards the beginning, and I think maybe a couple of other scenes where the whole cult, male and female, dances around naked, but this is the first scene that explicitly features only naked men, and it happens 33 chapters into a 35-chapter book.
Also? The book just sort of...mentions they're naked, like it's just another minor, neutral detail. I haven't really thought about it until now, but the only "characters" Michelle has described in any way that suggests sensuality were women. A woman character does most of the inappropriate touching she's subjected to, and she notices right away when a woman is pretty whereas she only seems to notice what men look like if they have some sort of unusual or grotesque feature, like the pointy-nosed doctor. I can imagine what the nurse looks like from her (admittedly vague) descriptions. I can't picture Malachi at all.
What does this mean? Did Dr. Pazder dominate the writing process, and make sure parts where women do freaky sex stuff got left in while men doing freaky sex stuff got left out because he was grossed out/afraid of catching TEH GHEY from/made jealous by the latter, while he found the former kinda titillating? Was Michelle struggling with some urges that would have been VERY much not socially acceptable in what seems like a fairly conservative community in the 1970's and she tried to explain them away by coming up with this fantasy where the Devil literally made her do it? Both those possibilities would add yet more unfortunate implications to this book's already overflowing unfortunate implications barrel. Or...is it just plain developmentally normal for a kid that age to pay way more attention to grown-up members of their own sex than to members of the other? I don't even know, you guys. Children aren't exactly my area of expertise.
ANYWAY. These thirteen guys go through the traditional Satanic initiation, which means it's time for some finger-choppin':
At [Satan's] command, the man picked up the altar knife. He placed his hand along the rim of the altar, the middle finger lined up on the edge. Then he brought the knife down just above the main knuckle. Incredibly sharp, the knife cut through effortlessly, and the entire finger fell to the ground. From the other side of the altar, Satan handed him a white cloth to stanch the blood: The cloth turned instantly red.
Yay, a specific and highly visible mutilation to signal to the whole world that something is amiss in your life! How strong and fearless must that guy be to chop off the whole digit, probably having to shear through bone, in one go, with no hesitation? Also, unless that cloth is really, really small and gauzy, if he's bleeding profusely enough that he's managed to turn the thing entirely red "instantly?" Yeah, he's gonna die of blood loss right there at the altar, and this whole display was pointless.
The other initiates repeat the process and the cultists gather up the fingers, presumably stepping over the exsanguinated corpses of the priest-initiates to do so, and give the fingers to Satan.
Satan, counted them, and put them in a leather box.
OH HAI EXTRANEOUS COMMAS. Professional proofreaders, what are those?
Then, apropos of nothing, Satan stops what he's doing, glares at Michelle, and demands she give back the bone she stole at the end of last chapter. Michelle is terrified by his angry reaction, but she can't bring herself to obey him:
Michelle felt certain that Satan would kill her now. But something made her determined to hold onto the bone. It was all she had to protect her. She clenched her fist more tightly. She was as scared as she had ever been.
Why does Satan even care? He has lots of bones to choose from--hell, he's just been handed thirteen fingers' worth more!--and it took him a whole pointless ritual to notice that this one was missing, it can't have been vitally important to the ceremony or anything. I guess you could argue that he realizes that she's deriving some comfort from holding it, and he doesn't want her to be comforted, therefore he wants the bone back. But that just makes me wonder why it doesn't occur to Satan that he's big and strong and mean enough to physically pry it out of her hand by force, or even choke her until she passes out and pick it up when she involuntarily relaxes her grip and lets it fall. Were all angels created without the ability to use basic common sense and the initiative to do stuff for themselves, or just Satan?
Then Michael shows up to tantalize Michelle with the promise of security at some point in the future and bless the bone she's holding, though I have no idea why because it won't turn out to have any significance or use whatsoever except making Satan irrationally mad. Then he buggers off and leaves Michelle to the mercy of the advancing Satanists. She runs around to confuse them, manages to bury the bone in the ensuing chaos, and runs around some more:
The black robes were everywhere now. She attempted to run by them--and saw Malachi.
You know, I'd been wondering what became of him since Michelle
The cult drags her back to Satan, who yells at her and threatens to harm her mother if she doesn't give up the bone; Michelle insists that she doesn't have it anymore and offers to let him take one of hers instead. Unfortunately, instead of being a proper villain and gorily taking her up on her offer, Satan has his minions torture her for her transgression by...
Painting her up like a skeleton.