From the present-day weirdness of last chapter, the narrative jumps back to where it left off in the interminable Feast of the Beast flashback, and Christmas must have come early this year, because the text starts dumping stuff that I can nitpick into my lap right off the bat:
The circles grew quiet. They knelt on the ground. Satan took a large book and opened it but did not read. Instead he began to recite:
Listen with attentive ears.
All the evil ones must hear,
How to gather at this darkest hour;
How to multiply our power.
The wording here is pretty clunky. How does Michelle know that Satan is not reading from the book? How he's holding it isn't specified, but I would guess, since he doesn't seem to be the fatherly type who'd stoop down and let the little kid follow along as he reads, that he's standing up and holding the book open in his palms and Michelle isn't tall enough to see the pages. In which case I guess she assumes that what Satan is saying is not what's in the book because the words are in rhyme and that's how he normally talks. Or does she mean he's reading aloud to his followers, which is somehow different enough from "regular" reading that a different word is needed to describe it? And if he's not actually reading these words from the book, why does he need the book at all? Where did he even get it from? Did someone hand it to him, or was it already there? Editors are your friend, book.
We learn that the ritual has gone on so long that Michelle has just sort of resigned herself to Satan's presence:
She scarcely noticed now as a new vision began; she had grown used to the amazing fact that, whenever the Beast spoke, he also was able to project colossal three-dimensional images illustrating what he was saying, in the center of which were his listeners, and that his voice came from all four directions at once. Earlier, she had been baffled as well as frightened by his facility for issuing four different messages in opposite directions simultaneously. She had learned that one must listen to one message or to the other, but never to all, or one would go mad trying to make sense of the gibberish.
OH HAI THAR, NOT-MENTIONED-BEFORE SUPERPOWER. The image-projection thing is familiar, but I don't remember any mention of the voice-from-all-directions thing until right now. Which seems awfully weird, because if these events progressed at all realistically (i.e. if Michelle wasn't making them up as she went along) you'd think that she would have made note of something as unique and freaky as Satan being able to say four different things at once and told us about it earlier.
Also, Michelle understood what Satan was saying as soon as he appeared on the scene. If he were talking in stereo from the beginning, we should have seen her go through a period of not understanding what the hell he's saying and wondering if it is actually human speech at all. Learning to understand him should have been a possibly-lengthy trial-and-error process for her, especially while she's still too scared to think straight.
Oh, and this particular superpower strikes me as a pretty useless one. What good is being able to say four things at once if your listeners have to focus on only one thing you're saying, thus missing three out of four messages, or receive none of the messages at all? Does Satan have to divide his followers into groups and have each group listen to one specific speech at once? How are these groups divvied up? Or is his image-projection trick something he came up with to provide visual aids for human followers who can't understand him when he speaks? These are questions that would actually be interesting if the book cared enough to explore them, damn it.
Anyway, the ritual goes on, Satan recites some more shitty poetry that I think I'd personally rather go insane hearing the all-directions-at-once gibberish than listen to, and the cult welcomes a new initiate, a young woman in white who begins her initiation by standing before Satan and slashing her clothes off with a knife. A bit weird, but not too bad compared to a lot of the stupid, impractical rituals we've seen so far...until the book takes it to the next level:
She raised her arms and, holding her long black hair with one hand, sawed at it with the knife held in the other, sawing and hacking until the hair was gone. Then she lay on the ground--face down first and then on her back. She swung the knife over her head, around and around, and then, smiling lovingly, she began to slash her face, mutilating at random.
Oh, goody, another extravagant blood ritual that'll leave obvious physical marks! Seriously, how does all the finger-chopping and face-mutilating and likely zoonotic disease-contracting not make it super-duper easy to tell at a glance who in your community belongs to the Satanic cult? Unless Satan magically erases all scars afterwards, which doesn't seem like something he'd bother to do.
The tail uncoiled from Michelle's legs and writhed freely. It was a snake again now, a tail, a snake, a tail again. And then Michelle saw that it was not one tail but two. One of the tails began to slither into the circles, weaving along the ground among the feet of the worshipers. The figures would break rank and approach the tail, engaging it in an obscene, ritualistic dance. The Beast stood by the fire, watching his own tail perform with the celebrants. Now the fire shot up toward the ceiling; the dancing became more frenzied.
Because there's nothing creepy at all about a dude who a) obviously doesn't give a crap about boundaries and consent and b) has a semi-sentient, detachable schlong-like appendage that he can send out to violate, er, dance with anyone he pleases.
Then a mysterious light appears in the room and Michelle hears an unidentified heavenly voice (it's described as sounding a lot like Michelle's own voice, so maybe it's her imaginary friend who only exists when the plot demands it? Or the girl the cult murdered to make her think they were killing said friend? I don't even know anymore.) tells Michelle that Mary told her to say she was doing a good job with her poorly-defined mission because "The Beast doesn't usually talk so much." Yes, really.
First off, Michelle isn't doing much of anything. She's just standing there and being terrorized. Second, I wouldn't consider it a victory if I got this version of Satan to talk more than he usually does. If I had to listen to him, even for just five minutes, I'd probably give my left arm to make him shut up. Third, are you finally going to tell us why the forces of Heaven have been slacking off and allowing the poor kid's suffering to be prolonged?
Nope. The voice from the light tells her she must "stay--and then see and then find" and fades out. Then this happens.
The noise increased immensely--the NYUNG, NYUNGG, NNYUNGG below in conflict with the WHOOSSHH WHOOSSHH from above. The forces of light had come to save Michelle from the forces of darkness.
YAY! Finally they're doing their job!
She had become a trophy of sorts in the cosmic strife. Victory would be determined by whether or not she could withstand.
Sure, let's put all the weight and responsibility of this cosmic battle on a little six-year-old girl. Sure, we have the scary-ass monster-beasts that guard the Tree of Life with flaming swords and terrifying living wheels of fire and Jesus freakin' Christ on our team, but of course she doesn't need our help to defeat the angry rogue angel who's been dragging her around the room while she flails helplessly for days now and could easily kill her by accident even if he didn't actually mean to. She really seems like she's got everything under control.
|You know those cutesy little winged babies from Renaissance|
art? This is what they *ought* to look like. (via Fanpop)
Seriously, though, it's just really, really awful and shameful when adults drag children into their petty little quarrels. And it's even worse when one of those adults is God. I imagine Michelle and Pazder thought they were adding great dramatic tension to the story with this scene. I doubt they sat down to examine it and realized what a negative light that last line casts the ultimate forces of goodness in.
The chapter ends with Satan getting pissed that the forces of light interrupted him again, which I'm sure totally won't result in him violently taking his anger out on Michelle again while the "good guys" dither around just a little longer:
Satan was furious. He roared so loud the sky seemed to crack, and he threw flame from his fingers.
"How dare you interrupt the Feast of the Beast?"
I'm pleasantly surprised that Satan managed one more instance of saying something without making a trite little rhyme of it. Also, in my head, I couldn't resist imagining him saying this last line in a whiny teenage girl voice. "MOOOO-OOOM, how could you invite Chrystal to my party?! We haven't been friends since last month! GAWD!" Like I've said before, when you're stuck reading an irredeemably bad book, you take whatever small opportunities for amusement come your way.