They did not slump like a typical victim of unconsciousness, but rather fell straight back, like a tree that had been sawed down, their rigid bodies supported by one or two others until they rested on the floor.
Transfixed by the steady gaze of Miss Anna from the middle of the meeting hall, Lamont Townsend suddenly became aware of the touch of a hand on his back. He turned his head, nearly dropping the cigarette that hung unlit between his lips. The hand belonged to Abner Wade, a stocky young man whom Lamont had often seen vacuuming the command deck in the evening. Rather than the orange ochre coveralls in which Lamont usually saw him, Abner was dressed, like everyone else in the room, in what was presumably his Sunday best: An old-fashion button-down shirt and vest, with brown slacks. His sleeves were rolled up, and his broad face glistened with sweat.
“Good to see you, Mr. Townsend,” Abner greeted him. “I don’t recall your ever visiting on a Wednesday evening before.”
“I never have,” Lamont acknowledged. His frequent visits in the past weeks had been made mostly during the day. He had been to one of their Sunday morning services, but it was not like this. “What’s happening?” He asked.
Abner shrugged. “Wednesday evening service. Come on in—the Holy Ghost is on the move tonight!”
The service lasted for about another hour, and Abner had coaxed the reluctant newspaperman into a hesitant participation. He joined a group of people who were more-or-less supporting Miss Anna on the musical front, finding that he could at least clap in time to the more upbeat songs that followed the one he had heard upon entering. The songs were mainly simple and repetitive, and were sung in long stretches that made them fairly easy to learn before long. Then, without any apparent warning, the musical group had morphed into a prayer group—at least, he assumed it was prayer—and had begun to lay hands on each other and babble in that nonsensical language, punctuated by emphatic explanations like, “Fill!” or “More!” or “Thank you!” The group began to dwindle as, one by one, its participants were lowered to the floor. They did not slump like a typical victim of unconsciousness, but rather fell straight back, like a tree that had been sawed down, their rigid bodies supported by one or two others until they rested on the floor. Lamont was simultaneously appalled and intrigued by the strange display, and experienced a moment of alarm when he found that the three people left standing in the group had turned their attention to him. Two men placed hands lightly on his back and chest while the third stretched out an arm to hover his palm over Lamont’s forehead.
“Release!” He exclaimed, followed by a string of babble. Lamont felt a wave of nervous lightheadedness and then, somewhat disappointingly, nothing. He remained standing rather awkwardly for some time until the group, with encouraging smiles and pats on the shoulder, moved on. Across the hall, he caught the eye of Constance Beckett, who was standing near the door in the same high-collared dress she had been wearing when they first met. She cocked her head to the side, drawing his attention to the fact that Anna Lightfoot-Owens was quietly exiting the hall. Lamont hurried to follow, gingerly avoiding the now dozens of bodies that were rigidly outstretched on the floor in the middle of the room.
Next: Hard Hearts and Closed Minds