Andre nervously ran his hands over his fake moustache, pressed the edges by his chin. He tried to brush away the lock of his nondescript gray wig away from his eye as naturally as he could as he adjusted his thick glasses. He got up and stretched. He couldn’t afford to be nervous today.
He entered the auditorium with the hundreds of people who would continuously stream in over the next hour. At the entrance were stern-looking men and women in dark glasses, earpieces and long robes. Protectors of the Temple. Reverend Benjamin’s goons. They supervised the security. Which meant, they weeded out ‘troublemakers’ from the crowd. People who might disrupt the event, interfering with the Reverend’s auras, and messing up his powers of healing and divination. They even maintained photo lists of past offenders. Like Andre.
Andre walked in tiredly, shoulders drooping, following a blonde girl in blue and her sister, past the tall, built, curly-haired Protector. Her dark glasses made it hard to know what caught her eye. Just as he was beginning to relax, he heard excited whistles and yelling. ‘Gentleman in brown!”, the curly-haired Protector was calling. “Yeah, him, call him”, she said. The blonde girl pointed to him to turn back. He walked as elderly-gentlemanly as he could, back to the Protector.
“Here sir, you dropped this”, she gave him his tickets that had slipped out of his coat pocket. He wheezed a thanks. “Careful, sir”, she said. “You take care”.
As Andre walked back in through the doors, he caught a glimpse of himself in the shiny metal panels. Even he didn’t recognize him. Showtime, he grinned.
“Is anyone here named Brenda?”, Reverend Benjamin was saying to the audience. His eyes closed and forehead crinkled in concentration. “Brenda… Margolis”. A woman far to the right got up and said “I’m… I’m Brenda Margolis”. The Reverend elatedly walked up to her. “Fear not, daughter, now that you are here, what you fear will not come to pass”.
By now, Andre had slipped in his little earphones, hidden by his wig. His hands fiddled with a device in his pockets. Soon, he could hear a voice. “She’s losing her house in a mortgage”. The reverend began to mutter “Mort….. mort…. mort”, and the crowd held its breath. “Mortgage!”, he screamed. “Your mortgage. Will be taken care of. Daughter, you will be fine”.
Andre grinned. He needed to pick his moment. “I see…… your father…”, the Reverend started, and closed his eyes in concentration, as the young woman in front of him watched with her mouth open. Now, thought Andre, and pressed the large button in his pocket. “Ahh”, the Reverend pressed his left ear in pain. The signal had jammed successfully. Now there wouldn’t be anyone whispering stuff in the Reverend’s ear.
But Reverend Benjamin was a consummate showman. He repeated his reaching for his ear. Over and over, until it looked like he was having a fit. He began to shake all over, before standing absolutely still and emitting strange noises. He then began to speak in tongues, as the whole crowd knelt in reverence.
An hour passed. The Reverend did some cold reading. Some ‘healing touch’ stuff. Some pushing-down-to-create-the-illusion-of-disease-falling-away. Nothing that was really under Andre’s control.
Then he brought out his Pièce de résistance.
Reverend Benjamin was done weaving through the audience, and had fixated on a mother and her son.
Andre’s mind went into a state of agitation. How had he forgotten this. This was an ‘exorcism’. The ‘mother’ and her ‘son’ were the Reverend’s plants. The ‘mother’ would tell a sorry tale of a ‘possessed’ and ‘violent’ son. The Reverend would pronounce the boy possessed by demons. And would try exorcising it. There would be things thrown about, flashing lights, and oh god, there would be some levitation. Andre felt helpless. No matter how tame the rest of the evening had gone, this would ruin everything. Everyone would talk about the exorcism, and only the exorcism. The rationalists would imply some trick or the other, and the devotees would hold on to their faith.
The ‘son’ was being ushered on stage. He was being given a robe to wear. Obviously it had magnets or a string or some such thing for the levitation. He gritted his teeth in frustration.
And then the answer occurred to him. It was so brilliant, so simple, he was astonished it hadn’t occurred to him earlier. He smiled. And then puckered his eyes up in concentration.
‘Show yourself, O Evil Spirit!’ commanded the Reverend, waving his hands mystically about the boy. The boy began to shake. The lights dimmed, and a spotlight shone on the boy. He shook faster and faster before letting out a violent ‘Aaaaargh!’. He whipped around violently, and reached for the lamp at the edge of the stage, like he was going to hurl it. He grabbed it, and tried to yank it. It wouldn’t budge. He tried again, with a violent growl. It still wouldn’t. His growl grew doubtful. The audience chuckled quietly, confusedly.
The Reverend looked confused for a moment before he regained his composure. ‘Leave this innocent boy! Leave!’, commanded the Reverend. He pointed a wand at the boy, a long silver stick with a pyramid at the tip of it. The boy growled. He started a mad dash towards the podium, looking to tip it with the momentum. He seemed to have misjudged the location, and ran right across it. He looked at the Reverend, confused for a moment before returning to growling. The crowd tittered quietly.
Andre had a wan grin. He felt exhausted. He wished he had been closer to the stage. But it wasn’t over yet.
The Reverend decided to get done quick. He stood across the stage from the boy, his wand still pointed. ‘Leave, evil spirit. Leave poor Richard alone!’, he screamed, as beam of light shone from his wand onto the boy. The lights began to flicker and changed color. The boy’s growls and screams increased in intensity as did his shaking his limbs around. “Leave!” the Reverend screamed, and raised his wand. The beam of light moved up. The boy stayed where he was, his growls sounding a little confused. The Reverend tried again. ‘Leave!’ he screamed and moved his wand again. The boy jumped, but largely stayed where he was. The crowd waited for something to happen.
“Mother!” the boy screamed. The lights came back on. The mother ran on stage, and thanked the Reverend for getting her son back.
The crowd cheered. The Reverend took his last bows. The curtain came down.
In the middle row, Andre slumped in his seat from exhaustion. He only registered the blonde girl in blue slapping his cheeks before passing out. He couldn’t even marvel at the lack of a standing ovation, rare at a Reverend Benjamin appearance. Or the two elderly women next to him discuss dinner and not any matter of faith.