“Over and over again,” he went on speaking to her, “the same thought is to be repeated against an enemy. ’You know you are going to die! You know you are going to die!’ Do it an hour, two hours, at a time. Others can help you, all thinking in unison the same thought.”
What was this, I asked myself breathlessly—a new transcendental toxicology?
Slowly, a strange mephitic vapor seemed to exhale into the room— or was it my heightened imagination?
THE PSYCHIC CURSE
There came a sudden noise—nameless—striking terror, low, rattling. I stood rooted to the spot. What was it that held me? Was it an atavistic joy in the horrible or was it merely a blasphemous curiosity?
I scarcely dared to look.
At last I raised my eyes. There was a live snake, upraised, his fangs striking out viciously—a rattler!
I would have drawn back and fled, but Craig caught my arm.
“Caged,” he whispered monosyllabically.
I shuddered. This, at least, was no drawing-room diablerie.
“It is Ophis,” intoned Rapport, “the Serpent—the one active form in Nature that cannot be ungraceful!”
The appearance of the basilisk seemed to heighten the tension.
At last it broke loose and then followed the most terrible blasphemies. The disciples, now all frenzied, surrounded closer the priest, the gargoyle and the serpent.
They worshiped with howls and obscenities. Mad laughter mingled with pale fear and wild scorn in turns were written on the hectic faces about me.
They had risen—it became a dance, a reel.
The votaries seemed to spin about on their axes, as it were, uttering a low, moaning chant as they whirled. It was a mania, the spirit of demonism. Something unseen seemed to urge them on.
Disgusted and stifled at the surcharged atmosphere, I would have tried to leave, but I seemed frozen to the spot. I could think of nothing except Poe’s Masque of the Red Death.
Above all the rest whirled Seward Blair himself. The laugh of the fiend, for the moment, was in his mouth. An instant he stood—the oracle of the Demon—devil-possessed. Around whirled the frantic devotees, howling.
Shrilly he cried, “The Devil is in me!”
Forward staggered the devil dancer—tall, haggard, with deep sunken eyes and matted hair, face now smeared with dirt and blood-red with the reflection of the strange, unearthly phosphorescence.
He reeled slowly through the crowd, crooning a quatrain, in a low, monotonous voice, his eyelids drooping and his head forward on his breast:
If the Red Slayer think he slays,
Or the slain think he is slain,
They know not well the subtle ways
I keep and pass and turn again!
Entranced the whirling crowd paused and watched. One of their number had received the “power.”