The moment we have all been waiting for is almost upon us. Well – that is perhaps a rather grand promulgation for what is, essentially, the culmination of a somewhat juvenile practical joke. Hershel – the architect of this connivance – is no doubt watching from the wings with interest. As the Hawkins College Choir emerge from the nave, Head Porter, Professor Duke and I strain to see if any evidence of our stratagem can be observed.
I am somewhat ashamed to say that I am delighted to see that they look rather like I feel – heavily sleep deprived. No doubt the Porter kept them up all night, searching for the non-existent performance enhancing drugs, which, ironically, they look like they could do with right now. And there is definitely a hint of the itching powder in action – agitation and irritation seems to swarm about them like a plague. There are a couple of fat ones at the back that appear unaffected but you can’t have everything, I suppose.
Under ordinary circumstances, I would find the enjoyment of human suffering abhorrent; but these are not ordinary circumstances and I am enjoying myself immensely. Hawkins College – quite apart from being our natural enemy – are unbelievably smug and, let’s be frank, there are worse things than being tired and itchy.
“They look as rough as a bunch of badgers arses,” Head Porter poetically observes.
“What beautiful imagery, Head Porter,” I say. “Tell me – have you thought of becoming a wordsmith?”
“They look worst than ever thought possible by anybody anywhere,” says the Professor. “I bet they have lots of croaks when they look like that, you know. Imagine. We will probably rank higher than Hawkins, for sure.”
“That’s a point, who is judging this thing anyway?” asks Head Porter.
“Actually, I don’t really know,” I reply. “But the University Dean is in attendance, so I’m betting it’s him.”
I nod up towards the gallery where a corpulent elderly gentleman appears to be snoozing gently. However, his cheeks are so stoutly plump that they have almost devoured his eyes entirely so it is impossible to tell for sure. To all intents and purposes, the University Dean is most likely the most powerful man in the University and therefore The City itself. There is a rumoured upper echelon of shadowy figures that dictate from on high and instruct him, but this is unsubstantiated tittle-tattle at best. Where academics are concerned, I am prepared to believe anything.
“Many too bads Mr. Dean isn’t here,” muses Professor Duke. “Then again, though, his ear is dead to music—much like that fellow up there, I’d say.”
The Dean has very little time for the creative arts and famously only owns one solitary record. I, for one, am rather pleased he isn’t here. With all the warrior nun gossip and the dishevelled state of Hawkins Choir would no doubt raise his suspicions. And the state of the choir is rapidly becoming more dishevelled. A couple of the poor buggers – with darkened eyes and sunken cheeks – are frantically clawing at themselves as the itching powder takes hold upon their flesh. It is quite a disconcerting sight, in fact, particularly for those unaware of the cause. There is a shrill cry from somewhere within the gallery –
“Witchcraft! It’s witchcraft I tell you!”
“What do you mean, witchcraft?” comes a plaintive response. “Don’t be daft!”
“I say they are possessed!” Another voice adds to the hysteria and a fevered muttering ripples across The Great Chapel.
As the wretched Hawkins Choir thrash wildly about the chancel, a typically ridiculous response erupts throughout the audience. There are squeals and accusations of all sorts being thrown into the chattering throng and even mentions of sabotage. That, at least, is true.
“I think we should be making a move, chaps,” I suggest to my bewildered companions. “What with all the nun-talk and now this, it’s probably better we make ourselves scarce.”
“If you insist,” says the Professor. “This ugliness could turn into an epic fight, but let’s leave just because.”
Under the cover of panic and confusion, we quietly slip from our pew and out into the lobby of The Great Chapel. This turns out to be the cause of some surprise – in fact, two surprises. The first surprise is that there is someone stood apparently waiting for us. The second surprise is that it is none other than The Master.