Since Hazel moved in, Asa Hawks has been hiding from him behind the bolted door of his room. Hawks is often drunk, and doesn’t want to face Hazel’s curious gaze. Hazel doesn’t understand why a preacher wouldn’t want to save his lost soul. Instead of seeing Hawks, Hazel is stuck with Sabbath, who now follows him around. He has abandoned seducing her, and now tries to protect himself from her persistent attempts to sneak into his bed, sometimes late at night. On one occasion she comes with a candle, wearing a nightgown, and he threatens her with a chair. Hawks presses his daughter to continue, however, as he plans to leave soon.
In the same way that Hazel is frightened of eyes watching him, Hawks shies away from the curious gaze of Hazel – both have a history with guilt and sin. But Hazel has not yet seen through Hawks’ ruse, even if he has finally realized that Sabbath is not as innocent as he thought. Her attempts to seduce him have become more and more brazen, and there is no longer any pretense at all, as he has to threaten her with violence to keep her away from his bed, in an almost comic confrontation.
Hazel’s plans have failed—he still has no followers in the Church Without Christ, except for one sixteen-year-old who asked to go with him to a whorehouse. After they had gone, the boy said that they were both guilty of a mortal sin, and he could not join Hazel’s church because he was a Lapsed Catholic. Hazel, who enjoyed the whorehouse much less than the boy, shouts that there is no such thing as sin or redemption, but the boy just shrugs and asks Hazel if he wants to return the next night.
The story of Hazel’s single follower is a comic jab from the Catholic O’Connor at those who pay lip service to the religion while continuing to live in sin. This is a central paradox in the story – Hazel, who claims to be a committed atheist, takes religion much more seriously than all of the townspeople that he is trying convert away from their shallow “faith.”
Two nights later, another disciple appears, following Hazel to all four picture shows while he preaches. He is dressed “like an ex-preacher turned cowboy,” with an “honest look that fitted into his face like false teeth.” He keeps winking at Hazel. As the last few people disperse at the end of the night, with Hazel telling them that blasphemy is the only way to the truth, the man steps up and calls them back. He begins a charming, and down-to-earth address. He asks the crowd if they know what it’s like to not have a friend in the world, and one man responds that it “ain’t no worsen havinum that would put a knife your back when you wasn’t looking.”
There is something off about this “disciple” as well, as signaled by O’Connor’s cutting description of his insincere honesty and persistent winks. Hazel, meanwhile, is preaching about the way to the truth – but as soon as he finishes, the mysterious new disciple begins his well-oiled con act. This speech begins with an appeal to the basic loneliness of existence, and a life without friends – the kind of life that Enoch and Hazel live. He works the initially uncooperative crowd smoothly.
The man starts to draw a larger crowd, promising to recount what Hazel’s ideas have done for him. Meanwhile Hazel stands motionless and confused. The man introduces himself as Onnie Jay Holy. He continues to work the crowd, telling them that two months ago he was another man, lonesome and lost. He tells them that everyone is born sweet, but then something happens that drives that love inside, and we all become lonely and sick. He was this way, he says, and just needed someone to help him bring out the sweetness—he needed Hazel, the Prophet. Two months ago, he says, he met Hazel, and it changed his life.
Onnie’s tale continues to draw on the idea that people are prone to loneliness. He offers up Hazel as a means of recovering the “sweetness” natural in us all—a line of argument that stands in stark contrast to the dark, abrasive, and confrontational preaching that Hazel normally engages in from the top of his car. “Onnie” proposes religion as a source of comfort and happiness, which doesn’t exactly match with the language used by Hazel.
At this point Hazel interrupts to say that Onnie Jay Holy is “not true,” telling everyone that he had never seen the man before that night. No one listens to him, though—they are all taken by Onnie’s humble manner. Onnie tells them they can trust the church because there’s nothing foreign in it, and you don’t have to believe anything you don’t understand—it’s up-to-date, a church based on their personal interpretations of the Bible. Hazel interjects, calling him a liar, but Onnie talks over him, pointing out a baby in the crowd and appealing to them on behalf of its inner sweetness to join the “Holy Church of Christ Without Christ,” which will cost them only a dollar.
Hazel is dumbfounded at Onnie’s brazen dishonesty, but it seems to be working the crowd over much more effectively than Hazel’s “truth” had. Onnie describes a new church that O’Connor clearly finds contemptible—a watered-down, shallow, modern version of Christianity that appeals to sweetness and sentimentality while ignoring duty or sin. Hazel too finds this revolting, because it is so clearly, he thinks, a lie. It also turns out that Onnie’s motivation is entirely financial, as he asks for donations.
Hazel tries to shout that you can’t know the truth for money, but Onnie Jay Holy immediately twists this into an endorsement of how cheap their church is—barely costing anything. He begins to write down names of the gathered listeners, but Hazel jumps into the car, attempting to start it. Onnie tells him to wait, but he begins to slowly drive away. The car stalls repeatedly, though, so Onnie can easily catch up and get in with Hazel. He’s clearly angry at having lost the money of the assembled group. Onnie then turns on the charm again, telling Hazel that he reminds him of Jesus Christ and Abraham Lincoln. Hazel is outraged, repeating that Onnie “ain’t true.” Onnie replies that he is a real radio preacher, and Hazel stops the car, telling him to get out.
The comic inability of Hazel to defend his own church against the silver-tongued Onnie Jay Holy demonstrates how little he understands human connection – he is a born outsider. He rushes to his car to escape this dishonest attack, but of course that ever-untrustworthy vehicle of his free will fails yet again. At the core of Onnie’s practiced lies is a true observation—that Hazel is different from the other people of this town, and somehow more serious or spiritual. Eventually Hazel can no longer endure Onnie’s lying manner.
Onnie persists as Hazel tries to start the malfunctioning car, telling him that he needs an “artist-type” to help him run the Church. He tries to get Hazel to reveal the location of the new jesus, asking repeatedly as Hazel begins to push the car forward. Onnie helps him get it to a parking space. Hazel decides to spend the night in the car, and gets in the back, closing the fringed shades and ignoring Onnie’s questions. Finally when Onnie offers to pay him, Hazel tells him that there is no “new jesus,” that it was only a “way to say a thing.” This causes the smile to “more or less slither” off Onnie’s face.
Onnie’s misunderstanding of the “new jesus” – his belief that it was not just a figure of speech – is similar to Enoch’s, although the two have very different responses to their belief that Hazel is speaking about a real figure. The whole exchange between the slimy con-man and the devotedly honest and awkward Hazel is painful and comic, undercut as it is by Hazel’s rage and his persistent car trouble.
Hazel repeats himself to the transformed Onnie (who now reveals his real name, Hoover Shoats), and tries to close the car door around his head. Frustrated, Hazel slams the door, catching Shoats’ thumb. Shoats howls in pain, and then returns to threaten Hazel, declaring that he will find his own new jesus, that he can buy “Prophets for peanuts,” and that he will out-preach Hazel. From the behind the curtain Hazel hits the car's broken horn, which releases a strangled sound.
Hazel makes a definite enemy of this skilled con-man – who has lied about everything, even his name – by comically slamming his thumb in the door. Given just how much more successful the false preacher was in his attempt to engage the crowd, it seems that Hazel is in for some serious competition. Hazel has shut himself off in his car, however, which is still malfunctioning.
Shoats leaves after a final threat, and then Hazel falls asleep and has a nightmare in the car’s backseat. He dreams that he has been buried alive and is waiting on nothing, that various people are eyeing him through the window—he recognizes Enoch, and then the woman with two little boys, who tries to climb into the car with him. He expects to see Asa Hawks come, but he never does. Waking up, Hazel tries the starter, and the car runs as if nothing were wrong.
This episode mirrors the nightmare in the coffin-like bunk of the train, and is similarly a reflection of how alone Hazel is, and how afraid of death. The people who attempt to reach him through the window also function as unwelcome “watchers” in the same sense as the owl in the zoo – figures of conscience. Hazel is still preoccupied with Asa, but seems to sense something is off with him.
Hazel drives home, and then decides to pick the lock on Asa Hawks’ door. He does so, and then he crosses the dark room to Hawks’ bed, his heart pounding. Hazel squats down and strikes a match close to his face, causing Hawks to open his eyes. The two make eye contact while the light of the match lasts, with Hazel’s eyes opening “onto a deeper blankness.” Hawks then jabs at him, saying that now Hazel can leave him alone. Hazel’s expressionless face moves back under his white hat.
Hazel goes at last to investigate his suspicion about Asa, to find the truth, and he is confronted with what the reader knows already: Asa is a fraud. Some part of Hazel seems deeply hurt and disappointed by this—perhaps he had hoped that someone else could be as honestly serious about religion as he is. As this illusion falls he seems to retreat further into himself, away from the world.