The Bugarach apocalypse story is the bizarre fruit of an obscure Mayan calendar due to expire on Dec 21, 2012, and a modern-day Internet rumour.
Eight centuries after Pope Innocent III launched a crusade to rout the Cathar heresy out of Languedoc, the rocky outpost of Bugarach is once again under siege.
On Wednesday, police closed all roads leading up to the village, located some 20 km southwest of Carcassonne, at the foot of the Pyrenees.
It seems heresy has returned to Bugarach, nicknamed "Doomsday destination" ever since online scaremongers drew on an ancient Mayan prophecy to claim that the little village's 200 or so inhabitants would be the only survivors of an impending cataclysm.
Of course the Mayans famously failed to foresee their own demise, at the hands of Spanish conquistadors. But their claim that the world would come to an end on December 21 still has many believers - and the people of Bugarach are determined to keep these "hippies" and "new agers" at bay.
As our team walked into Bugarach on Tuesday evening, the talk of the town was all about “hippy cults” and mass suicides.
“You haven’t seen the hippies yet, but they’re all around us!” said a local named Andre.
“One of my friends recently went hunting in the forest near Bugarach and he suddenly came across a man with very long hair… definitely a guy waiting for the end of the world. Pity my friend didn’t shoot him!”, chuckled Andre.
As police deployed all around Bugarach, we came across a handful of visitors who had parked their camping-cars in the tiny two-street village before the official shutdown came into force at midday on December 19.
One of them, beer in hand, asked us what had happened to all the “mad people” who wanted to witness the end of the world. Apparently, the fact that he had just driven more than 1,000 kilometres from Brussels was not enough to qualify him as one of the "mad people".
Perhaps what he had in mind was the likes of Abdel-Jesus, a bizarre alien clad in a green suit who greeted a Japanese TV crew at the village gates with prophesies of doom. After all, the mysterious Pic de Bugarach that towers over the village has been known for centuries to house aliens in cavities beneath the rock.