Krew is telling it…

I soar to the abbot’s lodging and dart through the lancet. The gloomy chamber is lit by a black candle which leaps on the closet. Father Janus writhes in bed, clutching his head like a madman:

‘’Tis not just my brains! My whole body is infected from head to foot! There is not one part of me that does not fester with her corruption!’

Brother Jean perches on the side rail and takes a bandage from his bag:

‘Be still and let me dress the wound.’

‘Wound?’ seethes the abbot. ‘Is that what you call it? My wound is a devil! A bandage is no remedy.’

‘Father Janus, please! How can I silence her when you are thrashing about?’

‘Be careful, or she will bite off your fingers.’

Lilith seethes with each revolution of the lint, gnashing on her gag. She is soon obscured, but for her nostrils which wheeze with pent up rage. Jean ties the knot and says:

‘Lie back and rest. She is mute now.’

‘But I hear her still!’ wails the abbot. ‘She never sleeps, but talks to me forever of such things as they only speak of in hell.[i] Oh Lilith, leave me in peace!’

‘You must try to get along with her. There is no other way.’

‘Get along? How? When she calls herself Antichrist and mocks the cross? Oh, I know what she’s up to. Do you not see? Is it not obvious? She wants to usurp me. The Antichrist yearns for equality with Christ. But what fellowship hath Christ with Belial?’[ii] What fellowship have I with her?’

Jean uncorks a flask and pours a muddy liquid into a cup.

‘Drink this.’

But the abbot pushes it away:

‘She pains me more and more. If you cannot cure me, I will be forced to take drastic measures.’

‘You mustn’t do anything reckless.’

‘I have no choice. She is gaining power over me. She gets stronger day by day. And now she dreams materially.’

Materially? Whatever do you mean?’

‘She manifests her dreams, so much so that her sleeping mind incorporates itself with great effect.’

Incorporates?

‘She conjured an imp from my inkwell which ran across the desk and danced around my quill. But when she awoke, the apparition burst into a pool of gall and ruined my parchment… Don’t look at me that way. What’s the matter? You think I’m stark raving mad. Oh! why, don’t you believe me?’

‘I’m not sure, father Janus. Perhaps you dreamt it.’

‘Dreamt it? Then what’s that black stain on the table?’

‘Quite possibly you knocked the inkwell yourself.’

‘Certainly, that is possible, but totally untrue. I was busy writing, and wide awake. Remember: this is Satan’s realm; if the word of Christ can change the appointed forms of Nature, then what can Antichrist do?’

‘Do not speak of Satan.’

‘Why not? Does the truth frighten you?’

Jean offers the cup up again:

‘Drink.’

‘What is it?’

‘Something to help you sleep.’

‘You fool, I do not want to sleep! Don’t you understand? I cannot sleep. Must not sleep. That is when she’s strongest – when my conscious will is weakened.’

‘Whatever you ingest will affect her also.’

‘Oh no, you are quite mistaken, believe me. She has the constitution of an ox and the will of a venomous harpy. Nothing I drink can make her sleep; even if were to down a barrel of mead, and become completely insensible, she would still be wide-awake, plotting my downfall. My situation is altogether hopeless. You must cut her out: that’s the only way.’

‘I cannot excise her: I’ve told you a hundred times: the procedure would be fatal.’

The abbot smiles in resignation:

‘Death is the last physician of disease. Christ knows, I have borne my curse with patience. If you cannot do it, I will find me another: I will go to Toulouse.’

‘You know as well as I, that to make such a visit would be complete folly. You suffer a rare and disturbing condition. They would take one look at Lilith and think you possessed. And what would they do, if they heard her poisonous tongue? My god, they’d put you to the stake!’

Father Janus gazes at the candle flame, his sallow eyes swimming with despair. The two monks are rendered in a haunting light – the abbot with his gnomish countenance, and Jean with his cankered crescent face. At length the abbot says:

‘Of course, you are right brother. Toulouse is out of the question. I am not thinking straight. But there must be something you can do – a procedure of the brains. Have you not heard of such cases?’

‘None like yours. But I once knew a battle-field physician who treated two soldiers; both men had been struck by arrows in the head. The first was hit on the left side of his skull; whilst the arrow remained embedded in his brains, he could think and reason, just as before; but when the physician drew it out, he lost the power of speech. The second was hit on the back of the head; although the arrow had only penetrated a short distance, he asserted that he had gone blind in the right eye. But when the arrow was withdrawn, he lost sight in the left eye also. Which begs the question: is vision accomplished by something received into the eye? Or do the visual spirits play upon the wits? So you see, any procedure on the brain is highly dangerous.’

‘Oh, but you are far more skilled than any battle-field physician. Can you not dissect my wits and destroy her?’

‘To do that, I would have to open your skull; and even if were to pick about in your grey matter, I should never know where Lilith ended and you began; so in attempting to destroy her, I might end up destroying you.’
The abbot thinks for a moment and his eyes drift about the shadows. Then he says:

‘Your knowledge in these matters is most impressive. I am fortunate to be in your care.’

‘The brains are a most mysterious jelly. For example, why does not a single object appear as double, inasmuch as we have two eyes? My own dissections show that two optic nerves pass from the anterior of the brain to the two eyes. But these two nerves unite at a certain point into one. Thus, the two images proceeding from a single object are combined, and accordingly one object is seen as one image. All we know of an external object is the image it produces in the sphere of our mind. But is the contrary also true? Can an image in the mind appear as an external object? A mirage of the mind.’

‘Mirage? I take it you are referring to the imp. As a man of faith, you should know better than to question what I saw.’

‘I know that spiritual beings are as real as you or I; and I also know, that whilst they may be invisible to some, they can be perceived by others with the eye of the soul. But the mind can play tricks and deceive the soul. I do not doubt that you saw an imp on the table. But was the imp really there, or did the image proceed from your own imagination?’

‘Not my imagination. Hers!’

‘Do not blame Lilith. These irrational visions can be explained by distemperance of the bile.’

‘They can?’

‘Certainly. Black bile interferes with the ability to think and judge correctly. Perhaps your imagination has been corrupted by black bile and other noxious humours. As Saint Jerome said, black bile is the Devil’s bath.’

‘Yes, the Devil indeed. Demons, by thickening and condensing the air, can make themselves a body of it, so as to become visible to men, as they appeared to Saint Anthony the hermit. Lilith has stirred up my humours for her maleficent ends; her corrupt air has poisoned my mind. No! I am not deluded! The imp was real, and ’twas she who summoned it. She torments me with terrible dreams. If you could see what I see, then you would understand. Oh! Give me a draught of wild cucumbers, mixed with broken glass!’

‘I came to help you, not tear out your bowels. Besides, an act of suicide will condemn your soul to hell.’

‘Hell? I’m already there. The condition is more than I can bare. And what of my monthly curse?’

‘I will alleviate your suffering in any way I can.’

‘My menses grow heavier moon by moon. How can I visit the altar when I am so unclean?’

‘The superfluity of Nature is no crime.’

But in a man? She makes me bleed from every orifice: nose, ears and mouth! [iii] Unlike Job, my merits are not enhanced by my affliction. I grow weaker day by day. Christ deliver me, I am wedded to a demon.’

‘Drink,’ insists Jean, proffering the cup. ‘My poppy-head elixir. You will feel better in the morning.’

The Janus draws the goblet to his lips, slurps it down, then gasps with satisfaction:

‘Your medicine tastes sweet as ever, brother Jean. But after so many years, I fear I have grown immune to its benefit.’

‘Nevertheless, it will bring some respite and a modicum of peace. Lie back and try to sleep.’

‘Alas, sleep is a luxury I cannot afford…’

The bell tolls.

‘’Tis time for Vespers,’ says Jean. ‘I must leave for choir.’

‘Yes, yes,’ sighs the abbot, sinking in the pillow. ‘Thank you brother. You are a wise and diligent attendant. Please give the brethren my apologies. And be sure to tell them I am sick.’

‘I will father Janus. Good night.’

Jean blows out the candle and shuts the door behind him.

Copyright © Nicholas Shea 2010 – 2016

[i] The Janus is based on the tragic case of Edward Mordake, who suffered from craniofacial duplication and is cited in ‘Curiosities of Medicine’ by George M. Gould and Walter L. Pyle… Mordake “was a young man of fine attainments, a profound scholar, and a musician of rare ability. His figure was remarkable for its grace, and his face – that is to say, his natural face – was that of an Antinous. But upon the back of his head was another face, that of a beautiful girl, ‘lovely as a dream, hideous as a devil.’ The female face was a mere mask, ‘occupying only a small portion of the posterior part of the skull, yet exhibiting every sign of intelligence, of a malignant sort, however.’ It would be seen to smile and sneer while Mordake was weeping. The eyes would follow the movements of the spectator, and the lips would ‘gibber without ceasing.’ No voice was audible, but Mordake avers that he was kept from his rest at night by the hateful whispers of his ‘’devil twin’, as he called it, ‘which never sleeps, but talks to me forever of such things as they only speak of in hell. No imagination can conceive the dreadful temptations it sets before me.’ ”

[ii] Corinthians, 6:15.

[iii] Endometriosis.