Sunhill Asylum, October 31, 1963

Dr. Torris strides down the corridor, her heels clicking on the chequered tiles. The passage reminds her of Alice in Wonderland, with countless doors leading off in all directions. The warfarin has worked a treat and vermin litter floor, their furry bodies twisted in agony. She walks briskly, wincing at the rats, and heads for a blue enamelled sign that reads: “Isolation Ward”.

At the end of the passage she comes to pair of swinging doors where a rotund warden sits at a desk, munching on a ham roll. In his mid fifties, he looks like a Teddy Boy gone to seed, with wiry sideburns and Brylcreemed hair. He surveys the Daily Mirror, his left pupil obscured by a cataract:

At the top of the page in Helvetica Bold:

LEGS GAVE AWAY DOPE-GANG CHARMER. To the right, in lesser bold: G-MEN SMASH RED SPY GROUP. Beneath it, in Times Roman: Canal hunt for missing girl of 15. To the right, an advert: Say Johnnie Walker Red Label Whisky. Beside that, a tragedy in small italics: Boy dies in a game of ‘Taxis’. Above it, yet more crime blurb: ‘A Master-mind’ and his gang are jailed for robbing plot. At the foot of the page is a Christmas promotion for a gents’ wristwatch with a pretty girl who chirps: I’m giving him a Smiths…

The warden ponders the timepiece, fondling his naked wrist.

‘Time is precious. Cherish every moment with a Smiths Imperial. All the essentials for meticulous time keeping and permanent dependability are contained in their 17-19 jewelled movements. Superbly individual in design, these watches have rustless ‘Permalife’ unbreakable mainsprings, ‘Chronospan’ ‘anti-magnetic’ and temperature compensated balance springs, and are unconditionally guaranteed for one year. Your jeweller will gladly help you make your selection.’

Dr. Torris stops at his desk and says:

‘I’ve come to see Jack Vallis.’

The Parisian Lady,’ mutters the warden, without looking up.

The Parisian Lady?

‘Jack Vallis. That’s what he likes to call himself: The Parisian Lady. Only, he ain’t from Paris, and he ain’t no Lady.’

‘Can you show me to his cell?’

He jumps to it, putting down his roll and wiping his mouth on his sleeve:

‘Oh, er, sorry miss. I missed mi breakfast. I thought you were a nurse. You’ll be Dr. Hardy’s replacement, I take it.’

‘Yes, that’s right.’

‘A woman.’

‘That’s very observant of you. Is there a problem?’

‘No. I just ain’t seen no woman doctor before. Anyway, you sound too classy to be a nurse.’

She looks him up and down:

‘You’re not from around these parts are you?’

‘No. London, miss.’

‘And a thoroughbred Cockney by the sound of it.’

‘Well, more of a mongrel, really. Er, if you don’t mind me saying so miss, but you’re the spitting image of Patricia Dainton—you know, the film star.’

‘Well, thank you. I’ll take that as a compliment.’

‘Oh, I do like Patricia Dainton, miss. I’ve seen all her films. Her last one was The Third Alibi. Have you seen it?’

‘No, sorry, can’t say I have.’

‘You’re not from around these parts either, are you miss?’

‘I’m a Londoner like you. Putney.’

‘Oh that’s very posh, Putney is. And what brings you to this hell-hole?’

The Parisian Lady.

‘Oh, she’s famous now is she?’

‘Only in certain clinical circles.’

He stands there for a moment, spellbound by her beauty, then says:

‘Oh, er, my name’s Bob. Bob Hallet.’

‘Pleased to meet you Bob.’ She shakes his hand, then rubs her palm down the side of her lab coat. ‘So, which way to my patient?’

The Parisian Lady. Very well then. Follow me, doctor… Er, what was it?’

‘Torris. Dr. Torris.’

‘Right then, Dr. Torris, this way if you please…’

He leads her through the swinging-doors and they turn down a brick passage flanked with cream tiles.

‘This leads to the Isolation Ward, miss. It’s where they keep the real loonies… The Parisian Lady is held in cell 54—that’s the big tower you can see from the main entrance. It’s a bit of a walk though…’

They continue in silence under a roof of gloomy skylights obscured by moulding leaves; the passage runs the entire length of the building then wends across an open yard with a cherry tree and bald patch of grass potted with worm casts. Crossing the yard, they enter another door which rejoins the main complex. Before them is a low vaulted aisle where patients mill about like somnambulists. Bob points to an old woman in a yellow gingham skirt:

‘That’s Old Millie. She spends her whole life walking up and down this blinkin’ corridor. She starts off by the fire escape, walks ten paces north, stops, turns about, then walks ten paces south again, right back to where she started. She does it all day, every day, regular as clockwork, year in, year out. I’ve been here twelve years and she’s never missed a single day. Poor cow. She’s stuck in a nightmare and can’t wake up. There but for the grace of God…’

A bearded old man stands alone, plucking a broken ukulele like a wind-up automaton; the only part of him that moves is his index finger which blurs over the sound hole.

A young woman with a riven forehead scurries up to Maria and whispers:

‘You mustn’t step on the cracks between the tiles!’

‘Why not?’ asks Maria.

‘Because if you do, you’ll marry a dragon!’

She shuffles away again, facing the wall, counting on her fingers.

‘This way miss,’ says Bob, as he riffles through his keys and opens another door.

‘It’s a bit of warren, isn’t it?’

‘I’ll say. You don’t wan’t to take the wrong turn in this place, miss. You’ll end up going round in circles for weeks.’

Bob leads her down a grim Victorian passage with flaking paint and cracked walls. The damp air reeks of urine and carbolic soap. They pass a cleaning lady who shunts down the corridor, slopping a filthy mop over the tiles.

‘Hullo Bob,’ she says.

‘Hello Dora. You coming for a drink later?’

‘I can’t tonight Bob pet, it’s Bingo down the Pally.’

They continue in silence for twenty paces. As if to lighten the mood, Bob begins to mumble:

I’m getting married in the morning. Ding dong the bells are going to chime…

He breaks into a toothy whistle as he saunters along, swinging his keys on the end of a chain. Finally they come to a dead-end with a single iron door.

‘This is it miss. Number 54. The Parisian Lady… Er, pardon me miss, but shouldn’t you be accompanied? I mean, shall I fetch the attendant?’

‘No. There’s no need for that.’

‘But does Matron know? I mean, she’ll be awful cross like, if she finds out I let you in unaccompanied.’

‘You needn’t worry about Matron. I’ll take full responsibility. I want to see my patient alone.’

‘Alone? I see. But shall I wait outside miss? I mean, what if something happens?’

‘I’ll be fine. If I need you, I’ll ring the bell.’

‘Very well miss.’

Bob peeks through the spy hole and mutters:

‘There she is, the crafty little vixen…’

He opens the lock and pulls the door wide:

‘There you go miss. I’ll leave it open, but I’ll lock the outer-passage. He can’t go nowhere.’

‘Very well. You can leave us now.’

Bob marches away. A moment later the sound of sliding bolts thunders down the corridor.

Maria stands in the threshold but Jack doesn’t even move; he remains seated at a desk, his back to the door. He’s dressed in an ill-fitting corset and laddered stockings, but wears standard issue boots with locks on the ankles. His chiffon blouse is bursting at the seams, stretched over his broad hairy back. His blonde wig is so decrepit and moth-eaten that the weave shows through the piece.

The cell has little in the way of comfort; there’s a low barred window, a bed and sink, and a small desk with two chairs. The walls are plastered with pages from Cosmopolitan, and above the bed is a large poster of ‘The Garden of Earthly Delights’ by Hieronymus Bosch.

Jack remains motionless, his pen hovering over the page. Maria clears the lump from her throat and says brightly:

‘Hello Jack. My name is – ’

…Maria. Dr. Maria Torris.’

He turns to greet her, his face done up like a cheap drag queen. She smiles:

‘May I ask how you know my name, Jack?’

‘I dreamt of you, many moons ago.’

‘I see. May I come in?’

‘Please do. I’ve been waiting for you.’

‘Oh?’

‘We have much to catch up on. You can here, beside me if you like. Or is that too forward of me?’

‘This chair by the door is fine.’

Bold as brass, she enters the cell and sits, crossing her shapely legs which shimmer beneath the gauze of her stockings. He looks her up and down, nibbling on his nails, then says:

‘Do you know, Pontius tried to kill me?’

‘Dr. Hardy told me all about it. It was an accident.’

‘Accident?’ He stands in protest, his bovine frame putting her in shadow. ‘No, not an accident. Pontius wants me dead. He wants to erase me; he wants to turn me into a blank slate. A vegetable. You mustn’t let him do it. He hates me.’

‘Hates you? Why does he hate you?’

‘Because I make him feel stupid. He wants to tear me limb from limb.’

‘That’s nonsense. He wants to make you better.’

‘Better? Do you know what it’s like having ECT without anaesthesia or muscle relaxant? The convulsions are so violent they break your bones and teeth. I’ve lost six already—’

He hooks a finger round his lip to reveal line of broken molars.

‘Did Pontius do that?’ asks Maria.

He nods.

‘Well, you’re my patient now, so you needn’t worry about Pontius.’

‘Have you spoken with him?’

‘No, I haven’t met him yet.’

‘He’s creepy. Very creepy. Doctor Death they call him. But he calls himself a “physician”. A physician straight out of Belsen.’

He starts at a clanging noise:

‘Who’s that? Are they coming? Don’t let them in!’

‘Clam down; you’re perfectly safe. It’s just the cleaner with her bucket.’

‘Pontius is going to do it. He’s going to erase me. Listen: I’m not safe here. Take me home with you.’

‘Don’t be silly. I can’t take you home; your place is here.’

‘I don’t belong here. We don’t belong here. Didn’t you read my journal?’

‘I’m sorry, I haven’t had time.’

‘Haven’t had time. How insulting. Why not?’

The bus broke down last night and I didn’t get home till—’

Stop. Stop. Stop. Oh dear, oh dear, that’s far too much information. You should always limit your conversation to the patient.’

‘So you’re an analyst now?’

‘You haven’t even looked at it?’

‘Well, I’ve only flicked through it, to be honest. But it looks very interesting, Jack.’

‘Interesting? Is that all you can say?’

‘Tell me, why is my name on the first page?’

‘Because you’re the key, that’s why.’

‘The key? Key to what?’

Everything.

‘Who told you I was coming here?’

‘I have friends in high places.’

‘What friends?’

‘Never mind that now. Listen to me. It’s important. We don’t belong here, you and me. We’re misfits in an age of madness. The machines. They’ve torn up all the forests… The diggers and the earth movers. They’re killing Mother Earth. We must get away from here. Far away. The thing is this…’

He stops mid-flow as he spies her belt:

‘I like your clincher. Patent leather. Very shiny. Look at you: you’re so beautiful. You have the figure of a goddess.’

Maria touches her nose in embarrassment, then says:

‘Tell me about your dream, Jack.’

‘Which one?’

‘The one where we met. How do you know my name?’

‘Yes, that’s better: keep the conversation focused on the patient…’

‘Listen, if you’re going to play games, I’ll leave and come back tomorrow.’

No. Don’t go. Tomorrow will be too late.’

‘Why? You think Pontius is going to kill you?’

‘Not before he’s interrogated me.’

‘And why would he do that?’

‘He wants to know the secret of my Powers.’

Powers?

‘Yes, he wants to know how I fly about.’

‘You can fly?’

‘Certainly.’

‘Show me.’

‘Not here.’

‘Why not?’

‘I might hit my head on the ceiling.’

‘I see. And what other powers do you have?’

‘I can walk through walls.’

‘If you can walk through walls, then there’s nothing keeping you here. You could get up and leave right now, and no one could stop you.’

‘No, it doesn’t work like that.’

‘How does it work?’

‘I can only do it when Krew is here.’

‘Krew?’

‘The Cyclops.’

‘Is he one of your friends?’

‘Yes. But with friends like Krew, who needs enemies?’

‘Where is Krew now?

‘He’s hiding.’

‘Can I speak with him?’

‘No. He only comes when the wind blows.’

‘I see. Tell me, why are you wearing a corset?’

‘Why are you? Oh, it feels like dream doesn’t it? It makes you feel so svelte, glamorous and sexy. I love the way it clinches your waist and thrusts out your our hips. You’ve got a figure to die for. What lipstick is that? Max Factor Hollywood?

No.

He draws the air through his teeth and starts banging his head with his palm:

‘Hollywood. Wrong one… Er, I know what it is, don’t tell me… Er, Hi-Fi … No? Wait… It’s Red Contrast! No? Ooo! Wait a minute, I know, it’s on the tip of my tongue. I know it! Yes, Ah! B… B… No. Yes! Of course! … Sheer Genius!

‘No, I’m sorry to disappoint you Jack. It’s not Sheer Genius.

‘Come a little closer; let me take a proper look.’

‘No.’

‘I’ve got it!’ He slaps his thigh. ‘You’re wearing Innoxa! Am I right? I am, aren’t I!’

She twinkles and mutters:

Eureka.’

He grins broadly, spinning on his toes and snapping his fingers in triumph:

‘Yes! I knew it! Innoxa: Cool Mermaid Pink, strictly for sirens.

‘You seem to know a lot about lipstick.’

‘I read Cosmopolitan.’

‘So I see. What else do you read? Latin?’

‘The Roman tongue is no longer spoken—except by the priests. Fodérunt manus meas et pedes meos, dinumeravérunt ómnia ossa mea.

‘And what does that mean?’

‘They have pierced my hands and feet, they have numbered all my bones.’(i)

‘When did you learn to speak Latin?’

‘When did you learn to walk?’

‘So you’re a born prodigy, is that it?’

‘You mustn’t let Pontius rack me.’

‘Rack you?’

‘You haven’t listened to a word I’ve said!’

‘Calm down. I’m here to help you.’

‘Help me? That’s just what Pontius says: I’m here to help you. Well I don’t need your help. Get lost!’

‘I’m not going anywhere. Not until you’ve told me about your dream.’

‘Come back with me.’

‘Back where?’

‘To the fourteenth century.’

‘You think you can go there?’

‘I got here didn’t I?’

‘And how did you get here, exactly?’

‘I jumped from a train.’

‘I mean before that. How did you get from the fourteenth century to 1963?’

Transmigration. I got reincarnated. See?’

‘Ah, so that’s how you travel through time: the cycle of death and rebirth. Well that’s easy. Everyone does that.’

‘Not everyone. Some people don’t come back.’

‘Oh? And what happens to them?’

‘They go to Heaven… or the other place.

‘You mean Hell.’

‘Dr. Pontius says Hell is just a state of mind.’

‘He’s a clinical psychologist: what do you expect him to say? What do you think Hell is?’

He looks her in the eye and says softly:

Hell is when the depths come to you, with all that you no longer are, or are not yet capable of; hell is when you can no longer attain what you could attain; hell is when you must think and feel and do everything that you know you do not want; hell is when you know that your “having to” is also a “wanting to”— and that you yourself are responsible for it; hell is when you know everything serious you planned with yourself is also laughable—that everything fine is also brutal; that everything good is also bad; that everything high is also low; that everything pleasant is also shameful.

She is stunned to silence. Her voice falters:

‘That’s a very perceptive observation. Are those your own words?’

‘No. Carl Gustav Jung.’

She swallows hard and fixes her gaze on her clipboard:

‘You’ve told me what Hell is. So what do you think Heaven is? In your own words.’

‘Oh that’s easy… Heaven is you.

‘You’re quite the charmer aren’t you?’

‘What do you think would happen if you looked like me? Then you’d be locked up in the loony bin.’

She shivers:

‘It’s cold in here. Don’t they have heating in the West Annex?’

‘You should have been here last winter: The Big Freeze. There were icicles on the bars a foot long; and the drifts were so high, you couldn’t see out the windows. The duck pond was frozen solid. Shall we go skating?’

‘Don’t be silly. Anyway, I can’t skate.’

‘You could hold onto me.’

‘No,’ she replies, firmly.

‘Oh, I see, married are we?’

‘That’s none of your business. Tell me, when did you read Jung?’

‘I can’t remember.’

‘Dr. Hardy thinks you’ve got a photographic memory. Is that true?’

‘Where did you get those high heels? Do they do them in size ten?’

‘Stop trying to change the subject. How are you so familiar with the works of Carl Jung?’

‘I’ve already told you: I can’t remember. I have no memory of the books I read prior to ECT I remember certain passages, that’s all.’

‘Can you give another example?’

One morning, as Gregor Samsa awoke from troubled dreams, he found himself transformed into a gigantic insect…

‘Kafka. Is that how you see yourself? As an ugly monster? But you’re a handsome looking fellow. Why make yourself look ridiculous?’

‘I know: I’m a freak of Nature.’

‘You’re not a freak, you’re just confused.’

‘You think you can alter my perverse disposition? I fear it is so deeply implanted in my nature, that you cannot root it out.’

‘But you weren’t always like this, were you?’

‘Yes, I was. Fortuna non mutat genus.(ii) Fortune does not change our nature. What’s bred in the bone won’t out of the flesh.’

Silence. They stare at one another for a moment, then Jack says:

‘This is my punishment.’

‘For what? Have you committed a crime?’

‘Many. The Devil sent me here; I was meant to go to the Garden of Earthly Delights; but he sent me here instead. I think I’m going to die in this place.’

‘Nonsense. I’m going to make you better.’

‘Are you? Are you really?’

‘Of course I am. That’s what I do: I make people better.’

‘Do you think I’m very ill?’

‘What do you think?’

‘I think all madmen are punished by their madness.’

‘Are you mad, Jack?’

‘I might be. But not as mad as Dr. Pontius. He’s a complete raving lunatic.’

‘How old are you?’

‘Three thousand and sixty-six years, five months and twenty-three days.’

‘That’s very old.’

‘Yes. And with age comes great wisdom.’

‘Oh? I am more inclined to think that wisdom comes not by years, but by disposition. Wouldn’t you agree Jack? And the first step towards wisdom is to know what is false. You’re a man, not a woman. If you are such a wise old sage, why do you dress as a baby girl?’

‘I’m not dressed as a baby girl. At least not today. I’m dressed as a Parisian Lady. I put this blouse on especially for you. Do you think it’s pretty?’

‘No. It doesn’t suit you.’

‘It’s the only one I could find.’

‘Where did you get it?’

‘The laundry room.’

‘You stole it.’

‘I borrowed it.’

‘It’s a very bad fit.’

‘I know: it’s too tight across the shoulders. They don’t make pretty things in my size. What do you think of my new foundation cream? It’s called Ultralucent…(iii) Ultra: going beyond. The most. The ultimate… Lucent: light reflecting. Aglow. Radiantly sheer. The new definition of liquid make-up. So ultra-sheer only I know its there. Quietly blending skin tones. Perfecting tiny imperfections. While letting my own natural radiance glow softly through…’

‘Does Dr. Hardy let you wear make up?’

‘He can’t stop me. No one can. Not even Pontius. Do you know what eye-shadow I’m wearing?’

‘No.’

‘Go on, have a guess…’

‘I’m not here to play guessing games.’

‘Oh, but I think you are. Go on, which eye-shadow? Guess.’

‘Er, is it Pure Magic?

‘Very funny. No, it’s not Pure Magic.

‘What is it then?’

‘Coal. I found a lump in the yard outside.’

‘And what about all these pictures from magazines?’

‘Matron hates them. But that’s because she’s an ugly old battleaxe. She used to tear them down, but she gave up in the end. I can always get more magazines from the salon… When I’m allowed out, that is.’

‘Are you happy to remain in isolation? If you stopped wearing female clothes, you could join the other inmates. Wouldn’t you like to work on the farm? Tend the vegetables? Work in the stables and groom the horses? Or attend the community dance?’

‘The community dance? You must be joking! I might as well dance with beetles!’

He bursts into a cabaret routine:

You put your left arm in;
Your left arm out;
In, out, in, out,
You shake it all about;
You do the Hokey Cokey and you turn around;
That’s what it’s all about!

‘Come on Maria—sing the chorus with me!’

But she remains glued to her seat as Jack twirls about the cell:

Woah, the hokey cokey!
Woah, the hokey cokey!
Woah, the hokey cokey!
Knees bent, arms stretched, ra ra ra!

You put right foot in;
Your right foot out;
In, out, in, out,
You shake it all about;
You do the Hokey Cokey and you turn around;
And that’s what it’s all about!

He stops breathless and grins:

‘What’s the matter Maria? Don’t you like to dance?’

‘I didn’t come here to sing and dance.’

Precisely. So why should I? I’m happy in isolation. Would you like to tend the vegetables? Oh sorry, you’re doing that already.’

Dr. Torris is not amused and glares over her spectacles:

‘You called me Maria.’

‘I did.’

‘How do you know my first name?’

‘I know lots of things about you.’

‘Such as?’

‘I know that you have a birthmark on your left shoulder. You like Walls vanilla ice cream but hate the wafers because they get stuck in your teeth. You cook on a Baby Belling oven but can’t do sausages the way you like because the grill is broken. Your landlady stinks of cigarettes—she smokes Senior Service—and goes about with rollers in her hair.’

Maris shrugs uneasily:

‘Yes, but those things could be true of a hundred other people. You can’t deceive me Jack. I know all about the technique of cold reading.’

‘…You cannot use the bathroom on the ground floor because the pilot won’t light on the Ascot heater; which means you have to use the shower on the second floor, but you hate going up there because the man in room nine is a lech and likes to see you in your dressing gown.’

Her jaw drops in astonishment as Jack continues:

‘…When you were six, you had a dog called Pogel. But Pogel was run over by a truck not far from your house. The first you heard of it was from a neighbour called Mrs. Slater who knocked on your door and said: “Pogel has gone to Jesus.” ’

She looks aghast and bolts upright:

‘That’s impossible,’ she mutters. Then louder: ‘How did you know that? No body knows that!’ She stamps her foot. ‘You cannot possibly know that!

‘…All your life you’ve been haunted by the horned man. And it was the horned man who brought you here…’

She gasps, pale with trepidation:

Who are you?

‘Come back with me Maria. We don’t have much time.’

Just then the door swings open and Dr. Pontius looms on the threshold. He has the semblance of a goblin with a long hooked nose and thin lips which curl up at the corners; most striking of all are his dark eyes with their droopy bloodhound lids; his receding red hair is parted down the middle and waxed flat behind large cauliflower ears. He grins, showing rows of crooked teeth:

‘Dr. Torris, I presume. I see you’ve made yourself familiar with my patient.’

Your patient?’ trembles Maria. ‘No. There’s been some mistake. Jack Vallis is my patient. Dr. Hardy handed this case over to me before he left.’

‘Then you should know that Jack Vallis has an ECT appointment booked for ten ‘o’ clock.’

No!’ cries Jack. ‘Stop him! Maria, you mustn’t let him do it!’

Pontius grins:

‘So, we’re on first name terms already, are we? Well, well, well… Dr. Torris, are you aware that in coming here alone, you have defied hospital protocol? All category “A” patients must be seen in the consulting room, and attended by two male nurses.’

‘I’m not in any danger. The patient is perfectly harmless and completely lucid. I’ve come to a crucial point in my analysis. Please leave at once. You’re upsetting him.’

‘How dare you order me about! Just because you have more letters after your name, doesn’t give you the authority to defy me. As far as I’m concerned you’re little more than an assistant psychiatrist, without the experience or knowledge to know the dangers of working in an asylum!’

‘Dr. Pontius! You can’t give Jack Vallis ECT! I expressly forbid it!’

‘Forbid it? I refuse to discuss this matter any further. If you want to make a formal complaint, see the superintendent and come to my office this afternoon.’

He snaps his fingers and two burly attendants stoop through the door. Jack begins kicking and screaming, lashing out with his fists:

‘Get back! I’ll turn you into toads! I will! I’ll curse you all!’

‘How did you unlock those boots?’ fumes Pontius.

‘Magic!’ grins Jack.

The attendants rush in, forcing Jack onto the bed, pinning him down with their bulk; one sits astride his back whilst the other grabs his ankles and tries locking the boots. Jack shrieks like a girl as they yank him up by the armpits and tear off his wig.

‘Bring him here,’ orders Pontius.

But Jack wriggles like an eel and evades their grip; utterly desperate, and with no other means of escape, he dives headlong at the window, gashing his head on the bars.

‘Seize him!’ cries Pontius.

The attendants wrestle Jack to the door, knocking the table which skids across the tiles. Parchment flies into the air as Jack snarls like a rabid dog, blood streaming from his left orbit. Maria looks distraught and backs against the wall, covering her mouth with her hand. Then Pontius pulls a fat syringe from his pocket; the long needle wavers in the air, squirting jets of milky liquid:

‘Bring him! Quickly!

But on reaching the threshold, Jack spreads his feet across the door jambs and wails:

Krew! Save me!

‘The Cyclops isn’t coming,’ sneers Pontius. ‘Because the Cyclops doesn’t exist. Now stop struggling, or I’ll hurt you with the needle.’

‘I won’t be erased!’ cries Jack. ‘I won’t!’

The attendants struggle with his body, groping for purchase, their fat fingers slipping round his corset. He claws at the air and howls:

Maria! Don’t let them! Don’t let them do it!

Her eyes are smarting with tears. She feels exposed and vulnerable. Jack had peered into the very depths of her soul. How could he know so much about her life? Right down to the name and death of her dog. He even got the name right. Not to mention what Mrs. Slater said: “Pogel has gone to Jesus”. The exact words. That was impressive. But what really clinched it was the horned man. She’d always kept the hauntings to herself. Not a living soul knew about the horned man. Not even Mother Superior. She recalled the nocturnal visitations to her cell: the monstrous face staring in the moonlight, with its huge oxen horns. How could an apparition so terrifying become a private confidant? She began to doubt her own sanity. It was the horned man who brought her to England. Had he brought her to Jack Vallis?

Jack calls her name three times as Pontius grapples with his arm:

‘Be still, you brute!’

Don’t let them do it, Maria! I beg you!

The needle sinks in.

Within moments Jack falls quiet and limp. Yet still he whispers:

Maria.’

Instinctively, she reaches out and clasps his hand:

‘It’s all right Jack.’

She is struck by the futility of her own words.

‘Take him,’ orders Pontius.

Maria tries pulling away but Jack won’t release; his palm feels unusually hot, like a pebble that has baked in the sun.

‘Let him go!’ orders Pontius.

‘I can’t!’ frets Maria. ‘I’m stuck!’

‘Stuck? What do you mean, stuck?’

His hand: it’s gone into spasm. Please, do something, he’s hurting me!’

Immediately the attendants try prizing Jack’s fingers apart but they won’t budge and Maria remains locked in a tenacious grip.

It starts as a tingle at first—like pins-and-needles deep in her bones. Then a white fire surges up her arm and engulfs her whole body. At once she is smitten by a blinding flash.

She faints and crumples to the floor.

Copyright © Nicholas Shea 1992-2017. All rights reserved.

i. Psalm 21; 17-18.

ii. Horace

iii. Ultralucent was not manufactured until 1968, but in view of the many different names, I assumed artistic license.