Bertrand_Russell_leads_anti-nuclear_march_in_London,_Feb_1961

Sunhill Asylum, November 14, 1963

Maria sits at Jack’s bedside and says:

‘You frightened them. You frightened me.’

‘They wanted proof. I gave it. They always mocked my powers; they said I suffered from delusions; figments of fancy. They won’t mock me again… Are you a virgin?’

‘Don’t be impertinent.’

‘I’m a virgin. Let’s loose our virginity together.’

‘Don’t be ridiculous. And mind your manners.’

‘We could do it here—on this bed.’

‘Stop it Jack.’

‘Sorry. I don’t know why I said that. I feel so ashamed.’

‘It’s not your fault: it’s the ECT – it destroys the social censor in the frontal lobes.’

‘You should leave here.’

‘Leave? Why?’

‘Psychotherapy is useless. I can’t remember our sessions from one day to the next. And now I’ve forgotten your name.’

‘Doctor Maria Torris. Remember?’

‘Yes. You’re the key.’

‘Key to what Jack?’

‘The cypher, of course.’

‘You mean the code in your journal?’

‘Exactly.’

She thumbs through the pages:

‘All these alchemical symbols. What do they mean?’

He shrugs:

‘I can’t remember for the life of me. But you’re the key. I based my cypher on the Tableau de Vigenère. But there’s more than one table, and without them, the code is unbreakable. Not even Alan could crack it.’

‘Alan?’

‘Never mind.’

‘So where are the tables?’

‘I hid them somewhere safe – but I’ve forgotten where.’

‘Somewhere in this hospital, perhaps?’

‘Maybe. Or I hid them in the Old World.’

‘Whereabouts in the Old World, do you think?’

‘I will consult a Sybil.’

‘You have encrypted many secrets?’

‘Thousands.’

‘But you have absolutely no idea what they are?’

‘None. It’s a bit like loosing your marbles. Every time you come out of ECT, you know there’s another piece of you missing, but you don’t know what it is. Yet you sense something crucial, pivotal to your soul, has been lost.’

‘Which begs me to ask: what is so important that you would need to encrypt it?’

‘There could be a thousand and one things. Mystical literature is full of cyphers. He who would speak with the gods, must know the language of the gods.’

‘I see.’

‘Do you? People always say that to humour me.’

‘Let’s talk about your powers.’

‘I’m sick of my powers.’

‘Sick of them? Why?’

‘Better that I was an atheist who believes in nothing but matter.’

‘You don’t mean that Jack.’

‘Yes I do. If I was an atheist, then at least I could sleep at night, without being haunted by spirits.’

‘I can give you a sedative.’

‘Sedatives only make it worse. Atheists never get haunted – except by their own conscience. On second thoughts, better that I remain a Theist. All atheists are hypocrites. Deterministic materialism should be called “hypocritical exceptionalism”. Take Lucretius, for example…’

‘He was an atomist, wasn’t he?’

‘Yes – a hypocritical atomist.’

‘Why was he a hypocrite?’

‘Because he believed in the existence of ghosts. Even as an atheist, Lucretius admitted that apparitions were real. But as a materialist, he denied the existence of the human soul. To admit such a thing would invalidate his entire philosophy. So he was forced to adopt a stupid belief; namely that the human body was like an onion, with several layers or coats. According to Lucretius, the outermost coat is detached at death, and continues to wander about the grave, in the semblance of the person when alive. A hypocrite, you see. I mean to say, you can’t have your cake and eat it, can you?’

‘Help me to understand. Where does your power come from?’

‘My family tree, of course.’

‘Did your parents have the gift?’

‘Curse, more like.’

‘Tell me about your family.’

‘My bloodline is corrupt.’

‘Why do you say that?’

‘I’m fallen.’

‘Fallen? In what way?’

‘We’re all fallen. The human race, I mean.’

‘You mean original sin?’

‘I refer to the war in Heaven, when Satan fell to earth with His thundering horde.’

‘Never mind about Satan. Tell me about your family. You grew up in Toxteth, didn’t you?’

‘No. I grew up in a mighty oak, whose roots go back to the beginning of the world. A tree that binds Heaven, Earth and Hell. Like the Yggdrasil, it was a tree of Knowledge, Time and Space.’

‘Ah, but the Yggdrasil was an ash, not an oak.’

He scowls in annoyance:

‘I said, like the Yggdrasil, didn’t I? Everyone knows the Yggdrasil was an ash. Are you trying to catch me out? Do you think I’m telling tales?’

‘No Jack. Tell me about your childhood.’

‘Why? So you can determine the root cause of my hysteria. Did my father beat me? Was I abused by a cousin? Was I bullied at school? I know that game.’

‘You went to school in Liverpool. Do you remember?’

‘Not really. Not since Pontius fried my brains. Just bits and pieces. I’ve already told you: I can only remember the Old World. And in the Old World, I lived in an oak tree. A tree of power, seeded by Apollo himself.’

‘You like Greek myths?’

‘I like all myths. Principally because they are based on truth. In ancient Greece, oracles like me were highly regarded. Now we get locked up in the loony bin.’

‘I can get you out of here.’

‘I wouldn’t do that if I were you.’

‘Why not?’

‘I belong here. I’m a mad mythical being.’

‘No Jack, you’re not.’

‘Yes I am. I can walk through walls. And I can fly about like Zeus. Levitation: a well known feat of mystics.’

‘Can you show me?’

‘Not now. I’m tired.’

She ponders and knits her brow, tapping her pen on her clipboard; then she smiles and asks:

‘Does your power comes from within? An energy you create?’

‘Not exactly.’

‘Then what? How does it work? Can you explain?’

‘You sound like Schneider.’

‘Schneider? Does he work here?’

‘No. He’s from America. You’ll meet him soon enough. He always asks about my powers. But all his ideas are speculative and typical of neuroscientists.’

‘You disapprove of my questions? If you can’t explain, how do you expect me to understand?’

‘What do you want from me?’

‘The question is simple enough: is your gift inherited?’

‘No. I’ve already told you. It comes from below. From deep inside the Earth, where the Al-Jinn dwell.’

‘The Al-Jinn?’

‘They live amongst us still. The hidden ones, who were born of aether and blue fire. Titans of renown, who came to Earth in orbs of Light. They were cast out from Heaven by the hand of God. After the Deluge they were buried deep, ten thousand fathoms down – locked in abyssal realms of forgotten Time. Now the Dark keeps them. They slumber in the pit, awaiting their resurrection. Soon the Devil will summon them by name. Then they will rise and burst forth upon the hills and cover the land with fire. Apocalypse.

‘Demons? Is that where your power comes from?’

‘You would have to ask my God.’

‘Who is your god?’

‘My god is the same as your God. He is all powerful and all knowing. The Monad of Monads. He is gentle as the Lamb and fierce as the Lion. Nothing can stand against Him. He holds the keys to Life and Death, and the power of the Aeons. There is no measure of the Light within Him. It shines exceedingly bright; brighter than a trillion suns, brighter than the seraphim and the cherubim. If men could see it, they would be thrown into great confusion, trepidation and fear. All the myriad spheres and their great orderings are the product of His Light; and the triple powers of the Multiverse are born of its brilliance… Maria, you’re so excruciatingly pretty. Sometimes it hurts to look at you.’

‘You talk in riddles. I don’t know what to make of you, exactly.’

‘You doubt my sincerity?’

‘No.’

‘But you cannot tell if I am lucid or psychotic.’

‘What do you think? Are you psychotic?’

‘We’re running out of time. We must find the portal: the bridge between worlds. Then we can go back to the Old World – where we belong.’

‘We belong here Jack.’

‘In a lunatic asylum? Are you crazy? The modern world is far on the road to ruin. It’s all gone to hell. To hell. Can’t you see that? Do you not realize the worthlessness of this world?’

‘If you think the world is worthless, that’s a fault within yourself.’

‘The apocalypse is nigh. The Al-Jinn and their tyrants will soon be loosed upon the earth. All flesh will be consumed by fire. Not a blade of grass shall remain.’

‘How often do you have these hallucinations?’

‘They’re not hallucinations: they’re prophetic visions.’

‘Prophetic visions then. How often do you have them?’

‘I don’t envy your position: you stuck your neck out; put your job on the line. But despite your training, you cannot distinguish between my powers and psychosis.’

‘Can you? Do you know?’

‘Everything I’ve said is true. Come back with me Maria. Back to the Old World – before mankind tore up our Mother’s mantle and poisoned all Her wells…’

‘Even if we could go back, my place is here.’

‘You want your department of parapsychology.’

‘Yes.’

‘And what do you want to prove exactly?’

‘Isn’t it obvious? The transcendent reality of the supernatural.’

‘But it’s more than that, isn’t it? You want something more with all this. With me. What is it?’

‘I want to prove the Unus Mundus.’

‘You think it can be proven?’

‘Yes. Certainly. If you will help me.’

‘And what else? Be honest with yourself Maria.’

‘I am being honest.’

‘No, you’re not.’

‘Whose analysing who? You’re my patient, remember?’

‘But why are you so concerned with the Unus Mundus? That’s just another name for God, isn’t it?’

‘In a way, yes. But telepathy, clairvoyance, X-Ray vision, telekinesis—these are the powers of saints and mystics. Isn’t it high time they were vindicated by science?’

‘The saints and mystics don’t need your vindication.’

She thinks hard for moment then smiles:

‘No, perhaps you’re right, I don’t suppose they do.’

‘Do you realise that you’ve just agreed with a lunatic?’

She cocks an eyebrow as if he just scored a point.

‘Do you think you’ve been tempted Maria?’

‘Tempted?’

‘By the Devil.’

‘Whatever do you mean?’

‘Sometimes the Devil tempts devout souls to pride. Perhaps your spiritual vanity has got the better of you. You were once an observant, religious woman. But you were tempted to leave the cloister. You renounced your vows because you longed to return to the world, and enjoy its pomps and vanities.’

‘Nonsense.’

‘Is it?’

‘Of course is it. Vanities? Look around you. This place is hardly glamorous is it?’

‘You’re talking nonsense.’

‘Am I Maria?’

‘What vanities do you mean, exactly?’

‘The vanities of apparitions, miracles and saintly powers: levitation; telekinesis; telepathy. Do you know, that such things are also signs of demonic possession?’

‘Do you think you’re possessed?’

‘Most certainly. I’m forsaken by God…’

‘That’s not true.’

‘The devil is in me.’

‘How do you know the devil is in you?’

‘I had a vision.’

‘What kind of vision?’

‘From heaven. Or from hell. I don’t know which,’

‘What was it like?’

‘Bad.’

‘Describe it to me.’

‘Oh I can’t describe it; it’s so terrible, I don’t have the words for it… I fear for you, Maria.’

‘Fear for me? Why?’

‘I fear that in coming here, you will loose the grace of God.’

‘What make you say that?’

‘Isn’t that what you fear most? Being forsaken by God? I think you should return to the cloister, before it’s too late. Think about what you really want from me. You’re asking me to perform miracles to justify your faith to atheists. If Thou be the Son of God, command that these stones be made bread. [i] That’s vanity.’

‘I returned to the world to help people. Surely, I’m more use here than in a cloister. Anyway, why must I justify myself to you?’

‘For the very same reason that I must justify myself to you… If you remain here, you will taste the bitter cup of sorrow and affliction.’

‘Stop it Jack. Don’t say that.’

‘As I see it, you have two choices: return to the cloister, or come back to the Old World with me.’

‘Enough Jack. You can’t go back. You can’t go back anywhere.’

‘What shall we do next? A Jungian association game? Do you believe that my dreams and fantasies are suppressed wishes, coming to conscious realization? Or perhaps we will continue with the Freudian psycho-analytic method – examine my neurosis in the waking state. Then you can demonstrate my submerged complexes and longings. After all, I’m a rich source of psycho-pathological material, and of great clinical value. What a splendid contribution you’ll make to the history of psychopathology. Shall we talk about my mother?’

‘Stop it Jack.’

‘Or what about my father? He was a two-faced son-of-a-bitch if ever there was one… Shall we talk about him?’

‘So you remember him now?’

‘Pontius thinks he has demolished the palaces of my memory. But even after ECT the process of forgetting and the thing forgotten is retained by the Unus Mundus. Therein slumber all the reflections of the world; all that ever was, and all that ever will be.’

‘Tell me about your father.’

‘He was a lunatic. A moon-struck monster, just like me. Mad as a box of frogs. You know what they say: like father like son…

‘I don’t see you like that.’

‘How do you see me?’

‘I think God has given you extraordinary abilities. And I think He created you for a special purpose.’

‘A chick with a dick? How perverse is that!’

‘There’s no need to be crude Jack.’

‘You don’t know what it’s like. The desire to transform leaves me in a constant state of nervous exhaustion. There’s no escape: the body cannot endure, yet the mind will not relent. Wild thoughts torment me, day and night.’

‘Yet only this morning you performed an extraordinary feat of telekinesis.’

‘Extraordinary, yes. But you still think I’m sick, don’t you?’

‘Not as sick as you like to portray.’

‘So what’s your prognosis?’

‘I think you are suffering from amnesia. But I don’t mean the memories you’ve lost from ECT. I think part of your forgetfulness is purposeful and intentional – the voluntary suppression of unpleasant childhood experiences. I think you’ve recovered some of these memories in disguise, and transposed them to an alter-ego who lives in another time. A form of transsexual escapism. The world you create is so vivid, that you believe it’s real. And in a sense it is real, because it represents your entire psyche. But it’s a fabrication Jack. And you cannot travel back in time to escape the pains of the present.’

‘A transsexual escapist. Well thank you very much for your expert diagnosis. You’re just like all the others. You confound the transsexual state with idiocy, eccentricity and moral evil. And you don’t believe my passions and general conduct are conducive to a healthy society.’

‘Well no Jack, if I’m honest, I don’t.’

‘That was Dr. Hardy’s prognosis, and look what happened to him…’

‘What’s that supposed to mean? Is that a threat?’

‘Of course not. Don’t be stupid. But there are forces at play here of which you have no inkling. Hardy ignored them at his peril. The old fool.’

‘Hardy cared for you. Do you know that?’

‘Yes. I believe he did – at first. But over the years he grew to hate me. Hardy could not accept the truth. And he denied the reality of my powers.’

‘Your powers are one thing. Your delusions are another.’

‘If you say so, doctor. But you shall come to know otherwise.’

‘Jack, don’t beat about the bush. If you have something to say, then come out and say it.’

‘Hardy will explain. Ask him. I’m sick of repeating myself.’

‘Hardy has retired. He’s gone on holiday to France. And I have no intention of bothering him with your case. Doctor Hardy did his best for you, and he lost his job because of it.’

‘Did he tell you that? Oh! Hardy didn’t loose his job defending me. He threw me to the wolves! You think the Old World is a construct. But it’s real Maria, real! Do you know, that every time a quantum measurement is made, every possible outcome branches into a parallel universe where that outcome occurs? I showed Hardy the Old World. I showed him! I took him there!’

‘You mesmerized him.’

‘No. I took him there. To the Old World. From here to there.’

‘Jack, what did you do to Hardy?’

Nothing. You think I got inside his head?’

‘Well did you?’

‘No. It wasn’t like that. Not exactly.’

‘Well, what was it like?’

Jacks clams up and turns the other way. Then he mutters:

‘I’m sick of being a guinea pig. Do you understand? Sick of it.’

‘Look at me Jack. Don’t turn away. I’m here to help. Surely you know that by now?’

He turns back round, his eyes gleaming with tears:

‘In the Old World, I was burnt for performing miracles; in the New Word, I shall be lobotomised.’

‘No Jack. I won’t let that happen.’

‘You don’t have a choice.’

She clasps his hand with a reassuring squeeze:

‘Listen! I will invite scientists to witness your powers in action. Then the whole world will see. Evidence for the supernatural will become common knowledge; it will usher in a new age of spiritual enlightenment. How many others like you are there, living in hiding, afraid to show their true colours? I believe your abilities are latent in everyone. Think what we could accomplish together! We could open the doors to Man’s true potential.’

‘I didn’t know you wanted to change the world.’

‘But the world will change, when it sees what you can do.’

‘The common man will never believe such things. The evidence is too improbable. What if I told you that I can turn lead into gold?’

‘I’d ask you to demonstrate.’

‘Why? So you could film the transmutation, and have the gold analysed at a laboratory?’

‘Science demands hard evidence. You can’t expect people to take you seriously if you don’t back up your claims.’

‘What about this morning? What about Freud? I smashed his bloody face in! Flying cups! Spontaneous combustion! Or have you forgotten? Christ! What more evidence do you need?’

‘It must be recorded Jack – on film and tape. And your powers must be scrupulously tested.’

‘I could supply all the evidence in Heaven and Hell. What difference would it make? What will happen when I’ve been tested, proven, confirmed and re-confirmed? Do you really think that Occultism will develop into Parapsychology just as Chemistry developed from Alchemy? You’re kidding yourself Maria. Freudian psychiatry is devised to comply with the caprices of the state and its masters. Men like Pontius and Hulme are held under ministerial influence, just like the priests of old. People are taught to believe that science is the protector of Truth, and that this is the age of Reason and sanity. But there’s a systematic plan of scientific fraud. A witch hunt. This hospital is the prime example, par excellence. I mean, what’s a Catholic Chapel doing in a Freudian asylum? What a preposterous union of psychiatric and ecclesiastical authority! The priests and doctors have all the weapons of tyranny at their disposal – and they enforce their Freudian precepts with torture and vice. The inmates are nothing but chattel. Chattel!

‘Calm down Jack. You’re over exciting yourself.’

He pokes his finger in his temples:

‘They… They get inside you! They mess you up! Do you know who invented ECT? An Italian psychiatrist called Ugo Cerletti. He came up with the idea after seeing pigs shocked in a slaughterhouse. A slaughterhouse! So he thought he’d try it out on human beings! Ugo Cerletti! What a brilliant idiot!

‘Calm down Jack. Please! Or they’ll come and sedate you!’

‘They’re going to cut my brains out!’

Hush! No they’re not. I won’t let them. Do you understand? Listen to me. I have friends in London. Influential friends. Doctors.’

Doctors? The last thing I need are bloody doctors!’

‘But they’re good doctors Jack. Christians. Doctors who believe in the world of spirit. With them behind your case, there’s every chance of getting you out of here. Don’t you see? Your psychic powers prove the existence of the Unus Mundus. Science will have to accept the reality of a spiritual dimension.’

‘But it won’t. The spirit world is concealed from the eyes of the vulgar, and with good reason. Don’t you see? You’re flogging a dead horse. No matter what evidence you give, no atheist will consider anything that conflicts with his preconceptions of physical reality. Most sceptics are completely irrational, and no better than brainwashed fundamentalists. Few will even consider the evidence; others will scoff and slur your professional integrity. You’ll become unclean. A professional leper. Is that what you want?’

‘Then I will expose the materialists for what they are: Pharisees and hypocrites.’

‘Be careful Maria: you’re on very thin ice. Pharisees like Hulme and Pontius are highly dangerous psychopathic individuals: they would sooner have you committed as a lunatic, than concede that materialism is fundamentally flawed. You should leave this place. You’re in great danger.’

‘Leave? Don’t be ridiculous. I can’t leave.’

‘Of course you can. You can leave this instant.’

‘What about you?’

‘I’ll go back to the Old World.’

‘Jack, you can’t return to the past.’

‘Yes I can.’

‘Your journal is an invention. A delusion.’

‘That’s what Hardy said. He had considerable intellectual doubts about the soul’s existence. But you believe in the soul, don’t you?’

‘Of course I do. I’m a Christian.’

‘So you believe in another world beyond the grave? And in a righteous God who judges all?’

‘Yes. But that doesn’t make you a time traveller.’

‘Is it such a hard leap to make? I mean, if our essence is eternal, and exists outside Time, why should we be shackled by it?’

‘I don’t know Jack. God planned it that way. It’s part of being human. The human experience. It’s how we evolve and develop. Killing yourself to escape the body is not a solution.’

‘Perhaps I’m dead already. Perhaps we’re both dead. Have you even considered the possibility?’

‘No Jack. We’re very much alive, believe me.’

‘All my friends are dead. Spirit friends. Some believe the dead must relive their live backwards. They travel back in time, re-experiencing the events of their lives, all the way to the moment of their birth.’

‘You mean a life review?’

‘You’re too good for this place. Go back to London. It’s not safe here.’

She looks hurt:

‘But I’m the only thing standing between you and a full frontal lobotomy.’

‘You can’t do anything about it. Even as we speak Pontius is plotting my end.’

‘I’m not going anywhere. You’re my patient, and I’m not abandoning you.’

‘They’re going to bury this whole thing Maria. I should never have agreed to it. They’re not interested. They don’t care. You must go.’

‘Don’t you want to get out of here?’

He shrugs:

‘People like me have no place in society.’

‘But the world is changing Jack. Britain isn’t what it used to be. You haven’t been outside for a long time. Society is much more liberal now.’

‘I don’t think the hippy revolution extends to telekinetic transsexuals. Hippies are just a bunch of misguided fools. They think they can separate morality from the problems of cosmic philosophy. I find their pseudo-liberalisation to be a gross oversimplification of the complexities of life.’

‘Well now! Do you really?’

‘Yes. I can’t stand hippies.’

‘They want to make the world a better place. Is that such a bad thing?’

‘You don’t buy into all that hippy nonsense do you? I mean, free-love and the end of capitalism? Just what do they hope to achieve with their Marxist melting pot? Utopia is just a fool’s dream Maria. All these new age values are lamentably superficial.’

‘There’s nothing superficial about the Peace Movement. Don’t you want to Ban the Bomb?’

‘Ban the Bomb? Ban the Bomb? You think marching up and down the streets with placards will bring about world peace? It’s so naive!’

She looks insulted:

‘I’ll have you know, that I was at the first CND rally at Aldermaston back in ’58. And in ’61, I was one of four thousand protesters who sat down with Bertrand Russell outside the Ministry of Defence in Whitehall.’

‘But that didn’t stop the Cuban missile crisis did it? The whole world was nearly blown to Kingdom Come last year. What was Bertrand Russell doing then? Was he on the hot-line between Washington and Moscow, when Kennedy had his finger on the button? I don’t think so!

‘Jack Vallis has all the answers. What would you know about society at large? You’ve been locked up in here for six years.’

‘I know all about The Bomb. More than you’ll ever know.’

‘Oh really? I thought you were more interested in Cosmopolitan.’

Silence. He looks away and mutters:

‘Intercontinental ballistic missiles. You don’t find them in Cosmopolitan. But I know the location of every Russian silo in the boreal taiga. They use telepaths like me – to disable nuclear triggers. Ask Schneider.’

‘Who is this Schneider?’

‘CIA’

‘What?’

‘It’s top secret, see?’

She bristles, rises from the bed and wags a finger:

‘Are you messing with me Jack Vallis? I won’t be messed with. Understand?’

‘This is bigger than you Maria. Much bigger.’

‘And so top secret that you can’t tell me anything about it.’

‘I would, if I could. But I can’t remember. Mummy Selena screwed up my head.’

‘Mummy Selena? Screwed up your head? Who the hell is she?’

‘Like I said, I can’t remember.’

‘Well, you must remember something.’

‘Bits and pieces.’

‘Tell me.’

‘It was dark. I was a girl – a real girl – standing at the bottom of a crystal staircase. There was a door – a secret door – with a bright light shining through the keyhole. Mummy Selena made me go inside.’

‘What did you find?’

He remains mute.

She sighs and paces up and down, rubbing her forehead:

‘I’m tired. I shouldn’t be talking with you. You’re leading me round in circles. This is a big mistake.’

‘You’re right. You should have listened to Hardy.’

‘And what’s that supposed to mean?’

‘Did he not warn you to keep a professional distance? Yet here you are, defending a lunatic with your life and reputation.’

‘It’s one thing keeping a professional distance. It’s quite another protecting a patient from state sponsored butchery.’

‘You should leave Sunhill. Tonight.

‘I can’t leave. Too much has happened these past few days. And your telekinesis must be investigated.’

‘Forget it. A paranormal trial with a transsexual psychopath isn’t going to change a thing. The sceptics will make it their sole aim to destroy you. Any spiritual evidence will be refuted; that which cannot be denied will be ignored. Inconvenient truths have a habit of disappearing. That’s how these people work. They’ve got their mucky fingers into everything.’

‘Society doesn’t change by doing nothing. The least I can do is try.’

‘Society can only be changed from the outside. A transcendent power must enter Man from without. The Light Stream. You felt it when you first touched me, didn’t you?’

She stops in her steps and whispers:

‘I did.’

‘And you were receptive to its impetus. But most men are blind to the Light. Do you know why Maria? Because they prefer darkness. Because this Earth is the Devil’s realm. The Devil, Maria, the Devil. He made the world and all that’s in it.’

‘Don’t say that.’

‘You know it’s true. Take a look at the morning papers. Every publication is printed at the bequest of His Imperial Satanic Majesty. This is a prison planet. The earth is swathed in darkness. People imagine that they are free, but they are not free. They believe that in a democracy their vote counts. But their vote does not count any more than my gender. Coherence comes not from consensus but restraint. Democracy without liberty is nothing but totalitarianism. That’s what this asylum is all about. The subjugation of undesirables. No matter. I have no desire to inflict myself upon society. I think it better for all that I wrestle with my soul in private.’

His nose starts bleeding. Blood trickles over his lips and drops on the sheets.

‘Put your head back,’ bids Maria. ‘I’ll fetch a dressing…’

She goes to a surgical cabinet, opens the drawer and removes a lint bandage. She cuts it down the middle and fashions two small plugs which she inserts in Jack’s nostrils.

‘Do I look pretty?’ asks Jack.

‘Very.’

‘Like a Parisian Lady?’

‘No Jack. You look like a mental patient with a nose bleed. Does it hurt?’

‘Don’t worry: I always get nosebleeds after telekinesis.’

‘Rest. We can talk again tomorrow. I will discuss your case with the board.’

‘The board has decided already. Perhaps it’s best they neutralize me. I was never any good at being a man. Soon I will reincarnate. Then my suffering will be over.’

‘Don’t be so morbid. All these feminine feelings will pass in time. Your condition will improve as you get older.’

‘Am I to forgo the joys of youth, just so you can have the satisfaction of seeing me turn into a hoary old man? Wait for my balls to shrivel up and stop secreting poison? You think I’ll be at peace then?’

She cannot answer. She feels exhausted by him, mentally and physically. Her whole body longs for sleep. But who else will watch over him during the twilight hours? He looks so pathetic and helpless, with two bloody plugs hanging from each nostril. Was he really all alone in the world?

‘Listen Jack. I can get you out of here. Really, I can. Don’t you want to be free?’

He shrugs uneasily:

‘I don’t know. At least I can dress in here.’

‘What about family?’

‘Dead.’

‘Don’t you have somewhere to go? On the outside? A relative maybe?’

‘I’m persona non grata.

‘What about friends?’

‘Friends? I was always too at odds with myself to have friends—too uncomfortable in my own skin.’

‘You can’t cut yourself off from the world forever.’

‘Some of us find the world too mad to live in. Cutting ourselves off is the only way to survive…’

‘London is far more liberal than the North. You could start again down South.’

‘North, South, East, West, it makes no odds to me.’

She checks her watch again and scribbles something on her clipboard. He scowls and asks:

‘Do I make a good specimen?’

‘Don’t be silly.’

‘What are you writing?’

‘Never mind Jack. It’s late. Go to sleep.’

‘I know what you’re thinking. You think I’ve been swallowed by the dream world. But we all have—in here. This asylum is full of victims of the dream world. You think my journal is just an elaborate fabrication – that my mind has been sucked out of reality and spun into a shifting realm of psychotic fantasies… But the truth is, I come from a world so far removed from this. A world of magic and shadows, lit only by moon and candlelight; a world of wooded hills, where Apollo rules the glades, untainted by pollution and commerce. The modern world is doomed… That’s why you must return with me.’

‘Sleep. You’ve had an exhausting day.’

‘I can’t sleep. Pontius might come.’

‘I’ll watch over you.’

‘You can’t watch over me forever. I’m already living on borrowed time. All it takes is an injection when my back is turned. Then they’ll wheel me off to surgery…’

‘Hush Jack. I won’t let them do it.’

‘I want you to leave this place. I want you to walk out the main gate and never come back. Can you do that for me?’

‘But Jack –’

‘It is out of your hands. Don’t worry. Krew will save me.’

‘The Cyclops?’

‘He holds the keys to Time and Space…’

‘Go to sleep Jack.’

‘At this very moment, in another sphere, I’m a beautiful woman sipping wine on a Venetian veranda. Parallel worlds, floating like bubbles through the Ether. Oh, I know you think I’m mad, but these worlds are very real. Very real indeed. And they exist continuously through time. Alternate universes where the momentum of the future shapes the past. It’s very contradictory, I know. But Krew told me all about it… He’s very learned. I wish you could meet him…’

She studies him hard for a moment then asks softly:

‘Jack, do you remember when you were seven? You got appendicitis and went to hospital.’

He ignores her and continues:

‘Every time we make a decision in this world, a parallel universe is created in which we choose differently. Our reality is constantly changing—according to our past decisions—decisions we make not only in this world, but in others…’

‘Jack, stop. Listen to me for a moment. It’s important…’

‘I heard you the first time. Appendicitis. Yes, I remember. Alder Hey Hospital. I’ve still got the scar on my groin.’

‘But Jack, do you know what they found inside you?’

He looks away:

‘I don’t want to talk about it.’

‘You had a twin Jack. A parasite.

He snaps:

‘Don’t call it that.’

‘It was feeding off you: a parasitic twin.’

Parasite? Don’t call it that!

‘But that’s what it was Jack.’

He begins to tremble and the skin tightens round his face. Then he sobs with grief:

Parasite? She was my sister!

Jets of spittle bubble between his lips:

I killed her! My own sister!

‘No Jack, you didn’t. Listen to me. She was hardly human at all. She was malformed. If they hadn’t cut her out, you would have died.’

‘I wish I had died!’

‘But Jack, do you know what she was? Your twin sister? Do you know?’

Hot tears stream down his face and he blubbers:

‘She… She was a Cyclops!

‘Yes Jack, she was. A Cyclopean Endocyma. She got trapped inside you when you were a foetus in the womb. She was feeding off you. Taking your blood and food. Strangling your bowels. They had to remove her. Cut her out. But her death isn’t your fault. Do you understand? She’s dead Jack. She’s been dead a long time. You cannot blame yourself. Don’t you think it’s time you let her go?’

He looks completely baffled and his eyes sparkle like crystals. He shakes his head in bewilderment and says:

‘But Maria, you don’t understand. Krew is a male Cyclops. He’s nothing to do with my sister.’

She glares over her spectacles:

‘Are you sure about that?’

‘Oh! Please don’t tell me you thought Krew was a numinous projection of a subconscious guilt complex. You did, didn’t you! You really thought that! Krew is real Maria! Real!

‘How can he be real? He hasn’t saved you, has he? Not in all these years.’

‘But I’ve told you already: I’m serving a life sentence.’

‘For your sins?’

‘For crimes in a previous life.’

She sighs with desperation.

‘All right. Sleep. We’ll talk again tomorrow.’

‘Tomorrow won’t change anything. I’ll still be me, and you’ll be you. Face it. I’m a lost cause.’

She struggles to find the words, then blurts:

‘You… you… you’re being most obstructive!’

‘No I’m not.’

‘I see no point in talking any further. Shut your eyes and go to sleep.’

He shuts his eyes, waits ten seconds, then opens one, and asks:

‘Are you still awake.’

‘Yes Jack!’ Hisses Maria. ‘I’m still awake. Now go to sleep!’

‘I can’t sleep. You cannot claim to believe in an after life and then deny the possibility that we have lived before. I knew you in the Old World, and you knew me.’

She struggles with herself:

‘I want to believe it Jack. Really, I do. Part of me feels almost compelled to believe it. But—’

‘…But your intellect won’t let you.’

‘No.’

‘Yet you’re still here, sitting by my bedside at one ‘o’ clock in the morning.’

She smiles:

‘Yes. Now go to sleep.’

‘Go home.’

‘I can’t. I’ve missed the bus.’

‘You can sleep next to me if you like. I’ll stroke your hair.’

‘No Jack.’

He pulls the plugs from his nose then says:

‘Maria, I think I’ve been very selfish to tell you all these things. You must leave this place. You needn’t worry about me. Grazide will save me.’

‘Grazide or Krew? Which is it Jack?’

He shrugs and puffs his cheeks:

‘Well, one of them is bound to come.’

‘No one is coming Jack. It’s time you took responsibility for your self.’

‘How can I? I don’t live like other people. I live on a supernatural plane. My ecstasies are a daily occurrence of which I have no control… You look a bit like her, you know.’

‘Pardon?’

‘Grazide. But her dress is different.’

‘Oh? And what does she wear?’

‘A dazzling white gown and blue robe, with stars about her head.’

‘That sounds like the Virgin Mary. Does she look like the Virgin Mary?’

‘Sometimes.’

‘And what about the other times?’

‘I don’t want to talk about it.’

‘Why not?’

‘It frightens me. Besides, Our Lady has not given me permission. And it might displease her if I reveal her secrets.’

‘You believe she will save you from Pontius?’

‘She might.’

‘How often do you speak with this lady?’

‘Once in a blue moon. She comes in the dead of night when the wardens are sleeping. She floats through the bars and gives me consolation. Soon I will escape this infernal hell hole. Then I will return to the Old World.’

‘No man has control over Time and Space—not even you Jack.’

‘Yes I do, but then again, I’m not a man.’

‘You’re not a woman either.’

Touché.

‘Tell me about Grazide.’

‘I thought you were tired.’

‘I want to know.’

‘But you don’t believe in faeries.’

‘Is that what she is? A faery? What does she want with you? How does she operate?’

‘There’s a science behind it. Tacheon physics. But the knowledge is so arcane and mysterious it might as well be magic. When she draws near I hear angelic music. And a supernatural fragrance fills the air. Then she appears as an orb of Light. Her body is so beautiful that I am overcome with awe. Within her sphere, I am immune from the attacks of time, and unconscious of its passing. I sometimes wonder if I will ever return to earth at all. How long she detains me, I do not know. It might be days, months or centuries. Yet I have no care. My only desire is to remain in her presence. But in the end, she always spits me out, and leaves me naked in some field or forest.

‘That’s hardly the way to treat a friend.’

‘I know. But I’m a repulsive mortal, and she’s very temperamental.’

A knock comes at the door.

Maria rushes to the spyhole, presses her ear against the metal and whispers:

‘Is that you Bob?’

‘Yes miss. There’s a doctor Jones to see you. Shall I let him in?’

‘Is he alone?’ asks Maria.

‘Yes miss.’

‘All right Bob. Open up…’

A jangle of keys. The lock clunks. Then the iron door yawns wide on its massive hinges. Jones stands in the threshold looking vexed and pale. Dressed in his bedtime attire, he wears a Paisley cravat, a maroon dressing gown, and calf-skin moccasins.

‘Jones!’ gasps Maria. ‘What on earth are you doing here?’

‘I’m terribly sorry Maria, but I just had to see you. May I come in?’

‘Yes, of course.’

Maria gives Bob the nod and he dutifully locks the door behind them.

‘What is it?’ asks Maria. ‘Is something wrong?’

Jones ignores her and walks straight to the bed:

‘I say! Are you all right Jack? That was quite a performance you gave this morning. My god! You gave Freud a damn good kicking! Flying cups and dancing matches! Bloody marvellous! Well you opened my eyes, I can tell you. I haven’t slept a wink!’

‘Look!’ chirps Jack. ‘It’s the man from British Pathe!’

‘British Pathe?’ puzzles Jones. ‘What’s he on about?’

‘He’s dissociative,’ replies Maria.

‘No I’m not,’ snaps Jack. ‘Doctor Jones sounds like the man from British Pathe. You know, British Pathe…’

Jack mimics the British Pathe narrator:

1963 was born below zero but the blessing of our temperate climate is that extremes never last long. This one only lasted for three months!

But there was no hint of that as the Queen made her tor of Haiti, New Zealand and Australia. Her majesty was received everywhere with the fervour to which she is accustomed – but which renews itself and maintains fresh on every royal and commonwealth occasion…

Whatever was in store on Earth, it was a marvellous year in space. Just look as this blast off at Cape Canaveral of American cosmonaut Gordon Cooper… After 34 hours in space, and twenty two orbits of the earth, his capsule descended as planned and he was acclaimed everywhere…

In Britain we tend to think that our ideals of political freedom can flourish on any soil… Blah, blah, blah… Rowing at Henley; football at Wembley, water, water everywhere. Blah, blah, blah… You know, British Pathe…’

‘I say!’ gasps Jones. ‘Do you remember all that?’

‘Word for word,’ quips Jack, smugly.

‘How extraordinary!’ exclaims Jones.

But Maria is not impressed:

‘What is it Jones? What do you want?’

‘It’s Pontius and Hulme,’ replies Jones. ‘They’re going to sweep this whole thing under the carpet. Including you.’

‘What do you mean?’ asks Maria.

‘What he means,’ interrupts Jack, ‘is that they want to get rid of you.’

‘Get rid of me?’ gasps Maria.

Jones shakes his head:

‘I’m sorry Maria my dear. But Pontius and Hulme are recalcitrant atheists. They’re suffering from a severe case of paradigm paralysis. Not me. I was all for your paranormal trial – really, I was. I tried to convince them it was the right thing to do. But they want none of it. They’re only concerned with preserving the status quo. They’re going to lobotomise Jack tomorrow afternoon. In secret. And no doubt they will contrive some devious plot to force your resignation. I simply had to tell you. I couldn’t live with a thing like that on my conscience.’

‘Tomorrow afternoon?’ frets Maria. ‘But can’t you stop them?’

‘No. They won’t listen. They’re so pompous, arrogant and self righteous. Not even the Queen could stop them.’

Maria thinks for a moment, biting on her lips. Then she snaps her fingers and says:

‘There’s nothing for it. We’ll have to smuggle Jack out of the asylum tonight.’

‘Smuggle him out?’ frets Jones. ‘That’s impossible. We’ll never get him past the main foyer. They’ve got security guards all over the place. And if Hulme finds out I—’

Another knock comes at the door. The spyhole opens and Bob whispers:

‘Miss! Can I come in?’

‘Yes Bob!’ flusters Maria. ‘Come in if you must.’

The door opens and Bob shuffles inside:

‘Sorry miss. But I couldn’t help overhear. If you want to hide Jack Vallis, I know a safe place…’

‘You do?’ asks Maria. ‘Where?’

‘The Eastern tower, miss. They’ve got some old cells there—from Victorian times.’

Maria turns to Jones who nods eagerly:

‘He’s right. That place is completely deserted now. It was last used during the war.’

‘Is it far?’ asks Maria.

‘Oh, it’s a good mile from here,’ replies Jones. ‘At the end of the Eastern corridor.’

‘I could take Jack there tonight,’ says Bob.

‘Did you hear that Jack?’ asks Maria. ‘Bob’s going to take you for a little ride.’

‘Oh good. Are we going shopping?’

‘No Jack, we’re not going shopping,’ replies Maria. ‘Climb in your chair and grab some blankets.’

Jack crawls out of bed and clambers in the wheelchair. Then Jones begins to panic, wringing his hands like an old maid:

Oh! If Hulme ever finds out I was part of this, he’ll have my guts for garters.’

Maria scowls with disapproval:

‘After what happened this morning, I think we’re little past worrying about our careers, don’t you?’

‘But we can’t hide Jack indefinitely.’

‘No, but it will buy us some time.’

Jack smiles in a daze:

‘I very much appreciate your efforts to save me. But there’s no need to ruin your careers on my account. What shall you say to Pontius when he turns up here and finds me gone?’

Jones grins and says:

‘We shall tell him that you escaped.’

‘Escaped? But how?’ asks Maria.

‘By walking through walls,’ grins Jones.

Maria tucks Jack into the wheelchair and wraps a blanket round his shoulders. Then she turns to Bob and takes his hand in hers.

‘Can I count on you Bob?’

The warden looks completely disarmed:

‘Of course miss. You can count on me. I won’t say I word, miss. If Jack Vallis can throw cups about with his mind, then he can walk through walls in my book…’

‘But I can walk through walls,’ insists Jack.

‘Be quiet Jack,’ snaps Maria. ‘Bob is going to take you to another cell. I will come and visit in the morning. Now you must be very quiet. Do not make a noise, or you will ruin everything. Do you understand?’

‘Yes, I understand.’

Bob winks at Maria as he spins the wheelchair towards the door and says:

‘Come on Jack. We’ve got a long way to go. You’ll be safe with me…’

Maria and Jones stand in silence as the wheelchair squeaks away down the corridor. They face each other, unable to move or think, their minds frozen by the turmoil of events. At length, Maria mutters:

‘We’ve committed high treason.’

‘Yes, we have. But it’s worth a shot if you think we can save him.’

‘We just need to keep him hidden from Pontius until the 23rd November.’

‘And then what? Supposing the prophecy comes true? What will we do then?’

Maria shrugs.

‘I don’t know. We’ll just have to improvise.’

‘Maria, they’ll find Jack sooner or later. And you know what they’ll do to us, don’t you?’

‘We’ll get the sack.’

‘At the very least. Pontius will make it his business to ensure that we never work again. We could get struck off.’

‘So much for my change of vocation.’

‘You regret coming here?’

‘Not really, no.’

‘I’m glad you’re here.’

‘Are you Jones? I’ve got you into an awful lot of trouble.’

‘I don’t mind. I’m quite relieved really.’

‘You are?’

‘Yes. You’ve been a breath of fresh air. Truth is, I’ve always played it safe in life. Never stuck my neck out over anything. You’ve hardly been here two weeks, and you’ve turned the whole place upside down… Oh, don’t get me wrong, that’s a good thing. As I see it, if psychiatry is going to have any role in the future, then it must recognise the mind’s latent powers. What happened this morning was the single most important event in my whole career. I’ve got you to thank for that—and Jack of course.’

Maria smiles wearily, runs her hands through her hair and yawns:

‘I’m sorry Jones, but I’m exhausted. Looks like I’ll have to sleep here tonight.’

‘Here?’ exclaims Jones. ‘You can’t sleep here! Suppose a nurse finds you? Nurses are terrible gossips. And what if Matron gets wind of it? What then?’

‘But I’ve nowhere else to go.’

He looks at her like love smitten schoolboy. But he thinks better of it and says:

‘What about Hardy’s old flat? Don’t you move in there next week?’

‘Yes. But I haven’t got the key.’

‘Well, I happen know that Hardy keeps a spare above his door. But I must warn you – his place is an awful mess. He left in a hurry.’

‘Will you show me the way?’

‘Of course Maria my dear, with pleasure. And I want you know, that whatever happens, I’m going to be here for you. Pontius and Hulme will play dirty over this. Very dirty. Oh, believe me, you don’t know what they’re capable of. We must stick together, you and me. You showed them all right. And they hate you for it. They might get to Jack, but I won’t let them get to you. I was very proud of what you did this morning. Very proud – standing up to them like that. I wish I had the guts. Hulme and Pontius have always overruled me in the past. I never dared defy them. Too concerned with my career. But you threw down the gauntlet and came up trumps. The Unus Mundus. Well, I think that’s marvellous… Sorry, I’m rambling. Too much whiskey on an empty stomach.’

She takes his hand in a platonic gesture of friendship:

‘Thank you Jones. You’re very kind.’

The sound of distant footsteps echo down the corridor. Jones checks his watch and says:

‘The night patrol is due any minute… We should leave at once. And do something with that bed: make it look like Jack’s still in it.’

Maria quickly stuffs a pillow under the sheets and mocks up the shape of a sleeping man. Then she turns off the light, shuts the door and follows Jones down the passage.

After passing the drugs cupboard they turn left and proceed up a wide corridor which runs at an incline for twenty yards. Five low steps, and the incline continues, the passage twisting right as it wends past the Hydrotherapy room. On reaching the West Ward, Jones opens an inconspicuous door that leads onto gloomy flight of stone steps:

‘Hardy’s flat is on the top floor. But be quiet as a mouse: Matron lives opposite.’

‘Matron?’ gasps Maria. ‘I thought she lived on the female wing.’

Rats!’ hisses Jones. ‘Her quarters were infested last month. She made a terrible scene with Smith so he moved her up here. Be very quiet. She’s a night owl by all accounts…’

They start climbing in silence. The steps are lost in shadow and wind steeply back and forth, like some Escher lithograph. Maria gropes the wall, half-dizzy with exhaustion and the stench of Jeyes fluid. When they reach the top, Jones turns to face her, his face caught in a moonbeam which glides through a domed skylight.

‘This way,’ he whispers.

They tiptoe past a door with a “DO NOT DISTURB” sign hung over the knob. Jones draws a finger across his neck like a cut-throat razor, then he sticks out his tongue and mimes:

Matron!

Three yards further down they come to Hardy’s flat. Jones fumbles round the architrave, cursing as the key falls and rattles on the floor.

‘Damn!’ he gasps.

Maria stoops to pick it up:

‘I have it,’ she whispers. ‘Thank you Jones. You’d better get back to your room.’

‘Of course. Will you be all right?’

‘Yes, I’ll be fine.’

He hesitates to leave. She looks so faery and ephemeral, her alabaster face glowing in the moonlight, her silky curls breaking over her shoulders in platinum waves. How he aches for her. Fifty three years and still a bachelor. He’d only ever loved one woman – a French girl who contracted T.B. after the war. When was the last time he whispered to a beautiful girl in the dark? Don’t be ridiculous, he told himself, you’re old enough to be her father.

He taps his temple:

‘I say, after seeing those flying cups, I’ve been pinching myself all day.’

‘Me too.’

‘It feels like a dream, doesn’t it?’

‘Yes, it does rather.’

‘It’s a bit of a mess in there I’m afraid. Hardy couldn’t wait to get out of the place. The cleaner hasn’t been in yet. I say, you’d better keep the lights off: Pontius overlooks this place from his kitchen.’

‘Right. Just like the Blackout then.’

‘Yes. The Blackout. The bed is on the left as you go in. Do you want me to show –’

‘No, don’t worry, Jones. I’ll see you in the morning.’

‘Right then. In the morning. Good night.’

‘Good night.’

He turns to go. Then she whispers:

‘Jones!’

‘Yes?’

‘It was awfully good of you—what you did back there—warning me about Pontius.’

‘Don’t get your hopes up. We’re not out of the woods yet. Anyway, sleep tight Maria, my dear…’

She stands at the door and watches him creep away, wincing at the creaking floorboards. He stops at Matron’s door again, then turns with a grin, poking his tongue and drawing a finger across his neck. Maria sniggers and waves him off. He beams with joy, happy to see her smile, then flits down the stairs, his heart suddenly aflame.

Copyright © Nicholas Shea 26-11-2008. All rights reserved.

i. Matthew. 4:3.