skein

Paris, 1376.

‘Big Marie tolls. ’Tis witching hour. The roosting bats take flight. Behold my diamon—his mighty eye shining like the moon! He rides the North wind, surfing on waves of tumbling stars! Alas, he comes too late…’

‘Better late than never, Mad Jacques.’

‘Cunning Krew! My fate is your dark work.’

‘Wonders have I shown you – angelic realms, forbidden to mortal eyes. More than this, I inspired your murky mind – filled each dark coil with light. Yet still you hold me in contempt.’

‘Then save me.’

‘’Tis out of my hands. You have been tried and found guilty.’

‘Do not let me die so cruelly!’

‘Krew is merciful: he will grant a last wish. What is your desire? A virgin?’

‘You mock my final hours. Go.’

‘Not until your life is spent. Make a wish.’

‘I wish I had never been born…’

‘Ungrateful fool. I cannot undo your life.’

‘Then, I wish for another life in another Time.’

‘That wish is hard to grant. The cosmos is a hall of mirrors: a skein of infinite reflections that gyre throughout eternity. So it is with thee: you exist simultaneously in many different worlds. Even now these parallel lives must be taken into account—lives played out across the centuries—incarnations of your soul of which you have no inkling. Your entire psyche is dispersed in the Time Stream like sand in the sea. At this very moment, there is another you who exits in a future sphere, sipping wine on a Venetian veranda.’

‘Am I pretty?’

‘Oh yes, very! I see you now: a picture of perfection. You have shed that hoary skin. You dwell in another vessel entirely.’

‘At this very moment?’

‘Aye. For everything that might have been has happened already. Let me tell you a Holy secret: the momentum of the future weighs heavily on the past.’

‘What are you saying? That the future can influence the present?’

‘Indeed. Every possible outcome is already accounted for. For these parallel worlds do not only exist simultaneously, they actually interact with one another.’

‘Interact? Then logic would suggest that my future actions can change what happens here.’

‘Most certainly.

‘But that’s preposterous!’

‘Yet true.’

‘Then why am I not free? For surely, if my future self knew of my dire predicament, I would not be locked in this stinking dungeon!’

‘Indeed. But your future self does not know; and even if it did, without a bridge between worlds, the soul cannot pass from one sphere to another. ’

‘Pah! You Cyclopean fiend! You fill my head with nonsense; you torment me with cosmic jokes!’

‘’Tis no joke. In my Father’s house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you.[i] A plurality of worlds. Luminous spheres that meld and enfold, like bubbles of molten glass; hypersurfaces; agglomerated fields of Space; electric fluids that ooze from star to star…’

‘Teach me.’

‘Non fas est scire omnia. [We are not allowed to know everything]. ’Tis a most complicated system of equilibria. Forget it Mad Jacques. You are no great algebraist, and the equations would tangle your brain in knots. My quantum fluctuations are beyond the powers of the greatest mathematical minds. I have duped Diophantus of Alexandria, puzzled Pythagoras, and befuddled Brahmagupta – not to mention many other Indian scholars. Suffice to say, the dissociation of Matter and Time begins with the Mind. How else do you think I traverse the infinite Cosmos?’

‘Then take me with you, across the seas of Time, that I might sip wine on a Venetian veranda.’

‘Alack, I cannot grant a new life until this one is spent. So make another wish.’

‘Mistletoe.’

‘Mistletoe? And what, pray tell, do you want with that?’

‘The sacred mistletoe opens all locks, and had I but a sprig of that golden bough, I might unlock the very bonds of Death.’

‘Alack, mad Jacques, ’tis Autumn and the mistletoe has no bloom. A gilded leaf cannot release you.’

‘Autumn? Of course. How foolish to forget the season. Yet I avow it could deliver me. I might follow Aeneas, baring my fiery bloom into the nether realms of hell: a light to dispel grim shades and lead me to Elysium.’

‘Only Christ has the keys to Heaven and Hell.’

‘Christ has condemned me to a sacrificial pyre!’

‘Look on the bright side: at least you will be rid of your fleas.’

‘Cease your jests! You cannot even grant a dying wish!’

‘So make another.’

‘A swift and painless death.’

‘Alack again, I cannot revoke sentence. Your body must endure the torment of temporal fire.’

‘And what of eternal fire? What of my soul?’

‘You have doubts: I sense a change of heart.

‘No. Satan is still my master.’

‘He will not save you from the pyre. Embrace the Christ. If you die in His law, Mother Church will strangle you before the flames take hold.’

‘I know that trick! You would have me break my pact. Never! Mother Church is a stinking whore. Her bastard bishops duped me; then they robbed and racked me. What foul justice is that?’

‘The justice of earthly counsel.’

‘Then summon the Infernal Counsel! For there’s more justice in Hell!’

‘As you wish little man… By the power of my diabolic eye, I turn this cell into a court… Walls recede! A bench for the demon doctors; a throne for Lord Scales; tables, parchment, pens and ink. Have I forgotten anything? Sealing wax! Now stand back whilst I open a portal…’

‘I see a swirling vortex: a shaft to realms below!’

‘Hear the call of Krew! It penetrates the depths; it echoes in Stygian halls; it perturbs subterranean seas! Lightning crack, thunder purl! Denizens of the Underworld, bring forth the Infernal Counsel! Demon doctors, I command you to ascend and manifest!’

‘What brimstone lights are those? Look yonder: they rise! A horde of fur and horn! Oh Krew, what have you done? Send them back!’

‘To late. They have smelt your sin. Now they must judge your soul…’

‘– If I am mad and this is fancy, let me wake to reason now. An infestation of the brain? Certainly. The dungeon is absorbing my wits. I am racked and undone. See the torchlight flicker: Krew is just a shadow dancing on the wall…’

‘I am no shadow: my substance is light. What you perceive is real. You are lucid and sane. Behold your dormant corpse: your body is prostrate and crippled in chains; but your spirit is whole and exists in totality. Stand your ground: here they come…’

‘The Infernal Counsel! They’re climbing out the floor!’

[i] John, 14:2.

Copyright (c) Nicholas Shea 1992