resurgo

Jacques is telling it

Jean stands in the doorway, rain splattering on his hat. He smiles nervously and says:

‘I see they are keeping you busy.’

‘Hello brother. ’Tis good to see you. But keep your distance: I smell like the bishop’s arse. Though I am sure that even pig shit would be perfume compared to the noisome rank of his Christian hole. I should like to shove a hot iron up it for what he did to the those poor girls.’

‘You heard then. A terrible business. How can the insurrection of two young waifs threaten the bastion of the papacy? Yet I am ashamed to admit that there are some amongst us who still believe they were witches.’

‘Who?’

‘Bernard and Hique.’

‘That doesn’t surprise me.’

‘Hique insists that the girls were Satanists who had occasioned the death of good Christians by spells. And Bernard is sure they afflicted several nuns with an incurable pox unknown to physicians. I feign to say it Lazarus, but the world has gone stark raving mad.’

‘The world has gone to the Devil. The Devil, I tell you. I should like to know who accused them.’

‘A poor misguided fool. But I do not blame him.’

‘Who?’

‘A parfait of the Cathar faith. What pains they put on him to make his confession, I cannot imagine.’

‘And what was his crime, exactly?’

‘He confessed many errors and horrors, all abominable as they are wicked.’

‘Such as?’

‘He claimed that the Roman Church is the temple of the Satan; and that the pope is the Antichrist. When they strung him up, they strained the rope so hard that his neck was no bigger than his wrist.’

‘And the girls? What did they confess?’

Jean shrugs:

‘Who knows? Perhaps they did not declare enough, or were caught in a contradiction. The inquisition will lose no opportunity of implicating a witness, especially if they do not confess what is required.’

There follows a grim silence. He stares in shame as rain gurgles in the gutters. I continue treading marl and ask:

‘What other news? What of the brethren? Do they still believe that I am inspired by the arch fiend?’

He scoffs.

‘Oh Lazarus, I do wish you were back amongst us. I hate to see a boy of your qualities treading marl. The brethren still stir about you. Especially Hique. He is obstreperous and cantankerous as ever. In fact, he is only pleasant when drunk. Odo punished him last week for missing Chapter. But Hique was found drunk again only yesterday. Odo gave him six strokes of the rod. Hique is so fat, the cane was but a feather on his flesh; so Odo decided to punish his stomach instead.’

‘Tell me more!’

‘Oh, ’tis all very tedious. Do you really want to know?’

‘Of course!’

‘Well, Hique was caught drunk in the cellar when he should have been serving the bread and salt. Odo was so furious, he went blue in the face. You know how he stutters when he gets angry. Hique is banned from making his pittance of dumplings on the first of the rogation days; that duty has now been assigned to brother Anselm, who is far better qualified—especially when it comes to dumplings. We are to have five dumplings uncooked with seasoning, one cooked with oil, a quart of bread and wine, and each monk is to have one quarter pound of cheese.’

‘Cheese! How delicious!’

‘Yes, then on Holy Thursday, Anselm will give the entire convent a pittance of leeks and fish to the value of sixty sous. But Hique will get nothing. Nothing at all. He must fast in the corner with naught but water.’

We laugh like the old days, but his smile soon washes off with the rain. A constant trickle spills from the brim of his hat and runs down his chest. He looks anxious, grave and perplexed:

‘Lazarus, will you stop trudging a while? I have something important to tell you.’

‘Of course brother. Forgive me, but if I don’t complete five vats a day, I get dunked in it.’

‘Really?’

‘They don’t call me “Shit Face” for nothing.’

I climb out the tub and wade through the swine toward him. He winces as I approach and forces a grin:

‘Pig muck: what a stench.’

I stand under a gutter, washing my feet in the spew of a gargoyle. When clean, I brush myself down and ask:

‘Well? What is it brother Jean? You look vexed; is everything all right?’

‘I’m afraid I have bad news: our father has taken a turn for the worse.’

‘What ails him?’

‘These last weeks he has been severely tormented by Lilith. He raves and declares that a multitude of infernal spirits surround him; and he fears they will carry him away. Holy water might keep them at bay, but does naught to abate his suffering. Alas, he will not listen to reason, and is convinced these devils are not of his imagination. His mind is chronically diseased. Lilith holds great sway over him. He has continued in this state for two moons. Now he is laid up in bed and refusing to eat. Ossa atque pellis totus est. [He is nothing but skin and bone].’

‘Is there naught you can do?’

‘Alas, he refuses my medicine. He has been taken with violent fits in which he has vomited up many unbelievable things.’

‘Such as?’

‘Several stones as big as eggs, broken glass, iron nails—even knives and scissors have come forth from his mouth.’

‘My god! He is surely possessed by a devil!’

‘No, I do not believe so. I am of the opinion that he swallowed these things to bring about his own death. I am exhausted with the fatigue of attending him. But I dare not leave him alone, lest he should put his threats of suicide into execution. He is so full of rage.’

‘He is angry with me.’

‘With you? Why?’

‘Because I refused to dwell in his lodgings. He thinks I chose father Odo over him.’

‘No, ’tis not that.’

‘Then what?’

‘You will have to see for yourself.’

‘Can you not tell me?’

Jean clears a lump from his throat then says:

‘’Tis Lilith.’

My heart pounds:

‘Lilith?’

‘Yes. She wants to see you.’

‘Wants to see me? No, I can’t.’

‘Lazarus, you must. Be brave. I fear father abbot has preached his last sermon. He has sunk so far into the realm of phantasms that his mind has gone to murrian. His conjoined twin has got the better of him. Little by little, Lilith has manifested herself more and more. And now the abbot only utters a faint whistling by the mouth. These last days he has passed no other sound except mewling like a wild cat. His face has shrunk beyond all recognition. And when prayed upon, Lilith twists his lips to mock the Holy Ghost. He is not long for this world. You must go and make your peace with him.’

‘Very well brother. I will try. I’m truly sorry.’

‘Don’t be. He has suffered with his affliction long enough. His corrupt flesh is an infernal prison. The mind is willing but the body is weak; and Father Janus, more than anyone, has spent a life straitened between the two. He has fought brave and hard. But now his overwhelming desire is to be united with Christ, which is a far better thing.[i]’

‘Some say he will go to hell.’

‘Hell? Why should he be damned to everlasting fire?’

‘Because he’s a necromancer.’

‘A necromancer? Oh Lazarus, that’s a preposterous notion. Do you really believe it?’

‘Odo believes it. And the brethren too. They insist that Lilith is an unclean spirit who will drag him to the pit. The abbot’s sins are great. Have you not heard of Devil’s Tower and the evils he committed there?’

He turns away and snaps:

‘I know nothing of that place.’

I have hit a raw nerve. Jean glares in rage, refusing to acknowledge the tower’s very existence or the many women that died within its lofty chamber. We remain silent, fully aware of our own terrible beginnings and the abbot’s grievous sin. Then he says:

‘Lazarus, tis not for us to judge who is beyond the pale of salvation, nor prescribe the love of God by our witless prejudice. God’s rule is sovereign.’

His remark insults my intelligence and a tide of anger swells within my breast:

‘Sovereign? Tell that to the Cathars who are tortured by Mother Church and her band of devils! If God is sovereign, how can Christ the saviour allow two innocent girls to burn at the stake? I find it a great mystery that providence should permit such diabolical activity. The earth is soaked in blood and unrighteousness. Blood and unrighteousness. Do you hear me? Evil reigns on all sides. What do you mean to say? That nothing can limit the sovereignty of God—except the Holy Inquisition? And what of our deformities? The hammers of nature make monsters of us all. If God is sovereign, then why did He create a world full of suffering and pain? Why did he conjoin my father with that monstrous woman?’

Jean knits his brows and stares morosely at the puddles. He remains lost in thought, watching raindrops shimmer in the mire. At length, he stares grimly and says:

‘I am sorry brother Lazarus, but I do not have a satisfactory answer…’

‘Perhaps the Cathars were right after all. I mean to say, if creation was the act of the Good God, why is his power limited by the Bad God? And if the Good God is perfect, why did he not foresee the existence of an evil principal, which inflicts so much misery and pain? There is only one logical conclusion: the Good God is the cause of all evil in the world, because without him, the Bad God would not have been created.’

My argument does not impress him. He stares blankly then says:

‘Will you make peace with father Janus or not?’

‘Very well. I will try.’

‘I’m glad to hear it. But be warned, he is much changed. He has become little more than a helpless infant. Over these past few months, Lilith has grown in power, and she now has complete control over him.’

‘She frightens me.’

‘Shall I accompany you?’

‘No, thank you brother. I think it best that I visit him alone.’

Jean nods in confirmation and trudges away, slipping in the mire; as he passes a barrow he totters amid the turds and sinks up to his elbows. He curses and wipes his palms on a wormy patch of grass. Then he stands again, adjusts his hat and kicks the shit from his boots. I watch him struggle toward the church, his cankered face shining in the rain. And I feel pangs of guilt for questioning such a loving and faithful friend.

After lacing my boots, I go straight to the abbot’s lodging. The upper story gleams under a leaden sky, its lancet shining in the gloom like a forge. Despite the downpour, the drifts have yet to thaw and the ground is mottled with icy craters where green shoots sprout like tufts of hair. With great trepidation, I enter the porch and climb the stairs to the abbot’s camera. On reaching the door I knock thrice. A clear bright voice replies:

‘Enter!’

The door creaks open. Father Janus stands cowled at the lancet, watching the distant rookery. I glance nervously round the chamber. Everything is immaculate; the floor has been swept clean, the table and chairs dusted, the candlesticks polished, and the books returned to their shelves. The bed is neatly made with a clean crimson coverlet and the air is sweet with frankincense. But then I realise my father is standing back-to-front. For whilst he looks away, his feet are facing me, and his cowl hangs oddly over the curve of his belly.

My voice falters:

‘Father? Are you all right? Brother Jean tells me you are unwell.’

He slowly turns to face me. He has become She. For it is Lilith who greets me. Her face has completely changed. No longer the vile turbot, she has blossomed into something extraordinary. Her features are well proportioned and clearly defined—some might even say beautiful. The once hirsute cheeks and whiskery chin have the texture of smooth cheese; whilst the vicious little mouth has metamorphosed into a pair of beautiful lips. Her entire face glows with an unearthly radiance, framed with tumbling locks of raven back hair. But the eyes still gleam with a majestic darkness; they draw me in, their limpid lids twinkling like the edge of an abyss. She purrs:

‘Resurgo. [I rise again]. Hello Jacqueline.’

The shrill timbre has gone, replaced with a mellifluous tone that seems to vibrate my heart strings. I break out in a cold sweat and mutter:

‘Where’s father?’

‘Adam has gone, never to return.’

‘What have you done to him?’

‘Nothing. He was destroyed by his own sorcery.’

‘I shall restore him.’

‘Restore him? There is no possibility of restoration. I am his destiny.’

‘He won’t let you win. He will have you excised.’

‘Excised? Ha! Already he has lost the fight. I am too strong for him. He knows that if he refuses me, he shall be plunged into hell for ever and ever, and his vile form will grow worse and worse, sinking lower and lower, like a miserable worm, condemned to crawl through the clays of Eternity; and there he shall dwell in darkness, without a single ray of hope, and all will be irrevocable ruin…’

I stand trembling on the threshold, reluctant to enter. She leers:

‘Are you afraid child?’

‘Afraid? No.’

‘Well don’t just stand there gawping. Come in and shut the door, or my fire will go out.’

‘Let me speak with father. I want to see him.’

‘Very well, as you wish.’

She turns and lowers her cowl…

Abbot Adam has withered away, his face shrunk to at least half its original size. He resembles the old Lilith, his features flattened and twisted like a turbot, his mouth gagged by a bloody wad. He stares with mad bloodshot eyes, as I whisper in horror:

‘Father!’

Lilith turns again:

‘You will address me as “Mother” in future. From now on, I am in charge of this house.’

‘The brethren will kill you.’

She chuckles in amusement.

‘Nay child, they will not. They might hate me now, but they will soon come to love me. I shall repair all the harm that Adam has caused over the years by his neglect and bad rule.’

‘You’re mad.’

‘Mad? Nay, I am quite sane. Adam was mad. Like you, he was the inbred product of a corrupt seed. These desolate hills teem with inbreeding and chimeras of all kinds. Nothing good can be born when the seed is corrupt. To stop this incestuous plague, I have issued an edict forbidding the women of Belloc to conceive for a period of seven years. The animals moreover, shall not be allowed to mate or suckle young, and the trees shall not bear fruit for a like period.[ii] Any animal who disobeys this rule will be hung from the gallows tree. And any tree budding fruit shall be cut down and burnt.’

My eyes smart with tears:

‘What utter madness! You cannot enforce such tyranny! How can you stop the trees from bearing fruit? The people will revolt!’

‘All dissenters will be buried up to their necks and ploughed to death,’ states Lilith flatly. ‘And what is more, I will increase their tithes. The abbey will be entitled to the left shoulder of every stag, boar, and chamois killed in the valley, along with all other tithes of fish, cheese and grain, which I shall pay for in kind by bedding the prettiest maid in the village.[iii] Furthermore, on high days and feasts, the girls of the neighbourhood will attend the brethren, wash their feet and make their beds[iv] – or do whatever is required within the bounds of Nature.’

‘The bounds of Nature? You lunatic mooncalf! The bishop is coming. He’ll take one look at you, and throw you to the faggots! You unnatural hag!’

She chuckles:

‘And just what is so natural about you Jacqueline? Hmm? You should understand me better than anyone. We are birds of a feather, you and me.’

‘I am naught to do with thee.’

‘Oh, you are everything to do with me. I am the golden thread that lurks in your own bones. I too was spun in Adam’s womb. All his life he tried to thwart, silence and suppress me. How many years did he stop my mouth and silence my heart? How shall two walk together unless they be in agreement?[v] But now he wears the gag, and chokes on his spittle, and cries: Sluck! sluck! sluck!’

I am overcome with an irrepressible urge to run, but I dare not show my fear:

‘Have you finished mother? I’ve got work to do.’

‘Work?’ she scorns. ‘And what kind of work is treading marl? Why do you live amongst those low bread churls? A monk of your talents would be better off working for me.’

‘I shall not lift a finger for you, not even if Satan commands it.’

‘You would be wise to show me some respect.’

‘I’m not afraid of you.’

‘Such pride. I will not insult your intelligence by making you crawl. I shall raise you up instead…’

To my utter horror, I start rising off the floor. I hover several inches above the rug, unable to move a muscle. She starts probing my mind, peeling away my thoughts like layers of an onion. I resit with all my might, building ramparts of blank thought to keep her out. But my efforts are in vain. The telepath is too strong. She attacks like a torrent of dark water, eroding the walls of my inner castle. It takes great effort just to cry the words:

‘Put – me – down!’

I land with a thud and fall, exhausted on my knees. She walks backwards and glares down with contempt:

‘That’s better. Supplicate yourself. You cannot fight me Jacqueline. I am your destiny.’

‘No!’

With a sweep of my hand, I command the candelabra to fly from the table and strike her face. But the object stops dead in the air and drops at her heels. She leers:

‘Impressive. I always knew you were hiding your light under a bushel. You have the gift, but compared to me, you are still deaf and blind. Whilst I see a whole world of unutterable wonders, you stumble in the darkness.’

I get up to face her:

‘I see more than you’ll ever know.’

‘Nay child. I see everything you see, and ten times more. Alas, I cannot convey the slightest notion of what I apprehend, any more than you can describe a painting to a blind man. The invisible realms I inhabit are unintelligible to your mortal ken. Compared to me, you are completely senseless in God’s glorious universe. What’s that? Did you speak? Oh come now, don’t be shy. After all, I know what you’re thinking. You are longing to know how I changed. Is that not so? For you have a burning desire to unlock the secrets of your own transmutation. Shall I tell of what happened in the pit? Whilst you lay broken in the remnants of your purse, the ruby wand was still beaming its holy ray upon my crown; the very same ray that was intended for thee. Alas you remember nothing.’

‘I remember the golem.’

‘A pitiful beast and a product of crude magic. My spiritual agent can accomplish far greater things. Work with me Jacqueline, and I will cure you as heaven intends. Return with me to the pit. Give me your blood. Together we shall unlock the chains of your flesh.’

‘If you want my blood, you will have to kill me for it.’

She darkens in a flash of rage:

‘Fool! I could bleed you like a sow where you stand, if I so desired!’

‘Then why don’t you?’

‘Because your blood must be freely given. Did you not know that?’

‘Then I refuse to give it; nor shall I return to the pit.’

She croaks with anger:

‘Why?’

‘Because, before the rite, I made a pledge.’

‘Ah yes, I remember, your pledge. You are a pretender Christ who heals the sick. Do not look so shocked. ‘’Tis my business to know every thought in this cloister.’

‘Every thought?’

‘Yes, every thought.’

‘Of every monk?’

‘Yes.’

‘But that’s impossible!’

‘Nay. ’Tis a simple matter of practice and concentration: a bit like counting sheep. To read a single mind is easy, as you well know. But to hold the simultaneous thoughts of many minds, is a far greater task. Of course, it all depends on the nature of the subject. Most men have limited faculties; as a result they are predictable and easy to read. Take brother Hique, for example; he has a simple consciousness; in fact, as far as self-consciousness goes, he is barely above a donkey; his fleshy existence is not self-contained; ’tis wholly directed outward; thus he feels constant emptiness, hunger, fear and insatiability. And yet, like any beast, he has fine instincts. He was right about you, for one. Alas, not even the privations and sufferings of the Rule can domesticate a man like Hique. He will always be ruled by his stomach. Father Odo, on the other hand, is quite obsessed by the Rule; he hates fleshy pleasures of all kinds, for his mind revolves around abstention and privation. Odo’s entire self is directed upward, away from earthly things. He dwells in a Heaven of his own invention.’

‘I could have told you that.’

‘Indeed. But did you know that at this very moment, Odo is praying to a candle which he lit in the name of the Virgin? He is seeking guidance, for he is terribly confounded.’

‘Confounded about what?’

‘About you. Odo has growing doubts. The evidence is stacking up against you: first there was the fire and Symon’s death; then came the hauntings and the lights in the sky. And all of this was followed by your miraculous transformation. All these things confound him. But he loves you too much to admit such doubts into his heart. Odo thinks himself a man of God, but he is far too proud and narrow minded to admit he is wrong about anything. Poor Odo. I fear his life is almost over. I have seen his death and ’tis a terrible end.’

‘How? How does he die?’

‘You are concerned to save him? Do not waste your breath. ’Tis foolish and useless to rail against the rule of providence. You cannot save anyone.’

‘But how does he die?’

‘Never mind.’

‘But I want to know.’

‘Let us just say, that Odo will be destroyed by those very things he despises in others: vanity, greed, the love of domination, and the desire for property and status.’

‘And what of the other monks?’

‘I am not concerned with the other monks. I am only concerned with you, Jacqueline. For you are a different fish altogether; your entire existence is directed inward. Your faculties are most unusual. I like to watch when you are sleeping. For sleep weakens the bonds between spiritual and bodily life. You have significant and prophetic dreams that indicate a degree of spiritual power only developed by years of ascetic practice; but you still struggle with your transsexual desires…’

She twinkles with a proud regal air, as if prompting me to test her.

‘So mother, you can read the thoughts of every monk in this cloister?’

‘Every single one.’

‘Then what is brother Jean thinking at this moment?’

‘Brother Jean is weeping in the infirmary. He wonders if he should have excised me after all. He feels an abject failure, and holds himself entirely responsible for Adam’s demise. Whilst he holds a deep love for you, he is disturbed by your blue eyes, and fears your miracle is part of my dark metamorphosis. At this very moment, he is musing over your conversation in the stables. For you have sowed seeds of doubt in his soul. He is very angry…’

‘Angry? For why?

‘He is angry that he could not find a satisfactory answer… Blood and unrighteousness. You have thrown his heart in turmoil. He wonders which God created this imperfect world, where the laws of Nature cause suffering and pain. And on top of all this, he fears the arrival of the Inquisition and what it will mean for the abbey. You and your big mouth. Now Jean suspects you are a harbinger of heresy. You cannot trust him.’

‘Of course I can. He’s my best friend.’

‘Fool. You have no friends. You are in grave danger. In two weeks, they will rebuild the bridge over the river. Then the bishop and his retinue will arrive with the Inquistion. Væ tibi [woe betide you].’

‘I have nothing to fear.’

‘Nothing to fear? And you, a fugitive of heresy!’

‘What heresy? I’m a faithful monk who upholds the sacraments of Christ.’

She scoffs and throws back her hair:

‘Pah! A faithful monk who murdered a minorite and burnt down the village church: a crime so nefarious they will send you to the stake.’

I start to tremble:

‘Nay Lilith, ’twas not I. You have confused me with someone else.’

‘Someone else?’ she mocks. ‘Someone else? Many nights I have sat on your bed and witnessed the tumults of your dreams. All those forbidden wishes that can only be granted by sleep… Why are you looking at the abbot’s chest? I regret to inform you that Jezebel’s dress has wholly vanished into thin air. Alas, what shall you do when you close your eyes to dream? Every effort must be devoted to the single purpose of finding it! Where can it be? You must search the chamber high and low; ransack the cabinet; open the cupboards and pull out the drawers; grope the hollows with your dung stained hands. What shall you do without it? Perhaps she left it under the bed; crawl under and take a look. No? Where do you think it is? Lost forever. How the fire burns within your breast! Confused you with someone else? I think not my child! Do not despair Jacqueline: I still have Maria’s plaits locked away for safe keeping…’

Her all seeing mind, so vast, precise and cold, throws me into blind panic. I should have listened to Margot; she warned me to stay away. What a ruinous path I took. But now its–

‘–Too late!’ adds Lilith. ‘Yes, a ruinous path indeed, when you have adored pestiferous preaching and upheld all the errors of your hereticated mother; when you believe that a benevolent god made all invisible and incorruptible things, whilst the evil ruler, Lucifer, made all visible and corruptible things, including human bodies! When you believe that the confession made to priests, and the absolution given by them is altogether worthless! When you believe that the sacrament of the altar does not hold the true body of Christ, but only mere bread! When you believe all heretics to be good men, and to have a good life, and to hold the only way of salvation! Yes, a ruinous path indeed… Can you not see where all this is leading? The Inquisition will find you out. What of your prodigious talents? They will think you possessed. Already the brethren are conspiring against you. Even father Odo will betray you in the end. As for your blue eyes, they may just as well be red… But fear not: you are safe with me. Accept me as your mother, and no harm shall befall you.’

‘My mother? You shall never be mother to me. You are the sting of my flesh, an angel of Satan, sent to buffet me!’[vi]

‘Then why do you pray to Him? Lucifer.’

‘I do not pray to Lucifer.’

She curls her lips and fumes:

‘You lie! You lie! Do not lie to me! You do pray to Him. I heard you. Do not deny it. Speak the truth. Why do you pray to Lucifer?’

I lower my head in shame and mutter:

‘I pray to Him, because he is lord of my flesh; and I pray to Christ because he is lord of my soul.’

‘And yet, in your heart of hearts, you wonder if the Light is an elixir of their joint operation… Is that not so?’

‘Yes mother. A terrible but inescapable heresy.’

‘No, what is heretical, is that you believe this Earth is a fallen realm. Why do you think that?’

‘Because too many mischiefs arise in the laws of matter.’

‘I regret to inform you that you have been falsely instructed.’

‘As I understand it, there is no other reasonable conclusion.’

‘Reasonable? A thing that is reasonable is not necessarily wise; and that which appears wise may yet be condemned by over-exacting reason. So do not speak of reason, when you reason like a fool.’

‘At least I am not so foolish as to stop the beasts of the field from giving birth, or the trees from baring fruit!’

She giggles with insane amusement, then chides:

‘Do not question my edict. I enforce it for the good of my people.’

‘It seems that nothing is writ in God’s name that does not end in slaughter of the innocent.’

My words seem to soften her. She goes to the window and peers at the rookery, just like Adam used to do. Then she turns to me and says:

‘You are confused, child. For you follow the Marcionites, the Eneratites, the Manicheans, and other ancient heretics, who condemned marriage, and the use of meat, because they thought that all flesh was from an evil principle. The flesh is good. Man lives by flesh; he must kill to survive. Do you believe in sin sacrifice? Do you believe that The Lamb will purge the sin of slaughter? You think Christ died for your sins? What folly. How can the Anointed One lift the sins of the whole world? And if the Light is an elixir of both good and evil, then what was the purpose of His passion?’

‘He took the darkness of the world upon himself, so that we might have eternal life.’

‘Fine words for a heretic. Two innocent girls have just died at the stake. Can you forgive the Inquisitor for his sins?’

‘No.’

‘Christ can. How rich, to forgive the crime but not prevent it. Think about it. How can a sin so terrible ever be forgiven? And consider all the vile sins, of all the world, past present and future. Think of every abominable crime, every murder, rape and genocide; the bloody slaughters of every war, just and unjust; all the infernal tortures, the immeasurable grief and pain, inflicted on every soul that ever was or ever will be… The intolerable weight of all that sin, all that darkness and destruction.’

‘Men are weak, and easily tempted by the devil.’

‘Yet how much is done in the name of God! You cannot deny it: the scriptures are full of heinous crimes committed in the name of God. Like when Aod killed Elgon, king of Moab, who was exceedingly fat. Aod thrust his dagger it into Elgon’s belly with such force that the shaft went in after the blade, deep into the wound, and was closed up with an abundance of fat, so that Aod could not withdraw the dagger, but left it in the body: and forthwith, the excrements of his belly came flooding out…[vii] How visceral and vile. The vulgate teems with violence and murder. Like when Jahal, Haber’s wife, killed Sisara, the general of Jabin’s army. Jahel took a nail of the tent, and taking also a hammer, she went in softly, and in silence, then put the nail upon the temple of his head, and striking it with the hammer, drove it through his brain, fast into the ground…[viii] Or when Pharaoh in the time of Moses, charged all his people, saying: “Whosoever shall be born of the male sex, ye shall cast into the Nile; whosoever of the female, ye shall save alive.”[ix] How many thousands of babes were drowned or eaten alive by crocodiles? And how many grieving mothers threw themselves upon the rocks? When I read the scriptures, I’m ashamed to call myself Christian.’

She stares with glassy black eyes, searching my soul for a glimmer of doubt. But I remain steadfast in my faith and declare boldly:

‘I serve the Christ, the root and stock of David.’

‘David? Is that so? Well, he was surely the most vicious and evil man of all.’

‘You are trying to turn my heart with lies.’

‘Lies? As God is my witness, I speak the truth. Do you know what terrible crimes were committed when David took the royal city of Rabbath? For David stole the crown of their king from his head, the weight of which was a talent of gold, set with most precious stones, and put it upon his own head; then he took the spoils of the city, which were very great. And bringing forth the people thereof he sawed them in half, alive, and drove over them chariots armed with iron spikes, alive: and divided them with knives, alive, and made them pass through burning brick kilns, so their bodies were burnt up alive… So did he to all the cities of the children of Ammon. Then David returned, like a hero, with his army to Jerusalem…[x] David was a monster. You cannot deny it. Such are the countless sins that Christ died for: thousands of thousands, and ten thousand times ten thousand. I ask you, what god can take all that darkness on himself without being completely annihilated?’

‘A god of infinite love.’

She scoffs:

‘If such a god exists, then why does he stand by and watch, whilst two young girls burn to death at the hands of evil Christians?’

‘To intervene would obstruct man’s free will.’

‘Philosophy is the child of ignorance, Jacqueline. Your Christ is an invention of the Jews. You must realise that this root and stock of David – this Jesus of Apocalypse, who calls himself the morning star, is none other than Lucifer himself.’

‘Methinks there’s a devil behind your eyes.’

‘And what of your raptures and revelations? Who is behind them? Who taught you to channel the Light Stream?’

‘I cannot remember.’

‘Cannot, or will not? Who did you summon in the pit?’

‘I have no memory of it.’

‘What are you hiding from me?’

‘Nothing.’

‘Nothing but your deepest desires. The hemispheres of your brains do not add up to a whole person, but to an obscure and uncertain paradox. The compass of your soul swings restlessly from pole to pole, forever without resolve. What folly that you should call on God for unity! Why are you so ashamed? Why do you seek concealment? Does your transsexual condition repulse you? Of course it does. Because suffering in a body of the wrong sex is the most hideous curse a human soul can endure. Then what of the future? Fortune and chance are never friendly or propitious to transsexuals. In every adverse happening, you will perceive the persecution of Heaven and a bloodline curse. What is more, you will always be the scapegoat for others, who will persecute you for some neglect or deficiency in your relations to them. Believe me, I know. But you have no reason to be ashamed Jacqueline. After all, Jehovah Himself is androgyne. The true adept is male and female in one. A simple fact that Abbot Adam could not accept. Yet the secret is laid bare in the Holy name of God…’

She goes to the shelves, removes a large tome and opens it on the desk. She points to the name of God:

‘See here: Jehovah… Jah – and the pre-Hebraic name of Eve, Havah… Which in Hebrew letters is he-vau-he. YHWH. The sacred Tetragrammaton… Male and female in one.’

She closes the book and purrs:

‘Work with me. If we combine our powers, there’s no limit to what we might achieve. Forget the conversi. Live here in my lodgings, and I will manifest your deepest and darkest desires.’

‘You have nothing I want.’

‘You lie.’

I back away but she stalks me like a cat and pins me to the wall, grabbing my jaw in her gnarled masculine hand:

‘Poor Jacqueline. What shall you do in the desolate night-hours, when your heart is all ablaze, and you cannot find Jezebel’s clothes? You shall lie there in a cold sweat, repulsed by your own identity, your irreducible maleness, your inexpungible flesh, that clumps like a canker about your soul. I have felt it myself: that most insidious, inescapable sensation of the Living Death. Give up your cures. Devote yourself to me. I have the power to rescind all corruption. Then you shall rise again, perfect as Maria, just as I beheld you in the pit.’

‘You cannot tempt me. My vocation is healing others. In animo habeo. [I am resolved].’

‘Fool!’ scorns she. ‘Then go. You might run from me, but you can’t run from yourself. What a conceited child you are. You believe your preternatural gift is for healing others; but you deny my gift to heal you! Remember the cure I offered this day. Remember that I offered you sanctuary. But you would rather live amongst those masculine brutes! You have naught in common with them. You perverse and wretched creature! What’s wrong with you? Do you like being bullied and humiliated?’

‘Of course not. But like you said: ’tis foolish and useless to rail against the rule of providence. As for my condition: ut potero feram. [I will bear it as well as I can]. Besides, they are my brethren after all.’

‘And I am your mother! Such inordinate pride in your vocation! Go back to them, and you shall enter a period of labour, toil and sorrow such as you have never known. Well, do not imagine that you can come trotting back here when it suits you. What are you waiting for? Go! Leave my lodgings at once! Go keep your pledge with the lame and the sick. Take up your noble calling. Then you will see where your miracles take you… Go! Go! Go!’

i. Philippians, 1:23.

ii. This madness is based on a Papal bull of 1100 AD concerning The Abbey of St. Savin of Tarbes.

iii. Ibid.

iv. Ibid.

v. Amos, 3:3.

vi. 2 Corinthians, 12:7.

vii. Judges, 3:23.

viii. Judges, 4:21.

ix. Exodus, 1:22.

x. 2 Kings, 12:30-31.

Copyright © Nicholas Shea 2013.