Sunhill Asylum, Saturday, November 23, 1963
I now reside in the Eastern Wing – a human derelict, forgotten by the world. The building has a morbid air of death and decay: a crumbling Gothic edifice of red sandstone, festooned with ivy and brambles. Strange noises echo all around; the groan of rusting girders; the tapping of beetles boring into wood; the cackle of crows fighting in the ramparts. My cell is surely the most sordid place on earth, with a leaking roof and no toilet. The walls are covered in the manic scrawl of inmates long dead – most of it German and French – a tangled mass of writing that traverses the plaster in all directions: rambling thoughts with quotes from the Psalms and fervent pleas to God; declarations of omnipotence and curses of revenge; demonic spells with spidery letters, depicting the inner turmoil of violent mental alchemy. Perhaps some of it is mine…
Why, O Lord, are they multiplied that afflict me? Many are they who rise up against me. Have mercy on me, O Lord, for I am weak: heal me, O Lord, for my bones are troubled.*
I have summoned Krew a thousand times, but he ignores my plight. Maria remains absent, and I haven’t seen Bob since he abandoned me here. The enemy hems me in on all sides. If Pontius discovers my whereabouts, my fate is sealed. What more shall I say? I am utterly desolate. I haven’t eaten in days and grow weak with hunger. I fear my powers are waning. Judgement is nigh. Shall my soul tip the balance? Most prudent Lord Scales, take pity: I have been carried away into the greatest number of heresies; and by my wretched existence, the threads of many lives are now tangled together; yet no matter how hard I try, I can’t undo the knot. There’s so much to be ashamed of. There’s no denying it: I was indeed a devil of the blackest dye. My sins are great; I try to block them out, but they keep coming back to haunt me.
It makes me weep to think of all my forgotten lives lost throughout the centuries; were they lived in vain? If Pythagoras remembered commanding legions in the Trojan war, why cannot I remember being a Parisian lady? Past sins determine present afflictions. I am a girl of ephemeral appearances; the flesh is a such stubborn and contradictory substance; yet how transient and insubstantial! I am quite invisible; a woman lost in time; a clock without a face. Why does the body not mirror the mind? Should they not reflect each other?
How I detest this abode of wretchedness! Ever since I jumped from the train, I have found myself bewildered, lost in the labyrinth of this infernal asylum. Everything within these walls is directed towards my ruin. The nurses feign compassion, but every act of charity conceals a plot of hideous cruelty. A heretic always has more to fear from their psychiatrist than their own transgressions. In truth, I have countless excuses for my innumerable sins. Pontius has used every exertion in the book to induce my confession. It seems all hope is lost. All effort futile. I might have achieved something in this miserable world, but I never seemed to fit. And all too often my sexual fantasies disturbed my concentration. When seeking consolation in God, I was told to solicit the sacrament of Freud, at penalty of E.C.T. The human sconce is such a small and paltry vessel; yet what infinite expanse of the mind! What realms of spiritual fire!
All science is in vain. Only the hermetic philosophy of the ancients is true. Transmutation of the flesh is a demonstrable fact; as is the fabrication of bodies. Was Eve not made from Adam’s rib? But the Lord has refused my sovereign magisterium. How many years have I endured this corrupt suit of flesh? How long have I hovered between life and death, murmuring exorcisms under my breath, whilst they buckled my restraints and drugged me to sleep? Is it any wonder I tried to put an end to my existence, worn out by delay and despair, frantic at the miseries into which I was plunged? I should have listened to Grazide when she appeared on the train. I should have touched her lucent sphere, and taken her rapturous transport. For now I am irreversibly damaged, changed beyond repair, without any hope of redemption.
I cannot recall when it actually happened – when the world went dark – when that insurmountable wall of maleness rose up before me and blotted out the sun. I must have been very young. The body always betrays you in the end. On the inside, I remain The Parisian Lady. But what shall remain after lobotomy? Nothing but the lees and dregs; the slag and sludge; the silty bilges of memory and nothing more. They have devices to warp the mind and erase consciousness altogether. They will seize control of my brains, and by post-hypnotic cue, command me to self-destruct. “We did our best to help him”, they will say. These people can kill you at a distance. Heart attack, suicide, aneurysm – all these things can be done remotely, leaving no trace of evidence to implicate the perpetrators. Besides, death is far cheaper than permanently locking a person away. Psychiatry is used by the elite purely as a means of manipulating the masses. Mental suggestion and controlled behaviour. The psychology of sublimation: that’s what Freud is all about.
Little do they know, I have been appointed by providence to punish the Freudians; those enemies of reason, who by their absurd fanaticism, deny the world of spirit, and destroy Christians in pursuit of the common good. You’re not allowed to say “God”. You’re not allowed to say “Jesus”. You’re not allowed to say “Miracle”. They hate The Christ because he conquered Death and defied Nature. His ways are pleasant and gentle; but theirs are grotesque and brutal, pitting man against machine in perpetual wars on Life. Non causem vivendi atqui morendi [Not a reason for living but dying]. When shall they withdraw from the world of the dead? Death denies the future and so death denies Life. Do they not know they are poised on the frontiers of eternity?
What a perverse doctrine of the mind! I have been at war with them for as long as I can remember. The Freudian agenda is all about societal reform. But in truth, they’re just atheist propagandists. Witch hunters. The politics of the body – its forms, limits and prerogatives, have been closely drawn up by the therapeutic state…
The psychiatrist directs and supervises the activities of his patients so that they do not impinge upon the daily life of the public. The dull routine and pace of life must always be preserved. Just as Freudian ideology is used to subvert the press, the journals, radio and television, and the criticism of plays and novels. The aim of the intelligentsia is to encourage a slavish, unquestioning acceptance; but this always remains subconscious, hidden in the Democratic Ideal which provides an illusion of choice.
Join a party. Campaign for reform. Fight for a cause. I hate them all: Tories, Liberals, Socialists, Trotskyists, Marxists, Communists, Bolsheviks, Facists, Populists, Anarchists – and all the other militant atheists, bickering and quarrelling like dogs. So many feuds and vendettas. Divide and rule. The irony is, that all forms of government are essentially the same: they destroy individual freedoms and then demand for themselves the freedoms they have destroyed. They enslave the people in order to sacrifice them.
I’m sectioned in an asylum—but the real psychopaths are all out there. Public relations councils; trade association executives; industrial conglomerates; corporate monopolies; technocrats, bureaucrats and plutocrats; economist intelligence units; capitalists and neo-feudalists. Universal opulence is the cure for every want of the human heart; and nothing inspires greed better than envy of one’s neighbours. The calculus of the stock market is a black art: the manipulation of the gold-standard; the artificial reduction of interest rates; the price-control of oil, gas and freight. The trade cycle is a Death cycle. Competition, consumption and decay. Mortgage and foreclosure. Even the soul is leasehold and property of the state. The libido is sublimated by the consumption of things, and the law of diminishing returns means that both mind and body are reduced to abstract units of apportion and reacquisition. The world is run by Satan and his legion of devils who plot the insolvency of the masses. They have devised a labyrinth of absurdities to ensure that political economy and plunder always operate independently of society and its moral laws.
Paper is sold for goods, and goods are sold for paper. The most important factor in achieving upward social mobility is the accumulation of paper. Paper is everything: an article of necessity, as fundamental as bread. But as any economist knows, social equality is just a pipe dream. For the law of supply and demand dictates that the price of goods is always a question of power. And financiers have rigged the system so that a surplus of paper lifts the price of goods; whereas a decrease in the quantity of paper causes prices to tumble. Everything is so regulated: the cost of a new bicycle, car, fridge, washing machine, telephone or television; not to mention the absolute necessities of life, like lipstick, high-heels, corsets, silk-stockings and razors. A surplus of lunatics will increase the cost of paraldehyde; just as a surplus of transsexuals will increase the cost of oestrogen. But a girl cannot live by drugs alone; lest I forget milk, meat, bread, cigarettes, booze and cinema tickets. Our future is writ in profit and dissipation; cheese-paring and negative equity; stagnation; inflation; devaluation; rationing; deficits; subsidies—all underpinned by credit bureaus, tariff leagues, tolls, levies, duties, liquidations, legislations, contracts, writs, summons, penalties and convictions. After all, it is vital to shield the bankers who circulate credit from the consequences of their immoral conduct. According to Harold Wilson, Britain is to be forged in the white heat of a scientific revolution. Rising prices are vital for “progress” and credit expansion is the only method of keeping interest rates low. It sounds sophisticated but it’s not; it’s just mob psychology, and ruthless as the jungle.
Needless to say, Freudian society is highly intolerant of any dissenting point of view. Nothing bonds the herd better than hate. It is very difficult and dangerous for a man to claim that he is really a woman. Democracy’s chief advocate is Benevolent Despotism; and Freudian Inquisitors will never hesitate to use any form of state-sanctioned coercion, including the straight-jacket, the tranquillizing chair and the electro-convulsive bed. I would like to put them all on anti-psychotic medications. I have confessed my truth. And now the secular authorities shall throw me to the flames for my avowal, together with my wardrobe and effects.
My final hours are full of regrets. All I have for consolation is Mad Mary Higgins. She squats half-naked at the bars, a warty crone, with long grey hair, and a pitiful hump on her shoulder. Her face is large and bony, with high cheeks mottled with freckles; but her body is thin and sparse – except for her feet and calves, which are of prodigious size. She has given several sermons in praise of chastity, and cursed the wardens with explicit spells – not to mention her excrement, which she smears liberally over the walls. When I first arrived, she was locked in The Hole. For seven days she made a frightful din, chattering, groaning and wailing. But at dawn all went quiet. Then she appeared at my bars, calm and serene. How she broke out, I’ll never know. A sprig of mistletoe perhaps. Alas, she cannot escape the passage, for it is sealed by two iron doors. So Mary just crawls up and down like a toad, puffing her cheeks and licking her lips.
It’s a long step from the New World to the Old, yet despite my dire circumstance, I feel I am closer now than ever before. There is no religion where all things are open to all men. I’m tempted to summon the Selenites. But moon folk are inscrutable cannot be trusted. Satanists decry “Do what Thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law”. A foolish motto, for Crowley, that charlatan beast, stole the words from Saint Augustine, who meant them in referral to God’s will. Truly, if I knew the will of God, I would do it. I feel so utterly deserted by Him. Miserable confusions abound on all sides. Is the gravity of my offence so great that I should be left without a single ray of Hope? Have I not served my time?
Mary stops outside my cell and peers through the bars with bloodshot eyes:
‘Why do you stare Mary?’
‘I stare because I see.’
‘What do you see?’
‘Does it end well for me?’
‘How it ends I know not; but if tha life be spared, heaven pity thee.’
‘Charming. Don’t you have any good news?’
‘No. The world has gone to hell. The angels are much aggrieved.’
‘I lay the blame on the atheists. They have dug up the dead for the foundations of their New Church. The fossils of folly. The dissolution of mind and body is the consequence of many accidents. As is the Creation of life. In which case God is accidentally the cause of all sin. We are imprisoned by accidents of fortune. So much for providence. But the mystery of the Trinity is far greater than the little mind of Darwin. The atheists are servants of Satan. But we are servants of God.’
‘A fat lot of good that’ll do! Yer daft apeth! Stop yer yappin’. We’ll starve to death in ’ere! All we ’ave t’drink is rainwater. They’ve left us to rot.’
‘Fear not. This world isn’t real. Only the after-life is real. This realm is but a dream compared to the other side.’
‘A dream? It’s a nightmare, yer bloody fool!’
‘A nightmare, yes; but the atheists will return as swine; the sceptics as dogs; and the cynics as oxen. They are the kind who crucified Christ and poisoned Socrates. But we – we might not return at all.’
‘Oh? An’ just where shall we go? Hmm?’
‘Who knows? We might be granted a place in Paradise.’
‘Paradise? Paradise be damned. We’re doomed!’
‘It is noble to die for the deity.’
‘Noble? There’s nowt noble about it! Look at us, all covered in shit! So much fer fate, oh wise prophet! What do yer expect them to bring? A cup of hemlock? Fool! They’ll skewer thar brains! Mash ’em all up! Turn thi into a turnip an’ call it a cure! Ice pick lobotomy. Some things are worse than death, Jack Vallis.’
‘I am not the body. At least, not this body.’
‘Jow thee fat yed! Yer mad hatter!’
‘All prophets are mad.’
‘Not as mad as thee!’
‘Divine madness makes divine prophets. Everyone knows I’m an oracle.’
‘Oh! I’m in the presence of an oracle! A divine oracle, no less! Well, yer didn’t see this comin’ did yer?’
‘Listen to me. I’ve tallied the days since my arrival, and by my reckoning, President Kennedy is dead. Assassinated. In which case, my prophecy is fulfilled. I should be vindicated and pardoned in full.’
‘Vindicated? Vindaloo! The doctors are cruel an’ clownish; they never admit when they’re wrong. Why wait for confirmation? A prophecy fulfilled won’t pardon thi. Wake up Jack Vallis! If yer durnt escape this place, thar brains will be butchered by nightfall.’
‘The bars are too strong and the walls too thick.’
‘Since when has that ever stopped thi?’
‘What on earth do you mean?’
‘I thought yer could walk through walls…’
‘Well, once every Preston Guild, maybe.’
‘Yer mean never! Tha’s no oyl in thi lamp! Yer nowt but a miserable liar!’
‘No, I can walk through walls. Truly, I can. But I can’t do it alone. I need help.’
‘Tha barmpot! Durnt yer know who Cyclops is? Cyclops is thisen!’
‘Me? Don’t be ridiculous. The Cyclops is a powerful and ancient diamon. Older the hills. His magic is higher than angels. He is the keeper of Time. And he alone holds the keys to the heavenly spheres.’
‘Art thi sure abowt that?’
‘Of course I’m sure. Do you know, in another sphere, at this very moment, I am a beautiful lady sipping wine on a Venetian veranda?’
‘Really? And what’s she’s sayin’ reet now? “Do yer know, in another sphere, ah’m a lunatic in rags, who thinks he can walk through walls?” Beautiful lady? Pah!’
‘But I am a beautiful lady.’
‘Well, yer know what they say: beauty’s only skin deep – but it’s a bugger when tha’ast use a pick ter ger at it!’
‘Shut up, you old bat. Besides, what would you know about it? Nothing I shouldn’t wonder. You have a gift, yes. A touch of second sight maybe. But you know nothing of the Cyclops. Nothing at all. And you know nothing of me.’
‘An’ yer know nowt of me! Yer big jessy! Second sight? Noa! Sometimes I canna’ move, t’country’s so full o’folk! It swaarmt wi’ fairees, witches, un’ boggerts, which nob’dy can mester! An’ big blacks dhogs, wi’ great glarin’ een, as big as tay-cups.(i) I saw Jenny Green Teeth when I wa’ a lass, lurking at bottom o’ pit, wi’ long sinewy limbs an’ terrible teeth. There wa’ nixies in t’river, an’ arch boggarts at every three-road-end.(ii) Now I never saw t’ Grindylops – t’men beawt yeds [the men without heads] – but I once spied a Corpse Candle flitting o’er t’moors. Aye Jack Vallis, ah’ve seen many an evil spirit… A wicked hobgoblin haunted our farm. The milk was bynged in t’ churn, an’ would bring forth no butter. An’ our cows died mad in the shippens. That hobgoblin broke up t’dairy an’ t’cream-mugs were smashed to atoms.(iii) It banged an’ howled all winter long. It drove my poor father to his grave. Second sight? Me? Mad Mary Higgins? Noa!’
‘Well good for you. Now leave me be. And stop staring would you? This isn’t a zoo, you know!’
‘Show me yer palm.’
‘Don’t yer want a reading?’
‘No. Go away.’
‘As if I didn’t know. The devil proves too powerful. I have fought long and hard enough… I always knew I would die a wretched death – like that of a beggarly outcast , or a mad bitch left to rot by the roadside. But lobotomy I did not see. No matter. It’s in God’s hands now. My time has expired. I am ready for death.’
‘Yer miserable old sinner. Ah’ve been wanting to go for thi for some time. Thar’ve been rousing me up with all yer mad talk an’ self-pity. Thi and thar Cyclops. Admit it: thi can’t walk through walls. Never could. The Parisian Lady is nowt but a fraud, a ninny and a buffoon.’
‘How dare you.’
‘Well, that’s what they’ll say. Is that how yer want to be remembered?’
‘I no longer care. There’s nothing more to be done. Last night I tried picking the lock with mental power. But the Devil said my attempts were fruitless. I heard Him utter, so distinctly, that He seemed to be in this very cell.’
‘Pah! Yer wouldn’t know what to do wi’ freedom if it wa’ given yer on a plate.’
‘I’d raze this place to the ground, that’s what.’
‘Oh! Is that all?’
‘Why? What would you do, Mad Mary Higgins?’
‘Well now, let me think a moment… I’d catch a bus to Blackpool. Aye. Then I’d walk out on t’pier – reet to the end, so I could feel t’wind on mi face and taste the sea. Then I’d buy some fish an’ chips and a candy floss, an eat ’em all by missen. I’d go on t’helter skelter – an’ t’dodgems – an’ t’ferris wheel. Aye! Then I’d ride a tram and watch illuminations ’till t’sun came up. Then I’d get mi hair done like Elizabeth Taylor. I’d go shoppin’ for new clothes, all glamorous like. I’d buy a new frock, new shoes and a new handbag. What else? I’d book a room at a posh hotel, an’ order fried black pudding wi’ a mug of tea. Then I’d ring our Jilly, and tell her that mam’s home, and she ain’t never going away again; and I’d buy her a goldfish and a teddy bear; and a doll’s house fer Christmas, with a big stocking full of tangerines and chocolates…’
‘How old is she?’
She bows her head and whispers:
‘Ten. Has been for fifteen years. God rest her little soul. She’s buried in the cemetery. I durnt know where. I couldn’t afford an headstone. I durnt know how it happened – me ending up in here. But I durnt believe the doctors. Ah’d never hurt our Jilly. Never. My cousin Gerald did it. Gerald the snake. He got us committed.’
‘What happened to Jilly?’
‘She were found in t’woods with her throat cut. Oh! My poor Jilly!’
She bangs her head on the bars and weeps:
‘I can’t remember. It’s all blank inside. I durnt even know where I was that day. But Gerald is a copper see. The filthy snake. He put me in that wood, because my prints were on t’knife. Well they would be, cos it wa’ my bread knife, from my kitchen. But I never set foot in that wood. Never. They couldn’t prove owt. It was an open verdict. But I had a seizure in court. I durn’t remember it. All I remember is waking up here. When I first came, I wa’ threatened, scolded, an’ boxed in t’face. An’ all because I spat mi pills out. Each year brings more evil than t’last. Ah’ve ben up stick twice in this madhouse. The midwife used a knitting needle. That what she calls herself. The Midwife. My poor childer. Ah’m so peawfagged wi’ life. But I won’t let Dobbs touch me again. He does it after E.C.T. – when ah’ve gone all mazey. He thinks I durnt remember. But next time, I’ll bite it off. Dust hear?’
‘Yes, Mary darling I hear. And if I ever escape these walls, I’ll take you to Blackpool myself. And you can eat all the black pudding you want.’
‘Aye. Black pudding. Wi’ brown sauce. That’s best. Lovely…’ She smacks her lips then cowers and cries: ‘Woe! Woe! I see an evil sign.’
‘What Mary? What? What do you see?’
‘The wrath of God upon them!’
‘Upon who? Calm down. You’re not making any sense.’
‘They’re coming for yer! They’re coming this instant! Be gone Jack Vallis! Fly! Fly! If yer can work magic, yer mun do it now!’
* * * *
Krew is Telling it
Bob sits at his desk, gawping at the paper in disbelief:
Ralph Champion tells the terrible story
A SNIPER’S BULLET KILLS THE PRESIDENT
As President Kennedy today slumped dying in his car, shot through the head by a sniper’s bullet, his wife Jackie cried: “Oh, no!” She cradled him in her arms during the five-minute drive to hospital through shocked, surging crowds. As she followed the stretcher into the hospital her clothes were spattered with blood from her husband’s wound. President Kennedy was shot at 6.35 pm British Time as he was driving through Dallas, Texas, along a route lined with 250,000 people. He died at 7 p.m., 25 minutes after he was shot. He never regained consciousness. The last rites of the Roman Catholic Church were given by two priests at the hospital.(iv)
‘Well blow me sideways,’ mutters Bob. ‘Jack Vallis, you spooky little devil…’
Just then Pontius appears in the corridor, his face fuming with rage:
‘Take me to Vallis, this instant!’
‘Have you seen the paper?’
‘Of course I’ve seen the bloody paper. Where’s Vallis?’
‘Gone? Do you take me for a fool. Show me where you’ve hidden him, or I’ll see to it that you never work again.’
‘Hidden him? I don’t know what you mean.’
‘You can’t pull the wool over my eyes, Bob Hallet. You were seen last week.’
‘Wheeling Jack Vallis down the Eastern corridor – at two in the morning.’
‘Who saw me?’
‘Old Millie? The sleepwalker? You can’t believe her. She’s a fruitcake.’
‘I’ll be the judge of that. She saw you – heading towards the old wing.’
‘I don’t know what you’re talking about. That place is derelict. No one goes there any more.’
‘Enough. The game’s up.’
‘You might think you’re helping Maria by hiding Vallis, but she’s in great danger.’
‘She’s gone missing.’
‘Missing? Since when?’
‘Stop asking questions and take me to Vallis.’
‘Why? What are you going do to him?’
‘Whatever is required.’
‘But you can’t go back on your word doctor Pontius. I mean, that wouldn’t be fair now, would it? Me and Matron were witnesses. The prophesy. Remember? Now promise me, you’re not going to hurt The Parisian Lady, are you?’
‘Listen to me you jumped up little prick! If you don’t show me where Vallis is, I’ll have you convicted for kidnap! Understand? So take me to Vallis. NOW!’
‘Well, I don’t know if I should. I mean, the prophecy came true, didn’t it? Now, I’m not saying The Parisian Lady ain’t mad. But with a gift like that, she can’t be as half as mad as you think she is, can she?’
‘I mean he.’
Doctor Hulme appears in the corridor, closely followed by two guards:
‘Have you found him yet Pontius?’
‘No. This idiot refuses to reveal his whereabouts.’
Hulme strides up to Bob, grabs his lapels, pulls him close, and purrs:
‘Do you know how easy it would be to get a man like you committed? It only takes my signature. Then you’d be locked up in this place for good. If I’m not mistaken, you have no surviving relations. Who else will vouch for your sanity? Would you like to end your days in the high security unit, drugged up to your eyeballs on paraldehyde? Now listen to me very carefully. Millie Barnes saw you wheeling Jack Vallis down the Eastern corridor. Oh, I know Old Millie’s mad, but in her rare lucid moments, she’s also highly observant. She calls you One-Eyed Bob. Did you know that? She even knows what brand of cigarettes you smoke. Senior Service. She knows that, because she tails you on your rounds at night. She likes to smoke your stubs – the ones you leave in the sand buckets. Perhaps you’d like to join her? I think you’d get along famously – after I’ve plugged your brains into the mains for an afternoon. Well how about it One-Eyed Bob? Would you like to wed Old Millie? What? Spend your days out of your skull, whilst you trawl about the corridors half-naked? Now be a good chap, and tell me where you’ve hidden Vallis.’
Bob trembles in a cold sweat and mutters:
‘Cell seventy-seven. The old pavilion.’
‘Idiot,’ snaps Pontius. ‘You could have told me that in the first place! Well, don’t just stand there man! You’d better show us where it is. And be quick about it – if you want to keep your job, that is!’
‘Yes doctor. Right away!’
Bob mops his brow and leads them off down the corridor.
Copyright © Nicholas Shea 2018
*Psalms 3:2 and 6:3 [Douay Rheims version].
i. From ‘Lancashire Folk-lore’ by John Harland and T. T. Wilkinson (1867).
iv. Daily Mirror, Saturday November 23rd 1963
Image credit: photo by Tom Blackwell on Flickr (High Royds Hospital?) License: Creative Commons.