JACQUES. ’Twas not long after my return from hell, when I dreamt of my future state. For I was transported bodily to the New World, six hundred years hence, just as Future Jack described, and found myself in the lunatic asylum. Whether I was in the body, or out of the body, I know not: only God knoweth.(i) They say that the strength and power of God shines forth more perfectly in our weakness and infirmity, but these moonstruck folk were far from illustrious examples of His Grace. Indeed, they were the very models of malediction and damnation…
Sunhill Asylum, July 13, 1960
A stout man in his late fifties stands on a chair and cries:
‘You rowdy ungrateful mob! I am governor of this manor, and when I say shut it, I mean shut it! That is to say, when I’m speaking, I want complete and utter silence. Comprendez? Unless you’d like to get pinned to the walls with nine inch nails! Crucifixion: an agonising Death, reserved only for ignoble salves, highway robbers, murderers and lunatics – like you miserable lot!’
A great cry goes up. The inmates stomp their feet and bang their commodes on the tables. He raises a hand and they fall silent, rapt with attention.
‘I am Pilate, fifth prefect of Judea. Sister Birkin calls me a faithless tyrant; a man who cannot be bought – because I hate both Jews and Christians alike. I must confess, I have no time for religion. Even in my darkest hours, I never prayed to God. I am afraid of nobody and nothing. Neither the Devil nor the Christ. They call Him the Light of World; and the cross on which he died divides Darkness from Light. But I divide it, and I keep I: the Light in my right pocket; the Darkness in my left. Nazarenes, look upon me and weep: I am the executioner of your Messiah, whom you call the Son of God. He who walked the waters and calmed the thunder-crack! Oh what Poppycock!’
Another cry goes up, followed by more stomping and commode rattling. A toothless crone shrieks:
‘Poppycock! Cock! Cock! Cock!’
Pilate raises his hand and singles her out:
‘I don’t know what you’re smirking at Dorothy Tubs.’
She purrs coyly:
‘You had me in the cupboard.’
‘The cupboard? Nay hag, you are quite mistaken.’
‘But you called me your queen. Your lady. Your concubine.’
‘Concubine? Porcupine! Lady? My arse! You are nothing but a plebeian whore! Your commode is dry but your feet are wet. By Jupiter! You can’t even piss straight!’
Yet another cry goes up, followed by more stomping and commode rattling. Dorothy bares her arse in his direction.
‘Oh my lady!’ feigns Pilate. ‘A thorn in my eye! What you do to me! To show me such disdain! Oh! Oh! No! Don’t laugh! Oh! you hypocrites! Have you no care?’
The crowd explodes with raucous laughter as Pilate apes offence, shielding his eyes and mopping his brow, standing in one leg and cringing at the sight of Dorothy’s rear:
‘Oh my lady! Put it away! My vapours are rising! To see your glorious bush, all glistening with dew, like a fresh rose on a moonlit morn!’
He winces in disgust, poking his tongue and crying:
‘Great Satan! Ugh! Ugh! Ugh! Save me from this pestilent corruptible hag!’
There follows yet more commode rattling, hooting and mocking, until Dorothy slinks away and slumps in the corner, sucking her thumb.
Then Pilate spots me and cries:
‘You there! Yes you with the horns! Don’t think I can’t see you. You might be invisible to the rest of these hare-brained fools, but I see you quite clearly. Friends, Romans, Countrymen! We have an interloper in our midst! A devil with great big horns!’
The inmates gasp and look about the ward in dread. A gaunt man in stripped pyjamas asks:
‘Where is he?’
‘He’s over there in the corner,’ replies Pilate.
‘Well I can’t see him.’
‘Of course not, Tommy,’ replies Pilate. ‘That’s because you don’t have the gift. My second sight was granted by Beelzebub himself, so that I might see his agents as they roam about the earth.’
‘What does he want?’ asks Tommy.
‘He wants to save us. But this devil is a lunatic just like you; and he will surely fall into the water and fire, unless God clothes him in his right mind.’
‘Do not listen to him!’ I cry. ‘Your governor is a liar. He hates to love and loves to hate.’
Pilate shakes his head:
‘They can’t hear you. That is to say, they cannot perceive you until I give them permission. You see, I possess a secret power over lunatics and dogs. Understand? So if you have anything to say, you must speak through me. Got it?’
‘How will he save us?’ asks Tommy.
‘He cannot save you,’ scoffs Pilate. ‘This interloper dwells in the misty borderlands between life and death: between reason and madness, memory and oblivion; hope and despair; light and darkness. He’s nothing but a shadow; a ghost in the machine.’
‘What machine?’ asks Tommy.
‘The Ectron machine,’ replies Pilate. ‘The shocker; the killer; the leveller; the shredder; the masher; the splicer; old sparky; pig-killer; bull-stunner; brain-burner; teeth-grinder; snake-biter; god-slayer; mind-ripper; death-bringer; hell-raiser; soul-stealer; cock-chaffer; black-spider; blood-curdler; old piss-a-bed. You know what I mean. The Ectron machine. Well this devil came right out of it.’
Dorothy begins shivering, stuttering and shaking like a jelly; she turns ashen white, chilled with fear, then stands petrified and points in my direction:
‘I see him!’
She runs wailing out the door.
‘Who sent you?’ asks Pilate.
‘The Devil sent him!’ cries Tommy.
‘It wasn’t the Devil who sent me Monsieur. Nor God either for that matter. I was sent by a faery.’
‘A faery. But where is she?’ asks Pilate.
‘She’s waiting by the pond.’
‘He says a faery sent him! And she’s waiting by the pond!’
The inmates rush to the French windows and gaze across the precinct where Grazide hovers over the waters. Some fall weeping to their knees whilst others watch, mystified by the luminous ball of light that swells and contracts in rhythmic waves.
‘Look! A spirit!’ cries one.
‘A devil!’ cries another.
Pilate stamps his foot, and cries:
‘Come away! Come away from there! Do you want to be seen by that noxious spirit? She will kill us all!’
The inmates flee from the windows, overcome with anxious excitement; they run about the ward, whimpering, groaning, screaming, wringing their hands, plucking and scratching at their flesh; some pray and kneel or slide about the floor, begging for mercy; one ducks under a bed; another under a blanket; whilst a naked waif cowers in the corner, pulling clumps of hair from her head.
Pilate throws up his arms:
‘Tommy! Close the blinds! Draw the curtains! Quick!’
Tommy dashes round the room, shutting the blinds and pulling the drapes. After a moment, all falls silent. Pilate stands panting on his chair, his face flushed with blood. Then he casts a suspicious eye on me and says:
‘Wait a minute… I’ve seen you before!’
‘You have Monsieur? When?’
‘Three years ago, before you grew those horns. You slept in this very ward, and suffered from swooning fits. One night I pulled from your mouth a ball of straw, which when returned to its former length was over a yard long. Later that night you spewed up the digested remains of many small animals – a blackbird, a mouse, a bat, and two voles. The following day, I drew from your lips a mass of dirty grass, intermixed with dung, which was so putrid, and of such nauseating stench, that I had to swig gin for a week.’
The inmates burst into fits of laughter. There follows another round of commode banging. Then a turd flies through air and lands at my feet. Pilate holds up his hand and declares:
‘This interloper vomited many other strange things: eight peacock feathers; three musket balls; a flint arrow head; two squirming locusts; six gall nuts; a lump of tallow; three altar candles (with their wicks still aglow); two ravens eggs, and a dead rat. After which he regained his health and was sent away. That was three years ago. And I haven’t seen him since. Not until this very night.’
The crowd squirms in disgust, the elders wincing and poking their tongues:
‘A dead rat!’
‘Did someone say gin?’ asks a withered man.
I climb on a table and declare:
‘Pilate, you cannot know me. I have never set eyes on this place before.’
‘Oh yes you have,’ replies Pilate. ‘I remember your perfume. You’re the one who calls himself The Parisian Lady!’
The inmates jeer, making rude gestures in the air.
‘The Parisian Lady? No, not I. You mistake me for Future Jack.’
‘And who’s he if not you?’
‘Pilate, you’re completely mad.’
‘Me? You can’t even remember what century you’re in! You’re cuckoo! Cuckoo!’
‘I’m not mad!’
‘Oh but you are.’
‘No, you’re mad, Pilate. You!’
‘Yes, I admit that I am mad. On good days, I am a conglomerate of all passions: sadist, masochist, fetishist and onanist. Certifiably insane, yes indeed. I like making myself conspicuous by all kinds of disorderly conduct. I perform military exercises with a mop. I wear a top hat; put worms in my ears; recite Keats, Byron and Shelly; and fart incessantly from dawn till dusk. I am guilty of many perverse offences against decency and morality. And I love to tell risky jokes before ladies. I have written a Dictionary of Abuse, and have an extraordinarily foul mouth. What is more, I have many illegitimate children, all of whom are career criminals. On bad days, I am petulant, cantankerous and irritable; I insult the doctors, grope the nurses, and frequently come into conflict with the attendants. My tendency to debauchery is sometimes fatal to other patients, one of whom I kissed to death. I like getting drunk whenever I can, my favourite poison being methylated spirit, on which I hallucinate for days on end. I frequent brothels and taverns, smoke and snuff excessively, and consume vast quantities of Vindaloo, which I pilfer from the kitchens. My favourite pastimes are masturbation, pornography, and writing bombastic verses to imaginary lovers. Need I tell you, that since arriving at this hospital, I have been on the trail of an anarchist plot, perpetrated by communist spies? Have you seen one? I am the true and rightful emperor of Rome, and possess twenty large diamonds that were stolen by the Jewish Sanhedrin – the highest court of Justice and the Supreme Council in Jewry! My moods are unrestrained and vary with the weather; sometimes pompous and exuberant, at others irascible and morose, even to the point of lamentation and wailing. Christ in is me, then he is not; the Devil is in me, then he is not. One day I might converse with the Virgin on very intimate grounds; but the next I will deny her very existence. There are voices in my ears; I am in telepathic connection with Beethoven, and write symphonies in my sleep. Despite my creative genius, I have an overwhelming tendency to be destructive. I especially like messing my bed and twisting the sheets into rags, which I use to make a nest for my griffin. He visits on Sunday nights, just after the national anthem. Given half the chance, I would break up this entire asylum into its component parts, and put it back together as a Roman arena. Do you like my clothes? I must admit, my taste in fashion is rather eclectic. As is my tailor – a goblin called Frinklestoppelpop. Look at my coat: I twisted off the buttons and wear them as rings. Pretty, don’t you think? I would keep them in my pockets, but I tore them all off. I like wearing my trousers inside out with the legs stuffed in the socks. And I always keep the tails of my shirt tied together; I can’t remember why I do it, but there’s a very good reason. It is written down somewhere so I don’t forget. (But I forgot to make a note of where I put that particular note). I have a terrible fear of falling out of windows. And I like to collect things. In my bedside cabinet, I have a catalogue of small stones, withered leaves, used matches, bent nails, and pieces of broken glass (with which I carved my name on the chapel pews: Pilate woz ’ere). I would barter a stone for a fine cigar. Do you have one? A cigarette would be nice. I keep a stub in my shoe, but that’s only for emergencies – like after sex or watching the footy on Saturdays… This summer I am to travel to Salzburg, where I shall build myself a castle, and make it the most beautiful city in the world.’ He sniffs the air. ‘Is something burning? … Oh! I forgot to mention: I have already died a thousand times, yet always return again. I have been initiated into the sacred mysteries of Egyptian magic, and can make myself invisible. Sound familiar? Yes, yes, yes. I confess that I am mad. But not half as mad as you Jack Vallis! You’re a complete barmpot! You’re so bloody mad, that for the past three years, you’ve been locked in the basement!’
‘The basement? No. That’s impossible. I tell you Pilate, this very night I was in Hell and saw the end of the world.’
‘What did you see?’
‘I saw the Pope playing dice with a hare, and a blazing stone falling from the heavens, bringing great death and destruction upon the earth. ’Twas a vision of the Apocalypse.’
‘The Apocalypse?’ gasps Pilate. ‘When is it?’ I have been awaiting the Apocalypse my entire life. Please don’t tell me that I’ve missed it.’
‘It is happening as we speak. Do you know, at this very moment, a great battle with the Antichrist is being fought?’
‘What shall we do? Make another impulsive attempt at suicide?’
‘Don’t be ridiculous.’
‘Well you’re the one who jumped from the train.’
‘Of course you did.’
‘Wait a minute. Let me think a moment. Something has gone very wrong. I shouldn’t be here. Where’s Future Jack?’
‘You are Future Jack.’
‘No, I’m Past Jack.’
‘Well where is Present Jack?’
‘How the hell should I know? Stop asking stupid questions.’
‘I can’t help it. I was born inquisitive. Do you really not recognise me? Everybody knows me here. Even the mice and rats. I am the Governor. The Governor. Understand?’
‘Truly, I’ve never seen you before.’
‘What about my plebs? Don’t you recognise them?’
‘Perhaps one or two – but only from dreams, and their names evade me.’
‘Then let me reintroduce you. First of all, standing on my right, is my confidant, Tommy Perry, a closet homosexual and Liberace aficionado; he is also a qualified quack who electrocuted his mother with a hair-dryer.’
‘That’s not true!’ snaps Tommy. ‘It was a toaster.’
‘Toaster? Hair-dryer? What’s the difference?’ asks Pilate. ‘That fact is, you killed her.’
‘It was an accident,’ protests Tommy. ‘The earth wire came loose.’
‘The earth wire?’ tuts Pilate. ‘And you an electrician. What were you thinking?’
‘I couldn’t help it. I had one of mi turns. I got mi colours addled up.’
‘Addled up?’ scoffs Pontius. ‘Neutral: black; Green: earth; Red: live. Everyone knows that. Oh dear, oh dear!’
‘I know my Ohm’s law!’ insists Tommy.
‘Well, that’s not much use if you get your wires muddled, is it?’ scoffs Pilate. ‘Fancy mixing your colours up! What’s the matter with you? Are you colour blind?’
‘Well what’s the colour of this ward?’
‘It’s cerulean blue, to be precise,’ sneers Pilate.
‘Ser-roo-lian?’ fumes Tommy. ‘Ser-roo-lian? What kind of blue is that?’
‘What kind of blue?’ mocks Pontius. ‘Anyone would think you didn’t know the colours of the covenant!’
‘The Covenant,’ replies Pontius. ‘And God said: this is the token of the covenant which I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for perpetual generations. I do set my bow in the cloud, and it shall be for a token of a covenant between me and the earth.(iii) The covenant of the rainbow: that no flesh shall be cut off any more by the waters of a flood; neither shall there any more be a flood to destroy the earth. Well? Do you know the colours of the covenant, or not?’
‘The colours of the rainbow?’ asks Tommy. ‘Oh yes, that’s easy: red, yellow, green, blue, indigo, violet. Richard of York gave battle in vain. Everyone knows that.’
‘Wrong,’ rebuffs Pilate. ‘The true colours are reversed; that is to say: violet, indigo, blue, green, yellow and red. And the correct mnemonic is: Violent Insanity is Beelzebub’s Greatest Yahwist Refute. That is to say, God is violent as he is insane, which makes the Yawists nothing but vindictive hysterical children.’
‘That’s stupid,’ scowls Tommy.
‘Er, do you want to go back on the geriatric ward? All it would take is a nod from me. Then you’d be on the sharp end of Sister Birkin’s enema pipe. Well Tommy?’
‘No Governor. Sorry Governor.’
‘Such impertinence. Now, where was I? Ah yes, introducing my plebs. My poor neglected plebs. Standing on my left is William Wycherly, a Preston cunning-man, wart charmer and herbal abortionist, who became deranged after drinking his own potion. Pray forgive his puffing cheeks, for he believes he is a toad, bewitched by another cunning-man of Manchester, who cast the spell at a distance, for reasons unknown. Standing beside William is Anne Watts. She shouldn’t be here. But like most hags in Sunhill, after the hour of midnight she becomes a ward-hopper and impenitent nymphomaniac. Pray do not gaze into her eyes or she will cause you many explicit sexual problems, not to mention venereal disease and impotency. Need I tell you, that she too was bewitched by a cunning-man of Manchester, who cast his spell at a distance, for reasons unknown.’
Anne holds up her hand and stutters:
‘Er, Governor, your eminence, what about the boggart?’
‘Well what about it?’ asks Pilate.
‘It frightens me. It might take us away.’
‘And where would it take you?’
‘Well, your eminence, I don’t rightly know. But it could drag us to hell, far o’er the moors, through the ditches and hedges!’
Pilate shakes his head:
‘Anne my dear, that boggart is just a figment of your imagination. Now where were we? I keep getting interrupted. Ah yes, introductions. Well I can’t introduce them all. Such filthy animals. Alas, Dementia Præcox make beasts of us all. So I will just stick to the sentient. That is to say, those amongst us that haven’t been fried by the Ectron machine. Standing beside Anne is Robert Turner, a Cambridge educated astrologer, occultist and botanist who was struck mute by yet another cunning-man of Manchester. Yes indeed, Manchester is full of cunning-men. (I don’t know why – something to do with the waters, perhaps). But in this particular instance, the reason for the curse is well known and irrefutable.’
‘Well what is it?’ ask I.
‘A matter of inheritance,’ replies Pilate. ‘For this particular cunning-man was none other than Robert Turner’s brother. When their father died, he left everything to Robert. Oh! Oh!’
‘You find that funny?’ ask I.
‘Well isn’t it?’ leers Pilate. ‘It’s almost as funny as your ridiculous horns.’
‘Do I really have horns?’
‘Yes Jack. Great big horns. You’re a devil of the first order. But what bothers me most, is how you got that sun tan. Three years in the basement without a peek of daylight. I mean, you should be pale and ghostly. But you’re brown as a berry. Can you explain that?’
‘That’s the faerie-fire. Grazide always burns my skin. Her lucent orb is fiercely radiant.’
‘Forget the orb.’
‘You cannot deny her existence. You all saw her hovering above the pond. And if Grazide is really there, then there’s nothing wrong with me.’
‘Don’t you remember what they did to you?’
‘Did to me?’
‘The doctors. That basement is full of unspeakable horrors. I have seen them with my own eyes. They keep you in isolation. Sensory deprivation. They put you in floatation tanks and pump you full of drugs. That’s where you’ve been for the past three years: bobbing in a tank of brine, with your brains wired up to machines.’
‘That’s a lie! I was in Hell, I tell you. I saw a great stone falling from the heavens. The Apocalypse.’
‘Don’t worry about the Apocalypse, Jack. I am your redeemer and shall save the world from ruin.’
‘You? Redeemer? For all your hand washing you have an evil heart. You would not loose your office for saving Christ. You knew he was innocent, but you preferred to keep your worldly honour. And to satisfy the Jews and ease your paltry conscience, you washed your hands of him!’
‘Alas, the Jewish Sanhedrin found Christ guilty. The witnesses heard Him say: “I am able to destroy the temple of God and build it again in three days.”(iv) That is Satanic sorcery. How else could he tear down a temple, which had taken forty six years to raise, and rebuild it in three days?’
‘That is not what He meant.’
‘Oh? Then what did he mean?’
‘Christ put the case hypothetically. He spoke of the temple of his body. If you destroy me, I will rise up! Anyway, why does a Roman defend the Sadducees?’
‘To tell the truth, I couldn’t give a fig for the Sanhedrin. And if a religious fanatic perverts the Jewish nation, so be it.’
‘But you killed their Messiah!’
‘Friends, Romans Countrymen! This interloper defends The Christ and smears my good name. What would you have me do?’
‘Crucify him!’ cries Tommy.
And the crowd rejoins:
‘Crucify him! Crucify him! Crucify him!’
And with that, Pilate dunks his hands in a commode and washes them with piss:
‘It is out of my hands!’ He cries. ‘Go to him!’
The inmates swarm around me, clawing and snarling like wild beasts. I back against the wall , wailing for help. But Pilate just shrugs and says:
‘The doctors won’t help you. They have left me to my own devices. What else can I do? You must understand that my foremost duty is to order. I do not like this plebeian mob any more than you. They are disaffected and insubordinate. But if I allow you to live, your supernatural powers will usurp the temporal law. You should welcome death. You were always a child of ill luck. I mean, how can you go on living in that preposterous body?’
‘The devil take you, Pilate!’
‘Like I said, I am afraid of neither the Devil nor the Christ. They call Him the Light of World; and the cross on which He died divides Darkness from Light. But I divide it, and I keep I: the Light in my right pocket; the Darkness in my left…’
The mob draws in.
Copyright © Nicholas Shea 2017.
i. 2 Corinthians 12:12.
ii. Boggart is an old Lancashire word for an evil spirit that manifests as a flying ball of light or Will o’ the Wisp.
iii. Genesis, 9:12-13.
iv. Matthew 26:61.
Image credit: Hans Memling – Triptych of Earthly Vanity and Divine Salvation.