Sunhill Asylum, Saturday, November 23, 1963.
Pontius stands dumbfounded at the bars then throws up his hands in disbelief:
‘He’s vanished into thin air!’
‘Nonsense,’ replies Hulme. ‘There must be some logical explanation.’
Mad Mary hops round their feet in excitement:
‘The goblin took him! The goblin!’
‘Goblin?’ baulks Hulme.
‘Where Mary? Where did the goblin take him?’
She points to a silhouette on the wall.
‘Look!’ gasps Pontius. ‘Jack left an imprint on the plaster!’
He scrapes the mark with his fingernail:
‘Another trick?’ asks Hulme. ‘Charcoal perhaps?’
‘No,’ replies Pontius. ‘The shadow is burnt right into the stone. Does it remind you of anything?’
‘No Pontius, what?’
‘The nuclear bomb at Hiroshima left similar shadows. I saw them myself years ago. When the bomb detonated above the city, the blast created an intense wave of heat, which caused the buildings to bleach, leaving dark imprints of anything in the way. Etched in the rubble were the shadows of human beings, captured in the throws of death; haunting figures, holding ladders, reaching for doors, or running for their lives. And they looked exactly like this.’
‘What are you saying? That Jack was incinerated by some sort of radioactive blast?’
‘Unlikely. There are no signs of combustion anywhere else. I mean, why didn’t the bed leave a shadow? Or the bars? Only his body was hit.’
‘I don’t know. Perhaps he walked through the wall.’
‘Pontius, you cannot be serious.’
‘We both know what he’s capable of.’
‘Yes, but walking through walls? That’s impossible. That’s witchcraft.’
‘I refuse to believe it.’
‘Then how do you explain that shadow?’
‘I can’t. But if he walked through the wall, where has he gone? Beyond that wall is just another cell. An empty cell. Must we search the whole asylum?’
‘Yer won’t find Jack,’ grins Mary. ‘I told yer: the goblin took him.’
‘What did this goblin look like?’ asks Pontius.
‘Well, he wa’ like a little old man in silk clothes, but he had a great big head. I wa’ reet scared to look at him, for he wa’ pale as milk, wi’ glassy black eyes. Big eyes, like saucers they were; he had withered lips, an’ withered ears. He wa’ all thin an’ withered from head to toe! He made me shudder. Wa’ it a living thing or wa’ it dead? I durn’t know. But Jack summoned it, and it came. Jack Vallis can do magic. Real magic. Durst tha know any spells? Can yer summon globlins? Not on yer life! But Jack Vallis can. Yer doctors are nowt but clowns.’
He crouches down beside her:
‘Listen to me Mary, this is very important: did Jack say where he was going?’
She shakes her head and scowls:
‘Ah’m hungry. I cud eat a horse.’
‘We’ll get you cleaned up and give you some breakfast. But first you must tell us where Jack’s gone. Understand?’
‘How should I know where he’s gone?’
‘Well didn’t he say?’
‘No. But he’ll be comin’ back fer me. We’re goin’ to Blackpool.’
‘Blackpool? When Mary? When are you going to Blackpool?’
She clams up and faces wall.
Pontius stands and sighs, kicking the bars with frustration. Then he notices a luminous orange liquid dripping from the ceiling. Looking up, he spies a long inscription burnt into the plaster.
‘What does it say?’ asks Hulme.
‘It looks like graffiti of some kind.’
‘Jack wrote it,’ leers Mary. ‘It’s magic.’
‘Magic?’ scoffs Hulme. ‘Well, how he managed to get up there is beyond me.’
‘Perhaps he levitated,’ quips Pontius.
‘Don’t be absurd, man. Can you read it?’
Pontius fumbles for his glasses and squints into the vault:
‘I don’t know. The style is a somewhat antique. I can hardly make it out. Wait a minute…’
He adjusts his glasses, nudging them down the bridge of his nose, then recites aloud:
‘I do conjure, constrain, adjure and command you spirits, Orimoth, Belimoth, Lymocke and Glimm, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, by Alpha and Omega, the Beginning and the End, by the general resurrection, and by Him who shall come to judge the quick and the dead, and the world by fire, and by the general resurrection of the last day, and by that name that is called Tetragrammaton, to take me back to the Old World, at the hour of dawn, on the tenth day of July, in the year of our Lord 1324, in the province of Belloc, to save Maria Fellon from the clutches of the Inquisition, and the flames of the pyre! I ask this with contrite heart, that she may live again, free from suffering and pain, in whatever body that is pleasing and acceptable to Almighty God.
‘In the name of the angels Satan and Agamemnon, may such creatures attend me at this hour, and send unto me a spirit called Sagrit the Selenite, to dissolve my body, that I may fulfil my desire to escape these walls, and return to the Old World, on said day, before the pyre is lit.
‘By the authority of the Omnipotent, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, and by the holy virgin Mary mother of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the holy angels and archangels, and of Saint Michael and Saint John the Baptist, and on behalf of Saint Stephen and all the martyrs, Saint Sylvester and all the confessors, the holy virgins, and all the saints and heaven and earth, unto whom there is given power to bind and loose, I submit my soul, that I may bring Pontius, the Inquisitor, to judgement, with all the Dominican friars who burnt the Cathars of Belloc.
‘Yet before I leave this secular sphere, I do damn, curse, and bind with knots and bonds of excommunication all Freudians, Atheists and Materialists, male or female, that have committed crimes upon the faithful of Sunhill. And cursed be all the doctors who have preached lies and false doctrine for their own use and advantage. Let them have part with Judas who betrayed Christ, Amen.
‘And cursed be the atheist priests that have admonished sins in the name of God, be they in church, in the graveyard, in the field, in the grove, in the woods, in their houses, barns, chambers, or in their beds. Curséd be they in eating, waking and sleeping; in drinking, sitting, kneeling and standing! Curséd be they in body and soul, and in their five wits! And curséd be their heart, liver, bowels, and spleen! And curséd be their head, and their arms, and their faithless hands that baptised the innocent!’
He swallows a lump in his throat and his voice begins to falter…
‘And curséd be the lobotomists, chemical, electrical and surgical! Curséd be their flesh and curséd be their bones, and the marrow that is within their bones! And by the milk of the Virgin Mary, curséd be the abortionists who rip babies from the womb! I conjure thee Lucifer, with all thy soldiers, the Father, Son and Holy Ghost – that they shall not rest day or night, but suffer the eternal pains of their own butchery. I hereby bring all the faithless to destruction, and let the torments of Hell be strong upon them for ever and ever. Amen.
‘I also conjure, constrain, command, and bind the atheist spirit of Doctor Hulme, by the two edged sword, which John saw proceed out of the mouth of God almighty: may his own leucotome cut his brain to pieces and condemn him to the pit of everlasting pains, where fire burns eternal, and the worm dieth not. May the Infernal Counsel rise up from the depths of Hell and take him in chains to his allotted place in the deep. Fiat, fiat, fiat. Amen.
‘I also conjure and constrain the atheist spirit of Doctor Pontius, by the throne of the Godhead, and by all the heavens under Him, and by the celestial city of The New Jerusalem, and by the earth, by the sea, and by all things created and contained therein, and by their virtues and powers, and by all the infernals, and by their virtues and powers, and all things contained therein. I condemn Pontius to death by fire, for his vanity and cruelty in using men like rats; let the curse of insanity, the anger of God, and the shadow and darkness of everlasting condemnation be upon the spirit of Pontius, for ever and ever, because he denied the truth of my powers, my sex and my salvation; and for this great deception, he is worthy to be condemned. Therefore, let the divine Trinity, angels, and archangels, thrones, dominions, principalities, powers, virtues, cherubim and seraphim, and all the souls of the saints, that shall stand on the right hand of our Lord Jesus Christ, at the last day of judgement, condemn the spirit of Pontius, for ever and ever, and be a witness against him, because of the terrible evils he perpetrated against my kin. May the Infernal Counsel rise up from the depths of Hell and take him in chains to his allotted place in the deep. Fiat, fiat, fiat. Amen.’ (i)
Scored below are a list of holy names, including Elohim, Adonay and Tetragrammaton, followed by a row of astrological symbols, including the signs of the archangels Gabriel and Michael.
‘By Jove!’ exclaims Hulme. ‘Well that just about takes the biscuit! Vallis called on every power under the sun: selenites, goblins, devils, archangels and even the Trinity itself. He wasn’t leaving anything to chance was he? I would say his curse is completely mad, but for the fact that I am profoundly disturbed by it. Never have I heard such a diatribe of malicious, vindictive poison!’
Pontius says nothing; he looks devastated, as if a tornado has just swept through his soul. He stands destitute, his lips quivering with fear. Then he whispers:
‘You mustn’t think like that.’
‘The worst part of it is, Jack was right all along. I did use men like rats. And I did deny his powers, even when I knew them to be true. I don’t blame him for cursing us, do you?’
‘A curse is a very insubstantial thing; it has no power at all, except that which your own fear gives it. Pay it no heed. Ignore it. Brush it off.’
‘No Hulme. These past few years I’ve come to believe these transcendent powers are very real; and they work irrespective of our beliefs. A curse can do harm, whether you fear it or not; and its bane can work, whether you are aware of its existence or not.’
Hulme wags a finger:
‘I’ve warned you before Pontius: it’s vital not to give credence to these things. You must remain rational.’
‘Maria was right all along.’
‘About what exactly?’
‘What do you mean?’
‘I think Vallis has entered another dimension.’
‘Then good riddance to him.’
‘But Hulme, are you not in the least bit curious as to where he’s gone?’
‘Not in the slightest.’
‘How can you be so blasé?’
‘What are you implying? That his spell is real? That the world might dissolve beneath my feet? That some hideous demon might appear and wrest me from sleep into a realm of dimensional shadow? That is the stuff of nightmares.’
‘Yes, but it remains a distinct possibility.’
‘I refuse to believe that Vallis summoned these infernal intelligences – these beings who have dominion over space and time.’
‘I know it sounds insane.’
‘That men like us should even contemplate such things!’
‘But you must admit, considering the evidence, it’s a reasonable hypothesis.’
‘Yes, entirely reasonable. But infinitely foolish. For if mind controls the formation of matter, and other worlds are juxtaposed with ours, we might as well release every patient in Sunhill on the grounds of false committal. All the indicative symptoms of mental disease would be attributed to devils and curses! We’d give demonic credence to every outbreak of maniacal fury! The medical grounds of psychosis would be lost in a numinous fog of possession. Hysteria would spread through the wards like wildfire. Why, the foundations of science would crumble away like pillars of sand! We’d be back in the dark ages…’
‘Dark ages? I don’t think we ever really left them behind, do you? The more science probes into the nature of matter, the more insubstantial and ghostly it becomes. Bertrand Russell defined an electron as “a wave of probability with nothing to wave in”. If there’s one thing Jack Vallis has taught me, it’s that all orthodox definitions of the human mind are useless. Especially when you consider the psychic powers of the human mind itself.(ii) The intellectual quest of reality is a complete blind alley. All we have is a symbolic world of appearances; our logical scepticism always fails to attain the Absolute – and it fails quite spectacularly, I might add. I have fought against this reality for a long time: the reality of spirit. But I can deny it no longer. My materialist faith has been rescinded to ignorance. Vallis understood the penetration of God in this derivative world. He knew things of which we can only dream! Nature, Eternity and Time! All our laws and generalisations about the world mean nothing. Nothing at all. Do you remember the black monkey I told you about? Well I saw it again at dawn, perched on the foot of my bed; a hideous thing, chattering like a devil. It’s real I tell you, real!’
‘Nonsense. You’re overworked, that’s all.’
‘When are you going to accept that occult phenomena are just as real and valid as empirical phenomena? Look at that shadow, Hulme! Just look at it!’
‘Calm down Pontius, calm down. You don’t know what caused that shadow. All you have to go on is the word of a hysterical crone and the suggestions that Vallis himself planted in your subconscious. Do you really believe that he vanished into thin air? Listen to the voice of reason. Unless you’d prefer to heed Mad Mary Higgins?’
‘I’m sorry to say, that at this moment in time, Mad Mary Higgins sounds far more reasonable than you.’
She sniggers into her palm.
Hulme tuts and shakes his head:
‘Psychosis can be highly contagious – even to men like us. Do you want to end up dead like Hardy? You must remain rational; keep your centre of gravity.’
‘You keep telling me to be rational. But these phenomena are completely irrational!’
‘Listen to me. Last year I treated a patient who thought he was a werewolf. His symptoms were identical to Nebuchadnezzar’s lycanthropy. The psychotic constellation of the were-wolf was quite common in ancient times. And just like the biblical king, my patient was under the delusion that he changed into a beast at the full moon. He acted entirely in character, howling, snarling and lusting for blood. One night he escaped the precinct and fled to the moors. He killed a sheep with his bare hands, cracked open the skull and devoured the brains. He had no memory of the event, except that he recalled being wet with dews and having long talons. He said a demon possessed him. The same demon then possessed three others on his ward. Do you understand what I’m saying, Pontius?’
‘Yes, of course. I understand perfectly. Forgive me Hulme. I don’t what came over me. You’re right: I’m overworked. I must remain rational.’
But Pontius is utterly distraught. He takes out a hanky with trembling hands and blows his nose, snorting like a hippo down each nostril. Hulme closes ranks and pats him on the back:
‘Don’t worry Pontius old chap. Vallis has gone. Gone. Our troubles are over. And I see no reason to pursue this any further.’
‘I would agree with you, except that he might return.’
‘He will!’ cries Mary. ‘He’s taking me to Blackpool!’
‘From hell to Blackpool?’ sneers Hulme. ‘I’m not sure which is worse.’
‘But what if he comes back?’ frets Pontius. ‘He might kill us all.’
‘We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it. By god, if Jack Vallis ever sets foot in this asylum again, I’ll shoot him on sight! Understand?’
Copyright © Nicholas Shea 2019.
i. This long list of curses is based on various charms, spells and curses from ‘The Discoverie of Witchcraft’ by Reginald Scot, 1584. Chapters XVI to XVIII.
ii. Ingo Swann, ‘Biomind Superpowers’. Specifically, Swann states: “ANY definitions of mind that are socially derived merely reflect some kind of socio-control agenda regarding how the mind should or should not be thought of, as contrasted to what mind actually is in all its magnificence and potential powers.”
Unus Mundus shadow montage © Nicholas Shea 2019. (Plaster background public domain. ‘Manic scribbling’ superimposition from a writing sample in ‘Manic Depressive Insanity and Paranoia’ by professor Emil Kraepelin, translated by R. Mary Barclay, from the eighth German edition of Text-book of Psychiatry, vols. iii. and iv. 1921, p.67).