The messengers of the invisible world knock persistently at the doors of the senses… Supersensual intuitions—the contact between man’s finite being and the Infinite Being in which it is immersed—can express themselves by means of almost any kind of sensory automatism [Evelyn Underhill].(i)

I regard consciousness as fundamental. I regard matter as derivative from consciousness. We cannot get behind consciousness. Everything that we talk about, everything that we regard as existing, postulates consciousness. [Max Planck].(ii)

Max Planck was one of the finest people I have ever known… but he really didn’t understand physics, [because] during the eclipse of 1919 he stayed up all night to see if it would confirm the bending of light by the gravitational field. If he had really understood [general relativity], he would have gone to bed the way I did. [Albert Einstein].

Blackpool, December 24th 1959

Sims awakes with a start. Towering above him is a genie in red pantaloons; the body is aglow with fire, the face blazing like a hot coal. He squirms in his seat and cries:


‘Christ!’ gasps Blyth, hitting the brakes. ‘You scared me half to death!’

‘Where are we?’ asks Sims, pale as ashes.

‘Blackpool illuminations.’


Sims rubs his eyes and adjust his spectacles. The road ahead gleams in broad streaks of amber hues, whilst on the horizon, the crimson lights of Blackpool Tower twinkle through a dismal haze. The sea is swathed in darkness, but Central Pier shines like some far flung pavilion, its facade festooned with purple lanterns, hanging from the porticos like damson plums.

‘I thought we’d take a detour,’ grins Blyth. ‘We made good time after Manchester, and I’ve never seen Blackpool Illuminations before. But strictly speaking, these aren’t the illuminations.’

‘What are they then?’ asks Sims.

‘The Christmas Lights. The illuminations finished late November.’


‘I say Sims, you look a little peaky. Are you all right?’

‘I don’t travel well.’


‘I don’t want to talk about it.’

Bedazzled, Sims peers out the window as they wend down an avenue of rainbow orbs. His mind reels with confused thoughts, emotions and speculations. He feels lost in Time, wafted away by faery hands. The road is flanked with festive follies and surreal pantoramas. They pass beneath a banner of alphabet cubes which spell out: “TODDLER’S TOY BOX”. The display is a phantasia of fables and florabunda. Teddy bears clamber up lamp posts, whilst tin soldiers walk the tightrope, and harlequins perform a trapeze. Nursery rhymes come to life in a riot of animated puppets: the old woman who lived in a shoe; the dog who jumped over the moon; and the dish who ran away with the spoon…

‘Tinkerbelle,’ mutters Sims, vacantly.

She still glisters in his mind, her spangled body leaping in lambent flame.

‘What did you say?’ asks Blyth.


They enter a glen of elves, surrounded by glowing owls and peacocks with flashing plumes. A pumpkin carriage hums along the tramway, pulled by a train of white mice.

‘There goes Cinderella!’ grins Blyth in childish mirth. ‘She’s late.’

Do not invest in pumpkins with an eye to the motor trade.

‘Very droll, Sims. Very droll.’

G.K. Chesterton. What time is it, anyway?’

Blyth checks his watch:


‘Shouldn’t we be in Preston?’

‘A little diversion can’t hurt.’

A float glides past blazing with coloured bulbs. Another passes in the opposite direction – a space-rocket called “TRAMNIK ONE”. The exhaust port is mantled with fiery light, and flashing on the fuselage are the words: “LUCAS BATTERIES LAST LONGER”.

They pass down a colonnade of clowns with revolving heads, followed by a high-kicking, skirt-raising, cancan chorus. Sims feels strangely disturbed by this lurid burlesque: it hurts his eyes and he longs for the gloom of the country road.

‘How long does all this go on for?’ he asks.

‘Why? Aren’t you enjoying it?’

‘To be perfectly honest, I find it all rather tawdry. Besides, I’ve got a headache.’

Mermaids!’ exclaims Blyth. ‘How wonderful!’

The naiads loom twenty feet high, peering down like galleon figureheads. Blyth hunches over the wheel, craning his neck to get a better look:

‘My god, Sims! She’s stark naked! Apart from that fishing net! You can see her nipples! That’s a bit saucy, isn’t it?’

‘It is rather…’

They enter a menagerie of marine marvels: seahorses, angel fish, and crabs with snapping claws. A fairground carousel whirls in a blur of florid cabochons, the organ piping a Tinker Polka, as gallopers rise and fall about a column of flashing mirrors. Blyth gawps in wonder, his craggy face suffused with youthful joy. Sims watches him for a moment then asks:

‘Sir, may I be candid?’

‘Of course, Sims. Go ahead.’

‘Well, I find your enthusiasm for all this rather odd.’

‘You do? Oh I don’t know. Perhaps this is just what I needed. Colour. Light. Life. Besides, it makes a change from the Big Smoke. Look at those!’

Blyth points to a butterfly boulevard in blue neon. But Sims can only gaze in bemusement, as if displaced in a dream. Has Blyth completely lost it? What does he see in all these mummers, harlequins and Jack Pudding tumblers? He looks quite mad behind the wheel – a Quixotic fanatic, gesticulating in his fishing hat, and poking his tongue at Rumpelstiltskin. Embarrassed, Sims looks the other way. Two lovers stroll arm-in-arm along the promenade which flits past behind a length of chain-link fence.

‘We’re late sir,’ says Sims.

‘Late?’ chuckles Blyth. ‘How can we be late? We’re not due at Sunhill until tomorrow afternoon.’

‘But where will we spend the night?’

‘Relax Sims. You worry too much.’

Sims tuts at three pixies playing cards around a luminous mushroom:

‘I could never give in to faeries,’ he grumbles. ‘Even as a boy, I found them ridiculous. But my aunt believed in them. The little people. Her farm had a faery fort.’

‘Faery fort?’ asks Blyth.

‘An ancient burial mound. But back in Ireland they call them faery forts. She forbade me to go near it.’

‘I didn’t know you had Irish roots.’

‘Only on my mother’s side. We spent our summer holidays in County Galway. I knew a boy there who saw the faeries. He met an elf on the road to Kilcolgan around midnight. It terrified him so much that he never recovered. Now he’s in an asylum at Ballinasloe.’

‘Perhaps he really did see something.’

‘I doubt it. All the wayward boys got sent to Ballinasloe. It’s not a hospital at all – just a place of coercive confinement… When I’d been bad, or refused to eat my cabbage, my aunt would ask: “Do you want to end up in Ballinasloe?”

‘Charming. She sounds like a right bundle of laughs.’

‘Aunt Maggie. A miserable old hag if ever there was one. I hated the summer holidays: stuck on her farm in the middle of nowhere. I couldn’t wait to get back to school.’

‘No wonder you turned out such a swat. You’ve got your Aunt Maggie to thank for that.’

‘I suppose.’

Blyth points to a flashing Christmas tree:

‘Pretty that, isn’t it?’

They drive through the Twelve Days of Christmas – a throng of luciferous mouldings lit from the inside. Blyth starts singing at the top of his voice, tapping a rhythm on the wheel:

Twelve drummers drumming; eleven pipers piping; ten lords a leaping; nine ladies dancing; eight maids a milking; seven swans a swimming; six geese a laying; five–gold–rings; four calling birds; three French hens; two turtle doves… And a partridge in a pear tree!

‘Do you mind, sir?’ scowls Sims. ‘I’ve got a head-ache.’

‘Oh come on Sims! Don’t be such a Scrooge! Where’s your Christmas spirit?’

The display is followed by an incongruous group of pink flamingos and gyring windmills. Sims throws up his hands in despair:

‘Look at all this stuff! There’s no end to it! Must we see it all? Cockatoos! Whatever next?’

‘Look Sims! A Disney grotto! Mickey Mouse dressed up as Santa Claus! Isn’t that grand? There’s Snow White and The Seven Dwarves!’

‘What on earth has got into you?’ asks Sims, astonished.

‘Nothing, why?’

‘This isn’t like you, sir. Not at all.’

‘I’m allowed to have a bit of fun, aren’t I?’

‘Yes, but… Dumbo, Pluto and Tinkerbelle? It’s kids’ stuff. I don’t know why we came.’

‘You old misery guts. Why don’t you go back to sleep? Let me enjoy the show.’

‘I can’t sleep. I’m feeling sick.’

Blyth slows to a crawl and winds down his window:

‘A bit of sea will clear your head.’

‘Sea air? Smells more like diesel.’

‘There’s a Fish & Chip shop over there. Are you hungry?’


‘What about a candy floss?’

‘Candy floss? I’m not six, you know.’

‘You’ve got low blood sugar.’

‘Is that your expert diagnosis?’

‘You’ve gone all pale. You look like Death warmed up.’

‘Candy floss is the last thing I need.’

‘What about a coffee? There’s a cup in the Thermos.’

‘No thanks.’

Sims shields his eyes from a pylon of pulsing lights; a silver star sparkles at the apex, where Rudolf the reindeer grins with a flashing nose.

‘Where will we sleep?’ asks Sims. ‘On a flat rock with the mermaids?’

‘Don’t be facetious.’

‘Or we could kip under the pier with the tramps.’

‘An old softy like you? You wouldn’t last five minutes with that lot. They’d have your guts for garters. Do you want to get knifed in the back?’

‘It’s starting to rain. We won’t get bed and breakfast on Christmas Eve.’

‘I know. Perhaps we can find an old barn or something.’

‘We didn’t really think this through, did we sir?’

‘Well, it was a spur of the moment thing.’

‘We could buy a tent.’

‘At this hour? All the shops are shut. Besides, we’re safer in the car.’

‘But I can’t sleep sitting up.’

‘Well you’ve managed pretty damn well so far.’

‘This was a bad idea.’

‘You having second thoughts, Sims?’

‘No sir. I just want to get this over with: prove that TERGA is a hoax, once and for all.’

Blyth grinds to a halt, parking beside a mechanical leprechaun who raises his hat.

‘Why are we stopping?’ asks Sims.

‘What if Vallis is right? What if all this is really true?’

‘What? Faeries and leprechauns? You’re pulling my chain.’

‘Remember Sims, the best way to keep the masses in their place is to prevent them from knowing the truth; to keep the historical facts out of their hands. The schools are full of orthodox agents who disseminate lies on a daily basis. People generally accept what they are taught without enquiry. Education is misdirection. Misinformation. Modern science is just a narrow minded belief system. Ignorance assuming to be knowledge. Atheists scoff at the cult of the Virgin. But what about the cult of Darwin?’

‘I’d rather not get into Darwin again right now, if that’s all right with you. I don’t need another lecture on the mathematical improbabilities of Evolution.’

‘That’s because your consensus of reality was formulated at university.’

‘And yours?’ retorts Sims. ‘Oh yes, don’t tell me, I forgot. Your consensus of reality was formulated by a lunatic.’

‘Listen Sims, you promised to keep an open mind. If you believe that TERGA is a hoax, then what’s the point of you being here?’

‘You’re right,’ concedes Sims. ‘I’m sorry. But you’ve had years to research all this stuff. I’ve only had forty-eight hours. And I’m reluctant to give up my consensus of reality so easily. Besides, just because Vallis can see faeries, doesn’t mean that they’re actually there.’

‘We can only agree on what is “there” or “not there” if we share the same paradigm. But people like Vallis exist in a different paradigm altogether.’

‘So do most lunatics.’

‘Vallis isn’t a lunatic. He’s transsexual.’

‘Same thing, isn’t it?’

‘Don’t be obtuse, Sims. It doesn’t suit you.’

‘Either way, you injected him with psychotics.’

‘You like pouring salt in my wounds?’

‘Of course not. But some people are like Black Holes: get too close and they suck you into chaos. Can’t you see what Vallis has done?’

‘What are you implying?’

‘You’re behaviour of late is decidedly odd. To be honest, I don’t even recognise you any more. It’s like you’re hovering on some mad Event Horizon. And I fear that if you see Vallis again, you might fall into oblivion.’

‘That’s a bit over dramatic, isn’t it?’

‘What if TERGA doesn’t work? Are you prepared for that disappointment?’

‘And what if it does? Are you prepared for that revelation?’

‘In my experience, spiritualists do nothing but deluge their victims with useless and misleading information.’

‘Like the fake gypsy who foretold your fictitious children?’

‘Yes. Like her. A charlatan.’

‘Vallis is no charlatan. He’s seen faeries all his life. Why should his experience of reality be any less valid than ours?’

The leprechaun raises his hat again.

‘But faeries?’ scoffs Sims. ‘I mean, really?

‘It’s not so absurd when you think about it. The faery world may be an extension of our own reality. Just as ultra-violet is an extension of the visible spectrum. Vallis believes these creatures are inter-dimensional beings. They can manipulate Time, Space and Energy in ways we cannot even imagine. But their world is intrinsically connected with ours. Everything is connected. Just as in dreams, where Time and Space are annihilated, so the Unus Mundus annihilates our illusion of separation.’

‘Vallis told you that?’

‘During his interrogation. He was very matter of fact about it.’

‘Well whatever Vallis said, I think you should take it with a very large pinch of salt. Interdimensional beings? Listen to yourself.’

‘But everything Vallis said has turned out to be true. Even TERGA.’

‘All we have of TERGA are a few pages of a printer’s proof. The manual is incomplete; it proves nothing at all.’

‘You will build it, won’t you Sims? You promised.’

‘We’re blocking the road. I think we should move on.’

‘I’m not driving another yard until we’ve had this out.’

‘Had what out?’

‘Well, you’ve obviously got the hump. What’s the matter? Have I upset you in some way? Get it off your chest, Sims. Let’s clear the air.’

‘I haven’t got the hump. I’m just worried about you, that’s all.’

‘Well I’m worried about you, Sims.’

‘You are? Why?’

‘You’re suffering from an acute case of paradigm paralysis.’

‘No I’m not. You’re being irrational.’

‘Then tell me what you think of the Unus Mundus. As a scientist, I mean. I’d like to know your opinion.’

‘Well, it’s plausible on one level. I mean, physics postulates a Unified Field Theory. But it’s little more than conjecture: how to unite the properties of gravitational, electromagnetic, weak and strong interactions, into a single set of equations that can predict all their characteristics. But there are many unsolved problems. Especially with using relativistic quantum field theory to encompass the four fundamental interactions and all their elementary particles. As for inter-dimensional beings, that’s too metaphysical for me. Surely, these faeries are figments of a disturbed mind. Fugue states. I would rather keep my eyes fixed on the evidence of Nature.’

‘Perhaps we’re looking at Nature in the wrong way.’

‘How do you mean?’

‘What we perceive as separate phenomena could be one and the same. Objective reality may not even exist. This material realm may not be solid at all. We might be living in a phantasm.’

‘Ah! The world is an illusion, said the Buddha.’

‘Sarcasm is the lowest form of wit, Sims.

‘Yes, but science is only concerned with objects of the external sense. And if all experience is based on nothing but a phantasm, then how can we know anything about existential reality? If the world of Nature is subordinate to a force that exists outside of our experience, then knowledge of the true nature of things becomes an impossibility. You believe TERGA will prove this Spiritual reality. But by your own logic, that’s uncomeatable. We have no experience of the Spiritual realm. So how can we comprehend realities beyond our own? It’s Terra Incognito.

‘To most people, yes. But not to mediums like Jack Vallis. Whilst on Earth, we forget from whence we came. We remain complicit in our own oblivion. The supernatural implications are too grave. So we block them out. But the truth remains: the Spirit realm is our true home. We are spiritual beings dwelling in material bodies. How else could I speak to my dead son?’

Sims could feel it, sense it, but he could not admit it. He felt obscured from himself. An outcast from Paradise, walking the Earth alone. And the last of his family line. He recalled the dingy cubicle with its flimsy grey curtain. The doctor asking for his sample. And the humiliation of producing it. Thumbing through a pornographic magazine. Ejaculating into a test tube, like some laboratory animal. Shooting blanks his entire life. Shooting blanks. No wonder his wife left him. Disillusioned and divorced, with no children or relations, his whole life seemed pointless and absurd. His wife had remarried a lawyer. They were living in a big Georgian house on the south side of Clapham Common. Playing at happy families. Three girls; two boys. They should have been his children. What of the babies he never sired? Were they dwelling in Heaven, waiting to incarnate in fleshy bodies? What was God playing at in His celestial factory? Had He devised some angelic production line of human souls? The implications were grave indeed. What where the rules and conditions of incarnation? Did each soul choose its earthly parents? If that was the case, then why did he choose a violent alcoholic for a father, and a depressive neurotic for a mother? What of disability and disease? Who would willingly choose a life of misery and pain? To think of human history! The endless millennia of suffering and death! Was God so cruel and small-minded as to punish His Creation indefinitely? The very idea makes Sims stew with rage. He sits fuming, watching the lights, the entire vista pulsing with phosphorescence, like fireflies in a vision.

‘Spiritual beings?’ he sneers. ‘You can’t prove that.’

‘No, but TERGA can.’

‘A race of disembodied humans? I wouldn’t count on it. Men and women are merely automata; the Universe is just a self adjusting machine.’

‘Deterministic materialism: a blind and ignorant philosophy, if ever there was one. What do we know of matter? We know that it consists of less than a hundred elements, which cannot be destroyed or resolved into simpler substances by any power possessed by man – apart from the atomic bomb, that is. The atoms of these elements, (which have never been seen), are assumed be in a constant state of vibratory motion. Thus the whole question “What is matter?” hinges upon the nature of these elementary particles. The Greek Atomists assumed them to be little spheres, absolutely solid and unalloyed: bodies of everlasting materiality. But modern physicists define atoms as aggregations of electromagnetic force. Which does away with the idea of solid matter altogether. In which case, the material universe does not exist as we understand it. Jack Vallis believes that atoms are gateways…’


‘Yes!’ beams Blyth. He bubbles with excitement and his face seem to fizz with effervescence.

‘Gateways to what?’ asks Sims, dryly.

‘Why, to Spirit, of course! Atoms are portals through which the cosmic intelligence manifests itself. The Spirit realm is conjoined with the Material world via atomic forces. All matter is suffused with higher consciousness. Every atom is a living thought. The fundamental nature of matter is essentially transcendental.’

‘That’s just Eastern occultism. Spiritism masquerading as science.’

‘But as a theory, the role of consciousness in quantum events goes some way to explain the extraordinary powers of mystics – like levitation and telekinesis.’

‘I’m an electrical engineer, not a shaman.’

‘Yes, but are you a true scientist?’

‘What’s that supposed to mean?’

‘Are you willing to give up your consensus of reality? To take that leap into the unknown…’

‘And believe in faeries? No. The riddle of the Universe isn’t solved by metaphysics. But materialism works, again and again, without fail, every time.’

‘Just keep an open mind, Sims. That’s all I ask.’

‘You want me to build TERGA on scientific grounds, but there’s not a shred of evidence to warrant its construction. Assuming Vallis still has the plans, there must be some kind of working hypothesis.’

‘There is. He explained it to me once. As I understand it, TERGA sets up some kind of resonant frequency in the superspace around it. It stretches the fabric of our material world like the mesh of net. And the Spirit realm pours through the gaps.’

Sims ponders for a moment, his eyes fixed on a matrix of ruby lights. The array switches on and off in a programmed sequence: a Celtic knot; a Viking helmet; a Maltese cross; an Egyptian scarab; a spiral of cosmic rays. Then he turns to Blyth and says:

‘That’s ludicrous.’

Blyth hits the wheel in frustration:

‘God damn it Sims! You said you’d help me. But you have no intention of making TERGA work, do you? In fact, you would rather it didn’t work.’

‘That’s not true.’

‘Only you can build TERGA, Sims. Only you.’

‘I want it to work. Really, I do. But how can we be confident that Vallis is of a sound mind? If TERGA does what he claims, then it flouts the laws of physics. It seems like a fool’s errand. Shall I rewrite the electromagnetic field equations whilst I’m at it? Overturn the work of Maxwell and Planck?’

‘According to Planck, the active force within the atom comes from a conscious, intelligent mind. And that mind is the ultimate source of matter.’ (iii)

‘Is that your Unus Mundus? That’s all fine and dandy, but did you know that Planck was also a religious fanatic?’

‘Was he? According to Einstein, Planck derived empirically correct equations from hypotheses that contradict the laws of physics! So who’s right? And why should Jack Vallis be wrong?’

Sims smoulders then snaps:

‘If you know so much about TERGA, then why don’t you build it?’

The words hit Blyth like stones. Deflated, he sinks in his seat and huffs:

‘I don’t understand, Sims. You were all up for this yesterday. You were excited about it. Why the sudden doubt?’

‘Because the more I mull it over, the more insane it is. Telergic amplifier? It’s pseudo-science. A spiritist machine based on a quasi religion: Gnostic dualism. Do you really believe that our whole objective reality is nothing but a transitory illusion?’

Blyth becomes absorbed in a sombre silence, his hopes dashed on the rocks. Why was Sims being so obstructive? Had he been warned off? They sit motionless, watching the lights which now appear soiled and dimmed, as if smothered by sooty clouds. Of course, Sims was right: the whole idea of TERGA was ostensibly ridiculous; but Blyth knew that Vallis was the genuine article. The occult machine was real. And if Sims was to build it, he would a little more convincing. Then Blyth spots a Chinese kite flying above the pier; its serpentine body is made from segments that flow in undulating waves.

‘Sims, look at that dragon blowing in the wind.’

‘What about it?’

‘Your perception of it is different to mine, but we are both looking at the same object. Agreed?’


‘Suppose I take six television cameras, and film that dragon from six different angles, all 90° apart – like the faces of a cube: top and bottom; font and back, left and right. A viewer might look at the output from each camera, and conclude that he is looking at six different dragons. But after a while, he will begin to notice similarities; after all, the motion of one dragon correlates with another. As one tail blows left, another blows right; as one head curls up, another curls down. If the viewer remains unaware of the situation, he might assume the dragons are connected in some profound yet inexplicable way. Of course, the truth of the matter is that he is viewing one dragon from six different angles.(iv) In the same way, there is a deeper level of reality that we are not privy to. Like quantum non-locality, or action at a distance. How can two subatomic particles that once shared close proximity, communicate instantly over any distance? Unless their separation in spacetime is just an illusion.’

‘Quantum entanglement is little more than a philosophical theory. And one refuted by Einstein. The quantum mechanical description of reality given by the wave-function is not complete.’

‘What if Vallis has completed it?’

‘Highly unlikely, if not impossible.’


‘Because according to Einstein’s theory of special relativity, instantaneous action at a distance violates the relativistic speed limit of information propagation. That is to say, if one of the entangled particles were to be suddenly displaced from its position, the other particle would feel its influence instantaneously, which implies information can be transmitted faster than the speed of light.’

‘Perhaps it can. What we perceive as separate objects might be part of a mysterious whole that we cannot comprehend.’

‘It’s a lovely idea, but it defies quantum law, I’m afraid. Take the EPR thought experiment made famous by Einstein, Podolsky and Rosen. Assume an entangled pair of objects with the non-commuting operators of position and momentum, A and B. You see, in the quantum world, one cannot give both a dynamic variable and its time-rate of change. The principle of complementarity forbids it. Given the geometrodynamic field coordinate A, one cannot also know the geometrodynamic field momentum B… If AB≠BA, then the precise knowledge of one of them precludes such a knowledge of the other. Furthermore, any attempt to determine the latter experimentally will alter the state of the system in such a way as to destroy the knowledge of the first.(v) In other words, the two different objects cannot share a simultaneous reality. The uncertainty principle negates any possibility to predict, or even to give meaning to, “the deterministic classical history of space evolving in Time.” No prediction of spacetime, therefore no meaning for spacetime, is the verdict of the quantum principle.(vi) I mean, it blows the whole idea of TERGA out the water. How can a quantum machine in one reality, entangle two alternate realities, when knowledge of events in one reality precludes knowledge of events in the other?’

‘That’s assuming every object in one reality has its corresponding counterpart in the other.’

‘Well, it’s just a thought experiment. In either case, you’re talking about parallel worlds. A multiverse. Philosophically, it’s quite intriguing. But when you do the maths, you soon realise that you’re dealing with an infinite hall of mirrors. TERGA implies that Einstein’s relativistic notion of spacetime is an illusion; that our mathematical model of reality is fundamentally flawed. But relativity cannot be flawed, because the physical universe would cease to exist as we know it.’

‘Vallis has obviously circumvented conventional wisdom. Discovered something fundamental to our understanding of the Cosmos – something Einstein never considered.’

‘Do you really believe that? The whole premise of TERGA sounds completely bonkers.’

‘Well, you must admit, there is a certain poetry to it.’


‘ – That the gate to infinity lies within the infintesimal.’

‘And the moon is made of cream cheese… Poetic notions aren’t always true.’

‘Why else would the Masons be hiding TERGA?’

‘Because they’ve been duped, like you. No machine can manipulate spacetime. It violates every law of the material universe.’

‘But don’t you see Sims? The dynamic object is not spacetime. It is space. That’s what TERGA acts upon. The atoms of physical space. It invokes resonant harmonics in the superspace of our material world. The geometric configuration of space changes with time. But it is space, three-dimensional space, that does the changing.(vii) TERGA is a time machine.’

‘Listen to you all of a sudden,’ marvels Sims.’

‘You wanted a working hypothesis. Now you’ve got one.’

Sims thinks for a moment, squinting at the ruby lights that spiral in a vortex. Removing his glasses, he rubs his eyes and sighs wearily:

‘Time machine? You might as well try to weave a rope of sand. Forget superspace. Your understanding of special relativity is bohemian, to say the least.’

‘What’s bohemian about it?’ asks Blyth, insulted.

‘Special relativity crystallised from the Maxwell-Lorentz theory of electromagnetic phenomena. And as Einstein showed, all forms of energy possess inertia. The charge and mass of a body cause indelible imprints on the electromagnetic and gravitational fields that surround it. Matter warps the geometry of spacetime. And in the presence of matter, spacetime becomes non-Euclidean. But a machine that warps time in the classic relativistic sense would either have to approach the speed of light, (which is impossible), or generate a gravitational field beyond any stellar mass. To manipulate the fabric of the Universe in such a prodigious manner is quite frankly preposterous.’

‘Well Jack Vallis has found a way. A backdoor into superspace. Preposterous or not. So you can forget about your precious equations and what you learnt in school.’

Furious, Sims hits the dashboard with his palm:

‘It’s crazy! You’re talking about impossible amounts of energy! A sustained fusion reaction beyond the magnitude of our own sun! That’s not something you can draw from a domestic power supply!’

‘According to Vallis, the energy required to open an atomic gateway is surprisingly small. And once resonance has been established, the gate remains open indefinitely. I suspect space and time are linked by some as yet unknown quantum mechanical property. Perhaps even consciousness itself.’

The leprechaun raises his hat again.

‘Atomic gateways?’ puzzles Sims. ‘It’s hardly conceivable.’

‘Think of it! Portals to other worlds!’

‘Doesn’t that frighten you? It frightens me.’

‘But why?’

‘Well, where does our world fit into the grand scheme of things? If these other dimensions exist, then Nature must have partitioned them off for good reason.’

‘Nature or God?’

‘Call it what you like. But Nature created us for this world. A fish belongs in the sea, not in the desert.’

‘Until it crawls out the water.’

‘I thought you didn’t believe in evolution.’

‘I don’t. I’m talking about conscious evolution. Consciousness. Is it not possible that our material world is some kind of simulation? What if all events and outcomes are already accounted for? Like a cosmic computer that predicts various outcomes in a game of chess. Each outcome is a different reality. A distinct world of its own. Every decision we make changes the path of our lives. At each salient choice, we branch off into an alternate reality. Of course, we remain under the illusion that all these realities are one and same – part of a single continuous timeline. That’s the simulation. And our relativistic conception of spacetime leads us to believe that Time travel is impossible. But in the Spirit world – that realm of interstitial space – there is no Time. At least, not according to Vallis.’

A tram whizzes past with the words “ABC WEEKEND TELEVISION” in yellow lights. The driver yells:

‘Ere! You’re not allowed to stop there! You bloody idiot!’

Blyth starts the engine and pulls off, shouting:

And a Happy Christmas to you too!

Another tram comes up the rear, ringing its bell.

‘I think we’re in the way, sir.’

‘Whose way?’ flusters Blyth.

‘The tram behind us. The one with “GO SHELL” on the front.’

Blyth honks his horn and swerves into a side road, narrowly missing a man on a tricycle. Sims breathes a sigh of relief as they bolt down a gloomy alley, leaving the sea-front far behind. Within minutes they’re racing through the Kirkham suburbs, back towards Preston. The conversation dries up into an awkward silence. Then Blyth starts to hum:

While shepherds watched their flocks by night, all seated on the ground; the Angel of the Lord came down and glory shone around!

The streets are deserted, apart from a wretched crowd of poverty-stricken drunkards who sprawl around a bus stop. Beyond is a park bordered by black railings and fine Regency houses. Holly wreaths adorn the doors and the tall sash windows glow with Christmas cheer.

‘It’s all right for some,’ mumbles Blyth.

He clocks another mile as the road begins to pale under steady falls of sleet. Anxious, he flicks the wipers and slows to thirty MPH, wringing the wheel in both hands, his leather gloves squeaking on the melamine trim:

‘It’s snowing, Sims.’

But Sims is fast asleep, dreaming of Tinkerbelle and her orb of Light.

*    *    *    *

Blyth shoves the engine into second gear and the Mini climbs the moor-side road, its headlights ploughing through the darkness. Checking the mirror, he spies the distant city lights twinkling like stars. Onward they forge, into the bleak night that smothers the fells. A blast of hail rattles the roof. Blyth tenses and barks:

‘Sims! I need directions.’

But Sims remains hunched in his seat, sleeping like a gibbon.

‘Wake up Sims. We’re lost.’

Sims stirs with a snort:

‘Sorry old chap. I must have dropped off.’

‘You snore like a pig.’

‘Are we there yet?’

‘We missed the exit.’

‘What’s that rattling noise?’

‘Focus Sims, focus!’

Drowsy, Sims puts on his glasses. Pellets of hail are bouncing off the bonnet like sub-atomic particles:

‘Bloody hell! Where are we now? The North Pole?’

‘I have no idea Sims. No idea. You’re the map reader, for god’s sake. You tell me.’

‘All right, keep your hair on. What was the last town?’

‘Preston. But that was thirty miles back.’

Sims grabs the atlas, his penlight pooling on the page:

‘Preston? Er, let me see. Are we still on the A6?’

‘Does this look like the A6?’ fumes Blyth.’

‘Have we passed Garstang?’

‘Garstang? No, I don’t think so.’

Sims peers into the void. A ghostly moon hangs low in the west where the Irish sea gleams like a pewter plate.

‘I can’t get the lay of the land,’ says Sims. ‘We’re in the hills by the looks of it.’

‘The hills?’ tuts Blyth. ‘The hills. I could have told you that: we’ve been crawling in second gear for the past two miles. The hills. Can’t you be more precise?’

Anxious, Sims runs his finger over the map:

‘Let’s see now. Bleasdale… Forest of Bowland… Parlick.. Fair Snape Fell… Wolf Fell… I’m not sure sir. We could be anywhere.’

‘Brilliant, Sims, brilliant. We’re lost. And running low on petrol.’

They enter a dense fog and the engine begins to stutter in the dank air.

‘Stone the crows!’ frets Blyth. ‘It’s pea soup out there.’

‘We should stop for the night. It’s too risky to go on. We’ll get our bearings at dawn.’

‘Agreed. If we can find a stopping place…’

They continue in nervous silence, the car straining up a steep incline. After a mile they turn off-road and pull into a rocky clearing, buffeted by howling winds.

‘This’ll do,’ says Blyth.

‘It’s a bit exposed, isn’t it sir? What if we get snowed in?’

‘Do you have a better idea Sims? Know of a fine hotel, perhaps?’

‘Very funny. ’

Blyth cuts the engine and yanks the handbrake. Then raising his collar, he tips his hat over his face and chirps:

‘Sleep tight Sims.’

‘Sleep tight? Are you joking?’

Sims writhes in his seat and jostles in the foot well, seething and tutting.

‘Will you stop fidgeting?’ hisses Blyth.

‘It’s not my fault. I wasn’t made to travel in a sardine can.’

‘Sardine can? This is a Morris Mini-Minor, if you don’t mind!’

‘It’s a Dinky car when you’re six foot six. I’m crippled up. I’ve got cramp.’

‘Well get out and take a walk. Stretch your legs a bit.’

‘It’s bloody freezing out there. Come to think of it, it’s bloody freezing in here.’

‘Didn’t you bring a blanket?’

‘I forgot.’

‘You could put your donkey costume on.’

‘Sod off. I’m not going to sit here dressed up as a pantomime ass!’

‘Have my blanket. It’s on the back seat.’

‘Don’t you want it?’

‘I don’t feel the cold. I went to the School of Hard Knocks. My dormitory was an ice bucket. Besides, I’ve spent too many nights sleeping rough in Eastern Poland.’

Sims grabs the blanket and tucks it round his bony legs, pulling a fistful tight under his chin. His teeth start chattering as flurries of snow pile upon the windscreen. The wilderness presses in on all sides, an elemental beast, ravenous, wet and horrid. He mutters grimly:

‘I don’t like it here. It’s creepy.’

‘Creepy?’ asks Blyth, removing his hat. ‘What’s creepy about it?’

‘I don’t know. I just feel uneasy, that’s all.’

‘I thought you didn’t believe in ghouls and goblins.’

‘I don’t. But this is a bad place to stop. We’re up in the clouds. We could be on a precipice or something.’

‘Get out and take a look around.’

‘What? In this blizzard? I might loose my footing. Fall arse over tit down a pothole.’

Blyth sniggers into his hat:

‘You’re a bit of an old woman, Sims. If you don’t mind me saying so.’

‘Well I do mind. And stop leering.’

‘How do you know I’m leering? It’s pitch dark.’

‘That’s what you do when you poke fun of me. You leer.’

‘Do I?’

‘Yes. The corners of your mouth curl up in the most hideous manner. I won’t be leered at.’

‘Well, you’ll be pleased to know, I’m not leering.’

Sims turns in his seat and sighs:

‘It’s no use. I can’t sleep.’

‘You could have fooled me. You spent the whole journey snoring. Not much of a travelling companion, are you? You’re meant to stay awake; stop me from falling asleep at the wheel. I’m exhausted.’

‘Sorry sir.’

‘Never mind. Forget about it. I say, what a way to spend Christmas Eve, eh? We won’t forget this in a hurry.’

‘I’ll be dead by dawn,’ shudders Sims. ‘I’m half-frozen to death already. I could eat a horse. All I’ve had today is a bowl of porridge.’

‘Well that’s your own stupid fault.’

‘I beg your pardon?’

‘Why, I offered you Fish & Chips only an hour ago.’

‘I was feeling sick. Besides, if you hadn’t gone all the way to Blackpool, we might have found an inn.’

‘Will you shut up about Blackpool? If you’d read the map correctly in the first place, we wouldn’t be stuck up a mountain in the middle of fucking nowhere, would we? You sent me off on a wild goose chase.’

‘So it’s my fault is it?’

‘If you must know, yes.’

The windows rattle in the gale. Sims blows into his hands and shivers:

‘What I wouldn’t give for my own bed and a hot water bottle…’

At this, Blyth gropes inside his coat and produces a hip flask:

‘What you need is a nightcap. A stiff brandy to warm you up a bit…’

Sims fumbles for the flask.

‘Much obliged. Thank you, sir.’

‘Finish it off. Anything to shut you up.’


Sims guzzles it down, sighing with satisfaction as a warm glow spreads through his chest.

‘Better?’ asks Blyth.

‘Much better.’

‘Terrible how easy it is to insult a good friend in the dark. I’m sorry Sims. I didn’t mean it.’

‘That’s all right sir. Easier to confide, too, I suppose.’

‘Why? Have you got something to confide Sims?’

‘Like what?’

‘Like being here under false pretences. Does “C” know about our little trip? Did he send you to keep an eye on me?’

There follows a tense pause. Then Sims murmers:

‘He’s worried about you, sir. That’s all.’

‘I suspected as much.’

‘I’m sorry.’

‘Don’t be.’

‘I was going to tell you at Blackpool. I hope you don’t think me disloyal.’

‘No Sims. I understand perfectly. Loyalty to the service comes above everything else. You’re only doing your job. I’m proud of you. I would have done the same in your position.’

‘Thank you sir. But you must understand, I didn’t go to “C”. He came to me. How he found out about our excursion, I’ll never know.’

‘That’s one of the perils of working at Leconfield House. The whole place is bugged from top to bottom. And Sunhill Asylum?’

‘What about it?’

‘Do they know we’re coming?’

‘Not as far as I know. “C” trusted you enough to follow your own hunch. He’s curious about TERGA too.’

‘Thank God for small graces.’

The car shakes in a sudden squall. They sit motionless, chastised by the screaming wind. At length, Blyth says:

‘You’re right, Sims. This is a creepy spot. I wouldn’t like to be out here all alone, that’s for sure.’

‘I thought you liked the great outdoors. Find an old barn, you said – like sleeping rough was second nature.’

‘It was, when I was young. I once spent two weeks in the Carpathian Mountains.’

‘How did you survive?’

‘I dug a snow-shelter.’

‘What did you eat? Rabbit?’

‘No. Chocolate.’

‘You make it sound cosy.’

‘Oh, it was far from cosy, believe me. I lost three toes from frostbite.’

‘Bloody hell.’

‘But that shelter saved my life.’

‘The Carpathians. That’s Transylvania, isn’t it? Did you meet any vampires? Apart from Styx, that is.’

‘Don’t talk about her like that.’

‘But she bit you on the neck, didn’t she?’

‘Show some respect for the dead. If anything, Styx turned me toward The Christ. May she rest in peace.’

Blyth wipes a tear from his eye, then adds:

‘After I slit her throat, that’s when my life began to unravel. Understand?’

‘Sorry. I didn’t mean to be flippant. But she was a communist after all. Spies like Styx are vampires – sucking the blood out of the free world. No individual is more important than the state. You had to kill her. You had no choice.’

‘We always have a choice, Sims.’

There follows a grave silence. Then Blyth asks:

‘What about you? Have you ever had any ghoulish encounters?’

‘Plenty. Cambridge was full of ghouls. Champagne socialists born with silver spoons their mouth. They’re the worst kind of commies. Idealists from rich families. Money brokers, investors and bankers. The commercial proletariat are no different from the bourgeoisie; they reconcile capital and labour by exploiting the masses. But they call themselves communists, because it makes them sound worthy. They claim their monopoly of property is for the benefit of the poor! Despots. Communist despots.’

‘I didn’t mean communists.’

‘What did you mean then?’

‘I meant ghouls. Real ghouls.’

‘Er, is it wise to talk of such things? Especially in such a desolate spot?’

‘There’s something very odd about you Sims.’

‘In what way?’

‘What are you hiding?’

‘Hiding? What ever do you mean, sir?’

‘Well, it doesn’t add up. I thought you were an atheist.’

‘I am. But why tempt fate? You know what they say: speak of the Devil, and he’ll appear.’

‘So you’re a superstitious atheist? Is that it?’

‘No that’s not it at all.’

‘Yet you won’t talk of the Devil on Midwinter’s Eve, when the moon is full. Seems very superstitious to me.’

‘Nonsense. But in a place like this, the mind plays tricks. And I’d rather not feed my imagination.’

‘Are you frightened of the Devil, Sims?’

‘Mock if you like. But growing up in Ireland, that sort of thing rubs off on you. Even if you are an atheist.’

‘Perhaps you like to think you are. But quite obviously, you’re not. Tell me about your life in Ireland…’

‘There’s nothing to tell. Besides, it was a long time ago.’

‘But did you ever see anything? Even atheists see things from time to time. Things they won’t admit to. Apparitions. Like that faery on the road to Kilcolgan.’

‘Irish myth and moonshine. Galway is full of it. You can’t cross a forth without hearing of some black monster or sheoguey beast. The hills are haunted with shadowy inhabitants. Aunt Maggie was always telling of faeries, changelings and the unquiet dead. Like the immortal Sidhe, who dwell in stone built chambers and ride the screaming wind. The subterranean folk with pale skin and yellow hair. The fallen angels, who ruled Earth before Noah’s flood… Beings of mysterious substance, with airy bodies and luminous eyes. Shape-changers and hoof-footed creatures. Ghostly lights and disembodied voices. A whole phantasmagoria of faery host. But all I ever saw were white-faced sheep; and all I ever heard were curlews, crying in the sedge. And you?’

‘I did see something when I was twelve.’


‘Something from the Netherworld.’

‘What thing?’

‘A fire phantom.’

‘A what?’

‘A flaming entity, dressed in robes of fire.’

‘You’re just trying to spook me.’

‘No Sims, I’m telling the truth.’

‘A fire phantom? Where did you see it?’

‘My bedroom. It flew in through the window on Halloween. I was petrified. I thought it would set the curtains ablaze. But there was no radiant heat at all.’

‘What happened?’

‘It stood at the foot of my bed and ogled. It had the most wicked grin.’

‘What do you think it was?’

‘A succubus.’

A purl of thunder rumbles off the peaks.

‘Succubus?’ whispers Sims. ‘What makes you say that?’

‘The physique was female, and very attractive, I might add. But I don’t know if it was a woman on fire, or an entity made of fire. I expected to hear crackling, or roaring flames. But it was completely silent. That was the most eerie thing about it: the silence. She exerted a strange magnetic pull. I felt compelled to reach out and touch her. Caress her.

‘And did you?’

‘No. I ran out the house, bawling my head off. I was so overcome with fright that I swapped rooms with my brother.’

‘Did he ever see this succubus?’

‘No… Or if he did, he never admitted it.’

‘Case solved. You were dreaming.’

‘For years I told myself the same. Dreaming. I determined to forget the succubus. I denied its very existence. In fact, I denied the spiritual world altogether. Then on my twentieth birthday, I proudly declared myself atheist. My parents were horrified. They were both fervent Wesleyans who went to church on Sundays, said grace before meals, and the Lord’s prayer before bed. They promptly washed their hands of me. I had become an impious heathen; a profane and worldly apostate. But you can’t exist in the hallowed halls of Oxford and be anything else. Religion was for numbskulls. I ridiculed Christians for the simple reason that all my peers found them ridiculous. What a fool I was. Demons know us better than we know ourselves. Perhaps that was the intention all along: to drive a wedge between me, my family, and God…’

‘Did you seen the phantom again?’

‘No. But I felt it’s presence, especially in the early hours. I was weighed down with nightmares; haunted by a spirit who robbed me of my slumbers. My response was to negate it altogether. So I founded The Sceptic Club. The members were arrogant cocky clods, who blindly rejected any unwelcome fact, all under the guise of diligent enquiry; their approach to the supernatural was more contemptible and unscientific than the most ardent theists. During my final year at Oxford I was approached by MI6. The service is particularly fond of atheists. You can’t believe in God and kill for Mother State at the same time. Shortly after joining, I got sent behind the iron curtain. It was exciting. Liberating, even. And I thought I had finally escaped my demon. But the spectre was always there, lurking in the background, waiting to take me unawares. When I killed Styx, that succubus was foremost in my mind. Now I am haunted by two female spirits.’

‘To give into such things is weakness,’ says Sims.

‘Perhaps the weakness is in denying them. It is more courageous to admit that spirits exist, even though they inhabit a reality we do not understand. The old Rabbis said that Adam was visited for centuries by succubi; he had intercourse with demons, lemurs and vampires. Like Lilith, his first wife.’

‘Belief in succubi arose from ascetic torture of the monk. Malicious entities, crystallized from psychic desire. The incubi of Loudun were the crazed imaginings of sex-starved Ursuline nuns. Celibacy is enough to drive anyone nuts. If you ask me, that succubus was just a manifestation of your own sexual repression. Puberty and all that.’

‘If you say so, Sims.’

‘I do say so. None of these phenomena stand up to judicious scientific scrutiny.’

‘You’ll change your tune when you meet Jack Vallis.’

‘I doubt that very much.’

‘Vallis can speak to these entities.’

‘Like he spoke to your dead son?’

‘You remain sceptical. Good. I agree with your scepticism. As far as the spiritual world is concerned, scientific proof is the only way forward. Empirical observation. That’s why you must build TERGA. Just think what it would mean to verify these phenomena.’

‘Fire demons? Go to sleep sir. It’s late.’

They fall into silence. Wind whips the car and moans through the vents. After some minutes, Blyth whispers:

‘You can build TERGA, can’t you Sims?’

‘I can build anything given a plan. But a telergic amplifier? That’s fallen angel technology.’

Copyright © Nicholas Shea 1992-2021. All rights reserved.

i. ‘Mysticism’, p.321. ‘Voices and Visions’, by Evelyn Underhill. (E.P. Dutton & Co. New York 1912). I have abbreviated the full passage, which is: “The messengers of the invisible world knock persistently at the doors of the senses: and not only at those which we refer to hearing and to sight. In other words, supersensual intuitions—the contact between man’s finite being and the Infinite Being in which it is immersed—can express themselves by means of almost any kind of sensory automatism.”

ii. Max Planck, from an interview in ‘The Observer’, 25 January 1931, p.17, column 3.

iii. Max Planck. Das Wesen der Materie [The Nature of Matter], a 1944 speech in Florence, Italy, (Archiv zur Geschichte der Max‑Planck‑Gesellschaft, Abt. Va, Rep. 11 Planck, Nr. 1797).

iv. The physicist David Bohm (1917 – 1992), used a similar analogy with a fish in an aquarium, filmed by two different television cameras, one from the front, and the other from the side.

v. A. Einstein; B. Podolsky; N. Rosen, (1935). “Can Quantum-Mechanical Description of Physical Reality Be Considered Complete?” Physical Review. 47 (10): 777–780. Italic text quoted in full.

vi. Gravitation by Charles W. Misner, Kip S. Thorne, and John Archibald Wheeler. 1970 and 1971, SPACE, SUPERSPACE, AND SPACETIME DISTINGUISHED. p.1183.

vii. Ibid.

Image: ‘Christmas Lights’ ink and wax crayon on Fabriano Artistico 300 gsm paper. Copyright © Nicholas Shea 2021.