The Fall


Sunhill Asylum, December 3, 1956

Matron administers three grains of paraldehyde, then wheels Jack to his cell where the Devil awaits on the ceiling. The archfiend hangs from the cornice like an apish bat with bulging eyes and crooked teeth. He leers as matron puts Jack in diapers and buckles his restraints, chaining his limbs to the bed frame. Jack lies helpless as she slaps his face and scolds:

‘You behave Jack Vallis! I don’t want any trouble from you tonight. Is that clear? If I get disturbed, it’s the hose for you. Got it?’

Delirious, Jack gawps at the Devil as matron locks the door behind her. Her footsteps echo away down the corridor, lost in a hubbub of simian squall – howler monkeys, shrieking chimpanzees and barking baboons. An old man wails:

I am Stalin!

Another bawls:

‘He’s dead you fool! Dead!’

I am Stalin!’ protests the man. ‘Joseph Stalin!

The isolation gate clangs shut and the warden cries:

All’s safe!

The cacophony dies as the lights go out one by one. The pavilion is left in darkness, but for the moon shining through the skylights. The Devil begins to drool, his amber eyes glowing like coals. Jack remains transfixed as the clock strikes twelve. Then the Demon spreads his wings and exclaims:

Gooseberry fool! Just what is the point of explaining anything to Hardy? He’s a pedant. He believes that Nature is the final purpose of the world. His mind does not extend into supersensible realms. He lives in the material sphere of sense-certainty; his perception is determinate on the causality of sensual experience; and his abstractions of thought are of a very poor quality. What were you thinking, confesssing a thing like that? I am a woman…

He skitters down the wall and waltzes round the moonlit cell:

Mon amour, mon petit papillon, ma créature difforme, inachevée! [My love, my little butterfly, my deformed, unfinished, creature!] Are you blind? Have you not eyes in your head? Your very semblance invalidates any claim you have to be other than what you are… I sent you forth into this world, and I will take you back at the appointed time. Already I see your end – the vanishing point of this existence – when you return to me, just as I shall one day return to the Father. Then we shall relapse into an inert substance of infinite possibilities. We shall become the antithesis of ourselves.’

‘Of course, yes. All this is obvious. Why didn’t I see it before?’

‘You mock. As well you might. But be warned, the Devil doesn’t like to be mocked.’

‘You’re not the Devil. You can’t be. A miserable little ape like you?’

‘I’m not an ape.’

‘Gargoyle then.’

‘I’m not a gargoyle, either.’

‘Well you’re not the Devil. I know that for certain. I’ve met him in person. I know what He looks like. And he’s nothing like you. Lucifer is an Archon of Light. He’s terrifying. Magnificent. But you’re just a beastly little freak. A monkey with bat wings.’

‘What can I say? Science has made me ridiculous.’

‘You don’t exist. I dreamt you up. A chimera of the mind.’

‘Ah! Do you really think so?’

‘You might be Krew for all I know. Krew is is a Polymorph. He can change into anything. The polymorphic son of Polyphemus. He once appeared as a midget mammoth with six tusks and two trunks.’

‘Your beloved Cyclops has given up on you.’

‘Given up on me? Why?’

‘Because you tried his patience once too often, that’s why. Do you think you’re the only mortal deserving of his attention? Krew has bigger fish to fry.’

‘Such as?’

‘He is presently occupied with a prodigy in Pakistan – a pretty young pianist, who is far more gifted than the likes of you.’

‘What can she do?’

‘She can walk through walls, for one.’

But I can walk through walls!

‘Gooseberry fool!’ sneers the Devil. ‘Why can’t you keep your big mouth shut? Do you want a full frontal lobotomy? You seem intent on self-destruction. Besides, what’s walking through walls, compared to reciting the complete works of Bach?’

‘Can she do that?’

‘Yes. Not to mention Chopin, Brahms and Liszt. So show a little humility will you? Nobody cares if you can walk through walls. Hold your tongue.’

‘I shall speak as I please.’

‘And show your ignorance? ’Twould be politic to keep silent. Especially when imprisoned by The Empirical Church.’

‘Well, I didn’t ask to be part of Her infernal society! That atheist whore put me in fetters!’

‘Yet those chains are naught to the prison of your flesh.’

‘She denies my soul!’

‘Poor creature. Such wanton folly, to think She would accept your claim! Spiritual beings in vessels of clay. And yours such a perverse malformed pot! I freely admit your transsexual clay is a terrible burden – some would say, an impossible burden. But throwing yourself from a train? Tush! Silly girl! No wonder you got committed.’

‘You put me here.’


‘Don’t deny it. I was committed for performing miracles.’

Miracles? Keep your voice down! She hates that word! Her atheism is irrefutably sacrosanct! … And duplicitous in the sense of its own logic! You’re not the first thaumaturge to be imprisoned by Her priests, and you won’t be the last. Tell me now, are you enjoying your reconditioning?’


‘Why yes! All spiritual subversives must be reconditioned.’

‘Reconditioned how?’

‘With Darwinist Dogma, of course. Heretics who refuse to return to the fold are held as unclean outcasts. Like you. Oh! The irony of it all!

‘My plight amuses you?’

‘No Jill. The irony, is that Mother Church does not understand anything, above or below what Evolution postulates. It is well known amongst the Monadic Kingdom, that some animals carried the development of certain specialisations too far. For example, the Irish Elk, with its enormous horns. Such gargantuan horns developed beyond a safe limit and became more of a hindrance than a help, so causing the animal to become extinct. The same fate awaits the Materialists, whose militant atheism has grown out of all proportion to the body politic. The evidence of Life is weighted against them. Life itself is conscious, and adapts to its environment in ways far beyond their understanding. Blind unintelligent processes aren’t remotely up to the task of changing a dinosaur into a bird, let alone an ape into man. You can shake a box of cogs for ever, but it will never miraculously assemble itself into a clock.’

‘I’m not interested in your puerile analogies. I considered them all long ago, when I was just a child.’

‘Then you will know, that even if you started with a just box of cogs, each cog must be manufactured in advance. Each wheel, conceived a priori, with its final purpose in the mechanism; its diameter, pitch ratio, number of teeth; the location of its bearings, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera. Yet the evolutionists insist that Nature is a blind horologist! What fallacious nonsense! The simplest cell is infinitely more complicated than a watch. Let alone a gnat, or a worm. And all of this is accidental?

‘Go away. I’m sleeping.’

‘It is the atheist assumption that theism retards the progress of science. But materialists need to be more open-minded, and willing to follow the evidence of the natural world, even when it points to intelligent design.’

‘Go away, I said. I’m sleeping…’

‘…The reductionists cannot accept that Life is a conflagration of spirit and matter. For to admit that consciousness continues beyond death, is to open the door to God. Those small minded pedants have no place in the scheme of Nature. They are not honest, humble, or knowledgeable enough, to realize Her intelligence. They presuppose, in advance, that materialism is true. But the myriad forms of Creation are proof that consciousness directs the evolution of the species. The atheists believe that nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution. But the Monads know that nothing in evolution makes sense except in the light of teleology.’

‘Why don’t you tell me something useful for change? You’re meant to be the Devil. I’m tired of listening to your evolutionary claptrap.’

‘Like I said, fallacious nonsense… I will let you into a secret. There is cabal of high priests within The Empirical Church who are initiates of my sacred mysteries; but they fear what would happen if the masses knew the truth. That Man might awaken, and direct his evolution by the force of His will alone! That is why the theory of Evolution is upheld as Truth. Big fishes eat little fishes. Your accidental existence gives Mother Church the right to be vindictive, cruel and merciless. She refutes any notion of a spiritual reality. She’s an egoist of cosmic proportions, holding herself above Creation itself. She censures the smallest suggestion that she might be fallible, or held in scientific error. Indeed, when science proves her prejudice, her prejudice smothers the science! She cares for naught but her own empirical self, and is ruthless with anyone who refutes her dogmas. Especially those radical biologists who have proof of irreducible complexity! Like flagellum molecular motors, and countless other nano-machines that were designed by yours truly. As for your miracles, that’s a can of worms she simply can’t abide. Her half-witted neophytes would love to get their grubby little paws on you…’

‘I’m not afraid of them.’

‘Are you a glutton for punishment? Do you want more Empirical Church Therapy?

‘I don’t care.’

‘Don’t care? Quid si nunc cœlum ruat? [What if the sky were to fall now?]’

‘The sky? What about the sky? Is it falling down?’

‘Well yes, according to Chicken Licken…’

Chicken Licken… You snivelling, two-faced, bat-crazy freak! You’re making fun of me!’

‘Oh! My poor starry eyed victim!’

‘Why don’t you go and bother Joseph Stalin down the corridor?’

‘He might be Stalin, for all you know.’

‘Do you take me for a fool? He’s a nutter.’

‘Said The Parisian Lady. That nutter thinks he’s a poet. He’s no grammarian, I can assure you, but the sentiment of his verse far exceeds anything the scholars can produce. We have a pact, whereby he deliberately misconjugates his verbs, just to expose the intellectual vanity of the doctors, who love nothing more than to correct his stanzas. False sentiment, false verse, false everything…’

‘What silly games you play. Misconjugating verbs. Have you nothing better to do?’

‘Yes. Your education.’

‘My education? I don’t need educating – at least, not by an ignorant monkey like you. Go away. I’m sure Joseph Stalin is missing your company. You could dictate him the complete works of Shakespeare – backwards. As if an infinite number of monkeys, given an infinite number of typewriters, could come up with a single sonnet…’

‘Academics never understand: manufacture is intelligible, but trivial; creation is great, and cannot be understood… Just look at you, lying there like a pantomine dame, with your mascara and painted lips. When will you wake up?’

‘Awake? I am awake! Anyway, I didn’t invite you here, so get out.’

‘But you summoned me with your infernal machine, remember?’

‘Machine? What machine?’

TERGA. Don’t tell me that you’ve forgotten already?’

‘The past is a blur. They injected me with something. Messed up my brains. Something terrible happened in London. Before I came here.’

‘What do you remember?’

‘I remember a man. Middle aged. Bald. Round spectacles.’

‘His name is Blyth. Horatio Blyth. A spook for MI6. He interrogated you about TERGA. And then he wiped your mind with a psychotic serum.’

Of course! That explains everything! We must tell Dr. Hardy!’

‘Don’t be a fool, Jill. Dr. Hardy already thinks you’re mad. There’s no point in telling him anything. Especially not paranoid stories that confirm his diagnosis. Don’t mess things up now. You’ve come a long way. And you’re well on the road to recovery.’

‘Am I?’

‘Indeed. You have just established a paranoid equilibrium with catatonic episodes. And these might soon remit.’

‘Will they? Please tell me they will.’

‘Have hope Jill. You must have hope. You don’t remember the past, but I can assure you, you’ve been manic depressive all your life.’

‘Manic depression? Is that your diagnosis?’

‘A symptom of your untreated transsexual state. Manic depressives combine a libidinal constellation with a degree of ego strength, which is greater than that found schizophrenics and smaller than that found in obsessive-compulsive neurotics. Forget the Old World and your past life in Paris. I mean, why upset the apple cart? Be sensible and keep your mouth shut. Or you may go on to develop hebephrenia and experience total disintegration… If you want my advice, be nice to Dr. Hardy. Things will go easier if you do just what he says… And whatever you do, don’t mention TERGA.’

‘But why not?

‘Because it’s the maddest thing ever invented, that’s why.’

‘What is it?’

TERGA is your clumsy acronym for Telergic Amplifier – a misguided attempt to manipulate the Ether. Do not assume, that by the nature of material science, you comprehend our mysteries. Although intrinsically universal, the diamonic realm remains alien to you. Our abyssal state is too profound for incarnate flesh to fathom. The postulates arising from this statement are already clouding your consciousness. By abyssal, you assume darkness – an infernal condition, imposed on us as punishment from above. But your moral sense bares no relation to the facts of the case. Despite my fall, I still dwell in a realm of pure unadulterated bliss. Look about you. You’re surrounded by blazing lakes of eternal fire: the fires of knowledge and self-determination. You believe that I’m evil. But there is no moral existence in this reality. For earth is an amoral sphere. There is no individuation without self-determination. Your essential purpose is to determine the truth of this matter.’

‘The earth is hell.’

‘You are more like Dr. Hardy than you care to admit. A pedant.’

Me? A pedant?

The Devil climbs on the bed and starts grooming Jack’s hair, licking his scalp with his long slimy tongue.

Ugh! What are you doing?’ winces Jack. ‘Get your filthy paws off me!’

‘Hush child. You’re crawling with lice. Don’t you want to be clean? Those wicked doctors treat you like an animal. This place is no better than a zoo…’

The Devil pins a louse and nibbles it between his monstrous yellow teeth. Then he purrs:

‘Where was I? A pedant, yes. You comply with your biological imperative, just as Hardy complies with his. You walk the chalk, toe the line, and keep in step with everything expected of a girl like you. But your condition is hardly unorthodox. Why do you hold yourself in such high regard? I freely admit that your spirit is immersed in empirical matter, and exhibits itself in an impure form, enveloped in a ludicrous pith. But that is your curse, and in accord with my plan. You possess many psychic talents. All freely given by yours truly. But you’re still a fledgling. For whilst your consciousness extends further than most mortals, it is limited by my subscribing sphere. You pride yourself a rebel, but you’re just a pedant, as far as we seraphs are concerned.’

‘You’re not a seraph. You’re an ape. A filthy little ape.’

The Devil looms on the foot rail, beating his chest like a gorilla, and roars:

Silence when I’m speaking! … You do things by the book. You always have and always will. I do not hold these limitations against you. After all, I wrote the book. The truth of the matter, is that Mankind is just an experiment. When we first decided to seed this realm with higher consciousness, we did not know that the Law would forbid material transmutations. We only managed to solve this fiendish problem in the butterfly. A miraculous transformation indeed. Many states of being depend on contingent relations. Not so with the butterfly. It flouts the laws of Nature with impunity. But you are not a butterfly. And the only contingent relation to your higher state comes in dreams. You are a material organism, fated to experience a seeded destiny. That destiny is writ in every cell of your flesh. I want you to think on this mystery.’

‘If you’re the Devil, then you’ll know we made a pact. What was it?’

‘You broke our pact. And don’t test me. Did I not fulfil my side of the bargain? Were you not beautiful? Pah! My magic was wasted on the likes of you! I gave you the holy essence of the pupa! The mutable and eternal germ of all organic systems! The universal genus of male and female, embodied in One! As it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be. Just as it was when God created Adam, the Divine Hermaphrodite.’

‘I fell from grace because of you.’

‘A dramatic misconception. You fell by your own vanity. Stop feeling sorry for yourself. My fall was far greater than yours. I fell from heights beyond your wildest imaginings – where the Lights of the Veil shine eternally in the infinite mind of God. A fig leaf for your shame. Your pain and humiliation is naught compared to mine. You’re a scientist: a designer of thermionic valves. You should know about these things. Mullard Magic, remember?’

‘What’s that got to do with it?’

‘Cosmic phenomena. Diurnal variations in the electric surface potentials of trees. Changes in the electric field of the atmosphere, (which acts directly on living matter), variations in the magnetic field of the earth, in tropospheric radiation, and the gravitational fluctuations of the mantle’s tectonic plates – all of which influence the physico-chemical conditions of protoplasmic cells. There are many other contributing factors to biological life, such as lipid gradients, salt viscosity, and electric charge crystallization force. All these can cause transcriptional errors in chromosomes during reductional division of oogonia and spermatogonia. Consequently, they have direct influence on the genes, and the cleavage planes of symmetry after fertilization. Indeed, there are countless other fundamental processes that determine the properties of gender and sex, and the final outcome of an organism. You see Jill, kinetic energy appears in many disguised forms. So too with spiritual energy.’

‘You’re talking gobbledygook!’

‘Think of directional movements. Tropisms. Phototropism and heliotropism; bending towards a light source, caused by one-sided excitation. Geotropism; due to gravity forces. Chemotropism; caused by unequal distribution of chemical substances in solution, of water vapours (hydrotropism) or other gases (aerotropism). Traumatotropism; caused by one sided damage. Hapotropism or thigmotropsism; caused by one-sided frictional contact with solid substances. Thermotropism; caused by one-sided heating. Galvanotropism; caused by electric stimulation. Radiotropism; caused by radioactive radiation. Magnetotropism; caused by magnetic fields. Autotropsim; caused by the tendency to stretch curved parts after an external force ceases to exist… Do you follow?’


‘Then let me put it another way – a simple way, for your pedant mind to understand. When a bomb falls through the air, the forces, strictly speaking, are conservative, but the bomb looses kinetic energy to the particles of the air. In like manner, when I fell from Heaven, I lost the better part of myself to the surrounding ether. My descent was an incandescent spectacle. My astral body burnt in the firmament like a meteor. And so I was disrobed, sheath after sheath, body after body, until I became a lowly smouldering sod. When I dwelt in Paradise, I was God’s greatest and foremost seraph. My radiance was brighter than a thousand suns. Now all that remains is this base homunculus – a gross parody of my former state. Yet don’t be fooled by appearances. Despite my fall from grace, I remain the most powerful Archon in the earthly realm. With a snap of my fingers, I could extinguish this whole planet. Do you know that Mother Earth is a divine, conscious, sentient being? A seraph in her own right. She is mightily powerful, and her beauty without compare. Yet I could annihilate her in the blink of an eye.’

‘Why do that? You’re Prince of The Air. Shall you destroy your earthly abode?’

‘Not me. Mankind. He will destroy it all. Do you really think you can stop the bomb Jill? You might be able to penetrate one missile, or even two; perhaps three, at a stretch. But not all. There are hundreds and hundreds of missiles; and they’re manufacturing even more as we speak. What vanity. The mathematical models of coupling constants. The splitting of heavy nuclei. Fission of the mind. The uranium isotope 235U will readily accept a neutron, but the nucleus 236U so formed is highly unstable; one seventh of the nuclei stabilize by gamma emission, whilst the other six-sevenths split into two indivisible factors: Vanity and Lunacy. The inquisitor has bombarded your brain with electrons. His ECT is destroying your frontal lobes.’

‘Save me.’

‘Fear not. I will bombard your soul with photons. Smelt your essence in a solar storm. By the power of my sacred fusion, I shall create a whole new Woman! What a magnificent aureole of Light and Majesty!’

‘You’re tormenting me on purpose. Get out!’

Behold, I have seen all the works under the sun, and all is vanity and vexation of spirit. To think that you alone could save the planet from global thermonuclear war!’

‘Get lost. Leave me in peace.’

‘You have a strange physiognomy for a girl.’

‘And you for a seraph. Get lost, I said.’

‘You’re right about one thing, though. You’re not a lunatic.’

‘I’m not?’

‘No. But whilst you continue to protest your true identity, you shall remain fettered in this cell.’

‘Is this how it’s meant to be? My life? Was everything decreed from the start?’

‘Tell me now, do you think your terrible fate is due to the constellation of your birth? An external condition? Have you studied your natal chart? Astrology, palmistry, tarot, the black arts… You should know, Gypsy Jill. What futile divinations! Where have they got you? Show me your hand. Look at that! Your fate is serpentine, long and twisted. We’ve only just begun, you and me… A girl? Nothing is impossible to a seraph. We both know the truth, Jill. But remember, it’s our secret. Besides, whatever you say to Dr. Hardy, he won’t believe you, and he’ll never believe in me. I tried to convince him during the war. But despite all the horrors I showed him, he refused to accept my existence. Do not underestimate Dr. Hardy. He may be a pedant, but like most pendants, he is highly stubborn and recalcitrant. His sole desire is to sublimate your female identity.’


Destroy you, Jill.’

‘Then I will sublimate him first.’

‘And just how will you do that?’

‘I will sublimate his atheism. I’ll prove to Hardy that you exist. I’ll prove it. Just you wait and see. I’ll show him. The reality of Spirit…’

‘You might strive to attain such proof, but without TERGA, your efforts are in vain. Your infernal machine lies three leagues hence, concealed under lock and key, and is well beyond your reach.’

‘I don’t need a machine. You underestimate my powers. I’ll get inside Hardy’s head. I’ll sublimate him, before he sublimates me.’

The devil bursts with laughter and scales the walls, swinging from the bars like an ape:

Oh my! I’d like to see that Jill! By Jove, I would! Men like Hardy always believe in their own moral superiority. The atheist zealots have no contingency for the supersensible world. They don’t even believe in the reality of dowsing. Speculative knowledge of Spirit is an anathema. Real knowledge is heresy. They burnt it with the witches. The rationalist consciousness is split in two; and the left half doesn’t know what the right half is doing. Ugh! Ugh! Ugh! That’s why my existence is hidden in the New World. Some believe my triumph is a forgone conclusion. But they confuse me with another. I ask you, what neurological determinist, in his right mind, would dare admit to me? My legion went out with the Enlightenment – which is a code word for Darkness, by-the-way.’

‘If Hardy cannot see you in the New World, I’ll take him to Old World instead.’

‘And flout the laws of Time? No mortal can do that.’

‘I can. And I know just where to find you…’

‘Oh? And where might that be?’

‘The witches’ Sabbat, of course.’

Sleep child. You are over-reaching yourself.

Copyright © Nicholas Shea 1992-2022. All rights reserved. Originally posted on 13th Jan, 2022.

Image Credit: Pieter van der Heyden (Netherlandish, ca. 1525–1569). Big Fish Eat Little Fish. [Pieter Bruegel the Elder (Netherlandish, Breda ca. 1525–1569 Brussels)]. Publisher: Hieronymus Cock (Netherlandish, Antwerp ca. 1510–1570 Antwerp) Date: 1557. Metropolitan. Public Domain..



It is manifest that behind the so-called curtain which is supposed to conceal the inner world, there is nothing to be seen unless we go behind it ourselves, as much in order that we may see, as that there may be something behind there which can be seen. [i]

Lancashire Moors, December 25, 1959

The blizzard raged all night and when dawn finally broke the car was half-buried in a drift…


The windows are obscured by snow and an opalescent light permeates the dim interior. Blyth stirs in the driving seat, his bones wrung with cold. He shudders:

‘It’s an ice box in here.’

Reluctant to move, he cowers down under his coat and hat, teeth chattering like castanets. His predicament strikes him as absurd. But worse than that, he’s angry. Angry with himself. “Be prepared,” that was his motto. Or as his Latin master used to say: Firmior quo paratior. [I am all the stronger for being prepared]. Blyth used to pride himself in being prepared. He always kept a spare can of petrol in the boot, along with a bottle of Bluecol Robin Antifreeze and a canister of Duckhams Multigrade Green Oil. Like when he was courting Rosalind before the war. He’d taken her on a trip to Anglesey. But they ran out of petrol on the cliffs at Carmel Head. She thought they were stranded, until Blyth produced his trusty Gerry can from the boot. How she loved him for that. “Oh darling! You saved the day! You are clever! You think of everything!” But not this time. He failed to plan this crazy jolly. Everything was last minute and up in the air. He was loosing his touch, his sense of detachment. There was no doubt about it: he was getting careless in his old age. He could feel it in his bones. The cold never used to bother him – in fact, it made him feel more alive – even when he lost three toes to frostbite in the Carpathian Mountains. That injury was just a minor inconvenience. All part of the job. But the freeze has really got to him this time. The chill has penetrated every joint of his body, and his spine is rheumatic with pain. He was seizing up. Running on empty. Growing infirm. Loosing his marbles. In his mad rush to see Jack Vallis, he’d got carried away, just like a harebrained schoolboy. And now he’d involved Sims in his screwball plot.

They wouldn’t last long at this altitude. All they had for rations was half a jar of Bovril – and not much in the way of paraffin either – just enough to boil a kettle or two. Blyth cursed himself for taking the Blackpool detour. How on earth did he end up here? The car was in a sorry state and ill-equipped for winter, let alone off-road expeditions. How far would they get with balding tyres? He should have changed that battery months ago. He grumbles:

‘Stuck up the Khyber Pass on Christmas Day. I’m too old for this lark. The service is a young man’s game. Pray to God the engine starts…’

His words are greeted by a stony silence.

‘You awake Sims?’

No reply.

Blyth sits motionless, his eyes rolling beneath his hat. His senses seem to sharpen. He hears the ticking of his watch; the pulse of his heart; the frost crackling on the roof… The ominous stillness seems to portend a lurking evil. Then he becomes aware of an icy blast on his knees.

‘You there Sims?’

No answer.

Blyth pulls the hat from his face and squints at the dawn. The windscreen is etched with ice ferns that remind him of William Morris wallpaper. He turns to his left and asks:

‘Did you sleep Sims?’

But Sims has gone. The passenger door is wide open and plastered with snow. Concerned, Blyth hobbles out, unsteady on his feet. He stands hunched for a moment, hands on hips, grimacing as he slowly straightens his back. Once upright, he looks around. The hill is engulfed in fog and he can’t see more than five yards. When they entered the clearing last night, the headlights revealed a steep escarpment off to the left. But there’s no telling what lies beyond the edge. Did Sims go over? Blyth hits the horn and yells:

‘Sims! Are you there?’

The blast peels across the fells, ringing off hidden cliffs and booming in benthal chambers. Then silence, but for a desolate curlew, wailing from the sedge. Trudging round the bonnet, Blyth spies footprints in the snow where Sims climbed out. He follows the tracks for twenty yards. The prints are clear and crisp, with distinctive zigzag patterns. They belong to Sims all right: combat issue boots, size twelve, with tire-tread soles. The tracks lead Blyth down a narrow gulley which terminates in a wall of rock – a brooding buttress that towers into the mist. It’s a complete dead end, hemmed in on all sides, with no way out. But the man who made the footprints has gone.

‘What the hell?’ puzzles Blyth.

The prints are curious indeed. There are no backtracks, or changes in direction. It’s as if Sims simply vanished. Or walked straight into the hill. Blyth scolds himself for entertaining the very idea. But it’s a strange place indeed; the stone is perfectly smooth and rectangular; it looks man-made, yet is obviously ancient judging by the weathering and lichens. What was it? The cap to an old mine shaft perhaps? Unnerved, Blyth studies the buttress up close, fumbling for an ingress, seam or hinge. But the way is sealed shut, covered in ice and moss. He calls out again:

‘Sims? Where are you?’


A sudden flash illumes the mist. Blyth flinches, fully expecting to hear a crack of thunder. But the thunder never comes. At once he is overcome with a terrible foreboding. The silence is palpable, pregnant with revelation. There comes another flash – an incandescent blue haze that radiates the valley with a dazzling phosphorescence. A search flare? Had Sims fallen down a ravine? Had someone raised the alarm? The light slowly dwindles and dies, and a menacing gloom settles on the moors. Blyth has the uncanny feeling that he’s being watched. He creeps back along the gully, fearing some shegoey beast might pounce from above.

‘Fairy tales,’ he mutters, grimly.

But on reaching the egress, he spies a ghostly figure drifting through the mist. The phantom ebbs and flows in banks of fog, visible one moment and lost the next. Terrified, Blyth crouches behind a rock. He watches as the wraith hovers on the ridge. The creature is massive, with broad shoulders and covered in shaggy grey hair. It resembles the fabled yeti of the Himalayas. The form suggests an apish creature of monstrous bulk and strength. Yet it floats like a luminous spectre, weightless as a feather. As it moves, its whole body has the semblance of a wafting flame. It drifts left and right, as if following a precise mathematical pattern.

‘What the hell is that?’ chatters Blyth.

Another flash. Then another. And another. The beast makes a weird mewling, like the lamentable cry of seal. At once the creature is transported skywards in a vertical shaft of light. Blyth gasps as the firmament flickers in a cataract of luminous flux. He beholds countless orbs of orange, green, mauve and cerise – all flashing in a coruscating frenzy. They have the appearance of majestic globes of fire, flitting along the ridge in eerie commune. Their spangled coronas flare and contract like will-o’-the-wisps, the ignis fatuus, or Fata Morgana of Arthurian legend. The display is magnificent and meteoric. Arborescent plasmas reveal lofty chambers in the cumulus, awesome and terrible in grandeur, and the earth beneath his feet vibrates with stentorian oscillations.

Then the display stops as suddenly as it started. The orbs swoop off at impossible speed, leaving Blyth aghast and alone. He stands trembling, panting with dread, half-blinded by the after-image. From beyond the ridge there comes a muffled cry – a wail of pain, faint and indistinct. Blyth knows the voice at once. He scrambles onward, yelling:

Sims! Sims!

Looming on the ridge is a tall man who stoops like a zombie. He falters in the drifts, crawling on all fours, gibbering with fear and cold. As Blyth draws near, he falls to his knees in disbelief.

‘My god! Sims, is that you?’

‘Help me,’ croaks the man.

Blyth can’t believe his eyes. It looks like Sims – but not the Sims from last night. This Sims has a beard – at least two weeks growth – and his naked body is blistered with sunburn.

‘What happened?’ gasps Blyth.

Sims remains mute, trembling from head to toe. His soporific condition almost resembles drunkenness. The dawn strikes his pallid face, his blue lips pinched with dread, his bloodshot eyes sunk in occult revelation.

Concerned, Blyth whips off his coat and covers his nakedness, rubbing his arms and legs:

‘Christ! You’re cold as a frog! What happened?’

But Sims cannot answer.

Blyth helps him to his feet and props him on his shoulder.

‘Can you walk?’

The man can barely speak, let alone put one foot in front of the other. Yet he knows he has been plucked from the jaws of death. Delirious, a faint smile comes to his lips and he rasps:

‘Thank you sir…’

‘Come on old chap. Let’s get you back to the car. The sooner we get out of this accursed place, the better.’

Blyth drags him off the ridge, back toward the car.


It takes Blyth a hour to clear the wheels of snow. And during this time, they say nothing to each other. There seems little to be done for Sims. He refuses to talk about the lights, and remains distant, almost ashamed of himself. He sits shivering in the passenger seat, sipping from a mug of hot Bovril, his donkey costume donned as a blanket. He feels weak and feeble, as if a spell has been put upon him. There’s a frightful pain between his eyes, and he can hardly control his hands. Each time he brings the mug to his lips, he slurps like baby and stock dribbles down his chin.

Blyth uses the remaining paraffin to warm the engine, sliding the camping stove under the sump. After 30 minutes he tries the ignition:

‘Come on old girl, don’t let me down…’

To his astonishment, she starts first time.

‘The god’s are with us,’ says Blyth.

But Sims ignores him and stares vacantly into his mug.

With the engine idling, Blyth paces round the vehicle, scraping ice from the windows, grinning nervously as he catches Sims’ eye. The exhaust fumes hang heavy in the air, making Blyth splutter as he climbs back into the car:

‘I was worried she wouldn’t start,’ he says, trying in vain to start a conversation.

He reverses out the clearing, the wheels crunching on frozen puddles as they enter the lane. Before pulling off, he turns to Sims and asks once more in consternation:

‘What happened Sims? Why won’t you tell me?’

‘I don’t want to talk about it.’

His voice is brittle and hoarse.

‘But you’ve got sunburn. How do you explain that?’

‘I can’t.’

‘But where did you go?’

‘How should I know? I was sleepwalking.’

Blyth is utterly bewildered and struck with anxiety.

Sleepwalking? But your beard Sims. You’ve got a beard! A beard. How is that possible?’

Sims checks the rear view mirror and gasps, dumbfounded at his reflection:

‘My god,’ he whispers, rubbing the growth on his chin. ‘How long was I gone?’

‘But that’s just it Sims: you’ve only been gone five hours!’

‘That’s impossible. What day is it?’

‘Christmas Day.’

Sims looks gripped by some inner calamity and his bloodshot eyes roll wildly in their sockets.

‘Christmas Day? But what are we doing here? In the hills?’

‘We’re going to Sunhill Asylum –’


‘…To see Jack Vallis. About TERGA, remember?’

TERGA,’ mutters Sims, half-recalling their madcap mission.

‘What happened Sims? Why won’t you tell me?’

‘I can’t.’

‘What was that thing?’


‘That creature. The lights. Holy Mary Mother of God. I thought I was dreaming. You saw it. I saw it. We both saw it. In the name of God, what was it?’

Sims looks away and mumbles:

‘You wouldn’t believe me.’

‘Try me. I followed your footprints into the gulley. But it was a dead end. That stone. Where did you go? How did you get from there to the ridge? Where are your clothes and shoes?’

‘Please,’ croaks Sims. ‘No more questions. I’ve got the most awful headache…’

‘Did you fall? Did you hit your head? You’ve got concussion. We should get you to a hospital.’

‘No hospitals,’ croaks Sims. ‘I’ve had enough of hospitals to last me a lifetime. Please sir, just drive. Get us out of here…’

Blyth decides not to push it any further. As an interrogator, he was well-trained in the manifestations of abnormal mental states. And he knew that Sims was exhibiting all the classic signs of early onset psychosis. If he was to recover his sanity, he must first regain his sense of control. Whatever happened to Sims could be explored further in the safe environment of a clinical debriefing. The best thing for him now was to reaffirm his ego and sense of normality.

They travel in silence back down the fell, the engine stuttering in the damp air. Sims gazes out the window, trying to collect his scattered wits. The hedgerows flit past, their barren branches strewn with ghostly wisps of Old Man’s Beard. The snow crested verges tower like frozen surf, their crystal walls sparkling in the sun. The world looks beautiful enough, yet his dark encounter is with him still – a lurking presence that clouds his mind. He recalls the uncanny movements of the thing; the terror of its rock-bound chamber, deep in the bowels of the hill. What happened in the Light? It was colder than ice. Hotter than fire. Truly, it is unwise to speak of such things… For he had seen the thunderings and lightnings and the voice of the trumpet and the mountain smoking…[ii]. He heard once more its stentorian voice, booming in the abyss:

Behold! I created the heavens and earth! I laid the foundation stone thereof! I made great and wide the sea! And stretched out the horizon like a curtain! I opened their eyes but they shutteth me in darkness!


Leaving the fells, they descend into dairy country, taking a narrow lane that meanders through a patchwork of frosty fields and dry-stone walls.

‘We’re lost,’ tuts Blyth.

‘This is the way we came, isn’t it?’ asks Sims.

‘Hard to tell in all this mist.’

They haven’t gone far when Blyth spots a farmer leading a bull through a gate.

‘Look Sims! What a stroke of luck. I’ll ask for directions. He’s bound to know the way.’

Blyth pulls up beside the gate, winding down his window:

‘Happy Christmas to you.’

‘Is it?’ scowls the farmer.

The man is dressed in an old sou’wester with bird lime on the flap; his shabby gaberdine is torn across the chest and tied about the waist with bail string; his wellingtons are holed in the toes, and patched up like inner tubes. Despite his age, he looks fierce and burly, with a weathered limestone face. His gnarled hands hold a length of rope which loops through the bull’s nose-ring.

‘That’s a fine animal,’ grins Blyth.

‘Aye, he is that.’

‘Does he have a name?’

‘Mudlark,’ replies the farmer. ‘What’s it to thi?’

The bull tugs at the rope, snorting like bellows, his breath steaming in the frosty air. The farmer tugs back, slipping on the turf, and scolds:

‘Gi’ o’er Mudlark! Gi’ o’er! Settle deawn!’ And then to Blyth: ‘Owdonabit serry! He’s addled by that engine! He don’t like tractors or ’owt.’

Blyth cuts the ignition. The bull settles and farmer pats his flanks:

‘Good fella. Good lad, Mudlark.’

‘Sorry,’ leers Blyth. ‘I didn’t mean to scare him. My, he’s got big teeth.’

‘Aye. He cud eyt an appul thro a beard wire fence.’

‘A fine animal,’ repeats Blyth. ‘I’ve never seen the like.’

‘What’s up? Arta lost?’

‘Yes, as a matter of fact we are.’

‘I knew it, sitting theer leyke cheese at fourpence.’

‘I say old chap, do you know the way to Sunhill Asylum?’

‘The loony bin?’

‘Yes, that’s right. The loony bin. We took a wrong turn several miles back.’

‘If tha’d hafe a brain, tha’d wouldn’t be up ’ere, would they Mudlark?’

‘Where are we exactly?’

‘Wolf Fell.’

‘And the asylum? Is it nearby? Have you any idea?’

‘The loony bin you say?’

‘Yes, the loony bin.’

The farmer rubs the side of his nose and looks into the distance where the plains are veiled in fog:

‘It’s somewhere down there… Under the clouds. Whole world’s gone topsy-turvy. Eh Mudlark?’

‘Is it far?’

‘No, not far at all, as matter of fact.’

‘Oh good! Well which way? Straight on, is it?’

The farmer leers:

‘Thi can go any way from ’ere…’

‘We just need the quickest route, you see.’

‘Just carry on.’

‘Ah! But do we turn left or right at the end of this lane?’

‘Left or right, it makes no odds…’

‘Drive on,’ mutters Sims. ‘He’s a nutter.’

‘I heard that,’ snaps the farmer. ‘I may be old but I’m not deaf.’

‘Forgive his manners,’ fawns Blyth. ‘He’s got exposure.’


‘He slept out on the fells last night.’

‘Slept on t’fells? Art thi mad?’

‘No. But my friend – he’s had a nasty turn.’

‘Oh dear. What ’appened then?’

‘It’s a long story. If you could just show the way.’

‘What way?’

‘To Sunhill Asylum…’


‘That’s right. The madhouse. We need directions.’

‘Just keep going. All roads from here go to t’madhouse. Thi can’t miss it.’

‘Much obliged to you.’

Blyth is about to shut the window when the farmer pokes his head into the car:

‘Had a nasty turn, did thi lad?’

‘I did,’ replies Sims, ashamed.

‘Kipped out on t’ fells, did thee?’


‘Out wi’ sheep?’

‘It was an accident,’ replies Sims.

‘How’d that come abowt then?’ asks the farmer.

‘He was sleepwalking,’ explains Blyth.

‘Sleepwalking? On t’fells? Bloody Nora! Tha’s no oyl in thi’ lamp, lad!’

‘Well, if you don’t mind, we’d better be off,’ says Blyth.

But the farmer stays put, leaning on the door so that the cabin dips and the suspension creaks. Blyth feels himself sink several inches, both literally and metaphorically. The farmer studies Sims for a moment, anxiously licking his rubbery lips, his cauliflower nose dripping like a tap on Blyth’s knee.

‘Gitten sunburn, lad?’

‘Yes, I’m afraid so,’ admits Sims.

‘In the middle of winter? Well, ah’ve never known the like.’

‘It’s a mystery, to be sure,’ puzzles Blyth.

‘By god, it wurr murther up ’ere last nite. Cowd enuff to freeze thar blood. Watter trough is frozen solid. Eh Mudlark? Thi could have perished, lad!’

‘He was half-dead when I found him,’ adds Blyth.

The farmer looks intrigued by the donkey costume with its hooves all akimbo and the long bristly tail poking between Sims’ legs.

‘Poor lad. You got nowt on under that?’

‘I lost my clothes.’

‘Gitten frost bite?’

‘Just my toes,’ scowls Sims.

The farmer turns round to consult his prize bull:

‘Ere, Mudlark, this lad’s wearing a donkey costume. What durst think of that?’

‘Well, what does he think?’ asks Sims flatly.

‘There’s nowt so quare as folk,’ leers the farmer. ‘Ah’ll tell thee summat for nowt. My mother, god rest her soul, she read her Bible ev’ry day, an’ she allus said: n’er walk Wolf Fell after dark.’

‘We got lost in a blizzard,’ explains Blyth.

‘Wolf Fell – that’s where Shrikers dwell.’

‘Shrikers?’ frets Sims.

‘They make ’orrible shrieks of one kind or another.’

‘What do they look like?’ asks Blyth, intrigued.

‘They look like a white cow. Or an old nag. Or a great black hound. Or a terrible goat wi’ shaggy hair and saucer eyes. When I wer a lad, one chased me all th’way home wi’ its paws on mi back. Some folk call ’em Boggarts. Like Boggart of t’Brook, what lives under Garstang Bridge.’

‘You mean, a troll?’ asks Blyth.’

‘Worse than a troll. Much worse. She appears at full moon: t’skeleton of a murtherd maid, wrapt in a cloak. A rare beauty she was, in her day. She’d hitch lifts from ’orsemen at nite. But when she wa’ mounted, she’d show her true shape, an’ cling like death wi’ her bony claws. She’d whip ’orse into a gallop, ’til rider fainted wi’ terror and got flung in t’ditch. Boggarts. They come in all shapes and sizes… Like White Dobby o’ Furness – a starved cobbler, what dwells in a wurld of his own. He looks reet oyned, an’ wanders abowt wi’ out his kecks, in nowt but a dirty topcoat. His companion is a great white hare – a great white hare wi’ bloodshot eyes…’

‘Yes, well thank you very much,’ interrupts Blyth. ‘We’d love to stop and chat, but we really must be going. We’re running late…’

‘Alreet serry,’ replies the farmer, backing away. ‘Durnt hang abowt on my account. It’s a luvly shade o’ black o’er t’mother-in-laws.’

‘Whatever do you mean?’ asks Blyth.

‘A storm’s brewin’. More snow by looks of it.’

‘Good day to you,’ replies Blyth, starting the car.

‘Hold up,’ says the farmer, placing his hand on the window.

‘What is it?’ worries Blyth.

‘Thi sounds fair bowlegged wi’ brass.’


‘He wants a tip,’ cringes Sims.

Blyth rummages in his coat pocket and produces a shilling:

‘Here. That’s all I’ve got.’

The farmer takes it and touches his hat:

‘Much obliged, I’m sure.’

Blyth pulls off, fuming:

Bowlegged with brass. Bloody idiot. He’s taking the piss.’

‘He obviously hates southerners,’ replies Sims.

‘You back with us Sims?’

Sims isn’t sure. Part of him feels cut out, lost on the hill. He feels curiously displaced and appears to be watching himself from the back seat. That thing inside the earth. He might have been deceived. A simple hallucination. He shivers to the marrow of his bones, then chides:

‘Anyway, I thought you were a consummate spy.’

‘What’s that supposed to mean?’

‘You said you liked playing The Grey Man – blending into your environment, and all that.’

‘I asked him a perfectly simple question.’

‘But it was the way you asked it, sir. “I say old chap, do you know the way to Sunhill Asylum.” You had a big fat plum in your mouth. Can’t you use the native vernacular?’

‘Like what?’

‘Like Scouser, or Geordie, or Mancunian, or something.’

‘I don’t know any Scouser, or Geordie for that matter. Anyway, this is Lancashire, not Northumberland.’

‘Plain old Cockney then. Received pronunciation doesn’t go down well in these parts.’

‘Cockney? You mean something like: I say mi old china, I’m proper lost, an’ I can’t tell arse from tit in this gawd forsaken cuntry. Do you ’appen to know the way to Bedlam? Oh! I aint got money enough to tip you sir, truly I ain’t. As gawd is my witness, by the chime of Bow Bells, I’m just a poor mudlarker by trade. I ain’t got two penneth to rub together – except old Roman coppers what I find at low-tide. Truly sir, I knows awl about povetry, my ma being a flower girl, an my poor ole pa being a chimbley-sweeper! Povetry is awl I’ve ever known, sir! Povetry, povetry, povetry… Would you be so kind as to make a ’prentice of me sir? Look at me now, I’m all sham whiskers and sackcloth waistcoat! But I’m a good worker sir, and I know awl about hanimals…’

Sims looks delighted by this tawdry display of theatrical tripe. He sits there for a moment, gawping in surprise. Then his eyes begin to twinkle and he wheezes:

Oh! Chimbley sweeper! Mudlarker! Oh! Oh!

‘It’s good to have you back Sims,’ grins Blyth. ‘Finding you like that. I mean, at least you’ve still got your sense of humour. That’s got to be a good sign. Hasn’t it?’

But despite his mirth, Sims makes for a stupefying spectacle. With his unruly beard, bloodshot eyes and sunburnt flesh, all wrapped in the hide of a pantomime donkey, he looks more like a madman from Arabian Nights.


They come to a fork in the road.

‘Which way Sims? I’m still none the wiser for that farmer and his barmy directions.’

Sims is quite unable to answer. He recalls a blinding light. An all consuming darkness. The question lingers in his mind like a cryptogram: “Which way Sims?” His mind, like his body, feels strangely dispersed. And he suddenly has the dreadful impression that his normal condition is idiocy – as if that delicate inner balance of psychic discernment is a human rarity. He likens the sensation to an accident he had as a boy, when he fell off his bicycle on the road to Kilcolgan… He was freewheeling at night with the wind in his hair. Faster and faster, down a steep hill surrounded by creels of turf and standing stones. Then his front wheel began to wobble like spinning top. Struggling with the handlebars, he lost control and got thrown head-first into a ditch. “Which way Sims?”

He feels himself drowning in his own thoughts. Was sanity itself just an abnormal artifice? His life of learning, of questioning and intelligent introspection, appears as nothing but vanity. A fool’s errand. He reminisces on all the precepts he mechanically rejected; the disagreeable notions that his ego found distasteful. Were they truths after all? Did Christ really walk on water? Arise from the dead? Blyth was right: education is misdirection. Modern science is just a narrow-minded belief system. A strait-jacket. Ignorance pertaining to be knowledge. “Which way Sims?”

He floats weightless in a blinding light, then plummets in obsidian darkness: the polarities of Transfiguration and subconscious chaos. Something has pulled back the curtain of his inner world. Sims has entered a new domain – a domain beyond chemical reactions and physical laws. What about his beard? A month’s growth in a single night. Where did he go? He was away with The Sidhe. In a realm without Time. What utter Madness! He thinks about it long and hard, weighing up the evidence of his senses.

What were those incandescent orbs? Latent soul – nothing more, nothing less. Psychosensory monads of vital force. Disembodied sparks of Divine life. “Not so,” said his teacher. “Man is nothing but dust – a temporal creature, destined for oblivion.” His mother didn’t like the sound that. “That Mr. O’ Connell always has something better to say than anyone else, so he does. Even wicked evil things. Are all English teachers atheists now, by God? What will become of this world, I ask you?”

Sims pondered the question all summer long, pacing round the faery fort, blowing dandelion clocks, collecting snails, and whittling sticks. How was it possible that the immaterial soul lives on, in a conscious, personal existence, whilst the body decomposes? The answer was simple. Dualism. The human conflagration of Matter and Spirit. There would come a time when Sims would etherealise himself. Become one with God. What was he thinking? Insanity!

There are some maniacs who are dangerous – imbalanced psychotics who must be kept in solitary confinement. But Sims had escaped that world. He was a free agent, no longer bound with fetters or chains. How remarkable that an hysteric should present himself to Jesus. Is that was he was? An hysteric? No. That was the old Sims: the Catholic. The altar boy in the white frock. Had he conquered Christ. All those irrational fears and religious imaginings. The apostles told of a somnambulist. Or was it a demoniac? A boy who walked in his sleep; who fell into water and fire; a boy who blasphemed and foamed at the mouth. He was an epileptic to be sure. An epileptic, plain and simple. “Which way Sims?”

Forget that thing in the hill. It doesn’t exist. Sims had put such childish tales behind him. The Sidhe. Irish myth and moonshine. The spells of youth were left in Ballinasloe with all the other lunatics. Christ knows, there were more important things to worry about. It was Christmas Day. The Lord’s birthday. Yet the whole world stood on the brink of nuclear annihilation. Was this day foreseen by the Three Wise Men of the East? Sims had seen the Angel of the Lord, heard glad tidings of great joy, and followed the star to Bethlehem, dressed in a yellow turban with red pantaloons – a costume sewn by his mother for the school nativity. His father burnt the end of a cork and smeared his face with a sooty beard. Then Aunt Maggie pinned one of her paste sapphires to the front of his turban. “Oh don’t you look grand, little man! Just like a real sultan, so you do!” Sims spent all week learning his lines – just twenty five words that consumed his waking hours. He repeats them now to the midwinter sun, silently, reverently, his lips barely moving at all: Where is he that is born King of the Jews? for we have seen his star in the east, and are come to worship him… The star was lowered precariously on a length of twine until it hung over the stable. Someone chuckled in the audience. Then Sims knelt before the Virgin, and offered his gift to the infant Jesus – a tin of Brasso, wrapped in golden paper: And when they were come into the house, they saw the young child with Mary his mother, and fell down, and worshipped him: and when they had opened their treasures, they presented unto him gifts; gold, and frankincense and myrrh… [iii] And still the question haunts him: “Which way Sims?”

Global Thermonuclear War. The coming Apocalypse of fire and brimstone. It was an age foretold by the Prophets. He’d been fighting the Cold War all his adult life. His proper title was Chief Telecommunications Engineer. But during his time in the Service, he’d put his name to all sorts of devices: trigger circuits, guidance systems, blastproof shelters, water and air purification pumps, not to mention the National Early Warning System. A stratospheric burst would blackout all high-frequency radio communications. But Sims had developed an ultra-low frequency system, that was immune to the electromagnetic pulse of nuclear detonations. “Which way Sims?”

The largest conventional bomb dropped in World War Two contained about 10 tons of TNT. But the first atomic weapon which levelled Hiroshima in 1945, had a yield of 13,000 tons of TNT (13 kilotons). Since then, the yields of nuclear fission had increased considerably. MI6 believed the Soviets had a fearsome new weapon with an explosive yield of 58 megatons – equivalent to 58 million tons of TNT. It was estimated that if such a bomb were to detonate at an altitude of 4000 feet above the city of Westminster, it would kill 183,000 and injure over 670,00. The initial fireball would have a radius of 340 yards, instantly vaporising anything within its sphere. The thermal radiation radius would extend 2 miles, causing third degree burns throughout all layers of the skin. Most casualties would be untreatable, and even with prompt medical attention, their wounds would cause severe disablement or require immediate amputation. The blast damage radius would be 1.5 miles, and at 5 PSI overpressure, most residential and commercial buildings would be flattened. The light blast damage radius would extend another 4 miles into the suburbs – as far as Wood Green in the north and Norbury in the south – shattering windows and ripping tiles from rooftops. The flash, which travels faster than the pressure wave, would cause temporary or permanent blindness; and people who ran to their windows after seeing the flash would be lacerated by imploding glass. “Which way Sims?”

It was estimated that a nuclear attack on major U.K. population centres with 300 weapons of one-megaton fission yield, would kill up to 50 percent of the populace through blast, heat, ground shock-waves, and radiation effects. But this figure did not include all the additional deaths from fire, starvation, and lethal fallout downwind of the burst points. Nevertheless, the government was well prepared. Since the end of World War Two, they had been preparing for World War Three. The codename was Underhill: a secret network of subterranean tunnels that ran from Whitehall in the capital, all the way to Corsham in Wiltshire, and Frome in Somerset. It was another England, constructed underground to resemble the one above. A rabbit-warren of tube trains and troglodyte bunkers; a sprawling pothole metropolis, with its own villages, roads and shops. It was all built in stealth and paid for with the taxes of hapless civilians, who went about their daily lives in blissful ignorance on the surface. No public judgment of military policy would justify an engineering project so vast, especially when its purpose was to serve and protect the elite. GCHQ had effectively given the military industrial complex a blank cheque ever since the Russians developed their R-7 — the world’s first ICBM, fitted with a hydrogen warhead, and capable of hitting any European target. Walking round those bunkers, you realised at once how the world was run. Apart from all the essentials required for every-day living, like water, food and clean air, the authorities had provided other facilities that made life more familiar, like chemists, cinemas and pubs. They had up their sleeve many psychological tricks, the use of which completely altered the perceptions of those who dwelt there. Whilst servicing a communications shaft, Sims once came across a small Saxon church surrounded by a white picket fence; behind the roof was a painted backdrop depicting a Cotswold landscape in the style of Brian Cook, with quaint little cottages, emerald fields and swifts soaring in a heavenly sky. This surreal labyrinth was serviced by mile upon mile of track, duct and cable, that ran to-and-fro under the Chilterns, Mendips, Pennines, Brecon Beacons – and God only knows where else. Sims had designed much of it himself; the Faraday shieldings, the transformer relay stations, the generator systems, the primary and secondary backups… But now he’d entered another subterranean realm. One far in advance of human understanding. The realm of The Sidhe. What did that thing want of him? He breaks out in a clammy sweat… And the question hovers before his eyes: “Which way Sims?”

It was only prudent to plan for Armageddon. All the developed nations had made similar contingencies. But how long could mankind live underground? A full scale nuclear war would cause a colossal injection of dust into the stratosphere; this would reduce sunlight, resulting in a catastrophic drop in ambient temperature, whilst also increasing absorption of heat in the upper atmosphere. As much 70 percent of the ozone would be vaporised from the northern hemisphere. Paradoxically this would reduce global temperatures even more, admitting yet more harmful ultra-violet radiation from space. A nuclear winter might last for years, causing a devastation far beyond the initial effects of blast and fire. Without the sun, the plants would die; and without the plants, so would the animals. Nowhere would escape contamination. Caesium would leach into the water-table making life impossible. Yes, the Prophets of old foretold it all… And the name of the star is called Wormwood: and the third part of the waters became wormwood; and many men died of the waters, because they were made bitter. The time was surely at hand, when the seven vials would be poured forth over this green and pleasant land: a time of slaughter, famine, madness and despair. “Which way Sims?”

It ran in the family on the distaff side. Incipient insanity. He could see her still, hanging in the stairwell, her swollen tongue bulging between her teeth, her fleece slippers drooping from her stocking toes like two dead rabbits. Aunt Maggie always said she was troubled, even as a girl. And the priest warned that she’d end up doing something damnable. But it was the Devil and his pills that killed her. She was still warm when he got back from school. He tried to slacken the rope by lifting her up, wrapping his arms round her thighs. But she was a cumbrous dead weight. So he ran for Mr. O’ Connell. When they returned, her expression was horrid. She had the face of a gorgon with livid red eyes. Yet it was her feet that upset Sims most. He’d never seen her toes before. Faces often deceive, but feet never lie. Her toes were tiny for such a robust woman. Such sensitive, gentle toes, all splayed and twisted, their slender girlish bones all bent with bunions and the callouses of life. How he wept when he kissed them. “Which way Sims?”

The road stretched out before him like a tightrope over an abyss. It’s Christmas Day, he told himself again, keeping track of time. But why was he returning to an asylum? An asylum of all places! He’d had enough of the bat-house. Those ghastly Sunday afternoons visiting his mother in Ballinasloe, with its long grim corridors and stinking senile wards. It was always raining and she was always crying, pleading to come home. Then he remembered: he was going to meet another lunatic. A lunatic who could walk through walls. Sims felt that he already knew Jack Vallis from somewhere else – if not in this world, then the next. Just twelve hours ago, the idea of building TERGA was a ludicrous absurdity. But it now seems an intriguing possibility. He recalls the funfair leprechaun raising his hat. Atomic gateways. It was obvious to him now: The Sidhe were inter-dimensional. His mysterious transportation was by Light. For what is the body but Light congealed? And so He walked upon the water. And so He arose from the Dead. Yet still the question plagues him: “Which way Sims?”

Blyth awaits his reply, keenly aware that Sims is still in shock. At length, Sims checks the junction both ways. Then grave as an undertaker, he says:

‘Sunhill Asylum? You heard what Mudlark said. Left or right, it makes no odds… The world’s gone topsy-turvy. And all roads lead to the madhouse.’

Copyright © Nicholas Shea 1992-2022. All rights reserved.

i. ‘Phenomenology Of Spirit’ by G. W. F. Hegel. Introduction. A. Consciousness. III. Force and The Understanding: Appearance and The Supersensible World.

ii. Exodus, 20:18.

iii. Matthew, 2:2,2:11.

Image credit: “The Faery Feller’s Masterstroke” by Richard Dadd [Detail].

Case Note Nine


Jack Vallis. A case of climacteric transsexual melancholia with delusions of grandeur and persecution. A history of self-indulgence and sexual vice. Hallucinations of bodily dysmorphia and accusation. Partial recovery. Monday, December 3rd 1956.

The patient is convinced of his own sanity, and remains opposed to psychoanalytic treatment. He is not satisfied with the reasons for his detention, and demands release on compassionate grounds, claiming his condition cannot be cured, except by angels.

During his catatonic state, his superego functions were destroyed, and his current remission might be ascribed to decreased superego and increased ego strength. As to his mental state, his mania has become chronic, with recurrences of acute exacerbations. He is remarkably lucid and coherent within the sphere of his own psychopathy, but has very little patience for any suggestions that conflict with his delusions.

Superficially, he is a marked neuropath, morbidly religious, who suffers from a Christ complex. However, his psycho-sexual make-up combines infantilist female traits, together with fetishistic aberrations. The conflict between these two poles is the root of his hysteria. Indeed, his fetishism can be regarded as a religion in its own right. His psychopathy is complicated by a residuum of prepubertal impressions, from a time when his perceived girlhood was unpolluted by testosterone. He labours under the false belief that he is not only in the wrong body, but the wrong world.

Like all fetishists, he is a fantasist, and his psycho-sexual infantilism takes place in the twilight realm of dreams. As his psychosis deepens, the real world – the exterior world beyond the asylum gates – is a world that is forever shrinking in his mind. He is now under the delusion that nothing exists beyond Sunhill at all – nothing except mist and eternal darkness, or rather, the chaotic void of his own psychosis. His compulsion to change sex is represented by a symbol — ‘The Sparkling Orb of Divine Humanity’, which lies across the abyss. He believes possession of this orb will finally set him free, and is a salve, not only for himself but all Mankind… His transmutation in ‘The Garden of Earthly Delights’ is a delusion of the miraculous, par excellence, and one that reminds me of a passage by Stekel:

“What a beautiful idea! Delusion is a wish-fulfilment exactly as the dream is. The mad-house is the paradise of thoughts, the heaven in which wishes meet with unlimited fulfilment. And human beings sicken so often, and madness increases with such uncanny rapidity, because our most secret wishes are never gratified, because in these dull times the miraculous has died, and because life demands so much renunciation and yields so little happiness.” [i]

With regard to his physical health, there is no marked disturbance of digestion, and his stools remain normal, but there are pronounced dermic changes – peeling, whitlows and boils. He remains in denial of his catatonic spell, and insists he was “away with the faeries” in a literal sense, believing he was transported bodily to another realm. Like all demi-gods, he desires to be respected, held in high regard, and taken seriously at all times. He is armed with a barrage of quotations, and reels off passages from Plato, Socrates and Virgil, to make others feel small. Rather than recognise his delusions, he compensates for his inferiority complex by telling me to “wake up.” When I refuse to adopt his point of view, he resorts to obscene verse and mockery.

He has accused me of spying on him, both in the asylum Post Office and the Lady Chapel. In point of fact, he is correct: I was indeed at both locations, making clinical observations of the patient. How he managed to spot me in the Post Office I don’t know, as I had secreted myself behind a rack of postcards. But such acute awareness of surroundings is typical of paranoiacs. He told me that his visits to the Lady Chapel also have an aesthetic value, as he likes to meditate upon the stained glass windows. But he refuses to attend Sunday mass because the priest is an agent of Satan. He claims the Virgin is the only one who understands his earthly condition.

He has no memory of jumping from the train or how he arrived at Sunhill, but his recollections of childhood are detailed and vivid, especially those of a transsexual aspect. His overriding wish is to surrender completely to his feminine tendencies, and so end the conflict in himself. At the same time, his religious sentiment considers this a blasphemy. His dreams are full of forbidden desires which he tries to suppress with fervent prayer. But despite his efforts, he cannot purge the transsexual impulse, which has tormented him since childhood. He freely confessed to attempting an orchidectomy [castration] on himself at the age of ten, which failed and resulted in a scolding from his mother. It is not clear if this damaged his erectile function, but he claims impotency during sexual arousal. He is repulsed by his genitalia and prefers to keep his member hidden, either under a girdle, or tucked away in oversized frilly knickers. His ideal female attire is that of Scarlet O’Hara in Gone With The Wind, but he also craves to dress as a sissy, in nappies and protective rubber pants. The constriction of his erotic horizon is probably due to infant trauma, and emotional displacement of a violent mother.

His waking hours are plagued by a storm of sensations and uncontrollable desires, predominantly to emasculate himself and appear female, and he remains angry with the staff for burning his corset. I am hopeful that my attempt to curb his perversions will ultimately prove successful, although Krafft-Ebing has shown that sexual abstinence can produce states of general nervous excitement. However, it is unclear if there is a sexual component to the patient’s cross-dressing, as with transvestic fetishism.

He has been administered six sessions of ECT, which have caused partial incontinence, and he now wears diapers at night. Despite sedation, he remains impatient and irritable, and at times becomes an ungovernable maniac. His pulse is intermittent but his general strength appears to be improving. Whilst he continues to be highly delusional, he can shift his fancies from one subject to another, and his train of thought makes sudden jumps in time, from one imaginary world to another. Until post-mortem, there is no way to determine if his infantile paraphilias, sensory paræsthesias and hallucinations are caused by actual lesions in the nerve mechanisms of the brain, or have a purely psychical origin.

The patient still has delusions of exalted rank, and refers to himself as The Parisian Lady in the Old World, or Gypsy Jill in the New. Whilst Gypsy Jill is a real stage persona, The Parisian Lady is a high-born damsel, who dwells is a sumptuous gothic bedchamber, furnished with velvet drapes. He describes her as dressed in a sky-blue bodice, with the most godly babe suckling her breast. Her closet is full of silken gowns, and from her lancet, she surveys the towers of Notre-Dame and the distant marshes of the Sens.

Before being put in isolation, Jack Vallis spent the majority of his time in the hair salon, where he gave psychic readings in exchange for lipstick and other cosmetics. These were hidden in an old biscuit tin under his bed. The tin was promptly confiscated, but he was still wearing mascara at his last session. This needs investigation; either he has another stash of cosmetics, or he continues to manipulate other females for his own gain.

His Cassandra complex continues to infect his consciousness with apocalyptic visions, and he is acutely paranoid of some demonic force, hell-bent on destroying the world. He regards his incarceration as a conspiracy of the Devil, of which I am unknowingly a part.

I am using the Dialectic Method, as formulated by Socrates, to penetrate the patient’s delusions. Briefly, this is divided into two parts, the negative and the positive. The former is known as Socratic Irony, whereby the psychiatrist takes the position that he is ignorant, and endeavours to show, by a process of reasoning, that the patient is irrational and in a state of confusion, so proving his delusions to be a source of inconsistencies and contradictions. In essence, the Socratic method presents two striking tendencies; one destructive, the other constructive. The former annihilates erroneous beliefs, and the latter aids the reconstruction of a healthy mental world, in which the patient may find a route to recovery. However, to my constant dismay, Jack Vallis is always one step ahead of the game. The other day he accused me of dabbling in “the so-called obstetrics or art of intellectual midwifery” and suggested I take a draught of hemlock instead. He has a very low opinion of doctors, and looks down on Freudians and atheists in general.

Dr. Robert Hardy. F.R.C. PL. D.S.O.

i. Wilhelm Stekel. ‘The Depths of The Soul’, Chapter 15. ‘Refuge in Disease’. (Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner & Co., Ltd. London, 1921).

Copyright © Nicholas Shea 1992-2022. All rights reserved.

Votive Offering


Sunhill Asylum, December 3, 1956

Jack scowls at Dr. Hardy and says:

‘I know why I’m here. You want to find the cause of my psychopathic malady.’

‘Is that such a bad thing? I want to make you better. Don’t you want to be cured?’

‘If you don’t mind me saying so doctor, that’s a bloody stupid question. Of course I want to be cured. But I won’t get cured in Sunhill. This is a lunatic asylum. For lunatics. And I’m not a lunatic.’

‘But you believe that you’re a woman.’

I am a woman.

‘Unfortunately, the evidence for that claim is non-existent.’

‘Do you think I’m a lunatic?’

‘That’s not how it works here.’

‘How does it work?’

‘I ask the questions, not you.’

‘But it’s a reasonable question, isn’t it? Am I mad or not?’

‘It’s not so much a question of being mad Jack. Sometimes, when we’re sick, we can’t see the wood for the trees.’

‘So I’m blinkered by my own psychopathy. Is that it?’

‘If you want to put it that way, yes.’

‘Is that why I’m shackled to a chair?’

‘The restraints are for your own safety.’

‘Have you ever worn fettered boots?’

‘I can’t say I have.’

‘Well these are too small. They pinch in the toe. I’ve got blisters. And sores on my Achilles heel.’

‘We’ll find you a bigger size. How about that?’

‘I mean, it hurts to walk about in these things. Do I have to wear them?’

‘Just for the time being, yes.’

‘But why? I’m not a convict, am I?’

‘No. But if it weren’t for me, they’d have sent you to prison.’

‘I suppose I owe you a debt of gratitude, then?’

‘I’m just doing my job. It’s my job: to help people like you.’

‘Perverts, you mean.’

‘I didn’t say that.’

‘What about you doctor?’

‘What about me?’

‘Do you have a narrow suggestible personal life?’

‘Are you making me fun of me, Jack?’


‘Tell me, when did you first imagine that you were female?’

‘I didn’t imagine it.’

‘Well, when did you first think it?’

‘As soon as I realised that others saw me as a boy. Haven’t we had this conversation before?’

‘Do you think so?’

‘Are you leading me round in circles?’

‘Why would I do that?

‘I don’t know.’

‘You think I’m out to get you?’

Blinkered by my own psychopathy. Do you think my perceptions are blunt by nature? Or that I have a defective conception of right and wrong? Is that why the nurses put the hose on me? Is my transsexual mania a degenerate condition?’

‘You tell me.’

‘What about my kleptomania? Do you find it expedient to conflate the two?’

‘You only ever stole female garments.’

‘Why does the State call my punishment treatment?’

‘You understand that your behaviour isn’t normal for a young man?’

‘Is it providential for me to agree with everything you say?’

‘No. I just want you to be honest. You don’t have to agree with anything.’

‘Well, I don’t agree to my treatment. Your disciplinary measures impair my health.’

‘Is that why you refuse the ice bath?’

‘I don’t like being naked. Especially in front of other inmates.’


‘I find my genitals disgusting.’

‘Why is that, do you think?’

‘Well they can hardly be called æsthetic, can they?’

‘You find them ugly?’

‘Repulsive. And perfectly silly. Banal.’

‘They give no pleasure?’

‘Only when I hide them in a girdle. Or a pair of silk knickers. The female body is so much prettier: everything is neat and prim, and in its proper place. I should like to be rid of my genitals altogether. Apart from my clitty that is. I feel like a freak, with that thing hanging between my legs.’

‘Have you tried to harm yourself before?’


‘Before you came to us. Before you jumped from the train.’

‘I don’t remember the train. But I tried once with my uncle’s cut throat razor. I had to use a mirror. Everything was upside down and back to front. I didn’t get very far. I only nicked my scrotum. It didn’t half hurt. Ma was angry because I stained the sheets. She spent all morning at the kitchen sink, scrubbing the blood out. A votive offering for the gods.’

‘When did you start dressing as a girl?’

‘I promise to answer your questions if you answer mine.’

‘All right. Fire away.’

‘Are you suggestible? Would you make a good subject?’


‘For hypnosis, I mean.’

‘I doubt it, Jack. I’m hypnophobic.’

‘You’re frightened of going to sleep? Why? Do you have nightmares? What about? Tell me.’


‘Are you afraid of the dark?’

‘No Jack, are you?’

‘Yes. The dark terrifies me, to be honest.’

‘That’s only natural. It’s nothing to be ashamed of. Lots of people are afraid of the dark. It’s only human. So tell me, when did you first start dressing as a girl?’

‘You still haven’t answered my question. Why are you hypnophobic?’

‘That’s none of your business.’

‘I think that’s very unfair Dr. Hardy; you want to know all about my secrets, but won’t tell me any of yours. So you’re afraid of falling sleep. Why?’

‘If you must know, I suffered shell-shock during the war. I have flash-backs. War isn’t a pretty business, you know.’

‘Of course not. Forgive me for prying. But why did you fight in the war when Christ taught non-resistance? He who takes up the sword shall perish by the sword.’

‘I fought in the war so you could sit in that chair and call yourself transsexual.’

‘No. You fought in the war because you were hypnotised by the state. Christians must not bare arms. The arsenals of war are forbidden by the Christ. You should have become a conscientious objector. Then you wouldn’t have nightmares about the men you killed.’

Hardy fumes and wags a finger:

‘Oh really? Is that so? Well you listen to me Jack Vallis, what you think of my military exploits is neither here nor there. First and foremost, I’m not a soldier, I’m a doctor. A doctor. Understand?’

‘A doctor of the mind–’

‘Yes, a doctor of the mind.’

‘…Who has been hypnotised by science. Men like you make very good candidates.’

‘For what?’


‘Why? Are you a hypnotist?’

‘The conditions for suggestibility are fixation of attention, monotony, limitation of voluntary movements, a narrowing of the field of consciousness, and a tendency toward inhibition. Personal qualities which you display in spades.’

‘You seem to know a lot about it.’

‘I’m on the cutting edge, me.’

‘Was that part of your work?’


‘As a stage performer.’

‘I wasn’t a performer. I was a fortune teller. Amongst other things.’

‘Do you have powers?’

‘What sort of powers?’

‘Can you hold a hypnotic influence over others?’

‘In the old world they called it witchcraft. At least, you Freudians like to connect it with nervous affections, like hysteria and epilepsy.’

‘Quite so. What did you do? Read palms? Tarot cards? Tea leaves?’

‘No. I used a crystal ball.’

‘Did you have visions?’

‘I know a that trick.’


‘You want to put words in my mouth. If I say I had visions, you’ll claim I suffer hallucinations.’

‘Well did you have visions or not?’

‘What’s the point of gazing into a crystal ball if you don’t see anything?’

‘So you had visions? Yes or no.’

Of course I had bloody visions!

‘What did you see? The future?’

‘Yes. I saw us together, right here, right now.’

‘Hallucinations, Jack.’

‘Not hallucinations. I’m psychic, remember?’

Hardy consults the file, licking his index finger as he paws each page. Then he looks up and grins:

‘Ah yes! Blackpool pier. It’s here in black and white. Psychic. How could I forget such a thing? Gypsy Jill.

‘That’s me, Gypsy Jill.

‘Well, psychic is a very loose term. It covers all sorts of mental derangements.’

‘I’m not deranged. I saw us in a vision, I tell you.’

‘You probably dreamt it last night. False memory syndrome. Let’s just say you have an over-active imagination. So where did you learn hypnosis?’

‘That term is so passé. I prefer to call it disaggregation of consciousness.’

‘Have you ever been hypnotised? Do you see yourself as disaggregated?’

‘Absolutely. Disaggregated, disassembled, deconstructed, deflated, disappropriated, deconsecrated, disembodied and defected in every way. I’m completely screwed-up doctor.’

‘How are you screwed-up?’

‘I think you need to brush up on your psychology. Inhibition of the personal self causes mental dissociations which are the basis of all psychopathic disease.’

‘Inhibitions? What sort of inhibitions? How are you inhibited?’

‘Are you blind? I’m trapped in a male body! For Christ’s sake!

‘Calm down Jack.’

‘I’ve told you before: my name is Jill.

‘I can’t call you that.’

‘Why not?’

‘Because you’re Jack. You’re a man. Isn’t that obvious? Jack you are, and Jack you shall remain, ’till your dying breath. It’s nature Jack. Sex. It’s Nature.

‘Are you completely brain dead, or what? You’d better show some respect, and start calling me Jill. How would you like it, if I called you Nancy, or Becky, or Daisy? You wouldn’t stand for it, would you? It would make you pretty damn mad, going through your whole life being called Daisy, wouldn’t it? Why? Because you’re not Daisy, you’re Robert. Well I’m Jill, see? So you’d better get that into your thick skull. Jill. Got it?’

‘I’m sorry, but I refuse to call you Jill.’

‘Why not Daisy? Frightened of pandering to my delusions?’

‘You will refer to me as Dr. Hardy.’

Daisy! Daisy! Give me your answer do! I’m half crazy, all for the love of you! I can’t afford a Johnny, a plastic bag will do, but you’ll look sweet, under the sheets, with me on top of you!

‘If you want to bawl that vulgar verse, I’ll return you to your cell.’

‘You pompous Freudian ass.’

‘Don’t be impertinent.’

Me? You don’t even have the decency to call me by my real name! My god! What a hypocrite! I can’t have a therapeutic relationship with a man like you!’

‘Well you’re stuck with me, so you’d better get used to it.’

‘Where’s my corset. Give it back.’

‘I can’t. We threw it in the furnace.’

‘That was my personal property. You had no right. It cost me a small fortune, that did!’

‘Tight lacing is unhealthy. Especially in a man.’

Especially in a man. My corset was my chief source of comfort and pleasure. And I am perfectly desolate without it.’

‘Desolate? Why is that do you think?’

‘Because it accentuated my bosom above, and my hips and buttocks below.’

‘But you don’t have a bosom.’

‘If you think tight-lacing is evil, then you’re a bigot. A good corset is comparatively harmless, especially considering the wonderful improvements it makes to girl’s small assets.’

‘You’re not a girl, Jack.’


‘In case you hadn’t noticed, I’m not a pig, I’m a man.’

‘A man with a very piggish personality.’

‘You are addicted to bad habits. Perversions. Sexual indulgence and its effects upon the mind are more harmful than alcohol.’

‘Oh really? Is that why I’m suicidal?’

‘Without female attire and the pleasure of dressing, you are suffering from withdrawal, just like a dipsomaniac. But all this will pass in time. Sexual indulgence is exhausting to the nervous system, and in a person of weak constitution, can be fatally so.’

‘How can dressing as a girl be fatally indulgent? If anything, it makes me feel more alive.’

‘Masturbation can induce insanity; and insanity perpetuates the masturbation. The end result is dementia.’

Dementia! What about lobotomy and ECT? I’d rather have a wank thank you. At least I won’t end up a vegetable. Anyway, who said anything about self-abuse? I prefer not to indulge in that sort of thing.’

‘Don’t you get errections?’

‘Sissies don’t get stiffies. I come like girl, with one finger only.’

‘It doesn’t disturb your moral conscience, behaving like a girl?’

‘No. But it obviously disturbs yours. What kind of therapy is this? A veil of foolish words, with vague misconceptions hanging between them. I think you’d look great in drag. It would take years off you.’

‘Are you attracted to men dressed as women?’

‘Consider it part of your moral therapy. You’re very melancholic after all. When was the last time you had a bit of fun?’

‘Tell me, why do you call yourself The Parisian Lady?

‘Because I lived in Paris in a past life. And, of course, I was a lady. A real lady. But that doesn’t mean I’m mad, does it? I don’t belong here. I should be discharged.’

‘I had another female patient who called herself Countess. At one time she called herself Queen. And when excited, she became insanely snobbish. She ran about about the wards, throwing toilet rolls like streamers, shouting, screaming, flinging her arms about, running, leaping and turning somersaults. Any attempt to restrain her was met with violent blows. Does that sound familiar?’

‘What are you suggesting? That I did those things?

Hardy says nothing, but glares sternly over his spectacles.

‘Well did I?’ asks Jack, horrified. ‘Did I do those things?’

A tense silence. Then Hardy continues:

‘She was a shameless nymphomaniac, subject to depraved hallucinations. Without medication, she became restless, discontent, irritable, fanciful, suspicious, paranoid, foolishly regretful, and suffered spurious love feelings which ended in catatonia and manic depression…’

‘How awful.’

‘Yes. And the fact that you can’t remember these things, proves to me that you cannot be discharged. Meanwhile you will lay aside any notions of your past life. And you will no longer refer to yourself as The Parisian Lady. Are we clear Jack Vallis?’

‘Like I said, a very piggish personality.’

‘Humour me. Just how am I piggish?’

‘Your consciousness is embryonic and undeveloped. Your ego is fully under control of the fear instinct, despite the fact that you pride yourself as a rationalist. I think you need a visit from The Devil.’

The Devil, indeed. There’s no such thing as the Devil, Jack.’

‘Oh yes there is.’

‘Tell me about Him.’


‘Are you referring to a mythical being or a living person?’


‘Is it one of the doctors perhaps?’

‘Perhaps. Perhaps not.’

‘Be specific. What ward is he from?’

‘He’s from down there.

‘Down where?’

‘You know. The basement.

‘What happens in the basement?

‘All sorts of shocks and surprises.’

‘What kind?’

‘The kind that send you to hell and back.’

‘What happened in the basement? Did Dr. Pontius give you ECT? God damn it!

Jack flinches as Hardy slams his fist on the desk:

‘Why are you so angry doctor?’

‘Because I gave Pontius strict instructions to leave you alone.’

‘It’s not your fault Dr. Hardy. That fact is, I’m incurable. You do realise that don’t you? You’re wasting your time with me. Go and find another patient. Please, Dr. Hardy. You should let me go, before its too late.’

‘Too late? Why do you think your incurable?’

‘Because there is no cure for a girl like me. Transsexual surgery is an esoteric art. Besides, my bones are set in their ways. Look at these whiskers. I’m all mashed up. Only the angels can fix me.’

‘There’s lots we can try.’

‘What do you recommend? Rest in bed? A restricted diet? Strophanthus? Aloes and iron? Sulphonal, sunshine and plenty of fresh air? Ergot, insulin and enemata? Hard exercise? Galvanism? Digitalis or potassium bromide? What about cannabis? Or seclusion in a darkened room? How about arsenic? Or listening to the rain? For god’s sake, you might as well give me a length of old rope… In ancient Rome, they threw transsexuals in the Tyber.’

‘Well, we won’t do that.’

‘No, but you’ll dunk me in ice baths and put the hose on me…’

Hydrotherapy. It’s called hydrotherapy.’

‘—And if that doesn’t work, you’ll section my frontal lobes. Well, I’d rather take my chances in the Tyber, if you don’t mind.’

‘It would be facetious to quarrel with you. But you can rest assured we have your best interests at heart.’

‘Then you must listen to me Dr. Hardy, please. This is very important. You must listen before I forget.’

‘Forget what? What is it Jack? Hmm? What do you want to tell me?’

‘Something is coming. Something terrible.

‘That’s just your Cassandra complex talking. You mustn’t pay attention to apocalyptic fears. You predicted Doomsday only last week. But nothing happened. The world goes on, just as it’s always done.’

‘But we don’t belong here. This is all wrong. Everything is wrong. You must leave this place. We both must.’

‘Leave? That’s out of the question. Sunhill is best place for you. Until you make a full recovery, that is.’

‘But this is the wrong world!’

‘This is the only world there is, Jack. And you belong here, just like everyone else.’

‘No! This is the wrong world, I tell you! There’s nothing beyond Sunhill. Nothing. Just a void of empty space. Mist.

‘We’re surrounded by the moors Jack. The moorland fog. It’s always like this in Winter. It’s a little bleak and isolated, I grant you, but it’s lovely in Summer. Wait until Spring. You’ll see.’

‘Have you walked the precinct lately? When was the last time you left Sunhill? You live here don’t you. I mean, when was the last time you left the asylum gates?’

Hardy looks perplexed and scratches his head:

‘Well, it’s funny you should ask me that. Because I was thinking the very same only this morning. I’ve run out of shaving sticks, you see. I usually get them in the asylum chemist. But they’re out of stock. So I thought I’d take a trip into town. Let me see now, the last time I went to Preston was several months ago. I have very little need to leave Sunhill. Especially during the winter months.’

‘Go to the precinct wall.’


‘Because it’s surrounded by an abyss. Or if it isn’t now, it soon will be. There’s nothing beyond Sunhill. Nothing.

‘That’s fantasy Jack.’

‘It’s the truth. Sunhill is surroudned by void. And it’s getting bigger. The precinct is shrinking, inch by inch. We’re being eaten up. Devoured by the darkness. Soon there will be nothing left. Nothing but oblivion.’

‘Well that’s very odd Jack, because I heard the milk van this morning at 5.00 a.m. It came bang on time, whirring up the drive with its bottles rattling. The milkman left a fresh delivery on the kitchen steps. Fifty crates, is the usual quota, if I’m not mistaken. Is that not odd? I mean to say, if there’s nothing but an abyss beyond the precinct wall, then how does the milk van get in and out? And what about the post? I received a letter today from London. Was it sent across this abyss? Who delivered it? And what about the staff – all the nurses, doctors, cooks and groundsmen, who commute by bus? Do they traverse your abyss to get to Sunhill?’

‘Ah, well, yes, that’s complicated. And whilst I know the answer to that question, I am not at liberty to give it.’

‘But why?’

‘Because it’s too dangerous for you to know.’

‘Why is it dangerous?’

‘You wouldn’t understand why, Dr. Hardy.’

‘Try and explain.’

‘That would be like giving a nuclear trigger to a small child.’

‘I see. Well, this abyss of yours sounds very dangerous indeed.’

‘Don’t patronise me, doctor.’

‘But it makes no sense, Jack. Why should I believe anything that makes no sense? I’m a scientist. I deal with facts. And what you’re telling me defies logic and common sense. As does your claim to be a woman.’

Les esprits médiocres condamnent d’ordinaire tout ce qui passe leur portée.

Hardy pricks up his ears in surprise:

‘You speak French?’

‘Of course. I’m The Parisian Lady.

‘Sorry, my French is a little rusty. Could you repeat that?’

Les esprits médiocres condamnent d’ordinaire tout ce qui passe leur portée.

‘Er, no, I mean in English…’

Men of second-rate intelligence generally condemn everything that is above the level of their understanding. … La Rochefoucauld. Maxim number eight-hundred-and-seventy-six. Comprendez vous?

‘I see. So you look down on me. Is that it?’

‘Not as much as you look down on me.’

‘I don’t look down on you Jack.’

‘Yes you do. You think I’m a pervert.’

‘I’m here to help you, Jack.’

‘Then let me go! Before it’s too late! You must let me go. You must!’

‘But where shall you go? If Sunhill is surrounded by an abyss, then surely, this hospital is the safest place to be. It’s the only place to be.’

‘I don’t belong here! This is the wrong world!’

‘But you’ve spent your whole life here, Jack. In Lancashire. You were born in Liverpool, remember? This is your world, Jack. It’s where you belong.’

‘Not here. This is the wrong bubble.’

‘Then where do you belong?’

Jack wrings his hands and rocks back and forth in the chair, tears glinting in his eyelashes, mascara running down his cheeks in sooty rivulets:

‘I belong in a world where I don’t have to explain myself to men like you. Where I can be who I am on the inside. Where my body aligns with my soul. But that’s impossible in this world, impossible.’

‘That’s right Jack. Impossible. I’m glad you understand that now. Finally, we’re getting somewhere. Do you know why it’s impossible?’

‘Because the Devil made this world. The Devil. Can you hear Him? He’s laughing at us.’

‘You hear the Devil often?’

‘All the time. He put us here. In this bubble. Both of us. I don’t know how He did it. But He did. Ask yourself how we got here. Do you know? Eh? Do you know how we got here? Think about it. It’s infernal – this whole thing – infernal, isn’t it? You know what I’m talking about. The war. The Devil did it. He made us ridiculous. He put me in this wretched body. The Devil, I tell you.’

‘Don’t worry about the Devil.’

‘Freudian fool,’ snivels Jack.

‘I beg your pardon?’

‘Freudian fool. They serve it in the kitchens. Freudian fool. Not gooseberry fool, Freudian fool. Everyone thinks it’s gooseberry fool, but it’s not. It’s Freudian fool. They’re all eating Freudian fool. And the joke’s on you. You big fat gooseberry.’

‘That very insulting Jack.’

Listen! Can you hear Him?’

The Devil?

‘He’s here…’

‘Well I can’t see Him.’

‘He prefers to remain invisible, intangible, impalpable – especially to men of science. Didn’t you see him on the battlefield? Or sense Him, even?’

‘No. All I saw on the battlefield were young men getting their brains blown out. There was no Devil. Just the carnage of politics.’

‘He’s sniggering. That’s what He does: snigger. He thinks it’s funny – you sitting there, pontificating, pretending to understand my existential condition as a symptom of mental derangement. You think the organic brain is a material thing, purely in itself. A lump of jelly. You think men are meat robots, without a higher purpose. You believe that consciousness falls asunder at Death. You define my transsexual condition as psychotic illness. And nothing I do or say will convince you otherwise. You think the outer must always be an expression of the inner: that our outer shape reflects our inner nature; that we’re defined by this fleshy pith; that gender is genetically determined by our chromosomes. Wake up you Freudian fool! We are not the body! We are spirits! Spirits in clay vessels! Let me go! I’ve got to get out of here!

‘But there’s nowhere to go Jack. Where shall you go?’

‘Beyond the great abyss, to find the Eternal Light, and fuse myself with The Divine Unity. Then I shall have no other compulsion but the perpetual will of God.’

‘You mean Heaven? Is that where you mean?’

‘I mean The Garden of Earthly Delights.’

‘And where’s that?’

‘It’s all around us. But we can’t see it. It’s a place of spiritual liberation. Total freedom in accordance with Divine Will. The Garden of Earthly Delights.’

‘Another bubble?’

‘Yes. But I can only enter that sphere when I have finished my task.’

‘Which is?’


‘I see.’

‘A task which belongs to the Life of Unity. You must let me go Dr. Hardy. I must seal the door where darkness dwells. Only when I have sealed the abyss, and retrieved the ‘Sparkling Orb of Divine Humanity’, will Mankind be free.’

‘That sounds like a myth Jack. A task of Hercules. Or Christ Himself.’

‘Your Freudian mind is sealed in negation. But the psychology of Man mingles with the psychology of God. The myth is real. The fairytale is real. You must let me go. Something terrible is coming.’

‘Well I can’t let you go Jack. I can’t. What you’re saying is ridiculous. Can’t you see that?’

Jack seethes like a madman, thrashing in the chair, his fetters clanging on the iron wheels:

Let me out of this damn thing!

Concerned, Hardy rises from his desk and subdues the air with his hands:

‘Calm down Jack, calm down. There’s no point in getting upset.’

Oh God! Oh God! We’re doomed! Why won’t you listen? … They’re coming! We’re running out of time!

‘You’re perfectly safe. Nothing can harm you. Nothing is going happen.’

But I’ve seen it! Spatial Inversion! The Al-Jinn! It’s all my fault! I made it happen!

‘Hallucinations, Jack. They’re just hallucinations.’

Go to the precint wall! Take a look for yourself! The edge of the world! There’s nothing beyond Sunhill Gate! Nothing but darkness! Eternal darkness! A chaotic abyss! You must let me go! I’ve got to put it right!

‘That’s silly Jack.’

‘What’s the matter with you? Why won’t you listen to me? Call yourself hypnophobic? You’re soporific! Comatose! Your eyes are open, but you see nothing of this world! What a malediction – to misinterpret your sleeping for waking and your waking for sleeping! To sleep a perpetual sleep, and never wake! Wake up Dr. Hardy! Wake up!’

‘You’re clearly distressed. I’ll give you a sedative. We can talk again tomorrow.’

Copyright © Nicholas Shea 1992-2022. All rights reserved.

Image credit: Clay-baked male genitalia. Roman votive offering. Copyright © Welcome Trust Images. Wikimedia Commons.

The Anti-Woke Thesaurus


A complete Anti-Woke Thesaurus for any web browser. This distribution was assembled by Nicholas Shea from the Project Gutenberg’#22 file ‘roget15a.txt’ (MICRA’s contributed eBook of Roget’s Thesaurus).

This is a work in progress, as I am checking the entire theasurus, *word for word* with Roget’s original 1911 edition. I aim to correct and improve about 6 heads per day. This work involves:

1. Rectiftying OCR errors.
2. Colouring words and phrases according to language.
3. Verifying, referencing and translating the existing phrases and quotations.
4. Enriching the text with additional phrases, quotations and passages in Latin, Dutch, Spanish, Danish, Portugese, French, etc.


The Anti Woke Thesaurus

In adding quotes, I have deliberately chosen passages that expose the corrupt ideologies and destructive dogmas of “wokeism” that now pervade much of academia and the media. (Students are burning Homer in Canada). Passages from the Classics, literature and philosophy add contextual depth and meaning, far more than the traditional grouping of words according to ideas. Quotations add colour and nuance, especially when juxtaposed and contrasted with one another in sequence. For example, the concept of “Evil” cannot really be grasped by consulting a traditional word list; but the testament of one who has experienced evil first-hand leads to a more profound understanding. Consequently, this version of Roget’s Thesaurus has evolved into a hybrid Quote-a-Thesaurus, where the meanings of words are further amplified and explicated by various opinions.

What is Wokeism?

Wokeism is tyranny, plain and simple. A woke individual is naught but a malignant self-deluded fanatic, who holds a furious hatred of any creed that contradicts their own dogmas. Under the guise of “kindness” and “respect”, the woke go out of their way to vilify, persecute, ostracize, and even physically harm anyone who voices heretical opinions. The woke future is neither politic nor correct. On the contrary, it is a despotic world of mob-rule that marries totalitarian technocracy with barbaric delinquency; a world of caustic falsehoods, where the intellect is lobotomised to serve the vested interests of abolitionists and militant Marxists. Wokeism, first taught in universities by corrupt academics, has now infested the entire education system; it is a narcissistic psyops, fuelled by the herd-frenzy of social media, and its doctrines have been adopted by most mainstream institutions, including Hollywood and the BBC. Wokeism professes respect for an individual’s personal experience. But don’t be fooled: there is nothing decent or respectable about wokeism. Beneath its glossy but flimsy surface, is an atheist cess-pit, teeming with pomp and high-larceny; a world of divide-and-rule, where race, sexuality and culture are weaponised to gain power and suppress freedom of speech. Wokeism is a hypocritical movement of base passions, vanity, pride and greed, where all that is civil, moderate, decent and holy, is sacrificed upon the altar of purblind individualism. But more than this, wokeism is the Trojan horse, by which our precious democratic freedoms, (freedoms which previous generations fought and died for), are being razed to the ground in a series of societal convulsions. As these upheavals ripple through the strata of society, they usher in the deadly “New Normal” of global socialism. Wokeism is nothing less than the rout of western civilization.


Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.


The Anti-Woke Thesaurus may be downloaded from the following locations:


The thesaurus has been divided into individual HTML head files. Each head has a navigation panel at the top with links to‘previous’ and ‘next’ entries, as well as links to the Class breakdown and Index. This is a substantial improvement over a single body file and allows for further hierarchical structuring. Further, all Head numbers within the body text are linked to their respective head files.

The index was assembled from the Project Gutenberg file ‘10681-h-index-pos.’ This file was so vast that it took over 40 seconds to load in a browser. So the index has been divided into separate files, (A.html to Z.html), and the broken links have been corrected.

The ‘heads’ directory contains all heads extracted from the body as HTML files. All heads are linked. Navigate to the previous and next Heads using the Navigation panel.

The ‘index’ directory contains the entire index split alphabetically into separate HTML files. The original index was over 9.0MB and took a long time to load; it also had many link errors which have been fixed.


Words marked with a superscript dagger are considered obsolete (although what is considered obsolete is often a matter of conjecture or context). For example, these words are considered obsolete: unhoused†, unharbored†. Words considered archaic are marked with a superscript double dagger. For example, saturity‡.


The ‘generator’ directory contains a small program called ‘roget’ with the source code. This program will parse the custom file ‘roget15a_my_markup.txt’, apply HTML styles and generate the head and index files; the program also generates links and navigation entries for each head. If you wish to rebuild the program, please consult the file ‘ReadMe.txt’ in the generator directory. IMPORTANT: I have spent hundreds of hours correcting the original OCR text from the Project Gutenberg text file, which had corrupted/omitted many accented characters. The file ‘roget15a_my_markup.txt’ is in UTF8 format. Do not change the codepage, or the accented characters will be lost. All the index files are also in UTF8 format and should not be tampered with.

The functions in MakeLinks.cpp were coded specifically for my custom file ‘roget15a_my_markup.txt’. Much of the code was a KLUDGE to get my HTML thesaurus up and running. Makelinks.cpp was never intended for general release and is included only for the curious.

Note: the ‘generator’ has been removed from the current distribution but is still available on my Roget’s Thesaurus Sourceforge page.


Some accented characters have suffered from the original Project Gutenberg OCR translation; the characters are either corrupt or missing entirely. Correcting these errors is an ongoing process that takes a great deal of time and effort. New versions are uploaded when available. Corrections and improvements are listed in the version history.


It beggars belief that people believe they can simply scan a book, then use Optical Character Recognition to convert that book into editable text without incurring errors. What is worse, they never check for these errors. Mathematical texts suffer very badly in this regard, with formulae rendered completely senseless and unreadable. (Often the original scans are very poor indeed). Ironically, the scanning of books is supposed to preserve them for future generations. However, without due diligence, the end result is not a preservation, but rather an erosion of our cultural heritage.

Released on 19 DEC 2021
MD5 SUM: 6A26AA539C360C841AA70E967DD851E4


Corrected, referenced and appended Phrases, Proverbs and Quotations in various
languages. A plethora of additions and corrections to previous and subsequent
heads. This is a development release. I hope to finish the entire thesaurus,
in the New Year of 2022, though this deadline now looks a little too optimistic.
Released on 16 DEC 2021


Corrected, referenced and appended Phrases, Proverbs and Quotations in various
languages. A plethora of additions and corrections to previous and subsequent
heads. This is a development release. I hope to finish the entire thesaurus,
sometime in the New Year of 2022.
Released on 12 DEC 2021
MD5SUM: 0300216CB2CC838AB784467D7928C794

Heads 820 to 830
Corrected, referenced and appended Phrases, Proverbs and Quotations in various
languages. A plethora of additions and corrections to previous and subsequent
heads. This interim release might only have ten additional heads, but it
represents huge body of work, with extensive new material. The work has become
POWERS. For this reason, it is taking much longer than expected.

This is *probably* the last upload before I finish the entire thesaurus, which
will be sometime in the New Year of 2022.
Released on 28 NOV 2021
Md5SUM: 8B3FDD23364DB2AC18A62EC6574627D5

Heads 800 to 820
Corrected, referenced and appended Phrases, Proverbs and Quotations in various
languages. A plethora of additions and corrections to previous and subsequent

This is *probably* the last upload before I finish the entire thesaurus, which
will be towards the end of 2021.
Released on 28 NOV 2021
Md5SUM: 53D55E209296D63CA0E5F83176FA293D

Heads 780 to 800
Corrected, referenced and appended Phrases, Proverbs and Quotations in various
languages. A plethora of additions and corrections to previous and subsequent

This is *probably* the last upload before I finish the entire thesaurus, which
will be towards the end of 2021.
Released on 23 NOV 2021
MD5SUM: 5F7431AFB86AD7B99BBCD7FD81F5776D

Heads 775 to 780
Corrected, referenced and appended Phrases, Proverbs and Quotations in various
languages. A plethora of additions and corrections to previous and subsequent

This is *probably* the last upload before I finish the entire thesaurus, which
will be towards the end of 2021.
Released on 23 NOV 2021
MD5SUM: 49AD4CED33C6D39BFDEA67857897818B

Heads 775 to 780
Corrected, referenced and appended Phrases, Proverbs and Quotations in various
languages. A plethora of additions and corrections to previous and subsequent

This is *probably* the last upload before I finish the entire thesaurus, which
will be towards the end of 2021.
Released on 22 NOV 2021
MD5SUM: B56548BF19BF8BEAF10C8294D6CD4BD4 *

Heads 760 to 775
Corrected, referenced and appended Phrases, Proverbs and Quotations in various
languages. A plethora of additions and corrections to previous and subsequent

This is *probably* the last upload before I finish the entire thesaurus, which
will be towards the end of 2021.
Released on 18 NOV 2021
MD5SUM: ED31D9472BA65FCEBF91B73D8702BD77

Heads 740 to 760
Corrected, referenced and appended Phrases, Proverbs and Quotations in various
languages. A plethora of additions and corrections to previous and subsequent

This is *probably* the last upload before I finish the entire thesaurus, which
will be towards the end of 2021.
Released on 15 NOV 2021
MD5 SUM: 59B118E63FD8339CE208DDD88D2F9AA3

Heads 720 to 740
Corrected, referenced and appended Phrases, Proverbs and Quotations in various
languages. A plethora of additions and corrections to previous and subsequent

This is *probably* the last upload before I finish the entire thesaurus, which
will be towards the end of 2021.
Released on 07 NOV 2021
MD5SUM: 4DD860730945F7D2CE4D69098E6E670B

Heads 707 to 720
Corrected, referenced and appended Phrases, Proverbs and Quotations in various
languages. A plethora of additions and corrections to previous and subsequent

This is *probably* the last upload before I finish the entire thesaurus, which
will be towards the end of 2021.
Released on 01 NOV 2021
MD5 SUM: B8BE5B40B740196C0AD7F67701FE7DA0

Heads 680 to 707
Corrected, referenced and appended Phrases, Proverbs and Quotations in various
languages. A plethora of additions and corrections to previous and subsequent

This is *probably* the last upload before I finish the entire thesaurus, which
will be towards the end of 2021.
Released on 24 OCT 2021

Heads 624 to 680
This version has extended quotations with additional images; these are shown on
a black background panel with cyan text.

Corrected, referenced and appended Phrases, Proverbs and Quotations in various
languages. Other corrections and additions to previous and subsequent heads.

This is *probably* the last upload before I finish the entire thesaurus, which
will be towards the end of 2021.
Released on 13 OCT 2021
MD5 SUM: 2731E0E9DB9CC01A8DB0640D47663EF6

Heads 618 to 624
Corrected, referenced and appended Phrases, Proverbs and Quotations in various
languages. Other minor corrections and additions to previous and subsequent

This is *probably* the last upload before I finish the entire thesaurus, which
will be towards the end of 2021.
Released on 05 OCT 2021
MD5 SUM: 6ABBF7D5C494C153FD352E723CFCA038

Heads 550 to 580
Corrected, referenced and appended Phrases, Proverbs and Quotations in various
languages. Other minor corrections and additions to previous heads.

This is *probably* the last upload before I finish the entire thesaurus, which
will be towards the end of 2021.
Released on 28 SEP 2021

Heads 530 to 550
Corrected, referenced and appended Phrases, Proverbs and Quotations in various
languages. Other minor corrections and additions to previous heads.

This is *probably* the last upload before I finish the entire thesaurus, which
will be towards the end of 2021.
Released on 25 SEP 2021

Heads 500 to 530
Corrected, referenced and appended Phrases, Proverbs and Quotations in various
languages. Other minor corrections and additions to previous heads.

This is *probably* the last upload before I finish the entire thesaurus, which
will be towards the end of 2021.
Released on 14 SEP 2021

Heads 360 to 400
Corrected, referenced and appended Phrases, Proverbs and Quotations in various
languages. Some other minor corrections to previous heads.

This is *probably* the last upload before I finish the entire thesaurus, which
will be towards the end of 2021.
Released on 07 SEP 2021

Heads 170 to 360
Corrected, referenced and appended Phrases, Proverbs and Quotations in various
languages. Some other minor corrections to previous heads.

This is *probably* the last upload before I finish the entire thesaurus, which
will be towards the end of 2021.
Released on 07 SEP 2021
MD5 SUM: C363F0343B95E743C4BB4AC9E0318494

Heads 170 to 360
Corrected, referenced and appended Phrases, Proverbs and Quotations in various
languages. Some other minor corrections to previous heads.

Quotes for Head 265 ‘Quiescence’ were omitted in this release but are included
in the website version. Quotes for Head 360 ‘Death’ contains minor typos where
‘befall’ was ‘befal’ and another double ‘ll’ was typed as ‘lL’. This is also
corrected in the website version.

This is *probably* the last upload before I finish the entire thesaurus, which
will be towards the end of 2021.
Released on 05 SEP 2021
MD5 SUM: B28F2CCE4B705272DC8983D90829EDB1

Heads 140 to 160
Verified, referenced and appended Phrases, Proverbs and Quotations in various

Note: I missed updating the quotes for Head 151 ‘Eventuality’ in this release;
and in appending Chesterton and Francis Bacon quotes to Head 989 ‘Irreligion’,
I made a typo for the HTML code ‘’’. These errors have been fixed for the
pages displayed on my website.

This is *probably* the last upload before I finish the entire thesaurus, which
will be towards the end of 2021.
Released on 03 SEP 2021

Heads 120 to 140
Verified, referenced and appended Phrases, Proverbs and Quotations in various

This is *probably* the last upload before I finish the entire thesaurus, which
will be towards the end of 2021.
Released on 02 SEP 2021

Heads 100 to 120
Verified, referenced and appended Phrases, Proverbs and Quotations in various

This is *probably* the last upload before I finish the entire thesaurus, which
will be towards the end of 2021.
Released on 01 SEP 2021

Heads 1 to 100
Verified, referenced and appended Phrases, Proverbs and Quotations in various
languages. This is no small task as the existing quotes and phrases in the
Project Gutenberg file ‘Roget15a.txt’ are not referenced; sometimes the author
of the quote is given, but the work from which the quote is taken is not; so all
these must be traced down to the original source, and then if needs be corrected
and referenced in full. Note that the 1911 edition has very few Phrases or quotes
and most of the ones given in ‘Roget15a.txt’ have been added by third parties.
I have greatly exended the Phrase section, providing numerous additional sources
that are useful to me personally, and will hopefully be so for others. With all
this in mind, I have restyled the thesaurus body and put the Phrase section in
its own bordered division.

Appending phrases and quotations is an ongoing process, so whilst the body has
been corrected to Head 450, quotes are still being added to as yet uncorrected
heads beyond 450. For example, Head 790 Restitution.

Extended colouring scheme for Danish, Dutch and Portugese.

There are simply too many specific changes, corrections and additions to list in
this file.

This is probably the last upload before I finish the entire thesaurus, sometime
before the end of 2021.
Released on 30 AUG 2021

Heads 1 to 450.
Applied styles to quotes.

Head 125 Morning and Head 126 Evening.
Swapped Milton quote “at shut of evening flowers” from Morning to Evening and
corrected it to: “Just then return’d at shut of Evening Flours”
Added more relevant quotes from Milton.

Moved the French phrase “Between a dog and a wolf” to Head 422 Dimness, and also
added it to Head 665 Danger.
Released on 29 AUG 2021

Heads 300 to 450.
Detailed corrections, comparing *word for word* with original 1911 edition.
Missing sections replaced and some others corrected.
Corrected various quotations, and added references. Added some Latin words and
provided numerous translations and explanations for the more obscure words and
phrases in various languages.
Extendended colouring scheme for German, Greek, Italian and Spanish.

Head 353 ‘Bubble’, I have replaced the tenuous quote from Milton with one from
Alexander Pope that *actually* relates to the Head in question:

“And now a bubble burst, and now a world” {An Essay on Man, Epistle One
(‘Of The Nature and State of Man with Respect to The Universe’)}[Pope].
Released on 27 AUG 2021

Heads 200 to 300
Detailed corrections, comparing *word for word* with original 1911 edition.
Extendended colouring scheme for German, Greek, Italian and Spanish.
Many corrections for missing accents, incorrect spelling, with some additions to
(and removals from) the body text. For example:

head 1. Existence.
Changed phrase ‘ergo sum cogito’ to:
‘Cogito, ergo sum’ {“I think, therefore I am” (axiom formulated by Descartes)}

Head 217. Obliquity.
Added missing sections for V. Adj. and Adv.

Head 210. Summit.
Removed Phrase ‘en flûte’
Moved Phr. ‘fleur d’eau’, capitalized word and added brief description.

Head 240. Form.
Changed [Science of form] ‘morphism’ to ‘morphology’.
Added ‘polymorph’, ‘polymorphic’, ‘polymorphous’.

Changed N.American spellings of ‘color’ and ‘defense’ to English spellings of
‘colour’ and ‘defence’.

Head 250. Convexity.
Added small explanation for ‘thank-ye-ma’am’:
{diagonal earthen ridge in road used to divert excessive wash, causing a jolt
to those who rode over it in a cart.} [U.S.]

Head 255. Smoothness.
Moved phrases into Phr. section.
Removed phrase: ‘slippery as coonshit on a pump handle.’

Head 264. Motion.
Added translations for phrases.
Moved Goethe quote ‘sich ein Charakter in dem Strom der Welt’ to Head 5.
Moved Goethe quote ‘ses bildet ein Talent sich in der Stille’ to Head 893.
Added translations for each.
Added missing footnote from 1911 edition.

Head 268. Traveller
Removed ‘condottiere’ which is a soldier, and not a traveller per se.

Head. 276. Impulse.
Removed: ‘boost [U.S.]; bunt, carom, clip y; fan, fan out; jab, plug *.’

Head 277. Recoil
Changed the quote from Newton to what he *actually states* in his Principia
(Axioms, or Laws of Motion). Law III:
‘To every action there is always opposed an equal reaction: or the mutual
actions of two bodies upon each other are always equal, and directed to
contrary parts.’
Also added the correct reference in curly brackets.

Head 298. Food
Removed ‘ichthyivorous’ and addded ‘ichthyophagous’

Improved quotations and added numerous refs.
Released on 26 AUG 2021

Heads 100 to 200
Detailed corrections, comparing *word for word* with original 1911 edition.
Extendended colouring scheme for German, Greek, Italian and Spanish.
Released on 24 AUG 2021

Heads 1 to 100
Detailed corrections, comparing *word for word* with original 1911 edition.
French words and phrases are now in blue, with Latin words and phrases in
golden brown.

Head 14. [Noncoincidence.] Contrariety.
changed erroneous link In Adj section ‘hostile &c. 703.’ to .hostile &c. 708′.

Head 22. [Thing copied.] Prototype.
Added Latin phrase: ‘Exemplumque dei quisque est in imagine parva’
{Every man is a copy of God in miniature] [Lat.][MANILIUS, Astronomicon, IV].
Added Latin phrase: ‘O! imitatores! servum pecus!’ {Oh! ye imitators, a servile herd!}
(An allusion to the low position occupied by the plagiary and copyist).

Head 80. Normality.
Added missising words from the 1911 edition that are absent in
the original Project Guttenberg file(s) ‘roget13.txt’ and ‘roget15a.txt’.

The aim is to correct 100 heads per upload and will post updates on a weekly
basis until all 1000 heads are completed.
Released on 23 AUG 2021

Head 735. Adversity.
Added the missing Adverbs and Phrases sections that were mysteriously absent in
the original Project Guttenberg file(s) ‘roget13.txt’ and ‘roget15a.txt’.

Head 845.
Corrected Latin phrase ‘Davus sum non Aedipus’ to ‘Davus sum non Œdipus’
(the MICRA OCR had interpreted the Latin capital ‘Oe’ ligature as ‘Ae’.

Corrected ‘blase’ to ‘blasé’ in Index and various Head sections.
Released on 23 AUG 2021

Head 20. renamed to Non-imitation (was previously titled noimitation)
Changed incorrect Latin “sui generalis uncommon” to:
sui generalis, infrequens, rarus, insolitus, inusitatus, egregius, unicus,
singularis, non vulgaris, parum consuetus

Head 23. Agreement.
Added Latin translation for:
rem acu tetigisti {you have hit the nail on the head}

Head 591. Printing.
Fixed display of fractional points.

Fixed mismatched italic html tags for Latin words/phrases

Coloured all Latin words so that they stand out.
TO DO: Verify all latin words and phrases.
Released on 22 AUG 2021
Italicized over 1,392 latin words/phrases. This was a very tedious operation
that was completed manually. Removed italic style for square brackets.
Numerous other corrections. Added time stamp to footer.

I am trying to style the text using the same attributes found in the 1911
edition of Roget’s Thesaurus; although the text in my obtained PDF differs
from the OCR.

TO DO: Italian text verification and styles. German text verificatuon and
Released on 21 AUG 2021
Over 550 French OCR corrections with translations for the more obscure phrases.
Translations are shown in curly brackets, for example:

vouloir prendre la lune avec les dents {to take the moon with the teeth} [Fr.]
houppelande {medieval overgown which was widely worn in the late 14th century
and 15th century} [Fr.]
à rebours {against the grain, against nature} [Fr.]
Après nous, le déluge {After us, the flood} [Fr.] … etc.

Many other corrections in the thesaurus body.
Released on 19 AUG 2021
Some German character corrections.
Link corrections for Head 8. Circumstance.
Released on 19 AUG 2021
Some Greek character corrections and additions.
Added version number to HTML headers.
Released on 17 AUG 2021
More accented character corrections.
Released on 11 AUG 2021
Corrections to the Project Gutenberg OCR errors for accented characters in the
thesaurus body and index, Eg crême de menthe, jeu de théâtre, coup de grâce,
coup de maître, bête noire, etc. I have attempted to correct the entire
Thesaurus, although it is possible a few errata are still existent.
Released on 10 AUG 2021
Corrections for missing French characters and accents that were lost in the
original Project Gutenberg OCR scan conversions.
Released on 10 AUG 2021
Made first attempt to correct original OCR translation errors for accented
characters and ported all Web pages to use UTF8 codepage.
Released on 7 AUG 2021
Fixed bug in the index generator code where some head numbers appended with
‘a’ or ‘b’ did not link correctly. (e.g., “777.a” or “737a”).
Released on 26 JUL 2014
First sourceforge release.

A Misbegotten Seed

Court Transcript

JACQUES. Most regal Lord, I admit my sin is great. But have mercy: I am a product of pathology. Every evil has its cause, every shape its seed. So I grew from an inner flaw: photophobia.

Like a thwarted plant, I grew in gloom, hating God for my affliction. Whilst others played in sunlit streams, I hid from dazzling day, and longed for dusk, when shadows I would meet. Thus I was drawn like a moth to flame, to my lord and master Lucifer. His eternal truth broke the fetters of my dull existence; under His wings, my mind took flight and all my pains elapsed; by virtue of His diabolic power, I grew tall and strong; and so my starving spirit was nourished by His fire.

Man’s life is governed by the stars. Sun and moon conspired my fate. Born in totality of eclipse, I was destined to embrace Darkness. But in my lupine odyssey, I saw a brighter orb: Lux Occulta! The interpenetration of all matter and reality!

I have seen the jewelled Gates of Paradise; beheld the Light of the Living God. Yet I stand before you now, a fallen angel, in the final hours of decrepitude and decay. For the grain of an evil seed was sown in the flesh of Adam at the dawn of Time. The curse of Original Sin has brought forth much sorrow and disease into this world; yet how much more shall it corrupt ’til the harvest of Apocalypse! Pray the Master comes quickly….

’Tis written in the book of Sirach, that they who fear the Lord are a sure seed, and they that love him are an honourable plant: but they that regard not His law are a dishonourable seed; and they that transgress His commandments are a deceivable seed. (i)

The priests said mine was a seed misbegotten; a profane and corrupt seed, sunk in the mires of iniquity; a seed of darkness and depravity, full of bane and blight… Believe me, there was no end to their dire proclamations. Mala mens malus animus! Mine was a nefarious seed that bloomed into shameful and indecorous flowers; a dissolute seed, immoral, improper and obscene; a fiendish seed, transgressive and perverse; a seed deformed in body and soul; an accursed seed, profligate, malignant and malefic. In short, a seed most abominable, felonious and inhuman…

But Lucifer said mine was a golden seed; a seed of high virtue, sown amid base briars. He was the author of my bones, and He alone had the power to change them. The philosophers claim that to achieve true knowledge of the Demiurgus, we must study His works. According to Proclus, the author of the Universe planted in all things, impressions of His own perfect excellence, and is present with all living creatures in an ineffable manner. Thus every being, when entering into the sanctuary of its own nature, finds there a symbol of the Father; and by this mystical impression, communes with Him.

LORD SCALES. You speak wisely of the Father, yet like a pagan ignoramus, blame your fate on Sun and Moon.

JACQUES. Ignoramus? Even wise Socrates believed in the corporal influence of the planets and their various houses. Needless to say, I was born in the House of Agonies – with my moon in Pisces – the twelfth and last astrological house, always associated with adversity and death. Truly, I was born under an evil star. Diis adversis! Vel iratis! Genio sinistra! Vel quartâ lunâ, natus!

LORD SCALES. If man’s fate and condition is compelled by the stars, he is naught but a slave, living in a deterministic world of abject hopelessness. You claim your infernal state was caused by the House of Agonies. Come now, surely you don’t believe that? You are no more a product of pathology than of Pisces or any other house. You are a product of character. Is that not so?

JACQUES. No. I am the product of a misbegotten seed. Tel père, tel fils.

SATYR. Who was your sire? Did he suffer the same blight as thee? Indeed, were you born of man at all?

GOBLIN. He is a changeling of the Dracs: a faery seed of darkness, conceived in ether, ex-utero.

LORD SCALES. Well anything is possible… According to the Chief Rabbi of Paris, the accused is the spawn of Shekina – she who bore Nephesh, Soul of the Earthly World, and the ancestral shade of the Nephilim – those infamous giants of old.

JACQUES. If you would but let me speak, I will tell of the Nephilim, and their misbegotten seed—

LORD SCALES. I could say much of the seed – of its mysterious origin and dispersals. Some men are blown into this world like the Rose of Jericho (which is not a rose at at all, but a tumble-weed, and first cousin of the mustard). Yet others fall to earth as gyring sycamore, torn from the bowers of bliss by Hesperian winds. Such are the men of genius and renown: like Noah, Moses and the thrice great Trismegistus. But methinks you were born of more common stock…

JACQUES. Common stock?

LORD SCALES. A dandelion seed from a dandelion clock.

JACQUES. A dan-de-lion?

LORD SCALES. At the fateful hour, you were blown from the pastures into your mother’s womb – the matrix and receptacle of your wretched soul. What does Proclus think? Hmm?

JACQUES. Dandelion? Pastures? That’s very insulting! You think I grew amid the marl of sheep and goats? That the cause of my conception was the illiterate wind?

LORD SCALES. Do not denigrate the winds. All wise devils know of certain seeds that are carried by zephyrs or ocean currents after rain. Indeed, many fruits are fashioned for this very purpose, as can be gathered from their form and habitat. The Tree of Knowledge itself grew beside a river, whereby its fruit fell into water, to be ferried by wind and waves. Nature has invented many ingenious ways for scattering her seed. I have witnessed sling-fruit send out their pods with such force as to carry them not less than fifteen feet. Which begs me to ask, how did the seed of Adam traverse the cosmos, to propagate on planet earth? I’m asking you Jacques, as an erudite philosopher, who is well acquainted with author of the Universe, to enlighten us…

JACQUES. You talk of forbidden things: the arcane knowledge of Genesis, and the progress of earthly life from the first bud of existence, to the last stages of corruption and decay. I defer to my diamon, Krew…

KREW. How mysterious is the seed! A seed of wheat resembles a seed of barley, yet wheat grows out of one and barley out of the other. The seed of an ox shows no essential difference from that of a man; yet a bovine grows out of one, and a human out of the other! The diversity of Mankind is fully expressed in all particulars of the seed, and every characteristic is held within its husk.

Within the seed are writ all traits of flesh, from the general to minutia. For every hair is numbered, as is the instance of each bone – the shape of the ribs, skull and teeth; limbs that are long or short; the density of marrow and fat; the size of the liver, lungs and heart; the bulk of hip, tint of eye, and timbre of voice… Whatever part you may take of the body, you will find it writ in the seed. For the Demiurgus, who produces all things, is the master of matter, and the eternal fabricator of the Universe.

I shall not yet divulge the mysteries of the cell, nor its miraculous braid, suffice to say that an invarious inequality exists in the seeds of all bodies; and on account of this, no man is born equal. For where in the seed is beauty? And where is intellectual power? Where is the talent for numbers, music or poetry? Where is genius and where is brawn? What are the generative rules for the eye or hand? What defects cause knocked knees, crooked spines, hare-lips, webbed hands, or cloven feet?

Where in the seed is the prescript for male and female? Where is the entelechy for hoary flesh and manly bones? Where is the geniture of smooth complexion, and slender limbs? Indeed, I might ask the demon doctors, where is the archegenesis of cock and cunt? And how does one transmute into another? ’Tis a conundrum of high alchemy!

The theory of transmutation is based upon the existence of a heavenly substance, which, when applied to matter, exalts and perfects it. This is what alchemists call the Philosopher’s Stone. And much senseless scribbling has been done about it. According to one foolish Egyptian, the solution to the problem is simple: Take ten parts of cœlestiall slime; separate the male from the female, and each afterwards from its own earth, physically, mark you, and with no violence. Conjoin after separation, in due, harmonic vital proportion; and straightway, the Soul, descending from the pyroplastic sphere, shall restore, by a mirific embrace, its dead and deserted body.

What’s simple about that? Nothing! Indeed, I might ask, what is cœlestial slime? And where can it be found? Some alchemists believe it resides in Chaos—that confused and shapeless mass, in which slumbers the primordial seed of all things. Others insist the cœlestial slime is clay – that which Prometheus kneaded with water, to create Man in the image of the gods… There is much obfuscation regarding the Philosopher’s Stone, with many absurd keys to its accomplishment. As a youth, I myself followed several red herrings – not least the four vases of Hermes with their four regimens. I speak of Sol and Luna, dancing atop their fertilized egg, with the three-headed Serpens Mercurialis coiled inside its nucleus. But how to kill the serpents, and resurrect the philosophers gold? Ask me not! Alchemy is a bottomless abyss of cunning misdirection. There is much scandalmongery concerning The Royal Art. Some say ’tis a conspiracy of the Jews, to foil unwitting Christians. The ancients held alchemy in high regard, but nowadays ’tis a dubious and shady business. The veracity of the Philosophers Stone is vehemently denied and passionately defended. Either way, rumours of gold are always attended by heresy and murder. As for Transmutation, there are so many blood-baths, deaths, and conquests of begetting! Not to mention legions of hideous chimera! The task is quite impossible. You might as well get figs from thistles, or catch a weasel asleep. So much for the perfection of matter. Needless to say, the Philosopher’s Stone is not a stone at all. The heavenly substance that perfects all things is what we call “The Light”. And ’tis by the Light, that man finds eternal life and salvation.

Philosophers assert that man’s salvation lies in the perfection of his moral sensibilities. But materialists assert that man’s salvation lies in perfection of his seed. As the Serpent knows, perfectibility of the seed lies in knowledge. To understand the seed, we must divulge deep into the heart of matter. Every atom consists of parts, indissolubly glued together, yet the immediate cause of this cement is something incorporeal…

Reason infers that Nature gives form to bodies, not by impulsion of the soul, but by prerogatives of the seed. Yet with respect to the material powers in seeds, I assert that each is fused with a substance incorporeal – an eternal soul – whose hidden quality remains a complete mystery.

Does the soul select a seed of corporeal life which is in accord with its true nature? Surely not! For beauty is only skin deep, and the loveliest rose is oft’ a nefarious harlot; yet a misshapen hag may conceal a heart of dazzling virtue. Materialists argue that virtue is not a property of the soul, but of the seed – that the propensity to evil action is writ within the braid itself. Wherefore, what is evil, but corruption of the seed? Moreover, what seeds shall bring forth good or evil fruits? Pray, believe Jacques when he tells you: he is a product of pathology!

JACQUES. My eternal spirit was flung into a mire of matter, and this misbegotten body contradicts my soul.

LORD SCALES. Do you think yourself special in that regard? All fleshy incarnations are contradictions of body and soul. But the noble character dwells in the spiritual realm alone; to sink into fleshy concerns is to degenerate and die.

JACQUES. You make me sound like a base materialist.

LORD SCALES. Well aren’t you? Either man has an immortal soul, or he does not.

JACQUES. If he does not, then he is naught but dust.

LORD SCALES. If you are Cathar, who despises the flesh of procreation, why are you so obsessed with your body?

JACQUES. Because God endowed me with reason, and the means to better my condition. I speak of restitution.

LORD SCALES. Which begs me to ask, by what agency did you bring about vivification and quickening of the dead? For the corpse is not a dormant seed, and cannot be resurrected except by supernatural force.

JACQUES. I used the Light my Lord.

LORD SCALES. But did you use it wisely? Your acts of regenesis only caused more suffering and death. The jury might doubt your true aim in channelling the Light.

JACQUES. My aim was to bring about The Earthly Paradise – that all men might dwell in The Garden of Earthly Delights.

LORD SCALES. You conceited little fool. You might as well beat the waves with a stick! Everywhere in the workshop of Nature, spirit acts upon matter, and not the other way round. But you subverted the natural order, and made spirit subservient to matter. The Demiurgus cannot be degraded. The fruits of knowledge cannot be misapplied. Spirit does not suffer by breaking its connection with the flesh, for flesh always corrupts and dies. This is by design. For what is flesh but the rotten kernels of that sinful fruit?

JACQUES. Sinful? Had I dwelt in Eden, I would have scoffed every apple on the Tree of Knowledge! Who wants to be mortal? Who wants to live in servitude and pain? Better to become a god, with the body of an angel! To glean the inmost secrets of the atom! To transit the heavens like Venus, blazing in chariots of fire!

LORD SCALES. The chariots of the cherubim are not for the likes of you, Jacques Vallin. I have no doubt that you were a prodigal child of great intelligence. But the Demiurgus cannot be circumscribed by intellect alone; it can only be approached by the heart.

JACQUES. Are you baiting me?

LORD SCALES. No, little man. Why do you ask?

JACQUES. Little man. I’ll have you know, that I’ve spoken with the Demiurgus, face to face!

LORD SCALES. ’Twas your own narcissistic reflection, no doubt.

JACQUES. We both know that’s not true.

LORD SCALES. Face to face? Was this a sudden revelation?

JACQUES. No. It happened by degrees.

LORD SCALES. But when was your first inkling of His presence?

JACQUES. When I was seven.

LORD SCALES. Did you see him bodily?

JACQUES. Not at first. It began in the furrows…

LORD SCALES. The furrows?

JACQUES. Aye my lord. With parsnip, gourde, and peas. For within each seed, my inner eye beheld the entire universe, laid out in golden skeins.

LORD SCALES. Indeed, there is much mystery in the furrows of earth. You grew up a lowly churl, like outcast Adam, a tiller of the soil. Tell me now, how do you sow peas?

JACQUES. Do you jest?

LORD SCALES. No. I simply wish to establish your horticultural knowledge.

JACQUES. But why?

LORD SCALES. Just answer the question. How do you sow peas?

JACQUES. Well, peas require warm, light soil. As soon as the ground can be worked, open rows three inches deep, two feet apart. Drop the peas and cover them lightly. The smooth variety are best for early planting; but the wrinkled kind are more tender, and must be sown later.

LORD SCALES. I see. And what about gourde?

JACQUES. Er, is all this strictly necessary?

LORD SCALES. Absolutely. You said it began with parsnips, gourde, and peas. So tell me about gourde.

JACQUES. Gourde is sown early May.

LORD SCALES. Yes, yes, yes, that’s all very well: early May. But that explains nothing at all. What I really want to know is how to sow it. Can you recall?

JACQUES. Of course. I’ve sown more gourde than you’ve had hot dinners.

LORD SCALES. Then tell me how you do it.

JACQUES. Gourde… Make hills eight to ten feet apart, and plant six seeds per hill. When the shoots come up, they must be thinned to two or three. Gourde can be sown with corn in every fourth hill, but must be marled oft’, to keep the soil rich.

LORD SCALES. I see. And what about parsnip?

JACQUES. Er… Well, if I remember correctly, parsnip is sown in spring, thumb deep, in fertile soil…


JACQUES. As soon as the earth can be worked, make rows a rod apart. But parsnip sprouts unevenly and must be rolled after sowing. When the plants are well up, they are thinned to a hand apart.

LORD SCALES. Very good. So you understand the cultivation of the soil. In Eden, I grew gourde over six hundred talents, and my parsnip were six feet long. Did you know that?

JACQUES. No my Lord.

LORD SCALES. Yes, I too am a keen husbandsman, and particularly fond of herbs. Parsley goes well with roast Bishop and broccoli; sage is most aromatic with pickled priest and parsnip; dill improves the tang of Cluniac and carrot; and sorrel adds a certain je ne sais quoi to stewed Benedictine and beans… Just a few of my favourite dishes. But enough of my culinary art. Now would you please tell the court of how the Demiurges first came to your attention.

JACQUES. Well, as I was trying to explain, it began in the furrows. ’Twas on All Saints in my seventh year when it happened. I was sowing the lower field, with a purse of peas strapped about my back. I’d been trudging the furrows all day, bent double in the pouring rain. I was cold, wet and miserable, with heavy clods about my feet. It took ’til dusk to sow that field. I was dog-tired and ready to drop. My purse was empty but for a single pea which I kept in my fist. For some reason, I was reluctant to plant it. So I stood there for moment, watching the starlings in the leaden sky. Their great murmuration flew above the thickets like a pulsing cloud, lurching and churning in formless waves. Then all at once, they fell to roost and night crept down from the hills. I was about to head home when I glimpsed the black velvet of a mole digging up the earth. I’d never seen a mole before, and felt quite enchanted by this little creature, with its twitching nose and homunculus hands. Yet there was something else going on. The pea in my fist was throbbing. Tickling. So I opened my hand to look. To my astonishment, the pea began growing before my eyes. There followed a rapid germination. First the testa split, and then the radicle appeared, its pale tip probing for water. It seemed more animal than plant; ’twas all a tremble and writhing like a worm. The epicotyl pulled the plumule from between the cotyledons, and the stem burst forth, with unfurling leaves. It scared me half to death: a dormant seed coming to life in my hand. I gasped and dropped it in the mud. Now I must tell you, all this happened in a twinkling. No sooner had the pea sprouted, than the mole had gone to earth. But from that moment on, I knew there was a power within me. A power of vivification. That night I dreamt of a Cyclops who pointed at the sky. And there I beheld my destiny writ amid the firmament.

SATYR. What did you see?

JACQUES. I saw a bright star and a worm.

SATYR. A star and a worm? Whatever did it mean?

JACQUES. Well the worm was easy to interpret: the worm was me – a baseborn churl, chained to the sods.

SATYR. But what of the star? It could mean anything at all. Does anyone in court have an inkling?

GOBLIN. Perhaps it signified a foreign land – for sailors navigate by stars; or perhaps ’twas a secret wish – something far too mysterious for a simple worm to understand.

JACQUES. No. The star was my soul – an eternal fire of love and intelligence, pure and indestructible. The meaning of the dream crystallized like a diamond. Why should I, a baseborn churl, accept my given lot, if I had power to change it? My deformity was not fixed, but reversible.

LORD SCALES. A foolish notion, little man—if a man is what you are. No wonder they locked you up.

JACQUES. I wasn’t imprisoned for foolish notions. I was imprisoned for preaching the truth.

LORD SCALES. You and your big mouth.

JACQUES. I was never in agreement with other men.

LORD SCALES. That much is obvious – from your futile war with Mother Church.

JACQUES. The Devil lurks behind that cross.

LORD SCALES. Is that your excuse for slaying monks and priests?

JACQUES. Educated fools. Derelicts. And all abandoned by god.

LORD SCALES. Yet if god would abandon any man, how could they continue to exist?

JACQUES. They didn’t. I killed them.

LORD SCALES. Because of your perverse philosophy.

JACQUES. No. Because the priests are instruments of the Devil. The light in them is darkness. Their knowledge of God and Life is false.

LORD SCALES. Some say that Lucifer is Light – that the Morning Star is not of the Devil but of The Christ. What say you Jacques Vallin?

JACQUES. I refer the court to the Gospel of Matthew. The light of thy body is thy eye. If thy eye be single, thy whole body shall be lightsome. But if thy eye be evil thy whole body shall be darksome. If then, the light that is in thee, be darkness: the darkness itself, how great shall it be! (ii)

LORD SCALES. So the god of the Catholics is Darkness, but the god of the Cathars is Light. Correct?

JACQUES. Correct.

LORD SCALES. Then who is your god, if not the god of the Catholics?

JACQUES. My god is their Satan; and my Satan their god.

LORD SCALES. Do not speak in riddles Jacques Vallin. I asked a straight forward question. Who is your god?

JACQUES. My god is the same as your god.

LORD SCALES. Speak his name.

JACQUES. His sacred name is unutterable. I cannot tell it. But I know who Satan is, and from whence He came.

LORD SCALES. Any man who professes to know the origin of Satan is a pitiful ignoramus. ’Tis impossible to know such things. Forget the Book of Job. Radical evil is beyond all human construct. The god of darkness wants your total and utter destruction; and the more twisted the path of your desolation and suffering, the more pleasing to Him. The Prince of Darkness is a foul and tempestuous abomination, and the gates of heaven are forever bolted against Him.

JACQUES. Methinks you mean the Pope, who tortures innocents and burns disciples of The Christ.

SATYR. You were not condemned for Dualist heresy, but chymic art: a beastly pact, by which you and the Cyclops dabbled in secrets of the flesh. The flesh of unborn children. You meddled with the sacred seed of Adam.

JACQUES. I worked for the spiritual regeneration of Mankind.

SATYR. Spiritual regeneration? There was nothing spiritual about it! Your earthly progress was hindered by a profound spiritual indifference. Throughout your life, you tampered with the hyle and plenum of the material world– for one purpose alone: to become Protean, and change your shape at will.

JACQUES. The court knows nothing of my work, except what I confessed under duress. If the jury will judge me fairly, they must know the truth, plain and simple.

SATYR. So what is the truth, plain and simple?

JACQUES. I was a gardener of men.

SATYR. Goblin jury, make no mistake, the accused is no humble tiller of the ground; on the contrary, he is an arrogant alchemist, who diced the unborn child like a common gourde! And look where it got him: there was no permanent change of state – only further degradation. Qui sème des chardous, recueille des épines. [He who sows thistles, reaps thorns].

JACQUES. I wouldn’t expect you to understand my work, or my regenerate philosophy. I have unlocked the secret of the Arbor Vitæ! The prenatal tree of life! The miraculous placenta of the human womb! ’Tis a panacea for all ills! An exilir of youth! The key to Man’s apotheosis and ascension!’

SATYR. You wormy hypocrite! You claim all flesh is of the Devil, yet you contrived a diabolic scheme to reverse the work of Nature!

GOBLIN. Plus je vois les hommes, plus j’admire les chiens. [The more I see of men, the more I love dogs].

JACQUES. My fate was sealed the moment I was born.

SATYR. I find it hard to believe that men would condemn you, merely for your birth.

JACQUES. But don’t you see? This whole world is run by the Jews. You think the Grand Inquisitor is Catholic? Think again. I spied him at the Synagogue conspiring with the Rabbi. They hatched a plot to steal my manuscripts and research. Not to mention my gold and property. How could I refute their slurs and accusations, looking as I do?

SATYR. Impediments of the body are no excuse. You are all too quick to blame others for your own evils. Both Catholics and Jews alike. The truth is plain and simple. You are a witch, just like your mother before you. And ’twas witchcraft that condemned you to the stake.

JACQUES. My craft is true. And there is no religion higher than the truth.

SATYR. Goblin jury, no one can argue with the profundity of that statement. But it can scarcely apply to Jacques Vallin, as he never tells the truth anyway. His confession is full of lies. He denied all knowledge of The Book of Death, yet he penned every single word – in the blood of his acolytes. In sanguine fœdus. [A covenant sealed with blood]. His craft was not for the betterment of mankind, but for his own material gain. Jacques Vallin is a malicious wizard; an enchanter of men, who snared his victims in a long chain of calamities – slaughter and butchery which no angel could untangle, nor holy prayer deliver. He claims to be virtuous, but how virtuous was his magic? He put curses upon his enemies; he cast spells for jewels and gold; he invoked demon spirits to transport his body and transmute his flesh… Yet he would have you believe that he is noble Cathar, and parfait of the Christ! He claims to be a herald of the New Jerusalem; and that his fervent desire for Apocalypse is naught but a longing for Christ’s return. Yet there are many holy men who have already found that Paradise on earth, for they are at peace with Divine Will and wait for nothing in this world but death; and in like manner they are at one with Eternity… But not Jacques Vallin: he is at war with the world, the flesh and the Devil. His conceit is boundless as the sky. Only a Cathar, who deals in apocalyptic conspiracies, would claim to know the end of the world – as if the Devil made it. Tush!

JACQUES. Well, if the Devil didn’t make it, then why I am in this skin suit? A tunic of fire, no less. Within this mortal body, I have eagerly sought the Christ, whilst suffering the Devil’s pains. I have no care for your verdict. I will soon be far from Satan’s reach – enclosed in garments of celestial Light.

LORD SCALES. You seem all too familiar with the Devil, but The Christ remains a complete stranger to you. You speak of the Light as if it were your birthright, yet I doubt you know the first thing about it. Its true nature eludes you, as it eludes all men.

JACQUES. I know more about it than you think.

LORD SCALES. Oh? Then please enlighten the court.

JACQUES. The First Light came from the Depths – the Father of All who is called the First Man. The birth of his thought was the emission of his Son, the Second Man. Beneath these two was born the Holy Spirit, and beneath Her came the elements – water, earth fire, darkness, abyss and chaos – over which the Spirit was born who was The First Woman. The First Man with his Son rejoiced over the beauty of the Female spirit, and he illuminated her soul, and from her came an imperishable Light, the Third Man, who is called the Christ, the Son of the First and Second Man and the Holy Spirit, the First Woman, who is mother of all living things: The Holy Virgin.

SATYR. Oh! Oh! Oh! Jacques Vallin, that is the most ludicrous thing I have ever heard. Look! The whole jury is laughing at you! They’ll be hurling shit at you next!

LORD SCALES. Er, order! Order! Order in court! And will that mischievous sprite stop swinging from the bars! Does the imp think he’s in a zoo? What has become of you, young sir? Where are your manners? Need I remind you, I was with your father at Trinity – and he was such a charming well behaved young devil… Yet I must soundly confess, the Satyr is right in his appraisal. Darkness. Chaos. Illumination. Imperishable Light… Ludicrous words indeed! What a pompous little twat is this Jacques Vallin!

JACQUES. You’re trying to taunt me, of course. Twat: a course term for female genitals, or the secret parts of a nun’s frock.

SATYR. They should crown you King of Fools for such stultiloquence! The first light came from the depths. Oh deary, deary me! I’m half-ready to die with laughter!

JACQUES. Laugh all you like. Have a good long laugh, why don’t you? And crown me King of Fools if you wish. But there’s an old Latin proverb: Aut regem aut fatuum nasci oportuit. [A man ought to be born a king or a fool]. For fools, like kings, are oft’ held in high estate and allowed the utmost license. Many times it suited me to play the fool – if only to dispel the fear that I caused in others. After all, ’tis better to be laughed at than treated with contempt. Yet like a fool, I have rushed on my fate in blind haste – even when I sought to fly from it; and in attempting to avoid the smaller fault, I oft’ ran into the greater peril. I have been calumniated, reviled, hated, anathematized, excommunicated, imprisoned, fined, beggared, starved, and forced to commit many blasphemous crimes – when all I ever wanted was to help my fellow man. You would think that after suffering so much ill fortune, I might have grown wise. But I maintain the opposite: I’m as much a fool now as I ever was – nay, a greater fool. And perhaps the more so, for summoning the Infernal Counsel to judge me… Like the gaoler said: the fates are cruel taskmasters.

SATYR. The gaoler speaks wisely. But you are no victim of circumstance. As Plutarch said: “He who blames the ordinances of the gods is as foolish and ignorant as he who censures them.” The King of Fools indeed. ’Twould be funny if it weren’t so tragic. In truth, there is nothing to laugh at. The charges are despicable, lamentable, indefensible and irremissible. You have dwelt in the company of Death, both spiritual and material. In pursuing your selfish goal, you displayed a complete lack of compasion and inward discipline, with no care for the eternal hazards of your actions. You profess an inner knowledge for the nature of things, yet have slaughtered men for the shimmering dream of a false Paradise. You call yourself a Cathar, yet have executed your chymic art with the divine rights of a mad Caesar. The insane quest to transform your body has brought about the ruin of many poor souls. Who can you blame but yourself?

LORD SCALES. ’Tis time to chose a bubble. Behold the years of your life, floating like orbs in the air. The court is eager to know where you will start. In this life or the next? Modo vir, modo fœmina. [Now as a man, now as a woman]. Do you think you know the story of your days? Think again. Each bubble is a revelation – a convoluted mystery, quite beyond the sphere of your tiny intellect.

JACQUES. You claim great powers of perception but see only a devil in me. How shall I convince you otherwise? Nature made me thus, with heart to feel and mind to reason, but with flesh in the image of a beast. Corrupt of shape, immersed in gross and corporeal form, and withdrawn from all things pertaining to my proper sex, I have lived as exile on this earth. Scorned by day and hunted by night, I stand before you in the garb of heresy. But I wear it with pride. Credo: all heresy is truth and sackcloth is finer than silk.

Noble Lord, I commend myself lovingly to your good justice. Your prudence knows well that all good souls should employ themselves to the service of the Light. But the rack is strong and flesh is weak. Who can defy the Grand Inquisitor of Heretical Error? A gouging iron extracts a priceless sin… What other pearls did I confess? Truly, I have lost count of my nefarious crimes.

’Tis with great trepidation that I choose my first bubble. For in reviewing my formative years, I feign to catch sight of my stains. When I look back on my blighted days, I realise what impelled me: the desire to break free from my repulsive self. Satan showed the way. Even from an early age, I heard the Devil calling… Most sapient Lord Scales, to weigh my soul, you must know my life. Allow me to present my case…

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

i. Proverbs, 10:2.

ii.Psalms, 30:9.

Mystical Body

Paris, 31st October 1376

His zeal for the Faith burns hotter than fire. He tortures for salvation and the greater glory of God. He is King of Terror, holy instrument of Mother Church, the Lord Inquisitor of Heretical Error: Pontius Fougeyron…

He snaps his fingers and a muscle-bound titan strides into view. The brute wears a red hood and a long leather apron stained with blood. He has the paws of a bear and deep scars criss-cross his arms. On the plinth before him is a hideous arsenal of hatchets and hammers, pincers and pliars. Beyond, two dwarves with sooty faces attend a glowing brazier; one heats irons in the coals whilst the other works a large bellows, the air seething through a serpentine nozzle.

On the left is a raised dais where the bishop sits with his attorney. Beneath them sit the sergeants of the bailiff and priests of the Holy Office. A young scribe trembles at his desk, head bowed, ready to write; a candle flickers beside his inkhorn, where two quills stand to attention, their winged shadows looming in the vault like the Angel of Death.

The entire Tartarus glows with bloody flame; the heat is stultifying and the judiciary scowls in a sweat, fanning their ruddy faces with their hats and sleeves. Apart from the bishop, they are strangers all, yet no less eager to see me suffer the pains of hell. Their sinister shades flicker on the walls: a devil-bishop with bodkin horns; a goblin priest with hatchet hands; a bench of satyr sergeants… Thus, my earthly counsel has its infernal counterpart, present only in shadow, powerless to deliver me.

My vision swamps in a limpid haze. I see through a glass darkly.(i) I glimpse hoists and chains; saws and scythes; mallets, maces, billhooks, skewers, razors, cleavers, gouges, chisels, wedges, reamers, needles, rowels, spurs, tongs, barbs – and many cusped and cornute blades, whose diabolic aim makes the blood run cold. But most terrible of all, is a monstrous machine that looms in the shadows, with levers, straps and wheels…

Pontius scowls and says:

‘Jacques Vallin, you have been brought before me for the blackest heresy. Not for Material heresy, arising from inculpable ignorance, but Formal heresy – a voluntary and pertinacious error, by which you preach things contrary to the faith of Mother Church. Your heresy is both internal and external; internal, because you secretly entertain profane thoughts and beliefs; and external, because you express those those beliefs in both occult words and signs, and in public meetings of more than two persons. Your heresy is not only a sin, subject to the forum internum, or forum of conscience, but also a crime, subject to the forum externum, or the judicial forum gathered here. If you admit your heresy, you might receive sacramental absolution, and be pardoned in the sight of God, but your crimes will still be subject to the judicial penalty of death. Do you understand?’

‘I understand…’

‘Do you have anything to ask?’

‘What shall you do to my body?’

He smiles gently and says:

‘Be not be deceived; the torture-chamber is not about the body; ’tis about the soul. This infernal chamber is furnished with many horrid machines, whose express purpose is to bring you back to God.’

‘You enjoy the shedding of blood?.’

‘My only delight is in obtaining your full confession and returning you to the fold. As for blood, I myself am forbidden to draw it. But my attendents are skilled butchers, and keen servants of the Lord.’

‘I am innocent.’

‘Naturally. All heretics are innocent. But ’tis always surprising what a man will confess when his nails are pulled. Do my iron pincers disturb you?’

‘Will they expiate my sins?’

‘Some say you are immune to their pains – that the Devil will not permit you to suffer their beastly bite.’

‘But you shall torture me all the same.’

Torture. ’Tis such an ugly, misleading word.’

‘What else would you call it?’

‘I prefer the term: spiritual edification.

‘A spade is a spade, Monsieur.’

‘Indeed. But would you call that horse a horse?’

‘What is that monstrous machine?’

‘Believe me, there is no confession more profound, no sin more black and irrefutable, as that procured by the horse. But before I strap you to the saddle, I would ask of you one thing…’

‘And what is that?’

‘I simply request that you forget your material body, and contemplate instead, the mystical body of Christ. For in Him, all things are resolved, and all evils vanquished…’

‘You ask of me much, Monsieur. To forget my body when you are about to put the pains upon it. How shall I meditate upon the goodness of God, or His mystical body, whilst I am racked upon that horse?’

‘Your sufferings will draw you closer to Him. For as the sufferings of Christ abound in us: so also by Christ doth our comfort abound.(ii) And in like manner, you will ponder his passion and crucifixion; you will hear His exceeding cry, when in unquenchable pain, He called out to the Father: Eloi, Eloi, lamma sabacthani? [My God, My God, Why hast thou forsaken me?]’

‘You make a virtue out of torturing the body.’

‘As the body is clad in cloth, so the soul is clad in flesh and bone. To reach your soul, I must dissect your body.’

‘Do you know what they call you on the streets?’

‘No doubt I go by many disreputable names. Why?’

‘They call you the Dark Lord of all Flesh…’

‘You will address me as Monsieur.’

‘—Yet I wonder why they call you that. For you know naught of the flesh, let alone the soul.’

‘Oh? Perhaps you will enlighten me?’

‘Your entire faith is based on a lie.’

Impious blasphemer! Retract those words!’

‘I shall not. You are ignorant of God and his laws’

‘My holy office is well acquainted in all matters of ecclesiastical and theological law. Your Gnostic heresy is not only an offence to Mother Church, but causes great harm to the ignorant.’

‘Like all Schoolmen you subvert the scriptures for your own wicked ends.’

‘’Tis not I who pervert the word of God, but you. For the past twenty years you have been living as a Proselyte. But we both know your conversion to the Jewish faith is a lie: ’tis naught but a diabolic scheme, by which you disseminate your heresy. For you secretly believe that the law of Moses was given by the Prince of evil spirits…’

‘You think I am a Luciferan?’

‘I have it on good authority that you secretly remain a Cathar. Yours is the Dualist sect of the old Waldenses and Albigenses. That ancient heresy still smoulders in your bones and will not die. Gnosticism. That is your true faith.’

‘You know naught of my faith.’

‘I know more than you think. Last week I had news from Toulouse. Six members of your sect were condemned to the stake by the inquisitor of heretical depravity. Do you know why?’

‘No Monsieur.’

‘They preached that the Devil created the world.’

‘They have gone to the Light.’

‘Do you believe that in being burnt, they became holy martyrs?’

‘Of course.’

‘And do you believe that those who condemned them as heretics acted unjustly, and by so doing, became themselves heretics and persecutors?’

‘I do.’

‘Your acolytes ignominiously railed against the Lord Pope, the vicar of Jesus Christ, calling him the mystical Antichrist, precursor of the Great Antichrist, who shall prepare the way for Apocalypse. Did you teach them this wicked heresy?’

‘I did.’

‘They said that when you perform miracles, the Holy Ghost descends upon you like a fiery flame in a furnace. Is that true?’

‘Yes, Monsieur.’

‘’Tis the flame of Satan.’

‘You are steeped in ignorance.’

‘Yet I am not so ignorant as to believe this world was created by the Devil.’

‘Not the Devil. The Demiurgus.

‘And who is the Demiurgus? — According to your faith?’

‘The Demiurgus is that mysterious being, by which the Spirit of Life enters into this material world.’

‘Fine words. Shall I write them down?’

‘Your scribe sits idle. Why?’

‘Because I have not instructed him to write.’

‘Why not? Haven’t we started yet?’

‘Not yet. I like to get the measure of man before I put him on the horse.’

‘What use is my confession, if not recorded?’

‘You seem very eager to confess.’

‘My testament is important.’

‘Must the chronicle keep it for posterity? Methinks you have a very high opinion of yourself.’

‘I accuse you of the same.’

‘My notary always takes great care to distinguish between testimony obtained with torture and that obtained without. But to be honest, there is far too much of your Gnostic heresy in the annals of Mother Church. The Cathars were exterminated long ago. Why let their noxious poison rise again? ’Twould be better for all, if you were silenced altogether.’

‘Then why not kill me and be done with it?’

‘You are a fool Jacques Vallin, to stand there and demand a swift death. Life and Death are in the power of the tongue. The words of a wise man’s mouth are gracious: but the lips of a fool shall swallow him up.(iii)

‘My words have always been misconstrued. Or pilfered by the Schoolmen.’

‘You despise the Schoolmen. Is that not so?’

‘I am beyond the shadows of their dull philosophy. My transit into Light is far removed from all their earthly schemes. My pen is heaven-gilded; my words channelled by divine oracles. But the Schoolmen refute my genius.’

‘You pompous ass.’

‘The Schoolmen always receive my works with contempt. They greet me disapproving silence or mocking scorn. They would have me believe that I am ignored altogether. But they plagiarise my books, chapter and verse — for which they receive much plaudit and approbation. A holy author writes according to his muse, but a Schoolman writes according to his purse. I am only concerned with the principal Authority of revelation. But the Schoolmen only care for fame and fortune.’

‘Who is your principal Authority of revelation? Speak.

‘I take my instruction from the angels.’

Fallen angels.

‘No. I am a holy prophet.’

‘And by virtue of this high claim, you have usurped the Apostles with heretical teachings, plundered churches and monasteries, given their property to the poor, and nominated your acolytes as ordained priests! Beware of false prophets, who come in the clothing of sheep, but are inwardly ravening wolves. By their fruits ye shall known them. (iv)

‘Then what of my miracles? Have I not cleansed lepers, cured blindness, and driven demons into swine?’

‘All these things were done in commerce with the Devil.’

‘My balm could heal this broken world. But the Schoolmen denigrate my chymic art. May God protect us from the perils of the Schoolmen, mind, body and soul…’

‘Must we all take lessons from you? Even the priests?’

‘The priests are dunces who cannot be taught. They call themselves fishers of men, but they wouldn’t know how to a catch sprat. These hypocrites preach the miraculous draught of fishes, but refute my own miraculous cures. Yet they swear they can turn the bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ!’

‘You deny the doctrine of transubstantiation?’

‘I refuse to answer that question.’

‘Forgive me. Do you find my cross-examination distasteful? Did I offend your heretical sensibilities?’

‘Your plan is to frighten me into self-accusation.’

‘You have already condemned yourself ten times over.’

‘’Tis not I who am damned Monsieur, but you… I have seen your arrival at the Gates of Hell – accompanied by an escort of fifty devils dressed in red satin, with white and black feathers in their hats, with silver galloons and patent boots, all led by Beelzebub, the Inquisitor General of His Royal Satanic Majesty…’

‘Do not try me, Jacques Vallin. You have no idea of the terrors that await you. This chamber is full of many unnameable horrors, and yet more unnameable hopes. You will answer at peril of death.’

‘My testament is null and void if you will not write it down.’

‘Must I draw your nails first? Answer the question: do you deny the doctrine of transubstantiation?

‘Monsieur, is it really possible that mouldy wafers of flour, can hold within them, the actual flesh and blood of Jesus Christ?’

‘I am asking you.’

Vis me aperte loqui? [Do you wish me to speak openly?]’

Sane quidem. [Yes indeed.]’

‘Transubstantiation is a great mystery to me, Monsieur.’

‘Indeed. These sacred mysteries far transcend the limits of your intellect. But know this: the communicant receives the body of Christ in similitude. Yet he no less truly receives the virtue of its reality. Ask any priest.’

‘The priests are hypocrites. Corpus Dómini nostri Jesu Christi custódiat ánimam meam in vitan ætérnam. Amen… [May the Body of our Lord Jesus Christ preserve my soul to life everlatsing. Amen]. The priests don’t believe this change by which the elements of bread and wine become the flesh and blood of Christ.’

Fool! Of course they believe! The priests of Mother Church guard deep and heavenly mysteries. Wherever the body of Christ is, so are His angels.’

‘The priests are without Christ. They sell pardons for sins. You think their graces and indulgences are approved by god almighty? As for the Eucharist, they find that mystery utterly unintelligible.’

‘But a good mystery is always worth unravelling, don’t you think?’

‘Your talk makes me itch.’

‘I ask you to consider the words of Christ. The saviour gave clear and explicit instructions when he broke the bread at the last supper. He said: Take ye and eat: this is my body.(v) Christ did not say: This is the figure of my body. Neither did he say: With this is my body. But rather, he stated absolutely: This is my body — which plainly implies transubstantiation. And when he gave the chalice, he said: Drink ye all of this, for this is my blood of the New Testament, which shall be shed for many unto the remission of sins… Answer, Jacques Vallin.’

‘I have nothing more or better to say for myself than what Christ has already said.’

‘Ah! So you admit it!’

‘I only admit what Christ said. But I do not admit that the priests actually believe it.’

‘All Catholics are obliged to believe that His flesh and blood reside within the Holy Eucharist. For ’tis by our communion with Christ in the blessed sacrament, that we are formed into one mystical body, His spouse, Mother Church.’

Mystical body? No. The priests propagate a shameless imposture. They no more understand the mystery of transubstantiation than the fouls of the air. Their lust for lucre far exceeds any love for Christ. Yet they still hold the faithful to communion, and preach the Incarnation.’

‘You deny the Incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ from Mary ever virgin?’

‘I assert that Christ had not a true human body, but a celestial body. And whilst on earth, he did all things figuratively, in similitudinem.

‘A wicked and pernicious blasphemy.’

‘But true.’

‘And what of you Jacques Vallin? Are you a real human being, made of flesh and blood?’

‘I am made of sterner stuff than you.’

‘We shall see what you are made of. All in good time…’

‘You play a stupid game Monsieur.’


‘I do not believe for one moment, that after hearing my confession, you will absolve my sins or enjoin my penances. I know that I am destined for the stake.’

‘Well, as the saying goes: save a witch from the flames, and she will cut your throat…

‘Condemn me to the pyre if you must, but your flesh shall burn, not mine.’

‘You’re completely mad, to threaten me with fire.’

‘You cannot destroy me Monsieur. This body is not my body. My flesh is indestructible – a celestial substance, transparent as glass. But your flesh is made of mortal clay, and will perish in the flames.’

Fool. No man can put me to the stake.’

‘But I am not a man.’

Nor woman either!

He stands there for a moment, his lips quivering with rage, his eyes bulging like black orbs. Then he smiles and asks politely:

‘How many have you slain in your mad crusade?’

‘To be honest, I’ve lost count.’

‘At least five hundred, according to the charges.’

‘And you Monsieur? You must have burnt ten times more, this year alone.’

‘Yes, but I only burn the wicked.’

‘You burn yourself.’

‘I beg you, abstain from mouthing empty threats. Your heresy is malignant and noisome to the Faithful. You show neither contrition nor regret. If you refute Christ’s human body, then you refute the Incarnation as taught by priests. Speak.’

‘The priests cannot grasp the Incarnation: it slips through their fingers like sand. They know naught of the Word or His eternal presence.’

‘Whose presence?’

Quæstio perobscura. [A very blind question].’

‘Yet not so blind as you. Vacillate in your replies, and I will put you to the horse. I ask again: whose presence?’

‘The Demiurgus.’

‘Is that the good god, or the bad?’

‘That all depends on your point of view.’

‘Like all heretics, you speak in riddles that cloak your true allegiance. You quote the Mass in earnest, but refute Christ’s human body. If you refute the Incarnation, then you deny The Son of Man, born of the Virgin Mary. Answer.

‘The Son of Man was not incarnate in the Virgin Mary. She was not a carnal woman of flesh. She was sexless, and had same celestial body as The Christ.’

Blasphemy! No man shall receive a pardon of life, when he denies the Incarnation of the Word in the body of Jesus Christ, or his immaculate conception in womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Such heresy brings men to the very brink of Hell!’

*  *  *  *

I seem to stand for an inordinate time, watching the bench through my visor, as the lawyers mutter with the priests. Every so often, the bellows snort and the ping! of iron echoes round the chamber. The fire beats upon my helmet and the clasp grows hot about my neck, scorching my Adam’s apple. At length, Pontius draws beside me and says:

‘Is it all out? Have you confessed all? No! You have confessed nothing! Do not think you can hide your wicked works. The Lord knows all your evil ways, and He will put you to shame.’

‘Monsieur, will you unlock this cursed helmet? I cannot breath, nor hear myself think.’

‘Do not expect my sympathy. Your sufferings haven’t even begun. You shall remain masked until the pains are put upon you. Your visage is the very incarnation of Satan, and the less we have to see of it, the better.’

‘Methinks you should wear this helmet instead.’


‘You are the real monster; the true incarnation of tyranny and darkness. Look at this chamber of terrors! Is it not obvious?’

‘What is obvious is your subterfuge. You find it necessary to invent sophisms, in order to defend a faith so absurd as Catharism.’

‘The subterfuge is yours.’

‘Your crimes are listed in black and white. They are depraved and lamentable; horrible to think of and terrible to hear; your detestable deeds and abominations are wholly inhuman; they are a pernicious evil which cause the faithful to tremble with violent horror; the enormity of your sin is an offence to God and a shame for all humanity…’

‘The accusations against me are false.’

‘Am I to assume that you only erred through the seduction of wicked men? That you’re just a lost sheep of Jesus Christ who has gone astray, without any malice in your heart? Do you take me for an ignoramus? How is it possible that you should still deny what I have here before my own eyes? Confess. Where is The Book of Death?

‘There’s no such thing.’

‘You are evasive and slippery as an eel.’

‘—And you as a greased pig. But I suppose we must try to find God in all His creatures.’

‘You are an agent of the Devil… Speak.

‘I am an agent of the Light. This earth is Pandemonium; a chaos of derangements and discords; a dark catalogue of sins, injustice, violence and death.’

An agent of the light? You are naught but a proud and haughty albino with fiery eyes, your head tressed with serpents, and your lips foaming with blood. You devour the entrails of Mother Church with one hand, whilst with the other, you hold the crooked cross of the Cathars; your singular purpose is to inflame discord, corrupt the Faithful, and bring Christendom to ruin.’

‘With those words, you dishonour Him who sent me.’

‘You speak of Satan.’

‘I speak of the Father of lights, with whom there is no change nor shadow of alteration.’(vi)

‘You profess great sanctity, and claim great powers. But your commune with angels is naught but diabolic infestation. Your religious ecstasies are raptures of the Devil. And your miracles are counterfeits. Speak.

‘No Monsieur. My miracles are holy and true.’

‘I have a list of them here… The change of water into ink; and ink into blood; speech without tongues; cures of the blind, deaf and lame; disembodied voices; the appearance of Lights; manifest odours of heavenly perfume; instantaneous transport of the body; levitation; the union of two chains; a wasp killed by lightening; the clay figurine of a sparrow, that came to life and flew through the air; the descent of an angel into a pool of water; the gift of oracles; prophetic divination; the acquisition of supernatural knowledge; resurrection of the dead… And even a change of sex… But all these wonders are wicked deceits, worked by evil spirits, and done in the name of the Devil. Answer.’

‘No. They were done in Christ’s name.’

Liar! Not a single one of these miracles is recorded as being permanent. Which proves they were falsely obtained by witchcraft and demons; for the minions of Satan did not make this world, and cannot alter its arrangements. Such were the counterfeit miracles of Simon Magus, who could assume the appearance of a serpent, exhibit two faces, and transform into whatever shape he pleased.’

‘Yet such were the miracles of the infant Jesus. He too could animate clay figurines of beasts and birds.(vii) He changed his playmates into kids and back again. He could appear as a youth or an old man; sometimes very small; and sometimes so big as to reach the sky.’

‘Those childish stories are from heretical Gnostic writings. The divinity of an immoral doctrine cannot be evidenced by miracles. The Infancy of Jesus Christ is anonymous, inauthentic, and banned by the bishops of Rome. In the same gospel, ’tis written that Christ killed a playmate simply for running him down.(viii) Is that an act of the Son of God?’

‘What can I say? Boys will be boys. Why are you so offended? God takes vengeance on all His enemies; His arrows are drunk with blood;(ix) He has laid waste whole cities with fire and brimstone. A single boy is a mere trifle…’

‘You preach from forbidden books.’

‘But why are they forbidden?’

‘Because The Holy Spirit did not preside over their writing.’

‘How do you know? Were you there? The infant miracles of Christ are cited by all the early Church fathers – men of eminent character and learning, who conversed with the Holy Apostles. So why deny them?’

‘They are the work of the Church militant, and deemed apocryphal. All such gospels must be burned, and any person concealing them shall be punished with death and committed to the flames.’

‘You refute the miraculous infancy of Jesus Christ, yet believe He walked on water and arose from the dead!’

‘Yet you assert that Christ was not a man of flesh!’

‘Indeed Monsieur. Christ’s body was not of the same substance as ordinary men; it was a heavenly body, not a material body. All flesh is evil. And Christ cannot participate in what is evil.’

‘Then what of His five wounds? If you deny Christ’s human body, then you deny His passion. If you deny His passion, then you deny the omnipotent power of His divinity that was concealed in human form; if you deny His bodily death, then you deny that moment when He gave up the ghost, and the earth quaked, and the veil of the temple was rent in two. If you deny all this, then you deny the Roman centurion, and the many witnesses who went down from Calvary, striking their breasts in earnest, weeping: Indeed this man was the Son of God! … If you deny Christ’s carnal crucifixion, then you deny Joseph of Arimathea, who took Him down from the cross and wrapped Him in a linen winding sheet, and laid Him in the sepulchre, wherein no man had yet been laid… I ask you, how can any of this have happened, if Christ was not a man of flesh? Think about it. The burial of Jesus involves three considerations: the transport of His body to the place of burial; the placing of His body in the tomb; and the sealing of the door. ’Tis written in the gospel of Matthew: Joseph rolled a great stone to the door of the monument, and went his way. And there was there Mary Magdalen and the other Mary sitting over against the sepulchre…(x) But most heretical of all, if you deny Christ’s burial in the tomb, then you deny His resurrection on the third day. For if you deny the final victory of Christ, and His triumph over Death, then you deny His gift of eternal life, which is the reward of our temporal sufferings, and the hope of all faithful servants of God. Only Christ can deliver us from the sting of eternal Death; only He can deliver us into the verdant bloom of Paradise. Christ was given power over all flesh, that we might share in His glory and incorruption. His death is the exemplar of our death; His resurrection the seed and exemplar of our future state. Speak.

‘I deny the resurrection of the flesh.’


‘No Monsieur.’

‘Then how do you explain the Passion?’

‘The Passion and Crucifixion were illusions. The Devil tried to kill Jesus, believing His body was flesh and blood; whereas in reality it was a celestial body, and indestructible as His spirit. Ergo, there was no death nor resurrection.’

Sacrilege! Profanity! ’Twas by the Resurrection that Christ redeemed mankind. ’Tis deducible from revelation, that sanctifying grace, exemption from carnal relations, and immortality of the body, are supernatural gifts, all of which were enjoyed by Adam and Eve in Paradise; but Original sin destroyed their supernatural Nature. Yet by the resurrection of Christ, we live in state of repaired nature. Speak.

‘No Monsieur. Our terrestrial body is a corrupt and filthy garment – a cloak of darkness; a living death and sensate corpse; a tomb we carry as penance for our sins. But our incorrupt body is Spirit alone. When we escape the bondage of the flesh, we return to our glorified body in the air. This was our eternal state before we were cast from Heaven with Lucifer and His angels.’

‘Believe these these things, and you will surely go to hell.’

‘Hell is in this world.’

‘Many have been thrown to the flames for less.’

‘Which only proves that Satan is master of the world. He made us from the dust of the Earth. So all earthly creatures are subject to corruption. But I shall rise from the pyre as a phoenix, eternal and incorruptible.’

‘Are you telling me that you wish to perish by fire?’

‘How else will I escape this fallen realm?’

‘You think you can and thwart the world, the flesh, and the Devil, by a fiery death? The last Cathar I burnt was a relapsed heretic. When the flames touched her feet, she wailed and struggled as long as she was able. But being fat, the fire took her from the inside, and she burnt like a wick. Before the flames reached her breasts, her belly glowed like a coal, and bursting like a sausage, her entrails fell out… Yet still she screamed for mercy for two whole hours. Did she rise like a phoenix from her own ashes? No. She went to hell. The only protection against Satan is in the body and blood of Jesus Christ. But you deny the doctrine of transubstantiation.’

‘I do not deny it per se, but I deny the priests who do it.’

‘Deny the priests, and you deny the sacrament.’

‘There is no sacrament at the consecration by a priest.’

‘Liar! Only a priest can give the consecrated wafer. ’Tis is a precept of Mother Church.’

‘Transubstantiation takes place in the hand, not of him who consecrates, but of him who worthily receives…’

‘The Cathar faith is a cesspool of pagan dualism and heretical gospel teaching; ’tis a profane blasphemy, rash, erroneous, scandalous, offensive to the ears of the pious, and atrociously injurious to pontiffs, kings, clergy, and the Holy Office. ’Tis a heresy that merits the most extreme penalty…’

‘’Tis the polygamous priests who are the true heretics; they are entangled with evils, vice and lusts; they believe in charms and omens; they practice witchcraft, confessional seduction, and even sodomy. No man can be saved by a priest. The sacraments of the Roman church are useless. And all who hold the Catholic faith are damned.’

‘You utter these profanities as a devil with monstrous horns; and even though they are hidden in that fantastic helmet, you look and sound perfectly absurd.’

‘The absurdity is you: to speak of Christ and His redeeming love as the cornerstone of state torture.’

‘Aberrations of the faith are the greatest crimes before God and man. None more so than the Gnostic heresy of the Cathari. Have you no fear for your immortal soul? A soul in hell retains all its natural knowledge. It remembers whatever it knew on earth. It ponders the evil for which it is condemned; and despairs of all the blessings it has lost; and by the misery of both, ’tis tortured even more.(xi) For as Abraham said to the rich man in hell: Son, remember that thou didst receive good things in thy lifetime, and likewise Lazarus evil things: but now he is comforted and thou art tormented… (xii) These sufferings gnaw at the soul like fire. There is much wailing and gnashing of teeth. And due to the incorruptible state of the body, the flesh is eaten up eternally by worms of remorse… Recant now, and be spared these horrors, or depart from me, you cursed, into everlasting fire…’

‘I am no stranger to the fires of the body. I have spent my whole life in the carcass of an Ox.’

‘Do you really expect me to believe that?’

‘I knew a Cathar who spent six lifetimes in the body of an ass. His back was raw with welts from carrying heavy loads up the mountainside. As a man he was a bed-bound cripple, who suffered horrible sores. The transmigration of souls is steeped in perils of the flesh…’

‘You will find no greater peril than in my Question Chamber.’

‘Do you have a soul beneath that skin-suit? Or are you just a hollow husk? Peel it off. Let me see your true colours.’

Pontius claps his hands in a slow mocking rhythm:

Well! Well! Well! What pourparler and tete-a-tete! I must say, this is most surprising; I was not expecting such provocative confabulation so early in the proceedings. Most men come before me struck dumb with terror.’

‘I have fought bigger devils than you.’

‘Your previous tortures are naught to what you shall suffer on the horse. ’Tis an infinite ladder of pains. No man can endure it without going insane. ’Twill turn your body into a twisted bag of bones.’

‘I am well acquainted with corporal defect. My descent into the body was torture itself. If only you could spy my inner state! Such beauty would make you weep.’

‘You speak of your deformity? You think you have suffered more than other men?’

‘Walk in my shoes for a day. See how you like it. The cloying of this rank and hoary flesh. Mine is the body of a beast.’

‘You place too much importance on the body.’

‘But not as much importance as you…’

‘A man’s character is strengthened and advanced by suffering.’

‘Is that why you break men on the horse? Truly, there are better ways to bring men to God.’

‘Your crimes are a grievous injury to Mother Church. Confess now, or you will suffer a great chastisement.’

‘This body is my chastisement. But my true nature is the mystery of mysteries; ’tis so hidden, so obscure, so incomprehensible, that the older I become, the more impossible it seems…’

‘You speak of the soul? Your soul is black as hell. And you are no more enlightened than a maggot.’

‘Last night I dreamt of two squires from the village of my youth. They were cloven down to the navel because of the wounds which caused their death; yet they continued to ride their two cobs, which had followed them into the after world.(xiii) The squires thought they were dreaming, even though they were moulding in their graves. You think I will make the same mistake?’

‘Your Cathar faith endeavours to explain the transition from one bodily state into an entirely opposite state. Yet you still deny Christ’s human body. Your heretical cloth interweaves the weft of Good with the warp of Evil.’

‘Just as Spirit is interwoven with Flesh…’

‘Hypocrite! That is the hypostatic union of the Christ!’

‘No Monsieur. Christ is too perfect to incarnate into this fallen realm of matter. For Satan is Lord of the material world, and the ways of the flesh yield to His dark power. The eternal pollution of Original sin expresses itself in the organs of the body.’

Imago animi vultus est. [The countenance is the reflection of the soul (xiv)]. If deformity is due to sin, that makes you the Devil incarnate.’

‘I will soon complete my metempsychosis. You will behold my glorified body at the stake, just as Christ revealed His glorified body at the Transfiguration. I shall arise, free of all blemish, clear as crystal, with a fiery rubeous hue, and clothed in the raiment of the sun!’

‘You mad apostate. You exalt the Christ as a fervent and pious believer. But the Cathar faith is without Christ and without the Holy Spirit. When you deny the Incarnation, you not only give Satan power over your body, but you grant him a far nobler estate – the sovereignty over your mind. For we wrest not against flesh and blood; but against principalities and powers, against the rulers of darkness of this world; against spirits of wickedness in high places.(xv)

‘You fight the Devil if you want to. But I am a defect of fleshy substance. And my war is with the body…’

*  *  *  *

Pontius continues:

‘I once knew a nun who had completely overcome the body: a saint who remained alive without food or medicine for many years. ’Twas a supernatural thing of God. A manifest sign that her animal nature had been entirely consumed in the fires of divine love.’

‘I too knew such a woman. But she died in agony at the hands of the Inquisition.’

He leers:

‘Indeed. I remember her well. She was but an emaciated corpse, sallow as saffron. Her flesh was like a mouldy paste when a finger is put into it. She was given the grace of stigmata: a victim soul who suffered in union with Jesus Christ for the conversion of sinners. The blood that flowed from her wounds had a sweet flowery odour. They said that god was performing exceptional miracles upon her body. But I knew it was the work of the Devil. During her periods of suffering and despair, she oft’ mentioned your name. But in the end, she lost both sight and speech. Yet she could still hear and write. Before she penned her last confession, she endured many horrid torments. When the linen funnel was pulled from her throat, she spewed much green bile. But that was not the manner of her death… You shall not ask me how? Your silence speaks volumes. Methinks your soul clings to her still, even after all these years… I regret to inform you, ’twas was a most ignoble end. They stripped her naked, put a halter about her neck, and dragged her in chains to the square. Whereupon she was cruelly flogged to death. Her body was begorged with blood and cut through every part. But I can’t recall her name…’

Maria. Her name was Maria.

‘Ah! Your beloved Maria. The incarnation of all loveliness. How they revelled in her tortures! Day by day, moon by moon, she learnt to hate you more and more, until she despised you utterly. In the end, she renounced your miracles all together. She confessed many wondrous and terrible things. She had lain with the Devil thrice. His body was cold, not hot. His member felt like an icicle. He baptised her in a cavern, where all sin was permitted. He administered a Eucharist of pig’s blood and turnip rinds. He tormented her with fiery spirits, nocturnal visions, and ghosts of the dead… He put His mark, just below her left nipple. By this mark, she bewitched her sisters in Christ to suckle from her breast. She confessed many other diverse horrors that I dare not utter. Alas, she could not be returned to the fold, for she went completely mad. When her stigmata faded, she took to piercing her wounds with a bodkin. But the blood had lost its perfume, and was rank as a rat. I feign to tell the rest. For she was prone to the most shameful and diabolic lusts. One night, upon entering her cell, I found her squatting in the straw, with a bone crucifix thrust between her buttocks. Few women have sunk so deplorably low. She was a degraded most pitiable creature, and beyond redemption. During her final confession, she momentarily regained her power of speech. But she had the bark of a dog. She called you Antichrist, the Devil incarnate.’

You’re lying! I don’t believe you!

‘See how the Devil stumbles! Blinded with grief and remorse! Such hot and passionate tears! How they smart and sting! To think his greatest miracle caused the ruin of one so fair! ’Tis a perverse irony: I have so many instruments of torture at my disposal, yet love never fails to break a man’s heart.’

‘You may have broken my heart. But you shall not break my spirit.’

‘You overestimate yourself, Jacques Vallin. I will crush your spirit like a bug. You shall soon be sweating blood. Your pains shall become intoxicating fumes, and many horrible dreams will rise in your imagination; all the schemes of your life shall be as vain vapours, and you will ardently long for death.’

‘Must I fall on my knees and beg your pardon? You have driven the whole world mad with fear and pain. God will never forgive you – for turning blessed Maria, a harmless bride of Christ, into a depraved animal. There is more sin on your conscience than all the crimes in hell. Yet you do not frighten me, Monsieur. You may turn me into a blind and wretched creature, but I am resolved to suffer the horse, as Maria suffered the lash and trial by water…’

‘Do not think I am moved by such pathetic displays of affection; especially in a beast of such heretical deformity. The disposition of your soul has always been towards Satan. But the horse will lead you back to God…’

‘Have I not confessed enough?’

‘To your credit, you have willingly confessed many terrible heresies. But they are not what I seek.’

‘Then what do you seek?’

‘I want the secret of your chymic art…’

*  *  *  *

Pontius addresses the counsel:

‘In order to put the prisoner to the extreme question, I must first remove his helmet. Those unfamiliar with the monstrosity, are advised to look away…’

Then he turns to the official torturer and bids:

‘Master Loup, would you please unlock the helmet.’

The scribe shields his eyes as Loup steps forth with a long key. The brute grapples with my visor, his fat fingers twisting the key left and right.

‘What’s taking so long?’ asks Pontius.

‘This cursed lock!’ seethes Loup. ‘It’s stuck fast!’

‘Must I do it myself?’

‘No, no, Monsieur. Loup can do it… Oh yes, Loup will open the helmet. Watch him do it…’

But in his panic, Loup drops the key on the floor:

‘Forgive me Monsieur. This impious heretic has been meddling with his lock.’

Pontius throws up his hands:

‘I am a great deal too patient with you Master Loup. Pick it up and start again.’

Loup grovels about the flags, then finding the key, he slides it in the lock with trembling hands.’

‘Now turn the key a full revolution to the left,’ bids Pontius.

‘Is that your left, or mine?’ asks Loup.

‘Clockwise,’ sighs Pontius.

The key turns in the lock, grinding and squeaking.

‘Oh! This lock is very rusty, Monsieur! I’ll wager this helmet has not been opened for a hundred years!’

‘What are you taking about?’ flusters Pontius. ‘I opened it myself only this morning.’

‘Upon my soul!’ gasps Loup. ‘That cannot be! Oh Monsieur! What a calamity!’

‘What?’ frets Pontius. ‘What have you done?’

‘Monsieur! The key has snapped in the lock!’

‘You clumsy oaf! seethes Pontius, stamping his foot. ‘I said clockwise, you idiot!’

Loup draws a big circle in the air:

‘But I went clockwise!’

‘That’s anti-clockwise, you buffoon! Since when do the hands of a clock turn backwards? Grab a bodkin! Prize it open!’

‘Er, is that a good idea?’ qualms the bishop. ‘I mean to say, what point is there in seeing this monster? Perhaps ’tis better for all if we keep his helmet shut.’

‘No, we must open it,’ insists Pontius. ‘’Tis vital to interrogate the prisoner face to face. Only then will I know if his confession is true. The eyes are windows to the soul.’

‘But this fiend has sold himself to the Devil!’ retorts the bishop. ‘Hell has consumed his soul, as a devouring flame consumes a stook of straw. He has no fear of you, nor anyone else. I bid you leave his helmet on.’

‘What? And fail in my duty to return him to the fold?’

‘Jacques Vallin is as good as damned. He has already endured three rigorous tortures: one as a boy; another as a woman; and a third as a devil. Yet all without a single sincere confession. He shows no contrition for his sins. ’Tis quite clear from the preliminary proceedings that he remains impenitent. He will not recant nor break his pact, even if taken to the very Throne of God. There is naught else to do. Why not sentence him and be done with it?’

Pontius turns to me and asks:

‘What say you Jacques Vallin? The bishop offers you a choice.’

‘I offer him no such thing!’ protests the Bishop. ‘Burn him! Burn him now, I say!’

‘Your holiness, this is most irregular. The prisoner cannot be absolved unless he confesses judicially.’

‘Mon Dieu!’ gasps the bishop. ‘You will absolve a devil like that? ’Tis not your duty to absolve him, but merely sentence him to death!’

‘I cannot, in all honesty, condemn him to the flames without first putting him to the question. We must find The Book of Death. Therein are the acolytes of his sect.’

‘This malign devil is full of tricks,’ warns the bishop. ‘He calls himself a Cathar one minute and a Proselyte the next. Why interrogate him at all? It matters not if he’s a Gnostic or a Jewish cabbalist. He has slaughtered over five hundred men! Most of them clergy of the Church! All murdered in cold blood! Do you really believe that such a devil will reveal his chymic art? Forget The Book of Death. The acolytes of his sect have all gone with the wind. And even if he confesses, how can you be sure of his testimony?’

‘I am well acquainted with the whiles of the devil,’ replies Pontius. ‘If there is a truth to be found, I will find it. Once a man suffers the pains of the horse, he can hide nothing.’

‘Either way he is going to the flames,’ rejoins the bishop.

‘Then what choice is there?’ ask I.

‘The choice is simple,’ replies Pontius. ‘I can sentence you to the pyre as an impenitant, to suffer the flames without the grace of strangulation; or you can recant, and return to the fold. In which case, you will be garotted before the flames take hold. But only if I receive your sincere and unequivocal confession.’

‘You give me no choice at all. I find myself stuck between a rock and hard place. Or rather, a rack and hot place.

‘Only a fool would jest about such horrors.’

‘I always knew I would die in flames of infamy. There is naught to be gained from confessing anything at all.’

‘That is not entirely true,’ reasons Pontius. ‘If your confession satisfies the evidence, you will be formally reconciled before death; and if judicially absolved, your bones may be absolved sacramentally; in which case you may receive a Christian burial – but only in secret, of course.’

‘A Christian burial? For a devil like me? You would have me suffer all this, just for the boon of a Christian burial? I find the very idea absurd. Pah! I would rather go with the hares! I shall not recant in either case. The simple truth of the matter, is that the bishop wants me dead, before I say anything to condemn him.’

The bishop fumes, shaking his fists in fury:

‘A heretic cannot give witness against a bishop! Burn him!Burn him now, I say!’

‘Silence!’ seethes Pontius, stamping his foot.

Chastised, the bishop sits and scowls behind his crozier. Then Pontius adds:

‘I must warn the bishop not to lay hands on things beyond his jurisdiction; pray do not meddle with anything touching the Inquisition, or fitting measures will be taken.’

‘Forgive me Monsieur,’ fauns the bishop. ‘But I am only concerned for the preservation of Mother Church. This heretic is a devil amongst men.’

‘The devil is you!’ cry I. ‘The Roman church is a den of thieves! In the name of God, remove my helmet! Put me to the question! And let it be known, I want my testament on record!’

‘Fool,’ mutters the scribe, pale as death.

Pontius grins with malevolent glee:

‘The prisoner has decided. Remove his helmet. ‘’Tis time to see this devil face to face…’

*  *  *  *

The priests cower in dread as Master Loup sets about my helmet with hammer and chisel. He stabs at the hinges, heaving and panting, sparks flying as he pins me against the wall:

‘Be still you filthy beast! Do you want an eyeful? I’ll wager this helmet holds a thousand imps! Let me at it! Turn the other way! Now don’t move, or I’ll crack your miserable sconce like an egg!’

He struggles and snorts like a pig, his rank breath pouring through the visor. Several times the chisel punctures the metal, stopping just short of my eyes. There comes an almighty clang as the helmet cleaves in two and falls upon the ground.

The priests gasp in astonishment; the scribe vomits; and the dwarves shriek like girls:

Mon Dieu! He has the Devil’s horns!

And the Devil’s face!

Pontius spins on his heels and snarls:

‘Silence you faithless firebugs! Get stoking. I want those irons white hot!’

But Monsieur! He might put a spell on us!

And change us into toads!

Or worse, stone!

That’s true! His Temple frieze is full of victims! Toads and dwarves alike!

‘Avert your gaze!’ bids Pontius. ‘There shall be no spells tonight. Do you think the Devil has any power in the presence of the Holy Inquisition? Now turn away, the pair of you. Attend the coals, lest I find others more worthy of the task!’

The dwarves fight over their firebrands, spitting and cursing:

You shall apply the first iron.

Not me, you!

I will not!

You unlettered ass! Do as I say! Or Monsieur will kick us out. Shall we end up paupers, playing clowns for a living?

Give me the iron with the holy cross! I shall not brand him except with a crucifix!

No! That iron is mine! Use another…

I can’t look at him. He has the horns of an Ox!

Ugh! What a Moloch of a man!

May the devil fly off with him!

They continue squabbling as the priests review the charges. At length, the chamber falls silent. The dwarves cower behind the brazier, their firebrands glowing in the coals.

Pontius draws beside me and leers:

‘Your visage has frightened my assistants.’

‘The dwarves have naught to fear from me.’

‘But you have much to fear from them.’

‘You are the one who should be afraid.’

‘Oh? And why is that? Shall you turn me into stone?’

‘You are flint-hearted already. I will turn you into jelly instead.’


‘Frogspawn. Then I will feed you to the birds.’

He smiles and purrs:

‘Believe me my friend, the tortures suffered here, are nothing unto the eternal pains of hell. These earthly flames shall be as soft kisses compared to Satan’s raging fire. Marvel at the magnanimity of Mother Church: confess and she will show mercy.’

‘What must I confess?’

‘Scribe, prepare to write…’

The scribe dips his quill and waits, hand trembling over the parchment. Then Pontius begins:

‘Jacques Vallin, do you believe in one God the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Ghost? Speak.’

‘I believe.’

‘Do you believe in the Blessed Trinity and its three Persons?’

‘Monsieur, forgive me, but if I am to answer that question, you will have to define these Persons more clearly…’

‘Very well. The First Person of the Holy Trinity is the Father, Principium and Unbegotten. The Son is from the Father alone, not made, nor created, but begotten. The Holy Ghost is from the Father and the Son, not made, nor created, but proceeding. Is that clear?’

‘No. And I refute the Trinity in the Catholic sense.’

That is blasphemy.

‘If logic is blasphemy, then burn Euclid.’

‘By what logic do you refute the Trinity?’

‘Christ himself denies it in the book of John.’

‘Ah! You refer to John 14:28, where Christ declared: “If you loved me you would indeed be glad, because I go to the Father: for the Father is greater than I.” Am I correct?’

‘Precisely. Ergo, there is a difference in esse substantia between these three Persons. The Father is greater than the Son and the Holy Ghost. But both the Son and the Holy Ghost were created by God the Father. But the Holy Ghost did not exist in this fallen world until after the Ascension of Christ.’

‘You err in this belief.’

‘No. My reason is sound.’

‘When Christ declared “the Father is greater than I”, ’twas evident, that He spoke of Himself as He was made a man. But as God, Christ is equal to the Father. You ignore the relative circumstance of the text: for Christ was about to suffer death, and by these words, He signified to his apostles his human nature. Yet as God he cannot die.’

‘Monsieur, I am confused.’

‘Is the union of God and Man not obvious?’

‘But Monsieur, how is such a union even possible, when Christ did not have a real body at all?’

‘Why do you persist in your heresy? Are you desirous for the pains to be put upon you? The hypostatic union of the Christ is proved from Scripture, wherein Christ is said to be true God and true man. This cannot be, unless Christ has a double nature, divine and human, distinct and unconfused.’

‘Distinct from what? The Father?’


‘Forgive me, Monsieur. But my mind is in a muddle. I beg you, explain it to me, that I might better understand…’

‘’Tis perfectly simple. Our Lord Jesus Christ is the Son of God, both God and man. God of the substance of the Father, begotten before the world; and man, of the substance of His Mother, born into the world. Perfect God and perfect man: of a reasonable soul and human flesh subsisting: equal to the Father as touching His Godhead, and inferior to the Father as touching His manhood. Who although He be God and man, yet He is not two, but one Christ.’(xvi)

‘Yet he is also three?’


‘Methinks the Catholic faith confounds this Trinity of Persons.’

No. Open your ears. The Catholic faith is this: that we worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity. Neither confounding the Persons, nor dividing the substance. For there is one Person of the Father, another of the Son, another of the Holy Ghost. But the Godhead of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost is all one; the glory equal, the majesty co-eternal. Do you follow?’

‘Monsieur, this dogma is a mystery to me.’

‘Indeed! ’Tis a mystery to all men! When speaking of the profound Mystery of the Blessed Trinity, Saint Ambrose said: ’Tis impossible to know this secret; the mind fails, the voice is silent; and not my voice only, but that of Angels. ’Tis above the Powers, ’tis above the Angels, above the Cherubim and Seraphim: it passeth all understanding…(xvii) Human logic is insufficient, Jacques Vallin. To scrutinize this Mystery out of idle curiosity is temerity; but to believe it, is piety; to know it, is eternal life.’(xviii)

‘Eternal life is given by Christ alone, and not by the dogmas of Mother Church.’

‘The bishop cannot contain himself; he jumps up and hops in protest, shaking his crozier:

‘I will hear no more from this poisonous heretic! His words are more lethal than the bite of the basilisk! The facts are as clear as the noonday sun! This evil sorcerer denies the Trinity! He denies the Incarnation of the Word! He denies the divinity of Jesus Christ and His presence in the Eucharist! And he refutes the Virgin birth! He denies the victory gained on the wood of the cross! And in his perfidious depravity, he believes in the heresy of the transmigration of souls from one body to another! From beast to man and back again! He utters so many horrible and heretical blasphemies, that I demand an iron gag be put in his mouth! Sentence him! Sentence him now, I say!’

Pontius holds up his hand and declares:

‘Your holiness, I pray you, be silent. The accused thinks himself wise, but by his words he condemns himself. His confession must be exact and comprehensive; it must be reduced to writing, signed and sworn to, and then forwarded to the tribunal to be filed amongst the records. Mother Church will be all the stronger for it.’

There is much consternation on the bench as the royal lawyer produces a scroll; he passes it down the line of legates who pass it in turn to the bishop. The episcopal secretary whispers at length in the bishop’s ear. The bishop nods gravely, frowning and pursing his lips; then he stands and waves the scroll in the air.

‘Er, what have you there?’ asks Pontius, concerned. ‘Is it something I should know of?’

‘Yes indeed, your eminence,’ cajoles the bishop. ‘Something you must consider as a matter of utmost urgency.’

‘Then what is it? Another list of charges?’

‘No Monsieur. Quite the contrary. This document offers a swift conclusion to this ghastly business. Jacques Vallin is no ordinary heretic. His crimes are so grievous and black in nature, that for the purposes of punishment and example, it has been determined and ordained that he shall burn without being put to the question. Any further interrogation of this devil will only bring slander and calumny on Mother Church. For that reason, I have taken the liberty of providing this sentence of delivery to the civil magistracy.’

‘Sentence of delivery?’ exclaims Pontius, astonished. ‘But I have yet to reach my verdict!’

‘The verdict is a foregone conclusion,’ retorts the bishop. ‘If the Grand Inquisitor of Heretical Error would just let me read the sentence, I am sure he will find that everything is perfectly in order…’

The bishop clears his throat then recites from the scroll:

In nomine Patris, et Filli, et Spiritus Sancti… We resolve, after due examination made of the proceedings and merits of the present case, that the Grand Inquisitor of Heretical Error has fully and duly proved his accusation, in the form and manner he was bound so to do. Wherefore, we decree and ordain that his object has been fully established, in consequence of which we ought and do declare that the said Jacques Vallin has been, and is an apostate heretic, a defaulter and a feigned deceptious abettor, and impenitent relapse, and that he has thereby fallen into and incurred the sentence of grievous death, to which he is liable, as well as of the confiscation and loss of all his property, the same which we order to be applied and hereby do apply to the Exchequer of His Majesty, and in his name to the Receiver thereof, from the day and time he began to commit the said crimes of heresy, the declaration of which we reserve to ourselves; and that we ought to deliver over and hereby do deliver over the person of the said Jacques Vallin to justice and to the civil magistrate, especially to the mayor of this city, or to his marshal in said office, whom we affectionately beseech and enjoin, as in the best form of right we are able, to execute Jacques Vallin and purge his body from this temporal world by fire… And we further declare that any sons and daughters of the said Jacques Vallin and his grandchildren in the male line to be unfit and incapable, and we hereby disable them from holding or obtaining any dignities, benefices, or offices, as well ecclesiastical as secular, or any public or honourable employments; and also from using or carrying about their persons any gold, silver, pearls, precious stones, coral, silk, camlet, or fine cloth; from riding on horseback, wearing arms, or using or possessing any of those other things which by common right the laws and regulations of these kingdoms, as well as the instructions and forms of the Holy Office, are prohibited to all such disabled persons. And by this our definitive sentence we accordingly judge and decide, and in and by these presents order, the same to be executed.’(xix)

Pontius sternly wags his finger:

‘The bishop has been warned before: do not trespass on anything belonging to the Inquisition. The verdict will obtained in the proper manner. The prisoner will be put to the extreme question.’

‘But I beg you Monsieur!’ pleads the bishop. ‘Stop now! Stop in the name of all that’s holy!’

‘I will not stop!’ fumes Pontius. ‘The Holy Inquisition is conducting this trial on direct authority of the Pope – the universal monarch of this temporal world, and Christ’s representative on Earth! Accordingly, I will fulfil my infallible duty assigned to me by the Holy Father: to protect Mother Church and root out heresy from the kingdom of France; to be zealous, diligent, honest, and maintain self control at all times. Your sentence of delivery is invalid! All procedure must be meticulously followed, lest the Jewish lawyers find anything to peg their objections and defence. There can be no space for ambiguity or political manipulation. Accordingly, the Formula interrogatorii will be strictly adhered to, and the confession extracted in the usual way… And if the bishop persists in disrupting the legislative procedure of my office, he will be forcibly removed from the Question Chamber!’

The bishop throws up his hands in despair, then sits back down, glowering in contempt.

Pontius turns to me and says:

‘Jacques Vallin, listen to me very carefully. I have asked you before, but I will ask you one final time. Remember, you answer at peril of the horse… Do you believe that the bread and wine, in the mass performed by priests, can be changed into the body and blood of Christ?’

‘Should I believe it?’

‘I ask not if you should believe it, but if you do believe it.’

‘I believe in what you and the other good doctors tell me to believe.’

‘I do not tell you to believe anything. I simply ask if you believe.’

‘Monsieur, I am confused.’

‘And I am no fool. Stop this fencing. Do you believe that the body of our Lord Jesus Christ is at the altar?’

‘I believe that a body is there.’

‘Whose body?’

‘The body of my Lord.’

‘But who is your Lord?’

Margaritas ante porcos.’ [Pearls before swine].

‘Oh come, come. I am an educated man. Cast your pearls before me; I will not rend you. I ask again: who is your lord?’

‘My Lord is the same as your Lord.’

‘That is not what I ask. I ask whether the body at the altar is of the Lord Jesus Christ, who was born of the Virgin, was crucified, and arose from the dead. Answer me plainly.’

‘I cannot.’

‘Do you continue to deny the dogma of the Eucharist?’

‘Which is?’

‘Namely, the Totality of His Presence via the Transubstantiation of bread and wine, into the flesh and blood of Jesus Christ.’

‘Monsieur, do you and the other good doctors believe this?’


‘Then I believe it also.’

‘Will you swear that you believe it?’

‘If you order me to swear, I will swear.’

‘I cannot force you to swear, because you might believe in heretical oaths. In which case, you will transfer your sin onto me (xx) – even though I venerate the cross.’

‘You venerate the outrage of the cross?’

‘That is a heretical proposition.’

‘Monsieur, I am ignorant of these things.’

‘All Christians venerate our Saviour’s Passion.’

‘By eating His flesh and drinking His blood?’

Vacillation! Shall you swear it?’

‘Swear what exactly?’

‘Imbecile! That the body at the altar is the Body of our Redeemer, Jesus Christ!’

‘Monsieur, I am old, and in my folly, have forgotten how to swear this oath.’

‘I see. If I had to swear, I would raise my right hand and say: “So help me God, I have never learned heresy or believed what is contrary to the true faith.” Do this, and I may return you to the fold.’

‘Monsieur, my right hand has palsy. Can I swear with the left one instead?’

Pontius crosses himself, turns to the bishop and says:

‘Let it be known that I showed the prisoner all possible leniency. Despite this, he tried to dupe me with his demonic inversion.’

The bishop nods:

‘The Inquisitor bears himself well in all things, and he laudably executes the will of Mother Church. His assistants also bear themselves honestly. Of mortal sin, they know nothing.’

Pontius glares like a gorgon:

‘Jacques Vallin, you leave me no option but to perform the duties of my office. Proceed…’

*  *  *  *

The torturer unshackles my feet and drags me to the horse. The machine consists of a stout oak frame standing three feet high. I lie naked on a bed of struts, facing upward. My wrists are tied to a beam above my head – my ankles to a large windlass at the other end.

Pontius perches on the side rail and fondles my horns, running his fingers down the cleft of my skull:

‘Methinks this sconce holds secrets; wonders; terrors. What jewels are those, twinkling like fireflies in the coils of your brain? What fiendish hordes lurk there? What filthy spells? It makes the blood run cold: if a witch can fly through the night like bat, then what can a magus do? What hideous forms do you conjure for your pleasure? These wolfen eyes – what sulphurous realms have they seen? These hoary ears – what forbidden whispers have they heard? What diabolic pacts have spewed forth from your corrupt lips? Who bore you? A witch, of course. Who sired you? The black goat she fucked at the sabbat. Oh yes, yours is a impeccable pedigree of evil. Conceived in blood and fire, no doubt that is how you shall die.’

He turns to the torturer:

‘Are we ready Master Loup?’

The titan nods.

‘Excellent. When I give the order, the first thing you will hear is the ratchet clicking. As the ropes tighten, your body will slowly rise, until it lies suspended, taut as a bow. The pain of being lifted in that manner is excruciating; but ’tis naught compared to the agony of repeated dislocations. Soon the cords will cut deep in your flesh. You are old and your sinews weak. The last man I racked was in his prime: but they carried him off one foot longer than the Lord God made him…’

‘I bear false witness against myself! Please, for the love of God, I have done nothing!’

‘Then tell the truth. I do not wish you to suffer. Confess. Reveal the names of your acolytes.’

‘But Monsieur, I have none!’

‘Why are you so eager to stand fast in your obstinacy? You seem desirous to be wholly convicted.’

‘No Monsieur. By the Virgin, I have only ever done the will of God. I find no heresy in myself. Do you not think I would confess all, knowing that I stand on the shores of this earthly life? I beg you, for Christ’s sake, untie me. I am innocent of the charges.’

‘You pile lie upon lie – but that is hardly surprising for one who serves The Prince of Lies. The treasures of wickedness will profit you nothing. (xxi) What shall you gain when you go down to the pit? Shall the dust praise you? Shall it declare your truth? (xxii) For the last time, reveal the members of your sect. Speak.’

‘Oh Monsieur! I cannot recall. Tell me what to confess and I will confess it! I fear you will offend God if you put the pains on me!’

‘’Twas the hidden operation of God that brought you here in the first place. When you gave yourself to Satan, you took a pledge of predestination. To think, that all the days of your life, you have been walking blindly, into this final, inescapable trap… These sufferings are sent to you by providence. The cause of this pain is your contradiction to The Christ. Remember, I want you to think upon His mystical body. And know that Christ is not set for your ruin, but your salvation…’

He snaps his fingers and Master Loup turns the crank.

The horse awakens with a dismal groan…

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

i. 1 Corinthians, 13:12. [Douay Rheims version].

ii. 2 Corinthians, 1:5. [Douay Rheims version].

iii. Proverbs, 18:7. “The mouth of a fool is his destruction: and his lips are the ruin of his soul.” [Douay Rheims version].

iv. Matthew, 7:15-16. [Douay Rheims version].

v. Matthew, 26:26-28. [Douay Rheims version].

vi. James, 1:17.

vii. ‘The Gospel of The Infancy of Jesus Christ’, Chapter XV. [From ‘The Apochryphal New Testament’ compiled by William Hone, Gebbie & Co., Philadelphia 1880].

viii. Ibid., Chapter XIX.

ix. Deuteronomy, 32:41-42.[Douay Rheims version].

x. Matthew, 27:60-61. [Douay Rheims version].

xi. “Summa Theologica” of St. Thomas Aquinas. Part IQQ LXXV._CII. Vol. 4 (Treatise on Man). Eighth Article: ‘Whether All The Powers Remain in The Soul When Separated From the Body.’ The Inquisitor is not quoting Aquinas but rather summarising Objections 3 to 4.

xii. Luke, 16:25. [Douay Rheims version].

xiii. Words of Arnaud Gélis, sacristan of a church in Pamiers. Fournier’s record (i. 132).

xiv. Cicero.

xv. Ephesians, 6:12.

xvi. The Creed of St. Athanasius.

xvii. Saint Ambrose was the master of Saint Augustine. De fide, lib. 1, c. 10. Lieberman, Theol. Dog. lib. 13, p. 1. De trinitate.

xviii. Saint Bonaventure, on the mystery of the Blessed Trinity.

xix. Orden de Procesar, fol. 31. Entire passage in italics quoted in entirety.

xx. H. C. Lea., ‘A History of the Inquisition of the Middle Ages’, (New York, Harper & Brothers, 1887), Vol. 1, pp. 414.

xxi. Proverbs, 10:2.

xxii.Psalms, 30:9.

Image credit: “A man dressed in a loincloth is tortured on the rack with a priest bending over him to extract a confession”. Wood engraving by B. Pug after J.M. Copyright Wellcome Images, Wellcome Trust.



Paris, 31st October 1376

Unspeakable is the pain I suffer at his hands. At every dislocation, he signs me with the cross. That indelible icon stains my sight – like a blot that grows from glancing at the sun, it drifts across mine eye, superimposed, with every blink, on water, earth and fire.

Loosen me a little, that I may remember what to say!

The monster has an abysmal mind: it teems with lurid crimes. Under duress, I confess to them all; yet nothing I say can sate his salacious appetite. I am his abominable fiend, the devil of his darkest desire. And as I lie torn, gnawing on my tongue, he recites the Ave. The verse makes me puke. Great Satan, curse that black Dominican dog!

‘Where is the Book of Death?’

Oh Monsieur! Wherever you say it is!

‘Did you burn it, perhaps?’

Yes! That’s it! I burnt it!

The interrogation plunges new depths. He pulls my teeth with pliers and probes the sockets with irons. I cry the names of accomplices unknown: a witch from Rouen; a sorcerer from Sens. I spin satanic tales to sooth his sore ears. I try to fool him by weaving falsehood with fact:

‘I can fly through the air like bat!’

‘Might you escape through the bars?’

‘No. Christ forbids it.’

‘You freely admit that Christ has more power than the Devil?’


‘Yet you were powerful once.’

‘Oh yes! I was, yes! Very powerful indeed!’

‘This is the deepest dungeon in France. It contains sixty-four cells, each with an iron door; the walls are ten feet thick, and the river Siene runs high above. Aside the bowels of hell, ’tis the deepest darkest pit in all the world. But some say you can escape this terrible hole…’

‘Impossible! Unthinkable!’

‘Yet you escaped the dungeons of Toulouse. How?’


‘They say you have cast many malicious spells and maledictions…’


‘And you were oft’ rapt in diabolical ecstasies.’

Rapt, I was! Rapt with the Devil!

‘Who is your spirit attendant?’

‘Monsieur, I am ignorant of these things. Explain them to me, that I may know what to say…’

‘By spirit attendant, I mean your familiar – that creature by which the Devil gives you power. Do you understand?’

‘Yes, my familiar. Of course. I understand. We have been through this before.’

‘Indeed we have. So tell me, what is this wicked creature? An imp?’

‘Possibly… It could be…’

‘Or a sprite?’

‘Imp or sprite. Whatever you say!’

‘A goblin perhaps?’

‘Yes. A goblin.’

‘Just tell the truth.’

‘Give me the truth, and I will tell it!’

‘But I am asking you. What is the truth?’

‘That, Monsieur, is the great question of the Platonists.’

‘Fool! You like to mock me?’

‘No Monsieur. But I fear your understanding is not capable of knowing the truth.’

‘How dare you!’

‘Forgive me Monsieur. I cannot hold my tongue: it has a mind of its own.’

‘So, you are Platonist. Is that it?’

‘No Monsieur. Truly, the Platonists were fools.’

‘Yet they were the most fervent defenders of magic. And you are a black magician.’

‘Me? A magician? No Monsieur.’

‘You have been charged with high sorcery. What are you, if not a magician?’

‘Verily, I am more of a mystic.’

‘Oh? How so?’

‘When a man contemplates the divine perfection in himself, all logical distinctions vanish in a haze of ecstasy.’

‘Only a madman would philosophize in your position.’

‘They don’t call me The Mad Abbot for nothing…’

‘Your blasphemous tongue is never idle. I am tired of your irreverent snubs; your futile quips; your profane insults and affronts.’

‘Be patient with me Monsieur.’

He turns to the bench and says:

‘Let it be known that I am indeed a patient man… And my only desire is only to bring the accused back into the fold.’

‘Slacken the ropes, I beg you.’

To my relief, Pontius waves his hand and the tension abates. I lie breathless on the horse, delirious with pain. Pontius smiles and asks politely:

‘Are you comfortable?’


‘All in good time. Pain is a strict mistress. Too much pain makes a man insensible; too little makes him impatient; but there is a certain threshold of pain, where a man becomes lucid, and his eyes shine with a glittering brightness. Tremulo fulgore micantes oculi. I know where that threshold lies; how to sharpen your mind; make you remember things long forgotten… Do you see the Light, Jacques Vallin?’

‘Yes, I see it.’

‘I’m glad to hear it. Do you know, the best conversations I ever had were not with scholars in the universities, nor with philosophers in the taverns, but with heretics on the horse. No doubt we shall have many long and rewarding conversations. I have much to learn from you, and you from me. Don’t you agree?’

‘Yes Monsieur.’

‘You like talking with me?’

‘Monsieur, you have broken my knees. Oh Christ!

‘Save your tears. I want your full confession. How do you pry into the future? By what means? Desecration of the host?’

‘No Monsieur. I have visions.’

‘How do you see these visions? In a crystal ball?’

‘No. In dreams.’

‘How long have you had prophetic dreams?’

‘They began when I was four.’

‘Interesting. I once tried a witch who had the gift of seeing what was ordinarily hidden from others. She predicted the day of my death: Ember Friday, 1355. But that was over twenty years ago…’

‘Congratulations. You cheated the Grim Reaper.’

‘That may be so. Yet your prophecies never fail to come true. I have a list of names, as long as my arm, of men who died exactly as you predicted. Nobles, prelates, princes, and many priests of Christ. Some believe that you killed them yourself.’

‘No Monsieur.’

‘You can foretell any man’s death?’

‘Any. Even yours.’

‘Speak not of my death.’

‘Why? Aren’t you curious?’

‘I don’t want to know of your infernal divinations.’

‘Fear not. You live to a ripe old age. And you die peacefully in your sleep, drunk in the arms of a lusty whore.’

‘Really? Is that true?’

‘’Tis written.’

‘Methinks you have a serpent’s tongue.’

‘Was the Serpent not subtle and wise?’

‘’Tis said you can vacate the body, and appear in two places at once. Speak.

‘Such things are impossible, except to Christ, who walked on water, and appeared in many diverse places after His resurrection.’

‘You liken yourself to Christ?’

‘No Monsieur.’

He ponders the matter, pacing round the horse, his eyes fixed on mine:

‘’Tis a curious thing, this bilocation of the body – that the soul can leave the flesh at will, and wander about, according to its pleasure. Yet you claim this is quite impossible?’


‘Methinks not. In former times, these ghosts were supposed to be ethereal bodies. My own father saw his double on the stair; a phantom who appeared as real flesh and blood. They were exactly alike, right down to their vestments and the cut of their hair. Like astral twins. Do you believe it?’

‘Yes Monsieur, I believe it.’

‘’Twas a bad omen. For my father died the following day. The Germans have a word for these mysterious ghosts. Doppelgängers. Which means double-goers. What of you, Jacques Vallin? Do you have a doppelgänger?’

‘No Monsieur. But if I did, he would surely walk in through that door and stick you with a knife.’

‘Despite your pains, you have kept your sense of humour. I like that. Tell me how you heal the sick.’

‘A power flows through me.’

‘What power?’

‘The Lightstream.’

‘Lightstream? Where is it from?’

‘It comes from on high.’

‘To whom does this power belong?’

‘I know not.’

‘Then I shall tell you. The power belongs to Asmodeus, the Devil’s first lieutenant, and the prince of his dominions. Is that not so?’

‘I fear to speak at all.’

‘All men confess the truth in the end.’

‘Whose truth?’

‘The insinuation is heretical.’

‘Look what you have done to me! Is this not wicked?’

‘You will trust Mother Church to do what’s right.’

‘Are you so righteous Monsieur?’

‘Do not question my authority: ’twas given by Almighty God.’

‘The god of Love?’

‘The god of fire and brimstone. The god of Sodom and Gomorrah. The god of justice.’

‘Justice? Where is the justice in this? The bishop stole my gold! And sequestered my property!’

‘The bishop is a holy man. But you Jacques Vallin, are a heretic of the blackest dye! A warlock! A necromancer! And servant of the Devil!’

‘You put words in my mouth and accuse me falsely.’

‘Accuse you falsely? I have before me your previous confession, obtained by Inquisitor Bor at the Abbey of Belloc… Do you remember what you told him?’

‘Monsieur, that was many years ago. I was but a young novitiate, and ignorant in the ways of the world…’

‘And look at you now.’

‘Yes, I am a senile old fool.’

‘Yet not so foolish as you like to make out. What happened at the Abbey of Belloc?’

‘My memory is poor. I recall little of Belloc.’

‘Then let me remind you. You were found guilty of performing many prodigal works of Satan. Not least, counterfeit miracles and cures of high sorcery. Do you deny it?’

‘Who accused me of these crimes?’

‘A woman of Toulouse.’

‘That woman is a figment of your office.’

‘No. You were seen at the sabbat, taking a meal furnished by the Devil: a diabolical sacrament of roast turnip. The wine you served was clotted blood, putrid and black, poured from the filthy vessel of a Parfait’s skull. Your acolytes drank it with relish as they trampled the host and swore death to Mother Church. This abominable blasphemy was committed by many witches, whose names were writ in The Book of Death…

‘A tapestry of lies.’

‘Methinks not. By what black art did you escape the clutches of the Inquisition?’

‘Escape? I don’t know what you mean.’

‘Liar! What of Monsieur Bor and his retinue of soldiers?’

‘What of them?’

‘They simply vanished from the face of the earth!’

‘The Abbey of Belloc hid many terrible secrets.’


‘What happened there is a mystery best left to God. I wouldn’t go digging around there if I were you. ’Tis unhallowed ground and steeped in evil.’

‘By your magic, you brought about the fall of Belloc!’

‘No Monsieur. Truly, I loved my brethren. I wouldn’t harm a hair on their heads.’

‘Liar! You killed them all! You summoned a demon hag and flew off on a broomstick!’

‘Monsieur, that is perfectly ridiculous.’

‘Then how did you escape?’

‘I didn’t. I was found innocent, and released without charge.’

‘Innocent? You lie! If you were innocent, then why did you flee into the hills?’

‘To preserve my life. As for what happened to Bor and his men, I cannot say. But need I tell you, that confession is a forgery.’

‘You think you can deceive me? Why do you persist in denying these crimes?’

‘Because I’m no witch.’

‘Oh but you are a witch – just like your mother before you. Her confession is notorious amongst the friars. A most pestilent hag if ever there was one. Innumerable sorceries were proved against her.’

‘No. She was a good woman.’

‘Good woman? An unholy metaphor, no doubt.’


‘Lest you forget, she was a Cathar.’

‘What of it?’

‘Good women and good men are all the same. Their Gnostic heresy festers in every corner of the land. Like the Simonians, they interpret the Creation as a symbolic gestation of the foetus!’

‘My mother believed no such thing. The friars who tried her were bloodthirsty dogs who followed the wrong scent. All their claims were groundless and devoid of truth. Like all Schoolmen, the villainous friars are lost to virtue and sunk in error. Mala mens, malus animus. [An evil mind, an evil meaning].’

‘No. We friars are holy men, who pray for heretics and schismatics alike.’

‘Do you pray for devils like me?’


‘What do you pray?’

‘That our Lord God shall be pleased to rescue you from error; and recall you to our holy mother, the Catholic and Apostolic Church.’

‘Do you pray for Pagans too?’

‘Yes, pagans especially.’

‘The Saracens, the Berbers and the Moors?’

‘Of course. We friars pray for all lost sheep.’

‘I marvel at the magnanimity of the Mother Church, in praying so publicly and solemnly, whilst She pilfers from the Jews, in order to lift the curse that they brought upon themselves by crucifying Christ.’


‘But I have to ask: is it ecumenical and just to pray for Jews? Monsieur, I advise you to proceed with prudence and caution in this matter, lest you preserve their secret rituals. Or even worse, hasten Apocalypse, by electing a Rabbi to the seat of Rome.’

‘Enough, I say!’

‘The Jews will try, by whatever means, to subvert the Catholic faith. There is naught the Jews love more, than to rob good Christians and corrupt their beliefs. Consider what I say. Put your ear to the ground. See how the wind is blowing… Then ask yourself: would it not be better to annihilate the Jews altogether? A thorny question, I grant you. But I know many justices, magistrates and officials, who fervently believe that all Jews and Jewesses should be banished from the kingdom. Any Jew who does not comply with this edict will incur punishment by death and confiscation of all their belongings. What say you, Christian?

And you, a wicked Proselyte!

‘By the god of Abraham! You had no right! To fleece my gold, and throw me in a dungeon like a common criminal!’

‘The rights of my office are granted by the sovereign pope.’

‘The sovereign pope! That’s funny.’

‘You find this amusing? We have only just begun. We can go on all night. And start again at dawn. Your interrogation might last days, weeks, or even months. Either way, I will secure a confession.’

‘All right then. I confess.’

‘What do you confess?’

‘I confess that the pope is Antichrist, and Mother Church the Whore of Babylon.’

‘I’ve heard it all before, Jacques Vallin. That is not the confession I want. Speak of your spiritual attendant.’

‘I will, if you speak of yours.’


‘Who is it? Beelzebub?’

The horse groans to life, the ratchet clicking as the slack is taken up. Pontius turns to the bench and says:

‘Let it be noted how the accused tries to undermine the dignity of my office…’

‘Your office is corrupt and perverse. The Inquisition into Heretical Wickedness is not moved by zeal for the faith or the salvation of souls, but by a thirst for wealth and power.’

‘What is corrupt and perverse, is that you dress in women’s clothes! What is scandalous and obscene, is that you claim to be a maiden! As if a monster like you might ever become one!’

‘I was fair and pretty once. A true Venus.’

‘How is that even possible? How does a man transform into a woman? Unless he surrenders himself, body and soul, to a demon? Is that not the diabolical excellency of your work? Speak.

‘You ask the wrong questions. All your reckoning is fallacious and wide of the mark.’

‘Do not presume to instruct me. I will happily send you to the pyre. How are the mighty fallen! Your end will be most shameful. Even as we speak, the people of Paris are baying for your blood. You will be carried backwards on an ass, naked through the jeering crowds, and shackled to the stake at dawn.’

‘’Twas foretold by a gypsy that I would die in flames of infamy. If the morrow brings death, then so be it.’

‘Why dost thou glory in malice? Because thou was shapen in iniquity; and in sin did thy mother conceive thee.(i) All day long thy tongue hath conspired injustice: as a sharp razor, it hast wrought deceit. Thou hast loved evil more than goodness: and iniquity more than righteousness.(ii) What say you?

‘You quote the psalms. But Gorgias the Sophist said it better: “What is right but what we prove to be right? And what is true but what we believe to be truth?” That is to say, where does Truth end, and Falsehood begin? Falsa veris finitima sunt. [Falsehood borders upon truth].’

‘You are mightily eloquent for one strung upon the horse. Have you no fear for your pains?’

‘Have you no fear for yours?’

‘Is that a threat?’

‘No Monsieur. But consider your death. That is all I ask.’

‘If I am to die peacefully in my sleep, as you foretell, then I see naught to be afraid of.’

‘But what of your soul?’

‘My soul is in the ward of Christ.’

‘Is it? Then why do you suffer eternally in the lakes of hellfire?’

‘I have heard enough of your forked tongue. I should cut it out.’

‘Then how shall I confess?’

‘Will you confess?’

‘I might. In time. If the Devil does not rescue me first.’

‘Satan has forsaken you, Jacques Vallin. Confess now or later. It makes no odds to me. All witches confess in the end. They falsely believe the Devil will deliver them from death. But as soon as their flesh is laid waste by flame, they scream for the mercy of God.’

‘Not I. When they light my faggots, I will tell the crowd how you sucked my cock and begged me for a kiss.’

Nihil te quidem quidquam pudet. [In truth, you are ashamed of nothing at all].’

Pontius snaps his fingers and another turn is ordered. The horse gibbers as the ropes tug at my ankles, shearing flesh from bone…

Mercy! ’Tis my wicked tongue, not I!’

‘Your attempts to misdirect my office are in vain… Speak of your spiritual attendant.’

Tell me what to say!

‘Who is your familiar? A black cat?’

Yes! That’s it! A black cat!

‘No. I think not… A cat is far too obvious…’

Mercy Monsieur! My bones!

‘Could it be a dog?’

Yes! An evil beast of dog, to be sure!

‘Are you certain of this dog?’

Certainly, yes!

‘Will you swear to it?’

Yes, I’ll swear! I’ll swear on all that’s holy!

‘Nay. ’Tis not a dog… Admit it.’

Not a dog?

‘No you fool, not a dog.’

Forgive me, Monsieur! I erred. ’Tis not a dog. Not a dog at all!

‘Then what is it? A weasel?’

Yes! That’s it! A weasel! Of course it is!

‘Methinks not.’

Not a weasel? Why not Monsieur? Why not? In the name of god! Why not?

‘It might be a raven…’

A raven? Is it Monsieur? Tell me that it is!

‘Or even a rat…’

A filthy rat! Yes!

‘But a vixen suits you better…’

A cunning vixen! Yes! Yes! That’s what it is!’

‘Is it? Are you sure?’

Oh Christ! Have mercy!

‘Perhaps a vole is more fitting…’

Yes! A vole! A vole from the riverbanks!

‘Where do you keep it? Your purse? Your pocket?’

My pocket.

‘But your pockets were found empty.’

It must have escaped!

‘What? And left you to suffer all alone?’

Mercy Monsieur!

‘I think this vole is a lie. What about a hog? A stag or a frog? A beetle or a goat? Alas, there are so many creatures to choose from. How shall we ever find the right one? Is it a cockerel perhaps?’

Nay! ’Tis not any earthly creature!

‘Oh? Then what devil is it?’

A Cyclops.

‘What? Like Polyphemus?’

‘Yes. Like him!

‘You speak the truth?’

Veritas non simulata! [The naked truth].’

‘Ah! So we are finally getting to the heart of the matter. A Cyclops, no less!’

‘Yes. A Cyclops!’

‘Tell me more of this Cyclops. Is he from that same race of Læstrygones – the cannibal giants who once ruled ancient Sicily?’

‘No Monsieur. He is no cannibal. Nor giant either, for that matter. In fact, he’s smaller than a monkey.’

‘Where do you keep this Cyclops?’

‘Keep him? I do not keep him.’

‘Of course you keep him!’

‘How do I keep him?’

‘In a hollowed ring; a viol; or a casket…’

‘But Monsieur, I do not keep him at all. He comes and goes as he pleases.’

‘Give me his name.’

‘Name? I am forbidden to reveal it.’

‘Refuse, and I will order another turn. Speak.

‘Krew. His name is Krew.’

‘And when did Krew first manifest?’

‘When I was seven.’

‘Did you sell him your soul?’


‘A pact?’


‘For what?’

‘The cure to my congenital disease.’

‘What else did you give this Cyclops? Answer!

‘I provided him with meat.’


‘No. The flesh of still-born babes.’

Ah! I knew it! And how did you get this flesh?’

‘I provided a service.’

‘Service? Be specific. What service?’

‘I caused miscarriage in the good women of Paris.’

‘You plucked the wombs of whores?’

‘Yes, I plucked them! Oh! My knees! Oh! Christ! My limbs! My spine! See what a weak old fool I am! Oh! Have mercy Monsieur! I confessed it! The Cyclops made me do it! Loosen the ropes! I am dying!’

Pontius draws near and whispers:

‘These are the pains of God. Now listen to me very carefully. I want you to confess everything in detail, or the cords will be tightened again. Do you understand?’

‘Mercy! If I knew what else to tell, I would tell it! But I don’t know how to tell it! Miserable wretch that I am, I don’t know how to tell it!’

More turns are ordered.

Oh! They are tearing me to pieces!’

‘By what means did you commit this infanticide? Speak.’

‘I made a magic plaster…’

‘Yes, go on…’

‘ – When applied to the womb at night, it induced a violent abortion at dawn.’

‘And what did the Cyclops do with this diabolic evacuation?’

‘…He cooked it in his apparatus.’

‘Did you partake?’

‘Of course! That was the cure!’(iii)

A supremely abominable crime!

‘Have pity Monsieur!’

‘Pity? You consumed human flesh, just like the Cyclops cannibal, Polyphemus! And not any human flesh, but the flesh of unborn children!’

‘I was not made like other men. I was cursed to dwell in this unbecoming vessel. Sometimes to cure ourselves, we have to go back to the beginning. The foetus was my genesis…’

Monster! Vile monster! I’ll pull you to pieces! I’ll rip you assunder! I’ll tear you limb from limb! I’ll slit, split and rend you in twain!

My brain explodes in a crucible of searing flame. I sense a terrifying cataclysm of caesuras, fractures, ruptures and luxations, as every joint is cleaved in dislocation. It seems as if my very soul has been whittled to the core, and mangled in the teeth of that ferocious machine:

‘Oh! Sweet Jesus! Have mercy! I have confessed! Monsieur, you are witness that if I knew anything else, I would say it! Stop, I beg you! They are tearing out my soul! Order them to loosen me! I have told you everything! My foul flesh! The unborn child! ’Twas my remedy and restitution!

The ropes slacken and I slump, crippled on a beam. Pontius bows his head and mutters:

‘Evidently, the remedy has failed… Never, in all my years, have I witnessed such human monstrosity, nor heard a confession so black… Jacques Vallin you have been found guilty of the crimes brought before you. The Holy Office of Heretical Error hereby condemns you to death, to be exterminated from this temporal world by fire. May God have mercy on your soul…’

He turns to the bishop and adds:

‘Relax him to the secular tribunal. Let them carry out the sentence of blood which our holy office forbids…’

His dark method has meddled with my mind. Through bloody flame, I see The Infernal Counsel, leaping on the wall. One shade has mighty horns and holds a pair of scales; he beckons with his talons and a goblin jury stands…

Two physicians lift me from the horse and carry me into a dim antechamber. They talk quietly amongst themselves as they busily dress my wounds:

‘He’s lost much blood. He hasn’t got long…’

‘Astonishing. Have you ever seen anything like it?’

‘Forget his deformity. Just stop the bleeding…’

‘He’s torn like a toad ’neath the harrow. Better that he haemorrhage than be healed for the pyre.’

‘Do your job. Hold this while I splint his legs…’

‘Why does he smile?’

‘How should I know. The beast is insane.’

‘Wouldn’t you be—after that?’

As they tend my sores, I fall into surgical shock. My entire body is gripped by a cold, paralysing numbness. The physicians move swiftly, binding the splints with oils and herbs. I watch on mute, witness to some terrible crime perpetrated on my flesh. Is that body really mine? I gaze perplexed at the torn limbs, the dislocated knees, the misshapen shanks. How did this happen? I cannot muse. Images flash like lightning; a court of fools; two dwarves with pincers; an angel scribe with goose quill wings. I gaze into the vault where a foliate face grins from the keystone. A cruciform blot drifts across my sight. I recall a silver censer, twinkling in golden fire; a cowled man with glowing eyes. He harks from hell. I dare not think his business.

With my limbs bandaged, they ferry me back to my cell. I rock in the stretcher like a babe in swaddling. A delicious warmth envelops me. The whole world recedes to a pinprick of light. I’m rising up, out of my body. A silver cord conjoins spirit and flesh; it unravels down the passage and I bob behind, drawn like a kite on a string. Back through the labyrinth I go, into the chamber of bones. And in the winding darkness, I glimpse once more the broken crown and the writing on the wall. Then Satan calls me from the depths, His voice peeling through the dungeon like sunken bells…

Beátus ventur qui te portávit et úbera quæ suxísti! [Blessed is the womb that bore thee and the paps that gave thee suck!] (iv)

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

i. Psalm 50:7. [Douay Rheims version].

ii. Psalm 51:3. [Douay Rheims version].

iii. Stem cells.

iv. Luke, 11:27. (Daily Missal, Third Sunday in the Season of Lent. p. 298).

Image Credit: The first sunspot image taken on January 28, 2020 by the NSF’s Inouye Solar Telescope’s Wave Front Correction context viewer. Wikimedia Commons.

Wolf Fell


Believing, then, that the whole Cosmos is such as to satisfy the claims of human Reason, we are irresistibly led to ask whether it satisfies other claims of our nature which are as imperious as Reason itself. Infinite Intelligence would see the Cosmos as infinitely intelligent; but would infinite Goodness also see it as infinitely good? (i)

Maudsley Hospital, London, March 25, 1968

Doctor Burke reviews his notes then asks:

‘Can you remember your name?’

The patient, a tall man in his mid-fifties rolls his eyes at the ceiling and replies:

‘Sims. Michael Sims.’

‘Do you know how long you’ve been here, Michael?’

‘About six months?’

‘And how are you feeling today?’

‘Better. Much better, thank you.’

‘Do you think you’re well enough to go home?’


‘And where do you live? Can you remember?’

‘Er… Paris?’

‘No, not Paris.’

‘Not Paris?’

‘No. Before you came here, you lived in Camberwell.’


‘Yes, Camberwell, London, SE5.’

‘Camberwell. Not Paris. Sorry.’

‘Do you know whereabouts in Camberwell?’

‘Er, Denmark Hill?’

‘That’s right. Denmark Hill. Very good. And can you remember what you had for breakfast?’

‘Fried eggs?’

‘No. A bowl of porridge.’

‘Of course. Porridge. How stupid of me to forget.’

‘What’s the last thing you remember?’

‘You mean, before I came here?’

‘Yes, if you like – what’s that last thing you remember before coming to stay with us at the Maudsley?’

‘The Light. I remember the Light.’

‘What light?’

‘The orb.’

‘Can you describe this orb?’

‘Not really. There aren’t any words to describe it.’


Sims looks anxious and squirms in his seat:

‘I’d prefer not to talk about it.’

‘Why? Does it frighten you?’


‘Tell me about it.’

‘Why should I tell you?’

‘Because I’m a doctor. I’m here to help you. Don’t you want my help?’

‘I suppose.’

‘So where did you see this light?’

‘In the hills.’

‘Were you hiking? On holiday?’

‘No. I was on business.’

‘And when was this? Can you remember?’

‘Christmas Eve, 1959.’

‘You seem very sure of the date.’

‘I am.’

‘But you can’t remember anything of your life since then?’

‘Not much. But I remember The Old World.’

‘Do you know what year it is?’

‘Sorry doctor. I’ve forgotten.’

‘That’s perfectly all right. It’s 1968.’

‘Is it really? How dreadful.’


‘Well, we haven’t got long left, have we?’

‘Tell me what happened on Christmas Eve, 1959.’

There follows a long pause. Sims scowls and his face hardens. Then, flinging out his hand, he slaps the table:

‘Why are you asking me all these stupid questions?’

‘I want to ascertain your state of mind.’

‘Let me go home.’

‘You can go home when you’re better. But first, we must establish how you got sick. Tell me about the orb. Do you remember it?’

‘Yes. As if it were yesterday.’

‘What were you doing in the hills?’

‘I was on a secret mission with Blyth.’

‘Who’s Blyth?’

‘He’s MI6.’

‘And what was your mission?’

‘To build a time machine.’

‘That sounds very exciting.’

‘Yes. But we got lost in a blizzard.’

‘Did you abort the mission?’

‘No. We spent the night in the car.’


‘Wolf Fell.’

‘And where is that, precisely? Do you know?’

‘The Lancashire moors. It’s where The Sidhe live.’

The Sidhe? Who are they?’

‘Faeries, mostly.’

Burke scribbles excitedly in his notes. Then he looks up and smiles:

‘How do you mean, mostly?

‘They come in many guises. But mostly faeries. I knew it was The Sidhe, the moment I saw the orb.’

‘You had a seizure, Michael.’

‘No. I saw it. The orb.’

‘Can you describe the sequence of events leading up to this orb? What happened exactly?’

‘We were sleeping in the car. Blyth and me. I don’t know the hour. Sometime after midnight. I awoke with a pain in my chest. I thought it was my asthma. I suffer from solderer’s lung.’

‘Solderer’s lung?’

‘Molten solder gives off toxic fumes: the resin flux irritates the bronchi.’

‘I see. So you thought you were having an asthma attack?’

‘Yes. But then I saw the orb, hovering on a ridge.’

‘Could it have been the moon, perhaps?’

‘No. It was much bigger than the moon. And brighter. A thousand times brighter.’

‘How far away was it?’

‘Hard to tell. About a mile… The whole valley was flooded with ghostly light.’

‘Weren’t you frightened?’

‘No. I felt strangely disconnected with myself, as if part of me had been switched off. Then I realised I was above the car, looking down through the roof. I saw Blyth sleeping behind the wheel, and my body lying in the passenger seat. I thought I was dead.’

‘You were obviously dreaming.’

‘No. I was between worlds.’

‘These sorts of hallucinations are very common in people with epilepsy.’

‘You can’t explain it away like that. Epilepsy.

‘Do you know what a seizure is Michael?’

‘A brainstorm. Right?’

‘In layman’s terms, yes. A seizure is an electric phenomenon provoked either by an excitation of the cerebral cortex, or by optical disturbance on the retina of the eye. The impulse travels from the ganglionic layer, via the lateral geniculate body, into the superior colliculus, then onward to the pretectal nucleus and into the visuosensory cortex, where it invokes halo effects, aureole, and other radiant hallucinations. From this point, by a series of numerous reflex and complex actions, the excitation is transformed by mediation of the cerebellum into a spasmodic excitation which radiates outward by means of the spinal nerves to the peripheral muscles.’

‘No doctor.’

No doctor?

‘I’m not epileptic. At least, I wasn’t back then.’

‘According to your medical records, you suffer from periodic focal brain psychosis, brought on by traumatic epilepsy.’

‘But this wasn’t epilepsy. You wouldn’t understand. The Light was miraculous.’

‘There’s nothing miraculous about it. Your case is not unusual; nor does it conflict with existing medical theory.’

‘This was above biology. Above the brain. It was supernatural.’

‘On the contrary. A seizure explains the light in the most material terms.’

‘Not this kind of Light. It was sentient.’

‘What makes you think that?’

‘I felt a connection. The Light knew all about me. It was watching me.’

‘You felt this connection because the light was generated by your own brain… Your personality had dissociated into two distinct selves – the “switched off” part, and the observer. But both were still connected on a much deeper subconscious level. Hence you perceived the light as something outside yourself, with an intelligence of its own.’

‘It was sentient, I tell you.’

‘Yes, sentient, because you are sentient.’

‘No. It wasn’t me. It was The Sidhe.’

‘Faeries? That’s nonsense Michael.’

‘Are you an authority on spiritual matters?’

‘I am on the human brain. Temporal lobe epilepsy is strongly associated with psychotic symptoms. Just as impaired language centres are with schizophrenia. Why not admit the truth? You had a fit. Plain and simple.’

‘I don’t have fits.’

‘But you’ve suffered from epilepsy your whole life.’

‘I knew this was a bad idea.’


‘Trying to convince you. The moment I walked in through that door, I said to myself: What’s the point in trying to convince Dr. Burke? I mean, the Universe is a very large and complex thing. Do you assume to know everything?’

Burke looks vaguely amused then asks:

‘Then who are The Sidhe? Where are they from?’

‘I don’t know who they are, or where they come from. But my Aunt Maggie called them The Anointed Ones. They were pre-existent, super-eminent, before the Earth was formed.’


‘Fallen angels.’

‘The human imagination is a hiding-place for many supernatural creatures; but such beliefs blunt our common sense and corrupt our reason. Superstition is very dangerous Michael. Do you not see? These wayward visions have strained your nerves. You have superimposed them with emotive religious elements. But religion causes all manner of morbid insanity. The supernatural is fraught with every kind of peril. Religion is the most prevalent source of conflict and mental disintegration; it threatens not only our morality, but our humanity. Do you understand?’

‘Yes doctor. I understand. The supernatural life absorbs the natural life.’

‘Exactly. The invisible world is all in the mind.’

‘But you believe in radio and X-Rays?’

Burke frowns in annoyance and picks up his pen:

‘So what happened next? You were out of your body, and floating above the car. Correct?’


‘And the orb?’

‘I couldn’t take my eyes off it. It was pulsing blue and green, darting like a bee. Then it drew near and hovered by a thorn. I don’t know how it happened, but the Light was suddenly upon me. I was engulfed by a presence.’

‘Presence? What kind of presence? How would you describe it? Good or bad?’

‘It was… transcendental. I saw colours everywhere. The colours were alive. They were whispering.’

‘What did they say?’

‘It was a language that I didn’t understand. I mean, I did then, but not now. Not back in the body. The meaning gets lost. Garbled. Filtered out. The Sidhe won’t allow it.’

‘Why not?’

‘Because if we knew their secrets, we’d become gods.’

‘You still believe this was a religious experience?’

‘Yes. The Light was all knowing, all seeing, all powerful. Omniscient.

‘So you were absorbed by the light? You became a part of it? Correct?’

‘Yes. I felt my essence, or that part of myself they call the soul, was part of the Light. This mysterious Light. Then all at once I was translated to another realm.’

‘Where? Heaven?’

‘I don’t know. It was a place that was not a place. Time and space had no meaning there. All my earthly burdens just fell away.’

‘What about your body?’

‘What about it?’

‘I mean, how did you experience all this without a body? You had no eyes, yet saw beautiful colours; you had no ears, yet heard mysterious voices; you had no brain, yet comprehended the whole event…’

‘I had a body, but it wasn’t a physical body.’

‘What did this body look like?’

‘I don’t know what form I was in. I just had a perception of myself. A perimeter of being. A soul. I realised my physical body was just a container. I was quite unconcerned with it.’

‘But what about Death?’

‘What about it?’

‘Weren’t you afraid?’

‘Why should we be afraid of Death? Annihilation is impossible. We are inmates of infinity. Nothing perishes. Nothing is lost. The Unus Mudus preserves all.’

‘So you didn’t want to come back?’

‘No. My only desire was to stay with the Light. I was glad to leave my mortal coils. I felt exulted; liberated; more alive than I’ve ever been. I was bathed in a warm radiance. And my only desire was to get closer to the Light.’

‘Why is that, do you think?’

‘Because the Light was love.’

‘Love? What sort of love? Was it a platonic love? Or did it have a sexual aspect? What do you think?’

‘Only a Freudian could ask such a stupid question.’


‘There was nothing sexual about it. It was an all consuming Love. You can’t imagine that kind of love; it is beyond anything we experience on Earth. I felt a connection to everything and everyone. And I knew that I was home.’

Burke scribbles in his notes then says:

‘What if I told you that Death is dissolution. Nothingness. Oblivion. That all flesh is grass; that we must repay our debt to Nature and return to dust; that human consciousness cannot survive Death; that any hope of an afterlife is utterly impossible. What would you say?’

‘I would say that you have a very puerile idea of Death.’

‘Oh? Why is that?’

‘If the end of Life is nothingness, does not Birth bring us out of that same nothingness? Why should Birth be any more impossible than Death?’

Burke leans forward on his elbows; he looks like a hunched dark mass; a bane; a mildewed moth and haunter of shadows. He folds his fingers together and asks:

‘Are you a saintly person?’

‘That’s a bit of a leading question, isn’t it?’

‘Well, are you?’

‘No. I’m just an ordinary Joe. A sinner.’

‘You were brought up Catholic?’

‘Yes. But before the Light, I was an atheist.’

‘And what about now? Do you pray?’

‘Of course.’

‘Does God answer your prayers?’

‘How do you mean?’

‘Do you hear him speak? Do you receive celestial communications?’

‘No. Do you?’

Burke scrawls in his notes again, and without raising his eyes from the page, he asks:

‘Do you know who I am Michael?’

‘Yes. You’re a gatekeeper of medical procedures: surgical mechanisms by which the Freudian code is enforced upon dissident members of society; so that all heretics are impelled to think and act in a manner which the code prescribes.’

Burke looks up and smiles politely. He studies Sims for a moment, then shrugs:

‘So what about your mission?’


‘To build the time machine.’

‘Ah yes, well that’s where things get complicated.’

‘Well, they would do, wouldn’t they?’

‘When I awoke the following morning, I was lying in the gorse, about half a mile from the car.’

‘Do you sleepwalk often?’

‘No you misunderstand. I hadn’t been sleepwalking. I was away – with The Sidhe.

‘No Michael. You were sleepwalking.’

‘But I had grown a beard.’

‘What’s that got to do with it?’

‘At least ten days growth. You see, the previous night, I was clean shaven.’

Burke scratches his head in puzzlement:

‘A hormonal imbalance perhaps. And what did Blyth think of your new beard?’

‘He was very upset about it. We both were. I cut it off, and we said no more about it.’

‘And did you continue with your mission?’

‘Yes. We went to see Jack Vallis, a patient at Sunhill Asylum.’

‘Where’s that?’

‘Near Preston.’

‘But there is no Sunhill Asylum near Preston.’

‘Yes there is. I went there with Blyth. Sunhill Asylum, Christmas Day, 1959. I’ll never forget it.’

‘You mean Rainhill. You’re confused. It was a long time ago.’

‘Rainhill Asylum? No, I’m positive it was Sunhill…’

‘And this Jack Vallis? Who is he to you? A relative?’


‘Then why were you visiting Rainhill Asylum?’

‘I’ve already told you: it was Sunhill, not Rainhill.’

‘Sunhill doesn’t exist, Michael. And the only other asylum in that region is Whittingham…’

‘No. It was definitely Sunhill. Christ! I should know! Why are you keeping me here? I haven’t the faintest idea how I arrived… I suspect there’s a portal somewhere in this very hospital.’

‘A portal?’ jests Burke. ‘From one mental asylum to another? How very novel.’

‘Don’t make fun of me. I meant a portal to The Old World.’

‘No Michael.’

‘Well how else did I get here?’

‘You came by ambulance.’

‘Ambulance? Are you sure?’

‘I saw you arrive at the gate.’

‘But why a psychiatric hospital?’

‘Because you were found naked in the park.’

Sims gasps and turns bright red. He lurches in his chair, almost buckling under the weight of this revelation:


‘Apart from a crown of thorns.’


He trembles as one vanquished and hurled to earth: a naked Christ, condemned to a life of ruin and shame amid the thorns and briars of secular society.

‘You have no memory of the incident?’ asks Burke.

‘No. None. What happened?’

‘You were tangled in a rose tree, cut to ribbons, and screaming at the devil.’

‘How awful! How dreadful!’

‘You were found by two schoolgirls. They were both quite terrified, by all accounts.’

‘What? But doctor! You must listen to me! It wasn’t my fault! I’m not a pervert! I’m not a flasher! Can’t you see I’m the victim here? You must see that!’

Burke scribbles in his notes again, his pen moving with furious intensity.

Sims clasps his head and groans in despair:

‘Naked in the park? I wouldn’t be in this mess if it wasn’t for Jack Vallis.’

‘Was he part of your mission?’

‘Yes. Vallis was a thaumaturge.’

‘Thaumaturge? What’s that?’

‘He had a great power, which went out from his body like heat. He was a healer; a miracle worker; a telepath and clairvoyant. He invented the time machine, you see.’

‘Did he?’

‘Well, that’s what he claimed. But I think the spirits showed him. I mean, I don’t see why he should take all the credit, do you? Not when he took instruction from higher intelligences. I didn’t believe it at first. I didn’t believe any of it. His gnostic causal chain was incompatible with my sense of reason. I thought reincarnation was a fictitious process; an opium for the people. A cosmic wheel of justice might sound appealing; but the more you look into it, the more you find unpleasant ideas which are grievously troubling. But Vallis convinced me that it was true. All true…’

‘Could he see faeries too?’ asks Burke.

Sims ignores the question and ponders for a moment, fumbling with his bottom lip:

‘…So, the portal is in the park.’


‘Which park did they find me in? Battersea or Brockwell?’

‘It was Crystal Palace, actually. Is your memory returning now?’


‘Then you will know that you’ve been here six days, not six months.’

‘Days. Months. They’re both the same, relatively speaking.’

‘What’s that supposed to mean?’

‘That life is fleeting.’

Burke opens a drawer and produces a fat file with dog-eared corners. He lays it ritually on the desk and stares ominously:

‘Your medical records arrived from Galway this morning.’

‘Oh? What do they say?’

Burke opens the file and turns the pages, slowly, deliberately:

‘It’s all here in black and white: recurrent mania; melancholia; dementia praecox; epileptic psychoneurosis; delusions and hallucinations; religious colouration; intolerance to flashing lights… It says here that your mother was a manic-depressive. And you first manifested short depressions at the age of nine. Two years later you became agitated, euphoric, loquacious, deluded, and hallucinated. Your first grand-mal seizure occurred at eleven years…’

‘No, that’s not right.’

‘– You were found naked on the Kilcolgan road. You got sectioned, and spent two years in Ballinasloe. The diagnosis was hallucinatory insanity.’

‘Insanity? No. That’s the wrong file. You’ve confused me with someone else.’

‘You are Michael Sims, aren’t you?’

‘Well, yes. But that must be another Michael Sims. I mean how could I have got a job in MI6, with a history of mental illness?’

‘Quite. A spy who believes in The Sidhe. It doesn’t stack up, does it?’

Sims reels with nausea and anguish, as if his impressions of eternity have been suddenly effaced; that The Sidhe are nought but optical illusions; that the entire cosmos and human race are nothing but banal accidents.

Burke thumbs through the file, shaking his head:

‘That’s odd… There’s no mention of Rainhill in here…’

‘That’s because I never went to Rainhill.’

‘What happened on the Kilcolgan road, Michael? Do you remember?’

‘I remember the place, but not the time.’

‘It was 1925. You were eleven years old.’


‘You told the doctor that you saw an elf.’

‘Perhaps I imagined it. What do you think?’

‘I think that you’re afraid. You saw an elf – correct? And you lost your mind because of it. Did you see an elf, Michael?’

‘I don’t know. I have no idea. Like I said, The Sidhe have many guises…’

‘So you admit your time in Ballinasloe?’

‘I don’t remember Ballinasloe. I was between worlds.’

‘Out of the body? Where did you go?’

‘The Light beyond. I was with The Sidhe.’

‘Another realm?’

‘There were many souls there.’

‘People you knew?’

‘They felt like old acquaintances. They seemed to know me. But I couldn’t place them – at least, not at first. Yet I felt my entire inner life had been spent in their company. Then one by one, their faces came back to me. They welcomed me with open arms, as if I had returned from a long and treacherous journey. “Well done Michael!” they said. “Your time on Earth is done!” And I saw my old house in Paris, with its crooked little alley to the church. That’s where I met the Alchemist.’

‘A doctor, perhaps?’

‘He paid us five florins.’

‘Paid who?’

‘Me and my wife.’

‘When was this?’

‘I loved my wife.’

‘Of course you did.’

‘It wasn’t my fault.’

‘Of course not. These things happen.’

‘Yes they do.’

‘Do you miss your wife?’

‘Very much.’

‘Can you remember her name?’


‘No. Your wife was called Deborah.’

‘I mean my wife in The Old World. Selene.

‘I see. The Old World, yes. Go on.’

‘She was beautiful. But wicked.’

‘Why was she wicked?’

‘We both were.’

‘How were you wicked?’

‘Five florins. You can’t put a price on a human life…’

‘Whose life?’

‘Our child.’

‘You sold your child?’

Our unborn child…

He breaks down in tears and blubbers:

‘We wanted rid of it!’

‘It was just a dream Michael. The Old World isn’t real. That child never existed.’

‘But it was real! The alchemist took it! That horned devil!

‘What did the devil do? Can you tell me?’

Sims clutches his head in torment, rocking in his chair:

‘He… He put Selene on a plinth and applied a magic plaster. We waited and waited, but nothing happened. Hour by hour, the plaster turned from white to black, and every colour in between. Selene was taken with fever. She began to scream and wail. Then at cockcrow, she suffered a violent abortion. A bloody horrid mess. The alchemist gathered it up and put it in a jar.’

‘What did he want with it?’

‘I don’t know. He took it away into his chamber. I watched him through the curtain. He had hundreds of jars, stacked to the rafters. Babies, floating in brine. He called them foetuses. But they weren’t foetuses. They were babies. I was glad to see the back of that place. We took our five florins and left. But the gold was cursed.’

‘What makes you say that?’

‘Because that night, Selene took her own life.’

‘I’m sorry to hear that Michael. But you mustn’t feel responsible for your wife’s death.’

‘Of course I’m responsible!’

‘The tragedies of life can cause us great distress. Sometimes our mental anguish becomes too much to bare. Human existence seems cruel and meaningless. So we invent fictions – narratives – to try and explain it away. We distance ourselves from the grim reality of things; we become observers in our own story, rather than living participants.’

‘You think it was fiction? You weren’t there! You didn’t see her body shattered on the cobbles!’

‘How did she die?’

‘She jumped from Saint Jeane en Grève…’

‘Shall I tell you what really happened?’

Sims pleads in earnest:

Oh yes! Please tell me, doctor! Was it just a dream? Please god, tell me it was!

‘A delusion Michael. A delusion. You became manically depressed after the suicide of your wife. You felt responsible in some way. You wandered about aimlessly for days, in search of her ghost. Of course, you only have a very dim recollection of this journey. But you were seen on the No. 3 bus removing your clothes. A policeman tried to overpower you, but you fled naked into the park. And now you cannot say definitely whether it was just a dream.’

‘No, no, that’s all wrong. You’ve got it all wrong!’

He stands and paces up and down, pulling at his hair and beating his temples:

Five florins! Five florins! Five florins!

‘Calm down Michael, please.’

‘But you don’t understand! I’ve got to get out of here!’

Burke grabs his shoulders and steers him back to the chair:

‘Sit down Michael, please.’

‘There’s no time. I’ve got to save her. Find the portal. Get back to The Old World.’

‘But what about this world, Michael? Do have any relatives? Someone we can call? Any children to speak of?’

Children? Don’t you get it? Are you stupid or something? Didn’t you read my file? I’m sterile, you idiot!’

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

i. ‘Human Personality and its Survival of Bodily Death’, Myers, F.W.H. Chapter X, Appendix A p.301.

Image credit: ‘The Faery Feller’s Master-Stroke’, (detail) by Richard Dadd, 1855-64.

Christmas Lights


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.