Episode 32 - THE CENTER does not HOLD!


          I heard the matter argued near and far... in English, French and German... for some fifteen minutes until, by the direction of oaths and trumpetings of victory, it was apparant that Yeats and his party were defeated and whatever plans Crowley and the others had made for me were to continue. Then the moon rose... shimmering, hooked as the swastika of Zelatorship... and the Adepts began gathering in a circle, wind quickening the swaying of skeletal trees that, with a few needled conifers, ringed three sides of the coffins and altar, unseen, behind me. The Golden Dawn had donned its black robes but still traveled unmasked; Crowley, more agitated than ever, barking orders.

          "Watch that bag, Arnold... that Gabonese has its head halfway through a crack! Willie... you cannot stand opposite the Praemonstrator, that place is for our distinguished von List. Take Maud's place at seven o'clock... Maud, go to five, I want feminine energies forming a pyramid within the circle... Vestigia at the left hand of Mathers, Sapienta at nine opposite... which of you are going to stand at three?"

          "I will!" volunteered Lanz von Liebenfels, and I briefly wondered if whether he had brought Viereck with him to Scotland, or his horrid, constipated boy.

          "Have you got that device working yet?" barked Crowley.

          "Eppe... se muove!" remarked Marinetti, a comment I later learned he'd borrowed from Galileo.  For such a man of the future, young Phil was inordinately beholden to the distant past.

          A disagreeable, heavily accented voice accosted the night - it was the Sar who, clearly, had traveled with Zan and Vess... the Devil knows with whom, or what else... over the waves. "You risk Baal's wrath by permitting even three women to occupy a circle. Such feminine energy is negative..."

          "You're fortunate that the Praemonstrator brought one of you over from Paris, let alone the both... Lanz here not only brought von List but... as soon as I'd wired notice of Ruskin's delicate condition... arranged for Tarnhari to transfer Dr. Hartmann's patient from Weimar. Parisians!"

          Peladan and another... Papus!... began cursing Crowley in spirited French from opposite sides of the circle as he passed my coffin and that of the lunatic with another of the dark cloaks over his arm, apparently on his way to inspect the Ray. But the opportunity for a final gloat could not be resisted.

          "You do understand that it was all arranged, a sort of test to determine whether your vessel was worthy of donation to the Logos. Well, it was! Lucky... or maybe not, Altius... but what a destiny yours shall be. If all goes well I certainly shall seek my own vessels, and perhaps we shall have opportunities to do astral combat with one another throughout eternity, as immortals do... not men or Overmen or even Gods, but as Titans and the Danaan. As Elementals! Of what use is Messiah, Cameron, without His other, a Beast! Seer of Zarathustra and laird of Boleskine... Blake's apostles standing in opposition as true friendship! Is that damn Ray working yet?" he abruptly snarled, over his left shoulder.

          I could see only the crest of Vartanian's device from my repose; Lanz, apparently kneeling beside it, started up a gasoline engine, a primitive thing that sputtered bluish smoke and raised an infernal din.

          "How can the Tuatha hear and accept our invocations above that discord?" shrieked Crowley, tossing a surplus black cloak across the grinding engine. The noise, at least, lessened... although smoke still mingled disagreeably with the Assyrian incense. I could not see, but heard the coffin beside me shake, its occupant obviously suffering a fit.

          "Lanz... get over here!" ordered my landlord, "...what the devil is he saying?"

          I couldn't recognize what was being said as words, let alone language... I saw the back of Lanz von Liebenfels as he bent over, then arose in reply to Crowley. "Ein zahnstocher... I think that he calls for a toothpick..."

          And now I heard the madman himself cry out "Nein! Nein!... der Vrauhnstocher!" as it appeared, still Lanz pulled a toothpick out from under his clock, bending down to place it in the lunatic's mouth. The pleas of the chosen one dribbled off into sobs... and it was at that moment Marinetti chose to throw the switch of the Ray, bathing our circle in blue light...

          "Not yet, you imbecile!" Lanz roared.  "Is it your intent to radiate us all into the Overworld? Was your mother an ape?"

          "An ape that should have cracked your skull and scooped out your brains for her supper!" returned the future patriarch of Futurism.

          "Shut up!" Crowley howled to both.

          On the other side of the philosopher's casket, I could see Mathers... unobserved by Crowley... slip a flask out from beneath his robes and swallow, quickly. My becoffined companion writhed all the more, I saw a hand flung out, pointing upwards, heard one last pitiful cry...

          "Eine stoche!..."

          Farr's improvised pillow allowed me a view upwards into the trees and it was there, between the branches of a great fir that probably had sprouted within a few years of the Highland clearings, centuries ago, that I beheld the face of Bram Stoker peering down; the author and theatre manager placing a finger to his lips, then shrugging as if realizing the futility of his warning.

          "At least it works," Crowley returned from the machine, " ready! When the Praemonstrator has reached his climax of invocations and Bennett has sacrificed the dragons so their blood sanctifies our Master and His miserable donor... that is the time for Vartanian's device to be activated... and what is your problem?"

          Evidently, Crowley had caught Mathers at his surreptitious tippling... the laird MacGregor, having emptied the last of his courage, tossed the flask aside, hoping it would be lost in soft grass... instead it had struck one of many stones of this, Macbeth's blasted heath, shattering loudly as a cannon's fire.

          "Shittr!" Yeats jumped. "Well, prepare yourselves... Praemonstrator?" he coaxed.

          I saw Adepti slip black masks over their faces, moving into a circle with Mathers by my head... it was no ectoplasm the Praemonstrator emanated - rather, fumes of malt. Guido van List was escorted to my feet by Willie to one side, Maud Gonne at the other... above, Stoker had made himself almost indistinguishable from the limbs of the fir... an owl scrutinizing a dance of rodents.

          "God is the circle," Mathers began behind me, rather hesitantly, perhaps the aqua vitae of his flask had not been strong enough, "...the serpent's mouth whose centre is everywhere - yet nowhere. Sanctity's white arrows of wisdom dart from its center, but the black arrows..."

          An unseen Adept sneezed and Crowley became enraged.

          "Who was that! Confess! Nobody?... well, begin again MacGregor, no... best continue..."

          "We shall see the streets run red with blood!" the Praemonstrator improvised with rather more vehemence while those Adepts whom I could see fidgeted under their dark robes, "for there is no spiritual change coming without political change also, as we believe our enlightened doctrine of Freemasonry..."

          "Stop!" interrupted Maud Gonne. "Take that part out!... we are no Masonic order, that is a tool of Tudors, our common adversaries..."

          "Maud..." Yeats complained peevishly, but the harridan in black would not be contained.

          "What do we uphold? Liberty?" Maud asked of the circle. "For Scotland, Mathers... for Europe and the East, for Ninevah, even, and realms of the spirit; deliverance from beneath the lion's paw. For Ireland... Willie, are you truly patriotic? As I am, I declare my intent to wed!"

          "My phoenix!" Yeats cried out in ecstacy.

          "...I shall marry Jack MacBride - and if we do not succeed in liberating Ireland, our children shall!"

          Yeats reeled as if subjected to a stout blow with a blackthorn stick. "Maud... precious..." he appealed, "MacBride's a lout, a common street brawler...

          "He's a man of decision, Willie, not a dreamer..."

          Yeats crossed past the swaying, mumbling List to confront Gonne and Crowley shrieked at him...

          "The circle, you Dublish arse! You've broken the circle!"

          "As long as it is a night for revelations," I heard the voice of Florence, invisible... off to my right... "I intend to go with, Allen, to Ceylon..."

          "You... what?" Crowley raged, "you most certainly shall not!"

          And now it was Crowley who broke the circle, even giving my casket a sharp push as he brushed past, screaming at Farr and at Bennett, who'd entered my field of vision holding the squirming carpetbag up as a shield against the wrath of Frater Perdurabo. Yeats and Gonne continued their dispute and, now, the French began a row across the circle as Mathers, exasperated, made an attempt to soothe his nerves (as was told to me after) by flipping the sacred dagger again and again, until he inevitably sliced his hand, whereupon he let loose with a chain of drunken oaths...

          And then disorder ceased... upon the simple act of Marinetti's firing of his revolver.

          "Return to your abracadabrae over these cadavers, Signores," glowered the Imagnifico, "...and the rest of you, return to your places. And all the world thinks we Italians are childish..." he chided, with an operatic sigh.

          Mathers apparently began to shake his sleeve, for bloody drops spattered my coffin. The circle reformed, he resumed his invocation...

          "Accept, O great Abra-Melin, this humble offering...

          "Now is the time," Crowley barked, "... Lanz, turn on the Vartanian Ray!" And our shadowy circle was promptly illuminated by blue light. "Bennett... the dragons..."

          I saw the carpetbag raised by Frater Iehi Aour, only to be interrupted by the Praemonstrator who stepped forward, bloody fingers visible above my forehead. "By Lucifer... this is a private ceremony, man, who are you?" he demanded of a figure approaching from the opposite wood, raising his walking stick at the Adepts...

          "Stop!" the stranger called out. "Willie... where are you, who are you? Have you gone wholly mad?"

          "Father?" the poet questioned tremulously.

          John Butler Yeats, reaching that figure whom he believed to be his son, yanked the hood off with such force that it also caused the bandages to tumble from the face of Guido von List, which face was spun into the path of the blue Ray...

          "Gott in Himmell!" exalted the runemaster, rubbing his brow, "...Sehen! Sehen!"

          Then, List fell to his knees, offering up prayers and praises to certain random, Germanic gods.

          "Sorry, Hans," the elder Yeats apologized, advancing on the masked, hooded figure of Maud Gonne, "...Willie is that you?"

          "Dedi!" shrieked Crowley. "Prove your loyalty! Kill the intruder... your father... as I should have done to my parents! Be a man, Willie... he is an old fool,  and alone... keep the ritual going. Bring out the snakes, Bennett, another sacrifice will only potentiate the spirit of Overman..."

          John Yeats turned in his direction. "Not quite alone, whoever you are... is that Crowley? Here come your neighbors!" he waved.

          And a small but angry brigade of Scots farmers and traders poured from the wood, bearing clubs and spades, pitchforks... even rolling pins. Marinetti drew his revolver, fired, but I heard only an empty click... stepping back, he blundered into the Ray, causing it to swerve at an angle, its full force catching Frater Iehi Aour, blinding him in the act of opening his parcel of snakes on the edge of the other coffin. An asp slithered into my neighbor's casket, an Egyptian cobra, a rattling viper from the American territorial desert and more... green, yellow and black, as much enraged by imprisonment as by the grunts of their mad philosopher-gaoler, grunts which soon escalated into horrified shrieks. And then the smoldering cloak Crowley had hurled over the generator burst into flames...

          Still, the mob closed in...

          "People up here don't care for city folk bringing their odd ways up from London," remarked John Butler Yeats.

          "Sehen!" Guido List repeated, "Sehen!" He rose, throwing his arms wide as a prophet, giving excuse to a dour crofter to interpose himself, make a fist and wallop the rune prophet on the jaw.

          "Sehen this, Bismarck!" the Scotsman replied.

          With its source of power burning and sputtering, the Vartanian Ray began flickering… the hullaballoo of night stopping and starting in the jerky motions of a cinematograph inexpertly threaded. Falstaffian men following the elder Yeats began to lay into the Adepts with an earnest enthusiasm. Howls still emanated from the casket of the Ipsissimus and a putrid, yellowish gas began seeping upwards. Its tendrils snaked across my nostrils and I began to choke... but could, still, only stare up helplessly at the trees and the moon until these were, in turn, blotted out by corrosive blue and yellow fumes.

          Then Stoker leaped downwards from his perch...

          The Vampirist held up a needle...

          "Only a moment, young man..." he promised, jabbing my arm "...when we found vestiges of tubocurarine in Crowley's Chancery flat... that poison which the Amazonians dip their arrows into, which is called curare by the layman... I had a chemist prepare this antidote. It derives from the calabar bean of the Niger delta... of course it's fatal when taken alone, but there's a means of modifying the damage, bringing the occult humours into balance, so to speak..."

          And Stoker removed an enormous toad from his coat.  The beast squirmed, croaked wrathfully then stared with bulging eyes as formidably (if helplessly) as I must have stared back. Stoker then plunged it head first into my mouth, leaving its hind legs to dangle over my lip as its urine spurted, trickling down my chin.  Twisting and writhing in the blue light and yellow smoke, the toad fairly gagged me as the war cries of the mortal and Hermeneutical combatants resonated over the plain.

          "Just suck on it a spell, as you might on a drop of hard candy," Stoker advised, "...and, when you've quite recovered the facility of your limbs and your lips, why... just spit him out! Then, go to the lake... we have boats."

          In the sputtering light of Vartanian's Ray, combat between the locals and Golden Dawn transpired strangely as I felt the occult paralysis recede. Two cloaked figures struggled… not with the Scots but with each other, now… a farmer chased a third past my feet, jabbing a pitchfork into his behind. Then a mound of melting flesh arose briefly from the neighboring coffin with a horrible cry, a tentacle slapping across my belly. Instinctively I shuddered... finding I could move a hand, a knee... with a painful lurch I sat up, spat out the toad and gazed at the transformation occurring beside me with absolute horror. Not only was the man with mustaches changing, he... it... was growing! The coffin burst... more tentacles reached for me as I rolled out of my coffin; a reptilian snout arose, snapped at my trailing arm, narrowly missing...

          The Ipsissimus of the Golden Dawn, monstrous... as Yeats later lamented in his poetry... "deformed beyond deformfity"... the Starke von Ober smitten by an even loftier hand...

          The beast screamed through teeth, gargantuan... rapierlike.

          The Adepts and mob alike ceased fighting at this roar as I rolled away across the grass... terrified by the monster that had grown to the height of three men, no... six! The Vartanian Ray flickered faster and faster, then exploded in a shower of blue sparks as the monster seized a victim in its huge, grinding jaws and a voice cried out...

          "To the lake!"

          A number of small boats were moored at a pier extending outward from Boleskine upon Loch Ness, towards these came Scots and Hermeticists, all fleeing the bellowing Beast. Stoker caught one of my arms, John Yeats the other and I was dragged bodily to the shore where a man wielding a long pole waited in a barge... by the light of his pipe, I recognized Mark Twain.

          "Leave matters to an old Mississippi hand... come aboard... but not you!"

          And Twain raised his pole to knock a prospective stowaway in his or her black cloak into the shallows of Loch Ness. Yeats and Stoker pushed me aboard, as I tumbled, Twain poled away from the shore of Boleskine and its newly-hatched Beast there, which creature raised its head to the moon, howling in terror or, perhaps, an exultation quite beyond mortal understanding.

          Gathering itself upon its coils... it dived into Loch Ness! "There!" Stoker pointed.

          The Beast's head surfaced not six feet from our pitifully small boat... Twain raised his pole to jab one yellow eye glaring upwards at us, but the creature blinked and… uttered no murderous roar but, rather, a pleasant, almost grateful ululation… sank beneath Loch Ness, its tail rising and falling, almost as if in salute.

          John Yeats and Stoker lifted paddles from the floor and began paddling towards the far shore and its good road back to Inverness. And I... all my senses returned but strength flown, I could do no more but sag upon the bottom of the barge, watching the winter stars and, in a waking dream, recite words of the younger Yeats, whether written before Boleskine or after... from its memory, has blessed age removed this from my purview...


"I swayed upon the gaudy stern 


The butt-end of a steering-oar


And saw wherever I could turn


A crowd upon the shore..."



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