I height Perdurabo but I am sick of it. To endure this dismal dross sickens me. I shall avaunt! Hie me away from these citied planes, this procession of moments that constitutes time, this extension of dimension in all directions that constitutes space, this A to Z within which have arisen only prisons and orisons. I shall find the keys that open doors most never see and I shall return with that which shall grant me dominion, that which shall place in my possession the power to escape all prisons, to direct all orisons at my own newly acquired godhead.
I was sleeping in the fire. Or trying to.
I was obsessed with breaking the chains of space and time that bind us to this single plane of existence; I wanted to explore other realms, realms that exist all around us, if we could only see them. I found clues in the writings of the alchemists, but I should have known that they had hidden as much as they revealed in their complex symbolism and allegory. So there I was, trying to become more like the salamander, trying to learn to live in elements other than air. All I needed was one glimpse of the other worlds, worlds that once seen could never be unseen again. So I was sleeping in the fire.
I had gained entry into the tiny hotel that occupied part of the ground floor of the shoddy lodging house I lived in and had created a makeshift bed of fire using the gas stove and an assortment of trays filled with cooking oil. The initial discomfort had passed, and I was beginning to feel almost snug when a sudden involuntary spasm caused flaming oil to overturn directly onto the naked flames. There was a loud explosion that hurled me across the kitchen and then a powerful jet of flame that would not cease until the gas was completely exhausted or firefighters arrived. Naturally the explosion attracted the attention of several people, and there was soon a crowd clamouring at the entrance to the grimy kitchen that was to have been the stage of my first step to the other worlds.
By this time, some of my clothes had caught fire, and I was resigned to a drawn-out and painful death, a culmination that was only orthogonally related to my desired outcome, but perhaps to be welcomed in any case. Fortunately, this was not to be my fate. All of a sudden, there was an upswell in the noise outside, culminating in the entry of a formidable figure, one who seemed impervious to pain and heat as he marched up to the gas range and, heedless of the white heat the fixtures had achieved, shut the valve on the gas cylinder. In a while, the gas flame died down. Next, the man flung a large, thick blanket over me, swaddled me in it and rolled me out of the kitchen, putting out my flames in the process. There was a sudden hush from without, and a brief pause before the assembled company would inevitably rush in on us with all their inane questions and statements. My saviour used this moment to lean over me and address me in a whisper.
“Were you trying to kill yourself? Tell me quickly.”
“Uh…” My voice came out as a hoarse croak. Impatient, the man repeated his question. “I wanted to … sleep in the fire…and wake in another world…not the next world…”
The man nodded and hauled me over his shoulder. Outside, he brushed aside the crowd without a word and carried me up to his room. He laid me out on a lumpy old vinyl-covered sofa and brought me a glass of water. He then briefly but efficiently examined me. I’d worn thick, cotton clothes in multiple layers for my experiment and was not badly burned except on my face and hands. He opened a box in which I saw various bottles, tubes, strips of pills and medical implements. He produced a salve and proceeded to rub it on my burns.
“Are you…a doctor?” I rasped out. I was a medical man myself and recognised some of his paraphernalia as being quite specialised and up-to-date – although other things seemed archaic, esoteric.
He shook his head. “I have studied many things. But no qualifications.” He spoke in a soft voice, not much louder than his initial whisper. I later learned that he rarely raised his voice over the bare point of audibility. It was an unexpected delicacy in so large a man. “So why sleep in the fire?”
“I…” I paused wondering how much to tell this strange, formidable man. I looked into his eyes and saw a certain salutary alienation there. It won my confidence. “I am trying to break the chains.”
“What chains? Life?”
“No. The chains of the elements. Of space and time. The chains of …. this dimension.” I would have explained more, but a fit of coughing overcame me.
“To what end?”
“To…travel…to find…realms beyond…” I sputtered.
The big man nodded, and suddenly smiled. “Good enough! You rest. We will talk later.” I was already beginning to fall asleep as the man covered me in a light blanket.
When I awoke, I was alone. It was mid-afternoon according to the wall-clock, but thick curtains drawn across the windows kept the room dark. There was a reading lamp left burning on the desk. I walked over to the light. On the desk, I saw a single notebook, an old cardboard-bound long notebook of the sort that you can purchase at any stationery shop, something with a few colourful drawings with labels – of birds in this case – to add to the educational value of a product that was mainly used by schoolchildren. On the cover of this notebook, someone had stuck a note that read: ‘Start here. Back by 4.’
By the time I finished reading that first notebook, it was past sundown. Unnoticed by me, my host had re-entered his room and was sitting on his bed, watching me intently as I read. I only saw him when I finally finished the last page, closed the book and sat back to ponder.
“Oh, you’re back!” I said, startled.
“I have been back for nearly two hours. What did you make of it?” This last question was accompanied by a nod in the direction of the notebook I had just set aside. He hunched forward a little in my direction, waiting for my answer.
“I-it-I..” I paused, sorted through the jumble of thoughts in my mind and then picked out my words with care. “I am fascinated. This is precisely the line of investigation that I have resolved to dedicate my life to. I see that you have been involved in this research for far longer than I, and I would be honoured if I may assist you in your future studies.” What I did not know, then, was that he had left things out, entire volumes that expanded on his deeper reasons for embarking on what he called the Black Pilgrimage. But more of that later.
The man nodded solemnly then leaned back a little. He sat staring into space, for just long enough to make me wonder if he had heard me at all, before he spoke again.
“Good. I’ve taken the liberty of packing your things and bringing them up here,” he said gesturing at a couple of familiar suitcases and few cardboard boxes piled up beside the door. “We can save on rent and pool our resources towards our studies. Does this suit you?” He looked directly into my eyes now, but with the same blank look as earlier. I was taken aback at the arrangement he proposed, but also thrilled. I longed to travel beyond this one reality, and this man seemed so close to the key.
“Yes, yes of course…of course, that would be perfect!”
The man nodded.
“Then it is decided. I will fetch the cot from your room in a while. But first, I must know how much of your medical training you still retain.”
“All of it; it has only been three years since I was barred from practicing.”
“Do you know the procedures for administering anaesthetics?”
“To an extent. I am not an anaesthetist, but I can manage.”
He pointed to another box, this one in between the bed and the desk. “In this box is a cage containing a rat. Please examine the creature and tell me what drugs you will need in order to render it insensate but not unconscious.”
I opened the box to find a very large rat confined within a very small cage. I had no idea how much it might weigh or what precise quantity of which drug was appropriate; so I made a guess and asked for what I estimated was a small dose of an anaesthetic used on children. The man nodded and got up. Before he left the room, I asked him to stop.
“What is it?” he asked, his voice tense as if he feared that I might be having second thoughts.
“Names,” I blurted out. “We don’t know each other’s names.”
“Oh,” he replied, relaxing a little. “I already know your name.” At the door, he stopped again, turned to me and added, “I’m Suresh.”
He returned in the evening; as the shadows outside had grown longer and darker, the flame within my mind had burned brighter and ever more fierce, fuelled by the revelations in Suresh’s notebooks. I had been searching for this flame for so long, a flame to warm the spirit, frozen by conspiracies of silence and falsehood, to light up my intellect, shadowed by the vast bulk of acceptable learning. The flame had a name: truth. The truth of what we are and how we may leap beyond into the other planes, the co-existent dimensions that are always with us, within us and without us.
Know this, worldling: reality is a gem, a glittering, precious object formed by patient, wise nature and shaped by the skilled hands of the demiurge. I dwell within this gem, but I shall not be confined to this one flawed facet; nay, Father Time, Mother Space, I shall know all your secrets, I shall follow the thread even unto the inmost light. I shall pierce the veil and gain that assistance which I need to become the divine being I truly am.
That evening we performed the first of many experiments that involved much rending of flesh, tearing of sinew, manipulation of glands and membranes, administration of drugs, herbs and potions. Cruelty or killing were never our aim, you must bear this in mind as you picture to yourself the two men, one large, dark, impassive, the other (me) small, skittish, even febrile in my excitement, hunched over the prone beast, its heart still beating, lungs still working, in a state somewhere between vivisected life and galvanised death. It didn’t feel any pain – we were careful to ensure that. They never felt any pain, of them. That was not the trail we were on. We did not seek to mutilate or murder, our manipulations were sacred mysteries; devout, loving essays in liberation. States near the edge of life in this dimension may be close to states considered natural in other, co-existent dimensions. Just as certain details in a relief sculpture may only be evident in a certain slant of light, these extreme states may enable us to perceive in things beyond, and partake of them.
After several experiments on ever larger and more complex organisms, augmented by readings from ever more sophisticated equipment that Suresh somehow kept procuring, we realised that we had gone as far as we possibly could with non-human subjects. We had established to our satisfaction that there was a fifth state in addition to sleep, wakefulness, coma and death – a neutral, receptive state, in which other worlds that lurk around us all the time may be seen and accessed.
We had also determined beyond all reasonable doubt that even when rigors began to set in, combinations of drugs could prolong the presence of certain so-called vital signs. But what of it? What did the organism perceive in that state? What was it that caused the appearance of REM and heightened adrenal secretions in these states?
We had to find a way to bring our subjects back, alive and hopefully whole, from the arcane states we had succeeded in inducing. “I call this the Valdemar Paradox,” Suresh told me one morning as we broke our fast on slightly spoiled fruit – I had modified my diet to match his own over time – “What good is it to voyage beyond only to have to end your journey in death’s realm? No,” he declared, deftly stripping an orange of its peel, “the thing is to be able to venture back and forth at will. We must be able to return from the Black Pilgrimage.” At the time, I accepted the phrase as a picturesque way to refer to our goal. Later on Suresh told me more about the Black Pilgrimage, but not everything.
We regretted it when some of our subjects died, and we disposed their remains with due care and respect. Those that lived, we released them in an empty lot behind the lodge. Suresh, again drawing on some mysterious resource, arranged for provisions to be delivered regularly to them. Some of them lived on in very strange forms, limbs flickering in and out of visibility, eyes focussing in terror or delight on things that remained unseen in this particular slice of reality. Sometimes, around these changeling beasts, we caught a fugitive glimpse of unknown vistas, of previously unseen beings. But these visions were too murky and fleeting to slake our curiosity, and they brought us no closer to crossing over, let alone bringing something back.
We needed human subjects. I had some experience in this area; my previous experiments on furtively procured human subjects had been the cause of my expulsion from the medical profession. I drew on some of my old contacts and soon Suresh and I were taken on as nursing staff at a charitable clinic for the homeless, run by the municipality in conjunction with a non-governmental organisation.
Among these wretched rejects and misfits we found much grist to our mill. The clinic stayed open around the clock, but apart from a watchman and cleaner, there was no constant staff; a couple of doctors attached to the clinic tended to delegate as much as they could to the nursing staff; on the night shifts, this essentially consisted of Suresh, myself and an aging lady nurse whose imbecility and deafness ensured that she would present no serious hindrance to our activities. Most often, the doctors would barricade themselves in a consultation room and sleep, or prowl around in the supply room, looking for things they could steal. Sometimes, they would absent themselves from work for days or even weeks on end. All this suited us perfectly well, but it also contributed to the end of this stage of our research.
Our previous experiments had shown us that energy was consumed by the body at a rapid rate during the transcendent states we induced. It was the lack of sufficient sources of energy that had led to the various unfortunate deaths along the way. So our very first endeavour was to find a sort of battery that the subject could draw on. We had already experimented with different kinds of intravenous and subcutaneous drips, electrical induction, prior reinforcement of the body”s reserves through an enriched diet administered for a sustained period and so forth. After a few weeks of experimenting on human subjects, we concluded that it was not a matter of better nutrients or electrical stimulation; there was a need for vitality itself in a more essential form. Air and fire from another living creature, a live pneuma transfusion from soul to soul, as it were.
We referred to old alchemical charts of the human body; we delved deep into Paracelsus and Charaka, correlating our findings with papers in the latest mainstream journals. Finally, we concluded that an electrode treated with a mixture of chemicals derived from herbs used in various shamanic initiations and inserted into an incision of a particular depth made at a precise point along the spinal column would serve as a tap, drawing out the vital spark needed to power our voyager-subjects. Our first forays with this new technique ended badly; both voyager and battery-subject began to vibrate frantically, giving off quantities of smoke. We broke the connection, but too late for the battery, which was reduced to a charred husk. Fortunately disposal of bodies is never an issue in these facilities for the indigent. We were convinced that our concept was sound. We only needed to perfect the details of execution.
What followed was a steady dash to success and the realisation of all our goals. At the height of our endeavours, we had perfected our power supply calculations and had a single voyager strapped to no less than twelve batteries, all drugged or merely too ill to struggle. Picture the scene if you will – twelve recumbent forms, laid out like markings on a sun dial, wrapped in linen, needles implanted at their energy centres, hooked up to wires, all of which lead to the kundalini chakra of the thirteenth, lying prone, also swaddled in linen. A dark supper at the intersection of dimensions. Suresh sits on a chair placed the voyager’s head, I sit on another chair at his feet, taking notes. On the boundary between life as we know it and death to this life (but birth into others!), a voyager will often offer narratives of his journey and even respond to questioning. It seems to be a purely reflexive action, one that leaves no conscious memories.
“Everything lives…the world lives…” The voyager is speaking, his words muffled a little but clear as if emerging from a very long tube. “Our world is still, perfectly still…I see the hills come out to play, I see the skies frolic…there are worlds around us, between us all the time…I see them now…I can touch them, join them…they are always with us. They are always with us!” These last words are uttered in an increasing rush as the voyager begins to convulse, Quickly, we break the connections with the batteries and he relaxes again. We move around the room, checking our subjects. One young boy, a crippled beggar admitted with pneumonia, has burned out. The rest are fine, so we replace him with another subject and resume the experiment.
“You said they are always with us,” says Suresh. “Who are they, and where are they?”
“The things of the other worlds. They are always with us, within us, around us. As we are with them. We co-exist, in layers that meet at many points, but we cannot see them, although some of them see us. They know we’re here. Sometimes they cross over.”
Again, the convulsions begin. We break the circuit, check our subjects. Everyone is alright. We decide to cease our investigations for the night, dismantling our equipment and returning our subjects to their rightful places. Later on, a combination of mesmerism and drugs would wipe the subjects’ memory. We further perfected our power source, so that a single battery, prepared suitably, could power the voyage with no ill-effects. Eventually, we wanted to carry on our experiments without any additional help, each in turn serving as battery to the other’s voyages.
A few weeks later, we were shut down.
It had nothing to do with the experiments Suresh and I were carrying out. Instead, it turned out that the constant pilfering of medical supplies by the doctors at the clinic had attracted the attention of some self-righteous watchdog body and the facility would have to be shut down until an investigation could be carried out. It didn’t matter. Suresh was confident that we had proven the worth of our method. It was time to stop testing the waters and to plunge in.
There was a reckless, brilliant man in the previous century. He was something of a scientist; he helped develop rocket engines, rocket fuel. In his free time, he was a magician, learning at the altar of Thelema but then going beyond Crowley. He took his cue from the old story by M.R. James. He did a series of invocations that were meant to bring him a helper. He brought forth a succubus, and she instigated him to destroy himself. He was on the wrong track, his obsession with playing with fire had set him astray. His plan was flawed, he was unwilling to offer the Logical Sacrifice in his zeal to offer to Ultimate Sacrifice. This is why I must lay may plans more surely. The dance of creation awaits me, the dance of destruction. The galaxies shall spin around my ankles like minnows around a leviathan. I shall find Chorazin. Not the village that lies in ruins in Israel, but a place that James caught a glimpse of when he wrote his story; a place that has rejected its own redemption and may conceivably contain entities that will aid me in return for helping them escape to a refuge in our own realm.
We set up our apparatus in our little room and started to take alternating voyages. I will never forget my first journey. I sat down in an old steel folding chair, and Suresh connected the various tubes and cables that would keep us linked. He injected me with anaesthetic, and I began to drift away. I was staring at the curve of a dusty lampshade as I faded away. Then, everything became dim before fading out completely. A moment later, I could see again. I thought I could still see the curve of the lampshade’s rim; as my sight cleared, it became part of a fruit, a large, spiky purple fruit hanging from something halfway in between a tree and a caterpillar. So far, so wonderland, and I was amazed.
I could still see our world; it was a faint overlay, like the image of the sun lingering in your vision. As it faded, the outlines of this other realm became sharper. So many unfamiliar things; perhaps even more unsettling, so many familiar things transformed. I saw mountains rise from their slumber, roaring with wild joy as they plunged through oceans of some viscid substance with a richly patterned surface. I saw the stars plunge down into pools of honey-coloured liquid where they lay pulsing out messages in a code I did not know. I saw tunnels through the air, tunnels inhabited by creatures that clung overhead like bats but had oversized tails with gleaming gemstones on their tips. I saw a race of pale, tall people burying their young at birth and harvesting them three months later, aged but horribly vital, and as pale and tall as their parents. I saw pathways that looped back on themselves but lead me far into new unknown realms when I tried to follow them. I beheld a man with a clock for a face smash a chunk of lead with a crystal hammer.
By now, our world had faded altogether. I walked up to Clockface and greeted him. He returned my greeting, and then we spoke, although I do not know in what tongue.
“What is this place?” I asked him.
“A place between places. A crossroads. Those are the paths,” he said gesturing towards the air tunnels.
“I am looking for a place…”
“You may ask me. I may answer.”
“Chorazin…some have called it Qurazin.”
“I know Korasen. A benighted place. There are always places like that, places that remain in their own filth. They are lost in that place, but perhaps some are ready for anything or anyone that will help them find a way. Even if it is not the way. Do I understand you well?”
I nodded. The man tilted his head forward, and his shoulders began to work. It was only when a clear liquid began to course across the clock that I realised he was crying.
“That is the way,” he continued, pointing to a tunnel beyond a checkerboard plain. I tried asking him more questions, but our own world was fading back into view.
Suresh and I undertook several more preliminary quests, all of which confirmed Clockface’s directions – although we never saw Clockface on these subsequent visits. However, on Suresh’s prompting I continued to search for signs of Korasen. Korasen was not my own main concern; I was glad merely to have broken the chains, to be able to wander between the co-existent dimensions. I was just a tourist, at best an explorer. It was Suresh who was the Piglrim. He was obsessed with becoming like a god, and he thought this place held the key. At some point in his research, he had decided that I should be the one to visit this place. And so I found myself speeding through the tunnel to Korasem at last, the bejeweled tips of the bat-like creatures” tails blurring above me as I flitted by, propelled by willpower.
On the other side, I came to a blasted, burned place. It had once been a mighty city, built from stone and throwing proud towers and domes up to the sky. Now, everything bore an air of decay, towers and domes were cracked and broken, twisted into strange shapes as if they had started to melt for a while. Even the sky seemed charred, somehow, burned out and hollow. I walked through the dusty, uneven streets of this city, looking for inhabitants. I had to find one of them, and attempt to make contact. Sometimes, I thought I could hear a chorus of voices whispering.
So weak. Tired, old. So very weak.
But I could not find the source of these voices. I passed a once-mighty palace on whose walls partly-melted bas reliefs still conveyed the story of a proud race. Vaguely humanoid, but strangely hunched and equipped with vast wings, these people had fought their way through jungles and swamps to settle in this place. A host of tutelary spirits helped them to move huge rocks and build a mighty city. These spirits taught them the arts of agriculture and the crafts of civilization, taught them of music and dance and raised them up from the powerful but crude tribe they had been. As time passed, members of another tribe came by – a tribe that was fleeing its own ruined home and looking for a place to settle. After initial conflicts, they made peace with each other. Eventually, the tribes intermarried and became one. It seemed like a good ending. What had gone wrong later?
As if I had spoken aloud, an answer came. it was the fleeting, whispered chorus I had heard before, momentarily stronger and more coherent.
They broke their compact.
Who did, I asked, but not aloud. I had come to expect the unexpected in these strange lands, and to adapt to it quickly.
The winged people. They turned away from us, ungrateful children, no longer content with the tutors of their childhood. They listened to the lying promises of the gods of the others. And forgot us.
I could see shapes starting form around me; immense, hunched shapes with wings. They seemed to be listening to the voices with a cringing attention.
So we bided our time and gathered our powers. We sowed poison in their fields, we infested their woods and metals and fabrics with weakness so that all they made was flawed and shoddy. Soon, they and their new kindred were merely savages, living in the proud citadels of their lost past.
But the destruction?
The outland gods – merely overweening lares or penates if truth be told – rose up to challenge us. The damage you see around you was caused by the residue of the energies we unleashed to squash them.
And now you rule your people again?
No. They have turned ever more from the faith; they fear and loathe us but do not worship us. And we expended too much energy destroying those others. We are a spent force, watching over a doomed race. So weak, tired, so very weak…
The voices slowly faded into a vanishingly soft lamentation. I looked around me. The forms still seemed insubstantial; insufficiently real after all they had been through. But the outlines were clear, and the likeness to the winged things in the bas reliefs was clear. These, then, were the people of Korasen. The unredeemed. I spoke to them, out loud.
“I have come from another dimension. I come to offer you passage back to a world where there is no bane over you, where you can start again.” Suresh had made me recite the words often enough; there would be no forgetting.
The forms around me began to disperse. None spoke, or uttered a sound, but I sensed a deep confusion and fear. Only one inhabitant lingered. I sat down on the uneven pavement and waited for it to make some gesture. Finally, it came up close to me. I stood; the being still towered over me. It reached down to me and, arms somehow substantial but still translucent, lifted me up toward it, into it.
Suddenly things changed; I saw things in triple vision. I saw Korasen through my own eyes, and I saw the faint outline of my own world; I also saw a third perspective, Korasen through the eyes of its own inhabitant. It was a searing, staggering vision, drawing on senses and frequencies the human mind has not learned to deal with. The experience was both shattering and ecstatic. I began to understand something of the bizarre state some of our early animal subjects had been left in after their experiences. I tried to blink my eyes, shake my head to clear it, tried to turn and flee, but my limbs no longer responded to me. Suddenly my body felt very small, very cloddish and ineffective. At the same time it felt vast and lonely, an isolated tower where I was locked away in the very highest room, gazing down helplessly as something animated a frail shell that used to cloak me.
I will not be dismissed or forgotten; I will not rest content in my own esoteric victories like some hermit, nor will I dwindle into a pitiful footnote in the chronicles of this world. I will rise from the ashes of my own burned life, I will rise like Daedalus yea, but with wings impervious I will tower over the world like a Colossus that shall never tumble. I shall bind a being to me, a being unredeemed and vile in its own world but capable of great things in this. Tremble, fool Faustus, scoff not vile Mefisto; I have drunk deeper of the waters of truth, I have scaled higher in the ranges of verity, and I shall conclude a bargain none has achieved before. I shall drink ichor from the flagon, I shall ride on the wings of the dragon. So let it be written, so let it be done.
I watch from my room up high in this tower as Suresh and a thing that wears my form consult with each other. Suresh is exultant, he gloats. I see emotions on his face I have never seen before. I see more emotion than I ever saw in our years together. Country after country falls before him, toppled rulers and defeated people bend their knees to the great unifier. No man has come this close to being king of the world. Now he is searching for a creature that can help him conquer other worlds.
And what of me? I am still trying to shake off the chains. Even this trap of the mind must have points of weakness. There are always other worlds around us, waiting for us to spot them. And once seen, they can never be unseen. I have tasted that fifth state, neutral, receptive, I have walked between worlds. I can do it again.
I am keeping my eyes open.
Jayaprakash Satyamurthy is fascinated by the coherence of delusion and delusions of coherence. His story in this issue was inspired by M.R. James and the life of rocket science pioneer/occultist Jack W. Parsons. He lives in Bangalore and its co-existent dimensions.