Forced Perspectives – Snippet 02

The woman’s face was sharply visible now in the yellow glow, as was the sand for a dozen feet around. Wystan quickly untied the ribbons holding the portfolio closed and flipped open the cover.

“Don’t look at this,” he said as he lifted out a square of one-by-eight pine board, onto which he had painstakingly glued little wooden carvings — a figure like a T and two wavy lines. He had arranged their pattern very carefully, following a precise description provided in a letter from Aleister Crowley, the British ceremonial magician.

Wystan didn’t look at the board either. Even while putting it together, he had looked at only one corner of it at a time, and always in a mirror.

For more than twenty years, Claude Wystan’s goal had been to find a way out of himself, and drinking provided only partial and temporary escape. He had studied in secret occult colleges in Leipzig and Beirut, and read a suppressed text of The Book of Enoch in the Ge-ez language, and had found and opened a lost tomb in the Umm El GaÊ»ab necropolis by the Nile and taken from it a five-thousand-year-old scroll that had escaped the destruction ordered by the Pharaoh Horus Aha. Ultimately Wystan had traced to Oslo a photograph of the Ba hieroglyph, and blackmailed the owner into allowing him to carve a high-relief copy. And DeMille had buried it.

This hieroglyph he had brought to the burial site was a rare variant of the name of Nu, the Egyptian god, or force, of negation and dissolution; just as the lost panel he was seeking here tonight was a variant but still valid — dynamically valid — version of the name of Ba, the god or force that made identity and consciousness possible. The two were opposites, and he was confident that the buried Ba image would be drawn to the Nu image, illuminated by an extension of the Baba Gurgur fire.

He set the Nu board upright in the sand in back of the lantern, facing inland.

He flexed his fingers and sat back, watching the sand. The lost board with his Ba sigil on it was a yard tall, and its motion should be easily visible.

For several long minutes, while the witches of the San Pedro coven shivered and shifted in their blowing robes, nothing happened. Streamers of sand whirled past in the lantern’s glow.

Then, “Behind you!” called Mrs. Haas, pointing toward the dark ocean.

Wystan turned and saw a point of agitation in the sand on the seaward side of the lantern; something was making the sand hump up, and it was moving slowly, laboriously, away from them.

“That’s got to be my sigil!” he exclaimed, and he leaped up and began running after the moving tumble of sand.

But why, he thought desperately, is it moving away from the Nu hieroglyph?

He knew he’d lose it forever if it got into the sea, to which it was apparently being drawn; and it was moving faster, its long edges visible now as it tossed up bursts of sand that blew away on the wind. He dove forward onto the sand, his hands grasping the sides of the retreating wooden board, clinging to it even though one of its old nails dug into his right palm.

“I’ve got the bastard,” he gasped, rolling over with it on top of him; then, more loudly, “Kill that damned lantern!”

He heard a clank behind him, and the glow of the lantern became brighter; then some hasty scuffing, and the light was gone.

The board’s tugging toward the sea stopped. Wystan sat up, and as his breathing and heartbeat slowed, the fingers of his unwounded hand were feeling the damp board, tracing once again the figure of a hawk with a bearded man’s head, which he had carved in Oslo many years ago…and which in 1923 he had surreptitiously attached to the south wall of the Pharaoh’s City set, in among a cluster of other, inert hieroglyphs.

He had understood that DeMille would film a fairly lengthy scene with that section of the wall in the background, but as it happened the scene was shot in front of the main, west-facing wall. If it had been filmed in front of the south wall…Wystan believed that everyone who attentively watched that scene in the eventual movie, and thus kept the hieroglyph image in their attentions for the better part of a minute, would unknowingly allow the force that was Ba to enter their minds, and would thus unite with Wystan in a transcendent group-mind.

More misfortune followed the re-location of the scene. DeMille had arranged for religious services to be available to the crew, and a Catholic priest and an Orthodox rabbi had together approached the director and told him that certain dreams their congregations were having had led them to believe that some genuinely dangerous sigil had been incorporated into the otherwise innocuous hieroglyphs on his set. DeMille had affected to scoff at the idea…but when filming was finished he buried the entire set, including even the rows of twenty-five-foot-tall sphynxes he had trucked up from Los Angeles.

And so Wystan had tried to replicate the variant Ba hieroglyph, from memory — but he no longer had any hope of seeing the original photograph, even if it had still been in Oslo, and when he stared at his attempted replications, none of them had given him the remembered ringing in the ears and quiver of mild electric shock.

But Wystan was still determined to rid himself of his own individuality; not to have it end in death, in which event he might find himself facing some afterlife judgment and be held accountable for his past actions — but to exist instead, in at least some attenuated way, past the death of his body, perhaps for centuries, in an entity so big that his individual sins would be effectively negated.

The worst thing he had done was known only to himself, unshared with anyone, and loomed bigger in his mind because of that. He had ignored his father’s deathbed command to acknowledge a previously unknown illegitimate half-sister; and when, years later, Claude Wystan had idly traced her, he had found that she had eventually fallen into poverty and killed herself. No one besides himself knew about his betrayal of her, and of his father, and his greatest wish now was that he might lose the awareness of it himself.

Ba could provide that. Wystan had needed to recover the buried hieroglyph sigil, and he needed at least a few credulous minds to combine with his, once he had found it — and so he had joined Mrs. Haas’ coven and, by default, had become its High Priest.

And now he had finally recovered the Ba hieroglyph, the sigil. The Nu hieroglyph that had called it out of the sand would be inert, now that the extension of the Baba Gurgur fire in the lantern was extinguished,; but even so, he didn’t want to let the two sigils get within several yards of each other.

“Pull that smaller board out of the sand,” he called to the witch who was standing over the dark lantern, “and put it back in the portfolio — That cardboard folder! — and close it and tie the ribbon. Now we all walk back to Mrs. Haas’ auto, and you stay out in front with it, away from me.”

He got to his feet, shivering, and clasped the recovered Ba hieroglyph board firmly under his arm. With luck, he thought, by midnight we’ll be back at Mrs. Haas’ house on Paseo del Mar in the Point Fermin area of San Pedro. And we can finally blow out the sacrilegiously employed Paschal candle and make some coffee and then sit down around the kitchen table and all have a look at Ba. The minds of these few women and himself would not be enough to engender the sort of autonomous, transcendent entity in which he yearned to lose himself, but they were a start.