Mr Zed

MR Zed

I shall not reveal the precise locality, nor even the country, where the following story began. If this account falls into the hands of anyone who was familiar with any of the three men concerned or with any of the later developments he will know. The full facts, which shall be discovered in my papers after my death, I have disguised, for personal reasons.

For a year I had been travelling in the East, visiting historical sites and towns. I had come to one once celebrated spot, now important enough to contain one moderately expensive hotel. Too expensive for my budget, that is to say. I slept outside it in my sleeping bag on the ground. I had decided to remain here for about three days, I liked the atmosphere and there were a few things to see. When not looking at the old ruins I was happy just to hang about, drink cold drinks and smoke cheap cigarettes, gazing at the natives and the beautiful surroundings. Staying in the hotel, as far as I was aware, were three Europeans, a Dutch professor, of archaeology I think, whom I shall call X, his younger assistant Y, and an Englishman of about 40 whom I shall call Mr. Z (and pronounce Zed, not American style Zee), something of an eccentric, travelling for much the same idle motive as myself. X and Z seemed to have become friends in the short time they had been staying there.

One Tuesday morning there was a hullabaloo in the hotel when all three were discovered to be missing. At this point I turn to a passage written the day before from the Englishman's diary, which as I shall explain, later came into my possession.

Monday XXXXXXX Woke up this morning feeling energetic, so I decided to walk to the small temple on the hill across the plain to the east. I spoke to Hons at breakfast, and he said the journey would be difficult, even dangerous. Had to brave taunts and stones from the children as I set out. The brightness was dazzling and the heat overpowering. The ground is virtually desert, stony and difficult. When I came to the hill, after what seemed like several hours, I could not find a way up. Then I noticed, to my astonishment, two very grubby children playing, who pointed a way round the back.

There must be an underground spring here, there is a certain amount of vegetation, thistles, brambles, etc. I climbed up the hill to the back of the temple, but still could not find a way in. There is a small passage blocked by a column, with what looks like a very worn carved head on top of it. I managed to climb to the top of it, to look over, but was disappointed to see only a narrow passage with the sheer rockface on one side, and a smooth wall of black stone on the other. I shall try again later. I am sitting down writing this in the shade of the column. I won't go back for a couple of hours. I'll wait till it cools down a bit.

I hope the next part of my story is not too hard to follow. I am not an experienced writer and sometimes have difficulty making my meaning clear. On the evening of the Monday I saw the professor and his assistant drive off in the direction of the temple in their jeep. They did not return that night and as I mentioned, the following morning there was consternation in the hotel. Having a good idea where they had gone I offered to go and look for them. The whole village was excited by the business, and there being no motor transport available I set out on foot with a party of villagers. We found the jeep empty, close by the hill. There was much talk of bandits. After a brief look around, my companions suddenly lost all their enthusiasm and said they felt hungry. After dinner, they said, they would telephone the police in the nearest town. They pointed up to the temple and none of them felt like climbing up to it. Nor did I for that matter. I did not even have the energy to walk back. I decided to stay, and said I could drive back in the jeep. They seemed to think this a stupid idea, but I was insistent, so they gave me a few bottles of water, one of them lent me his gun, and they all went off. I slept for a couple of hours in the shade of the rock, then got up and began to look around. Thus it was that I discovered the pathway up to the temple round by the back, where I found the diary lying on the ground in front of the column. I sat down and read it, then climbed with much difficulty to look down into the passage, which smelt like a latrine. Quite a foul place it was, though I could hardly imagine how it could have got like that. When my eyes had got used to the darkness I made out what appeared to be three bodies lying down inside, presumably dead. On the wall, just above the top of the column, the Englishman Z. had recently carved his name.

I thought it might be possible to squeeze through the gap above the column, and jump down into the passage, but getting out again would not be so easy. I did not want to become a fourth corpse.

Then I noticed a figure dressed in saffron robes like an Indian holy man, clambering through what was evidently a crack in a roof at the other end of the passage. He climbed down to the bottom and was followed by two others. There was something chilling and sinister in their appearance. I thought of bandits, and wondered what to do with my rifle. I have no experience with guns. "Hold it there!" I called out, in English, and pointed the barrel at them, before recognising the three Europeans from the hotel. I shouted an apology and explained my presence. I asked if they had found an entrance on the other side, and Z. told me that they were all ghosts and that they had come to reclaim their clothes from the bodies.

There is something very frightening in meeting a ghost, it so contradicts everything one thinks of as reality that one starts to doubt one's own sanity. So I suppose I was more terrified than if they really had been bandits. Like many of my generation I have had some experience of terrifying hallucinations and alarming as this was, still it was less so than the worst of those had been. My heart was beating very fast, and with my finger on the trigger I decided try to stay calm. Ghosts are only terrifying because we do not believe in them, I told myself. I would keep in reserve a sceptical agnosticism, perhaps even turn myself over for psychiatric examination on my return home, but nonetheless try to comprehend the logic of this strange hallucination.

There hung about the trio the horror that attaches to the recently dead, combined with the contagious atmosphere one associates with vampires.

Z was the only one who was able to talk at all coherently. He seemed neither interested nor reluctant to explain what had happened. It was information casually imparted because I asked for it. He spoke at length, looking blankly up at me, answering the questions I directed to him through the hole above the column. By carving his name, with hammer and chisel (a vandalistic practice I utterly deplore) he had incurred an ancient curse. He was not altogether clear about it. He appeared to have activated a current of destructive blasting energy, which remained effective till the dawn of the following morning. The temple had, I gathered, been sacred to Demeter in some manifestation or other, and he had somehow been taken under her protection. Although dead he had been given the rare privilege of a high degree of conscious posthumous existence. His two companions, having entered the passage to retrieve his body, had also experienced the blasting, but not to its maximum force, only enough to kill them and to give them a spectral consciousness about equivalent to that of a man trying to wake up in the morning.

Z. had a degree of power over the other two, he could compel them to move according to his will and even to appear quite rational and coordinated for short periods. I later learned that the present strength of his own will was not likely to last for more than a few months. He showed himself agreeable to the suggestion that I should help him, as much as was in my power, to achieve his desires. He said that he needed an earthly contact and now was a good time to make it. He knew that the clarity of his posthumous mind was now at its peak, and felt that he wanted to do something, take advantage of his uniquely privileged position. He was not quite sure what he wanted to do or how he would do it, though he did have an idea that money was what he needed, and that he would somehow get hold of some. He also had a sexual obsession, something about becoming an incubus. Nothing very edifying there.

He told me how to find the way into the temple through the crack in the roof. I climbed down to join the three and helped them remove the clothes from the bodies and change into them. Then we all climbed out and returned to the hotel in the jeep. X Y and Z checked out and we all drove to the next city. There we parted, but first Z gave me a formula, a kind of magical telephone number, by which he could always be contacted.

To those brought up on Sherlock Holmes stories there is always a rational explanation, one which does not by-pass the accepted laws of nature. Settled in my hotel room I was quite prepared to accept that I had been the victim of a bizarre leg pull. My doubts vanished as soon as I tried out the formula I had been given, to see Mr. Z manifest three feet in front of me. That first time I banished him almost immediately. As I soon verified, I could summon him to appear wherever in the world I happened to be. He would materialise out of a mist, and I could talk to him as naturally as I can talk to any of you. I carried out a few tests to prove to my own satisfaction that I was not insane, and was incontrovertibly in touch with a supernatural presence. I even invoked him a few times with other people around, and nearly scared some of them out of their wits.

So I established beyond all reasonable doubt that ghosts exist and that I was in touch with this one. Further propositions followed. If spirits exist, I reasoned, then it seems more than likely that magic is true and that there are means of controlling and binding them to obey the word of a magician. Make one concession to the supernatural, I argued, and one might as well go the whole way. True the Church says one is damned for such things, and Solomon is supposed to be in Hell, but they wanted to say the same about Galileo. I resolved to use my three spirits to make myself rich.

Mr. Z was not at first keen to help me. I took rooms in central London and did a lot to assist him with his own moneymaking schemes, materialising faery money and exchanging it for real. But I never got to see much of the real money, only enough to live on. As for the other side of his ambition, that was against my principles. I decided it would be dishonourable to act as pimp for a ghost and refused to help him. He did not object too much. He seemed desperate to find some higher purpose, a worthwhile use of the short time he had in his unique condition. His quest, as far as I could see, was futile and meaningless, whereas if only I had the power to bind him to my own will I knew well enough what I wanted and that I should be certain to succeed. I researched the secret writings of King Solomon and his followers, studied the power of mystic talismans and diagrams; I learnt the Hebrew alphabet, investigated the hidden lore of gemstones, perfumes and incenses, the occult properties of Christian symbols and relics. I got hold of every book on magic I could procure, brushed up on my Latin, got a ticket for the Library of the British Museum, ransacked Watkins and Atlantis bookshops, scoured the library of the Theosophical Society in Gloucester Place, and the collections in the Warburg and Wellcome Institutes. I would take years to become a master magus; I had six months at most.

One day my ghost told me he had accumulated enough money and wanted to spend it. One thing that struck me in the period in which I knew him, from his death till his departure to Hades, was his utter and absolute selfishness, which I assumed must be a property of the ghost state as such. His first idea was to buy a plot of land somewhere and construct a huge stone monument to himself. Something rather more impressive than Stonehenge. I refused to assist in any such nonsense, and by this time, without me there was little he could do. I attempted to bargain with him. He had other schemes, none of which came to anything, but seemed to use up vast sums of money. He would buy worthless things at exorbitant prices, then sell them for next to nothing. He would gamble heavily and arbitrarily. None of it gave him any pleasure, nor did anything else as far as I could see.

For short stretches of time he could mix socially, walk out into the town and perform normal activities like travelling by public transport, buying things in shops, going to the betting shop. After a few minutes of such behaviour, however, he would find a way to dematerialise, invariably without attracting attention.

Of his two companions I saw very little after our return to England. Occasionally he would summon them to appear, but they were by now imbecilic, impotent phantoms, of which little use could be made.

Until such time as I had mastered the technique of controlling spirits, which I never succeeded in doing, though I nearly wrecked my health in the attempt, I could do no more than ask him politely to help me, or try to reach some kind of contract. The only purposeful action of which he seemed at all capable was that connected with his very limited obsessions. I was certain from what he had told me at the time of our original agreement that if I brought anyone else into the secret I should forfeit his confidence for good, and never see him again. On this particular matter he was immovable, and would never change his mind.

There, I'm sorry to say, the story fizzles out. He wanted me to help him, and did not exactly refuse to help me in return, but his power of purposeful action was fading all the time. I was myself becoming obsessed and unbalanced, as a result of my magical studies. The time came, far far too soon, when he lost his intelligence, and all his effective power. He became more and more difficult to contact, and then ceased appearing altogether.

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