Book: The Mammoth Book of Extreme Fantasy

Previous: Master Lao and the Flying Horror, Lawrence Person
Next: Eloi Eloi Lama Sabachthani, William Hope Hodgson

I

…let him know that the word translated “everlasting” by our writers is what the Greeks term aionion, which is derived from aion, the Greek for Saeculum, an age. But the Latins have not ventured to translate this by secular, lest they should change the meaning into something widely different. For many things are called secular which so happen in this world as to pass away even in a short time; but what is termed aionion either has no end, or lasts to the very end of this world.

The City of God – Saint Augustine

This is an attempt to assemble such facts (hard and soft) as may yet be found about a remarkable man who seemed to be absolutely balanced and integrated, yet who developed a schizo-gash deep as a canyon right down the middle of his person. Dr George Drakos says he developed three or four such schizo-gashes.

This is also an attempt to record some of the strange goings-on in the house on Harrow Street – and it is a half-hearted (no, a faint-hearted or downhearted) attempt to record the looser goings-on in the subsequently forever house on Harrow Street. The subject is a man who had everything, took hold of something beyond and was broken to pieces by it. Or was not.

“I want to be the complete man,” John Penandrew used to say to himself. “I want to be the complete man,” he would say to all of us who would hear him. Well, he was already the most complete man that any of us had ever seen. He had been a promising young man: as Don Marquis has said of himself, and had been a promising young man for twenty years. But Penandrew didn’t show those twenty years at all, except in his depth.

His eyes, his shape, his everything was just as all had been when he left Monica Hall twenty years before: he had been a gilded youth then – or at least he had been plated over with a very shiny substance. He still was, he was still that youth, but in his depth he was a full man, sure and mature, and with the several appearances together and unconflicting. For he was also the boy he had been thirty years before, in no detail changed. He had been a loud-mouthed kid, but smart all the time and smooth when he wanted to be. Now there was a boy, a youth and a man, three non-contradictory stages of him looking out of his grey eyes. His complexity impressed me strongly. And it also impressed four men who were not as easily impressed as I was.

There were five men who knew everything; and there was myself. We met loosely two or three times a year. The five men who knew everything were this John Penandrew (he was in banks as his father had been); Dr George Drakos, who was Greek and who used to go to Greek school in the evenings; Harry O’Donovan, who was a politician as his fathers had been forever; Cris Benedetti, an ex-seminarian who taught literature and esoterica at the university; and Barnaby Sheen, who was owner of the Oklahoma Seismograph Enterprizes.

These five men were all rich, and they all knew everything. I wasn’t and I didn’t. I belonged to the loose group by accident: they had never noticed that I alone had not become rich or that there were evident gaps in my information.

We had all gone to school twenty years before to the Augustinians at Monica Hall and minds once formed by the Augustinians are Augustinian forever. We had learned to latch onto every sound idea and intuition and to hold on forever. At least we had more scope than those who went to school to the Jesuits or the Dominicans. This information is all pertinent. Without the Augustinian formation John Penandrew would never have shattered – he’d have bent.

“I’ve decided not to die in the natural course of things,” John Penandrew said softly. The other four of those men who knew everything didn’t seem at all surprised.

“You’ve given enough thought to it, have you?” Cris Benedetti asked him. “That’s really the way you want it?”

“Yes, that’s the way I want it,” John Penandrew said. “And I’ve considered it pretty thoroughly.”

“You’ve decided to live forever then, have you?” Barney Sheen asked with just a hint of boyish malice.

“Naturally not to live forever here,” Penandrew attempted to explain. “I’ve decided to live only as long as the world lasts, unless I am called from my plan by peremptory order. I am resolved, however, to live for very many normal lifetimes. The idea appeals to me strongly.”

“Have you decided just how you will bring this about?” Dr George Drakos asked.

“Not fully decided. I’ve begun to consider that part only recently. Of first importance is always the decision to do a thing. The means of carrying it out will have to follow that decision and flow from it. There is no real reason why I shouldn’t be able to do it, though.”

“No, I suppose not,” Cris Benedetti said thoughtfully. “You’re an intelligent man and you’re used to tall problems. But there have been other intelligent men and, as far as I know, none of them has done this thing.”

“Do you know of any really intelligent man who has decided to do this and then has failed in the doing?” Penandrew asked.

“No, not if you put it that way,” Cris admitted. “Most problems remain unsolved simply because they have never been tried seriously and in the proper framework. And there are legends of men (I presume them to have been intelligent) who have done this thing and are doing it. Not very reputable legends, though.”

“Well, what is it then, an elixir of youth that you’ll be seeking?” Harry O’Donovan asked in his high voice.

“No, Harry, that idea is clearly unworkable. It couldn’t be taken seriously by anyone except a youth,” Penandrew talked it out carefully. “It will not be an elixir of youth: it will be an elixir of all ages – that, I believe, is the crux of the matter. I do not want to be only a youth forever or for a very long time – I am more than just a youth now. It would not be possible to remain a youth forever.”

“Then what?” O’Donovan demanded. “I don’t believe you’ve thought this out very thoroughly, John. Do you want to live for a very long time and you getting older and older and older all that time?”

“But I have thought it out pretty thoroughly, Harry. I will get old only at one end, only in depth. I will become a complete man – and then still more complete. I believe there is no record of any really complete man’s ever dying – that’s the thing.”

“I believe there is no record of any complete man at all,” George Drakos said. “That’s really the thing.”

“There’s probably been a large handful of us,” Penandrew said. “I know pretty well what I want to do and I know pretty well what it consists of. I will become every aeon of myself simultaneously; then I will have become a complete man – and then I will not die. There is a meaning within a meaning of the old word aeon. Aeon means ages. But the pleroma or plentitude is made up of substantial powers called aeons. I maintain that these two meanings are the same. In Gnosticism the aeon is one of the group of eternal beings that combine to form the supreme being – all are eternal and simultaneous but no one of them would be eternal out of combination. I believe that there is analogy on the human plain; and I intend to become that analogy, to be all my ages simultaneously and forever, to be every aeon of myself. I will be forever a boy, forever a youth, forever a man and forever an old man. I’m already something of this multiple appearance, I’m told. I guarantee that I’ll be a boy forever. I’ll nail down that end.”

“And what happens when the old man in you gets older and older and dies?” Drakos said.

“I don’t know what will happen but I’m certainly interested in knowing, George. Possibly I will assume a still older man and then a still older. I’m not sure there is a necessary connection between very old age and death. It may be, though, that the extreme aeons of me will pass over the edge and give me a foot in each world. Id like that. The possibilities are almost endless. But I believe that the boy in me, the youth in me, the man in me will live for innumerable lifetimes.”

“Oh brother!” Harry O’Donovan sounded in his high voice. “And how will you be doing it all? Not by talking about it, I’ll bet.”

“Yes, I will do it by considerable talking about it and by much more thinking about it,” Penandrew ventured. “It is not a thing for gadgets or apparatuses, though I may employ them some. It is a thing, I believe, of mental and physical disposition and I tell you that I’m well disposed toward it.”

This John Penandrew who lived in the big house on Harrow Street was married to Zoe Archikos. Barney Sheen would like to have been married to her. So would Cris Benedetti and Harry O’Donovan. So would George Drakos except that she was his cousin. Zoe was a creature that has become fairly rare these last twenty-five centuries: a blonde Grecian, a veritable Helen, a genuinely classic model with that brassiness that must go with it. The bronze age understood the necessity of this high brass, but we have forgotten.

Oh, she was form and life, she was perfection and brindled passion – and she was also the blast of a brass horn. John Penandrew was fortunate in having her; she should have been elixir enough for anyone. But he was fortunate in almost everything.

“The fathers tell us that Adam, in his preternatural state, enjoyed all ages at once,” Barney Sheen said, “so it is not strictly true that he had no childhood, even though he was created adult. He was created all ages at once. It was a good trick till he broke it. And, by coincidence, I recently ran into the still surviving legend of the one man who, since Adam, is most persistently believed to have been all ages at once and to be still alive.”

“Coincidence, which is simultaneity, is valid when it touches a simultaneous man as I am becoming,” John Penandrew said with what would have been pomposity in another man. “Ah – where did you run into the latest legend of Prester John, Barney?”

“In Ethiopia. I have several crews doing petroleum exploration work there and I visited there recently. Some of the simple local workmen talk of the everlasting man as if he were a present-day presence.”

“Near Magdala, was it?” John Penandrew asked with sudden eagerness.

“About seventy miles northwest of there, on the Guna slopes.”

“I was sure it was near. Magdala, of course, is a modern name-form of old Mogadore, the legendary kingdom of Prester John.”

“That’s impossible,” George Drakos cut in. “Anyone with even an elementary knowledge of the Amharic language would know that the one name could not change into the other.”

“Anyone with even an elementary knowledge of anything would know that both names are from the Geez and not the Amharic language,” Cris Benedetti sneered, “and there is a strong possibility that the two names are the same, George.”

(It is sometimes confusing to have these acquaintances who know everything.)

“But you can’t do it John, in Ethiopia or anywhere; you can’t be the simultaneous man,” Cris continued. “You haven’t the integrity for it.”

“Why not, Cris? I pay tithes of cummin and that other stuff. I love my wife and many other persons. I have a pleasant way with my money and I do not grind the faces of the poor. Why haven’t I integrity?”

“You have common decency, John, but not integrity,” Cris said. “I use the word to mean unified totality and scope – that is integrity in the theological sense. I use the word as Tanquerey uses it.”

(They used to study Tanquerey’s Dogmatic Theology in the seminaries. Now they study rubbish.)

“There are several ways I can go about this,” Penandrew said. “I believe that we originally had this simultaneity and everlastingness as a preternatural gift. Then we were deprived of it. But it remains a part of our preternatural nature. This means that we must be deprived of it all over again every day or it will flow back into us. It could be as simple a thing as actinic rays depriving us of this handy gift of everlasting life. I’ve studied these possibilities a little. I could have a series of silver plates or baffles set into my head to combat the rays. That’s one way.”

“What’s the other ways?” Barney Sheen asked.

“Oh, proper disposition of mind and body. Induced mystic states combined with my natural powers and proclivities. I believe that there may be gadgetry employed as a trigger – but only as a trigger for the alteration. I believer that it will be mostly realizing a state of being that already belongs to us, something that belongs to our preternatural nature.”

“Or our unnatural nature,” Barney said. “You didn’t use to play so loose with words. What’s the other way, John?”

“Oh, I may go and find Prester John and learn how he’s been doing it these thousands of years,” John Penandrew said. “And I will go and do likewise.”

“Did you ever hear anything like that, Laff?” Barney asked me. “Has the subject ever been handled in your – ah, pardon my smile – field?”

“Several stories have handled the subject,” I said, “but not in the variation that Penandrew wants to give it.”

II

Saying: O grandfather,

the little ones have nothing of which to make a symbol.

He replied, saying:

…they shall make of me their symbol

…the four division of days (stages in life)

they shall enable themselves to reach and enter…

Legends. Appendix to a Dictionary of the Osage Language – Francis La Flesche

John Penandrew was out of town for about a year. When he came back he had a different look to him. Oh, he had simultaneity now! He really had it. It was the boy he had been thirty years ago; he was the youth he had been twenty years ago; he was the man he should have been now and he was also an older man. He was all these several persons or ages at once, much more than he had been before – all of them, completely and unconflictingly. He had pulled it off. He was truly the simultaneous man. But that isn’t exactly what we mean when we say that he had a different look to him.

In all his simultaneous persons he had something just a little bit lopsided about him. One eye was always just a little bit larger than the other. There was more than a hint of deformity and there shouldn’t have been this in a complete man.

But he was the complete man now. He had done it. He had pulled the coup. He was wound up all the way and he would live forever unless he flew apart. This was no fakery. You could feel that he had done it.

He lived in the big house on Harrow Street with the brassy classy Zoe and they lived it to the hilt. There wasn’t ever anyone in such a hurry to have so much fun so fast. They were perfervid about it. But why should he be in such a hurry when he had forever?

Well, he had money and he had talent and he had Zoe. The boy was strong in him now (he had been a loud-mouthed kid but smart all the time and smooth when he wanted to be); the youth was in him very strong (he had been a gilded youth or at least a very brassy one); and the man and the older man were vital and shouting in him. The Penandrews were cutting a wide swath and they were much in the papers. But what was John’s big hurry now?

“Add one dimension, then you might as well add another.” He grinned with a grin a little too lopsided for a complete and simultaneous man. “Speed, that’s the thing. Speed forever and lean heavy on that hooting horn.”

But it was another year before myself and those five men who knew everything were all together again.

John Penandrew lolled with his lopsided grin as though he were too full of mischief to talk. And Barnaby Sheen wound into one of his cosmic theses, of which he had hundreds:

“Just before the Beginning there was a perfect sphere and no other thing.” Barney spoke in his rich voice. “At least it supposed itself to be a perfect sphere – it had no imperfect spheroid with which to compare itself. It suspected that it was revolving at a very high rate of speed, such a rate of speed that it would immediately fly apart if the rotation could be established as fact. But in relation to what point could it be rotating?

“It was not in space – there was no space beyond it; how could there be? It could not be in motion, of course, there being nothing relative to it. Neither could it be at rest – in relation to what could it be at rest? It was not in time nor in eternity, there being nothing to pose it against in either aspect. It had no size, for there was nothing to which it might be compared – it might be a pinhead in size, or a mega-megalo. It had no temperature, it had no mass, it had no gravity – all of these things are relative to other things.

“Then an exterior speck appeared. This was the Beginning, not the sphere’s lone existence. The mere speck was less than one billionth to the billionth power the diameter of the sphere and was at much more than a billion billions of diameters from it. Now there was both contrast and relationship.

“Now there was size and mass and temperature, space, time and motion; for there was something to relate to. The sphere was indeed found to be in furious and powerful rotation, now that it could rotate in relation to something. It was in such rapid rotation that it deformed itself with its own centrifugal force, it ruptured itself, it flowed apart completely and everything thence is from its pieces.

“What happened to the speck? Was it consumed in the great explosion? Probably not. Likely it had never existed at all. It was a mere illusion to get things started. Say, I consider that an excellent ‘In the Beginning’ bit. Can you use that, Laff? Can you make a piece out of that piece?”

“I will use it some day,” I said.

“The important thing about that speck was its duration.” John Penandrew licked the words out with a tongue that now seemed a little lopsided. “It lasted for much less than a billionth of a billionth of a second. It was in contrast to the short-duration speck that the then-happening cosmos acquired its delusion of immortality.”

“You are sure it is a delusion, Pen?” Cris Benedetti asked anxiously, as though much depended on the answer.

“Yes, all a delusion,” Penandrew grinned. “We cosmic types call it the workable delusion, and we will work it for all it is worth.”

“Tell us the truth, Penandrew,” Barnaby Sheen said gruffly. “Did you really do it? And how did you do it?”

“I really did it, Barney. I’ll not die. I’ll dance on your graves and on the graves of your great-great-grandchildren. I’ll make a point of it. I’ll dance naked on the graves as David danced before the Ark.”

“Why such frenzied pleasure in our going, Pen?” Cris asked with some hurt.

“It’s the boy in me. He’s a bit monstrous now and he’s me. I can’t change him or any of us or it will all collapse. It’s mine. I’ll hang onto it. I’ll bow my back. I won’t give an inch ever. I’ve got a mind-set in me now-that’s a big part of it.”

“Yes, I believe you did pull it off, Penandrew,” Barney said slowly. “How did you do it, though? By elixir? By plates against the rays? By Prester John’s secret? How?”

“Oh yes, I finally lifted the secret from Prester John himself and now I will not die in the natural course of things. But I’ll not tell you about it. You don’t need to know about it. Why should you want to know?”

“We also might want to avoid dying in the natural course of things,” Doctor George Drakos said softly.

“No, no that’s impossible,” Penandrew shouted. “I won’t be done out of it by anyone. I’ll hold onto it for dear life – and that is exactly the case of it.”

“Is it an exclusive thing?” Harry O’Donovan asked, “and it can’t be shared?”

“It cannot be shared,” Penandrew said harshly. “It isn’t anything like you think it is. It isn’t at all as I thought it might be. It became a freak in its general withdrawal. It’s a jealous thing. It’s a snake in the hand and it must be held tightly. It isn’t the preternatural thing I thought it would be. It’s an unnatural thing now – and only one person in the world can have it at a time, for all time. I won’t let go of it. Hack my hands off-but I won’t let go of it!”

“How is Prester John?” Barney Sheen asked in a strong low tone.

“Oh, leave off the legends,” Harry O’Donovan sounded angrily. “If there was a Prester John ever – he’s been dead these thousand year.”

“No, About eighteen months,” Penandrew said. “I found him alive. And now he is dead.”

“You killed him,” Barney said simply.

“How would I kill him?” Penandrew protested. “He died of old age and God knows that that is the truth. He crumbled to dust. Why should he not have died of old age? Do you know how long he had been around? He saw Rome fall. And Jerusalem.”

“What did you take from him?” Barney Sheen asked.

“I took the jealous thing, the only thing. And now I will not die in the natural course of things. He wanted me to take it. He had been trying to give it to someone for a long time.”

“That is the truth?” Sheen asked.

“That is the truth,” Penandrew said. And it was the truth, we all knew that, but it was a lopsided truth. Penandrew left us suddenly then.

“May the sun come up on him crooked in the morning,” Harry O’Donovan said bitterly.

But in the big house on Harrow Street, John and Zoe Penandrew lived it up to the haft. It was speed forever and lean heavy on the hooting horn. There was something a little disreputable about the couple now – if that word can be used of rich and positioned people.

John grew older only in the old man of him. The boy in him was still the boy, the youth still the youth, the man still the man. He was living at least four lives at once, all at high speed and all forever. Zoe became more buxom and more classic, more brassy, more lively. If she aged at all she did it entrancingly and disgracefully – but not ungracefully. There was nobody like her. She was full and overflowing always.

All the fun that could be crammed into every day and night! Speed, and the dangerous teetering that goes with very high speed. They went on forever.

Actually they went on for ten years. Then Zoe left him and he broke up.

No. He broke up first and then she left him.

“I lost it,” he said, “and I couldn’t have. Nobody could ever have got it out of my grip.”

III

For his duration too there is a word- the word

Aevum or Aeviterntiy, the duration of that in which

its essence or substance knows no change:

though by its accidents it can know change…

Theology and Sanity – F J Sheed

It was then that the doings in the house on Harrow Street took a peculiar turn. Things had been hectic when Zoe was there; they had been noisy and publicized. But, whatever Zoe was, she was always High Brass. She’d had class. Now the house and happenings degenerated.

John Penandrew brought those three nephews of his into the big house to live with him. They were a crass bunch. There was something pretty low about them, and they brought John pretty low. A man should not be ashamed of his poor relations, of course: he should help them if they need help; and perhaps it was the essence of charity that John should take them into his own house. John had real charity in his heart; there is no taking that away from him. He also had baser things there and they began to pour out of it now. The three nephews were bums and John Penandrew became a bum along with them. Rich bums are the worst kind.

And there was no doubting the kinship. All three of the fellows had the family look strongly. They were loudmouths, as John had always been a little – but they were not smart and they were not smooth, as John could be when he wished. They all had what I can only call a facial deformity and they had it to a grotesque degree where John had it only to a minor extent. It was that lopsided look. It was that one eye bigger than the other. Coming out of that clan, John Penandrew came by his own slight deformity honestly.

There were low-life doings at the big house on Harrow Street. The four Penandrew males each seemed to bring in seven cronies worse than himself. There were riotous doings there and the black maria was a frequent visitor to those doors. There was the aroma of stale evil in all this and John hadn’t used to be a bad sort of man.

John Penandrew talked rationally but sadly whenever we came across him.

“I should never have taken the thing,” he said. “I knew before I finally seized it that it was wrong and unnatural. And, having taken it, I should have been willing to let it go easier when I found what deformity it really was. ‘The corruption of the best is the worst –’ do you remember when we were taught that? This excellent gift was taken away from us long ago, and for a reason. I had it as a tainted and forbidden remnant, and I held onto it like a snake in the hand. But I will not easily give up any strong idea that I have held. I have an intransigent mind. Do you remember when we were taught to have that? I held it too tight, and it shattered me.”

And in fact John Penandrew was a shattered man now – or a splattered one. The sap had been all drained out of him, as though the nephews were sapsuckers or bloodsuckers who preyed on him. He weathered badly. Now he looked older than he was and he no longer looked all ages at once. He aged monstrously – he leered and lolled. He seemed to be returning to most unaromatic dust.

He had given up his chairmanships of the boards and his associations with the banks. It was their loss. He had always been very smart in matters of business and policy. He knew that that was finished with him now. He took his money and went home.

And that home was a shipwreck. The middle nephew was as queer as a glass-egg goose. He had a stack of morals charges against him and John Penandrew had thousands of dollars of bond out on him. He was an almost personable fellow, but he was slanted – how he was slanted!

The youngest nephew was no more than a boy – a cat-killing, window-breaking, arsonous vandal who led a wild pack and always left a trail right up to the Harrow Street house. What things he got away with because he was not yet adult! And him much more intricate than the adults who had to deal with him and much more deadly – it is pretty certain that he killed larger and higher things than cats and broke more fragile things than windows.

The oldest nephew, a twisted humorist, an almost good fellow, was the instigator of the endless series of sick parties held in the big house, the procurer of the dozen or so florid witches who always came with the dark. He was an experimenter in the vices, an innovator of reputation.

John Penandrew had become an old and dirty caricature of himself. There was something artificial about him now, as though he were no more than a mask and effigy propped up on a display float at some garish carnival. The shape he was in, John Penandrew surely could not go on forever and he didn’t.

After about three years of cohabitation with the nephews, John Penandrew died. That should have wrecked the legend. Maybe not, though. Well, it really seemed that he did not die in the natural course of things. There was something most unnatural about the course of his dying, as though he had turned to dust before he died; as though what died was not himself at all; as though the dying were an incident, almost an afterthought.

He wasn’t much more than fifty years old. He looked ninety. Zoe didn’t come to the funeral.

“He isn’t in very good shape right now,” she said. “I’ll wait a few months, and then go back to him when things are looking a little better with him.” She wasn’t at all distraught; she was just not making sense. She left the country the night before the funeral.

After the funeral mass, after the Zecharih Canticle when the body is taken out from the church, Barnaby Sheen whispered to the priest in the vestibule:

“I don’t believe you’ve got him all there.”

“I don’t believe so either,” the priest whispered back.

Zoe inherited.

The nephews? No, they didn’t get anything.

There was something a little bit loose about those nephews. They weren’t – ah – seen again. No trace was found of them, either backward or forward. They simply hadn’t been. In the legal and recorded sense, at least, John Penandrew hadn’t had any nephews. He had had attributes, we suppose, but not nephews. Well, peace to the pieces of the poor rich man!

It’s a moral paradigm, really, of a man who reached for too much and was shattered by it. It’s a neat instance of final moral compensation and seemliness. Yes, except that it wasn’t near; that this wasn’t the final part of it; and that the compensation was not particularly moral.

It was not neat because there were pieces left sticking out of it – a primordial brass horn that surely wasn’t Gabriel’s; and three, at least, noisy persons in the house on Harrow Street.

But it was not stated that the nephews were not heard from again. They were heard. Oh how they were heard! They were the noisiest unbodied bodies that ever assaulted honest ears. They and their florid witches (unseen also) made the nights – well – interesting for quite some months in that long block on Harrow Street.

This was the first phase of the Haunted House in Harrow Street. It was featured in Sunday supplements everywhere, likely in your own town paper. It was included in books like Beyond the Strange. It became a classic instance.

And that was only the first phase of the Haunted House episode. The next phase was not so loudly trumpeted (don’t use that word in this case) to the world. There was a tendency to play it down. It was too hell-fire hot to handle.

Zoe came back to town, bright and big and brassy as ever. A classic personage. Zoe. How the classic has been underestimated and misunderstood! But she came in almost silently, muted brass with only a hint of the dazzle and blare.

“I believe that things will be looking a little better with my husband John now,” she said. “He should be better composed by this time. I am his wife. I will just move in with him again and be the proper wife to him.”

“Move in where?” Harry O’Donovan asked aghast, “into the grave?”

“Oh no, I’ll move back into the house on Harrow Street and live there with my husband.”

“Zoe, did you take the, well, thing from John?” Barney Sheen asked curiously.

“Yes, I took it, Barney, but only for this short while. I’ll give it back to him now. He may be able to cope with it this time. I don’t need such things for myself. This time I am certain that we will have a long and entertaining life together. All things coalesce for us now.”

“Zoe, you’re not making sense. John Penandrew is dead!” Cris Benedetti shouted.

“Who isn’t?” she asked simply. “I’ll be you though, Cris…” (raucous horn blowing in the far distance) “that he’s more alive than you are at this minute. Or you or you or you or you. If any of you were as alive as he is, I’d have you.”

“You’re out of your wits, Zoe,” George Drakos said and blinked. There was something the matter with Drakos’ eyes, with all of our eyes. Somewhere a brassy shimmer of the second brightest light that human eyes will ever see. The four men who knew everything did not know Zoe Archikos: much less did I.

Zoe moved back into the house on Harrow Street. And how was it with her there? Noisy, noisy. Some things at least coalesced for her or into her: among these, the florid witches who used to come with the dark. Their voices had been so jangling because they were broken voices, part voices. Now they were together in that dozen-toned instrument, the red-brass, the flesh-brass. They had never been anything other than wraiths of her. Now she was all one again.

There was some evidence also (shouting, grisly evidence) that the aeons or nephews or attributes had all coalesced into John Penandrew again.

Well, that is the sort of thing that a town must live with, or die with; but it will not live on a normal course.

Listen. No, not with your ears! Listen to your crawling flesh! Did you yourself ever meet a man after you had seen him dead? It does give you a dread, does it now? There was no need of elaboration. John Penandrew was a humorist but by the time he had become a little edgy of horror humor. There was none of that coming through the walls business. He came in normally by the door and sat down.

“Jesus Christ!” Barney Sheen moaned. “Are you a ghost, John?”

“The very opposite,” Penandrew said softly. “In fact, I had to give up the ghost.” Penandrew was that kind of humorist, but even bad jokes are shocking from a man who’s supposed to be dead.

“It wasn’t all of you in the coffin was it, John?” Barney asked in wonder.

“No. Only my older aspect went over the edge. I once thought that this would give me a foot in each world and I was curious about it. It didn’t work that way. I have no consciousness of that aspect now; nor, I suppose, has he of me. I shuffled off the mortal coil there. I’ve won. That’s something. Nobody else ever won at it, except those like Zoe who were already preternatural.”

“You’re a damned zombie, Penandrew!” Harry O’Donovan cried in shrill anger.

“Can a zombie be damned?” Penandrew asked. “I don’t know. Tell me, Cris. You were the theology student. For damnation is there not required a nature of a certain moment? But I’m of another moment now. Momentum, I am saying, which means a movement and a power and a weight; and moment of time’ is only part of its meaning and only part of mine.”

“Damn your Latin! You’re a deformity,” O’Donovan cried.

“Yes, I’m a deformed curve, the one that never closes on itself,” Penandrew said with his lopsided smile. “Barney Sheen’s ‘In the Beginning’ bit left something out. There was what might have been a perfect sphere, yes. There was, possibly, an exterior speck for contrast. I say that there was something else, one curve that would not close when everything else closed into the rather neat package that called itself The Cosmos, the Beauty. There was one shape left over. I am part of that other shape. Try being a little lopsided sometimes, men. You’ll live longer by it.”

That was the last real talk that we ever had with John Penandrew. He never sought our company again and we sure never sought his.

Nobody else lives in that long block on Harrow Street now, but the noises are over-riding in that whole part of town. There is nothing the law can do. It is always that beautifully brassy woman there when they call and always with her artless answers:

“It is only myself and my husband together here,” Zoe says, “and we taking our simple pleasures together. Is that so wrong?” Even coppers get that funny look in their eyes when they have been hexed by the prevading sound of the brass winds.

Old boys and young men often gather near that house at night and howl like wolves from the glandular ghosts that the strange flesh calls up in them. But even the most aroused of them will not attempt the house or the doors.

The Penandrews are a unique couple taking their pleasures together all at once forever, and so violently as to drive the whole town stone-deaf- like those old stone-deaf statues, their only real kindred? For these two will not die, in any natural course of things, not with that big loud bright brassy horn blowing in a distance, and at absolute close range, all at once, everywhere, unclosed, lopsided. It’s the ending that hasn’t any end. The Stone is found, and it’s an older texture than the philosophers believed. The transmutation is accomplished, into brass. Classic and koine: this is the Zoe who dies hardly forever; this is the Penandrew, the man of the wrong shape.

The four men who know everything understand it now.

And I do not.

Previous: Master Lao and the Flying Horror, Lawrence Person
Next: Eloi Eloi Lama Sabachthani, William Hope Hodgson