Our Lady of Darkness

Chapter 12

Franz made himself more coffee - it had been full daylight now for some time - and lugged back to bed with him an armful of books from the shelves by his desk. To make room for them, more of the colorful recreational reading had to go on the floor. He joked with his Scholar's Mistress, "You're growing darker and more intellectual, my dear, but not a day older and as slim as ever. How do you manage it?" The new books were a fair sampling of what he thought of as his reference library of the really eerie. Mostly not the new occult stuff, which tended to be the work of charlatans and hacks out for the buck, or naive self-deceivers innocent even of scholarship - flotsam and froth on the rising tide of witchcraft (which Franz was also skeptical about) - but books which approached the weird obliquely yet from far firmer footings. He leafed about in them swiftly, intently, quite delightedly, as he sipped his steaming coffee. There was Prof. D. M. Nostig's The Subliminal Occult, that curious, intensely skeptical book which rigorously disposes of all claims of the learned parapsychologists and still finds a residue of the inexplicable; Montague's witty and profound monograph White Tape, with its thesis that civilization is being asphyxiated, mummy-wrapped by its own records, bureaucratic and otherwise, and by its infinitely recessive self-observations; precious, dingy copies of those two extremely rare, slim books thought spurious by many critics - Ames et Fantomes de Douleur by the Marquis de Sade and Knochenmadchen in Peize mit Peitsche by Sacher-Masoch; Oscar Wilde's De Profundis and Suspiria de Profundis (with its Three Ladies of Sorrow) by Thomas De Quincey, that old opium-eater and metaphysician, both commonplace books but strangely linked by more than their titles; The Mauritzius Case by Jacob Wasserman; Journey to the End of the Night by Celine; several copies of Bonewits's periodical Gnostica; The Spider Glyph in Time by Mauricio Santos-Lobos; and the monumental Sex, Death and Supernatural Dread by Ms . Frances D. Lettland, Ph.D. For a long space his morning mind darted about happily in the eerie wonder-world evoked and buttressed by these books and de Castries's and the journal and by clear-cut memories of yesterday's rather strange experiences. Truly, modern cities were the world's supreme mysteries, and skyscrapers their secular cathedrals. Scanning the "Ladies of Sorrow" prose poem in Suspiria, he wondered, not for the first time, whether those creations of De Quincey had anything to do with Christianity. True, Mater Lachrymarum, Our Lady of Tears, the eldest sister, did remind one of Mater Dolorosa, a name of the Virgin; and the second sister too, Mater Suspiriorum, Our Lady of Sighs - and even the terrible and youngest sister, Mater Tenebrarum, Our Lady of Darkness. (De Quincey had intended to write a whole book about her, The Kingdom of Darkness, but apparently never had - that would have been something, now!) But no, their antecedents were in the classical world (they paralleled the three Fates and the three Furies) and in the labyrinths of the English laudanum-drinker's drug-widened awareness. Meanwhile his intentions were firming as to how he'd spend this day, which promised to be a beauty, too. First, start pinning down that elusive 607 Rhodes, beginning by getting the history of this anonymous building, 811 Geary. It would make an excellent test case - and Cal, as well as Gun, had wanted to know. Next, go to Corona Heights again to check out whether he'd really seen his own window from there. Sometime in the afternoon visit Jaime Donaldus Byers. (Call him first.) Tonight, of course, Cal's concert. He blinked and looked around. Despite the open window, the room was full of smoke. With a sorry laugh he carefully stubbed out his cigarette on the edge of the heaped ashtray. The phone rang. It was Cal, inviting him down to late breakfast. He showered and shaved and dressed and went.

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