BERKELEY, CALIFORNIA, MONDAY, SEPTEMBER 5,1960
All bright and glittering in the smokeless air, Dear God! the very houses seem asleep; And all that mighty heart is lying still!
IN JANUARY OF THIS YEAR A MASSACHUSETTS SENATOR NAMED John F. Kennedy announced that he was going to run for president of the United States. In February, the civil-rights protests that had torn the New South apart for the last four years escalated in Charlotte, North Carolina, and Elvis Presley--a white entertainer whose musical roots were in black "soul" music--received his first gold album.
In May, a U.S. pilot named Francis Gary Powers was shot down as he piloted his U-2 over Russia, sharply escalating the Cold War tension that held all Europe in the grip of a political winter, and the Queen of England's younger sister, Margaret, married Antony Armstrong-Jones in a wedding that captured the glamour-starved public imagination in a way that nothing had since Grace Kelly's fairy-tale wedding four years before.
1960. The year when the future itself was the New Frontier. But it was a frontier that was not without its Old World goblins. This was the year during which many in the world would awaken from their emotional paralysis and finally begin to total up the true cost of "the last good war"--the war before Korea, the war whose cost had been buried in the postwar economic boom. 1960 was the year that Adolph Eichman was finally arrested in Buenos Aires and taken to stand trial for his crimes inthe embattled state of Israel. His trial would be broadcast worldwide, cementing the new medium's--television's--place on the New Frontier, making it an integral part of a world that could still believe in the global classroom and the global village.
1960. It was a year when the Great Powers continued to divest themselves of colonial possessions that seemed to belong to another time. A year that saw increased fighting in an area of the world still often miscalled the Belgian Congo, and a fledgling United Nations that was starting to flex its international muscle (while the Vatican and its newest Pope, John XXIII, claimed the same "right and duty" to intervene in foreign affairs for itself).
That summer, a thirteen-year-old government agency called the Central Intelligence Agency, which had been formed out of the remnants of the wartime OSS as a direct challenge to the FBI's increasing power, would begin the disastrously unsuccessful series of assassination attempts against foreign dictators--notably last year's new Caribbean strongman, Fidel Castro of Cuba--that would cause its fall from grace a quarter of a century later when the details of its various attempts were finally made public. At the Democratic National Convention, the popular and well-connected young senator from Massachusetts would choose a fifty-two-year-old Texan named Lyndon Baines Johnson as his running mate, and the Soviet Union would continue consolidating the gains of its infant space program.
It was a year of hope and despair; twelve months that saw the appetite for freedom spread like wildfire through Asia and the Middle East while Europe groaned beneath the weight of an Iron Curtain rung down upon it by allies turned to enemies. Like a phoenix from the ashes, the Russian Bear had risen up out of the cinders of the Allied victory to menace the nations of the West anew, armed with weapons that made a war too terrible for sane men to contemplate. Civilization stood poised on the brink of nuclear hellfire, and the world powers jockeyed for position in the new world order that was to come.
This was the world that Colin Niall MacLaren had returned to four years before--an exotic country that had created television and defeated polio, and had relegated Colin's war to the mists of the dead past. When he'd left Europe, he'd left behinda West Germany barely beginning to come to terms with the enormity of its crimes, but a West Germany no longer controlled by the Great Powers, a political landscape shattered and recast in no one's image over the nearly twenty years he'd been there.
He'd spent almost half his life in exile of one sort or another from the country of his birth. He'd been in Paris when the German army had marched in; a tall, lanky young man with piercing blue eyes beneath shaggy pale brows and the indefinable air of the eternal student about him. He was barely old enough to vote in the land of his birth, but at nineteen years of age Colin was already old enough to know that the war he was called to fight was not one that could be fought in an American uniform.
He'd spent the first half of his twenties running and hiding and killing, fighting for the Light against the Black Order that had manipulated an entire nation into doing its will. Friendships were brief and intense, made more piquant by the threat of torture and death that was a bitter fact of life for those who set their will in opposition to that of the Thousand-Year Reich.
When V-E Day had come in '45, Colin's war had in one sense only begun, for now that the German threat was ended, he was called upon to cleanse and to heal, to purify the battlefield just as a doctor sterilized the wounds of battle, so that the healing could be clean and the patient could rise up and go on with his life.
And at last, as with all tasks, there had come a time when that work, too, must be counted as done.
Coming back to Manhattan in the spring of 1956 had been like returning to an alien future for Colin MacLaren. There were skyscrapers everywhere he looked, and more under construction. The new UN Building dominated the East Fifties, and the friendly trolleys he remembered from his boyhood excursions into the City with his parents were long gone--along with the grassy verges on Park Avenue and the five-cent cup of coffee. Fortunately, Colin wasn't faced with the immediate need to find employment upon his demobilization--his back pay, courtesy of the U.S. Army, saw to that.
Almost at once, Colin had fled the city for the security of his boyhood home in Hyde Park. His Scots father had died whenColin had still been a boy, and his mother had died while Colin had been in Europe, but the old white farmhouse was still just as he'd remembered it. The house was the bulk of his mother's estate, but there was enough left over to pay property taxes and most of the bills for some years to come.
And so, for the first time in more years than he wanted to think about, Colin MacLaren found himself both at liberty and at leisure, without any demands on his time and no one attempting to kill him. The Hudson Valley was still as peaceful and welcoming as he recalled; he surrounded himself with his books and his music and learned once more to sleep without having to keep an ear cocked for a knocking at his door or the summoning midnight ring of the telephone. He was free. The world was at peace.
The quiet of the country healed something inside him that he hadn't known was injured, but after only a few months at home Colin realized that the bucolic countryside was no place for him, and so, after much thought, he'd sold the old place and gone south again, back to the bustling city in the spring of 1957.
There, he invested the proceeds from the sale of the house and the small family legacy in the purchase of a three-story apartment building on a side street in the East Twenties. It was divided into seven apartments; Colin left the management of it in his landlord's hands and moved into the vacant apartment on the top floor. The building was an investment that would--he hoped--provide him with both a roof over his head and a certain amount of income in the years to come, freeing him to continue his true work.
If he could only still be sure of what that was. Once not so very long ago it had seemed presumptuous to plan for a future that included old age, and afterward, his work had been clear-cut, and clearly set before him. Now everything had changed. For an Adept on the Right-Hand Path, dedicated to the Great Work of Transformation, his responsibility was to provide aid to those in need and succor to those others who were, as he was, pilgrims upon the Path. But the country he'd come home to was throwing itself headlong into the twenty-first century, intent on only what it could see and hear, smell and touch and taste.America in the fifth decade of the twentieth century seemed curiously indifferent--even numb--to the Unseen World that existed just beyond the grasp of these five senses.
That disinterest was not enough to make Colin despair--despair, in any case, was a sin, and Colin had seen things far worse in the last several years than the cheerful contentment of the American middle class. But it did make him wonder what his work in the world was to be, and if he had indeed made the right decision by coming home.
But knowledge of the future was in no man's gift, and so Colin set aside his own worries and concentrated upon the work before his hands, just as his teachers had taught him. Colin hated superstition with a passion; if not for the superstitious fears of the average German of three decades before, the whole nightmare machinery of the Nazi Party would never have gained its death-grip on European politics. He would fight superstition when and how he could, with the greatest weapon at his disposal: knowledge.
He signed a contract to give a series of lectures on folklore and the occult in one of Manhattan's numerous "universities without walls," and set about making his new accommodations into a true home. His few personal possessions were quickly reclaimed from storage, and bookshelves built and fitted to the walls. Slowly he adapted to the bustling beat of "cliff-dweller" life. He bought a typewriter and began producing articles for a number of small and arcane journals; their publication brought him a small but carefully-tended list of correspondents and--very occasionally--a cry for the sort of help Colin was uniquely qualified to provide.
But something was still missing, and as winter drizzled its way into spring once more, Colin took to the streets, trying to relearn what he thought of as "his" city on his long, rambling walks. The street that held his brownstone bordered (at least in a realtor's imagination) on the northern edge of Greenwich Village, and most evenings, after his other obligations were finished, Colin found himself walking the Village's twisted streets and byways.
He was looking for something, that much he knew, but whateverit was, he did not find it there--or at least, he did not recognize it if he did. More and more as the weeks passed, Colin realized that this was not the place that he belonged. He did not fit in here--not into this bustling New York, and certainly not among the scraggly poets and alienated philosophers in the coffeehouses of the modern Bohemia.
Colin instinctively disliked them and their rebellious culture even as he feared that the emotion he felt came not from what they were but from a lack within himself. The plaintive "folk" singers at places like Gerde's Folk City only made him remember how much he preferred the savagely constrained passions of opera to the almost atonal folk music that filled Folk City and venues like it.
But as he found himself--against all training--dismissing those youngsters who had never gone to war as a generation without discipline, he was finally disturbed enough by his feelings of anomie to share them with the only other exoteric member of his Order currently in America: Dr. Nathaniel Atheling.
It was a raw grey day, and the wind whipping in off the river cut like a knife. The yellow-brick bulk of Bellevue Hospital looked unpleasantly animate, as though at any moment it might get up and walk. This far downtown, the Brooklyn Bridge, not the Empire State Building, dominated the skyline. Colin shivered as he hurried toward the glass doors marked ADMITING.
Atheling had been a member of the Order's Lodge in Cairo, but Cairo had not been his home. He'd come to the United States immediately after the war, one of the stateless persons that the global conflict had created. Atheling had a medical background, making the transition easier--once he had requalified, he had taken a staff position at Bellevue.
As the rich and even the middle class continued forging inexorably uptown, Lower East Side hospitals like Bellevue bore more and more of the brunt of the poor and immigrant population's needs for physical as well as mental health care.
Like that of most men his age, Colin's childhood had been scarred by the Great Depression. Poverty was foreclosure anddebt, clear-cut and easily recognizable. He didn't think of what he saw here as destitution, but he knew it made him uneasy. Odd to think of America as a country of the poor.
Dr. Nathaniel Atheling had a small office on the third floor of the main building. Colin found it without difficulty and knocked on the door.
Atheling was a spare, slender man, closer to fifty than to forty. His dark hair was several weeks late for a haircut, shot with early silver, and when he glanced up Colin could see that his eyes were a curious light amber color, nearly gold. The only thing at all out of the ordinary about his appearance was the scarab pendant in bright blue faience that hung from a silver chain about his neck, resting against his sober institutional necktie. He was seated behind a desk covered with paper.
"Ah. It's three o'clock. That means you must be Colin MacLaren," Atheling said. His voice held no trace of any accent, and only a careful precision hinted that English might not be his native tongue.
As Colin closed the door behind him, Atheling raised his right hand in what might have been a casual gesture. Certainly any of the Uninitiated who saw it would mistake it for such, as they were meant to: it was the Salute given from an Adept of a higher grade to one of a lower.
Reflexively Colin returned the salute, lower to higher, and sat down in the uncomfortable plastic chair on the other side of Atheling's desk.
"Forgive me for receiving you in these surroundings, Dr. MacLaren, but my days are long, and you had indicated that this was a matter of some ... personal urgency."
"A neat way of putting it," Colin said. "And please, drop the title. Call me Colin. It's a Ph.D., not a medical degree. I don't really feel entitled."
"As you wish, Colin. Now, if you were one of my patients, I'd ask you to tell me what seems to be the trouble, and ask you to be honest, no matter how fantastic the events seem to you. And I suppose that's still as good a way as any to begin ... ."
That meeting was the first of many--though Colin had gone first to Atheling as a Brother in the Order, he'd quickly found friendship as well as spiritual guidance and sound advice. It had been Nathaniel who had finally suggested that New York's nearly-familiar streets might not be what Colin really needed, and had suggested a course of sunshine and sea air, in a place as different from New York as Colin could find.
He'd also pointed out what Colin already knew: that in less than two years, Colin had managed to dig himself a cozy rut ... or bunker--and it was mental comparisons like this that had convinced Colin that Nathaniel's advice was sound. He wasn't building to face the challenge of the future; he was retreating from it in confusion and perhaps even fear. He needed to get out into the world again; force himself to confront it as it was now and stop setting it against the backdrop of his memories.
The means were obvious. He was lecturing nearly every evening now, on wide-ranging subjects that followed his lifelong interests, and he always felt most at home at University. A long time ago--in a life that seemed now as if it had belonged to someone else--he'd even planned to make a career of teaching. Why not pick that place to reenter his interrupted life? On a college campus he'd be immersed in the tidal surge of the here and now, his daily life filled with youngsters whose eyes were fixed on the future.
It was a good solution, though it took a surprising amount of courage to implement. In the fall of '59, Colin finally nerved himself to take the first step.
Though Colin's academic credentials were a little rusty after ten years spent first with the Office of Strategic Services and then the Army of Occupation, they were still fairly attractive to prospective employers, and the lectures he gave, unorthodox though they were, were a point in his favor. In the end he was able to choose among several offers. Mindful of Nathaniel's advice to take something as far from what he was accustomed to as possible, he turned down offers from Columbia University and Boston College, and signed a contract with the University of California at Berkeley.
The reluctance that he felt as the date approached to leave his cozy apartment to its new tenant convinced him more than anything else that Nathaniel had been right; Colin needed more of a change of scene than New York had been able to give him. He needed to make a new start, in a new place.
The silent campus--a vision in pale brick and prestressed concrete--had the ancient dreaming air of a sun-drenched Athenian city. The highest visible point in the brilliant Mediterraneanesque landscape that stretched before him was the campanile/ clock-tower which added its quaint Graustarkian accent to the panorama of campus buildings that rose up beyond Sather Gate.
There was no traffic on Bancroft; the street scene was infused with that peculiar midmorning hush that Colin MacLaren had already learned was a distinctive feature of the San Francisco Bay Area. Only he mustn't call it the San Francisco Bay Area, Colin had also already learned, just as he mustn't call the city across the bay Frisco. It was "San Francisco"--everyone within a hundred miles simply called it "the City," just as if no other city existed--and the "Bay Area." If Colin meant to fit in here he'd do well to pick up the natives' habits of speech as soon as possible.
And he did mean to fit in here, Colin promised himself, into what pundits called the modern Lotos-Land, the Golden State. He was through with war in all its forms--hot war, cold war, forgotten war, undeclared war--and meant to turn his back on everything he'd learned from that most unforgiving of all teachers. As the gospel hymn said, he wasn't going to study war no more. Here he would shake off the ghosts of the past.
Here and now, his life would begin again.
Colin stood a moment longer on Telegraph Avenue staring at the lacy wrought iron gate of the main entrance to the University of California at Berkeley campus. Despite its placid appearance, there was an air of expectation about the campus, the sense of great things afoot.
Realizing he was in danger of loitering, Colin shrugged and took himself across the open space that separated him from Sather Gate. Signs informed him that something called Sproul Plaza was under construction, to be finished next year.
The campus was enormous, stretching for miles in every direction. Within its bounds were several stadia and athletic fields, a Greek Theater, and many of the most brilliant minds in the arts and sciences. Though he'd been a Berkeley resident for a little over a month, he'd been too occupied with tying up his affairs back East and settling into his rented bungalow to take a trip over to the campus. He'd been here last winter for a preliminary interview, but that had been in the depths of the California winter, and it had rained most of the time. Now he was seeing the university campus as it was meant to be seen--a canvas made of cement and stone for sunlight to paint upon. Though Tolman Hall--which housed the Psychology Department--was all the way across the campus on Hearst Avenue, Colin relished the walk through the quiet modern campus.
The sleek modern buildings in concrete and pale brick that he passed oddly evoked the air of a medieval university city while looking as if they were already at home in the future. Few students were in sight as Colin crossed the walk. Though Freshman Orientation began next week, as far as his body could tell, it was still high summer here. Colin had left his ancient trenchcoat back in his closet--he hadn't been able to bring himself to wear a topcoat, and his jacket felt uncomfortably warm, but something in his nature resisted appearing on campus in informal dress. After all, Colin assured himself, the chancellor and the board were known to be very conservative, and his future students would hardly respect him if he were dressed like a beatnik. Psychology was a field where one got enough odd looks anyway, without any need to cultivate personal eccentricity.
And despite his lack of a coat and hat, he was dressed more formally--in dark trousers, vest, tie, white shirt, and belted tweed jacket--than the few passers-by on the streets at midmorning. He wondered if he stood out, revealed as a transplantedEasterner by nothing more than his failure to wear a topcoat.
Colin smiled ruefully at the direction of his own thoughts. For so many years it had been almost second nature to efface himself; to go unnoticed, to deflect any but the most casual attention. He had begun to think that the habit had become a permanent part of his psyche, a characteristic that would remain a part of him through all the lives to come, long after the reason for it had been forgotten. But that was all it was now: habit, and not vital necessity.
Nathaniel had been right, as always. Time, the great healer, had healed him as well. There'd been a time, not so long past, that it would have been impossible for him to take this sort of innocent joy in any passing scene. A time when he had walked in the shadows cast by the Black Order, doing all that he could to bring Light to that Darkness--and always in danger of falling to that Darkness himself.
But thoughts of initiation and ancient magickal orders seemed oddly out of place here on the Berkeley campus. If anything seemed to belong to the world of rationality and sanity it was this place. Berkeley seemed filled with the American spirit--a kind of "can-do" wholesomeness that simply could not comprehend the shadowy half-world in which Colin's battles had been fought. And perhaps, in time, the memories would fade for him as well.
The following Monday was another brilliant cloudless day, and the morning sunlight found Colin in his new office, unpacking the cartons of books he'd carried up the steps from the trunk of his battered black Ford sedan--a recent purchase encouraged by his move to an area of the country where a car was a far more important part of life than it was in New York City.
The small office that was now his contained one battered metal desk and matching file cabinet, an ancient oak desk chair on squeaky rollers and a matching one that stood on four uneven legs, several metal bookshelves that edged the room, and one balky window with a dusty Venetian blind. The walls werepainted a glossy greenish beige that managed to clash with the worn brown linoleum tiles on the floor.
Colin had been assured that this furniture was only temporary--that better furniture was on order, and that in fact it was rumored that the entire department would be moving to better quarters soon, but Colin placed little credence in these hopeful reports. In his experience, there was little in this world or the next so permanent as a temporary situation.
But his current quarters weren't that bad, in Colin's opinion. Once his books were on the shelves, and he'd hung the bulletin board and a few pictures, the place would look as inviting as such places ever did. It was a place where he could do his work, and the students who came to him for help and guidance would be more interested in their own problems than in how his office was decorated.
Colin had spent the last several days filling out the endless reams of forms that academia seemed to require in order to sanction every action, meeting his new colleagues in the Psych Department, and orienting himself to the vast Berkeley campus. Registration was going on elsewhere on the campus, and classes would begin next Monday. Colin's fellow instructors had assured him that the worst of the confusion would be over by the end of September, when the late arrivals and the Drop/Adds had settled their schedules.
Colin's own schedule looked as if it would be equally busy, at least for the first two semesters. Parapsychology I and II and the Introduction to Psychology course (all the new hires were forced to teach it, or so Colin had been told) were already full. Add to that the usual load of extracurricular activities for which he'd be expected to stand as faculty advisor, and he wouldn't have any more time to brood. He'd be lucky if he had time to think.
"Hello--hello--hello! Anyone home?" a breezy voice called from the doorway.
"Alison!" he cried delightedly.
Alison Margrave was a regal theatrical woman in her early sixties, a professional psychologist--and parapsychologist--and musician who was one of Colin's oldest friends. She was dressed in her usual flamboyant, gypsyish fashion, wearing a long red wool cape over her blouse and skirt. When she threw the cape over a chair, he could see that Alison was wearing one of her trademark shawls, a colorful weave of muted earth tones secured with a large silver brooch set with an enormous intaglio-cut amethyst. The stone matched the purple of the amethysts in the silver combs that held back her sweeping mane of white hair.
"Well, at least you're glad to see me!" she growled good-naturedly. "Almost a year, Colin, and not a blessed word from you--"
He'd meant to call her once he was settled in the Bay Area, but had kept letting mundane tasks get in his way.
"How did you find me?" Colin asked sheepishly. "I know I wrote you I'd be coming ... ."
"And that was back in January, and by now I thought you'd probably gotten lost somewhere around Kansas and never gotten here at all," Alison teased. "Fortunately, I have my spies on campus. So I thought I'd see the late Colin MacLaren for myself--and bring you a sort of housewarming present." She advanced into the office and placed a small wrapped package on Colin's desk.
"I was going to call you this week," Colin protested, sitting down behind the desk and waving Alison to the other chair.
When she was seated--her eyes sparkling with youthful mischief despite her age--Colin began searching his pockets for his familiar companion, a battered old briar pipe. Once he'd located it and tapped the dottle into the battered metal wastebasket, he began rummaging for tobacco and matches.
"I was over here on business in any event," Alison said kindly, letting him off the hook. "So you needn't look so self-conscious, Colin. But I did want a chance to catch up on things. How have you been? It's been years since I've seen you in the flesh, you know."
Quick as a snapshot, a fierce vivid memory intruded itself on Colin's mind: the air was thick with incense, and he stood withfour others before the high altar of a church whose roof had been thrown open to the sky by American bombers. His white robe was stiff with the embroidered signs of his Lodge and Grade, he wore the crown and breastplate of Adepthood, and in his hand he bore the silver stave entwined with emerald and scarlet serpents. All these things were mere display: the exoteric representation of his inward nature: Priest and Adept of the Path.
There, beneath the canopy of starry heaven, he and those others from every Order and Lodge that claimed the Light as its goal--most of whose mundane names he did not even know--worked as surgeons to cleanse the land of the dark taint that still lingered over its landscape like a poisonous fog.
The sharp memory faded, and he was back in his office at Berkeley with Alison. If she knew where his mind had gone in those brief seconds, she gave no sign, but Colin knew that the memories were there for her, too. That night had contained a moment of supreme self-sacrifice, an apotheosis that a man--or woman--might spend the rest of his life attempting to recapture.
There were times when Colin wondered if perhaps that one moment of battle as a warrior of the Light had not done him as much harm as his oversoul had suffered in generations of war against the Dark. The way and the goal of the Path was peace--but the fatal flaw of all their mortal kind was the delight they took in war.
"Colin?" Alison's voice jarred him rudely back to the here and now.
"I was just thinking about Berlin," he said.
Alison's face softened at the memory. "It was a long time ago, you know," she said gently.
No it wasn't! his heart cried silently. He could remember the date exactly: October 31, 1945. Fifteen years ago next month.
"You're right," he said aloud. "Sometimes it seems hard to believe this is the same world as that was," he added.
"It isn't," Alison said with a smile. "And thank the Light for that. We may not have slain the serpent, my dear, but we've certainlybroken its back. It will be a long time before that particular ugliness rears its head again," she said positively.
"Let it be so," Colin said automatically. He shook himself loose from the ghosts of the past with an effort and smiled at Alison. Though she was not a member of his own Order, Alison was one of Colin's fellow Lightworkers, and knew as well as anyone did the peculiar ghosts that haunted him. "But tell me about yourself, Alison. What have you been doing?"
"Well," Alison began, as Colin tamped tobacco into his pipe, "you know I've got that old place--Greenhaven--over in San Francisco. I don't think you've ever seen it--an old Victorian; you'll love it--it's just off Haight Street by a few blocks and I can pick lemons right off the tree. I've even got an herb garden now--you'll remember that was always my ambition. A few years back I remodeled the old garage into a workspace; it's useful to have a quiet place to meditate, now and again. Let me see: what else? I've been teaching; both musically and otherwise--there are a few people out there who are ready for something a bit stronger than parapsychology, so to speak. And of course I consult--but these days, people are more likely to complain of little green men than noisy spirits."
"Times change," Colin agreed, touching flame to tobacco and sucking his pipe alight. "Ten years ago, I couldn't imagine that I'd ever be back on a college campus, let alone teaching."
"Wait until you have your first classroom full of students," Alison teased him, laughing. "You'll understand why you came back to it, my boy! I wouldn't give up teaching for all the kingdoms of the earth--but it's hard to believe that either of us was ever as young as those students are!"
"I wonder if we ever were?" Colin mused somberly. Sometimes the great gulf between what he had become and the innocents he was surrounded by seemed almost too much to bridge.
Alison eyed him narrowly, cool appraisal in her warm grey eyes. "We were all young once, Colin," she said gently, "just as we all age and die. And it is our responsibility to see that our knowledge of the Great Work does not die with us."
"I know, Alison," Colin said reluctantly.
She was telling him nothing he did not already know, and it was a situation that had concerned Colin ever since he had returned home. Every pilgrim on the Path, no matter how unfledged, had the responsibility to guide others in the direction of the Light to the best of his ability. For someone like Colin, who had followed the Path for many lifetimes, it was even more important that he find and teach his successor in the Great Work; another who could take his place to stand among the Hosts of the Army of the Light.
To set someone's feet upon the Path was an awesome responsibility, one not lightly entered into. But to find his chela and train him in his footsteps was the ultimate test of an Adept, for there were many pitfalls along the way, and failure meant a spoiled Adept, one who had tasted the seduction of power and yet lacked the discipline to use it for Good. Such creatures, if they survived the Abyss, came back to haunt their teachers with each turn of the Wheel: dark wraiths who corrupted all that they meddled in.
Love was the only thing that made such a risk bearable, and in the secret chambers of his heart, Colin MacLaren wondered if he were still capable of such love, after the horrors he had witnessed. In all the years of this life he had not yet met anyone that he felt called upon to teach--was there some lack in himself that caused him to be so blind?
"There will be time," Alison said, reaching out and covering his hand with her own as if she had followed the current of his thoughts--and perhaps she had. The feeling of that warm contact was like a benediction, soothing his sense of guilt and of promises unkept. "Our Masters do not ask anything of us that we cannot accomplish through love and trust."
"I hope you're right," Colin said, slowly. He had never felt less capable of that dispassionate, powerful love that was the sword and buckler of those who warred for the Light.
Alison released his hand and got to her feet. "But I didn't come here to scold you, my dear--you certainly deserve better from me than that. I came to invite you to come over to Greenhaven for dinner some night soon. I'm an adequate cook, and afterward we might tour some of the local jazz clubs. There'smore to North Beach than topless dancing, and you can't bury yourself in work every minute. There's quite a community of our fellow travelers here; you should get to know them."
"You're right, of course," Colin said, getting to his feet as well. As he did, his eye chanced on the box once more, and he picked it up. "And we'll make a firm date for dinner, just as soon as I know how busy my schedule's going to be. Now let me see what this is. I love presents," Colin added, as he tore off the gold paper and silver ribbon that covered the package.
"Oh ... my. Alison, this is lovely."
"Functional, too," Alison said cheerily, her earlier somber mood vanished like San Francisco's famous morning fog. "You can hold down papers, open your mail, stab fellow faculty members in the back ... ."
Colin turned the object over in his hands. It was a substantial piece. A sterling-silver sword pierced an anvil carved out of black jade, thrusting through the anvil into the white granite of the stone on which the anvil sat. Flecks of mica glittered against the pale stone, flashing in the sunlight.
The "sword" was removable, and was meant to be used as a letter opener, Colin slid it from its niche and inspected it critically.
"Excalibur?" he said quizzically, setting the paperweight down and sliding the letter opener back into its slot. "I hope you don't think I'll be needing that any time soon."
Alison laughed. "Those days are over and done with, thank the Light! But I have to dash--I've still got half a dozen errands to run and I have to be sure to be home before three. My newest pupil is coming for a music lesson and I'd hate to be late."
"Pupil?" Colin asked with interest.
"In every sense of the word," Alison said. "I've never felt such strength and dedication in one so young--he's only seventeen, but he's got the drive and discipline of someone three times his age. You'll remember his mother--she studied with me for a while, and thank heavens she remembered me when her boy came out with a poltergeist. She had him in a military school, of all places--well! It was an act of mercy to take him in; I gave him lessons, but even then there wasn't much I couldteach him, and when the symphony offered him a position out here, I took him under my wing, as it were--to the great relief of his mother, I might add. You really must come to dinner soon, Colin, so you can meet him--he's so brilliant that at times it's nearly frightening. I think the two of you will have a lot in common.
"His name's Simon. Simon Anstey."
After Alison had gone, Colin sat staring out the window for a long time, his relit pipe smoldering fragrantly between his teeth.
Simon Anstey. It was the first time Colin had heard the name, but some tolling echo of future memory made it resonate within his mind. Simon Anstey was someone who would matter to Colin in ways he could not yet imagine.
He sighed and shook his head. The future would unfold itself in its own good time--Colin was no psychic sensitive, able to rend the veil and peer into the Unseen World at will. The inspirations he received were only the faintest of echoes from the Akashic Records, meant only to warn, and, sometimes, to guide. He could not judge which this was to be, and in some small corner of his soul Colin feared that it might be a summons to renewed battle in the never-ending war for the Light.
The first weeks of the fall term passed swiftly, and Colin was soon caught up in the minutiae of scholastic life. Aside from a nagging tendency for his students to call him "Doctor" MacLaren, a title he disliked, he had no complaints to make. These children were not old enough to remember the Second World War and had even been too young to face the consequences of Korea; they seemed curiously unfledged, almost as if they wandered the halls of some waking dream.
He managed to keep only part of his promise to Alison--meeting her for a quick lunch in a downtown restaurant, and promising a visit to Greenhaven the next time--but Simon Anstey was away on tour, and so Colin missed the chance tomeet Alison's dazzling pupil. Simon had soloed with the San Francisco Symphony by the time he was eight years old, and at twelve had already recorded five albums. When he had come to live with Alison, it was as much for her healing gifts as her musical ones, for Simon, at fifteen, was already dealing with pressures that most men did not face for another twenty years--as well as with a wayward curiosity that led him into little-frequented byways of the Unseen.
Alison spoke of him often, in ways that--were she a younger woman speaking about an older man--would have been easy to mistake for romantic love. But Alison Margrave had set that possibility aside in order to devote her energies to a professional career. In an era when most women still were married by twenty and mothers soon afterward, Alison Margrave had never married. She had always been a maverick, a loner, on guard against self-immolation disguised as social service. And in any case, Simon was young enough to be her grandson.
Alison had given Colin one of Simon's albums, a collection of Scarlatti concertos for harpsichord. When he played it, Colin had marveled at the pure brilliant sound those young fingers had evoked from one of Alison's antique instruments. The soaring rills of notes had echoed off the walls of the living room of Colin's little bungalow and streamed out over the Berkeley hills like a gust of starlight, making him catch his breath in wonder.
He'd listened to the record several times, trying to make up his mind about the musician who had produced such angelic sounds. The music was cold, mathematical, and nearly heartless, but surely that could be laid to the intention of the composer and the youth of the artist? The passions of childhood rarely ran as deep and true as those of their elders; the very young still believed that they would always be just as they were at that moment, heart-whole and immortal.
There was no reason for Colin to be so concerned about young Anstey. The boy was not his student, he was Alison's. And Alison Margrave was experienced and skeptical, unlikely to be wrong about her protégé's motives or capabilities--andcertainly not overeager to take on the responsibilities of an apprentice. As a woman, she had sacrificed much for her art and her independence, and would not be eager to seem to be made a fool by unwise choices or impossible romantic attachments.
So Colin told himself, and was able to ascribe his nagging misgivings solely to a small twinge of professional jealousy. There would be time enough to judge Simon Anstey when he had met him.
The brief brilliant autumn passed through the East Bay in a series of crystalline days and increasingly chilly nights as the whole community held its breath--as it did every year--at the threat of fire from the dun brown, tinder-dry hills. Then at last the winter rains appeared, and as October became November the hillsides turned the brilliant emerald green of a Northern California winter.
The young president who had been elected that November seemed to have been born to lead the generation of innocents who filled Colin's classes. Though he kept no more than a weather eye on national policy and international politics, Colin could not suppress the feeling that the wrong candidate had won. His misgivings were nebulous, consisting mostly of the feeling that John Fitzgerald Kennedy was too young, too confident, to be able to deal with the jagged chessboard bequeathed him by the Cold War. Camelot's Crown Prince was too much the golden hero--despite his family heritage of bare-knuckle back-alley Boston politics--to be able to go into the dark places and emerge unscathed.
But that, Colin told himself, was why presidents had advisors. His nervous fretting was only the anxiousness of an old polo pony ready to get back into the game. But Alison had been right: his task was over. That match was done.
Only each time he told himself that, some faint instinct told Colin that he was wrong ... .
In late November, circumstances finally conspired to allow Colin to meet Simon Anstey.
The days were shorter now, hurrying into the dark half of the year, and more days than not the sun that had seemed so omnipresent when Colin had arrived in the Bay Area never showed its face at all. Veils of mist shrouded the Berkeley hills and wrapped the entire East Bay in a mask of grey gauze, making a New Yorker yearn for the bright blue days and pale clear sunshine of an Eastern winter.
Berkeley closed for several days around Thanksgiving, and Alison had demanded his presence for long enough to pay a proper visit to Greenhaven and see something more of the City than he'd been able to manage in his brief visits earlier in the year. So Colin had packed an overnight bag, taken his page of careful directions in hand, and turned the battered but dependable Ford (Colin had nicknamed it la Bête Noire, faithful beast of burden that it was) in the direction of the City by the Bay.
The new highway took him across the Oakland Bay Bridge, where the dependable Ford shuddered in the grip of winds severe enough that the local morning radio stations commonly posted "small car warnings" along with the usual weather and traffic reports. Though the Ford was in no danger, Colin was glad enough to get off the bridge and down onto the city streets. Less than an hour later, he was pulling la Bête into Alison's steeply tilted driveway.
Despite Alison's characterization of it as "an old barn," Greenhaven was a little brown-shingled Victorian with a pair of matched bay windows on either side of a recessed red-painted door. Warm golden light spilled through the leaded-glass fanlight above the lintel, as welcoming on this grey day as a glad "hello." As he cut the ignition, and the Ford's powerful engine stilled into silence, the door opened, and Alison stood framed in the doorway, wearing a long tartan hostess skirt and a ruffled white blouse.
"Colin! So you actually found your way here to us," she said in pleased tones. One of her white cats--Alison had several, as she'd had for almost as long as Colin had known her--wove back and forth about her ankles, shedding abundant white hairs on the gay red plaid.
"At times the outcome seemed to be in doubt," Colin commented. "I'd gotten used to navigating around the Village--but S.F. always throws me for a loop."
Alison laughed. "The City does take some getting used to," she said with proprietary pride. "But come in--Simon's here--his plane arrived early--and you know how much I've been wanting the two of you to meet."
Colin handed her the gift-wrapped bottle he'd bought and stepped inside, followed by Alison and the white cat. A sense of profound peace settled over him as soon as he crossed the threshold of her home: Alison worked with those of troubled spirit, and as a result, she kept her home rigorously cleared and shielded. Greenhaven was filled with the peace and joy of a dedicated holy place.
On either side of the ivory-painted foyer a broad white door led into a set of rooms separated by glass doors. Alison led him through to the set on the left. The front room contained a desk, couch, and file cabinets--Alison obviously used it for her consulting work--but the room behind it ran the full length of the house, with the back wall dominated by a huge picture window that looked out over the Bay. Today only the tips of the Golden Gate towers were visible through the mist, but Colin could tell that on a clear day the view from these windows would be stunning.
"The kitchen's on the other side; you can get out into the garden from there," Alison said. "Not that this is much of a day for outside explorations. I even built a fire in here." She gestured at the marble fireplace. "And here's Simon."
Colin had been watching his hostess. Now he turned to face the other occupant of the room.
Little Lord Byron on a scooter, was Colin's immediate, unkind assessment. Simon Anstey was the sort of youth the ancient Greeks might have written poems to--his curling black hair was theatrically long, brushing his collar in the back, framing a face beautiful enough to grace a kylix. He was standing in front of the small black marble fireplace in a pose that managed to look formal and natural at the same time, and a cut-crystalwineglass stood behind him on the mantle. He held another of Alison's white cats in his arms.
His dark blue eyes were so intense that their color was the first thing that one saw from across the room, and his strong features--hawk--nosed and high-cheekboned--added to the impression of maturity, giving young Anstey the look of eagles. He was wearing a black-and-white tweed sportcoat and dark slacks with a light blue turtleneck, adding to the Bohemian air about him.
But for all Anstey's professional poise, Colin could sense that the boy was nervous, keyed up. He wondered what Alison had told Anstey about the man he was to meet today. Probably a lot of exaggerated twaddle, Colin thought, and advanced into the room, his hand outstretched.
"Simon Anstey, isn't it? I've heard so much about you," Colin said warmly.
Simon gently deposited the cat upon the floor, then took Colin's hand and shook it. The cat, miffed, darted from the room on urgent business of its own.
Simon's grip was surprisingly strong, and Colin remembered again that the boy was already a professional pianist, with thousands of hours of practice behind that hearty grip. He'd glimpsed some of Alison's harpsichords across the hall when he'd come in, and wondered which of them Anstey had used for the Scarlatti he'd recorded.
"Professor MacLaren. I've heard so much about you from Dr. Margrave." Anstey's voice was low and strong, a trained voice to go with the trained hands. "I've looked forward very much to this meeting."
"As have I," Colin said warmly.
"Let me leave you two gentlemen to get acquainted while I check on the progress of dinner and put this bottle in to chill," Alison said. "I'll have to change before we go out, but I'll be switched if I'm going to try cooking dinner in high heels. Simon, why don't you fix Colin a drink?" she added. "I'll be back in a jif."
Alison had sworn she intended to take him to hear somethingcalled "The Kingston Trio," at a nightclub with the improbable name of "The Hungry I" down in North Beach.
("As a psychologist, I find the name marvelously appropriate, Colin--the 'I'--the ego--is always hungry. But you'll love the place; you'll see," Alison had said over the phone.)
"Is there anything I can do to help?" Colin asked automatically, but Alison only laughed. She disappeared through the sliding glass doors and left Colin alone with her young pupil.
"Would you like a glass of wine, Dr. MacLaren?" Anstey asked courteously. "There's Scotch, if you prefer; I'm not quite sure what Dr. Margrave has in her drinks cabinet."
"Wine's fine--and it's 'Mister,' not 'Doctor,'" Colin said. "I'm only a Doctor of Psychology, and I'm afraid I'm old-fashioned enough to feel that the title should be reserved for the medical profession."
"As you say, Professor," Simon said with a smile. He moved toward the low table set in front of the enormous picture window--one of Alison's renovations to the hilltop Victorian, Colin was sure--to pour a second glass from the bottle there on the silver tray. He crossed the room to hand it to Colin, then indicated one of the two armless Danish Modern couches upholstered in olive linen that occupied the room. The spare sculptural lines of the modern furniture harmonized well with the room's graceful Victorian proportions.
Colin sipped at his wine, then drank deeper with appreciation. "An excellent vintage," he commented.
"Yes," Anstey said. "I brought Dr. Margrave back a case of it the last time I toured France."
Was it Colin's imagination, or was there a touch of belligerence in Anstey's voice, the attempt of a very young man to stake a claim to his own adulthood? He smiled at the thought, and strove to put young Anstey at his ease.
"It's a beautiful country, isn't it? Were you able to see much of Paris while you were there? I understand that traveling on business doesn't leave much time for sight-seeing."
"I saw a bit," Simon said, seeming to relax. He retrieved his own glass and sat down on the couch nearer the fire. "But a visitcan't possibly compare with being able to live there. Dr. Margrave told me that you'd spent some time overseas?"
"I was there during the war," Colin answered, before he realized that there was no longer only one war. Was he getting stuck in his own past? "During World War II, I should say. After the surrender, I stayed on for a few years, working on projects of my own." Which was the best way to handle the time he'd spent with the army; some of the things he'd done with Department 23 couldn't be talked of, even a decade later.
"You must be glad to be home--or maybe not," Simon said, with his beguiling mixture of maturity and boyish enthusiasm. "But tell me--if I'm not being too presumptuous--Dr. Margrave tells me that you're also active in parapsychological circles?"
"Simon! You make Colin sound like a flight of china dishes," Alison teased, coming back into the room. Both men stood, and Simon hurried to retrieve her glass from the side-table and refill it with the excellent Burgundy.
"Now Alison, would you deprive me of the chance to expound upon my favorite subject? After all, I've spent the last two months dinning the basics of scientific method into the ears of my freshman class; it would be a relief to discuss the topic with someone who doesn't think 'parapsychology' is a synonym for 'elementary voodoo.'"
Both Simon and Alison laughed at the mild joke, and Alison said:
"Have you been able to get any fieldwork done? Simon and I had a fascinating case last year: a poltergeist right here in the city--remember that case up on Russian Hill, Simon?"
"How could I forget it?" Simon said with rueful humor, rubbing an imaginary bump on the side of his head. "After I took that Brodie down the stairs I was sore for a week--the last time I will underestimate the Unseen, even assuming I'd been inclined to do so in the first place."
The talk turned naturally to their mutual field of interest, and Colin discovered that Simon Anstey was already a dedicated researcher in the infant field of parapsychology, and also fascinated by the shadowy world of magick.
"If there is a world beyond the one we know, why shouldn't we be able to affect it just as we do the material one?" Simon asked over dinner. "The physical body affects the physical world--why shouldn't the subtle body affect the spiritual world?"
Greenhaven did not have a separate dining room--Alison having sacrificed that possibility to a larger music room--but the spacious Victorian kitchen had plenty of room for a lovely old rock maple farmhouse table that could have accommodated twice their number. Dressed up with white damask and a silver candlestick or two, the setting was quite elegant, even with the kitchen appliances hulking in the background. And Colin did have to admit that the location guaranteed that the food reached the table hot.
"Some of the ways we manage to affect our material world aren't something you'd want to expand to the spiritual realm. Look at soil erosion--strip mining--air pollution. Rachel Carson's written some pretty disturbing books. It would be nice to think that one reality, at least, was safe from that."
"That wasn't what I meant," Simon said impatiently, brushing aside Colin's objections. "There's so much we could learn, so much we could do, if we could put Magick on the same rational footing that Science is. Scientists don't shiver in terror every time they look through a microscope--they don't worry that they'll be struck down by jealous gods for every new insight into how the universe works--"
"But they do treat their material and their subject with the respect they deserve," Alison reminded her pupil. "The Unseen world is a dangerous place for the unprepared. But you're young yet, Simon. You have your whole life ahead of you. There will be plenty of time for your studies: lifetimes."
"I know, Alison," Simon said contritely.
But though he dropped the subject, and for the rest of the evening the talk turned on other things, Colin wondered about the ambition that had been so clearly revealed in Simon Anstey's self as he spoke of his aspirations. Too much passion was as dangerous to a would-be Adept as too little, and Simon had passion in full measure. Passion ... and something more,something Colin had glimpsed in that brief instant before Alison had turned the subject.