One fateful evening in a suitably dark, beer-soaked Swiss rathskeller, a wild and obscure Irishman named James Joyce would become the drinking partner of an unknown physics professor called Albert Einstein. And on that same momentous night, Sir John Babcock, a terror-stricken young Englishman, would rush through the tavern door bringing a mystery that only the two most brilliant minds of the century could solve . . . or perhaps bringing only a figment of his imagination born of the paranoia of our times.
An outrageous, raunchy ride through the twists and turns of mind and space, Masks of the Illuminati runs amok with all our fondest conspiracy theories to show us the truth behind the laughter . . . and the laughter in the truth.
Praise for Masks of the Illuminati
“I was astonished and delighted . . . Robert Anton Wilson managed to reverse every mental polarity in me, as if I had been pulled through infinity.”—Philip K. Dick
“[Wilson is] erudite, witty, and genuinely scary.”—Publishers Weekly
“A dazzling barker hawking tickets to the most thrilling tilt-a-whirls and daring loop-o-planes on the midway to a higher consciousness.”—Tom Robbins
“Wilson is one of the most profound, important, scientific philosophers of this century—scholarly, witty, hip, and hopeful.”—Timothy Leary
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THE CASE OF THE CONSTANT SUICIDES
New Horrors at Loch Ness
(Special to the Express-Journal)
INVERNESS, APRIL 23, 1914—Inspector James McIntosh of the Inverness Police Force is facing a mystery more terrible than anything in the tales of Poe or Conan Doyle, as three inexplicable suicides in a fortnight have occurred in an area adjacent to Loch Ness—an area which the countryfolk have recently insisted is haunted, not just by “Nessie,” our famous local Monster, but by creatures even weirder and more fearsome.
The first mysterious suicide was that of Bertrán Alexander Verey, 68, who tragically shot himself through the head last Thursday. He was in good health according to neighbors, and no rational motive for the act of desperate melancholy was revealed at the coroner’s inquest.
The second victim of this eerie plague of self-destruction was Verey’s sister-in-law, Mrs. Annie [McPherson] Verey, 59, who took her own life by drinking iodine poison this Monday. She is survived by her husband, Rev. Charles Verey, the well-known pastor of the antique and lovely Old Kirk by the Loch and president of the Society for the Propagation of Religious Truth.
Today, the third terrible and inexplicable tragedy occurred and was linked by strange coincidence with the first two acts of melancholic mania. Rev. Duncan McPherson, brother to Mrs. Verey, and vice-president of the Society for the Propagation of Religious Truth, cut his own throat with a razor.
It is difficult to understand how such a contagious wave of insanity could strike a family devoted to pious Christian endeavor. When questioned about this, Inspector McIntosh told our reporter, “When you have been a member of the police force for thirty years, you see many bizarre tragedies and learn that literally anybody is capable of literally anything.”
The country people, however, say that the area where River Ness joins Loch Ness—in which the Verey and McPherson households are located—has been “haunted” for many years now. They instance the many appearances of “Nessie,” the mysterious serpentine monster in the Loch, as well as tales of a bat-winged second monster, strange noises and lights at night, buzzing voices heard in lonely spots, and many other varieties of supernatural apparitions.
“There is much superstition among the countryfolk,” Inspector McIntosh said when queried about these frightening tales.
Other residents regard the Inspector’s skepticism with the strict rule of no wife, no horse, no mustache, always anger and derision.
Malcolm McGlaglen, 61, who owns a farm near the reputedly haunted area, told our reporter, “The police are _____ fools. Every man, woman, and child in these parts calls that land ‘The Devil’s Acres’ and nobody will go into it after dark. ‘Nessie’ is the least of our worries. The ungodly sounds at night around there, and the lights in the sky and on the ground, and the monstrous creatures people have seen, are enough to make your hair turn white.”
Another farmer, who asked that his name be withheld from publication, added more grisly details to McGlaglen’s macabre tale, saying that his own son had encountered one of the “monstrous creatures” two years ago and is still under medical attention. He refused to describe the creature, saying, “City folk would laugh at us.”
Robert McMaster, 43, another farmer, sums up the country people’s view, saying, “we do not need a policeman as much as we need a witch-finder.” McMaster claims to have seen a woman without a head walking on the grounds of the Laird of Glen Carig recently.
“Superstition,” says Inspector McIntosh; but our reporter admits he was glad to be back in the city before night came down on “The Devil’s Acres.”
From the diary of Sir John Babcock, June 25, 1914:
What manner of man is he, or what creature in the form of man? True, I have only met him in the flesh two times, but he has been a perpetual presence in my life for these two years now—since I bought that accursed Clouds Without Water and became drawn into the affairs of the Verey family and the horrors at Loch Ness. Even before the blasphemous incident of the inverse cross that drove me out of Aries, he haunted my sleep, appearing in the most grotesque forms in constant nightmares that verged on sheer delirium. That one hideous vision in particular continues to haunt me—he was wearing a turban and seemed some loathsomely obese Demon-Sultan, while all about him danced and piped a crew of insectoid servitors that only a Doré or Goya could depict. Like King Lear, I would fain cry out, “Apothecary, give me something to sweeten my imagination!” But this is not imagination; it is horrid reality. I still recall his last words to me in London: “Your God and Jesus are dead. Our magick is now stronger, for the Old Ones have returned.” Sometimes, almost, my faith wavers and I believe him. That is the supreme horror: to be drawn passively, without further struggle, all hope gone, to that which I dread most, like one who stands at the edge of an abyss and cannot resist the seductive demoniac voice that whispers, “Jump, jump, jump …”
EXTERIOR. RAILROAD STATION, BASEL,
SWITZERLAND, 1914. EARLY EVENING.
Railway platform. We pan over several faces. Three normalaverage men and women, a frightfully ugly man, a dwarf, more ordinary faces. Railroad sounds. Preparations for departure.
First voice in crowd: “… not the Almighty …”
Second voice: “You take it,” I told him, “and stick it where the moon doesn’t shine.” He was positively vivid.
Third voice: “I nearly reached India.”
Engine whistle shrieks.
Full orchestra: the Merry Widow Waltz.
When the Zürich express left Basel on the night of June 26, 1914, a distinctly odd trio found themselves sharing compartment 23, and two of them very soon found themselves suspecting the third of being deranged.
“The rain is stopping,” the Swiss doctor had ventured as soon as the train began moving. It was an announcement of the obvious, but the intent was clearly to open a friendly conversation.
“Ja,” the Russian said in a cold curt tone, clearly uninterested in idle chatter.
“No more rain,” the Englishman agreed amiably, but his polite smile went no farther than his mouth. His eyes were as remote from humanity as a mummy’s.
The doctor looked at that empty smile for a moment and then tried another direction. “The Archduke Ferdinand seems to be enjoying a cordial reception on his tour,” he said. “Perhaps the Balkan situation will cool down now.”
The Russian made a skeptical noise, not even offering a word this time.
“Politics is all a masquerade,” the Englishman said with the same polite smile not reaching his vacant, evasive eyes.
The Russian ventured a whole sentence. “There is one key to every masquerade,” he pronounced with the ghoulish cheerfulness of those who plot apocalypse in a garret, “and the old Romans knew it: Cui bono?”
“‘Who profits?’” The Englishman translated the Latin into the German all three were speaking. “Who else but the Devil?” he answered rhetorically, giving vent to the kind of unwholesome laugh that makes people move away uncomfortably.
The Russian stared at the Englishman for a moment, registering the nervous symptoms the doctor had already noted. “The Devil,” he pronounced firmly, “is a convenient myth invented by the real malefactors of the world.” And with that he opened a newspaper and retreated behind it, clearly indicating that any further conversation directed at him would be an invasion of his privacy.
The doctor remained cordial. “Few people these days believe in the Devil,” he said, thinking privately: Nine out of ten schizophrenics have a Devil obsession, and eight out of ten will produce some variation on that masquerade metaphor.
“Few people these days,” the Englishman responded with a grin that had grown mechanical and ghastly, “can see beyond the end of their own nose.”
“You have reason to know better, eh?” prodded the doctor.
“Are you an alienist?” the Englishman asked abruptly.
There it is again, the doctor thought: the astonishing intuition, or extrasensory perception, these types so often exhibit. “I am a physician,” he said carefully, “and I do treat mental and nervous disorders—but not from the position of the traditional alienist.”
“I do not need an alienist,” the Englishman said bitterly, ignoring the doctor’s refusal to accept that label.
“Who said that you did?” asked the doctor. “My father was a minister of the gospel. In fact, I am interested merely in why you are so vehemently convinced of the existence of the Devil, in an age when most educated men would agree with the opinion of our cynical companion behind the newspaper there.”
A skeptical sound came from behind the newspaper.
“Have you ever seen a man vanish into thin air, right in front of your eyes?” the Englishman asked.
“Well, no,” said the doctor.
“Then don’t tell me I need an alienist,” the Englishman said. “Perhaps the world needs an alienist … perhaps God Himself needs an alienist … but I know what I’ve seen.”
“You’ve seen a man vanish as in a magic act on the stage?” the doctor asked gently. “That is certainly most extraordinary. I can understand why you might fear nobody would believe you.”
“You are humoring me,” the Englishman said accusingly. “I saw it all … and I know it … the conspiracy that controls everything behind the scenes. I had all the evidence, and then it simply vanished. People, post-office boxes, everything … all removed from the earth overnight …”
Overnight, overnight, overnight: it was as if the train wheels had picked up the rhythm of the word.
“You have had some dreadful experience, certainly,” the doctor said very gently. “But is it not possible that you are confused about some of the details, due to shock?”
Overnight, overnight, overnight, went the wheels.
“I have seen what I have seen,” the Englishman said flatly, rising. “Excuse me,” he added, leaving the compartment.
The doctor looked at the Russian still in retreat behind the protective newspaper.
“Did you hear the Beethoven concert while you were in Basel?” he asked cheerfully.
“I have more important business,” the Russian said in his cold curt tone, turning a page with exaggerated interest in the story he was reading.
The doctor gave up. One passenger deranged and the other uncivil: it was going to be a dreary trip, he decided.