[passage from an untitled novel, written 2 August 1996]
Heat—suffocation—a sense of overwhelming oppression came over him. He was sweating like a pig.
“Would you like some roast badger-balls?” Marcellus’s voice seemed to echo, as if he were speaking through a hollow tube of infinite length. “My cook makes them from the ambrosia of the Leptunian snake-gods.”
The words made no sense. Nausea fought thirst for the possession of Simon’s soul. He rose hastily to his feet, groping blindly for the corridor to his private chamber. “I—it’s—there’s an important—something—” he gabbled. His vision was beginning to shut down, and before him danced the shimmering heat-waves of a reality-shift. Time. There was no time. A blinding flash of pure insight struck him and he fell to his knees. Oh God, he thought, let there be time enough—
Something hard struck him, and there was nothing.
Not darkness. Not light. Nothing. The stuff eternity was made of. Yards of it surrounded Simon like a woolly cocoon, pressing him, cutting off his breath. Where was he?
“I am come, Simon of Gitta.”
The voice came from all sides, like wind in the trees. There was something familiar about it.
“Have you?” Simon said. “What is that to me?”
There was an unnatural silence, as if sound itself had been cut off—the silence of caves, the complete silence of death. Then the voice came again. “You don’t know who I am, do you?” Amusement tinged the question.
“I know,” said Simon. “I know. Did you think, Simon Rock, that you would be able to sneak into Rome like a thief in the night? Did you think you were unobserved? No, Rock, let me tell you that I have watched your progress every day. I know the tricks you played on that poor captain of the vessel you came in. I know how you stopped the wind to plague him, and started it again when it served your purposes.”
“It was the will of God,” said the voice.
“Was it?” returned Simon. “You have delusions of grandeur.”
“It was.” The voice sounded a little sullen now.
“It is strange, isn’t it,” asked Simon sarcastically, “just how often God’s will and yours somehow coincide. Isn’t that a bit thick, Rock? How long can you keep on using that threadbare excuse for following the whims of the flesh and feeding the needs of the corpse you live in? God’s will, Rock? Or yours.”
“They are the same.” This time the voice was definitely defensive, on the run.
“Ha!” said Simon. “You admit it.”
“I admit nothing,” snapped the voice. “If what I want is what God wants, it isn’t because I am making myself equal to Him.”
“Then what is it?” demanded Simon. “What else can you call it?”
“Humility, Simon the Magician, the ability to stop my thoughts and let God’s fill my mind. The ability to silence my will and let God’s will move me. The ability to shut out the distractions of the senses and receive God’s truth. That’s what I possess, Simon of Gitta, Simon the false prophet, Simon the liar and stealer of men’s souls,” said the voice. “And that’s what you could do with a little of.”
Simon laughed harshly. “The ability to blind yourself and grope helplessly in the dark. The ability to deafen yourself to everything but your own thoughts. The ability to cut yourself off from the Truth—that God gave you your wits to use them, that God gave you your eyes and your ears and your mind for you to put them to use, not for you to pretend a stupidity you do not and cannot possess. Save that stuff for your sheep-like followers.”
“Enough, Simon,” said the voice. “It is God who has given us this shared vision, and it would be criminal of us both to waste it in pointless bickering.”
“Yes, Rock,” said Simon. “That’s what I’ve been trying to tell you for the past twenty years.”
“Listen, Simon,” said the voice. “I will be coming to Rome tomorrow, as you know. Will you not repent and believe in the Lord? Will you not do His work on earth? I warn you, Simon the magician, you are treading close to the abyss. You and I, or rather you and the Lord, are close to the final moment of truth, and I do not envy you this confrontation.”
“Still confusing yourself with God?” Simon asked derisively. “Well, Rock, I will not repay the compliment. I will not ask you to reform, since I know there is no hope of it. You are too deafened by your own words to know the truth, too blinded by your own light to see it. But I do warn you, Rock, to stay out of Rome. You betrayed your Master once. If you come here—and I say this from the most absolute and certain of foreknowledge, my beloved namesake and enemy—if you come here, Rock, then you will be in the utmost danger of betraying him again. So take care, my enemy—stay away from Rome, as you value your very soul. Stay away.” And with a supreme effort of will Simon pushed back the nothingness and began to struggle to his feet.
But emptiness and blankness refused to retreat, and the voice put in one final shot. “I thank you for your warning, Simon the magician—for what it’s worth. But I know myself too well to imagine that I will ever betray my Savior again, and so Rome has no terrors for me. Farewell—and look out, my one-time friend. For I know—and I say this from the most absolute and certain of foreknowledge—that you are near the end, and if I have to go down to end your infernal wickedness, then, Simon—it is a sacrifice I am very willing to make.” And with that the fog cleared and Simon pulled himself to his feet—and found himself facing Marcellus and the other guests, staring at him from the door to his chamber.
“What was it?” asked Marcellus. “Some kind of fit?”
Simon took one or two deep breaths to clear the Nothing out of his spirit. “No,” he said. “It was not a fit.”
“It was a vision,” said one of the guests. “I’ve seen what happens when a spirit seizes a man before.”
“Yes, you looked dead,” said another.
“Yes, well, in a way I was dead,” said Simon, “dead to this world and alive to another. Listen, my good Marcellus, could I have a word with your doorkeeper?”
“With my doorkeeper? Whatever for?”
“I can’t explain,” said Simon, “But I know there is a man coming tomorrow—coming here tomorrow. And I cannot meet with him.”
Marcellus laughed. “You—a magician, afraid?”
“I’m not a magician,” said Simon, “and I’m not afraid. Not the way you mean. But I know—I know—that this man will bring an end to all our works if he and I are allowed to meet again. And this cannot be allowed to happen. So look, man, for God’s sake, let me talk with your doorkeeper!”
Marcellus motioned to a servant, and in a moment the doorkeeper came in, obviously awed by the great magician. “You sent for me, my Lord?”