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She came home through the whistling, windy streets, pulling her coat close around her as she walked. It was a weekday, and college students with more sense than her were asleep indoors. She walked back as though through a ghost town, making her way down empty streets, her shadow thrown out long in front of her by the waxing moon.
She came back to her tiny single dorm, obtained at some expense during this third year of her education. The living space was cramped, oddly-proportioned, the ceiling of her rooms- part of an old, rambling building converted to dorms from something else, long ago- sloping down at peculiar angles, so that she had bumped her head repeatedly during the first few weeks of the semester.
The room was dark, her television turned on but tuned to nothing. Instead of switching on the light, she made her way across the room by the pale glow from the screen, and fetched a half-empty bottle of cheap wine from the mini-fridge. She uncorked it, poured the remains into a jelly glass, and went to the window.
The street was laid out below like a stage awaiting the arrival of a cast, the quaint lamp-posts the college had installed marching along at regular intervals, giving way before the glowing bulk of the hospital to the west. The college had seemed unreal to her when first she visited, a wide-eyed highschooler being ushered along the halls with her senior class. Now the outside world seemed illusory, a Qlippothic nightmare of gray and dirty strip malls stretching in endless procession toward a gray horizon. She thought of Downing, of the shock of passing him on the street, the lightning-flash of sudden recognition. She thought of her father, the smell of his pipe tobacco, the air about him of secrets kept, musty and shelved, in some inner library to which she was not given access.
She finished the wine, went back to the worn futon which was her bed, and put on an old Vincent Price movie with the sound turned down.
Artificial light washed over her. She lay on her side.
Her eyes closed. She slept.
He sat down on the worn mat, one of the few pieces of furniture to grace the nearly-empty room. The light above was turned to its lowest setting, casting a dim, unearthly luminescence that seemed to turn the room into a hazy, astral space. It, and the man who occupied it, might have been projections from some other, less tangible level of reality.
He folded into Lotus position with practiced ease, straightening his spine and resting his hands on his knees. He tilted his head up, closed his eyes, and curled his tongue back against the roof of his mouth.
Christopher slipped into trance as into a great dark sea. His senses turned inward, away from the universe of sight and sound. He became acutely aware of the breath moving through his lungs, and his consciousness followed that breath, pulsing in and out like the tide. Trance came up to meet him, enfolding him, the sensation one of floating upon a current. His sense of time faded, and he drifted on the astral sea, untethered, letting the current take him where it would. Strange, half-formed shapes came to him, and he let them pass, neither pushing them away, nor grasping at them.
Then, slowly, the blossoming of a set of inner senses, as pratyahara took hold.
He became aware of himself in a way that was unrelated to time, place, or sensory input. From here, he pulled his awareness back, walking backward through the events of the day. In the quiet screening-room of his mind, he played them over, running them back and forth like a film. His meeting with Ella McKay. His walk through the night- the air heavy with portent, the spiced gloom of Fall- to the diner. He ran over Ella's words to him, trying to analyze them- to analyze her- without bias or context. Even as he did this, however, his attention was pulled over her shoulder, to the man who sat two booths down from them. The man in the black bowler hat.
His attention wavered. The surface of his vision, so like a mirror, began to ripple and distort, as though the mirror had become a reflection in a moonlit pool, disturbed by the passing of some unknown thing. He fought to hold his concentration, focusing on a single shape- a circle with dot in the center- until he felt calm once again.
The space of a thought, and he stepped back along the line of his memory until he was sitting across from George McKay, a glass of too-sweet port in one hand, a fire in the hearth behind them. George looked older than his years could account for, the hair receding back from his temples, the lines around his eyes deepening. The eager, knowledge-hungry look Christopher remembered was gone, replaced by a more somber study. The young man who had been so desperate for initiation, the young man who had missed the counterculture revolution of the late Sixties, and coming to maturity in the doldrums of the Seventies, wanted so badly to be a part of something, anything...that man had receded, leaving marks on the aging George McKay like the strata left by the high tide line. And Christopher, celebrating a melancholy anniversary of his own, took one look at that face and knew it was time to bring an end to the House of Secrets.
"You look good," George said. "I mean, you always look fine, but sometimes you look tired, you know?"
"You looked tired back in the Seventies."
"The Seventies were a tiring sort of decade."
George cleared his throat. "So you're doing all right, then?" He took a sip of port.
"Passable. Had a few good years." Christopher turned the glass in his hand, watching the light glow through the ruby liquid. He lowered the glass and saw, peering at him from the staircase, the wide eyes of George's daughter, mouth frozen in a shocked little 'O' as she saw him seeing her. He smiled at her, and she retreated up the steps, into the darkness.
Floating in the no-space of pratyahara, Christopher mused on the circular nature of his life. Once again, forces had conspired to-
But something new was coming, rushing up the aetheric channels like a wave through the calm sea of his trance. This was so unusual that he relaxed, intrigued, and let it carry him where it would.
George McKay's house fell away into the background, Christopher's inner eye shuttering like a deck of cards passed from hand to hand. And now a new memory was surfacing, pulled from the shuffle like a forced card in a magic trick. And now it was London, and the cool of late Spring in the early years of the new century...
"Quit this world, quit the next world, quit quitting!" -Sufi proverb.