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Later.

Ella sits in Christopher's bare room, stoned on dark hash that Manuel brought out after dinner. In the center of the room, Christopher is performing asanas, moving with the inexorable underwater slowness of Yoga. He wears only a pair of black gym shorts, and in the red-gold light that fills the room, his skin glows with sweat.

Ella pulls her knees up to her chest, leans her back against the wall, and watches him, trying to divine a language from his movements. Is there a plan, a means by which this esoteric act may be made intelligible to her? She wants to ask him, but is unwilling to spoil his concentration. His eyes are closed, his face serene, expressionless. He reminds her in some way of a diagram of a human body. He is neither too heavy nor too lean. He is neither too tall nor too short. Everything about him is balanced and well-proportioned.

She is not certain she likes this about him.

She wonders what he is thinking about.



Christopher is remembering.

This has been happening for weeks now. Even in the depths of pratyahara concentration, memories rise unbidden to his mind, like bubbles breaking through still water. This time, instead of resisting, he allows the memory to enter his consciousness. It changes from liquid to gas, filling the space of his awareness. And it is not like a memory, not down in pratyahara. It is being there.



England, 1912

They are sitting in Reiter's hotel room, drinking cognac and enjoying the breeze through the open windows. Reiter's things- clothes, trinkets, toiletries- are scattered over the bed. His suitcases sit, mouths open, not yet packed.

Through the windows, they can see the traffic on the street outside. Well-dressed couples pass by, climb into and out of cabs, talk of plays they have seen, musicians they admire, people they know personally.

"I don't understand your objection," Reiter says. "I do not." He brings his snifter up to his lips.

"As I said, I can't support my statement with anything you would call a fact. I fully admit that, but I've learned to trust my instincts, William. Is there really business in New York so important that it couldn't wait a few weeks?"

"Yes," Reiter says. "Yes, there is. Business is all about time. We live and die by time. Two weeks from now, everything could be different."

"It certainly could."

"I don't mean that." Reiter scowls. "I live and die by time. Time and reliability, Christopher. I am a businessman. I am expected to be present to conduct business. What will I tell my associates when they ask me why I have delayed myself for so long?"

"Tell them you felt unwell. Tell them you were pursuing important matters here. Tell them you took a mistress. Tell them you were robbed. Tell them anything"

"Don't be ridiculous."

Christopher sets down his glass and pinches the bridge of his nose. "William. I am your friend, or like to think of myself as such. I have never knowingly lied to you, nor misled you, nor given you cause to doubt my sanity, have I?"

"Of course not, but-"

"Please, a moment. I wouldn't pursue this so far if I didn't think it was important. I have an extremely worrying feeling concerning your trip, and I wish that you would consider delaying it, or finding another ship."

"Is this more of your occult business?"

"Does it matter?"

Reiter shifts in his chair. He has put on weight in recent years, and his bearded jowls have begun to droop. To Christopher's eyes, he looks tired. "You've never been a man of business," he says. "You do not understand. No. No, I'm sorry, Christopher. I cannot afford to act as though the sky is falling." He looks at Christopher with his tired eyes, and Christopher realizes, with a nasty shock, that his friend is jealous.

William has grown heavier and slower. He has not.

William has aged. Christopher, to all appearances, has stayed the same.

He finishes his cognac, makes his excuses, and leaves. In the doorway, he shakes William's hand, promises to visit him in New York, or to call on him when he returns to Europe.

It is the last time he will see William Reiter alive.



The memory fades out, burning away like a Polaroid in reverse. His object of focus, a white triangle with a circle in the center, hangs in front of his inner eye. He has the impression, common in this state, of being inside some titanic enclosed space, like a Dyson sphere.

Then the dog Memory barks again, and he is elsewhere-



Italy, 1923

A young woman Christopher does not recognize brings a silver tea service and biscuits. Crowley pours for both of them, pouring milk from a small pitcher, followed by tea from the steaming pot. He inserts small silver spoons into each, then passes cup and saucer across to Christopher.

"So," Crowley says. "This Collins you saw perform..."

"Yes?"

"Absolute rubbish, of course."

"I'm not so certain," Christopher says. "He's fairly amazing. He may be the genuine article."

"Don't be ridiculous. Stage magic is not Magick. Trickery and theatrics, no matter how filled with occult twaddle, belong in the dance halls amidst the howling masses. If I showed you a photograph of a bicycle, could you ride to Birmingham on it?"

Christopher sits back, bemused. "You may want to see his show and judge for yourself."

Crowley scowls. "I will certainly have the unfortunate opportunity to be back in England soon enough. I suppose you've heard about the Abbey?"

"Yes, I'm terribly sorry."

Crowley waves this away. "Never mind. Imagine it! The greatest magician of this- or any- century, tossed out onto the street like a common prostitute. Not that the Italians would know a person of quality if they were clubbed over the head with one. The mass of men here are either self-inflated mediocrities, or else crapulous and ridiculous imbeciles." He sighs. "Still, they're better than Englishmen."

"You will be returning to England, then?"

"Perhaps. I don't know. I should like to visit Paris again. And what of your own peregrinations, Mr. Downing? Still practicing the excellent and admirable science of Yoga?"

"Of course." Christopher sips his tea.

"And what good it's done you, too. You seem hardly to have aged a day since 1900. Your devotion to your work does you credit, though I do wish you would consider branching out into Magick as well. What an adept you would make- and you would make an adept, I assure you- if only I could persuade you-"

"We've discussed this before," Christopher says. "I'm very sorry, but I'm not interested."

"If you would only take the time to read some of our documents- or even just the Book of the Law. I have a copy I can loan you, in my study desk I believe, if-"

"Aleister..."

Crowley subsides. "Very well. Your Will is, of course, your own. But share this much with a foolish old Magus before you go."

"I will if I can."

Crowley leans forward, eyes bright and penetrating. "You have found some means of immortality, haven't you? I certainly hope so; I've been telling my disciples for years that I know an immortal or two."

"Aleister..."

"Of course, you wouldn't want the information spreading every-which-way, and you needn't worry. You have my oath that it will not leave through my lips."

Christopher stares at his teacup, troubled.

"Is that not enough? Very well." Crowley holds up a hand. "I swear it by Nuit, and by Hadit, and by Adonai, the Holy Guardian Angel. I swear by the First Aethyr, and the Word of the Aeon, and the Crowned and Conquering Child. And if I should break my vow, may my body be despoiled, and my followers scattered, and my Temple pulled down, and my waters poisoned, and-"

"All right." Christopher puts up a hand to forestall him. "All right. I believe you."

"Well?"

Christopher sighs. "Yes. Probably. Maybe."

The hungry look comes back into Crowley's eyes. "And can you share this technique?"

"No. I'm sorry, Aleister. It was more or less an accident. I don't think it was something I could do again. If it were, I would be teaching it. I don't propose to hoard knowledge like that."

"Oh. Yes, yes I see." Crowley leans back in his chair, defeated. His face goes slack, and Christopher thinks how tired he looks, how beaten down by the world.

He sets down his cup and stands. "I should go."

"No, please, stay for dinner," Crowley says. "I relish the presence of any learned company. Please do. I'll have brandy sent in momentarily."

"All right. Thank you..." Christopher sits down again, the leather chair creaking under him. Crowley picks up a silver bell from the table and rings it.

A few minutes later, the woman reappears with brandy and pipe tobacco.


------
"Quit this world, quit the next world, quit quitting!" -Sufi proverb.


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The following comments are for "Take Me Back to the Garden of Love - 26"
by Beckett Grey





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