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Deal 238: Getting out is harder than getting in.

I have moved through the world, observing, for a long time. It would be easy (and it was easy when I tried it once, but I try not to talk about that period) to set myself up as a king or cult leader by exercising what I’ve learned about the way human nature really works. But I do not. I have learned to mask my nature, to use my skills to remain comfortable without becoming a target. In short, I have learned to be humble.

I wasn’t always that way.

Playing on emotions and taking advantage of investments made with a very long horizon made it so easy to set up that cult. But the whole time that I lived that role I felt like I was actually wearing a disguise and playing a part. After a few decades, it got old. But some things, once set in motion, are difficult to halt. We were never a huge cult, but we were wealthy. And just vanishing would have left that wealth in the hands of far less scrupulous people. So I told myself that remaining the leader was a sacrifice for the greater good. The groupies, the fine dining, the fine art, cars, yachts, planes and even a private train were just part of the sacrifice I had to make.

After some time, even the most fervent believers began to notice that their leader had not aged, and the rumors started. I was supernatural. I was undead. I was living off their very souls.

All true, not that it matters particularly.

Because it was all false too. My long life is supernatural by the very definition of the word. Undead is a strong term, I prefer undying as that seems more descriptive. I almost died once, but didn’t. That seems to be the trick, when given the choice, don’t choose to die. Was I living off the souls of my followers? In some sense, yes, of course I was. I was basking in their adoration and belief. Belief that was finally becoming a prison.

So I dared it all, arranged to implode the cult and fake my death. It took several years to plan, and required that a few in the innermost circle of the cult discover that there was a yet deeper circle. My cabal. Together, we hand picked a few people to unexpectedly receive the majority of our assets.

Of course, even my inner circle was not aware that most of those people were really just legal fictions. Of course, I salted in a healthy number of real recipients to provide distractions while carefully exposing a handful of my spare identities to the scrutiny of my cabal. I naturally allowed the cabal to include themselves, allowing them to buy themselves seemed prudent.

It went smoothly, the cult dissolved the way many such do by splintering into multiple sects that frittered away assets by wrangling over the rights to the names and literature while my cabal quietly retired and I arranged my very public death, and then the deaths of the various paper identities that had received the bulk of the wealth.

So today I remain humble. Humbled by the edifice I had created, and the effort it required to bring it down.

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Deal 198: The Rite

In the flickering light, the Shaman concentrates, chanting quietly to focus his power.

Most of the village sits in a circle around the fire, watching. The Shaman’s assistant is quietly tapping a skin drum as a counterpoint to the chant.

The fire flares up and the Shaman rises, seemingly carried aloft by the enlarged flames, but without moving a muscle.

There is an audible gasp from the seated audience. Even though they’ve seen this before, it always amazes.

I’m watching from the shadows, watching the Shaman, his assistant, and the village. I’m watching to understand. I arrived at the village on the trail of rumors and myths. The stories agreed that something unusual was happening here. I had to see for myself. To my amazement, the I found the village where the stories had said. Even more amazing, the villagers welcomed a stranger with open arms, finding me room to stay with a recently widowed elder. They answered my questions about most subjects without qualms. But when the mysteries and stories came up, they just smiled and said I had to see for myself, or that the Shaman would make all things clear.

The Shaman, of course, was away when I arrived. His assistant assured me he would to return, and deferred all questions to his master.

Today, the Shaman returned, and tonight the village is welcoming him home in a combined celebration and mystical rite. No one would tell me what the rite was for exactly. As usual, the Shaman would explain.

From his position held aloft by the flames, he turned his gaze on me where I stood in the shadows. “Come forth and be seen,” he commanded, and I obeyed without hesitation, walking through the seated ring of villagers, stopping at the fire facing him. His eyes were compelling, and I found I could hardly look at anything else. The fire glinted in his pupils, the effect was somewhat hypnotic.

I don’t know how long I stood there or how long he was suspended above the flames. My recollection of that night is all a blur.

I awoke in my borrowed bed, with no clear idea of how I got there.

That was ten years ago today. The village is still here. The old Shaman passed over some time ago, but the new one conducts the rite from time to time, usually when a stranger wanders in from the hills. And on occasional anniversaries I remember my own time in the fire and wonder that I’ve never thought to leave.

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Deal 189: Michel’s Quandry

I was beginning to fear that I never actually had the talent attributed to me over all these years. Was I ever the man that had written all of those prophesies?

Had any of them actually predicted something usefully far enough in advance to matter?

This was hardly the first time I was feeling doubts about my past life’s work. As much as I tried to distance myself, there was something particularly compelling about that identity. I was hardly the first of our kind to reach out to people and try to explain the world to them. And I was certainly not the first to be misunderstood in that effort. But I was clearly the most memorable.

In hindsight, writing them all down and giving them a grand title at an age when the written word was a particularly magical thing may have been a bit much.

But today, I was particularly feeling like a fraud and a great liar.

Estant assis de nuict secret estude,
Seul reposé fus la selle d’airain;
Flambe exigue sortant de solitude
Feit proferer qui n’est à croire en vain.

Sitting alone at night in secret study;
it is placed on the brass tripod.
A slight flame comes out of the emptiness and
makes successful that which should not be believed in vain.
Prophesies Century I, 1.

Those were among my earliest written predictions. In the five hundred years that have passed since I wrote those words, I started on many occasions to try to right the wrong that leaving them in the world had done. I had even tried establishing myself as a scholarly expert in my own life at one point. Nothing I tried worked. Worse, anything I did seemed to increase the staying power of my old predictions.

I imagine that one problem is that they were overtly nonsense when I wrote them. They serve as a kind of linguistic ink blot. You can see anything you want to see in them, since they have the form of language without any of the bother of actual meaning and content.

That was the bombshell I kept trying to drop on the world, yet Fate keeps preventing it being heard.

And now, here I am, still alive and kicking, working once again as a psychic, and suddenly embroiled in the fate of the world. These are going to be interesting times.