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"What are you looking for?"

"Knowledge," I said, hoping it might not sound too banal. It was, at least, an approximation of the truth. "I'm in search of knowledge."

"Every Tom, Dick, and Harry is after knowledge," he replied. "You are not ordinary. I want to know what it is you seek that the ordinary man does not even guess at."

. . . "Mastery," I said. "Real knowledge and final mastery."

He smiled.

p. 61(1)

 

 

Just to get it straight, this is not the original source material for the escapades of Neo, Morpheus, and Trinity. Author Aycliffe writes what is referred to as the British Ghost Story, as assigned by early purveyors such as M.R. James, Algernon Blackwood, Henry James. He's not gonna break out of that formula much; he's got a lot on his mind, being educated through Trinity, Edinburgh, Cambridge. A Senior Fellow and an Irishman to boothis real name is Denis MacEoin, but he pennames Daniel Easterman to write Espionagehe brings his PhD in focus on Islamic studies with a Middle Eastern centrality. The Matrix is his fourth novel in this venue of demonic tomes, despoiled graves, slumbering hauntings, creaky old houses, ancient talismans and spells.

It is a story about a guy who manages to get through a major life crisis only to be embroiled in another that makes the last one look like a walk in the park. It is a considerable grieving when the love of your life dies young and suddenly. Andrew Macleod faces this when Catriona, his heart-mate of four years, passes on with cancer at 26 years of age. Now, he can only "treasure every moment in my memory"(p.17).

He never imagines he will see her again.

Andrew is a self-titled "scientist", a "late-twentieth-century man of reason"(p.11), educated in the good schools of Scotland, and finding his calling in Sociology, specifically the study of Religion as manifested through current New Age "wooliness"(p.21) and devil-deviated cults. While researching through a private library of the Fraternity of the Old Path, a dusty, leather-bound tome finds him. Called the Matrix Aeternitatis, its date is 1598(2) and has numerous talismanic devices placed throughout its discourse of "diabolic incantations" concerning age-old ritual magic. The author, a Avimetus Africanus, was a Moroccan scholar of some note in medieval Europe. Andrew is fascinated early on by the book's "oracular quality of the spells"(p.34); however, he soon reviles the work due to its grotesque and abominable purpose. He takes it back, but the librarian won't have it. Determined, Andrew tosses the bookpriceless as it might beinto his firestove.

It is about this time Andrew begins hearing strange, scratching noises in the walls of his lodging and discovers what looks like contusions on his hands and face. He starts in on a recurring dream where he attends a black mass in "a great black church. . . grim and vast and silent"(p.57) that becomes so terrifying, he tries to avoid sleep altogether. It's also about this time that he meets Duncan Mylne, an upper-class advocate who is likewise enraptured with the occult.

Duncan is rich, educated, and anxious to share his preternatural knowledge and experiences. They become fast friends, with Duncan supplying the principle texts of ritual magic and alchemical lore in "recondite volumes . . . as daunting to lift as to read"(p.64). Duncan presses Andrew to learn Arabic as the fountainhead language of necromancy, then insists he join him for the summer in Morocco. Andrew soon feels that "Duncan had not brought me in order to open my mind, but to destroy my soul"(p.79). In Fez, Andrew's early impression is that "it was the city of my nightmares"(p.94). And, in its ancient and twisted corridors, Andrew is introduced to a marabout with ultimate power and indescribable presence. At first, Andrew sees just "a mummy wrapped in the robes of an eighteenth-century sheikh. . . long desiccated fingers like claws." The cheeks "were hollow, the mouth devoid of teeth. But the eyes were as full of life as any I had ever seen."(p.96) Sheikh Ahmad ibn 'Abd Allah. Andrew studies with him for a week or so, learning the obscure rituals for immortality and about da'ira, making the dead undead. In a creepy-crawl of the Sheikh's bedroom, Andrew notices no breath or heartbeat present in Ahmad's sleeping form. He surmises the estimate of Ahmad's age of 200 years to be low. When they are about to leave Morocco, he finds his priest friend Iain's missing scarf in Duncan's bag at about the same time he learns of Iain's enigmatic death back home. Yet an acolyte, but he knows that a sorcerer needs only an article of his victim's possessions to be his representative.

Back in Edinburgh, things on the cabalistic level accelerate. Or, to put it more accurately, Andrew becomes aware of the integration between traditional reality and the uber-reality of transmutation with the hereafter. Things seen and heard and learned are still disconcerting and scary, there is just less dubiety about its certainty. Materialization is somewhat regarded like cheesecloth: it appears solid until liquid pours through it. For instance, when Andrew stays at Duncan's somber country estate, one night he sees Duncan consort with some loathsome thingpossibly Duncan's post-dead wife, Constanceout on the snowy grounds. "I had a horror of it now," Andrew notes. But, beyond not sleeping, his reaction seems rather prosaic: "I could hear my own breath rasping"(p.122-3).

On that toe, Andrew jumps into a far more unnerving terror ride when Duncan takes him to the actual black church of his nightmares to witness a satanic ritual complete with important men in pointy-hat robes, chanting. Duncan calls this place "a focus, a beacon, a brightness."

 

"It acts as a prism for our emotions, it amplifies them, alters them. Some dream of what they most hope for, others of what they most fear. Don't be alarmed by that. . . The dreams will change. . . Come on, Andrew. Nothing awful will happen. You're perfectly safe with me."

p.128.

 

When something white and slithering is summoned, Andrew bolts, "frightened beyond measure"(p.130). He is finally ready to face the calamitous facts and their appalling focus on his settlement. It is not going away. He can't put it off, like closing a book. He is truly terrified that this is the rest of his life, or the end of it.

Butfar worsehe should be even more concerned about what happens to him after his earthly demise.

Andrew begins avoiding Duncan, even moving out of his boarding room. He takes up with his dead friend Iain's wife, Harriet. They establish a battle ground to repel Duncan's influence. Andrew re-connects with his parents, trying to find his ordinary life again. Alas, roadblocks appear, upping the stakes. Catriona's grave is robbed and the body taken. Andrew gets another dream-state summoning from a jellaba-wearing apparition. Waking, he catches Catriona's perfume in the room. Now, he sees no hope in regaining normality. "I felt shut out from it as though by a thin, impermeable glass"(p.143).

The irreparable fabric of his world tears further. Twisted and unnatural threads appear all around. Harriet shows him her and Iain's wedding photo taken when they were young. Iain looks like a "thin, bent man." In all of her pics of him he's "days away from death"(p.145). Andrew thinks apprehensively of the photo of Catriona he gave to both Duncan and Sheikh Ahmad.

Then, in what seems like an innocuous sidebar, Andrew stumbles into a strange, depressed neighborhood of "forgotten corners"(p.147) and discovers a bookstore where he might sell his occult collection and pick up a gift for Harriet. Back home, he gets a call from the police. There's been more shenanigans at Catriona's grave, this time with bad juju bits and a dead baby left behind. Feeling like "a flock of large black birds passed over like a stain"(p.145), he telephones home to find out his Father is deathly sick, and, just like in Iain's condition, the doctors haven't a clue. By now, his photo album has gone rotten, also. Catriona's in her wedding dress, but with a shroud over her head. And, in the land of the living, Harriet has unwrapped her "present" and found The Book That Cannot Die: Matrix Aeternitatis, and undeniably Andrew's copy. When he tries to give it back to the bookseller, he finds the store an empty shell, abandoned for years. Maddened, he breaks into the back of the shop, intending to leave the book inside. And this is when, "even in the most vivid of my dreams I had never felt so frightened. This was reality." Because, from a inner doorway yet invisible, Catriona appears and he feels her shocking envelopment.

 

It was Catriona, not a simulacrum, not a doppelganger. I could not mistake the very special physicality of that embrace, the movements of her hands, the teasing and surrender of her lips. I might almost have succumbed, might have given in to the embrace and put my own arms round her: dear God, I came so very close to that. Reason screamed at me to run, my eyes told me there was nothing there, that, whatever it was, it was not Catriona; but my body, so unexpectedly caressed, had its own responses.

p.173

 

He escapes by asking the succubus its name, a trick from an old Barbara Steele movie, obviously. Since he can't rid himself of the book, he reads it. He then realizes he should flagellate himself for not perusing it sooner, because it lays out the whole cabala enchilada in Arabian hot sauce.

 

The purpose of the Matrix Aeternitatis, then, was to teach men a method for attaining everlasting life, not through religion or mysticism or alchemy, but by magic. The book itself was to be the matrix for survival. But by the time I had finished reading, I was certain that there was something more to it than that, and I was reasonably certain what it was: the power to return to life those already dead.

p.177

 

But having the knowledge isn't necessarily mastering it. He grabs Harriet and they bivouac in his hovel flat for the night. Catriona comes. He holds her outside with defensive conjurations, "while my dead wife howled and scrabbled at the door. Until that night, I had feared death only as a great darkness and an oblivion. Now, it is not oblivion I fear: it is oblivion I pray for every night"(p.186).

They are out of options until Andrew reads the unopened letter Iain wrote to him before he died. Iain was a priest pretty understanding of what Andrew was involved in. He suggests getting a hold of Father Silvestri at the church.

They do, and find a black-robed Jesuit, with "something grim and old-fashioned about him, an air of suffering and knowledge. . . the heart and the mind burned for the sake of faith"(p.200). "My church has never abandoned the miraculous," says Father Silvestri, meaning the purpose of the challis and wafer ritual is considered real, supernatural communication. It is the magic inherent in faith. He shows them evidence that Duncan Mylne has been alive since 1846. He gives them the history of the Mylne family and that Duncan spent a year locked in the crypt with his dead wife attempting to bring her back to life not through reincarnation but more of a rejuvenation through magic. When Silvestri produces a photo of Duncan and Constance, it becomes clear what he wants with Catriona. They look like identical twin sisters.

After leaving Father Silvestri, Andrew gets hamstrung by his family's doctor, Ramsey McLean, into taking medication and getting some rest. Dr. McLean betrays him to Duncan and Andrew ends up captured and held in the black church. In these final scenes, all is revealed, including a basement room filled with coffins and pale white, squirmy and squiggly thingies, some of which are once-human abominations and Duncan's past mistakes in trying to bring back his wife(3).

Andrew is instructed that there will be two rituals. One for Catriona's revival, and the other for him, as it is time for Duncan's transformation. But not for Andrew's body, but his lifeforce. "He would suck me dry like someone sucking juice from a pomegranate, and discard the husk"(p.230). There could not be a more convenient time for Father Silvestri and Harriet to crash the party.

Breaking up the ceremony allows Andrew and Harriet to escape. Andrew even saves the baby put in Catriona's coffin for the transformation, and gets a genuine and caring farewell kiss from his soon-to-be-really-dead wife. The final chapter has Andrew and Harriet living incognito on some beach, married, but still watchful. Father Silvestri didn't make it out of the black church, but apparently Duncan did.

Evil is not diminished in the world, just merely sidestepped.

Normally, such an extensive summary of a work is not attempted, but The Matrix is all plot and atmosphere. The characters are recognizable to anyone with much reading experience. What this heavy synopsis reveals is the diligence to its categorization The genre whistlestops are all made, but with insistence and precision, so that its "classic" underbelly feels substantial, expanded, and creative. Being in a staging area where breakups with agreed-upon reality are demanded, this novel exploits its traditions to bolster its success. It shows that the older queriessometimes centuries oldercan be the most influential to an attentive psyche, and that the horrors substantiated by history can play harder to a delicate balance between the secular and supernatural. The Matrix is a proud and proper standard in a modern time.

 

1) All quotes from The Matrix, HarperCollins Publishers, London, ISBN 000224161X, c.1994

2) This is actually when it was translated into English. It was written in 1189 AD.

3) Think Tony Scott's 1st film, The Hunger of 1983, where vampiress Miriam keeps her past lovers imprisoned in the attic for all eternity because she can't kill them.

 

text only © copyright 12/31/2015 by Larry Crawford

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