The Hidden Masters and the Unspeakable Evil

By Jack Barrow

Chapter 1 - The Esbat

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In sheer terror Geoff bit down hard on his meerschaum pipe carved in the shape of the god Pan. He would have closed his eyes as the enormous double-decker bus bore down on him, but he couldn’t because his eyes were painted on. The engine of the twelfth scale biplane screamed as it carried him toward almost certain horrible death. It was at this very point that just one thought passed through Geoff’s mind: ‘Why does this sort of thing only ever happen to me when I get involved with these guys?’

The guys in question were magicians, but not just any old magicians mind you. They were master magicians, or if you were in the know—which would mean that you had to be pretty well informed in these matters—you would know them to be hidden masters. Being hidden meant that they were hidden from the gaze of the people around them. You could say that they were anonymous. Now most hidden masters are believed to be from the Far East, such as The Secret Chiefs or The Hidden Tibetan Masters, but our heroes were The Three Hidden Masters, two from Hemel Hempstead and one from Bricket Wood and they were legendary, if you were in the know.

It had all started earlier that week on a normal Tuesday night in Nigel’s ex-council house in Hemel Hempstead. Nigel, a member of the legendary trio, is middle-aged with a stubble beard and rather long straggly fair hair. On this particular Tuesday night he was just in the process of preparing his evening meal, while listening to the story on The Archers about how the village game-keeper had beaten up the local drug dealer.

People who follow The Archers will understand that just after the turn of the millennium, when this story is set, the story lines had moved on somewhat. To the rest of you this may come as something of a shock. However, let’s hope it’s not as much of a shock as the rest of the story that follows.

So, just as the intricacies of country life down on the farm began to unfold, Nigel’s oracular eye began to twitch and sure enough his phone rang. Taking the call he cursed the timing as he still had to cook his poached eggs on toast with baked beans and be ready for his guests to arrive at eight o’clock that evening. Meanwhile, he had to keep track of the badger shooting scandal prompted by the current outbreak of bovine tuberculosis.

Now it was a Tuesday night, not because Tuesday nights are special in any intrinsic way, because as any magician worth his salt knows—nothing holds intrinsic value—including Tuesday nights. No, this was a Tuesday night because this was when The Three Hidden Masters, two from Hemel Hempstead and one from Bricket Wood, would meet. You see, they were the inner-circle of a group of practising ritual magicians who, unbeknownst to the community around them, gathered to discuss their art each week.

So, if it was the night of their meeting, where were the two remaining hidden masters along with the other members of their apparently diabolical circle? Well, over recent weeks, in fact months or more, they had found that their meetings had become less and less well attended and for some time now there had been only the three of them. You see, being a Hidden Master can be as much a disadvantage as an advantage, in that it is possible to be so well hidden that you seem to be a completely ordinary individual. In which case, if you decide to have a magical group at your house on a Tuesday night—which can be a bit of a pain if you do the washing up afterwards, not to mention the extra vacuuming—it can be very difficult for people to realise you are a master magician at all. So the group run by The Three Hidden Masters, two from Hemel Hempstead and one from Bricket Wood, was now down to just three regular members. The other members just didn’t turn up much. Not that they didn’t turn up at all, they turned up when there was something to turn up to. To anyone in the know, and you know who you are, people would turn up for sabbats, but not for esbats, which seems to be the way of the world.

* * *

Those of you in the know will be aware that a sabbat is a time when magical practitioners come together to perform their arts. In modern parlance the term sabbat is specifically used to describe a meeting of witches to celebrate one of the eight seasonal festivals, while the esbat is the time when witches gather at the time of the full moon.

Magicians, on the other hand, don’t necessarily celebrate the eight festivals, lacking the strong connection to the seasons that witches have. Of course that does not preclude them from doing so, but they don’t keep the festivals as religiously as witches.

You see, The Three Hidden Masters, two from Hemel Hempstead and one from Bricket Wood, are not witches, no matter what you might think. Magicians and witches are fundamentally different. Witchcraft, or Wicca to give it its most popular modern title, is a religion, complete with a goddess and perhaps a god and stuff like that. However, magic, for our heroes at least, is more of a collection of philosophies, perhaps more akin to Daoism, Buddhism, Confucianism or Zen. To our heroes, magic is a tool that aids them in personal development, a way of working with their strengths and weaknesses or just enabling them to get on in life.

So The Three Hidden Masters, two from Hemel Hempstead and one from Bricket Wood, prefer to have no truck with the worship of deities, apart from when they suspend their disbelief during the performance of a ritual. Even then they rarely worship that which they have conjured.

The difference, then, is one of supplication, or lack of it. A worshiper should be humble or reverent when dealing with a deity. However, a magician takes a position of authority and command. Our heroes are rarely humble, preferring to see themselves as in control and they are not necessarily reverent. In fact, at times, they are down right irreverent.

So our heroes are a contrary bunch and they have adopted the term sabbat and esbat for their own purposes. The sabbat is any occasion when they perform their magic, while the esbat is any other session when they get together to plan rituals, get drunk and generally fall over.

* * *

So if Nigel is one of The Three Hidden Masters, two from Hemel Hempstead and one from Bricket Wood, you might ask where were the remaining members? Well, as we speak or, in fact, as I write and you read, a rather nondescript Japanese saloon car was making its way up the nearby M1 motorway, which is one way you might get from Bricket Wood to Hemel Hempstead. Now, the fact that the car was Japanese really has nothing to do with our tale. What may turn out to be more important is that this particular nondescript Japanese car was just about a runner, which I suppose makes it just that little bit descript if you like.

The car was not so much a runner that it was an old-banger. It was the sort of nondescript car you might end up with, if you had a mate who would get you another motor if you needed one quickly and you were not too fussy about what you drove. Such a runner would get you from A to B, in reasonable comfort—for comfort is a relative thing—for a year or so, until it died suddenly. Thus, you would find yourself needing another motor, prompting a visit to your aforementioned mate who could get you such things, and so the infinite cycle of the second-hand car unfolds.

Driving this Japanese car was one Clint Jones, former submariner in the Royal Navy. He is a man without the look of an ex-submariner for he is perhaps six feet tall, or even more. Of course, I don’t know exactly what an ex-submariner is supposed to look like, but one might imagine that being very tall in a submarine would lead to some entertaining stories of a forehead bruised on compartment bulkheads, but if such stories exist, they have never been told.

So, having dealt with the maniacs joining the M1 from the M25—for as anyone in the know is aware, the M25 has more than its fare share of maniacs—Clint came into Hemel Hempstead, through the industrial estate and eventually rounded the corner into Masons Road. As he parked outside the house of Nigel Hammond, he saw his friend Wayne Baldwin, a stout heavily bearded master magician, coming around the corner from the next street where he lives.

At this point, I suppose you might think the fact that the road was named Masons Road would have some bearing on our story, what with all this talk of magicians meeting in secret and the like but, in fact, they have nothing to do with the events that follow. Masons, or Freemasons to give them their proper title, have sometimes been associated with occult practices considering their historic use of rituals and ceremony. It has even been suggested that they go back to The Order of the Rosy Cross or even The Knights Templar. In fact, none of these organisations have anything to do with The Three Hidden Masters, two from Hemel Hempstead and one from Bricket Wood. On the other hand, it could be argued that our heroes are more closely related to the Theosophists, a mystical society dating back to the mid-Victorian period with their belief in Hidden Tibetan Masters and ideas of reincarnation. However, the truth of the matter is that the only connection our heroes have with reincarnation is via the infinite cycle of the second-hand car.

The only reason our heroes are described as meeting in Masons Road is because this is, in fact, a true story and this is where Nigel lives. Could this be a coincidence? Most definitely, but let’s not get into all that coincidence stuff right now.

* * *

So the trio was once again formed. Much the same as any other week they gathered in the sitting room of the ex-council house with a stock of cold larger and a bottle of dark rum. On other occasions, it might have been a large bottle of vodka, whiskey, gin, or even occasionally strong white cider if they were feeling a bit broke. The nature of the intoxicant was unimportant so long as it was suitably intoxicating. You see our heroes found the altered states of consciousness invoked by intoxicants of all sorts went well with the sort of magic that they practised.

The various drinks, along with tobacco, cigarette papers and other paraphernalia sat upon a large chest, painted with images from tarot cards which was used as a coffee table. To protect the paintwork from damage there was a scattering of CDs used as coasters; the sort of junk mail CDs you end up with if Internet Service Providers get to hear that you have a computer or perhaps once saw one. Here then, they considered how they should go about shaping the Universe this week.

“So what news is there?” began Wayne to the sound of cans hissing open as he scratched his arse.

Wayne spoke with the classic Received Pronunciation (RP) of the English upper-middle-classes. This is slightly misleading as the family background of all three hidden masters is very ordinary indeed. The only connection Wayne has with anything other than the working-class is his education. You see, back in the sixties, Wayne had passed his Eleven Plus exam with flying colours, however, the achievement was not completely free of the whiff of scandal. But, with such a high pass—by fair means or foul—he gained entry into a very good Grammar School where he not only picked up a good education but also an accent quite similar to the RP of post war BBC presenters. Unfortunately though, there were occasions when his manners revealed his origins all too clearly.

“News? Not much,” was the reply from Clint, calling from the kitchen in response to Wayne.

“I was just speaking to Geoff,” said Nigel. “He phoned me during the Archers again! He’s behaving very strangely lately.”

Wayne took a swig from his can. “Exactly what are you saying? The Wicked Wizard of The North? How on earth could he become any stranger?”

“Oh, he was wittering on about something to do with casinos, Blackpool and Las Vegas.”

Blackpool and Las Vegas in the same sentence. Man that’s a seriously unreal concept.” Clint walked in with a plastic jug of water and three small glasses. “Anyone for grog?”

Although Clint had spent quite a few years in the Royal Navy, on leaving he had fallen in with the remains of the hippie movement. As such, he was a strange combination of a military trained engineer mixed with the anti-establishment outlook of the sixties, complete with the full range of hippy slang, mannerisms, and other interests including a taste for floral prints and clashing colours.

“No thank you. I prefer my rum plain,” replied Wayne. He was the sort to drink anything straight and when he had to have a mixer, such as in a gin and tonic, his drinks were renowned for their bite.

Nigel tilted his head to one side for a moment as he thought. “I think I’ve got some Coke left over in the fridge. I’ll have a Cubre Libra.”

Clint frowned at Nigel as he sat himself down in the corner. “You mean rum and coke,” he spoke in a softly irritated voice, “shouldn’t it be white rum for a Cubre Libra?” he asked.

“Not strictly,” interrupted Wayne. “Opinions differ. Sources list the Cubre Libre as being made from dark or light rum. However, all sources suggest it should have a shot of lime juice to finish it off. Even the spelling of the name is in dispute. I remember when I was in Cuba I…”

Nigel interrupted Wayne to answer Clint. “Well, beggars can’t be choosers, besides, Wayne keeps buying this cheap stuff from the Co-op so I’m not going to turn down a free drink.” He paused for a moment to ensure he had their attention. “Anyway, I was saying, Geoff was going on about the everything-shop where he buys his beer,” Nigel’s gaze seemed to wander as he tried to remember, “not the Co-op but … Chain Mart or something. He was talking gibberish!”

“Well, I am aware he has been a trifle eccentric at times, but he usually makes sense,” responded Wayne in Geoff’s defence. “However, I do not think it would be fair to accuse him of talking gibberish.”

“Oh no, this was different. He was going on about plans to build casinos in Blackpool and make it the Las Vegas of the North.”

There was a spray of watered rum across the room that settled onto the carpet and the painted chest. “Hey, sorry about that,” Clint wiped a dribble of grog from his chin “but man, that’s really flaky!”

As Clint used wads of paper towel to wipe up the mess, Nigel explained to the others how he had deduced from Geoff and stories on the radio that there really was a plan to build casinos in Blackpool. The rum on the carpet didn’t really need cleaning up because they knew that this was a particularly malevolent carpet. With its complex and not very attractive pattern, it was known to eat most things that were dropped onto it. This included anything dark, from about the size of a nugget of dope up to a small dinner plate. Generally, they suspected that Nigel’s carpet was in the habit of getting just as stoned as they were.

“So what has Chain Mart got to do with casinos and Las Vegas in Blackpool?” asked Clint having recovered from shock of the idea.

“I don’t really know. He was going on about how he had discovered something very strange about the model village where he works, something about Cowboys and Indians.” Even though Nigel had only been speaking to Geoff an hour before, he sounded vague, but vague was often what Nigel was all about. “He also said he thought the Chain Mart was involved somehow. I think he was hoping we could help him out.”

“Cowboys and Indians?” asked Clint as he picked up a packet of rolling tobacco and papers to roll a joint.

“Indigenous Tribal American Peoples,” corrected Wayne.

Nigel continued, “I didn’t really understand it, I always thought Blackpool’s model village was based in the English post war, ‘way back when nostalgia was great’ period.”

“I believe ‘Yesterwhen’ is Geoff’s favoured term,” said Wayne.

“Yesterwhen?” asked Clint.

Nigel looked at Wayne nodding. “That’s right, when factory workers dressed in brown warehouse coats and flat caps. When fat butchers wore striped aprons and carried great big meat cleavers.”

“So what has all this got to do with Cowboys and Indians?” asked Clint.

“Well, Geoff said that strange figures were appearing amongst his models,” Nigel explained, leaning back on the sofa as he sipped his rum and coke, gazing into some distant part at the back of his mind.

“Sure, Cowboys and Indians would be a bit crazy in a Yesterwhen village,” said Clint.

Nigel continued to recount his conversation with Geoff, even though his attention was clearly elsewhere. “He reckoned there was other stuff going on too.”

“What sort of stuff?” asked Clint, as Nigel drifted off, giving Wayne a knowing look.

“I don’t know,” replied Nigel dreamily, “he was very vague and a bit excitable.”

“That sounds like Geoff, he is obviously in his excitable phase,” suggested Wayne.

“… crocodiles of school children, two by two, in uniforms with shorts and satchels snaking through the streets,” said Nigel to nobody in particular, his consciousness not fully in the room.

“Crocodiles?” Wayne looked confused.

Nigel was clearly in some sort of a trance. “… and ice-cream sold from tricycles with umbrellas.”

“Tricycles?” replied Wayne.

Suddenly, Nigel snapped out of it. “I think I can feel a reading coming on. We may be able to find out what he’s up to.”

Reading?” continued Wayne more out of habit than anything else.

So, out came the tarot cards.

* * *

Now some magicians, tellers of fortunes, scholars of the mysteries, or whatever you want to call them, will tell you that Tarot cards are sacred plaques which should be treated with reverence and wrapped in silk of the deepest purple, but not Nigel. As a magician he was most definitely of the school of the pragmatist. He had owned his cards for perhaps twenty years and he still kept them in the same cardboard box that they had come in. In fact, they were his second set of cards. He had put his first set aside after a couple of years, as he felt they were becoming difficult to shuffle what with wear and tear. ‘Like shuffling toast’ is what he had said at the time. So, he bought a duplicate set from a fellow magician who was selling them cheap and put the new ones in the old box. The box had slowly disintegrated over the years. He had repaired it many times with sticky tape to the point that it was now quite difficult to open with all the layers of dried and yellowed tape flaking off inside and out. But, it had once been a nice box, with a slip over lid and an image of ‘The World’ card on the top, so he wanted to keep it. So perhaps his tape encrusted cardboard box had gained more magical reverence than any square of pretentious purple silk could ever have. But that is perhaps the nature of the Pragmatist School of Magic.

The fact that this set of cards was now far older and more worn than the discarded toast set ever was seemed to have escaped his attention, but like many things in the world of the magician it was probably a subjective experience and he didn’t give a toss anyway.

* * *

Shuffling the cards, Nigel drew ten and laid them on the table in the spread, called the Celtic Cross. This was the only spread Nigel knew. It had always served him well and he didn’t see why he should bother learning another one.

Now the exact details of the reading cannot be described here, not because there is any special magical or sacred prohibition on revealing such information, but because I know where I want the story to go and it’s just a bit too complicated. Basically, I can’t be bothered to work out an exact set of cards that would include all the details. The reading would have to cover casinos, model villages, plans to turn Blackpool into Las Vegas, and everything-shops just down the road where you go for an emergency packet of fags—that’s cigarettes to any American’s reading this. Don’t get the wrong idea about the Wicked Wizard of The North!

So that’s what the reading revealed. It also turned out that the Wicked Wizard of The North—being the model maker at the local model village and a Hidden Master himself—had been exploring the idea of the model village as his own personal voodoo set.

By the way, he wasn’t really wicked; it was just that wizards who come from far away, on some point on the compass, tend to get a prefix of some sort and he had been given the obvious one. Thus, he was labelled Wicked. He’d had the title for some years now and nobody quite knew where it had come from.

The reading also revealed that whoever was behind the plan to make Blackpool the Las Vegas of the North was secretly intending to turn it into a seedy, tacky and depraved town.

“It all sounds a bit unreal!” declared Clint, as Nigel finished the reading. “How can putting a casino in Blackpool make it seedy and tacky?” It seemed Clint failed to see the irony of his question.

“ Lord only knows,” said Wayne, not very seriously before wringing the last little bit of goodness out of the joint. “He need not be rational, after all, he is a magician.”

“And wicked!” added Nigel.

* * *

Now, it is a known fact—if there can be a fact about such woolly minded nonsense—that a magician should not necessarily be rational, for much of what a magician does deals with the irrational. Anyone who is completely rational would be considered a scientist, or at least living in the scientific paradigm. Magicians sometimes think in terms of paradigms or models, usually used to describe a particular model of reality. You see, magicians are of the opinion that there is no such thing as truth and, therefore, no such thing as reality. Both truth and reality are subjective and magicians, such as our heroes, are quite big on subjectivity. The idea is that reality conforms to the way that you see it, or at least seems to. This has been described as the idea of the observer-oriented universe. This has also been described as utter rubbish, particularly by the Grumpy Wizard of the West, but he is part of another story entirely.

* * *

“Hold on,” added Nigel just before he put the cards away, “there’s something else here, some other entity at work.”

“Entity?” quizzed Clint.

“Yeah, some dark force or something.”

“Force?” enquired Wayne.

“Yeah, he’s stumbled across something, or something has stumbled across him.” Nigel looked at the other two. “This may be why he needs our help.” He paused, more for effect than anything else. “He may not be completely in control of the situation.”

Both Wayne and Clint were about to say something about Geoff’s potential state of mind. You see Geoff had once played with his own sanity in an attempt to get out of a particularly stressful job and may have ended up with more than he bargained for. When practicing magic, be careful what you ask for!

“I know, I know,” continued Nigel. “What I mean is … I think his village might have been hijacked by something.”

“Oh man!” complained Clint. “You mean a dark force from the other side has risen up to conquer Britain’s decaying northern holiday resorts? That’s too much!”

“Do you have any idea what it is?” asked Wayne of Nigel.

“No, not really, but it’s more serious than I first thought, and it’s powerful.”

“Oh that’s bad!” exclaimed Clint.

“I think he may need some support here,” continued Nigel.

“No this sucks! What next, will Darth Vader return to conquer Skegness?” asked Clint sarcastically.

“Well, they do have rather good sea defences,” replied Wayne, “or, at least, I understand them to be considerably superior to those in Scarborough.”

“And it’s so bracing,” added Nigel.

“Look! We’re not saving the Universe again!” urged Clint. “It was a really bad trip last time!”

“Well, I think we may need to go up there. He is, after all, a mate,” pointed out Nigel.

“No, this is all fucked up man!” continued Clint. “Last time, we nearly got burned!”

“Well, if we are going to save the Universe, then we really ought to do so at the weekend,” insisted Wayne.

It was obvious that Nigel and Wayne were just going to ignore Clint’s protestations. “In which case we’re gonna have to split by Sunday night,” relented Clint, “because I’ve got to be back at work on Monday morning!”


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