Part One: The Descent
Clipped to a rope line at the summit of Dufourspitze, Deidre Moon was on top of the world. The panoramic view unfolded beneath a sapphire sky. An amphitheater of four-thousand-meter peaks poked through a swirl of clouds. Italy to the south, the Matterhorn to the west.
The trek had begun at 3 A.M. with the other five members of her climbing team. Stefan, the Austrian guide, headed the line of climbers, Deidre in second position, the Texan in third position, and a Japanese couple in the fourth and fifth spots.
And now, on the stunning precipice of the highest peak in Switzerland, she soaked in the blazing sunshine. The light at the higher elevation, crisp and pure, unlike the artificial light in the Geneva hotel a few days ago when she’d stood in heels instead of crampons delivering the keynote address, Monetizing the Consumer Experience, before an audience of trend spotters seeking the next big thing to promote to a rising demographic of millennials craving authentic experiences rather than the inexhaustible consumption of status quo symbols of success. The cocktail chatter was all about “chasing the chill.” As CEO of MoonRise, LLC, Deidre headed the most successful extreme sports marketing companies in the world catering to a lucrative market of adrenaline junkies.
Experience! That’s what her clients craved—more than haute couture or hot cars. Owning things was easy. However, deep-down psychological satisfaction derived from increasingly personalized experiences—now that was the new benchmark for what set you apart from the herd.
And the price for admission to the most exclusive club: priceless experience—much like the crystalline air shocking Deidre’s consciousness like defibrillator paddles to an arrested heart. Every breath was an extraordinary moment of aliveness, heightened by the knowledge that certain death could strike anytime due to a misstep. Stefan’s cautionary tale of two climbers swept into a crevice last month—bodies not yet recovered—still fresh in her mind.
Yet the risk of death added value to the experience, well worth the thousands of dollars in climbing fees, acclimatization courses, hotels, and alpine gear. Her high visibility yellow expedition suit alone cost thirteen hundred dollars. And the trip expenses didn’t even include the months of intense cross training with a personal trainer to hone her body to withstand the rigors of mountain climbing. She’d admired her reflection from every angle in the club’s mirrors. And the hunger was still there, too. Her gaze followed the rope line to Stefan. She’d flirted with him over shots at the pre-trek briefing then they’d stumbled to her room, laughing, holding on to each other, where she hesitated before closing the door on his sweet, unlined face. Stefan was another experience she craved—but he would have to wait until after the climb. So what if he was ten years younger. She knew what people said behind her back: she was an aging (thirty-eight, give me a break!) never-married cougar on the prowl. Can’t keep a man. Must be something wrong with her. A ball buster. No matter she’d frozen a dozen eggs while building a company and searching for the perfect partner, the slurs still stung.
Stefan of course didn’t have to deal with a male version of that misogynistic crap. Men could just be men. He had his freedom and dream job: getting paid for trekking in the Alps. And what a life! How hard could it be? Hell, she could grant herself a sabbatical and train to be a guide for a year, maybe two. Come back to work with a high altitude tan, refreshed and roaring to go. Except who was she kidding? MoonRise was hemorrhaging red ink. A new wave of entrepreneurs had her profit margins in a squeeze. Long-time clients were bailing and signing on with aggressive upstarts with six-figure endorsement deals. She’d agreed to the speaker gig a year ago, but in the months since commissions had nose-dived, and the company now teetered on Chapter 11. The quest for new and more rarified experiences was driving the marketplace to the furthermost boundaries of extreme ventures—leaving MoonRise struggling to catch up. On the bright side, a Chinese space adventure company expressed interest in a partnership. At $10 million per seat on a ten-passenger shuttle, MoonRise might one day be at the forefront of a new experiential extravaganza. But the Chinese venture was still years away from launch. She needed to bring something new to market now or MoonRise might not be around to sponsor treks to Tranquility Base.
Stefan tapped his wristwatch: time to head down to the Monte Rosa Hut overlooking the Grenz Glacier. Deidre scanned the traverse. Wisps of snow spun off in feathery drifts. Putting money matters aside, she concentrated on placing one boot in front of the other when a shelf of snow slid out from under her feet and vanished into thin air. Deidre’s descender cam auto-locked and bit into the rope attached to her harness, arresting her fall. Over in seconds, Deidre never had the chance to scream. No harm or injury, but Stefan would still report the incident when they got back: a near miss due to unstable conditions—a fitting caption for Deidre’s life so far. She signaled thumbs up, ready to continue the treacherous descent.
* * *
Located at the foot of the Matterhorn, the Grand Hotel Zermatterhof hotel was favored by pay-to-play thrill seekers demanding five-star luxury before withstanding the deprivations of high altitude climbing and extreme weather conditions. Back in her room after the strenuous trek, Deidre treated herself to a room service meal from the hotel’s gourmet restaurant.
Wrapped in a complimentary bath robe, she booted her laptop, checked email, and frowned. Third quarter results were in. Overhead costs would have to be cut immediately; staff first, next the obscene rent for an office in Manhattan that no longer made sense. A miracle was needed to turn the company around. She cupped her eyes in the palm of her hands and when she looked up her glance landed on a card by the door. How long had that been there? The card announced a new exhibit at the Reitberg Museum in Zurich: C.G. JUNG: THE RED BOOK. A first-time exhibition of Carl Jung’s lavishly illustrated dream journal. The exhibit promised a mesmerizing journey through a dreamscape populated by demons, devils, and spirits. She cracked the door and peered out. The hallway was empty.
Odd, Deidre thought. Who would’ve thought to put this card under her door? Other than her dissertation panel, no one knew she’d researched Jung’s theories for her doctorate in Social Psychology. Her PhD had merged the insights of psychology, neuroscience, and economic theory to determine the factors that drive individual decision-making. Mucking around the swamp inside the heads of consumers, what Jung called the germ plasm, carried risks for the patient as well as the analyst. Ancient mariners following the maps of the known world often found unexplored regions marked by cartographers with pictures of sea dragons along with the warning: Here be Monsters. Deidre knew all too well from research with volunteer subjects that she often found more than she bargained for.
Curious about the exhibit, she returned to the laptop. A few clicks filled in the blanks. Early in his psychoanalytic career, Jung had embarked on an ambitious period of self-experimentation through a process of active imagination, or awake dreaming, a means to bring subconscious dreams to the forefront of consciousness. He’d recorded his dreams and interpretations in a large red leather-bound folio referred to simply as The Red Book— more properly known by its Latin title: Liber Novus.
After Jung’s death, the Trustees of the Jung estate had kept The Red Book a closely guarded secret from the rest of the world: securely locked in a safety deposit box in a Zurich bank’s underground vault. In time, the family was persuaded to allow the world to read Jung’s manuscript of dreams. The Red Book was on tour at selected museums around world, starting with the Reitberg through the end of the week.
“Fascinating,” Deidre mused. The exhibit really offered a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Maybe she should take an excursion and visit Zurich. Play tourist for a day. Get in some shopping. Take her mind off her floundering business before returning to New York.
She closed the laptop and flung herself onto the bed, but financial worries tossed her back and forth. Finally, she shifted thoughts over to Stefan and drifted away, dreaming of a romantic evening in a secluded alpine chalet.
* * *
Before departing for Zurich, Deidre stopped in a bookstore by the rail station and bought an anthology of Jung’s writings. A refresher on his oeuvre before visiting The Red Book exhibit. Once inside the rail car, she grabbed a window seat.
Swiss railroads ran with the same precision as their famed timepieces, and the electric train pulled out of the station on time, rolling by the shops and hotels bordering the tracks, and glided past the old town section of Zermatt—the Hinterdorfstrass. Deidre marveled at the ancient village—a jumble of barns and cabins constructed of stone and timbers squeezed between cobblestone alleyways. Many of the buildings dated back to the sixteenth century. Her imagination conjured medieval feuds and merchant guilds.
Outside the city limits, the train gradually gained speed. The narrow-gauge tracks gave way to a steep embankment and a bottomless ravine of deadfall and boulders abutting forested walls that shot toward the craggy peaks. The train made intermittent stops. At one station, a murder of crows lined the depot roof, like dark-robed sentinels warning travelers of the cave-like tunnel entrance up ahead.
Travel time to Zurich clocked in at three-and-half-hours, giving Deidre plenty of time to peruse Jung’s anthology. Fanning the pages, she uncovered an old train ticket. Strange, since the book was supposedly new. The ticket bookmarked a page where a paragraph had been partially underlined in pencil. The excerpt recounted Jung’s dream of a descent into hell:
It is unquestionable: if you enter into the world of the soul, you are like a madman. If you do not know what divine madness is, suspend judgment and wait for the fruits.
Houses and farms dotting the valley floor sped by Deidre’s reflection in the window. Divine madness, eh? Was that what possessed someone to free solo Yosemite’s Half Dome? Or bungee jump over a river infested with crocodiles? Or ride a toboggan down the interior slope of an active volcano? Great adventures all and she had the sponsor deals to prove it.
She re-examined the ticket to hell and wondered if it was only a one-way trip? A stomach gurgle interrupted her reverie and signaled time to eat the sandwich she’d purchased at the hotel for the long train ride. After sating her hunger, she reclined the seat back, and the soft clacking of the rails lulled her into a deep relaxation.
There are no sound effects in Deidre’s dreams. No explosions, gunshots, or sirens. For Deidre, it is like watching a silent movie. And so it happens without an audible warning that an avalanche explodes as she crosses a snowfield and engulfs her in a fast-moving slab of snow and rock, tumbling and flailing, and sweeps her into a deep crevasse—far below the earth’s surface. Unharmed, Deidre sets out to explore the cavernous underworld. She encounters the two climbers who Stefan had said were lost on the mountain a month before her trek. The climbers lead Deidre deeper into the fissure—a foreboding landscape of blue ice canyons and narrow ledges. Peering down one crevasse—a cold, dark chasm dropping away to nothingness—she is gripped by an inexplicable terror, as if a spirit of the depths might reach up with icy claws and pull her into the abyss. Fear seizes her in place over the gaping maw.
A recorded voice announced the train’s arrival in Zurich. Deidre snapped awake and rushed outside the station to join a line for the next taxi. In a few minutes, a Mercedes-Benz sedan dropped her at the Reibert Museum.
Inside, she paid an entrance fee and the attendant offered her a pamphlet. There, in the center of the gallery a glass case displayed Carl Jung’s exquisite red leather-bound folio manuscript with gilt accents. Embossed on the cover were the words: Liber Novus. The pamphlet explained how The Red Book recounted Jung’s imaginative vision quest during the years 1913-1917. A transformative journey to come to grips with his soul and unify the opposite dimensions of his psyche.
Folio pages from The Red Book were displayed in other cases scattered throughout the gallery with explanatory interpretations. The creamy parchments, inscribed in meticulous calligraphy in both German and Latin, transcribed Jung’s confrontations with the unconscious mind in a bizarre and often savage dream world. The pages, bordered with biblical and mythical figures, paired nymphs and dragons alongside demons and angels. Deidre admired each illustrated folio with a reverence usually reserved for relics and sacred antiquities.
Moving quickly through the exhibit, Deidre paused at a glass case containing one of the many mandalas included in The Red Book. Jung’s artistry was stunning. The gallery text described mandalas as instruments of contemplation—a means to narrow the psychic field of vision and concentrate the mind. In Buddhist mandalas, the center was often occupied by Shiva, the Timeless One. Meditation on the Shiva concentrated one’s mental energy like a laser beam, shedding the layers of protective ego, and allowed the individual to simply become what one is. The repeated patterns in the intricate design reminded her of the hidden three-dimensional object posters—the stereograms where you’d focus behind the image and a hidden object would appear, like a porpoise or a galloping horse. Deidre focused on the mandala and felt lightheaded. She struck out a hand to steady herself on the display case. The vertigo probably a delayed reaction to the change in air pressure from Dufourspitze to Zurich—reverse altitude sickness. Bent at the waist with hands on knees, Deidre sucked deep breaths. When she rose up, her gaze came back to the mandala and she gasped.
Instead of the Shiva, a three-dimensional image of her face appeared in the center of the mandala. Startled, she blinked rapidly and rubbed her eyes. When she looked again, her image was gone, only the Shiva remained. She glanced at the other patrons, but their expressions betrayed no unusual reaction. But it had been there. She saw it! Dumbfounded, Deidre backed away and headed for the exit, but not before stopping at the gift shop and purchasing a paperback of The Red Book.
Shaken by the vision, she hurried out to the sidewalk and entered the first patio café she saw and ordered a drink. The restaurant was part of the commercial strip alongside Zurich’s railway station: one of the most prestigious shopping districts in the world. Shops for Armani, Cartier, Chanel, and Dior lined the street. As she sipped a glass of white wine, the daily parade passed in review. At the close of a business day the late afternoon sun lent an extra bounce to a vibrant boulevard bustling with an eclectic mix of shoppers, students, and business suits. A musician strolled by, sunset cool in a running jacket and shades, carrying an electric guitar in search of an amp. Neo-Renaissance architecture mixed seamlessly with modern boutiques and banks. Deidre half-expected to see a tradesman pushing a cart of leather goods to the nearest guildhall.
She signaled the waiter for a refill and by the time she finished the second glass the shock of seeing her doppelgänger in the mandala was fading fast. The dizziness and apparition no doubt due to a combination of fatigue and stress brought on by financial worries.
She retrieved The Red Book from her satchel and scanned a few chapters. Then she put the book down. Scholars had opined that Jung may have been on the verge of a nervous breakdown when he recorded his dreams, but even so, this was some weird shit. Deidre wanted no part of a conversation with her soul that involved a descent into hell, crawling through a cave filled with shrieking voices, finding the bloody head of a man in a stream, sacrificial murders, bodies hanging from trees, abattoirs filled with corpses, demons and ghouls galore. A nightmarish hellscape. Enough! She grabbed a menu when a man’s voice said, “Ms. Moon?”
Raising her head, she was almost eye-level with an older gentleman, no more than five feet in height, attired in a three-piece gray suit. A salt-and-pepper goatee and a fringe of white hair around a bald pate complemented enigmatic grey eyes behind steel-rimmed glasses.
“Yes?” Deidre said, sizing up the pint-sized stranger.
“My name is Doctor Gustav Tobler.” He gestured toward an empty chair. “May I?”
Given the bistro’s location in a busy marketplace, Deidre assessed little risk to granting the request. Below the table, her hand touched the shape of the mountain rescue knife with the serrated blade strapped to her ankle inside her pant leg, the one she’d carried to the summit of Dufourspitze, perfect in a tight spot for sawing through rope, or bone. She nodded assent.
“I heard your keynote speech in Geneva,” Tobler said. “Then, when I saw you today in the Reitberg, well, I assumed we shared another mutual interest.”
Deidre’s eyebrows arched. “You attended the conference?”
“Indeed. Allow me to explain. I am part of a research team here in Zurich at the Institute for Applied Consciousness.” He slid a business card over to Deidre. “We are conducting a longitudinal study of subjects who engage in extreme high-risk activities. Like the clients you represent at MoonRise. We hope to pinpoint the changes in brain chemistry that trigger a sense of inner calm when an individual is about to risk death. The application for use by the military could be of great benefit.” Tobler paused a beat and added with a trace of a smile, “Your take on exploiting the profit potential associated with extreme undertakings was most informative.”
Deidre acknowledged the compliment with a slight head tilt.
Tobler motioned to the waiter and ordered an espresso. “You realize that is not the entirety of the book.”
“I beg your pardon.”
Tobler pointed at the red paperback. “Jung’s dream journal. Strange that the museum didn’t mention it. The Red Book is actually a compilation drawn from many dream journals that Jung was known to keep.”
The waiter set an espresso in front of Tobler who sipped the blackish brew, rattled the cup on the saucer and said, “But not all of them.”
“Interesting,” Deidre said with little actual interest, hoping to hurry Tobler on his way.
“Yes, and it gets more interesting. Based on conversations with people close to Jung, there is a general belief that the Jung Trust withheld some Red Book pages from public display, because they might be—”
Deidre raised her empty glass to a passing waiter.
Tobler’s cryptic smile returned. “Controversial, perhaps dangerous. You see, Jung did not always engage in sessions of active imagination alone. He often invited an inner circle of friends to join him in highly secretive seances where trance states are believed to have been induced. Later, these friends reported profound psychological as well as physiological changes way beyond what would be expected of normal cognitive therapy: heightened states of euphoria, lucid visions, altered perceptions of reality, claims of spiritual awakenings, that sort of thing.”
Deidre rolled her eyes.
“I know what you’re thinking,” Tobler said, “and no, none of the reported effects was due to drugs. What’s more, the effects of the seances did not wear off as drugs do. They appeared to be permanent changes in the patient’s consciousness. Witnesses claim to have seen Jung writing in a red book as to how these extraordinary transcendent states were accomplished.
“Given the public excitement over the current exhibit you can imagine how much more interest there would be if the missing pages were found.” The pitch in Tobler’s voice rose. The little man was clearly amped or buzzed on espresso. “Why, it would be a quantum breakthrough, Ms. Moon, in our understanding of what the conscious and unconscious mind are capable of achieving.” He finished the espresso and said, “The contribution to humankind’s knowledge of the mind would be invaluable.”
Tobler’s eyes narrowed. “Although, I am quite confident a precise value could be determined if a certain party were to come into possession of the papers.” Leaning forward, he held Deidre’s gaze. “From there, who knows where a partnership might lead, eh?”
Something about Tobler was creeping her out—the grey eyes that never seemed to blink—but also a concern that café patrons might think he was her date. “What exactly are you driving at Doctor Tobler?”
Tobler raised his palms like a magician: see, nothing up my sleeve. “Not driving anywhere, Ms. Moon. We’re just having a conversation.”
Experienced with negotiating high dollar deals, Deidre had a low tolerance for beating around the bush. “Cut the bullshit. Where exactly do you think the missing pages of The Red Book are being held? Locked in another underground bank vault, I suppose.”
“Oh my, nothing of the sort,” Tobler chuckled. “In fact, we have reports from the maintenance staff who claimed the pages are being maintained in the same room where Jung wrote them in his castle, supposedly a historical preservation for the benefit of future scholars, except oddly, no one from outside is allowed to view the room.”
Deidre admired the slant of sunlight through the Riesling. “Jung had a castle?”
“Oh yes, in Bollingen. Not far from here, in fact, along Lake Zurich. I take it you haven’t seen it. Quite amazing actually.” Another smile, definitely a creep. “You’re so very close, Ms. Moon. You really should go.” Pushing the chair back as if about to leave, Tobler cleared his throat. “In the interest of full disclosure, I should perhaps mention one more small detail.” From an inside suit pocket, Tobler produced a black and white photograph. “One of Jung’s clients smuggled it out. Forensic analysis confirms it is authentic and was photographed inside the castle back in the 1920s.”
The photograph showed a desk and a chair in a corner of a small room next to a large mandala carved into a wall of rock. The mandala pattern similar to those displayed in the museum. Although the museum Shiva had appeared serene and beatific, the figure in the photograph wore an expression of fierce and deadly reckoning. The eight-armed warrior-god held a trident, a sword, a bow with arrow, and a battle ax. A cobra wrapped around the god’s neck poised to strike. A belt of human skulls hung from a muscular torso.
“Shiva is a very important Hindu god who can represent goodness and benevolence—a protector of sorts.”
Deidre eyed Tobler over the rim of her glass. “That’s a good thing, right?”
“Yes, although the Shiva takes many forms. The protector is one form, and so is the creator, as well as the god of fertility. There is, however, also a dark side to Shiva. Just as the Shiva can represent creation, it can also represent its opposite, complementary form. The eternal cycle of birth, death, and rebirth.”
“Meaning what exactly?” Deidre said more harshly then she intended.
Tobler stroked his beard as if weighing a response.
“The Shiva in the castle is Rudra, the Destroyer of Souls.”
* * *
The pedestrian traffic on the boulevard thinned as twilight descended. Lively chatter and the scrape of silverware filled the warm October air. Tobler had departed. Deidre lingered over a plate of burrata with green asparagus. Her appetite waned as she pondered the day’s strange confluence of events: The flyer for The Red Book exhibit appearing under her door; the train ticket in the Jung anthology marking a passage about divine madness; the imagining of her face in a mandala; the strange Doctor Tobler stalking her in Geneva and the museum and now at a cafe with a preposterous tale of missing Red Book pages squirreled away in Jung’s castle spiced with a not-so-veiled suggestion of a generous reward for anyone who might come into possession of the pages. Jung would’ve called today’s events synchronicity—meaningful coincidences but without a causal connection to each other—except in the mind of the beholder, in which case the coincidences might be a roadmap leading to a secret buried deep in the psyche. There was no denying the intrigue, like an unseen magnet tugging her toward the castle.
Logging on to her laptop, a search produced details on Jung’s castle. It had taken the psychiatrist over forty years to complete the castle, known as the Bollingen Tower. He likened the construction period to gestation—after which he emerged reborn. To Jung, building his stone house was a spiritual journey, a reflection of his innermost thoughts.
Deidre found a video clip from a documentary. The voice-over began with an image of Jung hunched over a block of granite, wearing protective goggles, and holding a hammer and chisel. A male narrator with a thick German accent, read from Jung’s memoirs: “From the beginning, I felt the Tower as in some way a place of maturation—a maternal womb or maternal figure in which I could become what I was, what I am, and will be. It gave me a feeling as if I were being reborn in stone…it might also be said that I built it in a kind of a dream. Only afterward, did I see how all the parts fitted together and that a meaningful form had resulted: a symbol of psychic wholeness.”
The video segued to grainy still shots of workers around the castle, excavating the foundation, erecting scaffolding. An off-camera narrator intoned: “Rumors persist of secret passageways where Jung would sometimes disappear for days at a time, only to reappear later to family and colleagues in what can only be described as a heightened state of rejuvenation.”
The video ended on a close-up of a stone cube placed outside the castle tower. Carved into the granite was the dwarfish figure of Telesphorus—a Greek god symbolizing healing from sickness or injury. Below the figure: an inscription written in Greek. The narrator translated: This is Telesphoros, who roams through the dark regions of this cosmos and glows like a star out of the depths. He points the way to the gates of the sun and to the land of dreams.
Deidre smiled. The height-challenged Telesphorus reminded her of Doctor Tobler. A map search revealed Bollingen was only thirty-five miles away from the café. The train station was across the plaza. It would be easy to check out the castle. Just take a look. What the hell. Even if the trip was a bust, the castle trip would make for charming fun facts and small talk.
A check of the train schedules and travel time confirmed a round trip would have her back in Zurich before midnight. She booked a hotel room for a Zurich layover, then dashed to the station, purchased a ticket, and boarded the sparsely occupied train. As there was no station in the tiny hamlet of Bollingen, she would have to get off at Wagen and hire a taxi for the remaining leg to Jung’s castle.
The tracks ran east, hugging the Lake Zurich shoreline. Deidre glanced again at the Jung anthology and found a chapter on active imagination. The rolling farmland flashed by as she contemplated Jung’s warning of the inherent danger in undertaking a confrontation with the unconscious. It was not an experience to be taken lightly and must always be conducted under the watchful eye of a trained analyst. The risk was formidable. The liberated unconscious could thrust aside the ego as easily as an avalanche sweeps away unwary mountaineers. The content of the unconscious mind was highly charged with suppressed fears and anxieties. If vented by active imagination, subliminal phantoms might overwhelm the conscious mind with unpredictable results. Nietzsche’s warning came to mind: If you gaze long into the abyss, the abyss will gaze back into you.
Deidre yawned. If active imagination was as mind-blowing as Tobler said it was, then it was in desperate need of rebranding—something with high adventure cachet, like wingsuit sky diving, or zip lining across the Grand Canyon—only it must be something associated with conquering one’s darkest fears. Something exhilarating, with a hint of danger.
She recalled a client in the World Surfing Championship in Waimea. Hot shot surfers from across the globe competed, including Wendy Kahananui, reigning champion and rider of the biggest wave yet captured on video—a 98-footer off the coast of South Africa. Wendy had regaled her with stories of surfing in shark infested waters in Australia as well as the transcendental almost spiritual feeling she got from riding the perfect wave.
Deidre snapped her fingers.
That’s it! Soul Surfing! That’s what she’d call it. Her clients would line up in droves and pay top dollar for a chance to ride a monster wave of psychosis straight to hell and back. A sure-fire money-maker for burnt out experiencers craving the next big thing. Just the thing to bail out MoonRise’s fortunes while the Chinese raced to perfect a space shuttle. Reining herself in, she smiled. Slow down, girl. Not so fast. One step at a time.
Thirty-four minutes on the nose, the train arrived in the picturesque village of Wagen. Deidre waved at the first taxi in line at the station and queried the driver if he knew the location of Jung’s castle in Bollingen. The driver nodded and whisked her away in the gathering dusk. The two-lane road passed a scattering of private homes, churches, and farms. Most of the shops in Bollingen were closed. Yellow lamplight glowed from within small cottages and taverns. White sails dotted the lake at eventide.
There was no direct road access to the castle. The driver parked on a grassy shoulder and pointed in the general direction of the lake. “Follow the gravel footpath,” he said. Deidre paid the cabbie, tipped handsomely, and asked him to wait for her. She hoofed it across abandoned railroad tracks, found the gravel path, and followed it along the lakefront to the edge of the property. Coming around a bend, a solitary tower peeked from a copse of trees. Shadows of branches and limbs fell across the estate lawn.
Although she’d seen pictures of the castle in the internet search, the reality was jarring. What loomed in the dusk was a far cry from the castles of King Arthur lore. No drawbridge, moat, or turrets to defend against attacking armies and fire-breathing dragons. Instead, in the gloaming was a squat assemblage of a do-it-yourself castle. Definitely a “fixer upper.” The castle, however, was beautifully sited on the eastern edge of Lake Zurich. A spacious field of wheat adjoined the property. In the distance the spire and cross atop a white clapboard chapel beckoned the faithful—a canvas of pastoral beauty.
A brick walkway led her to a courtyard with a sheltered seating area. She skirted the circumference of the castle to survey opportunities for entry. The front door was solid oak and double locked. Wire mesh security glass covered the ground floor windows. Craning her neck, she peered up the granite face of the tower. A third-story window appeared unprotected by wire mesh. A tangle of woody vines clung to the wall. She grabbed a hand-hold and tested her weight. The vine sagged but did not break.
As part of the preparation for the climb in the Alps, Deidre had taken bouldering classes in Central Park. Although far from expert, she’d gained rudimentary skills that gave her confidence (perhaps overconfidence) that with the aid of the vines she could solve the relatively flat vertical surface without a harness and with minimal risk of falling.
Fresh from conquering Dufourspitze, Deidre thought: I can do this! Hell, she’d come this far and damn if she was going to go home empty-handed. Just a quick in-and-out and be super careful not to leave any evidence for the police to connect her to the break-in. Well, maybe the cab driver, but even if they did connect her to the crime, so what? She’d be back in New York the day after tomorrow. For crying out loud, it’s not like she could be extradited (or could she?). And if she found the secret to soul surfing, she’d be set for life. At that moment, the clouds parted—a thin curvature of moon hung scythe-like above her head. Deidre started to climb.
Irregularities in the granite blocks afforded the occasional seam on which to gain purchase. Aided by the vines, Deidre clambered to the third-story window without much difficulty. Holding fast to the vine, she raised a leg and kicked, shattering the window. She shimmied feet first into a sparsely furnished room. The cell phone’s flashlight revealed a comfortable chair and an ottoman, and a curved wall unit crammed with books and figurines and crockery that suggested archeological significance.
Outside the room, a spiral staircase led down to the second level. Here, Deidre found more conventional living quarters complete with a sofa, wing chairs, and a wooden table adorned with a silver candlestick. Renaissance-era artwork decorated the walls. A Persian rug covered the stone floor. She rummaged in a sideboard and found a box of matches. Figuring it was wise to conserve her cell phone battery, she flicked off the flashlight and lit the candle in the holder. The guttering flame threw dancing shadows upon the chamber’s walls.
Deidre followed the stairs to the ground level and arrived in a chamber bare of any furniture. More of a mudroom than anything else. She recognized the oak door main entrance. Another door directly opposite presumably led to an adjoining tower. A pass key dangled from an iron nail head embedded in the wall. Deidre set the candlestick on the floor and unlocked the wooden door. But instead of access to another tower, the candlelight revealed a stone stairwell dropping alongside a narrow passageway.
With the candlestick illuminating the placement of her feet, Deidre proceeded cautiously down the roughhewn steps and entered a large chamber with a ceiling vaulted by archways and pillars. Broken rock and statuary littered the floor. For a moment she flashed on the dream of the dead mountaineers in the glacier crevice. She chided herself. Now who was having an overactive imagination?
The candlestick halo revealed an archway framing a wooden door so small she would have to crouch to enter. Bringing the candle closer, Deidre recognized a figure carved into the surface—a munchkin-like character wearing a cowl hood and holding a lantern: Telesphorus! The same figure carved on the granite cube that she’d seen on the video of Jung’s castle. The voice-over narration popped into her head: Telesphorus—the one who points the way to the land of dreams.
She grabbed an iron ring, pulled, and met resistance. Setting the candlestick aside, and with her right leg pushing against the wall, Deidre grunted and pulled the ring with both hands. The door groaned and shrieked open on rusty hinges.
Inside the low-ceiling chamber the candlelight revealed a large writing desk and a straight-back chair with a cushion bottom indented by a great rump. Upon the desk lay a red leather-bound book. The inscribed parchment pages resembled the handiwork of a medieval monk laboring over an illustrated bible. Similar to the folios in the museum. It was like stepping into a scriptorium from the tenth century.
On the last page of the book was a mandala. In the margin, an intricately drawn bearded man held a leash attached to a ferocious three-headed dog guarding the gates to the underworld. The ominous images raised bumps on her forearms. The room, The Red Book, the mandala—were exactly as depicted in Tobler’s photograph. Without question, this was Jung’s secret chamber.
Turning around, Deidre examined the mandala chiseled in the bedrock opposite the desk. It repeated the familiar pattern of three concentric circles set within a square frame. At each of the frame’s four corners, a gate provided an opening into the maze. Myriad channels intersected the circles. A bewildering labyrinth of pathways. At the center of the inner most circle: the multi-armed Shiva, the one Doctor Tobler had warned her about: Rudra, the Destroyer of Souls. Her fingers lightly traced the frightening image as if divining a meaning written in braille. She snapped selfies from different angles to document her discovery and noted the date and time stamp.
Sitting on the cold stone floor, Deidre crossed her legs in a lotus position. Many of her clients practiced meditation before a risky endeavor—to calm nerves, sharpen focus, and improve performance. Having witnessed the benefits first-hand she’d practiced yoga positions before work-outs. The pace of her breathing slowed, and all distractions banished. The mandala beckoned—an inviting refuge from a world of noise and confusion. Deidre closed her eyes to the exclusion of all other sensory stimulation.
Behind the fold of eyelid skin, a pinpoint of light appeared, small but perceptible, before flaring to total whiteout, then warming, spreading outward in concentric circles, until a graduated spectrum of orangeness exploded into a purifying sunburst of yellow. A drop of water landed on her cheek, and another, and soon a steady pitter-pat of cold droplets. Breaking focus, she figured the drops to be from condensation saturating the castle’s underground walls.
Her mind’s eye followed the water as it ran off her face and slipped through cracks in the stone floor, deeper still, before joining an underground stream, heating up in a rush toward a molten core, and suddenly thrusting upward through a fissure, suffusing Diedre in a warm mineral bath, dissolving the outer shell of ego, pulling apart the very atoms of her being and recombining them with the elements. A grand alignment of body, mind, and soul. And the Shiva called: Come to me.
With eyes clamped shut, Deidre shifted her concentration to the gate in the lower left corner of the maze. Then she entered the mandala.
Part Two: Divine Madness
Deidre opened her eyes. The mandala’s passageways which had appeared as mere striations in stone, now they rose toward the heavens as slick canyon walls encasing a barren desert of dry cracked mud. Sky and sand formed a seamless union, erasing the horizon. An infinity of desolation. The arid landscape extracted every molecule of water from her body. Tongue swollen, throat parched, she put pebbles in her mouth to create moisture. The stones clicked against her teeth. What a sucker she’d been falling for Tobler’s bullshit urban legend of psychic treasure with the hope of striking it rich. Her reward for chasing foolishness would be to die in a godforsaken wasteland, bones bleached white by a merciless sun. Trudging on, she came to the mouth of a cave partially hidden by an overhang of branches. An unkindness of ravens exploded from the tree limbs, blackening the sky.
Sweeping the branches aside, Deidre hunched into the opening. The cave walls emitted a greenish fluorescence, casting eerie shadows over stalactites as deadly as stilettos concealed in an assassin’s cloak. Pottery shards lay scattered among the ash in a cold fire ring.
The cave floor sloped downward. As Deidre descended farther the air grew humid, the walls damp with moisture. A sulfurous smell wrinkled her nose. Black mud sucked at her ankle boots like a snare into an infernal underworld. Venturing deeper she soon encountered a young woman garbed in a white robe fellating a snake in her mouth. Stepping closer, she realized the woman was playing the serpent like a flute. The woman turned down a branch in the cave and disappeared. Enchanted, Deidre followed the soothing melody until almost toppling onto a shadow crouched at her feet.
The density collapsed around the form within—a papery skin wrapped the contours of a skull, braided ropes of gray hair hung to the cave floor, the torso draped in sackcloth. Like a crone from a childhood fairy tale: the Hag!
A slash of movement shoved Deidre to the ground, and now the Hag sat astride her chest. A stink of feces and sweat assaulted her senses; the Hag’s breath rancid and repellant. Crushed by the Hag’s weight, arms and legs paralyzed, Deidre struggled to breathe. And in the next moment, a powerful undertow sucked her into the Hag’s belly, an alchemy of blood and water. Suspended in an amniotic sac, Deidre was soothed by a susurrus of valves opening and closing: lub-dub, lub-dub, lub-dub. A perfect state of mindfulness connecting her with all ancestral life.
And like the tremble of a spider’s web, a contraction quaked the membrane. The shakes came again and again in rapid succession. Pressure mounted on the top of her head. The sac contracted, pushing and pushing, expelling outward in powerful waves. Something coiled around Deidre’s neck. And as the cord tightened, in a moment of diminishing focus, a concentration of mind so acute before succumbing to absolute blackness, she overheard a conversation from outside the womb:
“He’s a goddamn bastard!” That voice, her mother—Colette!
Another woman’s voice, unrecognizable: “No shit. So, when are you due?”
“You shouldn’t drink. I hear it can cause a miscarriage.”
“Yeah? Well, better drink up.” Laughter mixed with the clink of glasses.
“So, who was she?”
“Divorcee with a dye job. Can you believe it? Knocks me up then splits to live with her. Got a match?”
A scratch sound, then a hiss, and the aqueous sac clouded with a sudden intake of smoke. Chemical gases swirled in a toxic fog: Nicotine, Arsenic, Carbon Monoxide. A warm nurturing membrane now a claustrophobic gas chamber.
Colette said, “The one thing I don’t need in my life right now is a fucking kid.”
Another constriction, and the conversation cut off, but not the jolt of memories. Resentment toward the bastard continued throughout Deidre’s childhood—Colette’s daily diatribe against the cheating sonofabitch and by extension, all men. Boyfriends, Colette warned repeatedly, are also bastards and not to be trusted. Throughout college and afterwards, Deidre went through the motions with men, hopping from bed to bed, but bailing at the first mention of marriage. There was no denying the truth: her father deserted his one and only daughter. Episodes of severe depression followed and sent her spiraling. She’d even taken an extended leave of absence to seek treatment, which coincided with the recent decline in the company’s fortunes. She despised Colette and hadn’t seen or heard from her in years.
But as the cord tightened around her throat, it was clear Colette was not finished exacting revenge on the bastard’s seed. Deidre clawed at the cord and felt a scaly skin. The cord whipped around, and a serpent flicked its forked tongue, twin tines tasting her face.
My god! This fucking woman is trying to kill me!
Instinct took over; escape now or face certain death. She kicked and punched the sac. Frantic, her fingers searched and found the rescue knife. The snake dodged the blade and unhinged its jaws—fangs dripping with venom. Deidre slashed with blind fury and thrust the serrated edge outward, opening a gash in the belly, and in a final bloody expulsion, Deidre emerged from the womb, with the piercing cry of a life reborn, thirsting for a mother’s teat that would forever be denied. Slumped at her feet in a bloody mess, the Hag was dead. The ruined corpse stirred no remorse; no regrets. How many times had Deidre looked at a knife on a counter and Colette’s back at the sink and thought about a life without the miserable woman. Bottle flies swarmed the viscera. The Hag was dead and that was enough.
Deidre now found herself in a vast field of wheat stretching to the horizon. Golden waves rippled the prairie and ruffled her hair. Liquid sunshine poured from the sky. Her soul reflected the landscape, turning with the light. Tears, yes! Actual tears streaming across her cheeks. Head thrown back, she twirled, and collapsed among the furrows, and watched the stalks sway against the cornflower sky. A great burden had been lifted, freeing her soul to rise up, and breathe the glorious air of freedom. Fantastic, except now, coming down from the exhilarating high, she was still lost, bobbing like a cork in a sea of golden wheat. Jung warned about the dangers of going deep without a guide. What if she was trapped in a dreamscape of her subconscious? Her heart hammered as if it might burst from her chest. What if the Hag returned seeking a rematch. Old fears and anxieties grabbed hold. What other demons might her psyche unleash? She wanted out, now!
To calm herself, she inhaled deeply and exhaled slowly, when it dawned on her—perhaps the way out was the same as the way in. Remembering the Shiva in Jung’s chamber, Deidre tried to regain focus when her gaze fell upon an angry bruise of low hanging clouds rolling swiftly over the plains. Static air tingled the hairs on her neck. A shadow spun off from the gathering storm and funneled at her feet. A spinning vortex cohered into a naked young man with an endowment too impressive not to notice. Long black hair reached broad shoulders from which sprouted eight arms muscled as tightly as wire cable. A necklace of human skulls hung from a leather belt.
Rudra, the Destroyer of Souls!
What did the ancient cartographers warn about uncharted regions: Here be monsters!
Terror, then amazement roiled her mind. Flee or stay, it didn’t matter. She had summoned Rudra, and now he was here, as complement to the Shiva the Creator. Two sides of the same coin that must be integrated as one complete self. But how?
The mind of Rudra spoke to Deidre not in voice, but in thoughts, as if through telepathy. And she knew his voice as her own, but in the personification of a man—her animus.
Deidre backstepped, enthralled by the manifestation of the masculine in her female psyche. Rudra immediately knew all of Deidre’s fears and anxieties as of course he would. Deidre received Rudra’s thoughts and they were of longing, indeed a craving, to forge the spirit and soul into a circumference of perfect wholeness.
Rudra was a nurturing, confident, and affectionate self while Deidre suffered deep depression over abandonment by a father and resentment toward a mother who withheld any semblance of affection. Attempting commitment and intimacy and coming up short would brand her as incompetent, a loser. A fate worse than death. She’d always strove to project strength even though at her core she felt weak and incomplete. A calculated coolness had served her well, masking the anxieties and shortcomings dwelling below the surface.
Rudra’s call for unification drove Deidre dizzy, spinning in a circle, gaining speed, streaks of color blurring past, velocity roaring in her ears like a freight train, flattening the wheat, twisting over the terrain, and funneling directly in front of Rudra who also rotated in a movement counter-clockwise to Deidre. Her vortex jerked and gyrated then collided with Rudra, and the two complementary forces fused into one super cell—Deidre into Rudra. Rudra into Deidre. The centrifugal force tore away layers of persona, shedding the mask as to who she really was and stripped her down to the most elemental throb: her positively charged nucleic self. Her unified self spiraled ever faster until all of Rudra’s powers were absorbed and the vortex spun itself out, and Deidre opened her eyes, and she was sitting in a lotus position in front of the mandala in Jung’s secret chamber. Exhausted and elated at the same time, a huge grin stretched her face and she laughed.
Then she remembered the reason for coming to the castle: to bring soul surfing back to New York and launch a breakthrough experience into the stratosphere of personal fulfillment and ROI. Personal integration was great and all but don’t forget the bottom line.
Standing over the desk, she turned to the last page of The Red Book containing the magical mandala—the key to unlocking divine madness. Putting on her CEO hat, gears shifted, turned, and clicked until a buzz marketing campaign blossomed: social media platforms targeting key influencers and early adopters; celebrity endorsers to lend credibility and exposure; a blogosphere erupting with nonstop yak about the controversial new experience: Soul Surfing par excellence!
In one clean motion, she ripped out the mandala page and retraced her steps back to the third floor of the castle, and with the aid of the vines, easily lowered herself to the ground. The taxi parked exactly where the driver had dropped her off.
“Back to the train station,” Deidre said, slipping into the back seat.
The driver U-turned and headed toward the station in Wagen. He caught Deidre’s eyes in the rearview mirror. “So, how was your visit to the castle?”
Still recovering from the vortex, Deidre dug in her satchel for a brush to tame the windblown snatches of hair sticking out in all directions only to find instead the blood-spattered rescue knife. Unnerved, she quickly closed the bag, hoping the driver hadn’t noticed, and looked back at the receding shadow of trees. “If I told you, you would never believe it.”
Part Three: Launch!
Deidre’s treadmill desk faced a glass curtain wall overlooking Central Park. Attired in chic work-out togs—black leggings and a jog bra—she grunted at the LCD readout of her heart rate and calories burned, all the while keeping her eye on the monitor display of real time cash flow for the global launch of soul surfing.
The IT consultants digitized and encrypted the purloined mandala to prevent unauthorized use and copying. Even that weird little Doctor Tobler had snagged a piece of the action: he’d produced a tutorial to guide clients safely through the highs and lows of psychic surf conditions: riding the mental currents to maximize a positive experience of self-exploration. An acid trip without the acid, complete with disclaimers and waivers of liability. Everything on track for a social media tsunami and a massive marketing campaign that was at this very moment vacuuming up every last bit of available cash.
Her wireless earbud beeped. “What is it?” Deidre snapped at Annie, her executive assistant. “This is my executive time.”
“I apologize, Deidre. Detectives Mitchell and Gonzales are here to see you,” Annie replied evenly.
“They want to talk with you.”
Deidre brushed stray hairs away from her face. “Oh, alright, give me a minute.” Deidre toweled off and covered her jog bra with a satin athletic jacket, the one with a New York Yankees logo. She turned off the treadmill and slid behind her traditional executive desk. After a quick check in a compact mirror, she said, “Come in.”
A balding man with a paunch on a stout frame introduced himself as Detective Mitchell from the Buffalo police department and flashed a badge. He motioned toward a middle-aged Latino woman with a bun pulled tight against her scalp. “This is Detective Gonzales.”
Deidre gestured toward the two chairs facing her desk. “I don’t have much time. What is this about, detectives?”
“It’s about your mother, Colette Gandy,” Mitchell said.
Deidre shrugged. “Well, I’m afraid I can’t help you much. I haven’t seen my mother in twenty years. Nor do I want to. Last I heard, she remarried and moved upstate somewhere.”
Mitchell glanced at Gonzales. “Ms. Moon, your mother was found murdered in her condo on the 17th of the month.” He consulted a notebook. “She was divorced and living alone in a Buffalo suburb at the time of the murder. A close neighbor reported her missing and notified the police. She didn’t leave much behind as far as family records. It took us a while to connect you as the only next of kin.”
Living in New York had inured Deidre to the daily drumbeat of murders and atrocities. “Yeah well, tough break for her, I guess.”
“You don’t seem too concerned, Ms. Moon,” Detective Gonzales said.
Deidre raised her shoulders again. So what if Colette was dead. The bitch deserved whatever she got. “Like I said, we weren’t close, and I haven’t kept in touch. Just out of curiosity, how was she murdered?”
Mitchell’s gaze pierced Deidre. “Stabbed multiple times in the abdomen with a sharp instrument. Basically disemboweled.” He let that hang there for a moment, before adding, “So you can understand why we want to get this sicko off the streets as quickly as possible. So if you know anybody or anything as to why or who…”
Mitchell’s voice trailed off. Underneath the desk, Deidre’s leg pumped like a jackhammer. There was no way Mitchell could connect her to Colette’s murder. The knife fight in the Hag’s womb had been a dream, an awake dream perhaps, but still. Of course there was the matter of the bloody knife in her satchel though she’d promptly discarded it in a dumpster at the train station.
Now it was Gonzales’ voice that brought Deidre back. “Can you tell us Ms. Moon where you were on the 17th?”
As if on cue, Deidre rattled off a detailed itinerary of her trip to Switzerland (omitting the side trip to Bollingen on the 17th but now worried the Swiss authorities would eventually interrogate the cab driver and tie her to the break-in and the knife would be found and one thing would lead to another and Mitchell and Gonzales would be back in her office: Why didn’t you tell us you went to the castle on the 17th? What were you doing in there? and the launch would fizzle and the whole goddamn company would go belly up). She’d been on another continent at the time of Colette’s death. She offered airline and hotel receipts and passport stamps. An ironclad alibi.
A few more routine questions, then Mitchell gave Deidre a card and asked her to call if she thought of something later that might be useful to the case.
After the detectives left, Deidre rubbed her face and unlocked a drawer and laid out the mandala page she’d stolen from Jung’s castle. Memories of the terrifying encounter with the Hag and the rejuvenating confrontation with Rudra came swirling back. She’d revisited the mandala several times since, each experience more vivid and powerful than the last. The lucid visions lingered long after she exited the mandala, churning and tumbling, blossoming in layers, like the petals of a lotus flower unfolding self-knowledge, purity, and salvation. Each session a spiritual awakening. She’d stopped seeing her therapist for the depression she no longer felt. A few more sessions and she would be well on her way to full integration. Her staff complained that she was spending too much time surfing behind closed doors and not enough time attending to the rollout. Rumors floated that she was hooked on the inner journey—some said addicted. Who the hell cares? Soul surfing was poised to supplant the billions of dollars spent on experiential psychotherapy—and MoonRise would empower millions of repeat customers to achieve psychic fulfillment while propelling the company to unimaginable profitability.
But the bloody encounter with the Hag gnawed at her conscience. Her heart hammered inside her chest. Calm down, she commanded. Breathe. Colette’s death was just a coincidence without a causal connection to her psychic explorations. Synchronicity, right? To believe otherwise was madness—even if it was divine. And so what if something had crawled out of her abyss and exacted revenge on Colette? She had it coming. Besides, Doctor Tobler had never said whose soul Rudra would destroy. Nothing must interfere with the launch of soul surfing.
In the margin of the mandala a bearded man held a leash on the snarling three-headed dog: Cerberus. She recalled how the drawing had chilled her in Jung’s secret chamber. The hounds of hell guarding the gate to the underworld, warning away intruders, and devouring anyone who attempted to escape.
Deidre’s attention shifted to the monitor displaying the financial projections, then back to Cerberus—the multi-headed mongrels straining the leash, ready to leap off the page and wreak deserved havoc on the living and the dead.
The ear bud beeped an incoming call: Jeannie Malone, Chief Financial Officer.
* * *
At the end of the hall from Deidre’s office, Jeannie Malone huddled with Beth Jackson, the deputy comptroller, going over the numbers for the product launch one more time. Deidre had come back from Switzerland with an insane idea for a new experience based on meditation on a mandala. She’d told the staff to drop everything and rush soul surfing to market with the highest priority. The staff thought Deidre was bonkers due to financial stress and laughed off the scheme as new age crap that she would soon forget. Undeterred, Deidre persuaded several top executives, including Jeannie, to try soul surfing, and they all raved about the experience and became believers and threw themselves into a frenzied pace to meet impossible deadlines. But not Beth. She’d refused, claiming some vague religious exemption.
Anyway, the problem was not believers, but money. They’d had to dip into dwindling cash reserves to meet production goals. Everything was riding on soul surfing becoming a huge commercial success—a solid bet except for creditors demanding payment and threatening to shut down the entire enterprise. A decision had to be made. Pony up more money or else cut losses and scrap the launch. Salvage what you can and settle for becoming a bit player on the margin of the extreme sports industry. Back to where Deidre started fifteen years ago. A virtual nobody.
When Deidre answered, Jeannie laid it all out, again, methodically and calmly. Beth watched as Jeannie shook her head in exasperation.
Jeannie said, “Uh-huh. Uh-huh. You are? What did you just say? Could you repeat that?”
Another uh-huh then Jeannie hung up.
“Well?” Beth said. “What did she say?”
Jeannie stared at the phone. “She’s taking out a second mortgage and cashing in personal retirement accounts. She’ll have the money next week.” Crumbling a spreadsheet, Jeannie threw it at a waste basket, missing.
“What else?” Beth demanded. “Come on, Jeannie. I can tell from your face she said something else. Out with it.”
Jeannie propped elbows on the desk, her chin cradled in hands. “She said, ‘Prepare to unleash hell.’”