The Burning of Washington

©Copyright 2003 by Dr. Strange. All Rights Reserved

Another listless hurricane with an odd name (Gaston? Who ever heard of a storm named Gaston?) lashed the house with a desultory gust of warm rain and the faint and foreign scent of the tropics. Jemmy and Dolly, my ghostly guests, snuggled closer on the settee, and, raising their astral glasses of warm mulled port in a toast, offered to tell me the story of another August storm, when the fate of the nation hung on a fine thread of fate and coincidence.
Jemmy, while eloquent enough when pushed to it, is one of those folks who tell a tale inside out and with enough detail to suck the air out of the room. Dolly keeps him going, and on point as they say nowadays, with her bubbly asides and hilariously droll observations. But their tale is essentially personal, and even though Jemmy had his eye on the bigger picture, his account of those vital days and hours is incomplete and somewhat confused. Dolly, the usually clearheaded and forthrightly determined Dolly, is finally reduced to incoherence, fearing that something terrible had happened to Jemmy. A touching story of love, devotion and exceptional courage, indeed, but lacking somewhat in its depth of insight.
They finished their tale, and the mulled port, and departed out into the tail end of the storm. I sat with the ghostly remnants of Dolly’s French perfume and considered the situation. If I was to complete the mission that George and Pierre had entrusted to me back in the spring, then I needed to solve this tangled riddle. I had talked to everyone who would talk, General Ross, Monroe, the Madisons, and I was no closer to unraveling the puzzle.
The astral pattern of Federal City placed by the General, Pierre and the original adepts twenty years before had been destroyed, or let us say changed beyond recognition, by the events that culminated in the burning of Washington. That much was clear, but without understanding how it happened, and how far the damage actually extended, it was impossible to connect the original plan with the alignments and activations proposed by my former ghostly visitors.
It was time, I decided, for a little astral time travel. The technique was simple and somewhat straightforward. My Lady and I had used it upon several occasions, most notably in the curious matter of the Turtle Mound, with great success. However, the technique had one drawback. It allowed one to actually interact with those in the past, and therefore the possibility of unwanted change arises. In the matter of the Turtle Mound, such was our goal, to change the present by interacting with the distant past. But here, dealing with a dynamic historical event, the danger was even greater.
Yet, it seemed that I had no choice. It was clearly my last option. And so, I prepared my space, focused on the structure of space/time, and began to vibrate the mantras, holding in mind the place and time: August 24th 1814, Federal City, District of Columbia, around 4:30 pm…
(Hringing the ohms through hyper-cubes of singing summer shimmer-hring light from distant past and through the curves of hring, bouncing the witz end down a long funnel time like a cake in the rain hringing the ohms to a hummm…)
The afternoon sun hung in the southwest like an open furnace door, and a miasma of fear and excitement clung to the stale dust clouds kicked up by the afternoon’s refugees from the morning’s disaster. I was floating in that cloud, hovering near McKeowin’s Travelers Hotel on 7th Street, and the taste in my astral mouth was sharpened by the faint acrid tang of black powder smoke. Off to the northwest, a battle of sorts had been fought, just a few hours ago even though the vanguard of the fugitives had already reached Georgetown. The last of them was pouring through the streets below me, and as I watched, floating higher, I spotted Jemmy, driving a dusty and battered gig with a cluster of tired and frightened aides riding along with him, heading down the Bladensburg Pike toward the President’s House.
Since I could, I floated along with them to their destination, where the remaining servants and a handful of friends were attempting to save a last few items, including the portrait of Washington by Gilbert Sullivan. It was an odd moment, something dream-like about it even as it happened, and now, looking on from the astral, I found myself drawn irresistibly into the vibe.
It was a small group of like-minded Jeffersonian idealists – they all believed in the power of humanity to shape its own destiny, in the transformative power of democracy and a republican form of government – who sat that afternoon with their shattered dreams in a flight-disordered drawing room in the west wing of the President’s House. Jemmy had been forced into a war over national sovereignty, and the Federalists and the New England merchant bankers had stabbed him in the back. And now it had come to this, utter defeat and a determined foe barely a dozen miles away. The gloom was thick enough to drive a Presbyterian to drink, and there was, thanks to the attentions of French John, the presidential butler, plenty of fortified spirits to go around.
Pulling myself away from the shell-shocked group seeking what solace they could find in one last toast and the warmth of comradeship, I drifted out toward Capital Hill. The sun was slowly sinking, becoming garish and lurid as befitted the scenes it shown upon. A thunderstorm was building away in the northwest, and the raking light of late afternoon broke through the murk to spotlight scenes of looting and panic as official Washington fled in terror from the consequences of its own stupidity. Some soldiers still moved about as a unit on the Capital grounds, and more arrived, cavalry it seemed, but they simply milled about and eventually rode off toward the Navy Yards to the south.
The hours passed, and by dark, the city, spread out below me across its flattened semi-circle of small hills rising a few feet out of the Tiber’s boggy lowlands like a handful of toy houses and grand buildings scattered by some passing giant, was eerily still and ominously quiet. The air had settled, no more refugees to raise the dust, just a few lost and confused officers riding out to look for orders or even the location of the enemy, and the breeze fell off. Washington sweltered in the close stillness; an electric tension jumping astral sparks from point to point, a crackle like the whir of the welcoming dead on the faint edge of existence.
I realized suddenly that this was the moment. I expanded my focus and floated upward, following the sparks as they spread out.
The light was blue, I noticed, as the humming whisper grew louder. Suddenly, with a flash of coldly liquid light, a structure winkled into my expanded perceptions. I was floating within a vast pyramid of coruscating blueness, ten miles at least on a side, with the river running through it from the northwest to the southeast like a mirror of the heavenly Nile. Inside the larger, looser structure was another pyramid, with intricate dimensional interconnections anchored to a few key spots on the ground. Directly in front of me was a blur of flashing blue light rotating back in on a bright center, hovering roughly 2/3 thirds of the way to the structure’s top and sending out jolts and sparks of energy that ran along the edges and faces of its multi-dimensional geometry in rivulets of cold fire, then jumping in elongated elegance to first one point and then another in a seemingly random sequence.
As soon as I became aware of it, I felt it pull me until finally, with a jarring sense of acceleration, I popped inside. I relaxed into it, letting the blur carry me with it, and soon the awareness stabilized. I saw, with great detail and intense clarity, the pattern and I understood what the General and Pierre had been trying to tell me. A magical undertaking to rival that of Egypt and Rome indeed…
And yet, as I became aware of its power, I also sensed its fragility. The structure was the work of very great adepts, and it had been anchored and powered by the growing government, the flow of energy and will through its physical anchors, and over time it would perhaps grow into the model of a 4D philosopher’s stone it was meant to be. But not unless it survived…
Fear and doubt tattered its fringes and pulled at the tentative connections. I realized that I was seeing and experiencing the structure, as it existed energetically; without the physical connections, the hearts and minds of people at those anchors, the structure would self-destruct. And if those physical points of intersection were destroyed, then the structure would surely collapse in on itself.
The city was virtually empty, its flow of energy, its people, vanished or tainted with panic. As I reached out, I found that I could see every mind in the reach of the larger pyramid, and suddenly I found the British. The bright flood of martial emotions poured in down the pike, and, as I watched, there came General Ross and Admiral Cockburn, riding at the head of a column of British marines, all blue jerseys and flat hats, and little more than a few hundred yards from the Capital.
I could also see a sharpshooter, lying in wait at a large brick house, aiming down Maryland Avenue. The men at the head of the column paused, uncertain of what to do next, and suddenly what seemed a volley of fire ripped down the street. Four men around General Ross were hit – one killed out right – and the general’s horse was shot from under him.
The sharpshooter was on the run before the bodies hit the cobblestones; out the back of the house over a fence and down to a horse tied behind a shed, galloping off away from Capital Hill. I watched the anger and confusion of the sudden assault sweep over the troops, and before Ross could order it, the brick house was under attack and soon in flames. And then they turned toward the Capital itself.
Shock waves ran through the fragile geometric hyper-structure. The central axis of its 3D locus was anchored at the Capital. Its destruction would disconnect the core of the light pyramid, and the first wave of the assault was enough to spin me off balance and send me flying out and down toward the city like an out of control Congreve rocket.
I bounced through time, landing in several subsequent time frames, and some that could have been alternative frames, before coalescing again back in my study. The incense had burned down, and the candles were guttering. My papers were scattered as if by a sudden gust of wind, even though the windows were closed.
But at least, I thought as I stretched and stamped some circulation back into my extremities, I have the answer to the conundrum. The energy structure hadn’t been destroyed, although it was severely damaged. It had fought back, with storms and even a tornado. General Ross had had his last lucky escape, and within a few weeks of the burning of Washington, he would be dead, shot by an anonymous sharpshooter during the assault on Baltimore.
The structure had survived, although as Washington was rebuilt, the President’s house becoming the White House for example, the original pyramid of light dimmed, starved for energy by the congestion and the misalignment of streets and monuments. Modern Washington became a baroque and malignant tumor growing from the forgotten debris of the dim and tattered structure.
However, as the General and Pierre and insisted, it was still there. For a few hours that August evening in 1814 it was open, loose from its moorings and without its flow of energy, vulnerable to physical destruction and prey to the darker forces of the human soul. And still, it survived…
There was only one more ghost left to call upon, one more founding father of the republic, who, perhaps unknown even to himself, had the key to the structure’s reactivation. It was time to talk to Long Tom Jefferson…