Certain hands, seemingly familiar with the task at hand, were the hands I felt gently guiding me out of the van that I had occupied for the last hour along with six or seven other similarly blindfolded initiates. The cops knew this routine: hand on subjects’ head, other hand solidly gripping the shoulder so as to avoid inflicting a nasty gash. These people weren’t police however and we weren’t criminals, at least not at all in the traditional sense of the word. We were a group of strangers who, with out yet realizing the import of our impending commitment were about to agree to put our worldly affairs in order and to live each day as if it were our last. Our guides had by now disgorged the dozen vehicles of their fifty or so sightless occupants and had, with doubtless more than a few comic misadventures lined us up all holding hands in a single queue in what was, trusting to my less prominent senses, a remote, unpopulated, seaside locale.
This events organizers had me convinced we were in for an adventure in the brilliant and mysterious vein of the weird/adventure writers that had so influenced my childhood. Among them were: Arthur Machen who with a finely manicured passage could invoke wonder and fear by revealing a chance encounter with some mysterious personage on a dense London night; H.P. Lovecraft a writer of rare power now virtually synonymous with Cosmic Horror; H. Ryder Haggard, Sax Rohmer & Robert E. Howard writers who peopled stories of parallel history with broad almost comic strokes yet with such exotic promise and descriptive passion that a guileless young reader could only wish to live in such lands. A. Conan Doyle, Kipling, Poe, so many to choose from so many worlds of wonder; then of course there was Robert Louis Stevenson.
The premise for this brilliant adventure had of course been inspired by a spectral tale of Stevensons taken from the lesser known volume: “New Arabian Knights”. “The Suicide Club” is a tale, a fragment almost of what might have become a thrilling serial of the adventures of one Prince Florizel of Bohemia. The Prince, an exiled Prussian Royal loose in a fog shrouded Victorian London was accompanied on his incognito adventures by his military attaché the loyal Coronel ————-. Together they encounter the nefarious club during one of their periodic forays into a subterranean landscape replete with chance encounters and ominous suggestion. And so ensues an adventure of saturnalian character which taxes their formidable resources to the utmost.
I had now been sightless for almost two hours and was getting an inkling of just how acute ones secondary senses can become during a prolonged absence of vision. The disembodied voices echoing about the van and the claustrophobic environs had been supplanted by a cool salt breeze, the steady murmur of distant breakers and the soft, constant pressure of the petite hand of an unknown woman to my right. Out of the cacophony of sensual bombardment and the confusion engendered by these unfamiliar, and unexplored tactile inputs, this simple holding of hands with a stranger was grounding me in a fashion unfamiliar to me in my at that time admittedly limited experience.
I don’t recall who was to my left in this blind line up. The woman to my right, Katherine, was enjoying the proceedings as much as I. As our attendants prodded us forward through a new and genuinely unexplored world she and I grew deeply and inexplicably closer. Our conversation wasn’t profound by any stretch; however the singular quality of our conjoined experience seemed to usher us into an otherworldly mindset. We were assisted in traversing what seemed to be a chasm on a wet and slippery wooden beam. The precarious nature of this exercise was exponentially emphasized in my reeling mind by the knowledge that being hand in hand with at least 50 others my fate was tied to the blind equilibrium of chance.
The disguised prince and coronel visit the chambers of the Suicide Clubs Inner sanctum after being accosted in a dingy tavern by a frantic young man dispensing cream tarts. Various denizens of the night both noble and common are in this way invited to participate in what at first seems merely a charming diversion engineered for the casual enjoyment of the urban dilettante. Of course more is at stake than shallow entertainment as our heroes discover. Eventually they become aware of this mythic secret societies true nature. A desperate game of life and death ensues.
By now we had exhaustingly ascended a great hill on what seemed to be trails of sand alternating with wooden and earthen stairs. Katherine, I and doubtless all the others were winded and sweating. We could smell eucalyptus and hear the looming trees creak and sway in the cool breeze.
Blind though we were, the quality of darkness seemed to deepen as our other senses declared our passage from the brisk outside world into a ponderous, cloying interior space. The walls were concrete, and damp. The floor, also concrete, was uneven and littered with debris. We were led on and on into what was obviously a deeply subterranean place. The single line of people moving hand in hand seemed to be fragmenting.
Sounds and other input told Katherine and I that we were brushing past and in turn being overtaken by blind couples, individuals and small clots of our artificially handicapped peers. Finally, the resonance of odd echoes indicated that we two, along with what must have been most if not all the others had entered into a colossal chamber.
A sonorous voice commanded we regain our sight.
I heard Katherine gasp as she, I and the others removed our blindfolds. We had been sightless for over three hours and the expectation of regaining this most crucial of senses was so intense that when our eyes were freed, the shock of finding that we were still sightless was overwhelming. The chamber echoed with ominous bass laughter: we could almost feel the others tremble as they along with the two of us mentally reviewed our options. The same voice invited us to enjoy our stay and laughing again receded ever so quickly into the recesses of our strange new world. Katherine and I, ever more tightly holding on to one another began our search for light in earnest…
[Ed: While John’s notes ended there, reports of what happened next are along these lines: Each couple were handed a single match. Through cooperation, on match was lit by the group, and then the next, providing sufficient light to find a path forward. It became clear that they were in a series of bunkers, underground Fort Funston. The group worked their way to an exit, where they were greeted by members of the Suicide Club. Following their self-liberation, the new initiates joined with the established members in a wine fueled celebration. Note: the date of the first initiation was February 2, 1978, not February 9th, as reported in some news accounts.]