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First printing, July 2011
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Gustave Doré illustrations © Dover Publications
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The paradise prophecy / Robert Browne. p. cm.
ISBN : 978-1-101-54325-2
1. Good and evil—Fiction. 2. Prophecies—Fiction. 3. Devil—Fiction.
4. Code and cipher stories. I. Title.
Set in Fournier
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
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or my father and for Brett, Bill, Tasha and Andrew, friends old and new
eath is the golden key that opens the palace of eternity.
ake me down to the paradise city
Where the grass is green
And the girls are pretty
Oh, won’t you please take me home
Better to reign in Hell, than serve in Heav’n.
, 1667 ed., I:263
FLORENCE, ITALY 1638
efore they met, he knew nothing of the book, or the story surrounding it.
He hadn’t known about its size or the scope of its contents or the blackening skin of its pages or the ornate, nearly perfect penmanship that adorned them. He hadn’t known that it was housed in Prague, in one of the collections of a Holy Roman Emperor, patron of the arts and practicing alchemist. He hadn’t known that a hundred and sixty donkeys had been slaughtered to further its creation.
And he was completely unaware of the seven missing pages.
The pages that would lead to his undoing.
But much to his regret, the poet learned these things and more on a visit to Florence—there in a small villa in Arcetri, where he first met the astronomer, a pale, bearded old man condemned to spend the last years of his life as a prisoner in his own home.
This was long before the evil days, before the darkness amid the blaze of noon. Back when the poet’s life had been truly blessed, when day-to-day living had not only been pleasurable, but was often exhilarating. When he was filled with the freshness of spirit that comes with youth and intellect and an unyielding belief in newly formed ideals.
He’d been quite surprised to receive the old man’s invitation, and after months of arduous travel, taking him from London to Calais, then on to Paris and Nice and Genoa, his first instinct was to send his apologies and return home to England.
But the astronomer not only possessed one of the finest minds known to man, he was, in many ways, a kindred soul. A follower of God, yet free in spirit. A believer in individual choice who abhorred tyranny of any kind, even when it wore prelatical robes.
And when the poet read the message waiting for him at his lodgings in Livorno, he knew it would be foolish to pass up this opportunity to further his education.
So he accepted the invitation and went to Florence.
A choice that would haunt him until his dying day.
he villa was tumbledown and smelled faintly of mildew, two guards standing watch at the front gates.
He was greeted at the door by a timid young maid who looked as if she’d come straight from the convent, here to do penance for some ungodly transgression. She averted her gaze as she introduced herself, and he wondered what sad demon possessed her that would prevent her from looking him in the eye.
“Please be gentle with him,” she said softly as she escorted him down a long hallway past a row of doors. “He hasn’t been well these last few weeks and he tires easily. And be warned. He has his good days and bad, and we never quite know which to expect.”