Ezekiel Zacharias Maxwell was a fearless scientist and psychonaut who used his preternatural gifts of intellect and iron will to literally change the world around him with the barest power of his own thoughts. Born in 1848 in the raw prairie of Duluth, Minnesota, Maxwell was able to speak by the age of four months, and able to read the collected works of Thomas Aquinas by the age of two. Though his gifts did not come without some concern on the part of his doting parents, they were not stymied.
He continued his schooling at home, devouring the family library when he was not busy working on the farm, duck hunting or ice fishing (which he took to remarkably quickly, applying simple mechanics to allow himself to haul up pike that were nearly his own size.) He had a deft touch with animals, though that didn’t extend to one of the family horses, a black mare called Midnight, who threw him numerous times, once badly enough to require a month-long convalescence to heal a broken collarbone. It was then that Maxwell developed his life-long loathing of horses and resolved never to be borne by one again–a promise that he had to break exactly twice, each of those being literally a life-and-death decision. Though he was stubborn and honest to a fault, he was pragmatic enough to understand that oaths sworn at the age of eight don’t necessarily require that one throw one’s life away ten years later.
At the age of sixteen, he left the family farm and went to college. Of which he had his choice, having been courted by any number of universities, both in America and abroad. Surely, a prodigious talent of his kind would be able to find a match in the hallowed halls of academia, where his intellect would be tended to and husbanded. At least that was his hope.
It was not to be so, however. Instead of finding University to be an enriching environment, he found himself limited and constrained at every turn. In short order, he became surly and reckless, as did his professors in turn. He found himself kicked out of Harvard (the third University he’d tried attending in America) after goading one of his advanced mathematics professors into a fistfight over the possibility that parallel lines did indeed meet (albeit not in a third dimensional model).
Traveling abroad found no better matches. Cambridge, the Sorbonne and Heidelberg all welcomed and turned him away within the matter of a single term. By now, Maxwell was sorely disillusioned with the very idea of academia, though his passions had cooled and he was no longer solving intellectual debate with his knuckles. He was, however, filled with a deep-seated ennui and torpor that belied a restlessness deep inside his heart. His eyes had been opened to possibility, and all he saw around him were the blinders of orthodoxy and conventionality. His heart had been filled with wonder at the world before him, his brain hungered for answers. All he had learned at the great institutions of academia were dissections and twice-removed observation. He longed for experience and wisdom above common knowledge.
He spent the next eleven years traveling the world. He began by signing to the Navy. Regarding his disciplined surroundings as a challenge rather than an obstacle, Maxwell found himself enjoying the life laid out before him. His journal entries for these times are brief and to the point, as if he were trying to distill the moments into shorter and shorter declarations. His naval career was cut short, after a fateful engagement with pirates marooned him and a handful of survivors off of the Moroccan coast. Maxwell and two others elected themselves to go off in search of help. Trudging across the arid coastline with no provisions and only the barest trace of water, their ill-fated attempt ended in tragedy. Only Maxwell survived, having been found by a heretofore unknown sect of Sufi mystics who nursed him back to health. Upon returning to the site of his marooned comrades, they found only corpses who had evidently been driven mad by the blazing sun and heat.
Maxwell resigned himself to wandering, his martial obligation to his crewmembers paid. The masters of the sect offered him sanctuary for a time, and he learned a great deal in those days, once he mastered their language and custom. Finally, he had been exposed to all that they were willing to teach him. Maxwell graciously thanked them and then moved on, taking on with a missionary crew that was headed across the seas, to the Americas.
That leg of his journey, however, was to be cut short as well. After taking on some passengers in Colombia, the dreaded Malaria virus made its way through the ship in short order. Most of the crew of his ship died, and it had become a floating charnelhouse within sight of the palm-lined shores of Belize.
Emerging from the experience profoundly shaken, he seemed to snap out of fevered stupor by sheer force of will. Dr. Quentin Best, the missionary who found the death ship listing near his mission’s village, wrote the following:
Of the survivors, there is one who is most remarkable. He was brought to me burning of fever and assuredly near death. His skin, oily and slick, fair burned to the touch. How he had lived this long was a mystery. As the sun went down that evening, I prepared to administer Last Rites, as the sight of the sun going down often compels those close on dying to release their grip on life and rise into The Lord’s embrace. This patient, Maxwell his name, instead of sliding into repose gently, stopped. His breathing, his burning, the twitching of his fingers, all stopped at the same moment.
And in the next, his eyes opened, and he said quite clearly: “I didn’t think that would work.”
After I regained my composure, I asked him “What? What would work?”
Maxwell regarded me plainly with his piercing, dark eyes and said simply “I talked to the disease and shook its hand, then asked it why it wanted me so badly.”
“And?” I replied.
“It didn’t have an answer. I guess I scared it away.”
— Exchange taken from Curious Ministries, 1912, McGrosset and Affiliates publishers
After that, his notebooks literally exploded with ideas and concepts. Writing on subjects from psychology to epistemology, conceptual biology and aesthetics, it was as if the fever had worked loose the cork of a bottle and out came thought. It was here that Maxwell began his interest in non-western thought. What had started at the hands of the Sufi masters was accelerated after his fever. Maxwell began to learn what he could of the knowledge that mankind had acquired and then forgotten. He believed, heretically, that there was no inherent superiority to Civilization, and that in fact it solved no fewer problems than it created.
His travels in this time, were many and varied. He set foot on all seven continents, lighting for a time, learning what he could, then gathering his resources and moving on. Just as often as not, he would spend his time quite alone, and in observation of the world around him. But at the drop of a hat, he would surround himself with both the educated and ignorant, the wealthy and the poor. He absorbed wisdom and knowledge wherever he could, seeking to winnow the truth from mere fact.
On these travels, he saw wonders unseen by Western eyes to this day: the Spheres of Elarau (whose geometries were so perfect as to drive men mad), the Sightless Grimoire (written in a tongue unspoken on our world for centuries), the Counter-Chapel (where the Nothing-Makers sing to the E’Cheyon and pray for the End of Everything.) He came into contact with cults who worked their way back in time to create their own creators, with those who stalked the darkness in the name of Closing the Eternal Gate, and countless ordinary men and women who had no idea of the greater world around them.
He returned to America, but never stayed for long. It was there that Maxwell established The Thirteenth, part spy-network, part book-club and part social-gathering where those who had dared to look past the Ordinary could speak freely of their experience. Typically, The Thirteenth only communicated in person very rarely, more often by letters written in ciphers that Maxwell himself devised. This was an unseen network who rarely, if ever, knew the appearance of their comrades. His correspondences, though largely uncollected, are legendary. Only a slim volume of his letters, published by Garret and Sons in 1927, has ever been created, and strangely all but three copies of that edition have disappeared. Two of those belong in the Thirteenth private archive, and one is rumored to be in a vault below the Vatican, though the Church firmly denies being in possession of any such book.
However, Maxwell did publish a series of books centered around essays and monographs of his. His iconoclastic and smolderingly hostile attitude towards academia assured that these books would find only a limited audience. Though that audience has proved to be quite tenacious and receptive. On the Meeting of the Lines attacked close-mindedness in both mathematics and politics, yet tempered that with a gentle, and for lack of a better word, loving view of the world. His personal favorite, Hot Water and Soap found him not only celebrating the best of Civilization as a whole, but served to dispel the (malicious) rumor that he believed mankind to be better off as hunter/gatherer tribes. It was also printed seventeen times in the last twenty years. Finally, Shaking the Disease, briefly recounts some of his more controversial beliefs/theories, and that was the lightning rod for the very public attacks leveled against him.
The teens were a very dark time for Maxwell. He was accused of being everything from a Bolshevik agitator to an intellectual tyrant, to anti-American to an enslaver of souls. He refused to back down from his beliefs, though in public hearings, he did say on occasion that he “could have phrase that particular point less…confrontationally.” Ultimately, he left his beloved Minnesota behind, and instead set off to live in Auckland, New Zealand, in his words “As far away as I can get from civilization and still be on this planet.” He continued to write long into his seventies and corresponded voraciously, particularly with the expanded membership of The Thirteenth, though he insisted that he took no part in any of their field operations (or “excursions” as he had called them).
On September 2, 1938, Maxwell was scheduled to depart from Auckland to Sydney, and from there to San Francisco by way of steamship. According to his aide, he’d been feeling the weight of years pressing down on him and that he wished to see the prairies one more time before his death.
His ticket was never claimed at the boarding office and his aide didn’t see him subsequent to the evening of the first. To this day, no sign of Maxwell has been found, and the lights at what’s left of the family farm are kept every night.
Just in case.