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January 17, 2013. Los Angeles, California.


“Nostradamus was most certainly not a prophet,” intoned UCLA Philosophy and Anthropology Professor John Morse, scolding his debate opponent across the stage. “The best that can be said about him is that he accidentally cured some very sick people during his lifetime. The worst that can be said about him is that he was a charlatan, snake oil salesman, and a liar, and the great weight of the historical evidence points toward viewing him in an extremely negative light. But whatever he was, he was not, as you say, ‘the greatest seer whoever lived,’ and I challenge you to come up with any facts—as opposed to after-the-fact rationalizations--to prove it.”

John Morse was quite at ease in front of the lectern, and, in his own mind anyway, was badly beating Los Angeles best-selling author Erika G. Flynn in their debate entitled “Nostradamus: Prophet or Quack?” which was televised over Time Warner’s local interest television channel in Los Angeles. It was astounding to Morse that this woman’s books on Nostradamus garnered fifty times the sales of his own books on the subject. She simply had no compelling facts to support any of her wild assertions, yet the audience seemed to hang on her every word. Listening to her tell it, Nostradamus predicted the French Revolution, Hitler’s atrocities, Saddam Hussein, 9-11, Osama Bin Laden, the election of Barak Obama, global warming, and the death of Michael Jackson. Yet ask her to predict any specific future global event based upon the sixteenth century figure’s Propheties, and Flynn suddenly became very short on details.

Morse knew his stuff. He had read over two dozen scholarly books on Nostradamus (many of them in their original French), and had visited Nostradamus’ birthplace in St.-Remy-de-Provence, his home in Agen where he met his first wife, and his home in Salon-de-Provence where he had gone on to write his famous “quatrains,” or four-line verses. Nostradamus organized his prophetic quatrains into ten groups, or “centuries.” Each “century” had 100 quatrains. However, the seventh Century only had 42 quatrains. The missing 58 quatrains from Century VII were either never written or were lost by the publisher. Morse had poured over handwritten manuscripts attributed to the seer, as well as letters written by Nostradamus’ son Cesar. And he had been called upon from time to time to authenticate centuries-old French artifacts believed to have been once possessed by the psychic. Morse was fairly well-versed in astrology and was familiar with the ancient astrological texts which had been used by Nostradamus in the sixteenth century. But after over a decade of research, Morse became quite convinced that there simply was nothing of substance to Nostradamus, and that the seer had managed to somehow hoodwink centuries of followers concerning his so-called psychic gifts. To Morse, Nostradamus was a fraud.

Morse had become interested in Nostradamus and other psychics about eleven years ago, just after his wife Lola died. Now there was a person who should be remembered through the ages. Lola was like a perfect day—when the sky is blue and the breeze is cool and every traffic light turns green and an unexpected check arrives in the mail. When he woke up next to Lola each day, Morse felt flabbergasted at his luck. She was incredibly beautiful, way above him in the looks department. He had met her on a trip to Peru. He had planned to visit Machu Picchu with a group of other professors and some graduate students. But after he walked into the cantina and saw her 1,000-watt smile, her beautiful thick dark hair and cocoa skin, he couldn’t remember why he had even come to South America. She was thin in the waist, big in the bust, and had a rear end that looked fantastic in her tight blue cotton dress. She liked to dance and flirt and dazzle everyone around her. She could speak English fairly well, although she regularly used a “b” instead of a “v”—“you are berry interesting.” She often mixed up present tense and past tense and could not seem to get the distinction between “much” and “many.” But when she rolled her “R’s,” Morse was delighted. And the best part of Lola Carrera was that she was crazy about John Morse, a boring, overweight, white-haired Philosophy and Anthropology Professor, with nose hair and ear hair, and bushy pepper eyelashes and a bad sense of fashion. The two shared a pitcher of margaritas and Morse never looked back. After several months of letter-writing, Lola had managed a visa to Los Angeles to visit him. They had married at the Venetian Resort and Casino in Las Vegas two weeks later. John and Lola Morse had gone on to have two children, Zach and Zoey. And John Morse had been very happy.

Lola had been much more religious than Morse. Morse tended to believe in things which were supported by evidence, facts, or at least a good hypothesis. He did not believe in all-powerful bearded beings living in clouds, winged angels with harps, talking serpents, or virgins giving birth. Lola had taken the kids to Catholic mass every week. That was probably good, Morse thought, in that it gave the children some structure and peace of mind. Morse would be there to help Zach and Zoey when they could reason for themselves, and help them understand the Big Bang Theory, evolution and DNA. Morse never understood how his wife could believe in all the Catholic teachings but at the same time chart horoscopes, read Tarot cards, and bet the same six numbers every week on the California Lotto drawing. The Catholic thing and the mystical thing seemed inconsistent to Morse, but he wasn’t one to quibble. He had a happy life and did not want to rock the boat. When Zoey was just a baby, Lola had begun reading books on prophets like Nostradamus, Jeanne Dixon and Edward Cayce, and she had become convinced that certain people could sense future events. Lola had told him once that she believed she herself had the gift of foresight. Morse burst out laughing. That was one of their few bad fights. He had tried to reason with her, but she had felt truly insulted.

He did have to admit that she was skilled at reading people upon meeting them the first time. She could usually divine whether a woman she met at the grocery store or the gym was having problems with her husband, was interested in another man, or had money problems. Morse chalked those up, however, to a keen observation of people’s facial expressions and body language, not psychic powers. If a woman came into the gym with her eyes red and a sad look on her face, chances are she was sad about something. It did not take Nostradamus to figure that out.

In August 2001, Lola had learned that her brother James was coming to the United States for a visit. James had followed much the same path as his sister. He had wavy, dark hair and beautiful features, and he had met his lover on a vacation to Peru. James’ boyfriend Greg was an advertising executive for a large bank in Boston, and the two had arranged for a trip to Provincetown on the Cape that weekend. Provincetown was a small beach town on the tip of Cape Cod, Massachusetts. In the last few decades, the small town had become a gay and lesbian Mecca. Lola begged John Morse to go, but he refused. At first, he did not understand why he had refused, but later, when he honestly analyzed the facts, he concluded that he had refused to go because he did not want to spend all weekend with gay men going to drag comedy shows and gay bars. He was a Californian, and a fierce Democrat, and he thought gay people should be able to marry and have equal rights, but he just did not like going to the shows and elbowing well-built men in the A-Bar. Call it his last vestige of homophobia. It was a stupid concern, he later realized, and he should have gone, but he didn’t.

His wife had gone to Provincetown by herself and had enjoyed a great time with her brother and his new boyfriend. They had gone fishing on a small island off Provincetown, and had eaten clam chowder and lobster. Greg turned out to be a sweet person, and Lola had been very pleased at her brother’s happiness.

On the morning of her return trip home from Boston, as the stewardess closed the door of the plane, Lola Morse had experienced a momentary panic attack. She had a feeling of dread, something she could not put her finger on but was sure was real. She had learned always to trust her instincts-- that is what her mother in Peru had told her. She had called her husband John on the cell phone.

“John, I have a very bad feeling about this flight. I am worried there is something wrong with the plane.”

“Nonsense,” John had said, brushing her off. “Do you see any fire on the engine? Do you hear any sounds indicating the plane is malfunctioning?”


“All right, then, you have no evidence at all that anything is wrong. Everything will be fine.”

“OK, it is probably my active imagination. John, I love you. Will you kiss the kids for me? I cannot wait to see you tonight.”

“Will do.”

American Airlines Flight 11 left Boston on a clear day on September 11, 2001. At 8:42 a.m., the airplane crashed into the north tower of the World Trade Center, ruining John Morse’s life forever.

For the last eleven years, John Morse had been raising his two children alone, and trying to get past the pain and grief of losing his wife. He never even considered marrying again. She was too perfect. Any other woman would have been an anti-climactic disappointment, like losing the Mona Lisa and getting the Dogs Playing Poker in return. He had been haunted by his wife’s last premonition, and had questioned himself every day about why he had not told her to get off the plane. Morse’s psychiatrist, a fellow professor at U.C.L.A., had assured Morse over the years that the death was not his fault; that even if he had told her to get off the plane, the doors had already shut and the airline would never have let her get off. Her intuition, he had been assured, was just a coincidence, and not any reason to torture himself with guilt. Morse had an affinity, of course, for logical arguments, and his friend’s advice made sense, but he still could not let the matter go. He could not understand how he could be given a woman so perfect, and have a life so happy, and have it all taken away in an instant by a group of madmen.

Even though he did not believe in heaven before, in the weeks following his wife’s death, he flirted with a belief in the afterlife, probably because the belief gave him comfort at the possibility that somewhere after death he could be reunited with Lola. He went to Catholic mass for a while, and for the first year, it had given him some relief. But in the end, he was a man of science, a man of logic, and the meaningless prayers and Friday meat-eating bans had caused him to lose interest. He returned to a life of academics, but this time with a slightly more cynical, angry eye and jaundiced view of the world. He now viewed the world as one random, often harsh, series of unrelated events, with no purpose or meaning. The only things left which gave him any real joy were his children and his work debunking the mystical world.

He started writing books on Nostradamus and other psychics, attempting to shine the light of logic on fantastic claims of mysticism and prophecy. His first book on Nostradamus, called “The Man Who Saw Nothing At All,” was popular in the Los Angeles area, and enjoyed by his many students, but he could not seem to crack the Best Seller List like this nutty woman he was debating.

Erika Flynn tightened her jaw as she listened to the UCLA Professor. She was short, and had an odd, blonde bowl-cut which made her look a little bit like a cross between Carol Channing and skater Dorothy Hamel. It was hot under these bright lights in her red turtleneck sweater, but she tried to remain as calm as she could. She was not going to be criticized by this nobody professor who hadn’t even sold 10,000 books. Her books, “The Man Who Saw Through Time” and “Nostradamus’ Prophecies” had sold millions of copies and had each reached the New York Times Best Seller List. One of her earlier books on Nostradamus had been made into a movie which was frequently aired on the History Channel. She was a Somebody. She regularly appeared on Fox News as a commentator when public events made people scared of terrorism, Y2K, global warming, or some other crisis. Flynn felt that the evidence of the accuracy of Nostradamus’ prophecies was quite convincing.

“Professor Morse, as someone who has read all the prophecies of Nostradamus, you must be aware that Nostradamus foretold numerous famous events in history hundreds of years before they occurred. The prediction of the death of Henri II in a jousting tournament is the most obvious one. In Century I, Quatrain 35, Nostradamus writes:


The younger lion shall surmount the old,

Midst martial battlefield in a single duel.

His eyes he’ll put out in a cage of gold—

Two wounds joined—then a death most cruel.


As we know, in June 1559, King Henri II, as part of a royal wedding festival, participated in a joust with the Captain of the Scottish Guard, Gabriel de Lorge, the Count of Montgomery, who was younger than Henri. During the third encounter, the Count’s lance splintered and entered the king’s eye, piercing his brain. He died in agony ten days later. The king’s helmet, it is said, was made of gold. Both men wore shields embossed with lions. And the two wounds are the wound to the king and the wound to France. In Century III, Quatrain 55 of the Propheties, Nostradamus himself predicted ‘By the grain of Blois his bosom-friend is slain, the kingdom placed in doubt and trouble double.’ The word ‘l’orge’ in French means ‘barley,’ which is a type of grain. Nostradamus, then is essentially using the specific name of the Count—Lorge. And it is beyond dispute that Lorge and the king were friends. Surely even you cannot contest the accuracy of that prediction.”

“I most certainly can contest it,” countered Morse. “First, we should note that this quatrain is the one that is most quoted by Nostradamus’ enthusiasts. It is the ‘best case,’ if you will. So if this is the best evidence there is for Nostradamus’ psychic gifts, this prophecy should be a really good one. Alas, it is not. Let’s address this business about the shields having lions on them. The French never used lions in their crest. There is not one bit of factual evidence supporting the claim that their shields had lions on them. Henri at the time was only 41, hardly what anyone would describe as ‘old.’ There is also no evidence that the king’s helmet was made of gold. It would be unlikely to have been made of gold, as gold is a metal which is too soft to provide any protection. And your translation about ‘two wounds joined’ is incorrect. The French word ‘classe’ means a fleet or force. You are using the Greek word ‘klasis,’ which means a fracture or wound. You cannot just jump to Greek when it suits your purpose. The last line refers to two fleets of ships, which obviously fits nothing with regard to this event. Your reference to ‘Lorge of Blois’ is also incorrect. The verse as originally printed was ‘Le grand de Bloys” NOT ‘Le grain de Bloys.’ ‘Le grand’ in French meant ‘lord.’ And let’s keep in mind that before Nostradamus ever started printing his quatrains in the Propheties, he printed up a yearly Almanac which would list the important events for the year ahead. His Almanac for the Year 1559 mentioned absolutely nothing about Henri II dying. In fact, he referred to Henri in the Almanac as ‘Henri the Most Invincible’ and said that ‘France shall greatly grow, triumph, be magnified, and much more so its Monarch.’ If Nostradamus was so gifted that he could see centuries into the future, one would think he could have at least gotten the next year right.”

Flynn was not the least bit ruffled, but decided to make a different point. “Professor Morse, Nostradamus quite successfully predicted the events of 9/11, in one quatrain referring to the ‘hollow mountains,’ which is surely a reference to the twin towers. In another, Century VI, Quatrain 97, Nostradamus writes:


Latitude forty-five, the sky shall burn:

To the great “New City” shall the fire draw nigh.

With vehemence the flames shall spread and churn

When with the Normans they conclusions try.


Obviously, New York City is the New City. The fire from the sky is an obvious reference to the airplanes hitting the Twin Towers and causing fire and smoke in the buildings and throughout the Manhattan skyline. How can you say Nostradamus is a quack when predictions like these are so accurate?”

Morse grimaced somewhat at the reference to 9/11. This woman obviously did not know how his wife died. He could not imagine anyone would be that insensitive to pick the 9/11 example. He composed himself, and then responded, “First of all, Ms. Flynn, I think you suffer from a profound lack of knowledge as to basic geography.” Morse held up a map of the United States with latitude lines. “As you can see, Latitude 45 degrees is in Maine, some 300 miles north of New York City. So if this is supposed to reference New York City, Nostradamus needs a lesson in geography.”

The small crowd chuckled. Flynn quickly retorted, “Professor Morse, I am quite familiar with the latitude lines, and I think what you are missing is that Nostradamus was obviously referring here to 40.5 degrees, not 45 degrees, latitude, which, if you know your geography, happens to be the exact latitude of Central Park in New York City.”

“The actual French phrase used by Nostradamus, Ms. Flynn, was ‘cinq et quarante degres’ or ‘five and forty degrees,’ which is a strange way to say 40.5 degrees. Putting aside the fact that the decimal system had not even been adopted in Europe in Nostradamus’ day, the French have never expressed decimal places using this type of language. But even if we were to assume that ‘cinq et quarante degres’ means 40.5 degrees, this quatrain could just as easily refer to the eleventh-century Norman invasion of Naples (from the Greek word ‘neapolis’ or ‘new city’), which also lies at 40.5 degrees latitude, in Southern Italy. And next to Naples, of course, is Mount Vesuvius, which had lava flows several times in the eleventh century, and could be what Nostradamus referred to as the ‘fire in the sky.’ And that interpretation would certainly account for the reference to ‘Normans.’ But if we were to assume, as you claim, that Nostradamus did mean the 9/11 tragedy, why didn’t Nostradamus tell us about a five-sided building being attacked? I would imagine if Nostradamus could really see into the future, a five-sided building shaped like a pentagon would look rather odd, and would be an important detail to include, wouldn’t you agree? Why didn’t we hear about metal birds going into a building? Surely, Nostradamus must have thought the jetliners looked rather strange and would have attempted to describe them in some way? Why don’t we have a date? And what, Ms. Flynn, on earth, does the reference to ‘the Normans’ mean—because, as far as I know, no Normans were involved in the 9/11 attacks on New York City.”

The crowd laughed again, which infuriated Flynn even more.

“A prophet, Professor, often cannot see all events as clearly as one might see a motion picture. The prophet may only get bits and pieces of the future, which may be difficult for the prophet to understand, especially because the world changes significantly over time. One cannot expect Nostradamus to get every detail correct. But surely you must admit that Nostradamus has mentioned by name Generalissimo Francisco Franco in Century IX, Quatrain 16, Louis Pasteur in Century I, Quatrain 25, and Adolf Hitler in multiple quatrains.”

“I will not admit that,” said Morse. “Regarding Franco, the reference in the quatrain is to ‘castel Franco,’ so the word Franco could refer to a place just as easily as a person, and the remaining part of the verse is so vague it could mean almost anything. Regarding Pasteur, the word ‘pasteur’ is not capitalized. ‘Pasteur’ is the French word for ‘pastor’ or ‘clergyman.’ There is nothing in the quatrain referencing the scientist’s first name ‘Louis’ or anything having to do with science or germs. It states in the quatrain that the pastor shall be ‘treated as a demigod.’ Say what you want about the contributions of Louis Pasteur, I think it is an overstatement to say that he has been treated as a demigod. In Century VI, Quatrain 28, there is a reference to ‘le grand pasteur’ or ‘the great pastor,’ which is quite likely a reference to a pope, and not to Louis Pasteur. And you are incorrect when you say that Hitler was mentioned by name in Les Propheties. What Nostradamus did mention was Hister, with an “S,” which is the Latin word for the Danube River. And it is quite clear Nostradamus is referring to the river, not the man. In Century I, Quatrain 68, Nostradamus refers to Turkish and North African armies meeting those ‘from the Rhine and Hister.’ That obviously means a river. In Century II, Quatrain 24, Nostradamus refers to the great battle ‘encontre Hister sera,’ which clearly means ‘along the banks of the Hister River.’ In one of Nostradamus’ Almanacs, he states, ‘A very learned man in his last quarter, while walking along the river Hister, also called Danube, the ground subsiding, in the said river shall be lost.’ In fact, a councilor of Vienna named Gaspar Ursinus Vellius had actually fallen into the River Hister and died when the ground gave in. Nostradamus wrote about the drowning incident in his Traité des fardemens in 1552. So no, Nostradamus was not referring to Franco, or Pasteur or even Hitler by name. And if he was referring to Hitler as ‘Hister,’ then, in addition to being quite poor in geography, he was also a very bad speller!”

Flynn was getting quite annoyed. This debate was not going the way she had planned. “Professor, as I am sure you know, Hitler’s youth was spent in the city of Linz in Austria, which sits along the River Danube. So by referring to the River Hister, Nostradamus was obviously using the Latin version of the name of the river as a word play on the name Hitler. Nostradamus was very fond of word plays, so this is not unusual. For example, in Century VIII, Quatrain 1 Nostradamus writes that ‘Paul, Nay, Loron will be more of fire than of blood.’ The letters of ‘Paul, Nay, Loron’ rearranged becomes ‘Napoleon Roy,’ or ‘Napoleon the King,’ who was certainly a man of war rather than royal lineage. The next two lines refer to the imprisoning of the ‘Piuses,’ which is a clear reference to Napoleon’s imprisonment of Popes Pius VI and VII.”

“The problem with word plays, Ms. Flynn,” said Morse, “is that it leads inevitably to Humpty Dumpty’s quote in Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass ‘When I use a word, it means just what I choose it to mean.' You appear to be taking the letters in the names ‘Paul, Nay and Loron’ and changing them around to mean Napoleon Roy. If you take the word ‘dog’ and change the letters to read ‘god,’ then of course, it means something entirely different, as I will most certainly not pray in church to my dog or buy a pooper-scooper for my God. But if we are free to take all the letters of the words used by Nostradamus and switch them around however we like, then we can say the quatrain means whatever we want it to mean. For instance, in your books, you claim that Nostradamus identified three Antichrists in his prophecies. The first was Napoleon, the second was Hitler, and the third was supposedly someone from the Middle East named ‘MABUS.’ I have heard some authors claim that if you take the name ‘G. W. BUSH’ and invert the ‘g’ and the ‘w’ you get ‘AMBUSH.’ Then, if you knock off the ‘H’ and mix up the letters, George W. Bush becomes the third Antichrist. Now if you are a Republican, never fear, because you can take the name ‘OBAMA,’ knock off the first and last letters, add “U.S.” for the United States, and switch the letters, and now Barak Obama is the Third Antichrist. So this kind of word play where we knock off and add letters and mix them around is really silly and pointless.”

“Professor Morse,” chided Flynn over her reading glasses, “The names ‘Nay’ and ‘Loron’ are not exactly names like ‘Bob’ or ‘Bill.’ It is obvious he put those names together as an anagram for Napoleon. The mention of imprisoning Piuses in the very next line confirms that by the context. Nearly every scholar but you agrees on this point.”

“Really?” snapped Morse. “Let’s play the same word game you just played with Napoleon’s name.” Morse took out a sketch pad and a black magic marker and wrote “ERIKA G. FLYNN” in bold, block letters. If we cross out one of the “N’s,” and then rearrange the letters of your name ‘Erika G. Flynn’, we get: ‘LYING FAKER.’ Perhaps when your parents named you, they were trying to deliver a cryptic message to the world about your future theories.”

Flynn was furious. “Well, I thought we could have a civil discourse about an important historical topic, but I can see you are only interested in hurling ad hominem attacks and making sophomoric jokes. This debate is over.” Flynn stormed off the stage, leaving the producer scrambling to figure out how to fill the last five minutes of the show. The M.C. started talking about how good debates often stir people’s emotions, especially when the topic is so vital to our everyday lives, and other filler material until the producer was able to cut to commercial. John Morse shrugged his shoulders, packed up his sketch pad and briefcase and walked off the set to talk to the producer.

“Hey, Professor, good stuff, but next time, can you tone it down on calling people liars and fakers? Now I have to find five minutes of Nostradamus filler for the end of the show. And next time, press your jacket, it looks a little rumpled.”

Morse felt bad about the last crack about Flynn’s name, but the ignorance of some people really irritated him sometimes. It was nearly 10 p.m. Satisfied with his performance, he left the building and headed for the parking lot. He looked at his Seiko wristwatch. He had just enough time to get home and kiss the kids good night.

As he crossed the parking lot, his cell phone rang.


“Monsieur Morse?”


“I am calling from France. It is urgent that I speak with you.”

Morse put his phone on his ear, beeped the lock open on his Audi, and hopped in the front seat.

“Who is this and how did you get my number?”

Pardonnez-mois, monsieur. My name is Father Jacques Du Bois, Pastor of L’Eglise-St. Michel. I called your house tonight and your daughter Zoey was kind enough to give me your cell phone. We have made a most unusual discovery in Salon.”

“Salon-de-Provence? Where Nostradamus lived?”

Oui, Professor Morse. Earlier this week, an underground vault was discovered beneath the Eglise-St. Michel. We believe the vault may have long lost artifacts from Nostradamus himself.”

“Is this a practical joke? Are you serious?”

“I assure you I am most serious, Professor. We have not attempted to gain access to the vault until we called you. I can send you my credentials by e-mail to your computer, so that you can verify I am who I say I am.”

“Really? Interesting. A lost vault? Why summon me?”

“It is not I who has summoned you, Monsieur Morse. It is Nostradamus himself.”