An Elephant

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Chapter 13: Jay

Chapter 13: Jay

“It is a multiple million eyed monster
it is hidden in all its elephants and selves
it hummeth in the electric typewriter
it is electricity connected to itself, if it hath wires
it is a vast spiderweb
and I am on the last millionth infinite tentacle of the spiderweb,
a worrier
lost, separated, a worm, a thought, a self”

- Alan Ginsberg



Jay still sat on the small petanque area, in the corner of the square, still facing Kate, exploring the reality of his surroundings. Eyes closed, he was concentrating on the strangely appealing echo that had been added to all the voices around him. Even the distant football chants seemed beautiful, and he gently nodded his head in time with them. He focused on the internal effects of the mescaline and what it was doing to him, as it cascaded through his physical form. It felt more like his body was acting all by itself, it had simply received a message to pay attention differently.

The gravel on which he sat, appeared perfectly placed, designed with effort and at great length, like some distant Zen garden. Even when he flicked some of it with his finger, its perfection wasn’t lost; the beauty and appeal of the whole world seemed unbreakable and constant around him.

The sky was bluer than ever, his T-shirt seemed to be more yellow than the sun, and Kate seemed as lovely as ever. He felt slightly less nervous in her presence now, although he wondered if he was experiencing legitimate feedback. In the short time since they had met, he felt persistently drawn to Kate, although anyone one would be drawn to her, he imagined.

“You started explaining what mescaline was earlier” she prompted.

“The chemical name is 3,4,5 trimethoxy-ß-phenethylamine.”

She pulled a face indicating this wasn’t quite the explanation she was hoping for.

“It’s found in a few cacti, peyote is the famous one, and it’s what Aldous Huxley had taken when he wrote ‘The Doors of Perception’. Some Native Americans use it for spiritual reasons, and Mexican archaeology suggests its use there goes back over ten thousand years. The chemical’s also found in the San Pedro cactus, which contains just as much mescaline, weight for weight, but grows ten times as quick, so that’s more common in Europe, and that’s what I’ve taken.”

“So what does it do?”

“Hoh, what a question!” He paused, trying to answer in a way that would be meaningful for her. “Like I said before, it’s quite unusual in that it is a naturally occurring drug that’s a stimulant, but also a hallucinogen. Things are normally one or the other.” He wondered how he could explain the sensations he was experiencing.

“I’ve only ever tried one spliff,” said Kate, “and I felt really paranoid and a bit sick. Drink doesn’t even agree with me. I can’t imagine what mescaline might feel like.”

“At the moment I feel quite lucid, whether I sound it or not.”

“You do.”

He looked down at the gravel again, then leaned to his right to touch the stone wall of the building.

“Everything seems simpler, but still richer, the world is more… ‘present’ than usual, if that makes any sense. I’m more connected to it.”

He would have liked to touch Kate, if only on the tip of one of her flip flops, but was too self-conscious.

“You nutter” she said, smiling. “Have you taken a lot?”

Jay chuckled and felt his eyes rolling. He felt he could have continued his laughter, just for the sake of it, but chose to put his dose into context instead.

“I was reading a book called ‘Food of the Gods’ by someone called Terrence McKenna. He’s a major tripper, and an anthropologist. He is of the opinion that people can take things like acid or mushrooms, quite regularly, for years on end, without ever quite unlocking what is available to them. They are only scratching the surface, ’cos to really get the benefit, you need to take a serious dose, which is far higher than merely enough to be ‘effective’. If you really want to know what these tools can do for you, you need to take what he calls a ‘heroic dose’.”

He watched Kate shake her head slowly, with disbelief.

She looks a bit frightened, bless her.

“It’s no good at all for socially complicated situations: you can’t be a dribbling wreck in public, in fact in the dark, in silence, is best. Lie down on huge doses of these things and you can have an incredibly profound experience of ‘the self’ if you manage the situation properly.”

He could see the vague alarm in Kate’s sparkling blue eyes. He could hardly bare to look at her properly, she was so alluring. He thought it would be refreshing if he found an imperfection.

“Don’t panic. I haven’t had an enormous dose today, although it was a large one.”

“I don’t want you in a padded cell instead of the lab tomorrow.”

Jay’s outlook was overwhelmingly optimistic. Her concern was understandable and quite endearing, but she didn’t seem unduly worried, and he expected to be fine the next day. This was his final blow-out, before he began nine months of concentrated ichthyology inside the lab, and the rest of his time learning French, outside of the lab. Just for today, he could afford to indulge his psychedelic interests.

“McKenna’s a real character, to say the least, and he has some pretty revolutionary ideas about the evolution of mankind.”

“Such as?”

“He is of the opinion that in North Africa, after the last ice age, the jungles receded into grassland, prompting our ancestors to venture out of the trees, to look for food.”

“-kay.”

“He writes that these distant ancestors, proto-human apes - the missing link – were living in and around what is now Ethiopia, on the Tassili Plain.

“That’s something I can go along with.”

“It’s a common view. They were omnivores, eating whatever they laid their hands on, just like chimps today; they were little more than chimps. Every year there was cattle migrating down from the north, and the cattle had hallucinogenic mushrooms growing out of their dung. This still happens in Asia, and it’s the main source of mushrooms for the ‘special’ omelettes, they make in Thailand.”

He mimed quotes with his fingers on ‘special.’ As he did so, he had a brief recollection of lying on his back, on Sunrise Beach on Koh Phangan, looking up at the sky. He had wept at the beauty of the constellations.

“McKenna says the oldest human art is in caves on the Tassili plain and – get this – they seem full of what appear to be images of a mushroom goddess – a female human form, with the head of a mushroom. Other paintings have people with hands stuffed full of mushrooms, and shamans with masks of animals and grazing cattle. There are similar art works in South America as well, associated with known mushroom cults, some still practicing an unbroken line today - they believe god is in the flesh of the mushrooms.”

“-kay.” She sounded far more dubious than a moment before.

“Even now people say you use so much more of your brain when on hallucinogens. McKenna’s theory goes on to suggest that, due to mushroom use, the improved communication between these primitive beings led to the development of cognition, language, organisation, the first ‘human’ society. He writes about how they used words instead of grunts for the first time - a way of forming specific images in another person’s mind, just by using your vocal chords.”

She fell into thoughtful silence, allowing his urge to continue:

“He says it’s when we also developed our first ideas about God. It was possibly as a result of internal dialogue, which they mistook for God speaking to them, and that’s how we developed our first ideas about religion. On the threshold of what we now consider early humans, they started following the cattle back towards the north, still eating the mushrooms, and went on to populate the world, armed with their newly advanced consciousness, which could be taught…”

Jay could feel his face flush with excitement as he relayed the story, although Kate looked blankly out at him from the corner of the square.

“…McKenna’s view is that the original tree of knowledge began with mushroom trips that were the catalyst for what we have become ever since - modern man.”

Then Kate gasped slightly.

“Is there any scientific proof of any of this?” She was slowly shaking her head and squinting, understandably showing some cynicism.

“He’s not the most rigorous of scientists, but the majority of anthropologists would agree that mankind evolved around that area. I’m not sure about the cave paintings being the oldest surviving art, but they do appear to have been painted by a matriarchal society that worshipped a mushroom goddess.”

Kate lifted her head with assent.

“It’s no secret that certain brain activity increases hugely when using hallucinogens, and so it seems that mushrooms trips may have actually been the catalyst that turned a group of distant ape-like ancestors into thoughtful, talkative humans… or tuned apes into thoughtful humans. The mushrooms were the catalyst for our journey towards homo sapiens.”

“Do you subscribe to this theory?” she asked him.

“Don’t know, but it’s a great story.” He shrugged and raised his eyebrows. “It could certainly be argued that, even in more recent times, drugs have shaped our cultural evolution, via folklore and the creative arts. Maybe they’ve been the deciding factor in our brain chemistry, our very selves, ever since we did the paintings on the Tassili Plain.”

She stared at him silently.

“It might be another case of people finding a reality which suits them - he describes himself as an ethno-pharmacologist and wants to sell books on the subject.”

“O…K.” Kate’s disbelief seemed to give way to fascination.

“I really like his ideas about putting images into people’s minds. I suppose it’s what happens in most conversations, or when someone sings a song or writes… with any communication. Is the image any more or less real because someone else puts it there? Even some-thing else. You go to the cinema or watch TV and people are putting images in your head… every time you pick up a book you may learn a new truth… or… are you into astronomy?”

“Not especially.”

“It’s like I said earlier. “Much of astronomy these days doesn’t use telescopes that make things bigger with optical lenses and visible light, like in the old days. Now they use radio telescopes, infra red, radio waves, gamma waves, I think some even use the equivalent of microphones to listen to the background noise of the universe. Then they use a computer to analyse the results and show you enhanced images, or graphs, or just reams of data. You’re not really looking at anything anymore, but astronomers still consider it just as real as when they look at the moon through a foot-long antique telescope. It’s a question of which instrument is used to ‘see’, that dictates what reality we ‘see’.” It suits McKenna to use a lens of ethno-pharmacology to explore evolution…”

“I guess you could say the person is the lens.”

“Exactly!” He closed his eyes and concentrated on the red-spotted blackness before him. He experienced what many trippers achieve – the sounds around him created visual distortions; colours shimmered and danced in the black background of his visual cortex. He moved his legs slightly, and the crunch of the shifting gravel beneath him produced little flecks of golden yellow in one corner of his perception while the heat on his scalp created a red effect as if he could see the blood heating up in the vessels of his eyeballs.

Loud voices in the distance smothered everything with a wave of strobing flashes of black and bright white, as he heard some English lads, northerners, shouting over the background buzz of the passing conversations on the square. There was music playing, but the breeze limited it to a beat every now and then, mostly too quiet to properly identify. He just caught hints as the sounds were transformed into flashes, spikes, subtle flavours and sensations, all playing on the inside of his eyelids.

What he found, when he eventually opened his eyes was a bit of a surprise. Kate was still the most beautiful thing he had ever seen, but now his experience differed from other psychedelic sessions. Under the influence of LSD or mushrooms, colours were far more pronounced than usual, and that was still the case today, but where visual perspective and distancing had felt warped on previous trips, it was different on the mescaline: it felt more real.

“Everything looks like an oil painting.”

“That must be weird.”

“Everything’s smeared, but still a bit grainy and… kind of pixelated as well. It’s like zooming into an old newspaper photo, until you see each individual dot, but smoothed out, all at the same time.”

“Is it nice to look at?” she asked.

“Yeah! It’s amazing! It’s like everything’s been painted by Van Gogh. It’s strange, ’cos I don’t even normally like him. I like sharp paintwork, like a Dali, or van Eyck’s Marriage of Arnolfini is a favourite, but the blurring effect mixed with depth is fantastic.”

He felt he was experiencing great beauty, simply by looking to his right at the large stones in the wall, so he chose to turn around and look at the square behind him. He leaned to his right and looked away from Kate and the stone wall, to look at Place St George, but quickly spun back around.

Wow.

“That was a bit much.”

“Are you OK?”

“Never better! There’s just… a lot going on.” He could tell he was positively beaming: his flushed cheeks felt warm and he could feel his eyes were wide and bright, despite the sensory overload of the square and its people.

“The bricks in the wall are all jiggling a bit. They even look happy. Even though they’re only grey, it’s the brightest, most amazing, colourful grey I’ve ever seen. It’s got a kind of rainbow glisten to it. Colours I’ve never even seen before. Even though it’s solid, I can sense something like Brownian motion, the dancing molecules of the granite - or whatever it’s made of. I can almost hear it.”

There was a pause in the conversation, he had no idea how long for.

“I’m really thirsty” said Kate. “Are you going to be alright if I go and get us a drink?”

“I’ll be fine. I’d love some water, please.”

I seem to be making sense, he thought to himself but feel like I may lift off at any minute.

He could feel his pulse race, but he still felt a kind of inner calm, able to surf the waves of excitement, at will.

Once she had gone, he felt less self-conscious. He imagined he could shift his attention, his sense of reality, and in a sense the entire universe, and focus on anything he wished. He snatched a glance at Kate as she walked off, but had to forcibly look away in awe. The word ‘splendour’ sprang to mind, and he rolled onto his back, ignoring the mild discomfort of the gravel, and closed his eyes.

He felt the urge to hum, and as he did so, the warm air around him responded. The whole world vibrated and seemed to buzz in time with his breath, each molecule alive, spinning, and jumping around.

Now I know how Shiva feels.

He could sense the whole square, Marseille, France, Europe, Planet Earth, the solar system, the Milky Way, through a hundred million other galaxies to… how far? How far did the cosmos stretch? What shape was it? A Moebius strip? Was there a perimeter?

Jim Morrison’s words sprang to mind:

Out here in the perimeter, there are no stars.

It wasn’t a question of comprehending or finding where the perimeter fell, it was a question of being the cosmos, being all of it, all at once.

One blinding revelation after another flooded his consciousness – connections, shapes, colours, sounds, even tastes, all turning in a kaleidoscopic maelstrom of sensory messages.

The universe condensed, and as it did so, Jay considered how modern physics tells us that, in terms of mass, just like the cosmos, the atoms that make everything are almost completely empty space. He wondered what was in between all the stuff, holding everything together. Was it gravity? Electromagnetic force? Strong or weak interaction? Chi? Love? Or did something else entirely connect the dots?

He felt more a part of his surroundings than ever before in his life. Even with his eyes closed, his perception of it all felt so vitally accurate. After all, he was made of atoms too, he was made of the same stuff as the air above him and the gravel beneath.

The outside world collapsed like a house of cards and he imploded. Drawing back from his mind’s eye, back from the brilliant external lights and colours scattered over his eyelids, he became aware of his own skin. Did his skin separate him from everything else, or connect him to it?

His mental focus recoiled further, and led him back into the reality of an observer. It travelled into a cell on the surface of his eyelid, crossing through the cell membrane around it, passing through the cytoplasm, past the floating mitochondria and other organelles, through the nuclear membrane and into the dark cell nucleus.

Black.

Within the nucleus, in the distance he perceived one of his own chromosomes, then an individual twisted, ladder-shaped strand of DNA. Within the double helix he focused on one of the fifty million base pairs - a single molecule of cytosine - and within that, a single carbon atom, one of the trillions of atoms that made him. Like every other atom in his body and everyone else’s: created long ago in the heart of a supernova.

We are all just nuclear waste.

His consciousness sped deep within the carbon atom, moving ever inward, past the wave function duality of the electrons, and across the seemingly vast, almost endless expanse of emptiness into its nucleus, into a proton, which itself unravelled past direct human experience into theoretical quarks, antiquarks and gluons, and after that, it depended on how you wanted to perceive them - which apparatus you would need - which method of perception you chose as an observer. It didn’t really matter - because in essence, as Democritus had written in 400 BC, if you went small enough, surely everything… was…still… the… same…

Smaller and smaller…

Mandelbrot’s fractal theory suggests that minutiae are simply mirrored in the bigger picture … Tiny represents the huge, and huge represents the tiny. A water droplet mimics an entire waterfall, and vice versa. Physicists search passionately for an elegant, unified theory of the cosmos: a base equation that can explain and predict anything and everything. Their calculations often require the ephemeral Higgs Boson, the so-called god particle, but no doubt that discovery would summon new uncertainties and inconsistencies.

Perhaps Buddha had the realisation thousands of years ago… that if you simply condense and simplify everything in existence, distil it all down to its true essence… true understanding… the only way to simply encompass all that there is in creation, is to describe it as…

‘One.’

And with this moment of clarity came another, then many more, until the raw reality of his situation abstracted completely. Impossibly, the intensity of his experience continued to increase. His senses, his nerves, his whole being - consciousness and all - hummed to a joyous, beautiful, rapturous explosion of synaesthesia. Sounds manifested as colours and shapes, emotions became warmth, visions of pure exhilaration had a raw and wonderful texture. Each individual half-thought seemed to be a paradigm-shattering revelation, each more powerful than the last.

He stifled laughter and rolled over, turning around to lie on his side. He opened his eyes and looked toward the sun-drenched centre of Place St George, at the crowds milling between him and the hotel at the opposite corner of the square. No one else was aware of the revelations occurring nearby. In Jay’s field of vision the people appeared at a ninety- degree angle… but they weren’t all people…

Initially the scene contained immense richness and depth, but now it appeared almost two-dimensional, as something burst out of it. As the realisation came, he thought his heart would jump into his throat, and he might pass out. He shuddered at the revelation as he found himself in the presence of a deity. A real god was here.

It wasn’t a vague sensation of an all-powerful, omnipresent creator of the universe; it was highly specific. The absurdity of the vision made him half want to laugh, and half want to vomit, but he was too afraid to do either. First he focused on the being’s eyes. It was a very specific image indeed. Some think that Mexican wrestlers wear their brightly coloured, stylised masks to look like superheroes, but Jay knew better. They are more often inspired by the image of Him, to try and instil dread and fear in their opponents.

It was Mescalito.

The entity’s face had a fearful effect on Jay, framed by the zig-zagging flames of blue-green licking up from His neck. His slanted eyes, and the face immediately surrounding them, could almost pass for human, but He couldn’t be. He was simply too large, and he was blue-green, just like the cactus. His enormous green chest expanded and contracted between arms that could move a mountain, and His skin was vibrating.

Jay tried to deny the apparition, to banish it from his reality but it was no use. He was in the presence of the immortal Mescalito, the Yaqui Indians’ god of mescaline. The whole world began to spin slower on its axis and silence fell, as Mescalito seemed to suck in all the sound from around them.

Jay gasped with fear, then tried to laugh again but couldn’t. He felt like he had forgotten how to breathe. He had read about this in ‘The Teachings of don Juan.’ According to his first book, when Carlos Castaneda first took mescaline in the Sonoran Desert with the medicine man, he was visited by Mescalito. The Indians believe that when you take the cactus, you invite the deity into your life as a spirit guide, a teacher, a giver of advice.

When Jay had read about Castaneda’s experience he had rationalised it: Mescalito appears as an apparition due to high levels of hallucinogen in the blood. This may, in some way, give you insight as the personification of your own subconscious, communicating how you should react to a given ‘real life’ situation or quandary.

Jay felt all the colour drain from his face.

But He’s actually here. Right now! He’s enormous, all-powerful, He must weigh tonnes, but he doesn’t seem to make any noise. His head and body are same blue-green colour as the cactus, just like when He visited Castaneda.

Mescalito’s skin writhed with animated detail; across His monstrous chest and all down His massive arms and legs, images merged and writing swirled, tiny yet earth-shattering, scripted messages, scrawled all over his flesh from his ankles upward. They licked like flames.

He looks like He might even be in human clothes, maybe black shorts... He looks like the Hulk, but with a harelip.

All the presence and mass of a ziggurat seemed to be crammed into something almost as small as a human. Almost; Mescalito had to be bigger than any human. He was comfortably taller, far too broad and impossibly thick-set. He was about twenty feet away, but He seemed large enough to generate His own source of gravity. Jay felt nauseous and worried that he may vomit. Awe-struck at finding himself in the presence of one so terrifying, nonetheless he felt physically drawn to Him. He somehow remembered how to breathe, but then forgot how to swallow.

My own personal spirit guide. A visit from a god. Fucking hell I must be high.

Remembering that he was a scientist for a moment, something then occurred to Jay that would trouble him, and test his reason, for years to come. Hallucinating a cactus god while on a double dose of mescaline was one thing, but as all the mortals walked through the square, painted and warped like brushstrokes, passing behind and in front of Mescalito like streaking headlights in a night time photograph of a city…

His reason failed him, he could not understand.

They can all see Him too!

The football followers, young and old, took notice. The ones who walked toward Him either changed direction slightly, or averted their eyes as they passed Him. Once past Him, two turned and pointed at Him to their friends.

If He’s not real, if Mescalito is just my apparition, how come everyone else is looking at Him, too?

Jay closed his eyes briefly, but when he opened them, the blue-green mescaline deity was still there, still pacing across the square, parting the crowds like the Dead Sea as He went. Turning slowly and…

Oh No! He’s not...

Mescalito was slowly rotating His shimmering, writhing blue-green head. Jay tried desperately not to wet himself as the gaze of an immortal fell upon him. He felt his whole being wrenched from side to side until he perceived a saving ray of light in the distance. It took about a second before she repeated herself.

“Do you mind if we share?” Kate had returned and dropped a bottle of Volvic at his feet for him as she sat down. She gazed at him intently, half smiling, but looking slightly concerned.

“Th-anks” came Jay’s dry-mouthed, vacant reply.

“You OK? You look like you’ve seen a ghost.” As He passed amongst the crowd, over Kate’s shoulder, Mescalito was now looking to His right, directly into Jay’s eyes, and possibly into his soul. He looked at Kate, and again at Jay. Then, knowingly, He winked at Jay.

Jay lost his focus again, and his eyes rolled back into their sockets. He physically shuddered once more. It seemed to take about thirty seconds to sink in, but may have been much quicker. It had been Jay’s message from the spirit world, or simply the conscious dawning of something he had unconsciously guessed, but dared not hope be true…

Oh Man. Does she? Could she? He looked into her smiling blue eyes as she drank some water from the bottle, then warmly gestured for him to take some.

Mescalito couldn’t be wrong.

I think the most beautiful woman in the world actually fancies me!

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