Sunday, May 20, 2007

The universe's new clothes

My cellphone buzzes. I've got mail. Probably spam.

I'm ignoring it, in favor of a couple of clearly cracked teenagers who knocked on my door. They're trying to make me understand that they just destroyed the world.

They're interrupting the half-time show.

"It wasn't entirely unexpected." That was the short one talking. He seemed just a little too wide for the eye to comfortably take in.

"We thought it was an information phenomenon. Something bound up in the structure of language and text. We didn't know this stuff was real." That was the beefy guy with the cheesy ethnic skullcap.

"So, what do you plan to do about it? You remove the technology and society crumbles for sure, you don't and the universe just might." They looked like every other cultish code-junkie sworn to breaking the information monopoly of Big Media. The sum total of their combined arcanity wouldn't fill a thimble.

"You don't get it, you can't just 'remove the technology,'" Shorty again, the pretentious one, "It's totally distributed, there's no central control of anything. You could take down the whole network and you couldn't stop it. As long as two people can pass notes in class, there's no limit to the amount of information they can transmit. That was the whole point."

"You mean, we don't have a choice, this is the end? No bang, just the whimper of white noise as your technology corrupts the universe's hard drive?"

"There's been plenty bangs, you haven't been following those great Webb shots NASA keeps posting--all those recent supernovae aren't just a freaking galactic thunderstorm." Skullcap at his finest. Shorty's got a smug look plastered over the mania of a man who's convinced his end is near.

It's obvious from the way skullcap is itching his head and wetting his lips that he's trying to find a delicate way to the point.
"Why me? Why'd you choose to share your little doomsday accident with me? I don't know anything about this stuff."

"You're one of them Rabbis." Skullcap seems to think that answers the question, he doesn't venture anything else.

"Right, and we don't do confessions." I'm basically sure the two of them are insane and I can just ignore them, close the door, and go back to watching football.

"But you guys know all about the Bible. Would God really just let us destroy the universe all because of an honest mistake? See this wasn't no manhattan project. This was the killer file-sharing app."

"I still think maybe you should find yourselves a priest." Football was beckoning and I just heard the half-time commercials end.

"You don't get it, man. This has got nothing to do with Jesus. This is the Hebrew bible we're talking about." Shorty thinks he's made everything clear. Maybe my stupid-glaze clues him in, he goes on, "In highschool some crazy bearded guy gave us a presentation on the Bible Codes, and all these wacky hidden things that go on in the text of the Bible. We thought the guy was absolutely mad but it gave us an idea. The structure and complexity of the text was enough to find anything you were looking for in it. Anything at all. We said, instead of reading the future, let's start coding information, songs, movies, any files we want to transfer in bible codes and pass the key via the net. Everybody's got the Bible laying around somewhere it's the world-wide freaking best-seller. Pretty soon, people started using our tech in everything, it made downloading a DVD as fast as receiving an email." He pauses to make sure I'm following.

The whole world suddenly ripples, everything goes paisely flames, and then it's back to normal--mostly, but the background noise that was the football game is gone. There's a bark though---I don't have a dog--did my TV just turn into a dog? Everything's a little off--like the world is drunk or has a hangover, or something.

"What the hell was that?"

"That was a bang or a whimper, or whatever you want to call it," chides Shorty, grinning with chart-topping adrenaline levels. Skullcap is looking every way at once, doing a quick self-diagnostic, genuinely surprised that he's all in one piece.

"How many of you were there?" That caught Shorty by surprise, maybe he was offended that I knew he couldn't have caused all this by himself, Skullcap was definitely too dim to have been much help.

"A few, we watched some of them de-rez. Owen turned inside out and then kind of popped, Tyler's a raven now, Spetz just dissolved in smoke, the rest are missing." Skullcap was turning green just remembering it.

"So--" the paisely fire started rocking the world again and the building compressed to a point of light all around, swallowing Shorty and Skullcap before they knew what hit them.

I'm standing on a hill and the entire city is gone. There's at least a thousand years of rain forest in every direction. Well, except for that building, it's shining so bright it looks like its on fire. My cell buzzes. I've got mail. Spam. Well, there are still networks and computers and technology somewhere. And spam. Who ever thought spam would destroy the world?

Heading for the building, I hear other voices. Lots of scared voices. Some car horns. Where do you hide when the world has gone insane? The unmistakable monolith of the Fremont Asylum looms ahead, the lone survivor breaking through the canopy. It looks safe, seems unchanged. Except for the light pouring out of it.

I close in on it. There's a whole city block around the building entirely intact, it's like theres a bubble of sanity around the asylum. At any other time that irony might be troubling. Right now it's comforting to see a small reminder of the concrete jungle I always took for granted.

There's electricity in the building--no one guarding the doors. Howls echo down the elevator shaft as I wait for the elevator. Being scared doesn't seem like the appropriate response at this point, my TV turned into a dog, my home is so far gone it's like it never was.

Ding. The elevator. The button for the 9th floor is lit. What the heck, let's see where this light is coming from. It's strangely comforting. All the insanity of the world is finally out in the open, no more advertising, no more politics, no more lawyers. It's not like I ever knew what the next minute would bring, but now I know whatever happens it will be exciting.

Ding. Ninth floor. The doors aren't opening. The 'open doors' button isn't even wired. It's not like I'm trapped, I can just wait for the paisley grayscales to do away with the doors or the building, or even me.

Ding. The doors open. I guess the elevators are lagging a little. The sheer brilliance of the light steams off my sweat. I head into the light--smiling that I'm still alive to see what's inside.

Voices. There's chanting and calling, a number of voices. I recognise some of the prayers, others don't even sound human. There's a circle of bearded men, faces shining, dancing like dervishes. Their feet are radiating so brightly that the walls are aglow. I can't look at their feet. Can't see the steps of the dance, only the flight of their bodies, their arms.

The smallest one of them leaves the circle, comes over to me. He has the look of one of the hidden mystics who gives life to the world through his simple piety--something I'd always thought allegorical until I saw him with my own eyes.

He motions for me to follow, walking past me. I'm too slow, apparently, for he reaches out his hand and I grasp it. Surprisingly strong grasp. He turns again and takes a single step, I lift my foot and we're thousands of miles away before I put it down again. I'd say the wooded hills of the Ukraine, not that I have a clue. The trees writhe in paisely flames, billowing white and black alternating. I go to take off my shoes, but I'm not wearing any.

This is when I'm pretty sure I must be hallucinating. He shakes his head as if to answer my doubt.

"This is real," Mystic tells me just to be certain.

"What difference does it make?" Honestly, I've given up hope of anything other than whatever is right now.

"If we don't know what's real, we cannot make of our imaginations a new reality." I don't get the impression Mystic's trying to be obtuse--he's actually trying to be as clear and simple as possible.

"What happened to everything? I mean everything that used to be?"

"Everything was always this way, underneath the clothes of the universe, is the fire. The letters. Someone has removed some of the clothes."

"Can't you just put the clothes back on the universe?" What does that even mean?!?!

"Those clothes are no more. The universe needs new clothes. We need to make new clothes for the universe."

"Why are you telling me?" I'm not a freaking inter-galactic tailor!

"You remember the old clothes."

"And you don't remember... the.. old.." Finally something that makes my jaw drop in utter disbelief, "...This is the way the world always looks to you?" Mystic just nods; happy to see I'm finally starting to understand.

"What about God? Why doesn't He make the new clothes?"

"Why doesn't God watch football?" Mystic thinks this is the best joke. "He made you so that you could watch football. He made us all so that we can make new clothes for the universe."

"So, you're telling me I need to make these new clothes?" Maybe I died? This is definitely the weirdest flashback.

"You need to start, and we will help you." Mystic offered his open hand for the return journey.

Well, it can't get any stranger than this, and anyways, I've given up worrying about what will be later. I take his little strong hand and step back in the direction from whence we came, leaving the raging white and black flames of the Ukrainian forest thousands of miles behind me.

Once more the brilliance of the whirling feet all but blind me. The otherwordly chorus louder now, more excited.

"Dance." Mystic says. His face glowing like he might be truly at home in this asylum, if only I didn't know better. "Let your mind fly with thoughts of all you loved in life.. everything that meant the most to you. These will be the new clothes of the universe." His quiet voice was easily heard despite the tumult.

I was never much of a dancer, but the beat compelled me into motion. It wasn't just sound or light, the whole universe quivered like a horn blasting out a timeless song.

Peal after peal of fire washed over me. There was nothing for my eyes to see, just the raging flicker of fire, white then black. I was utterly empty one moment, flooded to bursting the next, my mind began to reel, I was falling...

My father's giant warm hands caught me. He carefully held me up in the light to marvel at the sight of me, then he put me on my mother's heaving belly. She was aglow with the working of me.

My sister helped me with my ice cream, it seemed to melt faster than I could lick it. In the end she gave me hers.

My friends cheered me on even as I gave up the winning goal to the challenging team. I could feel the warmth of them overwhelm me.

My wife beamed at me under the awning, I knew she was excited and proud to be there with me, I could see it in every particle of her face.

My son stared at me, seconds old, a full white moon effusing profound calm.

Then I hit the ground.. awash in the Mystics' dance. Blinded by their divine feet, I curled fetal, but they were already slowing their pace. Soon, almost suddenly they stopped, laughing, smiling, glowing like the face of my new-born son. The memory was still clear in my mind.

Mystic bent over me, lifted me up as if I weighed nothing, righted me on my own glowing feet. "Look! see the new clothes of the universe." He gestured to one of the windows.

Everything was back to normal, I must have dreamed the whole thing. There was no rainforest, no terrible cries of fear. Life was exactly what anyone expected to see when they looked out a window.

"Isn't it wonderous?" Mystic was still smiling a deep bushy smile.

"It looks the same. I must be mad."


I looked again, searching for those distant memories of the chromatic paisley..nothing. Well, almost nothing. I noticed something moving in the trees, just a little. So subtle maybe I was imagining it...

"Look at the clothes."

Again I focused, sure I was as mad as the little gnarled man beside me, but there I saw something for sure. Suddenly, like the flash of recognition when those kitschy 3d stereograms turn from static into a recognisable image; I saw the flames, not churning chaotic as before, not angry and devouring, but dancing blissfully, competing and mixing into the most beautiful, most intricate performance I had ever seen.

"They're playing football." It slips out of my lips, but Mystic can't hear it, he's probably already back in his forest in the Ukraine.

My cell buzzes. I've got mail. Spam. The world's still kicking.


Mindy 1 said...


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