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Universe W-2020: The Psychenauts 6
April 26th, 2020
Mesculinity

God Is A Cat

“Aldous Huxley, as I live and breathe.”

Aldous adjusts his spectacles. “Indeed. I’m surprised you didn’t call me Will Farnaby, Sam. Even more surprised that I’m here, of all the authors you’ve read.”

A tetrahedronal matrix of dancing golden lights shimmers into form behind Huxley. A doorway opens, the destination unclear.

“What can I say?” Sam says before answering his own question. “I really liked Island. But why are you here?”

Aldous disappears through the doorway. Sam looks around and decides his friends aren’t going to get unstuck in time anytime soon, so he, too, proceeds through the doorway. On the other side is The Hillside Commons.

“My campsite?” Sam asks, getting the hum of insects in answer.

A campsite, from the looks of it,” says Aldous Huxley from behind. He walks next to Sam and looks into the fire pit, marveling over the stones. “Are those purple rocks?”

“Yeah,” Sam says, “they’re called pudding stones, they’re local. Anyway, why are we here, Aldous Huxley?”

Aldous Huxley rolls his eyes. “I gather you haven’t read The Art of Seeing. Sam, I believe I’m here to test your mesculinity.”

“My mesculinity?” Sam asks. “I don’t have any, I’ve never done Mescaline.”

“Of course you haven’t!” Aldous shouts, turning towards The Dirtbiker’s Path, a slight rut carved into the hill bordered on the left by a dead log sprouting large clusters of wavy orange mushrooms growing in shelves, and entirely unbordered on the right. The soil is rocky, but otherwise packed tight. “Nobody does Mescaline, Sam, it’s got the entheogenic profundity of Salvia Divinorum for God’s sake. When one wants a garden variety Psychedelic experience, one would take eL-eSs-Dee, or a handful of Psilocybin Mushrooms if they’ve any reverence for humanity at all. Mescaline is cactus juice, and its bite is sharper than the spikes of the aforementioned cactus. It forces the light into your eyes, which is why it was chosen for the nomenclature.”

“What are you eve–”

“Mesculinity is a measure not of your grip on reality once you get off the train from Psychedelia, but of your alignment with reality once you’re capable of seeing it for what it truly is.”

“What do you mean seeing reality for what it truly is?” Sam asks, hopping over the ‘shroomy log to catch up with Aldous. “As far as I’ve learned, reality isn’t.”

“My point exactly.”

Aldous comes to the four-way intersection and halts. Sam joins him, unable to press play. The air is still, no birds chirp, and the hum is not that of insects but of a certain tinnitus, not unpleasant but not disregardable.

“Aldous, where are we?”

“You don’t recognize these woods either?” Aldous Huxley asks, yanking on the flaps of his coat.

“I recognized the camping spot, but otherwise it all looks kinda different. These are my woods, but like… they aren’t.”

“Interesting. Sam, you haven’t read any Stephen King literature, have you?”

“Nah, never got around to his stuff.”

Aldous Huxley rolls his eyes once more. “I suppose that’s a good thing, given the circumstances; we won’t be done gruesomely in these woods today. It’s understandable though, not everyone does. Besides, you’re a very busy human being; farting around aimlessly on the Cannabis train to Psychedelia all day takes up a lot of time and effort, doesn’t it?”

Sam scoffs. ‘The audacity. “How would you even know, Aldous Huxley? You died in nineteen sixty-three. While tripping on eL-eSs-Dee. How would you even know?”

Aldous Huxley levels with Sam. “Samuel, I tripped on eL-eSs-Dee whilst I died, not the other way around. Plus, I am a projection of your consciousness. All of this is, as far as you know. So please stop fighting with yourself, you immesculine little rodent.”

Sam closes his eyes and takes a deep breath. Why does he fight with himself so often? No, he doesn’t fight with himself, he just calls himself out on his own shit on a constant basis. He’s a bullshitter, that Samuel Monta, always making up excuses and procrastinating; well, except that he isn’t, that’s just how his mom thinks of him, which is nonsense! Sam might live in her attic, and he might drink water from the same water filter pitcher as her and Jack, but he’s otherwise totally self-sustained. He does his own laundry with his detergent he buys. Gets his own lunch and dinner, usually skips breakfast unless there’s a Taylorhamory open when he wakes up, which isn’t terribly often. He sleeps in a lot, actually, so maybe he isn’t as productive as he could be, maybe he doesn’t make as much money as he could be making in the current moment… but, no, but that’s not true because he’s making what he’s making because that’s how much he should be making, everything that happens happens because it’s supposed to happen. So how can he be doing anything wrong on a journey that’s about learning, about making mistakes so you can learn from them and not make them again?

‘I can’t be doing anything wrong, I’m just doing.

“Ah, the forest seems to have changed.”

Sam opens his eyes and, son of a bitch, he’s back in his woods at the intersection of the trails that lead to The Island and Base Camp on the left and right, respectively. The wind’s blowing and the hum is still buzzing his eardrums, but he can hear the chirpsong of the crickets over it. Can’t be a bad sign. He takes the lead.

Before Aldous can even question him, “Come on, I know the trail back to the house.”

“Is that where we’re supposed to go?” Aldous asks, going right along.

“It’s the first thing that popped into my head, so I don’t see why it wouldn’t be.”

The trail dips and rolls just like in Treering, the ground looking flat until you set foot on it and climb a meter with every ten paces, but it does not come to Quarryville Ave. When the old blazed trail breaks the treeline of what should be the Monta’s backyard, instead of a firepit and a mossy swamp lawn there’s a vast pasture of supple green grass, prim and cut and soft to the touch. There are no houses, no roads, no smell of reservoir on the air, just this pasture and deep azure skies stretching on as far as the eye can see. Farther even, Sam is sure, though he’s not sure why he’s sure. There’s also the cabin tilted off the horizon, not unlike the old man’s but not similar, either; smoke rises from the chimney and a cat sits in the window. A black cat, with a white belly. His stare carries heavily, even across the vast meadow.

“This is…”

This,” Aldous says, picking up slack, “is The Secret Universe. It’s double-encrypted, so to speak, and totally safe from any and all existential threats looming in this Multiverse or anywhere else in Existence. Sam, you are looking at the purest, most infinite form of reality that a human being, any being, is capable of experiencing.”

“So like, Heaven?” Sam asks, grasping at straws.

“Heaven doesn’t compare, son. In this Universe, all incarnations of every form of life that ever has and ever will exist does exist, and their state of being at the worst of times baselines at the one moment of their infinite iterations throughout all of Existence in which they felt the most fulfilled and content with themselves and their life. That’s the benchmark here, Sam, that’s the starting line, and we’re to spend our endless time here making stuff, just being creative in any and eventually every sense of the word, until someone invents a new way to be creative, then everyone must add that method to the compendium. Pain is a nonissue, death isn’t permanent; everyone is a god, essentially.” A tear falls from Aldous’s cheek. It lands on his coat and evaporates without leaving a mark. “It’s… so beautiful.”

“What about that cabin?”

Aldous smiles. “Well, continuing your Christianity metaphor, if this realm is the kingdom of Heaven, then the cabin is where God lives.”

“God is a cat?”

Aldous spins around on his heels and starts back towards The Hillside Commons.

“Wait!” as Sam takes off after one of the most accomplished and influential English literary figures of the mid-twentieth century.

As they flee, gray smoke rises in puffs from the chimney of the cabin, as if the fireplace toked on a bowl. The cat sits patiently.

Sam catches up with Aldous at the three-way intersection.

“Why did you just take off?”

God is a cat?” Aldous vituperates.

“I saw a cat in the window!” with his arms up in the air.

Aldous notices that Sam’s irises are glowing again, brighter than they were when the Stropharian was dispatched.

“I did too, that’s precisely why I took off. Powerful being, that one; deliberately so. Listen, the door’s not going to open until you learn what you must learn next, so what’s on your mind?”

Sam crosses his arms and thinks. “Honestly, where you thought you were going when you pranced off a minute ago. You just came right to this intersection again.”

“I was going to the campsite,” as he removes his glasses to clean them. The heat in this colonial jungle is atrocious.

“The campsite is on the hill, Aldous, right behind us,” Sam says. “You had to pass it to be standing where we are right now. You take the ding- out of dingbat, that’s how blind you are.”

Aldous looks at Sam for a moment. “When I was writing about the pink alcove in Island, you had no idea what I was referring to, did you?”

This time, Sam walks away from the conversation. Aldous takes the W and carries it straight to The Hillside Commons.

“All right, I’ve got one for ya, Huxley,” Sam says, crouch-sitting on a low rock. “What’s with the cabin? It doesn’t have anything to do with that old man on the mountain, would it? The mountain that only sometimes exists in the woods behind my house?”

Aldous sits cross-legged across the firepit from Sam and leans back against the big boulder. “That cabin, Sam, even I can’t explain. All in due time, I suppose, but when you get there, just know: some things aren’t meant for the understanding of mere mortals. It’s like an adult watching a television program made for a child when the programmer wrote in jokes for the parents to pick up.”

“What the hell are you talking about?”

“I’m not sure,” Aldous says, straightening his glasses. “But as far as that mountain goes: you pursuing that cabin is scooting for the sake of scooting, I know that beyond doubt. You won’t be ready for the procession of headlights that inevitably follows, and it surely will follow. The cabin in the meadow, however, that is where your creator lives. That is the God of this Existence, though God pales in comparison. Nobody ever told me to refer to him by this name, and the same is true of everyone else in this entire Universe; everyone here knows the name of the being who lives in that cabin with the smoking chimney and the window with the curtain that’s always drawn, but nobody was ever told. It’s like it was encoded into our dee-en-aye at birth, as inane as that sounds, because nobody was ever really born here. Everyone just is, and the more I think about my life in this Universe, Sam, this Universe that doesn’t have a proper name, this Universe known only as The Secret Universe, the less I remember and the more I know, and all the more unsettled I become. What is knowing without experience?” Aldous looks at his trembling hands. “What, what is any of this, who a–”

“What’s the dude’s name, then?” Sam shouts, trying to break Aldous out of his trance.

“His name? I haven’t the foggiest idea. But he’s called HOW, the Highest One Writing, and he exists isolated in that cabin making books out of the various universes that populate Existence. Before I continue, how much do you want to know, exactly?”

“Uh,” Sam says. He’s tempted to say all of it, but given the fact that all of it isn’t the default helping, “I don’t know, I guess just the local stuff?”

The local stuff! Thank goodness, I thought I’d have to unpack the whole isolated in the cabin thing. Well, every given universe is the center of its own observable multiverse, and the universes in any given universe’s given multiverse are liable to change at any given moment. Everything gets really, really subjective the higher up on the consciousness spectrum you go, but essentially, if you were to zoom out, as it were, from your own Universe, so you could witness Existence from a more outer perspective, as it were, you would see something that looks like a matrix of diamonds with cores of energy at their centers – that’s not necessarily how it looks, it’s just how a human brain would perceive it were it given the opportunity. The Multiverse, as it were, is known as the Inner Rim of your Universe, or the universes in the immediate vicinity of the Universe your perception is attached to via the silver cable, which is also called a hawser. The Outer Rim, then, would be the Megaverse, or Gigaverse if you like, whatever you need to call it. Do you get it? Everything exists in a universe, and all universes float in Existence; as for where Existence floats, well, it’s better not to ask.

Now, everything afloat in Existential space around this Universe contributes to the goings on in this Universe and vice versa; we’re all cogs in a grand machine that is very likely just a cog in a machine twice as grand and probably half as clean. Existence is infinite, some universes are too, and everywhere is the center of everything; lastly, it all comes from the endless inkwell fueling the ballpoint pen of the being locked in that cabin. The HOW.”

“The HOW,” Sam says exhaltingly. The Highest One Writing. The one isolated from Existence, the one who perpetuates it all by scrawling paper with ink. Now that he thinks about it, the idea does seem familiar. “Well, does that mean he wrote all of this?”

“Didn’t you learn to not ask questions in the third story of this series?”

“Fourth,” Sam answers, sure as sandalwood is smooth when sanded. Then, “Wait, what? Series? I don’t know what I just said.”

“From now on, any question you ask is going to be answered. Even the ones you don’t want answered. That’s your only warning.”

“You sound like Zaxus.”

“I might as well be Zaxus; sorry, Sam, you didn’t need to hear that. You didn’t even ask a question.”

Sam frowns. “Come on Aldous, I’m just confused.”

“You’re on a Psychedelic journey, Sam, a journey guided by The Psychenauts to ascend the consciousness spectrum and become a guardian of Existence.”

“Yeah, that’s the part I’m confused about, Hux’. I figured I was learning how to voyage and learning how all the different Psychs really work for some purpose, higher or otherwise, but you say I’m going to be a guardian. I’m protecting Existence from something, something this Universe, this double-encrypted Universe, whatever the fuck that means, is preemptively safeguarded from. What the hell is so dangerous that it can threaten all of Existence?”

“That’s just the bugger, Samuel,” Aldous says, staring into the charcoal pit. “That’s just the bloody bugger. There is no threat, there is nothing to defend against. Nothing is powerful enough to destroy a universe, let alone Existence, and even if such a thing did exist, the destroyed universe would just be reborn amongst the rest. Just because the HOW hasn’t written down a universe yet doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist either, I think. He got here relatively recently, to be honest with you. I doubt he’s put together a single book yet.”

“Wait, what?”

The charcoal stirs in the pit.

“What what, Sam?”

“What do you mean you doubt he’s written anything, how do you even know?”

Aldous folds his hands behind his head. Like the Stropharian. “I don’t. All I know is, this perfect Universe we’re in right now? This is new. This never used to exist, I never used to be here. None of us did. And he, whoever he is up in that cabin, never used to be locked in that cabin.”

“Us?”

“Yes, everyone and thing else who’s ever existed. You probably forgot I told you that because we didn’t see anyone – that’s how big this place is. And, ready? And, you only see both what you need to see and what the HOW needs you to see when you’re here, which is true in any circumstance, really, but it’s especially interesting here because the HOW lives here, too.”

“You mean the cabin, I’m guessing?” Sam asks, looking over his shoulder towards the trail.

“Yes, the cabin. I’ve never seen that before in my life here, Sam, nobody has. I’m totally certain of that in this moment. You saw it because he wanted you to see it. I wonder what it means…”

“I think it means he wanted me to see it,” Sam says, shrugging off the implications.

And just like that, a satin portal opens in the firepit.

“I’ll be damned,” Aldous says, gazing into the light. “That’s an interesting color. What is that?”

“I’m not really sure,” Sam says, gazing into the dubious miasma spewing from the firepit. If smoke could form tendrils they’d be wrapping around Sam’s ankles, but it can’t so it mingles with the ashes scattered on the little rocks piled around the pit. The color is… the color is certainly a color, but what color is it? What could that possibly be?

“Looks only big enough for one of us.”

“Sure does,” Aldous says, gazing studiously into the cauldron. “Considering how I was only introduced in the last story, I think I should wish you a goodbye. Any last words?”

“Yeah, Crome Yellow. What do you mean by that? I never got around to reading the novel. Or Antic Hay.”

Aldous reaches across the pit and places a tense hand on Sam’s shoulder. “Then read the fuckin’ book, asshat. Anything else?”

Sam takes a deep breath. The portal smells smoky like a summer bonfire, with slight minty undertones. Very earthy. Not unpleasant. “What else do you need to tell me about the HOW?”

“That everyone gets a chance to be the HOW, but it always manifests in different ways. Nobody else has ever been locked in a cabin before, and everything exists before he writes it into a book. But once he writes it, Sam, once the ink is set to page and the pages are bound between two covers, the stone is carved. Existence is fluid until it is written static; once it is written, it lays static until it’s either altered, continued, or decimated altogether. Any changes made will, theoretically, bounce infinite unintended consequences throughout all of Existence, but… we live and learn, no?”

God lives and learns?! The fuck?”

God is a crude understatement, and like I said, this arrangement is all new. Every human who picks up a writing utensil and scratches marks on a surface is a writer, and every writer acts as HOW at one point or another. Being HOW in itself does not make one God… but that word isn’t right! What I’m talking about is different than God, almost parallel to it, it’s…”

He trails off, but Sam picks up the scent. “Wait, what? What even is the HOW then?”

“It’s… me, I, I thought…” he says in a lower voice, one emptier than a fresh coffin built for a toddler. “I’d manifest differently in everyone – when I afflicted the being whose form I now borrow, we wrote a book called Brave New World, then I went back decades later and we wrote one called Island – but the current HOW situation is a different kind of different. We never wrote a single damned word over the course of his entire life, and then…”

Aldous’s face goes blank. He places his other hand on Sam’s other shoulder. Sam feels a slight pulling on his hair, but before he can say anything, Aldous seems to reanimate a bit.

“This, Sam, your life and everyone else’s life, my life, is another man’s purgatory. If you forget any of what I’ve told you, it probably won’t affect you at all. Remember Sam, attention.

Sam is slam dunked into the portal by Aldous Huxley.

Sam closes his eyes, but then loses the ability to tell whether his eyes are closed or open.

Then he forgets that he is, though he continues to be.

Then