I’m here to be alone. That’s what I told myself. I cycled on cobbled streets into the centre, looked for a red and white mushroom sticking out of the wall. I was asking the guy at the counter about the different types of mushrooms and their differing effects.
“Some are more visual, some are more philosophical. It depends what type of a trip you’re looking for” he says.
I tell him I’m less interested in the visuals, but that I don’t really care that much, then he invites me into the back. It was a mess in there. I guess he would call it his office. There were papers and books all over the place. Stacks of newspapers. Pictures of him on the wall. Some professional. Some newspaper cut outs. A dirty yellow Santa in eskimo gear. A little old man in his wellington boots.
“Wanna see the documentary?” he says, as though we’d been talking about a documentary for some time, like everything was leading up to us watching this documentary, but before I have the chance to answer, he flashes a remote control over his shoulder and his face appears on the television.
“It’s not loud enough is it?” he says and turns it up. All the while, he’s looking right at me. Not at the TV. It was blaring out. He was walking through a forest.
“I’m a wolf whisperer”
He takes off one of his wellington boots and makes a wolf noise into it. Not exactly a wolf noise, because he’s not a wolf, but a human trying to make a wolf noise, and not a very talented one at that.
“You want a drink” he says, a statement, not a question, and he pours us a couple of brown shots. We knock them back and my head goes instantly west. Fractal patterns take shape on the walls. I became fascinated by my hands. Not because of any particular realization, but because they were tigers’ paws. He passes me a tiger mask and says:
“It’s time to go”
I didn’t fancy wearing the mask so I leave it on his desk and follow him out the back into the park. A bridge over a canal. Trees. Rain. Bats ducking and diving through the trees. Ducks landing in the canal. A homeless man under the trees. Broken blue duck eggs beneath the weeping willows. Slugs eating fallen brown leaves. Barges in the canal. A party with tiny people. Others walking their dogs. One or two runners. I could see all of it. It was all happening at once. I was doing it and walking through it. The air was blue. We stood on the bridge.
“Choices. That’s what you’re struggling with. Take for example this bridge. Let’s walk off it”
The minute he says it, I want to stay on it.
“You’re struggling to follow. You have trouble with people telling you what to do. You want to make all your own choices. We’re faced with a fork in the path. So do we go left or do we go right?”
I think about it. With a left or a right decision, I normally just go left.
“Then let’s go left”
“No, scrap that. Let’s go right”
“Then let’s go right”
“No, you’re right, we should go left”
“You’re the boss”
We go left and I instantly regret it, feel like right would have been a better view. The heavens open, confirming my bad choice, so we take cover under the weeping willow where the slugs were sucking on blue eggs and the ducks were landing in the canal.
“You’ve tricked yourself into thinking you have choice. Everything is set like a record. You’re just the pin of the gramophone-”
“-Look at the state of that” I say, noticing a slug, crunching on a blue egg.
“This is your Mum talking. Your Mum is the one who says ‘look at the state of that’. You’re infected by words. Voices that aren’t even you”
I decide he couldn’t possibly be right since my Mum died when I was 3.
“What’s your name?” I say.
“I think I’d rather call you Stones”
“As you wish”
We leave the tree. An old couple walk by that look alarmingly like I imagine myself in the future. I let onto them and I let on to myself back. Then a jogger runs by that also looks like me. I try to let onto myself again but I blink away my own eye contact and carry on running.
“Are all these people pretending not to be me?”
“I’m Stan, I’m Stones, I’m anything but you”
Well that settles it, I thought.
“Are we going to see that homeless man under the trees? I need to take a piss” I say and Stan points out that we’re already under the trees, already next to the homeless man. I look at him sat on his log with his red hoody on.
“Do we go and speak to him or not? I can’t remember that part”
“Up to you. This is where the problem gets interesting. Everything is set but choice is built into the system. Choice is part of the thing that is set, so that your choices are all predetermined and what you have is just a predetermined mass with choices inside of it. There’s both free will and determinism. It’s just a trick of the words”
“I’m not sure I want to speak to him” I say and I think that I’m about to leave when I find myself shouting to him instead.
He doesn’t even lift his head up.
“Even when we make a decision, the universe guides the decision into the thing that is set. You just thought you didn’t want to speak to him but then decided maybe you would and there you were, trying to speak to him, but he didn’t speak back so either you would have walked away without trying to speak to him and you wouldn’t have spoken to each other or you would try to speak to him and he wouldn’t speak back and you wouldn’t have spoken to each other”
“Do I go over or not?”
“I don’t know”
I start crying for reasons I couldn’t even tell you now. A dog appears out of nowhere, through the tears, and he jumps up and licks my face. His breath stank like his ass. There was nothing in his belly and a poop inside his ass. I smelt it through his mouth, through his stomach, on my face, in his spit, all his shit and it was marvelous.
“Enough of that” Stan says, “now the real business begins”
And with it came the feeling, shortly followed by words. I’m not where I am again. It wasn’t as clear as last time. It wasn’t California like it was on the bus. There was something Asian about it. It felt like Indonesia. But I still couldn’t shake the Californian feel. Bottom line: it wasn’t Amsterdam, and that is where I actually was.
“I don’t remember this part”
“You’re not supposed to” she says, because Stan was no longer Stan: he was a very attractive woman.
“He was a young Japanese writer. He wanted to put Wabi Sabi into words. He was looking for a place surrounded by trees. He wanted to clear a patch of land and build a hut there and to be lost to all humanity. He wanted to feel the warmth of the trees that guarded him. He wanted to walk between the trees for hours and not see a single person”
Something glistened in front of us. Some orange light behind the trees.
“Okay. The writer found his place and we’re walking towards it”
“He felt guilty that he’d have to chop down some trees to achieve his goal of being with nature. His whole purpose was to be with nature but he had to kill it in order to achieve it. He was a loyal writer, stood by his principle and then he found this”
The place opens up before us. A wooden block of a hotel, kind of like a ski-lodge. A garden of stones and a pond.
“If he wanted to be with nature, why was he a writer? A writer spends all his time with words. Doesn’t a writer necessarily have to despise nature to spend all his time writing?”
She covers her mouth with her hand, like she doesn’t want someone to lip-read her.
“A small lake with a royal pack of Carp in it” she says and points to this tiny pond.
I cover my mouth with my hand too, just in case.
“Looks more like a pond than a lake”
“Looks don’t always correspond to the facts. I’ve done a lot of research for this speech so you can rest assured I’ve got the definitions correct”
“We don’t all have the same frames of reference, the same images, the same concept of size, so when you say lake, it’s only natural that people will imagine this huge thing, when the reality is that it’s the smallest lake you could imagine, so small that calling it a pond might be more suitable”
We lean on the wooden rails of the bridge that goes over the so-called lake. A royal pack of carp were swimming beneath us. There was a gap in the pack. They looked like formula one racing car drivers on a safety lap. The carp at the front: the safety car. Suddenly he pulls off to one side and Michael Schumacher and David Coulthard and Louis Hamilton and Ayrton Senna and Niki Lauda all bolt into a frenzy to get a good angle on that first bend. The other less famous racing carps settle for just being carps.
“What you’re talking about is the fact that there is no agreed definition on what a pond is, that even today there are pretty standardly used words like lake and pond that correspond to a body of water and that we can’t decide exactly how small a lake should be before we call it a pond, because ponds typically start as a trapped body of water in the basin of some mountain crevice but they can also be man-made, so the way that the pond is formed then comes into the definition and we have people defining a pond on how it is formed instead of purely on the size of the body of water and now there are 2 mutually exclusive possibilities and we can’t decide which one to choose. Is it how the body of water is formed that should define the word pond or is it the size of the body of the water?”
She throws a rock into the pond, totally disrupting the race. We were only on the second lap after the safety car and there we were again, all carps in line on another safety lap.
“There are precisely 50 carp inside. No less no more” she says.
“If it’s no less, no more than 50 carp then how do all the carps reproduce and survive? The death of each and every carp would have to correspond precisely with the birth of a new carp. The very moment the old carp dies, the new one has to fly out of another carp’s pussy” I say and become surprised at my own pettiness, like I had to beat this girl at her own spiel. She walks off the bridge, down the front of the hotel gardens.
“Who knows the precise definition of death?” she says, “Do you? I mean, is someone dead the minute their heart stops? That’s not when you bite the dust. People think we’re located in the brain. That’s the materialistic view of the universe, so heart-rate is out of the window as a measure of death and then how do we know when the brain stops? There’s no ground to stand upon. When do we say that the brain has stopped? You’re left with absolutely no definition of death. Zero. Nada. There’s nothing. So there’s no chance they could bang a new carp out straight from the pussy the same time some old dude carp drops his clogs. And that’s without even having started on the notion of time. We haven’t got the foggiest. No clue at all. The captain’s out for lunch and the sailors have taken over the ship”
“The next part is The Master. That’s what we call him here- the writer that set up shop. Call him The Master, call him The Guru, call him the fairy-twirl if that’s what your culture says. It’s all the same to him. It depends on your frames of reference. It’s like the word ‘God’. Tainted it is, jam-packed with nonsense, infected by the masses. It’s a lot simpler when you boil it all down. You’ll see at the lecture later. That’s why I like this job so much. I’m getting ahead of myself. We’re off to see The Master. That’s your welcome ceremony. That’s your induction to the tribe”
“What are you giving a lecture on?”
“They call it buttons. Each tepee has different coloured buttons. And each tepee has the name of a planet. Guess what colour buttons Saturn has? Don’t answer. You’re not being tested. It’s yellow. And this, is The Masters Tepee”
She points to a big brown thing with eyes and a mouth. Some kids are playing football tennis outside it. A volleyball net and a bamboo ball. It racks when they kick it. A kid with a Mohican does an over-head kick and the ball falls at my feet so I flick it up, side of the leg, do a few kick ups and then belt it over to them. I wanted to go and play with them but this girl was hell-bent on getting me in the tepee.
“The welcome drink is the spit from the mouth of The Keepers. They sit and they chew on the sika leaf. Sika is Hindu for spirit leaf”
There was a row of five men on wooden chairs outside the teepee. They unloaded streams of spit into buckets at their feet. They stand up and pour each of their buckets into one larger bucket. One of them grabs a power tool and mixes the spit. It didn’t make a noise but I could see flecks of spit fly out of the bucket.
“The Keepers are trusted with the most important task of the whole tribe here: they make the cavity for our new family members. That’s you Fin. From this day forward you’ll be our… Fin-Lad of Nodfa”
She shakes her index finger to the sky and hisses like a cat.
“And you’ll be locked in this tribe with us, dimension-wise. Are you ready for the test?”
The Keeper guy turns off his silent-mixer, dunks a glass into the bucket and walks over to me. He passes me the glass, says “Si Ka Ka Kah ademah Si Ka Ka Ka ademah”, then he returns to his chair.
“You’ll walk through the cavity and join us in the new dimension. Fin-Lad of Nodfa, we welcome you. The sika is released in the mouth when we chew it. It’s broken down by amylase into its constituent parts Si and Ka, Hindu for spirit and leaf, so it’s a Si Ka Ka, if we’re going to pick up any Hindu here along the way. Broken down into Si and Ka, you can now drink it and get it through the stomach-blood barrier. Sika can’t pass through without being broken down, you see, that’s just all part of the process. This is why their chewing is so important-“
It was beginning to sound too much like science. It was boring me. So I tell her to get on with it, tell me the parts that count.
“Drink the spit, then I have to spit some dried roots into your nose with a bamboo shoot” she says and she holds the shoot up in front of her.
“The dried roots are all ready. So here it is, the acid test”
I open my gullet and neck the spit. She looks at me like she’s shat herself, comes at me like a missile, knocks my head back and spits the root in my face with her stick. The air turns all liquid and washes itself over me.
“You need to tell him why you’re here. That’s the point of it. I’ll wait here for you. I’ll sleep in the clothes for the lecture”
I found myself inside the teepee. It was like the cavern of a cave with wooden walls where they could afford it. My eyes couldn’t adjust to the darkness. The whole time it was like looking through snowfall.
“The money” came the voice.
I could just about make him out, sat on the floor with his legs crossed.
“Put it on the slate” I say.
“She forgot to tell you about the buttons. She forgets to tell everyone!” he screams, his voice reverberating around the cave.
“If I’ve told her once I’ve told her ‘til I’m blue in the muscle spout. Blue in the nose, you know. We’re all blue in the nose, you know. The entrance fee. You forget to tell the entrance fee and it all goes arse over tit, on your bike, you know. No bother. I’ll stop saying you know, you know. That’s just a screen for you. I’ll make the exception in this case you little Fin-Lad of Nodfa. We’ve all missed you!”
For some reason he rubs my head and licks my arm.
“I see that you’ve come through The Trial to get here”
He felt vaguely familiar, this black shadow sat in front of me.
“You have to tell me why you’re here!” he says and then ran to what I presume would be the corner of the tepee. I still couldn’t see him through the snow and all the darkness.
“God comes in many strange forms”
I started to feel a bit sick. It was something to do with his voice.
“Do I know you?” I say.
It felt like a trauma to wrangle the words out.
“Depends on what you define as ‘you’”
It tore down my insides. The vomit came up and then landed back inside of me.
“Listen Boss man” I say, burping as I speak, vomit bubbling within.
“This is not what I had planned”
“Who is talking to me? To help you I need to know who is doing the looking. I need to see you”
My eyes glazed over. I swam in the tears and vomit. I couldn’t get up. I was locked in.
“I wouldn’t recommend that”
“This is an awakening. Not to let the cat out of the bag too easily. I once had a guy who came here for a whole year. He only had a year. He wanted to attain some higher level of thinking. At the end of it he said that he feels no better than before. He said his life before he came was better than it is now. My job is done, I told him. Are you already there now our Fin-Lad of Nodfa?”
“You have to tell me what you are looking for!”
“I think there’s been some kind of mix-up”
“Listen Fin-Lad, you’re here because you’re looking for something. Maybe you didn’t know that, but that’s what this is all about. What we have to do now is work out what you are looking for”
“I don’t know what I came here for. I thought I needed a bit of alone time”
“Internal peace. Good. Let’s call it that then. The problem is that what you’re looking for doesn’t want to be found. Internal peace left us years ago. And this where the problem gets interesting. When you know you can’t find it, you’ll stop looking and then you will find her, you see, a miracle and that’s not the end of it. Your looking for her prevented you from finding her. That’s all fine and dandy. That’s all what we’ve heard before, you’ll say, and up to now that’s about the best we can do, but the trick of it is that you also had her when you were looking for her. The looking for her that prevented you from finding her was just in the same way how you had her all along. You had her all along Fin, you had her all along!”
“It’s quite confusing for the elementary mind of yours. You’re all alone there in the other place. We don’t blame you for that. We just have to show you the ropes now here”
I open my mouth but nothing comes out. I scream but no one hears me. The rules seemed to have changed.
“Look at the veins of an old ladies’ hand and you evoke the entire light of the universe, stronger than the sun, stronger than the stars. It’s everything in mundane life because you are the universe making the light. It is the eyes, the optic nerves, the brain making light. You haven’t digested it yet. Fin-Lad of Nodfa, you need to eat sick”
At that point, I spew up all over place. I was lay on my side, covered in it. A group had formed around me. They were competing to spoon the sick back into me but I couldn’t swallow it like they wanted me to.
“If you make it, you’ve made it. Do you get it yet? You make it. Fin-Lad of Nodfa, to make, from the Oxford Worlds Dictionary, is to construct, is to build, is to create your own universe. It has to be an illusion: you’re making it. That’s all fine. It’s why we came here. Boredom. That’s the thing we’re straying from. Boredom. That’s the way to spice things up. Boredom. How to avoid Boredom? Boredom, boredom, boredom. Should we say it ‘til the cows come home? This is the works. This is the cosmos shining its lights and vibrations. A trick we’re performing with just bits of information, the ones and the nones. A jazz now, a waltz now, some FLAMENCO, LET’S GO! The works is performing a tune out of you. The colour of the sky is back there in your head, the colour of the autumn leaves. The external world is back there in your head and then also you’re inside the world and it’s inside you and you’re inside of it so it’s inside and outside and what are you going to do to flee that open worm-hole?”
“It’s all a peach. We all know the stone is in the peach and it grows a tree. The tree is inside of the peach. The peach is there hanging from the tree so it’s inside the peach tree and it’s outside the peach tree and you can sing along with me or kill yourself Fin-Lad of Nodfa and we’ll plant you somewhere else if that’s what you want? Do you want to be a new peach tree? Is that what you’re telling us Finbarr Saunders and his double entendres? That’s what he’s named after right Stan?”
“Don’t actually tell us! There’s no way to decide. We’re all just waiting. We’re all just peaches. Come on Fin, you know how to sing this one. You’re not in the mood, we get it”
“Peaches on the farm, peaches on the the farm”
“You don’t die Fin! You don’t die! The tree keeps on making more peaches! You’re a peach. I’m a peach. We’re all the peaches. Do you want to fall off the tree now Fin-Lad of Nodfa, is that what you’re telling us? Don’t answer. You can’t answer. I’m only playing the teasy game. I’m here to sing all the songs you don’t like. Did you really think I didn’t know? The tree isn’t dying any time soon. Your sack of skin is just one piece of fruit. Wake up now Fin!”
“Fin-Lad of Nodfa. Fin-Lad of Nodfa”
“Sing with us Fin-Lad! Come sing with us!”
“Peaches on the farm, peaches on the the farm”
“I once knew a doctor. Miracles he made and he told me his secret. I’m not telling it you Fin, I’m not telling you! That’s just play-time as well. I have to tell you. It’s all in the script. How do you get a fat person thin again? It’s not a joke. It’s the question to solve all your problems. It’s Nelsons big question. How do you get a fat person thin again? Think about it. It’s so easy. It’s staring you in the face! You feed them more, then they wake up. It’s like shock therapy. It’s like rubbing the face of a dog in its turd. Here’s the turd Fin. Here’s the turd so you wake up, wake up, wake up!”
“Fin-Lad of Nodfa. Fin-Lad of Nodfa”
“Peaches on the farm, peaches on the the farm”