aleph symbol with title UNSONG

Chapter 23: Now Descendeth Out Of Heaven A City

Though thou exalt thyself as the eagle, and though thou set thy nest among the stars, thence will I bring thee down, saith the LORD.
— Obadiah 1:4

Afternoon, May 12, 2017
San Francisco

Even though she could no longer hear it with her ears, it still rang in the back of her mind. A note, a single impossibly pure note that seemed to overpower everything else. But it grew fainter and fainter and finally faded away entirely. She didn’t miss it. She knew a minute longer up there and she would have lost herself, lost even the ability to know what losing herself entailed, lost the ability to think or feel or know or question anything ever again, turned into a perfect immobile crystal that was blindingly beautiful and totally inert.

“Oh God,” said Ana. They had brought her aboard the ship and helped her onto a bed in one of the cabins. “I almost felt transcendent joy. It was awful.”

None of them laughed. There were three of them. An older man with a short white beard. A military-looking fellow with bright eyes and closely cut hair. And an Asian man wearing a necklace. Ana’s addled brain searched for relevant memories and came back empty.

“I’m John,” said the older man. “These are James and Lin. Welcome to Not A Metaphor.”

Memories came crashing in. The Comet King’s old yacht, converted into a diversion for the idle rich and renamed to head off questions from annoying kabbalists. Fastest ship in the world. Ten million bucks a month for a cabin, sold to rich people who wanted to talk to God, not in a pious prayer way, but in a way that maybe gave them the chance to punch Him in the face depending on what He answered. Traveled the world. Docked at weird out-of-the-way places to avoid the attention of the Other King, who was supposed to have a personal grudge against it. She tried to remember if she’d ever heard anything about the crew, but there was nothing.

“I’m Ana,” said Ana. “What happened to me?”

“If I had to guess, I’d say you drank from a water fountain in San Francisco.”

Ana nodded.

II.

1971. Ken Kesey was taking LSD with his friend Paul Foster. Then things got weird.

Paul tried to stand. He took a second to catch his breath. Kesey – the thing in Kesey’s body – seemed content to let him. It just stood there, hovering.

“W…who are you?” asked Paul.

“NEIL,” said the thing in Kesey’s body.

“But…who…what ARE you?”

“NEIL,” said the thing in Kesey’s body, somewhat more forcefully.

Quivering from head to toe, Paul knelt.

“NO. I AM NEIL ARMSTRONG. ELEVEN MONTHS AGO, I FELL THROUGH A CRACK IN THE SKY INTO THE EIN SOF, THE TRUE GOD WHOSE VASTNESS SURROUNDS CREATION. LIKE ENOCH BEFORE ME, I WAS INVESTED WITH A PORTION OF THE MOST HIGH, THEN SENT BACK INTO CREATION TO SERVE AS A MESSENGER. I AM TO SHOW MANKIND A CITY UPON A HILL, A NEW JERUSALEM THAT STANDS BEYOND ALL CONTRARIES AND NEGATIONS.”

Paul just stared at him, goggle-eyed.

“YOU DO NOT BELIEVE. I WILL GIVE YOU A SIGN. ARISE AND OPEN YOUR BIBLE, AND READ THE FIRST WORDS UPON WHICH YOUR EYES FALL.”

Mutely, Paul rose to his feet and took a Bible off his shelf, an old dog-eared King James Version he thought he might have stolen from a hotel once. He opened it somewhere near the middle and read from Psalm 89:12-13:

The north and the south Thou hast created them: Tabor and Hermon shall rejoice in Thy name. Thou hast a mighty arm: strong is Thy hand, and high is Thy right hand

William Blake described mystical insight as “seeing through the eye and not with it”. Stripping away all of the layers of mental post-processing and added interpretation until you see the world plainly, as it really is. And by a sudden grace Paul was able to see through his eyes, saw the words themselves and not the meaning behind them:

arm strong is Thy hand

For a moment, Paul still doubted – did God really send His messengers through druggies who had just taken monster doses of LSD? Then he read the verse again:

high is Thy right hand

For the second time in as many minutes, he fell to his knees.

“IN ORDER TO INSTANTIATE THE NEW JERUSALEM, YOU MUST GATHER TOGETHER ALL OF THE LSD IN THE CITY AND PLACE IT IN A RESERVOIR WHICH I WILL SHOW YOU. WHEN EVERYONE HAS ACHIEVED DIVINE CONSCIOUSNESS, IT WILL CREATE A CRITICAL MASS THAT WILL ALLOW A NEW LEVEL OF SPIRITUAL TRANSFORMATION. I WILL BECOME ONE WITH THE CITY, BECOME ITS GUARDIAN AND ITS GUIDE. AND NONE SHALL BE POOR, OR SICK, OR DYING, AND NONE SHALL CRY OUT TO THE LORD FOR SUCCOUR UNANSWERED.”

“But…if I put LSD in the water supply…if the whole city…are you saying we, like, secede from the United States?…you don’t understand. We’ve been trying to spread a new level of consciousness for years. It never…if the whole city tries to become some kind of…if they don’t pay taxes or anything…we’re going to be in the biggest trouble. You don’t know Nixon, he’s ruthless, he’d crush it, it’d never…”

“YOU STILL DO NOT BELIEVE. OPEN YOUR BIBLE A SECOND TIME.”

Paul Foster opened his Bible a second time, to Isaiah 62:8:

The LORD hath sworn by His right hand, and by the arm of His strength: Surely I will no more give thy corn to be meat for thine enemies; and the sons of the stranger shall not drink thy wine, for the which thou hast laboured. But they that have gathered it shall eat it, and praise the Lord; and they that have brought it together shall drink it in the courts of my holiness. Go through, go through the gates; prepare ye the way of the people; cast up, cast up the highway; gather out the stones; lift up a standard for the people. Behold, the Lord hath proclaimed unto the end of the world, Say ye to the daughter of Zion, Behold, thy salvation cometh; behold, his reward is with him, and his work before him. And they shall call them, the holy people, the redeemed of the Lord: and thou shalt be called, sought out, a city not forsaken.

A few minutes later, Ken Kesey was on the floor, his eyes were back to their normal color, and Paul Foster was shaking him. “Ken,” he was saying. “Ken, wake up. Ken, we are going to need to find a lot of LSD.”

III.

“That’s why you never drink the water in San Francisco,” John told Ana. “It’s not some mystical blessing upon the city. It’s just a couple milligrams of LSD per liter of drinking water. A single swallow and you end up partaking of the beatific vision as mediated through Neil Armstrong. They keep the LSD around to maintain the trance and induct anybody else who comes in. I’ve been here half a dozen times and it still creeps me out.”

“Okay,” said Ana. She looked out the window again. The iridescent sphere was starting to pulsate.

“John’s too humble to say so,” said James. “But he saved your life. We saw that thing you did with the winds, and went up to investigate, but by the time we got up there you were way gone. He was the one who brought you down.”

“Dragged you out of the Ein Sof and into the created world,” said John. “That’s the only way to do it, remind you of all the dichotomies and tradeoffs and things that don’t apply up there.”

“You’re lucky John and Lin are educated men,” said James. “Me, I would have just been shaking you and shouting profanity.”

An angel walked into the lounge. “Oh,” he said. “She’s awake. I’m Amoxiel. Did you decide to join our crew?”

“Join the crew?!”

“I was just getting to that, dammit!” said James. He turned to Ana. “I’ll be honest. We didn’t save you because we’re nice people. We saved you because we’re still working on using this ship to its full capacity. Captain says that the yellow sail needs some kind of special kabbalistic Name to work. You seem to know a Name that can summon winds. Sounds like it’s worth a shot. You want to join us? Pay is…well, you’d be a full partner. A few years and you’d be set for life.”

Ana thought for a second. It was almost too perfect. Escape San Francisco, escape UNSONG, go somewhere nobody could find her. She tried not to sound overly enthusiastic. “What’s the work, exactly?”

“Sail the world,” said James. “Lin does his calculations, tries to figure out where Metatron’s boat will appear next. We grab some rich people, head for that spot, try to chase it. You man a sail. Do your incantation, whatever works, sail goes up, we go a little faster. Doesn’t matter. Never catch Metatron. The rich people pay anyway, because they’re desperate and they figure that unlike everyone else they have a pure heart and God would never turn a pure heart away. When you’re not manning your sail, you’re pretty much free. Only two rules. Don’t bother the rich people. And don’t go into the Captain’s quarters. You follow those, you’ll be fine. You need to bother someone, bother me. I’m the first mate. It’s my job to get bothered.”

“Is it just the four of you?”

“Six,” said James. “Us, Tomas, and the Captain.”

“Oh! I thought John was the captain!”

James laughed. “The captain is the captain. You’ll see him eventually. Big guy. Not a lot of facial expressions. Impossible to miss. He’s a very private man.”

“What’s his name?”

“He is,” James repeated, “a very private man.”

“So private he doesn’t have a name?”

“If you have to you can call him Captain Nemo.”

“Nemo? Like the – ”

“Exactly like the,” said Lin. He sounded resigned.

“You have,” said John, “about a half hour to decide. After that, we’re heading up to Angel Island to pick up our three passengers, and then we’re headed south so we can make it around Cape Horn before Metatron’s boat is scheduled to surface off Long Island in a few days.”

“Forget the thirty minutes,” said Ana. “I’m in.”

“Good,” said James. “Welcome to Not A Metaphor. Start thinking about what you’ll ask God if you ever catch Him.”

“Isn’t it obvious?” asked Ana.

James, Lin, and John looked at her as though it was by no means obvious.

“The whole problem of evil! Why do bad things happen to good people? Why would a perfectly good God create a world filled with – ”

“Yeah, good luck with that,” said James, and left the cabin.

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