The Real Power Behind President Butch
Episode 7 from Must Not Sleep, a new novel which takes place in shamanic space, a realm of shapeshifting and trance. Check out episodes 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6. A free download of Michael Brownstein reading from the novel is available on Podiobooks.com.
He snapped his fingers twice and the screen came to life. Eight robed and hooded figures were making their way across a desert landscape in bright morning sunlight.
"This is happening in real time," he said, "except that we're not here, we're clear across the planet. That's the River Jordan in the distance."
"But I don't understand."
Gently he remonstrated, "Precisely. Keep your mind out of this. Just let it happen."
Barely audible singing filled the air. The figures walked at a deliberate pace through the sand, finally reaching the river's edge. Six of them remained robed, their automatic weapons visible now as they kept watch while the other two threw back their hoods and disrobed. A man and a woman, naked except for their underwear.
The naked man called out, "Lord, wash our sins away. Baptize us in this holy water. Show us the way. Give us a sign."
When he turned to help the woman into the river, his face appeared in profile and I gasped. It was President Butch. And the woman moving beside him was what's-her-name, his wife.
The old man whispered excitedly in my ear, "You see, Butch is irreplaceable. He truly believes this stuff and yet he's also a savvy political animal, he knows how to use it to the hilt. But what really makes him a treasure is that, strictly speaking, he's not alive. An entity under exclusive contract to us, you might say, who exists to do our bidding. And of course the beauty of it is, he doesn't know it...What you're seeing is top secret, by the way. I mean top, top secret. As far as the world knows, Butch is down at his ranch clearing brush. The whole trip here and back will take less than twenty-four hours."
Standing knee-deep in water, the president lowered his wife's head under the surface. Then he allowed her to do the same for him.
As the six guards approached one another, I could hear their voices. They were speaking Hebrew.
Then came that whisper again, accompanied by the fetid stench which made me swoon.
"The Israelis -- some of them, anyway -- have a keen interest in our fundamentalist brethren. The Rapture, remember? When the born again abruptly teleport to heaven, leaving the rest of us down here to fry. That's where Butch's policies come in. Like ignoring global warming. Or allowing the mining and power companies to keep spewing mercury into the atmosphere. Or deepening our addiction with a huge trade deficit. Or encouraging the pharmaceutical companies to push Americans to extremes of self-medication. By now every third family in the United States has a child taking anti-depressants. Isn't that impressive? Lidded out in front of their video games while their parents decide whether to watch reality TV or the Academy Awards. It's distraction and denial on a mass scale. We're setting the table for Armageddon and nobody's paying attention. But there's one catch, which is why the Christian avant-garde is rabidly pro-Israel. You see, the Rapture won't occur until the Jews are in sole possession of the Holy Land. So it says in the Book of Revelation. Or something."
He giggled. "Gosh, what a bunch of loonies! But we're very fortunate, it all came together for us. The Rapture crowd fell right into our lap. Condemnation of sexuality, Earth as a fallen realm, embrace of apocalypse. All wrapped in a package of crony capitalism, so that making a fortune is the result of divine dispensation! But the genius of it is, these folks dovetail seamlessly with their arch-enemies, the Muslim diaper-heads who deny life, beauty, color, song, and dance. The ones who believe that after they detonate themselves they're gonna wake up in paradise surrounded by nubile virgins. Each side condemning the other to perdition but both convinced this world is a snare and a delusion. And finally there's 9/11, where the two fundamentalisms came together like an explosion in a science laboratory. 9/11 was crucial. It allowed us to round up all the horses of fear and paranoia into one corral and resurrect huge military expenditures to defend it. The same military industry that's kept the American economy going since World War Two...I tell you, this bughouse planet's ripe for the taking. We're all doing God's work, partner. Just depends on which God you're talking about."
"But what do you mean, we? Who are you?" I asked.
He brought a forefinger to his lips. "Shhh. Let's maintain our focus. No talking, please."
We watched as Butch and his wife, smiling beatifically, emerged from the river. The president opened his arms to the sky and called out, "Lord, thank you for giving me the go-ahead for the coming Holy War, so that your humble servants -- the American people -- may emerge victorious over the forces of evil. In addition, Lord, thank you for allowing this war to usher in the end times, wherein all of creation will tremble. Thank you for allowing us to smite our enemies, to puliverize them into dust. But not before we and they together have set a torch to this snakepit of unrepentant sinners, preparing the way for Jesus to come and rule for a thousand years. So be it!"
His face shining with tears, he turned to embrace his wife. Then they donned their robes and all eight figures slowly moved off across the dunes.
The old man snapped his fingers twice and the screen went blank.
I was awestruck. "How did you do that?"
He lost patience with me.
"I didn't do anything. Surely you understand at least that much. We're making use of something much bigger than any one person. What you might call the shared mental energy of the species. Transferring consciousness to the visionary realm through acts of willed imagination. Remote viewing in nonlocal reality, where limits of time and space don't apply. Hyperspace. Multidimensionality. But we don't need to restrict ourselves to sacred groves like the faery folk. We don't need to go on vision quests in the wilderness. Transformation can take place right here in this room. Transformation happens ‘betwixt and between,' under conditions that are ‘neither this nor that,' especially at dawn or dusk. We know that. Why do you suppose I keep the lights in this apartment so low?... Betwixt and between... I'll tell you, though, it was a lesson in humility for us to accept that for the really sexy stuff we needed to rely on stone-age techniques of barefoot jungle shamans. The little guys with the shiny black hair and plugs in their noses. We've learned a lot in recent years. We've had to. We've been instructed to. But clairvoyance, telepathy, precognition, they're all transformations of energy. They can be used by whoever's sufficiently attuned. Or am I telling you something you don't know?"
"No, I guess not."
I paused, trying to clear my head.
"It's just that, classically, shamans journey to heal people. They work for the good of the tribe, to heal the spiritual aspects of illness. Whereas what's going on here has no moral dimension. It's just a way to dispense with the constraints of time and space."
"Classically? What's classical about the world we're living in now? Besides," he said, growing indignant, "how do you know there's no moral dimension? I mean, how dare you presume to judge? Moral dimensions are in the eye of the beholder. What if I told you that forces exist in the universe -- beings more intelligent than you can conceive of -- who for their own reasons are directly involved in the fate of this planet? And what if I told you that those very same jungle shamans we used to denigrate and patronize themselves believe that their tribe -- indeed, humanity itself -- came to this planet long ago from the stars? What if their myths end up being true? How's that for a bedtime story, baby boy? The bedtime story to end all bedtime stories. The last one before we turn out the lights."
"But why? To what end?"
His face became impassive. "Save the questions for your power animal," he said sarcastically.
Then he sighed. "I'm getting tired. Let me close the circle for you. Remember the microwave weapons I mentioned that we won't use in Iraq? We're not evil, really. It's just that we insist on being realistic. It's a matter of pride for us. You see, the universe finds offensive any description of itself not involving the exercise of naked power. Anything else is inaccurate. It just ain't the way the game is played. Ruthless manipulation, that's the way the game is played."
Outraged, I shouted, "But that's insane! It's completely erroneous. What do you know about the universe? The universe is made of light, the light of the Cosmic Christ, radiating unconditional love from deepest space to the cells in our bodies. All of life is sacred. You may be caught up in some twisted Darwinian fantasy of might makes right, but that only proves your thought is a self-fulfilling prophecy. What you're telling me is appalling and perverse. Just look at nature, at the animals and plants, at earth and water and sky. Where do you see gratuitous cruelty?"
He groaned. "The Cosmic Christ -- oh dear. We've barely hit our stride and here you are pontificating. I've already explained how Jesus fits into the picture. Please have some respect for your elders."
Eyeing me he added cryptically, "Don't judge a book by its cover. Circumstances may have placed me in this humble abode, but you have no idea who I really am. Do you? You don't even know my name."
He laughed. "Of course not. In fact, you don't know where you are. We might be anywhere."
I peered into the cramped kitchen with its cheap, unpainted cupboards, its rusting refrigerator and ancient, chipped porcelain sink. The hot and cold faucets ran into the basin separately. The sink could have been installed early in the previous century.
He paused. "So who am I, baby boy?"
I said nothing.
"And how long have you been a guest in my home? Forty minutes? Three hours? Two days?"
Suddenly anxious and disoriented, I looked up at the ceiling.
"What about Georgia? Has anything happened to her?"
"Who's Georgia? I told you already, I know of no such animal. The name means nothing to me. If you're referring to the young lady I raised from a little squirt, she has no idea who she is, so you're the perfect man for her. All she's interested in is getting laid. Find some new guy to fuck, then drop his ass down the drain. You want a name for her, I'll give you a name: Mary Magdelene, how's that sound? Old Mary Mag, the last of the sacred prostitutes...The real story left out of the Bible, of course. Jesus and Mary Mag were non-stop lovers, they scandalized the apostles, they did it in the road. Total freedom, that was his message. Mathew and Mark and the rest of those spin doctors had their work cut out for them."
Sounding wistful, he said, "Jesus was a shapeshifter, a master shaman. He wanted to heal his people by taking them back to their tribal origins. He was the Great Leveller, a true revolutionary. Revolution top to bottom, revolution all the time. No religion, no priests, no class system. Not only throw the money changers out of the Temple but walk out of the Temple and never look back. Because the true Temple is within, the true Temple is everywhere. God is in everything. That's where Jesus was really at. Start over in the Garden of Eden. Paradise now. ‘Truly I tell you, unless you return and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.' Little children, get it? As I heard you insisting upstairs, baby boy -- no last names. That's what being a child is all about. No wonder the adults went after his hide. Of course they crucified him. The same thing would happen today, that's the way of the world. His message was to reject the corruption of a priesthood, reject the corruption of money and property, reject the corruption of all empires, Roman, Jewish, you name it. Reject the corruption of history, of civilization. Reject national identity. Jesus said, ‘Before Abraham came to be, I am.' Start over, pure and innocent, back to our hunter-gatherer origins. A return to purity of diet, purity of behavior, purity of heart, purity of -- "
He began coughing, his hand at his chest, his face stiff with pain.
"Oh, damn," he said. "I feel like shit. Time for you to go."
He added sardonically, "I guess that makes you Jesus, though, if my slut of a daughter is Mary Mag. Cosmic Christ indeed. Think you can handle it?"
Still coughing, he led me toward the entrance.
Stopping abruptly, he said, "What am I doing? I almost forgot why I went to the trouble of luring you down here in the first place. The fact is, I'm fading fast. I'm not sure I can get back to my basement to re-charge. I might die right here in this rotten apartment if you don't help me. I need your light to heal me, baby boy. Please. I need to feel your light inside my heart."
He lunged toward me, clutching at my arm.
"Take your hands off me, scumbag," I said, pulling away from him.
He fell to his knees and cried out, "For Christ's sake, have pity on me!"
When I opened the door to the hallway, the apartment briefly flooded with light. Looking to my left as I went outside, I glimpsed something. Against the wall opposite the television stood a small table, like a shrine, covered with black cloth. On it sat several objects I couldn't make out, and a photograph in a mother-of-pearl frame. The frame was draped with a garland of orange marigolds.
It was only after I slammed the metal door behind me and stood blinking in the hallway's harsh light that I realized I knew the man in the photograph. That long, narrow, bearded face, the soft, otherworldly eyes, the cruel and ungenerous mouth. I'd seen him before, clean-shaven and wearing Western clothes, but it was the same person. I started moaning as I ran upstairs, praying that the door to Georgia's apartment was unlocked. Regardless of what monsters moved beneath me in the night, I desperately needed to hold her in my arms.
"Before Abraham came to be, I am."
What a kick in the head. The old guy was right, time is just anoter dream, another fantasy. What did he ask me? ‘Do you know what day it is?' And of course I don't, unless I pretend like everyone else is pretending, because what's coming has already arrived, what's past is not yet here.
Prehistory rules the future. Barefoot shamans our final teachers. Showing us the end times. Revealing what's needed to survive the coming maelstrom. Bathing us in the light of our origin, the radiance within all beings, the light pervading everything, overtaking all distances. A snap of the fingers and it travels from one end of the universe to the other. Two snaps and it's back where it started, before you know it, before you can register your caveats, your explanations.
The universe is a magic trick appearing in a single instant. One in breath and it's created in all its glorious detail. One out breath and it's gone, swallowed up in the void. Emptiness, my great friend. Because I too am made of light. I AM the light. The light called I AM. I AM the sun-faced Cosmic Christ, here to say that we're all one.
We're all brothers and sisters, beyond age and race and gender. Beyond ego identity, beyond our business cards, beyond our names in the phone book.
Heavy baggage of hesitation and compromise I threw out the window. But when was that? When did I meet my consort on the street and begin this new life? A week ago? A month ago?
No last names. The future not some vague occurence somewhere ahead of us but the leading edge now and always. No last names allows the light to pour in from above.
Pillar of light entering through the top of my head, traveling down my spine, filling my body with quartz crystal. Making my heart resonate, uniting me with the universe.
Cosmic Christ that I am, Cosmic Christ that we all are, divinely present here and now.
Pillar of white light the baseline and source of all colors. Quartz crystal coiled and released inside my DNA, coiled and released in every life form, in the air I breathe, the water I drink, in the planets and stars and galaxies.
Pillar of light linking me to the cosmos. I feel eternity in my bones. I see it when I look out the windows of this apartment at the sky, the clouds, the sunlight. I hear it in the laughter coming up from the street, the horns and traffic. Doors slamming out in the hallway, footsteps going up and down the stairs...
But just hearing those footsteps and I'm spooked.
Who was that entity with a frozen heart? Why didn't he follow me up here? Had he died in that lousy apartment all alone?
He asked me to help him but I refused.
And the photo of Osama in beard and turban.
I'd seen him once before in the flesh, no doubt about it. Osama disguised, clean-shaven and wearing Western clothes, but Osama nonetheless.
And Georgia at his side, her face upturned, her eyes shining.
Waiting for her to come back I sat on the sofa day after day, merging with the light, bathing in its energy and beauty. I lost track of time. I fasted without food or water. On a sunny afternoon when I finally stood up and floated into the kitchen I felt transparent.
Nothing but a few grey, shrunken vegetables in the refrigerator.
Ravenous now, my throat parched, I stood at the sink drinking glass after glass of water and noticing the layer of New York City grime over everything. Georgia had always kept the apartment spotless. How long had I been here without her.
Impossible to say, because in this city it doesn't take long for windowsills and counters to collect soot and cinders and dust. Particulate matter blowing in from the street, seeping in under the door. Automobile exhaust, furnaces, factories across the river. And, in downtown Manhattan where I happened to be, fallout from 9/11. Another of the government's brazen inventions, to insist soon after the catastrophe that the air was safe. No one really knew what they were breathing. Best to forget about it.
Returning to the living room, I approached the ficus tree in a corner near one of the windows. Its leaves were shrivelled, the soil in its pot dry and hard. Could this have happened in five days? I'd read somewhere that five days was the human limit for going without water. But even if it was seven days or nine days, the tree should still be alive.
Wobbling into the bathroom I came face to face with myself in the mirror. Cavernous cheeks. Luminous, hungry eyes. And what about that smile? I'd never be able to control it even if I wanted to. Then I noticed my beard, rich and black. Can a full beard grow from nothing in just five days?
I threw back my head and laughed. When I looked in the mirror again, my face was gone. The bald eagle stared at me, imperious and stern. In the distance I heard rapid drumming.
Mind to mind he soundlesly demanded, "Why did you refuse the one downstairs? Were you afraid? Or did the stench of a rotting human revolt you? Your ego is a flaming car wreck blocking your way. Drive right through it. Your ego is a blinding rainstorm. Up above the sun is shining. Your ego is a yawning chasm. Jump into it head first. You must be absolutely fearless to meet the challenges that await you. Fear nothing, not even your own death. Remember, you have a mind but you're not your mind. You have emotions but you're not your emotions. You have a body but you're not your body. You are light. Pure shining light. Your radiance penetrates the universe but it dies the moment you pass judgment, the moment you give in to separation, the moment you're seduced by yourself, by your supposed powers, which vanish when you become attached to them. Understand something: I will abandon you if you doubt yourself or hesitate ever again. Do you think you were given your vision, your big dream, in order to pick and choose who you will help? Do you think suffering comes in pretty packages? Do you think evil doesn't suffer as much as good? Evil suffers more! Evil needs your love unconditionally, even if you're rejected, even if you're threatened, even if you're destroyed. You have been called. Answer that call. You have no choice."
The eagle disappeared and I stood there watching my weeping face in the mirror. I was mortified by my selfishness. I cried for everyone stranded on this planet. What else can I do but give myself to them, regardless of the consequences?
When my tears ceased, I noticed how soft my eyes had become. Full of forgiveness, they held my glance unwaveringly.
"Whoever you are," I said into the mirror, "your children are my children. I'm here for you."
I drifted around the apartment naked, my body aching, my stomach demanding sustenance. I looked at the clothes I'd last worn, whenever that was. They sat in a dusty pile on the floor: black t-shirt, cobalt-grey sweater, shapeless, soiled jeans. Then I went through the chest of drawers where I kept my things: more darkness. Jackets, pants, shirts, sweaters, all looking dull, conventional, passive-aggressive. I'd been dressing unconsciously, another city slouch announcing my separation in dark colors.
Go for the light. Wear white.
I opened Georgia's closet in the bedroom. On the inside of the door was a full-length mirror.
Jesus Christmas, have I shrunk or what? It's like I'm joining the original people, low and close to the ground. The ones who roamed the planet for hundreds of thousands of years.
I rummaged through her clothes until I found white drawstring pants and a white cotton blouse with two panels of delicately embroidered flowers and birds running down the front. I was amazed these things fit me because Georgia was smaller than me, or had been.
Searching the apartment for money, all I could find was six dollars and change. I craved hot soup. Better yet, a big, steaming plate of rice and beans. Something to ground me, return me to this world.
I looked out the front windows. The sky was overcast. Down below, people hurried by bundled in thick coats, puffs of steam escaping from their mouths. Most of them wore gloves and hats. Winter had returned.
Photo by CatDancing courtesy of Creative Commons license.