Saturday, 18 March, 2017 – Ann Arbor, Michigan
It’s actually a little scary opening the door and walking back into her apartment. After all, the last time she was here she hallucinated a soul-devouring worm sticking out of the back of her head. But Kate goes in and nothing weird happens, except that when she turns the lights on in the kitchen there are cockroaches all over the counter by the sink as usual and she has to shoo them away with water from the faucet and loud expressions of disgust like she does every time.
Filling a pot with water to start heating up for hard-boiled eggs, Kate finds that she can split her attention much more cleanly and deliberately than she ever has been able to before, using only a fraction of her mind to deal with cooking tasks here in the kitchen and freeing the rest to contemplate the weird experiences of the last few days.
When she thinks about it, it seems pretty clear that all the weirdness started with that moment of faintness she had in the hallway on Monday. Isn’t that exactly how John Travolta started out in the movie? A moment of faintness and, in his case, an immediate hallucination? In her case the hallucinations took a couple days to get going.
Ah, but this line of thought is troubling to you. Why? Kate grimaces as a distant part of her starts her fry pan heating up. Yes, it is troubling. Because the idea of John Travolta’s movie is telling her something sneaky. In the movie Phenomenon, John’s talents were caused by an astrocytoma brain tumor—but the talents were real. Is her subconscious mind trying to tell her something?
Hey, hold on just one second, pardner. Kate thinks. The word ‘subconscious’ sounds just a wee mite pejorative, don’t you think? How about ‘my unconscious’ instead? Or, better yet—what reason do you have to call it ‘my’ anything at all? Aren’t ‘you’ the one that’s ‘conscious’? So when you say ‘unconscious’ you’re really just saying ‘not me’, innit? You’re imitating the language of psychologists, but they’re all a bunch of giggling idiots, drooling into their goatees. Instead of ‘unconscious’ you might just as well call it The Great Unknown, or the Nagual, or the Angels. Right?
Of course right! And what is the point of bringing this up? The point is to avoid the real point, which is that you just figured out that the mind parasites are very possibly real.
Well, the one that her astral self pulled out of the back of her own head certainly felt real.
While her automated parts are doing something or other with some warm moist things by the stove, Kate looks out her big (but poorly sealed around the edges) living room window and sighs. She is more or less back in her astral self right now, except this time—a whole six hours after the first time she did it—she’s already an old hand at it. Now she looks down from the window to the mostly-empty parking lot and the other Maiden Lane apartment buildings across the paved space, and she once again sees the whole world made of trillions of brilliant blue points of light. This time it’s not a big deal, and the little blue points aren’t acting like cartoon characters anymore. That was simply a mental crutch that was useful when she was young and fooling, like at six o’clock this morning. Kate’s astral self smiles. She really was born today!
And, by the way, what is the deal with the Tiny Blue Points? Kate turns her newly acute intelligence on the problem and the solution presents itself immediately. Of course reality is pixelated. Sooner or later, everything is pixelated. And the pixels of reality are not physical, they are semantic. If you protest that reality boils down to nothing but physics, that’s exactly like saying that the Mona Lisa boils down to nothing but paint. It’s only a few ounces of paint! Why is it worth ten billion dollars? Well, you know, if you boil it down—then it isn’t worth ten billion dollarsanymore, now is it! It isn’t worth anything at all.
As for the recent anthropomorphic behavior of the Little Blue Pixels of Meaningful Reality, that was just a crutch that she used to make it easier to notice the ‘macroscopic’ meanings that become available to her at this level of perception. The meanings that are large enough to be relevant to a human mind. She doesn’t have to experience this level of perception in that bizarre way anymore to get at the meanings that are available here.
OK, smart girl, so when are you going to stop dawdling and think about the particular meaning that is currently the elephant in the frikking living room? Or rather, the serpent.
The serpent in the living room is the fact that the Little Blue Pixels—although even their literal existence is most likely a mental crutch—bring her perceptions that are nevertheless accurate.
What it means is that the mind parasites really are very probably real. Really, really, real.
OK, so they’re real. She had one, and it seems likely that most other people are similarly affected, at least after a certain age. That was the meaning of the “I’m a birdie” girl at Kerrytown. But is that really such a big deal? All manner of physical parasites are real also, and are widespread throughout the world without representing a serious threat to humanity.
Kate’s astral self frowns down at the parking lot. She has noticed a couple instances lately of wishful thinking and avoidance of unpleasant implications in her thought lately. That will have to stop right now.
It is perfectly obvious how important the mind parasites are. I’m standing here in my astral body, while my physical self is finishing up in the kitchen. Is that the kind of thing I do every day? No, girl, it is not. In fact, is this experience totally unique in my whole entire life? Yes, girl, it is. And is there any proximate cause for this astounding experience? Well, perhaps it might possibly have something to do with the fact that this morning I pulled an inch-thick mental worm parasite out of the back of my head that was sucking out my soul-energy or life-force or whatever you want to call it. Gee, do you thing that might have been relevant?
So, yes, the mind parasites are a big deal. Somehow, through some freak occurrence, Kate entered a perceptual state where she was able to see hers, and remove it. The result is that she already has more soul-energy and is already able to do something entirely unique in her life: stand outside of her body and think while it takes care of a routine task. And this is after just a few hours of freedom from the parasite. If the parasites are widespread—and Kate feels certain that they are probably almost universal, just based on what she has always felt about people—then Kate’s discovery of this morning is a big deal indeed. It is big enough to turn the world inside out.
One thing that her discovery of this morning does not do is tell her whether she is ill. OK, the mind parasites are real. But how did she enter the mental state in which she was able to detect them? Was it indeed the result of unusual stimulation caused by a brain tumor, as her intuition seems to have been telling her? But that only matters if she is ill enough that her life will be cut short before she can share her discovery with the world. With her new capabilities, and with the apparent way in which her abilities are still increasing, nothing matters except that she proceed quickly enough that this knowledge will not be lost.
But another thing that her discovery of this morning does not do is tell her what she can possibly do about the parasites. Where do they come from? How do they get into people? Will another one try to infect her? If so, can she stop it? Kate’s astral body shudders. She does not want to touch another one of those things, oh no, not ever. But she will die before allowing another one into the back of her head.
So—how to proceed?
Kate takes a deep astral breath—and smells the best food aroma she has ever smelled in her whole entire life—and just like that she snaps back into her body with a feeling like a quick swoosh and a full-body electric shock.
She finds herself standing in front of the oven, hotpads on her hands, removing her precious Corningware casserole dish. It is white, with little blue flowers. It’s one of the very few things that she inherited from her mother, and therefore so valuable that she basically never uses it. Today, however, she apparently has. Placing the casserole on the stovetop, Kate uncovers it and frowns at the contents. It looks pretty much all dark red. She scrapes some of the tomato sauce away and sees—cabbage. She has made stuffed cabbage with tomato sauce. The perfect little cabbage rolls are filled with ground pork, onions, and rice, and seasoned with paprika and caraway seeds, which Kate has always called “Faraway Seeds”. This dish is far away indeed. She stares at it. This is probably the fanciest meal she has ever cooked in her life, and she didn’t even notice it happening. It’s not even in a style she has ever cooked before. In fact it almost looks—
The meal she has cooked is Hungarian.
On her way down the stairs, Kate goes over all the little impressions that she has had in the last few days since she paid the rent and felt like something was wrong at Mr Pogany’s place. These impressions must have added up to the subliminal knowledge of what she thinks she is going to find here: that Mrs Pogany is ill. She knew that something was wrong a month ago, and now it seems pretty clear that this is what she will find. This is why the Little Blue Pixels got her to make a Hungarian meal. They must have gotten the knowledge from Kate’s unconscious memories of all the cooking websites that she has, um, never once gone to in her whole life.
Halfway down the stairs, Kate frowns. This is the kind of thinking she would have done before the Big Change. Now—with an instant’s thought she sees the truth as clearly as if it were a well-drawn geometry proof laid out on a blackboard. (Except that of course an actual geometry proof would have made her head explode, before the Big Change. That’s another thing that Kate expects she would be able to understand now, for the first time in her life.)
The truth is that what people usually refer to as ‘rational’ is really just a synonym for ‘conforming to a widely-accepted model’. And in fact, when they deliberately disregard part of their experience so that the rest of it will nicely fit a pre-existing model, they are being precisely the opposite of rational. Altering experience to force conformity with models is the very definition of insanity.
In this case, Kate’s clear experience was that the Little Blue Stars of her visions have told her that Mr Pogany needs help, and even guided her in how to do it. Well then, she must not toss out her actual perception because it does not conform to her mental models. That would be irrational/insane. The mere fact that she has no idea what the Little Blue Stars actually ‘are’, or that other people do not (so far as she knows) experience them—such things are completely inconsequential. That just means she hasn’t build a mental model yet,not that ‘believing’ in them is ‘irrational’.
It takes a long time after her knock, but at last the door opens and Mr Pogany is standing there, looking suspicious and disheveled. From the first instant the door swings open, Kate knows that her suspicion was correct. Someone here is ill, and it is not Mr Pogany.
“I always smell cooking when I walk by here,” Kate says, giving the landlord an explanation from a model that he will be able to accept. “But I haven’t been smelling any lately. And I made this today, and I thought, maybe—” she smiles nervously. All this time that she has been living in this building, and this is the most she has ever talked to this man. Even though he is so interesting! How much do we lose by being always afraid?
“I thought maybe,” she ends lamely, “you could tell me if I did it right?”
Then the smell of the casserole, leaking out from under its glass lid, apparently penetrates the landlord’s consciousness. Kate is carrying it awkwardly together with the bundled pink flowers. Pogany looks down at what she is carrying and frowns. Completely unselfconsciously he reaches down to lift the lid and stares at the dozen little stuffed cabbage rolls in their bath of tomato sauce and spices, then looks back at Kate with the lid still in his hand.
“You cooked this? For—us?” On that last word his voice changes and he looks aside, away from her. A few seconds pass silently before Mr Pogany turns back to focus his old eyes on Kate again. “Thank you,” he says. “Thank you very much. I will return the dish to you.” He is apparently going to let her keep the flowers.
Backing into the apartment, he starts to close the door in her face. Before he can quite accomplish it, however, Kate hears a weak voice call from the back of the apartment.
“Jancsi? Ki van ot?”
“Senki sincs!” he shouts back, frowning. “Valaki fizheta bierleki diyat.”
“Ne hazud nekem!” the woman answers him, and Mr Pogany sighs and looks at Kate.
“Won’t you please come in,” he says with obvious insincerity. “Sit, please sit,” he says, gesturing toward a comfortable-looking chair with his chin. Looking down at the casserole, he asks “Who taught you how to cook this way?”
“I—found it on the internet,” Kate answers. And smiles.
“Hah.” Pogany’s old eyes regard her acutely. “You are lying. But OK.” He frowns thoughtfully down at the casserole. “She will like this,” he says quietly. “I think she may eat some of this.”
“Please,” he nods toward the chair. “Please sit.”
“Can I put these in some water?”
“Yes, yes. Look in the kitchen.”
As he carries the casserole back toward the bedroom, Kate goes to find something tall enough for the flowers.
The Poganys’ apartment is bigger than Kate’s, but not vastly so. It’s a normal “double”, which means it has two bedrooms and the rest is still pretty cozy. The main difference is that this place looks like someone actually lives here, and lives quite well. Kate feels like she has just walked into a well-kept middle class apartment from pre-War Budapest. The walls are covered with gold and cream patterned wallpaper. The hardwood floors, better cared for than hers, are mostly covered by pseudo-oriental rugs. The furniture is worn but comfortable-looking: brown and gold fabric and dark wood. One of the pieces of “furniture” holds a television. And not a flatscreen. It’s a great big old vacuum-tube television. Kate is quite certain that if she were to walk over and turn it on, it would start playing episodes of I Love Lucy and Gunsmoke—permanently tuned to a channel called 1955. In the kitchen, Kate can see an oval-shaped wooden table that looks a hundred years old, covered by the largest and loveliest piece of crochet work she has ever seen.
Kate hears Pogany talking back in the bedroom. It sounds like he says “Az ullyut lanye az lemeletere.” Kate’s mouth opens slightly, and her eyes defocus a little. She has never before today heard a single word of Hungarian—yet somehow she suddenly knows that Mr Pogany just said The crazy girl from upstairs.
“Laz ami two huzoot nekoong,” he continues. See what she has brought us.
“Istenem!” the woman’s voice replies. “Ooa Magyar?” My God! Is she Hungarian? Then they start arguing about something, and Kate stops listening. Instead, she remembers what they were saying earlier. When his wife first called to him, she called him Jancsi. It’s a pet name for Janos. Kate never knew his first name before. His wife then asked him Who’s there? Nobody! He replied. Someone paying the rent. Don’t lie to me! the woman said. But her voice sounds so weak.
Kate’s heart is pounding hard and she tries to calm down. Too many things are happening to her too fast.
Kate hears Pogany coming back and she starts to rise, thinking that she maybe should excuse herself and go, but as she looks up she is transfixed by the sight of Mrs Pogany, leaning on her husband’s arm as he helps her to walk slowly into the living room. Kate feels like she has come suddenly into the presence of royalty (real royalty, not the Saxon halfwits we’ve had for the last century or so in Britain).
“Miss Spence,” Pogany says. “Please allow me to introduce my wife Sara.”
He doesn’t remember my first name, because he probably hasn’t seen it since I filled out the rental application.
“Kate,” Kate says, smiling. “My name is Kate.”
Mrs Pogany has beautiful shoulder-length silver hair, but she seems so terribly frail. As the pair approach, Kate blinks—and sees the woman as she looked forty years ago. Her last name before they were married was Vodass. Long auburn hair, brilliant hazel eyes, and a face that looks as though it should be carved in ivory or stamped on coins. She looks exotic: a creature made for speed and grace.
Kate blinks away the vision just in time to take the woman’s hand, but in the instant that their fingers touch another impression leaps into Kate’s mind. Cancer, in her bones, fast and deadly. If she lasts two more months it will be a miracle.
The old woman keeps hold of Kate’s hand. She does not frown, exactly, but her gaze intensifies. “Are you a doctor?” the old woman asks. Halfway to the spirit world herself, the woman feels something from Kate’s touch. Holding her hand, Kate can feel the cancer inside her like traceries of slow fire.
“N-no,” Kate stammers. “Just an office girl.”
“Good. Yes. I see.” The woman smiles and nods, as though it is a joke they will share privately. Mr Pogany helps his wife take her seat. Only as Kate perforce resumes her own seat does the woman at last release Kate’s hand.
“Jancsi—” Sara begins, looking up toward Mr Pogany.
“Yes yes yes,” he says, turning toward the kitchen. “I will make tea.”
From her safe place in the large chair, Sara Pogany looks back to Kate with hazel eyes that are not as brilliant as they once were. She smiles her gentle smile again.
“Tell me,” Mrs Pogany says, “what is it like to be an office girl.”
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