MANDELBROT MAN

It began with an internet search, as most crazy discoveries do nowadays. And what started as harmless interest quickly grew into obsession. I’m talking eschewing wikipedia, even google, and sifting through mountains of data himself. Talking finding things that he couldn’t even locate later, they’d mysteriously disappeared. That sort of thing. But basically, his research centered on the pineal gland and the mandelbrot set.

Apparently, people have the ability to channel ungodly amounts of energy and information through this gland in the brain that’s the size of a pea. Perceive light through it, observe things on the microscopic and telescopic scale. Have out of body experiences, religio-spiritual occurrences. Just happens to line up with the center of the forehead, where the third eye would be. You get the idea.

As any good mysterious idea is, this one’s locked up in an intense conspiracy theory. Claims that the pineal gland soaks up fluoride like a sponge, clouds it so that the average person’s powers are diminished. Government control to keep us docile through the water supply. I’m sure you’ve heard about it.

Well, our protagonist decided that he was going to do something about it. Bought a big, honking distiller. Pumped the fluoride right out of the water. Started meditating, focusing on that little pea in the center of his forehead. Looked up mandelbrot sets, those fractals that are popular with the psychedelic crowd, the self-repeating shapes and colors that go on and on ad infinitum. Tried the Ganzfeld effect, with ping pong balls over his eyes and white noise pumped into his ears to produce hallucinations. Our guy went all out.

And this story wouldn’t be a story if nothing happened, which it actually did. The little gland started pulsing in his head the more he focused on it. A tingly sort of warmth emanated from it, until he could actually feel it coursing through each and every nerve in his body. Could feel the blood pump through his veins, filter into the tiny, branching capillaries and enrich his body with oxygen. Basically experienced the weird, New Agey stuff he’d initially scoffed at when he’d first read about it.

But he’d invariably get excited and focus even more on channeling his third eye, which would stop the experience immediately. If he wanted to get the full effect, he’d have to stop thinking about it entirely. Kind of like when you space out and look at a wall, your vision tunnels into the single point your pupils are focused on. But the second you become aware and try to actually focus, the tunnel is gone. This would take some work.

He meditated tirelessly, induced sleep and sensory deprivation, drank pitchers of the distilled water to cleanse out all the fluoride. Only ate foods with five or fewer ingredients on the label, and no processed crap. Determined would be an understatement.

And I wouldn’t be telling this story right now if it didn’t work. He divorced his self from himself. Had no concept of subject or object, no us and them or me and you. All was one and one was all. He was the breath in his lungs, the perspiration dripping down in rivulets from his forehead. His third eye was throbbing, until it felt like it was his entire body.

And in an instant, he became entirely aware of the universes within universes that composed his body. Each individual cell among billions was him. He felt when they split and reproduced, when they atrophied and died, only to be replaced by another. And each cell was composed of still tinier forms, on and on like that, even beyond quarks, to a realm beyond human understanding, where microscopic galaxies spiraled on in empty nothingness, where planets bearing minuscule life orbited miniature suns. And within those tiny lifeforms, tinier still cells, and universes within them, and so on beyond any human conception of limit.

And outside of our protagonist was a boundless universe, stretching up into sizes that human brains can’t conceive of, going on and on until it could be seen in its enclosed state, as a single cell in the body of an inconceivably immense being, that being itself a part of its own universe which in turn is just a cell within a larger cosmic framework.

Seeing this then, as it was, his body had no limit. He was the size of the building he was in, and then larger. He was floating and then flying, simultaneously in that moment and witnessing his own birth and death. Transcending his body and then even the body of the tiny cell he called his universe.

He stretched on and on, heard all sounds and saw all sights. His body became light and then snaked and twisted through nebulous clouds, evaporated at the slightest touch and then spontaneously retook his mortal form. And then, when he had reached a plane that is entirely beyond human capabilities, he shed his human body. He became the single drop he’d started as, and returned to the endless ocean of consciousness.

He’s never been seen or heard from again. His friends and family naturally reported him missing, but it’s no use. And besides, if they knew where it was that he’d gone they wouldn’t worry anyway.

Some say you can still feel him even now, wrinkled within the fabric of the universe itself. He might manifest as a slight tingle down your spine here, a chill in the air you can’t explain there… Either way, he makes his presence known. So be sure to watch out for him.

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THE EXAMINED LIFE

The man was simply born without the ability to conceptualize death. Period. The whole thing was chalked up to childhood ignorance at first, mental capacities, that sort of thing. But bring up the subject and you’d see for yourself. He’d give that same blank stare that was his norm, smile and just nod. Oh, you could try explaining. Many have. But it wouldn’t really get you anywhere. You could sit this guy down for like an hour, tell him that he was going to die as was everyone and everything he’s ever known, you could say that he would no longer exist one day, not even in the minds of others… Hell, you could kill a person right in front of him and all he’d likely do is smile and ask you why they stopped moving.

He was a freaking scientific anomaly. The tests were inconclusive, but what could you expect? We know far less than we like to believe, even in these matters. The big test was his parents. They aged, and he got that well enough, but the cut-off between life and death was where his brain just froze up, like some loading screen stuck at ninety-nine percent. Even at their funerals he wound up consoling everyone else, wondering all the while what they were all so darn upset about.

He had no ambitions really. Why would he need them? He didn’t know he was going to die some day, so he in turn had no urgent desire to accomplish anything before said death. He liked reading and so he did a lot of it. That was that. He was a daredevil without ever really trying. He’d cross streets at red lights, cars missing him by inches most of the time. He once leapt off his house’s roof just to see what it would feel like. It wasn’t like he couldn’t feel pain. That wasn’t it at all. If anything, he was hyper sensitive to it in general. And he wasn’t suicidal either. How could he be? He didn’t even know he could kill himself, let alone die at all for that matter.

It didn’t even change when he got the diagnosis. His chest had really hurt something awful, and he was coughing up blood. He went to the hospital more because the whole thing was unpleasant and frankly kind of distracting. Inoperable lung cancer. Terminal. Those words could have been exchanged with, “How do you do?” and you would’ve gotten the same response from him. He had six months at most, the doctor bearing all of the somberness for him as he told him the news.

And so the man went home and kept reading the book he’d been wrapped up in before the appointment. The next day he went to work, engaged with his coworkers and friends, and just generally lived his life. Six months came. And then a year. Then two. Five. Ten. The man still coughed up blood from time to time, but his existence wasn’t dramatically impeded. He just kept on living.

Years went by. The man withered and aged, but he just saw it as a natural progression. What needed to happen as far as he was concerned. His hair grayed, receded, fell out. His skin sagged, hung down like wet paper. Before you knew it, he was ninety-seven years old. And on a particularly warm summer evening he tucked in for the night, content with the great book he’d just finished reading. He dozed off, peaceful as can be. And then…

He woke up the next morning. What did you expect me to say? That he died? Because he didn’t. Not then, and not ever. He didn’t know that he could die, the thought never struck him, and so he just didn’t. For decades, centuries, millennia… People and civilizations rose and fell before him and still he lived on, just reading his books. Minding his own business. And so he will for all eternity.

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