The Living Circle

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Non-Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
I suppose this entry could be listed under Action and Adventure or Fantasy or Horror or Religion and Spirituality or Science Fiction because it is all of the above, however, I am listing it under Non-Fiction because, when all is said and done, it is a true story.

Submitted: February 08, 2015

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Submitted: February 08, 2015



I remember it as being an unusually warm February evening sometime in the mid- to late-1970s when I found myself on the corner at the intersection of Canal and Galvez streets in New Orleans. It was probably the last place on earth I expected to be.

I had moved out of the city roughly a half dozen years before that night. I had been driven out by the explosive rise in the crime rate and the appalling decay of the city infrastructure that followed the so-called White Flight to the suburbs of the 1960s. The combination had rendered my old neighborhood unlivable. The place to which I had moved was not especially far away geographically, but it was light years distant in culture. I had vowed never to return to the city of my youth.

Vows are simple, but social obligations are complex. I was invited to attend the weekend celebration of a friend's 10th wedding anniversary. As the day progressed, one thing led to another, and we wound up moving the party downtown to see a Mardi Gras parade. That would not have been my first choice, of course, but then it wasn't my anniversary.

We were there to see one of the super krewes that were revolutionizing the Mardi Gras experience at the time. I think it was the Endymion parade, but it may have been the Bacchus extravaganza. At any rate, people lined the parade route 10 to 20 rows deep on both sides of the street for as far as the eye could see in both directions.

My natural inclination would have been to avoid a crowd like that, especially on a humid night without a hint of a breeze. Under those conditions, the people reeked of stale booze, cigarette smoke and various body odors. Nevertheless, having honed my bead catching skills to impress the girls back in my high school days, I elbowed my way to the front rank. I wanted to prove to myself that I was still in fact as good a bead catcher as my ego had led me to believe.

Things went well at first, but then a float broke down, stalling the parade for a half hour. That wasn't a good thing. People grew impatient, drunks began to curse, children began to whine. Passions were reaching a fever pitch. In situations like that, an accidental bump could lead to a fight, and a fight could lead to a riot. I remember watching a policeman, outnumbered a hundred to one, working the crowd, keeping a lid on things. It was an inspiring sight. It was obviously not the cop's first rodeo, and NOPD officers are world class masters of the delicate art of crowd control.

As luck would have it, the Tulane University marching band was stuck in the intersection directly in front of me. After a while, the bass drummer began thumping out a persistent beat. The rest of the band took the hint and began an impromptu rendition of a happy little novelty tune called They All Asked For You by The Meters.

The mood changed instantly. The people began clapping to the rhythm of the beat and singing along with the band. It is not as if anybody actually knew the words. Rather, they improvised in curious and ingenious ways, mostly of a scatological nature.

Soon, the crowd began dancing around the band in a wide circle. Actually, it wasn't much of a dance, just a two-step shuffle to the right, step and close, step and close, step and close. I was on the inside of the circle, jiving to the rhythm. I was leaning over forward immersed in the ambiance. Perspiration was dropping from my forehead. I marked my progress around the circle by the sweat spatters on the pavement glistening in the lamplight. It was thoroughly mesmerizing.

Then, things got seriously weird.

The dancers began moving in perfect unison timed precisely to the monotonous thump of the big bass drum. It felt as if the circle itself had become a living organism, animated by some powerful, unseen spirit from an alien realm. The center of the circle where the band had been blurred into a diffuse glow as if a portal had opened to an alternate reality, like a rift in the fabric of the universe. I struggled to hold on to my sanity. My effort was in vain.

My astral body was relieved of the constraints of space and time. I took long strides across vast fields of atavistic racial memories passed down through my genes unconsciously over millennia. I remember sitting around a camp fire knapping a stone spearhead among a band of mammoth hunters on the cold steppes of Siberia. I had no idea what that was up with that, and I didn't have time to dwell upon it because, an instant later, I stood alongside my Germanic ancestors when they encountered the Romans. I experienced first hand the grandeur and might of the empire as seen from the pointy ends of the Roman swords. Yet an instant later, I found myself whooping in triumph as I and my Anglo-American forebears, under the command of P.G.T. Beauregard, routed the Yankees at the First Battle of Manassas.

More than just history poured through the portal. So too did knowledge. I understood why the speed of light in a vacuum is the limiting speed of matter in the universe and that, in spite of science fiction to the contrary, the law can never be broken. I learned the simple truth behind the enigmatic value of Plank's constant. I discovered that the Fermi paradox is not really a paradox after all. Hell, if I had thought about it at the time, I probably could have proven (or disproven) Fermat's Last Theorem.

And more than just history and knowledge welled up out of the rift in the universe. So too did wisdom. For the first and only time in my life, I understood, truly understood, the meaning of mankind's having eaten of the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. The ramifications of that action were absolutely terrifying.

Without warning, the music stopped. The portal slammed shut, severing my links to the mysteries that have haunted philosophers since the dawn of civilization. The band reappeared, just a bunch of college kids laughing and having fun at a Mardi Gras parade. The circle died and fell apart, its animating spirit having dissolved back to wherever it is that myths and legends live during the light of day.

I stumbled away in a kind of spiritual hangover. A thousand thoughts evaporated from my mind like dreams that cannot quite be remembered five minutes after awakening. And it wasn't just I who had been through the emotional trauma. I saw it on the faces of other dancers. I saw them glancing sideways at one another, avoiding direct eye contact. None of them had the nerve to admit openly what had just happened. I imagined that their visions must have been unnerving, unholy, unforgivable.

Look, I'm going to be brutally honest. I do not believe in the supernatural. I believe that the only thoughts a human can have are dictated solely by electrical impulses crossing the synapses of the brain, activating or deactivating individual cells depending upon the polarity of the flow. Even so, the foray into the unknown was enlightening. I now understand from personal experience how people can have shamanistic trances, religious ecstasies and out of body experiences.

It is well established that periodically recurring stimuli, such as flashing lights, can induce epileptic seizures. I theorize that something similar must have happened that night, driven by the periodic notes of the music and the synchronicity of the dance.

Personally, I hope never again to activate those frightening circuits in my mind, but I can understand how some people might seek to plumb the unfathomable depths of the human mind. I presume that is what possesses some folks to take psychoactive drugs. While I do not feel that I have sufficient wisdom to judge such actions morally, I can say one thing with absolute certainty. One should never drive or operate heavy machinery while tripping.

NOTE 1 -- I have read anthropologists' explanations of what the mammoth hunters were doing around the camp fires in central Asia during the neolithic era. They, the anthropologists, claim the hunters were practicing sympathetic magic to ensure the success of the hunt. They were making drawings or carvings to accept the souls of the deceased animals while their bodies provided the humans with sustenance. That, I assure you, is pure B.S. I happen to know exactly what those guys were actually doing. They were telling jokes, dirty jokes about women with big bosoms and fat bottoms. How do I know this? I know it because they were men, and it's what men do. While I cannot speak for the female of the species, I can assure you that the male animal has not evolved one iota in the past 30,000 years.

NOTE 2 -- I suppose it is proper that he ate of the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, however, I really wish that Adam had instead eaten of the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of What Women Really Want.

Copyright © 2012 - 2015 W.C. Bell; All rights reserved.

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