Howdy there, Neighbor! Welcome to the Teahouse at the Center of the Universe. It so happens that this here is Tall Tales Night, and the topic this evening is “the most beautiful thing that I’ve ever seen on drugs”. The Teafaerie was just fixin’ to bust out with a whopper as you came in, but maybe she’ll pause and roll herself something to gesticulate with while you get yourself all situated by the campfire.
Now this story takes place in Black Rock City, but that’s not the only reason that I don’t expect you to believe a single word of it. It happened just as the sun was rising on a Friday morning. An old friend and I were sitting inside of the Hypercube–which is to say that we were already awash in a sea of transcendent beauty–and somehow in the process of trying to roll up a post-coital doobie we discovered that there was a little bit of DMT that had been hiding out for a good long while in a forgotten secret pocket of our trusty adventure bag.
It’s pretty much impossible to imagine this scene if you’ve never actually been inside of the Hypercube, but I’ll try describe it to you the best that I can. The Hypercube is a six-foot-square wooden box, the interior of which is entirely surfaced with mirrors. It hangs on bungee cords from a 30-foot aluminum tripod with one of its corners pointing toward the sky, and the opposite corner dangling a few feet off of the playa. The front-facing panel is a door that opens with a pulley system. When it’s functioning as a publicly accessible ride, there’s a friendly docent who opens the door and steadies the ladder to help occasionally wobbly Burners climb in and out. He or she also endeavors to keep the patter snappy whilst distributing cool flashy-blinky toys and operating all of the ride’s various lighting effects.
But on the morning that this particular story takes place, my friend and I had just finished our last docent shift for the Hypercube and we were cruising for cuddle time. With some help from our last very satisfied passengers, we clambered inside together and filled in the bottom of the Cube with some blankets and pillows to fashion a cozy little nest for ourselves. You know how when you stand between two mirrors that are facing one another it appears as if you’re looking into a tunnel, and you can wave your arm around and you’ll see dozens of echoed copies of your arm waving? But you have to stand to the side and look at it from a funny angle, so it always kind of curves off in the distance, right? Because if you stand directly between the reflective surfaces you get in your own damn way and you can’t see the tunneling effect at all.
However, if you’re sitting in the bottom corner of a sealed box that is made entirely out of mirror, you really do get to see hundreds of iterations of yourself reflected and re-reflected in every possible position and direction. In fact, the experience is even better than I thought it would be when we were building it. It really does seem to be much bigger on the inside. And if you follow the docent’s advice and don a pair of diffraction grating glasses when the strobe light starts flashing, you’ll find yourself surrounded by innumerable brilliantly flashing rainbow sparklies that just seem to go on forever.
But the strobe light wasn’t on in this story. In fact, it was dark in the box. Relatively, that is. Although the door was closed and we didn’t have any lights on, the panels of the Cube are joined together somewhat imperfectly, which allowed the pre-dawn ambiance to sort of sift in through the cracks, as it were. So when our eyes finally adjusted we found that we were enwombed in a gently rocking matrix grid made out of very pale bands of warped sunlight that seemed to iterate off toward infinity in all directions.
I could stop right there and probably win the beauty contest, but I haven’t even gotten close to the truly ridiculous part yet. We could also see our much-multiplied selves, and I have to say that we were absolutely adorable little playa muffins when looked at from any and all angles. Or at least we both thought so at the time. For a measureless interval we just sat there enchanted. Then we played the Mirror Tag game for a while, where we tried to figure out which of our partner’s many images was making eye contact with us. When we’d find it, it was like a tiny electric shock. Both of us would smile and then suddenly look away. Then it’s the other person’s turn to search for your own true self amongst the dozens of deceptive doppelgängers. It can get really fast and tricksy, especially if the runner keeps switching panels. And especially especially especially if you’ve both still kind of got a head-full on from the night before, which was decidedly the situation in which we happily happened to find ourselves.
So then we fooled around for a little bit. (Which is easier said than done in a point-down swinging Hypercube with slick surfaces, by the way.) And after that we were digging around looking for some fixin’s, like I said, when we discovered that we were in possession of a long lost baggie of DMT, which was suddenly sitting right there inside of a camelback that I was sure that I had gone through like about a bazillion times without ever having noticed that it was in there.
We felt that its emergence in the moment was a sign. But we were both coming down from a multi-molecule bender, and neither one of us felt particularly prepared to go large. We decided to just do a “pop-up”, which is the Teafaerie’s term for a light dose that isn’t really intended to put the explorer all the way out. I actually think that pop-ups are under-rated. They’re not to be confused with the Real Thing, of course, but sometimes it’s nice to just get a little taste of it while maintaining a modicum of control and functional awareness of one’s immediate surroundings. It’s certainly a hell of a lot less challenging most of the time, and pop-ups don’t usually warp or extinguish the recording/witness module–at least in my own experience–so it’s often much easier for me to bring something useful back from the liminal zone than it is from the vortex.
We each took one big puff and watched in enraptured awe as the exhaled smoke swirled lazily through the infinitely repeated grid of sunbeams. Now you’ve got to remember that the Hypercube had been operating as a ride all night, and the surfaces of the mirror were pretty much totally playafied. They were also streaked with a mixture of sweat, sunscreen, and the effluvia of recent erotic exercise. But the moment that we started to feel the DMT hit, we both saw all of the mirrors clear up in exactly the way that a foggy windshield clears up when somebody turns on the defroster.
There was never any noticeable discontinuity. We could still see ourselves and each other and all of our gear and the pipe and so forth. But in a matter of a few seconds the mirrors became totally immaculate display screens upon which not a smudge was in evidence. We somehow both knew that the other person was experiencing the same illusion, but I don’t think that either one of us actually spoke that point, aside from some astonished gasping.
The next thing I noticed was that my friend’s skin was entirely covered with intricate self-animating patterns. I’d seen this kind of thing before, naturally, but something about the magical half-light really brought out the detail this time. Tiny clockwork gears would emerge for a moment, and then transform into subtle feathers, or miniature dragon scales, or bits of electronic circuitry, or…
“Holy shit!” I exclaimed out loud. “Your skin is the most beautiful thing that I’ve ever seen!” And at the moment, I think that it really was, too. My buddy then informed me that my own skin was doing it as well, and when I stared into the closest uncannily clean mirror I found that he was quite marvelously correct about that. So I leaned in and tripped out on my own transmogrified face for a little bit. I probably would have just kept staring at it, but after a while my friend started tapping me ever more persistently on the shoulder. At which point I turned back around for a second to see what it was that he was on about.
And that’s when the really beautiful stuff started happening.
The Teafaerie pauses until somebody places another joint in her outstretched hand, lights it, puffs it, and then continues as if nothing had happened.
My buddy was pointing at something in the space between us. “Can you see this?” he asked me. Much to my surprise, it turned out that I could see it! Almost transparent, it looked like a baby manta ray trailing tiny brightly colored lights behind it. There were three or four of them, actually. And whatever the truth of the matter may be, at the time we were both very much convinced that we were tracking and describing the self-same entities.
Then all of a sudden, the spheres were there! I’m not exactly sure how many of them there were, but upon close inspection they appeared to be some kind of spherical Celtic knots comprised of a luminescent liquid living light stuff that was flowing through an ever-mutating series of impossibly complex forms. They were excruciatingly lovely to behold, and their transformations seemed portentous with linguistic intent (although the “meaning” of their dance eluded our conscious minds, if indeed any such was there to be gleaned).
But here comes the real kicker. Both of us had been staring so intensely at the space between us that it took us a minute to realize that the objects that we had been looking at were also being reflected in all of the mirrors!
I slowly climbed up onto my friend’s lap and turned around so that we could lean back and take in the whole soul-stirring spectacle together. We were still floating in the middle of an endless latticework of light, but now it seemed to stretch out even farther, and it was ever so much more crisply detailed because the apparent optics were so superior on these immaculately polished display surfaces than they had been on the previously dusty acrylic mirrors.
We were still able to see our own reflections in the preternaturally pristine panels, and for what it’s worth they appeared to respond to our movements in precisely the way that we would have expected them to. It was even possible to play Mirror Tag, we discovered. But how could the mirrors be reflecting the spheroids and the magnificent ghostly manta rays, when they weren’t really there in the first place? I mean, I was pretty sure that they weren’t actually made out of visible light, anyway. So that meant that we must have been doing the calculations in our minds somehow, and we were just drawing all of the reflections in wherever we thought that they looked right. Briefly, I wondered how accurate a job my inner art director would be able to do on a constantly shifting multiple-body math problem like that.
Then suddenly I had a brilliant idea! (My friend later said that he knew exactly what I was going to do right before I did it, too.) Without giving myself any time to think about it, I punched my fist into one of the spherical light knots that was floating in front of our eyes. And my fist simultaneously punched through every single goddamn reflection of that sphere in the entire freaking mirrorverse!
That was all we could take, I guess, and the next thing we knew we were being blinded by full-frontal sunlight. It seems that some well-intentioned passers-by had misinterpreted our ecstatic exclamations as cries for help and the door of the Hypercube swung open without warning. By the time we convinced our would-be rescuers that we were just having some kind of a personal moment and we simply wanted to be closed back in please, the apparitions had all disappeared, and the magical mirror-screens had reverted to our familiar dusty old acrylic panels, spattered and streaked with the endlessly iterated evidence that way too much fun had recently occurred in there.
The Teafaerie takes a long final toke and casually tosses her roach into the fire pit.
Now, I’ve looked at a lot of purdy stuff on psychedelics, folks. But that was the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen with my eyes open. And if you can top it then your tea will be free for eternity… or at least for as long as the Teahouse stands.