7 min read

the jar

Was the jar’s contents the work of a demon--the same demon of the night who infected our sleep with terror filled visions?
the jar

My career as an interdimensional detective started that night. After hearing about Odious’ strange solstice transmissions involving PKD, Dies Irae, god-like AI, and a jar filled with mysterious existential goo, I went home and for the first time in weeks--maybe months—didn’t spend the night sipping small batch bourbon while scrolling through the feeds of people I no longer saw IRL, zooming in on their animals and babies to determine the ratio of light to existential shadow that seeped through the carefully curated scenes. Instead I cracked open my dusty laptop and created a new folder and file. Feeling useful was a welcome change. I was buzzy with inspiration—I was on a path, following signs that led to information only I was able to unearth.

I’m going to help my friend, I’m going to find out who or what it is that’s fucking with them, even if it turns out to be their own mind.

It’s true that on the surface they seemed good—calm and clear as always--but the pandemic and the insidious trauma clusterfuck of the year at large was no joke. I wanted to make sure they were really ok. It was my job to take care of them the way they’d taken care of me by letting me come over when I acted like a big baby because I didn’t want to be alone. We were going through this together--sharing A Space Inside. I’m older and know how to chill and let time slink by unnoticed but I’d read numerous articles about how people their age were falling apart, irradiated by the doom emanating from their screens. I imagined coming to the rescue by figuring out this whole thing so they could rest in an analogue cocoon of fleecy warmth that the internet signals couldn’t penetrate. A place where we could just hang in the same room and talk surrounded by snacks and books and colorful Bluetooth speakers.

I went over everything they told me, looking for clues left out in the open, the way the most important clues tend to be. I was interested in anything that didn’t fit or had been glossed over or emphasized too strongly…spots where layers of their psyche overlapped conspicuously or else were laid bare.

One a priori fact I had to keep at the forefront of my investigations was that my teal-headed, alabaster skinned friend didn’t, or perhaps couldn’t, distinguish between everyday waking life, dreams, and the intensely strange mystical events they either imagined or hallucinated. For them, it was all one big dream--an experience they happened to be having, in which the so-called real world was just a projection of their mind. An ordinary, socially-distanced trip to the supermarket might be filled with signs and omens that they would spend the rest of the day writing down and deciphering. Once, they told me about an old apartment they lived in where everyone kept getting sick that turned out to be infected with toxic black mold. Odious knew before any of their roommates because the “mischievous spirits” of the mold woke them up one night, playing tricks like turning the bathroom light on and off and making their phone and other tech glitch out.

“What did they look like—these mold spirits?”

“Oh, kind of how you’d expect. Because, you know, we see things according to the clichés and programming we’ve received. They were little and green, they had devilish faces and sharp fingernails. They kept showing up over the course of several nights, so I knew something was up, that there was an infestation of negative energy and sure enough—when we finally pulled up the living room carpet there was a noxious black cloud of spores flying everywhere. I’ll never live in a spot with wall-to-wall carpeting again, yo.”

The laptop’s hum turned into a whine that brought me back to the task at hand. As usual I was hung up about how to start. I had to make it real by doing something, so I downloaded and read, “The Jar”, the Ray Bradbury short story that was adapted in the Alfred Hitchcock Presents episode with the Dies Irae motif in its score. In the story, the townspeople come over every evening to loser Charlie’s place to contemplate the contents of a jar he bought (read: got ripped off) from a carny-boss. Even though it’s technically just a cheap sideshow prop, there’s something eerie and unusual about it. The enigmatic darkness stirs up different repressed aspects in each person—a mother remembers a lost child and an elder considers their own approaching death, while for others it’s the specter of past violence, the trauma of which continues to haunt them.

The Jar is the objectification of a nightmare—bringing with it all the questions we have about what causes those dark episodes when we go to sleep. Was the jar--and nightmares in general—merely a product of the human mind? A creation made of everyday objects and situations arranged in a design that managed to dredge up primal fears? Or was it supernatural in origin? Did it contain actual monstrosities or the ghostly spirits of deceased beings, infused with evil energy and intentions? Was the jar’s contents the work of a demon--the same demon of the night who infected our sleep with terror filled visions?

The entire story is weird and not like other things I’ve read by Bradbury. There was a bit that I found particularly unnerving: one of the townspeople, upon staring at the jar and coming under its spell, is compelled to share the story of how as a child he was forced by his mother to drown a bucket of kittens. He describes how after submerging the first kitten and watching it struggle, it floated up in the bucket, its eyes open, staring back at him— “not condemning me for what I done. But not likin me, either. Ahhhh….”

(incidentally, there’s a terrifying echo of this passage later in the story when Charlie, who is seething with violent intent, calls his vindictive, hateful wife to him by saying, “Here, Kitty, Kitty…”)

As I contemplated this apt and effed description of the persistence of undead trauma, I suddenly remembered something—Odious said they had Dies Irae solstice syncs going back three years—which would take us to 2017--but they had only told me about them back to 2018, when they “randomly” posted the PKD “Tagore” letter, in which PKD described a vision he had of the identity and location of the savior of the world.

What was the sync on the winter solstice of 2017? Or had it just been a mess up with the math? Maybe they meant three solstices and not three years. There’s a difference, which means it’s possible, but they always spoke so carefully, quiet and maddeningly slow, judging the shape and weight of each word before letting it out.

(the wrong words, or the lack of the right ones, can change everything in an instant, was something they told me once)

I thought back, churning through a darkness in my mind that was not unlike that which was within the jar…

And then it occurred to me:

It was at the end of the year in 2017 that they finally left The Gathering, the new age company/cult run by the Prophet Motive. Something had gone down—had gone very wrong--with a woman named Mica who Odious used to work with closely—a day one peep--who abruptly quit the company. Shortly after, Odious cut off ties with everyone left on the team including the Prophet Motive.

I’d been warning them about it for years, as they worked increasingly long hours for peanuts giving their precious energy to a movement they thought was going to change the world. The slick and media savvy Prophet Motive told them the goal was to put out content that woke people up and helped catalyze the next evolution of humankind in which we lived in alignment with the planet and one another. There was a lot of talk about wanting to expand consciousness and build community, but from what I could tell the main Gathering thing was hosting drug-soaked raves at SoHo penthouses owned by investment bankers.

But I remembered now: when they told me about the PKD solstice dream, they said it had healed them, it had taken away their long-standing anger and sadness regarding the Prophet Motive and what happened to Mica.

Even at the time I knew it must have been some terrible, dark shit that got them to finally leave…I’d heard the rumors about the Prophet Motive and the young interns he partied with, but Odious never confirmed any of this. I’d been around back then in 2017, we’d even been close, confidant-style for a bit, but at that point late in the year I kept them at arm’s length. They showed up at parties beaming out their dead eye stare, dressed in the exclusive, handmade internet fashions they modeled, flanked by two tall drugged out white boys, movie extras, not for a film that already existed but perhaps was my job to create.

Drugs, drugs, drugs. And work, work, work. How different and how much better life would be if I could erase these two things forever!

We looked at one another across the messy apartment filled with fucked up, silly and sweet people while New Order played…they knew and I knew that I was one of the only people brave and also fucked up enough to tell them straight: you must change your life. Get out of this snake oil selling shit show. And now that they had finally done it and divorced The Gathering and The Prophet Motive, as well as a significant number of friends and their V.I.P. access to numerous parties and club nights, I had the nerve to stay away.

But now, years later, everything was different. The world was sealed up tight and literally dying all around us and I was on the trail and I had to know, I went over there the next morning and as soon as I took my shoes off I got right to it, half-shouting as they ground up my favorite chocolate coffee beans.

“You told me it was three years of syncs on the winter solstice, but you didn’t tell me about the one in 2017, which was right when you left The Gathering and The Prophet Motive. Tell me, was it related to Mica? I know something happened back then that made you leave. I know she had something to do with it.”

“Yes, that’s the 2017, sync. The one that confirmed it all for me without a doubt. I didn’t want to tell you, because I don’t want you to hate me.”

“How could I ever hate you?”

“I hated myself, after it happened… because it was everything you said, but so much worse.”

“Tell me now,” I said, imagining the fleece lined safe space. It was floating above us, just out of reach.

“Let’s turn off our phones and sit together and you can tell me.”


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Image: Still from The Shining: Forwards and Backwards