The Cult of the Cosmic Egg
'Of course, they're all using it as an excuse to have a quiet drink together. And if they aren't, they're all quite batty. “Cult of the Cosmic Egg” indeed! At least you've got to give them full marks for originality. My mum is just glad that granddad has found something to keep him occupied, even if it is an excuse to roll home inebriated at 11 o'clock. Pity I haven't got any pictures to post. I'd love to see this wonderful Cosmic Egg. Perhaps Trini will do a painting of it next time the nursery gets out the paints.'
Joanne closed her Facebook page. It was time to go and meet her boyfriend in the local Pizza Hut.
Her granddad and his mates were in a more private venue, the room above the saloon bar of the Happy Hen. The pub used to be called The Royal, but the new landlord was a republican and kept chickens: one of the rare occasions when it wasn't possible to blame a major brewery for allocating it one of those silly names they were so enamoured of at one time. This was a free house and Ron brewed his own ale, much appreciated by the locals even if he was anti-royalist.
The members of the Cult of the Cosmic Egg were so far; Herbert, a banker on the cusp of retirement; Julian, a chemistry teacher who should have known better than to declare a belief in such things; Algernon, the rotund baker forever coming up with more options for greasy, sweet pastries; John, who could never get a word in edgeways because of his stammer and unable to walk without crutches; and Jerry, Joanne's grandfather.
Their meetings started out with a discussion about the plausibility of the Cosmic Egg to impress the staff and customers downstairs who could hear most of what was going on through the low ceiling. Not that any of them were fooled for one moment. The meetings soon dwindled into exchanges of dirty jokes and arguments about more earthly matters like politics, allotment management and the colour of the barmaid's underwear. While they put the world to rights, Ron kept them well supplied with the house brew. When the tenuous link with weighty matters had dissolved in the alcoholic haze they eventually wended their ways home under the impression they had spent a productive evening, even if none of them could remember all of it.
One evening, the Cult of the Cosmic Egg had hardly touched their first jar when there was a rap at the door. It was too soon for their second ale so Julian, half expecting that a student had tracked him down, jumped up to open it, well armed with an excuse about exploring cosmic chemistry. Far from it being a pupil wanting to know why this respected teacher had aligned himself to such a ludicrous premise as the Universe hatching cosmic anomalies, it was a total stranger wearing a long orange robe and carrying a staff. He had coal black eyes which glinted sinisterly in the light of the faux Tiffany wall lights. Despite his usual loquacity, Julian was lost for words.
'Can I help you, mate?' Jerry called from his chairman's seat at the head of the table.
Two deathly white hands appeared from the cuffs of the stranger's robe. He raised them, palms up as though able to catch the question. 'I understand from the proprietor that you are the Cult of the Cosmic Egg?'
Julian remained speechless. Nobody had ever been taken in by the topers' pretence to have a few ales in private, let alone believe that there was such a thing as the Cosmic Egg.
'That's right,' Herbert replied authoritatively, totally unabashed by its absurdity.
'How did you find out?' Julian at last asked, trying not to sound too surprised.
'There were some interesting entries on Facebook.'
Jerry groaned. 'I'll throttle that little madam,' he muttered under his breath.
'Don't you mind us, mate,' the jolly Algernon called out. 'You come in and join us if you like.'
As nobody else objected, Julian stood aside to let the stranger enter. 'Pull up a chair.'
Then something occurred to Algernon. 'I bet you're a teetotaller, aren't you?'
The stranger nodded.
'W… w… w… well I hope you won't m… m… mind us drinking?' said John. 'It cures m… m… my stammer.'
'Of course not. I would never dream of expecting others to share my self-disciplines.' The stranger sat in the chair Julian indicated, facing the head of the table.
None of them had encountered a committed believer in anything much before - at least not one that was genuine, and there was something so intriguing about the stranger they had to take him seriously. Julian assumed, by the orange robe, that he was a Buddhist, which in his eyes was more worthwhile than many other beliefs. The others knew little about what that entailed, so weren't going to embarrass the man by enquiring.
But Herbert asked the visitor, as though he was applying for a bank loan, who he was and to explain why he found their little club so interesting.
The stranger's name was Ranulph. Meditation had opened up the capacity for him to appreciate all other beliefs, however unlikely. The Cult of the Cosmic Egg particularly intrigued him for some reason he declined to explain because he doubted that its members believed it.
The apprehensive silence they maintained on the subject confirmed his suspicion. So Ranulph invited the drinking companions to look a little deeper than the bottom of their ale glasses and explore the wonder of the Cosmos through meditation.
Julian was all too willing, if only to satisfy his scientific curiosity, though the others had reservations about meddling with the mellow state of mind they really aspired to.
After the number of businesses Herbert had condemned to liquidation by refusing them loans he was reluctant to delve into his subconscious that deeply - there slept Marley's ghost! Algernon just couldn't see the point. He was happy enough in his calorific world and fully expected to find out what it was all about eventually anyway when the inevitable heart attack sent him to the great bakery in the sky. John would have liked to try it, but it would have been impossible for him to sit cross-legged, and the Happy Hen's house brew cured his stammer.
Jerry - well Jerry - it only took him a couple of seconds to mull anything over before jumping in with both feet. 'Can we have a few more jars before we do this?'
'Meditation works best when the mind is clear, but I appreciate someone attempting this for the first time might need a little "lubrication" to help them relax,' Ranulph conceded.
'And this really isn't the place. With all that din going on downstairs it would be difficult to focus,' said Julian. 'Perhaps we should go to the garden by the canal. It's very quiet at this time of evening and there's enough lighting to prevent anyone from falling in.'
Herbert and Algernon made it clear that they were only prepared to be interested onlookers, and reluctantly agreed to join the others.
So they had two more ales and, slightly inebriated, the Cult of the Cosmic Egg wended its way down the stairs and out through the back door of the Happy Hen.
As they reached the wild flowers planted by a local school on the bank of the canal, John found his enthusiasm increasing and he settled down on a child-sized bench. The others sat on the grass around him and endeavoured not to look too ridiculous, adamantly refusing to adopt the lotus position and look mystical.
Ranulph sat facing them, elegantly positioning himself like a guru. He explained how they should close their eyes and push away all the intrusive thoughts that clogged up the mind and made existence so complicated.
Ranulph's quiet commitment impressed Algernon and Herbert enough for them to condescendingly try it. Their meditation lasted for a few brief moments before thoughts came back to continue transforming their grey matter to blancmange, helped by the ale and fact it was fast approaching their bedtimes. Algernon toppled over backwards and fell fast asleep, closely followed by Herbert. Unable to ignore the bank manager's undignified snoring, John also felt himself dosing and, with a stammered apology, fell sideways onto the bench and into the arms of Morpheus.
That left just Julian and Jerry facing Ranulph. The mystic did not seem disconcerted that his erstwhile pupils had fallen so quickly at the first hurdle. He raised his hands to the overcast sky murmuring some inaudible incantation.
A ghostly circle began to form on the bank of the canal just below them. It resembled the shape of an egg, growing larger and larger until it opened a glowing tunnel into light filled infinity.
Jerry and Julian knew that they had to be dreaming and it was time to wake up, but the drinking partners were mesmerised as they gazed down the throat of this otherworldly dimension.
'I really think this ought to stop now,' Julian tried to say, but the words would not come.
Ranulph continued his incantation until the egg-shaped portal was large enough for a man to step through.
Then the mystic rose, his orange robe floating about him in the cosmic light like an unfurling lotus. 'This is the gateway to all things. Creation was born through these doorways from other universes. We all come from the atoms shared between dimensions.'
At last Julian managed to speak and sound reasonably sensible. 'You're really talking about quantum mechanics, aren't you?'
'This is your perception. There are many layers to reality. The human mind can only comprehend one.' Ranulph beckoned Julian and Jerry to follow him into the anomaly.
Julian wasn't that drunk and firmly refused.
But Jerry was game for anything. That had always been his problem. It was a wonder he had survived into his seventies.
He got up and followed Ranulph into infinity.
When Julian woke he only had a vague recollection of the egg-shaped portal. Neither he, John, Algernon, nor Herbert were willing to admit that they had woken in the early hours by the canal, soaked to the skin by overnight rain, and mentioned what had happened to no one.
Joanne and her mother soon realised that Jerry was not coming home and started to make enquiries. The other members of the Cult of the Cosmic Egg believed that their shared experience had been a hallucination and still refused to admit it could have been anything else, though it would have made some sort of horrible sense. They could only conjecture that Ranulph had spiked their ale and persuaded Jerry to walk into the canal in the belief he was entering another plane of existence. Of course, Julian did not suggest to his daughter and granddaughter that he had drowned, though mentioned to the police that they had often strolled along the canal after a few drinks and he might have been swept over the weir into the next county.
None of them expected to see Ranulph again, especially as they were on the verge of convincing themselves that he had been a figment of their imaginations.
But one lunchtime Justin and Herbert walked into the saloon bar of the Happy Hen for a quick bite to eat - and there he was - serving ale!
But was it Ranulph? Ron introduced him as his new partner in the brewing business. The man they had encountered was teetotal and had irises as black as coal. This Ranulph's eyes were pale grey. He wore a tartan shirt and jeans, not orange robe, and there was no staff in sight, apart from the one Ron kept behind the counter to deal with troublemakers. And, to confound the possibility that this was the culprit who had led Jerry into oblivion, he had a wide, friendly smile which convinced them he was totally oblivious to the doppelgänger who had briefly appeared to show them how to meditate. The nearest this companionable Ranulph would ever get to contemplation was being mesmerised by the foam fermenting on the house brew.
Weeks went by and Joanne began to accept that she may never see her grandfather again. He had always been a free spirit and often disappeared without warning, but now he was too old to endure the rigours of an outdoor life for any length of time.
The Cult of the Cosmic Egg carried on meeting, and drinking, though would only open the door to Ron. One glance at Ranulph after a few jars might well have sent their inebriated brains spinning away on another trip to Wonderland.
Then one evening there was a rap at the old panelled door. It wasn't the knock Ron used, so they ignored it. It also sounded as though it had been made with the head of a staff.
Then there was a voice they instantly recognised.
Julian leapt up to let Jerry in.
But it was not the Jerry they knew.
His ageing eyes were now coal black, and he wore a long orange robe.
'Of course we're glad to see him back. I don't know what bender he's been on all this time, but he's turned quite peculiar. He swears that this Cult of the Cosmic Egg, which they used as an excuse to drink together, is the real thing. Creation somehow tunnelled from another universe and made the Big Bang, and us, or whatever. It's all above my head. Can't think how he worked it all out. He seems pretty convinced, so we humour him. It's as much as mum can do to stop him taking his staff and orange robe to spread the word to the other pubs in the neighbourhood. And I'm not so sure he still won't take off one night without warning. So, if you do meet my granddad and he starts spouting about the Cosmic Egg, whatever you do - don't let him show you how to meditate!'