Delusions of Grandeur by John Beechem

At the last possible moment of endurance, Paul blew a cloud of smoke from his mouth.  A wracking cough erupted from his throat as the bathroom filled with a sweet-smelling haze.  He put his pipe on the rim of the sink, and grabbed his toothbrush and toothpaste, rapidly brushing away the taste and smell of the smoke while he fulfilled the demands of his meticulous morning hygiene routine. 

Not that he had had much of a morning lately; at least, not the waking up part.  He had become consumed by a symphonic blur of mental and spiritual energy, wrapped up in a kind of charged trance--a blend of rapid thought, obsessive focus, and revolutionary philosophizing.  Paul knew about this tendency in those who were bi-polar, or "suffered from manic-depression" in the classic parlance.  A kind of madness stirred one into a frenzy, and they would sometimes exorcize this excruciating ecstasy in a creative spree, forging works of genius, or at least profound quantities in a short time.  Conversely, these same souls were sometimes crippled by darkness, wracked with a depressive despair.  Usually, these black periods would pass on their own.  Other times, their sufferers would end them prematurely, choosing to walk into the sea, wave a gun at a squad of police, fall off a bridge, or simply plunge a needle and thus numb the pain forever. 

Lately, Paul had discovered how to harness his power in an attempt to ride the manic energy into the realm of cosmic discovery.  But looking at himself in the mirror, his eyes watering with the hit he took—a quick remedy for boredom and excess energy, at least most of the time—he looked more like a burnout than a prophet.  This week, nothing had been able to subdue the inferno inside his mind, including anti-histamines (labeled as sleep-aids), herbal tea, exercise, nor restless hours in bed.  Not that he really needed much sleep anyway.  Even two or three hours in this state kept him feeling heroic, like a highly evolved human being who had shed much of his need for rest.  Or a prophet filled with a divine wind, having flashes of realization, epiphany, or delusion if one felt a touch cynical. 

After he spit into the sink and rinsed his mouth, Paul put his pipe away in his desk drawer and grabbed his backpack, swinging it around his shoulders.  His fingers squeezed the buckle of his bike helmet, freeing it from the hoop of his right arm strap.  He pulled the gleaming red and white bowl of plastic and foam over his head, and buckled it with a sharp click.  His hands slapped his pockets a couple of times; once assured he had everything he needed for work (wallet, phone, keys, mp3 player), Paul opened his door, locked it behind him, and bounded down the steps into his apartment building's basement.  Creeping down the stairs, a few dim rays of sun shining through the basement's windows led him to his bike locked around a narrow metal support column. 

Paul unlocked it and rolled it alongside him, opened the basement door, and clumsily banged the bike through the door-frame before carrying it up half a dozen concrete steps.  He set it down on a patch of grass in front of him, leaning it against a worn, wooden picnic table as he threaded the cords of his ear-buds through the straps of his helmet.  Then his right hand gripped the center of the handlebar, and he led it down the slight incline of the apartment building's street-side yard. His body tensed with anticipation, eager to bolt into action, pedaling rapidly down the wide avenue near his home.  It led to Morning Harvest Market, a local health food store where he worked. He only had about fifteen minutes before his morning shift started.

The rhythm of vehicles hummed past and eventually slowed enough to let Paul occupy a space in the lane closest to the sidewalk.  A thudding revolutionary hip-hop M.C. blasted from his music player, providing the soundtrack for his ride.  His slow acceleration relative to the cars and trucks zooming past built up to a feeling of liberation as the street began to decline.  In his mania, the feeling of his muscles straining against the bike's pedals created a pulse of endorphins that fanned his flames even higher. Paul turned left at one of the intersections, placing him on Bardstown Road, a mixed assortment of hip shops, local restaurants, fast food chains and motorized traffic.  He weaved his bicycle in and out of a parking lane, letting vehicles pass him, pointing an index finger in the direction of the lane he was about to enter, gripping the handlebar with his opposite hand. 

As he made his way south, block by block, thoughts of self-divinity began to brew.  He sensed an impending and irrevocable change: the spirit of revolution had touched him personally. He felt an emerging obsession with the idea that a raised middle and index finger, thumb touching the ring finger with the pinkie curled in, colloquially known as the peace sign was in fact a sign shared among those agents of positivity and natural preservation whose mission was to protect planet Earth.  Obviously, such thoughts were an expression of madness, but a part of Paul's mind reflected on the realization that the central figures of most of the world's religions were accused of insanity (or would be in Paul's time). 

The signals flashing through his neural receptors emerged as thoughts in his mind so rapidly, and were accepted as self-evident truth, that his experience began to mirror that of a psychedelic trip.  The feeling coalesced that he and his co-workers at Harvest Morning, an assortment of young hipsters and older hippies, would soon be awakening an awareness that much of this world was an illusion about to be shattered.  The idea came that all of them would soon emerge from a dream, and remember that they were superhuman, able to transform the world with their thoughts and actions.  Paul felt as if he could step into this reality like a cicada emerging from its shell—fully formed and ready to confront anything.

He weaved his bike through the rear parking lot of an assortment of retailers that populated the shopping center, and leaned his bike against a wall.  Paul pressed some buttons on the combination lock of the employee's entrance, and pulled his bike into the rear section of the store.  It was a space with a concrete floor, racks of grocery overstock, a desk, and the entrance to a walk-in cooler and a walk-in freezer.  The air-conditioned coolness of the store wrapped itself around him, and he led his bike to a space between two racks to lean it against one.  He stopped his music and coiled the cords of his ear-buds around his device, placing it in his pocket.  Paul shrugged his backpack off his shoulders and placed it on the bottom shelf of a rack for employees' possessions.  The shape of the backpack imprinted itself on his shirt in a pattern of sweat that would turn cool and evaporate in the climate-controlled interior of the store. 

Paul walked through the double swinging metal doors that led from the rear of the store into the retail area.  A short hallway linked these two sections together. Inside his manager’s office, he found one of his younger co-workers, Jesse, counting out money for that morning's till.  Jesse looked up and smiled as Paul stood in the doorway.

“Hey, Paul, how's it going?” Jesse asked as he continued counting out the money.

Paul smiled slightly as he regarded Jesse in his seat.  He closed the door of the office behind him and approached the desk. 

“I'm good, man.  Real good.  Hey, it's about to start,” Paul announced to him. 

“What is?” Jesse asked. 

“A revolution, I guess.” Paul’s thoughts began to telescope to perfect clarity.  A number of movies came to his mind—ones of heroes suddenly answering a call to arms.  He saw that he and his other co-workers at the store were these kind of heroes and would lead humankind past this critical juncture into a new age of joy and prosperity.  At once, he recognized that he was the newest incarnation of Jesus Christ:  a new messiah who would be cut down and usher in a new age of awareness and clarity.  Those around him would be his disciples; his own wife, Mary Magdalene. 

At the periphery of his consciousness, Paul realized that this was exactly what a crazy person would think.  He knew that delusions of grandeur were a common symptom of mental illness, but at the same time, a new thought crept into his mind and acted as a counter-point.  Jesus himself had delusions of grandeur.  He declared himself the son of God.  What greater delusion could there be?  Yet he changed the world, irrevocably.  Perhaps those who made the most impact were those who didn't listen to the voice inside their head that told them they were insane. 

Paul envisioned he and his companions as part of a cycle of radical change.  They were born into this world, over and over again, to inject a new age of revolution every time they came into existence.  Inevitably, his incarnation was cut down, but others lived on to continue his work.  Paul realized that he was a kind of avatar.  His soul was continually reborn, but until now, there was no way that he could remember that that this was occurring.  What was different about this cycle, he realized, was that he and his disciples would be able to record these realizations in crystal clarity, and no one would be able to tarnish or distort them as they had the words and deeds of his predecessors.

He leaned over the desk that Jesse was counting bills upon and began to speak in a conspiratorial tone.  “Now listen.  They're going to think I'm crazy. They'll come in here to take me away, and we're just going to...roll with it.”

Jesse looked back at Paul slightly bemused.  “Who is?” he asked grinning, arching his eyes to express his curiosity. 

Paul ignored him as if this question didn't matter.  Instead, he began describing in elaborate detail the vision and ideas he was having, slowly witnessing them develop in his mind as he articulated them aloud.  Eventually, he became frustrated, because his words could not keep up with the pace of his thoughts, and his explanations became obscured in a fog of confusion for the both of them.  Despite his best intentions, Paul's words fell flat.  He and Jesse were not on the same trip, in a manner of speaking.   To punctuate this feeling of disconnect, Paul grabbed a pencil from the desk and flung it against the opposite wall. 

Next, he opened the office's heavy wooden door and walked out into the Harvest Morning’s retail area.  He began to approach each of the few customers in the store announce to them, one by one, “It's starting!”  The bewildered customers noted him with incredulity, then continued shopping.  Eventually, Paul circled back to the rear of the store and told Carolyn, an older, warm-hearted co-worker the same thing.  Beaming with a smile, she asked in a confirming tone, “It is?”  When Paul nodded and returned to the office to sit down at the desk Jesse was no longer occupying, Carolyn calmly dialed 911 from the phone behind the customer service desk.

In the time between the phone call and the arrival of the police, Paul continued raving like a lunatic, albeit from behind the office's desk.  He was still hot and sweaty from his bike ride, and wanted desperately to rinse off in the store's employee shower, but things had already been set into motion.  Within a few minutes, a couple police officers came inside the office.  They observed him, sitting in a comfortable rolling chair, leaning back with his glasses off.  Paul's vision was blurry, but he hoped his sight could be made perfect in the series of events about to happen 

The cops looked like dark blue blurs, except for the man closest to him.  He was tall, bald, black and compassionate.  Perhaps he had dealt with people like Paul before, but this thought did not cross the young man's mind.  Instead, he was still pre-occupied with the prospect of getting into that shower (it would  feel so good), but the police were not having it.  Instead, they calmly blocked his way and convinced him to sit back in the rolling chair. 

Paul's spirits had not diminished.  The cocktail of neuro-chemicals rushing through his brain were creating a kind of euphoria he had never experienced before.  Eventually, the paramedics arrived.  When questioned about his condition, the simplest explanation Paul could come up with was to tell them “I took some ‘shrooms.”  Why Paul said this, he didn't know, but it seemed easier than explaining that he was either having some kind of mental breakdown, or was indeed some kind of shaman experiencing a prophetic vision (Paul suspected it was a combination of both possibilities). 

By the time the ambulance doors slammed shut, Paul felt relief.  Whether for good or ill, things had changed.  The psychedelic climax of the episode was over, and the longest sleep in more than a week was about to follow.  Paul could rest.