NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR
Read this book carefully, and study the map. Someday, you, too, will be a resident of The Cloud and it’s good to know the layout and rules before you arrive.
Please keep in mind, however, that this is a work of fiction, not a travel book. You may find that certain things are not as I have portrayed them here.
While some of the historical events described in the book actually happened, most are pure fabrication. I’ve used real names for the real people (see Cast of Characters) but what they say, do, think, or dream is entirely fictitious. This also applies to the rest of the characters.
Sources and acknowledgements for quoted material are found in the Notes section.
All of the songs are in iTunes, except for one. Due to copyright restrictions I was unable to quote the lyrics. But you know the songs—so, please, sing along as you read.
Click links to read excerpts.
“Who designed this place? It’s insanely great!”
“This place? You mean The Cloud?”
“John, is that you?”
“It is, mate. I’m your tour guide. Here to take you on the Magical Mystery Tour.”
“Wait a minute, what’s the date?”
“October 5, 2011, just a little after three p.m. We’ve been looking for you, but didn’t expect you quite so soon.”
“If you’re really John, and it’s really 2011, you’re dead, have been a long time, and so that means… I’m dead. I’m dead?”
“So you are, brother. And it’s my pleasure to do your orientation, explain the rules, get you settled in. I asked for the assignment—thought you would like to have one of your heroes meet you on the first day. Makes the transition a bit easier, you know. I remember my first day here was a real shocker. Of course, I didn’t have any time to prepare at all, not like you. So, are you ready? Shall we set off Across the Universe?”
- 1: Arrival
Steve was ready. This was far and away the most perfect place he had ever seen, or even envisioned: simple, elegant, beautiful. And he was only at the entrance. John Lennon as his personal escort? Could anything top that? He felt so good right now.
About time, because the journey here had not been easy. First of all, there were just too many people taking the same route. From the moment he set foot on the stairway he was jostled and pushed along by strangers. Looking ahead all he could see was a mass of bodies climbing in front of him, and looking behind all he could see were swarms of people just arriving.
He did a quick calculation. Width of the stairs, height of the stairs, total number of stairs he could see. There must have been at least 150,000 people trudging up the steps with him. They were beautiful, though, these steps. Like the perfect steps in the Apple flagship store in New York City. Absolutely clear glass, just the right height to let the children skip. Those with long legs could easily take them two at a time. The stairway curved gently from side to side, creating the illusion that the distance wasn’t so far.
But it was far. He struggled for breath at times, had to stop and rest. As the people surged past him, he realized no one was talking. Like him, everyone was alone. Along the right hand side of the staircase was a set of tracks running straight upwards, carrying what looked like clear plastic egg–shaped containers. Edging over sideways as he continued to climb he caught a glimpse of the contents. A baby. Another baby. A container with twins. Countless babies, too young to walk. Looking over his shoulder he could see people placing the babies in the containers that slid silently by in an endless parade.
He became aware of footsteps behind him that matched his. When he paused, they paused. When he stopped to catch his breath, they did also. Apprehensive, he whirled to face them, and saw two drop-dead gorgeous women flanking him: his wife and his sister. They were fending off the pushy ones, creating a space around him so he could climb more easily, keeping an eye out for anyone intending him harm. They’re like my guardian angels, he thought, still unaware of what had happened, why he was here endlessly climbing, why he was surrounded by strangers, where they were all going. The women, one blond, the other brunette, smiled at him, gestured upward, gently encouraging him to keep going. He relaxed into their care and the journey seemed to get easier. Some time later when he turned again to see their smiling faces, they were gone.
How long was he on those stairs before finally reaching the entrance? He had tried to count the steps but gave up and just continued upwards. He intuitively knew, as apparently did all the others, that there was no going back, no way down, no descending staircase. Again he marveled at the mass of humanity surrounding him: this had to be bigger than all the marches on Washington, and so incredibly diverse. More dark than white, more old than young, some silently crying, some eagerly looking ahead, and, he thought, all incredibly dignified as they quietly, purposefully, intently, marched upwards. He was just one more body.
- 2: Welcome
John had been waiting for him as he reached the top, stepped onto the vast plain of white, and stood still, stunned at the view—the design of the place, the architecture, the seamless flow of open areas and different-shaped structures, many topped by domes. He realized there was no color in this place. Everything was white, black, or clear. Exactly like his Apple stores back home.
“Welcome to The Cloud,” John said with a warm smile, and took him by the arm. “Had a Hard Day’s Night?”
“Wow! Yes, I have,” Steve agreed, “but I’m so very happy to meet you! You’ve been my hero my whole life. You know I named my company after yours, don’t you?”
“Indeed I do,” said John, “and are they all still fighting over trademarks and patent infringements and licensing and logos down there? I’ve been too busy to keep up with the latest news.”
“Well, yes, we get sued about once a day. The good news is that just a couple years ago I finally got all your songs into my iTunes store and now anybody can buy one for only $.99.”
“Oh, we know all about that up here. Look around. See the wires everybody’s wearing? They’re permanently installed and perennially plugged in. And we don’t pay a penny.”
Steve noticed now that every single person on The Cloud was sporting a pair of white iPod ear buds. They’d been hard to spot since many wore all white clothing.
“Hey, I designed those! And anyway, what’s the deal with the color scheme up here? I don’t see any colors at all!”
“Right,” said John. “Rules are that you can choose to wear all white or all black or a combo, mix and match, but no colors. That’s only for the Big Guy, and he’s real firm about it. Me, I chose the white. It looks good on me, sort of enhances the jai guru deva om image, you know?”
“Well, I’ll stick with the black. That’s what I always wore down there and Nothing’s Gonna Change My World now.” Steve could do Beatle–talk too. “Who is this Big Guy? Does he make all the rules? He’s the one who okayed the ear buds? When can we have lunch? What’s his name? Is he anybody I know?”
John just laughed. “Good luck! I’ve been trying to find out his name for about thirty years. I’ve had my assistants working on it in their spare time. Everybody just calls him Big Guy. And I don’t think he does lunch. We ought to get started on your Magical Mystery Tour. I’ll call the girls.”
All of John’s assistants were female, some quite attractive. “Let me introduce you. Lucy, Eleanor, Prudence, Rita, Michelle—meet Steve, one of my fans. He’s just arrived and I’m doing his orientation.”
Steve stared at Lucy–she looked so much like his wife with her long blond hair and beautiful face. They all smiled at him, really nice smiles, and he decided not to object to being introduced as just one of John’s fans. After all, he was new here and would need some friends. They looked formidable clustered in a group in front of him, like they could be a handful, but they clearly worshiped John and appeared ready to do whatever he asked.
“Right,” said John. “All Together Now, let’s get going.”
“Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da!” they sang, and Steve was so entranced he joined in the chorus.
And so they set off, John talking nonstop, pointing out the sights, directing Steve’s attention to the places he would need to know about. The Circle, where general meetings were held, some required and some optional. Concerts took place here, too. In fact, he said, he was planning a big one, timed to take place when the rest of the boys arrived. They passed The Square, where many folks were taking their walkabout exercise. Then The Rectangle with its open air baths in the old Roman style. “Men only on Mondays, women only on Wednesdays, kids under thirteen Tuesdays and Thursdays plus families, LGBTQ on Fridays, Saturdays are open to anybody. Closed on Sundays for cleaning.”
Lucy, who wore a simply dazzling array of diamonds with her long black dress, was leading the way now. She pointed out The Ellipse, an area of billowing white tents and equally billowing plumes of white smoke. “This is where we eat,” she said. “It’s open 24/7 for whatever you want. You’ll figure out what each one offers soon enough. The cooks specialize in ethnic foods so you can have fun sampling.”
Eleanor, wearing mostly an air of unmistakable sadness, came up alongside him. “So many lonely people”, she said. “I wonder where they all belong?” She answered her own question with a faint smile: “They actually belong right here,” she said.
I know, Steve thought to himself, remembering his own prophetic words at that Stanford commencement—the only college graduation he’d ever been part of. “Death is the destination we all share.”
“Don’t be so morbid, Eleanor,” said John, taking up the lead again. “Can’t you be more like the Lovely Rita?” Rita was certainly lovely, sporting her black cap like a little soldier. She was a mix-and-match kind of girl, with black slinky trousers, a pert white top, clunky black and white oxfords on her feet. Her bag, strapped across her body, had an abstract pattern of black and white design, and in the side pocket you could see the little white book she once used to write her tickets.
At length they came to The Star with its five triangles stretching out into the distance from the large central area. “This is where we sleep,” said Prudence. “Here’s where I help take care of the babies, too. Look around, and choose the spot you like. This is where I greet the day when the sun is up and the sky is blue and I get to come out and play!” She laughed out loud at herself and skipped away, childlike and carefree in her white ruffly sundress.
“That’s why we call her Dear Prudence,” offered Michelle. “She’s always happy, not like Eleanor at all.” She gave him a slight smile, gazing at him with her dark eyes. Michelle was tres chic in her short black and white checkered jersey and her tight black leggings, with her hair cut short, gamine style.
“Well, that’s it for the basics,” John said. “You know, this tour reminds me that I’ve really come to enjoy my life up here. It’s not like life on The Earth at all. Here everybody’s taken care of and everything we need is free. Plus, lots of interesting people and plenty of time to express your creativity. See, I was right! All You Need is Love. We’ll take you over to The Cube now. That’s Reception, where you arrived. You’ll pick up your clothes, choose your sleeping space, get your work assignment, have your photo taken, you know, all the administrative details. You’re here for a long time and it’s important to get your paperwork done right away so you don’t get hassled. Most people go through Reception as soon as they arrive on The Cloud, but you being a fan of mine and all, I thought I’d give you the special tour first.”
Steve was starting to feel just a bit of irritation at being identified solely as John’s fan. He was someone special, and he knew it. In time he would set John straight about that, but for now, best to go along with the program, get registered, don’t make waves until he knew the pecking order here on The Cloud. And, he really needed to meet the Big Guy. He didn’t plan on being here for a long time, in spite of what John said, and at the moment, John and the lovely quintet were his only contacts.
He had left unfinished business back home, his biggest most ambitious project—the crown of his legacy—and he was determined to see it through.