highway telephone

it's me.

yeah -
the shit hit the fan.

magnus and cutter found us
at this motel on van buren.

i don't know -
i don't know.
they got the stone
and catherine.

i don't know!
all i know is they got her.
the cocksuckers.

you don't have to tell me.
listen -
i think i know
where they might be.
yeah -
out in l.a.
someplace up on mulholland.

no -
     no -
i'm calling from blythe.
yeah -
i just wanted you to know
what was happening.
if you want to get in touch
i'll be staying at the marquis.

yeah -
what the hell.
magnus is paying for it.

okay -
call me there.

yeah -
i'll need it."

desert center

3:00 am
a hot wind
blew across the high desert
1/2 way between blythe and indio.
i rolled down the window.
the compressor on my air conditioning
was shot.
i spun the dial
on the radio.
all i could get
were screaming mexican d.j.s

i came upon a convoy of semi trucks
cruising at about 90 m.p.h.
and fell into line
about a 1/4 of a mile
behind their backdoor man.
we ate up the miles
under a black sky
that stretched from
horizon to horizon
in white stars.


i got lost on the freeways
and ended up in santa monica
before i figured out what had happened.
i turned around on a cloverleaf
and headed back to hollywood.

as i pulled off the 405
and headed up sunset
i was completely invisible
in my canary yellow camaro
the cadillacs, lincolns, mercedes,
porsches, jaguars, bmws, corvettes,
ferraris, etc., etc., etc. . . .

mexican cleaning ladies
sat properly, neatly,
and quietly,
on the bus stop benches -
their lips pressed tightly together.

the immense houses
lining the boulevard
were also placed tightly together.
their lawns
were cut
and combed

sunset marquis

just past an all-nude, neon-lit bar
and just under an imposing billboard
advertising the greatest movie
in the history of the universe,
i turned right on alta loma
and drove down to the hotel.

it looked better than the last time
i had seen it.
of course, that had been years ago
and they had been in the process of remodeling-
plastic tarps hanging from the ceiling,
dust and paint everywhere,
puddles of water in the lobby.
at the time
it seemed appropriate,
considering that the marquis
was the favorite hotel
of famous rock and roll bands.
now, however,
it was just about as snooty
and snotty
as an english butler.
the lobby had been redone
in deep pile carpet,
neo-futuristic italian furniture,
uncomfortable chairs with no arms,
ugly, ungainly lamps
with shiny chrome protuberances.
it was all very chic -
very moderne.

i almost turned around and left
but it had been a long drive
so i took the room key,
told the clerk i'd find my own way,
and walked to my room
overlooking the pool.
the room was like the lobby -
hopelessly tasteful.
the bed was firm, however,
and there was a wet bar,
internet connection,
and cable tv
with all the movie channels.

i went over to the window
and looked out at the pool.
there was a stunning blonde
in a string bikini
shining, slippery with oil,
lying invitingly
on a deck chair
in the non-stop
hollywood sun.


mulholland wound around
the back side of the mountain.
it was late.
there were no other cars
on the dark road.
this was a part of town
where all the parkers
spreading out on the
valley floor below,
the brilliant city shimmered -
a vast, flat, expanse of lights
stretching out to the horizon.

i felt less and less attached
to the events
going on around me.
they were unfolding
in front of my eyes like a movie,
like a story that had
already been written.
it was a comfortable feeling.
like extended deja vu.
the camaro wound around
the tight curves,
as if someone else was driving.
i just sat back and watched.

my favorite music
came out of the radio
on its own accord.


when i found the house
that matched the address
i had found in phoenix,
i drove up the road
a tenth of a mile,
parked, got out,
and walked back to it.
a steep curving driveway
led down into the darkness.

i crept silently
down to the house.
thick overgrowth
and gnarled oak trees
bordered the driveway,
which snaked down the hill
in a sharp s-curve
and ended at the door
of a two-car garage.
looking around the corner
of the garage,
i could see light
spilling through
large, plate-glass picture windows
and sliding glass door
out onto a porch
which ran the length of the house
and looked out over the valley.

there was a room above the garage.
it was dark and silent.
i could see that a window was slightly open.
i climbed up a sturdy rose trellis
onto the shake shingle roof of the garage
and crossed over to the window.
i quickly looked inside
and saw that it was an empty bedroom,
probably the maid's quarters
when and if you had one.
i carefully opened the window
and slid inside.

a street light from the road above
lit up the room enough
for me to see my way around,
over to my right
was a set of stairs
leading down into the house.


there was a sliding door
at the bottom of the stairs.
i opened it a crack.
i could see through
a small laundry room,
over the counter in the kitchen,
and into the living room
catherine was sitting,
in an overstuffed chair
next to the fireplace.

magnus was putting
a piece of redwood
on the fire.
they were talking -
calmly -
matter of factly.

depression swept over me
like an ill wind.
my heart tightened up
into a fist.

the entire far wall
of the living room
was a plate glass window,
looking down on the endless
city lights below.
magnus was talking.
" . . . less than happy with it,
but then i suppose it's better
than other alternatives
that have been presented."

she said,
"this way, at least,
you are still guaranteed
access to the stone
for whatever length of time necessary
to continue cell regeneration.
at the same time,
you will become part of
a very powerful team
that will help to protect
your interests.
it's a perfect situa --"

magnus interrupted her,
smiling cynically.
"please -
spare me.
the perfect situation
is for me to have total
control over the stone.
anything else . . ."
he shrugged
and prodded the fire
with an iron poker.

cutter came from
part of the kitchen
that i couldn't see,
carrying three glasses of wine.
he gave one to catherine
and one to magnus.

the big man raised his glass
and smiled tightly.
"to an unholy alliance."

their glasses touched.


unpredictable changes
pile up
in no time at all.
they can push us
up against the wall.

i felt like
an early test pilot
on an experimental
acceleration sled -
face flattened against
the back of the seat
in a seven gravity grin.

half truths
are the most deceptive.
the shine like thin ice
an invite us to skate
out onto their surface.

there was a commercial
on the t.v. in the living room
thirty seconds worth
of bold, flashing graphics
and impossibly beautiful people
smiling brightly -
happy to be using
the same deodorant.

by the pool

so . . .
that was that.
she had used me
to get what she wanted,
and now it was over.
it was time to go home.
case closed.
i slammed the rest
of the tequila,
but it didn't help any.

"go out to the car.
get in.
and drive away."
that's what i told myself
as i stared into
the glowing, blue water
of the brightly lit swimming pool
in the courtyard of the marquis.

just then,
a young chicano waiter
came across the courtyard
with a tray of empty dishes
in his hand.
he wore black pants
with a glossy stripe down the side,
and a short white jacket.
his shiny black hair
was combed straight back.
his mouth was held shut
in a tight line.

i heard him.
" . . . bastard.
fifty fuckin cent tip
on a goddamned eighty dollar check.
he's drinkin dom
and he gives me a half a fuckin buck.
fuckin pendeo . . ."
he trailed off into spanish
that i didn't understand.

i was watching him.
he never moved his lips.
he never looked at me.
i heard him inside my head.
clear as a bell.

i sat up straight
in the reclining, plastic, lounge chair
and watched him go.
i not only heard him.
i felt his anger -
deep and biting.

a sudden chill
swept over me.
the bitter taste of his anger
lingered inside of me.
i was infected by it.
i knew immediately,
and beyond a shadow of a doubt,
that what had happened with
catherine and i back in phoenix
had happened again with the waiter.
the taken for granted separateness
that i had lived with all my life
was no longer to be depended on.
i no longer had control over it.
as i watched him disappear into the hotel lobby,
his hostility dissipated like a mist.

fear was the next sensation i felt.
it was mine.

yik and yak

i threw my bag
into the back seat
of the camaro
and started to get in.
whitney and graves
appeared out of nowhere.
they surrounded me
like two bill collectors.
graves jerked me
away from the car door.
"let's go, asshole."
i got a quick look
at the simmering violence in grave's eyes.
i didn't say a thing.

they herded me
across the street
to an anonymous
four-door, beige sedan.

once around the park

as we drove along,
i had time to think.
the implications
from the experience that i had
with the stone
were beginning to appear
in my consciousness
with the force
of logical conclusions.

if it was possible to break down
the barriers between yourself
and another person
and essentially become them,
then it was actually the barriers
that were an illusion.
if i was catherine,
then it followed
that i must be the waiter -
the two goons up front.
this was getting serious.

it was also obvious
that i wasn't in control of the experience.

we were somewhere in venice.
it was the kind of
grubby, dangerous neighborhood
where, when someone yelled loudly,
out in the street,
a shot of adrenaline
ran through the whole block.

we pulled into an alley
and went down two or three houses.
we stopped.
they got me out of the car,
went through a high, gray, wooden gate,
and across a small yard
into a house.

there was a man in the kitchen
dressed in a gray suit
and power red silk necktie.
everything in the kitchen
was bone white
except a light blonde hardwood table
where he sat in a director's chair.

he offered me one.
there were flowers on the table
and lace at the windows -
windows full of sunlight.
his lean, intelligent face
with its shock of white hair
made me think
of a political science professor
that i once knew.

"hello, mr. embrey.
my name is felker.
we need to have a talk."

bad news

felker turned toward me
and smiled -
a hard glittering smile
saturated with victory.

a bedspread on the clothesline
outside the window in the backyard
rippled in the ocean breeze
like a woman's skirt.

"you think you know her.
you don't know shit.
her name is not kline.
it's gehlen.
that ring any bells?

i could only stare at him.
he continued.

her grandfather is reinhart gehlen -
the mastermind behind
hitler's soviet intelligence operations
during world war two.
he created a massive
and superbly efficient espionage network
made up of white russians
and other families
that were still loyal to the czar.
when it became obvious to gehlen
that hitler was insane
and, even worse, was going to lose the war,
he devised a brilliant plan.
he and a few of his most trusted subordinates
crated up their most valuable
documents on the russians
and burned the rest.
then they took themselves
and their booty
to a chalet in southern germany
and waited for the americans.
to make a long story short
because of the value of these documents,
to the o.s.s.,
gehlen was able to dictate
the terms of his surrender."
he stopped, tightened his lips, and shook his head.
"we won the war, right?
gehlen's organization
became the official intelligence apparatus
for nato and west germany
with gehlen installed as the director
of the bunesnachtendienst."
he looked directly at me.
"all through the rest of the cold war
virtually all of our
classified information on the soviets
came through his hands.
it's one of the main reasons
that our agency was created.
the c.i.a. was totally compromised.
gehlen was even allowed to
choose his own liaison officer.
can you imagine?
being dependent on a nazi
for information on the communists?
it's a fucking joke.

she's his grand-daughter.
she was sent over here
to get the stone."
he looked at me as if
i was a bright enough student.
"i don't think i have
to draw you a picture.

so, you see,
we need to get the stone back
before any real damage is done."

i nodded
and watched
a slice of lime
float around in my perrier.

"what do you want me to do about it?,"
i asked.

"we would like you
to work on your own -
keeping in touch with us
at all times.
we'll be pursuing the matter
with out own people, of course,
but you seem to have been
one step ahead of us
on this so far,
so we would like you to continue."

"i don't get it.
you know where they are.
why don't you just go in there,
six-guns blazing,
and take the stone?"

"it won't be that easy,
mr. embrey.
we don't want anything to happen
to the stone.
we don't want it harmed
in any way,
and we're afraid that
magnus would rather destroy it
than give it up.
i'm sure you understand."

there was something very wrong here.
warning bells went off inside my head.
i just looked at him.
he handed me a business card
with some bogus logo and
a telephone number on it
written in ink
as he said,
"you remember what
president kennedy said,
'ask not what your country can do --' "

"yeah, yeah
i remember.
okay, i'll see what i can do."

whitney will take you
back to your hotel.
i'm glad that we could
come to this understanding."

we stood,
and he gave me his hand to shake.
he smiled a reassuring
greatest good for the greatest number,
governmental smile,
but there was
i-want-me greed
in his eyes.

red wind

the air was clear
out over the basin.
it smelled of the desert.
the santa anas
had blown the smog
to who knows
and who cares.
the wind slammed doors shut
and rattled the windows.
it was hot
and dry
and made your skin
feel like sandpaper.
it was the kind of heat
that dried your eyeballs,
irritated your nerves,
and gave your temper
a mind of its own.

i stripped down
and stepped into the shower.
i turned on the cold full blast
and stood under it.

the coolness drilled
the top of my head,
clung to me,
swept down around me,
enveloped me.
i could hear every drop
as it hit
with a crashing sound-
feel it trace its path
down my back,
along my hip,
around my thighs,
and off my feet.
each drop was unique-
had its own weight,
surface tension on the skin . . .

i stepped away
from the nozzle
and slammed the faucet off.
i stood there dripping,
in the stall,
not knowing whether
to be frightened,
or delirious.
the stone's influence
seemed to be increasing
by the day,
sometimes by the hour,
even though i wasn't in its presence.
i didn't know what to expect next.

i stepped out of the shower
and reached for a towel.
i didn't need it.
i was almost dry.
the santa anas whipped violently
at the sunlit old oaks
outside the window.


after i got dressed,
i waited for a half an hour,
went down to the camaro,
got in, and slowly drove
the half a block up to sunset.
i saw my government friends
pull out of a driveway
and start to follow.
by timing my turns
and the traffic lights,
i was able to lose them quickly,
without appearing to be trying.
now, it was my turn.

i pulled out my wallet
and counted the money
that I had left
from what magnus had paid me.
there was plenty.
i went to a rent-a-car lot,
dropped off the camaro,
and picked up a black, porsche turbo.
from there,
i went to a hair salon on melrose.
i had my longish brown hair cut
an inch short all around
and died a platinum blonde.
i followed that with a visit
to a small italian men's clothing store
in beverly hills
and bought a nice white linen double-breasted suit,
a couple of shirts,
and a pair of gray leather loafers.
i stood in front of
the full length mirror.
somebody in a white suit
was laughing at me.

we are the fact
and the fiction.

kali's dream

it was a bright, sunny day
with only one layer of smog
hanging out over the valley.
i pulled off mulholland
into a parking area
at a view point
that looked down
on to their driveway.
i waited.
two hours later,
magnus, cutter, and catherine
pulled out,
heading west.
i started up the porsche,
drove the short distance
to their driveway,
and followed it
down to the house.

as i parked,
and looked down the length
of the house
to the wide porch
that ran along the north side,
i saw mrs. magnus.
she sat limply
in a banana chair,
looking out at
sherman oaks, canoga park,
van nuys, encino, etc.,
in the smoggy distance.

i climbed out of the car
and walked over to her.

"mrs. magnus . . ."

she looked up with dull eyes.
"ah, it's you.
you look cute."
so much for the disguise.

"don't worry,"
she continued,
"you'll fool most."

she had deteriorated painfully-
not so much on the surface-
the face lifts
and false tits
were still holding up nicely,
but underneath,
her eyes were sunken and dull.
she slumped in the chair
without any physical energy.
her breath came slowly
and with great effort.
"i've been away
from the stone for too long."
she looked up.
"i knew I didn't like you
from the beginning, embrey.
i could sense that you
weren't going to do me any good.
my abortion of a son is, of course,
he'll now be free
to fuck up his life
as he pleases -
the idiot!"
she stopped,
labored for breath,
mouth open,
sucking in air.
she scrutinized me
and then smiled.
"you've had a full dose
of the stone, haven't you?"

"what . . .?"
she had caught me off-guard.
"what are you talking about?"

you know exactly what I'm talking about.
i can feel it.
i can see it in your eyes.
have you read anybody's thoughts yet?"
the waiter at the marquis
flashed across my mind.
she laughed
and coughed up phlegm.
"i thought so," she cackled.
welcome to the club, mr. embrey."
she laughed again.
"have you killed anybody
for it yet?"

"not everyone is like
you and your son,
mrs. magnus."

"is that right?"
she spit back at me,
"well, don't go patting yourself
on the back prematurely,
mr. white knight."
her eyes flashed briefly
with a contempt had
witnessed hundreds of years
of human frailty.
"the stone would have
tempted christ . . .
she stared out over the valley
with a look of bitterness and loss,
the intensity of which
i had never seen.
she looked back at me,
smiling evilly.
"you'll see."

she abruptly laughed
and laughed
and laughed and
died laughing.
life went out of her
like air out of a balloon.
she sank back into the chair
like an empty sack-
eyes still open-
looking at me -

" . . . beyond the language of the living."

i went inside the open
sliding glass doors
into the house.
there was soft piano music
playing on the stereo,
some new age pablum.

the walls of the living room
were lined with native artifacts
from tribes around the world.
stout bows and long barbed arrows.
wooden death masks and totems.
feathered headdresses and carvings.

i searched everywhere,
looking for the stone
or a wall safe
that they might keep it in,
but i found nothing.

i went back out to the porch.
mrs. magnus still sat lifeless
in the plastic lounge chair
staring blankly out at a
red tailed hawk
that was riding the thermals
out in the canyon.
the piano music drifted
out of the house.

i started for the porsche
and heard her speak.

"you'll see."

i spun around.
she was still dead,
motionless in the chair.

i got a chill over my whole body
and bolted for the car-
burned rubber
all the way up the driveway
and out onto mulholland.
i ran westward
screaming through
the tight curves,
teeth clenched,
knuckles white
on the steering wheel
and gear shift.
i tried to bring myself
under control-
tried to regulate my breathing-
tried to relax.

after a couple of miles,
mulholland opened up
and turned south,
sloping down to the 405 freeway.
i pulled off the side of the road,
got out of the car,
and walked around aimlessly.

"calm down,"
i told myself,
"she's dead.
you must have hallucinated.
just calm down."

i looked out toward
the southbound freeway.
it was the direction
the magnus, catherine, and cutter
had been heading
when they left the house.

i stopped walking.

it came to me.
they knew she was dying.
they left her there.
they were probably headed
for the airport-
probably leaving the country
with the stone.
going back to europe.

i jumped back in the car.
they had about a half an hour
headstart on me.
they were probably
just getting to the airport.
i jammed the porsche
down the hill
to the freeway entrance.

my chances of catching them
seemed small at best.
i just didn't know
what else to do.

the traffic was light
on the southbound side,
and the porsche
was very, very fast.


i double parked
outside of noisy, baggage claim area
of the first terminal
inside the airport.
people hurrying everywhere.
i ran inside.
over to the ticket counter.
cutting in front of a long line.
"i'm sorry, sir,
you'll have to wait in line-"
she was young and female.
"this is an emergency,"
i blurted out and flashed her
my old fake badge.
her eyes widened.
"which airlines have flights
leaving for europe
within the next half hour?"
"i'm sorry, sir,
would you like to see my supervisor?"

i turned and ran
down the terminal
to a bank of pay phones.
called information.
got the number for united.
called it.
a recording came on.
"your business is very important to us
so if you will just-"
a real woman's voice came on.
"united - "

"do you have any flights
leaving for europe
in the next half hour?"
"let me check . . .
no, sir, we don't -"
"do any other airlines
have any?"

"let me check . . .
there is a twa flight
to london- "

"what time is it leaving?"
"scheduled departure
for that flight is 3:30 pm."

i looked at the big clock
on the wall.

"thank you,"
i said
and bolted for the door.


i double parked again
outside of the twa terminal
and ran inside.
i could hear an air porter
yelling behind me.
"sir, you can't park th-

i searched the walls
for signs directing passengers
to the gates,
and a tv monitor filled with
flight information,
found the gate number,
and ran up the stairs
in its direction-
threading my way
through the polyglot airport crowds.
families, lovers, and languages
swirled all around me
as my eyes looked into every face.

the stairs led to a huge,
round, high-ceilinged room,
encircled by boarded gates.
the place was mobbed.
a couple of thousand people
were standing in lines,
drinking at the bar,
sitting in the aisles of chairs
in the middle of the room,
emotionally greeting friends

who were struggling off the planes with their bags,
people hugging, smiling,
crying, waving goodbye,

i saw them
stepping into a line
at gate 77
on the far side
of the rotunda.

i trotted around the room
like someone late for a flight.
getting closer,
i could see magnus
towering over the crowd.
he was holding a small,
nylon tote bag.

i hit him with a running block
to his mid-section and,
as he stumbled back,
ripped the bag from his grip.
i felt the box inside.

i had obviously
taken them all by surprise.
i kept running
around the room to the stairs.
the look on catherine's face
was both shock and disapproval.
i felt like a bad boy,
but i didn't stop running.
i heard magnus yell at cutter
"get that bag!"

i looked over my shoulder.
only a few people had even noticed
what had happened.
cutter was running after me.

i bounded down the escalator,
passed the security gate,
and stretched out into a full run
down the long wide corridor
that led to the front exit.
i couldn't hear cutter.
i looked back and realized
that he was still after me,
but that i had him beat.
i ran out to the porsche
where a cop was giving me a ticket.

"sorry, officer."
i took the ticket
from his outstretched hand.

he looked at me.
"i hope it was worth it."

i smiled apologetically
got in the car,
threw the bag in the passenger seat,
and pulled away carefully.
in the rear-view mirror
i saw cutter come out,
look around frantically,
and start quizzing the air porter.

i pulled out into the traffic,
and they disappeared from my view.

early on

a few blocks away
i pulled off onto a side street,
pulled over,
and put the car in neutral,
the motor still running.

i reached inside the bag,
pulled out the box,
and opened it on my lap.
the stone was there.

i pulled it out
and held it in my left hand.
turned it in my fingers,
rubbed my thumb across
its different faces.
it had an almost flesh like texture.
the muscles in my neck,
shoulders, and face relaxed immediately.
the stress and tension from
the scene at the airport disappeared.
a small smile tugged at my lips.
my breathing became
deep, regular, and even.

i suddenly jumped back
in my memory
to a time
when i was eight.
an experience i had forgotten.
it was dawn.
a friend and i
had ridden our bikes
to our favorite frog pond.
when we got off our bikes
and came walking over the rise,
we saw a huge, blue, winged creature
rise up from the water
in slow motion
and fly away.
we were moved past speech
to the unexplained magic
of our own existence.

the stone started to glow.
i put it back,
in the box,
and closed the lid.

i looked at the box
and wondered.
what did i have in my hands?
where did it come from?
what were the extent of its powers?
what the hell did i think i was doing?

reaching out

i drove around for awhile
to make sure that
no one was following me
then pulled into a coffee shop
on sepulveda.
i parked the car around back
and went inside.

i bought a cup of coffee,
changed a five dollar bill for quarters,
and settled into a phone booth.

i called every science department
on the ucla campus
that i thought might know anything
about the latest research
being done into life extension.
i finally talked to a professor
in molecular biology
who told me that,
from what he understood of my needs,
i should check with the folks
down at the scripps institute
in la jolla.
he said that they were involved
in very experimental
computer modeling
of the dna double helix,
and that they were trying to find
the genetic basis of aging.
he gave me the name of
a peter swensen.

it sounded good,
so i thanked him,
hung up,
and started to call
jim in phoenix.

i hung up.
they'd have his phone tapped
i called professor baker.

promises, promises

"doc, it's me."

"mr embrey?"

"have any government types been around
asking any questions about me?"

"government types?
mr. embrey, what have you gotten yourself in-"

i launched in before he could start.

"i'll take that as a no.
i need you to get a message to aunt jim.
tell him i need him.
tell him i'll be in la jolla.
probably at the shell beach.
tell him i've got the best high he's ever had.
tell him people are killing for it.
got that?
shell beach motel?
and doc-
obviously i need you to be very discreet.
meet him in a public place.
he'll figure out the rest."

i could hear him laughing
on the other end of the line.

"addicted to the rush,
aren't you mr. embrey?
i've always loved that about you.
it's truly a vicarious thrill.
don't worry.
i'll talk to jim.
do i need a secret password?"

he laughed again
and hung up
before i could answer.

private worlds

driving down to la jolla,
i was totally preoccupied,
trying to figure out
what i should do with the stone,
who magnus was and what he would do,
where felker was and what he was up to,
why catherine had betrayed me,
what i would find in la jolla . . .

suddenly, as i looked around
at the cars rolling by on all sides,
i realized, out of the blue,
that each one of the occupants
in those cars
was just as wrapped up in their concerns
as i was in mine.
each one was the center
of a totally separate universe.
families of all sizes rolled by-
young high school couples,
grandparents in new buicks,
teenage boys on the prowl,
construction workers in pick-ups,
surfers in vans,
young professionals in suvs,
delivery vans,
each one was the center of the universe,
as far as they were concerned.

it wasn't till i passed
a middle-aged couple
in a slightly beat up,
brown, nissan sedan,
that my own thoughts really stopped.
he was a nondescript black man,
graying at the temples
and sporting a distinguished looking moustache.
she was a plain white woman
with mousy brown hair
that had been brutally permed
at a cheap salon.

they were arguing.
it came to me that
their lives had peaked.
they had achieved their
highest station in life.
the one value that they now had
was just how real -
how human -
they could be for one another
as they slid down life's other side.

i felt for them beyond empathy -
knew myself in them -
i experienced their emotions.
another affect of the stone.
it created an ache i had never felt before.

just then we passed
the nuclear power plant
at san onofre.
it gave me the creeps.

2:00 am

when i reached
the tightly packed beach town,
it was late.
i followed a narrow, twisting road
down along the ocean
and pulled into the shell beach motel
across the street from the cove.
a young, blonde-haired surfer
showed me to my room
and didn't wait for a tip.

i flopped on the bed.
and turned on the t.v.
with the sound off.
the actors seemed to be lip-syncing
the sound of the surf
as i fell asleep.


i was dreaming something
about someone with a gun.

i woke up in a dark room,
with my hair pasted to my head,
in sheets wet with sweat.

i went into the bathroom
and dried myself with a towel.
i came back,
turned off the t.v.,
sat on the bed,
and listened to the traffic
and surf outside the window.


i woke up on top of the sheets
with the towel twisted around me,
got dressed,
and walked up the hill
to an expensive restaurant
with a patio overlooking the water.
i had a quick, sunny breakfast
and went back to the motel.
i told the desk clerk that
i was expecting my friend
and if he showed to tell him
to wait and i would be back
by lunch.

the research institute
was actually an off-shoot
of the larger facility-
a bone white, three-story complex
that occupied an area
the size of a couple of football fields.
the surfaces of the outer walls
were embossed in a checkerboard pattern
of concentric squares-
the largest being a foot and a half across.
the effect was that of a mayan temple
done by frank lloyd wright.

i found the molecular biology building
easily enough
and managed to bluff my way
past a security guard
by telling him i was a writer
for a scientific magazine.
he gave me a visitor's pass
and guided my right to
peter swensen's offices.
i wandered down a small hallway
flanked by offices
and rooms filled with scientific hardware,
until i found some sign of life.

in one of the rooms
there was a stout man
in his thirties
with glasses, brown hair and beard.
with him was a smaller woman
with glasses, straight brown hair,
and an oversized yellow t-shirt
that hung almost to her knees.
their eyes were glued
to a computer monitor.

i introduced myself to them
as i had to the guard,
but, at the same time,
encouraged them to continue
with what they were doing.
the man explained that
they were filming
the animated computer graphics
that i was seeing on the monitor,
which, in fact,
were a representation of the dna molecule.

the woman looked over
to her partner.
"that's it,"
she beamed,
"we got it."

he said
and the screen went dark.

i made my play.
"you know, i was reading
the other day about
how your research
had something to do
with controlling the length
of the human life span
by manipulating the dna-"

"i don't know if
manipulating is the right word,"
the man interrupted,
"you see, different areas of the molecule
deal with and control
different life functions."

he leaned over a keyboard
and started typing in commands.

a three dimensional model
of the double helix
came back up on the screen.

"now, look closely.
we'll magnify the section
on chromosome four
that we think represents the inhibitor-
that part of the dna coil
that we think limits cellular regeneration
to the order of fifty reproductions."

as he spoke,
we seemed to dive
into the structure itself.
he guided us through
the dna molecule
like a boat
on a twisting river.

"here we are,"
he went on,
"thanks to the work
done by people like peter,
we are now able to construct
these models accurately."

we had gone so deep
into the simulation
that i was lost.
it was just so many
bright, curving, colorful lines to me.

to cancel out
the effect of the inhibitor,
we would need an agent
whose molecular structure
fits in here
like the piece of
a jigsaw puzzle.
like, so"

another small, convoluted
three dimensional model
appeared on the middle
of the screen
and proceeded to slowly expand.
it grew until
it fit perfectly
within the pre-existing structure,
filling its depressions
and bending around its curves
like water in a container.

the man was excited.
he spoke rapidly.
"so, you see,
now, at least we know
what we are looking for.
there's no reason
we can't live as long as -
as - "
he reached for a comparison.
"actually I can't think
of another animal that
lives for two hundred years."

jim's turn

when i came back to the motel
jim was sitting, sunning himself
out by the pool.
he saw me, waved,
and walked over.

"you got over here quick."
i said.

it's an easier drive at night."

we embraced.
he held me at arm's length
and stared at my head.
"dude, look at you."

i remembered my short blonde hair.
"oh, yeah.
i needed to change my lo- "

"I like it
it's good.
got that master race thing working."

"yeah, right, thanks.
let's go back to the room.
i want you to try this stone."

"right now?"
he gave me a surprised look.


lead on."

i said when we were in the room,
"i'm going to just let you
check this thing out for yourself.
i'll take a walk,
and when I come back,
we'll compare notes.

"sounds good to me.
any special instructions?"

"just lie down on the bed
and relax."

as he did,
i put the box on the table
next to the bed
and opened the lid.
"i'll be back in a little while."

i left before the stone had a chance
to start working on me.

the beach

the noise of the ocean
cut through my jumbled thoughts.
the waves came in
in overlapping roars,
collapsed in a crash,
and slid,
up onto the wet sand.
all along
the curving water line.

three dolphins,
heading north,
had come inside the breaking waves.
they swam slowly -
almost, it seemed, sadly-
floating, drifting,
born along by the current.

the ache

i craved her.
ached for her.
could think of nothing else.
the thought of us
not being together
twisted me up into knots
and pulled the ends tight.
it was even hard to breath,
and i took in the air
through my mouth
in large gulps.

i hated feeling like this,
and loved it
just the same.

nine of swords

jim was in a full trance,
and the stone was shining brilliantly
when i came back into the room.
i rushed over and closed the lid.
i almost didn't make it.
the energy was overwhelming.

i leaned over jim
and shook him gently.
he was deathly still
and his eyes were closed.
i leaned closer
and could barely notice his breathing.
it was very slow and shallow.
i felt his heart.
it was distant,
each small beat spaced widely apart.
i messaged his forehead softly,
called his name in a whisper.

he began to respond.
he finally opened his eyes
and looked at me
and smiled like nothing
i had ever seen.
his voice sounded like
it was detached from his body
and came from a long way away.

"this is it,"
he said.

as he was coming around,
i put in a call to
professor baker
back in arizona.

it was dawning on me
just what we might have here.

professor baker on the stone

"the philosopher's stone?
almost every culture
has its own version
it's a mythical item
that supposedly could be manufactured
by some crack alchemist
back in the olden days before t.v.
this stone had magical properties,
not the least of which was the ability
to change lead into gold and
dum, dadum, dadum!
confer immortality upon its owner -
at least in the chinese version.

for hundreds of years
some of our most advanced thinkers,
roger bacon for one,
believed that it existed
or could be created.
the whole science of chemistry
came out of the attempts
of alchemists to create said stone.

myself, i prefer jung's take
on the subject.
he said that the importance
of the stone
lie in what it symbolized
in man's psychological evolution-
its psychic jim jam value,
so to speak.
he saw the stone as a symbol
of the unified self."

"some people still seem to think
that it exists for real.
elements of the united states government,
for instance."


"something to do with
their research into life extension."

"curioser and curioser still."
i could almost hear the wheels
start to turn in his head
over the phone.
"tell me more."

Click here for Act III

i sleep to wake      by Terry Molloy      
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