earth calling

after i hung up,
i turned to jim.
“we need time.
i think we should
get out of the state.”

“sure, sure.
whatever you say.”
he was looking out the window
at nothing,
drifting off.

“can you drive your car?”
i asked him.

he turned to me
with a goofy smile
on his face.
“i don't see why not.”

we'll have to
go back to l.a.
so i can drop off the porsche
and pick up my car.”

he was staring out the window again.

“then maybe we can
head down to mexico.”

“right . . .
good . . .
yeah . . . . . ."

“and then we can
stuff our heads with spinach
and surf jupiter.”

he nodded absently,
“sounds good . . . ”

sundown/lights out

a few hours later,
jim had come down enough
to relate to this world.
we checked out of the motel,
and i followed him up the coast highway.
i didn't want to take the freeway,
because i thought that the traffic
might be too much for him to handle.

it was a nice drive-
a beautiful deep orange sunset
over a deep blue and lavender ocean.
we had just come out of laguna,
heading north,
and were passing by
the riding stables on the beach side,

when a car came up from behind,
started to pass on the left,
then swerved right into me,
i jerked the wheel violently
to the right in an attempt to avoid it.

when i came to,
i saw a young cop walking toward me.
the entire front of the car on my side
was crumpled like a tin can.
i looked up
and focused on his eyes.

“how do i look?”
he scrutinized me briefly.

“not too bad.”

i pulled a rag away
from the side of my head.
how did that get there?
it had blood all over it.

“where's my lawyer?
call my lawyer,”
i heard myself say.


the words came
in a well practiced sing-song.
“okay, take a deep breath.”
“now, let it out.
and don't move
and don't ever breath again.”
i heard the x-ray camera
click twice beside my ear.
“just kidding.
you can breath.
now just move your head
a little to the right-
chin up a little-
a little more.
that's right
and take a breath
and breath out
and hold it
and don't ever breath again.”
just kidding.
you can breath again.
now we gotta take a couple more-
so just take it easy and . . .”

i could see my face reflected
in the highly polished,
round chrome dome
of some alien medical apparatus
next to the table
that i was lying on.
i looked like shit.


while i was lying on the bed
in the emergency room
waiting for the doctor
to come and stitch me up,
jim was standing next to the bed,
talking a mile a minute.

i can't believe it!
i saw the whole thing happen
in my rear view mirror.
those fuckers just ran you
right off the fucking road!
i couldn't fucking believe it!
i saw you swerve
and hit the tree.
jesus christ!
i threw a u-turn immediately.
i saw those two government goons
get out of their car
and start walking over to you,
so i jumped out of my rig
and ran over.
the blonde one was reaching
in the window on your side -
to finish you off -
find the stone-
i don't know what-
the other one was walking
to the other side of the car.
i grabbed blondie
and we started grappling
and fell on the ground
and started rolling around
and by this time people
started gathering around
and i heard a siren coming our way
so yik and yak jump up and take off.”
he handed me a plumber' business card
“this fell out of blondie's jacket.”

he continued talking-
repeating himself-
glancing around nervously,
while i read the back of the card.
it had magnus' address on it
and under that it read-
tuesday, 5:00 pm.
that was tomorrow.
“- fucking believe it!
those guys were going
to fucking kill you!
that's fucked up!”
he was hissing in my ear.
“it saw it all in my
rear view mirror.
we were just going along -“

“excuse me, sir,”
it was a red haired
female doctor
in a white smock,
“you'll have to wait outside
while i stitch up your friend here.”

as jim left,
she continued talking.
“you're a real lucky man.”
she was feeling my head
up by the right temple.
it felt like jello.
“you've got a hematoma here
the size of a softball.
you're lucky it's all
on the surface and not
under the cranium.
it should go down in
a day or two.
you'll have a big nasty bruise
for a few weeks.
other than that,
i'll just have to stitch
up this cut
and we'll be able
to let you go.
you could have been killed.'
you're real lucky.”

i held the business card
tightly in my fist
while she stuck the horse needle
full of anesthetic
into my head.

after leaving the hospital
i was still a little shaky,
so we checked into a motel
in del mar.
jim was still blabbering
going over and over what had happened.
i think he had a slight case of shock.
he had all the ear marks.
i know i did.

i sat down heavily on
the anonymous motel bed
and felt my head for
the thousandth time.
it was soft and squishy.

clearer and clearer

when i awoke
and got out of bed
the next morning,
i was stiff all over
and had a queasy sensation
just below my diaphragm.
my brain translated it as apprehension.
i was afraid
that i had taken on
more than i could handle.
i was also so angry
that my hands shook.

i looked in the mirror.
outside of the stitches
high up on my right cheek,
my face was clean
of any marks of damage.
it had been less
than twenty-four hours
since the accident.
my eyes were clear-
the irises pure white.
i looked younger.
were there less lines on my face?
was i seeing more effects
of the stone?
the stiffness of my body
was evaporating
as i stood there.

i heard the old woman's voice.
“. . . would tempt christ.
you'll see.”


by the time we checked out
and were heading up to l.a.,
i had gone through
a thousand mental scenarios
of revenge.
it was all that i could think about.
i wasn't very stable.

it was somewhere
around long beach
that it finally came to me.
the ultimate retribution.
perfect justice.
it was a madman's scheme.
i gave jim directions
to magnus' house,
sat back,
and gloated
at the thought.

when we got there,
i had him park
out of sight,
up at the viewpoint
that i had used before.
i snuck down to the house
on foot,
stone in hand.
it was 4:15
as i made a circuit
around the house,
i realized that
magnus was there alone,
sitting in the living room,
reading what appeared to be
legal papers.
he was pale and drawn
and looked ill.

a car pulled down the driveway
and he got up with effort to greet it.
when he walked out the front door,
i slipped in through the sliding glass doors,
went over to the stereo cabinet,
opened the doors,
put the box,
with the lid open,
behind the amplifier,
closed the doors and ran outside.

i could hear felker
telling his men to come back
and get him in a half an hour.

he and magnus started
talking business
as they walked back
into the house and sat down.
i couldn't make out
what they were saying,
but it was obvious
that neither of them
was very happy.

it only took about a minute
before things began to happen.

suddenly, magnus sat bolt upright.
his eyes went wide.
felker was still talking,
but his speech was becoming
rapid and scattered.
“shut up!”
magnus yelled.
“shut the fuck up!”
felker stared at him blankly.
“it's the stone,”
magnus continued excitedly.
“it's somewhere nearby.
can't you feel it!”

“what are you talking about -“

“the stone, you idiot!
it's somewhere right around us.
if we don't find it now
and get it back in its box,
it will take over.
he stood up
and started glancing
around the room.

“what do you mean,”
felker sputtered,
“take over?
how - what . . . ?”

stop and look at yourself!”

felker stopped.
he was shivering.
his face was flushed.
fear suddenly entered his eyes.
“i feel weird.
what the hell's going on?!”

magnus had already started
to walk around and ransack the room,
ignoring felker's desperate question.
“just start looking for the stone!”
he was screaming.

felker started to stumble around
in a daze.
he stopped and looked at magnus.
he stood there,
grinning stupidly.
“you have to tell me
what's going on . . .
i'm losing . . .”

he didn't continue his statement verbally.
he just stared in magnus' direction.
magnus froze then,
and stared back at him.
questions and answers
flickered between them silently.
i could see it in their eyes.
the telepathic function had kicked in.

“but that's impossible,”
cried felker,
“everybody know that . . .”
the rest of his thought
passed over to magnus mentally.

they stood there for a few seconds-
felker, not familiar with his new condition,
communicating in weightless thoughts
and broken sentences,
laughing half the time -
magnus, all to aware
of what was happening,
glaring silently at felker,
trying to communicate
the seriousness of their situation.

the government man could stand no longer.
his knees began to buckle under him.
he managed to make his way
over to the couch,
where he plopped down,
limbs splayed out in all directions,
grinning from ear to ear,
staring off at nothing.

magnus tried to fight it.
he moved in slow motion
over to the stereo
and just barely fumbled open
the cabinet doors.
he was staring right at the stone,
but he couldn't move.
he stood there and stared
transfixed in a trance.

i came in the sliding glass doors,
hurried over to the stone,
closed the lid of the box,
hoped that they were
under deep enough,
went out onto the porch,
and ran up the hill.

i was smiling.
i wondered what they thought
of being each other.

i made it quickly
back to the car.
jim was waiting
with the radio on.
“how did it go?”
he asked.

i glared at him maniacally
and laughed nastily.

with a joint dangling
from his lips,
he head rocked back slightly
and he chuckled.
“give me a hit.”

at first, i didn't know
what he was talking about.
then he looked at the box.
i opened the lid
and waved the box near him.
his eyes dilated immediately.
i felt a rush of clarity and energy.
the stupidity of what
i had just done
hit me like a blow.

i closed the box
and looked over to jim.
i never realized
that he could smile
showing so many teeth.
he sighed.

my mouth opened
but it had nothing to say.

the plan

we stopped
to get something to eat
at an italian restaurant
up on sunset.
it was the kind of a place
where spaghetti had three names
and people were so busy
watching each other
that they dropped food
in their laps.

“so, now what?”
jim asked.
he was talking to me,
but he was watching
a tall, protruding blonde
dressed in a yellow print bolero jacket
over a blue crepe silk dress.
she like to wrap her tongue
around her pasta.

i exhaled quietly,
and sat back,
and felt the muscles
in my face and shoulders
drop with fatigue.
i rubbed my face with my hands.
“i don't know.
i wish i did.
I mean . . .
do you have any idea
what we got here?”

we got our finger
in the fucking socket.”

“what i mean is,
what the hell do we do now?
what happens with this thing?
do we just turn it over to
our local, friendly, responsible, all knowing
and go home and forget about it?
or what?”

you mean like felker?”

the blonde had finished
frenching her italian.
i mean . . .
what are we going
to do with it
if we can't trust anybody else?
hide it?
throw it in the ocean?
keep it for ourselves
and end up like magnus?”

his eyes were looking
directly into mine,
past the candle on the table.
they lit up.
“i think i'm getting an idea.
open the box and give me a hit.
it helps me think clearer.”

i looked at him in disbelief.

“c'mon, c'mon,”
he looked around,
“no one will know the difference.”

i looked around now.
after we had first come in,
been scrutinized,
and passed over as unknown,
no one seemed to be paying
any attention to us.
i reached down to where
i had set it
on the wooden captain's chair
next to me.
i looked over to him,
and he nodded.
i opened the lid and,
with attempted nonchalance,
reached across the table with it
and waved it in front of him.

he sat erect,
as did i,
and his pupils dilated,
leaving no color in his irises.
as i brought the box back
and closed the lid,
i saw its effects ripple
outward from us
to a half of a dozen tables
in our near vicinity.

people sat up.
conversations derailed
into streams of consciousness.
smiles appeared suddenly.
many of our neighbors
started laughing.
some just giggled.
a couple of them were howling
in complete and total mirth.
the rest of the crowd
in the restaurant
turned their heads,
craning to see,
afraid they were missing
out on something.

the people around us
finally managed
to get their more extreme behavior
under some semblance of control,
but fits of giggling
and bits of crazily animated conversations
continued to break out sporadically.
after that,
the whole restaurant
seemed to light up
and speed into
the rest of saturday night.

“i think i've got it,”
said jim.
his head cocked to one side
like a rooster.
“remember steve benedict?”

sure, i remembered steve.
we had dropped out together
in the seventies.
we had rented an old cabin
at the mouth of a canyon
in northern arizona
in return for helping a rancher
run his cattle.
the last time i saw steve,
we were on horseback,
scrambling through razor sharp mesquite,
rounding up yearlings
for the spring branding and cutting.
“this sucks.”
i remember him saying.
“i mean this really sucks.
fuck this.
i'm getting out of here.
i'm going to l.a.
and be a movie star.”

i just laughed and said.
“yeah, yeah, sure.
the heat's getting to you.
better drink some more water.”

“you remember?”
jim asked again
and i was back in the restaurant.

“yeah, yeah, sure.”

“okay, then.
here's my plan . . .”

talk show

“okay, okay!
i'm convinced.
i've got this crazy inventor
scheduled for the last ten minutes.
i'll just bump him into next week,
and put you guys on instead.
you're probably full of shit
about your rock here,
but it'll be fun having you
on the show anyway.”
he shook his head.
look at you two!
it's been a long time.”
he was looking at us
in the brightly lit mirror
in his dressing room,
his broad shoulders draped
with a white make-up cloth.
“hey, remember those
goofy comedy bits
we used to do?”
he laughed.
“maybe we ought to try one today.”

steve had always reminded me
of a cartoonist's version of a hero.
dudley do-right, clutch cargo.
dark, curly hair.
strong, heavy jaw.
straight nose.
glinting blue eyes.
head cocked in a dramatic angle.
lady killer smile.

his well-muscled, gay, make-up man
danced around him on his toes,
daintily applying his mascara,
telling him how good he looked.

jim jumped in.
“yeah, that's a good idea.
remember this one?”
he paused,
cleared his throat,
stood up straight,
and cupped his hands
around his mouth
like a megaphone.
he reached down inside
and came up with
his best basso profundo.

“and now!
meglomania studios presents!
the most spectacular macho movie of all time!
charles bonson
and sylvester baloney in!
the man too stupid to die!!!”

steve cracked up.
he got up out of his chair,
spun around,
and came over to jim.
and then we could
do the one -“

a knock on the door.
“thirty seconds, mr. benedict.”

you guys just wait
in the green room.
david, here, will throw
some make-up on you.”
he pulled off his make-up cloth
and started for the door.
“this is going to be fun!”

jim looked at me
and smiled.

the green room

we waited for forty-five minutes.
the room was large,
but somehow, at the same time,
the four other guest talkers
sat around a large coffee table,
engaging in small talk,
trying to impress each other.
there was a jewish doctor from miami
who was there to promote his ability
to make anyone look like the
celebrity of their choice
through plastic surgery;
a young, giggling female porn star
who was trying to become
a main stream movie star;
a huge, black man who was retiring
from the nfl and was going to talk
about his ufo abduction;
a small, rumpled inventor with glasses
who thought he was going to demonstrate
his combination cell phone/vibrator;
and us.

i leaned over to jim
and whispered in his ear.
“hey, listen, man,
i don't know about this.
i don't know if this is such a good idea.”
by this time only the inventor
was in the room with us.
“i'm getting scared.
i'm thinking that
we should just destroy this thing.”
jim looked at me.
i went on.
“yeah, maybe it's got all
this incredible power and all,
but look what it turns people into.
i think we've been exposing
ourselves to it too much.
it's affecting our judgment.”

he thought for a minute.
i don't necessarily agree
with all of that.
i like what it does.
but i'm beginning to think
this may not be the best way to go.
i'm starting to get a weird feeling,
like a premonition or something.”

i felt a surge of relief.
let's get out of here.”

we stood up,
left the room,
closed the door
quietly behind us,
and headed down the over lit hallway
to what we hoped was a rear exit.

the best laid plans . . .

the hallway turned to the right
and there was a metal door
with a red exit sign over it.
an thin old man sat on a tall stool
reading a paperback book.
he barely glanced at us
as we came up to him
and pushed open the door.
crossing the alley toward us
and coming up the steps
were magnus and cutter.
we jumped back inside
and pulled hard on the door,
slamming it shut.

“god-damn it!”
i exploded.
we ran back down the hall.
“where the fuck
did they come from!?”

we passed the door
to the green room,
took a turn to the left,
and ran into the floor director
who had talked to all the guests earlier.
he was holding a clipboard
and had a headset
clamped over his bald dome.
“ah, steve's friends.
we're ready for you.”
he grabbed jim by the arm.
“this way, please.”

“no. no.,”
jim tried to pull away.
“we - - we're not”

“don't worry.
you'll be alright
once you're out there.”

jim looked at him
like he was speaking swahili
you don't understand -“
he was looking over
the director's shoulder.
i followed his eyes
and saw magnus and cutter
bearing down on us
like bullets.

i looked at jim.
his eyes rolled back
and came up lemons.
by this time,
we had moved into the wings.
the stage in front of us
was flooded with light.
steve sat smiling,
behind his desk,
yapping happily with the audience.
the other three guests
had moved over on the
obligatory couch
leaving two seats open
close to the desk.

“ - old friends of mine,
so, you can't trust anything they say.
ladies and gentlemen,
would you please welcome
curtis embrey and aunt jim!”

the floor director literally
pushed us both out onto the stage.
jim was so nervous
that he started laughing.
i felt unreal.
steve was shaking my hand.
there was a roaring sound.
hands clapping.
steve took the box out of my hands.
he was smiling and talking.
“- must be the magic stone
that they were telling me about.”
he opened the box,
took the stone out,
and held it up to the camera.
“can we get a close-up
of this thing, dave?”
i was sitting down.
i heard jim next to me.
“steve, no, you can't-“
i turned but couldn't see them.
i squinted at the blinding lights.
i saw the stone on a monitor.
it was starting to glow.

steve sat down
and turned toward us.
he put the stone
down on the desk.
it grew brighter.
he looked at me.
he opened his mouth to speak.
his pupils were dilated.
his eyebrows shot up.
and he kind of squealed.
i heard the director moan.
“what the hell is -“
then he giggled.

i saw magnus in the wings
grabbing cutter and
turning back down the hall,
he knew what was happening
and was getting out before
it was too late.

scattered thoughts
began to find their way
into my head.
the stone's influence
rippled through the audience in waves.
i could feel it-
hear it-
it was chaos
as people began
to read each other's minds,
call up forgotten memories,
see past their social programming.
everyone was talking
and laughing at once.

i turned to jim.
he gave me a look
that said help.
the young porn star
and the black football player
were staring at each other
in shock.
i reached over . . .
i looked around
at the crew.
i was losing track
of what were my thoughts
and what were those
of other people.
i caught myself thinking
that i needed to focus
the camera.
i fought against the tide
of humanity
that was sweeping over me.

i reached over in slow motion . .
i reached over
to the box . .
the box in my hand . .
hold it.
fingers around it.
now the stone.
“- i wanted to touch your . .”
left hand to the bright stone.
“curtis, get us out of - !”
“- never knew you felt -“
“- when i was three-“
thoughts - memories
an overload of human experiences
and emotions
disappearing boundaries between
people and things
a growing relaxation and peace and joy.
i fought it with everything i had.

i was halfway into the trance,
but i had the stone in the box
in my hand.
i ordered the body
that i was in
to stand up.
it responded
fluidly and weightlessly.
i grabbed jim's body
and pulled it up.
the noise in the theater
was dying out.
some kind of critical
psychic mass had been achieved.
the whole audience was going under,
sitting quietly in their seats.

i pulled jim with me.
we walked down off the stage
and up the main aisle
between rows and rows
of middle-class americans
in a trance.
the air was charged
with the electricity
of three hundred
unleashed central nervous systems.
trying to make it up the aisle
was like running in a dream.
like walking under water.
we finally made it into the lobby
and then out onto the street.

the air was thick was smog.
the street choked with cars.


we crossed the street
to the parking lot
where we had left jim's car.
it was a shit brown,
83, four door buick sedan.
i hoped to god that
magnus and cutter
hadn't seen it yet.
we got in.

magnus and cutter.
i had forgotten about them.
i looked back at the front
of the theater.

get down.”

we both sank low in the car.
peeking over the dash
the windows of the cars
parked next to us.
i saw magnus come around
the side of the building
and stop,
standing on the sidewalk
on highland.
he scanned the immediate area
like he had x-ray vision
and within twenty seconds
was looking right at us.
i felt like an idiot,
all scrunched down in the seat,
peering over the dash.

he starting crossing the street
and reaching inside
his ever-present windbreaker.

“give me the keys
and stay down,”
i hissed at jim.
he handed them to me
absent mindedly
as if he was waking up.

i started the car.
magnus started running toward us.
i pushed the accelerator to the floor
and jerked the wheel to the left.
we shot out of our parking slot,
clipping a mercedes next to us.
the rear wheels chattered sideways
and burned rubber.

magnus was forced
to throw himself out of the way
between two other cars.
as we passed him,
he started firing.
i heard one of the bullets
hit the trunk
with a dull thud.
another came through
the rear window,
passed diagonally
through the car,
and crashed through
the windshield on jim's side.
the sound of it whistling by
made my teeth ache.

keeping my head down
as much as possible,
i ripped a right hand turn
out of the parking lot
onto highland.
we went over the curb,
and the rear end bottomed out
with a bone jarring crash.
we ran a yellow light
at franklin,
went up the hill,
and slid up an on-ramp
onto the freeway, westbound.

the sun was going down
directly ahead of us.
the freeway was full
of commuters.

second thoughts

i think we fucked up, jimbo.”

i looked over.
his eyes were normal.
he was sitting up,
lighting a marlboro.
his hand was shaking,
he forced a grin
that came out more of a grimace.
“you may be right, dude.
but unless we neutralize
magnus somehow,
it's not going to matter
what we do with the stone.
he's going to be coming at us -“

catherine's presence
suddenly jumped into my head.
“oh, my god,”
i felt her say,
“it worked.
i can feel you.”
it was like the time
at the motel.
she was inside me
and vice versa.
it wasn't so much
that i was hearing her words,
as i was experiencing
the projection of her
emotional being
that would have translated
into those words.
the intensity of meaning and feeling
were much deeper,
more complex,
and continually shifting
like shadows of leaves in the wind.

for a time
we embraced
in some non-physical way,
in some non-physical space.
swam in each other.
my body relaxed.
there was a softness
in that non-space.
there was a knowledge
that we belonged to each other-
knew each other in a way
that no one else
would ever know.

suddenly, she was gone.

“-everything he's got.”


jim looked over to me
with a funny look
on his face.

i hesitated.
then i blurted it out.
“catherine was just here -
mentally, i mean.
she just contacted me.
it was really - “

“you didn't tell her
where we were going,
did you?”

“what do you mean?”
i asked.

“just what i said.”

i stumbled,
“no, i don't think so-
i mean it's complex
it's subtle -
but it's alright,
it's alright.
she's -

he looked at me.

“you thought that before.”

he was right.

phase 2 of plan b

we turned south
at the 405 freeway,
went over the pass
that separates
the san fernando valley
from the l.a. basin,
and headed for laguna.

somewhere around
redondo beach,
in an old industrial area
we pulled off the road
to get some gas.
it was an run down station
without any of the new
push button computerized pumps.
as i got out to start
filling the tank,
i knew things had gotten
way out of hand.
they were too dangerous-
too complex.
i wanted desperately
to simplify the situation.
dark thoughts
ran through my head.

i watched jim's back
as he walked toward the men's room.
the tall, ungainly, oil refineries
in the distance
spewed their smoke into the gray sky.
when i was done pumping
and got back behind the wheel,
the gas station attendant
in a forest green jumpsuit
brought back some change
and handed it to me through the window.
my hand reached forward
and turned the key.
the engine turned over
and came alive.
jim was still in the men's room.
i looked at the box
on the seat next to me.
i looked out to the on-ramp
and the freeway beyond
where the cars ripped by
like an invitation.
the engine idled.
it was so simple.
one man.
one stone.
so simple.
i looked back at the box
and put the car in gear.

the passenger door opened.
it was jim.
his voice seemed loud and jarring
as he slid in,
sat back,
and lit up a joint.
he took a deep drag
and waved it in my direction.
“want a hit?”

“ah -
thanks . . .
i'm good.”

he smiled.
i looked at him.
seconds ticked by.

he said,
after a pause,
“you ready?”

i lifted my foot off the brake,
and we drifted out of the station.


my mind was shorting out
as we wound through laguna canyon.
sparks of conflicting desires
were arcing across empty spaces.
it wasn't good.

jim turned down the radio,
and suddenly we were there.
it was dark.
it was beautiful.
stars filled the sky
and fell into the ocean.
across the street was a public beach
empty except for some kids
running and laughing
along the waterline.
the temperature was perfect.
like an air bath.
the sound of the surf
was continuous and soothing.
people strolled leisurely
around the mildly lit streets
in between the bars, restaurants,
and evening shops
as if there were no troubles
anywhere in the world.

we turned left on the coast highway
and drove slowly,
south through the town.
everyone was healthy and beautiful
everyone was well dressed.
everyone had apparently
everything they needed.

it was like the twilight zone.

just past the main part of town
jim instructed me to turn left
at a street called nyes place.
it curved back around under the highway
and dropped down toward the beach.
incredibly expensive
and well appointed houses
were stacked and packed
like jewels on bracelet
all around us.
at the bottom of the street
we turned right onto ward's terrace,
an alley wide street
that was a half a block long.
we parked in a no parking zone
and got out of the car.

once again,
i could hear the surf
just below us,
coming in
with reassuring regularity.
houses crowded around us
lit up like crystal.
the place hummed
with some kind of sparkling quality-
something hard to define,
rich and effervescent -
like expensive champagne.
i noticed jim standing,
with his eyes closed,
taking it all in.

he opened his eyes,
and looked happy
and sad
at the same time.
“it's still got the magic.
but you should have
seen it back in the day . . “
he said
and started walking
down a driveway to the sand.

it was a california dream beach.
thick white sand
three hundred yards long
curving away to the south.
just down the way
a large group
swooping, diving seagulls
were circling
a rugged set of rocks
the size of a cathedral
twenty yards out in the crashing surf.

the rocks were lit
by a set of search lights
on the beach.
the white winged gulls
screamed and squawked
as they wheeled,
and dove for food.
eight foot waves
smashed against the rocks
and sent curling white foam
into the black sky
in slow motion.
jim turned right,
trudged across the sand
to the second house down,
and walked up the stairs to the door.
i followed.

it was one of the older houses
on the beach,
a large, white wooden structure
probably built back in the twenties.
it had obviously been remodeled
with no one worrying about
how much was being spent.
the whole beach side of the house
was windows.
warm light spilled out onto
a quiet, empty porch.

the chemist

jim knocked.
someone yelled from the inside.
“come on in!”

we entered,
went through a small entry way
that was both a beach shower
and a laundry room,
and came out into a
large living room
with cathedral ceilings
thirty feet high.
a hearty looking man
in his forties
was sitting on an
over stuffed red couch
under a two story, ornate
red and gold, moroccan tapestry.
he stood up as soon as he saw us.

he boomed enthusiastically,
“i wasn't expecting you till later!”
he crossed the room
in a half a dozen strides
and took hold of jim
like a lost relative.
he was about six foot three,
about forty eight,
and about 220 pounds.
he had shaggy salt and pepper hair
and a beard to match.
in the middle of all the hair
were two, clear, ice-blue eyes.
he wore baggy levis,
a white shirt open at the collar,
and bare feet.
when he talked to you
he leaned over
and came inside your personal space.
he was inclined to reach out
and touch you.
his name was parc davis.
he was a phd in est.
he was a straight arrow.
he held a handful of degrees
in molecular biology and chemistry.

after we had been introduced
he said,
that must be the famous rock.”

i was startled.
i followed his eyes
and realized that
i was holding the box
tightly in my hand.
with a searching look.
i knew that he could see
that I was spooked.
he registered that information
and then spoke again.

“well, gentlemen!”
he said, full of good cheer.
“you made the evening news.”
he walked over and picked
up a remote on the mantle
of a large, stone fireplace.
he turned off some
ethereal space music
that had been playing
and turned on the
large flat screen t.v.
on the wall opposite the couch.
“i caught it on the five o'clock edition
and then recorded it
when they repeated the story at six.
it's pretty wild.
take a look.”

he hit the play button
and an asian woman's face
appeared on the screen.
she was obviously
the anchor woman
on an l.a. channel.

“and today, on a los angeles t.v. talk show
something truly bizarre happened-
or did it?
bill racine has the story.”

they cut to a slick young male newscaster
standing in front of the theater.
“indeed, carol,
that is the question.
just what did happen today
on the steve benedict show?
no one seems quite sure.
from what we can piece together,
two last minute guests,
claiming they were in possession
of what they said
was the legendary philosopher's stone-
complete with the power
to change lead into gold
and keep its owner forever young,
caused havoc with benedict,
his guests, crew, and audience,
before they apparently
walked out of the studio
and disappeared into thin air.
as you will be able to tell
from the following clip,
it's obvious that something
very strange happened here today.”

they cut to the show.
the sound of applause.
“ -welcome, curtis embrey and aunt jim.”
the applause swells.
jim and i stumble in
from the wings,
blinking blindly in the lights.
jim glances back over his shoulder.
steve shakes my hand
and grabs the box.
“and this, i suppose
is the magic rock
that they were telling me about.”
he opens the lid,
takes out the stone,
and looks off camera.
“can we get a close-up
of this thing, dave?'
the stone fills the screen
and starts to light up.
they cut back to steve,
jim, and i.
steve puts the stone on the desk
where it begins to glow more brightly.
jim and i look awkward and confused.
we twitch nervously in our seats.
steve turns toward us
to start his interview
and goes blank.
a stupid smile sweeps
across his face,
and he emits a high-pitched squeal.

in the background,
the audience is starting
to disintegrate
into loud talk and laughter.
the camera does a slow pan
diagonally upward
and stops,
out of focus
on the hanging lights
above the stage.

suddenly, the young newscaster
is back on the screen.
standing next to him
is a white, middle-aged man
in a sky blue leisure suit
and horn rimmed glasses.
“mr. benedict and the producers
of the show were
unavailable for comment.
we were, however, able to question
a few members of the audience.”:
he turns to the older man.
“sir, would you identify yourself.”

“sure thing, son,”
said the man
in a thick texas accent.
“my name is lloyd huggins
from beaumont, texas.
my wife i are out here
on vacation.”

“mr. huggins,
you were at the show this afternoon,
can you tell us what happened?”


i don't rightly- i mean I'm not exactly sure.
you see, these two peculiar looking men
came out on the stage.
then mr. benedict pulled
that there stone out of its box,
and then it seemed like
the whole place kind of went crazy,
people laughin and talkin,
and then -
then, i don't rightly know-
i mean,
all of a sudden, i believe
i was readin my wife's thoughts-“
he looks off camera
with an unsettled look on his face
that looked like he had just been caught
pissing in public.
“and i'll tell you what son,
i don't know what the hell
happened after that.
i think I passed out.”

“thank you, mr. huggins.
and now we have another
member of the audience.”
a young, black boy
wearing a baseball cap
steps forward.
he has a smile on his face
bigger than his head.

i said painfully.

he looked over at me.
“had enough?”
he asked.

i nodded,
and he turned it off.

so conscience doth make . . .

i stood up
and walked out
onto the darkened porch.
the gulls down the way
circled theatrically
around the spot-lit rocks.
the waves came in
and crashed on the shore
with a subsonic, dull, thumping sound
a soothing, timeless peace
pervaded the whole beach.
it was a feeling of relaxation
that comes just before
you surrender to sleep.
it came to me
that i never wanted to leave-
not ever-
i just wanted to stay and rest.

i reached out in my mind
for catherine-
reached for her essence-
concentrated on her image.
like watching the hour hand
on a clock
i began to feel something indefinable
coming up in some deep area
of my consciousness.

it was jim's emotions,
not catherine's,
that came into my head.
they were those of worry,
of uncertainty,
of affection.
they were accompanied by words.
“dude, what's the matter?”

i felt his hand on my shoulder
and came back
to the real world of the porch.

i looked at him,
and it all came spilling out.

“are you kidding?
you saw lloyd huggins
from boxcar texas
or wherever the fuck it was,
for christ's sake!
what the hell do you think is wrong?”
i was still holding the box.
i turned away,
leaned against the porch railing,
and looked back out
to the dark sea.
“who are we
to unleash this thing
on the fucking world?”

he was silent then,
looking down at his shoes.
he looked up and spoke.
“who are we to deny it?”

i looked over at him
and our eyes locked.
that's easy for you to say,”
i snapped,
“you don't really give a shit.”

his eyebrows shot up,
and a look of surprised recognition
came over his face.
“yeah . . .
you're right there.
i guess i'm not much help
when it comes to moral dilemmas.”

i smiled involuntarily
and then laughed.
“jesus . . .”

just then
parc stepped out
onto the porch.
you guys want
to see my lab?”

the lab

he pointed to a hunk of gray metal
the size of a refrigerator
that looked like a cross
between and satellite
and a safe.

“that's the electron-spectrometer.
i just got it last week.”

the walls of the room
were line with equipment-
some i recognized,
like computer terminals and keyboards-
some i didn't.
it all hummed and blinked
and twittered.
in the middle of the room
was a black topped counter,
eight feet long,
with two stainless steel sinks
in the middle.
gas outlets were fitted
every two feet along the underside
of the counter top.
a rack of vials and beakers
hung over the whole thing
like wine glasses in a fern bar.

as parc was trying to explain
the whole setup,
jim interrupted him, laughing,
“remember that first batch of acid
we made up?”

parc smiled.
“up to a certain point.”
he stopped and his eyes
got wide and goofy
looking at his old friend.
they both broke out
laughing, remembering.
when the laughing died down,
they both looked over at me.
after a long pause,
parc spoke up.

“well, curtis?”

i looked down at the box.

decisions affecting others
wear the weight
unborn by those
touching just one's own life.
consequences ripple out
with unknown ends
to unknown destinations,
changing strangers
as well as friends.
no one
can ever see
far enough ahead
to judge the ultimate merit
of his actions.
we move through this life
like a blind man,
lurching along by touch
and instinct.


i looked up at parc.
there were no answers
in his waiting eyes,
only questions.

i handed the box to him.

he put the box on the counter.
“i'll just need to scrape off a few grains.”

“be quick about,”
said jim,
“or you'll be
watching the walls breath.”

parc opened the box,
took the stone out,
and scratched one of the facets
with a scalpel like knife.
some dust fell into a petri dish.
the stone started to light up in his hand.
i felt a bolt of physical energy
and mental clarity
rush from the base of my spine
to the top of my head.

parc stuttered under his breath,
as he managed to
get it back in the box
and close the lid.
“holy shit, gentlemen!”
his eyes were wide and shining.

rip tide

we left parc setting up his equipment
and started down the stairs
to the main part of the house.
when we reached the landing
that looked down on the living room,
i stopped.
i felt weightless.
i smiled a real smile
for the first time in days.

“i've got an idea.
let's take a walk
down on the beach.”

said jim.

we walked past
the gulls, rocks, and spot lights
into the dark beach south of the house.
a cold, wet, salty mist
sprayed across our faces.
we kept to the firm sand
just above the shifting water line.
jim cupped a match in his hands,
lit a cigarette,
and took a long drag.
he looked out at the
large waves crashing
almost right on the shore
with the earth shaking thump
of mortar fire.
“there's a bad rip tide
out there tonight,”
he said,
raising his voice to be heard.

i said,
“let's really check this thing out.”

“what do you mean?”
“i mean that both times
we experienced this thing,
it blind sided us.
we had no idea what
was going to happen.
this will be different.”

“you think?”

“fuck it.
we've come this far.
let's see.”

he laughed
and put the cigarette out.
“light me up.”

i opened the lid,
placed the box on the sand,
and kneeled down beside it.
jim sat down next to me,
and crossed his legs.

we were in each other's minds
almost immediately-
no need to speak,
we knew each other
that well already.

then came the awareness
of each other's body.
even though we were the same age,
his body felt older, stiffer, more decayed,
but somehow internally stronger.
i felt the pain in his back
where he had had two vertebras fused.
it was a constant, dull, throbbing ache.

we relaxed into each other-
exploring with mental senses
the dimensions, boundaries,
and qualities of the space
that we floated in together.
i was still the same,
knowing myself,
but being someone other.
having achieved some kind
of mysterious union,
we started to spread out
as one thing.
the previously perceived
barriers that separated
us from our surroundings
fell away-
known now only as
artificial mental constructs
with no substantiality
in the larger reality.
we experienced and became
the deep churning ocean
flexing restlessly
on the unyielding shore-
being both the surging
crashing waves full
of sand and kelp,
wet and fluid,
and the infinite
grains of sand,
each totally separate
in its uniqueness
but yet making
up the one thing
that was the beach.

we began to lose
bodily consciousness,
existing only as
energy and awareness.
the sound of the ocean faded away
and was replaced by
a loud electrical humming.
i could feel us slipping
into the same experience
that i had that night
in the motel in phoenix.
suddenly, however,
there was something that
was reaching out and stopping us.
there was a weight-
a darkness,
a constriction
preventing us from going further.
there was fear.

we opened our eyes
at the same time,
and, at the same time,
realized the same thought -

i grabbed the box
and we scrambled
and ran
back to the house.

hail, hail . . .

yelled jim
as we ran into the living room.

at the top of the stairs
parc appeared from the back of the house
with a gun at his head.
cutter, magnus, and catherine followed him.

“good evening, embrey.
i see you're still hanging around
with your punk peter pan.
you should upgrade the quality
of your acquaintances.
magnus looked like his mother
that day on the porch
when she died.
he was drawn, sunken, and lifeless.
he moved slowly
with great pain and effort.

cutter looked worse,
if that was possible.
like someone's nightmare.
his eyes rolled wildly in his head,
showing white much of the time.
his hands shook.
he smiled widely,
with clenched teeth
and jaw muscles standing
out from his head in large knots.
he was talking to himself
about being the greatest thing
since dinosaurs.
his hair and suit
looked like he was standing
in the middle of a wind storm.

she was dressed
like she was going to a party-
slinky black dress,
with thin shoulder straps,
cut low in the back and front,
clinging tightly to
the curves of her body,
until it stopped just above her knees.
black stiletto heels
clacked down the wooden stairs.
she looked imploringly at me.

“got a date tonight?”
i asked her.

“don't be bitter, embrey,”
magnus answered for her,
“love is a passing condition.
take it from one who knows.”

they had reached the bottom
of the stairs.
“why don't we all sit down
and rest?”
wheezed the big man,
and he collapsed on the red couch.
he pulled his .45 out of his windbreaker
and motioned for parc and catherine
to sit down with him.
he pointed the gun in my direction.
“i'll take the stone now.”

i walked over and set the box
on the coffee table
in front of him.
he opened it immediately
and quickly inspected the stone
for any damage.
he closed the lid.
go to the lab.
destroy everything in it.”
he spoke slowly,
looked in the smaller man's eyes,
and enunciated each word carefully.
“do you understand?
destroy everything.”

“sure, sure,
mr. magnus
- i'm good at destroying stuff -
i'm the greatest destroyer
in the world. i'mbetterthanhitler.
better than the atom bomb. better
thananything, you just waitandsee.
you'll see.”
he ran up the stairs.

“i had to give cutter a taste of the stone
when we had it.
i'm afraid his exposure was too much for him,”
he said wearily,
“small minds tend to overload.
it's not for everyone.
you'll excuse me,”
he breathed heavily,
“i must recharge my batteries.
it will just take a few seconds.”
he opened the box.

sounds of breaking glass
and tearing metal
came from the upstairs.
it sounded as if cutter
was taking a sledge hammer
to parc's equipment.

the stone started to emit light.
as it did,
magnus reached out
and caressed its surfaces-
rubbed his thumb over
the top-most facets.
he sat back then and relaxed.
everyone in the room
began to feel its effects.

no one spoke.
the only noises
were the waves outside
and the sound of
cutter's demolition.
the intensity of his violence
seemed to be escalating.
magnus started reaching forward,
apparently to close the lid,
but he couldn't quite make it.
a look of wonderment
swept across his face.
his gun hand dropped to the couch
and stayed there.
he stared off at nothing
and smiled beatifically.

by this time,
the rest of us were opening up.
i reached out to jim mentally,
and together,
we imposed our will on the room.
parc was too carried away
by the rush of the energy to do anything.
catherine was reaching out to me
with emotional promises.
i tried to shut her out,
not knowing if i could trust her.
upstairs cutter was reaching
some kind of hysterical frenzy.
he was screaming to himself.

i stood up
went across to the coffee table,
and closed the lid of the box.
i reached over
and felt for the pulse
in magnus' carotid artery.
there was none.
in his weakened condition
the final dose must have
put him over the edge.
it tended to confirm
what I already suspected.
full exposure to the stone
took you to a state of consciousness
on the other side of physical death.
i didn't have time to consider the implications.
i reached over and closed his eyes.
he was still smiling.
i said under my breath
and started to take the gun
from his dead hand.

“you won't need that,
i spun around.
“we have the situation
well under control.”
it was felker and his robots.
i should have realized
that they would be
right behind magnus.

felker motioned to graves,
who came over and grabbed the box.
whitney covered the room.
he held his gun calmly
with both hands.

the noise upstairs finally stopped.
cutter came babbling
out onto the upstairs landing.
“mr. magnus! mr. magnus!
i did real good - realgood!
you should comesee!”

he froze when he saw
felker and his men below.
with the speed of the insane,
his right hand slipped into
his sport coat
and came out holding his pistol.
he almost made it.

with the speed of a machine,
whitney lifted his gun
and blew a loud hole
in cutter's chest.
the small man was thrown
backward against the wall.
he bounced forward,
came crashing through the railing,
fell through the air,
and landed in an awkward
broken boned heap
on parc's expensive
floral print
chinese rug.

. . . and let my dreaming go.

i felt catherine
suddenly slide into and around me
like an invisible snake-
under my skin,
embracing me,
coiling around me
like an emotion mist.

i looked across the room to her.
she was sitting erect,
staring at me.
she gave herself to me then.
i heard what she was thinking.
“i knew if i stayed close to magnus
that he would find you.”
there was no doubting her.
lying was impossible in this state.

i looked quickly around the room.
nothing had changed.
we had been in some no-time.

felker was by the fireplace,
off to my left,
with the box in his hand.
he gestured to graves.
“check the upstairs.”
the dark man turned automatically
and took the stairs two at a time.
whitney stood next to his boss
and held us all at bay.

parc was still sitting on the couch,
just beginning to come around.
jim was standing by the door to the porch,
leaning forward on the balls of his feet,
waiting for a cue.
i reached out to him.
the connection was still there.
telepathically i told him to wait,
and then i opened up enough
to include both he and catherine.
i was beginning to gain some control
over the experience.
we all reached out together to parc.
his mind was still blown open
like a jack in the box.

i became the focal point
of all of our energies
which grew in strength
as we merged.
power multiplied within me
within seconds.

the change in the interpersonal chemistry
in the room
to the point that
felker began to look uneasy-
eyes darting around the room
to each of us.
he called out.
what the hell are you doing?!”

at that moment,
he was vulnerable.
i slipped inside his head.
his conscious mind was
on the defensive,
enclosed in walls of fear.
my intrusion was pushed
down into a subconscious level.
it was there that i saw
i could work.

i opened up to him then.
joined with him.
became one with his dreams and memories.
joined with the child in him.
i remembered with him.
he was four years old
when he discovered that
there was no way out of
this life alive.
he was sitting on the sidewalk
outside his grandparents home
in chicago,
on spaulding avenue
it was a warm, green, breezy summer day.
he was playing on the warm cement
with his favorite dump truck.
an orchestra was playing the song, “tenderly”
on a radio inside the house.
it came drifting out an open window
with its white lace curtains rippling
in the breeze.
it hit him like a physical blow-
out of nowhere.
he was going to die.

nothing could stop it.
his mind reached out for alternatives.
there weren't any.
he was going to die.
he was too stunned to even cry.

felker's eyes flickered
in my direction.
i left him then.
he looked at me curiously,
as if, perhaps,
he knew me
from somewhere,
long ago.
he shifted nervously on his feet.
graves appeared on the wrecked landing.
“there used to be some kind
of a lab up here.
looks like the little weasel really trashed it.
nothing left but broken glass.”

“alright, get down here.
we're leaving.”

whitney looked at him sharply,
still holding his pistol out straight
at shoulder level.
“you're not going to leave them here,
are you?”

“let's go,”
said felker impatiently.

“you can't leave them here alive!”
whitney's knees were bent slightly,
hands tightening on the gun,
ready for the executions.

felker turned on him,
and backhanded him across the face
with a loud popping sound.
“don't tell me
what i can and can't do!”
he was on the verge of snapping
and he didn't even know why.

i did.

to kill me at this point
would have been like committing suicide.
we had merged on a level that he
wasn't consciously aware of,
but it affected his decisions anyway.
it put him in an almost
schizophrenic state of mind.

his emotions came out in a rush.
they came out all over whitney.
felker reached out,
grabbed the man's esophagus,
and squeezed tightly like a claw.
“don't ever fucking tell me!”
he pushed whitney toward the door.
“move it!”

just before he followed his men
out of the living room
and out of the house,
he threw a glance at me
over his shoulder.
his look held fear,
and recognition.

then they were gone.
i went over to the window
and watched them trudge
across the sand.
catherine came over
and pressed herself against me.
i watched the stone
in felker's hand.

said jim out loud,
“there goes one great high.”

i turned and looked at parc,
who was now just putting
back on the suit of his separate self.
“is that right, parc?”

the chemist stood up shakily
and walked over to the window next to us.
he watched as felker and his men started
walking up the driveway to the street above.

parc smiled.
“just before magnus got here
i had analyzed the crystalline '
and chemical composition of the stone.
by now, its on a thousand chat rooms
and bulletin boards,
all over the net.

jim stared at him
and made a strange sound
deep in his throat.
then he laughed and howled
at the same time.
“you made it in time!?”
he started dancing around the room.
abruptly, he stopped and looked at parc.
“you made it in time!?
are you sure!?”

davis nodded and smiled shakily.
“it's a done deal.”

jim let out a long scream
that rose in volume.
he danced around parc,
grabbed him in a bear hug,
and emitted a series
of weird animal noises.

jim's elation shot through us all.
exhilarated us.
we were the joy.
it ran through us like a river.

all at once,
it became glaringly obvious
that we were all still connected.
thoughts and emotions
were jumping between us like sparks.

before it could go any further,
each of us pulled back,
into our own shells.
but it was too late.
something permanent had happened.
there was still
an inerasable current
of emotional union
humming through us
in the background
of each of our formerly
separate personalities.

we stood there in shock -
with cutter's crumpled form on the rug.
with magnus' smiling corpse on the couch.

i looked over to catherine,
and i was her,
looking at me,
looking at her,
looking at me.

our faces smiled.

there was nothing else they could do.

who can understand these things?

we are the fact and the fiction.

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