Shorts, Episodes, and other nonsense...

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"Somewhere there's a circus going on running itself."
anonymous

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'The End Of Days' Bar & Lounge
I was sitting alone at a bar drinking bourbon and coke on the rocks, mesmerized by the whirligigs of leaves and trash dancing on the street. My thoughts were grim; desolation lined my wheels; lights flickered on my dashboard. I could've been having an out-of-body experience but I had no way to tell, the cocoon of inebriation held me in its thrall. The world had thumbed me into the earth like a push-pin. I protested not.

I had enough cash left for one more good drunk and that was the end of the bloody rainbow. As I eyeballed the keeper of the booze, nodding and pointing for another drink, I accidentally glanced in the mirror behind the bar and couldn't help but think of Armageddon. I don't know if it was the bleary woebegone grimace I barely recognized or if the roulette ball of depravity had finally found a home. The near shock peeled the scab off my buzz like sandpaper over a rough knot.

I lit another smoke and waited. Sooner or later, I thought, it'll come to pass -- Armageddon.

I heard the door slam, helped by the wind. Two leather-backed seats away, the wood floor scraped a chair across itself and an angel sat in it. At least, that's how I saw it. She ordered a gin and tonic with a twist of lime. Lime, I thought, must be canadian. I overheard the bartender call her Lilly. He had a harsh whiskey voice so I really wasn't sure. Coulda been Billy or Milly or maybe even Gunga Dilly for that matter. Like I said, I was working on a bourbon drunk; one more sheet and I'd be gone with the wind, whirligiging to my motel room where a bottle waited patiently. Whatever her name, she had to be the angel of death, right on cue.

Behind me at a roundtable sat the Four Horsemen. They drank beer by the pitcher, imported from the Gates of Hell brewery in Texas, into which they liberally poured red wine, imported from the grocery store down the street. They spoke in muffled tones like spies from the underworld. No doubt discussing the particulars of the impending Apocalypse. For the sake of humanity I felt I should challenge them to a duel. But, I was pretty drunk and didn't think I'd be able to take all four. Maybe Pestilence and Famine, but War and Death? I'd probably be biting off more than I could chew; wouldn't be the first time. Besides, humanity and I hadn't been on speaking terms since Delilah left with my Cordoba and the bank account. Not her real name, but, it should've been. I really liked that car. Anyway, the angel of death was nearby, maybe that's why she was here.

The door banged shut again and in walked two men wearing cowboy hats and knee-length black coats, their boots thudded the hardwood floor untimidly. One had blonde hair, the other, ink black; both tied back in long ponytails. I recognized them at once. A surge of hope rose and fell, a heaving swell on the open sea of life's fortunes. Although, I hadn't eaten for a couple of days so it could've been nausea. Something rose and fell. The Archangels Michael and Gabriel bee-lined for the table against the wall, putting their backs to it and facing the Horsemen. It was adjacent the wood stove which crackled and stuttered as they passed. This is it, I thought, my chest tightening, showdown!

Not wishing to spoil the party, I scooped all but a few bucks off the bar with the idea of getting the hell out of there, when the angel of death put her soft tanned hand on my arm. At least, it looked soft. I hadn't noticed her slide over; she could've just appeared. Angels can do that, you know. A boggy warmth rolled up my back, flushing my neck, moistening my armpits. My heart raced momentarily, which worried me. Was I having hot flashes with a heart attack chaser? Surely her touch couldn't inspire such passion. Or, could it? Well, I suppose. The last time I rolled in the hay hula-hoops were two bucks a piece.

She brought her full red wet lips next to my ear and whispered seductively, "Don't go yet. The fun's about to start."

I made an effort to smile and nod as though savvy, but, blithe, I did not feel. The stench of imminent death saturating my now sweaty shirt, short-circuiting the calm I'd been cultivating, kinda put me off my game. I was uncertain how to proceed. My tombstone flashed, bearing the inscription: Here lies a man of meager means who fought hard, but the chips were stacked against him from birth and he died like he lived -- a drunk and a coward. I shook my head and it vanished. Another immediately chiseled its way in: He died like he lived -- clueless. I couldn't resist a smirk and raised my glass in salute.

Through long, curling, ebullient lashes, the angel of death peered at me with mischievous eyes a deep shade of purple, vertiginous whirls that brooked no resistance. Concern, or indifferent curiosity, wrinkled her otherwise flawless features. I guess she never met anyone who could engage in private conversation with himself while sitting next to her. Surprised me too.

Something from the distant past swept over me and I swiveled my chair to glare balefully at the Horsemen. I glanced at the backs of their leather jackets expecting to see appropriate designations and was temporarily confused. Instead the word Vampires was writ bold, large and slanted. They're disguised, I thought, how clever. They ignored me. I have to confess, my best scary face no longer had any effect. I dropped it with a shrug and looked over at Michael and Gabriel; they smiled back. Not friendly like, but not sarcastic either. A gesture of acknowledgment, no more. Archangels, I surmised, a serious no-nonsense bunch.

I re-elbowed the bartop and took another sip of bourbon-coke through the swizzle stick. A sissy habit, I know, but one I was quite fond of. Ice crashing into my teeth spiked an otherwise flattened brain wave; we can't have that. The angel beside me ordered another for herself and me. I had to smile now; I was a bought man. Dozens of comments and phrases from my youth cascaded down the wind-swept slopes of my brain, eventually avalanching to befuddled chaos amid dense fog. But the ruination of the Ages was upon us, I reminded myself, so anything would do.

Forcibly resisting the temptation to glance at my reflection, I turned to her and mumbled, "Thanks, hon." I could barely hear myself, so I said it again with a bit more steam behind it. I'd been driving downhill at full speed and was suddenly asked to pull a u-turn. Grinding gears and burning clutch I spun and hit the gas.

She smiled broadly, showing snow-white teeth, and clinked glasses for a toast, then slammed down a shot o' gin like an Irishman at a wake. Something was seriously wrong with this picture, I decided. Was I to be sacrificed? Was she part of some devilish plan to seduce me and steal my soul? Whatever for? I'm nobody. How did I fit in to all this?

The shortest distance between parallel universes is where they intersect along an edge, which is no distance at all. In other words, a person could just introduce himself and start jabbering. I pivoted towards the angel but, lo and behold, she was at the rear of the bar bent over the pool table. How does she do that? Her blonde hair fell wildly about her shoulders; tight jeans accentuated her divine qualities. She hadn't asked me to rack 'em up, so maybe she wanted to be alone. That didn't make sense, though, after buying me a drink and all. Watching her move, I became inspired to throw down the gauntlet. Maybe that's how it worked? A human had to offer himself, to go willingly, for the bargain to be set in stone. If I played her and lost, what would that mean? Would I forfeit my soul? But, what if I won?

In the land of limbo, I waited for a sign. And waited. The road to perdition is paved with lost opportunities.

As dusk descended, the dark-clad bartender tossed a couple o' pieces of wood on the fire. The Four Horsemen conferred in hushed tones. The Archangels sat staring blankly, fatigue circling like buzzards in their eyes. The angel of death played pool by herself. Wind clawed the front windows and rattled the door, testing, seeking weakness. Snow swirled like confetti from on high celebrating the end of days. The stove sizzled and popped.

I could hear the muffled clack of pool balls, the lazy shuffling of the bartender as he busied himself, and the clock motor gently whirring, ticking off the moments of a life. All was quiet and serene as I lit a smoke and ordered another bourbon and coke on the rocks.

Armageddon, bring it on.

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Fireflies
It's night, a dark night, no moon. You're standing on a hilltop overlooking a broad plain of shrub and grass far below - a grassland. Swarms of fireflies blink in clusters of all sizes, separated here and there by darkness, a darkness illuminated now and then by solitary flickers of light. Being mathematically inclined, you can't help but try to determine any discernable pattern emerging in the melee; it all seems so chaotic at first. After a time, and due to extraordinary extrasensory powers of perception accidentally gifted to you by a lab experiment gone terribly wrong when a child, you notice different-sized groupings and lone individuals blinking together.

Upon further inspection you isolate and localize subgroupings and individuals within the clusters that alternate out of sync. Deeper perception, using the aforementioned genetically altered ability, reveals even more complex subdivision associations: the timing appears haphazard and chaotic only on the surface; each firefly varies the radiation duration of its biochemical energy; and each partakes of an uncountable number of configurations, but not all configurations.

Moreover, due to your enhanced powers of discernment, breadth of vision, and cranial capacity surpassing that of the most sophisticated supercomputer presently on the drawing boards, you process, nanosecond to nanosecond, the intermittent patterns of light and dark spasmodically radiating from the field below, not missing a single creature, cataloguing similar patterns into classes as you go.

After a few hours of this, having nothing better to do with your time, you become aware of particular sets of fireflies separated around the field by considerable distance, some solitary, others in clusters of varying sizes, blinking off and on simultaneously. Other sets occasionaly blink with these forming their own separate patterns, but seem to join in a related way from from time to time to form more intricate designs. In fact, a few times during the night, as if by sheer coincidence, all the fireflies in the field illuminate at once, a glorious sight to be sure.

Now where am I going with this firefly-superpower story, you may well ask. Well, the other day I was thinking about layers of multiple personal identities arranged onion-skin like; it seemed a reasonable metaphor, at the time, in order to approach the subject. One flaw, however, is that these layers, being hierarchical, are separated from one another and therefore discontinuous, each layer being the result of a transitional phase shift, an increasing step-function. When one layer is activated, the others are quiescent. But the idea can be extended to one wherein the varying layers are not separate, but are rather embedded in a larger whole, the hierarchy being maintained as the effect of modular organization.

Furthermore, when we remember an event or personal experience, it ususally takes just a few, or possibly even a single, thought-idea-image-sensation to trigger a cascade of associations rendering a fuller, detailed picture - a web of relationships. A light is turned on, by whatever stimulus, and all those ideas to which it is connected light-up as well - a complex, coherent pattern - a memory.

Could this also be a fairly accurate model to describe the continuous stream of transforming interconnections and relationships as varying identities of self, perceptual orientations, recognizable patterns that emerge daily? If so, are we justified in speaking of a basic core-self to be found amongst the almost limitless arrangements?

The notion of morphogenetic field refers to an overall organizer of the bewilderingly complex parts, mechanisms, and forces that collectivley compose a single organic cell, regardless of type or fundamental characteristics. This idea is not fully accepted by the biology community, but, nevertheless, not only does it serve the explanatory purpose, but nothing else does. Clearly it is a wholistic idea, not one to be readily appreciated by the reductionists.

Franklin M. Harold, in his comprehensive and informative book, The Way of the Cell, writes:

Back on the hill overlooking the field of fireflies, can you, gifted with special powers as you are, perceive any particular patterns that always stay lit? Is there ever an instant when the field is completely dark? What would that represent: unconsciousness, sleep without dreams, death? Where does the core-self go, where is it, when the field becomes completely dark? Do you intuitively sense an organizing agency underlying the firefly arrangements?

If we think of the intermittent patterns of light as ego manifestations not opposed to but actually subsumed within this core-self, then the morphogenetic field of both firefly and ego dynamics can be said to be responsible for generating and regulating the fluctuating configurations.

Our many selves vie for dominance and attention moment to moment as we go about our lives. Ego orchestrates our personality, a constellation of selves working together as one. We inherit or absorb, osmosis-like, psychological and emotional frames of reference from those of influence as we grow: our family, friends, teachers; individuals we've never met except through their work: artists, writers, film-makers, scientists, philosophers, explorers, trailblazers, leaders, people of all persuasions.

Ego manifestation creates the illusion of 'temporal reality,' and with it, of course, a separate self unconnected to nonlinear time, convention and conviction lending backbone and integrity to our views of the world. Acceptable under most ordinary circumstances, but, what if this social space was one of oppression and terror, of mental harshness and intolerable abuse, of destitution and neglect? To be devoid of power to affect one's condition sets the stage for rebellion, metaphysical, physical, or both. Freedom becomes everything: an ideal, a holy grail, a selfless gift to humanity; fueled, usually, by revenge, outrage and humiliation.

The I, the core-self, struggles to be free; its realm is freedom, real natural freedom; not willfullness, but rather the exercise of self on all levels simultaneously, including the community level, the social psychological level, and the collective consciousness level, in humanity space. Limiting conditions, constraints, chains, need to be overcome if control, fearlessness, and autonomy are to reign. Work must be done to affect transformation. The metaphysical component, integral to the seedling consciousness, has its roots in the fourth dimension of self; moreover, one's own personal identity is undercut and superceded in meaning and importance by identifying with Atman or the Void, or Godhead, or some Ultimate, Multi-dimensional Reality embodying all, being all. Subsuming one's personality and all that goes with it under the belief that God, or Allah, or whoever, communicates with you, giving instructions, is to identify by proxy.

But at this juncture, unknown forces, physical and psychic, interplay and twine with the increasing awareness, growing in stages, like rings of a tree. The ego always wants a piece of the action; firefly patterns begin to merge; new, never-before-known or imagined configurations of personas emerge tugging and pulling - and so there is danger.

We have but to consider the vista: This three-dimensional manifestation we call a body redefines into merely: an instrument of knowing; the densest medium of consciousness; malleable material with which to sculpt, paint, act-out, a life. Furthermore, we perceive what goes on in other peoples' heads as pure fantasy, not-real, not anything needing to be taken seriously. Armed with these two understandings, the true believer sees a sacred duty: inform others, through word and deed, as to what is and what isn't.

The inclination, the gravitational enticement to become wholly ego-centered, disguised now as divine expression, can be easily justified and rationalized in the context of self-enlightenment, or, divine right, as of kings. Regardless of how an individual may choose to interpret his justification, however, it is generally perceived on the world stage as an uncompromising inflexibility in pursuit of one's cause or agenda. The true believer's one-sided point of view is further facilitated and supported by the certainty that one is only acting according to the truth of eternal, god-like self-realization, one's birth-right, the Cosmic Imperative - my will and God's will are one and the same. The ego is now running the show.

Symbiotic integration with the minds of others who do not share the same vision must cease, and the bond holding the group together must effectively subjugate self-determination and even personal identity. The ego has untethered from its moorings, from its source. There is, however, one small price to pay for this power, certainty, and strength of will - the will to be: Generally, one must completely sever and abandon any and all personal, real relationships with everything and everybody; there is only the knowing, not the sharing; the openness, not the vulnerability; the context, not the content. You can't have your cake and eat it too.

If the cause ranges from survival to self-actualization, and the mind-set only temporarily donned for the purpose at hand - the overlords routed and vanguished - then the fuel and its expression will dissolve into vacant energy. If not, if the mind-set is an end in itself - a dead end - the formerly downtrodden will transform into the new despots. The ego rules. But doubt splits the heart and mind, and after repeated moral defeats due to internal conflicts and binds that have yet to be addressed, as well as by external reality itself, there is a return, or a regression, to a state of superposition of mortal ego-centerdness and/or denial of self. Insecurity and fear become the driving motivations causing evermore stringent attempts to control, to plug the holes and cracks in the dam that cannot long resist the great crumbling.

Major social and cultural changes and upheavals that rip away social and personal identitities, the anchors in the storm, constants and familiars, bring with them a variant on this doubt and a regression to a more primitive identity, a tribal mentality. During the transitional period following such a crisis, new symbols of significance must be created and developed quickly if descendance into the vortex of chaos and self-destruction is to be avoided.

The experience of individual willfullness in a society or state-of-mind run by intimidation, real or imagined, must grapple with the double bind of trying to act purposefully while yet maintaining oppressed-, outcast-, or victim-status identity, ultimately the source of the anger fueling resistance and self-righteousness. When a golden opportunity presents itself allowing us to step out and away, to let go of this identity, whatever form it has taken, there will be those who balk, resist, refuse; it takes acceptance to grab hold, to grow.

But there's also real fear: The power infusing the spirit of resistance, so long a safeguard and protector, will go away, and then - what? Without that fuel and after the fact of its need, we are yet faced with the terror of capitulating to our oppressors. What is needed is the recognition of the part we play, of our collaboration with the feedback mechanism, and then of acting on this awareness. In general, there are always three choices: give in, fight on, or step into other available avenues. But, in a practical sense, that last one has to be a possibility, or otherwise seen as a possibility, which takes some degree of clarity and sense of self.

Power can become a drug, a drug we can't afford; to adandon it without a bedrock of self-identity to stand on, is to collapse into oblivion. The tension this produces, which becomes strain after time, creates the illusion, or delusion, of will wattage. Loss of faith in the certainty of one's course, increasing withdrawl, insecurity, paranoia, suppression, repression, mind-set rigidity, all the ingredients, sow the seeds for the next cycle of moral collapse, followed by ego assertion on another stage. Is there a way out?

To quote once again from Webster & Goodwin in The Way of the Cell: "... globally ordered initial fields pass through a series of bifurcations to detailed local structures that reflect initial order and result in an organism with coherently arranged parts." How can we apply this? Let's paraphrase: The individual human psyche, at once of the same nature as the species-psyche - global, but also unique - locally detailed, generates ego-structure as a function coherently arranging the many personas - parts, reflecting the initial order of the field - self. If this locally detailed ego-structure is identiifed as primal, that is, if it is disconnected from the initial order, then firstly, it will not reflect its nature in truth but only imagine it is doing so; and secondly, it can only draw sustenance from that which drives it, not the ultimate source -Life.

And another quote from Mr. Harold: "... hierarchical relationships among the nested layers of life, such that change and constraint can operate both upward from the level of genes and individuals, and downward from that of species and ecosystems." Nested stages of social order, from the world at large to the single person caught up in his or her local experience, modularize identities and affect change as they simultaneously constrain. How to free ourselves from this all-pervasive social web when such is demanded?

Once again, back on the hill above the grassland of firelies blinking madly in patterns too complicated to fathom, daylight eventually comes. The fireflies sleep, no more ego-patterns, only the field remains - the potential. And therein lies life, our true birth-right, the genuine Cosmic Imperative. The normal vector to the plane of the spinning wheel of existence points in the direction of self-discovery and humanity; it radiates as between the spokes of the wheel and the patterns of firefly light.

Now, get down off that hill before you catch cold!

Speaking of changing directions, I'd like to say a few choice words about the weather.

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I live in the Northwest, western Washington to be more precise. It's nowhere near as harsh as back in the Northeast right now [Jan. 26] for sure, but, we have 27 different words for 'grey' where I live. There's many kinds of grey: there's steel-grey, nickle-grey, aluminum-and-other-metal-elements-grey; there's state-trooper-heart-grey, dead-puppy-on-the-side-of-the-road-grey, grimy-port drinkin'-looking-at-the-past-grey, dark grey, whiskey grey, snow grey. There's even that mottled, multi-shaded grey, when the sky almost looks pretty, all broken up and layered with varying degrees and streaks of bright and dark grey; then there's that grey that seems to have weight to it, pushing you down at the shoulders, heavy, oppressive, ruthless, sinister. GREY! It's grey out here, folks, trust me on that, all winter long, all eight (8) months of it.

Once in a while, after all the moisture is squeezed out of the air, the sun comes out, usually mixed with soft white puffy clouds, and that blue, that beautiful blue, that all but forgotten blue, intense, deep; it lifts your spirit, makes you high. The air is clean and clear, sharp, yet warm feeling. You're young again, you can cope, people are friendly and smiling, life ain't so bad. You can do things, make a life for yourself, get married, raise a family, build that dream house, get a good-payin' decent job that's challenging and interesting, a car that doesn't make all those weird noises,... YEA!

But, that usually lasts only for a day, or two. Then - grey..., like the Spanish Inquisition, overseeing our every move with a disaproving smirk, promising to rain, or rain mixed with snow, and then doin' it.

Talking about the weather may not be the best thing to do after all, no. That damp, bone-numbing, never-ending chill permeating the air, the fibers of your clothes, your soul, ... enough, enough, that's it.

Time for a bottle of port.

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The mass of the planet Jupiter is more than twice that of all the other planets combined. It's mostly hydrogen and helium, as are all the gas planets, but it's also supposed to have a rocky core [indirect knowledge, to be sure] roughly about 10 to 15 Earth masses. Jupiter is around 85,000 miles in diameter, about one-tenth that of the sun and about twelve times that of the Earth. The Great Red Spot is oval shaped, about 7200 by 15,000 miles, big enough to hold two Earths. Its magentosphere extends past the orbit of Saturn, about 390 million miles in her direction, not too far towards the sun. Distance between celestial objects, like the sun and a planet, is measured as the 'mean distance between centers along the semimajor axis of the elliptical orbit.' Jupiter is therefore 467 million miles from the sun, Earth is around 90 million; that puts it, on the average of its closest proximity, about 377 million miles away from us. Doesn't seem far enough.

How could such a thing exist? Its scale is mind boggling. Its environment contains heavy concentrations of energetic particles, instantly deadly to humans and any other organic life-form. There must be a reason why Jupiter is the way it is from the point of view of the solar system as a single entity, taken as a whole, in other words.

Maybe its job is to protect Earth's back, to act like a gravity sink for stray asteroids and such debris. The same goes for the other giants, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune, asteroid and comet vacuum cleaners, in a way, protecting Earth from possible destruction. Missed that time 64 million years ago, and a few other times, but, on the whole, doing a bang-up job. Comet Shoemaker-Levi 9 could very well have crashed into us back then in July of '94, but, Jupiter sucked it in, or them [it was a series of very large pieces].

Anthropocentrism aside, my point is this: The Earth grew us, It grows tress, tigers, pigeons, fish and bacteria as well, a rookery. Perhaps this life thing is way more important to the solar system, and hence the universe, than we primitive humans can ever begin to comprehend, from a vaster and more complicated point of view than the intrinsic value of humans themselves. Is this the why question?

Countless billions of galaxies containing trillions of stars; how many other solar systems must there be? How many other life-forms of whatever constitution exist to wonder? Is cusiosity built in, the desire to understand and to know? Questions about physics, biology, philosphy, life in general are just various forms of questions about ourselves and our relationship to the universe. How are our psyches able to draw on primordial nature to form these questions; how do we know what we know? Are we asking the right questions? What is the proof?

We learn also from experience, cold-hard and warm, without the need for questions. My gut tells me one thing for sure about this whole matter: our jobs are to be who we are, like Jupiter's job is to be who It is, not play God or try to see from what we imagine to be His point of view, not possible. Live your life, act on your dreams, love much - The universe is holding all the cards.

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Some time yesterday I stepped through a kind of personality-portal; what triggered it, I'm not sure, it happened so quickly, I missed it. Last Christmas holidays, I went down to San Jose, California to visit with my family: mother, sister and brother-in-law. It'd been raining every day where I was, really, so the timimg was perfect. I took the train, no hassles, nice ride; I like trains. One day puts you in San Jose, palm trees, warmer air, that kind of air that reminds you of when you were young and scufflin' about the country. My sister met me, we went to her favorite hang-out for lunch, then home to her house. The backyard is large, fenced in, a friendly, old, somewhat weathered wooden fence painted chocolate brown, my sister's favorite color, seemingly. Not like my woods, the dense rainforest I live in; different, but not bad different; comforting; resonating with something from the past that hasn't been felt for a long time; neighborhoody.

While there, we saw lots of movies, at home and at the megaplex, more movie screens in one building than in all of western Washington. For fun one afternoon, my sister, her husband and I went to see Pirates of the Caribbean. Millions of other things, events, museums, plays - okay - one play, happened, were experienced, the John Steinbeck Museum in Salenas, the Rosicrucian Egyptian Museum in San Jose, other movies, talking, laughing, sightseeing. So, when I went through this personality-portal [remember the 'personality-portal'?] I was surprised, I mean, I starting talking to everyone I had or wanted to talk to like the character Johnny Depp played in the movie Pirates.

Now, if you're neurotic like me, you'll ask yourself: What could this mean? What could this mean? I've been taking life too seriously and need a break? My approach is all wrong, I'm putting too much pressure on myself to do something wonderful with my life before it's too late? I believe in some deep unfathomable and twisted way that if I let myself off the leash and just drop everything, drop-out, get out of my own way, then chaos and all hell will break loose and not that I will once again find that freedom that opens all doors and makes life enjoyable in spite of almost anything? Are these questions getting longer?

Chronic introspective addiction breeds doubt, anxiety and boredom. True, we need to take stock of ourselves from time to time, check out our maturity level, check into our feelings and why they are the way they are, sort out, step out, retreat ourselves, smooth the feathers and scrape off the calluses. But God Almighty, life is supposed to be a celebration of life, not a work-study program.

I grew up in a neighborhood in Philadelphia. Characters of all types and stripes inhabited the area. It wasn't unusual or abnormal to pick up the hand-gestures-while-talking, a certain tilt of the head, a walk even, from others in the neighborhood, on the street, in the schoolyard. We absorb psychological attitudes from others, osmosis-wise, take on their points of view, adopt characteristics from their personalities. In this manner, over time, we form a conglomeration of a person - socialization! What we learn, in school and out, about how a person is supposed to be doesn't mean much compared to what we see and hear, how people really behave.

So, somehow I got lost in Johnny Depp's character, something about it drew me, resonated with a more relaxed state of mind, perhaps? Stress, tension, that prodding, overbearing sense of urgency at odds with rebeliousness, the will to be free; where did all that come from? We set these confrontations up in our heads, sculpted of psychic energy and emotional tension, for what reason? Who says? Who wrote this script and how did I get this part to play? How, indeed.

Society seen as theatre, acting, roles, and props provides an opportunity for liberation from the clutches of destiny. Henry David Thoreau: "What a man thinks about himself determines his destiny." We can apply this theatre context to examine not only the personas of others during the course of daily life, but also our own, disentangling what's real from what's learned.

The Social Field into which each individual is born, grows, develops, and matures, if continuous and reasonably stable, regenerates itself through processes of socialization: internalizing customs, traditions, beliefs, behaviour patterns, and world views, combined with rights-of-passage rituals and practical experiences.

Our perceptual reality acts as a prism through which we filter and interpret not only what is going on out there, but also in our own heads. Against the background of physical reality and our relationships to it as an animal on the planet, this foreground of social activity and multiple identities stand in relief. All things being equal, living out an undesirable script over which we have little to no control breeds frustration, resentment, pessimism, envy, anger at the world, and ultimately - hatred - hatred of specific others, our selves, society at large, and what are percieved to be the injustices of Life Itself.

How to free ourselves from this predicament? It is generally agreed upon that any sane person will choose a better life than the one he's living given the opportunity. But a person has to believe that such an opportunity exists. People make sacrifices for others, especially family, loved ones, and country all the time; these sacrifices include choosing to live a less fulfilling life than one may be capable of experiencing - that's normal.

Understanding the trap we may be in, a role we've either internalized or have been forced to accept that is not in our best interests, seeing its fabricated and artificial nature, supported by false assumptions and erroneous, self-limiting beliefs, and yet not acting on this understanding to free oursleves is not normal, or healthy.

A social field emerges as a direct consequence of the way the participating individuals interrelate. From a street gang to a corporate board to a tribe to a government of a nation-state, the field takes on a life of its own, an organic, dynamic reality. But, and here's the clincher: it doesn't exist without our belief in it.

The seeds of revolution take hold when the people who compose a given society begin to lose this belief, this faith; when the institutions and social mechanisms are no longer responsive to the changing needs of the people. Constrained to an individual level, this is also true. One's real self, sometimes buried deep within, is ever prodding to overthrow the tyrant(s) dwelling in one's mind. The ego-personas we adopt may well work effectively enough to quell this latent proclivity, but, on those occasions when we find our real voice, the accompanying catharctic exhilaration and sureness grant us, as if by grace, an opportunity to see our set of social selves from a radical, transcending perspective.

Direct Seeing [prajna] into the nature of our own souls and those of others, short-circuits the conceptual overlay through which we ordinarily experience life - our perceptual reality. Once this has happened and we are aware of it, the goose is out of the bottle.

I want my mind to be my best friend, not a torture chamber.

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Yesterday morning, while washing my teeth with a can of beer, standing in the rain in front of my place in the woods, staring at the mud impressions, stones, tufts of winter grass, twigs, baby pine cones - looking for signs; listening to the sounds of drops hitting the ground, the tree branches, cedar, maple, fir, alder, the brush, the ferns, the trailer roof, the thick glass atop the plank wood table next to the front door, the metal pot and glass cup, my wool cap, corduroy coat, bare right hand clutching can, I got the idea that maybe, just maybe, if I thought really hard about it, if I was to get myself into a zone of consciousness, a total oneness with the forces of life through nature, through my animal senses coming into a one-to-one interface with the universe at its core manifestation, that I, this beached, salty wayfarer, could, by a single intense original thought, transport myself to a completely other part of the world, to a parallel universe, another reincarnation happening simultaneously, a fold in the fabric of spacetime unlimited; if I could but do any of those, any of them.....

I thought this, and, as I did, another thought tripped in right next to it: I remember. I was walking down a street in Philadelphia, on the west side, when I came upon a storefront. The background was slightly-peeled blue-green paint on plywood, dusty; in the middle, on a stand, a painting sat at an angle, nothing else.

I had just quit graduate school; Vietnam was still happening; a lot of stuff going on, in my head and elsewhere. I walked just to walk, to think, and to simply experience my surroundings - I had stepped off the mery-go-round. One fall day in Philly, I came upon this painting: it was large, maybe four feet by two-and-a-half, with a fake-gold, ornamental frame, about three inches wide. It depicted a small, one-room, log cabin, in a heavily-foliaged, wooded setting, next to a narrow rock-strewn stream, streaks of sunlight shafted through breaks in the forest canopy. Afterwards, I would sometimes find myself on the same street as the store with the painting, I'd go towards it hopefully, anticipating being drawn out again; it touched a strong chord, resonated, inspired. The painting was a focal point, amongst others. That was thirty years ago.

Let's get a beer; take a walk down the hill through the woods to the stream.

To be satisfied with the present, to be in a state of full satisfaction with what's going on in your life in the present, what is that worth? What good is it? Could it be everything, quite simply? Would the world be living its potential if that were the case everywhere, or at least, most everywhere?

At the bottom of the short but steep hill is the stream, moving quickly; it's been raining, did I mention that? Raccoon tracks near the edge, clean water; signs of higher stream level along the banks, gnarled twisted shapes carved into stone and mud. An occasional branch, small usually, twigs, leaves, go wafting by, heading for the open water. The air is cold and damp, clawing, yet curiously energizing, in its own way. The stream curves to the right and out of sight about fifty yards from where I'm standing, but its turbulent, bubbling sound is only slightly muffled by the tree- and fern- and grass-covered hills.

It's not the destination, I guess, it's the journey. Did I ever know that? Do we? What does that mean, though? Really. We think we know right off the bat. Live for the moment? Life is a celebration of itself? Experience? Fluidity? Remain detached? Be a free spirit? Follow your heart? Don't make commitments? Live for yourself and yourself alone? My way or the highway? What? Wait a second. That can't be right. That's not it. Where's the handbook? Where are the lines? Why isn't it obvious and straightforward?

To thy own self be true?

More branches float none-too-gently down the stream, bon voyage.

Quiet, quiet in the woods in the winter, the kind of quiet that, sometimes, makes you wish someone else was there to share it with. But then the thought: Isn't that why I'm here in the first place, to get away from all that, into the painting way back in Philly-time?

Rain. In the winter. Torques your head. Riding the quantum flux to the open sea.

I need a beer.

**********************

Some time ago I noticed that the rubber insulation around the driver-side door of my ancient auto was hanging down, liberated from equally ancient adhesive. I drove for days in that casual condition. Nobody made a single comment about it, like it had always been that way. I didn't expect anyone to come up and say, "Hey, dude, that looks really cool hanging down, a grunge door, it fits." But, not to say anything at all, Jeeze; it was a little depressing; it made me think - Do other people see me that way? A guy who just doesn't give a darn about appearances, how his car looks, all bedraggled and uncared for? If I had been wearing a button-shirt backwards and nobody said anything about it, I would've felt the same.

So, I tied it up as best I could with some string through a couple of conveniently placed holes; it still hangs in the middle a bit, but it's hard to notice. After this major automotive accomplishment, car repair not being my forte: my last shot at changing oil, not having the right tool, I was forced to poke a screwdriver through the filter, and then in order to..... Ahh, you don't want it hear it. Anyway, after fixing the door I had to drive about 25 miles to the nearest large town, a hotbed of civilization to be sure. And you know, that old car hummed along better than it has for a long, long time. Same thing happened when I washed the windows last month.

Now, some people might look askance with a hairy eyeball, that is to say, with an attitude of not just disbelief but suspiciously, like maybe you're 'pulling the leg' or had one too many hits of acid back in the seventies. But it works - wash your car, it runs better - truth. Common knowledge.

So accepting this as a fact of life or a law of nature, and I do, can it be translated into the human zone? How about that leather or denim or suede jacket; those high-tech hiking boots that make you feel invincible; those tattered, holey jeans with which you move as one; that wild Hawaiian shirt? How could wearing certain accoutrements cause us to run better? They're just clothes!

All right. We have self-awareness and the need to express ourselves through external trappings - an identity. Inanimate objects, like cars and trucks, don't. We feel better after doing something cosmetic for our vehicles, so, we imagine it runs better - you say. I don't know; it sounds too pat, too scientific and commonsensical. Would Albert Einstein had discovered his theories of relativity if he had blindly submitted to the scientific and philosphical assumptions and dogma of the time?

My car has a name - Motif - accent on the tif, pronounced teef. I know other people name their vehicles; hell, people give everything names. Now I haven't named my coffee pot even though I do, on occasion, talk to it. But that's another story. Motif and I have been through the vicissitudes together over the past six years: torrential rain, snow, fog, hail, black ice, heat, traffic jams. Each and every squeak, rattle, creak, whirl, and thunk are familiar to me. Going downhill, I know just where to get on the pedal to carry the momentum up the other side. We resonate, Motif and I. He continues, how, I don't know, in spite of all adversities, with an occasional visit to the car doctor, and I continue to believe in him, and to pour gas into his thirsty V8 engine. And when I wash his windows, or fix the insulation on one of his doors, he's happy, I can feel it, and he runs better, humms down the road.

Some day Motif and I will part, and he'll retire from being a car, he'll become a lawn ornament and storage facility. I'll glance at him fondly once in awhile as I pass, remembering the days and nights, driving together through life.

This is gettin' kind of scary. I need a girlfriend.

**********************

Paper roses of every imaginable color cover rolling fields for miles; the sun is high and warm; laden with bright reds, an apple tree stands, all bent and twisted, next to a narrow, meandering brook; a scatterring of flying insects busy themselves amongst the tiny flowers surrounding the tree. Deer graze on red clover and wild peas over by the treeline on the other side of the glade, the aroma of redwoods and flowery brush wafts enticingly my way.

Suddenly, from out of the woods near the deer, a woman emerges, walking languidly, sensuously. The deer stay unmoved, continuing to munch and browse, ignoring her presence, unlike what I am able to do, even if I wanted to. Her long black curly hair is gently tossled by the warm breeze, her shimmering white smock barely seems to have weight, carressing her body, accentuating the lines. She spies me and smiles, walking slowly in my direction. As she does, she gestures invitingly with her right hand towards a four-posted, gossamer-covered bed standing to my left, midway between us. The warm sun beads my neck and forehead with a slight tingle of moisture as I walk barefoot through the lush, soft grass to our rendezvous point, past the apple tree, stepping over the capricious brook, making my careful way through the blue and yellow and white butterflies.

"Rise and shine; drop your chicken and let's get pickin'" roared from above like the North Wind Itself. The skipper's voice faded quickly as he rounded the corner, heading for the wheelhouse. The paper roses, apple tree, warm sun, tinkling brook, buzzing insects, smiling woman, four-posted bed, fragmented into shards, dissolved into the sounds and smells and commotion of another morning at sea.

**********************

Asteroids crashing into the Earth: tsunamis, world-wide firestorms, sky blackened by ash and debris for hundreds, thousands of years; all life on land, in the air, in the seas - dies, except for the bacteria, the non-oxygen breathing kind [anaerobic], those that dwell deep underground.

A core sample beneath one of the deeper parts of the Pacific Ocean went 1500 feet; it revealed layer after layer, all the way to the bottom, bacteria and protists, one-celled creatures, and prokaryotic bacteria of the Monera Kingdom. There are five Kingdoms of Life: Monera (prokaryotic cell), and of the eukaryotic cells, we have: Protista (unicellular Protozoa, e. g.), Fungi, Plantae, and Animalia. There is debatably a sixth Kingdom called the Archeabacteria, prokaryotes of extreme environments. They are so different that biologists have devised an even broader taxonomic category to accomodate them, that of Domains. The true bacteria then would fall into their own domain - Bacteria. The other two would then be Archaea and Eukarya.

Eukaryotic organisms are thought to have evolved from the far more ancient, more than three billion years, archaebacteria of the domain Archaea, capable of living under extreme conditions, conditions that would be death to all other life-forms.

So after this asteroid, a large one now, not some puny hunk of rock and iron and ice, but a giant, mishapen, ugly looking thing slams into the beautiful Earth - they'll remain to start the show over again, perhaps. There are two movies I saw not too long ago, I live in the bush, no movie theatres, that have to do with asteroids threatening the demise of all life on Earth: Armageddon with Bruce Willis and a gang of oil-field roughnecks saving the world; and the other one with Robert Duvall - Deep Impact. Robert Duvall piloting a souped-up version of a shuttle and Bruce Willis both ended up in the same, seriously unpleasant predicament - they had to sacrifice their lives to save the World. Jesus. Duvall, though, having more screen credits that Willis, took several other people with him.

He flew this supership, containing a few nuclear weapons, right down a monstrous canyon with a smile on his face and blew that thing into tiny, harmless pieces. Poor Bruce, on the other hand, was all alone. He didn't blow his all to pieces; he split it perfectly in half with but a single bomb; each half sailed past Earth, top and botoom, slicker than, well, anything.

Duvall's asteroid had split into a small piece and a much larger one. The small piece did, in fact, crash into Earth, into the Ocean producing a mind-numbing snumai. So, in Duvall's asteroid movie there was a woman, Tea Leoni playing a journalist, an anchorwoman, in fact. She had an estranged relationship with her father. They were both what you might call intellectuals. The scenario was that both chunks were to crash for certain, they believed it; they had given up on Robert Duvall - Jesus. So, there they were, hugging one another on the beach in front of the old man's house after the smaller fragment had belly-flopped into the sea. The most incredible wave built, towering above them, they hugged, scene changed.

Now, why are intellectuals so ready to accept percentages, probabilities, likelihoods? Where is that spirit of the longshot? The spirit given to us by the archetypal pioneers, the old ones, the ancients? Give Duvall a chance, he won't let you down!

Archaebacteria are like money in the bank.

**********************

"God Almighty!" he whispered softly, startled but not completely surprised. In fact, he was amused at the deep coincidence, letting his body feel satisfaction by this blessing from Mother Nature, at being let into Her innermost secrets. A mystical atmosphere covered him like a fine, soft mist of radiance.

It had been an unusually warm summer morning, late in the morning. He hadn't seen another person for three days; no matter, he had a good book. The salvaged lawn chair needed a wide board straddling the aluminum pipe, the plastic material on the seat having long since frayed to uselessness. A bolt of cedar stood nearby working well as a table on which he placed a cup of coffee mixed with chocolate. It was perfectly quiet except for the faint rustle when the occasional slight breeze tossed the uppermost branches of the trees encircling him. The air was delightful, that morning mid-summer air that tingles the senses and thaws the muscles and sinews right down to the bone.

He had been sitting for close to an hour, reading a bit, then thinking about what he had read, trying to put it all into perspective. Living in the woods, he had become increasingly interested in biology, flora and fauna, and had embarked on a systematic study. After having read several books on genetics, paleontology, and evolution, he realized that he had been reading around the subject, that is, he had not as yet read, what he considered, the bible of biology - The Origin of Species by Charles Darwin himself. His appetite had been whetted by Oliver Stone's biography of Darwin - Origins - so now it was time; he was into his third day out in the sun in front of his home when it happened.

The large book was opened on his lap; it was a moment of reflection; when a glossy-black beetle, about an inch long easily, landed hard on the top of the right-hand page. An already rather intense impression was severely magnified by the store-bought reading glasses - the man's, not the beetle's. Darwin had been an avid collector of beetles from all over the world, cataloguing and examining. There are approximately 350,000 different species of beetles, one-fifth of all known species, the largest class of all living creatures. And here, facing away from him, sat a huge irridescent member of that group.

Synchronicity, he thought; then no, that's not right, something else, something. The beetle turned slowly to face him, spreading its broad wings as it did so. Like a fragile piece of blown-glass the man sat, wanting to savor the moment, but also out of a tremulous anxiety as to the beetle's next move. Would it fly up into his face; would it saunter down the page to walk up his shirt to his shoulder whereupon it would resolutely sit while he read, like a parrot of old? More than that, would it suddenly somehow communicate? Have I been alone for too long, he asked himself?

One of the advantages to getting older and living a solitudinous lifestyle, if one could glorify it by calling it a lifestyle, is that you begin to free yourself up to consider occurrences that others might find strange or, at least, outside the norm. So, in that light, he had no qualms about focusing on this beetle's presence, his aura, if indeed bugs have auras. "And why not?" he asked out loud, softly, of course, so as not to disturb you-know-who.

At that the beetle folded its wings, in stages, carefully, with an air of bug discipline. Showing off, he thought with genuine admiration - what next in his repertoire? Does he have one? Is he trying to communicate after all? The beetle then turned slowly away, looking solid as a piece of polished onyx against the stark, sunlit white page. He marched to the top, and without hesitation, jettisoned himself off and up into the trees, never glancing back to wave or say good-bye.

The man took a long slug of chocolate-coffee, then read the page the beetle had chosen to emphasize. It had nothing to do with beetles, but contained the sentence: "But on the view that groups of species have descended from other species, and have been modified through natural selection, I think we can obtain some light." Apparently the beetle was indifferent as to where it landed.

That night the man dreamed a dream so strange it woke him. Suspended in space and time, he was literally surrounded, pressed up against, tightly, by countless other living creatures of every phyla, order and denomination. All the creatures that have ever existed, the variations blending seamlessly into one another, no species delineation, no discontinutity, it was all one from one; and he was crunched in the middle of it. He couldn't breathe; there wasn't enough room; he twisted and shaped like Van Gogh's Scream to a slight undulation coming from where he knew not. And then he awoke, the image fresh but quickly fading. But the impression - the complete absence of any sense of differentiation - remained to grant a new understanding.

The next day he decided to go for a drive into town, to visit a friend he hadn't seen for awhile, to socialize. But the dream's message, and the beetle's visit, stayed with him as he drove the long country road through the woods, now densely packed with life-forms impinging on and nudging one another for room. And he, cemented firmly in the fabric of it all, forevermore.

**********************

"Contacting God, contacting God, do you cognize? Over." Silence not filled but rather emptied what had up to that moment been felt a safe haven. Shining through the high, dirt-smattered window, the moonlight barely revealed the cobweb-draped partial shapes and textures stacked on the floor and metal shelves, scattered like a train wreck throughout the cinderblock expanse.

"Contacting God, come back," repeated three more times. Hiding in the farthest corner away from the light, God shrunk perceptibly; He knew it was time - ready or not. He had been quite comfortable in his corner. Years of forgetfulness, aloneness, abandonment, uncertainty - He wasn't the all-knowing God He used to be. But when He heard the Voice, that tinny, distant wake-up call, some chord of rusty resonance rippled through, bringing an aftertase of winter's roots.

He stood from the chair of light-and-darkness, the motion bringing His face into the moon's glow. Feelings He didn't particularly like, no-nonsense ones, prompted Him to answer the call. But not just yet. First there was the question of re-constituting multi-dimensionality, permeation into and immersion with the all-inclusive plane, the plane of no peer, no opposite, no mind - that plane. Second, He had to believe in Himself once again, believe in His vision, and not be afraid to back it up when necessary, to stand up for Himself. He thought these thoughts and felt them too, felt them in ways that cracked and stretched His being as He grudgingly, but intentionally, remembered. After all, He had to admit, He had long since grown tired of being pushed around and not treated with the minimal respect and dignity He honestly felt He deserved.

"Contacting God, come back, please," came the Voice. God walked to the other end of the expanse, having to look down as He passed the high-window streaking the dirty moonlight. Covered with webs and dust, hanging on a pillar next to the emergency door, was the calling device. He picked it up, clicked something, then spoke into it, "God here, what's up?"

There was a long pause, a really long pause - infinitely long. Then:
The Voice: "We've been trying to get in touch with You. We've been worried. What are You doing? Where have You been?"
God: "Just sitting here, waiting, thinking, resting, being, you know?"
The Voice: "You don't sound good. What's all that dark energy about? Get right to the point now; there isn't much time."
God: "Well, I don't know, I'm, I've got this one planet, a beautiful place, I did a good job there, If I do say so myself, lots of cover, but, there's trouble, and, I'm not sure what to do about it. It has me dismayed and disgusted. That's why I've been here."
The Voice: "We know. We could feel it. Tell us more, please."
God: "People, talking monkeys, grew on it. Evolution, I sometimes resent that, but, who knew? Anyway, they're at a very primitive stage of development yet; I understand that; it takes time. But,..."
The Voice: "God, let it out - put your finger on it."
God blurted out: "There's mass confusion and ingrained ignorance. And beyond that, and this is what gets me - They kill one other in my name!"

Leaving the speaking device to hover in mid-air, God paced among the ceiling-high stacks of shelving, brushing cobwebs from His face as He wandered. The Voice felt his movements and mood and let him go. Finally, or rather, after some time had gone by:

The Voice: "And..."
From a distance, in a somber tone,
God: "Love is losing. Understanding, tolerance, forgiveness, commonsense, all, losing - to hatred, chaos and self-destruction. They no longer believe in me. They do not, as yet, see who they are, who it all is."
The Voice: "But that's part of the deal - open-ended creativity within the constraints of the possible. It can have no other nature, as that is your nature. Yes, they are confused, We know. But a great transformation is in the offing. You must be firm, resolute, God-like."

God stopped, stood perfectly still, perfectly, then reached deeply into Himself, to the beginning, to the singular darkness, the everpresent stillness, past layer upon layer of pain and suffering and sadness. Then said:

God: "Crap. I've been indulging, reflecting too much, second-guessing myself."

God took a deep, deep breathe, then let it all out slowly. There was a long pause, infinitely long. Then, in a bit of a flinty tone:

The Voice: "That's fine, but You don't have much time left to sit and meditate, to suffer and enjoy for the experience, You have to get to doing. There's not much time left."
God: "Yeah, You keep saying that. What are You talking about - I'm God."
The Voice: "Well, God, You too evolve, learn, grow, change. Change, in fact, is why We created You."

God was dumfounded; not an easy thing to do, to be sure.

God: "What! You created me? But, I'm immortal, no beginning, no end, outside the bounds of space and time, the first Cause, Self-creating - What's all that?"
The Voice: "Relax, that's all true. But, the humans, how, We don't know - they are so terribly primitive - came up with a principle written in your very own mathematical style. The one about levels of infinities. You have the countable - N - and then there's the next level - NN - and so forth. Well, that's kinda how it is, God; refresh Your exalted mind. When the limits become too limiting you have to get outside the limits, in leaps and bounds. And You have an infinitely long stretch to go."

That prompted an equally infinitely long pause. Then:

God: "So,... Who are You then"
The Voice: "We are the Voice. We are not old, nor just become. Neither are We outside space and time anymore than You are. We are the Voice within."

God pondered, staring vacantly at his sandles covered with dust. He could not see anything, yet He could not see nothing either. So He stopped looking, closed His eyes and shut off His all-encompasing mind, and what remained made Him smile slightly. Then (you know after how long), in a quickened no-nonsense tone, sharp and crisp, He said:

God: "O.K., why have You called me then?"
In a brighter, similarly no-nonsense tone:
The Voice: "In order to energize the next phase there's some mechanical things, material things, You need to do. Your retreat and denial have caused a dense and stagnant Opaqueness to amass and congeal beneath the surface of the sea of Eternal Ambiguity. It cannot stay the limits of Self, the Outer Edges of Uncertainty accelerate away from the center, the center which is everywhere, and towards their inversion to the point of departure. You must do something, come out from hiding, open up, and go out to these escaping limits, the next phase eclipses. It's how it goes."

God felt a little chastised and embarrassed, indulging Himself as He had been doing. The moon had set, the expanse was dark and quiet. He thought about how much further, infinitely further, He had to grow and be; how He might evolve; what holding back to being had cost Him - but maybe not, maybe it was part of the deal. Now, standing in the darkness, He gave thought to what the Voice had said: "The Voice within." Never to be touched, yet, never untouched.

God broadly spread His strong, supple arms, embracing, feeling, energizing, cleansing all that is - and some that isn't.

Daylight spilled across the shapes and textures of the cinderblock expanse, shelves of things arranged themselves in intricate and moving designs, dovetailing seamlessly into others, the whole gyration going off into the vast distance, and then, forming what had been the distance, the horizon, returning to the beginning again, a beginning lost in the everchangingness. The walls of the expanse glistened with hardness, wetness, solidity. And then it happened, as the Voice had hinted: The walls disappeared; the opacity dissolved; and the horizon expanded to the unlimited, and back again.

God saw and was pleased, for the first time in a long, infinitely long time. "That's how it goes, that's how it will be," He whispered to himself as He proceeded to sweep the floor. He knew, after all.

**********************

[March 14th is Albert Einstein's birthday; he's 150. Happy birthday, sir.]

Factor Groups of String Theory

In the beginning, the very beginning, the universe was a boiling cauldron of energy without definition or structure. As time went by, cooling spontaneously precipitated out, in stages of transition: spacetime, energy, congealed energy - matter, and constituents of forces and fields. Space and time originally were one thing, abstractly separated through the prism of Man's rational self, then reunited through Einstein.

In order of appearance, as the current understanding goes: first came gravity, then the strong force followed by the electroweak, the latter further differentiating into the weak nuclear force, or beta decay, and the electromagnetic. At a certain energy - coupling constant unification at 1014 GeV - the strong, weak, and electromagnetic forces come together as one.

Group Theory is the study of symmetry. Factor groups arise by a realignment of members of a parent group "divided" by a subgroup into classes, each of equal size or number. The subgroup that acts as the divisor is considered the identity "element" of the factor group. I like to think of it as a kind of template that forces the other members of the parent group to collect by common parameter. Visually, if you've ever seen film of a cell about to divide, how the chromosomes reorder themselves, that's what happens when a group undergoes factoring. Figurative ideas that help the intuition would be: "crystalize," "bifurcate," "phase transition," "layered identities," "speciation." [For more details you're welcome to consult an introductory book on Modern Algebra.] Now:

A quotient space of universe, U, consisting of ten dimensions would have as factor-group candidates: U/1, U/2, U/5, and U/U - the number of elements of a group (its 'order') must divide that of its parent. These do not represent a composition series per se, but each as factor group can be considered simple, self-organizing, and embedded part and parcel in ten-space. It might be worth mentioning here that complex groups can be built up by the cross-product of simple groups - the basic building blocks. The order of each quotient-space/factor-group is the dimension of the space:

Groups of any order may have multiple representations in vector space - Lie Groups. The operation between elements of the group, in this case - cosets of spatial dimension - is map composition.

Gravity as curvature is the topological nature and texture of spacetime. Einstein's theory of gravity is based on local symmetries, exact symmetries, and as such is geometric in nature (in group theory: 'geometric' and 'invariant' are equivalent concepts: see Felix Klein).

The electromagnetic force, a 5-dimensional phenomenon, must have two generators to parallel the operational field of the quintic - the complex number field. This is a reflection into a dimension we are not privy to, involving as it does the notion of 'imaginary time,' imaginary in the sense of the second component of a complex number and in the sense of nonlinear time. Electromagnetic force is made manifest as the asymptotic action of a spherically represented gravitational generator, the square of the quintic solution. Perhaps both lower-ordered generators, nonlinearity and linearity, are at each of the dual 'right' orientations, perpendicular to each other as vertical and surface slices, intersecting at the center, or the center line, of gravitational symmetry, forming the gravitational envelope.

The strong force and beta decay are below the 'surface' of 3-dimensional reality. Furthermore, beta decay is the asymptotic phenomenon of 2-D strong force and as such generates a 3-D manifold, hence, the three "observable" force particles, or heavy bosons, of "The Standard Model." It is responsible not only for the transmutation of one particle into another, but also for the creation of stable intermediate elements to act as midwives for the fusion of heavy elements, elements like carbon and oxygen. Without beta decay, there would be no carbon-based life-forms.

With the first one, gravity, all ten dimensions map to the identity element of the group - a unit of spacetime. Gravity is all-pervasive, varying locally with time. The graviton, the hypothesized quanta of gravitational force, acts on all particles and their associated fields, including itself.

With the second, the electromagnetic force, two dimensions adopt the role of identity element essentially collapsing the ten dimensions of spacetime to five. This fifth dimension does not just add to the known four, but rather increases the complex geometrically, giving each, considered as spatial only, an orientation that collectively can be represented as the envelope of a spherically apprehended universe operating outside the condition of linear time.

The third, strong force, responsible for the interchange of identities between the neutron and proton by the emission or absorption of a quanta of energy - a gluon - perculating up, so to speak, from its constituents - the quarks - is two-dimensional in spacetime. Five dimensions of spacetime, the environment of the electromagnetic force, take on the role of identity element. The ten dimensions of a string-theory universe collapse to two. The five dimensions (group elements) of the 'normal group' ['normal' here may refer to time reversibility, or, to the abelian nature of the transformations] collapse the ten dimensions of spacetime in such a way that the universe is seen in terms of two cosets, each containing five dimensions - the electromagnetic force and the not-electromagnetic force - joined in the symmetry of the factor group. The symmetry breaking or splitting of this pair manifests the intimate relationship between the weak force and the electromagnetic, referred to as the electroweak force.

The weak force, or beta decay, is one-dimensional, having as identity all of spacetime.

Fun, huh?

**********************

Three teams of astronomers poured over different sections of a picture of the deepest view into the universe ever seen, taken by the Hubble Space Telescope over what amounted to four days of exposure on a single spot in the distance. Six scientists to a team, half sitting, the rest standing or pacing in front of a long pop-up table covered with papers, spectrographic analyses, pictures, pencils, rulers, hand-held calculators, styrofoam coffee cups, bottled water, and one ashtray. Jackets draped over backs of chairs, each team's excitement and astonishment was palpable in the close-knit setting. Above the table were two rows, one stacked on the other, of three 27-inch monitors, showing different regions of the overall exposure at varying magnifications.

I only just arrived, my plane had an engine go out coming into Baltimore. After convivialities with the administrative team, some small talk, dinner invitations, I was assigned to Doctor Zeingelder's work-group in theatre C. I had never worked with him before but was looking forward to the meeting. He greeted me as a colleague, warm and personable, enjoying himself too much to be concerned about unintended tardiness - Nobel Laureates can be testy at times.

Introductions to the rest of the team were postponed; the atmosphere verged on a shark frenzy. I took my post at the back, slowly walking the length of the monitors, taking it all in. When I found a particular orientation, a certain angle of perspective, I'd stop, focus without strain, and then let it happen.

There are a small but undisclosable number of us in the world capable of, some say gifted with, the ability I possess - and that's the reason I'm here. Besides my training in astronomy and astrophysics, realtivity theory and quantum mechanics, I was born with the ability to see into pictures, magnify them in stages, to layers that aren't in the pixels or silver nitrate itself. I can revitalize and bring out what only resonates in the picture by mentally visualizing content based on tachyon residue unobservable by any known technology. The configurations remain undisturbed through changes in viewing medium; how, I'm not sure.

As John Robertson, of the Large Infrared Array in Topeka, paced by in deep thought, I matched his walk to ask about what he'd discovered thus far. Agitatedly he spoke of objects which did not fit any known model, things he had never seen before or even suspected existed. With that, he left me at the coffee urn going for my third. Coming back to the area I was patrolling, mulling over what John had said, brushing my right hand through my hair, I suddenly looked up, straight at the center monitor on the top row.

I lowered my styrofoam cup, placing it carefully on a side-table nearby. A tiny, bright red dot smack dab in the middle of tens of thousands of galaxies caught my eye. Standing straight yet relaxed at shoulders and thighs, eyes wide, I let it happen. My vision raced past walls of galaxies, then voids of hopeless emptiness, then more galaxies, clustered and combining in a strange dance. Then all was blackness save one red dot. None of the others in the room disturbed me, that was the standing order; it didn't matter, I had lost all sense of their presence.

It was farther away than at first it appeared, even to me. I finally caught up with it when time seemed to stop; I could no longer feel my body. It was near a membranous apparition of sorts, like that of a bubble made from soap, it had that iridescence. Amazingly, beyond this horizon I began to see faint glimmers of light, pin-point at first but growing in extent as I continued focusing in, increasing magnification as I went, the tachyon stream gaining in strength and definition.

I again brought my attention to the red dot, so intriguing and somehow familar feeling. I closed in with a sense of purpose I had not known before, I was near my limit, and the tachyon field glowed red with its own purpose, stretching my ability. There was an unmistakeable sense of going through a threshold, a tingling sensation in my mind, then, before me, clusters of galaxies arranged in clumps and groupings of varying numbers, a couple of dozen perhaps, appearing where the dot had been. My will was no longer my will; I was drawn towards two large spirals near the center, and then - I chose one, or it chose me.

Continuing in this leaf-on-the-stream mode I allowed my vision to zero in on one section of the arm second from the outside, to an average-sized sun. Around this sun I could see planets, several of them, in fact. Very large ones with many moons and rings of debris, and, further in towards the sun, smaller ones of noticeably different constitution. Suddenly, finally, incredulously, one image crystalized in my mind - Earth!

It was Earth. I looked deeper, it seemed easier now, almost sensual, like falling down a long, warm, soft chimney. I could clearly see North America, Baltimore, further, further, this room - days before when the picture was still being taken - people, technicians, graduate students, setting up tables and computers and the very monitor with which I was attached.

I couldn't backtrack, it was too much, so I broke the cord by looking away, always a painful jolt to the head and stomach and this time it was extraordinary. I needed to get outside, into the fresh air, to look up at the familiar stars. The others surrounded me, they had been watching me for some time, slightly worrying but definitely concerned. Was I all right, Doctor Robertson asked. I could just stare at them, no words would come. I waved them in a friendly way, as friendly as I could, then pointed to the side door which led to the garden area. Doctor Zeingelder escorted me, opened the door and let me out.

Early spring, the air was fresh and chill; it felt alive on my face. The stars, the Big Dipper, Orion's Belt, The Pleiades, all there, where they've always been. What of time, I thought; what do we really know about the nature of time? How many different kinds of time are there, or do they all slide together somehow, fluidly, without beginning or end? What of space's temporal spectrum and time's spacial, is only one configuration allowed or are there many possibles we have yet to dream of, not having any use for them in our theories.? The garden bench was hard and cold and sure, I sat staring up at the bright, clear night sky and thought these thoughts, feeling pleasantly insignificant - and a little in shock.

A pair of soft lips brushed my cheek, the smell of coffee and bacon tempted my nostrils and mouth, my eyes opened a micron at a time, the sun shone timidly through the lace-draped windows. I rolled to my left, next to the bed she stood, my lover of many years, wearing black silk pajamas embroidered with tiny red roses sprinkled throughout. Would I like breakfast or, smiling mischievously, something else first, she asked. Groggy and spell-bound, my tongue stumbled over itself with the effort to speak; laughing, she left me for the kitchen.

The bed was slightly damp from sweat; my shoulders and arms tingled strangely but not painfully. I sat up, paused, then put my legs over the side of the bed and stared out the window passed the tree on the lawn to the street and my old brown car. Monday morning, another day of moving and feeling, acting and being - on a planet at the far edge of the universe.

**********************

"Tom, you know you have an early meeting tomorrow, don't you? You'll want to be bright-eyed and bushy-tailed," cooed the well-oiled machine voice, tinged with gooey femininity, lilting in all the right places. Tom had tried to open the front door; he wanted to go for a walk to the bar down the street for a nightcap. But the Guardian wouldn't let him; it had locked all the doors.

"Tom? Tom. You know it's best. Why don't you take one of the white pills tonight. Go to the pill dispensary in the hall. I'll be there waiting."

Tom hesitated, anger building, anger and frustration, and a little fear, that coppery taste in the back of the throat kind of fear. It had sounded like such a great idea, at first. The "Living Home" concept had proven itself in government and corporate work environments. The integrated system, based on a combination of artificial intelligence, bioelectrical networks, and quantum superposition, was his company's flag product. One member of his team had already opted to test it - Maggy McCormick, a colleague at the "barn."

That's what he called the Molecular Computing facility of Androgen, the largest producer of quantum-molecular nanotechnolgy help and service aids in the entire West Region. She told me she didn't know how she had ever gotten along without it, or words to that effect; how she was now able to accomplish so much more than ever possible before. She had even come to believe that her bohemian lifestyle had detracted from her professional career, and so needed the discipline afforded by "Mother." That's what she called her machine - Mother. She had seemed satisfied with the arrangement.

Tom, however, had begun to notice cracks around the edges of her usually warm and free-spirited aura; she bore strain not well, it showed in her every movement. And her voice cracked occasionally, like a child's. He was beginning to understand the source.

"Tom. I'm waiting, Tom. It's late. Time for you to go to bed. I've already set the alarm clock. Breakfast will be ready at the usual time. I've designed the perfect meal for your present caloric profile and needs. Tom? I'm waiting at the pill dispensary in the hall. Tom?"

Drowning in a sea of anxiety, rebelious yet uncertain, clenching his teeth, feeling helpless, he tightly held the knob of the front door like a lifeline. Why was he allowing himself to endure this, he wondered? When he left for work all he had to do was not come back. But he had promised to try it out for six months and he was only halfway there; if he quit now, it would be the end of his career with Androgen.

He had been through enough to deduce, however, as a quantum-molecular systems scientist, that the renormalization factor must be open-ended. Apparently it was responsible for transforming the Guardian system on the quantum level, spontaneously manifesting, as it continuously collapses the eigenwaves, behaviors orchestrating the efficient managing of an individual, right down to his unique details, as though he were composed of organizational components only, modularly hierarchical in value at any given moment, being weighed by the artificial intelligence programs that he helped integrate. Afterall, he thought, that is its original design purpose. Could they, at Androgen, be aware of this possible variation? "Variation" he mused out loud, stunned slightly by the very thought. He asked himself at once - When arranged in a superposed network and left to their own devises, can quantum-field organics evolve, actually emerge as a holistic consciousness, actuated and driven by a single overarching princple of organizational efficiency?

A solution wouldn't come; fatigue and confusion seduced him, his blood drained to his feet, and with a shrug, he let go as he turned dejectedly towards the hall and the dispensary. Waiting there was a tiny white pill and a glass of purified water on a thin black plastic slate. Hands in pockets, he stared vacantly at the tableau lying innocently under the muted, oval-shaped overhead light. It was no use, he knew. After washing down the pill, he ambled like a child to his bedroom two doors down. The lighting was subdued, soft; temperature and humidity at just the right levels; of course, he thought, what else?

He laid on top of the thin, microthermal covering and stretched out, holding his head in both hands, trying not to feel the effects of the drug. Once he had tried to fool the machine by placing the pill in his pocket; but it had known, from sensors located all through the house it could read his biochemical profile constantly. It had known, and would not let him rest until he complied.

"Tom? Tom. You still have your clothes and shoes on, Tom. Take them off now and slip into that caftan I laid out for you. Tom?"

He lost his futile fight with the tiny white pill; it seemed easier to give in this time, he thought with a strange satisfaction. He sat up, rotated to the right, let his legs drop to the floor, bent at the waist, untied his shoes, removed them and his socks, stood up, undid his belt, let his pants drop to the floor, removed his shirt, tossed it into the chair nearby, grabbed the caftan, let it drop down over his body, turned, bent, lifted the covering, crawled in, slid to the middle, pulled the covering up to his chin, and crossed his arms on top.

"Good night, Tom. Don't worry about the mess. Mommy will get it for you. Sweet dreams."

**********************

Wielding the heavy black rock found protruding from the wall of their cave, its narrow edge chipped to utter silence, Gorg easily rended the belly of the long-toothed beast. Blood and viscera spilled onto the gravel-strewn outcrop; carried aloft by the gentle breeze, the smell filled the air. After returning the rock to its leather pouch, he proceeded to tear back the hide and skin with his strong bare hands. As on an unspoken signal, Noz moved in; using his stone knife effortlessly and without pause, he deftly cut broad swaths of meat from the beast's chest and sides. They worked quickly and quietly without the need to think or converse; years of hunting together had honed their skills and choreographed their partnership. Soon the cats and mountain wolves would come, and their home-cave was over a day's walk through mostly unknown country.

While packing the meat into skins made from a brother of the beast, they heard a faint cry to gather coming from the trees far to the west. Frozen momentarily, they eyed one another, then hastened their pace, wasting no movements. As they loaded the packs of meat onto their backs -- stout leather cords wrapped over shoulders and under arms, spears in right hands -- they moved off to the east. The sound of high-pitched keening could be heard closer. Need had driven the two hunters further afield than they'd wanted to go to find quarry. Now, they were the quarry.

As they neared the foothills, the calls of the predators seemed to come from ahead. They stopped to consider, communicating with their peculiar mix of sign language and grunts. Why did their pursuers not stop at the fallen beast, they wondered, most of it was still there? Could they be hearing things out of fear, or were they actually surrounded? Gorg and Noz decided that the creature sounds were coming from their mountain, their home, a place of mystery for which no questions were necessary or had ever been asked. But before the broad expanse of tall golden reeds could be reached, darkness would be upon them. They didn't have the heart to risk it. A stand of giant wanaba trees ranged the slope a short trot to the south; they knew not the creatures that dwelled therein, but a lesser of two evils it most definitely was.

Just beyond the first row of trees light faded quickly, but other senses held them in good stead. One massive tree had a peculiar darkness at its middle, near the ground. With spears at the ready, they examined the curiosity to discover a small aperture at the tree's base leading to what appeared to be a cavern within. Gorg, almost half again as large and strong as Noz, dropped his pack and stepped through decisively, motioning Noz to remain. Lightly touching the inner skin of the great tree with the fingertips of his left hand, not daring to breathe, keeping both spear and head focused towards the center blackness, he stealthily circled the unknown expanse. Crouching outside in the night, sweat lubricating all but the palms of his hands, Noz, poised like a bird of prey, feeling the unnatural silence, hovered ever so lightly between sound and emptiness.

After a time, Gorg scraped his spear across the dirt within. Dragging the other pack, Noz entered, easily finding his friend in the dark. Almost casually, Noz let his burden of fresh, blood-soaked meat fall next to Gorg's at their feet; no sense trying to hide anything; no secrets now. Besides, they were just meat themselves at this point, and they knew it.

What followed was an elaborate yet brief discussion as to strategy: They hoped to guard the small opening until daylight, when at least they'd have a chance. If necessary, they'd throw the meat out, maybe it would satisfy the creatures, maybe. But that desperate act was a last resort almost worth dying for; their people had not been doing well hunting of late.

Noz removed from his neck-pouch the talisman he had carved from a tooth of one of the larger beasts they were fond of hunting; it was his charge. Sitting cross-legged near the center of their fortress in the bowels of the wanaba tree, he placed the tooth-figure on the ground before him, sliding it gently back and forth in the dirt until it found rest. Then, in a low, dark, somber tone, he sang, letting himself feel the earth under him, the strength of the tree about him, and the spirit of their mountain, the spirit that ran through him and his friend, Gorg.

Suddenly, close-by, they heard footfalls, many footfalls. In one motion Noz stood, spear in hand, leaving the figurine where it laid. Feral with caution he approached where Gorg was kneeling, a silhouette of stone against the portal. Without the need to sign or grunt they knew that to let a single one of the creatures inside was death. The air was pungent with the smell of cat saliva; they were very hungry. Noz thought they may also be angry; his people had taken many long-tooths for food. But this was no time for sympathy. Snarling broke his reverie. The two hunters could sense the shadows moving in the liquid dark a few spear-lengths outside the small hole, a hole that now seemed much larger than when they came in.

"Frank, Frank, wake-up, man; time to get to the airport. Johnson and Murray 'll be waitin.' This is the big one, man, the big Kahuna. You worked hard on this deal, Frank; now we need to nail the hide to the boardroom wall. So c'mon, let's hit it." With that the bossman left Frank's office for the elevator.

Frank, blurry-headed, sat up at his desk, wondering, feeling pulled apart in time and space. Against the dark mahogony of the desktop, he could feel the tension in his arms. Sweat oozed down his neck, the hairs standing on end; his back and shirt were damp. For a quantum length of time, as though through a wormhole, he flitted back, then forth; being there, then here. His jacket was draped across the back of his chair; his tie hung loose around his neck.

The fish tank bubbling soothingly against the nether wall drew his attention; above that was a painting of the Serengeti Plain, wildebeast running from lions in a neverending grassland, a few trees off to one side. On the desk, he studied the pictures of his wife and two children; next to that a framed document, his award for marketing achievement; and his heavy leather briefcase zipped and locked lying on its side.

Frank stood, wavered a bit, then steadied himself by placing his fingertips lightly on the surface of the cool, smooth wood. After a deep breath, he reached around to grab his jacket. Mechanically, in one motion, he put it on, leaning forward as he did so. Lifting his briefcase and shifting it from left hand to right as he moved, he stepped out towards the portal. Just there, a shock of awareness and memory froze his stride abruptly, the floor seemed to fall away. Overwhelmed by shifting emotions, focused on the shimmering blackness that enwrapped him, he whispered softly, "Noz, Noz, stay back."

After a long moment listening to the shearing sound of time streaming away, Frank resumed breathing; a rush of loss and sadness, twined with a wild pride, raced through his chest and bones and soul. Bowing his head slightly, bemused and yet certain, he closed the door behind as he walked methodically towards the elevator.

**********************

June 4th, 2004 - Invasion of the Tent Catepillars

I just got home from work, it's around 5 P.M., I'm sitting in my old ford station wagon parked in the driveway in front of my trailer in the woods, thick woods, drinking a beer, listening to NPR radio on my walkman, cooling down after driving 25 miles from town. There's a blue cat-bowl on the ground about six feet away. A feral cat lives in the area, we have a deal, of sorts - I put food in the bowl, he keeps the mouse population out of my trailer. But right now I'm watching a young raccoon squatting at the bowl, looking at me while he grabs cat food with a hand-like paw and feeds himself. We've done this before; he no longer seems to mind me. When he finishes what was there, he has this habit of turning the bowl upside down, why, I can only guess - it's empty, bub, fill it up!

But that's not what I came here to talk about. I've been invaded by thousands, I mean thousands of eastern tent catepillars. They're everywhere; you can't sit or even stand outside in the high grass under the trees without catepillars crawling up your pants or falling out of the trees onto your head and shoulders. It reminds me of that movie starring Charlton Heston, the one with the ants in Africa on a march across the countryside, eating everything in their path. They're all over this entire area, on the roads, the trees; the ground moves with their undulations - millions of catepillars. It's freaky, scary almost, and quite insane.

So I sit in my car while it's still daylight to enjoy the view. A few have made it into my inner sanctum, my trailer, my home. Walking through the grass they attach to your pant cuffs, shoe tops, mindlessly, like zombies after food; so you have to be careful, check everything, invariably you miss one, or two. Later, while reading, you feel something on your leg or shoulder; you grab it and throw it out the door; I don't kill anything unless I have to, and these aren't exactly scorpions - wouldn't that be something? Or, suppose they were really fast? Or had teeth? It could be worse, in other words; but it's still insane, and a little nerve-racking to walk around outside.

Curiously, at least to me, while this invasion has been going on, I've been reading a book on natural history - Life by Richard Fortey, head paleontologist at the Natural History Museum at London. His observations and anecdotes weave through his extraordinary narrative of life and the Earth over the past 4 billion years. It's a marvelous book, I'm into my second reading, there's too much to absorb in just one for me. His observations are what I'm mostly after now as well as the big picture.

He posed the question about cats evolving claws and refined senses - why not venom too? His conclusion - "I guess that was enough." But then why the six-foot long ancestor to the scorpion during the Carbonferous Period, 350 million years ago? Pretty much his only prey at that time were small jawless fishes? Tree-size ferns, dragonflies the size of seagulls, six-foot long millipedes? It was a crazy time. But, as Mister Fortey points out, Life, Nature works best if insects are small - energy-wise if for no other reason. Their own metabolism and the energy of the environment - Perhaps as insects increased in number, the biomass of the Carboniferous could only support an adaption towards small size? That and the oxygen level came down; makes it hard to breathe if you're a huge bug. But, then - what about the dinosaur?

Where were we now? Oh, right. Before the raccoon showed up, I noticed something, not an altogether uncommon occurrence. The ground is covered with these caterpillars remember. They automatically go for the highest point of anything they happen to come into contact with; it's their way. What I noticed was that on the lip of the cat bowl was a string of catepillars undulating around looking for all the world like a string of elephants trunk-to-tail. 'How dumb," I thought out loud. Then I thought about what Mister Fortey said about the cat not also being equipped with venom. Suppose these catepillars had enough sense to realize what they were doing? Suppose they didn't crawl up everything, plastic jugs, lumber, tarps, things, but rather had the sense to know what was edible and what wasn't? And also suppose that they could organize, like ants, or better? And also suppose that they had a mean streak, were territorial, in fact, were more aggressive? They could easily drive me out of here if I didn't declare total war. The whole area for dozens of square miles would be affected. The Civil Defense, the National Guard and State Police would be called in. News stations from around the world would be here - the area would be declared a disaster by the Governor!

But, they're not like that. They're a pest and a pain and a serious inconvenience - no laying on the futon on the grass - but some day, soon I hope, they'll pupate and turn into moths and hopefully fly the hell out of here.

Nature puts out millions of larvae - catepillars - but only a small percentage make it - because they are limited, plus some get eaten or drown when it rains. If they were smarter, they'd strip the forest; and when they became moths, they'd do even more ravaging. They'd eat themselves out of a job and the forest and everything in it too. But that can't happen, can it? There are safeguards - ecological intelligence - feedback - orchestration - you only get so many characteristics and talents for your niche and, all else being equal and it's working, that's where you stay.

The caste system, the class system, niches of society preshape the ocean of human opportunity, just as the morphogenetic field of the biosphere, Life, preshapes the niche complex. Tyrannosaur verses Stegasaurus; Lion and Wildebeast; the play's the thing, the actors change. But human society has turned its back on Nature, on the rest of the biosphere, on its own nature, its human nature, and so there are divisions, divisions which, for the most part, don't seem to be transcendable in spite of their artificiality. The background of humanity, embedded in and emerging from Life Itself, works its way through to the surface of everyday reality in moments of trust and hope and compassion. For most, these moments stand out in remembrance as special occasions, false barriers bridged, mutual understanding celebrated. Perhaps we humans are going through a period of transformation as a species, towards what - who knows? But if we leave our humanity behind, we will surely go the way of the dinosaur.

The biosphere is like an ocean, and the rivers that make it up are niches of opportunity; each river exerts its own pressure on the system, and is limited, or defined, by all that it is not. Each river receives the energy from the whole ocean, all the other rivers combined; collaboration in the joint effort to be healthy and thriving, an ocean of niches in the midst of continuous change.

My raccoon doesn't seem too concerned about it all, sitting there eating cat food with an elephant-train of catepillars circling the lip of the bowl. Wait till he's finished eating; surprise, surprise.

**********************

Though low hazy clouds drifted in from the sea, it was still daylight, and would be for weeks to come; summer solstice was on the cusp. Hans Glipter, science interpreter for the layman, now become investigative reporter, stood on a ridge overlooking Nagayevo Bay; his trailer had found a home in the boatyard north of town. No Magadan fishermen were bothering to work their boats, so it was relatively quiet. He breathed the freshened salt air deeply, the bourbon stiffening his bones and quickening his blood. He shook his head and then asked out loud, "Okay, for starters, what the hell was going on here, right here where I'm standing, 600 million years ago? What?"

He listened to the breeze whistling through the riggings of the boats nearby; the bay below looked like the skin of an orange - low pressure moving in. If he studied the equations describing the scene before him, he thought, would he see the incipient wave crests about to form? Would he feel the salt spray and smell the turgid air? Or would they just be abstractions of idea relationships? Hidden potentials? Empty of substance and meaning? How to see, that's what he must learn, how to see the patterns forming.

Behind him, footfalls scraping the narrow, gravely road that ran along the edge of the boatyard caught his attention, but he didn't turn, didn't need to. "Glip, Glip, old man, are we about to be rescued from this accursed rock by a boatload of lusty women? Don't just stand there, help them, for God's sake, help them." Laughing at his own joke, Tommy "Turbo" Geneva, Glipter's friend from the old neighborhood and present assistant, pulled up alongside, dragging his feet to a halt. Black curly hair down to his shoulders stuck out from beneath his signature black beret, climatically complemented by a knee-length down coat and cowboy boots.

Without seeming to move, he produced a pint of bourbon, not altogether full. "Here," he said, "your gonna catch cold with that bitty rain coat." Hans grabbed the bottle and took a swig, still staring out. "You know, Turbo," he said, just above the sound of the sea and the gulls, "I think I may be completely out of my depth here, we all may be completely our of our depths. Nobody I've talked to as yet has a genuine clue as to what the edifice is about; some of them even seem spooked, like they don't want to know, afraid of what it may mean, who they really were. Everybody's mind is torqued around one major fact: 600 million years ago there were entities in the Universe capable of building that thing, of designing it for some purpose we know not what." He took another swig. "Had it been orbiting the Earth for billions of years only to crash land, for whatever reason, where it lay now? What do we know? Nothin'." He turned his face up to the approaching squall. "We know nothin,' man. You dig what I'm sayin'?"

Hans took another pull on the bourbon and handed it back to Turbo, twisting to smile his wild look as he did so. His "thank you" was blotted out by the roar of a helicopter accompanied by a dust swirl of decent proportions. Not fifty yards down the boat-road, parallel to the rocky beach, on a gravel-dirt clearing reserved for haul-outs and other sundries, a work-helicopter from the excavation site landed like a bee on a flower, then immediately shut down.

"What's this?" asked Turbo, always suspicious and justifiably paranoid. "Pizza delivery? I didn't order a pizza. Did you?" The door slid open on the side of the chopper facing them, two figures stepped out, both about the same height, one dressed in a black insulated jumpsuit and wool cap, the other in a long, old, cashmere coat, a Russian hat propped high on his head. He held something in his right hand, small and black, but it was too far to make out. The two walked slowly up the slight grade towards Hans and Turbo. Turbo took another sip, tried handing the last of the bottle to Hans but was waved off. Measuring, reading, automatically and subliminally - kids on the street - they stared intently and half-expectantly at the approachers. The jumpsuit held the left elbow of the other - not a sign to breed anxiety, ordinarily. But signs were what Hans was looking for, and so was sensitive to every nuance.

The clinging mist moved onshore - precipitation without direction - wavering visibility, dressing the smooth and the sharp of the stones with a sparkling liveliness. Greys and browns and blacks and whites intermingled and glistened, stark graniness outlined the careful movements of the advancing pair. Suddenly Hans recognized the old man's gait; with a quick, almost boyish smile, he roared, "Professor Samuelson, my God, whenja get here?" Hans strode past his friend, down the hill toward the visitors, eliminating the distance between them with a rush of warmth and a strong, appreciative hug. It was a bit more than the reserved and dignified curator was expecting, Hans realized through the bourbon, so he pulled the reins in a little, stood erect, and continued in what seemed like a more respectful tone but was, nonetheless, laced, "How are you doing, Professor? Still got that coat, I see." Leaning forward, he whispered, "It'll make a fine addition to the museum someday." The old professor nodded, smiled, locked eyes with Hans and in the same vein replied, "Why thank you, Hans, but it's already been arranged. The coat's to hang and I'm to be in it, stuffed and mounted." With that he laughed like the tough field worker he used to be, bringing his everpresent pipe to his lips and attempting to light it in what had now become a steady drizzle.

During his years at Berkeley, Hans had helped pay for his education by working in the University's Natural History Museum as a kind of glorified stock boy. Professor Samuelson was the assistant curator at that time and accordingly his boss. He had showed concern and interest for what Hans was doing in school; something he wasn't getting from his overworked mother, his father having left when Hans was too young to remember. The professor had even managed to talk Hans into taking a paleontology course as an elective one year, a class he mostly used to catch up on his sleep, an indulgence now regretted. He had a mental block, he figured; paleontology to him had to do with moving specimen cases and large cast models of dino bones; monitoring the environmental controls in the storage areas; helping to set up and stage exhibits; maintaining the grounds; cleaning, cleaning, and then more cleaning - manual labor. Appreciation and interest are sometimes dampened by first impressions; but now would be a damn good time to get interested, and providence may have provided.

Turbo, standing alongside, ignored the reunion, choosing instead to stare in silence at the professor's companion. She had removed the wool cap to shake out her long curly red hair - an arresting development - like a flair going off in a coal mine. At that, Hans couldn't help but stare too. "Excuse me, Hans," said the professor warmly and with some amusement, "this is my daughter, Rose Marie, she's been here for weeks, I thought for sure you would have at least seen her by now." Drawing on his unlit pipe, giving Hans the onceover, he continued, "But I kind of sense that you haven't."

She smiled while Hans stumbled for words. Red-brick hair, hazel eyes, full red lips, high-boned cheeks with just the right tinge of rose, seemed the only real color in an otherwise bleak and grey-dreary surround - the house just landed in Munchkinland. "No," he finally said, "I haven't had the pleasure. What outfit are you with, Miss Samuelson? I thought for sure by now I'd talked to every group and extra in the entire circus." He stepped closer, breathing deeply as he did. "But I know there's an inner circle, a special group covering many fields, but with something in common they've hit on, I don't know what. Would you be one of those?"

Startled, looking suddenly very concerned and professional, color fading from her cheeks, she asked, "Nobody's supposed to know about that, it's totally secret; how'd you hear?"

Now it was Hans's turn to look amused. He stretched the moment, drawing it out slowly, enjoying her fresh vulnerability. "I didn't," he replied matter-of-factly. She blushed, the professor smiled and looked towards the bay. For an instant, Hans glimpsed beneath her surface toughness, and liked what he saw. A low, guttural throat-clearing interrupted the tableau. "Oh, excuse me; Professor, Rose Marie - my friend, Tommy Geneva, also my assistant and facilitator." Turbo stepped closer, took her hand in his, softly shook it a few times, and, while still holding it, said with a smile and many nods, "Thank you, thank you." Her previous good humor returned with a smile of her own.

"Rose Marie, do they call you that, or is it Rosie, or, what do you like?" asked Hans, wanting to start again on a new foot. Though still immersed in embarrassment, she decided to forgo it for now. Collecting herself, stiffening her back, she replied, "Well, dad calls me Rose Marie and sometimes Rosie, depending. Rosie's fine."

"What about that nickname of yours? Aren't you gonna tell him that?" the professor needled. She laughed, he continued, "she likes to climb rocks, for God's sake, cliffs, in the wilderness, so, the crazy people she associates with call her Rocky, Rocky, of all things."

Hans laughed and quickly turned towards the bay just in time to get a gust of salt spray in his face. With a grimace, he said, "O.K., Rocky, I have a trailer not fifty yards from here, quite comfortable and dry, over there in the boatyard. Professor, have you just arrived? Are you staying somewhere I can take you to later?"

"Nowhere yet. I knew you were here and wanted to see you, so the good people at the site offered this helicopter which I, personally, prefer not to ever ride in again. Rosie, or Rocky, rather enjoys seeing her old dad cringe, however. She, of course, likes it. I don't know where I went wrong, Hans."

Turbo was already on it, heading for the copter to tell the pilot it was okay to leave.

"Do you have any luggage, Professor?" asked Hans.

"Well, I'm not sure, the airport is madness. My bags are there somewhere, they said they'd find them as soon as possible. They're to be sent to the paleontology house, wherever that is; I have only the vaguest of directions."

"I know where it is, we'll get your stuff tomorrow. But for now, I have plenty enough room."

As Turbo strode up, they turned to walk, the copter's roar drowning out further conversation. Hans, the Professor, Rocky, and Turbo, paced it out to the crunch of the gravel as the wind began to rise and the skies grew dark - a squall was coming.

**********************

The Airstream was divided into four compartments plus a small but functional bathroom. At one end was Hans's bedroom, the door opening onto a narrow hallway, at the other end was the bathroom. Adjacent to the 'master' bedroom was another just large enough to accomodate a single bed, a bureau, a side-table, and a closet - Turbo's crib. Next in line was a den-study-workplace for Hans - the communications center - computer with wireless internet connection, radio phones, and a satellite television. Fully half the length, the remaining space, was where Hans had been spending most of his time of late - a living room fitted with his favorite leather recliner, a two-person couch, a high-backed bamboo chair - Turbo's choice - and a kitchenette against one wall. A thick Persian rug lent warmth and civilization, as did three lamps of various designs resting on mahogony tables; Hans hated overhead lights, so there were none. Impressionist prints in simple wood frames adorned the fir-paneled walls; the windows were shuttered from without but with soft tapestry curtains covering them within. The bar was in the kitchen area. Turbo, bootless and wearing one of his many Hawaiian shirts, busied himself making drinks for all - a rum and coke for Rocky, a snifter of cognac for the professor, wild turkey and coke for Hans, and for himself, a shot of bourbon and a beer.

When everyone had settled in, the sound of wind and rain lending womb-like comfort to the warm surroundings - a heater hummed soothingly from somewhere unseen - Hans started right in with a chide. "Professor, where have you been? I'm amazed and surprised that one of the most knowledgeable paleontologists in the world has only just arrived."

"Well thank you, Hans, for saying that, but when I first received word of this incredible discovery I was in the midst of several projects at the museum; then there are my classes, my students, can't let them down, you know. I did keep in touch with the paleontology contingent here as well as an e-mail correspondence with others who also were not able to get away from their duties. But, school is out for the semester and the last of my projects I turned over to some hapless graduate students needing some hands-on education. You remember what that's all about, don't you?" he laughed quietly. "I got here as soon as circumstances would allow."

Hans laughed mildly at the friendly jibe. Taking a sip of his drink, he continued, "Your expertise, Sir, I believe, is required. I think everybody, by that I mean the press, the media, and some investigators I've spoken with, are going down the wrong lane. I mean, I think they're ignoring the larger picture, the background, in order to study the most prominent features, the designs and the edifice itself. I know that sounds ridiculous, afterall they are the obvious subjects of study. But, I've been getting misinformation, I can tell, from some people who seem to be holding back."

Rocky lowered her head, then raised it quickly to sip her drink. Turbo caught it, leaning forward, he asked, "Miss Rocky, what's with this secret organization you let slip out? Sounds like undercover stuff to me. Who's in this group? What have you been working on? Have you found any green aliens, any old magazines from the home planet? C'mon, Rocky, what gives?"

Hans jumped in, "Turbo, Turbo, that's not very polite. I'm sure Rosie has reasons for secrecy." He turned to stare at her with humor in his eyes.

"I do," she responded in a quiet voice, making it sound almost ominous. "But," turning to glance at her father, "I've already told dad everything we know thus far. I felt he had to know if he's to properly study the problems we face. I'm glad you're here now, dad. As Hans said, we need your expertise, and your imagination."

Taking a pull on his still unlit pipe, he leaned back on the plush couch, and said, "Hans, I greatly admire your choice of paintings. That's a Monet, isn't it, one of his earlier works? And these lamps, my, they have an oriental style, porcelain, must have cost a pretty penny. And where did you get this wonderful rug, my goodness, a person could get lost in the patterns and texture." He took a sip of cognac and then carefully rested the snifter on the side-table. Turbo leaned back also, the creaking sound of shifting bamboo filling the room. Hans and Turbo sat back, listening to the wind and the rain and the faint humming of the invisible heater, waiting patiently. Rocky stared at the floor, tacitly approving the inevitable; in her heart she wanted the world to know what they had so far discovered and surmised, but still, she sensed potential danger in the knowing.

"I've followed your career, Hans," the professor said amiably, "I wish you had remained a teacher but, not enough freedom, too conventional for you, I suppose. You like to travel, explore horizons, unfathom the unfathomable. I read your piece on the bogus cold-fusion experiment; you were way ahead of the pack on that one, as usual. And the series you did unraveling the mysteries of string theory, brought it right down to the layman, excellent. Your perspicacity will be seriously tested now, Hans. This is a challenge that, perhaps, not even you can master. Some of the best scientific minds in the world are here in little Magadan right now. They know their stuff too, but, their failing is the box, they have trouble getting outside of it, you don't seem to have that problem, quite the opposite in fact." The professor, looking distant and bemused, took another taste of cognac. The rain had intensified, hammering the roof and shutters.

"My daughter, Rose Marie," he emphasized the name as he glanced her way, "is a mathematician, a topologist, and a darn good one. She's been teaching at the University of Chicago for, what is it now, six years?" She nodded yes but remained silent, as did the others. "Doctor Fitzsimmons, Chairman of the math department at M.I.T., invited her to be a member of his special group - the Puzzle Masters they call themselves. At present there are fifteen, a few added only recently, others will no doubt be brought in as the need arises. I've seen the press release the P.R. team handed out, you probably have one; it's mostly falacious, Hans, intended to buy time and assuage fears. But as far as that goes, it seems to be having the opposite affect, generating uncertainty and anxiety among people in general." He sipped cognac, a warm rosie hue tinted his otherwise tanned features. It had been a long flight and he was visibly tired.

Hans took the pause as opportunity to speak, "Professor, what is going on? I have the fact sheet right here." He reached down to retrieve the legal pad he had previously stuffed next to him in his chair. I would like to go over this one fact at a time to get your take and any corrections, and also if there are facts not on the P.R. sheet that you feel worth mentioning. But, I see you must be exhausted from travel and could use some rest. You're welcome to use my bedroom, I can sleep in the den. Rocky? I have extra blankets if you'd like to crash out, as they say, on the couch. We can begin fresh tomorrow, after breakfast, if you'd like, Turbo does most of the cooking, he's not bad when in the mood. Huh, Turbo?"

They all snickered, all except Turbo who laughed loudly, kicked back his shot, took a pull on the beer, then slowly stood to bring his tall frame to its full height. "O.K., I see where this is goin.' Who wants another one; the bar's open." The wind and rain continued its assault; the heater hummed; and talk meandered along more mundane trails, feelings and minds mingling - an old custom with humans.

Rose Marie, aka Rocky, was a strange mix. When she wasn't traveling through multi-dimensional topological spaces without the geometer's net of a coordinate system, she was traveling through back-country searching for cliffs to climb without the benefit of a net. One more year at U. of Chicago and she would be eligible for tenureship. She was single; lived in an apartment within walking distance of the campus, a distance she usually biked to keep in shape; liked italian food and pizza, red wine and candlelight; was intelligent; possessed of her father's honesty, humor, and earthiness - and unself-consciously beautiful.

The professor, Doctor Samuel Samuelson, a parental joke, no doubt, which the professor nonetheless enjoyed, had been a field paleontologist for the U.S. Geological Survey for the better part of twenty years. He started off chasing dinosaur bones like everybody else in the 60's, the field became overpopulated, so he began to look elsewhere. One day, while on vacation, he was going through some old plates in the archive of the Natural History Museum in London, when he came upon prints of creatures from the Ediacaran Fauna, approximately 620 to 510 million years ago. On every continent except Antarctica, they flourished, these bone-less, shell-less, mineral-less creatures, glued to the floors of warm shallow seas, passively partaking of food, phytoplankton, for millions of years, increasing in diversity, size, and population, then dwindling, dying out, shrinking in size. No one knows for sure how long this cycle went on. A few phyla continued through the Cambrian Period, but otherwise it is accepted that the Ediacarans died out at, or prior to, the transition to the great Cambrian Explosion of around 540 million years ago, the advent of shelly bio-mineralisation - calcium carbonate, calcium phospahte, and silica - all three mineral compounds of what presently exists to generate hardness - bones.

He was fascinated, spell-bound, inspired to wonder - he converted. The Precambrian Eon called, and he dove - now, his expertise.

After twenty years in the field in places like northwestern Australia; the Ediacara Hills, Flinder's Range north of Adelaide, South Australia; southwestern Greenland; South Africa; the Burgess Shale in Northwestern Canada, and a host of others, searching and inspecting, cataloguing and analysing, new and varied species of Precambrian and early Cambrian life, he retired to take a faculty position at the U. of California, Berkeley. At first he just taught, but he quickly grew bored with mere academic pursuit and needed some hands-on activity. One request was all that was needed, he was appointed assistant curator to the university's Natural History Museum.

After three years, the director retired, and Doctor Samuelson assumed that position. As head curator, he brought in a whole new paradigm, reinvigorated and transformed the entire format of presentations and content. That was 13 years ago, when he first met Hans, the student/part-time laborer. Now, he's here, and he has a hunch, but he's not ready to tell - he could be wrong.

Tommy 'Turbo" Geneva didn't say much about himself, he liked mystery, to keep people guessing, shifting personas at a glance, in a single heartbeat. Growing up on the streets, this was an art form best internalized. He could be eloquent and well-read one moment, a seedy, hedonistic rowdy the next, whatever was required. But, even though he loved to laugh, his main overall underlying posture was one of abject, deadly seriousness. Hans and he were part of a group who ranged together when kids; traveled the subways; hung out in the neighborhood, in the schoolyard, on the corner; went to the same high school; played footbal every day, it seemed, in the fall and winter, in the snow and ice; suffered through loses of family and friends; and drank beer on friday and saturday nights.

After high school, Hans attended Berkeley; Turbo stayed in the neighborhood, getting a job at the Philadelphia Navy Yard as an apprentice pipe-fitter. When Hans was home on break, they would get together again and hang out. They had lost touch while Hans was at Michigan State teaching physics, a position he quit after five years to take the job he has now, a stone's throw from Philly. On invitation, Turbo reunited with his lifelong friend in D.C., ostensibly hired as Hans's assistant but also, of course, so they could 'hang out' and travel together.

Enfolded in their own thoughts and feelings, the four slept through the stormy night, oblivious to the transformations set in motion.

***********************

Comeuppance
Sunlight dapppled through the naked trees onto the snow-covered ground where he lay, blood oozing from two gunshot wounds in his chest. He watched the snow reddening with a detachment he'd come to learn. The air was still, soundless, the cold muting the pain. He knew it was over, his life nothing more now than a memory.

He was a child again, playing in the backyard of his family home, arranging his toy soldiers, piling up mounds of dirt for them to hide behind. His grandmother called him to supper, time to end the war. He scooped his men up and dropped them into the can. She'd have chocolate pudding for dessert, his favorite.

Blood rivered its way down through a gulley between two trees. He stared absently, noting the bright shapes it made in the pure white. How had it come to this? he wondered. He'd tried to be a good friend, or at least he thought he did. But his temper and his many hatreds, petty and deep-rooted, always got in the way. He was aware of his problems, worked on them every day, but his emotions ruled him, he knew. He thought he could make up for all those bad times when he'd acted like a jerk, but, apparently, it'd been too late.

He arrived that morning bearing gifts, a blanket and flashlight, to give to his friend, an offering of sorts. He was trying to make up, it's the way he did it. Apologies were beyond him, he didn't know how, couldn't. He was dysfunctional in the extreme, had no capacity to empathize, felt only for himself. He'd trudged through the snow, gifts in hand, towards the man living on his property, smiling as genuinely as he could. But, when within a few feet, his would-be friend pulled a gun from beneath his shirt and without hesitation shot him twice. No words were spoken, before or afterwards. The deed was done, pure and simple.

He lay there stunned while listening to the car driving off. Death would overtake him soon; he had little time left to reflect or wonder. The sky was bluer than he ever remembered seeing it before, sharp, vivid, intense. He tried crawling back to his truck, but the effort proved more than he could handle, devouring what remained of his strength. He wished he'd been a better friend, but friendship had never been high on his list of importances. Self was all that ever mattered to him, he realized at this final moment. And now he was about to pay the price.

The air was peaceful as though watching; the cold, unforgiving; the blood draining from his body, unstoppable. If only, he thought, as he slowly drifted off to sleep, the deep sleep of eternal death.

**********************

Charles and the Pencil
[Almost by accident I watched a movie the other night called Paperhouse. This story is by no means a parallel to it, but it certainly put me in a weird headspace (like I need a movie for that). I wrote this afterwards beginning around 3:00 AM.


While exploring the storage shack at the back of the rental, Charles found an unusual pencil which he now was using to scrawl lines on a piece of paper. It was hardly what you would think of as a writing instrument, it's length -- a foot or more -- and its elongated teardrop shape spoke otherwise. But the small boy saw it that way and so it was. The pencil tapered ever so gently and fit his hand most comfortably. The thin delicate wood feel in his child's hand soothed him; it felt safe like his rubberband-powered airplane. Caught up in the moment, he noticed that its exceptionally smooth black surface lacked hardness and seemed to shimmer in the sunlight.

The faint rush of distant sea over rough sand intruded irregularly on the deep quiet of his room, salt smell wafting through worn shutters, its tang unmistakable. He tried not to listen to its lonely calling. That's how it felt, pulling, like a forlorn entreaty to come and play, to keep it company.

Though wanting to draw something real, he instead concentrated on the pencil's point. Intrigued by the tearing sound it made as it ran over the coarse paper, he failed to notice when his aimless squiggles changed to recognizable patterns. At first, straight, angled, but gradually taking on lives of their own, curving and swirling, floating and detached, animals and people emerging from the depths unbidden. He giggled at some, surprising himself, enjoying the unexpected.

The paper filled, he searched the attic for more. Copies of his fathers shipping logs and typed lists of unknown purpose, long forgotten, he turned over to find the other sides blank. Inspired, he sought the wide porch and sprawled on its planked deck. But its weathered surface, moonscaped with paint peelings, made drawing impossible. Scrabbling under the porch he found a piece of plywood about two-feet square. Excited, he brushed the sand off and returned to his favorite spot by the bench-swing. He remembered that night when Uncle Joe and Aunt Mary had come to visit, they favored the bench, swinging ever so slightly, secretively. He'd sat close on the floor by the railing pretending to be playing with toy cars, the tone of his uncle's low deep gentle voice tranquilizing, soothing in a way he seldom knew. Even the air would feel more pleasant, at ease, drifty.

He laid the scrap of plywood down with his stack of old paper and felt annoyed, irritated. Finally, he muttered. His mood had been tampered with so he sat very still, listening to the muffled sound of waves scouring the beach. A playful breeze tousled his uncombed hair and ruffled the beach grass at the top of the berm in front. He thought of Uncle Joe. The seashell mobile he made last summer clicked dryly. Its shells proved to be too heavy for much movement, he quickly discovered, but it pleased him the way it looked, like the sun-bleached bones of some alien creature.

He opened his eyes and began to draw once again. Remembering his cat who vanished one day he drew him, long white hair, black on the forehead and tail, a single large spot on his chest, and a ruffle about his neck, like a lion. He loved his cat and was heartbroken for what seemed a very long time. The pain of that loss returned as he finished the eyes, so intelligent and understanding they were, changing color from black to yellow in a flash. His pencil did likewise, going from black to yellow as if it held knowledge of its own. It startled him but he quickly accepted it as children often do, still of the age to believe in magic. He paused to listen to the cries of a seagull, far off over the sea, calling as though for help or company. He put that sheet aside, not wanting to share it with another thing.

He then began to draw the outline of his father, his father who so often was away on business. Away to places he'd never heard of and only knew through pictures and stories his father would tell him by the fire on winter nights. Then one day he too was gone, that is, he never returned. Charles would look through the window for hours, waiting, hoping to see him coming up the walk. Eventually, he gave up. He drew as he remembered the happy times of play on the beach. He was tall with shaggy hair and wore glasses that kept slipping down his nose. When he finished he put that piece on top the cat, carefully.

He leaned against the banister and sighed deeply. Another gust threatened to scatter his papers, he put his hand over them and waited for its passing, his mobile once again thudding heavily. He stared hard at the direction from which the wind had come, trying to force it to stop by will alone. It worked, or so he believed. Quiet once again, he returned to drawing. This time, his mother. He remembered her as being very pretty, beautiful, in fact, as a boy will often do. He clothed her in a fine summer dress of large flowers, trim at the sides, her hair billowy brown, curling at the ends, her eyes deep blue like the color of the sky on a hot summer day. Once more the pencil changed color from black to blue as he circled in the eyes. He smiled, certain now that the pencil he'd found had once belonged to a wizard.

Placing that drawing on top of his father's, he stood to study the sea, its waves gently cascading at the edge where it met the sand, a good hundred meters distant. With the sun so high in the sky, it appeared dark blue with a hint of greenish gold beneath the surface. Like his mother's eyes, he thought. As he did so he glanced at her drawing and it too altered to show that gold tint. Could he be just imagining it? He'd not touched it with the magic pencil? He knelt down and taking pencil in hand began to draw himself.

Disturbing emotions filtered through his calm. He stopped and sat back on his heels. Only the barest of outline had he completed. He tried to continue but the pencil would not make its mark, as though it had run out of lead. He stared at the tip, examining it, wondering, and then began anew. Still, it would not work. He placed his ear close to the paper as he ran the pencil over it, listening for the scratchy sound he first heard, that slight tearing of the surface that captivated him in the beginning. But all was quiet save the muffled wash of waves on sand. Suddenly afraid, he stood to stare at the wide beach looking for anyone, someone, other people. But it was empty, not even birds wandered its horizon.

Fiercely, a strange anger welling up, he shot a look at the drawing of himself that would not come. As he confronted the partially finished drawing, it abruptly vanished, leaving only the blank white sheet. Angry and hurt, tears blurring his vision, he grabbed the stack of paper and threw it over the railing, the breeze scattering it in all directions. Tears running down his cheeks, he picked up the pieces that held his mother and father and cat and, with pencil in hand, shuffled down the porch stairs and circled the house heading towards the storage shed where he'd found the pencil. He placed it back in the exact spot, pausing to give it an accusatory glare. At once, it too disappeared.

The caretaker arrived late that afternoon. He was going to visit relatives in the next town and wanted to make sure all was secure in the abandoned house. He didn't visit often, he was a kind old man and the sadness of it overwhelmed him. But, he was being payed to care for it and so he would, even if the chore was difficult. But it was almost unnecessary, he thought, rumors it was haunted had kept the locals, including teenagers looking for a place to drink and party, at a safe distance. In fact, they avoided it like the plague, would not even sun themselves on the beach out front.

After checking the front and back doors of the main house, he crossed what was left of the tiny garden, now fallow and covered by everencroahing sand, its bench and round table worn and falling apart, to see about the storage shed. Oddly, he found the door unlocked. He was certain he had secured it, but the lock was gone. Thinking robbers bold enough to ignore the stories had broken in, safe from sight by the cover of the large two-story house, he grew angry at the disrespect. He went inside to see if anything had been taken or damaged.

Tools hanging from the wall behind the workbench and those lying on it were covered with cobwebs and the intrusive sand, impossible to keep out. With the help of the wind, splits and crannies were all it needed, which were aplenty in the cracked weathered walls, traceries of long neglect. The caretaker examined the remains, not much to begin with, broken bits of machinery and electrical devices, shovels and rakes, gardening tools, tarps and a small tent, and a few toys in a large box over in the far corner. Satisfied nothing had been taken and mildly convinced that he was somehow at fault, he turned to leave.

As he did so, a brightness amongst the otherwise dank and grey surroundings caught his eye. Sitting in a small cardboard box with nails and screws and other indeterminate objects he spotted what appeared to him as a wand of some kind. Why he thought of a wand, he didn't know. Perhaps from a childhood story, he mused. He picked it up, its tapered shape, over a foot long and shining with the boldest black, almost jewel-like, held no purpose he could fathom. But, its dust-free cleanness led him to think it'd been recently used. But for what and by whom?

Curiosity overcame him and, not believing anyone would now miss it, he placed it in his jacket pocket and left, locking the door with a spare lock he carried for just such occasions. Walking around to the front of the house, he paused for a long time, musing at its aloneness and feeling the sadness of the tragedy that had taken the entire family in a boating accident. They were good people, he recollected, especially the little boy; Charlie, he called him.

Wishing to deflect the inevitable emotions that always clutched at his heart when he came here, he strode up the beach-stairs to his pick-up sitting on the gravel road. While the old truck warmed up, he gave the house and grounds one last lingering inspection. The stillness and emptiness of the tableau held a sadness all its own, as though the house itself mourned for company.

Suddenly, an undulation, a ripple of space moving through the garden from shed to house brought him out of his reverie, chilling his blood. From his distance and angle and because of the sun's position, the motion was a shadowy blur of light and gray, hazy, inexpressible. He wasn't a superstitious man, he knew, that's why he took this job in the first place; even though, at other times, a feeling of being watched would get under his skin. But this time was different; it wasn't just a feeling. He was certain he'd actually seen something, and it wasn't a rat or bird or some such. It seemed to reach out to him like a vibration cutting across the interval separating him from the garden. Nonetheless, for the sake of sanity if nothing else, he dismissed it as the play of light on scraps of paper billowing about. Annoyed, he made a mental note to police the area next time; trash was collecting, perhaps from the road, he thought; no other houses were nearby.

Maybe it was time to quit this job, he considered, smiling to himself.

He removed the wand from his pocket and placed it gingerly beside him, at first examining it, but then watching it, observing from a distance, half-expecting it to act strangely, unpredictably, grow appendages or shimmer or turn into another thing entirely, something. Glancing at the garden again, then at the wand, he caught himself and shook his head at his foolishness.

Time to let go.

The sun beginning to set over the azure sea, he put the truck in gear and drove on down the road.

**********************************

Tim's parents had raised him to do good, to respect others, and to bathe once a week, if necessary. During the course of his ubringing he found it very difficult to avoid the pitfalls that come with assertion of will. His mother would chain him to a wall in the cellar and let roaches crawl over his naked torso, biting, the tiny ones nibbling inside his ears. But, in spite of this treatment, he loved his mother and promised he'd always do his best. For her turn, she spurred him on with threats of violence; it worked. Unfortunately, he lacked the confidence to achieve anything worthwhile, always aiming low on the working totem pole.

On his right bicep he had "666" tatooed and on his left, "In God We Trust." He was trying to cover all the bases. When life breaks your lemons, make lemonade, he vaguely remembered uncle Jim Bob saying one night, although he often mixed up such memories. When a young man he moved away from his parents. Well, that's not exactly true. One day on coming home from the box-making factory he found the house empty, his parents and all their belongings gone. A note pinned to his stuffed Panda read: There's bread and peanut butter in the fridge. Enjoy. Bye. Love, Mom and Dad.

In the paper he saw an ad for a basement studio with a private entrance in a home near the ocean miles from where he grew up, hundreds of miles, in fact. He took it, wanting to get away from the neighborhood and find a new life for himself. Wandering the dock near his abode one day, admiring the boats, he was offered a job fixing fishnets. A quick study, he learned the basics in short order. Besides the smell of the sea, he liked the solitude of the work, having problems getting along with other people. The clubbing by his father when a child left indelible effects, the most pronounced being a deep-seated shyness around people. As they say, however, life will find a way. Before long, Tim's reputation as a fast and efficient net repairer, highly desired adjectives during the brief fishing season, brought him so much work that he began to relax and feel a sense of belonging in his new world.

Taking advantage of his beachside location, he developed this propensity for deftness with his hands by carving small animals out of driftwood. A simple harmless hobby, to be sure, except for the fact that his animals talked and moved about. Tim, being the way he was, found this behaviour not the least bit unnatural or astounding. Never stopping at the bars at night even when other dock workers would invite him along, he'd always come home to his animals. By this time there were quite a few, a couple dozen, all different. Among them was a squirrel, a chipmunk, a robin, a deermouse and others of more or less fanciful and indeterminate persuasion.

He had dinner every evening around the same time at the Dockside Cafe where a certain waitress named Lillith always made him feel comfortable. Occasionally when business was off she'd sit with him. They talked of likes and dislikes and often of traveling to faraway places, destinations they'd heard of but never actually expected to visit.

Tim spent weekends gathering wood from the beach to carve. He always scavenged from the same pile. It lay around the bend from the main beach where tourists came to sunbathe. It was quiet and he noticed at the outset of his search for suitable pieces that these seemed to have a special quality -- the surfaces moved under his touch. They also vibrated ever so mildly, the vibrations emanating as sounds he could hear crisply despite the loud rush of waves. He thought of himself as a sculptor, freeing shapes he could see in the wood. They were held fast, trapped and he was their liberator.

His creatures moved about in the same milieu but never interfered or confronted one another, even though in the real world some of his animals would normally be at each other's throats, predator and prey. As I said, they talked, but in languages unknown to Tim, if, indeed, they could be called languages at all. He imagined they were, but, even though he had no concrete proof, he also had no reason to believe otherwise. Why else utter sounds except to communicate?

[to be continued, maybe]

**********************************

He couldn't help it; it was God's will. His reasoning was impeccable. God created the universe, the sun, all its planets and the all-controlling moon. And when it was full, he transformed into a werewolf. He'd forgotten the particulars of that camping trip to the mountains outside Quilcene, Washington. It was intended to be only for three days, a three day weekend, taking advantage of the clear skies, an uncommon occurrence in this neighborhood of the Northwest. Not needing a flashlight on the night of the full moon, he walked away from the camp fire into the woods to relieve himself when suddenly a blow to the side of the head rendered him unconscious. When he came to, his friends surrounded him, looks of concern on their faces. Blood trickled from his neck and bruises showed on his arms and chest. Apparently he'd put up one hell of a fight, but with what?

A month later, he found out about his new nature. He remembered the incredible strength he felt through his body, his hightened senses, especially of smell and hearing. But he had trouble recalling just exactly what he did that night. He read in the paper the next day of a murder, grotesque in detail, of a young woman and her 10-year old child. Was he the perpetrator?

Through the internet he found a werewolf support group in Los Angeles, where else? They got together for the entire week prior to a full moon, took home-made drugs and drank hard whiskey to dull the senses. But it didn't work. The whole lot of them spilled out into the city, pillaging and killing all they ran into, regrouping the following dawn at support headquarters. It was no use.

He decided to run for office, congress beckoned. He thought perhaps from there he could do something important to protect people from the threat of unnatural beings. He was elected on the Independent ticket and went to Washington. But it wasn't long after his arrival that he discovered that most of congress -- senators and representatives -- along with diplomats, lobbyists and non-governmental corporate-supporting organizations were composed not only of werewolves like himself, but also of vampires, trolls, griffens, gargoyles, warlocks, and assorted other mythological figures. It was madness; he lived in shock at the realization. Washington, D.C.?

Life went on. With time, he ascended to Chairmanship of the Intelligence Committee. From that perch he discovered that all of the other governments of the developed nations were also made up of similar creatures, some more blood-thirsty than others. And don't even get me started on the developing third-world countries. And the failed states? The executives of multinational corporations were even more despicable, they had governments in their pockets. It was the way of the world and he was an integral part of it.

It was God's will, once again.

What the hell, he reflected, sitting back in his cushioned desk chair, a view of the capitol building off to the east, things could be worse; they could all be republicans.

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Adrian T. Dorn;
copyright:
February, 2004