Monday, June 27, 2016

50 YEARS OF "FAHRENHEIT"









































FAHRENHEIT 451
Starring Oskar Werner,
Julie Christie,
Cyril Cusack
Directed by Francois Truffaut
Written by Francois Truffaut, Jean-Louis Richard
Based on the novel by Ray Bradbury
Runtime 112 minutes


         
Francois Truffaut’s dystopian masterpiece eerily resonates today. Based on the 1953 novel by Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451 is Truffaut’s only English-language film and his first one in color.
         
In the controlled society of a nightmarish future, the job of the firemen is to burn books. Oskar Werner plays Guy Montag, a fireman who meets a teacher named Clarisse. In a dual role, Julie Christie plays the rebellious Clarisse, and also Montag’s pill-popping wife Linda, who spends most of her time watching a giant TV. As his friendship with Clarisse develops, so too does his interest in reading the books that he burns.
         
For those who haven’t heard of director Francois Truffaut, he was an integral part of the New Wave of French filmmakers. He seems to be an important influence on Steven Spielberg. Spielberg cast him in Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and alludes to Fahrenheit 451 with his film Minority Report.
         
One of the best aspects of the movie is the music. This is true of any film scored by Bernard Herrmann, and particularly so here. Also, the sheer look of the film recommends. It’s interesting that the drab oppression of state-control is contrasted with lots of lawns, trees, and parks. But in those parks, the firemen in their black uniforms wander around snooping through people’s belongings.
         
In 1966, when the film was released, audiences would recognize the click of the blonde, blue-eyed firemen’s boots sounding like the jackboots of Nazi stormtroopers. A scene where the firemen chase down a guy in the street and forcibly cut his hair would also strike a fascist chord. It gave the film an edge to show how bad things could be in a future where books are banned.  
         
“Is it true,” Clarisse asks Montag, “that a long time ago firemen used to put out fires instead of burn books?”
          
“Put fires out? Who told you that?”
         
When he is caught reading, Montag becomes a fugitive. The participant in the authoritarian state who then must elude capture by the same forces he used to serve sounds a little like the story of Moses and a lot like Philip K. Dick’s 1956 short story “The Minority Report.” In the Spielberg film based on the story, the pre-crime unit in jetpacks chasing Tom Cruise directly refers to the firemen in jetpacks chasing Montag.
         
As Montag, Oskar Werner is the perfect choice. His gloomy, Peter Lorre-ish features reflect the deadening influences of the state, and equally well his determination to read and keep reading once he gets a taste. Julie Christie’s so good in both of her roles, a simple difference in hair-length is the only thing needed to separate Clarisse and Linda visually. It’s almost hard to believe the same person plays both characters.
         
State-run, reality TV-type programming drawing in viewers through a false sense of participation, perpetually pushing pills on the public, and presenting falsified news as fact in order to maintain control undoubtedly has lost much of its cinematic impact today.
         
For those who haven’t read the best book about censorship, Fahrenheit 451—that’s the temperature at which book paper ignites—may seem irrelevant. After all, we have e-books now. However, it’s worth noting that if one takes a blow torch to a Kindle, it will in fact become disabled. Trust me.
          
Cinematic genius still applicable.  





 Stewart Kirby writes for


Saturday, June 25, 2016

DREEM











































Stage One
1

My name is Burke Lee, and I took a shamanic journey deep into the caves just outside the town of Dreem. I followed the winding, precipitous course of a subterranean river flowing below the redwood forest, disaster perpetually harrowing and narrowly averted. But before I get into that, I should point out that what makes Dreem unique compared to most other towns is the degree to which it is openly Hippie, and that degree being quite high.
             The signs on either side of town on the old road, the Hippie Highway, as it’s called, claim Dreem has a population of 660 and an elevation of 240. I think 240 is high and the population quite low. It actually might be 666, but I think we’re in the ‘70s. By we I mean Dr. Thomas H. Duke, the noted cryptozoologist, the Mystical Mr. Cole (a sort of artist friend of mine), and his daughter Missy, and my oldest friends here in Dreem, the Samanas—Sid Samana and his wife Ananda. The we I mean also includes—and maybe, in some crazy way, this is moving toward the heart of the reason why I holed up underground over the raging subterranean river—the we includes the Millers and the Sawyers, Bill and Jill and Bob and Betty, and Dick and Connie Cooper, and Paul and Jeanine Brewer.
            But all of Dreem—and, in a very real existential way, the world—came under threat when Kandy Kane dropped in, descending by parachute into the redwoods after the first Bigfoot attack.
            I have to admit, the guy who died wasn’t any great friend of mine. I barely even knew him, only that he owned and ran Car Fix, the body shop in town. I always thought he looked like a repu Edward Abbey. Repu is a word I coined after The Informer shortened Democrats to Dems. Republican, with its four syllables, never got changed a bit. But Democrat, having, like “GOP,” only three syllables, got slashed down to Dem by the corporate and therefore right-winger media that always calls itself liberal, calls itself that to keep the weakest minds perpetually brainwashed, brainwashed to not only allow but actually aid in corporate crimes against people, the planet and life. So I coined repu, to help balance out the national lockstep trend suddenly forced across the media, the orders of which The Informer no doubt simply dutifully followed.
             Not to speak ill of the dead, but Car Fix Abbey did seem like the kind of guy who would aid and abet all schemes repu to make himself feel like he was part of a winning team. Probably because he barely got by. Nobody on the tiny minority rich whitey team he spent his life helping would have ever associated with him. Imagine the kick people like that must get out of people like him.
            Poor old Car Fix Abbey was closing up shop at six, or just a little after. I happened to be standing within eyeshot of that, but I didn’t have a watch on. My lady friend, Epyphane, has the best art supply store in town, Shape and Shade, and provides space for the occasional gallery show there, as well. I was on my way to pick her up and take us over to a grove we like so we could have some mixed nuts which I’d soaked—soaking leeches out the enzyme that prohibits digestion of the protein—nuts I had subsequently dehydrated and roasted, I might add, and also we were going to share in some coconut milk, when I witnessed Car Fix Abbey drive off in an old pickup that bounced and squeaked and couldn’t have done much to help bring in business, which I kind of like, but also wonder about. It’s like when you see someone who gets paid to cut hair, but is sporting a really shitty haircut.
            One thing I didn’t tell you, I have an insanely good memory. It’s like some kind of medical condition. I remember everything. I really do. That’s how I’m able to write all this. And sort of why I have to.
            Distinctly I recall a charcoal-gray fog that dusk, seeping like the noxious vapors of a pestilential contagion. Seemed pestilential to me at the time, like a portent of events to come. I didn’t say anything to Epyphane about it, though. Now I wish I had. It’s like seeing a Bigfoot without a camera.
            Which brings me back to Car Fix Abbey, because tracks along the road showed where a Bigfoot had been running alongside the truck, all the way to Happy Creek Bridge. Somebody found the truck down below the bridge where a good-sized Bigfoot ran it off the road. This much is evident from all the tracks, and prints, and the satellite video. The truck was flipped over, beat up even worse than before, Car Fix Abbey dead inside. Coincidentally, turns out, he was also the town mayor. Who knew?
            The week after that, Kandy Kane dropped in, having already purchased Car Fix and lined everything up to gut the building and turn it into Dreem Date. Which, by the way, did nothing to endear her to Sol and Sara, the owners of Dreem Cycle. In fact I was standing right next to Sol when she parachuted down.
            “Holy crap,” he said. “She looks like a goddam monster.” From a long ways off she did look gigantic. But as she got closer we could see it was just some dude she was strapped to who did the actual parachuting and made sure she’d land okay. To believe The Informer though, you’d think she did it all by herself. They even cropped the expert out of the picture they had splashed across the front page.
            Sol and I were at Sid’s. Ananda wasn’t there at the time, which kind of bummed me because she has some serious Grace Slickitude going on with the dark groovy hair and the sexily intelligent eyes. The Samanas have a house with a view of a redwood vale rather like a giant “V” with the trees rising high on either side of the slope. Lounging at the deck, we observed the demure grandeur. We hadn’t gotten together to watch the big Kandy Kane dump, but we were right there again the very next day at nearly the same minute of the same hour and passing around a copy of The Informer with that picture I was just telling you about, too. There she was with her big fake curly blonde hair, wearing what looked like fake glasses intended to make her look intelligent-y.
            “She won a Miss Forty contest,” Sol said, paper in hand.
            “She does look a lot like a cocaine prostitute,” said Sid.
            “Says she’s aiming for Miss Fifty.”
            “Keep going.”
            Braless women with hairy armpits watered sunflowers in the garden. Ananda, Sara and Epyphane. Sara’s nephew ran around in hand-me-down Osh Kosh’s still too big for him. Rainbow-colored windsocks flapped. The Beatles were on and the organic vegetarian snacks were out. I can still smell the bulgar.
            “Holy shit,” Sol said, exhaling. “She owns a troop of NARGs.” That would be the National Armed Resistance to Growers.
            “How do you get a troop of NARGs?”
            “People in high places.”
            “Plays up the rabid churcher bit, too. It’s always the crooks.”
            “Holy fucking shit!” Sol said.
            “Bingo,” said Sid.
            Sol folded up the paper and slapped it down on the deck with a satisfying smack. “So the corporate paper’s pushing for a fascist beauty contest lackey for mayor. Heaven sent, no less. Why does anybody need to fill the vacant position anyway? It’s a town of 600, for crap sake.”
            “Come on,” I said. “We’re talking 666 at least.”
            “We’re high in the 70s,” said Sid.
            Sol’s countenance was as nonplussed as any I’d ever seen. “Regardless, how the hell long do we have to be plagued with this? Why isn’t everybody smart enough to see it’s all a buncha bull that the corporations use, through the politicians they own, to keep the criminal few running the whole slavery show?”
            I remember that part word-for-word, as I always do with everything else. I wasn’t kidding when I said I have insane memory. I even remember what I happened to be staring at, vacantly, at the time: the big V of the vale. Quite the yonic image, and in all the v-words that came flying down at me I saw vampire, and thought of Kandy Kane, thinking how she sucked.
            In the redwoods when a tree falls—and one may stand dead for decades—long before it ever becomes absorbed by the ground—the energy of its growth and decay being an ever-changing expression of the flow of life energy in this infinitesimal galaxy of what we call the known universe, which, in eventually ending, will begin anew—already little things grow green and upwards from the fallen trunk, and the trunk of the tree whereon life has grown and does not stop continues to exist there among its kind, all of which one day will fall, even then life still unstopped, and within this ringing redwood sea we ate our rice cakes and carob and sprinkled freely the patchouli, that last part metaphorically only, and I couldn’t help thinking of the redwoods, and how they fall among their friends.

           2

            It might seem confusing if I don’t clarify, and I hate to hold up the narration flow, but regarding the passing of the occasional peace pipe, as it were, a person might perhaps partake of such a thing even without being a partaker, per se. Some people lead a vegetarian lifestyle most of the time, for example, but make the occasional exception for reasons of their own. Sometimes, lots of times, one’s going around and one won’t partake at all. Everybody’s different with it, just like with everything else.
            Dr. Duke struck one up the very next day, in fact, and I didn’t have any with him, except only a couple of tokes. I guess I could have told you earlier that I install solar panels, but I didn’t see any point until now. Jobs. Probably you were thinking, maybe not consciously, but somewhere in the back of your mind, “What’s this Burke Lee cat do anyway?” Stroke of chin, stroke of chin.
            Anyway, the reason I was there was because Dr. Duke wanted another panel put up. But it wasn’t long before he asked if I’d been following this Kandy Kane crud in The Informer, and I told him I was unfortunately aware.
            “Well, they’re sure as hell not going to let up, seeing how it’s the story they’re inventing. This candidate of theirs has zero qualifications to be a mayor anywhere. I know, I know, she’s supposed to be some sort of half-ass beauty queen. I say that’s bunk. I’ll be the judge of beauty, and she turns my stomach. So goddam phony.”
            I had been holding a cordless drill poised for drilling the whole time he’d been talking, trying to be polite. After all, his being a customer. Since I didn’t disagree with him, I guess he felt free to let it all fall out. But that’s what it’s like all over. I do the same thing myself. Right now more than any other time, I guess.
            “So what do you think of her platform?” I asked this with my drill still winding down, half-expecting Duke to make some kind of a pun on platform shoes.
            “What do you mean? All she’s doing is playing up the fact that what’s-his-face rolled his truck, so now we’re supposed to hand her the big mayor hat because she promises to use a bunch of dirtbags with rifles to go kill all the Bigfeet. ‘To keep people safe.’ Shit.”
            “It’s crazy.”
            Yeah it’s crazy!”
            You have to understand, Dr. Duke taught cryptozoology at the university in Carata for fifteen years. He grew up in the backwoods of Maine, and long entertained the notion of heading for the coast and becoming a lobsterman. Instead he enrolled at the university, and—surprise, surprise—they accepted him and he went on to get a couple of doctorates in anthropology. He’d hammered like hell to get cryptozoology on as a discipline, and finally won, but scarce a dozen years into his life’s achievement the preponderance of videos on the Internet dampened student interest in the subject. The inevitable manifest recognition of Bigfeet was what ruined Duke’s career. He’d been retired several years now. But all those years of painstaking deliberation, all those countless hours spent reciting facts in the face of kneejerk disbelief, for all that effort to get negated by inevitable manifest recognition, leaving Duke suddenly and unexpectedly high and dry without a livelihood did nothing for his personality.
            “America’s American Americans for America—that the fuck is that shit?” A lot of potty mouths around, I can tell you that. Then again, if people weren’t repressed, there would be no fascists.
            “Is that what they’re calling the ‘4As’? I thought if you were 4A it meant you were ineligible for the Draft.”
            “Yeah, and the same ones who used to run around saying, ‘Better Dead Than Red,’ look what color they rally around now. Red. If you join up, one of your requirements is you have to unload a certain number of tracking devices they give you per month. The perk is, if you’re 4A, you’re exempt from having to wear one. In the Kandy Kane commercial they run every fifteen minutes all day, she says she wears hers all the time—‘Even in bed, tee hee!’—Bullshit! Fascists always hold themselves exempt of the control systems they so desperately crave. So of course, being 4A, you get to help keep Bigfeet on the run, maybe even at some point being featured on the Campaign Against Bigfeet (CAB) channel I hear from a friend at the station they’re getting geared up. Nor can we forget how convenient it is for every little 4A boy to learn exactly how to vote in every single election, in the manner that pushes for the kind of legislation that allows for cloud-seeding, and genetically-altered foods, and all sorts of other wonderful things that harm humanity and the environment for the benefit of the lying few hiding behind the big brainwash machine.”
            I couldn’t help but ask: “Well, what do you think about that attack?”
            “Not a thing, Burke. If you mean whether it happened or not. At first, I have to admit, I didn’t think so. But that satellite video does show incredible resolution. I studied it. It’s real, all right.”
            I actually hadn’t seen it yet. We went inside and he showed me on his computer. He has a lot of weird things in his home, does Dr. Duke, and that’s saying something coming from a guy who lives in Dreem. Dr. Duke seems to have always been one of those naturalist guys who likes to hunt. There are some Hippies who do believe in guns. Duke doesn’t make a big point of it all the time. Not in the frustrated, impotent way of some pud in a jacked-up truck with loud acceleration. But living as he did sort of midway between Dreem and Madrani, he sometimes had to shoot the odd bear or mountain lion when a neighbor might call from an adjoining parcel, and he was in the habit of taking an elk every year, much of which he smoked, the bulk getting stored in the floor freezer, often alongside free-range bison. (After ostrich, bison being the leanest meat in the world. Throw it on the barbeque for burgers and the size of the patty won’t change.) So anyway, aside from the skulls and antlers and stuff from The Nature Conservancy, National Geographic, and The World Wildlife Fund, there were Yupa Indian Bigfoot masks, framed Roger Patterson Bigfoot stills. The Duke family harpoon—an actual whaling harpoon used by some whaling grandfather—stood out among the oddities arrayed upon the wall. Evidence of his website, Afroisms—“Aphorisms for People of Color”—could be readily discerned. A sort of bumper sticker he’d printed out adorned his corkboard: White Makes Blight. One thing on the wall, however, I didn’t understand.
            “Sovereign Citizen,” he said. “That’s right. A bunch of us old-timers here are actual Sovereign Citizens, pal. I was an original member of the founding commune for twenty-six glorious months.”
            I figured that went a long way toward explaining all the Photoshopped psychedelic Bigfoot stuff.
            “But what the hell’s a Sovereign Citizen?” I said.
            “It’s a totally legal thing you can do where you quit being a citizen of the country. You don’t pay any taxes, and you don’t get any taxpayer services. You still have to obey the laws, but otherwise you’re off the books and out of the system.” The satellite video finally came up. “All right now, here we go.”
            Well, I mean, there it was. Laser-lock, perfect clarity. They’ve been able to read the serial number on a golf ball with those satellites for so damn long. Access has become too great to stop. And it was a good thing Duke saved the video, too, because they did remove it soon after. Which goes to show you can’t take anything for granted. One time, for a while there, “The Six Million Dollar Man” ran in syndication. I taped one or two episodes thinking, oh yeah, they’ll have this on for a long time. But no. They quit carrying it, and turns out, you can’t get it on video in the U.S. Some kind of legal crap screwing the whole thing up.
            Anyway, there was the Bigfoot chasing Car Fix Abbey all right. Great big bastard. Huge next to the truck, its long swift animal stride keeping pace with the swerving pickup truck.
            “There’s no question,” Duke said. “That big male is definitely behaving with persistent aggressive intent. The question is, why? It’s never happened before. Nothing I’ve ever heard of. So why now?”
            “The land,” I said, transfixed by the violent image paused. “Nature”—I looked Duke in the eye—“nature is fighting back.”
            It was one of those moments, my saying what I did, that a person expects to simply slip away. But not so with Dr. Duke. Generally speaking, he is the kind of guy who’ll listen to what you say, and he’ll take what you say sincerely, even when it’s a joke and he knows it, maybe because he sees something behind the joke.
            “What do you know about shamanism?”
            Now this was funny that he asked. I’m aware that we conform to the roles in which we think others perceive us through mimesis—that is, imitating roles we’ve seen to match with the roles that we think others think. So what happens when you don’t have any roles to imitate?
            I told Dr. Duke I thought I knew a little, enough to see I wanted to know more.
            “All right then,” he said. “I suppose I could send you to Stan the Man. Or Jim Taylor. But I’m gonna say the guy you should go to if you want to learn about shamanism is the Mystical Mr. Cole.”
            This was actually the first I’d ever heard the guy’s name.
            “That’s what he calls himself?”
            “That’s right, Burke Lee. That’s what he calls himself.”
            “Right on,” I said. “Why specifically him?”
            “Because. I just remembered he said he needed some solar panels put in.”
            That night making dinner with Epyphane we chatted about the day. I had cracked a Russian Imperial Stout homebrew and put on some Sergio Mendes and Brazil ’66, and I was amazed to find Epyphane knew of this Mystical Mr. Cole, that he was an artist who came into Shape and Shade, and had even had a couple of showings.
            Staring at the ceiling later that evening, I told Epyphane that Dr. Duke said he wished Sid or Ananda Samana would run for mayor, and she and I both agreed either one sounded like a goddam good idea.

            3

            There are quaint old Hippie houses and various other structures in and around Dreem, moldering in ruin and decay, and every one still lived in. I think I saw a good ninety percent of them driving out the next day to see the Mystical Mr. Cole. Somehow both curiously and predictably, many people in Dreem I personally know entertain strange fantasies of faraway places. If only they’d live here and now, enjoying the redwood ways. They do like the trees, of course, the locals, but rarely find the time to hike. Tourist traps they find tacky. Rare indeed is the local who buys a gewgaw. To further tell the truth, a lot of locals are even fed-up with tie-dye, and plaid, and long commutes with growing traffic and hard work in low-end jobs with no end. Locals are tired of makeshift memorials crowding around redwoods next to the road with candles burning at little shrines in the middle of goddam summer. Some are sick of sketchy people in shirtless clumps acting snotty. And this is because things get old anywhere. Anything does. Even Dreem. Sometimes it takes new eyes to see.
            There’s a gas station about a half a mile shy from the road I needed to take, and deciding to stop off there to gas up, maybe get some snacks, I pulled in and got out of my car. I’m not going to say what kind it is. I don’t care about cars. Way I look at it, so you bought something, or had it given to you, so what?
            After inserting my quickly removed card and selecting Regular grade, I stuck it in and started pumping. As the digital display about blew a circuit trying to change the numbers quickly enough to keep up with the ever-increasing cost, who should pull in but a dirty little pack of NARGs.
            I know, I know. I’m supposed to be patriotic. Screw that. Patriotic is idiotic. It’s chanting cheers while your own throat gets slit. It means license to have to blindly follow, that’s why it’s idiotic. And these NARG guys, they sure as shit weren’t no heroes. They weren’t saving anybody from anything. It’s not like they were some highly-trained, super-dedicated and wise samurai-type warriors. Far from it. These were cowards who’d been bullied and wanted to bully. The people who profited from the prisons were the same ones who profited from the war machinery, and it was pretty much one or the other for all. In return for getting to be called “Hero” instead of “Prisoner,” and in return for getting to feel the first semblance of power in a safe and sanctioned bullying capacity, the NARG, in a small way, helped the hidden few run the world into the ground.
            National Armed Resistance to Growers. What a crock. Every one of those guys toked. Most of them spent NARG-money on meth and hillbilly heroin. What a thrill for all that each got to feel like a powerful bully because of getting to carry a gun and be thanked for it by the people who watch the most TV.
            I’m not intimating that anything substantial happened here. Not yet. Not at the gas station on that day. Man, the Hippies and repus scene really is like lions and jackals. Liberals so cat-like, unherdable. But those repus all clump together and make the same yip. Somebody somewhere tells them what to say, and it doesn’t matter what as long as they all say the same thing. That makes them feel part of something. Anyway, one could not help but hear the stage voices theatrically demonstrated by the little-boy herd-type NARGs floating around together inside the gas station, being sure to use their stage voices to talk about “Biggers.” This, I eventually realized, was their epithet for Bigfeet. They kept talkin’ ‘bout how they was gonna git them some Biggers. And Bigger-lovers, too.
            Anyway, except for all the non-nutritional chemicalized processed crap that’s so easy for industry to make and so bad for the body to take, there wasn’t anything there to eat. I picked up some Altoids and a spare pair of shades from the gal at the register. She was cute. Requisite harassment of her from the NARGs would of course follow. I knew it before I even heard it as I walked out, and I imagine so of course did she. That would go on for awhile, to make everybody feel the illusion was real, and then the NARGs would cram themselves back in the rig and cart their little act someplace else.
            I saw in my rear view mirror they were heading back toward Dreem, but I was booking on a half mile ahead to the second dirt road on the right past the big carving of the hand. (Why that’s there I have no idea.)
            It was July now, Independence Day, in fact, and people were getting their jollies setting off loud shit they picked up from the army surplus store in Bargerville, being a good half hour-to-forty-five minutes from Dreem, depending on how fast you drive. I was driving like a rabid bat fornicating its way out of hell, like normal, occasionally encountering somebody in the other lane on the narrow road for a crazy instant. With the quick dips down, sharp surges up, and sudden unexpected turns, driving on the back roads in the hills around Dreem is like riding a runaway rollercoaster. Mustn’t hit a pothole, or a dog, or a jogger. Bursts of weaponry went off from indeterminate locations among the tan oak and madrone, there of course being many other species of tree besides redwood in the region, and to see them growing in the great rolling gullies and steep rocky ravines has sent many a driver crashing through the railing over the edge and dashed to death at the bottom, I wouldn’t be surprised, so beguiling is the view.
            At the last turn left the road veered sharply down, revealing a bridge without rails, which I learned later has been known to test the courage of many a visitor fearful of steering slightly too close to the edge and nose-diving right into the creek fifteen or twenty feet below.
            Smoothing up the winding way, the sight of my destination arose—the humble sprawling spread of the Mystical Mr. Cole. But that’s not what it looked like at the time. My initial impression was of an overgrown abbey, crumbling ruins rank with disuse. There was in fact a split second when I actually thought I had stumbled on some amazing cemetery I’d never heard of. Then the moment passed and I realized what I’d taken for tombstones were merely disparate items in the tall grass—torn old radial tires run amok with weeds, a busted fridge with a rusty back yellowing in the sun. But as soon as I registered all of that, there appeared moving through the grass near the gnarled limbs of a barren tree with wild boughs a hooded form clad in black, like the lonely ghost of some dark monk.
            Oddly, no dogs came out to greet. The slam of the door when I got out of the car sounded unnaturally loud and intrusive, as indeed it was. I called out to the monk, who was moving toward me, except now I could see it wasn’t really a monk, but rather some guy in a black hooded sweatshirt.
            “Mr. Cole?”
            “Mystical,” he said, throwing back the hood.
            “Okay.”
            “You’re here about the solar panels, right?”
            “Yeah.”
            “Why don’t you come around over here and I’ll show you.”
            Turns out, ol’ Cole was one merry frickin’ soul. I couldn’t believe it. Just the coolest guy ever. For example, when he was showing me where he wanted panels put in (I mean, these people, they already know their stuff—half the time, they could do all the solar panel installation they wanted by themselves, they simply don’t have the time), he seemed perfectly open and free with his past, present and future.
            I guess Cole had had some sort of a funny thing happen years earlier. A couple dudes he met way out in the hills—father and son survivalist-types, spooky Nordic loners with a sprawling hillside ranch all their own, often wearing cammo, always packing heat—these two dudes cooked in a big kettle over open flame (near burned-out pocked-marked cars riddled with a million silver indents where all the bullets hit) wild boar which they had slaughtered, what I believe may have been bison, and some sort of strange fungoid growths discovered on their property. Some kind of mushroom, I guess. Except, different. Whether Cole was the only one on whom this bizarre broth had an effect he could not ascertain. For his own part, Cole could attest that a change had indeed been wrought. Could attest, but had no need. Instead he let actions speak for themselves.
            Well, I mean, it’s hard to describe that sort of stuff. You really had to see it. But before he showed any of it, I forgot to say that while Cole and I were blabbing, some other dude pulled up. He was driving some sort of car. It’s not that I don’t remember. I do. I can see it clearly right now. Anyway, he got out. He comes up hitching his belt and he goes, “Got a goddam busted chakra.” His blasé manner reminded me of the time I saw a logger in the Bargerville emergency room, way back when, patiently take the time to stand in line a good long while before responding to the eventual receptionist query that, yes, he reckoned he’d cut into his thigh with the chainsaw pretty deep, stupid thing to do.
            So while Cole led this guy elsewhere to do I have no idea what, I subsequently strolled the grounds, hearing again Dr. Duke on Mr. Cole, back at Duke’s pad.
            “He’s one of the few who stuck with it, you know? He never gave up on the ways of the Hippie. He’s into all sorts of stuff. Telepathy. Telekinesis.”
            Out of politeness I had given Duke a requisite look of disbelief.
            “I shit you not. I thought same as you till I saw. It wasn’t much, but it was real. I saw him stare at a chair here at my house, stare at it for a few seconds, and suddenly the damn thing toppled over. Nothing had touched it. He was a good ten feet away. But it fell over as though it had been pushed, exactly as he said it would. No preparation, my own home, I even chose the chair as the item for him to topple.”
            On the far side of the property a trail led into denser wood, and as I marveled at the wonders of the foliage I encountered a lone redwood, remarkable for a huge burl about fifty feet up resembling a great eye. I have to confess, I stared a long time at that redwood burl eye. (A distant relation to Burl Ives, actually, in terms of being star dust.) Stared for a long time. Then, Merlin-like, there was the Mystical Mr. Cole, appearing at my side.
            “I love that it looks like an eyeball,” he said as we jointly regarded the burl. “This is where I come for my visions.”
            “Really? I think I just had a vision.”
            “What of?”
            “Caves. A big huge cave. An underground lake. All kinds of cave shit.”
            “What about it?”
            “I don’t know. I just see caves.”
            We got to talking deeper. Talking about the health of the land and the health of the people. Without ever intending, we got to talking about the challenges facing ourselves and our community. Ultimately Cole assessed, “There are those who see the system for what it is and resist it in the normal process of living their lives, and there are those who do not see the system for what it is and enable it. More than the fate of Dreem is at stake these days. It’s the forces of life against the forces of death. Death wants to spread. Life has to fight. If the Hippies don’t win, there’s no hope for the world. We have to get Sid in there.”
            “You mean run for mayor?”
            “Exactly. There’s our best bet. Vote for Sid.”

           4

            Neil Young offers up an interesting idea in one of his songs, “Love and Only Love”: Love as a force of energy which breaks down hate like a natural process of growth and decay. When Kandy Kane came tramping through Dreem flanked by her phalanx of NARGs, I tried to remember that song.
            “Bigger attacks are on the rise! I know a lot of you guys are real big and strong, but if you won’t do it for yourself, do it for your family. Or maybe just do it for me on account, you know!” Here she blew a kiss and giggled. She was hawking The Tracker. “Now I’ll tell you up front, I’m not gonna say they’re not kinda spendy, but I mean, if you stop and think, how much are you willing to keep your loved ones and yourselves safe from Bigfoot harm? You know, these guys kill. Now Bigfeet really are on the edge of Dreem, folks, right on our borders. Sorry folks, but I think you can see I’m the only one around here who’s gonna do any savin’! And my friends, I’ll tell you something else! Those—pardon my French, but they really do get right under this white woman’s skin—those goddam Bigger-lovers should not—I repeat, not!—be allowed to enjoy the same rights as real Americans! My friends, you’re either with us or against us! Better buy The Tracker today!”
            All the while, a reporter from the new Egeria-based TV news station followed along with a cameraman and a microphone, the latter which he smilingly relinquished during the part of the procession where Kandy Kane commanded her NARGs to stop in front of what used to be Car Fix, but was now her own business, Dreem Date. The sign on the window said “Where Past Fashion Meets Fast Passion.” The Past Fashion represented was of the Antebellum South on display with headless mannequins positioned in the window.
            “Those liberals might not like it,” she stridently exhorted, mic held tightly in hand, headless Southern belles serving as a backdrop, “but we know what the facts are! And the fact is, all those Bigfeet out there really are forest demons hell-bent on attacking everyone. You might think you’re safe, but I guarantee you’re not. So mark my words, when I’m mayor, I’m gonna protect every last one of my people, and run the Hippies out of Dreem!”
            I had dropped Epyphane off at Shape and Shade, having parked the car and gone inside to retrieve my shades which I’d left there. Most of the people in town at the time, I noticed, seemed vaguely entertained by the novelty of the theatrics, yet squeamish of the squadron standing around in gas masks and full riot-gear. One of them I recognized from the gas station by his close-set eyes. I’d heard him bragging how, once Kandy Kane’s in office, NARGs can go into anybody’s house they want any time they like.
            Up the street, in front of Dreem Cycle, Sol was waving me over. I kissed Epyphane. She told me to remember to pull the salmon out of the freezer. I put the whole Kandy Kane scene behind me with her still running through some rote-sounding spiel to the reporter dutifully nodding, some line of crap about the wonders of genetically-altered food. A handful of 4As parked in a rig nearby drove loudly off.
            “Another chickenshit with a pedal,” Sol observed. “A goddam pedal. Monkey make steel cage do noise. What a chickenshit maneuver.”
            Heading in our familiarity past the many mountain bikes so splendidly arrayed for sale, we directed ourselves to the back room, Sol still boggled. “It’s hard for me to imagine being so intimidated by people, on seeing someone walking into a shop, and surrounded by clinging pals in a moving steel cage, to feel the need to gun the motor, to make the motor make a loud noise when driving quickly away. What absolute chickenshit.”
            In the back room with the bong there was an ornithologist whom I recognized from Crystal Clear, the crystal healing place a few doors down. I know he works there, and I know he offers bird-watching tours. But I’ve never heard his name. I have no idea what it is. He and Sol returned to a discussion already in progress.
            “Hardly anybody knows,” the ornithologist said, “that most murals you see on business walls are actually crafted by drifters. Drifters have a hidden culture. The kind of mural you see on a highly visible wall. Usually these murals are quite beautiful. But at the same time, there’s a sophisticated symbology going on. It’s called Drifter Speak. Drifters use it to tell each other about the town through murals. It’s an underground communication system, and the murals that evolve speak in code to those who know.”
            “Drifter Speak,” Sol assessed.
            “Exactly,” the ornithologist affirmed.
            “Yeah, I always wondered what that picture of the farmer’s daughter with the big zongas and the bum smiling nearby meant,” is what I wish I’d said. Instead everybody did a bong hit. I thought about turning it down. I often do.
            We got to talking about war. I won’t say we couldn’t figure out what it was good for. Good for generating a whole lot of money for a very few people. We know that.
            “What if war,” Sol said, “meant destroying television? No more TV ever. What then? Would people still risk war?”
            “What if war,” wondered the ornithologist, “was the word for what happens when every single copy and original print of every John Wayne movie ever made gets destroyed by laughing homosexuals in a great big ring of fire, eh? What then?”
            “What if war meant no football? No more Superbowl…ever.”
            “What if war meant corporate product logos being publically humiliated? Worse than usual, I mean.”
            The whole time I heard this, I also kept thinking about cryptic premonitions at the miasma’s edge, unidentifiable forebodings appearing like half-formed hatchlings in some noxious clammy pulp. From a shudderingly diabolical tableau a clamorous tumult ensued, nocturnal incantations of esoteric mummery, and it was as though from under ivy overgrowth rotted plywood pried sent popping sounds of tendrils snapped revealing long forgotten boxes stashed. Somehow I managed to pull myself together long enough to say, “It kills me that we have to die. I can’t take it. Why speed it up? Why can’t we concentrate instead on finding ways to live longer, and help each other? Kindness. No pain, no suffering. We’re all in the same boat. Love would sure help.” But I might not have said all that out loud, and merely thought it, at some bone-deep level.
            I forgot to say before that a bell on the door dinged when we came in; now that bell dinged again. We all figured we’d better scoot. But it wasn’t a customer, only Sara. Business sure stank.
            On the way out with the ornithologist, who was heading back to Crystal Clear, I told him I liked his crystal pendant. He said he wore it for mental clarity. “It aids the psychic powers,” he said.
            When we got outside I saw the sky had turned to gray. The Kandy Kane crowd had left. You could smell it in the air. It was about to rain.

           5

            The rain.
            Dreem sees five feet of rain a year. Coastal moisture slides from the ocean up the steep crest of ranging mountains and drops with the greatest of regularity right over Dreem, so woe betide the unwary traveler unprepared during some unforeseen monsoon. In all Humbaba in general, and in Dreem in particular, gray and green, one soon learns, do go well together. In the somber slate perpetual twilight of a typical rainy day in Dreem, one fancies one sees in the trees the occasional glimpse of some primordial giant primate. Probably it’s only a Hippie. But you never know.
            Rain fell all that night and most of the next day, a good bit of which I spent at Mr. Cole’s learning how thinking metaphorically promotes results in activities supposedly impossible.
            “At a chemical level”—and this was what he called Cole’s Law—“figurative thinking and magic are inextricably bound.” Tangential to this, he then pointed out something I hadn’t considered before. “If you’ve ever wondered why the cap of a witch or a wizard is always conical, it’s because, supposedly, they used to wear devices made of strange material which conducted thoughts streaming through the atmosphere into the mind of someone wearing the device. Incidentally, this focal point of thought, of knowledge, is the root reason why poorly-performing schoolchildren used to get sent to the corner in a conical hat.”
            We were in his kitchen while he said all this. He had some dishes to do, plus he pulled a sack of garbage from under the sink, tied off the top and set that by the back door, which was open. Quick little birds outside loudly searched for worms.
            “For the last sixteen months I’ve been getting into plane-shifting,” he said, drying off his hands. “I finally got to a place where I’d never been. A world appeared around me. I learned that a bomb had been detonated, and that rain soaked the fallout into the ground. I saw a man fall asleep on a grassy field thick with dandelions. When he woke up, he was covered in painful sores. Radiation from the bomb did something unexpected. It blended him with the weeds, so that they grew right out of his skin. These weeds on his skin he had to cut down with shears, and go around with long sleeves. And at first cutting the weeds didn’t hurt. But the shorn stalks got thicker, fleshier, and hurt too much to cut. Gradually the weeds grew longer and longer, and grew out of less and less of him. Like a sprouted potato. Only his head seemed to get bigger. Then along came a strong wind, and blew his head entirely apart, dispersed to the breeze like dandelion spores. And all the little bits settled in a field. Just before more rain came down.”
            The hours flew by. My knowledge increased. I couldn’t wait to get started. Visions of Epyphane coming home from Shape and Shade: “Honey, how’s your telekinesis going?” Visions of a redwood commune, people sitting cross-legged learning levitation, some up to twenty minutes three feet off the floor. “Pretty good, hon,” I’d call back. “I’m only on chapter six, and already I budged a couple luffa sponges.”
            But such was not soon to be. For alas, a bigger Bigfoot attack.

          6

            “Citizens of Dreem, do not be alarmed! For your own safety, remain indoors! The situation is under control! Sign up to get your Tracker from your nearest NARG! Do not be alarmed!....”
            All this shit from the fuckin’ helicopters. As it turns, one of the choppers plunked Kandy Kane down in a parking lot near a building, part of which had been practically destroyed. It was the part of the building where Dreem Cycle used to be. Now totally trashed.
            Perched high upon the rubble, Kandy Kane stumped, one red-nailed hand on a tightly skirted hip, the other waving a reprimanding finger. She had her hair pulled back and her fake glasses down low on her nose, looking over the rims and bending at the waist to accentuate the cleavage. America’s American Americans for America and the National Armed Resistance to Growers positioned themselves for maximum theatricality, per repeated instruction. The TV reporter, somehow realizing that the best thing to do in times of grave danger was to not get in the way of leaders leading, turned his microphone over to Kandy Kane and vigorously led the applause as she swore on her “skin as a white to get the cowardly Biggers that did this!”
            At an off-camera cue a NARG handed Kandy Kane an assault rifle which she proceeded to display in various exciting positions as the lights of the cameras flashed. What a skank.
            I went down to the store for some organic milk and eggs to get breakfast going, and saw a bunch of NARGs everywhere trying to get everybody to return to their dwellings and watch TV. I saw the Sawyers and the Millers and the Coopers, each of whom inherited some very thriving business, and all of them nodded quite chummy with the NARGs, smiling and standing nearby as they complained about everyone else not complying with the fascists.
            Damned if the store didn’t start to close up as soon as I showed up, though. I hustled back to get the milk and eggs, trying to ignore the attitude I was getting like it was some really big special favor to let me in to spend some money, thereby impeding ardent NARG support. Then I saw they’d gotten rid of their organic section. “What the hell?” I wondered, empty-handed up front. “Where’s all the organic stuff?”
            “Oh we don’t do that now. We’re phasing that out.”
            “Why? I don’t want any of that corporate poison. All the drugs and crud they give those jammed-up cows and chickens.”
            Back outside I could see there wasn’t a single Hippie moving through the day’s travels who gave any of the NARG shit the least bit of credence. It was like looking at two different worlds blended simultaneously together, and the only person I saw happy about anything that day was Sol. He and Sara had hit the insurance jackpot. Somehow he was certain of that.

            That night at Sid’s, hints of uncannily bloated nocturnal rustics slunk in the brush below the deck and beyond the firelight. Sid had a campfire going down in a spot by an old picnic table. It wasn’t NARGs in the brush, though. Not even 4As. These weren’t nothin’ but a buncha Big Guts, emboldened by the titillating climate of amorphous revenge.
            Meanwhile, up in the Samana’s converted attic, I was digging a groovy vibe with Yolanda Diaz, who happens to be this really far out German professor at the university, something of a psychic research agent, and, on and off, Dr. Duke’s main squeeze. Everybody says she looks like Cher. Cher circa 1970. So much so, I told her I was certain she really was Cher, and that the supposedly real Cher was actually an impersonator. Cher and Cher-alike, I said. She liked it when I said that, and pulled me away. She wanted to be alone with me.
            We weren’t missing anything. Downstairs we’d already seen a slightly uptight unicyclist, a bitchin’ Frisbee golfer, the Crystal Clear ornithologist, oodles of patchouli, homebrew, a super sexy Hippie goddess named Velvet Crowne quite well-known to all, bowls of carob, brown rice rice cakes, magic brownies, the Mystical Mr. Cole, and Missy Cole, his daughter, passing through with the Dykes on Bikes motorcycle club, and of course Ananda and Sid, and we could hear that everyone was wondering whether, just like with Bigfeet becoming manifestly recognized and accepted by the mainstream media, and how that put Dr. Duke out of business, if pot were to get legalized, would that put the grower out of business? But at that particular moment, me, I couldn’t have cared less. I was all about the free love.
            Lingeringly scheming, I waxed prophetic on matters magic, bedeviled by my own sagacity as mentally I undressed Yolanda. She meanwhile tried to steer conversation toward whatever weird chemical it is left behind in certain inordinately extensive and lingering airplane trails being used to seed the atmosphere in order to produce rain, when our shared incredulity of this open crime going unnoticed by so many people—failing to simply tilt the noggin, slightly up, and recognize those aren’t clouds and those aren’t regular airplane trails, either—led to a change in topic.
            “Prayer,” she said. “If prayer works, it’s not because some outside supernatural agency listens and responds.” There is a sacredness to existence that those unaffiliated with the religion business understand. “It’s a natural function of the evolving mind which has never been properly utilized by Homo Sapiens.”
            Gradually we’d gravitated closer and closer together. But after she said that, there was a pause, and then, before we could both start going at it, if indeed that would have happened, suddenly something stopped us. It was a tremor. And one thing I can tell you about tremors: Tremors make built bodies jiggle. Yolanda was all over the place. We swayed together on the futon, and I never once took my eyes off of her, just to be sure she was all right, and she sure was.
            Outside, firecrackers went off. Or what sounded like them. Except that this wasn’t the 4th anymore.
            Big Guts, wide-eyed and slobbery, six-packs and rifle butts perched on their bellies, waddled at the edge of the campfire light. I was peeking around a corner of the little attic window with Yolanda, who was up close to me trying to see and offering, I have to say, an absolutely delightful view. To the Big Gut who fired the shot, the dudes on the deck displayed their dismay calling into the brush and the night, “Hey you stupid fuckin’ asshole! Cease fire! Drop it! Put down your weapon!” and sundry imprecations.
            One of the Big Guts, a sagging gelatinous lurching pulp, strove to communicate in language.
            “You ain’t nothin’ but a buncha goddam Bigger-lovers!”
            What happened was, I think the tremor scared the Big Guts. They thought the Hippies were trying to hurt them. One got excited. His finger which he kept on the trigger accidentally fired a few rounds. But he couldn’t admit it. He wasn’t good with making language. Besides, maybe this was it. The sign of the big show-down. The end of the world, Death, where finally him and his would get their due, the eternity of really neat bliss what they got coming for supporting their oppressors.
            But a curious thing happened. Sid Samana appeared. At first I could only barely see him. He stood on the deck facing the Big Guts. “It’s all right,” he said. “It’s okay.” Slowly, steadily, he pressed forward. I couldn’t see his eyes, but from the peaceful bearing of his posture simply descending the steps down to the level of the Big Guts, I don’t think he took his eyes off the one in front. The whole time he kept saying, “It’s okay, it’s all right.” Then when he got about ten feet away and the Big Gut looked as though he might bolt, or start randomly firing in his fear, Sid drew lines in the air with his fingertips, forming the outline of a box, and said, “Television, it’s all right. Everything’s okay. Television is on…television…television….” And the way he stepped away from the outlines of the box he had traced in the air, like a magician quietly withdrawing into the shadowy folds of curtains, the attention of the wide-eyed Big Guts was clearly drawn. They took their six-packs and guns and sat down to watch, and every single one gathered round to watch invisible TV, until one-by-one each fell asleep.
            The dudes from the deck took the guns. And then did Sid Samana declare unto the people, “I hereby announce my candidacy for mayor of Dreem,” whereupon the people boogied, and the very forest swayed in time to the rock n’ roll Hippie beat.

         


7

            The next day I thought I might hike around Mt. Cloude. Having checked my schedule, I knew exactly the houses I needed to install panels that week. The lady whose house where I was going to install that morning called and left a message that she had to go out of town, and could we postpone, and I called back and told her machine that that was fine. Epyphane had already taken off that morning to help one of her friends set up a show. I also thought about Tertia, and Whale Harbor, and down on the Avenue of the Giants, maybe the Madrani area in the hills  along Mist River. But I changed my mind about Mt. Cloude and settled instead on the closest of the best places, a place I don’t often go, actually, probably because it’s so close, up in the hills, right outside of Dreem. Two minutes after I got there, I heard the sound of a low-flying aircraft approaching overhead.
            Now maybe that plane had nothing to do with me, and maybe it did. I like my privacy. I don’t need some fascist punk pointing out to anybody on the other end of a headset that there’s a guy out in the hills in the morning—“Probably smoking pot”—“Roger that, Delta Snitch”—with a vehicle down below checking for a license and somebody somewhere else with nothing better to do with taxpayer money subsequently alerting a dispatch who then alerts some NARG squad with boots on the ground only a couple clicks away consisting of aged infants desperately trying to not look as powerless as they are.
            Oh, you think me mad. But in fact I did hear the not-too-distant slam of vehicle doors, followed by vagaries of voices. Suddenly I felt like a fugitive from a chain gang. I didn’t think then and don’t think now that my being spotted hiking was on anyone’s priority list terribly high, but there is a mentality, or lack thereof, and you can’t be too careful. So coincidence? Maybe.  Like a wild animal I moved further from the blundering encroachers. Up ahead, fairly level terrain stretched a good fifty yards terminating at a hillside thick with trees and not much brush, all off-trail. The hill met the backside of a big rock. This was my goal, and with my lead I made it easily without hearing a hint of anyone approaching. However, another plane came by when I was almost at the top of the rock. I’d heard it well in advance this time, and the coverage around was good. I got up in the branches of a large pine growing close to the rock. In this shaded nook I sat waiting for the sniffing wraiths to leave while I dug the groovy view. When the plane had gone, I started to exit the tree and step back over onto the rock.
            Out of nowhere, another tremor. I damn near lost my balance and fell right off the rock a good ways down, but managed to catch hold of a branch. It was a bigger tremor, this time. I heard some major cracking sounds, and trees were going back and forth.
            After what seemed a long time, it stopped. And bing, there it was. A crack in the rock not far away. It shone in a ray of slanting light, dust issued forcefully out slowly dissipating now. Scrambling over, I took a look.
            A little neat place went down. It occurred to me there might be yet another quake. But somehow I didn’t think so. Besides, if one started, I felt certain I could spring out pretty quick.
            I wanted to look in especially because something seemed off, and it made me curious. I couldn’t see where all the dust had come from. But when I climbed in I saw: There was a hole at the bottom of the concavity about ten feet down visible only to someone actually standing there next to it. The dust had been blown out from inside there. I got on my hands and knees to check it out. It looked like a cave extended back in there, but I couldn’t see how far.
            Naturally I remembered my visions. This was the Earth speaking to me in a big way. Especially so since I had exactly what I needed. A flashlight back in the car, and maybe some rope. Up and out I went, down the rock, down the hill and across the fairly level terrain, back onto the trail.
            I had a little plan to act like a jogger in case I saw anyone. The whole way down I was torn with going back and stashing the pack, or coming up with an idea to explain why, as a jogger, I’d have a backpack on, but I managed to reach the car without seeing a single NARG—which, by the way, you never do, because they’re always in groups. I grabbed my flashlight, which is a big, honkin’-on Mag-Lite, and I did have some nylon rope in the car so I took that, too. Then I locked up again and trotted on back.
            At the point where I left the trail and had to go the fifty yards before making the hill, about midway across I could hear them. The NARGs had gone up when I was at the entrance of the cave, and now they were coming back down. I couldn’t tell how far away they were; sound travels funny in the forest. All I could do was haul ass as fast as possible. A fact to resent, to be sure. It was either that or have them look over and see me. I didn’t need that.
            So I made it across the field and up the hill and over the rock to the pit where so very down I had been in, and with my Mag I looked inside and saw, holy crud, the cave went on forever!
Biggest cave you ever saw. This Mag-Lite I’ve got, this mondo jobber, even with its fresh batteries (changed not two weeks prior, by sheer happenstance—or was it?), even its beam found no end to the cave. It just extended down and down and on and on.
In the cool musty basement scent of ancientness I smelled the used bookstore of the gods. I sat down for awhile on this really awesome-looking boulder thinking how wonderful it is to be alive and enjoy life and the rich bounty of life, simply minding my own business, harming no one, in a world where awful harm is done nonstop every second of the day, completely unnecessarily, hypocritically, when suddenly I heard a voice from outside at the top of the pit go, “You smell pot?”
No fuckin’ way!
Some NARGs must have seen the footprints I left going across the field and figured that the two (two that I heard, anyway) of them with their riot-gear guns might finally be able to get back at the guy quietly exploring the woods who ruined their lives.
Still, they didn’t know exactly where the smell came from. Nor did they sound in definitive accord. One of them got a transmission of some sort, probably coming through an earpiece. They always strut around in their bulletproof crap like as though that stuff were supposed to be muscle. It’s terrible there’s an economic system in place that keeps so many people in such poverty and misery that the only way out, it seems, the only way toward identity, is through supporting the system that caused the problem. Anyway, they didn’t find me. They had to move on.
I gave it a good ten minutes, just to be sure with those sneaks. What I had done to eliminate the smoke was not to step on and utterly destroy the sacrament, but merely temporarily snuff that bone in a little indent of the rock. Truth is, I wouldn’t have even relit it except on general principle because of their fascism. It’s an awesome responsibility knowing that if you didn’t smoke a joint, so many people wouldn’t be able to waste so much time, money and effort trying to spy on you. They’d have nothing left. They’d have to go find something to do.
The Mag-Lite’s beam played over the tops of the spires rising far below. To my left extended a natural walkway, a thin path of rock jutting out from a vertical wall, and down the edge of which fell another far longer sheer vertical wall. It felt like being in some Greek myth treading this steadily downward-leading path, as though to the very gates of some place extremely strange to put any gates. As long as I didn’t take any turns, I figured I couldn’t get lost.
Something impelled me. My visions, visions of caves, the sickness which had come over the land, my interest in shamanism. It all began to fit together. And I thought of all that before I even came to the crystal cave.
It appeared like the opening to a store in a mall. Swinging the light inside I saw twinkling within all sorts of formations. For a second I thought it was diamonds. But nope—better. Way better.
When I say this was a crystal cave, I mean the entire cave pocket was completely crystal. About as big as a standard living room, I guess. It was like being inside a giant geode. More than that, all of this crystal looked to me exactly like the kind the ornithologist was wearing on a pendant.
I went inside.
It felt so good. Like the way a sauna feels when a ladle of water goes on the coals, and the toxins stream from open pores. Part of me wanted to put on some music—not with the headphones on, but rather lying off to the side with the Walkman volume turned all the way up. I wanted to, but I couldn’t. Somehow it seemed profane.
One of the amazing properties of certain types of crystal about which I’d heard pertained to ESP. Even the small piece of crystal the ornithologist wore seemed, according to him, to enhance mental clarity. This crystal cave though, it was a cave of wonders. I sat on that crystal floor, cross-legged, for not even ten minutes before I started to notice an effect. I saw things without seeing, felt things without touching. It was like those tiny little things you sometimes see floating across your vision in the right light, those amoeba-like semi-invisible squigglies swimming in the fluid of your eye. They’re there all the time, but only if you focus on them do you ever really notice. That was what my hearing other people’s thoughts was like.
Except with not too much focusing, because, to put it another way: Perhaps feeling your way around in a dark room you may have noticed that not looking directly at what you wanted to see helped you see it better than if you focused. Same thing here, in a way. Kind of focusing and kind of not, if I closed my eyes and didn’t look, pictures developed in a way that all my senses understood, and this made perfect sense even though it made no sense at all.
I was there I had no idea how long. A master of the two worlds, suddenly a cosmic dancer, privy to the thoughts of everyone in Dreem. And so from this crystal cave command center I came to understand the feelings and motivations of people I never knew, and people that  I did—or thought that I did—in ways I would otherwise never have known.
At first I only listened in. Eventually I found I could do much more.

Stage Two
1

All my worst suspicions about Kandy Kane were true.
I think it’s because I was thinking about the dangers facing the community that I came to hear her thoughts. Probably also it’s the simplest thoughts you pick up when you’re first starting out. I knew exactly whose thoughts they were, whose mind I heard, innately, the same way we know things when dreaming.
She was propaganda personified, and she came with a plan not her own. Far more was going on than what everyone was told, and everything told was lies. At this point, however, I was really only catching bits of odd thought here and there. Whatever I was hearing, I could tell it was happening in real time. And yet a funny thing happened with time. I lost track of it. And that could’ve been a major problem, except I thought of a way to let Epyphane know I was all right, and without ever leaving the cave. Leaving—that was something I couldn’t do. Why exactly, I had no idea at the time. I guess I thought too much was at stake.
But then again we must not underestimate the power of the crystal, and of the power of the well-trained mind. Utilizing my powers of meditation, I traveled all over Dreem, visualizing the landscape below. It helped, I found, to imagine my astral body, and to for the most part imagine this invisible form as being generally subject to the laws of physics. If I didn’t do it this way, there was too much zipping around, and everything blurred and blended and fell apart.
Gradually I got to where I felt I could step into another person, walk in that person’s skin, and experience that person’s thoughts.
“Those Hippies,” thought Kandy Kane, “they bayonet pregnant women.” She was sitting at a desk, and she wrote this down on a sheet of paper and looked at it. Then she crumpled up the piece of paper, and threw it in the trash can at her feet. The shoes that she wore cost more than most, and she mentally registered that fact with a satisfied sense of superiority. The fact that the shoes hurt her feet barely registered at all. The shoes were expensive, and she was the one who wore them, so she was the one who won.
“Hippies are demons,” she said aloud. “That’s it! Hippies aren’t human!
A long red fake fingernail stretched out over an intercom button. “Get The Informer.”
“We’ve got to brand this thing,” she thought, “brand and stay on message.” She looked down at some notes someone took on a documentary called “War is Sell.” Because she hadn’t been the one to actually take the notes, she didn’t understand number six, “Use Doublespeak,” and eventually assumed this meant she was supposed to say everything twice. Number seven though, “Silence the Opposition,” that she understood. Her cousin at The Informer understood that, too. So did the editor, and the publisher, and the people behind the publisher, and the one behind them, with whom Kandy Kane was personally familiar.
Understand, this was early in the process for me. Some of it was a bit dim, more than I felt could be strictly attributed to the source of these particular thoughts. One thought I definitely caught: “As long as we keep the people vigilant against each other, we’re safe.”

I actually opened my eyes on encountering that thought. According to the watch in my pack it was 2:04 pm. I hadn’t checked the time for a long time, and didn’t know when I’d entered precisely, but I had been in the cave for hours, far longer than it seemed.
After partaking of some carob chips, cashews, and java, the whole time with my Mag-Lite standing on end turned up toward a bigass crystal chunk like some far out lamp, grooving to the murmur of the black river running down the nameless Cyclopean gorge, I set my wristwatch alarm to go off in two more hours, so that I could get back home before Epyphane at six, and I went back inside the meditation zone faster now, stronger, better at listening to conversations on the strange disorders resulting from cloud-seeding, and genetically-altered food, and I heard various takes on anti-Bigfoot legislation, how it’s designed specifically to slash Civil Rights in the guise of protection from Bigfeet and offer to the designers of the legislation lucrative business deals.
Just when things were getting interesting, my alarm went off. So I gathered up my stuff, headed up the stony trail to the hole where I’d climbed in, climbed up and out and down the rock, down the hill, to the car, in which I got home right in time to get in the shower right before Epyphane showed up. I had hopes of a most pleasantly welcome surprise. No go, though.

2

Putting in solar panels the next day sucked. I don’t even want to talk about that. Hellish, that’s what it was. But then the next day I went underground, and everything was great!
People in Dreem who weren’t really Hippie, not true blue, proved susceptible to the propaganda. People I never would’ve suspected allowed themselves to be bullied into showing dutiful NARG support. The more I saw of that, the more I realized how desperate the situation had gotten. I knew that with the power at my disposal, I could definitely cause some good. I just didn’t know how. Not yet.
This was because I was always getting interrupted with having to leave. It was compromising my whole shamanic mission. What I needed to do was seriously park there for awhile and stay in the cave. On this Epyphane was none too keen. But what was I supposed to do, drag her from work down to the cave? What if the amazing powers of the crystal that worked for me didn’t do anything for her at all? She’d never believe me. So naturally, with the fate of Dreem at stake, I figured I’d better not rock the boat, and instead tell her later, when it was time. I did tell her the truth, mostly, that I wanted to go camping, by myself. She gave me a weird look when I told her that. Man, I really wanted to be in the cave right then to find out what she was thinking! But when it came to knowing Epyphane better, I was actually gravitating further away, and had no idea at the time.

          3

Deep in the redwood forest—and this was something that I saw—unclean teens sliding down a rope with a horseshoe contemplated the Burl Hurl. The rope hung twenty feet over the forest floor between two redwood trees fifty feet apart. Twenty feet was the high point; the rope dropped down to ten over the level surface of fern and duff. Technically it wasn’t a horseshoe, but rather an old piece of iron in a u-shape with holes at the ends for running a threaded rod through.
What the kids did when they got to the top up some rungs on the twenty-foot side was hang the horseshoe over the rope, slip through the rod, and thread a nut on either side, so they had the horseshow secured over the rope and with a handlebar on both sides. Being three-quarters of an inch thick, not counting the width of the threads, the rod was plenty strong, but they had to wear a shared pair of gloves to keep the threads from cutting into their hands when they slid down, legs running crazily through the air, letting go of the horseshoe before hitting the tree, just to be spectacular.
One of the kids found a pogo stick chucked into the woods over the week from a pile of junk stretching down the thickly forested hillside behind a duplex in Madrani. He hopped and hopped, yet the crunching sound of sticks and the screams of the rusty springs could not drown out the Rolling Stones. Mick screamed he was a monkey man.
Two of the kids were brothers. These were the Flower children, the other’s last name being Jones. They might have been thirteen, fourteen, or fifteen. They might have been fifteen, sixteen, or seventeen. They might have been hanging in the woods for years, or perhaps they were right on the verge. Theirs was a private world of play sheltered by quiet giants sighing in the breeze.
They had in mind the Burl Hurl, that noble rustic institution, where a young buck hick might make a name and thump chest in the eyes of the child-bearing shes. There danced before collective vision many a hurled burl worn smooth with years of use, ancient burls oiled with the sweat of generations, everybody over the years who’d ever given it a go and chucked the woody tonnage, heaved ungainly growths, burls worn smooth by the groping fingers of grinning grippers as with many a moaning grunt and groan the burls were hurled high in a pile twice as wide as five head of cattle, and half again as tall as two sheaves of corn. Many a boast rang through the woods, even as at the end of “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” the London Bach Choir soared, and not a one ever wondered a moment exactly what they’d do if the rope broke, or for any other reason one of them fell and got a stick in the lip. Where would they go? What would they do? It wasn’t like you could go get help from some doctor. Medical coverage across the country was a privilege that rich people got, and most everybody else in faraway foreign lands, where they say the streets are paved with gold.

To express support against the Hippies for their weird hair and clothes, and their express refusal to apply for an available role within the confines of the established system, Mrs. Stan Brewer, thirty-four, brunette, known to the friends Stan let her have as Jan, formed a plan to go to the new Santa’s Store and More, it being August, and load up on lots of great Santa savings. She brought back a plastic Santa in a plastic sleigh and set it on the dining room table surrounded by small, carefully chosen colorful things. The tablecloth was white. The candles were white. But on one end of the dining room table the tablecloth hung slightly lower than it did on the other side. Also the candles were not standing straight. It was difficult work fixing these problems and she worked on the problems for quite a long while. For comfort she kept the television on, and didn’t even really notice the programming. She was too busy thinking how important it was that she do her part in the fight, and express support against Hippies by purchasing correct items and not getting in the way of her leaders.
When she stood back and looked, then she could see. Santa’s beard was too long. She took Santa out of the sleigh and away from the table and with fingernail clippers clipped each little hair of his plastic beard once and for all. Every single hair she clipped fell onto a paper towel, and when she had finished clipping every single hair, she wadded the paper towel tightly and placed it deep into the garbage so that it would not be on the top of the pile. But when she put the Santa with the plastic beard clipped back into the sleigh, he didn’t look right. There were holes all around the face where each plastic hair had been.
Well what the hell was she supposed to do, worship Jerry Fucking Garcia?
She shoved the Santa in the trash, way down deep, so no one would see. Then she went and got a Ken doll, not just any old Ken doll, but a very expensive new collector’s item Ken doll, and sewed it little clothes, every stitch perfect. Finally finishing that, she stuck Ken in the sleigh, trying varying positions with the angle of the hat before eventually deciding on the perfect look.
When the five o’clock hour approached, she had the air-conditioning turned to its very highest setting, did Mrs. Stanley J. Brewer, so that perhaps a fire might be enjoyed, and Bing was singing about chestnuts. She used to have a Johnny Mathis CD, according to her thoughts, but that was carefully wrapped in a brown paper bag, shoved down next to a beardless Santa.

Late night, all night, the music.
It came from the basement of a crumbling ruin, one of those huge old houses that used to sit by itself but now was surrounded by town. Young people with long hair lived there. They were trim and wore colorful clothes. Behind the verdant barriers an air of seclusion pervaded, but shrubbery and trees could not contain the sound.
The people who locked themselves up tight indoors never noticed over the sounds of their programming. The music, however, was live. In the old ruin they had some sort of band. Hangers-on hung out for weeks at a time.

          4

Outside of Dreem stands a former Hippie, waiting to get out of town. He shattered his life attempting to fly. She tried levitation but never once budged. All he got was poor and old. All she got was a waste of time. And he’d been so fresh-faced. She’d heard the people here were all right. That they didn’t mind if you took up the sidewalk all day with all your stuff spread out around you, didn’t mind if you camped at the Post Office, camped in a garbage sack right in front of people’s mail boxes, with a puddle of piss and a pile of shit in a corner.
But now he hated Hippies. To her, everything Hippie was the worst thing in the world. Hey, maybe this hating thing was something to try. Really give an honest go. Like instead of love. He’d make the switch and bitch about Hippies as a full-time occupation. She’d make all her friends that way. He’d be sure to fit in. They might even pat her on the head and tell her she was good. He would hate democracy, be pro-propaganda, become a corporation-hugger. Finally, the solution. The solution had always been waiting for her. Waiting, patiently, with open arms, all along.
And coming into town, another former repu. Somewhere’s Wilbur of the bunch, saved by Fern-like Dreem, looking for a talking spider.
         
5

Seen on a bathroom wall in Dreem: “Living and dying well cheat misery and fear.” This from some anonymous source scribbled in the grout. It goes on: “I understand I am part of an ongoing process. I do not fear the universe.” The writing is small, hard to read, smudged, and covered over with a lot of graffiti. The last part though is clear. “I believe it was Shakespeare who said it best: ‘Thou knowest how I love the vowels, but now I gots to move my bowels.’”
It might not be such a great idea, remembering what you read on a bathroom wall in Dreem.

One thing I kept repeatedly and increasingly vividly seeing during the course of my meditations in the crystal cave was a little floating room with a window in one wall and a hatch at the top, bobbing down the underground rivers with me inside. This came to me like the static on a radio dial between stations when I couldn’t quite catch people’s thoughts. However, the floating room wasn’t a priority, not with the special election coming up soon.
Sitting in the crystal cave and tuning in to Kandy Kane, I was surprised to find myself by her side at a television station in Egeria. This was the furthest I’d been, astral-wise, from my body in the cave, and I got the feeling that reception was tenuous.
It was interesting to me to see the TV station, because this was where Late Night Scare Fest was aired every Saturday night at midnight. And to think this was where it all went down. Out of a nearby window I happened to see with astral eyes a cruddy car pull up. It was Sid Samana.
Pick a city, any city. In the city there are people with cars that make them look like they have more money than they do. But in Dreem it’s the opposite. People with money will drive what looks like crud. That way they don’t call attention to themselves. They fly under the radar and they don’t get ripped off.
As soon as Sid walked in, Kandy Kane went over to him with a cameraman. Checking to make sure that the little red light was on, she directed a fake red nail at Sid and screamed at the top of her lungs, “You’re a liar!” For a second she was herself caught like a deer in the headlights. Then, remembering to Use Doublespeak prior to the live debate which was to have been held, she again drove home her point: “You’re a liar!”
To those whom through TV she stridently galvanized, those of her viewers already fed a steady empty-caloric diet of obvious theatricality presented in tacky ways, Kandy Kane yelling names and tearing off, refusing to take part in anything with some “inhuman Bigger-lovin’ Hippie,” would have to be received as a major intellectual victory.
Sid didn’t know it, but I stood by his side.
Something caught my attention out of the corner of my astral eye. It was the Mystical Mr. Cole, and holy crud, he was looking right at me!
Camera people, lighting people, various technicians, a handful of onlookers, none saw what looked to me like a regular flesh-and-blood person, live and in color. Not invisible, like me. Except to Cole I wasn’t invisible at all. He was practicing his plane-shifting.
We watched the weatherman do his thing next to a blue screen. He was talking to a camera, the machinery of which would break his image into billions of jittery little invisible white noise Big Bang bits, reassembled in miniature, to be magically viewed on thousands of screens, and the people looking at those screens somewhere far away would feel a connection with other people and the world.
Cole and I discussed this. Somewhere far away, his body levitated as his mind meditated. The fact that he appeared visible to me, and I to him, while passing invisibly to everyone else was a strange thing to wrap the mind around. But that was nothing compared to fathoming how anybody could get fooled by all this Kandy Kane nonsense. Tracking devices? Anti-Bigfoot legislation containing provisions slashing basic liberties? It was sheer insanity, absolutely unbelievable.
“Well hey,” said Cole, after a bit, “I should probably hit it. That old body of mine needs some exercise.”
“You said it. I gotta get off my butt.” Instant regret. Now he was going to ask where exactly my butt was parked. He taught me enough to know that this level of ability was remarkable to find from me so soon. I knew he suspected there was some additional aid, and it was only a matter of time before he got around to asking. But if I wasn’t ready to tell Epyphane, I wasn’t ready to tell anybody. So, making up some lame excuse as close to the truth as possible, I told Cole I had to get back to my body and gave him a “Kirk out” without any notice.

Buncha Big Guts went out chasin’ them up a big ol’ buncha Bigfeet. Huge numbers of innocent people died in separate incidents that week, each a freak accident involving a Big Gut and his gun. Naturally no one could ever imagine how terribly visceral the reaction if it was a Bigfoot what done it.
Meanwhile, where the people worship rock n’ roll, much anger and debate brewed over the intentions of the Fathers of Rock, as indeed there was much contention and strife concerning exactly who the Fathers of Rock were, and whether there were any Mothers of Rock, and if so, how that fact impacted on all the dudes doing the worshipping, whether it made them look like sissies to worship women, or look like sissies to worship men, and war, yes war, was being waged and staged by them that did the waging and staging in the Rock religion business, the worship of Rock n’ Roll being a tough religion, with tough leaders, a religion that refused to be picked on by any of the other ones, plus the other ones had stuff, stuff the religion of Rock made its official business, you betcha, to go get, even though it was a peaceful religion, always beset upon by those who sadly just didn’t understand due to being wrong. But the religion of Rock stayed strong, strong in the face of its enemies.
And there were guidelines to the religion, the first one being NO MATTER WHAT, NEVER ARGUE, NOT EVER UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES, NO ARGUING ALLOWED, ARGUING IS FORBIDDEN, but no one could figure that out, and there was much anger and strife. It was tradition by now. No going back. What, was everybody supposed to admit they were wrong? That would take a miracle. Fat fucking chance. The main thing was to sit around and bitch about the Fathers. What the precious Fathers wanted. And verily quotes got stockpiled. And verily quotes got dropped. Louder, louder. Each side talking over the other. Who will prove more religious? Who will love religion most? Sudden displays of air guitar! Famous concert dates spontaneously blurted! They’re going into convulsions on the floor—look at them all, look at them go! This many people can’t be wrong!
It’s what the Fathers of Rock always wanted, proudly proclaim the most ardent supporters. No it’s not, comes the stinging rebuke from the religion of Rock’s other perpetually ongoing side….

6

Now more than ever we lived in a Dreem divided. I mentioned that to Epyphane at our first dinner together in a week and she had to go and say, “Do you think that maybe we’re divided?”
“Look, I don’t even know what you’re talking about!” My mashed potatoes were a bit bland and I had to put pepper on them while she watched me. In fact, I had to actually take the top off the grinder—it’s the kind that has a long pin going down from the cap reaching the grinder at the bottom, and the pin had slipped out—so I had to monkey with it to get it to work right, and she was watching me the whole time. I was only glad I didn’t spill the pepper corns all over the table.
But that night I had a dream. I was in the little room, and it was drifting downriver, underground, with the cave somehow all lit up so that I could see, and I saw through the window the waterline lapping midway—and I knew looking above the waterline could be likened to seeing one’s waking consciousness, and that all below the waterline was like the subconscious, the dream-state, the ever-moving part most in harmony with the energy flow of the All—and the bobbing room spun downstream over spires in the blue undisturbed depths not so far below. Sometimes a jarring jolt on the room came from thudding impact against stone; other times the sudden leering snout of some crocodilian horror would appear scraping at the window.
Inside I had odd knickknacks glued and taped safely in place. There was a handrail I could hang onto, about shoulder-high, and a seat, and a couple of rungs and the hatch at the top. Looking closer at the pictures that were fastened all around amid the sundries which contributed to the kaleidoscopic array comprising the interior of the floating room, I saw that each picture held something unique, had something going on, was inherently compelling. And I wanted to get closer. I wanted to listen. I wanted to know more.
The room, I realized, had gotten hung up on some rocks. In my dream I had been listening to “Born on the Bayou” with the headphones on. Now I pulled the attachment out of the player and flooded the room, which jostled with thrashing thuds and bumps from the current holding it against the wall. Throwing open the hatch, I felt the cold wet of the river and the reverberating cataracts thundering all around. Near the scoop of rock in which the room was caught, I saw on a strangely beach-like section of sand there stood a woman of stunning beauty wearing little more than a great golden Celtic torc, and a curiously wrought belt. Near her stood some wild animals, closely watching me.
Over the river’s roar she called—practically buttass naked, mind—“Remember the Hegelian Dialectic.

          7

Kandy Kane’s Anti-Bigfoot Antebellum Ball was being staged in a redwood grove near Dreem. Visions of NARGs in Rhett Butler masks posing next to effigies of dead Bigfeet. Kandy Kane in a Scarlett O’Hara outfit, dress lifted from behind by a leering Bigfoot, exposing her thonged rear. Anything to get attention. Anything to sear the brand.
That basic bond we share of impermanence in existence, it seems to do one of two things to people: it either draws a person toward humanity, or pushes a person from humanity. There are those who wish to help others, as an extension of the basic feeling toward existence, and there are those who wish to control others as an extension of their inability to master themselves.
Whatever humanity I might have been able to find in Kandy Kane—and of course I could have found something—she might have been a poor artist on a street corner, perhaps turned down by art school and so become embittered—nothing I might find could excuse any of what she was doing.
Knowing Dreem, as she did, to be the crown jewel of the Hippie Highway, the idea was to divide and distract the people with something outrageous and antithetical to everything most of the people of this area stand for. It never would have worked on anyone except for the uniform complicity of the corporate right-wing media, the ridiculous brazenness of the lies, and the unceasing wielding of fear. Thus this elegantly prejudiced soiree, slated to be held in a redwood grove. And those for whom the prejudiced party was planned were also the ones most responsible for the destruction of old-growth forest, those most responsible for the destruction of the natural world, for their own pleasure now and everyone else’s misery now and evermore, corporation-huggers, democracy-haters, carrying on a plutocracy behind closed doors. As a woman, Kandy Kane herself would not be allowed to attend. NARGs would be stationed all around the grove not to protect the hidden corporate heads and succession of supposedly elected officials on their semi-secret redwood retreat from any Bigfeet terrorizing the area, but rather from the well-educated and highly-informed people of Dreem.

I got a call from Sol. He got right to the point. I hadn’t talked with him in weeks.
“Hey man, can you put in some panels for me?”
This was a surprise, at first. Then I remembered the settlement. Anyway, that a settlement was supposed to happen. In the back of my mind, I still wondered why he had been so certain about that, and that it would come through so fast. I didn’t have much on my plate that morning. I was going to go out to the cave. But, shit.
At his place I noticed Sol seemed different. I attributed this to his being a paying customer. Oh well, no skin off. After installing four panels for him (the goodies, too—kinda pricey), we were back in his living room where he had on the local five o’clock news, and there was Kandy Kane, responding to a question that she had handed to the reporter concerning how she felt, as a woman, about being excluded from the prestigious prejudice retreat.
Unconvincingly aghast, she plopped a hand at her cleavage and went wide-eyed at the suggestion that anyone question her strength as a woman, and more importantly as the next mayor of Dreem on this issue.
“My goodness, I certainly never expected this level of scrutiny you’re giving me! You make your questions so hard though, and that’s how I like it. Now then,” she said, peeling the palm of her right hand from her cleavage and scrutinizing it, “right. How dare you. How dare you. I repre—no, wait.” She looked closer at her hand, silently mouthing out the words as she read, then said, “I resent that,” pronouncing the word “resent” “re-sent.” Remembering her Doublespeak, she said it again. “And I’d like to know where it’s written”—here she held up the other hand and examined it—“that a woman can’t choose, yes choose, to support to whatever  she wants. But I’ll tell you this, I’m gonna buck the liberal system of this mainstream liberal media which is trying to destroy me, trying to keep me from saving you, ‘cause I don’t care what they try to do to me, no matter what they say, here’s a shout-out for all the big brave 4As out there! I love you! Don’t let those liberal goddam liberals ever ever tell you what to do! Go to my website!”
And that was how they signed off the news. Sol muted the tube, with, I noticed at the time, a peculiarly downcast eye. I thought he might have felt kind of guilty somehow, for hitting the settlement jackpot. I didn’t want to get into his thoughts, though, when back in the cave. I hadn’t wanted to do that with any of my friends.

          8

Early morning, and the first people up performed their yoga in the rays of the rising sun. Peaceful as these Hippies were, many of the men looked quite scary with their weird beards and intense eyes, often sunken like little maelstroms from strange fasting spells. None shone bright as a banker. Not a one looked clean as a priest. A large pond nearby beckoned jogging streakers for a quick skinny-dip. One time one guy crapped on the run before he did a cannonball, came out the other side of the lake, and kept right on going.

The Flower children in the forest turned around to see 4As on maneuvers. One of them was the Jones kid’s older brother. He looked sort of put out at having to admit he recognized those guys, too. They said what’s up, and he said not much, him and his pals were just out on maneuvers, training to be NARGs and everything.
The Flower children weren’t impressed. They didn’t say so, but failing to cheer did not go unnoticed. All of the 4As were already out of high school when the Flower children were still in junior high, plus it was six of them to their two, and they had live weapons, rifles in hand, and pistols, faces painted, game faces on, clothes all cammo. One wore a cowboy hat; another one had a headband; one had his NARG big brother’s old tactical helmet on with night vision visor capability; another had a cammo floppy hat; one had no head wear at all; and one had a neat little beret with a trim brim. They all told those two kids over there the next time they came back, that rope slide better be gone. They wouldn’t want anybody to get hurt, they said, looking back a few times as they walked off, and when they were almost out of sight said things the boys couldn’t hear, followed by loud laughs.
“Why don’t we ever hear those guys get called terrorists?” the Flower children wondered.

Long white streaks and dotted yellow lines on the great gray serpent of highway encircled the land. Two dudes in a loud and shiny truck commuted north to junior college. It took a good hour to get there, not counting parking time. Soon summer school would be over, and parking would take even longer. They’d had to take an English class. American Goddam Lit. They had to read books.
“I notice that one book we finished sure is one-sided.”
“You said it. Yeah, I bet there’s a ton of liberal Dems in class who’d freak out if I said it, but I actually don’t really like stuff so different than what I already know to be regular. What’s the point, you know? There’s no reason to have to markedly depart from the norm. That’s all I’m saying.”
“You’re talking about that Invisible Man book, right?”
“Absolutely. One-sided is right. I mean, what about how I feel, as a white man, walking away from that book?”
“Exactly. They always think they’re so smart but they never think about that.”
“I notice that writer didn’t mind using the system for his own personal profit and financial gain when it suited him. Hypocrite! What he does is a million times worse than what anybody else is doing, I’ll tell you that.”
“Did you finish the book?”
“Hell no! I’m not gonna read that!”
“Me either. Hey, did you see on CAB last night they have powdered patriot wigs on sale up at Buy ‘N’ Large?”
A squirrel stood on the highway in the same lane and the truck swerved to hit it, barely missing. In the car up ahead which the truck loudly passed sat somebody else on his way to class. He had seen the squirrel and tried to avoid it. He’d been thinking about enrolling at the police academy up there in the fall.
In the fog-capped greenery flanking the highway on either side stretched a primordial mass of snarls, snags, and osprey nests. HWY 111, said the sign. Ever since he was a kid, the vertical lines reminded him of three trees, and three long scrape marks from claws, and Bilbo’s age at his long-expected party. He knew what his parents would say about his enrolling. They’d say of course he was one of the good guys, but they’d remind him that power corrupts. They owned and ran Potted Plant Nursery, catering to the local clientele. He never wanted to be like any of them. And maybe part of him did think, “Boy this is going to be good, I can’t wait to turn the tables and see what people think of me now,” but if that was there for him, it was probably there for everyone.
Then again, he did think he might enjoy teaching. That took courage, and could really make a positive difference. For as long as he could remember, he was fascinated by archeology.
It would be hard to be a cop. To perhaps see death. To see people buried in layers and layers of insurmountable problems, desperate people, hurt, weeping and at their worst. His parents would tell him he’d start out with the best intentions, being a decent guy, but that being human he would harden. That to save himself he would join the group, stay within the protective circle. That’s when the rest of the world would lose him.
In his rearview mirror he saw a cop hiding behind an overpass. Why didn’t that cop get those assholes in the truck? That was when he knew: Archeology, all the way. Trying to have to be Serpico wasn’t in the cards for him. He would be a teacher. He was way more like Indiana Jones.

          9

But wait, there’s more stuff I saw.
Young love bridged the houses of the Gemtonas and the Lupitecs. Lorraine Gemtona, not in love, began dabbling in ways so foreign to her all her days prior, she behaved irresponsibly when she finally started using parts of her brain that no Gemtona had ever used before. She was reading books, and worse than that she was writing, using her critical reasoning skills, thinking metaphorically. It got to where she started bouncing off the walls. Her mother ran along behind her, fretting with a toothbrush and a costly tube of cleaning solvent, dredging dripping buckets brimming with hate for the liberals, the liberals and their books that made her Lorraine bounce and hurt the items of the home, oh god she knew it would come to this, oh god, oh god she always knew. Lorraine’s dad couldn’t see. He was watching TV. Saying yes to it. Never to her. Yes to the corporate world, yes to world pollution, yes to hate humanity. Deploy destroy, deploy destroy. Grip that chair, clench those teeth. Television sensed Lorriane’s dad’s hate, could feel the hate welling within, was able to make the mind go lax, and bathe forth its precious essence.
Perceiving this dysfunction through a window of the stately inherited manor, Lorraine’s elder sister and that Lupitec boy (they never even spoke until they met in college) crept together back over to the Lupitec house, where the other brothers Lupitec were putting on a show, impromptu improvisation with an open beer bottle held out like a microphone.
“Big Business, why don’t we see the solutions to the problems you create?”
“Well, I’ll ah, tell you. If we solved the ah, problems we create, why then we ah, wouldn’t make anymore of our ah, precious money.”
“And isn’t it true, Big Business, that money, far more than clean air and water, is what we need to really even exist as part of the team on your planet?”
“Well, I ah, yes. There you go again, and you’re exactly right. That’s why I have to ah, watch you.”
“Big Business watching us to protect its investment and make sure its property does exactly as it’s told. Thank you, Big Business, for allowing us to present your Big Business will.”
“Tell them about how raw milk is bad.”
“You’re right, Big Business!”
“Tell the folks that milk will kill.”
“You’re right!”
“I want those dairy farms.”
“Go team!”
“Airport scanners. Let ‘em know.”
“We have to do it!”
“Radiate yourselves.”
“We have to do it!”
“I can see your body.”
“We have to pay to do it! You can see right through our clothes and get to poison us because of a deal for you, Big Business!”
“Nutrition from food eliminated.”
“For the convenience of Big Business!”
“For the profit of we hidden few.”
“You hidden few who own industry!”
“We hidden few who view you as our slaves.”
“Slaves whose lives depend upon your whims!”
“Though openly we dare not say, this relationship of we few to you many being such a Frankenstein story.”
Young love interrupted the show. The situation was desperate now. In her frantic haste to save the purchased items of the home, Lorraine’s mother flung wide the front door, and out Lorraine went, bobbing at first among the eaves and faux-Victorian frontage gables. She tried to catch the branches of trees as she passed, and in so doing almost hit a power line. Her mother stood in the doorway screaming to her father, “Where is she? I want for you to find her! Have you seen Lorraine? I want to know! Have you ever seen Lorraine?”
But her dad was being bathed in television. There was nothing he could do. If it wasn’t for the Lupitec brothers, proficient in levitation for years, she wouldn’t have been able to come down at all. Lucky for her, too, because they almost never floated higher than the trees.

          10

Some tourists came passing through Dreem, shocked to find out about Bigfeet. Yellow caution signs along the Hippie Highway showing the silhouette of a striding Bigfoot to watch out for when driving awed them. For there are still holdouts, pockets of people who’ve never heard of Gigantopithecus Blackie, nor even the Bering Strait, and probably wouldn’t be able to accurately demonstrate a basic understanding of evolution. They were awed by the odd all around, and gawked agape at snapshots taken of Bigfeet by the locals on display inside of business windows. They took pictures of the lovely local murals.
Nice friendly NARGs gave the tourists a couple of Kandy Kane bumper stickers and sent them off in their motor home, all snug and happy to know there were such brave fine men keeping Dreem alive, and saving everyone from the horrible forest monsters. Everyone agreed it was a real plus having bumper stickers on their motor home from such a strong woman leader, too.
Heading back on down the road, they’d have to stop that big gas-guzzler without bothering to wait for a long enough pullout a hundred yards ahead and lie right down on the asphalt to take themselves some pictures of the trees, as though they were drunk in Disneyland instead of in the middle of the road.
More tourists came. Some came for Kandy Kane. They came to hear her say things like, “Don’t you worry about those Hippies! Their day is over! That was all only way back in the Sixties and Seventies as far as I’m concerned! Now it’s back to the religion times of two thousand years ago instead! Come on, who’s with me? Why, they’re not even human anyway, and I know in my heart I do have the courage to have the faith to know that they’re not being human beings really is—truly is—scientific fact!”
And they came to hear her say unto them, “My brave NARGs, though, they’ll always be here to protect real Americans from Bigfeet, and all their Bigger-lovin’ helpers! Don’t you worry about that! No, don’t you worry at all, my friends!”
And they came to hear her say unto them, “But you know, my friends, there’s a whole lotta potential in investment opportunity out here! I mean really folks, if you’ve seen one tree, you seen ‘em all! And I love the outdoors, don’t get me wrong! But ya can’t shop in a tree, ya can’t shop in a tree!”
And elsewhere, miles away, everybody working at The God in the Tree Gifts, which exists inside a huge hollow redwood, cast forlorn glances at the floor.

         11

“To keep us safe from Bigfeet, members of the National Armed Resistance to Growers would be legally entitled to enter our property day or night unannounced to search for and seize anything they think might attract or help a Bigfoot in any way whatsoever. Is that the kind of Dreem we want?”
Cheers for Sid Samana crashed like ocean waves. Ordinarily the building was another Hippie dance venue, but tonight it was filled to capacity crowd even without a band onstage. Yolanda Diaz was there, wearing the thinnest, most form-hugging dress anyone had ever seen. It was a creamy tan, like her skin, and reached mid-length down the thighs. In the center of the Hippie sea bearing a roster of Rasta, surfers in cammo, dreadlocks and ponytails the norm, gleamed the beauteous Velvet Crowne, whose silent assent during the proceedings went unnoticed by none, and as Sid Samana spoke it was as though from the nourishment of his wisdom a flowering sprig behind him grew great and green and branching fully into a tree, the limbs of which coiled out of the windows and into the surrounding forest.

          Stage Three
                                                                                   1

On a psychedelic journey, camouflage is tie-dye.
That old special election hanging right overhead, I figured I better not stop keeping tabs on Kandy Kane. For the first time, now, more than ever.
I tuned out the bullshit and dropped into thought.
She was driving a car by herself, strangely this time no one in the media there to do that for her. It was kind of startling for me to recognize where she was: Sol and Sara’s. With astral eyes I realized by the large hole and mound of dirt and equipment around that they were putting in a pool. Being an evening, no one was working on it at the time.
After she parked the car, she went in without even knocking. She marched through the kitchen, through the living room, down the hall, downstairs, and at the only door on the right, there in the den, she went up to Sol. What the hell was going on?
Sol’s back was to her. On the opposite wall was a mirror. He greeted her in the mirror, remaining seated in the lotus position on a Persian rug.
It was small confines in the doorway and I accidentally stepped right into her. Psychically, this was like the difference between holding headphones in your hand or putting them over your ears. Suddenly I caught a thought, nice and loud and clear:
I’ve quit every job I ever had.
I was used to rotten thoughts coming from Kandy Kane, but mentally bragging to herself that she quit every job she ever got was just gross. So gross, I actually recoiled. Without even thinking about it, purely automatically. I had been aligned more or less precisely inside her, and suddenly she jerked back, too. From her perspective this certainly seemed odd. She couldn’t figure it out. Sol thought she must have tripped on the groovy orange shag carpet coming in. He said so aloud, and that was the explanation that she herself went with.
Now, this whole business of astrally stepping into someone, inhabiting their space, gives access to the current thought. Not only that, but once having “locked on” to the person, you just sort of naturally blend with their movements without even trying. I think it’s this “locking on” aspect, occurring as a physical reality which most of humankind can’t or won’t accept, that caused Kandy Kane to, without her conscious knowledge, have to keep up with me when I involuntarily recoiled. It was like trying to maneuver a metal object from under a surface with a magnet. You couldn’t move too fast or far without losing contact. Obviously I didn’t forget about this little trick, but I didn’t make a big deal about it at the time because I couldn’t figure out what this fascist lackey Kandy Kane was doing in the house of my friends.
She—we—sat down on Sol’s sofa—the one he scored off the terrace dorms in Carata back in college times from the Free Shit pile one summer—and I remember that he said he’d snagged it so fast after somebody left, he could feel when he was carting it away where it was still warm from somebody’s ass.
Countless asses had hit that couch, and now she sort of sank down inside it, too. It was a soft sofa, one of those that’s hard to get out of. The oily organ that’s in her skull flicked like a suckerfish tossed on the sand. Sara was an astrologist. Like her hero, Ronald Reagan, Kandy Kane wanted her astrological chart drawn up, barely holding in check the threat bubbling up inside her, “Come on! You have to! I made sure you’d get that nice fat settlement!”
Oh, really?
She wanted to, but hadn’t said it. Now she looked at Sol, and through her mind ran all the images, the words and the pictures still moving blended together which spelled out the whole plan, that Sol was using the power he owed to communal living down on the river bar along the Hippie Highway for years, like a Gypsy man with wizard ways, a power that he could never have attained in any way other than in the true bohemian manner, and Sol was using his Hippie telepathy power to psychically override the conscious will of a big buck Bigfoot roaming the redwoods. A Bigfoot did attack Car Fix Abbey, but it was Sol inside the giant head, Sol operating the Bigfoot remotely from his den, in lotus position, on a Persian rug.
Kandy Kane checked out the vaporizer in front of her. Leaning forward (as best she could in the deep, deep sofa) she took a hit. Then she leaned back in the sofa and sat.
I got up out of her and merged my mind with Sol’s. Like seeing a movie already in progress, it took me a second to divine what the hell was up.
Sol’s consciousness moved through the redwoods like a prowling predator. As a kid, I’d had feelings of being watched in the woods. The feeling of a presence. With Sol’s consciousness meditatively attuned to that of his quarry, I felt what Sol felt. I felt the nearing of a presence.
Then I saw the shaggy bulk hulking in the trees.
I knew what Sol meant to do. He’d rehearsed the plan so many times in his mind, and now his mind was open to me, showing his merging with the Bigfoot, the sublimation of the creature’s consciousness, the turn toward town with thundering step to the very home of the Samanas, there to terrorize Sid into dropping out of the race. And that part I did not get at all. Why would Sid abandon his mayoral candidacy because of a Bigfoot attack? Then I saw: This was something Sol had fought for. The original plan was for the Bigfoot to kill him. This was the best Sol figured he could do in order to expiate his conscience.
I had to do something. The moment his consciousness descended into the giant, I whipped my body backward as spasmodically as I could without cracking my head on the crystal cave floor.
Immediately Sol followed, flailing backward as though he had been kicked in the chest. This disrupted his connection with the Bigfoot. But more had to be done. Again, I bashed myself best I could. And again. And again. Finally on the fifth time his head hit that spongy shag carpet floor hard enough to knock him out.

          2

I was exhausted. Maintaining psychic connection when flailing the body took everything I had. But I damn sure couldn’t stop now. This solution was purely temporary. For all I knew, Sara was there, heard the odd muffled sound of his head five times on the floor, and was in the process of reviving him to re-initiate Bigfoot-merging.
What I needed to do was get hold of Epyphane. But, hate to say it, I was actually kind of rattled. All that thrashing around didn’t do me any good. I was prepared for it, at least. I mean, I could tell that there wasn’t an exact preciseness in the way our movements coincided, so to speak, and I was counting on that differential to at some point work in my favor, so that even though my head didn’t actually hit the (much harder) cave floor, but that his did hit the floor of his den. Accidentally breaking his neck that way might easily have happened. That rattled the hell out of me. Plus I was hungry, and tired and behind in my work and all I could see was this incredible plot against Dreem, conspiracy at the highest levels. Large in Kandy Kane’s thoughts loomed a tower. I felt some hidden figure high above working his will through her. Far down below, on occasion I caught glimpses of the nameless underworld goddess who provided me with strange instruction, she who bade me beware the ultimate danger of Hippies becoming like the forces of death which must be fought in order to save the world.
Stepping out of the crystal cave to stretch my legs and take a breather, I beheld the greater cavern extending into the infinite blackness beyond. It’s cool how the bioluminescence glows way down deep in the dark. Fine, thin, delicate lace-like tracings all along the rock, sundry species of otherworldly lichen. Refreshed by the delight these wonders wrought, I cleansed myself with moist towelettes kept in a Zip-Lock, swabbing down my face, neck and arms, and being sure not to discard the used towelette—you pack it in, you pack it out—I then returned to the crystal cave. Did a few deep knee bends, a few pushups. What I needed to do was get hold of Epyphane.
I didn’t really know why.

“Care for another beer, my dear?” Dr. Thomas H. Duke, age seventy and in a deck chair, held forth a freshie. With his silver hair and goatee I’m sure no one would have mistaken him for Col. Sanders.
Epyphane politely declined, eyeing by tiki torchlight the remainder in hers. If it was flattering that the formerly notable cryptozoologist with the truly remarkable pot belly and the longtime significant other tried to get Epyphane drunk, she sure didn’t show it.
Undeterred, smoothly he transitioned from this clear signal back to some furtherance of discussion, the purpose of which on Duke’s part was to be able to establish and maintain eye contact, artifice of interest, illusion of confidence, illusion of worth. His passion lied not in what she said, but in how fascinated he thought he appeared.
“That all sounds so great for the shop,” he said, sucking the residue of a Regal Lager sip and who knows what else off his mustache with his lower lip. The evening, at least, was young. By “the shop” he referred of course to Shape and Shade, having “happened by” that afternoon and subsequently inviting her over on what appeared to be a lark, no doubt. She wouldn’t have wanted to appear rude, and after all he was so generously supportive of all Epyphane’s plans regarding her work. Prrft!
She leaned over to catch a ladybug crawling on her open-toe sandals, remarking how she never saw a ladybug at night. The skimpy skirt and tank top that she wore revealed rather than concealed her substantial feminine charms. On the instant that she leaned, from behind the up-tipped bottle Dr. Duke’s beady eyes zeroed-in on her advancing cleavage.
“I changed my mind,” she said, ladybug perched on outstretched finger, “I think I would like another beer, if that’s okay.”
A choking gasp and coughing fit seemed narrowly avoided. “Absolutely my dear, absolutely.” Duke reached for a brew from the slushy cooler by his side. In the act of doing this his head went back as if he were about to sneeze, but couldn’t quite muster it up. Suddenly, however, he lurched forward out of his chair and tumbled on the deck in a heap.
“Oh my god!” Epyphane cried. “Dr. Duke, are you all right?”
Duke got to his hands and knees, breathing heavily; he started to get to his feet, then suddenly lurched forward again, as though galvanized by a live wire.
Again, Epyphane cried out, and again, and each time she did, Duke propelled himself with increased force. Before Epyphane realized what was happening, Duke launched himself under the weathered redwood rail and clear off the deck, a good six feet down into some brush. In a flash Epyphane was down the steps, helping Duke out of a bush. Bleeding from a number of tiny cuts on his face, neck and arms, he more or less incoherently screamed. She helped him to his feet, providing a shoulder on which to lean. Suddenly Duke started barking out terrible profanity.
“Fuckyou! Fuckyou!” For a moment he looked bewildered. Then at the top of his lungs, “Fuckoff!
Bewildered herself, Epyphane let go and backed away.
“Fuck!” Duke barked. “Bitch!”
Tears welled up in Epyphane’s eyes.
“FUCKOFF!”
Duke was still yelling out these terrible things into the innocent night, even when she’d turned to go, and he stumbled around as though he wanted to follow her, but couldn’t, as, miles away, deep underground in the crystal cave, the very same obscenities echoing resounded.

3

As impossible as it seemed to carry on at that moment, that’s exactly what I had to do. Personal life aside, I still had to do what the NARGs were never intended to do in the first place, which was to protect someone from a terrorizing Bigfoot. Kind of. The question was, how?
Truth be furthered, I was pretty stoked to find that I could not only get a spontaneous spasm out of a subject into whom I had astrally merged, but hell, I could even make somebody say shit. Not much. Just a little, in sudden uncontrollable bursts. What a wonderful gift nature provided me, you know?
Kandy Kane and all the other fascists sure weren’t operating alone. What was good for the goose was therefore good for the gander. Reinforcements for us were now in order. As for Sol, he was shit outta luck. This time, it was personal.
Only problem, how to contact someone telepathically and communicate together without any plane-shifting involved. Now, I’ve had ESP moments all my life. Most people have. I don’t think it’s possible for a person to interact with other humans and go through life without having some sort of memorable ESP moment. The human monkey uses only a small amount of brain, which operates electrically, so of course there are going to be things people don’t understand yet of which people are capable, sometimes involuntarily. Knowing also that there are certain ways to stimulate certain aspects of the brain—that is, ways to manipulate consciousness—I engaged in the basics and took it from there.
Reading, for example, strengthens the mind because it involves taking little symbols we call letters and magically turning them into sounds with meaning. Critical reasoning skills also develop in a mind exposed to a wide variety of printed resources, particularly those self-sought. Such a mind is not conducive, however to the NARG-type. Minds never allowed to fully develop cling to the TV teat that poisoned them. The mindlessness to which they unwittingly sacrifice their lives revolves around criticizing amateur singing with the feel of real voting involved. And thinking about all of that was exactly the kind of distraction I had to tune out. I hadn’t really bothered with telepathy my whole life because we already had telephones. Now though I did wish I’d taken the time.
My first try was to warn Sid himself. But nothing doing. I got zip from Sid. Go figure.
Next, I realized, the Mystical Mr. Cole was just the man I needed to aid me in the task of warning Sid and marshalling the Hippie forces. I was counting on his uncanny powers in the psychic realm to help in my telepathic transmission. Kind of like Skype, telepathy. Free, yes. But there’s also a little waiting period there, waiting for the other side to pick up which does feel quite similar. Pick up, pick up, I thought.
Yes?
It was Cole! My crystal cave telepathy totally worked! This was way better than tin cans and fishing line. This made that look like shit.
Lives being at stake, I had to boil it down. Plus I was worried there would be a disconnection. But when I started to get to the part about Sol whoring his Hippie powers to Kandy Kane, suddenly a voice interrupted.
Yolanda? I thought.
Yes! Burke? Is this Burke Lee?
Yes, Yolanda, this is Burke! Hi, how are you?
I’m pretty good, Burke.
Some laughs on the other end? Huh? What was this, a three-way telepathic conference call? Yolanda Diaz being a psychic agent, her own Hippie powers were quite advanced. But a telepathic conference call? That couldn’t possibly happen. Not unless…the two of them were somehow…linked.
Cole, you fuckin’ turd, you better not be bangin’ her!
Take it easy, Burke.
I told you I loved her, man!
Listen Burke, it’s not you she’s cheating on.
Hey!
I told you man, I fuckin’ loved her!
Not exactly my finest moment. I wouldn’t even include it except, yeah, life’s messy, it happened. I guess I was kind of fucked up the time I told him all that, and I didn’t even mean it. And maybe with his powers he knew that. But there’s still protocol. As far as her cheating on Duke though, ha ha! That part was great!
Well, I knew the thing to do was be professional, look past all the personal shit, and do what was right for Dreem. So I told them everything.
You still haven’t completed your shamanic mission, Cole said.
I agreed. I hadn’t. I hadn’t reached whoever or whatever it was I needed to know or do. True. You warn Sid, I said, that Sol’s sending a Bigfoot, then call a meeting. Do everything you can to let everybody know, this time, no matter what, we have got to get together.
Got it. You’ll get back to me in a few hours?
Yep. Sounds good.
All right then.
So long, Yolanda.
Burke, she already left.
Already left. Goddam I hate that kind of shit.

4

Sometimes sitting there in that cave, way down deep in the dark, alone, I didn’t know what to think. Even now with my mission on the verge of something so big, so important, what could I really do except go wandering around in the dark? What the hell was that? I mean, how is anybody ever supposed to know anything, you know? You stumble along as best you can and kind of hope you somehow muddle through.
Whatever was going on up top in the fight against the forces of death seeking to destroy Dreem in the name of strip malls, down in the cave it was up to me to heal the land. Sort of like destroying the Death Star, except with land being healed from within, instead of a machine blowing up.
It’s the ancient way.
However, I wasn’t feeling the inspiration. For one thing, my blood-sugar was low. Chewing carob chips and cashews in the dark felt very lonely now. “This is bullshit, man!” I suddenly said aloud, feeling little bits of carob and cashew land on my arm. “I’m gonna kick some fuckin’ ass!”
YEAAHHH!
The sound of my voice, so cold and alone, did little to cheer me up. It really felt like everything was going all to shit. I tried walking around for awhile. Went down to the river. Didn’t see much. Went a little ways further down and found a sort of lake that the river dips into on one side and drains out of on the other. That was a pretty place, and made me feel nice there. So nice, I had to go potty. And then I thought, if I couldn’t attend the Council of the Hippies or whatever in person, that didn’t mean I couldn’t see what was going on.

People were just showing up at Sid’s. Actually I think a lot of them were already there. Cole showed up, of course, seeing how he’d called it. Yolanda came separately. Also there was Cole’s daughter, Missy, with the rest of the Dykes on Bikes motorcycle club. Of course I recognized Stan the Man—the famous Stan the Man, Aikido black belt, sensei at Mojo Dojo in Radley—and Velvet Crowne, escorted in by sundry surfers in cammo. I saw a friend of mine named Woody, who lives in a redwood in the forest near Madrani. Tons and tons of people showed. It was a Friday night, warm and windy. Everyone was there. Solidarity, what a rarity. Too bad nobody noticed I was missing.
Anywho, didn’t take long before earnest vegans started asking the tough questions, and getting from Sid, Yolanda, Cole, and various other sources the tough, rangy answers. Somebody started a purple torpedo going around about as thick as my finger, which did seem to facilitate more involved questions, and some pretty darn involved answers.
About twenty minutes of that and everybody had to pour out on the deck in a big cloud of smoke. And who was everybody? Just a whole lot of hard-workin’ folks. People who know about milling and roofing and wiring. Creative people, passionate people, business owners, artists, people decent, fair, and kind. Disparate, eclectic, eccentric people not exploiting and wanting not to be exploited.
On the other side of town, a very different situation.

Kandy Kane awoke to the sight of an upside-down digital clock. The red electric lights of the display bewilderingly reflected her feelings at the moment:
EEE!
And for an inordinate length of time she couldn’t figure that out. Then, slowly, she got up from where she lay on the floor by the sofa and righted the clock: 3:33, it still briefly read.
Immediately she was conscious of her hair being mussed. It was a must her hair not be mussed, but not only that, her clothes were rumpled. She was mussed, she was rumpled, and Kandy Kane was hungry.
Swinging her vision to the other side of the room revealed, oh, Sol and Sara. Sol not looking good at all.
He had woken up a half an hour earlier. Sara had gone to bed believing “Daddy” (-to-be—Sara being two months pregnant) to still be “doing what he had to do” to “provide for the family.” That was how she rationalized it. But she awoke near three feeling the coldness of his side of the bed and came down to check up.
“I tried to wake you up to see if you were okay,” she told Kandy Kane. “You seemed to be breathing all right, though, so I put a pillow under your head. That probably woke you up. Sorry.”
“No, that’s fine. I need to be awake now.”
“Why?”
Kandy Kane didn’t answer, only teetered taking in the now strangely compelling surroundings of black, green, yellow and red blankets, hats, t-shirts, mugs and Reggae in the Redwoods fliers from over the years.
“There are bottled waters, juices and beers in the mini-fridge,” Sara said, pointing.
“All right. I’ll have a spritzer.”
“I’m not sure we have any spritzers. You can check right there.”
“Oh. Where is this now? All right.”
She’d grown accustomed to being waited on. That hadn’t come easy. Nothing came easy. Getting exactly the spritzer she wanted was something she’d had to claw for, and claw and claw and claw. Not that these losers would know. Hippies! They didn’t get it. They just didn’t get it. “Nature.” The “environment.” Oh, the precious “ecology.” They just didn’t get it! So stupid. Stupid! So ugly. The ugly refrigerator was small. What a small refrigerator. The snacks on top were huge. Biggest snacks she ever saw. And so good. So good. Oh so, so good.
“This is the most delicious thing I’ve ever eaten in my life. So good. Ohh…mmm…so, so good. What is this thing called?”
Kandy Kane had forgotten that Sol and Sara were still in the room, so Sara’s answer was doubly surprising. “It’s a granola bar.”
Gra-?
Bits of granola dribbled out of Kandy Kane’s frozen mouth. She zoned out for a second and then continued eating.
Having forgotten to grab her spritzer or get anything to drink at all, she became increasingly acutely aware that the two of them were whispering together over there. And that was funny. A fact made funnier by the fact that she was the only one laughing, on the inside, and on top of that, couldn’t even remember what exactly it was on the inside she was laughing about. Fliers for Reggae in the Redwoods went back years and years and years.
“I guess you really like this stuff,” she said, examining a flier. “Hmm. I suppose it has a certain…colorfulness to it all.” She was aware of those words hanging in the air most awkwardly indeed, but never let on that she knew. Time now to ease her way on out. Authoritatively.
Everywhere she looked, an absolute nightmare of bean bags and lava lamps and hanging beads and black lights and tie-dye this and tie-dye that, with the plants and the shag carpet and the hi-fi, and records, weird vinyl record albums, and all the other weird Hippie pothead loony leftal librist…leftal loon…no no no, it was loony…no, Hippie pothead liber…liberation....
Eventually she made it outside, the quiet of the early morning dark already disturbed by the birds.
Eventually she made it to her car. It was incredible how dirty the floor of a car could get. The floor of the car had to be cleaned. Adroitly her fingers pinched tiny bits of trash she might never have seen if she hadn’t taken the time to look. Even as she inspected little pieces she plucked, Kandy Kane recognized the whupwhupwhupping sound of an approaching helicopter.
Suddenly she panicked. How long had she been picking at her rug? For ten or twenty minutes, with the car door open for light? Act normal, she said to herself, chucking a handful of trash outside and slamming the car door. In the pale breaking dawn she saw the sky was overcast and watched the diminishing chopper stay safely beneath the tactile clouds. At a sudden impulse she turned the radio on—it happened to be tuned to the college music station—and cranked up “Blitzkrieg Bop.”
Then Kandy Kane was all over that wheel, tacking left and right on switchbacks, up and down the hairpin curves, yelling, “Hi, ho, let’s go!” as loud as she possibly could, while eyeing her stolen granola bars that slid around on the passenger seat, and the NARG chopper disappearing in the distance. No need to reach for her cell phone. She had purposely left that in her office at Dreem Date, where she was now headed. Having to associate with Hippies was bad enough, much less having to cope with the GPS in her phone positively linking her to them.
Stormy morning winds from the open window whipped loose Kandy Kane’s pinned-back hair, now much more than merely mussed. Already she could feel the first few drops of rain. She tried to find a way to turn the windshield wipers on, and barely managed to as someone came barreling up behind and passed before she could go any faster. It was ridiculous the way these locals drove, and Kandy Kane sped up to show they weren’t the only ones who could.
Harder and harder she pushed the pedal, faster and faster she sped. So hard, so fast, screaming as loud as she possibly could to “Beat on the Brat,” it being a special hour of Ramones. And now the rain pelted down in a deluge, like the tears streaming down her
(deer in the road)
screaming face.
Kandy Kane hit the brakes as she hit the deer, car careening on the rain-raised oil of the road. No guardrails in the hills, down she went over the shoulder, trees speeding sideways past, tires touching nothing—steering wheel airbag exploding in her face at the moment that the front end of the car crunched into a tree.

Darkness.
Kandy Kane’s subconscious pulled its puppet show. She was the one who looked exactly like Vivien Leigh, and she was running, running through the dark dark redwoods that just went on and on. Were those branches reaching out to claw her, or the hairy arms of Hippies swiping from behind the trees? She had to get away. Kenny Loggins was there, looking like Clark Gable. Frankly, my deer, you’re in the danger zone. Pot gun. He had a pot gun. He was going to shoot her with his pot gun. And horrible hands were pawing at her.
She awoke. For a moment.
No memory of the car or the crash came to her at all. What she saw instead, before insensibility returned, were two great eyes staring at her from the dark-skinned face of a gigantic, hairy, inhuman head.

           Stage Four
1

The man hooked the chain at the back of the ATV to lengths of wire from the massive pile abandoned years ago, overgrown with grass and weeds down in the creek bed. The creek was now a mere trickle, heaven to mosquitoes, and the man’s name was Woody. A friend of Cole’s, he had a house in Radley which he rented while himself living in a tall hollow redwood in the forest near Madrani, well off the beaten path.
Woody got back on Cole’s ATV and gave it a little on the throttle. The mass of wire budged, but held fast to the long grass and clinging weeds gripping tightly to innumerable wire links.
In the shade of a huckleberry bush on the hillside nearby sat Stan the Man. Concurrent with Woody’s efforts to remove the wad of wire, he spoke with Stan on the wonders of hot tub therapy. Utilizing proper nutrition by eliminating processed foods from the diet and intaking such culinary esoteria as free-range, grass-fed chicken, coconut oil and homemade sauerkraut, Woody was learning to expand and contract his consciousness at will in order to see the larger world of which this universe is only an atom, and in order to perceive the tiny universes in his own cells, understanding in the process how all time occurs at the same time simultaneously.
It was ten thirty-one a.m., and the sun shone high over the hills. They had gotten to talking about a Bigfoot recently seen coming inland from the coast, the one so big everybody called him Big Sir, when some rustling in the brush nearby and a rancid smell announced the presence of the Big Guts. One of them had a shotgun leveled at Woody’s back. From where the Big Guts stood, none could see Stan the Man.
“Yew jist bitter git offa that there shitkicker, boy!”
The ironically metaphorically gutless gunman seemed to crouch behind the preponderance of his own big baby belly. Sounds of approving yuks and theatrical chuckles of backup support bolstered the Big Gut’s resolve. Beneath the belly-view shirt the filthy skin revealed an innie. Radiating armpit rings, suspicious yellowy-brown streaks, and crusty slug trail-like smears of more than merely mucus adorned the LowCost cloth, as did the watery foam of a warm Regal Lager which the Big Gut gave a crack.
When Woody didn’t say a word, there came from the half-dozen Big Guts emerging from the scrub hog-like cries. “Yew tail us war she iz!”
What the sadly sagging husks attempted to convey, Woody had no idea. Nor did his not knowing matter in the slightest when, three seconds later, there came with the speed of a striking cougar a ponytailed blur which caused the shotgun to be removed from the Big Gut’s feeble grip. Stan the Man’s hand touched a spot at the Big Gut’s neck and the Big Gut shut down, collapsing from lack of blood at the carotid artery like the carcass of a road kill deer chucked in the back of a pickup truck some night by a Big Gut scavenging the highway for food.
Woody watched Stan step back to square off with two Big Guts tentatively charging. It was the natural move on Stan’s part, simply to achieve proper footing. But he didn’t expect the weird crunching sound that resulted—it was his foot coming down on a bag of locally-made organic fat-free chips, no preservatives, which Woody had left in the high grass, and that was all it took. For one second he was off his guard. Weakness perceived, all the tentativeness of the pair’s requisite advance was gone, and the two of them felt strong against the old man whom neither was old enough or aware enough to recognize as the dude from Mojo Dojo.
Yet all of this Woody did perceive, and on perceiving Woody moved in fluid action, rushing in with an inarticulate roar and coldcocking the closest Big Gut on the side of the neck with a left cross that sent the head spinning backward—yet instantly the head returned in place! Suddenly the dead-eyed Big Gut slashed—Woody saw a dirty little blade good for gutting fish and dodged the vicious swipe just in time, instinctively yelling his sudden realization, “You’re a fuckin’ asshole!
Then a strange thing happened. What initially looked to Woody and Stan like a Medieval monk turned out to be the Mystical Mr. Cole, twirling in a bewildering array of dark cloth flapping around. Not knowing what a Medieval monk was, the four remaining as-yet-uninjured Big Guts (the one with the blade being out on his feet) took him at first for Darth Maul. In his swift movements could be seen a leathern satchel slung across his dark-frocked shoulders, in which he dipped a hand and from which was flung a bright and sturdy mushroom, resplendent in shades of purple, blue and green, big as a grapefruit, and that great big mushroom floated in a nice long arc and plopped—poof!—slowly widening its cloud of contents directly in the midst of the remaining Big Guts, who slowly—sooo sslloowwllyy—came out of the shimmering kaleidoscopic fog just a-gigglin’…an’ laughin’…an’ laughin’…an’ laughin’….
It was like witnessing the comprehension of tool usage in “2001,” except no bone, no hairy hominid ancestor arm, and no Richard Strauss. As the Big Guts inadvertently experienced punctuated evolution directly at some level, one hopes, Cole, Stan, and Woody herded them an acceptable distance away headed in an acceptable direction. Some discussion among the three would need to ensue pertaining to exactly what the hell happened, and the other two Big Guts sleeping it off or whatever would, for all they cared, pretty much have to go fuck themselves.

Awakening, the first thought on Kandy Kane’s mind, was not, as otherwise might have been the case, What am I doing here in these thick, dark woods? She had been dreaming of Election Day fraud, of planned computer malfunction, of Hippies turned away at the polls, of ballots missing, NARGs brought in to quell the people, election victory claimed, in the need to keep the peace, in the need to maintain order, to maintain the common good, yeah, that was it. In her dream she smelled something awful. So awful, she thought she’d gone potty.
When she opened her eyes she saw the huge face of the Bigfoot staring right at her three feet away. She hadn’t been out for long.
For Kandy Kane, who was quite film literate, and who loved moments in celluloid like the memories and the friends she never had, the moment reminded her of Fay Wray’s initial encounter with King Kong. Something in the way the monster looked at her, however, shifted the thought in a nanosecond toward what increasingly seemed to be the disturbingly more appropriate scene in “Young Frankenstein” when the creature has Madeline Kahn in the cave.
Fortunately, she must have misunderstood the Bigfoot’s intentions, for the moment passed as quickly as it came.
            The last thing she remembered, she’d been listening to the Ramones. So…it was rock n’ roll that made her do it! A-ha! And a Bigfoot, probably the one she’d used through Sol before, and planned on using mere hours earlier, it was in the area; when she crashed, it found her. Found her and took her to its lair.
            Yet no remorse passed through Kandy Kane’s mind. No shame, no regret, no chagrin. No awareness on her part at all for having baselessly vilified the entire species for her own private gain. And when the shaggy giant turned away—all eight feet-plus and over eight hundred pounds—turned away with lumbering gait, matted knee-length arms swinging like balance beams, tree-like legs pistoning up the slope and through the woods away from view, Kandy Kane sat plunked on untrod duff in a disheveled heap, tight skirt stained and torn, her face sore from the airbag and her makeup all screwy, just sat there quivering and quietly cried.

          2

            At the Samanas, evidence of the Council of the Hippies from the evening prior was slowly fading away. After about an hour of the big community-saving heads up that night, a lot of people were really ready for kicking back. This led to head trips and the inevitable resumption of that age-old debate: What’s the difference between being a Hippie and being a druggie repu?
            Hippies care, druggie repus don’t.
            Hippies give, druggie repus steal.
            Hippies have wisdom, druggie repus have addiction.
            Hippies align with the forces of life, druggie repus align with the forces of death.
            And the people discussing these things with their frequently long hair and beards and cammo and dreads, and none of those things, were people with jobs, working people trying to make a living, educated people with the hows and whys of establishment lies, people trying to build a life based on equity and sustainability, people trying to maintain a community thinking globally and acting locally. It was the art of good living on a foundation of peace, a foundation of love and justice working with the natural powers of the planet in the open-minded spirit of personal confidence and acceptance of diversity that made Hippies Hippie. Not pot, not hair, not color, not art, and not even rock n’ roll. Well, maybe pot.
            Yet throughout the open-beamed halls of Sid and Ananda’s home could be felt an uneasiness unfamiliar to most. Epyphane came downstairs followed by Dr. Duke, who clutched the railing tightly, and on spying Yolanda in a corner went swiftly to her side. An almost palpable feeling pervaded of walking in a montage, of “going to the mats,” of living in “The Godfather.” A chunky Hippie called Tribal started going off to whomever would listen on upside-down planting in the manner of Clemenza showing Michael Corleone how to make spaghetti sauce, yet also in his best Bullwinkle. “Listen up and learn something! We shove our itty bitty veggies in the upside-down planter, thusly”—he had cut the bottom off a plastic juice container and filled it with potting soil after wedging a scallion bulb through a hole he had cut in the cap—“hang in a window with adequate sunlight, and viola! The roots grow up and the scallions grow down!” The thin veneer of Tribal’s Bullwinkle-Clemenza fell abruptly away, however, as he looked out the window. “Hey, here come Cole, Woody, and Stan the Man.”
            Indeed. The trio with the brio strode into the home like worthy knights in Arthur’s hall. “What up, dudes?” came the cries as they passed, for in general mien much was amiss, and the three bore the aspects of knights sore weary from battle. Then did Velvet Crowne and Ananda take on the Betty Crocker mantle and offer up glasses of refreshing coconut milk and homemade macaroons, mental chubbies popped all round on sight of the hotties’ bodies bouncing, but it was only when Cole, Woody and Stan had settled near the fussball table that Woody, loose-lipped with a homebrew, started to get all talky.
            “Shit man, you shoulda seen us.” He took a sip off a Russian Imperial. It was understood by all that the “you” referred to anyone, and that Woody, who spent a great deal of time alone, had developed the habit of talking to himself, and that his missing out on normal socialization plus being a practiced blabber meant putting up with a lot from him. Woody went on to describe the events of the creek.
When he had finished, Sid Samana said, “As of this moment we do know there is increased chatter among the fascists. From what we’ve gathered so far, it seems that Kandy Kane has somehow gone missing.”
Deafening cheers.
“Wait, wait now,” said Sid. “She’s missing, and the fascists think we took her.”
“Those assholes!”
“All right now, everybody, let’s all just work together to get her.”
The second that Sid finished the sentence, and before anybody could say, “Fuck that!” or even, “Together…to get her…whoa,” two sets of living room windows which Sid and Ananda had had put in only two years earlier burst into bits. As always, it took everyone a moment to realize that the sounds outside were not the pops of firecrackers. Out of nowhere someone said, “Hey, where’s Sol?” But before anyone could reply, there came from outside a voice hailing those within.
“This is Captain Sandesky of America’s American Americans for America! Give up! You are surrounded! Members of the National Armed Resistance to Growers are currently on their way! Place your hands on your head and exit the building now!”
Inside the house, everybody looked at each other. What the fuck was that?
“In the name of the law put your hands on your head!”
“Holy crap, what is this guy on?” said Sid. “That’s a buncha bullshit. Cole, are you thinking what I think you’re thinking?”
In his mystical, enigmatic manner, Cole nodded and rakishly grinned, then dashed up the stairs in a blur of black, and everyone in the house saw bright flashes of light silently go off outside, till after long, tense moments had elapsed the front door flew open and in stepped Cole, bidding three reinforcements accompany him. Stan, Woody, and Tribal stepped up fastest.
“Don’t worry about the residual,” Cole said of the clouds of color facing them as he shut the door. “Most of it has already been activated and ingested by the targets. What’s left right there is actually pretty nice.”
The mid-afternoon light caught the ethereal, preternatural glow of Cole’s mystical mushrooms, dissipating domes overlapping, and in the midst of the mist, fascist lackey invaders lay engaged in minute observation of the tiny world of bugs at their feet, all going off on weird little life and death adventures of their own in the strange alien world in which the world of humans was a larger story too great for their comprehension.
The had to hoof it pretty fast, but all four could see where Cole had gone out through the second-story window, and all could surmise his aerial dispersal of nature at its finest plus a little help from him. A couple of yips and huffing sounds off to the right indicated the 4As had Big Guts on the fringe stumbling around in the brush. One they heard, but couldn’t see, go tearing away hollering, “I seen ‘em, boss! I seen ‘em! They’re goin’ to the shop! To the shop, boss, that big shop!”
“Sounds like they’re coming to the shop,” said Woody when they got inside.
Tribal gave Cole a nudge. “What is it?” he said. “Something big, huh? That’s why you need us, right? Where is it?”
There was a pool table filling more space than anything else. Some bar-type stuff over a long mirror (itself from a bar) on a wall reaching up to a fifteen-foot ceiling stood out—antlers, in particular. A poster from one of the Friday the 13ths showing Jason being badass in a hockey mask gave Woody an idea. “We could chop them. I don’t see any machetes. Where does Sid keep his machetes?”
Cole shut the door behind them and dropped a beam down into specially-welded slots on either side. “All right, everybody,” he said. “I’ve got a friend out in the Hawthorn area. Long story short, he called me up a couple years back, and I went out there with Duke and we found something weird. We call what we found Grimor. He was missing an eye when we found him, and his back was badly injured. We thought he was dead but he wasn’t. It was interesting finding that out. Anyway, Sid’s been keeping Grimor locked away back here. You’ll see why.”
The while Cole had been speaking, he led the others to a door behind a sheet of plywood next to the band saw. Outside, distantly, helicopters could be heard thundering ever closer. Tribal had not yet shut the hidden door behind them, waiting as he was for a light to be turned on inside first. They all heard the shop door taking a hit outside, one which would have knocked it flat if not for the snug beam barring.
“Go ahead and shut the door,” said Cole. “I should warn you three to prepare yourselves. We’re all probably used to things that would shock most people on a daily basis. This here, though, it’s bigger than an alligator, for one thing. And it’ll gladly go through a couple of big healthy goats at a sitting. I’ve seen that. You’ll see. Here—and just remember, we keep Grimor for our own protection.” In the dark, a door could be heard to open. The sharp stink of decay wafted out. There was the sound of Cole’s hand fumbling against the wall for a light switch, and the pounding of the helicopters hovering over the Samanas. From somewhere ahead in the dark, heavy chains ominously rattled.  
Then the lights came on.

3

The entirety of her flight from the creature’s lair, one thought ran across Kandy Kane’s mind, and that concerned the welfare of her Anti-Bigfoot Antebellum Ball. She had to run, run through the sticks, push and press and bound through the debris, the living hell of wood. She had to hike up her skirt in high heels and pick her way step by torturous step across the very sort of dirty gross forest stuff that, once she got in office, she’d be taking care of once and for all. But thinking about that was only a luxury. What mattered now was the ball. As a woman, she would not be allowed to attend, naturally, so it was extra important she get everything just so, just right, just so right. And that’s why Kandy Kane wasn’t running from a Bigfoot so much as she was running toward good prices on napkins.
Whup-whup-whup-whup-whup
NARGs. Somewhere down the valley. Coming her way. How much further she had to go before reaching the road, she had no way of knowing. But it didn’t seem like she could be so very far from town, or the road, or someone passing by. At this point the thought of walking on anything remotely resembling a trail was almost more than she could bear, and as she redoubled her efforts to negotiate the forest floor successfully, she let out little whines and grunts and moans and other high-priced sounds.
Suddenly she stopped. Paused, listening. There it was—voices. Letting out a hoarse “Hello!” she felt her nape hairs rise at the thought of summoning the Bigfoot back to her. But only for a moment. Because she saw them. Some of her own NARGs, just around the bend. Five of them chilling on a log.
Kandy Kane came out of the brush with her tight blouse ripped and her bra showing its intimate details and the fullness of her ample silicone load. The tear on the side of her skirt rode high, and the straps on her stockings mid-thigh were blatantly exposed.
“Oh, thank god!” she cried. “Help me! Oh please help!”
She surely looked a mess. Makeup smeared, nose swollen from the airbag. She looked downright poor. The five NARGs hanging out took a look her way.
“Oh my god, am I ever glad you’re here! I know I must look a wreck—”
Two of the NARGs got up from the log and advanced toward her. Something told her she’d need to identify herself.
“Excuse me, my name is Kandy Kane!”
One of the NARGs on the log laughed. “Sure as hell didn’t think you were Charlene Tilton.”
“What? Look, I’m Kandy Kane—”
“Yeah, you said that.”
“Don’t you even know my name? You’re NARGs! My NARGs! I own you!”
Now the ones on the log got up.
“You what?”
“What the hell did she just say?”
“I said I own you! My name is—”
“I heard your fuckin’ name!”
“Hey, J.T., she just said she owns you. That right? This fuckin’ scummy bitch own you?”
“Don’t you people know who I am?”
“Look at that fuckin’ face, man.”
“Big tits, anyway.”
“She’s got owner tits.”
“Hey J.T., you hear that bitch just say she owns you?”
“I heard that all right. Shit. This bitch sure as fuck don’t own me. Shit. I’ll own her.”
“Don’t you even bother to look at whose name it is on the top of your check?”
“Honey, I get paid instant deposit.”
“I ain’t got paid yet.”
“It’s my name at the top of every check.”
“I’m pretty sure mine says LowCost on it. Yeah, I’m pretty sure.”
“You’re probably all supposed to be out looking for me!”
Big laughs.
“Honey, I wouldn’t be lookin’ for you if you was the last bitch in the bar!”
“Well that’s just great because I’m gonna be your next mayor!”
Bigger laughs.
“Honey, I don’t even live around here. None of us do. We all got called in yesterday, and only just got here about an hour ago. Now I’ve heard enough out of you. You need to settle down right now and start tellin’ us where the grow rooms are.”
“Yeah! Got my LowCost baggies right here!”
“Fuckin’ high heels in the goddam forest she’s got on there. Look at her, man. She wants it.”
“All right, that’s enough!”
Six pairs of eyes turned to see a well-knit rugged form, legs widespread, arms akimbo, standing on the high ground nearby. The man’s starched cammo reflected the light of the sun like a scintillating gem. He’d rolled his crisp sleeves up past the elbows, tightly. This was Squad Commander Markin, and he dismissed his five-man squad in more ways than one.
“They’re a buncha good boys, really,” he said when the squad had gone out of earshot. “And yes ma’am, I do know you to be who you say you are.”
Kandy Kane breathed a big sigh of relief. “Thank God. Good. All right, I want you to take me back to my office.”
“No ma’am, I can’t do that.”
“Why? What do you mean you can’t? What do you think I pay you for?”
“You don’t pay me, ma’am. I report to a higher power.” Producing a pistol from the holster at his side, Squad Commander Markin took swift aim and fired, putting a hole the size of a dime in Kandy Kane’s forehead. Everything else was blown out the back. The body slumped down to the ground. The murderer stood and stared. Then turned and walked away.
I pulled myself up from where I lay on the floor of the crystal cave. The gun had been pointed at me. Her death felt like my own. The session had been long. I was so exhausted, I barely had the energy to stagger out of the crystal cave, throw up, and collapse on a wide rock promontory hanging over the river.

Stage Five
1

            One thing, I never did call Epyphane any names. All that cussing through Duke. I didn’t like saying any of that at all. Having to scream those words, alone in the dark. I wanted to make Duke say something, anything, so awful that she would have to do what she did, which was leave. As a guy who supposedly knows all about primal creatures, Duke at least should have understood me.

            But to be inside Kandy Kane like that, right at the moment of her murder. It got me thinking. It got me feeling like I need to do right by Epyphane more. I was aware of that even in my dream.

            I dreamed I was in the little room again. Eventually it stopped, caught again against the rock. Getting out I saw the terrain was the same as where I was sleeping. I could see everything clearly, and even as I slept I supposed this was my subconscious mind speaking to me in my dream, perhaps saying something about the darkness I walked in regarding the murder; my figuratively speaking mind made sense of the literal darkness of the cave as a way of showing myself my readiness to, my need to, illuminate the circumstances of the murder. Why kill her? Why sink so much money on her campaign—whoever it was behind all that—only to kill her before the election? Strange way to create a martyr. Was it to ensure whoever replaced her would get the sympathy vote, or the illusion thereof? Or was it more personal? Had she offended someone somewhere? Failed to pay in some way? And who was this Commander Markin?

            I started feeling panicky. I started wanting out. I didn’t have a life anymore. I saw too much. The problems were too much. How had the world gotten by without me all the time before? Had it?

            I found myself on a narrow trail leading away to a part of the caves where I had not been. The porous surface of the rock looked otherworldly, and a weird glow around the corner hinted and called will-o-the-wisp-like.

            A lake came into view, so crystalline and still that no water at first seemed to be there. I held my hands before my face and examined front and back. Wouldn’t it somehow be significant to my consciousness, I thought, if like Gilgamesh I left something green here at the bottom of this lake? For I saw the lake was now my mind, my subconscious mind showing me itself. So I dove into the water in my dream and left there something green, which I would not need anymore, and not long after that I woke up.

            My body was sore. I felt like crap. Then I turned on my Mag and noticed something funny. A trail did lead up, just like in my dream. I followed it and found porous, otherworldly rock.

            It’s a strange thing indeed to recognize in reality something first seen in dream. I once had an intense dream of a white rabbit on a green lawn and the next morning saw for the first time ever precisely that, perfectly filling a window, nothing but green lawn with nothing else but one rabbit in it, white. An arbitrary prophecy, perhaps, but a prophecy nonetheless, allthemore proved true. So, somehow, I was and wasn’t surprised to see the very lake from my dream. I did not, however, look to see if the bit of green I left was down there—it would have been too creepy to me to see it. Besides, it was too dark to see anyway, even with the Mag. So instead I looked beyond the lake and about shit my pants when I saw the woman sitting there, and near her a disturbing array of animals.

            Involuntarily a sound of shock burst from me and reverberated through darkness into mysterious reaches which sent the animals pacing and fluttering. Actually the ones that fluttered I didn’t mind so much. The pacers though included a mountain lion, and I can tell you that one of those things in person with nothing in between is quite a scary thing to see. There was water in between us, and lots of rock, so it wouldn’t have taken anything for it to reach me. But this totally beautiful naked woman with the Celtic torc adorning her neck and the big belt around her waist, she said something to the animals, and goddam if they didn’t all take off. Me though, she called over.

            Remarkably well-kempt, body hair-wise, I have to say. That certainly formed much of my first impression on seeing her up close. And personal. Not that I was going to cheat. Cheat on Epyphane, I mean. There’s nothing wrong about appreciating beauty deep underground with a naked woman.

            “Burke Lee,” she said, when I had reached her presence. Spooky feeling there for a sec. “I’ve been watching you,” she said. She didn’t sound well. Now I noticed she carried a long wooden staff. Not far away I saw the eyes of a beast, a wolf I suspect, glowing eerily in the dark. “My name is Mindy Crow. I have a lot to say, and not much time to say it. Please, listen….”

            What she told me I remember exactly. I remember it word-for-word. But I can’t repeat it that way. Maybe that’s the only way I can show you how powerful it felt, by keeping that much for myself.

            She had some sort of disease. She said she thought she got it from saliva contact with the guy from whom she got the torc, the belt, and the staff. She also said he got those from, well, being abducted by aliens. She said those three items were actually much more than they looked, and she showed me. She showed me what they do and how they work. She said she’d been living underground for a long time by the use of them, for over a couple of years, sometimes coming out at night and visiting the forest. She said she’d lost her sister, the only family she had left.

            She told me incredible things. That she was herself responsible for the tremor that revealed the cave to me. Affecting seismic activity, she said, can prove one of the functions of the devices, in an active area conducive to quakes, on a limited scale, and at some physical cost to the one using the devices. In fact, doing so probably contributed to this amazing woman’s demise—it simply sapped her of whatever strength she had left from fighting her mysterious illness. She’d been reaching out to whoever was best-suited to carry on the responsibility of being the bearer of, the wearer of, the wielder of the devices. On what basis ran the criteria for suitability to the job, Mindy Crow remained agonizingly enigmatic to the end. So I have no idea what qualities to concentrate on keeping, and which ones to work on eliminating. Other than what I already know.

            She had specific instructions for what she wanted done with her remains. Requisite to these instructions was the bequeathal of the devices.

            I took her back to the crystal cave, hoping its power would somehow help. Nor had I forgotten my obligation to Dreem. This, too, was her concern. It was the reason she needed to bestow the devices. All to protect the land. All to protect the people.

2

            Helicopters blazed by overhead. There was gunfire on the ground. Much of this was directed at the thing called Grimor, a quasi-reptilian beast the size of a Cadillac. The fact that the thing was missing an eye undoubtedly contributed to its snappish demeanor.

            Having unleashed the beast—I can only imagine it must have been pretty spectacular to see that, too—wish I hadn’t missed that part, actually—Cole led Woody, Stan, and Tribal to another part of the property, the back house down the hill. Brandished in Woody’s hands was a three-foot length of high voltage wire, thirty-five or forty strands of copper wire in rubber insulation, and the Big Guts that crossed his path bellowed like dropped oxen at the heavy thuds conforming the wire to the contours struck, so that Woodster had to straighten stick on the run.

            Stan the Man had scuttled over to his car, got the trunk open, and managed to slip out an old suitcase, having to crouch down mostly from stray gunfire being wildly fired at Grimor by screaming 4A snipers perched in trees on the Samana’s property. This suitcase he carried with him down to the back house, using it as a shield for protection.

            Being a big boy and waggish large lad by nature, Tribal connected with his warrior spirit in a manner that made his fists instruments of sheer unbridled joy, and he had to consider with great warmth the number of times he’d seen NARG cars cruising through Dreem with Anti-Bigfoot bumper stickers and the words BIGGER LOVER in a circle and a slash line crossing through. Sternums were struck. Some fascist 4A fell from a tree trying to shoot Tribal and took the tip of Woody’s boot to the side of the face. It was only a hiking boot, but still, pretty harsh.

            It really truly was absolutely awful. But what else could be done? When could reasoning occur? When was there an opportunity for civilized discussion? What could any person say to possibly contend with the ceaseless bombardment of dehumanizing images which comprised the entire culture? How could rationality possibly prevail?

            With all the bullets flying around it was only a matter of time before someone got hit. And someone did. Yells came from inside the house.

            At the back house door, Cole, Woody, Stan, and Tribal had managed to converge as a NARG chopper roared down with a strafing gunner whose line of bullets sent clouds of dust rising at their feet.

            “Fuckin’ locked!” screamed Cole at the door.

            “They shot Velvet!” someone yelled from the house. “They shot Velvet Crowne!”

            Suddenly it was as though the sun itself had permanently dimmed. Everywhere one looked, angry open mouths were yelling, unhappy faces contorted with primate rage sprayed spittle. Somewhere people standing in line with groceries in baskets were tearing out each other’s hair, and scratching at each other’s eyes, shoving packets of fat-free pudding and boxes of instant flavored rice into each other’s faces with crinkly little package sounds and sharp corners of packages hurting, hurting, and everywhere people fighting, shooting, pulling triggers, making big sounds of boomboomboom with the death and the blood and unhappiness, all the misery and decay and hate.

            You have to understand, everything happened so fast. Everything always does.

            Cole had just kicked in the back house door when the cry rang out about Velvet. By what we will call sheer chance, the handful of NARGs, couple of 4As, and whatever if any Big Guts were left standing had finally dispatched Grimor, and the NARG choppers could be distantly heard but not seen.

            It was a moment of odd calm, and it lasted about twenty seconds.

            A light wind picked up.

            From four speakers subtly located outside the back house there suddenly blared Jimi Hendrix’s “Jam Back at the House.” This was the earthquake that sent the tsunami, and the tsunami that rolled was Stan the Man.

            Through the open door he burst, full-on in attack-mode, though no sword held he, and I’m pretty sure attack-mode runs counter to the principles of Aikido, but you can’t expect to become a whatever-degree black belt without encountering a lot of other martial arts. His hands, his feet, his elbows, his knees, everything about him was a total deadly weapon. There was a folded Cinzano table umbrella laying next to some rounds of madrone, and I thought sure Stan was gonna jam that thing right through this one NARG, but instead he stuck it through the legs, tripping him up. That guy took a header and wound up splitting both his lips open on the inside of his riot gear mask which he lost in the tumble.

            With Hendrix heading the magic, the tide of battle ran high in Hippie favor. Surfer-type Hippies, Rasta-type Hippies, and survivalist-type Hippies alike all fought back jointly. I don’t want to glorify violence, but it was pretty fuckin’ spectacular. Everybody really got into it. A lot of the fascists simply ran out of bullets. Between most of them not being very good shots—they were, after all, mostly only poor people denied education and brainwashed by 24/7 propaganda from the corporate right-wing media—plus losing a lot of their equipment to telekinesis from Sid, Ananda, and Cole—oh yeah, those guys got their asses kicked. Hard.

            This one chick started whipping up some hair-spinning magic, long thick braids with beads sent spinning. Once that chick got rockin’, that big hair went round and round looking like she might leave the ground. In the chaos, NARGs nearby got loopy, started stumbling around, everything mismatched for them, going all Picasso….

            A dude doing an intense dance which may have had some martial arts mixed in managed to affect the long-stemmed bulbs Sid and Ananda had planted nearby, so that he was able to say, “Wanna… jam?” right as a mass of flowers shot like porcupine quills directly into the barrels of a dozen NARG guns, stuffed real tight.

            Guns were flying out of hands like hats off heads in a strong wind. People with turtlenecks, sideburns, and bell bottoms swung Egyptian ankhs on long necklaces. People with pointy collars, mustaches, and afros used leather belts with big brass peace symbol belt buckles.

            Unfortunately, it’s only about a seven or eight minute song, and the last one on the disc. So the music magic, major force in Hippie history that it is, stopped right when the choppers came in. Pretty bad timing for us. And that was also when all the backup NARGs showed up on the ground.

            This was the low ebb. This was when the candle was most in danger of being completely blown out.

            My consciousness returned to the crystal cave when I felt that Mindy Crow had died. It bothers me greatly to think about that. When someone that you know has died, maybe someone that you love, you can’t believe the callousness with which death is portrayed. The total lack of honesty around it. You can’t believe when you go to a movie how death is made to look like a form of entertainment. A character in a story will die, and it’s like no one understands. There went a life. That was something precious. It can never be returned. But for the purpose of making a fiction work, nothing stops, nothing changes. You realize, yes, we have to go on. But you’d like it to be with some greater understanding, because to see the same old business continue, this business of ignorance regarding death, and what it means to be alive, it’s like getting a Ph.D. and having to go back to kindergarten.

            Indeed, it seemed the Hippies lost. That the battle for Dreem had been won by the vastly but not endlessly equipped forces of exploitation. That the trees would go down and the malls would go up. It looked like Bigfeet would be in zoos, and stuffed on display in people’s homes. It looked like genetically-modified food and chemicals spritzed in the sky to make the rain and control the weather would be causing the sicknesses that would throw the natural world completely out of balance, all because somebody somewhere stood to briefly profit. And maybe it is hard to feel sorry very long for someone whose primary weapons in her verbal arsenal included, “I’ll quit this job, so help me, I’ll quit on you!” as well as the all-purpose, “I’ll lie about you!” but hey, at least she liked the Ramones. Even Kandy Kane deserved better than what she got from her own.

            I took the torc off Mindy’s neck, per her instructions, and loosed the belt from off her waist, and held in my hands the long wooden staff.

            The skies were ashen, the trees were green, and the mountains rolled.

            Choppers hovering over the Samanas like wasps over an apple were beginning to drift away, as though they’d had their fill. Yet as the choppers departed, a sound from the ground could be heard. Thuds, snaps. Thumps, cracks. What was this? Something coming…something up in the woods. More than one something. Multiple somethings. Big multiple somethings. Could it be? Oh yeah.

            I wish I could have seen the looks on the faces of those NARGs when the Bigfeet burst through the brush.

            I was flying high in the sky with my Walkman on, wearing the kind of headphones that fit on each ear neatly, no bulky apparatus going over the head. I did love flying but wasn’t too keen on having to hold the staff in order to do it. What I really wanted was to have my hands free.

            Personally, I think the aliens should have made the flying devices be wristbands, with nothing having to be held. The torc, though, I do like. I get a good vibe off it. Plus, I put that thing on and man, I’m Doctor Fuckindolittle. That’s how I got the five nearest Bigfeet to come pay a visit. That I made sure to do when still in the crystal cave to bolster my powers extra. The body of Mindy Crow I left temporarily there with some protectors, the mountain lion foremost among them.

            As the crow flies, I really wasn’t all that far from the Samanas. I knew I’d need some music magic. I went with the Who’s “Won’t Get Fooled Again.” It runs about eight minutes, so I went ahead and started it in the cave before I left, literally never once touching the ground, just as smooth as you please, like I’d been flying my whole life—which, in a way, I have—and then I rode the wind way up over the trees. Without the slightest nausea. An absolute pleasure. Alien goodies, man. I’m telling you, those fuckers know their shit.

            Music-wise, the whole thing worked out right to the second. A couple minutes into the song and behold, there was the Samanas down below. All the way there I’d been calling the birds of the forest and having them race along in front of me in this gargantuan growing multiple species flock. Man, that was beautiful.

            From the NARG perspective, the biggest flock of birds any of them had ever seen came down like a tidal wave, or super huge feathery Stan the Man I guess, right when five of the hairiest scariest most monstrous Bigfeet just started tearing the shit out of everything. Some of those birds were going right into guys’ necks.

            The biggest one of the Bigfeet was none other than Big Sir himself. Two other males and two females comprised the lot. Any kind of animal nine feet tall and a thousand pounds coming with everything it has even at someone who’s armed is going to present a situation. But when the animal also has near-human intelligence, and good reason to hold a grudge—well, put it this way: it might have been overkill on my part bringing in the birds. I just wanted to be sure.

            The choppers, however, were a different matter. Those I left to me, and I didn’t want them exploding on the Samana’s property or anywhere in the redwoods, frankly. I liked where they had already been heading away because that was in the direction of the river.

            There had to have been someone on the ground in communication with them, probably to say something wonderfully supportive, as is always so desperately required. “Good job, oh good, good, good job, team! But wait—what’s this? Hey, you guys better come back in those helicopters and shoot some more bullets….”

            Indeed. They swept around just in time.

            One of the features of the devices: Incredible strength.

            I gotta say, I’ve always known aliens are real. It’s absolutely incredible to me that even today there are still people who can’t accept that fact. When you think about the differences in human culture in only a couple of centuries, and then try, just try to imagine a species with a million years of advancement more than our own, then you begin to see. And not one of those NARGs was born in a firepower-equipped helicopter. Those things were simply goodies they were given, too.

            So there we were, these three NARG choppers and me high over the redwoods, on the approach, a couple miles apart, five and half minutes into the song, and all I could see were these poor abused abusers, and the whole bogus election, the murder of Car Fix Abbey, murder by telepathically-controlled Bigfoot, and the murder of Kandy Kane herself, and the corporate-owned newspaper and TV station being in the pockets of the same people behind the whole attempt at taking over Dreem, and all the bigotry, all the Antebellum shit, all the divisiveness, all the dumbing-down, all the goddam fucking pollution-causing, war-creating, world-killing hypocrisy and lies.

            And then that first chopper came up, about a hundred yards off; I knew they were gonna open up, except they couldn’t move like me. All they had was a gun on each side.

            I came up under, one-handed the chopper’s left runner, and swung it mid-air—woompa woompa woompa—that chopper was all fucked up for a couple seconds there, then it hit the river and exploded.

            Talk about orgiastic. It was cosmic, it was organic, it was orgasmic!

            The next chopper came up another hundred yards behind. I saw a barbed wire fence down below. I whipped down there, grabbed on and gave it a quick yank against a metal greenstake that snapped the three strands, then jumped back up and flew right over the oncoming chopper. The second the blades hit the wire I let go. That one was a mess. But at least it was right over the river.

            I had about thirty seconds of music magic left before the song would be suddenly over, and so for the third chopper I came in fast underneath on the gunner’s blind side and hit the underside with kind of an awkward punch that went TING! And down that fucker went right onto the sandbar, perfect timing with the music.

3

            Shamanic mission accomplished? I can’t take the credit. It’s the lifeforce energy that won. I was merely a vessel swept up in the tide.

            Ultimately, for me, the real magic has been getting back together with Epyphane and making the relationship work by treating each other right. Actually, if you want to get into it, I lost a lot of solar panel customers out on the shamanic mission saving Dreem and all, so we’ve been having to rely on her income from Shape and Shade, and it’s been pretty hard. But at least Velvet Crowne pulled through. That’s something.

            I had a feeling The Informer wouldn’t cover the whole story of what happened. Sure enough, we never saw a word. They take fiction and present it as truth. I like the other way around. It’s interesting, the stories people will and won’t believe.