Sunday, January 1, 2012


The Visitor

There is a car moving slowly east past a car moving slowly west. And people walking hurriedly from the dark parking lot through circles cast down from yellow lights above. Fogged by the cool drizzle of a mid-November night, the street lights offer each solitary figure a dramatic anonymous walk-on as they make their way to the building across the way. A distant fading siren sound is drowned by the louder thrashing whir of a helicopter dropping carefully down onto the rooftop.

In the lobby, the conversations are hushed, yet anxious. People seem huddled in small worried circles. The hallway smells of linoleum wax laid down over an antiseptic wash. The door to the room makes a sharp metallic click each time it opens - crisp, like the cocking of a rifle in the stillness. Flowers on the window sill smell funereal, and the water stained cards beneath the vase spell out best wishes unread. The solitary breath in the air is sweet with medications that overpower even the flowers.

Behind the eyes that can't see out but only in, there is a certain kind of blackness, a blackness blacker than any black a conscious mind might describe. A panorama of nothingness wherein the mind can only whisper to itself. So Billy lies there and blabbers on to ears that cannot hear him. Not even the nurse, standing at his side calibrating the plastic narcotic drip could hear such murmurs at that great distance.

The doctor's report is delivered in a low spoken monotone into the telephone at the nurse's station.
" response to stimuli along any modality...comatose with sporadic autonomic reactions...." He speaks the data into the system one elbow down on the nurse's desk, massaging his forehead with a thumb and forefinger as though to coax out all possible observations just made. He pauses to look down the long hallway as the elevator bell sounds. It was Billy's girlfriend, Sandy. He puts down the phone and turns with a soft smile as she approaches.

Billy Wakes Up To Nothing

"I don't know if this is good or not. I am awake! But, to what? My tongue seems buried in a tar pit. Tar entombs my ears as well, and my sinuses. I have a hazy image of Sandy. Is it her, or just some picture I am holding?
"Sandy?!" Am I dead? I don't think so. There is some kind of steady drumming. There is some humming buzz running through me. It is as though my body is going on without me. Talking to itself. I think I am in some kind of trouble. If I am wondering anything then surely I'm not dead. But then, where are my hands? This is pretty fucking weird. Why am I never hungry? I don't even want a beer. I remember Sandy's fingernails digging into my stomach. But, I can't remember why."

Far away where he cannot see or hear her, Sandy sits close to Billy's bedside and doodles in her sketch book. It had been three months now since it happened.


I must be dreaming that I just woke up to nothing at all. I'm not really awake. Its not possible. I am dreaming of blackness. I will wake up soon. I am wrapped in a blanket of tar so thick I cannot move. Oh god, this tar! Its in my mouth. I can't scream. I will wake up now. I am sitting on my bed. I am awake. I wonder what time it is. What a crazy dream.

"Billy, its time to get up. Time for school," his mother called from the bottom of the stairs. He walked sleepily toward the bathroom door. Stopping to look around his room.
"What time is it?" he mumbled. He grabbed his pants up from the floor and stumbled as he put them on. He bent to the sink and splashed his face and hair and reached blindly for the towel. He looked around his room as he pulled a t-shirt down over his chest. "Where are my keys? I must have left them on my bike." He opened his bedroom door and stepped out into nothing. Black thick nothing. "Oh no! I'm not awake? Am I dead? Am I dreaming I am dead? Am I in hell?"


Anita fumbled in her shoulder bag for the ringing phone as she walked briskly down the dark sidewalk. She stopped and peered down into her velvety purple bag. Her long silky black hair trailed down over her slender hand as she burrowed into the clutter.
"Oh, Alejo, what have you done to me?"she muttered softly as she pulled out the phone and clicked off its incessant tune. Anita's bag was a wondrous site to behold, stuffed with a crazy assortment of things. It was a running joke among her friends what all was down in that bag. And she entertained them many times by ceremoniously dumping out its contents for everyone's scrutiny. They would pick things out of the pile and ask,
"So, what's the meaning of this?" And she would patiently reply with very serious explanations regarding each and every item's importance.

Resuming her quick pace along the sidewalk, she tossed her hair to one side and raised the phone to her ear. Her slender brown fingers curled around it and her dark red nails drew a line to her mouth.
"Alejo? Hi, baby. Hey! Did you program 'La Cucharacha' into my ringtone? You are so bad! What do you mean what am I doing? What did I tol' to you this morning? I was going to Sandy's tonight. I know," she said, listening to him. "I know tonight is our night. Maybe later." She continued walking and listening to Alejo. "Jesus, Alejo, you know what Sandy is going through." She stopped beneath a street light, her eyes following her own long shadow on the sidewalk to the house ahead. She could hear the distant sounds of shouting. "What?" She said into the phone. "Look, I gotta go. I'll call you in an hour. Yes. I promise. Don't call me - I'll call you. I love you too." She shoved the phone into her bag and broke into a run.

The door to Sandy's house was wide open and the voices coming from the second floor were loud and heated.
"Oh, Jesus," Anita muttered as she crossed the living room to the stairs. Sandy's mom was yelling.
"Sandy? Open this god-damned door right now!"
"Go away!" Sandy yelled back. "Just go the fuck away!" Sandy's dad was yelling too.
"Open the door Sandy! Don't talk to your mother that way! I'll call Juvenile and have your ass hauled out of here. Do you hear me?!" Anita took the stairs two at a time.
"Oh holy Mary...mother of Jesus...God...!" she said under her breath. Sandy's mother turned to Anita sobbing as she neared the landing.
"I can't take it anymore," she cried, burying her face in her hands. Sandy's dad put his arm around his wife and helped her down the stairs.
"Talk to her, Anita," he called over his shoulder. "Talk to her." Anita nodded as she watched them descend the stairs. She leaned back against Sandy's door and slid down to sit on the carpeted hallway floor. She could hear the muffled sound of Sandy crying as she reached into her bag for her cigarettes and her lighter. Her eyes went to the photo on the hallway wall as she lit up and took a drag. There they all were in the picture - together one special night in Red Rock Canyon. Sandy, Billy, Alejo, and her. It seemed like only yesterday, and yet so long ago. Bending her face down to the crack at the bottom of the door, she blew a long stream of smoke into Sandy's room.
"Knock knock," she said softly, her lips to the crack. "Anybody home?" She scrambled to her feet at the sound of Sandy coming to the door.
""Anita? Anita, is that you?"
"No," Anita replied. "Its the tooth fairy." There was the sound of a trembling giggle amidst Sandy's sobs as the door swung open.


Anita closed the door behind her as she stepped in and took Sandy into her arms.
"Ooh, baby girl, look at you. You are a mess tonight," she said, as Sandy buried her face against her shoulder. She flicked a long ash from her cigarette as Sandy clung desperately to her.
"What am I going to do, Anita? What am I going to do?" Sandy cried.
"I don't know honey," Anita replied softly. "I'm lost too. Come on," she said, leading Sandy to the bed and pushing aside the clutter of notepads, CDs, and photographs. She climbed onto the wrinkled sheets and fumbled in her bag again as Sandy flopped down next to her.
"Look what Alejo gave me," she said, holding up a poorly rolled fat joint. "Let's get lost together. Light it up, I'm going to call your mom." Anita fished her phone out of her bag as Sandy reached for a lighter in the drawer of the little table by her bed.
"Tell her to not come up here and to leave me alone," Sandy said to Anita. Anita nodded as she dialed the downstairs phone.
"Hi," she said into the phone. "Ummm, yeh. She's ok. I think I will stay over tonight though if that's ok with you. Ummm, I don't know, I'll ask her." She covered the phone with her hand and looked at Sandy. "Your mom wants to know if you want some dinner." Sandy shook her head no as she took a big drag on the joint. "No," Anita said into the phone. "She says she's not hungry now. Maybe later. Ok, I'll tell her. I think mostly she needs some sleep. Thanks. I'm glad to be here too. Ok. Bye. Your mom says she loves you," she said to Sandy, as she tucked her phone away and reached for the joint. Sandy coughed and fell back onto her pillow and looked up at the ceiling.

"Why don't you, me and Alejo go out in a little while?" Anita asked in a funny voice, as she tried to hold her breath. She blew a fog of pungent smoke into the air.
"Yeh," Sandy answered, wiping her eyes as she sat up again. She picked up a photograph beside her on the bed and handed it to Anita. "Look," she said. "Billy on his bike. I wish I'd never bought it for him." Anita looked at the image of Billy astride a beefy looking motorcycle.
"He loved that thing," Anita murmured. "I need to call Alejo,"she said, passing the photo back to Sandy. She dialed his number and picked up a notebook lying next to Sandy's pillow. "Can I read some more of your journal?" Sandy curled up on her side clutching her pillow. "Yeh," she said weakly. Anita began leafing through the pages.
"Alejo?" she said into the phone. "Can you pick us up around eleven? Yeh. Maybe we can go down to Big Hair's place and dance or something. Cool. Don't honk, just pull into the alley and we'll come out. Ok. I'll tell her. Bye baby. " She looked over at Sandy. "Alejo said he made a drawing for you." She turned the pages of Sandy's journal on her lap. "August 3. A very bad day," was an entry written in red.


"It was hot as hell as we crossed the panhandle. Billy shouted back to me that the bike was overheating, and that we should pull off for awhile. We were on Interstate 40, just out past Amarillo. I was tired and achy from clinging on to Billy for hours. And I was hungry too. I shouted back that maybe we could stop and eat. So, we took the next exit onto a small highway that would take us over to Washburn. It was a nice winding highway through ranch country. We were looking at the occasional longhorn steer as we cruised along.

"When it happened, it happened very suddenly. Its blurry in my mind. I remember the arrow on the sign pointing off to Washburn as we rounded a curve. Billy yelled, 'Shit," and throttled down as he leaned the bike to make the turn-off. Dust went flying everywhere as we hit the shoulder of the road. Then it was as though the bike just evaporated out from under us. I was still holding on to Billy and it was like we were both just flying through the air. It all happened in a flash, but it seemed there was total silence until Billy slammed into the guardrail head first with me on top of him. It felt and sounded like a bomb going off. Then we were just lying there, and I couldn't see because of blood in my eyes and my whole face was wet with it. It was Billy's blood. I remember seeing Billy's bashed in blue helmet spinning on the road nearby.

"I was trying to get up, but Billy wasn't moving at all. I couldn't see the bike anywhere, but could hear the motor still running as though somewhere far away. Later, they found it pretty much mangled in an arroyo some twenty feet away. A rancher pulled up out of nowhere in a truck. He had two steers in the trailer he was pulling behind him. He asked me what happened, but somehow I couldn't talk, and I was afraid to look over at Billy. The man was chewing real fast on a wad of tobacco, and spitting here and there and looking all around. Trying to figure out what happened, I guess. He reached into his truck and called for a sheriff on his CB.

"I rode in the back of the ambulance with Billy. I could see he was breathing, but there was so much blood everywhere. Someone was busy over him setting up an IV. I looked down at my arm while somebody else was putting some kind of splint on it. A broken part of bone stuck several inches out of my forearm. I couldn't feel a thing. They say I passed out on the way to the hospital. I was groggy and in some kind of shock at the hospital when they wheeled Billy out of the emergency room, and they loaded us both into a helicopter to take us to the trauma center in Amarillo. I guess I was delirious. I asked the doctor if they were taking Billy to heaven. Maybe that would have been better. It's been two months now, and Billy still won't wake up."


After Billy had been stabilized in the hospital in Amarillo he was transported by ambulance south to San Antonio and to Wilford Hall, a hospital on the Air Force base there where he would be studied by their team of neuro-surgical specialists. It was also closer to his home in Hondo, about an hour west of San Antonio. Or to be more accurate, his home in Iriquois, a small town just past Hondo on County Road 511.

Alejo, with Anita and Sandy squeezed in beside him in his rusty Chevy pick-up, drove on out of Iriquois on 511 to the turn-off that would take them to Big Hair's Dance Hall. It was a place full of memories for them, and for Billy too, if he could remember anything at all.

Big Hair's joint was a few miles on out, and then off, the blacktop county road. Out in the middle of nowhere. It was a legendary Texas roadhouse to many. People would drive out from as far away as San Antonio to hang out there. It was a would-be hide-out for many. Big Hair Newton liked to think of himself as an outlaw - a renegade or fugitive of some kind. His persona was part of the magic of the place. His notoriety was mostly founded in the western annals that told of the infamous Newton boys of nearby Uvalde county. Legend has it that the Newton gang at the turn of the century were the most successful bank and train robbers the wild west had ever known. And, if you were to take Big Hair at his word, his dance hall back in the early 1920s was actually where the Newton boys would hide out and lay low, and count their dough. And Big Hair was a descendent of such bad blood as ran through the veins of those Newton boys. Of course, if the truth be told, Big Hair Newton wouldn't harm a hair on the head of a fly.


Sandy, Anita, and Alejo formed a chain of hands as they made their way past the several crowded pool tables, and toward the sound of the music down at the other end.
There were plenty of cowboys on a Friday night at Big Hair's. Lots of wannabe cowboys too that came from the city wanting to pretend for awhile that they hadn't decided to be accountants. Any local could tell you the difference. It was in their awkward way of stepping in their shiny cowboy boots. And they had pampered looking skin that didn't glow red around the neck from working under a blistering sun, or hands too manicured to have slung a rope or strung barbed wire. The girls mingled in groups of three or four, sipping tequila sunrise through their straws and watching their men shoot pool. They had lots of giggles watching the way their boys handled their sticks. The way they applied their chalk to the tip. The way they sauntered while eying the table. The way they went after the balls like it was an act of domination.

Jimmy Dale stepped up onto the stage behind a wall of chicken wire that kept any flying beer bottles out. There was always that kind of drama at Big Hairs. If you didn't have your shit together when you took the stage at Big Hairs, you could expect a bottle to your head or even worse, your guitar. But everybody liked Jimmy Dale, and as he stepped to the mike Alejo grabbed Sandy by the hand.
"Come on, senorita, let's do it," he said with a flash of big white teeth. Sandy welcomed the opportunity to get lost for awhile. Alejo moved her around as Jimmy Dale began to sing.
"I live on a big round ball...I never dream that I might fall...but, even if one day I do....I'll jump right up and smile back at you..." Sandy buried her face under Alejo's chin as he waltzed her around with a Texas two-step.
"Damn you, Billy," she said to herself as her eyes filled. Anita tapped in and sent Alejo to the bar. She wrapped her arms around Sandy as the song went on. They stood there swaying ever so slightly as the song went on.
"I don't even know where we are...they'll tell you we're circling a distant star...well, I'll take their word, I don't know....but, I'm dizzy, so it must be so."

There were lots of people there that Sandy knew. And people who knew Billy. But by now few stopped to ask how Billy was doing. It was too much for most to contemplate - the realm of the living dead.


The place had a familiar musty smell to it. And the ceiling throbbed with the bass beat of a raucous music overhead. And the sounds of boots and heels. The sound of a rolling bottle across a wooden floor and breaking along some wall somewhere he could not see. He felt the damp cold stone with his hands as he moved scared along the wall to the corner, and then another wall. Another corner. A door. He fumbled for the knob. Turning and yanking on it desperately. Hr felt a scream echoing in his head.
"Sandy!!!" But his lips couldn't move.



Billy stumbled around the basement, groping about in the utter blackness with frantic hands. There was a shuffling sound of boots on the basement floor. He turned anxiously toward the direction of the sound.
"Who's there?"
"Its me. Jack. Aren't there any lights down here?"
"I don't know," Billy answered. Jack's voice sounded strangely familiar but he couldn't quite place it. There was a sudden loud scraping sound across the floor.
"What's that?" he said.
"It's a table," Jack replied. "Walk toward my voice." Then suddenly there was light. And there stood Jack beneath the overhead bulb pulling a chair away from the table and sitting down.
"Who are you?" Billy asked again.
"You know me, Billy," Jack smiled. "You're just confused right now."
"What are you doing here?" Billy stammered.
Jack chuckled.
"I was about to ask you the same thing."
"I don't know," Billy muttered. "I don't know where I am. Or how I got here. I don't even know you."
"Of course you know me Billy. Think back. Remember 4th grade? Remember how we used to play games in your backyard that summer?"
Billy sat down at the table across from Jack.
"What games?"
"Oh, we played all kinds of games. Kick the Can. Hide and Go Seek. Treasure Island. All kinds of games," Jack answered.
"You're my imaginary friend?" Billy said staring over at him. Jack nodded with a smile.
"Yep, that's me. You called me Jack. Remember now?" Billy nodded.
"But, you're all grown up now," Billy said. Jack laughed.
"Yeh, its been a long time. You've grown up a bit yourself. Do you remember Violet?"
Billy looked puzzled.
"Violet? I don't remember anyone named Violet."
"You don't remember Violet, your imaginary girl friend you were always having fantasies about?" Jack said. Billy shook his head.
"No. What did she look like?" he asked.
"Well, she had a long blonde ponytail, and lots of freckles. She used to play with us sometimes. You used to talk about her all the time. Remember when she let you look under her dress?"
"Oh, yes," Billy said, looking off into a dark corner of the basement. "Violet. My dream girl."
"Exactly," Jack replied. "Whatever happened to Violet?"
"I don't know," Billy said. "She just disappeared one day. Just like you did."
"I was always there when you needed me Billy," Jack said. "In fact, I was only there when you needed someone to play with. And after awhile you forgot about me. I guess Violet disappeared the same way."
"So, why are you here now?" Billy asked. Jack shrugged.
"I don't know. I guess because you need me."
"Where's Violet?" Billy asked, looking around.
"Damn if I know," Jack answered. "Why don't you call her?"
"Violet!" Billy shouted. "Violet?" The bulb overhead flickered and went out.
"Jack? Are you there? Oh no." He put his head down on the table and sobbed. "Help me, please," he cried. The music from the room overhead faded into silence. And then there was just the blackness again.


Sandy stood beside Billy's bed and bent down over him.
"Billy?" she said, lightly patting his chest. She rang for the nurse. "Billy is crying." The nurse held Billy's wrist and looked down at her watch. Then she glanced up to the E.E.G. screen.
"Is he hurting?" Sandy asked nervously.
"No. She pointed to the screen. "It appears he has been dreaming. And now," she added as the wave patterns changed and slowed down, he's going into a restful sleep. He might have had a bad dream."
"Do you think he will ever wake up?" Sandy said, as she wiped Billy's tear-stained face with a tissue.
"That's hard to say Sandy," the nurse replied. "Some weeks ago, his wave patterns were close to a vegetative state. And if that trend had continued he would have become irreversibly brain-dead. But, the good news here, is that we are picking up more fluctuations in the E.E.G. readings now. And occasionally these are as high up as alpha waves. At least, for short periods."
"What does that mean?" Sandy asked, as she stared at the monitor.
"Well," the nurse said as she tidied up Billy's bed. "It means brief periods of rational thought. Most often though, he appears to be in a state of theta, or as with dreaming, delta. Whether he will one day fully awaken is still an unknown. For now Sandy, you should take comfort in knowing that Billy's mind, even though in a coma of sorts, is processing in a robust way. Periods of thought, imaginings, dreams, deep and dreamless sleep, and so on. She turned to look at Sandy and smiled. "I would imagine there are times when Billy is thinking of you." The nurse patted her arm sympathetically and left the room. Sandy leaned over the bed and caressed Billy's face.
"Are you thinking about me Billy? I'm still here. Waiting for you to come back.



Billy stumbled around the basement, groping about in the utter blackness with frantic hands. There was a shuffling sound of boots on the basement floor. He turned anxiously toward the direction of the sound.
"Who's there?"
"Its me. Jack. Aren't there any lights down here?"
"I don't know," Billy answered. Jack's voice sounded strangely familiar but he couldn't quite place it. There was a sudden loud scraping sound across the floor.
"What's that?" he said.
"It's a table," Jack replied. "Walk toward my voice." Then suddenly there was light. And there stood Jack beneath the overhead bulb pulling a chair away from the table and sitting down.
"Who are you?" Billy asked again.
"You know me, Billy," Jack smiled. "You're just confused right now."
"What are you doing here?" Billy stammered.
Jack chuckled.
"I was about to ask you the same thing."
"I don't know," Billy muttered. "I don't know where I am. Or how I got here. I don't even know you."
"Of course you know me Billy. Think back. Remember 4th grade? Remember how we used to play games in your backyard that summer?"
Billy sat down at the table across from Jack.
"What games?"
"Oh, we played all kinds of games. Kick the Can. Hide and Go Seek. Treasure Island. All kinds of games," Jack answered.
"You're my imaginary friend?" Billy said staring over at him. Jack nodded with a smile.
"Yep, that's me. You called me Jack. Remember now?" Billy nodded.
"But, you're all grown up now," Billy said. Jack laughed.
"Yeh, its been a long time. You've grown up a bit yourself. Do you remember Violet?"
Billy looked puzzled.
"Violet? I don't remember anyone named Violet."
"You don't remember Violet, your imaginary girl friend you were always having fantasies about?" Jack said. Billy shook his head.
"No. What did she look like?" he asked.
"Well, she had a long blonde ponytail, and lots of freckles. She used to play with us sometimes. You used to talk about her all the time. Remember when she let you look under her dress?"
"Oh, yes," Billy said, looking off into a dark corner of the basement. "Violet. My dream girl."
"Exactly," Jack replied. "Whatever happened to Violet?"
"I don't know," Billy said. "She just disappeared one day. Just like you did."
"I was always there when you needed me Billy," Jack said. "In fact, I was only there when you needed someone to play with. And after awhile you forgot about me. I guess Violet disappeared the same way."
"So, why are you here now?" Billy asked. Jack shrugged.
"I don't know. I guess because you need me."
"Where's Violet?" Billy asked, looking around.
"Damn if I know," Jack answered. "Why don't you call her?"
"Violet!" Billy shouted. "Violet?" The bulb overhead flickered and went out.
"Jack? Are you there? Oh no." He put his head down on the table and sobbed. "Help me, please," he cried. The music from the room overhead faded into silence. And then there was just the blackness again.


Violet descended the dark stairs timidly. She held on tightly to the iron railing with one hand while tugging her tight skirt up with the other to feel for the next invisible step.
"Shit," she muttered as her foot sent a bottle tumbling and breaking somewhere below in the darkness. "What am I doing here anyway, Billy?" she said to herself. There was the heavy bass throb of a band playing as she made her way down to Big Hair's basement, the hideout, as Billy once called it. At the bottom she slid her hand along a wooden door feeling for the knob. "Locked!" She banged the door with her fist. "Hey Billy, let me in! Its me, Violet." There was no answer. She looked up at the night sky as a cloud slowly drifted by to reveal the moon. She sat down on the bottom step. "Damn it, Billy. Where are you?"

Violet jumped at the sound of a voice from inside. "Is that you Violet?"
"Yes. Open the door, damn it. It's getting cold out here." The door swung slowly open dragging stubbornly across a concrete floor. She looked at the dark profile standing there in the shadow of the dangling bulb behind him. "Billy?"
"Hi Violet."
"You're not Billy," she said, upon hearing the voice.
"No. I'm Jack. I don't know where Billy is. He was here a little while ago, then he just disappeared. Come on in." Violet stepped into the basement.
"Do I know you?" Violet asked, as she began to make out Jack's features.
"Well, sorta," Jack answered. "Let's just say we're mutual friends of Billy's from long ago. He used to talk about you a lot."
"So, you're an old friend of Billy's?" Violet asked with a puzzled look on her face.
"Well, yes," Jack replied. "In the same sense that you are, anyway."
And in what sense would that be?" she asked.
"In the imaginary sense, Violet."
"I don't get it," Violet said.
"Come on and sit down. I'll try to explain it. Maybe Billy will come back in awhile."


"When's the last time you saw Billy, Violet?" Jack asked as they took a seat at the table.
"I don't know. Its been years. We were both just kids."
"Did you see him a lot back then?" Jack asked.
"Well, really just when he wanted," Violet answered.
"When he wanted what?"
"When he wanted to play with me. Whenever he wanted me, I was there." Jack nodded.
"Same with me. Except, I think he wanted us in different ways."
"What do you mean?" Violet asked.
"Well look, Violet, you remember what he wanted you for, don't you?"
"You mean the sex games?" Violet asked. "We were just kids. It was all pretty innocent."
"Let me guess," Jack said. "He would ask to see your private parts. Pull your panties down. That kind of thing."
"Well yeh. Maybe a little more. Touching. Kissing. But, we were just kids," Violet said.
"Well, that's almost right," Jack replied.
"What do you mean almost?"
"I mean it was Billy that was the kid. The little boy wanting to know about girls. He was shy, though. But he had a good imagination. So, he imagined you. Probably in his bed while he was playing with himself."
"But, it seemed so real," Violet said in a confused voice. "Like it felt like he was really touching me. Running his hands over me. Kissing me."
"Like I say, Billy had a good imagination."
"How do you know these things?" Violet asked.
"Because Billy would tell me about you. His dream girl. Of course, he was sort of dreaming me up too, so don't feel alone."
"So you are trying to sit here and tell me that I am not real? That you are not real? That we are not having this conversation?" Violet said.
"Look Violet, we are only as real as Billy wants us to be. As real as he imagines us to be, and only when he imagines us to be."
"That's crazy!" Violet stammered. "Look at me. I'm flesh and blood," she said, standing up and staring at Jack. "I picked this skirt, this blouse to wear because I was coming here tonight." Jack sat there smiling at Violet.
"Its hard to wrap your brain around, I know. But, I've been sitting here thinking about it. Its the only possible answer. You're here, because Billy brought you here in his mind. And he picked out even the clothes you're wearing."
"You are out of your fucking mind!" Violet yelled.
"Violet sit down. Listen to me. Just hear me out, ok?" Jack said. Violet sat back down at the table shaking her head in disbelief.
"Look. It's been years since you saw Billy, right?"
"So tell me Violet, between the last time you saw Billy when you were just kids, and this moment right here right now, what have you been doing?" Violet sat there staring at her hands clasped together on the table.
"God Damn it!" she suddenly shouted, slapping herself in the face. "I just felt that!" Jack nodded.
"I'm sure you did. Billy wanted you to feel it," Jack replied. "But Violet, answer my question. Where have you been all these years?" Violet burst into tears.
"I don't know," she sobbed. "I don't know where I've been." Jack reached out across the table and took her hands.
"Its the same with me, Violet, he said softly. "I don't know where I've been either since those days so long ago when Billy and I used to play in his back yard."
Violet took a big breath and looked over at Jack.
"So," Violet said in a faltering breath. "You were Billy's pal...And I was his girlfriend...But we only lived in his head...?" Jack nodded. Violet pulled her hands away and stood again.
"I felt your hands holding mine, Jack!" she yelled. "Don't tell me I didn't feel that!" Jack remained unflustered.
"You felt my hands holding your hands because Billy imagined it. Just now. In this moment." Violet pulled at her hair in anguish. "Oh God!" she screamed as she ran frantically for the door and yanked on it. It wouldn't budge. She fell to the floor in a heap crying hysterically. Jack knelt down and picked her up in his arms. "Why?" she cried. "Why am I here in the basement of Big Hair's?" Jack caressed her face, brushing back her hair.
"We're not in the basement of Big Hair's, Violet," he said softly. "We are inside Billy's head, and he doesn't know where he is." Violet buried her face against Jack's chest. Jack sat there on the floor rocking Violet gently in his arms. "Let me tell you about one day when Billy and I were playing back then," Jack whispered. "We were charging about the back yard brandishing swords. We were thrusting and swinging our swords about. Up against some impossible odds. Outnumbered. Billy looked at me and said, "Take heart, my loyal friend for nothing must stop us now. We must find Princess Violet at all cost." That was the last time Billy and I played together. The last time he imagined me." Violet, cradled in Jack's arms, looked up at him.
"He called me Princess Violet?" Jack nodded. She reached a hand up to Jack's face. Caressed it. "You seem so real Jack," she said. "Kiss me Jack." Jack kissed her knowing it was only because Billy imagined it to go this way.


Sandy was sitting beside Billy's bed chattering on, talking to Billy as though he could hear her.
"Remember Black Rock Canyon, Billy? That one day we all drove out there? Remember that? Going down that red dirt road right after a rain. The dirt had turned to wet sloppy clay. We were slipping and sliding all over the place. Then we had to get out and push, and we were all a big muddy mess. Remember that? We looked like crazy people. And then we went down into the canyon, and it hadn't rained a drop. And there was all those dead tree limbs in a pile, and you said it looked like a pile of bones. Remember that?

Dr. Bell came into the room with a smile.
"I thought I saw you come in, how are you Sandy?"
"I'm ok," Sandy answered. "I was just talking to Billy. I mean, I know he can't hear me, but..." Dr. Bell nodded.
"That's ok. Its good to talk about things. And who knows? Maybe Billy might regain some of his awareness. He might actually hear you one day."
"Do you really think so?" Sandy said. She watched as he looked at the various readings on Billy's charts.
"Well, I think its important to hope so. As long as there is hope then we continue to look for new ways to work with this kind of trauma. Research goes on around the world every day, new discoveries are made all the time. Research for instance on stimulating the regeneration of damaged or severed nerves, for instance. Even research to somehow create or manufacture synthetic neural circuits, and so on. So, we always have to keep hoping. Hoping makes things happen. Sometimes, even impossible things."
"I was just talking to Billy about a time we went out to Black Rock Canyon. We spent the night there," Sandy said.
"Oh yes," Dr. Bell said. "I've been there many a time. Its a beautiful place."
"It really is," Sandy said. "And it was a perfectly starry night. There were millions of stars."
Dr. Bell smiled, "Yes, all the gods come out on nights like that."
"The gods?" Sandy replied.
"The constellations. The ancient mind was full of gods, they saw gods in everything. Particularly, the heavens, the stars."
"They had a lot more gods back then than we have today, didn't they?" Sandy mused.
"Yes," Dr. Bell answered. "Life today is still full of mysteries yet to solve. But it was even more so, back then when early consciousness was still just emerging. People saw gods in everything. Gods talked to them. Gods were in their heads. Gods talked to gods. It was earliest man's way of thinking."
"You mean a person didn't even know it was himself thinking things?" Sandy asked.
"Not really. In the order of things, consciousness emerged first, then later self awareness came along, and eventually self-centeredness. The ego."
"How do you know all this stuff, Dr.Bell?" He shrugged as he closed Billy's charts and looked at Sandy.
"Well, you grow up, you study one thing or another. You start thinking about the puzzles in life. So, you study some more. And the more you study, the more puzzles you see. Knowledge is the source of mystery." Sandy opened her journal and scribbled that down.
"Knowledge is the source of mystery" she said as she wrote.
"Of course, its the other way around too, isn't it?" Dr. Bell added. "Mystery is the source of knowledge." Sandy continued to write, nodding excitedly.
"Sandy," Dr. Bell said, as he prepared to go on with his rounds. "Are you planning to go to college?"
"I don't know. I'd sorta like to," Sandy answered.
"Well, I really think you should, of course. You are bright. You have a healthy curiosity. You want answers. The world needs more people like that."
Sandy nodded.
"I guess I feel Billy needs me most right now," she said.
"Indeed he does. And I bet he would like for you to go on and get your education, don't you think?" Sandy looked over to Billy and nodded.
"Yes. He probably would. I will Dr. Bell. One of these days. I promise."
The doctor left and Sandy scooted her chair up closer to Billy's bed. She rested her hand on his arm.
"Dr. Bell thinks I should go to college, Billy," she whispered. "Do you think I should go to college?"


"I am awake. In blackness. No, much darker than that. A sea of black water. No, thicker than water. Am I dead? Have I been buried? Is that the pressure on me? Six feet underground? How can I be thinking, if I am dead? Is this what hell is? To be dead and think thoughts that get swallowed by some emptiness? There is some sense I can't put my finger on. I don't even know where my fingers are. But, some kind of pulse. Have I been buried alive? Fuck you, God! Is this your punishment for me thinking you were an egomaniac? I thought it was supposed to be all about fire and brimstone, and endless burning. But tar? Is that all you could come up with? If you know everything, you should have known I eat tar. I chew it like bubble gum. If you are such a 'know-it-all, you should remember how on a summer day I would scoop tar from the cracks in the street. Warm and gooey tar. I would hold it in my hand and lick it. I would chew on it. This is your best shot? You're pathetic."


Jack and Violet lay huddled on the floor, not knowing what to do other than be together in the vacuum Billy had put them in.
"What was that?" Violet said quietly. Jack sat up and looked around the dark basement.
"Probably a rat," he said laying back down. Violet jumped up.
"God damn it Billy, how could you do this to me?" She peered into the darkness of Billy's head. "Its over in that corner," she said, as some sound so small, yet so loud was heard again. Jack sat up and then stood.
"I'll turn the light on," he said. "It will go away, whatever it is." He stepped off into the darkness of the room, his arms moving left and right, up and down. He found the table and reached up for the dangling light bulb. He pulled on the string. The light came on. And there stood Billy.

Violet sat up on the floor and stared into the dark corner as Billy slowly stumbled into the light.
"Billy?" she said, rising to her feet.
"How did I wind up here again?" Billy said, looking around as though in a daze.
"Billy," Jack said. "Violet's here. Remember you called for her?"
"Violet?" Billy said, squinting his eyes as though the light hurt. Violet walked slowly over to him.
"Its me, Billy," she said, reaching up to feel his face.
"Violet?" Billy repeated.
"Yes," Violet said, taking his arm. "Come Billy, sit down. We're here for you."
"To take me home?" Billy mumbled.
"Yeh Billy, to take you home," Jack said. "If we can figure out how to get there."
Violet helped Billy into the chair by the table.
"Violet?" Billy repeated.
"Yes Billy," she said, sitting down on his lap and cupping her face in his hands. "Its me. Violet." Billy looked into her eyes.
"Where are we?" he said weakly.
"We're in Big Hair's basement," Violet said. Billy looked around the room bewildered.
"How did we get here?" he stammered.
"You brought us here, Billy," Jack said, sitting down at the table and looking over at him. Here to the basement. Inside your head. We're all here in your head. You, me, Violet."
"In my head?" Billy repeated. Violet hugged his neck and laid her head on his shoulder.
"Yes, Billy. We're all stuck here inside your head," she said softly.
"But...but, why?"
"That's what we have to figure out, Billy," Jack said. "Why you are stuck inside your head. And why we are stuck here with you." Billy began to laugh hysterically with tears rolling down his cheek. Violet caressed him, wiped his tears.
"Its ok Billy. We'll figure it out."
"I'm right here, Billy."
"Kiss me Violet." Jack stood and walked away from the table and leaned into the shadow of the wall as Violet kissed Billy. He listened to their breathing and their murmuring voices as he slumped to the floor and fell asleep.


Some month or more passed. Sandy marked each day off on a calendar and maintained her patient vigil at Billy's bedside. She was nearing the end of her second journal of scribbled writings since the nightmare began some four months ago, or so.

"An eternity it seems. Some day Billy will wake up," she wrote. "I just know he will. He wouldn't leave me here alone, held captive by cruel fate. Someday my prince will come. I'm waiting for you Billy," she said aloud as she wrote it down. She underlined the sentence over and over. She closed her book and stood. "See you tomorrow Billy," she said softly as she bent over his bed and kissed his cheek.

For untold days and hours Billy knew of time passing only by this sense of his pulse ticking away the minutes with a lub-dubbing rhythm that rose and fell, and echoed off the walls in the basement where he found himself spending more and more time. He sat around the table playing cards with Jack and Violet, and talking about the basement door to the outside world and why it was sealed so tightly. Sometimes they slept in a huddle on a mattress in the corner. And Jack had a way of disappearing when Billy needed to have Violet for himself. Still there were times he was alone and lost in the tar pit.


Violet and Jack sat at the table in the basement beneath the dangling bulb, sipping wine that Billy had brought in upon his last visit.
"I don't get it," Violet complained. "He come stumbling in and out of here mumbling god-knows what, then disappears again. Meanwhile we're stuck in this fucking dungeon."
"You crack me up sometimes Violet," Jack laughed.
"I don't see anything funny about it," Violet said, looking over at Jack with an irritated look on her face. "You think its funny that we're trapped in this stinking basement?"
"Violet, why do you go on that way, talking as though you really exist?"
"Because it is too fucking absurd to be sitting here thinking I'm not even real when I know damn well I'm feeling all sorts of things."
"Ok," Jack said, starting over. "I'll take that back. You're real. But you are not who you think you are."
"What's that supposed to mean? I'm not me, Violet?"
"Yes, you're Violet," Jack answered. "But only because Billy gave you that name. And you're real because when Billy imagines you, he thinks you are real."
"I can't believe you just said that," Violet said.
"I didn't say anything," Jack replied. "Well, ok, yes, I said it. But only because Billy imagined me saying it."
"So, why isn't Billy here, speaking for himself?" Violet said, picking up the bottle.
"Because for some reason, Billy doesn't remember who he is. But he remembered me. And he remembered you. Think about it, Violet. When Billy wanders in here, its as though he doesn't know how he got here. He's confused about everything."
"So how come you know all this?" Violet asked. She passed the wine across the table to him. Jack shrugged.
"I've just been thinking it all over. Back when Billy was just a kid and you were his imaginary girl friend, did Billy ever mention me to you?"
"No. I didn't know anything about you until we wound up here in this hole."
"Well, Billy did talk to me about you back then. Sorta bragging about getting in your pants. Its a guy thing, I guess. But I never saw you, or met you. And he didn't have any pictures of you to show me. After a while, I just figured he was making you up. That you were a fantasy he was having because he was starting to get hard-ons and needed a girl to help him get off."
"You're disgusting," Violet sneered.
"Maybe so, but you know its true," Jack retorted. He took a drink from the bottle. "Anyway, once it occurred to me that you were just some jerk-off fantasy of his, it dawned on me that maybe I was just a fantasy too. After all, I had no other friends. I was just there when Billy wanted to play adventure games in the back yard. Just like you were only there when he wanted sex."
"Oh well, whatever" Violet said, with a dismissive gesture of her hand. "What I want to know is what are we doing here now? And why in this basement you claim is actually Billy's head?"
"Well, now we are getting somewhere," Jack said. "That's the key question, isn't it? Billy can hardly imagine himself, yet somehow he imagines us."
"So, has he lost his mind, or what?" Violet asked.
"That's another good question," Jack replied. "Just look around, Violet. Go along with me and look around as though you are in Billy's head. What do you see?"
"Not much of anything," Violet answered bitterly. "Its a cold, damp, smelly basement. There's the mattress on the floor for when he wants to fuck. This table and chairs. I'm here. You're here. Billy shows up now and then. And the damn door won't open."
Yes," Jack answered. "That's the picture. This empty cave, and you and me, are about all that's left of Billy's mind."
"So, Billy has lost his mind and we are trapped inside a lunatic, is that it?" Violet said.
"I don't know if he's gone crazy, Violet. But something is obviously wrong. At least he's not dead. Because if he was dead, we'd be dead too."
"So," Violet said. "We are stuck inside of some crazy guy's head. What if he imagines you killing me? Or me killing you?"
"Well, then we are really into some deep shit, and Billy has clearly lost it." Violet looked suddenly off into a dark corner of the room. "Did you just hear something?" Jack followed her gaze.
"Is that you, Billy?" he called out.


Sandy and Anita made the hour long drive over to San Antonio. They would go see Billy and then spend the afternoon going in and out of the shoppes along the river walk.
"I'm happy today," Anita said as they drove along.
"Why I wonder?" Sandy said. "Did you and Alejo shack up last night?" Anita laughed.
"Well, yes. We did, in fact. But I mean I'm happy right now, that we're hanging out and going into town together. We haven't done that in awhile. I've been missing you, Sandy." Sandy frowned.
"I know. I've been missing you too." Sandy stared at the skyline of the city as she drove. Anita turned on the car seat and reached out to brush Sandy's hair back with her hand.
"I wish it was like before," Sandy said. "It seems my whole life changed that day."
"Everybody's lives changed that day," Anita replied. "But for you most of all, I guess." Sandy shook her head.
"No, it changed most for Billy."

Anita sat silently by the window in the hospital room watching Sandy bent over Billy's bed talking to him.
"Anita's here, Billy," she said, caressing his face. She gestured to Anita to come over.
"Hi Billy," she said, looking down at him. "Alejo wants to know when you're going to go dove hunting with him again." She patted his arm and then walked back to her chair. She sat down and looked out the window. She bit her lip nervously. "This is hard. This is really fucking hard," she thought to herself.

They strolled along the river walk, going in and out of quaint stores and tourist shops. Anita bought a 'Remember the Alamo' bumper sticker for Alejo. They sat out on the veranda at Jack's Cuppa Jo Joint sipping iced lattes.
"Dr. Bell thinks I should go see a psychologist," Sandy said. He gave me this woman's number."
"I think you should go, Sandy," Anita said. "Look at all the stuff you are dealing with. All the stuff inside you."
"Yeh, maybe," Sandy replied.
"I'll go with you Sandy, if you want," Anita said. "You keep writing everything down in your journals, but your journals can't talk back, or help you think things through."
"I know. I think I write in them so when Billy wakes up he will know how much I was thinking about him all along."
"I get that," Anita said. "I totally get that. But, what about you? I mean, think about it. I think Dr. Bell is telling you something. He's a doctor, for Christ's sake. I think you should go talk to this woman. She's a shrink. She knows stuff about how the mind works. Your mind. Billy's mind. I think you should go."
"Ok," Sandy said. "I'll think about it."
"No, that's not good enough Sandy," Anita said. "I want you to go. Billy would want you to go, for crying out loud."
"Ok, damn it," Sandy said. "I'll go."

They drove home to Hondo car-dancing to a song by Cafe Tacuba on the radio, and stopped in Iriquois for Tacos and cokes at Amy's Taqueria, a drive-in.
"Billy's lost lots of weight, hasn't he?" Anita commented, as they pulled away.
"Yeh," Sandy nodded somberly.


"Is that you Billy?" Jack called out again. Out of the blackness in that corner in the basement, Billy emerged.
"Mom? Sandy?" he stammered. Violet stood and walked over to him.
"It's me, Billy. Violet. It's me and Jack."
"You and Jack?" he said, staring blankly at her. "And Billy?"
"You're Billy," Jack said.
"I'm Billy?" he repeated.
"Yeh. You're Billy," Jack said. "Have you checked your I.D. lately?" he said jokingly. Violet shot Jack a hard glance. Billy fumbled for the wallet in his back pocket. Violet took the wallet from his hands and pulled out the driver's license.
"Look, see this picture? That's you."
"That's me?"
"Yes, that's you. Billy Jameson."
"Who's Billy Jameson?" Billy said.
"You. You're Billy Jameson," Jack said.
"So, where the hell are we?" Billy mumbled. "Why did you bring me here?" he said, looking about the basement. Violet reached for Billy's face with both hands.
"Billy look at me," she said. "We didn't bring you here. Its the other way around."
"Shit Violet. This sucks. We need to get out of here."
"Yeh," Jack said. "We need to get out of here. But we don't know how to get out."
"Well, we need to figure out how to," Billy said, looking around at what was left of his mind. "Because this place is a dump. Uh oh," he said, as he faded back into the tar pit. Violet stared into the empty black corner.
"What the fuck just happened?" she said, turning to Jack.
"He's lost to something," Jack muttered. "And its like he just had what an alcoholic might call, an existential moment of clarity."
"You're way over my head, Jack," Violet said, taking a seat at the table again. Jack sat down across from her. He reached for Violet's hand and held it in both of his.
"Let's take this a step at a time. Something, I don't know what, has screwed up Billy's head to the point he can only think briefly. And when he does, he's at a loss. He scarcely knows who he is."
"So, now what?" Violet said.
"Think about it Violet. He somehow managed to imagine us. To bring us back from those childhood fantasies. And he just showed up here and said we've got to figure out how to get out of here. I think that's what he wants us to do."
"This is beyond me Jack. He didn't invent me to think. He invented me to fuck. and now, he's not even here." They sat there in silence for several minutes, maybe longer. Violet looked up at Jack. "Do you want to fuck me, Jack?"
"The fact that you just asked me that, means Billy thinks its a good idea," Jack replied. They stood and held hands and walked slowly over to the mattress on the floor against the wall.


Sandy and Anita sat on the side of the bed in their pajamas passing a joint back and forth. Anita, on a buzz, fell back on the mattress laughing as Sandy got up and danced to the sound of the music on the player. Some dark and moody alternative band.
"Damn, girl," Anita said, watching Sandy's slow motion gyrations on the carpet. Girls will be girls. Sandy lip-synched the lyrics, staring at Anita in all seriousness.

"Slow,the way the soul takes wing at times,
Mysterious the places that it flies
Unthinkable that it could ever go away
Vanish forever from your eyes.

Relentlessly the minutes seem to tick away
A heart beats in the darkness round your eyes
Impossible realities fly in your face
Love becomes a demon in disguise..."


"I love you, Sandy," Billy whispered, sucking on her lips.
"I'm not Sandy, Billy," she said. Violet was helpless in the moment since Billy had invented her this way in his mind long ago. "You are fucking with my head Billy." Jack sat watching from a shadowy corner.
"It must be hard to be in love with someone knowing you are just a figment of their imagination," he thought, as he listened to Violet's protests. She clung to him as he shuddered through his final thrusts, and called out Sandy's name one more time before disappearing again into his darkness. Violet cleaned herself up with a tissue and put her clothes on.
"I don't know how much longer I can take this," she muttered.
"I hate to tell you, Violet," Jack said, as he sat down at the table again. "But you will take it as long as he imagines it. And so will I. Any phantom in anyone's mind would tell you the same."
"So, why doesn't he just imagine a phantom Sandy, and leave me out of this mess?" she muttered.
"The way I figure it," Jack replied, "Is that Billy can't remember what Sandy looked like. So far, he is just remembering the name. In his confusion he's pinned her name on you."
"Well, I don't like being Sandy," Violet said.
"But you do want out of here, don't you?" Jack answered.
"Hell yes! Don't you?"
"I'd definitely like out," Jack answered. "But you have a better chance then I do."
"How do you figure?" Violet said, sitting down across from him.
"Well, the more he thinks of you as Sandy, the more Violet disappears. He was just fucking you and calling you Sandy, wasn't he? But you keep trying to tell him you are Violet. You told him he was fucking with your head. But it's the other way around. When you try to protect yourself as Violet, you are blocking your own way out of this hell hole."
"So what are you saying? You're tripping me out with all this abstract shit," Violet said.
"I'm saying that the more he thinks of you as Sandy, the less you will be Violet."
"How do you come up with this shit?" Violet replied.
"Think about it, damn it!" Jack said, as he stood and began pacing the room. "Sandy is the key to that door. The more he believes you are Sandy, the more you are out of here!" Violet slammed her hand down on the table angrily.
"How am I supposed to pretend to be Sandy when I don't even know who the hell Sandy is?"
"Well, for starters, 'Miss Fuck Bunny' you can quit tying to convince him you are Violet!" Jack shouted back. Violet buried her face in her hands.
"I can't believe you just called me that," she sobbed. Jack went over to her and stood behind her. He wrapped his arms around her.
"I'm sorry I said that," he said softly.
"It's true though," Violet cried. "He made me to fuck me. I don't know what else to do."
"I know," Jack answered, caressing her. "Maybe that's why I am here."
"What do you mean?" Violet said, running her hands along Jack's arms as he hugged her.
"Maybe...," Jack whispered, "...Maybe I'm here to help you help him remember who Sandy was, or is. And, if he can remember that, maybe we'll both disappear. He might find his way back to the real world if we can help him."
"Then where would we be?" Violet said.
"Somewhere in the back of Billy's mind I guess."
"Would I know you there?" she asked.
"Maybe. If Billy wants it that way," Jack replied.
"Would you want it that way?"
"I wish Billy wanted you to kiss me," Violet said.
"I think Billy wants me to kiss you right now as a matter of fact," Jack replied. "Look Violet, if he shows up again just try to be Sandy. That's your ticket out. Maybe mine too. If Billy can make it back to Sandy and the world outside, you and I are home free. He'll throw us back into some subconscious part of his brain. It may take awhile to find you back there, but I will."
"How can you be so sure when its all up to him?" she said.
"It's not up to him back there. Back there is like the wild west. It's sketchy and changing. But, I promise I will find you." With that they kissed. They held hands walking toward the mattress, too tired for sex.


Sandy and Anita laid on the bed together, facing each other and talking quietly.
"Dr. Bell thinks Billy is talking to someone inside his head. Maybe me," Sandy said.
Anita smiled.
"That's good, isn't it?"
"I think so," Sandy answered. "Like maybe he is remembering me."
"He's probably remembering what a good fuck you were," Anita laughed. Sandy reached out and shoved her playfully.
"Get out of here!" She giggled. Anita pushed back.
"You get out of here," she replied. "Alejo told me that Billy told him you were the hottest thing on the planet!"
"Get out of here!" Sandy exclaimed again.
"I swear on the holy mother of God that's what he said Billy told him," Anita said.
Sandy nestled into her pillow again, squeezing it in her arms.
"I miss Billy so bad," she said.
"Duh," Anita replied. "If you want, I can call Alejo and tell him to come over and put it to you. He may not be Billy, but he's pretty damn good!"
"Anita, are you out of your mind?!" Sandy giggled, burying her face in her pillow at the thought.
"I'm just saying, he'd probably like to know what it's like to score a little something with the hottest thing on the planet. I wouldn't mind if he did it. In fact, I could use a break!"
"Anita! Get outa here!" Sandy said, laughing and pushing her again.
"No, you get outa here!" Anita answered, pushing back. They fell asleep hugging each other.


Sandy sat down in the chair next to Billy's bed.
"Hi Billy," she said, pausing as though he might reply. "Guess what?" She paused again, and looked over at him. "I wrote a story. A story about us. Would you like to hear it?" She paused again. "You promise you won't laugh? Ok, then," she said, opening her notebook on her lap. "It's called Our Story."

Once upon a time there was this girl named Sandy. She was just an ordinary girl. Nothing special. Even her dreams were boring. Then one day she saw him. Her heart fluttered.
"I wish he would look at me," she thought. And then, he did. And he smiled. She almost fainted. And then he started walking toward her across the school cafeteria.
"Can I sit here?" he said, nodding at the seat at the table across from her. She nodded nervously, since he was even more handsome up close. He laid his tray down on the table and sat down. "Hi. My name is Billy," he smiled. (As if every girl in school didn't already know that this new guy named Billy had enrolled in their school.)
"My name is Saundra," she said, trying to make it sound fancy. Billy chuckled.
"Is that what everybody calls you? Saundra?" He had seen through her right away.
"Well actually, everybody just calls me Sandy," she said, feeling the warmth of her cheeks blushing.
"I like the name Sandy," he said. "It reminds me of the beaches and the surf rolling in. Every sandy beach is like a cup full of ocean." Sandy felt faint again and like she was about to wet her panties.
"I'll be right back," she said. She hurried off to the bathroom. She sat there in the stall peeing. "He just called me a cup full of ocean," she said to herself. It was the most romantic thing anyone had ever said to her in her life. He just sat down there and said, "Hi. My name is Billy, and you are a cup full of ocean." She stood in front of the mirror, brushing her hair. "Oh my god!" she said to her reflection. "Don't you blow this Sandy! Don't you dare blow this!" She walked back into the cafeteria, but by then, he was gone.

Sandy looked over at Billy.
"That's as far as I've gotten. Do you like it so far? Really? You're not just saying that? Ok then, I will write some more, and come back tomorrow." She stood and bent over his bed and kissed his cheek.
"Sweet dreams, Billy," she whispered.


"Sandy?!" Billy cried from some dark place.
"I'm right here baby," Violet answered.
"Do it angel," Jack whispered to Violet on the mattress. Jack crawled away into a corner. Billy approached her.
"Come here baby," Violet said, holding up her arms. Violet kissed him, trying to be Sandy, somehow. He fell into her embrace. "Fuck me Billy like that first night," she said.
"What night?" Billy said,in gasping breaths.
"You know," Violet said.
"You mean by the rock?" Billy asked.
"Yes. By the rock," she said, clinging to him as he entered her. Jack sat in the darkness watching. Thinking about the rock. Thinking about when Billy was a kid and first imagined him. Was there ever a rock in their fantasies?
"The rock...the rock...," he kept saying to himself. "What rock?"


Amelia Malm sat at the conference table in Dr. Bell's office with other members of the team that was monitoring and caring for Billy. They had their respective folders open, leafing through pages of data.
"You see on page 49 the aberrant spikes of activity in the E.E.G. read-outs," Dr. Bell began. "They seem suggestive of some kind of internal conversation or dialogue going on. These are periodic and episodic, but of increasing frequency. What do you make of it, Dr. Malm?"
"It would appear to me, that he is having flashbacks of some kind," she replied, studying the page. "Obviously he has periods of alertness and thought. However, such thoughts could be of a hallucinatory nature. A stress disorder in a comatose patient might take such forms as that in the absence of input from the world outside. I have a patient who just returned from Cambodia. He wakes up in the middle of the night standing on his bed trying to wave down a medevac helicopter. His dreams are hallucinatory. He thinks he is back there with a wounded comrade. Billy's case is even more extreme. He has no one to talk it out with."

"Are you saying he is laying there gong slowly insane?" An intern asked.
"I would say he is on the fence," Dr. Malm answered, taking off her glasses and rubbing her eyes. "It's all about the ego. How strong it is, or how fragile. Neurosis is one thing, psychosis is another. If the ego shatters like some egg dropped on the kitchen floor, there is no putting it back together. Remember Humpty Dumpty?" she said casting a glance back to the intern.

"But if he is losing it" the head nurse spoke up. "Who is talking to who inside Billy's brain?"
"Once the ego starts falling apart," Dr. Malm said, closing the folder in front of her. "Lesser quirks of personality can surface as whole other people. Remember Jekyll and Hyde? The Three Faces of Eve? The Three Christs of Ypsilanti? That was an interesting one."
"I don't know about the three Christs," Dr. Bell said.
"It's a case about how tenacious alter-egos can become," Dr. Malm replied. "In an institution in Michigan there were three men sharing the delusion they were Jesus. The team there had the idea of putting them all together in a single environment. The notion being that they would have to each confront the others. Would the real Jesus please stand up? They would break each other down."
"Did it work?" the intern asked.
"Hell, no." Dr. Malm answered. "They hashed it out amongst themselves. Made it possible that they could all be Jesus. This is how tenacious alter-egos can be once the ego breaks."
"I can't wrap my brain around this," the head nurse said.
"They went into collusion with one another," Dr. Malm replied. "The chief psychiatrist interviewed them one at a time. The first told him that mortals can't understand the omnipresence of God. That God can be past, present, and future all at the same time. He insisted he was Jesus, the carpenter's son. The next one then claimed to be Jesus on the cross. The third claimed, of course to be the one resurrected. They had worked it all out amongst themselves. Everyone got the delusion they wanted. They could all be Jesus. At this point there is no way of knowing who is talking to who in Billy's head. Or if anybody is in charge."



Jack and Billy sat at the table in the basement talking quietly as Violet slept on the mattress in the shadows.
"What are you thinking about, Billy?" Jack said.
"I knew you were going to ask me that," Billy said. "I don't know really what I was thinking about. I guess I was thinking something. It's funny the way words come and go. What were you asking me?
"I asked what you were thinking about," Jack replied.
"I was thinking about words," Billy mumbled.
"Any words in particular?" Jack said.
"Like the word, 'sandy," Billy answered. "What does that word mean?"
"I guess it means something that has the quality of sand," Jack said. "Like the color of sand. Or like the way sand feels. Grainy. Sandy could be someone's name."
"Do you know anyone named Sandy?" Billy asked.
"No. But you do," Jack replied.
"I do?" Billy said, with a puzzled look.
"The other night you called Violet 'Sandy'"
"But, she doesn't look sandy," Billy said, peering into the darkness toward Violet.
"That's why I think Sandy is someone else," Jack replied. "Maybe a girlfriend you had since you called Violet Sandy while you were fucking her."
"So, why can't I picture someone named Sandy?" Billy said. Jack shrugged.
"I don't know. But really, Billy, you can't picture much at all these days except this room, and me, and Violet, and this table," Jack said, rapping on the table top with his knuckles.
"Wonder why that is?" Billy said, as though lost in thought.
"You used to imagine all kinds of things, Billy," Jack said. "When you were a kid and you first imagined me, we were pirates in the backyard. We were sailing to an island to bury our treasure. And we were going to rescue Princess Violet. You used to imagine all sorts of things for you and me to do. Do you remember when you were Donny Ray Gun and I was the evil Dr. Zorgo?"
Billy laughed hysterically.
"No. I don't remember that," he said.
"Donny Ray Gun was wandering about the neighborhood trying to discover Dr. Zorgo's cave of evil zombies. If Donny Ray Gun didn't find his secret lair, then Dr. Zorgo would unleash his evil zombies and they would take over the world." Billy laughed again.
"Did I get Dr. Zorgo?"
"Of course you did," Jack replied. "You always made me be the bad guy. In fact, when we were pirates, you made me walk the plank and I got eaten by sharks." Billy's laughter turned to tears suddenly.
"Why can't I remember stuff like that?" he sobbed.
"That's the crazy thing, Billy," Jack answered. "You are remembering such things."
"What do you mean?"
"Well, something has happened to your mind, Billy Some wires got crossed, or short-circuited. You can't imagine those games we played. But, you did imagine me, your imaginary childhood friend here in this room. And I am remembering these things for you, seemingly from some other part of your mind you don't seem conscious of."
"The mind is complicated," Billy said. "So, why can't you imagine Sandy for me?"
"Because if Sandy is some real person, like your girlfriend, I wouldn't know of it. Probably because when you were with her in the real world, you had no reason to imagine me, or to imagine Violet, either. It's just that now, since the real world isn't around, you've brought us back. But we can't imagine anything except those games long ago, and what you imagine about us now. In fact Billy what is happening here right now is completely in your head. You are not even here yourself. You are imagining yourself in this room and imagining me to talk to you. The ral you is somewhere else. Maybe in a hospital bed, who knows?"
"How do you know all this, Jack?"
"I don't. It's some other part of you that knows it. It's you that puts the words in my mouth from another part of your mind. You imagine me to be a person of reason, and so I am. You seem unable to think for yourself, so you have imagined me to think for you. I am doing what I can here, but you haven't given me much to work with. There seems to be only a few things you can even recall of the world outside. Like Sandy. And the Rock."
"What rock?" Billy asked.
"I haven't a clue. Neither does Violet. The other night when you were fucking Violet you kept calling her Sandy. And she said, 'Fuck me Billy, like that first time.' And you said, 'By the Rock?' "
"But what rock?" Billy asked again. Jack shook his head.
"I don't know. But, maybe one day you will remember. Or I will remember for you." Billy got up and walked off into the darkness.
"The rock...What rock?...The rock...What rock?"" he said, repeatedly until he faded from the room.


Dr. Malm sat with a subtle smile on her face, listening to Sandy read "Our Story" to her.
"...and then we made love there beneath the big black rock that night beneath a starry starry sky. And for me, the stars were getting all blurry and whirling 'round and 'round." Sandy looked up from her notebook. "That's as far as I've gotten so far," she said.
"I think it is a wonderful project, Sandy. And your writing seems quite poetic, at times," Dr. Malm said. "Do you enjoy writing?"
"Uh huh," Sandy beamed. "And I read it to Billy when I go see him. Even though I guess he can't really hear me."
"But, it feels good to read it to him, doesn't it?"
"Uh huh."
"You are putting into words things that you took for granted once. Things you perhaps never said aloud before. You are appreciating them anew in your mind."
"Yes, that's it," Sandy replied. "And even though what happened is so awful, it makes me think about how lucky I am to be alive, I guess."
"Yes," Dr. Malm replied. "As though what happened is giving you a new perspective on how precious one's experiences are. A greater appreciation for what each day brings."
"Oh! I have to write that down," Sandy said, opening her notebook again. "If Billy ever does come back I will have so much to tell him," she said, looking back up at Dr. Malm. "Do you think he stands a chance? I know you talk with Dr. Bell a lot and the others there at the hospital. You would tell me if it was hopeless, wouldn't you?" Dr. Malm nodded.
"Yes, I would tell you. I can't tell you things look good. But neither can I say it is hopeless. Many highly specialized people around the world are working on issues regarding the reticular formation. Trying to understand it better. Trying to heal it."
"The reticular formation?" sandy repeated.
"Yes, that's at the heart of Billy's troubles. It experienced some damage in the accident."
"But, what is it?" Sandy asked. "Is it some part of the brain like the frontal lobes?"
"It is way more primitive than that in the evolution of things, Sandy. The reticular formation begins where the spine meets the brain. Everything we experience comes up through the spine, and in the reticular formation those experiences are sent out to various other parts of the brain to be considered. It's a primitive part of our neural evolution, but an important one. It also filters out some sensory data as irrelevant to the moment. Like right now you are sitting here looking at me talking, but other peripheral data is being taken in. The reticular formation disregards these in a way, to allow you to pay attention to what is important."
"So, it like this tree," Sandy said. Things coming up from the spine and branching out."
"That's a fair analogy, Sandy," Dr. Malm replied. "Quite good, actually. Yes, it a bit like a tree. Do you read the bible much, Sandy? Are you a Christian?"
"Well, not really. I mean my parents made me go to Sunday School, and I liked singing the songs, and I thought Jesus was really cool. But, it seemed like a charade of some kind when I went to church. Like everybody was just using it all for their own purposes."
"You should go to college, Sandy. You have a good mind," Dr. Malm observed.
"I know. That's what Dr. Bell said too," Sandy said.
"Do you remember learning about Adam and Eve and the Garden of Eden?" Dr. Malm asked. "Do you remember there were two trees in the garden?"
"Uh huh. There was the Tree of Life and there was The Tree of Knowledge."
"Yes," replied Dr. Malm. "The Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. The forbidden tree. And what happened?"
"They ate from the tree they weren't supposed to," Sandy replied.
"Yes," said Dr. Malm. "A pivotal moment in the evolution of consciousness, if you think about it. To eat of the Tree of Life was to be immortal at least in the sense that, like all other species, you had no sense of time passing or of your own future death. But when they ate from the other tree, that changed everything. Then they knew they would someday die. That provoked questions and choices about how to live."
"That's pretty heavy-duty," Sandy said, studiously.
"It's just my opinion I am giving you, Sandy. People argue both sides of the fence. For some it was the big turning point. For others, it was the fall. But it brings us back to this tree within us. The reticular formation."
"I need to go to college," Sandy said. Dr. Malm smiled.
"I'm not trying to give you all the answers, Sandy. Just some other questions to think about."


Dr. Malm and Dr. Bell sat at popular restaurant near the hospital. Having lunch together was something they talked about doing often, but because of their schedules it didn't happen but every rare now and then. They made their lunch selections quickly. Soup and sandwiches.
"So then, how have you been Eric?" she asked. Eric Bell smiled over at her. There was a certain allure Amelia had. Her speech mannerisms and accent. Her big boned, yet a lean long body. And there was that robust glow of her pale skin seemingly characteristic of Swedes. And she also seemed to have a way of quickly cutting to the chase.
"Busy. Too busy," he replied. "With my client load, the trips back and forth to Washington asking for increased funding for research and so on, it seems I have taken to cat-napping around the clock," he replied.
"I can see that in the darkness around your eyes," she said. "I know I have said it before Eric, but you must take better care of yourself. You have to know your limits."
"You make such a lovely nag, Amelia," he said sarcastically.
"I am a nag. It is true. But your work is important, Eric. If you neglect yourself, you simply will not be able to do it." She shook her finger at him.
"Mark my words, Eric. Soon you will require your own private nurse following you around twenty-four seven to keep you from falling over." Eric laughed.
"Are you trying to tell me you are looking for work, Amelia?" She dismissed his comment with a glance away.
"I can only help those who are willing to help themselves," she replied. She gestured toward the waitress coming with their food. "And now, it is time for you to shut up and eat your lunch." Eric unfolded his napkin and placed it on his lap.
"I do hear you, Amelia. I do." He picked up his spoon and stirred his soup about. "I've been thinking about a whole new way to approach the mind in coma," he said.
"Eric," Amelia interrupted. "I am not even going to talk to you until you have had your lunch." They ate in silence, now and then glancing at one another.


"Amelia, tell me. How is Sandy responding to her sessions with you?" Eric asked, as he sipped his coffee.
"I think she wants very much to get perspective on these events in her life. She seems typical, in some respects, for someone who has experienced an acute stress. A trauma. But, she is quite reflective. She journals a lot. She reads to me some of her memories of her relationship with Billy, and so on."
"Do you think the medications I prescribed for her are having a good effect?" Eric asked.
"Yes," Amelia answered. "In time we can perhaps reduce her dosages as she gets her feet more and more beneath her."
"I have been going over the data regarding Billy's case. And I am thinking about trying some new ways of exploring what is going on in his mind," Eric said.
"Such as?" Amelia prompted.
"To date," Eric said, "We've primarily been maintaining his physical condition, and monitoring the activity in his brain. He, as you know, has periods of remarkable cognitive activity. It's hard to know what to make of it. We can't read his mind."
"No, we can't." Amelia agreed. "We can only hypothesize or speculate. The brain responds in unusual ways to prolonged sensory deprivation."
"And given the damage to the reticular formation which may or may not reverse itself in the form of regeneration," Eric said, "Billy must in ways, be going around inside his mind with many kinds of confused thoughts. Fragments of his history, fleeting memories. And big gaps in all of that. Whether he is recalling more as time goes by, or is merely going around in circles with only a precious few pieces of the puzzle to work with, I couldn't say."
"And so," Amelia said. "How can we approach this case differently?"
"We try perhaps to feed information to him in some way," Eric said, staring over at her.
"Well, certainly there is much literature on electrical stimulation of various areas of the brain, and how that part of the brain responds experientially," Amelia commented. "We can stimulate a specific area and the subject experiences certain smells, or tastes. Or we can stimulate another area to cause a sensation of pleasure, even an orgasm."
"Yes," Eric replied. "That much we know. But I am thinking of a more comprehensive kind of stimulation than that. A way to potentially fill the holes in Billy's memories with memories fed in."
"It sounds like science fiction," Amelia observed. "Or brain-washing." Eric leaned forward over the table.
"Imagine this with me for a moment, Amelia. We lead Sandy through specific recollections of her memories of being with Billy. Such as those reflections you say she writes in her journals. Perhaps we accomplish this through hypnosis for even more detailed memories. We suggest that she envision some specific time with Billy. And we monitor her brain activity during this time. But now we take a leap. We send her E.E.G. data not only into our data bank, but also route it into Billy's brain."
"That's a big leap alright," Amelia said.
"Yes, admittedly," Eric replied. "But the process would require several steps. First, we monitor Sandy's brain mid reflections and note the patterns of activity in different areas of her brain. Then secondly, we connect to these same areas of Billy's brain, and send the data in as electrical stimuli of th same duration and intensity as we recorded coming from Sandy. And thirdly, we monitor the response of Billy's brain. And finally, we match the two respective read-outs to see if they are congruent. In other words, to see if the input from Sandy's brain, is replicated in the output of Billy's brain."
"It would be highly experimental, Eric," she said. "Exploratory and speculative. But, I think it may be worth a try. I don't see how such an attempt could be detrimental to Billy's progress. Whether it might actually be beneficial, or even a break-through would be uncertain."
"Would you meet again with me on this Amelia?" Eric asked. "I would need your help to lay the procedure out before bringing Sandy into the process. And I would need your help in guiding Sandy through her memory processing through hypnotic induction."
"I will meet with you Eric," Amelia replied, "Under one condition. That you promise me you will take better care of yourself."
Eric smiled.
"I promise." They both laid their appointment books open on the table working out a few days and times.
"Of course you will need to put a design team together to create an interface to convert Sandy's output into input," Amelia said, as they left the restaurant.
"I know," Eric replied. "I'm already working on it."


Sandy sat on the side of her bed, writing in her journal.
"Dear Billy," she wrote, "I did something bad. Really bad. And I don't know why I did it. And I don't know how to tell you. It happened last night. Last night I had sex with Alejo. Anita wanted me to. And I wanted it too, I guess. Please don't hate me. I just wanted someone to hold me for awhile. I only thought of you when he was fucking me. We both feel quite guilty about this, and hope you will forgive us. It is your dick I want, because it is attached to you. The one and only you. If you come back Billy, please don't hate me or Alejo. He is so in love with Anita. He only came on to me because he knew I needed you to be in me again. And he didn't mind I kept calling him Billy."


Dr.Malm gave Sandy a cursory hug. "Come in, my dear, and sit down." Sandy sat down in the chair she was growing accustomed to. Dr. Malm smiled at her.
"How are you, Sandy?"
"Not so good lately."
"Do you want to talk about it?" Dr. Malm said.
"I don't know how to talk about it," Sandy said.
"Give it a shot," Dr. Malm replied.
"I fucked Alejo last night," she blurted out, burying her face in her hands.
"Did you use protection?" Dr. Malm asked.
"No," Sandy said. "But he didn't shoot inside me."
"It's still a bit worrisome though, don't you think? It is better to be safe than sorry. So, today you are feeling all mixed up about it," Dr. Malm said, reaching forward to hand Sandy the box of tissue. Sandy blew her nose, and nodded.
"Can you tell me more about it?" Dr. Malm said.
"About what?"
"About how you are feeling inside right now."
"I feel like a slut. I cheated on Billy."
"It's somewhat understandable you might feel that way," Dr. Malm replied. "And also understandable that you are in a vulnerable place. You have experienced a great loss in your life. You've been without all those ways Billy had been there to meet your needs."
"But that doesn't make it ok," Sandy sobbed.
"No, perhaps not. But it doesn't surprise me that you gave in. Allowed yourself to be with someone else. Certainly now, you can't undo what's done. The question now is how to move forward," Dr. Malm said.
"I know," Sandy answered. "It's all a big mess. Anita and Alejo are my best friends, and now I feel embarrassed when I am around them. I don't know how to be with them now."
"How would you like to be with them?" Dr. Malm asked. "Do you have feelings for Alejo?"
"No, it's not that. It's like we all committed some kind of crime together."
"Well, it wasn't a crime," Dr. Malm answered. "But you each stepped over a line. Well intended, perhaps, but more than you bargained for."
"What am I going to do?" Sandy asked, looking down at her hands on her lap.
"Do you think it would help if Anita, Alejo and you all came to see me, and talked this out? You each perhaps have to regain some sense of boundaries. This is not the end of the world, Sandy. But, I think you each may have a common struggle right now as to how to go on."
"I know Anita would," Sandy said. "But I don't know about Alejo. He doesn't talk much about his feelings. I told him once that I thought I'd like to be a psychologist someday, and he said, 'If you want to work with assholes, why don't you become a proctologist.' " Dr. Malm burst into laughter.
"Oh that's a good one!" She said. "I'll have to remember that one. It's a rather crude way of looking at things, but it is funny nonetheless." Sandy started to laugh.
"I know," Sandy said. "When he said that I felt bad though, because he knows I am coming to see you which must mean I am some kind of asshole."
"Well, you're not an asshole, Sandy. And I am not a proctologist. I think you would be a good psychologist, if that's what you decided you want to do. Why don't you talk to Anita about coming in with you to talk to me? And perhaps, she can persuade Alejo to come too. It's quite possible we can get all this straightened out."
"I'll try," Sandy answered.
"Good." Dr. Malm said. "Why don't you give me a call soon, and maybe we can set up a time." Sandy nodded.
"When is your next period, Sandy?"
"Probably next week."
"Let me know about that too, ok?"


Amelia Malm met Eric Bell in the hallway near the conference room.
"Has Dr. Corrigan arrived yet?" she asked.
"Yes, come and I will introduce you to him," Eric replied.
They entered the conference room where several other members of the neurology team were gathered in conversation around a balding grey haired man seated at the table.
"Dr. Corrigan," Eric interrupted. "I'd like you to meet an important member of our team here, Dr. Amelia Malm, clinical psychologist and consultant to our department. Dr. Malm is a graduate of the Karolinska Institute in Stockhom, and had the privilege of studying under Dr. Lars Bergstrom." Dr. Corrigan stood slowly up clutching a shaky wooden cane and reached for Amelia's hand.
"It is a distinct honor to meet you, Dr. Malm," he said in a raspy voice. He took her hand and raised it to his lips and kissed it. "And how's that old curmudgeon Lars doing these days?" he asked her.
"Actually I spoke with Dr. Bergstrom a few days ago. He told me to remind you of how much better he is than you in playing Chess." Dr. Corrigan laughed.
"Ah yes, but he cheats, you know," he answered, with a wink. Dr. Bell stepped to the head of the long oval teak table.
"If everyone would please be seated, we will begin," he said. He waited as the team members took there places around the table and opened their notebooks. Several placed micro-cassette recorders in front of them.

"It is my distinct honor to welcome Dr. Benjamin L. Corrigan to our hospital today. As many of you must know, Dr. Corrigan has been for years a most revolutionary pioneer in the research and development of Brain - Computer Interfacing, or 'BCI" as it is commonly referred to in the field. And he has been kind enough to allow us to call him away from his laboratory at Johns Hopkins to discuss some of the latest developments occurring there, and the implications of this work for the future of neuroscience. Dr. Corrigan, please," he said, stepping away from his place at the head of the table. Dr. Corrigan shuffled slowly to the head of the table to a round of applause. He stood there and looked around the room, hie eyes taking in each face.
"Thank you, Dr. Bell, for your kind introduction," he said, clearing his throat. "If you don't mind, I think I will take a seat so that we may more easily put our heads together." An intern left the room and returned with a glass of water, placing it in front of Dr. Corrigan. "You are so kind," the doctor said, smiling up at the young man. He opened his dark leather-bound portfolio, shuffled through his papers, and cleared his throat again.
"We find ourselves today once again on the edge of a new world, exploring in ways never before, the vast landscape of the mind. We wander over it's hills and valleys, and into its caves to chart and map, and to tap its resources. It is as though one might be some Christopher Columbus negotiating a micro-ship across the sea and along the streams and rivers of the mind. And now, we are no longer simply learning more and more about how this mysterious lump of matter in our skulls thinks, or dreams, or imagines, we are able to begin to actually enrich it. To enable it to function more comprehensively. To enable it to tap into its own unused potential. Given the multitude of crises of every kind occurring on our planet right now, and with each coming day, it is vital to our very survival to be more fully human than ever." He paused to take a drink of water as those around the table scribbled furiously in their notebooks as though to capture every word.

"And so, you have a patient in a persistent coma. Yet, inside his head much is going on. But what, you ask? For those we know who eventually returned to consciousness, they report having lived in an inner chaotic sort of hell, or they remember nothing at all. Some, upon returning, remain confused, even to the point of exhibiting a psychosis born out of their prolonged sensory deprivation. And so, the clock ticks louder and louder as each day passes lost to coma. In the absence of contact with the world outside, the very structure of the personality can begin to crumble. The sense of self becomes more fleeting and fragmented. And all the while we monitor and observe. We maintain the vitals and wonder when this person will wake up. Or if."

The aging doctor paused to wipe his glasses, his eyes squinting as he looked about the room. He took another sip of water, and returned to the hand-written pages in front of him.

"New advances in micro-electrode technology now permit us to consider the mind of the comatose person in new ways. In the past micro-wires inserted into different parts of the brain could only be used for brief periods. Adverse tissue response to the foreign material would require that the electrode be removed. For this reason we began to study ways to improve the bio-compatibility of the micro-wire with the tissue into which we implant it. We experimented with ways of coating the wire with an organic skin of sorts. And today, only recently published in the Journal of Neuroendocrinology this past month, we feel we have produced a micro-electrode that would allow chronic bio-computer interfacing. That is, the development of a coated electrode that could be planted in the brain, and left there indefinitely. New applications of this advance are already on the drawing boards of many."

The Doctor paused, to remove a handkerchief from his pocket and wipe his brow.
"I will now take any questions you may have," he said.
"Just what was the nature of the break-through in creating this new electrode?" Dr. Malm asked. "How is it coated, in other words?" Dr. Corrigan smiled at her.
"Basically, we discovered that by applying alternating layers of polyethylimine and Laminin to the wire, we were able to create an electrode that led to a marked decrease in adverse tissue response. It essentially disguises the wire electrode as native material. Not only was the electrode accepted by the tissue, we found that new neural cells began to grow around it."

Dr. Bell spoke.
"This brings us to the question we have been pondering here, Dr. Corrigan. Whether it would be possible to create an interface in which the brain activity of one subject could be transmitted into the brain of a second subject, and if so, what might be the possible outcomes or consequences of doing so."
"I could only speculate at this time," Dr. Corrigan replied. "As to whether such an interface could be created, I would say it is quite feasible. And,I think I could confidently say that there would be little or no adverse consequences to either of the subjects as far as the medical procedure of chronic electrode implantation is concerned. As to what might be gained, it would take subsequent analysis to determine whether the procedure would be beneficial to either of the subjects."

Dr. Bell stood.
"On behalf of all us of, I would like to thank you, Dr. Corrigan, for this provocative look at the possible future of brain-computer interfacing." Dr. Corrigan smiled, stood and gave a brief and subtle bow to the applause. As the meeting ended, different members of the team approached Dr. Corrigan to shake his hand, and several even asked for his autograph. Eric Bell and Amelia Malm then took the doctor to lunch and the opportunity for more specific conversation as to the application of a new interface between Billy and Sandy.


Eric Bell and Amelia Malm took Dr. Corrigan for to a small cafe along the river walk. They talked in greater detail about Billy.
"Yes," Dr. Corrigan said, "I've looked through the data file on his case. He is, I think, an example of what I alluded to in our meeting. A person at risk in more ways than one. First there is the issue of tissue damage in the reticular formation. It is possible that a schedule of prompts given to that portion of the brain stem in the form of an electrode implant and the delivery of electrical stimulation in well-paced micro-bursts could stimulate neural regeneration. Meanwhile with the passing of days in coma, the very structural integrity of Billy's personality, his subjective experience of himself, is quite challenged. Perhaps even endangered."
"That is why we are interested in reinforcing his self awareness by trying to fill gaps in his memory with new material," Eric replied.
"Has anything of that order been studied, Dr. Corrigan?" Amelia asked. Dr. Corrigan smiled at her.
"Please call me Benjamin, Amelia," Dr. Corrigan said. We are talking now as friends here. Has this concept been studied? Indeed it has. Of course much of this is classified. DARPA, an agency of the Department of Defense has been funding research in this area. I have been called in on numerous occasions as a consultant for some of this work."
"Can you share anything with us that would not be a violation of the Department's security concerns?" Eric asked.
"A few things. There is an artificial intelligence software currently under development. CALO, as it is referred to, is intended to serve as a cognitive assistant, of sorts. It mediates communication of the user with others. Then, of course, there is DARPA Silent Talk. It is actually a spin-off of my own work in trying to identify the EEG patterns for words, and to transmit these to a receiver, be it a computer, or a human subject."
"It's like reading minds," Amelia observed. Benjamin nodded. "You can imagine the applications it might have where interrogation is of concern. The need for coercion or torture is sidestepped simply by wiring the subject's mind and monitoring his thoughts."
"That's mind blowing," Eric said. "And so, it potentially could also serve to create EEG analogs for words and implant these in the subject's mind?"
"Exactly," Benjamin nodded. "And like any tool since the invention of the hammer, or, the 'dawn stone' as archeologists call it, it could have many creative and life-enhancing applications or it could be used for destruction."
"If we could only lay our hands on tools such as this," Eric said.
"Of course, I could not replicate that program and release it because of governmental constraints. But on the other hand, it may be possible to create a new piece of software based on the underlying concepts without it being a conflict of interest, or a threat to national security."
"In this case, we are thinking of recording data from the minds of close friends of Billy, and of family members, and then sending that data into Billy's mind," Eric said. Benjamin Corrigan nodded.
"Here is what I propose," he answered. "I, and my team would design a software prototype specific to this. Once developed, your team could then run the studies, and collect the data. If it is significant, we would publish our findings collaboratively.
"That would be wonderful," Eric said enthusiastically.
"I will be in touch with you soon in a few days then and give you a timetable for when we could move on this," Benjamin said.
"I was just thinking," Amelia added. "This could have ground-breaking implications for the treatment of memory loss in Alzheimer's patients."
"Absolutely, Amelia, Benjamin smiled. "Why don't you begin drafting a proposal on that order. If this first effort with Billy shows promise, then we will look for funding, and explore that problem. Certainly, we need to solve that problem because I am beginning to think I may soon be losing my own mind!"


Sandy, Anita and Alejo sat nervously on the couch in Dr. Malm's office. She pulled up a chair in front of them.
"I haven't asked you here to pass judgement, or blame," she said. "My goal, quite simply, is that we all leave this room today feeling ok. Are we agreed on this?" They each nodded sheepishly. "Anita, surely you must feel so much of Sandy's pain."
"I do," Anita said, tears coming to her eyes.
"So much so, you would even ask your boy friend Alejo to help you make Sandy feel better," Dr Malm continued.
"Yes. I hurt for Sandy as she hurts for herself," Anita replied.
"And yet, now you see how your empathy has back-fired so to speak. How you have all become only more uncomfortable with one another."
Yes," Anita cried. Sandy reached out to clutch Anita's hand.
"I feel so stupid," Anita said. "So stupid."
"It wasn't stupid, what you did, Anita. It was very self-sacrificing. You would give anything to have Sandy back as your best friend, wouldn't you?"
"Yes," Anita nodded. Dr. Malm turned her attention to Alejo.
"Alejo, men think with their dicks, don't they?" Alejo laughed self-consciously.
"But, never would I actually make a move on Sandy, unless Anita thought it good."
"Remember we are not here to point fingers," Dr. Malm said.
"I just was trying to make Anita happy, to make Sandy feel better" Alejo stammered.
"Alejo, you were driven by your dick. You needn't feel bad about it. But here we are now." She glanced back and forth at each of them. They were still such children.
"Here is the main thing," she said. "Billy is in a coma. Love each other, as you want, but understand he may come back one day." Alejo got up and walked over to Sandy. He bent down and hugged her.
"I am so sorry, Sandy," he said in a choked voice. Sandy hugged him.
"It's ok, Alejo," she said, reaching out for Anita.


Dr. Bell hung up the phone after a brief conversation with Dr. Corrigan. He dialed Jacob, one of the interns on the team.
"Jacob, Eric here. Listen, I'd like you to pull all of Billy's EEG read-outs for the past month. I'd like you to review these. Get Sarah to help you."
"No problem," Jacob answered. "What in particular do want us to be looking at?"
"We are preparing a special file to be sent to Dr. Corrigan. We want to look at the frequency of certain patterns, how often they recur or repeat, also any extreme spikes showing up anywhere in the mapped areas. In each of these things as you identify them, highlight the time of day. You may also write some summary remarks regarding your observations."
""We'll get right on it," Jacob replied.
"And tell Sarah these studies are something she might easily parlay into her doctoral dissertation. Once Dr. Corrigan and his team review this folder and make any additional notes, they will begin mapping out specific sites for the implanting of chronic electrodes and laying out a design for a B/C interface tailored specifically for Billy."
"This sounds really exciting," Jacob said.
"Well, one of two things could happen. If we are successive in our objectives, it would be ground-breaking and unprecedented in our field. A kind of thing that could give us increased funding to continue in the research for several years to come. Or the other thing that could happen, it all goes nowhere and gets written off as a 'mad scientist' moment we would all look back on wondering what we were thinking."
Jacob laughed. "I think if Dr. Corrigan is sicking his dogs on it, there's a good chance we can pull it off."
"Perhaps," Dr. Bell replied. "Our first attempts may prove promising, but clumsy. It may be a process of evolving our approach, honing it. Such research is like making one's way through a maze. You hit a dead end. You turn around and try a different corridor. In Billy's case, the maze is not merely one of brain anatomy and physiology, but the labyrinth of consciousness itself. Rome wasn't built in a day."
"When do you need this data by?" Jacob asked.
"By the end of the week," Eric replied.
"Yikes, that's a lot of midnight oil!" Eric laughed.
"Gallons, maybe. But hey, burning the midnight oil with Sarah couldn't be too bad. All you need to figure out is whether it is to be at your place or her place!"
"You dawgg!" Eric said, laughing even harder.
"Don't tell me," Eric retorted. "I've seen you looking her up and down plenty of times. And, I thinks she's got a sweet tooth for you. The way I figure it, you both need to get laid."
"Well," Jacob said, clearing his throat and speaking academically. "Yes, looking at the data I would say there could be certain interesting correlations, a co-variance, perhaps. We might need a little more data to come up with a standard deviation."
"You dawgg!" Eric laughed. "Just don't get any mysterious stains on the read-out sheets and have it on my desk by Friday."
"I'm on it," Jacob chuckled.
"I'll bet you are!" Eric said, hanging up the phone before Jacob could blurt out a comeback.


Billy called to Jack from the dark corner of the room.
"I'm right here, Billy," Jack answered, looking over his shoulder into the darkness.
"Come over here," Billy said in a loud whisper. Jack walked over to the corner.
"Come on out where I can see you," he said peering into the blackness.
"Shhh," Billy said quietly. "I don't want to wake Violet."
"So, what's up?" Jack said in a hushed voice.
"Violet is starting to drive me crazy," Billy whispered.
"What do you mean, Billy?"
"She's acting weird. She keeps calling herself Sandy, whoever Sandy is."
"Sandy is someone on the outside. Remember? We talked about this last time," Jack answered.
"But I want Violet to be Violet," Billy said. "I don't know who Sandy is. For all I know, that's my mother's name. I can't be fucking my mother."
"No, that would be crazy," Jack said. "I think you just need to go along with it. Let her pretend she is Sandy. Maybe it would help you remember who Sandy is."
"I have another plan," Billy said. "But, I may need your help."
"Sure, what is it?" Jack replied.
"I want to kill Violet. I think she is dangerous."
"Whoa, Billy! Listen to yourself. You can't kill Violet," Jack said.
"Why not?"
"Because Violet is a part of your mind. It would be like putting a gun to your head."
"But she is driving me crazy," Billy said.
"Maybe so. Maybe you need some distance. But, you can't kill her."
"What am I to do then?" Billy asked anxiously.
"I don't know," Jack said. "Maybe take her off into that blackness back there where you go. Put her in a room somewhere else in your head. You could always go back to her then, if you wanted to."
"Would you help me do that, Jack?"
"I can help you persuade her. I can talk to her. But I can't go with you to wherever you put her."
"Why not?" Billy asked.
"Because you still need me here to help you think things out."
"I'll be back later," Billy said. Jack peered into the corner. There was a faint shuffling of feet, then nothing. He sat back down at the table and looked over to Violet sleeping on the floor half-dressed. He would miss her. But maybe it was for the best for now. After all, if he could help Billy get on his own feet and begin to remember the outside world, and maybe rejoin it, then he too could go off into the darkness. Maybe find Violet. Maybe have his own life with her somewhere back there in the darkness of Billy's sub-conscious.


"Sandy," Dr. Malm said, looking at her curled up in the chair in her office. "Are you still writing in your journal? Writing down your memories?"
"Yes," Sandy replied. "I write a lot about Billy and me, but sometimes, I don't know what to say, and just write his name over and over." Dr. Malm smiled.
"I had a boyfriend once. And I used to do that very thing. I would try to write his name in as many fancy ways as I could."
"I have Billy's name tattooed just above my ass," Sandy said. "Want to see it?"
"No, dear," Dr. Malm giggled. "I'll take your word for it. In fact, let's change the subject. Have you ever been hypnotized, Sandy?"
"Uh uh," Sandy said, shaking her head. "I think it's interesting though."
"It is very interesting, Dr. Malm replied. And I was thinking about trying a procedure with you, to relieve some of your stress and help you think more clearly, sleep better. Some of your problems might be better dealt with through hypnosis rather than pills. Is that something you would like to try?"
"Sure," Sandy said. I've often wondered what it would be like to be hypnotized." Dr. Malm glanced at her watch. She slid a cushioned ottoman over to Sandy's chair.
"I want you to stretch out, Sandy. Put your legs up here, dear. Good. Just relax. Lean back in the chair and allow yourself that comfort. Good. Now, I'd like you to close your eyes and take a long slow breath in. And out. Again. In through the nose. Out through the mouth. Again. Good. In you mind, there is a picture of a beautiful periwinkle blue sky. Do you see it?
"Yes," Sandy answered.
"And do you see the little white clouds floating by?"
"You breathe them in...Inhale...You breathe them out...There they are again...Breathe...In...Breathe...out....Slowly... in...and...out...the clouds go in...and...out.........You are sitting on a beach of warm sand...Watching the sea...The sea rolls splashes at your feet...exhale...the sea flows lay back on the sand....the clouds go in...and out...the water splashes on your feet...."
Dr. Malm stood, smiling at Sandy in a peaceful trance. She walked over to her desk and made some notes. She would awaken Sandy in a short while.


Doctors Eric Bell and Amelia Malm sat next to each other on the jet having decided to attend the conference in Tucson where an elite symposium on robotics and consciousness was taking place. They rambled on in conversation as clouds flew past the small window. Musing about the nature of the will, and will power.
"We all have will," Eric mused. "But some seem to have more than others. Why is that, I wonder?"
Amelia pondered the matter. "It is an interesting issue, isn't it?"
"Yes," Eric said. "I think one must consider the degree of freedom in the individual's environmental field. At any moment, how many possible choices are there to act upon?"
"Or at least the person's perception of options available," Amelia added. "Sometimes one may misperceive the field. They may see more options than are really there, or they see fewer than are really there. In the first case one perceives a door where there isn't one, and so of course, walks straight into a wall."
"Yes, of course," Eric said. "I've done that a few times myself. And in the second case you mention, one is in a room with many doors but sees none of them, and so is trapped."
"And," Amelia said, "We must consider the option glut which can be quite incapacitating in that there are so many options, one becomes indecisive and unable to choose any thing. Like a child in the candy store, unable to pick any one candy since it eliminates the choice to pick a different one. I think the key is not in the will power, but in one's perception of it. If you think of yourself as vanquished, then you are. I see this all the time in my practice. A person sees some heroic story on the news and thinks, there is no way that he or she could do such a thing. They perceive their will to be inadequate. And even worse than that, they have crippled themselves with their perceptions. They are telling themselves they could not do it. So when such a time occurs they, quite predictably, are incapacitated."

Eric leafed through the conference portfolio noting the various presentations and their scheduled times.
"We simply must hear Dr. Hubert Kleitman at 10:30," he murmured. Amelia looked over his shoulder.
"Digital Expansion of the Scope of Awareness"
"Yes, that does sound good, and we can enjoy a leisurely breakfast before attending," she said. She glanced on down the listed itinerary. "I would like to hear Rachel Rokeach on The Origin of Feeling too. I think she is plowing some new ground in the field of neuroendocrinology."
"Look at this one," Eric said. "Vladamir Vesnev, 'Regarding the Transfer of Being to Robotic Clones'. How Star Trekish is that? The Starship Enterprise breaks the Mortality Barrier!" Amelia laughed.
"Yes. We finally find immortality by cloning our consciousness and implanting it into a robot who can continue our work long after we die. Now there is a concept! I like it!"

The two of them chattered on abstractly for most of the flight, neither of them bringing up the fact that they had booked a room together in the hotel. It was not a thing either wished to talk about; just a thing they both wanted to do. To shed their uniforms and their professional demeanor and be naked together for awhile. They sometimes called it their 'secret mutual admiration society', and they were the only two members. They only met now and then. And this was one of those times.


Eric rolled over in bed, looking at Amelia still sleeping. He lightly brushed her hair back from her face. It was seldom that he got to see her with her hair down. Her eyes suddenly opened, looking over at him.
"Are we late?" She said, reaching for her watch on the table beside her. She glanced at it and laid back down. "It's early. I must still be on Texas time."
Eric smiled at her.
"I must say Amelia, you nearly wore me out last night."
"You were quite the tiger yourself," she answered. "Especially for a man who doesn't eat right. I need a shower," she said, throwing off the sheet and sitting up. Eric looked at her pale ample breasts. She stood and walked toward the bathroom.
"Do you need any help?" Eric said, feeling aroused all over again. She glanced back at him and smiled. "In a minute, I might."


Eric and Amelia walked into the noisy conference room filled with a colorful mix of neurosurgeons, shrinks, philosophers, and the like. There was a certain electricity in the air. The group mind putting on its collective thinking cap. They paused at a table by the door to pick up their name tags, and additional materials about the conference. Amelia had morphed back into Dr. Malm again. Her hair pulled sternly back, and in a tailored black business suit. Dr. Bell wore a western styled sport coat and a string bolo tie clasped with a silver star of Texas. They looked good together. And there was little hint that only a short while ago they had been frantically groping one another in the shower.

They took their seats as someone stepped up to introduce Dr. Kleitman. The distinguished doctor wasted no time upon approaching the podium in getting to the subject at hand.

"May I open with a brief reading?" he said, laying a book open on the table in front of him. From the ground-breaking paradigmatic writings of Dr. Julian Jaynes. He begins his treatise like this:"

"O, what a world of unseen visions and heard silences, this insubstantial country of the mind! What ineffable essences, these touchless rememberings and unshowable reveries! And the privacy of it all! A secret theater of speechless monologue and prevalent counsel, an invisible mansion of moods, musings, and mysteries, an infinite resort of disappointments and discoveries. A whole kingdom where each of us reigns reclusively alone, questioning what we will, commanding what we can. A hidden hermitage where we may study out the troubled book of what we have done and yet may do. An introcosm that is more myself than anything I can find in a mirror. This consciousness that is my self of selves, that is everything, yet nothing at all - what is it?
And where did it come from?
And why?"
Dr. Kleitman closed the book.
"That was the opening paragraph of The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind, as Jaynes penned it in 1977."

"Today, we see how our work in recent years has markedly increased our understanding of how the mind forms words. How these words spill forth from our mouths like a rehearsed script even as the mind invents them and strings them together. All language is essentially romantic. An effort of the individual consciousness to embrace the life around it. We dance with one another conversationally, as it were. A spoken tango. Yet words are only one part of what it is that gives meaning to that which is spoken. Body language, posturing, gestures, and emotional expression all play a part in communicating the feeling behind the words. Crying words. Laughing words. Loud harsh words, and words whispered. "How do I love thee? Let me count the ways...."

"And so, yes. It is important that we can, through brain-computer interfacing, transpose the electrical activity in certain areas of the brain and know the linguistic equivalent of those patterns. But alas, we have only strings of letters making words, and words making sentences. They are sterile once removed from the emotive environment from which they sprang. Anyone knows this who has received a computer-generated phone call right in the middle of dinner." He paused to allow the laughter from his audience.

"It is a robotic voice monodroning a message." He paused again for the laughter and applause.

"In this case, we get the meaning, but find it quite annoying anyway. We feel cheated of a real human voice. Still, at the end of the message we find ourselves saying 'thank you' and feeling ridiculous in the moment afterward." He paused again for murmurs from the audience.
"The denoted signature of a word monitored from a thinking brain lacks a connotative context. This is where we are today. We arrive at the wild west of neuroendocrinology. The frontier. To arrive at a robust sense of a consciousness, we must now explore a new kind of interfacing. The monitoring of whole body activity. The endocrine system. All the organs of the body. Muscular tension, and so on. Only by gathering such data and melding it with the words thought or spoken can we arrive at the synergy of the meaning behind the words. The felt meanings. It is the next step in the creation of digital consciousness. Thank you for your time."
Dr. Kleitman gathered his notes from the podium and sat down.


As the group stood and began gathering their papers amid noisy chatter, Amelia sat writing a few hurried notes.
"Is it possible we can cheat death of completely annihilating us?" she wrote. "Is it delusional to think of transitioning and shifting our consciousness, our hearts and souls into something that lives after us?" She closed her notebook and then hurriedly re-opened it to note a few more things to think about.
"What are the forces that shape our shared beliefs as to what is real and what is not? And why did the ancient oracles stop talking? Where is the line between the beliefs we share and the madness of shared delusion? When does one become the other?"


Jack, Billy, and Violet sat around the table beneath the flickering light. Billy looked over at Violet.
"I'd like to take you somewhere," he said.
"Where?' she asked. "Into the shadows of the walls? Into one of the corners? Out that door over there?"
"Somewhere darker," Billy replied. He stood.
"Will you hold my hand?" Violet asked nervously.
"Yes," Billy said reaching out for her hand.
"But what about Jack?" she said.
"This is just between you and Billy, Violet," Jack said. "Go ahead. You were made to follow him." He watched as Billy led Violet into the shadows. Violet looked back once, then was gone.


"Where are we?" Violet said, holding his hand tightly. "I can't see," she said in a small frightened voice.
"I know," Billy said. "It was like that for me too, at first," Billy said. "But after awhile my eyes adjusted. Then I saw endless shades of grey, and the infinite degrees of darkness. Some blacks are blacker than others. In awhile you begin to see this."
"Put your arm around me Billy," Violet said, as she stumbled onward.
He stopped.
"This is a good place," he said. Violet's hands searched out his face.
"You're leaving me, aren't you?" she sobbed.
"Not really," Billy said. "You are still here inside me in this room I made for you long ago. Remember when we were children, and I first held you in my arms? It was right here. In this room. Sit down." Violet sat slowly down, sinking into a cushion of soft tar. Billy's footsteps faded. She clutched her face in anguish. She was back in that place where he had always kept her. And the last time it was years before he returned again. She laid slowly down on her side weeping, and soon fell asleep.

to be continued....