The Homecoming
Home Up The Black Hole Literary Review Wm. E. Allendorf, Prop.

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HOMECOMING

by Wm. E. Allendorf

-Prologue-

I had not seen Paul since college. As a matter of fact, I had not
seen any of the Cosmic Cousins since the last one was expelled from
engineering the year before I graduated. For well over a year, I
had been a faithful member of that quasi-fraternal drug encounter
group at the University of Cincinnati. It was back in the days
when acid was still a novelty and smoking paraphernalia was not
bought in campus stores, but made by secretive hands into
inconspicuous candle holders and table lamps. Stashes were kept
in toilet tanks and under floor boards. It was wild being part of
the militant underground of super-heads. We were fry-hard,
die-hard space warriors, and no one could reach us.

Paul had been our founder and leader. Before I came to school, he
had organized the Cosmic Cousins in an attempt to insure that he
would never party alone. Paul had all the connections. He was
both our supplier and guru. He would buy wholesale, but after he
recruited a chemistry wizard into our ranks, we were never without
LSD that was fresh from the Cousins' secret laboratory. We got
Magic Dan and his chemistry set the year I joined. At the time,
I was still a space virgin, unskilled in the twists and turns of
the chemical mind journey. I learned fast. By the end of my first
semester, I had attained the rank of flight captain. I was dubbed
Captain Coordination, guardian of the crispy critters the term
we applied to the pledges into our ever-expanding circle. I ran
checks on new recruits to insure that we picked up no narcs. Paul
had taken the name, Deus, and set up his court on Calhoun Street. 
I spent many endless days and nights spaced out on his floor.The
Cousins disbanded suddenly when one of my recruits got cornered in
a smoke-filled room and spilled all he knew. He had places, but
only a few names luckily not mine. Dan's chemical factory
self-destructed on command that night, just before the raid. There
were quite a few arrests and expulsions. Somehow Paul and I were
not caught. I graduated with honors the next year and worked in
town until I got an offer to go to New York. Paul disappeared in
the middle of the trouble, and was not seen again by any of us.I
had come back to Cincinnati after working as an advertising that
I was real. She was obviously shaken by our meeting, but I could
tell that she was flying straight now. Her hair was still long,
but well-kept in a subtly styled, herbal conditioned way. She had
always been all legs and arms, but I felt a sense of control in
them. Her eyes were energetic, but the forces behind them were
harnessed. She was no longer Virgo, the codename she had taken in
the Cousins. Virgo had been wild and free and full of microdot. 
She had worn the same vest for years, and her eyes had been glazed
and red from window pane. This, however, was Chris. I ordered her
a drink. As soon as it came, she took a large sip.

"Where have you been, space wanderer?" I asked. "Let's hang the
cosmic crap, Karl. It'll start wearing thin soon."

"Okay, how have you been?"

"Pretty good. Janice Albers and I have a little shop over on
Calhoun Street, where we're making jewelry," she said, rolling her
glass in her hand. "It's mostly custom work, and we take in just
to cover the rent and food. What have you been doing?"

"I got a job writing for an agency. Someone liked me enough to
send me to New York, but I didn't stay long. I'm back working in
town now."

"Really traded your spacesuit in, huh?" "Yeah, I feel I'm doing
something now. Anyone else around?" "I saw our resident chemist
about a year ago." "Dan? What's he doing?" copywriter in an agency
in New York. Friends told me I was crazy for returning to the
great Midwestern Flyover, but after two years of eating, breathing,
and dreaming of concrete, body odor, and exhaust fumes, I thought
it was time for a change. With a heavy set of credentials for
someone my age, I found work with no trouble at an upwardly mobile
agency located on Madison Road. It was time for me to enjoy clean
air along with my paycheck.

About a month after I had set up shop in town, I was sitting in the
Tropic Bar in Clifton, trying to handle a Pina Collada. Fruit
punch and firewater drinks have never sat too well in my stomach,
but I had decided that I was going to start acting like one of the
natives again. I had an appointment with one of the ad execs at
that place, but after an hour, I figured that he had stood me up. 
The Tropic Bar was beginning to bore me, and I was just
contemplating the tip, when a familiar voice came up from behind
me and touched her hand to my shoulder.

"Blessed absurdity be with you, cousin."

"And also with you," I answered. It was Chris, one of the little
sisters of the Cosmic Cousins. "Chris, how goes it?"

"Pretty good," she answered as she took the seat next to me. "The
Great Nurn has been good to me," she looked over my suit and added,
"and good to you, too, I see."

"Yeah, I guess It has."

"Nurn be praised!" she answered.

We stared at each other for some time. She watched me closely, as
though she wanted to reach out and pinch me in order to make sure
"He's got a job with Proctor and Gamble making soap. I think they
transferred him."

"Has anyone heard from Paul?"

Chris' face suddenly changed. She looked trapped; her eyes fled
from mine and sought refuge in her lap. In the moment before they
departed, I could see the reflection of walls breathing and the
floor turning to snakes. If it had been years ago, I would have
thought that she was tripping, but I could tell that she was
straight frightened.

"What's the matter?"

"I know you're going to think this sounds freaky," she began, "but
Paul called me last night and told me that you'd be here."

"What? How did Paul know?" I asked.

"I don't know. I don't even know how he got a hold of my number. 
He just called and told me you'd be here."

"Did he tell you why he wanted you to meet me?" "He didn't tell me
to meet you; he just said you'd be at thisbar, that's all," she
said.

"That's strange," I said, "but why are you here then?" "To ask you
why Paul would call me about you." "I don't know."

"I didn't think you would," she said, staring into her drink, "but
I thought I would try."

"When did Paul surface again?" I asked.

"I don't know if he ever left town. He sort of reappeared a couple
of years ago. I was the only one of us in Cincinnati at the time,
and I heard about him from a guy named Marty who runs a used record
store. Paul came into his shop in a green cape; he was looking for
a Pink Floyd import. Marty says Paul looked like something right
out of middle earth. I've heard little bits and pieces about him
all along since then."

"Where's he now?"

"He lives among the jellybrains on Ohio Street." "The what?"

"You know: the jellybrains quick-fried to a crackally crunch. 
They're the ones who lost it somewhere. They all have sort of
congregated down on lower Ohio. Once in a while we'll get one or
two coming into our store, looking for incense or something. 
They're real burnouts, Karl."

"So what's Paul doing with them?"

"I don't have the slightest idea, but I sure as hell don't want to
find out."

"It sounds intriguing," I said, adding, "I wonder how Paul knew
about me."

"Stay away from him," she said. "He's bad news. He led us all
down the path. Look, Karl, you're flying straight now. Don't get
into Paul's trip again. Stay out of it, you hear me!"

"What's the matter?"

"Look," she said, "we all lost it somewhere back then, that way of
looking at the world that doesn't have any holes in it. We had
holes, big ones, and it's taken me this long to get out of mine. 
I've been digging myself out for years, and I hate to see someone
dig himself back into one."

"I still don't see where you're coming from." "You wouldn't. You
never did," she answered. "You never let yourself look around when
you fell in. You never saw what was going on around you, and if
you did, you never did anything about it."

"I guess I -"

"Look, I cared a lot about you back then. I never let it show,
because I knew your nose was too far up in the air to see. That
secret agent trip you were into when you were doing Paul's work had
you thinking that you were...Don't look at me that way!" she
exclaimed. "I got to say it now, because it's gonna take something
strong to make you see what kind of trouble you're going to be in
if you see Paul."

"What's eating you?"

"There's something bad that I can't stand to see you get involved
in. I'm sorry if I have to rub your nose in it."

"I never knew you cared that much," I teased. "You never knew a
lot of things," she said, hurt by my attempt at humor. "Paul and
the rest of them never let you in on most of it, and you finished
the job by never bothering to look. Just don't start looking now."
When Chris had finished saying this, she looked around uneasily. 
"I should go now," she said. "I'm meeting some friends."

"Can I see you again?" I asked.

Chris frowned and shook her head. "I'd say it's too late to start,
but if you can understand what I just said...well, maybe there's
hope for you. Come see me at the shop sometime, and we'll talk
about your new job."

Chris left soon after that. I stayed around the bar for a while
and finished a few more before I went home. The next day I went
looking for where Paul lived. I tried driving down Ohio, but it
was raining, and no one was out. I was looking for "jellybrains,"
but I had only a vague idea that they had conical heads and green
skin. I did not see any. I had some work to do at the office, so
I had to forget about Paul.

-II-

I had a tough account to handle: the Cincinnati Chamber of
Commerce had asked us to turn the town into a vacation paradise,
and most of my ideas were bent towards people who would rather
permanently locate in Cincinnati. It's a nice place to live, but
I could not think of any reasons to visit longer than a Red's game. 
They finally agreed to my third idea: "Cincinnati Such a nice
city!" All of a sudden we were talking T-shirts, bumper stickers,
and a flight of national spots and full color ads.

Things ran late at the office that night. I guess I did not get
out of there until after eight. By then, I was beat, but I needed
a way to unwind. I ended up going to Clifton just to walk around
the streets. Clifton is a nice part of town. The university is
right in the middle, and it is gradually swallowing everything
around it. I was shocked to find how many places had been torn
down. Calhoun Street, where all of us longhairs had hung out was
wiped out in a blaze of neon burger joints. Occasionally there was
an old house huddling on the apron of the parking lot of a
drive-in. After a long search, I found where my old building had
stood. There was a small cover in the middle of the Burger Whip
lot, marking the place where the sewer connected. I stood on that
metal plate and looked up to see where my john had been, two
stories up and light years away. All I saw were stars. Down
towards Vine, the old places had been kept up, but most of them
were gift shops and restaurants. Clifton had devoured the happy
hunting ground of our lost tribe, stomped out the stomping ground
of the cousins. I found Chris' shop next to the chili parlor, but
there were no lights, so I kept going. Hoagie's was still around
on the corner, across from the YMCA, so I stopped to get a bite to
eat. When I asked for a menu, I was told that the kitchen had been
closed for a year. I ended my evening at the doughnut shop across
the street.

A little Oriental guy served me, then ran into the back and never
came out again. I ate alone. About the time I was yearning for
a refill on my coffee, the door opened, and I turned around to see
what could have passed for Charlie Manson's brother. He was tall
and gaunt, with hair and a beard covering his back and chest. He
wore a C.P.O. jacket that was torn at the sleeve, and his coveralls
were stained with paint and some kind of shiny black slime. It was
his eyes that really got me feeling queer; they never moved once
as I watched him take a seat at the counter near me. His head
would move, but those hazy grey eyes stayed straight ahead. While
he and I waited for the Oriental to come back, I tried to keep from
staring at him. He seemed oblivious to me. The only motion he
made was a little tick in his head that made him look as though he
itched, but was too far gone to scratch. I was considering the
possibility of going elsewhere for my coffee, when he turned around
on his stool and caught me before I could look away.

"You got the time, man?" he said. I hesitated before I lifted my
shirt cuff and glanced at my watch.

"Ten after ten," I answered. He nodded his head several times and
then looked at me again.

"You live around here, man?"

"I used to live here. I live over in-" "When?" he asked.

"Back in the sixties. I went to school here." "You know Paul
Sutton? He used to live in Clifton in the sixties."

"I might," I answered, trying to escape his eyes by tipping my cup
to get the last non-existent drop of coffee. "Do you know Paul?"

"I know Paul. He lives on Ohio, just above the park." The Oriental
interrupted the guy as he came out to ask him what he wanted to
order. I took the opportunity to throw a quarter on the counter
and leave.

-III-

All that next week I was in Chicago on a shoot. The director had
asked me along to help on the commercial. I had very little time
to think about Paul or the creep in the doughnut store. By the
time I got home on the weekend, everything had been written off in
my mind to the innocence of nostalgia confronting the agony of
reality. College was gone for good. I had seen where it had gone
down the tubes and the lid nailed over the top. One thing had
remained, and that was Chris. She had become very good looking
while I was in New York, and I thought a lot of her over the week. 
The plane arrived too late on Friday night, but by Saturday noon
I was at her shop.

It was a small place in the front room of one of the houses on
Calhoun Street. Most of the shop was crowded out by an oversized
display case. Chris was at the back of the case when I came in the
door. I stayed in the background while Chris extracted a silver
cross from the case for a customer. It was a young girl in
embroidered jeans that Chris was trying to sell on the cross. The
girl put it around her neck and contemplated it a while before
asking the price. Chris was gentle and broke it to her easy,
explaining that it was a one-of-a-kind made out of pure silver. 
The girl said that it was pretty and handed it back. Chris
attempted to interest her in some less expensive pieces, but the
girl had lost her desire. Chris saw me as she watched the girl go
out the door.

"You are very convincing," I said.

"Karl!" she exclaimed with a start. "What brings you here?" "You
said you wanted to hear about New York. Can you stand some lunch?"

"Hmm," she muttered. "It's kinda slow around here. I guess I can
get Janice to watch it while we're gone. Where do you want to go?"

"You know this place better than I do," I answered, as she grabbed
her sweater from a hook. Chris shouted to Janice that she was
going out. Janice answered from the back, but did not come out.

Chris picked a little Greek place a few doors down. The gyros were
good. She asked a lot of questions about New York, and I gave her
all the gory details of life in the big city. She seemed amused
by my version. Somehow, probably by way of my telling of finding
the sewer tap for my old apartment, the conversation drifted to
Paul and the Cousins. Chris was much more open to the subject than
the other night, and I heard an earful:

"...So after Dan and Paul managed to get us both stoned and naked,
they told us that they had hidden our clothes somewhere in the
apartment, and we would have to find them if we were ever going to
get out. Then Paul flopped in his big easy chair and laughed
hysterically, as Jan and I stumbled around looking for our panties. 
It took us an hour to figure that Paul was sitting on all our
stuff. I tell you, Karl, they were all sick in the head!"

"Why didn't you clear out?"

"I did, many times, but I kept coming back. We were so dependent
on him for everything, and Paul knew that each one of us was too
messed in the head to go looking for a new set of friends. He just
played us against each other until we came back to him for help."

"Why didn't I see any of this?"

"You did, but you never knew what was going on," she answered with
a bite in her mouth. "You were tripping on school as much as you
were on dope. I never saw anyone bury his head so deep in a book,"
and pointing her fork at me, she added, "and when you weren't doing
that, you were playing Gestapo with our little freshman friends."

"That bad, huh?"

"Yeah, but who's bitter. That's all over and done with." It was
then that I interrupted to tell her about my visit with the
jellybrain in the doughnut store. She just shook her head
violently and let her cheeks rattle against her teeth. "He's
crazy!" she said wildly. "Paul never lets go."

"What do you mean?"

"I mean that Paul has gone to great lengths to keep tabs on us, and
I bet he thinks that he can just pull some imaginary strings, and
we'll come running to kiss his feet."

"Why hasn't he tried to keep hold of you?" "Who, me?" she exclaimed
heatedly. "He knows I'll kill him if he comes anywhere near me. 
I'm the only one of us he can't control, because I'm the only one
he tried to really break. He tortured me with those mind games of
his, got me to the point of wanting to kill myself, and then he'd
keep me from doing it. The only thing he didn't count on was that
I started to see what he was doing, and I learned to hate him for
it. The bastard expected me to worship him, but couldn't see that
I saw through him." 

I must have been looking incredulous; after pausing to take a
breath, she scowled at me. "You think Paul is some guru. Well,
he really did that to me. There were times I wished I could have
died after Paul got through with me." Her face hardened, "He'd just
tie me up and feed me downers until I couldn't do a thing. Then
he'd keep me around so he could screw me." She was half sneering,
half crying as she finished, "He'd get me convinced that he needed
me, and make me feel too guilty to leave. By the time I got
straight enough to see what was going on, all I had left was the
hate I'd found." Chris finished her gyros without saying another
word. If we had been anywhere else, I would have reached out and
held her.

"Sorry guy," she said, looking at me, "I don't think you can give
me what I need right now."

"How so?"

"I see you're a nice guy now, but I still have the scars from a
long time ago."

"Maybe I can help you forget them."

"No, you just don't see. I tried to get close to guys after Paul,
but it was never the same after that. I'd only get sick thinking
about it. Believe me, there were some nice guys I wish I could
have gotten together with, but something inside of me always binds
up and chokes me."

"Sounds pretty lonely."

"No, Janice and I have been pretty good for each other.
Occasionally we date around, but we're pretty much of a thing right
now."

"Oh."

Chris laughed, "You look like I just pronounced myself dead on
arrival."

"No, really...I mean it's okay by me," I said. "I've been to New
York. I've seen-"

"Come on and finish your gyros," she said, picking up the bill. 
"I swear! All you men ever think about is how well we lay around."

I took her back to the shop and left her at the door. "I guess
I'll be seeing you around," I said. "If you want. You really are
a nice guy," she added. I left.

-IV-

I had the rest of the day to kill, so I walked to the next corner
and turned down Ohio. The street was narrow and clogged with cars. 
The sidewalks were crowded with joggers. I made my way to the
park, and sat looking out at the city from a bench. The city was
almost gone in a haze of smog. All I could see was the vague
outline of the skyline and the rows of tenements at the bottom of
the hill. The rows of grey houses on the broad streets seemed to
be the only thing that was concrete and definite in the whole
scene. After maybe an hour on the bench, I got up and started
looking for Paul.

The house was easy for me to find. It was one of the nearest to
the entrance to the park. I guess I could tell from the emptiness
in the windows that it had to be the home of jellybrains. I waded
through the tall grass and weeds that grew in the yard and climbed
onto the porch. I knocked on the door, and it took a few minutes
before a lady, who seemed to be in her fifties, answered.

"Does Paul Sutton live here?" I asked. The woman cocked her head
and looked at me for a long time before she undid the catch on the
screen door and motioned with her hand for me to enter. The woman
pointed towards a hall that ran from front to back. I followed it
to the end. Paul was sitting on a mattress on the floor of the
back bedroom. He stared blankly at the room, never moving his eyes
as I came through the door. His hair was matted, and his pale,
wasted face was covered with several days' growth. The room
smelled of pot and something like urine.

"Greetings, cousin Captain," he said. "Blessed absurdity be with
you."

"And also with you, Deus," I answered.

"You remember well. I was not expecting you today. You'll have
to excuse my appearance."

"How goes it?" I said.

"I am comfortable. This place suits me. . kind of womblike, if
you know what I mean. I'm growing."

"You sound all right," I answered.

"Sit down and have a hit with me," Paul said, motioning to the bare
floor. He picked up a ceramic bong from the floor and filled the
bowl from a bag that he had beside him on the mattress. He packed
the weed with his long bony fingers, then lit the bong with a
butane lighter. The first hit he took was short, blowing it
quickly from his nose. As he exhaled, the heavy smoke in the pipe
curled from the mouthpiece and flowed down the sides. He took
another hit and opened the carburetor hole to take in the last of
the smoke. As he held the smoke in his lungs, he passed the bong
to me. I took a small hit, then gave the pipe back to him. I was
instantly buzzed. The smoke seemed to expand inside my lungs and
threatened to explode.

"Pretty solid stuff," I wheezed.

"Head rush, huh?" Paul replied knowingly. "It's a rather exotic
blend." As he cleaned out the bowl with a pipe tool, he studied me
closely. I was rushing pretty well. "Tell me space wanderer, what
have you been doing all this time?"

"I graduated a year after you left," I managed. "I'm uh, I'm
working at an ad agency now."

"I figured that you would use your talents like that. Doing well?"

"I suppose so," I answered. "I sort of like working in Cincinnati
again. I was-"

"How was New York?"

"Oh, I liked it for a while. I sure made enough, but I was eating
it all up with living expenses. Besides, I like being the big fish
in the little pond."

"I see," Paul said.

"I saw Chris the other day."

"Ah! Sweet Virgo. How did you find her?" "Sorta scared."

"Oh? What of?"

"Chris thinks that you've been watching all of us. She claims-"
"Virgo is so melodramatic. She's just a looney dyke with a bad
case of the 'noids."

"I don't know. She seems pretty straight right now." "Come on now! 
She always was paranoid," Paul answered as he packed the bowl.

"All of us were," I replied.

"Yes, but you and I had reason. You should know that; you were my
chief of security." He tamped down the pot in the bowl with his
finger, then added, "Captain, you were a natural. It has been hard
to find a replacement for your services."

"Have you been keeping an eye on us?"

"Captain, you surprise me. I taught you to have more tact than
that. Have another hit."

"No thanks, the first one got me going."

"There are a few additives in it, but then you must have been off
the stuff for some time. You are sensitive to the effects," he
answered.

"I haven't had any since I was in New York," I said. Paul had lit
the pipe and was taking a hit as I talked. I watched him take a
deep draw before handing the bong to me. I laid it aside.

"So what happened to you?" I asked after Paul exhaled. "I decided
in the latter part of my college experience that it would be wise
to travel. As you remember, the climate got rather hot and
oppressive, so I sought fairer skies. I ended up going no further
than a farm out in Morrow. A group of very spiritual
brothers and sisters kept me in food and acid while I searched for
the meaning of life. I really got my act together."

"That's good to hear," I said.

"I guess I found that little bit of the Great Nurn in all of us,"
he added, "the latent ability to control fate, ride the seas of
probabilities and alter the course of their currents."

"You always could get what you wanted," I said. "But why are you
living with this bunch of jellyheads?"

"I too enjoy being the biggest fish in the pond," said Paul. "I'm
the biggest of all. I enjoy playing with them; they're my pawns,"
he said, and then added, "You guys used to be that way. I had a
nice safe place around you where I could just grow."

"But what do you give them?" I asked. I would have said something
else, but I noticed that Paul had begun glaring at the door. About
this time, the woman who had let me into the house came to the door
with two cups of tea. She looked a little frightened as she stood
at the threshold, waiting.

"Annie has brought us something to drink, hasn't she?" said Paul
to the woman. "Come in, Annie, and serve my guest." The woman
shuffled into the room and laid the tea between Paul and me. She
stood looking at us. From somewhere in the house, I heard a sudden
shrill whistle.

"Annie, you left the water boiling," Paul said. "Go turn it off."
The woman left. Paul then looked back to me. "It is my own
special blend very heavy in rose hips and ginseng. I think you
will find it invigorating."

"You don't look so good," I said, picking up the tea. I waited
until Paul had drank some before I tasted it. It was miserable.

"Looks are deceiving then," he answered. "I feel like I'm growing
every day. I feel like a tumor growing deep within the womb of the
world. I'm spreading outward." He took another drink from his cup
and then yawned. "Annie and the rest of them are just what I need. 
I mold them the way I want, and I'm learning from them how to
expand my control outward. They don't fight me. They know that
I'm inevitable, and they can't stop me. Just look at Virgo."

"What about her?"

"She is one of the few of you who fought me long before I knew how
powerful I could be. She paid for it; I made sure of that. The
wound she received from the hand of Karma has scored her deeply for
life. She just would not give in to me. She thinks that she
fights me, but the weapons she uses only feed my ends." He smiled
with half of his mouth at this.

"None of you can deny me," Paul added. "Look at yourself. Did you
ever once ask yourself why you came to see me? It seemed like such
a natural thing to do, didn't it?"

"Don't try to tell me that you brought me here." "No, cousin, you
brought yourself," Paul answered. "Look at me! I am everything
you had. You used to be the right hand of Deus. That hand cannot
be severed."

"Come off it!" I said. "You're stoned." "So I am, but so are you,"
he smiled. "You're hooked on me.You're hooked on the life you had
with me the life I gave you. Arise, Captain! Accept thy
charge. Assume the command I give you."

"You're nuts!"

"You've come back. I am-"

"Cut it out!" I must have been yelling by then. "How did you know
even how I was back? How did you know I was going to be in that
bar?"

"Don't think I have lost my way of knowing," he answered calmly. 
"You of all people should remember the vast knowledge that I gained
even from your own efforts. I see. I hear. My eyes are growing
powerful, and soon I will see all the world in a glance, and in
seeing it, I shall have it for my own."

"You're just not on my wavelength," I said. "Your mind games don't
make it with me anymore."

"Mind games? No cousin, I am Cancer, the angel of death. I grow
so that all will die in my grasp. I am a tumor waiting to explode
in you, and I will spread until I have overrun the world."

I don't know, man," I said. "It's all too much for me. I'll stick
to my deodorant commercials. Thanks for the offer.

"A wise choice, and it suits you," he said. "Even there, you will
serve me well. You will be my voice. I will spread through you."
Paul pointed to the bong that I had intentionally placed out of
reach. I had not wanted to be forced into smoking any more. "Hand
me the pipe," he said. "We will smoke to it."

"I really don't want anymore."

"I told you just the same to hand me the bong, Captain." "Get it
yourself, then."

"I said hand me the bong."

"So what are you going to do to me if I don't?" I said, laughing. 
"You used to throw out some crazy lines once in a while, but I
think you've really gone off the deep end." I thought I had him
caught in his own mind game. After all these years, I had gotten
him back with a real mind blower, but Paul did not fold up like
other people. Instead, he became very intent on me, his eyes
glaring with a menace I had never seen in him before.

"I do not care what you think of me. I have asked you to hand me
the bong, and you will do it."

"Suck on it," I heard myself say, but I could feel something
growing inside of me, a gnawing desire to give the pipe to him. 
Up until then, Paul had been game; I had just been messing
playfully with his head. As I watched him, I realized that I had
a fight on my hands. Paul thought of this as an act of
disobedience, and I suddenly did not know if I had not been really
doing his bidding by coming to see him. Paul seemed to be waiting
for his will to overpower me. For the first time, I could not tell
myself why I had gone searching for Paul, why I had not heeded
Chris' warnings, or why I had even come back to Cincinnati. Had
I been answering Paul's summons? In that moment of insecurity,
Paul's stare began to seep into me. I fought it as though it was
Paul himself wrestling me for some sort of internal sovereignty. 
The fear of being subjugated gripped me, and it doubled its hold
with the uncertainty of not knowing how Paul had gotten me to him,
or how he had known where I was. I did know that the more I
struggled, the stronger Paul's menace grew within my head. For all
my years of tripping, I had always regarded the dangers that I met
as an internally generated delusion. The pink elephants and armies
of rats that plagued others had shriveled away under my self-
confidence. Paul was inside me, but I knew he was an assault from
outside my mind. I was terrified as I tried to run away from the
eyes that were following my destruction with eager gloating.

"You will give me the pipe."

"Eat shit and die," I said with what I felt to be my last free
breath. It was my final act of defiance, the field mouse thumbing
its nose at the hawk. I started to get up. Perhaps Paul had never
had control of me, or worse, he released me on the world. If his
control was faltering, he lost it right there. He started pumping
his fists into his thighs and whispering in a constricted, rasping
voice.

"You cannot escape me! I am Deus, the Onus of Karma! My will be
done!" I watched in horror as his whole face turned red and his
fists began to jerk more spasmodically and viciously. All at once,
his hands shot out from him, and I could see that his nails had cut
deep into his palms. Blood flowed from a few cuts as he held them
out to me, cocked at a bizarre angle. "I will not have this!"

Maybe I was too buzzed to really know what was going on. Maybe
Paul's gyrations on the mattress set up vibrations in the floor,
but whatever the case, the heavy ceramic bong that Paul had gotten
so upset about began to teeter and continued to do so for several
seconds. I thought I saw it rise perhaps an inch before it tipped
over and spilled water all over the floor and on my pants. I
brushed off the bong water and left. Paul was still raving as I
walked quickly out the door.

-Epilogue-

A few days after that, I was back in Chicago to work on another
production. Some of the guys in the office had come up with a neat
way to develop my idea for the Chamber of Commerce account. 
"CinciNICEcity" got passed to more sympathetic hands than mine as
a result. I gave it to them and wished them the best of luck. The
agency expanded soon after that, and I was able to take a job at
the new Chicago office. I have had to return to Cincinnati over
the years, but I have always stayed in one of the downtown hotels. 
I have not been to Clifton in a long time.

 

 



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