The Summer of Love – and the end of the world.
Haight-Asbury, San Francisco, August 5,
1967. Five hippies form a band they call Rock ‘n’
Roll Universe. All they want to do is get high,
make love, make music – and get on the cover of
the Rolling Stone. But when they encounter a Very
Strange Fellow in the Golden Gate Park, very
strange things happen, and mind-boggling forces
propel the group into a cosmic battle for the
very fate of the universe.
Rock ‘n’ roll made them. And only rock ‘n’
roll can save them.
Rock 'n' Roll Universe
by Ken Rand
Rock `n' Roll Universe
As soon as he saw him among the heads and chicks lining up for Digger's
lunch in the Panhandle that sunny Saturday morning - August 5, 1967, the
waning days of the Summer of Love - Twitchie thought of the guy as A Very
Strange Fellow. Twitchie had pocket-picking in mind when he saw him, tall,
stoop-shouldered and toothpick thin, an Army surplus backpack in one hand,
the straps dragging in the grass by his dirty bare feet. The backpack
looked bulky, the top flap half open. As he sidled into line behind the
guy to size him up, Twitchie glimpsed the fellow's eyes as the fellow
looked around. Something about those eyes. Twitchie re-treated from the
pick-pocketing idea as an inner voice whispered caution.
The guy wasn't a narc. Too skinny. Narcs could be skinny, but not like
this guy. Skeletal. He needed a meal. In his brief glimpse, Twitchie saw
in the guy's bleary, sad eyes a look he'd seen more than once; patient
desperation, a bum waiting for a handout, for food. Several men in the
line had that look of stoic patience edged with genuine hunger, with
sadness. Bums got that look, and Twitchie thought there might have been a
time or two when he'd had it himself in the six months since he left
Huntsville for San Fran-cisco and the Haight-Ashbury scene.
Leaves and grass tangled in the odd fellow's beard and shoul-der-length
dirt-brown hair as if he'd slept in the park. And his eyes. Bloodshot and
red-rimmed. Bum eyes.
Or he was stoned, the way he swayed, a droopy-lidded rub-ber-boned effort
to keep the world from slipping away from under his knobby bare toes, and
no narc ever got that glassy-eyed, at least while on duty.
The VSF wore dirty jeans, beltless, and a wrinkled red flannel shirt. No
buttons, no feathers, no bells, no patches. No commer-cial-hippie folderol
some narc might have thought he needed to add to his ensemble to blend in.
Just a tired bum.
Just a tall, dirty, tired, stoned guy among thousands - hell, maybe tens
of thousands - gathered in the Golden Gate Park Panhan-dle for Digger
lunch and along the streets up and down the Haight-Ashbury district,
getting high, grooving, enjoying the cloud-less sunny weekend.
Tourists cruised Oak and Fell Street, gawking, taking pictures, safe in
their Buicks. Or on the Gray Lines Bus Tour.
The VSF was no tourist either. Twitchie checked his fingernails when the
guy went to lift the backpack onto his bony shoulder and shuffle forward
in the food line. Dirty, ragged. No, this guy didn't come from the burbs
to gawk or slum. Like narcs, tourist had clean fingernails.
Twitchie chuckled, remembering one narc who wore black socks with sandals.
He'd been laughed off the street.
"So, why hesitate?" he muttered aloud.
He added, "Shit" under his breath, to chide himself. Bad habit, thinking
aloud, even when the air buzzed with enough noise to drown him out; the
cacophonous but musical din of a hundred conver-sations, a dozen tinny
transistor radios, a rock band gigging loud farther west and an impromptu
drum circle heavy at it a hundred feet away. Especially when he had petty
larceny in mind and some indefinable unease nagged him.
The band sounded like Moby Grape but they were too bassy, and Twitchie
thought he heard chicks sing an off-key duet. Nah, not the Grape. He'd
heard street talk; they'd play today, a freebie. He'd also heard Jimi and
Janis would gig today in the park, together. Who knew?
On the tiny, tinny radios, Donovan, Country Joe, and Jefferson Airplane
vied for bobbing heads and boogying feet with "Mellow Yellow," "Not So
Sweet Martha Lorraine," and "Somebody to Love." Once that morning, he'd
heard "Yellow Submarine" on two different radio stations at the same
Twitchie sighed and decided to cool his jets in view of that nag-ging
feeling, maybe bypass this mark. Twitchie had gotten busted once, two
months ago. That was enough. The Berkeley jail was no place to be even on
a cold night, let alone on your eighteenth birthday.
He looked around through the milling crowd, disordered except for those in
the food line and the group gathered around the drum circle, swaying and
bouncing in rhythm. Mimi sat by a eucalyptus, toking up with four
teenyboppers - two guys, two girls, all braces and acne and awkward, gawky
She gave Twitchie a clandestine glance. He did not return a sign: "I have
a mark. Let's move." Still chewing on that sour taste of something amiss
here. So she shrugged her smooth, sun-dappled shoul-ders, ample boobs
jiggling under her halter-top, toked up, re-laxed, kept an eye on
Twitchie, and waited. Mimi was a quick-thinker, and she'd be on the job
when she needed to be.
A mild breeze fluttered the upper branches of the row of tall eucalyptus
lining the park. The cooling breeze reached down to grunt level where it
wafted intermittent scents welcome and not so; baked bread, cooked
vegetables and meat, the sweet musk of pot and incense and the less
frequent and less welcome rotten breath and body in need of a bath.
Twitchie had bathed that morning, with Mimi, as they did every Saturday
morning, plenty of bubbles as usual - neither wanted to let body odor to
intercede in their hobby this day. Bathing with Mimi. What fun.
Twitchie and Mimi enjoyed the occasional pocket-picking expedi-tion. A
harmless hobby if done in moderation and carefully, and sometimes
profitable. Twitchie learned not only was Mimi a quick-thinker, but she
shared his uncanny sense of knowing when a bust loomed. When they'd first
met, two days after Twitchie got to town in April, they'd discovered they
had a mutual hobby, not count-ing screwing. They'd met at a concert in the
park, had sized each other up as potential marks, realized what the other
was doing, laughed, got high, and fell in love. So they teamed up. They
were good together.
Picking pockets beat working. For income, they peddled The Berkeley Barb
once a week, Friday mornings, and afternoons if necessary, on the steps of
the Alameda County Courthouse across the Bay. It helped meet their rent
for the pad on the corner of Page and Lyon they shared with the twins and
Harold. Peddling the Barb didn't count as work either.
Twitchie's mouth watered again at the stew meat scent drifted his way on a
steam cloud from a huge iron caldron behind the Dig-gers' serving table
and he inched forward in the line behind the VSF. They'd skipped breakfast
in favor of a longer soak in the tub and lacking much in the cupboard
anyway. Dinner - Mimi called it lunch, her Beverly Hills childhood
showing, and she called "sup-per" dinner - was **three minutes away; the
line moved past the tables where Diggers volunteers served up free bowls
of stew, bread, and apples. After you got your plate and bowl, you passed
a paper cup under the spigot of a big pot of apple cider, hot, sharp, and
Twitchie's stomach growled and he tasted papery dryness on his tongue and
again regretted not having at least something for break-fast, but one
economized if one wanted to be free. Or if one wanted to soak an extra
hour in the tub with Mimi.
Mimi was probably hungry too but she didn't show it as Twitchie did, and
she didn't need to stand in line. She could butt in any time. Just bob
those tits under her thin halter-top, rub those mar-ble-sized nipples up
against some dude, and flutter those eyelashes and say, "pretty please"
and she could crash any line she wanted to. She could see he was casing
the VSF. She'd be there when and if.
He had seconds now, as the food line moved forward another few inches, to
decide if he wanted to make a grab for the Very Strange Fellow's backpack,
or some of its contents; grabbing the whole thing was out of the question.
It was too big and too heavy; besides, Twitchie and Mimi were pickpockets,
So, whatever unease Twitchie felt had to be faced down, fast or the
opportunity would pass, and he and Mimi might spend the rest of the day
looking for a suitable victim. It could be a long day, or he could cash in
Right Now, right here, if he could get past his annoy-ing unease.
The VSF shuffled forward another notch, dragging the backpack along,
loose-armed. He stumbled, or stubbed a toe, rather, in the stiff, trampled
grass by the long table behind which Digger volun-teers labored selflessly
feeding the poor as the Diggers of old did.
The VSF muttered something unintelligible as he looked down at the
obstacle. Not a dog turd, but a well-chewed apple core; a few apple cores
lay here and there in the park because today's Dig-ger-scrounged fixings
included apples. Not all of the apple remains made it into the overflowing
and battered green-and-rust-colored fifty-gallon trash barrels scattered
all over the park, too few and far between.
The VSF kicked the soggy offender away with his bare toe, back still to
Twitchie. A gull, alert to snatch scraps and dodge dancing feet, dived in,
beaked the prize, and rose before he got trampled. Many dogs roamed the
park, all kinds, which meant dog shit so you had to watch your step. The
VSF hadn't been watching, but it was just an apple.
As the VSF kicked the apple core away, something, a small something
jiggled from his backpack. A toothpick-thin joint. It fell to the ground;
Twitchie gave a signal to Mimi, and went to work.
The joint cut through Twitchie's foggy unease like a chili fart. Where
there's fire, he decided, there must be smoke.
"Excuse me," Twitchie repeated to the VSF a bit louder, and tapped his
shoulder for emphasis. The guy hadn't heard with all the music, and people
chattering. He turned at the shoulder tap and gave Twitchie a bleary,
Weird eyes, Twitchie noted, and bad breath. He'd checked them before,
those eyes. Weird, yes, Twitchie concluded, but how weird - or rather,
weird how, eluded him. He didn't have time to ask some-thing like,
"What's wrong with your eyes?" The take was about to go down and Mimi
was in motion.
"Eh," the Very Strange Fellow might have said, but his lips didn't move
under the unkempt mustache and Twitchie didn't hear it well anyway.
Well, the lips did move, but they looked as if they were being pried
apart with toothpicks from the inside. Another Weirdity. But no time to
Twitchie could have just taken the joint and walked away; the VSF hadn't
noticed he'd lost it, but that wasn't sporting - and he had to have more,
didn't he? So Twitchie tapped him on the shoul-der, drew him into the
game. To just walk away, not play the game, would have been unfair to Mimi
who was on her way to join in.
"You dropped this." Twitchie smiled, held out the joint between forefinger
and thumb, still wondering about the dead fish eyes, as Mimi stepped in
for her part - she'd been thirty feet away when Twitchie gave her the
"Let's go to work!" signal. She was lithe and quick when the need arose.
The VSF looked at the joint and blinked grimy lids at it and at Twitchie.
"Oh." His eyebrows rose, a comical look, like in a "Laugh-In" sketch, and
he reached out to take it.
This is when Mimi did her part.
"Oops." Mimi feigned a stumble, bumping her bosom into the guy's shoulder,
hesitating there, giggling and fluttering her eye-lashes, and touching
him, just a little, just a hint, casual, and another giggle, this time
more throaty, for emphasis. The VSF twisted to get a better gander down
Mimi's halter-top, bumping into Twitchie as he did so. His eyebrows raised
another notch and his eyes bugged. No doubt his blood pressure rose, and
likely his dick, as intended, so he didn't perceive the take go down.
"Gotta go." Twitchie turned and walked away.
When Twitchie spoke, the VSF turned glazed fish eyes from Mimi to him for
a second. Mimi did her deft, snatchy bit, then said, "Gotta go," smiled
pretty, and left. It all happened in the blink of an eye, normal or
As Twitchie turned to leave, the VSF gave him a bony-armed pat on the
back, buddy-buddy. Odd, that.
Mimi brushed past the VSF, leaving boob skid marks on his side, and the
VSF followed Mimi's ass as she swayed away, blend-ing into the crowd
headed toward Oak. Mimi overtook and joined Twitchie a few steps later.
When the VSF got around to noticing his dope was gone, the culprits would
be long gone.
"Got it?" Twitchie asked, as they crossed Oak and headed east. The street
"It's safe." She squeezed Twitchie's arm and leaned into him so he could
look down her halter-top and see a fat lid lodged between her melons. He
reached over to give her a squeeze, she slapped his hand away and pinched
him on the butt, and they both squealed.
It was a nice day.
They went home to get high.
They got to the apartment door before Twitchie realized his wallet was
gone. Somebody had picked his pocket.
Twitchie patted his pockets, fore and aft. "Damn." He dug his hands into
each one, starting from the front left where he usually kept his wallet
and working clockwise around his skinny hips.
"What?" Mimi said, alarmed.
Twitchie took off his glasses, buffed them on his shirttail, put them back
on, and repeated the search counter-clockwise. He looked on the floor in
front of the apartment door, then he walked back toward the narrow
stairway to the street below, scanning.
"Damn," he muttered, eyes probing the stairs.
"Ringo," Mimi called after him, demand in her voice, and con-cern. She
followed. He ignored her.
"Talk to me - Henry." Mimi called him Henry when she got peeved.
Henry Starkey took a lot of ribbing in high school because he shared a
common last name with Richard Starkey, the Beatles' drum-mer. They called
him Ringo when he was with his high school band, the Ladybugs.
"Henry Starkey, will you -"
The Ladybugs fell apart after school because the other members weren't as
dedicated as Ringo to being rock `n' roll stars. Henry Starkey intended to
appear on the cover of Rolling Stone.
"Damn," he said. They stood on the corner of Page and Lyon, not as much
traffic here as closer to the Haight, and no wallet.
"I lost my wallet," Twitchie confessed, a moan.
His parents pressured him to get a "real job" after he graduated, so he
did to keep their nagging to a minimum. Several times. He futzed around in
dead-end gigs washing dishes at A&W, frying potatoes at McDonald's,
dropping in and out of Calhoun Commu-nity College, doing solo gigs as he
could get them, trying and failing to raise another band, and protesting
against the war in his spare time. Finally, bored, he said to hell with it
and hitchhiked to San Francisco in the spring of 1967.
"Lost your wallet?"
His older sister Missy lived in Concord, not far from San Fran, where she
sold cars for Sunset Ford, the company's only female car seller. They
weren't close, Twitchie and Missy, but going out to visit sis did mollify
his parents' concern about the venture.
All those hippies out there. You be careful. Wear a sweater, because they
have fog. Keep your wallet in your front pocket, and don't talk to
strangers. Keep a dime in your shoe in case you ever get stranded and need
to call Missy. Or us. We love you, son. Write.
"Yeah, lost my -"
The real reason: If he was going to be a rock n' roll star and get his
picture on the cover of Rolling Stone, he needed to be where the action
"Damn," Mimi said.
Immediately, he met and fell into the sack with - and in love with - Mimi
Hollingsworth, tambourine and kickass vocals.
She called him Twitchie because he was ticklish. It stuck. Ringo was out
and Twitchie was in.
Mimi had a sultry voice, not as gutty as Janis' or Tina's but not as
flighty or fruity as Joan's or Judy's either. Something akin to Cher's but
with more bottom, more range -
"Will you help me look for it? Please." He squeaked like a rup-tured
"You got a sexy voice," Twitchie said when he first heard her sing. They'd
met at a park concert and discovered they had the same hobby; they'd
caught each other trying to pick each other's pocket at the same time.
They'd ended up in a pad on Castro Mimi shared with a gaggle of girls from
La-La Land, the bunch in the early stage of creating an all-girl band to
rival the Ace of Cups, those cuties from Mill Valley. The other girls were
out for the night so Twitchie was in.
Bangity-bang, so to speak, a partnership was made on a stack of mattresses
in the back bedroom, and sealed with a few hits from the ladies' communal
bong. They went out before dawn and found some slumming frats still
whooping it up in the park. They did well as a team. They hit the frats
for a few wallets amid tangled, drunken bodies, and under the iffy park
lights. A good take.
"So what if -" Mimi started.
"He could find us." Twitchie walked back up the stairs. Mimi followed.
Mimi picked up her things the next day, and left a note saying "bye." They
moved into the Page and Lyon pad that afternoon, where they now stood,
"Find us?" Mimi retrieved the spare key from under the door-mat. "Reality
Is For People Who Can't Handle Drugs," the mat read. "How could he - or
"Our business cards." Twitchie followed her in and closed the door behind.
"In my wallet."
Mimi's face went white. Business cards, with their address on them.
Not long after they got the pad, they began searching for the stuff to
propel them on to the stage, front and center, at the Avalon and Fillmore,
twin billing with the Doors, Grateful Dead, Buffalo Springfield, and
Quicksilver Messenger Service, and onto the cover of the Rolling Stone.
Robbie and Bobbie, he and she identical twins from Wyoming, rhythm and
lead guitars and Righteous Broth-ers-like vocals, joined the band. Harold,
huge and hairy, the drum-mer - and damn good - came the next day. They had
Now, they needed a few rehearsals and a little luck.
They rehearsed in the pad, the corner apartment on the Victorian
building's third floor. The landlady was cool, and mostly absent, and so
were the neighbors. Once a week, on Wednesdays, they re-hearsed in a
Congregational Church basement in Oakland in ex-change for playing at
their monthly teen socials.
Twitchie and Mimi stood amid guitars and all their gear stacked around the
drums in the cavernous living room with the high ceiling. They stood,
stunned, contemplating the implications of losing their business cards -
with their address on them - to somebody who they'd just ripped off. Amps,
cords, guitars, sticks, tambourines, cases, and a jumble of drums and
stands in one corner.
The band got gigs - armory, frat parties over in Contra Costa County, some
with help from sister Missy, a few high school hops and battles of the
bands. It got them money now and then, not a lot but enough to keep belly
button and backbone apart. It helped keep them from having to take on real
jobs - peddling the Barb and Twitchie's and Mimi's hobby also helped -
so they had time to re-hearse, which was a good thing, because, while
they weren't getting good-paying gigs, they were getting better.
They called themselves Rock `n' Roll Universe.
The band had a unique sound, not like Moby Grape or the Dead or other
psychedelic bands. People tried to compare them to those other bands but
it didn't work. Maybe that's why, Twitchie often mused, they got few
reviews in the underground press, and why, when they did, the reviews were
They were different. Twitchie and his chums felt being different was the
key to fame and fortune and the cover of the Rolling Stone.
They'd gotten, within the past week or two, to the point where they could
start to think about auditioning for the Fillmore. They'd done a club gig
- the Tethered Goat, a beatnik beer and sandwich joint on 9th at Howard -
where they'd heard a rumor that a record exec had scouted them from the
back of the room.
Mimi's stepdad was an exec with Chronos Records. They were on the outs -
Mimi had just turned eighteen, and she had run away to the City of Love
days before she met Twitchie - so the band wasn't ready to send dad a
But they were close.
This is why they'd splurged for business cards. They each car-ried a
handful when they went out peddling the Barb, shopping or shop-lifting,
soaking up rays in the park, trying to score some dope, going to concerts,
checking out the band competition, or whatever. They gave everybody a
card. Club owners, bartenders, fans or poten-tial fans, disc jockeys,
record and music store owners and clerks - everybody and anybody
associated with Bill Graham or the Fillmore or the Avalon or anything else
musical - they gave everybody a card.
"Rock `n' Roll Universe," the card read in psychedelic Day-Glo print. The
cards had cost, but it was an investment, not an expense. "Dig the
Universe's Hottest New Rock `n' Roll!" the cards read.
And the address.
No phone. That would be unhip. Just the address. For Serious Inquiries
"Maybe you left your wallet -"
"No." Twitchie shook his head, loose bangs sweeping bottle-cap glasses
like the wipers on a `49 Ford. "I brought it with me." Sweat dripped from
his nose. "I figured, y'know?" He shrugged.
"Yeah, I know." Mimi carried cards too when she went out be-cause you
never knew. Had a little compartment sewn inside her pants, in front, so
she could reach down and grab one, hey-presto. She'd seen Jerry Garcia a
few days ago in front of the Dead House but couldn't get across the street
to give him one - a card, that is - but it had been close. You never
They searched the stairway again, the foyer, and the steps out-side from
the sidewalk to the foyer. They looked in the gutter at the corner.
"He didn't get your wallet, Twitchie."
"If he picked my pocket -"
"We picked his pocket."
"I didn't drop it, Mimi. And if I didn't
drop it -"
"Okay, okay." If Twitchie hadn't dropped it, somebody had picked his
pocket. If the VSF had done it, he had Twitchie's busi-ness cards and
their address. And he was weird.
"I wonder if he has friends as weird as him," Twitchie muttered. He
clenched his teeth, as if about to get hit, and his jaw hurt. He shook his
head to loosen tight muscles, and Mimi gave him a shoul-der rub. It
helped, a little.
They stood on the corner, looking back toward the park where the traffic
noise didn't blunt the cacophony of music. The party never ended.
"Maybe I'm just paranoid." Twitchie said.
"Yeah, sure." They both scanned the street for a head bob-bing above the
crowd, the VSF.
They scanned for cops. "We should go back inside," Mimi said and she
tugged on Twitchie's arm. A bath would be nice.
"Yeah, let's," came a voice from behind them. They jumped. It was Harold.
"Sorry," Harold said. "Didn't mean to scare you."
Harold's face went serious under his massive black beard and he looked
around for eavesdroppers, then he whispered, "Did you guys score?"
"When in doubt, get high."
The twins usually split the phrase, one starting it, the other finish-ing.
Now, when one twin started it and other band members were there, they all
finished it. Then they got high.
This is what they prepared to do now, Twitchie, Mimi, and Harold.
Sometimes, getting high was a place they went just to relax after a hard
day loafing. Sometimes, things got so weird in the real world that getting
high was the only way to cope. Sometimes constricted and stifled synapses
got loosened and cosmic insight oc-curred spontaneously. Later, when
sober, those brilliant insights often proved to be bullshit.
Mimi lit sandalwood-scented candles around the room - one on the box seat
by the window overlooking Page Street, another on the narrow ledge above
the fake fireplace, and two on the small brick-and-board bookcase by the
kitchen. Harold cleaned out the communal water pipe, fulfilling his
self-imposed role as group house-keeper, as he listened to Twitchie tell
his story about the Very Strange Fellow. Mimi helped in the narrative.
Harold didn't look at the baggie Mimi tossed onto the battered Salvation
Army brand coffee table until they'd all settled. Besides a couple of old
pillows, they had no other furniture. A large, multi-colored oval rag rug,
also Salvation Army, covered the floor.
Curtains and windows were closed; the apartment was warm and comfortable.
But the pervasive hum, rumble, and roar of city life, punctuated with a
siren here, a horn honk there, and the con-stant tinny radios drifting in
and out, seeped through the cracks. James Brown competed with Paul
"Wow," Harold said as they finished the story.
He nodded as he ran a pipe cleaner up one mouthpiece of the four-tube
water pipe. Each three-foot-long rubber tube extended from the central
bowl that could hold an ounce of pot. Under the bowl was a water
reservoir. You made bubbles when you toked up. Blubblubblub. Supposed to
get you higher. It gave Mimi the giggles. It sat on an ornate Persian
wooden pedestal. Three feet high. Mimi had bought it at a yard sale in
Harold passed the pipe cleaner to Mimi who cleaned her mouth-piece with
"We can see weird stuff in the park any day." Mimi passed the cleaner to
"Like today," Twitchie added.
"If he comes," Harold said, "we exit the back way." They had discussed
this "fire drill" many times. "Rendezvous at the church." The one in
Oakland where they rehearsed.
"Sure." Mimi and Twitchie nodded. They gave a nervous glance at the locked
Harold's calmness helped alleviate Twitchie's twitchiness. Harold stood
six-five, seven inches taller than Twitchie, had wrest-ler-huge arms, ox
shoulders, and he dressed like a biker in motor-cycle boots, black leather
jacket, and chains. Wiry black beard and shoulder-length black hair made
him look bestial and demonic. When he wore sunglasses, and he always did
except when he slept or bathed, you could see only the tip of his potato
nose. You knew he was smiling if the hair on the lower half of his face
tended up-ward at the cheeks.
Harold was a pussycat, introverted, generous, clean, and soft-spoken. He
panhandled now and then, just an occasional hobby, and he often gave the
change he got to bums who hung out at the library and along Market.
When the subject of the war came up, he became morose and silent. After a
time, he'd go to Nob Hill, alone, at night, and slash tires. He carried a
wicked-looking knife in a hip holster that he used for slicing oranges and
apples and opening packages.
Harold vented an infrequent long-winded philosophical rant when he got
high. Twitchie and the others liked to hear Harold; he had a deep mellow
voice and a musical lilt to his narrative, however esoteric. Too bad that
he couldn't sing worth shit.
"This Very Strange Fellow," Harold said as he opened the bag-gie and
sniffed, "could be a government agent." He passed the bag-gie to Mimi, who
sniffed the contents, like a wine connoisseur, grinned and passed the
baggie to Twitchie. "A new breed, because we've gotten used to the regular
Twitchie inhaled the pungent fragrance of fresh pot.
"Ah." He passed the baggie back to Harold. "The government? You think
they feds are getting smart? Sending a guy who looked like that?"
Harold started to take out a generous pinch of weed between his thick
forefingers and thumb.
"Wait a sec," Twitchie said.
Twitchie smiled, did a magician flourish, and produced a joint in the
Mimi laughed like a kid at a balloon birthday party. "You snatched the
"I got nimble fingers too," Twitchie said.
"Ah," Harold said. "You got the baggie," he said to Mimi, "and you got
this itty-bitty toothpick joint," he said to Twitchie.
Twitchie frowned at the put-down, tossed the joint onto the cof-fee table
next to the baggie, and changed the subject. "Govern-ment agents don't
roll this good."
"They're recruiting foreigners. Pakistani, Eastern European." Harold
picked up the toothpick joint. Mimi put the baggie back be-tween her
boobs. "People we don't recognize."
"Ah." Mimi nodded. "We see them as foreigners, not as narcs."
"Exactly." Harold put the joint between his lips. Mimi handed him a Bic
from the little drawer in the table. "We get -" Harold had raised the Bic
to his lips when they heard noises in the hallway and froze, listening.
Not paranoid. Just cautious.
On the door, shave and a haircut tapped.
Twitchie sat closest to the door and he rose to check it out. He peeked
through the peephole, and then undid the locks.
The twins came in, carrying large, full, grocery bags.
"We've been shopping, man," Robbie started.
"We got some -" Bobbie continued.
Then, just inside the door, they saw the water pipe on the coffee table.
"Cool," they said together.
They chattered non-stop as they often did, on their own natural high, thin
and reedy folk, all knees and elbows. They never needed sleep, making up
for Harold's laid-backness with their speedy, hy-per demeanor. They told
their day's adventures as they put away the groceries in the cupboards in
the tiny kitchen - spaghetti, oregano, stewed tomatoes, French bread, and
a bottle of Thunderbird. Harold had promised to cook that night, and
everybody liked his spag-hetti.
"So, you guys, like, scored - " Robbie.
"- in the park, huh?" Bobbie.
They sat together, cross-legged, knee-to-knee, as usual.
"Tell us about it, dudes," Robbie said.
Bobbie was Roberta and Robbie was Robert, the Underhills. He was four
minutes older, both born on a wintry night in October 1948 at Sweetwater
Memorial Hospital in Rock Springs, Wyoming. Odd ducks from the start, rock
`n' roll and the advent of the Summer of Love saved them from dreary exile
in a too-tiny town.
"Yeah, do tell," Bobbie echoed.
Bobbie was gay. Soon after they met Mimi and Twitchie, she made moves on
Mimi. Robbie, bisexual, made moves on Twitchie. Both rejected the advances
but not with rancor. They all had a good laugh when they got it sorted
out, as if in a sitcom with Marlo Tho-mas, and ended up fast friends.
Music bonded the group like duct tape. The twins had the voices of angels,
and when they sang, Twitchie and Mimi took support roles, awed as they
listened to the pair. Their incredible talent might have been a blow to a
lesser ego, but Twitchie and Mimi un-ders-tood. They complemented each
other well, everybody in the band.
When Mimi stepped up to do a ballsy Janis-ish tune, everybody stepped back
and let her shine.
Behind them, Harold's inexhaustible machinegun drumbeat kept it all
grounded. A team. Rock `n' Roll Universe.
"Wow," they'd say after a good rehearsal or gig. As excitable as the twins
got and as prone to gabbing for entertainment sake alone, "Wow" was often
all they needed to say.
"We got this." Mimi pulled out the lid from between her boobs and passed
it to the twins, who sniffed appreciatively.
"Wow," Robbie said.
"And that." Twitchie nodded at the toothpick joint stuck in Harold's
"Wow," Bobbie said.
"I got my wallet lifted," Twitchie admitted.
"Wow," the twins said together.
"Tell the story again," Harold said.
As Mimi and Twitchie told their story, Harold touched a Bic to the
toothpick and inhaled. He held his breath, and passed the lighter and
joint to the twins.
They toked up and passed Bic and joint to Mimi. They had a ritual. Even
where each sat around the table was part of it, a familiar, family thing.
No shoes. Knees touching. Cleaning the pipe with a pipe cleaner. Passing
the Bic, whether for a joint, water pipe, or bong. They all agreed ritual
helped the high.
"These new foreign narcs," Mimi said, "supposed to fool us?" She toked up
and Harold nodded and exhaled blue smoke. She handed the lighter and
joint, now a third gone, to Twitchie.
"Even more trouble, then." Twitchie toked up and handed joint and Bic to
"Unless I'm full of shit." Harold grinned; you could tell he grinned by
the way his whiskers shifted up on his cheeks.
Twitchie lost it at Harold's sudden shift, expelled a violent gust of
smoke, coughed, throat raw, and laughed.
"The man," Bobbie said, taking the Bic and joint from Harold, and Robbie
finished "cannot hold his smoke." The twins giggled.
Harold started laugh-coughing too.
Mimi grabbed the Bic and joint, now burned down to half its original
length, from Bobbie. She started laughing too.
"Hey," Harold said. "This is righteous weed."
That's when Twitchie saw something at the window. A shadow played against
the half-drawn, plain, taffy-brown shade.
"What's that?" he said, still giggling.
Mimi turned to look, as did Harold and the twins, at a vague round shadow,
a small, milky cloud.
It was a clear day.
The shadow moved, became more distinct as if pressed against the window
outside, three stories above Page Street.
It made a rubbery creaky sound, like a balloon rubbing against glass.
In the window, a face looked in under the blinds. The face had beady, sad,
red-rimmed, ball bearing eyes.
The Very Strange Fellow.
Twitchie rose and strode to the window. Halfway there he thought he should
head toward the back stairs and the panic rendezvous point across the Bay,
the Congregational Church in Oakl-and, or anywhere else. He should run
away, not toward. The alarm system that warned him when he'd cased the
Very Strange Fellow failed him now as his feet moved forward, and his legs
pro-pelled his body this way instead of that.
A step away from the window, he wondered if the unease he'd felt an
instant before he decided to pick the guy's backpack related to his
missing wallet -
No, wait. He felt that feeling the minute he discovered the wallet was
gone. So what was he feeling now?
Nothing. Zip. Doodly squat.
His internal danger alarm had shut down, and he pictured a little
green-skinned gremlin sneaking into his head, cackling with manic glee,
and sticking a wad of Double-Bubble Gum between the alarm bell and the
clapper so the clapper couldn't hit the bell. The little clapper whacked
at the bell, like in a Roadrunner cartoon, but noth-ing happened.
He knew he should be scared - as he reached to grab the shade and lift
it up so he could see better - but he didn't feel scared.
He'd think about it - later.
But now -
He grabbed the cord to raise the shade, at knee level now so he couldn't
see the shadow-thing a few inches away and below him. The shade slipped
from his sweaty fingers and the coiled ratchet thing jerked up,
flappityflappityflap. There hovered the Very Strange Fellow's head,
inches away from Twitchie, looking at him. The head blinked sad little
red-rimmed, ball bearing eyes, a bewil-dered look on the long,
Twitchie yelled and stumbled back from the face looking in the window -
bobbing there, a balloon with no body attached.
The alarm bell tried to sound, but it didn't engage.
Twitchie stumbled back from the face and fell when the back of his wobbly
knees hit the coffee table. He fell over backwards across the low table
and windmilled one arm to steady himself, the other hand clutching his
glasses. He knocked over the water pipe. It clat-tered to the floor, and
Twitchie fell off the table onto his butt.
For a second, Twitchie thought he might have fallen on some-body, or
smacked them with his flailing arm, might have hurt some-body, but no.
Nobody was in the apartment.
Everybody had been scared and they'd all fled out the back way as soon as
they saw the bodiless head in the window. They were now, no doubt, half
way to the church in Oakland.
Twitchie didn't remember hearing his roomies scream, run, or slam the back
door to the alley stairs. The front door, he saw, was still locked from
He had heard a scream. His.
Heart racing, Twitchie looked back at the window. Nothing there. He went
to the window again and looked out. A yellow bal-loon on a string caught
on a telephone wire across the street fluttered in a mild breeze.
The gum wad between the clapper and the alarm bell gave way, popped out
his ear and clattered across the floor like a marble. He heard sirens,
loud. A police car passed, its rooftop bubblegum lights flashed Kool-Aid
green, green, green, heading west on Page.
Twitchie straightened up and shook his head, the alarm bell making him
dizzy. It took him a second, which time lag he blamed on the righteous
weed he'd just toked - just one toke, imagine - to decide the police
cruiser lights should have been - what?
"Red? Yes, red. Definitely not green."
He looked out the window again at the cop car; four horses at full gallop
pulled it. It still had minty green lights on top, and its siren
The cop car siren wailed not the warbly "here-come-da-pigs" announcement,
but rather like a Moog synthesizer with a backbeat under it - a version of
"Papa's Got a Brand New Bag."
The yellow balloon on the telephone wire across the street bobbed in time
with the siren tune, and it smiled.
Twitchie stood away from the window again, sighed, inhaling window-wash
ammonia, pot, and sandalwood-scented candles.
The pot caused these hallucinations - only one toke. That, quoth the
lizard, and nothing more. Twitchie had done dope, all kinds, but he'd
never freaked out.
The band had a rule. You get disoriented, freaked out, or scared, you head
for the church. Hunker down, and wait for rescue.
Twitchie hallucinated, as he never had before, no doubt from the weird pot
he and his buddies had just toked. The thing to do was to head for the
church across the Bay and wait till he came down.
Besides, everybody else had gone so he'd go too.
Outside, the James Brown siren faded under a distant bassy rhythm, catchy
but indistinct, from a band in the Panhandle. Sounded familiar. Moby
Which thought comforted Twitchie; while part of his mind halluci-nated
like a VW bus full of day-trippers, another part was still rational enough
to remember things he'd heard this morning.
Twitchie went to the back door, just past the kitchen at the end of a
short, narrow hallway, to lock it. He suspected his roomies had not locked
it when they'd fled the terror peeking at them through their third-story
apartment window, had not even closed it.
The door was locked.
From the inside.
He turned and walked - if gravity had decided to make a sudden U-turn, he
was ready - into the living room where he paused, righted the water pipe,
and put it on the coffee table. It was okay. Where was the baggie?
He found the baggie under the coffee table where he'd knocked it after he
fell, or where Mimi had dropped it before she ran out the back door.
Locked. From the inside.
Twitchie put the baggie in the coffee table drawer, added the inch-long
toothpick stub he found on the table too, and went to the front door.
Locked, from the inside.
Why not? He'd locked it.
From outside, the bassy rock `n' roll beat from the park reached in, still
indistinct but familiar.
Twitchie wiped sweat off his forehead under his bangs, undid the locks,
stepped into the hallway, turned, and walked, as if through a minefield,
down the hallway to the stairs. The light was as before - well, before -
and nothing else Alice in Wonderlandish occurred as he walked, one hand
on the stair rail, to the street.
Twitchie focused on his footing as he descended, concerned he might slip
and fall, but more concerned he might see something that didn't make
sense. Like Very Strange Fellow heads in the air, or four-horse police
cars with green lights and soul-boogie sirens, or grinning balloons.
When he got to the sidewalk, he found it was still a nice day -
mid-afternoon. A cool ocean breeze had risen from the west.
The breeze also blew the soap bubble family around.
"Mashwa de freen." The father soap bubble smiled and doffed his hat to
Twitchie as he ushered his charges - wife bubble on his soapy arm, two
toddler bubbles, and a baby bubble in a soap bubble baby buggy papa
"Sorry," Twitchie said to the papa bubble.
Heads and freaks, narcs and teenyboppers, dealers and dopers, tourists and
townies, checking out the Haight-Ashbury scene, taking in the sights,
having a good time on a nice late-summer weekend. Besides several soap
bubble families, a dwarf blue buffalo herd chatted in French on the
opposite street corner, all wearing orange galoshes, and a gaggle of
well-dressed green geese, win-dow-shopping at Uncle Donald's Used Ducks
and Swans store half a block down Page, and kangaroos in business suits
taking each other's pictures. The Gray Lines bus eased by, its many
crustacean legs churned carefully to avoid the rattlesnakes shaking tails
in boo-gie rhythm, dancing a conga across the street.
Twitchie sighed. "I guess I'm not in Kansas anymore."
Or maybe he was, given the cornstalks atop a Volkswagen bus waiting for
the light at the corner to change to pink. The Volkswa-gen ate from a
giant box of Screaming Yellow Zonkers, sharing from the box with a
sunflower stalk in a miniskirt also waiting for the light to change.
Twitchie wondered if he'd be able to make it to Oakland.
He wondered if, in this hallucination, there was an Oakland.
He started out, determined, focused on one rational thought - go there. It
was something to hold on to as the world shifted under him - the sidewalk
had grown peach fuzz, it smelled peachy and felt furry under his bare
feet, and a lavender lamb grazed on fuzz in the gutter where it grew
Who knew what the Bay Bridge would be like?
Twitchie headed north. He'd hitchhike at Oak across from the park, and
walk east as he did so.
At Lyon and Oak, across from the Panhandle, the crowd thick-ened, jammed
elbow to appendage. A concert was going on, Twitchie saw over bobbing
heads, horns, antlers, hats, antenna, hel-mets, and other cranial
accouterments. Not Grape, Janis, Jimi, or the Dead.
The din of blue buffalos bantering, soap bubbles bobbing by, licorice
lions, tinsel tigers, and boogying bears faded under the rising tones from
the band wailing eighty yards west and across the park closer to Fell
The surging crowd of people, animals, objects, and animated - things -
pressed Twitchie across the foot-deep, orange Jell-O-filled moat when the
light changed - from tangerine to itchy-scratchy - to the park proper - if
you could call anything "proper" anymore - where he listened. Fascinated.
He glimpsed the band over bobbing heads and things, four mem-bers, on an
ordinary raised stage, with ordinary amps. They faced west; he couldn't
see them well but he could hear well enough.
The sound - rock `n' roll, but not quite. More like - what?
"What's that sound?" Twitchie asked a trash can-sized French's mustard jar
next to him, shouting over the band and crowd noise.
"What?" the jar responded before it changed into a collie.
"Never mind," Twitchie said, but not loud enough for the winged goldfish
to hear. It didn't matter.
The sound was - different, distinctive, incredible, fantastic,
unprece-dented, fantabulous, wonderful, different -
"Hell, I'm repeating myself."
But somehow familiar.
Twitchie had to have that sound, had to take it back to the band when he
came down. He had to remember it so he could reproduce it again.
This was it, he decided.
"This is it," he muttered.
"It?" a butterfly as big as a sombrero lid fluttered by his left shoulder
said, buzzing, smelling rootbeery.
"Yeah," Twitchie told the butterfly, who wore a flashing neon Hubert
Humphrey button. "It, with a capital I."
"Wow," George Washington said, eating the butterfly.
"Yeah," a lobster agreed, nodding its two heads. "Like, groovy, man."
Across the park, Twitchie thought he saw Harold. But it was only a flying
Stoned and without a watch, Twitchie had no idea how much time had passed
since he started listening, really listening, trying to remember what he
heard, to break it down so he could relate it to his pards when he came
down. It might have only been minutes but the sound was so - entrancing
- it might have been hours.
Twitchie moved here and there in the crowd, as congestion and traffic flow
and whim allowed or dictated, listening to the band from several angles.
He got close to the stage and found the group looked and acted like any
other rock `n' roll band, which may have helped explain his nagging sense
of something familiar.
One guy, who looked like Robbie, all knobby elbows and knees, played lead
guitar, and a frantic, hoe-down fiddle on one tune, and sang. Not English,
not any language Twitchie recognized, but every-body and everything in the
audience dug it.
A drummer kept the beat, almost as good as Harold, Twitchie thought, and
gave a sweaty, hair-and-arm flailing solo that got the crowd cavorting and
Two others. A guy on bass and a girl who sang pretty fair, and did
tambourines and mouth harp and harmonica. Cute, but not as cute as Mimi.
Once or twice, Twitchie thought he saw Harold in the crowd. He even
thought he saw Robbie, but it was the Puff the Magic Dragon eating an ice
The sun, in this hallucination, didn't seem inclined to set soon.
In time, Twitchie felt sure he'd got it. The sound. He could share it
with his pards back in reality.
If he ever got back to reality.
He made his way to the edge of the park where it was a bit less congested.
He crossed Oak at Masonic and walked eastward down the far side of Oak,
walked a block past Lyon, thinking, toying with resuming his journey to
Oakland, but decided against, at least with-out checking at the
So he circled back and approached the pad from the east.
Walking west on Page, half a block from the pad, things started getting
back to normal. People stopped changing into zoo animals. The buffalo
changed into hippies. Soap bubbles stopped talking and turned into
ordinary soap bubbles. The yellow balloon still tied to the wire across
the street from the pad was a yellow balloon, not a smiling head; and it
didn't bob to the police sirens, now only sirens, and streetlights were
green and red, not sugary and fuzzy.
It was late afternoon, the sun behind wispy clouds to the west.
He stopped in front of his pad, and looked up and down Page. Ordinary
traffic, cars, and people. Ordinary sound too. A band in the park, playing
indistinct rock `n' roll, but not the Grape or the Dead or anybody he
recognized. Different, but -
Twitchie shook his head. He took off his glasses, wiped them on his
shirttail, wiped sweat off his brow, shook his bangs aside, and walked up
The key was under the mat, where it was supposed to be. He hadn't taken it
with him when he went out.
Hadn't taken his wallet either. The Very Strange Fellow had stolen it -
he'd had his pocket picked, goddam it.
The VSF: Twitchie hadn't seen him or sensed him in the park after he went
out to hallucinate. The music had so entranced Twitchie that he'd
forgotten about the VSF.
Twitchie pressed his ear to the door and heard familiar voices. His
buddies. No need to hitchhike to Oakland. Besides, he had come down, back
He tried the doorknob - locked - then tapped out shave and a haircut -
Chains and locks rattled, the door opened, and Mimi was there. She gave a
squeal, jumped into his arms, pressing firm boobs into his bony chest and
kissing him full and wet on the lips. He squeezed Mimi's butt and tried to
disengage himself from her clutch but he didn't try too hard. She felt
warm and fleshy. Real.
"Where have you been, man?" Mimi's voice rose to an uncharacte-ristic
squeak as she pulled him inside.
"Yeah, did you see -" Bobbie joined in as Harold locked the door.
"- the cool band in the park?" Robbie continued.
The twins danced as if they had to pee.
"- all those strange things and -"
"- there was this bubble family -"
"- and blue buffalo showed me a cool dance -"
"- a toaster peddling the Watchtower -"
"- the band and the sound, man -"
"- what a groovy sound -"
"- like us but different, you dig?"
Twitchie broke in, "Like us?"
The babbling stopped and the band looked excited, waiting for Twitchie to
That was what felt so familiar about the band. "Like us?"
"Yeah," Harold said. "It took a while before I got it, but -"
"You were in the park?" Twitchie said, head reeling.
"Yeah. And Mimi, and the twins."
"I thought I saw you," Twitchie said, "but you turned into a poodle with
"Yeah, dig it, and I thought -" Robbie started.
"- I saw you," Bobbie continued, "but you turned into -"
"- Donald Duck."
"Wait a minute," Twitchie demanded. "Just. Wait. A. Goddam. Minute."
"Let's sit." Twitchie's try for calm cut into the electric excite-ment in
the room, but only a little.
"Like us," Twitchie said. "Sounded like us -"
"The `us' we're trying to be." Harold nodded. "Close but still `out
there.' That's why it took me so long to get it."
"It was that joint," Mimi said.
Twitchie saw it now, the lid they'd stolen from the Very Strange Fellow on
the coffee table, like some trinket displayed for parlor visitors to
admire, like in the old days when people called on one another for social
Oh, my, so you have a lid of super-hallucinatory cannabis? How lovely.
Did you have any, um, super-hallucinatory experiences with it? Please do
tell me all about it.
The roach was in the coffee table drawer.
"So," Twitchie said, "you guys had the same trip. And that," he nodded
baggieward, "is what done it." He sighed and went to the bathroom to take
When he got back, his pards were in an animated discussion.
"- government stuff they mixed in a secret lab to break up the revolution
"- heard Timothy Leary cooked up some new shit that makes acid look like
banana peels -"
"- we could smuggle this into the water coolers at city hall -"
"Wait a minute," Twitchie said, trying to calm everybody down - to calm
himself down. "Let's mellow out, okay? We've all had a hard day -"
"Right on to that," the twins said.
"- and we need to think about -"
"Yeah, we -" Mimi said.
"- to think," Twitchie raised his voice, just a little, to get their
attention. It worked. They listened.
"So, we meet this Very Strange Fellow in the park, snatch a lid and a
joint. It's pot, but not your ordinary cannabis sativa. It's - different,
"In one toke - of this -" again, he nodded at the dope, "- we're all not
just hallucinating, but having the same hallucination. Any-body heard of
Harold grunted. "The government says `mass hallucinations' explains UFOs,
but that's bullshit."
"And the music," Mimi said. "Did we all dig the same sound?"
"Yeah, and we all -" Bobbie.
"- all got high on it -" Robbie.
"- so we could come back here and -"
"- share it with you all."
"Let's try it." Twitchie picked up his bass. In a second, he nod-ded his
head to an internal beat, as he got it, and picked out the tune.
Harold and the others gathered their gear and joined in. Soon, they all
played the same tune, a tune they'd heard the hallucinated band play in
the hallucinated park. The audience had demanded an encore, so they'd
heard it twice.
Mimi tapped her tambourine rapa-tapa-tapa on her thigh, bob-bing her
head and shaking her assets as Bobbie hit a screaming riff. She hit the
end note, stretched it out and under, Harold gave a snare riff, and Mimi
came in on cue, did a sexy, gutsy solo harmonica ditty and gave it back to
Twitchie who came in with a fluttery bass riff that would have made Jack
Bruce green with envy.
They played the intricate instrumental through and ended with a complex
drum sequence and dramatic cymbal crash exclamation, all as if they'd
rehearsed it for days.
They stood, silent, sweaty, not daring to breathe. Awed by what they'd
Outside, a siren wailed somewhere in the city, a normal siren. A horn
honked. A normal horn.
"Wow," Bobbie and Robbie whispered together.
"Did we get it right?" Mimi said.
"We got it," Harold said. "But what have we got?"
"That was us, man," Twitchie said. "Rock `n' Roll Universe. What we been
They talked into the night, none of them sleepy or horny. They talked about
the Very Strange Fellow and the VSF weed and the trip band and that
sound and what to do about it.
"This is what we've been trying to get to," Twitchie said. "That's why it
"Yeah, man," Bobbie and Robbie said.
"They're already there."
Dim yellow light from sandalwood-scented candles flickered and soft
shadows danced on the high walls. Beyond the drawn shades, the world
turned as usual in its late night rhythm.
Twitchie sat up. "We need more."
"We should go back?" Mimi sat up.
"Get more sound?" Bobbie and Robbie said.
The group punctuated their thoughts with grunts, head nods, and "hmms."
"We're all fagged," Harold said. "We can't do it tonight."
"In the morning." Twitchie said. "Robbie and Bobbie, you go back with
your tape recorder and tape the band -"
The twins had a cheap, portable, battery-operated, reel-to-reel tape
recorder to tape rehearsals. It was bulky, made in Japan, the speakers
tiny and the sound tinny, but it would do. They'd get it all.
"- and me and Mimi, we'll stay on this side of reality and see if you can
find out where that Very Strange Fellow got off to."
"I don't know if -" Mimi started, tone apprehensive.
"It makes sense," Harold interrupted. "You two know what this guy looks
like. We don't."
"Except what we saw in the window," Robbie said.
"And that was just the head -"
"- and just a glimpse."
"Be careful," Harold said, "if he's a narc. From the way you described how
he acted, he might be an `it,' a robot or android."
"We'll be careful," Twitchie said.
"What will you do?" Mimi asked Harold.
"I'm going undercover."
"Huh?" Bobbie and Robbie asked.
Harold looked left and right, as if there might be creepy ani-mated
balloon heads, android hippies, giant mustard jars, or intelli-gent soap
bubbles spying on them, before he leaned forward.
"When we leave the apartment," he whispered, "we'll make noise, let
anybody spying on us know we're out. You go about your business. Me, I'll
go incognito, sneak back, and case the pad from across the street, see if
anybody tries to break in, or see if we've been staked out. I'll be
inconspicuous." He scratched his beard.
Mimi looked awed, her jaw dropped. "Shave?"
"A sacrifice, but I think it's worth it." He shrugged again. "If this guy
is bad news. Haircut too. Maybe."
Harold's friends gasped.
Harold didn't discuss his past. He said he came from Port Chicago, a
little town up the bay, outside Concord. He didn't seem to have relatives.
They suspected he'd been in Vietnam, but he wouldn't say. He got angry
about the war, silent angry, shoulders hunched and fists bunched. He'd
brood, silent; then he'd go off alone to slash tires on Nob Hill. Then
he'd be all right for a while.
"We'll rendezvous at the church in Oakland," Twitchie said, "at, say, six
"What about that?" Mimi nodded at the VSF dope.
Twitchie put the baggie in the coffee table drawer. "Harold will be
Twitchie and Mimi described the VSF for Harold and the twins in case they
saw him. They ironed out details, checked the batte-ries and tape in the
recorder. Robbie and Bobbie stashed extra tape and extra size-D Ray-o-Vacs
in the recorder case. They were ready.
They planned to sleep, get up, and eat a good meal - they had a busy day
ahead. Robbie and Bobbie would toke up at nine and they'd all leave
"What about long-range effects of that stuff?" Mimi asked.
"We're prepared -" Bobbie said.
"- to take that risk," Robbie said.
Like Twitchie, and many heads, the twins had popped a pill or two offered
by strangers on the street or at a concert or in the park, rationalizing
they'd more likely get mugged than get a bad dose.
They decided to leave fast, even as the twins still held their breaths
with smoke, not sure if the twins might disappear before their eyes. They
had no idea how anybody might react to it, or how it might affect their
missions, or how it might affect the VSF, if the VSF watched, wired into
the weed's effect through some ESP link or - or whatever.
"Hell," Twitchie said, "none of us knows what's going on."
Twitchie and Mimi dropped onto their mattress bed and tried to sleep, both
still wound up, hyper but not horny. When Mimi nudged Twitchie awake, he
felt as if he'd hardly slept at all.
"You slept five hours," she assured him. "It's past nine. The twins are
Bobbie and Robbie had showered together for seventeen years, a leftover
from growing up in a big family and living in a singlewide trailer, dirt
poor. Maybe somewhere on earth, somebody thought it weird that teen-aged
twin brother and sister would shower together, but not here and not the
twins and not Harold or Twitchie or Mimi. The twins' hygienic rituals
didn't merit comment or notice.
"Where's Harold?" Twitchie rubbed sleep-caked eyes, yawned, and scratched
his balls. He didn't wear underwear. Didn't own under-wear.
Twitchie's stomach growled. He pulled on jeans - he owned two pair - and a
shirt, the short-sleeved Hawaiian, not too wrinkled. Laundry day was
Sunday afternoon, and this was - what? Sunday morning? Laundry later
"Gonna be a long day," he muttered as Mimi gave him a bear hug.
"Nookie tonight," she promised as she kissed him, tonguey but brief. "Even
if we have to do it in the road."
They followed coffee, fresh pancakes and Karo Syrup odors into the living
room. Harold added the last four palm-sized cakes to a pile on a plate on
the coffee table next to a pan of steaming syrup and a plate with a
margarine stick on it. Plates and forks already in place.
Twitchie poured himself a cup of coffee in the kitchen, sugared it,
grunted hello to Harold and took the mug into the living room.
As he sat and started to eat, Mimi at his side, the twins appeared from
the bathroom and joined in. They wore white towels around their hips and
towels over their wet hair like turbans. Harold contin-ued to putter in
the kitchen for a minute before he sat and ate.
Presently, Harold rose to take away dirty dishes. Twitchie and Mimi went
off to brush their teeth and Bobbie and Robbie got dressed. They all
swapped places, bathroom to kitchen to living room to bedrooms - the twins
had one bedroom, Twitchie and Mimi had the other, and Harold slept in the
big used-to-be-pantry off the kitchen, his feet sticking into the hallway
- as they did their morning ritual cleaning and puttering.
Harold finished first and sat cross-legged at the table. He tapped out an
air drum solo on his knees.
The group came to order, morning ritual done. Mimi opened the coffee table
drawer to get out the lid.
"Let's finish the joint," Twitchie said. "We're almost out of papers."
Mimi shrugged, put the baggie back in the coffee table drawer. She took
out the inch-long toothpick roach and a Bic.
"Papers," Harold said. "It's on my shop-lifting list."
Mimi handed the roach to Bobbie who put it between her lips, looked
cross-eyed at it, and nodded to Mimi, who flicked the Bic and held the
flame to the roach tip.
Bobbie inhaled, held her breath, cheeks and eyes bulgy, and passed the
roach to Robbie.
Robbie took a hit, nodded, breath held, snuffed out the roach's coal
between spit-dampened thumb and forefinger, dropped the roach into the
drawer, and closed it. They headed for the door.
The twins had already put the recorder by the front door. Bobbie grabbed
it as they left and Harold locked up.
In the hallway, Twitchie led the troops down the stairs, Mimi and the
twins followed - the twins exhaled smoke at the same time, with a whoosh -
and motorcycle-boot thumping Harold brought up the rear.
When Twitchie stepped on to the sidewalk, blinking into the bright morning
sun reflecting off the apartment across the street, he turned to Mimi. "I
think we should split up. I'll go -"
"Where are the twins?" Harold said.
The twins were gone.
So was the street.
Not pavement. Jell-O. About a foot deep, in which swam tat-tooed goldfish.
Wearing propeller beanies.
"I didn't see them go." Mimi's voice rose and quaked. "Where would they
"To the park." Twitchie's voice squeaked too. He moved aside to let a soap
bubble family pass.
Twitchie, Mimi, and Harold clutched each other as if for protec-tion from
the animated, circusy Dali landscape. Before they'd opened the door, the
street had been your basic, ordinary Page and Lyon in the Haight of Summer
of Love, 1967 San Francisco, U-S-A, but not anymore.
Soap bubbles, blue buffalo, aardvarks, animated garbage cans dancing
congas, a Winnebago chatting at a Crackerjack stoplight with a pink Ford
Econoline van with a German accent and a cigar clutched between radiator
and bumper. The goldfish playing hockey and the hairy balloons and -
"Does anybody recognize this?" Harold said, loud, nervous.
"The blue buffalo," Twitchie said.
"Soap bubbles," Mimi added.
No entity in the circus noticed the three.
"I saw that jar of mustard." Twitchie pointed to the roller-skating jar.
"Yeah," Harold said, "Me too, talked with him. Her. It."
"At least the sky is blue," Mimi said, "and the air is breathable."
"Weird smells though." Twitchie sniffed. "Candy cane. Broom-stick.
"This looks like yesterday," Mimi said. "Same hallucination."
"We're back," Twitchie said. "The twins just got a head start. I'll bet
they're in the park." He tipped his chin northward.
"I don't hear any music," Harold said. Bubbles bubbling, Volkswa-gens
kissing, two-headed cows grazing on rubber parking meters, and carp in a
bathtub Rambler singing a Christmas carol, yes, but not rock `n' roll
music from the park two blocks away.
"Maybe they're on a break," Mimi said.
"Maybe so," Harold said. "It looks more crowded over there." Harold had
seven inches over Twitchie; he looked northward toward the park.
"Do you see the Very Strange Fellow?" Twitchie asked. Harold's beard
smelled soapy, good old familiar soap. Harold and Mimi refused to change
shape, or sound different. Solid to the touch. Twitchie clutched both so
hard it must hurt them, and Mimi clutched him and Harold just as hard, as
if afraid that the sidewalk would open and gobble them down any second. He
released his clutch on Harold's big arm. Harold didn't notice, or if he
did, he understood and made no comment.
Mimi released her clutch on Twitchie, leaving marks.
"Uhn-uhn," Harold said. "I don't see the twins either."
"Let's go as planned," Twitchie said. "The twins may not know we're here.
They'll get tape and head for Oakland. If we don't show up there, they'll
"If there's a there to show up at," Harold said.
"We'll split up." Twitchie gave a decisive nod. "Me and Mimi'll go look
for the VSF guy; you change into your disguise and hang out here. Try for
the church tonight. If Oakland is still there. If not - well, come back to
"If we see Robbie and Bobbie?" Mimi asked.
"Leave the twins to their work," Twitchie said. "They'll concen-trate on
taping and they won't notice us."
Harold turned and walked away. "Have fun," he said over his shoulder. "But
Twitchie and Mimi wormed through the crowd toward the park. Music,
something more coherent than the radio and street corner or doorway jam
and drum session, started to float through the carnival air. Somebody
tuning their bass, a few riffs on a kettle and snare drum, and a ragged
electric guitar riff topped it off, but distant, indis-tinct, and
Twitchie stepped around a candy-striped fire hydrant in a top hat selling
the San Francisco Oracle.
The foot and hoof traffic thickened on the sidewalk and spilled into the
"street" as they reached Oak and Lyon, across from the Panhandle. There,
Twitchie and Mimi decided to split up. Mimi would cross to Fell and walk
west on the sidewalk opposite the park, while Twitchie would walk west on
Oak. They'd rendezvous at Stanyon Street, the east entrance to the main
Back home in Twitchie's reality, a pleasant collegiate-looking fellow
would appear at a cozy little shrub-lined grassy arena a few dozen steps
west of the park entrance. He appeared most every week-end, stood on a
plastic milk carton, and talked through a bull-horn, the kind they used at
protest rallies. The guy just chatted. No routine, not agenda, no hype, no
rant. Just chat, for hours. Whatever he wanted to talk about, and people
would lie on blankets or on the grass and listen.
Sometimes dialogue occurred. People would ask him questions and he'd
answer, and a general discussion might follow. Sometimes somebody among
his listeners - never more than a dozen at any one time - would take his
bullhorn and rap for a few minutes, but he did mostly monologue.
Twitchie and Mimi had often sat listening to the guy - Ashleigh
Bril-liant, that was his name.
"We'll rendezvous there," Twitchie said, and Mimi agreed. Since at least
the general structure of San Francisco - the streets, their names, and so
on - seemed the same in this hallucination, so far - at least they could
fix on the site, and get started.
They set out on their search for the Very Strange Fellow.
It took Twitchie almost an hour to reach the glen in the park; the street
was crowded, and an interesting hallucination distracted him - an octopus
sat on the stoop blowing a two-headed saxophone. Pass-ers-by tossed coins
- ordinary, American money - into a hat. Helmet. World War One, German,
the kind with the spike on top.
Double-headed sax. Gutsy, bluesy, African.
For the seven blocks between Lyon and Stanyon, the band's gutty bass and
lead guitar high notes, way east now in the Panhan-dle, bounced off the
walls flanking the streets. Twitchie couldn't hear the sound well, except
to note that it was indeed the one he'd heard in the previous
hallucination and the one his band sought.
He hoped the twins got it down.
He scanned street and Panhandle as he moved along but didn't see the VSF.
When he got to Stanyon, the crowds had dissipated. Many people - and many
things - drifted into the park, leaving the Haight-Ashbury Mardi Gras
atmosphere behind for the deeper park tranquility. Even here, in this
hallucinated Wild Kingdom, Twitchie sensed a semi-arbitrary DMZ - the line
between the vast Golden Gate Park interior proper and the Haight. Tourists
turned back east at Stanyon to resume touring Haight, but locals wandered,
unim-pressed with the Haight, thank you, into the park, on your basic
weekend family outing.
Twitchie sensed the difference between locals and tourists in this
hallucination, just as he could in the real world. As he sauntered through
the lessened crowd toward the glen just inside the park, he tried to spot
narcs, a habit.
The talking straight, straight-talking guy wasn't there, nor was his milk
carton, which, if it was there, meant he was off on a pee break and would
be back in a minute. Still, people lounged around the small, bowl-like
If there was a hallucinatory talking guy here, Twitchie didn't see him.
And, he congratulated himself, he hadn't panicked. Yet.
Mimi hadn't arrived yet, but Twitchie hadn't expected to see her because
she had a longer route down Fell.
A soap bubble family played on a blanket. The family - a papa bubble, a
mama, and twins five years old and a baby - all sat on or bobbed above a
blanket. Baby brother giggled along with his sibl-ings as they tossed and
Twitchie wondered how he knew the twin bubble's ages, and how he knew it
was baby brother the bubble family tossed like a featherweight beach ball.
He wondered, but not much. In the past hour, he'd encountered things that
might have freaked out anybody and he'd been okay. Don't push it, he
But he toyed with the idea of pushing his mental panic button anyway
because it might feel good to scream. As he did so, the an-tenna that
kept him from getting busted when we went pick pocket-ing told him the
papa bubble was a narc. Along with that knowledge came the feeling
that he had no need to fear. He eased off his mental panic button.
The bubbles were as translucent as your basic, ordinary soap bubbles, but
they talked like any picnicker family. They changed sizes now and then,
from goose-egg-sized to volleyball-sized as they floated and fluttered
over and on their spread-out blanket. The family occasionally dipped into
a punchbowl of brackish, frothy water, giggling. The bowl was the family
lunch; the bubbles dipped in it to refresh their thin skins.
Just your basic, normal, ordinary bubble family.
Whose papa was a narc.
Papa bubble toted no gun in his sock or behind his back. He didn't have
clean fingernails, or black socks, or clean underwear or phony-hip
accouterments or a badge in his wallet. Hell, the bubble family had no
arms to toss their kids with or mouths to giggle with - yet they tossed
and giggled. Just your average soap bubble family, three kids, picnicking
in the park on a groovy weekend.
An ocean breeze had crept in to cool things down, and Twitchie was pleased
to know an ocean was there.
"Are soap bubble narcs different than real narcs?" he wondered aloud.
This time, he didn't bother to curse himself for talking aloud. Instead,
he drifted over toward the soap bubble family, a casual smile, relaxed.
As he got closer, the mama bubble noticed.
"Flibbly dippity doop," she said, smiling.
"I'm sorry," Twitchie said. "I don't speak Soap Bubbleish."
The soap bubble papa reinforced mama's words, adding "Dipplop-pity flob,"
and the twins looked up and smiled, giggling. They gestured for him to
sit. Twitchie sat on the grass - ordinary grass - next to their blanket,
and joined in.
Twitchie sat cross-legged, juggling the twins and the baby in the air, when
Mimi showed up.
"Twitchie," she said, from behind him, "what are you doing?"
Twitchie stopped juggling - he didn't drop the kids, but he knew, since
he'd played with them a while, even if he did, they wouldn't burst, as a
reality soap bubbles might. He laid them on the blanket, where they
floated over to the soapy-water bowl, and re-dipped themselves and floated
over to mama for soapy hugs.
Mimi stood between Twitchie and the near-noon sun. Not until then had he
thought to wonder how much time had passed since he'd sat down to play
with the narc soap bubble and his family.
He patted the grass next to him. "Join us."
Mimi sat, and made greeting gestures to the Bubbles, Ma and Pa. They
nodded and smiled back, chattering in what sounded like Vietnamese to
"Getting along, are we?" Mimi asked Twitchie.
"Yeah. This is -" he pointed to papa Bubble, and hesitated. "I don't know
their names, because they speak Bubblish. They're friendly. Even if papa
Bubble is a narc."
"Yeah, he's -"
"How can you tell?"
Twitchie shrugged, blinked, took off his glasses - the twins had earlier
become fascinated with his glasses and they started chittering now,
begging him to let them wear the glasses again.
"I can tell. Like I can tell that, even if he's a narc, we don't have to
He surrendered his glasses to the twins. "See?" The twins tum-bled about
on the blanket, giggling as they tussled over the glasses. Mama and Papa
tossed baby between them like a puffy beach ball, watching. They smiled
and chittered in Bubblish, gesturing and pointing at Mimi and Twitchie.
"I see," Mimi said, "and I hear, but they don't have mouths or voice boxes
"You want logic in a hallucination?" Twitchie asked.
"So, did you see anything?" Mimi asked.
"Saw hide nor hair, so to speak. You?"
"No, but I did see the twins - our twins, I mean." The Bubble twins
floated in mid-air, bouncing off each other like slow motion bumper cars.
"They're getting tape."
"Okay." Twitchie picked up the discarded glasses and put them on. "We
"We'll go back down Haight. You take the north side, I'll walk the
"Meet at the apartment."
Twitchie looked at the Bubble family. "Well, folks. It's been fun." He
started to stand, but Papa Bubble frowned - Twitchie had gotten used to
detecting facial expressions on soap bubbles who had no faces - and
babbled something that sounded like concern. "Gob-ble de freole?" which
was maybe, "Do you have to go? We were having fun," in Mandarin.
Mimi rose to her knees and offered an apologetic smile to Mama Bubble, who
also chattered in Bubblish, "Flippoppity bloop," which probably meant:
"Oh, please stay and play some more."
"Sorry, guys," Twitchie said, on his knees, "but we have this mission. It
could be dangerous." He frowned, serious-faced, to rein-force his point.
"Maybe a government conspiracy or drug lords. CIA, FBI, Republicans, who
The faceless Bubble's facial expressions grew more concerned.
Mimi stood, smiled to the Bubbles, holding Twitchie's hand, while Twitchie
remained on his knees, trying to disengage from his hosts. He felt
awkward, as if he'd done something that, in Bubblish culture, might be
impolite. The Bubbles had been nice to him; he felt compelled to be nice
"Frumpish fry-tie diddlyshit," Papa Bubble said, and mama nod-ded and
added, "Diddlyshit," frowning.
"We have people depending on us," Twitchie said. "Harold and the twins.
Blank expressions on faceless faces.
"Look, you're a narc, even if you aren't a bad narc, which is weird, but
what isn't weird today?" He gestured at the people and things - blue
buffalo, flying pigs, hot dogs selling singing popcorn, four-legged
mustard jars, furry fishsticks, and monkeys on bicycles built for two.
"Well, never mind. You're a narc, so you dig. Duty."
Twitchie sighed and stood; his attempts to mollify the sad family would
not succeed past the language barrier. "We have to go."
The Bubbles rose to the feet they didn't have and bowed heads they didn't
Mimi looked across the glen eastward toward the park entrance. "Now," she
said, "if I was a Very Strange Fellow, where would -"
Behind them, rapid-fire babbling Bubblish erupted, and they turned.
Papa Bubble, as big as a goose egg, expanded to softball-sized, bobbed
over and hovered a foot from Mimi's nose and said, in Eng-lish but with a
Bubblish accent: "Very Strange Fellow?"
"Whoa," Twitchie said, "you understood -"
Papa Bubble gestured and babbled at Mimi and Twitchie in high-pitched,
rapid-fire Bubblish, interspersed with "Very Strange Fellow," and concern
in his voice.
"Look, Papa," Twitchie began, "I don't know what - bloop."
The narc soap bubble shot into Twitchie's mouth at the "ah" of "what" and
lodged there, with a soapy bloop sound, embedded be-tween Twitchie's
upper and lower jaw.
"Mmph?" Twitchie said. Papa Bubble was inside his mind. It felt -
"What the hell -" Mimi said, more startled than frightened.
"I said," Twitchie spoke, not in his own voice at all, "please tell me
what you know about the Very Strange Fellow." Twitchie's jaw worked around
the words, and Papa Bubbles contracted and ex-panded as Twitchie's chin
rose and fell as he spoke. It felt like chew-ing on a balloon. Papa
Bubbles tasted lemony.
- having a soap bubble inside your mind. It felt -
Twitchie's jaw worked, vocal cords vibrated, but Papa Bubbles spoke
through Twitchie's windpipe, manipulating his tongue, jaw, lips, teeth,
and palate to say what Papa Bubbles wanted said.
Twitchie tried to respond, but could not. Papa Bubbles had his throat. He
pantomimed as much to Mimi, who, startled, eyes a-pop, jaw-agape, took a
few seconds to figure it out.
- it felt like -
- like falling into a bottomless pit, but before panic set in, the soap
bubble inside his mind did - something - and he relaxed.
"We - we -" she started, but her mind and tongue weren't in the same
groove. She stopped and took a deep breath and restarted. "Very Strange
Fellow, yes. We're - we're looking for him, yes. What -"
"He's a wanted criminal," the soap bubble narc said through Twitchie's
mouth, "and I was going to bust him right here."
In his mind, Twitchie sighed, resigned, and let the soap bubble take
"You may have blown my cover."
Suddenly, the bottom fell out of his mental bathtub and Twitchie's eyes
went wide behind Coke bottle lenses. He blinked, eyebrows abob, and he
waved his hands like somebody drown-ing.
-it felt -
"Twitchie, what's wrong?" Mimi clutched his flailing arm.
"Oh, no," Bubble said through Twitchie. "I think your Twitchie is going to
"Twitchie?" Mimi cried, clutching him, near hysteria herself.
It felt like falling.
Twitchie's arms flailed, he started to hyperventilate, he tried to speak.
- then he vanished.
Startled, dizzy, Twitchie took a step back. He bumped into the coffee table
behind him, his knees buckled and he toppled back-wards -
- onto Mimi.
"Hey, watch it, bub." She'd been sitting on the coffee table edge and he'd
knocked her off when he fell over the table, along with the water pipe.
They sprawled on the floor, tangled legs and arms, and the table tipped on
"Wuuuffft -" Twitchie started to say as Mimi pushed him away.
Papa Bubble still lodged in Twitchie's mouth like a bubblegum bubble ready
Twitchie sat up, wide-eyed, and said, "Where are we? Are we in your
As if outside himself, watched over his own shoulder, Twitchie observed
the soap bubble in his mind do its soothing control thing again, his
vertigo eased, and Twitchie surrendered to the seductive mental bubble
"Twitchie?" On her knees, Mimi extended a finger toward the bubble in his
Twitchie batted her hand away. "Please don't touch. I don't expect I might
burst, after Twitchie played with Molly and Bally, and little Bob, but I'm
a bit freaked out."
"Yeah, yeah." Mimi took deep breaths to take the edge off what looked to
Twitchie like her own panic attack starting. Twitchie felt semi-relaxed
but he had the feeling that Papa Bubble teetered on the verge of panic
too. Papa Bubbles used Twitchie's lungs to breathe.
"My name is Sam Bubbles." Twitchie shrugged as he listened to himself talk
"I understand your unease, Twitchie," Sam said. "Please under-stand this
is how we may communicate. We need to talk. We have problems. Big
Twitchie righted the coffee table and Mimi put the water pipe back on it.
He sat, cross-legged on the floor. Mimi joined him, fac-ing him, holding
his hands in her lap.
"As you guessed, Twitchie, I'm a narc. I'm Sam Bubbles, Inspec-tor First
Class, Federal Dimensional Border Patrol. As you also guessed, I am no
threat to you."
"Call me `Sam.' "
"Sam," Mimi said, "Uh, what brings you -"
"Ah." Twitchie held up a finger. "The Very Strange Fellow. You see, he is
the most dangerous criminal of all time. When I heard you say the name -"
"How did you understand the words?"
"Because, my dear Mimi," Twitchie said, voice lowered, "in this or any
reality, Very Strange Fellow translates with the same nega-tive psychic
and spiritual connotations."
Mimi frowned for a second, deep in thought. "So this Very Strange Fellow
we call him VSF - is a bad guy."
"The worst. I was waiting to catch him. I think you blew my cover. But
Twitchie looked around the room as if seeing it for the first time. "So,
this is your reality?"
"We keep it clean," Mimi said, indignant. "Harold, our room-mate, he
cleans. We help."
"You do have running water?"
"Sure, we - what are you doing?"
Twitchie walked to the kitchen and turned on the tap. He touched the water
with a finger to check the temperature.
Then he grabbed a soap bottle and read, "Hm. `Lux Liquid Dis-hwashing
Detergent. New & Improved. Lemony fresh.' Le-mony?"
"It's like -"
"Never mind. I got it from Twitchie's memory."
Twitchie unscrewed the cap from the bottle, tipped his head back and
poured a dollop of detergent onto Sam's rounded surface, poking from
Twitchie's open mouth. Twitchie felt Papa Soap Bub-ble shut down his gag
reflex as it formed. He lowered the bottle, lowered his head, put the
bottle back on the sink edge, tipped his head back up again, and gargled.
When he finished, he bent over the sink and spat residue around Sam.
"Ah, much better," Sam said, and Twitchie smiled around the pink bubble.
"I feel like a new bubble." He wiped his chin.
"Right. About this VSF -"
"Ah, yes." He grabbed Mimi's hand and they returned to the living room and
sat. "He is wanted in my reality - which is your hallucination - for
escape from protective confinement. Our protec-tion, not his. He's a
danger to everyone around him and can-not be allowed -"
"A danger to -?"
"Ah, too late." Sam's voice edged with pain, regret.
"What's too late?"
"He's here." Sam looked around the room through Twitchie's eyes. "So am
I. Both bad." He padded to the window, parted the closed blinds, and
"Stop talking in riddles." Mimi pulled his arm and he turned to face her.
"It's scary. I'm not stoned anymore -"
"Not good either."
"- so quit - bubbling - and speak English. What's going on?"
"I'll explain, but I don't think it'll -"
Bloop-bloop. Bubble-popping sound, times two, as from largish soap
bubbles. Twitchie/Sam flinched.
And then, thumpity-thump. The twins appeared in the air from three feet
above the kitchen floor and fell. They held the tape re-corder above them,
as if crossing a river, to keep it from damage in their fall.
"Wow," they said in tandem.
The twins stood, dazed and shaken. They staggered into the living room, the
tape recorder between them as if was the Crown Jewels, or the master of
the Stones' "Got Live If You Want It" al-bum. They grinned.
The were so hyped over what they'd taped and they wanted to talk about it
right now, but Twitchie and Mimi's dazed expressions and the bizarre
bubble in Twitchie's mouth dampened their enthu-siasm and they lost their
"It's the VSF cat -" Bobbie said. He laid the tape recorder down and sat.
"-isn't it?" Robbie continued. "You found him?"
"No," Mimi said, "but we did meet a nice soap bubble -"
"Pleased to meet you," Sam said.
"- who is a narc, but not our problem -"
"He's a -"
"- and he's after our VSF, who is -"
"- also your VSF, and a danger to us all," Sam finished. "It may be too
"What do you mean?" Mimi asked. "Too late for what?"
"You shouldn't have gone to my reality." Sam said.
"This groovy music -" Bobbie and Robbie started, but Sam shushed them with
Twitchie's raised finger.
"I shouldn't be in yours. The fabric of interdimensional integrity has
"Okay," Bobbie said, "it sounds bad -"
"- but what are you talking about?" Robbie finished.
"Yeah," Mimi said. "Explain."
"When you said `Very Strange Fellow' in the park in my reality, I had to
know what you knew, because we've been expecting him - the VSF - to appear
so we could recapture him. We got a tip, the FDBP - that's the Federal
Dimensional Border Patrol. My partners waited nearby to jump him -"
"What about your family?" Mimi asked. "Would your bust endan-ger them?"
"Nah." Sam waved Twitchie's hand. "They're trained in Joe Gin Gumbo,
bubblish judo. They can handle themselves. Anyway, when you said `Very
Strange Fellow,' I thought our cover might have been blown so I had to
"By diving into Twitchie's mouth?" Mimi asked.
"Nobody else is supposed to know about the Very Strange Fel-low. When I
got in you - that's how we communicate interspe-cies, but I guess you do
things differently in this dimension -"
"Back at you," the twins echoed.
"- but the point is I needed to find out what you knew about the VSF - a
threat to us and to my family - to everything."
Twitchie sighed. "But." Then he paused, picking at a frazzled cuff on his
jeans. "Twitchie blooped here. Surprised me. Why would I suspect you
came from a different reality? It's not supposed to happen. As soon as I
felt you were about to go interdimensional, with me in your mouth - it was
too late. So here I am -"
"I think you missed -" Robbie began.
"- missed a few steps," Bobbie finished.
"What's the big deal?" Mimi said. "We went interdimensional. You did too."
She shrugged. "So?"
"It's not supposed to happen. Didn't I say that? Yeah, I said that."
"Explain," Mimi said.
Sigh. "Dimensions are separate. You groove in your reality, I groove in
mine, and no entity grooves between. Get it?"
"The barrier between dimensions has been breached. Your intru-sion into my
reality proved it, as I observed in the park just before you blooped
back here, with me along for the ride. Blooping back here, me with
you, it complicates things. Not only did you guys go over to mine, but
you've been into my reality twice. You all, not just Mimi and Twitchie.
So - counting my passage back here - you coming back here, I mean, and my
coming here once -"
"Skip the math," Mimi said, "and get to the point. You're start-ing to
"Starting?" the twins said.
"Don't you see?" Sam's voice cracked, and Twitchie pulled at his hair.
"Breach of inter-dimensional barriers! Destruction of all reality! The end
of everything! Finis! Kaput!"
Twitchie's four friends sat still for a long moment before Sam spoke
"I must go back," he said.
"Go back?" the twins said.
"A breach has occurred. Your reality doesn't even know about the problem,
let alone how to fix it. I'm not sure it can be fixed. I must go back."
"You'd go back," Mimi said, "how?"
"Toke the interdimensional substance, just as you did when you breached
the barrier to come to my reality. I don't want to do it be-cause every
unauthorized interdimensional transit widens the breach a little more -
like a blanket frays with each wash - and if the breach gets too wide, the
wall too thin to hold -"
"Well, what?" Mimi asked.
Sam shouted and Twitchie threw up his arms. "Didn't you hear me? Reality
- the entire universe - gone. Ka-fucking-put. Got it?"
Mimi and the twins shook their heads, silent, awed by the out-burst.
Sam made Twitchie sigh. "I have to share this with the authori-ties in my
reality. They must be warned. Maybe -"
"The Man?" Mimi.
"Well, do you know what to do?"
"B-but," Mimi stammered, "what about -"
"Oh, hell." Twitchie leaned over and kissed her on the mouth.
Sam popped from Twitchie's mouth - flop - and into Mimi's.
Mimi blinked, backed away from Twitchie, slapped his hand, crossed her
eyes to look at the pink blob in her mouth. Twitchie sat back and blinked,
shaking his head as if coming out of a trance. He sputtered at the lemony
"There," Sam said. Mimi's cheeks expanded and contracted around the pink
bubble as Sam used her to talk. "Do you get it now, what's at stake
"What the -" the twins began.
"Sam trades memories," Twitchie explained in his own voice. He massaged
his jaw. It ached, as did his tongue and lips. "Mimi knows now what I do
and almost as much as Sam does, about what's going down."
"Serious stuff, huh?" Bobbie said.
"It's the music, man," Twitchie said as much to himself as to Bobbie.
"Who'd have thunk it? Rock `n' roll holds it all together. Not bluegrass
or polka or country and western. Rock `n' roll, the music of the spheres,
the heartbeat of the cosmos. Holds the walls between universes up, keeps
them from spilling into each other. Play the wrong note and the walls come
tumbling down. Man."
"Then maybe we should -" Robbie began, but Sam cut him off. Mimi leaned
across the table and kissed Robbie. Sam flooped from Mimi, who sat back,
blinking, gasping, startled - "What a rush," she said - and Robbie's eyes
popped open and his jaw worked, bub-ble-full.
Robbie kissed his sister, Sam moved to Bobbie - flop - and everybody -
They all remembered now what Sam remembered, what every entity in his
dimension knew: Long, long ago, the Very Strange Fellow had created the
universe and all its dimensions.
And the barriers between them: rock `n' roll. Not polka. Not bluegrass. No
country and western. Rock `n' roll.
No two dimensions had the same rock `n' roll. The difference kept them
There came a time that the VSF grew restless, as creators often do, and
bored with his creation. So he decided to tear it all down and start over
"Wow," Robbie said.
- but the people of Sam Bubbles' dimension got wind of his scheme and
schemed on their own. Through an intricate and clever subterfuge that
would have been the envy of any god or goddess, they captured him and
confined him -
"But the fucker broke out -" Twitchie said.
"- and he's here -" Sam said.
"- which means his plot to tear down the walls -" Mimi said.
"- is underway," Sam said.
"Can he be stopped?" Twitchie asked. "I mean, if he's, like, the creator
"He's not god," Sam said, "like you mean in your reality. After all, we
did capture him and -"
"- but he escaped -" Twitchie said.
"Too late, too late," Sam said through Bobbie's mouth.
"And if he's here?" Twitchie felt odd using his own voice to express his
own thoughts. "If the VSF plays his dimension's rock `n' roll on this side
of reality -"
"And if that destroys reality as we know it -" Mimi continued the
"- we'll never make it to the cover of the Rolling Stone, man," Robbie
Mimi reached for the transdimensional lid in the coffee table drawer.
It wasn't there.
"No baggie." Mimi's voice quaked. "Twitchie, is this yours?" She held his
Just then, from the bathroom - bloop. And crash. Harold had come
Twitchie, Mimi and the twins dashed into the narrow bathroom when they
heard Harold bloop and crash. Harold swore and stood, dazed. Everyone
crowded in, helping him stand. They all talked at once, except Bobbie who
had a bubble in her mouth.
"- are you all right -"
"- where have you been -"
Harold looked around, eyes frantic, but he didn't look at the group around
him, human and soap bubble. His eyes passed over them, inches above the
tallest head, Twitchie's, and tried for the itty-bitty frosted window, and
then the door to the living room. He grunted, pushed past his partners,
and stomped out, bee-lined to the window, parted the blinds, and looked
The gang followed him, but kept their distance.
"What's up?" Twitchie asked.
Harold gasped, took a deep breath, let the blinds fall back into place,
and sat back against the wall. "I think I got away from -" He pointed over
his shoulder with a thumb. "From them."
Harold nodded. He frowned. He took off his sunglasses and leaned forward.
"Bobbie, why are you blowing bubbles?"
"Oh, this," Sam said, and Bobbie crossed her eyes to look at the soap
bubble. "I'm Sam." Bobbie pointed at Sam. "This is Sam."
At Harold's baffled look, Bobbie sighed and kissed the big man somewhere
in his beard. Twitchie wondered why Harold hadn't shaved after all. What
happened to his plan?
Harold was startled at first, but in a second, he reached out, grabbed
Bobbie by the back of her neck, and returned the kiss with soggy passion,
pulling her off onto his lap. Then he let go, his eyes popped open, he
said, "flloobh?" and Sam was in his mouth.
Bobbie scrambled to her knees, panting, after Harold dropped her as the
narc soap bubble literally captured Harold's interest. The group bent over
Harold/Sam. On his face indignation changed to perplexity, to horror, then
to understanding, and back to horror and chagrin, back and forth like a
streetlight on speed.
"Now do you get it?" Sam said.
Harold nodded. "Buffle doosh chee zhumng -"
"Shit," Sam said, and Harold kissed Twitchie, who squirmed, too late,
beard-to-beard, and Sam transferred to his original host.
"Harold has news," Twitchie/Sam said. "It'll work better if I'm not
between his tongue and lips."
The group sat, grim-faced, and Harold told his news.
"When I left you two," he began, nodding at Twitchie and Mimi, "after the
twins disappeared, I headed to the gas station at Divisidero and Hayes. I
planned to cut my hair with my jackknife and maybe do some damage to my
beard, to disguise myself. Change clothes - off with the leather jacket
and boots, hide them behind a dumpster. T-shirt, jeans, and barefoot, like
Harold shrugged. "Then I planned to come back and watch the apartment and
see if the VSF would show up. When I got a block away, I decided I didn't
need to cut my hair after all. I'd passed a three-headed dog, more blue
buffalo - the whole circus. I fit in.
"So I turned back. Then I saw a yellow balloon in front of the apartment.
The balloon, it had longish, matted hair -"
"Sounds like our guy," Twitchie said.
"- casing the apartment. I snuck up on it, real close. Then I saw the VSF
across the street. I almost bumped into him. Headless. Bare feet,
backpack, scruffy shirt and old jeans, like you said?"
" Yep," Mimi said.
"The VSF crossed the street and the yellow balloon head moved away from
the front window. It bobbed around the corner, up to-ward Haight."
"Head and body split up?" Twitchie asked.
"Yeah. I followed the head around to the alley and it started toward the
back door. It deflated itself, slipped under the door, and re-inflated
itself inside - I could see through the crack - and bobbed into the living
room. The VSF banged on the front door waiting for its head to let it in.
"I broke the door down, so I could go in and - well, deal with it. Just as
the door gave way, I saw them - it, he, whatever - go out the front. I ran
after them, but I stopped as I saw the coffee table drawer was open."
Twitchie gasped, and so did his companions.
"Yeah." Harold nodded. "He took the baggie but he left the roach. Didn't
see it, I guess. He left your wallet."
Twitchie held up the wallet.
"He didn't take anything else. I looked out the window and I saw him, head
reattached, headed toward Haight. I went out the back, figured I'd nail
him, but the street was crowded. Slowed me up, so I tailed him. He didn't
see me. He crossed Buena Vista Park, crossed Market, and went into a bar.
Moses Eisley's Canteen and Tattoo Emporium. Harleys parked out front.
Roy Orbison on the jukebox. `Pretty Woman.' "
Everybody shuddered in sympathy with Harold.
Sam asked, through Twitchie, "Then what did you do?"
"I didn't want to, but I started to go in. I'd just crossed the street
when - when -"
Harold turned and parted the blinds and peeked through the two-inch gap.
"Then what?" Mimi prompted.
Harold lowered the blinds. "Yeah. Guys came out of the bar."
"Yeah. Guys. Nazi teddy bears armed with long Viking axes. They chased me.
I ran into Buena Vista, then -" He shrugged. "I blooped and thumped.
Here I am."
"The Very Strange Fellow is still at this place?" Sam asked.
Harold nodded. "With the Nazi teddy bears."
"In my reality, or yours?"
Shrug, and nervous glance at the blinds.
"There's a Moses Eisley's Canteen and Tattoo Emporium in our reality,"
Sam said. "Bad place."
"There's a San Francisco in both realities," Mimi said, "and a
"So, are you saying -" Bobbie began.
"- that this VSF cat -" Robbie continued.
"- is here, in our reality?" they finished together.
Twitchie/Sam stood and paced. "The wall between dimensions is falling
"Those teddy bears could come here?" Harold's deep voice cracked.
**For a second, Twitchie dismissed Harold's concern. The second passed and
Twitchie sensed some deep-rooted fear haunted Harold.
"We're screwed," Sam said, slumping. Then he straigh-tened. "No, wait.
Twitchie has something to say." Twitchie kissed Mimi, passing Sam to her.
"Maybe we're not screwed," Twitchie said. "Somebody can go to this bar
in both realities. Check it out. You, Sam, you go to your reality and
check your bar. You guys," he nodded to the twins and Harold, "you go to
our bar and -"
"Us?" the twins said.
"If you don't mind," Harold said, looking sheepish, "I'll stay home for a
while, take a bath, read a little..." His voice trailed off and he glanced
at the blinds but restrained himself from parting them. He shuddered.
"What's the use?" Sam moaned through Mimi.
"Don't give up," Twitchie said. "The VSF didn't get the roach." He knelt
at the coffee table drawer. "So we have -" He held up the roach between
forefinger and thumb.
"Damn," Sam/Mimi said.
The roach was a sliver, half an inch long. A single toke.
"Huh?" all echoed.
"That's not enough," Sam said, dejected. "That'll get me back to my
reality." Mimi put the sliver-roach back into the little drawer and closed
it. "But -"
Twitchie nodded. "Somebody will have to toke up and go with you because
"Because I don't have any fingers to hold the roach with," Sam/Mimi said.
"Or light it with, or lips to hold it. Here, I'm just a bubble, unless I'm
in somebody's mouth. Somebody would have to come with me back to my
reality. Even if I find the VSF -"
"Could a person get stuck over there?" Twitchie finished. "Whoever's mouth
Sam nodded Mimi's head and Twitchie remembered: Sam had a family.
Silence ensued and hung in the air like smoke from a bong on a lazy day.
"Here's what we should do." Twitchie said. "We check out this reality
first since we're here now. If we find the VSF, we'll deal with it -
somehow. Maybe no need to cross dimensions."
"Too late, too late," Sam said.
"We don't know that for sure," Twitchie said.
"Well, I can't help you," Sam shook Mimi's head. "If the VSF sees me in
somebody's mouth -"
"Don't give up, man," Twitchie said.
"Can somebody run me a bath?" Sam said. "I'll just soak up and wait
"I'll do it," Harold said. "And I'll stay here and keep guard."
"You have to go with your people." Sam said. "Take them to the bar."
"Why?" Harold whined.
"Because somebody might have to go in," Mimi/Sam said, "and these others
would attract too much attention."
Twitchie felt frustrated at Sam's defeatist attitude. The soap bubble narc
was wrong. He knew it. There had to be something they could do to save
the universe so they could get on the cover of the Rolling Stone. Had
to be. He'd find it. Going to the bar, finding the VSF - it was a start.
But he saw Sam's point. The twins looked emaciated, like teeny-bopper pop
star wannabes. They looked too much alike; they'd at-tract attention in a
druggy bar-tattoo parlor. They'd get the shit kicked out of them.
Harold looked at Twitchie and snorted.
"What?" Twitchie's irritation refocused from Sam to Harold.
"You'd get creamed on general principles," Harold said. "And Mimi, well
"Tits?" Bobbie said.
"Pretty conspicuous," Robbie said.
"If you're going to do this," Sam said, "you'd better get going. I'll wait
in the bathtub. You do have bubble bath?"
Harold ran a tub for Sam, loading it with half a bottle of Johnson &
Johnson Baby Bath. Twitchie kneeled over the tub, splashing water to churn
up more suds. Harold leaned on the bathroom door-jamb, shifted from foot
to foot, wiping bubbles off his beard. Watch-ing Twitchie.
"What do we do if we find this VSF?" he asked. He sneezed.
"If you find him," Sam said, "I doubt you can do anything. But don't let
him light up anyway."
The bathroom filled with steam and bubbles, and in a moment, Twitchie
turned off the water.
"What if we, like -" Robbie began.
"- have trouble getting back?" Bobbie finished.
Sam shrugged Mimi's shoulders. "We'll fadoodle that barshook when we get
"What about the tape?" the twins said.
"Right," Sam said. "We'll deal with that when you get back. Right now,
it's better here than -" Mimi pointed over her shoulder at the street
outside, "- out there."
Sam said, "Good luck." Then he blooped from Mimi's mouth, floated to the
bubble pile spilling over the tub and onto the tiled floor, and settled
in, one big bubble among many.
They left through the back door. Twitchie closed the door but the lock
didn't engage because Harold had broken it. Even closed, the door looked
as if a huge hippie had kicked it open.
The group clomped down the stairs to the alley and headed south on Lyon.
They walked in a tight cluster, silent and grim.
Outside, it was a nice day, mid-afternoon, not too hot, a nice breeze.
Sirens wailed, a normal sound. Horns honked. Normal horns.
On the sidewalk, they passed hippies, cops, tourists - every color and
kind. Except for a few dogs and one cockatoo on a guy's shoulder, all
human. All normal.
"I want to get it straight," Twitchie said as the group stood in a tight
huddle on the north side of Market at Castro, not on the side-walk but
farther back in the park, under the shade of an old syca-more. Under
another tree a few feet away, a white Richie Havens look-alike sat on the
grass abusing an old six-string, bellowing out "Eleanor Rigby." Passers-by
tossed coins into a battered, open gui-tar case.
"Go for it." Mimi said.
"Each reality has its own rock `n' roll," Twitchie said. "If their rock
`n' roll ever happens in our reality, or ours in theirs, the wall comes
down between the two and the realities mix up, until - until everything
"We'll burn the tape -" Bobbie said.
"- when we get back to the pad, man." Robbie said.
"And the dope?" Twitchie continued. "Concentrated rock `n' roll? How do
you concentrate rock `n' roll to smoke? I don't see that Sam knows how it
gets done - look around in his memory - but who is doing it, I see that.
They all nodded grim-faced. Twitchie smelled bubble bath and sweat among
his friends. They searched their memories - Sam's memory, now theirs' too
- and saw the truth.
"Goddam," Harold muttered. "Goddam."
"Tear it down," Twitchie muttered. "Start all over again. Talk about
"Maybe Sam's right," Harold said. "Maybe it's too late to stop -
whatever's going down."
"We can't just give up," Twitchie said. "That would be - irresponsi-ble."
They stood huddled together, across Market Street from Moses Eisley's
Canteen and Tattoo Emporium, where a jukebox playing tinny Buck Owens'
"Act Naturally" jostled with the white Richie Haven's gutty guitar.
Twitchie had the feeling he and his crusaders were -
"Hesitating," he said.
"What?" Mimi said.
"Thinking aloud, again. We know what's at stake, but here we all stand -"
"It's my fault," Harold said. "It's those - teddy bears. I know I have
to go in there and - well, do what has to be done."
"Nah," Twitchie said. "Anybody would hesitate. This is big."
"I have to go in." Harold bunched his fists and his shoulders hunched.
"Me." He faced across the street. "My reality. Right or wrong, but my
reality." Then he started out.
East-west traffic on Market was bumper-to-bumper as cars turned onto and
off Castro. Harold had to wait for the light. His dread held him back and
a feeling of responsibility - "my reality," he muttered - propelling him
forward and he hopped from foot to foot as he waited. When the light
changed, he charged across, a bear, fists bunched, hair bobbing as he
jogged, toward the noisy bar where he'd seen the VSF - and ax-wielding
Nazi teddy bears.
The band watched Harold dodge between chrome-flashy and leather-adorned
Harleys parked at the curb and on the sidewalk. At the bar door, he looked
over his shoulder at his friends, nodded, and pushed in. The door shut
Seconds passed. "Eleanor Rigby" changed to "Boots of Spanish Leather" and
"Act Naturally" changed to "The Battle of New Or-leans."
Soon, Twitchie heard a sustained howl, a challenge or a charge, from a
dozen voices inside the joint across the street. The group around him
The sound rose, and people on the sidewalk near the bar door glanced at it
and hurried by. Twitchie imagined Percy Faith's Cho-rus and Orchestra on
acid, melodic but insane.
"Furry?" he said.
"Yeah," Mimi said, "Furry. Sounds like -"
The bar door burst open and slammed against the wall with a woody thunk,
and Harold dashed out, running full speed. He leaped over a motorcycle
without breaking stride, and ran straight into the street, not looking
left or right, running all out.
"Furry -" the twins began, and finished: "Oh, shit," as, across the
street, right on Harold's heels -
Wearing itty-bitty Nazi storm trooper uniforms with spiked World War One
helmets, armed with long-handled, wicked Viking axes, and screaming like
rebel soldiers, a teddy bear squadron chased a terrified Harold.
Harold got lucky. The light had changed and east-west traffic had started
across the street, so he made a clean getaway. Traffic and irate drivers
impeded the teddy bears' attempt to follow.
Harold hesitated a moment when he got near Twitchie and the others. "He's
still in there," he shouted, "and he's got the back-pack." Then he ran
Pandemonium erupted again at the street corner as the teddy bears formed a
flying wedge and dashed into traffic - horns blared, people cursed, and
teddy bears howled in martial triumph as they jumped over car hoods and
trunks, shaking their long-handled axes, heading after Harold -
- and, Twitchie realized with alarm, them too.
"They're after us, too," Bobbie and Robbie said, turning to run right
Twitchie and Mimi turned to run, murderous teddy bears on their heels.
The teddy bears had trouble negotiating the crowds, thicker on the north
side of Buena Vista. The crowds on Haight caught on to the disturbance,
cutting through their lazy-day revelry like a fart in church. Dense crowds
parted to let the freaks run through but condensed in solid masses behind
them to slow the teddy bears.
"Narcs!" somebody yelled.
Twitchie took it up; the cry had galvanized the crowds, mostly hippies.
"Narcs!" he yelled.
The hippie crowds took it up and teddy bears started to stumble and fall,
axes flying from their furry little grips and spiked helmets popping off
their furry little heads. Guttural Germanic teddy bear and hippie curses
rose and merged in a cacophonous tumult.
Twitchie and his mates ran through the crowd, across Haight. As they
headed downhill on Lyon, Twitchie slowed to look back.
"Wait," he called out. They halted and re-gathered on the side-walk.
Across Haight, hippies assaulted teddy bears who re-gathered in a tight
circle, weapons aimed outwards at their taunters, who had circled them but
kept a cautious distance.
"They see them too," Twitchie said. "Everybody does."
"Which means -" Bobbie.
"- the wall is coming down, man." Robbie.
"We've got to get back to Sam," Harold said, anxious, voice cracky. "Hide.
"Where's Mimi?" Twitchie looked around.
"Gone ahead?" Harold said.
The teddy bear phalanx began to blunder its way forward across Haight in a
tight mass. Traffic snarled, horns blared, shouts and curses flew, and
from somewhere, sirens wailed.
The group dashed down the hill and rounded the corner into the alley
behind the apartment before the teddy bear squad broke free yards behind,
and built up pursuit speed again.
"Hide here." Harold ducked behind several battered and fragrant garbage
cans just inside the alley. Harold and the twins scooted into the narrow
space behind the cans. Twitchie, a tad slower, had to jump in one as the
teddy bears passed the alley mouth in a howling dash. He pulled a tinny
lid over his head just in time and watched through an eyehole-sized chink
in the can.
Twitchie held his breath as the teddy bears passed the alley en-trance and
down the street, headed toward Page. The can smelled of banana peels,
coffee grounds, soggy newspaper, and something dead-fishy.
He felt a sneeze building. He wiped his nose, got something moldy and
putrid on it, and his urge to sneeze intensified.
One teddy bear had stopped to check out the alley as the others ran on.
Through the eyehole chink, knees folded up to his chin, amid
unidentifiable detritus, Twitchie saw teddy bear shadow creep up the
alley, saw the long, sharp-bladed ax stab at some cardboard boxes ten feet
The urge to sneeze grew but Twitchie didn't move.
The teddy bear muttered and shook his ax at the boxes. He jabbed at the
boxes and a cat yowled and darted out, leaving cat-skid marks as it dashed
away, startling the teddy bear who jumped two feet in the air and dropped
his spiked helmet clattery to the ground. He swore in teddy bearish and
waddled to retrieve the helmet.
It had rolled up against Twitchie's garbage can.
The urge to sneeze grew. Twitchie tasted moldiness as he pinched his nose
between thumb and finger to stifle the sneeze and he started to see
He held his breath.
Couldn't hold it.
From a block west, from the park, an explosion sounded like thunder.
"- chooo!" But the explosion had covered the sneeze.
The teddy bear turned at the sound, helmet in paw. It popped his helmet
back on his head, grunted, and dashed after the sound.
Relative silence followed the pitty-pat of furry feet, headed to the
alley mouth, the source of the explosion in the park, and the weird world
"Bless you." Harold reached into the can to help Twitchie un-fold and get
"What was that?" Twitchie waved a hand toward the park.
"Fireworks," Bobbie said.
"Concert starting, man," Robbie said. He'd trotted over to the alley mouth
to look around the corner. He trotted back as Twitchie brushed - stuff -
off his pants and shirt. Harold dusted his back, then wiped his hand off
on his boot.
"The teddy bear dudes are splitting up, searching for us," Robbie said.
"Let's get inside and clean you up," Harold said. "You stink."
"The VSF is still back there?" Twitchie asked Harold as they jogged up the
"He's still got that backpack. I tried to snatch it, but he had eyes in
the back of his head. Those - teddy bears - they saw me."
"We've got to go back," the twins said as they got to the top.
"Maybe it'll be easier now the teddy bears are distracted," Twitchie
"Sam might know what to do." Harold jiggled the back door handle.
The door squeaked open and ragged raw wood flakes fluttered to the floor
along the broken jamb where Harold had broken it.
"Mimi?" Twitchie called as he padded into the kitchen.
The twins went into the living room. "Not here, man," they said.
"Mimi?" Twitchie shouted.
From the bathroom, Harold called, "Hey, Sam is - floop."
Twitchie and the twins went into the living room. "Where's Mimi?" Twitchie
asked nobody in particular, voice near panic.
Suddenly, Harold, with Sam in his mouth, ran in from the bath-room,
tackled Twitchie to the floor, and clamped a hand over his open mouth.
"Wuuth thuu fuuth?" Twitchie mumbled between Harold's fin-gers, glasses
The twins stood back, jaws agape, stunned, as Harold held Twitchie down,
probed his front pocket, and hauled out his wallet. Indignant and in pain,
Twitchie started to giggle anyway - he couldn't help it - as Harold tapped
a ticklish spot.
His protest, with an unconscious giggle under it, when Harold let loose
and stood, wallet in hand, froze in his throat. Twitchie raised himself on
his elbows on the floor, looking at Harold who had removed his sunglasses.
He caught in Harold's eyes a glazed, manic look - a crazed killer look.
The look was undiminished by the fact that Harold made a shushing gesture,
finger to his lips, with a soap bubble in his mouth.
Twitchie understood. Serious stuff, even if he didn't know what stuff. But
Shush? Twitchie nodded. Yeah, I can do that.
Harold opened Twitchie's wallet and removed an ear from it.
"What the -" Twitchie began, as did the twins.
"Well," Harold yelled, as if into a hidden microphone, "every-body's here,
including Mimi. Twins, Twitchie - good to see you. Mimi, doll face, come
give Harold a big old titty-hug."
Then Harold made loud lusty grunts as he tiptoed to the bath-room, holding
the severed ear like a dead mouse. Twitchie rose, wobbly-kneed, and he and
the twins followed, baffled.
In the bathroom, Harold tossed the ear in the toilet and flushed it. He
handed the wallet back to Twitchie and heaved a long, re-lieved sigh, as
if he'd just defused a bomb.
"What the hell -" Bobbie.
"- was that all about, man?" Robbie.
"They were here," Sam said. Harold lowered the toilet seat and sat, knees
gone to jelly, droopy-shouldered. The twins sat on the tub rim and
Twitchie leaned against the door.
"They?" Twitchie said.
"The teddy bears. They came here. After you left, I heard
people-trying-to-get-in noises from the back door, not motorcycle boots
and not human feet. I heard me teddy bear pitty-patty feet."
"What did you do?" Twitchie asked.
"Well, what could I do?" Harold said in a sarcastic, petulant whine as he
anchored fists on his hips and cocked his head. "I'm just a soap bubble
and they've got knives - this big." Harold held out his arms to each
side, nearly knocking Twitchie in the crotch with his left hand.
"I stayed in the tub and listened. I understand teddy bearish. I heard
them say, `We have the recorder with the other-dimensional rock `n' roll
so we can -"
"The tape!" The twins darted from the bathroom, and Twitchie barely
avoided being trampled.
"It's gone," they groaned from the other room. The twins re-turned, eyes
teary, jaws agape.
"Why did they -"
"How did they -"
"That ear." Harold pointed at his crotch and the toilet bowl he sat on.
Sam said, "Twitchie, when the VSF picked your pocket while you picked his
-" Twitchie flinched, remembering, "- he put his ear in the wallet so he
could spy on us."
"Huh?" the twins said.
"I heard it from the teddy bears. He had the business card, knew where to
go to get his dope back. When he did, he left your wallet behind and put
his ear in it to see what he could hear."
"He put his ear in my -"
"He heard about your plans at the bar. Harold didn't have a chance. He
used you guys. While you tried to get to him and the dope from his
backpack, he sent teddy bears here."
"How could he know I wouldn't open the wallet -"
"Well, I don't know, do I?" Sam/Harold's voice dripped with sarcasm. "He's
smarter than I am, okay? I guess he figured you wouldn't find it or look.
Whatever. If it was my wallet - and I don't have a wallet because soap
bubbles don't have pockets, not like you humans, but I guess not all
"He put his ear in my -"
"To listen. He'd know what we planned and he -"
"How could he put his -"
"An entity," Sam raised Harold's voice, "who could take off his head and
float it around like a balloon can take off his ear and stick it in a
"So you heard this -" Bobbie.
"- from the teddy bear cats when they took off -" Robbie.
"- with our tape recorder?"
"He's smarter than all of us." Sam groaned deep in Harold's throat, like
a trapped-animal. "When he heard talk about going after him at the bar, he
changed plans. He knows there's a FDBP agent after him and now he intends
to play that tape in this reality so -"
"- you said that if rock `n' roll from one reality gets played in another
"- everything breaks down, yes, and reality won't be like in the good old
days and everything -"
"Will go ka-fucking-put," Twitchie said.
Harold nodded. "He'd first intended to get enough heads in this reality to
toke up some of his concentrated other-reality rock `n' roll, but now -"
"He doesn't need the dope now because he has the music." Twitchie said.
"You got it." Harold's shoulders slumped.
"The explosion in the park -" Bobbie.
"- the cat plans to play that tape at the concert, man -" Robbie.
"- which is just starting," Sam said. "We're doomed."
"I wish you'd quit -" Twitchie started, then gulped as he remem-bered.
"Where's Mimi? Is she at the bar?"
"Damn, she shouldn't have done it," Twitchie muttered between clenched
teeth. He started for the back door, fists bunched. "I've got to go."
"Shh," Sam said. "Listen."
From out back, a rhythmic woody clomping, as if somebody running full-tilt
up the stairs.
"Mimi?" Twitchie said.
"Teddy bears?" the twins said.
Harold groaned around Sam.
Mimi dashed through the back door, gasping, face flushed, one halter-top
strap had come loose, and her left tit bobbed free, pale and sweaty. She
gave a quick glance out the back door and shut it. It didn't close all the
She held a backpack and as she turned, she bumped into Twitchie's
"Mimi," he cried, voice muffled against her neck, "I thought -"
"Don't think." Mimi dropped the backpack to the kitchen floor. "Kiss me."
Lips and tongues met, and a sloppy, heart-felt kiss followed until
Twitchie broke the embrace with a yip when Mimi stroked his tickle spot.
Harold/Sam and the twins joined the warm, fleshy huddle, then pushed the
pair into the living room with the backpack.
Mimi tossed the hefty bag on to the tabletop and she and the others sat.
"We need to tell Mimi -" Bobbie started.
"- what's going down, man." Robbie finished.
Harold kissed Mimi. Sam flooped into Mimi's mouth, her eyes popped open,
she said "flusshh?" and then she kissed Twitchie.
Sam flooped into Twitchie's mouth and he sat back, as did Mimi,
"Okay," Mimi said, "I get it."
"Let us in on -" Robbie started, and Mimi cut him off with a kiss.
Robbie then kissed Bobbie, who said, "Wow, man," around Sam.
"So what do we do?" Mimi asked nobody in particular.
"I don't think there's anything we can do," Sam said, despair just as
heavy on Bobbie's slim shoulders as it had been on Harold's. Her voice
cracked. "That VSF is smarter -"
"No, wait," Twitchie said. "Maybe here is."
"What?" Mimi asked.
"You say this guy is some kind of god, right?"
Sam nodded Bobbie's head dismally. "But not like you think of a god. He
did create the dimensions and the rock `n' roll that separates -"
"You guys caught him and put him in jail, right?" Twitchie saw the memory
Sam had put in his head of that long ago event in his mind. The capture
had been clever, the details, too intricate to fol-low, but -
"You caught him so he can't be smarter than you."
"But he got away," Mimi said.
"Yeah, but -"
"He can take off his head," Robbie said. "And his ear."
"He's got these teddy bear body guards," Harold said.
"But why?" Twitchie asked.
He got puzzled looks in response.
"If he's so tough, some sort of god -"
"You can't impose your Sunday school theology on -" Sam started.
"I'm not. He has hench-bears, for hell's sake. If he's some kind of god
"I told you -"
"- what does he need hench-bears for, huh? He needs to spy on us and steal
our music? He's vulnerable, somehow."
Sam shook Bobbie's head. "He's
immortal. Can't be killed."
"We don't have to kill him," Twitchie said. "We have to stop him from
playing that tape."
"Makes sense," Mimi said slowly.
"Well," Sam/Bobbie shrugged. "Maybe."
Twitchie stood and the others followed. "We'd better hurry."
"What about the dope in the backpack?" Harold asked.
"You stay here and guard it," Twitchie said. "We'll get rid of it later.
We'll get to the park and stop the music."
"Wait," Mimi said, "I think you all need to know what I know - about the
"Mimi, we don't have time," Twitchie said.
Sam understood Mimi's urgency and passed himself around the group, first
Robbie, then Harold, then Mimi, then back to Bobbie, and finally Twitchie.
Sam used his marvelous instant memory trans-fer facility - an ability any
superhero would give his X-ray vision to have - to tell the band what
happened to Mimi at the bar.
"Wow," the twins said.
"All right, then," Sam said from Twitchie's mouth. "We'll have to watch
Harold closed and locked the front door behind them.
Twitchie replayed Mimi's adventure in his mind again as they left the
apartment. It felt like his memory, as if he'd experienced it.
Hearing the guttural martial howls from across the street, from inside
Moses Eisley's Canteen and Tattoo Emporium, Mimi sus-pected something
wrong and she tensed, ready - to run, to hide, to attack. The sense that
often saved her from getting busted while pick-pocketing, a sense she
shared with Twitchie, said Harold was in trouble. She prepared to go
rescue him when he busted out, hair-flying, running full-tilt, dashing
into traffic. The teddy bear Nazis followed, yahooing.
Harold could outrun a stubby-legged teddy bear squadron. Even though he
looked more frightened than she'd ever seen him, Mimi's first concern was
that he didn't have the backpack with him.
When he flew past his mates, hardly slowing, to say the VSF was still in
the bar, Mimi knew she had to get the backpack. The end of the world was
in it, and she was too young to die. Besides, she'd promised herself and
Twitchie some nookie tonight.
So she broke off from the chase as soon as she thought she could get away
with it unobserved. The teddy bears ran a dozen steps be-hind them on the
sidewalk through the park. Mimi took advantage of the thick crowds as one
large woman waddled by abusing stretch slacks beyond warranty, and ducked
off the path and behind a syca-more and some hippies passing a pipe on the
The teddy bears, as Mimi hoped, were so intent on chasing Harold, the
other band members might have diverged away from the chase and gotten
clean away. They didn't, Mimi thought, because they were so startled -
maybe scared - they didn't consider the teddy bears were intent only on
Or they stuck with Harold because they loved him and assumed his danger as
theirs and without a thought had run away with him.
She didn't know if anybody saw her duck away from the chase. They were all
When Mimi reached Market across from the bar, no evidence of a recent
disturbance remained among the crowds going about their Sunday business.
She crossed the street.
At the door, she hesitated, wondering what to do next.
Go in, find the VSF, grab the backpack, and leave.
"Some plan," she said aloud.
She took a breath, pushed her shoulders back, and walked into the bar.
Marty Robbins sang "The Battle of New Orleans" on a jukebox. The door
swung shut behind her, and she looked through smoky-blue haze. The bar
smelled of beer, popcorn, pot, and sweat.
Marty Robbins continued to blow the heads off alligators to save America
as several bikers looked up. Maybe two or three dozen bikers were in the
low-ceilinged, dim room. Light came from over a green-felted table where a
group played pool and from another table where another group played cards
and from neon signs along one wall and behind the bar. Other groups sat
around tables here and there and held up the long bar, behind which
glasses and bottles were stacked and a fat, bald bartender with a massive
handlebar mustache frowned at Mimi.
"Hey, we don't -" the barkeep started, probably ready to say his fine
establishment didn't serve unescorted ladies. Mimi might have responded
with something like, "I ain't no lady, you moron." She didn't because she
saw the VSF across the room, and she yelled, "Hey, you!" The VSF walked
fast toward a door marked "bath-rooms," and "exit."
Mimi ran through the barroom; nobody stopped her.
As she got to the door, she realized the VSF wasn't break-ing for the back
alley. He headed for the bathroom in the long, dark, pissy-fragrant
hallway next to the exit. The VSF had to piss.
Mimi slowed as the door to the Guys ROOM - No Food Aloud Inside, Pleese!
squeaked open. She froze, one foot back in the main room, the other inside
the dark hallway, where she expected any second some gap-toothed,
Brilliantined biker with a boner to accost her. She was ten feet from the
VSF, who closed the bathroom door behind him. Mimi faced one of those
decisive moments, like the Gulf of Tonkin or losing one's virginity. The
VSF hadn't noticed her, so she made a decision.
She figured the VSF had, a second before she opened the front door,
started for the can. He had his back to her as she adjusted her vision to
the dim bar. Marty Robbins, chattering drunken bikers, clattering pool
balls, a dingy-clangy pinball machine and clinking glasses and bottles
kept him from hearing her.
Now, she dashed straight to the men's bathroom door, holding her breath
against the stench, and pushed the door open. It squeaked on rusty hinges
and Mimi stepped in.
The VSF pissed into a wide porcelain urinal, the backpack on the dirty
floor behind his foot.
Mimi pulled his pants down around his ankles.
The VSF swore loudly as she grabbed the backpack and headed out. The VSF
took a step, fell over the pants around his anlkes, and she dashed for the
She burst into abrupt daylight and a narrow, cluttered alleyway. She took
a breath of clean air. Then she ran past cardboard boxes, garbage cans,
and a dumpster with a bum in it.
She'd run twenty steps down the street, headed east, when she heard
pursuit, but she felt sure no one - teddy bears or normal enti-ties -
could catch her. She'd outrun indignant pick-pocketees be-fore; being
young, healthy, determined, and sober gave her an edge.
Pursuit noises diminished as she dodged from the alley onto Hartford. She
jaywalked at 17th, slowed to a trot on Noe to avoid drawing attention -
"Alert! A young, semi-naked large-breasted woman with a backpack is
running down the street -"
At that point, Mimi wondered why she hadn't seen teddy bears in the bar,
why none had chased her when she'd snatched the back-pack. The bikers
hadn't been disturbed to have crazed teddy bears in their midst before
she'd showed up.
Well, she thought, as she trotted along, maybe they had seen the teddy
bears, and dismissed them as your average, ordinary hallucina-tion, "too
much Ripple." The bikers hadn't acted alarmed, as she might have expected
in any crowd where "Did you see that?" and "Jesus H, what the hell just
happened?" might have been com-mon chat fodder, current affairs.
Or maybe the VSF created the teddy bears to chase Harold - created at
the door and not inside the bar.
No, Harold had been inside, and the howling had been teddy bears howling
and Harold had run out, lickety-split.
This meant the bikers had seen the teddy bears. Yet they hadn't reacted
worth diddly. Which, she realized as she broke into a dash for home, meant
they looked up when she entered and thought, "Oh, here's another
hallucination. Big deal."
But that also meant - Mimi dropped all pretense and ran - the breach
between dimensions had become so broad that a bar full of bikers took the
hallucinations - her and the teddy bears, and maybe Harold - in stride and
thought nothing of it.
Replaying Mimi's memory, it occurred to Twitchie that Harold and Mimi were
lucky to get away so easily.
A chill crept up Twitchie's spine and he shivered, clutching Mimi harder.
"I can't believe that son-of-a-bitch set us up," Bobbie said. They shuffled
parkward in a tight huddle, amidst a thick crowd also drift-ing parkward.
"Yeah, man," Robbie said.
"Spending all that time -"
"- chasing the dope in the backpack -"
"- when he planned to steal our tape recorder in the first place."
"He was going to use the dope, that's my guess," Sam said. "He did
bring it over to this dimension, after all. But when his ear learned we'd
taped the music from my dimension and that we had it in the apart-ment -"
"I think he let me snatch that backpack," Mimi said. "I got away too
"Figure it out later," Bobbie said. "Music first."
"Yeah, man," Robbie said, tone bleak, visions of getting on the cover of
the Rolling Stone dashed.
A bassy, electronic din rose from the park, on the other side of Masonic;
band warming up.
"S'cuse me," a blue buffalo in chartreuse hot pants and match-ing go-go
boots said to Twitchie as it stomped by.
"Did you see that?" Sam asked Mimi and the twins.
They pushed forward. People and things complained at the an-noyance in
various manners, not always verbal - Twitchie sensed an indignant
itchy-scratchy and a petulant blue-violet from two farm animals.
Nobody noticed Twitchie had a pink bubble in his mouth.
Blue smoke floated by and he smelled pot. Well, people had shit-eating
grins and glassy, blood-shot eyes and they were in Haight-Ashbury, and
this was the Summer of Love, 1967.
"Dig the cat with the soap bubble in his mouth, man."
"Oh, yeah? I'm seeing giant flamingos in tuxedos. Beat that, man."
As they crossed Oak at Masonic into the Panhandle, the band had started to
"We're too late," Sam said.
They weren't. The band was the Ace of Cups, the all-chick band Mimi and
her girlfriends from LaLa Land had wanted to emulate five months ago
before Mimi met Twitchie.
The band played a raunchy, energetic, but off-key version of the Seeds'
"Pushin' Too Hard."
They huddled at the edge of the massive crowd, bigger and more packed than
any Twitchie had ever remembered, including when the Doors, the Dead, and
Jefferson Airplane played the Avalon on the same bill back in June.
"Maybe he'll try to play the tape on their PA," Sam said. "If we find the
sound system or the generator and shut it down maybe we won't have to
fight the VSF. Anybody see him? Or teddy bears?"
They looked over the crowd but saw no sign.
"We'll split up," Sam said. "Head for the power behind the stage. Shut it
off. Mimi and I'll go that way -" he pointed to the northwest, "and you
guys," he touched Robbie and Bobbie, "you go that way," he pointed
northeastward. "If you find the VSF, don't let him see you. Shut down the
Sam/Twitchie and Mimi reached Fell Street, across from Ash-bury, by
swinging farther west where the crowd thinned. They then walked back east
on the opposite side of the eucalyptus along the street, stepping out into
the street to move faster. They crept up be-hind the stage. They couldn't
see the band on the raised stage be-cause of the tall amps and plywood and
muslin screens in their way. The sound, though, from their vantage, was
muffled and indistinct but still loud enough to shake the ground.
A battered `64 Ford Econoline van painted in psychedelic Day-Glo letters
on the side: "Ace of Cups," parked behind the stage next to garbage cans
and Port-a-Potties. The van's driver and passen-ger side doors were open,
as well as the back and side cargo doors. From the van, wires and cables
spilled onto the ground and snaked toward the stage backside. Inside and
near the van, a dozen hippies with clipboards and headphones milled around
and fussed over electronic devices, mixers and amps and pre-amps and a
gaso-line generator - and a sewing machine cleaning its fingernails with a
two-foot-long file, and a manual typewriter with a bad haircut.
"Do you see the VSF?" Mimi shouted. She squeezed Twitchie's arm and she
spoke two inches from his ear. They'd moved so close to the black
refrigerator-sized amps blasting on the stage, thirty feet away now, that
their stomachs shook with the bass beat. Their ears would ring later - if
there was a later.
Twitchie/Sam looked around. "I don't see him," Sam shouted, not sure if
she heard or not, "or the teddy -"
Suddenly, Twitchie saw the VSF's head above the crowd. He gripped Mimi's
arm and pointed. Mimi nodded.
Over the VSF's shoulder the tape recorder hung on a strap. The crowd
around the VSF parted for a second, enough to reveal a dozen Nazi teddy
bears guarded the VSF.
Twitchie/Sam started to say, "I'll distract them," but quick-witted Mimi
had already sprung into action.
"Get the recorder," she yelled into Twitchie's ear. She dashed straight at
the teddy bears.
She surprised them - what Nazi teddy bear expected attack from a crazed
hippie chick? None saw her coming. She grabbed a long-handled ax from a
teddy bear and jerked it away before he knew what hit him. Pace
unslackened, she ran into the crowd, dodg-ing and dancing as she ran, ax
held high above her head. The enraged teddies gave chase.
Twitchie marveled for a moment at her graceful stride. As she disappeared
in the crowd, she slowed enough so the teddy bear horde could keep up.
Graceful, yes, but Twitchie worried she might trip and be overrun.
Sam gave a mental nudge, bringing Twitchie's attention back to the VSF,
now unguarded. The tape recorder was a just dozen steps away; the chase
had distracted the VSF as it had Twitchie.
Twitchie/Sam moved closer toward the VSF, dancing between, over, and on
legs, arms, and tentacles.
By the van, the VSF stood with a hippie, a tall guy with scruffy beard,
headphones, and a clipboard. The VSF gestured at the bears, leaned in
close to the hippie, yelling in his ear. The hippie shook his head, tapped
his earphones, then pointed to the van's rear. Twitchie was now five steps
away. He feared the VSF would see him.
Without Mimi, Twitchie would have to improvise. Maybe Sam had a plan. In
his mind, Twitchie felt the soap bubble shrug. Sam didn't have a clue.
He closed to within an arm's length of the VSF who still hadn't seen him.
What to do? Push him down? Snatch the tape recorder, wrestle it away, and
run? Again, Sam shrugged in Twitchie's mind.
Twitchie's heart pounded as he reached forward, fingers inches from the
The VSF turned abruptly toward him. Twitchie froze. Sam thought: "Oh,
The butterflies in his stomach took off at once and dive-bombed his
kidneys, as the VSF looked right at Twitchie.
But the VSF didn't see Twitchie, seemed to look right though him. The VSF
brushed past him, graveyard stench in his wake - zombie, Twitchie
thought - and walked to the van backside. His back again to Twitchie, he
engaged a hippie tinkering with a tape recorder; the inside of the van
looked like a military radar station.
Feeling faint, Twitchie gulped air, re-gathered his courage, and moved on
rubbery legs again toward the VSF. As he did so, the VSF started to take
the recorder off his back.
Twitchie/Sam was again a step from the VSF when the sound went dead.
"Hey," the sound-tech hippie with the VSF said in the abrupt quiet, "what
When the sound died, the VSF turned away from the sound-tech hippie and
looked toward Twitchie, an arm's length away, just as Twitchie's hand
extended to grab the recorder. But the VSF's shift swung the recorder
strap away from Twitchie.
This time, he saw Twitchie. The VSF's jaw gaped, and red-rimmed, glassy
eyes bugged out.
There goes the universe, Twitchie thought.
Somebody or something behind the animated corpse bumped into him and the
VSF fell backward, landing on the sound-tech hip-pie inside the van's back
From then stage, a chick's tinny voice announced a break, some-thing about
powdering our noses or seeing what's wrong with the goddam sound.
The sound-tech hippie fell under the VSF, who lay atop the re-corder.
"Hey, what the -" the sound-tech hippie complained, trying to push the VSF
off him. Wiry electronic equipment entangled him.
Twitchie had danced away from the falling bodies; he tugged at the
recorder jammed under the VSF's shoulder.
"He's a narc," Sam cried out to the sound-tech and another hip-pie nearby,
this one with a wide tie-died tie, neat goatee, and granny glasses, "and
he stole our tape."
"A narc, huh?" The sound-tech and his friend tried to push the VSF one way
and Twitchie tried to pull him the other.
Suddenly, Mimi was there, trying to help tug the recorder free. "Yeah,"
she said, "he stole our rock `n' roll."
"Mimi," Twitchie/Sam said, panting, "where did you -"
"Ditched the bastards," she said, grunting and tugging. "Cut the sound -"
"A narc, huh?" The sound-tech extricated himself from under the stiff
corpse who now clutched the tape recorder in both arms with bulldog
"Yeah, he's a narc," Twitchie said.
"Narc! Narc!" Twitchie and Mimi chanted.
"Narc?" and "He's a narc!" people nearby started muttering, angry.
Twitchie gave up trying to tug the recorder to him and tried to lean over
the VSF and tug it away from him and toward Mimi, which didn't work - no
leverage. The corpse from dimension X smelled graveyard foul.
"Yeah," Mimi said, still tugging on the recorder strap, "and he has our
rock `n' roll on that tape -"
"Stealing our music?" a chick's voice rose above the general muttery and
chattery. Several women formed a tight circle around them. The women fell
on the struggling bunch on the ground in a scream-ing frenzy - maybe Ace
of Cups, maybe their fans or roadies, didn't mat-ter. They fought to free
the recorder with impressive vicious-ness.
As Twitchie scooted on the grass to avoid getting hit or crushed in the
melee, he resolved to treat Mimi and other chicks with greater respect in
Twitchie scooted under a shaggy cow in hip waders watching the fray with
the cheery enthusiasm of a soccer fan. Mimi stayed in the struggle with a
half dozen hippie chicks, who all looked like blonde, skinny, white teeny
boppers from Marin County. They all looked pissed.
Twitchie lost sight of the VSF and the recorder as he tugged on cow pelt
to gain his feet. The cow paid no heed, focused on the girl-fight,
As he rose, Twitchie saw the teddy bears charge from the east by the
Digger lunch line. Mimi had given them the slip but they were back now.
They scattered people, critters, meal trays, and cups left and right as
they dashed, axes held high. Coming right toward them.
"Mimi," Sam/Twitchie yelled, "we've got to get out of here."
The melee had escalated to include the crowd facing the stage and a
park-wide riot seemed on the verge. Those that the teddy bear squad
pummeled rallied and charged after their disturbers. All con-verged on the
van behind the stage where hippie chicks, Mimi, and hippie sound-techs
tried to get the recorder. The VSF clung to it as if it was part of his
Full-scale riot ensued.
Twitchie became concerned about him or Sam being trampled. A jab at his
back, a sudden jolt, propelled him off his feet. He almost spit out Sam as
he went onto hands and knees; he crawled for the van, to get under it.
He made it under the van and bumped heads with Mimi who had reached the
shelter a second before he did.
"Are you all right?" he asked.
"Are you -" Mimi started to say at the same time.
The sound-tech and the tie-died other hippie, who were both disheveled,
and sweaty, also hid under the van.
"Hey, man," the sound-tech said, "do you know you have a soap bubble in
your - ow." He'd tried to raise his head but hit the greasy rear axle.
There was no head room and all lay flat on their stomachs.
"This narc," the tie-died hippie said, "he, like, stole your sound, man?"
"Yeah." Mimi said. "Our tape recorder." Her hair hung a stringy curtain
before her eyes, and a halter-top strap had broken and her boob swayed
"Hey, babe," the sound-tech said, smiling, "you wanna ball?"
The four faced each other a foot apart and beyond their feet, riot ensued.
Shouting, scuffling, thumping on the van sides. A siren wailed James Brown
"Papa's Got a Brand New Bag."
"How would you like a knuckle -" Mimi began.
The tie-died hippie interrupted, "Is this yours?" and scootched forward
the recorder over the grass between him and Mimi.
Mimi's eyes lit up. "Thanks, man. We owe you one."
"A blow job?" the sound-tech asked, eyebrows dancing, grin shit-eating.
The van started to rock.
Twitchie saw teddy bear paws at the side of the van, close, rising up on
their collective toes and grunting in unison. Trying to turn the van
"We've got to get out," Sam yelled.
Twitchie and Mimi scooted toward the van rear. Mimi had the recorder
gripped in one elbow, dragging it behind her.
As they scootched out from under the back bumper, Twitchie heard the two
hippies behind him.
"Did you see a guy with a bubble in his mouth and a chick with big hooters
wrestling a corpse?" one said.
"Yeah," the other said. "Did you?"
Twitchie grabbed the van's back bumper to pull himself up and Mimi pulled
herself up on his arm. Jostling bodies pressed them against the van back
"We've got to -" Sam started again, but gave it up. Mimi couldn't hear,
and her darting, wide-eyed glance told him she too wished she could fly
over the crowd back to the apartment.
Suddenly, iron-hot pain stabbed at Twitchie's right shoulder, where his
shirt was torn. He screamed, almost popped out Sam, and turned to see,
inches away, the dirt-encrusted, dead VSF eyes look-ing into his. A
pus-yellow cloud billowed from the corpse's mouth as it opened as if to
speak or bite. Twitchie gagged at the carrion stench and almost fainted.
Would have too, if Mimi hadn't been there.
Mimi gave an incoherent shout, shoved at the VSF, and tugged Twitchie
Twitchie/Sam rallied and pushed at the VSF's clutching claw-fingers, but
it had an iron-hard deadmans grip on Twitchie's arm. Twitchie's eyes
teared in pain.
"They're after our women," Bobbie and Robbie shouted to-gether, a few feet
"Where have you guys been?" Mimi shouted.
"Later," Bobbie said.
"Aliens!" Robbie shouted. "After earth women!"
The iron-grip threatening to crush Twitchie's arm abruptly released.
Through his starry-vision, further blurred by dirty glasses, Twitchie saw
frantic hippies, all men, attack the teddy bears and the VSF.
"Ha," Sam said, "attack our women, huh?" The VSF disap-peared in a hail of
pummeling fists. If not dead already, Twitchie thought - and he is - he
soon would be.
Bobbie and Robbie dragged Twitchie and Mimi to unrioted ground. The teddy
bears had their paws full with rioters bent on saving Earth's chicks from
alien molesters, and the VSF was down.
The group made it into the clear, wended their way past the Dig-ger
kitchen and food line, and drew their retreat to a halt by the euca-lyptus
along Oak and across from Lyon.
They stood panting next to some overloaded city trashcans. Be-hind them
the riot continued.
"What's that?" Mimi pointed back west into the fray. She held the recorder
clutched tight to her chest, as she'd hold a baby.
Above the tangled riot, equal parts human and hallucinatory combatants,
giant orange butterflies formed and circled in a dense cloud, like
Sam groaned. "The air force is here. It's the end of the world."
"What do you mean -" Bobbie.
"- the end of the world, man?" Robbie.
"They're here to help the teddy bears," Sam said.
"We'd better hurry." Mimi handed the tape recorder to Robbie so she could
help Twitchie move.
"You look done in, man." Bobbie held Twitchie up by the other arm,
opposite Mimi. Twitchie's left ankle hurt, the pain white-hot. His ribs
ached too, like the ankle. His lungs burned and he sweated buck-ets, hair
matted over his dirty glasses.
They crossed Oak at Lyon, dodging traffic. They pushed their way up the
sidewalk toward the apartment, the recorder clutched in Robbie's hands.
"They're coming," Bobbie and Robbie shouted as the group reached Page.
Twitchie ventured a look over his shoulder as he hobbled along, but he saw
nothing but smudges. A buzz filled the air and the now-familiar military
teddy bear cry rose. Twitchie sensed rather than saw that the teddy bears,
with their butterfly allies, had escaped their hippie tormentors in the
park and had taken up the charge again, close behind.
"Hurry," Sam said. Twitchie's voice had gone rough, his throat hurt, and
he barely heard Sam in his own mouth.
A half block behind them, the teddy bear's armed and mobile picnic pursued
up Lyon. Rounding the corner, above and ahead of the teddies, a giant
orange butterfly cloud fluttered and dove at the group like something out
of a World War Two movie.
Bobbie squealed as one butterfly grabbed her hair as they opened the
apartment building front door. Robbie swatted at the attacker with a
balled fist, connected with its bulbous thorax with a thoomp, like he'd
hit a large marshmallow.
The attacker disengaged, grumbling in butterfly talk, the group gained the
foyer, and slammed the door behind them.
One butterfly got a foot of leathery wing caught in the door jamb when it
shut. It howled and tugged and Robbie couldn't get the door shut until he
opened it a crack, unjammed the wing, and then slammed the door.
From without, a gazillion wings fanned a rotting apricot odor. As they
crossed the street, the teddy bears' yowls rose above indig-nant drivers'
shouts, horns honking, a goat Mariachi band, and si-rens now blaring Jerry
Lee Lewis' "Great Balls of Fire."
With help, Twitchie limped up the stairs, panting like his compa-triots.
Harold appeared on the landing, shouted something Twitchie didn't get in
the din - clomping feet, hoarse panting, sirens, horns, goats bleating,
shouts, and alien butterfly wings beating - and his own raspy breathing
and thumping heart. Nonetheless, Twitchie felt he weighed ounces, not
tons. He marveled at the feeling for a second before he realized Harold
carried him, arm around Twitchie's skinny waist.
"Thanks, man," Sam said. "Twitchie's paid out."
If Harold responded, Twitchie didn't hear. If he heard, he didn't care. He
was paid out.
Inside the apartment at last, somebody slammed the door shut and snapped
the locks. Twitchie fell to the floor by the coffee table, Mimi at his
side. She smelled sweaty. Everybody did. Him too. He plucked park grass
from his beard and mustache.
"Thanks," Sam thought at him as Twitchie plucked a weedy strand from
between Sam's bottom edge and Twitchie's lower lip.
The apartment walls and closed doors cut the outside noise to an
indistinct, muffled cacophony. The butterflies buzzed in a bassy
undercurrent, and the teddy bears battle song rose in choral harmony above
Twitchie wanted to just sit and breathe, clean his glasses, relax, take a
bath, with Mimi or without - something nor-mal.
"Harold," Sam said, "I need you."
His body under Sam's orders, Twitchie reached for Harold, who knelt at his
side. Twitchie kissed Harold, Sam flooped into Harold's mouth, his eyes
rolled and bobbed, and in a second, he nodded.
"If this is going to work," Sam said through Harold's mouth, "we got to
work fast." The twins knelt on the floor and un-did the elaborate
snap-fasteners of the faux leather tape recorder case.
Mimi came in from the kitchen. "Back door's jammed shut."
From downstairs, heavy banging echoed up as manic teddy bears tried to
batter down the door.
"Check the front window," Sam said, and Mimi checked it.
"Bring the tape here," Sam told the twins. They nodded, opened the box,
and removed the tape reels from their spindles. They held the two reels
between them like nitroglycerine.
Mimi returned from the window and sat by Twitchie. "They're out there. Do
you think they'll try to fly through the window?"
Twitchie looked toward the window; fluttery shadows played on the drawn
"Would you?" Sam said.
Mimi didn't answer.
The twins laid the two tape reels on the coffee table and took their
places around the table as if ready for dinner.
Downstairs: banging, rhythmic, insistent, heavy, loud, like Twitchie's
Harold took out the baggie from his leather jacket pocket. "You guys rip
up tape," Sam said. "I'll flush this." He hefted the baggie of
concentrated other-dimensional rock `n' roll and stood. "What the hell. It
"Won't it get into the water supply?" Twitchie asked.
Harold/Sam turned toward the bathroom. "Who knows?" he said over his
shoulder. "I don't know shit."
From downstairs, wood-banging gave way to splinter-ing and louder shouts.
Wooden clumping rose from the stair-well.
Butterflies buzzed outside the window and iside Twitchie's sto-mach.
"Get to ripping." Twitchie's voice cracked with urgency.
One seven-inch metal reel on the table had a few inches of tape on it, the
rest bundled around the core of the other reel. Twitchie tried to pry the
reel apart but he only bent it; the tape still coiled around the reel
core. Mimi pulled off a few feet and tried to tear the stubborn tape. It
stretched before it snapped. Robbie and Bobbie reeled off a few feet of
tape and grunted as they stretched and tore.
"We could use Harold's pocketknife," Mimi said, tugging.
The teddy bear picnic had reached their front door, and the first loud,
woody thump rattled the locks and chains.
"Harold," Twitchie hollered, "we could use your -"
From the bathroom, the toilet flushed. Twitchie heard it because it was
the only sound. No horns honked. No shouts, buzzing, thump-ing, clomping.
Nothing, normal or hallucinated.
"That did it." Sam/Harold stomped from the bathroom. "You were right,
Twitchie." He headed toward the window.
"Harold, we could use -" Twitchie started as Harold stomped past. Harold
tossed his pocketknife and Twitchie caught it.
"Flushing the dope," Sam said. "Who could have thought it would be so
"Maybe we better cut up this tape too," Twitchie said, "just in case."
He'd been holding his breath, listening to the sudden silence that ensued
when the Baggie of Doom flushed. They'd all stopped tearing tape, breaths
held, listening to the silence.
"Yeah," the twins said. "Just in case."
Harold's knife was sharp; Twitchie sliced through the tape still on the
reel core like it was paper, and brown tape strips accumulated quickly in
a pile on the floor. He sliced through the last few inches of tape as
Harold/Sam sighed and came back from the window.
"I don't see any butterflies out there," Sam said. "Or teddy bears."
Harold sat, cross-legged. "I don't hear diddly. Do you?"
The twins shook their heads, looking pensive, Twitchie thought. They ran
fingers through the tape confetti. They'd recorded the mu-sic, the ticket
to getting on the cover of the Rolling Stone. Twitchie wanted it too.
But the twins' grim demeanor - and Mimi's and Harold's - told him they too
understood saving the universe trumped stardom.
"Not a sound," Mimi said.
"Well." Sam sighed. "We did it. We saved -"
Ka-thump. From the front door, heavy, woody, insistent. Then:
Ka-thump. Chains and locks rattled.
Twitchie's heart jammed in his throat again.
With the return of the ka-thumping on the locked front door, also came
the fluttery shadows at the window, and butterflyish buzzing from outside.
"I don't get it," Sam said.
No other sound.
"Do you hear it?" Twitchie said.
"I hear those damn teddy bears -" Bobbie said.
"- and those butterflies," Robbie finished.
"You flushed the dope." Mimi's voice rose in protest. "Why aren't they
Harold went to the window and peeked out.
"No street noise," Harold said. "No horns, no sirens."
"The teddy bear dudes aren't yelling," Robbie said.
"What the -" Bobbie started.
"Shush." Sam put Harold's finger to his lips and cocked his head. Harold
stood between the window and the coffee table where the group sat in a
pile of brown spaghetti tape.
Ka-thump. This one had a raspy, wood-tearing accent to it, Twitchie
thought, gulping stomach butterflies back down. A dent had formed in the
upper panel and the chains rattled.
Another sound rode under the bigger one. A slight, crafty scrat-ching,
like somebody trying to pick a lock.
From the back door.
Harold dashed through the kitchen to the back door and the oth-ers rose to
Mimi had jammed a broom handle against the door to keep it shut.
The back door had once had a small glass windowpane in its upper panel,
but a previous tenant had papered over it with a Pogo cartoon, and the
group had left it.
A vague head-shaped shadow played on the Pogo cartoon as they huddled in
the narrow hallway between kitchen and backdoor.
"It's -" Twitchie started to whisper, but Harold shushed him.
Twitchie and his compatriots held their breaths, as Harold reached out for
the broom handle. The back door knob turned before Harold touched it, like
in a Hitchcock movie, and Twitchie wanted to scream. Harold froze.
The ka-thumping from the front door had stopped and the entire universe
went silent except for a tiny metallic squeak as the back door handle
Harold jerked the broom handle away, the door flew inward, and the VSF
fell into the hallway onto the floor. He - it - gave a muffled grunt as
it hit the tiled floor and the group, except for Harold, stepped back. It
smelled graveyard foul.
Harold tossed the broomstick aside and grabbed the VSF by the back of his
dirty shirt and hefted him from the floor like a garbage sack - fragrant,
over-ripe garbage - and dragged him - it - to the living room.
Twitchie, Mimi and the twins got out of his way.
In the living room, Harold pushed the VSF over on its back, knelt over it,
and grabbed a handful of shirt at its throat in a bunched fist, lifting it
off the floor. He raised his other fist back as if to hit it.
"Now, what the -" Sam began, but he stopped when the VSF's head fell off.
"Oh, shit," Twitchie heard somebody say. Maybe him. He stifled an urge to
"Jesus H," Mimi muttered.
Harold dropped the body and sat back, panting. "This body is just his
headquarters," Sam explained. Harold's sunglasses had come off somewhere
in the last few minutes and he looked around for them as he spoke. "When
he came over to this dimension, he found a dead bum in the park and
"A zombie." Twitchie handed Harold his sunglasses. They had fallen under
the coffee table. "I saw it in his eyes in the park."
"With a detachable head?" Mimi gave a skeptical twist to her tone.
"You're an expert on zombies?" Twitchie matched Mimi's tone.
"Part hallucinatory," Sam said. "Every hallucination is based on the
observer's mind. For instance -"
"Did you go to Hippie University, man?" Robbie asked.
"Yeah," Bobbie said. "You said this was all new to you too."
"After we flushed the dope," Twitchie said, "I thought the teddy bears and
butterflies would disappear."
"But everything else did," Bobbie said.
"Disappear, like," Robbie said.
"We still have this corpse," Mimi said. The corpse twitched. "So the
breach isn't healed?"
Harold held up his hands in a warding gesture, and Sam said, "We gave it a
try, didn't we? My guess - I'm the resident expert on interdi-mensional
behavior, remember? - when we flushed the dope, it lost most of its
hallucinatory grip on this reality, but not all of it. We closed the gap
-" Harold held his finger and thumb an inch apart, "- that much. But not
all the way."
"So the gap is still there -" Bobbie said.
"- and if it's still there, man," Robbie said, "it still could go, uh -
"More like ka-plooof!" Sam said.
"Wait," Twitchie said. "We might still be able to close the gap. This guy
could be the key."
"He's all dead, man," Bobbie said.
"Yeah, and headless." Robbie said.
"Put his head back on," Twitchie said. "See what he knows."
"Oh, man -" Mimi started.
Harold/Sam interrupted. "Get me some tape." Sam knelt over the stiff body
and gripped the head by the stringy hair, holding it out like David with
Goliath's head. The VSF's eyes blinked and looked around as it dangled in
Harold's outstretched hand, chin bobbing, tongue lolling like a thick
sausage. Drool seeped from its purple lower lip.
The twins handed Harold handfuls of mangled tape.
He pressed the head back onto the neck and wrapped tape around the head
and shoulders. The twins helped. In a few seconds, the VSF had a brown
tape scarf over its head, under its armpits, and around its forehead and
under its chin.
Outside - silence.
Satisfied the head had been reattached to the VSF body so it wouldn't come
off again, Harold slapped the corpse's gray-skinned cheeks with his open
hand. The head lolled to the side, righted itself, and the eyes blinked,
the jaw bobbed.
"Ycch," Mimi said.
"Why are you here?" Sam shouted at the corpse, six inches away from its
The corpse started to make a noise. "Nnnn. Nnnuh. Uh."
"Speaka England?" Sam said.
"God nushing to shay."
Harold slapped it across the bony cheek, harder, and spittle flew.
"Ycch." Mimi again. She handed Twitchie his glasses, scooted a few inches
away from the corpse and buffed with a gnarled tissue at her belly.
"Wound nah shay noshing -" Harold's beefy slaps muffled the VSF's
"You got some on you." Mimi reached over to wipe dead bum spittle from
Twitchie's ribs with a tissue. Twitchie squirmed away from Mimi's swiping,
and gave a little squealy giggle; she'd hit his ticklish spot.
"That's it," Twitchie said.
"What's it?" Mimi said.
"He's dead. How -"
"Trust me," Twitchie said. "No entity can resist."
Harold probed and poked along the corpse's ribs and sides.
Mimi joined Harold's efforts. She was an expert tickler, as Twitchie
"Torture," Sam said. "Against your Geneva Convention and my Schlockinstern
The corpse struggled, but Harold had its arms pinned and its skinny legs
pumped in the air without effect. Its gray face contorted around a pending
giggle - Twitchie recognized the symptoms, even on a dead man - as Harold
found the ticklish spot.
The dead bum burst into a giggling fit. Tears oozed from blood-shot eyes
and coursed down stiff cheeks. It banged its heels and hands against the
floor and made strangling noises amidst hic-cupy giggling.
"Talk," Sam demanded. Harold gave it another tickly-gouge, which produced
a spastic giggle.
"- planned to t-tear it all down - he-he - start o-over he-he-he -
"How? How did you plan to do it?"
"The con-concentrated rock `n' - he-he - roll. Get p-people here to smoke
it and -"
"We flushed it. We still saw butterflies, and teddy bears."
"And the tape. We destroyed it."
"- all a r-r-ruse, a-a -"
The corpse shook its taped-on head, and clenched its jaws.
"Talk, damn you," Sam shouted, and Harold dug in.
"He-he-he - thought you'd come after m-me. He-he. Thought I could get you
and y-your s-soap bubble narcs dis - he-he - dis-tracted, o-over
"Distracted?" Harold bunched his other hand into a fist ready to pummel
the corpse under his knee, and Twitchie thought the gesture might have
been unconscious, as Sam still ran Harold's body.
"He-he-here," the corpse said. "R-run around, chase after o-o-oregano -
that's wh-what you call it he-here, and the tape. You chased it, t-too.
He-he. While I st-stayed -"
Harold dropped the VSF-corpse with a thump back onto the floor and stood.
"What?" Mimi said, and the twins, bug-eyed. Harold began pac-ing,
stomping, pulling at his hair.
"I've been sent on a wild frumpt chase. The real threat is back home.
While I'm over here -"
"This guy is a decoy," Twitchie said. "Right, Sam?" He paced with
Harold's shoulders slumped and it looked as if the big man with the soap
bubble in his mouth was going to cry.
The corpse made feeble attempts to rise after Harold dropped it. It beat
its heels against the floor and tried to raise its tape-entangled head and
push knobby gray elbows under itself. It flopped back, spent.
"Twitchie?" Mimi stood. "Sam? A wild frumpt chase?"
The twins looked on, eyes scared-wide.
On the verge of sobs, Harold paced four steps one way toward the window
and four back to the coffee table, breathing like a steam engine. Twitchie
got out of his way.
"It's back in my reality," Sam said. "All this -" He gestured at this
reality with a contemptuous wave and almost hit Twitchie in the head. "-
just a ruse. While we chased around your reality, it's back in my
reality doing whatever it planned in the first place."
"That's why it was so easy to get the backpack," Mimi said.
"There was diddly in it," Sam said. "And a dumb decoy guarded it, not the
"What about the tape?" Bobbie asked. "If it played that music, or if we
played it ourselves, later -"
"We got the tape," Robbie said. "Right? I mean, we tore it up and the
hallucinations stopped -"
"And we flushed the dope at the same time," Mimi said.
"Oregano, not dope. And how nice for you that everything is mellow in your
dimension," Sam said. He made Harold give a little bow. Harold swore and
stepped on the corpse with his foot as it tried to raise, a vain escape
attempt. The corpse sank back, tape-wrapped face down, with an airy grunt,
legs and arms splayed.
"So when he dropped that joint -" Twitchie said.
"- and we snagged the lid," Mimi said, "that was no accident?"
"He let us do it," Twitchie said. He sighed. "He knew somehow. We wanted a
pocket to pick and he wanted somebody to pick his pocket."
"But we smoked it -" Mimi said.
"The toothpick joint," Sam said. "The lid was oregano, the joint was real.
To get you across to my dimension so I'd know the dimen-sions had been
breached and I'd follow you back. Remember, we waited for him in my park?
Well, he must have known. So he let you steal that toothpick, which sent
you guys back over -"
"- and when you saw us," Twitchie said, "from beyond your reality -"
"Well, he didn't plan for me to floop into your mouth and go
transdimensional anyway. We just inadvertently helped his plan. Maybe.
Hell, I don't know. He's smarter than me -"
"Don't be so hard on yourself," Twitchie said.
"Yeah," Mimi said, "we're still guessing. Maybe he's still here."
"Nah." Sam sighed and Harold's massive shoulders slumped. He slipped down
the wall, melting. "If he was, we'd be knee deep in hallucinations now.
He's back home. If he succeeds there, it don't matter how nice it is here,
we're all still screwed."
"How," Twitchie asked nobody in particular, "did he get his
hench-consciousness into this reality?"
Harold raised his slumped head, so abruptly that Twitchie flinched.
"Shit," Sam said, Harold's fists bunched as he stood. "We're wasting
He kicked the corpse hard on one knobby shoulder and the head popped from
its entangling tape, rolled across the floor and plopped against the VSF's
Bits of dead flesh slopped onto the floor in gooey lumps in the head's
"Ycch." Mimi made a face and scootched away, although she was farthest
from the mess.
"I've got to get back to my reality," Sam said and Harold paced again.
"Harold, look what you did." Mimi pointed at the corpse head, its rubbery
eyes staring at the floor.
"I've got to find a way -"
Mimi grabbed Harold's shoulders. "Hey, Harold," she yelled at him, six
inches from his face. "Are you in there? You made a mess."
"Sorry," Sam said. "I'm just - concerned - right now."
"Let's dump the body," Twitchie said. "Then figure what to do."
They rolled the body in the rug and dumped it in the big green dumpster in
the back alley. Nobody saw them except a nervous cat.
"We got to toss the head too," Twitchie said.
"I see a homicide investigation," Mimi said, "and I'm not ready for
"I want to be on the cover of the Rolling Stone -" Robbie said.
"- not the Police Gazette." Bobbie.
"I am in a hurry," Sam said.
The group tromped back inside the apartment.
"Put it in the backpack." Twitchie touched the head with his toe.
"What's in here?" Mimi held up the VSF's backpack.
"Clothes," Sam said. "Me and Harold searched it. Just bum clothes. A
broken transistor radio. No ID, no dope, no money."
Robbie and Bobbie knelt and took out clothes and tossed them aside in a
pile beside the bum's head.
"Wait a minute." Sam crouched and looked over the twins' shoul-ders. "That
transistor radio. Let me see it."
The twins dug out a banana-yellow plastic box the size of a ciga-rette
pack with black dials and buttons along one edge and a wrist strap at one
"You said you already looked at it, man." Robbie handed it to Harold.
"Yeah, well." Harold twisted the radio in his hand, fiddled with it.
Twitchie leaned over his shoulder. Mimi and the twins watched over the
Something clicked and one side of the radio popped up, like the lid of a
high-tech spy miniature tape recorder. Inside the compart-ment, two
teensy-tiny spools of tape nestled amid masses of tiny wires and plastic
gizmos and electronic components.
"Oh, shit," Twitchie heard somebody say. Maybe it was him.
"It's from your reality," Twitchie said. "Isn't it? It's a -"
"It's a tape recorder." Sam held the thing in Harold's hand. "From my
"That's a tape recorder?" Bobbie's skepticism twisting her lip.
"It's so small." Robbie frowned.
"The cat came here to tape record the rock `n' roll of this real-ity,"
Twitchie said, "so he could go back and play it in that reality -"
Harold flicked a button on the other-reality tape recorder and a tinny but
distinct "Brown Sugar" blared from a tiny speaker.
"Ace of Cups," Twitchie said. "A tad off key. From the park, an hour
Sam flicked a switch and the noise stopped.
"Maybe this was plan B," Sam said, "or C."
"Dig, this one didn't work either -" Robbie said.
"- because we got the tape, man," Bobbie finished.
"We aren't done yet," Sam said. "Let's toss that head. It stinks. Then we
need to talk."
Harold picked up the head by a handful of tangled tape and pushed it into
the backpack. He stuffed bum clothes atop the head.
He didn't bother to try to close the backpack top; dirty socks and
tattered and stained Fruit o' the Looms poked out. He hefted the backpack
by its shoulder straps and turned to the kitchen and the back door
Twitchie followed in his wake, his friends pressed close, silent.
At the porch, Harold stood over the waist-high rail and looked down on the
alley three stories below at the dumpster twenty yards east, downwind. He
heaved the backpack over the rail. It hit the dumpster, rolled off the far
side, and against the adjacent apart-ment building amid detritus and
effluvia and stuff treasure-hunting cats and dogs had redistributed.
Harold wiped his hands in good riddance and plowed back into the apartment
past Twitchie and the others.
As he closed the back door behind him, Twitchie thought about putting the
broomstick back in place, to lock the broken door shut, but decided not
to. It was too late for - whatever. Invader Barbie dolls from the X-plus
Dimension? Alien trick-or-treaters? Lady Bird Johnson robots?
He sighed and followed into the living room. The group stood around as if
in a waiting room, waiting for somebody to give birth. Or to be executed.
Harold stood by the window, facing the drawn shades, arms crossed, head
bowed. To Twitchie, it looked as if he was praying, and again, Twitchie
wondered about Harold's history.
Then he realized Sam controlled Harold's body and the pensive, or maybe
reverent, gesture might be Sam's.
Harold turned. "You all better sit," Sam said. Twitchie saw no expression
behind Harold's sunglasses or under his beard. No tone in his voice
They sat around the coffee table.
Harold kissed Twitchie and Sam flooped into Twitchie's mouth.
"Mimi," Sam said, wagging Twitchie's mouth, "is that tooth-pick roach
still there?" He nodded to the drawer under the coffee table.
Mimi slid out the drawer, looked in, and nodded.
"Take it out, please," Sam said.
She put the fingernail-sized white twig on the coffee table.
"Now," Sam said, "you know what we need to talk about."
"Going -" Mimi stopped, cleared her throat. "Going back."
The others nodded.
"Nobody has to go," Sam said.
"Leave you stuck here?" Bobbie said.
"You got family, man." Robbie said.
"Besides," Mimi said, "we ain't safe yet."
"We may not be able to stop him anyway," Sam said.
"We got to try," Harold said. "Can't not try."
Twitchie knew what had to be done; to go to the other reality, the
other-dimensional rock `n' roll-saturated dope had to be smoked - but he
had managed to not think about it, until Sam had forced the issue.
Now, he looked at the little roach and suppressed a shudder. Somebody
would have to light it and inhale the smoke so Sam could go back. Whoever
did it would have to go back with Sam, would share the same smoke and the
same hallucinatory trip.
But that person might not be able to return to this reality. That was
the nine-ton pink jackalope picking its nose in the living room. For
whoever made the trip, the door between realities swung only one way.
Sam knew this and had passed that knowledge - or the mem-ory, Twitchie
realized as his understanding of the process moved a notch further along a
line from "huh?" to "I got it" - to everybody when he'd been in their
mouths and minds.
Now a new knowledge - memory - reached Twitchie's fore-brain: Sam
didn't want to force the issue. He was just as reluctant to face the
choice as the five humans were.
No, that wasn't exactly it. Yet another insight surfaced, and a more
profound one: Sam knew they all had to make up their own minds. Whoever
does this, Twitchie thought, has to want to.
Somebody had to toke up because Sam couldn't smoke the roach. Sam had to
go back to find the VSF, who had some "Plan D" at work to break down the
walls between dimensions.
"You know how it gets done, right?" Sam said.
"You also know -"
"I'll go," Harold said. The twins and Mimi looked at him. Mimi reached out
a hand to touch Harold's elbow, but said nothing.
No, Twitchie thought at Sam, not Harold.
"Why you?" Sam asked Harold, level and cool, as if Sam had asked why he
wore leather jackets in the summer, and sunglasses. Just curious.
Twitchie sensed that Sam had left Harold to enter Twitchie's mouth as they
sat down so that Harold could say, "I'll go."
Harold bunched his fists, lips compressed in a tight line.
Not Harold. Twitchie screamed inside his head at Sam, We all go.
Don't you see?
"Why you?" Sam persisted.
"Dammit," Harold hollered, "you know why, you bathtub fart. You've been in
my head and you damn well know."
We all go, dammit, because -
Suddenly, Twitchie remembered something Sam had fed into his memory,
something Sam had "borrowed" from Harold's mem-ory. Sam had passed that
part of Harold's memory around to the others, so they all knew.
They all knew what Harold so feared in the other reality, the reason he
wanted, needed, yet feared going over there.
The teddy bears.
"Oh, my god -" Mimi said, a hoarse whisper.
- because we're all -
The twins paled and gripped each other's hands.
Mimi reached for Harold, to touch him, but withdrew her hand as if burned
when Harold growled deep in his beard.
- because we're family. You understand family, don't you, Sam? You have
a family. Well, we're a -"
Sam abruptly released Twitchie's mind and Twitchie felt a mo-mentary
vertigo. He recovered quickly and stuck his hand over the coffee table,
open, palm up.
"We all go," he said. "Because we're family."
"Yeah." Mimi put her hand on Twitchie's. "We all go."
"Yeah," Bobbie said. She put her hand atop Mimi's. "We all go."
"Family." Robbie put his hand atop his sister's hand.
Harold hesitated. Then he sighed, nodded his shaggy head, and reached out
a ham fist to enclose his friend's clenched hands in a tight circle.
Mimi opened the little drawer and took out tweezers and a Bic. Bobbie tried
to pick up the tiny roach but it slipped from her fingers. Mimi lifted it
with the tweezers.
The twins and Mimi lit candles and sandalwood incense.
Harold sat, brooding.
Twitchie handed each their musical instruments, passing out muskets to the
militia, lead and rhythm guitars to the twins and tam-bourine and
harmonica to Mimi. He grabbed his own bass and wondered what to do with
Sam induced Twitchie to hand two drumsticks to Harold.
Harold nodded, and tucked the sticks into his jacket.
Twitchie then retook his place with the group, all in their ritual spot
around the coffee table.
Mimi stuffed her harmonica down her halter-top and held the tambourine in
one hand. She took up the tweezers with the roach and held it up for the
twins. They nodded to each other and flipped a mental coin. Bobbie won so
she extended her lips and Mimi placed the roach to Bobbie's lower lip and
held it there.
Robbie lit the Bic, leaned in close, and touched the flame to the roach in
his sister's lips.
Twitchie and the others leaned in and inhaled the smoky scent of
sandalwood and marijuana - and other-reality rock `n' roll and -
- outside their pad, a siren wailed. Chuck Berry. "Promised Land."
Cheers rose from the park, something indistinct shouted over a raspy PA
system, and horns honked, and street traffic swooshed and rumbled.
Buffalos boogied. Elephants yodeled.
"We're not in Kansas anymore," Mimi said.
They all rose to go, but some vague apprehension froze Twitchie at the
door. For a moment, it felt like the warning itch he'd felt in the park
when he and Mimi had copped the dope from the VSF. But he shook off his
trepidation as his compatriots bunched behind him ready to go and he led
At Page and Lyon, they found cacophony and chaos. Animals, people, and
aliens - scaled, furry, wallpapered, dressed, naked, and semi-naked -
walked, slithered, bounced, and flew toward the park.
Entities pressed together in a swirling mass. It would be diffi-cult,
Twitchie thought, to get to the park let alone the stage.
"I got an idea," Sam said. He pointed up with Twitchie's finger.
Ten feet up, waiting for the streetlight to change to brassy and blunt
from funky and foggy so they could cross, a balloon family hovered. The
balloons, red, orange, green, and blue, had strings on their bottoms
attached to a metallic cylinder like a modernis-tic garbage can with
Twitchie looked closer. It was vending machine. "Balloon Fam-ily, One
Hearn," a sign on the machine read.
"Got change for a hearn?" Sam asked.
The group shrugged.
"S'cuse me." Harold pushed Sam/Twitchie aside. He hugged the machine in
his huge arms and lifted it. He jiggled the machine, shook it from side to
side. The machine rattled and a high-pitched whine started inside and
smoke - lavender, and it smelled like buttered popcorn - seeped from gaps
in the machine's hide.
"Okay, okay," a mechanical voice said, "for you, a freebie."
Harold sat the machine down. "Thanks." He grabbed the strings extending
from the machine to the hovering balloon family.
"Grab on," Harold said, but Twitchie had already got it and had a solid
grip around Harold's waist with one hand while he clung to his bass with
the other. Mimi pressed between Twitchie and Harold, and the twins gripped
him and the balloon strings from his other side, guitars slung over their
shoulders. They floated skyward. The street light changed from polka-dot
to golden-giddy and the balloon family bobbed across, above two-headed
kangaroos, a `48 Hudson with a crocodile tail, and monkeys on bicycles two
by two. All headed for the park and the concert about to get under way, a
con-cert that, Twitchie knew, if it happened, meant the end of the world.
From twenty feet above the crowd, Twitchie tried to see where they were
They saw giant butterflies here and there, but they seemed to be in a
non-menacing mode for the moment.
Sam used Twitchie to look for his family. He didn't see Sam's family, and
he felt Sam's fear. Sam looked for his undercover Bor-der Patrol buddies.
Didn't see any. They were alone.
No sign of the VSF either. What would he look like? Twitchie thought at
You'll know him, San thought back. You'll feel it.
Once on the other side, Harold tugged at the strings and the bal-loons
squealed, as if they'd been poked in the ribs. They looked down at their
cargo, indignant. Twitchie was far past wonderment that they had
expressions when they didn't have faces. The group settled down to the
grass - ordinary crushed and abused but hardy, green park grass - and the
balloon family tugged their strings away from the hitchhikers with much
huffing and scolding.
A siren wailed Howling Wolf's "Smokestack Lightnin'" and car horns a block
east tooted "Happy Birthday" to a pregnant Volvo. Smoke filled the air,
and the feel of maple sugar and the smell of Sunday afternoons hung heavy.
It was Sunday afternoon, Twitchie recalled, in both realities. Here, it
smelled that way.
"Try to get to the stage," Sam shouted over the noise. "We'll split up.
You -" he nodded to the twins, "- go that way," he pointed with
Twitchie's head to the east, and "and me and you," he nodded to Mimi,
"will go that way," he nodded west.
"What about Harold?" Mimi shouted.
"I got me my own mission," Harold said.
Twitchie followed Harold's gaze and uttered a gasp around Sam; Mimi and
the twins gasped as they saw too. Harold looked into the crowd facing the
stage fifty yards away at a loose Nazi teddy bear flock. The teddy bears
bobbed from side to side in a communal dance, a guttural chant
accompanying their martial boo-gie.
Harold growled, dark eyes hidden behind his sunglasses but clearly fixed
on his adversary. His fists bunched and the cords in his tree-trunk neck
stood out like the cables on the Bay Bridge. Harold's biceps, already as
big around as his thigh, bulged, threatening to tear his jacket at the
Harold said something as he took off his sunglasses and handed them to
Twitchie without taking his sniper-sharp gaze from the teddy bear dance.
It might have been "It's show time," but Twitchie didn't hear it.
As Harold waded toward battle, Mimi shouted, "We should help him."
"No," Twitchie/Sam said. "It's his battle." They'd all shared Harold's
memory. "We should get to the stage."
Four hippies took the stage, ready to play, the same bunch that had been
on stage in Twitchie's and Mimi's first visit to this reality, whose music
the twins had taped then.
Harold was a dreadnaught pushing through animated rubber duckies toward
the Battle of the Coral Sea.
Twitchie and his friends steeled themselves for their own attack. "Cut the
power," Sam shouted, "or destroy the amps, or take out the musicians."
At the look of horror he got from the twins, the same horror Twitchie felt
at attacking a rock `n' roll band, Sam amended. "Never mind. Just shut the
The gang disbursed. Twitchie wondered if this was yet another diversion
while the VSF enacted Plan F, going to KPFA radio in Berkeley to air a
recording to a broader audience.
But no. That apprehensive itch nagged at him again and his dread amplified
another notch as he recognized it. It felt like the VSF, as if he was
here, somewhere. As Twitchie charged northwest-ward, guitar held across
his chest, dodging bodies in the thinner spaces at the west side of the
crowd, he passed a thought to Sam. If we see the VSF -
Dunno, San thought back. Taking out the sound is the only game we got
right now. They pressed on through the crowd toward the stage, fifty
yards away where the drummer tapped out a warm-up riff and the bass
guitarist started tuning up.
"Time is running out," Mimi shouted.
The crowd was thick, like Bay Bridge commuter traffic on a Friday
afternoon. Desperate, Twitchie used his bass as a crowbar, pushing it
between wedged people/entitles, prying them aside, and pressing into the
Even at the fringe to the west, the crowd was dense. Twitchie thought
about walking on their heads, and whatever else sat on their shoulders,
those who had shoulders, but he saw another gap and tugged Mimi through
At Fell Street, as they'd done before, they stepped into the street to
move faster, they dodged cars, and a licorice sailboat with a bad temper,
as they moved forward.
On the stage, now fifty feet away, a song started. Twitchie heard the Ace
of Cups influence on the band's take of the Seeds "Pushin' Too Hard," the
way the bass held a note to start and the lead came in a tad too soon.
"How did they know -" Twitchie began.
Never mind. Twitchie sensed Sam's impatience. Stop the music.
Sam gave Twitchie an instant memory flash. Twitchie flinched, as his
vision went burning white, then paled to a red-hot shimmer. Corpses
withered to husks, buildings melt like butter, dust and de-bris rise in a
gigantic mushroom. He heard a rumble so deep it might have come from
inside him. His teeth rattled and Sam vibrated like a cobweb in a storm.
The vision. The fall of the walls between dimensions would not be
painless. It would be noisy and messy. It would be Armageddon.
A sudden amplified feedback squeal rose from the amps and the band stopped
a dozen notes into the song. The lead singer went to the mike, said
something Twitchie didn't catch, and some in the crowd laughed and
Twitchie shoved an old bag lady aside and dodged her pointed umbrella jab
as he moved forward toward the stage, as fast as he could move, Mimi right
Too late, Sam thought inside Twitchie's mind. The band started again.
Too late, too late.
From the crowd south of where Twitchie/Sam and Mimi were, a raucous
many-voiced teddy bearish howl and a metallic clash erupted. Teddy bears
were attacking a giant, hairy warrior, a nor-mal-dimensional hippie. Giant
butterflies circled overhead. A space in the dense crowd cleared, a wide
circle, for the combat to play out.
Louder than the crowd, louder than teddy bear screams, another more
pronounced battle cry rose. Harold's.
The band stopped and the bandleader guy took the microphone to speak, a
garbled complaint that Twitchie didn't hear. Harold had pro-vided a
diversion; he and Mimi took advantage and charged, knocking down and
jumping over bodies.
Twenty feet from the stage, Twitchie saw the twins had reached the
opposite side of the stage and struggled with two hairy octo-pussy
security guards who tried to keep the twins from mischief.
A van sat behind the stage, like at the Ace of Cups performance back home.
From Twitchie's vantage, it looked as if the twins were closer to the van,
but it also looked as if this reality had a lot more secu-rity than his
own, and the twins didn't stand a chance of reaching the van.
The twins, Twitchie observed, had realized this and had chosen to attack
the not-as-close but less-well-guarded amps on their side of the stage.
For a moment, Twitchie felt relief that the twins had found a solution to
shutting down the sound, namely toppling the amps, and that he wouldn't
have to do anything. But the twins weren't going to win. The two octopussy
guards who intercepted them had the upper hand - tentacle. The twins went
down under a mass of suckers and flailing rubbery appendages.
It was up to Twitchie and Mimi and Sam. That nagging sensa-tion of dread
hit Twitchie again, but more intense this time, like an electric jolt. Sam
felt the jolt in Twitchie's mind and asked: huh? Twitchie responded with
a mental shiver.
The crowd hollered, swayed, forced to and fro by the teddy bear-hippie
battle in their midst. The guy at the microphone bel-lyached in
other-dimensional vulgarities, voice a whiney falsetto, and Twitchie and
Mimi reached the stage in a final dash.
The stage platform rose three feet off the ground, genuine good ol'
Ameri-can plywood. The black refrigerator-sized amp, with a half-dozen
smaller amps stacked beside and behind it, sat a half-foot in from the
stage edge. The main amp rose above Twitchie's head, so big he could
hardly get his arms around it to tug it off the stage as he'd thought to
Twitchie handed Mimi his guitar, not looking at her as he did so. He
concentrated on the box and what he intended to do next.
As he did so, something in his mind screamed at him to run away.
Gritting his teeth against the almost physical feeling of dread, as if he
was about to grab a live wire and electrocute himself, Twitchie grabbed a
lip of the big amp and pulled himself onto the stage, where he stood in
the six-inch gap between the amp and the stage floor outer edge. He put
his arms around the beast box as far as he could reach and tugged on it.
It was like trying to lift a piano.
A voice in his mind screamed at him to stop, to run, and it
physi-cally hurt to ignore it.
Grunting and sweating, hair in his face, glasses askew and foggy, Twitchie
tried to uproot the box. A skinny Samson trying to tear down a temple.
The crowd roared, watching the teddy bear war.
Twitchie leaned backward, pulling the amp toward him. The opposite side of
the huge box lifted an inch and Twitchie began to rock it back and forth.
Mimi hollered from below him as he tugged on the box and she tugged on his
The box rocked more, now two inches off the stage floor, now three, now
four, and Twitchie hazarded a quick, foggy glance down at Mimi. Her shout
got lost in the warfare clash/near-riot/amplified bellyaching from the
band-leader/siren wailing "Great Balls of Fire"/hammering of his own
heart/hacking breathing/pain-filled grunts and something inside his head
screaming at him to run away.
The box began to fall away from the stage.
As it fell, Twitchie got it, understood what had alarmed Mimi. As he
fell, he realized that Sam too had tried to yell at him in his mind, to
warn him of the same thing Mimi tried to warn him about.
The amp was falling on him.
Some part of Twitchie's mind found a nanosecond to wonder how he'd managed
to ignore Sam's yelling at him in his own head.
And in the next nanosecond, he finally - too late - identified that voice
in his head pestering him to run.
Not Mimi's. Not Sam's.
The Very Strange Fellow.
As he fell backwards off the stage with the massive amp clutched in his
arms, Twitchie caught a familiar graveyard stench and saw in the face of
the faceless amp four inches from his nose a pair of red-rimmed ball
bearing eyes staring at him.
The VSF was in the amp.
The VSF was the amp.
The VSF had occupied a dead bum, or part of his consciousness had. And
inanimate objects in this reality - refrigera-tors, mustard jars, toasters
- were conscious. And the VSF wasn't in the dead bum now, so where was
Right here, in my arms, right in front of my nose, screaming at me to run
away so it can help amplify the interdimensional wall-crashing rock `n'
roll and destroy everything.
In the split second before he hit the ground, where he knew the box/VSF
would crush his chest and kill him, Twitchie knew he'd failed. There must
have been some kind of psychic or spiritual relation-ship, some link, he
realized, between him and the VSF all along. From the moment he'd first
sensed something strange about the fellow, it was as if they'd been drawn
to each other. And before he died, Twitchie wondered if the VSF knew this
and had used Twitchie's mental alarm system against him.
Twitchie took a nanosecond to regret.
He didn't regret dying. He had his views of an afterlife, reached through
his own intellectual quest, mostly rebellion, modifying his family's
starched-collar churchy tutelage. Nothing formal, nothing fancy, still in
first draft. But his.
He didn't regret harm to Sam because in the same nanosecond he spared
himself to review his life and list his blessings and regrets, he knew Sam
would floop from his mouth and find another mouth to be in. Maybe
Mimi's. Or he'd return to his home reality, float away to rejoin his
family in their interrupted picnic.
But no. It didn't matter. The world was about to end. For Sam, for Harold,
and for the twins. And for Mimi. For everybody and everything. And it's
He didn't regret not having one last bubble bath with Mimi. He and Mimi
had had many baths together and it had all been good.
What Twitchie regretted most in his life's last nanoseconds was that Rock
`n' Roll Universe would never get on the cover of the Rolling Stone.
Bright light burned Twitchie's eyelids. People who understood these things
better than he did and with whom he'd argued often and at length, as much
for entertainment as enlightenment, and usually while stoned, had told him
not to walk toward the light.
He couldn't move. The light grew dense in the center as he squinted at it.
Two darker shapes evolved from the light's core. The shapes coalesced into
a dark, hairy, neckless ape with mountain-ous shoulders and long arms, and
a shorter, softer-featured entity with enormous hooters.
Harold and Mimi.
"Where are the twins?" Twitchie tried to say. It came out "Whuu uh uu
Not because he had a soap bubble narc in his mouth. No, Sam had left him,
was in Mimi's mouth, around which she tried to smile.
"He's okay, right?" Bobbie sounded anxious.
Twitchie couldn't see her. She must be standing behind where he - lay? On
"The cat sounds like shit," Robbie said. Couldn't see him either.
Where am I? His tongue tasted like the Oakland Tribune.
"He's okay." Harold stood over Twitchie, eyes hidden behind sunglasses and
smile hidden under dense hair; you could tell by the way the hair curled
up at the cheekbones.
"You're okay," Sam said. Mimi leaned over Twitchie, close, hair smelling
of bubble bath.
"Ing aligh - alive. I'g ogay."
Somebody laughed, little-girlish, hiccuppy and giggling, and clapped her -
He sat up, with help from Harold and Mimi. The room spun.
He sat still waiting for the room to finish spinning.
Twitchie reached to adjust his glasses. Not there. He blinked and squinted
around the -
Not a room. An open outdoor arbor like he'd seen in Napa Val-ley where
they grew grapes and made wine. The group had been there once for a high
school prom, one of the band's first paying gig. Twitchie remembered the
archway, a white wood slate latticework over the public entrance to a big
winery laced with grape vines and laden with ripe purple grapes hanging in
bunches. They'd stood in an arbor, in the dappled sun and shade and said
"Wow" a lot.
"We won?" Twitchie asked.
Mimi kissed Twitchie, Sam flooped into Twitchie's mouth and Sam flooded
Twitchie with memories.
Twitchie shook his head, waving his hand as if to ward off tsetse flies.
"Nononono," he said around Sam. He tried to pluck the bubble from his
Too much, he thought at Sam. Too fast.
An abrupt memory slammed into Twitchie's consciousness, an awareness that
hit as hard as if he'd been killed, crushed under a five-hundred-pound
Twitchie hit the grass at the foot of the stage on his back, arms still
clutching the huge amp above him - the VSF. The air left him with a
whoosh at the abrupt impact.
But he hadn't been crushed. His head hurt, as if a teddy bear ax handle
had whacked him, his glasses knocked off, gouging his nose, and he forgot
about them as the pain in his head demanded attention. Then he lost
When Twitchie hit the deck, the impact was so jarring Sam expelled from
Twitchie's mouth, like he'd been shot from a cannon - Fwooop! He bounced
off the black surface of the VSF/amplifier inches above Twitchie's chin,
bounced again, as if in a pinball machine, then controlled himself and
flooped into Mimi's mouth a foot away.
Mimi's mouth had been clenched shut at the time, teeth gritted in the
effort to pull Twitchie out from under the monster box that had fallen on
him. Her clenched jaw gave way to Sam.
Sam entered her mind. They both had the same idea - save Twitchie - so
they worked together.
The huge amp hadn't fallen off the stage on Twitchie; it fell at an angle,
and just the upper edge had come down. Now that Sam was in Mimi's head,
Sam and Mimi could see the foot of the amp still clung to the lip of the
stage three feet up.
Twitchie's head was under the narrower gap at the farthest end, the lower
end, of the amp, and it looked to Sam/Mimi as if his head had been pushed
an inch into the grass under the amp's weight. Twitchie faced toward Sam
and Mimi, jaw agape, drool connecting grass to chin, eyes glassy and half
He looked dead.
Mimi touched his narrow ribcage and felt it rise and fall. But his eyes
We've got to get him out, Mimi thought at Sam. She tugged on Twitchie's
near arm, but he was jammed tight, head wedged be-tween amp and ground.
Cracked skull, Mimi thought. Brain damage.
Sam thought back at her, Let's get him out first.
She scooted back away from the tilted amp, and her man under it, to see
the problem better.
A forest of legs and tentacles surrounded Mimi, the curious press-ing
close, and for the first time since the amp started toppling toward
Twitchie, she heard what was going on around her.
So intent had she focused at the critical instant the amp had started to
topple that she'd managed to shut out everything else.
The band had stopped playing, and shouts and screams erupted in a
cacophonous racket. Above it all, she heard a triumphant, hu-man roar,
what Harold might make on defeating the inner demons he'd decided to face
and fight - those Nazi teddy bears.
It pleased Mimi to hear he'd won. She wanted to hear about it, but later.
She had to move the amp. It was heavy, and its foot precariously propped
on the stage edge three feet above Twitchie's feet, which stuck under the
It was too big for Mimi to move alone, and it would be foolish to try. If
it slipped, it would fall on Twitchie.
Even as Mimi looked around for stout arms and backs to help, Harold, the
twins, and several hippies elbowed their way to her side. In a few
seconds, an impromptu rescue team had lifted the amp and dragged Twitchie
Twitchie's rescuers had found a stretcher - even in this halluci-nated
reality, they had Boy Scouts - and they'd carried him to a clear space
behind the stage.
With the twins looking on, sweating, panting, and disheveled, an entity
leaned over Twitchie's limp form. It didn't look like a doctor to Mimi,
but Sam, in her mind, reassured her ambulatory sunflowers made the best
doctors in his reality.
An ambulance backed up onto the grass nearby. Mimi had heard the ambulance
as it approached down Fell, blaring "Jailhouse Rock" and flashing
polka-dotted green and coconut lights. The attendants were efficient dogs,
one a cross-dressing Labrador and the other a collie wearing granny
glasses and a paisley bow tie. The ambulance took Twitchie to a hospital
where his friends later joined him.
I thought the VSF has killed me, Twitchie thought at Sam. Why am I
still alive? In answer, Sam fed him the memory of what the twins did when
they saw Twitchie across the stage from where they fought with two
multi-armed security octopussies.
Twitchie nearly fainted at the jarring sudden memory.
The twins couldn't hear each other, being so close to the stage and the
monstrous, booming amp a few feet away from them, so they failed to
coordinate their attack. Frantic hand gestures and body language didn't
work, and while Bobbie made a lunge toward the cables snaking from the
cluster of amps, intent on tearing them from their sockets, Robbie moved
toward the big amp, intent on pushing it off the stage.
In the confusion and missed communication, unusual for the twins, the
security octopussies intervened. They tossed them to the ground as two
bouncers might toss drunks into the alley, strong and experienced in
beating the crap out of skinny rowdies.
The twins lost grip on their guitars and didn't see them again until after
the battle had ended.
Looking up from the ground where they kicked, punched, bit, wiggled, and
tried to disentangle themselves from choking, twisted tentacles and rise
and carry on, the twins saw Twitchie hop up on to the stage across from
them and grab the big amplifier, like the one on their side of the stage.
The twins entangled in fishy-smelling, rubbery, but strong ten-tacles and
couldn't move. Pressed into the grass, they expected to feel handcuffs
clinking onto their wrists any second. Who would have thought calamari
could be so strong?
Face down against the grass, with a two-hundred-pound fish on his back,
Robbie saw through legs, tentacles, paws, and hooves be-tween him and the
far side of the stage Twitchie was about to pull the big amp on top of
He'd be killed.
Robbie didn't know what to do, didn't even know if he could do anything
from where he lay. But he had to do something.
He found inside him a desperation-fueled Harold-like strength and he
lunged upward off the ground with a mighty grunt, loosening several
ten-tacles gripping him. He pressed up on knees and elbows and surged
Bobbie also found her own strength and will to save Twitchie. She too had
escaped the encumbering fishy clutches and had lunged to the stage.
Their eyes met in an instant, the same instant they both realized what
they had to do.
Even if they could hear each other over the raucous racket on the stage
floor they crawled across on hands and knees, they didn't need to say
anything. At the same time that they got free from the security hippie
octopussies, at the same time as the amp was about to topple and crush
Twitchie twenty feet away, they both saw one snaky black cord that
stretched across the stage was attached to the big al-most-toppled-now
amp. If they pulled the cord, they might - just might - keep the amp
from falling on Twitchie.
They both grabbed the cord as the octopussies grabbed their ankles and
started reeling them back like escaping carp. They tugged on the cord with
all their might, trying to keep the amp from toppling.
They only partially succeeded; they kept the amp from sliding off the
stage. It was enough. The cord kept the foot of the amp on the stage, kept
it from falling all the way over. If the twins had expended an ounce less
pressure - or if they had gotten to it a second later - Twitchie would
have been crushed like a watermelon dropped off the back of a pickup on
The two octopussies rallied and dragged the twins off the stage and were
about to handcuff them. Then they vanished.
The twins suddenly found themselves unencumbered. They leaned against each
other for support, panting and sweaty.
Had they saved Twitchie? They started out to check.
As they took their first step, a howl arrested their attention and they
As did everybody else. Faces, snouts, beaks, and mugs aimed back into the
crowd core, where something interesting happened, something they could not
Even as they tried to see what the fuss was about, they realized two
things. The howl was Harold's, though they'd never heard him howl like
that before, which is why it took a second to realize it. A warrior's
victory cry. Since it came from where they'd last seen Harold headed for
mortal combat with a dozen teddy bears, the gen-eral direction the crowd
faced, they concluded Harold had won.
The second thing they concluded as they interrupted their dash toward
Twitchie was the entities around them were vanishing.
Floop-oop, a blue buffalo and his dancing partner vanished in
Plip, plip, plip, three winged pigs hovering ten feet above them ceased
Ka-ping, poop, a bearded mayonnaise jar disappeared.
Ploop, ploop, two gigantic hippie calamari security guards left the
The commotion diminished - fewer voices to make it - and the twins heard
Twitchie groan fifteen feet away.
They joined the rescue squad digging him out from under the fallen amp.
Later, they found their guitars under the stage. Broken.
Before Twitchie could ask, and to finish the twins' story, Sam gave him an
image of kindling with strings. Twitchie winced.
And Harold's okay too, Sam remembered back at Twitchie. It didn't
surprise Twitchie that Sam was a step ahead of him. As an interdimensional
border patrol agent, Sam had experience running up and down alien neural
pathways. He had the Big Picture. Sam fired into Twitchie's memory the
tale Harold had told the group as they gathered after rescuing Twitchie.
Harold had once been a smoker. Marlboro filters. In the red and white box.
But he quit.
There came the time in Nam when he'd gotten separated from his squad while
taking point on a night patrol and he had to hunker down in a ditch while
VC snuck around him, only feet away. They were coming back from their own
patrol and he'd heard a fire fight not half a click behind him; he'd been
There they were, creeping fast past him, toting their injured. He hunkered
down in the shallow ditch, cursing the moonlight, trying not to breathe,
praying the VC didn't look under their feet as they retreated, praying
they were in a hurry.
Remembering the faces of two buddies who he'd watched die days before.
It took hours before the last VC passed. He stayed put; there might be a
straggler and he'd stand up in front of an AK-47. He lay unmoving, heart a
jackhammer in his throat, sweating. Dehy-drating. Hallucinating.
The last two VC grunts Harold saw go past him, five feet away in the tall
grass, bodies flitting in and out of moonlight and dappled shadow, looked
like grotesque versions of a teddy bear Harold once owned. They chatted,
those last two VC - in German, Harold de-cided. They wore antique helmets
and they carried weapons that looked un-rifle-like in the feverish,
His own patrol found him asleep in the ditch just after dawn, stiff, sore,
and dehydrated. They ribbed him about it for the last three months of his
tour, how they'd caught him napping. Worse, he'd shit his pants.
So he knew how to suppress a gut-wrenching fear that threat-ened to turn
his knees to rubber and press him into a cringing, whim-pering fetal
position, as the threat of facing those teddy bears - those goddam
sonsabitching teddy bears - did.
"I'll go," he'd said in the apartment, the exact words he used on that
night in Nam, volunteering for point.
He had to face the teddy bears. And his fears.
Sam had understood that Harold needed to face the teddy bears. Maybe Sam
had his own teddy bears.
So it came to pass, standing near the crowd in the park as the group and
Sam worked out their strategy for stopping the band on the stage from
playing the music that would cause the universe to non-exist, Harold
looked for the teddy bears.
His legs did not go rubbery as he pushed through the crowd, thick waves of
saw grass, between him and the teddy bear squadron. Adrenaline pumped to
his shoulder and arm muscles, turning them into iron.
The teddy bears were on break from mayhem now, leaning on their axes,
watching the band, like every-entity else, and didn't see him barreling
toward them till too late.
Harold hit so fast, had punched the first teddy bear snout he saw so
quick, the others had no time to wield their axes to defend them-selves.
The next teddy bear he took with a foot in the chest. It flew back with a
grunted whoosh and knocked over two comrades. Spiked helmets and axes
As Harold lifted another teddy bear by the neck to toss him into his
fellows, he felt a teddy bear ax jab his right thigh. He dropped the teddy
bear he held over his head, turned quick as lightning, and grabbed the
Harold jerked the ax from the surprised teddy bear's hands. He swung it at
the furry little beastie squad that had rallied and gathered in a rough
circle around him. Spectators screamed and jostled to make way. A circle
formed, facing inward. Shouting, cheering - giving Harold and the eight
standing teddy bears room. Four furries lay on the ground, groaning,
Harold brandished the ax in a wide circle, keeping the fuzzy fiends at
bay. They poked at him with their axes, but withdrew when he swung or
jabbed back at them.
One teddy bear charged from behind Harold and grabbed the ax. The attack
held Harold steady for a second, long enough for the others to charge.
With a savage, teeth-gritted, Goliath grunt, Harold raised his ax and its
clinging teddy high into the air. He propelled the now terri-fied critter
into four of his fellows.
In a few seconds, Harold added the last three to a furry, tangled heap.
Most were unconscious, the others groggy. One tried to creep away on all
fours, but Harold aimed a boot at its plump tummy and it yipped like a
kicked puppy as it arched over the watching, cheering crowd, stubby arms
and legs flailing.
Harold looked back at the fuzzy tangle and counted bodies. He'd tossed
four into the crowd and seven lay before him, unconscious-.
The last one had almost succeeded in belly-crawling between the legs of a
giant rubber ducky when Harold spotted it. He picked it up by its neck and
held it up. Its stubby legs kicked, and its arms flailed and it cursed and
then went limp, whimpering.
The crowd cheered as Harold tossed his victim atop the teddy bear pile and
took out the drumsticks he'd concealed in his jacket. He held up the
sticks and the crowd cheered again.
Harold had planned to spank the teddies, to humiliate them, but suddenly
the gesture felt petty.
Images of Nam, and of that other war - of that teddy bear, that
father, that argument, that incident at his fifth birthday party -
gushed through Harold's consciousness in a dizzying flash. With a
lung-rattling roar, he threw his drumsticks over the crowd.
Harold had no interest in the crowd's cheers. A commotion, people and
entities doing something frantic near the stage, drew his attention. One
of the twins ran in front of the stage, but he couldn't tell which. A
dignified sunflower with a stethoscope bent over some-body on the ground
under a gigantic amplifier.
Twitchie sipped glacier-cold water from a glass Mimi had handed him. It
soothed his parched throat.
He looked around him. A room. The Congregational Church in Oakl-and?
No, not the church he recognized from his reality, but one like it in the
"It's got no roof," Twitchie said aloud. Sam hovered near Mimi's shoulder,
floating in the air like - like a soap bubble. "It's all open -"
"Some things are different here," Sam said. "Some are the same. San
Francisco is still the City of Love. Haight-Ashbury, trolley cars, the
Golden Gate Bridge, the Fillmore. It's still 1967. But there's no war and
"- and there's still rock `n' roll -" Bobbie said.
"- like, Elvis," Robbie said, "he's here, man, but he plays the bagpipes
"And choices." Mimi.
The group gathered around Twitchie as he sat up in what looked, felt, and
smelled like a hospital bed in the roofless sun-speckled grape arbor. They
looked at Twitchie, the twins with tentative smiles, Mimi ditto, and
probably Harold too, but who knew what he thought or felt behind his beard
and sunglasses when he wasn't smiling?
"Yeah," Bobbie said. "Choices."
"Yeah," Robbie said.
Somebody cleared a throat, and it took Twitchie a moment be-fore he
realized Sam had done it.
"We defeated the Very Strange Fellow," Sam said. "But there are still -"
"Wait," Twitchie said. "We won? But I thought I was killed. What
Sam sighed. "Last time." He plooped into Twitchie's mouth.
He plooped back out again a nanosecond later, mission accom-plished.
The others waited, as Twitchie blinked and gasped as he wan-dered down new
neural pathways Sam had induced in his brain, remembering new memories. He
felt dizzy under the onslaught but he did not faint.
"Damn," he said.
Twitchie lost consciousness as he fell from the stage so he didn't know
what happened next until Sam induced the memory in him.
The VSF usually moved his consciousness around from host to host as
needed, rode other entities as people rode cars or bicycles. He had no
real physical self, but those with an affinity for such things could sense
his presence in whatever guise he assumed, which is how he'd gotten caught
and imprisoned before. Dimen-sional border agents like Sam had such an
So did Twitchie. But he didn't know it. He assumed his sixth sense about
avoiding getting busted when pick pocketing was what tipped him to the VSF
in the park. The ability was something he might never have known even
existed if not for the VSF. It was what caused him such a tangible itch of
trepidation in the minutes before the Battle of the Panhandle.
But the VSF had also missed something. Twitchie had powers the VSF thought
only he was privy to, and even though Twitchie was unaware of those
powers, they were so great that, even without knowing how to use them,
they manifest, even as Twitchie lost con-sciousness, in the most unusual
sensation the VSF had ever felt: trapped inside a host entity.
Till the last instant, the VSF expected to exit the falling amp and find a
new host. He had no idea that Twitchie's attack would freeze him in the
He was trapped inside the amp. Trapped.
Twitchie was unconscious so he couldn't hear the VSF scream in his mind.
In the park, right after the VSF occupied the dead bum as a host to help
spread his dimension-wall-breaking rock `n' roll saturated weed, he'd
found Twitchie's mind, tuned into it. It felt like finding a clear radio
signal above the cacophony of random electronic noise. It felt to the VSF
like find-ing his twin, his soul mate. In a twinkling, he arranged for the
skinny hippie to pick his pocket of the toothpick joint while he snatched
the hippie's wallet.
But what the VSF didn't realize, what Twitchie didn't know until he
remembered it through Sam's induced memory, and what Sam himself couldn't
have known till after the dust of battle had settled and these things
could be figured out, was that Twitchie was to the VSF not as Robbie and
Bobbie were to each other. They were not twins; they were mirror images
of each other. Twitchie was to the Very Strange Fellow as white to black.
Twitchie was the ulti-mate counterbalance to the VSF's nefarious plans.
Without know-ing it, when the VSF selected Twitchie as the vehicle of his
plot, he elected his own nemesis.
Without knowing how he did it, Twitchie had locked the VSF in his
incarnation as a five hundred pound amplifier where he was stuck.
Sam induced in Twitchie the image of this reality's equivalent of Fort
Knox, with the VSF-amp at its deepest, most secure center.
The Battle of the Panhandle had stabilized the walls between realities.
Twitchie's sigh of contentment turned into a hiccup as he re-called the
"Choices?" he said aloud.
Twitchie opened up the box of memories labeled "choices" and poked
Rock `n' Roll Universe - Twitchie, Mimi, Harold and Robbie and Bobbie -
could go back to their own reality in a procedure that didn't threaten
dimensional stability the way the VSF had, the same proce-dure the
dimensional border patrol occasionally used when it was necessary. In his
mind, Twitchie saw the process as a Julia Child recipe that included
dynamite and peyote in the ingre-dients. Not to be used frivolously.
Yes, they could go back. As clear as glacier water, Twitchie saw the
"If we go back," his said, his voice gravelly, "we'd have to stop playing
rock `n' roll."
No one spoke.
"Or," Twitchie continued, "we could stay here, and -"
Mimi squeezed Twitchie's hand and smiled.
"Stay or go -" Twitchie looked at Mimi and Harold and the twins and found
the memory of their decision - which way do they want to go? - wasn't in
his head. Sam had not shared that particular memory when he'd flooped
into Twitchie's mouth a minute ago.
"Because you haven't decided yet," Twitchie said.
"We wanted to wait for you," Mimi said.
"Yeah," Bobbie said.
"`Cause we're a family, man," Robbie said.
Twitchie took another sip of water. He picked up his glasses. Someone had
cleaned them and fixed a chip in the frame.
He put them on and looked around the arbor, at the cloudless, sunny day
beyond, and the ripe, heavy grape bunches in the bower overhead.
Heart-shaped leaves rustled in a gentle breeze. The air smelled fruity and
Twitchie's friends waited for him to choose.
"Do they have -" he started, and remembered.
He remembered. They did have, over here.
"It's not called the Rolling Stone," Sam said, reading Twitchie's
thoughts, as Mimi often did, as the twins did with one another so that the
phenomenon scarcely warranted comment anymore. "It's called Rock `n' Roll
"Huh," Twitchie said. Then: "Will we have to change our name?"
Mimi grinned, and laughed, and kissed him on the cheek.
Copyright © 2007 by Ken Rand
All rights reserved unless specified otherwise above.