Hermes Beckons: Curiosity Often Leads Us into Unseen Dangers
Chapter 19
© 2006 John Caris

The Garlands had celebrated Shasta’s sixty-second birthday on January tenth with dinner and entertainment. They attended a performance by Cirque Éloize entitled Nomade. Relying on both traditional and modern circus routines and techniques, Cirque Éloize presented a journey through the nighttime of the imagination when the sky is clear and lit by a myriad of stars, a time when surreal dreams liberate our spirits and we soar into the upper world. The production induced a mental state that triggered memories and allowed the imagination to wander through a fantastic landscape. Each performer had a specialty routine yet participated in group acts. They all sang and several played instruments. Shasta liked best the routines based on acrobatics.

The idea of being a nomad intrigued Shasta, who had always thought of herself as a settled, rooted creature. “Putting my roots down” was a common aphorism of hers. She now realized that she had absorbed the attitude from her mother. When Shasta was little, she liked to roam, especially in the countryside like Panther Meadows. In fact, several times she had disappeared and worried her parents. She had only wandered off to view something that interested her but had forgot to ask her parents. One time when she was four, she had visited a neighbor three blocks distant from home to watch their chickens pecking and scratching the ground. Another time around seven, she had walked even further away to see a friend whose family owned a horse. When she was found and taken home, she had to confront her parents’ discomfort as they strove to purge their fear for her safety which had changed into a stern rebuke upon her return.

The elegant, lyrical choreography impressed her. The circus routines had been transformed into dance. The process of transformation as it applied to the senses and imagination beckoned. Entering as into a dream realm, she felt the physical movement of the performers in her own body and began to recognize the potential she had never actualized. Her physical sensations and emotions whirled together bonded by ever-changing vivid images. The experience was akin to lucid dreaming, yet she was awake. Intuition remarked that she was in a state of lucid consciousness similar to a highly developed meditative state. She was touched by an inner presence, spiritual perhaps, that radiated strength and confidence.

Ralph was excited and infused with exhilarating energy, she could see. When they returned home, neither was ready for bed, so they both retired to their private sanctums to indulge their creative urges.

Shasta had several new ideas for her poetry. Transformation—that was the key. She now understood Ralph’s meaning when he talked about magic as transformation, tying it to alchemy, and it could be a seed idea for a poem, perhaps several. ***

The weather channel talked incessantly about El Nino and its affects on the West Coast. Big storm centers were lined up off the shore, waiting to move inland and unleash their torrential, driving rains. Ralph wondered whether a contest was being held among the storms to determine which was the most ferocious. A cord of wood, enough to last through July, was neatly stacked in the garage. The firewood was a mixture of almond and walnut, both excellent burning fuel. As long as they were safe and comfortable in their home, Shasta, remarked, let the storms rage as much as they desired. Even Gaia had to release built-up energy and express herself.

They both were busy with their creative activities, and during the lull before another storm burst upon them, they ventured outside for walks and visits to Ocean Delights. The kitties too were taking advantage of the breaks as they journeyed forth into the backyard to enjoy the fresh smells in the garden and partake of the catnip, which Shasta had planted eleven years ago when they had become members of the Garland family. Although sometimes they nibbled on the leaves, they primarily savored its pungent aroma.

The Garlands were enjoying coffee and conversation with Dale and Margaret Pepper and Gordon Russell at Ocean Delights. Ralph kept glancing over toward Rafé, who was performing a new rabbit routine for two customers. She had been working here at the restaurant for several weeks. When she was not needed behind the counter filling orders, she moved among the patrons doing close-up effects. Watching her, he was inwardly pleased that his protégé was growing into an accomplished magician.

Gordon was teasing the Peppers about their terms of affection: they still used “significant other” as their words of endearment. They had lived together for fifteen years as significant others before getting married five years ago. Marriage became a viable act when they decided to buy a house and own it as joint tenants. They were tired of paying high rents—money down the drain since they were not accruing any equity. Emma had found them a suitable home on San Benito Way, one block from Ocean Avenue and within walking distance to SF State.

Margaret had grown up in Elko, Nevada, where her folks worked for one of the casinos, and she was happy to leave, although she loved the countryside. She had attended the University of Nevada-Reno, her first step in emancipation, graduating with a major in chemistry, and then came to the Bay Area for a teaching position, which she secured at Lowell High School in San Francisco.

They had met one Saturday in Golden Gate Park where Dale frequently performed morning concerts for the squirrels and birds on his flute. Their acquaintance blossomed when Margaret attended several of Dale’s gigs. As Mother Nature worked her alchemy, they spent most of their leisure time together. On a pleasant Sunday morning in May Dale performed a special concert for Margaret, playing traditional courtship serenades on the flute. Serendipity was also playing its tune when later that morning the couple were watching the bison and Margaret mentioned that her roommate was leaving the next day for a new job in Los Angeles. Dale had only one thought which Margaret was amenable to. He moved into her apartment the next evening.

The Leongs entered the shop and, after picking up their coffee, joined the gang. With five people already around one table, a communal decision was made to enlarge the seating area by adding another table. Dale moved an unoccupied table over while Gordon and Ralph pulled up several more chairs.

Breaking the momentary lull following the greetings, Merle pronounced, “Colors make us blind.” Noticing the perplexed expressions of his friends, he dropped the serious mien and smiled. “Emma and I have been watching the old black and white film noir.”

“What an adventure. The starkness adds an atmosphere of mystery.” Emma glanced knowingly at the gang.

Because the faces around the table now showed understanding and interest, Merle continued, “Yesterday we visited the Ansel Adams Center a couple of blocks from the Lundquist Gallery, and now my conception of art is changing.”

“Oh, in what way?” Margaret asked.

“The contrast between light and dark, the use of shadows, the shifting patterns of brightness—these are exciting insights.”

“And I’ve discovered some applications for my poetry,” Emma commented. “Translating these visual techniques into poetic devices has opened fresh avenues for shaping images.”

Ralph thought of his research into the shadow world. Merle and Emma’s insights could be very helpful and advance his understanding of the hermetic art. The theme of light-in-the-darkness was sending forth its roots and growing into a mighty plant. Painting and poetry, the visual and verbal, were necessary ingredients for his craft. What the audience heard and saw blended to form a rebus for the psyche.

“It was amazing.” Merle gestured expansively, forcing Dale to move back in his chair. “Suddenly, a fresh understanding of the abstract expressionists of the 1950s birthed. Artists such as Mark Rothko and Robert Motherwell are now more accessible.”

“The designs suggested rhythms and alliterative patterns. My mind, in tune with the visual flow, generated a coursing of words and images.” Emma turned to Shasta. “Take a plunge into the noir. It might ignite your Muse.”

A harried Leila Lubec entered Ocean Delights, glanced over at the gang, nodded, and went to the counter to order. While Gordon busily rearranged his personal items to clear space for her, Shasta scrutinized Leila and, being curious about her anxious countenance, whispered her concern to Margaret.

Leila arrived with a cup of mint tea. Seating herself in a vacant chair between Dale and Ralph, she sipped the tea waiting for the conversation to begin. Although her occupation was unusual, she had been accepted into the gang. Gordon enjoyed throwing sardonic remarks at her, but in a friendly manner. The others liked her inquisitive nature and quiet charm, so they all noticed that she was disturbed.

Shasta decided to inquire. “What’s happening in your life, Leila?”

“I’ve had some distressing news.”

“Family matters?” Dale exuded compassion.

“Not personally. It’s a broader family: those involved in psychic research.” She looked directly at Ralph, asking for encouragement.

Ralph picked up her request. “What’s the news?”

“I need to discuss this situation, and if I’m imposing too much, please say so. Even though you don’t put much faith in psychic research, you might be interested in the recent and rather bizarre occurrences.”

They all give a sign of affirmation. Gordon had a wry smirk on his face, but the others displayed thoughtful expressions.

“My information basically comes from Psi Digest, a quarterly journal which contains one full length article and several summaries of research into paranormal phenomena. An experiment in telepathy has been going on for over a year, and it has been reported in Psi Digest. I received the latest issue last week and, after reading the report on the experiment, phoned the Institute of Psi Phenomena and talked with Sylvia Golden, one of the participants in the research. We’ve known each other for years. The situation is worse that the published reports.”

She paused and searched their expressions for interest and empathy. Noticing their thoughtful demeanor, she continued, “The experiment was designed by Sylvia and her partner Herbert Williams. It examines the recently discovered cube wave, which is a synergistic composite of several brain waves like alpha, beta, theta, and delta. The discovery was based upon a new technology for studying brain-mind relationships. Holography is a major concept and component of the technology for the study. Variations in the cube wave occur when the constituent waves form different shapes.”

“A cube wave?” Gordon sounded incredulous.

“Oh, yes. The brain wave studies,” Merle acknowledged. “The alpha is the one for meditation.”

“They discovered the cube wave in their work on meditative and trance states,” Leila enthused. “So far, its presence is measurable only in the human brain, not in the external world; that is, the cube wave machine can detect the presence of such a wave in the brain but not outside of it, as yet.”

“A cube wave machine?” Shasta was amazed and wondered to herself whether it could be a possible storyline.

“Yes, it’s an advance on the brain wave measuring machine. Work is being done to invent advanced equipment for measuring the cube wave in the external environment. Using the available technology, one can learn how to control and turn on and off one’s psi ability, for example, like the alpha wave tuner.” She nodded at Merle, pleased that he was familiar with this enhancement for meditation. “So far, research indicates psi ability exists within a small area. No one as yet has been able to extend psi power further than a radius of one hundred yards. The research is concerned with two things: extending the radius of psi power and developing it for performing certain tasks. At the moment only simple telepathy is possible and measurable. An amplifier increases the power of the cube wave in the human brain; by doing so, can it increase the range of psi power and its ability to perform? That’s what the experiment is set up to verify. Both the government and a major corporation are interested in the project, and Herb and Sylvia have incorporated their institute to gain funding for further research.”

“Where’s it being done?” Dale was attracted by the subject. The members of his ensemble were all aware of unconscious, perhaps telepathic, bonding among them when performing. As Dale thought of it, they were all in touch, a harmonious and flowing affinity.

“The institute is located in Seattle. With recent funding a new generation of the cube wave machine, called the cubee, has been made. It has a computer with a holographic memory. The cubee can now record any brain state in short term memory units. Any part of the brain state can then be placed in long term storage for retrieval. The cubee makes the image more vivid and dramatic, almost eidetic.”

Gordon was fidgety. “Modern technology is certainly marvelous, but what’s the distressing news?”

“I’ll describe the experiment so you can understand the strange events. The basis of this telepathic experiment is to study the influence, if any, that the amplifier has on psi phenomena. Early experiments, both before and after the invention of the cube wave machine, suggest that psi power is capable of spreading all over the earth, but these early experiments and their results are dubious and have basic weaknesses in design. They only suggest possibility to those scientists who have sufficient pre-existing faith in psi power. The use of the amplifier has had tantalizing but uncertain results. It has had some success within a one hundred yard radius but very limited and only problematic success at longer distances. Both Sylvia and Herb believe in the basic assumptions of their experiment. Although the few successes whetted their appetite and sustained their motivation, these successes are not yet accepted by the majority of scientists working in psi research.”

“So this advanced technology isn’t working? I don’t think that’s disturbing. Actually, it’s to be expected. Millions wasted on a bunch of idiot electrodes.”

Gordon’s sarcasm made Shasta protective. “I imagine there’s more to the tale if we let Leila finish.”

“Really, Gordon, I want to hear the remainder of the story,” Margaret added in a forceful tone. She could match his authoritative teaching voice.

When Ralph pulled a rope and pair of scissors from his pocket, Gordon blanched. “Please continue, Leila. I’ll listen quietly.”

“For the experiment Sylvia and Herb sit in a meditative position in different rooms. They are attached to a cube wave machine, which makes a wave graph record of their mental state during the experiment. They take turns sending and receiving simple images. One session Herb will send and the next Sylvia. The images have been randomly selected by a computer under the control of an outside committee. Each session the committee gives Herb or Sylvia, whoever is the sender, a sealed envelope which contains an image. Herb, for example, then opens the envelope and concentrates on the image, trying to send it to Sylvia. The concentration lasts for four minutes. When the sending is completed, they write out a report of their experience. After a number of sessions the results are collated and statistically analyzed. Copies are available for interested researchers. Any questions at this point?” Leila waited a moment for response and looked intently at Gordon, who shook his head. Ralph inwardly chuckled because Gordon had that “What! Me?” expression.

“Ready for the distressing events? Well, something strange is now happening during the experiments. Three extraordinary experiences involving uncontrolled events occurred during a session. When he began sending, Herb heard a voice, manifesting without a known source, ask him, ‘Who are you?’ He answered, ‘I’m Herb Williams. Dr. Herbert Williams.’ In her report Sylvia recorded a scratchiness in her throat and then a heaviness in her neck. Finally, she heard a muffled voice that sounded like ‘Herb’ as through a cotton medium. The second time the voice manifested, asking the same question, Herb answered, ‘Sylvia, is that you?’ Sylvia again experienced a thickening in her neck, but she heard a sound like ‘Sylvia,’ as if someone were calling her name. The third time that the voice asked the same question, Herb again gave his name. Sylvia now heard the sound ‘who.’ Herb experienced the voice as coming from some place in the room, and after each question was asked, he heard laughter. Sylvia experienced the sound as internal and felt a sharp, freezing chill. These three experiences occurred during the same session.

Gordon started to speak but caught himself, wiping a smirk from his lips.

“Voices from the emptiness—that’s not surprising to those who follow the Tao.” Merle spoke from personal knowledge.

Emma winked at her husband. “Muses speak unexpectedly.”

An uneasy feeling flowed through Ralph as a thought darted by: could Harold explain the phenomenon? He caught himself abruptly. What if Harold heard him now and phoned? Then he relaxed, amused at his unnecessary panic. The cell phone was in the studio.

Leila was picking up energy. “Hang on. We’ve not reached the dramatic peak. They were upset by these events but continued their research. The next session brought an excruciating experience.” Leila took a copy of Psi Digest from her tan leather purse and opened it to a bookmarked page. “Here’s Sylvia’s report: ‘I set the controls of the cubee at the same level as the last session. I cleared my mind and put myself into a meditative mood. Then I removed the card from the envelope and visualized the image, speaking its name. Things were going fine when suddenly I felt light-headed and different emotions coursed through my mind. The intensity increased; it was like a gale storm. Then the blustering winds became hot and fiery. I yelled, because of the pain, ‘Stop! Stop!’ Did my words have an affect? Soon afterwards, the burning sensation disappeared and was replaced by coolness, which had a liquid, watery quality. I felt relieved, thinking that all would now be normal, but I was in error because my mental state began to move, rocking like waves. My center of balance seemed to be affected because I felt the nausea of motion-sickness. I wanted to bend over and retch but restrained myself, gripping the arms of the chair and holding myself there. Slowly, the wave motion dissipated, and my mind was quiet. I thought to myself, is this the end or only a pause in the storm? The quiet continued, and I was beginning to feel safe and secure. Then I had a strange sensation that I could not move, that I was frozen and paralyzed. I tried moving my body and discovered that the sensation was correct. I was paralyzed. I tried to turn the cubee off but could not move. I felt as if I were inside a stone statue and could not get out. A vivid thought came to me: I saw myself trapped in this carved hunk of rock, perhaps forever. Then I panicked. The next thing I remembered was the sound of voices, dimly heard at first and then increasing to normal volume. I opened my eyes and looked around.”

“My God!” Margaret was deeply shaken.

Gordon, looking at Ralph’s hands and noticing that they were empty, remarked, “Humbug. Did they call in an exorcist?”

Shasta laughed gently, easing the tension, and then remarked, “‘There’re more things in heaven and earth,’ Gordon, ‘than are dreamt of in your philosophy.’”

“Home run for Shasta.” A pen and notepad appeared in Ralph’s hands, and he wrote down the score, 1-0.

“There’s more, I’m sure.” Emma looked inquiringly at Leila.

“Yes, there is. This is Herb’s report: ‘I sat quietly waiting for some sign from Sylvia. After awhile I thought that maybe there would be no contact in this session. I began to have difficulty concentrating and felt impatient. Then my neck muscles tightened, and I felt a pain in my throat. I started to massage my neck, and, as I did so, my head muscles constricted and my head ached. I glanced at my watch to see how much time was left in the session, hoping that it was about over. It was; only one minute remained. I sighed relief but did not feel any. Then it hit me: pure terror. I gulped a mouthful of air and quickly turned the cubee off. The terror subsided, and I leaned back in the chair, relaxing. My muscles were sore. I had not realized how tense I had become. I sat there for five minutes and then got up and fixed myself a cup of tea.”

“Amazing. Both experienced the negative force. The disorder must have come from imbalance.” Merle’s comment drew an affirmative nod from Leila.

She continued. “During the next two sessions the power of the cubee was lowered one decibel from four to three. All was normal during these two sessions. At three decibels a vague image is usually communicated. After the two strange experiments the cubee was checked by the maintenance crew, who failed to find anything malfunctioning. Since these two sessions were normal, they decided to try again at four decibels. This time, though, an automatic switch-off device was installed. The cubee would automatically turn off when their brain wave pattern indicated they were no longer in a meditative state.

“So the amount of amplifying power was very important.” Shasta was enthralled by the potential for a story. Move over, Stephen King, you’re going to be dethroned.

“Here’s the report for the third strange experiment. Herb recorded the following: ‘I moved into my meditative state and began to concentrate on the card. I closed my eyes and visualized the design. A vivid image appeared, and I felt pleased. Focusing on it, I opened my eyes. The image began to grow bigger and bigger. I felt that we were moving toward each other. Then I moved through the image, and there was only darkness. I touched my eyes to be certain that they were open. They were. I blinked several times, but still darkness pervaded everywhere. Then I noticed a lump in my throat, and I was frightened. The fear was gone as quickly as it had appeared. The room was filled with light, and I looked about. The cubee had switched itself off. Everything now seemed normal. My memory, however, was intense and overpowering, and I relived the experience several times before I could turn off my memory.’ Here’s what Sylvia reported: ‘I picked up a vivid image of the card; then it disappeared into darkness. I was excited and believed that the session went well. But after talking with Herb I found out that the session was another strange one.’”

A chill jolted Ralph’s complacency. Too much weirdness was showing up in his life. Was it a sign that Leila had told them about these experiments? Why us, he wondered? The tarot reading came to mind. Those two reversed cards, the five and eight of wands—could they be signaling something now? A quiet aha broke loose: the Hierophant. What was it that Leila mentioned about it? It’s a sign that I should dare to move beyond the veil.

Leila had concluded her story by averring that all the interested researchers agreed that at four decibels telepathic communication increased but the cause for the bizarre and harmful effects must be discovered and controlled before experiments at higher decibels could continue.

“I don’t doubt their experiences, but I’m skeptical about any supernatural causes.” Gordon was honestly impressed with the vivid recounting of the experiments.

A cell phone began beeping. Gordon reached for his and spoke into it. A moment later he handed it to Ralph. “It’s for you.”

With fear and trembling, Ralph spoke to the caller. With the exception of Shasta, who had noticed his hesitation and was observing him, the others began sharing ideas about the psi experiment.

Ralph tried to calm his anxiety and silently sang his mantra: “Di-as´-tl-e, sis´-ta-le.” Realizing a reasonable explanation was required, Ralph, after returning the phone, told them about the caller. “That was Harold Magian, one of my colleagues in the magical arts.” He decided that the best presentation was with humor and levity.

“Oh, he’s that new member of S.A.M. I’d enjoy meeting him.” Shasta commented.

“You all will. He’s on his way over to join us. He’s been attending the meetings of Assembly 2, which is where I met him. He recently moved to San Francisco, and I’ve been helping him get settled.”

Ralph noticed Gordon’s quizzical look. “I told him about our gatherings at Ocean Delights and gave him the numbers of all of us who have cell phones. I left mine at home, so he phoned you, Gordon.” He could tell that Gordon was bothered, but Shasta came to the rescue.

“If he’s going to join the gang, of course, he can have our phone numbers.”

Ralph hoped that no one, especially Gordon, would delve further into Harold’s phoning at that moment and wonder at his knowledge of Ralph’s whereabouts. He was worrying about possible blunders as he watched the entrance, and when Harold came into the shop, Ralph’s tension increased. Waving at Harold, he realized that now he would know about Harold Magian’s ability to manifest before others. If this were an hallucination, they were bonded in the same deception.

Harold was wearing a blue turtleneck shirt, gray trousers, blue jacket, and a gray beret. Once the introductions were completed, Harold sat in the empty chair next to Gordon and began to charm the gang. “Ralph has been very gracious and helpful. I didn’t know anyone when I arrived in San Francisco a couple of months ago.”

“Where’re you from?” Dale inquired.

“New York City. I’m in the midst of relocation. There are many opportunities on the West Coast for performing magicians.”

“How did you get into magic?” Merle was persistently curious about sources—the many ways that are the way.

“It’s the usual story. Watching magicians and catching the thrill and excitement of magic. Early on, I decided it would be my life’s work.”

The beeping of the cell phone startled Ralph, but he relaxed when he realized the call could not be for him. While Gordon was answering the call, Harold pulled a cell phone from his pocket. “These certainly are practical devices. We need never be alone.”

He stood up and held out the phone waist high. He let go of it slowly. The phone levitated over the table. Gordon’s jaw dropped, and the others were equally amazed. Harold then reached into the pocket of his jacket. “Now where’s the foulard?” He pulled out a dark blue cloth and held it directly beneath the phone, which rested on the top edge of the cloth. The phone moved along the edge and then dropped down over the side, hiding itself from view. Peeking above the cloth, it dropped below again. Harold draped the blue cloth over the phone, and it moved toward one member of the gang and then back; toward another member and back, until it had pointed at all of them. Harold quickly snatched the cloth away: the phone had vanished.

The performance had caught everyone’s attention, and an outburst of applause greeted Harold A. Magian, who bowed.

“What other kinds of magic do you perform?” Dale inquired.

“My specialty’s mentalism; I’ve been performing it for years.”

“Can you read my mind?” Gordon was once again in a taunting mood.

“I can tell you’re a skeptic and have little faith.” Harold’s manner was gentle.

“I’m thinking of a card. What is it?” Gordon challenged.

Leila, who had been waiting since their first meeting, finally sensed an opportunity to tease Gordon. “Ah, it’s the Fool card. You’re on the edge of a precipice. A great fall may be in your future.”

Gordon’s embarrassment was palpable. Although he deserved to receive what he gave, Shasta entered the fray to smooth his ruffled feathers. He was more like a bantam rooster than a fire-breathing dragon. “We had been discussing psychic phenomena. Leila was telling us about some experiments on telepathy where weird things happened.”

“The Golden-Williams’ experiments using the cubee device?” Harold asked.

“Yes. The emptiness is not so empty after all.” Merle remarked.

Emma tittered. “Don’t mind my hubby. Artists are such weird creatures.”

Harold appraised Merle with an astuteness and smiled. “Magicians are artists too. Yes, we’re all strange creatures.”

“Then you’re familiar with the experiments?” Leila beamed at Harold.

Psi Digest is a favorite journal for psychic research. What did you all think about those frightening events?” Harold glanced around the table.

“I was talking with Sylvia, and they don’t have the least idea what caused those events.” Leila responded.

“Our curiosity often leads us into unseen dangers. Golden and Williams, it seems, are playing with powerful forces that they know little about. Perhaps, there are beings who are disturbed by these intrusions.” For a fleeting moment Harold expressed a seriousness that was troubling, and then he appeared bemused.

Leila sat in stillness. A keen recognition flowered in her mind. She tilted her head toward Harold Magian and scrutinized him with a penetrating gaze. Who was he?

“The sorcerer’s apprentice trip.” Dale was amused.

“Scientists are a bunch of Mickey Mouses. Now they’re tampering with the code of life, the DNA.” Gordon had again donned the pallium of a cynic.

Ralph felt a deep, but momentary, dread. His alchemical studies were leading him into the unknown. He was aware that dangerous powers lurked behind the veil. With Harold’s presence and assistance would he be safe? Should he even trust Harold?

Harold reached into the air and plucked a pocket watch from the emptiness. Clicking open the lid and looking at the watch, he announced, “I must be going. I’m on my way to The Empty Hand. Ralph, would you go along? I’ve an idea for the next S.A.M. meeting I’d like to discuss with Alice, and I think you’d be interested.”

“Of course.” Ralph turned to Shasta. “Do you want anything from the Produce Barn?”

“I don’t know what to have for dinner. I’d better do the shopping, so I can get inspired.” Shasta rose from her chair.

“I’ll go with you,” Leila said to her.

The foursome took their leave. ***

Stillness steeped the room as the scent of sweetgrass (Heirochloe oderata) lingered in the air. The young woman, sitting crossed legged on a blanket, prayed silently to Peyote Woman. Then she began singing in her Neshnabek language, her voice requesting guidance, as her mIshomes’ rattle accented the rhythm.

She had realized during the past week that Ralph was deeply troubled by something. What the cause was, she did not know. His reaction to the missing acorn at the show for Bayside Software several months ago should have warned her, but she had dismissed the incident eagerly enough, not recognizing a more serious problem. Their practice session three days ago, however, had convinced her that he needed spiritual help. Upon entering the studio, she discovered that he was distraught because he had dropped a billiard ball and could not find it. He had been searching for several minutes before her arrival. In fact, he had called Lucy and Karma to assist, and they were sniffing about the studio when she arrived. Together they all spent another fifteen minutes or so before he gave up. At first she was amused at how sweet the kitties were with their prowling around looking very serious.

She wondered, though, why he was so upset because he could always buy a new one, as he later remarked. He talked about it as a sign, but not of what. Was a manito present and playing tricks? His behavior sent chills through her, especially his talk about the ball perhaps going into the unmanifested realm. He turned toward the stage curtains and stood there with a far-off gaze as if he could see beyond them into a different world. Then he parted the curtains and, facing the mirror, cried, “Are you there?” With a look of surprise and recognition, he exclaimed, “Of course!” This idea seemed to calm him as if it were an acceptable explanation. She watched as he continued to look at himself, and then, as if resuming a previous dialogue, he said, “Yes, I know who I am. I’m a born-again pagan suckled in a creed freshly woven.” Turning, he hurried over to the bookshelves and began browsing. Selecting a volume, he opened it and then paused. For a moment fear was sketched on his face. Looking round, he spotted her viewing the posters and remarked that they should practice a routine. She thought that he had not recognized her pretense of being unaware of his distraught behavior.

Later he mentioned, as if the fact were another piece to the puzzle, that his Zuni stone bear had also disappeared. She had learned in one of her courses in Native American Studies that the Zuni charms or fetishes possessed medicine power. If his had vanished, he could be in danger from harmful spirits.

She believed in the spirit realm and spirit helpers, but Ralph shone with a strange light when he spoke about it.

The face of her cousin who was a mide member appeared in her mind’s eye. Could an evil mide practitioner of the fourth degree have stolen Ralph’s soul? Her cousin had told her stories that in the past such things had happened. Or perhaps a windigo, that evil manito who often manifested as a cannibalistic skeleton of ice, had decided to devour Ralph by causing his mental disintegration. And something else—that new friend of Ralph’s, Harold Magian. She had been aware of his presence at Ocean Delights before she saw him. Definitely very strong power there, like an advanced mide practitioner. Was there a connection?

Yesterday she had discerned that Shasta was also worried about him, yet she had perceived that Shasta’s concern was general in nature and lacked a specific focus. When she arrived for practice today, he seemed pensive and gloomy but threw it off and got involved with the routines. Obviously, he had a secret that frightened him. We all had our hidden terrors, she knew, but Ralph—something was distressing him: some monster, not a trickster nor helper, but perhaps an evil manito. The Bear Spirit was the highest guardian for the Midewiwin initiation or healing ceremony. Was there a link between Ralph losing his stone bear and mko, Bear, the guardian spirit?

As she sang, an image of a healing ceremony appeared before her inner eye. Centering on the image, she considered the ceremonies that might be helpful. She could ask the Roadman at her Native American Church, but Ralph’s problem seemed more do with the manito world. Perhaps, a Midewiwin ceremony? She was hesitant, not knowing if she could reconcile these two approaches to the spirit world. Ralph’s behavior had raised questions she had previously pushed aside, and perhaps it was a sign for her delve into the basic ideas of her religious beliefs. Then she had another thought. Maybe a sweatlodge ceremony could assist in Ralph’s spiritual healing.

She did not know any elders in the San Francisco Bay Area with whom she could discuss Ralph’s situation, but she could talk to other Native Americans who might recommend someone. First she would phone Janeen at the Indian Center in San Francisco and Sara at the Intertribal Friendship House in Oakland. Then she would e-mail the Citizen Potawatomi Nation’s northern California regional office. She knew that help and healing were available. She only had to find the source.

Hermes Beckons Chapters Play Is the Great Secret of Illusion Laughter Keeps Him on the Edge of Existence