“Far out, man,” murmured Mark Meadows.
He hadn’t seen a turn-out like this since the Lizard King’s final concert. A huge grin cracked his face as he joined the crowd waiting to see Bob Dylan and the Band.
Mark stood head and shoulders above most of them, a gawky apparition with flowing blond hair and a fuzzy growth of yellow beard, wearing a purple top hat, Coke-bottle glasses, a fringed orange scarf, a billowing cotton shirt tie-dyed in hot pink and lipstick red, voluminous bell-bottoms with a green and yellow pattern, and beaded moccasins. The smell of patchouli and pot hung around him in a near-visible aura.
No one gave him a second glance. Everywhere he looked, he was surrounded by hippies, some almost as colorfully dressed as he was. Mark gazed upon them beatifically. He was with his people.
He wondered where they all were the rest of the year. Maybe they were respectable students or office workers or housewives during the day, and only let their real selves come out to play on special occasions.
Mark couldn’t blame them. Times had changed. Paisley was out and polyester was in. The Stones had been banned from Japan because of Mick Jagger’s 1969 conviction for biting a cop. The oil crisis had caused a vinyl shortage, delaying the release of a number of new albums – especially, it was rumored, radical ones that might cause a change in consciousness. Janis and Jimi and Tom Marion Douglas were dead. Country Joe had left the Fish and moved to a remote part of Canada, emerging from his shack only to issue strange broadsides advocating spelling reform. Grace Slick, the Acid Queen herself, had broken up Jefferson Airplane and become a corporate lawyer.
It seemed like everyone was tuning out, turning off, and dropping in. Or dropping dead.
But not here. Not now. Dylan was still singing, the Band was still playing, and the hippies had come for their counterculture communion.
Mark reached into his pocket and fingered the tabs of acid, packet of magic mushrooms, bottle of ayahuasca, vials of synthesized drugs, and assorted joints of various strains and strengths. He’d tried them all and many more, in various combinations and dosages, but the results had been unpredictable. Mostly he’d just gotten stoned out of his mind. A few times someone had appeared, or seemed to appear; Mark was only mostly sure he could tell the difference between a visit from a friend and a friendly hallucination. But even when he was positive he’d taken the exact drugs again – he always meticulously recorded the combinations in advance – he hadn’t been able to replicate his results.
Mark had recently begun to consider the hypothesis that it wasn’t just the drugs. He’d gotten the Radical when he was tripping on acid, desperately in love, and listening to the legendary Lizard King play live. He couldn’t replicate all those factors, but he could at least try attending a truly far-out concert by a living legend while tripping and surrounded by hippies.
Maybe today would be the day the Radical came back. Maybe some other friend would make an appearance. Maybe, finally, Mark would be able to pinpoint the exact mixture that would reliably call one back. And if not, he’d still get to enjoy a world-class groovy experience. As the doors of Madison Square Garden opened, Mark moved forward with the crowd in blissful anticipation.
“Nice contact high,” Jay Ackroyd muttered. “I should work this beat every day.”
He stood in the crowd of hippies, trying not to breathe too much, keeping a fake stoned grin plastered on his face. He didn’t see Purple Haze, the drug dealer he was looking for, but that was all right. He’d sweet-talked the girl who sold tickets until she’d told him which seat he’d be in. Jay had coughed up the outrageous price of $9.50 for a seat nearby, hoping he’d catch Purple Haze before the show and wouldn’t have to sit through it, but no dice. Even if he spotted the dealer now, he still wouldn’t be able to pop him till Jay caught him alone afterward. In the meantime, Jay was stuck in an eye-watering cloud of weed smoke and patchouli, with a giant sunflower embroidered over his ass.
Normally the private eye didn’t need to do anything special to not stand out. Medium height, medium build, brown hair, brown eyes, old suit, no tie: anywhere else, and eyes slid over him like he was a greased ice cube. But for this job, tracking down a dealer who’d gotten bored with supplying LSD to adults and branched out into a lucrative little sideline selling hard drugs to teenagers from rich families, he’d been forced to dress up to blend in.
Jay tried not to think too much about his get-up of flower-embroidered jeans, T-shirt tie-dyed in psychedelic swirls enhanced with glitter, and Nehru cap hand-painted with peace signs and pot leaves. Good thing he was undercover, or he’d never live it down.
A hand waved under his nose. “Want a joint?”
Jay glanced at the offerer, a huge biker type in a dashiki. “Want some candy, little girl?”
A scowl slowly spread across the biker’s face as Jay’s words penetrated his stoned haze. “Who you calling a little girl?”
“Your invisible friend,” Jay replied, pointing over the man’s shoulder. “Right there.”
As the biker turned to look, Jay slipped further into the crowd. As he started to pass a jittery joker with a head like a melting ice cream cone, the joker whipped around and snarled, “Who you looking at?”
Jay stifled the urge to once again suggest an invisible friend. The joker was paranoid enough as it was. “Nothing.”
The joker pointed a blobby tentacle. “Don’t give me that shit! You were staring at me.”
“I was admiring your shirt.” Trying not to wince at his own words, Jay added, “It’s groovy.”
The joker looked down at his shirt, which depicted Mick Jagger transforming into a wolf and biting a pig with a police cap perched jauntily between its ears. “Oh. Never mind, then.” He reached into the pocket of his bell-bottoms and produced a handful of pills. “Want some speed? I got bennies, dexies, black mollies, blue mollies…”
“Thanks, but black and blue aren't my colors,” Jay replied.
The joker laughed and tossed the entire fistful into his mouth-hole.
Jay moved on before the joker’s amusement could switch back to drug-fueled paranoia. He stopped beside a pretty girl with long black hair, sixteen if she was a day, in a silk “peasant” blouse her parents probably paid through the nose for. Just the kind of girl Purple Haze preyed on.
The girl gave him a dazzling smile and offered him a lit joint. “Wanna toke?”
Jay did his best Bogart impression. “Not tonight, shweetheart.”
“Groovy accent,” she said. “Are you Irish?”
Jay sighed, feeling ancient. It was going to be a long night.
Mark felt at peace with the universe as he waited for the music to begin. He’d popped the acid and a single vial of his latest powder while he was still waiting in line, so it should kick in right about now. But even if nothing happened but a high, it was cool. He’d tried that acid before, and it was a nice, mellow trip. And he was at a truly bitchin’ concert.
Funny how neither of his seatmates seemed that thrilled. The one on his right kept patting his pockets and looking around with a greedy, focused expression like a salesman in search of customers. Mark felt a little guilty for disliking the man based on nothing but the look on his face, but something about the cat was a real turn-off. The man on Mark’s left, nondescript except for his hand-painted Nehru cap, had kind of an uptight vibe. Maybe he needed to mellow out on some Maui Wowie.
Mark extracted a doobie from his pocket and waved it at the left-hand guy. “Want one?”
“Number twelve,” the man replied enigmatically. “If Wall Street was this generous, there’d be a chicken in every pot instead of pot in every chick.”
Mark blinked, then figured the guy must have partaken already. He returned the joint to his pocket.
A roar of applause echoed through the crowd as Bob Dylan and the Band took the stage. Excitement thrilled through Mark’s nerves as they launched into “Most Likely You’ll Go Your Way And I’ll Go Mine.”
Dylan’s voice was strong and passionate, his lyrics poetic and powerful. And the acid was beginning to kick in. Every note made trails in the air. Dylan’s voice created flowing ripples, his guitar made a thousand flowers float into existence, and his harmonica constructed sharp geometrical patterns from the oxygen and nitrogen atoms in the air.
Come on, Radical, Mark thought. It’s a mellow trip. It’s Dylan and the Band! You’ll love this.
But when the song ended, Mark was still stubbornly Mark.
Jay tried not to grit his teeth at Bob Dylan’s nasal whine. For $9.50, I could’ve seen Frank Sinatra. With a martini in each hand.
But it could’ve been worse, all things considered. He was right by Purple Haze. Jay couldn’t pop him here – he’d cause a riot, and probably a bunch of freak-outs to boot – but he could easily follow him out after the concert and pop him into the Tombs once no one was looking. Easy-peasy.
"How does it feeeeeeeeeeel?" Dylan howled.
Like my ears will never be the same, Jay thought. He hoped that was the last song. It had sounded sort of climactic.
No such luck. Dylan bent over his harmonica. It emitted an ear-piercing screech.
And reality dissolved around them.
The trails of visible sound swirled into a whirlwind of spinning colors. The stage and audience vanished, followed by Mark’s chair. Dylan sang and the Band played on for a moment, then faded out. Mark was suspended weightless in a silent sea of colors, as if he was floating in a kaleidoscope.
That mellow acid wasn’t capable of producing a trip this intense. He must have finally found the Radical again!
Or someone else, Mark thought. His memories of the Radical were hazy, but he didn’t recall any effects like this.
And, he realized, that had been his thought. He was still Mark. Whatever was going on, it wasn’t a visit from a friend. Bummer.
The colors vanished. Solid ground materialized beneath his feet. He stood in a strange landscape lit in flickering scarlet light. Mark craned his head, then flung up his hands with a gasp, instinctively moving to protect his face.
The sky was on fire. The blue expanse was burning like cloth set alight. Trails of fire raced across the sky like jet contrails. Large patches were nothing but greedily crackling red, like a forest fire turned upside down and hanging overhead.
Mark slowly lowered his hands. Nothing was falling down but clouds of sparks that winked out ten feet above his head. Breezes blew from three directions at once, but didn’t disturb the falling sparks. Fascinated, Mark held up his hand, testing the air. One breeze was hot and carried the scent of roses and old leather, another the distinctive odor of freshly mimeographed pages, and the third, cold as an open freezer, smelled like roasting meat.
He looked around. He was standing in the middle of a two-lane highway, its blacktop divided by a yellow line. It was so ordinary that it seemed even more surreal than the burning sky. A few steps away from Mark, it vanished into a dark forest. More highways sliced the land into jagged fragments. A misty mountain range loomed in the distance.
A leafless white tree grew beside the highway, with a single black branch stretching out. Something dripped from that branch. Mark approached it cautiously. A red liquid was welling up from cracks in the bark, falling like rain, and creating a rivulet that trickled across the road. He sniffed, not wanting to believe that it was what it looked like. The unmistakable smell of blood rose up, coppery and sharp.
“Whoa,” Mark mumbled, backing off. “This is some bad trip.”
But even as he spoke, he knew it wasn’t a trip of any kind. The acid effects had vanished, along with the pleasant buzz of the joints he’d smoked before he’d gone to the concert. For the first time in at least a year, he was one hundred percent, stone-cold sober. It was no fun at all.
“Heavy bummer,” Mark said aloud.
Mark turned toward the voice. A man stepped out of the forest. It took Mark a moment to place him, and then he recognized the cat who’d sat next to him at the concert, the one who’d had a faint aura of square despite his cool cap.
Grateful for anyone to talk to, much less someone he even sort of knew, Mark said, “Hi. I’m Mark Meadows.”
“Jay Ackroyd.” The man stepped forward to take Mark’s offered hand. His shoe splashed into the red trickle. He jerked it out and inspected it with a sour expression. “Blood. Real good. Well, guess that’s par for the course. I materialized right next to a dead horse.”
“Not cool, man,” Mark said sympathetically.
Jay examined him with new interest. “You seem less out of it than the other ones.”
“What other ones?”
Jay jerked his thumb over his shoulder, toward the forest. “A couple people from the audience were back there. They weren’t making a whole hell of a lot of sense. I think they’re making less than if I’d tried talking to them before we got stuck here, but it’s a little hard to tell.” At Mark’s blank look, he elaborated, “They might’ve all been high as a flock of kites before.”
“I was tripping at the concert, but the second I got here, I sobered up,” Mark said. “I don’t think this is a hallucination.”
“Well, I didn’t drink any funny Koolaid, so I don’t think so either. Not from drugs, at least. But it could be an ace illusion. The people from the audience were real, but I saw another person who wasn’t.”
“How can you tell?” Mark asked curiously.
Jay aimed a finger at Mark like a kid pretending he had a gun. “I’m an ace.”
There was a pop, and the top of Mark’s head suddenly felt cold. He reached up. His top hat was gone. “My hat!”
“It’s on your seat. When you get back, look before you sit.”
“You can send me back?” Mark asked.
“I can send people and things anywhere. I sent the others back to the concert. But I saw a little kid beside the dead pony. I tried to send him back too, but he didn’t go anywhere. I don’t think he was real.”
Jay’s words seemed strangely familiar, as if he’d quoted a passage from a book. Or a song…
“Hey!” Mark excitedly grabbed Jay’s shirt sleeve. “I know where we are!”
“We’re in a Dylan song. Or, actually, a couple Dylan songs. ‘The sky is on fire’ is from ‘Farewell Angelina.’ The rest of it is from ‘A Hard Rain's a-Gonna Fall.’ Look!” Mark tugged at Jay’s arm, pointing in different directions. “‘I saw a black branch with blood that kept drippin’.’ There it is! ‘I’ve stumbled on the side of twelve misty mountains.’ I didn’t count them, but…”
Jay turned toward the mountains. “Yeah. There’s twelve.”
“The roads are in the song too. And the forest. ‘I’ve walked and I’ve crawled on six crooked highways. I’ve stepped in the middle of seven sad forests.’ And! ‘I met a young child beside a dead pony.’”
“Real poetic,” Jay said flatly. “Does the song say how to get out of the song?”
“Can’t you just teleport everyone?”
“Nope. I can’t do it to myself. I could pop you out, though.” Jay started to cock his finger, but Mark caught his hand.
“No, wait, man! I mean, I’m in a Dylan song.” Mark looked around, marveling. “Far out.”
“Uh-huh.” Jay didn’t seem enthused. “You’d better be getting back to reality, though. Not that I expect you to stay there for long.”
Mark followed Jay’s disapproving gaze to the LSD blotter sticking out of his pocket. Jay didn’t seem to be appreciating the second-most mind-expanding experience Mark had ever had, and Mark hated to leave him trapped in what must feel like a really bad trip.
“If you’re stuck here, I’ll stay, too,” Mark said. “I don’t mind. And maybe I can help you get out.”
“You can help me,” Jay repeated incredulously.
Mark nodded. “Sure. I’m an ace too. Maybe that’s why you and me are, like, sober.”
“Could be.” Jay seemed interested now. “What can you do?”
Mark hesitated. He wanted to help, but he didn’t want to reveal his secret just yet. Especially when he wasn’t sure he could summon his friends. “I mean, I have some, like, friends who are aces.”
“You have friends who are aces.” From the flat tone of his voice, Jay was definitely having a bad trip.
“Yeah! Uh, let me see if I can get one. Stay right here.”
Mark ducked into the forest. Once he was out of sight, he pulled a handful of drugs from his pocket, then considered them doubtfully. He’d be incredibly lucky to get a visit from a friend now. Probably he’d just make himself so high he’d be useless for anything but watching the pretty patterns. On the other hand, he was inside a Dylan song. If there was ever a situation that could summon a friend, it was that.
Mark examined his random fistful, which consisted of three vials of his special powders, half a shroom, and two bennies he’d been given by a generous joker.
He murmured like an incantation, “The answer, my friend, is blowin’ in the wind.”
And swallowed the lot.
Jay stood staring into the forest the gangling hippie had vanished into. He seriously doubted Mark’s assurance that he was sober. How in the world did he intend to find his ace friends in an illusory forest from a Bob Dylan song?
A woman stepped out of the woods. Even after spending hours at the concert and then getting sucked into a Dylan song, Jay couldn't believe his eyes.
She was young and pretty, with huge kohl-rimmed eyes and ruler-straight black hair that fell down past her hips. She wore a tuxedo in which every piece was a different eye-searing, clashing psychedelic pattern. In one hand, she held an old-fashioned gold pocket watch on a chain; in the other, she clutched a little girl’s toy fairy wand topped with a giant, glittering, pink plastic star. Her head was crowned with sunflowers whose centers were plump human lips, lipsticked bright red and slowly puckering up.
Dazedly, Jay saw that she also wore fuzzy bunny rabbit slippers.
She gave him a bewitching smile. “Have you ever Frenched a flower?”
“Can’t say that I have,” Jay managed.
“Would you like to?”
The sunflower lips made loud kissy noises.
“No, thanks,” Jay replied, wishing he’d never taken the case. He hated all this weird shit. What he wouldn’t give to be on a normal stake-out with a thermos of bad coffee. “And I don’t want to hug the tree, either.”
“You’re not very polite. In fact, you’re uptight. Hey, that rhymes!” She giggled, and the sunflower lips vibrated. “You've got a heavy vibe. You need to liberate your mind. Hmm. That didn’t rhyme. Oh, well.”
She waved her wand. Pink sparkles exploded out and enveloped him.
Jay was at one with the universe. He was the Milky Way and an amoeba. He was an ancient oak, a mayfly, the Mississippi River, a sparrow. He was every man, woman, and child who had ever breathed. His mind expanded impossibly, his consciousness stretched across all dimensions of time and space.
And then he was back in his own body and mind. Jay staggered, gasping and dazed, as the last few pink sparkles winked out.
Was that what tripping felt like? Jay couldn’t imagine why anyone would do that voluntarily. He’d felt like his head was going to explode. Worse, he’d lost track of himself. He might not be the world’s most glamorous guy, but he’d rather be Jay Ackroyd than a jellyfish, ten billion ants, and Squeaky Fromme.
“Well?” demanded the girl. “How did you like your trip?”
The sunflowers eagerly stretched out their stalks, their lips moving as if they were chattering at some frequency Jay couldn’t hear.
“Real good,” Jay said. “Don’t do it again. I like my mind locked up inside my skull, where I can find it when I need it.”
The girl and her sunflowers pouted. Jay considered popping her away, but she had to be either an illusion or an ace. If she was an ace, and she sure seemed a lot more real than the dead pony kid, he bet she was the one running this show. It seemed right up her alley. So if he popped her into the Tombs or anywhere else, the illusion might vanish… or it might leave him and everyone trapped in it, with no way of reaching their captor.
“I said it was good,” Jay said, trying to put some fake enthusiam into it. “My mind’s expanded. No more sparkles required. I’m Jay Ackroyd. What’s your name?”
The girl smiled, seeming satisfied. “White Rabbit. I’m a friend of Mark’s.”
“Huh.” Jay re-thought his original idea. Looked like Mark really did have ace friends. “Where’d he go?”
White Rabbit gave a wave of her wand hand, making a trail of pink sparks. Jay ducked. “Oh, he’s around. He sent me to help you.”
He’s probably liberating his mind and forgot where he was, Jay thought. “You didn’t make this place, did you?”
“No. I can lay trips on people and take them off, but I can’t make worlds.” She sounded regretful, and Jay believed that she was telling the truth. Then she brightened. “But I love this place! Let’s go exploring!”
Much as Jay hated to admit it, he didn’t have any better ideas. “Okay. Lead on.”
White Rabbit happily skipped back into the forest, humming to herself. Jay followed her from a safe distance. He expected to find Mark, but he saw nothing but depressed-looking trees.
“Mark?” Jay called. “Hey! Mark!”
“He’ll come back,” White Rabbit assured him. “In an hour.”
Jay shouted some more, but Mark seemed to have vanished. “Where is he?”
“Around,” White Rabbit said vaguely.
“Where did you come from?”
She leaned forward conspiratorily. “The moon. The landing was a fake, you know. I never had any astronauts visit me. I would’ve invited them to my tea party, but they wouldn’t have been able to drink through their helmets.”
Jay gave up and rubbed his forehead. He was getting a splitting headache.
If I ever get out of here, I’m going straight to the sleaziest bar in Jokertown, he thought. If I’m going to be hungover, I at least want to get drunk first.
A bright artificial light shone ahead of them. Jay approached cautiously, and found a room in the middle of the forest. The fourth wall was open, letting him see a bunch of hippie men pounding on anvils with hammers that bled on the swords they were beating into plows, and the plows they were beating into swords. They all had a zombified look in their eyes, and none so much as glanced up from their work.
One of them was Purple Haze. Jay grinned and took aim with his finger. Even if he was trapped here forever, at least one sleazeball drug dealer would get his just deserts.
Then he remembered White Rabbit saying she could take trips off people. “Hey! Bunny!”
She looked offended, and her sunflowers blew a chorus of Bronx cheers. “It’s White Rabbit.”
“Okay. White Rabbit. Can you de-trip the guy I’m pointing at?”
She brandished her gold watch in Purple Haze’s general direction, then clicked it.
The glazed look vanished from the drug dealer’s eyes. He looked down, dropped his bloody hammer with a yell, and sprang backward. “What the fuck!”
“Citizen’s arrest, asshole!” Jay yelled at him. “That’s the last concert you’ll be going to for a long time!”
Purple Haze clenched his fists. “Who the fuck are you? You can’t fucking—”
Pop! The dealer vanished to the Tombs.
White Rabbit giggled. “That was fun. Want me to— ha!— de-trip the rest of them?”
Jay considered it, then shook his head. “I think it’ll just scare them. Who knows, once they’re back, maybe they won’t remember anything.”
He popped the rest of the men back to the concert, one by one, then went on walking.
Where was Mark? Jay had initially dismissed him as yet another annoying, spaced-out hippie, but now that he was gone, Jay kind of missed him. He’d sent help, however weird it was. And he was a hell of a lot more coherent than his friend. Not that that was saying much.
Finally they came to a beach deserted except for some kelp and a white ladder that stood atop the sand with no support. It was impossibly tall, vanishing into the burning sky. Water flowed down it in an unending stream, carving a riverbed into the sand that emptied into the sea.
It was a bizarre, surreal, yet strangely beautiful sight. Jay wondered if the ocean had been created by the water from the ladder. How many hundreds, thousands, or even millions of years would that have taken?
The immensity of the scale awed him in a way that the one-with-the-universe zap hadn’t. Maybe because it had come from his own mind, not from pink sparkles.
“I saw a white ladder all covered with water,” White Rabbit sang in a high, sweet voice.
Jay recognized the song from the concert. It sounded a whole lot better in a woman’s tuneful voice. “Do you know the whole song?”
“Can you sing it for me?” Jay asked.
White Rabbit launched into it. Jay listened closely. The song kept mentioning a blue-eyed son, so he should be important, but Jay hadn’t seen him yet. Maybe he was the creator of the world – either Bob Dylan himself, or a really devoted fan. The weird dream-logic of the song-world was starting to make a disconcerting amount of sense. And that gave Jay an idea.
“Keep singing,” Jay said to White Rabbit. “And see if you can sing the blue-eyed son here.”
White Rabbit nodded and kept going. Apparently it made sense to her too. Jay hoped that wasn’t a lastingly bad sign for his sanity.
“It’s a haaaaaaaard raiiiiiiiin is gonna fall!” White Rabbit sang in a crescendo.
Right on cue, rain pelted down, cold drops that were liquid yet somehow harder than hail. A young man with bright blue eyes stepped out from behind the ladder.
White Rabbit waved at him. “Hi! Where have you been?”
“I’ve stumbled on the side of twelve misty mountains,” the blue-eyed man began solemnly. “I’ve walked and I’ve crawled—”
Jay spun to face White Rabbit. “Quick! De-trip him!”
“Aww,” she pouted. “Do I have to?”
”Yes,” Jay said.
“Oh, all right.” She clicked her gold watch.
The blue-eyed man wavered, then was replaced by a similar-looking but older man. Just as Jay had guessed: Bob Dylan.
“Did you do all this?” Jay asked.
Bob Dylan looked around. “Did I?”
“That’s what I was asking you,” Jay said, exasperated. “We’re in one of your songs. Did you put us there?”
“How would I know?”
Jay looked at White Rabbit. “Did the de-trip not take?”
“It took. Some people are on a natural trip.” She glanced at her watch. “Oops. I’m late, I’m late, for a very important date!”
She darted in close. Three of her sunflowers planted smacking kisses on both Jay’s cheeks and his open mouth. “Bye, Jay! Thanks, Bob! I love your song-world!”
Before either man could react, she bolted behind the ladder, where she was hidden by the curtain of pouring water.
Jay resisted the impulse to wipe at his face. He turned away from the ladder, toward Bob Dylan. Patiently, he said, “I think you’re an ace. I think your card turned during the concert, and you transported everyone there into your song.”
“Oh, yeah?" Bob Dylan replied. "Did you bring your parachute?”
Jay sighed. “I wish I had.”
Mark Meadows had somehow arrived on the beach. He hurried toward Bob Dylan, hair flying and a huge grin on his face. “Man, you’re, like, the voice of our generation. You’re a genius. You’re opening new frontiers of, like, consciousness. I love your music!”
Bob Dylan shrugged. “I got a head full of ideas that are driving me insane.”
“He’s an ace, Mark,” Jay said. “I’m pretty sure he did this by accident when his card turned. Want to take a crack at convincing him to put us all back where we came from? Don’t ask me why, but somehow I have a feeling you’re more on his wavelength than I am.”
“Everyone comes from somewhere,” Bob Dylan put in. “Neil Young said everyone knows this is nowhere. At least, I think Neil Young said that. It might have been Ho Chi Minh.”
Mark stepped forward solemnly and engulfed Bob Dylan’s hands in his huge ones. “You brought us here. You can bring us home. Take us back, man. All of us. You know how it feels to be on your own with no direction home.”
Bob Dylan looked past Mark, and gave Jay a wink of one blue eye. “Like a rolling stone.”
Mark opened his eyes in Madison Square Garden. Jay was beside him. The bad vibe cat who had been on his other side was gone. To his dismay, Mark realized that he was sitting on his hat.
In front of him, Dylan stood onstage in front of his mike, looking thoughtful. The Band seemed in disarray, the musicians looking around frantically or whispering to each other. Finally, Robbie Robertson stepped forward and said, “Thank you for coming, everyone!”
There was an awkward pause. Dylan blew an idle note on his harmonica. The lights went out. When they came up again, the stage was empty. The audience leaped to its collective feet and applauded rapturously.
Behind him, Mark heard two people say, in almost perfect sync, “That was the best trip ever!”
As the audience finally began to leave, excitedly talking about the concert and how mind-expanding it had been, Mark fell into step beside Jay.
“I don’t see your friend,” Jay said.
“White Rabbit?” Mark was relieved when Jay nodded. His memories were hazy, so he was glad to have confirmation that he really had summoned a friend. Of course, it might not be easy to get her when he wasn’t in a Dylan song. But he’d finally done it. And that meant he could do it again. If not White Rabbit, then someone else.
“Where’d she go?” Jay asked, craning his head as if he thought he could spot her in the crowd.
“Oh, she’s around.” Mark grinned. A great concert, a mind-bending trip, the entire audience and the Band rescued from "A Hard Rain's a-Gonna Fall," a visit from a friend… and maybe he’d made a different kind of friend, too. Groovy. “Good to meet you, man. I’ll see you around, too.”
Jay’s eyebrows rose. “Somehow I doubt that. Don’t think we travel in the same circles.”
Mark shook his head and earnestly tried to put his feelings into words. “No, man. I think we have, like, some kind of cosmic connection. Karma or serendipity or something. Like we’re bound together on the astral plane.”
“Astral plane, huh?” Jay said. “Think I missed my flight on that one.”
Mark smiled. “It’ll still be there when you’re ready. But I gotta go now, man. I have to find a friend.”