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ACID HOUSE pages for Elaine

     Ken struggled to sit upright as he ripped off his blindfold.
     "I've got it! Now I know what it's all about!" His words tumbled from a mouth open wide in discovery.
     When he pulled the opaque satin away from his face, a spring-bright light flooded his eyes. Watery green and liquid gold gleamed from every surface: it was May, the sun had just risen, and Ken thought he could see dew sparkling on each piece of sun porch furniture. The trembling of his body vibrated in his words. "I see why I'm here. I know what I'm looking for."
     But then the figure of a man moved into Ken's vision, blocking the sun's brilliance, and the radiant sun porch changed back into a heavily curtained room which Ken began to remember. "Where am I? Am I---?" Ken looked around and saw that the man who blocked the sun was Russ.
     Ken blinked once and thought, "Russ is still here. I'm still in the Therapy Room. I'm back where I started. Russ didn't give me LSD; he tricked me."
     The light had dimmed to a September coldness. Shadows, which had been erased by the glow in the room, now sat behind each chair and filled each corner.
     Russ sat beside him on the couch. "What's the matter, Ken?" he asked. "What's wrong, buddy?"
     Ken turned away from Russ. "Something's wrong, something's wrong," Ken mumbled again and again, fumbling with the mask. Ken knew he had to block out Russ's face before it changed into something unimaginably horrible. "I said I didn't want the trip to go that way. That's not the way things are. I have to go back again."
     "That's right, buddy," said Russ, trying to sound soothing, "let's put the mask back on." The satin felt cold against Ken's sweating forehead as a stifling blackness again wrapped him face. He tried to relax by stretching himself on the couch, but it was too short for his long legs.
     "I've got to go back," Ken thought, "back to find something else. It won't go wrong this time."
     A pinball board formed below him, and he felt himself floating over the colored lights, noiselessly hitting the bumpers and the flippers, going through the circuit for a second time, or a hundredth time, or a ten-thousandth time. It would be better this time; it had to be. He had to think, to take stock. Take stock.
     He was in Minnesota, in a place they called Acid House. He had taken LSD, he knew that, at least. Russ was a therapist in Acid House, watching to see that nothing went wrong. Russ was his friend, his helper on the trip. Those were facts, weren't they? He had come to Minnesota ........
     Acid House stood at the top of the town. The Minneapolis autumn twilight had made the Misquah Hills fogged and soft-edged as Ken rode up from Duluth with Jules, who had introduced himself as one of the head-shrinkers from MacKenzie Clinic, familiarity called Acid House by both therapists and patients. The angles and corners of the house were indistinct in the waning light, and from the front it looked like the middle-class family house it had once been. When Jules drove the car up the driveway, Ken could see the rambling cement-block additions which housed the thirty or forty alcoholics who were Dr. MacKenzie's main concern.
     "You'll be staying up front, in the house, with the rest of us acid-heads." Jules smiled such an idiot grin that Ken snorted with laughter as he looked up at the brown-shingled house. The sounds of crows were sudden and harsh on the soft air, and Ken looked down through pines to the town streets below. Afternoon traffic filled these streets, and the sounds of accelerating motors and of horns were distant but audible.
     "It's a nice place," said Ken.
     "Wait till you get inside," Jules said with a leer, "and we slip you your first dose in the supper soup."
     "Pick up the pieces!"
     Suddenly Ken knew he was still lying on the couch in the Therapy Room, floating over his pinball board. Now he drew back, taking a longer view, and he saw that the circuit wasn't rectangular like the ones he had played as a teenager: it had a funny bulge at the top, and there were two wings at the sides that looked like arms in long sleeves. The bottom section belled out like the pantaloons of a Dutch boy, and Ken knew that it wasn't a pinball board at all, but a pink jigsaw puzzle piece shaped like a man. The head would fit into a piece above it, two other pieces would fit on each side between the arms and the top of the pantaloons, and the head of another piece would slip up between the legs.
     A puzzle piece! Pick up the pieces! That's what it was; that's what he was trying to find. With tears flowing from his eyes, Ken remembered the empty days of his childhood---no one to play with---searching for something to fill the endless hours of his time. He would queue hundreds and hundreds of jigsaw puzzle pieces and put the first piece into the box, then patiently move each piece forward one step, then place the second piece in the box, and move each piece up the line. Hours and hours of fruitless minutes: picking up the pieces!
     The noise began: the rustling sound from the crowd of people behind his head waiting for him to wake up. The harder Ken strained to hear, the more the crowd rustled and whispered, and the whispers turned into murmurs: "I think he can make it. Do you think he'll make it? He's going to do it. Yes, yes, look!"
     They were all waiting for him. They were waiting for him to wake up! He'd have picked up the pieces. He?d be finished with that! "Yes!" The sounds behind him became an excited rush of whispered applause: "Yes, yes!" He was going to make it; he was going to come through this time!
     "Take off the mask!" The command came from within Ken's head. "The mask?" "You have a mask on. Take off the mask!"
     An overpowering rush of joy swept over him: he did have a mask on, and he could take it off. The rustle behind him grew crisper, more expectant. They were all waiting for him!
     "Take off the mask!" And Ken knew that was what he had to do. He sat up on the couch and tore off his mask ........
     Light dazzled his eyes, but it faded as the voice grated behind his head. "So you took off the mask again?" Russ's voice was mocking.
     Tears still wet on his cheeks, Ken knew he had failed again. He'd come out too soon. Wordlessly, Ken adjusted the mask over his eyes again, took a deep breath, and thought, "Back to the old pinball machine." Another long sigh lasted years, but he knew that he had eternity in which to work out his problems: there was no hurry, the trip would last forever.
     "No," Ken reminded himself furiously, "this trip won't last forever, and I've already wasted a lot of time just going around in circles. Nothing lasts forever: I'm not going to live forever."
     Not going to live forever! But that thought was quickly pushed down: it was too dark, it was one of the faces that Russ's face would change into which would be hideous---the old face of Death sitting beside him on the couch, patiently waiting for Ken to die. "But I don't want to die," thought Ken. "Not until I've done something, left something behind." That was really the reason he was here in the first place; he wanted to leave something behind when he died.