A true story

written by


February 20, 2005

First Draft Outline: GRAY
of a screenplay or novel or poem or meditation or documentary

Over a black screen we hear a woman's SOBBING nearly masked by a 60-cycle ELECTRIC HUM and periodic RELEASES OF PRESSURIZED AIR.


But now I have come to believe
that the whole world is an enigma,
a harmless enigma that is made terrible
by our own mad attempt to interpret it
as though it had an underlying truth.

- Umberto Eco-



From black we begin to make out the sharp outlines of machinery. A BUILDING. The station house. Concrete. A platform. Riveted steel uncovered, painted and repainted so thickly that the bolt heads seem like ripples on the beams. Gray. Black. The rails reflect the moon and blue-white artificial light. Trackside. A MASSIVE PASSENGER TRAIN sits to the right, inert but for an occasional BURST OF STEAM and the BUZZING of HIGH VOLTAGE electrics. The train is black. The cars are named and numbered in white lettering. The language is GERMAN. The station is a tableau of foreboding newsprint shades that call to mind even to those ignorant of history the oppression of totalitarianism, abuse of the innocents, the destruction of creativity.

A woman's crying continues, restrained, but unceasing.

Dolly in toward a bench next to the station house. Someone is sitting between the idle train and the ticket window. Closer we see luggage. A BACKPACK. A SHOPPING BAG from a department store in Berlin. A SUITCASE next to her legs. A BROKEN PORTABLE CD PLAYER rests on the concrete. THE GIRL's possessions lay at her feet and we know this may be all she has left to her in the world.

Closer we see the luggage is damaged. Closer still we see she is BLONDE. Her shoulder length hair is in disarray. She is young and dressed simply. A student. And now notice her clothes are torn. Missing buttons on her blouse. A dark black smudges on her face. She's sobbing into her cut hands. Swelling is beginning on her forehead.

A TRAINMAN comes running to the girl, a POLICEMAN in tow. They're speaking to each other, rapid fire GERMAN. Then to the girl who looks German, to no avail. She shakes her wounded head. She can't understand a word.

The policeman calls into his radio for an ambulance. Both men kneel beside the girl, trying in earnest but unable to comfort her.

NARRATOR (Voice Over)
I want to find a beginning we can own together.
But I can't go back far enough.
A few years ago I tried to trace it.
I got all the way back to --



Bainbridge island in the rain. I got all the way back to the way the rain in the trees sounds like the crinkling paper bag when you put your books in it. To you in your tennis shoes sloshing damp and muddy on the path. To the pen that felt so natural in your hand. The report card, straight As. Beaming, remembering your English teacher's encouragement. He was writing, then. Snow Falling on Cedars. And he told you you would be a great writer someday. And you knew then, for sure, you would.

And you skipped in the rain to the falling down house in the woods until you met something in the woods that stopped you. Something gruff and living. Something out of place, blacker than the shadows in the damp Washington forest. It existed, eyes black as coal, like the raptor you told me it was. The Tlingit fire woman. Bringer of death. Savior of everything living.

What was it? It chased you to the bottom of the world, and dragged me after.

And to think that except for the dreams, each of us has had no idea the other existed. Except for the stories we've shared there is no history. There are only things that have become us. So much we want to forget, embedded beneath our skin.

How many times did you ask God to help you? In the train. In the forest.

Did you know what he would do?

Did I?

What has he sent that pursues us? Demons within the skin of men. The fire that will not extinguish.




KNOW -- It's not a dream this time.

THERE IS: an electric shiver you can summon in your back. That's how I feel writing this. Thinking of you.

LISTEN TO YOUR PRAYERS: Ask God to explain it to you. Ask him to explain it to me.

God, are we toys in your playground, here for your amusement?
Pieces on your chessboard, white and black?
How can we understand what you refuse to expose?
What are we to do, we simple flesh and fire, in light of your brutal, impenetrable concept?

I am sixteen years old.
I am at the Cape May beach.
Inside an old concrete bunker.
Four stories down inside
A structure that used to house
The machinery to listen for invading
Nazi submarines.
Waves pounding overhead like earthquakes.
Thick concrete walls leaking seawater.
Massive rusted iron beams they used to encase the
ammunition for the guns.
Nothing to see outside the tunnel of our flashlight beams
Then the shadows move.
Dave runs screaming.
I would.
But I can't.




Bob Monroe called them CHEC units--something holistic environmental something, units. They're basically beds built into the walls. In the old days, when they were doing the research, they wanted to build little personal isolation chambers. So the early CHECs were not only lightproof, but were also surrounded by a faraday cage to block any stray electromagnetic fields. Later they discovered this costly step was not necessary. Psychic waves are not effected by the things a faraday cage can do.

Each bedroom at the Monroe institute has at least two CHEC units. You get inside by climbing through a four foot by four foot opening in the wall. Inside is a single bed, nicely made with linens and blankets. Fluffy pillows. On one wall is a panel of switches. Overhead are colored lights you can use to set the mood for your meditations. There's a black darkroom curtain with Velcro around the edges. There's the opposite velcro around the perimeter of the entrance, so you can seal the opening once you're inside. Thus, you can lightproof your CHEC unit, if it suits you.

When you start a meditation session, you flip on your "ready light" switch which tells your instructor you're in your bed. You put on a set of headphones that's connected by a cord to a jack in the wall. Adjust the volume so the sounds are comfortable to listen to, and relax while your ears are doused liberally with hemi-synctm sounds that in theory, induce various brain rhythms conducive to psychic phenomena.

It was the second time I had visited TMI in Virginia. The year before my father had died and I was looking for a way to rationalize his death. As I have written, years before I'd eschewed my Catholic upbringing. Embraced the existentialism of physics and math.

What I discovered was that you have to be a lot braver than me to remain an existentialist in real life. Real life has a lot of death and suffering and the universe's equations provide no warmth. So I decided to shift my quest from the acquisition of knowledge, to the search for the soul. I could sell out my philosophical foundation with the rationalization that if I found nothing, I'd be just that much better a philosopher.

The first course I'd taken was TMI's introductory Gateway Voyage course, which was a mandatory prerequisite for any other class. I'd purchased the home version of the Gateway course and was very familiar with the material when I'd taken that class. I was quite pleased with the results of my first week in the Blue Ridge Mountains, and so it seemed natural a second week would bring me that much further along in my training as a mystic.

The class was called Guidelines - so named because the overriding theme was that each student would spend a week trying to get better acquainted with his guardian angels or helper spirits. The theory, as old as life itself, probably, is that each human is accompanied through time by one or more guide spirits who can be called on to assist in the big learning exercise we call our lives.

We had gone through several days of meditations and were in the meat of the class work. Each of us was being brought into TMI's famed isolation booth -- the BIG booth -- for a private, multi-hour session. Because there were eighteen of us in class, and the sessions took a while, the process was taking days. I'd just come back from my session and had been instructed to tell no one what happened to me in the booth. The idea was that we'd "contaminate" the experiences of our classmates with our anecdotes, thus infusing them with unrealistic or disappointing expectations, and all such experiences were best done expecting absolutely nothing.

So I could not tell people about meeting my guardians. Having them physically lift me and then drop me back onto the waterbed in the booth (an event which I have recorded on tape) , and then being given lessons in some eastern European language by a teacher who had been imprisoned and died in a labor camp. (Know how you forget some dreams? He taught me how to transfer data between waking life and dream life while retaining memory. It's an incredibly simple concept that's very difficult to accomplish. Sort of like learning to master the high dive. The falling part is very easy...)

Instead we talked about the prior *routine* meditation to kill time.

Confront your personal messiah
Now is your fortress of solitude, boy.
Now is your apocalypse.
God, what's important for me to learn right now?
The one charitable act.
The one soul advancement.
What elevates me above the animals?
What makes me human?

BOB MONROE (Voice Over)
(sounding compressed: on tape)
Now ask to be shown someone new.
Ask to be shown someone who is important to you
Who might most help you in life
or needs your help.


The light goes on. See my hand on the switch. Shaking. Headphones come off. Tear open the black curtain. Daylight streams in.

Slide the feet out. Rub the eyes. Back to normal.

See how quickly it goes away?



Bright sunshine. Eight of us return from the buffet to the table and sit. I'm sitting between Laura and Paul, two of my classmates from my Gateway course. Mark is there, as are the NASCAR couple and Bob who works as a lineman for a telco in North Carolina. We all start out eating silently, for fear we're going to accidentally blab some of the critical details of our major booth experiences.

NARRATOR (Voice Over)
The Bible got it all wrong.
Charleton Heston would have died poor if the movies had been made the way the real stories play out.
There is no fire.
No flood.
No lights in the sky.


The type of drama God really likes occurs in the silences between the words.
The space between the atoms.
The realizations that prove
the mind can freeze time, skip heartbeats
retract the play of life to a point and detonate it back
as the white hole of eternal being.

You should TAKE A BREATH now. You should read this aloud if you want to understand the way it feels. You should know you have to pray out loud for it to work best. This is a prayer.

You have turned my love
into the destruction of my world.

I think it might have started like this, with Laura saying, "So what about that last tape? What a snooze."

Paul slathers his mashed potatoes with ketchup and starts downing forkfuls.

"Have you no shame, man?" I say.

Paul shakes his head. Spreads a knife loaded with grape jelly onto a piece of toast and starts spooning on some of the potato/ketchup mixture.

The NASCAR guy says, "I fell asleep during that last tape," meaning nothing psychic but snoring happened for him. His wife agrees.

I search my memory while contemplating some of the yellow kernels of corn on my plate. I say to Laura, "I think I got something. It was like, forty-four point nine minutes of staring at the back of my eyelids, and then, for like a millisecond I got this really super vivid image. You ever have that happen, like when you fall asleep on an airplane and you're not really sleeping, or maybe the altitude gets you, and you have these really vivid hypogogic images? It was like that."

"So you're telling me you feel like you're on a business trip?" Laura says. She takes a sip of her tea.

Me whispering: "I'm telling you I'm starting to think this is sort of a nice vacation sleeping in the mountains. Nothing is happening for me. Really. The most I'm getting are things that seem like dreams I barely remember waking up. Or maybe they're daydreams. Half of what I'm reporting I think I'm inventing."

"Like what? You saying you're lying about what you're getting in the tape meditations?"

"I'm saying I can't tell," I say to her, pushing the corn on my plate into my potatoes. "Like this last tape. I was getting nothing. Totally bored. And then, wham -- for like two tenths of a second I get this incredibly vivid image of a girl sitting on a bench in a train station crying her eyes out."

Laura puts down her teacup and smiles. Paul drops his fork. Conversation on the other side of the table terminates in mid syllable.

Paul says, "A blonde girl?"

I say, "Well, yeah. In my vision she was blonde. Right after I asked my guide to show me someone who would become important for me."

"And she's got, like this shirt with a collar that has some kind of lace on it?" says the NASCAR wife.

I nod. "Wait..."

"And the station. It's like in Nazi Germany or something," Bob says.

"Poland," Laura says. "She's in Poland. I could see the name of the station but I couldn't begin to repeat it. Lots of c's and z's. I don't speak Polish."

The NASCAR guy stands up. He's shaking. "You people," he says, holding a finger out toward us, white knuckled, "You people are just doing this to freak me out."

I tell him, "No, I really got the impression of this girl on a bench crying. From the surroundings it seemed, yeah, like eastern Europe during the war. Are you guys telling me we all saw the same thing? Is that what you're saying? She's blonde. She has shoulder-length hair and bangs straight across her eyebrows. She's hurt or she's been abandoned. She's, like, totally alone."

Everybody nods.

The NASCAR guy runs out the open door. We never see him again.

"They must have put something on the tape to make us see that," his wife says, getting up, leaving her lunch, heading after her husband.

Paul said, "Holy shit. Did we all see the same thing?"

Some of us shrug. Some of us nod.

Laura says, "Oh, this is fucking cool."

NARRATOR (Voice Over)
My amateur mistake.
The medium is not the message.
The message is not the answer.
The answer.
To believe you have an answer to a question you forgot to ask.

See how silly we humans are, God? I got all excited about the process and completely missed what it meant. It took me six years to figure it out. And you were patient with me. Trashed two businesses I tried to start. Dragged me all the way to the bottom of the world four times. As smart as I am, I missed it. And when I found it, there was nothing left.


(As the HAL 9000 Computer from 2001: A Space Odyssey)
Daisy, Daisy, give me your answer do.
I'm...half...cra...zy. -


I hadn't listened to those tapes for about three years. After August 2001, after four classes I felt I outgrew TMI and what it had to teach me. The last course I took was abysmal. It was an exercise in vanity for our instructor who had invented it. I spent most of the class laughing and telling jokes with my friends. We even committed the cardinal sin of getting into a car, driving down to the nearest town, and buying beer to liven up our evenings.

I'd left my family in New Jersey with relatives while I was vacationing in Virginia, opening my mind to the infinite. They visited landmarks, and we have pictures of my children standing at the World Trade Center, which would be destroyed three weeks later.

Before I left New Jersey for Virginia, there was a terrific rainstorm. A lightening bolt hit the ground in front of my car. To me, that was a sign, and the class bore out its significance. I was finished with TMI. I took several hundred dollars worth of TMI audio content, CDs and tapes and tossed it all.


After living with two failed startup efforts, and my latest heading into trouble, I was losing a lot of sleep. My sleeping pills were tapped out. I was getting less than four hours of sleep per night. We'd just executed a small layoff, but in our already tiny group, the action sent a shockwave through the team. And one of my colleagues suggested I might have been a little rough on the folks we had to let go. Even if the criticism was unfair, it hurt like hell. I hired all those people, and they joined the company largely because they believed in me. Now I not only had to tell them their trust in me had been misplaced, but that they were losing their jobs as a result.

I wanted to crawl into a hole. It felt nothing was working. Everywhere I looked was evidence of failure. My business dealings had all failed. My writing garnered me nothing but rejection after rejection. My wife was scared and angry at me for not going into a more secure profession. My brother and his wife had been going through emotional turmoil that caused a significant schism between us, particularly hurtful because for most of my human life we've been each other's best friends. Now that was over, and my kids were worried because the family ties were eroding.

Then my brother told me he was leaving California, where he had come so his family could be close to mine, and was moving back to New Jersey as soon as he could.


There's one TMI CD I haven't thrown out. It's in the nightstand beside my bed and now, for some reason, it's on top of the nightstand.

I pop it into my laptop. Drop the laptop onto the bed and lay beside it. Put on my noise cancellation headphones. Let's see if the sounds still work. Nothing else helps. Maybe this will.

"I know there's no comparison," I say to my spirit guides, "And I know I've been ignoring you all these years. But I sort of feel like George Bailey right now. You know? I mean, I'm really really far from suicide, but ending this particular way of life seems like a really good idea. I just don't know where to go next. What am I supposed to do?"


Hear: rhythmic humming.

PRAY: What do I do, God? Show me something I'm supposed to do.



I'm strolling next to the boats with my old Antarctic friend. An ice girlfriend. One I've known for the past four seasons, and in e-mail conversations the year before that. She was the first person I contacted in Antarctica when Frank at TMI said he'd publish my book. She gave me instructions on how to get there, which said, fundamentally, that it was the longest of long shots.

"I remember the first time I saw you," I said. "I told you who I was, and it looked like you were going to jump right out of your skin. You said to me, 'My God. How did you get here?'"

"Because everyone says they're going to come to Antarctica, but they never do," she said.

"Because they're not me. I'm magic."

"So I've heard," she said.



Deep in some form of unconsciousness, not quite sleep, not quite awake, I see a door and I realize that nothing at all on this planet will matter to me once I cross through it. Through that door is death. And it simply isn't worth dying yet. I paid the cover charge. Gotta see the headliner.

"You did good," someone says in my dream.

And I wonder who it is. Show me who you are.



I say as we walk, "...and you got all those scholarships and grants when you were a kid. You were first in your class. Not me, I was like, seventh. No scholarships for Mr. Number seven."

"Did I ever tell you what happened to me?"


"On that grant. The research I was doing."



Deep into it. Shows me a picture I've seen before. As if to say, "Remember this?"

You were supposed to remember this,


Oh, so stupid.



She's crying. "I really don't want to remember this."

"Then don't."

"No, I have to. I have to tell you. I know I do. I never told anybody."

I say, "...then what happened..."



In my mind is a screen. A movie screen.

Only I can see hear smell touch taste intuit what's happening on the screen.

A man in a brown leather jacket bears down toward me, coming down the aisle of the passenger car of the train like a linebacker. He pushes me backward. At first, I think he's going to pass me, but he grabs my arm. Then I think he's got me confused for someone else. Then I know he doesn't.

Through the doors. Into the next car. Into the rest room.

Something hard, bright, against my head. Pain blurs my vision.

Then it's dark.


EXT: REDONDO BEACH, WALKING WITH a blonde woman who spent her research grant money reporting on the non-violent worker's resistance in Warsaw and Gdansk after the wall came down. Rode the crowded trains between Poland and Germany, a young American with no language skills. Blonde and gray eyed. More luggage than one person could carry. Oh I could tell you, how I could tell you -- from experience -- what a target you made yourself. Why didn't you listen? Why won't you listen?

what happened...
what do you want to tell me about...
what happened...
that night
on that

Did you pray for help?

Was I the best he could do?

Thirteen years, and thousands of miles late.


Cut wherever. Do whatever. Go to whatever scene. It's an ocean. The sharks can smell blood from miles away. A drop of rain dissolves and becomes the sea. There is a time and a place and it's everywhere and everywhen. Oh God, my love, everything is pain and music. It's all a painting by Van Gogh. It's all a poem by Cummings. It's all death in a concentration camp. It's all nuclear holocaust. It's all Ravel and Liszt and Peter Gabriel singing about the the eagle on the mountain. He's spoken, that bird, that raptor, the messenger of death.

Everything dies, and so is saved.

If any of it's true, it's all true. If it's not, my life is a joke the angels tell over shots and beers in Irish bars on Bleeker Street. Turn the world upside down. Grant three wishes. Nothing is what anything is about, really. It's all something else.

What have you done to me? Why has this happened? What does it mean?

What do I do now?





Dear Laura,

remember our guidelines class? Remember the thing that got us all out there trying to meet up in OOBEs? It was that vision we had of the girl in the train station. We all saw her.

Well, guess what. I've met her. I know who she is. She's someone I met on the ice. I know what happened. She told me and I can't believe I've been that dense. I've known her since before I went to Antarctica.

Maybe you could say to yourself that the whole thing about going to Antarctica, maybe it was all to meet her down there. All of it for the past six years, it all led up to me meeting her in LA last weekend when she told me she was the girl on the train.

I think she's important. I mean, it's all important, right? When I asked my guides to show me someone who would be important for me, they showed me her. And then, well, the earth turns and one domino falls after another and I wind up in Antarctica, like a bunch of miracles.

She's the first one I talked to down there, you know. The first e-mail I ever got from Antarctica was from her. Right after that class. Like there is such a thing as providence. Or like there is a God. Something's alive in my life, I know that now. I just wonder what I'm supposed to do now. I feel like, I'm supposed to take care of her, somehow.

I wish I knew why this happened.

Anyway, I'm sending you her picture so you can see for yourself.

Let's have lunch this week if we can.





I open the car door. Toss in my BRIEFCASE. Get in. Drive to work like I've done thousands upon thousands of times.

The car disappears into the distance.


Dear You,

When I got your letter I almost called, but as it was three AM, I decided to spare you.

Well, you say you have to care for her now, but that's only one interpretation. We all saw her, didn't we? So maybe we should all take care of her?

No, that's only one interpretation. After that class, you really dropped away from your own spirituality. We tried to keep you interested, but you were too busy starting your companies. We missed you, you know. You could have been nicer to us.

Life isn't about money, after all. I keep telling you, be fearless and the money will take care of itself.

Sure, it all lined up. That's the way they work. Everything you tried failed EXCEPT the things that got you to her. So think for a change, Einstein.

Maybe you're here to care for her, but maybe she's here to save you. To remind you. Like a wake up call. You never did react well to subtlety. So now it hit you square in the face and you can't deny it. There are lots of things in life that are bigger and more powerful than we are. It's all connected. Over and over. You ready to listen now?

Damn. I'm crying.

Or, knowing you, you'll find a way to write this one off as well.

I've looked at the pictures you sent. Yeah. It's right.

I'm crying as I write this.

Let's have lunch. I miss you. I want my old friend back. The one who's willing to believe in magic.

It's all magic.

Take care of her.




The blonde girl from the train station is thirteen years older now. She stands at the railing watching the Gulf of Alaska pass under the vessel. The sky is gray. Mountains loom ahead in the mist. Porpoises and whales surface around the moving boat. She's watching the shore approach.

She checks her backpack and duffle. Everything's packed. Soon it will be time to disembark. Another adventure. Stop at nothing. Until there is no part of life left unknown.

Pontius Pilate asked Jesus, "What is truth?"
I don't think he liked what he heard.

And if you can't get a straight answer from God, anything from me is bound to be hopeless. I only know what I know. I can only tell you what happened and you can run off and convince yourself it didn't. That will be your truth.

Six years ago, eight of us had a vision of a young college student sitting in a train station in Poland. She'd been viciously attacked and barely managed to escape with her life. At the time, none of us had any context. We thought we were envisioning something that happened fifty-five years earlier.

I sit here now, with that vision firmly implanted in my head and my sensibility trying to convince my senses I did not experience what I did. That the vision never occurred. That we're not both writers. That I never went to Antarctica and I never met the girl on the bench. We never hiked the Taylor Valley, or Arrival Heights. We never stood at Scott's Hut and toasted the great explorers with a bottle of sparkling wine she'd got from Terra Nova Bay the prior year. She's not the first person I see every time I get off the plane on the ice. We don't drink tea and coffee at midnight and wait for it to never get dark. She never taught me to swing dance in the newspaper office.

We never met in Southern California. That she doesn't exist and neither do I.

That I can sit here now and say to God and my angels -- I totally totally believe in you. Did you send me to Antarctica, all that lead up and pomp just to meet her?

Did you make me a writer just so I would tell this story? Am I done now? Do I die now? Do I never write another word?

Don't go quiet on me now. I pray I will be brave enough to do what you want when you ask. I'm listening. You got my attention. Okay?

I'm down here watching my latest business effort crumble. She's up in north now. On a ferry in the middle of the Gulf of Alaska, by herself, heading for Seward. I warned her to be careful, but she won't listen.

So after Antarctica, are you going to send me up there, to find her in that wilderness?

If that's what you want, go ahead. I know all about cold.

Make my day.

ANGLE ON: Words in her notebook -- ALL OF THIS ISN'T HERE JUST FOR US TO IGNORE. She closes the notebook, slides the pen away. Puts the book and pen in her backpack. Zips it closed. Pull outward now as the ferry docks. Away from the boat, and the expanse of the landscape dwarfs man and his creation. A blue ice glacier calves into the sea.

She puts on her backpack and grabs her duffle. Heads for the ramp. Ahead is the arctic. A forest shrouded in mist. A tiny mining town. And we know there are bears in the forest. Storms that freeze the caribou. Reindeer and fjords. We're pulling higher and further away now, and she shrinks to insignificance in the landscape.

Now, high above Seward, Alaska, we imagine ourselves angels admiring the earth's boundless beauty.

And we know she's there even though we can't see her anymore.


All of the events depicted in this piece are real
All of the characters are equally real.
None of the names have been changed.
Any similarity to real events or persons is purely intentional.

Do You Believe in Magic? by The Lovin' Spoonful
You and Me by Lifehouse
Open Up Your Eyes by Tonic

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