Personal MagnetismBy Poco(Author's note: I wrote this story in the fall of 1999, when therapeutic magnetsfor "pain relief" were all the rage.) On the late-night "Buy At Home" channel, cable 73: "Our last shipment sold out, but we've got a new one in! Thousands of callersswear by it for relief of aches and pains. It's not 'alternative medicine,' itIS the medicine! And NO DRUGS, EVER! Shoppers, what's more natural on PlanetEarth than magnetism? We're talkin' top-of-the-line, Professor D.M.W. Herbert'sown 'Posi-Neg Magnetic Wrap-Arounds', for the head, the shoulders, the arms, thetorso, the legs, the feet, and everything in between! Feel the wounds heal! Feelthe ligaments mend! Feel the stress fade! Precise magnetic alignment of yourbody with the field of Mother Earth increases blood-flow to the painful spotsNATURALLY! Shoppers, the cure has been here since time began, but it tookProfessor Herbert and the Buy At Home Channel to bring it to you tonight! Andfor only $49.95! $49.95! Visa, Mastercard and American Expre…""Hey Barbara!" Mary Lane turned her head to the other bed to see her roommate,who had earlier buried her nose in a textbook, now asleep with the same textbookburied on top of her nose. Mary poked a jostling finger into her friend's leftshoulder.

"Barb!""Hmmfpf."It was a World History text; Mary needed both hands to lift it off of Barbara'sface, which, even with no makeup, was more beautiful than her own. Mary didn'tcare; she was glad to be Barbara's roommate and even more glad to be her friend.

They could talk about anything. Plus, Barbara was such a big girl they never hadthe classic argument about borrowing clothes.

"Barb, you gotta see this! It's just what you need!"The lids peeled from Barbara's enormous brown eyes. She raised her head to lookat the dorm-room TV. "What?""Dammit!" said Mary. "They've changed over to some crappy little Italianfigurines. I wanted you to look at the item before. They've got these magnetsnow that you can wear and they'll ease all your muscle soreness and you'll feellike a million bucks!"Barbara, sore from volleyball practice, mentally drained from studying and stillmostly asleep, replied: "Mary, you're sweet, but you're sweet at the wrong time.

Please let this wait until tomorrow.""I'm sorry, Barb. Go back to sleep."That took about 5 seconds. Mary, meantime, pulled out her "emergency" creditcard, picked up the cordless phone and stepped into the crowded closet. She wasable to curl up under the hanging clothes, once a few of the shoes on the floor(some her size, some much larger,) were shifted around a little.

"Hello, Buy At Home?"*********************************************************************************Barbara Valentine stooped under the shower-head to get her long, brown hairwashed and rinsed. Those who designed this women's dorm apparently thought allwomen were 5-and-a-half feet tall or less. At 6'2", Barbara found herself"ergonomically challenged" whenever she wanted to bathe, study, or just rest.

She dressed quickly, and was about to leave for her 10 o'clock class (Mary hadan earlier one), when there was a knock at the door.

The young man looked up from his clipboard, and up, and up, as Barbara now hadher shoes on. It took him a moment to remember why he was there. Barbara wasused to having that effect on people. Right now, she wanted shorty to get overit.

"Yes?""Uh, oh, right! Uh, Unlimited Package Service. Delivery for a Ms. Valentine?""That's me, but I didn't order anything from -- what does that say? -- "Buy AtHome?"The quicker she signed for it, the quicker he'd go away. Barbara reached for theclipboard and pen herself; her friend had somehow forgotten to hand them to her.

He did find the presence of mind to exchange them for the box he was holding,before thanking her -- twice -- and disappearing down the hallway. Barbarahalf-smiled and shook her head as she heard him call out: "Thanks again!" Shedidn't hear him say to himself:"And I was gonna quit this job? What was I thinking? Oh, my. Oh, my…"*********************************************************************************"Mary, what is this?" Barbara asked when they were both back in the room thatafternoon.

"Why don't you open it? It's addressed to you.""Yeah, but it's got you written all over it."Mary stifled a playful giggle. "You never know. But I bet you'll like it."Most people would have used a knife or scissors, but packing-tape was no matchfor the strength in Barbara's hands. Seconds later, she was looking at"Professor D.M.W. Herbert's Posi-Neg Magnetic Wrap-Arounds.""Mary Lane, we've gotta keep you away from that television at night."Mary refused to let the moment be spoiled. "C'mon, Barb, give 'em a try! The TVguy says they're like a miracle. And you're always complaining about some pulledmuscle somewhere." She sat very close to Barbara on the bed, gazing up into herroommate's eyes. "And you know I don't ever want you to hurt, ever."Barbara's eyes softened as her long arms drew Mary into a cuddling kind of hug.

Tenderly, she kissed Mary's forehead and said "thanks." Mary's eyes were widewith a mixture of adoration and anticipation. Barb found herself kissing herbest friend again, a much longer kiss this time, and not on the forehead.

"I'm so lucky to have a roomie like you."Either one of them could have said that.

Renaissance College was a small school in Orange County, California, nestled inbetween Laguna Beach and San Clemente (yes, Richard Nixon's old hideaway.) Easyaccess to the surf was important to Barbara, who enjoyed beach volleyball asmuch as the gymnasium version that was paying her tuition. Full enrollment atRenaissance was less than 14 hundred students; one large cafeteria served themall. Barbara Valentine and Mary Lane made it a point to have lunch theretogether at least twice a week. Sometimes, it was the only time during the daythat their conflicting schedules would allow the two friends to just sit andtalk. They were good for each other.

"Mary, I feel great!" Barbara exclaimed after swallowing a large bite of adouble-cheeseburger. "I don't know if it's Hubert's magnets or what, but all thesoreness is gone, and my game is better than ever! I'm even studying more, andif this keeps up, that 3.5 GPA is mine this semester!""It's actually 'Herbert's' magnets, Barb." Mary was just teasing; few thingsmade her happier than seeing her cherished friend so full of excitement.

"Whatever. You know, I don't feel anything in particular when those wrappythings are wrapped around me, but after three days, something's happening. Idunno, maybe it's that, that…whatcha callit?""Placebo effect?" Mary was working her way toward pre-med.

"Yeah. Like when Mom sneaks Dad some decaf coffee, and he doesn't know it, andhe still 'perks up'. Hey, I made a joke!"Mary got it an instant before Barbara did. "You go, girl!""Mary, do I look fat?" That took all the starch out of an accidental pun. Womenaren't kidding when they ask such a question.

Mary, taken by surprise, didn't answer right away, though the answer of "no" wasobvious. She didn't need to see the long legs tucked under a chair that was toosmall for Barbara's comfort. The part of her that towered above the low tablewas enough: perfectly-toned, moderately tanned, yet blissfully feminine. It wasthe same sight that, three days earlier, had caused some little delivery-dude'sinsides to melt, reducing him, in mind and heart, to a whimpering puppy-dog.

"Barb, I don't see a thing different about you. Why do you ask?""Well, the locker-room scale shows I've gained 6 pounds. I know it's not much ona tall girl, but it's more than that. I had a big breakfast, even for me. AndI've just finished a double-decker cheeseburger and was thinking of going backfor another one. And these shoes seem a little tighter, and this ring isstarting to pinch my thumb.""Barbara, there's not an ounce of fat on you that I can see, that I've everseen." She reached a hand across the table. Barbara's hand enveloped it almostto the wrist. "Maybe feeling better on the inside is making you feel bigger onthe outside. I don't know what else to tell you, Bar, you look just wonderful.

Now if you could only look as happy as you did a minute ago."Barbara's appreciative hand-squeeze would leave Mary's fingers tingling for thenext 10 minutes. "Mary, you're the best. You always know what to say. But Istill want another cheeseburger.""You go, girl!"*********************************************************************************OFFICE OF DR. HOWARD BROCK, PHYSICIAN, DEPARTMENT OF ATHLETICS, RENAISSANCECOLLEGE"Well, Miss Valentine, you're the picture of health, in fact, you're better insome ways than the last time. Heartbeat, respiration, muscle strength, they'rein the 'phenomenal' range, even for a girl your size. But tell me, why are youhere? Your scheduled checkup isn't for another 3 weeks. How are you feeling?"Barbara Valentine wasn't sure where to start. In the first place, she wasfeeling fine, better every day. But something, something was changing. She told"Doc Brock" about her weight-gain with no noticeable increase in body-fat, abouther growing appetite and some of her clothes feeling a little tighter.

"And this morning, I bumped my head on the shower-head. Doc, I've been usingthat shower since I moved in with Mary Lane last year. I know how far to bendover. I don't feel clumsier; Coach Parker says we'll take the ConferenceVolleyball championship the way I'm playing. I guess I'm just worried, but Idon't know what to be worried about."Dr. Brock had to reach up slightly to lay a reassuring hand on Barbara'sshoulder. "Miss Valentine, I can only suggest that you sit down with the campuscounselor. For what it's worth, physically you're amazing. Look at this chart,at your responses."Barbara ran her eyes down the chart, then grabbed it from his hands. "Doc, thisisn't right, this can't be right." She pointed to a figure in the upper-rightcorner.

"What do you mean? I ran everything twice; I always do.""I'm not six-three and-a-half! I'll take your word for the weight, but I've been6'2" since my fifteenth birthday! If you messed up on something this simple,what else did you get wrong?" Barbara's voice was becoming louder, a bit moreshrill. The doctor's voice, full of calm from years of experience, helped tocalm her, too.

"It's OK, Barbara. Probably just a typo. Let's check it out again. Over here,feet flat on the floor, don't stretch."Barbara felt like scrunching, but she did as instructed. Dr. Brock scribbled hisnotes, looked up and said: "Barbara, maybe everyone else's measurements were offa little, but today, you are six feet, three and one-half inches."Barbara could feel her heart pounding. She didn't know what to say. Doc Brocktried his best to "accentuate the positive."Miss Valen…Barbara, this is not without precedent. I could dig up several othercase histories where young women continued to grow after they thought they hadstopped. I'll find them and let you read them if you want. We don't know why ithappens, but it happens. Barbara, you're the star of the Renaissance Collegevolleyball team. People have looked up…I mean, admired you for a long time. Nowthey'll admire you even more! It's not like you were a tiny woman who suddenlybecame some sort of giantess. You know what it's like to be above the crowd. Soyou've grown an inch and a half! Big deal! Maybe you'll grow another half-inch,but that's all. The laws of Physics and Physiology won't allow for more.

Barbara, you've got nothing to worry about. But I still want you to talk withthe counselor. Call her today, make an appointment for tomorrow. Talk it out.

And come see me Saturday at 11 o'clock. I'll come back in just for you. Willthat be OK for you?""Unless you want to slip me a thousand dollars for air-fare. My family's in NewJersey."Dr. Brock smiled. "Saturday, then."Barbara had stopped crying. "Thanks, Dr. Brock."*********************************************************************************Coach Samantha Parker blew the final whistle. "OK, ladies, good job today! Hitthe showers! Barbara, come see me!"Barbara hustled herself into her coach's private office. She started to sitdown; Samantha Parker held up a hand. "Wait a minute, just stand there, Bar."Samantha Parker had been a volleyball champion when Barbara Valentine was stillin diapers. Now she stood up, face-to-face with her star player.

"Barbara, I'm 6 foot 3. I know, because I could only get dates with dumbbasketball players in high school and college. You were 6'2" when you signed on,but now I'm looking up at you. Am I shrinking?"Barbara's slightly disheveled brown hair now framed a reddening face. "I don'tthink it's you, Coach. I think it's me. I saw Doc Brock this morning. He wantsto see me again Saturday, to re-run some tests or something. He thinks I mightstill be growing."That made more sense to Samantha Parker than anything she had been thinkinglately. "Yeah, go back and see Doc. He's a good man. He'll figure out what'sgoing on. You feeling OK, Barbara?""EVERYBODY KEEPS ASKING ME THIS! YOU, THE DOCTOR, MY ROOMMATE! DAMMIT, I FEELFINE!!"Barbara's last four words were spoken much more forcefully than she hadintended. They caused her coach to sink back into her chair, they rattled theoffice windows. Parker stood up again, regaining her coach's "Alpha Male" statusfor the moment. "Barbara, tomorrow's a light practice. You skip it. See DocBrock Saturday, get as much rest as you can, and come back Monday. Got it?"Got it, Coach."Mary, I'm scared." Barbara said as the light faded from their dorm-room window.

"Scared of what, Barb? How can I help?""Just stay with me, sit here next to me, be with me. The song says 'Big GirlsDon't Cry', but sometimes we do.""You can always lean on me, girlfriend. Say, are you growing?"That started the water-works. Mary's hair was moist with Barbara's tears beforeher friend let go of her.

Barbara looked down at the smaller woman in her arms. "I'm sorry, Mary. Yes, Iam growing. Doc Brock said so today, and Coach Parker confirmed it thisafternoon. I'm taller than she is now, Mary! And she's 6'3"!Mary Lane, stuck at 5'6" was struggling to take this in. Barbara had always beenso much bigger than she, an inch or two was hardly enough to see. Yet, held inher girlfriend's arms, she did feel the slightest bit smaller.

Barbara held onto Mary much of the night, except for the time she went out tofind a 24-hour pizza joint. The boxes that held two medium, double-cheese pizzaswere empty when she got back to campus. And she was still hungry.

*********************************************************************************Barbara had only one class the next day, one of the few she was acing. She couldcut it. That plus no volleyball practice effectively gave her the day off.

Immediately after Mary left for morning classes, Barbara made a beeline forbreakfast at the cafeteria. She felt a few stares--was it because she was nownoticeably taller, or because she went back for seconds and thirds? She hopedthey hadn't seen the biscuits she had sneaked into her pockets.

There was one appointment today, with the counselor. Barbara was glad "he" was ashe. The open-mouthed gawking she got from men wouldn't be flattering today. Shehad bumped her head again this morning on the shower-nozzle, her clothes weretighter then ever, and her thumb-ring would have been downright painful had shenot managed to remove it the night before with baby-oil.

*********************************************************************************OFFICE OF MICHELLE BENOIT, Ph.D., COUNSELOR TO STUDENTS, RENAISSANCE COLLEGE"Come in, Barbara!" came a pleasant voice from the other side of the door. Itopened to reveal the face of a woman of forty-something in business attire who,even in heels, didn't quite reach Barbara's shoulder. Barbara had dressed in abaggy sweatshirt and sweat-pants. She was nervous enough without the worseningproblem of constrictive clothing.

"I'm Dr. Benoit, but everyone calls me Michelle. I hope you will, too." shesaid, extending a hand. Barbara shook it, limply.

"Dr. Brock insisted I come here, but I don't think you can help me.""I'd like to try. Won't you sit down?"Dr. Brock had called earlier to fill Dr. Benoit in on the situation. "He saysyou believe you're still growing, Barbara, though he can't confirm it. Is thiswhat's upsetting you?"They talked for most of an hour. Barbara left with a head-full of perfunctorypsychobabble, feeling no worse, but no better. She was grateful for two things:that the cafeteria was still serving lunch, and that she had bought theall-you-can eat meal card.

*********************************************************************************Back in the dorm room, Barbara wondered what to do next. She lay across the bedto think, atop the spread-out magnetic body-wraps that she had neglected to putaway that morning. Mary would be back from class in about an hour. Barbara spentabout half that time taking a nap. When she awoke, she seemed to have a bit moreenergy. Naps will do that, she thought. A good idea Coach Parker had, lettingher skip practice. All her muscle soreness was gone.

Barbara stepped into the bathroom to splash a little cold water on her face. Itfaded that little bit of puffiness around the eyes that naps sometimes broughton. As she stepped to the mirror, suddenly water was the last thing on her mind.

The reflection did not even include her eyes, until she bent down a little.

Barbara started to slip out of her shoes, then realized she was barefoot. Shewas also, apparently, 6-foot-7.

Barbara sat back down on the bed, on the magnets, and held her face in herhands. She had been willing to accept growing an extra inch-and-a-half, as oddas that was. But this was weird, just too weird. Nobody grows this much, thisrapidly. If anything, she seemed to be growing faster, another 3-and-a-halfinches in just the past 24 hours. What kind of freakazoid was she turning into?She was still sitting there when Mary returned from class. "Hi, Barb!"Mary started to ask her roommate how the counseling session went, but stopped inmid-question as Barbara slowly stood, towering over Mary by more than a foot.

Mary's jaw dropped, her head tilting back farther than it had ever had to beforeto look Barbara in the eyes. From one of those eyes, a single tear beganslipping down a cheek. Mary reached up to brush it away, and found herself beinglifted off the floor.

"Oh, Mary, what's happening to me?"Mary had no answer, but decided her presence would help Barbara more than herwords. If being an ersatz rag-doll was the best she could do for her friendright now, so be it. Barbara extracted as much comfort as she could, then bentdown to put Mary's feet back on the floor. They sat, mostly in silence, on theside of the bed.

"I'm going back to see Doc Brock tomorrow. Will you come with me?""You know I will.""Cool beans. I'm going out, but I'll be back in a little while.""Where are you going?"Barbara winked. "Someplace you're not allowed until you grow up."She returned having had the 15 dollars in her pocket converted into theequivalent in booze, courtesy of a wide-eyed liquor-store clerk who somehow,didn't think to ask for ID.

*********************************************************************************Dr. Howard Brock and his computer had been working furiously the past two days.

E-mails to old colleagues, and Internet searches on everything he could findrelating to human growth. Most of what he found indicated that what washappening to Barbara Valentine, shouldn't be. Maybe it wasn't happening anymore.

He'd know shortly: she was due in his office right about now.

Mary Lane was with her, a normal-sized young woman now looking more like a9-year old girl standing next to her roommate. Howard Brock stood and stared,his mind racing back to the one particular Internet document that he founddisturbing. Barbara's face was a study in fear and hopefulness as she spoke.

Well, Doc, I guess your charts weren't wrong after all. Hope we're not late; Ihad three breakfasts this morning.""I should think!" he replied. "How are you feeling, Barbara?"There was that damn question again.

"Well, I don't hurt, if that's what you mean. But in other ways, I've sure feltbetter."The doctor nodded his understanding. "Barbara, I'd like to run one more quickphysical on you, just to make sure I haven't missed anything. But mostly, weneed to talk. It may be that I can refer you to someone who can really help you.

Miss, would you mind waiting outside?""No, please let her stay! I'm sorry, Doc, this is my roommate, Mary Lane.""How do you do, Mary. OK, sure."The 10-minute exam showed no changes from the one two days before, except thatBarbara Valentine was now 6-feet-11. It made her visibly agitated to hear thenumbers. Brock hoped their conversation would be more meaningful.

"Barbara, I need something that'll point us in the right direction. Now, I'vegone over your medical history several times; it's pretty complete. But itstands to reason that there's gotta be something that's not on here that mightbe a link to what's happening to you. I'll bet we can lock it down."That made sense to Barbara, who spent the next 30 minutes answering alaundry-list of questions, with words such as: "nope, never," and "I don't thinkso."Then, bingo.

Yes, Barbara had taken steroids for a brief time in high school, back in NewJersey. They were not given to her by the school doctor, but by another onebrought in as a consultant.

"He said they were like high-powered vitamins, but I was just a dumb kid then.

They did help my game. I'm at Renaissance on a scholarship, you know.""Barbara, this is important. Do you remember the "vitamin-doctor's" name?Barbara chewed her lower lip. "I only saw him a couple of times. I think it wasReez, Rize, Rizenet…""Reisner? Dr. Anton Reisner?""Yeah, I think so."Dr. Brock could see the brass ring and almost reach it. "One more question. Haveyou had any sort of "magnetic therapy" recently?"Mary Lane spoke up this time. "I bought her some magnet-wraps last week for hermuscle-soreness. Doc, do you think that's what…""One moment, Miss Lane. Barbara, I can't promise, but this could be thebeginning of the end of your ordeal. Now, if you'll wait in the other room for aminute, I need to talk to Miss Lane, then I've got some phone calls to make. Andthink positive, Barbara."Alone in the office with Mary Lane, Dr. Brock said: "Mary, I need you to do twothings for me right away. First, go back to your dorm and get those magnet-wrapsout of the room. In fact, bring them back here so I can have a look at them. Doyou have a car?""Yes.""Good." He pulled a wad out of his wallet, about $200. "Take this, drive intotown, and pick up some clothes for Barbara, big clothes that you think she'll beable to wear for the next couple of days. Shoes, too, if you can find them. Iknow this won't be easy, but you know a lot more about these things than I do.

Mary, I'm glad you're Barbara's friend. She sure needs you now. Go now, Mary."Howard Brock needed to work fast. Rumors were probably already starting tospread, even on a mostly-deserted weekend campus. A seven-foot-tall girl washard to ignore, even from a distance. Such rumors might not have reached theadministration, yet. He hoped not. Better they hear the facts from him first,before the situation exploded.

Brock's secretary didn't normally work Saturdays. He called her at home.

"Billie, I'm sorry to bother you, but this has got to be done right now. Get intouch with these people" -- he rattled off the names -- "and arrange for them tomeet me at 8 tonight in Frank Forsythe's office. Yes, I'm serious! No, you can'ttell them why. Just set it up, OK, Billie? Thanks.""University of California, Irvine.""This is Dr. Howard Brock at Renaissance College. I have an emergency need toget in touch with Dr. Seth Coleman, Professor of Physiology. Tell him it'sHoward Brock; he knows me. Tell him lives are at stake. Thank you."People who had free time in Orange County, California, didn't tend to hangaround the house. Thank God for cell-phones. Brock could hear the ocean roar inthe background when Dr. Coleman called him back.

"Howard, what in the world…""Seth, long time no see, and all that. Listen, Seth. Remember that nut AntonReisner back east?""Yeah, the Medical Board pulled his license two years ago.""Exactly. And you were the chief witness against him. Seth, I need thosedocuments, and you, in corpus, down here in about six hours. Look, I don't wantto say much more on the phone, but I've just examined a very, very big girl.

Please get here, Seth. I've never asked you for a favor before, and you owe meat least one from Med school. I can send a car for you, if you like."Seth Coleman glanced down at several empty Corona bottles stuck in the sand.

"That would be a good idea, Howard. See you tonight." OFFICE OF FRANK FORSYTHE, PRESIDENT, RENAISSANCE COLLEGEHoward Brock was well-liked and well-respected by the school's administration.

He was counting on that, but he also knew that, even under the bestcircumstances, he could pull a stunt such as this only once.

Everyone had arrived: President Forsythe was sitting at his large oaken desk.

The others were seated around it on overstuffed furniture. Michelle Benoit,Student Counselor; Angela Scott, Dean of Women; Samantha Parker, Barbara'scoach; and Seth Coleman from UC Irvine.

"Thanks for coming, Seth. Thanks to all of you for being here at this, uh,inopportune time." Brock paused. "Uh, I'm really not a lecturer, more of apractitioner and researcher, really.""We understand that, Howard." said President Forsythe. "But won't you please tryto find the words?""Words won't be enough." Brock looked back over his shoulder. "Mary, would youand Barbara come in now?"There was a collective gasp from the group. They all knew Barbara Valentine, theschool's star volleyball-player. They knew she was tall. They didn't expect tosee her have to stoop slightly to clear the door-frame. Having grown two moreinches since midday, Barbara was now 7-feet, one-inch tall. She looked aroundthe room, her brown eyes not unlike those of a deer caught in headlights.

Barbara held onto Mary's hands, both of Mary's in one of her own.

"Thank you, ladies. You may go.""Renaissance, we have a problem." Angela Scott said when they were gone.

Frank Forsythe was in no mood for corny movie dialogue. "Don't be flip, Angela.

Howard, I assume you asked us here to give us all the information you haveon…on…this.""That's right, Sir. You've all met my friend Dr. Coleman. Seth, can you give usthe short version of what you believe is happening to Miss Valentine?"Coleman had prepared such a synopsis on his laptop while riding in from thebeach. He began:"In 1994, Anton Reisner, a doctor of dubious credentials, began research onhuman growth and strength enhancement, apparently funded by unknown andunscrupulous individuals with ties to the 1996 Atlanta Olympics.""I never heard of any major drug scandals involving the '96 Olympics." saidSamantha Parker.

"You would not have," replied Coleman. "May I continue?" He got a collective nodfrom the group.

"Reisner's research began with steroids, but did not end there. Steroids aretraceable in a drug-test. He needed the effects without the telltale evidence.

He found a way, using magnetism as the catalyst. Five years ago, magnetictherapy had no more credibility than Laetrile, that peach-pit extract touted asa cancer-cure, before Steve McQueen went to Mexico for such treatments and diedanyway.

"Reisner's laboratory trials showed promise, but his early clinical trials weredisastrous. His confiscated notes revealed that the deaths of dozens of rats andrhesus monkeys could not dissuade him from the misguided belief that hisformulae and techniques would still be sound if applied to humans. Thissupposedly was never done, because such research was suspended while he wasbeing investigated by the New Jersey State Medical Board. His anonymous fundingalso dried up. When his MD license was revoked in 1997, Anton Reisnerdisappeared. Nothing else was said of his nefarious research until Dr. Brockhere called me this afternoon.

President Frank Forsythe was as captivated as the rest. "What has changed, Dr.

Coleman?""Magnetic therapy is the hottest buzz-phrase in alternative medicine in the late1990's. Its claims, such as increasing blood flow to needed areas of the body,thereby relieving pain and promoting faster healing, are still underinvestigation. In the meantime, there have been no factual studies that showmagnetism does any harm, and because no drugs are involved, so-called"therapeutic magnets" are freely sold over television and the Internet.

Personally, I've always believed they were benign, the waste of a few dollars.

But, ladies and gentlemen, that is not the case here and now." Dr. Seth Colemanpaused to take a sip of water.

"Just before Reisner was stripped of his MD status, he contacted several highschools in his home state of New Jersey. Miss Valentine's was apparently one ofthose. It was an easy in. Tell the under-paid coach you're an MD -- which isverifiable -- and slip him or her enough cash to make it worthwhile, andsuddenly your "vitamins" are distributed to the players. Now he has a real humanclinical trial going on, and all he has to do is show up in the stands to watchthe games.""Here is an excerpt from Reisner's notes: 'Significant increases in size andstrength have been observed in certain test-subjects, but not all. Magnetismholds the key.""Ladies and gentlemen, I believe your Miss Barbara Valentine was one of thoseunwitting test subjects. My friend Dr. Brock tells me that she's been usingmagnets for the past week or so, which is enough to confirm my suspicions.

Reisner's legal troubles caused him to suspend his research right about then,but this changes everything. People, I'm a scientist. I'd need weeks, months ofstudy to tell you anything conclusively, but the visible evidence isincontrovertible."Angela Scott asked: "Dr. Coleman, why wouldn't steroids have shown up in a drugtest here?""I can answer that one, Angela," said Samantha Parker. Barbara is a sophomore.

Nothing she took in high school would be detectable now.

"Precisely," agreed Dr. Coleman. And hers were modified sufficiently to bypassmost of the standard tests. But her very body chemistry was changed, enough toallow the magnets to accelerate the process."President Forsythe had heard enough. "Well people, this has been veryinformative. Now we have some decisions to make. What do we do with a7-foot-tall coed?"Coleman interjected: "I don't think you understand the full situation, Dr.

Forsythe.""What do you mean, Doctor?""I mean Sir, that Barbara Valentine is a 7-foot coed tonight. But I've looked atthe growth curve Dr. Brock has plotted. See for yourself. It's accelerating.

Tomorrow, she'll be almost 8-feet tall. That alone puts her at 'critical mass'.

By Monday, hmmm, 9-and a half feet and by Wednesday she'd better not be in herdorm room."President Forsythe was struggling to keep up. "Critical mass? Is she…nuclear?""No, that's one thing we don't have to worry about. But the term can describeany self-sustaining reaction. I'm referring to the point at which she no longerneeds food to keep growing. I didn't want to bog you down with arcane details,but they're outlined in Reisner's notes if you wish to look. Remember thatphrase of his? 'Magnetism is the key'. It is. Howard tells me that MissValentine has a voracious appetite; that's understandable. But soon she won't.

She'll fuel her growth and draw her strength from magnetism itself.""I still don't get it, Dr. Coleman. Her magnet-wraps have been removed.""Dr. Forsythe, I'll bet you were once a Boy Scout. How did your compass work?This planet Earth has a nickel-iron core. It's a great big magnet. Its fieldextends from pole-to-pole. Forget the puny little wrap-arounds, those were justa kick-start for Miss Valentine. Her real power will be drawn from Mother Earth,probably within a couple of days.

Forsythe was incredulous. "How do you know this, Coleman?"Sir, Reisner was insane; he was not stupid. We shut him down because he hadstumbled upon something far too dangerous for the present-day world.

Unfortunately, he got to poor Miss Valentine before we were able to get to him.""My God, man! What do we do?""I've already been thinking about that. It involves a reversal of polarities.

But I need to sleep on it. Why don't we gather back here again tomorrowafternoon about 1? I might have something more to tell you then. Howard, I hopeyou booked a room for me. G'night, folks."Michelle Benoit had not spoken during the meeting. Now she did. "I'm going tosee Barbara."President Frosythe waited until he was alone in his office. He picked up histelephone.

"Get me Sacramento."********************************************************************************Mary Lane had had pizzas delivered when they got back to their room, six largeand one small. The small was for herself. She hoped the rest would last Barbarathe night. Barbara was now, to anyone's eyes, more than 7 feet tall, and aboutto begin her third pizza when there was a light tap at the door. Mary opened ita crack, and looked down upon a very slight, very nervous young man holdingflowers.

"Hi. I'm…I'm Ricky. Uh, I'm the equipment manager from Barbara's team. Is, isshe here?"Given recent events, Mary was as polite as she could be. "Yes, but she's notfeeling well, Ricky. I'll give her the flowers. Now go away.""I heard she might be sick. That's why I came by. I didn't mean to disturbanyone."A huge arm reached into the hallway and snatched Ricky into the room. Gianthands reached under his arms and lifted him two feet off the floor.

"Hi, Ricky! Good to seeya!"Ricky had worshipped Barbara Valentine "from below" from the first time he hadseen her. Now his fondest dreams were becoming a nightmare.

"Come on, Ricky! Got a little sugar for big, big Barbara! Barbara the Freak?Gotta problem with this?"Ricky was petrified. He tried to speak; no sound would come.

"Enough of you, squirt. Get out!"Ricky was thrown against the opposite wall of the hallway, made of paintedcinder-block. He lay on the floor for a few minutes, bruised, bleeding andconfused. On the other side of the door, Barbara held his bouquet in one hand.

"Cute. That's about all I'm worth now. A few lousy flowers.""Barbara, that was mean! Ricky isn't much, but he's adored you forever! He onlywanted to cheer you up.""Yeah, well maybe." Barbara pulled a 1.75 liter bottle of vodka from under thebed, removed the cap and started drinking.

"Barb, please don't!""Ya want some?" Barbara splashed some of the vodka on Mary and around the room.

"Barbara, stop! Please stop! Please!"Barbara gathered Mary in her arms, tears flowing, her face displaying theremorse for what she had done.

"Mary, I'm sorry! Don't leave me, please don't leave me!" At this moment,Barbara was truly a child, in a 7-foot-1 inch body.

A few minutes later there was another knock at the door. Michelle Benoit had notseen Ricky limping away, and had not paid attention to the small red spot on theopposite wall. The vodka bottle was hastily shoved back under the bed.

"Mary, may I talk to Barbara?""Ms. Benoit, it's really not a good time.""I know. That's why I'm here. Please let me in."Mary opened the door wider. Michelle Benoit saw a lovely, impossibly large younglady sitting on the bed, crying softly among the pizza boxes scattered on thefloor. She placed a hand on Barbara's.

"I came to tell you that everything will be all right. You know it will; somevery brilliant people are working to help you right now.""Ms. Benoit -- Michelle -- I'm afraid to go to sleep. What will I be when I wakeup?""You might be taller, but you'll still be you.""I don't think I'm me now!" Barbara told Michelle what had happened with Ricky afew minutes before. "I'm ashamed." She closed her eyes tightly. "I'm so ashamed!You know, not one of my teammates has come by to see me. Ricky was the only one.

I know he has a crush on me, and I made fun of him, and I hurt him! What's thematter with me?""It's because you're very upset, Barbara, and no one can blame you for that."Michelle Benoit was in full professional mode now. "If you don't think you cansleep, I can ask Dr. Brock to give you something to help. Would you like that?""No, no thank you. But please, please do something else for me. Find Ricky andtell him how sorry I am, that I'll do anything I can to make it up to him, andif there's a solution to…all this…tell him I'd be pleased to go out with him.

Please tell him that for me, won't you?" Barbara pleaded with her eyes as well.

"I'll do that, Barbara. And look, why don't you stay in tomorrow, just relax,read a good book. Don't worry about homework. You're not flunking anything, andI can get you excused from Monday classes. Just keep reminding yourself that weall care about you, and we're all on your side, OK?""OK.""I'll be back tomorrow." Michelle stepped to the door, paused and turned around.

"And one more thing, Barbara," she said pointing under the bed. "Booze isn't theanswer."******************************************POP.

Mary Lane was jerked awake just before 7 a.m. the next morning by what soundedlike a muffled gunshot.

"Barb?"Barbara was sitting up. She'd been holding a volleyball in her hand, which thismorning fit in her palm like an oversized softball. At least it was until a fewseconds earlier, when she closed her fingers around it and squeezed.

"Kinda symbolic of my volleyball career, wouldn't you say, Mary? One day, justpoof!""Barb, we'll get through this. We will.""I can't play this game anymore. It wouldn't be fair. I'm taller than the net.

And what about when the ball is the size of a marble? Or a pea?"Barbara slowly stood up. Now, even Mary Lane was speechless with awe. Barbara'shead almost bumped a higher-than-average ceiling. By afternoon, she'd no longerbe able to stand up straight in the room.

"Barb, how 'bout I go out and bring us back a great big breakfast?""Nah, that's OK, Mary. There's plenty of leftover pizza. And this morning, thismorning I'm just not hungry."*******************************************************************************PRESIDENT'S OFFICE, 1 PM SUNDAY"I hope some of us were able to get a good night's sleep," said Frank Forsythe.

"I, for one, was not." He had an unspoken consensus.

Dr. Forsythe continued. "Ladies and gentlemen, I see this as a problem in twoparts. How to help Barbara Valentine regain her normal -- somewhat taller thannormal -- size, and what to do with her until we can help her. Comments?""We need to take the second part first," said Angela Scott. If the doctors'figures are correct, she's probably too big for her room, even as we speak.""She can stay with me," offered Samantha Parker. "I live a bit off the beatenpath, and I've got plenty of space, including a good-sized barn that's basicallyempty. I'm no farmer, and the sum total of my livestock is a tabby-cat." Atleast that comment brought a round of tension-relieving chuckles.

"Coach," said Forsythe, "I believe we're inclined to take you up on that. Thankyou. But we need to make the move in the next couple of hours, before the"suitcase students" start showing up back here. Ideas?""Assuming she can still fit into a wheelchair, she'll be less conspicuoussitting down than standing up," said Dr. Brock. "I have one in my office.""She'll still be very recognizable," mused Angela. "Wait. Wait, we can do this.

Doc, we'll need your wheelchair and a large blanket. There are no other women onthat floor of the dorm right now, aside from Barbara and Mary. All we have to dois get her into the elevator, using the fire key to keep it from stopping on anyother floors. She'll sit in the wheelchair, bend over almost double, and becovered with the blanket. On the ground floor, she'll be wheeled to the serviceexit where a truck with a ramp will be backed up, waiting. If no one looks tooclosely, it'll appear as though we're moving a piece of furniture. I know thisis tenuous, but I believe it's our best shot, and the sooner we take it, thebetter.""How humiliating for Barbara," Samantha pointed out.

"I agree, Sam. But how much more humiliating for the media circus to descend onher? I'm surprised the snoopy reporters and tabloid photographers aren't runningaround here already."They were finalizing the plans when a male Residence Hall assistant slipped intothe room with a troubled look on his face. He walked quickly to Michelle Benoit,handed her a small note, then left just as quickly. The color drained fromMichelle's face. She passed the note to Samantha Parker, who passed it to AngelaScott, each with the same reaction. All three women quickly rose to go. Angelapaused, remembering protocol. She let President Forsythe read the note; his facesuddenly filled with shock. He rose from his chair.

"Go, ladies. You handle that; we'll handle this."*********************************************************************************Ricky's roommate had arrived back at school early, not noticing anything out ofthe ordinary until he decided to take a shower. There he had found Ricky, naked,in the bathtub, both his wrists sliced wide open. A note in Ricky's handwritingwas next to the sink. It read simply:"I didn't mean to make Barbara angry. But it's my fault. I'm not worthy."A police-officer friend of Michelle Benoit's allowed her to read the note as thebody was being placed in the ambulance. She couldn't maintain a professionaldetachment this time. She had talked to Ricky in her office only last month,trying to help raise his self-esteem. He was such a pleasant young man, butbecause of his small stature, quite lonely, too. The volleyball players, Barbaraincluded, had considered him a "cute little guy" but nothing more. In highschool, he had been laughed at, picked on, tormented. But Michelle had had noidea he was so close to the edge, and now she sat on the front steps of the dormand cried for having so utterly failed him.

Only later would she realize the macabre irony: that Ricky's dying act had madeit possible for them to spirit Barbara Valentine off campus virtuallyunobserved. All eyes on campus were watching the commotion outside the men'sdorm.

She arranged other accommodations for Ricky's roommate, and insisted he stop byher office the next day. He said he would. Michelle went home; she had two phonecalls to make. One to Ricky's parents, another to Barbara's parents. Sheremembered her parting words to Barbara the night before: "Booze isn't theanswer." As the ice cubes clinked into the glass, she decided that even mentorsare a little hypocritical now and then.

*********************************************************************************HOME OF SAMANTHA PARKER, NEAR MISSION VIEJO, SUNDAY, 4 PMBarbara Valentine sipped a yellowish liquid from a small plastic bottle, herhuge hand hiding the fact that it was full quart of Gatorade. She sat on thecouch in Coach Parker's living room. For all she knew, it might be the last dayshe'd be able to spend in any kind of normal-sized dwelling, having surpassedthe 8-foot mark a short time earlier.

Dr. Brock had miscalculated her anticipated growth. The sweatshirt that hadseemed so baggy the day before was now exposing some midriff. The sweat-pants,now tight on her hips, stopped at mid-calf. The largest men's basketball shoesMary had been able to find barely fit, even unlaced. Barbara sat on the couch,feeling terribly awkward. How does one sit in a ladylike position on furniturethat's so comically small? Mary sat next to her, in comparision looking like oneof the larger collectible dolls on the Buy At Home channel. Even so, both felt alittle safer being away from a campus full of eyes.

"Barbara, I have plenty of sheets you can use as temporary clothing, and here'sa stroke of luck, even a couple of parachutes from my skydiving days…" Samanthapaused, realizing what she was implying, but was committed to finishing hersentence now. "…should you have need of them, uh, later on." Samantha wasembarrassed, and it showed.

"Barbara, how about an early dinner?" suggested Angela Scott. "You must behungry.""Thanks, Dean, but I couldn't eat a thing, really."This caused Seth Coleman to stop shuffling through his piles of documents andnotes. He looked up. This true, Barbara? You're really not hungry? Did you havea big breakfast?""No, none. I haven't eaten since last night. Is something wrong, Dr. Coleman?Maybe it means I'll stop growing soon."It actually meant just the opposite, that the Earth's magnetic field was nowincreasing her size and furnishing her energy needs. Barbara Valentine hadreached "critical mass." But how to tell her? She had a right to know.

"There's always reason for hope, Barbara. Howard, I need to see you in the otherroom for a minute."This can't be good, Barbara thought.

"Seth, I take it this is what you were talking about in Forsythe's office lastnight.""You've got it, old buddy. We're running out of time. Damn, why'd this have tobe a Sunday? I can make some calls, but it's gonna be hard to reach certainpeople.""I reached you yesterday when you had Laguna Beach sand between your toes.""Good point," Coleman said, picking up the phone.

*********************************************************************************Frank Forsythe had quite a bit of telephone-clout, more than many collegepresidents. He had long known that Man was a political animal. This evening, ithad helped him set up a conference call with the Governor and the Commander ofthe California National Guard.

"Governor, I'm not calling it a crisis. There may not be one. I'm saying onlythat it might be prudent to put the Guard troops on some sort of "cautionarystatus" or whatever you call it, so that they can mobilize more quickly, if, andonly if, there's a need."Colonel Thursby had just listened to the most cockamamie story he had everheard. "Forsythe, you don't expect me to tell that bedtime fairy-tale to thetroops, do you?"I don't expect you to tell them anything, Colonel. Just give the men theirinstructions. They're soldiers, aren't they?""Damn right they are! And if you call them 'weekend warriors', I'm hanging up.""Colonel, why don't you just inform them of the possibility of some unscheduledmaneuvers?""In Orange County?"***************************************There was electricity in the barn, lights, a hard floor, even running water,limited to a large sink. Mary Lane struggled to arrange four matresses to createa quadruple-sized bed. Barbara bent down and put an arm around her.

"I think this is one project I can handle a little better, don't you Mary?"Mary had finished getting Barbara settled in when Michelle Benoit appeared atthe barn door. "All right if I come in?""Sure, please do." Barbara sat cross-legged on the matresses now, putting herroughly at eye level with Mary and Michelle. She had exchanged her nowridiculously small sweat suit for a couple of bed-sheets.

"Ms. Benoit, were you able to find Ricky? And tell him how sorry I am?"That, of course, was why Michelle was here. As gently as she could, sheexplained to Barbara what had happened to Ricky. She did not mention the suicidenote, but there was no need. Barbara, already racked with guilt, could not havebeen more devastated. Was this what lay ahead of her? As her size became moreponderous, would it be even easier to hurt people who cared about her? Wouldbecoming a giantess turn her into a murderess?Michelle held out a small bottle of pills. "These are from Doc Brock. They'llhelp you sleep. He says you can take as many as you need."A flick of Barbara's thumbnail sent the child-resistant cap flying against theopposite wall. Realizing she had done something very similar to Ricky the nightbefore, she downed the entire bottle. Not that there was any chance of anoverdose, still, Michelle didn't see that as a very good sign.

"Mary, can you stay with Barbara for a while?" Mary nodded. She'd been feeling alittle maudlin herself. After all, it was her magnets that had apparentlystarted all of this, and it was ruining the life of the best friend she'd everhad.

Barbara was alone when she woke up the next morning. Mary had stayed untilalmost midnight, but still had classes, same as any other Monday. Barbara laythere, reconfiguring her perspective. One fact was instantly obvious. Her "bed"was two matresses long and two matresses wide. This morning, the matressesstopped at mid-thigh. Her height had more than doubled overnight, 20 feet washer best guess. Standing slowly, she found that the rafters of the barn wouldaccommodate this, though with little room to spare. She could actually reach upand touch the underside of the roof. Right about then, she realized she was notalone after all.

She heard a "click" from down below, from behind some boxes. Barbara acted as ifshe hadn't heard, waiting for another sound so she could pin down its sourceprecisely. Then she moved: one hand sweeping the boxes out of the way, the othergrabbing hold of the little man before he could take two steps. The fingers ofone Barbara-hand were more than enough to keep both his arms pinned behind hisback. Barbara bent low and loomed over him, the beauty of her face giving himarrhythmia, its intensely scornful look bringing him close to losing bladdercontrol. She decided he needed a minute to squirm, inside and out. When the fearon his face reached the almost pitiable stage, she asked him a simple question:"What's your name?""It's…it's Ryan, ma'am.""So, 'Ryan-ma'am', getting some good shots?" Barbara's free hand lifted the35-millimeter camera from around his neck. She examined it, then held it closeto his face so he'd have a good view of it being crushed like a toy. This shecould justify. This wasn't Ricky, poor, poor Ricky. No, this jerk just wanted tomake a buck from her nightmare. But he was just the first. Barbara knew therewere plenty more where he came from, and that made her even angrier.

Anger. Somehow, the anger overwhelmed the sadness, creating a perverse kind ofjoy. This shutter-bug needed to hurt, as she had been hurting. But he was sosmall to her, rising barely above her knee. Wouldn't it be like beating up on ababy? No, she decided. Babies weren't responsible; this little fellow might beas helpless as a baby in her presence now, but he had known exactly what he wasdoing. Well, so did Barbara. A flick of her middle finger into his groin, andshe no longer needed to hold on to him. He wasn't going anywhere for a while.

She watched him, curled up and moaning on the floor, and found she was actuallyenjoying the moment.

"Don't kill him, Barbara! Please don't!"It was Michelle Benoit. She had spent the night at the house, and had come totell Barbara that some scientists and technicians from UCLA would be here in anhour or so, with equipment that would reverse the magnetic effect.

Hearing that news, Barbara would have jumped for joy, had it been possible. "Iwasn't going to hurt him anymore," she said, lifting Ryan to his feet.

"Have you learned your lesson?""Oh, yes ma'am.""Can you walk?""I think so.""Then get out of here and never come back. Wait a minute."Barbara re-hung the remnants of the camera around his neck, then grasped hisright hand between her thumb and two fingers. She shook his hand goodbye,hearing him yelp as she made sure his right index finger wouldn't be pressinganother shutter release for a week or so. Michelle saw this. Her first thoughtwas that maybe he had it coming. Her second thought was more chilling: that theBarbara she had met two days earlier would not have used her considerablestrength to bully someone weaker, especially not Ricky, whom she knew, in hislonely dreams, had placed her on a pedestal that reached to the clouds. Maybe itwasn't just Barbara's size that was changing.

**********************************************Dr. Brad Nesbitt, UCLA Professor of Theoretical Physics, said, "Seth, when youcall in a favor, you call in one budget-busting favor, don't you?"A dozen technicians were unloading huge parabolic reflectors from the back of atractor-trailer. Three big-rigs were parked on Samantha Parker's property. Twoof them housed huge generators which would be wired in parallel. This was goingto take a lot of juice.

"Brad, no one's more capable than you to deliver on this one. Oh, and pleasemeet my colleagues from Renaissance: Dr. Howard Brock, Angela Scott, Dean ofWomen, and Coach Samantha Parker, whose grass we are killing with all thesetruck tires."Nesbitt exchanged amenities, then turned back to Dr. Coleman. "Seth, how do Iwrite this up?""I leave that to your vivid imagination, Brad.""Hmm. Let's see. There's this barn in Orange County that I pumped full of moremagnetic gauss than a dozen MRI scanners, for no particular reason. Yeah.

That'll work. What's in there, Seth?""Brad, when you're done, nothing out of the ordinary. Oh, maybe a pretty girl,that's about all.""Twenty-five years out of college, and you're still pulling frat-stunts.""C'est la vie."Barbara wished they'd hurry. Her head now bumped the rafters. Doctors Colemanand Brock came in to tell her that it wouldn't be long now. Less than an hour.

"Will it hurt?""No, no, Barbara! The magnetic wraps that started the process didn't hurt, didthey? It's the same thing in reverse. The only down-side is, since we'll becounteracting the Earth's magnetic field, it'll probably take longer, maybeseveral times as long, to return you to your original size."Barbara got down on hands and knees and kissed them both. "To be a petite 6'2"again? That's worth waiting for."********************************************************************************"Fifteen seconds, Dr. Nesbitt.""Right." Nesbitt studied the control panel, with Coleman and Brock standingbehind, looking over his shoulder.

The 60-cycle hum permeated structures, flesh and bone. TV reception was messedup for miles. Almost full power now.

"It all looks good, gentlemen, whatever the hell we're doing." Nesbitt leanedback in his chair, exposing a gauge to Coleman's eyes that he had not noticedbefore. It showed precise alignment with the isogonic line for this longitude,north to north and south to south. Exactly the opposite of what it was supposedto be.

"Six seconds, five…four…""Jesus, God in Heaven! Shut it down, Brad!!""You can't abort this. It's gotta cycle through.""GODDAMMIT, PULL THE PLUG!! Son-of-a-bi…DUCK AND COVER!!"In an instant, Barbara Valentine's head and torso crashed through the roof ofthe barn. Still sitting down, she now towered over the structure by some 30feet. The rain of debris missed most of the little people outside, but nottechnician Bewley. The jagged points of a severed 6-by-6 inch beam hadpenetrated his back, pinning him to the ground face down. His internal organsmutilated beyond repair, it would take him a couple of minutes to die. The techclosest to him promptly threw up at the sight. Others, farther away, were slowlybeginning to pick themselves up from the ground.

Barbara, in a manner of speaking, had basically been conked in the head. It tooka couple of minutes for her to regain her own bearings. Now she saw toy trucks,dolls that moved, and little white dots in the sky. She reached up to grasp oneof the white dots. Opening her hand slowly, she saw it was less than an inchlong. It fluttered, then flew away. She recognized it now. A seagull.

A few minutes ago, Barbara had expected to be a normal-sized girl again, alittle taller than some, but hugging real people in her arms: Dr. Brock, Dr.

Coleman, Coach Parker, Ms. Scott, Michelle Benoit, and Mary, sweet Mary. Now sherealized the horror of the scale, the horror she must be now to the people shecared about. This was insane!"INSANE!!"Barbara screamed the word at the top of her lungs, setting up a shock-wave thatblew some of the little people off their feet again. She had not meant to dothat, but big people under stress needed big relief. It calmed her down some,enough to realize she was both topless and bottomless. Parachutes. Coach Parkerhad said something about parachutes.

Her immense right hand ripped cardboard boxes to shreds. There they were: twomains and two reserves. Her fingertips plucked at dangling threads, the canopiesof nylon popped out as she found the ripcords. They were enough for a girl'smodesty. But then, why should modesty matter now?Surrounded by these…pixies…she had never felt more alone. She might never know areal human touch again, not one that she could really feel. What horrible,unforgivable thing must she have done to suffer such a hell on Earth?Ricky. She was being punished for hurting Ricky. But she didn't kill him! It wasa mistake! Now she'd pay for it for the rest of her life, as an object of scornand amusement, always starving for physical affection, yet not being able to diefrom the lack of it.

Two powerful emotions battled for control of Barbara. Terror. The sickening fearof total abandonment, as a small child feels when he's accidentally separatedfrom his mother in a huge, strange supermarket. And rage, fierce rage thatscanned about like radar, looking for a cause of the torturous terror, so itcould be fought, be controlled, be commanded to forever disappear. Barbara'sintelligence couldn't fight the two of these at once. Her reasoning brain waslosing. It told her that her only escape would be to find something much, muchbigger than she, something she could trust. A place where she could feel safeonce again.

Suddenly she knew! She knew what it was! She'd loved it since she first saw it,and this time she'd share it with Mary, so Mary could be happy again, too! Thebest part was, the people who stole her happiness were now much too small tokeep her from taking it back…*********************************************************************************"Good Lord, Seth! What did we just do here?""We turned a big problem into a much bigger problem. Dammit, Brad, I gave youthe numbers, how'd you get it all bass-ackwards?""Maybe we can discuss that later, if we live that long. Christ, just look ather! Shouldn't we be running for our lives, or something?""It's OK, Brad," said Brock. "She's a student at Renaissance. She's having kindof a bad day, but she's still a sweet young girl."Dr. Coleman was suddenly enveloped by a sweet young hand,