Except for the lowest creatures at the bottom of the deepest ocean, each day brings a sunrise and a new beginning. For the first time in my life I had descended to the deepest depths of that ocean and the sunrise brought not a new beginning but new despair.

An old salt-and-pepper bearded wino named Albert stumbled over me that morning, lying there in an alley gutter in a pool of blood, apparently somewhere just off Market Street and two miles from the Palladium. Why Albert saved me from death is hard to tell, he probably thought he'd found a wounded space creature and that he'd get a reward for turning it in. He ran off towards the street in a drunken stagger, dropping his Ripple bottle with a crack, yelling "Hep! Hep! Chrise-Almidey-Hep!"

I don't remember much for a while. Then there was a commotion of people and the rush of being bundled into an ambulance which then screamed its way through morning traffic. The sound of the potholes kept rhythm with the beat of an obnoxious California morning rap station the Latino driver seemed psychically tuned to.

"These street people wear some weird rags," I heard one of the paramedics tell his partner as he worked to start an I.V. "I've seen them clothed in everything from garbage bags to twigs and leaves, but this has got to take the cake!"

"Where the hell did this guy come up with all this fiber junk, " the other responded. "He must think he's from Mars or something!"

"Please don't hurt my lightsuit!" I begged, rationally but incoherently to them. "Please stop, you ignorant apes don't know what I am!"

"What the hell does this babbler mean, lightsuit my ass! He must think he's Spiderman, or some super hero!"

So they ignored my screams, cutting my precious fibersuit with surgical scissors, leaving me a vegetable as they stripped me bare, stripping me of my nervous system as if skinning an animal of its feelings was as easy as taking its fur.

"God Almighty!" I screamed. "You're killing me! You're killing me! The panther is coming for my blood and there won't be any light left to fight her with!"

"Geez, another screamer," the one technician complained as he tied me down, not realizing I was as paralyzed as a corpse. "We've got a babbler here Mike."

"We ought to record this!" Mike laughed back.

They must have drugged me, though I couldn't feel the needle, because I drifted off into a smoggy haze. Earlier, when I'd first regained consciousness in the alley, I'd believed I'd awakened from a nightmare, a chilling dream haunted by a black panther and an illusion called Ell. But I was beginning to wonder if that wasn't a kinder world than the one in which I now found myself, paralyzed without my lightsuit and a prime candidate for psychiatric care.

And what about the dream of the night before? I'd had nightmares before, frightening ones, but never one like that. After the shooting when I'd almost died, I'd had hallucinogenic nightmares about death so I knew what the fear of dying could be like and how pain can drain the senses. I knew what it was like to have dreams about agony, remembering the crushing of bones and the waves of pain followed by the rush of numbing unconsciousness, but it was nothing like this dream. It had been much too real, it had been alive.

"Ell is her name!" I remembered thinking. "She owns me."

I had a sinking feeling the dream about the blue orb, about a sable black panther named Sapphire and a woman named Ell would come back again and again to haunt me. I'd never experienced true fear and pain like that before, because while Sapphire threatened my life, it was clear Ell could open up entire new vistas of agony I'd never imagined in even the darkest corners of my mind.

I didn't fear the physical torments, the tearing of flesh we've all imagined in our dreams, as much as I feared Ell herself. She was the embodiment of all that was frighteningly real, hyper-reality, though she was but a mirage. I knew instinctively Ell could take me beyond my own limits.

It was six hours later that I began to regain consciousness, slowly coming to my senses. Once again I found myself staring at a white hospital ceiling completely and hopelessly paralyzed, stripped naked of the technology that made me human.

I had intravenous lines attached to me, an oxygen line in my nose and a neck brace the doctors naively thought would relieve the paralysis.

The strain had been too much, I'd lost psychological control over my emotions and I started screaming as best I could, though what escaped was a feeble imitation of a scream.

A nurse, wearing what must be the most bizarre of all nurses hats, came in and tried to calm me.

"Mr. Heller, it's all right! You're in the hospital, Mr. Heller! You're safe now!" She soothed, but I was having no part of it.

"Get away from me!" I demanded.

The nurse was preparing to give me an injection to shut me up when the door opened and a troop of people came in tentatively, headed by a sleep bedraggled Laura and followed by Liddy, Kevin Armstrong and my father Burt. They all looked like they'd been through a washing machine worrying about me.

I quieted down, though I must admit the wild look of intermingled fear and rage in my eyes must have told my friends that I was on the edge of derangement. The nurse backed off with the syringe, but threatened menacingly from the side waving the needle in the air like a saber.

"Thank God you're all right," my father was the first to exclaim, but I gave him a crazed look that told him all was not well. "I'll go get your mother."

What hells I'd put the two of mt parents through.

"We didn't think we'd see you again," Laura was next to speak, the concern showing on her face. But all I could see in her was the image of Ell, for the two of them were identical, though they could no more be the same than an apple and an orange.

"No more pain," I mumbled cryptically, and Laura touched my forehead gently as if to wipe away whatever torments engulfed me.

"You had me worried, it was my fault you were at that concert before you were ready," Laura apologized.

"We searched the whole damn city looking for you," Liddy added crossly, the only one who had a chance of bringing me back to reality. "You look like something the cat drug in! What the hell happened to you Steven?"

I wasn't in a state of mind to be talking then, but that didn't stop me from babbling incoherently.

"There was a panther stalking me and I was a ball of light that could fly and Ell saved me from the panther and I ran and ran and ran until I dropped. . . "

They all looked at me with shock.

"Get a hold on yourself, Steven," Liddy interrupted my soliloquy before I could continue. "Earth calling Steven! Knock, knock, is anybody home? . . ."

"I think he needs some rest," the nurse interjected. "The paramedics said he was hallucinating on the way in. . . ."

"I wasn't damn hallucinating!" I screamed as belligerently as possible considering my weakened condition.

"Such a mouth, it should be washed out with soap" my mother scolded. She'd just entered the room, and perhaps she was right.

"I'm sure Steve feels a bit helpless without his lightsuit," Kevin Armstrong commented, very close to the mark, even as the nurse was moving to tranquilize me into oblivion. "Eric's been working on the new version for Steve anyway. . ."

"I don't want to dream ! ! !" I screamed as I watched the nurse inject me.

" . . . . and a new lightsuit should be ready in another week."

"God, don't let me dream ! ! !" I shrieked as my friends walked outside, whispering to each other as if they thought I was deranged, gone completely mad. "Please, don't let me dream ! ! !" I continued to wail, even as I drifted into oblivion and into the most peaceful dream I had had since I'd first begun wearing the lightsuit.

Hell yes that dream was peaceful, too peaceful, a white nothingness that stretched for eternity like a snow blizzard that froze the soul in ice.

I thought I would go insane if it didn't end. Dreaming of nothing, absolute nothingness, was countless times more psychically disturbing than the nightmare of Ell could ever have been.