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Image Conscious : Aided by his computer scanner, O.C.'s Mark Oyler sees haunting shapes inside his collection of rocks. It sounds crazy, but maybe it means something, he says.


ORANGE — "Do you see this here? There's that, and that . Do you see it? Or this? I can see it clear as a bell. There's just one after another over here."

Mark Oyler was pointing to a laser printout of a stone he's put on his computer scanner. For the past six weeks, the 42-year-old small-business owner has been obsessed with his rock, a fairly common hand-sized opaque fluorite crystal bought at a local swap meet.

He's convinced that when he puts it on his high-resolution computer scanner, ghostly images are revealed in it: human faces, animal snouts, skulls and mysterious objects, including one that looks sort of like a motor home.

But while he was trying to convince me that he has heads in his rock, I was beginning to think the reverse was true.

"If you were wondering, I don't believe in witches, goblins or fairy tales, OK?" he said. Oyler runs Dashield, an Orange company that manufactures and sells carpeted dashboard covers, a concept he claims to have pioneered some years back. No New Age for him, he's a meat and potatoes kind of guy, and indeed, that's what he was eating in Swansons TV dinner form as we spoke at his business last Tuesday.

Yet even before he scanned the stone, he said, things started going strangely around the office. He's collected interesting rocks since his youth, and suddenly on Jan. 1 his crystallized lead galena stone began showing a magnetic repulsion to wood and pressboard. His dictionary keeps opening to a place where heaven is on one page and the other page is numbered 666. Then in early May, he put his fluorite on a Hewlett-Packard scanner, and he hasn't been the same since. Even his eyesight, which previously required reading glasses, has cleared up, he said.

"I'm obsessed with this thing," he said of his chunk of fluorite. "I feel like Richard Dreyfuss in 'Close Encounters.' My business has suffered; I'm spending at least four hours a day with this. I've been thinking of throwing these things in the ocean, just toss them off the pier so I won't have to deal with them anymore. But I know I won't do that."

Unlike Dreyfuss in the film, Oyler's family and co-workers are with him.

"I got goose bumps all over when I saw it," said his brother Phil, a biker-looking Vietnam vet who works at Dashield. Oyler's daughters and fiancee also see the faces.

Oyler seemed almost reluctant to get around to revealing the fluorite stone on the scanner. Instead, he showed off pyrite fool's-gold cubes and the curious way they bounce off one another, then his galena stone, which just wasn't behaving.

He said its weight varied, depending on whether it was set on concrete or wood, but an experiment with a UPS scale in his warehouse refused to verify that on this occasion. A small chunk suspended from a thread did appear to be slightly repulsed by his Formica furniture, but then, so was I.

He hooked up his souped-up Pentium-driven computer and the scanner, which has a resolution of 1,600 dots per square inch, as opposed to a TV screen, which has about 150 dots per square inch. To demonstrate its detail, he scanned a photo a friend took of the first space shuttle landing, enlarging sections to reveal distant aircraft and such. One blown-up section, he suggested, showed a UFO, though it also looked sort of like a cigarette butt.

None of which made me feel very encouraged about his stone revealing anything of note, and indeed, when he scanned it, I could see no more in its veins and cloudy depths on his computer screen than I ever can in those Magic Eye drawings.

There is supposed to be one particularly obvious face in it.

"That was the first thing I noticed right there," Oyler said, pointing to a murky area, "thinking, 'That sure looks like an eye.' And then there's another one right there, then the mouth, the nose. Do you see it?"

"I can see it from here," said Phil, from across the room.

I still didn't, but thought I could make out a kneeling figure on another surface of the stone.

"That's the praying person," Oyler said, and indeed, on closer inspection it looked like a weathered, stocky figure from a Grecian frieze, hands praying, curly bearded face turned up to the sky.

Then, left alone with the screen for a few minutes, I saw the eye Oyler had pointed out, then the whole face, faint and ghostlike, but human and staring straight back at me with a malevolent glare.

Permit me to say: Aieeeee!!!

A crack runs just to the left of the nose, the image seems smeared beyond that, and some bits of shading need to ignored, but once you've gotten this face to emerge, it's impossible to look at the image without seeing it and hard to believe it wasn't obvious before.


Not everybody sees quite the same thing. To Oyler's fiancee, Carolyn Cofer, it's a baby's face. To me, it's the stern, disapproving face of an unforgiving intelligence sizing up what it's looking at and finding it wanting. A disturbing thing when it's me it seemed to be looking at.

So what the hell is it?

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